(Last) Weekly Roundup: Union Of The Fake Edition

If you’re not in the habit of following the convulsions of “new media” — if, in other words, you have a real and potentially fulfilling life — then you’ve missed a lot of drama in the past week. The G/O Media (previously GMG, previously Univision, previously Gawker Media) site Deadspin went through an extraordinary series of self-flagellations when Barry Petchesky, who succeeded Megan Greenwell, was fired for deliberately defying the “stick to sports” mandate of its new owners. Several of the site’s writers quit shortly afterwards in “solidarity”. A 53-year-old freelancer agreed to work for the site and was immediately bullied into quitting by an online mob. Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy gloated at the collapse of his rivals.

It’s not for me to say who is wrong or right here, although I have my personal opinions on the subject. I’d rather focus on something that is, to me at least, more interesting: the idea of perpetual adolescence in the workplace, and the social structures which have evolved to enable that idea.

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Weekly Roundup: They Fought The Law And The Law Lost Edition

As of this writing, CNN’s front page has the word “Trump” on it sixteen times, but “Guzman” or “Chapo” are nowhere to be found. Which makes sense, of course: Donald Trump is absolutely, positively, totally going to be impeached any day now, plus he’s the President until that happens, so you’re going to hear quite a bit about it. Who the heck is Guzman?

Why, he’s just a private citizen who forced the Mexican National Guard to surrender on the field of battle last week.

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: Dad’s New Truck Edition

Children are innocent
Teenagers fucked up in the head
Adults are even more fucked up
And elderlies are like children

Perry Farrell might be on to something. I’ve had this sense of, ah, regression lately. At first I thought it was anhedonia, the byproduct of various professional and personal disappointments, but now I recognize it for what it is — not an inability to feel pleasure, but a disinterest in the pleasures of late adulthood. I don’t want to drink interesting vodkas or travel to fascinating places or earn enviable sums of money. Don’t want to win arguments or write enduring prose. My interest in what used to be called “the fairer sex” before society decided that was unfair — still present and accounted for, but no longer shouting quite so loud in all the corners of my skull.

This is what I want to do: as another pansexual lead singer once declared, I want to ride my bicycle.

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Weekly Roundup: Consensus Up Your Backyard Edition

Here’s the plot: A Midwestern city is filled with single-family homes, many of which were owned across generations. A bunch of developers come in. Aided by external interests, they rewrite the zoning laws on a city-wide basis, allowing them to place multi-family dwellings anywhere regardless of previous zoning or the existing residents’ opinions. It no longer matters what your neighborhood was or what you want it to be — it’s now fair game for low-cost housing.

In an era of significantly decreasing violent crime nationwide, there’s a reverse trend in this city. Rape, murder, burglary, auto theft — all posting double-digit percentage increases. The established residents aren’t rich, having a median income of $65,000 — but now they’re surrounded by people with a median income of $20k. Anyone who complains is told they’re free to sell their home and move, but their incomes wouldn’t give them a chance at owning a home in most parts of the country. And the future looks bleaker still, because in the next 20 years this ambitious plan will be taken citywide. Worse than that, there are plans to do it elsewhere.

Anybody want to guess how the national media is covering this disaster?

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: Blurred By The Dark Fog Of Britain’s Domestic Politics Edition

We’re a little short on actual scientific progress lately, aren’t we? Oh sure, the coding sweatshops of the Far East turn out a million-plus new “apps” a year, and today’s cars have much bigger LCD screens than their immediate predecessors, but consider the following: The remarkably underwhelming F-35 fighter plane began development in 1992, flew for the first time in 2006, and began operations (of a sort) in 2013. That’s a twenty-one-year timeline. Now think about the fact that the X-15 started poking around Mach 5 and Mach 6 in 1961, after a first flight in 1959. What’s the state-of-the art look like in 1940? Why, it’s the Mach 0.6 Supermarine Spitfire, which had set world speed records during civilian development five years prior. In other words, airplanes got ten times faster in that twenty-one years.

The pace of technological development in the Fifties and Sixties was just plain staggering. It was also an era of national pride, one in which billion-dollar projects could be fired-up on a whim just so a country would have more presence on the world stage. Two of those billion-dollar projects happened to be supersonic airliners… and therein hangs a tale.

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Weekly Roundup: The Passion Of Saint iGNUcius Edition

I was there, outside the Chinese restaurant, when Richard Stallman screamed and began to run from the raindrops.

It was early in 2001 and I was at MIT to meet and work with the nice people from Spindletop, a nascent computer hardware designer/reseller with a tiny office in the basement of a Cambridge strip-mall building, right beneath a fitness center. (Seems like a curious detail to include, doesn’t it? Will it be relevant later?) I was running a webhosting co-op at the time. The idea was that Spindletop would provide the hardware while I would provide what we now call “cloud space” for their various websites and downloads. The software that ran the computers would be Debian GNU/Linux, an operating system based on the idea of near-absolute freedom.

Dealing with GNU/Linux meant dealing with Richard Stallman, the eccentric genius who had guided the creation of pretty much everything but the Linux kernel itself. I say “eccentric”, but what I’m really saying is that Stallman is mentally ill. I don’t know the correct words to describe that illness, but it manifests itself in dozens of different ways, from extreme hydrophobia (fear of water!) to various disturbing habits of phraseology, communication, and physical behavior. Nobody who knows Stallman thinks he is sane. By the same token, nobody would doubt his intelligence. He’s the only person I have ever met in person who struck me as being measurably smarter than I am, which sounds horrifyingly egotistical but is probably more a reflection of my choice in fellow-travelers.

Stallman agreed to eat dinner with me on the condition that he be permitted to order my meal and that I eat the whole thing without complaint. I wouldn’t have dinner with a resurrected John Coltrane under those conditions but there were plenty of great jazz musicians and there is only one Richard Stallman. The meal was an utter nightmare, of course. Everything he picked had the texture, and taste, of Jell-O made from dog vomit. I told myself that if G. Gordon Liddy could burn his own finger down to the tendon that I could finish a five-course “authentic” Chinese meal. Having done so, I managed to extract some absolutely brilliant ideas from him about software design and programming principles. “Come back to my office,” he suggested, and we headed out to walk over towards the MIT Media Lab. About ninety seconds into our walk, it started to rain. Just a light sprinkling, not build-the-ark stuff. Stallman screamed like a teenage girl, pulled his dashiki (yes!) over his head, and ran in waddling fashion towards MIT.

Twenty minutes later, I arrived at the Media Lab to find him huddling on the other side of the door, shaking. “Why did you not run?” he asked, in a whining monotone. “Is it because you are heavy?” (I was 195 pounds at the time; lighter than Stallman, half a foot taller.)

“Yes,” I replied, “my weight prevents rapid locomotion.” Stallman nodded in satisfied fashion. Two hours later, in the middle of demonstrating some bizarre Bulgarian folk dance, he looked over his shoulder at me and said, “I would be happier if you were not in the office.” He did not stop dancing. I took this as my cue to leave.

I mention all of this so you know precisely the sort of person who is in the middle of being crucified for “defending Epstein’s rape island” by his institutional rivals.

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: Once Bitten, Twice Shy Edition

Somehow, I knew they were going to be trouble. A college-age girl and her (sugar?) daddy, each walking some kind of pitbull-mix thing, taking up the entire width of a ten-foot-wide pedestrian bridge. I rode up behind them and rang my Spurcycle bell. The woman’s dog, a Spuds-McKenzie thing, turned and stared at me. As I rode by, it bit me on the right calf, just under the knee.

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: In Which The Author Attains Obsolescence Edition

I predicted this a year and a half ago, but I thought I’d have more time before it actually came to pass. This past weekend John and I went to Louisville for a BMX national race. The boy seemed tired both days and only made one of three possible main events, so on the way home Sunday I suggested we stop at Lebanon Bike Park, which is fast becoming one of his favorite places. I didn’t realize at the time that both of us were about to become no-kidding sick the following day and that John’s listlessness had been due to the fact that he was warming up to stay home for most of the school week.

My son enjoys competition and will create it anywhere he spots an opportunity. I wasn’t surprised when he started challenging the other children at the pump track to a few races, which he won. He then started working his way through the adults present, including two college-aged men on first-rate mountain bikes. Eventually I got tired of him dunking on civilians, so to speak, and I pulled him aside.

“Alright, enough messing around with people. I hope you don’t think you can beat me like that.”

“Then you hope wrong,” he responded. I frowned and put my helmet on.

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Weekly Roundup: The Children In The Playpen Edition

There’s been a lot of buzz in the media world this week about “The Adults In The Room”, a vicious, often irrational, and tiresomely bloated attack on Deadspin.com’s new ownership and management by Deadspin’s departing editor-in-chief, Megan Greenwell. Ms. Greenwell left the company because she disagreed with the idea that Deadspin, which was originally founded as a sports website, should return to that mission. It’s worth noting that Greenwell waited until she had secured a lucrative new job before writing her farewell, and no wonder; any sane potential employer would be horrified by the idea of a trusted employee using their media platform to lash out like this on their final day.

I’d like to take a minute to consider some of the high (or low) points in Greenwell’s article. Not because I agree or disagree with Deadspin’s new mission — I’ve never read Deadspin and never will, insofar as I have an equal and considerable lack of interest in both left-wing propaganda and sportsball minutiae — but rather because I’m fascinated by the way in which Greenwell rewrites history to suit her (their? I’m not sure on Greenwell’s pronoun of choice) emotions at this particular moment. The piece has a strong whiff of 1984 to it, which concerns me because Greenwell has had, and will continue to have, a position of considerable privilege and power. So let’s start by looking at what she has to say and asking ourselves: Is any of it true?

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(Last) Weekly Roundup: The Flattest Humans Edition

Are you a Twitter user? Well, that’s a shame. It can be hard to let that bad habit go; I have had trouble walking away myself, even though I should delete the app and never look back. Someone recently described the general tone, and effect, of Twitter as “a hangover without the party that comes first.” It’s a nonstop avalanche of political rage, bad opinions, and unnecessary combativeness. It’s now commonly understood that the net effect of most social media is depressive, but Twitter is the worst of a bad bunch.

With that said, if you’re still on the Twitter train, stop what you’re doing and follow Humans Of Flat immediately. It’s not just another smart-guy-dumps-on-bad-design account. It’s bigger than that.

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