(My column from November 2014)

I never quite understood the logic:

“Finish everything on your plate, young man – for goodness’ sake, you know there are children starving in India.”

If your parents grew up during the Depression, as mine did, it’s a good bet that you heard that line, or something like it, more than a few times during your childhood. The reasoning, I suppose, was that whether or not you particularly liked what happened to be on your plate, you should not only eat it all but be grateful for it – for there were other children in other parts of the world who would be thankful for anything.

To a child’s mind, of course, the paradox was evident, and the solution obvious:

“Well, why don’t we send this food to them instead?”

However, giving voice to such a notion was a good way to find yourself still seated at the table at 7:30 PM, engaged in a staring contest with a gaggle of stubbornly existent Brussels sprouts.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve no doubt noticed that American life is full of such paradoxes. Our professed values and the facts of our history do not always reinforce each other.  The old, easy categories of “heroes” and “villains” have become more and more blurred as we have learned new assertions about our past.  Columbus Day is becoming less of a celebration of the seafaring prowess of intrepid Europeans and more of a moment to soberly contemplate the callow and blundering cruelty of which underinformed humans can be capable.  The rosy narratives of rugged pioneers resolutely pursuing their manifest destiny across a sprawling continent have been tempered by well-documented tales of massacre, swindle, and disappropriation.

The story of Thanksgiving itself turns out to have more twists and turns than can be sufficiently conveyed in elementary school pageants of construction-paper feathers and bonnets crafted from handkerchiefs. Like Macbeth’s Banquo, old ghosts disturb the comfort of our feasts – from Squanto and Powhatan to Crazy Horse and Geronimo.

Should it reduce our gratitude to know that our overflowing tables sit atop hills of bones?

I don’t think so – but it should certainly inform our experience, and it should change our focus.  We can and should honor and be mindful of all of the people (and creatures, and lands) who have sacrificed – and who have been sacrificed, and who are still being sacrificed – to bring us where we are today. Such contemplation should not breed any sense of merit or exceptionalism, much less of inevitable triumph or innate superiority –  but neither should it plunge us into guilt and recrimination. Rather, it should engender a deep and awe-filled humility, and an enormous sense of obligation and responsibility.

The harvest-time should indeed be a time of celebration – but let’s also make it a time of recommitment, a time to decide that next year the table will be bigger, and that more people will be able to find seats at it, at least as comfortable as our own.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!



From: Screwdisk, SVP Sales & Acquisitions, HellCorp North America
To: All US Tempters, Assistant Tempters, Tormentors, etc.
Re: Winter Holidays

The upcoming holiday season, as you know, is always one of our busiest times (as a cursory glance at your increased quotas will amply demonstrate).  Here are a few reminders to help you take advantage of the situation and create as much suffering as possible in the coming days.

Remember this basic principle: “Any occasion that brings people together is an opportunity to set them at each other’s throats.” A holiday dinner with extended family is a perfect example. As they lay out their turkeys, casseroles, and gravies, make sure your clients also stuff themselves with heaping helpings of simmering tensions and unaddressed grievances. Hurts that have lain unresolved for decades can be brought up in the spur of the moment, and derail any idea of merriment. Make sure everyone leaves the table with reason to remember why they don’t get together more often. Sullen silences that actually scream with rage – that’s our idea of “holiday music”!

Don’t forget to spice things up a little by bringing up their idealized conceptions of what a holiday celebration “should” be like. Early preparation on this point can begin weeks in advance, particularly with your harried hostesses; excessive worry and concern that “everything has to go well,” properly tended, can practically guarantee that nothing will go well.

And of course, the increased instability in the United States and the world provides more occasion for you to provoke conflict and strife. Yes, you can bring the wars in the Middle East and the racial divide in America right into every kitchen, dining room, and living room! Make sure that everyone takes it as their personal mission to correct everyone else’s misperceptions, rather than simply listening respectfully to each other’s fears and concerns.  (Handy hint: ensure that the host keeps FOX News on in the background during every family meal.)

And speaking of FOX News… The Semantic Branch is to be commended for the ongoing progress of their excellent “War on Christmas” campaign – which has not been an actual war, of course, but a campaign to make Christians think there is such a thing. This campaign has generated enormous amounts of anxiety, resentment, self-righteous indignation, outrage, and outright hostility among its targets. We have managed to transform the very words “Merry Christmas” from a expression of joy and fellowship into an aggressive call of defiance!  Particular note must be made of this year’s fiendishly amusing twist, when a great kerfuffle was generated over… a disposable coffee cup!

So get out there and get to work! Let’s turn their “holidays” into “Hellidays”!


If I was gonna write another Christmas song
I’d make sure that it didn’t go on too long
I’d wanna make a standard that could last throughout the years
A work of art to touch the heart
And bring a smile or joyful tear

And then we’d make a record – that would be so neat
A little bit of auto-tune and a booty-bouncin’ beat
Throw in a sweet string section and a gospel choir
We’d have ourselves a megahit
And set the world on fire

A big and flashy video to rock the joint
And I would have completely




of Christmas time…

in my dreams (song)

in my dreams it seems that I am always traveling
in my sleep I try to keep myself from unraveling
where is this where is that where am I where is she is this where I’m
supposed to be
in my dreams it seems that I am always traveling

when I wake I try to take a good look around
get my feet out on the street I stand on shaky ground
go to work grab the phone no time alone is this how it’s
supposed to be
when I wake I try to take a good look around

wisdom comes too late
but still you have to wait
for life itself to educate

in my youth I thought the truth was just around the bend
sought for clues that I could use but that search has no end
trapped in a box with the door unlocked but I
just couldn’t see
in my youth I thought the truth was just around the bend

wisdom comes too late
but still you have to wait
only life itself can educate


One of the little things I find particularly annoying online is when someone posts some dire bit of news and then solemnly intones, “AND SO IT BEGINS…” like some character from Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones.

Usually, the “it” refers to some apocalyptic scenario that the writer has apparently been anticipating for years, with this one story representing the first falling domino leading to the inevitable doom.

Such posts try to be portentous, but only end up being pretentious instead. The social processes that are now underway, for good or ill, have been running for quite some time.

But Election Day 2015 (you did vote, didn’t you?) does mark a key milestone, if not an actual beginning, one to which some attention should be paid. Election Day 2016 is now less than a year away, and the ticking of that clock should be sending some chills into your bones.

The stakes are quite high. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to suggest that in a very real sense, the character if not the very soul of the country are up for grabs, and there are weighty and fundamental questions about ourselves waiting to be answered over the next twelve months. The answers to these questions aren’t solely dependent on the election results, mind you – they’re also dependent on the way the campaigns are conducted, how they are played out in the media, and of course the myriad other events that will happen around the world – but the vote will strongly indicate what direction we have chosen for the future.

Here are some of the things that I think the next 12 months will tell us:

  • Is America truly a democratic republic, where every citizen can feel they have a voice in the decisions that affect their futures – or is it rather a plutocratic oligarchy, where policy is driven by the wishes, whims, and desires of a small handful of the richest Americans?
  • Are we going to be a pluralistic, secular, multicultural society, with a broad range of beliefs and ideas engaged in spirited but respectful and productive interaction – or will we lose more of our social cohesion, and become further stratified and separated by race, religion, sexuality, and economic class?
  • Do we as citizens care about the healthy functioning of our political process – or are we content to accept soundbites and scandals in the place of substantive and meaningful discussion of issues?
  • Will we fulfill our intended roles as engaged citizens, demanding accountability and transparency from our elected officials – or have we been cynically lulled into disillusionment, disengagement, and apathy?
  • Will we respond to the next crisis – whether it’s a terrorist attack, financial malfunction, international incident, or environmental calamity – by pulling together with equanimity and cooperation, or will we use it as an opportunity to squabble amongst ourselves and score political points against each other?
  • Will we be able to rise above the short-sighted pressures of the market, and the chimeras of “national interest,” and address the threats of climate change and inequality effectively and fairly –  or will we stick with “business as usual” until it’s too late?

We’ll revisit this list (if the creek don’t rise and the Good Lord willing), in twelve months… and we’ll see how we did.

Hard Drive Gonna Crash

(with all due apologies to Bob Dylan)

Where have you been, my online son?
And where have you been, my connected young one?

I’ve been on the highway that never gets potholes
I’ve been in the web where the spiders are robots
I’ve been to a planet that exists in a closet
I’ve been in a room where the doors are all questions

And it’s a hard – it’s a hard – it’s a hard
It’s a hard drive – gonna crash

And what did you see…

I saw a young girl who had eaten raw data
I saw 10,000 children all starving for upgrades
I saw into a medicine chest of an accountant
I saw the whole world it was littered with snapshots

And it’s a hard…

And who did you meet…

I met a man whose existence was uncertain
I met a woman who gave me her password
I met a man who downloaded his lover
I met another man who downloaded his killer

And it’s a hard…

What did you download…

I downloaded the plans for a prison for millions
I downloaded a scream that broke all my windows
Downloaded a song that made the walls melt away
I downloaded the nails that the soldiers left over

And it’s a hard…

What did you delete…

I deleted five centuries of secret arrangements
Deleted the color between ash brown and lilac
Deleted the word that unlocks all the tigers
Deleted five of the stars that shine over hell

And it’s a hard…

And what did you learn…

I learned not to trust anyone without email
I learned how to say “No, thank you” in Trojan
I learned what lies under the graves of the generals
I learned there are places that no one can enter
I learned why the buzzards have fled for the mountains
I learned there are machines who seek their Messiah
I learned there’s a chance they’ve already found one

And it’s a hard…

So what will you do now….

I’ll go find the places that the children are building
I’ll join in a song that the whole world is writing
I’ll cry in a language that has long been forgotten
And I’ll paint a statue that dances real numbers
And I’ll pilot a drone through the skies of my lover
And I’ll swim through the data until I can breathe it
And I’ll tweet it and post it and pin it and yelp it
But I’ll check my code well before I compile it

And it’s a hard…


(compiled from several years of Facebook posts)

Q. What did the Jedi say to the Zen master?
A. “This isn’t the Void you’re looking for.”

Q. Why did the bro get so frustrated while trimming his sideburns?

Q. What is harder than holding your breath?
A. Letting it go…

Q. Where is Kim Jong Un?
A. He’s having a midlife crisis and not sure what to do next, so he’s seeing a Korea counselor.

Q: What’s the difference between a capitalist fairy tale and a Marxist fairy tale?
A: A capitalist fairy tale begins, “Once upon a time, there was….”. A Marxist fairy tale begins, “Some day, there will be….”

Q. Why did the fugitive violinist turn himself in?
A. He was tired of Haydn.

Q. Why did the not-very-bright person start stealing iPads and Kindles?
A. His doctor told him to take two tablets a day.

Q. During a tornado or hurricane, where is the safest place to be?
A. Where the storm has already passed.

Q. Why did the chicken move her nest across the street?
A. She had Restless Egg Syndrome.

Q. What did the ornithologist do when she couldn’t attend the reception?
A. She sent her egrets.

Q. Who writes the death notices in the Mos Eisely Star-Tribune?
A. Obit-wan Kenobi.

Q. What’s a proctologist’s favorite kind of music?
A. Polypso.
Q. What about professional gamblers?
A. Professional gamblers like many different kinds of Polka – you know, like Seven-Card Stud Polka, Draw Polka, Texas Hold’em Polka…
Q. And omelet chefs?
A.  They prefer yolk music.

Q. What did the philanderer do when he got his terminal cancer diagnosis?
A. He put his affairs in order.

Q, Who lives in a cave in the Himalayas, but emerges once a year to give presents to children?
A. Shanti Claus.

Q.What has six legs, no wings, and brought sexy back to the insect world?
A. Justin Silverfish.

Q. Name a brilliant jazz guitarist with a flatulence problem.
A. Pat Methaney.

Q. What was the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary?
A. That Joseph had already made reservations.

Q. Which mental ability is indisputably measured with great accuracy by standardized tests?
A. The ability to take standardized tests.

Q: What is the longest period of time known to man?
A. The time between paychecks.
Q. What is the shortest period of time known to man?
A. The time it takes to spend a paycheck.

Q. Why do you become so unpopular if you are defeated by the Norse God of Thunder?
A. Because no one likes a Thor loser.

Q. How do you cheat on a exam at Hogwarts?
A. Use spell check.

Q. What is God’s favorite steak?
A. The Angus Dei.

Q. Why is sex addiction such a problem in the Shire?
A. Because it’s so Hobbit-forming.

Q. What did Cicero say when he first tried the Japanese fried eels?
A. “O tempura! O morays!”

Q. Why is it so hard to get tickets to a Wagner opera?
A. Everyone wants a Ring-side seat.

Q. What do you say to send off the new trout as they’re being stocked into the river?
A. “Catch ya later!”