From San Ysidro to Roseburg

Today's news from Roseburg, Oregon was depressingly familiar. That community has joined an unenviable list of places like Columbine and Sandy Hook whose names are now synonyms for mass murder. I'm not going to write about that. I'm here to say a few words about how we've changed, and how we haven't.Back in 1984, in the San Diego suburb of San Ysidro, a gunman walked into the local McDonald's and killed 21 people in cold blood.At the time, I was an hourly manager at a McDonald's franchise about three hours north of there. You probably have no idea how hard the news hit the McDonald's corporate family. At the time, there had never been a killing in a McDonald's. We thought of ourselves as being islands of safety, a place for families to enjoy their Big Macs and French fries. That ended that July.

What you probably also don't know is how McDonald's responded. After an initial, dazed attempt to reopen, people realized that what had happened was such a shock to the system that it was inconceivable to continue on as before. That store was closed, the building razed, and the land given to the community for a park. A replacement was built down the road.

Here we are thirty-one years later, and in some ways not a thing has changed. There's been no significant gun legislation to curb the violence. We're told that we can't ban guns, that changing the law won't do any good, that people will find a way to get a gun no matter what. Funny how these same people usually make exactly the opposite argument about abortion and same-sex marriage.

What has changed is our response as regards the places where these things happen. Nobody would dream of closing Umpqua Community College, or even the individual building. Nobody would dream of closing Columbine High School. Instead, we'll clean up the blood, scrub the sidewalks, replace the carpeting, and move on. Perhaps McDonald's overreacted in 1984, but it was heartfelt and clearly seemed at the time the right thing to do.

But not now. Now, we've normalized the experience and come to think of it as commonplace. And we know it will happen again, soon, and the President will once again go on television and ask us to let our legislators know how we feel. Then, after a few hours or days, the media will move on to the latest Republican attempt to shut down the government or that day's quasi-fascist rabble-rousing from Donald Trump. And we will once again lament that sadly, in what was once the richest and freest country in the world, there is nothing that can be done.


Random observations on returning to iPhone

Random observations on returning to an iPhone after a few years with Windows Phone:

  • You don't realize how many apps you use until you set up a phone as a new device. So. Much. Downloading.
  • Cortana sounds more natural than Siri.
  • The iPhone 6/6S is a reasonable size that I can live with. I'd still rather have a Plus, but supply issues are what they are and I needed a phone.
  • Touch ID is pretty damn great.
  • Folders in iOS are a lot less elegant than in Windows Phone.
  • Launch Center Pro is a lot less intuitive than it should be, but I'm learning.
  • Thank the gods that I can finally use Swype on an iPhone, because the stock keyboard still sucks out loud.
  • Rearranging icons is a major pain in the ass. They need to fire the obsessive-compulsive icehole who's responsible for keeping it the same (i.e., not fixing it).
  • Battery life is probably better than my iPhone 4, but nowhere near as good as my Lumia 1520. Hard to beat a 3400 mAh battery. Good thing I have an iPad charger at my desk at work.
  • The App Store seems to be more of a mess than I remember it being.
  • The Lightning connector may be an expensive proprietary piece of kit, but at least you can't try to jam it in the wrong way, like one always does with micro USB connectors.
  • For the crowd: It's surprising to me which apps are still available, and which are broken by iOS 9 or otherwise no longer available. RIP Rivr and Felix.
  • I'm tempted to keep using the official Twitter app. At least it doesn't get rate-limited.

More observations to come. And if you're an iPhone user who wants to recommend an app, please feel free to contact me on Twitter or

Best birthday gift ever

My dad was an interesting guy. Trained as a tool and die maker in Chicago, by the time I came along in the mid-1960s he'd relocated to California, gotten married and was working in the southern California aerospace industry for what was then called North American Rockwell. He managed to get hired as a cost estimator, despite not having a college degree in anything related—he was just good at math and had astonishing attention to detail. This being the height of both the Cold War and the Space Race, much of his job was either defense- or space-related. If you could shoot it at the Soviets or aim it at the Moon, chances were that he or his department had touched it in some way, shape or form. Space in particular was a big deal back then—we were racing to be the first to the Moon, and the Apollo landings were events that nobody missed. Gathered around the television, listening to Walter Cronkite narrate the grainy black-and-white images on the screen, America was transfixed. My family was no different. I remember my dad being very pleased when he acquired a wristwatch that featured a command module and landing module as hour and minute hands, all orbiting a Moon at the center.

So today, on what would have been his 88th birthday, when NASA announced the discovery of liquid water on Mars, I can't help but think that Dad would be thrilled. This is a major discovery on our path to the stars, and it all started over fifty years ago with our first halting steps in space, plotted by men in short-sleeved white shirts and narrow ties using mechanical calculators and slide rules.

Happy birthday, Dad.


This is what capitulation looks like.

Yesterday, I pulled out the American Express card and paid off AT&T for what I owed on my Lumia 1520. Soon, I'll be buying an iPhone, probably a 6S Plus.

Those who know me and who read my stuff know that I've been a proponent of Windows Phone for the last couple of years. I switched to Windows Phone from an iPhone 4 a few years back, in part because I wanted a bigger screen and in part because I was impressed with what Microsoft was trying to do in mobile with Windows Phone 8, and I liked the user interface. It was different and fresh, and combined some of the advantages of Android (live tiles, similar to widgets) and some of the advantages of iPhone (tight control of the UI and not allowing carriers to screw with it).

Also, I was not a fan of the Apple way of doing things, which until recently has amounted to, We know better than you what you need. You'll do it our way, or you won't do it at all. There's still some of that around.

So why am I going back?

Basically, massive disappointment with a flagship phone that turned out to be of only middling quality, a shrinking app base on Windows Phone, increasing conviction that Microsoft is not in mobile for the long haul and is not serious about competing at the top end, and the frank recognition that Apple is better than just about anyone else at putting out quality hardware coupled with excellent customer service at the retail level. Having experienced the pain of dealing with a third-party extended warranty through AT&T, I'm never doing that again.

I could go Android, but seriously? Android? With the fragmented OS, uncertain updates, and crappy OEM UI overlays? No, thanks.

Also, Apple has loosened up a bit. I still hate the stock iPhone keyboard, but now third-party keyboards are allowed, which fixes a big problem for me. And they finally started offering phones with a decent-sized screen, which was a biggie (no pun intended).

So, as soon as the crowds die down and stock levels recover, I'll be going down to the Apple Store to buy an iPhone on the iPhone Upgrade Program. An unlocked phone with AppleCare+? Yes, please!

This is what capitulation looks like. And I, for one, welcome our new Cupertino overlords.

Restating the obvious

The question was put to me today on Twitter: "Why can't we just get the gov't out of the marriage business altogether?"It's a valid question. There's no particular reason why the government should insert itself into what some see as a religious institution or sacrament, except for one thing: It's also a legal status. Marriage makes a difference in terms of tax liability, rights to inheritance, etc.

Since we have a government which theoretically guarantees equal rights to all, this makes it a legal issue, and not just a religious or spiritual one.

Some states may wish to explore calling everything a civil union and not a marriage, for both gay and straight couples. I suppose that's an option, though it's kind of silly. It's really just playing semantic games and slapping another label on marriage. It also seems a bit mean-spirited and, frankly, bigoted as hell.

In another post, I said the following:

If you want to know why some people hate Christians, it's because some Christians expect people who do not share their beliefs to abide by the teachings of their religion anyway, which is unreasonable. And often, they're kind of nasty and unfeeling about it, which is then reciprocated, which generates more antipathy, etc.

I've said for some time now that religious groups opposed to same-sex marriage are doing it wrong. If they really care about religious liberty, that should have been their focus. They should have been working on legislation that guaranteed freedom of religion would not be impacted by any potential legalization of same-sex marriage. Instead, they've been focused on things like California's Proposition 8 and other things that amount to "You people stop that right now," and they've squandered an opportunity.

And now that they've squandered that opportunity, they're playing the victim.

Oh, please.

I stand by these words. It's now the law of the land. Deal with it.

Walls, refugees, and political perspectives

There's an outstanding article by N. Richardson-Little on his blog discussing comparisons between refugees from East Germany and the refugees flooding into Europe and elsewhere today. Here's a sample (bolding is mine):

The other main objection to the comparison between victims at the Berlin Wall and the mass death of migrants at the edges of Europe is that the East Germany deployed lethal force to prevent it's own people from escaping. According to this logic, however, the moral flaw with the Berlin Wall was that its guards were simply wearing the wrong uniforms.If the positions were reversed and the same Berlin Wall was manned by West German soldiers gunning down fleeing refugees from the East, would that have made it all okay? If they had simply arranged it so that hundreds drowned in the Spree and the Havel as they tried to cross the border, would that have been alright? When decrying the crimes of communism, the cold and brutal economic logic of the Berlin Wall is condemned as inhuman and freedom of movement and family reunification held up as the highest of human rights. In contemporary discussions of borders and refugees, the argument seems to rapidly flip on its head with the defense of borders for the sake of national interests held up to be the highest duty. How much difference is there between the freedom that Peter Fechter died seeking, and the freedom sought by thousands from Syria, Eritrea, and elsewhere in the Europe of today, and dying in the Mediterranean trying to reach it?

Perspective, as always, is everything. Go read the whole thing.

Still here

Because Jason doesn't remind me when I owe him money, I didn't realize my account was in unpaid status. I've now fixed that.

Yes, I am mostly posting at these days, but I'm keeping this blog alive too.1

  1. This was originally published at

Peeking behind the curtain

I've been aware for some time now that my RSS reader/NewsBlur client appeared to reveal not only the text of blog posts, but also additions, corrections, and strikethroughs.

I'm not sure how this happens. It doesn't show for all feeds, so I can only assume that it depends on which software was used to write the post. It's pretty egalitarian, affecting well-known journalists like Andy Ihnatko as well as ordinary folk.

I have no grand conclusions to draw from this, but it's interesting to get a peek behind the curtain and see how the sausage is made.

Image 1

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Random thoughts on the Greek crisis

Some random thoughts on the story so far:

  • As far as I can tell, whatever the failures of the Greek government are, the euro itself is at the root of this crisis. The notion of a single supranational currency among nations with no common economic policy is destined to end in tears, I'm afraid.

  • That being said, it looks to me like the best long-term hope for Greece is to reintroduce the drachma and tell the ECB to go to hell.

  • The price of that may be exit from the EU as well. If that's the case, they're probably better off swallowing that bitter pill now instead of later.

  • If the Germans are so damned set on the Greeks repaying everything, they're welcome to come to Washington so we can discuss resumption of German payments on their outstanding World War I and World War II debt, which runs into the billions, which we so generously forgave. Maybe they could apply it to the outstanding Greek debt. We won't ask them to repay the Marshall Plan aid—yet.

  • It does look a great deal like the powers-that-be are trying to force a regime change to something friendlier to the global banks. May they not get their wish. Ever.

  • Let's hope the Greek coalition holds together so that internal divisions can't be exploited by outsiders.

  • After making comments over the weekend that could be viewed as encouraging a No vote in the referendum, the IMF has now told Greece, "Sorry, no more money for you!" May they rot in a very warm place.

  • It would be interesting (in the sense of "May you live in interesting times") if the Greek government were to come to an understanding with their fellow nominally Orthodox brethren, the Russians, on some kind of economic assistance. Putin would love access to a warm-water port west of the Bosporus, and would also love the opportunity to give the West a black eye.

More thoughts to come as the situation develops.

Viva il papa!

I heard a piece on All Things Considered this afternoon as I was driving home, talking about the Pope's latest encyclical, and how some people are upset that the Holy Father is inserting himself into "the political debate over climate change." Oh, dear.

First of all, it isn't a political debate. A political debate is whether to increase tuition at state universities. A political debate is whether to approve an omnibus spending bill that will conveniently build a dam in the House Majority Leader's home district. A political debate is whether we should station troops in Ukraine.

Climate change is a scientific debate, and it's over. There are no reputable scientists who dispute it.

Besides, the Pope isn't just a religious leader. He's also a political leader, the absolute monarch of the State of Vatican City. Outside the Vatican walls, European Union and Italian law may rule, but within, he could throw you in jail for the rest of your life without so much as a trial. And I'm sure he's sometimes tempted.

All of which gives him just as much right to weigh in on political affairs as, say, Angela Merkel. But as I said, this isn't political.

What's interesting to me is that the Pope, as the leader of the world's biggest church, frames it in moral terms. It's rather obvious, when you think about it; if this is God's creation, we should care for it, and ensure that those less fortunate than ourselves, as well as our own descendants, will have clean water to drink, clean air to breathe, and food to eat that has been grown in uncontaminated soil. Such things should not be the exclusive province of the wealthy and powerful.

And that, more than anything, is probably at the root of the opposition to His Holiness. This is a Pope who decries the excesses of laissez-faire capitalism and who declined to occupy the papal apartments, preferring a simple room in a dormitory. He shames the rich, as is appropriate; Jesus Himself said it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. This is a man who probably deserves to wear those white vestments more than any of his recent predecessors.

I'm not a Catholic, but I like this Pope. Viva il papa!