Uvalde and America

I've been struggling with this one, and I need to talk this through to organize my thoughts. There are no answers here, only anguish, rage and despair. You've been warned.

The last several years have been kind of rough if you're an American with inconvenient notions about equality and human rights.

It started a decade ago with the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, which effectively made corporations the equal of actual human beings. It was followed up by the unprecedented denial by the Senate majority of the right of a President to have a Supreme Court nominee voted on. It continued with the election of you-know-who in 2016, which gave permission for all manner of crazies to openly manifest who they are. That was then followed up by the rushed approval of a Supreme Court nominee right before you-know-who left office, which would seem to contradict everything they said about "letting the next President choose the nominee" when Obama was in office, and raised questions about the legitimacy of the Court.

The newly right-wing court then proceeded with a series of decisions (and cases they declined to hear) that opened the floodgates. Rollbacks of voting rights, women's rights, and assaults on all other manner of rights. When you restrict voting rights, or make it hard for people to vote, or somehow manage to ensure that black districts have fewer or no polling places while white districts have them all over, it's not hard to discern what the intent is.

Among the other horrible things the Right has been doing, they've been consistently "pro-Second Amendment," which somehow always seems to conveniently ignore the part about "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state…". Something called "constitutional carry" has become the thing, which effectively means if you're a citizen you can have any damn gun you want, and to hell with permits.

And that brings us to what happened in Uvalde, Texas.

An 18-year-old with body armor and legally purchased guns entered an elementary school and killed two teachers and 19 children. Meanwhile, the police who responded remained outside for 35 minutes, afraid to go in because they might get shot, and restrained or arrested parents on the scene who decided that if the cops were going to do nothing, they'd go in and rescue their kids themselves, as any parent would. When the police finally went in, it appears they first tried to protect their own kids.

Uvalde spends 40% of its budget on police. Hardly seems like they got their money's worth.

Others will talk about what this all means, and what we've become. It's not like this is the first school shooting in America. Anyone remember Sandy Hook? Kids were killed, and America (or its politicians and radio talk show hosts) decided that dead children didn't outweigh anyone's right to have a gun.

If you're not enraged already, you're not paying attention. It seems to me that Uvalde is a symptom, and maybe a harbinger.

We're in a place where we have a Supreme Court that not only is not representative of the American people, as opinion poll after opinion poll has shown, but is demonstrably political itself. It's one thing for a Supreme Court to make impartial decisions based on the Constitution; this seems to be something else entirely.

The Senate majority hasn't represented a majority of Americans since 1996. We're in a place where we have a Senate majority that now represents only 43.5% of the American populace--and we won't even get into how many of those 43.5% actually voted for them--so a minority can block anything they want at will. And they are.

They've blocked a Supreme Court nomination. They're blocking meaningful gun control legislation. They're blocking attempts to pass a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a woman's bodily integrity and the right to have an abortion, something an overwhelming majority of Americans favor. They're blocking attempts to restore the Voting Rights Act. They don't want democracy, because democracy means they lose.

What else do you think they'll go after? Birth control? Same-sex marriage? Interracial marriage? You may scoff, but these are not Eisenhower Republicans. They're the lunatic fringe, only the fringe is now the mainstream. In states like Texas they're already trying to make it illegal for women to cross state lines to get an abortion in places where it will remain legal.

We're a country divided, and increasingly so. I don't know how we can reverse this trend. I don't know how we can become more united, not less so. The gulf is widening. And when we do manage to elect Democrats, most of them seem unwilling to take on the crazies in any meaningful way. Even something as simple as a Senate procedural change to get rid of the filibuster is seen as beyond the pale by Democratic leadership. So why exactly do we elect these people if they're not going to fight for anything?

I was born in the United States. I'm no longer certain that I will die in the United States, even if I remain exactly where I am today. There are a few possibilities: we somehow come together and rediscover what the US is supposed to stand for, or we descend into right-wing authoritarianism, or we explode into outright violence leading to God-knows-what. When a government no longer represents its people, and when they see no way to change that through the system, anything can happen. To quote JFK, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable."

And even if we somehow stay together, it may not be a United States worthy of what it claims to stand for.

What I do know is this: the Right will continue its assault on democracy. There will be another shooting. More kids will be killed. Our so-called leaders will continue to mouth platitudes, talk about thoughts and prayers, and do absolutely nothing.

And eventually, someday, it will be too late. Maybe it already is.

Thoughts on social media in 2022

I've been thinking recently about how I use social media and what I want to prioritize. The impending purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk and his, shall we say, typically erratic statements and what they indicate about his agenda have prompted me to make some changes in my online presence and where I choose to spend my time.

First thing was to reactivate my previously mostly dormant Mastodon account and consolidate what was several accounts into one for simplicity. Mastodon is the closest thing there is to a Twitter experience with 99% of the annoyances removed, with an established user base. Plus, a lot of the people I want to talk to are there. I've been having a lot more fun there than I have on Twitter in about ten years. And if there's a problem, the guy who runs my instance actually responds to me when I talk to him.

Second thing was to delete my primary Twitter account and re-establish my alt account as my new primary, keeping the username from the old primary. This had the effect of removing most of the political BS from my timeline (and about 90% of my followers) and keeping a core group of accounts that I actually want to interact with. Now, any time you opt out of the politics and The Outrage of the Day, you're going to attract comments and criticism from people who want to make you feel guilty because you don't care.

One, that's bullshit.

Two, it's my life. My account. I get to determine what I read and respond to. You don't. To quote John Scalzi, "I'm not your outrage monkey." And among other things, after four years of The Former Guy and more than two years of a pandemic with no end in sight, I'm just worn out. I want social media to be fun, not just another way of beating my head against a wall and getting depressed.

Three, it's important to realize that Twitter is an echo chamber. Anything I post will be seen primarily by people I agree with and who agree with me, so beyond making me feel good for having made some kind of statement for The Cause, it has no practical effect. Twitter is not real life. It's a distortion of it.

This is not to say that there aren't people on Twitter in particular, and social media in general, whom I consider to be friends even though we haven't met. If you're reading this you're probably one of them, and I would hope you know me well enough by now to understand that.

But what you see on Twitter (and Facebook and Instagram and all other corporate-owned social networks) is in a critical sense not real. It is a product of an algorithm that wants you to be upset. It wants you to be outraged. It wants you to act in a certain way that will encourage other people to post who agree with you, or who disagree with you and want you to know it in no uncertain terms because you're a terrible person and you should be ashamed of yourself.

In short, it encourages argument. It encourages disagreement. It is in some ways at least partly responsible for the miserable state of the world right now. And it does all that to generate more profit.

And if you're like me, all of that eventually wears you out.

So I've decided I'll be spending more time on Mastodon and less time on Twitter. That's intentional. I want this stuff to be fun again. I don't want to feel like I have to take a shower or storm the ramparts every time I log on. Life is too short for that.

For one thing, Mastodon is fun. It feels like Twitter did in 2008 before it was discovered by celebrities and politicians and shitposters and all the other idiots I have spent a great deal of time blocking and muting just to make the platform usable.

For another, Mastodon is federated. It's distributed. This means that no single person can take it over and use it for their ends. Each instance gets to choose who it federates with, so if the local Klan guy decides to start up an instance, they can be effectively cut off. And on the instance that I'm part of, it's invitation-only, so we have some control over the bad actors, but federation means I can follow people on other instances, and they can follow me, so it never feels isolating.

There's no algorithm there. It's just you, your friends, and their posts. No advertisements. No suggested follows. No promoted tweets. No "because you liked this" or "because you followed X" or "this was favorited by" BS.

And all of it in glorious reverse chronological order.

As God intended.

Looking Back: The Last Post to ADN

Recently, there was some discussion over on Mastodon between former ADN folks about when they joined ADN. This led me to look up my own data export, and I found the following, which was originally a thread of posts on March 13, 2017. I've collected it here and am posting it together for the record. Each paragraph below was a post.

Damn, I miss that place.

With no further ado:

Well, here we are. The end of the line. When I joined ADN back in 2012, I didn't know I was about to have the best online social experience of my life, one that would become the standard against which all other networks would henceforth be judged.

But it did. From the moment I first signed on, it was apparent that something special was going on. In the initial days and weeks, we were all very much aware that we were building a new thing, and there was much discussion about what it should be.

As time passed, a culture developed that was unique. A culture that valued interaction, from friends and strangers alike. Civil discussion. Reasoned discourse. And above all, valuing everyone's contribution, no matter who they were.

Yes, there were issues. There were the loud ones, the complainers, the drama queens. They didn't last. What did last was the sense of community, a community that has persisted to the very end. A community that would not accept the end of it all.

It's an end that didn't have to happen, but was inevitable because the owners of the network had a different vision for their creation. They wanted an app network. The users wanted a social network.

Many of us came here because we thought that's what we were getting. After all, it was born out of frustration with Twitter and Facebook, and the former's lack of respect for third-party developers and users alike.

We were intrigued by the notion of a social network that allowed us to own our own data, that would be beholden not to advertisers, but to us, because we would be the ones paying for it. But the founders took VC money, and VC money wants more.

Soon, there were free accounts, and the spam began. Even today, you can look at alpha.app.net/global/, and see what that has wrought. Suddenly, there was less reason to spend $36 annually, since we weren't getting what we signed up for.

And so it came to pass that when the first annual renewals were due, they fell short. Soon after, the famous State of the Union post appeared, and ADN went into stasis. The end was clearly in sight--but there were those who started building lifeboats.

There was , who began to transform 10Centuries into something that could replace ADN. And built pnut.io, which closely replicated the ADN experience. Now we had someplace to go when, as was inevitable, the founders pulled the plug.

And that brings us to today. Depending on whether you believe the blog or the banner at the top of Alpha, it all ends either tomorrow or Wednesday. Because I want to exit on my own terms, I'm choosing to end my time here today.

I'm leaving with both sadness and optimism. Sadness for the end of something that was so important in my life. Optimism because I know the core of the community will continue. And I'm also leaving with gratitude.

I'm leaving with gratitude to Dalton and Berg for building it. Gratitude to the rest of the ADN crew for developing it. And gratitude to all of you for showing me what a social network could be. You've enriched my life immeasurably.

I'm a better person for the time I've spent here, and I've made friendships with people around the world, friendships I hope will last a lifetime. Thank you. You've been an oasis during some difficult times, and I owe you more than you will ever know.

And now, it's time to go. I'll see you on 10Centuries and Pnut, and maybe occasionally on Twitter. I wish it were otherwise, but all good things must end, and ADN was the best thing ever. Goodbye, ADN. You've been amazing, and I love you all.

And with that, Larry picks up his bag, and turns toward the door. He takes a few steps, stops, sets the bag down, and turns for one last look. He glances upward, from left to right, then looks down and smiles. He picks up his bag, and walks out the door.

<The End>

The 12 Days of Christmas, Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul Edition

On the first day of Christmas,
Saul Goodman gave to me,
A card to get out of jail free!

On the second day of Christmas,
Saul Goodman gave to me,
Two alibis,
And a card to get out of jail free!

On the third day of Christmas,
Saul Goodman gave to me,
Three RVs,
Two alibis,
And a card to get out of jail free!

On the fourth day of Christmas,
Saul Goodman gave to me,
Four burner phones,
Three RVs,
Two alibis,
And a card to get out of jail free!

On the fifth day of Christmas,
Saul Goodman gave to me,
Five grand from Fring!
Four burner phones,
Three RVs,
Two alibis,
And a card to get out of jail free!

On the sixth day of Christmas,
Saul Goodman gave to me,
Six labs a-cooking
Five grand from Fring!
Four burner phones,
Three RVs,
Two alibis,
And a card to get out of jail free!

On the seventh day of Christmas,
Saul Goodman gave to me,
Seven suits a-shining,
Six labs a-cooking
Five grand from Fring!
Four burner phones,
Three RVs,
Two alibis,
And a card to get out of jail free!

On the eighth day of Christmas,
Saul Goodman gave to me,
Eight clients scamming,
Seven suits a-shining,
Six labs a-cooking,
Five grand from Fring!
Four burner phones,
Three RVs,
Two alibis,
And a card to get out of jail free!

On the ninth day of Christmas,
Saul Goodman gave to me,
Nine Caddys cruising,
Eight clients scamming,
Seven suits a-shining,
Six labs a-cooking,
Five grand from Fring!
Four burner phones,
Three RVs,
Two alibis,
And a card to get out of jail free!

On the tenth day of Christmas,
Saul Goodman gave to me,
Ten sandpipers crossing,
Nine Caddys cruising,
Eight clients scamming,
Seven suits a-shining,
Six labs a-cooking,
Five grand from Fring!
Four burner phones,
Three RVs,
Two alibis,
And a card to get out of jail free!

On the eleventh day of Christmas,
Saul Goodman gave to me,
Eleven Cliff Mains strumming,
Ten sandpipers crossing,
Nine Caddys cruising,
Eight clients scamming,
Seven suits a-shining,
Six labs a-cooking,
Five grand from Fring!
Four burner phones,
Three RVs,
Two alibis,
And a card to get out of jail free!

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
Saul Goodman gave to me,
Twelve Hectors ringing,
Eleven Cliff Mains strumming,
Ten sandpipers crossing,
Nine Caddys cruising,
Eight clients scamming,
Seven suits a-shining,
Six labs a-cooking,
Five grand from Fring!
Four burner phones,
Three RVs,
Two alibis,
And a card to get out of jail free!

Michael Clinton Anderson, 1968 - 2019

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A hotel in transition

The following is a review of the Best Western Inn of Sedona (or, beginning in November, the Sky Rock Inn of Sedona) that I posted this morning on TripAdvisor and Google, and which I'm placing here for archival purposes.

This is hard to write. My wife and I have been staying here on every trip to Sedona for the last 15 years or so, but this time we arrived to find a hotel that's undergoing major reconstruction. I booked the room through the Best Western website, which had no indication of the remodeling work being done, and it was extremely disappointing that no effort was made by the hotel to alert us prior to arrival.

Its new owners are disaffiliating with Best Western, and doing a major remodel that will add a bar and restaurant, which will change the character of the hotel. We were told by the front desk staff that Best Western did not favor the changes being made and terminated their contract. I'm not sure I believe that, as I've stayed at other BWs with similar facilities, but that's what we were told.

Remodeling work went on until about 9 p.m. on a Saturday night, and started up again at 8 a.m. Sunday morning. It's obvious that there is little effort being made to maintain the non-remodeled rooms; the torn shower curtain and stained carpet in our room was evidence of the lack of concern. The pool was unavailable (in August!), and temporary construction fencing was everywhere. The "lobby" is currently in an empty guest room, with a pop-up canopy outside. Overall, not the ambience we were hoping for, or that we've experienced on previous visits. The rate, of course, is unchanged, and it really ought to be discounted to compensate for the inconveniences.

It's always been a moderately priced, quiet, well-run lodging with the best views in Sedona under the previous ownership and management, but I'm guessing that with the addition of the bar and restaurant, the quietness will change, and I would be very surprised if the rates don't double to pay for the (in their own words) "multi-million dollar renovation." It may well end up being very nice when it's finished in November, but right now I can't recommend staying there unless you only care about the view, which remains stunning. The rest of the place is a shambles at the moment. If you choose to stay there before it reopens in November with a new name, consider yourself warned.

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Farewell to NewsBlur

Well, here we are. Tomorrow, unless I cancel before midnight tonight, I’ll get charged for Feedly Pro. NewsBlur has not had a fully functional Android app for over two months, and there is still no ETA for a resolution (see the back story here and here).

Frankly, I’m surprised. I signed up for a trial of Feedly Pro in desperation a month ago in order to have a way to read RSS feeds on my phone that didn’t make my head hurt. I thought that the NewsBlur team would certainly have a fix by now.

And yet, they don’t.

It’s disappointing.

The good news, I suppose, is that I found an alternative, one with an API that allows for third-party apps. Even if the Feedly app breaks, there will be alternatives. I just wish it wasn’t twice the price.

But frankly, I’ve been waiting far too long for a resolution considering that this is a service I pay for, and at some point, you need to wish them well and cut your losses.

I guess that time is now.

Goodbye, NewsBlur. It was great while it lasted. I hope you fix your problems someday.

The nightmare scenario

It's Wednesday, November 4, 2020.

The Democratic candidate has won the Presidential election by a small margin. Trump and the GOP claim massive fraud, without evidence, and refuse to hand over power. The Democrats take it to court, and it quickly goes to the conservative-dominated Supreme Court.

The armed forces, meanwhile, have taken an oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

What do they do? Who do they obey?

Who will be the legally constituted authority after Jan. 20, 2021?

NewsBlur update

Since my last post, the new Android developer for NewsBlur has discovered the problem and identified a possible solution:

screenshot_20190508-151052

I tried it, and it and it seems to work. Unfortunately, there are other issues it doesn't fix:

screenshot_20190508-145433

Oh, well. At least the combination of Feedly and the FeedMe app is handling my RSS needs admirably for the time being.

Edit, one week later (2019-05-15): Still no resolution on this issue. I have nine days left to decide, but I think I'm going to stick with Feedly and bid adieu to NewsBlur due to their completely inadequate, hapless, and possibly incompetent response to this issue. Time to move on.

The NewsBlur debacle

I’ve been a loyal and generally satisfied user of NewsBlur ever since Google Reader was killed off. While Google didn’t think a web-based RSS reader was something worth having, not all of us agreed, and NewsBlur was an early beneficiary of that questionable decision. When you live in the 21st century and move from computer to tablet to phone and back, it’s nice having your feeds in the cloud and not tied to a single device.

So for the last several years, I’ve been recommending NewsBlur to anyone who asked about RSS readers, and was generally happy. Then, two months ago, rendering broke in the Android app; all articles were showing a big, undifferentiated black box, a situation only remedied by switching to the dark mode. Dark mode fans are legion, and anyone who uses it regularly wouldn’t notice, but I’m old and prefer black text on a light background to avoid giving myself a headache. I was, therefore, less than thrilled to be forced into using dark mode as a workaround.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

screenshot_20190503-110457

Now, I understand that problems happen, and things don’t always get fixed overnight, but as the weeks dragged on, I was getting more than a little annoyed. This isn’t just an app I use regularly; it’s a service for which I pay an annual subscription fee. After a month, I was wondering about alternatives; after almost two, I was sufficiently irritated to post my annoyance on the support website, after the owner1 posted that if it wasn’t fixed in a week, he’d look into getting another developer. Really? Seven weeks wasn’t long enough already?

Shortly afterward, I said the hell with it, downloaded Feedly, and set up a subscription. It’s been an adjustment; I’m used to things working a certain way, and the UI is sufficiently different from what I was used to that it was initially off-putting until I figured out the flow. After a week, I’m starting to like it; it works well, has fewer little glitches than NewsBlur, and just generally looks more polished and modern. NewsBlur still looks like an iOS 7 app, even on Android. It works (well, until recently), but it isn’t pretty.

The downside is that Feedly Pro is about twice the price of NewsBlur Premium on an annual basis. And I just renewed NewsBlur for another year shortly before the app broke. Ouch.

So this morning, the NewsBlur owner announced that he’d finally hired another Android dev and was hoping the problem would be fixed within the week. Hey, great. Wish he’d done it about five weeks ago. But now I have another decision to make, and that’s whether to stick with NewsBlur, assuming the problem actually gets fixed, or to bite the bullet and migrate permanently to Feedly. I’ve got until May 24 to decide; on that day, they’ll bill my credit card if I don’t cancel. NewsBlur will save me money, but their reputation has just taken a huge hit. It’s been unusable on my phone for two months, and I can’t shake the feeling that if it was the iOS app that broke (i.e., if the owner used the broken app), it would have been fixed a long time ago. I’m very tempted to walk away.

And therein lies a lesson: if you take too long to fix something that’s broken, don’t be surprised when your customers start looking at the competition, and figuring out if keeping their business with you is worth the hassle. Because at the end of the day, your customers have choices, and they don’t have to choose you.


  1. I’m not going to call him the dev in this case; he created the service, but he farms out the app development to others.