Yesterday afternoon, (what felt like) everyone in the world got together on Twitter to cheer on a small raccoon that had climbed the side of a 23 story building in Saint Paul, Minnesota. For a little while, everyone huddled around the #MPRraccoon hashtag, holding their breath and waiting to see if the little guy would make it.

FYI: The little guy made it. He started climbing down late last night, changed his mind at some point, and headed upwards again. Early this morning he made it to the roof of the building, where live traps with bait had been laid out, and he was captured. He’s going to get some care (if he needs it), and he’ll be released safely somewhere where he won’t bother anyone. Read all about it.

Also, here’s a gif of the little guy cresting the roof of the building, the reaction in a local newsroom when the raccoon makes it to the roof, and an update from the UBS building about the raccoon being safely caught for release.


It’s easy to sneer at something like this. “OMG, it’s just a raccoon,” sneerers say. “They’re awful, mean little rodents. They’re vermin,” and et cetera, et cetera. And that’s true enough. Raccoons are often nasty, aggressive little critters who kill things and get into your trash and make a nuisance of themselves.

But they’re also super cute, you guys.

Amusements aside, it’s interesting to look at why things like this happen on Twitter.

About the time I checked in on the hashtag, this tweet was the top result for anyone clicking on the tag on Twitter:

What you see here is a small raccoon perched on the window ledge of a very high building. It’s cute, and it looks a little concerned and tired.

It’s small, and human minds automatically interpret that as “young.” Human minds automatically empathize with young things – we’re hardwired to care for babies. Small animals trip all the same triggers that human babies do. Humans see small animals and our hindbrains go “BABY, OMG” and we want to take care of them. It’s why we have pets.

Also, as the photos showed, the raccoon was way, waaaay up high, on a rather small ledge, so it’s clearly not safe.

You click on the tag and the first thing you see is a fuzzy animal that your brain immediately interprets as “BABY IN DANGER.” And you’re hooked.

So now you’re following the hashtag on Twitter, and your immediate impulse is being reinforced by hundreds, and then thousands of other people who are experiencing the exact same thing, and empathizing with you while you experience it. If you’re tweeting about it yourself, as you’re almost certainly going to do, then you’re likely also getting lots of Twitter feedback in the form of comments, retweets and likes.

Receiving those – particularly if you’re not used to a lot of activity on your tweets – is positive reinforcement. And positive reinforcement gives you little dopamine hits. Dopamine is the pleasure drug in your head (it’s more than that, but for the sake of simplicity…). So you’re watching this thing happen, with tons of other people, who are all tickling your pleasure centers, and you’re completely emotionally invested in the situation, now.

Add to that the fact that this particular instance is completely innocent. There are no real shades of gray in this spectacle. It’s a small scared animal in a bad situation and you’re just cheering for it to escape the bad situation safely. There’s almost no way to be the bad guy here. You can cheer for this little guy, and there’s no real way to feel bad for doing so.

It’s innocent and harmless, a completely black and white situation with clear good and bad outcomes, and there is precious little of that going around these days.

Plus, there’s community. You’re one among thousands participating in this event, and more, it’s an event that escapes all our current divides and tribalism issues. Everyone is cheering this little raccoon on: Republicans and Democrats, straight people, gay people, religious people of all sorts, people from around the whole world, and none of the things that usually divide us apply to the situation we’re rooting for.

We’re all in this together, rooting for a clear, innocent, good outcome, and nothing we usually argue about matters. And something like that is basically pure heroin right now.

Of course we all spent 12+ hours rooting for a masked rat on the side of a building. Society – particularly in America – is positively desperate for a reason to get together on something. Strife and stress are not good for us, and our brains seek ways to make them stop. We want to get along. It’s a built-in feature. So when something comes along, like an adventurous little raccoon, that gives us a way to do that, we’re all in.

The recent spurt of anti-vaping articles are part of a moral panic. Vaping is an excellent harm reduction option for current smokers. If you smoke, switch to vaping. If you vape, don’t go back to smoking. If you don’t do either, don’t start. This isn’t rocket science, people.

🚬 NPR: He Started Vaping As A Teen And Now Says Habit Is ‘Impossible To Let Go’

In one of the most restrictive measures nationwide, San Francisco voters this week upheld by what looks to be a large majority — nearly 70 percent in a preliminary tally — a ban on the sale of flavored vaping products, as well as conventional menthol cigarettes.

This is a moral panic, like D&D and Satanism back in the 70s and 80s, particularly in relation to flavored ejuice. Cake-flavored vodka is a thing, y’all. I don’t want to hear your BS about vaping flavors until after you get rid of all the candy-flavored alcohols out there.

The head of Colorado’s health department, Dr. Larry Wolk, finds it hard to believe industry claims that it isn’t marketing to kids.

“I have to call BS on that,” he says, “because the flavors are cotton candy, Frutti Tutti and they have cartoon characters on their labels and you can mix flavors and strengths. It’s really appealing to kids, whether or not they are intentionally marketing to kids.”

Cake. Flavored. Vodka. Smirnoff also has several fruit flavors, a bunch of “confection” flavors like whipped cream, caramel, and root beer float, along with ice cream flavors and tropical flavors. And that’s not even mentioning things like Apple Pucker and other fruit and baking flavored alcohols. You wanna talk about marketing to kids?

“Believe it,” says 21-year-old Julien Lavandier. “It’s a habit for me, you know — all the time when I set down my schoolwork to do homework, take a rip of the Juul. When I get in my car, take a rip of the Juul.”

[…]

“It’s impossible to let go once you started using,” Lavandier says. “I’ll tell you — after even an hour and a half or two, I am chomping at the bit to find my Juul.”

“Vaping” is (mostly) using nicotine, just like smoking is using nicotine. Nicotine is very addictive, and it’s brutally difficult to quit. So if you’re vaping, you’re becoming addicted to nicotine, just like if you were smoking. So yeah, it’s frickin’ hard to quit doing and you’re going to want to do it all the time. It works that way with cigarettes, too.

One of the benefits of e-cigarettes, according to the industry, is that the devices can help people quit their use of tobacco products. When it comes to that habit, the advice from Ray Story, the founder and CEO of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association is “don’t start at all.”

“But if you’re going to smoke or do e-cigarettes, then certainly take an e-cigarette because it’s vastly less harmful,” Story says,”if you consider both of them contain nicotine, and both of them are addictive. It’s vastly less harmful than conventional tobacco.”

The thing is, vaping is safer than smoking. Vaping nicotine juice from an ecigarette is much less harmful than smoking cigarettes. So if you’re gonna do one, definitely vape. (I have no idea about those Juul things – they use nicotine salts, not ejuice. That might be different.)

Look, this is simple. If you aren’t already addicted to nicotine, IE, a smoker or vaper, don’t become one. Smoking is definitely terrible for you. Vaping probably ain’t great (although it’s most likely better than smoking a cigarette).

If you are already addicted to nicotine, and you can’t quit, definitely switch to vaping if you’re using tobacco. Smoking, chewing, all that stuff, is 100% scientifically terrible and going to kill you. Science is pretty sure vaping is safer.

“So my biggest concern,” he says, “is, you know, right now I’m puffing, puffing, happy, worry-free, and then in 20 years I’ll have to explain to my kids why I’ve developed popcorn lung — or some new form of lung cancer,” Lavandier says. “Because I didn’t know what the risks were of e-cigarettes. It terrifies me.”

Emphasis mine.

One last thing: Vaping does not cause popcorn lung. There’s a BS scare about that going around and it’s been repeatedly debunked. Also, US companies don’t use diacetyl in their juices anymore. Buy good juice from good companies.

Usually I’m pointing you at interesting articles or news stories you should read, but today we’re talking about books. I’ve got four nonfiction book suggestions and one fiction suggestion you should check out.

FYI: All the Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, which means if you click through and buy the book, I make a few cents. Rest assured, I will use any earnings gleaned this way to purchase more books. Or possibly things for my dog. But most likely books.

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff
Y’all probably already read this one because it was a viral sensation when it came out, but just in case you didn’t, you should. Caution: This book is wall-to-wall hyperbole and probably at least 90% bullshit, but it is a fun read. Also, I strongly suspect the whole thing was set up to be a viral sensation and make people money, because my cynicism knows no bounds. But still: fun read. And if even 10% of it is true? Holy crap you guys.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, by Michelle McNamara
Michelle McNamara was Patton Oswalt’s first wife, who passed away suddenly and too young a couple of years ago from a freak heart thing. She was a well known true crime writer, and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is her last book, detailing her hunt for the Golden State Killer. McNamara passed away before the book was completely finished, and another reporter/crime writer helped edit it together and polish it off. Shortly after the book was released, they caught the Golden State Killer, which lent some added drama to the whole thing and, honestly, is most of the reason I picked the book up to read in the first place. All that having been said, it’s a great book. Detailed, thorough, engrossing, well-written, all that. If you love true crime stuff (as I do) and haven’t read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark yet, put it on your to-do list.

All the President’s Men, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
I’ll warn you, this book is dry. It was written by two old-school reporters, and it shows in the prose. The story is fascinating, so if you can handle the dry writing, it’s well worth a read. For you young’ns, this book tells the story of two reporters from the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who were hot on the trail of Nixon and his cronies back during the Watergate scandal. This book is really only the tip of the iceberg as far as the Watergate story goes, and illuminates one part of the whole sordid affair: how journalists were doggedly tracking the story. I watched the movie with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, first, which led me to the book. I only knew vague details about Watergate when I watched the movie, and was still pretty vague on the whole thing when I read the book, which led me to a lot of Googling as I read. If you’ve got any historical curiosity at all, you can expect to make the same journey.

Note: I linked to the Kindle version, which is $13, but if you’re strapped, you can get used paperbacks and hardcovers for way cheaper at the same link.

One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon, Tim Weiner
So, after reading All the President’s Men, and about a million Wikipedia pages about Watergate and its players, I ended up snagging this book by Pulitzer- and National Book Award-winning writer and reporter Tim Weiner, and it is excellent. I found it to be a bit more sympathetic to Nixon than he really deserved, but that doesn’t interfere with the story too much. The book is based on relatively recently declassified documents and tapes and the story it tells of Richard Nixon as a drunk, paranoid and seriously mentally ill person in a position of near-absolute power, surrounded by enablers, will scare your bowels loose. Seriously, I read this whole thing with my jaw hanging open. I think I read half of it outloud to my sweetheart in horrified, disbelieving tones. Read this book. It’s mind-blowing. Especially in the current political climate.

Carter & Lovecraft: A Novel, by Jonathan L. Howard
Okay, the first four recommendations were nonfiction and, let’s be honest here, kinda downers. This one’s for fun. I’m a vocal fan of Jonathan L. Howard and I adore his Johannes Cabal, Necromancer series. But equally as good is his Carter & Lovecraft series, about Daniel Carter, a former homicide detective turned private eye, and Emily Lovecraft, a shotgun-wielding bookstore owner, and their Cthulhu-drenched adventures through a Lovecraftian multiverse. Carter & Lovecraft: A Novel is the first of two books (so far), and if you like urban fantasy, the Mythos, horror-action-mysteries, or any combination thereof, you’re gonna love this book. It’s a hoot.

UPDATE: Pop the champagne, folks, we did it!

‘The Senate today voted 52-47 to disapprove the FCC’s recent order replacing 2015’s net neutrality rules, a pleasant surprise for internet advocates and consumers throughout the country.’ – TechCrunch.

Now we’ve got to get this thing through the House of Representatives, and then, somehow, get it signed by Trump. And we have to do it before this Congressional session ends in December, or we start all over again.

Celebrate today. This is a win. But get ready to make some noise tomorrow. We aren’t done yet.


Today is the vote to save net neutrality. If it passes in the Senate, it’ll go to the House.

@fightfortheftr: “BREAKING: Republican Senators @lisamurkowski and @SenJohnKennedy have bravely stood up to special interests to side with the vast majority of voters from across the political spectrum and have voted YES on motion to proceed to a vote to restore #NetNeutrality. Final vote soon!”

@SenMarkey: “The motion to proceed on my resolution to save #NetNeutrality just passed. The final vote will be around 3 PM ET. Keep making your voices heard on the phones and online! Be a part of history.”

That’s about noon PST, folks. Stay tuned.

Articles

Via BattleForTheNet.com, “The FCC voted to kill net neutrality and let ISPs like Comcast and Verizon ruin the Internet with throttling, censorship, and new fees. But the Senate is about to vote on a resolution to overrule them and save the Internet using the Congressional Review Act (CRA). We only need one more vote to win. Write your lawmakers now!”

Use CallYourRep.co to make a phone call to your senator. Be polite, be brief, tell them you’re a constituent, and ask how they’re voting on net neutrality. If they’re voting to save it, thank them. If they aren’t, tell them you support net neutrality and a free and open internet and ask them to change their vote.

Phone calls work best. Everything else, except for an actual, through-the-mail letter, is more likely to be ignored or discounted. If at all possible, make the phone call. If you can’t, visit BattleForTheNet.com to write an email and join the protest in other ways.

Awhile back I happened to notice that some sort of small, dark bird with a fairly annoying squawk had made a nest in the eaves over our bedroom window. I’d been hearing some noise in the mornings and I happened to glance out the window one morning and spotted the bird sitting up in the eaves. I figured, “Eh, whatever,” and ignored it.

Some time passed. One morning, I realized that the noises I’d been hearing weren’t, in fact, outside our window. They were, in fact, above our heads. And those bird noises had now been joined by baby bird noises.

Uh-oh, I thought

A brief investigation led me to discover that a small piece of board above our bedroom window, back up under the eaves, had been knocked out. Well, blown in or knocked in, more likely, since we never discovered a board on our porch. At any rate, the bird I thought had been nesting up in the eaves was actually nesting in the roof space directly above our bedroom.

Now, I live in an apartment, so this isn’t my problem. This problem belongs to the maintenance dudes. The fact that problems like this belong to the maintenance dudes and not me is one of many reasons why I am an apartment dweller and not a homeowner. Here’s the situation, though: Our maintenance dudes? Not exactly the cream of the crop, historically speaking.

I mean, they weren’t terrible. They weren’t accidentally wiring apartments up to explode or flood or anything like that. But my limited experience with these particular maintenance dudes had not impressed me. They took forever, and they often took two or three visits to actually fix something right. For example, we’d been trying to get the screen on our sliding door fixed right for, oh, eight years or so.

It had got to the point where if it was a repair I could make, I just made the repair rather than fuss with the maintenance dudes. I had basically given up on the maintenance dudes.

So, I stared up at the hole above my window, watching a bird hop in and out of it, and wondered exactly how likely it was that if I called maintenance, they’d just show up and board up the hole without evicting Mama Bird and her babies. What was the over-under on my boyfriend and I spending the next week or so listening to baby birds slowly, miserably starving to death in our ceiling?

I thought to myself, How long does it take birds to fledge and bugger off? A month? Six weeks? Maybe we’ll just ignore this little problem for a bit. It’s not like our maintenance dudes act with any sort of alacrity, after all. Figuring for that, if I gave Mama and her babies a month’s head start, then called maintenance, by the time they got around to anything, the babies would be safely gone.

Some time passed. Ignoring the bird problem was not working. The birds were making an ungodly mess of the porch. They were obnoxiously loud in the morning. Also, they were driving our cat, Earl, out of his damn mind. One afternoon I came home and discovered Earl stuck to the screen on our bedroom window. He was pretty happy to see me, so I suspect he was stuck there for awhile. Another morning Earl dove at the window and slammed into the screen, and I had visions of Earl knocking the screen completely out and plummeting to his death. Or at least plummeting to his expensive injuries.

Meanwhile, changes were afoot in the apartment complex. The apartment manager was fired and a new one hired. And the new one was promptly fired and another new apartment manager was hired. We were suddenly informed that there were going to be apartment inspections, but not what the inspections were for.

Did we have a new apartment manager with some ginger in their step who intended to set all things aright? The inspectors showed up, and it turned out that they were inspecting for repairs that needed to be made, that had never been made. Apparently, the last two apartment managers hadn’t been doing a great job there. It turned out that there were quite a lot of repairs around the complex that needed made.

No one said, but I rather suspect this is why two apartment managers were fired in rapid succession. This may also explain why I started seeing new maintenance guys wandering around, of late.

So, last week, maintenance showed up to check out the bird situation and I guess it takes quite a while for birds to fledge and bugger off, because they haven’t done it yet, despite it being like two months or something like that. Exterminator/remover people are in the process of being arranged, then repairs will be made.

I guess all’s well that ends well and whatnot, except I’m going to have an awful lot of bird crap to hose off the porch when it’s all said and done.

PS: Yes, we finally got our screen door fixed.

Featured Photo: This is a grackle, and I think this is the type of bird nesting in our roof. This, or something very similar. (Source & Licensing.)