I was reading a fantastic post by my friend Wil about how he ended up as a “believe whatever you want just leave me out of it atheist” and was reminded of a very similar path I found myself on. I’ve written before about coming to terms with my own beliefs, or lack of beliefs as the case may be and fitting those in with my very religious family and upbringing. Growing up I went to many schools run by monks and nuns and was very frequently faced with the “believe, or else” philosophy of christian religion. I was regularly threatened with eternal damnation if I didn’t do any number of things, religious or otherwise. A family member once tried to exorcise the demons from me because she didn’t like my attitude. These people use threat of hell to create fear to build power and when that became obvious to me as I kid it lost all it’s power. When you realize someone is just trying to scare you into doing their thing, and that they are threatening you with made up nonsense, it’s really hard to get behind anything they have to say. You start asking question. And in my experience, those kinds of folks really don’t like being questioned. This reminded me about something I blogged about almost exactly one year ago about a pastor – a full grown man – bragging about punching a kid who wasn’t buying into his crap. I wrote that post on the occasion of National Religious Freedom Day which as it turns out is tomorrow.

It’s one thing to lament about things that happened back when we were kids, but in todays world the topic of “believe or else” is unfortunately just as current. And I’m not even talking about extremist events like the terrorist group ISIS beheading people on YouTube because you don’t even need to look that far. The United States prides itself on being the land of freedom, with freedom of religion baked right into the Bill of Rights, yet our currency declares allegiance to a supreme being (that was added in 1956 by the way) and Saudi Arabia considers atheists terrorists. A crime punishable by death, by a country that just last week beheaded 47 people in public for various crimes, most of which weren’t capital. This from a US ally and member of the UN Human Rights Council. One has to question the level of religious freedom and tolerance that exists a country that helps decide global human rights thinks it’s OK to kill people because they don’t believe in their personal favorite fairy tale. How many countries is that now that I can’t travel to, for fear of being murdered because I had the audacity to think for myself?

Thinking about all this causes me to constantly weigh out my own feelings. I think everyone should have the freedom to believe whatever they want, including the belief that all these superstitions are a bunch of crap. And I think they should grant me the same to me. I think if everyone just left everyone else alone to their own conclusions we’d be fine. But the fact of the matter is that for so many of these people, the only way they can feel good about their own choices are to condemn the choices of others. All religions have blood on their hands, and it’s almost always from people who decided to believe something else. And it’s because of that I can’t help thinking how much better off we’d all be without any of it.

So happy Religious Freedom Day, I look forward to the time when I can say that while actually enjoying religious freedom. That day certainly isn’t today.

Making Pictures

I talked m friend Harper into buying a ridiculous camera and his payback was to ask me to come up with some photography tips. It’s no secret that I take the occasional photo but I’m not sure I consider myself someone overflowing with advice on the subject. That said, I jotted down a few things that came to mind and thought I’d post them here for future reference. Maybe they will be helpful for you too.

  1. The world has no shortage of fast and crappy photos, so I try not to add to that. I’m not always successful, but it’s something I keep in mind.
  2. In 2012 I wrote about why I like shooting with film  and while obviously now I have started shooting primarily digital I try to keep a lot of those ideas in mind. Anyone can shoot 10 million pictures and find a good one in there, but I don’t think that’s really something to be proud of and I think the notion that “good photography is all about good editing” is crap.
  3. I used to think of my photography as documenting things and now I think of it as trying to create something – which is a subtle difference but a difference none the less.
  4. I try to think about “the obvious shot” – that is, if 20 other photographers were standing where I am would they all take the same photo? If so then I try not to take it.
  5. Obviously everyone has their own voice so to speak, and my photos kind of run the gamut, but I tend to think my strongest work is when I catch little personal moments .
  6. I try NOT to process photos just after I’ve taken them, because I’m too close to them and my memory of the event clouds my objective view of the photo. If I can wait a week or a month to go back and look at them, then I more often judge photos based on the photo itself, and that helps me in thinking about what photos to take in the future.
  7. I carry my camera everywhere and try to have it in hand ready to shoot at every moment. I might not even take a photo all day, but some of the most amazing photos I know I missed was because my camera was in my bag at the time. So I’m quicker at getting the thing I want when I
  8. Look at a lot of photos. I went to a class on photography once and the best thing I took away from it was to look at a shit ton of photos, pick the few that jump out at you and then try and figure out why. Find photographers or subjects that resonate with you and it’ll tell you something about what you are looking for.

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.

Time, and the managing there of

(This is excerpted from my latest email newsletter which you can and should subscribe to if you know what’s good for you.)

A few months ago on the Grumpy Old Geeks podcast, Brian was talking about his daily routine and while the specifics of it aren’t that important some bits jumped out at me. I’m going to get this wrong but it was something like “2 hours of news followed by 2 hours of email in the morning, break for lunch, bike ride, 4 hours of work work, 1 hour of email, end at 6pm no questions asked. That last bit was what hit me – he said basically “if it’s 5:55pm and what I’m doing will take 10 more minutes to finish then I do 5 minutes of it today, stop at 6pm and then finish that 5 minutes first tomorrow.” The argument being that there’s always 5 more minutes you can jam in, and before you realize it it’s 7pm, or 10pm or 3am. Setting the firm cut off point gave him the ability to have work free evenings.

Today I was listening to Max’s new Untitled Podcast and there was a similar notion being discussed. Max used the term “designing your life” which I thought was interesting, but it was following a conversation about budgets and how no one questions the sensibility of sticking to a financial budget if you want to reach certain goals. Similar logic should apply to time, and a time budget is the way to do that. Max talked about a horrid evil piece of software which I won’t even mention but it runs in the background and give him reports on how he spends his time. “You spent 732 hours in the last month on twitter” etc. That is information that is horrifying to me, but it shouldn’t be – for any of us – because we should be able to know exactly how much time we want to do certain things and how to ensure those things happen.

I want to read for at least an hour a day, but often it hits 11pm and I’m exhausted and I just crash. If I had a time budget dictating that I spend an hour a day reading it would be easier to justify, and I’d be happier, and my overall life would be improved. I’m guilty of working all the time, but I’d like to spend more time not working and just playing with my son. A dictated budget might give me the metal approval to allow that to happen.

I thought it was noteworthy that in Max’s conversation he commented that in some professions there is a time when work is actually done. When you finish X that’s all there is for the day. When I worked as a professional graphic designer in the 90’s that was often the case – I’d have done everything I could and next steps were waiting on something from someone else so I could call it a day. But now, with the web, and social sites, and constant email there is never an end. There is always a flow of new things to do, so unless you consciously decide that you are going to put it down and do something else for X hours a day, you won’t. And before you know it you’ll be dead and will have wasted your life chasing likes on Facebook.

Fuck that.

Like A Prayer

(Excerpted from something I sent to my mailing list, you should subscribe)

The other day I was hanging out in a local coffee shop with Rips (my 5yo son for anyone who doesn’t know) when Madonna’s “Like a prayer” came on the sound system, he started dancing in his seat and said he really liked the song. I’ve been trying to take note of what music he reacts to and encourage it when I can. Since I bought him a record player for his birthday, I pinged my friend who has a record shop near by and told him I needed to get that record. He only had “Like a virgin” in stock, but tracked down “Like a prayer” for me in a few days. I bought “Like a virgin” too just for the hell of it. When I got home and gave them a listen I remembered one of the formative moments of my childhood that I’d long since forgotten. I suppose everyone has a point growing up when they realize their parents/family aren’t flawless, and maybe they are actively misleading them. Unintentionally Madonna tipped me off to that.

Mid 80’s, early MTV days. Madonna was everywhere. My very Catholic family was not impressed and took every opportunity to tell me how horrid she was. Unsolicited. She was a blasphemer. She was mocking *our* faith by calling herself Madonna and wearing a crucifix. She was probably a Satanist. Definitely a slut. A hussy. She was certainly trying to corrupt innocent minds. Etc. etc. As a kid, hearing this from authority figures I assumed it must be true. But it had a contrary impact on me, rather than scare me away which was the intended motivation, it made me curious. Who was this lady who would make such a public attack on a group of people. Why would she do that? What was her story?

Once I started digging into it a different story came out, of course it’s much easier to find now, but I learned then that she wasn’t using the name “Madonna” as a slam against Catholics, but rather that was her actual name given to her by her very Catholic parents – it’s on her birth certificate. And her music, her art, was influenced by the imagery she’d grown up around. Like almost every other artist I’d learned about. An anti-climatic end to a story that had been so built up. I have to say, it was a little disappointing. (Luckily I soon found Slayer) But that got me thinking – if nothing my family had told me about Madonna was actually true, what else had they told me wasn’t based entirely in fact? And why would they tell me something like that?

Either they were purposefully trying to deceive me, or more likely someone had told this to them and they’d just accepted it as truth. Or maybe no one told them and that was just their gut reaction having been conditioned to react certain ways to certain things and assumed they had it all figured out – also a very real possibility. Maybe they were so insecure about their own beliefs that they had to proactively attack anything that they felt challenged them in the slightest bit. All options – but regardless, none of those options were reassuring. All of them lead to the inevitable truth that I could no longer accept anything they told me as the truth. I guess that stuck with me more than I realized. Thanks Madonna.

Subconsciously I’ve incorporated that lesson into my own parenting efforts, when my son asks me a question I make sure to answer honestly or if I don’t know, I tell him that I don’t know. Sometimes we look up the answers together. When I talk to him about my opinions I make it clear that people have different opinions and feelings about things, that this is what I think but he’s welcome to think about it and decide what he wants to think. I know I’m setting myself up for him eventually making decisions I don’t agree with, but he’s his own person and that’s his right. And him having his own opinions is far more appealing to me than him someday coming to the conclusion that I’ve been lying to him.

1000 words on religion

[this post is also available on Medium & Tumblr for ease of sharing]

Yesterday I watched this video of Pastor Eric Dammann of New Jersey’s Bible Baptist Church recount his interaction with a kid named Ben. Go ahead and watch it, it’s short:

It’s disgusting for a whole all-you-can-eat-buffet of reasons but let’s go ahead and address a few of them. The most obvious is that he’s talking about punching a child. But not just talking about it, bragging. He underlines that he “crumpled” the kid. This full grown man, unprovoked, punched a child in the chest and crumpled him. And he’s proud of this. But just before that happens he mentions that this kid Ben was really bright which “didn’t help things” and “made him dangerous”. Reading between the lines anyone can assume Ben was a smart kid who perhaps didn’t take this guys word as law and asked some questions that the good pastor found annoying to have to answer, or not answer as the case my be. Dangerous because he didn’t just submit? Pastor Dammann then essentially lays out that through the use of physical violence he made a child succumb to his religious beliefs. Beliefs we can only assume Ben didn’t buy into prior to this altercation.

To recap: Smart people are dangerous, violence is the solution. This is the message here.

This video has sparked enough outrage that Bible Baptist Church posted a self serving, half ass, revisionist apology on their website which implores the community, and by extension the world, to be as understanding and forgiving as Ben who has already made peace with the pastor for his actions years ago. One has to wonder if this forgiveness came under threat of more violence. Forgive me or else! Of course this story is not making headlines the world over because unfortunately this kind of thing isn’t news. Religious people have been using violence to suppress dissenters for a very long time, and this week has some horrifically ugly examples. 12 people killed at the offices of Charlie Hebdo and another 5 in Paris because the magazine printed cartoons unflattering to the Prophet Muhammad. In Nigeria the militant Islamist movement Boko Haram has killed close to 2000 including strapping a bomb to a 10 year old girl and sending her into a market where the bomb was detonated remotely. And yes, killing people is different from punching them, but the motivations are the same. You haven’t blindly accepted this mythology that I believe is real so I’m going to hurt you.

This has been happening as long as religion has existed and no faith is free from blame.

Coincidentally this is exactly the motivation behind the creation of something else happening in the US this week: National Religious Freedom Day. Did you know there was a religious freedom day? Created in 1992 and based on Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom which dates back to 1777. This is important because it clearly states a legal and natural freedom of and from all religions. Here’s a snip:

“…no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.”

If you think sounds familiar you are right, as it was the primary influence for the First Amendment of the US which assures freedom of religion and speech to all people. Here’s that:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Speech and religion are intricately related as we’re seeing in every news report coming out of Paris. People were killed because of what they said about someone else’s religion. And this sparked massive freedom of speech rallies attended by millions – the biggest such rallies in France since liberation from the Nazis. The people are obviously in support of free speech and politicians from the world over rushed to Paris to stand side by side with these people. Of course, many of politicians are barely paying lip service to the ideals represented, and it took mere hours for this to be apparent as a French comedian was arrested for making a joke on Facebook (plus 54 other cases opened for people expressing opinions) and for Turkey to ban the newest issue of Charlie Hebdo.

But that’s over there and here we’ve just got pastors punching kids, so big deal, right? Well with a 92% Christian Congress and a Supreme Court ruling that businesses can discriminate based on of religion we’re already seeing where someone’s religious beliefs could prevent people from receiving health care because of their sexual orientation. This isn’t far away hypothetical thought experiments, this is actually happening right now. Religious massacres are low hanging fruit – easy to condemn, but I feel just as strongly that kids shouldn’t fear or risk being punched by an adult for not sharing the same imaginary friends. And it’s important to recognize that there is some structure, and some basis for the idea that we should all be allowed to decide what we do or don’t believe in, and shouldn’t fear institutional backlash from those decisions.

That’s the world I want to live in, that’s the world I’m trying to shape.

Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others

Growing up in a fairly religious family the notion that you should always consider other people before yourself was pretty well hammered into me. Of course we all know what most religious people say and what they do are two very different things but that’s a topic for another time. But regardless, as a kid I always had the adults in my life repeating this to me. This manifested itself in different ways in different situations. I remember from a very early age sitting on an airplane listening to the safety instructions and thinking it was rude and selfish that the flight attendants were suggesting that people should put on their oxygen masks before helping anyone else. I’d listen and ask myself what kind of terrible people would help themselves before helping others. 


It took me years to understand the importance of this disconnect. It’s shockingly obvious: You can’t help others if you are dead – then you both die. Putting on your oxygen mask first ensures you live and can then help other people.


Abstract that back a bit, two people, two problems. One person tries to fix the other persons problem and it’s a very real possibility that both people will still have problems. End result, two people, two problems. But if one person fixes their problem right away, then tries to help the other person with their problem at worst you’ll have one person with no problems and one person with one problem, and at best two people with no problems.


At some point I realized this wisdom extends far beyond the tarmac, and well into normal everyday life. You shouldn’t try to fix other people’s problems before fixing your own. And beyond problems into happiness, you can’t expect to make other people happy if you aren’t happy yourself. (Secretly miserable comedians excluded apparently). I don’t think the importance of this can be underestimated and for something that is so obvious – put your oxygen mask on first – not a lot of people follow the logic elsewhere.


How often in a disagreement, business or personal, where two parties want different things is compromise proposed as the solution? That’s not actually a solution, it might be an agreement, but at the end of the process neither party gets what they want. It’s not “we’re both kind of happy” it’s “at least the other guy isn’t happy either.” A better solution is to work with people who want the same outcome as you. To spend time with people who are happy because you are happy, not people who want you to be unhappy. Even if on the short term that seems reasonable, big picture – it’s not. Think about it. Long term nothing good can come from investing in people who don’t value your happiness. 


This isn’t just a lesson about who to spend time with, but also about the importance of knowing what actually makes you happy. If you don’t know what you want, then you can’t make it a priority. You can’t find people with similar goals. You can’t be happy to begin with. So, if you don’t know, figure it out. It’s important. Put on your own oxygen mask first.

Habit Metrics

I was sitting in the audience at TechCrunch50 in 2008 when FitBit was announced and ordered one immediately. If I had money to invest in things I would have been banging on their door – I got the concept right away and knew it would change everything. I’ve had every single model they’ve released and swear by it – just knowing how active (or not) you are, give you context that might otherwise be lost. And I saw that, one days when I’d start feeling sluggish and worn out I noticed I wasn’t moving around much. If I felt awesome and ready to take on the world, surprise surprise – I’d been moving around a lot. After doing this for a little while I could tell if I walked a certain amount each day my overall attitude and general feeling was way better. I wasn’t using it for fitness as many people do (quite successfully) but just as an extra data point of something that I knew improved things for me. My only complaint with FitBit is their charger dongles which I always lose or forget when traveling which wrecks my stats anytime it happens – otherwise I love it.

And of course, other companies and other devices followed tracking all kinds of different things to give people that kind of feedback. Above X you feel good, below X you feel bad – so here’s an easy way to know where you are so you can step things up if you need to. Hell, we even have one for our dog to know if we’ve walked her enough.

Recently, spawned by a conversation on my mailing list, several people told me they track other things in their lives as well. Not just the  physical stuff, but mental and emotional too. How much time each day or week were they spending with their family, were they spending alone, were they reading, having sex, meditating, traveling, etc.. whatever was important to them, and keeping track of it. To great success I might add. This seemed incredibly obvious to me and I didn’t know why I didn’t consider it earlier. If I know I feel better if I walk 10,000 steps in a day, and I have a device/system to remind me to do that, why couldn’t I think of other things that make me feel better and use a system to remind me of those? I’m not talking about “remember to floss!” kind of things -because while those are great for you (and me) they don’t really impact day to day mental well being.