The latest from Apple is that they’re folding Beats Music into iTunes to help bolster the flagging revenues from digital music sales. There’s a lot of speculation about why digital music sales are declining (14% down from 2013).

As usual, piracy and file sharing has been cited – even though that’s been a factor for more than a decade. The other suspect that’s been hauled in for questioning  is the growth of streaming services like Spotify.

There’s no doubt that streaming music is biting into the market for sales. However, as was the case with file sharing, the remedy is being blamed, rather than the disease. File sharing was considered the culprit in the early 2000s because the recording industry was too stubborn and short-sighted to see that people wanted flexibility with their music. They wanted to carry it around with them, they wanted to move it from device to device. The music industry was so fat, dumb and happy on their addiction to CD sales that no one wanted to struggle through polycarbonate rehab (no, no, no).

What Spotify and other streaming services have done is similar. They have given customers what they want and what they need. But the music industry is again the problem. The reason for the success of streaming music is not that they offer whatever music you want for a monthly fee, the success is because no one is releasing songs worth BUYING.

Think about music over the past 15 years. How many songs do you know that you still want to listen to after hearing them for 3 months? This isn’t just a matter of being overplayed, the music is DISPOSABLE. The artists are interchangeable. Songs sound the same, any emotional resonance they have is saccharine and transient, at best.

I’m fairly confident that this isn’t some “get off my lawn” rant about the racket those kids listen to. I have no preference for past musical eras and wouldn’t place one much above the other. My tastes span a wide variety of genres – and I even enjoy a lot of the current crappy pop songs. But if you asked me if there’s any song from the last 15 years that I really HAVE to listen to again, I couldn’t give you an answer.

Disagree? If you have any songs on your playlist that don’t date back before the year 2000, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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There’s an online tradition called “Throwback Thursday,” in which people post old photos of themselves. The photos typically fall into one of two categories: “Oh, you were so cute back then!” or “Wow, that’s embarrassing!”

“Oh, you were so cute back then” photos tend to imply “but now – not so much.”

That’s why I prefer the throwbacks of an embarrassing sort. At best, you show how far you’ve come over the years and at worst, you can show you have a sense of humor about yourself.

In 1991, I tried my hand at drawing comic strips – which were poorly drawn, due to a complete lack of artistic skill and comprised of jokes that were either bad puns or retreads of gags that had been around since vaudeville. Most of them were a product of their time, but I managed to pull out a few that won’t be completely anachronistic.

With absolutely no additional fanfare, I present Tales From the Psycho Ward (with more to come in future weeks).





For those of you to young to know, chain letters were a pre-internet version of sharing some ridiculous message of positivity on Facebook to get good luck or save a kitten from being dipped into a vat of mantis shrimp. Fortunately, with written letters people had to pay for stamps, so they weren’t quite as common as they are now.

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Recently, Newscorp critiqued Google as an enabler of internet piracy. As befitting the parent of Fox News, the rationale was filled with ridiculous assertions, which sum up to: “the internet is bad for us and we’re too lazy to figure out how to fix it, so we’ll just blame Google because somehow, Google = the entire internet.”

Google frequently takes a beating for monopolistic practices because of its huge market share of search engine traffic. My opinion is that Google is successful because they do things well and in the early days of the web, they found ways to monetize search technology. Of all the things you could say are monopolistic, search technology would seem pretty low on the list. Over a long weekend, two hungover guys in a basement can create a new search engine that’s accessible to billions of people.


There are dozens (hundreds) of options for searching the web, but most of them suck and some – like that fucking “Ask” toolbar – put all of their resources into figuring out how to hijack your browser instead of convincing you to voluntarily use their product. Seriously,’s marketing is like hiring a guy to stake out grocery stores, pull the Oreos out of your shopping cart, then secretly replace them with boxes of Hydrox.

But this isn’t some defensive fanboy appreciation of Google (disclosure: Android phone, Google Chrome and sometime user of their other stuff until they decide they want to shut it down). On the contrary, there are REAL crimes against the internet I hold Google accountable for.

I blame Google for 80% of the internet being absolute SHIT. Google’s prevalence means that the “under-the-hood” search algorithms have an inordinate impact on how companies and organizations use the web. Rather than a focus on better product, better content or more creative marketing, there’s a whole cottage industry trying to figure out tricks and cheat codes to win a game in which we’re all the target.

Go Click Yourself

Convincing people to click a link to your page is nothing new, it’s a key facet of anything someone is marketing online. With the system of Google Page Ranks and traffic measurement, the “click” has become much more of its own reward. Tactics to “add clicks” to your site become more important than just getting people to VISIT your site, leading to travesties like:

Clickbait headlines

When I’m on a news site, sometimes all I need is the headline and I can move on. Don’t tell me “You’ll never believe who is running for President!” to force me to click to another page. Just tell me “Rob Schneider is running for President in 2016.” Yes, I fucking believe it and I’ll read more if you’re going to say something interesting about it.


Look, if I want to read all about the 40 possible places that Taylor Swift is taking her cat, then let me READ. 40 pages of images with 10 words on each page is perfect for a 4 year old reading “Fun With Dick and Jane,” but is not what I want when I’m trying to discreetly catch up on celebrity gossip in the office.

Quantity Over Quality.

Once you’ve clicked, it doesn’t matter if the page signals a new age of enlightenment on Earth or a quiz about what kind of butterfly you are. There’s no quality component to a click. At some level, there should be page rankings that actually incorporate user ratings into the algorithm. I know there have been experiments with this in the past, but they weren’t particularly well executed.

Dick Linkers

Google makes an assload of revenue from paid search results and their bidding process. However, a lot of companies avoid that route (which can be costly) by trying to rank higher in the “unpaid search” results, which are what most of us want when we “Google” something. The unpaid search results ideally list the sites that best match what you’re searching for, but there are specific parts of the algorithms that bring out the shitweasels.

One of those factors is incoming links. Websites that are referenced in links on other pages will move higher on the list of search results. Because of this, you’ll often find articles on the internet with website links embedded in the middle of the text. How many times have you actually clicked on one of those links? Here’s the secret: no one clicks on it and no one cares that no one ever will, it’s only there to improve the (linked) site’s search ranking. This has given rise to a couple other douchenozzle endeavors.

Content Farms

There’s a whole industry of “content farms” focused on creating terribly written articles for whatever sites agree to it, solely so that the provider can slip links into that article. This is a personal one, because even with the minimal site traffic I get here, I get a dozen requests per week to provide me with “guest post” content. Writers of these “guest posts” get paid as little as $2 per article they write, so you can imagine how much time they spend crafting those beautiful pieces of prose.

Comment spam

Closely related to the content farm is the link spam you find in the comment sections of blogs and sites. I’m not talking about the “get-rich-quick” scams – while sufficiently scummy, those pricks are actually hoping you’ll click the link and fall for their bullshit. The other garden variety of spam includes links that are there just to improve a search engine ranking. These comments may pretend they’re talking about the topic at hand, but then have one (or twenty) links in them. Clicks are irrelevant, as long as the search engine finds them and gives their site “credit” for the link.

“SEO Guru” being a career

The only thing worse than all these tactics are the people who come up with them. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) wouldn’t even exist as a career without Google. These people are like Wall Street tax lawyers – they figure out what the rules are, with the express purpose of finding ways around them. Guys who club baby seals look at these people with disgust. Placing invisible text on webpages, cloaking real pages so search engines think they’re something different, cracking encryption to push spam onto a site. Do any of these people look in a mirror in the morning and think “Yeah, let’s go make the world a better place!?”


In Google’s defense, they do change their algorithms to try to address some of the more egregious offenses, but this is the core of their business model, so there’s only so much they can do. So, yes, Google has a lot to answer for. Larry, Sergey, I hereby sentence you to purchase Buzzfeed for $11 Billion and then shutter it 3 weeks later. Don’t whine. You’ve done it before with sites that actually did something useful.

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A couple of weeks ago, I was given a challenge on Facebook to name 10 books that have changed me in some way. Since “viral challenges” on Facebook are just this century’s chain letter, I have a pretty hard rule against spreading them. That said, I did like the intent of this one, so I gave it some thought. Rather than blow a good bit of introspection on Facebook, I’m memorializing the list here instead, which gives me a bit more room to share my thoughts.

1. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

In response to something goofy I wrote in high school, my English teacher recommended this book to me. I was fascinated that it was a novel, but random little freehand drawings were sprinkled throughout. It was a few years later when I actually read it, at the tail-end of my angsty college years.


2. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

Of all the books I’ve read, this is the one that changed me the most (although it’s actually a play, of course). I’ve written about its impact before, but this is the book I credit with pushing me to find my own path when I realized the direction other people gave me wasn’t working.


3. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

The unique narrative point of view confused the hell out of me for the first 30 pages or so, but once I understood what was going on, I was hooked. The novel is the first one I had read with such significant shifts in pov and to my geeky mind, the first section felt a bit like sci fi with its narrative structure and time-shifting.


4. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Full of wordplay and goofy, fantastic fun. I was introduced to this one as a child and consider it a more playful cousin to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with a bit of Narnia mixed in. It’s hard to recall, but I believe I saw the Chuck Jones animated film before I picked up the book. Both of them are due for a fresh look as an adult, especially the book. The wonderfully quirky names of people and places would mean much more to me now that I understand the context and idioms, like Milo’s jump to the island of Conclusions.


5. The Stand by Stephen King

That’s right. The whole, unabridged version. All 1,152 pages of it, making it an odd choice for my first King novel. Despite his decades as a bestselling author, I never bothered with his work because every time I turned around another of his books was being made into a film. I equated oversaturation with low quality (due, in part, to several of the films being awful). In 1999, a friend of mine and I drunkenly shared our favorite books and he talked it up so much, I had to read it. Now it’s the one book I’d be most willing to re-read.


6. Fletch by Gregory MacDonald

Years before Chevy Chase shared his take on the character of Fletch, I read the whole series. The back cover of the book actually just printed the book’s opening dialogue, and it was enough to grab me. This was my first exposure to a thriller novel that combined mystery with comedy, which I’d previously only seen in movies and television shows. This book is closest in tone to what I’m looking for in my own writing.


7. Blindness by Jose Saramago

The second Saramago novel I read (the first was Death With Interruptions). While Death was filled with bits of humor, Blindness reminds me of post-apocalyptic shows like Walking Dead. When something good happens, you know more bad things are around the corner. Saramago’s unique style of run-on sentences, minimal punctuation and rare use of proper nouns can be disorienting, but once you adjust and flow with it instead of against it, it’s a beautiful read.


8. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Is there anyone who reads this book for pleasure any more? It’s either banned or it’s required reading, so who’s left in that middle sliver of people who can just enjoy it? Unlike The Sound and the Fury and Waiting for Godot, this wasn’t a part of any coursework in college. I honestly don’t remember what drove me to pick it up, although the combination of my own feelings of alienation and knowing it had been banned in many places certainly gave it a mystique I found intriguing.


9. The Burglar in the Closet by Lawrence Block

Prior to picking up the Burglar series, I had read Lawrence Block’s novels about Matthew Scudder (recently portrayed by Liam Neeson in A Walk Among the Tombstones). Burglar was fascinating for several reasons: first, it impressed me that the same author could write dark and gritty in the Scudder novels, then go with fun and light in this one; second, this was an anti-anti-hero. Unlike the dark anti-heroes of the 80s and 90s, Bernie is a burglar who is also a nice, charming, funny guy you’d want to hang out with.


10. Cosmos by Carl Sagan

The sole non-fiction entry on the list, this was a companion book to the PBS television series Cosmos that Sagan hosted in 1980 (recently rebooted by Neil deGrasse Tyson). With its giant, glossy photos of the universe and simple explanations of complex physics, this was the only book I ever waited months for. With a cover price of close to $20 – in 1980 – it was the most expensive book I’d ever heard of and I had to wait until it showed up under the Christmas tree to get it. Sagan exposed me to parts of the science and mathematical world that we never covered in school, much like Stephen Hawking’s “Brief History of Time” and Bill Bryson’s “Short History of Nearly Everything” have done more recently.

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With the new iPhone 6 Plus, there’s a lot of chatter about “how big does your phone need to be?” I was riding the BTS (Skytrain) in Bangkok about 3 years ago when I first saw someone holding a 7 inch tablet to their ear to make a call and admitttedly, it looked ridiculous.

But the people asking “how big is too big” are asking the wrong question. I use my phone for texting and messaging about 10 times more frequently than I talk to someone on a phone call. When I do use it as a phone, I use it with earbuds so I’m not holding it up to my head. There are literally millions of apps available for smartphones that can do anything from make fart noises to edit powerpoint presentations (note to self: add fart noises to next powerpoint presentation).

The key question in 2014 isn’t “how big do you want your phone to be?” it’s “how small do you want your computer to be?”

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During my recent trip to the U.S., I decided to play tourist and visit a few places I had never been. One of the more interesting destinations was the Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago.

No matter how much it’s talked about in the news and politics, I really had no idea exactly what the Federal Reserve Bank does. I know its name is printed at the top of all of my Benjamins, but that was about the extent of my knowledge. With the help of a friend I’ve had for 40 years, I signed up to take the tour and get a glimpse behind the scenes of the place that money calls home. Knowing the amount of money that passes through the place and seeing the turn of the century style conjured up images of caper stories the whole time I was there. I couldn’t help but think “okay, if I was going to rob this place, how would I do it?”

While it was interesting to learn what the Federal Reserve Bank does, the real beauty of the visit was a special tour through some of the innards with a guide who knows trivia that spans centuries and literally trillions of dollars. Jerry, our tour guide, was a fascinating man who returned from the boredom of retirement to be a tour guide, talking guests through the museum. He wore a light green and white suit, looking like he too had been minted by the U.S. government decades ago. Over the course of the next hour or so, he shared background on the Fed, stories and more numbers than anyone should be able to recall.

In the main museum, we got to see a number of displays about the history of currency in the United States, including a couple of displays of One Million Dollars:


One Million Dollars in $1 Bills


A bit more manageable million. Not quite duffel bag size, but getting closer.


We also got to learn a bit about what the Federal Reserve Bank does in a video that was put together in-house – nice, but a bit dry. I’m sharing what I took away from it, which may be entirely inaccurate, due to my failing memory. The Fed’s charter is to “oversee how monetary policy is implemented.” It comes down to three primary functions: 1) they oversee how payment systems work, so the way checks are cashed, the way credit card and online transactions take place; 2) they are the regulators of banks in the U.S., so they’re the ones who go in and audit banks to make sure they’re not breaking any laws and 3) the most visible function is that they’re responsible for moving cash around.

For most of us, that’s the fascinating part of what they do. Every day of the week, shipments of currency come from the United States mints to the Federal Reserve bank. The Fed then ships that currency out to the banks that need it. While the larger bills are transported by armored car every day, the $1 bills are packed into unmarked semi-trailers and driven to the building to prepare them for distribution. I guess it’s not much different from shipping a truckload of iPhones to a warehouse, but somehow it SEEMS riskier that they do that.


On the flip side of things, the Fed gets deliveries of cash from the banks, which is counted and bundled for re-distribution. This is also the step that includes pulling old and worn bills out of circulation. One of the most surprising things I saw was how little wear a bill needs for it to be taken out of circulation. Most of the bills in your wallet are probably not going to pass.

About $17 Million in currency is destroyed every day at the Chicago Fed, which is one of 12 Federal Reserve Banks. The Money Museum even gives you a small bag of shredded money as a souvenir, which contains the remnants of currency equal to about $370. One of the more interesting facts about this shredded currency is that until the mid 20th century, the shredded bills were burned, but because of the toxic chemicals used in the ink, they had to stop doing that. It’s now shipped off to special landfills for toxic materials. Kind of makes you worry about handling it every day, doesn’t it?

I had the pleasure of getting a more personal tour, including a trip to see the money sorting and counting machines (through a thick glass window, of course), but sadly the machines weren’t operating that day. Those functions are visible from an additional section of the Museum that was closed off in 2001, so not many people get to visit it.

My other favorite part was looking at the high denomination currency that’s no longer in circulation. One display has a $10,000 bill in it, along with several other bills from the 200-ish years of American money printing. The 10k bills were printed until the 1940s and discontinued when it became apparent that virtually all bills above $1000 in denomination were being used for criminal purposes. Just over 300 of the bills survive, most of which are in the hands of collectors. About 9 years ago, one of them actually arrived at the Fed through normal banking channels! Someone had gotten hold of it (perhaps stored in a box in an attic somewhere), taken it to their local bank and deposited it. With a quick bit of research, they’d have discovered it was worth close to 10 times that to a collector.

I’d love to make a few suggestions to the guys at the Money Museum as improvements, but since this is solely for PR (admission is free), I’m sure they are limited in how much they invest in the tour. Although considering the constant saber-rattling in Congress about the Fed, maybe they could use a bit stronger PR push.

  1. One of my biggest pet peeves with 90% of museums is that no one really thinks about photos. Placement of light fixtures to minimize glare, setting up obstruction free angles and allowing guests the chance to pose without impeding traffic are critical factors for any museum and most of them don’t think that through.
  2. Re-open the closed section of the tour. Money counting and shredding is one of the more fascinating things that happens at the Fed and no one gets to see it. I get it. 9/11 happened. But the security checks and procedures keep out bank robbers, so I’m sure they can be effective for other people, too.
  3. Tell some stories. Interactive displays are all well and good, but you’ve got an asset like Jerry who has hundreds of stories in his arsenal. I’m the only one who heard any of them. Everyone else just heard him introduce the video and rattle off a lot of facts and figures. Stories = excitement. Spend a little money and create a new video to share some of these stories in the context of explaining what the Fed does.

All unsolicited advice, of course, but I found the place fascinating and woefully under-utilized. As an average tourist, there just wouldn’t be a lot to hold my interest without some upgrades.

P.S. if you’re interesting in the strategic planning and development of a world-class tourist experience, I know someone who can help. ;)

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Contrary to every goal I had, I didn’t do any writing while I was in the U.S.

In between visiting friends and family I actually played tourist a bit, so I’ll share some of those stories in future posts. They weren’t your typical destinations, which is what made it kind of fun. Even though places like the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and Mount Rushmore are still on my “someday” list, this trip was a bit quirkier with visits to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin and the Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago. Both were interesting destinations that aren’t typically on any “10 Best” lists, but I enjoyed both of them quite a bit.

Besides the flying, driving and catching up with old faces, what I did most was gain weight. I’m not even sure how it happened, because I didn’t eat ridiculous amounts of food while I was there. While I had a few indulgences, how did I gain 7 pounds in 2 weeks? It’s not like I was eating 5 meals a day. Most days were normal fare, with an occasional bigger dinner or lunch with friends.

As long time readers might know, I’m no foodie and never have been. My tastes aren’t particularly discriminating and one meal is largely the same as the next – with three exceptions: tacos, Thai food and sugar. My love of Thai food is limited to what I get IN Thailand, so I didn’t have any in the U.S. I know, I know – central Wisconsin is well known as a hotbed of authentic Thai food, but I passed it up.

Tacos: I had Mexican food (or quasi-Mexican food) 5 times in two weeks. 4 of those times were cheap-ass tacos and I loved every one of them.

Sugar: The most egregious sin while I was visiting was a trip to Krispy Kreme, which led to an amazing revelation. Holy shit, those things are sweet beyond comprehension! My tastes have certainly changed since I left the U.S. because I used to eat those little sugar and grease bombs constantly. Several years ago while I was working at Universal, we had a “free Krispy Kreme” day for the employees. As one of the execs handing the donuts out to the staff, I managed to down 9 of them in a 4 hour period. Granted, that was when I averaged 180 miles a week on my bike so my metabolism was like a blast furnace.

And now? I could barely choke down a single one. It was like eating a fluffy brick of concentrated sugar. If a white dwarf star were made of frosting, that’s what it tasted like. By the time I finished my third one (*ahem*), I almost passed out from the sugar rush.

I guess the shift in my taste buds is a good thing, especially now that I have seven pounds to lose all over again. And once again, I give sincere thanks that bicycles exist.

Even though I can’t stomach the things any more, it’s still fun to watch them in the donut assembly line, so here you go:

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One of the big revelations for many people in the conflict in Ferguson is that local police departments have been getting billions of dollars in “surplus” military equipment.

I’m hoping after the current challenges subside, that there will be some deep investigation and accounting for what “surplus” means. It seems highly unlikely that local cops are being given crates filled with “hand-me-down” weapons that were used in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, what’s the definition of surplus?

The United States is famed for its military spending, exceeding the budgets of most of the rest of the world combined. My suspicion is that the “surplus” is not leftover weaponry, but the result of defense budgets that are kept artificially high to satisfy weapons manufacturers and the congressmen they control. This is a “spend it while you’ve got it” mentality, which results in budgets that continue to increase because “we ran out of money last year, so we need more this year.” So, everyone spends all the money they have, but they don’t need the weapons for combat, so it has to go somewhere.

Want to rage about high taxes? Let’s dig into the numbers a bit. More than $4 billion worth of surplus military equipment has been given to local police since 1996, including over $449 million in 2013. Hundreds of millions of dollars more goes to Israel and other nations. This is stuff that was produced, purchased and not needed. Do local police forces need some of this equipment? Certainly some of them do need some of it, but why is that coming from the federal budget? You know what else communities need? Books, school supplies and teachers. Yet, those things are perpetually on the chopping block come budget time, while Defense remains a sacred cow that no one wants to talk about.

Defense remains the single largest line item at $822 billion – 22% of every dollar the government spends. Social Security and Medicare are the only expenses that even come close. The Defense budget went UP by $30 BILLION in 2014, despite our snail’s pace withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan. This was in a year in which the U.S. budget DECREASED by $100 billion.

So, I guess that’s the answer. $450 million dollars is a rounding error on a budget of $822 billion. The police are getting table scraps from a feast that’s keeping a lot of people fat, drunk and happy.

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All week, I’ve been wanting to write something here and failed. Over and over, the tensions of Ferguson, Missouri have distracted me as well as motivated me to try to write my thoughts on everything that’s been going on. However much I wanted to, though, I’ve been unable to get many words out before giving up.

There’s just too much going on. This is a topic being covered by hundreds of people, who are far closer to it, who reach far more people and who are far more insightful than I am. It’s one of the biggest civil rights situations in the United States in my lifetime and I’m honestly just not equipped to add more than one tiny voice shouting “a person’s a person no matter how small.” This story is not only important for the residents, but for all of America – which has seen freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press trampled in the last week.

At one point, I just considered posting a list of failures of the last seven days, all beginning with the shooting of an unarmed young man. It would be a list with about 30 items on it, with just a few here that rise to the top in my mind. Since the shooting: peaceful protests getting disrupted over and over – and the saddest thing is they’ve been disrupted by forces on both sides. Criminals, looters and arsonists at night destroy much of the good will that the protesters work hard to build all day. A police captain in CYA mode does everything in his power to enrage and push people past the brink to PROVE his department was justified in their use of force.

The few onsite journalists getting shot with tear gas, arrested and assaulted for trying to report what’s going on. Cops stopping protests, but not arresting looters. Preachers with wounds from rubber bullets. The community pulls together to keep the peace and protect their town while a few horrible people work against them. Midwest cops using gear that our military in combat zones is jealous of. Sniper rifles pointed at citizens. Gun aficionados who push for more people to buy guns to protect themselves – as long as it’s not those black guys buying them.

National media showing barely any interest and no on-site reporting. One of the most compelling and important stories in years and the Kardashians continue to get more coverage. When the networks do report, it’s a side story, not a main one. Social media again becomes a key source, even as it fights its own fight against algorithms that seem calculated to minimize matters of any importance. People in all areas of media refer to protesters as rioters, whether they’re talking about looters or the local residents getting tear gas shot into their yards.

I’m just spent. I’d love to provide thoughts on a course of action – short term to calm the situation, long term to figure out all the issues in Ferguson, as well as the U.S. as a whole. But I don’t have any easy answers at the moment.

Maybe these are brave words coming from someone living 8,000 miles away, but I truly believe that if I were somewhere in the area I’d be out on the street walking arm in arm with the protesters. Then obeying the curfew and waiting to begin protesting again the next day.

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Owning your words and owning your actions is an important part of being a principled person. Like most people, I haven’t always been successful at that. I’ve done the wrong things, said the wrong things and along the way, I also indulged in more than a few moments of hypocrisy. As I get older, that’s one of the things I’ve worked to change. I guess it’s easier now because I really don’t have to give a fuck what people think about me – I just care what I think about myself.

There’s a big difference, though, between owning your actions and standing by them, no matter what. Whether it’s the internet or cable news, the world has seemingly devolved into a black or white conversation in which you must DEFEND YOUR POSITION AT ALL COSTS!

That’s not what owning your actions means. Owning your actions means you can admit you made mistakes. You can make changes to your life, to your opinions, to your statements – as long as you don’t try to deny what you once said or did. That’s how we get into the political double-speak and false apologies that fill so much of our airwaves in 2014.

“I’m sorry that what I said hurt people’s feelings” is not an apology. It’s a cop out. If you want to OWN your words, then own them. “You may have been offended by what I said, but that’s how I feel” is a more honest statement than you’ll ever hear from most public apologies. I actually don’t believe that the comedians who get lambasted for making an off-color joke or tweeting something “too soon” need to apologize for it. Why do so many people not accept that “Hey, I never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings, but it was a joke. I tried to add levity to a very difficult topic and some people didn’t take it the way I meant it.”

Sorry, this was all preamble. There has been a lot in the news in the past couple of years about the morality of caging animals for the entertainment of people. It’s been a topic that’s been around for decades, to be honest, but the criticism is more often coming from the average person and not just from activist groups like PETA. Recently, the travel blogger conference TBEX has come under fire for including dolphin tours in Cancun as part of their itinerary. Rather than directly get into the issue, they’re doubling down on their outright wrong-ness: “We don’t pick the tours, select them or promote them and we’re not saying these tours are good, or these companies are good.” It’s YOUR event. You’re saying you have no control over it? What a bunch of crap. Try that line of shit on people who DON’T understand how conventions, events and the tourism businesses work.

Photo CC license from Docklands Tony

Photo CC license from Docklands Tony

In the interest of owning my actions, I’ve done a couple of things in the past that I can call out and admit where I was horribly wrong. While traveling in Thailand, I participated in two wild animal tourism activities: one was a day spent riding elephants and the other was playing with caged tigers. It tears me up in thinking about it, because both days were among the most memorable of my life but – let’s lay it out there – both were done out of ignorance and absolute selfish desire.

There are a lot of things I could say about why I joined both of those activities and about “oh, but this one didn’t abuse the animals like others do,” but let’s get to the core of it. I was pretty damned ignorant, selfish and didn’t do any homework before I reacted to the colorful posters at the tourism desks. “Lots of people do it and look like they’re having a great time, so I should try it, too!”

I stopped going to zoos a long time ago, because watching wild animals trapped in a small box, usually out of place in an inhospitable climate, made me really sad. It’s not quite clear to me why I didn’t extend that thought to the tigers and elephants in Thailand – maybe I thought it was okay because it was a foreign country and was culturally more acceptable, somehow.

Since then, I’ve read a great deal more about the abuses those animals suffer for the sake of tourism. Professionally, it’s difficult for me to hold a strong stance on the topic because zoos and marine animal parks come with the territory in my career, but I’m fortunate that I’ve never worked on any of those projects. So, screw it. I can lay it out right here than I won’t EVER work on any projects that involve wild animals in captivity. Admittedly, that’s easier to say in the latter days of my career than it may have been in the earlier ones.

Over time, I’ve given thought to my stance – which aspects I got wrong and what the right answer is (for me). Previously, there’s been a lot of gray area in my mind – there are legitimate conservation efforts that are funded and supported through animal parks, I have friends who have joined conservation groups BECAUSE they saw the abuses. Most of that gray area has been cleared up for me now, though.

When a wild animal is kept captive for purposes of entertainment, it’s wrong. 100% of the time. Are there sometimes good benefits from those activities? Sure, but stealing $100,000 from someone doesn’t suddenly become right because you give 10% of it to feed the poor. Those organizations who are in the business of conservation, education and research will have to figure out where that moral line is for them, but the goal should be 100% elimination of wild animals in captivity. As with all things in life, there will be exceptions, but making those exceptions should be done with careful consideration, including motives that are ultimately for the benefit of the animals rather than the person or the business. When an exception is made, it must be considered a failure of all other alternatives.

It seems like TBEX isn’t backing down from its plans and rather tan admit being wrong, they’re digging in their heels with excuses and rationalizations. Hopefully their attendees will call them out for it more directly and get the group to stand up for what’s right rather than continuing to crouch in a defensive posture. TBEX co-founder Rick Calvert said: “We won’t be bullied into cancelling a tour by a small pressure group.” Hey, Rick, how about canceling a tour because it’s the right thing to do? Is that okay?

The Guardian: Travel bloggers call for conference to cancel dolphin tours

As for my own site, I’ve tossed around the idea of removing the blog posts I wrote about each of the two days but at this point, I’m going to let them stay. As I said at the opening, owning your actions isn’t about pretending they didn’t happen, it’s about admitting you were wrong. Each of the posts will now include a brief paragraph stating:

“After a great deal of reflection and research, I no longer support tourism that includes the captivity of wild animals. Please consider that stance and read my current feelings on the topic as you read this post. I haven’t removed the post because I don’t want to pretend it didn’t happen and perhaps, reading with my changed views in mind may change yours, as well. I urge you to find alternate ways to connect with nature and wildlife that don’t involve cages or chains.”


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