It Didn’t Have To End This Way

Unless you’ve been living on Mars, under a rock, with your fingers in your ears, you probably know the US has a new president. While I, for one, am extremely happy about that, there are millions out there who are less than pleased and hundreds of thousands who feel like they just got punched in the gut. The millions are the regular Republican voters who like conservative ideals. While I disagree with them, I don’t bode them any ill will. The hundreds of thousands are a somewhat different story. And there’s one person to blame for it all.

QAnon, those lovable conspiracy theorists, who believed the country was run by Satan-worshiping cannibal pedophiles suddenly found themselves on the wrong end of a stick Wednesday morning at about 12n eastern time. Yes, that is the moment Joe Biden became the current president of the United States. While many of the QAnon adherents probably have philosophical differences about the role of government, taxation levels, immigration and so-on, their underlying fever for revolution was primarily built on Q’s message that before Biden could be sworn in, the military would swoop in, arrest the Satan-worshiping cannibal pedos and usher in a new age of peace and prosperity.

As the minutes ticked down to zero hour, they got more agitated. Jittery with need. Where was the revolution they were promised? What was going on? Why was Trump on a plane to Florida when he was supposed to be lurking in the DC shadows managing the Storm?

Noon came. Biden got sworn in. The Storm never materialized. And the ranks of QAnon were thrown into chaos.

Now, I was never a Q adherent; the whole thing seemed far too silly for my tastes. Cannibals and pedophiles? Satan-worshiping. It all seemed a little too desperate for my tastes, like over-talking the villain in a bad novel. “He hates freedom. He wants to enslave you. He worships evil. And, and, and, he also eats babies and wants to ban any kind of fun whatsoever. And he hates dogs and kittens.” But to the QAnons, it was all real and they believed with the fervency of the devout. And it had to come as a gut punch when Biden got sworn in and none of what they believed came to pass. It would be liking coming home early one day and finding Jesus banging your wife. Or husband. Whatever. Ugly scene no matter who’s involved in it.

Through it all, the QAnons had stuck to their guns. They lost friends, they lost family, and in some cases – like the riot at the capitol – they lost their freedom. Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if there were suicides coming down the pipe. Yes, it’s that bad.

But it didn’t have to be that way. The one person the whole thing revolved around, the one guy who knew with absolute certainty it was all bullshit, could have ended the madness before it left a trail of broken lives in its wake. All it would have taken was for Donald J. Trump to say, “Sorry, none of this QAnon stuff is true.”

The fact that he didn’t speaks volumes about just how much he cares about his most devoted followers.

This Symbol Does Not Belong To You

Last year, Nike planned on introducing their Betsy Ross shoes. They were basically a variety of fancy red, white, and blue sneakers with the original Betsy Ross flag on them. Kind of cool idea; the sneakerheads dug them. Since they were Nikes, they were probably going to cost a small fortune, but be good shoes. That came to halt because of, among other things, a comment from Colin Kaepernick about the unintentional message of slavery and racial divisions that had become linked to that original flag.

Kool in an “I need orthopedic shoes” kind of way.

Now, I won’t debate Kaepernick on that. He’s probably got a lot more first-hand experience with racism than I ever will. Being a white guy in America, the closest I ever came to being on the receiving end of racism was when a truck was backing up and someone said, “Better move, white boy.”

That was it.

So, for me to say I have some in-depth understanding of racial division in America after one off-handed comment would be a lie. That’s why I’m happy to listen to the guy who found a way to protest systematic racism in this country in a peaceful and respectful way and lost his career over it.

There’s been a growing movement in this country for racist fuck-wads to adopt traditional American symbols – such as our flag – and claim they’re the only ones entitled to it. To claim they’re the only “real Americans”. But, the country was supposedly founded on freedom and equality and, in my mind, that means knocking other people down to feel better about yourself is anathema to being an American.

And that’s a problem because at the end of the day, we’re all Americans and you don’t get to point at someone and say, “You’re not American enough”. And, yes, I am fully aware that right now I am pointing at people and saying, “You’re not American enough”. The difference is, I’m not pointing at people because of the color of their skin or their sexual preferences or what religion they belong to. I’m pointing at all the motherfuckers that have managed to turn the flag of my country into a manifesto of white nationalism. I’m pointing at every dipshit who thinks only people in his or her party love the country. Yes, I’m pointing my finger straight between your beady little eyes and reminding you that I’m a liberal and I was proud of my country before every two-bit, knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing pieces of double-smoked butt-jerky decided it was theirs.

So, no. You assholes don’t get to keep the flag. That flag belongs to everyone in this country whether you like them or not. And I think it’s time we took it back from the bastards who want to keep it from us.

Maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to remember what our country is supposed to stand for and be able to wear its symbols without giving handouts to the Nazi swine. We’re not a perfect country and we have a long way to go before we get the “Liberty and justice for all” part of our nation’s story. Until then, I’m going to at least rip that flag out of the hands of the ones who’d use it to beat the rest of us down.

All Your Data Are Belong To Us

My dad, before he died, was a market analyst in the semiconductor industry. His job, as he put it, was to “take information from companies, analyze it, and sell it back to them in a different format”. He was really good at his job because he had a solid understanding that data had value and that, like polishing a diamond, knowing how to polish that data could make it more valuable.

Here’s a quick factoid for you: Facebook’s worth – at least of October 2017 – was around $500 billion. That’s half a trillion dollars. Not bad for a company that gives its services away, right?

Well, that’s the rub, now isn’t it? Recent events, like the Cambridge Analytica scandal, should show us that Facebook isn’t exactly giving its services away to its user base. Not that they ever claimed to doing that. I find it amusing that now, in the midst of that scandal, that people are losing their shit over Facebook not protecting their personal data. The real problem is Facebook has never protected personal data. They’re in the business of collecting and selling data on a massive scale. In return for a platform for sharing cat pictures and political screeds, Facebook collects as much information about you as possible and sells it to whoever wants it. Ever posted something about your dishwasher dying only to see ads for dishwashers the next time you log in? Post a picture of your dream car and suddenly you’re getting ads for Mercedes Benz? Or Yugo. You know, whatever floats your goat.

Not your dad’s Yugo.

Like most social media sites, Facebook is nothing more than a fancy data collector and redistributor. Normally, companies have to fight tooth and nail to get information about what floats your goat. That kind of data is priceless, especially if you’ve got a platform you can use to deliver targeted advertising at the right time. Everyone on Facebook (yes, me included) gives that information away freely in exchange for more time with cat pictures and political screeds.

Is it an equitable exchange? Depends on what you’re doing. I don’t tend to post much personal information on there, so free access to cat pictures, friends, and the occasional political screed – er, heated political discussion – is worth it to me.

Still angry? Kill another bunny slipper, pal.

So, how does all this happen? Is Facebook actively giving your information to anyone that asks for it? Yes and no. They’ve something like over 2 billion users, so it’s not like Tide is going to ask for all the people who are likely to eat colored pods and Facebook is going to run a query and hand it over for few bucks. Facebook, like Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and all the rest, are services, not websites. Wait! How can that be? You use a web browser to access it, right? So it must be a website.

Back up, Sparky. Yes, most people access Facebook with a web browser, but that doesn’t mean it’s a website. It acts like a website, but you can also access Facebook with an app on your phone, a program on your desktop, or any other number of ways. Most of those programs render out the whole site for you because that’s what people want to see. Never mind the fact that Facebook is nothing more than a tarted-up group from back in the Usenet days, it’s the pictures and cool stuff that we really want to interact with. As users, we don’t care about the data. Unless you’re stalking someone, you probably don’t care that they live in Schenectady, love Nissans, and work for an advertising firm. You just want to see what people are posting. If you are stalking someone, stop it. That’s not cool.

Advertisers, on the other hand, don’t care about the cat pictures, but the political screeds and personal information are a goldmine to them. In addition to the random things we all post each and every day, the very metadata about you as a person is invaluable. Let’s say I run VHS to DVD shop in Clovis, NM and want to figure out how many people in the surrounding area could use my services. I could use your metadata about where you live and a scrape of your posts to target advertising to the right people (both of them) that might use my business. From there, I can decide to buy targeted ads on Facebook that promote my service to the right people.

So far, there’s nothing too terrible to see there. You share information, Facebook sells it, advertisers use it, you get your copy of Night of the Comet copied to a DVD. Everyone winds up happy.

Except Zuck. He doesn’t look too happy, but two days in front of Congress will do that to you.

The downside happens when unscrupulous groups use less-than-savory custom-built apps that exploit holes in Facebook’s API security to push misinformation or flat-out lies to people for the purposes of nudging us in a direction. That was the whole goal of various Russian data centers during the last election (and probably continuing to this day). And make no mistake, a nudge in certain direction is far more effective than a shove when it comes to getting people to do what you want them to. Now imagine doing that on a massive scale, say in the billions of users. Imagine what you could do with that kind of power.

That’s the why. The how is surprisingly simple. Remember, Facebook is really nothing more than a service. That means it can be accessed from a variety of different clients. That’s where the malicious apps come into play. Beyond creating a data scraper that exploits Facebook’s API, you could also make a Facebook app that looks like a regular game, but asks for certain kinds of information. If the game looks good enough, people will happily tell the game their names, birthdates, places of residence, political leanings, religious leanings, and everything else a data aggregator could possibly want. Just like with legitimate advertisers, someone who wants to nudge you in a direction can take that information and build on it, pushing you stories that reinforce a belief they want you to have. The next thing you know, something that was “meh” last week is the most important thing in the world to you.

And all it takes is enough people analyzing data you freely handed out and enough people pushing the message to make it a thing.

So, rather than getting pissed at Facebook for selling your data – they’ve never been opaque about that – think about what you’re sharing before you share it. Information is power. It’s a bullet, and if you aim it correctly you can blow the kneecaps off the world.

Definitely have fun with Facebook, that’s what it’s there for. But be wary of what you share because all the information is out there and available for a price. The same goes for any social media site (or, you know, blog site). We’re long past the industrial revolution and the computer revolution. The new model of currency is data and it’s very big business. If you don’t want your data polished and sold back to you, don’t give it out.

WATWB – Your Monthly Shot Of News That Doesn’t Suck

If you’ve been keeping up with current events, you’ll know the odious FCC Chairman Ajit Pai recently decided to punch freedom in the teeth when he shut down Net Neutrality nationwide in the interest of getting more bribes deregulating things to make it safer for companies to make more money. To keep it light and fun, he referred to it as his “Restoring Internet Freedom” initiative.

It should also be noted that the idea of Net Neutrality was hugely popular with everyone except service providers.

For those not familiar with Net Neutrality, it deals with the idea that all network traffic on the Internet should be treated equally. Think of it as a kind of social equality for TCP/IP packets. In a net neutral world, it doesn’t matter what kind of underlying data structure you’ve got, where it came from, or how many packets are going to the same place, they all get full speed for the brief time between when they leave the server and hit your device. That means packets coming from Netflix get the same treatment as packets coming from the White House.

By striking down Net Neutrality in the guise of freedom, the FCC has allowed service providers to treat each packet differently. For instance, your HBO Go packets could be throttled just when Game Of Thrones starts up because HBO forgot to bribe their ISP upgrade their account. Got a website that generates a lot of traffic, but pisses off a lot of people (I’m looking at you, 4Chan), your packets might not make it to where they need to go. Hey, sorry, these things happen.

In other words, the FCC just handed full control of your Internet content and speed over to a bunch of corporations who have never shown any interest in wielding that kind of power responsibly. To make things even more fun, Ajit and his network thugs also wrote a provision into the ruling that said states cannot implement their own version of Net Neutrality because reasons.

Fortunately, not all of the states in the Union bought into that. Montana’s governor, Steve Bullock, signed an executive order that any ISPs with state contracts need to abide by Net Neutrality rules if they want to keep their contracts. Sure, it’s a bit heavy-handed, but so was the FCC’s flimsy justification for handing the keys to the Internet kingdom over to the service providers.

Now, there’s no guarantee Montana’s executive order will stand, especially in the face of the rule the FCC handed down that said states can’t do that, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Way to go, Montana

We Are The World Blogfest is a collection of bloggers who take one day a month to drop a little good news on the world. This month’s hosts are:

Shilpa Garg, Simon Falk, Lynn Hallbrooks, Eric Lahti, Damyanti Biswas and Guilie Castillo.

So go check out their blogs and see what’s shaking all over the world.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.


1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To signup, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

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Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

And now, your moment of Zen.

Nazi Swine

I learned something interesting a few days. There’s an old phrase that anyone who ever watched Bugs Bunny cartoons has probably heard: “Them’s fightin’ words.” It was one of the irascible Yosemite Sam’s lines, if I recall correctly.


Don’t criticize the quality. That would be fightin’ words.

Over the years, the phrase has been attributed to and used by many a rapscallion, roughneck, and tough guy, usually as an excuse to kick someone’s ass and over time it’s become more and more of a joke.

“I don’t like the beer in this joint.”

“Stranger, them’s fightin’ words.”

Yes, there are people who will get into a fight over beer. There are also people who will get into a fight over almost anything and using the adage “Them’s fightin’ words” gives them a flimsy moral excuse. After all, I just warned you of a fight and gave you a chance to back down gracefully after you told me canned salsa was better than homemade or Alien’s Imperial Stout was better than Marble‘s Imperial Stout. (They’re actually both pretty good.)

What I learned today was “Them’s fightin’ words” is actually a thing from a quasi-legal perspective.

Let’s back up for a moment, though. I can’t speak to the laws of other countries, but in the United States we hold Freedom of Speech as sacrosanct, even if most people don’t completely understand that the 1st Amendment to the Constitution only refers to freedom of speech in terms of what laws Congress can make. In other words, if you get kicked out of a Target for screeching Bible verses at other patrons, it’s not a 1st Amendment issue since Target is a private entity and not Congress. Target has every right to kick you out of the store if you’re being an offensive jackass.

That said, there are still laws on the books that are designed to protect freedom of speech and we in the States tend to take it pretty seriously. There are certainly people out there looking to block people from saying things they don’t like (Evangelicals and hippies come to mind), but most of us hear something we don’t like and, if it’s harmless, just roll our eyes and move on.

As a for instance, this truck is protected speech. Also, ladies, I’m pretty sure this guy is available.


Class act.

The kicker here is the idea of harmless. A big black truck promising to give you the D later is tacky, but pretty harmless in the global scheme of things. It’s the kind of thing that might make you roll your eyes, but won’t cause any long term damage. It may be offensive, but being offended never killed anyone.

Now, to get to the point and explain the headline. Earlier today a group of people tracked down a guy wearing a swastika armband. Words were exchanged and the Nazi wound up getting knocked out with a single punch. Had the guy just been strutting around with a Nazi armband and leaving everyone alone, I’d be less inclined to agree with decking him, but apparently he’d also been tossing racist epithets, harassing, and threatening people, too.

And that is where “Them’s fightin’ words” comes into play. Wearing a swastika armband is offensive, but ultimately harmless. As soon as threats come into play – immediate ones, not “in the future, maybe” kinds of vague speech – that’s a whole new ballgame and now you’ve gone well beyond protected speech.

And that, friends, means when you get knocked out, you pretty much brought it on yourself.

If you’re wandering around town in a Nazi armband, you’re offending the millions that died at their hands or died trying to wipe Nazi filth off the planet, but you’re not technically breaking any laws. Don’t expect people to love you for it, but you should be safe. If, however, you’re wearing a swastika armband and causing an immediate threat, don’t be surprised when someone busts your ass.

If you’re into Nazis getting knocked out, check out the YouTube video.

Further reading on Fighting Words


First Amendment Center

Cornell Law School (just a definition)


Spin Cycle

Several years ago, while I was still a young punk learning the dark arts of persuasion and rhetoric, I asked one my professors what propaganda was. He hemmed and hawed a bit, but finally came down to “a type of persuasion that provides a ready-made answer.” Or words to that effect. To be fair, this was a long time ago.

Propaganda, as it’s commonly defined these days, falls into a few major categories:

  • Information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.
  • The deliberate spreading of such information, rumors, etc.

There’s also the Roman Catholic version that pertains to the training and oversight of foreign missions, but that’s not what most people think about when they hear propaganda, and the Catholics are using the traditional Latin meaning of propaganda – to propagate – rather than the political meaning of the word.

There’s an old joke: How do you know when a politician is lying? His lips are moving.

It’s funny that we expect our politicians will lie to us, yet we are constantly surprised when they do. Of course, most of them will gleefully tell you they didn’t lie, you only misunderstood the totality of the events that lead to what you see as a lie. In the long run, it wasn’t that they lied, they were simply victims of circumstances that went beyond their control. And, besides, those other guys did it first, so it’s totally okay.

I’ve got a long and undying love of propaganda posters. The above is a great example of simple propaganda. The ape, with his fangs bared and holding a bloody stick in one hand and a swooning maiden (possibly representing Liberty) in the other tells us a lot about how the artist (Harry Ryle Hopps, c.1917) wanted the viewer to see the Germans. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and this one doesn’t have a single kind one to say about the Germans during WWI. Of course, it’s a poster that’s aiming to get people to join the Army and you don’t win a war by humanizing the enemy.

Posters like this fall perfectly into propaganda because they give us a pre-built answer about to expect from Germans; they’re brutish thugs set on crushing skulls and stealing our women. It promotes information and ideas about an entire nation that are not completely accurate. As an aside, because of images like this a lot of German-Americans suffered discrimination and beatings during WWI. Probably WWII, too.

But this is a long-term propaganda project. WWI ran from 1914 to 1918, with the U.S. being involved only in the very last part. Support for the war in United States was meager at best and it took a lot of propaganda to build up stateside interest in a war on the other side of the ocean.

In the information age, things happen very quickly. While there’s still plenty of time to ratchet up a good long-term propaganda campaign, scandals and events happen and are discovered almost instantaneously. Traditional propaganda doesn’t work in instantaneous timelines. Think about Mitt Romney’s comment about 47% of the population not voting for him because they pay no taxes or Hillary Clinton’s remark about baskets full of deplorables. These are immediate scandals and shooting out some posters or long-term propaganda efforts won’t work.

This is where propaganda twirls madly off into our good friend spin. Think of spin as propaganda light; same great taste, but it applies to more immediate concerns. Whereas a propaganda campaign may be a long-running task, spin happens in the here and now.

The Trump campaign’s response to Clinton’s comment about a basket of deplorables with immediate and predictable spin. “She thinks she’s better than you!” “This shows just how much Hillary Clinton hates real Americans.” On and on and on.

And you know what? Clinton made a huge mistake with that line. She’s a career politician and should have seen the response to her comment coming a mile away. Just like Romney should have seen the response to his 47% comment coming a mile away.

Argumentation requires a clash of ideas. I say X. You say X goes to far. I retort that your plan, Y, doesn’t go too far enough. That sort of thing is what discourse is supposed to be made of. Propaganda ignores the clash of ideas because it quashes them entirely. Spin ignores the clash of ideas of by completely ignoring the argument in the first place and spinning off into someplace else entirely. Take, for instance, Clinton’s comment about the basket of deplorables:

“I know there are only 60 days left to make our case — and don’t get complacent, don’t see the latest outrageous, offensive, inappropriate comment and think, well, he’s done this time. We are living in a volatile political environment. You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people — now 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.”

“But the other basket — and I know this because I see friends from all over America here — I see friends from Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Texas — as well as, you know, New York and California — but that other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”

Hillary Clinton – 2016

The spin came from focusing exclusively on part of her statement and completely ignoring the rest of the argument. Were some of Trump’s supporters sexist, racist, xenophobic jackasses? Sure. Was it half? I don’t know. I work with plenty of Trump supporters and plenty of people who fall into the second basket – the folks who held their noses and voted. They’re all decent people who didn’t think Clinton would do a good job.

The spin – saying Clinton’s comment showed her contempt for everyday Americans – ignored the entire second paragraph. It was the rhetorical version of saying so’s your face. And guess what? It worked.

It worked because we don’t want argumentation. We want immediate, crushing, bumper-sticker logic that we don’t have to think about. We don’t want “Four score and seven years ago”, we want “Hillary for Prison 2016” because that’s easier to digest.

This is primarily a writing blog, so you may be asking yourself exactly what political spin has to do with writing. Hunter S. Thompson could probably tell you why it’s important, but he was a political writer. In the world of fiction, understanding spin gives you a great way for characters to rationalize their behavior, even at the macro level.

Think about this way: if spin works well enough to determine international politics, it should work quite nicely with fictional characters and plots. If you’re writing fiction, you can use spin and propaganda techniques to your advantage.

There are always motivations in story-telling. Why does a character do something? Why does the villain do such heinous things? The cool thing about using propaganda and spin techniques in writing is you don’t have to feel like you need a shower when you’re done. Unlike the real world, using those skills in fiction only impacts made-up characters and places, so your karma will still be free of taint.

For instance: I’m currently working on Greetings From Sunny Aluna. It’s essentially a fantasy novel with drugs, religion, and real-world implications in a place where magic and mythology collide. Gutter fantasy, if you will. Very bad things are happening and the baddies need reasons to do those things and justify their actions to themselves. Even the good guys do less-than-savory things. They use propaganda and spin techniques to sell their actions to themselves and the other characters. Henchmen was basically one big propaganda and spin job with guns and cheeseburgers, but it was a pretty political novel to begin with.

Besides, if you want to see how propaganda and spin can be used effectively in story, just ask this guy.

Write Your Own Conspiracy Theory

When I was working on my Master’s Degree, everyone in the MA (yes, I got a Master of Arts in Speech Communication – go figure) program had to go through grad-level statistics. Ostensibly, this was to teach us how to have valid experimental work and give us a better understanding in general of how statistics works. It was actually a good class and I’m glad I took it, even if the only real stats work I did was running a chi square test and some basic validity and reliability tests on my thesis. What I actually took away from the class was how easy it is to manipulate people with numbers. 60% of the time it works 90% of the time. 79% of people know that.

Since my degree – even though it was in Speech Comm – focused on rhetoric and persuasion, I’ve had a sick fascination with the ways people can be manipulated. Naturally, this last election cycle was like being on a several month long bender of lies and distortions. U.S. Presidential elections are usually like that, though. They’re like that crazy chick you know you should stay away from, but you still find yourself waking up in her bedroom and wondering what happened to your clothes and where you got the crazy idea to pierce various places.


Shocked owl is shocked.

Just to get this out of the way, the election is over and this post isn’t directly about the election, anyway. What this is about, is all the paranoid ramblings that come up every election cycle. Since I’m a writer, I thought it would be fun to write a conspiracy theory and step y’all through the process of manipulating people for fun and profit.

Conspiracy theories are inherently interesting to us as humans. It’s easier to believe aliens built the pyramids than it is to understand a whole lot of people can accomplish something amazing when they set their minds to it. Just like with fake news stories (which are a form of conspiracy theories in that they exploit our base predilections) the trick with any good conspiracy theory is to take advantage the small truth and expand it in all kinds of exciting ways. We’re going to start with two small (probable) truths:

  • Self-driving cars will be a reality in about ten years
  • Insurance companies will offer higher rates for people who insist on driving themselves

I don’t have any concrete evidence for this, but the beauty of a good conspiracy theory is it doesn’t require much evidence. Actually, less evidence is better because it’s hard to refute nothingness. All you really need to do is work with something people already “know”.


Meet your new car. The high-end ’82 Firebird turned a jaw-dropping 165 bhp from a V8 engine.

Now we’re going to throw some techno-babble at it to make it all sound scientific. Self-driving cars rely on GPS navigation and advanced near-AI computers. Don’t go overboard with the tech stuff or people will ignore it. Add a major corporation and a touch of heath care and you’ve got the makings of a great conspiracy theory.

To finalize the conspiracy theory all you need to do is add a bit of paranoid ramblings that sound truthy. Truthiness is important. A conspiracy theory plays on people’s inherent pre-judgements about the world around them. Again, take something everyone already “knows” is true. This is what separates a conspiracy theory from propaganda. Propaganda seeks to create the “truth”, conspiracy theories exploit that “truth”.  For our conspiracy theory we’re going to play on Americans’ inherent mistrust of government and large corporations. That’s actually one of the things that brings us together as a country: distrusting the people that run the joint and pay the bills.


Knows a little too much about truthiness, if you know what I mean.

Put it all together and you get something like:

Self-driving cars are almost a reality. Google’s almost got one ready to deploy and you or your kids will probably be able to buy it. Guess what! You’ll also get a discount on your car insurance if you let the car drive itself because that’s how good Google is at this kind of thing and they’ve cut a deal with automotive insurance companies. Google’s actually creating an artificial intelligence to make it all work!

Think that’s a great idea? Think again.

Google is the same company that helped design the Great Firewall of China that blocked Chinese citizens from learning what their government is up to. And they did it at the behest of the State Department! It doesn’t take a genius to think they can do the same thing here in the United States. They’re also masters at working with GPS. Ever looked up your house on Google Maps? They’ve got pictures of your front door. They know where your phone is, too! Now, at the behest of the United States government, Google is going to be able to track your car and see everywhere you go! If you decide you’re going to McDonald’s, Google will know and they’ll tell the government. Since the government runs healthcare now, your health insurance rates will go up because you wanted a Big Mac and someone decided that’s unhealthy!

We’re through the looking glass here, folks. The future is now and it’s just like Orwell predicted: a boot on your throat forever. When self-driving cars debut, do yourself a favor and DON’T BUY ONE!

See how easy that was? Unfortunately, a lot of news these days follows the same kinds of formula. Find something interesting that are already twitchy about, extract it to a logical-sounding conclusion. Next time you read something that sounds too good to be true (Obama founded ISIS!), do yourself a favor and do some digging, especially if it smells conspiratorial. Just like with statistics, it’s possible to “prove” almost anything. Unlike statistics, a conspiracy theory or a fake news story doesn’t require much in the way of truth, it just has to sound true.

Remember, perception is reality.

Obligatory Election Year Blog Post

Ever stop to wonder exactly how the media can shape an election, intentionally or unintentionally? It’s remarkably simple: the best politicians know how to use the media to their own ends.

In January of 2004, I was in a hotel room in Bend, Oregon watching the Iowa Democratic caucuses on the TV and eating Mongolian stir-fry. Anyone familiar with the 2004 Iowa Democratic Caucus will immediately realize I was about to see an interesting sideline to US political history take place live and in color.

Remember this guy?



His name is Howard Dean and, at the time, he was considered one of the big movers and shakers in the upcoming Presidential election. I watched his speech at the caucus, primarily because I was curious about the guy people were calling a Rockefeller Republican (socially liberal, but fiscally conservative – it is actually a thing) and a guy who was so adamantly opposed to the ongoing war in Iraq.

So, he gets up and delivers his speech and God damn was that guy excited. Most candidates act like they’re excited, but Dean really was into it. He was having the time of his life and you could tell he actually believed in what he was saying.

And then, while I was munching on something unidentifiable, but fairly tasty, he threw out that scream that everyone has made fun of for over twelve years now. At the time, I remember thinking, “Damn. He’s genuinely excited.” He had some good ideas and I was leaning toward issuing my relatively worthless vote for him in the New Mexico primary. NOTE: NM votes really late in the primaries. Usually, by the time we get to vote, the primaries are pretty much decided.

So, I was feeling kind of proud of myself and generally happy that the Democrats might field someone who could take on Bush. I watched the rest, including the lackluster speeches from Kerry and Edwards, and even watched some of the final media interviews. And when Dean got a chance to talk to the media, my heart sank. One of the first things I remember him saying was something to the effect of “You guys in the media have been pretty mean.”

Right then and there, I knew his campaign was over. You never let the media smell blood in the water. No matter they say, you rise above it or ignore it. You can scream and yell about what jerks they are when you’re in private, but when you’re actually being interviewed, you never let them know they’ve gotten to you.

My guess was right; Howard Dean did not get the 2004 Democratic nomination. That went to this guy:


Whoops, wrong pic.


(Sorry, Mr. Kerry, you’re supposedly a great guy, I just couldn’t resist tossing a little joke in here.)

Howard Dean’s failed performance in the primaries was largely chalked up to that famous scream. It was the talk of the media for months. Someone even made a Howard Dean sound board so you could sit at your computer and listen to Howard Dean scream. Dean himself admitted it wasn’t the classiest move he could have made. But I have a different theory about why he got pummeled in the media and that was because he let them know they got to him.

Well, that and the Democrats wanted someone statesmanlike to take on the young, folksy twang of George W. Bush. Personally, I don’t think the DNC was ever behind Dean; he was too different from them. I don’t think they were behind Edwards, either, though. Kerry, while not the most exciting person to listen to, was experienced and brought an older, wiser feeling to the election and that’s what the DNC figured would win.

Until John Kerry got Swiftboated and Waffle-Housed and his whole campaign sank like the freaking Titanic because he couldn’t control the onslaught.

Flash forward twelve years and we some similar themes, albeit with different results. This time around, instead of Kerry vs. Bush, we’ve got Clinton vs. Trump and, damn, has this one gotten crazy. As of right now, one of the first things I look for when I read the news every morning is “what batshit insane thing did Trump say today?”


More power? Thumbs up from me!


I can kill a puppy on live TV and my people will still love me.

Ah, there we go. Second Amendment folks can take care of the Hillary problem. That’s better than any cup of coffee for waking you up in the morning.

Nutty as this election cycle has been, it’s interesting to see some parallels with different results from the ’04 election. Dean went after the media early on and folded like a bad poker player when they went after him. Trump, on the other hand, went on the offensive. The extremely offensive, some (including Megyn Kelly) would say.

And that’s what’s really interesting. Trump – who has zero political experience, almost no filters, no real grasp of international politics, and is willing to go on the warpath over the slightest thing – is an absolute master of the media. They love to hate him and they love to repeat whatever insane thing he recently said. He could walk on stage and fart for 45 minutes and there would be an endless series of articles about “Trump’s Fart: What Did It Mean?”

And, amazingly, his followers would inhale that fart and claim it was the last breath of Freedom or some damned thing.

It’s easy to forget that Howard Dean had followers before the media destroyed him. He was, in some ways, an Internet sensation. Sure, he wasn’t in Trump’s league when it came to minions, but he was hardly unknown and unloved. The main difference, other than the fact that Dean had policies that didn’t involve building a wall around Mexico and filling it with water, was that Dean couldn’t manipulate the media like Trump can so a lot of people never figured out what Dean was really up to.

On the other hand, everyone knows exactly what Trump wants to do and they’re still in love with him. Which just goes to show there’s really no such thing as bad publicity. He can keep whining about the election being rigged (it’s not) or the way the Republican party is mistreating him (they are, but for very good reasons) and the media will dutifully report on how atrocious a person he is, his minions will continue to lick it up, and it won’t make a damned bit of difference come November.

What I find interesting about the media and Trump is how they’re doing his bidding without even realizing it. Every time they print a piece about Trump’s craziness and how terrible it is, he wins whatever sick little game he’s playing. And he’s doing it by just being himself.

Hillary Clinton, in her own way, is using the media to her advantage, too. All she has to do is shut up and let Trump talk. He’s already got his followers and is unlikely to gain or lose more over the next few months, but Hillary is busily picking off the disgusted Republicans and her lead will continue to grow.

And that’s how the media is influencing this election. Dean capitulated when the media spanked him. Trump is busily spanking the media back and giving them enough fodder to keep his name at the top of the headlines. Hillary, on the other hand, is doing her best to ignore the worst the media can throw at her. Three different ways of manipulating the message and the media.

Learning to the use the media is the first thing every politician needs to master. Trump gets it, even if his messages aren’t always (or ever) positive. Hillary knows when to keep her head down and when to rise up. Dean completely misunderstood how to deal with the media.

In the end, we’ll find out on the second Tuesday in November who did the best job of using the media.

Check out Howard Dean’s scream here

Rhetoric and Kim Davis

In case you’ve been living on Mars, in a cave, with your fingers in your ears, you’ve likely heard of Kim Davis.  She’s the Rowan County Clerk who has invited national (and possibly international) attention by refusing to issue marriage certificates to homosexual couples – and has apparently forbidden the rest of the clerks in her office from issuing them well.  Kim has ignored United States law by refusing to issue marriage certificates and today found herself locked up for contempt of court for ignoring multiple orders for her to issue marriage certificates.

In other words, to do her job.

Now, that’s not really what this post is about.  Her past has been beaten to death in the media over the past couple weeks and she’s got ardent supporters and people who want to see her dead.  All that’s been bandied about by everyone and their dog recently.

What interests me is a tiny little thought that pinged through my head this evening that makes me wonder if Kim hasn’t backed herself into a corner unwittingly.  Her original argument for not issuing – or allowing her office to issue – marriage certificates to homosexual couples sprung her religious conviction that marriage was supposed to be between a man and a woman.  She’s dug her heels in on this one and is refusing to budge.  I know from experience that it’s impossible to debate religion.  By it’s very nature of proclaiming to know everything, religion cannot budge on any issue lest it be seen as less than perfect.

Had Kim simply stood up and said, “I cannot, in good conscience, issue marriage certificates to homosexual couples because it violates my faith.  I am therefore stepping down from my position,” I would have felt sorry for her but also applauded her courage to her convictions.  After all, no one said living a Godly life would be easy and sometimes you have to walk away from things that you just can’t do.  I wouldn’t have agreed with her, but I would have appreciated her conviction.  Conviction is a rare thing these days.

Some people would probably ask how I can question her conviction when she’s in jail for refusing to do something she disagrees with.  To those people I would remind them that Kim Davis stopped issuing all marriage certificates because “she didn’t want to appear biased.”  That statement undermines everything in one fell swoop.  If she was truly convinced she was correct, she would have refused to issue marriage certificates only to homosexual couples on religious grounds and not cared a whit whether people saw her as biased.  After all, God supposedly has her back on this one, so all the courts and all the public opinion shouldn’t matter a bit.

She could have stood up, held her head up high, and pointed to whatever part of the Bible people use to prove these things.  By refusing to issue all marriage certificates Kim Davis has undermined her own soap box.

The fact that she’s refusing to issue any marriage certificates at all smacks of desperate desire to bury the evidence, to pretend she’s not really a bad person.  This leaves me with a couple possible suppositions based on her behavior.

  • She’s didn’t seriously expect this to be a big deal and now she’s stuck
  • She’s just trying to get attention

Neither of those are really good reasons to do what she’s doing.

Personally, I wish she (and everyone else) would just get over it and start treating everyone equally.  Failing that, she should step down and find a job that doesn’t challenge her beliefs so much.

I guess the plus side is the rest of the clerks in the office decided to go ahead and issue certificates starting tomorrow.

A Day to Remember


A happy shout-out to everyone who can now legally get married.  Today is a great day!

Just as an aside, my marriage to my wife seems to be holding steady, despite all the rhetoric surrounding Gay Marriage undermining traditional marriage.

Now, go throw a party or something.  You’ve earned it!