I Lost My Best Friend

*Please forgive typos and poor grammar. I typed this on my phone at a very late hour. I’ll try to come back and give it a proper edit. I’m not sure when I’ll feel up to it.*

A bit over seven years ago now, my life was going through a lot of changes. I’d just started a new job and was moving into a new place with the woman who would later become my wife. We’d just finished painting and hadn’t quite finished moving all of her things in when we met Vin.

We’d discussed getting a pet for quite a while. My wife wanted to get a dog. I like dogs, but have always been a cat person. I’ve had them for my entire life. She claimed that cats never liked her. Regardless, she convinced me to go to an adoption event one afternoon at a pet store. We’d been shopping for furniture to fill our new place when she pointed out the sign as we were about to leave. There was some discussion about how we shouldn’t get a pet yet and how we had to wait until we’d at least finished moving in.

We walked in and to the area the rescue was set up. My wife walked down the row of cages and “awwwed” at some of the adorable and aloof cats after being disappointed by the lack of dogs at the event. I stopped to say hello to a scrawny little tuxedo with a Hitler mustache. I had a soft spot for calicos, but this fellow came to the front of the cage when I paused to look inside. Unlike every other cat there, he looked me in the eye and wanted to say hello, even rubbing against the cage to encourage me to put my fingers between the bars and give him a scratch.

My wife came over to see what had caught my attention. As I gave the cat, whose name card said was called Vin, some scritches, one of the volunteers came over and asked if we wanted to spend some time with the cat. I told her that we weren’t looking to adopt today, but were thinking about doing so in the near future. Somehow she talked us into the “introduction” room. I’m still not sure how it happened.

You’ve probably seen one if you’ve ever been into a pet store, but if you haven’t, these rooms are basically oversized closets with a bench large enough for two people to sit on against one wall and a door with a large window so volunteers can keep an eye on how things are going. The woman led us in, brought in Vin and left us alone after observing how I interacted with the cat. My wife largely sat still, saying that cats never liked her and talking about how they always scratched her. Vin wandered the small floor as we talked about how he seemed sweet, then jumped in my lap for some affection.

I remember my wife saying, “how do you do that? Cats never like me. Every cat my friends have ever had…” And she trailed off as Vin walked from my lap to hers and head-butted her hand for some love. She tentatively stroked his head, and seemed astonished as he lay down on the bench next to her, put his head on her leg, and seemed to fall asleep. She made a noise somewhere between a squeak and a squeal (I’d never heard her make a similar noise before and haven’t since), looked me straight in the eyes, and said “we’re taking him home”.

A short time later, I was carrying a box with Vin inside up the stairs and into our apartment. My wife carried the “welcome package” of some food and litter, as well as the other essentials we’d purchased for our new pet. On the way home, and as I set the box down and opened it, I explained that he’d probably hide for a while and not to be worried if he disappeared​ under the bed for at least a day. I needn’t have bothered. The cat went under the bed, but came out after only a few minutes.

Through emails with the woman who fostered him, we learned that Vin was the only survivor of an abandoned litter, the rest having succu to pneumonia. We’d already decided that his name didn’t suit him, but learned it had been after Vin Diesel. It didn’t take us long to rename him Lokai, for the half-black half-white alien from the original Star Trek. Shortly thereafter we added onto it, and he became Lokai Anbu as it was obvious he was a ninja. He got everywhere, including into the high cabinet where my wife’s shot glass collection was stored, somehow opening it and breaking several.

Despite the fact that I hadn’t wanted to bring him home and my protests that he was my wife’s cat, he squirmed his way into my heart. She started telling me he was my cat because of his tendency to sleep on my feet and greet me when I came into the house. He became my best friend.

Lokai was the most social cat I’ve ever met. We called him a cuddle-slut because of his propensity for curling up with visitors. Unlike most cats, who remain aloof, he would inspect all visitors and present himself to receive chin scritches, rewarding those properly performed with a deep purr like a motorboat that could be heard clear across a room.

For me, it was a white belly when he was feeling especially kind and an outstretched chin when rolling over would be too much effort.

A few years later, we brought a second cat into the house. Lokai was not pleased with the newcomer’s presence, but eventually warmed to her. Which was good, as she followed him around like his shadow. After he’d finally reconciled himself to the smaller cat’s existence, they’d be curled together in a ball whenever the weather cooled.

Lokai snored, which many examinations from vets told us wasn’t a health concern, and he was a pain in the ass. He loved little more than hearing things, preferably fragile things, hit the floor when knocked from a height. He’d turn our electronics off or on at inopportune times. If he decided it was feeding time, he made a nuisance of himself, walking in front of the television and planting himself in the evening or standing on my throat if I slept too late. I lost track of the small objects that were lost by being left on a table overnight and how many times I had to blindly search for my glasses because he knocked them under the bed. But, I’ll be damned if I didn’t love that cat.

Always a glutton, I took notice when he wasn’t eating. We were accustomed to having to watch like hawks to keep him from eating the other cat’s food. The second day there was food left in both cat bowls when it was time for their evening feeding, a Sunday, I told my wife I’d leave work early the following day to take him to the vet. I called that morning and made an afternoon appointment.

I got home and made a sandwich for myself with Lokai at my feet, as was usual. He didn’t beg, though, which was worrying, and I had to feed him a bit of ham by hand, which was even moreso. That cat loved ham and would normally cry and eagerly pounce on anything I dropped. I knew he definitely wasn’t feeling well.

Bringing him in wasn’t difficult, but it never was had been. He seemed to be more stressed than usual, crying and then lying silently on his side and panting during the drive. I thought it was just stress and him not feeling well.

Upon seeing the vet and describing his symptoms, she took a blood sample for testing and remarked on how heavily he was breathing. She suggested a chest x-ray. I told her I’d like to get the blood tests back the next morning before doing that, as I thought he was just under stress. She gave me a sheet with emergency vet and told.me to bring him to one if he continued to breathe that way.

We got home and after my wife and I finished our dinner I went to look for the cat. It wasn’t normal for him not to sit nearby as we ate and disconcerting when I found he was deep under the bed in our spare room. Pulling it away from the wall, he didn’t get up and I saw his breathing seemed labored. My wife came over and she agreed. We threw our shoes on and went to the emergency vet. Lokai didn’t cry and she sat with him in the back seat.

Getting there, the vet looked Lokai over. He said he thought the cat had fluid around his lungs. None of the possible causes were good ones​. He took x-rays and confirmed the liquid was there and put Lokai into an oxygen chamber. He said he wanted to do an ultrasound and would drain the liquid that was making it hard for my cat to breathe. He asked if we wanted him to. I told him that unless he told us that the cat was in hopeless pain, yes. We discussed the possible costs. I left a credit card deposit and my wife and I went home with the understanding I would pick up the cat in the morning, able to breathe but with a little less fur.

We got home, I dropped off my wife, and I parked my car. I took a few minutes to decompress. I was confident Lokai would be ok, but was worried about him and the rather expensive bills I was wracking up. I posted about what was going on to social media. As I hit submit and opened the door to walk inside, my phone rang. It was the veterinarian. It was about 11:00 pm.

“I did the ultrasound to prepare for the fluid extraction. As soon as I did… I saw a very large mass. It’s actually bigger than his heart. It’s pressing up against his sternum.”

I was silent for a long moment. OK, I said.

“That wasn’t the only one. I know you said you wanted me to remove the fluid unless the situation was catastrophic,” (that had been the word I’d used), ” but it is. If you tell me to go ahead, I’ll extract the fluid from around his lungs. But, he’s in really bad shape. There’s nothing anyone could do about this. I have to advise euthenasia. I’m sorry.”

I took a very deep breath. “I appreciate that. It’s really that bad…”

“Yes. Even if I drain the fluid, there will still be pressure on his lungs. I’m so sorry to have to tell you this. This is… This is not good. The oxygen is helping a little bit, but he reacted more to the pain medication, which tells me he’s in a lot of pain.”

“OK. I’ll have to talk to my wife.” I ended the call.

I told her what the vet had said. She broke out in tears. I struggled to hold back my own. We called back and told the vet we we’re coming to say our goodbyes. He went over options with me on the phone. 

We called our old roommate, who lives nearby and was always ridiculously fond of that cat. She told her mother, our neighbor. They both came with us to say goodbye. It’s selfish of me, but I resented their presence as I drove to go put down my best friend for the last seven years.

On arriving we we’re led into their larger exam room. I told the vet we did not want to be present when not he was put to sleep, but had to say goodbye. A tech brought Lokai to us wrapped up in a pink towel and left us alone. Everyone cried and pet him. I sat with my cat on my lap and my wife scratched his ears and under his chin as she sat on the floor in front of me. We continued until his breathing became obviously labored again. It didn’t take long enough.

My wife took the cat from me and I went to the door and called the vet in to say we were ready. She handed the cat to him, and I couldn’t help myself. I reached out and said, “I want to hug my cat.”

“Of course.”

I hugged him tight while trying to be careful and said my last goodbye before handing him over.

I signed the necessary paperwork. We chose crema and will get his ashes next week. I wound up being refunded some of my deposit. A part of me found that reassuring. No matter how much I know vets hate killing animals, it confirmed that they weren’t convincing me to put my cat down to make money.

We went home and I bawled.

I’ve had cats all my life. Pets dying is the worst part of having them, and you know it will happen. I’ve dealt with it before. This time it’s harder. So, so much harder. Lokai Anbu was a special animal. I’m not one who ever called my animals my children, and I never have treated them like kids. But I loved that cat. As I’ve said, he was my best friend. We spoiled him. I snuck him table food despite protests from my wife. I slept with him keeping my feet warm. I pet him when I was stressed or sad or lonely. I have an absurd number of pictures of him. I’ll miss him.

I May Not Know Art, but I also Don’t Know What I Like

I try to let a little time pass before writing about some things, largely because it allows for rational thought as opposed to guttural reaction. I make a special effort if it’s been a hot topic in the blogosphere. Here’s hoping…

On March 7 of this year, International Women’s Day, a statue called Fearless Girl was placed on Wall Street. It was commissioned as part of a marketing campaign for an index fund and promote awareness of the gender divide in the investment industry. The statue of a young girl standing defiantly was placed so that it appears to be standing in opposition to the Wall Street Bull, and its material and style make it clear that it’s a companion piece.

I had mixed feelings that still persist today.

The Wall Street Bull, properly titled Charging Bull was a piece of guerilla art installed around Christmas in 1989. The artist described it as a reaction to the stock market crash of 1987 and said that it was representative of the strength of the American people and financial market, playing on the term “bull market”. It’s aggressive, and some might say menacing, in appearance. It’s large and solid. The message seemed to be that the American market would move upward, but the ride would be bumpy and investors should always be careful. Shortly after being installed, it was actually impounded by the police and only found a permanent home after public outcry.

But, at some point in the 27+ years since its installation, people’s view of the Bull changed. Instead of being symbolic of the strength of the American spirit, it became a symbol of Wall Street itself and the excesses of the financial industry. What was intended to inspire became a source of revulsion. Intent no longer mattered as focus shifted and attitudes changed. It became the target of our ire. The Bull was now destruction and danger.

That new view of Charging Bull was what Defiant Girl was placed in response to. She would stand bravely in front of the beast of the financial market. This also highlighted the masculinity of the original piece. This could be read multiple ways, though. She’s standing up to a male dominated industry. She’s standing in the way of progress. She’s about to be crushed foolishly. She’s rebuking an uncontrolled beast. All of these are true. All of these are valid.

Of course the internet exploded. Arguments abounded throughout social media and the comment sections of innumerable blog pieces and news articles. Supporters claimed critics were misogynistic. Critics claimed the piece wasn’t “art” because it was commissioned by an investment firm (which is Bullshit to anyone who knows why most of the greatest works of the Renaissance were financed). The most popular interpretation was that it was a symbol of feminine strength opposing masculine domination. I can see it, understand it, and believe in that message. Yet, I found myself troubled.

The questions of ownership of art have been running through my mind. The artist of Charging Bull has been clear on his dislike of the new piece, feeling that it warps the intent of his own. Does that matter? Who gets to decide? The zeitgeist holds the Bull as the symbol of Wall Street, which it associates with greed and corruption. They don’t view it as strength and hope. To them, Defiant Girl is the bravery of women in the face of overwhelming odds. Can these two pieces exist as both of those things? What’s more, does an artist have the right to change another’s work?

Imagine if someone were to put a statue of a young altar boy in front of a statue of Pope John Paul II. He’d have an open mouth and a slightly frightened look in his eyes, facing the pontiff, slightly below, and very close. They title it The Church’s Hidden Victim and say that it symbolizes the victims of abuse by members of the clergy under John Paul’s watch. Just picture it. Here, have a visual aid.

Not hard to imagine. It’s almost like it’s what the sculptor had in mind. Credit to Paweł Kocik via Wikimedia Commons

Is that still representative of hope or piety? I’m thinking it’s not. And I’m still of two minds as to whether or not I’m ok with it.

For now, I’ll be looking at the Bull and the Girl the way I do those images that can be seen as a duck or a rabbit. From one angle it’s hope. From another it’s oppression. Over there it’s defiance. But from right there it’s obstruction.

Personally, I’d have crafted the statue so that she was putting a ring in the bull’s nose to take control of it. But, I’m no artist.

See the Monsters in Full Daylight

I’m a 30-something 6’6″ blonde-haired, blue-eyed white male who was frightened of the ramifications of Trump’s election. Not just concerned about his policies. Not simply worried about our international relationships. While I had, and retain, a considerable amount of concern over those things, we have a system in place that provides checks and balances. That’s all just politics. We’ve survived bad politicians. We’ll survive this one, though there might be some considerable damage to be undone when it’s all over.

I  was, and remain, terrified to my bones of what it would mean to the “vocal minority” of bigots who ate up every intolerant word he uttered if he should win. The majority of Trump’s voters are not gay-bashing, foreigner hating, misogynistic religious nutjobs. They’re mostly regular folks who either felt like no one was listening or believed Clinton to be a criminal. But, guess what? The fear from minority populations was not unfounded, and the defensive cries of “I’m not a racist! He was talking about illegal Mexicans!” or “He meant Muslim terrorists, not all Muslims!” don’t matter if you know that your candidate has attracted a following from white supremacy groups. “He wasn’t saying he supported them!” He saw them at his rallies. He drove between Confederate flags and signs painted with hateful words with a wave and a smile. And he didn’t condemn those people. He didn’t ever point to a “Grab her by the pussy” shirt and say that wasn’t what he stood for. The closest he got was a statement from his campaign manager regarding the official KKK endorsement a few days before the election.

And so all of the bigoted, misogynistic monsters of humanity have crawled out from under the rocks they’ve been hiding under to say some heinous shit they wouldn’t have dared a few days ago. Because they feel validated. Because even if the majority of the party they voted with didn’t yell along with them, they weren’t yelling at them to shut the fuck up, either. It was tacit approval, and now the monsters feel safe and justified in their hatred. Those who should feel the most threatened.

I’ve heard and read some of the most terrible things today. My wife is keeping a list of stories from friends. Amongst them, a parent was told by their child another kid at school had asked, “You ready to be a slave again, now that Trump is president?”

A woman paying for gas, “Your name’s Marquez, huh? You look white. I’ll remember you’re not when they start deporting.”

A white man married to an Hispanic woman, “My wife had somebody curse her out today and yell about Trump sending her home. How could this happen?”

The Republican candidate made a deal with the devil in refusing to disavow groups like the KKK, and judging by some of the margins of victory, that’s what won him the race. And I really don’t think he knows how to put that genie back in the bottle.

It’s small of me, I know, but I hope that those who didn’t look at who was standing to their right and left at those rallies can’t sleep at night for guilt, though I doubt most have even considered it. I won’t be able to while my black/Puerto Rican wife is out of the house without me.

Want to show some solidarity? Want to prove that you’re not complicit? Be ready to fight for the vulnerable. Rabidly and without reservation. Don’t stand quietly if you see someone yell racist shit at a stranger on the street. Don’t avert your eyes as a woman gets harassed. Don’t just chuckle awkwardly and change the subject when that homophobe you know starts talking about “fags”. Step up. Step in. Say something. Do something. Chase the monsters back under their rocks and make it absolutely clear that you don’t believe as they do. Don’t belittle anyone who marched in the street to protest the election results. At least, I thought as I saw it happening, some frightened gay teenager can see that not everyone in this country has turned their back on them. It doesn’t matter if the protesters were there for another reason, they were visibly standing up against a man who chose a running mate who has been widely publicized to support conversion therapy.

As long as there are people, there will be bigots. There’s nothing we can do about that. What we can do, and what we must do, is make sure they don’t take their hatred out on those vulnerable to it. Show them, and show yourself, that you’re — that we’re — better than the small-minded, the intolerant, and the hate that they believe in.

That’s Not How Men Talk

I’ve been quiet for a while. I felt compelled to say something regarding the  words of the presidential nominee carrying a Y chromosome. “I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

I’ve heard and read the most outrageous and ridiculous defenses of those indefensible words. “That’s just how men talk.” “That was locker room talk.” “Guys all say things like that.”

No. No, they don’t. And I can say that with some expertise on the subject, because I am one. I’m not going to say that I’ve never heard a man talk that way in the company of other men, when he thought it was ok. The same way a racist will let fly with their prejudices when they’re surrounded by white people. I’ve worked with them, and been exposed to them in social situations. They’re assholes. And the responsible reaction is to call them out on it.

If a man hears that sort of crap, it’s his place to speak up. It’s his place to make sure everyone knows about it. Not because it’s our place to defend women, like they need some sort of champion, but because we can’t let slimeballs think that our silence at their noxious comments is tacit approval. An awkward chuckle and attempt to change the subject and/or escape the vicinity of such a shitheel isn’t enough. Tell them it’s not cool. And tell everyone who’ll listen what was said. Don’t let them hide their predatory nature.

That’s what those comments were. Predatory. He didn’t say “they want you to do it.” He said “they let you do it.” He doesn’t care what they want. Those words say that it doesn’t matter to him. They’ll let him do whatever he wants. Even if they don’t want it. Even if they’re afraid. Even if they’re repulsed.

Those aren’t the words of a strong man. Those are the words of a degenerate monster.

How to: Pay Back a Debt

When you borrow money from a friend, don’t just drop cash off at their house to pay them back. Pay a debt to a friend back in a bar, and pick up the tab. If you can’t afford a couple of rounds of beer in appreciation, you probably can’t afford to be repaying that money.

Your friend doesn’t drink? Buy them dinner and get the check.

I Talk About Shit I Shouldn’t. Again. Guns Edition

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Yup. I’m pretty dumb for even voicing an opinion.

I’ve been thinking about writing this for quite a while. This wasn’t inspired by recent news, but I can’t pretend that its tone hasn’t been affected by world events.

I grew up with guns in the house. My father was federally licensed for concealed carry* and owned several. For my tenth birthday I got an air rifle. For my thirteenth I got a .22. As soon as I was old enough to handle the recoil of each weapon, I was taught to fire it. Before I could fire them, I was taught how to handle them. How to break them down for cleaning and how to carry them. The first thing I learned with each weapon was how to unload it. Every one of the weapons in the house was kept loaded, because “an unloaded gun is a useless gun.”

It’s been years since I’ve lived with one, and I’ve fired fewer than a handful of rounds in the past decade. Living in a more urban environment, I haven’t felt any need to own one. I have felt a desire to own one, but not enough to justify the purchase considering the cost and not having a convenient place to shoot. I feel very little need to have a firearm for protection, but I enjoyed shooting.

I used a lot of words to say that I’m all for gun ownership. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in legislation and regulation. Regulation at the federal level, however, is a difficult thing that doesn’t make much sense. The left-hand rhetoric surrounding the subject, comes mostly (please note that I said mostly) from people with little-to-no hands-on experience with firearms. What they know comes from the media and fiction, and they’re largely from urban and suburban backgrounds. It most often seems to come down to a desire to ban weapons based upon their appearance and features they think sound scary. “No one needs high-caliber rifles that fire more than one shot!” is a cry that comes from someone who has never lived in proximity to large predators. Bears and boars will often take more than one shot to drop. Unlike in the movies, humans usually will, too.

Living in rural areas, guns are a part of life. They’re used for hunting and for defense. When police response can optimistically take longer than 30 minutes, a gun borders on a necessity, right behind a well-equipped first aid kit. Regulation in one place doesn’t necessarily make sense when applied to another. This is a problem with federal regulations and the reason that, for the most part, firearm laws have been left to the individual states. The idea is that, given the size of this country and varying populations, each state best knows how to legislate weapons.

They’re doing a shitty job.

Most legislation and mandated waiting periods have applied to handguns. The logic behind this has been that, though less lethal than a rifle or shotgun, their ability to be concealed made them a greater threat. Even 20 years ago, purchasing a revolver in upstate NY would require a waiting period, a certificate from a safety class, and a permit. A rifle or shotgun could be purchased over the counter with a driver’s license. Because they could be used as tools, and someone being able to sneak a long gun into a crowded area and open fire seemed the smaller threat. This is why sawed-off shotguns are illegal. Emphasis on regulation has always tended to be heavier the more easily a weapon could be hidden.

Events over the past few years may have changed some opinions on the matter.

I’ve probably lost a few of the more liberal-leaning readers by now simply by saying that I support gun ownership. Here’s where I’ll lose the conservatives.

The cry of the right wing in response to nearly any call for regulation of arms in civilian hands has been that to do so would violate the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. I’ll make no claims of the types of weapons available increasing in power. I don’t think that matters. In my reading of the document’s writ, my belief in the framers’ intent, and by my understanding of the law, it most certainly is not. “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

My interpretation of that sentence looks to the first half of that sentence as a qualifier. It is clear, to me, that the intention was for the populace to be armed, but to be members of a militia. And not just a militia, but one that is well organized. At the time of the Constitution’s writing the United States were governed by the Articles of Confederation. The articles stated that each state would keep a “well-regulated and disciplined militia”. In the terms of the day, a militia was a volunteer army beholden to its home state, as opposed to the regular army, which was beholden to the nation.

The idea that the Second Amendment was written so that any individual could defend themselves from governmental tyranny is laughable. It was written so that the individual states could call upon an armed fighting force that they kept trained and accoutred. The Constitution itself held provisions for the raising of militias. It was a power of Congress, with the Legislative being in charge to offset the power of the president as Commander in Chief of the military. The provision has been amended, and as of today the United States has two militias. The  reserve militia “unorganized militia” is made up of every male aged 17-45 who isn’t in the military or National Guard. The organized militia is the National Guard.

I believe that National Guardsmen are our well-regulated militia, and as such the Second Amendment applies to them specifically. Feel free to read up on it yourself. The Congressional Annals are online and you can review the Secretary’s notes yourself. It’s actually a pretty fascinating thing to read. So, yeah. Unless you’re a member of a state’s National Guard, the Second Amendment provides you with no right to bear arms.

BUT! Even if you disagree with me, or you agree and just think people should be able to own guns, I don’t think the government should take everybody’s guns away. We do need some common sense laws in place, though. I, of course, have some thoughts on the matter.

  1. Anyone convicted of a felony forfeits their right to purchase a gun. If you think that’s unfair, first consider the fact that they’ve lost their right to vote. Until I see you campaign to get that right returned to them, I don’t want to hear shit about how you think they should be armed.
  2. Any individual currently charged with a violent crime must forfeit their weapons pending the trial’s outcome and may not purchase a gun until they are proven innocent or the case is dropped.
  3. Purchasing a gun will require an individual be proficient in its use. That means they would have to be trained by a certified instructor with at least 40 hours of experience in handling, maintaining, and firing the weapon safely.
  4. Purchasing a gun requires that it be insured. Damages beyond the owner’s ability to pay will be paid for via an insurance policy maintained by a private company.
  5. The federal government will keep a database of firearms by state. Sellers who are found to have sold multiple weapons involved in crimes will lose their license and may be charged as criminal accessories, as determined on a case-by-case basis. (this should put a dent in so-called “straw sales”) States are already keeping track of weapons. Email the pertinents to the feds.
  6. All other licensing and restrictions will be left up to the state and/or municipality.

I want y’all to notice something. I didn’t say people’s guns should be taken away. I didn’t say that guns are bad. But, we have to recognize that the world isn’t what it was when the Constitution was written. Most Americans aren’t raised around guns. Duels with pistols aren’t considered an acceptable and legal way of settling a dispute. We live closer together. If people are going to own guns they need to be trained how to respect them and how to use them. They need to be able to make restitution for damages. And firearms sellers need to be held responsible for their business practices.

The vast majority of gun owners in this country own guns because they’re fun to shoot. It’s a hobby. It’s why there are Hello Kitty rifles. The AR-15 is so popular because it looks cool. It’s far from the deadliest weapon available at your average sporting goods store. But, particularly among the novice gun enthusiasts and crazy people, it’s incredibly popular. Because it looks cool and kinda’ scary. Like a Harley.

If you truly believe that owning a gun is a right, you should most definitely be willing to live up to the responsibility that comes along with it. The knee-jerk reaction of “you’ll never take my guns” whenever any sort of legislation is even mentioned is, frankly, stupid, and spurred on by industry organizations who know that it’ll eat into their profits. If Bob would have to spend an extra $100 a year in insurance to add another .30-06 to his collection, he might decide he can do without another. It’s not communism. Recognizing that maybe owning a shotgun should require some training doesn’t mean you’re helping to start a domino effect. Really.

Can we please be reasonable?

 

*my brother was kind enough to point out that what my father had was not a concealed carry permit. There’s no such thing. What he had was an FFL, which, I HAVE NO IDEA WHY, I somehow thought meant he was allowed to carry concealed in any state. I could edit, but let’s preserve my stupidity for posterity.

How to Help Your Blogging Buddy

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There are innumerable articles and blog pieces that offer advice on increasing blog traffic and readership. They vary wildly in quality of both writing and content. While there are enough This Simple Trick Will Increase Your Traffic Eleventy-Gajillion Percent! headlines to make you want to scream, there are plenty of guides filled with quality tips and tricks. This is not one of those articles. This one is meant for people who read blogs, though a good chunk of what’s in here could be applied to just about any website.

A Friend Who Proofread’s a Friend Indeed

When you read something and notice a mistake in grammar or punctuation you’ll probably keep it to yourself and continue on. You may think of it as a kindness. You’re practically the Mother Theresa of the blogosphere with all the ugly typos you pass by without so much as a comment. But, you’re not really helping anyone. Send the writer a message. “Hey. I found a typo on page X of your site.” They will likely be slightly embarrassed, but will almost certainly appreciate the help.

Having good content includes spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Mistakes can not only have a negative impact on readers’ perceptions, but also effect a page’s rank in search results. This applies to more than just blogs. Make sure to tell your friend the amateur taxidermist that they misspelled something on their Etsy listing. They’ll appreciate it.

Sharing is Caring

Everyone likes likes and loves on their posts to social media. That little bit of validation that tells us our thoughts have been noticed by someone out there in this dark, inhospitable world. Truly, we are not alone. We are seen. We have left a mark. We will not be forgotten.

Search engines love them, too. They use those likes to measure engagement and to know what’s popular, pushing pages up in search results. Know what search engines love even more? Shares, posts, retweets, repins, whatever. They indicate a greater level of engagement amongst page visitors and have a greater effect.This is, of course, in addition to the primary benefit; more shares equals more exposure, which means more people visiting. Again, this also applies to pretty much any website.

Even better than simple shares are targeted ones. You’re on a “Hippy Moms” Facebook group? That’s an awesome place to share your friend’s review of an herbal stain remover. The gaming subreddit you frequent might also appreciate that satirical post about Batman’s alignment in the new movie.

This, of course, all only applies if you actually think the work is good. If it’s garbage, please don’t embarrass your friends by spreading their shame.

Where Can Matter As Much As What You Say

Whether you want to leave a positive or negative comment (or a like) on something a friend’s posted, where you leave it matters. Generally speaking, leaving a comment directly on the page will have a more profound effect than having a discussion on social media. It means that your comment is actually attached to the post (if you’re talking about a store, leaving a product review is a really big deal) can be seen by anyone who looks at the page. That both shows engagement and inspires other visitors to leave comments. There’s a reason so many blog posts and articles end with something along the lines of “Tell us what you think in the comments”.  It’s a call to action.

Comments left directly have a particularly strong effect on in-platform metrics. Most blogs run on one of the big platforms like WordPress, Blogger, or Tumblr, which have their own tracking and try to foster “communities” in their user bases. Getting a lot of traffic and engagement on a post will bring it to the platform’s attention and can get the post or blog featured. Anyone who uses Reddit, where upvotes can directly increase exposure, is familiar with how this works.

Not sure where you should hit like? Why not both!

If Your Ideas are So Great Get Your Own Damned Blog

Your friend’s site is ok, you guess, but it’d be so much better if they wrote about completely different things in a completely different style, with a completely different tone. And had more pictures with fewer words. I mean, you could help. You’ve got a ton of great photos and ideas. You’re just going to tell them what they should be doing.

You could do that, but it’ll make you kind of a jerk. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t ask someone what their opinion is on something, or tell them that you think it’d be interesting if they wrote about a particular subject, but that’s really only cool if it fits in any themes they might be trying to hold to. Don’t try to ghostwrite your own blog through them. Create you’re own. I’m living proof that any idiot can do it!

I Don’t Understand Gender Identity

notsmartI’ve never understood it when I’ve read or heard someone say they identify as just about anything. It’s always seemed foreign to me when a person seems to define their identity around a single aspect of their character or a lone interest.  Is it related to a need to belong to a community? If so, that may explain why I’ve never really felt as though I belonged in one. I don’t think I’ve ever really known what it feels like to “be” anything. I mean, I’ve felt hungry. And happy. And sad, hurt, grateful, worried, and the whole gamut of emotions and inputs. But, when someone says they believe they were born the wrong gender, I don’t get it. I have no idea what someone born with ladyparts means when they say that they feel like a man.

In the little world inside my skull, I know that I am male. I know this not because of anything I feel, but because of what I see when I take my clothes off and because I have a Y chromosome. And to me, that’s all gender really is; some physical characteristics. Everything else that gets assigned based on gender is a construct or side effect of such. And I don’t understand someone born with guyjunk who says they feel like a woman. What the hell does that mean? I’m not sure if my perplexity is indicative of ignorance or enlightenment(I always hope for the latter, but it’s nearly always the former). Gender is a physical characteristic. I am tall, I am right-handed, I have blue eyes, I have large feet, I am male.

Do they mean they don’t like the way their junk looks and/or feels to the touch? Because, to me, that’s the same thing as not liking your hair color. I’m down with people making whatever modifications to their body they want. Their choice.

Does it mean they want to wear clothes that are traditionally worn by women? Do it! Wear whatever the hell you want. If you don’t like tuxedos get a LBD and some pumps for the next black tie affair you’re invited to. They want to wear makeup? Go for it. The only things you should get made fun of for are how poorly those brows are penciled in and how crooked that catseye looks. These are just things people put on. Women aren’t dresses and makeup.

Is it tied to the way women are traditionally treated? The romanticized notion that women are the fairer sex, more demure and poised than men?. Is it because they’d like to be treated softly? Want to take part in activities that tradition dictates belong to women? I can wrap my head around all of those things.

I don’t understand. And I want to. I recognize that no one owes me any sort of explanation, and I’m not expecting one. You be you. You wanna’ refer to yourself as he, she, trans, modified, whatever I don’t care. That’s cool, and I’ll stick to the pronoun you introduce yourself as. Past introductions, I’ll try to remember, but honestly won’t beat myself up over it if I forget every once in a while. Nothing personal. I’ve got a family member who changed their name near 20 years ago, but still keep on using her old one. Just because that’s what’s in my brain. You change your name from Paul to Paula, odds are pretty good I’ll keep using Paul. Not because I’m dismissive or as a statement against your change, but because that’s how I’ve learned to think of you. I ascribe to Shakespeare’s thought on roses. I’ve known dudes who were Kelly and Shannon and women who were Alex. Continuing to refer to you as Carl isn’t a hate crime.

Here’s the thing, though. I don’t have to understand. It doesn’t concern me how someone else dresses or how they refer to themselves. If I’m not trying to undress someone and touch their junk, it makes absolutely no difference to me what’s in their pants or up their skirt. The outcry and the bigotry rearing its ugly head have me absolutely baffled. Why the hell does anyone give a shit?

Is it that people are trying to reason out why someone would want to dress as the opposite gender? If that’s the case, and the first/only answer they come up with is “to rape someone” that says a whole lot to me. I’m more frightened of people who think that way than any dude in a dress. It’s about as appropriate a reaction as believing someone who shaves their head must be a sexual predator. It’s so they can’t leave hair behind, you know.

If you made jokes about him not being electable, you may have helped him get elected.

The Election is All Tangled Up in the ‘Net

Trump Voldermort. Voldertrump? Trumpermort?

Speak not the Dark Lord’s name! It gives him power!

It’s political season! Well, considering the American news cycle, political season seems to be perpetual at this point. It seems like politicians are campaigning at all times these days. It’s a presidential election year, though, so the ads and discussions are more ubiquitous than normal at the moment. Those “discussions” are inescapable by anyone who uses social media or goes just about anywhere on the internet. Everyone seems to be talking about the longshot party outsiders who are somehow challenging the political machine. They’re all asking how this happened.

It’s not much of a mystery. They made it happen.

The internet has changed the way people get information and the way that information is served to them. It’s changed the way we talk to each other. I’ve touched on this before when I discussed the clicks for cash system the web economy works on. I’ve also talked about the echo chamber effect a little bit. I didn’t really talk much about the way social media and search results can create conversational whirlpools.

I put the word discussions in quotation marks above because most talk is in the form of image macros and news bites with the odd link to a news article or blog post. These are pieces of content that are easily shared, usually with a quickly typed comment along the lines of “this is the worst/best thing ever”. They make their way around the web quickly, showing up in one feed, then another, and another. There’s a reason this sort of content is referred to as viral. It spreads.

I avoid discussion of candidates I dislike because the internet has turned them into Dark Lords. To utter their name is to give them power. I don’t discuss the ones I like (there aren’t many. None of the frontrunners, actually) because the names of the opposition will invariably be brought up. And that will feed The Beast.

There are multiple factors that contribute to this shitstorm. If a lot of users search for a term, or a variation of a term, search engines notice. They’ll start to react by autocompleting users’ searches based on what other people have searched for and clicked on. This will make users more likely to wind up running the same searches and seeing the same results. The number of people who click on and interact with a page (I say interact because no one outside of Google knows exactly how the calculation is done) will have a positive effect on its rank in search results. To simplify — the more people who click on a page in search results, the more people the search engine will show that page to.

But, there’s more to it than that. Social media tailors content to users. Facebook and Twitter, even Google+ for all 37 of its users, serve advertisements to you based on what you write, share, Like, click on, retweet, or just keep on your screen for an especially long time. They’ll also default your feed to display related content posted by people in your network. Talk about tacos and you start seeing ads for Taco Bell and posts about all the time your buddy spent in the bathroom after eating too many burritos at lunch.

Search engines… you know what? Screw it. I keep typing out “search engines” but we all just use Google.

So. Google takes social media into account when serving search results. The number of people talking about a subject will increase its ranking in news results. Links shared on Facebook and Twitter positively effect the pages and sites they point to. Websites can see what’s trending and will then produce content on those subjects.

Candidate search results are based on user behavior.

If you want the assholes on the right to start showing up in the first position start talking about them instead of complaining about the assholes on the left.

What we have is a terribly self-perpetuating cycle. Donald Trump announced his candidacy. All the news outlets and blogs wrote pieces on it, usually mockingly. People clicked on those stories, so they ranked above other candidates’ and were more likely to be seen. More people seeing them meant more people shared them. More shares and comments told content producers (at this point I just can’t think of them as news outlets) that people were interested in these stories, so they wrote more of them. Which effected Google results. The more of an asshole he made of himself the more he’s been talked about and the more his opponents’ results have been suppressed.

If you made jokes about him not being electable, you may have helped him get elected.

I tried to think of the most harmless thing. Something I’ve laughed at since my childhood. Something that could never ever possibly be elected. Mr. Drumpf!

A similar effect can be seen on the left with Bernie Sanders. There were so many stories about how he had no chance that they increased his exposure to the point that he suddenly had one. The old saying “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” has been made even more true in this age of social and search engine news. The internet is, in some ways, the very worst kind of democracy. It reacts to the will of the people, often giving us what we hate or fear, not what we want it to. It’s like Gozer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. By thinking about it we may very well have collectively chosen the form of our destroyer.

*I’ve engaged in quite a bit of hyperbole in writing this post. It was fun! I’ve also simplified some complex stuff. Google’s algorithms take more than what I’ve discussed into account; quality of content, how often the host site is updated, how long the article is, and a ton of other factors. All of those being equal (or close enough to) search results and social media activity can have a very profound effect on what people see.
I planned to apply a more balanced set of memes and take some swipes at multiple candidates. The Trump macros were just so much better I couldn’t help myself. It probably has something to do with art students having a predilection for socialism.