Lost Minutes

Every workday morning I get in the car and as I pull out the driveway I tap Waze to life to get the most expedient route to the office. It usually says the trip is going to take about 40 to 45 minutes, and at 5 AM it is right. But any later and I will get to watch my arrival time slowly tick upwards, my destination drifting later and later. 45 minutes becomes an hour, then an hour fifteen, an hour and a half, and sometimes up to as much as two hours.

These lost minutes feel more empty than any other wasted time. Commuting is such a bore, but one where you can’t just sleep through it. Well, if you take mass transit you can. I live in the suburbs and work in the city – mass transit takes two hours because … well, the politics of Cobb County is something to get into another time.

Driving in heavy traffic sucks.

The Road to a Viable 3rd Party

Ross Perot carried 18.9% of the popular vote in 1992. He got 0 electoral votes. Gary Johnson managed to get 1% of the popular vote in 2012, and in 2016 he got 3.3% of the vote. Both times, he got 0 electoral votes. Jill Stein in 2016? 1% of the vote, 0 electoral votes.

President is not directly elected by popular vote (if it was, we’d have had Gore in 2000, and Clinton in 2016). They are elected by the Electoral College, whose electors are selected by rules of each state. Except for the states of Maine and Nebraska, electors are awarded to the popular vote winner for the state. So, a Libertarian or other 3rd Party cannot win the presidency if they cannot carry states (in Maine and Nebraska they could get an elector if they could manage to carry districts). Is this a bad thing? Is this a good thing? That’s a long discussion, but as of right now it is a thing, and one that cannot be ignored.

(Weird Note: 2016 was such a strange election, because of faithless electors – which had not happened since 1896 – Colin Powell got 3 electoral votes, and Bernie Sanders, John Kasich, Ron Paul, & Faith Spotted Eagle each got 1.)

Until a state elects a 3rd party governor, you are unlikely to see a 3rd party get electors in a presidential run.

If you want to break the hold of the two party system we have here in the US, then you need to focus on local and state elections, and convince your preferred 3rd party to do the same. I’d love to see more variety in our political parties, but this is simply not a game you can enter with a “top down” approach. You have to start at the bottom.

I bring this up because 2018 is a midterm election. There is no presidential race to drive up voting participation, so this would be the time to Get Out The Vote for those 3rd party candidates since the threshold for winning will be easier now than trying in 2020.

36 states will be electing a governor this year. Personally, I’m hoping for a lot of flipping Red to Blue, because I’m a dirty liberal, but I’d take flipping Red to Independent too.

Anyway, until 3rd parties start winning states, if you tell me you are going to vote for anyone other than the Republican or Democrat nominee in a presidential election, I will tell you you are “throwing away your vote”. By all means, you should vote, and you should vote for whoever you want, but in our existing system no one but the Republican and Democrat nominees are going to carry a state and get electors. You can vote for a 3rd party in protest, but it is a protest that those two parties will ignore, unless your 3rd party can prove it is worth paying attention to by winning state and local elections.

Unemployment in the New World

“So, in general, the idea is to mechanize as many processes as possibly, eliminate human error, increase productivity, reduce costs…”
“What should all the people you put out of work do?”
“Get other jobs.”
“Doing what?”
“Other jobs.”
“But if all businesses are doing the same thing you are, mechanization, more work with fewer people, et cetera, what jobs?”
“Well, they can’t just be lazy and do nothing!”
“They wouldn’t. Very few people can actually sit around doing nothing for a long time. I mean, sometimes it looks like people do that, but that’s usually because they are just super tired from being worked to death. After some respite, most people would start doing something.”
“Yeah, like getting a job!”
“Well, no, like maybe volunteering in their communities, or making music or art or research and thinking about how to do something new or something better.”
“Who would pay them for that?”

Privilege and Beyond

Some days I feel old. Some days I still feel young. But one thing I generally no longer feel is ignorant. I’m not perfect and I am always learning, but it is only within the last few years that I have become aware of how uninformed and uncaring I was as a younger man.

That isn’t to say that I was an asshole. I mean, I probably was sometimes, but I was never the guy running around rubbing people’s noses in my success or achievements. And yet, I was blissfully unaware of how easy I often had it. It’s only within the last half dozen years or so that I’ve stumbled across the words that have helped me understand so much about the world around me.

Privilege is that which you don’t have to think about.

I say that, and I know some people don’t get it. Or worse, they knee-jerk respond to the word “privilege” and go off on a tirade about being forced to be politically correct or some other nonsense. But as a younger man, I simply never gave much thought to the things I was born with. And it isn’t about how much I have, but rather how much is not held against me. And that is the root of privilege, and why it is hard for people who have it to see it, because it isn’t something they actively use, but simply something other people don’t hold against them.

As a straight white male I feel pretty comfortable going into just about any situation. I might have anxiety about how my actions or performance might be perceived but I never worry that I’m going to be hated for simply existing. There are places where that can happen, but frankly I have to seek them out with great effort, widely stepping outside my normal day to day.

For example, one time, when I was in college, I and some friends decided to go roller skating. We went to the only place we knew of near by, which happened to be in a predominantly black part of town, and it was a busy night. Our group of five (if I remember correctly) were literally the only white people there. It was uncomfortable, especially when I zoomed a bit too fast, blanked on how to stop myself, and went crashing into a group of young ladies. I was embarrassed, and even a little scared… but notice, I was also still skating. I got a lot of looks that night, because I was clearly “out of place” but even then, there I was – and no one ran me out.

There was a moment that night, just a moment, where I felt truly and deeply “outside”, and it is that moment I try to grip in my mind nowadays when I want to consider the position of someone who is without privilege. Even so, it’s often very hard to put myself in the shoes of others, or in the place of those who don’t even have shoes.

And this is where I am today, when I decided finally to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail. There are so many quotes from this piece that I have seen, in memes on Facebook, on shirts, on posters, plucked for use on TV – all of these mostly on MLK Day. And these quotes are powerful, their message piercing for those open to listen. And yet, in context, their power only grows. The whole letter is an astounding work.

Today, as always, there is so much focus on the bombast of King’s defining speech, I Have A Dream. But I think it’s the Letter From Birmingham Jail that most people need to read. It speaks of change and consequence, laws just and unjust, and the need for people to speak out against injustice, and to take non-violent action when speech falls of deaf ears.

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

This quote struck me as I read it. I’m certain I have seen it before, but as I read it today, in context, it carried more weight, because in recent years I have tried to not be a part of the “appalling silence of the good people”. Not that I’m out there shouting injustice from the rooftops, but in lending my voice to others. Amplifying when I can. And voting when the opportunity arises.

I also can’t help but feel that much of what King says in Letter can apply today, especially that quote above, to the current administration, those who support it, and those who remain silent.

To 2018 and Beyond

This is where I would complain about writing the wrong year on my checks for the next few months, but since this is 2018 I don’t write checks for anything anymore. Well, that’s not entirely true. I write exactly one check per year, because my HOA doesn’t accept their dues any other way.

So… resolutions.

I made my first resolutions post back in 2002, where I proudly stated that I didn’t need resolutions. I then followed that by making resolutions posts every year until 2014. 2015, 2016, and 2017 I missed, because in the last three years I was more apt to post about why I wasn’t posting than to post anything of any real substance. Over the years I see that I tend to make the same resolutions over and over. I suspect a lot of people do.

I usually resolve to exercise more or eat better, or both, with a goal of not getting fat or to stop being fat, and since I am fat I clearly have failed at this for 16 years. And when I say I am fat, this isn’t an anti-body-positivity thing. I would be perfectly happy being fat if I was happy and also fat. But as I have gotten heavier and out of shape, I have become less happy. I am uncomfortable sitting sometimes. I have trouble tying my shoes because of the density of my gut. Moving around is exhausting. And as I get older, my weight is probably contributing to other health issues that are cropping up. So I will once again resolve to eat better and move more, to lose weight and be healthier.

I also often resolve to read more. Oddly, I’ve been reading more, especially since my company moved to Buckhead and I have a 90 minute commute, one way. I take the bus because I hate driving in traffic, and this lets me read. I still have a backlog of literally hundreds of books. I wish I was a speed reader, but I am not. Progress though. I am reading.

And I usually resolve to write more, which I am resolving again, because I miss it. I miss emptying my brain on to the internet where no one reads it. I’m not even going to share this stuff on social media. This is for me… and the poor unfortunates who stumble upon it.

There were also years where I declared I was done with PC games, followed by years where I declared I was back to PC games. Now, I just want to play games, on any platform – PC, console, tabletop – just more games.

So that’s where 2018 begins. Resolving the same resolutions of the past, and resolving to resolve them better this time. And this year I’ll be employing one of these in an effort to plan and document my progress.

Let’s make this year a good one.

Sleeping Through the Pain

The last day of school in the eighth grade was a terrible day for me. Normally the last day of school would be the beginning of summer, but I left school and immediately went to the orthodontist where they pulled three of my teeth and put on the braces I would wear for the next three and half years. I would get them taken off just before my senior year, but I’d get them put back on again a year into college and wear them for another two years.

Five and a half years of monthly, and sometimes twice a month, tightenings, along with incidents like that time I got kicked in the teeth and had to literally unhook my lips from my braces, I’ve learned to tolerate a lot of mouth pain. The pain is still there, but I can shrug most of it off because, well, it doesn’t hurt as much as all those other times.

In fact, during the years I was dealing with braces I developed a sort of zen approach to the pain. I would go to the orthodontist and as I sat in the chair waiting for my turn I would steady my breathing and go into an almost trance-like state. They’d tighten my braces and then I’d go home.

As I got older, I continued to apply this technique to regular dentist visits. And now, twenty odd years later, when I go to the dentist I warn the technicians, “Hey, I might fall asleep, so just wake me up if you need me to answer a question or something.” I even start getting sleepy just being in a dentist office waiting room.

Back in March of 2016, I had to have surgery on my gums to remove a cyst, repair the bone and fix a cleft. I warned the doctor that I might fall asleep. “I doubt that,” he said. He gave me the pain killer shots. “You might feel a pinch.” I did, but it was nothing. “This might burn a little.” It did, but I barely noticed. They stepped out a minute and then came back to begin the surgery. The doctor took his scalpel and made his first incisions. And once I was certain the drugs were doing their job and all I really felt was pressure and the occasional pinch, I went to sleep.

They woke me up to let me know they were done with the surgery and to give me some after-care instructions, then I went back to sleep. They woke me again when they’d finished packing my gums and were ready to send me home. “You weren’t kidding,” the doctor said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had someone sleep through a procedure before.”

This year, since the last surgery didn’t fully fix the problem, I had to have donor gums, just a small section. Once again, I warned the doctor that I would fall asleep. He doubted me, but I did. Repeatedly. The jerk kept waking me up and asking me stupid questions that I couldn’t answer because his hands were in my mouth. I mean, you’d think they’d at least stick to Yes/No questions, but nope. Anyway, I left the surgery annoyed that I didn’t get my sleep time.

Sadly, I also needed a crown this year. And that dentist wouldn’t let me sleep either. But that was more because when they are shaving down a tooth to put a crown on it, it’s really hard to tune it out.

But when I returned for my routine cleaning, I slept straight through.

What’s the purpose of this story? You can get used to anything. And I think most people do, to the things they do every day. Some things are worth becoming numb to, to a degree. But every now and then you need to check in and make sure you aren’t missing anything important. I’d become so numb to mouth pain over the years that I had ignored a cleft and a receding gum line to the point where I needed two surgeries to get it to the point where I might not need a third, but I also might lose teeth if I’m not careful.

In yesterday’s post I mentioned becoming more political in the past year and a half. I hate this term, but it seems to be in fashion and it applies, and so I suppose I am “woke” – in some ways if not all ways. For a long time I was focused mostly on myself and my family. All I wanted was to get us out of debt and stable, and I achieved that… about a year and a half ago. That’s when I started looking around and seeing that lots of other people we not okay.

Of course, I can’t help everyone, but I can help some people, and I can be informed and make sure that I vote responsibly to make things better for as many as we can.

The Drafts of 2017

The last time I published a post here it was June of 2016. A year and a half ago. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t written anything this year.

You see, I’ve gotten quite political in the past 18 months. Since the Republican Party allowed the least qualified and least competent person to take their nomination, and the party as a whole basically gave up any semblance of normal order in favor of trashing the system for the benefit of the few in what appears to be an attempt to cash out before the revolution. And not only was he nominated, but he rode a tide of white anxiety to the White House. And now “Everything is terrible.”

That’s hyperbole. Things are bad for lots of people, and the current administration appears dead set on making things worse. But here I am, an educated, white male who managed to get the worst of his past (debt) behind him before someone started pulling up all the ladders, and I’m okay, and I’m probably going to keep being okay for a while.

To that end, I have political feelings. And I come here sometimes to write them out. And then I edit them. And then I edit them some more. And I wonder if a person who has thus far been immune to the effects of what is happening should be speaking. I probably shouldn’t. I should probably use my voice to say “Hey! Check out this person over here!” And I try. I share things on social media. Which is just about the least that a person can possibly do. It’s only slightly above “raising awareness” for things like cancer and other illnesses. They don’t need awareness, they need money.

I digress. So I have all of these drafts. These things I have written and edited and abandoned. What do I do with these? Clearly when I sit down to write, I write these things, but my lack of doing anything with them has lead to me writing less and less. Should I publish them? Even if some of them are likely misguided attempts to help?

This is what I think of as the year winds down. Just a couple days left and 2017 will be history.

As 2018 nears, I feel that I need a theme, one to be the driving focus of all things, under which all the smaller tasks will fall. I think that theme will be: Do better.

Dear Social Networks, Please Stop

Dear Social Networks,

Please stop thinking you know better than me what I want to see. All I want from every social network is to see the all the posts from all the accounts I follow in reverse chronological order. This was, when I visit, I scroll from now back to then – where ‘then’ is the last time I visited – and I see everything.

Your curation algorithms are terrible. Just because a bunch of my friends are continually commenting on the same conversation doesn’t mean I want to keep seeing it, day after day, especially when I neither liked nor commented on it the first time it appeared in my feed, nor the second, nor third, nor fourth, nor… you get the idea.

Why is a post from three days ago at the top of my feed? And why doesn’t a post from an hour ago by my own wife not show up at all?

Facebook is the worst. They keep trying to shove “Top Stories” down my throat, and I keep having to manually switch to “Most Recent”. And then they broke most recent by deciding that if a friend of mine likes a post from another friend of mine, the event of the liking is more recent than an actual post by a friend, even when the post that got liked is days or weeks old. But at least switching to “Most Recent” on the website is pretty easy. Doing it on mobile is just difficult enough that I’m fairly certain I’m the only one who does it. Meanwhile, all my friends are using “Top Stories” and the text post I just made is shown to none of them. However if I post a silly photo or share a dumb meme, everyone sees it and I get dozens of likes and comments.

My block list on Facebook is epic.

No, really. If you are a friend of mine and share a post from a radio station, and I see it, I’ve just blocked that radio station. I have hundreds of radio stations blocked. Why? Because they are radio stations and not a damn one of them posts anything about music or concerts or anything remotely close to what they actually do. They post silly photos and dumb memes. Blocked!

I also block most of the games. I play games in lots of places, and Facebook isn’t one of them. I tried it for a bit, but they all sucked, full of clickbait and hunting for whales, and requiring you to spam your friends or friend people you don’t know just to get ahead. Blocked!

And we won’t even get into all the pages that are either satire or just shitty. I don’t have the time or the energy to decide if I should be angry about that White Supremacist Soccer Mom page or if it is supposed to be funny. There really isn’t a difference in my book between being a racist and pretending to be racist for laughs. Blocked!

And even with blocking all of this garbage, I still can’t see all of the posts by my friends. I still run into “Well, I posted in on Facebook, didn’t you see it?” No, Facebook, I didn’t see it. You suck.

I considered jumping ship for Instagram, and I sort of have. I mean, I post things to Instagram and then they get shared to other networks via IFTTT. But Facebook bought Instagram, and recently they Facebooked Instagram’s feeds. I open the app and I see a photo posted 5 minutes ago. Great! And the one after that is 48 minutes ago. Then one from 2 hours ago. Then one from 2 days ago. Hmm. Followed by one from 6 hours ago. And one from 10 minutes ago. What? One from 1 day ago. Then one from 4 hours ago. So I pull up my following list, pick someone at random and see 3 photos posted in the last day, none of which were in my feed.


But there is twitter, right?

Place is a goddamn cesspool. And it’s also a fire hose. People post dozens of tweets a day, and if you follow too many people there simply is no keeping up. And you can tell lots of people feel this way. They seem to pop in, say something, then maybe spend a few minutes reading, retweeting, and replying. If I get on there once a day, it would literally take me two or three solid hours to read everything from the last 24 hours.

But I said it was a cesspool too. What I meant was that there is such a tiny barrier to entry, and anyone can publicly tag anyone, so there is an inordinate amount of people posting hate, and not just hate, but directed hate, directed right at other people, and all those mentions are notifications. And there are no consequences, so it just begs for more of the worst element.

Does good stuff happen on twitter? Sure! But if you can’t afford to have someone filter it for you, it almost isn’t worth it. Unless you aren’t a target. If you aren’t, keep your head down. You don’t want to become one.

Google+ … an also ran at best. Sometimes I forget it’s even there.

Tumblr? I really want to like tumblr. Except, man, I just don’t get the repost-to-comment design. If two of the people I follow are having a back and forth conversation, I don’t get one post with a conversation, I get a frame-by-frame replay of the conversation, in reverse. It’s so cumbersome.

Ello… that would almost be the right social network. It’s like tumblr but without the weird reposting stuff. It’s just a shame there aren’t more people there. Maybe I should just start posting there anyway…

Or maybe… maybe social networks just aren’t for me. Maybe I got on the internet too soon. Message boards, smaller contained communities, like the BBSs back in the day, that seems more my style. And this blog, as often as I ignore it, maybe this is where I should be, shouting into the void. In chronological order. With no filtering or algorithm. And the void rarely shouts back.

Seventeen years ago, I met a girl in a pool hall.

Last night I celebrated, with fifty or so friends, the tenth anniversary of my marriage. I had intended to stop the party at some point in the middle, perhaps nearer the start, to give a toast or speech. However, things got away from me, as they do, and there was too much fun going on to stop it. So instead, I write here a version of what I intended to say.

Seventeen years ago, I met a girl in a pool hall. We fast became friends. Fifteen years ago today, I was sitting on a bench in New Orleans overlooking the Mississippi River, waiting for that girl to return from the restroom. As I looked out across the river I was thinking about where my life was going. I had recently quit a job and moved into another that I wasn’t so sure about. But sitting there watching boats move along the water, I knew one thing for sure, and that was no matter what my future held I wanted that girl to be there with me. When she returned, I asked her to marry me. Ten years ago today, I was standing on a footbridge at River Street, next to city hall, in Savannah. We had been engaged for five years, and had finally decided that we were no good at planning a wedding, so we didn’t. We had quickly thrown together an elopement in a matter of days, witnesses, officiant, photographer, location, time, suit, dress – in that order. If you want to hear the full story of the pantsless wedding, buy me a drink sometime and I’ll be happy to tell it. But there I was, exchanging vows with the love of my life. Before then and since then, there have been good days and bad days and everything in-between days. But everyday, now and forever, as long as I have her by my side, I know that I have everything I need. I love you. Thank you for saying yes. And to all of my friends who were able to join us, and to all of the friends who were not, thank you for being a part of our lives.

Apologies to Paul Anthony Dobleman, whose art we stole for our invitations, and is displayed as part of this post. We didn’t ask permission, and so we beg forgiveness. Your artwork is superb.

The Trouble with Anonymity

I had just spent all of my savings on a modem, and I had come straight home, installed it and dialed up one of the numbers on the back of the MicroCenter sale paper. I heard the soon to become familiar modem tones and I was connected. The screen filled with ASCII characters and it asked me to login in, or to register. I chose to register and had to answer a series of questions, the first of which was my name.

I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with the concept of being online. I had seen some movies and TV shows that had depicted connecting to these bulletin board services. And I had a couple friends who had gone into this world before me. This was an important moment. I was entering a world where I could be anyone I wanted to be. I simply had to decide.

I picked a name that day that I would use for nearly two decades. It wasn’t my name, nor was it the only one I would use, but it was the one I would use the longest. I finally abandoned it when I shrugged off the last vestiges of the life I created for it. The identity had been mostly dead for some time by then, and very unceremoniously I closed the last account I had for it.

In the early days, I fought very hard for that name. I kept it separate from myself in as many ways as I could, but it was still me, and much like if I found someone publishing things under my real name, I worked to defend it. It was MY identity.

And I wasn’t alone. Those days of the BBS and the early Internet were filled with people pretending to be someone else, but usually the same someone else most of the time. Sure, someone might create another persona for a specific thing – a MUD, or a fetish group, or piracy – but most people I knew maintained one main online identity.

Coming from that world, it confounds me when I run into things like *chan culture. The idea of a board with no identities, where everyone is anonymous, where every post is attached to no one, isn’t something I’ve ever wanted. I understand the idea, that ideas posted without the baggage of the person who posts it can allow the “best” ideas to bubble to the top. But I’ve rarely seen it work that way. Usually, unfettered by consequences, people are willing to say and support the shittiest ideas, the ones that hurt the most people. Some people might even be posting those ideas “for lulz” (for laughs), but quickly it becomes hard to tell if someone is joking or being serious, because you have no context.

Context matters.

Not too long ago, I was asked if a particular joke was “racist”. I won’t repeat the joke, because it is racist. However, the person who asked maintained that the joke itself couldn’t be racist, only if a racist person said it could it be taken that way. Simply telling the joke didn’t make the person racist. I agreed with the last part, but disagreed with the earlier bit. See, it was a Holocaust joke, and the joke itself, just the words, provided without context – without knowing who was telling it, and to what audience, and in what tone, and surrounded by what other words – the joke was simply about Nazis killing Jews, which was done for racist reasons, and thus the joke is racist. However, if I were standing outside a synagogue with a group of Jewish people, and one of them told that joke in the context of terrible jokes racists tell, I might laugh, because it’s a dumb racist joke being told to show how dumb and racist it is.

So on an Internet forum, one that doesn’t have full anonymity, I can see ForumDenizen287 post something that might be offensive. However, having read hundreds or thousands of other posts by ForumDenizen287 over the years, I know that they are not being serious. But over on a *chan site with full anonymity, the same post is without context. I cannot see the history of the poster, because everyone is anonymous. So a terrible offensive post defaults to being a serious terrible offensive post.

A member of those *chan sites might maintain “but we are ALWAYS joking!” And it might be true, for that person or even for many people. But if a forum is filled with hateful, racist posts, it will inevitably attract actual hateful, racist posters who aren’t joking. And you can’t tell them from anyone else, because all the posts are anonymous. You can’t see someone’s history and place posts in context.

To make things worse, the people who maintain that it isn’t serious become a shield for the ones who are serious. And ultimately, if you have a group of people, whose identities you cannot separate, some of whom are racists and some of whom are only pretending to be racists for comedic effect, it is safer for an outsider to treat them all as racists. Sure, you could just as easily treat them all as being people pretending to be racists for comedic effect, but then when one of the real racists is spurred to action, emboldened by all the support of his racist friends online, some of whom were only pretending to be racist but were encouraging him just the same, who is responsible? I can tell you from seeing it happen again and again that the people who think it’s just joking around will say that they can’t be responsible for “third party” individuals who do things on their own, and by the way you can’t prove they encouraged the guy anyway…

Ultimately, it makes me sad to see so many people fighting to shirk responsibility. Anonymity has it’s uses for sure. For whistle blowers, or other situations where truth needs to be told and the teller needs to be protected. And I’m sure there are other reasons. But I just can’t get behind anonymity protecting assholes being assholes for asshole reasons.