Blame The Wire

Sorry I haven’t been updating. Started watching The Wire. At the rate I’m watching, I’ll be back to writing in a few weeks. I should not have started this.

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.

Let’s Get Meta

toneI’m gonna’ write about writing. In doing so I’ll briefly be writing about writing about writing. And when I am done I will have written about writing about writing. Yes, I did that just to amuse myself with the knowledge that you will have read those sentences. I’m both that kind of dork and that kind of jerk.

I’ve got just this side of zero formal education in how to string words together. I learned to write by reading. Being a colossal geek who spent a significant amount of time (all of my free time) on the internet. I honed my skills by writing there; conversing with friends and strangers using instant messaging programs, in chat rooms, on message boards, and on Usenet. It’s astonishing what immediate unflinching criticism from anonymous and antisocial individuals can do when you’re the sort who takes it to heart. Particularly if you’re also extremely curious and go poking around corners of the internet best left unexplored and take advantage of that same anonymity to ask questions usually better left unasked.

The lessons those years in front of a screen taught me were multitude. The most valuable of them related to framing an argument for a particular audience. It taught me that semantics are important and how easily a very slight change to the words you use can trigger or defuse an argument without changing your meaning. And the way people react to particular arguments can (and boy will they) vary, often drastically. My recent post on white privilege was written with the sort of person who believes racial and/or gender inequality aren’t A Thing in mind. You know. People who are wrong.

What I found absolutely fascinating were the reactions from people who lean socially left as opposed to those on the right. Thanks to social media I was able to follow some of the conversations that went on when people reposted the piece. I could play voyeur and “listen in”. Liberals had a tendency to be dismissive, believing the semantics weren’t important. A few conservatives said things like, “I get the point, but the tone is too apologetic”. Most of those talking about it were middle-aged white males. Overall, I was OK with this; my argument seems to have made some people who have ignored minorities’ complaints actually consider the idea. And that was my goal. Seeing that made me damned proud of myself. I care far less about what people who already accept the point I was trying to make as fact think about it. Except for how it effects my ego, which can be quite a bit. They’re jerks.

I’ve gone off on a tangent, though.

My point is that there are a million different ways to say something. The way that works for me won’t necessarily work for you. The words you use will be processed differently by readers based on their own experiences. Reactions will also vary based on your audience’s impression of who you are. When I write something persuasive I try to keep in mind the sort of person I’m addressing. I make my best attempt at empathy and step into their shoes. When I’m writing something general, or for myself, my tone is different. I usually use less confrontational language and humor.

The voice(s) I write in varies. Not like the ones in my head. Those are all pretty consistent. They just want whiskey. And murder. Haha! I kid. About the murder. Not the whiskey.

Blog Responsibly


I promise this list will not reference John Ritter. Or David Spade.

There are some rules one should follow if they want to throw their thoughts out there on the internet. Simple ones. I’ve been thinking of my personal list as I watch traffic from around the world come in to the post in which I broke mine. This has had Consequences, some that you might consider good and others you might consider bad. Yours might not match my own, but I think these are pretty universal.

  • Don’t hit the publish button immediately — When you finish your masterpiece, whether it’s addressing a subject you’ve been planning to discuss for months or is a reaction piece to something you’ve just seen, heard, or read, wait. While it is best to have someone proofread it for you, if you don’t have anyone available, go back in a few hours and read it over. Odds are very good that you’ll find things to fix.
  • Think about your title — Your title is the first thing people will see if your blog gets linked on social media or someone finds it organically. It’s the big print. It’s what search engines weigh the most heavily when serving results. Don’t be clickbaity. You’re better than that. Even if you aren’t, don’t be clickbaity. Please. Only you can help make the internet a better place.
  • Know that someone will get angry — Be prepared for someone to tell you you’re an idiot. It may be that you framed an argument poorly. It may be that they didn’t read everything you wrote, misread something, or read it on the train and missed an entire paragraph. Your piece may have been framed perfectly and understood, but you’ve managed to attract trolls or otherwise intelligent people who are just wrong. They must be wrong if they disagree with you. The alternative is just crazy talk!
  • Someone will miss the point — The more people that read what you write, the greater the chance that someone is going to miss the point completely. Given enough time and enough content, this will happen. Murphy’s Law ensures that it will be the one you care most about making.
  • You will be horrified — If you publish anything that presents an opinion you will eventually wind up seeing someone disagree with you about something you think any rational human being believes. You could say that Hitler was a bad man. You could say that human beings are fallible. It doesn’t matter. What is worse is when you find someone agreeing with you for the wrong reasons. Somewhere on the internet your post about cute kittens will be getting Likes from neo-Nazis because it includes a picture of a cat with a Hitler mustache.
  • You will learn things you weren’t prepared for — When you’re putting your thoughts out there you’re telling people something about yourself. You may think you have prepared yourself for people to learn more than you intended. Maybe you did. But, the internet is interactive. Particularly if you link your blog via social media, you’re going to get some data you weren’t expecting. Who likes, loves, shares, pins, or reblogs what you’ve had to say will tell you a lot. Comments people make will surprise you. And not always in negative ways. Often it’ll be something inane, like search terms that attract people from Finland.
  • Sometimes you should hold off on a reply — You’ll be tempted to reply to every single comment people make. You’ll want to clarify a point or argue a premise. It can be a trap. If you actually believe in what you’ve said it can lead you into trouble. If you find that someone’s response to your work has made you angry, don’t immediately engage. Waiting a little while before making a response will help you avoid saying something you don’t mean and help you avoid fighting on the internet. No one wins a fight on the internet. It’ll also help you to recognize when you just shouldn’t reply at all. Sometimes it just isn’t worth the fight.
  • Stats can be a trap — Don’t just stare at your site analytics. You can get some interesting data, like the aforementioned interests of Finns, but it can be tempting to get lost in your site stats. A post about a video game got a few hundred hits, one about something in the news didn’t break one hundred, and the one with the clickbaity headline has… holy crap, it’s up to several thousand! I know I said not to use clickbait titles, but wow! I mean, that’s ad revenue traffic. Maybe just one more time.

White Privilege is Bullshit

Me, whenever anyone uses the phrase white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, or any combination thereof.

Me, whenever anyone uses the phrase white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, or any combination thereof.


Unpopular opinion time! It’s been thrown about a lot recently. The term white privilege, also white male privilege or male privilege, has been just about everywhere. Often, it’s heard as “check your privilege.” As a white male, I hate the phrase. Not because I’m being called out for something I have and am jealously guarding, or because I don’t think that women or individuals of some races experience prejudices I don’t, but because it’s attacking the issues the wrong way.

Words mean things.

From the Oxford Dictionary:

Syllabification: priv·i·lege
Pronunciation: /ˈpriv(ə)lij/
A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people

Beyond just a dictionary definition, though, are the colloquial implications that permeate a word. They don’t necessarily change a word’s meaning, but add connotations that aren’t always intended. In modern American parlance we recognize a difference between a privilege and a right. One is something that is granted conditionally and the other is applied to all. When someone refers to someone as being privileged, the implication is that they’re not only advantaged, but that their advantage is unearned, unfair, or both.

When a woman tells me “check your male privilege” because I don’t have to worry nearly as much about being sexually assaulted, or even just because I don’t have to put up with as many drunk assholes who don’t understand “I don’t want to talk to you”, at a bar, they’re wrong. I don’t have something special, and that’s the implication. That I’m being treated better than I should expect to be. That’s not the case. WOMEN HAVING TO DEAL WITH FEAR OF ASSAULT AND HARASSMENT IS WRONG! (All caps and an exclamation point? That’s some serious stuff right there.) I’m not subject to a privilege, they are being denied a RIGHT.

Police being more likely to use appropriate force against me if I’m arrested isn’t a privilege that I enjoy. It’s a RIGHT that too many black Americans are denied.

A male superior at work listening to my opinion in the workplace isn’t a privilege, but a courtesy that should be extended to everyone at my level. When women’s opinions are ignored because they come from women, that’s the problem.

Too often, what I’m told are privileges being applied to me are rights that others are being denied. The rules are being applied the way they’re supposed to be in one case, but not in another. We’re not competing with each other, so you having a disadvantage isn’t the same thing as me having an advantage. Unless you’re of the opinion that more white people should be shot, men should make less money, or straight individuals should be beaten in the street more often. If so, please get off my blog.

Language is important. I’m gonna’ set up an example here, and hope you’ll stick with me. There’s a foot race, and everyone lines up at the starting line. One person is rich given a head start, allowed to leave the line 5 seconds in front of the rest of the runners. He has an advantage. A privilege. All of the rest of the runners, save one, are told to run at the same time. They start from the same point at the same time. They are your baseline, all with an equal chance to succeed. That person who was held back is allowed to start running 5 seconds after everybody else. That person is suffering a disadvantage. They’re being forced to compete unevenly.

Gay ladies and gents, my ability to walk down a street at night reasonably secure in the knowledge that I won’t be attacked isn’t a privilege, it’s a right. That means that you should be able to do the same! Saying that it’s a privilege implies that I shouldn’t be able to walk down that street by myself. Saying that you’re denied the right to walk down that street implies that the people preventing you from doing so are wrong. Homophobic assholes who let me pass unmolested aren’t doing me a service. When they prey on gay people for their gender preference, THEY ARE THE ONES DOING WRONG. Anyone who disagrees is a shitty human being. Your disadvantage is not my advantage. We aren’t competing.

Here’s where it gets a bit sticky. Activism and rights movements (Rights! Yes! The correct word!). It’s not a fair world, unfortunately. Everybody in that foot race in my example above is just trying their hardest to get to the finish line as fast as they can. That group who started together? The baseline? They probably didn’t even realize that someone got held back and was forced to start later than they were. It isn’t that they’re callous, uncaring, or don’t want that person to have a fair shot. They’re just so wrapped up in their own run, looking at what’s in front of them and trying to keep from being overtaken, that they didn’t even notice when someone was cheated. The person given the head start ahead of them was given special advantage; a privilege. “You all had an advantage!” isn’t the same thing as “I was given a disadvantage!” Don’t demand that the mass of runners be held back to start with you. Demand that you be allowed to start with them. Loudly enough that everyone can hear.

Telling someone they have an advantage makes them want to hold onto it. Saying that someone else is at a disadvantage can make people want to remove it. Yell about it. Scream about it. In 1960 the Greensboro Four didn’t say “Why does that white man get to sit at the lunch counter?” They asked, “Why aren’t we allowed to sit next to him?” If you can’t spot the difference between those two questions, you’re not going to be very effective at bringing problems to peoples’ attention or changing their minds.

Your Music Sucked Too


This comparison just doesn’t seem fair somehow.

These kids today, with their hair and their music. It’s all nonsense. Why, back in my day, we had pop music that meant something! Amirite? No deep meaning. Just trash!

No. That statement is wrong. The most popular comparison that I’ve seen pop up on social media has been a comparison of Beyonce’s Run the World and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody in the form of an image macro, but it’s not the only one. The point of these memes seems to be that pop musicians created better music than those of today. Let’s take off our rosy glasses, shall we?

Freddie Mercury was one of the most incredibly talented artists of the last century and Bohemian Rhapsody is a freaking masterpiece. It was arguably his seminal work. But, let’s not pretend for a second that Queen didn’t release some disposable catchy pop. The man who wrote “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” also wrote “I want to ride my bicycle. I want to ride my bike.” and “Fat bottomed girls you make the rockin’ world go round.”

Not even the holy cows of popular music managed to release nothing but deep meaningful tunes.

  • Paul McCartney wrote “Ob-la-di ob-la-da life goes on bra. La-la how the life goes on.”
  • Madonna had a few, but let’s go with Vogue as an example.
  • Beck’s Loser has been assigned all sorts of deep meaning. It’s mostly nonsense, and the man himself said that if he’d know it would catch on he would have put more work into it.
  • Bob “the-greatest-songwriter-of-the-century” Dylan wrote “Wiggle wiggle wiggle like a bowl of soup. Wiggle wiggle wiggle like a rolling hoop.”

I’m not saying that Ms. Knowles is making great art. I honestly don’t know, because I’m pretty damned unfamiliar with her work past what I hear on the radio in the supermarket or gets put on movie soundtracks. What I am saying is that we (old people) need to put crappy pop music in proper context. My parents panned what I listened to. I’m complaining about what’s popular now.

When I think back about music when I was a teen I remember the good stuff. What gets play on the classic rock station and the oldies station is not at all representative of what got played 20, 30, or 40 years ago. It’s the stuff that didn’t suck. While I was listening to Pearl Jam’s Dissident, Ace of Bass was topping the charts. And I’ll admit that I didn’t change the station when All That She Wants came on.

Let’s be honest, y’all. We listened to some crap. I’m gonna’ go hit play on some Milli Vanilli now.

White Pride is Not the Same Thing as Black Pride

I might need a drink.

Oy! I’m going to try to explain this. Really. Black is an ethnicity. Mexican is a nationality. Muslim is a religion. White is a race.

No. No, it isn’t. In the United States black isn’t just a race. And your meme is stupid.

Attention white people. I’m gonna’ address some things here, and I really hope I manage to be coherent. Because this shit’s important. I think it’s no less important a subject of discussion for anyone of any race, but I really want anyone who has ever said anything to the effect of “Why is it OK for someone to say they’ve got black/Muslim/Mexican/etc. pride, but it’s wrong for me to be proud of being white?” to pay extra close attention. Much of what I’ll be writing about will be simplified, and some readers may think it’s overly so. That’s fair. I’m also going to be using the term racist colloquially to denote prejudice against an individual based on their race.

If you’re someone who’d be classified as white in America, chances are your family immigrated here. While there were plenty of examples of people (mostly, but not exclusively, Catholic Irish and Scots) who were forcibly relocated to the Americas, it was a comparatively short-lived practice. These people weren’t really a good choice for use as forced labor in hot climates where cotton, tobacco, and sugar were being harvested. The heat killed them. So, European colonial powers went a little further afield and started buying people in Africa. Higher up-front cost, but a better long term investment.

Even if your European ancestors were forcibly moved, they maintained their culture. They remembered where they came from and could largely maintain their lineage. Think about it, theoretical white reader. When someone asks your background I’ll bet you answer that you’re German, Irish, Polish, Italian, or identify some other country on the other side of an ocean. Your family kept their traditions and history. They didn’t lose that identity. You’ll find organizations all over the country devoted to these cultures; the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Order Sons of Italy in America, the Polish American Congress. There are festivals for these cultures daily celebrating food, art, dress, and history.

I personally identify as Scottish. My ancestry is primarily Scots, with some Irish and, like everybody that comes from the British Isles or western shores of Europe, no small amount of Norse. I don’t really think of myself as white, unless I’m checking off a form for a government agency. There’s probably less in common between Scots and Ukrainians, historically, than there would be between a Roman Italian and a Turk. But, me and and that Ukrainian are both checking the same box on that form. White.

Black Americans, and pretty much anyone of African ancestry on this side of the Atlantic, don’t have that ethnic background. It was taken from them. Black isn’t just a box on a form for them. It’s their cultural identity, not just race. Their ancestors didn’t come here by choice. They were intentionally separated from family and clan to be grouped with people from disparate backgrounds, often without a language in common. These people created a new culture that was a mishmash of different African traditions and those of the people in power over them. Before they got here and were told they were black they weren’t a single people, and they had the same history of fighting, making alliances, and carrying prejudices toward each other that people of any European nation did against their neighbors. This should all go without saying. Yet, here I am saying it.

Here’s another one for the white folks. Black Americans, Caribbean Islanders, and South Americans are culturally distinct from one another. They’re even MORE different than Africans! You’ll hear black Americans say “he/she’s not black” when someone talks about Idris Elba or Lupita Nyong’o. They’re of African ancestry, so they may be of the black race, but one is English and the other is half-Kenyan. They aren’t part of the black culture in America. Individuals from different African nations are as different as those from different countries in Europe. And, even if they’re from a place with the same name on a map, they might not identify with their own countrymen. The closest equivalent I can think of might be Italy, where you’ll find some pretty deep enmity between Italians; say Sicilians and pretty much the rest of the country, for example. One day a coworker at a former job made a comment to a Kenyan woman in our department about her having warrior Zulu blood. You’d have thought someone called a Paddy a limey!

The only times that Europeans have grouped together and referred to themselves as white people has been when they were separating themselves from another group. Usually so they could kill or oppress those people. It’s’ never been a term of inclusion, but of division from people of other races. It’s not an ethnicity and carries no identity with it. Other than a fondness for mayonnaise and an inability to dance, I guess. Umm… we get sunburned easily?

When someone says they’re black it can refer to two different things. Race or culture (also both). And what that culture actually is can be a hot topic. One that I’m not even going to weigh in on, because I’m not quite that masochistic. A 30-something white guy talking about what it means to be black? I somehow feel less qualified to do that than all the other things that I will expound upon despite my ignorance. That’s saying something.

The next time you hear about a black pride event, don’t immediately think “why is a white pride event racist?”. Think about the “Proud to be Irish” pin you wore on St. Patrick’s day or the “Full Blooded Italian” t-shirt your buddy wore last weekend. There’s your analog.

Now I’m gonna’ address all you theoretical black readers for a minute. First, let me say that I appreciate you not hating me. Now, I want to make sure you get something I touched on above. Most of your white friends don’t think of themselves as white, first and foremost. They generally think of themselves as whatever their national ancestry is primarily. Unfortunately, US history is fucked up (thanks white people!) and whenever anyone says “it’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand” they first think of it in relation to a “white thing” as opposed to an “Italian thing”. Not all white folks are alike. This is related to why you always find it so hard to insult us! Generic insults for white people don’t really bug anybody. Get specific! Mick, wop, sheepfucker, kraut, polak! These are the terms you want to go for. Honky is just silly.

When your cracker friends tell you that Black History month is racist, don’t tell them every other month is white history month. That sort of frustrated reaction might be understandable, but doesn’t really help. Compare it to a festival for a nationality. St. Patrick’s Day, or Bastille Day, or Cinco de Mayo. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. If they look doubtful, or continue to give you shit about it being an entire month, tell them it’s because there are 28 countries on the continent of Africa, and considering the loss of national identity of Americans of African ancestry the decision was made to use the entire month of February. One country for each day of the month. This is bullshit, of course. Africa is made up of about 55 nations. But, don’t worry. White people won’t know that.

Crazy eyes are crazy.

Global Warming? I Dunno’

Crazy eyes are crazy.

Wait! Let me finish!

Here’s an unpopular opinion. Please hold on to your torches and pitchforks until the end. I’m not convinced that global warming is a result of human action on the environment. Or that it’s necessarily even a Thing. I’ve seen a considerable amount of data that indicates our planet’s average temperatures are rising, but not enough to convince me it will be a permanent increase. I personally believe that we don’t have nearly enough information over a long enough period to say for sure. I find it to be entirely possible that our inherent humancentric view of the universe is leading us to blame ourselves for what may very well be completely natural.

Now, here’s the thing. I don’t think it matters. If there’s a possibility that our actions are causing our entire planet to heat up, why wouldn’t we take action? Especially if those actions make sense for our long-term welfare.

The most widely recognized cause of global warming is energy production through the burning of fossil fuels. Predictive models have indicated that our atmosphere will absorb the byproducts of all that burnt fuel and, effectively, cook the planet. Personally, I believe that there are far more variables than we could possibly account for and any predictions generated are incomplete. The closest we have to a solution is to find alternative energy sources.

Whether carbon emissions will have an enduring effect on global climate or not, we should be searching for new ways to generate power. The burning of oil, coal, and natural gasses is dirty. So is their collection, literally poisoning the ground and water where they are mined or tapped. Were we able to come up with a way to extract them from the ground in a 100% safe way there would still be the problem of the limited supplies. These things occur in nature, and we can’t create more for use in power generation. Creating synthetic versions requires energy, which needs to come from somewhere.

When I was a kid, nuclear fission was going to power the World of Tomorrow, at least until we figured out how to sustain a fusion reaction. But, thanks to a few disasters (who could have predicted that building a nuclear power facility in one of the most seismically active areas of the world could end poorly?) public sentiment has turned pretty strongly against the nuclear option.

The other option we heard a lot about was hydro-electric power generation. The problems with this have a lot to do with viability being based on local conditions; you need consistent running water to make it work. Large projects were commissioned and more than a few dams were built, causing new and exciting unforeseen ecological disasters. They’re also extremely expensive both to build and maintain. Anything that’s constantly exposed to water tends to be difficult to construct and rarely lasts very long.

Nowadays we’re hearing almost exclusively about solar and wind as the power sources of the future. Both generate “clean” energy. I use quotes, because the manufacture of the systems, and necessary power storage units, are anything but clean. Batteries wear out. What will our landfills look like in 50 years with half a century’s worth of spent batteries that powered our homes and vehicles buried in the ground? I struggle to think that they’ll be anything but toxic deadlands.

All this negative stuff I’m writing about shouldn’t lead you to believe I support continuing down the path we’re on. Far from it. I just get concerned when I hear people talk about these things like they’re solutions. They’re really not. They’re new stopgaps that will gain us more time to find truly sustainable methods of harvesting power.

Why bring up my doubts about global warming? Because, though I personally feel that current scientific leanings toward carbon emissions being a factor in climate change are correct, it doesn’t matter whether it’s the case. While I remain unconvinced, the greatest reason to move to something other than fossil fuels is the simplest. We’ll eventually run out. If you look at your refrigerator and see you’re running out of food, you don’t wait until it’s empty before going to the supermarket. At least you don’t if you’re a capable adult.

Our economic reliance on fuel, oil in particular, is not to be discounted. An overnight shift to an alternative energy source would shatter the world’s economy into a billion tiny pieces. Make no mistake. That’s not an argument against moving, it’s an argument to plan for that move. It’s an argument to wean ourselves off the teat.

It’s time to change what we’re doing. It’s time to pick up the pace. It’s time to stop arguing about the effects of our current energy usage on the environment and face up to the fact that even if burning oil cured leukemia and smelled like flowers WE DON’T HAVE AN INFINITE SUPPLY. It makes no difference if there’s a 10 year supply, 100 year supply, or 1000 year supply. It’s finite. We are going to run out. Reducing dependence will help, but it’s untenable. Particularly since we use oil for more than just fuel.

Petroleum distillates are used in a variety of applications as solvents and lubricants. In the United States, natural gas is used in the production of plastics instead of oil. The device I’m writing this on and the one you’re reading this on are both made largely of components that contain oil or natural gas. The wires carrying the data from my device to yours were coated in it. Hell, if you’re not concerned about pollution, or think we should wait to find an alternative way to power our world until after we’ve actually run out of our current fuel choices, just think about all the stuff you’ll be missing out on!

“But, gas prices are going down!” you cry, oh hypothetical reader. That has very little to do with how much oil is available in the ground. Actually, it has next to nothing to do with it. Oil prices have to do with how much is available right now along with current production levels, versus how much is being consumed. It doesn’t account for tapped out wells, because it can’t. We don’t know a well’s capacity until it stops producing, and by then it’s a little late. The professionals just make educated guesses, and the good guessers are paid very handsomely. (Yes, I know that’s an oversimplification, but I’ve gone 1000 words without being overly hyperbolic. Cut me some slack.) For all we know, every single oil well on the planet could run dry within 5 years. That’s remarkably unlikely (like, holy crap is that unlikely) but possible.

Can we please stop arguing about whether burning oil is effecting the environment? Please? We all admit that it’ll eventually run out. We all know it’s messy and destructive when we pull it out of the ground. No one wants to live next to a power plant and none of us like the smog produced by automobiles. So, let’s just table the human-caused climate change debate. Because it doesn’t matter. We’ve got enough reasons to move on.

The Thin White Peasant

That’s something I’ve thought of myself, when people have compared my appearance to that of David Bowie.

Over the past few days there’s been an absolutely huge amount of conversation about Mr. Bowie. I won’t engage in some sort of revisionist history saying that I was his biggest fan. I grew up with his hits playing on the radio, but didn’t really appreciate his deeper catalog until I was in my twenties. Even then, I wasn’t much more than a casual fan of his music. I was, however, a fan of the man himself.

People have been sharing his music and talking about what he meant to them. About how much his music meant, his incredible sense of style, and how much he changed the industries he touched. I’m going to say something a lot of people probably won’t appreciate. Unless you knew him personally, David Bowie had a greater effect on my life than he did yours.

Put down the pitchforks, torches, and rotten fruit. Please. I know people whose music was inspired by his. That’s amazing. I know people who identify as various flavors of queer who have said Bowie’s lack of concern for public opinion gave them the courage to come out of the closet. That’s touching and wonderful. I know people who can tell me there’s an album or song that gave them hope in a dark time, or that they associate with happy moments. That’s remarkable.

What could he have done to possibly compare to any of those things?

David Bowie got me laid.

I was a weird, skinny, androgynous, geeky blonde kid with bad teeth (who grew up to be a weird, skinny, androgynous, geeky blonde man with bad teeth). The Thin White Duke wasn’t just accepted for his talent like a lot of other artists. He was not Lyle Lovett who caught Julia Roberts for a minute or Billy Joel getting Christie Brinkley with poetry. Nor was he simply an object of desire for those who idolized fame. This man was a Sex God. A man who could, and by all reports pretty much did, fuck anyone he wanted to. He was an object of desire to men, women, and everything in between.

He married Iman, for God’s sake. Iman!

In a world where Brad Pitt was considered the sexiest man alive and the weird girls were fantasizing about Johnny Depp, Bowie was a shining star to a scrawny dork like me. Every time someone told me I looked like Bowie, and I suppose there’s a resemblance, I was shocked. Here was a sex symbol that looked like me. That absolutely blew me away.

And thanks to growing up in a time when an awful lot of the girls my age listed the Goblin King among their first crushes I had a real shot with them!

Thank you, David, for making a slight frame and prominent cheekbones traits that could actually be sexy. And thank you for your incredible variation in styles over the years. I put on eyeliner before the emo kids inspired the term guyliner, and I certainly wasn’t going for a Robert Smith look. Tight shirts and combat boots or a suit with brogues or something that went more than a bit further to the effeminate than the androgynous, any of them were fair game because you got there first.

Thank you for showing me that I could be a weirdo and be wanted. That I could check out that guy’s ass without being a twinky queen. I could ask that girl to dance. I could ask that guy to dance. I could ask both of them to dance and it didn’t matter if they were black, white, Asian, or other. I could tell people what I thought — challenge their ideas — without being combative about it. I could laugh at myself. I could simultaneously be the guy that banged Slash’s mom and starred in a beloved children’s movie. I could try new things and didn’t have to define myself by what I did yesterday. I could be someone new tomorrow. I didn’t have to define myself at all! And I could challenge anyone who tried.  You were David Jones, Tom Jones, David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, the Thin White Duke, the Man Who Fell to Earth, the glam rocker, the goblin king… You were all of those people, but not any single one of them. Someone who made a lot of mistakes who did some good things and some bad — a human being.

Thank you. You proved to me that a lanky blonde weirdo could have sex with Iman. You were a goddamned hero.  If not for that alone, then for influencing my wife’s tastes enough to give me a shot with her.


The internet’s ability to connect people has further polarized our culture instead of knitting it together. People with different opinions become opponents to our views instead of opportunities to understand someone’s views. Anonymity eats empathy and leaves behind nothing but contempt.
Though I don’t blame those who do so, I don’t block the people in my social feeds who hold to views I disagree with, or even find offensive. If anything, I probably pay more attention. Not because I agree with them, or want to in any way, but because I want to understand. As tempting as it may be at times to call somebody who believes in abstinence education a fucking idiot, to verbally eviscerate someone who thinks that Muslims are all terrorists, or to just tear into the toolbag who thinks that people shouldn’t be allowed to use language that they find offensive, I try to understand where they’re coming from. I think about how I’d react if they were standing in front of me, instead of in front of a different screen connected by some wires and servers.
I’ve learned a lot. The abstinence-only proselytizer likely grew up in an environment where that was the only option and told that those with a differing viewpoint were evil, whether they knew it or not. The Anti-Muslim crusader most likely comes from a place where they don’t interact with any, or at least have never had a meaningful conversation with one, and have only seen them when they make the news. The language police have most often been the victims of some hateful shit and are trying to keep others from being hurt as they have been.
Are they right? I don’t think so. But, neither of us will grow if we don’t interact civilly, and it’s impossible to do that if we’re not willing to consider WHY someone holds their views and accept that they may be valid reactions BASED UPON THEIR PERSONAL EXPERIENCES. We’ll just keep yelling into our own echo chambers and hear variations of our own voices come back at us forever.
Daryl Davis is a personal hero. He’s a black man who owns a closetful of Ku Klux Klan robes that he’s been handed by former members. He was given them by men he sat down and talked to, who he listened to, and who he gave the opportunity to talk with him. Mister Davis isn’t Ghandi, but he didn’t react the way we’re all trained to, and I don’t think he could’ve done it communicating on the internet. He had to be able to look those men in the eye to remove that sense of Other so they could see him as a human being. What he’s repeatedly said was that the men he’d talked to had never sat down and actually spoken with a black man before.
You don’t have to agree with someone’s opposing viewpoint, or even respect it, but disrespecting the individual who holds it and cutting yourself off from them will only hurt you both. The racist becomes more racist when they’re greeted with hurled insults and bottles. When an atheist attacks a Christian’s faith instead of discussing it, you’re just reinforcing their view that you’re hateful. When a white man says #blacklivesmatter is racist, he’s not being petty, he’s being thoughtless. When a black woman says that #alllivesmatter is stupid, she’s being defensive, not dismissive.
Our viewpoints are informed by our experiences and how we relate to what we see and are told. For example, when Eric Garner’s death made the news nearly everyone I knew cried out that he was attacked as he was because of his race. The first time I saw it, I thought it was because of his size. Black Americans have experienced people looking at them askance and seen mistreatment of people like them. When I was a kid I was told that I’d always have to be careful around cops because I’d make them nervous. Though I’ve turned out to be a damned skinny dude, I’ve found it to be true that cops and bouncers watch me and if there’s trouble I’m the first one grabbed, whether I’m involved or not. But, I didn’t tell anyone who said Garner’s treatment was racially motivated that they were a fucking idiot because my personal experience said it wasn’t (though I was nearly crucified for suggesting it might not be). I listened and read and made attempts to understand the reasoning behind people’s beliefs.
Don’t engage in the craziness, but don’t cut yourself off from what you think are crazy beliefs. There are truly crazy and stupid people out there, but if you listen to most folks you’ll find they aren’t. John Doe who’s voting for Donald is an individual who has reasons he thinks are valid. He’s not a mindless construction of the Far Right, no matter how much you may feel he is. If you can keep yourself from belittling or insulting him for long enough you might figure out how he reached his conclusions. And if you can do that, you might — just might — be able to change his mind.
Who would be down for funding a cultural exchange program? We create groups of 2-4 individuals from disparate backgrounds; rich, poor, right, left, black, white, yellow, red, green-if-we-can-find-some, southern, yankee, midwestern, left coast, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Shinto, atheist… All of ’em. We then force them to sit down for 2 hours and drink coffee. We hook up electrical probes to them, and anyone who raises their voice to a yell gets shocked. If any one of those people goes home to their insular group and teaches them something, I think it’d be worth a pretty hefty sum.