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We All Need A Vacation

Look at this! No story this week! We’ll start a new fantasy novel on July 5, but today, we get to do something different and since there are actually links in this article, we should remind you that bold italic words and phrases are links to whatever we’re referencing. Don’t be afraid to click on them. Thank you for reading!


I need a break. So do you. We’re half-way through this year and I don’t think I know anyone who isn’t feeling, at the very least, significant amounts of mental and emotional fatigue. Since the first of the year, we’ve had to deal with the following:

  1. Impeachment of the US President
  2. Political upheaval in Russia
  3. Locust invasion in Eastern Africa
  4. Coronavirus (renamed COVID-19) spreads around the world
  5. Philippine volcano eruptions
  6. Australia wildfires
  7. 6.8 magnitude earthquake in Turkey (41 dead)
  8. Avalanche in Kashmir (100+ dead)
  9. Flooding in Indonesia (100+ dead)
  10. Kobe Bryant
  11. UK Brexit finalized
  12. Quarantine, unemployment, business failures
  13. Puerto Rico Earthquakes (2,455 since Dec. 22)
  14. Midland, Michigan, Dam Breach
  15. Nashville and other spring tornadoes (74 deaths so far)
  16. Continuing Humanitarian and Refugee Crisis in Venezuela
  17. Continuing Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen
  18. Continuing Humanitarian Crisis at US Southern Border
  19. Cyclone Amphan
  20. Continuing Rohingya Refugee Crisis
  21. New Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo
  22. Black Lives Matter protests
  23. Voter Suppression in US primary elections
  24. Threat of 23 million Americans losing health insurance
  25. US Army soldier conspiring against his own unit

All that has happened and there are plenty of signs that there is still more to come. While we’ve all been consumed with watching COVID-19 numbers going up, down, and back up again, Syrian civil war grows stronger and more violent. The US-China trade war has taken another nasty turn and looks to get worse. All of Latin America looks set for massive political upheaval that could result in a higher number of refugees fleeing those countries.

If you missed several of those news stories, you’re forgiven. The tidal wave of information on a daily basis has been more severe than I can remember and in the middle of that, Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper publisher, has been furloughing and outright firing huge portions of their newsrooms, all but eliminating any form of investigative journalism. We have no idea what’s being swept under the rug because journalists who would normally catch such things have been sidelined.

We have every right to be outraged. We need to be outraged. But outrage requires massive amounts of energy and collectively we’ve expended so much energy over the past three-and-a-half years that it feels as though we haven’t any left. One would be foolish to believe that nothing new is going to happen for the rest of the year. Hurricane season is just starting and we’ve already seen a higher-than-usual number of tropical depressions develop. The Saharan Winds, which happens annually, typically affecting a few places along the Gulf of Mexico, has fully engulfed the Caribbean and seems positioned to spread over much of the Eastern US by this weekend, making it the worst dust storm in decades. So, what happens when something unthinkable happens in August or September? Where will we find the energy to voice our anger, sadness, and despair in October and November?

I can’t, and won’t speak for you, but I need a break and I’m guessing most people are in the same boat. Not just a weekend away or a quiet night in a hotel, which I’ve been taking on occasion, but a full-on, turn-the-phone-off, no-WiFi-service-here, there-is-no-media vacation. Think of it as a long, hot shower for the soul, a chance to cleanse the mind of all the diseased information we’ve been consuming the past six months. I have reached a point where I can’t even scroll through Facebook any longer than a couple of minutes. Instead, I retreat in the evenings to highly-filtered mindless feeds that contain inspiring photography, cute babies and other animals, and short but smile-inducing videos. That’s all my brain can handle after the perpetual alerts coming in about someone who died, a major corporation closing, latest COVID-19 numbers, and another racist symbol coming down.

The problem I’m facing, however, is that there’s nowhere safe to go. I woke up Thursday morning to the news that the US set a new national record for the highest number of new COVID-19 cases in a day. Over 36,000 new cases were recorded, breaking a record set on April 25. And while a lower percentage of those are likely to die than was possible back in April, the fact remains that there are still no peer-reviewed studies determining the long-term consequences of just having the virus. Among the biggest suspects observed so far are brain damage, long-term cardiac damage,  and mental health issues such as PTSD. While it will take scientists years to accurately track and sort out the data, the one thing of which we can be sure is that one doesn’t have to die from the virus to have their entire life irreparably altered by it, and to date, no one is tracking those numbers at all. 

I checked one of the online services to see what it would cost me to sneak away to a beach I’ve always enjoyed. While it’s not completely isolated by any means, the beach would be a change of scenery that would allow me to, hopefully, clear my head a bit, listen to the sound of the waves as they break, and maybe enjoy a rum-flavored drink or two. Immediately, right at the top of the search results, was a warning: “Your destination has enacted travel advisories and other regulations around COVID-19.” Lovely. I checked and, sure enough, the beach is closed, as are most of the restaurants and all of the clubs in the region. Then, to make matters worse, the day after checking that information, a news headline pops up showing a severe increase in COVID-19 cases in that area.

Check someplace else, right? We’re a country literally surrounded by beaches. But no matter where you check, Pacific, Gulf, Atlantic, they’re all experiencing surges in virus cases, and even if businesses are currently open, there’s no guarantee the whole thing might not shut down tomorrow. None of the places that stand to serve me well are safe. 

That’s not to say there aren’t pockets here and there that are relatively germ- and incident-free. Amarillo, TX looks fairly safe, if one likes high crime rates, high temperatures, and cars half-buried in the desert. Even though they currently show one of the lowest rates of virus infection in the country, though, much of what passes as entertainment in the outlaw city is either closed or severely limited in operation.

Most of the state of Montana has gone disease-free to this point as well. That might be due to the fact that prairie grass doesn’t spread the virus. If one wants that stranded-in-the-middle-of-nowhere experience, Montana might be a reasonable place to escape. Don’t everyone go at once, though, and stay away from camping at state parks—the CDC has issued a warning about that, too.

There are still a few beaches that show little sign of being affected by the virus. Coos Bay, Oregon reports zero new cases in the past two weeks, making it a rarity. While I’m not big into salmon fishing or rocky beaches (I really prefer sand), the local waterfalls and other sites could be sufficient compensation to provide the break I need. Getting there, however, still requires going through a major city’s airport, which could be enough to negate the whole deal. Oh, and there’s the fact that wildfire season started in that region this past week. I’m not feeling comfortable taking the risk this year.

Look around hard enough, and there are, perhaps, a handful of places in the country one might consider reasonably safe, but every last one of them has drawbacks that make me hesitant. I won’t go someplace too conservative because I don’t need that kind of hate in my life. There’s no point in going someplace that’s still largely in lockdown mode and, let’s be honest, most of the country should be in at least partial lockdown. There’s also little benefit, for me, of going to a town that’s so small the only other out-of-town guest is an air pump salesman from Hoboken. If I’m turning off all media, which I want to do, I need something to intersperse with the stack of books I’m reading. 

The sad truth is that there is no good and safe place for a vacation this year. COVID-19 has ruined that. Were I younger and at less risk, like Kat, then I might go ahead and venture out somewhere with appropriate levels of caution. I’m not. I have to watch where I go, what risks I take, and wear a mask anywhere I’m likely to come into contact with people. Millions of other people are in the exact same situation.

So, I’ll sit here, and you’ll sit there, quietly going crazy, hoping that we don’t cause our families any lasting trauma as we descend into the depths of mental fatigue and decay. At least I know I’m not alone. 

Oh, there aren’t enough mental facilities to hold us all when we collectively slip right on over the edge. That’s a cheery thought, isn’t it? Maybe, if enough of us go insane at the same time, no one will notice.

Who Are We?

Who do we want to be?

I’m not sure who we are anymore. 

I’m sitting here on a Thursday morning in late April watching the rain, which isn’t all that unusual for late April, and as I’m going through my morning reading, which has become more extensive in the past month, I’m noticing a disturbing trend: We’re no longer pretending to be nice.

Put a strong emphasis on the word pretending in that last sentence. I’m not naive enough to believe that we, as a society, have ever actually been nice. While the subjective term has always been applied on a bit of a sliding scale depending upon the person to who it was actually applied, most people have long known that much of the niceness we see in a public setting is fake. We were taught a certain set of manners, a distinct level of public decorum to which we all, or at least most of us, adhered. How we behaved privately, however, has always been in opposition to that public face, and knowing whose word could or could not be trusted was valuable capital in navigating the social landscape.

As most of us have been forced to stay at home for well over a month now, or otherwise socially distanced from the level of population that we might normally encounter, cracks in our social veneer have become major fault lines and many people are no longer making the slightest effort to be nice either in their tone nor in their behavior. To some degree, the public face that has been worn by so many for so long is falling completely off and we’re seeing people for who they truly are. 

Perhaps we should have seen this coming. One might argue that it was predictable. We have known for quite some time that herd mentality is neither stable nor predictable and we always expect it to be centered toward some vision of self-preservation; such is the nature of the beast. Beginning in 2007, and expanding more across the field after 2013, economic models have stopped assuming that people act inherently logical, putting the growth of their own economic interests ahead of everything else. That we don’t necessarily value profit above all else played a large part in the 2008 recession and is going to be a significant factor in determining when/if the economy gets back on its feet now. 

When our herd response to the chance of a lockdown coming was to hoard toilet paper above all else, we sent a strong message as to where our values lie in that, for the most part, we have none. This is self-preservation in hyperdrive. Old people can’t get what they need? Screw them. People with critical illnesses can’t get the medications they need to live? Screw them, too. We turned the grocery store into a battleground. If the fights in the aisles weren’t enough, now people are creating bots to snatch items out of store inventories and taking up delivery spots so that, once again, those most vulnerable can’t get what they need. The number of online hacks has increased substantially, putting more people’s private data in danger, and the trolls who have always inherited the seedier places of the Internet have grown to the point of being a public nuisance.

What is ultimately most damaging, though, is that our elected leaders, those who we depend upon for guidance and leadership through difficult times, have ripped off their masks as well and we’re seeing that this land of the free and home of the brave is more like The Bad Place, a facade based on evil with the intent of inflicting as much pain and torture as possible. We see this in the actions of the Mayor of Las Vegas, eagerly desiring to re-open the town’s casinos, not caring how, or if, they choose to enforce any precautions against the spread of disease. We see it in the words of the Texas Lieutenant Governor who callously says, “There are more important things than living.” We see it in the decisions Governors who are ignoring data and science and re-opening commercial activity in their states long before adequate testing makes those actions safe. We see it in the Senate pro Tempore saying that he’d rather see states go bankrupt than pass another stimulus package. 

Most critically, we see the evil in the actions of a president who made it his practice to ignore the earliest warnings of the virus possibly as far back as November of 2019, continually downplaying its severity and questioning the recommendations of medical and scientific professionals, and considered only 30,000 deaths a winning situation. His callous disregard for the volume of human life his actions effect, the demeaning manner in which he speaks to reporters attempting to clarify the situation, and the self-centered insistence on turning every press conference into a campaign rally, proves he cares nothing for anyone but himself and those who are giving him money.

That there remains anyone who still supports this president and those who are committing similar acts of evil proves that we have lost our soul, our national identity, and our social morality. There is no valid claim to greatness in a people who stand on statehouse steps holding automatic weapons in defense of their “right” to move about freely with full knowledge, whether admitted or not, that such actions could impact the health and welfare of hundreds (exponentially) of innocent people. There is no valid claim to righteousness in religious leaders who choose to test God’s sovereignty in order to preserve their pocketbook while potentially infecting thousands. There is no valid claim to morality when pastors and debt holders and even some employers demand people to turn over their entire stimulus checks to them.

I’m not ignoring the fact that there are plenty of people who are doing good within their communities. People who are sewing masks, giving free rooms and meals to medical staff, delivering meals and wifi to children home from school, and many others are demonstrating that there remains some hope that we, collectively, have not lost all humanity. 

What bothers me is that there are apparently not enough of those people to overwhelm the evil and drive it into oblivion. If we were a humane society, our shouts and objections would have forced a change in the president’s behavior from the very beginning. If we were all so intent on doing good and caring for those in need, there would be no one facing eviction or worrying about being able to pay for the medication. If we truly cared about the safety and welfare of our friends and neighbors, we wouldn’t need a forced shut down of businesses, we would all simply stay home until the medical and scientific data determined it was safe to do otherwise. That NONE of those conditions exists tells me we are not who we claim to be.

We sit here at a crossroads where we have to make some difficult choices, putting what’s humane and safe and appropriate above our desires, our wants, and our selfish proclivities. There’s nothing “reasonable” about wanting to re-open business that cannot safely enforce social distancing. We are not “protecting jobs” when the first businesses we want open are those that pay the least and employ the most vulnerable. We are not “doing what’s best for America” when our actions overwhelmingly endanger people of color and those who exist below the poverty line.

We are not who we thought we were or who we claimed to be. The masks are off, the charade is over. America, we see you for the evil you are. 

Now, you get to choose. Who are you going to be?

cats on a couch
Social distancing is not something cats understand. Humans don’t have the same excuse

What If We Don't

I hesitate to publish something that interrupts the flow of our ongoing serialized novel, but this has been a pervasive thought for some time now and I don’t think Facebook or any other social media is the best place for it. Please allow me this one indulgence as I momentarily direct our attention to more urgent matters.


Anxiety has risen around when we’re going to break free of the COVID-19-related shutdowns and “get back to normal.” While the US president is pushing for an unrealistic May 1 date for business to reopen, other experts are projecting much longer time periods. One bioethicist predicts it could be autumn of 2021 before large crowd gatherings such as concerts and sporting events can be resumed. The underlying question on everyone’s mind is, “When are we going to get back to normal?”

But what if we don’t?

What happens if “normal” as we knew it on January 1 of this year never returns? What could that look like? Could we create a better society for everyone if we don’t allow normal to come back? I don’t think anyone would say that our world we perfect before the pandemic struck. There’s absolutely nothing in the world that says we have to go back to the way things were. This is our opportunity to build something new, something better.

What if we don’t return to a society where people are segregated socially, financially, opportunistically, educationally, perceptively by race, religion, gender, sexuality, or any other arbitrary denominator base on traditions of hate, jealousy, and outright stupidity? 

What if we don’t return to an education system that is demonstratively better for those in some neighborhoods, cities, and towns than it is others, leaving many undereducated and lacking the skills they need to survive and/or hopelessly in debt for the majority of their adult lives?

What if we don’t return to a financial system that preys on the poorest of the poor, denying credit to those who need it most, charging fees to those who can least afford them, and rewarding those who hoard the most wealth with opportunities and resources the majority can never achieve?

What if we don’t return to a workforce that undervalues people we now see as critical to everyone’s survival: grocery store workers, food service employees, delivery drivers, postal service workers, first responders, pharmacy technicians and assistants, warehouse workers, and others?

What if we don’t return to a healthcare system that can deny care to anyone because they don’t meet a list of arbitrary and unnecessary qualifications such as insurance, or pre-existing conditions, or ability to pay, or where they live, or their chances of surviving, or their age, or the gender by which they identify?

What if we don’t return to a political system that denies anyone over 18 the right to vote because they don’t live in the right place, don’t have the right ID in their wallet, can’t physically get to the poll, were once in jail, didn’t meet a deadline for registering, or haven’t jumped through all the restrictive hoops?

What if we don’t return to churches, synagogues, and mosques that teach divisiveness, elitism, racial separation, retaliation, warmongering, theocracy, bigotry, sexism, xenophobia, disregard for science and medicine, authoritarianism, and complete disregard for the entire LGBTQ+ spectrum of people?

What if we don’t return to a disregard for climate and other evidence-based sciences, underfunded medical research, the obliteration of our natural resources, complete destruction of entire ecosystems, willful ignorance of climate change, underfunded science education, and pay-for-play publication systems?

What if we don’t return to an entertainment industry that makes its fortunes by exploiting the worst qualities of humanity, finding humor in our ignorance, celebrating irrational stereotypes, greed, corruption, nepotism, class warfare, racial disparity, injustice, and blatant misrepresentation of history and people groups?

What if we don’t return to a music industry that steals songs from songwriters, exploits performers, promotes live-or-die competitions, makes live music inaccessible for the masses, creates profit for labels over musicians, minimizes the role of women, and replaces talent with gimmicks?

What if we don’t return to an art industry that relies too heavily upon a system of corrupt curators and collectors hoarding art and controlling access to galleries and museums, diminishes the role of indigenous arts and gives unwarranted preference to eurocentric elitists, denigrates illustration and graphic design to lesser class status, and blocks access to financial stability for artists?

What if we don’t return to a world where more than 700 million people are food insecure, where 78% of workers live paycheck-to-paycheck—struggling to provide basic necessities, where as much as half of the world’s population does not make a living wage despite endless hours of work, and where workers’ rights are continually diminished?

What if we don’t return to a world where taxes are imposed on those with the least to give while billionaires escape with no taxes at all, where the efficacy of representation depends on the size of one’s political donation, and the voice of corporations dominates over the voice of individuals?

What if we don’t return to a world where any form of sex is illicit, where nudity is prohibited, where personal forms of pleasure are shamed, where professional sex workers have no legal protection, where protection against sexually-transmitted infections is arbitrary and optional, and where individual choice is superseded by antiquated laws based on unjust morality?

What if we simply refuse to return to the dysfunction that previously defined normal? What if we refuse to participate in something that is broken, inept, and unsustainable? What if we say no? What if we consider the possibilities of our own actions, collectively and individually, to change the world and create a new normal?

What if we take this opportunity to disrupt the political systems of the world, to demand more open and honest elections for everyone, to destroy the very concept of party restrictions and the misrepresentation inherent to their existence, to recognize the interdependence and cooperative necessity of every individual on this planet?

This is our opportunity to take control. We don’t have to accept the ineptness of our politicians. We can say no. We can demand resignations where resignations need to happen. We can refuse to support an economy built on corporate greed. We can demand more. 

We can create a new normal—something better, something lasting, something sustainable. All the cards are on the table. What do you choose to do?

The Old Man in the rain

Where we pass the hat

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spirit of the holidays

Note: The photos heading each section were taken during the year being reviewed. That doesn’t impact the content in any manner but we thought you’d want to know.

Four inches of snow lie on the ground outside as I begin writing this week. More snow is coming. Assuming this publishes on Sunday, December 22, Hanukkah starts tonight and after that, it’s one seemingly endless stream of holidays right through January 1. This is, in theory, the most festive time of year, a celebration not only on religious terms but also of the ending of the year and the decade. There are lights blinking everywhere, including the racetrack, but you have to pay an ungodly amount to see them. Same for the art museum. Same for the zoo. No one wants to drive from neighborhood to neighborhood to look at lights anymore because you might accidentally stumble into gunfire. 

Holidays are here and with them, we’re supposed to feel happier spirits, a sense of thankfulness for having survived and a delight in being able to give to others. Yet, too often that’s not what happens. Charles Dickens, a person with an abidingly deep love for one holiday, in particular, wrote:

Christmas time! That man must be a misanthrope indeed, in whose breast something like a jovial feeling is not roused – in whose mind some pleasant associations are not awakened – by the recurrence of Christmas.

If Dickens is correct, then we have perhaps become a population filled with misanthropes. The end of our years now are filled more with dread than decadence, worry more than wassailing, regret rather than rejoicing. Many approach the holidays in sorrow, moaning the loss of one unjustly taken from them this year. Each calendar exchange seems to take us another step further away from the giddiness and anticipation that came not only with opening presents but also with seeing our favorite relatives, enjoying the company of cousins we hadn’t seen all year, and setting aside the stresses that had kept our brows furrowed the rest of the year.

Some might suggest that as thoroughly modern individuals we are simply more in tune and aware of reality than were our predecessors. We are too keenly aware of earth’s problems, from foreign wars that have no purpose to climate change that threatens our existence to the burden of insurmountable debt before one even claims their first job. Being “woke” comes with a price that leaves our spirits and our wallets too broke and broken for celebration.

I feel oddly obligated to at least attempt to correct this malaise that is set upon us. Surely, somewhere in the ethos of time and space there still exists some overriding reason to spend the remainder of this decade a little less curmudgeonly, a little more spritely, and perhaps, dare I use the word, happy. Taking a cue from Dickens’, I’ve summoned the Ghost of What-The-Hell-Happened in a search for meaning that might lighten our spirits just a bit. I’m not necessarily looking for a Frank Capra ending, but at least, perhaps, a grin.

It Started In 2010

 Spirit of 2010
2010

The decade started with the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Having the games so close without having to actually suffer the insurmountable costs ourselves made the games so much more fun for Americans, and the Canadians, being everything that they are, did a wonderful job playing host. American skier Bode Miller finally won gold, and the US took gold in the snowboarding halfpipe as well thanks to Shaun White. The Olympics were a good start to what seemed as though it might be an outstanding decade.

We were listening to everything from Eminem’s Recovery to Lady Antebellum’s Need You Now, Drake’s Thank Me Later and Lady Gaga’s Fame. We watch a lot of sequels, from Toy Story 3 to Shrek Forever After and started the long and emotional process of ending the Harry Potter series. 

New Orleans made permanent enemies of the Colts when they beat them 31-17 in the Super Bowl, something many will never forgive. When it came time for baseball, the San Fransisco Giants made short work of the Texas Rangers, taking the World Series in only four games. The Lakers dominated the NBA and the Blackhawks took home the Stanley cup.

This was also the year that President Obama was able to sign the Affordable Care Act into law, giving millions of previously uninsured people a shot at healthcare coverage. While politicians have been arguing over it ever since the bottom line is that a lot of people have benefited and would be severely hurt if it is ever taken away.

All in all, it wasn’t that bad a year if you don’t look at the bad stuff. Most of the bad stuff happened on other continents making it easier for Americans to ignore. Sure, we had that one guy that crashed his plane into an IRS office in Austin and a brief bomb scare in Times Square, but we also ended the military’s Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell policy and put limits on the use of nuclear weapons. So, overall, as years, go, this wasn’t an especially bad one, which makes it good. Right?

Terrorism Takes A Bullet

Spirit of 2010
2011

Without question, the biggest news of 2011 was the killing of terrorist-in-chief Osama Bin Laden. The photo of President Obama in the war room as the event unfolded gave many people confidence that we had a competent Commander in Chief who was making good on the quest to hold responsible the person who masterminded the 9/11 attacks nearly ten years earlier. There was a lot of celebration in the US… and a lot of other people went and hid under their covers.

Oh, and Britain’s Prince William married Kate Middleton, which the biggest wedding since William’s own parents’ event. There was all manner of discussions about succession and tradition but at the end of the day, it was the bride’s sister’s butt that got a lot of attention and sold a lot of dresses.

I should probably mention the hope and joy and came with the Arab Spring movement, but given that ten years later we’re seeing how that didn’t turn out so well, maybe we’ll just skip that part.

More to our liking, the White House defined the Defense of Marriage act barring same-gender marriages as unconstitutional, saying that the Attorney General’s office would no longer defend it. On cue, the state of New York says “thank you, very much” and passes a law allowing same-gender marriages, setting off a tidal wave that would dominate conversations on holidays for the next four years.

We were still watching sequels in the movie theater, still listening to Adele, Gaga, Drake, and Lady Antebellum, and a whole bunch of people picked up The Help by Kathryn Stockett which set off a reading frenzy that lasted a couple of years. Not a bad thing at all.

Rangers made it back to the world series and this time it took all seven games before the Cardinals disappointed the Texas team again. Packers took the Super Bowl, Mavericks won their first NBA championship, and the Bruins took the Stanley Cup in a brutal beating of the Canucks. 

The downside to this year came in the loss of some wonderful people, such as Amy Winehouse, Steve Jobs, and Christopher Hitchens. We wouldn’t have minded had they stayed around a while longer. Still, overall, the year was positive enough to leave most of us feeling good about ourselves and about the future. We were going to the New Year’s Eve dance with a positive outlook.

Some Years Are Just Rough

Spirit of 201
2012

Being a presidential election year made 2012 a tough one from the very beginning and while the end result was positive it took a toll on the American psyche that is still playing out. This was a tough year to be in charge of anything, anywhere, and by the time it wrapped pretty much everyone, myself included, was glad it was over.

This was a bad year to be a kid. The horrible mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut was preceded by the mass shooting at a movie theater in a Denver suburb. This was a turning point in the national conversation on gun control that ended in mass frustration as elected officials across the country ran and hid.

The topic of same-gender marriage was frequently in the news. President Obama expressed his support for it and the state of Washington made it legal, but the state of North Carolina banned it. The Supreme Court agreed to take up the matter and while everyone in the LGBTQ community was publicly positive, there were still plenty of state initiatives to provide angst to the whole scenario, and nothing started a family argument any faster, except maybe gun control.

We did find some bright spots. The Summer Olympics in London came along in the middle of July and distracted us slightly for a couple of weeks. The biggest news was American swimmer Michael Phelps breaking the record for most gold medals ever. Yay! In fact, the US dominated swimming events for both men and women, which made us quite proud. We were also quite proud of Gabby Douglas for taking the women’s all-around gold in gymnastics and US women for taking the team gold. There was plenty of good news here and we were quite welcome for all of it.

Our music taste became questionable as Brit boy band One Direction dominated rather uncomfortably in what some wanted to term as a second British invasion that, thankfully, never materialized. The one highlight was Lionel Ritchie’s Tuskegee but too many people missed it and the opportunity to benefit from the conversation was lost. 

On the big screen, we watched our backs while Batman, James Bond, Spiderman, a Hobbit, and a talking teddy bear captured our imaginations. Security was a lot tighter in movie theaters the second half of the year, but we coped by buying more popcorn.

The New York Giants offed the Patriots in the Super Bowl, the World Series got tense as the SF Giants took game seven after ten nail-biting innings, Miami Heat took the NBA championship, and perhaps one of the most emotional games came when Roger Federer took the Wimbledon Championship from Andy Murray. There are Brits still heartbroken over that one. 

President Obama won his bid for a second term, of course, but one could feel the division growing across the country. This whole American experience began getting really uncomfortable and in the midst of it all, we lost Dick Clark, Etta James, Donna Summer, Whitney Houston, Andy Williams, Sally Ride, Davy Jones, Don Cornelius, Dave Brubeck, and Ray Bradbury. 

On the plus side, Kat and I met at a not-a-holiday-party party on December 6. That’s working out well, so far [evil grin]

Love Wins, Sort Of

Spirit of 2013
2013

The most important event of 2013 came on June 26 when the US Supreme Court determined that the Defense of Marriage Act prohibiting same-gender weddings was unconstitutional. Celebrations occurred. There were still battles to fight, though, as the decision tossed authority back to the states, damnit. 

Much of the rest of the year was a wash, though, as we saw blatant stupidity grow as the National Voting Rights Act was gutted, George Zimmerman was somehow found not guilty of murdering Treyvon Martin, and the whole Bradley/Chelsea Manning thing went down in one of the biggest debacles ever. Ick. Let’s just move on.

There was a 34-minute blackout during the Super Bowl, and no, it wasn’t because everyone had too much beer. Baltimore Ravens eventually won the game, but no one outside Baltimore seemed to care. Boston Red Sox took the World Series in six games and the Miami Heat took the NBA championship for the second year in a row. This was a great year for East coast sports, but the rest of the country responded with a massive, “Meh.”

Movies this year were so disappointing I’m not going to bother listing any of them. Music was slightly better, although we, nationally, listened to far too much Justin Timberlake. The rest of the time we were listening to Pink and Bruno Mars and Imagine Dragons and Florida Georgia Line. We read Dan Brown’s Inferno because we can’t stop. We also read Bill O’Reilly’s, Killing Jesus, Veronica Roth’s, Divergent, and John Grisham’s, Sycamore Row because we were largely scared of new authors.

Stuff falling from the sky was particularly big news this year, to the point one might begin to wonder if the deities were hurling things at us, quite literally, from their distant thrones. Debris from a meteor hit Siberia, killing 1,000 people. One doesn’t expect that on a normal day. Ever. A massive Category 4 tornado flattened Moore, Oklahoma again. Why they bother rebuilding at this point defies logic. They keep getting flattened. They’re not getting the hint. Then, to round out the year, November 17 comes alone and Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Tennessee see at least 60 confirmed tornadoes. 119 tornadoes were reported. The damage across the Midwest had FEMA managers feeling quite confused as to where they should be. 

We understand that feeling far too well.

There is practically nothing else about 2013 that is uplifting except Kat and I move in together and three weeks later I hurt my leg and haven’t walked right since. This year was a bitch.

Spies Love Us

2014
2014

2014 was the year the whole CIA domestic spying scandal broke wide open. When it was found that they had hacked and spied on the Senate Intelligence Committee and everyone else. As a result, Congress unanimously passed a law requiring a search warrant to access information on anyone’s cell phone. What that had to do with the Senate Intelligence Committee is still baffling but it made everyone feel good at the time.

The Supreme Court struck down laws in several states, including Indiana, making same-gender marriage legal in more states. This was a HUGE win for the LGBTQ community but simultaneously sparked another debate over transgendered people using public restrooms. Republicans ride the fear-mongering train to re-take the Senate and increase their dominance of the House in mid-term elections. This should have been seen as proof that the majority of Americans don’t give a shit about anyone’s civil rights but their own.

This is also the year the NFL gets nailed for failing to deal adequately with the violence issues of their players, primarily Ray Rice and Adriene Peterson. There are a lot of charges, a lot of press conferences, and in the end, nothing demonstrably was changed to reduce the amount of violence within the league. 

Hobby Lobby showed that privately-owned businesses can get away with any stupid thing they want, particularly failing to pay for contraception as required by law, as long as they claim a religious exemption. That they’re still in business doesn’t say anything positive about the American people. 

This is also the year an unarmed Michael Brown was shot by a cop in Ferguson, Missouri. We’ve yet to solve that problem, either.

The Seattle Seahawks win their first Super Bowl ever, which made something like 15 people happy. Giants barely defeat the Royals in seven games to take the World Series. San Antonio prevents Miami from doing the “three-peat” thing in the NBA. No one watched any other sports because we were either hiding from spies or afraid of the police.

We did go out to see Guardians of the Galaxy and Big Hero 6. This was also the year that Disney took the “on ice” thing literally and the song “Let It Go” became firmly ingrained in the minds of every six-year-old in the country, making it impossible for any adult to ever use that phrase again, ever. We also listened to Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and for reasons yet to be explained, One Direction. We went to the bookstore and became obsessed with John Green’s novel, The Fault In Our Stars and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

I should probably also mention the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. They were the most expensive ever and more people began questioning whether it was worth hosting. Women’s hockey was a big deal, but so was doping on the part of the Russian national team, which eventually caused a number of medals to be vacated. This is yet another problem that continues to plague the games even into 2020.

We lost a lot of cool people this year. Robin Williams, Maya Angelou, Oscar de la Renta, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Joe Cocker, Pete Seeger, Ben Bradlee, and Harold Ramis are top among a very large list. 

We did land a space ship on a comet this year, though, so we have something of which we can be proud.

No Place To Hide

2015
2015

2015 sets a new bar for being scary. From massive earthquakes in Nepal to terrorism in Paris, this year was all kinds of fucked up in ways we hadn’t seen before. A co-pilot locked the pilot out of the controls of a Germanwings aircraft and flew the plane into a mountain, killing all 150 people on board. “Death by cop” became a real problem, and then some smarmy white kid walked into a black church in Charleston, SC and started shooting during a Bible study. A reporter and cameraman were murdered live, on-air. 

The Supreme Court finally made same-gender marriage legal across all 50 states. The feeling of glee was almost immediately ruined, though, when a self-righteous court clerk in Kentucky said it was against her religious beliefs to issue marriage licenses to same-gendered couples. She spent a week in jail and lost her battle but not before soiling what was rightfully a major win for humanity.

The Pope came for a visit. Catholics went nuts, but everyone else kept saying, “Hey, while you’re here, why not do something about that whole pedo-priest problem ya’ll have?” He didn’t. It’s still a problem.

Mass shootings were a bigger problem than ever. 10 people killed on a college campus in Oregon. Five people killed at a military recruiting office in Chattanooga. Three more at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. Then, to round out the year, a married couple shot up San Bernadino. After all this, try telling your kids that yes, it really is safe to go somewhere. Anywhere. 

We were feeling a bit nostalgic as Star Wars, Mad Max, and Jurrasic World took over the box office while Inside Out introduced our kids to their inner emotions, giving them a sufficient vocabulary with which they started therapy. 

Adele said Hello, Rihanna wants to know if you have her money, and Silento ruined ever wedding reception with this whole whip and nae-nae thing that just got completely out of hand. We got all excited when a second Harper Lee book, Go Set A Watchman was published, but then came the question as to whether Ms. Lee was tricked into signing the papers allowing the book to be published. We felt confused, so we turned our attention to Paula Hawkins’, The Girl On A Train

Patriots cheated their way to a Super Bowl win. Kansas City finally got the World Series win they’d been wanting, then silently slipped into relative obscurity. The Golden State Warriors took the NBA Championship from Cleveland. A surprising number of people didn’t know the Warriors were a team.

This is the year we lost Leonard Nimoy, B. B. King, John Nash, Christopher Lee, Omar Sharif, Yogi Berra, and Jackie Collins. 

The year finished with a second terrorist attack in Paris. We never should have left our beds.

Electing Rich Oranges

2016
2016

2016 picked up where 2015 left off, further cementing the concept that, collectively, we’re a bunch of dumbasses who think killing innocent people solves things. The worst included three simultaneous bombings in Brussels, Belgium (35 killed); a shooting at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida, (50 killed); a bus that plowed into a parade in Nice, France (80+ killed); and a truck that ran through a Christmas market in Berlin, Germany (12 killed). How did we respond? Why, with thoughts and prayers, of course. 

We weren’t the only killers, though. Hurricane Matthew came along and killed approximately 1,600 people before it was done. I can’t help but note that we’re getting a lot better at forecasting when and where these storms are going to hit but we’re not getting a lot better at preventing deaths. The disconnect there is rather bothersome.

We were afraid of catching the Zika virus that was running around everywhere and that kept some people from attending the most disastrous Olympic games ever in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This was the perfect time to highlight the impossible burdens the International Olympic Committee places on host cities. Venues weren’t ready. Where venues were ready, guests and athletes had to venture through slums of people living in lean-to shanties without enough food to eat. Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, and Usain Bolt still put forth amazing performances that inspired everyone, but shortly after the games word of abuse on the part of the gymnastics team doctor began to spread and the fallout is likely to be felt at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

There was some softening in US relations with Cuba but since most of those have now been rolled back they’re hardly worth mentioning. Don’t you hate it when you do something good and someone else comes along and ruins it for everyone?

Broncos (Denver) beat the Panthers (Carolina) in the 50th Super Bowl that was more spectacle than game. The world nearly ended, though, when for the first time in over 100 years, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. The curse was broken! Everyone was happy for about three minutes. It was the Cavs and the Warriors again in the NBA championship but this time the Cavs took the series, thanks largely to MVP LeBron James. 

Our taste in music this year was as questionable as our electoral choices. We listened to a lot of Beyonce but we also listened to far too much Justin Beiber. Sia, Ariana Grande, and a bunch of dudes all named DJ something-or-the-other were in the mix as well. This was a year when Shakira and Rihanna made more sense than most musicians.

We were much more content to escape to the theater, where Moana was inspiring, Dr. Strange was mystical, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them kept our Karry Potter hopes alive. Then, Marvel brought us the one hero with which most of us could relate: Deadpool. THIS was the hero we needed and we embraced him.

2016 was also the year most of America became aware of Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical, Hamilton, which largely swept the 2016 Tony awards. The impressive work inspired us to not only take interest in Broadway again, but also US history as we checked out who this Alexander Hamilton guy was. The roadshow continues to sell out theaters everywhere it goes.

Our reading got introspective and somewhat convicting as Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad took most the attention and Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Mathematicians by Margot Lee Shetterly were the hottest things on bookshelves. We were also rather interested in Max Porter’s Grief as social media puts a new spin on how we work through the loss of a loved one.

Then came that damned election. Reasonable people failed to understand how an orange made its way to the nomination. They certainly didn’t expect it to win. But then, to demonstrate that stupidity isn’t just an American personality trait, the UK voted to leave the European Union as well. Both countries have suffered ever since. 

Wait, What?

2017
2017

2017 was the year of the double-take as the reality of our 2016 errors set in and news came at us so fast we hardly had time to react to one thing before we were being hit upside the head from something else. Once again, there was way too much violence and this time the numbers were among the most shocking ever. This was the year some jackass took to the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel and killed 58 people attending a country music festival. The focus quickly turned to how-the-hell no one saw him taking an arsenal of weapons up the elevator, but no one did and a lot of people died, so Congress responded by eventually getting around to banning bump stocks. Yawn. That wouldn’t have stopped the jackass who walked into a church 35 days later and killed 27 more people. Congress responded by saying, “Well, maybe we’ll ban bump stocks.”

Oh, this was also the year that a bunch of fucking Neo-Nazis took to the streets of Charlottesville, West Virginia carrying fucking tiki torches and wearing polo shirts and chinos. Things did not go well. They met with considerable opposition. Then, one of those fucking Nazis drove a car into a crowd of protestors, killing Heather Heyer. Emboldened by the election of the orange, these fucking imbeciles seemed to think this was their time to shine. They seemed to have forgotten that we have a license to kill Nazis, a practice we might consider taking back up.

Mother Nature wasn’t much kinder to us, though, as we were hit with hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria all back-to-back. Massive failures of every kind happened, the most egregious of which came in the government’s lack of aid to Puerto Rico, apparently forgetting that they’re US citizens as well. To this day, we’re still not sure exactly how many people were killed by the storms and their aftermath.

Women factored strongly this year, starting with the Women’s March on Washington, DC one day after the orange was inaugurated as president. There were arguably more people at the march than there were at the inauguration. Women were pissed and that didn’t stop as they decided that if they were going to call out the president for his dirty and immoral deeds, they’d call out everyone else, too. The #MeToo movement began and while Harvey Weinstein was the biggest name to be held accountable, there was a crap ton of other men involved as well. For once, we listened and all those men immediately found themselves out of positions of power. It would be fantastic if this was the one thing for which 2017 is known.

But it’s not. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had decided a year earlier to take a knee during the national anthem to protest police violence against blacks. It made some people a little uncomfortable but the opposition seemed minor. In 2017, football players across the league joined in and suddenly the protest was mislabeled by the orange as being disrespectful to the flag and the movement became a problem for the NFL. What did the NFL do? Blame Kaepernick, of course. The quarterback was blackballed and hasn’t worked since. Meanwhile, police violence against people of color continues unabated.

There was a huge solar eclipse this year which got everyone excited. There were, of course, the demented leftovers from the Dark Ages who warned the world would end (it didn’t) and despite countless warnings from every medical source on the planet, the orange looked directly at the eclipse without any eye protection. Other than that, though, it was fun to see everyone get excited about science for a couple of weeks. 

We were listening to Ed Sheeran, Imagine Dragons, DJ Khaled, and occasionally Taylor Swift or Salena Gomez, but there was a significant imbalance in the number of music awards given to male performers over women and when we realized that we … just kept listening to the same things because that’s what we do.

At the theater, we were thrilled with Gal Godot’s portrayal of Wonder Woman and scared in a whole new way with “Get Out.” We were largely confused by the 8th installment in the Star Wars sage, though, and despite the Academy Award win, “The Shape of Water” still leaves a lot of people wondering if the movie is promoting sex with fish. The answer is no. 

To escape the lunacy, we read George Saunders, Lincoln on the Bardo and Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward among many, many others. 2017 was a good year for book sales.

After 51 years and only their second Super Bowl appearance, it looked as though the Atlanta Falcons might win one for once. No. The Patriots came back from a 25-point deficit and disappointed the entire nation. The Astros took the World Series for the first time ever in seven games against the Dodgers. In a routine that was starting to get boing, the Warriors beat the Cavs again for the NBA Championship. Hey guys, maybe let someone else play?

There was a whole giant truckload of political trash as well. Things we’d just as soon forget, such as the orange using Twitter to set policy. Delving into that mess would just be too depressing at this point. 

Getting Out Of This Mess

2018
2018

There were actually some decently good things happen in 2018, though they’ve largely been overshadowed in our memories by all the stupidity and nonsense in Washington. Let’s start with the fact that it was a united Korean team competing in the PyeongChang Olympics. That was a major milestone of diplomacy that hasn’t been seen in Korea in over 60 years. Norway’s Marit Bjørgen ruled skiing, taking home five medals. American Shaun White repeated as champion of the snowboard halfpipe, and Japan’s Yazuru Hanyu was the first figure skater to repeat gold since Dick Button did it in 1952. The games were a wonderful break that hardly anyone remembers anymore.

Fortunately, there was also a wedding to distract us and this time American’s felt as though they had a stake in the game as Britain’s Prince Harry married American actress Meghan Markle. There was some controversy, of course, because we can’t let love be love. Some were upset that Ms. Markle is biracial. Others were upset that she was divorced. Drama with her family didn’t help matters, either. In the end, though, the wedding was a spectacle and the couple wasted no time making babies that have practically zero chance of sitting on the throne but still get to go to the parties at the palace.

That’s pretty much where the uplifting news ends, though. Robert Mueller’s special prosecutor team handed down dozens of indictments and sent people to jail. There were two more school shootings that no one did anything about because apparently, kids’ lives only matter before they’re born. Sears and Toys ‘R’ Us both went bankrupt, driving home what we’ve known for several years that brick-and-mortar retail has a massive problem that no one’s solving. A racially-insensitive rapist was given a seat on the Supreme Court for the rest of his life. And then, to top everything, the government started separating immigrant children from their families and holding them in cages. Sure, there are some subtleties there but history doesn’t give a shit about subtleties. When Democrats took back control of the House of Representatives in November, the rookies started immediately making the Speaker uncomfortable with talk of doing something about the orange. Someone mentioned the word “Impeach” and all of Washington went nuts.

So, we looked for distractions. We listened to Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper over and over because their remake of “A Star Is Born” made everyone feel all gooey inside. Donald Glover countered that with a gritty “This Is America” that made us uncomfortable facing reality but not enough for us to actually do anything. Again. There were a bunch of other songs but, honestly, 50 years from now no one is going to remember them.

In addition to “A Star Is Born,” we were thrilled as Wakanda came alive and the “Black Panther” became everyone’s hero. “Avengers, Infinity War” left us crying, but fortunately there was “Spiderman: Into the Multiverse” and the long-anticipated “Incredibles2” to dry those tears and make us happy. The theater was a great place of escape in 2018.

We emersed ourselves in books such as Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry, Confessions of The Fox, by Jordy Rosenberg, and Lisa Brennan-Jobs memoir, Small Fry, which is so raw that at times it feels as though she’s carving up her father, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, and feeding them to the wolves, then immediately apologizing for the just criticism. 

The Philadelphia Eagles denied the Patriots a comeback and won the Super Bowl, showing some cracks in the Belicek/Brady armor that may hint at the decline of the Patriots empire. The Dodgers returned to the World Series but this time it was the Red Sox who took the series in an uneventful five games. NBA finals were a repeat of 2017 and the entire world is wondering if anyone else in the league even matters at this point.

Solidifying our angst was the number of really important people who died, people who shaped our youths and our understanding of the world. By the time we reached December 31, many of us were wondering if we could just skip 2019 and go straight to 2020. The answer would be “No.”

Crushing Any Spirit Left

2019
2019

Let’s be honest, by the time we got to this year, many of us were feeling beaten, discouraged, and ready to give up. This decade has been hell and we entered it without much spirit or hope for anything more than what we’ve seen every year: bad politics, mass shootings, international terrorism, racism, gender inequality, bigotry, religious abuse, and a deeper ideological divide than any of us can remember.

This is the decade that took David Bowie and Prince IN THE SAME YEAR. It also took Maya Angelou, Aretha Franklin, Stephen Hawking, and Neil Simon. All the nice people, all the people who encouraged us to think, all the people who made us happy, were gone.

Suicides skyrocketed this decade as well and it did so on every level, in every age group, among every socio-economic condition. As a result, there was practically no one in the US who was unaffected. Everyone lost someone.

Even sports didn’t have a lot to offer. The Patriots beat the Rams in the Super Bowl, the Toronto Raptors finally beat the Warriors in the NBA finals, and the Washington Nationals won their first World Series, but all those seemed to be little more than background noise thanks to all the garbage being spewed not only by the orange but everyone on Capitol Hill, resulting in an impeachment investigation that made it clear that not only is everyone in Washington a crook, no one outside Washington gives a damn as long as their team seems to be winning. 

So, where do we look for hope? Now that we’ve suffered through this exercise is there anything left that has a chance to lift the spirits that we pretty much buried in 2016?

A handful of things come to mind. Probably chief among those is the fact that SAME-GENDER MARRIAGE IS LEGAL across the US. Ten years ago, I doubt even the most ardent LGBTQ activist thought we would see this milestone happen so quickly. Transgender rights have improved dramatically as well, though there remains a lot of work to be done on that front. Acceptance has increased to a point where those who still want to argue the point are quickly shouted down by a chorus of LGBTQ allies before those directly affected ever get involved.

There were some serious medical breakthroughs this decade as well, particularly when talking about cystic fibrosis and Ebola. Where AIDS was once a near-certain death sentence, we have reached the point this decade where the disease can be prevented in most cases simply by taking a pill. 

While much of sports have seemed repetitive and dull, the US Women’s Soccer Team proved that they’re worth watching and deserve to be paid just as much as the men, pushing forward the debate about pay equity not only in sports but across the table for all women.

A teenager taught us about global warming when we refused to listen to actual scientists. She stopped flying in planes, made train travel popular, and, perhaps more joyous than anything, beautifully trolled the orange when he tried to belittle her. We’re still dangerously close to reaching the point where we cannot backtrack on the damage done to our planet, but there’s one voice of reason that’s shining bright in the darkness.

We’ve come to understand and accept a lot more about autism and how to respond to people who have it. As a result, schools have become places where therapy and help are available, kids are getting assistance rather than being kicked out for being disruptive. We’ve also paid more attention to nutrition and how food deserts affect kids’ ability to learn. We’re still not paying teachers anywhere close to a sufficient wage but we’re making improvements that mean kids that were left out in previous generations will survive in this one.

We’ve become more conscious than ever of the food we eat, thanks in part to a number of listeria and ecoli breakouts that forced us to pay more careful attention. At the same time, though, we’ve continued to overeat and are looking at nearly fifty percent of the country being obese by the end of the next decade. We have a long way to go, but raising awareness is the first step to solving the problem.

We’ve realized that there’s more to life than work and that a college education doesn’t mean you’ll get a job that pays enough to cover the debt created getting that degree. This led to a sharing economy boom with Air B&B and ride-sharing companies taking off in ways few saw as possible. Travel has once again become big business as more people are concerned about the quality of the experience over other concerns.

We carry in our pockets or our purses the answer to almost every question ever asked and it’s all available at a touch thanks to the new generation of smartphones that double has handy cameras. As we create memories, we capture and share them not only with family but everyone. We see more of how people want to live and sometimes that drives us to improve our own lives in the process. 

There ARE good things here. There are ALWAYS good things, every year. The problem is that the noise around all the bad things is so loud we lose the sound, and the memory, good things. That cheerful spirit of the holidays isn’t gone or dead, it’s being drowned out by a choir of Scrooges who want us to fear them and the possibility of what they might do if they don’t get their way.

Perhaps, just maybe, the way to get that spirit back is to respond to the Scrooges by turning down their volume, don’t give them the platform, and reducing their importance in our lives. Sure, we’re going to vote for president this next November, that is important, but we don’t have to let that conversation dominate our lives anymore. We know the orange is a thief and a crook and that there are other fruits that are just as bad and we need to remove them all. So, come November, we fix that.

In the meantime, we can work on regaining the happiness and the spirit we lost this decade. We can tell more stupid people to fuck off, focus more on getting good things done, supporting more medical research, being allies for those who are disadvantaged, buying more art (not just looking at it), singing more songs, meeting more people who are different than we are, and paying more attention to our own health so that we’re not killing ourselves off faster than we can procreate. Perhaps we can also take this opportunity to stay the fuck out of other people’s business, let people love who and how they wish, care more for the children after they’re born than before, do more to make healthcare universal for everyone so that no one is dying because they can’t afford to live, and getting more exercise for ourselves because we’re too damn fat and we’ve got to deal with that. 

We can do this. We can make the next decade so much better than this one we just barely survived. We can create more good things, do more things that matter, and shut down the old men who have lost their usefulness as our country’s leaders. 

On your mark, get set, LIVE!

5 Things We Don't Need To Fear

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No Fear

Not everything in this world should scare us. There are at least five things we know to be safe.

The whole month of October was one long Halloween celebration and there were plenty of things happening, both in and external to that celebration, that was frightening. Some things, such as investigations involving members of the federal government, or the climate crisis should be frightening. Many times, though, we are provoked into being afraid of things that present no harm at all. 

Okay, I typed that line and am thinking I may need to clarify a bit. They present no harm outside the fact some of them represent a change to a stodgy, narrow-minded, misogynistic status quo that has outstayed its welcome. As a society, we are often hard-pressed to change opinions that fall under the category of “that’s the way it’s always been” or “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” falls into that hard-headed category as well. 

My late father used to tell a well-worn story of a young bride who was cooking her first holiday ham. She bought the ham, set it in a roasting pan, and then pulled out her mother’s instructions for cooking the ham. The first thing on the list was “cut two inches off the butt portion of the ham.” That requirement struck the young woman as odd so she called her mother. 

“Why am I supposed to cut off the butt portion of the ham?” she asked. 

“I don’t know,” replied her mother. “That’s the way my mom taught me to cook them. You’d have to ask Grandma.”

The young woman hadn’t talked with her grandmother in a few days so she thought it was a good excuse to call her and see how she was doing. In the course of the conversation, she asked, “Grandma, why do you cut the butt portion off the ham before you cook it?”

Her grandmother thought for a moment and then answered, “I’m not really sure, dear. That’s just the way my mom taught me to cook and I never thought to question it. You’d have to ask her.”

Now, great-grandmother was well-past 90 years old and her memory wasn’t always on point, especially when talking over the phone. So, the young woman decided she had time to pay her great-grandmother a quick visit. She drove over to the assisted living facility and in the course of conversation asked, “Great-grandma, why did you always cut the butt portion off a ham before you cooked it.”

The older woman took her great-granddaughter’s hand and said, “When I was your age, I only had one roasting pan and it was too small for the ham your great-grandfather would bring home. So, I had to cut two inches off the butt portion for the rest of the ham to fit. That’s all.”

As a society, we get stuck in those same habits and when that well-worn status quo begins to change we get unreasonably frightened not because the change is threatening but simply because it’s different than we’ve experienced before. We aren’t sure what to expect or what the outcome might be. If someone else is afraid of something, maybe we should be afraid also.

Making matters worse, the Internet is a wonderful place for spreading stories and there’s little to fact-check whether those stories are true, especially when they’re told as personal experiences. Who can challenge the authenticity of a personal experience? “You weren’t there, you don’t know!” 

We know that change is going to happen but we fear change that may not work out in our favor. We want change to be good for us, bring us more money, flying cars, self-tying shoes, and instant commutes. What we don’t want are changes that cause us to question ourselves and our motives, we don’t want change that upsets the way we’ve always done things. As a result, we’ve harbored a lot of fear. Why? It’s easier to keep cutting off the butt end of the ham rather than buying a new pan. 

What we’ve done this week is found five things that seem to invoke a lot of fear for reasons I personally find unreasonable. Those things are 1. Autistic children, 2. Women in power, 3. Using gender-neutral language, 4. Democratic socialism, and 5. Poor people. I’ve observed absolute hysteria around all five and find the fear completely irrational yet, for some reason, self-perpetuating. They are all things that, collectively, we need to move past and embrace. If you’re already cool with all five, good for you! Chances are, though, you know someone who isn’t, so perhaps you’ll share this article with them. Let’s get started.

Fear of Autistic Children

Autistic Children

I am increasingly angered by all the ignorant and uninformed vitriol aimed at autistic children, as though autism is a life-threatening and disabling disease that threatens to kill all our offspring and bring about an end to the human race. It isn’t. Neither is autism contagious. One doesn’t become autistic after being inoculated against another disease nor hanging around autistic children on the playground. None of those things are true and people who continue to spread those lies need to be corrected and their ignorance publicly addressed.

First, let’s define what Autism actually is. Autism Spectrum Disorder is “a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. (autismspeaks.org)” By being a spectrum disorder, children can exhibit challenges in different areas while not having a problem in others. We often refer to children as “high functioning” or “low functioning” but those are really misnomers related to how well a child adapts to social situations. Some autistic children are non-verbal but there are others who can’t stop talking, often repeating words or phrases several times. The experience and challenges are different for everyone.

The Center for Disease Control estimated in 2018 that 1 in 59 children are autistic but then came back in April of this year and stated that new study factors show autism is “more prevalent than indicated by the latest 1 in 59 CDC estimate.” Part of the reason for that change is that children are often not being diagnosed with ASD until they are 8 years old or older. Remember, autism isn’t something you “catch.” One of the challenges is that the more obvious challenges aren’t noticed until a child is older and more frequently in socially-challenging environments. 

What causes autism? A number of things can contribute to a child having autism, and often the condition is genetic, especially related to gene changes. Having older parents (either or both) increases the risk of autism. Pregnancies spaced less than one year apart also increases the risk. The risks are mitigated to some extent by taking prenatal vitamins with folic acid before and all the way through pregnancy, but that is not always enough to counter genetic predisposition.

What doesn’t cause autism? Anything that happens after a child is born. While autistic symptoms can often be slow in presenting themselves, it is something with which one is born. One cannot get it through vaccinations nor any other external or environmental situation that may occur after a child is born. Because autism isn’t something that presents itself immediately, it may appear anecdotally to be “caused” by an external event. This is why one sees so many stories claiming that their child was “just fine” until they were vaccinated or were in a daycare with autistic children. There’s no specific set of triggers for autistic behavior because the experience is largely individual. So, to the unsuspecting parent, it can appear that a certain event might have caused the disease, but the fact is that the disease is always present from birth.

So why do we fear autism so much? Why is it that some people would rather place their children in real danger of contracting a disease such as measles and chickenpox, which can kill their child, than have a child with autism? Why do some parents think that having an autistic child is a horrible thing?

I’ve checked all the literature I can find and there is no justifiable reason other than ignorance of the disease and perhaps, for some, a bit of laziness. As the parent of three children with ASD, I understand that they can at times be exhausting and sometimes requires us to be on our toes in social situations. But then, the children who are not ASD are just as exhausting and just as worrisome. If anything, knowing the social triggers of a child with ASD helps us be better parents. We know what to expect, what to avoid, and how to respond when things happen. 

The reality? Autistic kids are awesome! They tend to be extremely intelligent and often highly focused. They think differently which leads them to solutions no one else would have found. Many are determined when they start a task and are detailed-oriented enough to do something well once they get started. Many grow to be successful adults who are fully aware of their challenges and how to address them. They are wonderful people who can do amazing things.

Applied Behavior Analysis has an appropriately helpful article, “5 Things We Could All Stand to Learn from People With ASD.” I encourage reading the entire article, but in summary, those five things are:

  1. Honesty
  2. Fearlessness
  3. Quietude
  4. Solitude
  5. Routine

We’re slowly figuring out that what at first appeared to be the idiosyncrasies of autism are characteristics that may improve the quality of life for some people, especially when it comes to noise.

I find it interesting that just last week Oxford University’s student council voted to ban clapping at on-campus events. While the move has received considerable backlash from ignorant people who mistakenly assume that the student council is appeasing “snowflakes,” it is a fantastic gesture toward a number of both autistic and hearing-impaired students, neither of which are “snowflakes” by any stretch of the imagination. Oxford’s student council recognizes what many others don’t: people with autism are wonderful. There’s no reason to fear being around them, and there’s no reason to fear being the lucky parent of one.

Fearing Women In Power

Women In Power

Let’s be honest upfront: I don’t have nearly enough space here to fully discuss the why, how, or when related to fearing women in power. This is a huge topic whose history, arguably, goes all the way back to the mythical garden of Eden when Eve is unjustly blamed for the fall of humanity. We’ve been embedded with patriarchy through over 6,000 years of social development and the fear of overturning that system of power runs incredibly deep.

Our fear of women in power is strong; it is a large part of the reason the United States has yet to have a female president, why so few Fortune 500 companies have women as CEOs, and a significant part of the reason for the gender pay gap. And while it’s tempting to say that only men have this problem, we see plenty of women who harbor the fears as well. “Feminism” is such a negative word in many portions of society that many prominent women refuse to identify themselves as such for fear of the backlash.

When singer Katy Perry accepted the Billboard Woman of the Year award in 2012, she said, “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.” 

The former first lady of France Carla Bruni-Sarkozy famously said, “I’m not at all an active feminist. On the contrary, I’m a bourgeois. I love family life, I love doing the same thing every day … We don’t need to be feminist in my generation.”

As a male person who was 1) raised by a strong mother, and 2) works 90 percent of the time with women, I fail to understand why so many in our society are afraid of women except for the most obvious reason: many men don’t want to lose the power and privilege they’ve given themselves and many women don’t want to upset the status quo (wow, that was a long sentence). I find those two excuses old, worn, useless, and boring. I’ve been hearing them all my life and find no merit, weight, or substance to those arguments. 

Let’s take a moment, please, to knock down some of the most frequent and idiotic contentions for women being in places of power.

“Women are the weaker sex.” Really? Have you ever tried pushing out a living being the size and weight of a bowling ball? Women themselves have proven this old trope false over and over. Furthermore, researchers at Duke University published a report proving scientifically that women are stronger and more resilient and better able to survive a catastrophe. Claiming that women are weaker is essentially declaring yourself to be an ignorant asshat.

“God says … “ Stop. There are multiple problems with anything claiming any kind of religious authority. First, religions, all of them, are belief systems and should never be taken as absolute law anywhere in any country for any reason. Doing so excludes and misrepresents anyone outside the dominant belief system, making the system inherently unjust. Second, God doesn’t say. Patriarchal inferences that have been preached from pulpits since 200 ADE are a mixture of mistranslation and misogyny. God doesn’t put women on the sideline. Third, religion is personal, not corporate. Just as religion doesn’t belong in government, it doesn’t belong in business, either, unless the business is in direct support of the religion (which is a bit suspect). Keep your religious beliefs in your pocket.

“Women want too much, they’re just being greedy,” says the people who have manipulated the system consistently in their favor across multiple millennia. Women aren’t being greedy, they’re simply wanting what they deserve: a fair share and a level playing field. Patriarchal practices that give preferences to men in hiring and advancement opportunities have to go completely away. Biased rules that keep women from competing directly with men need to be struck down. I am quite certain that the majority of men have no idea how much the system is totally skewed in their favor, even to the point that men’s clothes, toiletries, and haircuts are priced preferentially. Women getting the exact same advantages isn’t being greedy, it’s being fair, and goes double for people of color and triple for indigenous peoples.

“Historically, it’s always been the men … “ Shut the fuck up. The perception that the Western World has moved forward solely on the wit and intellect of men comes from books written by those same men who intentionally excluded women so they wouldn’t have to admit they’re not as bright as they want us to think. In fact, let’s pause this list to make a sublist. Here are a few women who outdid the men:

  • Sappho, who is overshadowed by Homer in founding Western literature. Homer was epic but Sappho understood the power of emotion and her verse flows much better.
  • Sacajawea, who carried a baby on her back traveling by foot over a thousand miles so that two self-aggrandizing explorers (Lewis & Clark) wouldn’t get lost and never heard from again. They owe her everything.
  • Marie Curie, who not only won the Nobel Prize (which is slanted to favor men) but did more for science than any combined dozen of her contemporaries.
  • Billie Holiday, who was to music what Marie Curie was to science, only she didn’t get the award. Her influence is unparalleled.
  • Ada Lovelace, generally considered the first computer programmer. She had to slow down to allow the boys to keep up.
  • Florence Nightingale changed all of medicine, not just what happens on the battlefield. The men in medicine “couldn’t be bothered” so she showed them how it should be done. Doctors still haven’t forgiven her for showing them up.
  • Boudica (c 63 ADE) led a Celtic army of over 100,000 and kicked the Romans out of Britain. She scared the fuck out of Nero and he wouldn’t even try going back.
  • Grace Hopper, the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard, she developed the COBOL computer language utilized in countless mainframe applications, such as the one that allows your check to be directly deposited into your account.
  • Lisa Meitner was the Austrian physicist you can thank for everything nuclear. Splitting the atom wouldn’t have been possible without her work.
  • Marie Van Brittan Brown was a woman of color who invented closed-circuit television as a way of fighting police negligence in her neighborhood.
  • Belah Louise Henry invented over 100 objects including the bobbin-free sewing machine and a vacuum ice cream freezer.

If you haven’t figured out by now, this list could reasonably go on for thousands and thousands of pages. The oldest poetry recorded was a song by the prophetess, Deborah, dating back to 1200 BCE. Women have always been there, taking the lead, picking up the slack, and not getting the credit for the amazing things they did. 

Women in places of power are only a threat to men who are afraid to lose theirs because they know their positions come not from earning them but from favor and preference and privilege. Get out of the way and let this progress happen. The world will be a better place for it.

For those who want more detailed information on this topic, let me suggest the following books:

Women in Power: A Manifesto, Beard, Mary; 12 December 17; Liveright, 128 pages

The Power, Alderman, Naomi; 10 October 2017; Little, Brown and Company, 400 pages

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, Traister, Rebecca; 2 October 2018; Simon & Schuster, 320 pages

No Excuses: Nine Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, Feldt, Gloria, 28 September 2010; Seal Press, 384 pages

Fear of Gender-Neutral Language

Using Gender-Neutral Language

I’ll admit that this one is a relatively new fear based upon the comparative speed with which public awareness of gender non-binary and trans people has appeared in popular culture. This is also one of the most frequent issues we deal with in our own household now that Kat has come out as being non-binary. They frequently wear a pin at the salon that says “they/them” so clients who pay attention have a clue, but even one of their bosses, who is supportive, admits they don’t always “get it.”

So that we’re all on the same page, let’s start with a definition. Merriam-Webster defines the term simply as “not referring to either sex but only to people in general.” The definition isn’t the most helpful given that it doesn’t provide any direct examples, but it does get straight to the point. Gender-specific terms are no longer acceptable in a variety of places because their use limits the perspective, scope, and opportunity not only for non-binary and trans people but everyone who doesn’t want to be judged or limited by their gender.

If you’re not already encountering gender-neutral language (and you probably are but may not recognize it), it’s going to become increasingly common. The APA, MLA, and Chicago manuals of style all recognize gender-neutral language as standard, not the exception, as does the United Nations and the European Parliament. Some gender-neutral language has started popping up in newscasts, especially from socially-sensitive sources such as NPR, but they’re still not using gender-neutral pronouns as the default.

A large part of the fear and confusion around using gender-neutral language comes from the fact that not everyone wants to identify in a gender-neutral way. There are times, especially in conversations related to the children, that Kat still uses she/her. That is an exception they have invoked but creates confusion for some people.

Others are afraid of trying and “getting it wrong.” They don’t want to embarrass someone who is a friend but at the same time, they don’t want to embarrass themselves, either. Relax, most of the people directly affected by gendered language understand that the adoption of a different way of speaking takes time and effort. I still make mistakes when talking to Kat and she typically smiles and corrects me and we move on with the conversation. No big deal. Now, if someone is writing an article that’s going to be read by millions of people, by all means, have someone who is more sensitive to the language proofread that thing before you publish, but in general conversation stressing over every word is more likely to make the situation worse, or at least more awkward.

For those who are still unsure, there are a handful of resources worth bookmarking so you can review prior to walking into what may be a language-sensitive situation. The Harvard Extension School for Professional Development has this guide to Inclusive Language In Four Easy Steps. “Easy” may be a bit presumptive but the article is a convenient reminder. Fairygodboss also has a Go-To Pocket-Dictionary for gender-neutral terms and pronouns but be aware that one has to sign up for an account before accessing the material, a practice that I find a bit sketchy.

Alternatively, Suzannah Weiss wrote an article for Bustle a couple of years ago that I find helpful. 7 Gender-Neutral Terms We Should All Be Using gets to the heart of the language we use most often. Without copy/pasting the entire article, here are the essentials:

  1. They. No, it’s not plural. It’s been used to refer to a single entity since the 14th century. You can do this.
  2. Mx. Use instead of Ms. Miss, Mrs. or Mr. It’s easier written than spoken, but you get the point.
  3. Humankind instead of mankind. Humanity or people also work depending on the situation.
  4. Partner or Significant Other. Personally, I refer to Kat as my partner. Significant Other feels dismissive but that may just be me.
  5. First-Year Student instead of Freshman. Personally, I’d like to see that classification carried through graduate school. Tenth-year student, anyone? Besides, it makes one feel as though they study at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and that’s cool on its own merit.
  6. Artificial, synthetic or machine-made as an alternative to man-made. This one can get a bit sticky as hand-made or person-made may be the more correct term in some instances. Context is your key here.
  7. Parent, sibling, and child in situations where referring to family members. Some sources refer to the terms Grandy (for grandparent) and Kiddo (for offspring) but Grandy reminds me of a Nashville-based restaurant chain and Kiddo strikes me as flippant so be careful with those.

The fear of gender-neutral language is simply a matter of custom. Children in today’s schools have much less difficulty with making the switch because more teachers are using gender-neutral language in school. Media outlets are making the switch so we’ll be hearing and reading those terms more frequently which helps alleviate the fears. Listen, watch, and it will all be okay. No need to be afraid.

Fear of Democratic Socialism

Democratic Socialism

In these politically-sensitive times, almost every label carries some negative and partisan angst to it but nothing seems to stir the fear more than the term Democratic Socialism. Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez both self-identify under this banner and that scares the living daylights out of a lot of people. So much so, that the president routinely stokes those fears by intentionally misdefining it in his campaign speeches. 

Let’s get this straight once and for all, DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISM IS NOT PURE SOCIALISM. And even then, socialism probably isn’t what you think it is. Let’s start with a textbook definition of the term. Merriam-Webster drops back to the term Social Democracy which it defines as “a democratic welfare state that incorporates both capitalist and socialist practices.” That definition stems from the terms initial usage in 1848, however, and as such I’m not convinced that the “welfare state” portion of that term applies. I prefer the definition offered by  Mark A. Peterson, a professor of public policy, political science, and law at UCLA, who defines Democratic socialism is “a call for the democratically-elected to use the public sector to promote greater equality and opportunity.” [source]

Still, the definition is loaded with fear because it espouses something other than pure capitalism, which every child since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution has been taught as the only way to provide equality and fair play for everyone. What they should have been taught is that capitalism provides an artificial sense of equality and fair play for white, privileged people who are predominantly male. The fact of an ever-widening wage gap is sufficient evidence that pure capitalism fosters greed and wealth hoarding. 

Yet, we’ve seen situations proving that pure socialism doesn’t work well either. China is our most visible example of how government control over business leads to inherent corruption and unchecked authoritarianism. Corruption leads to favoritism and authoritarianism prevents people from being able to appropriately respond to injustices caused by corruption. While the system as applied in many countries does a good job of making sure everyone has a base wage, moving beyond that base is difficult and the inability to respond to corruption guarantees that the elite maintains the wealth, as it does with capitalism. 

Both systems are far from ideal, both have their vocal champions, and both leave millions of people in poverty, which is a problem. Social Democracy aims to address those shortcomings by blending the better aspects of both systems.

What’s the difference? To some degree, the answer depends on who has been asked the question. There is no definitive single source that I’ve found, so let me see if I can lay it out in the following chart.

SocialismDemocratic Socialism
The government maintains control over most everything with very little private ownership.Private ownership is still the rule but government regulation makes sure corporations don’t put profit ahead of more important issues.
Government-controlled corporations retain the majority of power. Power resides primarily in the working class 
People serve the corporations/government.Corporations/government serve the people.
Wealth remains the domain of the elite.Wealth is distributed fairly across the working class.
Money corruptly influences government decisions.Money is removed from governmental influence.
Social programs funded through exceptionally high taxes on everyone.Social programs primarily funded through taxes on corporations and the wealthy with average workers contributing at a modest level.

What Democratic Socialism fundamentally aims to address is the lack of control working-class citizens have over their economy, their government, their healthcare, their education, and their environment. It is progressively oriented toward what benefits the average consumer rather than a handful of shareholders.

What is important to remember, however, is that any political movement, no matter how well-intentioned, is only as good as the people involved. Corruption can and will take over any system where it can get a foothold. Our country’s founders recognized that potential and allowed for those most corrupt to be rooted out of government without significant defense through impeachment and recall elections. Those methods are not witchhunts nor are they undemocratic. They are necessary and should probably be used with greater fervor in order to weed out the persistent corruption that seems to have taken over the electoral system. 

Democratic Socialism is nothing to fear unless one is part of the 0.01 percent who owns the 88% of all wealth in the United States. For everyone else, the movement holds the potential for an improved economy and a more responsive government.

What we should fear are those who don’t vote or participate at all. That is where the real evil lies.

Poor People

Poor People

The topic of poverty is making its way onto the political charts as one of the issues likely to become a major talking point during next year’s presidential election. Economics is always one of the top factors in a presidential election but this time around, the president’s inevitable boasts about having “the best economy ever” are going to be met with some hard facts he’s not going to like.

Just last year, the U.N. Human Rights Council published a report on extreme poverty and human rights in the United States that made some painful points:

  • There are 40 million people here who live in poverty, while 18.5 million live in extreme poverty and 5.3 million are in Third World conditions.
  • Out of the OECD, the States have the highest youth poverty rates.
  • Citizens are sicker and live shorter lives than in other well-off democracies.
  • The U.S. has the highest rate of income inequality in the West.
  • People frequently talk of poverty in “caricatured narratives” and racial stereotypes.

The administration says talk like that overlooks the good they’re doing, pointing to low unemployment number and a continued rise in GDP. However, Foreign Policy was quick to point out that the administration had faked its numbers. Not a big surprise for this presidency, but one that results in millions of people not being eligible for the economic assistance they need to survive.

What’s more, millions of Americans actually support the administration’s actions on poverty, especially the recalculation of who they consider “poor.” 

As a society, we don’t like talking about poverty. We don’t want to see poor people on the street, we avoid driving through poverty-stricken parts of town, we don’t eat in places where poor people are likely to be present, and while some enjoy touting how much they help the poor through their charitable giving, we don’t want them getting persistent aid such as food stamps or cash assistance from the government. 

We don’t even want to go to church with poor people. One long-term study from the Quarterly Journal of Economics shows that as churches become more competitive, something that started with the Reformation in 1517, their economic priorities changed. Church buildings needed to be bigger and more ornate. Sermons needed to be more eloquent and pastors needed to use more popular jargon. Worship services relied more on entertainment content than theological accuracy. Helping the poor became something a church does “for the community” because the people they are helping aren’t welcome or comfortable inside the sanctuary.

We, as a society, are afraid of poor people. There’s even a word for it: Aporophobia. Spanish philosopher Adela Cortina is credited with coining the word. She explains that a large part of what fuels our xenophobia and racism toward others is actually a fear of their poverty. This especially occurs in our attitudes toward migrants and refugees. We don’t mind that people come from other countries, we mind that they’re poor, an attitude reflected in the government’s recent changes for visa qualifications.

This isn’t a new condition. Looking through dozens of historical references, I can find quotes about people fearing poverty well back into the 11th and 12th centuries. One of the most poignant, though, comes from Robert Walser’s 1907 book, The Tanners. In it, he writes:

“How reprehensible it is when those blessed with commodities insist on ignoring the poor. Better to torment them, force them into indentured servitude, inflict compulsion and blows—this at least produces a connection, fury and a pounding heart, and these too constitute a form of relationship. But to cower in elegant homes behind golden garden gates, fearful lest the breath of warm humankind touch you, unable to indulge in extravagances for fear they might be glimpsed by the embittered oppressed, to oppress and yet lack the courage to show yourself as an oppressor, even to fear the ones you are oppressing, feeling ill at ease in your own wealth and begrudging others their ease, to resort to disagreeable weapons that require neither true audacity nor manly courage, to have money, but only money, without splendor: That’s what things look like in our cities at present”

Our fear of poor people is long-standing and ridiculous and without any merit whatsoever. We know this, and yet we continue to perpetuate the attitude. By relegating poverty assistance to something we expect charitable organizations to handle, we shove the topic out the back door, having satisfied our conscience that by giving to a charity we have absolved ourselves of needing to do anything further when, in fact, we are abdicating our responsibility to actually help people.

We’ve even demonized being poor. Writer and activist Shane Claiborne says of poverty,

When people begin moving beyond charity and toward justice and solidarity with the poor and oppressed, as Jesus did, they get in trouble. Once we are actually friends with the folks in struggle, we start to ask why people are poor, which is never as popular as giving to charity. One of my friends has a shirt marked with the words of late Catholic bishop Dom Helder Camara: “When I fed the hungry, they called me a saint. When I asked why people are hungry, they called me a communist.” Charity wins awards and applause but joining the poor gets you killed. People do not get crucified for living out of love that disrupts the social order that calls forth a new world. People are not crucified for helping poor people. People are crucified for joining them.”

Feeling guilty yet? You probably should be. We all are. I have found it repeatedly true that even poor people don’t like associating with other poor people. Other poor people aren’t likely to help one escape their own poverty. Instead, there’s an odd “I’m worse off than you” contest that often develops as competition for limited charitable resources often determines whether the power stays on or the quality of food on the table.

Societies have struggled with their fear of the poor for centuries so I’m not foolish enough to believe that just saying “we need to change,” is going to result in any significant difference. However, let me leave you with five ways you can make a difference.

  1. Remember that poor people don’t always look poor. Many people who dress nicely in public struggle to have anything to eat when they go home at night. Many poor people work multiple jobs. Being poor isn’t necessarily the absence of money, it’s the absence of enough to cover life’s basic needs.
  2. If you decide to help someone in need, do it in a subtle manner that does not create undue attention. That selfie you take congratulating yourself on your generosity is embarrassing for them.
  3. Don’t judge someone when they finally get a chance to do something nice, like go to a decent restaurant or a concert. You have no idea how long they had to save, or who might have helped make that moment possible. 
  4. Avoid using phrases like, “It’s doesn’t cost that much,” or “Who doesn’t have $10 for …” What seems inexpensive to you may represent the cost of a week’s groceries for someone else.
  5. Be the friend who’s willing to stay home rather than insisting on going out. Even going for coffee is too much for a lot of people. Don’t be afraid to have a conversation for once.
All We Have To Fear

All We Have To Fear

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his first inaugural speech in 1932, the situation across the United States was dire. The stock market had gone bust, many people lost everything they had, the economic gap between the very rich and the very poor was almost as immense as it is now. Fascism was raising its ugly head across Europe. Prohibition had resulted in a new wave of organized crime. Unemployment was high across the Midwestern states, causing many people to move West in search of farm jobs. The picture was about as bleak as bleak can get.

Against that backdrop is when Roosevelt made his famous statement (which may have been an unattributed quote), “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” People took that to heart, fought through their fears, took on the Fascists, paid higher taxes for the good of everyone, and by the time FDR died, we were the most prosperous country in the world. 

We can get there again, but to do so we have to shelve not only these five fears but others such as fearing LGBTQ+ people, fearing immigrants, fearing people who don’t speak English, fearing science and education, fearing radically new ideas, fearing youth, fearing aging, fearing risk, and fearing letting go.

How do we overcome those fears? There are a lot of articles and blogs with a lot of advice, but I think Phil and Barry at The Tools put it most concisely.

  1. Accept it
  2. Identify it
  3. Feel it
  4. Face it
  5. Practice it

I might add one more thing: Stop listening to those who peddle fear, especially those in positions of power or authority. A political campaign based on fear-mongering is only going to generate more fear in office.  A pulpit whose message preaches fear is incapable of spreading love. A teacher who peddles in fear gives the wrong lesson. Media that force-feeds fear makes us weak and uninformed.

We have no reason to be afraid of these things. Instead, our determination should be based on the late Gene Roddenberry’s mission for Star Trek’s Enterprise: To boldly go where no version of yourself has gone before. We CAN overcome these fears. We CAN find new courage to do things differently. 

We CAN cook the entire ham in one pan.

There’s no need to fear. Go out and be better.

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Climate Change Requires A Radical Response

Rhetoric is irrelevant; climate change now threatens everything, eliminating the opportunity for a measured response.

Note: I realize that since we’ve spent 20 weeks with the novel there haven’t been a large number of links in what we’ve written. Our links are not underlined or colored, they’re bold italic. When you see anything in that format, click it for more information.

Not that anyone will. Our click rate is something like 0.001 percent. Either you trust me too much or you don’t care. This is part of the problem. We all need to click those links.

Eagle Creek State Park Ooze

Didn’t We Already Talk About This?

Driving across town recently, I found myself increasingly frustrated by how quickly the needle was descending on my gas gauge. Traffic was horrid, people were weaving in and out of lanes with little regard for safety, and I was late. In conditions such as these, I find myself thinking that there has to be a better way. We’re on the cusp of 2020, after all. All the 20th-century science fiction promised us something better by now. Why aren’t we there?

Then, a sports car passes doing nothing short of 90 miles per hour, black smoke belching from the exhaust, swerving dangerously through traffic, at times crossing four lanes and then back, cutting off a semi whose driver then had to brake hard to prevent a significant accident. Words similar to “fucking idiot” came out of my mouth. This happens far too often and it always surprises me at how many people I see driving like this. I’m both angry and disappointed.

Seven minutes later (yes, I checked), I’m sitting at a stoplight, look over at the car on my left and guess what: it’s the same speeding dude who had passed earlier. All that noise, pollution, and danger at high speed and it had gotten him to the same place at the same time as I had gotten driving slower. I looked at him and glared, hoping maybe he’d look my direction. He didn’t. The light changed and he left a trail of rubber as he sped off.

As I watch his trail of pollution disappear in front of me (for the distance of two more stoplights where I’m in front of him this time), it occurs to me that drivers like him are the reason we don’t have flying cars. People drive badly enough on the ground. Can you imagine the chaos and disaster that would occur if we allowed them to take flight? Getting people into autonomous cars is likely to be one of the greatest life-saving events in vehicular history.

What bothers me more, though, is that it’s almost the end of another decade and as I’m driving across this midsized midwestern city I can see a blue/pink haze hovering around the city’s skyline. This is mid-October. We don’t have the extreme heat to blame for creating an “ozone action day.” There are no longer big factories downtown belching black smoke into the sky. The horizon should be clear, but it’s not. Once again, I’m prompted to ask why this is happening.

There’s little question that people are what’s happening. This haze is caused by too many vehicles with bad exhaust, people still mowing their lawns, burning leaves in the backyard, greasy exhaust from commercial kitchens filtering into the air catching dust and other particles, and other seemingly casual elements of life that all add up to creating an environment that not only is bad for our own lungs but is destroying the planet as well.

We hear a lot about climate change and global warming today as a political issue more than a scientific matter because the world is at a tipping point. If we don’t initiate significant change quickly, the effects could become irreversible within the next 30 years. After that point, if we’ve not significantly reduced CO2 emissions, the planet starts fast-tracking its way toward being uninhabitable and there is nothing we can do to stop it.

What bothers me most is not the ridiculous denial on the part of short-sighted people with a lot of money and power, but the fact that we’ve been aware of the problem for almost two hundred years and have done next to nothing to stop it. Seriously. This is so not a new issue that had we responded appropriately at the first alarm, a half dozen generations could have been raised never knowing there was a problem. Science writer Simon Weart compiled this short history of how our knowledge of climate change has developed.

  • 1824 – Joseph Fourier discovered the greenhouse effect.
  • 1859 – John Tyndall discovered that H2O and CO2 absorb infrared confirming the Fourier greenhouse effect.
  • 1896 – Svante Arrhenius proposed human CO2 emissions would prevent earth from entering next ice age (challenged 1906).
  • 1950’s Guy Callendar found H2O and CO2 did not overlap all spectra bands, therefore warming from CO2 expected (countered the 1906 objections against Arrhenius).
  • 1955 – Hans Suess identified the isotopic signature of industrial based CO2 emissions.
  • 1956 – Gilbert Plass calculated adding CO2 would significantly change radiation balance.
  • 1957 – Revelle/Suess suggested oceans would absorb less CO2 causing more global warming than predicted.
  • 1958/60’s – Charles David Keeling proved CO2 was increasing in the atmosphere.
  • 70’s/80’s Suke Manabe and James Hansen began modeling climate projections.
  • Current: NCAR, GISS, Hadley, CRU, RSS TLT, UAH, MSU, Glacier Melt, Sea Level Rise, Latitudinal Shift all confirm models.

Mind you, that’s the short version. Weart offers a little more depth in his book, The Discovery Of Global Warming. The amount of science supporting and providing evidence of this cataclysmic problem is ponderous. So, why the hell are we so incredibly slow to do anything about such an obvious problem? The answer lies within the foundations of human character in the 21st century: We are lazy and we are cheap.

Numerous solutions have been available between 1824 and now. We’ve had plenty of opportunities to avoid this last-minute panic. Yet, we are a society that celebrates a culture of procrastination, starting in school when we wait until the last minute to finish a project or cram for a test, and not buying anything that isn’t on sale for less than it costs to produce. As a result, we have simultaneously eroded not only the environment but the retail economy as well.

Because of our procrastination, we have reached a level of emergency where the solutions still available to us are going to require billions, perhaps trillions, more dollars and an even greater, more drastic change to our lifestyle and cultures than could ever be considered comfortable. If we are going to survive, however, we have no choice. We have to be willing to make sacrifices and piss off people in power in order to actually get something done, even if it means working outside the permission and purveyance of governments. As a society, we can no longer wait for governments to lead the way. We must go around them, or over them, in order to maintain human viability on this planet. Hold on tight, this is going to get ugly.

The Truth Is More Radical Than We Realized

Eagle Creek Park Oil Slick

When former Vice President Al Gore presented the concept of severe climate change under the banner of An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, he did so with the deft touch of an experienced politician: He played it soft. He knew far too well that Americans wouldn’t be able to handle the enormity and seriousness of the problem had he gone full-tilt with all the alarming facts available to him. Even soft balling it, he was still called a radical and a fear-monger by just about everyone in any position of power. What Americans didn’t see is that Mr. Gore’s actions scared the living shit out of those who control the money and, by extension, the economy of the United States. He presented to them a problem whose only solution required an extensive overhaul of investments, one that would produce less return and therefore less profit. Theoretically, they could have embraced their role and responsibility and, if so, we probably wouldn’t be having the conversation we are now. Instead, they got mad, painted Mr. Gore as a liar and radical leftist (as though there’s anything wrong with being a radical leftist), and invested hard-core into climate change denial.

The other challenge standing in the way of easy acceptance of the severity of climate change is the fact that all the genuinely informative and factual studies are written in academic science language, something the average person doesn’t understand, doesn’t see the importance in understanding, and therefore holds the summaries suspect because they don’t understand a damn thing the paper just said. Let me try and help you out there a bit.

Last year (2018), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report on Global Warming of 1.5℃. Right there, in the title, they lost the vast majority of Americans who might, depending on their age, have been taught in school how to convert between Celsius and Fahrenheit (hint: you multiply the Celsius temperature by 1.8, then add 32). If we’re going to get alarmed over what seems to be a relatively low amount, we need to understand what that increase means. 

For example, in 1980, the mean temperature for the planet was around 57℉. By 2015, that had risen to 61℉ and that’s when we saw scientists begin to scream, “Oh shit!” and start throwing major conferences on just how severe the problem has become. If we take the 2015 number and even add one full degree (which is where we were this past summer), the conditions become rather worrisome.

Why get so upset over one degree? Because it only takes as little as five degrees difference to take the planet from nice, reasonably livable conditions to being buried under thousands of feet of snow or, if it goes the other direction, a complete desert with no surface water available anywhere.

Spinning your little head a bit? I know, on the surface it doesn’t appear to make sense because we see more than five degrees fluctuation in a single day, especially this time of year. In the Midwestern United States, it’s not the least bit unusual for some days to see a thirty-degree shift between morning and evening temperatures. If we can endure that with no problem, how is complete devastation possible because of only five degrees?

Our friends at the NASA Global Observatory explain it like this:

The global temperature record represents an average over the entire surface of the planet. The temperatures we experience locally and in short periods can fluctuate significantly due to predictable cyclical events (night and day, summer and winter) and hard-to-predict wind and precipitation patterns. But the global temperature mainly depends on how much energy the planet receives from the Sun and how much it radiates back into space—quantities that change very little. The amount of energy radiated by the Earth depends significantly on the chemical composition of the atmosphere, particularly the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

While land temperatures fluctuate wildly, the rapid warming of the earth is taking us quickly toward a condition where human life is no longer sustainable. And how hot is too hot?

1.5℃ from pre-industrial levels. Spoiler alert, we were already 0.79 degrees warmer in 1980. The earth’s temperature hasn’t gone down any since then.

Now that we understand why the title of this report is alarming, let’s look at some of its findings. 

  • Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. 
  • Climate models project robust differences in regional climate characteristics present-day and global warming of 1.5°C, and between 1.5°C and 2°C.
  • Estimates of the global emissions outcome of current nationally stated mitigation ambitions as submitted under the Paris Agreement would lead to global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 of 52–58 GtCO2eq yr−1 (medium confidence). Pathways reflecting these ambitions would not limit global warming to 1.5°C, even if supplemented by very challenging increases in the scale and ambition of emissions reductions after 2030 (high confidence). Avoiding overshoot and reliance on future large-scale deployment of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) can only be achieved if global CO2 emissions start to decline well before 2030 (high confidence).

Now, let’s break this down to a third-grade reading level. The first point is one we’ve heard, and denied, for 30 years. Human activity is causing the earth to warm. 1.5℃ warmer is when bad things start to happen. Those bad things cannot be reversed. Nothing here is new, we’ve just argued over it so long it’s now an emergency.

The second point is that 1.5℃ is the LOW end of the scale. Regionally, some areas of the planet will see warming to 2℃. This is bad. This is very bad. A 2℃ increase means people cannot live there. People will have to move. Global migration increases. Global food supplies are not enough. Some animal species will die out completely. Global resources are too small to handle those changes. 

The third point is, perhaps, scarier. Even if everyone followed the Paris Climate Agreement like they’re supposed to, it’s not going to be enough to prevent the planet from warming to 1.5°C. The “solutions” we have now are not enough even if everyone played along and the US isn’t playing at all. Our government is going in the opposite direction as quickly as possible.

Let’s talk more like grownups again. Our ridiculous arguments over whether the science is real have cost us dearly in terms of time available to find and enact an appropriate solution. The fact that climate change is even a question in anyone’s mind is a depth of ignorance and/or stubbornness that may have to be declared criminal in order to avoid complete extermination of the planet.

Even among those who do accept that climate change is happening there has not been enough alarm over how severe the consequences are going to be within the next ten or so years. Let me say that again: ten years. 2030 sounds distant for many people but that is no longer reality. We’re not looking at only the loss of every major coastal seaport and a redefining of beachfront property by several miles, we’re looking at massive drops in food production. As polar ice caps melt, more water becomes over salinated, making it undrinkable. Production rates for crops such as wheat, rice, potato, soybean, sugar beet, alfalfa, cotton, tree and vine crops, and most vegetable crops decreases because of the increased CO2 (long and scientific explanation of why can be found at The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine

Not everything is going to wait ten years before becoming problematic, either. Global migration is already an issue and is only going to worsen as more areas of the world become uninhabitable. Europe is already feeling the pain where migration is expected to triple over the next ten years. The World Bank Group estimates that 140 million people from sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America will be displaced by 2050. As that migration takes place, political, cultural, and social strains easily result in outbreaks of violence as bigotry, racism, and discrimination fueled by rampant Nationalism becomes more of a problem than it already is. 

A 2016 presidential memorandum addressed the extent to which climate change presents a threat to national security in the United States. That memorandum said, in part, 

“Extended drought, more frequent and severe weather events, heat waves, warming and acidifying ocean waters, catastrophic wildfires, and rising sea levels all have compounding effects on people’s health and well-being. Flooding and water scarcity can negatively affect food and energy production. Energy infrastructure, essential for supporting other key sectors, is already vulnerable to extreme weather and may be further compromised.” 

However, the current administration revoked that and other climate-change-related memos, choosing to completely ignore the severe danger. The administration’s opinion seems to be that if it’s not making money that it’s not important. Such an incredibly ignorant and short-sighted approach doesn’t merely threaten the economy and the stock market the president seems so worried about, but also the lives and well-being of every person in the United States. 

What we’re looking at is an ecological and economic disaster of a magnitude far greater than that of the Great Depression a century ago. The less we do, the less done not only by the United States but every government across the planet, the greater the risk that we hit that 1.5℃ mark and blow right past it. If we wait for the natural order of politics to provide change, we inevitably find ourselves facing a situation where we can no longer focus on prevention and instead are forced to find more radical ways to respond to the crisis.

A Desperate Situation Requires A Radical Response

Dead Conch

The days for a moderate, careful response to climate change passed thirty years ago. We are now in a situation where mass migration, drought, new deserts, food shortages, severe coastal flooding, agricultural failure, economic inflation, and all the social unrest that goes with those conditions is inevitable unless we make dramatic and uncomfortable changes. Those changes inevitably mean upsetting the status quo and thereby defying the powers that be and making at least half the population angry. We know that before ever starting.

In her new book  “On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal,” Naomi Klein compares the modern situation and “radical” proposals to the era that prompted Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. She writes:

The skepticism is understandable. The idea that societies could collectively decide to embrace rapid foundational changes to transportation, housing, energy, agriculture, forestry, and more— precisely what is needed to avert climate breakdown—is not something for which most of us have any living reference. We have grown up bombarded with the message that there is no alternative to the crappy system that is destabilizing the planet and hoarding vast wealth at the top. 

From the start, elite critics derided FDR’s plans as everything from creeping fascism to closet communism. In the 1933 equivalent of “They’re coming for your hamburgers!” Republican senator Henry D. Hatfield of West Virginia wrote to a colleague, “This is despotism, this is tyranny, this is the annihilation of liberty. The ordinary American is thus reduced to the status of a robot.” A former DuPont executive complained that with the government offering decent-paying jobs, “five negroes on my place in South Carolina refused work this spring . . . and a cook on my houseboat in Fort Myers quit because the government was paying him a dollar an hour as a painter.”

Far-right militias formed; there was even a sloppy plot by a group of bankers to overthrow FDR.

Self-styled centrists took a more subtle tack: In newspaper editorials and op-eds, they cautioned FDR to slow down and scale back.

The rhetoric of nearly 100 years ago hasn’t changed. As Americans, dramatic change scares us. Being told that we might have to be temporarily inconvenienced in order to make things better make us angry. Consider the typical response to large expanses of road construction. We fuss and fume about the detours and the heavy traffic and the inevitable delays. We deride construction workers for not moving fast enough. We curse at the long lines. Yet, when the work is done and the roads are smooth, there’s no denying that, as uncomfortable as the construction period was, it was necessary to keep the entire road from falling apart.

Our environment is at exactly that same stage. We are on the verge of having the entire planet crumble underneath our feet. If we are to have any hope of preventing total collapse we have to begin work right now and accept the fact that some very basic elements of life and economics in the United States and around the world have to change. 

Painful truth: change is going to happen one way or another. Either we can take steps in an attempt to control at least some of that change, or we can let it happen to us and suffer the consequences. All the bad things possible will happen if we sit on our ever-expanding backsides and do nothing.

An all-too-perfect example is the United Kingdom’s decision three years ago to leave the European Union. When the vote first passed, the UK government had time and opportunity to craft a workable departure that would have minimized the economic impact. Parliament made the decision to not do that. They fussed. They argued. They refused to cooperate with anyone under any circumstances. Those who wanted to stay in the EU dug in their heels and refused to consider any compromise. As a result, they are now at a point where they’re having to consider significantly more dramatic and uncomfortable actions to keep the country from leaving without the benefit of trade or any other treaties and, as a result, not only upending the UK economy but potentially putting the entire global economy into a downward spiral. 

Stubbornness and commitment to petty ideals have been the death of many solutions that could have already saved us from being in this frightful situation. We have reached a point where politicians can no longer be trusted to lead on environmental issues. Instead, our best option is to appeal directly to state and local governments, private corporations, and non-profits to take the actions federal governments will not and make changes even in defiance of federal regulations.

Another example: In July of this year, automakers Ford, Volkswagen, Honda, and BMW openly defied the federal government’s rollback of fuel emission standards for new vehicles by signing on to a California deal that decreases greenhouse gas emissions by 3.7 percent each year between 2000 and 2026. Yes, the change will increase the price of new vehicles, but the long-term benefit to the environment is far greater. The president’s objection reflects fear from the oil and gas industry as the new vehicles also improve fuel economy by as much as 50 miles per gallon, potentially putting a severe dent in industry profits. 

At this point, however, any argument against improvement of the environment is irrelevant no matter who is doing the arguing. To defend the status quo on the basis of one industry’s profit or loss is unconscionable. If the planet overheats by 1.5℃, the net effect is going to be severe enough to crash all economies on its own and at that point, there is nothing the federal government can do to stop it.

Change Deliberately Or Consequentially

All the denial and arguing in the world isn’t going to stop the warming from happening. By 2030 either we’ve taken the dramatic steps necessary to slow the warming (completely stopping it at this point probably isn’t an option) or we pretend to act surprised when all the things about which we’ve been warned become severe enough we can no longer deny their consequences. Either we care about the sustainability of life on this planet or we don’t. If we do care, we’re going to have to take some dramatic steps quickly. 

What steps make the most difference? The ones that are the least comfortable. Walk with me here.

Agriculture

We have to change the way we’ve been farming. Sure, it’s been productive—the United States provides food for more people than any other country in the world and employees some 827,000 people. However, agriculture is also the fourth-highest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country. Oops. We’ve been talking about using more sustainable farming methods since I was a kid and some farmers have made moderate changes. 

Get ready to be upset, though, because all that “organic” nonsense that everyone’s been screaming about the past ten years? It’s got to go. Organic farming increases greenhouse gas emissions. Full stop. Those benefits you think you’re getting are not worth losing the entire planet. 

Better animal breeding practices could reduce methane emissions by 10-20% and better-pasturing techniques could double that. However, feed alternatives are where a lot of reduction can take place, as much as 52% in some studies. Dietary oils are key and there are several other feeding methods that show promise.

Improving crop rotation practices, manure holding procedures, reducing the amount of fallow ground, and switching from fossil-fueled to electric pumps and motors are all things some farms have started but the process is expensive and smaller farms need financial assistance in making those changes. The difference, however, is worth any financial investment necessary.

Transportation

This one’s going to hurt. The problem is not only that we drive too much but that the vehicles we use when we do drive are amazingly inefficient and are made more so because of the inferior condition of roads and highways. Everyone’s been screaming about infrastructure investment for years, but the money still hasn’t shown up and where it has the funding has been focused on propping up bad systems rather than replacing them.

First, we need to ditch vehicles using fossil fuels ASAP. The most recent studies show that newer electric-powered vehicles (not the ones from ten years ago) reduce CO2 emissions by as much as half and the technology is only improving. Here’s the thing: we can’t wait for everyone to buy a new electric car in the natural course of individual car buying. Department of Transportation figures show that it takes 11 on average to get a car off the road. We don’t have that much time. That means we have to eliminate used car sales for non-electric vehicles and provide tax incentives, subsidies, and vehicle buy-back programs to encourage the purchase of new electric vehicles. 

Even that move, as drastic as it is, falls short of what we need to get CO2 emissions back in line. We still need to drive less and we also need to reduce the number of airplanes in the sky. On average, whether hauling people or cargo, the average commercial airplane produces a little over 53 pounds of CO2 per mile. One 2010 study shows that over 10,000 are killed each year just from the pollution that planes emit. The most readily available solution to both is investing in high-speed rail systems that utilize electric power. Localized high-speed rail systems in major cities combined with severe reductions of individual car use (most likely implemented by changes in driving laws) would not only reduce carbon dioxide emissions but could save lives do to reduce road fatalities. 

Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, it’s a move that upsets the current economy and shifts power away from traditional sources, but we have to make these moves if we’re going to continue living on the planet.

Elimination Of Fossil Fuel Use

Talk about upsetting the status quo, we’ve had the means to wrench away from our dependence on fossil fuels for at least 30 years and we’re afraid to make the move because of this prevailing myth pushed by big oil and related industries that the effect on the economy would be devastating. It’s all bullshit. We’re talking about eliminating a source of fuel, not the demand. Therefore, the economic impact only hurts those companies who are unwilling to make the shift. Already, big oil has started investing in renewable energy sources and European producers are doing so at a significantly faster rate than US and Asian producers. If governments eliminate oil subsidies to renewable sources, the same dollars stay in the market, continue employing high numbers of people at higher-than-average wages, and the economy benefits. This is not an economic issue but a power issue. Given the corruption we’ve seen in the fossil fuel industry, a power shift isn’t a bad thing.

We can provide all the power needs for the entire planet with solar panels covering 0.3 percent of the earth’s land surface (source). Yes, that’s a lot of land, but since solar isn’t our only choice we can reduce the land-use significantly and still make sure the entire planet has more than energy to not only fuel current needs but the increasing needs going into the future. 

Conservatives and those financed by the oil, gas, and coal industries want you to believe that moving away from fossil fuels is a bad thing. No, it’s not. At the worst, it might mean more people have solar panels on their roofs. If solar panels on your roof are what saves the planet isn’t that a reasonable trade-off?

Rethinking Plastics

We use a LOT of plastic and much of it is for very necessary things especially in regard to medical supplies. So, to completely eliminate plastics, which are traditionally made from fossil fuels, requires a strong and flexible alternative. We’ve been hearing the call to reduce our dependency on plastic for over 30 years. How did we respond? We started using it to store and sell water, causing every environmentalist on the planet to do a hard face-palm. 

Plastics such as the Polyethelene PE that is used most have a carbon footprint equivalent to burning 2kg of oil for every 1kg of plastic. 1kg of plastic is roughly the weight of five plastic shopping bags. Put it all together and plastics represent the fourth largest contributor to greenhouse gases and that’s before we fail to recycle them and they end up being the trash that pollutes everything

The good news here is that technology is rapidly bringing us to that point where bioplastics, especially those produced from hemp, offer the possibility of at least making plastics carbon neutral, meaning they absorb as much carbon as they emit. As of this writing, there are still some areas of the creation process that uses oil and the biodegradable claim is challenging to fully support, keeping it from being the perfect solution. However, the reduction of CO2 a complete switch to bioplastics would provide is a significant boost toward halting the warming of the planet.

The bad news? Big Oil is only too happy to sponsor arguments against bioplastics claiming they’re not fully biodegradable. Biodegradability is certainly something that would help, but the far greater CO2 emissions from plastic happen during the creation process. Arguing over biodegradability is, at best, a distraction to keep any improvements from actually happening. Bioplastics are proven to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and right now that has to remain the top priority. We can worry about biodegradability when we’re sure we’re not all going to die.

Technology

The fourth Industrial Revolution is here and technology is in the driver’s seat. Already, our reliance on technology has grown 100-fold over the past ten years, but in order to save ourselves from the damage we’ve done, we have to go further than tends to make us comfortable. Right off the bat, technology is the fundamental resource that makes all other solutions possible. Still, there is more that it can do and we need to get comfortable with making the investments that utilize technology to its fullest extent.

For example, as scary as autonomous vehicles sound, they provide more fuel-efficient transportation, even in electric vehicles. Humans are not efficient when they drive. We speed, we brake wrong, we rubber-neck like crazy, and all of those bad habits result in using more energy than is necessary to get us from point A to point B.

Technology also offers the opportunity to compress CO2 into fertilizer, turn CO2 into liquid fuel, use CO2 to create hybrid membranes for medical use, and a plethora of other changes that help eliminate the use of fossil fuels and other materials that leave large amounts of carbon in the atmosphere. One of the most critical may be in developing new fabrics for clothing, eliminating the need to grow cotton, an act that completely ruins the land on which it is grown. 

There are plenty of options but what they all need is a dramatic level of investment to get them out of labs and into everyday use. One obvious source of investment funds would be to completely eliminate oil and gas subsidies and put those same funds toward planet-saving technologies. 

Economic Redistribution

If ever there was a strong argument for economic equality, saving the planet is it. The reasons are rather obvious.

  1. The poor suffer the most from environmental damage.
  2. Economic inequality drives environmental damage.
  3. The richest 10 percent are responsible for 50 percent of global emissions.

Equitable distribution of funds and resources allows poorer countries to invest in technologies and methods that reduce greenhouse emissions. Pollution in countries that have greater economic balance is significantly less than in countries with severe gaps between rich and poor. What’s more, as reliance on fossil fuels and their related industries has to be eliminated, people employed in those fields are more likely to experience a severe reduction in wealth as they are not necessarily skilled to transition into the most high-demand fields of employment. 

In order to combat this problem, we need to come to grips with the need for some very uncomfortable economic changes.

  1. Significantly taxing the richest one percent
  2. Significantly taxing corporations, especially those involved in industries that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions
  3. Greater public investment in global education
  4. Significantly higher wage minimums 
  5. Tighter control of housing and food costs

I can hear the screaming from here. Let’s face the facts, though. Trickle-down economics only benefits the rich. Inflation in the housing market has created a crisis. More public funds are necessary to combat warming and there’s no legitimate reason to put that burden on those who can least afford it. Personal wealth and corporate profits have to take a back seat to the sustainability fo the planet.

Planetary Problems Require Global Solutions

Bird tracks in the mud

Global warming and the resulting climate change are not problems unique to the United States. Granted, we’re the largest country not making a concerted effort to find a solution, but the problem is universal. For us to avoid reaching the 1.5℃ mark or worse in ten years, every country on the planet has to participate in solutions. When the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2016, 197 countries, including the United States, signed on. However, not everyone has been able to sell the agreement at home and the current closed-minded administration pulled the US out altogether. We’re not alone, though. In addition to the US, there’s an interesting list of countries that have not ratified the agreement.

  • Turkey
  • Iran
  • Angola, 
  • Eritrea, 
  • Iraq, 
  • Kyrgyzstan, 
  • Lebanon, 
  • Libya, 
  • South Sudan, and 
  • Yemen

What all of those countries share with the United States is an authoritarian leader (though not necessarily authoritarian government) whose focus is on maintaining a tight grip on the rule of their country. Such an inward “me first” focus is detrimental to addressing climate change. Leaders have to actually care about the welfare of the people they govern in order to support solutions that involve international cooperation. 

Such Nationalistic tendencies are more a reflection of the leader’s psychosis rather than the nation’s true attitude. Notice that some of the world’s most infamously dictatorial leaders, including Russia’s Putin, China’s Xi, and North Korea’s Kim, all recognized the need for their country to cooperate. For a leader to not adequately address the emergency of global warming is to demonstrate utter disregard for the people most likely to be directly affected by the crisis: the people they rule.

While most of the countries who have not ratified the agreement are small and some, such as Kyrgyzstan, barely have a carbon footprint at all compared to other countries, the United States is the world’s second-largest contributor to CO2 emissions behind China. For the US to not address the challenge not only dooms Americans but the entire planet. We, as a country, fail to provide the most critical leadership and in doing so effectively sign the death warrants of millions of people.

Yes, I realize that sounds alarmist, but this is the reality.

About Those Consequences

Tree stump in a withering lake

Remember when the IPCC report mentioned overshoot and gave it a “high probability?” That means they don’t expect the world to be able to limit warming to 1.5℃. In fact, they go ahead and admit that some regions will see an increase of 2℃ or higher. So, what happens if we completely fail and blow right past that half-degree increase from where we are now?

It’s not pretty. If greenhouse gas emissions remain at their current level, here are some of the effects.

  • Temperature records will continue to be broken. Considering this past summer already saw the hottest months on record, it’s safe to assume severe drought patterns across places that normally do not have a problem. [source]
  • The amount of land destroyed by wildfires would more than double to approximately 5.3 million acres annually. This would continue to grow in severity putting people at risk who have never needed to worry before. [source]
  • Severe drought across 40% of all land on the planet. Say goodbye to normal crop production. Should we stay at the status quo, rates of hunger and starvation would spike as prices for available food would shoot high. [source]
  • Reduced nutritional value of existing food would result in a food-security crisis for some 821 million people (estimating conservatively). While sources decline to predict morbidity rates, there’s little question the death toll would be considerably higher than it is now. [source]
  • If we reach a 2℃ warmth above the pre-industrial level, the result is a climatological feedback loop that would cause temperatures to jump 4-5℃. There are currently no reliable models for how severe the effect could be. [source]
  • Warming water rising 2-3 feet above current levels expands, displacing approximately 700 million climate refugees. [source 1, source 2, source 3]
  • More frequent and more intense hurricanes. We’re talking multiple F5 and stronger storms with an expanded hurricane season. We’ve already seen how devastating multiple storms in a single season can be. Imagine those storms on steroids. [source]
  • 60 % of all coral reefs will be highly or critically threatened. Millions of people would lose their primary food source. Whole fish groups would go extinct and disease would infect those that remain. This alone could cause global markets to completely crumble. [source]

And those, dear friends, are just the tip of the proverbial rapidly-melting iceberg. There’s no way of estimating what could happen as a result of the severe migration. The social/political unrest could topple entire governments and result in unchecked war and genocide. No country is immune from the potential fallout. Humans have never knowingly faced a greater threat to the whole planet and our very survival.

Radical Solutions Require A Radical Response

birds gather around the little water that remains in a dying resevoir

The current US president is fond of calling those intelligent enough to acknowledge the challenge of climate change as radicals. He calls their proposals radical and thinks that alone is sufficient reason for ignoring them. He’s right in that the only solutions left to us now genuinely are radical. They are upsetting to the status quo and require changing some of the most fundamental aspects of our lives. There’s no harm in admitting that the whole thing is just a little bit scary.

Where the president and his supporters are wrong, though, is in thinking that if they yell loud enough, ignore hard enough, bully scientists long enough, that it will all go away and they’ll get the continued disaster without any consequences. They are wrong and there’s absolutely nothing they or anyone else can do to stop the disaster if we do nothing. 

Here’s the thing: all those little things like switching the kind of straw one uses and recycling their plastic water bottles and all the other little tasks one does individually provide a false sense of accomplishment. Those things only help if the larger players are doing their part. Household recycling only helps if those materials are actually being recycled through means that are environmentally helpful. Straw use only matters if material from landfills stops ending up in waterways. If the big guys aren’t in the game, individual household participating is irrelevant There’s nothing you or I can do to stop the inevitable.

That means you and I have to become radicals as well. We have to vote, starting at the local level, for city council members and mayors that support clean air initiatives in our own towns.  We have to get radical in voting with our pocketbooks by paying attention to how everything we buy is made and not purchasing from companies who are not doing their best to offset their own carbon footprint. We have to get radical in pressuring our elected representatives to take governmental action, even in the face of an ignorant and incendiary president. That pressure has to come hard and continuously and needs to unseat anyone who doesn’t get with the plan.

When it comes to climate change, there is no such thing as being too radical. Yes, it’s going to be uncomfortable. Yes, it’s going to mean changing the way we do things. But the alternative?

We die. 

The whole planet dies.

Not kidding. Not fear-mongering. This is the reality. 

Time to get radical.

Where We Are Now - old man talking

Not too long ago I was sitting at the table writing, one ear keeping tabs on the news from Sri Lanka where a coordinated set of bombs shattered the peacefulness of Easter Sunday. At the moment, the death toll is over 300, ISIS is claiming responsibility, and people around the world are wondering why memos detailing names and places related to the bombings were not heeded. The terrorist attacks were devastating not only for Sri Lankans but people around the world as citizens of at least 12 different countries were killed in the blast.

Naturally, such a disaster invites all manner of news reporting and in one set of interviews on NPR an English speaking woman told the reporter, “I’m sad but I can’t really be too angry. This is just where we are now. These things happen.”

The woman’s statement caught me short. While my nature is to react to events like this with a mixture of shock, anger, and disgust, the reality is that such events are happening around the world with such frequency that we’ve begin to normalize them, accepting that no matter where we are at any given time, something bad could happen. There’s nothing we can do about it.

On one level, this direction of thinking bothers me deeply. I don’t want to believe that there’s nothing we can do to stop terrorists from attacking innocent people. At the same time, however, looking over the course of my lifetime, even if we just limit it to the period starting with the 1972 Olympics in Munich and coming forward, one would have to logically assume that no, we cannot do anything to stop terrorists. Not only are we not successful at stopping them, since September 11, 2001, the number and frequency of attacks has only increased. Global intelligence and security agencies are, collectively, lousy at protecting people from terrorists.

Yes, I know that is a gross over-generalizations. Police and security agencies don’t talk about the hundreds of plots that they foil because of the level of feel that information would likely incite among the general public. When someone like the FBI or Secret Service does give us a glimpse of their secretive work, the numbers are mind boggling. They are stopping a lot of attacks.

But the agencies cannot stop all the terrorists and the volume of attempts has been so great that while the ratio of planned terrorist attacks might have gone down, the real number of successful attacks has increased. Then, we see instances such as Sri Lanka where the warnings were there, the people responsible were named, and still, nothing was done to prevent that horrible atrocity from occurring. While officials in some countries may be doing their best to prevent terrorism, others obviously are not.

I sit here deeply bothered by the statement, “This is just where we are now.” Is it, really? Among the many pieces of information to which I subscribe is a service called Statista.  Statista does exactly what its name implies: compiles statistics. For people like me who want to see the real numbers, it is both a valuable resource and, occasionally, a rabbit hole consuming massive amounts of time. I looked through some of their recent works and found this snapshot of “where we are now.

Statistics We’d Rather Ignore

Looking further than just the matter of terrorism, which is no small issue, we find that the state of the entire world really is quite a mess. I’ve assembled a set of statistics here across a number of troubling issues. Any of them could be a lengthy conversation if we had the time.

Statista: Coalition Forces Are Killing More Civilians Than The Taliban
STatista: Record Number of Bombs Dropped on Afghanistan in 2019

For those of us who like breathing, air quality is an increasingly alarming issue both globally and in the United States. Remember these statistics when a certain president talks about how “unfair” air quality regulations are on certain businesses.

141 Million Americans Are Exposed To Unhealthy Air
Air Pollution Is The Greatest Human Health Risk
Where Traffic Fumes Lead To Childhood Asthma

From Plato forward, the world’s greatest minds have agreed that a free and public press is a critical element in maintaining freedom. Yet, increasingly, and most noticeably in the United States and Europe, those freedoms are eroding. Yell “Fake News” all you want, the news media in many cases is the only reason more people are not slaves to their governments.

The State of World Press Freedom

The amount of debt incurred for the sake of education has reached a level that we cannot sustain. This isn’t new information, but perhaps a graphic representation of the severity of the problem might help us focus on the need to do something to reverse this trend.

How U.S. Education Became a "Debt Sentence."

Earth Overshoot Day is the point at which we’ve spent the world’s entire natural resource budget for the year. This is how severely out of balance the earth’s population is with natural sustainability, leading to famine, disease, and natural disasters.

Earth Overshoot Day Comes Sooner Every Year

Measles is a disease we can eliminate. Completely. All that’s required is taking a shot. Funny how that becomes a difficulty for a lot of people. The United States isn’t on this list YET, but just wait, we’re not that far from reaching the numbers of less developed nations.

The countries with the most reported measles cases

While most of the developed countries of the world recognize that capital punishment does not achieve any practical purpose, there are still a number of places where execution of prisoners is disturbingly high. And yes, the US is on this list.

The World's Top Executioners

Infrastructure is likely to become a significant issue in the 2020 campaigns, or at least it should be. The country’s roads and bridges have been neglected to the point they are a matter a national security in many places. Remember, the whole purpose of the Interstate System was to facilitate rapid movement of the population in the event of attack. We can’t do that if roads and bridges are falling apart.

Where America's Bridges Are Crumbling

In addition to the places on this map, the ILGA, an international federation campaigning for LGBT rights, homosexuality is punishable by up to eight years in prison in 31 countries and 10 years to life in prison in another 10 countries. Understand, these people can be imprisoned not for doing something wrong, but because they were born different from the status quo.

Where Homosexuality Is Punishable By Death

From Statista’s report:
Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election by spreading misinformation via social media have been well documented and widely discussed. While the investigation as to whether the Russian government coordinated its efforts with the Trump campaign is still ongoing, 
Freedom House’s 2017 Freedom of the Net report reveals that the United States wasn’t the only country whose election has been meddled with over the past year. According to Freedom House, online manipulation and disinformation played a key role in the elections in at least 18 countries between June 1, 2016, and May 31, 2017.

Disinformation and Maniputation Is Rife on Social Media

And if all that isn’t depressing enough, let’s get back to what started this whole conversation: Terrorism. Sure, all the expected players are there such as Iraq and Afghanistan, but scroll down. Just below Kenya, barely above Ukraine, sits the United States. We don’t like calling the most recent synagogue shooting an act of terrorism, but it is. We don’t like calling our daily mass shootings terrorism, but they are. We are the highest developed country on this list. Shouldn’t we be doing more to stop this problem?

Global Terrorism Index 2019

Statistics That Should Be More Positive

Okay, so all those statistics are depressing. If we only look at the world through such a dark lens, depression is inevitable. Surely there are some more hopeful statistics somewhere, something that says we’re not all doomed. Right? There’s some positive news out there, somewhere …

Let’s start with paid leave for Dads. That sounds like a wonderfully progressive issue that has really gained a lot of steam among working parents around the world. These numbers are encouraging … until one gets to the bottom and realizes that the United States has none. Zero. Zilch. Although, the same applies to women in the US as well. None. Uhm …

Where Fathers Get the Most Paid Parental Leave

Okay, that one maybe didn’t work out so well. What about health? Aren’t Americans supposed to be all consumed with how healthy we are? Sure, if we totally ignore the statistics earlier about air quality as it relates to health, most Americans are pretty health conscious. Well, up to a point. Apparently, being interested in healthy food doesn’t translate to actually being healthy.

Vast Majority of Americans Interested In Healthy Food
Less Than A Quarter of U. S. Adults Get Enough Exercise

Okay, so we’re not all that healthy. At least we’re happy, right? Don’t most of us have that going for us, being all happy and stuff. Sort of. Happiness seems to rely dramatically upon where one lives. One can make the argument that it is easier to be happy when one is around other people who are happy. In that case, perhaps we should all move to Finland. Although, that might make the Finns unhappy.

This is totally not going the direction I expected it to go. I’m asking about topics that should totally be positive and encouraging and that’s not what I’m getting.

How about education? Okay, there was that chart earlier about education and debt, so we know that’s a problem, but at least our kids are learning, right? Isn’t there something positive in those numbers? Well …

1/2 of U.S. Students Are In Segregated School Districts
Steady Rise for Women in STEM but Gender Gap Remains

Now I’m just frustrated. There has to be some good news somewhere. We’re not totally living in a dystopian world without any source of hope, are we? There’s good news somewhere, right? What about technology? Everyone loves technology and it’s doing great things to improve our lives. At least, that’s what I thought.

U.S. Cities With The Most STEM Jobs
Science and Tech Promise Future Fixes for Many

Statistics That Don’t Matter Until They Do

When we look at the condition of everything in the world, it becomes difficult to find things that are positive to say about “where we are now.” Sure, there is some encouraging progress in some areas, but the closer we look the more we realize just how far we still have to go to reach things such as gender and racial equity, things that most of us know should be default by now. We’ve been working on this whole equality thing over 60 years. We should have this figured out!

I’m not inclined to leave this topic on a dark note, however. I can’t. So, in the absence of truly positive news, here are some statistics that may not matter to you at all, unless they do.

America's Fastest Drive-Thrus
Taylor Swift's Most Viewed Videos
The Largest Music Festivals In The World
Consumer Confidence Remains High in the U.S.
Cord-Cutting Is Quickly Picking Up Pace
How Americans Spend Their Tax Refunds
Is The United States Full?
Sibling Rivalry Continues Over Laughs

Petty Annoyances - old man talking

I am a grumpy old man. I fully embrace that reality and don’t apologize for being who and what I am. I have worked hard to get here and have no intention of changing any time soon.

That being said, I have to acknowledge the fact that I did not become the curmudgeon that I am without some help from everyone else on the planet. The fact of the matter is that I am grumpy largely because everyone else behaves in such a stupid and illogical manner. Not that I expect everyone to be a Vulcan in their approach to life, but applying a bit of reason and thoughtfulness to one’s daily activities, especially where it applies to interacting with others, would certainly go a long way toward making me a slightly less than an unpleasant person.

My expectation is that people who interact with me in person on a regular basis are well aware of when their actions are annoying. I’m not one to hide either my feelings nor my opinion. If you’re standing next to me and doing something stupid, I’m probably going to address the matter right then and there. Ask my children about this; I don’t mind embarrassing them a bit if it means they stop acting inappropriately.

People who only interact with me online, or don’t interact with me at all, are less likely to realize the degree to which I find them annoying. If it were just me that they were annoying, I wouldn’t expect anyone to actually care. If one is not directly interacting with me, and especially if they don’t even know I exist, then there’s no reason for them to have any compunction about the degree to which I find them annoying.

However, when someone is doing something that I find annoying, chances are pretty high that I’m not the only person with that opinion. Take, for example, the president of the United States, please. Almost everything he does is annoying, to say the least. There are some days when his level of annoyance becomes so great that I have little choice but to ignore him completely and, to the limited extent possible, pretend he doesn’t exist. If I were the only person on the planet who finds the president annoying, that would be on me. However, I’m far from being alone in my opinions on this sexist, bigoted, profane, lying, homophobic, con artist. The number of Americans that find him annoying is in the hundreds of millions and if we expanded that opinion globally I’ve no doubt the number would be well over a billion.

While the president might be an extreme example, given that few people are actually so continually annoying with everything they do, he does serve to highlight the problem that comes from holding ill-formed opinions and thoughtless activities that affect other people. We all tend to be a bit selfish by nature and that is, to some degree, understandable. Problems arise, though, when the effect of our actions on other people causes them discomfort. To the degree that a person fails to realize the consequences of their actions, they become exceedingly annoying.

Take former vice-president Joe Biden, for example. On a general basis, I kinda like Joe; he’s that compassionate grandfatherly figure who has his faults but nothing so big one can’t excuse him. Joe is a touchy-feely kind of guy. I get it. He is a part of that generation that was taught to connect with other people by touching them—a hand on a shoulder to infer support, holding a hand to show compassion, patting a knee to communicate that one has heard what the other is saying. There were once books and conferences that taught this method of physically relating with other people. Whether or not Biden read those books or took those courses I don’t know, but he was influenced by them as a lot of other successful people were.

Then comes the era of #MeToo, a movement long overdue where people, especially women, are speaking up about the many things others do, especially men, that are hurtful, offensive, and annoying. High on that list: unwanted touching. Much to the surprise of some, there are a lot of people, not just women, who do not appreciate people touching them in any manner without permission. The level of uncomfortableness has been present for decades but only now, emboldened by the changing social climate, are people feeling free to speak out.

So, Joe gets called out for his frequent and well-documented habit of touching people, kissing the top of heads, putting an arm around someone he doesn’t actually know, putting a hand on a shoulder and giving a squeeze. Did the vice president intend to do any harm? No, absolutely not. But like many people, especially men, he has been tone deaf to the level of annoyance his actions cause other people, especially women. Our society has finally decided that such actions, especially against women, are no longer tolerable and we’re taking the sometimes painful steps of correcting that behavior.

Not every annoyance is as critical as how and when one person touches another, of course. Most annoyances are smaller, less significant actions that we do without giving anything a second thought. Those are the activities I want to address for a moment. While they don’t have an impact that requires a separate #MeToo movement, they’re almost certainly things that bother a lot of people and no one has felt emboldened enough to say anything. I’m not especially bold, just grumpy enough to go charging on into these topics without necessarily caring if I step on a toe or two. These are actions that need to stop.

Asking guests to remove their shoes

Petty Annoyances - old man talking

Wearing shoes is one of those strange acts that seems to bring us joy in some moments, pain in others, and pure frustration for many. All of my children have issues wearing shoes. While the Marine doesn’t have a choice, the others are quick to shuck their footwear the moment they hit the back door. There are times I’m fairly certain my daughter has hers halfway off before she breaches the threshold.

I am the exact opposite, however, and I’ve known several others like me. We wear shoes almost all day and taking them off can, at times, be a source of extreme discomfort. So, when we visit someone who insists that all their guests doff their shoes at the front door, I’m often tempted to turn around and leave. At the very least, the request spoils my mood for the remainder of the visit.

Beyond my own physical level of discomfort, the soles of my feet being extremely sensitive to everything they touch, I’ve never understood people’s reasoning for asking guests to remove their footwear in the first place. Granted, it’s natural with children who would likely live naked until they reach a point of personal awareness where they’d prefer to hide their bodies. For adults, though, there are other issues to consider.

Let’s talk about the spread of fungal infections. I’m not just talking about Athlete’s Foot here. There are several different types of fungal disease that can spread through bare feet. Once a fungus is in a receptive environment, like a carpet, it’s not eliminated the next time one vacuums. Getting rid of some fungi is more difficult than trying to get rid of pesky mold. Making this more of a challenge is that one is not likely to know that the carpet is the source of the problem, allowing infections to recur.

Going barefoot is also a health risk for anyone who has any type of circulation issue in their lower extremities. Diabetics often have to deal with this matter. When one’s feet lose circulation they don’t feel small pains, such as the prick of a needle or wayward tack that was hiding in that deep pile carpet. Many diabetics can sustain significant foot injury and never realize that anything has happened until they see blood on the floor.

There’s also the problem with foot odor and no, it’s not always associated with poor hygiene. Certain prescription drugs may cause foot odor as a result of taking the medicine. Keeping one’s shoes on helps control the smell and prevents one from being offensive.

Arguments about not wanting to put undue wear on the carpet are silly. Modern carpets are far from delicate no matter how deep and lush the pile. In fact, new carpet fibers are so heavily treated that the chemicals in the carpet can cause an allergic reaction on bare skin, another good reason to keep one’s shoes on their feet.

If one is seriously worried about guests tracking in mud or other dirt onto their pristine floors, then consider providing mats and wipes one can use on their footwear rather than insisting that they remove their shoes. If someone in your family has an autoimmune disease that requires a high level of cleanliness, consider providing disposable foot covers which are not only more friendly but also is safer for your family member.

Personal comfort is the only good reason for removing one’s shoes at any home other than one’s own and comfort is not something one can mandate to other people. If one genuinely values their guests, they’ll allow them to keep their shoes on and enjoy their visit without being annoyed by having to look at everyone’s funky toes.

Referring to your fad as a lifestyle

Petty Annoyances - old man talking

Bile rises into my throat and I want to vomit every time I hear someone use the phrase, “It’s not a __________, it’s a lifestyle!” No, Karen, your obsession with 30-year-old Beanie Babies is a symptom of your psychosis and you really should seek professional help. Fads are not a lifestyle. Just because something is popular enough to consume every waking moment is not enough to make it a lifestyle. Furthermore, it’s annoying as hell for one to treat it as such.

A large number of fads can be time-consuming. Rabid fans of k-pop, for example, often go full-on into cosplay and merchandise hoarding and fiscal irresponsibility in the name of their fandom. That does not make k-pop itself a lifestyle; it simply means that desperate people are so out of touch with their identity that they feel compelled to latch onto something larger. Strict religious adherents suffer from the same malady.

Some fads can also be healthy in moderation. Obese people, of which the United States has an excessive supply, can often find at least short-term benefits in certain fad diets. However, those benefits are often short-lived and may also lead to additional unexpected health issues. Mythologies around nutrition are unsound and frequently dangerous. We need balances for our bodies to function at their optimum capacity and fads, by their very nature, pull one away from moderation in any form.

When someone refers to a fad or a movement as a lifestyle it demonstrates a lack of understanding as to all that a lifestyle encompasses. One can be dedicated to something that is not a lifestyle. One can benefit from things that are not lifestyles. Lifestyles, however, are multifaceted and often complicated matters that typically involve large groups of people.

Before one goes running to an online dictionary in an attempt to prove me wrong, not that anyone would ever do that, let’s look at one of the most complete definitions I’ve found, oddly enough in the Business Dictionary.

Lifestyle: a way of living of individuals, families (households, and societies, which they manifest in coping with their physical, psychological, social, and economic environments on a day-to-day basis. Lifestyle is expressed in both work and leisure behavior patterns and (on an individual basis) in activities, attitudes, interests, opinions, values, and allocation of income. It also reflects people’s self-image or self-concept; the way they seem themselves and believe they are seen by the others. Lifestyle is a composite of motivations, needs, and wants and is influenced by factors such as culture, family, reference groups, and social class.

Lifestyles are the combination of many elements, not the obsession over just one. Attitudes can be part of a lifestyle but are not a lifestyle unto themselves. Activities are often associated with specific lifestyles but are not lifestyles on their own.

When we think of what constitutes a lifestyle, we need to think in larger terms than one specific element such as a diet or a fashion choice. Being urban, or rural, or country can be lifestyles because they not only invoke a specific attitude, but activities, socio-economic settings, employment opportunities, and moral outlook. Luxury is a lifestyle that many people try to mimic but only a few obtain because of the economic requirements for that lifestyle. Tribal lifestyles incorporate the whole reality of existence within a limited group of people who share a common ancestry and culture.

Compare those examples to frequent misuses of the term and one can see how a diet is not a lifestyle, a hobby is not a lifestyle, and sexual proclivities do not constitute a lifestyle. Lifestyles are broad, complex, and, perhaps most importantly, involve an economic factor that limits or helps define participation in that lifestyle. Calling one’s multi-level marketing scam a lifestyle in an effort to elevate its importance is essentially lying and definitely part of the con job inherent to such schemes. Don’t try to make more of your interests than they deserve. Enjoy what you do, but don’t overinflate its value.

Failing to vaccinate your family

Petty Annoyances - old man talking

To some degree, I shouldn’t need to include vaccinations in this list. I argued with myself about whether it was necessary. After all, I’ve expressed my opinion on the matter previously, most extensively in the article 10 Horrible Deaths Awaiting Offspring of Anti-Vaxxers. I include it again because there are perhaps some reading this time who didn’t see the previous mentions and because, quite frustratingly, we’re seeing an increase in the occurrence of diseases that had all but been eliminated.

Let me be extremely clear: anyone who does not vaccinate their children is a goddamned fool and don’t expect me or any other reasonable person to backtrack from that opinion. What has changed is that I’m far from being the only one annoyed with this situation and as cases of measles and mumps have begun cropping up across the nation, city health departments and governments are letting anti-vaxxers know that they’ve had enough and are no longer welcome. In fact, while the Constitutionality of such acts is still questionable, more cities are attempting to make it illegal for non-vaccinated persons to be out in public spaces where they run the risk of infecting everyone else.

Scream and shot about personal freedom all you want, public health has to come first and quite honestly we’re done with your children infecting the rest of us. No, we don’t want our kids suffering from your idiocy. No, the vaccinations absolutely, positively, without question DO NOT cause autism.

We are at that point where I support the public shaming of people who do not vaccinate their children. This is no longer a choice anyone should have. We let it go for too long and now we’re seeing a resurgence of measles and other childhood diseases that should be going the way of the Dodo. On any other level, hurting other people is a crime. When you don’t vaccinate your children you’re hurting other people. Period. That’s a crime by any standard of morality ever conceived.

Understand, I do not come to this position easily. My preference and that of most people is to allow plenty of leeway for others to hold and express beliefs that are different from the mainstream. If you want to believe that having crystals in your house brings you good luck, fine, run with that. If you want to believe that essential oils do something beyond making everything and everyone greasy, cool, be greasy.

What I need to get through the thick head of every anti-vaccination person in the world is that YOU’RE HURTING OTHER PEOPLE AND IT’S NOT OKAY. At the point that your belief system, no matter what it is, begins doing harm to other people, it needs to go away. Permanently.

Denying established and proven matters of science

Petty Annoyances - old man talking

Following closely on the heels of people who refuse to vaccinate their family are people who deny established and proven matters of science. Again, this has always been one of those areas where people like me look at science deniers, roll their eyes, and go on. For the most part, science deniers are harmless as long as they don’t breed too often.  

Then, we elected an idiot for a president who can barely say the word science correctly and has absolutely no understanding of anything going on in the field. First, he attempts to deny climate change. Then, he questions the efficacy of the Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Now, just in the past week, this monkey made the unbelievable statement that the noise from windmills causes cancer. Every science authority on the planet looked up and collectively asked, “Are you fucking crazy?”

The answer is yes, he is.

Once again, the problem with science deniers, and especially the problem with having them in places of authority, is that they’re beginning to make decisions that ultimately hurt the entire planet. From increasing the threshold for carbon dioxide emissions to reducing funding for alternative energy sources, science deniers are bringing a level of devastation on this planet that we’ve likely not seen in the past 100,000 years, or at least since the last ice age, which ended approximately 11,700 years ago (Pleistocene epoch). This is not a good thing. This goes so far beyond annoying as to be ridiculous.

Fundamental to this problem is that a lot of people don’t seem to understand how science works. So, let this chart explain it to you.

Petty Annoyances - old man talking

The scientific method is involved and meticulous and on many topics becomes extremely complex. What’s important, though, is that on the most critical matters the findings of a study are not considered legitimate until they’ve been peer-reviewed and ideally the experiments and/or procedures repeated producing the same results. Scientists are smart enough to know strange things can happen during a single study or experiment. Anomalies might appear that skew the results. So, having someone else look over the data and repeat the experiment is critical to proving the hypothesis.

At the end of the scientific method, however, once there is agreement on a large scale as the result of multiple repititions of the same process, those results are considered fact. To disprove those results, one would need an equal number of equally intense study following the same scientific principals producing a different result. One cannot simply formulate a hypothesis and claim it is fact. The hypothesis has to be tested and re-tested or else it is worthless.

When we deny science that says we are damaging our planet, we are not only endangering ourselves but every person who might live at some point in the future. Science matters on levels that are often difficult to explain but yet remain absolutely critical to the very survival of our species. When scientists tell us we need bees and butterflies to survive, they’re not just saying that because they like bees and butterflies. FOOD STOPS GROWING without bees and butterflies and since we need food to survive it becomes rather critical that we pay attention to that warning.

Furthermore, for anyone who is not a scientist to question the findings of scientists is like asking a five-year-old to inspect a Boeing 737 Max 8. Amateurs are not qualified to question the results of a thoroughly vetted scientific finding even though that scientific finding may not align with a person’s world view. The opinion os random naysayer does absolutely nothing to prevent disaster from happening the next time a 737 takes off with a plane full of people.

We are well past the point where people need to understand that while science may not always be exact and that our understanding of certain “givens” may change from time to time, we still have to trust those findings unless we are holding empirical and undisputable findings that prove otherwise. Climate change is real. Windmills do not cause cancer, but coal ash does. And yes, if the bees and butterflies disappear, we are going to starve. To believe anything else is foolish.

Claiming public funds are “my money”

Petty Annoyances - old man talking

One of those misleading things a politician has ever done was give the average citizen that government funds are still their money. The whole concept that “you’re paying for that wall,” is flawed and lacks logic. Therefore, to complain that one doesn’t want “my money” going toward a certain event or program or cause is dramatically ignorant and grossly demonstrates one’s ability to consider basic economic principals.

The example that I think explains the situation best is this:

Let’s say one walks into a store and drops a quarter into one of those bubble gum machines and receives a gumball. One puts in the required currency in the appropriate form and receives that for which they paid. End of transaction, right? One doesn’t get to object to the color of the gumball they receive. One doesn’t get to change the flavor of the gumballs in that machine. The fact that one has purchased their own gumball doesn’t give them the right to deny gumballs to others or to require increased payment for other people to get their own gumball. Put in a quarter, get a gumball, leave. If one wants different results one has to put in another quarter.

Do you understand the parallels? The amount of individual tax in relation to the size of the entire federal budget is about a quarter, less if one is including payment on the largest deficit ever. We put our quarter in, we get government back. Our taxes don’t change the flavor of the government—to do that one has to vote, making oneself a minority shareholder in the company that makes the gumballs. Our taxes don’t allow us to dictate who gets what—that’s the responsibility of Congress. Our taxes don’t give us the right to deny access to government to anyone. The fourth amendment of the Constitution guarantees equal access to the government and everything the government does.

When we pay our taxes, whether through payroll deduction or by writing a check to the IRS every April 15, that money is no longer ours just like the quarter we put in the gumball machine is no longer our quarter. That quarter now belongs to the person who owns the gumball machine, right? It stopped being your quarter the moment you turned the handle. The same applies to our tax dollars. Once we send it to the IRS, it no longer belongs to us, not even in the existential sense that we are the government. We are not part of the government that makes financial decisions. The only means through which we get a say on how those taxes are spent are by electing people to Congress and to the presidency who hold the same values as do we.

Extending this metaphor further, saying that “my money” is paying for anything, for convenience let’s say road repair, is like saying that your quarter paid for all the corn syrup used to make gumballs. No, your quarter didn’t pay for shit because it stopped being your quarter when you turned the handle on the gumball machine! The company’s money paid for that corn syrup and the federal government is paying for those road repairs. That’s not your money. You don’t get to decide what brand of corn syrup the gumball company uses any more than you get to decide which potholes get filled on any given Tuesday.

Yes, that means there are times we might not like how the government chooses to spend its money. There are also times we get flavors of gumballs we don’t like. Personally, I hate licorice and it would frustrate me as a child to put my money in the machine and see that horrible black gumball come rolling out. This wasn’t what I wanted! However, the fact that I don’t like licorice gumballs does not give me the right to insist that the gumball company stop making licorice gumballs. The company has a responsibility to make flavors of gumball for everyone, not just me. Since a significant number of people like licorice, the company has a need to make licorice gumballs. Same with the government. They’re job and purpose is not to cater to the whims of your desires but to do what is best for everyone in the country and it doesn’t really matter whether you like it or want it or use it or not.

Now, if we suspect that the gumball company is lacing the gumballs with arsenic then we have the right and responsibility to do something through whatever legal remedies might be appropriate. The same applies to the government. When Congress chooses to spend in ways contrary to the best interest of the nation, we have legal recourse: vote. Elect someone else who will make different choices. Even then, however, we need to realize that our elected representatives are more like proxy voters in a stockholder’s meeting. While our proxy might vote for one program and against another, the remainder of the “board” or stockholder’s proxies can overrule and outvote our proxy. That’s the way a representational democracy works.

The concept that we have any right to take any level of ownership over specific parts of the federal budget is ridiculous and was invented by conservative politicians in an attempt to create discord and dissatisfaction so as to influence the outcome of the elections. Unfortunately, there are enough people who bought that ridiculous notion to allow that plan to work.

Stop. The government, at any level, is not using “your money” on potholes or anything else. Get that stupid notion out of your head and we’ll all lead more peaceful lives.



I could go on, of course. There are plenty of things that annoy me, such as people using unnecessary abbreviations or neighborhood associations. What I’ve learned over the years is that dumping a full load of complaints in one sitting is counterproductive. So, let’s work on this small group first and when we’ve fixed those we’ll move on to something else.

Language - Old Man Talking

Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers. -Cesar Chavez

One of the ways one knows they’re getting old is when they no longer have a clue what other people are saying and it’s not because everyone else started speaking Mandarin. Language changes as society moves through various phases, reflecting changes in who we are and what concerns us. Words and phrases common to one generation are replaced or modified by the next. Often, words sound familiar but the meaning has changed.

As disconcerting and sometimes frustrating as it is to experience, this disconnect in verbiage, we have to realize that our grandparents experienced the same feeling when we introduced them to words like disco, far out, jammin’, reefer, brick house, Funkadelic, right on, book it, dream on, groovy, and fried. Use of those words now dates one as an old geezer but at one point they effectively made everyone over 50 wonder if we’d lost our minds.

I’m not crazy enough to suggest that we learn to talk like millennials or Gen Z. Remember how horrible it sounded when your parents said something was groovy when it obviously wasn’t. You don’t want to make the same mistake. Let the kids have their words and we’ll keep ours.

What’s important is that we maintain lines of communication with this generation that has the ability to commit us to the old folks home. We have a responsibility to listen to what they are saying, not mimic their speech patterns. When we genuinely listen to what younger people are saying, we’re likely to find they’re facing fears and challenges we never imagined. We’re also likely to discover that they have a much tighter grip on handling those challenges than we did at that age.

As those under 40 are facing a different world than we did, it helps us to segment their words into these areas: Gender and sexuality, slang, geek, technology, and political jargon. We’re obviously not going to list all the words one might encounter in any of those categories and in political jargon especially the terms are not limited to those younger than us. Language is a living and mobile entity and there are words breathed into existence on a daily if not hourly basis. Keeping up with all of them is impossible.

One also should remember that not all words are used across all geographies and populations. Ethnic peoples are likely to have a very different set of words that make perfect sense within the context of their culture but sound obtuse and strange to anyone else. Geography plays a big role in how slang is used, so what is common to New York City is foreign to Mobile, AL.

There is a lot to consider, but remember that the primary goal is understanding and relating to our younger counterparts. My experience working with people increasingly younger than myself tells me they understand us better than we realize. The next step is ours.

Slinging A LIttle Slang

Language - Old Man Talking

Slang is one of those dangerous areas of language because much of it is culture and location specific. Slang is also the most rapidly changing element of language, so the words that I list here are likely to either change their meaning, usage or become completely irrelevant within the next year or so. That makes this list of limited value, but at least we’ll be caught up for a moment and perhaps, as the slang evolves, we can sort of keep up.

Goals. For our generation, goals are something we try to achieve within a certain aspect of our lives. The under 40 crowd isn’t that far off our definition, but they also use the word to express an idea, whether they have any plans of pursuing that ideal or not. For example, when observing a couple doing something perfectly sweet a younger person might snap a picture and add the hashtag #relationshipgoals when they post it to Instagram. They might also refer to life goals, vacation goals, kid goals, or job goals. At no point are they likely to have a plan for actually achieving any of those goals. In fact, their “job goals” are likely to include things such as playing with puppies or getting paid to play video games, both of which are real jobs but don’t have a high demand. Goals are sometimes nothing more than wishful thinking. With this modern definition of the word, it is possible to have “goals” and still have absolutely no direction in one’s life at all.

Tight. The use of this word, at least as I’m typing, has nothing to do with how something fits. Even among those under 40, there are two active definitions of this word. One is to be upset about something. Let’s say one’s best mate dumps them and then hooks up with their girlfriend. The person getting dumped is likely to be rather tight about the whole thing. Or one’s parents embarrass them at dinner in a trendy restaurant; that can certainly make one tight. At the same time, though, tight can also be used to describe someone who looks like they might an exciting sexual partner, as in, “That dude is so tight.” While there is some potential for confusion between the two uses, listen to the context and especially the person’s vocal inflections. Just know that if the person being referred to as “tight” looks big and mean, one might want to check their proximity to the exits.

FOMO. “Fear Of Missing Out” is the meaning of the acronym. I’m not hearing this one quite as much as I did back last summer, but it is an apt description of many people between the ages of 21-35. These are people who generally are looking to accumulate all the experiences they can while they are still young for fear that when they are older those experiences may not be available to them. One can hardly blame them given the rate at which endangered species are dying off and climate change is affecting many of the world’s most unique geographies. When someone uses the term FOMO, listen to how it’s used. They’re likely expressing both a fear and a desire. Respond appropriately.

Ghosting. There are variations on this one. One can be “ghosted.” Someone might be referred to as having “gone totally ghost.” However it is used, it refers to someone suddenly, without any explanation, cutting off all communication with a person. A lover might suddenly ghost their mate. An employee might ghost their employer. Most troubling is when a person suddenly ghosts their entire social group. The reason for going ghost is often because a situation has become so overwhelming they cannot or no longer want to deal with it so they simply walk away and do something else, typically with someone else. What makes ghosting dangerous, however, is that those being ghosted often have no idea whether the person doing the ghosting is safe. In a society where accidental overdose from opioids is rampant, ghosting can set off alarms regarding a person’s health or mental state. Ghosting may seem irresponsible from an elder perspective but for young people who are emotionally and psychologically ill-equipped for dealing with life’s challenges is may be the only way they know to survive.

Slay. This has nothing to do with anyone dying. Rather, as is often common with slang, the term is currently used to refer to doing something very well. Examples might be “That queen is absolutely slaying that outfit,” or “I was totally slaying at work today.” There is no bloodshed, only fabulousness. Within a certain segment of society, being told that one slays is quite the compliment. However, this is one of those slang words that we old folks need to leave alone. Should someone with gray hair say that they’re slaying, someone’s likely to call the police and a lot of question are going to be asked and not all of us can be certain how those answers are going to come out. Let’s just leave the slaying to the kids.

RBF. This is one of those slang acronyms most frequently used in text messages. In person, people are more likely to state the full term: resting bitch face. We’ve known people like this our entire lives. The only difference is that the kids have finally put a name to the expression and we all have to admit that it fits certain people whose mouths naturally turn down to give them an expression of frustration, extreme seriousness or impatience even if that’s not really what they’re feeling at that moment. What’s troubling about this term is that as we get older almost all of us are likely to have it used against us. Already, Kat looks at me of the morning and asks, “What has you so upset this morning?” as though she actually has the multiple hours it would take for me to answer the question. The weight of the world removes the sparkle from our eyes, the spring from our step, and gives us resting bitch face in return. And some are proud of it.

Lit. No, they’re not talking about light bulbs but you already knew that, didn’t you? You knew that because the first time you heard one of the kids say something was lit you looked and whatever had their attention wasn’t connected to any form of illumination. Perhaps, one might figure out on their own that something is “lit” when it is awesome, incredible, or fantastic. In this text-centered world of theirs, though, lit is fewer letters and can, therefore, be communicated much more quickly than any of those longer words. Opinion comes heavily into play when determining whether something is lit. Music is often lit unless its country which is only lit for this strange group of people who think adding a banjo to a pop song makes it country. Banjos are lit. Pop country isn’t.

GOAT. This one is especially difficult for us old-timers because we have a radically different definition of the word than do the kids. We hear someone being called a goat and we think they’re being derided as being fussy and difficult to get along with. For us, being called a goat is not a compliment. For the kids, though, GOAT (all caps) is an acronym for Greatest of all Time. When looked at through that definition, we’re not nearly as offended when a grandchild says we’re the goat. Then we call that grandchild the goat. I’ve also heard someone referred to as the “original GOAT,” when talking about someone who is legendary in their field. As long as no one puts the word “old” in front of goat, I think we’re safe and should accept the compliment graciously.

Woke. If you’ve not heard this one you’re living under a rock or you need your hearing aid battery replaced (probably the latter). It seems as though everyone and everything is woke these days, or at least we’re supposed to be. I’m finding it interesting that the term has not managed to make its way into my grammar checking software resulting in it being flagged every time I type it. Still, when the kids want to say that they’re aware of what’s going on in a situation or around the world, they say they’re woke. Interestingly enough, if one is not woke it doesn’t seem to mean that they’re asleep, which is what would make sense. No, woke is a binary term; either one is or one isn’t. I should also probably mention that there is a rather liberal bias to the term woke. Woke implies one is concerned about global warming and overfishing and all the various forms of inequality and every other horrible thing going on around the planet and thinks that government is the place to start fixing those problems. That’s right, being woke comes with a hook. Let the kids use this one. We needed a nap, anyway.

There Are More Sex & Gender Terms Than You Thought

Language - old man talking

Those of us over 50 typically grew up thinking that there were only two genders: male and female. Some of you are still having problems getting past the fact that our education on the matter was lacking and our views naive. There are a number of sex and gender terms that have come into play now, though, and keeping them all straight (no pun intended) can be challenging. Most bothersome is knowing that some don’t bother learning the correct terms because of their biases against this broadening of sexual understanding and definition. Get over yourself. Many people our own age are rejoicing at the freedom to finally identify appropriately. Many of those people are your friends. There’ no room for sex and gender bias anymore, so get used to these terms.

CISgender. This is the majority of us old folks; people whose gender identity matches what is on their birth certificate. The other operable word here is straight but straight defines sexuality while CISgender defines gender. Trying to not confuse the two might seem a bit challenging, but remember that one does not necessarily preclude the other. One can be trans and straight. One can be CISgender and bi.  Knowing which term to use in a given situation can be important especially when talking with a grandchild who is neither CISgender nor straight.

LGBTQ+. Chances are you remember when the term was just LGBT. Then it became LGBTQ. Then someone added a plus sign. What do they all mean and why do they keep changing it? First, let’s start with the acronym. L = lesbian, G = gay, B = bi, T = trans, Q = queer, + = every other non-CISgender and non-straight identity. Why does the acronym keep changing? Because the more we study sexuality and gender the more we find a spectrum of complex identities that are not easily defined by the terms currently in use. At the same time, there is a reluctance to add new terms because of the difficulty the general public already has in accepting the existing terms. The + represents an umbrella under which everyone who is not comfortable with the previous definitions can reside.

GNC. Nope, this is not in reference to the brand of supplements you’ve seen at the mall. When used in the context of gender studies, it stands for Gender Non-Conforming. This is used when one’s gender identity or expression does not directly match the social expectations of the gender assigned at birth. There is a tremendous amount of nuance to this term, though, and one should realize that not everyone uses it in exactly the same way. Some people use it in reference to transgender people, which is easy enough to understand. However, it can also be used for someone who is not identified as trans but displays traits different from their genders, such as an effeminate male or masculine female.

MSM is the acronym used specifically in medical and scientific circles for men who have sex with men. There is a careful distinction here between MSM and being gay, however. MSM does not specify one’s sexual identity. What we’ve come to realize is that one can be CISgender and still be MSM. I realize that blows some minds, but this is a perfect example of how the more we study the more we discover the subtle nuances to gender and sexuality and the fluidity of one’s identity.

Non-Binary is becoming an especially important term to understand. At its root definition, non-binary is someone whose gender identity is neither specifically male or female. From there, though, it can get complicated. Non-binary persons may feel that they are a mix of both male and female or may identify with having no gender at all. There is no rule that there has to be more of one than the other or any specific gender identity at all. One may, in some setting, here the terms genderqueer or bigender used as well, but those don’t necessarily mean the same thing. What’s important to realize is that people who are non-binary is not the same as intersex (a biological situation), and are not necessarily bisexual or transgender as some often believe. They’re human and they’d appreciate it if you’d use genderless pronouns when referring to them.

MAAB/FAAB/UAAB all take us back to medical terminology which is not necessarily important in terms of social interaction but at the current moment, they can make a tremendous difference in legal situations. Specifically, the terms are Male-assigned at birth, female-assigned at birth, and unassigned at birth. All three are used by doctors when recording a live birth based upon the observation of the infant’s genitalia. This is the sort of label that tends to stick with a person. However, in states that recognize that gender is not binary, doctors are given more freedom to use the UAAB label, providing the child greater freedom in determining that identity for themselves. So, when you see your grandchild’s birth certificate with a UAAB designation, you’ll understand why.

CAMAB/CAFAB is an increasingly important designation for coercively assigned male/female at birth. There are generally two ways this might be used. One is when an intersex person—anyone with incompatible inner and outer genitalia—were misidentified at birth or given corrective surgery against their will (typically shortly after birth). The other use is when GNC individuals want to address that they did not have a choice in the sexual assignment given them at birth. One of the things we’re learning as we go along here is that birth is probably not the best time to be making gender assumptions, which means we should probably stop having all those stupid gender reveal parties. Hint, hint.

QUILTBAG is one of those terms one needs to exercise care in using. No, this is not referring to the satchel of quilting materials one carries to their weekly quilting bee. It’s yet another acronym. This one means (hold on, it’s a long one) Queer/Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender/Transsexual, Bisexual, Allied/Asexual, Gay/Genderqueer. If someone over 50 is hearing this term, chances are pretty high one is in the presence of multiple GNC persons. QUILTBAG tends to be an “insider” term and when it comes from the mouth of a CISgendered person ridicule may follow.   Some GNC people prefer the term to LGBTQ+ because it’s more inclusive and hasn’t been minimalized by the media.

SSM takes us back to legal definitions and the seemingly insane hair-splitting that politicians and attorneys like to do. The term means Same-sex Marriage which is an important distinction from gay marriage. Legally, gay marriage has always been permissible in the sense that a gay man could marry a woman. In those days where identifying as gay was dangerous, this happened a lot, resulting in a high number of divorces years after the fact. SSM makes the important distinction that two people with the same sexual identification are marrying each other. This applies not only to gay couples, but lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and any other identity the couple may take.

Geeking Out On Cyberpunk Slang

Language - Old Man Talking

Sociologist tells us that every subculture develops its own insider language full of terms that people outside the group don’t understand. Sometimes this is a matter of group security and self-preservation, other times it has to do with one’s occupation. What’s happened, however, is that more than any other subgroup in modern society, geek slang, aka cyberpunk, has increasingly made its way into the mainstream, leaving many of us old-timers scratching our heads wondering what these kids are talking about. Here are a few hints.

Adhocracy. Any type of group that is non-corporate, non-governmental, and anti-bureaucracy. The group of guys who play a game of pick-up basketball at the gym each Thursday is an adhocracy. The software developers who volunteer their time to help individually-owned businesses make the most of technology is another good example. Adhocracies are increasing as young people rebel against older business models and look for alternatives to capitalistic greed.

Gig economy. The state of employment where one works a series of short-term jobs rather than traditional full-time employment. Drivers for Lyft and Uber are a good example of the gig economy. One of the benefits of a gig economy is that one is generally free to travel and take their skills on the road. The downfall is a complete lack of long-term financial security, health insurance, and other benefits. While we tend to think of the gig economy as primarily involving younger people, folks our age are finding it is also a good way to supplement retirement income as well.

Crumbly. Yes, we are. The term is of British origin and refers to old geezers like you and me. If one doesn’t quite get the reference, think of how we viewed anyone over 30 when we were teens. There’s not necessarily any intent of disrespect meant with the term. One’s not likely to hear a grandchild refer to them directly in such a manner. More often than not, it’s used among peers, as in, “I’m having dinner with some crumblies tonight,” or “I’ll have to catch up with you later. We’re going to visit my Pops over in Crumblyville (a retirement or senior-dominated community).”

Nerf Herder. This is not a phrase one wants to have attached to them. Nerf Herder is a derogatory term for someone who manages unskilled and, by inference, less-than-intelligent workers. The term first became popular among tech workers who would use the term in reference to department heads managing mind-numbing data entry personnel. It has since grown to include pretty much any position over unskilled labor. The purpose is to take a person down a notch. Managing people who keep doing the most simple of tasks in repetition is not exactly a challenging task itself. Being called a Nerf Herder is a pretty good sign one’s career is on a dead-end path.

Fluid. A person who is “exploring their options,” not settling down or making any commitments. If that sounds like one of your own adult children, be concerned. This one can be a bit tricky, though, because it can also refer to someone whose sexual identity is in motion. For we older folks, it is probably good enough to know that anyone who is fluid is likely experiencing some changes in their life and can probably use a friend with a gracious ear.

Ping. Any form of digital notification on any device. Chances are yours and mine are somewhat out of control. One of the FOMO aspects of getting older is that we’re afraid of missing something important in the news. So we turn on alerts for the newspaper and local TV stations and major news websites, all of whom notify us when something new has happened. Each notification makes a sound on our devices and that sound, most often, is a ping. People who get a lot of notifications might be referred to as being Ping heavy. People who turn off their devices are ping silent.

Fanboy/Fangirl/Fandom. Pick something with a cult following, which is almost every television show and every sci-fi/fantasy movie ever made. The people who are obsessed with that media are referred to as fanboys/girls and their collective community is referred to as the fandom. Large communities of fans exist around the Marvel universe, the Star Trek franchise, Dr. Who, and the Harry Potter franchise, but even small cable shows have a fandom. All these fanboys and fangirls enjoy congregating at Cons which is short for conventions and has nothing to do with conmen stealing all your retirement, though grandchildren have a certain ability to do that anyway.

Cosplay. When members of a fandom dress up as their favorite characters. This can range from the fun to the ridiculous. Cosplayers typically make their own costumes and some of them get extremely elaborate. People who play certain board games such as Dungeon and Dragons may dress up every time they play the game. Others only dress up for Cons, which can become entertaining when one sees an army of Spidermen or stormtroopers show up, en masse, at a particular restaurant.  

Nerdrage. As one might expect, this term refers to a geek losing their temper, particularly over some piece of trivia. Geeks are really big into trivia. Don’t believe me, check any number of bars on a Thursday night, the universal trivia night. Why Thursday I’m not sure, that’s just when the majority of them happen. Every once in a while, the official answer to a trivia question will be wrong on some technical issue and the geek who lost points is likely to go into a full-on nerdrage that not only embarrasses their team but is likely to spill over onto social media as well. Why does nerdrage happen? Because they can’t believe everyone doesn’t know that obscure fact about a 30-year-old B movie as well as they do.

Drool-proof. Anything that has been excessively dumbed down to the point a three-year-old can understand is said to be drool-proof. Surprised? That’s okay. We won’t tell anyone you were hoping it was a pillow that keeps your drool in your mouth at night. There are a lot of things that are considered drool-proof, such as the instruction to not take a medication if one is allergic to that medication. While some may look down on things that are drool-proof, for many of us older folks it’s the only way we can keep up.

Lunatic fringe. Aka, early adopters. When one passes by an Apple store and sees dozens of people camping outside to be the first to buy the next over-priced cell phone, you’ll now know that’s the lunatic fringe. People who are part of “the fringe” will buy almost anything a company puts on the market whether they actually need them or not. Companies rely on “the fringe” to help create hype over a product’s release and sometimes reward them with branded swag—which can range from stress balls to t-shirts and other low-cost items.

Deciphering The Tech Speak

Language - charles i. letbetter

While there are a lot of common terms between geeks and those in technical/digital professions, what I’m focusing on here are the words and phrases one is likely to encounter in media or conversations with someone under the age of 40. Technology is such a large part of modern society that there’s tech speak everywhere.

Personal assistant. Surprise, it’s not an actual person who has come to assist you. We all wish it was and we secretly (or not) wish they were cute. Instead, we’re stuck with these devices that have to be plugged in, never understand what we’re saying, and probably are selling all our personal information to the highest bidder. If one has appliances such as lamps plugged into the same system, the assistant can turn them off or on according to your wishes, but they’re not going to draw you a warm bath or separate out your medicine by day (though it can remind you to take them). Most assistants are also connected to your phone and can call emergency services when you’ve fallen and can’t get up. They can read a recipe to you if it’s on the Internet somewhere, but they can’t actually fix a sandwich for you.

Engagement. Here’s disappointment number two. No, this has nothing to do with your grandchild getting married. Engagement is a social media term referring to any response one makes to any social media entry. If one likes, loves, hates, or blocks anything on social media, you are engaging with the person or entity that created that entry. Companies count the number of engagements something receives and markets products and services to you accordingly. If you engage with a picture of flowers, for example, expect to see ads for florists.

Influencers. This is what your grandchild hopes to be in place of having an actual job (refer to “gig economy” above). Influencers are people who have large followings on any form of social media, thereby influencing their actions. The more people one has following, the more influence they allegedly have and the more money companies are willing to pay for that person to hawk their products. Be aware that influencers are not always nice people. They tend to be extremely materialistic, focus obsessively on name brands, and have a reputation for being bullies toward companies. So, when that child mentions they want to be an influencer, maybe you want to hook them up with some time volunteering at a homeless shelter to help keep them grounded.

Organic. Just when you thought you knew one, this word throws you a curveball. In tech circles, organic has nothing to do with vegetables and everything to do with why that cat video on YouTube went viral. Specifically, when something gets a large number of engagements without its source paying to have it promoted, it is said to be organic. An organic response is more valuable that response from a targeted, promoted piece because it occurred without any post manipulation. Companies put a lot of effort into creating things that will grow organically because it’s inherently cheaper than having to pay ad rates.

Retina Display. Let’s make this real easy: if you don’t have an Apple product, you don’t have one. Trademarked by the company also referred to as “the fruit,” retina displays have such an incredibly high density that one cannot see individual pixels, bringing one closer to a real-world feel, especially with images. On one hand, retina displays are great for people with vision problems and as we get older who among us doesn’t have vision problems. However, the displays are really only effective if the source material is also high resolution and since high resolution images take up a lot of space on someone’s server, few of the people/companies putting images on the Internet use high resolution. For example, we try hard to keep the images on this page below 5 MB in size which keeps any of them from being high resolution. So, paying extra for a retina display doesn’t really matter, does it?

Sitemap. This is pretty much what it says: a map of everything on a website. Almost every website has one but not all of them are publicly visible. If they are, the link tends to be at the very bottom of the web page. Search engines use sitemaps to help them determine where specific content is located. If one is looking for something on a large website, looking for the sitemap might make the search a little more efficient. The challenge comes when a website is updated and no one updates the sitemap. This happens a lot more often than anyone cares to admit. That’s when one clicks a link and gets that stupid 404 Error page. Someone needs to update the sitemap.

The Cloud. I know, it sounds ridiculous when someone says something is  “out on the cloud,” especially on days when there’s not a cloud in the sky. What they’re inherently referring to is a network of Internet-connected servers whose job it is to store and provide information on demand. Companies such as Apple and Amazon have mind-bogglingly huge facilities consisting of nothing but these servers. This is what allows one to save a picture on their home PC and then access it on their phone while vacationing in Pamploma. The term comes from the flowchart symbol used to represent a computer network. The purpose is to make information available all the time from wherever one might be.

5G. Let’s see if I can drool-proof this for you (see what I did there?). Imagine having an Internet speed so fast that there is no difference between talking to someone in your living room or someone in France. That’s the potential that 5G holds. The name refers to the amount of information transfered per second. When it’s finally ubiquitous, it should make real-time global communication possible. The catch? It means replacing ALL your connected devices, starting with your phone. 5G does no good if the device isn’t capable of communicating at that speed. As a result, it’s going to be years before we start seeing the full benefit of the service, and by then who knows where the next step will be?

IoT (Internet of Things). Remember at the start of this section when we talked about personal assistants? For them to work well they rely on other things in your home and around the world to be connected to the Internet. Now, consider how many different things, from satellites to airplaces to manufacturing equipment that is all connected to the Internet. That’s the IoT. Probably the most dramatic everyday example of the IoT in action is services that allow one to pay for items such as a meal at a fancy restaurant from their phone without pulling out their credit card. The phone, the restaurant’s payment system, and the banks are all connected and communicate with each other. Add 5G on top of that and your payment can be processed before you have time to order dessert.  

When The Devil Opens His Mouth

Language - Old Man Talking

Politicians, like any other subculture, have a peculiar way of speaking that mixes legal jargon with their frightening ignorance of the real world and how it works. Unfortunately, too many politicians try to use that language to keep us from knowing exactly what it is they’re saying. This tactic has been used from the founding of democracy and is a large part of the reason Plato said a representative democracy would only work if the Senate was appointed to include only the most intelligent and deepest-thinking philosophers. Yes, Plato would be disappointed. Meanwhile, we’re trying to figure out what the idiots are saying. Here are a few helpful hints.

Mainstream Media. Any news source with journalistic ethics and available to large groups of people. Ostensibly, the mainstream media is supposed to be neutral in their reporting, and more often than not, they are. However, neutral does not mean covering shit up and many politicians respond to this truth-telling by claiming the source is biased. This is a smokescreen on the part of the politician and almost always means that what the media is reporting is true. Remember, the media is specifically protected by the First Amendment because the founders knew that politicians couldn’t be trusted. What was true then still hold true today.

Taco Bowl.  AKA, how to completely alienate an entire voting block by going to lunch. The term refers to the effect of a certain presidential candidate talking about how much he “loved the Mexicans” while seated in front of a fast-food taco bowl that has absolutely no relationship to anything Mexican. Politicians are notoriously tone deaf when it comes to any culture outside their own white privilege. With each election cycle, a disappointing number of candidates alienate people with their own taco bowl moments. Unfortunately, this rarely prevents them from winning.

Democratic Socialism. Read carefully because chances are what every politician has told you about Democratic Socialism is wrong. The Democratic Socialists of America defines Democratic Socialism thusly:

Democratic socialists believe that both the economy and society should be run democratically—to meet the public needs, not to make profits for a few. To achieve a more just society, many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect their lives.

Please note: this is NOT socialism, nor communism and the number of times a politician says differently doesn’t change that fact.

Winning. Losing with flair and flamboyance. Every political candidate is going to say they are winning right up until the moment they don’t. Therefore, “winning” now includes things such as having a less than 50% approval rating, overseeing the largest deficits in history, denying the civil rights of millions, alienating everyone who is not old and white, and creating one of the worst immigration disasters since Europeans first set foot on North America. To be quite precise, if a politician says they’re winning, chances are pretty high they’re not.

Radical. Anyone who disagrees with a politicians point of view. The politician always considers themselves correct and genuinely hate anyone who dares to challenge that point of view. Therefore, in hopes of minimizing any damage from an intellectual person who actually knows what they’re talking about, politicians label them as radicals. Therefore, scientists are radicals. Doctors are radicals. Economists are radicals. There’s the radical right taking on the radical left. Then, there are free radicals, which are defined as unstable atoms. Using that definition, every politician on the planet is a free radical.

Locker room. A place where good ol’ boys of the white patriarchy say stupid things without thinking anyone is going to hold them accountable. Locker room talk is, in theory, so far off the record that even pure stupidity is excused as long as it takes place inside a locker room. The other thing about locker rooms is that there aren’t supposed to be press or pictures. There’s no record of anything said in a locker room so any allegation of wrong doing based on locker room conversations is nothing more than heresay. In theory.

Dumpster fire. Every presidential election this country has ever held. Seriously. I’ve looked over every last one of them and, in the context of society at that particular period in time, and they’ve all been nasty, lie-filled, character demeaning exercises in attempts to dupe the voting public. Say what you will about any given president’s legacy, none of them have gotten to that top office without pulling off some shady dealings of one kind or another. That doesn’t mean that the continued lighting of the dumpster fire in contemporary politics is excused. I think the American people would heartedly enjoy an election that didn’t involve personal attacks and endless issue-dodging on the part of the candidates. Unfortunately, I’m not sure there’s a politician alive capable of not being consumed by the fire.

Shithole country. According to one shithole president, Haiti, El Salvador, and the entire African continent are shithole countries. Use of this term implies a racial heirarchy that is inherently unfair, inacurrate, and based upon a belief in incorrect stereotypes. Not only is the term blatantly racist but it also implies that developing countries are beyond help and that continuing to provide them aid is a waste of money. In reality, the country that calls another one by this term is itself a shithole country and others would do well to distance themselves from it.

Illegal Immigrant. We keep hearing a lot about these people but there seems to be some disagreement over who they actually are. Technically, a person is an illegal immigrant if they attempt to enter this country somewhere other than a designated entry point or if they overstay their visas. The vast majority of illegal immigrants are from the latter group and typically go undetected unless they committ a crime, which fewer than five percent do. They are not anyone coming to this country and requesting asylum. Ever. Anywhere. Migrants who are fleeing hardship and persecution elsewhere are quite literally the basis for disease-ridden Europeans showing up here in the first place. Turning away asylum seekers from some countries and not others stinks of racism and is immoral and illegal. Again, this is the law and is not subject to the perpetually insolent opinion of a billionare politician.

Fake News. Any media source that deliberately and with malicious intent misreports news events, or makes up stories that never happened, is guilty of being fake news. The war against these sources has been extensive and it seems as soon as one is taken down three others pop up in their place. Some exist solely on Facebook. Others keep changing their name in an effort to not get caught. Among the most infamous are:

  • Breitbart
  • InfoWars
  • Underground News Report
  • The Gateway Pundit
  • Conservative Frontline
  • Denver Guardian
  • Celebtricity
  • Before It’s News
  • Newsbite.top
  • StopFake

No, I’m not providing links to any of these organizations because they don’t deserve your attention. Just know that when they show up in your newsfeed somewhere that whatever they’re saying is not true.

At the same time, it is important to realize that a media source is noti distributing fake news simply because they report something a politician doesn’t like. We are not a communist country where state-run media is forced to support the dictator. Unfortunately, the overwhelming amount of bullshit coming from politicians at the very top can make it sound as though the media is a source of dissent when all they’re doing is contrasting lies with truth.

At the end of the day, everything a politician says should be questioned both in terms of accuracy and motive. None of them should be trusted based on what comes out of their mouths. The devil controls them all.



This concludes my lesson in attempting to understand what other people are saying. Now, feel free to put your headphones on and listen to music for a while, perhaps something soft without words. That’s easier to understand.

Wait, Let's Think About This - old man talking

Once upon a time, in what certainly feels like a galaxy far, far away, one had to visit a well-equipped library to consume the large volumes of media that were available. After all, not only were magazine subscriptions expensive, the amount of paper that would quickly accumulate could fill a house in a matter of months, if not weeks. From daily newspapers to weekly magazines and monthly journals, the only way to reasonably keep up with everything was to let the library hold the subscriptions and then visit on a regular basis.

To some degree, I rather miss that paradigm. There was a social element to those visits to the library. One no only knew the librarians by name but other patrons whose interests in the contents of those periodicals was similar. There was also the opportunity to see an article title on the cover of a magazine that one didn’t normally peruse and develop an interest one hadn’t had before. Consuming media in an analog fashion had advantages that have yet to be duplicated with digital media.

Of course, there are advantages to digital media as well. Not only can one read the media in the comfort of one’s own bathroom if they so desire, but the volume of sources is also practically endless. We can in many cases subscribe to those sources of information so that we are notified when there is new material from a specific source. One has greater access to a wealth of knowledge that would have been impractical for the majority of libraries to hold. The Internet is, in many ways, the digital equivalent to having the reference section of the New York Public Library on one’s phone.

Still, what we lack is the interaction with others, that ability to call into question what one is reading at the moment that one is reading it. Yes, there are countless forums dedicated to the discussion of every topic known to humanity, but there’s a significant and well-documented difference between having a conversation online versus in person. Online conversations don’t have the same depth and understanding as one gets when sitting face to face with another person.

More than that, I think that, in the vacuum of digital isolation, sometimes we consume material and information without actually thinking about the contents of what we’re consuming. We have become so accustomed to information hitting us in tidal waves that we focus on the consumption and not the digestion of the information. What we experience is perhaps the literary equivalent to taking a starving person to an all-you-can-eat buffet but limiting them to 30 minutes. We gorge ourselves on more information than our minds have the ability to process. As a result, we end up forgetting the greater majority of what we read.

Then, there’s also the challenge of having the time to thoroughly think about what is being shoved at us. I particularly have that problem this time of year when I’m juggling fashion shows on top of everything else. My days run 16-18 hours long with a constant stream of information coming at me, often faster than I can begin to grasp. I end up saving a number of articles to read later, and those saved articles become so backlogged that by the time I finally get to reading them several are no longer relevant.

What I want to look at this week are a number of articles that have hit my desk or inbox over the past few days and let’s take a moment to actually think about what they’re trying to tell us that the information we’re being asked to digest. These are articles with information that could, potentially, transform society if enough people were to engage them. I don’t think that is likely to happen because, to be sadly honest, not enough people are doing the reading in the first place. For every person who reads, there are fifteen who don’t. And yes, I just made that statistic up out of my head. So, I went and found the actual numbers. As of 2017, the last year for which numbers are currently available, only 19 percent of people over the age of 15 read for leisure, or because they choose to read rather than required reading. Nationwide, literacy is at an all-time low, which doesn’t help those numbers at all. 21 million Americans can’t read at all. 45 million are marginally illiterate. Put those two together, and roughly a third of the US population cannot read what I’m writing and we don’t want to start on actually comprehension rates.

That makes it all the more important that those of us who can read and do read actually pay attention to what we are consuming and not let the words wash over us. The next challenge in this conversation, however, is where do we start? To that end, I have carefully chosen a set of articles that I think are worth everyone’s time and some serious thought and consideration. Each title is a link to that article. My comments afterward assume one has at least glanced at the associated material. This isn’t college, however, so whether one actually reads or not is a matter of their own prerogative. Grab a cup of coffee and pull up a chair.

How Will Your Climate Change By 2080?

 about climate change - old man tlkaing

2080. That’s 61 years from now. Chances are fairly certain that I won’t be around to worry about it, but several of you could. Part of the challenge with conversations about climate change, however, is that the greater majority of US citizens don’t live on a beach or an island so we don’t pay much attention to warnings that coastal cities could disappear. Those of us in the Midwest are especially prone to thinking that we won’t be affected, or if we are, it won’t be much. This dangerous direction of thought is key to the resistance against any effective policy shift on climate change. People have difficulty supporting something they don’t think is going to directly touch their lives.

The article, however, is just an explanation for this app that allows one to take a look at how different their climate may be by comparing it with the current climate in other cities. For most US cities, the change represents a shift southwest to varying degrees. Let’s look at a few examples.

  • For Indianapolis, the conditions are likely to get warmer and drier as our climate becomes similar to what is currently experienced around Jonesboro, Arkansas. Now, I’ve been to Jonesboro when I was a child. Summers there are significantly warmer than what we currently experience here. If forecasts are accurate, this is not going to be a pleasant shift.
  • Folks in Oklahoma City won’t see much of a temperature difference as their climate shifts to being more like Spring, Texas is now. However, they are likely to experience a lot more rain. This could be challenging as Oklahoma City is already prone to flooding anytime they get a heavy rain.
  • My baby brother living in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area may actually get a bit of a break on the temperature as their climate shifts more Southeast toward New Orleans. The cooler temps are offset, however, by it being 143% wetter! Talk about some flooding issues! Folks around the Stockyard might want to start prepping now or those cows are going to need to learn how to swim.
  • Our more liberal friends up in Portland, Oregon, by contrast, are going to see nearly a fifteen-degree spike in summer temperatures as their climate becomes more like Johnson, California. The area is also 88.2 % drier. Perhaps Portland’s perpetual cloudiness will go away as well. Tough news for all those sparkly vampires up there (that’s a Twilight reference for those of you not up on such things).
  • My colleagues down in Atlanta, Georgia will only see slightly warmer temperatures but almost 50% more rain as the climate there shifts to be more like the greater Mobile, Alabama area. Atlanta’s street flooding tends to be severe only in specific areas of town, a more moist climate could have a severe effect on the local economy that relies on outdoor events.
  • Friends in the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota area are likely to think they’re getting off lucky with only a modest increase in temperature as their climate becomes more like the Kansas City region. The real-world effect is likely to mean a bit less snow in the winters, and about 8 degrees warmer in the summer.
  • Climate change deniers in Lynchburg, Virginia might want to look into the price of arks, or at least umbrellas as their climate becomes more like that of Niceville, Florida, becoming almost 85% wetter in summer than it is now. Given that Virginia is one of the states likely to experience coastal flooding as well, boating could become a necessary skill.

One caveat to these predictions is the assumption that emission levels stay at or near their current level. The app adjusts for lower levels of emissions should those be adopted. However, since when has anything related to the weather ever remained static? Can we safely assume that if we do nothing that emission levels stay the same? Probably not. They would probably increase, possibly significantly because, collectively, we tend to act against our own best interests. This would make the difference in climate change all that much more severe.

While I probably won’t make it another 60 years to check these predictions, those of you under 40 stand a pretty good chance of surviving. Consider whether you really want to be treading water or spitting sand when you’re 90.

“Selfie Harm” Is The New Overreaction

Think Selfies - old man talking

Parents overreact to a lot of things. Part of the reason for that overreaction is the fact that we are constantly barraged by articles such as this one telling us that our kids are doing something horrible that is going to either scar them for life, kill them, or possibly turn them into game-playing zombies that never move out of the basement. We are all horrified, especially by that last option.

This particular article wants mom and dad to be concerned about all those selfies our kids are taking. A British photographer took pictures of 15 teens. He then allowed them to use a number of mobile-based apps to let them modify their photos any way they wanted. Then, he sounded the alarm. Each teen dramatically altered how they looked! Surely, this is a sign of some deep-seated self-loathing.

The photographer, who is not a trained psychologist but plays one in this article, is convinced that the teen’s modifications show how dramatically social media has altered their definition of beauty. He, along with an ad agency and his artist’s representatives, then go on to talk about how this effects mental health.

Let’s just get a few things straight.

  1. THIS IS NOT A SCIENTIFIC STUDY! In fact, it’s not even a good social observation. 15 people is far too small a study size, especially when one is discussing teens whose reactions to anything tend to be all over the place. Make that a 1,500 member controlled group and we might have reason to pay some attention.
  2. No one involved in this is a psychologist, psychiatrist, or even a licensed social worker. Therefore, absolutely nothing they say should be taken as anything more than the opinion of a casual observer. There is no authority here at all.
  3. The image editing apps used are not significantly different from the filters offered on apps such as Instagram and Snapchat. Therefore, the editing options were severely limited.
  4. Participants were not given any instruction as to the rules of image editing. They were given the apps and told to take a go at it.

From my perspective, also as a photographer and a parent, this whole article is absolute bullshit and is exactly the sort of thing that discredits real studies done by real professionals. This muddies the water for actual science, making it more difficult for stupid people to discern between what is real and what is nonsense. This article is clearly the latter.

Even the very premise of this project is misguided. One has to question whether the photographer in question, who goes by the name Rankin, has ever observed what teens do with photos on social media sites. If they are allowed access to filters, regardless of how ridiculous they might be or how they distort their appearance, they use them. Why? Because it’s fun, and the results are funny. There’s no self-loathing here. Rather, it’s an exercise in being silly.

Furthermore, as any digital design professional will tell you, give a rookie access to a bunch of filters without any instruction and they will do their best to use every damn one of them on every image they touch. This is why Photoshop fails is a thing. Give teens an app that allows them to enlarge their eyes and lips, narrow their nose and change their head shape, they’re going to use every last one of the filters available to them. They’re not any different from anyone else who encounters an editing app for the first time.

I’m really disappointed that Design Taxi chose to publish this nonsense. It does nothing positive for anyone. The alarms created in the article are false and dangerous because they distract parents from the real signs of mental illness in their teens (outside the fact that they’re teens, so there are some abnormal behaviors that come standard). In my opinion, the whole article needs to be retracted and Rankin needs to stick to photography.

Does Laughter Define Humanity?

Think laughter - old man talking

What makes us human? This is the question that philosophers and sociologists and psychologists and anthropologists have been asking for much of the past 600 or so years as those formal areas of study have come into being. We have an intrinsic desire to know what it is that separates us from other forms of primate. What makes us so damn unique, anyway? How has evolution given us the upper hand.

For all the prevailing theories out there, Chris Knight, a British anthropologist, makes the very interesting argument that laughter is the primary trait that separates humans from every other species on the planet. For all the studies and comparisons that have been done, there is no other creature that laughs in the same way that humans do. Moreover, laughter is the primary trait connecting every form of civilization known or studied over the history of our species.

This article is a long read, which is good because there’s a lot of science that needs to be considered when one is going to make a claim that, on the surface, might sound a bit perposterous. Knight lays out his argument quite carefully, however. He considers the various theories as to how and why laughter developed among humans. I would not have suspected that laughter has such a litanty of scientific research behind it, but it does and Knight seems to have not left out any prevailing study in his thesis. He looks at everything that has been postulated then either explains why he agrees or argues as to why the theory might be mistaken. This is a very academic piece of work.

At the same time, the work is engaging as it breaks down the way that different societies have used laughter. One of the most intriguing, at least from my perspective, is his account of the Mbendjele people in the Republic of Congo. Women there use laughter as a way to shame their husbands and keep them in line. They gather as a group in front of the man and the offended woman tells, outloud with all manner of flourish, what her foolish husband has done. As she tells the story, everyone else in the group laughs at him. Imagine the psychological effect such derision must have! Yet, it is a nonviolent way of bringing about social change and is a lot cheaper than hiring an attorney.

Knight makes a number of summations and reaches some conclusions while leaving other questions open to further exploration. One statement he makes, however, is certainly worthy of an entire conversation all on its own.

Looking at laughter from the perspective of an anthropologist, it’s possible to claim that all humour is essentially political. That insight transcends comedic forms such as satire; my point here is that humour in general, whatever its content, is political by nature. Down to the smallest details of our lives, our relationships and encounters involve exercises and exchanges of power. In the face of these dynamics, laughter is an equalising gesture, a restoration of a rightful order in the face of an unjust hierarchy.”

Stop and chew on that a minute. If humor is political, a restoration of order, then how mgiht that affect the role of the comic in society? My thoughts immediately turn to late night talk show hosts such as Stephen Colbert who, for the past two years, has spent the greater part of each evening’s monologue making fun of the US President. The Daily Show on Comedy Central has been poking fun at political figures around the world for more than twenty years. In fact, political comedy is a staple of late night, that ability to look at the world’s leaders and laugh.

That conclusion works with a quote Knight includes at the beginning of his article from psychologist Stephen Pinker’s book, How The Mind Works.

No government has the might to control an entire population … When scattered titters swell into a chorus of hilarity like a nuclear chain reaction, people are acknowledging that they have all noticed the same infirmity in an exalted target. A lone insulter would have risked the reprisals of the target, but a mob of them, unambiguously in cahoots in recognising the target’s foibles, is safe.

Placing humor and laughter into a political perspective changes one’s perceptions about every joke they’ve ever heard or told, to whom they’ve told it, and why the joke is or isn’t funny. Why we laugh relates to the degree in which the joke or humorous story corrects an inbalance in life. If there is no inbalance, there is no humor. Essentially, we laugh because we are flawed.

Knight’s final paragraphs are striking:

Laughing, then, appears to be intimately tied to our ability to reflect back on ourselves. When we chuckle at our own foibles, we show that we are no longer trapped inside our individual egos, but can see ourselves through one another’s eyes. Likewise, when speaking, we separate ourselves from those around us by using words such as ‘I’ or ‘me’, drawing attention to ourselves as one person among others, as if from outside. Language would be impossible without the ability to adopt such a reverse-egocentric standpoint.

Humans are instinctive egalitarians, who work best with one another when no one has absolute authority, when teasing is good-natured, when there is sufficient affection and trust for shared tasks to constitute their own reward. Laughter is a vital part of this picture – not simply a psychological relief valve, but a collective guard against despotism. When moved to laugh by those around us, we reveal ourselves to be truly human.

There is no way I will not approach every giggle, wry grin, or boisterous guffaw without some questioning and self-reflection after reading this article. If laughter defines us as humans, then what is the thing we are laughing at say about us? I’m ready to go all in on this conversation.

Life Tips People Actually Use

Think Life Hacks - old man talking

What does it say about us, about our collective lack of self-confidence, that we are constantly looking for better ways to just live. The fact that there are entire websites, multiple websites, dedicated to helping us find and share what we’ve come to call “life hacks” only further emphasizes the reality that we don’t trust ourselves to find the best way to do things. We’re constantly looking for an easier way to do everything from major car repairs to eating potato chips.

In this particular case, the young woman writing the article has gone for a deep dive on Reddit to find the life hacks that people claim to use most often, the ones that actually work. She then divides them up into distinct groups such as food, language, cleaning, and money. Here are some of the tips I found most interesting:

  • When microwaving food (casserole, pasta, etc), make it in the shape of a ring or a donut, basically have it hollowed out in the middle. It heats up significantly quicker and more evenly.
  • If someone won’t shut up, drop something, they’ll pause when you go to pick it up. Use that opportunity to speak, as you pick up whatever you dropped.
  • Setting a timer for 10 minutes every time I walk through the front door to clean/tidy. Stops it building up and goes really quick so doesn’t feel like a chore.
  • If you get a prepaid Visa gift card, save it with like a $1 or $2 and use it to sign up for free trials without having to worry about using your actual credit card.
  • Not filing in the ‘To” field in an email until I am completely done with the email. Saved me a lot of badly written emails, half finished emails, and emails I never sent because I had time to think better of it.

On the surface, this seems like filler fluff, editorial nothingness that fills space, gives someone something innocusous to read while on the toilet without anyone getting upset. One can assume that all the tips work at least in certain situations with certain types of people. Honestly, I’ve never needed to set a timer for cleaning. I live with children. There’s no point.

On a deeper level, though, the writer’s choice of life hacks say something about who we are as a civilization. Let’s look at each of the hacks I’ve mentioned.

  • We reheat leftovers individually, which means, in most cases, that we’re probably eating that microwaved meal alone. Heating individual plates for an entire family takes more time than actually cooking something. We might nuke a specific dish, but probably not the whole meal a plate at a time. Therefore, one might assume that the person who arranges their food in a circle before heating it is probably a wee bit lonely, at least at meal time.
  • We don’t know how to exit converations gracefully. This isn’t a new issue. Anyone who has ever worked in a large office understands the problem of getting stuck in an elevator with that one person who won’t just shut up. While the hack certainly works, what would be better is to become more assertive, to interupt the person and say something along the lines of, “I’m sorry, but I’ve other things to attend to at the moment.” Exact phrasing might change based upon whether the person speaking has the ability to fire you, but learning to stand up for yourself and your time is important. Dropping something is just a cop out.
  • Setting a timer doesn’t just apply to cleaning, but anything which over which one tends to obsess, and a lot of people have difficulty being overly obsessive about certain aspects of their lives. Cleaning is certainly a common one, but other people are just as obsessive about gaming, or brushing their hair, or arranging furniture or any number of things. While not everyone has these obsessive tendencies, we’ve normalized being obsessed to a point we wonder what is wrong with that person who isn’t obsessed about something. Anything. Everything.
  • The tip about the prepaid Visa is a good one that thwarts the psychology behind free trials. We all know that websites offer free trials because once they have your credit card information chances are quite likely that you’ll let the monthly charges slide, even if you never visit the website again. A lot of website depend on that flaw in our economic planning and using a card that only has a couple dollars’ worth of value keeps our bank accounts from becoming overdrawn. However, it does nothing to address the fact that we are, collectively, totally irresponsible with our credit cards. Instead of managing what we spend and where we spend it, we just continue paying the monthly minimum while credit companies and everyone else makes millions off our laziness. The real life hack here has to be cutting that shit off and getting our finances back under control.
  • The issue with emal is that if we weren’t so flippant in how we use it we wouldn’t need this hack. If one is constantly sending emails they later regret, then perhaps one needs to deal with whatever emotional issue is causing them to send those emails in the first place. Sure, there are legitimate reasons for not filling in the To: line, such as making sure spelling and grammar are correct and making sure that the person receiving the email is the person who is best equipped to respond. If one has a bad habit of sending angry emails, however, one needs to deal with the anger issues.

This leaves me wondering how often we use life hacks as a way to help us avoid solving the larger and more fundamental issues in our lives. Are life hacks a way of essneitally saying, “I can’t stop doing this so I need a way to keep it from ruining my life?” If we’re finding ourselves so dependent on these short cuts are we avoiding the larger problems?

I’m not aware of any serious studies on this issue but it seems evident from my perspective that while some short cuts might certainly make life a bit easier, we need to examine why we need any shortcuts in our lives at all. What is it we’re circumventing?

This conversation is full of rabbit holes, however, so be careful.

Seven Fixes For American Capitalism

Think Economy - old man talking

This is a team written piece and it certainly shows. The one cohesive thread is the agreed-upon problem: the American economy is broken. This is a sentiment we are hearing with greater frequency as those younger than Baby Boomers, all of them, are increasingly dissatisfied with their economic opportunities. This is a severe change in attitude from the Boomers who have always been convinced that Capitalism is not only the best solution, but the only solution. So, right off the bat one has to consider whether we’re really ready as a society to completely abandon Capitalism and have we thoroughly considered what it means to do so?

Certainly, this is the first problem with the article in that there is no consideration as to what happens when we move away from pure Capitalism. There’s no conversation as to how that happens nor what the consequences might be. Admitting that the system is broken is one thing but to suggest serious alternatives to that system requires that one consider whether a peaceful and reasonable transition is even possible, let alone desirable.

If we jump past that fundamental flaw, we then have to contend with the fact that what is presented in the article is not a fix of any kind. Instead, these are seven different economic theories that are unproven as a single solution to any economy anywhere. If we are looking at this through a realistic perspective and not an academic one, none of these theories stand a chance of working. Instead, the best solution for resolving the issues of Capitalism involve some merging of the best of these theories with each one addressing the issues it handles best while letting some other method address the weaker matters.

Pure economic theory doesn’t work because they fail to account for the human condition, namely greed, corruption, and the overwhelming desire for power. We can spend all day discussing the egalitarian ideals of this economic theory or another but until we grapple head on with the aspects of humanity that are the most unsavory we get nowhere. What has ruined Capitalism is not that it was a bad idea but the fact that too many people were able to manipulate it for their own gain to the explicit detriment of others. One is naive to beleive that other theories don’t offer similar opportunities to different groups of people.

All that being said, the seven economic methods the article proposes are:

  1. Anti-trust Pivot—an extreme limitation of corporate consolidation and monopolistic power. Think the dramatic breaking apart of companies such as Google, Facebook, and General Electric.
  2. Supply-Side Economics—Republicans have been trying this since the Reagan era and it’s not working. Thing unregulating everything, slash government spending, and provide no corporate oversight. Yeah, that’s going to end badly every damn time.
  3. The German Method or Co-Determination—a form with which most Americans are not familiar where “in a corporation with more than 500 employees, a third of supervisory board seats must be filled by directors elected by workers, a share that rises to one-half for companies with more than 2,000 employees.” Some unions would like to see the US adopt a version of this model.
  4. Modern Monetary Theory—is the concept that financing emergency issues is more important than having the cash on hand to pay for them. Sound familiar? Yes, that’s the exact reasoning the President is using to pay for his border wall initiative. This is not a strictly Republican plan, however. Democrats supporting the Green Deal support this economic theory as well.
  5. Tarrif Truthers—are that group of people who believe that tarrifs serve no purpose other than to drive up prices. They would eliminate such burdens across the board and let the market have its way. Of course, this only works if everyone is paying their workers on the same scale.
  6. Libertarianism—is the idea that taxes are wrong and that government should be as small as possible. This theory holds to the ideal that private enterprise is capable of addressing social issues better than government, ie private prisons that make money off keeping jails as full as possible. We do see the problem with this, don’t we?
  7. “Tech to the Rescue”—is the concept supported by Jeff Bezos and other tech billionaires that innovation holds the key to solving all our problems, that technology can cure any social issue and eliminate any threat if we let it. Keep in mind, this is coming from a group of people who are among the 0.001 percent of the population whose employees are often public assitance. Something doesn’t quite add up here.

One doesn’t have to look very deep into any of these theories to understand that every last one of them is severly flawed and unworkable at a mass scale. Neither does one need to understand economic theory to realize that the downside for any of these theories puts us in greater danger than we are already facing.

I’m still waiting for someone to create an economic theory, and a political system as well, that takes into consideration the time-proven fact that if there is a way for someone to cheat, steal, usurp power, or legally enslave others, they’re going to do so. There are always going to be people who want to have more than everyone else and until we find an economic theory that limits those people without simultaneously hindering innovation and advancement then we’re not going to gain any ground. We’re screwed no matter which way we turn.

Monogamy Bores Women

Think Monogamy - old man talking

Conventional Wisdom has held for centuries that it is men who are always looking to sidestep monogamy. Women, we are told, want reliability, consistency, and commitment. Women, these same sources tell us, want to cuddle, to be coddled and made to feel special by that one person who cherishes them above all else.

Science, however, paints a very different picture. Women are bored by monogamy and may benefit more from an open relationship than do men. At least, that’s the direction Wednesday Martin takes this article that was published on, big surprise, Valentine’s Day (and yes, Addams Family fans, her name really is Wednesday). She backs up her premise with a considerable amount of research from University of Nevada, Las Vegas as well as a British study of 15,000 people aged 16 to 74 aswel as a fwe smaller studies. The numbers are pretty solid and the analysis based on the data is difficult to refute.

One should be careful to note that the article isn’t necessarily against monogamy. In fact, Ms. Martin goes out of her way to make sure one doesn’t think that she’s recommending wide-open raucous relationships for everyone. There is a very careful maneuvering that takes place so as to not upset the whole “traditional values” thing.

However, if one looks objectively at the data that Ms. Martin raises, that whole “traditional values” thing may be something we consider tossing in the waste bin. Jump out of the article and look separately at the related and referenced pieces and one gets the idea that monogamy might actually be harming women in relation to their long-term happiness and ability to maintain relationships.

Consider a statement like this:”Women in long-term, committed heterosexual partnerships might think they’ve ‘gone off’ sex—but it’s more that they’ve gone off the same sex with the same person over and over.”

I am amuseed by the degree to which Ms. Martin attempts to side-step the obvious fact that women get bored with a sex partner not only as much but often more quickly than men. She also stays away from delving into the topic of open relationships. The few times she mentions them it is always to someone else’s attribution and she fails to follow up on the opening.

Ultimately, Ms. Martin’s article is disappointing because it fails to consider the solutions that are right there in front of her. Her final suggestion is that perhaps women should be given a “cheat card” or “hall pass” to have sex outside a relationship on occasion. She never seriously consideres polyamory, open relationships, same-gender reltionships apart from straight relationships, or any number of possible solutions to the problem of being bored.

Neither does she fully explore why it is women are bored in the first place. There’s no talk about the quality of sex (which seems irrelevan to the problem) and only cursory mention of the frequency of sex. Don’t women deserve a lot more than a dismissive, “Yeah, we’re bored but we don’t want to hurt the guys’ feelings too badly.”

Oh, and could we also talk about the fact that an increasing number of women consider marriage and the very construct of the traditional relationship as restrictive and unattractive?

I first clicked on this article because I thought that perhaps The Atlantic might give the topic all the attention and depth of consideration that it deserves. They did not. This ended up being a fluff piece that provided just enough titilation to generate a high number of clicks without upsetting all the traditional, and boring relationships of their readers.

This brings me to a rather disturbing final point in that too many of the articles I looked at in prepating for this piece had great headlines with no worthwhile content. The nature of media today is that what is in an article isn’t nearly as possible as the fact that it has fifty-million clicks. With out the realitistic and budgetary constraints of putting ink on paper, digital editors are less worred about the quality and ethics of content and more concerned about how many views an article gets and whether a reader clicks on the ad in a side bar before they move on in search of something more neaingful.

This exercise leaves me missing those days in the library even more. Back then, if I read an article in a newspaper, chances are pretty good that it was whole and complete. If one walked away with questios they were matters of deeper concern and there were places where those concerns could be reaonsably addressed.

As strange as it may seem, I wonder if to some degree the answer comes not in stepping backward, for that never works, but perhaps in reducing that amount of media, backing away from the sources that routinely and habitually flood our senses with articles that are completely and totally reelevant. If we are only going to read when we go to the bathroom, as has been frequently suggested to be the case, then let us read things that matter rather than “The Secrets The Cast of Gilligan’s Island Kept Hidden” and other such nonsense. Perhaps the answer lies in editors only accepting articles that are thoroughly sourced. Perhaps the answer comes in being more careful about where we click.

Let’s think about this.   

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