Time to cover some news that either broke after I composed the most recent Friday Five, or has had new developments since then, or didn’t quite make the cut for that post, or is simply an update to some news story I have previous linked and talked about. So let’s go:
This related to the Manhattan District Attorney’s investigation into whether Trump’s company inflated the value of some of his signature properties to obtain the best possible loans, while lowballing the values to reduce property taxes. There may also be evidence of insurance fraud. This is completely separate from the New York State Attorney General’s investigation, though it includes similar allegations. The Manhattan DA only has jurisdiction over crimes that happened within New York City, whereas the state AG can be looking at potentially criminal activities throughout the rest of the state: New York Attorney General Letitia James says Trump Supreme Court ruling won’t affect her tax probe.
And this is separate from a criminal investigation in the state of Georgia over Trump’s attempt to bulling state officials into magically “finding” enough votes to flip the state: Georgia prosecutors open criminal investigation into Trump’s efforts to subvert election results. And things are getting even more interesting in Georgia: A Trump criminal probe in Georgia expands to include Sen. Lindsey Graham – A Georgia district attorney is investigating whether Graham violated state law in a call with an elections official. Lady G just might wind up being deposed!
There aren’t likely to be criminal charges coming for the Texas Senator over this, but: One night in Cancun: Ted Cruz’s disastrous decision to go on vacation during Texas storm crisis. Let’s be honest: Cruz has always been nothing more than an ambulatory tape worm badly pretending to be a human who somehow manages to keep getting re-elected. But this was a particularly tone-deaf decision, and illustrates how any signs of empathy for people outside his immediate circle is all performative. Meanwhile, Ted’s constituents are being left to fend for themselves: Hypothermia deaths in Texas mount amid severe weather conditions and Texas power outages left woman with over $10,000 electric bill.
What a mess!
At least some help is coming: Biden Declares Major Disaster in Texas as Federal Aid Flows – The Federal Emergency Management Agency has shipped dozens of generators and supplies, including fuel, water, blankets and ready-to-eat meals, to the affected areas. I want to point out that, unlike the previous president, Biden didn’t hesitate to declare and emergency and authorize aid to a state that didn’t vote for him, and whose governor has been a virulent critic of Biden and his party. Just sayin’…
Unfortunately, we still have other issues to worry about: Fauci calls 500,000 coronavirus deaths ‘terrible’. It is a horrible milestone that we never should have reached. And still there are idiots (including some elected officials) encouraging idiots no to wear masks and so forth! Also: ‘Rapid take-off’ of variant first found in Britain threatens US.
There is one tiny bit of good news for at least some of us: People who wear glasses may be up to 3 times less likely to catch COVID, new study suggests. I’ll take any good news I can get, right now. And I can start feeling less irritated that my glasses keep fogging up.
Here’s a weird one: Who’s the Homophobe Bothering Local Businesses and Ken Jennings’ Family? If you are aware of Ken Jennings, a multiple Jeopardy champion, you might also know that he lives in Seattle, where I live. Because he is local, he is probably a bit more of a celebrity here than other places. Anyway, a few years ago someone started mailing postcards containing very unimaginative homophobic rants to Ken and his wife. Jennings has never identified as queer, but there is at least one of two times that he has publicly stated his support for queer rights in general, and marriage equality in particular.
They’ve been getting this postcards for a while, as I mentioned, but in the last several weeks similar postcards, supposedly signed by Mrs. Jennings, have been being received by various small businesses around town. Most of these businesses are not owned by queer people, though I know at least two of the businesses have offered Pride Month specials in previous years. It’s a weird story and a weird way to harass people. I assume the homophobe signed the new cards with Mrs. Jennings’ name in hopes that some of the recipients would believe they were from her and go public with the news?
But again, whey have they sent these postcards to the barely semi-famous straight couple for the last few years?
If I weren’t running out of time on my lunch break, I’d go off in detail about how often homophobes always spout almost the same, unimaginative slurs and insults. But, let’s move one…
Let’s leave with something cool!
I Miss My Bar – Recreate Your Favorite Bar’s Atmosphere. If you go to this website, you can select various options to make your computer, tablet, or whatever you’re browsing on generate background noised that sound like a bar (or restaurant). You control the mix of which ambient sounds, want a very light rain on the window? Or maybe the sound of more heavy rain? A lot of background conversations? Or just a few other people in a mostly empty place.
It’s just a really cool concept. And even though I’m a big introvert, I can appreciate how odd it has been that I haven’t been in a bar or restaurant for over a year. For people who used to go out a lot more than I ever did, this may be even more interesting.
It’s not world-shattering or life-changing, thus a really cool project that someone has put together and then put out in the world.
I started, but never finished, several blog posts during December. Between finishing the Christmas shopping, fretting about the coup that seemed in the works, writing five different versions of the Christmas Ghost Story before I was happy, and the stressful deadlines at work where everyone was trying to finish everything before everyone else went on holiday, I just kept not coming back to them. I decided that even though several of them are seasonal, I’m going to just go ahead, finish them, and post.Every year during Thanksgiving weekend I pull whichever iPod has been living in the car the last several months, and replace with with the iPod that is loaded with Christmas music. So every time I drive anywhere during the holiday season, there’s Christmas music in the car. Loading that iPod is not a matter of simply grabbing as much Christmas music as will fit on it, but selecting music that my poor, long-suffering husband can listen to without setting his teeth on edge. Because while I love, love, love Christmas music of almost all kinds, he has decidely less tolerance for it. Which is easy to handle when I’m listening at home, because I can just wear earphones or AirPods and he doesn’t have to hear what I’m listening to. But in the car it’s another matter.
One of the rules for the car playlist is “No sweet baby Jesus music.” Or more generally, no overtly religious music. Another is that while I can assemble a playlist that is all of the versions of White Christmas (73 different recordings at present) and listen to it just fine, they all sound the same to him. And sometimes the random play feature would throw up several different versions of the same song in close enough proximity that it annoyed him. So only one version of any individual song—though he’s okay if there is both a vocal and an instrumental version.
Since I have nearly 3000 Christmas songs in the library, it’s not that difficult to put together a fairly sizable Christmas music playlist which meets those requirements.
Except when I misremember what a song is.
For some context: way back when I was in the fifth grade in elementary school, the school had a Christmas program made up of all of the kids of each grade singing one song. Or maybe it was each classroom that had a song. The song we learned was Christmas in Kilarney which begins with the words, “The holly green, the ivy green, the prettiest picture you’ve ever seen.” One of the reasons this particular memory sticks out is that my fifth grade teacher was the one who taught us to sing the song. One of his “claims to fame” was that he had spent a couple years after or during college in England. And so he decided we should learn to sing the song in the proper accent. So we spent a lot of time practicing the song the way he wanted us to pronounce things. Which would have been cool if he had been trying to teach us to sing with an Irish accent. But he didn’t. Instead he had us dropping h’s and otherwise went for a very poorly rendered cockney accent.
Whenever that song comes up on a random play, I remember that time trying so hard to learn to pronounce things the way he wanted, and then a few years later realizing that he had been teaching us the wrong accent.
And that’s a cute anecdote, but you’re probably asking what this has to do with selecting songs for the car iPod. Here’s the thing: even though just two paragraphs up I typed the correct title of the song, Christmas in Kilarney, because of those opening lyrics about the holly green and ivy green, whenever I’m looking at a list of song titles, if I see the title The Holly and the Ivy, my brain starts playing the memory of trying to sing Christmas in Kilarney in the wrong accent.
And so, I see the title, think of the bad accent, and add it to the car playlist.
While Christmas in Kilarney is a bouncy secular kind of Christmas song, the The Holly and the Ivy is an old traditional religious song, that is almost always recorded very downbeat and, frankly, in a grindingly boring tempo. It is very religious and abominably repetitive. So not only would it set my husband’s teeth on edge, it almost always sets my teeth on edge.
I suspect that part of the reason I always confuse the songs is that The Holly and the Ivy wasn’t a song that I remember every listening to as a kid. I have never had to learn it to either play or sing in the jillions of holiday concerts and shows I participated in back in the day. The fact that I’ve never performed it probably contributes to why I dislike. There are plenty of other repetitive Christmas songs I do like. For what it’s worth.
Because we’re all in quarantine, I haven’t been driving around nearly as much. All of my Christmas shopping was done online. We didn’t physically get together with anyone during the lead up, and so on. And because I was usually only going out of the house once a week, and the weather was often cold, the iPod would not just go to sleep for all those days, but fully shut itself off. And so one of the routine each time I got in the car was to open the console and take hold of the iPod tight in my hand for a minute or two while the windows defrosted, to warm the iPod enough that it would boot up and talk to the car stereo. And the way the stereo and iPod work together, what this meant was that even though it was on random play, what it actually does is play a randomized list the iPod made when I first connected it to the car with the new list, but it wouldn’t remember where it left off last time, so it would start over. And guess what the third song in that shuffle was?
It took me a few trips before I realized this was what was happening. After wards, I got in the habit of, after I put the iPod back in the console and was nearly ready to pull out of our parking space, I would hit the “skip song” button on the steering wheel twenty or so times to jump past the songs I’d heard on the previous few shopping trips.
The really irritating thing is, this isn’t the first time I’ve done this. I’ve had to delete that song out of the playlist before. But when I was setting up the list, and looking for songs that I could add or swap out, I put it back in.
His tests usually had at least one essay question. He warned us that the final would have several of the shorter essay questions similar to those we’d seen before, and one much longer one that would make up a large portion of the grade of the test. At some point before the final, he gave us a list of sample questions for that large final one, telling us the question on the test would be either one of those, or a variant. When the day of the final arrived, the test at the end was along the lines of, “Of the technological advancements made in the 20th Century, what is the one which poses the greatest threat to the future of humanity. Explain why you think this is so.”
Which was, indeed, one of the questions that had been on the sample list. And I knew, because of things he had said many times in class, that he believed there was one, and only one correct answer: strategic nuclear weapons and the threat of all-out nuclear war.
And I had disagreed in class.
I could have written the essay he wanted. I felt, however, that I needed to maintain my own integrity, so instead I wrote about communications and data technology, and how as those technologies converged, they would create tools which could take propaganda to a point that could indeed send humans to extinction. I don’t remember all of the specific arguments I made in the essay.
As I expected, he didn’t give me very many points for it, and even wrote a derisive comment about how newspapers and television could never wipe out the human race.
You don’t know how tempted I have been of late to email him (he is still alive, though no longer teaching at SPU where I took classes from him—he is semi-retired teaching part time at a small college in Oregon, now), point him to the current series of fascistic, racist movements boiling over in many countries around the world, all fueled by misinformation driven by algorithms and ask him if he wants to reconsider that grade.
I should mention that I was taking this class in 1986 or 1987, at a time before most people owned personal computers, the protocols that would make World Wide Web possible were just being invented, and if you had cable television at all, you probably only had access to about a dozen channels. It is understandable that someone wouldn’t see where telecommunications was going. I can’t take complete credit for being prescient in that essay. It’s true that my minor was Communications, and being a mathematics and data guy by nature, I had an understanding of how tiny incremental changes could propagate out to create vast systemic disruptions.
But I also had the help of having been an avid science fiction fan for as long as I could remember. What most people think of as cyberpunk had only been around for a few years at that point, but the precursors had been percolating through science fiction works for a couple of decades. So I had some help in imagining what ubiquitous telecommunications technology might turn into.
Which leads us to the here and now. There are large segments of the population in live in information bubbles that allow them to believe (and receive daily confirmation) the most outlandish and provably false ideas. Ideas that inspire them to arm themselves and invade capitol buildings and kill public servants, all while thinking that these aren’t crimes and that they will be lauded as heroes who saved humanity afterward.
Way back in 1975 U.S. Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger said, “Everybody is entitled to his own views. Everybody is not entitled to his own facts.” A slightly different version of this statement is often attributed to U.S Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In any case, between the various siloed news sources, social media algorithms, and ubiquitous stream of data to devices many of us carry with us constantly, we’ve entered a world where a lot of people are forming opinions and making decisions based on their own “facts.” It’s not just that they are immersed in misinformation and lies, they are immersed in complex constructs of alternate realities built on misinformation and lies, but so reinforced (with the help of technology), that they might as well be physically living in a parallel universe from other people.
It’s not a new phenomenon, but the layering of misinformation, misinterpretation, misrepresentation, and misdirection has been accelerating and compounding to a point that it is becoming nearly impossible for people to reach across bubbles and have meaningful conversations—let alone the level of mutual understanding and empathy necessary to have good faith discussions of how to solve our problems.
We’re at the point where a bunch of loosely aligned sub-cultures have been (and are still) plotting the violent overthrow of governments as well as the literal destruction of people who disagree with them. The murder mob which invaded the U.S. Capitol building just last week is only one example of this problem.
And while it appears that the coup has halted because the Liar-in-Chief is so devastated at all his social media accounts being taken off-line (leaving him, by reliable counts, sulking in the residence portion of the White House and not just ignoring his job and duties, but ignoring even his most sycophantic aides), the truth is that his angry supporters and the allied neo-Nazis/alt-right extremists are simply doing their planning in slightly more obscure portions of the network. There will most certainly be more violent “protests” and threats in the coming days.
Which is not to say that I think Twitter and Facebook and the other tech companies were wrong to take the (long overdue) actions that they have to shut down the various accounts. Nor am I saying that Congress shouldn’t be proceeding with at least the effort to re-Impeach and so forth. The truth is that these mostly white supremacist haters and malcontents have been angry and raging for years, and they are going to continue to riot and cause trouble no matter what we do.
It is precisely because they will rage and riot no matter what we do, that all of us should do the right thing. We should continue to speak out against the lies and hate. We should encourage those with the power to de-platform violence to do so. We should continue to seek out and arrest the lawbreakers and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.
I’ve seen people on the progressive end of the political spectrum bemoan that fact that private companies such as Twitter and Amazon Web Services and the like have so much power to silence people. Specifically I’ve seen the assertion made that this “just moves us closer to the cyberpunk dystopia where corporations have more power than governments.” I have some news for you: we are already in that dystopia, and have been for a bit longer than you probably imagine.
But that’s just another layer of the problem. A problem we can only solve if we stay engaged and find ways to hold each other accountable.
Edited to Add:
Camestros Feloptan has a somewhat related post that I missed yesterday: Further Annals of Libertarians Discovering Capitalism Sucks.
And if I’m going to talk about Cyberpunk, even in passing as I did, I should include this song, from Billy Idol’s most underrated album, Cyberpunk – NEUROMANCER:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
Elseweb I was asked which sci fi stories helped paint this picture. This is not a definitive list, just ones that come to mind:
Shockwave Rider by John Brunner
The Computer Connection by Alfred Bester
The Dueling Machine by Ben Bova
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip K. Dick
On Wings of Song by Thomas M. Disch
Bladerunner the motion picture directed by Ridley Scott
“The Girl Who Was Plugged In” by James Tiptree, Jr
The Müller-Fokker Effect by John Sladek
A few years ago at a science fiction convention an author on one of the panels I attended described a modern smart phone as “the magic slab of glass that fits in my pocket and contains all of my friends,” which I thought was a really wonderful way to sum-up how that miniaturized computer which (among other things) obviates a telephone functions on a social level. Engineers and certain kinds of techies worry about the ins and outs of the physical technology, the software, and the networks that enable the functionality. But the sociological impact of that technology is something that most of the engineers who worked all those years to make it a reality didn’t foresee.
As a very early adopter of the internet (being a denizen of the old FidoNet to access UseNet groups back before the World Wide Web existed), in some ways I’ve lived in that space for a long time. Heck, since before those days I was involved in old school fanzines where everyone wrote physical letters that we sent to each other via the U.S. Postal Service to collaboratively create art and fiction, I have been used to the idea of friends who may be people I have never met in person for even longer.
So that description really resonated with me.
On the other hand, I have worked in the telecommunication software industry for about 33 years—during which time I have worked at everything from testing code and hardware, to coding, designing software systems, and writing both user documents, developer documents, help systems, and more—I have more than a bit of understanding as to what went in to creating the magic of the slab of glass that fits in your pocket.
For some of us, our smart phone/magic slab of glass is an integral part of every day. I thought I understood that before, but recently I have become even more acutely aware of how dependent I’ve become on my smart phone. Which requires a bit of explanation.
My employer has been migrating a lot of our tools (as well as our code and document repositories) to cloud services. More recently, they decided that for the most part we shouldn’t access company data with machines not owned by the company (which, frankly, defeats the point of putting things in the cloud, but…). So, for instance, a couple months ago they shipped me a company phone, and instructed me to move the three multi-factor authentication apps that I have to use to access various services off of my personal phone. This is more than a little ridiculous, because the authentication apps themselves don’t contain nor directly access company data. But, that’s their decision.
The phone they gave me is an iPhone XR, and it came with a matte black case. My personal phone is an iPhone 11. Even though my personal phone is purple and has a clear plastic case, when they are both asleep a sitting on the table or desk they look an awful lot alike. So, for instance, if I hear an sound that indicates a new direct message from one of my co-workers, about one-third of the time I grab my personal phone rather than the work phone. Which only wastes a few seconds, but it is still a little annoying.
More annoying is that if I walk away from my desk—whether to go the the bathroom, or get some more coffee from the kitchen, or maybe to take a break outside on the veranda—I grab my phone so I can catch up on Twitter and personal email and/or check the news. And, again, about a third of the time I pick up the company phone rather than mine, and don’t realize it until I’m all the way outside or in the other room.
That’s a bit more of an inconvenience.
And sometimes I don’t even notice immediately. I will flip through the home screen pages trying to figure out where my News app is, or Tweetbot, or why are their no email accounts at all in the Mail app (company email is all on Outlook, and I access it through the Outlook app rather than the built-in iOS Mail app).
I do not want to put my personal information on the company phone. As the company suggested, I created an Apple ID based on the corporate email address for use on the phone, so I can update that phone and download free apps (rather than just the ones available through the enterprise portal) if I decide I need them, and that’s find. But I don’t want to set it up as yet another device accessing my personal email and my twitter stream, et cetera.
I know it’s a first world problem, and even then, it is a fairly minor inconvenience. I get irritated and try to be more careful to really look at the phone as I reach for it. But human perception relies on extrapolation and guessing rather than actively processing every single nerve impulse that comes it. So our brain subconsciously makes quick assessments of things based on basic shape, size, and what we expect to see when we glance at something. There are reasons in makes sense that our brains evolved that way–in a dangerous situation you don’t want to waste critical moments resolving every detail within the field of vision.
But it means this issue is going to be a problem going forward one way or another. Like how I might grab the wrong keys while heading out to the car.
It just reminds me, every time it happens, how I’ve gotten used to being about to browse the world in this magic slab of glass in order to fill in some of the downtime of life.
It is time for another post about news that broke after I posted this week’s Friday Five, or didn’t come to my attention until afterward, or that didn’t quite make the cut, or about a previously linked story which has new developments. As usual I have some opinions that I wish to expound upon regarding this stories.
First: New Poll Finds Voters Strongly Oppose Employer Insurance. This is something I was complaining about during the first couple of Democratic Presidential Candidate Debates: there is a myth perpetrated by conservatives and so-called moderates that the American people absolutely love their employer-provided insurance. And it’s not just the politicians: the moderators at the first couple of debates, for instance, kept framing questions with that assumption as if it were a fact. I was so happy when finally one of the candidates emphatically asserted that almost no voter they have talked to likes their insurance.
What is true is that fear-mongering paid for by the for-profit insurance & pharmaceutical industries (and amplified by the politicians in their pocket) has a lot of people fearing that universal health care will be even worse than what they have now. That’s not the same thing as being happy with their current plans.
Second, this should come as no surprise: New polling suggests that Trump’s evangelical base is totally unified behind the president, no matter what investigations might reveal. I continue to be irritated that people who want to take aqay my legal rights because of some badly translated and cherry-picked parts of the Bible also support a politician whose policies run explicitly counter to every single thing that Jesus is actually quoted as saying in that same holy book. Although it is worthwhile to look closely at the statistics, here. Some people having been crowing about how 99% of evangelical Christians support the president and oppose impeachment. Except that isn’t what these polls show. The 99% is only true of white people who also identify specifically as evangelical AND Republican. When you step out of that demographic and look at other evangelicals, well, the numbers change. And that 99% was from polls taken a few weeks ago. Other polling shows an across-the-board shift in all demographics of more support for impeachment as more information comes out.
I don’t expect the white evangelicals who were chanting “Build the wall” are ever going to abandon Trump, but they’ve also clearly shown that their bigotry drives their decisions more than the actual words in the Bible.
While we’re on the topic of people who quote the Bible but don’t actually follow it: Falwell preparing legal battle against reporter after “smear campaign”. I’ve written so many times about the real estate that he has purchased for the former pool boy who spent a lot of time under questionable conditions hanging out with Falwell and his wife. And about the real estate he ordered Liberty University to essentially give to another former pool boy and personal trainer, one who we know that Falwell was texting pictures of Mrs Falwell in kinky sex gear (we know this because he accidentally group-sent one of the sexts to nearly all of the employees of the non-for-profit ministry of which he is head). And about the blackmailer who had compromising photos of Mrs. Falwell (and perhaps others) who was paid off my Trump’s lawyer conveniently a few weeks before Falwell shocked everyone by endorsing Trump instead of fellow evangelical Ted Cruz. And so on and so on.
So Falwell tried to get the FBI to investigate some of the former employees who spilled the beans about this questionable behavior (which, remember, is being subsidized by tax-payer money because of the tax-exempt status of the ministry and the university and so on). Now he’s trying to scare some reporters and news outlets for reporting on his scandal parts of which may constitute financial crimes. So far, both reporters and the publications say they are standing by their reporting.
Next: Zuck Testified Before the House Financial Services Committee and It Did Not Go Well for Him . Facebook is a force for evil, and I more and more people are recognizing the problems it is enabling: Facebook Slammed for Including Breitbart Among Trusted News Publishers.
And I do think it’s true that part of the problem is that Zuck and his yes-men don’t understand significant parts of the problem Timothy Egan: Facebook’s Zuckerberg still doesn’t get the big picture. But I also think that Zuck and his yes-men are douche-bags who have an almost pathological lack of empathy and an inability to even recognize their own prejudices.
West Virginia shines a spotlight on absurdities of tariff bailout program. “…the real issue is not about farmers, it’s about a government $22 trillion in debt handing out six-figure checks as part of a carrot-and-stick game in which $28 billion in bailouts serve as a political Band-Aid for the injury caused by flawed trade policies.”
China isn’t paying the tariffs, American consumers are. China isn’t really being hurt by the trade war, American farmers and workers are. Paying out billions to try to offset some of the harm to U.S. industries just means that tax-payers are paying for the tariffs twice
Fox News analyst: Republicans are protesting their own impeachment inquiry rules. The republicans set up these rules as part of the Clinton impeachment, and the last time the rules were updated it was when the Republicans had a majority in the House and John Boehner was the Speaker. And here’s the thing: the impeachment inquiry isn’t a trial. The trial happens if the House votes in favor of impeachment, and then that happens in the Senate. So the people screaming about due process either don’t understand the situation or are lying to keep their base hyped up and ready to cause trouble.
While we are on the subject, the Democrats are not conduction impeachment inquiries, the U.S. House of Representatives is. There are Republicans on each of those committees. Those Republicans are at the closed-door sessions as well as the public hearings. Those Republicans get equal time to ask questions and so forth during the committee deliberations.
Both houses of Congress sometimes hold closed-door hearings. When Nixon was under the gun, committees in the House conducted some of their hearings behind closed doors. When Clinton was impeached, committees in the House conducted some of their hearings behind closed doors. One of the reasons you question witnesses behind closed doors during an investigation (which is what this is—it isn’t a trial yet) is so those witnesses can’t get their stories straight. You can catch some of the lies that witnesses tell if they don’t know what the other guys have said.
Samantha Bee Exposes Man Who Invented The Ukraine-Biden Conspiracy Theory:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
In one of those conversations a person made a comment about how some Baby Boomers don’t understand technology, and while it turned out to be a bit tongue-in-cheek (the person followed up by speculating that the person being clueless was actually a ghost from the 18th Century misunderstanding modern copyright law). Anyway, it reminded my that I keep meaning to follow up on the post I wrote three years ago about the cavalier way some people use terms such as “Baby Boomer” and “Millenial.”
Some folks want to list anyone who is over the age of, say, 35, as a Baby Boomer. I’m seen just as many older folks insist that everyone under 30 is a Millenial. Which makes any commentary about the social and economic issues faced by people who grew up in different time periods meaningless.
The term Baby Boom originally referred to the significant uptick in the birth rate when World War II came to an end and when the world economy recovered from the Great Depression. Contrary to over-simplified understandings of history, those two events weren’t the same—the U.S. domestic economy was noticeably improving before the U.S. even entered the war, and the birthrate started picking up during the war itself (though not as dramatically as it did a few years later). So some sociologist and economists tagged the beggining of the Baby Boom in 1945, while others in 1942 or ’43.
Similarly, the birthrate’s rate of increase started slowing down in the U.S. (though not dropping) in the mid-fifties. Later, when social scientists started talking about the Baby Boom generation, many of them placed much importance upon the attitudes and expectations of that cohort based on their formative years being in the 1950s, where, in the U.S. at least, there was an exuberant economic boom and no war. I was in my late teens when I first started reading articles about the Baby Boom generation, and those articles defined is as people born between about 1942 and 1955. Which meant that my mother and father were both Baby Boomers.
Which is one of the reasons I sometimes have a negative visceral reaction to the more current definition, which is people born between 1946 and 1965. Because that makes me a Baby Boomer… and because I spent years thinking of my parents as Baby Boomers and that just seems wrong. Also, I was born after the 50s ended, and by the time my formative years were going, the U.S. was at war in Viet Nam and the Civil Rights movement was causing many to feel that the world was changing for the worse. So I think my assumptions about life are a bit different than those who grew up in the 50s.
The chart that I reproduce above shows only one of the many possible definitions of generational groups. I believe for broad discussions about economics, sociology, politics, and the like that it is useful to make some generalizations about the broad societal conditions that people of different ages grew up under. A lot of people of my mother’s generation (The Silent Generation, people born between 1925 and 1945) supposedly don’t understand computers and modern technology. My mom has very strong feelings about several parts of Quantum Mechanics (word to the wise: if you don’t want to find yourself cowering in a corner, saying you are sorry and will never stray again, do not mention Erwin Schrödinger or his thought experiment about a cat and an atomic trigger within earshot of my mom, okay?). Once, when her computer had been misbehav ing for several months she told me that the reason she hadn’t called me was because none of the errors had risen to the level fo “kernal panic” and she had been able to get everything working again on her own.
Let me repeat that: my 76-year-old mother knows what a kernel panic is and is able to solve a lot of her computer and related problems on her own. So, just because they are a member of the generation before the Baby Boomers doesn’t mean they don’t understand technology.By most definitions, I am a Baby Boomer. I was programming computers (with punch-card version of Fortran) in 1976 at the age of 15 when most people thought that computers would always be either the size of a large room or a small building. The first personal computer I owned I soldered together myself in 1982 (and I didn’t actually own it, because at that time I couldn’t afford the $99 for the basic kit nor the $49.95 for the 16 kilobyte memory expansion kit that made it useful; the father of a friend bought the kits and I did the soldering and assembly and got to use the machine for two months out of the deal). My current day job official title includes the word “principal” and I am expected to be able to understand all functions from the Physical Layer through the Application Layer with the ability to write specifications for sub-layers such as the Data Access, Business Logic, and Presentation.
And no one should be surprised that most of Generation X (whose original name was Gen X Atari Wave) understands technology, but I’ve noticed that a lot of member of both Gen Y (the original Millenials) and Gen Z don’t really understand how the technology works. They both understand many of the implications of the internet, but to varying degrees, they don’t understand how those things actually work, because it’s no longer necessary to understand things happening below the Presentation layer to use the technology. This isn’t a bad thing, per se. Just as you don’t need to know how to machine a piston in order to operate a car, you don’t need to understand all of that other stuff in order to be active on social media.
Unfortunately, that means that you have situations such as the one that started one of the comment threads I mentioned above: folks who don’t understand what a hyperlink on a web page actually is, will get upset and file a DCMA take down notice on someone who is linking to someone else’s publicly accessible page. But a hyperlink isn’t content, it’s a pointer.
For much of my life, the cliche was that older people didn’t know how to work new technological devices, and that the answer was to find a child who could fix things for you. Some of those “children”—the leading edge of Gen X—are 50 years old now. And some are now shaking their heads looking at the younger people who are much better at knowing how to make things go viral, for instance, but may not even know what HTML is.
* “All generalizations are dangerous, even this one.” ― Alexandre Dumas-fils
What I wrote about instead was communications technology. How we were struggling even then to come to grips with how quickly news flew around the world and how quickly we were forgetting what we had all been upset/afraid of just last week. And because I am a big sci fi nerd, I speculated about what it would be like when people had devices in their pockets or strapped to their wrists or whatever that gave them constant and instant access to the 24-hour cable news slurry. The professor gave me a decent grade, but he couldn’t resist writing a few sentences explaining why nuclear weapons were a far graver threat to society than television ever would be.
I don’t believe I was being extremely brilliant pr prescient in that essay. People had been writing think pieces about the dangers of tabloid journalism taking over the then-new 24-hour news channels. And the notion of a TV on your wrist had been predicted in Dick Tracy comics decades before. But I still think I was correct that the proliferation of information, misinformation, has had a worse effect on society. Yes, we have terrible weapons of mass destruction that very well might wipe humans (and a whole lot of other species) off the face of the earth—but we’ve also been carrying out a mass extinction event without resorting to nuclear weapons.
However here we are, two decades into the 21st Century, and we have seen how social media bots have influenced the outcome of a U.S. Presidential election, have seen a number of people who have been dog-piled on social media driven to suicide, and seen more than one instance of on-line doxing sending SWAT team to the homes of law-abiding citizens. So I think my essay may have been much more correct that my university professor thought.
In the last week we have had two completely unrelated stories illustrate this point. First: Dallas Gay Bar Manager Fired For Refusing To Serve Transgender Woman. A lot of liberal and queer news sites shared the video of a manager of a prominent gay bar trying to eject some customers. And by the time many of us had seen the video, the corporate owners of said gay bar had already fired the manager.
Here’s the thing… when I watched the viral video, I found it far from conclusive in bearing out the transphobic narrative. There just wasn’t enough context. Clearly things had happened before the beginning of the video, and without knowing what those things were, it just isn’t possible to determine whether the manager’s actions were appropriate. Then once the scuffle began, things get even more confusing.
But, there is video, there is a scuffle, there is what appears to be a white cis man trying to kick a trans woman out of the club. And it is easy to imagine that his motivations weren’t pure.
A couple of days later, things get more interesting: Dallas Gay Bar Manager Speaks Out After Being Fired for Incident Involving Trans Woman. The bar manager’s story is quite plausible. But I understand how easy it is for bigots to construct alternative explanations that seem reasonable, so I’m not sure the manager’s story is true. Maybe he sincerely thought the ID was fake.
I am quite aware of how difficult official ID cards are to deal with. I am not trans, but back in 1992 I legally changed my name. There were several reasons for this: first, I really didn’t want to share the same first name as my viciously abusive father, but also, I had been being called a diminutive of my given middle name since I was a kid, and it just didn’t make sense for my legal name to remain a name that virtually no one called me. However, even though I legally changed my name 27 years ago, I still continue to run into situations where my birth name pops up on records, and I find myself constantly having to explain the situation. Which means that I find it very easy to believe that the trans person in this particular pair of conflicting narratives may be dealing with a simple issue of bureaucracy not keeping up with her current legal situation. There may be a reasonable explanation for why she would have several ID cards from different states at the same time.
Or maybe he only thinks the ID is fake because he’s got some unconscious transphobia going on.
The only thing that I think is clear is that his employer made the decision to fire him based on the social media uproar. The video went viral, and it seems that most of the queer news sites were leaning into the transphobia interpretation of the story, and that is bad publicity for a gay bar, particularly during Pride month (which often accounts for a significant part of the annual profits from bars and restaurants in queer neighborhoods).
No matter who was right, the mob won.
Then we had this incident last weekend: Armed Neo-Nazis Get a Police Escort to Disrupt Detroit Pride. Pictures and video from multiple sources, not just the crowd. We had a group of Neo-Nazis (they were carrying Nazi flags, wearing swastika armbands, and making Nazi salutes) taking advantage of the open-carry laws to disrupt the Pride festival. And when you show up like that and chant things about killing queers you’re not just stating an opinion: the action is clearly intended to terrorize a portion of the population. Most states, whether they have hate crime laws or not, have laws defining actions intended to “cause public alarm” as a crime. These are most often used for dealing with false bomb threats and the like.
The most alarming part of these videos and pictures are that it appears as if the police are escorting the Nazis. It appears as of the police are trying to protect the Nazis (the ones with the guns and chanting about genocide) from the festival-goers.
The police are trying to spin the story another way: Detroit Police Claim to Quash Neo-Nazi Plot To Spark ‘Charlottesville No. 2’ At Pride Parade. So the police claim that they were there to prevent the Nazis hurting anyone. And they did arrest at least three of the neo-Nazis, though we don’t know what the charges are. And they claim that they warned the Nazis several times not to start burning rainbow flags, because they would have to arrest them. (I’m assuming that the act of setting anything on fire in a crowded place would be the reason for the arrest.)
I have several problems with the police narrative. For one thing, the police chief described “both sides” acting badly. Except he isn’t referring to the Nazis on one side and the queer people on the other. He’s actually talking about an organized anti-fascist counter protest group that was there to counter the Nazis… and therefore were also technically disrupting the Pride festival. But I’ve already seen the police chief’s comments being quoted by bigots as proof that the queer people at the festival were behaving just as badly as the Nazis. Also, when saying “both sides” the police chief is alleging that the anti-fascists were yelling racial slurs at any cop who happened to be African-American, similar to how the Nazis were hurling racial slurs at them. Besides not quite believing that, I also think that the people who were marching with guns while chanting slogans about genocide are still far, far, far more in the wrong than unarmed people yelling bad words.
Maybe this is a no-win situation for the police. Because Michigan is an open-carry state, they can’t arrest people for merely carrying guns, no matter how intimidating it may be. Michigan’s hate crime law doesn’t include sexual orientation, so technically carrying a rifle while yelling into a bullhorn about killing faggots isn’t a crime in Michigan. So the only way to prevent violence is to try to put themselves between the Nazis and everyone else. Unfortunately, that makes it look like they are escorting the Nazis. On the other hand, by appearing to escort the Nazis, it sure as heck looks like the police are supporting them.
Clearly, the Nazis are the bad guys, here. But if even the police officers who recognize the Nazis as bad guys also trot out “both sides” arguments, we’ve got a problem. Queer people holding a Pride parade and festival aren’t calling for killing anyone. Asking to have the same rights as other people isn’t an attack on those people. Celebrating the fact that we have survived despite all the attempts to erase and oppress us is not an attack on anyone. This isn’t merely a difference of opinion between two potentially valid points.
I suppose I should focus on the bright side: no injuries were reported, violence didn’t break out. And even Fox News reported the Nazi actions in a negative light. I think the latter only happened because a lot of people got a picture of the one Nazi urinating on an Isreali flag. So, maybe everyone having a camera in hand was a good thing.
Then, when I left college, I got hired by a company that made messaging software intended to run on 16-bit MS-DOS machines with Intel Processors, and since I was doing so much work in WordPerfect and could buy what at the time was a very good Packard-Bell desktop at a (somewhat) reasonable price (only the equivalent of three months’ rent instead of six) because of the company discount, I left the Apple ecosystem for some years. Eventually I moved into Windows, when it came out.
One of the realities of working in all those Wintel machines was that every time I had to upgrade to a new machine, it was a bit of a nightmare. It always took at least a year after moving to the new machine before I finally had everything on it working as I liked. Usually it was because there were always programs that simply didn’t work with the new version of Windows and/or the new hardware. So I got used to the pattern of spending at least a year getting the desktop organized to my liking with all the programs working in harmony, about two more years of using the machine with everything being fine, then a year or so of rising frustration as the machine became slower as some programs were updated, and often simply not supporting the new technologies that the equipment or software I was using expected. Then giving in and buying a new machine, where I would trade the frustration of the slowness and incompatibilities for the frustration of finding much of my existing software wouldn’t work on the new machine.
Another frustration that came in was that my mother started using a home computer, but her machines were always hand-me-downs from another relative. And she had the bad habit for years of clicking on any link that was included in any of the chain emails she received from friends and family (not to mention buying discs of very dubious software from racks on stores). So we got into the habit that every time my husband and I went to visit, my husband would come equipped with a bunch of discs of anti-malware and anti-adware programs, and he would spend more than a day trying to remove all the viruses and such from her machine to get it working again.
Then one summer day my husband called me from his place of work, where he spent his time refurbishing old computers, and proposed that we purchase an iMac he was in the process of repairing, and switching Mom over for her birthday. This required me to also purchase a really crappy (it had a broken hinge) old Mac laptop that would run the same version of Mac OS because, as my hubby correctly predicted, for the first couple of months Mom called every week with a question about how to do something relatively simple, and I would have to walk her through it with such instructions as, “Okay, so there is a white bar with rounded corners in the upper right corner of the dialog box? Can you click in there and then we can type…”
For the next couple of years, we purchased newer refurbished iMacs for Mom, and I kept acquiring refurbed Powerbooks and Macbooks that ran the same version of Mac OS. And eventually I started taking the Macbook with me to conventions because I was remembering all the things I liked about my old Apple ][e—and it was more robust than my Windows laptop.
So, I was seriously looking at replacing my Wintel desktop with a Mac… and I got laid off by the company I’d worked at for over 19 years. So I had to wait a bit. After 7 months at a new job (well out of my probationary period), I started plotting the new machine. My past experiences with the Windows machines made me do just a bit of over kill. I intentionally bought a much more powerful Mac Pro than I strictly needed because I didn’t want to change machines again in five years.
Over the next three years (Apple made it really easy and cheap to upgrade the OS each year) I quickly learned that updates weren’t quite the nightmare they had been before. And as more of my day-to-day writing was being done on the laptop (heck, by then I was doing a lot of writing each day on the bus on my iPod — not any iPhone, and the iPad didn’t exist, yet, but Write Room was a great word processor that worked on the iPod and the Mac!). My desktop was still faster with the layout software (InDesign) and drawing software (Illustrator) than the Mac laptops I owned.
One of the pros of the old Mac Pro towers was that you can do a lot of your own upgrading. So I bought faster and larger hard disks, and then upgraded the memory. Then did a major update to the video card, which helped keep the machine humming when I needed to use those resource-hungry programs from Adobe.
As the computer was approaching its fifth birthday I was finally noticing that when I had a whole bunch of programs open it wasn’t as fast as it used to be, but it was still pretty good, so I mentioned to my husband that I would like to see if I could keep the machine viable for another five years. He scoffed… and then bought me a PCI solid state drive card and a solid state drive to go in it to be my new boot disc. Switching to the solid state drive for booting and for all the applications made the machine screaming fast, again.A couple of years ago we finally hit the roadblock where Apple wouldn’t let me install the latest Mac OS any longer. And the Macbook Pro with touchbar that I bought in the fall of 2016 is faster at some tasks than the Mac Pro. I’ve also replaced Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat Pro with less resource intense (And much more affordable) software which works really well on both machines. I haven’t yet gotten a viable InDesign replacement, but I’m also no longer publishing a periodical zine. In any case, at the moment even though I’m a couple of versions behind on the OS with the desktop, the latest and greatest versions of all the applications I regularly use still run on the tower.
I know at some point I’m going to have to retire it. Maybe it will be replaced with a dock that I can plug my laptop into when I want a bigger screen. I don’t know. But for now, please join me in wishing Fabulosity, my Mac Pro tower, a happy tenth birthday!
I have always considered this just a variant on an older technology behavior: I would have piles of books on my desk or stacked beside my bed with bookmarks in them. Sometime a small book with a bookmark would be acting as a bookmark inside a larger book. Yes, a lot of the books in those piles were books that I was reading, and just hadn’t finished. But a lot of them were part of one of my research projects, and the bookmarks were things that I wanted to be able to look at again as I moved forward with the project. Some of the projects were for school, so the books would be returned to their shelves once the essay or whatever I had to turn in was finished. Other projects were personal. I might be researching something for a story I was trying to write. Or I might be researching something for a scenario I was running for one of my gaming groups, and so on.
I do try to do a better job of limiting how many tabs are open on my computer, though improvements in browsers (sandboxing among them) has made it less likely that having all those tabs open is going to slow the computer down or cause crashes. And there are some websites (certain news sites, for instance) that I learned long ago that I need to close down as soon as I finish reading an article.
One problem with this habit is that it also means I always have a whole bunch of projects in progress at any time. Which means things don’t get finished as quickly as I like.
Which sometimes plays out here, as I will have dozens of draft blog posts ranging from a dozen or so words to hundreds that I just haven’t finished, yet.
Even when I give myself a totally arbitrary goal to post something every day for thirty days in a row, I find myself staring at a bunch of draft posts, opening one after the other, maybe adding a few words, yet somehow unable to commit and just finish one.
And it’s more than a bit frustrating. It’s also a little confusing, because finishing, and putting things away once a project is done, are things that I really enjoy. So you would think that would motivate me.
Now, before I get into my own comments on this topic, a disclaimer: my use case probably doesn’t match your use case2. I’m not suggesting that anyone use their tools the way I use mine. My talking about the tools I use and how I use them is in no way meant as an indictment of anyone who uses different tools (or none at all) or uses them differently.
I’m not rearranging my whole phone according to his recommendations after reading it4, but the article did make me think about how I let things on my phone distract me from other things I want to do—often things I meant to do on the phone itself. What I have done is cleaned up my notification settings. There were a number of apps I didn’t really want to see alerts from cluttering up my Notification Center and the Earlier Today list. It’s funny how every time I noticed those unwanted alerts before I would think, “I need to remember to go turn those off.” To be fair, the reason is usually that I would tap another alert that I did want and go read an urgent email or message. By the time I’d handled that, I would have forgotten about the annoying alerts.
Rinse and repeat.
This article has made me consider rearranging my homescreen. There are a few apps that I use many times a day that aren’t on the first screen. The app where I record and track my blood sugar readings, meals & snacks, and insulin doses, for instance. I put in on the second page because it’s color is the same another app I use multiple times, and I kept clicking on the wrong one. The article’s suggestion of having a first screen with no more than six apps that you use frequently got me thinking: is the reason that these two are confused because they are surrounded both buried among 22 other icons, many of which are only tapped a few times a week?
Right now all of the apps I have on the phone fit into only two screens. I pull that off by having a lot of apps in folders. My reason for doing this is that back when I had three to five screens worth of icons I would spend a lot of time swiping back and forth trying to find things. I figured just have two screens would cut down on that. Except I swipe back and forth between them a few times sometimes when trying to find an app.
So, I am thinking of rearranging my screen.
I’ve always had a problem with rabbit-holing. I’ll be getting ready for work, for instance, and notice that the empty tube from the middle of a used toilet paper roll is sitting on the counter. I’ll grab it and carry it out to the kitchen to drop in the recycle bin, where I might decide to grab a sip of coffee or water. I’ll pour some coffee into my much from the coffee maker and spill a little coffee on the counter, which prompts me to grab a rag, and the next thing I know I’ve wiping down the whole counter, and noticing that the stove could use a quick wipe, and say, there’s a couple of dishes in the sink that should go in the dishwasher, but…
And then ten or fifteen minutes later I’m finally heading out of the kitchen, but I forget that I was going to the bathroom and head into the bedroom to pick out clothes to wear, at which point I realize I haven’t actually showered yet. So I head toward the bathroom again.
Which eventually leads to a moment when I glance at a clock or my watch and freak out because it’s a lot later than I thought it was.
This tendency to be easily distracted did cause me to be sent for evaluation for hyperkinetic impulse disorder5 in school more than once. But each time they decided I didn’t have it6.
For now, I’ve turned off the badges on things like the Mail app that I check regularly, anyway. And greatly reduced the number of apps that show notifications.
I already have a lot of apps in folders, and for anything that I don’t check real frequently I use search to find them. I’m not quite ready to go as far as this guy: Beautility, My Ultimate iPhone Setup, but I certainly understand his reasoning!
I’m thinking of this as an extension of the project we started last year when we learned our old building was going on the market and knew moving was likely. We’ve been reducing and de-cluttering and taking long hard looks at all the stuff we have. A lot of things were gotten rid of because we seldom (if ever) use them7. So thinking about how I have my phone (and other devices) set up is probably a good next logical step.
Let’s see how this works!
1. The modern equivalent of the infamous “milkman’s cheery whistle” style essay: where a pundit laments modern society in general by waxing nostalgic about one particular thing the author thought was wonderful.
2. This is a great phrase my friend Duncan introduced me to. People have different workflows, opinions, and uses for the tools they use. We can legitimately like something without being a mindless fanboy or apologist. We can just as legitimately dislike something without being a hater3. I think it’s a much better approach to think of things this way than to angrily ask, “Why would anyone use X?” And so forth.
3. However, if you only comment on someone else’s blog post to call them a fanboy, sheep, or some other disparaging term because they like a product you don’t, particularly if you include a blanket statement such as, “I don’t use products by so-and-so and never will,” you are acting in a way 100% indistinguishable from a hater.
5. This was the name given to what is now commonly called ADD/ADHD back in the day. The modern name (and definition) wasn’t adopted until I was in my twenties.
6. I could get into a long and very boring discussion of standard deviations and what constitutes a symptom as opposed to a quirk in different people’s perspectives. But maybe some other day.
7. And I’m not just talking about the embarrassingly large amounts of things we found boxed up in the back of closets that had been there so long, we literally had forgotten the closet was that deep8. An example: about a year or so before Ray died, he found a silk jacket during one of his thriftstore runs with his mom. It was a beautiful dark purple and dark teal (a color combo I was really into), it was in very good shape, silk lining as well as a silk outer shell, it was a nice, light weight that would be perfect for the mildly chilly parts of our falls and springs, and it appeared to be my size. It fit me well across the shoulders and was more than roomy enough for my belly. But the sleeves were about four inches short. But it was gorgeous! And it had clearly been expensive. The label wasn’t in English, and the size was odd enough that we strongly suspected it might have been custom made made for another short, round guy, right? Anyway, other than the sleeves, it was perfect. But because of the sleeves, I almost never wore it. I wore it when a few times we went out back when Ray was alive, because it made him happy to see me in it, and I just never talked about the sleeves. Then for about 19 years after his death, the jacket lived in among our coats and jackets in the closet. Every now and then, when the weather was chilly but not actually cold, I would pull it out and put it on—and then remember the sleeves as soon as I lifted an arm. So I would take it back off and hang it up. Because Ray had bought it for me. And it was gorgeous and still in great shape and so on. During the unpacking, it (with a lot of other old jackets and coats) were hauled off to Value Village. I hope that someone who it actually fits found it and wears it and keeps warm while looking great.9
8. Though that was a thing!
9. Then there’s a complete different phenomenon: after we did the purge of the coats, one of the coats I kept was a long cloth raincoat10 that I had bought many years ago at a fancy men’s store. We had several formal functions we were going to that year, and a coat that I could wear over my suit seemed like a good idea. And it worked great and I looked good, and it was awesome. And then it spend most of the next 14-15 years hanging in that same closet. I wore it more often than the silk jacket, but I kept thinking that I should save it for appropriate occasions11. I didn’t get rid of it in the purge, I kept it. Then when the weather started turning cold and wet, I started to pull it out, but immediately had the thought, “But shouldn’t I save this for—?” Fortunately, I also immediately remembered that the whole point was that we decided only to keep coats/jackets that we actually wear. So during this, the wettest time of the year, it has worked well to keep me warm and dry. And what’s the point of owning such a coat if you don’t wear it, right?
10. It’s a microfibre cloth, and water beads on it rather than soaks in. So it really does keep you dry, but with out the crinkling and squeaking and other odd noises you get with plasticized and rubberized fabrics.
11. Whatever that means.