The nearby distant shore

[Photo by blake wisz on Scopio]

There is a quiet that only really exists late at night, after the kids are asleep and the dishes are done and the hyperfixation and hyperavoidance of my ADHD has passed out until tomorrow, and I am hesitant to go to bed then because it is so brief, so fleeting, to have that silence.

The left side of my brain wants to make a dumb analogy, like “these moments are special and temporary, like the McRib being available or the US electorate caring about what New Hampshire has to say.” The right side of my brain tells me to go to sleep, and the now empty cup of coffee on my desk tells the right side of my brain to prepare for disappointment.

We’ve been in Barcelona now for twenty-one days, exactly three weeks. In some ways, it is a radical change, and the culture shift, language change, and oceans-distance from most everyone we’ve ever loved makes for occasional bursts of disorientation, moments of surreality that take a few minutes to return from. My Spanish/Castellano skills are not sharp enough to allow me to easily slide from one language to another quickly; I need time in a conversation to “rev the engine,” and so I’ve adopted a series of meaningless small talk at the beginning of every social interaction to allow my brain to catch up to whatever situation my stomach or my ass has gotten us into.

If I’m being honest, though, I’ve been doing that my whole life. “Bullshit-small-talk-as-filler” is probably one of the few things I do very well, and in English its role is the same as its been in Spanish/Castellano, which is: stall the conversation until I can figure out what the hell is going on. There is a small, but noticeable, sense of disorientation at the beginning of every social conversation, until my head remembers who I am talking to, what I’m doing here, and which topic we’re discussing. In Barcelona, the disorientation is just a wee bit longer for me than in English.

English wasn’t my first language, it was Tagalog. Officially now called Filipino, it’s the language I heard the most until I was 1 or 2 years old, when we moved the US from the Philippines. My first few years in the United States, I had a soft mish-mash of English and Tagalog when I spoke, which I think made me hesitant to speak much when I was young. I have no way to know for sure, but I suspect it also contributed to my extreme shyness as a boy. I remember trying to use Tagalog words with American classmates and failing. Or maybe I was just a quiet, shy kid, so who knows? Anyway, this isn’t really about me, not anymore. It’s about my daughters.

We’ve moved to Spain and our kids don’t speak the languages yet. We’ve been told that they will pick up Spanish and Catalán quickly, and I really hope that’s true. I also know that there is a sense of alienation they’re going to have now, of not understanding their classmates and teachers, and of the push to silence and solitude that the alienation exerts. “They’re not really understanding me, I’m not really understanding them, maybe I won’t try and share what I’m thinking.” It’s probably never gonna be that explicit a thought, because thoughts live in the brain and the alienation doesn’t live in the brain, it lives in the stomach, because that’s where you feel it. It lives in the bottom of your mouth, because that is where your tongue hides when it doesn’t know if its efforts will be useful. It lives in the floor, because that’s where your eyes go when they are tired of meeting confused or impatient looks on the children around you.

Of course, I don’t know if my kids are going to experience any of this, I hope not, and more than hoping, my wife and I are trying to make it a smooth and non-traumatic for them as we can make it. They attend a school where the kids and teachers speak German, which the kids already know and understand, but there are no native English speakers in their classes and the truth is that the tiny threads of friendship are knitted by words and kindness, and the words they share are going to be limited even if the kindness isn’t.

If luck and fortune favors our efforts, they’ll be proficient in three languages in a few years. If luck doesn’t favor our work, they’ll be comfortable in a more limited number. And however many book languages they may speak, there is the chance that they’re learn the language of loneliness here. Such is life, I suppose, and such is the risk we exposed them to when we moved them here, away from Home. I hope and trust that the benefits of our lives here will outweigh the risks of alienation, the emotional risks that come from being immigrants in a different land. Maybe it’s inevitable that the language of Loneliness is part of their linguistic patrimony, maybe not. We can only work and pray that Loneliness is not their first language, and that they will only speak it in broken, incomplete phrases.


It’s been 42 years since we left the Philippines for a new life in the United States, and in our time in Spain I’ve been struck by how brave and daunting the move must have been for my parents, and for countless others, to make such a move. I have internet, Facetime, Zoom. I speak with my parents every day, my kids speak with their grandparents everyday on video. My parents didn’t have that; they had once-a-year calls back home, and they missed every holiday, every wedding, every funeral. I never had a relationship with my grandparents in life, just a pastiche of stories in two dimensions. I don’t remember their voices.

And I don’t speak their language.

In grade school, they priority was for me to learn English. I spoke it before school, as my parents were fluent in English, but the goal was to learn to speak with other Americans, to drop the words they wouldn’t understand from my daily usage. Gatas became Milk, and then became Skim Milk (thanks, 80’s health marketing). I stopped using Tagalog; I put it down, and have never picked it back up.

When I’ve visited the Philippines since then, my wonderful cousins have taken care of us. Much of the Philippines speaks English, but there is still a gulf between myself and the nation of my birth, and I’ve perpetuated that gulf by not (re)learning Tagalog. I’ve taken classes in Tagalog in my early 20s, but, like my relationships and careers in that time of my life, nothing lasting came of it. I look at pictures of me as a baby, of the stories of the things I used to say, and it seems like a frosted glass panel between me and my childhood, between me and my cultural heritage.

This sense of alienation is not unique to me, I know. It’s the story of immigrant kids, of third culture kids, all over the world, and we’ve made decisions that have made our kids into characters in that story. I’m over the moon to be here in Barcelona, to be able to give our kids opportunities for growth and life that, in our own way, continues the journey that my family and my wife’s family has been walking for generations.

I also know that the alienation is also backwards looking; our parents endured displacement, moving, cultural shock. My father rarely speaks the language of his youth, Waray-Waray. My mother rarely, if ever, speaks in Ilocano. We’re generation and generation of people doing our best to push our children into new worlds, new opportunities, new places to grow into. We’re lobsters, molting to grow and I can’t help but think of the shells I’ve left behind. And to think of the shells of my life that my daughters will need to shed to become the people they need to be.

At heart, language and culture are tools. Vitally important tools, of course, but tools, And as we work to give our children new tools, as we work to add onto the toolset our parents gave us, we try hard to pass on some knowledge of the older tools in the drawer. Because the full set of tools are what are going to give them the best chance of making a home, a life, wherever fate takes them. And I hope that whatever home they build with those tools, that we support them and earn a spot in that home; a spot for us, for their grandparents, and for the lives and cultures and histories that delivered those tools to them. And I hope that when the time comes for them to forge new tools, they have the wisdom to keep the tools that need to be kept, to discard the tools they cannot carry, to know that all the tools, necessary for their lives or not, were given with love and hope for the future.


We decided, before our children were born, that we would always tell them the truth, and that we would work hard to avoid ever lying to them. Topics like Santa Claus, death, the Tooth Fairy, God, all make this really challenging. We’ve found solutions to this, I guess, though sometimes honesty is difficult.

Our kindergartner asked me if magic is real. Oh no. I have to answer her truthfully, now, no matter how tough it is.

“Yes, magic is real.”


I was watching a video of Prince performing Purple Rain live, and found an argument buried in the comment section. The thread was deleted, but the gist of the argument was whether Prince was a natural genius or whether he practiced a million hours to get as good as he was.

First, why the hell was I reading the comment section in a YouTube video? Comment sections are always a tire fire. Always. I should stop reading them.

Second, the natural answer is: genius is some mix of natural talent (or potential for talent) and hard work, and luck, and timing. Why do we think that genius isn’t based out of hard work? Why do we think that being born with talent is a negative? Are those of use who don’t have talent in music so mad that we don’t have the natural ability that we throw our hands in the air and say “that guy is just born with it” as if it provides us comfort in our mediocrity? Why do we minimize the talent someone who has to practice and practice and practice? Do we say “She’s been doing this since she was five years old, of course she’s good,” so that we feel better that we are not on her level? Probably; it’s probably emotional self-preservation.

I have this theory that 80% of what people say out loud is just them talking to themselves. Does your mother have an opinion about what you should do with your life? She’s just processing the choices she’s made about her life, in your general direction. Is your best friend convinced he knows what will make you happy? Nah, he’s trying to convince himself that he knows what will make him happy. The advice, the rage, and the declarations of love that are directed at us? It’s mostly just the speaker justifying their own actions, searching for validation, hoping to find, in us, a flattering mirror of themselves.

A staff meeting is, therefore, just a mutual exercise in group gaslighting.

A song, a book, a poem, a dance, is a unit in and of itself. It has a context, of course, a cultural and human medium in which it operates, but the creation of such art is done in the face of the human failings of the artist. If a guitarist needs to practice a million hours to produce the work that he is called to produce, good on him for doing it. If a painter is able to create a Magnum Opus with little to no formal schooling, good for her.

To those of us that have no experience, an act of creation seems magical, like Athena springing, fully formed, from the head of Zeus. “Purple Rain” is the work of a shaman, an nganga, a wizard who knows an art that I can barely understand, much less reproduce. Dunning-Kruger effect leads me to underestimate the effort it takes to make such a work, and thereby underestimate the amazing effort of Prince and his Revolution to get to that point.

“Purple Rain” was originally a country song. And Prince wrote it for Stevie Nicks. She turned it down, because she felt that the song was too big for her to do justice. Through the effort and alchemy of Prince and his guitarist Wendy Melvoin, it started to emerge as the song we know now. There is no Athena, no gaping hole in Zeus’ head; there is a collection of very talented human beings working very hard to make something great, who ended up making something transcendent. What looks like magic is just the caboose of a train of effort that we cannot see.


Arthur C. Clarke wrote that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I type this on a computer, more powerful than anything the Apollo mission could have assembled. This is a piece of technological magic, a physical symphony of invention, and I spilled mustard on it; I normally use this breathtaking machine to argue about sports and to make toilet jokes. To an uninformed layman like me, how this computer works is a mystery, but the fact that it *does* work seems trivial, a throwaway part of my day. If it stalls for more than five seconds, I feel irritated, I feel inconvenienced. I lose sight of the wondrous collection of patents under the hood, the almost unimaginably complex supply chain that brought this computer to me. I lose sight of the people harmed in the steps it took to get this computer made, bought, and shipped to me.

We lose, through familiarity, the awe for those parts of our lives that would seem magical to a person from the 1800s, from the 1960s, from 300 BCE. I type on an artificial brain, powered by lightning. I work on a magic tablet, and it is humdrum to me.

This computer may be the single most expensive and complex material item in my house; it probably is. But it is not the most magical thing here.

In the rooms next to me, my wife and my daughters are sleeping. We celebrated Easter today together (itself a complex mix of Christian, Germanic, and American beliefs and traditions). They are all full of chocolate and pizza, and, somehow, through the haze of neurochemical reactions, evolutionary incentives, and (if you believe in such things) Divine Grace, they are the most important things in my life. Their well-being is the star around which my goals orbit, and inverse is also true: my wife feels the same way about the kids and myself, and the children see us, their parents, as the loci for their own elliptical orbits (at least until they are in middle school).

This is, honestly, wild.

Seventeen years ago, I’d never met any of these people. And now I think about them all the time. Not just about their well being, in a co-dependent way: I also think about how to give them the space needed to grow into the people they need themselves to be. Seventeen years ago my greatest concern was finding lunch and avoiding my credit card debt collector. Those are still two major concerns, don’t get me wrong, but now my family is right up there with them.

The people we surround ourselves with, that we draw close to us, are our source of comfort, support, and joy (Or, they should be. Sometimes they’re not, and that’s the topic for a different essay). We have friends, family, teammates, dungeon masters, dance partners, classmates. And we all have the power to make each other’s lives better or worse. We may not want that power (I sure don’t), but we’ve got it. We’re holding magic wands that can divert the courses of those close to us. A well-timed text, a phone call, an argument, a painful silence, these things are all powerful, and we wield this power unintentionally and unknowingly throughout our days. And they have this power over us.

It’s not just the things we do intentionally, with purpose, that alter the world around us. It’s also the offhand, the unintentional, the absentminded things that we do that leave our mark on the people around us. A lot of days, the offhand actions are the main way that we leave our mark. The words I say when my brain is not engaged are heard the same as intentional words. And those words will have weight to those who are affected by us: family, friends, coworkers, waitstaff, ourselves. The actions I take, or do not take, cast a shadow. And sometimes that shadow is long. Did I call my friend back? Did I confront a racist joke? Did I fulfill the small promise I made to myself? Tiny actions can change trajectories, which is an amazing and disturbing fact to realize in the middle of an otherwise normal day. We have the power to make our own day better or worse, we have the power to make the days of those surrounding us better or worse; a day here and day there will add up to a lifetime. We’re like a sleepwalking Moses: with every swing of our arms we part and close the sea around us, oblivious to Egyptian and Israelite alike, each and every day of our lives.

This is not something you didn’t know before; you already know it, and I am telling you nothing new. That power we have has just normalized for most of us, an amazing piece of emotional and socially complex magic that we see everyday to the point that it’s invisible. My laptop is covered in mustard and breadcrumbs out of familiarity with the mind-boggling technology within it. Our social relationships are covered in the thin dust of familiarity, belying the mind-boggling complexity and coincidences that lead us into each others lives.

We’re unintentional sorcerers, we don’t normally see the power we have to heal and to harm those close to us, nor their mutual power over us. We’re whales in each others oceans, whether or not we are aware of the water around us.


I will sleep at some point tonight, then I will wake up, and then I will have coffee. I will have a dozen conversations by days end, I will send dozens of emails and messages through air and space at people a thousand miles away. I will do things today that my children will remember, consciously or not, their whole lives, long after my dust has scattered.

I will reach out to people I love, or that love me, after far too long a time without contact. Or, I will not. I will give a $10 bill to a panhandler, and that will help him reach the $25 he needs to sleep in a bed that night, instead of on the sidewalk. Or, I will not. I will wave this wand in my hand, that I never asked for, and I will makes the seas rise or fall, I will make the moon shine or darken, whether I intend to wave the wand or not. And you will do the same for me. Or, you will not. And we will do this, or not, our entire lives.

I don’t know yet how to explain it to my daughter, but, yes, child, magic is real.

Image Source:

The Pearls of Medusa

Credit: Eric Hart

[TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual assault]

1. You are wrong, I promise you, when you think of Medusa. She had snakes for hair, we are taught; the hideous sight of her turned men into stone. Perseus was a hero, we are told, because he slew her and escaped her monstrous sisters, the Gorgons. Her head was a trophy, proof on the shield of Athena of the death of an evil monstrosity, we are taught. Yes. We are wrong.

Medusa’s gaze turned people into stone, we are told. Her sisters, horrid and immortal, flew into a murderous rage at her death. Yes, yes. But why were they there? Why did the Gorgons exist? I will tell you: to suffer.

In the temple of Athena was a priestess, beautiful and beloved. As Ovid says, “Words would fail to tell the glory of her hair.” She lived here, like her goddess, Athena, chaste and loyal. She had family, the priestess did. Her older sisters, Sthenno and Euryale, loved her, watched for her, cared for her.

And then Poseidon, god of the sea, came to her in the temple. He came to the temple and he raped her. He attacked the priestess, Medusa, on the holy ground of Athena.

It was a crime, a sacrilege, a monstrosity. Athena howled in rage, in anger, and she took her revenge. Athena would have her revenge, oh yes.

She took her revenge on Medusa, the priestess. That is who was punished. Not Poseidon, no, it was Medusa. Athena punished her priestess, turning her hair into snakes and cursing her with the gaze of stone, so she could never fully live in the world. Medusa was victimized for a second time. Her sisters, Sthenno and Euryale, for the crime of loving and defending their sister, Athena cursed them as well.

The sisters were immortal, they could not die, so in their exile into a remote island, they protected Medusa, as best they could, since they could not be hurt like their sister. There on that island they lived, in a cave that held less horror than the temple of Athena. The frozen statues of those who came to kill Medusa grew in number, but Medusa lived. That, at least, Sthenno and Euryale could do.

And then Perseus, founder of Mycenae, crept in and took her head. He never looked directly at her, never confronted what Poseidon had done, what Athena had done. Perseus killed her and ran, and her sisters screamed and wept, and we are asked to call Perseus a hero. We are asked to call Perseus a hero for escaping the Gorgons, who attacked the stranger who crept in and murdered their little sister.


2. It is just a story, you know, a myth. The story has changed, like all stories. Sometime the Gorgons have names, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes Medusa is hideous, sometimes she is beautiful.

But in all the stories, a few things are always told the same way. Perseus is a hero. Yes. And Athena is wise. Yes. And Medusa is dead, and she cannot suffer anymore.

And Sthenno and Euryale, the Gorgons, are immortal, and their little sister is dead. They will never see her again. They lost their sister many times: When Poseidon came, when Perseus came, and again when their story is told.


3. “NASHVILLE – In 2004, Cyntoia Brown was sentenced to life in prison because she killed a man who bought her. 13 years later, she is still in prison…

When she was just 16, Cyntoia Brown was being sex-trafficked by a pimp named “Kutthroat.” She was verbally, physically, and sexually abused then sold to a 43-year-old Nashville realtor, named Johnny Allen, who used her for sex.

According to Newsweek, Cyntoia eventually shot and killed Allen after being taken to his home.” (Source:, 2017-11-23)


4. “She left me, you know that? My wife abandoned me, walked out of me, was fucking who knows who. And now SHE wants something?” he told us. “She got a restraining order on me, saying I choked her? Does she know how fucking embarrassing that is? I’m not giving her anything.”

“This isn’t about assigning blame, sir,” my boss said. “We are asking for possession of the home. She takes care of the children, she should get to stay the home.”

“No,” the man’s attorney said. “Unfortunately, my client’s hours at work were drastically cut a few months before we filed for divorce and he has almost no income. Since your client is not working, and they can’t afford the underwater mortgage, we’re going to have to have a short sale. My client has family in the area with a large house, so we think its best for the kids to live with him, since your client has no one.”


5. “Former kicker Katie Hnida, 22, said this week she was raped by a teammate in 2000 after her final season at Colorado. Hnida, one of the first women to ever play college football and now a student at the University of New Mexico, said she does not plan to file charges… [Colorado Coach Gary] Barnett told reporters Tuesday that Hnida never told him about a sexual assault and he knew of no evidence to back up her claim.

He said the football program tried to make Hnida comfortable and had provided extra precautions when she told him about a stalker.

But he also bluntly criticized Hnida’s ability.

“It was obvious Katie was not very good. She was awful,” he said. “Katie was not only a girl, she was terrible. OK? There’s no other way to say it.

…At the heart of the scandal are federal lawsuits filed by three women who say they were raped by football athletes at or after a December 2001 off-campus recruiting party. Boulder County prosecutor Mary Keenan decided against assault charges in the case, saying the heavy drinking involved would make it too difficult to prove in court.”” (Source: Associated Press, 2004-02-19)


6. It was just a myth. There was no Poseidon, no Athena, no Medusa. It was just a story, after all. In the story, is Perseus the hero? Is Athena? Maybe there are no heros in the story, not really. Maybe there is just Sthenno and Euryale, and what is left of Medusa.

A note from the modern Ellis Island

It is nice to know how many folks wish me and my family never came to this country.

“But Mark,” they say, “Trump wasn’t talking about Filipinos!”

I have no desire to take comfort in that. All of us lucky enough to make it to these shores have more in common with each other than we do with the folks who don’t like us because we come from places of low GDP, or from authoritarian regimes, or mostly brown folks, or high infant mortality.

I am incredibly fortunate to be here in America, like many other immigrants from the developing world. We owe it to this country to give our fellow citizens our gratitude, our tax dollars, and our military and civic service. I also will state without hesitation that the nation is stronger, smarter, and healthier with us here.

I’m happy you’re here, Ghana, Nigeria, El Salvador, Laos, Assyria, Budapest. My life is better that you’re with us, Beirut, Oslo, Sao Paolo, Catbalogan.

Some of you may not be happy we’re here, some of you may wish there were just less of us. That’s your right as an American to think that. I will defend your right to be wrong, because I believe that minority views should be protected.

Make no mistake: the xenophobes are a minority. The majority of us in the USA welcome all those who come here to build a new, productive life, no matter their nation of origin, their native tongue, or how and if they worship God. The reason I know that fact is that the majority of Americans welcomed an immigrant family from a third world dictatorship back in 1980, and have been wonderful to me and us my whole life. I am honored and happy to join the vast majority of us that will be doing the welcoming in the years to come.


Dreamers, the children brought here who are covered under DACA (for only 6 more months) are just like me. They’re just like many of us who were brought here by our parents in search of a better life.

One of those Dreamers lost his life saving other Americans in the floods in Houston.

The was a time when a boat load of immigrants from Ireland, Germany, and Italy would be met by members of the American Nativist Party, who wanted to keep them out.

When we debate this issue with others and in own hearts, please close your eyes and imagine that scene from 1880s New York or Boston. Now ask:

“Did I imagine myself as a person on the shore, or a person on a boat?”

I suspect that our answers to that question will predict how we feel about Dreamers. For me, I know what I see when I close my eyes.

*** If you choose to comment, please be civil and be kind. Any comments that are neither may be deleted without notice. ***

Hulk Hogan and Atticus Finch Race to the Bottom: How Racially Charged Remarks Felled These American Heroes

In the fading months of this annus horribilis, America received unwelcome word of two distasteful nods to its pop cultural past. Excommunicated wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan has been contacted by WWE (according to his daughter’s comments to TMZ) regarding WrestleMania 33 this coming year. And earlier this month, plans were announced to revamp the hometown of Harper Lee into a tourist destination through creating the Harper Lee Trail, a collection of attractions that would feature a museum and replicas of three homes set in her classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

Both proclamations met with a mixed reception. Washington Post reporter Travis M. Andrews writes that, while “it’s impossible to guess how Lee would have felt about the trail, it’s not a stretch to claim” that the famously private author “likely wouldn’t have been pleased.” Literary critic Sarah Churchwell goes so far as to warn that the Monroeville, Alabama project could create “a Disneyland for racists” nostalgic for a bygone age. As for the Hulkster, he spent most of 2016 under the wing of this delusional benefactor (Brother!).

These foreboding announcements harken back to last year, when two paragons of American virtue were bodyslammed by the unexpected release of racially charged content long kept from public view. Yes, for devotees of Hogan and southern trial lawyer Atticus Finch, July 2015 was the cruel summer when it came crashing down and it hurt inside. Hogan fell into ignominy when audio was released from a recording (made several years ago) that caught the Hulkster making racist remarks – some of which involve theoretical suitors for his daughter. WWE swiftly cut ties with the “Real American”, even erasing mentions of its former top star from the company’s website.

This controversy followed an even more shocking release that took place ten days earlier: that of Go Set a Watchman, Lee’s long-awaited follow-up to To Kill a Mockingbird. The book was published, writes Eve L. Ewing in The Atlantic, when Lee was “at the eve of her death and beset with a dementia that some say enabled her attorney to take advantage” of her condition. Although written prior to her debut novel, Watchman functions as a companion piece to that beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning story. Or, as denounced by New York Times columnist Joe Nocera, serves as “one of the epic money grabs in the modern history of American publishing.” In this book, Atticus Finch expresses segregationist views and attends a Citizens’ Council meeting.

Suddenly, the most famous wrestler of his generation and the legal demigod of what Oprah Winfrey proclaimed “our national novel” have seemingly been exposed as bigoted blowhards. How could these emblems of American idealism fall so far, so fast? Join us as we investigate the rise and fall of “the steward of the nation’s conscience” – and the man who gave the world Hulkamania.

Tale of the Tape
Atticus: Middle-aged and bespectacled; seersucker suit; poor indeed, but not as poor as the Cunninghams. Member of Alabama state legislature.
Hogan: 6’7, 303 lbs.; yellow spandex trunks with bandanna and tear-away shirt; net worth dependent on future sextape-related legal proceedings. Star of Santa With Muscles.

Professional Accolades
Atticus: Academy Award for Best Actor (as awarded to Gregory Peck for his portrayal in the 1962 film adaptation).
Hogan: Six-time WWE Champion.

Biggest Fans
Atticus: Other attorneys. As the American Bar Association gushes, “To lawyers, he was the lawyer they wanted to be. To nonlawyers, he fostered the desire to become one.”
Hogan: Hulkamaniacs. These fanatics adhere to the teachings proselytized by Hogan himself in this worshipful song.

Tag Team Partners
Atticus: Family cook (and surrogate disciplinarian) Calpurnia.
Hogan: Wrestling manager (and megaphone enthusiast) Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart.

Finest Hours
Atticus: His eloquent yet fiery trial defense of Tom Robinson.
Hogan: His eloquent yet fiery title defense against Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III.

Toughest Opponents
Atticus: Racist Jury; Social Injustice.
Hogan: “Rowdy” Roddy Piper; “Macho Man” Randy Savage.

Finishing Moves
Atticus: The Closing Argument.
Hogan: Atomic Leg Drop.

Hero Worship
Atticus, as praised by Thane Rosenbaum, Senior Fellow at New York University School of Law: “Babies are named after him. Indeed, despite his many parental shortcomings, he is the father many wish for themselves.”
Hogan, as praised by WWE announcer Gorilla Monsoon at WrestleMania VII: “Our national hero… An unprecedented winner, three times, of the World Wrestling Federation title. The gold once again around the waist of that incredible individual. And put it all to rest, the war is now officially over. Keeping his promise good to his nation, the immortal Hulk Hogan.” Note: Donald Trump cheered on Hogan from ringside during this match.

Fight for the Rights of Every Man
Atticus: “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
Hogan: “But just like Donald Trump, Macho Man, I hope you’re ready, brother. Because Donald Trump has questions in his own mind… Donald Trump, don’t worry about my Hulkamaniacs. They’re survivors! They’re ready!”

Epic Challenge to His Peers
Atticus: “I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty.”
Hogan: “Whatcha gonna do when Hulkamania runs wild on you?”

Best Advice for the Next Generation
Atticus: “First of all, if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Hogan: “Train, say your prayers, eat your vitamins, be true to yourself, true to your country. Be a REAL American.”

Heel Turn
Atticus: “Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?”
Hogan: Uhhh … you can read all that here.

Enemies List
Atticus: The NAACP and U.S. Supreme Court.
Hogan: African-Americans and online media companies.

Definitive Response
Atticus: From Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, who swore, “I’ll never believe a word you say to me again. I despise you and everything you stand for.”
Hogan: From WWE, which released a statement noting that Hogan’s contract had been terminated, and claiming a commitment “to embracing and celebrating individuals from all backgrounds as demonstrated by the diversity of our employees, performers and fans worldwide.”

Kneejerk Reactions
Atticus, as bleated in this Daily Mail headline: “It’s like finding out Santa beats his reindeer.”
Hogan, as pleaded by Terry Bollea (aka Hulk Hogan): “Oh my gosh, please forgive me. Please forgive me. I’m a nice guy. I’m not the Hulk Hogan that rips his shirt off and bang, bang, bang, slams giants. I’m Terry Bollea. I’m just a normal man.”

Public Defenders
Atticus, as defended by Harper Lee biographer Charles J. Shields: “We could turn this into a plus in our national conversation about racism and the Confederate flag. It turns out that Atticus is no saint, as none of us are, but a man with prejudices.”
Hogan, as defended by The Rock: “I was pretty disappointed with what I heard, like all of us, by the way… I’ve known Terry for a lot of years, my dad helped train him in Florida in the ’70s when he was breaking into the business… I have not known the man to be racist.”

Character Witnesses
Atticus, as represented by Peggy Noonan: “Atticus, now in his 70s, holds views the reader will reject, yet he is patient, sincere—more human as a character than his daughter.”
Hogan, as represented by his daughter, Brooke, in a poem posted online: “If you knew my father, you would know how hard he fought… and the way it brought a smile to people light, medium and dark.”

Strike That from the Record!
Atticus: The Washington Times’ Charles Hurt babbled the following: “Freedom can be ugly business and sometimes you need a man in a suit with a steady hand who can shoot a rabid dog. It doesn’t matter what his opinions are on black people or white people. He just has to be able to shoot straight.”
Hogan: Retweeted a message about President Obama not being similarly vilified for using the N-word, context be damned.

Following their top-rope swan dives from grace, both Atticus and the Hulkster have experienced comebacks of sorts. HarperCollins Publishers announced that Go Set a Watchman is now the fastest-selling book in the company’s history. Meanwhile, Hogan settled his litigation with Gawker Media for $31 million last month. He also expressed interest in serving as the running mate for his old buddy Trump – a low to which even a newly Alt-Right Atticus would hopefully never stoop.

Tragedies and Statistics

Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges in "The Fisher King."

Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges in “The Fisher King.”

Robin Williams died yesterday, killed in what was reported as a suicide. My breath caught when I heard, but I made a small mental readjustment and thought, “Nah, it’ll be like all the other fake celebrity deaths; I’ll go on eating my burrito.”

When later the Responsible Media (TM) started reporting it, I deflated. I don’t think I was the only one to shrink a little; my social media was swamped with tributes, statements of sadness, and memories of Robin Williams and his work. It was filled with something else, too: a counter-reaction.

There was a collection of people who lamented that there was so much attention being paid to the suicide of one druggie comedian instead of some other major world event, like poverty, Gaza, ISIS, police brutality, etc. I actually think theirs is a reasonable reaction, as the loss of one man cannot be equivalent to the loss of scores of people, so let me explain why I think my sadness at William’s death is just as reasonable.

In a nutshell, Robin Williams was like a friend, who popped into and out of my life with each movie, routine, and painful story of drug use or loss that I saw or read about.  If I lost a loved one, a cousin, sibling, or parent, no one would question my right to grieve, because we know that I “know” them, they were in my life and I in theirs. The loss of Williams is obviously less, since he was a performer and I was a stranger to him, but like most of my favorite authors, musicians, and artists, he was no stranger to me.

Many of my friends in stand-up have been able to meet and get to know Robin Williams, something I’ll sadly not be able to do. Even without that secondary personal connection, though, his movies mirrored my emotional development. I was a kid when he made Aladdin, I was a student when he made Good Will Hunting, and I knew grief when he made The Fisher King. With his passing, I feel like I lost an reliable emotional touchstone, like an old restaurant in your hometown that has somehow stayed in business decades longer than it should have. Was he a friend of mine? No, he was not, but he was there when I made friends, and when I lost them.

With a celebrity like Williams dies, it is easy to dismiss the crass celebrity culture that exists in the US, which celebrates the trite, the superficial, and the pretty over the deep and meaningful. The news cycle should have more substance and less style, more analysis and less Hollywood gossip; this is a totally valid, and damning, critique on modern celebrity culture. In the case of Robin Williams, though, feeling less bad about his death does not mean we would feel more bad about the loss of civilians in a civil conflict; I’d argue that becoming more callous about the loss of anyone, even just some actor, just gives us a little more practice in the art of callousness.

If we intend to be more empathetic with strangers across the world and in our own hometowns, the solution is not to ridicule people who feel emotional about the loss of a famous celebrity; it is to give us more reason to feel the loss of the non-famous, the anonymous.

When Robin Williams died, we saw a person who made us laugh, an actor who could make us cry, and the face of a loneliness and depression that far, far too many of us confront in the dark, alone. We know that face, we see in our family, in our friends, and in our mirror.

If we want more of us to feel the loss of the family in Aleppo shelled by mortar fire, or the baby in the hospital in Gaza who died from a rocket attack, or the young man caught in a Molotov cocktail attack on his synagogue in Frankfurt, then we have to tell their stories, too. Don’t simply pass on a news report about a nameless, faceless refugee camp; find one of them and tell me her name, tell me his dreams. Tell me what they wanted out of life before the men with guns came, before their home became a war zone. Tell me how they lived before they died.

Sawssan Abdelwahab, who fled Idlib in Syria, walks with her children outside a refugee camp near the Turkish-Syrian border. (Photo: REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra)

Sawssan Abdelwahab, who fled Idlib in Syria, walks with her children outside a refugee camp near the Turkish-Syrian border. (Photo: REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra)

“500 dead” is just a number, a collection of bodies. We are not just bodies, we are the souls and hopes and dreams that live in those bodies until the moment our hearts stop. We know what Robin Williams looked like when his heart was beating; we know how he smiled and we know how he spoke. Can we try to say the same for the Tsunami victim? For the flood victim?

Don’t get me wrong; we should care about the dozen that died from X, and the thousand that are fleeing for safety in Y, even if we don’t know their stories. But if we know their stories, then we are not just mourning a number, we are mourning a person, a person that could have been our friend, a person that could have been us.

People will shed their tears for strangers, but they will shed their blood for their friends. We should give the unnamed names, put faces on the faceless, because that is the only way we can start to see the friends we have, hidden in the numbers.

12 Aug 2014
by Mark Nabong

Weirdos from Another Planet strike again: Mars Rover successfully fires laser on Mars, vaporizes rock.

NASA’s work makes me squeal with joy

Curioislity, the Mars rover successfully placed on the red planet by NASA, has successfully deployed its ChemCam laser to vaporize a rock in order to test the rock’s chemistry.

This is a victory by a large number of people from NASA and from partner organizations, but my favorite reaction so far has been from Kelkulus, who tweeted:

I’m reminded of the Calvin and Hobbes strip from Weirdos from Another Planet:

Bill Watterson is always right.

The monster is always us.  Which is awesome.

Blood Donation

Blood donation worker [reading from script]: Have you taken any medication not prescribed by a doctor in the last eight weeks?

Me: Uh, I took some orthotricyclen once.

Her: …that’s birth control.

Me: Yeah.

Her: Why would you take that?!

Me: It was for a dare.

Her: Don’t take medication on a dare anymore.

Me: But it did clear up my acne…


Donate blood to Lifesource (Chicago Area) or the American Red Cross (Nationalwide)


EDIT: spelling

Blind cave salamander lives to 100, is worried about Romney/Ryan cuts to Medicare


Ok, the title is kind of a cheap shot, so let me summarize what follows: party nominees can be a bit like blind salamanders.  I can’t promise that that sentence will make any more sense at the end of this essay, but here goes.

The Olm is a blind cave salamander that lives in Slovenia and Croatia; the cool part of the linked Discover article is that it does seem to have a possible lifespan of about 100 years.  What’s interesting about the olm for the sake of this discussion is that its blindness is a secondary characteristic, what evolutionary biologists call a “derived trait.”  The ancestors of the olm, just like the ancestors of other blind cave species (blind cave tetras, etc.) all had sight; the vision was lost later as an evolutionary development.

Loss of eyesight is believed to have occurred due to lack of advantage in keeping the very-complex mechanisms that allow sight maintained over generations; cave salamanders that had good sight had no advantage over cave salamanders that had terrible vision, so over time the maintenance of a high level of the trait was unnecessary.  If you have a hard time understanding that, I’ll put it this way: I have worn thick glasses since I was 10 years old.  If I had such terrible vision as a child 5,000 years ago, I probably would not have amounted to much except lunch for a predator.  As I am lucky enough to have been born in a developed country in the late 20th century, to parents that had a vision plan as part of their health insurance coverage, I can live, work, and eventually marry (two years ago today!) despite my awful eyesight.  If my children have terrible eyesight inherited through me, it will be because I (presumably) have other traits that outweigh the trait of bad vision, which is no longer as big of a handicap as it would have been 5K years ago.  Think of cave fish and other blind cave animals as the subterranean equivalent of thousands of years of Mark-breeding.

That is the weirdest sentence I have ever typed.

Anyway, in some conditions the loss of eyesight can be non-detrimental, as in the case of me.  In the case of the blind cave animals, it can be adaptive, as it can allow animals to select mates based on other, more cave-friendly traits.  I’ll provide one last analogy, this time from baseball’s designated hitter.

Edgar Martinez belongs in the Hall of Fame as much as a blind salamander

In the National League of U.S. baseball, every player in the lineup bats (offense) and every player in the lineup plays the field (defense).  Managers have to strike a balance by picking the lineup with the right mix of offense and defense.  Every player in the National League is evaluated in that fashion, including the pitcher.  The pitcher is often the worst batter on the team (but not always, Kerry Wood cough cough), he still has to take his swings at the plate.  Conversely, as a manager you may be hesitant to play a well-hitting but defensively atrocious player.  If, say, a possible first baseman is an amazing batter but cannot catch a ball to save his life, the manager may decide that the risk on defense is not worth the added chance of defensive errors from that player.

The American League uses a different system, in that teams there have what is called a designated hitter (DH).  The DH is a batter who takes the place of the pitcher, so the typically-worst hitter is no longer in the offense.  The DH hits but does not take the field; he does not play defense at all.  Thus, in the American League, managers can set a lineup without having to include one player in the defensive calculus at all; the manager is free to select one good hitter without constraint of that player’s fielding at all.

This creates a scoring advantage for the American League in comparison to the National League; in 2011 alone American League teams scored  723 runs to the National League’s 668.  This scoring difference in favor of AL teams is pretty consistent over the last few years; by not having to worry about how the pitcher is hitting, teams with DH’s can devote more resources (line up spots) to other, more offensively-minded, players.

Similarly, the cave fish and salamanders lose their sight in part because individuals (the unit of selection) that don’t expend energy on maintaining eyesight may have moved those resources to other traits that are better for surviving and reproducing in a cave, like hearing or smell.  Over generations, these traits may multiply; good vision may become less and less important without any external need to have it.

What does this have to do with politics?

Like primary politics, but less messy

The American political system at the presidential level is two headed: there is a primary election and a general election.  The standard canard is that this creates more extreme candidates.  The thinking goes that the primaries are voted on by stalwarts, hard-liners in each party, and this tends to create more extreme candidates that then have to moderate their positions in the general election.

I don’t disagree with this line of thinking, but I found myself wondering WHY we ended up with such moderates in the last few election cycles as John McCain, John Kerry, Mitt Romney (he WAS a moderate in 2008, remember) and Barack Obama (he IS a moderate, moreso than a Barney Frank or a Kirsten Gillibrand).  If the idea that we get extreme nominees from the primary system is true, wouldn’t that have given us more fire breathing candidates than the ones we’ve had?

To be sure, in Congress the primaries give some real foot soldiers for both parties, but at the presidential level we’ve gotten, well, Romney and Kerry.  I have a theory: the trait that gets you out of the primaries at the presidential level is perceived electability rather than by substantive agreement with policies or personality.

Perceived electability is the nebulous factor that causes people to say “I don’t like him/her, but he/she is better than Bush/Obama.”  The candidate that seems most mushily in the middle tends to get the nomination in the last few elections.  Even Obama, who some called “the most liberal senator” was considered electable compared to Hilary Clinton.  As experienced and formidable as Clinton was, she carried large negatives that made a lot of Democrats that agreed with her in substance shrink away from the thought of defending her the general.  The perception of electability is why Kerry beat liberal screamer Howard Dean, why McCain beat a pile of more conservative candidates, and why Romney emerged victorious over <shudder> Rick Santorum; the other guys were thought to have less of a chance than the eventual victors.

Walk left side, safe; walk right side, safe. Walk middle, get squish just like grape.

This raises the question: thought by whom?  The answer is, of course, primary voters (influenced by media, endorsements, etc.).  Primary voters have been voting against candidates they may have preferred in order to vote for “moderate” candidates they dislike that they think the other side may find more palatable.  “Mitt Romney is the dog with the least fleas.”  It is the election equivalent of dating someone your parents like instead of the person you yourself like; sure, you’d prefer someone else, but at least this person won’t be as bad as having no date.

Back to the cave fish: maybe we’ve unmoored the need have a candidate who has substance that we like from the need to have a candidate that is electable, maybe we care about vision less than beating the other party.  Perhaps perceived electability is what parties choose (Romney, Kerry) over candidates that have concrete proposals that are then open to criticism.  Maybe we occasional choose blind salamanders precisely because they have less of a record of leadership.

The blind salamanders and the electorate have one thing in common: neither can see Romney’s tax returns.