The ultimate privilege of developed-world living is that you may devote exactly as much of your mental bandwidth as you wish to basic biological functions. We largely transform them from their pure function into pleasurable rituals. Food is a tasty daily highlight–not only delicious but it’s family time, a break from work, a prime opportunity for socializing. Trips to the bathroom are also “breaks”. Bathrooms accomplish exactly what you need them for, are clean, climate-controlled and plentiful, with locking doors and pipes that blissfully carry everything away. And sleep! The ultimate break. On a bed, comfortably alone or with extremely select company.

Now what if I told you there exists a place within this privileged society in which people go, quite regularly, usually on purpose, where all of this is taken away. We call those places airports.

Airports are the Western world’s closest non-war-zone approximation of Hell, though the torture is more subtle. Food: decidedly not fun, but pure sustenance gathering, joyless calorie acquisition. Forget finding something you would like to eat, the goal is to find anything you are willing to eat, at scarcity pricing. Bathrooms: oh there are plenty, especially if you like them crowded and vile. Sleep: oh goodness, no.

What could make this nightmare even worse? A flight delay. Now it’s still the airport, but for longer. The airport as a place has already stripped you of physical comforts. Flight delays work on your emotions. “Why is this happening?” “I’m never getting home.” “I’m stupid to have paid for this, should have driven.” “I’m suing everybody.” You’re mad if you can blame someone (overbooking, airline trying to stretch out a crew) you’re mad if you can’t (weather, mechanical issues). Further, you’re surrounded by dozens of people in the same state.

Now we are at the true dark heart of all this: all of the above, but also enduring everyone else. Usually in life you can ignore almost everyone almost all the time but in this situation, you are trapped overhearing all the little comments, everyone’s lizard-brain opinions, fears, questions, non sequiturs.

“This is the worst airline ever. Never flying them again.”

[Cable news blaring on TV]

[Commercials for cable news blaring on TV]

“I heard this airport can keep a flight on the runway for six hours.”

“Why won’t they tell us what’s happening?!”

Outraged business guy on earpiece phone at maximum volume for the third straight hour: “Still delayed! They say it’s paperwork! What a joke! Paperwork! Anyway, better get back to these sales reports.”

“You see Game of Thrones last night? I thought it sucked.”

[Kid screaming. Then laughing. Then screaming again. Now parent screaming too.]

This. This is what Twitter is like.

Every minor thought that anyone ever thought about everything, many under stress, no matter how reactionary, inconsiderate, fear mongering, insipid, all presented in an endless scroll**. Of course there are some nuggets in the firehose. Good Twitter exists. Funny Twitter exists. You can also try following only people who are smart and you whose opinion you’d actually want. Ideally you’d think that is how to stifle the flight delay-level comments, but that’s not what really happens. Instead Twitter is a sewer-like platform where the worst of the worst rises to the top. Even the well-meaning re-tweet all the terrible. They see something stupid, it makes them mad, they re-tweet to get confirmation on how truly terrible it is. Also they have a good joke about it that would be killer if the offender ever saw it. (They won’t see it.) This is the same as being the passenger in a car that just got cut off and the driver is yelling at the other idiot. Of course the other idiot can’t hear that, but all the afflicted passengers get to. Similarly, one can never escape the cascades of re-tweets and .@s. The general theme being: “Wow, look at this asshole!”

Listen, I *know* they’re out there. I don’t need reminders. It’s why flight delays are so bad, way beyond any inconveniences. Nothing good will come from me absorbing everyone else’s reactions other than to start wondering, in the absence of facts, whether they might all somehow be right? At least I can put on headphones, or take a walk. But Twitter makes sure I notice. Whether it’s some unfathomably horrendous human in an actual elected job who engenders so little trust I wouldn’t ask them to water my plants for a weekend (e.g., the current President of the United States), or some Fox News talking head, or Martin Shkreli, or a Twitter egg who created an account just to rant at SportsCenter anchors: I *know*. I don’t read tabloids or eat batteries either. I have a general sense of things that are good and bad for me. But Twitter became a place where the worse you are, the more attention you will get. And the effect is that the object of scorn just sees all the re-tweets and thinks, “The people are with me on this.”

I have never hate-followed anyone. Especially not *rump because I am unclear on the appeal of reading the incoherent spew of a incendiary senile idiot. There are a million Twitter users with bald eagle avatars saying the same garbage. Only the cosmic coincidence of his birth into wealth has put him into a situation where anyone knows his name, otherwise he’d be stuck distributing his rants on moist pamphlets from a dingy street corner like a normal crazy person. Since it’s later than 2010, he isn’t confined to the crackliest corners of AM radio, either. Instead, the ultra-privileged son-of-a-millionaire with a gift for the attention grab became of the voice of angry old white America because that’s the way Twitter works. It follows that the ultimate mechanism for identifying assholes would eventually surface their King.

We learn more and more about the toxic effect of social media daily. […he blogs. But I think blogs never had the same problems: they require more energy and focus, so they aren’t just emotional car honks. Blogging is also a medium without the constant reward-generating effect of the endless scroll. It doesn’t have any of the same horrifying privacy issues. It can have a similarly isolating bubble effect, but it’s not so baked in.] We know that social media makes you depressed. It cuts you off from opposing views and in fact, is downright awesome at reinforcing pre-existing beliefs. People legitimately thought Hilary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of a pizza place–they wanted to believe she was doing something, anything, illegal. Then they received evidence, via social media. Fox News invents some similar rumor every time the Democrats have a good day, no doubt they hope each will spread on Facebook in the same way. And somehow social media is still managing to get worse. We’re only just starting to learn how thoroughly it’s been compromised by trolls and bots. Facebook’s money-grubbing algorithms have been insidiously helping polarize people for years. Millions of Twitter bots retweet everything *rump says to millions of users. Even back when they were both just feeds of humans posting, you are always seeing people at their best or worst. No wonder everything started to feel black or white.

This obviously starts getting tied up with more deeply frustrating problems. Social media can only partially explain how a thoroughly incompetent out-of-touch millionaire with no policies and no experience gets elected president with millions fewer votes thanks to extreme tribalism and a broken electoral college system. Whether Hilary was a good choice or not, if he had been running against a bucket of warm barf no one should have voted for him. Almost a year in, a theoretical President Barf Bucket would have done exactly as much to create blue collar jobs, wouldn’t have appointed a transparently corrupt cabinet, and wouldn’t be pointlessly taunting a rogue nuclear state. But certainly Twitter’s propensity for normalizing crazy by constant, repeated exposure should get some of the blame for how that insane thing actually happened. Just the fact that *rump loves it tells you it’s probably bad. It’s the perfect medium to eschew nuance, avoid criticism, and yell at strangers. It’s made for politics.

Social media has its positives. I’ve had some laughs. I did occasionally connect with old friends or make new ones. In spite of its limitations it’s an amazing window into real ongoing issues which I never properly understood as a white, middle class, cisgendered dude. Likewise I found solidarity knowing there were others with the same baggage as me. That’s some genuine good.

But I think the moment is past for me. Speaking of baggage, Twitter is overloaded with it now. They just upped it to 280 characters, which I don’t imagine is going to add nuance as much as provide the ignorant the ability to double down on stupid. Also years of Twitter memes are about to resurface and be twice as tiresome. Blogging, even very occasionally, and sticking with RSS on a few vetted sites has a lot more value for me. I think we got it right getting away from mainstream dominance for all media with some bits of the internet. But not having to listen to EVERYONE is the happy medium. So that’s why I’m quitting.

Also because of Awards Show Twitter.

** I have also seen Twitter compared to the river of hate-slime from Ghostbusters 2. Exactly what I’m talking about.

OK, well it’s been 41 days since I said I was going to do some more posting and I have posted precisely once. Not that anyone is waiting around for me to start doing some daily writing again, but this is a wonderful example of what happens when you set VAPID goals. I don’t really have a good excuse that doesn’t sound like an excuse (but it boils down to: lack of time & mental energy). Point is, I was serious that I wanted to get back in the habit of writing, but the execution has has been lacking. I do have a bunch of stuff half-written. And maybe once a day was ambitious even if I have no scope.

Well anyway I’m not as young as I once was and it may take this train a while to get up to speed. But on the agenda:

  • Lots of stuff about being 40, an age which I have somehow arrived at. Nothing like having a midlife crises or lamenting my lost youth or whatever, mostly like in the vein of: how is this possible? I thought I was like, 25.
  • Various thoughts before and after the August 21 eclipse. I’ve been excited for it for years, and will be traveling to see it.

And, yup,

  • Reviews of Deep Space Nine episodes. Just started watching. Because I have still not gotten around to confirming if there are already capsule reviews of Star Trek episodes online.

New posts imminent. If I say I’m going to do it then I have to.

Goal: one post per day, whether it’s a three page screed or just a link to something.

Also: This counts for today.

And yet also: I swapped in a new theme. The previous one was so old it didn’t work on mobile. I like the new one except for the title font so I’ll change that when I get around to it. Just making it clear I do not stand behind this font.

We had casino night at work. I have no idea how to play casino games. Well, it’s more subtle than that. There are games in which I know the basic rules, like blackjack, in that I know you are supposed to get 21, or at least give it your best shot whilst getting more than the dealer. As far as strategy goes though, my mind is a void. This is pretty much the worst case of knowledge. I run the risk of thinking I know what I’m doing. Such circumstances make it a lot easier to stumble into trouble. There was one hand where I felt like my logical play was to hit, so I did, but given the deeper situation on the board, the custom was to stand (as I found out AFTER I hit). I won but screwed over like three other people because of the cascading affect of my taking a card I shouldn’t have. If I’d been in Las Vegas at the time I’d have woken up in a dumpster with no wallet, hair, or memory of the intervening hours.

Nevertheless I was playing blackjack and since it wasn’t real money the dealer was able to give us strategy tips. I got into a situation where I wasn’t sure what to do so he says, “According to Hoyle, you should take a card here.” So I took a card and naturally busted.

Today I am out to get this “Hoyle.”

I saw a sign advertising a sale with the dollar sign as the S, so it wasn’t just a SALE, it was a $ALE. Involving dollars, and the saving of them, is the implication. This reminded me of a bizarre dream I had years ago. I entirely promise this will not be a boring dream story.

I was in some sort of lecture where the presenter insisted that the proper way to make a dollar sign was with two vertical lines through it rather than one. I don’t think the dream was long at all. That was the extent of it, I think. But what stuck with me was how powerfully the suggestion was made. The lecturer didn’t just prefer the double vertical line, he found the idea that anyone would use only one line to be genuinely repugnant. Not just that it was stylistically out of favor, but like it was a substantive breach of etiquette in civilized society. Propagating single-lined dollar signs was the worst sort of classless behavior. It was surely a sign of low breeding.

When I woke up I was all kinds of confused. I knew it was a dream, but did it come about because I read somewhere that two vertical lines were appropriate? Am I overlooking some important style rule whenever I omit the second line? Do others see my simple, single-lined dollar signs and inwardly scoff? (“Well! Guess who we won’t be inviting to the party now. Can you imagine this…person, and his offensive dollar signs?”) I can hardly quantify the utter, wretched disdain I got from this imaginary double-line advocate regarding single-line dollar signs. Imagine how you would feel if your neighbors, rather than collecting their trash and taking the bin to the curb, elected to just dump it onto your lawn. It’s the sort of derision I feel towards people who toss their cigarette butts out car windows.

With time and maturity, I think I resolved this issue internally and have come to believe that my dollar signs are not inferior. But it’s always been in the back of my mind. There will always be a tiny voice that is a bit scared when I write out a dollar sign. I just have to remember that ASCII is on my side:


Dearth of updates lately. Sorry, 7 readers and occasional strangers who accidentally find this site when Googling 1980s Denver Broncos. Been busy in general with various things that are either not blogworthy or are SECRETS.

*I will be able to reveal one secret project shortly, after an entry deadline passes in April, and I am assured of no internet thieves plundering it. Rest assured it is really, really nerdy.

*We have been busy planning various house projects. We’re doing a bathroom remodel soon, which has required a lot more thinking about sinks, tile, and faucets than I am normally accustomed. Our house has a pretty terrible bathroom filled with aquamarine nightmare deco and ancient fixtures (IT WAS LIKE THAT WHEN WE FOUND IT I SWEAR) and this update will generally improve our lives. We will also be getting some new fencing in the backyard, in preparation for…

*…a dog! Not sure when exactly we’ll get one, but it’s in the works. A fence is required first, and we have some traveling through the summer that we should get on the other side of, as well. We are having long heart-to-heart talks with the cats about FutureDog, and how it won’t ruin their lives and please don’t do things cats are known to do when something displeases them, like start peeing all over the house in protest.

*Baseball season starting! Checking…yes, I am still employed, which has many benefits, but one of them is definitely not the freedom to watch games all the time. But I am still excited. I have been extremely fond of this Seattle Mariners commercial. Oh also, man was this examination of Diamond Kings glorious. I’ll have to chat about these myself when I get some time for some non-baseball-context, because these deserve a much wider audience. Their fantastic-ness is by no means limited to dudes who were 12 in 1989 and liked baseball cards.

*Rainy weather and some busy-ness have conspired to prevent me from getting the telescope out for a while. March was a sort of quiet sky night anyway. Saturn will be coming up in April, so I’ll get back out there soon.

*Star Trek watch continues (uh, see most recent posts) but is slowing a bit right now as I am slogging through the third season. OH THAT was the reason this series got canceled. It’s really not that good, let’s face it. But I’m about halfway through it and will circle back around to season 1 and might pick up some steam.

*How is it even news that there will be an election in 2012? Why isn’t everyone just collectively saying, “Good lord, we let those Tea Partiers in and they went right after teachers and workers’ rights. What an outrage! Gosh we were stupid for trusting them. Lesson learned! We are now going to vote for progressive candidates before this country really goes to hell.” How is this not possible? The fact that it will not be an absolute landslide against those folks means that we are utterly doomed. Is there a country that has itself together as well as the Scandinavian nations, but where they eat less fish and it is warm? (I don’t care about the temperature so much, but K does. I am the one that cares about the fish thing.)

The Awl linked to this list of things that are 20 years old and things that are 40 years old. I was actually thinking about Nevermind the other day and realized that it was indeed 20 years old. Sheesh.

What got me here though was that it points out that the way I think of things from the early 70s, i.e., things that pre-date me by 5-10 years, is the way that high schoolers today think about Nevermind and things of that time. Some salient examples for me are Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or Dirty Harry. I like them. They don’t seem “old” per se, but they do have a certain 70s quality that makes them feel definitively older than me. By the time I was paying attention, movies didn’t really look like that anymore. Nevermind, by counterexample, is something that blew up when I was in 9th grade. I was fully and totally aware of it happening. So it will always seem modern to me.

But today’s 16-year-old thinks of Nevermind the way I think of Willy Wonka. Great, sure (at least they better think that, lousy kids), but old. Pop culture references to it seem as important to them as Animal House references do to me, which is to say, dated and irrelevant. Ouch. And it will only get worse, of course. It’s not that I’m feeling down about being old, although I’m getting more and more aware of time passing. I distinctly remember when my Mom went to her 20 year high school reunion. My sister and I were I guess like 11 and 13, respectively. Seemed like something that adults went to, and I would never get there, or it would just seem so different. Well, my 20-year reunion will be in four years. (Not that I’m going, but still.) (And that’s another thing. When I was in high school, I absolutely would have thought I was going to go to future reunions.)

Man, yesterday’s post was boring. How can I talk for that long about this telescope and have it be that boring? (He asks, knowing full well what the answer is.)

So here’s something. I was thinking about a ’50s sci-fi/monster movie centered around the concept of the “bejeesus.” The setup is that the main character, as a child, literally gets the bejeesus scared out of him, so he has to spend the rest of his life without it. Only legend has it that once it’s gone, if you’re scared that badly again, you die. So the bejeesus is like an extra guy, and you can get damaged that one time, but then that’s it. Of course this poor dude keeps getting into tense situations.

And now, there’s a murderer on the loose…

ONE: online commenters.

Often when I read a story online, particularly on a site with a known rabble of unbelievably horrible commenters, like, let’s say Yahoo, I sort of accidentally drift into the comments area without really thinking about it.  I certainly don’t think: “Hmm, that was an interesting story.  I wonder what a gigantic anonymous horde of semi-sentient trolls have to say about that?”  I just kind of keep reading, as if the story was continuing, and I’m in a bit of a passive reading trance.  Of course, things go from professional writing to barely-literate cave scrawl, usually in all caps and laced with profanity, so it’s not like I don’t notice.  But it takes a few comments to snap out of my reading trance, as the overwhelming depressing horror of them all pounds me back into active thinking.  By then it’s too late, of course, as I’ve just read something so profoundly stupid I barely want to live anymore.  I liken this to coming to the realization that the room you’re in has been slowly filling with poison gas.  By the time you realize what’s happened, the damage has been done.

TWO: food processors.

Cooking without having a food processor is like going into battle without a weapon. You won’t necessarily die but it sure won’t be easy to win. Even the most basic $20 Black and Decker thing you can get at Target is at least like having a slingshot.  In this analogy my new KitchenAid 700 watt 12-cup food-chopping monster is like having a helicopter, equipped with a rocket launcher, that is invisible to other humans.