Me, Myself, and this blog

The New State Of Things

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve started to write this and then given up and deleted everything I’ve written. I try to write something and then feel like I need to preface it with something else so that people don’t jump to conclusions and then feel like I’m second guessing myself and so on and it ends in a select all and a delete. So I decided to just tell some stories instead which may explain how I’m feeling better than if I just tried to write about that.

***

I’m vegan. Many of you know that and know that I’ve been vegan for approaching 25 years now. More than half my life. In my ideal world it would be illegal to kill animals for food, but I’m very capable of knowing the difference between my ideal world and the real world, and the difference between the two. I’m able to understand that just because I want something really badly doesn’t mean it magically happens. I decided a while ago – after years of taking the opposite approach – that it was more productive to lead by example and answer people’s questions when they took notice and asked, than to attack them and try and force them to change. That’s just me.

Additionally, I like to talk to people who have differing opinions than I do. I find people who always agree with me boring and like to discuss the merits of my positions with people who aren’t convinced. I like to be able to sharpen my take on things on be persuaded otherwise. I count many people with drastically different world views in my circle of close friends and I appreciate that they put up with my hassling them about how wrong I think they are. And they do the same. I find myself agreeing and disagreeing frequently with my friends on the right and the left.

I don’t fit well into any category, which I think helps me with perspective. I try to look at issues on their own and not based on which politician supports and decries them. I know this isn’t a common position, but it works for me.

***

I have friends who were die hard Hillary supporters and friends who were die hard Trump supporters. I was neither. In the early days of the primaries I was backing Bernie pretty strongly. I said several times during that time that I didn’t believe Hillary could could beat Trump and I really didn’t want Trump to win. Once Hillary got the nomination my position remained the same. I didn’t want Trump to win, but I didn’t think Hillary could beat him. I could write many long winded think pieces and hot takes on why I felt that way but it’s kind of moot at this point so I won’t waste anyones time. I’m in a few private slack teams and private email lists. Some of these are very political. Some of these didn’t take kindly to someone not jumping on the party line. I’m not, nor have I ever been a registered Democrat so party lines mean nothing to me. I vote for who I want to based on their own merits. So while Democrats were expected to all get behind Hillary, I maintained that hopes and dreams aside, that while I didn’t want him to win, I didn’t believe she could beat him. In some of these groups I was called a Trump shill. In some of these groups I was called a Bernie Bro and a misogynist. So I left those groups.

My friends backing Hillary ranged from being completely sure she would win, to being completely sure she would win in a landslide.

My friends backing Trump ranged from being completely sure he would win, to being completely sure he would win in a landslide.

I knew both of these groups couldn’t be right.

Again, I’m weird so I recognized that what I wanted to believe and the outcome I wanted might not have been the same thing as what realistically might happen. This was not a welcome opinion.

The echo chamber was in full effect. All these people were only listening to people who agreed with them, and who were saying things they wanted to believe. Most of these people wanted nothing to do with anyone saying anything other than that their candidate was going to slay it.

Then the election happened.

My friends who were backing Hillary are largely in shock. They keep saying things like “How did this happen?” and “How could we have been so wrong?” Someone who called me a Trump shill for saying Hillary couldn’t beat Trump asked me with a straight face “How could anyone have seen this coming?”

***

Tonight there was a protest in Los Angeles, condemning the pick of Steve Bannon as Sr Advisor to the president. I think Breitbart News is very good at stirring people into a frenzy and very bad at reporting the news. I think picking the guy who runs that for a position equal to Chief of Staff is dangerous. I wanted to go and take photos, my wife Tara wanted to go and hold up a sign. Ripley, my 6 year old son also wanted a sign but I’m not a fan of indoctrinating children to anything, and didn’t want to write up a political sign that him carrying around would suggest he was making the statement. I told him what the protest was about, and asked him what he wanted on his sign. I told him he could put anything that he wanted. He wanted a happy sign that would make other people happy too, so he decided his sign should say “I Love Cats.” I thought it was great. On the other side he decided the sign should say “It’s past my bedtime” because the protest was at night and he would be tired and this would show people that even though he was tired and it was late he was there with them. I loved this sentiment. We drew up the signs and headed out.

Tara and Ripley joined some friends of ours on one side of the crowd and I walked around taking photos. The mood of the evening was largely positive, people were protesting something they were upset about but the crowd working together. There were the expected “Ban Bannon” and “No KKK” signs, as well as some more original and light hearted ones including one older lady with a sign that read “I’ve been protesting this same fascist shit for 50 years!” and someone with a trans flag and a sign saying “This isn’t the kind of dick I wanted.” Anytime I was near my family people were taking photos of my son and his sign, with many people telling him they loved it and it was the best sign there, which made him smile big.

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He got in on the chanting, memorizing the rhymes. He waved his sign for people and smiled when they took his photo. This was his first protest and he told me he really enjoyed it. He said he loved seeing all the people together, hoping for the same thing.

By 8:30 it was in fact well past his bedtime and we decided to leave. Tara and Rips started to move to the edge of the crowd and I was behind them. As I turned to leave two younger women tapped me on the shoulder. I only spoke with them for a moment but I’d guess they were late 20’s-ish.

“Hi, can we talk to you for a moment about your son’s sign?”

“Sure”

“It’s very cute, but we are concerned that if someone sees it and takes a photo it will misrepresent the feeling of this event.”

“Lots of people have taken photos of it all night, everyone has been enjoying it”

“That’s the problem, it’s sending the wrong message – I Love Cats? This isn’t about cats”

“He’s 6, that’s what he wanted on his sign. I’m not going to put my politics on a sign and make him carry it.”

“He doesn’t support immigrants rights?”

“He’s 6”

“There are lots of kids here with political signs”

“Sure, that their parents wrote for them”

“But what will people think if they see this sign”

“I don’t really care”

“YOU DON’T CARE?”

“Are you really upset that a 6 year old isn’t protesting correctly?”

“You wouldn’t be saying that if you weren’t a white man, maybe you should meet an immigrant and find out how they feel, you are mocking the serious people here… Racist!”

I turned around and to walk away and one of them punched me in the back of the head.

I kept walking, they shouted something but I wasn’t listening anymore.

In the 5 minute walk back to our car, at least 10 more people said “Love that sign!!”

As some of you know, my wife is an immigrant.

I’m going to sleep now, disappointed.

The sun will rise tomorrow.

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(A version of this was sent out to my mailing list last night. It’s the first thing I’ve sent out since the election. Feel free to subscribe if you want. All photos by me, I’ll probably post more on instagram as well.)

Hello. Remember blogging?

I realized recently that I’ve sent almost 100,000 tweets and that kind of freaked me out. Deconstructed a bit, as one of the first people to sign up for the site which has been online for over 10 years now that’s a little less than 10,000 tweets per year, and not even close to 1000 a month – closer to 200 a week or about 30 a day. Maybe less. Of course that’s not indicative of any actual day, more likely some days I sent 100s of tweets and other days stayed in single digits, but the fact remains I’m approaching 100k. Of from that what do I have to show? Sure I’ve met some cool people and seen some interesting events play out, but I don’t think I can point to any single one of those tweets (except maybe this one) and say “damn, I’m proud of that!” And not that I should, but I’m having a little crisis of faith over here so let me just run with it a bit. So it’s not only a question for me of what I did, but also what I didn’t do. I’ll never know for sure if instead of writing some piece of work that I’d be able to reference time and time again I sent some tweets. Maybe I could have hashed through some of the craziness in my head a little better if I’d spent more time writing longer form thoughts, instead I sent some tweets. I don’t know, and I’ll never know, but at the moment I’m not completely happy with that decision in hindsight. I’ve kicked around the idea of quitting when I hit that milestone, maybe I will and maybe I won’t. But I do know that I’m not getting what I once did from the site and if I’m honest with myself I haven’t for a long time and I need to stop pretending that isn’t the case.

I miss blogging, so I’m going to be spending more time writing here.

Without venturing too far from this reflection go how I’ve spent my time, I’ve been looking at my days and as I approach 42 years on this rock, the acceptance that I may very well have crossed the point where I have more time behind me than ahead of me. And if that’s that case, or even if it isn’t, I’d like to be more conscious of just what I spent my time on. On days when I’m reactive, that is spending all day long responding to inbounds and juggling whatever comes up at the moment, I feel like I get nothing done. Like I’m running too slow on a very fast moving sidewalk and at the end of the day I’m more behind then where I started. On days where I decide ahead of time and put together a structure for what I’ll do and when, I end the day thrilled with all I’ve pulled off and where I’m at. And for whatever reason right now I feel very disorganized mentally, lots of half baked plans and ideas and goals that I don’t know where to start on, or what I need to pull off first to get things in motion, which makes the planning ahead to do X, Y and Z that much more of an effort. Structure helps with this. I’ve been in a super successful routine for a while now where I wake up, make the coffee and the kid’s lunch, get him to school and then stop at the gym on my way home. I start work closer to 10am but I’m in a much better headspace and I can focus on one thing or another noticeably better than if I just roll out of bed and grab my phone or my laptop. The trick of course is exactly that, not grabbing my phone or my laptop. I don’t have email on my phone and I’ve deleted most of the mental itchy notification kind of checking things from it which has helped a lot, but I do work with people all around the world and so no matter what time it is for me its primetime for someone else which means there’s always the potential for the “oh! real quick…” which turns into 3 hours of reacting.

One thing I need to be better at is identifying exactly what I want to do each day, even if it’s just for a little while. Things like reading, or working on music are obvious but because they are obvious they tend to get overlooked. “Of course I want to read every day, that’s a given” isn’t as rock solid of a mandate as “From 8 to 9 every night I’m going to read something, nothing else can interrupt that.” I function well in these kinds of schedules and structures. If you know me then you know I thrive on less options and get caught in loops of second guessing when I have too many, and I think this falls into that part of my head. It’s 8pm, what can I do? Well I have a todo list with hundreds of possible things that I could do which I can’t decide on which is most pressing and so I spent an hour refreshing twitter. And while I knew that before, I don’t think I recognized it as clearly and now that I have my goal is to correct it.

The first step here is finding the things I want to do every day. I used to think that I needed to spend X hours doing something for it to be worth doing, and then I couldn’t find X hours to do it so I didn’t do it, which is a huge fail. I’ve seen the value in spending short time on things and then being able to do them repeatedly. For example spending 15 minutes every day writing is better than not writing all week because I couldn’t find an open hour to sit down and do it. Same for music or anything else. So I’m working on what that daily locked in list might look like.

One of those things is skateboarding with my son. Skating is one of the first things I can remember in my life deciding on my own that I wanted to do and I’ve had a skateboard in one form or another for most of the last 30 years. The summer between 7th and 8th grade sticks out in my head as a notable milestone. I gotten my first skateboard a few years earlier but it was piece of shit mall skateboard that I know I’ve written about before but can’t be bothered to go look up a link to. Anyway, my friends were nice enough to not make fun of me about it and also nice enough to hand me a copy of Trasher and suggest that I get a real skateboard. As a younger kid this wasn’t my choice, but something clicked in my head that summer as we moved back to Florida after a few year stint in Texas and I was determined to not embarrass myself in front of all my potential new skater friends and saved up enough to get my own board. I spent hours obsessing over California Cheap Skates ads and their sweet deals on complete Powell decks that came with Indie trucks and Slimeballs. In my memory I planned out what I was going to get over months but it was likely shorter than that. Anyway, I entered 8th grade with a much better board and didn’t put it down. I lived on it in high school and in college, though admittedly its gathered much dust in the last 15 years. I was never any good at skateboarding, but I always loved doing it. It was fun, and it was this thing I could do on my own without needing anyone else to help or sign off on. I think one of the reasons I stopped was feeling overly self conscious that I wasn’t better at it, especially after all those years. I was always lucky that my friends never made me feel bad about not being better, but I felt increasingly self conscious when I’d be out around people I didn’t know, which made spending time at skate parks or back yard ramps basically impossible. Abandoned parking lots were my jam.

I’ve noticed Ripley talking about some of his friends skateboarding and seen him take an interest when we’ve seen skaters out in public and wanted to nurture that. I’ve also been following the trials and tribulations of Mike Vallely. I knew him from magazines and rode many of his pro models. As a vegetarian turned vegan his animal graphics and themes always struck a chord with me. I met him in person a few years ago through some of our many mutual friends and while I usually try to avoid meeting people whose public persona’s I’ve looked up to because it’s almost always disappointing, in every every interaction I’ve had with Mike he’s been as genuine and authentic as I could have hoped he would be. I’ve tried to keep up with his efforts. I’ve always really liked his message that skating is more than just this activity, that it’s soulful and magic, and that individual fun and enjoyment should be paramount. And so it’s been sad to see a run of business backed ventures not work out. And at the same time, really exciting to see him launch Street Plant, his newest brand with just him and his family driving, so he’s not beholden to anyone elses motivations. And I think this has been the perfect vehicle for him to really evangelize the love of skateboarding as an art, and seeing him talk about it reminded me how much I liked it, and how much I missed it. And that was the perfect impetus to get the kid into it as well. So we’ve been skating together, not a lot, but a little bit every day while he figures out his balance and hits big personal milestones like skating all the way down the street without falling. And it’s been every bit as fun as I hoped it would be. I’m looking forward to doing more of it.

So that’s my stream of consciousness rant for the day. I hope it was as good for you as it was for me.

I’m pretty much done with this election

Honestly, please don’t talk to me about it and I’m going to actively try to avoid anything about it. It’s stressful and it’s just not good for my mental health. I was in Europe for 2 weeks and avoided all the news about it and felt happy, as soon as I got back to the US and saw what was going on and what was being said I wanted to an hero. This goes above and beyond the fact that both of these candidates are wildly unrepresentative of the population as a whole and more into the fact that it’s turning everyone into massive assholes. Perhaps that applies to me as well.

In the last weeks/months I’ve had friends tell me that they refuse to talk to me because of where I obviously stand on the candidates. I’ve had friends tell me that my personal opinion doesn’t matter because I’m a demographic. I’ve been called a bro and a baby by hundreds of people who I don’t know in anyway. I’ve watched people I respected call people they don’t know in anyway bros and babies and have lost that respect from me. I’ve had people tell me that they don’t think stupid people should be allowed to vote, and have had people tell me they now demand to know who someone is voting for before engaging in any social interaction of any kind with them. In a country where barely half the registered voters ever bother to cast a ballot, I’ve seen people tell others they are wasting their votes if they don’t vote for someone elses candidate of choice. I’ve found all of this to be terribly depressing.

The polls are horrifically close right now. Terrifying close. I’ve been sad to see Hillary supporters continue to beat up Bernie supporters because very, very realistically the only chance Hillary supporters have for their candidate to win is by convincing Bernie supporters that she deserves their vote. And excites them, and gets them to drag their friends to the polls. That isn’t happening as far as I can tell. Meanwhile, the Trump supporters are being friendly as ever. The other day I noted as much on twitter and over the following 6-12 hours I was flooded with gracious, kind replies from Trump supporters and insults and attacks from Hillary supporters. Many of which were deleted after the fact. Some of which were in direct message from people I thought were my friends. And I should note, I’ve been incredibly critical of Trump publicly. It’s appalling in my mind that things have gotten to where they are. But there they are, and I really have no interest in continuing to aid in the downfall of civil discourse so I’m out. We have confidential ballots in this country for a reason and I won’t be discussing this publicly any further.

(This was originally sent out as part of a longer rant to my mailing list. Sign up for it if you want. Or don’t.)

Living Conversations

The other day I was having coffee with Tara and she mentioned as an aside that she had been invited to speak at an event thanks to a comment she’d made on a blogpost that had been seen by the organizer. I nodded knowingly and recalled similar situations when I’d been reached out to because of some public comment or statement I’d made. It’s been some time since that happened though, which I didn’t realize until I started thinking about it. This assessment ended up running into another thing I’ve been thinking about recently which is that over the past few years there have been more than a small handful of events come up that I’ve been surprised I wasn’t invited to speak at.

I should clarify that so I don’t sound like a raging ego manic, which isn’t to say I’m not a raging ego manic per se, just that this specific statement shouldn’t imply that. Going back many years I considered myself to live very comfortably on the bleeding edge of any number of topics. I’d be involved in conversations where ideas would be proposed for the first time. Sometimes I’d propose them, sometimes I’d just be there to witness their proposal. This was pretty normal for me and I remember some circles of friends telling me it wasn’t a normal thing for most people. I felt lucky to have these things happen almost on accident just because I tried to surround myself by interesting people talking about interesting things.

The result of this would be, months or years later when these topics would be presented to larger audiences I was often asked to be a part of those conversations. Just one example, I can’t tell you how many panels and conferences I spoke at on the topics as blogs as journalism, or vs journalism depending on your position. But these kinds of things happened on a pretty regular basis. And then they stopped happening – though not because I’m not having those conversations with those people anymore, but rather I think I’m having those conversations in different ways.

Lingering back in the good ‘ol days for a moment, I spent collective years of my life writing blog posts and commenting on other people’s posts. This sounds unbelievable to people these days who associate comment threads with nothing but spam and trolls, but I’m sure many of you remember the days where one blog post would propose an idea, spark a very active comment thread which would include countless trackbacks to other blog posts that had been inspired by the ideas in this one. You could spend hours following an idea around the web. It was exciting, and a useful way to spend that time. You felt like you accomplished something, and were a part of something. At least I did. And as I said, these conversations would translate into all kinds of other opportunities.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment where that changed, but over a few years it did completely change. I’m sure someone could argue that the same kind of thing happens today on Medium or some some Facebook post or whatever, but that feels very different to me. Those are like internet “free speech zones” that are anything but, and by nature are off putting to decentralized web advocates such as myself. The point of making your own blog post and sending a trackback to another site was so that your words and thoughts lived on your own site. Someone else couldn’t edit or moderate you, but also someone could go to your site and scroll through your posts and get a good idea what kind of stuff you were interested in and your thoughts on those topics. Not that this doesn’t happen today, it’s just different.

Let’s get off memory lane – that’s not what I wanted to write about. What I realized is that while I once had these conversations which I found thought provoking in very public forums, I now have them in much more private or semi-private ones. And not intentionally, that’s just how they evolved.

Blog comment threads started filling with spam and trolls so people stopped reading them, and if people don’t read them much of the motivation to contribute to them fades away. And with the introduction of Twitter, blogposts from a few days ago seemed like old news. And while #irc used to provide a forum for realtime brainstorming it had a barrier to entrance for a lot of people and easily Twitter became the realtime way to hash through ideas with people for a while. However unless you were already following all of the people in the conversation, you’d easily miss the replies or never even know the discussion was happening. As more and more people joined twitter the spam and trolls followed and it gets hard to have a conversation when half the replies are from anonymous accounts telling you to go fuck yourself.

Private Slack teams helped insulate some of these discussions, but then again if you aren’t in them you don’t know what is happening. And email, especially private discussion groups, ended up providing a safe space to talk about things with the caveat that they were not fully hashed out ideas. Which I think is an important part – for me I always thought of my blog as a place I could have a conversation that was made up as I went along. I might not have a clear idea in the beginning but through the process of writing about it and talking with others I could help shape the idea into something that made a little more sense. That changed for me at least when people I didn’t know started digging through my archives and throwing half baked ideas from 10 years ago in my face as evidence that I didn’t know what I was talking about. Because in fact I didn’t know what I was talking about, but in the process of writing those posts I was working to figure it out. And maybe I’d written 20 different posts on a single topic – the 20th being much more refined than the 1st, but having the 1st used against me was enough to make me a little trigger shy about making those kinds of posts. Which, as a result, would prevent me from ever getting to that 20th.

I don’t know if anyone else has experienced anything like this, but I realized in thinking through it that I used to find people thinking about the same kinds of things I was because I was blogging about them, talking about them in public. And I haven’t been doing that at all in some time. Sure I have my mailing list that I occasionally use to think out loud, but more often than not it’s just a collection of things I happened to think were interesting without a lot of deep or long form commentary from me. If you already subscribe to that list you know I’ve lamented this before which should serve as evidence that I’ve been thinking about this for a while without any real clear idea of steps to take to change it.

Though, maybe making this post is just the kind of step I need to take. You tell me, if I wrote more longer blog posts about assorted topics, would you read them and help me think through the ideas? I miss those conversations.

Continuing Thoughts On Personal Uniforms

Back in 2010 I wrote about my attraction to personal uniforms. Effectively a simple set of clothing that can be replicated and worn every day, ideally eliminating the “what am I wearing today” decisions first thing in the morning. Just grab the same thing everyday and go.

In the initial post I designated 3 core principles:

  1. Replicable
  2. Mix-matchable
  3. Travel friendly

I’ve been playing with this idea for the better part of the last 10 years, on again and off again, though it’s getting to the point where I find off again frustrating and it stresses me out to the point of inaction more often than I want to admit, so on again is my preference these days and I’ve been actively getting rid of things that don’t fit the bill. Over those years the specific items I choose, as well as what exactly those core principles are have changed and evolved and I thought it might be useful to track it on GitHub so I’ve created a page there with some info that I’ll add to as time goes on, and anyone is welcome to fork or suggest changes to.

My current thinking is that a personal uniform should be replicable by definition so having that as a principle doesn’t make a lot of sense. And for me, mix-matchable is resolved in a single solid color. So, circa December 2015 the principles are:

  1. Primarily Black only – YMMV on this one, but I have to finally admit that when I get things of other colors they never get worn.
  2. No blatant branding – Again, maybe it’s because I designed shirts for so long, but anything I have with graphics pretty much collects dust and I shouldn’t add to that.
  3. No impulse buys, research everything ahead of time – On occasion when I’m swayed by something in a store that I hadn’t known about or considered previously and I’m convinced to buy it, very often I’ll go home and research it and then end up feeling the need to “upgrade it” to something else. When in fact, I should have just researched and bought the thing I wanted first, or taken that extra time and decided against it entirely.
  4. Travel friendly (light, compact, packable) – This is more or less important to people based on their travel schedule, but I fly over 100,000 miles a year so it’s pretty important to me. If something will get wrinkled and messed up, or takes up half my suitcase, it’s probably not the best choice.
  5. Multi season friendly – I’m committing to layering vs single temp items. Base layers, Mid layers, shells, etc. This also helps with the previous packing/travel note as more than once I’m going from hot to cold, wet to dry in the same trip.

Brands I’m liking right now for this include Outlier, Acronym, ExOfficio, Rapha and Patagonia. I’ll list out some specific items from these companies on the GitHub page in the coming days.

Insurances

I’m lucky enough to live in a city with multiple, excellent choices for health care and even more fortunate that I’m able to afford them. I say that because when I first moved to this city and started visiting doctors I quickly learned that there are two kinds of doctors in Los Angeles. Ones who accept insurance and ones who have decided that rather than spend time fighting with insurance companies they’d rather spend time with their patients so they don’t. Specifically, and repeatedly, a number of doctors I found in town told me this – “Insurances companies don’t want me spending more than 10 minutes with my patients, and I can’t do my job to the best of my abilities in only 10 minutes so I don’t take insurance and then I get to spend as much time with my patients as I think is needed.” My pediatrician, my ENT, My sports medicine doctor, my dentist – all told me similar stories. They went to school to learn how to practice medicine and when 20-30 years down that career path an insurance company notified them that they could no longer spend the time with their patients that they felt they needed to they cut the insurance companies out of the equation.

But this was all up front so I knew what I was getting into. I set up a recurring transfer with my bank so that each month I’d put X dollars into a specific savings account that I knew was just for doctor visits. This certainly would have been useless if I was hit by a bus, but as a relatively healthy active guy in his mid-30’s (at the time) it covered the bases for what I needed quite well, and when I needed it I felt that I got the best health care I possibly could. My doctors were thoughtful and caring and took time to give me choices, explaining the potential outcomes of every potential route. This was a starkly different feeling I’d ever gotten from a doctor previously where I’d always felt rushed in and out, and prescribed some course of treatment without any understanding what or why. Of course, now I understood why, those doctors were trying to meet the demands of the insurance companies.

Skip ahead to 2015. I’m now legally mandated to buy health insurance and as noted by many others the low premiums translate into massive deductibles. And to be clear “low premium” is still a few hundred dollars a month. It’s about the same as I used to squirrel away in my health savings account. Which I still have to do by the way, because my doctors still don’t accept insurance. So I could dump them and go to another doctor who does accept insurance and then it would balance out right? Wrong. Because until I hit that giant deductible I’m still paying out of pocket. So where as before I was paying out of pocket for health care, now I’m paying out of pocket for health care and health insurance that I can’t take advantage of unless I get super sick.

Earlier this year I had to make an emergency room run late one Sunday night. Whew, I thought. At least that health insurance wouldn’t be a total waste. A few months and bills later and the end result works out to basically I pay $6,000 and my health insurance pays $200. Because it turns out they don’t cover 99% of anything done in an emergency room. This is on top of the now twice as much as I used to have to spend every month on health costs.

And again, I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford it. But lots of people aren’t. People are forced to have insurance but still can’t afford to go to the doctor. This is a mess. Single payer is still seems like the only reasonable solution.

Running With The Devil

[This is a recent excerpt from my newsletter where I send out thoughts and links and stories once a week or so about whatever happens to be on my mind at the time. That is to say, the topic below isn’t something I write about all the time, but I do every once and a while.]

Speaking of the pre-internet early 90’s when I was in high school and controversial topics – In HS I had an english teacher who I thought was the coolest, though he had an obsession with The Rolling Stones that I could never quite wrap my head around. Anyway, his name was Jon Scott and he was one of the few teachers I ever interacted with who I felt I learned something from and helped me along the way. At one point, in an exercise about journalism and writing from a non-biased perspective, he assigned us to write a paper about something controversial that would have clear opposite sides that we could examine. Not to decide which side was right, but to be able to write about differing viewpoints without taking sides – and compare and contrast the viewpoints. I recall other kids in my class choosing things like “which are better, cats or dogs” and “why SPORTS GUY changed the face of SPORTS” and things like that. For my paper I decided to write about Satanism. I don’t think I could pinpoint exactly what led me to that decision but my family was super religious and took huge offense to any questioning of things they felt were unquestionable so probably played into it on some level.

Mr Scott had to approve everyone’s topics and when he got to mine he asked to talk to me after class and wanted to know what I was getting at. I must have made a convincing argument though I don’t recall it because he signed off on the idea and let me write the paper. I wish I still had that paper because I’d like to see now how my 15 year old brain was processing things, but I remember that after spending countless hours in both the school and local public library I couldn’t find a single book making the case for, but there were endless writings against. I thought that was odd, it was like there was this giant discussion about something but no one actually involved was included. So instead of writing a compare/contrast piece I wrote about this bias and wondered how all these authors could have so many opinions and consider themselves authorities on something they had never had any actual interaction with. Seemed odd to me. I remember Mr Scott liked my approach and gave me a nice grade on the paper. He told me later that he was very used to topics having two sides and that I’d approached this from a completely different perspective and surprised him which wasn’t something he was used to happening at the middle of nowhere Florida high school where we crossed paths. I’ve thought about that many times over the years and think I owe much of my approach to research to his encouragement of my questioning the motives of the sources. I imagine if I had known then that Satanists were not in fact devil worshipers but rather atheists I could have written an even more surprising paper. Speaking of memories, turns out morality, not memory, makes us who we are.

Anyway, there’s a point to this and that is that the other night I fell down a google search rabbit hole and found a 2014 article called “Satanism and Scholars of American Religion” by John L. Crow which I found fascinating. He wrote:

“If we look at Oxford’s recent volume, The Devil’s Party: Satanism in Modernity, of the twelve scholars, only one teaches in America, Eugene V. Gallagher, a prominent scholar of New Religious Movements. The rest are from or teach in Northern Europe, mostly Scandinavian countries. While a number of the scholars in the book examine Satanism in a European context, seven of the essays look at aspects of American Satanism, many focusing specifically on the founder of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey. Why is it that European scholars of religion have more to say about religious Satanism, a religious tradition that emerged in America, than American scholars of religion?”

“The answer to all of this is that scholars of religion in America are deeply ambivalent about Satanism, and much of this ambivalence comes from the field’s theological history and the theological commitments of its members. American scholars of religion are frequently uninformed about religious Satanism, and more importantly, due to a variety of reasons, mostly theological, do not consider Satanism a “real” religion or a religion worth study. Satanism shares many of the same problems as the traditions in the field of New Religious Studies. However, it has the added burden that, unlike other traditions studied and engaged by the field of NRM, Satanism rarely has anyone clarifying and educating about its historical background or place in American religious practice. Our field repeatedly attempts to portray itself as secular and independent of theology, particularly Christian theology. But the ambivalence about Satanism brings into focus the ways in which theology still shapes the field of religious studies, especially in America. Ultimately we need to ask ourselves. Are we theologians or are we social scientists? Sadly, when the topic is Satanism, the field, as a whole in America, looks more like the former than the latter.”

He followed that up a few months later with a post on his own blog with more thoughts on the topic and links to some other books addressing the issue. I bought all the books and can’t wait to read them.

Covert To Overt

[This is a forward that I wrote for the book “Covert to Overt: The Under/Overground Art of Shepard Fairey” which was released today. Shepard has been a trusted friend of mine for close to 20 years now and he remains someone I have unmeasurable respect for – I was honored to contribute something to this book. I though I’d post what I wrote here in case some people didn’t see the book but might enjoy it – though I fully recommend grabbing a copy for yourself regardless.]

1985 was a rough year for me. At home, at school. The fact that my recently divorced family had just moved across the country to somewhere in rural Texas, and had started using an assumed name didn’t help things. What did help things was a tutor that a teacher suggested I spend some time with after school. The tutor was a kid from a few grades above who seemed equally excited about the situation. We actually clicked right away. This was noteworthy because I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t quite fit in with the other kids. Not saying that I didn’t get along with them, I did, they were just into things I couldn’t really get excited about. I often felt like more of a spectator, just kind of watching things play out around. At that time I didn’t know any better and assumed I was just weird. Not that I’m not weird, but that’s a different story. Anyway, this tutor and I were supposed to work on my math and Latin (yes, Latin) skills which were sub par apparently, though they didn’t get any better during our lessons. Thing is, he didn’t teach me any math or latin, but he did clue me into everything awesome in the world.

The people you can point to in your life who had a significant impact are rare, but this guy, whose name I don’t even remember, introduced me to both Monty Python and the Circle Jerks, among other things. If you know me today you can see how much credit is due this one guy. On his suggestion I snuck home his loaned cassette copy of Group Sex and within seconds of putting it into my walkman I had an overwhelming feeling of “Finally!” Until then music had been one of two things for me – either the slow, mopey and depressing stuff that my mom way constantly playing at home, or the stuff on the radio that people were always dedicating to each other. One psudo-father figure who used to hang out around my house was a big Casey Kasem fan and was always listing to the weekly Top 40 countdowns. I found all of this to be terribly boring. Conversely, this cassette was exciting and scary.

This resonated, and made me excited about what else was out in the world that I didn’t know about. I dove in deep and had similar reactions upon hearing Minor Threat, Sex Pistols, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag, Run DMC, Gorilla Biscuits, NWA and Sick of It All not long after. I’d found my people, and even if they weren’t right there with me physically, knowing they were out there in the world somehow made things better. Knowing that these people who weren’t happy with the way things were and wanted to make a change could do something –even if it was just to sing about it. This was incredibly powerful and meaningful for me to learn at such a young age. Unconsciously these bands became my social litmus test, I could gauge right away where new people I’d meet fit in my world view. Were they people who would accept things as they were, or were they people who would try to change things for the better.

I had a similar experience with art. Growing up I’d been to museums and found them largely boring. I know now that was as much due to what I was being taken to be see as anything else, but as an angsty teenager I really didn’t give a shit about the old masters. Eventually I stumbled onto the likes of Bosch, Darger and Worhal and I got it. Just like the bands I was now obsessed with these artists were commenting on the society surrounding them, and not everything they had to say was roses and sunshine. Even if sometimes it was.

A decade later a friend who I’d been exchanging letters with for a while but never met – a penpal as we used to say – came to visit in Chicago. We spent the entire night of his arrival driving around the city in a borrowed pick up truck, blasting NWA and talking about the drive to have a hand in shaping the future. We talked about small actions that can have huge impacts. Writing a song. Telling someone about a band. Creating an image that makes people ask questions. Simple actions that can change the world. As sun rose we called it a night, having accomplished our goal of installing huge images of a sunken eyed figure looking out over the city commanding people to OBEY.

Or perhaps challenging them to resist such orders.