Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Generation Lost In Space

One of the very first memories I have of the internet is reading an analysis of American Pie.

Let's stop a moment and take stock of the situation.

I am old enough that the internet wasn't even a thing when I was a kid, assuming I wasn't from the Department of Defense or worked at the tech help desk in Seattle. It wasn't until my mid-teens that we started getting random disks in the mail for a variety of internet services; at one point, a computer I purchased had a packet with, like, twelve different packages to sign up for. (Ah, CompuServe and AoL!) Imagine my sadness and shock when I realized you had to pay for internet access!

Anyway, I was soon off to college, where I had (intermittent) internet access. I had shitty dial-up in my dorm room, and somewhat better (if much less private) access in the computer lab.

Kids, remember how you hate it when old people talk about how candy bars cost a nickel and party lines existed and records were a thing? I'm about to sound like that about the internet.

The internet was not like it is today. Data speeds were much, much slower and the computing processing power paled in comparison to today. As such, there were no streaming services, no YouTube, no...well, not much of anything. The best you got was text, static graphics, and maybe gifs if they looped in an abbreviated enough time frame as to not shut your computer down from overheating.

Those heady, wild-west-ish days for us regular folks were a treasure trove of sketchy information. For those of us who either weren't old enough to have gotten on the gravy train at the beginning, or techie enough to understand, we were looking at primitive Angelfire web sites and delving into the (admittedly brief) lore created by Usenet and BBSs.  Wikipedia didn't exist, so information was largely scattered and patchworked; some places (Yahoo, famously) tried to corral them all into organized directories. (That's right--at one point the internet was small enough that you could petition Yahoo to get your web site added to their directory of subjects.) We were taking unnecessarily complex purity tests, locating FAQs for our analog board and card games, and reading elaborate analyses of popular culture.

Which leads us to one of the first things that I remember: an analysis of the song American Pie.

The song--by Don McLean--well, the only song by Don McLean; Vincent doesn't count--was notoriously enigmatic upon its release in 1972 and had just grown in this notoriety for decades. It was a chart-topper in its day, but unusual in that it was much, much longer than standard radio fare. And its lyrics were dripping in half-obvious symbolism. Ostensibly about the "day the music died"--when Richie Valens, Buddy Holly, and The Big Bopper all died in a plane crash, its lyrics soon spiraled out into a sort of oral history of rock music from the 50s until the early 70s, coded in mysterious allegories (and, of course, blatant allusions).

I was a fan of the song, so imagine my surprise when I found that someone had done a line-by-line analysis of the lyrics. Online! That I could read! For free! And print out! Of course I printed it out, because why not? Paper was free in the college computer lab, and no one would care if I printed out 30 pages of analysis from a classic rock song instead of working on my symoblic logic homework.

It seems quaint and primitive now, but this was awesome to me at the time. It is very, very hard to remember what life was like without having an internet at the ready. Hell, now, we all have little internets in our pockets. Literally twenty years ago our internet was 25 leather-bound books that a pushy salesman pressured our parents into buying by convincing them it would help us get into college. And it's not just the internet--to think at one time I didn't know all of the cultural references in the song at one point of my life is fascinating. They're low-level trivia questions now, but at the time it was an education unparalleled.

Anyway, I decided to see if that analysis was still up in its regular old site, and I think I found it--here. It's there, I think, it all its starry-background HTMLy goodness. I vaguely recall the one I had was just in plain text, so the whole thing printed out like a common textbook, which doesn't mean I didn't collate that thing to bring into class so I didn't have to pay attention.

The internet made me an unparalleled genius. Well, at least in the realm of hackneyed classic rock songs with a lazy chord structure. Or at least one of them.

Saturday, February 20, 2016


Today South Carolina votes (at least for the Republicans) and Nevada caucuses for the Democrats. The results should be surprising for...well, someone.

For the Republicans, it looks like (sadly) Trump will win; his lead is somewhere around thirteen points. Even if my (largely discredited) theory that his support melts away when people actually start voting erases some of that, it still means he is going to win. For people like me who think a Trump candidacy will be a disaster for the Republicans (and, uh, everyone else, really) in the general election, it's starting to become a bit of a crossroads. As other candidates drop out, Trump's support has largely remained the same, but that might not be the case as the remaining names, like Bush or Carson or Kasich, drop out. Trump may, indeed, lose once it tightens up to a two-man race, since it appears that Trump has a ceiling to his support; the problem is that Super Tuesday is coming up, along with a lot of winner-take-all contests, and by then it may be too late.

The good news, relatively speaking, is that South Carolina is still only the third primary. It seems like there's been a thousand elections already, but there hasn't. Even though there is a bit of a time crunch, it's still a long way to the convention.

For the Democrats--well, Nevada is an enigma. Because of a bunch of different reasons, it's hard to poll in Nevada (their caucuses are a little strange, even by caucus standards) and so a lot of what they have is sketchy at best (and they don't have a lot). This could very well be an upset for Sanders, but it seems unlikely--although it also seems like it's not going to matter quite so much. Even if Sanders wins, he's going to get creamed in the Democrat's South Carolina primary, stopping any momentum; the only thing he can glean from Nevada is to pick up signals that he is able to get minority support.

Thursday, February 18, 2016


I am endlessly amused by this note at the beginning of's entry for Hamlet:

They might as well have written"You should have read this in high school anyway, you Philistine!"

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Abraham Lincoln Would Agree

I've asked my readers last year and the year before to help me engage in a new American tradition: eating peanut butter pie on Presidents Day.

Here's the thing: nothing else is going on for Presidents Day, aside from bank workers taking the day off so they could go buy mattresses on sale. But you know what is always a good idea? Peanut butter pie. Unless you have one of those pansy peanut allergies, there is no good reason why you shouldn't enjoy a slice of PB pie on the least appreciated federal holiday in the calendar.

Hey, that new year resolution you made to not eat garbage? Hell's bells, everyone in the room knows full well you're going to eat an entire Whitman's Sampler on Valentines Day. And peanuts are technically a plant, which means that peanut butter pie is actually Atkins, paleo, and South Beach approved.

Take the rest of the week to get the ingredients, fire up the stove, and prepare to engage in America.

Monday, February 8, 2016


The New Hampshire primary is tomorrow!

(I super pinky swear I'm not going to post about every primary.)

We're still in the heady, winnowing days of the election, so the narrative seems to change hourly. Still, one can posit things that might happen:

For the Democrats:  New Hampshire, being a neighbor of Bernie Sanders' home state of Vermont, should be a shoe-in for Sanders. But, like Iowa (and, spoiler alert, the remainder of the primaries), it's all a game of expectations: the latest polling shows a huge amount of undecided voters (10%+ or so) that can literally go either way. Both can lay a claim here, since the state went for Clinton in 2008 by a small but notable margin. Still, Sanders is expected to win, but if he barely ekes out a win it will do for Clinton was Clinton's razor-thin victory in Iowa did for Sanders. And since both Iowa and New Hampshire are two of the top three states that demographically go for Sanders, it will be an uphill climb from here on out. I suspect anything less than a 10% difference gets people talking, and if Sanders wins by 5% or less it will definitely spell trouble--especially since after the inscrutable Nevada caucus there is the South Carolina primary, where Sanders will most likely get creamed (as he will in nearly all of the south).

For the Republicans:It's hard to call. I suspect Trump will eke out a win, but just barely--as in Iowa, his lead will simply melt away when people actually vote. Unfortunately, his lead (even now, at the last minute) is over 15%, so even if it does disappear he has plenty of margin. The only hope anyone else has is that one of the upstarts--namely Rubio or possible Kasich--has such high upward momentum it's not trackable this close to the election, which, combine with Trump's soft support, might propel them ahead. Speaking of, I suspect at least one of the governors (Bush, Kasich, or Christie) will get new life into their campaign; I just can't for the life of me figure out which one. (Kasich is polling better, but Christie has a strong debate only a few days ago.) We still have plenty of primaries to go, but I suspect we're going to rather quickly see a four-way race: Trump, Rubio, Cruz, and one of the governors. How this all plays out over the next few weeks should be interesting.

If Trump somehow doesn't win, I think it all falls apart. Trump has very little, if any, ground game, and was using the focus and media for Iowa and New Hampshire to propel him to the top. Once it comes down to the weekly grind of contests, Trump won't have anything to hold on to anymore. If he was able to get a second wind, he has no infrastructure to take advantage of it until it's too late.

Sunday, February 7, 2016


As of this writing, Superbowl 50 is going on. As you can tell, I'm not riveted.

I like football, but this was the year that I skipped it. There's several reasons why: some are valid, some are admittedly stupid. I've grown tired of the NFL's handwaving away of things such as violence and domestic abuse. I can't really criticize the NFL's money-making acumen, but the sheer amount of commercials have turned an already-mildly-boring game into an exercise in tedium. I think the behavior of certain teams--such as the Patriots--diminish the game, and it's appalling that the NFL basically shrugs it off. I think the officiating has turned into an absolute disaster, to the point where fans have no idea what a catch is anymore.

When your fans literally no longer know the rules, it's time to take a step back.

But this year it seemed to hit critical mass for me. Player misconduct seems to be out of control, and the NFL seemingly metes out punishment arbitrarily, where the sentence is rather obviously tied to their value as a player. And while I'm not as concerned about the issue of concussions as some people are, I think there's a certain amount of chicanery going on there as well.

And my biggest problem is that there doesn't seem to be any move to fix any of these issues. As the audiences get bigger and bigger (which they have), I don't think they are going

And so I was off it this year. I didn't watch a single minute of professional football all year*, and even tonight I was  only half watching it. I'm sure I will get back into it again. I wasn't anti-NFL throughout the year; I was simply indifferent. (That is, until I started tweeting during the Superbowl and I realized how caustically I felt about things. Oh well.)

Until then, bring on the hockey.

*As an aside, you know what bugs me? The sort of people who squawk about "sportsball" and make fun of people getting excited about other people winning a game they had nothing to do with. I get it, I'm a nerd, and I used to be anti-sports, too, but you know what? It's fun. Let people enjoy stuff. If it's not your thing, fine; no one is forcing you.