Halfway to 2040

It occurs to me this evening that I have now traveled through half of the four-plus decades which separated 1998, when I was in college watching Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040, from the year 2040.

I suppose that beyond this I’m just belaboring the obvious, but it was 42 years away.

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Hardware farewells Feb. 2019

A few long-serving tech items have gone into retirement, in the past week or so.

My trusty Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS finally bit the dust after nearly eight years. It might very well have matched or surpassed the service record of the Canon Pixma IP5000 inkjet printer, which lasted more than 10 years, except I dropped the camera fairly hard a while back. Function deteriorated thereafter, and finally it just stopped working.

I have replaced it with essentially a near-new modern version of the same thing, purchased for for about 2/3 the cost of the SD1200, because really a decent point-and-shoot digital camera is entirely adequate for my purposes.

Very possibly a smartphone camera would be adequate, except that many of them seem to take photos which are big but hopelessly smeary. Including the one which I now own because

I replaced my Samsung SCH-u340 fliphone after more than 11 years. This was my first and until now only mobile phone. Despite the fact that it was getting the same kind of looks as the Blackbird 520c Powerbook I once toted around, long after it had gone out of date, this phone is still in good working order and I would still be using it. Except I have decided to change mobile carriers and there is no wireless company which would support this phone, other than the one which inherited it years ago as a legacy. (SIM card? What SIM card?)

So now I have this black rectangle from Motorola, which is probably far more powerful than e.g. my first desktop Mac, but frankly seems pretty utilitarian and boring. (The main point of interest I can find in it is that Motorola has now sneaked back into my hardware line-up for the first time since Steve Jobs ditched them for Intel.)

Also, NASA officially gave up on the Opportunity Rover. Realistically, “Oppy” went offline several months ago. But mission control finally ended Opportunity operations last week, triggering many looks back at what was frankly an astounding working “life.”

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Human progress as economic bubble

During recent attempts at some deep thinking about politics, civilization and history, I have pondered the long term and how present dysfunction might be little more than “reversion to the mean.”

An expectation of general progress, or of a fair society which lasts, seems hard to square with the long arc of history. My own impression is that after developing basic civilization thousands of years ago, humanity did not really “advance” much until the past 300 or 400 years.

The advances since then have included some spectacular transformations, at least for lots of people. Long lifespans, food to eat, medicine which works, flourishing science and arts.

Yet the systems powering industrial civilization are ecologically unsustainable—that’s just a plain fact—and while its product is an anomaly within human history, to date, resource burnout is not. Jared Diamond’s book Collapse explored a pattern of civilizations building prosperity upon unsustainable foundations.

What if all industrial civilization—powered by toxic fossil fuel combustion and internally resistant to alternatives despite many decades’ notice of the need—is just one more unsustainable bubble?

Yesterday, Slate reported on some similar speculation by David Wallace-Wells, author of The Uninhabitable Earth.

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Authoritarianism for dummies

So this week, the president of the United States formally declared a “national emergency” on an indisputably bullshit basis, with no real pretense that it is anything except an attempt to do an end-run around Congress’s very clear refusal to pay for a ridiculous campaign prop (which the president has continually insisted will be paid for by Mexico).

To the extent that constitutionality is an objective standard, this seems to be unconstitutional. The fact that the president did so anyway has at last brought a plain statement from one authority that “this is a constitutional crisis.”

This is certainly serious. Among other things, I feel like if ever national political drama demands notice even in this occasional personal chronicle, it’s this week. I have of course already called members of congress. (Have been doing so for some weeks, in fact, as this fake “emergency” has been toyed with openly since last year.)

This is also absurdly stupid.

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The anarchist elite

I will just give this its own post, here. Thanks for sharing this keen observation, Brooke Harrington.

…though the global network of offshore tax havens is a relatively recent tool for billionaires to advance their interests, the impulse driving the sponsors of populist movements is not. The novelist GK Chesterton had their number over a century ago, when he wrote: “The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn’t; he can go away to New Guinea on his yacht. The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all. Aristocrats were always anarchists.”

‘Aristocrats are anarchists’: why the wealthy back Trump and Brexit
Brooke Harrington

Capital is just a lot of the problem

In the month since I posted this big-picture political assessment—pointing to Republicans’ intentional exploitation of nonrepresentative features of our constitution—I have mused on some kind of deeper dive.

Can I identify even further explanations for our peril, more fundamental than a 50-year-long project by capital to (struggling for a better word) trump a system of democratic governance rejected as an unacceptable constraint on the accumulation of private fortunes?

I’m still working on that. But it is difficult to feel like the fundamental conflict at hand is meaningfully unlike that explanation.

The above is not really a story of the Trump administration. It’s the story of a value system that prioritizes private wealth with no real, firm limit or point of satiety. A value system for which there is no “enough,” no point at which consideration for others outweighs the desire for increased private status and privilege.

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Marvel “Timeslip,” collected

Front cover of "Timeslip: The Collection"

Last November, I splurged on a dozen or so $1 back issues, at Carol & John’s Black Friday Sale. For under $15 total, I bought myself a reasonable value in entertainment.

Timeslip Collection is not the highlight of those purchases, but feels worth examining as one more look at old, odd and/or obscure comic books.

This is a November 1998 collection, which I don’t recall noticing at the time, of a feature in Marvel Vision which I do recall. In fact I still have a few issues of Marvel Vision—an example of the for-purchase promotional periodicals which now feel difficult even to explain in a thoroughly online era—with some of the earliest “Timeslip” entries.

Part of my limited excitement at what is on balance a nifty little artifact is that I think those entries already familiar to me accounted for most of the feature’s best.

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The Housing Dilemma, and Trilemma

My own observation is that most of the time, housing/affordability is a quagmire of an issue, in large part because it combines personal impact with enduringly popular misconceptions.

I’m certainly not a policy expert here. Even without taking leave of reality it’s possible to venture very very far into the weeds on this issue. But for what it’s worth, I think the reality of housing policy is ultimately pretty basic.

If you want to counter rising local housing costs, you need more housing, in significant amounts. That’s pretty much it.

I think the housing conversation in most places tends to go everywhere but this basic principle because people don’t want to accept the basic trade-offs in housing policy. I would describe these as a dilemma, and a trilemma.

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The Political Crisis, January 2019 update

We’re about two years into the nightmare reality of Donald Trump’s presidency. An opposition party is about to take charge of the US House, breaking up the unified Republican control of Congress which has buttressed said nightmare reality. This seems like an appropriate time to take stock of the larger situation.

For better or for worse, though, I find that I have already written a lot of what I might say at this point. Overall I think my long-read assessment from late 2016 remains valid, particularly the emphasis on Trump as a symptom of the crisis more than its cause. My first thoughts on the midterms seem like they cover their significance fairly well: while they offer a measure of relief, it seems like mostly relief of symptoms. They don’t even solve the crisis—I think everyone anticipating that Trump is going away soon will be disappointed—let alone constitute solutions to the deeper long-term problems.

In terms of deeper solutions, the best evidence that I can see is the progress in overcoming gerrymandering. In the same year that Democrats miraculously won a House majority considered impossible under the 2011 maps, reformers made substantial progress toward a 2021 redistricting that is more fair rather than less. That’s meaningful, and positive.

Unfortunately this update also includes a number of cautions against optimism on that basis. As in the larger picture, it feels like progress to date has forestalled catastrophe in redistricting, but has not won the struggle. Detailing this could really be a separate post, so for the time being I will emphasize the serious threat of recent gains being reversed by the worsening situation in the federal judiciary.

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2018 Year in Review

A couple of weeks ago I came across this 2015 post, “Requiem for Young Adulthood.” Looking toward my approaching 37th birthday and the stage of life beyond it, I mostly drew a big blank:

…ambitions are difficult to establish here. I have some sense that this transition to the middle phase of life is often marked by a realization that one has probably reached one’s station in life, and that while one might achieve more, achieving significant new status in life is long odds. […]

At the moment I can see maybe four, maybe five years out at most. Basically, I’m researching a third book, and I recently had an idea for a different type of large project to pursue whenever “Book Three” is finished. Hopefully it will pan out, because life seems kind of thin these days aside from such pursuits. (Seems kind of thin even with them, actually.)

Life seems very different in some big ways. Certainly I would not describe my life since 2015 as thin.

Thinking back on the year, I completely forgot about attending the March for our Lives until browsing through photos for this post.

Instead it’s busy, and it’s a blur, and I am so very, very, very tired. This year’s holidays were nice but after looking forward much of this year to a break and some rest it was over so quickly and now another year rushes toward me with multiple big projects already underway and who knows what else in store.

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