Tycho Brahe Planetarium in Copenhagen, Denmark

A Shooting in Copenhagen

(This post fleshes out this thread of mine from Twitter.)

On July 3rd, as Americans were in the middle of their Independence Day weekend celebrations*, there was a shooting at a mall in Copenhagen, Denmark. Three people were killed, many more injured, and the 22-year-old shooter was taken into custody. Of course, it’s likely you didn’t hear much about this shooting because of the even deadlier mass shooting that occurred on July 4th in Illinois.

For most Americans, if they heard about the Copenhagen mall shooting at all, it was possibly because they read about Harry Styles canceling his concert, which was supposed to take place that night near the mall.

It is possible, though, if you lurk in certain parts of the internet, that you’ve seen this shooting (and a similar shooting in Oslo, Norway a couple weeks ago) upheld as proof that gun control doesn’t work. The refrain (almost celebratory) is, “See, even in Denmark, the country with some of the strictest gun laws in the world, mass shootings still happen.”

So, I have to say something.

In the wake of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas in May, the US government managed to pass some gun control(-related) laws. Most of us who want stricter gun control in the US, even those who celebrated their passage, will admit these regulations are insufficient. They’re a step in the right direction, but unlikely to do much to staunch the bleeding. Something is better than nothing, so I’m glad the law was signed by President Biden. But more is needed.

Let’s look at Denmark.

Tycho Brahe Planetarium in Copenhagen, Denmark

Two shootings in Copenhagen, Denmark

I’ve only been to Copenhagen once, on a long layover in 2016. I had 6 hours to walk the city, which is basically all I did. I did have lunch in a college/hipster-y part of town. As I ate at a high top table in the bar area, the bartender and I talked gun control.

The year before, Copenhagen had had one of the worst shootings in its modern history. A man killed 2 people and wounded 5 cops. The bartender (who spoke flawless English, naturally) explained that pretty much everyone in the country agreed on their gun laws. He said that people in Denmark didn’t understand the US’s obsession with guns (a sentiment I’ve heard often since then from people in other countries). For the Danes, a shooting happened and they were thankful they had strong gun control. They’d have accepted even stricter laws. 

No, the laws didn’t stop the 2015 Copenhagen shooting, nor Sunday’s shooting (3 dead, more wounded). But it was 7+ years between 2015 and this shooting. This recent mall shooting is the worst Denmark has had since 2015. It’s absolutely a tragedy; one America has every few days (often not even making national news). 

Gun control is not an impenetrable wall, but it is a wall. It works to lessen a flood. Many on the Right (and dishearteningly on the Left these days too) will point to this Copenhagen shooting as proof that gun control doesn’t work. But two shootings in seven years proves it does. 

These skeptics will say America’s much larger population explains the disparity, but the stats show differently: 12 in every 100,000 Americans are killed by guns, compared to 1 in every 100,000 Danes. Looking at the European Union broadly, it’s not even close. (You can check for yourself.) Guns don’t kill people. People with easy access to and a bizarre fetishization of guns kill people.

The Law of the Land

So much of the opposition to any kind of gun control is predicated on this utterly ridiculous standard that if a single law can’t stop every shooting, it’s pointless. This is the base argument of every gun nut who opposes gun control, and it is, plainly, stupid. Seatbelt laws don’t stop every crash or every car death, but statistics clearly show they have saved lives. That’s the whole point.

The purpose of gun laws – the purpose of any law – is not to make the world perfect but to broadly improve the outcomes of the citizens of the world. This tragedy in Copenhagen isn’t lessened because Denmark has gun control laws (though perhaps it was less severe than it otherwise would have been; we can’t know). But there are certainly less tragedies in Denmark like it because of them. 

When is America going to figure that out? How many children need to die – or live in constant fear – in their classrooms before the US takes substantive action? How many regular people going about their lives have to be slaughtered before we stop giving credence to the death cult known as the NRA? I’m not a policy expert. I don’t know what mix of gun laws, mental health policies, and social programs will have the biggest impact. But almost any laws would be better than the status quo. Again, the most recent law, while welcome, isn’t enough.

(Maybe we could start by banning the AR-15? And, yes, I know that the AR stands for ArmaLite rife. I’ve even fired one.)

An AR-15 rifle on a truck bed.

Sadly, as with so many other issues lately, I’m afraid there is no number of deaths and tragedies that can get America to act like a sane nation. It feels, increasingly, like a nation on the brink.

There is no quick fix for those who have been directly affected by a mass shooting, whether in Copenhagen or the US. But, perhaps, with time, there will be a general sense of peace for Danes knowing such a tragedy is blessedly uncommon. Will America ever know that peace?

~~~

*I wrote most of this post on the morning of the 4th before the mass shooting at an Independence Day parade in Highland Park, a Chicago suburb. With at least 6 dead, it was a grim reminder that even when other countries have the rare mass shooting, there will always be one in America soon after to overshadow it. America’s gun culture is unsustainable.

EXCERPT: 15 Years after Katrina: Understanding the storm’s lasting impact on New Orleans

The full story can be read at The Millennial Source.

The Superdome and the Super Bowl

I lived in New Orleans for a year, from 2012 to 2013, arriving in the city on September 1, 2012, four days after Hurricane Isaac. That Category 1 storm briefly passed over New Orleans, almost seven years to the day after the city was hit by Katrina – a Category 5 storm. Other than the French Quarter, most of the city was without electricity for half a week or longer.

My first few days in the city were spent sweating through intense heat and humidity. The city’s water supply was also temporarily put under a boil advisory, meaning tap water needed to be boiled before it could be consumed. Arriving in the wake of a hurricane was a harsh introduction to the city, even though Isaac had been far less destructive than Katrina.

Within a month of moving to the city, I took a job at a restaurant in the Central Business District. One of my co-workers there was Chris Woods, currently an English teacher at Jesuit High School in Mid-City, the same school he attended as a teenager.

Woods and I worked together the night of Super Bowl XLVII, which was being held at the recently renamed Mercedes-Benz Superdome less than a mile away. It was an eventful Super Bowl: the Baltimore Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers 34-31, Beyoncé headlined an extravagant halftime show and, dramatically, the stadium’s power went out for 34 minutes in the 3rd quarter.

With the eyes of the world on the city for the biggest sporting event of the year, the power outage was a reminder that New Orleans remained a work-in-progress seven and a half years after Katrina.

The Superdome infamously played an important role during Katrina, housing nearly 16,000 people throughout the storm’s barrage and in the days after the hurricane struck. It provided lifesaving shelter, but after it lost electricity, the stadium also became a sweltering cage for many locals who didn’t or couldn’t evacuate.

Repairs to the Superdome cost US$366 million, a substantial sum, though relatively minor compared to the multibillion-dollar price tags of new stadiums in the National Football League.

In the lead up to Super Bowl XLVII, which occurred in the middle of that year’s Mardi Gras festivities, the city raced to prepare for the surge of football revelers and national attention it was sure to receive. Besides beautifying parts of the city that would see increased tourism, the city council invested considerable effort in repairing sidewalks.

The neighborhood I briefly lived in, St. Roch, noticeably transformed during my year in New Orleans. At the end of my former street sat a historic food market that was nearly destroyed during Katrina. By the time I moved away, the dilapidated building had gotten a face-lift, though finishing the project would take a few months more. The St. Roch Market reopened in 2015.

[Read the full article here]

Disheveled (St Roch Market)

EXCERPT: Living through the coronavirus pandemic abroad

Read the full story here: https://themilsource.com/2020/03/16/an-american-in-madrid-living-through-the-coronavirus-pandemic-abroad/

I wrote this about the last week in Madrid as the COVID-19 pandemic spread and Spain imposed strict rules to fight the spread. This is just the first portion, follow the link to read the whole piece.

~

Thursday was a tipping point. It felt that way when I woke that morning. United States President Donald Trump spoke to the US on Wednesday from the Oval Office to explain the US government’s efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic. On the list of measures was a ban on travelers from Europe’s Schengen Area.

I learned of the travel ban a few hours later after waking up in my apartment in Madrid, Spain (inside the Schengen). In less than a month, my girlfriend, Helen, and I were set to travel to the US. It would be my first time in my home country since the summer of 2017, and her first time meeting most of my family. With the president’s announcement, though, plans were suddenly uncertain.

As an American citizen, I am permitted to travel to the US. Helen, however, is British and has lived in Spain for 11 years. There is no reason to hope she would be granted an exception.

It’s Thursday morning, and everything is up in the air.

Spain amidst COVID-19

Earlier in the week, the Spanish government designated three regions of the country – Madrid, La Rioja, and the Basque Country – as transmission hubs for COVID-19. Schools were required to close in those regions for two weeks, starting March 11.

In Madrid, that directly affected my friends who are part of the sizeable “expatriate,” or expat, community. They are teachers and auxiliaries. The program of “Auxiliares de Conversacion,” which literally means “conversation assistants,” places thousands of native English speakers in elementary and secondary classrooms around the country.

We are among the many Americans, Canadians, Britons and more who came to Spain to teach English as a second language. There is a considerable market here for English speakers, as Spanish people are eager to learn the language.

With concerns about COVID-19 intensifying, the expats in Madrid were adapting to their changing situations.

“It’s been very chaotic since no one really has a clear understanding about what’s going on,” explained James, a friend who works at an English academy. Shortly after the original announcement of school closures, he learned the language academies were not required to close, so his situation remained uncertain for days. Eventually, like most businesses in Madrid, his school closed.

My friends told me they’ve been in contact with people back home. Both Casey, originally from Minnesota, and Calla, from Kentucky, said they had spoken with family back home about the situation both here and in the US.

“I think we’re all at about the same level of concern,” Casey said of her and her parents. “I’d give that about a six out of 10. I feel much safer being in Spain than if I were back in the states because one, the healthcare system here is very good and two, with the amount of Americans that don’t have access to proper medical care and treatment, I believe things are going to be much worse in the United States than here.”

They all expressed a desire to keep living life as normally as possible, but acknowledged that might be easier said than done.

“I would prefer to be out as I normally would,” Calla explained, “than to complete self-quarantine until it’s totally necessary.”

In less than 48 hours, it would no longer be a choice.

CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING

Papel higienico

You’re to blame for Fake News

 

I’m sick of the term “Fake News”.

It’s one of those intentionally simplistic terms – like “The Big Bang Theory” – that exists because the general public can’t deal with complex concepts without them being stripped to their basest form. Still, it’s the term du jour, so for the purposes of this article, I’ll use it.

As it relates to the US presidential election, “Fake News” is more accurately known as propaganda: distorted news stories and statistics used to push lies about immigrants, urban crime, Muslims, and other boogeyman designed to scare you. This form of propaganda isn’t unique to the US, of course; Brexit was fueled by it, and fear of the “other” has been the politicking weapon of choice since the first politician gave a speech.

But in the broader context of our lives, “Fake News” has always existed, and it has never been a liberal or conservative issue, just a matter of laziness and opportunistic cynicism.

A Long and Tortured History of Fake News

I’ve been calling out my friends’ tendency to spread fake news for years – and lost some for doing it – only to see the same people lambaste Trumpers for spreading fake news. The irony physically hurts.

The uncomfortable truth about the current form of fake news – the Facebook-viral, Russian bot-pushed, grammatically-indifferent breed – is that it didn’t just appear out of nowhere with perfected tactics for reaching the most susceptible (gullible) targets. These tactics have been deployed and honed for years by all kinds of sources pushing their dubious claims, most of them not inherently political. Some you probably trust.

I didn’t call them “fake news” back then, I called them bullshit.

To help explain this, I’m focusing on one website (though there are many) and how it fits into both the current political moment and the road that got us here: Naturalnews.com

Natural Bullshit

Natural News is one of the most unapologetic sources of bullshit I’ve ever seen. There was a time a few years back when it would pop up in my Facebook feed almost every day.

Natural News

In its heyday, NaturalNews.com existed as a poorly-designed, green-hued nightmare of circular reasoning and supplement peddling. It ostensibly existed to provide information about “alternatives” to Western Medicine (a.k.a. “medicine”). There have always been snake oil salesman, and there always will be. Natural News just did it digitally.

Natural News became a phenomenon largely because it pushed the roundly debunked and thoroughly bullshit idea that vaccines cause autism. Even now, as I type this, the top link on the site declares “Highest AUTISM rates found in countries with highest VACCINE compliance” (playing the hits). It also went all-in on the “evils” of GMOs, another bullshit scare tactic that you – yes, I know you’re reading this – probably still believe is a big concern.

What made this site so effective and so useful for people spreading its lies is that when you clicked on an article, it appeared to be a legitimate news article, with quotes from relevant experts and links to supporting articles. For a reader ready to buy what Natural News was selling, that’s all it took to be convinced that the article was properly researched and well-sourced. Click, share.

But those articles were garbage.

The quotes were almost never actually quotes. They often referenced “a person there” or “an expert”, but never gave a name, as if they had to maintain the person’s anonymity lest Big Brother snuffed them out.

Worse, if you clicked on a link embedded in the article, it inevitably took you to a different article on naturalnews.com, generally written by the same guy (or avatar, at least). Keep clicking and you’d go further and further down the rabbit hole of that website, perhaps even coming right back around to the original article. It was an ouroboros of bullshit, and goddamn was it effective. The creators of the site knew, if you’re predisposed to believe them, you wouldn’t check their work.

The site’s most dedicated readers were usually those who called themselves skeptics, those people who never trust the “official story” and pat themselves on the back because they voted for a third party candidate once. Self-proclaimed skeptics are always the easiest to fool.

If you go to naturalnews.com now (I wouldn’t recommend it; except to check my claims, so I guess you should do it), the website has transformed, unsurprisingly, into a pro-Trump, “Deep State” conspiracy-pushing, manure factory. Still poorly designed, but at least it’s keeping up with the latest bullshit. 

I say “unsurprisingly” because, as someone who has been tracking bullshit for my entire adult life, as soon as I saw the political “fake news” websites during the election popping up in my feed, I recognized all the same tactics being used, both in terms of self-referential links and the way they preyed on “skeptics” and “free thinkers.” 

Nowadays, Natural News has gotten a little more sophisticated: Its links go to other websites, sites with names like “Deep State News.” Regardless, it’s the same tactic as always, linking back to different like-minded (almost certainly interconnected) sources to give the sheen of authenticity to its claims. The snake is still eating its tail, one source of bullshit feeding another. (Who would have thought that “The Human Centipede” would turn out to be the most culturally astute film of our times?)

It’s possible that Natural News’ turn to Trumpism is just a natural development of its anti-establishment roots. If you don’t trust doctors and the medical establishment, it stands to reason you probably look askew at the political establishment, too. 

On the other hand, if you’re a bit more cynical –  as I am – you might note that Natural News always had a political slant at its core. I don’t mean Republican or Democrat, or even conservative or liberal. Rather, its politics were about persuading its readers that all “official” sources were lying, so you could only trust them. (And while we’ve got you here, why don’t you buy some vitamin supplements?)

“Everyone else is lying but me.” Sound familiar? When Trump praises Fox News and calls all other news sources “fake” he’s relying on the same tactic that Natural News used to secure a loyal and defensive audience. As soon as you’ve earned someone’s trust and, more importantly, built their distrust of others, they’re yours for life.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying Natural News was a Russian-backed front for spreading fake news (unless it turns out it really was, in which case, I’m also not not saying that).

What I am saying, though, is that all “fake news” sources use this same tactic to create loyalty. It’s not a new tactic. It originated with the original – and still best – purveyor of lies the world ever knew: Religion.

In the beginning…

Once you’ve convinced your followers that only your book, your prophets, your preachers, your celebrity spokesperson have access to the truth, it becomes impossible to dispute your claims.

I said above that I have been tracking bullshit my entire adult life. What I meant was that, as soon as I de-converted from Christianity at the age of 20, I began to look for all the ways that religion convinced its followers – convinced me – to stay in its grasp, even when so little of it made sense.

As a young, firebrand atheist, I was obsessed with debunking Christian myths and disproving its claims. I followed a pretty standard trajectory for an atheist, from excitable (and mean) reactionary to stately but acerbic provocateur, to where I am now: an old man tired of the fight. I mostly don’t write about it anymore, because the debate has gotten tiring, and the results non-existent.

But I bring up my young atheism because that’s where I first noticed the tactics of modern “fake news”: utilize self-referential sources, engender distrust, muddy the waters around what can be known (i.e. facts).

In one specific topic, I saw those tactics being used to prolong a debate that had long been settled: Evolution vs. Creationism (Intelligent Design).

Creationists like Ken Ham have no chance of winning the debate on the merits of facts or reason, so they turn to other methods for winning adherents to their political views: repeating assertions ad nauseam, no matter how baseless (repetition creates the illusion of veracity); arguing that one can’t trust what is seen with one’s own eyes; and proclaiming that biologists (all scientists, really) are part of a conspiracy to trick the world.

Sound familiar?

These same tactics are used by Climate Change deniers, Natural News quacks, and Donald Trump, among others.

When writing article after article about religion in my early 20s, I felt a bit like Chicken Little screaming that the sky was falling. Some people humored me, some even agreed. Turns out, the sky really was falling, and everyone thought they were safe under their particular awnings.

The future is bleak

Things are going to keep getting worse because of technology. Don’t get me wrong, technology is amazing, but its most amazing feature is also its greatest danger: it makes what isn’t real look like it is. Whether it’s getting us emotionally invested in the arc of a talking raccoon in a space epic or creating a video in which Obama appears to be calling Trump a dipshit, our world is increasingly virtual; in other words, fake. Eventually, our tech will overwhelm our ability to tell the difference.

For those looking forward to 2018 or 2020 in hopes of the truth winning out and Trumpism being eradicated, well, don’t hold your breath.

It’s not enough to know that “fake news” exists; we need to be humble enough to acknowledge that we are susceptible to it, and to blame for it.

You are to blame. I am, too. 

I’ll admit, I reposted that fake Trump quote about Republicans. I’m at least partially responsible for that “quote” having more legs than it deserved.

False Trump Quote
He never said this.

This is the simplest form of fake news, and it’s one that was pretty easy to debunk because it gives the supposed source. Trump never said those words, and obviously he wouldn’t have. The fact that I reposted it speaks to my own willingness to put aside common sense when something feels true enough.

(There is a similar damning “quote” going around, with George Soros supposedly admitting to using Black Lives Matter to stir up violence in America. It’s just as bullshit as the Trump quote and proof that tactics know no political allegiance.)

When I read that the quote was fake, I double checked and was dismayed to find I’d been suckered. I deleted my post and now tell other people when they post it. People often smugly respond, “Well, even if he didn’t say it, the quote is true,” not getting the irony that they’re making fun of other people for believing lies. We have to be better than this.

Calling out these blatant lies is a small thing, but it’s some effort towards stopping the deluge. Sadly, I fear it’s a bit like cleaning up an oil spill with a teaspoon.

You’re to blame for Fake News.

You have spread fake news. I don’t care who you voted for, I don’t care how much of a “skeptic” or a “free thinker” you are. You have helped spread false information. Maybe you found out and corrected yourself, maybe you quietly buried the evidence, or maybe you are still convinced of its veracity. Whatever the case, you’re guilty.

And to prove it, I will list some lies that you believe or did believe. I won’t provide my sources, but I assure you, these are all facts. If you doubt me – good, that’s the first step – I encourage you to do the research yourself and learn why these lies became so massive that most of society accepts them as truth.

Here are lies you have undoubtedly believed at some point in your life:

  1. Carrots improve your night vision
  2. Diamonds are rare
  3. It’s dangerous/too difficult for women to get pregnant after 35
  4. Vitamin C will cure a cold
  5. Milk strengthens your bones
  6. Mary Magdalene was a prostitute
  7. You need to drink 8 glasses of water a day
  8. A woman frivolously sued McDonald’s for spilling hot coffee on herself and that’s why we live in a nanny state

We not only live with our lies, we love them. We define our world by them. Like it or not, there is a good chance your idea of the world has largely been shaped by at least one of those lies above (I used to drink a big glass of OJ every time I felt a tickle in my throat).

The spreading of lies isn’t going to stop. Liars aren’t going to stop. The only way to make a better world is to be better consumers of information. 

It’s not enough to just be a “skeptic.” We need to be curious. We need to be invested in the truth. We need to be interested in the wider world.

But, before all that, we need to admit, we’re part of the problem.

Women’s March 2018: Madrid

Over the weekend, protesters and activists gathered in Madrid’s Plaza de Isabel II for a Women’s Rally in solidarity with the Women’s March that took place in cities all over the world. 

Metro - Opera

The original Women’s March, which took place on January 21st, 2017, was centered in Washington D.C., where nearly 500,000 people showed up a day after Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration. In New York City, where I was fortunate enough to be among the crowd last year, hundreds of thousands of people marched, in part to demonstrate against the new administration, but mostly, and more profoundly, to proclaim solidarity with one another. It was a remarkable moment.

I’ll admit, this year, as I saw the images from the anniversary marches on Saturday popping up all over social media, I was a little jealous and wistful for my time back in New York. There is much in the United States to be dismayed about these days, but the gathering and amplification of marginalized voices is a wonderful salve.

Here in Spain, the Women’s March and the #MeToo movement are not as prominent, for reasons both obvious (the March was organized, in large part, as a response to Donald Trump) and cultural (in a culture where physical touch is the norm, even among strangers, certain notions of sexual misconduct aren’t shared).

Madrid is fairly “liberal” by American standards. While unquestionably a Catholic city (with all the conflicting implications that would suggest), gay couples walk hand-in-hand most everywhere without a second thought and the younger population, at least, tends to express sympathy for refugees. There is also a large expat population here.

Crowd Signs 2

On Sunday, a day after the marches in the US, a Women’s March was held in the heart of Madrid. Billed as a “march,” it was, in fact, a rally, contained to the one plaza, with various speakers addressing the crowd of, perhaps, a couple thousand (my estimate is based purely on my view and no scientific analysis).

Speakers came up in pairs, with one person speaking in English and the other interpreting to Spanish (or vice versa). The speakers addressed various topics from many backgrounds, including poets and comedians, both women young and old, and even one man, a representative of the United States’ Democratic Party who was there to encourage Americans to register to vote and vote from abroad.

At times, chants would break out in the middle of the speeches, in pauses between interpretations. Usually those chants were in Spanish, sometimes in English. Mostly, though, the crowd expressed themselves with their signs, again, in a mix of both languages.

Even from a distance of 3,800 miles (or 6.100 kilometers for my Spaniards), there was one man who featured heavily on the signage and in the chants. Can you guess who?

La humanidad contra Trump
“Humanity against Trump.”

In Spain, where U.S. President Trump is more a curiosity (“por que?”) than a direct or existential (or nuclear) threat, his outsized reputation in both the media and on social networks keeps him at the forefront of the conversation about equality, racism, and sexual misconduct. An abundance of signs with expressions like “Impeach Trump” suggest that most in the crowd were Americans making their voices heard from abroad (it’s yet to be seen if those same voices will vote this year).

Let's talk about

Despite the tendency of America (and Americans) to take center stage, there were other issues on the minds of those gathered, as represented by some of the signs.

Aborto en Irlanda
“Ask me about the abortion law in Ireland.”

There were two or three different signs (in Spanish) regarding abortion laws in Ireland. I’ll admit my ignorance on the specifics (I didn’t ask her), but I am, of course, aware that Ireland is staunchly Catholic, and abortion rights are always a hotly contested issue.

El retorno de las brujas

The crowd was definitely heavily weighted towards Americans and English speakers, but plenty of Spanish women (and men) were in the mix. Like the marches in the United States, people came for different reasons and with individual purposes, but they were unified under a cause of furthering equality, challenging unjust systems, and holding those who abuse their power accountable.

Acabemos
“Let’s end the culture of silence.”

Most broadly, they were there to show unity, as women, as feminists, as LGBT, as Spaniards and Americans, and as global citizens. And as the march in 2017 had been, being among the many impassioned and dedicated women at the rally in Madrid was invigorating and affirming. I was happy to be there, and grateful to be there with many of my friends.

Megan, Stacey, Ella, Casey, Calla

For those who would question the purpose or efficacy of the marches, I have to ask, “Have you been paying attention?” The #MeToo movement was represented by Time’s Person of the Year selection of “The Silence Breakers” while 2017 was awash in conversation about sexual misconduct and assault. Now, in 2018, a record number of women are running for political office in the United States. It’s not a coincidence that last year began with a massive unification of women.

What lies ahead for this political movement and moment is uncertain, but it’s hard to imagine these voices suddenly going silent. If 2017 was the year women finally said, “Enough,” it seems pretty much inevitable 2018 is the year they say, “Now it’s my turn.”

From my vantage point, it’s clear they mean business.

Womb Tang Clan

2017: How Will It Be A Better Year?

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions.

I’m a big believer in personal change, I just don’t put any stock in arbitrary time markers. The division of years, while useful for a myriad of practical and societal reasons, is given too much prominence in our personal lives. You’re going to be the same person at 2016-12-31 23:59:59 as you will be at 2017-01-01 00:00:01. We don’t change because the calendar turns; we change because we make a choice to do so.

It’s already a cliché that 2016 was a shitty year, but you know what they say: They’re clichés for a reason.

It’s quite possible your favorite artist died (with David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Gene Wilder, and Harper Lee topping the list of the deceased, odds are good at least one creator you enjoyed or even adored passed); or maybe the man who was elected President of the United States deeply concerns (terrifies, sickens, etc.) you; or perhaps your personal life has fallen apart all around you. All reasons to hate the year that was.

Also, let us never forget, millions of people around the world were displaced from their homes and are still facing uncertain futures and unrelenting terror. It’s hard to look back on the headlines of this past year and not feel despondent. This Saturday, people across the world will gather to enthusiastically celebrate 2016’s end, myself included.

But then what?

It’s time to ask yourself the question, how are the next twelve months going to be better than the last twelve months?

I’m not talking about weight loss plans, or resolving to read a book a week. Those are all fine goals to set for yourself, but they’re skin deep endeavors. Even if you accomplish your goal, you will exit 2017 essentially the same as you entered it.

Look, if you’re content with yourself and your place in the world, I’ve got no advice for you. Just keep on keepin’ on, stay golden, Ponyboy, and so on.

For the rest of us, though, it’s time to think about how we’re going to make actual change in our lives and our world.

ART

Firstly, if you’re depressed because a bunch of celebrities died this year, I don’t know what to tell you, other than, buckle up, it’s only going to keep getting worse. If, however, you’re saddened by the loss of artistry as represented by those who departed in 2016, maybe it’s time to do your part to make sure new art keeps being produced in the world. Lord knows we need it.

That could mean finishing your album or novel. Maybe you take a big risk – quitting your job, performing live – and actually put faith in your art. It might not even be about your own art: You could start a company or group to support other artists. Or maybe you’re a parent and you encourage your child to pursue music, or theater, or dance, or any form of expression. The David Bowie’s of this world all started somewhere.

POLITICS

If you’re looking around the planet and don’t like what you see, you are not alone. The global political landscape is looking pretty grim right now, and there’s no one singular cause. There’s also no one solution.

If you’re politically inclined, now is as good a time as any the absolute best time to get involved. I can’t speak for politics in other countries, but in the United States there is a dearth of thoughtful, engaged people throwing their hat in the ring. It’s not enough to go to protests or to sign petitions (and it’s certainly not enough to share articles on social media). There are open positions in your local government that aren’t glamorous or sexy, but still matter. Stop bemoaning the lack of viable candidates, and become one.

You can blame a rigged system for why Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or some other (better) candidate didn’t get their shot at the presidency, but politics is a game of chess, and there are more pieces on the board than just the King and Queen. The great thing about a pawn is, if it makes enough moves, it can eventually become a knight, rook, bishop, or, yes, queen.

CHARITY

Politics matters, but there are some causes that will never be fixed by laws or deal making. There are many lives that cannot hold on long enough for a treaty to be signed. Donating to good causes is a straightforward and admirable way to help out others, especially when there’s no clear answer for a problem, but that money doesn’t just go to a magical cloud to rain down on those in need. Wherever there is a need to be met, someone has to physically step up to do the work. Could that be you?

Doctors Without Borders, the Peace Corps, and countless other disaster relief organizations all do great work around the world. If you have a medical background, especially, your services could be put to great use. There is likely even vital work to be done in your own neck of the woods. Volunteering somewhere, anywhere, whatever your skill sets, is massively important. Obviously, not everyone can do it, and that’s why donations are still so important, but for those who can, there is a world of need.

2017

This isn’t meant to be a guilt trip. It’s easy to read these kinds of posts and think, “That sounds great, but I know myself and I won’t/can’t do any of it.” Believe me, I get it. All of those suggestions I made, I don’t intend to do them.

As readers know, I’m moving to Spain next year. In my next post, I will write about my plans and purpose in making that move. It’s true that I’m doing it because I love to travel, but I’m also moving to hopefully have a positive impact. Like I said, I’ll get into the details next week, but for now I just want to say I spent much of this year frustrated and determining how to improve my world and my place in it. 

There’s no wrong way to make a change, but there’s a surefire way to make sure nothing changes, and that’s doing nothing.

I started out this post by saying that I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I never have, I never will. But that doesn’t mean I don’t make resolutions. I’m resolved to be in a new place – geographically, psychically, intellectually – than I am right now. If, for you, tying a resolution to the New Year gives it more weight, then do what you need to do. Just make it a resolution that matters.

With this year coming to a close, those of us who are dissatisfied with the state of our world need to decide what we’re going to do about it, and as individuals, we need to resolve to take action. 2017 will only be better than 2016 if we make it so.