Category Archives: Rant

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.

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.

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.

Battles in orthography: Damnit vs. Dammit

I think English is wrong, but it’s not for the usual reasons. No, today it’s wrong for a different reason, let me tell you all about it.

For a few years, my spellcheckers have flagged ‘damnit’ as incorrect. Chrome just did it now as I typed this, in fact, because apparently the blessed spelling is ‘dammit’.

“Dammit”? What kind of broken down, toothless word is this? When I say this, I’m commanding “Damn it”. I am summoning the powers of whatever gods are listening to bring their damnation onto the thing or situation I’m thinking of, so DAMNIT makes sense. ‘Dammit’ sounds like I’m gumming out a word only because I’m trying to work up enough saliva to reach a spittoon withnasty chewing tobacco juice. It’s not a focused word and it’s missing all the good emphasis it needs.

To be clear, I am not saying that I wish to “dam” it. This is not a water-control issue. If I’m cursing this way at something, I am not requesting that a river be controlled to ensure proper irrigation during the off-season or something like that.

Coming from a different angle, whenever I express any opinion about how things in language change there’s always THAT PERSON who comes back with the response that ‘language is constantly evolving’. They argue that by its nature, words change over time and it’s unreasonable to fight this. This is usually in response to an objection over ‘figuratively’ being now considered a legitimate synonym for ‘literally’. I don’t like the change in ‘literally’, but if we’re going to just let that in then I want to make this open door policy work FOR me.

How? I want DAMNIT to be a completely acceptable spelling of ‘dammit’. For years, using the “wrong” letter there been one of my dumb little protests against life though I doubt anyone here has ever noticed it. Any time I’ve accidentally used ‘dammit’ or let autocorrect have its way I’ve felt dirty, but NO MORE. There’s a line going into the sand here.

Join me, friends whom I keep close and the enemies I keep closer (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE), join me in driving the orthography boat up the right figurative river. Switch one of those ‘m’s out with an honest ‘n’. Don’t be spooked by Daniel Webster’s scowling ghost, this is something we can fix if we work together.


Fusion Powered Experiment Report

I have been running a casual experiment for the past six and a half years and after letting the figurative cat out of the metaphorical bag at a recent literal dinner with friends, I decided that it’s time to go public.

gillette-fusion-powerFirst, I shave.  My face.  I mean, that’s what THIS post is about, at least.  I have been using a Gillette Fusion, a disposable razor that, as far as I can tell, is basically the winner of The Blade Wars (where the companies went back and forth daring each other to add more blades).  There are probably razors with new blades now, but the Fusion won because not only did they cram extra blades onto it, they added BATTERIES.

To a disposable razor.

That’s not even the wackiest part of this story.  That comes later, but let’s talk about the batteries for a moment because that’s semi relevant.

“What?” I imagine you asking in your head.  “Why?  How?”  you might continue, gradually working your way towards defining the components of a successful newspaper article.  Basically, you might be wondering what role a battery has in a disposable razor, and I’ll tell you:  It makes it buzz.

It’s like there’s an angry wasp inside that’s trying to escape some sort of plastic cage but it can’t.  Also, it only buzzes when you press the button.  You may have made the mental connection to other devices that do what this disposable razor does, devices that traditionally do not have sharp edges but unlike the razor, it’s kinda a core function.  That’s not true for the Fusion as far as I can tell.

So why does my disposable razor buzz and vibrate?  I have no idea.  If you’re looking for meaning in this marketing decision, I have none.  I have dutifully replaced the AAA battery four or five times so I’ve actually made a financial investment in this feature but I don’t know why it exists.  I think the box suggested that it would somehow help the blades get, I don’t know, some kind of closer shave or something through the magic of “razor waves” or something, but any time I try to imagine how that would work I just see the sharp steel of my razor filleting my skin even more effectively than before, leaving a trail of cytoplasm from ruptured cell walls as blood streams down the handle but for some reason, that’s not what happens.  BZZZZZ….  BZZZ….   BZZZ?  I have no idea.

But as I mentioned earlier, the Mystery Of The Batteries is not even the strangest part of this story.  No, the strange part is the thing that I mentioned in passing to some friends and then realized from their reactions that my actions over the past six plus years were not those of a normal person.

Here’s the deal, the reason I’m writing this…  I last replaced my disposable razor blade in August of 2008. All of those inexplicable battery replacements?  They were while using the same razor blades.

That’s right, I’ve been using the same disposable cartridge for six and a half years and that’s with shaving almost every day.

“?!*#&#@” you’re thinking now, Q-bert style.  That’s a sweet 80s reference, I like it.  Anyways, the answer to your semi-coherent garbled mental exclamation is also symbolic: “$$$”.  A few weeks after getting the Fusion (with a name like that, how can I NOT buy it?  That’s what runs star trek reactors!  That’s what happens in the Sun!  It’s even a type of cuisine!) It’s got everything going for it, so of course I’ll buy the Gillette Fusion.  So I went to buy a replacement cartridge a few weeks later and found it was like crazy expensive.

“No way am I giving up my money to these crooks” I said to myself, unconsciously stroking my perfectly shaved neck in contemplation.  “I bet I can get a few more days out of it, no problem.”  Days became weeks, weeks became months.  I don’t remember ever actually deciding “I’m going for some sort of dumb record”, it just… happened.
Months became 6 years.  Visualize this, the razor came with a little ‘Aloe strip’.  I assumed it was some kind of marketing thing because it promised soft skin and the power of moisturizing aloe bullshit or something.  Within the first week, the green ‘Aloe’ part was gone, obviously.  It took a few months for the next real change, but once that had passed, the last remnants of the paper the Aloe had been applied to were gone as well.  I think there was a day or two where little bits of exposed adhesive were sticking to my face, but I powered on through and now it’s nice and smooth.  My face was basically a giant sheet of organic sandpaper, so this isn’t even surprising, but it worked.

But the blades….  I have no idea WHY they keep working, but I hardly bleed at all.  I don’t have some giant misshapen neckbeard so the blades (however many there are) are still sharp enough to do SOMETHING, right?  I mean, it’s not like it’s turned into some sort of unpowered Epilady because I hardly cry at all when I shave, so it must be still cutting.

Here’s how I maintain the razor cartridge:
1. About once or twice a month, I use our Waterpik dental water blaster thing (can be used to both stimulate healthy gums or cut plate steel depending on what setting you use) to blast the accumulated bristles out.  I’ll turn it on (the pik) then direct the water laser at the back of the razor and get an instant shotgun blast of mini hairs at the wall behind.  Because I’m a good husband, I then:
2. redirect the water long enough to rinse this off the wall.  YOU’RE WELCOME, WIFE.

And…  that’s about it.  Oh, I guess I rinse and shake it dry after shaving (again, the razor) but other than that, nothing heroic.  I figure I’ve gotten about 2,200 shaves out of it so far, assuming I shave 6.5 times a week (which is reasonable, I take vacations sometimes) and usually once a day.

Back in 2009 or 2010, my lovely wife actually bought me replacement razor carts because she knows how incredibly cheap I was and maybe was a little concerned about blood clogging the shower drains but I heroically set them aside.  “No”, I seethed, “I won’t give them the satisfaction.”  She gamely backed away and I set the gift aside before facing my next shaving experience.

This gets tricky.  There are several possible, but personally I think the most important one is this: The razor cartridge is TOO GOOD for their business model so they’re using a gimmick to trick people into buying new ones.

Yes, I’ll repeat that.  No, wait, I won’t, you can just read the previous paragraph again, that’s more efficient.  Anyhow, I think the quality of the steel they’re using is just too high for a business that relies on people throwing these things away after a few uses and buying another one.  If I know this, then obviously they know it too, so how do they push people to replace the cartridges if they’re still shaving just fine?

It’s obvious: THAT’S the true purpose of the Aloe strip.  It’s not there to just be a line item on the box about how goddamn smooth your skin will be, it’s there to be something that visibly wears off so the customer will look at it and say “der, I guess I’d better replace this!”.

The bullshit Logan's Run aloe bullshit strip
The bullshit Logan’s Run aloe bullshit strip

So what does this mean?  It means that as long as you stay up to date on your tetanus shots and take some basic steps to clean your so-called disposable razor, you too can be a cheap bastard.  Remember how I mentioned receiving the gift of replacement blades?  A few months ago I actually found them beneath the bathroom sink.  I dusted the package off, set it carefully aside and am ready for the day when the blades FINALLY need to be replaced.  It’s nice to know I can pull the trigger any time, and I have my wonderful wife to thank for that, but I think I can hold out a little longer.
I’ll wrap this up because I need to go sand my neck callouses, but here’s a suggestion: next time you get ready to replace your blades, take a long hard look at it and ask yourself:  Are you REALLY willing to trade your hard-earned cash for a measly pain-free shaving experience?  If you ask me, THAT’S the REAL crazy.