Category Archives: In Our Time

Bill WHO? Sometimes Google mystifies me

without c

I was reading a Bret Stephens piece from over the weekend, about what he sees as lessons from the Clinton impeachment, which was accompanied by this file photo of Bill in 1998.

I was struck by how young he looked. And I was wondering how young he was, and went to Google it.

And I ran across something odd.

I typed “bill” followed by a space, and above were the results I got. Which mystified me. I wasn’t totally stunned that Bill Cosby came first. Even though he has been more thoroughly shamed and degraded by his actions in the public eye, he is someone who once enjoyed great fame and acclamation.

But I figured Clinton would surely come next. But instead, of the next four “Bills,” only one was someone I had even heard of — Bill Gates. I would have to click to learn who Bill Nunn, Bill Goldberg and Bill Burr are or were. Which I didn’t do.

Instead, I added a “c,” and sure enough there was Bill Clinton — although still second to Cosby. See below. (And no, I have no idea who the two Callahans or Cowher are.)

Usually, I can intuit why Google offers me certain results — they reflect what is in the news, or other things I’ve recently searched for.

But sometimes it stumps me. This is one of those times.

Any idea why those bills — Nunn, Goldberg and Burr — come up before “Clinton?”

with c

‘Pant’ was bad enough. Now they want us to wear a ‘short?’

short

Ad in an enewsletter I received today from the NYT’s David Leonhardt.

I have little patience with people fooling around with the English language.

But today, I’ll stay away from the really offensive kind of meddling — that motivated by politics. You know, the whole Orwellian thing of changing the language in order to make it impossible for us to express unacceptable thoughts, or otherwise trying to change reality by changing the words we use to describe it.

Today I’m ticked about the trivial.

For years, I’ve been shaking my head at ads and store displays urging me to buy “this khaki pant,” or “that dress pant.” Instead of, you know, pants.

Now it’s gotten down to shorts. “One short?” Really?

This is ridiculous. And I can’t for the life of me imagine why someone would want to do this. Oh, yes, I understand that it simplifies your way of saying that you can wear one pair of shorts for different sports (as if we hadn’t figured that out for ourselves already), but work around it. Play with what I just said: one pair of shorts for different sports is poetry, in a way.

Not great poetry, mind you. But it’s not as stupid as “one short…”

The Pink Screen of Death! AIIIIEEEEEEE!!!!

pink

As a Windows veteran of nearly three decades, I’ve seen some terrible sights, things that would chill the blood of a lesser man. The terrible Blue Screen of Death is an old friend, for instance. That was pretty much the favorite mode of my last laptop.

But I had never before seen what is pictured above. That’s what greeted me when I opened my laptop this morning.

Apparently, it’s a thing. A bad thing.

I don’t know what caused it, but I strongly suspect a Firefox update. Ever since I recovered from the Pink Screen, I’ve been unable to use Firefox at all. A home screen of sorts comes up — a different one from what I’ve seen in the past, which is what tells me there must have been an update — but not the home screens I had programmed into the settings.

And anyway, I can’t call up ANY websites on the browser. But if I try the very same URL on Chrome, it works fine.

Oh, and turning it off and back on again didn’t fix the Mozilla problem. I guess my next step is uninstalling and reinstalling.

Any thoughts, guidance, advice…?

ITCrow

Look — there’s Alfred E. Neuman at the Russell House!

Russell House magazine rack

Yeah, I know this doesn’t prove anything.

It’s just that, after all that stuff about how younger people can’t be expected to know who Alfred E. Neuman was, I thought I’d take note of this.Alfred E

I was doing my afternoon walk across the virtually deserted USC campus today, and cut through the Barnes & Noble (and no, I still can’t get over the fact that the Russell House bookstore is now a Barnes & Noble) in the Russell House because I like to get that short blast of air conditioning (and also because I love me some Barnes & Noble).

And as I passed by the magazine rack, there he was. Almost as big as life as the Swimsuit Issue. (Or Swimsuit Issues, plural. When did there start to be more than one of them?)

Does this mean kids automatically know who Alfred E. is? No. But at least it means the kids who pass through here have had the opportunity.

The weird thing about this to me is that magazine racks still exist. Who reads magazines? I know people still read comic books, and their big brothers graphic novels, but that’s kind of a cult commodity. Like vinyl records among some serious audiophiles.closer

They just seem like such big, slick, absurdly-expensive-to-produce dinosaurs.

What’s in a magazine that I can’t get in an even more attractive and interactive format, and more immediately, on my iPad? I don’t read the paper versions of newspapers, and I’m a lifelong newspaperman. Magazines just lie there and don’t do anything. You can’t even click on links. So why would I read a magazine?

Why would anyone?

 

I’m no privacy freak, but yeah — that’s a little creepy

door

Actually, the headline sort of said it all.

Today, I got a notification that something my wife had ordered from Amazon had been delivered to my home.

Wondering what it was (apparently, some frozen treats for grandchildren), I clicked, and got the above page.

Yeah, that’s my red front door in the picture.

I can see a practical reason to do this. For instance, Amazon delivery folks tend to put our packages in different places (inside the garage if that door is open, the mailbox, etc.) and sometimes we have to hunt around to confirm that yes, Alexa is right — something has arrived.

But this still bothers me a little bit. Not much, but a bit. Mainly because I wasn’t expecting it. It’s like having some stranger say, “Look, here’s you on a surveillance camera…”

It doesn’t do me any harm that I can tell, but it’s weird…

They probably mean a different kind of ‘swinger’

Vegas, baby! Vegas!

Vegas, baby! Vegas!

I’m always getting unsolicited emails from mysterious parties wanting to “partner” with this blog in some endeavor or other.

Some are more interesting than others:

Hi There

I actually view your blog repeatedly and go through all your posts which are very interesting.

CumSwingWithMe is one of our site and we constantly work a lot to really make it more informative to our viewers. It is all about bondage and sex swing. These types of details will be useful for those who search for these information. We both of our websites are in very same niche.

We recently provide a FREE detailed infographics about “The Master Sex Swing Guide”. If you’re interested I am pleased to share it to you to check over.

Kindly let us know your interest about this mail.

We’ll be waiting for your reply.

Best

Yeah, “hi there” back atcha.

Hey, I loved “Swingers.” Awesome movie. But I think they’re using the word a different way. Although it’s a bit unclear — “sex swing” is a decidedly awkward construction.

Apparently, in addition to bondage and other things, this site is into English as a second language. But not enough into it to get the nuances. Or even, in some cases, the basics.

And I wonder what sort of confused algorithm concluded that “We both of our websites are in very same niche.”…

poster-780

I finally found a time and a place for podcasts

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I’m hip. I’m with it.

Stop laughing.

No, seriously, I’m someone who digs social media (if it’s Twitter) and I can barely remember what it’s like to watch commercial broadcast television, except that it’s kind of like watching non-premium Hulu, on account of the ads.

But there’s one modern way of interacting with content that I just couldn’t figure out. Not technologically — that was simple enough. I just couldn’t find a time and place for it in my life.

I’m talking podcasts.

Even though there are plenty of things on, for instance, NPR that I would like to listen to at my convenience, I’ve had trouble figuring out when that would be.

  • Not in my car, because if I’m on a long-enough drive, I kind of need to be interacting with the people with me, or at least alert to them. I’m a family man; not the guy in “Vanishing Point.” I seldom take trips alone. Also, it’s really not safe to drive with earbuds on, and how many podcasts do I want to hear that are also interesting to my wife and my grandchildren? I did some solo driving during the campaign, but I was always talking on the phone or otherwise too busy to do any extended listening.
  • Not while working or reading. That works (sometimes) with music, but not with people talking. I can’t read words and listen to words and take both in. My wife can do it, but I can’t. It’s sort of a walking and chewing gum thing.
  • Not while working out on the elliptical at home. Sound isn’t enough to fully distract me from the tedium of exercise. So I watch stuff on the Roku.

I’ve particularly been frustrated in finding a good time to listen to The West Wing Weekly, but I’ve been intimidated by the logistics — I mean, don’t I really need to be watching the show while listening? And when do I have time for that?

Then yesterday, it hit me.

I’ve been listening to Pandora during my afternoon walks downtown. Lately, it’s been my Elvis Costello station (which also gives me the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, Tom Petty, Weezer and other good stuff).

It only hit me yesterday that I could just as easily be listening to a podcast. I had been wanting to listen to The Argument, which features David Leonhardt, Ross Douthat and Michelle Goldberg talking about some issue of the day. So I did. And it was great, although since my route takes me through the USC campus some of the kids may have wondered what’s wrong with the old guy whenever I scowled at someone saying Joe Biden shouldn’t run.

I even had time left in my walk to listen to some Pandora when it was over.

Yeah, I know: Obvious. But I like when some problem that had been bugging me suddenly works its way out. Even when it’s as insignificant as this one.

Of course, I still haven’t figured out the West Wing Weekly problem…

Who congratulates people on their ‘work anniversaries?’

I've blurred names and faces to protect the innocent. It's not their fault LinkedIn does this...

I’ve blurred names and faces to protect the innocent. It’s not their fault LinkedIn does this…

Several years back, I was persuaded to sign up for LinkedIn, on the premise that it would be good for me in my post-newspaper life.

I’ve given it every chance; I really have. I’ve got more than 1,500 connections without having tried all that hard. (I know a lot of people; a lot of people know me.) And I’m sure that any day now, this will come in handy. For something.

But today, as I labor to empty my IN box, I’m wondering about one specific aspect of this thing.

Who congratulates people on their work anniversaries? If you do it, why do you do it? Do you think they want you to? Does anyone have work anniversary celebrations? When you do so, do you worry whether your message will push the recipient into a state of despond, having been reminded that he or she has spent yet another year in that job?

Is this notion of work anniversaries some sort of holdover from when people actually spent whole careers in the same secure jobs, and happily counted down the years until they got that gold watch? Seems to me that the period of time in which LinkedIn has existed corresponds with the years in which more and more of us have been thrown, unwilling, into the gig economy. Is that it? Is the idea that we’re to congratulate the few, the happy (but endangered) few who still have actual jobby-jobs, like Daddy used to have?

I’m just curious whether this is a thing. Or whether LinkedIn is just trying to make it a thing (and, I’m guessing, not succeeding) in a desperate bid for relevance.

All I know is, I’m tired of the emails…

128 gigabytes? 128 GIGABYTES?!?!?!?!

My new iPad came yesterday, and I’m as excited as Doc Brown finding out that his flux capacitor actually works!

Perhaps the best part is that, after years of having to constantly dump stuff to keep my old 32 GB model from getting too full, I now have 128 GB to work with! Last night, the new one automatically went to the cloud and downloaded every app that was on the old one (which I didn’t necessarily need it to do, because I can do without some of them), and when it was done it took up only 14 gigs!

I’ve got 114 gigs of completely clean, virgin, unexplored space lying before me! I’m like one of the English settlers at Jamestown with the whole continent to my west! (Yeah, not a particularly pleasant analogy if you’re a Native American, but it was the first one that came to mind. Race memory stored in the collective unconscious, or something.)

But when I left the house this morning, I suddenly chickened out and brought my old beat-up iPad with me instead. Because if I left the house with the new one it could get wrecked, stolen, scratched, breathed on wrong!

I think I’ll just go home to it tonight and rub it with a diaper.

OK, I’ll stop with the silly movie references now. But I’m kind of giddy about this thing. I’m a heavy tablet user, and having one that’s new and fast and doesn’t freeze up and has more space than I (currently) need is actually going to make my day-to-day life easier…

This reminds me -- I really need to get a haircut...

This reminds me — I really need to get a haircut…

 

Apple, I’m doing the best I can to keep you going…

iPad

Yesterday, Apple sent markets into paroxysms by issuing a poor earnings report and blaming it on the Chinese economy.

And I’m sure slowing Chinese growth, complicated by Trump’s trade war, isn’t helping.

But there may be something else going on as well.

On a previous post, Doug dismissed my concerns about America no longer being a country that did big things by saying the private sector does big things, which of course pleases him because of his strained relationship with the concept of government.

But is that right? When’s the last big thing the private sector did? Smartphones, right?

Well, that was 12 years ago. Or at least, that was when the smartphone came into its own. I had a Blackberry, and before that a Palm Treo, and before that the primitive Palm Pilot (no wifi or cell connectivity, but you could dock it to sync with a PC). But the iPhone and its imitators are what made the magic happen.

In a piece in the NYT today headlined “Is This the End of the Age of Apple?,” technology writer Kara Swisher worries that the magic is gone, and the next thing is failing to pop up on the horizon:

The last big innovation explosion — the proliferation of the smartphone — is clearly ending. There is no question that Apple was the center of that, with its app-centric, photo-forward and feature-laden phone that gave everyone the first platform for what was to create so many products and so much wealth….

Now all of tech is seeking the next major platform and area of growth. Will it be virtual and augmented reality, or perhaps self-driving cars? Artificial intelligence, robotics, cryptocurrency or digital health? We are stumbling in the dark….

Her piece ends plaintively:

Where is that next spark that will light us all up?

I dunno. But as far as Apple is concerned, I’m doing my bit to at least keep them afloat. I got a new iPhone during the campaign. Not only was the battery, despite my plugging it in every time I was near an electrical outlet all day long, giving out, but my 5s just couldn’t keep up with the social media pace — not to mention that I kept running out of space for photos and video, which was completely unacceptable since I was churning out posts such as this and this all day, every day.

So on Oct. 3 I got an iPhone 8, which got me through that last month. In fact, it did a lot to make up for the inadequacies of my laptop and my old iPad, both of which were also on their last legs.

And now, I’m about to replace my 6-year-old iPad 4 with the new 6th generation that came out in 2018. I’m pretty excited about it. For a year or two now, it’s been freezing up on me — probably between five and 10 times a day during the campaign, which was more frustrating than I think you can imagine (which is why I turned more and more to my phone in those last weeks).

When I say “freeze up,” I mean the screen just… freezes. It won’t respond to touch. I can’t scroll, or go to the Home screen or anything. The Home button doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t respond to any sort of input short of a sledgehammer, which I haven’t tried in spite of the temptation. This lasts for anywhere between a minute and five minutes. Then, it either resumes working, or reboots and then resumes working — until the next freeze.

I don’t mean to badmouth my iPad. I love it, and it has served me well for a long time now — about twice as long as the useful life of a PC. But it’s time.

Hence my placing an order for a new one. So as I say, I’m trying to help Apple. But here’s the thing about that…

I’m not ordering anything new, in the sense of being a life-changing departure. I just want an iPad that functions the way my old one did when it was new. Well, that, and more storage — going from 32g to 128.

And basically, it was the same with my iPhone. I didn’t even want the size to change. In fact, I delayed getting a new phone until it became clear that Apple was not going to put out an updated version of the SE. But I stopped at the 8. I had zero interest in the supposedly (but not really) revolutionary X.

And I have no interest in an iPad Pro, or an iPad Air. You know why? Because they don’t really offer anything impressive that is also useful. Which is great for me, because the cost of a basic iPad with 128 gigs has dropped considerably as Apple has pushed those higher-priced models.

To me, the basic iPad is the pinnacle of its type of tech. It’s something I had been waiting for ever since 1994, when a guy who worked for the same company I did, Roger Fidler. Don’t believe me? Watch the video. I was on fire to have one from the moment I heard of the concept — just as I had been anxious to deliver the news electronically ever since my paper had gone from typewriters to a mainframe in 1980. I couldn’t wait until I had a tablet of my own, to replace newspapers, magazines and books. I knew that when I did, I’d carry it everywhere.

And now that I have one, that’s exactly what I do. The iPad is as much a part of me as most people’s wallets are. I had to wait more than 20 years, but I finally got me one.

But… that was the acme. All you can do for me now is make my tablet a little faster or expand the storage. I don’t need more functionality, beyond a new app now and then. The model I’ve ordered will work with an Apple Pencil, and my reaction to that is “meh.”

I don’t need any startling new developments. And Apple hasn’t offered any.

So… Ms. Swisher seems to have a point. The Age in which Apple drives revolutionary change may well be at an end…

People are still putting out albums?

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An album that truly marked its territory in 1971.

As I’ve said, I tend to interact with my subscription to The New Yorker via the emails they send me. And today, I was puzzled to find this headline in my IN box: “Eight Albums That Defined 2018 for Me.” It was written by someone aptly named “Brianna Younger.” I don’t see how such a piece could have been written by a “Brianna Older.”

But even then, I have to wonder at the following:

  • “Albums?” People are still putting out albums in 2018? That’s so… ’70s. So vinyl (and yes, I know vinyl experienced a resurgence — like, a generation ago). It’s album-oriented rock on FM stations with DJs who sounded like they were on Quaaludes. Aren’t we several technological developments beyond “albums?” There were albums, then cassettes, then CDs, then stolen MP3s and iPods, then free access to all music ever recorded via YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, etc. And you say albums are still a thing? If so, in what sense — mere collections of recordings, or concept-based, like Sgt. Pepper and Aqualung?
  • Who can possibly name eight albums from this year, much less special ones? Personally, I can’t name one — and perusing the list in The New Yorker didn’t help. And before you scoff at the old guy, this is largely because media are so fragmented today. In, say, the ’60s, old people couldn’t miss the Beatles, the Rolling Stones or Herman’s Hermits. And young people couldn’t miss Frank Sinatra, Robert Goulet, or Engelbert Humperdinck. And no one could possibly miss Herb Alpert or Burt Bacharach. They were ubiquitous, layered thickly upon the limited spread of available media. That just isn’t the case today. Listeners can go off into their own private world and groove on their own private sounds that the person sitting next to them have never heard and never will hear. Our culture is not shared as it was.
  • In light of both of the two previous points, how can any albums, the eight in question or whichever ones you pick, define a year in this century? An album might have done that in the 70s, when they were as central to the mass culture as bell-bottoms and leisure suits. But this just seems the last sort of thing that could define the year. Albums just don’t do that in this decade.

Here are the eight albums in question:

  1. BbyMutha, “BbyShoe”
  2. Janelle Monáe, “Dirty Computer”
  3. Kendrick Lamar, “Black Panther: The Album”
  4. Noname, “Room 25”

Oops. That’s only four. Either there’s something wrong with my computer, or even Brianna could only come up with four. (Let me know if you can find the other four; I’m curious.) Whatever. The point is, I’ve heard of Janelle Monáe (the name has stuck because my mother and one of my daughters are named “Janelle”), and I saw “Black Panther.” Neither causes any particular music to come to mind. The others mean nothing to me.

Granted that “Black Panther” actually was a mass cultural phenomenon in the past year, I have to ask, in what sense do you feel these recordings were essential to an understanding of 2018? Forty years from now, to what extent will today’s young people — much less their children and grandchildren — be listening to this music, or seeing it as essential to this moment?

If you don’t think that’s a fair question, allow me to cite eight albums from a year in which albums mattered, in which they truly served as a broadly-perceived soundtrack for the time, and even could have been said to “define” the time, and echo in our memory of that year on mass media to this day.

It may be a bit unfair, but I’m going to pick my eight from 1971…

…Sorry, I can’t narrow it down to eight. Let’s do 10 that still loom large in our culture:

  • The Who – Who’s Next. This one may be the one with the most singles that you still frequently hear on the radio. “Baba O’Riley.” “Behind Blue Eyes.” “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
  • Al Green – Gets Next to You. All I have to say is, “Tired of Being Alone.
  • Joni Mitchell — Blue. The best-remembered cut was probably “California,” but the album overall was a cultural touchstone.
  • Marvin Gaye — What’s Going On. Which was, of course, about what was going on. So, definitive of a time.
  • Rod Stewart — Every Picture Tells a Story. Anything you connect with “early Rod Stewart” (not counting Jeff Beck days) is on this one. Let’s just skim the second side: “Maggie May.” “Mandolin Wind.” “(I Know) I’m Losing You.” “(Find a) Reason to Believe.” All that’s missing is “Handbags and Gladrags.”
  • The Rolling Stones — Sticky Fingers. Arguably their best, although “Let if Bleed” and “Exile on Main Street” are right up there. Let’s go with a non-hit from this one: “Moonlight Mile,” which weirdly invoked Huckleberry Finn and Jim for me. It made me feel like I was rolling down a river at a leisurely raft pace. Listen to that rhythm and tell me I’m not right. You don’t have to listen to the words. If that doesn’t do it for you, go lose yourself in “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” Mr. Bobby Keys on sax!
  • Carole King — Tapestry. Like, a lifetime of stellar songwriting distilled into one shot and dropped upon an unsuspecting public. Let’s go with “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.
  • Jethro Tull — Aqualung. “Sit-ting on a park bench… DAH, dah-dah…” (Remember Jack Donaghy and Pete Hornberger 39 years later conveniently forgetting the second line, thank goodness?) Still, my favorite cut from the album is “Wind-Up.” It was in ’71, and still is today. He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays.
  • John Lennon — Imagine. The title cut is hauntingly beautiful, even though I hate the lyrics. I prefer “Jealous Guy” and “Oh Yoko!” Even though Yoko isn’t one of my fave people, for obvious reasons.
  • Janis Joplin — Pearl. She died in October of the previous year and this was released posthumously in January, but it’s such a part of the year’s soundtrack that it shouts “1971.” Let’s pause and give a listen to “A Woman Left Lonely.”

Notice that I’m completely ignoring James Taylor, David Bowie, and my main man Leon Russell, and many others doing ground-breaking work at the time.

To use an expression that entered the culture sometime between then and now, at this point I will drop the mic.

I wanted to LIVE in this picture with Carole. Could have done without the cat, though...

I wanted to LIVE in this picture with Carole. Could have done without the cat, though…

No, seriously, Nikki: I’ve been tuning it out, too

My response this morning to a headline about Nikki Haley may have come across as mocking, or at least facetious:

But the truth is, I HAVE been tuning it out. Or at least, not tuning it in.

Last night, I dropped in as usual to check on my parents, and they were doing something I never do — watching network TV news — and my mother said something about Cohen being sentenced to prison, while none of the others in all this mess had to do time… and I said I didn’t think that was right. I thought I’d heard the other day on the radio that someone had just finished serving a brief sentence and was getting out…

But I couldn’t name the guy. And I really wasn’t sure about it. It was something I had half-heard, without actively listening… although I tend to have good retention of stuff I heard without paying attention — it’s the secret to how I got through school.

When I hear the name of the guy who just got out of jail, I picture this guy. So don't go by me on this...

When I hear the name of the guy who just got out of jail, I picture this guy. So don’t go by me…

(For the purposes of this post, I did a little Googling. Apparently, four people have been sentenced to time behind bars. This was the guy who just got out, after a ridiculously short sentence — 12 days. I can’t tell you anything else about him. Whenever I hear his name, I picture this guy, so don’t go by me.)

Here’s the thing: The whole enterprise seems kind of pointless to me. I mean, I think the Mueller investigation needs to continue, for very serious reasons: We need to know all we can about the Russian effort to disrupt our elections — the 2016 one and especially future ones. We need to get a LOT more savvy about that stuff, and stop being so absurdly gullible as a people.

But I’m not terribly optimistic that that’s going to happen in a post-truth America.

And anyway, I sense that the reason other people pay so much attention to this investigation and its resultant prosecutions is that they think it has bearing on Donald Trump’s fate.

It doesn’t, near as I can can see. If you’re counting on, say, impeachment, dream on. Impeachment is a political act, and the Senate is in thrall to Trump. And even if the Dems had succeeded in capturing the Senate, impeachment would not have been a viable option. It probably would have exacerbated the sickness in our body politic that produced Trump.

The political significance of the Cohen prosecution has nothing to do with violation of campaign finance laws. It has to do with him paying off a porn star at Trump’s behest. That’s something we knew before the election, and it had zero effect on the people who voted for him. As it continues to do.

That’s how low we have sunk as a country. And you might say my dropping of names of Watergate figures was an act of nostalgia on my part, a longing for a time when facts mattered, and the nation had standards.

I watched “All the President’s Men” again the other night. Such a wonderful film, on so many levels. The wistfulness I feel watching it goes far beyond remembering the days when newspapers were healthy and vital. It goes to a time when, if the public learned that people in and around high public office did bad things, that was it.

Once it reached the Oval Office, and the non-denial denials weren’t working any more, Nixon was toast. And being the master politician he was, he knew that. So he resigned. And in retrospect we can see that maybe he did so in part because of something missing today — a sense of honor, a wish to avoid putting the country through the trauma of impeachment.

We didn’t lose that all at once. It took time. And Democrats who congratulate themselves on still having standards should remember that 20 years ago one of their own did NOT resign, despite having been caught in impeachable acts, including brazenly lying to the American people.

Things are worse now, of course. Facts at least still mattered a bit in 1998. They don’t now, with a shockingly large portion of the electorate.

I appreciate what Mueller is trying to do, and I appreciate him, as sort of the last Boy Scout, a guy who still believes in the importance of facts.

But I just can’t get interested enough to follow the details. So I’m like Nikki there…

 

 

Blue IS my favorite color, but others are nice as well…

blue iconsOccasionally, when I’m in a hurry to open my Twitter app, I mistakenly click on my email. Or my WordPress app. Or LinkedIn. Or the remote app for the Apple TV.

Why? Because they’re all blue!

This morning, my iPad was showing me a bunch of apps that needed updating (don’t ask me why it was showing me this rather than just updating them automatically as usual; I suppose I’ll have to go in and reset something), and every single icon showing on the page was blue.

And note that some of the most obvious blue icons that come to mind — Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox — weren’t even represented in this list.

Why is that? Is there research showing that that’s the most desirable color for an app? Is that evidence so powerful that it prevents developers from even having the thought, “Maybe I should make my icon stand out from the others?”

And does anyone besides me think this is odd?

OK, now… as I frequently do, I wrote the above without taking the trouble to Google, “why are so many app icons blue?” Before clicking “publish,” I decided I would. Like most questions that occur to me, this one had apparently been asked a gazillion times. (You know, I was a far more original thinker before Google came along.)

None of the answers were totally satisfactory to me. Yeah, OK, so blue is the most common favorite color on the planet, across cultures, genders, etc. It’s a safe choice for someone trying to appeal to a wide audience, not as edgy as, say, the execrable orange.

Got it. In fact, I sort of knew that stuff without asking. But still, it seems more developers would look at that sea of blue on their smartphone screens and think, “I want to stand out.”

But they don’t. Because they’re not such original thinkers either, apparently…

Amazon sees me as a regular, action-oriented kinda guy

movies 1

I got a kick out of this….

I found a new option on my Amazon account and clicked on something that said, “Brad’s Amazon.”

That led me to category after category that Amazon had decided, based on my activity in the past, Brad liked.

Above and below you see the movies that Amazon thinks I’m most interested in. Apparently, I really dig some 007. (But I assure you, I much prefer Sean Connery to Roger Moore.)

Y’all know me. I like that stuff, sure, but my tastes are a bit… wider. Why just the other day, didn’t I get all artsy-fartsy with that French romantic musical I went to see? That was pretty eclectic of me, don’t you think? And if I look at the stuff I’ve watched recently via Amazon Prime, it’s at least somewhat broader that these options.

I’ve been watching stuff like old episodes of “House,” and the Irish cop series, “Single-Handed.” And “The Last Post,” about British Army types in Yemen in the early ’60s. And that scandalous Hedy Lamarr picture, “Ecstasy.” (Or at least, I watched enough to tell you it’s not as racy as people let on.)

Actually, that’s not all that broad a selection, is it? Maybe Amazon knows me better than I know myself. Maybe I’m really, just an uncomplicated, macho, action-oriented kind of guy. So… somebody run get me a beer (and not light beer) while I watch James Bond use the ejector seat on that guy again in “Goldfinger.” I liked that part…

movies 2

Something off-putting about those ‘patriotic’ uniforms

unis 1

I thought about posting this on Memorial Day itself, but decided to wait.

For me — a guy who’s all about some patriotism and support for the military (and if there’s a spectator sport I love, it’s baseball) — there’s something off-putting about those special uniforms MLB players donned over the holiday weekend.

It’s not just that it’s so contrived, such a cheesy, sterile form of tribute to men who died in the blood and noise and fury and filth and noise of battle. They did not wear clean, white uniforms with camouflage numbers. They did not wear caps that look as much like what a deer hunter would wear as anything you’d see on a soldier.

But there’s also something… decadent, something last-days-of-Rome about it.

Of course, I’m guilty of romanticizing baseball. I think of it in very anachronistic terms as a humble, pastoral game played by plain men who did it for the love of the sport, guys who maybe had one uniform to their names, and that uniform made of wool that caused them to roast in the summer sun. (And they liked it, as Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man would say.)

I just can’t help thinking of all the money spent on these uniforms that these players will probably wear only once. Which makes me think about how much — way too much — money there is in professional sports today, so much that vast sums can be thrown away on PR gestures that, as I said above, seem inadequate to the kind of tribute our war dead deserve.

I’m not blaming MLB here. This occurs in a context in which the fans, the entire society, seem to have lost all sense of materialistic restraint.

You, too, can have a genuine copy of the jersey your hero wore for one game for only $119.99. Or, if you’ve really lost your marbles and have more money than anyone needs, you can have the actual jersey that a player wore, for $2,125! Unless someone with priorities even further out of whack outbids you!

It just all seems kind of nuts to me. And vaguely offensive. Does this make any sense to anyone?

distasteful

Philip Roth, the last of the literary lions of the ’60s

At least, I don’t think there are any left… Joseph Heller, Tom Wolfe, Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer, John Updike… who’s missing?

Anyway, Philip Roth’s gone now, too.Philip_Roth_-_1973

I don’t have a lot to say about this one. I had read and largely loved most of what Tom Wolfe had ever published, so he meant more to me.

I think all I ever read by Roth was “Goodbye Columbus.” That was pretty good, but not exactly something that set my mind on fire the way, say, Catch-22 did. I think I liked some of the other stories in that collection better, such as “The Conversion of the Jews.” So I appreciate that one writer eulogized him as being “forever the little boy on the roof threatening to jump, forcing the Rabbi into an apology.” Nicely said, especially since it’s an allusion I actually get.

But I never heard anything about Portnoy’s Complaint that made me want to read it. (Of course, I never heard much about it that rose above the level of a dirty joke.) Maybe I should. You know, to have a better grasp on the serious literature of my time, the way I made myself read a couple of Updike’s “Rabbit” books, to be better in touch with the alienation and discontent of my generation and yadda-yadda.

Or maybe not. I had a pretty happy childhood, and have only ever had a limited appetite for disaffected moral aridity. Thoughts?

Or anything else you’d like to say about Roth? I’m outta ammo…

Goodbye, Columbus: I not only read the book, but saw the film. I'll say this for it: If forced to watch an Ali McGraw movie, I'd rather see this than "Love Story."

Goodbye, Columbus: I not only read the book, but saw the film. I’ll say this for it: If forced to watch an Ali MacGraw movie, I’d rather see this than “Love Story.” That’s about as far as I can go with it. I liked Benjamin better in “Catch-22.”

Are y’all getting all these notices about privacy?

privacy

I guess it has something to do with the spectacle of Mark Zuckerberg, all dressed up like Daddy, looking stiff and uncomfortable, like he’s about to have a tooth pulled, in front of first Congress, and now the European Parliament.

Maybe it’s something else. But now it seems every company that I do any sort of business with is falling all over itself sending me notices about its privacy policies.

I suppose I’d know more what it’s about if I read one of them, but I’ve never read anything like that in the past, and I’d just as soon have a tooth pulled myself as start now.

My own privacy policy, which I’ve had ever since we switched from typewriters to mainframes in 1980, is this: “Don’t type anything into a computer that you don’t want to see published for all the world to see.” This was based on bitter experiences with the messaging function we had built in to that mainframe, sort of a forerunner of the text and the IM. We no longer had to shout our “witticisms” across the newsroom; we could privately send them to a chosen recipient. Which meant the comments might take on an edge you would avoid if saying it aloud.

But it only took one or two times of accidentally sending the message to the person the wisecrack was ABOUT to break me of that habit. “Ah, yes… ha, ha… That was a JOKE, you see, one I thought only you would appreciate. Ha-ha-ha!…”

Also — the storage on that entire mainframe system was probably far less than 1% of what you have on your phone. So, in order for the system to keep working, a couple of tech guys had to go into the system every night and delete everything extraneous, including that day’s messages — which they had to call up and look at individually.

Eventually, they got tired of reading the messages between this one woman and man who were carrying on a torrid adulterous affair, using the system as a primary means of communication. And someone had to speak to them. And everyone heard about it.

Hence my rule.

The rule became exponentially more critical when computers became connected to the internet.

Yeah, I suppose I might slip and do something indiscreet one day, but in the meantime I’ve generally managed to stay out of trouble with my policy.

Anyway, are y’all getting these emails, too?

If my DNA helps catch a serial killer, I’m totally fine with that

my DNA

My DNA results overview page. I do not “shudder” to share this, with you or the cops.

This morning while working out on the elliptical, I started watching a movie on Netflix called “Anon.” It imagines a near-future in which there is no privacy. Apparently, everyone’s brain is wired to record video of every single second of his or her life — sort of like Google Glass without the glasses. And that data is easily shared wirelessly with other people, and is completely available to the police. The police can even access the last experiences of a dead person, which makes finding murderers ridiculously easy.

Also, you can watch TV or movies without a TV — they just stream in your head — and talk to anyone anywhere without a phone. Which, if an accurate prediction of the future, is really bad news for Best Buy. (First showrooming, now this…)

So since the main character (played by Clive Owen) is a homicide cop, a plot twist is needed to make his job interesting. In this case, the plot twist is that he’s on the trail of a serial killer who has managed to hack people’s digital memories, so that everything in the victim’s last moments is seen from the killer’s POV — so you see the victim being shot, but you don’t see the shooter.

I lost interest in it after 39 minutes, and switched over to “Babylon Berlin” for the rest of my workout. It may have been low-tech, but Germany between the wars was never boring.

But it reminded me of something I meant to blog about a week or so ago.

You’ve probably read about how the Golden State Killer was caught more than 40 years after his crimes when investigators tracked him genetically through a consumer DNA service like Ancestry. Basically, they found links to some of his relatives who had voluntarily shared their DNA info on such databases. Then they found him, and made a positive DNA match to something he’d discarded.

Which I thought was awesome.

But of course, this development immediately led to such headlines as:

The Golden State Killer Is Tracked Through a Thicket of DNA, and Experts Shudder

Data on a genealogy site led police to the ‘Golden State Killer’ suspect. Now others worry about a ‘treasure trove of data’

Really? Experts “shudder?” People worry about a “treasure trove of data” that not only can connect you to a 4th cousin, but help cops determine whether he’s a serial killer? Which would be a cool thing to know before you reach out to meet him or trade family information?

Why? That’s utterly absurd.

Sharing DNA info can lead to some pretty painful results for a lot of people. For instance, you can find out that your “Dad” isn’t really your Dad. This can lead to a great deal of family trauma and upend lives.

I’ve been lucky in that regard. My results have been boring. I am related to the people I thought I was related to in precisely the way I thought I was. There could be surprises in results from folks who have not yet been tested, but so far it’s been pretty vanilla. (Extremely vanilla, in terms of ethnicity — so much for those Ancestry ads that tell of all the exciting, exotic backgrounds people have found in their DNA.)

Not that there haven’t been surprises elsewhere on the tree. Some months ago, my daughter was contacted by a guy who was trying to find his birth parents, who thought a cousin of mine might be his father. Sure enough, he shows up on Ancestry as being right behind a couple of my first cousins in terms of his closeness to me. He narrowed it down to one of my cousins. I don’t know whether that cousin knows about it, because I haven’t wanted to pry.

Something like that can be upsetting to those involved, and I’m very sympathetic to that. But that’s just the DNA service working as advertised.

What these “experts” out there are “worrying” and “shuddering” about is the police being able to use these connections to solve crimes.

This does not worry me. If one of my cousins is a serial killer, I’d kind of like the duly constituted authorities to know that, and act upon it.

And I have trouble imagining a scenario in which that is a bad thing — although I’m sure we’ll see a movie soon that shows it to be a frightening thing…

Remembering ‘American Girl in Italy’

american_girl_in_italy

The girl in the famous photograph became an old woman, and died this week at the age of 90.

I just thought I’d post the picture and see if y’all wanted to discuss it. I hope this will be seen within the bounds of Fair Use, because I can’t afford to buy rights to photos.

It should stir all sorts of reactions based in all sorts of worldviews. At one end of the spectrum is the attitude of the woman herself, who “said the image represented nothing more than admiration and curiosity and was ‘a symbol of a woman having an absolutely wonderful time.'” She elaborated:

“Women look at that picture and feel indignant, angry,” she told the Times. “They say, ‘That poor woman. We should be able to walk wherever we want to and not be threatened.’ As gently as I can, I explain I was not feeling fear. There was no danger because it was a far different time.”

On the other end of the spectrum is the whole #metoo movement, and the notion that what the photo depicts is barely distinguishable from sexual assault.

As for me, I’m somewhere in between. I personally would never behave like the men in the picture, and yes, some of that is a matter of character — a gentleman does not act that way. But maybe I’m just less honest than those guys. Also, I’m not Italian and I wasn’t alive in 1951.

My wife backpacked around Europe with another girl the summer before we met, and in Italy she experienced worse than what is depicted here. Which, needless to say, displeases me and makes me feel protective. But it happened before I knew her, and she came through it OK, and, generally, seems to have done OK taking care of herself without me.

My reaction to that picture lies somewhere between a wry smile at human nature and a contemptuous “look at those a__holes….”

Sex, and the way people are about sex, are complicated things. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully understand it with regard to myself, much less other people. This picture remains iconic because it depicts the power of sex both as a creative and destructive force.

What does it say to you?

My speech to the Naval Academy alumni

There are no pictures from my talk, so, since this was a naval group, here's a picture of a ship -- one my Dad served in, long ago, USS Noa.

There are no pictures from my talk, so, since this was a naval group, here’s a picture of a ship — one my Dad served in, long ago, USS Noa.

Today at noon at the Palmetto Club, I spoke to the Midlands Chapter of the United States Naval Academy Alumni Association.

It’s a good group, consisting of a bunch of former naval officers (including one admiral), and they let me speak about whatever I wanted, although I understand that what most groups want me to talk about is politics and/or the media.

I like to keep my remarks short because I prefer to devote as much time as possible to questions — not because I’m generous about answering questions, because I simply feel more comfortable doing that. When I’m answering questions, I know I’m talking about something that interests my audience, and I can do it all day it you let me. So I relax.

But I have to prepare some remarks, and this time I went a bit overboard, leaving time for only about four questions (each of which I answered at length, of course). I really need to time myself on these things going forward, to increase Q&A time.

Here’s what I had written down, and — after some off-the-cuff remarks about today’s news about The State‘s new publisher — I read most of it, with a few tangents. So, since I don’t like to spend time writing anything without publishing it, here are my notes:

US Naval Academy Alumni Assoc of the Midlands
Thursday 19 April at noon

We are living in a strange time.

It’s a time when everyone is more closely connected than ever, at least on a superficial level, but we are being blown apart by the very factors that allow us to connect.

Distrust of institutions, distrust of the ideas that have animated our country and given it meaning from the beginning. Distrust of expertise. Distrust of facts, distrust of reality.

There’s a quote attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of the most thoughtful people to grace our politics in the second half of the 20th century. He said:

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

At the time when he said it, it was just an assertion of common sense. People repeated the quote because it so succinctly stated a basic truth. We congratulated ourselves on understanding this. We knew what a fact was, and we knew what an opinion was, and we had a general agreement on where the dividing line was between the two.

No more.

Growing up when I did, in the postwar world, I was fortunate to live in a time when we all had a shared daily source of facts – the newspaper.

Newspapers in America started life as disreputable things, at least by the standards in place by the time I came along. They existed to push partisan points of view. In the first years of our republic, the papers run by Hamilton’s Federalists existed to tear down Jefferson and Madison’s Democratic-Republicans, and vice-versa. And there were no boundaries.

Journalism continued to be wild and wooly throughout the 19th century, and in many places, well into the 20th. But then they started to get “respectable.” They started trying to treat Democrats and Republicans fairly and impartially and at arm’s length on the news pages, and keep opinion strictly confined to the editorial page. And increasingly, to be nonpartisan on the editorial page as well.

I’d like to say that this happened out of nobility, but there was also a selfish factor at work: Publishers figured out they could make more money if everybody – Democrats, Republicans and independents – read their papers. So objectivity became the order of the day.

And it had a good effect, to the extent that people’s understanding of public life was formed by newspapers, and to a great extent it was: Everyone, regardless of their political views, had a shared set of facts to work from. Everyone was entitled to his opinion as to what to DO in light of the facts, but the facts belonged to everybody, and were no respecters of persons.

We all tacitly accepted what my favorite Founding Father, John Adams, had said: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

However fiercely we might have held and expressed our opinions, they rested on a shared belief in the same facts, the same reality. And however wrong we believed them to be, we were able to respect other people’s rights to THEIR opinions.

And while our debates, and our elections, were lively, they were civil.

Facts were things presented to us by experts, by people trained to understand what was important, to investigate it, and to present it in an easily understood format. (talk about what editors went through in deciding how to present the news [this turned into a lengthy digression, talking about stuff like this]). Their ability to make these decisions and follow through on them in a hurry was honed in a hard school, daily, over years of pressure.

And they tended to come up with the same facts, and presented them very similarly. (My experience comparing on a daily basis in the 80s.)

Now, nobody needs an editor. Let me correct that. Actually, one of the old truisms of journalism is that everybody needs an editor, all the time. But we have technology today that fools people into thinking they don’t need an editor. Now, everyone is his own editor, and publisher.

This is very democratic – small d. It’s also the way madness lies, because nowadays, everyone is persuaded that he is indeed entitled to his own facts, and everyone else’s facts are “fake news.”

The “news,” as many people experience it, is no longer curated by people who have an understanding of what is important. Worse, there is no skeptical editor telling the reporter, “You don’t have that story nailed down, so I’m not running it.” Not on many of the “news” platforms of today. Not on Facebook. Not on Twitter. (And I can say that even though I love Twitter, which I can elaborate on later if you care.) And not on the plethora of websites out there that exist to cater to your preferred version of reality.

This has driven our national politics, the level most susceptible to these forces, mad. From the left to the right, although the rightward version currently holds power. And the madness is seeping down to the state level.

I could give a lot of examples of this, but I’ll give one: sanctuary cities. The number-one legislative priority of the governor of our state these days is to pass a law against “sanctuary cities” in South Carolina. Never mind that there ARE no sanctuary cities in South Carolina; the governor wants to force cities to actively PROVE that they are not sanctuary cities – in other words, he would accomplish nothing but increase the amount of stupid, pointless, bureaucratic red tape in government.

Reality doesn’t matter. Facts don’t matter, in a new world in which people choose their own facts.

Before I open up to questions, I want to point out that our problem with personal-preference facts isn’t entirely a creation of the Internet. There are a lot of other unfortunate trends of recent decades that have brought us to this divided state.

To pick on another medium, before the Web there was 24-7 cable TV “news,” and now there’s more of it than ever.

This had two very bad effects on the country.

First, it elevated local news into national news. Once, news directors only needed to fill half an hour. Now, they have to fill 24 hours, and they’ll use any “news” they can get their hands on. So it is that stories of weird, disturbing crimes and small-time public corruption – things that would never have been reported beyond a local news market — became national news stories. Accordingly, people think the world is much more menacing and corrupt than they used to think, because they’re exposed to much more of it.

This makes people distrustful of everyone and everything – the streets aren’t safe! they’re all crooks! – and they no longer perceive the most important thing that should be understood about news: News is the unusual, the weird, the departure from the norm. Increasingly, people think what they see on sensationalized TV news IS the norm. Because it’s on ALL THE TIME!

Secondly, no matter how hard they try, these stations can’t come up with 24 hours of NEWS news. So they fill the rest with opinion. It might be an interview with an “expert,” or a panel of highly opinionated talking heads yelling at each other. In any case, increasingly the viewer ceases to distinguish between this yacking and NEWS. Worse, increasingly, people who watch this stuff begin to tar real journalists with the same brush. They think everybody’s pushing an angle, even when they’re reporting the news straight.

I could keep on, but I won’t. I’d like to hear your questions, so we can talk about what interests YOU….

My initial inspiration for my topic was this column from earlier in the week by David Brooks, about how in this age of hyperconnectivity, loneliness is at an all-time high in our society. But as you can see, I digressed from that almost immediately. To correct that, I threw in an elaboration on his theme. Brooks’ column is better, of course, because it’s a column, rather than rambling notes…

The parting gift I got for speaking. It will look great with some rum and ginger ale in it.

The parting gift I got for speaking. It will look great with some rum and ginger ale in it.