Parsing Oregon

The takeover of a remote federal facility in Oregon by a group of white guys with guns is monumentally weird.

I spent a long time the other night helping put together the collection of stories at the bottom of this post via the social aggregation tool Storify. I got to see even weirder stuff than what actually made the list. And there's some more stuff circulating on Facebook. I'm sure you've seen it.

This is the biggest thing to learn from this, I think.

This is a good piece to read for some background, but basically what you have is a couple of ranchers who were convicted of arson for fires they set while waiting impatiently for the government to do some controlled burning. A court ruled they were sentenced too lightly, and were sent back to prison. A group of armed white guys calling themselves a "militia" traveled to the county the ranchers are sentenced in, and took over a building on a federal wildlife reserve in the middle of nowhere, demanding the land be privatized. (Seriously. It's in the middle of nowhere. You have to drive 220 miles over the Idaho border to find a decent-sized town.)

The re-sentenced ranchers don't want them there. The local police don't want them there, but don't seem to be taking much action. The media love the story.

The most interesting part of this for me is that it's like Waco for a new generation – a generation with immediate access to news, social media and the sort of access to records that shows us when a guy who claims to hate government intervention benefits to the tune of a few million dollars from it.

Anyway, just. So. Strange.

Happy New Year: Highlights from the blog

Last year I wrote a fairly epic post wrapping up what was a fairly chaotic year.

This year was much less chaotic and much more growth-oriented. Last year, we landed in a new city in December. We've had a year to explore the city and move to an apartment that better suits us as people. I got a small ebook out to the world. I ran my first half marathon.

And 2016 is going to be a great year, if things go as planned. Yeah, we're so planning that we're not talking about anything. So there. Here are some of my favorite posts from 2015 – posts that I need to come back to every now and then to remind myself. Maybe they'll be useful for you, too. Happy new year.

You CAN control your next step
Bring conversation back into your life
Know what you're good at, know what you're bad at
Stop looking for what's next
Love people, even if you think they're wrong
Perform life as an act of love
Be your own cause
You have a right to work hard. It doesn't entitle you to anything

Christmas family activity: Tim Ferriss talks to Jamie Foxx

Looking for something for everyone? Take a few hours, sit around the computer, and listen to Jamie Foxx on Tim Ferriss' podcast. Listen to it at normal speed, too, or large chunks will be lost on you.

Foxx talks about networking before social media, how to imitate Kermit the Frog and how to slide from Kermit to Sammy Davis Jr., and, most important in today's world, being adopted at seven months old by a grandmother who, as a religious black woman from south of the tracks in a rural Texas town, taught tolerance and how to cross lines. He also talks about fear and controlling your own narrative. There's so much in it.

Two examples stick with me from his grandmother, and I'm paraphrasing because it's been a while since I listened to it and I'm too lazy to actually look up the quotes.

(1) When a pastor, in the 1970s, preached "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve," she stood up and said, "Hold on. Stop with that. God makes sissies, too." She ran a daycare, and forget the word that you might consider unenlightened, look at the sentiment: Homosexuals are also God's children. That's radical in some communities now. Imagine what it was 40 years ago.

(2) This is an extension of the first. Foxx described asking her, 10 years later, what she meant. She said you have to open the umbrella of religion all the way. If it's raining and you only open the umbrella a little bit, you only keep yourself dry. If you open it up all the way, you can keep more people dry. Same thing with religion. You can either accept a few people under the umbrella of your worldview, and you suffer from that. Or, you can open that umbrella up and let everybody come under the love.

I'm going to steal some notes from Ferriss' show highlights.

• What is automated dialogue replacement (ADR)? [08:13]
• How did Jamie break into music? [09:32]
• How did a then-unknown Jamie Foxx got into Puff Daddy’s parties? [09:57]
• Before social media, Jamie had a unique way of staying connected with people, which involved comedy shows, cue cards, and text messages [11:59]
• Why nobody leaves Jamie’s house without performing [16:56]
• How Jamie learned the nuances of performing on both sides of the tracks (literally and metaphorically) when he was a kid [23:59]
• Life lessons Jamie learned from his grandma [33:38]
• Jamie’s parenting style [41:27]
• What Ray Charles told Jamie was possible if he could play the blues [43:15]
• What’s on the other side of fear? [50:42]
• Why do some standup comedians lose the ability to make people laugh? [01:17:15]
• Jamie talks about how social media has taken away the power to control our own narratives [01:34:51]
• What would Jamie teach a class of 9th graders? [02:07:22]
• Advice Jamie would give to his younger self. [02:15:04]
• The time Jamie told Mike Tyson jokes but didn’t realize Mike was in the audience. [02:23:55]

There's so much more in there. Give it a listen.

Scam alert: Craigslist sale items

I wanted to tell you about this Craigslist scam someone tried on us. We ended up losing a little bit of money on the sale item, but didn't end up losing any actual cash or getting involved in much legal stuff (we wound up sending everything to the local police, but didn't need to get involved beyond sending them our records).

I'm providing this as something to watch out for, especially as some people start to clear out old stuff after holiday presents and clean out old stuff as they make their resolutions.

So, here goes.

We listed a washer/dryer on Craigslist for $200. We had little luck and finally agreed to let a purchaser send a check; he said he'd send a bank check with a little extra money for his movers, who would be in touch to arrange pickup.

When the check arrived, we found that it wasn't a bank check – it was a printed check drawn on a business account in New York. The check had been mailed from Florida, and was for $1,450 – fully $1,250 more than the asking price for the appliances. I looked up the business, and it was listed as a property restoration firm with $120,000 in annual sales.

It was immediately evident to me that it was a counterfeit check. While the business name and address on the check matched the listing and the routing number matched the bank the check was drawn on, no one is entrusting strangers with over 1% of their annual intake.

After receiving the check, I sent a message to the "purchaser" to say that the check was received and that I wasn't comfortable with the amount, and that I would return it. He said not to worry about it, that was fine.

That's when I knew for sure it was a scam, and I tucked the check in a drawer and cut off communication with the "purchaser."

He tried to get us over the next couple of days, saying that he got confirmation from the bank that the funds had cleared from the deposit, then that the mover would like funds through Western Union as an advance (he named an individual in Chicago) and then finally a couple of messages to say that the check had cleared and he was suspicious that I hadn't returned his messages.

I learned through a mutual LinkedIn contact that the person listed as owner/partner of the business listed on the check had had both his email and LinkedIn accounts hacked over the past couple of years, and his contacts regularly received spam messages.

Officers with the fraud department at Savannah-Chatham Metro PD assure me this is a common scam, and I've turned over all the info I have to them. Good luck with your Craigslisting this season.

Bella: 4 lessons from a 3-legged dog

One afternoon, a man, let's call him Bill (since we didn't ask him his name), was driving down a country road in Georgia with his wife. Eh, let's call her Christine, since we like names. They saw a dog — a small black Lab mix — in the road, looking thin and dragging a leg. They had some crackers in the car, so they gave up their snacks and went back to whatever they were doing.

Through their errands and their dinner, Bill and Christine were, separately, thinking about the dog. When, on their way home, they got back to the spot where they'd seen the dog, they stopped and spent time looking for her, but couldn't find her.

For more than a week, they thought about the dog, and kept looking for her.

***

For a while, Mr. J and I were having coffee weekly. We missed a few here and there, and you know how that goes — suddenly, you just let it go. But we've been back at it about every two or three weeks. He asked if I was fre for coffee one Tuesday recently, and he asked if he minded if his wife, Miss B, came along. It so happened my own wife, Miss J, was off work, and so we grabbed our bikes and set out to meet Mr. J and Miss B.

We got the bikes outside but when I went to close the door, there was a little dog I hadn't seen before sitting in the doorway with a leash in her mouth. "Who are you, and why are you bringing me a leash?" I asked.

Miss J asked what I was talking about, and I said there was a three-legged dog in the stairwell. That's when Bill walked out of the apartment upstairs.

***

About 10 days after they'd seen the dog, Bill and Christine were driving down another rural country road. Christine was on the phone, and for whatever reason, Bill looked to the right, and there, sitting in a ditch, was the dog.

"I'd been given a second chance," he told us.

He put the dog in the car and brought her to a veterinarian. She had over 40 ticks on her body along with several hundred fleas, and at 22 pounds, she was way too skinny. And she was still limping on that leg. The vet got her cleaned up, but was heading out of town for several weeks. He sent her home with Bill and Christine, clean, and with her shots.

***

One of the Yankee traits I'm always going to have is a desire to be on time when I make plans with people. But one of the things I love about Southerners that drives some Yanks nuts is the ability to tell a story. Most of my errands I make sure I have 10 minutes of padding around. Some errands, I make sure I'm prepared to spend an extra hour.

I pulled out my phone and texted Mr. J, since this was one of those times someone was telling a story. We were going to be late, but we were going to enjoy this story.

***

Now that the dog had a home, she also gained a name: Bella. Over the next few weeks, while Bill waited for the vet to return, she continued to drag her right hind leg around, but never once complained audibly. She put on some weight. Despite whatever her previous life had been, she came to enjoy being around people.

When the vet returned, he discovered someone had shot Bella. The bullet was still in her leg, and she had enough nerve damage that she couldn't feel the leg, which is why she was dragging it around. He decided the best option would be to amputate the leg.

***

When we met Bella, she must have been about 10 days or so out of surgery, based on how much fur had grown back on her right hindquarters. She was up to 40 pounds, though she could probably use another 10; I'm sure she'll get there. She's moving around great on 3 legs, bounding up and down stairs with a leash in her mouth. She wasn't shy at all about meeting Miss J and me.

Bill, for his part, was so happy to have found her that second time, and was generous with his story and with sharing her for some smiles.

***

What can Bella teach us?

It might stink to be in the position, but you can rely on the kindness of strangers. Bella must have been able to find some food and some measure of safety on her own, but she came out to ask for help at least twice — Bill and Christine gave her crackers once, and the other time, she might have been in a ditch, but she was visible from the road. Remember that when you think you're at the end of your rope, someone not only can help you, but will. You just have to be willing to ask.

You can complain, but nobody's going to listen. Bella had a bullet stuck in her leg, and she couldn't feel the leg to tell when she was putting weight on it. If that were me, I'd probably be screaming to high heaven about it. She didn't even whine with pain or look longingly at the leg. There was something visibly wrong. Either it was going to be taken care of or it wouldn't. Remember that when you've made people aware of a situation that's troublesome to you, either it's going to be taken care of or it's not. If you keep complaining about it, you're just going to make people dislike you.

Be happy with what you have. Bella has 75% of her limbs, and she's running up and down stairs, carrying a leash, looking for a walk and some petting. She's probably never going to get that leg back (I suppose there's a chance for a prosthetic, but even then, that'll just be for balance — she won't ever feel it), but she's looking forward and doing what she can with what she has. I'm sure you can do the same.

Take someone for a walk. You'll get some good oxygen, some exercise, and you notice a lot of things if you're willing to walk and use your eyes.

The truth about media bias and what you should consider when listening to criticism of media

I've noticed a lot of stuff lately, particularly on Facebook, but also people talking to each other in public, about media bias. Usually this is jibes aimed at "liberal" media, but it goes both ways — certainly you've seen postings about "Faux News Channel"?

Some of this comes from the politically correct "cry-bully" movement — a term I only recently just heard for the first time here — you know, the people who want you fired because you said something they don't agree with.

Here's a criticism I've heard a lot: Why did media cover the Paris attacks on Nov. 13 but not the Beirut attacks on Nov. 12?

Here's the answer: Uh, they did. From "the liberal" CNN to "the conservative" FOX, every major national outlet had the story on Nov. 12.

Why did you hear so much about Paris, then? Because nobody clicked on the Beirut stories, so they fell off the front page. And then 200 of your friends posted on Facebook about Paris but not Beirut.

You didn't hear about Beirut because Facebook and Twitter are your news sources.

Here's the truth about media bias: Outlets are biased toward what will make them money.

Any bias perceived in media is really a bias of the journalist, and, while there's a slight shift to the right going on, over the past 40 or so years since they've started doing the study, journalists in America are by and large far more liberal than the general population.

What does that mean? If you want more centrist (or right-leaning) journalists, get more centrists (or righties) to become journalists.

Here's something else about human nature we don't often think about, because we tend to see the words on the page (or the website, really), rather than the person behind them: People get defensive when challenged (if you're not sure what I'm talking about, watch Hillary Clinton talk about her damn email or Donald Trump talk about those New Jersey Muslims no one actually saw celebrate after 9/11). So, if you just go on the offensive to attack an article, the next one's going to be further biased.

Know what also isn't going to solve a bias problem? Criticism that is more yelling than constructive. Like this. Try applying methods like this instead.

In my experience (16 years professionally, from print to web and a couple of years studying the industry in grad school), here are five things you can do to improve your own news experience in a developing story (like Paris or the AME Church shooting in Charleston):

Wait. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, news media thought over 10,000 people had died in the World Trade Center alone. The final number ended up being under 3,000. [This is not to belittle the attacks; it's to explain that the information coming out first isn't based on anything. The information you get later is fact.]

Hold off. If you're not sure if you can trust something, you probably can't. The only thing most reporters have that you don't is a list of contacts in the police and government and university structure. Don't share information you think might be wrong — if enough people do share it, it becomes "truthiness" instead of truth.

Don't embarrass anybody. If you call a reporter who reported some bad information an idiot (or something worse), you're going to get defensive babbling in return. If you point a reporter to a different source or give useful information, you'll get a thank you. You can either be a trusted source of good information, or a bully. Take your pick.

Diversify. It doesn't matter what your political leaning is. If you seek only sources you're likely to agree with (confirmation bias), you're going to receive an increasingly small amount of information. As an extension of this, don't discount something just because you find a bias you disagree with. We don't have to agree on gun control for me to accurately report that Ronald Reagan was both an actor and a president.

Stay skeptical. Just because it's published doesn't mean it isn't a load of crap — especially since news organizations everywhere are dumping editors and fact-checkers. Again, just don't be a jerk if you find some incorrect information.

Happy Thanksgiving! Here’s a fun gratitude project

Normally, I'm not big on the Facebook birthday wall thing. I don't usually write on others' walls for their birthdays, and usually at the end of mine I just post a "thanks for all the well-wishes."

This year, I decided to say thank you to everyone who posted on my wall. Sixty-eight people wrote "happy birthday" on my wall, and I wrote some variation on "thank you" 68 times.

I don't know if Facebook makes that post public, but if they do, here it is.

Last time I took a typing test, I came in at 90 words per minute. "Thank you" 68 times is 136 words. You know how long 136 words takes to type at 90 words per minute? Under two minutes. It didn't take any time, and "thank you" means a lot.

Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your families, or your work, or your volunteering, but always remember to say thank you 🙂

Bringing conversation back into our lives

Aristotle was...pretty good at conversing.

Aristotle was...pretty good at conversing.

One of my favorite things about Freemasonry is what many organizations (including churches and the like) call "fellowship." In modern-day English, we call it "hanging out." When we're not in a formal meeting (or sitting formally at prayer, for instance), we're still gathered with like-minded folk, eating, drinking and, most of all, talking.

As someone who works from home and communicates with my coworkers via an online chat if we need to (sometimes we just sit around independently and work for 45 minutes or so without saying anything), I don't have an opportunity to grab lunch with a coworker or chat with someone at the water cooler or coffee pot.

And, in fact, in turns out, even people who do work in offices together aren't talking to each other as much as they used to. Same with people who sit around the dinner table, staring at their phones instead of talking to each other.

Author Sherry Turkle has been writing about it for a while now. She has a new book called Reclaiming Conversation, which is about bringing conversation back into our lives.

It's an extension, really, of work she did for another book on being alone, even if we're connected. Here's her TED talk on it from 2012.

She talks more about the new book on the Art of Manliness podcast.

In the lessons of the second degree of Freemasonry, we learn about the seven liberal arts and sciences we should really study to become well-rounded humans. Of the seven, three really relate to conversation: logic, grammar and rhetoric.

I won't go into detail here, not because there's anything secret in the ritual, but because practicing the art of conversation is so much more important than sitting by yourself reading this. But if you want want to learn more, The Masonic Roundtable has great discussions on each:

Grammar
Rhetoric
Logic

Links of the week: Nov. 17, 2015

Happy Tuesday, y'all!

Well, I think this is going to be the final links post like this, in an effort to put better work into the weekly longer-form posts on Thursdays. We've been at this over a year now, between the newsletter and then moving to the blog, and we've shared somewhere along the lines of 400 links. If you ever want to head down a rabbit hole or two or three, go see some of the past posts.

Here are seven more to go explore:

» Nine videos of kayakers going over waterfalls
» Does alcohol really kill brain cells? How much of our brains do we really use? Debunking some widely accepted brain myths.
» These places look like paintings, but they're real.
» Amazing artwork, with coffee as the paint
» Find out which celebrities are haunting us
» The great Stephen Hawking did a Reddit AMA early this year. Read some of the top questions and answers from it.
» And finally, in light of the attacks in Libya and Paris last week, Bertrand Russell on love and hate, with a bonus look back at The Atlantic's piece on armchair outrage.

Stephen Hawking

Running diary, Nov. 16, 2015: A new week

Well, a week after I ran my first half marathon, I kept going. I took Sunday off, and Monday, I hopped on a treadmill for 10 minutes or so before hitting the weights, and then the rest of the week I hit it reasonably hard.

My lovely wife J signed us up for the Color Vibe to kick off 2016, and since she's not been training at all, I gave her an interval schedule that keeps her at distance for the seven weeks leading up. Her first week was a minute running, a minute walking, and the route is right about 3.5 miles.

Tuesday, I ran to the gym to lift and back (about 2.5 miles each way). Wednesday, I ran with her. Thursday, I ran four and change, and Friday was going to be a rest day but I was in a bad mood and decided to train with J again to get in some sweat and keep the endorphins flowing. Saturday, I went out for 11 miles.

I'll be back at it this week at least a few times; it's nice to be back in the gym, and 2.5 miles is a great warm-up before the workout and a nice way to keep everything warm after. My birthday is Friday, and I'll try to get a long one in that day and maybe give myself the weekend off.