Leave Only Footprints, Take Only Pictures . . . And Here’s A $1000 Fine For Doing So

I know that it’s silly to assign values of good and evil to various government agencies, but I swear, sometimes those agencies really go out of their way to make you decide. And no, I’m not talking about the NSA who seem to actively delight in seeming evil and are probably reading this blog post right now. No, today my ire is directed at the U. S. Forest Service due to their new plan to charge a $1000 fine for taking pictures in a Federal Wilderness without a permit.

Don’t worry, though. The permits are a bargain: only $1500. I’m certain that won’t affect any student filmmakers or struggling photographers or, really, anyone else who might be operating on a tight budget. Hell, I’ve got $1500 in my back pocket right now.

Forest Service spokesperson Larry Chambers told the Oregonian that permits will cost up to $1,500, and those caught so much as taking an iPhone photo without clearance will be fined $1,000. Liz Close, the Forest Service’s acting wilderness director, told the Oregonian that the restrictions are following the Wilderness Act of 1964, which is meant to preserve the untamed character of the wilderness and prevent it from being used for commercial gain.

So, that sucks. But it gets even better worse!

The Forest Service would make exceptions for breaking news that “arises suddenly, evolves quickly, and rapidly ceases to be newsworthy.”

Beyond the media, the rule would apply to anyone who might use the photos or video to make money while in a wilderness area, be it a documentary film crew, nonprofit, or private citizen.

Sure, you could argue that it’s “only” recognized wilderness areas and not actually “all of nature.” On the other hand, I’m willing to bet that most people have no idea whether the outdoorsy area they’re in at any given moment is considered a wilderness area or not. And speaking as someone who does usually know and has a particular favorite wilderness area, the idea that it’s a finable offense is infuriating!

Oh, but the permit is only required for pictures used for commercial purposes, you say? Well, that should fucking solve it for everyone, won’t it. Wait, is this blog a commercial purpose? Is my picture of a creek that I took four years ago indicative of a violation? I don’t actually make any money doing this blog, but I’m also working on publishing a book, so there’s a very real chance that in a year or so this blog will have a commercial purpose. What happens then?

(Actually, it still wouldn’t be a violation since I took that picture in a State Park, but would you know that by looking at it?)

Maybe I’m overreacting. Certainly, we can trust the Forest Service agency not to abuse this authority to go after people for taking pictures of trees or . . .

I’m sorry, I can’t even manage good sarcasm right now. This is well and truly a shitty thing. We come full circle to my earlier assessment: the Forest Service is evil.

For what it’s worth, I consider the Parks Service to be their good counterpart. So there’s that.

How To Succeed As An Auto Mechanic: A Practical Guide

Hello, prospective mechanic. If you’re reading this post, there’s a minuscule chance that you’re actually considering a career spent repairing and maintaining that most of wondrous of machines, the automobile. If you’re not that person, please feel free to continue reading; I imagine this information will be useful to you as well. Somehow.

I’m your friendly(ish), average potential customer. I know a little bit about my vehicles. I know enough to install a new radiator on my own. I know to keep my oil checked and changed regularly. I can change my oil myself on my motorcycle.

I know that my 2001 Isuzu Rodeo is getting on in years. She’s about to hit 180,000 miles and I have to tell you, those have been some hard miles. I’m not her first owner (I’m probably the third or fourth, having picked her up for cheap when she was at about 120,000 miles). I haven’t always been the best owner, but I try.

With that said, please allow me to educate you on what I feel are a few basic tips that will help you to transform me from a potential customer to a paying customer and maybe, just maybe, into a returning customer. Here are a few simple steps for you to follow, aspiring auto mechanic:

  1. Don’t nag. Don’t scold me for the shit that I didn’t do. Yeah, it sucks that most of your job is going to be cleaning up the messes of people who don’t realize that car engines prefer to have oil in them and that sometimes you have to change that oil, or whatever. But scolding me for not getting a transmission flush at 100,000 miles? That’s not going to endear you in my heart, even if you’re entirely correct. (Although in my case, I didn’t own my vehicle when I passed that milestone). At this point, I’m willing to take my business to a mechanic specifically if he or she doesn’t guilt trip me about all the things I’m failing to do. I get enough of that from my doctor and my dentist, thanks.
  2. Try not to miss the forest for the trees. I went a little poetic here, so let me explain. If I bring my aging, slowly dying, fourteen-year-old, high-mileage car to you because my transmission is acting up, try to keep that in perspective as we’re conducting our business. Do I really look like I’m in a position to drop 3.5 grand into getting the transmission replaced? I didn’t pay that much when I bought the vehicle, and it sure as hell isn’t worth that much now! Consider the possibility that this sort of thing is wildly unlikely to happen. I’m more likely to respect and like you (and thus become a loyal customer) if you give me some realistic options or if you’re just flat-out honest with me about it. And no, telling me that I’m getting a good deal because the transmission is used and has “only” 100,000 miles on it doesn’t make it better.
  3. Don’t hard sell. Here’s a tip and it’s one that’s true whether you’re running an auto repair shop or a video game store or a restaurant.

    Don’t. Fucking. Hard. Sell. Me.

    The first time you do that is the last time you get my business. Don’t tell me that I need to replace my sticking shifter lever RIGHT AWAY BEFORE IT BLOWS UP ON ME, because you know what? It’s been doing that for over five years. It’s been doing that since I bought the car. It’s not high on my priority list. All that this particular warning does is set off my bullshit detector that you’re trying to hard sell me. And once that happens, I’m moving on.

    Don’t hard sell. Realize that there are many people like myself who just want to conduct our transaction as painlessly and with as little hassle as possible. Don’t push the warranty deal. Don’t push the extended plan. Don’t try to push for something I obviously don’t want. Yes, I realize that for many of these things and many businesses, the corporate overlords are forcing you to do them. Sometimes it’s not your fault. But sometimes it is.

With these simple tips, I think you’ll find the loss of revenue from that initial repair job is more than compensated from the loyal business I’ll bring to your establishment over the next several years. The initial loss will further be offset by the fact that I’ll tell everyone I know about how much I like working with you, thus driving more business in your direction. Everyone is happy.

On an unrelated note, does anyone know a good mechanic in the Tucson area? I’m looking. Thanks.

Apparently, Fencing Isn’t For Adults

This is a post about fencing, as in sword fighting. Not fencing as in building fences around things. This is a crucial difference that search engines don’t seem to understand. When you Google fencing, you’re going to learn a lot about the cost of installing convenient and attractive fences around your property. I was thinking about a nice picket fence for myself until I remembered that I live in a second-story apartment building.

I started boxing last summer and I really enjoy it. It’s good to feel in shape again. I’ve been idly contemplating trying some other forms of physical activity to complement my current training. I don’t really feel the need to go back into a martial art since I’m already learning how to hit people with my hands.

What I really want to learn is how to hit people with a sharp piece of metal. I want to learn fencing because I’m a nerd and nerds seem drawn to swords as a general trend.

I did an idle Google search the other day and came up with a few websites about fencing classes local to my area. The initial results were not encouraging. Most hadn’t been updated in over five years.

Regardless, I plunged ahead and finally located a phone number that was in service. I called it and a woman answered. I was expecting the usual greeting: “thank you for calling such-and-such academy of stabby things, this is . . .”

Instead, my call is answered with a curt “Yes?”

“Uh,” I say. “I found this number because I was looking for fencing classes.”

“Yeah, yeah, I do fencing,” the woman on the other end of the phone says.

Well, okay, that’s encouraging. We got off to a rocky start but at least I’ve found something more promising than an abandoned website. I ask her if she’s taking new students; she says she is. I ask her if she’s taking complete beginners, she says yes, as long as they’re already in shape.

Translation: Fatties need not apply.

I assure her that I’m fairly active and I’m in good shape, which is true.

I ask about her specialty and what style of fencing she teaches. I learned from my reading online that there are three kinds of fencing weapons: foil, epee, and saber.

Saber sounds like the most fun to me because it involves both slashing as well as stabbing movements. The various guides I read said it’s traditional to learn foil first before moving on to the others.

Whatever, I just want to have a sword in my hand and learn how to poke people with it, all in the name of sport and fitness, of course.

She explains the tradition of starting with foil, “because it’s the hardest” before moving on to the other styles. I don’t mention that I think saber sounds the coolest. I get the feeling it won’t earn me any points here.

I ask about prices, which are higher than I expected but not outside of my means.

I’m just about to ask if I can come for a trial class to see if I like it when she asks me “how old is your child?”

“Uh,” I say. “My child?”

“Yes,” she says impatiently. “How old is your child? I don’t work with kids under 10. They don’t have enough focus.”

“Oh,” I say, glad this is a phone call so she can’t see my embarrassment even as I’m certain she can hear it in my voice. “No, I’m asking about classes for an adult. For myself.”

“This is an after-school program,” she says.

“So . . . ” I venture, hoping for more information. When none is forthcoming, I take a stab at it. “So not for adults?”

Her silence indicates that I’m either correct or an idiot for asking an obvious question. Perhaps both.

“Do you take adult students?” I ask. “Ever?”

Surely I can’t be the only person who has decided at the doddering old age of twenty-seven to decide, you know, I think I’d like to learn a new sport!

I’m sure adults try this sort of thing all the time. After all, this feels like an adult sport. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that the signature of any adult sport is how much gear you need to buy or rent. You can’t just pick up a ball from the sporting goods store when you’re a grown-up. You need to have gear and that gear is always expensive. I can’t walk out of an REI without dropping a hundred bucks when all I went there for was a dehydrated meal and a map book.

Apparently, I’m wrong about adults and fencing. It seems the fencing instruction train left when I was a wee lad and I didn’t even realize it because I was born to parents who preferred the unrefined barbarism of football rather than the civilized art of poking holes in people with sharp metal bits. They missed their opportunity to raise a world-class fencer, even though at the time, I certainly would have hated it.

“Sometimes we do adult classes in the summer,” she says without conviction. “When the kids are off doing competitions or out of school. Try calling back in May, we might have something for you.”

Translation: We don’t do adult classes ever. The fact that you want to try this is laughable. Go away, old person. Go away and be old somewhere else.


I promise I’ll call back in May to see about starting a class. We hang up. The whole experience was vaguely bewildering. I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I’m now past my prime for wanting to learn something new.

The only things I’m certain of, besides my waning mortality, is that I won’t be calling back in May and that my fencing career is over before it even began.

This Is The Advice I Wish I Could Give

But cannot, because being professional in a professional customer service related position means keeping my mouth shut and my opinions to myself, even when asked. Especially when asked.

But if there was one thing I could say to customers in the hopes of bettering their lives and improving their social skills, it would be this:

I understand that you did not vote for Barack Obama in 2008 or 2012. I understand that you disagree with his policies and his political directions. However, picking up a children’s biography of the current president and flipping through it while making sarcastic and racist remarks does not make you seem interesting, cool, or learned. You do, in fact, sound like an ignorant moron for pointing out all the “lies” in a children’s book in which the signature factoid is that the President’s dog is named Bo.

I didn’t do this in 2007 when George W. Bush was president, despite how much I disliked him and how little I thought of his presidency.

Seriously, stop it. It makes me want to throw a book at you.

In fact, don’t try to discuss politics at all with someone who is working, because the fact that they are working means they are hamstrung in how they can respond.

I think this nugget of wisdom would make the world a better place for everyone.

Correlation vs. Causation: A Handy Guide For Rich People

Hi. My name is Matthew Ciarvella and I’m a member of the middle class. I’m assuming that the majority of people who visit my blog are also middle class(ish), but I don’t really know for certain. On the off-chance that you are reading this blog and you’re a member of The Rich, please pay attention to the following discussion about the difference between correlation and causation, as it seems one of your number (actually, more than one, but let’s just focus on Tom Corley) has tragically confused correlation and causation, thus bringing shame on the good names of The Rich everywhere.

First, the offender: Tom Corley lists 20 things The Rich do every day (the link will take you to a post by Dave Ramsey defending Corley’s list, due to Corley’s site currently not functioning):

1. 70% of wealthy eat less than 300 junk food calories per day. 97% of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day. 23% of wealthy gamble. 52% of poor people gamble.

2. 80% of wealthy are focused on accomplishing some single goal. Only 12% of the poor do this.

3. 76% of wealthy exercise aerobically four days a week. 23% of poor do this.

4. 63% of wealthy listen to audio books during commute to work vs. 5% of poor people.

5. 81% of wealthy maintain a to-do list vs. 19% of poor.

6. 63% of wealthy parents make their children read two or more non-fiction books a month vs. 3% of poor.

7. 70% of wealthy parents make their children volunteer 10 hours or more a month vs. 3% of poor.

8. 80% of wealthy make Happy Birthday calls vs. 11% of poor.

9. 67% of wealthy write down their goals vs. 17% of poor.

10. 88% of wealthy read 30 minutes or more each day for education or career reasons vs. 2% of poor.

11. 6% of wealthy say what’s on their mind vs. 69% of poor.

12. 79% of wealthy network five hours or more each month vs. 16% of poor.

13. 67% of wealthy watch one hour or less of TV every day vs. 23% of poor.

14. 6% of wealthy watch reality TV vs. 78% of poor.

15. 44% of wealthy wake up three hours before work starts vs. 3% of poor.

16. 74% of wealthy teach good daily success habits to their children vs. 1% of poor.

17. 84% of wealthy believe good habits create opportunity luck vs. 4% of poor.

18. 76% of wealthy believe bad habits create detrimental luck vs. 9% of poor.

19. 86% of wealthy believe in lifelong educational self-improvement vs. 5% of poor.

20. 86% of wealthy love to read vs. 26% of poor.

Let’s look at what it means to confuse correlation with causation.

For any two correlated events A and B, the following relationships are possible:

  • A causes B;
  • B causes A;
  • A and B are consequences of a common cause, but do not cause each other;
  • There is no connection between A and B; the correlation is coincidental. (Source)

That’s the basic structure, although there are other permutations.In Corley’s case, he’s doing something a little bit different. Corley is guilty of a reverse causation fallacy. This is a good example and explanation of a reverse causation fallacy:

The faster windmills are observed to rotate, the more wind is observed to be.Therefore wind is caused by the rotation of windmills. (Or, simply put: windmills, as their name indicates, are machines used to produce wind.)

In this example, the correlation (simultaneity) between windmill activity and wind velocity does not imply that wind is caused by windmills. It is rather the other way around, as suggested by the fact that wind doesn’t need windmills to exist, while windmills need wind to rotate. Wind can be observed in places where there are no windmills or non-rotating windmills—and there are good reasons to believe that wind existed before the invention of windmills. (Source)

Thus, Corley’s argument: The Rich are observed to read more, eat better, and exercise more than the poor, therefore reading more, eating better, and exercise cause a person to be Rich.

So if poor people will just not eat junk food or gamble or watch TV or would read more, they will become Rich themselves! It’s so easy! Get ye to the organic produce aisle, poor person!

Can you spot the flaw in Corley’s logic?

Is it possible that poor people eat junk food not because they are gluttons craving sweet, sweet heart disease and obesity, but because junk food is cheap? Or, if you prefer, cheap food is junk. It works either way. If you’re shopping on a poor person’s budget, you’re not going to be enjoying the organic, farm raised produce that costs five times as much. You make that dollar stretch as far as it can and that means frozen food. It means the dollar menu. It means loads of salt, sugar, calories, etc. In short: junk.

But how is it that poor people don’t have time to work out four times a week? After all, it’s not like having a personal trainer or home exercise equipment or a gym membership makes exercising easier, more interesting, or more enjoyable, right? It’s not like a poor person is working a thankless job with brutally long hours for less than a living wage that would leave them without time to exercise, right? If you’re poor, you don’t have a job. You should have lots of free time if you don’t have a job, right? If you had a job, you wouldn’t be poor, unless you’re stupid and fritter away all your money on, I don’t know, drug addiction or gambling or something.

Tom Corley thinks that these good behaviors like reading more, exercising, and eating well are the reason he’s Rich, but that’s the reverse causation fallacy. Much as windmills don’t cause wind, doing these things does not cause Richness. Richness is what allows Tom Corley to have the time and money to do these things, because he does not need to worry about niggling little details like starving to death or getting evicted or having the electricity shut off at the end of the month or paying any dozen of another bills or needs.

If you checked the earlier link to the list itself, Dave Ramsey follows Corley’s list with a long, Christ-laden defense of why Corley is right and everybody who is attacking/mocking/picking him apart is wrong and stupid (my paraphrase). I don’t have the inclination to go through all the ways Ramsey himself is wrong, too, but he does make the same mistake as Corley originally, in assuming that your choices are what make you The Rich. Thus, if you’re not Rich, you made bad choices. Not being Rich, according to Ramsey, has nothing to do with the extensive system of privilege that a person such as Dave Ramsey has enjoyed his entire life, a system that excludes people who do not fall into a narrow band of physical characteristics that cannot be chosen or changed.

There is one final thing I want to mention about Ramsey’s rather silly Christ-wants-me-to-be-rich defense of Corley. Ramsey explains that he, like all the other poor people in the history of ever, was poor once. But then he worked really hard and God blessed his efforts and helped him become The Rich as a reward.

Which, if you think about it, is deliciously ironic. Let’s follow the chain of events:

Ramsey is poor. Ramsey believes in God. God rewards Ramsey by making him into a Rich Person. Jesus says in holy, infallible Scripture-that-is-not-open-for debate-or discussion-or-interpretation-so-don’t-even-try:

And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24“Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24)

God has made Ramsey into a rich man even though it’s going to later make it impossible to receive his eternal reward. That’s a dick move, God; making a guy rich just so you can screw him over later.

I’m going to pause with the sarcasm and address this final point directly: if you are rich, it is due to privilege. It might be the privilege of being born into a wealthy family that was able to provide good opportunities and education, or it might be the privilege of the right place, right time, or having a particularly good idea or any number of other confluences. You are not rich because you are a good person; consequently, being rich does not make you a good or bad person. These things are unrelated. You can be a good or bad person regardless of your richness. You might have worked hard for your wealth or it might all be a trust fund and you never worked a day in your life. It doesn’t matter in this context.

It all comes down to privilege. Privilege is what gives some people the choice between wealth and poverty and gives many people the choice between poverty and poverty.

Which is to say, privilege gives many people no choice at all.

Politically Correct

Let’s have a little discussion on what the term “politically correct” means. Fair warning: I don’t normally resort to (much) profanity in my posts, but this one is going to break that soft rule.

If you’re the sort of person for whom “political correctness” equates to cowardice, overly sensitive new ageism, hippie shit, liberal shit, or any variation thereof in which shit enters your calculations, please pay attention very closely, because this is written with you in mind. If you’re the kind of person who scoffs when someone endeavors to be politically correct, please pay attention. If you’re the kind of person who says, “I know it’s not politically correct of me, but. . .”, please pay attention.

If you fall into any of the above descriptions, it’s very possible that you are an asshole.

Here’s what you think I’m doing when I say something is or is not politically correct:

“Stop being a cog in the wheels of the oppressive, feminist, white-hating, pinko, anti-male matriarchy. Be a REAL man.”

Here’s what I’m actually doing:

“I am trying very hard to not be a spoiled, privileged, self-absorbed, entitled, ignorant, narrow-minded asshole.”

If you think that deriding something as politically correct is an example of cutting commentary, it’s very possible that you are an asshole. If you think it’s stupid to be so sensitive and that people should “lighten up,” it’s very possible that you are an asshole. If you don’t see what the big deal is, you may not be an asshole, but it’s very possible that you are somewhat ignorant of the world outside yourself.

Politically correct isn’t a neutering of language. It isn’t caving to some cabal that exists only to strip away all the joy of “being a man” or whatever.

Politically correct is recognizing that there are other people in the world, people who are different than you. It’s recognizing that words have power. It’s recognizing that only ignorant fuckwads wield words without considering their consequences or their implications. It’s recognizing the perniciousness of privilege and how goddamn much privilege needs to go away so we can have equality. Actual equality, not this “hear no evil, see no evil” shadow version that the privileged pretend is the real thing so they don’t feel bad about themselves.

So here’s my message to you, if you’re the sort of person that thinks it’s funny, cool, interesting, or amusing to laud your “I’m not politically correct” nature. Just stop. You’re being an asshole. If people around you are amused, it’s very possible they’re assholes, too.

Would you like to stop being an asshole? Great! All you need to do is realize that differences of genderracereligionethnicitysexual orientation and disability should be treated with respect. Show respect by using respectful language (i.e. politically correct). That’s it!

But what about the jokes, you might be wondering. Hey, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys telling racist jokes, go ahead and keep telling racist jokes, so long as you do so while accepting that this makes you a racist. If you aren’t sure whether a joke is racist, consider whether you would say the joke while a person of that race that you did not know was standing in the room with you. Would you feel uncomfortable? There you go.

Insert the other -ists here where appropriate (sexist, chauvinist, etc).

I’ve written before about a need to engage in diplomacy with those who disagree with you so that you can more effectively win them over to your way of thinking. “Pick your battles, catch more flies with honey, etc.” Those are still valuable policies. They’re valuable when the person you’re talking to is capable of listening. Assholes generally don’t listen; if they did, they wouldn’t be assholes.

More and more, I’ve seen that there are some who don’t want to listen or can’t or won’t. So, here you go: my honest opinion and my honest anger. I’m anti-asshole. People that are assholes should stop being them.

Seasonally Appropriate Responses

It’s only happened once in my life, but I can recall the moment I was verbally assaulted by a customer for responding to an offered “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays.” The crystalline clarity of that exchange has far outlasted most other memories from that early job (grocery store bagging clerk).

It didn’t matter that “Happy Holidays” was the corporate-approved response that we were required to say; I’d have said it regardless, because I’m just that sort of person. I don’t like doing things just because they’re tradition. I like doing them because I like doing them.

Consequently, I also like conducting myself in such a way as to communicate my personal belief that the world does have more than one religion. I think there’s, like, four, based on holidays: Christmas for Christian people, Hanukkah for Jewish people, Winter Solstice for Pagan people, and Kwanzaa for . . . I don’t know what religion celebrates Kwanzaa. Seems a little racist to just say “black people,” you know?

I guess there’s also Boxing Day for Canadian people but finding out the truth about Boxing Day was a big disappointment because I used to imagine there was a holiday dedicated to fist fighting and that made me happy.

However, I do rather like my current job and would prefer to avoid creating irritated customers, which is why I have embraced my current holiday response with enthusiasm. It’s basically a form of verbal Jiu Jitsu, in which you attempt to trap your opponent in a position that they cannot retaliate from. Here’s my brilliant technique:

Customer: “Thanks, and have a Merry Christmas!”

Me: “Likewise!”

Likewise is perfect. It’s unassailable. It tells the person offering their particular well wishing exactly what they want to hear, without actually endorsing any particular holiday. You’ve trapped them in a verbal situation in which they cannot reasonably respond with offense.

Try to imagine such a person getting offended by likewise:

Customer: “Thanks, and have a Merry Christmas!”

Me: “Likewise!”

Customer: “What, you can’t wish me a Merry Christmas? HAVE YOU NO SOUL?”

Me: “What exactly do you think ‘likewise’ means?”

Checkmate. They can’t wriggle out of the fact that you expressed the offered greeting back at them, but you also can’t be held accountable for supporting any particular religious tradition, especially if you work in a secular or corporate establishment where that sort of thing is not policy. If you think this sounds overwhelmingly cynical, you are clearly not a person whose affection for the holidays is lukewarm, at best.

I could probably write a book about this: Christmas for Cynical People. I’m sure it’d be a great stocking stuffer.

The Stuff I Didn’t Talk About

The black hole that was NaNoWriMo kept me away from blogging regularly, which means there were plenty of rant-worthy stories that went uncommented upon. The most noteworthy, of course, was the rather disastrous rollout of the new healthcare.gov. And it was, indeed, a disaster.

Most of the good zings have already been zung at this point, so there’s not really much more to say. I do have two thoughts on the matter, though:

Anybody that started playing World of WarCraft way back in late 2004/early 2005 will understand the nature of what went wrong. Setting up server architecture and infrastructure to handle the massive amount of traffic such an endeavor is going to get is not easy, no matter what talk show hosts and pundits might like to say. Blizzard Entertainment learned that the hard way, as have many other technology giants. It’s not something you can whip up on a WYSIWYG editor like I’m doing here on WordPress (and if you don’t know what that acronym stands for, don’t talk to me about how easy it is and how it can be done in 45 minutes).

It’s not just a matter of changing one line of code. The ways in which one small change can cascade into numerous failures is nothing short of amazing if you’ve never seen it firsthand. Fun fact: I did some bug testing for a piece of database software one summer during high school. It was absolutely incredible to see how doing something as simple as setting a line of text into italics could cause an entire column of data to collapse in on itself like a neutron star.

That being said, the previous example is a video game from a video game company. The product on offer is virtual dragons and the slaying thereof, which is not a service that is necessarily vital to one’s life (unless you’re an addict, I guess). When we’re talking about health care, it’s a wee bit more important to get it right on the first try. Am I saying that the government should be held to a higher standard on this issue? Yes, yes I am. Get it right on the first try. The stakes are too high to faff about for six months until the servers are fixed, which is about how long it took Blizzard if memory serves.

In conclusion, it’s not easy to launch a website of this magnitude and get it right on the first try. Anybody who says that it is easy is either arrogant or has absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. They still should have gotten it right on the first try.

Really, Mark, What Did You Think Was Going To Happen Here?

Mark Kessler is the chief of police in the small Pennsylvania town of Gilberton. He achieved national attention by posting reasonable and thought provoking discussions on YouTube about what he perceives as the erosion of Second Amendment rights.

No, wait, that doesn’t sound right.

Let’s try this again.

Mark Kessler was the chief of police until he decided to make an Internet Tough Guy video that was little more than a profanity-laden rant against “libtards.” He then proceeds to fire a lot of guns at things. Because nothing indicates “responsible public servant” and “reasonable political discussion” like shooting guns in a YouTube video and swearing a lot.

Because his actions brought shame on his one-officer department, he was forced to ask himself to resign due to conduct unbecoming of a police officer. He was later heard to be shouting at himself and angrily slammed his badge down on his own desk before storming out of the building, only to return a moment later to file the paperwork to terminate himself.

The cute part is how in his videos, he thinks anybody who’s upset with him is upset because he uses profanity, which is fucking hilarious. Here’s the truth, Police Chief Kessler, we libtards out there aren’t worried about your fucking language. Honestly, we’re not even worried about you, because:

a. You’re making a great case for why mentally unstable individuals should not be allowed to have guns . . . or be employed by as police . . . or be allowed to be chief of police . . . or be allowed to have a computer . . . or be allowed to have an Internet connection . . . or be allowed to have access to YouTube and a camera.

b. You get to be the poster boy for your side of the gun control argument now.

Congratulations! Because, you know, there’s nothing I’m more afraid of than a terrifyingly-angry man with a camera, a command of the word “fuck”, and a lot of guns.

Oh wait. Actually . . .

There’s one thing I’m more afraid of. If I’m honest with myself, this is what I consider to be a real fucking nightmare scenario for supporters of gun control: a person who argues against gun control with a reasonable presentation of his position, statistical evidence supporting his claim, and convincing rhetorical skill outlining his argument. Thinking about that guy? That’s the shit that keeps me up at night.

Fortunately for me, Kessler’s videos have gained hundreds of thousands of views, which means that the poor guys who are out there making reasonable arguments on his behalf are getting ignored.

Well done, sir. Well done.


It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the mindset of an anti-vaccine believer. The only reason that seems logical to me is that the person who believes such has received bad information and is incapable of making an informed choice. But bad information should never be an acceptable excuse for cases like this; we live in an era where access to information is literally overflowing. The information is out there.

I’ve written a lot about diplomacy and the importance of maintaining a good political reputation when it comes to dealing with religious concerns as a nonreligious person. I want to mention this topic because I do not believe this desire confers a blanket pardon on all things a person might do in the name of religious tradition. There is a line and once that line has been crossed, I have no compunction against saying that certain beliefs, no matter its theological origin, are horrifying and intolerable.

Anti-vaccination is such a belief.

There was an essay I came across a while ago that made me both profoundly glad that I was born in a time where vaccines exist and profoundly sad for those who suffered these fates. From an essay by Elizabeth Moon:

Then came the vaccines—first the Salk, then then Sabin. Three shots for the Salk, one or two weeks apart: they lined us up in the halls of a school, and bang-bang-bang it was done. Then a year or two later, we had another series of three shots. By then, the outbreaks were noticeably smaller. In five years, hardly a new case—a new case was news.

That didn’t cure those who’d already had it. When I went off to college, I did some volunteer work in a children’s hospital. There was only one polio patient: one of the last cases, then a teenager, in an iron lung. By then there were no more specialty polio centers, no more polio wards, in which at least the inhabitants could talk to someone who understood. In a ward for children, where the other patients were kids who’d had some other treatable illness or injuries, there was his iron lung. He wanted no part of the cheerfulness we tried to bring to the ward.

And no wonder. Unless he could adapt to one of the smaller respiratory assists that came later, he was stuck for life in a huge, unwieldy, scary case…immobile, having to be tended by people who reached in through portholes on the side to clean him up, change his diaper…and who, increasingly, would not have a clue what his life was like because people like him were so few now. He could not see his body, engulfed in the machine that kept him alive. He could see only what was directly above him or reflected in the mirror over his head. None of the electronic aids for the disabled existed then…or for another decade or two.

There were, and are, more lethal diseases than polio: those with a higher mortality, and greater infectivity as well. But polio had a special horror to it.

If you want to know why vaccines exist . . . there’s your answer.