Stupid runs in the Zimmerman family

I’m finally catching up on old Daily Shows and Colbert Reports that I’ve had in my DVR now for a while.  They’ve had some great coverage of the Zimmerman trial.  I find the most fascinating part was Zimmerman’s brother complaining that now George has to be afraid of vigilantes for the rest of his life.  Is context and irony lost on this family?  Yeah, cry me a river.

The Daily Show backs up my assertion that Florida is taking the lead in stupid laws.  Like I said before, the jury basically doesn’t have a choice.  According to Florida law Zimmerman was within his rights.  You can shoot anyone who scares you.  I’ve never been selected for jury duty.  Now that I have Crohn’s, I can always play the legitimate “this jury box will be my own personal bathroom” defense, but before that I would have made it known I retained my right to vote my conscience, which is perfectly legal, though frowned upon.  A real jury though has to keep it to the facts and go by the law.  And if you vote your conscience without warning them you’ll do it upfront during the selection process you’re in deep shit.

I’m glad to hear Obama is calling for an evaluation of Stand Your Ground.  Unfortunately, that will no doubt create a tsunami of “Joseph Karl Hitlerbama is trying to take away states rights!” again.  Why is it when people talk about states rights it’s always synonymous with white male Christian rights?  Arizona’s right to deport people on the suspicion that they might be Mexican based on their tan.  Mississippi’s right to round up all their migrant workers and let their crops rot on the ground.  Florida’s right to shoot anyone anywhere anytime.  Virginia’s right to declare Christianity the only legally sanctioned form of worship.  Texas’ right to tell women what they can do with their bodies.  Oklahoma’s constant fight against non-existent Sharia Law.

It seems to be a common thread of thought among the Tea Party and other libertarian conservatives that the federal government can’t be trusted and states rights represent a last bastion of freedom.  I agree with the statement that the federal government can’t be trusted, but why are the states trustworthy?  Local, county and state governments are usually more incompetent and corrupt than the feds, which is saying a lot I know.

California’s direct democracy is a great idea, marred only by the glaring flaw that people won’t vote to raise their own taxes.  Every state has some really stupid ideas.  Tennessee and its health care lottery.  They have a sweepstakes to find out whether you get to live or not.  A while back I talked about the dissolution of the Voting Rights Act.  Another great example of the trust we can put in our state governments.  Bobby Jindal wants to slash and burn his state’s economy and then salt the earth so nothing grows again.  You can find my snarky comments on that debacle through the link.

State law is supposed to be a check and balance on federal power.  The problem I find with our system is that all our checks and balances seem to be between one shady group of oligarchs versus another.  With feds and states, they don’t quite run counter to one another so much as parallel.  The only check and balance we should need is the populace.  It seems like every governing structure is built to separate the voters from actual power.  Now part of this is that when the constitution was created and for much of our early history the logistics were impossible.  Voters were completely uneducated and communication was slow and unreliable.  Hence they created things like the electoral college and representative rather than direct democracy.

However, even in modern history there have been times when having the government run against the populace has helped.  Civil rights issues are classic examples.  Women’s suffrage, anti-voter suppression, de-segregation faced huge opposition, but the government saw it was inevitable and stepped in.

Prop 8 is a good modern example.  Us (I use that term very loosely since I opposed it) Californians voted it in and now it’s been struck down.  People say this is a blow against democracy and I understand that line of thought, but when did we all agree that you can democratically disenfranchise other people?  I shouldn’t be able to tell people how to live their lives when they aren’t hurting me or anyone else.  There’s plenty of stuff I find gross or creepy or wrong, but if it’s a part of a person’s private life, I generally consider it none of my business, why can’t the Right do the same?

Sadly, the change we really need to make in our country is having a smarter populace.  Stupid people are gumming up the whole process.

“Fundamentally, our chief problem may be summed up as the effort to make men as nearly as they can be made, both free and equal; freedom and equality necessarily resting on a basis of justice and brotherhood.” -Theodore Roosevelt

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Winter Is Coming, But It’s Taking Its Sweet Time

As a person who suffers from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) typically I hate winter.  This is the first time that I can’t wait for it.  I’ve been working about 14 hour days, 7 days a week (plus on call 24 hours) between the campground and transcription.

It’s summer, so business is at its most intense in the campground.  Tons of people, many drunk and the heat is making everyone, including myself, a little edgy.  We have tons of great owners here who are really nice, but some of these people… ugh…  My neighbor came in last night after closing because he wanted to do some night fishing and otter trapping.  Only actual campers are allowed to wander around after night and no one is allowed to catch otters.  He drunkenly informed me that he was going to “report me to Social Security” for mistreating him.  One of us clearly has a fundamental misunderstanding of the SSA’s role in society.

Too few remember that only months ago there were drug deals at night, hypodermic needles in the grass and creepy half-naked people hanging out by the shower that shout at you in foreign languages.  Any given day, I probably get yelled at once, complained to half a dozen times and lied to maybe 5-6 times.  Though most people are giving really positive feedback.  Now people feel safe and the place is getting fixed up.  The main issue is that my predecessor at least tolerated and most likely participated in much of the criminal activity around here.

I did receive a compliment for “chasing out all those queers.”  An old lady thanked me for that.  She’s a customer and a neighbor of mine, so I couldn’t really respond to it.  Well, that and I have no idea how to respond to that anyway.  She told me she used to just watch the bathrooms through her binoculars from her house.  Yeah, no, that’s healthy.  I didn’t have the heart to shatter her erotic fantasy that every two men who go into a men’s room are making passionate love in the shower.  All the Christian Right ever seems to think about is gay sex and bestiality.

The only problem now is that one of the pool monitors has a habit of letting people in if they come up with a particularly inventive excuse or some sob story about how they’re half-dolphin and if they don’t get in the pool their skin will dry up and they’ll die.  The other day I came down to check up and found a bizarre atmosphere in the pool.  There was a guy with his wife and his kid near the pool.  His wife and kid were already out and he was taking pictures of the kids in the pool.  I noticed that some of the regulars who I know pretty well are watching him like a hawk.  One of the other fathers looked like he was about ready to smash his beer bottle and stab this guy.

I struck up a conversation with this stranger because my gut said something was wrong with him before I even saw the nasty looks or the picture taking.  Turns out he wasn’t supposed to be in the pool.  He’s not an owner or sponsored by one.  So I told him he had to leave and they started screaming at me.  The wife started waving a piece of paper in my face that she said was proof, but she wouldn’t let me read it.  They stormed off and I talked to the other people there.  One of the regulars recognized him as her neighbor.  A registered sex offender.

So afterward I got online to check it out because I can’t take anyone’s word for it even if I know them.  It’s a small community and rumors spread like wildfire.  He could have the same name as a sex offender.  Or it could be one of those situations where like a drunken frat boy passes out in a park or a 22-year-old with a 17-year-old and her parents freak out.  Terrible mistakes one and all, but we don’t have enough prison space for 7 billion idiots.  Gravity and the vacuum of space were designed by nature to make sure we never get off this blue-green prison.

Turns out that this particular creep was convicted of lewd and lascivious conduct with a 13-year-old and assault of said child and he was in his mid 20’s.  Plus, like I said, as soon as I saw him, there was something so wrong about him.  He’s banned from ever entering here again, though his family is allowed in.  They are very upset with us for banning him.

It brings up difficult questions of safety versus freedom.  He committed his crime 20 years ago.  He went to prison and paid his dues.  The system says he’s rehabilitated.  There’s even the possibility our organization will get sued for banning him.  Discriminating against sex offenders.  We’re not too worried about it because it’s a tough case to win.

Outside the law, every fiber of my being says this man is not better.  Maybe he hasn’t done anything yet, but he’s little or no different from the person who committed that crime.  I don’t think he should ever be allowed around children.  Ever again.  Even the people in the pool who didn’t know about his record said he was really creeping them out.

It made me think of the movie Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  I know the American version included this scene, but I can’t remember if the original Swedish version did.  I’ve seen both and recommend both.  I liked the Swedish version the best, but the American version was extremely faithful to it.  Anyway, there’s a point a character is invited into the house of the killer.  The killer points out that the character suspected something was wrong, but they didn’t want to be impolite and walk away.  We formed the social contract to increase our chances of mutual survival, but sometimes the niceties of the contract outweigh our natural survival instincts.

On the other hand, we have a legal system to mediate between us and the potential criminal population for a reason and who am I to say this guy at the pool has no right to go with his family for a swim?

The shooting of Trayvon Martin is a good example of civilians crossing the threshold between maintaining order and promoting chaos.  I’m not sure how I feel about the verdict.  Honestly, if I was the one picked to decide Zimmerman’s fate, I probably would have let him go too.  Beyond a shadow of a doubt is the basis for guilt or innocence in our country and in my conscience.   I can’t say for certainty what happened, so I would rather free a criminal than jail an innocent man.  At least for murder.  Had it gone the other way and Zimmerman went to prison, I can’t say I’d be calling for a re-trial either.

No matter what happened that night, it was a tragedy.  A young man lost his life and moreover is having his character questioned postmortem, when he can’t defend himself.  Bringing up things said on social media, school transcripts and the fact that he smoked pot.  I never did drugs.  Too nerdy and neurotic for that, but some of the things I said online over those formative years would land me in hot water now and potentially a few watch lists.  Some people like to dismiss his death by writing him off as a common hoodlum.  Of course he was, he was a kid.

There was that Time Magazine article saying that 58% of current young college students have narcissistic traits.  The argument being that this new generation emerging today are selfish and egotistical.  The problem here is two fold.  First, it’s studying college kids.  I know only a handful of people who can afford college.  So, it’s an upper income bracket (which is plain sad in its own right), one that has a higher likelihood of spawning spoiled brats.  But far more importantly, every generation of teenagers and young adults are egomanics and narcissists.  It’s the defining trait of being young.  The reason for this is that personal hardship is what breeds character.  If you’re young, healthy and fearless, the world is laid out before you.  It’s only after you’ve watched your dreams turn to dust and blow away and went through some part of your life where you truly needed other people to survive that you realize how important human connection is and how selfishness will destroy you.  They say no man is an island, but most people started out believing they could be.

Then on the opposite side you have Zimmerman.  An amateurish student of the law and an amateurish enforcer of that law.  Neighborhood Watch carrying guns?  Now there’s a quagmire.  What’s the point of a Neighborhood Watch without guns if the cops aren’t around?  What’s the point of police if we’re using vigilantes?

Zimmerman once admitted that to avoid confrontation he never identified himself as a member of the Watch and that he pursued Martin because he was out in the rain, which law-abiding citizens never go out in.  I too have gone walking in the rain in a hoodie and yet also never burgled a house, so Zimmerman’s scientific method is flawed.  He strikes me as a very over zealous defender of his community.  Working security here I can say that it’s a truly dumb idea to not identify yourself as such.  And he got out of the car.  If he wanted to avoid confrontation, he would have stayed in the car.  Zimmerman made a series of mistakes that night and it led to him killing a person.  At the very, very least he should never be allowed to have a gun ever again and he should be banned from ever serving in Neighborhood Watch.  He should have mandatory counseling too.

Finally, we have to look at the enviornment:  The Retreat At Twin Lakes gated community.  It was not the first suspicious person Zimmerman tried to stop.  Apparently, it’s a high crime place.  I guess when they built the walls and gates they trapped some criminals inside.  By the time he ran into Martin, Zimmerman was obviously quite frustrated with the slow response time from the police and all the criminal elements moving into his neighborhood.  I can sympathize with that feeling of helplessness and how it could easily drive someone to this sort of reckless action.  I’ve often had to confront stranger kids and adults at night in the campground who sneak in.  Alcohol and drugs can always be an agitating factor, so you never know what you’re going to get.

If I did have a gun, I would feel a little safer.  However, that might also give me enough confidence to get myself and others into real trouble.  Did having that gun give Zimmerman the courage he needed to confront Martin when he had no need to?  Leading both down the path that would end in one of their deaths.

One thing I know for sure is that the “stand your ground” law is ridiculous.  Florida’s legislature turned their state into the Wild West.  Earlier this week they accidentally made it illegal to have computers while attempting to ban online slot machines.  It was legal to have sex with animals until recently and the bill failed to pass twice.  Thankfully unrelated to their bestiality problems, there are people riding manatees.  In the same state where sex with animals is considered a divisive subject, they made it illegal for any two humans to commit any “unnatural acts.”  What’s an unnatural act?  That’s for the judge to decide, but to be safe make sure it includes an animal, unless it’s a porcupine, since that would be illegal there.  Prudes.  Florida is an idiocracy, providing serious competition for South Carolina, Texas and Arizona as our country’s dumbest state government.

I wouldn’t call Zimmerman a murderer based on the evidence I’ve seen.  However, that shouldn’t absolve him of responsibility.  He made bad decision after bad decision.  Now no one knows whether he escalated the fight once he hung up with 911 and Martin was defending himself.  The evidence is inconclusive.  But at the very least, Zimmerman played a pivotal role in creating the situation and he should be punished accordingly and prevented from ever being able to do this again.

Martin’s family thinks Zimmerman is responsible, Zimmerman’s family thinks Martin caused it, Geraldo Rivera thinks it was poor fashion sense, the state of Florida thinks feeling vaguely unsafe is a decent reason to start shooting people, the NRA probably thinks Martin should have had a gun too, and on and on it goes.  Personally, I think it’s the culture of fear.  We are all suspicious of each other.  Now I’m in a job where I get paid (in housing at least) to be suspicious.  We’re all worried about strangers.  Anyone we don’t know is an unknown element that could be trouble, even though statistically most people knew their killer, rapist or molester, and let them get close.  Even a lot of thieves are family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, employees or hired help.  In other words, the guy you see walking around at night in the hoodie in the rain is statistically less of a threat to you and yours than you and yours.

This potential pedophile in our pool and the fact that the police can’t/won’t help has driven home the place of civilians in their own protection.  I’m not the fighting type, but when I see him a familiar primal terror-turned-hate-over-years boils up in me.  The abuse I suffered at the hands of my father was a hand me down from his uncle who molested him as a boy.  My mother’s sister was molested by their father.  Her sister’s son raped his own sister and went on to likely molest all seven of his sons.  My grandmother’s sister married a man who molested their two daughters until he drank himself to death.  They all got away with it.  Not one of the criminals I just mentioned was punished for it. I’ve chased this guy away from our pool, but if he’s taking pictures of kids, that means he’s likely on the hunt again.  He might be out there now looking for a new victim.

Zimmerman proved he couldn’t be trusted with the responsibility of a gun and the authority of a civilian watch.  Can any of us be trusted in all circumstances that we could encounter?  Can the police be trusted?  What about the military?  Maybe the updated version of “He who is without sin” is “He who is without prejudice pick up the first gun.”  Each new gun is a Pandora’s Box and I’m not quite sure a consolation prize like hope is worth all the horrors that escape.

“Here’s to alcohol: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”  -Homer Simpson – it works as well for guns these days.

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Supreme Court Decision: Racism Over

Hurray, there’s no more racism in the South.  Surely this will come as a relief to southerners.  But that’s America for you, one day you’re struggling to survive oppression and the next day someone tells you that’s not what you’re doing.  Just like when we won the Iraq War in 1991 under Bush.  Then again under Bush Jr. in 2003.  And then we won it again under Obama.  If we win the war three more times we get the seventh one free.

So, the voting rights act was gutted by the Supreme Court today for those who have not heard.  Not a surprise really.  I’ll even say that I get the argument against the act.  No one who has the vaguest clue what it was like in the South those few decades ago can have any illusion that things aren’t a lot better now.  However, better though they may be, fixed they are not. And, if the last election proved anything, the system is at risk.  The Republican Party is split in its strategy.  Pander to minorities or simply try to squeeze growing numbers of people out onto the periphery.

Racism (and in the larger picture bigotry/discrimination in general) is a tough subject to even bring up, much less deal with in any substantive way.  Old white people are in denial, young white people (like all young people) are narcissists and only give it lip service, and each minority group is often an island unto themselves fighting for their own unique rights.  The funny part about all the old, establishment white men in this country who are afraid and distrustful of minorities, and especially immigrants, is that many of them are from European ethnicities that were once discriminated against as well.  Part of the problem is that there are no ethnic backgrounds on the Earth that don’t come with the weight of history attached.  So, while being Anglo-Saxon in America was once (and may well still be) the best seat in the melting pot, had that same person ended up in France instead, they would have been one more dirty Englishman stranded out of country with questionable loyalties to a foreign crown.

I see racism as a symptom of an underlying condition in humankind.  Racism is what a nation generates against newcomers, outsiders, interlopers and infidels.  It’s as simple as majority versus minority.  In each nation, it’s somebody different.  However, the racism that rarely gets addressed isn’t national.  It’s endemic to humanity.  It crosses all borders and all languages.  It’s fear of the unknown.  Just because you’re in a minority yourself, doesn’t mean you don’t discriminate against other peoples.  Bigotry and discrimination are rampant and widespread.

I don’t know how it is for other people, but I’ve found that once you’ve known a person long enough, any person, you find out that there’s whole groups out there that they don’t like.  It might not be so strong that they’ve never liked anyone from that group, but they judge those people immediately and it can take a lot to break through that.  Genetic discrimination is only one form of that.

My mom grew up with racism.  It was part of her family and her environment.  They weren’t the violent brand of racists.  They wouldn’t hurt a person because they weren’t white.  But they believed strongly that the only way everyone could get along was if they all stayed separate.  My grandmother told my mom that she should never be mean to the black kids at school, but that she should never touch them.  Don’t touch things they touched.  When they came by trick or treating on Halloween, she would give them candy and then wash anything they touched and her hands with bleach.  She said that they were unclean and carried diseases.  It wasn’t their fault, but it was the way of things.

My grandfather would have denied being a racist.  He would pay people compliments like “He’s really smart for a black man.”  A lack of general awareness in his statement.  Later on he would become good friends with our black neighbor, who occasionally called him on his ingrained bullshit.  He even laughed it off when he found out my grandfather regularly referred to him, his white wife and their daughter as pepper, salt and cinnamon.  Was he still a racist when he died?  I can’t honestly say.  It was part of his programming, but had his brain made workarounds to accommodate his new view?  Doesn’t really matter.  When he died he had a whole stash of child porn and torture films of women, so racism was the least of his demons.  The neighbors still worship him.  They don’t know his dark side and he was the friendliest neighbor you could ever have.  So much that you could ignore the cracks creeping up the facade.

My mom thinks that her mom’s brain would have burst had she known that in school she shared an ice cream cone with the black girl in her class.  I wonder where that difference comes from.  One kid grows up in a racist home and learns to hate what their parents hate.  Another kid knows from the start that their parents are wrong.

So, you’ve got these two racists living in a house with no exterior walls in the back woods, insulation hanging out in the weather.  A bunch of Welsh-Irish, dirt poor, blue-collar, unwashed social rejects with 30 cats who a lot of people looked down on for being poor and uneducated with no sense of style or fashion.  My grandfather never completed school.  I think it was the 6th grade where he dropped out so he can spend more time smoking, drinking and standing on his motorcycle as he raced down hills.  Sitting on their nicotine stained couch, staring out the holes in the wall and judging black people because of the way they talked and acted and lived and looked.  Sometimes striking the mirror is the only way to get back at it for showing your reflection.

Nowadays the Republican Party deals with near constant accusations of being racist.  It’s simultaneously well-deserved and unfair.  Republican stereotypes, like any stereotype, are founded on a kernel of truth, but they aren’t a homogenous group.  Tons of Republicans are just old fashioned fiscal conservatives who don’t like Obama because he’s nothing like Bush.  He hasn’t spent anywhere near as much money as Bush or started as many wars.  The problem for the Republicans is that they’ve got wolves in really crappy looking sheep costumes.  It’s a great haven for racists because it’s primarily white and it’s opposition is minority heavy.

It’s a similar problem to the Catholic Church.  What kind of guys want a career where they can never get married or have sex with women and spend lots of time around little boys?  Also, all the emphasis on pain, sacrifice, shame and guilt probably isn’t helping much either.  That doesn’t mean all Republicans are racists or all priests are child molesters, but it’s kind of hard to dismiss the criticism when it’s a constant bombardment of scandals.

Not liking Obama doesn’t make you a racist.  While many might disagree with this, I do think assuming Obama is a secret Muslim terrorist sympathizer is racist.  Clinton never got accused of that and bin Laden got away under his watch.  Bush and family were pals with the bin Ladens and Osama was under his nose the entire time basically.  Why not more accusations from the right that he was hiding him?  I don’t believe he was in the least, but I make the case that if anyone looks like he was working with al-Qaeda from a crazy conspiracy theory POV it would be Bush.  If Obama’s Muslim, he has a weird way of vaporizing his comrades in arms every chance he gets.

Again, plenty of people don’t like Obama for legitimate reasons.  But I have seen hordes of racists pouring out of the crevices of fading history to make a final stand here against the tyranny of “reverse racism.”  One of the more racist terms I’ve ever heard.  It would seem to imply that being white is like the default.  That’s the factory setting.  Then people had to go and get all these custom skin colors and mess with God’s plan for a master race.  It does sort of make sense.  After all, Jesus was white at a time and place where there were no other white people, or so I’ve been told by the stained glass advertisements in churches.

In the end, their accusations fall flat.  This whole “I’m just a rich white man living in a black man’s world” sounds pathetic as soon as it’s out of their pampered mouths.  On the other hand, classism may well be replacing racism as the primary form of discrimination in America.  Kanye West accused Bush of being racist during Katrina by saying that he didn’t care about black people.  I don’t think Bush cares about poor people.  It’s the color in your wallet, not on your skin that matters to him and his cronies.

Discrimination is a survival mechanism.  It’s so you can recognize the people you know from the people you don’t and if we were still roaming around in the woods fighting direwolves, bears the size of tanks and tribes of other humans, it wouldn’t hurt to kill any strangers you come across.  The more different from you they look, the more different they probably were.  But any applicability of visual discrimination to human society is long gone.  So, you have to pick:  Ancient tribal factionalism versus not having to waste time and energy on trivial divisions?  Old World or New World?

In the end though, it doesn’t matter how people are discriminating against others.  I’ve seen people get judged by a lot of criteria.  Black vs. white, nerd vs. jock, straight vs. gay, rich vs. poor, skinny vs. fat, and so on and so forth.   Just about everybody has been excluded based on criteria they couldn’t control.  Just about everybody has excluded another for something they couldn’t control.  Luckily, for most, it’s only exclusion.

When we lived in San Diego and I was still a kid, two rival gangs staged a race war on our front lawn, the street and a few of the neighbor’s lawns.  A Latino gang versus a black gang with tire irons and baseball bats and any blunt object they could find.  They beat each other to death while everyone watched.  Thankfully, they were respectful enough to restrict themselves to melee weapons as a hail of gunfire could easily have killed a number of families.  That’s half the reason we left San Diego.  The other half being that when we called 911 they told us they would send a squad car “whenever one became available.”  Our respect and trust of the woefully short arm of the law eroded a little that night.

Afterward, Latinos would say that the problem was the black gangs moving in.  African-Americans would say it was the Latino gangs that were the problem.  Old people thought it was the inborn evil of the new generation.  Young people said it was the old authorities hogging the riches of the world and leaving too many people disenfranchised.  White people saw enough blame to go around to all the colors of the rainbow.  Personally, I think the problem in our city was people.  You can’t trust them.  Savages one and all.

We segregate our love and our hate and our understanding in the same way we draw lines on maps and pretend they were always there.  Indelible lines on the world and in our neighborhoods and in our blood.  And we all do it for the same reasons.

Part of it is fear of the unknown, but that’s more of a criteria for selection, not the underlying cause.  I think the underlying cause is a need to hate.  We have to struggle against something.  Finding purpose in life can be hard to do.  Countless religions and philosophies, careers and paths of education, places to live and things to do.  It’s far easier to define ourselves as being the opposition to another force.  It allows us to find purpose and an outlet for our animal aggression at the same time.  We’re pre-programmed to struggle.

It also can’t be denied that in any country in the world (historically going back forever) the powers that be promote cultural segregation, xenophobia and paranoia as a means to stay in power.  The poor and powerless are too busy fearing and killing each other all over the world to see that the only real threat are the fearmongers themselves.  Rwanda is a classic example of that tactic as used by the Colonial powers in Africa.  Take two ethnicities you want to control, raise one up, telling them they’re better than the other and make them hold the other down until they come to hate their supposed betters.

So, how do we bridge the gulf between us?  Easy.  Learn to hate everyone equally.  If it’s too implausible to believe everyone has good in them, it’s gotta be easy to see everyone has evil in them.  We’re naturally inclined to believe the worst in one another.  Admitting your species has a problem is the first step.  Otherwise, you’ll just end up another pawn in their game.

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Whole yottabytes of wasted money

I was up to 3:00 a.m. last night talking with a friend of mine named Omega (not his real name – probably didn’t need to say that, but then again people are going crazy with baby names) about the economy and the role of governance in it.  We don’t always agree, partly because we both like playing Devil’s advocate so we can argue, but he’s a brilliant guy and our conversations/debates are always so fascinating I find myself unable to go to bed.  We’ve had debates ranging from the role of regulation in the economy to the War on Terror to whether or not whales would create works of art if they had hands.  I don’t remember which sides we were on, but it was a spirited struggle of overly sleepy minds.

Last night’s conversation started when I talked about how the NSA is building that Utah facility so they can store yottabytes of data.  I’m not that upset that they can listen to my calls and look at my google searches (oh, Google searches, the things we’ve seen together over the years… but why must you bring up pictures automatically?  So many things I didn’t want to see) or check my non-existent Facebook and Twitter accounts because I don’t tweet or face.  I’m not upset that they want to store some of that.  I’m upset that they apparently want to save the whole internet.  Seriously, how much crap are you guys saving?  It’s like the guy who worked at the Pentagon who was spending 6 hours a day looking at porn and had a whole office full of terabytes of porn.  How far does it go before you say to yourself “I’ve got a problem.  I gotta dial this back a little.”

There’s all these shows about hoarding now and I think we need to have an intervention for the NSA.  Somewhere in Utah are going to be billions of tweets, Google searches and phone calls, just laying around waiting for some poor overworked desk jockey to look at.  Sifting through exabytes of late night booty calls, drunk dials, Tweets about some guy getting a decent cup of coffee, uploaded cat videos, pictures of unconscious drunks with vulgar images painted on them, and a couple billion texts that just say “Wear u at?”  Has the NSA seen the internet lately?  Trust me, it’s not worth your time.

Also, when the facility is complete, it will require 65 megawatts to power it.  The power bill alone will be 40 million a year.  I can only imagine that the CPU fans will leave Utah a scorched wasteland, inhabited only by small tribes of Mormons in bedouin robes, wandering from oasis to oasis by camel, traveling only at night and living off of cactus and scorpion meat.

As for preventing terrorist attacks that’s all well and good, but it doesn’t make sense.  If you’re looking for keywords, save only the ones with keywords in them.  If that’s still zettabytes, you’re keywords are way too vague.  So, let’s say you’ve got yourself a yottabyte of data chock full of keywords.  Somewhere in it is an imminent attack.  So… you’ve got 100 million NSA agents, right?  No.  Oops.  There might be a flaw in that system.  Well, at least once the attacks are done and you know who did it, you’ll be able to show how innocuous their comments were in the newspaper because any terrorist who isn’t talking in code probably blew themselves up in their own basement as they clearly weren’t working with a full deck now that everyone knows that everything is tapped.

So yeah, I’m not surprised, shocked or all that upset about being spied on (I assumed we were doing this in the 90’s, so it’s history someone finally wrote down.)  I’m upset that their wasting my money to feed their data collection addiction.  Because the NSA is sure that that white whale is still lurking in that sea of 1’s and 0’s and their willing to sink this ship to find it.  True, our ship was built out of constitutional paper wrapped in money, but it was staying afloat as long as everyone believed in it.  Then some idiots had to start poking holes in it.  Now it’s just plain old paper.

So, my fellow Americans, I plead with you, ramp it up.  Any time you got free minutes on your phone, just keep it dialing.  Leave it on.  Play waiting music for hours.  Tweet about how you’re tweeting, then tweet about that self-referential tweet that you just tweeted and reward yourself with a tweet about it.  Get on every social media site.  Clog ’em up.  Text each of your friends every 5 minutes to make sure they’re still there.

I want to see who’ll blink first, America or the NSA? What will they do?  A bigger facility so they can store… well, Wikipedia doesn’t list anything bigger than a yottabyte, so more yottabytes then. Will they just pave over Utah to turn it into a giant collection facility?  I want one that can be seen from space.  I want the first thing aliens to ask when they get here is “Hey, what’s that building for?  Some kind of research facility or particle collider?”  So we can answer “That’s where we keep the spare internet in case the original breaks.  Wanna see what Pimpinainteasy@gmail bought at Pottery Barn 3 years ago?”

Let’s help China’s chances of getting the “free democracy of the year award” for a change.  We got them beat in prisoners (four times more if you’re counting by percentage of population or a quarter of all the prisoners in the world despite only having 5% of the world population), so why not on spying on our own citizens?  We could end unemployment by creating 10 million new data sifter jobs.  Eventually we can divide society into 150 million spies and 150 million spyees.

Finally, perhaps everyone make a call, text, tweet, search or post reciting the Fourth Amendment.  Because it’s the only way they’re gonna see it.  #wastingmyownmoney

A great example of the quality and character of Google searches:

http://sabura16.wordpress.com/2013/06/13/why-does-this-keep-happening/

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An Unreasonable Electorate

I have to recommend the movie An Unreasonable Man about Ralph Nader.  It’s a really great movie and I certainly learned a lot.  I must admit I was quite ignorant about Nader’s life and career.  I only knew him as the guy who ruined the elections and left us with Dubya.  He had such a fascinating life and accomplished so much for consumer protection and safety.  Seat belts aren’t optional in cars because of him.  Airbags too.

I find it absolutely amazing that there was ever a time when you wouldn’t have a seat belt in your car.  Growing up I remember a lot more people who wouldn’t buckle up.  My best friend during my childhood and his parents and sister wouldn’t buckle up until they were on a road with a speed limit over 45.  I was the kind of neurotic, annoying, ultra safety conscious 8-year-old that would badger people until they would put them on.  That and people who go boating without life jackets bug me.  They wouldn’t call them “accidents” if the driver’s last words were “Buckle up and watch me crash this thing!”

Airbags I’m less happy with.  Don’t get me wrong, I know that scientifically its better to be slapped in the face with an exploding balloon than the steering wheel or dashboard.  On the other hand, it looks terrifying in the slow motion crash videos.

I’m stubborn, so it’s rare for a movie to change my mind, but I have to say that I’ve re-evaluated my opinion of Nader.  While he’s hard to relate to because of his extreme work ethic and lack of personal life, he’s always fighting the good fight and I respect that way more than “a guy you can have a beer with.”  Moreover, I don’t even see it as ruining the elections like I did back then.  As I’ve grown more disenchanted with the Democratic Party, my desire to return to the Third Party fringe has grown.

I didn’t blame Nader as much for the 2004 election because I didn’t like Kerry.  Vast wealth equates to a vast gulf between the monied and the un-monied and Kerry is uber rich.  Also, he was so stiff and awkward.  Gore was too, but I sensed a driving force within him.  Gore wanted to accomplish his goals.  Kerry was the first candidate I got to vote for though.  I did so because his last name wasn’t Bush, which was good enough.  Had the Democrats fielded a barn animal I would have voted for that.  4 years of having a mean spirited llama in office spitting on and kicking at the American people would have been better.

Nonetheless, both times I blamed Nader.  He stole votes that would have gone to a Democrat.  But in hindsight, I feel differently.  Nader didn’t steal votes.  The Democrats lost votes.  They couldn’t attract those people.  They barely had me and I’m a fanatical liberal and progressive, so if they should have anyone firmly in their leftist camp it would be me.  I never shut up about the working man, I’m pro choice, I’m an environmentalist, so why are they having trouble keeping my attention?  A part of the problem is that the Democrats keep wriggling towards the center while the right keeps drifting so far right it’s been pandering to supporters of theocracy.  Once you start pandering to people who see a black constitutional scholar and senator born in Hawaii and think secret Muslim terrorist you’re lost in the wilderness.  The Democrats won’t stand up for liberalism because the opposition labeled it a dirty word.

While perhaps the meat of the votes are in the center, the only chance for change is with new ideas, which the center isn’t known for.  It would be one thing if the Democrats won by going to the center and then through compromise and reaching across the aisle the country was getting things done.  We can all get behind that, but that isn’t even the case.  They all compromise their beliefs and opinions and integrity to get money and votes so that they can make a difference and then spend their entire terms in office accomplishing nothing.

Every election season (which generally starts the day after you’re elected and stops the day you die from a stress induced heart attack or lies that coalesced into a tumor) you see Democrats distancing themselves from all things Democrat.  Admittedly, after their last loss the Republicans are half-heartedly inching away from their old positions.  Sometimes watching establishment Republicans pretending to care about people outside their race and income bracket is downright embarrassing.  You just know someone is going to use a racial slur, someone else is going to boast about how well they “get along with the [strongly inappropriate term for that ethnicity].”

Hosting dinners on getting more diversity in the big tent party at an old slave plantation; McCain blatantly saying that they need to pander so they can win (next time when you’re conning people, don’t give a soliloquy about your plans); Romney’s plan of self-deportation.  Most of the time they just try to remind people that Lincoln was a Republican.  Here’s a tip:  If the story you tell to remind people you used to be cool is from 150 years ago, it’s time to move on.

It reminds me of that old sitcom Third Rock from the Sun about aliens impersonating a human family.  Like the Republicans get the core concept of what they should espouse as their beliefs in the 21st century, but the devil is in the details.  Then they always make one of those non-apologies “I’m deeply sorry that the [entire race they insulted] doesn’t like that word,” or “I’m so sorry that there were cameras present.”  Like the Romney dinner video and his excuse was he thought it was a private function with no cameras.  His big regret was us finding out that he’s secretly an A-hole.

So, the anti-Bush/McCain/Romney alliance I made with the Democratic Party may finally be coming to an end because I’m tired of compromise without the accompanying cooperation.  While I lay the blame for lack of cooperation squarely at the feet of the Republican Party, the blame doesn’t really matter because the result is still the same.  I’m tired of wars and corporate rule and elections between two guys whose differences become less and less clear as time passes.  You know when it’s time for gerrymandering districts both parties always find a way to work together.

We got Afghanistan and Iraq under a Republican and then we kept those and added in Libya and God knows what else come the next couple years under a Democrat.  Syria is looking ripe for us to do what we love, which is arming the rebels so that in a decade when we end up invading Syria for some reason they can shoot us with our own guns.  We got Republican bail outs and then Democrat bail outs.  A consumer protection agency that has no funding or power.  Universal wire taps became universal wire taps.  Rumors of president approved assassinations became openly admitting that the president can kill anyone.  Guantanamo is still open.  Millions had no health coverage and now millions have no health coverage and a few million extra get the same terrible coverage that no one wanted before.

I’d rather throw my vote away on someone I like or not vote at all than keep voting in these good cop, bad cop two party elections.  Every 4-8 years the other team creeps back and promises that this time will be different.  They won’t hurt us like they did last time.  I keep waiting for this dysfunctional relationship to break down and it keeps chugging along.  The worst part is knowing that it’s entirely possible with the corrosive influence of money on the system, there might be no way to elect a decent person.  Our only hope may be for one of the standard paid for and bought candidates to lose their minds and go Bulworth (another movie I recommend.)

Then again, honesty and integrity never had mass appeal.  Why vote for the guy who promises sacrifice over the one who promises everything you ever wanted and all for free.  The politicians treat us like children, the media thinks we’re children and it’s entirely possible we are children.

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”  -George Bernard Shaw

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The buck stops… somewhere else

Obama’s administration has sprung a lot of leaks lately and seems to be on the verge of sinking.  He’s also basically a lame duck president now.  The president depends on Congress to supply him with the power to govern and Congress barely gets its pants on each day.  Bipartisanship is still a distant memory and confidence is eroding with each new scandal.

I’ve been disappointed in Obama for very a long time.  To say I was disappointed with Bush would be to imply I had some form of hope going into that 8 year tragedy in which I saw hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilians, hundreds of soldiers, 3000 Americans, global diplomacy, the economy, the Constitution, basic human rights, New Orleans, the courts, and the English language butchered.

Not all the problems of this administration are Obama’s fault and not all of Bush’s failures were his own.  Obama has very little to work with and the Republicans have firmly entrenched themselves as the opposition party.  If they can’t have America no one can.  I’m surprised they didn’t burn the White House down as they were leaving it.

The scandals haven’t really made a big difference for me.  Maybe my apathy is so all encompassing I simply can’t get angry.  Maybe it’s because he’s a Democrat.  “When it’s your own.” In fact, should the polls spontaneously open again tomorrow I’d vote for Obama again.  To me, he’s the best of the current crop of Democrat candidates.  Though I may be going back to third party votes, which I will elaborate on later.

Benghazi is still a non-issue for me.  We need to address the security issue.  Unfortunately, the biggest security issue is that we put embassies in places where destroying embassies is the national sport.  I doubt there’s an embassy anywhere in Africa, the Middle East or South Asia that isn’t asking for more security daily.  Benghazi is a tragedy.  It could have been prevented.  But as far as incompetence goes it barely registers.  As long as we maintain any presence in countries like Libya, we will always be in danger.  Now personally, I wouldn’t even put an embassy in a country like that without being allowed to build it at the center of a military base.

Darrell Issa saying that while Obama referred to the attack as an act of terror, but he didn’t mean it as proof he lied is a clear indication of madness.  Besides, even if the White House did mislead with its talking points, that’s a modern administration’s bread and butter.

For the IRS, I see no indication Obama knew.  Wouldn’t be surprised, but currently those dots don’t connect.  Many say it doesn’t matter, he should have known.  Yes, Obama really should know what’s being done in every government agency at all times.  Obama’s lack of omnipresence is damning proof he is in fact human.

Michelle Bachmann implied that the IRS controlled the powers of “life and death.”  I’m uncertain whether she’s implying that the IRS kills the people it investigates or if she’s accusing them of necromancy.  She falsely connected this to the idea that the IRS now keeps all your medical records because of ObamaCare.  Of course, that’s not entirely true.  In that it’s not true at all.

Seriously, some Tea Party political action groups were investigated.  They still exist.  No one seems to have been falsely executed, imprisoned or suffered serious negative consequences.  Now, I completely disagree with political profiling and whoever came up with this idea should get fired.  Instead of political profiling, they should simply destroy all these organizations, left and right.  SuperPACs and secret SuperPACs have no place in politics in my opinion.  My only disappointment is that it was left leaning instead of universal scrutiny to these ultra corrupt organizations.

Today, he’s in trouble again for Bush’s phone record pulling that he continued.  I actually don’t mind (in theory) the government having my phone records or listening to my conversations.  As long as it’s being used to prevent international scale crimes.  Terrorism, gun running, human trafficking, etc.  My problem is that I think it needs very clear and precise guidelines to prevent it from being used to bust people for the little stuff.  It shouldn’t be allowed for investigating non-violent domestic crimes and any evidence of such found during an investigation should be inadmissible in court.  In other words, we reserve it’s use purely for the most heinous acts possible.  It should be used as a scalpel and not a cudgel.  On the other hand, if there was a big push to get rid of it, I could easily be convinced to throw my weight behind such a movement.  People never will though.

I’m not a big fan of the Obama presidency, but I still like Obama as a person and I think he has a great family.  I feel bad for him.  It all has to be rather disappointing.  Big ideas and lofty goals sinking into the D.C. swamp.  Life can be so ambiguous too.  It’s hard to even figure out where things went wrong.  With all my own goals and dreams, it’s hard to say whether it was me or my environment that was the biggest impediment to them happening.  For politicians, it’s such a thin line.  You need to get elected to change the system, but you have to be part of the system to get elected.  You can’t do anything considered too extreme or people will stop backing you, but if you don’t do anything big nothing will get done and people will stop supporting you.

Considering how vehemently I hated Bush when he was in office, I sort of ended up feeling bad for him.  When he was headed off to that helicopter for the last time and the crowd was booing him, I suddenly felt oddly sorry for the guy.  I didn’t forgive what I saw as a litany of crimes and never will, but he knew how unpopular and how hated he had become.  He did what he thought was best and things did not go as planned.

I guess I just shifted the blame a bit.  He was elected president.  Millions of people voted for and supported him.  He’s also far from the first president who started a war.  Even an immensely unpopular war.  Vietnam is the usual comparison.  In fact, I once saw someone commenting on the Bob Dylan song Masters of War, saying that a washed up has-been like Bob Dylan had nothing to contribute and shouldn’t be criticizing Bush and the wars.  The song was written in 1962, so either we’re covering the same ground again or Bob Dylan is a prophet.  But I guess that’s all a prophet really has to do.

  • “Good old Nostradamus,
  • He knew the whole damn time,
  • There’d always be an east from west,
  • And someone in them fighting.”  -Education by Modest Mouse

http://www.myspace.com/bobdylan/music/songs/masters-of-war-album-version-1652291

Personally, I see more of a comparison with the invasion of Canada during the War of 1812.  A lot of people don’t know that the British invasion of America only came after our invasion of British controlled Canada.  It was a strange mix of political reasons, competition with the British, fear that the British were supporting Indian uprisings, including Tecumseh in the (then) northwest, and that Canada was essentially harboring and supporting our enemies and would be a staging area for potential attacks against America.  Also, the war hawks probably accused them of trying to purchase uranium from Nigeria.

Terrorist is simply the latest word for “the bad guys.”  Before terrorists we had communists, Nazis, the Germans, the Spanish, Native Americans, the South, Mexicans, Native Americans, the British, Native Americans, pirates, Native Americans, the British and Native Americans.

Russell Brand joked in one of his routines that he thought it was really nice of us to let Bush be president because in his country “We wouldn’t let him hold a pair of scissors.”  The more I learned about Bush the more I found a man who sort of fell into the presidency.  Have you ever had that happen?  Where circumstances just sort of push you into a line of work you weren’t really prepared for.  With Bush, it just went a step further in that he fell into the position of commander-in-chief of America.  Just another kid looking for dad’s approval, trying to survive and searching for purpose.  What we all wouldn’t give for an orderly and righteous universe.  The problem is that trying to force order on the universe is like shoving a square peg in a round hole.  You’re wasting your time and the harder you try, the more damage you’ll do.

Bush’s legacy is a done deal.  Obama’s continues on.  I hope there’s better days ahead for him and for the country.  It’s an uphill battle.  I worry that we can’t get our two parties to work together.  I worry that the opposition will slander and tear down Obama’s reputation with overblown scandals.  And most of all I worry that Obama won’t be able to live up to the expectations we’ve set forth.  We keep asking for heroes and all we ever seem to get are real people and, as one might expect, real people can’t be trusted with flying, missile shooting robots.

You know, when I said I wished life was more like a sci-fi movie, I didn’t mean the Terminator series…

Everything you need to know about American presidents:

http://www.myspace.com/jonathancoulton/music/songs/the-presidents-91748944

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I swear I’m not a hipster

Music is one of the most important parts of my life.  I so far lack any musical talent, but that’s the great part about it.  Regardless of one’s skills, knowledge and intelligence you can appreciate music in some form.  I’m trying to learn the piano and I own a guitar that I eventually want to learn how to play.  I haven’t tried the guitar yet so as not to burst delusions that I have some sort of inborn talent/genius where the second I pick it up I will be able to play it and begin my new career as a beloved and adored, insanely wealthy, spoiled, hotel trashing, crack smoking, soulless celebrity musician who needs a fistful of amphetamines just to get on stage so his ticket sales can go to more drugs, alimony and child support for kids whose names I can’t remember.  The American Dream!

When I was a kid, I had little interest in music.  I liked the oldies; 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s.  It was a little disheartening when I came to realize that most of the bands and musicians I listened to were dead or retired.

When I became a teenager, of all potential choices in music for that age, I became a country fan.  The main reason for this shift was that I moved from a city where they had an oldies station to a smaller, more rural city where they had three different country stations and not much else.  In many ways that was sort of revealing to my musical preferences as a pre-adult:  I listened to what came on the radio.  I had little interest in owning my own music or finding artists I loved.

Then the company Roxio purchased the rights to the illegal music sharing network Napster and changed it to a legal digital music store also called Napster.  Kind of a bizarre page in the corporate history book.  Imagine if the day Enron went under someone else paid good money for the company’s name to do the same thing they were doing, but legally.  Brave marketing decision.

I became a Napster subscriber and with it had access to all the music I could want.  What did I do with this amazing power?  I downloaded some country songs I heard on the radio that I thought I might like to hear more often.  I don’t even really remember what songs I had.  I think there was Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw and such.  The saddest part is that with 3 million songs to pick from I couldn’t come up with more than 20 or 30 I wanted.

I remember the exact moment when I found a song I truly loved.  I was watching the anime (just in case my status as a loser wasn’t firmly cemented on the internet yet, this should do it LOL) Gunslinger Girl on IFC.  The intro song is “the Light Before We Land” by the Delgados.  A beautiful orchestral piece.  I bought the song immediately and soon had a ton of their other songs.  They’re a Scottish band that no one aside from Gunslinger Girl watchers and Scottish kids have heard of (so, essentially no one).  While the band started off as the type of teen garage rock where you can’t understand the lyrics and the melody can be described as loud and fast, I really love their later work and also have the two albums released by their lead female singer Emma Pollock.  Their song “Ballad of Accounting” encouraged me to cast off the chains of the class structure and quit my dead end job.  And now look at me, I work for the same damn company.

From there I found obscure indie band after even more obscure indie band.  Hey, I was an angst-ridden, middle class, medicated white kid who grew up in the suburbs, it’s part of my cultural heritage.  Now I have to argue that I am not in fact a hipster.  First of all, my jeans didn’t come with holes in them, my T-shirts don’t say a thing about legalizing pot and not everything I say is sarcastic or ironic.  I don’t purposely seek out bands no one else likes.  I just have terrible taste in music.  That’s an important distinction between myself and the hipster hordes shambling the streets of any town with a community college.

Indie music became a gateway drug to the harder stuff.  I’ve come to love music ranging across myriad genres.  I’ve got my indie rock, alt country (I don’t like pure country much anymore, but I love the irregular lumps of country the radio stations throw away), blues, rock, classic rock, death metal, classical (some of the very oldest oldies still in circulation), oldies, faux 60’s rock, folk, folk rock, folk blues, indie folk, indie reggae hip-hop folk (don’t see a lot of that), steampunk (yeah, that’s a music genre now), post-Pink Floydian psychedelic rock (Pink Floyd too of course), punk rock, Detroit rock, British Invasion, Irish rock, and more.  From Led Zeppelin to Vampire Weekend, White Stripes to Johnny Cash, Richard Thompson to Mozart, I’m into it.

In fact, the only genres I don’t really care much for are pure hip-hop, jazz, pop, electronica and dance.  The main reason for this being that lyrics are the easiest way to my heart.  Don’t get me wrong, I love plenty of songs simply for their original sound, but it’s lyrics where a song typically shines through with me.

My interest in more poetic (i.e. pretentious) lyrics turned me away from country.  I get it, you love your pick-up truck or your tractor or your prize hog or your moonshine or your history of domestic violence.  I have none of those things so you lost me in the first verse.  Most modern country seems to be assembled from the answers to questions given to panels of hillbillies about what they want to hear.  It’s as superficial and monetarily driven as Christian Rock.  Slap on some cowboy boots and a hat and you’ve got a built-in audience.

Mainstream hip-hop is also usually about a lifestyle I can’t identify with, so it’s not for me.  I’ve never felt any desire to accumulate material wealth or promiscuous female companionship, and I’ve never been oppressed or profiled by the authorities.  Again, white kid; suburbs; middle class.  Wait, now that I think about it that’s the primary demographic.  Well, then I don’t know what’s wrong with me that I don’t like it.

Plenty of country and hip-hop transcends their stereotypes, but its rare for me to like them enough to want to hear them that often.  Just outside my personal taste these days.

The best thing about digital music and MP3 players is you’re no longer limited to a single record playing at a time (or five if you could afford such luxuries).  I remember a Dave Berry article where he was talking about growing up with records where you spend all your hard earned money to get a Gary Puckett and the Union Gap album when the only song you wanted was Young Girl.  For those too young to get that reference (I should be too), Gary Puckett and the Union Gap was a briefly popular band in the late 60’s whose lyrics often featured their underaged fans.

No longer do we have to put up with buying 12 songs, one of which we like.  Right now my playlist has 2368 songs and it would take me 153 hours and 44 minutes to listen to it all.  If I put all my tracks on there I would need a solid week to hear them all.  I’m my own radio station.

And that’s how I went from a teenager who listened to the radio now and then to a young adult who found music for the first time and now never a day goes by without listening to it, and how I managed to remain true to myself by having consistently bad taste in all aspects of art and culture for 20 years.  I used to be really self-conscious about it and hid what I listened to from others.  Then apparently the part of my brain that used to feel shame overloaded and broke.

This is all to kick off what will become the new music category of my blog.  Occasionally, I will post about bands I like or am listening to at the time.

Future blog reader: “But FH, no one cares about that.”

FH: “Shove it.  For all I know I’m the greatest guitar player of all time and I don’t have to take criticism from purely imaginary internet people.”

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