All posts by Thunderscreech

A thought on Kaepernick Nike Ad Parodies

[Politics warning, it’s something I have been previously punished for talking about but feel strongly.]
There are clever remixes of the Nike Kaepernick ads out there, but I’m personally not gonna ‘Like’ any of ’em, and here’s why.
Someone who has a voice wants to make a statement against an undercurrent of white supremacy that’s infected some corners of society. It’s led to black people being disproportionately shot by cops under shady circumstances without any real consequences. Just this last weekend, for example, an officer pushed into a man’s apartment (mistaking it for her own), shot him in his home, then walked around free for days before being grudgingly arrested. She was out on bail within two hours. Try to imagine any of us receiving this same institutional benefit-of-the-doubt for this situation and it’s easy to start to see what the black community has known for decades.
A Green Beret reaches out to this protester and suggests he modify his protest slightly to take a knee instead, which he does. “Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect”, the veteran says.
A nation goes mad. Conservatives smear the protester, the president threatens any players who join the protest, careers are ended and white nationalists lead the charge wherever they can. Big chunks of Middle-class white America buy into it and decide that protesting these shootings is anti-police for some reason instead of anti-racism. It’s uncomfortable to be complicit, maybe, and perhaps it’s easier to re-frame the narrative to something like ‘anti-police’ so that action isn’t required?
“It’s just a few bad apples” really only goes so far as an excuse, btw, because then shouldn’t the folks who honestly believe that be saying “YEAH, let’s fix these outliers!” …but instead, they either attack or ridicule the protesters.
So Nike, an imperfect company that has done a lot of shitty things, Nike has its own voice. It’s got the loudest voice in our culture, money, and like any company, it has to decide where it wants to put that amplification. There’s a roll of the dice and…. they publish this ad of Kaepernick.
The US goes mad again. “We’ve already talked about this”, the narrative goes, “institutional racism is over. You’re being ridiculous.” A man is shot in his apartment by an officer but “that’s a different subject”, the narrative says, “and not what we’re talking about”.
Mike Rowe writes an editorial that says basically “ignore this protest, let’s talk about real sacrifice like this white guy who died on 9/11.” The conservatives eat it up, this is way better than confronting a today-problem. FaithWire falls over itself to cheer how brilliant this is, it hits all the buttons: 1. Stop talking about racism, 2. Start talking about 9/11 again, 3. White heroes. The religious right absolutely loves this.
Then there’s the wave of parodies. There are some great ones, no doubt. There’s pop-culture characters saying outrageous things because that’s funny stuff. There’s the aliens from Mars Attacks and the Swedish Chef borking it up and there’s no doubt this meme has taken off. Thanos snaps his finger in another one, but instead of half of them disappearing, even more show up.
I love parody. I love it when smart people do funny things with the news or culture and I appreciate the talent that’s gone into these because humor’s my bag, my thing.
But I personally won’t click that little like button because I can’t get over the image of that man opening the door to his apartment. Of him becoming the next victim in a long line of essentially state-sanctioned killings. I can’t get past the fear that millions of my fellow Americans need to live with and teach their children to be careful of and the creeping, rotten smell of racism that some guy decided to speak up about and has the dead career to show for it. I’ve gotta believe we can do better, and making fun of someone who sacrificed so much by saying the same thing… that just ain’t my game.

How You May Be Accidentally Hurting People #3,715

"You have too much free time"

When you say this, do you mean to make someone feel smaller? Or is that just an accident?

It's a powerful method for making folks who create stuff feel bad. We're socialized to see working as good so this statement weaponizes the concept of free-time. Instead of recognizing that people have different levels of interest in different things, this places a clear border between 'useful' and 'screwing around' like they're objectively measurable things.

I build stuff, I create thing, I follow my passions and when someone suggests that I have 'too much free time' because I'm doing something different than them, I've got to disagree. No, we all have the same amount of fixed time, I'm just organizing how I use mine differently.

"Well, I don't mean it that way-" stop. For the sake of communication, your intention is not going to change how plenty of folks will hear it. Consider the possibility that you're unknowingly causing hurt with an innocent sounding phrase and that whether you intended to or not doesn't change that fact. Someone who slaves over a drawing or spends hours assembling a model or puts their heart and soul into an elaborate cosplay setup and hears an implication that it was just messing around because it's not Useful Work can't read your mind.

My request to you: stop accidentally shaming people (because 'too much free time' implies laziness) for making things. If you want to train people not to show you their creations and to make them feel bad about themselves, I guess this is a good way to do it. If, however, you'd rather _not_ be the person who punishes those around them for choosing to open themselves to a little vulnerability by showing you something into which they invested their hearts and souls, consider deleting this phrase from your vocabulary.

If you have the time, that is.

Grave commentary

Imagine that your highest rated social media comment at the time of your death… ends up engraved onto your tombstone. You commit to this as part of a self-improvement or self-help strategy because when the day comes, that’s your legacy.

Not everyone can make the same physical impact on the world. Wealth, circumstances, ability… these vary hugely. There can only be so many opera halls and libraries, only so many thriving industries, but the one thing that unites us all is death. We all die in the end (until we can be uploaded into the fabric of the universe, manipulating the quantum foam itself as a computing substrate maybe, but that’s a different post) so how can we leave a mark that’s US and not just who we THINK we are?

With grave markers, folks sometimes put a favorite quote or write something personal, but like a survey of self-selected survey takers, how representative can it actually be? Is it who we really are, or is it just our idealized presentation of how we want people to see us? That question is why I propose Grave Discussions.

Instead of picking a phrase out of a book or just filling in a form at a mortuary, let your ideas engage in mortal combat at the coliseum of ideas: The Web. On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog, but everybody sees your inner self. Sometimes it’s thoughtful, sometimes John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory takes over. Whatever way you decide to go, your contribution with the highest ranking at the time of your death becomes your WINNING IDEA, the one that’s presented to the world as your opus.

Will you change your life to put your best foot forward? Will you sharpen your skills and become a more effective you to bring about the legacy YOU want? Or will you let the tides carry you along to whatever’s popular at the time but isn’t really who you think you actually ARE?

Now take away the physical gravestone and you have… today. Your internet presence will probably be seen by more folks than almost any gravestone. Also, you don’t have to be dead for people to make judgments about who you are because shoot, they’re reading those comments now. Is a grave marker really where we tell everyone who we are/were? Maybe it was once, but now… now every comment and post we make is a little marker we leave that may outlive the planet. If we wanted to affect how the future saw our impact on humanity, is it too late? Or can we still take control and put our best selves forward?

Commit. Commit now, then start posting your best. Your legacy depends on it.

I need more Pandora in my Facebook this season

Pandora has this feature I wish was on Facebook. Sometimes there’s a song you really like that you…. just don’t want to hear for a while. You don’t want to throw it away and skipping past it doesn’t really help if it shows up an hour later, you’ve just fallen a little out-of-love with it temporarily. When this happens, Pandora has the ‘I’m tired of this track’ option.

It temporarily takes it out of rotation. You’re saying “I love you, song, but we need to take a break so I don’t end up hating you”. It’s great, it’s still in your life and influencing other song choices in your listing, you and the song are still friends, it’s just _elsewhere_ for a little bit.

Relationships with songs seem complicated, right? We associate them with events in our lives, the way they make us feel, a technical appreciation for their structure, all sorts of things. But compared to relationships with people they’re simple. Songs don’t change, but people change every second. Songs don’t turn nasty or associate themselves with vileness suddenly (ok, except for maybe some Wagner, tough break there) while still being the song you liked previously. Songs stay themselves and we’re the only dynamic one in the relationship.

So… how is it that a song for Pandora can offer such a useful feature for managing those rough patches while Facebook (“The Social Network”) doesn’t?

There’s something about this election (more so than others I remember) that seems to be bringing out the worst in folks. I’m sure others think the same about me, don’t get me wrong, but that goes back to the whole ‘people and relationships are complicated’ thing. These last few weeks, I’ve seen folks whom I like adopt shocking opinions and downplay some outrageous things. People whom I like have said things that knock me on my butt but… I still like them as People, I just don’t know how to deal with them as Participants In Election 2016.

Facebook has a few hamfisted tools for this. You can unfriend people, you can block them, and you can unfollow them. Each of these are pretty strong medicine and permanent without conscious effort. If you block someone, they’re goooooone until you remember to unblock them through some interface you’d probably have to google the instructions for. With unfollow, they disappear from your news feed and likewise will be elsewhere until you remember to track them down in settings and re-enable them. Unfriending people is pretty rough because if they notice, it sounds like you’re sending a message ‘we are not friends any more’. I’ve been unfriended before by folks who didn’t see it as a big deal and I still smart from it because it feels like rejection. For some of us, forming relationships is hard work and doesn’t ‘just happen’, having the other person make a conscious choice to no longer be ‘friends’ feels like a punch.

So what’s the solution? What can Facebook do to help people like me who feel like a kindergartner who accidentally wandered into the front of some terrible machine-gun battle?

“I’m tired of this track”.

It’d probably need a different name. Maybe…. “Temporarily mute friend”, or… “?” (Kikazaru, the monkey with the hands over its ears) or something clever. Basically, I’d like a feature in Facebook where, when I read that some friend of mine has one of those Election-Specific opinions about something on which I don’t want to battle, I can just not see their posts for a few weeks. It’d be great if it automatically deactivated after then so we can just continue as before. No out-of-the-blue friend requests, no chance to screw up and forget who you unfollowed, just a temporary break.

I don’t want to have to maintain some rolodex/action list of people to re-follow or re-friend after the election’s over because I’ll screw it up and the “wait, you unfriended me?!” conflicts sound pretty awful too.

I don’t think I have too many illusions here. Some of the things that upset me now might end up being deal-breakers. I think a few of my friendships are in some real peril now because of some pretty upsetting endorsements and excusals I’ve read recently. No doubt there are people out there who feel the same about me, too, but I’ve got to hold onto the hope that some of them are going to get better when this election is over.

Facebook and Pandora have plenty of functional overlap. Our actions and relationships affect suggestions and behaviors already, maybe it’s time to get inspiraton from another function for the sake of maintaining friendships.

Maybe this stuff is easy for the rest of all y’all, but this kindergartner’s ready to come in from the war for a little bit.

Crossing the tragedy streams: Local and Global

A few months before our first son was born, we owned a couple cats. One of them, Forest, my wife had had for years. She’d raised him from a kitten. He was a pretty wild cat, the kind who liked to jump from the ground up onto your shoulder even though he weighed 5+ pounds. He’d stabilize himself with claws, and whether you were wearing a shirt didn’t really make a difference to him because that’s apparently not a thing cats worry about. Some days we’d find him sitting on the top of a door because it was the highest place around from which he could lord over his domain. Somewhere along the way, he got an infection in his gums and needed to have his teeth pulled. Once he figured out he couldn’t bite things anymore, he learned to box. Hard. He could really, really whack something with this big murder mittens of his, it was impressive.

We didn’t have kids so we were really, really emotionally invested in our pets. We loved them, they put up with us, it was the perfect relationship you could have with a cat.

Living in Los Angeles, we had to keep them indoors, and this was a challenge. Just outside was this magical, mystical land of smells and sounds and the cats WANTED OUT. Lizzy made a couple half-hearted attempts but eventually settled for the inside life. She’d sit in the window sometimes, but she seemed to accept her lot in life. Forest, however… Forest was not a quitter.

Being a big, dynamic cat, he had a lot of energy and muscle and inertia. Being a little crazy, he also eventually worked out A System.

I remember one day watching him tear around the apartment in circles, faster and faster like some kind of superconducting kitty supercollider. “What the hell are you doi-” I began when he straightened out his path and beelined for the standard-issue armored metal screen door so many LA apartments have.

BAM! He slammed into the door at just the right angle and… it opened.

He’d figured out a way to pop it open by hitting a lower corner and, faster than you can swear, he was gone. A couple hours later, he swaggered back, covered in dirt and so happy with himself. He’d braved the outdoors and was ready to eat. We pulled him in, brushed him off, and thought that was that.

That was not, of course, that.

Once in a while, we’d hear a big BAM! and sure enough, he’d have let himself out. Without AC, the door was our primary ventillation so we pretty much HAD to use the screen like this, but it was unnerving. He kept coming back, though, so it eventually just became a part of life.

Until the day he got him by a car.

We were devestated. Absolutely shattered. Our emotions were so tied up in our pets, we were destroyed by this and we cried. We turned inwards, held each other, and grieved and it was so rough.

After a couple days, it still hurt almost as much and I was surprised when my sister called me one morning.

“Hey, you guys doing ok?” she asked. She sounded sad and I was really moved. We’d tried to play it cool about the cat, but family knows these things.

“We’re hanging in there”, I told her, but she could hear in the roughness of my voice that I wasn’t really that ok. It had been three days since he died, and I still couldn’t quite believe it.

“This is really tough”, she assured me. I agreed, and for the next couple minutes we had a nice conversation where she was asking after our moods and how we were ‘handling things’. I agreed it was hard, she talked about how little experience we had with situations like this, I was impressed at how much sympathy she had for us and our departed cat.

But the wheel of time turns, conversation progresses and passes and eventually… things start to break down.

After a few minutes of about 99% heart-felt platitudes and recognition of shared grief (I was moved at how strongly she felt about Forest dying, she’d maybe met the cat once), I could tell something was wrong. A conversation is… kinda like a machine. There are gears and springs. The movement in one area causes action in another, and a good conversation will have people bouncing these forces of ideas and thoughts back and forth smoothly so that at the end, both feel fulfilled and something productive has happened. The machine turns smoothly.

Today, there was sand in the gears. Also, some of the gears… were the wrong size.

The conversation machine was starting to tear itself apart from the inside out, and both of us were obviously confused. The responses we were giving each other weren’t landing quite right and both of us were getting a little upset because we didn’t understand why this was happening. Finally, one response was just a little too wrong, and my sister was the one to exclaim:

“Ben, what are you talking about?”

This is a question that’s about as welcome in the middle of a an emotional talk like this as a sheriff showing up in the middle of a wedding ceremony with a stack of warrants. It’s proof that something has gone horribly wrong, that somewhere along the way something terrible has happened and two people are very much not on the same page.

“I’m talking about our cat Forest… what are YOU talking about?” I’m absolutely gobsmacked, we’ve been on the phone for almost 5 minutes. What’s going on?

There’s a moment of shocked silence on the other end of the phone, then I hear: “Oh Jesus Christ, Ben, turn on the TV.”

Super puzzled, I hunt for the remote. As I’m picking it up, I ask “what channel?”. This time, she responds immediately.


It turns out, she was not calling about our dead cat. This was, of course, 15 years ago today.

Our grief took a very unexpected turn that morning. I can’t add anything that a million better writers haven’t already captured about the events then or the years of worldwide change that followed, so I won’t try. From a personal perspective I will say… that in the following months, we had our first child, then shortly after, our second son was born. As happens, our own priorities changed and while we still really like our pets, our kids are obviously the vessels into which we put the hopes and optimism for the future that felt so distant that September morning. We still like our cats (A LOT, don’t get me wrong), but when one dies or disappears, it’s just a fact of life. It’s a brief interruption and then… things goes on. The people and animals pass in and out of our lives and we continue and I couldn’t tell you even what YEAR some of our beloved pets have died now or how old our cats are or any of the other little things that used to seem so personally important.

In one of those strange ways our brains work and associate global things to the personal, when it comes to remembering that our cat Forest died on September 8th, 2001, I’ll never forget.

Track injustice

In elementary school, I was part of track. I wasn’t very fast or good, but I tried my darndest because it was something to do and it was a bunch of the physical activity I got.

At a trackmeet, I was in a 50 yard dash and I was in the far-right lane. The starter pistol fired, and we were off! The other runners pulled ahead because they were faster but I was still running as fast as I could. The crowd was packed up against the side of the track in a wall.

Then, disaster that I still think of 30 years later. As the main wave of runners passed, someone stepped out into the track to get a better view of them.

Stepped out in front of me.

I skidded to a stop so I wouldn’t run into them, defeated, then slouched off in embarrassment. The person who stepped in front of me didn’t even notice and I felt so bad about not being fast that I thought I was the offender.

Today, I wish I’d braced myself and just smashed right into that goddamn oblivious crowd-member. Just… BOOM. I still wouldn’t have won, but I wouldn’t be sitting here more than a quarter century later thinking about this little injustice against a kid who wasn’t very physical but was trying his goddamndest to get into better shape and turn things around.

I quit track that day.

Inductive Reasoning

Everyone knows that intersections commonly have field sensors embedded in the asphalt to detect vehicles so they can control the traffic lights, right?


I’m basing this off some inductive reasoning because about ten of my fellow motorists and I were held hostage this morning for several minutes by someone ‘giving the intersection some space’.

Did they face some existential crisis when the light failed to recognize their presence? Or did the mental hate rays (and occasional horn) convince them that no, it was the UNIVERSE that was wrong? Did they shake their head at “yet another intersection that just doesn’t like them”?

If everywhere you go smells like poo, check your shoes. If every intersection ignores your presence, maybe it’s not the intersections that are broken.

Now, I realize none of YOU would ever do this and you’re all amazing drivers who know about induction loops and how they need a mass of iron or steel above them to trigger the sensor and all that, but if you could help your FRIENDS realize they’ve got to pull forward to the appropriate spot, that’d be greaaaaat. Your motorcycle friends (riders, that is. If you’re friends with a motorcycle, we should talk) already know because reasons, but even cars need to be within a freakin’ car length to make this work.

Meanwhile, this morning’s Mr. or Ms. Magoo continues to spread blood pressure spikes and upset drivers in their wake. I really thought I knew all the ways to make the world a little worse by now, but this morning I learned a new one.

Let your fingers do the plotting

A few weeks ago, a “Yellow Pages” suddenly appeared in front of my house. I know within 10 minutes of when it showed up because it wasn’t there when I went into the house, but when I came out… Boom, ancient relic.

Kanye West tweeted: “I hate when I’m on a flight and I wake up with a water bottle next to me like oh great now I gotta be responsible for this water bottle”. Deep down inside, I guess I’m like Kanye West, except with a phone book instead of a water bottle. Also, maybe not as talented or publicly ‘wacky’. Anyways, I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t ask the world to be responsible for an outdated reference book that I’ll never use because it’s the year 2016 and I have the Internet. Deciding fast, I grab it and jump into my car. I know these books are distributed by someone driving through the neighborhood and throwing them. Like the Cylons, I have a plan.

I will give it back.

I will choose NOT to be saddled with this… burden. Driving, it’s easy to tell which houses have been hit by the phantom thrower. I glide quietly, my hybrid in “panther mode”, scanning back-and-forth. I’m trying to find a pattern. Am I heading towards them or just retracing the path that led them to my house? An old phonebook looks like a fresh one, there’s no way to tell.

I give up and decide to brute force the neighborhood.

I drive up and down every road, my head on a swivel. Every time I go through intersection, I do that thing we all do at supermarket when we’re looking for the person we came to the store with. A few times, I see something promising and look. Each time, it’s a false alarm and if there’s anyone in the car I’m checking out, they stare at me as I creep slowly past. What’s this LOOK like to them? Well, that’s a question that doesn’t occur to me until afterwards so I continue my mission, leaving a trail of freaked out helicopter parents and neighborhood watch enthusiasts in my wake.

About 15 minutes in, I finally realize this isn’t going to work. Either these people are way faster than I imagined, or we were the last house in the neighborhood. Maybe they’re halfway to Reno to blow their phonebook blood money on doing a gamblings or whatever it is physical spammers do with profits, I don’t know.

I give up. I tuck the phonebook in front of my seat and head back to the office.

A day or two later, my wife notices it on the floor of my car and asks what it’s doing there. I tell her, and she’s immediately practical. “Throw it away or put it in the recycling”, she tells me. “If your plan was to give it back and they’re gone, just get rid of it”.

This doesn’t sit well with me because I feel like then that means the world gets another victory over human decency. The kind of people who throw phonebooks at houses get a pass, and the rest of us need to deal with their anti-social behavior. It doesn’t seem quite right, like I’d would be giving up.

“Well, I was thinking”- I lie, having been doing no such thing, everything I’m about to tell her is occurring to me as I speak so nobody is more surprised than me when that sentence continues: “that maybe I’ll just wait until I see someone who’s parked terribly and maybe put the phonebook under their windshield wiper as some kind of silly, petty protest.”

Hearing it out loud, that actually doesn’t sound half bad. Out of the thousands of ways people have objected to antisocial parking over the centuries, this is a pretty inoffensive one. Yeah, I think maybe I could actually do this. It’ll be great!

Then I remember I’ve just been talking to someone, the level-headed practical bedrock in my life who keeps me together. I can sit here patting myself on the back all I want, but the woman whose opinion is important to me and whose judgment I trust would probably have some input on this grand scheme. I brace myself, this idea may not survive the cold light of logic and sense. These thoughts happen in a flash, she responds instantly.

“Then go get some more of those phonebooks from our neighbors”, she suggests reasonably, “there’s lots of bad parkers. If we’re going to do this, let’s do it right”.

Damnit, I love this woman so much.