Living the Long Defeat

At the Republican convention last week, internet entrepreneur Peter Thiel echoed a lot of fiscally conservative Republicans today when he told social conservatives to stop letting things like bathroom gender policies (and presumably gay marriage and abortion and other social conservative causes) distract us from what’s really important.

I don’t pretend to agree with every plank in our party’s platform. But fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline.

Rod Dreher counters Thiel’s claim that culture wars are fake or unimportant or that the important issues are about economics.

You hear this kind of thing a lot from social liberals who genuinely believe that nothing serious is at stake in the culture war. If conservatives would just roll over and accept that the liberal view is naturally, obviously correct, we could get back to our “real” problems. […] What people like Thiel — really intelligent people, let us stipulate! — don’t understand is that not everybody values the things they do. Real, important things are being struggled over.

And also:

Culturally speaking, to be born in many places in the US is to suffer an irreversible lifelong defeat. If you come from a culturally conservative region, or family, you understand that the people who make the decisions in this culture are on the other side. At best they regard you as irrelevant. At worst, they hate you, and want to grind your nose in the dirt. Whatever the case, the things you value, that are important to your identity, and your sense of how the world is supposed to work, are either fading away or being taken from you — and you can’t do anything about it.

Living in Massachusetts as a cultural conservative, an orthodox Catholic who hews to the Church’s moral teachings, is related, but different. This is a culturally liberal region, and everyone around me regards me as irrelevant and a relic and a Neanderthal on my most fundamental and non-negotiable beliefs.

In North Carolina, for example, there’s enough cultural conservatives to pass laws and try to hold back the tide. In Massachusetts, you hunker down and hope the tide misses you.

Jousting in the Olympics

There’s a movement afoot to get jousting into the 2020 Summer Olympics. Yes, jousting. Men in armor on horseback, knocking each out of their saddles with 12-foot lances.

Sewell said jousting, which requires “a huge amount of skill and involves a daily training regime”, ticked lots of Olympic boxes. “You have to be strong, not just physically but mentally, so you can sit fearlessly in your saddle, face your rival and offer yourself as a target.”

Just like dressage, it also requires an enormous amount of equestrian training. Horses must be persuaded to accept a rider dressed in 20kg of steel armour and to gallop at an opponent at speeds of up to 30mph.

Of course, if we’re bringing back medieval sports, how about making Armored Combat League an Olympic sport too? There’s already international competition among national teams so it’s even more popular than jousting.

If they make those Olympic sports, I’ll be sure to start watching again.

The “Objective” Media

When the mainstream media is accused of being biased in favor of the Democrats, many journalists vehemently deny that such is the case. Perhaps many journalists are in fact unbiased reporters. In that case, when we have obvious cases of collusion between a prominent political reporters and the Democrat National Committee, like this one, we ought to hear cries of outrage and demands that their colleague be censured or fired for bringing shame on their profession.

What do we hear? Crickets.

Facebook Wants to Be the internet

The more you hear Mark Zuckerberg talk about the future of Facebook, the more you realize that his vision is not that Facebook become the biggest community on the internet or the biggest web site on the internet, but to become the internet itself.

The key point, and the one thing you really need to accept to understanding where Facebook is going, is that Zuckerberg sees internet access as key to making his company — and society — stronger. The internet creates jobs, brings people together, can educate those in underserved communities, and even allow for things like remote surgery to save lives. It’ll probably also make Facebook some money, too. If you take all of that as his starting point, the rest of Facebook’s initiatives begin to make sense.

DollarShaveClub.com Will End TV As We Know It

Ben Thompson looks at Unilever’s acquisition of DollarShaveClub.com for $1 billion and sees in it the seeds of destruction for massive consumer products companies like Proctor & Gamble. And because companies like Proctor & Gamble are the source of ad revenues that keep most television on the air….

Note that metric: cartridge share. According to the traditional way of measuring marketshare Dollar Shave Club only has 5% of the U.S.; the discrepancy is due to the massive price difference between Dollar Shave Club and Gillette. And yet, the price difference is the entire point: in a world with good enough products (Dollar Shave Club imports their blades from Korean manufacture Dorco) that can be bought on zero marginal cost websites and shipped to your home directly there is no reason to charge more.

The implications of this go far beyond P&G: fewer Gillette razors also mean less TV advertising and no margin to be made for retailers, who themselves are big advertisers; this is why I argued last month that the entire TV edifice is not only threatened by services like Netflix, but also the disruption of its advertisers, of which P&G is chief.

Liberal Neal’s Convenient Pro-Gun, Anti-Gun Rhetoric

Behold the carefully calibrated hypocrisy of the liberal New England congressman with a large gun manufacturer, in this case Smith & Wesson, in his district, Rep. Richard P. Neal.

“My own position has always been: Be helpful in that every police officer or patrolman in America ought to use a Smith & Wesson, and I think the American military ought to use a Smith & Wesson,” Neal said in an interview. “At the same time, there will be disagreements as it relates to guns.”

In other words, average citizens shouldn’t have guns, but every government agent should have Smith & Wesson weapons. Incidentally, Neal was one of the overgrown hippies doing the sit-in against guns on the House floor last month, ginning up the youth vote by emulating the rash of college sit-ins protesting micro-aggressions.

Neal said he supports background mental health checks, closing gun show loopholes, and keeping those on the government’s no-fly list from being able to purchase firearms.

“I think those are reasonable positions by any standard,” he said.

Except it is quite reasonable to disagree. For one thing, gun show purchases aren’t “loopholes”. A loophole is an unintentional gap left in a law, a way of getting around a previous restriction. In fact, person-to-person sales have never been the object of such legislation and is only a loophole to those who think that gun purchases should be rare, difficult, and practically non-existent.

Likewise, the no-fly list ban sounds good until you realize that many, many people end up on the list in cases of mistaken identity, bureaucratic error, or opaque government fiat. In fact, just a few years ago the liberal bastion of the American Civil Liberties Union was decrying the no-fly list as unjust and problematic. Yet now, we’re supposed to trust the list to identify the correct people who should be denied their civil liberties.

The reality is that Neal’s liberal positions are apparently those which check off the right boxes for the type of voter he’s trying to appeal to, even if it gives him a split political personality. This is not especially new and it’s not confined to liberals. But it’s worth remembering and pointing out when it comes up.

Those iPhone spy photos are not iPhone spy photos

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I keep seeing links to photos and even videos of the “iPhone 7” that Apple is undoubtedly going to sell this fall, but which is still unannounced and held in secret. They invariably lend credence to the various rumors that (a) the headphone jack will be removed, (b) the camera bulge will be bigger, (c) there will be a Smart Connector on the back, and so on.

Here’s why this is all bunk. For one thing, Apple is insane about secrecy for upcoming products. I’ve heard stories about the software developers chosen to write software for the then-unannounced iPad, of Apple employees walking into developers’ offices with pre-release hardware with cases chained to their wrists, akin to the nuclear football. The developers were required to have a windowless room with a table inside bolted to the floor in which a locking system of Apple’s specification was installed. The door to the room was to have an electronic security lock on it to which only a certain number of employees have access. The iPad, in a special secure case, would be secured to the table at all times, never to leave the room. No phones or cameras were to be allowed in the room. And so on.

Yes, Apple is insane about security. So where are all these photos and now even videos coming from? What you need to know about China is that you can buy nearly perfect knockoffs of everything, including fake iPhones that look nearly identical to the real thing, right down to the Apple logo on the back, except they run a version of Android that looks sort of like iOS.

I’m convinced that this is what we’re seeing. The manufacturers of fake iPhones have to create mockups of the new iPhone 7 ahead of time in order to get them out the door when the real thing launches. So they’re combing the same rumor sites we are and mocking up their new phones based on those rumors. Then in an ironic twist, the rumor sites “confirm” their rumors based on the mocked-up fakes that were based on their rumors in the first place!

We’ll know what the new iPhone 7 looks like when Apple reveals it. Yes, it’s fun to speculate and look for juicy advance info, but don’t get too worked up over any of the rumors, like the elimination of the headphone jack, until it actually happens. Because it isn’t real yet.

Pretty Fly for A Wifi

Fifteen or 20 years ago, this would have been incomprehensible to most people. But now, I’d say most homes now have some kind of Wifi in their homes and each of those networks need a name. It used to be that everywhere you went you saw “Linksys”, but now most routers ask you to change the defaults. So what do you name yours?

Ours is Melanie’s maiden name. Melanie’s mom set up her Wifi when she was single and living with roommates. When we got married, I moved into her apartment and just kept using the same Linksys WRT-54G router and over the years as we upgraded to a variety of Apple Airports I kept the same name both for ease of use and because it’s somewhat obscure. Our neighbors don’t know which network is ours because it’s not our name.

As for our neighbors, from my house I can see some default names — ASUS, variations on FIOS — but also others like Gilboa and NBCN6. Not too creative I guess. A very common joke is “FBI surveillance van”. Not as clever and creative as they think. What’s your wifi network name?

Our New Family Vehicle: 2015 Ford Transit Wagon

Ford Transit Van

At the end of May we purchased a new family vehicle, a 2015 Ford Transit Wagon, to replace our aging Buick Terraza minivan. It’s quite the upgrade.

We’d had the Buick for about 10 years and we have been talking about replacing it for the last five years. The biggest problem was that even as a minivan, it’s capacity was limiting. We literally could not fit another child into the car and even with just the five kids, we moved Isabella out of her booster and Sophia and Ben out of their car seats into boosters before we were supposed to. We couldn’t take long road trips because the poor kids were so cramped and there was no place to put stuff. But we managed to endure until we took the Buick in for some repairs. Our great mechanic told us that we need to replace struts, wheels, and brakes and do major work on the air conditioner, all of which together would cost about $3,000. Truly, it was time to move on.

I knew we needed to move up to a larger vehicle and because the Transit was Ford’s newest version of the full-size van we settled on that, finding a couple of recent vintage with low miles locally.1

There’s a lot to like about the van. It doesn’t have a lot of frills, but it does have a very nice rearview camera in the bumper. If you’d asked me whether it was something I would want in a new vehicle I’d have said No, but after a couple of months with it, now I want it on my Honda. The camera is especially useful on the Transit because there is almost no view out of the back window. The design of the pillars in the rear doors is unnecessarily bulky, I think, so you can hardly see anything. But with the rear camera and the very nice side mirrors, that’s not a real issue. The side mirrors offer both a big straight up rear view mirror and a concave mirror that lets you see all around the side, removing blind spots, but also making parking within the lines easier.

The view from the driver’s seat is pretty good overall. It sits high up and the front windshield is a large expanse of glass, while the nose of the van is quite short, giving you an excellent view. There are several storage space and cup holders in easy reach of the driver and front passenger, but not much storage in the back and while there’s several cup holders in back, not one for every seat.

There are only two windows that roll down, the front passenger and driver and only half of the windows roll down. It’s kind of odd how much of the window doesn’t go down.

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The passenger version of the Transit comes in a number of seating configurations, holding up to 15 people, but ours seats 10.2 This gives us a big space right inside the sliding door, behind the front passenger where we can put all kinds of gear. The nice thing is that the two in car seats, Anthony and Lucia, are right behind the driver and passenger. In the next row, Isabella, who used to be cramped in the middle in the back of the old car, now has a glorious row to herself. And Sophia and Benedict are in the back without anyone competing for arm rests.

As a full-size van, we have new considerations like the height of the van. It’s taller than the minivan at 6-feet, 11-inches and won’t fit in some garages, a problem which Melanie ran into recently. And it’s certainly bigger all around when you’re maneuvering.

Overall, though, it’s been a very nice upgrade so far. I wish we could have done it earlier. I’m looking forward to really putting it through its paces in August when we take it for a week of camping.

  1. I think we got a pretty good deal on the van we purchased, if the sour looks and attitude of the finance manager were anything to judge by. He was especially unhappy when I got him to admit that the “couple bucks a month” extended warranty would be $5,000 extra — and he was going to finance it to boot! No thanks. ↩︎
  2. It can come with seating for as few as 8. To seat 12, you need the long wheelbase version and for 15, you need the extended-length version. ↩︎

Be A Gardener, Not a Carpenter

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Alison Gopnik argues that we shouldn’t use the word “parenting” to describe the act of raising a child. After all we don’t turn “husband” or “wife” into verbs. But the use of “parent” as a verb suggest that we’ve turned it into a job with tasks that can be followed to arrive at a desired result, like a cabinetmaker building a chair.

“The promise of ‘parenting’ is that there is some set of techniques, some particular expertise, that parents could acquire that would help them accomplish the goal of shaping their children’s lives,” she writes. But that would only work if children were a “thing”, a machine whose nuances could be learned. But that doesn’t work. Not even if you think of them as incredibly complex machines. Yet this is what very often how we see other people around us, as bundles of facts and inputs and outputs and data. I know I often feel like a faceless bundle of systems whenever I enter the healthcare realm.

People, including children, are spiritual/physical hybrids who are constantly shifting and changing and each one is utterly unique. You can’t read a manual or take a class that teaches you the successful technique for raising a child, because it’s impossible for such a thing to exist.

We’re supposed to “be parents”, not “parent”. A parent is someone who is, not just someone who does. We learned to raise children by being raised, by seeing other children raised, by participating in the raising of other children in our families, by being around and seeing the children in our community being raised.

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