Spotted HawkI’ve been blogging since 1999, first at weblog.searls.com, and since 2007 here. I also plan to continue blogging here* for the rest of my life. But it’s clear now that newsletters are where it’s at, so I’m going to start one of those.

The first question is, What do I call it?

The easy thing, and perhaps the most sensible, is Doc Searls Newsletter, or Doc Searls’ Newsletter, in keeping with the name of this blog. In branding circles, they call this line extension.

Another possibility is Spotted Hawk. This is inspired by Walt Whitman, who wrote,

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me,
he complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed.
I too am untranslatable.
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

In the same spirit I might call the newsletter Barbaric Yawp. But ya kinda gotta know the reference, which even English majors mostly don’t. Meanwhile, Spotted Hawk reads well, even if the meaning is a bit obscure. Hell, the Redskins or the Indians could have renamed themselves the Spotted Hawks.

Yet barbaric yawping isn’t my style, even if I am untamed and sometimes untranslatable.

Any other suggestions?

As a relevant but unrelated matter, I also have to decide how to produce it. The easy choice is to use Substack, which all but owns the newsletter platform space right now. But Substack newsletters default to tracking readers, and I don’t want that. I also hate paragraph-long substitutes for linked URLs, and tracking cruft appended to the ends of legible URLs. (When sharing links from newsletters, always strip that stuff off. Pro tip: the cruft usually starts with a question mark.) I’m tempted by Revue, entirely because Julia Angwin and her team at The Markup went through a similar exercise in 2019 and chose Revue for their newsletter. I’m already playing with that one. Other recommendations are welcome. Same goes for managing the mailing list if I don’t use a platform. Mailman perhaps?


*One reason I keep this blog up is that Harvard hosts it, and Harvard has been around since 1636. I also appreciate deeply its steady support of what I do here and at ProjectVRM, which also manifests as a blog, at the Berkman Klein Center.

Marcus Smart. Photo by Eric Drost, via Wikimedia Commons.

Back in 2016, I correctly predicted that the Cleveland Cavaliers would win the NBA finals, beating the heavily favored Golden State Warriors, which had won a record 73 games in the regular season. In 2021, I incorrectly predicted that the Kansas City Chiefs would beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I based both predictions on a theory: the best story would win. And maybe Tom Brady proved that anyway: a relative geezer who was by all measures the GOAT, proved that label.

So now I’m predicting that the Boston Celtics will win the championship because they will win because they have the better story.

Unless Steph Curry proves that he’s the GSOAT: Greatest Shooter Of All Time. Which he might. He sure looked like it in Game Four. That’s a great story too.

But I like the Celtics’ story better. Here we have a team of relative kids who were average at best by the middle of the season, but then, under their rookie coach, became a defensive juggernaut, racking up the best record through the remainder of the season, then blowing through three playoffs to get to the Finals. In Round One, they swept Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets, who were pre-season favorites to win the Eastern Conference. In Round Two, they beat Giannis Antentokuompo and the Milwaukee Bucks, who were defending champs, in six games. In Round Three, they won the conference championship by beating the Miami Heat, another great defensive team, and the one with the best record in the conference, in seven games. Now the Celtics are tied, 2-2, with the Western Conference champs, the Golden State Warriors, with Steph Curry playing his best, looking all but unbeatable, on a team playing defense that’s pretty much the equal of Boston’s.

Three games left, two at Golden State.

But I like the Celtics in this. They seem to have no problem winning on the road, and I think they want it more. And maybe even better.

May the best story win.

[Later…] Well, c’est le jeu. The Celtics lost the next two games, and the Warriors took the series.

After it was over, lots of great stories were told about the Warriors: the team peaked at the right time, they were brilliantly coached (especially on how to solve the Celtics), Steph moved up in all-time player rankings (maybe even into the top ten), Wiggins finally looked like the #1 draft choice he was years ago, the Dynasty is back. Long list, and it goes on. But the Celtics still had some fine stories of their own, especially around how they transformed from a mediocre team at mid-season to a proven title contender that came just two games away from winning it all. Not bad.

basketball

Chemistry is a good metaphor for how teams work—especially when times get tough, such as in the playoffs happening in the NBA right now.

Think about it. Every element has a melting point: a temperature above which solid turns liquid. Basketball teams do too, only that temperature changes from game to game, opponent to opponent, and situation to situation. Every team is a collection of its own human compounds of many elements: physical skills and talents, conditioning, experience, communication skills, emotional and mental states, beliefs, and much else.

Sometimes one team comes in pre-melted, with no chance of winning. Bad teams start with a low melting point, arriving in liquid form and spilling all over the floor under heat and pressure from better teams.

Sometimes both teams might as well be throwing water balloons at the hoop.

Sometimes both teams are great, neither melts, and you get an overtime outcome that’s whatever the score said when the time finally ran out. Still, one loser and one winner. After all, every game has a loser, and half the league loses every round. Whole conferences and leagues average .500. That’s their melting point: half solid, half liquid.

Yesterday we saw two meltdowns, neither of which was expected and one of which was a complete surprise.

First, the Milwaukee Bucks melted under the defensive and scoring pressures of the Boston Celtics. There was nothing shameful about it, though. The Celtics just ran away with the game. It happens. Still, you could see the moment the melting started. It was near the end of the first half. The Celtics’ offense sucked, yet they were still close. Then they made a drive to lead going into halftime. After that, it became increasingly and obviously futile to expect the Bucks to rally, especially when it was clear that Giannis Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world, was clearly less solid than usual. The team melted around him while the Celtics rained down threes.

To be fair, the Celtics also melted three times in the series, most dramatically at the end of game five, on their home floor. But Marcus Smart, who was humiliated by a block and a steal in the closing seconds of a game the Celtics had led almost all the way, didn’t melt. In the next two games, he was more solid than ever. So was the team. And they won—this round, at least. Against the Miami Heat? We’ll see.

Right after that game, the Phoenix Suns, by far the best team in the league through the regular season, didn’t so much play the Dallas Mavericks as submit to them. Utterly.

In chemical terms, the Suns showed up in liquid form and turned straight into gas. As Arizona Sports put it, “We just witnessed one of the greatest collapses in the history of the NBA.” No shit. Epic. Nobody on the team will ever live this one down. It’s on their permanent record. Straight A’s through the season, then a big red F.

Talk about losses: a mountain of bets on the Suns also turned to vapor yesterday.

So, what happened? I say chemistry.

Maybe it was nothing more than Luka Dončić catching fire and vaporizing the whole Suns team. Whatever, it was awful to watch, especially for Suns fans. Hell, they melted too. Booing your team when it needs your support couldn’t have helped, understandable though it was.

Applying the basketball-as-chemistry theory, I expect the Celtics to go all the way. They may melt a bit in a game or few, but they’re more hardened than the Heat, which comes from having defeated two teams—the Atlanta Hawks and the Philadelphia 76ers—with relatively low melting points. And I think both the Mavs and the Warriors have lower melting points than either the Celtics or the Heat.

But we’ll see.

Through the final two rounds, look at each game as a chemistry experiment. See how well the theory works.

 

 

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I did a lot of shooting recently with a rented Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS II lens, mounted on my 2013-vintage Sony a7r camera. One result was the hummingbird above, which you’ll find among the collections here and here. Also, here’s a toddler…

…and a grandma (right after she starred as the oldest alumnus at a high school reunion I where I took hundreds of other shots):

This lens is new, sharp, versatile, earns good reviews (e.g. here) and is so loved already that it’s hard to get, despite the price: more than $3k after taxes. And, though it’s very compact and light (2.3 lbs) for what it is and does, the thing is big:

So I ordered one, which Amazon won’t charge me for before it ships, on May 23, for delivery on the 24th.

But I’m having second, third, and fourth thoughts, which I just decided to share here.

First, I’m not a fine art photographer. I’m an amateur who mostly shoots people and subjects that interest me, such as what I can see out airplane windows, or choose to document for my own odd purposes—such as archiving photos of broadcast towers and antennas, most of which will fall out of use over the next two decades, after being obsolesced by the Internet, wi-fi and 5G.

All the photos I publish are Creative Commons licensed to encourage use by others, which is why more than 1600 of them have found their way into Wikimedia Commons. Some multiple of those accompany entries in Wikipedia. This one, for example, is in 9 different Wikipedia entries in various languages:

Here is the original, shot with a tiny Canon pocket camera I pulled from the pocket of my ski jacket.

In other words, maybe I’ll be better off with a versatile all-in-one camera that will do much of what this giant zoom does, plus much more.

After much online research, I’ve kind of settled on considering the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV. It has a smaller sensor than I’d like, but it is exceptionally versatile and gets great reviews. While my Sony a7r with its outstanding 24-105mm f/4 FE G OSS lens is versatile as well, and light for a full-frame DSLR, I really need a long lens for a lot of the stuff I shoot. And I suspect this “bridge” camera will do the job.

So here is the choice:

  1. Leave the order stand, and pay $3k for a fully fabulous 70-200 zoom that I’m sure to love but will be too big to haul around in many of the settings where I’ll be shooting.
  2. Cancel that order, and instead pay half that for the DSC-RX10 IV—and get it in time for my trip to Hawaii next week.

[Later…] I decided to let the order stand. Two reasons. First, I’ve shot a couple thousand photos so far with the 70-200 zoom, and find it a near-flawless instrument that I enjoy playing. One reason I do is that it’s as close to uncompromising as a lens can be—especially a zoom, which by design involves many compromises. Second, I’ve never played with the DSC-RX10 IV, and that’s kind of a prerequisite. I also know that one of its compromises I won’t be able to overcome is the size of its sensor. I know megapixels are a bit of a head trip, but they do matter, and 36.4 Mpx vs 20.1 “effective” Mpx is non-trivial.

Additionally, I may choose in the long run to also get an a7iv camera, so my two lenses will have two bodies. We’ll see.

 

 

When digital identity ceases to be a pain in the ass, we can thank Kim Cameron and his Seven Laws of Identity, which he wrote in 2004, formally published in early 2005, and gently explained and put to use until he died late last year. Today, seven of us will take turns explaining each of Kim’s laws at KuppingerCole‘s EIC conference in Berlin. We’ll only have a few minutes each, however, so I’d like to visit the subject in a bit more depth here.

To understand why these laws are so important and effective, it will help to know where Kim was coming from in the first place. It wasn’t just his work as the top architect for identity at Microsoft (to which he arrived when his company was acquired). Specifically, Kim was coming from two places. One was the physical world where we live and breathe, and identity is inherently personal. The other was the digital world where what we call identity is how we are known to databases. Kim believed the former should guide the latter, and that nothing like that had happened yet, but that we could and should work for it.

Kim’s The Laws of Identity paper alone is close to seven thousand words, and his IdentityBlog adds many thousands more. But his laws by themselves are short and sweet. Here they are, with additional commentary by me, in italics.

1. User Control and Consent

Technical identity systems must only reveal information identifying a user with the user’s consent.

Note that consent goes in the opposite direction from all the consent “agreements” websites and services want us to click on. This matches the way identity works in the natural world, where each of us not only chooses how we wish to be known, but usually with an understanding about how that information might be used.

2. Minimun Disclosure for a Constrained Use

The solution which discloses the least amount of identifying information and best limits its use is the most stable long term solution.

There is a reason we don’t walk down the street wearing name badges: because the world doesn’t need to know any more about us than we wish to disclose. Even when we pay with a credit card, the other party really doesn’t need (or want) to know the name on the card. It’s just not something they need to know.

3. Justifiable Parties

Digital identity systems must be designed so the disclosure of identifying information is limited to parties having a necessary and justifiable place in a given identity relationship.

If this law applied way back when Kim wrote it, we wouldn’t have the massive privacy losses that have become the norm, with unwanted tracking pretty much everywhere online—and increasingly offline as well. 

4. Directed Identity

A universal identity system must support both “omni-directional” identifiers for use by public entities and “unidirectional” identifiers for use by private entities, thus facilitating discovery while preventing unnecessary release of correlation handles.

All brands, meaning all names of public entities, are “omni-directional.” They are also what Kim calls “beacons” that have the opposite of something to hide about who they are. Individuals, however, are private first, and public only to the degrees they wish to be in different circumstances. Each of the first three laws are “unidirectional.”

5. Pluralism of Operators and Technologies

A universal identity system must channel and enable the inter-working of multiple identity technologies run by multiple identity providers.

This law expresses learnings from Microsoft’s failed experiment with Passport and a project called “Hailstorm.” The idea with both was for Microsoft to become the primary or sole online identity provider for everyone. Kim’s work at Microsoft was all about making the company one among many working in the same broad industry.

6. Human Integration

The universal identity metasystem must define the human user to be a component of the distributed system integrated through unambiguous human-machine communication mechanisms offering protection against identity attacks.

As Kim put it in his 2019 (and final) talk at EIC, we need to turn the Web “right side up,” meaning putting the individual at the top rather than the bottom, with each of us in charge of our lives online, in distributed homes of our own. That’s what will integrate all the systems we deal with. (Joe Andrieu first explained this in 2007, here.)

7. Consistent Experience Across Contexts

The unifying identity metasystem must guarantee its users a simple, consistent experience while enabling separation of contexts through multiple operators and technologies.

So identity isn’t just about corporate systems getting along with each other. It’s about giving each of us scale across all the entities we deal with. Because it’s our experience that will make identity work right, finally, online. 

I expect to add more as the conference goes on; but I want to get this much out there to start with.

By the way, the photo above is from the first and only meeting of the Identity Gang, at Esther Dyson’s PC Forum in 2005. The next meeting of the Gang was the first Internet Identity Workshop, aka IIW, later that year. We’ve had 34 more since then, all with hundreds of participants, all with great influence on the development of code, standards, and businesses in digital identity and adjacent fields. And all guided by Kim’s Laws.

 

dad, pa, papa, pop

My father was always Pop. He was born in 1908. His father, also Pop, was born in 1863. That guy’s father was born in 1809, and I don’t know what his kids called him. I’m guessing, from the chart above, it was Pa. My New Jersey cousins called their father Pop. Uncles and their male contemporaries of the same generation in North Carolina, however, were Dad or Daddy.

To my kids, I’m Pop or Papa. Family thing, again.

Anyway, I’m wondering what’s up, or why’s up, with Dad?

 

Throughout the entire history of what we call media, we have consumed its contents on producers’ schedules. When we wanted to know what was in newspapers and magazines, we waited until the latest issues showed up on newsstands, at our doors, and in our mailboxes. When we wanted to hear what was on the radio or to watch what was on TV, we waited until it played on our stations’ schedules. “What’s on TV tonight?” is perhaps the all-time most-uttered question about a medium. Wanting the answers is what made TV Guide required reading in most American households.

But no more. Because we have entered the Age of Optionality. We read, listen to, and watch the media we choose, whenever we please. Podcasts, streams, and “over the top” (OTT) on-edmand subscription services are replacing old-fashioned broadcasting. Online publishing is now more synchronous with readers’ preferences than with producers’ schedules.

The graph above illustrates what happened and when, though I’m sure the flat line at the right end is some kind of error on Google’s part. Still, the message is clear: what’s on and what’s in have become anachronisms.

The centers of our cultures have been held for centuries by our media. Those centers held in large part because they came on a rhythm, a beat, to which we all danced and on which we all depended. But now those centers are threatened or gone, as media have proliferated and morphed into forms that feed our attention through the flat rectangles we carry in our pockets and purses, or mount like large art pieces on walls or tabletops at home. All of these rectangles maximize optionality to degrees barely imaginable in prior ages and their media environments: vocal, scribal, printed, broadcast.

We are now digital beings. With new media overlords.

The Digital Markets Act in Europe calls these overlords “gatekeepers.” The gates they keep are at entrances to vast private walled gardens enclosing whole cultures and economies. Bruce Schneier calls these gardens feudal systems in which we are all serfs.

To each of these duchies, territories, fiefs, and countries, we are like cattle from which personal data is extracted and processed as commodities. Purposes differ: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and our phone and cable companies each use our personal data in different ways. Some of those ways do benefit us. But our agency over how personal data is extracted and used is neither large nor independent of these gatekeepers. Nor do we have much if any control over what countless customers of gatekeepers do with personal data they are given or sold.

The cornucopia of options we have over the media goods we consume in these gardens somatizes us while also masking the extreme degree to which these private gatekeepers have enclosed the Internet’s public commons, and how algorithmic optimization of engagement at all costs has made us into enemy tribes. Ignorance of this change and its costs is the darkness in which democracy dies.

Shoshana Zuboff calls this development The Coup We Are Not Talking About. The subhead of that essay makes the choice clear: We can have democracy, or we can have a surveillance society, but we cannot have both. Her book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, gave us a name for what we’re up against. A bestseller, it is now published in twenty-six languages. But our collective oblivity is also massive.

We plan to relieve some of that oblivity by having Shoshana lead the final salon in our Beyond the Web series at Indiana University’s Ostrom Workshop. To prepare for that, Joyce and I spoke with Shoshana for more than an hour and a half last night, and are excited about her optimism toward restoring the public commons and invigorating democracy in our still-new digital age. This should be an extremely leveraged way to spend an hour or more on April 11, starting at 2PM Eastern time. And it’s free.

Use this link to add the salon to your calendar and join in when it starts.

Or, if you’re in Bloomington, come to the Workshop and attend in person. We’re at 513 North Park Avenue.

 

 

Hodskins Simone and SearlsA hazard of aging well is outliving friends and other people you love. For example, two of the three in the photo above. It dates from early 1978, when Hodskins Simone & Searls, a new ad agency, was born in Durham, North Carolina. Specifically, at 602 West Chapel Hill Street. Click on that link and you’ll see the outside of our building. Perhaps you can imagine the scene above behind the left front window, because that’s where we stood, in bright diffused southern light. Left to right are David Hodskins, Ray Simone, and me.

That scene, and the rest of my life, were bent toward all their possibilities by a phone call I made to Ray one day in 1976, when I was working as an occasionally employed journalist, advertising guy, comedy writer, radio voice, and laborer: anything that paid, plus plenty that didn’t. I didn’t yet know Ray personally, but I loved the comics he drew, and I wanted his art for an ad I had written for a local audio shop. So I called him at the “multiple media studio” where he was employed at the time. Before we got down to business, however, he also got into an off-phone conversation with another person in his office. After Ray told the other person he was on the phone with Doctor Dave (the comic radio persona by which I was known around those parts back then), the other person told Ray to book lunch with me at a restaurant downtown.

I got there first, so I was sitting down when Ray walked in with a guy who looked like an idealized version of me. Not just better looking, but radiating charisma and confidence. This was the other person who worked with Ray, and who told Ray to propose the lunch. That’s how I met David Hodskins, who used the lunch to recruit me as a copywriter for the multiple media studio. I said yes, and after a few months of that, David decided the three of us should start Hodskins Simone & Searls. Four years and as many locations later, we occupied a whole building in Raleigh, had dozens of people working for us, and were the top ad agency in the state specializing in tech and broadcasting.

A couple years after that we seemed to be hitting a ceiling as the alpha tech agency in a region still decades away from becoming the “other Silicon Valley” it wanted to be. So, after one of our clients said “Y’know, guys, there’s more action on one street in Sunnyvale than there is in all of North Carolina,” David flew out to scout Silicon Valley itself. That resulted in a tiny satellite office in Palo Alto, where David prospected for business while running the Raleigh headquarters by phone and fax. After a year of doing that, David returned, convened a dinner with all the agency managers, and said we’d have to close Palo Alto if he didn’t get some help out there. This was in August 1985.

To my surprise, I heard myself volunteering duty out there, even though a year earlier when David asked me to join him there I had said no. I’m not even sure why I volunteered this time. I loved North Carolina, had many friends there, and was well established as a figure in the community, mostly thanks to my Doctor Dave stuff. I said I just needed to make sure my kids, then 15 and 12, wanted to go. (I was essentially a single dad at the time.) After they said yes, we flew out and spent a week checking out what was for me an extremely exotic place. But the kids fell instantly in love with it. So I rented a house near downtown Palo Alto, registered the kids in Palo Alto junior and high schools, left them there with David, flew back to North Carolina, gave away everything that wouldn’t fit in a small U-Haul trailer, and towed my life west in my new 145-horse ’85 Camry sedan with a stick shift. With my Mom along for company, we crossed the country in just four days.

The business situation wasn’t ideal. Silicon Valley was in a slump at that time. “For Lease” banners hung over the windows of new buildings all over the place. Commodore, Atari, and other temporary giants in the new PC industry were going down. Apple, despite the novelty of its new Macintosh computer, was in trouble. And ad agencies—more than 200 of them—were fighting for every possible account, new and old. Worse, except for David, me, and one assistant, our whole staff was three time zones east of there, and the Internet that we know today was decades off in the future. But we bluffed our way into the running for two of the biggest accounts in review.

As we kept advancing in playoffs for those two accounts, the North Carolina office was treading water and funds were running thin. In our final pitches, we were also up against the same incumbent agency: one that, at that time, was by far the biggest and best in the valley. It was also discouraging that this agency did enviably good work. So we were not the way to bet. The evening before our last pitch, David told Ray and me that we needed to win both accounts or retreat back to North Carolina. I told him that I was staying, regardless, because I belonged there, and so did my kids, one of whom was suddenly an academic achiever and the other a surfer who totally looked the part. We had gone native. David reached across the table to shake my hand. That was his way of saying both “Thanks” and “I respect that.”

Then we won both accounts, got a mountain of publicity for having come out of nowhere and kicked ass, and our Palo Alto office quickly outgrew our Raleigh headquarters. Within a year we had closed Raleigh and were on our way to becoming one of the top tech agencies in Silicon Valley. None of this was easy, and all of it required maximum tenacity, coordination, and smarts, all of which were embodied in, and exemplified by, David Hodskins. He was wickedly smart, tough, creative, and entrepreneurial. He also had a Steve Jobs-like sense of taste and drive for perfection: perfect for leading a small and rapidly growing company. While, like Jobs, he was hard-driving and often overbearing (sometimes driving Ray and me nuts) he was also great fun to work and hang out with, and one of the best friends I’ve ever had.

One of our bondings was around basketball. David was a severely loyal Duke alumnus, and (as an Iron Duke) grandfathered with two season tickets every year to games at the Duke’s famous Cameron Indoor Stadium. I became a Duke fan as his date for dozens of games there. When we moved to Palo Alto, he and I got our basketball fix through season tickets to the Golden State Warriors. (In the late ’80s, this was still affordable for normal people.) At one point, we even came close once to winning the Warriors’ advertising business.

In the early 90s, I forked my own marketing consulting business out of HS&S, while remaining a partner with the firm until it was acquired by Publicis in 1998. By then I had also shifted back into journalism as an editor for Linux Journal, while also starting to blog. (Which I’m still doing right here.) David, Ray, and I remained good friends, however, while all three of us got married (Ray), remarried (David and I), and had California kids. In fact, I met my wife with Ray’s help in 1990.

Alas, Ray died of lung cancer in 2011, at just 63. I remember him in this post here, and every day of my life.

On November 13 of last year, my wife and I attended the first game of the season for the Indiana University men’s basketball team: the Hoosiers. David and I had rooted against the same Hoosiers countless times when they played Duke and other North Carolina teams. While at the game, I took a photo of the scene with my phone and sent it in an email to David, saying “Guess where I am?” He wrote back, “Looks suspiciously like Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana, where liberals go to die. WTF are you doing there?”

I explained that Joyce and I were now visiting scholars at IU. He wrote back,

Mr. visiting scholar,

Recuperating from a one-week visit by (a friend) and his missus, before heading to Maui for T’giving week.

The unwelcome news is that I’m battling health issues on several fronts: GERD, Sleep Apnea, Chronic Fatigue, and severe abdominal pain. Getting my stomach scoped when I’m back from Maui, and hoping it isn’t stomach cancer.

Actual retirement is in sight… at the end of 2022. (Wife) hangs it up in February, 2024, so we’ll kick our travel plans into higher gear, assuming I’m still alive.

Already sick of hearing that coach K has “5 national titles, blah, blah, blah” but excited to see Paulo Banchero this year, and to see Jon Scheyer take the reins next year. Check out the drone work in this promotional video: https://youtu.be/Dp1dEadccGQ

Thanks for checking in, and glad to hear you’re keeping your brain(s) active. Please don’t become a Hoosier fan.

d

David’s ailment turned out to be ALS. After a rapid decline too awful to describe, he died last week, on March 22nd. Two days earlier I sent him a video telling him that, among other things, he was the brother I never had and a massive influence on many of the lives that spun through his orbits. Unable to speak, eat or breathe on his own, he was at least able to smile at some of what I told him, and mouth “Wow” at the end.

And now there is just one left: the oldest and least athletic of us three. (Ray was a natural at every sport he picked up and won medals in fencing. David played varsity basketball in high school. Best I ever got at that game was not being chosen last for my college dorm’s second floor south intramural team.)

I have much more to think, say, and write about David, especially since he was a source of wisdom on many subjects. But it’s hard because his being gone is so out of character.

But not completely, I suppose. Hemmingway:

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

My joke about aging is that I know I’m in the exit line, but I let others cut in. I just wish this time it hadn’t been David.

But the line does keep moving, while the world holds the door.

An arsonoma

While walking past this scene on my way to the subway in New York last week, I saw that a woman was emptying out what hadn’t burned from this former car. Being a curious extrovert, I paused to ask her about it. The conversation, best I recall:

“This your car?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m sorry. What happened?”

“Somebody around here sets fire to bags of garbage*. One spread to the car.”

“Any suspects?”

“There are surveillance cameras on the building.” She gestured upward toward two of them.

“Did they see anything?”

“They never do.”

So there you have it. In medicine they call this kind of thing a fascinoma. Perhaps in civic life we should call this an arsonoma. Or, in law enforcement, a felonoma.


*In New York City, we now put out garbage and recycling in curbside bags.

The frog of war

“Compared to war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance. God help me, I do love it so.” — George S. Patton (in the above shot played by George C. Scott in his greatest role.)


Is the world going to croak?

Put in geological terms, will the Phanerozoic eon, which began with the Cambrian explosion a half billion years ago, end at the close of the Anthropocene epoch, when the human species, which has permanently put its mark on the Earth, commits suicide with nuclear weapons? This became a lot more plausible as soon as Putin rattled his nuclear saber.

Well, life will survive, even if humans do not. And that will happen whether or not the globe warms as much as the IPCC assures us it will. If temperatures in the climate of our current interglacial interval peak with both poles free of ice, the Mississippi river will meet the Atlantic at what used to be St. Louis. Yet life will abound, as life does, at least until the Sun gets so large and hot that photosynthesis stops and the phanerozoic finally ends. That time is about a half-billion years away. That might seem like a long time, but given the age of the Earth itself—about 4.5 billion years—life here is much closer to the end than the beginning.

Now let’s go back to human time.

I’ve been on the planet for almost 75 years, which in the grand scheme is a short ride. But it’s enough to have experienced history being bent some number of times. So far I count six.

First was on November 22, 1963, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. This was when The Fifties actually ended and The Sixties began. (My great aunt Eva Quakenbush, née Searls or Searles—it was spelled both ways—told us what it was like when Lincoln was shot and she was 12 years old. “It changed everything,” she said. So did the JFK assassination.)

The second was the one-two punch of the Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy assassinations, on April 4 and June 6, 1968. The former was a massive setback for both the civil rights movement and nonviolence. And neither has fully recovered. The latter assured the election of Richard Nixon and another six years of the Vietnam war.

The third was the Internet, which began to take off in the mid-1990s. I date the steep start of hockey stick curve to April 30, 1995, when the last backbone within the Internet that had forbidden commercial traffic (NSFnet) shut down, uncorking a tide of e-commerce that is still rising.

The fourth was 9/11, in 2001. That suckered the U.S. into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and repositioned the country from the world’s leading peacekeeper to the world’s leading war-maker—at least until Russia stepped up.

The fifth was the Covid pandemic, which hit the world in early 2020 and is still with us, causing all sorts of changes, from crashes in supply chains to inflation to complete new ways for people to work, travel, vote, and think.

Sixth is the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022, just eleven days ago as I write this.

Big a thing as this last bend is—and it’s huge—there are too many ways to make sense of it all:

I didn’t list the threat of thermonuclear annihilation among the six big changes in history I’ve experienced because I was raised with it. Several times a year we would “duck and cover” under our desks when the school would set off air raid sirens. Less frequent than fire drills, these were far more scary, because we all knew we were toast, being just five miles by air from Manhattan, which was surely in the programmed crosshairs on one or more Soviet nukes.

Back then I put so little faith in adult wisdom, and its collective expression in government choices, that I had a bucket list of places I’d like to see before nuclear blasts or fallout doomed us all. My top two destinations were the Grand Canyon and California: exotic places for a kid whose farthest family venturings from New Jersey were to see relatives in North Carolina and North Dakota. (Of no importance but of possible interest is that I’ve now been a citizen of California for 37 years, married to an Angelino for 32 of those, and it still seems exotic to me. Mountains next to cities and beaches? A tradition of wildfires and earthquakes? Whoa.)

What’s around the corner we turned two Thursdays ago? Hard to tell, in spite of all that’s being said by Wise Ones in the links above. One things I do know for sure: People have changed, because more and more of them are digital now, connected to anybody and anything at any distance, and able to talk, produce “content” and do business—and to look and think past national and territorial boundaries. We make our tools and then our tools make us, McLuhan taught. Also, all media work us over completely. We have been remade into digital beings by our wires, waves, and phones. This raises optionalities in too many ways to list.

I’m an optimist by nature, and since the ’90s have been correctly labeled a cyber-utopian. (Is there anything more utopian than The Cluetrain Manifesto?) To me, the tiny light at the end of Ukraine’s tunnel is a provisional belief that bad states—especially ones led by lying bastards who think nothing of wasting thousands or millions of innocent lives just to build an empire—can’t win World War Wired. Unless, that is, the worst of those bastards launches the first nuke and we all go “gribbit.”

Our challenge as a species, after we stop Russia’s land grab from becoming a true world war, is to understand fully how we can live and work in the Wired World as digital as well as physical beings.

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