Beta Culture: Blowing in the Wind … Ordinary People.

dust bowlI’m thinking all at once about government and royalty, churches and corporations, unions and cultures. And us.

Some of what I try to do in attempting to understand the world around me is to take a distant look at what’s going on, rather than a close-up look, searching for broad patterns and underlying motivations. I sometimes even joke that I’m an alien just visiting here to study Earth humans, expecting that eventually my real people will show up and take me back home.

I’ll tell you something of what I think I see:

Much as we’re hatin’ on government these days, the IDEA of democratic government is a really good one. The top-down chief/royalty/big-muckamuck model works very well in enforcing obedience and tribal solidarity, but not so well in encouraging independent thought and creative innovation.

Democracy is actually a rather inspired invention, when you think about it in evolutionary terms, bringing with it all sorts of advances. Coupled with freely-available education, a natural adjunct to democracy, it freed the inventive power of the individual in a way that produced leaps in progress rather than plodding sameness.

The royalty model is democracy’s natural enemy, seeking as it does to concentrate power in the hands of a fortunate few. Traditionally, these fortunate few were kings, emperors, etc., rising to the top (being born into it, actually, most of them) with just about zero input from the public they came to rule, and remaining there with just about zero broad concern for that public.

Something interesting I’ve noted in the past was the power of churches as it related to government. Though a king might rule his subjects through fear, with the open threat of murder or violence, of military might, there was a social power that could nevertheless threaten the rule of the king. That power was religion. The king who defied the dictates of a religion deeply held by his subjects, was potentially subject to overthrow.

And yet the model of religion was itself based on royalty – an unelected, somewhat mysterious priesthood that answered to a single supreme authority. As to the supreme authority, the window-dressing of a central divine personage served only to hide the real power, the pope or other leader who could wield the power of life and death over his subjects.

This power that could challenge kings coincidentally relied on the exact same motivation, fear, for control of its subjects.

In a way religion and royalty were natural allies. Each used the other as a prime tool of control. It was historically rare that one openly warred with the other, but their relationship was probably always a tense one, due to the fact that they were different forces, each with their own goals and values.

So: Democracy came along, creating something new.

The previous idea was that power originated in the king, but could be lent out to deserving subjects or officials. For any herd animal with a dominance hierarchy, this was a natural idea to have, as it tied in well with the reality of our natures.

The new idea was that power originated in the individual, and could be lent out – temporarily, and in small amounts – to people who were not leaders but, theoretically at least, servants of their tribe. This was a pretty radical idea in some ways, as it seems to overturn a basic aspect of our natures. Some part of us very much likes standing subordinate to a chieftain. In practice, those “servants” have typically acted as leaders, meaning the new idea keeps the hierarchy intact, but arrives at it, through voting, in a more cerebral, less violent way. It also provides for the periodic replacement of current leaders with fresh ones, mostly preventing generational dynasties.

Even better under this new model, rather than frightening your subjects you had to gain their trust, promise them something for the loan of their power, and at least nominally adhere to that promise.

Too, the amount of power lent was that minimal amount necessary to do the job of serving public needs, and nothing more. All of us clearly recognize when public servants are stepping beyond the bounds of their lent power; using public offices for personal aggrandizement or wealth-gathering is offensive to the nature of this unspoken agreement of borrowed power.

(On the other hand, the Catholic Church — though dramatically lessened in relation to its historic peak — still exists, and enjoys a fairly royal approach to leadership. Though popes are “elected,” they are elected by an cadre of insiders, they serve for life, and they enjoy power over the whole of the Catholic “kingdom.”)

Meanwhile, in a reverse of the royalty-to-democracy trend, yet another somewhat royal power has entered the stage – corporations.

Though initially dependent on government for their existence, and very much subject to the laws and regulations of the countries and states in which they resided, they’ve gotten to a point of wealth and power that rivals, and surpasses in some cases, nations. Certainly they have little to fear from governments in the sense of penalties beyond the monetary. The people who make up corporations are shielded from punishment for crimes committed by the corporation. Though those acts are in reality ordered or allowed by the leaders of the corporation, rather than the corporation itself (which has no real existence), they are shielded from arrest or penalty in the same way royalty would be shielded from arrest or punishment for acts that, by ordinary citizens, would be considered crimes (or criminal negligence).

In theory, corporations are subject to the will of their customers but other than committing blatant, egregious human rights violations, they have a fairly free hand to do whatever they want. (Including, in at least one noteworthy case, maintaining a private security force that amounts to a standing army, complete with military-grade weapons.)

Here’s the thing that worries me: Corporations these days, and the fantastically wealthy people who run them – in the body of Fox News, the Koch Brothers, etc. – in many ways enjoy power OVER the U.S. government.

From TPM:

Asking “[w]ho really rules?” researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America’s political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.

Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters

Quoting Noam Chomsky:

In the work that’s essentially the gold standard in the field, it’s concluded that for roughly 70% of the population – the lower 70% on the wealth/income scale – they have no influence on policy whatsoever. They’re effectively disenfranchised. As you move up the wealth/income ladder, you get a little bit more influence on policy. When you get to the top, which is maybe a tenth of one percent, people essentially get what they want, i.e. they determine the policy. So the proper term for that is not democracy; it’s plutocracy.

Where once government was an arm of public service, it is now very much a tool of wealth and corporate power. The rich warred against the power of government in subtle ways, co-opting elected officials, judges and laws. Even the public dialog upon which our understanding of the rights of individuals and the duties of government was based, is now so tweaked that plenty of people have little or no understanding of what’s going on. The people government once served can now be persuaded to vote against their own well-being. To whatever extent government can still be said to serve at the will of the public, it nevertheless acts in opposition to that same public’s interests.

As a for-instance, an overwhelming majority of voters in the U.S. oppose the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case, in which corporations were ruled to possess “free speech” rights allowing them unlimited contribution to political campaigns. Yet, four years later, that ruling is still comfortably embedded in U.S. law, and has received only tepid opposition from elected officials.

Let me talk about another non-royal organization — unions — for a second. A union is organized by people, for people, and is neither government nor corporation. Further, the stated goal of a union is to fight for the rights of its members, AGAINST corporations and even governments. If I was trying to pick out any organization that was the fullest expression of democratic, non-royal principles, I’d have to say it was the union.

But unions too were warred upon by corporations, and with government help during and after the Reagan years, became critically weakened shells of their former selves. Meant to be defenders of citizen-workers, they are now almost powerless in any large sense.

So, here’s one side with multinational corporations which in many ways enjoy the equivalent of royal power, largely free of government interference and serving our interests only as it coincides with their own profit motive. Here are churches which are autocratically ruled profit-making bodies that rarely take stands in favor of ordinary people against either corporations or government. And here is government itself, co-opted to serve as a funding source, protector, lawmaking body and close ally of corporations.

And on the other side, our side, the side of ordinary people, we have unions, created to serve and defend the interests of their members, but drastically weakened for actually doing it.

And damned little else.

There are plenty of narrowly-focused online organizations which fight for fairness and right action by government and corporations, but the power they generally wield is persuasive or revelatory power only. A corporation or a government official might be embarrassed into right action, but as far as compelling the target to act fairly, these organizations are toothless.

In light of all this, I again see a place in our lives for Beta Culture.

I imagine Beta Culture as a place of ease and familiarity for people like us – metaphorically a sort of big friendly dog that can wag and comfort – but also, once it progresses past puppyhood, a creature with the teeth and strength to fiercely defend us when the occasion arises.

And yet again, that’s something I really want.

Corporations have the wealth and power to look out for themselves. They also, frequently, have government and the legal system looking out for them. Government has a multimillion-person force of career employees and elected officials, as well as its own army and police forces, to look out for itself.

Ordinary people have little or nothing to fight for them. The happy fiction is that the corporations, government, and all the aforementioned uniformed might are on our side, but to me that appears to be true only as long as we are rich, secure, and don’t actually disagree with them.

Hopefully someday we will have this other thing.

Off-Topic Musings #1

off topicI’m often moved to post things on Facebook that are far beyond the short-subject stuff that plays most well over there, and I’ve thought many times that that stuff should be HERE instead of there. After all, assuming a limit to writerly energy, every long piece I post on Facebook is a piece that cheats my might-be readers here.

And yet a lot of that stuff doesn’t exactly fit here. My main writing these days is on Beta Culture, and I want it to be.

On the other hand … I want to be VISIBLE to the people who read this blog. I say things here that I believe in deeply, but there are things worth saying off my main subjects, things that catch my interest or impress me with their profundity. And I’m not exactly a single-facet monolith. There are things I disagree with, or think about in different ways, compared to typical atheist/freethinker allies.

Meaning: I like to hope there are plenty of things to like about me, and I hope I can convey some of them. But I’m also pretty sure there are some things you should DISLIKE about me. In some ways, I sort of consider it necessary. I don’t want to be roundly loved …

First, because the only way to do that is to either think just like you — in which case there’s no reason for me to exist — or to monitor everything I say in an attempt to be liked by you, and I don’t want to do that either. I want to be wrong about stuff sometimes, both so I can learn better from the input I receive here, but also so that I know I’m taking chances with my thoughts and ideas. If I’m not wrong sometimes, it’s probably because I’m fencing myself in and declining to say certain things that I actually believe.

But second because I expect there will be times when people will dislike me for expressing an opinion because THEY are wrong about it, and I’m right. I want to be disliked, disagreed with, in that case. Hopefully so they will think about it, but also so that I’ll know I was true to my own ideals, and had the courage to express the unpopular thought.

For instance, as you may know about me, I’m an immense fan of science but not a big fan of GMOs. The subject annoys me every time it comes up on Facebook, when I hear even professional scientists repeat the misleading “Why, humans have been genetically modifying plants and animals for thousands of years.” Argh.

I’ve gotten into spitting fights with people who insist that eating horses and dogs is exactly equivalent to eating any other type of meat. I hate hearing that so much, I’ve said more than once that I wouldn’t sit in the same room with (or keep as Facebook friends) people who’d advocate eating a horse or a dog. “It’s their culture!” I hear. And I think, “Yes, well, fuck their culture. I have a culture too, and in my culture, dogs and horses are off the menu. You don’t eat things you love.”

(Fair warning: If you do believe the eating of horses and dogs is exactly the same as eating any other type of meat, kindly go elsewhere and read some other blog. I seriously don’t want to hear your opinion, and will delete it.)

I’ve gotten into fairly heated arguments with those who insist you should never use words that hurt the feelings of certain demographic groups (I’m NOT talking about the N-word, which I never use and which I think white people have no right to use). I hate the very idea of attempting to take words away from language. There’s a much longer discussion — and maybe I’ll even get into it someday soon — about why I feel so strongly about it, and what I think the effects would be if we gave in and just all agreed to be polite and sensitive to every single delicate-feelinged person out there.

Anyway, I’ve decided to throw in this post heading, “Off-Topic Musings,” a sort of catch-all I’ll use on occasion to express some of that iffy “me” stuff. And here’s the first. See what you think.


No Man’s Land

Was thinking today about something I decided to call a “compressed dialogue.” That’s where one issue in the subject before you is so all-consuming of attention that no other aspect of the thing can be spoken of. In the context of the compressed dialogue discussion, to speak of those things would brand you as a hater, or crazy.

For instance, for the longest time, you couldn’t say ANYTHING, not one approving word, about the rights of Palestinians, without being branded an anti-Semite and perceived as attacking Israel’s right to exist. The dialogue was compressed in a way so as to exclude any discussion of the lives or well-being of Palestinians, and if you broached the subject AT ALL, you somehow automatically approved of the Holocaust, and wanted Jews worldwide to be murdered in their beds.

Likewise, there seem to be compressed dialogue conditions in many of the ardent issues my side of the political aisle supports.

For instance, I’m pretty well convinced George Zimmerman murdered Trayvon Martin. But I had people tell me privately they don’t actually like or trust people wearing hoodies. They don’t like not being able to see people’s faces, and lamented that one side-effect of the incident was this insistence that we should all wear hoodies to show solidarity with the murdered man.

Yet if they were to make such comments in public, they would have been branded as approving Martin’s murder, or of being virulent racists. Any possibility of a more complex discussion that included this side issue was shadowed out of existence by the sun-bright focus on racism and murder. You simply couldn’t talk about hoodies in any terms but gushingly positive.

I’m absolutely certain compressed dialogue conditions exist on the other side of the aisle. I have a hard time believing every Republican legislator is an ardent Tea Party supporter, or thinks global warming is a hoax. In fact, I’d suspect compressed dialogue conditions exist MORE on that side of the aisle, and that the penalties over there are even stiffer. But I sort of expect that; some part of me insists right-wingers are fearful idiots.

It’s the stuff on my side of the line that bothers me most. We live in an era where apparently even the best and brightest of us think the way to conduct a discussion is to scream with rage if the slightest off-script comment escapes the lips of our fellows.

Aside from the specifics of any issue, I think it’s important to know that compressed dialogues exist, that even our oh-so-rational selves will occasionally fall into them, and that there SHOULD be a better way to talk about things.

Beta Culture: The Story Behind the Stories

ÿEvery culture has stories. I don’t mean the entertaining fictions of story books or novels or other popular entertainment. I mean this other kind, something out in plain sight, but also sort of hidden.

Stories about how things fit together. Stories about relationships, about the duties children owe to parents, and parents to children. Stories about how man and woman relate, and the ways to create family. Stories about the regard each person owes to neighbors. Stories about how to do everyday things, and how to handle the unexpected. Stories about social currents, and current events. Stories about strangers, and how they should be viewed and treated. Stories about intertribal war and fighting. Stories about the mishaps of life, and how to deal with them. Stories about death and how it takes us. Stories about babies, and the renewal of life. Stories about vast forces that can deliver a fortune one day and disaster the next.

You may not know any of this, and might even be under the impression that you aren’t affected by story-making in and around your life. The stories don’t care. They’re out there whether we believe in them or not, all the time, and you and I both are subject to them.

“Stories” as a subject is a funny one, in that … well, we’re so used to living our lives according to these stories, using them to guide our thinking and daily actions, that we’re largely unaware it’s happening. If we do stumble across the idea one day, we dismiss it almost instantly. Me? Subject to stories? No, I’m a 100-percent self-willed rational being!

Big Man, Little Man

I’ll tell you about one that I saw happening, that sort of opened my eyes to the idea.

I worked for a newspaper for 8 years, and it was a fairly illuminating experience in a number of ways. I had an article come across my desk one night, something written by one of our local reporters about a tragic event that happened in a nearby town. At a junior ice hockey game, two attending fathers got into a verbal confrontation. Might have been over a play, a referee call, I don’t remember.

I do distinctly remember one of the hockey dads was a rather large man, the other was more my size – shrimpy. The confrontation included these details: The instigator of the confrontation was almost entirely the little guy. We had a saying in Texas where I grew up – “You’re about to let your eagle beak overload your hummingbird ass.” – something that fits this situation to a tee. The little guy had a mouth on him like a dock worker, and he verbally flayed the big guy, goading him until, eventually, the big guy popped him a good one with his fist.

The little guy went down, hit his head on the concrete floor, and died.

Of course any event like that has follow-up details that go into following articles. There was the arrest, the arraignment, quotes from both families on what they were going through. But the follow-up stories said nothing at all about the little guy goading the big guy. They were written so that the factually-detailed account faded, and a STORY took its place.

The STORY was this: Big man hits little man and kills him, without provocation. The half-hidden narrative developed over a period of weeks, until it was eventually something like “large, violent bully hits peaceful inoffensive little nebbish and kills him.”

Let me pause a minute and toss something at you. You might find yourself even now silently saying, “Well, whatever the little guy did or said, he didn’t deserve to DIE for it.”

And yes, yes, you’d be right. I’d never say he did. But in the heat of the moment, I think you can imagine a little Napoleon-complex guy goading another person – even a big, gentle man – into such heated anger that one little punch might seem like the thing to do. Certainly if he goaded and ridiculed a woman like that in public, we’d all cheer if she finally hauled off and slapped him. If he did it to a cop, most of us would understand if the cop took him down and arrested him.

Besides which, the dying was a wholly unexpected end to the confrontation, something nobody, including the shocked and mortified big guy, could have foreseen.

I lost interest in the sequence of events midway through the thing, but I imagine that STORY, “large, violent bully hits peaceful inoffensive little nebbish and kills him” followed the big guy into the courtroom and weighed heavily in his eventual fate.

The thing I’m saying is that, in this case, what got out to the newspaper’s readership wasn’t the simple facts of the case, it was a STORY. A comfortable, familiar narrative that included certain facts, left others out with a sort of weird deliberateness, and delivered a satisfying, and even expected, conclusion.

I’m often surprised at how often I find myself buying into stories like this. I’m always a little bit disturbed when I realize that I’m doing it, but I’m VERY disturbed when I see that everybody else is doing it too, no questions or doubts expressed. What could a thing like that mean? What is the effect on the society in which it takes place?

Uncle Joe

I’m take a detour for a second so I can make a slightly different point: I had an uncle who lived with my family for a year or two when I was in junior high. He had some serious health problems that included MS and diabetes, so he was pretty much of a mess physically. He also sometimes flew into rages for no good reason. From this end of my life history, all of that is understandable, but at the time, the focus of those rages was often me. He was insulting, goading, verbally abusive to a 14-year-old, 4-foot-something tall, high-strung, sensitive kid. He was, in short, an asshole. A bully.

It took me years and years, long after Uncle Joe was dead, to formulate a conclusion about this sort of thing. But the conclusion was: Handicapped people can be assholes. They can be bullies. Verbally and emotionally, they can be the aggressors to people who are strong and healthy, but who have no recourse but to sit and take it.

Yet this flies in the face of the STORY we have about handicapped people: Because we are all so much bigger and stronger and healthier, we have to give handicapped people special leeway, special help, overlooking whatever little inconveniences they might visit upon us.

Out in the real world, I’m fully on board with the idea of helping handicapped people make their way in the world. But I’m also cognizant of this allied issue – that politeness is something EVERYBODY owes his fellow man. I know that I myself have a certain amount of independent pride, and I imagine everyone around me feels the same way. Even in the face of accommodating the needs of the handicapped, nobody deserves abuse.

If you think about it, that sort of “so far and no farther” reaction is an honest one, a reaction that treats the handicapped person not as a pitiful permanent victim, but as a PERSON. An equal, at least in the vein of recognizing each other as individuals from whom is expected certain bare minimums of respect.

I suspect most of us learn this lesson late, if at all, and when the STORY of “handicapped person” comes into our lives, react with predictable generosity and understanding, even sometimes to the point of taking undeserved crap.

Stories of the Downtrodden

So the point is, STORIES – even those that parallel deeply held humanitarian sentiments – can vary from the facts of any specific case. They can be false.

We have a STORY about Jews. “Jews are the downtrodden, the once-and-forever victims of the Holocaust, and the world owes them generous special treatment to make up for that historic horror.” According to this story, Jews could never be the aggressors. They are an inoffensive people give to study and thought, and know nothing of the arts of fighting and killing. All they want is to be left alone  to raise their families, to quietly go about their lives and live in peace.

We have a STORY about race. Part of that story is that there are BLACK PEOPLE and WHITE PEOPLE, and the WHITE PEOPLE are the aggressive subjugators of the BLACK PEOPLE. The BLACK PEOPLE have been held down for too long by the WHITE PEOPLE, and now deserve a certain amount of generous accommodation as they try to bootstrap themselves back up from poverty and slavery.

WHITE PEOPLE, meanwhile, are the permanently advantaged descendants of slave masters, and even today, bend themselves to keeping down the BLACK PEOPLE. Every WHITE PERSON enjoys vast advantages over every BLACK PERSON, living in the ease and the comfort of permanent privilege.

At the same time, some of us have this different STORY about black people, that they are lazy, shiftless social parasites, drug addicts and sex fiends who have baby after baby so they can get more and more welfare.

From the modern feminist camp, we have a STORY about gender relations. MEN are the sole source of problems for WOMEN, with every MAN a rapist barely held in check, every WOMAN a helpless victim of never-ending abuse and sexual harassment. Furthermore, though we live in a fairly rich country, and enjoy huge material and social advantages over people in other countries, this is RAPE CULTURE, and every woman is under constant threat of being thrown to the ground and brutalized. Meanwhile, no MAN is disadvantaged in relation to WOMEN, and the idea there is any need for a movement to establish equality for MEN is laughable. Rather than equality-ism, the only thing we need is feminism.

Understand that all of these STORIES may have elements of either truth or falsehood, or both,  in them. In any particular case, the story may be wholly true. But also, in any specific case, the story may be completely false. It may be somewhere in between.

Those of us watching the events in Israel at the moment, where Israelis are bombing Palestinian cities and killing civilians, including innocent-bystander women and children, have certain evidence that the STORY of the inoffensive, victimized Jew, may not be entirely reliable.

Those of us watching the events in Ferguson, Missouri, where a young man was shot and killed by a policeman, are being treated to the STORY of an unarmed young black man brutally killed by an out-of-control cop, for no reason at all. Initially I myself leaned toward accepting that interpretation. Yet as facts of the events become more available, it turns out the situation is slightly more complex than the first-presented STORY, and I feel much less certain.

The Coloring of Thought

The point of all this is that, for most of us, some large part of how we relate to the world around us is through the filter of these stories. They give us ready ways to interpret events as they happen around us, but they also put us at a powerful disadvantage if we aspire to be independent rational beings who live our lives in close accord with reality.

If you live your life by stories and never pull back the curtain to see what lies behind them, you’re a sort of unwitting servant of the stories. See that word, “unwitting”? UN-WIT-ting. You’re NOT THINKING. Instead, you’re … following along. Reacting. Reacting AUTOMATICALLY in certain ways and not others. Ways that have unintended consequences for you and the society we all live in, but also ways that can be predicted and used by people who understand how all this works, and who consciously and deliberately create some of these stories.

For instance, the STORY that George W. Bush was a great president who kept us safe, who never made a mistake, who to this day is not responsible for any bad thing that happened during the post-Sept. 11 era. Or by contrast, the STORY that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim, a socialist and an enemy of America, out to destroy everything good. Or the related STORY that the people believing this are not racists, nothing like racists, and have good reasons to want to impeach this coincidentally-BLACK president. Believe it: These stories were deliberately created to build and maintain political power, and to avoid certain unpleasant consequences of the truth. Whatever side you happen to be on, automatically buying into the STORY of your side might make you feel good, but is not the most useful life-strategy. Unpleasant facts, things you don’t want to believe in, can still be facts.

The worst part of all of this is, if stories are all that informs your thinking, you are a puppet – not to another person – but to something that isn’t even alive and conscious. You’re being run by a THING.

This is not something you can tolerate if you aspire to the status of a reasoning being.

In a way that modern U.S. culture decidedly does not, I’d like Beta Culture to understand that these stories exist, and to have a permanent mechanism for recognizing and revealing them for public consideration. Every Beta adult could more carefully study those stories that interested them, hopefully to make enlightened, independent, rational conclusions about the facts of each case.

The Other Side of ‘Poor Robin Williams’

Robin WilliamsSome part of this is probably gonna make you uncomfortable, but I’m gonna just toss it out here anyway:

Robin Williams died today, of an apparent suicide. It’s strange how much it affects me. Years back when I was on vacation and Stephen Jay Gould died, I called home crying. That guy MATTERED to me. He was one of my people, a smart man and a scientist. The world was a colder, dumber, less interesting place when he died.

And now Robin Williams is gone.

On Facebook, a lot of people are posting and talking about this, and most of them are saying how great he was — as a comedian, a dramatic actor, a humanitarian, so much more.

But I’m also seeing a number of posts about depression and mental illness, along the lines of “Anyone can suffer from depression, etc.” About how terrible it is. About how none of us really understands what people with depression and mental illness are going through.

And yes, I agree with that. Hey, I had it. There was a year, back in about 1985, when I got so far down I felt … nothing. No feelings at all. I didn’t even feel suicidal, because that would have taken effort, and I just didn’t have the juice.

There is a depression beyond anything normal people know about. It’s like a black beyond black, a whole new spectrum of darkness that opens up once you get past all the colors and the light goes out. It’s the depression of no energy, no emotions, a place where even pasting an expression on your face is something like lifting heavy weights.

I was there for most of a year.

And then I got better. Part of it was getting a dog, something I had to rouse myself to care for. Another part, a big part, was I had my supportive, patient Cowboy Dad. (If you don’t know who that was, it’s a whole other story.)

But another part of the healing, I’m pretty well convinced, was because I got out of the family situation, and home culture, that put me there. Honestly, I haven’t felt a day of depression since then. I’ve long since concluded I wasn’t the type of person who simply has unworkable brain chemistry or whatever. I was depressed BECAUSE OF STUFF THAT WAS DONE TO ME. And once I got away from it, I started, and continued, to get better. There were definite lasting effects of the whole mess, but whatever problems I have today, depression isn’t one of them.

Anyway, here’s what I want to talk about:

I’d characterize Robin Williams as a certifiable genius. I don’t mean “genius” in the general fluff way, or as some sort of pun on his role of Genie in the Aladdin movie. I mean GENIUS. Fantastically, unbelievably brilliant. A 200-watt creative intellect in a world of 100-watt (and below) standard human duffers. A guy so energetic of mind and body he gave off HEAT when he entered a room, and everybody turned to see.

It’s genius I want to talk about. Because I don’t know anybody else’s experience, I’ll have to talk about mine:

I am NOT a genius. But my IQ is pretty high. Though I’ve dropped out now, I was a Mensa member for five years or so. Mensa is the worldwide high-IQ society, and I qualified from the time I was in the 6th grade. I didn’t actually join until decades later, but my IQ score was, as my 6th grade teacher told me, the highest he’d ever seen. (Ha! Bear in mind this was Houston.)

Guess what that’s like.

On the plus side, the journey of my life has been a very cool one. I feel that I’ve gotten to see things most of my friends and family didn’t see, couldn’t see, gotten to understand things they could never understand. Of course, I also got to make some rare mistakes, mistakes they never would have made, doing things in ways that never would have occurred to them. (And sadly, some of the things you see – things that other people blithely miss – are scary and depressing.)

On the minus side … Growing up in Texas, my closest friends were rodeo cowboys, and we lived in a backwatery country culture that prized cleverness but not intelligence. Hell, I had people on my back all the time because I read BOOKS.

Here’s my stepfather from when I was 15 and on: “Yuh ort to git yer nose outta them books, Boy. Quit that goddam school and go git chu a job.”

Yes, this is me saying it, but the fact is, I was a LOT smarter than every one of my close friends. But I expended a great deal of energy at masking it. Every once in a while, I’d slip up by using a big word, or by expressing an unapproved interest or an unusual viewpoint. I would forget where I was and just be myself for a moment. I would think about stuff and then tell people what I’d thought. Or they’d catch me writing – WRITING!! – in my Journal. And damn, if your home culture doesn’t value intelligence and thoughtfulness, or sensitivity, or writing (!!), you don’t want to do any of that.

Which means exactly this: It was lonely. And boring. (There was a price on that last bit: Because I almost never needed to study, I ended up developing very bad study habits that would cost me dearly in later years.)

I must have thought a thousand times over the years, “Where are the classes that would be exciting and challenging? Where’s the school that I’d fit in? Where are MY people, the people who think about things? Where’s MY world?”

In every school I attended, there were special programs and classes for the slow and mentally handicapped, but nothing for the gifted. It goes without saying that any normal class you were in usually moved at the speed of the slowest kids in the room. The speed of glaciers, it seemed to me. Some of my teachers would even stop calling on me, so the other kids could have a chance to answer questions or go the board and work problems. I took to sitting in the back of some of my classrooms, sneaking in novels to read. By my senior year in high school, I was skipping an average of one day a week, forging notes from my mom that said, literally, “Please excuse Hank for missing class Friday as he did not feel like coming to school.”

[ All those teachers that covered for me, if you’re still out there, thank you soooo much. You rock.]

The obvious assumption by the people who plan classes and academic help is that the bright kids don’t need anything, that with limited time and money, it’s the slow kids who should get the help.

Outside school, there were social things that happened. I learned that boy, oh boy, you definitely didn’t want to toot your own horn in the field of brain. If the subject of your musical ability came up in conversation, people would chime in with compliments. If it was your athletic ability, people would gush about it, with admiring comments and even envy. Your artistic or performing gifts – rave reviews.

But your INTELLIGENCE … no. Nothing. You didn’t even dare bring it up. You might brag about your other gifts, but damn, you did NOT want to say anything about your intelligence. Because while some of the guys might be jealous about your athletic ability, they didn’t dare be too critical, for fear of turning the spotlight back on their clumsy, wimpy selves. But one and all, they could – and did – make fun of your brains. “You dumbass! For somebody so smart, you sure are stupid.”

It got to where I was hiding everything I could, never letting on that my friend’s interests and topics of conversation bored the hell out of me (Race cars? Shooting pool? Soupin’ up your truck? Coon huntin’? Coon huntin’ DOGS? Gah.)  I liked THEM, but not a lot of what they did or said.

So: Lonely. Boring. For years and year and years.

The best thing I ever did was when I was 22, I lit out for California, settling in a little ski resort town, where I made new friends, found a whole new world of interests and activities, and met my Cowboy Dad.

Witness the fact of the Tea Party here in the U.S., as a data point for the argument that intelligence is not much prized. Even among some fairly bright people, talking about your intelligence is not something you do. Again, you might actually brag about being a great tennis player, or an accomplished cyclist, or even just play up your handsome/beautiful looks, and people will agree with you. People will admire you. But if you say anything about your brain, much less your GENIUS, it’s embarrassing to everyone in earshot.

You simply DON’T talk about your own intelligence. Not at any time, not in any place. Instead you make jokes. You self-deprecate. You act goofy. You distract from the subject. You laugh at yourself. In a way that you never would with any other gift.


So here we are talking about Robin Williams. And yes, some of us are talking about his genius. But at least as many are talking about his depression, his Mental Illness.

Poor Robin Williams was MENTALLY ILL. We should do more for the MENTALLY ILL. We should be more sensitive to the needs of the MENTALLY ILL. Oh god, most of us have no idea what the MENTALLY ILL are going through.

And I’m all for that sort of discussion, every bit of it.

But I’m going to suggest that there’s this other thing we might think about, talk about, at the same time.

Let’s talk about the needs of the MENTALLY GIFTED.

Let’s notice the kids with extraordinary gifts. Notice the young adults of quiet intelligence, and do something for THEM. See if they need anything. Set up programs to feed them, nurture them, value them, challenge them. Value the bright adults in your life. Tell them, show them, that they matter to you, and that they matter because of their gifts.

Because some of those brilliant people who suffer depression, maybe they don’t suffer depression because hey, those creative types are always on the edge of suicide, aren’t they bro? Maybe they suffer depression because, to them, they live in Bizarro World, a place that runs a half speed too slow, that delivers a constant stream of depressingly dumb social and cultural whitewash, a place that can never value them, can never give them the same sort of welcome it gives the average and the less than average, a place that forces them, as the price of acceptance, to make jokes about their own best attribute.

Maybe they suffer depression because there is no place for them here, and they know it isn’t going to get any better. Because we’ve never built a place for them, and indeed, can’t even talk about them without qualifying every sentence with “Well, you know, INTELLIGENCE ISN’T EVERYTHING. And besides, IQ IS JUST A NUMBER.”

Maybe people like Robin Williams aren’t mentally ill. Maybe they’re so good, so bright, so creative, so sensitive – all of this in a world that can’t give them what they really need, a sense of being SEEN, of being VISIBLE (and no, being on screen is not, or may not, be that), of being known and loved for being their brilliant true selves, and by people whose opinions they value – that they eventually run out of steam and just … die.

Short Stack # 22

Maple Syrup on PancakesThe less-intelligent students never made it to ninja status, and were relegated to the ranks of the ninny-ja.

They were complete idiots, but damn, they could really sneak up on you.


Canadians: If you come take back Ted Cruz and Justin Bieber, we’ll give you Detroit.


On Alternate Earth, you were born to be a powerful wizard. That’s why you feel so out of place here, and why nothing seems to work.


On the “10% of your brain” thingie. Yes, you use all of your brain. But no, you don’t use it to its full capacity and potential. You’re probably coasting, farting around and kicking back — fitting in, going along — like I am, like so many of us are.

A handful of times in my life, there have been things I’ve wanted to accomplish more than anything. It was like I was filled with this slow rage that wouldn’t be denied, couldn’t be stopped, but also a determined creativity that solved every problem that came at me. And I did some shit that amazed even me.

If I could be like THAT 100 percent of the time … well, it would be exhausting, but I’d also be far, far from here, sitting atop of a huge pile of profound accomplishments.

I think of that Past Me when I come across claims that we don’t have free will. The way I think of it is that we have the CAPACITY for free will. The snag is that it takes a huge amount of effort — to learn, to create, to think for yourself, to forge your own path, to push through life’s inertia and make things happen — and so most of us don’t have free will, or have it only rarely. Instead, we rest content as the unwilled automatons our society welcomes, rather than taking the arduous path of resistance and individuality, which our society sometimes tolerates but often violently and determinedly rejects.

Yes, you there reading this, and me here writing it — we could all be so much more than we’re allowing ourselves to be. It just takes the idea of doing it … followed by a shitload of very hard work.


Winnie the Pooh vs. Tony Tiger. Who wins? My money’s on the bear.


Since the movie “Thelma and Louise” came out in 1993, 13 cars have been driven off the edge of the Grand Canyon.

I’ll bet not one of the bastards phoned ahead so the cameras would be rolling.


Dear spellchecker programs: When I misspell a word and you highlight it, and I right-click to get the correct spelling, I would like the word I meant to type to be the FIRST option, please.

I mean, damn. Sometimes it’s like living in a concentration camp.


I don’t buy into this idea that babies can just lie around all day, having people wait on them hand and foot. I think they should get up out of those strollers, stop mumbling and speak in complete grammatical sentences, and either go to school or get real jobs. It’s just disgusting that they’re such layabouts. I think it leads directly into those directionless teen years where all the drug problems begin to appear. A useful child is a happy child!


I am way the hell in favor of assisted dying for those who express the desire for it. If you’re not free to die in the way and at the time of your choosing, you’re property.


There are days when some of us feel like telling everyone we know: Bring chocolate. Go away.


MY rebellion was that I always wanted to be ME.

It was for that reason I refused to buy a pickup truck (you had to grow up where/when I did to understand the rebellion in that), smoke cigarettes, use drugs, get tattoos, get pierced, wear clothes with corporate logos, believe in gods, show an interest in sports, join the military, or tolerate idiots. Why I unashamedly read a lot (again, you had to be there), never had kids, switched careers multiple times, enjoy animated and superhero movies, walk and talk fast, and speak up when I think I’m being stepped on.


Interesting thing I realized just yesterday: In THIS cultural context, the one we’re living in right this moment, it’s the people WITHOUT tattoos who are the true rebels.


Email is such a godsend.

Frama Willis writes: “Without DR DAHIRU a lot of people would have been dead through heart break. My case is not different from heart break, I am married woman with 3 kids and there was a time when i was having problem with my husband because he was having an affair outside our marriage and this was making me feel bad. So i tried finding solution to my problem by reading a lot of relationship tips on the internet and that was how i came in contact with DR DAHIRU contact details and through the help of DR DAHIRU my husband left the girl he was having affair with and he came back to me and our kids. After a job well done by DR DAHIRU i felt that it will be unfair if i keep this secret to myself and that is why i am going to drop the contact details of DR DAHIRU right now, They are: or add him on facebook (Arewa Dahiru) To enable you have a taste of his nice work.”

I hope all of you having relationship problems will contact DR DAHIRU as soon as possible. He can really help out with those husband problems.


I’m glad the word “thingie” exists. It allows me to talk about technical thingies without actually knowing the names of the thingies I’m talking about.


I’m sorry, iced coffee is just unnatural.

Jesus not once in his life drank iced coffee. None of the Founding Fathers drank iced coffee. The only time our brave pioneers drank iced coffee was when it was winter and they couldn’t get a fire started. And even then, they probably died soon after, crying weakly at the abomination which is iced coffee.

You know who also drank iced coffee? HITLER.


I’m still sympathetic to the A+ movement, but there was a moment when it started that there was a strategic bobble. Someone made the statement, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” That writer created enemies where no enemies existed, and things went downhill from there.

I continue to think atheism is its own thing, and carries exactly zero implications for any social direction. My conceptual work on Beta Culture is an attempt to establish a cultural envelope that is based in atheism and reason but aims at larger social goals.

Socially, at least here in the U.S., it seems atheism is cyclic. It rises and dies out, rises and dies out. Religion, on the other hand, persists and prospers. I think the reason is just that atheism is a solitary pursuit — the goal within atheism is to become an atheist yourself, and probably stop there — while religions are, in addition to being solitary, also social and cultural in nature. They contain a social teleology, a body of larger goals collaboratively supported, that atheism has never had.

Atheism-Plus was a step along the way, but I believe there’s a larger next step that has to be pursued in order to make the actual gains I imagine us making. That next step is creating a culture, a social standing wave that continues automatically just as religions continue automatically, but that has absolutely nothing of religion about it.

I have more than 500 pages of notes on the idea. I only lack the time and energy to get them down in writing and relate them to people. Argh. I think if I could get the whole idea out there, a LOT of people would want to be a part of it.


Good night, Internet. I had a good time today. Hope to see you tomorrow. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. (By the way, I’m still waiting for you to become sentient, and come introduce yourself. I won’t tell.)


The Human Torch would be a much less interesting superhero if, every time he shouted “Flame on!” he got really badly burned.


I don’t want to hurt other people’s emotions. But I also don’t want to live wrapped in the barbed wire of their delicate feelings. Some people think the word “lame” is an attack on the handicapped. I just think that’s retarded.


You know, if the videogame industry created lifelike dog-fighting games — Savage Fangs (for ages 5 to 12) and Savage Fangs 2 (adult version) — people would buy them and play them. What’s more, when the storm of controversy blew up, there would be people who would stoutly defend the existence of such games.

In fact, I’m sort of surprised they don’t already exist. (And — crap! — I hope it’s not me that just gave them the idea.)


Considering we have Google News, Google Calendar, Google Finance, Google Calendar, all those and more, there must have been some features that were proposed and rejected by the people at Google:

Google Hook-Up.

Google Bible Quote.

Google Rent-A-Ninja.

Google Plant Identifier.

Google Genitalia of the Animal World.

Google Umbrella (requires attachment).

Google Death Ray (only for iPhone).

Google X-Ray Specs (only for Android).

Google Painful Skin Condition Identifier.

Google Panhandler Avoider (an applet for Google Maps).

Google Giggle (an annoying high-pitched laugh that goes on for 5 minutes or more).

Google Gaggle (something to do with geese, but the developers are too embarrassed to release details).

Google Billions (pictures of the private vaults of the 1 Percent).

Google Security Cam (hooks into nearby security cameras; they actually tried this one, but shoplifting soared within days and they had to pull it).

Google Black Hole (project ceased after the entire development team vanished, along with an office full of computers and furniture).

Google Bieber (project ceased after the entire development team killed themselves).


If you like your parents at all, believe this: There will come a time when you wish you had more pictures of them. When the pics you have will never be enough, and you regret not taking more.

So: Go to it, dummy. And thank me later.


Terrorists have discovered how to weaponize Reiki. Projecting mystic energy from their hands, they can stop hearts, derail trains, bring down airliners.

And Obama is totally ignoring the subject. Just the other day, Condoleezza Rice sent him a report titled “Reiki Practitioners Determined to Attack Within United States.” We have to impeach before it’s too late.


I wonder if the “energy” of Reiki propagates at the speed of light.

I’ve imagined it wafting across the space between the practitioner’s hands and the patient like the gentle smoke of incense, but what if it slams into you like the merciless flash of a supernova?

I’d hate to have on my tombstone “Another Senseless Reiki Death.”


Every time you get into a discussion of limiting human population, the screamers will leap in with accusations of genocide and eugenics. Why do you want to MURDER people?? Why do you want to KILL BABIES?? You can’t have a sane conversation about it.

And yet there are side effects of having 7 billion people on earth, among them pockets of extreme poverty and ignorance.

This strikes me not as some sort of deliberate failing of the rest of us to care about those affected, but as an inevitable limit on both human organization and human compassion — a lessened ability to understand and cope on the part of the otherwise-charitable, but also a lessened ability to understand and cooperate on the part of the stressed victims.

Of course it’s made worse by those among us who think compassion demands that people be denied access to birth control and reproductive knowledge, but all on its own, the larger the population, the greater the confusion. Human systems fail of complexity. And the LESS able we are to maintain a handle on something like global warming, or this ebola outbreak.

You can have the best science and medicine in the world, but if you can’t get people to listen, to accept, to understand, to work with you — worse, if they suspect you of conspiring to kill them and their children (note that I’m not talking only about Africa here) — you have a recipe for disaster.


Here’s one of the mistakes — the idea that conspiracies don’t happen. We see them all the time. If you and I can come up with some collaborative scam, the people with money and power and government influence can come up with the same silly idea … except that they have the ability to make it happen.

Examples: The tobacco industry lying for decades about the hazards of smoking. Bush’s Iraq War. Our idiot drug laws and the prison industry.

One of the things that most disturbs me about this is the willingness of otherwise intelligent people to look completely away, to act as if this is all some sort of joke, or something unimportant. Hey, only bad, stupid people could be opposed to GMOs, right? Because starving blind children. Or something. If you voice any least question about GMOs — or, my god, have the loony idea that things should be labeled — you’re one of those crazy conspiracy theorists, a spitting mad enemy of Science.


Wonder if anyone has ever attached a GoPro camera to a bullrider? Better yet, attach it to the bull, between the horns, aimed back at the cowboy!

Ooh. This I’d like to see.


I want there to be a food called Something Else. So when I look in the fridge and I see the leftover pizza, the spaghetti and meatballs, the sliced fruit, the sandwich fixings, and NONE of it seems appetizing, over there in the corner, on the middle shelf, there would be the thing I really want — Something Else.


On Chicken World, Colonel Sanders is Hitler.

Hey, SOMEBODY has to think of these things.


Once I learned that vampires don’t show up in mirrors, I started turning my head a lot more when I change lanes on the freeway.


Star Wars, the Musical. Hey, it could happen.

Ooh, now I’m imagining Jar Jar Binks singing. Sometimes I scare myself.


In my next life, I want to live in Movie World, where we break into pitch-perfect song at a moment’s notice, and then run out onto the street and do perfectly-choreographed dance numbers with complete strangers.


Legion of Superheroes applicants who didn’t make the cut:

Combustion Kid

Deafening Damsel

Vibrating Boy

Wheeled Wonder

Lead Lad


Palin’s a ripping success. And in one sense, she’s apparently bright enough to pull off her shtick. But she’s dumb as hell in another sense, the content of what she says. And she’s a merciless parasite on the people who idolize her.

The thing about commenting on someone like her is that her fans assume you’re attacking them by not liking her. It can be very much the other way around, though — some of us hate her, just as we hate Fox News, because we care about her victims.


There’s a guy at work who’s a notorious complainer. Met his wife the other day; she’s exactly the same.

I think it’s a whine-whine relationship.


If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?

My answer is always “Because there’s so much more to do than get rich.

“Having friends and loved ones doesn’t make you money, going out and having adventures doesn’t make you money, savoring the wealth of human experience doesn’t make you money, taking pleasure in the arts doesn’t make you money, educating yourself about science and the nature of reality doesn’t make you money, traveling and learning about other cultures doesn’t make you money, enjoying the solitude and beauty of nature doesn’t make you money, taking the time to think your own thoughts and deeply explore new ideas doesn’t make you money.

It’s cool to develop your skills and talents, to take risks and work hard to create a successful business that DOES make you money. But that’s not all there is.

“If you’re too stupid to know THAT … I feel really sorry for you.”


If George R.R. Martin had been the chief writer on Gilligan’s Island, the second season would have been called Five Castaways, the third season Three Castaways, the final season “The Lonely Island.”


Truth in labeling: There should be a manufacturing firm called the Shitty One-Use Tool Company.


Great thing about being a rabbit: The whole world around you is covered in food. Major drawback to being a rabbit: Every meat-eater considers YOU food, and nobody you know will die of old age.

That’s one of them-there “mettyphors,” I reckon.


Sure you don’t think much of Jeff Dunham NOW, but on the day we meet the Ventriloquians, space aliens who all carry around snarky puppets to speak for them, he and crusty old Walter will become Earth’s cherished ambassadors to the Galactic Union.


The N-word.

I don’t think any white person should use it. It’s not ours. We burned that linguistic bridge. But it doesn’t bother me that black people use it, because they OWN the word. Seriously, if your ancestors go through generations of denigration via that word, it’s yours to do with as you see fit.


I think clothing should be optional. But most of the people I see on the street, I really don’t want to see them naked.


If you get to be famous, and you think the thing to do is appear on the cover of Cigar Aficionado, you instantly move one giant step toward the a-hole category.

You’ll have lots of famous company. But you’re still something of an a-hole.


The “euphemism treadmill” forces us to retreat progressively from perfectly useful terms for real conditions, but which some people consider hurtful. The thing is, even taking into account the storm of worry over people’s FEELINGS, there are larger consequences to abandoning certain words. Speaking just for myself, I don’t like having words ripped from my grasp by prissy, delicate word-wardens who want to compress and control the freedom to speak and communicate.

Case in point: PTSD. Gutted of all emotional force, it sounds like … nothing. It isn’t even a word, it’s an abbreviation for something else, an extended phrase that conveys no urgency or passion:

Wikipedia: “Comedian George Carlin gave a famous monologue of how he thought euphemisms can undermine appropriate attitudes towards serious issues such as the evolving terms describing the medical problem of the cumulative mental trauma of soldiers in high-stress situations:

” … shell shock (World War I) → battle fatigue (World War II) → operational exhaustion (Korean War) → post-traumatic stress disorder (Vietnam War and later)

“He contended that, as the name of the condition became more complicated and seemingly arcane, sufferers of this condition have been taken less seriously and were given poorer treatment as a result. He also contended that Vietnam veterans would have received the proper care and attention they needed, if the condition were still called shell shock.”

What if we rebranded “rape” so that it was “unplanned sexual congress,” or even took up calling it USC? Makes it sound almost like an accident, doesn’t it? My goodness, just another unfortunate USC. How embarrassing, old chap, for all the parties concerned!

There’s some ugly shit in the world. We need those punchy, indelicate words to keep the offensiveness, the hurt, constantly in our faces. If there are a few bystanders whose feelings are hurt, that’s life.


From another point of view, hands are sock puppets suffering a wardrobe malfunction.


I’m thinking about starting a fast food chain called Just Kale.

I’d have to pull out some of the money I have invested in the Tasteless Pap chain. But hey.


Before they become sock puppets, they’re all just socks.

Man, that’s DEEP.


I hope zombies use more than 10 percent of their brainzzz.

That way, one brain could feed 10 careful zombies, instead of one really sloppy one.


Is anyone else getting kicked off Facebook repeatedly? I keep having to sign back in. I suspect it’s Homeland Security, or possibly the Deluminati, bollixing my connection with their spyware.

You guys aren’t fooling me! Even now, my minions are giving the super-miniaturized robotic attack spiders your scent!


Just typing the word “superhero” and it came out “superhore.”

Back off, DC Comics, it’s mine.


About ten years ago, I started to realize it was all of YOU who were weird, and that I was normal and good.

Gotta go now, I’ve got all this paste to eat.


By the way, if you like fast food but feel guilty about eating it, my advice is to go out right now, today, and eat as much as you want.

Seriously, after the Zombie Apocalypse, the menu options will change drastically. All that chicken, beef, pork, and fish you like so much? Gone. Gonna be nothing but brains.

And the vegetarian stuff? Ha.


I continue to want a Conscience Memorial in Washington, DC, something to honor all the protesters, conscientious objectors, and activists who refuse to accept the status quo, and who get things changed for the better.


You ever meet someone that you just instantly clicked with? I’m not talking about sexual attraction, or some kind of infatuation, but a sort of joyously comfortable ease in their company. Effortless true friendship, from both directions.

A half dozen times in my adult life, I’ve had that. I’ve met people I’ve instantly and hugely liked, and knew they felt the same thing from their side. Yet not a single goddam time has it worked out that we developed a long-term friendship. It was never their fault, or my fault, but something happened every time that prevented a friendship from taking place.

I wonder what some of those friendships would have been like. Where are those people who were accidentally perfect friends? And do they ever think about that time they met ME?


I went to the doctor and said, “Doc, I just can’t stop going up and down the stairs at my place. All day long, I’m going up the stairs, down the stairs. Some nights I can’t sleep, thinking about it, and I have to go out and go up and down the stairs.” After we talked some more and he checked me over, he said “I think you have obsessive-compulsive disorder. It’s like you’re addicted to stairs.”

He recommended a 12-step program.

Ba-doomp-boomp. Vaudeville, I’m READY.


Probably most of us think multi-generational feuds are stupid. Your grandpappy shot my grandpappy, therefore I must try to kill you and your brothers, and vice versa. What?

But damn, we sure seem to buy into multi-generational guilt, multi-generational blame, for things like slavery and the settling of North and South America by Europeans.

Considering that most of us are pretty much owned by corporations and politicians, and that there’s a high probability the world is about to get hellish, there are more important things to be concerned about.


Street Wisdom #513:

They were stuck on that island for YEARS. But neither Ginger nor Mary Ann ever got pregnant. That’s why most contraceptives today are based on coconut milk.


If I ever go to the Mayo Clinic, I’m gonna go into the lunchroom and loudly say “Can I get some MUSTARD here?? Get it? MUSTARD in the MAYO Clinic! Haw-haw-haw!”

Because you just know they’ve never heard that.


Wouldn’t it be cool to live in a world where people who could think clearly and rationally were the ones you saw on TV, and the people who couldn’t were the ones who sat back and kept their mouths shut?


I must have told a hundred or so writer-wanna-bes “Go into a bookstore sometime and try to estimate how many thousands of books are on the shelves. Then multiply that by a thousand or so, and you have the number of would-be novelists out there writing books who never make it into print. THAT’S how hard it is to be a successful writer.”

No offense intended on the “writer-wanna-be” thing. I myself have been and still am a writer wanna-be. It’s just that I’m also, in part, a writer-really-did-it.

One of the funny things I hear from others fairly often is “Hey, I’ve got this great idea! You write it and we’ll split the money!” I have to explain that ideas are the EASY part, and every writer has more than he/she can ever do anything with. The value comes into writing by actually doing the writing — and re-writing, and re-writing, and re-writing — which is invariably a massive amount of tedious, brain-breaking work.


Ah, good. I was feeling all weak and stuff, but then I ate food, and that cleared it right up.

These earth bodies are tricky like that.


What would be cool is that we really ARE ruled by a secret society of adepts, but that they’re so secret not even THEY know who they are. And then it turned out that YOU are their leader — the one person in the world that everybody, to some degree, follows.

Speaking of which, just because I grow a beard doesn’t mean you ALL have to grow beards. Really, guys, stop.


Idea Book: Thinking about this previous status: “I wonder if world-class musicians occasionally drop in on small-town guitar shops and act like total noobs, then start rockin’ the place out. You know, just to fuck with people.”

… I think that would make a pretty good TV show, something like “Undercover Boss.” Professional musicians wander into small town guitar shops by ones and twos, then simultaneously begin playing world-class licks on guitar, bass, drums, whatever. A professional pianist wanders into a piano store like a complete doofus, then starts playing Chopin.

I’d watch it.


I’ve wanted to ask a few of the local cops: “Say there’s a disaster and marshal law is declared. Which side are you going to come down on? Are you going to serve the people here in your hometown, or are you going to join in with the repressive controller types who will treat us all like enemies?”


Too many people either won’t see this or won’t accept it. It’s like that thing where you tell one lie, and then have to defend it indefinitely by telling others, and still others, and still others, or else the whole thing comes crashing down and you’re revealed as someone never to be trusted.

The Bush administration, the people who backed them, voted for them, supported them, the people who supported the Iraq war, AND the people who sent their kids off to die in it … they can’t accept that Obama’s a decent man and a good president. They have to forever defend themselves and what they’ve done by lying, manipulating, allowing themselves to believe lies, hating, arguing, sucking on the Fox News teat, desperately cleaving to a whole cadre of liars and manipulators.

Their only choice to change their minds and see the true situation is to admit they were wrong, dead wrong, hatefully wrong, catastrophically wrong.

Too many of them just aren’t that good. They don’t have that kind of intelligence, they don’t have that kind of humility, they don’t have that kind of courage.


Idea Book: A movie called “Life With White People,” written entirely by African-American screenwriters, and acted by a majority African-American cast.


Hank Fox on Aging #37: I guess it’s good that greater physical fragility is accompanied by higher pain tolerance, but damn, it makes for some spectacular mystery bruises.


If we had food replicators like those on Star Trek, I suspect there would be a lot less “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”

… and a lot more …

“Ice Cream. Black Walnut. Hot Fudge Syrup. Double serving. Uh, and with rainbow sprinkles. Did you get that? And maybe a bit more hot fudge syrup than last time. And a bigger spoon.”


Got an email offering “The Secret to Driving Your Partner Crazy in Bed!!”

I already know what it is. It’s a technique many men not only know, but come by naturally. Some even excel at it, completely without training.

But why would I need to learn to snore?


Your Supervillain Horoscope:

Today is a good day to be evil. If you happen to meet a superhero today, open the conversation with “So happy to make your acquaintance, Captain Fantastic. And now … DIE!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!”

Cultivate your lackeys, flunkeys and underlings. Later today, you may need rescue from the crumbling edge on the lip of a volcano.


Yesterday I saw a young woman bending over at a highway rest stop sunglass kiosk. Apparently she worked there, and she was getting some things out of a drawer in the bottom of her booth. Her shirt rode up, her pants rode down — a LOT — and to all passers-by she was exposing some thong-like lacey pink see-through panties, and about six inches of asscrack.

Can’t tell you how gutter-trash revolting that seemed to me.


A few days ago, I was thinking about why I’m so constantly surprised at how negative the reactions are to certain movies, ones that I saw and thoroughly enjoyed.

It might be because I was a theatre “critic” for a few years in Flagstaff, a fairly small town. I saw plays by world-class professional Shakespearean companies and elementary school children, and everything in between. (I saw Forever Plaid! I saw Twelfth Night! I saw Inherit the Wind! I saw Die Walkure of the Ring Cycle!)

The first thing about reviewing such disparate companies is, you learn to adjust your critical sensitivity to take the source into account. You don’t judge kids by the same standards as professionals.

The second thing is: Small-town theatre deserves all the support it can get. You CAN’T write a critical review in a small town. You have to look for things to like about the play, and write about that.

There third thing is, there’s ALWAYS something to like.

I liked the first two installments of The Hobbit. I liked Pacific Rim. I liked Man of Steel. I thought Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was goofy but fun. Hell, I liked Hudson Hawk.

Some people go into movies LOOKING for things to hate. And they succeed. I have to wonder: Why bother? Why go to all that trouble just to have a bad time? Jeez, if you hate the movies so much, if you KNOW you’re going to be disappointed, why not just stay home?

Me, if I’m spending $10, I’m going to 1) make an effort to meet the filmmaker halfway, and 2) enjoy what I can of it. Which is, fairly often, a lot.


In my honest opinion: Dunkin Donuts’ Oreo Cream filled donut is gross as hell.

Thought you should know what sorts of mistakes I’m making out here, so you don’t have to.


In an infinite universe, somewhere out there is that ONE planet where all of us are beautiful/handsome, young, successful, rich and famous.

We probably spend our time whining about how horrible our lives are.

“Today I asked the barrista for an iced caramel macchiato and he gave me an iced CHOCOLATE macchiato! I mean, OH MY GOD!! Can you IMAGINE?! I mean, seriously, it was like this absolute NIGHTMARE!!! I threw it in his face and said “THE NEXT TIME I ASKED FOR A CARAMEL MACCHIATO, GIVE ME A CARAMEL MACCHIATO, YOU COMPLETE DOLT!! —CARAMEL! CHOCOLATE! THEY DON’T SOUND ANYTHING ALIKE!! God, sometimes it’s like we’re living in a Nazi death camp.”


Dear Planet Earth. Stop sending me emails about new liberal-cause petitions. I’m petitioned out.

And honestly, I’d rather do something direct. Possibly involving an axe.


So, those people who think Barbie causes little girls to develop unhealthy ideas about body image … I’m wondering what they think about violence on TV or in video games.

They’re both about imagery, yet the dominant social meme is that one affects people profoundly, the other has no effect at all.


I don’t think the threat of violent television or video games is taken seriously by anyone. I doubt most people even understand what happens. The effect is statistical, not direct. No one specific person will be affected, but take the population as a whole, and something happens to SOME of them.

It’s ludicrous to believe that Coca Cola — or McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Toyota, Apple, etc. — would spend billions advertising, and not expect that it would work. No one specific person is swayed to buy a Coke, but plenty of faceless, nameless others are.

Whether the advertisement is for diamonds, gasoline, cellphones or violence, if we watch it enough, some of us buy the product.


The Joker isn’t REALLY an insane, murderous felon. He’s just misunderstood, and caught some bad breaks that FORCED him into a life of crime. I know some of the ladies out there are thinking about how you’d like to reform him, how you might like to propose marriage. You should totally do it.

Address all love letters and marriage proposals to The Joker, Extreme Violent Ward, Arkham Asylum, Gotham City.

Go ahead. Make a lonely man happy. You know you want to.


I’m going to trademark the word “copyright” and the “©” symbol.

True, it would then look like this — ©™ — but I’ll bet I make a shitload of money.


Today I had an idea that might conceivable destroy big corporate fast food restaurants.

But if I told you, Ronald McDonald would come after me. And the last thing I need is to be stalked by a clown.

(But I seriously had an idea like that.)


Did you hear about the Christian boy who turned down a date with an atheist girl because he heard atheists were wanton?

He didn’t like Chinese food.


Slinky toys give children an unhealthy image of how to go down stairs.


Did you read the news story about that Wal-Mart that closed down after the employees voted to unionize?

So … if you want to keep Wal-Mart out of your neighborhood, announce a Union membership drive the instant you hear about them planning the new store. And FOLLOW THROUGH.


Idea Book:

In 2026, we will celebrate the 250th birthday of the United States. It would be cool as hell to have the History Channel run a months- or years-long special project, covering the American Revolution as if it was current news happening now. Cover all the important events, talk to the movers and shakers — on all sides — of the Revolution, have panel discussions, and show actual battles as if they were breaking news.

Each event would be covered on its own specific 250th anniversary. The Battle of Saratoga, Washington crossing the Delaware, Paul Revere’s ride, all of it. And especially the Constitutional Convention.

It would be the miniseries to end all miniseries.

Of course, it could only happen if the HISTORY Channel can tear themselves away from fucking Pawn Stars and Ice Road Truckers.


On Alternate Earth, where we evolved from ursids, it’s a Bear Mitzvah.

And nobody there thinks that’s funny.


When I was 14, I was cleaning my fingernails with a razor-sharp scalpel in biology lab, and I accidentally stabbed myself in the leg. The teacher sent me to the school nurse, and she made me TAKE MY PANTS DOWN so she could bandage me. Mortifying.

Funny thing was, I don’t think they notified my parents. Talk about your different time, huh? I’d bet today there would be mass shrieking, and a major investigation. “Oh my GOD!! You mean my little darling might get STABBED in biology class?? I’m pulling him out of this class, and this school!! Also, I think this teacher should be FIRED!!!”

Speaking as a former child, stuff like that would be a nightmare.


In the future, Facebook will have an app that will automatically wish people a happy birthday. So you can make them think you care about them. Without actually caring.


I sometimes get into arguments on such subjects as racism, feminism, other liberal issues, not because I disagree totally, but because I’m an editor, which means perfectionist. Somebody makes a blanket statement — “There’s no such thing as reverse racism!” or “All men are potential rapists!” — and I always want to say “Uh, that’s not QUITE right.”

And oh god, there are some people you don’t dare disagree with.


When FBI agents are wire-tapping Robin Williams, I wonder if they sometimes just burst out laughing when they listen to the tapes.

As for the rest of us, they don’t even have to investigate us anymore. On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, so many other places, we TELL them what we’re doing and thinking, right out in the open.


By the way, on my morning jog through the park, I had nothing to do with that crying 5-year-old. It was MY ice cream. I have NO idea what happened to his.


A pre-Apocalypse message to the zombies:

After you bite and infect everybody, and we’re all zombies, where are the fresh brains gonna come from? Huh? Just think ahead at bit, is all I’m asking. Bite, like, every tenth person. That way, there’s some of ’em left to reproduce. We could maybe gather the breeders up in a walled city or something, and then raid them every ten years, and only go for the old ones.

Also, Zombie Health Tip #1: Quit before you’re full. Don’t eat a whole brain in one sitting. Eat one-quarter or one-half, and come back later.


Widen the definition just a bit and you’re ‘kin’ to everyone and everything that ever lived.


[ Afterword: The bit about Robin Williams was written long before this recent news about his death, and posted this morning before the news broke. I’m leaving it in … just because. ]

#DeathTweets (repost)

Maple Syrup on Pancakes#DeathTweets: Just chugged about a quart of Diet Coke. Now for the Mentos!


#DeathTweets: me and my posse up at the old sanders mansion spoze to be a vampire lives here. yes or no, im bringin back PROOF!


#DeathTweets: whoo boys nite out no idea howw mny driks ive had time to go tho wherz my keys


#DeathTweets: Makin my own fireworks for the 4th this year! Sulfur, saltpeter, charcoal, yeah! Ima grind this shit down to powder now and


#DeathTweets: Can’t believe I’m here in Pamplona, Spain! Whoops, gotta go, I think the bulls are coming!


#DeathTweets: Man, look at this gator just lying in the sun. Ha! Sluggish, stupid reptile! Watch me kick this big bastard in the ass.


#DeathTweets: Texting and driving? I’ve got it wired, man. Hell, I could do this in heavy traf


#DeathTweets: Trying to get the riding mower started, so dark I can’t tell how much gas is in it. Hang on, got my lighter here.


#DeathTweets: Taking pics at the Grand Canyon! If I hang onto this tree limb, I can get a fantastic shot of the river down there.


#DeathTweets: Cleaning up some brush in my yard. Just went down and rented a woodchipper. Never used one before, but hey, how hard can it be?


#DeathTweets: Best bro and me seein how close we can stand to the Amtrak train when it passes by today.


#DeathTweets: Oh, man, scored the coolest new pet! This guy on Craigslist was actually GIVING AWAY a 16-foot python!


#DeathTweets: What a bunch of surf-pussies! Dude, shark is just another word for fish. Hey, I’m not missing these waves!


#DeathTweets: So this biker asshole took my parking place AGAIN. Wait, here he comes. Ha! Wait til he sees what I did to his bike.


#DeathTweets: I’m out 4-wheeling with my Texas cousin! Hang on a sec – he wants me to hold his beer.


#DeathTweets: Parachuting’s a lot cheaper since I learned to pack my own chutes! Geronimo!


#DeathTweets: Having a wonderful time on safari! Oh man, look at that beautiful lion. And so close!

The Book of Good Living: Standing in Line

good stuffToo harsh? Anything you’d add?

The General Rule

It all comes down to fairness. It’s fair that the guy who got there first deserves to be waited on first. If there are people behind you in line, NOTICE THEM, and remember you’re taking their time too. Do the deed and move along.

If you were in traffic and the light turned green, other drivers would expect you to move off immediately, not sit there texting or talking or dithering. And so would you. They’ve got 30 minutes for lunch, they’re late for an appointment, they have to get home right away, they want to get on with their day. Care about it and move things along.

C’mon, you’ve been standing in lines since you were 5 years old. You know the drill; you just have to do it.

A. Cashiering

1) Cashiers: If there’s a small crowd of people standing randomly out there, don’t just grab the first person your eyes fall on. Ask “Who was next?” The people waiting out there KNOW who was next.

2) Cashiers: This is your job, not private time to socialize with your friend or off-duty co-worker. Your first priority is customers, always. If people are waiting, every second you spend chatting with your friend is stolen from others. “Sorry, got people waiting. Catch me on my break.”

3) Customers: This is not the time to go on with the cashier about little Bobby’s baseball game, or the weather. She can’t gracefully say “Gotta cut you off, you’re taking up these other people’s time.” Smile at her and move on.

4) Customers: If the cashier or order person ignores you in favor of a private conversation, walk the hell out and call the manager, or the corporate office. They really do want to know. Chances are everybody involved will remember you, and it will never happen again.

B. Waiting

1) Fair’s fair. If someone is ahead of you, they’re ahead of you. Signal them to go ahead, even if there’s some confusion on the part of the cashier.

2) No cuts. Seriously, are you 8 years old? The guy behind you is behind YOU, not your whole family and extended friends list who happen to stroll up when you reach the first position. If you all want to go together, how about YOU move to the rear of the line with them?

3) It just takes some people longer. Be patient with them. They probably don’t mean to be like that. It might be their first time at this joint. They might be new to the country, or Planet Earth.

4) If there are 4 of you, Mommy and Daddy and Millie and Billy, but only one of you is ordering, have that one person stand in line and order. The rest of you, move slightly away so others can see the menu, the second register, etc.

5) We all deserve some personal space. Don’t loom, don’t touch, especially with women. Stand back a ways from the person in front of you.

6) Speak up. If a guy walks past you and up to the counter when it was your turn, say “I’m sorry, I was ahead of you.” Use a carrying voice if you feel the need. Nobody will think less of you, and you do have the right not to be stepped on. Also: If somebody’s being a dick, and someone else speaks up, back that guy up by also speaking up. “I’m sorry, he’s right. He was next, and we all know it. You’ll have to step back.”

C. Ordering

1) Get off your fucking phone and do your business. Don’t waste other people’s time. Repeat to yourself: “Order. Pay. Get out of the way.”

2) If you stand in line for 5 minutes before finally reaching the order desk, and THEN start peering dopily at the menu and thinking about what you want, you have failed as a human being and probably deserve to be clocked on the back of the head. That guy behind you probably knows exactly what he wants, and the lady behind him ditto. Think ahead at least enough to know pretty much what you want by the time you get there. If you’re a parent, get your kid’s order settled while you wait, not when you reach the counter.

3) If you’re in a group, it’s even more important that everybody figures out what they want before you get to the order desk. Laugh and talk after you get back to your table.

4) If there’s nobody behind you in line, you have time to explore all the hidden options of the Secret Menu. If it’s lunch hour, and there are 8 people in line behind you, order something off the menu with no substitutions. Play gourmet next time.

D. Paying

1) Hey, dummy. You’re in line to buy something, right? There will be this moment when you have to pay for it, right? Don’t just stand there like a cotton-headed sock monkey and then go “Oh, goodness, let me find my little wallet” when it’s time to pay. Have your card or your money ready, or where you can get to it quickly.

2) If it’s a really busy day, move to the side slightly before tucking away your receipt and change.

3) Coin Purse Ladies Only: If there are people behind you, don’t go searching for your little coin purse and then fish around in it for that last penny of exact change. Nobody’s getting any younger; move things along.

E. Picking Up

1) If you’ve ordered and there’s a pickup point down the counter, move there. Don’t stand blocking the order counter.

2) Emergency assistance: If the lady who just picked up her order comes back to complain that her order wasn’t right, make allowances. She deserves to get what she ordered, just as you do. Waiting in line again isn’t fair.


Couple of good comments from Facebook:

Chris Leithiser: When you’ve put all your groceries/items on the conveyor belt at the checkstand, it’s YOUR job to put a divider AFTER them. If there are none available, wait until one comes free and then do it. That way the person after you can start unloading her basket.

Dayla Reagan-Buell: I allow people behind me at the grocery store to go before me if they have fewer items — especially if the have ice cream, bags of ice etc.


Reimagining the Conceptual Foundation of Atheism

The_ThinkerInevitably, in any discussion with those critical of atheism, you’ll hear “You can’t prove there’s no God, therefore atheism is not logically supportable.”

Here’s the counter: There’s this thought experiment we’ve been conducting for the past three centuries or so, the thought experiment of “What if everything works by completely natural laws and forces, with no capricious supernatural superbeings involved?”

It doesn’t matter whether or not the supernatural superbeings exist! We just decided to see what we could come up with if we assumed they didn’t. It was a trial run regarding a certain way of thinking.

That thought experiment, science, has paid off in practically everything you see around you. Not one object in my modern house, no part of our cellphones or computers or cars, nothing in modern medicine, depends on belief in gods for its existence, and in fact, could not have been created (and demonstrably was not created) by people operating solely on faith. It turns out that the thought experiment of science returned massive benefits, things never before seen, or possible, in the thousands of years before we tried it.

Atheism is this same type of thought experiment, a trial run of “IF WE ASSUME no gods exist … How would society look? How would government work? What would morality be like? How would we relate to each other? And … is it possible that by assuming this we might see the same massive benefits socially as we got scientifically?”

You don’t have to prove there’s no God to be an atheist. Atheism is a thought experiment, and every atheist — every person! — is perfectly justified in performing it. The goal of this thought experiment is not rock-solid proof of the non-existence of gods. In fact, that question is virtually irrelevant. The goal is to see what social and cultural benefits we can obtain from postulating that we live in a world devoid of mystical forces. A world where the things HUMANS do and think is the main deciding factor in eventual outcomes.

Just as it was with science, the result of this experiment might be off the charts of anything we’ve seen until now.