An Epiphany on Road Rage … Online

I had to do a silly damned “defensive driving course” at work. It was this SIX HOUR LONG online thingie, where you have to read a short screen of text, and then wait out a timer before you can click to the next short screen of text, and read that.

Argh. If you were ever a student and had a writing assignment that included a necessary word or page count, and you used up your facts or thoughts halfway through that assigned length and had to pad things out with extra words, you can imagine what this “course” was like. Padded as hell, and tedious because of it. But also, in this case, containing a SMALL amount of useful information. It’s a state-approved thing, and whoever was on the approving board thought that to get that useful stuff into the course-taker’s head it had to be the full SIX HOURS LONG, rather than, say, three, or even two.

There are four “modules” you have to work your way through, and there’s a “test” at the end of each module, a series of 5 to 8 questions that are so lame they’re obviously designed for an easy pass.

The way the course works, you take it to get penalty points (for a past ticket) off your license, and it reduces your insurance. As I haven’t had a ticket since roughly 1985, I had to take it so (I imagine) the drug rehab hospital I drive for could get a better rate on insurance. All the drivers were required to take it, or get suspended from driving.

It’s one of those “for the sake of appearances” things, mostly. The easy-pass test is a clear indicator that nobody really cares whether you can actually demonstrate knowledge of, for instance, the 8 different colors and 8 different shapes of road signs, or the significance of yellow stripes on the road as contrasted with white stripes, or what to do when you see a school bus stopping. They just have to know you’ve been exposed to the SIX FULL HOURS of knowledge.

But, as I say, a couple of things were useful. Useful to me, personally. One was the section on road rage.

I’d seen some of it just the day before. Driving north on Interstate 87 out of New York City — I was in the left lane of the 4-lane highway and going slightly faster than the traffic around me — when a pickup truck literally whooshed by me on the right and moved into the lane just 50 feet ahead of me. He was followed by a pursuer, a car that did the same maneuver, only faster, missing my front bumper by perhaps 18 inches as he moved into my lane. He whipped up behind and then to the left of the truck.

To give you the clear picture of what happened, remember that I was already in the left-most lane, right next to the dividing wall between the north- and south-bound lanes. This car rocketed into the narrow space between the truck and that wall, paused there briefly while the obviously furious driver shouted or gestured at the offending (?) pickup driver, and then seemed to lose it for a moment so that he bounced between the wall and the truck like a loose pinball, contacting both with sparks and crunches.

Truck and car both slowed, and all the traffic around them gave them careful distance. This is New York after all, and who knows what might happen in today’s gun culture. There was a moment of uncertainty in which the car driver looked liked he was thinking of fleeing the scene, then truck and car both meekly moved to the right and off at an exit. I could see the car driver as I passed him, pounding the steering wheel and bobbing his head in frustrated anger — at himself this time, for the damage to his car, for the probable arrest and loss of license — his lips clearly forming the shouted words “Son of a fucking bitch! SON OF A FUCKING BITCH!!”

The two vehicles and drivers passed out of my life in that moment, but they reminded me that road rage is a real thing, and clearly dangerous to everybody within range.

Changing gears for a second, let me quote a comment submitted on my recent (and not yet complete) GMOs-and-sociopaths series:

I’m not quite sure what your demented raving is about. I assume it has something to do with GMOs and Joe Camel.

If I am correct, I assume that you feel that GMOs are a force of Satanic evil in today’s world. Utter, unmitigated nonsense. It is anti-scientific kooks like you who are seeking to starve humans and destroy the environment. See

If I am wrong about this, please accept my apologies. Your gibberish misled me, unfortunately.

So here’s me, near-sighted nebbish driving my keyboard along the Internet highway, typing in my little essays on this and that, and then here’s this guy — someone named Robert Kelley, and I assume not one of my regular readers (who generally seem to take me as the well-meaning doofus I imagine myself to be) — zooming onto the scene and attacking me with pure, spitting anger.

Demented raving. Utter, unmitigated nonsense. Anti-scientific kook. Starving humans, destroying the environment. Your gibberish.

This would have bothered me just a short time ago, but I suddenly realize what it is. Road rage. In online form.

It’s not a personal attack against me, it’s an expression of the writer’s own world-directed frustrations and anger. Just as the two drivers in the highway incident likely didn’t know each other, weren’t reacting to each others as individuals, this writer is not reacting to me specifically. He’s just venting built-up steam.

This is not to say he may not have a point, of course. It is to say the point was probably delivered with wholly unnecessary ire, and that in itself is an indicator that the POINT isn’t the POINT.

I’ve seen it in plenty of places online. I got invited into a Facebook group a while back, something from the Pharyngula crowd, and made the mistake of saying something unflattering about face-covering tattoos and mods. Whew. You’d have thought I sodomized Mother Teresa. Road rage.

I’ve been in a few tiffs with online feminists, and oh boy, you do NOT want to piss those people off, even a little bit. A single wrong word will bring a howling mob after you, accusing you of hating women, of wanting them to be beaten and raped, of being a misogynist and mansplainer, an assault that will pretty much never end until you grovel and agree, or shut up and vanish. It doesn’t matter what you think of women, or want for women. Once you trigger the built-up anger, you’re suddenly the target of the online version of road rage. (Some of the most ardent attackers are men, by the way.)

Any blogger — hell, anybody online in any form, Twitter, Facebook, etc. — can tell you online road rage exists. You can be writing about the pleasures of cuddling kittens and someone will show up to accuse you of being Hitler. WHY DO YOU HATE THE KIDS WITH ALLERGIES, YOU SONOFABITCH??!!

Online road rage is just US, venting life’s frustrations at any convenient — and safe — target. The anger is real, and has real roots. Further, it seems fully justified to the people expressing it. To begin to understand it, you have to respect that fact.

But the thing about real road rage is that 1) we know it exists, 2) we know what it is, and 3) we do something about it.

We campaign against it. We fine the people who get caught at it. We require those who exhibit it to get counseling — anger management classes — or lose their licenses. We do that to make the roads safer, and to make sure life on the road, or just life generally, stays within some tolerable zone.

Nowhere in that counseling is there the assertion that the anger isn’t justified by real-life events, or that it doesn’t need to be expressed. Life in every era has its frustrations and digs, and this life-moment is … well, not only no exception, but possibly extra-super frustrating (you know, with mandatory “defensive driving courses” and such), beyond anything people not actually in a war zone have ever known.

Hell, I sometimes think it would be deeply satisfying to just trip one of those jackwagons walking around with his pants hanging down below his ass, and then kick him a time or two while he was down. In the vein of real road rage, I’ve wanted to shout at slow-driving man-grannies on the highway, “Get off the frickin’ road, you ancient fart!”

But in the building or continuation of online communities — something I’m definitely working on here in the background —  some of us have not yet grasped the necessity of civility.

We have to recognize that rage is not the best way to deal with each other. That the people who most exhibit the signs of online road rage — just for the helluvit, I’m going to call it ORR — while they may have a very good underlying point, are not doing themselves or the rest of us any favors in the way they express it. And note that in the road version, at least, we don’t let the ragers set the standard that defines the entire driving community.

We’re going to have to figure out ways to help each other learn to deal with the rage — which, again, may well be justified — in useful, positive ways.

Because rage itself is counterproductive to any discussion into which it is injected. One of my Wise Old Sayings is “Under the lash of strong emotions, humans become less intelligent.” Rage enters, reason exits.

So: Say anything you like to me in the comments. Make any argument or assertion. But keep it cool enough that we’re not simply screaming back and forth at each other for no good reason.

Let’s keep it peaceful, and just TALK.

Also: Robert (and Lausten), I’m getting to my point in those posts about GMOs. It’s a useful point, I think, and one left out of most of the polarized flame-fests that always seem to attend the subject. Stick around.


Help Get ‘Hug An Atheist’ to a Wider Audience

Sylvia Broeckx writes:

I apologise for sending you this message out of the blue, but we could really do with some help. We’ve made a film about atheists in the USA and it’s from the perspective of everyday atheists, dealing with the aspects of life where religions provide solace and guidance such as morality, raising a family, and coping with tragedy.

But, what’s the point of making a film that presents atheism in a positive light, if it doesn’t get seen by lots of people that aren’t already atheists? We have less than 48 hours to raise the funds to help get this film to into festivals and reach a wider, non-atheist, audience.

We are getting close, but could really do with your help to spread the word about the campaign. It can really help make quite the difference.

Thank you!


Done! Here’s the trailer, with the Indiegogo fundraiser link below:


Things I’d Like to Take Home on the Eve of Christmas

The impulse, I suspect, is in all of us.

Put a 5-year-old on a beach with his mother, and he will spend some large part of his time picking up shells, one by one, over and over, running them back to her, proclaiming in awe and delight, “Mommy, look at THIS one!”

You find a great new eating place, you go back and TELL everybody. You discover a beautiful little waterfall on a hike, you take pictures and go back and SHOW people. You hear some juicy, or sad, or amazing, bit of news, your first impulse is to find a friend and SHARE it

So there are some things I’d like to take home. Things I’ve done. Things I’ve seen. Things I’ve discovered, out here in the wide world.

And though I don’t exactly think of the place I came from — that house, that neighborhood, that school, that town — as Home anymore, there are people back there who are home-y, and whom I’d enjoy sharing things with.

Because I’ve seen so much.

I don’t doubt that every person back there, and every person reading this, has lived a life as rich and full as mine is to me. But I’ll bet there are some things, maybe even a lot of things, that I’ve done that none of them have experienced. Because I left home, made my way in a somewhat larger world than the one we all grew up in, while some of them are still living right there, right in their home neighborhoods, right in the same part of town. With those same middle-class, white, Christian, English-speaking, Houston, Texas, CITY people.

Hey, I grew up with people who’d never been on a plane before. People who would never get on one. People who thought (think?) wildlife is for shooting, and nothing else. People who thought tacos were exotic foreign food. People who thought tea came in one style – iced – and to whom the very idea of hot tea was silly and foreign.

So here are some things I’d like to take Home and share with my people:

Sushi. Lagavulin single-malt scotch and George Dickel whiskey. A sip of apricot brandy after dinner.

Sitting in a natural hot spring and watching the full moon rise. Seeing the Great Sky River from the slopes of a 10,000-foot mountain. Lying on rocks at Yosemite National Park and watching a meteor shower. Walking outside and seeing the Aurora Borealis overhead, shimmering, flickering, dancing in the night sky. Rainbow rings around the full moon. Sunrise over the mountains. Sunset over the ocean.

Coyote song. The distant music of the bull elk. The roar of an African lion. The unearthly call of a mountain lion in the night. The bark of a red fox. The quork of a raven. The group howl of a pack of sled dogs under the full moon. The sight of a pika with a mouthful of harvested grass. The slick feel of a dolphin’s skin, and the pebble-grain roughness of a grizzly’s paw. The boom of a blue grouse taking flight overhead.

The smell of a Jeffrey pine. The crisp scent of falling snow. The smell of rain on mountain trail dust. The taste of water cupped from a trailside creek.

Bathing in an ice-cold mountain waterfall on a hot summer day. The view from 3,000 feet, under a parachute. The sound of the wind against the skin of a sailplane. The feel of a steady trail horse under you, patiently plodding along, and the view as you crest a rocky pass and see a mountain lake spread out below you. Waking to pre-dawn firelight, and coffee, and camaraderie on a wilderness horseback expedition. The feel of bone-deep weariness as a day of ranch work ends. The splashy spectacle of a mountain-bred rainbow trout snatching a fly from the surface of a creek, and the taste of it minutes later fresh from a campfire frying pan.

The rush and thunder of a wild river under a rubber raft. The this-is-where-I-belong comfort of a mountain hike with two good dogs.

You people back home, I know you’d love all this stuff. Oh, it might take an effort to get you to try sushi, but if you did try it, I’ll bet you’d like it. The rest of that stuff, even if you never get to do it, I could describe it to you, and if you’d listen, you could enjoy it vicariously.

There’s one thing more I wish I could bring home to you. Something I know most of you wouldn’t believe, wouldn’t accept. But if you trust me just a little bit, if you find any of the rest of this stuff interesting, or alluring, or just thought-provoking, I promise you this thing is a LOT better. Or at least as good.

It’s just this: The freedom you feel when you break away from religion. The cool comfort you get when you understand that the entire world is this honest, trick-free place with no hidden powers, no demons, no eternal torment. The fact that the only person in your head is you, and you can think anything you want; there is no lightning-wreathed fist waiting to smash you for your independent, irreligious thoughts. That there is no such thing as SIN, and that WE get to decide how to be good. That church-inspired charity – bargaining chips for your own selfish eternity – can be replaced by acts sparked by true compassion. That you can put the Bible down and never again worry about what it says … about anything.

That evolution is real, that we are risen apes, kin to every other lifeform on the planet – every bonobo and bear, every redwood and rhino, every dolphin and dingo and dragonfly – and that there is warm, radiant glory in knowing that.

That the fate of our neighbors, and ourselves, and our planet, is in OUR hands, and not those of some disembodied supernatural superbeing.

If I could bring that home to you …

It would be the best Christmas ever.



I’m Part of FreethoughtBlogs’ FTBConscience!

I’ll be appearing on the “Atheism and Grief” panel at FTBConscience this Sunday, July 21 at 4 p.m. Central time.

Other speakers will include Rebecca Hensler, founder of Grief Beyond Belief, plus Greta Christina and Nicome Taylor.

Here’s the entire convention schedule, and here’s the page detailing just my panel.

I’d volunteered to be on the panel regarding the future of atheism, hoping to talk about Beta Culture, but there were already plenty of panelists included there.

Hope to see you there!


I’ve been meme-ifying over on Facebook lately. Just little nothings I tinkered up in Photoshop, and most of them no great shakes in the graphic design department — or even in basic message.

Apparently you have to click on an image, and then click on it again, in order to see any one of these full-size.

The top three are the coolest. If you have time for nothing else, take a look at those.


Asking a Bit of Support for a Fellow Warrior

Another unfortunate hit to our beloved Greta Christina:

I have some more news of the crappy variety. It’s not as alarming as it’s going to sound: it’s probably going to be fine in the long run, and even in the medium run. So even though your first reaction may be alarm, try to not go there if you can avoid it. But I want to fill you in. And I’m going to ask you for some help.

The bad news is that I was just diagnosed with endometrial cancer. I got the initial biopsy results Saturday, and met with the oncologist Tuesday.

Visit her blog to read the entire post: Bad News, Good News, and Asking for Help. Also, as a way of supporting her during this difficult time, see what you feel like donating via the links in her post.

UnJeeped Comrade Conveys Thanks

Former “desert warrior” Chris Clarke expressed a hasty thanks today as he jetted off to the Caribbean trailing large-denomination bills and a mysterious white powder. Thanks to the generosity of all those who donated, Chris was at last able to ditch the desert schtick and buy an island resort, which he is converting into what he referred to as “a safe haven for women struggling with a pole-dancing addiction.”

But seriously: For those late on the scene, Chris Clarke, blogger, writer, feminist, animal lover and environmental warrior of many years standing recently got his Jeep stolen for the second time. Thief #2 managed to total the vehicle during a high-speed chase, leaving our friend car-less. Chris is even getting billed for the towing charges.    Continue reading “UnJeeped Comrade Conveys Thanks”

Desert Warrior Seeks Millionaire. Sort Of.

Chris Clarke — Desert Protective Council / Solar Done Right / Earthjustice / Earth Island Institute / Earth Island Journal / etc.

I doubt he would ask for help.

In fact, presented with this piece, I expect to hear from him, and I’m about half convinced he will be annoyed or embarrassed and ask me to take down the post.

(And then, crap, I will have to decide whether to honor his wishes in what really is a personal matter, or … you know, help him against his will.)

But …

I have this friend. He’s a distant friend, an Internet friend, someone I’ve met in person only once. But he’s a Friend, with a capital-F, probably even a Brother with a capital-B, because the world is a better place for having him in it. And goddammit, we need the world to be a better place. Continue reading “Desert Warrior Seeks Millionaire. Sort Of.”

13: Blogathan for Secular Student Alliance!

Okay, here’s where I shock and dismay many of you. The part where you’ll say “I don’t agree! My experience is different! You’re just wrong!”

But I want you to think about this. It’s something that’s bothered me for years and years, something I think matters — a little detail of compassion that few of us ever think about, but that disturbs me greatly. Continue reading “13: Blogathan for Secular Student Alliance!”

12: Blogathan for Secular Student Alliance!

The End.

Except it’s not yet 2 p.m. is it? Seems my math, from my original promise to blog from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., was faulty. I figured on 12 posts, but that span of time actually requires 13.

While I’m thinking about that, look at this picture. It was taken right here in Upstate New York, near Schenectady. Click to embiggen.  (BTW, there are more Hank Fox photos on my Flickr site.) Continue reading “12: Blogathan for Secular Student Alliance!”