Merry Christmas everyone. I’m pleased to report that we have once again won a battle in the War on Christmas. There shall be another holiday in 365 days. 
Tree parts were hung. I listened to the Charlie Brown Christmas Special soundtrack and I watched the Wes Anderson directed H&M commercial because it’s good. 

In the morning I will see once again what Mrs. Lott has chosen for me that isn’t at all what was on the very specific list I provided. It’s her annual tradition. I’m sure it will be cool. Probably. Maybe it will be wrapped?

I always play it safe and get what she wants. Happy wife, marginal reduction in strife. 

This is our second Christmas here. Of all we have experienced this past year, I think the thing I’m actually most grateful for is that our old dog Nikki is still with us. They told us she wasn’t going to make it to last Christmas. But she healed up and is living as a healthy, borderline feral senior dog with two very annoying younger dogs. 

I’m sure there’s some more important human milestones that happened. I know people had kids and shit, but you sort of measure time by an old dog friend’s life. Nikki saw me get out of college and quit bartending. She watched Mrs. Lott’s career bloom. And she got to see two Christmas Eves in West Oakland. 

She’s warm in our bed right now. Visions of birds to murder dancing in her head. 

So to all out there in the world. I hope you’re as happy as I am right now. You deserve to be. 

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Well, it’s officially our first night with blown transformers. Apparently this is a common occurance in this neighborhood. Along with diminished postal services and mail theft. 

It’s striking how much better the city services seem to be rolled out in different areas of Oakland. Over in Piedmont and Rockridge the streets seem clean. Or at least not covered in broken glass. I swear it rains bottles over here. 

The mail thing is a bummer. It seems like the postal workers are scanning items as delivered and then just tossing them around the streets. 

Typical government workers, I guess. 

This more or less marks a year of living in West Oakland. I like my commute. I like that we aren’t in SF. I do keep finding interesting little pockets to explore over here,  it not much. Honestly, all I really do is go to work and come home. I’d probably be out and about more if I had a motorcycle or a car. But that isn’t an excuse anymore. My bicycle is totally setup and fun to ride. I even rode around a bit while it was raining today and it wasn’t bad. 

I’ve decided to take a solid month off of any writing after I’m done with 365 posts. Those evenings, instead of sitting around writing, are going to be spent going out. There are a bunch of things I’d like to do. It’s time to recharge the creative juices. 

Hopefully the power is back on soon. 

lagertha

Vikings continues to be my favorite show. I guess it’s old fashioned or maybe childish, but I still really enjoy theology. What’s at the root of this show is what does it mean to follow a god or gods that don’t seem to care about you? Why continue behaving in a way you think pleases them?

For the vikings, the gods are real and dictate the kind of life they should lead. Power and violence are necessary for full reward in the afterlife. When you have pleased them you will get to fight and die in a courtyard battle each day, rise, and dine with your enemies in a great hall at night.

For the Christians, a pious life might land you in a nice mansion in the sky with your very own harp. Unfortunately, the Christians have to deal with each other and their enemies, which always leads to some very un-Christlike behavior. Especially back in ye olden days of sword fighting.

My favorite character on this show is Athelstan. He’s a monk that is captured in an early viking raid. He is enslaved for a time, but is eventually made a freeman. He becomes the friend of the viking king Ragnar and seems to adopt some belief in the pagan gods. At the very least he takes advantage of some of the relaxed viking attitudes to sex and violence. However, he never stops being a Christian at heart.

He is clearly shaped by the experience of living in the savage North, but he is always going to be a highly educated Catholic priest. He excels at battle as well as art. He blends the Christian and the pagan and becomes something better. It’s an approach to spirituality I find unusual, but alluring. As Athelstan say to his friend, “I love Jesus. And I love Odin.”

This is dangerous territory for mortals. If there’s one thing we know about gods, it’s that they’re jealous and demand myopic intensity from their followers. You have to wonder which god, Odin or Jehovah, would be the most desirous of your attentions?

It’s a good, well acted show. There’s enough battling to keep it fun and every single woman on the show is tough and beautiful. But what, you ask, does this all have to do with Proust? I don’t know. I’ve never read him, but my buddy did send me a Proust questionnaire today. They’re always fun to me so I figured I’d give it a whirl for everyone’s amusement.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? A long day with nothing to do but read, eat and maybe lift weights or something fun.

What is your greatest fear? Outliving my wife. Or her outliving me.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Slothfulness.

What is the trait you most deplore in others? Neediness.

Which living person do you most admire? My dad.

What is your greatest extravagance? Weed. And lots of it.

What is your current state of mind? Content.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue? Humbleness.

On what occasion do you lie? When women discuss weight.

What do you most dislike about your appearance? It’s not shaped like Thor’s

Which living person do you most despise? I’m stealing my friend’s answer: myself.

What is the quality you most like in a man? Strong work ethic.

What is the quality you most like in a woman? Strong work ethic.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse? Totally, motherfucker, you know?

What or who is the greatest love of your life? Wife.

When and where were you happiest? My wedding day.

Which talent would you most like to have? Charm. Or black belt level Jiu-Jitsu.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I would like to be smarter.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? Not owing anyone anything.

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? Norse god.

Where would you most like to live? New Orleans.

What is your most treasured possession? The dogs.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Being dumb.

What is your favorite occupation? Writer.

What is your most marked characteristic? Grudge holding.

What do you most value in your friends? Wit and martial skills

Who are your favorite writers? Hunter S. Thompson, Christopher Hitchens, Jane Austen, Charles Bukowski, Patty Smith, James Baldwin. I could keep going.

Who is your hero of fiction? Detective Rust Cohle.

Which historical figure do you most identify with? Mark Twain. Or at least I try.

Who are your heroes in real life? Soldiers, cops, farmers and other hard working knuckleheads.

What are your favorite names? Theodore. Loki. Boba Fett.

What is it that you most dislike? Humans.

What is your greatest regret? Not saying what I should’ve before some people died doing dumb things.

How would you like to die? Sexual exertion.

What is your motto? No one know anything, especially me.

luke

Tonight is one of those nights where I just want to lay down and watch a movie. I wish the damned theaters let you download opening weekend movies. I’d pay $45 just to be able to watch something at home free of the subhuman dopes that bark and drool at the theaters.

Who wants to deal with that?

One of the earliest theater experiences I can remember is seeing The Empire Strikes Back. I had seen  A New Hope on LaserDisc and was completely and utterly hooked on Star Wars. I guess every kid in America was.

The scene I remember most was when the Millennium Falcon was inside the space worm. It seemed like a haunted house. I remember thinking the mynoks were ghosts. Boy was I a rube.

star-wars

That Christmas was one of the best I ever had. I had a pretty lonely childhood, but my mom certainly threw down in the toy store. I got an AT-AT , The Millennium Falcon, and a Snowspeeder. That was pretty much the most badass combo of toys you could ever have. I couldn’t even believe how cool it was. I had the rebels take over the AT-AT and let the Tie-Fighter pilot fly bounty hunters around.

My cousin and I also got those crazy plastic lightsabers that made whooshing noises when you swung them around. We beat the hell out of each other with them. After my grandmother’s flyswatter we were pretty much invulnerable to stinging pain. That was an angry woman.

theforce_lightsaber

alf

Despite the general malaise in the world, 2016 has been a fairly successful one for me. I’m definitely experiencing a lot of anxiety from local and global tragedies, but they haven’t ground me into dust like they would have in previous years. If all goes well and Russia doesn’t go full retard, 2017 should be very strong.

There are two major reasons why: I’ve been intentional with my finances and I’ve been consistent with personal creative projects.

The finance thing is a result of following Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. This is my second year of living without credit cards and my first complete year without debt. Mrs. Lott and I have a mortgage, but we have no consumer or student debt to speak of. This isn’t luck or magic. We got serious and committed to living below our means and eating at home. If you have a budget and a plan, you can make this happen.

The great thing about getting your money sorted is it gives you more time. If you don’t have to hustle up money to pay off a bunch of shit you wish you hadn’t bought, then you can choose to spend your time doing what you want. If you’re creatively inclined, this is essential. It’s fine to be a starving artist,  but being an indebted artist really sucks because you actually get deeper into the red if you don’t hustle instead of just maintaining and enjoying your downtime.

It’s said that the summer before Jim Morrison started The Doors he lived on a rooftop in LA, eating nothing but oranges and LSD. He could never have done something like that with a looming student loan bill or the bill for charged tickets to Coachella growing at whatever usurious rate Visa is offering. He was just poor. And as much as being poor sucks (trust me, I know) being in debt is worse. It just eats at you.

Sticking to creative work is a lot harder. Especially if you’re toiling in obscurity. I get the occasional nice comment on this blog and the podcast has received some radioactively positive feedback, but none of my projects are likely to put a cent in my pocket for some time. Honestly, they probably cost money, especially if you factor in the time I should be doing freelance work.

I’ve written more in the past year than I have in my entire life. This is a great thing. If I had to do it over again, I probably wouldn’t have posted all of that writing publicly. I’m not ashamed of any of it, but a lot of it could stand to be edited. All in all, I’m really happy with the effort and it’s something I plan on continuing in the coming year, but probably offline, with the occasional public post just to keep things lively.

After my year of blogging is finished I will have written well over 200K words. That is a considerable amount and more than enough for a book. The downside of the way I’ve approached this blog is there really isn’t much of a consistent theme or set of topics that would allow me to simply edit all of this into a strong piece. I guess you could look at it as a meditation on what it was like to go through 2016, but I don’t find that interesting, which leads me to believe most people wouldn’t. I had planned to compile the advice column into a Kindle book, but that doesn’t seem worth doing either.

I really wish I had a central topic. David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries is basically a bunch of meandering rambling about whatever was going on in Byrne’s life at the time, but his love of biking around brings it all together. Other than by cantankerousness, this blog is all over the place.

I still definitely want to write a book, though. The podcast conversations have been fun and we keep coming back to this topic of dangerous nostalgia and people looking for tribes. That’s a topic I think I could explore interestingly and one that might even be able to find a publisher. My co-host Marc is putting together a book for a publisher we both admire, and if he has success, I just might see if I can pull something similar off.

Writing the blog has been a bigger time and energy suck than I thought. In the early days of this challenge I thought I might also write some horror short stories. I’ve made almost no progress on this except coming up with a lot of ideas and writing them down. I probably have less than 15 pages total, none of them great.

To be perfectly honest, podcasting is way more fun than blogging or writing. That said, the episodes are much better when I’ve done some thinking by writing. I probably have about 70 pages of notes on the various movies we’ve covered in the last six months.

Ok, so you’ve just read a chunk of bloviating nonsense to get to my plans. I won’t keep you any longer. Let’s finally get to it.

I plan to continue daily journaling, but not online. For my purposes, something like The Artist’s Way morning pages is way more effective. I don’t know if it’s the spiritual element or the lack of audience, but that style of writing practice seems to stir more up inside me, which is a good thing.

The blog will, as I said above, probably only have one post a week, likely longer than 1000 words, but not always. I think this stuff is going to focus on systems for living better and being more creative. Tony Robbins kind of shit.

Looking back at the data on my blog, this is the stuff that people really responded to the most, so I’m going to focus on doing more of it, but better. For selfish reasons, this is going to feed into a copywriting/blogging/content guide I want to bang out and see if it can get me any consulting gigs. I’ve taught a copywriting course three times and it was a lot of fun to do. Again, doing more of what’s fun and good.

If Marc has the stamina to edit it, I’d love to get Scary Thoughts up to twice a month. Even though I have a pretty bad radio voice, podcasting is the most fun creative thing I do. It’s definitely the most consumed project I work on.

So that’s pretty much the creative plan for 2017. Fewer, better public facing pieces, more podcasting, and as much consistency as 2016 allowed.

I haven’t said it in a while, but thanks for reading. It’s always dopamine boosting to hear someone say they liked something.

newnormal

The assassin pictured above is standing over the body of his victim, the Russian ambassador to Turkey. Everything about this picture should terrify you. The brazenness. The intensity. The message. The cinematic quality of the act.

He is clear about what he wants. He has pledged to die. He made an oath. In the next few days a lot will be said about this man, but it should be crystal clear to everyone that he is not fucking around. There are a lot of people like him who are not fucking around.

This is the new normal. Sitting at home binging on Netflix and signing online petitions, pretending everything’s fine, won’t stop this. Only hard people with bullets and bombs will. That’s not me. Not by a long shot. It’s probably not you either.

So what should we do? Make this country worth the blood spilled by the men and women who fight this war. Make it better. Start with the people close to you. Put your house in order. Then put your block in order. Then put your neighborhood in order. Then put your city in order. Keep going until it’s so bad ass everyone who comes here wants to get a bald eagle tattoo to commemorate its greatness.

Make a difference. Start now. The enemy is already out of the gate.

 

spaceballs

It’s my favorite kind of weather in West Oakland right now. Cold, but not too cold, with the sun shining. This is the weather that always felt like Christmas when I lived in Louisiana. We never got snow, but it could get surprisingly cold down there.

Christmas is my favorite holiday by far. Halloween has a lot going for it, sexy costumes, pagan rituals, but it can’t compete with the holly jolly spirit of December 25th. Christmas has all the best movies, too: Die Hard, Gremlins, Lethal Weapon, Bad Santa, and of course, A Christmas Story.

I’m surprised the war on Christmas hasn’t claimed A Christmas Story as a casualty. It’s a pro-patriarchy, pro-gun, pro-violence film. You know, all the stuff that makes a movie from the 80s solid.

Disney is smart for timing their Star Wars film releases around the holidays. What better time to sell plastic shaped into heroic images? For people who had childhoods filled with the original trilogy, seeing X-Wings and such with Christmas trees and holiday lights everywhere is fun. I had a pretty isolated childhood with no real friends, but I did get an AT-AT for Christmas the year they came out. It was the best.

On to your questions.

How do you convince someone you’re right in an argument (i.e. Like getting a republican to believe in climate change)? 

The first step is actually knowing whether or not you’re right. You have to do the work and you have to be able to articulate both sides of an argument, otherwise you won’t be able to fully anticipate counter arguments. Climate change is a really weird one because the science is really difficult to understand.

I went pretty deep on the GMO debate and found those studies easy to understand and evaluate because I have a decent working knowledge of biology and agriculture. This allows me to actually read scientific papers on those subjects and come to a reasonable conclusion based on facts. I feel pretty confident in the safety of GMOs. There are still valid arguments to be made about why they should or shouldn’t be labelled, but safety does not seem to be an issue. In fact, every bit of deceptive, unscientific writing I’ve seen on GMOs comes from the anti-GMO crowd.

If you believe in science, you basically have to go with what the scientists who conduct peer reviewed research find. If not, you have to find an unbelievably solid smoking gun. If anyone did find actual proof that GMOs caused harm, they’d probably win a Pulitzer Prize.

There seems to be a growing amount of writing attacking the validity of the “hockey stick graph” that Al Gore made famous in his film, An Inconvenient Truth. I wanted to look at the primary research, and I have, but looking at it cold has gotten me nowhere, so I have to take scientists at their word.

This is a long way of saying you should really only invest time in arguing about things you really know about. Personally, I don’t ever really discuss climate change because I don’t understand the science enough to argue about it from authority. If you want to argue about climate change effectively, you need to go beyond CNN talking points.

The second step to arguing about this sort of thing is understanding what you have to gain. Why are you even arguing with this person? Is it really important that they believe in the scientific consensus on this subject? Do you want them to drive less? Or eat less meat? What are you trying to get them to do and what do you gain? More importantly, what do they have to gain?

For example, say you wanted them to eat less meat because of the horrible carbon footprint associated with animal agriculture. They might never care about climate change. Denying it might be tied too closely to their world view. They might believe it’s real, but not care at all. You can’t do anything with that.

But maybe they’re overweight or pre-diabetic or have dangerously high cholesterol. You might be able to get them eating less meat by appealing to their vanity or their health concerns. If you win on this, you win your other argument without ever even having it.

The TL;DR version of this is:

  1. Know both sides of the argument inside and out.
  2. Understand exactly what change you want to achieve by winning.
  3. Format your argument for the specific person or group you’re engaging with and tie the thing you want them to do to their benefit.

Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography is full of all kinds of wisdom. In it he talks about how the best way to get someone to do something is convince them it was their idea. The super Jedi way of arguing is to make it seem like you aren’t even arguing at all. It is better to get what you want than to appear to have won.

If you have time, there’s a great book that Stanley Fish just put out called Winning Arguments. It’s a short recap of the basic principles of rhetoric and persuasion. If you read that one with the Dale Carnegie classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, you’ll have a good idea of how to get people to accept your ideas, which is a little different than actually stomping someone in a debate.

Why do you think lawyers are required to do pro bono work but not doctors?

I wasn’t aware of any requirement for lawyers to work for free.I just looked up something about it and it seems that The American Bar Association (ABA), in Model Rule 6.1, states, “A lawyer should aspire to render at least (50) hours of pro bono public legal services per year.”

This undoubtedly has something to do with some lawyer or politician’s moralizing. I can’t think of any profession where more than a week’s worth of labor is compelled to be given away for free. I’m not sure if it’s legally binding or a suggestion. I know of quite a few doctors that donate their time, especially with things like disaster relief and homeless outreach, but it seems voluntary.

Personally, I hate the idea that anyone might compel anyone else to labor for free without their consent. I think it undercuts the act of charity to require it. For example, I don’t have a lot of cash to spare right now, but I do like to help other people. So I do quite a bit of pro bono copywriting and marketing consulting. The truth of this kind of act is that as much help it can give to someone, it’s really about how I feel doing it. I believe it is right and good to hep other people, but I don’t think it is right and good to compel anyone to act in this way.

I’d really have to speak to lawyers about this to know more about how they feel. However, from a few quick Google searches, this seems to be a bit of a tradition and some law firms organize this kind of work as a charitable “give back” program like over companies might do social welfare initiatives.

What is Kanye West’s probable IQ? How about Amorosa?

I don’t know a thing about Amorosa, but I feel confident that Kanye is very intelligent, possibly a genius. He seems crazy the way Howard Hughes was crazy, not the way some dude living under a bridge is crazy.

I liked a few of Kanye’s early songs, but never really considered myself a fan until I heard his interview on Bret Easton Ellis’ podcast. This interview is the most articulate I’ve heard from him and the way he explained what he was trying to do with his creativity across various product channels struck me as well thought out.

I think what you might be trying to get at with this question is “how smart can these people be if they support or interact with Trump?” It would be a very big mistake to believe his supporters are unilaterally unintelligent. He has attracted some very heavy hitters who believe his presidency will be good for them.

Definitely question their motivations, but don’t question their intelligence to make yourself feel superior. That’s a dumb move.

What is your best example of how dumb humans are?

The size of the flat Earth movement makes me question humanity.

What is your favorite movie scene that is extremely moving in a subtle and understated way?

I don’t know that it’s subtle, but I love the scene in Forest Gump where Gump is visiting Jenny and her lame Berkeley activist boyfriend at a Black Panther Party meeting. The boyfriend calls him a baby killer and abuses Jenny. Gump beats his ass right in front of everyone.

What this scene is about is staying true to your moral compass no matter where you are, while being polite in mixed company. Gump listens to the Black Panthers as they explain what their mission is and what their opinion of Vietnam is.

Gump’s best friend, an African-American, died in his arms. It’s doubtful that anyone else in the room had that experience. Yet he isn’t there to argue or defend himself. He is there to protect the woman he loves, which he does.

After he lays some righteous ground and pounding on that Leftist scum, he says, “he should not be hitting you Jenny” and then he apologizes for having a fight in the middle of the Black Panther’s party.

This scene is just about perfect. It doesn’t treat the Black Panthers trivially and it doesn’t make any sort of judgment about them. The morality displayed is personal and backed by action. The protection of Jenny is Forest’s “why” and he doesn’t compromise. He is also not affected by other people’s opinions of what his uniform might represent.

Forest Gump remains true to himself, raises his hands when needed, and remains polite as a guest. This is what being a man is all about. He’s not trying to force is world view on others He’s just trying to be good.

A very close second for me is the final scene in Schindler’s List where Oscar Schindler is leaving Germany as a war criminal. He is surrounded by the people he has saved and immediately is crushed by the shame that he could have done more. If he had taken just a little less for himself, more Jews would have lived.

This is a powerful moment. I think about it whenever I’m being lazy. To come to the end and know you could’ve done more is a curse I hope to avoid.

Why do you think killing in video games is seen as acceptable but sex in video games is not?

This is holdover Puritan and Victorian nonsense. However, with VR getting better and better, expect to see the free market shoe horning sex into more video games than ever before.