It's Just a Computer

Paul Miller uses his smartphone without the phone part, and it's not so bad:

A smartphone doesn't die without an LTE connection. Much to the contrary, the first thing I notice about airplane mode is my improved battery life. And then, of course, there's Wi-Fi. I have Wi-Fi at home, I have Wi-Fi at the office, and I have Wi-Fi at my primary evening hangout spot. It’s almost like having an iPod Touch, except my iPhone is newer and better than an iPod touch ... So, basically, my phone still works. ... And I can call people just fine over FaceTime or Google Hangouts. I prefer it, in fact. FaceTime Audio sounds way better than a regular phone call, and both Hangouts and FaceTime can add video chat to the experience.

With the deep resentment I feel toward wireless carriers, and my own consistent lack of being rich, I've long desired to opt out of them altogether, and just rely on Wi-Fi.

But shit happens out in the open world. The advent of plain old dumb-phone cell phones saved my butt in innumerable situations in the aughts, situations I was painfully aware would have been disasters had they occurred just a year or so before, when I was one of those people who thought cellphones were ostentatious and unnecessary. 

And I have kids, and I need to be available, period. So there's that.

Miller again:

I think there's something else going on here. When your smartphone isn't a phone anymore... it's just a computer. And that's kind of beautiful to me.

Yeah, I much prefer to think of these things as computers rather than telephones. Telephones are conduits for obligations. Computers are, well, everything.

Accomplishments

The challenge today was to be alright with accomplishing nothing. Which turned into something else.

I'm parenting solo with only one of the kids, my 3-year-old daughter, as my wife and 6-year-old son are on a whirlwind trip to visit friends in far-off places. I am enjoying the chance to spend solo time with my daughter, though as my wife will attest, I already exist in a state in which I am constantly wrapped around her little finger. Nonetheless, it's nice.

The week had been productive in a number of ways, not just from work, but in the restarting of my podcast after a brief hiatus, beginning to noodle with music once again, and most impressive to me, my having installed a dishwasher with no help, and no errors. 

But then I had my weekend with my daughter. Saturday was all about catering to her. Her brother was going on an adventure, and she was not, so this was a day to spoil her a bit, and that took the bulk of the day. Today, Sunday, was more or less a normal Sunday, with stuff to take care of around the house, and a kid to occupy (usually it's two of them, and I have a partner in parenting). 

We played with her stuffed animals, we played doctor and patient (I needed a shot of course), and we spent a good amount of time on this beautiful, cool day at a playground. She loves the swings. She could stay on the swings all day. And of course, she must be pushed.

I could feel an anxiety rise in my chest. The work week was about to start back up. Nothing had gotten done in the house. I needed playtime to last as long as it could in order to fill time, and yet I worried over the time that was ticking away. For...what? I didn't know.

I tried to be still. She was in a kind of state of blissful sublimity on her swing, time having even less meaning than it usually does for a 3-year-old. I wanted to join her, at least a little, in that state. It didn't have to be bliss, but I could at least reject the concerns for Things to Be Done, for time filled purposelessly. I could, maybe, just be okay with being there, for as long as it went. 

I don't know that I quite got there, but I got closer.

And then I thought, well, I'm not actually "doing nothing," even though I am working toward being content with exactly that. I am doing something absolutely crucial.

I am raising my daughter.

Raising a child isn't something that is "accomplished." It is not a task. It is a (hopefully) lifelong series of moments, overlapping and tumbling and grinding and slipping by. It is a long line of fractions of seconds, in which I make connections of varying degrees of strength and meaning with my child. It is both glacial and ephemeral. 

It is each push on that swing. 

I didn't accomplish much today. But I did push my little girl on her swing for as long as she wanted. I accomplished a lot today.

"Every stupid thing Samsung does makes Android better."

Jerry Hildenbrand is the deep thinker of the Android blogosphere. While the default response to everything Samsung does with its phones is to express exasperation, Jerry has a different perspective. In his review of the Galaxy S7 Edge, he says:

I want Samsung to never stop messing around with Android and making it their own. The open source part of Android is made better by companies doing stuff to it and changing it. That's how open source software works. I wish more of what they do was available to everyone at the code level, but the ideas and the critical changes that improve Android make their way back to Google. They then make their way to everyone. Every good thing Samsung does makes Android better. Every stupid thing Samsung does makes Android better.
I can take 20 minutes and strip away the stuff I don't want. I can disable or uninstall some of it. I can hide most of the remainder. Buh-bye Milk Music. Adios Gear Manager. Go away forever Flipboard Briefing. You can do the same things to the stuff you don't want.

It's the Apple ethos to presume that there is some platonic ideal for a given product, but Google's has always been about inviting tinkering and elaboration. Despite this admittedly overly-broad distinction, the common wisdom is that Android is best, and indeed only really acceptable, when it's pure, stock Android straight from Google. 

But that's Apple thinking. There's nothing wrong with Apple thinking, it's resulted in some of the most beautiful and popular products ever made in any category. But it's not the idea behind the Google ethos...or at least its mythos. 

Hardware companies going all-out to make Android work as well as it can for their devices is the right idea. It happens, alas, that very often (more often than not?) they go too far, or simply do it poorly. The most acclaimed versions of Android tend to be the most untouched, like Motorola's or Nvidia's. LG, HTC, and especially Samsung are berated for loading Android up with gimmicks and bloatware.

But just as Jerry says, some of those gimmicks aren't just gimmicks, but valuable new features. And sometimes gimmicks evolve into valuable features. And sometimes, a variation on Android suits the device in question so well, it's a revelation. Many will point to Motorola's ambient display, which was quickly adopted by many other manufacturers. But my favorite is Samsung's S Pen for the Note series. The precision and usefulness of the stylus is unmatched by almost any accessory I've used for any phone.

And that's because of Samsung's software, that's "TouchWiz." 

So yeah, keep at it, Samsung, and all you other guys. I mean, try to keep it sane. You know, have some mercy. But keep at it.

The Mystery of the Too-Perfect Screen Protector! (Or, Paul is Stupid)

I am either very stupid, or something strange is going on. I’m leaning heavily toward the former, but, nonetheless, mark me.

I have never liked screen protectors on phones. It used to be that they clouded the display and reduced the sensitivity of the touch sensors. Plus, they were and are extremely difficult to apply without misaligning them, getting air bubbles that won’t push out, or dust trapped underneath that can never be unseen. Eventually, too, they would fray or peel. In other words, a total shitshow.

But clearly they have vastly improved since the time I avoided them, circa 2011. Now there are brands that are robust, invisible, and have no effect on touch sensitivity, and they come in both a kind that is sort of plasticky film as well as hard tempered glass. I once bought a used tablet with the screen protector already applied, and it convinced me that these things were now up to snuff.

Nonetheless, I could never get one on myself to my satisfaction. With each attempt to install one on my phone, with either the film or glass kinds, I would screw it up to the point that the protector became unusable. Usually, even when all other things had been done right, there would still be some dust or crap I’d discover, taunting me from beneath the transparency. Away would go to the protector.

But then a few days ago, I took one last shot with a Spigen Crystal screen protector, of the plasticky film variety, which came in a pack of three. I made sure I did everything very carefully, but not so intensely carefully that I’d make a mistake by overthinking. And after I pulled the front cover off the the screen protector, I was amazed: Perfectly straight, no bubbles, no dust. I smiled from ear to ear. And it looked and performed perfectly.

After a few days, though, I thought that maybe it was too perfect. I found that I couldn’t even tell it was there. Not as in “oh, you’ll just forget it’s there,” but as in, “wait a minute, where are the cutouts around the speaker and the home button?”

I stared and rubbed and scraped and could not for the life of me find the borders of the protector. Was I going mad? I took out the unused protectors from the package to compare, and seeing their cutouts I was convinced.

There was no screen protector on my phone.

What on Earth was going on? I had done this phenomenal job of perfectly applying a screen protector for the first time in my life, and now it’s just gone?? How could that be?? I retraced my use of the phone as best I could until I remembered back to the installation itself – that perfect installation. Was is too perfect?

It dawned on me. Perhaps, oh god perhaps, when I peeled off the protective front layer of the screen protector, I had also unwittingly peeled off the protector itself, and simply never noticed. Could I be that stupid? Could I really make myself believe that I had done a perfect job of installing a screen protector when in fact there was none there at all? And there I had been, using my phone with less concern about scratches on the screen, thinking there was a layer of defense that was all in my head. I am fortunate I didn’t perpetrate any horrors upon its glass.

I am capable of some epic idiocy, but this seemed too much even for me.

And yet, I am forced to conclude that it is the most likely explanation. The only alternatives I can think of would be that someone intentionally peeled it off (and who would that be? My kids? I never leave this phone where they could get to it), or it came off by itself, perhaps in a pocket. But how shoddy could this product be that this would happen a mere day or so after installation? Neither of those explanations seem plausible.

So in all likeliness, I am just extremely stupid. Perhaps you knew this already.

If there is a silver lining, it is that I made a second attempt with another one of the protectors, and I did it pretty much perfectly, again for the first time. There’s a little bit of a “halo” around the very edges where the phone’s glass curves a smidge, but it doesn’t bother me. Otherwise, nicely straight, no bubbles, and no dust. And, again, it performs just fine.

And I have learned something, something about the depths to which we can fool ourselves, and believe things that are not so, despite was is literally right in front of us, in our hands, and under our fingertips.

Ye Who Are Unworthy of PEZ

Image by Deborah Austin [CC BY 2.0]

I don't care you if you blaspheme. You can take whatever lord's name in vain that you please. You can desecrate any holy book that tickles your fancy. Heck, you can even bad-mouth Star Trek. Whatever. But, in the name of all that is good, how dare these people sully the pure, incorruptible symbol of novel delight in pleasant moderation that is PEZ?

Via Lindsey Bever at the Washington Post:

An Easter egg hunt in Connecticut turned dark over the weekend after organizers said adult attendees “rushed the field and took everything,” behaving “kind of like locusts.”

PEZ general manager Shawn Peterson told CBS affiliate WFSB that the candy company hid more than 9,000 eggs Saturday on three separate fields at the PEZ visitor’s center in Orange, not far from New Haven. Staggered start times were planned for different age groups.

But some parents ignored the rules, and the event took an ugly turn.

Nicole Welch told WFSB that those parents “bum-rushed” the area, leaving her 4-year-old son “traumatized” and “hysterically crying.”

“Somebody pushed me over and take my eggs,” 4-year-old Vincent Welch told NBC Connecticut after the event, “and it’s very rude of them and they broke my bucket.”

PEZ said that based on participation in the free event the past two years, organizers prepared for a large crowd; but “the number of families that came out to participate far exceeded anything we could have possibly planned for.”

PEZ is not only about candy and characters (and marketing), but it's also about keeping things under control. You pop the dispenser's head, and you get one little candy brick at a time. It's a way to say, "I'm going to have a treat, but I'm not going to overdo it."

But these people. These beasts. They don't deserve PEZ.

Laudably, the PEZ company is giving free candy to the people who played by the rules and got screwed over:

PEZ said staff members tried to locate participants who were cheated and give them candy.

“We sincerely tried our best to create a fun, free activity for everyone to enjoy,” the company said in a statement to WFSB-TV. “We made efforts to get everyone something before they left and passed out tons of candy and coupons and the front entry and tried to make the best of an unfortunate situation."

I'm going to buy some PEZ today. But what can be done to punish those who behaved so abhorrently? If only there were a PEZ dispenser . . . of justice.

RT This Post for Dopamine Squirts

This piece by Darya Rose is about indulging in things that are bad for you, but that you think are making you happy, like alcohol and junk food. But it speaks to me in terms of what I have come to need from my creative pursuits: attention.

Dopamine fools your brain into mistaking reward for real pleasure. In the heat of the moment you believe that following your dopamine urges will guide you to certain happiness, but more often than not it leads you into temptations you later regret. [ . . . ]

Serotonin, GABA and oxytocin are chemicals in your brain that are actually associated with feeling good. They boost your mood, help you relax and cause you to feel close and connected to people and things you love.

Activities that promote the release of these brain chemicals include exercise, music, meditation, prayer, creativity, learning and socializing.

You know this intuitively when you are cool, calm and collected. When everything is fine the rational part of your brain can clearly articulate that these wholesome activities lead to real fulfillment, and that following your urges and cravings usually leaves you feeling worse (with a dose of shame thrown in for good measure).

I think a big part of my problem is that I have allowed myself to believe that the pings of the connected digital world are the signals of something truly fulfilling as opposed to being mental junkfood. But if I really want to heal my brain with the aforementioned cocktail of true-happiness chemicals, I need to find things to do that aren't associated with feedback, pageviews, shares, likes, favs, retweets. Less reliance on dopamine squirts, more serotonin brewing.

Less blogging? More blogging?

Maybe it's time for those grown-ups' coloring books.

Presidential Primaries Might Be a Terrible Idea

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Political parties aren’t the government, even though the Democrats and Republicans have so entirely weaved their parties into the machinery of government and the electoral system. Constitutionally, the two major parties are no more “official” than the Natural Law Party or the Rent is Too Damn High Party. They are nongovernmental associations that organize to field candidates for public office around the shared positions and values of whatever coalition of interests they can cobble together.

As such, they can choose the candidates they’ll run for office any way they like. Right now, the two major parties base these decisions largely on constituents’ votes in primary elections and caucuses, run through a very porous filter of delegate allocation. But if they chose, they could have party bosses choose candidates in smoke-filled rooms. They could even draw straws to see who would run for what, or have prospective candidates engage in medieval combat. It’s up to them.

The primary system we have now is relatively new, and on its face, the idea that the constituents of a party would choose a presidential candidate by (more or less) a popular vote seems like a good idea. It feels, if nothing else, fair. This is a democracy, and so we’ll pick our candidates democratically.

We take this for granted as the wisest and most morally correct method. We can see this whenever the prospect of something that might contradict the popular verdict arises, like superdelegates in the Democratic Party, the specter of a brokered convention, or when the particular rules of a given primary or caucus seem less than straightforward. People’s hackles are raised, and there is much crowing about the right to vote and the subverting of democracy.

But of course, we do not have a constitutional right to vote for party nominees. (Indeed, we don’t even have a constitutional right to vote at all, but that’s another discussion.) Candidacies aren’t political offices. It may be cynical or underhanded for a party to subvert the will of its primary voters, but it’s not against the law or a violation of representative democracy.

In case you can’t tell, I’m no longer convinced that primaries are the best way to choose candidates for office. Even just confining the discussion to the presidency, it no longer seems self-evident, as it once did, that the two major political parties are doing anybody any favors (themselves or the American people) with the primary system as it is. I also don’t know if the alternatives are any better.

I used to work for the electoral reform organization FairVote, and wrote many thousands of words about ways in which the primary system could be improved, but those improvements always focused on increasing the democratic fairness of the primary system, including holding either a single National Primary Day or having a rotating calendar of primary elections, all to reduce the outsized influence of New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina on the process. As I write today, though, I’m not sure we should be having these elections at all.

Obviously, it’s this year’s election that’s making me lose faith in the system. The clearest example of primaries-as-shitshow is the GOP race, where an angry, violent, and happily ignorant band of racists is about to lift Donald Trump to the nomination. There is no way this is a good result, not for the Republicans, and not for the country as a whole, which will be subject to his idiocy and thuggery, and have to go through the motions of treating his candidacy with a show of seriousness. It’s abysmal. And if someone like Cruz were the other “popular” alternative among the GOP primary electorate, that’s no better. He’s a maniac, and such a maniac that even his own lunatic colleagues loathe him.

It’s not the same with the Democratic Party, but it’s still bad. Not because Bernie Sanders, if nominated, would be somehow be a disaster (though he would be far more likely to lose in my opinion). He’d be fine and perfectly respectable, and I’d be proud to vote for him, though I am a supporter of Hillary Clinton’s. But the fact that the choice of the Democratic Party’s nominee is being left largely up to Democratic voters, the supporters of the two candidates are incentivized to vilify the candidate they don’t support. If there were no primary contest being held, Bernie people and Hillary people would overlap, and everyone would be cool with each other, working together toward common goals, even if not all of those goals are shared in precisely equal measure. But since we’re subjecting them to a popular election, we have Bernie supporters trying to convince the world that Hillary Clinton, the likely nominee, is evil incarnate, a lying, heartless monster who must be destroyed, which of course damages her chances for the general election and overall poisons political discourse among the constituents of the only party that is, right now, serious about governing.

So imagine a scenario in which a presidential nominee is chosen by existing officeholders within a political party, and that’s it. All the party’s governors, Members of Congress, and heck, even the state legislators and mayors and whatnot, all get together, in person or virtually, and argue and debate until they hold a vote, and then pick their party nominees. It has at least the whiff of representative democracy in that all the stakeholders will have been themselves elected, but it avoids the mob-driven death march of the primary campaign.

Or maybe we still have primary elections, but as they have at times been, they are straw polls, beauty pageants, displays of strength and potential support among the grassroots. And after the entirely non-binding straw poll votes are held, the aforementioned party officials take that into account when making their decision.

Or maybe there’s something else that makes more sense. Maybe a board of directors of a party should just hash it out in a room, with or without the smoke. Maybe a randomly chosen “papal conclave” of party stakeholders should figure it out and draft a candidate. I don’t know.

But what I do know is that we have a problem with primary elections. They’re producing bad results, either in the candidates they annoint or the damage they do to a party. I can’t say I’m now wholly opposed to them in principle, but I can say that perhaps it’s time to at least consider that we should save all the democracy for Election Day itself.

"Shoot Me Instead"

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I shouldn't be surprised, but I can't help it. No, I'm not shocked that there might be someone who wants desperately to attack Donald Trump. I am taken aback, however, by the Secret Service. Wait, taken aback isn't right. Watch this.

I'm moved. Did you see what those guys did? When a threat to their charge was perceived, they didn't hesitate even a second. They used their bodies to shield Donald Trump. Control had been momentarily lost, a likely attacker had attempted to move on Trump, which meant that there might be others, and that they might have guns. And these men, without even a hint of consideration, formed a wall around Trump, each effectively saying, "Shoot me instead."

Put aside for a moment that it's Trump. Which I know is hard. Just the fact that a person would sign up for a job in which such a binary choice could very likely have to be made, to understand that if the situation arose, there would be no question that you would die before the person you protect.

When it's the President of the United States they're protecting, there's a kind of mystical honor bound up in that sacrifice, you can kind of wrap your brain around it. Even if you don't like a given president, I think we can all sort of grasp how the fate of more than just a single human being is wrapped up in a president's life, that the workings of our society demand that this person be defended at all costs, and that in giving one's life when a president is threatened, you are giving your life not for an individual, but for a country, for an idea. I get that.

But a presidential candidate is another thing. And a presidential candidate that is Donald Trump is another thing times a billion. I don't know if any of those guys like Trump, or if they hate him, or if they don't even think about it. But it doesn't matter. When an immediate threat arose, they, as a unit, in almost perfect synchrony, used their bodies as a shield to defend his life.

Words like "brave" and "hero" come to mind, but they don't quite describe the gut-level tug that this kind of willingness to sacrifice oneself induces in me. It's similar to how I feel about stories of 9/11 first responders, those who ran in when everyone else ran out. "It doesn't matter, I'll die so this other person can live." It moves me.

I mean, fuck Donald Trump. That swaggering asshole is a waste of elementary particles.

But my deepest respect and awe to those Secret Service guys, and to anyone who jumps in front of the bullet or runs into the burning building so someone else can live.

Ben Carson Makes a Correct Diagnosis

Ben Carson, who for some reason believes himself to still be running for president, made what I have to assume was an accidentally astute observation about the GOP presidential race. In Irving, Texas on Saturday he said:

We’re just trying to entertain people. It reminds me so much of ancient Rome — everyone wants to go to the Coliseum and somebody stabs someone with a sword and they go, ‘Yeah, this is great.’ And a tiger tears somebody’s head off, and they go, ‘Ah, this is wonderful.’ And nobody is paying attention to the crumbling society around them.

Well, yeah! That is what it's like! Huh.

Suckered by Chris Christie

I'm a sucker. I used to think that there was some modicum of integrity within Chris Christie. Yes, his brand was based on bluster and boorishness, and yes, he played the game of politics and sacrificed principles when necessary. But I always presumed that there was something honest underneath it all, something true, a genuine desire to do right by people, even if I utterly disagreed with his priorities or positions. Remember how he defended his appointment of a Muslim judge, when his fellow Republicans attacked him? Remember his moving story of a friend's struggle with addiction? Remember his heartfelt praise of President Obama during Hurricane Sandy? They bespoke, to me, a man who, despite the bombast and machinations, had some ethical foundation, some kind of true heart.

No. He's revealed himself as a complete phoney, a liar, probably a severe sociopath. Anyone who can speak the words he spoke today about Donald Trump cannot be trusted, cannot be believed, and cannot possibly have anyone's best interests in mind other than his own. He praised Donald Trump today with the same sincerity and gravity that he displayed in his previous flashes of humanity. But there's no way he believed a word of what he said today.

I have to assume, then, that everything else he's ever said was equally full of shit. Anyone who can ape sincerity that convincingly is dangerous and possibly sick.

I've been naive. I'll never believe him again. No one should. Not even Donald Trump.

Trump Can't Be Stopped by Shaming His Voters

Photo by Evan Guest (CC BY 2.0) The editorial board of the Washington Post wants to stop Trump from getting the Republican nomination, citing Trump's lies, threats, lack of an actual agenda, lack of experience, admiration for Putin, and the fact that "he wants the United States to commit war crimes." Where do they turn?

Certainly there are Republican leaders who understand all this: people such as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.); former president George W. Bush and former presidential nominees Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney; and governors, senators and community leaders across the country. ... If Mr. Trump is to be stopped, now is the time for leaders of conscience to say they will not and cannot support him and to do what they can to stop him. We understand that Mr. Trump would seek to use this to his benefit, and that he might succeed. But what is the choice? Is the Republican Party truly not going to resist its own debasement?

It would be hard to find a clearer example of how this primary race has been so utterly misunderstood by the political and journalistic class. In the past, these so-called "leaders of conscience" (please) have thrived off of what I described in my previous post as the decades-long project of cultivating a Republican electorate of fanatical ignoramuses. The very men the Post wants taking action to stop Trump are the same who benefited (to greater and lesser degrees) from the fomenting of rage and fear and the celebration of idiocy, the radiation of which Trump is now photosynthesizing. These men and their operations created the Trump candidacy. Trump is their baby.

And the idea that these old-timers could now step in and somehow shame and tut-tut the mob into making a more noble or self-sacrificing choice of candidate is laughable. These men represent much of what the Trump electorate is gleefully rejecting. These voters don't want another Dole-Romney figure. They want a Mussolini-Barnum figure.

A poll out today for Florida shows Trump about to clobber Rubio, ostensibly the candidate to whom "leaders of conscience" should be directing support. Trump is not going to be stopped at the polls. Electorally, this is over.

Which points to the sole way these party patriarchs could stop Trump from getting the nomination, and it won't happen. The Republican Party is not a part of the government (nor it the Democratic). It is a private organization that fosters and supports candidates for political office. The party could, if it so chose, simply change its rules, or suspend them entirely, and decide by fiat that, nope, we're not nominating Trump. Somewhere in a smoke-filled room (or whatever sketchy place powerful people meet these days) these besuited, old white dudes could gather and decide to pull the plug on the primaries, and enact some alternative means of choosing someone else. It will never happen, and it would be a disaster of a wholly different sort. But that's all they've got.

So Trump it is, and may whatever god you believe in have mercy on your soul.

Trump Will Be the Nominee and the GOP (Unfortunately) Will Be Fine

Photo by Alex Hanson (CC BY 2.0) Donald Trump will be the presidential nominee of the Republican Party. I thought this months ago, and today it’s blindingly obvious. What baffles me is that this is only now dawning on the political class. He was written off as a joke when he entered the race (and in the case of Huffington Post, officially written off as a joke), but even then I knew he’d have some solid base of support. How could I have been so prophetic, when I usually screw these things up? Because the horrible things he said, his history of conspiracy mongering, his perceived independence from the establishment, and his grotesque bravado were the prime ingredients for the perfect contemporary right-wing candidate.

The GOP has been cultivating the Trump electorate for generations now. You can draw a direct line from Nixon’s “silent majority,” through Reagan’s sunny obliviousness, through George W. Bush’s flippant swagger, through rabid anti-intellectualism of Sarah Palin, right to the substanceless jingoistic braggadocio of Donald Trump. For decades, the Republican Party has succeeded by intentionally fostering an electorate of fanatical ignoramuses, and now this their harvest.

So each time the pundit class declared that the latest offense to decency vomited up by Trump would finally – finally! – sink his candidacy, I thought, no, this will only solidify his current base of support, and probably attract more. And that’s what happened every time. It just shows how utterly out of touch the political class is when they think that the contemporary GOP electorate would be, say, horrified at someone who disparaged Mexicans, Muslims, women, or the disabled, or that they’d recoil at someone who dissed John McCain – the GOP base hates John McCain! Where have you people been?

So here we are, with Trump having racked up three huge primary victories in a row, and folks are still scrambling to figure out how Trump is ultimately beaten. Sorry, folks. This is your guy. Cruz can’t beat him, because there’s too much overlap in their supporters, and Trump’s foundation is granite-solid by now. Cruz’s best hope is that he can peel some of Trump’s people off, but he’s going to need a lot of very strong pick-axes to do that. So no dice. Rubio has very little overlap with the Trump base, so his only hope is to sop up what’s left of the drop-outs’ support, and convince voters of Kasich’s lack of viability. I don’t think he can do it in time, not by a long shot. I presume when he loses the nomination, though, he’ll declare victory anyway.

Oh, and apparently Kasich could maybe possibly beat Trump in Ohio. That’s about as meaningful as Howard Dean’s post-dropout victory in Vermont in 2004.

There’s also a lot of talk about how Trump’s ascension means the end of the GOP. The splintering among the Republican Party’s constituencies, they say, is irreparable and will lead to a total overhaul of the party.

Please.

First of all, this is what was said about the GOP after they lost so badly in 2008. “GOP in exile” and whatnot. Did they rejigger their party as they licked their wounds? No. They steeled themselves (and Steele’d themselves), and if anything became even more resolute in their increasingly extreme positions.

Second of all, while the GOP has a real problem when it comes to the presidency right now, owing as much to demographics and the Electoral College as their to their own madness, in congressional districts and statehouses they are doing just fine. More than fine. Because stupidly complacent moderates and liberals skip midterm and off-year elections, the most extreme corners of the Republican Party control state legislatures, city councils, school boards, and, oh yes, Congress. So maybe the White House is a tougher climb for the GOP right now, they are otherwise sitting very, very pretty.

So to sum up, Trump will be the nominee of the Republican Party because he is exactly what the GOP has been training its electorate to want. And while it may cost them the White House (or at least I really, really hope so), it’s only going to strengthen their determination and tighten their grip on every other aspect of government they control. And that’s where the real problem is.

Malleable

Photo credit: DonkeyHotey via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Former President Jimmy Carter would take Trump over Cruz, and so would I. Jimmy says:

The reason is, Trump has proven already he’s completely malleable. I don’t think he has any fixed (positions) he’d go the White House and fight for. On the other hand, Ted Cruz is not malleable. He has far right-wing policies he’d pursue if he became president.

This is exactly the point I've been making about Trump vs. Cruz, but President Carter put it perfectly. Trump is malleable. He pretends to have an ideological agenda, but it's all show. He just wants to win the big popularity contest and get the job. He may be terrible at it if he gets it, but he won't be guided by some absurd belief that the creator of the universe must be placated through government fiat. The only supreme being he cares about is himself, and he'll do whatever he has to do to keep things running to his satisfaction.

I'm not saying he'll reveal himself to be a closet liberal (though one never knows), but that he'll roll with it. He won't embark on crusades, he'll cut deals. He'll allow himself to be influenced, he'll feel the political winds, and he'll probably try to get a few things done. It'll be pragmatism and ego, not zealotry. (And, with Cruz, also ego.)

This is why I used to half-jokingly tout Mitt Romney for president, at least for the GOP nomination. Yes he was poised to be the most likely to be able to defeat President Obama, but it was a more palatable thought than a Gingrich or a Santorum getting the nomination and then somehow winning the White House. Romney wasn't just "moderate," he was, like Trump, malleable. He'd want to get things done. If it meant chucking Republican dogma or snubbing Tea Party dumbasses, then so be it. If the political tides shifted in a particular direction, he'd have leaned into them in order to keep things stable.

Cruz is not malleable (except his god damn smug pompous shit-eating fucking ass-face). He's a fanatic. Trump is a salesman, Cruz is a maniac. If I have to choose, I'll take the salesman.

 

Ironic Imaginary Conversations

Photo credit: leafar. via Foter.com / CC BY-SA Tom Jacobs at Pacific Standard reports on research that shows how animosity toward nonbelievers can be reduced by the religious having an imaginary, positive conversation with an atheist. And most of the subjects said they didn't know any atheists personally:

Those who engaged in the imagined conversation "expressed significantly less distrust toward atheists" than those who simply ruminated about the subject. The researchers conclude this more positive attitude was driven by "more comfort with atheists, and more willingness to engage with atheists."

Moreover, a reduction in distrust, which the researchers call "the central component of anti-atheist prejudice," was even found among religious fundamentalists. Perhaps they enjoyed the imaginary give-and-take.

This is encouraging, but just soak in the irony here.

Talking to an imaginary atheist makes a person who normally talks to an imaginary superbeing feel better about atheists.

We've been doing this all wrong this whole time. Think of all the social advancement we could have already made if we'd just been make-believe.

Trump is Exactly What We Wanted

Photo credit: Tony Webster via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND I was not a Trump skeptic when he entered the race. I didn't know how far he'd get, but I knew he'd be a big factor, and as he plowed ahead and stayed on top, I was also not one of those who thought he'd implode. His support, I believed, was rock solid, with a floor that other candidates couldn't match. But I don't think I could ever really articulate why he would do, and has done, so well.

Then I read this interview with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin at Huffington Post by Howard Fineman, and it all made sense. Fineman writes:

Trump deploys fame for fame’s sake; taps into populist expressions of fear, hatred and resentment and shows a knack for picking fights and a braggart’s focus on the horse race. All of which allow him to play into -- and exploit -- every media weakness and bad habit in a chase for audience and numbers.

And Goodwin tells him:

Do we know, at this point, about his modus operandi in business? Do we know how he treated his staff? Do we know what kind of leader he was when he was building his business? I mean, I don’t know the answers to these things.

All I know is that, when I see him now, it’s like his past is not being used by the media to tell us who the guy really is.

This all rings more truthfully to me than the idea that Trump is some kind of political savant. I do think he's probably smarter than his competition in a number of meaningful ways, but a better and broader explanation of his success is that his shtick happens to align perfectly with the way the news media produces content today.

The media and Trump are equally obsessed with horse race poll numbers. The current news paradigm is to churn out content with every tiny, potentially interesting development, and Trump practically gives off spores of content fodder. The news media delights in conflict, especially personal conflict, and the potential for controversy or the possibility of offenses given. Again, Trump provides and provides. And I assume that this is half because he's playing all of us, and half because it's just what he is. We the audience demand vapid, garbage content, and Trump gives us exactly what we want.

Here's a subject that Fineman and Kearns don't cover: the electorate to which Trump is appealing. It's hard to imagine a Democrat-Trump, some leftward counterpart that has Trump's bravado but fights for social and economic justice. No, Political Trump is a product custom made for an electorate stoked into rage and fear and happy ignorance by the very party that now fears the Trump takeover. The GOP primary electorate has been primed for a candidate like Trump, whether the party knew it or not. They've been fomenting paranoia about Obama, minorities, women, "religious freedom," Iran, Muslims, and whatever else you can think of, and they're shocked that perhaps some chest-thumping candidate might swoop in and, confidently and joyously, embody those paranoias.

Trump is a man of our times. Goodwin in the interview with Fineman says that deeply researched print journalism is what could have better exposed and explained someone like Trump, "because [of] the way sentences work." There's something kind of perfect for that. In an age of clumsy tweets and Facebook memes, the antithesis of whatever it is Trump is, might be "the sentence."

'Twas the Night Before Iowa (Which Probably Won't Matter)

2012 GOP Iowa Caucus winner, President Rick Santorum. Um. Here's what I think of the state of the race on the night before the Iowa caucuses.

The polls right now for Iowa are more or less meaningless. Yes, Clinton and Trump are both up a little in the final pre-Iowa poll, but it doesn't really matter. Save for the poor bastards in single digits, the Iowa caucuses are one of the least predictable "elections" in modern politics. For candidates within a few points of each other in polling, everything can hang on innumerable (and entirely banal) factors: Will it rain? Is there snow? Are people too busy? Are babysitters available? Are there enough cars and vans to bring people to caucus sites? Do enough people give enough of a damn about who becomes the nominee to show up, or is everyone pretty content with whoever winds up winning? Did we call enough people? Did we knock on enough doors? Did we know on too many doors, and call too many people, and become annoying?

Hell, if it's really close for the Democrats, it could all come down to which campaign has been nicest to O'Malley, as his utter lack of viability in just about every caucus site means his few voters will have to go with a second choice. The candidate O'Malley's voters like better could decide the whole night.

I was in the Hillary Clinton war room for the 2008 caucuses, and hopes were pretty high. I think the prevailing sentiment was that we would place a strong 2nd (behind Edwards, I thought), but alas, we were trounced by Obama and edged out by Edwards to land at 3rd. Remember the Democratic race in 2004? Wasn't Howard Dean supposed to win that with Gephardt close behind? They came in 3rd and 4th.

So forget the polls as far as the top tier candidates are concerned. For Clinton/Sanders and Trump/Cruz, this is up in the air.

So while I won't predict any winners, I will predict this: Iowa won't really matter. Let's say Sanders does win, and by a meaningful margin. He could take that momentum, build on his support in New Hampshire, and win big there, too. A rocket-launch to the nomination, right?

Look, it'll totally suck for Clinton if she loses both Iowa and New Hampshire, and Hillary Death Watch will be on full alert. But I can't for the life of me foresee a scenario where Sanders takes these wins and turns them into victories in South Carolina, Nevada, and the big states for Super Tuesday. Does anyone really think Sanders can win in South Carolina, where the African American vote is the whole ballgame? Or in California? Or New York? It's possible, of course, but at this point it seems absurd to think so.

I think Iowa is slightly less meaningless for the Republicans, only because a decisive win by Trump could indeed begin the end of the race, for it would certainly catapult him to an even larger victory in New Hampshire than he is already likely to enjoy. I am skeptical, though, of a Trump win in Iowa, simply because I suspect his on-the-ground operation won't match the religious fervor of Cruz's supporters. And if Cruz does win, it's no big news, it's more or less expected, so the race remains one between him and Trump, and we trudge on. Nothing in the race's dynamics change as a result of a Cruz victory.

Iowa's greatest impact will likely be to begin the weeding out of the also-rans. The bottom half of the Democratic candidates more or less lopped themselves off after Iowa in 2008. I can't see any reason for folks like Fiorina, Santorum, or Huckabee to trudge on once they get shellacked in Iowa. (And I suspect Huckabee is readying to endorse Trump after Iowa, and so a Cruz victory could be heavily dampened by a key establishment-evangelical nod like that.) Alas, Iowa losses likely won't deter Kasich, Bush, or Christie, who have their hopes pinned on New Hampshire. And Rand Paul seems to be running for something other than the GOP's presidential nomination, so who knows.

On the Democrats' side, O'Malley will stay in the race as long as he technically is able. Why? Bernie or Hillary could get hit by a bus or something, and he wants to be ready to fill a spot just in case.

What do I know? A year or so ago, I certainly thought Cruz would be one of the main contenders for the GOP nod, but I also thought Rand Paul would be his main competition. I could be entirely full of it.

But that's never stopped anyone from making predictions before. And I think at this point in my career, I've learned at least something. I can't wait to find out!

Immortality the Ineffable Underdog

Photo credit: Macrophy (Grant Beedie) via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Everyone you love and everyone you know and everything you touch will someday be gone. We will lose our lovers, our friends, our parents, our children, our animals, ourselves. The pain will be almost intolerable. The jobs we define ourselves by will end. Anything you make with your own two hands will eventually be dust. It will take only a few generations for you to be completely forgotten within your own family.

This is by Elmo Keep (she who is responsible for so much of the Mars One reporting/debunking that I’ve written about on this blog), who has written a positively brilliant, lengthy piece for The Verge on transhumanism, Zoltan Istvan, and the effort to harness technology to make human life, in some form or another, everlasting. Read the whole goddamn thing.

And this passage by Keep about the unbearable inevitability of death, this is exactly why I (like other white, male, no-longer-young tech enthusiasts) am so attracted to transhumanism in the abstract. We find ourselves living at a time when the ascent of computer superintelligences and, simultaneously, our ability to “meld” with computers are remarkably plausible. Perhaps not certain or even likely, but it’s out there in the hypothetical “someday.” If you squint, you can almost faintly see the event horizon of the Singularity.

And because I’m/we’re no longer young, we feel the tension, the gravitational pull, the off-putting gaze of death. We don’t have to squint to see it over the horizon. We just can’t quite tell how far away it is, exactly, but we know for certain it’s there.

So it’s a race, of sorts, or we imagine it to be. Two runners, death (nature) and immortality (technology), and the finish line is our lives.

We’re rooting for the Singularity, or at least for technology to save us from death. But right now, it’s no more than rooting, and for an underdog no less (or no more). If you’re like me and pushing 40, being saved by technology is a lot less likely than it is for, say, my kids.

But even so, we’re talking about something ineffable, really. A notion, a dream, nothing that’s been proven to be the case, to be imminent. We don’t know that technology will defeat death, or even vastly extend and preserve human life. We just really, really hope, and see inklings of possibilities. But that’s not enough for anyone to be hanging their hats on. To be working on? Investing in? Sure, fine.

I can’t afford to get my hopes up about it, though. I couldn’t bear the disappointment. The grief-upon-grief-upon-regret. I can watch for developments, and I can cheer on advances. But I can’t let myself believe in it.

But, oh, would I like to. I would like to so very much.

Oh No, Not OLED

2476168474_d803b26ce3_b It is being reported that Apple will begin to use OLED displays in an upcoming iPhone generation, as opposed to the IPS LCDs it has always used. And I’m not at all happy about this.

I’m not an iPhone user at the moment, so in the near-term I don’t really care what Apple does to its phones. But it can’t be denied that anything significant that Apple does with its most important product will likely be aped by most other manufacturers, if they aren’t already doing the same thing.

And the problem is that I seem to have some sort of ocular allergy to OLED. Throughout my Year of Phones, several of the units I tried out had AMOLED or Super AMOLED displays, and I recently spent some time with a Dell Venue 8 7000 tablet, which is OLED. And with only one exception, all of the OLED devices gave me headaches when looking at them for more than a few minutes. Indeed, I feel the strain on my eyes almost immediately.

I have no solid explanation for why this is so. OLED devices with which I’ve had significant experience, Notes 4 and 5 and the Venue 8, while they are truly excellent, each gave me the same problem. I thought perhaps that there might be some difference between Samsung’s proprietary “Super AMOLED” and Dell’s vanilla “OLED,” but no. They both produced the same effect.

And no settings-tweaking helped. Lowering the brightness, lowering the saturation level, adjusting hues, nothing mattered.

Some folks in forums have speculated to me that this has to do with an imperceptible “flicker” that OLED displays produce and LCDs don’t, but that’s just a guess from a few people who are otherwise as stumped by this as I am.

There was one exception, however, the Nexus 6, the device with which I had a stormy relationship. That has a Quad-HD AMOLED display just like the Notes 4 and 5, and yet with all the problems and delights I had with that device, I don’t recall headaches being an issue at all. I have no idea why.

On the flip side are LCD displays, like that on my beloved LG G4, and on every iPhone and iPad ever. I have never had any problem gawking at iDevice screens for hours on end, and my G4 Quad-HD LCD display is so lovely I can sometimes hardly believe it.

Also, I’ve seen far more problems with OLED displays than LCDs. This is anecdotal experience, of course, but on OLED screens I see far more burn-in, ghosting, dark spots, dead pixels, and the like. I do know that it’s currently a fact that they degrade more quickly than LCDs. They seem, from my personal experience, to be far less reliable.

But now Apple will, well, saturate the market with OLED, making it the new normal. OLED displays, at their best, are far more eye-catching and rich than most LCDs (though the G4’s is right up there), so they have obvious appeal. But if they are less reliable, why would Apple commit to them so wholeheartedly?

Boy Genius Reports speculates that Apple is prepared for OLED’s degradation problem, saying, “It stands to reason that Apple is confident that the aforementioned drawbacks can and will be addressed in the years ahead.” But I don’t think that needs to be true at all. Apple has already introduced its own leasing program so that folks can get new a new iPhone model every year, so we know that Apple very much wants to push regular consumers to upgrade at a rate that’s high even for many tech enthusiasts. If they’re confident that an enormous number of their users are going to get rid of their phones after a year anyway, why should they care if the OLED displays start to lose their “oomph”? You’re buying the new one anyway.

But what this all means for me (which is what this is really about, remember) is that the best phones on the market in the coming years will all be OLED in one way or another, which means that, unless they change something as-yet-undiagnosed in the displays or my eyeballs, I will be squinting in agony at the objects I would otherwise hold most dear. It’s like an Van Gogh devotee who gets a small electric shock whenever they look at one of his paintings.

There is still the anomaly of the Nexus 6. Perhaps there’s something in the way its display was made that holds the answer. Or perhaps LG will continue to improve its LCD displays to the point where it’ll be clear that it’s the better alternative.

But with my luck? I’m going to need a new drug.