wax banks

second-best since Cantor

Month: February, 2016

A fight and an argument.

[Wrote this in late January, never posted it. –wa.]

The story circulates that the boys at Marvel Comics couldn’t figure out how to end hack writer Mark Millar’s Civil War series, in which Captain America leads an army of superheroes who refuse to register with the US government against a new gov’t agency led by Tony Stark. The writers had Cap and Iron Man fistfighting in the wreckage of some city and couldn’t figure out whether one of them would or could win. Joss Whedon strolled by, listened for ten minutes, then casually handed them their ending and left: Captain America wins the fight but loses the argument.

Yesterday my dad asked me whether Trump has a chance of winning the election. I said: No, Dad, he’s unlikely to win the GOP nomination, and he can’t beat Hillary Clinton, who’s still all but guaranteed to win the Democratic nomination. A loud minority really likes Trump; everyone else rejects him outright.

So why’s he doing so well? my dad asked. What I should’ve said was this: Trump doesn’t have an argument and doesn’t care; he promises a fight. TV ‘news’ loves fights — and so do voters who feel they’re not allowed (empowered) to speak. Because of the positive feedback cycle of poll numbers and TV coverage, he’s locked in as the main attraction on CNN.

Lemme think out loud here. Not an argument, just a series of thoughts.

Of course Trump’s revanchist bloc is eager to support someone whose sole ‘content’ is lashing out. Over the last thirty years, they have resoundingly ‘lost the argument.’ Economically, socially, diplomatically (and most consequentially on the matter of anthropogenic climate change), the right wing is confronting a long legacy of failure, with Obama’s consequential presidency its chief symbol. Trump feels to many like their last resort.

But that’s not what they’d tell themselves if he won.

‘Might makes right.’ Think about that for a second: the moral ‘argument’ depends on the outcome of the fight. (In Game of Thrones terms: trial by combat.)

A lot of young progressives/liberals and Democrats think that the way to get stuff done is for your ideas to beat the other guy’s. These people are na├»ve, but so are all young people. That’s one thing that ‘young’ means, and lucky them.

What’s worrisome is when they win fights — y’know, by beating up the other guy — and insist they’ve won the argument too. This is what was going on with the recent consumer revolt at universities around the country before the cold weather made it all too much of a bother. One side insisted, and apparently believed, it was only making an argument about race; as the year progressed, it came to seem instead like a fight about race and a lot of other things besides.

If you lose the fight, your insistence that you won the argument will sound…hollow.

Captain America beats up Iron Man, then realizes what his war is costing everyone, so he surrenders, conceding the point to Tony Stark.

Social movements never behave this way. They will not ever take three steps forward and then voluntarily take a step back in the name of inclusivity and reconciliation.

They’re not gonna hit you in the face just once.

It seems to me that Trump’s supporters are a protest movement of folks angry at having lost their argument with ‘Obama Nation’ (with history, really) and raring for a fight that’ll cancel out that loss. They’re mad at their congressmen (who’re supposed to do the arguing), they’re mad at their countrymen for not sharing their views — but as their loud cheering for Trump’s constant use of the word ‘LOSER’ makes embarrassingly clear, they’re also mad at themselves, at their station. ‘WE’RE LOSERS,’ Trump bellows. And the crowd roars its agreement. YES WE ARE!

(‘Yes we are’ is the identitarian response to ‘Yes we can.’)

We shouldn’t pretend Trump is an unprecedented or irregular phenomenon. He is the illogical endpoint of right-wing (identity) politics going back half a century. Yesterday I read the National Review anti-Trump forum. I felt embarrassed for the writers (even the ludicrous Mark Helprin, who appears to be beyond embarrassment). They act as if they’re in an argument about the ‘future of conservatism.’ But Trump’s supporters aren’t National Review subscribers. (Is anyone, anymore?) Turn up your nose and someone’s gonna hit it, not unjustifiably. The NR editorial panelists say they don’t recognize Trump and his cohort as conservative. It is impossible for them to conceive of their own fault here.

If I have a point here it’s this: Polls have shown that Trump’s supporters back him regardless of his stance on the issues. The reason you can’t argue with such revanchists is that their position isn’t itself an argument. It’s fists in the air, nothing less or more.

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Trump is a trailing indicator.

The first thing to point out about Trump, at this point, is that his support, like his sales pitch, isn’t essentially ideological. As usual, Matt Taibbi gets this exactly right. Trump’s dangerously consistent 30%+ support cuts across all demographic and ideological lines within the pool of GOP primary voters, and as a late-February poll shows, a surprising number of Trump supporters actually take mainstream candidates like Jeb Bush as their second choice.

Trump weds populist rhetoric with strongman appeal: the problem with America is out-of-touch elites, corporate predators, and a willingness to sell ‘real’ Americans downriver for profit — and the solution is, of course, to give Trump absolute authority and hope that fixes everything. That he is himself a hopelessly corrupt plutocrat, a trust-fund narcissist who’s worked hard to have nothing whatsoever to do with the ‘common man’ who is his campaign’s primary target…well, that doesn’t bother his voters.

Because the second thing to point out about Trump is that he’s not asking the American people for money. He plans to take it, of course — he’s a grifter, which the party of Sarah Palin is evidently comfortable with — but all he’s asking of voters right now are their votes. The Trump circus is ‘free-to-play,’ as the Farmville assholes put it.

And over the last few decades, our votes have come to be worthless to us.

Which is the third thing to say about Trump right now, and the scariest. He’s not going to win the general election. He’s not creating a toxic stew of nativism, denialism, and ignorance on the right wing — that goes back a half-century and more. And when this campaign is over, few people will take him seriously ever again. But the Trump Moment is scary because it shows just how little regard Americans have for their votes.

For millions, voting for Trump is the same thing as ‘liking’ Trump — in the ‘social’ media sense. It’s so easy. You hardly feel a thing.

That’s what we should be scared of: not the brief rise to prominence of a vicious delusional moron, but the utter devaluation of the once-sacred process by which we choose our leaders and hold them accountable. It’s too aesthetically neat that the major background issues of this election are ongoing climate disaster and the Senate GOP’s unprecedented refusal even to hold courtesy meetings with Obama’s SCOTUS nominee. A Congress with even the vaguest sense of its responsibility to the American people — to the human species! — would see to it that the SCOTUS vacancy is filled ASAP, and would be working hard right this instant to make sure that the US government can respond effectively to its unusually large number of serious ongoing crises. One big reason Trump plays so well right now with Average Joe and Jane is that Congress is bought and paid for, Supreme Court appointments and approvals are now almost entirely ideological, corporate predators do pull the government’s strings on so many major issues…and Trump’s happy to say so. Trump might be a congenital liar, but a big part of his campaign pitch is that he can be candid about terminal government dysfunction.

Of course, he’d probably nominate Howdy Doody to the fucking Supreme Court. But that’s only to say, again, that Trump himself is the least interesting thing about Trump’s candidacy.

(Sidenote: It’s stupid to keep calling the next Supreme Court Justice ‘Scalia’s replacement’ — the seat was occupied long before Scalia was born, you know. Pundits are well paid to play into the GOP’s hands, of course.)

If he makes it to the general election — which isn’t certain, if you believe the recently popular ‘Party Chooses’ thesis — Trump will get stomped. He’ll embarrass Clinton in the debates, as she’s a corporate sellout and entitled habitual panderer and he’ll rightly call her on those things, but Clinton will ‘win’ the debates by being a sane, experienced, competent adult every bit as ruthless as he is. But it won’t matter. An extremely well funded decades-long campaign to convince Americans that ‘government is the problem’ has (surprise!) quite effectively done its job, and now several generations of Americans sincerely believe that the Feds not only aren’t effective and trustworthy leaders but can’t ever be. That’s deranged, of course, and it comes of willful ignorance. But the damage is done: in a time of deep despair and dashed hopes, there’s always an audience of folks (who think they’re) at the end of their rope — and they’re ready to cheer for the villain and convince themselves he’s the truth-talking antihero.

Which is why I’m not paying too much attention to Trump, but I’m increasingly worried about the landscape the day after the election. Clinton the boomer-dynast will win (c’mon guys, even I called that eight years ago), and a hell of a lot of people will have been carefully instructed for a decade or more to think of her as illegitimate solely because she’s…well, take your pick: a libtard, a dyke, a castrating bitch, BENGHAZI!!, whatever. (At least she’s white though, amirite?) This madness doesn’t just afflict the lost generation of Fox News-watching senior citizens, either. Contempt not only for our totally corrupt present-day Congress but for the idea of governance has trickled down to younger voters. This has gone on for a long, long time.

The Trump candidacy is a trailing indicator of some extremely dangerous low-level problems with our republic. You can treat the symptom, but not affect the cause…

Apple vs the FBI.

Tim Cook’s letter about the FBI’s request for help cracking the password on a killer’s iPhone is important reading. Cook claims that Apple does not have a version of iOS that would allow the FBI to circumvent security on one of the San Bernadino killers’ iPhones. The FBI has demanded that Apple engineers create one.

The FBI has explicitly asked for help with this one device, one time. But that’s not what Cook’s letter is about. (Just between the two of us, I’d like for the FBI to know what’s on this murderous piece of shit’s phone too.) And while there’s always the chance that the software backdoor in question could get out, rendering every iOS device in the world totally insecure, that’s a secondary concern here too — I imagine Apple’s engineers could do a reasonable job securing this one phone. This is a much bigger deal than that. Bigger, even, than the FBI’s specific request for the ability to input passwords wirelessly. (Just think about what a privacy apocalypse that could trigger.)

If Apple agrees to the FBI’s demand, then every iOS device is fair game — and future demands of other tech companies for such extraordinary violation of user privacy will be more likely, and more likely to be followed.

We already know that Google happily helps the NSA with their online equivalents of warrantless wiretapping. We already know that some companies build such backdoors for the government to use. But this is something else:

The FBI is asserting that it has a right to backdoors which do not yet exist.

This should repulse you. It should repulse Barack Obama, to be frank.

Apple’s respect for user privacy — the company’s willingness to hide user data even from Apple itself — is a big part of why I favour their products and services. They are absolutely right to pick this hill to die on, especially when the phone in question belonged to such unsympathetic filth…which is, by the way, a deliberate political calculation by the FBI; bet on it. This is about precedent.

We should reward companies and individuals who do the right thing when frighteningly powerful groups like the FBI put their thumbs on the scales.

Write to your representatives in Congress to push back on the horseshit coming from Senators Cotton and Feinstein, and demand that your presidential candidate of choice speak out against this overreach by law enforcement.

(with pleasure)

It’s 60+ degrees in Denver all week, I’m sitting on the porch this morning in a t-shirt. We head to Denver Internat’l Airport. Security takes forever, we miss our flight. Book on another airline, $1,500 for the three of us. Horrible meal at O’Hare. Arrive Boston three hours later than planned. We’re in the long-term overflow parking lot — the RED LOT yes — but we get on the bus for the regular long-term lot, so that eats 30 extra minutes.

Boloco on the way home, I inhale my teriyaki chicken burrito.

Step in the house, my son washes his hands.

A pipe bursts.

soundsense

renaissance ‘world of knowledge’ texts took poetic form for a variety of reasons, some terrible (e.g., all good things echo God’s plan so all disciplines are linked).

but the ultimate reason is good and simple: engaging the imagination and emotions strengthens your teaching.

you listen harder to story

Protocols.

Wellllllll, but perhaps we are about to discuss a paraphilia or two.

(This I wrote in mid-January, for reasons I can no longer recall, and wouldn’t admit to even if I could. Onanism? Yes, I suppose it is. But here you are, Reader(s), subjecting yourself to the one-man show. –wa.)

Notebooks

Light. As a man of wealth and^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H taste, I naturally keep a variety of notebooks — not quite ‘one for every occasion’ but I do cover the bases. I’m not a fetishist, really, but there’s a lite ritual quality to my notebook buying. I keep Leuchtturm 1917 books, which look like Moleskines but with (1) nicer apparatus in a bunch of small ways, e.g. the contents listing, page numbers, dots, rear folders, and (2) different proportions, which I much prefer. I’ve got a stack of used/filled Moleskines upstairs; they’re fine too.

The day-to-day is an A5 (5.71×8.27). Compared to trade paperback size (6×9), it’s a touch roomier on the line and the slight but perceptible squatness feels great in the hand. Big enough to feel like a proper notebook/journal, small enough to stack with works of plodding workmanlike lunacy like, say, Montauk Revisited, about which more later.

Last year I picked up an A4 notebook for (hahaha) big picture stuff and schematic notes — this is where, say, book outlines go. This is where my son and I are mapping our expedition to Thunderdelve Mountain. Dotted pages, twice the size of the A5. Taking it out feels decadent and faintly ludicrous — it monopolizes the table — but filled A4 pages feel just ace. There’s a curious psychic pressure to write only ‘impressive’ things in this book. I knew that’d happen, frankly, and that’s half the reason I bought the book, for that novel mildly unpleasant sensory/emotional weirdness. It does feel nice to write in a carefree way on a large canvas — ask any kid. There’s a biohazard warning sticker on the front. A notebook without a sticker feels like ostentation.

worldbuilding. I’ve also got a handful of pocket Moleskines around. What’s the term, ‘ubiquitous capture’ or somesuch? There was a genuinely humiliating cultural moment when people with expensive degrees used the term ‘hipster PDA’ to mean ‘a stack of 3×5 cards clipped together in your pocket.’ I wrote a book lampooning these people, called Fixing You. Excerpts appeared in a self-published essay/&c. collection of mine, Falsehoods, Concerns. Maybe someday I’ll rewrite the abysmal last chapter (with its decent last line) and publish the whole thing.

On 2 January, feeling resolute, I rode to Bob Slate to buy a planner. Instead I picked up this odd little ‘Some Lines a Day’ journal. The schtick is that each of 365(!) dated pages is divided into five sections, each with a little ’20__’ space for the year; you work through it over the year then start over, one section down, for five years. Neat little structure, and it’s a solid notebook — too thick to comfortably carry anywhere, though, and not made for full-on journal writing. But I don’t do that anyway.

Pens

Carry a highlighter. Trust me.

Two pens. First, Dr Grip, which uses G2 gel refills so it’s cheap and which has a big rubber grip so it feels nice in the hand. My wife and I have gone through a bunch of these over the years — for some reason they split in half easily. Totally worth it though. Actual pen fetishists have problems with G2s for reasons I can’t begin to fathom. To hell with those guys; normal human beings will do quite well with one of these.

Second, one of the silliest things I own, a Baltz pen (from the Kickstarter). It was a Christmas gift from a dear friend with more refined taste in pens than I can afford to have. With the original ink cartridge in, it was the most sensually pleasurable writing experience I’ve ever had: this perfectly weighted and proportioned bullet of a pen which moved like silk over skin. The refill cartridges I’ve used have been underwhelming.

Venue

I write most weekdays at Render Coffee, down in Boston on Columbus off Mass Ave. (Or I did, until the brake line snapped on my bike.) It’s about a five-mile ride from my house, straight shot, so when the weather’s decent the ‘commute’ is a perfect mental reset before and after work. One hesitates to call Boston biking meditative — everyone who drives here is a murderous asshole — but I enjoy the ride. Render serves good coffee, plays fine writing music (until mid-afternoon, when things get more intrusive), and serves excellent rosemary-potato breakfast sandwiches. I like the baristas, who with one or maybe two exceptions are extremely relaxed human beings.

herrod-on-the-reik, the steel city Failing that: the Cambridge Public Library (main branch) has loads of uncomfortable seats and the most natural light in town, Le’s in Harvard Square will sell you a day’s worth of calories in the form of the fried rice combination plate for $9, Life Alive in Central Square has killer vegan meals and is handily close to Rodney’s Bookstore and our local nerd store Pandemonium Books & Games, the BPL is a superb work environment when the jackhammers aren’t running (in summer the courtyard is Boston’s loveliest writing spot, though a bit antiseptic some days), and Cafe Luna puts out one of the heartiest salads in Cambridge.

Venue is important, though less so for me than for, say, a sculptor or painter or playwright.

Ears

Carry earplugs. ALWAYS CARRY EARPLUGS. They’re cheap, they work, and they instantly turn most urban environments into quiet writing environments.

Instrumental music, obviously; writing to other people’s words, sung or spoken, is hard. Stars of the Lid, Jon Hassell, certain Phish/Dead improv, Ornette’s Prime Time, Jonny Greenwood’s soundtrack stuff, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, the Solaris score, Frippertronics, Soft Machine, and recently a lot of Software.

Learn to make a proper seal with your ear buds — it’ll allow you to hear clearly at low volume and will restore proper bass response, so you won’t have to blow out your eardrums. Remember that hearing loss is generally irreversible, and take it from me that tinnitus is potentially dangerous to your mental health.

Books

I don’t know how people can carry only one book around and live with themselves.

atonement with the father. Lately I’m reading a bit of Joseph Campbell, Timothy Zahn’s original ‘Thrawn trilogy,’ some Barbara Tuchman, some Philip K Dick, some David Simon (I’m not convinced that I need to finish Homicide). I just read Kripal’s Mutants & Mystics, which I’m hesitant to review at present for complicated reasons, and the first two books of Viriconium by M John Harrison, which make me embarrassed for for nearly every SF writer who isn’t M John Harrison.

(The hero’s-journey pic is actually from Andrew Rilstone’s book on Star Wars, which I heartily recommend.)

With the Kripal book I started using David Seah’s book outliner, which I’d printed ages ago but couldn’t be bothered to actually try out. It works. Give it a go.

Blog

Cranium-shattering levels of genius wasted, WASTED, on absolutely vapid content.

Wretched: hashtag ‘demdebate,’ as the kids say.

(Wrote this more than a month ago. –wa.)

Poor Martin O’Malley. By all accounts a downright criminal mayor/governor, but his interjections during the debates this year have this adorable plaintive quality, and are for the most part lucid and compelling. He comes off as neither an exhausting ranter like Sanders nor an oleaginous panderer like Clinton.

Every debate so far has chipped away at the goodwill and respect that Clinton earned during the Obama years. Her expertise isn’t in doubt, only her ethics (and her humanity, but who’s counting). She is, and always has been, a totally compromised machine politician on the take. Sanders is wise to press the matter of Wall St funding — like so many others in Washington and very much unlike Sanders himself, Clinton is bought and paid for. To her credit, her disingenuous ‘Bernie voted to deregulate Wall Street!’ parry last night was less offensive than her pathetic invocation of 9/11 at the previous Dem debate.

But one suspects that she’s got a cache of ten or twenty million middle-aged voters who don’t care who holds her purse strings because, I guess, History. Whether they outnumber Bernie’s Millennial Army, massively un- and underemployed due to last decade’s financial shenanigans, many of whom (charmingly) see Occupy Wall St as a watershed, remains to be seen.

The conventional wisdom is that Sanders is ‘unserious’ on foreign policy. He is totally unconvincing on foreign matters, I admit. On the other hand, he’s the candidate least likely to dispatch flying robots to murder civilians — and may well be, in that regard, the only morally serious candidate. I don’t know.

Smart people who ‘believe in “synchronicity.”‘

(Wrote this three weeks ago, never got around to revising it. I’m of two minds about the book under consideration, because it’s really two books, only one of which seems to me to be of lasting value — and unfortunately, the other book takes over toward the end, leaving a sour aftertaste. This is, as you can see, a first impression rather than a proper review. –wa.)

Having recently read and enjoyed Jeffrey Kripal’s (mostly very valuable) Mutants & Mystics, I’m again left wondering about the attraction of ideas like ‘synchronicity’ and alien visitation. To me, ‘skepticism’ means not dismissal of possibility but a tendency to favour parsimony, systemicity, provability in explanation — e.g. the idea that extraterrestrials exist and regularly visit earth rests on a number of physically impossible premises, massive coincidence, and conspiracy in order to be true, so I am ‘skeptical’ of same. There are better explanations for the alien-visitation phenomenon available, which I favour but not exclusively.

This isn’t ‘materialism’ except coincidentally; I’m starting with an epistemological position and from there working my way to an assumption about visitors from other planets.

Kripal’s book deals with a number of mid-20C writers and artists, and he’s generally quite good about rendering their experiences in a balanced way — what happened in Philip K Dick’s head in 1974, say, is less important to us readers than what he made of it in his art, so Kripal spends most of his time talking about the art. That’s good; his handling of Dick’s story is sensitive and insightful. But then there’s stuff like this:

A neuroscientist may want to invoke something like temporal lobe seizures, and Windsor-Smith himself may or may not find these sorts of descriptions appropriate as neuroscientific labels of what his brain was doing at the time. But again, what do such “explanations” really mean? Is the filter really the filtered? And how do such easy labels explain the objective fact that the artist saw, in precise detail, two events in 1970 that did not occur until three years later in 1973? Just how much of [Windsor-Smith and Philip K Dick’s] courage and honesty do we need to savage … in order to protect our little materialist worlds? …

The easy explanation is that Barry Windsor-Smith didn’t actually experience precognition, only believed he had and acted accordingly, and that Philip K Dick’s VALIS experience was as accurate an account of reality as, say, Saul’s seizure-induced conversion on the road to Damascus — i.e. whatever those great writers claim they ‘saw,’ it didn’t mean anything until they started fictionalizing around it. Kripal goes further than this, though: he seems to want to claim that Windsor-Smith and Dick experienced a kind of higher or deeper reality, caught a glimpse of a secret of the universe. (Victoria Nelson’s superb Secret Life of Puppets, which I’m very profitably reading right now and which (if I remember right) Kripal approvingly cites, tends strongly in the same direction.)

The problem is that he’s cagey about his subject. He starts the book with a coincidence — he finds a cross-shaped piece of jewelry or something on the ground in a parking lot, thinks it’s the X in X-Men, and is startled into writing this long book about comics — and the closer he gets to talking about the experience, the more he favours ‘magical’ explanation. It’s not enough that this random occurrence had personal meaning for him; something else, something Significant, had to’ve been going on. But since that idea is ‘problematic’ in Kripal’s field of religious studies, something he talks charmingly about in the book and in interviews, Mutants & Mystics gets vague and handwavey at the precise point when it should be…skeptical, in the sense of ‘precise and limited in its determination, expansively agnostic in its inquiry.’ The book is admirable and excellent on that second point, but wishy-washy on the first.

Kripal can point to something like Whitley Streiber’s ‘visitor corpus’ and talk for dozens of pages about how strangely wise and beautiful it is without ever asking whether the whole thing isn’t a record of, in a word that’s nastier in its connotations than I mean it to be, delusion — a record of a state of alternate consciousness which Streiber, living as he does within his own perceptions, will fictionalize around in order to keep from experiencing a debilitating break with reality. (The alternative explanation, that it’s all a cynical fiction, is unappealing — I’ll take Kripal’s word for it that Streiber’s a decent man with no intent to deceive.) I don’t require a purely ‘materialist’ explanation, e.g. hallucinations, but I do ask that critics not throw out the scientific method in order to make the reasonably correct but arguably trivial claim that Life Is Special and Interesting and We Are Capable of So Much More If We Just Awake to the Beautiful Dream.

Reports of Twitter’s demise are #myopic.

So let’s take it as read that Twitter is run by the usual Silicon Valley/FinanceWorld mix of sociopathic predators, poorly socialized nerds promoted well beyond their competence, gated-community cowards unable to imagine the world beyond their little circle, tech wonks with neither aesthetic nor social senses, and well meaning earnest GenX/Millennials suckered by fashionable contemporary pseudo-ideas (e.g. the notion that comfort is redress, or online conversation is conversation).

Let’s take it as read, too, that Twitter has long been a service in search of a business model, and that the answer they’ve hit on — ‘let’s sell ads’ — is both lazy and in the long run incorrect.

All that said:

Today’s announcement of Twitter’s latest move away from strict timeline chronology, toward ‘curated’ and algorithmically foregrounded content, will be bad for culture, bad for human beings, for what I hope are obvious reasons: the social/emotional incompetence of The Algorithm and the engineers who feed and water it, the choking rich-get-richer effect which folks acted surprised by when the words ‘power law’ were a big deal more than a decade ago, the way it props up the insane feeling of ‘FOMO’ which is the core of online pseudosociality, etc. Leaving Twitter in charge of your news feed means that your news feed will look more like everyone else’s — more like the computer’s dumb idea of what human beings like — which is good for Twitter and its financial co-conspirators and bad for everything else.

But two years from now, no one will care about this particular change to Twitter’s model, just like no one really cares today about the ‘Moments’ non-feature, or the fact that advertisements interrupt our Twitter feeds with increasing frequency and unavoidability, or the company’s decision to cull the ranks of third-party app developers and choke out its app ecosystem. Twitter’s interference with our feeds’ chronology isn’t the end of Twitter because Twitter has been worsening in so many ways for years and years…and you still use it, you still spend hours and hours a day staring at this stupid feed.

The #RIPtwitter outcry is blame-shifting and excuse-making by a small but loud group of addicts, most of whom once knew how good life could be without a pile of pseudosocial non-thought accumulating on their screen, but who are now incapable of imagining life without it. Now it’s a big deal to ‘go offline’ for a month. Now it’s a big deal to take a month or a year thinking about a work of art before sharing your ‘take.’ Today you’re gonna spend more time thinking about the next iterative step toward shitty irrelevance by a ‘social’ network than about the fact that the radically activist Roberts court just put an unprecedented stay on Obama’s sweeping clean energy EPA directives, potentially rolling back our nation’s response to the Paris accord by years.

This is the deep problem: Twitter is a service of deeply questionable value, but you’re addicted anyway. The same goes for Facebook. I’m willing to bet real money that nearly everyone who’ll ever read this has spent more time complaining about cosmetic changes to these services than you have wondering how you’d live (well) without them. The problem isn’t the existence of the drug. It’s your decision to stick it in your vein — and the multibillion-dollar business that depends on your addiction for its survival. (It’s like our political parties, in that way.)

Twitter will go on, and its value to users will decline, and eventually some ‘revolutionary’ alternative will pop up, make a lot of money, and repeat Twitter’s choices because Money Says So.

Meanwhile, stop worrying about whether Twitter is well or poorly off, and ask yourself whether you are well or poorly off, and what you can do to improve the situation.

I AM LORD OF ALL CATAN

freewrite to start my reign as lord of all catan. cutthroat game last night at rugs’s house. the game’s only fully compelling when everyone lets their guard down for the first 1/3 or so and actively trades. i’m usually too tight-fisted early on, refusing to give anyone else even a marginal advantage, which has the twofold effect of (1) slowing my development and (2) doing the same to everyone else. actively trading with everyone at the beginning accelerates the opening and midgame but leaves plenty of room for screw-tightening in the endgame.

i won after a couple of huge two-city resource pulls — i had two cities on a 3-wood space, which paid off something unlikely like twice during the game overall, one of those coming at the last possible moment for me to steal Longest Road from krevice, who was within a couple of turns of winning, i think. those four woods lemme build four roads at a stroke. suddenly we’re in the endgame! one turn later i shored up my Longest Road title and it was just a matter of turning out a city and a settlement to close it out. which took an improbably long time but wasn’t, at that point, really in doubt.

i don’t normally think of Settlers in terms of ‘building an engine,’ the way i/you think of Dominion, but last night it really clicked for me. i normally play a development card-heavy strategy in one or two small board regions, which gives me the mild thrill of bluffing and sneaking up on everyone to get Largest Army (no one else in our crew is as crazy about cards as i am), but this time i played a diversified Longest Road strategy that let me build my ‘engine’ steadily without it getting too taxing or boring. this pushed Krevice into a late-game card-buying binge, which nearly won it all for him — he had two VP in hand and was a turn away from Largest Army. Rugs was never really in the running after being throttled early by bad dice luck and awkward opening placement.

now that there are so many great German-style board games at every rules weight, it’s easy to forget that the reason Catan is so popular is that it’s an absolutely gorgeous design — for most groups, a near-perfect ‘starter’ game.