How I Quit Email (and You Can Too)

CC0 Public Domain

Today, email turns 44 years old.

If that doesn’t already sound odd, consider this: We upgrade our smartphones and laptops every few years, yet we’re using those very devices to communicate via a crusty old protocol that’s barely changed in half a century.

But there’s a more important, more existential problem: email consumes us. Adobe surveyed 400 American white-collar workers in 2015 and found that on average, we use email six hours a day (or 30+ hours a week).

Several months ago, I decided it was time to pull myself out of this quagmire. Today, on the 44th anniversary of its birth, I am declaring email dead. At least to me. If you’re willing to jump over a few hurdles, you too can free yourself from its clutches.

If you’re not already convinced that it’s time to say goodbye to email, here are a few reminders of why it sucks:

1. It’s not secure (and simply never can be)

Most email travels around the internet in clear text. Even when message bodies are encrypted, which is rare, the metadata still have to be sent in clear text.

Because it’s so prevalent, and because it’s easy, spearphishing attacks have caused dozens of major crises over the years: Sony, the DNC/Podesta and Hillary were all victims of simple, un-sexy email password theft. More recently, Reality Leigh Winner (an NSA whistleblower who allegedly smuggled classified documents out of a SCIF and snail-mailed them to The Intercept) was recently apprehended in Trump’s first major bust-the-leaker case. Why? Traces left behind by emails sent to the media from her work computer.

2. It’s chatty (and the chat logs live forever)

One email touches dozens of servers as it travels to and fro, leaving a digital trail a mile wide across the internet. The sender and the recipient have no way of knowing who has seen, captured or even altered the state of an email while in transit. Neither party has any control over the security of any of the logs, something that varies substantively from one data center/network to another.

3. It’s overrun by spam and near-spam

Despite heroic legislative efforts (e.g. CAN-SPAM) and heroic technical efforts (e.g. Gmail’s spam filters), we still get unsolicited email.

Even if we don’t get actual spam, we often inadvertently (or not) sign up for mailing lists and notifications while shopping online, reading news, etc. leaving our inboxes cluttered with junk, much like snail mail.

4. It’s a CC mishap waiting to happen

We’ve all been on email threads from hell where 20 people somehow end up on the CC line. We’ve all said the wrong thing, had it CC’d to the wrong person and had it come back to bite us. But it gets even more insidious: People can seamlessly add or remove other people from the CC line, either hastening the spread of foot-in-mouth disease or leaving key people out of an important conversation.

Even when we think we know who we’re communicating with, let’s not forget about the endless wonders of BCC.

Even when we’re aware of everything on the TO and CC lines, we have no way of authenticating that sending to someone’s email address will actually result in that someone receiving the message. (Perhaps not, because someone just fell victim to a phishing attack.)

5. It’s the worst possible way ever to share living documents

There are dozens of better ways to collaborate, yet somehow people still send documents as email attachments asking for feedback, creating untoward madness.

Email is a never-ending, relentless time-sink in which the important gets drowned out by the worthless screaming, “Look at me!”

Believe it or not, it wasn’t the above that pushed me to do away with email; rather, it was a conversation I had with my then-10-year-old daughter. At the time she was (and still is) an avid iMessage user. (I’ve never seen so many emoticons!) When I tried to describe email, she asked, “Why is it better than txt?”

And—despite my self-proclaimed mansplaining prowess—I didn’t have a good answer for her.

Why not? Because it’s not better than iMessage. In fact, it’s far, far worse.

On that day I started the process of moving away from email. Fast-forward several months and I’ve reduced my inbox to a healthy, manageable non-urgent notification queue filled up entirely of things I actually want to see, put there almost entirely by bots, some of my own design.

If you fancy the same or something similar, consider the following steps:

1. Verify your digital identity

Set up Keybase. It’s super geeky, so it might not be clear what you’re doing, but do it anyway. In laymen’s terms you’re “signing” your digital identities (e.g. Facebook and Twitter) so that people have a way of knowing that when they’re talking to you, they’re really talking to you and not someone (or something) else.

2. Embrace a secure messaging app

Any of these send encrypted messages: iMessage, FaceTime audio (or video), WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Google Phone/Messenger, Skype, Twitter DM or Slack. There are hundreds of others. Of course, YMMV based on how much you trust the companies responsible for these apps not to get hacked.

I’m trying to make Signal (by Open Whisper Systems) my goto messaging app. The UI is a little rough around the edges, but the emphasis on security, disappearing messages and a really slick device onboarding flow more than makes up for it. Give it a try.

As an added benefit, your conversations remain organized by person and not by message, which more accurately models the way people communicate IRL.

Ironically, you might get email notifications that you’ve received messages on some of the above platforms, which is okay (see #5).

3. Use Google Docs to Collaborate

Like with your choice of messaging app, you’re putting your trust in a vendor. Google, from any angle, is a pretty safe bet, especially if you’ve enabled TFA (Two-factor Authentication) for yourself and all your collaborators.

4. Set up an auto-responder

The auto-responder covers the edge case of someone actually trying to write me an email in the traditional sense. They get a short note asking them to find me on: 1. Facebook, 2. Twitter or 3. Signal (by phone number). That should work for, respectively: 1. people I know, 2. people I don’t know and 3. people who are close enough to me to already have my phone number. Of course nearly all of the auto-responders will end up getting sent to bots — and they certainly won’t mind.

5. Fine tune your notifications

I use IFTTT to filter out popular stories from the New York Times and email them to me (usually about five a day, unless Trump forgets to take his medications). I also get daily briefings from the Guardian and the WaPo. I get some mass emails from my daughter’s school, from the lindyhop community and from a few editorial sites I really enjoy (Tasting Table, Urban Daddy, Bold Italic and a few others).

Aside from communicating with bots (e.g. shuttling a NYT article delivered by IFTTT to Pocket so I can read it later), I’ve sent no more than two dozen emails this year. My inbox has become a dumping ground for notifications, none of which is urgent or terribly important. I can keep up with them most of the time. Once in a while, I get behind and I mass-delete everything in my inbox, something I can do with a high level of confidence that I haven’t missed anything important.

I’ve ceased using email for all important (and human!) communication and at the same time turned my inbox into a bespoke, bot-generated “daily briefing” of sorts.

Real conversations need authenticity, reliability and privacy. Bots don’t care about those things, so they get relegated to my once-sacrosanct inbox.

Let’s hand email over to the bots. Humans deserve a better way to communicate.

In Explaining Why He Sacked Comey, Trump Borrows From Mein Kampf

Be forewarned: I’m going to compare Trump to Hitler, again. Before accusing me of violating Godwin’s Law, please understand that his “law” refers to the odds of a Hitler reference approaching 100% in comment threads. Godwin doesn’t mention anything about the opening lines—let alone the entire premise—of a blog post.

So why Hitler? Why again? And why now? Pundits have already jumped on the liar-liar-pants-on-fire bandwagon, but they’re missing something crucial to understanding the latest balderdash to come from Trump, a literal font of nonsense and duplicity.

This time, he lied so bigly, so obviously and with such brazen impunity that his words qualify as a “big lie,” as defined by the  Führer himself in Chapter 10 of Mein Kampf:

“All this was inspired by the principle—which is quite true within itself—that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods.

It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.”

[Emphasis mine.]

On a number of occasions, I’ve heard the claim that a lie becomes true if repeated often enough. Some even quantify this: It must be repeated at least seven times, they say. Often the qualified and/or the quantified version of this sentiment get attributed—incorrectly—to Hitler.

Hitler never said anything about the importance of repeating the lie, to the best of my knowledge, though repetition surely also had to be part of his strategy (in an epoch before instant mass communication). His description of the evil genius of a “big lie” merely states that the lie’s likelihood of being believed grows proportionally with the level of said lie’s intrinsic preposterousness.

Hitler adds that “the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it.” For evidence of this, one need not look further than Trump’s other attempts at big lies. He had a hand in the infamous birther lie, a big lie whose “traces behind it” literally birthed a movement unto itself. Others that come to mind? The size of the inauguration crowds. The alleged Obama wiretapping stunt. Now this.

Trump’s lie that Comey’s firing had something to do with Clinton’s emails is yet another “big lie.”

If Hitler was correct in his analysis of the efficacy of a “big lie” (and I’m afraid he is), then this lie—Trump’s biggest and most “grossly impudent” to date—is even more dangerous than all the others. Because “in the primitive simplicity of [our] minds” we are inclined to believe it.

Whether we believe it or not, we’ll be stuck with the “traces left behind it.”

Where will we find those “traces” this time around? In the selection process for the new head of the FBI. In the process—and eventual outcome—of the pending investigation into Trump’s alleged Russia connections. In his many, many conflicts of interest, not the least of which is firing the person investigating him. In more investigations of the Clintons, even.

After all, if Comey did get fired for bungling the Clinton email server investigation, we will of course want to know how exactly it was bungled so that the Clintons will finally be “brought to justice,” right?

That, of course, is a trap. If we fall into it, then we help manufacture the many “traces left behind” that will haunt us indefinitely.

An Unlikely Cure for Procrastination

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” —Nelson Mandela

We all have tasks that—for whatever reason—we just don’t want to do.

They might be as mundane as organizing the garage or as grandiose as building the next Facebook. Small or large, easy or complex, self-rewarding or based on the obligations to others; regardless of what needs doing, I noticed something recently that consistently helps me break through cycles of procrastination and stay focused on the tasks that matter.

My “ah-ha” moment of introspection about procrastination came when a coworker said, “I’m addicted to working on this project.”

I didn’t doubt that he was telling the truth. People have been addicted to far stranger things than software projects. But the remark made me wonder: Can I improve my productivity by channelling my inner addict?

The answer was a resounding yes. I use and re-use “addiction training” (for lack of a better term) any time I find myself resisting some task that I don’t want to perform.

In order to understand why this works for me—and may also work for you—we need to understand how someone becomes addicted. The word addiction carries with it some serious baggage. Everyone knows how dependence on hard drugs or alcohol can lead to financial and emotional ruin, the destruction of relationships and sometimes even death.

Most people also know that addiction is not a character flaw; rather a person’s brain chemistry changes related to how “rewards” get processed. A shallow dive into neurology explains the chemical nature of addiction, beginning with the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain associated with logic and decision-making. At first, we consciously set “goals” of getting drunk or high (or working out or having sex) because those things feel good. After a relatively short period of time—with some drugs, just a few doses or with “good” habits, some say 21 days—the motivation to continue the nascent behavior moves from a logical, conscious place to a more Pavlovian one. A new part of the brain takes over: the anterior dorsolateral striatum, wherein we process rewards-based learning.

“In rats seeking cocaine, additional evidence supports the hypothesis that seeking behavior is initially goal-directed, but after extended training becomes habitual and under the control of the anterior dorsolateral striatum (aDLS).” [source]

Once the aDLS has taken over, addicts will feed their addiction at all costs, even if they can knowingly reason that “smoking is unhealthy” or “alcohol is ruining my life.” It’s literally beyond their logical control.

The chemistry of addictive drugs, stimulants in particular, facilitates the transition of using drugs from “goal-based” to “habitual.” But how does this apply to my software project—or cleaning my garage?

Here’s what I do when I find myself procrastinating:

  1. Set up an extremely small reward challenge (to trigger the aDLS), e.g. “I’m going to install RVM/ruby and create my Rails project, then I’m going to have a bowl of ice cream.”
  2. Do the extremely small task. (Okay, that was easy and it took less than five minutes.)
  3. Eat the ice cream. (That felt good.)
  4. Go back to procrastinating.
  5. Repeat.

By associating the smallest level of effort with a reward, we can begin to trigger the reward processing module of our brain, effectively feeding our nascent addiction. (Bonus points for substituting “eat a bowl of ice cream” with “go for run” or some other healthy habit.) After repeating these steps several times, you’ll likely find yourself autonomously attracted to the work you logically don’t want to do. There’s a lesson to agile product owners here too: Stories reduced to the smallest atomic parts can give developers little “slam dunks” wherein the reward is baked into the process of moving the story along the agile board.

It’s important not to create additional negative addictions during this process—and equally important to keep the aDLS on its “toes.” Give yourself a huge reward for doing very little. Then give yourself a small reward for doing something huge. Sometimes, give no reward. Or flip a coin and if it’s heads, eat the ice cream; tails: Go back to work! This “random” nature of the rewards helps cement the working addiction using ideas from something (anecdotally) more addictive than cocaine: gambling.

This method for training an addiction might work better for some than others. One study claimed that 47% of the population carried a genetic marker for addiction. Even so, we all have an aDLS and we can all learn to train it to our advantage.

Having trouble exploiting your addictive tendencies to become more productive? What other techniques have you tried when you need to break out of a procrastination rut?

Why We Shouldn’t Compare Vault 7 to Snowden’s Leaks

For seven years I worked as a government contractor developing software for CIA. Although I was not briefed into as many compartments as a systems administrator like Snowden, I held a TS/SCI clearance and had the same ability to access classified information as any “govie,” just with a different color badge.

Also unlike Snowden, I didn’t knowingly compromise any classified material. That being said, what Snowden did is ultimately good for civil liberties in this country. Moreover, the courage and bravery of his actions make him a true patriot, an American hero and the mother of all whistleblowers.

This is simply not the case for the anonymous leaker(s) behind Vault 7.

The reason for this lies not in the specific methods of cyberwarfare that were leaked today, but rather in who was the target and by whom were they targeted. In other words, CIA using cyber attacks against foreign nations is very different from NSA violating American citizens’ 4th Amendment rights with wholesale data collection from wireless carriers.

Spying on Americans is simply not in CIA’s charter. We have plenty of ways to fuck with Americans: NSA, FBI, DOJ, IRS, state and local police, metermaids and a million other authorities. But unless you’re communicating with ISIS, CIA could care less about what’s happening in your living room.

What CIA does care about is gathering intelligence around the world to keep Americans safe at home and abroad. Of course there are boundaries. Sometimes those boundaries get crossed. Cyber attacks, however, do not violate the Geneva Conventions or any other rules of engagement. It’s 2017, ffs. If our country wasn’t exploiting hostile nations’ computer networks and systems, I would be disappointed in us. If Alan Turing didn’t “hack” the Enigma code during WWII, this post would probably be written in German.

There are two big arguments against this, two reasons why people are saying this release of information is good for America and her freedoms.

The first argument is that CIA did us a disservice by not sharing these exploits with the private sector, thereby leaving the doors open for bad guys.

That is true, but only in part. Hackers would need to independently find these same vulnerabilities and find ways to exploit them. It’s not like they’re gonna call CIA’s helpdesk for virus installation instructions. Furthermore, we in the open source community have a long history of whitehat hacking, the process of finding and reporting vulnerabilities back to vendors to make the digital world more safe and secure.

The second (and related) argument is that viruses and other malware could fall into the wrong hands. This is also true, just like it’s true for assault weapons, hard drugs and prostitution. They’re all illegal af, yet the bad guys still have ways to get them. This doesn’t mean we should stop cyber espionage, any more than it means we should stop making military assault rifles. Like with all our spying activities—and with spying activities in general—we should just do a better job covering them up, in much the same way we protect the real identities of (human) assets in the field.

In sharp contrast with what Snowden did, this release will have a net negative impact on our intelligence-gathering capabilities, weakening our ability to engage with potentially dangerous foreign powers.

 

Perhaps the worst part of this disclosure is that it further undermines CIA and erodes confidence in the intelligence community, already under fire from the so-called Trump Administration. It also comes, conveniently, just after Trump claimed he was inappropriately wiretapped.

Technically, this leak has no bearing upon wiretapping, but it’s safe to assume that Trump will take this as an opportunity to further belittle CIA and the intelligence claims about Russian interference in the election.

We will probably never know, but I strongly suspect a Russian source provided some if not all of these leaked materials. Let’s not forget: even though Snowden lives in exile in Russia, he’s as American as apple pie.

I Made my Wife a Bot for Valentine’s Day

This morning I rolled out Tink, a simple interactive chatbot I wrote for my wife as a gift for Valentine’s Day.

Every few days, Tink will text my sweetie a randomly-selected yes-or-no question from a list of questions I wrote, e.g. Would you like to take hip-hop classes? At different random times, it will also text me random questions from the same list. When we both reply “Y” to the same question, it will notify us of that happy coincidence and suggest that we, say, finally enroll in those hip-hop classes.

Basically it’s Tinder, but for couples. But not in the way you’re thinking (you dirty dawg).

Instead it’s a fun way for two romantic partners (or just friends?) to discover shared interests they didn’t know they had. I suspect Tink will also become a motivator to actually do the things it suggests. (We’ve been meaning to sign up for hip-hop classes for months, but haven’t yet.)

The questions I wrote for Tink’s inaugural run mostly revolve around ideas for fun dates, outdoor activities, new restaurants we want to try, etc. However, there’s no reason why Tink questions couldn’t cover religion, politics, sex—or even topics actually fit for the dinner table.

With G-rated questions, Tink could serve families or even small friend groups, but right now it’s only a bicycle built for two.

Wanna take a peek under the hood? I made Tink opensource under the MIT license.

Five First Impressions of LabZero

I recently joined Lab Zero as a software developer. My friend Brien Wankel, one of their Principal Engineers, had been encouraging me to interview here for more than a year. I hesitated because, to put it bluntly: What’s so special about another boutique software development agency? There are hundreds—if not thousands—of them in the Bay Area. Plus, I was still trying to strike gold playing the startup equity game and I had already run my own boutique software development agency for a decade.

At long last I took the plunge, and I’m really glad I did. Ten weeks in, these are my first impressions of Lab Zero.

1. “We pay for every hour worked, no exceptions.” —The CEO

Lab Zero’s culture in three words: “Life, then Work.” Everyone here, myself included, is a W-2 hourly employee. To prevent people from worrying about using PTO when they’re sick (which eats into vacation time), we’ve done away with the concept altogether. We get paid for every hour we work—and we don’t get paid when we’re not working. That also has the side benefit of discouraging people from coming to work when they’re contagious. As a substitute for PTO, we accrue personal/family sick time, bereavement and jury duty time.

Employment here includes all the usual benefits, but without the attached expectation of working 60-80 hours/week (or more) and getting paid for 40. I surf every Wednesday morning (if the weather conditions cooperate) and I volunteer at my daughter’s school in the afternoon. I might only bill for 4-5 hours on a Wednesday. I might put in a few more hours after dinner—or not.

I haven’t put this to the test yet, but I may need to scale back my hours at Lab Zero by 50% or more to run tech for another political campaign or to get more involved in the farm-to-table movement or maybe to start a side business—or not.

2. “We follow software best practices.” —Everybody

So we put life first and work second. But does that mean that we don’t care about what we do? Hells no!

Lab Zero embraces a documented set of methodologies that make great software development possible, if not pleasurable. We have 100% or near-100% test coverage on all our projects; we write unit tests, functional tests, automated UI tests—to the tune of roughly ten lines of test code for every one line of “real” code. We practice continuous integration; we have a stringent pull-request review process and we reject pull requests for even the slightest blemish, e.g. a typo in a commit message.

This culture of doing things right at all costs may sound too onerous to be practical, but what I learned after a couple weeks here is that the effort we put into rigorous testing pays us back in spades, measured by the very small number of issues that slip through the cracks, eventually needing to be caught by QA or found in production. Plus, as long as I can keep the test suites passing, I can refactor without fear that I’m going to break something.

And if I do break something incidentally, it usually just means I need to write a better test, which in turn will help overall quality in a virtuous cycle.

3. “We do Agile really, really well.” —Our Customers

Agile prides itself on being agile, per se. (How deliciously meta is that?) Take what you want, leave the rest. As a result, there are infinitely many ways to do agile well—and an equally-indeterminate number of ways to do it badly.

Last week, I heard a senior executive at one of our customer sites tell us (in front of a room of twenty people) that we were the gold standard for agile projects at their organization. Enough said.

4. “We care about having a beautiful, functional workspace.” (And it shows.)

We have top-shelf coffee, great snacks and drinks, a loaded kegerator, automatic standup/sitdown desks (each with four presets), Apple Cinema Displays, an office sound system, massive TVs, stylin’ chairs and Fluid Stance boards. If you need anything, within reason, it just shows up at the door.

In addition to that, Nicole Andrijauskas just finished painting an amazing mural spanning the entire south wall of the office.

We have catered lunch-and-learn sessions every other Friday. On the alternating Fridays, we descend in a hungry mob to a local restaurant (like Barbacco, this past Friday) and Lab Zero picks up the tab. In addition to Fridays and the regular bevy of snacks and beverages, there are also bagel Wednesdays, eclairs one day, coffee cake another, etc.

As much as I love our office, I also love my half-time Wednesdays working from home (and/or the beach). Which is totally fine, of course. I’ve even been finding a leftover bagel or two on Thursday morning for me.

5. “Diversity is woven into the very fabric of our culture.” —Me

The notion of full-time employment does not preclude hiring people who rawk at things besides their profession, but employers don’t explicitly benefit from it either.

At Lab Zero, where life comes first—and turnover is near nil—we’ve built an eclectic mix of developers, designers, writers, agile product owners and bizdev folks who double as parents, recovering chemists, musicians, surfers, teachers, artists, marathoners, photographers, LGBTQ folks, future real estate moguls and one of the world’s leading experts on tiki.

There’s no better testament to Lab Zero’s people than this: I could do my job almost exclusively at home. I could also bill an extra two hours instead of commuting to downtown SF from the North Bay. But I actually want to come to the office.

Ten weeks in. Zero regrets. Can you say this about your job? If not, maybe you should join us for lunch.

The Best (Only?) Way to Defeat Trump

Disclosure: I’m no politician and I’m no political scientist. (What little I know about politics I learned by running the tech stack for the Larry Lessig campaign.)

That being said, it seems like there’s an obvious tactic that could be deployed to stop Trump from turning the Oval Office into a reality TV set and Idiocracy into a documentary. It’s so obvious that I can’t believe it hasn’t been done already.

We simply need a moderate-leaning conservative with good name recognition (e.g. John McCain, Mit Romney, a younger version of Bob Dole — or someone of that ilk) to ditch the ruinous GOP and run on an Independent ticket. This gives die-hard conservatives — at least the sensible ones who can’t see themselves voting for Trump and won’t switch parties to vote for Clinton or Sanders — a viable option that isn’t a Democrat or a Fascist.

This will produce one of two outcomes. In the less likely scenario, we get record moderate-conservative and independent voter turnout (as a reaction to Trump) and the conservative Independent former-(R) candidate wins. In the more likely scenario, this 3rd party candidate splits the conservative vote, securing a win for Clinton or Sanders.

Either outcome is a win — if for nothing else, then at least for common decency.

Either outcome will end the mockery Trump has made of American politics.

Either outcome also spells the end of the Republican party as we know it. Donald Trump, for all his faults, has given the world a great gift. He is the final nail in the coffin for the GOP as we know it today. Finally, the Republican Party — ironically, the party of Lincoln — will reap the seeds of homophobia, racism, xenophobia, religious hatred, bellicosity and belligerence they have sown for the past several decades.

But this only happens if Trump loses. Which is why we need a moderate conservative to step up, “take one for the team” and run as an Independent.

And by “team” I mean the one consisting of every sensible person on this planet.

Trump, Portlandia and Fascism

When The Donald first entered the 2016 presidential race, I have to admit feeling some mild intrigue. I have respect for outsiders, for people who don’t always color in between the lines. Having run the technology stack for another non-traditional candidate — Lawrence Lessig — I can appreciate the frustration many of us feel about incessant partisan bickering, pay-to-play politics and an impotent congress. Lessig, who ran on the issue of campaign finance reform, even gave credit to Trump for elevating the money-in-politics message to the national level.

That being said, I had already formed a negative impression of Trump based on a number of stories I’d read in the media about his bankruptcies, scandals, questionable business decisions, failed marriages, etc. But everyone knows that the media have their own agendas, so I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Same goes for his reality TV career: I spent five minutes with Gordon Ramsey a couple years ago and he proved to be kindhearted, gentle, humble and gracious in every way imaginable. Here too was I willing to give Trump a pass. Maybe he was just playing a character as so many “reality” TV stars are wont to do.

Perhaps because it seemed like a reasonable move for a reality TV star, Trump announced Senator Lindsay Graham’s (real) mobile phone number at a campaign event last year. While it seemed underhanded and petty, it also could have easily been mistaken for a practical joke — albeit a rather nasty one, but a joke nonetheless.

Like a Portlandia skit, Trump’s antics started out being amusing and engaging. I’ll admit it; I had a few good laughs.

Then I watched The Donald belittle Senator John McCain over his POW experience. These words were spoken not in the context of a reality show, not twisted out of context as part of some media spin job; no, he said them plainly in no uncertain terms. When asked to apologize, he refused and redoubled his attacks on the senator and war hero.

At this point, it became clear to me that Trump could not be taken seriously. No serious candidate would make fun of McCain’s distinguished service to his — and our — country. Ten years ago (or perhaps even ten months ago), a comment like that would have meant political seppuku. Trump had to be kidding. But this was no laughing matter.

At this point the Portlandia skit, while still amusing, begins to make you wonder if you should be chuckling or cringing.

Then the wheels started to come off the train. Trump said young black kids have “no spirit,” called Mexicans criminals and rapists, threatened to build a great wall between our countries (which actually is a little funny given his bizarre China fetish), called Carly Fiorina ugly and Ted Cruz a “pussy.” Note that these are just the things he’s said on record. I don’t want to know what he says when the world isn’t listening. Really, I don’t.

So at this point, we’ve established that either Trump is “just kidding” or he’s a racist, a xenophobe, a megalomaniac, a misogynist/sexist — and a grade-school bully. 

Some have said that he’s rewriting the rulebook for American politics. But breaking all the rules is not the same as rewriting them. Besides, panem et circenses has been a central theme in perhaps every political contest over the past 2000 years, so we’re not dealing with a new strategy, just a bigger one. I’ve heard something similar said about violence: if it’s not working out for you, you just need to use more of it. 

Back to Portlandia. At this point in the skit, you’re feeling downright squeamish. You’re looking around the room to see if anyone else can see that you’re watching it. You wish it would have ended when it was still funny and not so darn . . . creepy.

Then Trump told his little ditty to the world about killing Muslims with bullets dipped in pigs’ blood. For me, this was the moment where his outlandish Portlandia skit of a campaign really went off the fucking rails. Forget Portlandia! Not even Idiocracy — as prescient as it was — predicted something as ghastly as this.

We’re long past the point of “just kidding” now and moving into the territory of white robes and hoods. On second thought, the KKK isn’t even the right analogy. They’re small potatoes. Trump is huge.

At long last I have come to understand why intellectuals typically avoid Third Reich analogies: because they were all waiting for this very moment and they didn’t want to spoil it on someone unworthy.

I’m not going to mince words: Trump is Hitler. He is amassing a following of neo-Nazis and thereby starting the most dangerous movement in our country since our own Civil War.

He must be stopped and stopped now, before he makes it to the general election.

Nothing — not even the creepiest Portlandia skit — can approximate the scourge that this one man will bring upon our country if we are foolish enough to elect him.

Castro & Market “Pop-Up” Lindyhop + Streetcar Ride

Yesterday, my family and I — along with roughly two score Lindyhoppers, Balboans and Jitterbugs — danced al fresco to the dulcet sounds of Gaucho in Jane Warner Plaza at Castro & Market for an hour before boarding a vintage F Market streetcar, band in tow, to take the swingin’ party to the Orbit Room.

Sam Simmons executes an aerial with wild, reckless abandon. (Photo credit: Cathy Kohatsu)
Lindyhoppers at Castro & Market, including an airborne Mr. Simmons. (Photo credit: Cathy Kohatsu)

All around us, the Castro throbbed with some people in full skin suits (think Blue Man Group, but in several different colors) while others galavanted around wearing massive balloon animal anemones on their backs. A few wore nothing but Easy Spirits and floppy hats. A man sat hunched over a bicycle hooked to a differential gear gizmo that turned a sign showing distances to various countries in Africa, advertising that the cyclist was raising money for HIV/AIDS research. Others engaged in a vocal campaign to elect Emma Peel as Empress of the Imperial Council of San Francisco.

Suffice it to say: It was a normal Saturday in the Castro. Except for the swing dance!

So, about this swing dance: Why does this small gathering on a random Saturday deserve a blog post? Because it gives me confidence that Swing 2.0 — unlike the original craze that accompanied big band music of the 40s — won’t be needing a revival of its own, at least not any time soon. Swing is far from dead; in fact, it’s strong and growing stronger as we enter the third decade of swing’s second go-round.

For some background: My wife Allison and I met in San Francisco near the beginning of the great swing revival of the mid-1990s. As Lindy in the Park — one of the many venues we frequented — gets ready to celebrate its 20 year anniversary, we’ve come to realize that dancers of our vintage represent the old guard of new swing.

Chris Bucchere outside Twin Peaks Tavern with his two favorite dance partners. (Photo credit: Cathy Kohatsu)
Chris Bucchere outside Twin Peaks Tavern with his two favorite dance partners. (Photo credit: Cathy Kohatsu)

As we learned from the recent disappearance of one of our most lively venues, it’s incumbent upon us, whether we bring two decades of lindyhop experience with us or not, to take care of the places that offer swing dancing and the bands that make it all possible. (Note: I saw a lot of people tipping Gaucho and noticed many fives, tens and at least one 20 in the kitty yesterday.)

In addition to supporting our local bands and venues, we stewards of swing also need to find new places to dance, especially in front of people who aren’t already lindyhoppers. One woman asked my wife, “Is this whole thing just an accident?” Hardly! It was the result of the efforts of two dancers (Kristin Wojkowski and Idalia Ramos) with the backing of the Castro/Upper Market Community Benefit District’s Live in the Castro series.

While talking with Sam Simmons and Terra Williams, who, along with Monica Lenk, recently opened a fabulous vintage store in Oakland called OverAttired, I noticed Ken Watanabe lindyhopping with Decobelle Katrina Haus Morales, who, according to Facebook, was negative two years old when Ken started swing dancing.

I also danced a few songs with my daughter (including this extended drum break captured on video). She was negative eight years old when Allison and I started swing dancing. Literally a biproduct of lindyhop, she won her first — and only — dance competition in October of last year.

If JFK famously said that children are the best hope for the future, then I have plenty of hope for the future of lindyhop.