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Navel-Gazing

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At Fifteen, A Re-Shuffle.

Yes, very quiet around here as of late, but for once I have very good reasons. Before I get into those, let’s get the anniversary out of the way. As of this past weekend, Ghost in the Machine is now 15 years old. [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. 11, 12, 13, 14.]

I’ll forego the usual retrospective about the date, partly because that’s already been done a few times (say, at the ten-year mark), and partly because one should probably post more than once every 2-3 weeks, as I’ve been doing the past few months, to qualify for that sort of navel-gazing. In any event, my focus at the moment is on the future. To wit, if you haven’t seen it via other social media, some big life changes of late:

As of three weeks ago, and after five+ years in the House — specifically with Rep. Rosa DeLauro — I’ve transferred over from Rayburn to the Watergate and am now speechwriting for the National Trust For Historic Preservation. In fact, I just spent last week down in beautiful Savannah, Georgia for PastForward 2014 (their/our annual conference).

It’s been a hitting-the-ground-running affair ’round these parts, but so far, so great. It’s been refreshing to get involved with an organization that is history-, present-, and future-minded, and to get some respite from the often-Sisyphean environment of the House.

And as of two weeks ago — tho’ there are boxes everywhere and much work to be done — I left my 1BR bungalow of five-plus years in Dupont and moved to a snazzy deluxe 2-BR apartment in the sky on Capitol Hill, along with my girlfriend Amy and her 6-year-old bichon, Murf. (Berk and he overlapped for a little over a year — They went from some minor tensions between them to, before the old man’s passing, a cultivated and studious disinterest.)

So lots of change, all of it for the better, but, yes, the Ghost has suffered even more than usual. Still, while there’s always a lot of work these days, I think I’ve now made it through the major gauntlet, and GitM should be able to get a little more attention in the year ahead.

Either way, if you’ve been stopping by since 1999 or here for the first time, thanks, as always, for stopping by.

It is Happening Again.

“To quote Agent Cooper, ‘I have no idea where this will lead us, but I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.'” It is happening again: In far and away the biggest culture news this past month I’ve been away, after 25 years (as promised), Twin Peaks is returning to TV(!!) “According to a press release from Showtime, “Twin Peaks” will be a limited series of nine episodes. Lynch and Frost will write and produce each one and Lynch will direct all nine.” (More details here.)

Now this here is big doings, and no mistake. (And, whatever else may be depressing about life in the so-called space age, how great is it that we live in a world that provides MOAR Twin Peaks, MOAR Arrested Development, MOAR Doctor Who, MOAR Farscape, MOAR Han-Luke-Leia Star Wars outings? Let’s get cracking on Deadwood‘s return already!)

Since this announcement, I’ve been rewatching Twin Peaks again while packing up boxes and — while I’m only into early Season 2 — been delighted to find that it totally holds up. Like many folks around my age, the show was a staple of my early high school years, and watching it is as much of an instant time capsule to the early 1990’s as the 120 Minutes archive. Finally actually finding out what happened to Dale after the Black Lodge? Now that is something I did not expect. Can’t wait.

August Recess.

Hello all. No, GitM’s not dead. As per several Augusts past, I’ve spent the past few weeks on August recess, confining my thoughts on the various nightmares unfolding in Ferguson, Gaza, Iraq, etc. to 140 characters on Twitter and Facebook.

In the meantime, my girlfriend Amy and I have been getting in lots of travel this month — first a long weekend in New Orleans where, among other things, I for the first time took in the French quarter, Frenchman St., and the future final resting place of thespian and scholar Nicolas Cage.

A fortnight later, we were off to Iberia for a stretch, with four and a half days in Barcelona and Lisbon each (with a brief, three-hour layover tour through Brussels — alas, we didn’t have time to visit my old stomping grounds of Waterloo.)

August is probably not the best time to visit Barcelona — it was as crowded as Times Square at times, on much narrower streets. Still, it’s an amazing World City, and Gaudi’s unfinished Sagrada Familia is like nothing you’ll see anywhere else in this system. Very highly recommended (although, again, perhaps not in August.)

By comparison, Lisbon and its dozens of ancient churches was more of a sleepy European capital. But it too had its charms, not the least Sintra and its ninth century Moorish castle, only an hour or so away by train.

In any event, if you want to peruse some photos from the trip (and aren’t already a Facebook friend), I’ve put three dozen or so up in the long-neglected Flickr feed. Suffice to say, a grand time was had!

Tagged and Archived.

Yes, it’s been quiet around here again, but for once, I actually haven’t been neglecting GitM during the downtime. Instead, I’ve been plugging away in my off-hours on the archive project I started 16 months ago, fixing the categories that broke while fleeing Movable Type and adding descriptive tags to all of the old posts (or at least those going back to 2002 — the hand-coded/Geocities era remains untouched.)

In any event, after a long slog, that project is finally finished. From PhDont to Hippie-Punching, whether you’re looking for Colin Firth, Colin Farrell or Colin Powell; Bill Simmons or J.K. Simmons, the Gitmo Gulag, Zombies, Other Worlds, Corporate Welfare, RepubliDems, or The New Deal, the first fifteen years of posts are much easier to sort through now. Now, I can focus on the next fifteen.

Also, while I didn’t post any more retrospectives after 2004, I was generally glad to discover that 99.44% of the old posts were less embarrassing than I feared/remembered.

Everyday I’m Hustlin’ (and Doublin’.)

Happy Easter. Quiet here at the Ghost, I know. Chalk up 65% of it to an extremely busy month of work — one of the busiest I can remember — 25% to the usual existential malaise that accompanies blogging these days, and 10% to the sheer addictiveness of 2048. In any event, the schedule is clearing some now, so I expect the posts will pick up around here in short order.

To Explore Strange New Worlds.


“It’s still one of the greatest magazines about science fiction of all time.” iO9’s Charlie Jane Anders points the way to a fully-searchable online archive of Starlog Magazine. The “internet before the internet,” as one of the commenters well put it, Starlog was one of the staples of my childhood (and the magazine that, since I was living overseas when it came out, spoiled Return of the Jedi and several other movies rotten for me.)

R.I.P. Berkeley 2000-2014.

Yesterday morning, two weeks before his 14th birthday, Berkeley and I went to the vet. This was just for a check-up and a bordetella vaccine, and Berk seemed chipper as always — He was always especially happy and excited when we broke our morning routine to venture somewhere else. I told the vet that I was actually surprised by the good health he’d been in. Since the bad bite and lost toe in 2012, Berk had been the picture of vitality — Just the night before, we’d played a solid half-hour of “apartment Frisbee.” From what they could tell, the vet agreed — they said his heart seemed normal, his movement lively, his disposition upbeat, his joie de vivre intact. He did have an ear infection in one ear, so they gave me some topical meds for that. I took him home, applied them, scratched him behind his ear, and went to work.

Yesterday evening, I came home from work to find Berk splayed out on the floor, dead for many hours. (His body seemed like it was in a violent position – legs up, head half under the couch. But now that I think about it, what probably happened is he died on the couch, hopefully sleeping, and his body fell off sometime later — hence the contortion when the rictus sent in.) My friend Arjun and I carried his corpse downstairs and drove it to the vet for cremation. In the space of ten hours, he’s gone from being happy to just being gone. Looking out at the snow everywhere this morning, I can’t help but think that this is the type of day he would have loved.

The shock of it all notwithstanding, I know that this a pretty fortunate way for the old man to go. He was happy and in good health — still able to jump to his perch on the table whenever he wanted, still interested in smelling things and exploring the world, still eager for a bite or three of whatever I was having for dinner — on the day he died. Neither of us had to go through the long fade, as it were. And, y’know, he would have been fourteen in two weeks: We had an amazing run together. I knew this day was coming sometime in the relatively near future. I just thought — and hoped — it wouldn’t be today. What do we say to the God of Death? Not today. But today — or yesterday — it was. And now his watch is ended, his perch is empty.

Berkeley was born on February 25th, 2000. My ex-wife and I got him on May 15 of that year. We knew we wanted a sheltie, and I had seen a Mother’s Day sale for them out near Harper’s Ferry. We ended up seeing three or four pups in a barn — three brown-eyed shelties barking and licking our hand, and one blue-eyed one, watching us silently from afar. I knew right away I wanted the introvert.

My ex-wife and I divorced the following year, in 2001. I knew I wanted Berk and gave up all our other (very few) common possessions — Berk coming with me was never really in doubt. And for the next twelve+ years, he was my constant companion and power animal. We’d walk the streets of New York and DC together, spend the weekends in Riverside and Central Park, Dupont Circle and the Mall, and days and nights just hanging around the pad — him circling or on watch.

There was a year or two of grad school there where Berk was the only living entity I had consistent contact with. I remember at least twice in our time together, when I was devastated after a scorched-earth break-up and the general despair of the long-term PhD process, where the only thing I could do for days was stagger around my apartment sobbing, clutching a half-gallon of water so I didn’t completely dry out. Berk would dutifully follow me around, tail wagging, and lick my face dry when I got in a place where he could reach me. Despair or no, there was salt to be had here.

He was a great dog. Lived happy until the day he died.

And he was my best friend. I can think of a lot of times when he felt like my only friend.

RIP, little buddy. I’ll miss you.

[0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.5, 13, 13.5, 13.9, Archives]

Walks like a Progressive…


In case you enjoyed the last go-round in August with Jay Ackroyd, I recorded another stint on Virtually Speaking this past week about Uphill All the Way, who the progressives were, and the shift from progressivism to liberalism — this time with Stuart Zechman. And since I invariably feel like I’m not being altogether lucid when speaking in public, consider this also another plug for the written word and Uphill, still online in full.

Them Big Boys Did What HBO Couldn’t Do.

“As you probably heard, the onetime juggernaut of a video rental chain formally pulled the plug on most of its remaining retail stores this week. Just think of all those abandoned storefronts where people used to rent ‘Wall Street 2′ or ‘Pain and Gain’ or whatever; just think of what Bruce Springsteen, the bard of economic collapse, might have done with such a…well, I was about to type ‘catastrophic occurrence,’ but..it was more like a sector of the marketplace realigning itself with technological reality after years of denying the inevitable.”

Down in South Carolina, back in 1993, I wore the blue and yellow, got ten free films a week. I built up some movie knowledge, right near the Florence Mall. Now those tapes have been taken away, lost amid the suburban sprawl. After mining the Internet hivemind, Matt Zoller Seitz gathers odes to the end of Blockbuster in the style of Bruce Springsteen.

Mowing neighborhood lawns notwithstanding, Blockbuster was actually my first job. And, while I never cottoned to their Republican-leaning ways or their ridiculous drug test policy, it was a pretty good gig for a high school kid, all in all — if you could withstand the same twenty trailers and episode of Duck Tales playing ALL THE TIME. Like I said, ten free movies a week. As an 18-year-old just working to raise beer-money for college, you can’t beat that with a stick.

Trolling the House of Morgan.

“JPMorgan’s bankers are getting used to business deals with young men who communicate in emojis and text-message abbreviations…Yet, when the bank devised the promotional Q&A, it may not have fully grasped the extent to which new media has transformed how people share information, and how this has tipped existing structures of power.”

Er…let’s not overdo it. Existing structures of power haven’t changed at all, and, after a bad week’s press, JP Morgan is still laughing all the way to the bank. Still, I was proud to get in early on the co-opting of JP Morgan’s inane #AskJPM forum on Twitter last week, which got tweets of mine mentioned in BusinessWeek, WaPo, The New Yorker, and various other venues — undoubtedly the strangest being a somber tweet-reading by the venerable Stacy Keach. In any case, if any of those links have led you back here to GitM this week, welcome, and thanks for dropping by.

Fourteen (Years of) Points.

It’s November 15th again, meaning that, as of today, Ghost in the Machine is now 14 years old. [0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. 11, 12, 13.]

Obviously, the blog’s been progressing in fits and starts this year, and the readership has definitely suffered as a result – This is more of a Google-trap than a blog on most days. (I’d also like to have finished the time-consuming re-archiving project by now, but I’m only 2/3rds done – 2006-2009 still need going over. But, hey, at least Uphill All the Way is now up all the way.)

In any case, hopefully a ghost of the old Ghost is still glimmering, and you never know what magic this bucket still has left in it — There may be life in the ole blog yet.

Either way, if you’ve been coming by for well over a decade now or just fallen down a Google hole today, thanks, as always, for stopping by.

Virtual All the Way.

Hello all: Back on the mainland as of 48 hours ago. In case the Election of 1924 talk of a few months past whetted your appetite for more radio ramblings about the dissertation, I discussed Uphill All the Way and 1920’s politics last night with Jay Ackyroyd of Virtually Speaking. Embed above — enjoy.

Goin’ Back to Maui.

If I got to choose a coast, I got to choose the East — I live out there, so don’t go there. That being said, as of this evening, I’m going (going) back (back) to Cali for an old friend’s wedding, followed by some vacationing (back) in Maui, for sun, sand, surf, and literally (as opposed to the usual metaphorically) swimming with sharks.

In any case, that’ll likely mean little-to-no updates around here for the duration. (Like that’ll be any different from recent months, amirite?) But, if for some unfathomable reason you find yourself in desperate need of GitM-style blathering, there’s always the dissertation. Until next time, here’s the inimitable Stephen Colbert, several cool friends, and one ginormous asshole grooving to the song of the summer. Feel free to sing along if the feeling strikes.

Things I’ve Learned from the Archives, 2003-04

Hello all. Even though the Ghost has been silent over the past fortnight, I’ve been continuing to bang around on the insides over that time. As I said back in early March, I’ve been working on repairing and improving the post-Geocities archives around here — although, since it’s taken me all of two months to re-categorize and tag the 2004 posts, I kinda wish I hadn’t started this little project.

But, oh well. It’ll be grand once it’s all completed. And to be fair, I’ve also fixed the less post-intensive 2010-2013 period since the last update, so perhaps the next few sections will go faster. (Only five more years to go…) In any case, things I’ve recently (re-)learned:

  • Howard Dean is a total lockity-lock for the 2004 Democratic nomination.

  • Ok, never mind that. But with five months before Election Day, John Kerry is up by 11 over Dubya. Hey, he’s totally going to win this thing. Hope is on the way! It’ll be a landslide, a new progressive era. (That is, unless the swift boat on the horizon and the terror terror terror somehow flip the scriptD’oh.)

  • Election 2004 post-mortem: “[O]ur standard-bearers now appear to be Hillary Clinton (about whom the country has already made up its mind), John Edwards (whom I still admire, but he couldn’t carry his home state), and Barack Obama (who’s probably too inexperienced to make much headway in 2008.)”

  • Now it’s all said and done, this post was rightFrodo was likely getting a PhD.

  • Darren Aronofsky is making Batman: Year One or Lone Wolf and Cub. Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman are making a horror movie. Shekhar Kapur is directing Arthur C. Clarke’s Foundation. Stephen Soderbergh is making The Fantastic Four. Michael Mann is making a film about the Battle of Britain. Bryan Singer is re-making Logan’s Run. Chris Columbus is making Namor. Quentin Tarantino is making a low-budget Casino Royale with Pierce Brosnan. Joe Carnahan is making Mission: Impossible 3 with Kenneth Branagh, Carrie-Ann Moss, and Scarlett Johansson. John Woo is making Metroid and/or He-Man. Michael Bay is making Superman.

  • The debt ceiling hijinx, the Budget Control Act, the sequesters — It has all been proceeding to plan.

  • Jean Claude Van Damme will be playing Steve McQueen in a remake of The Great Escape. Matt Damon will be playing the Sub-Mariner. John Cusack will be playing Nite-Owl in Watchmen.

  • Maciej Lampe is the future of the New York Knickerbockers. And there was a time when Isiah Thomas’s tenure as GM seemed bright.

  • Chuck Hagel and Lindsey Graham saw the GOP’s current predicament coming a long time ago.

  • Star Wars Episode III will be subtitled “The Creeping Fear”.

  • The cast for Chris Nolan’s Batman Begins will apparently include Viggo Mortensen (as either Ras al Ghul or Rachel’s dad), Chris Cooper (as Commissioner Gordon), and Cillian Murphy…as Harvey Dent.

  • This site not only used to have more readers. It even used to get hate mail.

  • Alabama Casts Its 24 Votes…

    Personal plug: If your interest was piqued by what I wrote about the 1924 Democratic Convention here, I was interviewed last week by Backstory on the MSG disaster for their episode on gridlock. (The segment I’m featured in starts at 33:30 — I’m the guy who sounds like Mike Mills from R.E.M. I should probably work on my radio skills.)

    Also, FWIW, my dissertation is now downloadable as a PDF from Academic Commons. At some point, I’ll probably convert it here for easier web reading, like I have previous history writings — on Herbert Croly, Al Smith, Harvey Wiley, colonial taverns, William Borah, etc. But that’s a project that’s down the queue at the moment.

    Plancking the Universe | AMS Activate.

    “In a statement issued by the European Space Agency, Jean-Jacques Dordain, its director general, said, ‘The extraordinary quality of Planck’s portrait of the infant universe allows us to peel back its layers to the very foundations, revealing that our blueprint of the cosmos is far from complete.'”

    This came out while I was in Seattle and I’ve been meaning to catch up: By measuring the cosmic background radiation still extant from the Big Bang, the ESA’s Planck satellite gives us our most detailed map of the universe yet.

    “[T]he new satellite data underscored the existence of puzzling anomalies that may yet lead theorists back to the drawing board. The universe appears to be slightly lumpier, with bigger and more hot and cold spots in the northern half of the sky as seen from Earth than toward the south, for example. And there is a large, unexplained cool spot in the northern hemisphere.”

    I find these maps particularly fascinating because, as I said when NASA’s WMAP returned its data in 2003 (and here in 2002), I spent the summer of 1992 poring over the original COBE DMR version of this map for my high school senior thesis, in order to determine whether the radiation exhibited a fractal distribution. (And, honestly, how early 90’s is that?)

    “‘A.M.S. has confirmed with exquisite precision and to high energy one of the most exciting mysteries in astrophysics and particle physics,’ said Justin Vandenbroucke, of the University of Wisconsin and Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.” In related news, NASA’s recently-installed Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on the ISS is helping physicists and cosmologists get to the bottom of the dark matter mystery.

    The A.M.S. has “confirmed previous reports that local interstellar space is crackling with an unexplained abundance of high energy particles, especially positrons, the antimatter version of the familiar electrons that constitute electricity and chemistry…’Over the coming months, A.M.S. will be able to tell us conclusively whether these positrons are a signal for dark matter, or whether they have some other origin.’

    Five Men of Harvard…

    gained victory today. (Sung to the tune of this.) Per tradition, I was out in Seattle over the past weekend for my college group of friends’ annual March Madness festivities. And, for the first time since…well, ever, Harvard actually won a game. This more than makes up for an otherwise sleepy set of second/third round match-ups — the most exciting by far was Butler v. Marquette — as well as my already busted bracket. I inexcusably bought the Gonzaga hype.

    At Least Homer Read It.

    Social Media friends and Flickr followers have probably already noticed that my actual doctoral diploma arrived in the mail last week. (Speaking of which, there’s a good economics dissertation to be written on the bizarrely high cost of professional framing.) On the same day, I also received this sweet congratulations gift from my girlfriend Amy: A print of the estimable Professor Frink examining Homer J. Simpson’s (lack of) brainwaves as he peruses the old dissertation, while Berk and I look on.

    FWIW, this particular piece of awesome was drawn on commission by former Simpsons illustrator Gary Yap, who can be found on Etsy for custom works. He also apparently perused my Flickr feed and/or GitM for our look and general inspiration (Note the back of the book and Berk eyeing the Roomba.) I wonder if he made it as far as the shelves of old Simpsons toys, currently collecting dust and resale value in a Chesapeake, VA attic. In any case, very cool.

    Things I’ve Learned from the Archives, 2002-03.

    So, after more hours than I’d like to admit, I’ve made it through the first Movable Type year (2002-2003) of recategorizing and retagging the GitM archives. Among the things I’ve learned so far:

  • Paul Rudd will be playing Batman or Superman, against Christian Bale, in Wolfgang Petersen’s World’s Finest. Unless it’s Jude Law.

  • “Blue laser DVDs” are expected in the market by 2005…all models will be retro-compatible with red-laser DVD’s.

  • I had forgotten how this “pick-a-card” website could read my mind and had to figure it out all over again.

  • Lifetime’s Cinema Sequence is still quite a fun web game.

  • Over the past decade, GitM has gone from being worth nothing to $43,000 on the now-defunct Blogshares. Woot.

  • The Washington Post and Boston Globe have changed their link structures, so many old posts referencing their content are now dead ends.

  • I used to care more about deficits than I do now. (And, conversely, Republicans used to care much less.) In the parlance of the Beltway, “my views have evolved” on this subject.

    Part of the reason for the shift is the good versus bad spending dichotomy I talked about in 2010. But, more to the point, I’ve since read up on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). (See also: Warren Mosler’s Seven Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy.)

    Basically, I was parroting the conventional wisdom on “fiscal responsibility” back then, and didn’t know what I was talking about.

  • Lost in the Archives.

    A procedural note: You may notice categories proliferating along the sidebar to the right. As it happens, the category tags, never very well fleshed-out in the first place, didn’t really survive the move from MovableType last year. So — particularly since I learned in history school that a source is only as good as its archive — I’m going back through all the old (MT) posts and adding more extensive tags and categories to them. (The Geocities Era involved hand-coded html files, so can’t do much there.)

    I’m only 200 posts or so in — Hello, summer of 2002. Gee, I wonder if these Harken revelations will bring down Dubya — and it’s already clear this is going to be a slow process. So apologies if you see an interesting topic listed that links to little-to-no content. Hopefully, eventually, it’ll all be up to snuff.

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