Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: March 2015

While road-tripping down to CarolinaCon, a few of us in the car were seeing the “hugs at hackercons” thread on Twitter.  It generated a bit of good discussion among us, but for the most part we were focused on getting to Raleigh and presenting and socializing and generally having a good time.  Of course, the hacker community’s drama-engine is fast-moving and mere days later, we seem to have moved on to RSA dress codes and the awful antics of BlueCoat.  So, while this blog post is hopelessly outdated now, I’m still offering my thoughts.  😉

Much of the HugGate drama on Twitter seemed to come down to the following arguments (often badly-expressed and hopelessly truncated by Twitter’s 140-character limit)…

“I don’t want to be hugged at conferences”
“So then tell people to not hug you”
“I shouldn’t have to tell others, they should just not hug people”
“Hugs are awesome, you’re just silly if you don’t like them”
“Hugs vs Handshakes is a clear-cut case in most of the world (link to this article)”
“The hacker world isn’t the business world, we’re a family”
“But some people are aspy and don’t like to be touched”
“No one should ever be touched if they don’t want it”
“So no one should hug anyone?”
“That’s not what I said!”
“I’m going to hug you!!”
“I like hugs, that’s fine!”
“Fine!”
“So, are we still arguing?”

… and so on and so on.  The crux of these issues was distilled down by many into to two camps — pro-hug and anti-hug — but that’s an over-simplification.  A fairer pair of titles would be pro-hug-environment and anti-unwanted-contact and their positions could possibly be summarized thusly…

Pro-Hug-Environment: “We like to surround ourselves with friends and family in the hacker world and we value situations when the context allows for many hugs and close contact.  With much time spent in the cold and impersonal business world, it’s nice for us to create a space where people are much closer.”

Anti-Unwanted-Contact: “That’s great that you love being all friendly, but some folk take it too far… and when I’m at hacker events, I have to fend off unwanted hugs or other contact because of the environment that’s been cultivated.  The onus shouldn’t be on me to prevent what I see as harassment.”

.

Here’s the thing… both of those camps have elements to their arguments that are quite valid.  No one should ever be subject to touching or direct contact that they find unwelcome.  (Unlike speech, which I feel anyone should be able to express at just about any time, actions — such as direct contact — should never be forced on to another party.)  Alternately, if a group of people seeks to create an environment where they feel more at liberty to bond and be more casually intimate with liberal hugs, etc… that’s their right, too.  Let’s not forget that hacker cons are, by and large, private events and it’s fine for them to reflect the views and values of their creators and participants.

Sometimes, we forget that all situations are different and every “event” or “gathering” or “space” has its own unique values and atmosphere.  Trying to map the values and behaviors associated with a workplace on to a hacker con or those of a music festival on to a public park is about as logical as trying to map the norms of one country’s citizenry on to those in a foreign land.

It’s important to consider the base-rate of behavior and the commonly-accepted norms in any circumstance and allow that to dictate our mores, norms, and rules of proper conduct.

.

I propose the following when it comes to hugs… think about the situations around you on a hug spectrum …

hug spectrum - 00 - scale

… for those who can’t read this easily (you can click any of these images for larger versions) it’s essentially a scale of how intimate the greetings tend to be between both (a) people known to one another and (b) people meeting when the don’t know each other very well.  Here’s a written breakdown of the various points on the axis…

+4 Big kisses for basically anyone who comes along

+3 Hugs liberally shared all the time. Small kisses common, too, even upon introduction

+2 Hugs typical as an introduction, little reservation shown among known folk

+1 Hugs common between all friends and acquaintances, sometimes hugs even during an introduction

+0 Hugs for family and very close friends only, handshakes upon introduction to new people

-1 Folk pretty reserved, usually shake hands even if known already. Handshake almost always as introduction to new folk

-2 Hugs are outright considered odd in public, even if known. During introduction, only handshakes are used

-3 People prefer to not have any  physical contact with unknown folk

-4 No acknowledgment of strangers out in public

… so, I’ve made this pretty wide-ranging.  I think that we can safely dismiss or at least not give much consideration to the environments at the +4 and -4 ends of the specturm.  You’re unlikely to see the +4 “Kiss basically anyone who comes along” as the norm outside of hippie gatherings, raves, or the declared end of a world war.  Likewise, the -4 “No acknowledgement of strangers out in public” standard doesn’t really apply anywhere outside of the most repressed dictatorial or religiously-fundamentalist regimes.

.

But almost all of the other points on this spectrum are fair game in some situations.  I think that the zero mark in the middle of the axis could be called “the United States societal standard.” We are a people who hug, but your typical American doesn’t go around embracing just anyone.  Our society’s normal method of introduction is the handshake.

hug spectrum - 01 - US society

.

On the hug spectrum, however, it’s important to consider both the base-rate for a given situation as well as the margins directly on either side of that mark.  A society or group can be thought of as supportive and inclusive if they are aware of others whose preferences and standards lay a little bit outside of the mean.  See here…

hug spectrum - 02 - US society margins

In the USA, it’s not uncommon to encounter +1 people who offer hugs as a form of introduction.  Alternately, there are plenty of  -1 people here who are reserved and don’t offer hugs often at all, even to people whom they know.  Being an accepting person means expecting to meet people like that with some regularity.  The red arrow folk should keep themselves open to social cues and indicators so that the yellow arrow folk do not have to offer a lengthy explanation of their slightly different position.  This is the kind of environment that we should aspire to have.  People on the margins should feel accepted and not like they are troubling others or in need of constantly explaining themselves to others.

.

Let’s apply this hug scale to the business world…

hug spectrum - 03 - business world

… where the norm is handshakes.  Handshakes are always the default when meeting new people, and for the most part they’re what’s shared even between people who know each other.  Of course, the rule of the margins applies…

hug spectrum - 04 - business world margins

… some people in the business world are comfortable hugging friends, even at the office.  Others in the business world consider any kinds of hugging in the office — even if family visits — to be unwarranted.  Again, these yellow arrow folk should not have to explain their position explicitly every time when meeting new people.  Most folk should just pick up on social cues and be able to tell whether someone’s preferences are slightly different and act accordingly.

.

This “rule of the margins” applies, no matter where the base-rate may be.  Consider a society that is very different from the USA, such as Brazil…

hug spectrum - 05 - brazil

While I’m sure there may be some citizens of the world’s fifth largest nation may disagree with the above chart, it’s quite definitive that they are a much more touchy-feely people than Americans are.  Embraces and even the customary Latino kiss-on-each-cheek are common for all sorts of greetings.  And, as the yellow arrows in the margins indicate: for some people there hugs are only “typical” and not absolute, or on the beaches of Rio during Carnival lots of kissing with strangers is abundant.

.

An inverse of this can be seen in many Muslim nations, where repressive religious values result in societies around -3 on my scale.  Instead of touching other people, many citizens opt for the salām… a greeting of peace which is often bestowed not with a hand outstretched, but rather simply held over one’s own chest.  Again, in such societies, one does well to be on the lookout for people on the margins… either those who do opt to shake hands or those who are strictly conservative and prefer almost no acknowledgement of strangers (this particularity usually only manifests itself when the interaction is between two people of differing genders.)

.

So where does this leave us with hacker cons?  Well, let’s turn again to the base-rate as far as hugs are concerned.

hug spectrum - 06 - hacker con

While there are many people who might disagree, I take the position that within the hacker community and at our cons, the norm tends to be the +2 mark on the hug spectrum.  While certainly not obligatory, hugs are typical when meeting new people.  So, when we apply our rule of the margins, what does that tell us?

hug spectrum - 07 - hacker con margins

Individuals whose preferences lay at the yellow arrows should not be made to feel like outsiders or oddballs at hacker cons.  The general attendee base, if they are truly interested in keeping our community a welcoming and accepting place, would interact with each other on the principle that most people are a +2 while at the same time keeping their eyes open to the possibility that a person they encounter could be a +1 or a +3 hugger… social cues and nonverbal communication should hopefully be sufficient most of the time to convey those nuances.

.

What about actual outliers, however?  At a hacker con, maybe some attendees are the type to simply only hug family and close friends.  Or, on the other end, maybe some folk are the type to be super liberal with passionate kisses for those around him or her.

hug spectrum - 08 - hacker con outlier hug spectrum - 09 - hacker con outlier

In each such case, I do not think it’s wrong for these people to be considered statistical outliers.  They are far-enough removed from the base-rate of that particular environment that it could surprise most others there.  This is not to say that there is anything wrong with someone such as this.  Again, I firmly believe that anyone may hold their own opinions and values when it comes to personal contact, and that they should be able to do so without shame or reprimand.

However, when a person is sufficiently removed from the base-rate, obligations under the social contract shift a bit.  I feel that no longer should it be considered the burden of the group to be on the lookout for and be able to subtly detect when this very different value is held.  If someone is an outlier, then the burden shifts further to them in terms of communicating their values and preferences when encountering other people.

Attire, stance, and demeanor go a long way to helping this communication, of course.  Wearing business-casual clothing and maintaining a respectable distance from others during a new introduction at a hacker con can help to signal that you’re more comfortable with the business-world standard of “handshakes are the norm” but I believe that no one should be thought of as a bad person if they fail to pick up on this.  A friendly but straightforward “hah, sorry, I’m not much of a hugger” can be communicated if someone leans in for an unexpected embrace.  No one should feel bad.  The 0 spectrum non-hugger is justified.  The +2 hug-desiring hacker shouldn’t feel dismissed or shunned.  And the con itself shouldn’t feel bad for cultivating an environment populated by predominantly +1 +2 +3 hug-spectrum folk.

.

Hug if you want to.  Shake hands if you prefer.  Kiss loads of people or ignore strangers entirely… the choice is 100% yours.  But let this hug spectrum be a guide.  Familiarize yourself with whatever the base-rate is for any environment into which you proceed (people who know me are aware that I’m a huge supporter of travel and experiencing other cultures, the rule applies there, too) and then do the following…

1. expect that most people whom you encounter will probably have values and actions in accordance with the base-rate

2. be on the lookout for people who are just at the margins of the base-rate and let social cues guide you in those interactions so that these people needn’t explain themselves.  it is the responsibility of the group to help them feel included.

3. if you are not just different from the typical base-rate but actually well outside the margins of an environment, be prepared to communicate your feelings and values to others.  in those cases, the responsibility falls to you more than to the group.

.

Just because a person who is substantially different from the group around them feels the need to communicate that in order to have healthy interactions, that doesn’t imply that they can’t have a positive experience.  I remember reading a very inspiring story which transpired at the 29th Chaos Communication Congress.  One participant was reluctant to attend, due to her Asperger syndrome.  She knew that hackers are huggers and that the CCC events are often densely-packed with people of every stripe.  But instead of letting her fear get the best of her, she chose to attend anyway.  With the support of friends, this person wore a shirt announcing prominently that she didn’t care to be touched directly.

Her blog post was one of wondrous joy and happiness.  The author explained that by and large, the other attendees which she encountered were supportive and very respectful, making the CCC event accessible to even someone who was well outside the base-rate of the Hug Spectrum for hackers.  While the wearing of a prominently-worded shirt might be quite an extreme step to take, it’s just one example of how it is very possible to communicate your differences to those around you and everyone can come out better for it.

.

I’ll let this blog post speak for me.

I’m a hugger, through and through.  If you see me, feel free to hug me.  If I know you, chances are I’ll approve.  Even if I don’t know you, chances are high that I’ll smile and be happy about it all the same.

Just do me (and everyone else around you) a favor: smell nice.  A recent shower coupled with clothes that have been laundered goes a lot further in making me comfortable during an embrace than whether or not I know whose arms are around me.  😉

.

.

.

Years ago, I posted in a thread on the DEFCON Forums where folk were discussing travel tech.  What bags, what gear, what tools, and what must-have items made life on the road easier and better were all being shared.  In that thread, I posted a rundown of the backpack which I used for carry-on during all my flights.  An array of photos showed the backpack I used and the gear within.

I just re-read the thread and now so much of it is quaint from a time gone by.  A paper book for “take off and landing” times when the Kindle wasn’t permitted was in there.  I used to keep my laptop with me in carry-on.  But, most of all, a lot of things look the same.  What has changed the most is my bag.  I’ve moved to an even slimmer and smaller carry-on, and that’s probably the best advice I can give to anyone who is preparing things like this… GO SMALL.  You’ll force yourself to fit into a smaller space and you’ll carry less gear.

Even now, as I type this post, I am seeing some things that are in my frequent-flyer backpack which are seldom used.  I could prune down even more, I bet.  This post may inspire others to pack smart, but it’s likely going to inspire me to pack even lighter than I used to.  😀

So, without further ado, here is what accompanies me on every single one of my 100,000+ flight miles each year…

 

travel_backpack_01

I now use a bag from 5.11 Tactical, their MOAB Rush 10 backpack.  It’s a single-strap design that slings over the shoulder and can be adapted for left-side or right-side use.  The single-strap allows the person wearing to spin the bag to their front for quick access to most pockets and it balances the load well, despite only resting on one side of my frame.

travel_backpack_02

The bag has all the customary veclro areas for adding patches, which I have done.  Also the webbing straps allow for extra hooking of gear and other add-ons.  You don’t see it, but I always have a Kleen Kanteen water bottle on the outside, for quick fill-ups once I’m through TSA screening.  Opposite that is an extra pouch that a friend gave me…

travel_backpack_03

This perfectly holds my Kindle.

travel_backpack_04

The add-on pouch is super padded and keeps the Kindle (one of my most frequently-grabbed items) in the same spot 100% of the time.  I used to have a Nexus 7 tablet in there and it also worked perfectly for that.

travel_backpack_05

Also through the outside loops of the bag are some markers and pens.  They are always useful and I keep them on the outside for fast access.  If I lose one, meh, they’re cheap.

travel_backpack_06

The main pouch of the backpack contains four large things and one small envelope…

travel_backpack_07

The main pouch contains a ziplock bag of some spare clothes, a travel wipes packet, a black zipper pouch, and a gray 1st class complimentary sundry kit that I’ve augmented over the years.

travel_backpack_08

The spare clothes include boxers, a t-shirt, and both white and black socks.  I can get through basically any “day after misrouted luggage” whether it’s a meeting, a casual time, etc.  There is also a waffle-knit long-sleeve thermal shirt from Colombia.  I can wear this under (or over) anything I’m wearing on my flights and be comfortable in cold conditions.  Whether a plane is chilly or I’m stranded in Denver for the night, this will get me through the worst of it even without a coat.

travel_backpack_09

The extra garments squish down into that ziplock bag and don’t take much room. They live at the very bottom of my carry-on.

travel_backpack_10

The sundry bag has pretty much what you’d expect…

travel_backpack_11

In addition to the typical things, i also have a spare toothbrush if I’m with a companion, plus eye drops (artificial tears only, NEVER Visene because it’s awful) and nasal spray.  A tiny tin of moisturizer and powder are also helpful in rough flight conditions.

travel_backpack_12

The black zipper pouch is entertainment/relaxing/etc gear.  Lockpicks and a few practice locks are in there.  A BlueTooth game pad controller for emulated old NES and SNES games on my phone is fun sometimes.  Keeping spare spoons, knives, and chopsticks is very helpful for in-flight dining or “stranded in a hotel room and eating stuff from the gift shop” dining.

travel_backpack_13

The envelope in the large pouch is a self-addressed flat rate envelope and some smaller envelopes with forever stamps, in case I ever have to mail something home.  I also have a free pair of slippers from a previous flight (they fold super flat) and some printed-out policies and correspondence from TSA and airlines clarifying policies.

travel_backpack_14

The main pouch has two small additional pouches.

travel_backpack_15

A deck of cards (which I almost never use but can’t seem to stop keeping on me) is in one such small pouch.  The other contains a little case of which I spoke in my earlier post years ago on the DEFCON Forums…

travel_backpack_16

This used to be my “keep in the seatback pocket” case… it had basically anything I’d need while in-flight.  I rarely reach for it nowadays, however, and really just keep it in case someone else in my travel party needs something.  From meds to make you sleepy or settle a stomach or ease pain to gum for ear-popping to power/audio adapters, these are things that are good in a pinch but which I need less and less.  Nowadays, I just listen to my phone via earbuds or I read the Kindle or I sleep.

travel_backpack_17

The tiny pouch built into the shoulder strap has a few things I like to access quickly.

travel_backpack_18

USB charging cables (one 10′ one and one 1′ one) are in there along with my earbuds and a wet wipe.  The LEGO flat bricks are part of an old joke.  If you saw a talk of mine from CarolinaCon you’d understand.  😉

travel_backpack_19

This small top pocket is designed for glasses.  I use it for that and a couple other odds and ends.

travel_backpack_20

Sunglasses are up there, yes, and also some spare floss and a lighter and a USB drive.  It’s also the dumping-ground pocket for loose change, which I empty out after each trip.

travel_backpack_21

This bag has a TERRIFIC additional pocket in the rear.  I use it as a food stash.

travel_backpack_22

In addition to Cliff bars and similar things, I keep a small supply of heavy-duty ziplock bags in there.  I raid lounges for free things if I know I’m headed somewhere that might not have proper food options.  Yes, these little goldfish crackers or the carrot sticks are kind of crappy… but it beats being hungry when you are wheels-down in Moscow and checking in to a hotel at 2AM hours after everything is closed.

travel_backpack_23

The very front pocket is where all of my essential tech resides…

travel_backpack_24

In here we have:

  • A backup power supply for charging phone/etc
  • A universal power adapter for foreign plugs
  • A cigarette lighter adapter for charging in rental cars
  • An orange power splitter which makes me VERY popular in airports sometimes
  • Spare reading glasses (my main ones travel in checked baggage in my laptop bag)
  • Small bag of chargers and adapters (fitbit charger, etc)
  • Pens, screwdriver, little tools
  • Cash Can (google it, it’s great to have a spare $100 bill tucked away somewhere)
  • Notebook (which also holds all receipts and scraps of paper as needed)
  • a backup phone…

backup_phone

EDIT: I’m making a new addition to this post in order to mention the newest addition to my travel bag.  This backup phone is 110% what I’ve been seeking for a while.  Made by BLU, it’s built in the rugged “candybar” style of the classic Nokia brick phones.  It’s a quad-band device, good for coverage in basically ANY place on earth that has GSM networks.  It comes factory-unlocked, so any SIM card should work.  (the model I purchased is actually DUAL SIM, just for the hell of it) the SIM slots are full-size, so including an adapter set is a smart move.  Just leave the adapters sitting in the SIM slots.  The phone supports a microSD card and can do a few extra little things like play MP3s or even tune in FM radio.  In short: if I ever for any reason break or lose my smartphone while traveling, I can have at least basic comms back up quickly, no matter where I am in the world.

This phone costs $23 on Amazon.  For heaven’s sake, order one.  🙂

 

 .travel_backpack_25

.

All of that packs into a bag which is small enough to fit under any airline seat (although I prefer using overhead space, of course) and which is “squishy” and capable of being wedged into overhead bins on both large and small airframe craft.  I can sling it and carry it a variety of ways (even wearing it comfortably on my chest if I have a larger bag behind me somehow) and it sees me through just about anything.

The bag currently weighs 15 lbs.  I’m pretty happy with this setup, and will continue to strive toward reducing its weight and size more and more over time.

Travel well, people.  I’ll see you when I see you.

.

.

.

In a recent podcast interview (The Social Engineer podcast, run by Chris Hadnagy and his team) the topic of DerbyCon came up, and naturally all participants enthusiastically recommended that the listeners attend.  During this chatter, I spouted the oft-heard remark “DerbyCon is the new DEFCON” (a phrase that I didn’t originate but which I have been heard to utter from time to time) and all heads nodded.

In some follow-up on Twitter with nick8ch, we realized that this is a perhaps-controversial phrase and could benefit from some clarification.  So here goes…

.

“DerbyCon is the new DEFCON” – This is not to denigrate or snipe at DEFCON in any way.  I love that massive Vegas hacker gathering and will keep attending forever.  However, the size of DEFCON and the fact that it’s no longer in small (often seedy) hotels means that having intimate and casual meetings with close friends is challenging and also some antics are harder to pull off than they used to be.  You don’t find yourself just chatting in hallways or hanging out on the hotel roof anymore like was the norm in the past at DEFCON.  DerbyCon, however, has a very very high signal-to-noise ratio and it’s held at a much smaller venue than DEFCON.  Many of the old guard are present, as are enthusiastic up-and-comers.  Folk chill in the lobby bar and it’s not uncommon to see massive penis art in the elevators.  DerbyCon most closely captures the vibe, in my opinion, of the earlier days of DEFCON… but, of course, in truth nothing could ever really be equivalent to that particular place and time in history.  And what’s more, DerbyCon has developed their own wonderful and unique energy that is distinct and vibrant in its own right.

IMG_20140927_225252this kind of thing you just don’t see at on-strip hotels at DEFCON anymore

 

“DEFCON is the new Black Hat” – This is also a slightly questionable statement, but one that sometimes follows the previous one.  Why?  Well, while DEFCON used to be 100% focused on the friends you knew who were there and the antics/catching-up you could do with them, now there’s a much more significant element of going to DEFCON in order to see people whom you don’t know.  The idea of rubbing shoulders with the latest INFOSEC rockstar or, similarly, getting your research out in front of people who might hire you or invest with you… those are very BlackHat-ish elements that now are common at DEFCON.  I’m not saying that what makes DEFCON great isn’t still there… but there’s a new vibe.  As someone like SpaceRogue or SimpleNomad would say, “the Money that has changed the industry has found its way into DEFCON.”  People take specific steps to “be seen” and portray their efforts at DEFCON in a way that could positively affect their business the rest of the year.  In the past, you went to DEFCON with a “don’t give a damn” attitude about the fact that it could negatively impact your professional reputation the rest of the year.  😉

blah05this is what a “DEFCON party” used to look like

blah06who else remembers the purple fountains? think this could happen at a Caesar’s property?

blah07before it was an official, professional event… the Wall of Sheep was just people being d0x’d or having creds dropped on paper plates on the wall of the hotel

blah08poolside fun and general chill.  i can’t remember the last time i could just chill out at DEFCON.  well, maybe at the Beer Cooling Contraption Contest ever since Uncle Enzo took it over.  😉

 

“Black Hat is now RSA” – Even more folk might agree with this somewhat unfortunate turn of events.  Full Disclosure: i still appear at Black Hat since my company trains there.  Most of my friends’ companies also train there.  However, the event has ceased to be about the hacker community in any real way other than name only.  Much of the best information is still there, yes.  But the community feel is not.  Put another way: when is the last time you stuck around at Black Hat in the evenings to go to any of the parties?  For me, it’s been years.  Plenty of sponsors host parties when Black Hat is in town, but now the whole INFOSEC core community is either at BSides or the 303 house or just gearing up for DEFCON itself.  Black Hat’s pricing has continued to grow and scale upward with the influx of money in the industry and this has made it a lot harder to find smaller voices among that crowd.  Black Hat was never an event where folk would streak naked into pools or wander through DJ-pumping halls high on a galaxy of drugs, but even those of us who have been appearing there for years know that it’s somewhat more “corporate” nowadays.  The size of the vendor expo area has grown as much as the admission price… but it’s not going away any time soon.  Hence, the RSA comparison.

blah04Black Hat… way back when.

“So if Black Hat is now RSA… What has RSA become?” – COMDEX.  RSA is now COMDEX.  It’s 100% trade show, and any “talks” or other speeches are little more than veiled sales pitches.   A giant sea of marketing with little to no real value to anyone who is key to the industry, most INFOSEC pros whom I know now avoid RSA like the plague.  Confession: when our company was still new, we did a brief presentation at RSA.  It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever been a part of.  I felt like we were just one more piece of a massive dog-and-pony show.  Besides the event itself having awful security and the participants having awful OpSec and privacy practices, the whole affair just reeked of circle-jerk.  I am sure that I’ll piss some people off here and maybe one day I’ll pay the price for that professionally… but perhaps that’s just the old-DEFCON side of me showing through.  🙂

blah01we used a FedEx Kinko’s to mod our badges for access outside of regular hours. we did this at the on-site FedEx, right on that floor of the hotel.  no one noticed or seemed to care.

blah02i can’t even.  “prevents tampering, spoofing, & hacking” … well alright, then.  seems legit.

blah03even Babak couldn’t believe we were there, talking to this goofball 

.

Feel free to share your thoughts below in comments or just share a drink with me when you see me.  I’ll be at DerbyCon in the fall.  And DEFCON before that… but you can’t find me for so much as a free second at that event.  😉

.

.

.

Well, i finally made it.  I’ve completed another House of Cards marathon.  This one wasn’t as rapid and blitzkrieg-ish as the first or second season was for me (both of which I’m fairly certain I watched in almost one or two sittings… just powering though.)

This season, however, I just kind of got to it as I found the time, on this recent business trip.  I wasn’t watching each episode one after the other, as if I couldn’t look away.  No, this time… it became just a long, awful, grueling slog.  I just wanted to see it through, like having chosen an awful hiking trail, yet not being willing to turn around and head back to the car but instead pushing on to the next shelter or campsite because… well… it’s just something you feel you have to do.

And, as any hiker in that situation can tell you, the mix of feelings and emotions that overcomes you at the end can be gut-wrenching.  This blog post is part of my necessary catharsis.

house

Phew… I am done with watching House of Cards.  And I do not just mean in the sense of completing season three.  I am done for good.  Yes, I know they left it (as they so often do) with such a compelling plot point as to coerce people to tune back in next time.  I don’t give a single damn.  Do so if you want to see what happens.  Me… I’m out.

How can I react that way, given the last episode’s breaking updates and everything left on edge?  It’s easy: I no longer give the smallest shit about any of the characters.

Let me explain it this way.  Were I to start viewing season four — for reasons beyond understanding — imagine the first episode were to just be a cold-open set in a hospital or medical center.

[indistinct voices over a tinny PA system, paging some medical tech to another floor, etc]

[camera shot looks through the cracked door of a specialist’s office, as we see her at her desk, looking at files and addressing a character who is out of frame, but clearly seated across from her… the camera pushes in and a tracking shot brings us into the office where the discussion is taking place. There is a severe look on the doctor’s face.]

doc

Doctor: “I know this comes as a shock.  But we’ve checked it twice.  I’ve even sent one more sample to the Jennings Institute in Atlanta, but at this time we have no indications that they will come back with a different result.  I’m sorry, but the evidence is clear.”

[camera pans down slightly, as to showcase more of the chart in the doctor’s hands.  the top of the image still frames the lower-half of her face, and we see her mouth as she reads the diagnosis]

Doctor: “You have cancer of the AIDS of the eyeballs.  And it’s inoperable.”

Then I imagine the camera makes a rapid yet smooth track toward the doctor’s side of the desk, and pans directly across to reveal seated before her…

ABSOLUTELY ANYONE ON THIS SHOW.

I honestly could not goddamn care.  I have so little empathy, sympathy, or even general interest in ANY of the characters on this show, that my reaction to such horrific and life-changing medical news for them would be a resounding, “meh.”

Remy has eye-AIDS-cancer?  Meh.

Claire has eye-AIDS-cancer? Meh.

Doug has eye-AIDS-cancer? Meh with a side of karma.

President Underwood has eye-AIDS-cancer? Meh with half a chuckle.

Jackie Sharp has eye-AIDS-cancer? Double Meh.

Heather Dunbar has eye-AIDS-cancer? Meeeeeeehhhhhh.

You could put any one of this show’s dozens of characters into that (ridiculously contrived) opening sequence in the very first moments of season four and I would feel utterly nothing at all for them.  The camera could linger on their face.  The highly-trained acting talent of so many quality actors on this program could be aptly applied to the ever-so-subtle slightest microexpression that crosses them.  All of the tremendous production values and talent of the people who are behind this program could be poured into that opening scene.  And I wouldn’t give a single damn at all.

The fact that I don’t care a jot about anything or anyone on this show anymore should come as a relief to me.  I don’t have to watch.  I utterly LOVE cutting TV shows out from my life.  I never got into Breaking Bad.  I’ve written off Mad Men.  I barely bother downloading Family Guy or the Simpsons anymore.  I celebrated the ending of the West Wing.  With each show that ends (or gets the kiss-off from me) I have more free time and I’m thankful.

So why don’t I feel so exuberant now?  Because season three didn’t just turn me off from the future of House of Cards.  It was so underwhelming as to literally taint the previous installments.  The first two seasons were a triumph.  The ending of season two, with Frank behind the desk in the Oval Office, rapping his fist twice on the Resolute wood… that moment was untouchable.  And now, it’s like they’re all just compromised to me.

Ah well, I was raised Catholic.  And before I left the church long, long ago… I learned of the power of self-persuasion and the ability to put on blinders so tightly as to convince oneself of a fiction that you just need to be fact.  Now, I was never one who actually bought into all that bollocks… but maybe, just maybe, if I try hard enough I can forget that season three ever happened.

Hell, if the fans of The Matrix can believe in their hearts that two sequel films never actually took place, maybe with enough will power (or enough whiskey) I could blot out this season from my mind.  And, one day in the future, if someone asks me if I enjoyed House of Cards, I could honestly answer them, “Yes.  It was quite an amazing show, those two fine seasons it was around.  And to end the way they did… with that swelling music score and ghastly foreshadowing of a presidential administration to come.  I’ll never forget that final scene, as we looked right into Kevin Spacey’s eyes and he looked into ours.  Rap Rap! on the desk… smash-cut to black.  A perfect ending to the show that redefined what it meant to distribute new and fresh content in the digital age.”
ending
(And then if they start to protest and try to say anything about a third season or anything that may follow, I could always Catholic it up just a little bit and stick fingers in my ears, walking away saying, “La la la la la, I can’t hear you, la la la la!”)
 .
 .
 .
 .
P.S. – Correction.  If for some sadistic reason the writers were to give Old Freddy (the ribs joint fellow) Cancer of the AIDS of the eyeballs, I would feel something.  But I still wouldn’t watch the next season.
 .
 .
 .
 .