Brown Is the New Blue

The New York Police Benevolent Association’s bid to turn urban police departments into America’s Sturmabteilungen.

Now that Patrick Lynch, President of the New York Police Benevolent Association, has dreamt up a left-wing war on cops, and enthusiastically endorsed Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection bid, there’s no longer any reason to pretend that metropolitan police forces in the United States aspire to anything beyond remaining the largest and best-funded gangs in their respective cities.

Translated into plain English, the message from Lynch is clear enough:

If we feel like sodomizing Abner Louima with a broken broomstick, or pumping 19 bullets into an unarmed Amadou Diallo, or choking out Eric Garner, we’re just gonna do it, and if you know what’s good for you, you civilians are gonna keep your mouths shut about it. None of this shit about black lives matter, or defunding the police, you got it? Otherwise you can just call a fucking Democrat instead of 911 the next time you need protection. Finally, do we REALLY need to remind you that there’s 50,000 of us, and we’ve got body armor, tanks, helicopters, and automatic weapons? If you think Bill de Blasio runs this fucking city, think again. The Donald understands us, so we’re down with him. We’re gonna make sure he gets four more years, and after that, you can go fuck yourselves, all of you.

This is interest group politics transformed into something far more toxic to civil society, far more likely to qualify as fascism with American characteristics than anything we’ve seen so far in national politics. The question is, what happens now that Lynch and his boys have so openly crossed the Rubicon? Regardless of the outcome of the elections in November, the political class is unlikely to return unchallenged to the kind of neoliberal centrism touted by the DNC or Atlantic magazine. It seems far more likely that an ever-capricious Donald Trump will offer urban cops, white supremacist biker gangs, rural sheriff’s departments, Oath Keeper and Proud Boy militias, Christian Dominionists, and the rest of his proud deplorables whatever cover they need to attack people living happily in circumstances that their peculiar subcultures find unendurable.

Why would he not? There’s surely nothing more perfectly suited to Trump’s ego-driven triumphalism than starting a civil war, especially one that his very stable genius can’t imagine losing. The only thing stopping him, the only thing keeping his malignant meddling from turning a disorganized rabble of volunteer culture warriors into a full-blown fascist movement, is his own lack of character.

Whatever actually motivates him, Trump is clearly a narcissist, not an ideologue, a Perón rather than a Hitler. His followers are good at resenting anything they can’t understand, and threatening people who can’t defend themselves, but they’re not much good at anything else apart from bootlicking and delusional aphorisms. This might not matter if they had a halfway committed leader, but Trump himself is far too lazy and far too incompetent to take personal charge of forging their resentments into a set of principles robust enough to govern a country of 330 million people.

For those of us sane enough to want out of this whole demeaning Todestanz, the absence of anyone in Trumps’s entourage actually competent enough to seize state power might offer us exactly what we need, namely a little more time to get our affairs in order before the real apocalypse — climate change, famines, mass migrations, collapsing global economic interdependencies and real wars, with real armies — is upon us in earnest. We can only hope.

21st Century Human Interface Design

Modularity, not convergence, is the future. There’s not going to be any other foreseeable way, short of magic, to approach the ideal state of computing hardware design, in which the use case alone determines the form factor. If you have the money to acquire its full arsenal of devices, Apple currently comes closer to this ideal than anyone else, Microsoft included.

In this future, it’s not going to matter where data is stored. So long as every device granted access to a unit of data is seeing the same instance of it, with both security and synchronization routinely embedded in every transaction, and therefore rendered trivial to the user, it won’t matter at any given moment where it is stored. Again, Apple gets this better than anyone else, even when its execution has been less than ideal. That’s why its somewhat premature effort to do away with files and file systems on the iPad will ultimately prove to be the right way to go. Files as a concept are obsolete. Computing devices understand this. Human beings do not. Handicapped by our reliance on the conceptual commonplaces of the past, we haven’t yet figured out what the ideal relationship should be between the tangible and the virtual, but we will. We’ll have to.

Ambidexterity is the new black. Trackpad, touchscreen, or mouse? Keyboard, stylus, or voice? Why not all at once? An embarrassment of riches ought to be the goal here. On our most treasured devices, there’ll always be at least three or four ways of doing anything, no matter where our hands are, or our eyes. We should be thinking musical instruments, not typewriters; collages, not spreadsheets, and we should try to keep in mind that whatever advances are made in the underlying technologies, imagination is still the most formidable aspect of the human side of the human/computer interface. Steve Jobs understood this, which is undoubtedly why Apple still understands it today, and why I think they’re very likely to remain the most reliable overall steward of human interface design and development as the 21st Century progresses.

If We Can Somehow Bring Ourselves To Take the Long View, We Probably Should….

Revised from a recent comment of mine on this Crooked Timber thread:

A sort of Marxist point about our present distempers: the conditions of existence have changed, probably irrevocably, for the Scots-Irish coal miners of West Virginia, the libertarian ranchers of the West, and the industrial workers of Ohio and Pennsylvania, and they’re not happy about it. Should Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, or Elon Musk feel any more sympathy for them than their own ancestors felt for Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull, or Geronimo? A similar observation could be made about our lack of sympathy for the Taliban and the Salafists.

One difference is striking, though, about our current last-ditch defenders of traditions outmaneuvered by modernity. They’re more widely distributed, and they’re also much better armed. The consolations of Whatever happens — we have got — the Maxim gun — and they have not have succumbed in their own fashion to a modernity not even the Moderns themselves seem to understand. Not yet, anyway.

Marx thought that once the conditions of existence had changed sufficiently, the past would be, or could be, swept away by revolutionaries with their eyes on the future. Seen up close, from the vantage point of an individual life, the process is far uglier, no matter what subsequent theoretical revisions from the foundries of Marxist ideology, or cheerleading from neoliberal think tanks promise us. Somewhere between Faulkner’s The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past, and Gibson’s The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed, there’s a place to stand that won’t offend either our conscience or our common sense. Maybe. One hopes. YMMV.