#MPRraccoon: The Little Raccoon That Could

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. Continue reading “#MPRraccoon: The Little Raccoon That Could”

5TtRT: Net Neutrality, paper shredding, Obama, the ‘Trump doctrine,’ & voting

IHOP rebranded as “IHOB,” with the “B” standing for “burgers,” which was apparently all just a marketing thing that isn’t going to stick anyway, so it’s safe to ignore. However, there was this –

Wendy's vs. IHOP
Wendy’s vs. IHOP: Read it here on Twitter.

– which you have to admit is pretty spectacular and makes me like Wendy’s a whole lot more and IHOP a whole lot less. At any rate…

5 Things to Read Today

Washington Post: The FCC’s net neutrality rules are officially repealed today. Here’s what that really means.
The Obama-era net neutrality rules officially end today. That doesn’t mean it’s over for good. We still have some court cases brewing, plus a hail mary in the House of Republicans, but this is definitely one to put on your To Do List for after we take back the government.

Politico: Meet the guys who tape Trump’s papers back together
Apparently Trump shreds just about every piece of paper that crosses his desk, and some poor bunch of people in the government has to tape them all back together. The obvious reason he does this is all the crimes, of course, but also,

Politico: Inside Obama’s secret meetings with 2020 contenders
Former President Obama’s been meeting with possible 2020 contenders on the downlow, offering advice and whatnot, although apparently not making endorsements or anything yet. Cue Trump’s “DEEP STATE CONSPIRACY!!1!” outrage in 3… 2…

The Atlantic: A Senior White House Official Defines the Trump Doctrine: ‘We’re America, Bitch’
Says a “senior White House official,” “The Trump Doctrine is ‘We’re America, Bitch.’ That’s the Trump Doctrine.” This is one of the first things I read this morning and I rolled my eyes so hard I think I pulled a muscle.

New York Times: Supreme Court Upholds Ohio’s Purge of Voting Rolls
“The court ruled that a state may kick people off the rolls if they skip a few elections and fail to respond to a notice from state election officials. The vote was 5 to 4, with the more conservative justices in the majority.”

I cannot say this strongly enough: Make sure you’re registered to vote, that you stay registered to vote, and that you actually get out and vote this upcoming election.

On Vaping & Moral Panics

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.

5TtRT: Facebook, Donald Trump, Cambridge Analytica, Trade Wars, & the VA Mission Act, + Spider-Man

The trailer for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” dropped this morning and it looks amaaaaaazing. Looks like you’ll be able to see the movie Dec. 14, 2018, and this is gonna be in theaters, not a home release.

5 Things to Read Today

📱 New York Times: Facebook Gave Data Access to Chinese Firm Flagged by U.S. Intelligence
Facebook has been giving personal data to Chinese phone manufacturers, including Huawei, which the intelligence community has on their threat list. Note: Back in 2010 when this deal was forged, this sort of thing wasn’t particularly unusual. However, you’d think when a foreign company becomes a national security threat, a US company might bother to re-evaluate their relationship with them.

🏛️ CNN: Exclusive: Trump considers dozens of new pardons
Trump’s apparently figured out that he has almost unlimited power to pardon people and that gets him off, so he expects to do a lot of it.

🗳️ The Guardian: Cambridge Analytica director ‘met Assange to discuss US election’
Cambridge Analytica director Brittany Kaiser visited Wikileaks’ Julian Assange and sent him bitcoin payments. Cambridge Analytica has said that they tried to get in on those stolen Clinton emails with Wikileaks and Assange has said he turned CA down, but it’s kind of looking like that wasn’t the case. Shocking, I know.

🇲🇽 New York Times: Mexico Hits U.S. With Tariffs, Escalating Global Trade Tensions
I know very little about trade, so I really don’t have anything particularly intelligent or knowledgeable to offer about this, but it sure doesn’t look good.

🏛️ Washington Post: Trump to sign veterans health bill as White House works against bipartisan plan to fund it
Trump’s about to sign a bill that’ll help veterans gain access to private health care. It’s a big bill and (apparently) a pretty good deal for vets, but the law (the VA Mission Act) doesn’t fund itself. Senators plan to add an amendment to handle that. The White House has been fighting the amendment tooth and nail behind the scenes.