A 200 Year Plan for Bears

(Quick editor’s note: I’ve cancelled the Annoying Character March Madness tournament due to lack of interest)

So, today I’m going to write about an old idea of mine.

Bears are great.

They’re mostly endangered.

We have a long history of bestowing enormous genetic success on other living things that please us. Being loved by humans is much, much, much more effective than traditional conservation.

We kind of love bears, but we don’t get enough of them, because we have almost no way to interact with real bears. What we really love is an idealized, unthreatening form of bear.

We’re love the idea of the teddy bear, the tame bear. The domesticated bear.

Rest in peace, Knut

Mankind has had slow domestication for tens of thousands of years. But recently, we’ve developed the organizational prowess to practice much more rapid domestication [1].

Not a bear

Here’s what I think we should do: We should set aside a very large tract of wilderness as an enormous bear preserve.

We should populate it with as many bears as is safely possible (for the land, and for the bears themselves). We might start with the smaller black bears and sun bears.

Sorry, guy

We should take care of these bears, at first from a distance. But, each generation, we should select the smallest and most docile bears, and take much more personal care of these.

Handlers should raise these bears alongside humans, and breed them for neotenous characteristics.

Oh, right, neoteny. Neoteny is a term from biology, and means the retention of juvenile characteristics in adulthood. Grown dogs resemble wolf puppies. Grown humans resemble chimpanzee babies. We are both examples of neotenous evolution.

What if this were the end stage for domesticated bears?


I think that on a two hundred year time line, we can accomplish the same thing for bears, spinning off a sub species which essentially remain cub-like in adulthood.

We can domesticate bears. All we have to do is work them down to the big dog stage, in terms of size and docility.

This is about right

I think this will save the bear, genetically (admittedly at the cost of its dignity).

I think this could be done for around the cost of one personal fortune. I know I would do it if I had a spare billion dollars.

I think it’s a small price to pay for tens of thousands of future years of this:

What do you think?

[1] In fairness to myself, I had this idea long before I knew about the Russian Fox Domestication experiment.

A Favorite Musician For Every Letter of the Alphabet

Who could ever pick one favorite band? What do you even answer when people ask you about your favorite music?

My new answer is going to be this list: my favorite musicians, one for every letter of the alphabet. And a crap-ton of honorable mentions.

(In the case of people with actual names, I will use whichever of first name, last name, or full name I damn well please. Classical composers will be last name only.)


Universal Traveler

Alpha Beta Gaga


Honorable mentions: Afro Celt, Architeq


Sonata No 21 (Waldstein)

Symphony No 3 (Eroica), First Movement, Allegro Con Brio

Symphony No 9, Fourth Movement

Honorable mentions: The Beatles, Beck, The Bird and the Bee, Bat for Lashes



Islands of the Galapagos

North Easter

Honorable mentions: Chvrches, Collective Soul, Cake, Creedence Clearwater Revival. C is a strong letter.

Depeche Mode

Enjoy the Silence

Dream On

Policy of Truth

Honorable mentions: Daft Punk, Days of the New

Ed Alleyne-Johnson




Honorable mentions: Elvis Presley, Emilíana Torrini, Explosions in the Sky



Brandy Alexander

Honey Honey

Honorable mentions: Fan Death, Fever Ray

Glitch Mob

We Swarm

We Can Make the World Stop

Fly By Night Only

Honorable mentions: Gorillaz, God is an Astronaut



The Wind Cries Mary


Voodoo Child

Honorable mention: Handel, Heart, Howling Bells




Priorities Intact


Honorable mention: Incubus, Iron Maiden

Juno Reactor



God is God

Honorable mentions: Joe Satriani, Johnny Cash, Junip, Janelle Monae, Jack Johnson. J is a strong letter.



Heartbeats (and an 8 bit version!!!)

The Captain

We Share Our Mother’s Health

Honorable mention: KMFDM, The Kills

Led Zeppelin

Bron-y-aur Stomp

When the Levee Breaks

Immigrant Song

Honorable mentions: La Roux, Lemon Jelly

Massive Attack


Be Thankful for What You’ve Got


Honorable mentions: Moxy Früvous, Miami Horror

Nine Inch Nails

Down In It

Everyday is Exactly The Same

All Time Low (Hey Keith: I thought about linking Everything)

Honorable mentions: N.A.S.A, New Order, Nest


Mock Tudor




The Girl With The Sun In Her Head

The Box, Extended Version, Second Movement

Honorable mentions: Outkast, The Offspring

Presidents of the USA


Boll Weevil

Munky River

Honorable mentions: Polaris, Pomplamoose, Pearl Jam


Don’t Stop Me Now

Another One Bites The Dust

Princes of the Universe

I’m not even aware of another good musical group whose name starts with the letter Q.


Beneath, Between & Behind

Closer to the Heart


And, yes, fine, Tom Sawyer

Honorable mentions: Röyksopp, Rimsky-Korsakov


Hands All Over

No Attention


Honorable mentions: Sleigh Bells, Soul Coughing

Tegan and Sara




Honorable mentions: Temple of the Dog, Tchaikovsky, Tom Waits, They Might Be Giants, Tinstar. T is a strong letter.

Ulrich Schnauss


You Can Walk Anywhere

Chasing Rainbows


Alla Rustica

Winter from the Four Seasons, Allegro non molto


Honorable mention: Vangelis






Honorable mention: Weezer, White Ship








Ambling Alp

Devil and the Deed

Zero 7

Out of Town

In The Waiting Line


What you are, you are by accident of birth; what I am, I am by myself. There are and will be a thousand princes; there is only one Beethoven. – Beethoven

Unpopular Opinions

This is not an April Fools Day Joke.

I’ve struggled recently with feeling intimidated by the opinions of the world. It has seemed to me like I don’t have the strength to live my own beliefs, largely because I don’t have the strength to live with the intense discomfort that comes from always disagreeing with someone, no matter the issue.

So today I’m going to test that out. I’m going to take a high dive into uncharted waters by listing my opinions about many difficult things.


My hero


– I am strongly against polyamory. There are exceptions, sure, but I think they’re a small fraction of the people practicing. Polyamory, as a community, is against a perceived selfishness. This is good. But I see a staggering amount of unacknowledged selfishness in polyamory.

– I am strongly, strongly in favor of gay marriage and full gay rights. In fact, I’m in favor of state support for any voluntary union of people (so I would support state recognition of polyamory).

– I am completely agnostic about most religious questions. I don’t think we can know, I don’t value faith for faith’s sake, and I do not think it’s cowardly to “refuse to take a position”. I think brave and modest to admit that I don’t know.

– But I really, really don’t believe in the Christian sky god. If you pray for safe travel on an airplane, you’re doing it wrong. There’s just no such god who will glide your plane to a safe landing because you’re inside it.

– I am severely opposed to public shareholder corporations. All of them. Even the good ones. This is because I think this model devolves responsibility and encourages group sociopathy in pursuit of the profit motive.

– In cases of public good, like healthcare and the environment, I don’t just believe in public regulation or a public system. I believe in nationalizing the industries that operate in these spaces. That puts me far beyond socialist.

– But I also believe, generally speaking, that political ideology applied across the board is incredibly foolish. Libertarian, authoritarian, conservative, liberal, hands on business, hands off business: decide these things on a case by case basis, pragmatically. Otherwise you’ll make big mistakes.

– I don’t believe in an afterlife. But I hope for one, only so that I can see my grandfather. I really hope I can see him again. I don’t care if this is rational.

– I personally want to get married and stay married forever, and when a marriage ends in divorce, I consider it a failure, even if it had to happen, even if it happened for understandable reasons. I say this even though I got married and, in under a year, divorced. It was a failure. I hope to learn from it.

– I favor birth control to the max. I favor less people. I want the earth to slowly return to having the number of people it can reasonably sustain.

– I’m truly ambivalent about whether we (humans) should be here (in existence). An awesome professor of mine once said “the question that keeps me up at night is: will we survive as a species or will we allow ourselves to die somehow?” My response was: “the one that keeps me up at night is: do we deserve to survive? Your question is the answer to my question. If we manage to live as a species, I feel like we deserve it. If we die, I also feel like we deserve it.”

– You’re not qualified to vote at the national level, reader. Neither am I. Claim all you want that you pay attention to the details and that you’re well informed, but deep down we both know it’s become too complex for a human being to understand.

– I am sex positive. Sex is a good thing. A healthy thing.

– I am also in favor of masturbation. Masturbation is to sex as reading is to living life. Come on, people. We don’t disrespect other people for reading.

– I support the free expression and exploration of gender. That guy’s wearing a tutu: awesome.

– I am against abortion. I really am. But I don’t view it in terms of human life; it’s not murder to me at all. I view it along the same lines as putting a pet to sleep. I would really rather it not happen. On the other hand, I don’t grieve for the loss of human life. Life is only as valuable as it is lived, and unwanted children forced on unwanting parents probably don’t live good lives. I don’t believe in Choice. But I think the Pro Life movement is crazed and horrible, and I think less abortion comes from more birth control, not from legislation.

– The US Constitution is mostly outdated nonsense.

– Reading is a beautiful thing. I want a library. I imagine a lot of you want libraries. In fact, I want to join with my friends in my older middle age and pool our book collections to open a library.

– The jezebel.com version of modern feminism sure does love to go on witch hunts, especially against people who halfway agree with it. It’s aggravating, or often downright terrifying. But despite that I still say, down with the patriarchy!

– It turns out LA is actually really nice and underrated by my standard social groups.

– I love biking. I think biking more and driving less (if not giving up cars entirely except for trips between cities) is the future. In fact, I honestly want cities like Houston, which are organized around long commutes in traffic, to slowly fall apart into ghost towns. How do I square this with liking LA? LA has money and the people are susceptible to appearance pressure. When car commuting is as unpopular as smoking cigarettes, the people of LA will use their money to fix public transport in their city. This will never happen in Houston.

– Both sides of the US political process are corrupt and problematic, but in recent years, only one side (the conservative side) has actively lost touch with reality, and only one side (the conservative side) is setting all the good things on fire.

– War is a racket. I do not support the troops. I say this as the child and grandchild of proud US military veterans. I grew up on military bases and deeply love the culture and ethos of those places, and I personally love most of the military and ex military people I have known. But I think the idea that patriotism requires I support them in killing is crazy. I do not. I wish they never did those things.

– I would vote for almost any politician who openly planned to cut military or police state spending. I won’t vote for any politician who has no intention of doing these things. So I’ve never yet voted at the national level. Not for a senator, or a congressional representative, or a president. And I’m actually proud of that.

– I like Barack Obama as a person, and I’m really really glad he won both of his terms, and I support almost all of his domestic agenda, and I prefer his foreign policy to that of any recent republican, but I’m proud that I didn’t vote for him, because he openly never had any intention of reducing the military industrial complex or the police state.

– Patriotism really is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Best to wipe it from the heart. We live on a ball in dead empty space. I keep hoping you can see that we’re more or less all on the same team; us against death and emptiness.

– I can only think of three international disputes where I have an emotional stake in one side. I support the whole world against North Korea (obvious), Scotland breaking off of Great Britain (less obvious), and Palestine’s right to a state with decent borders and no interference from Israel (not at all obvious if you’re an American). (If Scotland votes for independence in the Fall referendum, I’ll paint Scottish flags on my face, my car, and my clothing. Despite what I just said about patriotism.)

– Silicon Valley makes me unbearably sad. It breaks my heart. All this talent, all this power and wealth and revolutionary spirit… used to make twitter apps. And photo sharing sites. And to push for ever higher and higher salaries. With a few exceptions (Elon Musk, really), it is a staggering waste of gifts.

– TED has produced some amazing talks, which have given me great food for thought, but on balance, I agree with the recent commentator who called TED “middlebrow megachurch infotainment”.

– Swearing is no indication of poor communication skills. It’s goddamned valuable spice for the language. I words mouth say better than most of you, and I swear incessantly. I directly put the lie to that old bullshit.

– You’re not bad at math. I don’t care who you are. You’re not bad at math. You just had bad teachers. Most math teachers in the US are bad teachers. It’s such a shame.

– I think most Christians aren’t real Christians. Not as the religion is intended. If you help the poor; if you believe it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven; if you consider your own sexual “sins” instead of castigating gay people; if you found it in your heart to love Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, or at least tried to do all these things, then in my book you are a real Christian. And you know what? Real Christian, I love you. You are actually an amazing, underrated force for good in the world.

– I love the big, dirty, architecturally magnificent, dense, vibrant large cities, and most of the people who live in them. I love the vast, empty, green and blue and granite grey wilderness, and most of the people who make tiny towns in it. I am not such a big fan of the stuff in between these two extremes.

– Charlemagne is reputed to have said, “To know another language is to have a second soul”. It is a tragedy that I have never maintained a second language.

– Travel is the antidote to parochialism. Every person possessing the means should, at least once, leave town, leave state, leave country. Live, if possible, somewhere else. If you have not done this, there are aspects of your local area that you think are universal truths. You are wrong; they are not.

– In particular, against all conventional wisdom, I think it is extremely healthy for children to make at least one major move in childhood, so that they develop some ability to see what is universal and what is merely the product of local culture.

– Cynicism withers the human spirit. I’m more guilty of it than most of you. Depending on your viewpoint, there’s even a lot of cynicism in this blog post. I know that. But I believe in optimism, and I try to practice it. I hope I will keep getting better at it.

– What I want most in my lifetime: for the human spirit to flourish in all people. What does that mean? It means I want all of you to follow the paths that lead to really good versions of you.

– If you can spend all of tomorrow watching TV, or gardening with your friends, and you know gardening with your friends will make you happier and healthier, and give you better memories, then I want you to spend tomorrow gardening with your friends, not watching TV. That’s what I mean.

– Compromise is the bedrock of all relationships. I understand that if i could not compromise on the things on this list, I would be totally alone. So these are not the things I require of you, reader. They’re just the things in my own heart.

This post is, of course, a sort of performance art. It’s likely to stir up controversy, which will be difficult for me, but I pay the cost for the following reason. The performance I want to make is this: if you get angry, please remember that each of your friends would make you angry if you got to read that friend’s full list of controversial opinions, and that, if you wrote out a full list of your controversial opinions, each of your friends would be angry at something on the list.

For myself, I want to make it harder to hide inside a bubble of niceness and pretense. For most people reading this: We are friends. Now it’s right out there in the open that we disagree about something. But I still want to be friends.

A Small Thing About Small Things

This morning, my uncle and I were discussing household appliances. He told me about a problem he had with the a super-hot water tap in his sink. The sink was high end, with a special tap to produce 180F water immediately. Under the hood, the tap had a drainage system to avoid storing tepid water. All the parts of this product were nice metal, except the drainage hose, which was cheap plastic, and broke. When he called the company for a replacement, the man on the other end knew what the problem was without my uncle finishing his sentence.

My uncle then told me the story of a nice new fridge whose ice maker stopped working, I think also due to a cheap part [1]. He asked, “why do makers allow this for their high end products?”

My best guess at an answer was:

It’s an organizational problem. Engineering firms, even many of the good ones, are organized to parcel out work to different teams (or other firms). Even in good firms, an insignificant part may be of insignificant concern, so it gets farmed out to a weak team.

In my experience, there is one big exception: high end stuff from Germany. This stuff works, and it lasts.

My best guess at a reason for that comes from this old economist article. The reason is, in Germany, there are a large number of tiny firms (under 50 people) which heavily specialize in particular obscure parts or items. These Mittelstand are often the best makers of whatever parts they make, and there’s nothing too small for this specialty. There are companies that make only some types of gaskets, one that makes bottling machines, one that only makes rolling pull-out cabinets for storing very heavy equipment, as might be done in factories.

When a German company builds a high end product, it typically takes its parts from other Germany companies. Those companies put enormous effort into building high quality parts, even if the parts are insignificant in larger designs. So German products have few small failure points.


Look at these *parts*!


I think. What do you think?

[1] I may be mixing up two stories here, one about the fridge, the other about the super-hot water spout. They sort of blended together in my mind.

Toughness and the Nerd Mind

Hey folks! I have a completely speculative idea.

I think maybe I can explain why so many of us with nerd qualities[1] have trouble pushing ourselves to work hard, to stay fit, to get a lot of things done.

I think it’s because quite a few of us rejected toughness. We grew up in contexts which made toughness an attribute of the enemy, and more or less decided that it’s a bad thing.

Those people who finish their marathon runs, who stay up late doing extra work, who can stop themselves from just falling into a squishy, comfortable evening of reading wikipedia and watching Veronica Mars? What they’re doing is pushing themselves, psyching themselves up, toughing it out. When we try to do that, it feels like a cousin of bullying, a meathead thing.

I came to this idea via Adventure Time. It’s a cartoon show tailor made for a nerd audience, but look how tough this kid Finn is:

I like Finn, and sometimes think of him as a role model in some ways. After I saw this particular episode of the show, I found myself biking harder, running longer, working just a bit more, because the little Finn in my head was psyching me up. But this is an attitude that I didn’t find accessible in very many other fictional characters before now, I think because they all seemed like the opposite of role models, like people to avoid being.

Do you struggle to push yourself? Examine your life and your influences a bit. Did you start rejecting toughness at some point you can recognize? Let me know, I want to expand on this!

[1]  Nerd qualities? Geek qualities? Whatever your nomenclature, I mean people who love mathematics as well as people who love Star Trek.


Sometimes hard days are eased by dreaming of the future.

Someday I’m going to take the love of my life on a road trip up the West Coast. A proper road trip, finally do it right.

We’ll start somewhere far away. I’ll start the trip by planting a seed in her mind. “Do you ever want to visit the West Coast of America? See all the places you’ve only seen in movies? These are the places I lived and loved… the part of the country that’s worth loving.”

Maybe we’ll start the actual trip in Texas. See my family, whoever’s still living there. See my old friends, eat some barbecue. She’ll experience that most truly American thing: to look at the sunset, to dream of going west, to dream of what’s over the western horizon.

We’ll drive through the desert to Los Angeles. We won’t stop for a damned thing but the gas to keep us going.

We’ll start with LA because it’s big enough to see twice. The first time we’ll just take in the bigness of it all, the endlessness, the traffic. We’ll drive right up to the ocean and watch the sunset, first of many.

In a pinch we’ll take a detour to San Diego. I’ve still never been. We’ll see Legoland, and split right afterwards.

We’ll give LA more attention the second time. If my friends still live there, we’ll eat with them in Koreatown. Walk with them on the beach. Hang out with them in shabby bowling alleys in Gardena. Play like we’re living the Big Lebowski, before a quick tour of Hollywood and a long drive north. As we drive away, she’ll tell me those are good friends, that I’m lucky to have them.

In Silicon Valley I’ll show her all the little places I used to care about so much. My marshland, outside the NASA buildings. The little cliffside in Santa Cruz. The hill above 280 near Cupertino. Maybe I’ll still have some friends at Google; we can play on the statues of dead Androids and take pictures. Play a little piano near where I used to work. Sit on the hill looking down at all the offices, marveling that these buildings damn near run the world (if they still do).

We’ll spend a day or two touring San Francisco. Have dinner with an old friend or two. See the Bay Model, see Muir Woods. We’ll climb to the top of Mission Peak and howl at the moon. I’ll show her where I accidentally threw a tennis ball down the mountain.

Of course we’ll stop at the tennis courts and juggle. She’ll tell my old friends she’s heard so much about them.

From here we won’t head north, but east. We’ll go to Yosemite, and she’ll see what a holy place this sad country can be. How good it looks in the right light. I’ll still have never conquered El Capitan. She’ll tell me we need to do it, tell me it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. She’ll help me to climb the mountain.

We’ll think about driving east to Mono Lake, to Nevada. But we won’t go there. Fuck Nevada.

Instead we’ll drive north to Tahoe. I’ll tell her about the time my father saved me from despair, how we found the snow. We’ll look for the snow. Maybe we’ll find it, maybe not.

We’ll drive back west, then north into Oregon. We’ll finally take the time to see Crater Lake, after I tell her I’ve skipped it on every drive I’ve ever made through there. Maybe she’ll say it’s prettier than Tahoe, maybe not.

We’ll stop in Sisters. I hope my cousins still live there. We’ll hug my uncle. I’ll show her where my aunt’s ashes are scattered on Whychus Creek. We’ll have a picnic in the field under the soft sun in view of the snow capped Three Sisters. We’ll see Three Creeks, hike up Broken Top with my uncle. It’ll be a quiet, thoughtful hike.

We’ll head north, and again she’ll tell me I’m lucky to have such good people in my life. If it’s sunny in Portland, we’ll stop at the waterfront park. If not, we’ll drive right on through.

We’ll spend the longest in Seattle. Before we even get there, I’ll stop in Tacoma to show her where I grew up. I’ll show her what Mount Rainier looked like to a child, and why it has never, ever left my mind. I don’t care if it takes a week for the damned thing to pop out from behind clouds. We’ll wait. We’ll see it. Then we’ll drive to it, then hike right halfway up the side of it. I’ll tell her about the old time, the last time I did that. It will be hard, but I’ll tell it.

I can’t begin to tell you all the things we’ll see in Seattle. I guarantee it will be sunny, because I’ll time it right, and the city loves me when I come to visit. I’ll show her where my life was going, how it broke, where it went instead. She’ll remind me where it is, that very day, and where it’s going thereafter. We’ll talk on ferries, in parks, on little winding roads, in little restaurants and coffee houses, in friends’ apartments, in kayaks, on red swings, on benches looking at the setting sun over the Olympics. We’ll play foosball and take bike rides with very old friends, and as we leave, for the third time she will tell me I’m lucky to have the friends I have. Three is a good number.

Finally, only and finally we will reach the heart of the trip. We will drive north to Vancouver. I will show her how a city can be perfect. We will walk its every path and perimeter. We will get lost in the park. We will thrill to see the whole city beneath us as we snowboard down great mountain slopes. We will ache as we look north at the mountains, filled with the same longing we had when we looked west in the beginning. Only now we will know that our time here is drawing to a close, that we cannot go farther north. The great country to the north is a mystery and will remain so, for now. To know this feeling is to know America, to know the West Coast. She will know the West Coast, and I will remember it.

With melancholy hearts and strong spirits, we will return to the place we live, to Far Away, and dream of the future.


Sketching Your Life

Paralysis. You want to do something right, because you think you’ve only got one chance to do it.

I love writing letters. Real, stamped and posted letters appeal to me on many levels. They’re important to me, to send and to receive. I have one I’ve been meaning to write, but it’s been longer since I wrote a letter than it has since I wrote blog posts. If getting back to blogging has been hard, and I take letter writing more seriously, and it’s been this long… paralysis.

The letter was supposed to accompany food. Eventually I ate the food, because I had avoided writing the letter for so long.

If this letter isn’t good, will I ever get a chance to write another letter? For some reason, my brain lies to me and says, no, you will not get another chance to write a letter.

We all do this, in many different parts of our lives. We think the next thing we do is the last and most critical thing, and we paralyze ourselves trying to make it good.

Most of us don’t draw, because what if that next drawing sucks? It’s gonna suuuuuck for sure! And then we’ll never get to draw again.

We go to job interviews, and we stress about them going to go poorly, as if there aren’t going to be any more interviews ever again.

I know grown-ass men who are still afraid to tell a girl/boy that they like that girl/boy. As if they only get one chance to say it. As if there wouldn’t be another girl/boy in the future.

But there’s always going to be another! In fact, as you age, you will find that people bounce in and out of your life repeatedly, and that you re-evaluate people, and they re-evaluate you. You meet new people and you always will. You lose old friends and sometimes regain them.

There’s another job interview in the next few weeks, and there will be interview after interview after interview after interview until one goes well and you get hired. Everyone who is good at drawing got there by drawing another and another and another…

Everything is a sketch, and you already know you do some of your best, most inspired work when you stop taking things so seriously and just sketch the next moment.

I know you know what I’m trying to say. I’m not saying it well. I’ve got to find a way to break down this wall of understanding.

Or do I? No, I don’t! Day seven of blog posting is just the seventh out of hundreds I’ll write in the next decade. So, I’ll get another crack at making this argument.

Seven out of seven. Keep trying.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a letter to sketch.


Scenes from a Multiverse

Seed Diversity in Humans

This one is for Rose Thomas.

Also, this one is gonna be a very rough sketch. It’s too important a topic for me to leave in such bad shape, so I’m going to try a new experiment: what you’re reading is a draft, and I’m going to come back and revisit this essay, hopefully several times, hopefully with more refined thoughts in the future. If you folks want to help refine my thoughts through discussion, I would love to discuss this stuff.

I had lunch with my favorite former boss today. We talked about managing the news. In my work, we like to blame results on algorithms, claiming that they’re neutral to human decisions. My old boss was quick to point out the idea that every algorithmic decision is actually an editorial decision, and that a lot of my job, which is ostensibly neutral, is not and cannot possibly be neutral. Every day, when I choose the ways I work with the news data, I’m implicitly choosing how the news data should look. It can’t be escaped.

We were also talking about the unhealthiness of news reading in general. We’re both addicted to news and we both recognize it to be like cigarettes, but he was adamant that I was doing a goodish thing working in this space.

Anyway, that’s all mulch for the main topic of the post.

We were talking about siloing people, either by political inclination, or by interest. What if people want to only see conservative or liberal news? What if they want to mostly see celebrity news, or no politics, or no sports? Isn’t it an editorial decision, he asked, to force users to read a diverse sample of things?

It definitely is.

Of course, I see that there are a lot of problems in the world, right now, which come from people being shown news that fits their political inclinations and reinforces their political and cultural beliefs. There’s not a lot of upside, in my mind, to showing people only the politics they want to see.

It’s more complicated to say whether it’s good or bad to show people things that suit their specific interests. Say some people want to ignore politics and only read sports news. I see some of the same problems here, but less so. People being shown different realities in the political space will inevitably clash, because they’re competing for control and sharing power. People with different interests entirely (politics versus sports versus celebrities) are so different that they could maybe just ignore each other. I also see some health benefits to siloing by interest; a person who pays less attention to politics is in general a more well adjusted and happier person.

Ultimately, I can’t decide if it’s good or bad for you, an individual, to be siloed… but honestly, I don’t care. What I care about is the aggregate, statistical level. I care very much that 80% of people care about politics, and 20% don’t. That’s what matters to me.

Without the 80% who care, many important fights will be de-facto settled by special interests, and probably not to the benefit of humanity at large. So the 80% are necessary to ensure that various fights go well for everyone.

But for each big fight, someday, that fight will be over. Someday, gay rights will be a given, and opposing them will be as unpopular as racism. At that time, we will need the minority, the 20% who never really invested in the fight, to teach us how to let go of it.

I’ve come to realize that I’m going to be fighting against organized religion for my entire life. I have tried to hide from this, but religion has hurt me too much, and the fight matters too much to me. So, despite my not really liking it, I will always grapple with organized religion and the religious.

But I have an atheist friend for whom this is all irrelevant. Not like the rest of you, not like the rest of us. He’s not recovering from religion. He’s not culturally aware of religion in his bones. It was just totally irrelevant to him for his entire childhood. His wife likes to say he doesn’t even realize how it bothers the rest of us.

If I parody a religious song, there’s some antipathy in what I’m doing. It’s a dig back at some people who hurt me in the past. If he does it, it’s innocent, about the same as parodying ancient greek culture. It’s empty and unthreatening to him.

I will never have that, but I wish I could. I hope my grandchildren are like that.

This leads me back to an older, more general thought: I want seed diversity in human ideas. There’s not a single idea I can think of that I would crush from the mind of mankind. Not one. Not the nazis, even. I have a blanket belief that, beyond my ability to decide individual good and bad ideas, the whole messy lot of them bouncing off each other leads us to create many good things.

Passing Time at Red Lights

You probably spend some time waiting at red lights. You probably don’t enjoy it.

Here are two strategies for passing time at red lights. They work for me; maybe they’ll work for you.

– Count the people passing through the light in the other direction. Each one that passes is having a better, faster day because you’re making the sacrifice of waiting for a moment. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen… that’s seventeen people who are having a better day because you gave up a little of your time.

– If you have a car, get yourself some cheap drum sticks. Seriously, they’re on Amazon for cheap. Put them in the car, and use them to drum on the steering wheel at red lights. Play loud music and just wail on the steering wheel. I’ve found you can do this for years without damaging the wheel. It’s fun, so much fun that you may find yourself hoping the green lights turn yellow.

Grief and Duality

/me is listening to Fever Ray – Seven.

A friend recently told me he doesn’t remember a lot of his college experience, because the breakup which followed it made a lot of memories unpleasant to process or revisit. I’ve been determined not to have a similar thing happen for my recent relationship experience. I’ve made sure to allow some time to remember what I had, especially the good parts, and to mention bits of it in relevant conversations.

What I think I’ll lose anyway is identification with those memories. When I was in the relationship, I was very strongly favoring a particular part of my personality, letting it run dominant over the other parts. Now that I’m alone again, I’ve eased back into a balance, but it makes the grieving process seem very strange to me.

A lot of the time, when the other parts of me are active, my grief seems external, and is alien to me. It’s not unpleasant. In fact, it’s very manageable. Just alien. My memories feel a little bit like the memories of another person.

Other times, when the part of me that was so strong in the relationship is active, my grief is immediate and total. I feel very strongly like it all happened yesterday. I have to survive these periods, but I always survive by accepting that it’s done. So even in this part of me, I’m more or less actively rejecting identification with my past self.

I know there are lots of other people who experience duality in their personalities. I have often wondered how (or if) they integrate things like these.

Any ideas? Similar experience?