Rick Scott Unmasked as Serpent King

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3/30/15 Tallahassee, FL:

In a stunning revelation uncovered by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission today, it was discovered that two-term Governor Rick Scott is actually a writhing mass of dozens of snakes living inside a suit of human skin.

“I still can’t believe it,” said Nick Wiley, Executive Director of the FWCC. “Pets kept disappearing from homes around the Governor’s Mansion. We figured it was nuisance gators, but now, I’m not so sure.”

Wiley was treated for a snake bite on his wrist after trying to wrestle Governor Scott into custody. “Yeah, one of the snakes in his forearm was a water moccasin,” he said waving a bandaged arm. “Hurt like hell, but the Paramedics had anti-venom in the ambulance and administered it within a couple of minutes.”

Wildlife conservation agents assigned to the Everglades National Park reported early Monday that the population of invasive exotic snakes now threatening native wildlife throughout the region were highly agitated in the wake of the arrest. “It’s creepy,” said Agent Sable. “They’ve been lashing out at tourists, airboats, even attacking passing traffic on Alligator Alley. It’s like they know, somehow. I mean, we’re used to weird shit happening in Florida, but this is going too far, you know?”

Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), was less surprised. “It all makes sense now. For the longest time, we assumed Governor Scott’s steadfast denial of Climate Change was just evidence he was beholden to the same old Republican special interests in the petroleum, coal, and natural gas industries. But it’s been getting out of hand the last few years.  With Miami sinking beneath the flood waters, he actually banned people in his own administration from even using the words Climate Change. We thought he’d gone insane. But it was all part of the plan to allow the effects of global warming to expand the territory he needed to grow, strengthen, and train his serpent army in preparation for the coming war. I mean, what other explanation is there? You’d have to be a complete idiot to actually deny climate change at this point.”

Former Republican Governor turned Democrat, Charlie Crist, who lost a narrow race to regain his old office to Gov Scott only last year, had this to say about the discovery. “This just confirms everything we’ve been saying about Governor Scott from the beginning.  His vision of a reptile-dominated future is out of step with the people and manatees of Florida.”

Governor Scott’s human suit has been DNA matched to a man reported missing from Ocala in August, 2009. The name of the victim is being withheld until authorities are able to contact his relatives.

Red Light Bandits

redlightcamerasChicago. Couple things. First, we love you, really. Your city is vibrant and beautiful. Your downtown is a jewel of the Midwest, and your arts, music, and comedy scenes are the envy of everyone not living in NYC or LA.

So it’s with that in mind that I’m disappointed to have to explain some very basic concepts to you in regards to your red-light cameras.

First of all, they’re an enormous waste of money. They’ve brought in so little of their projected revenue that it’s causing a budget shortfall, which will mean taxes either have to go up or services need to be cut. Not good politics there.

Second, study after study have proven that they do not increase public safety, and indeed have actually increased the number of accidents in the vicinity of the intersections they are mounted at.

Third, they are flagrantly unconstitutional. A picture of a car proves absolutely nothing. A vehicle is not capable of committing a crime. A car is not a sentient being able to weigh moral decisions. So ticketing a car is nonsense. What you need to do is ticket a driver. But, since your pictures do not include a driver, you have no proof of who was actually operating the car at the time of the alleged violation.

Without an officer present to verify the identity of the person you’re claiming has broken the law, you have exactly zero evidence that they have done what you’re accusing them of. Evidence is kind of a big deal when it comes to proving guilt. And as the accuser, the burden of proof falls on you. It goes along with a little principle we have here in the U.S. of innocent until proven guilty.

Further, we have another bedrock legal principle here in our great land guaranteed in our Constitution which pertains to this situation. All citizens have the right to face their accuser in court. So unless you’re going to rip down these cameras, imbue them with sentience and the power of speech, and put them up on the witness stand where attorneys for the defendants have the opportunity to perform a cross-examination, you’re failing on this count as well.

Multiple courts around the country, including in your neighbor to the north, have realized these very arguments and banned the use of red-light and speed cameras permanently, and it’s probably only a matter of time before the federal courts do the same.

So, in review, your red-light cameras  are utter failures as the revenue-generating machines they were sold to you as,  actually impair public safety, and are unconstitutional abridgements of our civil rights. I think it’s time to realize your mistake and back away slowly, and for everyone who has been fleeced by one of these mechanical highwaymen to tell you exactly where you can shove your tickets.

Arrest the 47

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There will probably never be a week in politics more perfectly tailored for the immense talent and piercing intellect of Andrew Sullivan and his recently defunct blog, The Dish. I would simply kill to read his unique mix of wit and histrionics that would inevitably flow from the twin dragons of the Hilary Clinton email uproar and the Senate Republican’s letter to Iran.

But, since we’re robbed of Andrew, somebody should say something. So, here goes…

On the topic of the Clinton email “scandal,” I’m afraid I just can’t work up enough energy to give a shit. The Clintons have always played their cards close to their vest, so the fact they tried to keep a bunch of ostensibly personal emails private doesn’t come as a big surprise to me.

What many people and even the reporters who first broke the story seem to have missed is that while it’s true that maintaining a private email system and server is against State Department rules now, that regulation was not implemented until August 2013, months after Clinton had already resign from her position as StateSec.

So unless someone can point out where what she’d done was actually a violation of policy or law at the time she did it, then I really don’t see what the big deal is. Okay, it runs counter to the sort of assumption of government transparency I’d like to see, but so long as she publicly releases those emails related to her work as StateSec in a timely manner as she’s promised, I really don’t care that much. A little shady? Sure. A scandal? Please.

Now, Monday’s release of an open letter to the leaders of Iran, penned by forty-seven Senate Republicans, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter.

For many years now, the State Department and our diplomatic corps, along with the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, have been diligently working towards a multinational agreement with the aim of limiting Iran’s nuclear program to only peaceful civilian purposes of power generation and scientific and medical research in pursuit of the United State’s long standing policy of supporting nuclear non-proliferation.

Amazingly, these talks have been making significant progress over the last couple of years. Many watchers believe a breakthrough is on the horizon.

When along came Bibi.

Last week, in what many people saw as a deliberate affront and a direct challenge to the Executive Branch, Senate Republicans invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran and the threat posed to Israel by the 5+1 talks and the potential of an agreement with Iran that would avert the need for yet another costly, destabilizing war in the Middle East.

As a foreign leader, Bibi’s invitation to speak on matters of U.S. foreign policy towards a different country, coming as it did from the House Majority Leader instead of the actual leader of the American Government, was very unusual. According to our Constitution, setting and conducting foreign policy is the exclusive domain of the Executive Branch, and has been since the founding.

The reason for this is very simple. When dealing with foreign governments, America must speak in a clear, unified voice if we are to maintain trust and credibility. Other countries need to know that our democracy will abide by our agreements, even through the sometimes tumultuous transitions between administrations, otherwise what is the point of negotiating with us at all?

Further, like squabbling siblings, our parties and branches of government must keep our fights in house, otherwise we risk one being played against the other by foreign governments eager to extract more favorable terms and concessions, weakening our bargaining position.

This is why the principle of Executive supremacy in foreign policy was codified into law through the Logan Act all the way back in 1799. This Constitutional principle has been on the books for more than two centuries, and was signed by several of the Founders themselves. In short, it’s not fucking news to anyone who has even a passing interest in our shared history or the proper functioning of our government.

Which is why Monday’s letter to the Ayatollahs running Iran is such a huge deal. With negotiations proceeding at a pace and a light at the end of the tunnel, forty-seven Senate Republicans, led by freshman Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas sworn in less than two months ago, wrote an open letter explaining to the Iranian regime that any agreement entered into between the U.S. and Iran could be nullified the moment a new, presumably Republican, administration takes control of the White House.

Never mind the fact there are five other nations involved in the negotiations, including Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China, and never mind that a Republican President unilaterally pulling out of an internationally signed accord would break international law and damage American diplomatic credibility and clout for a generation or more, and just focus on the fact this scenario is exactly what the Logan Act and two centuries of tradition were intended to avoid.

Forty-seven U.S. Senators, almost the entire Republican Senate class, have used their positions in a deliberate attempt to sabotage ongoing negotiations between the State Department and a foreign government. The last time elements of the U.S. were at such odds over foreign policy happened over one hundred and fifty years ago, while the states were at war with one another and fighting for military supplies and economic assistance from France and England. Think about that. The last time the American Government didn’t speak with one voice on the international stage was during the Civil War.

This is unacceptable.

There comes a time in the life of all conservatives of conscious that we must deal with the uncomfortable reality that the party which claims to represent our values is in fact dedicated to undermining, even dismantling those institutions of government and the Constitution on which our nation is built and which have made it the strongest in the history of mankind.

For me, this realization happened very early in my political awareness, during the political witch-hunt conducted by Congressional Republicans against then President Clinton, culminating in the ludicrous and ultimately doomed spectacle of his impeachment proceedings.

But others have held on for much longer, through the Florida recount fiasco, the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, the explosion of our debt and deficit, the 2008 economic collapse, and then a succession of the most intransigent, mindless, stonewalling, useless, unproductive congresses in the long history of our country.

It’s my hope that this final, reckless attack upon the foundations of our system of government and our Constitution will be enough to push many more of my conservative brethren away from this party of arsonists before there isn’t anything left of American prestige and soft power.

Unlike the Forty-Seven Ronin of Japanese legend, these forty-seven Senators  will have no enemy to seek vengeance against, because they will have killed their own master.

4 Reasons Not to Get Upset About Tony Robinson and Why They’re All Bullshit

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In case you missed it, over the weekend police in Madison, WI kept up a growing tradition in the U.S. of not letting more than a few weeks pass without shooting an unarmed black teenager to death.

Tony Robinson, depending on who you choose to listen to, was either a loving son and attentive student on his way to business school, or a convicted felon and a danger to everyone you know and love. Only one of these representations can be true, because as everybody knows humans aren’t complex beings with multiple, even contradictory layers of behavior, personality, and beliefs, and of course we all totally had our shit together at 19 and never made any mistakes, so pick whichever one best fits your preferred narrative and discard the rest, as well as anyone who chose a different focus than you.

Anyway, as has become the custom after one of these tragedies, people on both sides of the cultural divide have taken to the streets and social media to make their opinions heard.  Here are some of the most popular arguments or statements made by the sorts of folks who tend to rally to support the status quo, and why I think they all fail on the merits.

1) Let’s wait for all the facts:

The main thrust here is instead of taking to the streets immediately, protestors should just hold their fire for days, weeks, or months until we know everything there is to know about the case and can form an educated opinion. Sure. Sounds reasonable, prudent even.

Here’s why it’s bullshit.

In the era of the 24 hour news cycle and viral content, nothing stays in the public conscious for very long. Days if you’re lucky, weeks at most.  As much as Mr. Spock would disapprove, it’s the initial intense emotional reactions to an event that captures public attention, not a dry reading of the news weeks after the fact. So to wait is to starve a story of the oxygen it needs to reach the public and create awareness of the issue at hand. Without awareness, there can be no change and the status quo remains intact.

I understand why otherwise smart, cautious people would want to hold tight before voicing an opinion when they don’t have all the facts. I certainly do under most circumstances. However, there’s a fault in this line of thinking, a tendency to try and see each individual case in isolation, separate and distinct from any similar cases that have come before, or will happen in the future. But in so doing, they miss the forest for the trees and effectively ignore the larger trends. And the larger trend is this shit keeps happening.

2) Officers have to protect themselves:

Again, here we have a perfectly reasonable sounding statement. In cases where the police meet physical resistance, or even violence, such as was allegedly the case with Mr. Robinson, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown, the police need to be able to protect their own lives and the lives of the citizens they’re sworn to protect. Obviously, right?

Here’s why it’s bullshit.

No one, anywhere, is saying the police shouldn’t be allowed to defend themselves from harm. That is not the conversation that’s being had. It is a strawman argument being forwarded by people who don’t understand something called the Use of Force Continuum.

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This model of self-defense training has been in use among many Police and Department of Corrections groups at all levels of government since the 1990’s. Crucial to it is the idea of a proportional, phased response to the threat level an LEO is facing. An officer is, as a general rule, always expected to escalate to one threat level higher than they face. If somebody slaps you, shooting them dead is not a proportional response.

So, again as a general principle, if a suspect is trying to punch them, they can escalate to using their baton to neutralize the threat and force compliance. If they are facing a suspect with a baton, out comes the pepper spray or taser (if equipped). A knife or other potentially deadly weapon is met with a sidearm.

There are any number of exceptions, and the level of threat is entirely dependent on an LEO’s own perception of the situation. But here’s the problem. It is an indisputable fact that LEO’s across the nation apply higher levels of physical violence to minorities, especially African Americans, and apply it far more frequently than they do to white suspects.

For whatever reason or reasons, when faced with a black suspect, LEO’s perceive the threat to be higher, escalate to violence faster, and to higher levels on the continuum than they would otherwise. The end result is a far higher percentage of black suspects being injured or killed during their interactions with police. Nor does the state-sponsored violence stop there. Black suspects face longer prison sentences, and are disproportionately targeted for the death penalty, even when committing the same crime as their white counterparts.

Which is why the impulse to try and see each case in isolation is such a bad idea. It completely misses the larger trends, even if in a specific case an argument could be made that violence was justified such as in Ferguson. The folks who want to focus on the Justice Department failing to indict Michael Brown’s killer on civil rights charges have generally failed to read or appreciate the other bombshell the same people released that day; the DoJ report on systemic racism on the part of the Ferguson PD.

3) Why is no one protesting criminals:

I’ve heard this one a lot. Usually, it’s something along the lines of why aren’t people protesting black-on-black crime, or gang shootings, or criminals shooting police officers?

Here’s why it’s bullshit.

Because we should be holding police to a higher standard than criminals. I really have a hard time understanding why I have to explain this to adults, but here goes. When a criminal commits violence or takes a life, it is a tragedy, obviously. I would even go so far as to say that when a criminal takes the life of an LEO, the tragedy takes on a new dimension. However, the reason people don’t take to the streets to protest their crimes is because criminals are acting on their own. They do not represent anyone but themselves, and are acting without the sanction of the society they prey upon.

Police are an entirely different matter. When the police use violence, they are doing so as agents of a representative government. When the police take an action, it is our collective sanction that grants them the moral and legal authority to do so. We grant them exceptionally broad powers and discretion to work in our name.

When police kill, they do so as representatives of all of us. We all share in the responsibility for the behavior of the agents of our government. And since it is violence in all of our names, we have the responsibility as citizens to hold them to the highest standards of conduct.

4) People shouldn’t make it about race:

Usually this one comes across as a genuine concern that focusing on the race of the people involved will only stoke more racial animosity and ratchet up tensions unnecessarily, creating an atmosphere of mistrust. So we should just focus on the facts of the case and do our best to leave race out of it.

Here’s why it’s bullshit.

The fact white people across the country don’t seem to know there’s a racial problem within our law enforcement and justice systems is not a reason to pretend there isn’t one. What these cases have done is finally brought into the mainstream consciousness what black Americans have known for their entire lives. They are not treated equally by the police or the courts.

All of the statistics available point to the same systemic problem in municipalities across the country, even in ultra-liberal Madison Wisconsin. Yes, it’s an uncomfortable, embarrassing truth for white America to face, and it’s an even more difficult conversation to find ourselves in. But let’s be clear, protests, speeches and op-eds over the unfair treatment of the black community are not creating racial animosity, they are revealing it.

If you don’t like what the conversation is uncovering about America, the answer isn’t to stop talking. The answer is to do what you can to change our nation into the place you always thought it was.

$300 Million Earmarked to Educate Scott Walker

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WI Governor Scott Walker transfixed by a small blinking light

Madison, WI

In an unprecedented move Wednesday morning, the Wisconsin State Legislature approved a $300 million emergency spending bill to educate Governor Scott Walker.

Citing Governor Walker’s history of cutting the state’s education budget by $1.2 billion and his support for drug-testing welfare recipients even after such programs were shown to be failures in Florida, Tennessee, and Utah, the bill’s supporters are hoping the program will move governance back onto more solid footing and jump start the state’s faltering economy.

“Look, Act 10 was one thing. Most of us just thought he was screwing around trying to rally the base or whatever. Gutting public sector unions was all in good fun. We kinda went along for the ride on that one,” claimed Senate Majority Leader Scott L. Fitzgerald (R – Juneau ) “But then things just kept coming. Turning down the High Speed Rail money. Killing the wind farm project. The kicker for me was refusing the Medicaid expansion. We gave up hundreds of millions of dollars on that one while running a deficit. That’s when we all started to wonder if maybe he just didn’t know any better.”

A tipping point was reached for many during the Governor’s recent trade mission to Great Britain. When asked by a member of the British press about the theory of evolution, Governor Walker was unable to provide an answer. “Who fumbles the evolution question these days?” asked Fitzgerald. “You either say ‘I believe in evolution’ or you say ‘I’m no scientist’ and give the camera a little wink to let the Bible thumpers know you’re throwing them a bone. This is first-semester poli-sci stuff. How can you be running for President and not have any answer?”

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D- La Crosse) expects the bipartisan bill to be signed by Walker himself later this afternoon in the usual manner of slipping it among the Governor’s growing stack of travel expense reports.

“He won’t even notice. Short term, it’s not going to do our projected $2 billion state budget shortfall any favors,” Shilling said of the emergency measure. “But what choice do we have, really? The deficit is exploding and he’s still trying to pass more tax cuts. The man is a menace in his current condition.”

When pressed about the spiraling cost of the bill, Shilling directed us to the Dean of UW Madison’s School of Education, Julie Underwood. “$300 million is certainly a lot, but after several weeks of evaluations, it is our best estimate to provide for this student’s special needs, so long as we can get it in before his new budget cuts take effect.”

“At first, we thought it would be a simple matter of picking up where Governor Walker left off after he dropped out of Marquette. Unfortunately, the… gaps in his knowledge proved larger than anyone feared. We have to go all the way back to kindergarten, but we hope to cover his grade school courses Billy Madison style in less than three months.”

Asked about the cost of educating the Wisconsin electorate, who has willingly elected Walker three times in five years, Underwood was less enthusiastic. “Oh God, that would bankrupt the entire country. Let’s just focus on the Governor for now and hope it does the trick.”

The Myth of the Fiscal Conservative

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Okay, so the title is a bit of click bait. Fiscal conservatives aren’t a myth, exactly, but recent events in my home state of Wisconsin have helped to drive home just how rare the species has become in the modern political landscape.

With the birth of the tea-party in 2009, it appeared a genuine, grassroots movement towards grater fiscal responsibility and restraint was in the cards. Sure, they just happened to spring up at the same time the scary, black, Muslim, illegal immigrant broke the centuries-long streak of honest, God-fearing white dudes in the White House or whatever, but I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

The reality, however, has been very different. In actual practice, the Tea Party and conservative movement in general appear to have little interest in supporting sane fiscal policy. The examples are legion. Here in WI, GOP Governor and hater of education, Scott Walker, has in recent weeks come out in favor of drug testing the state’s welfare recipients and those collecting unemployment insurance. The most common justification for this policy is to save taxpayers money by removing drug abusers from the welfare rolls on the assumption that if they have money for drugs, they should have money for food, etc.

But like so many ideologically driven policies that sound great in a sound-byte, the reality is much different. Wisconsin is not the first state to try this testing policy. Florida and Tennessee among others have previously implemented drug-testing laws. Florida’s law was short-lived. After a successful legal challenge, it was overturned on the grounds that drug testing welfare recipients amounted to a violation of our 4th Amendment protections against unwarranted searches, a viewpoint I share.

However, Florida’s law was in effect for long enough to test the law’s fiscal justifications. As it happens, of the people tested, only 2.6% of them failed the test, a rate far lower than the admitted drug use of the population as a whole. Not only did Florida’s experience prove many of the stereotypes about welfare recipients being drug-addled lay-abouts completely wrong, but in the final calculus, the process of drug-testing the entire welfare population actually cost state taxpayers more money than what they saved by denying benefits to the tiny percentage of people who failed the test.

Meanwhile Tennessee’s law remains intact for the time being, but their experience trying to catch drug abusers among their welfare population has proven to be even more futile. In the first month of testing, among the 800 people who applied for welfare assistance, only one failed the testing regime. Not one percent, one person total. And while that number is sure to grow in the coming months, a rate of 0.12% isn’t exactly knocking the cover off the ball.

So in review, drug-testing welfare recipients has not only been found unconstitutional by multiple appeals courts, but its central economic justification is actually counter-productive, costing taxpayers more money than doing nothing. If you’re genuinely worried about fiscal responsibility in government, real-world data says you cannot support these laws.

Yet in spite of these objective facts, drug testing people who need temporary welfare assistance remains overwhelmingly popular among self-identified conservatives. Nor is drug-testing the only example of so called conservatives supporting policies that actively tips our national balance sheet further into the red.

On the subject of contraceptive coverage, conservatives similarly undermine their own claimed values of fiscal sanity. As reported by the Brookings Institute, every dollar society spends on family planning services and comprehensive sex education leads to a savings of anywhere between two and six dollars of future costs. It’s not hard to understand why. It’s a lot cheaper to buy a lot of condoms and BC pills than it is to pay for the medical costs of an unintended pregnancy, or to then pay to feed that child into adulthood through the welfare and Medicaid systems.

Texas experienced this directly when they cut family planning spending by $73 million, and then suffered a $230 million spike in Medicaid spending. So what are conservatives doing? Pushing to cut even more family planning services, embrace abstinence only education programs that actually increase teen pregnancy, and do everything they can to drive women’s health clinics out of business across the country.

In case after case, from the popularity of expanding defense spending and excitement for fresh military engagements in Iraq, Iran, and Russia, to the refusal of many GOP controlled states to accept the Medicaid expansion at the cost of billions denied to their state budgets and local economies, conservative voters and politicians consistently support policies and take actions that worsen our nation’s finances and put additional burdens on their citizens.

At last count, the GOP lead House has voted fifty-six times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, despite the fact the ACA is already bending down the healthcare cost curve, has extended the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund by years, and is projected to save just under a trillion dollars (with a T) off the long-term debt. Repealing the ACA would cost the nation hundreds of billions of dollars, yet they have no plans for what to replace it with once it’s repealed to plug the hole.

On marijuana , which has been proven in both CO and WA states to be immensely successful in creating tax revenue while reducing government spending on law enforcement and incarceration, conservatives continue to oppose legalization.

Even on the topic of same-sex marriage, which has been shown to have a small but measurable positive economic impact on those states where it’s legal, conservative politicians continue to stand in opposition even as support among conservative voters grows.

I’m not saying that a policy’s economic impact should be the only consideration for self-proclaimed conservatives to weigh on the important issues facing our country. Nor am I necessarily saying that their policy proposals are wrong just because they cost more money, (I tend to think they’re wrong for a whole host of other reasons). However, in almost every instance I can think of, when so called conservatives are asked to prioritize the economic impact of their policies, fiscal reality takes a backseat to either religious or ideological purity. Indeed, the one piece of near universal economic policy gospel among conservatives is slashing taxes, especially for the very wealthy, despite the fact cutting taxes (which are already at or near historic lows) simply slashes government revenue and further exacerbates our deficit, growing the debt.

Which is why I can no longer take the claims of the GOP and Tea Party as being the natural stewards of fiscal responsibility and economic heath seriously. In poll after poll of their members, social issues take precedence over fiscal impact every time.

Maybe there are real fiscal conservatives out there, hiding in the brush, afraid to speak out in opposition to drug testing welfare recipients, or in support of wider contraceptive access. Maybe there are some genuine limited-government types who extend their love of freedom and liberty to minorities, women, homosexuals, and the poor instead of only those Americans who can trace their ancestry to landed southern gentry.

People like me, for example. If you happen to see another one of these magical unicorns, let me know. It’s getting pretty lonely out here.

8 Things Comics Want Audiences to Know

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Hey, audiences, we love you. We really do. We couldn’t do this comedy thing without you. Well, I guess we could, but telling jokes to an empty room is not fun for us. Trust me, we’ve all done it.

But, sometimes, this magical relationship between performer and consumer can get a little testy.  Over the weekend, a good friend of mine had an uncomfortable run in with an audience member who had mistaken herself for the next Simon Cowell.

Most of the time, I’ve found that these moments are a direct result of a failure of expectations on either side of the mic. So, to try and fix that, here’s a few things comics on any rung of the ladder would like you to know about writing jokes, performing comedy, and what we need from audiences so we can give you the best show possible:

1) Being funny is hard: This seems obvious, but it’s worth pointing out that not everyone can do what comedians do. For many folks, the idea of public speaking is terrifying enough. The thought of getting on stage and talking frankly about all of your flaws and failures as a human being sounds like the sort of thing that should be banned by the Geneva Conventions against torture. It takes a certain kind of person to get in front of a mic and bear their soul to a group of strangers with the express purpose of getting them to laugh at them.

Even among those of us who do, almost no one is a ‘natural’ talent. Every comic you see in a club or on TV has, in all probability, been carefully, methodically toiling away in relative obscurity for many years honing their sets, their timing, their joke writing, and their ability to read and interact with audiences. And in my (admittedly limited) experience, it’s that last one that takes the most time and really separates the good comics from the great ones.

2) The less you pay, the more you get: I know that sounds backwards, but stick with me. On any given night in the city, there is comedy to be heard. From open mics to showcases to weekend headliners, from basement meet-ups to bar shows to comedy clubs to sold-out arenas, there is every imaginable kind and quality of comedy to be had for those willing to search it out. But here’s something to keep in mind as you go further down the rabbit hole of local comedy. If you’re not paying to see us, we’re probably not getting paid to perform for you. Your average open mic or bar room showcase doesn’t have anything like a budget. If the performers are compensated at all, it’s usually in drink tickets or a small bar tab.

As a result, your free shows attract large numbers of primarily local, non-touring comics still near the beginning of their careers. These events are practice for us. Open mics are where we try out new material, often in large volumes, sifting through trying to find the hidden gems. This is what I mean when I said you get more the less you pay. You’ll see dozens of comics in a night, each getting 3-5 minutes of stage time, and each one trying to polish up the pile of turds they wrote that week. If we walk away from an open mic with one new joke that stuck, we consider it a success.

No, you pay more to see less. Fewer comedians telling fewer jokes, because they are the ones that survived the gauntlet and are worth the price of admission.

3) Nothing personal, but shut the hell up: I know, you think you have a brilliant one-liner, or you heard something on your personal list of “THINGS THAT MUST NEVER BE TOLERATED,” or (and this is the worst of all) you anticipate the punchline and you’re so excited that you just have to blurt it out.

Stop. Just fucking stop.

Here’s the thing. Talking or shouting at a comic during their set is disrespectful as hell. Not just to the man or woman on stage trying their best to entertain you, but to everyone else in the crowd who has come out to support the comedians. Literally no one wants to hear what you have to say. The comic is there to reward the audience with a laughs, a skill that requires focus, split-second timing, and a sharp memory, any one of which can be broken by your interruption. And the audience, in turn, came out to listen to the professionals ply their trade. In case you’re confused, they’re the ones holding the microphone. If that’s not you, keep it to yourself unless the comic is doing crowd work and asks you a direct question.

If you think you have funny things to say, write them down and come back on an open mic night. If you don’t like something you heard on stage, just don’t laugh. We know we’ve screwed up when no one laughs. And if you really must, wait until after the show to explain, calmly and respectfully, why you felt a particular joke was hurtful or inappropriate. You’ll find us appreciative that you didn’t disrupt the show more often than not, and will probably either tweak a joke or explain our motivations for it.

4) We like you a little drunk:

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I’ve played several sober shows for various reasons where there was no alcohol being served. They’re tough. A couple of drinks really helps to lower inhibitions and make people more sociable and receptive. The absence of alcohol generally means colder crowds who are tighter with their laughs. The two-drink minimum in most professional clubs is there to help everyone, from the cocktail servers, to the club owners, to the comedians, and in the end the audiences themselves who end up getting a better show. Laughter is infectious. The more the people around you are doing it, the more you do it, and soon the awkward walls we put up around us come crashing down. So loosen up, relax, and have a couple of drinks.

5) But not too drunk:

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Look. We’re all adults here. We’ve all had a few too many. We’ve all done things with a lampshade or an intern that we would later come to regret. But if you do this at a comedy show, odds are you’re going to mutate into the loud talker/heckler from #3 and a lot of bad things are going to happen. The comic is going to embarrass you in front of your friends, then security is going to throw you into a snowbank. So relax, but don’t start building shot glass pyramids.

6) We can’t see you: Seriously. If you’ve never been on a stage, the lights are almost blinding. Add in the fact the rest of the room is dark and the human eye just doesn’t know what to do with itself. You know when you’re driving late at night and the asshole in the oncoming lane doesn’t know when to dim his brights? It’s like that, except for anywhere from five minuets to an hour. Oh, and they’re often hot as balls up there. We usually can’t see more than a few rows into the audience with any level of detail, so if you go to see your friend and they don’t acknowledge you until after the show, they’re not being a jerk. You should have sat up front anyway, this isn’t a school bus with the cool kids at the back.

7) The “Line” doesn’t exist: We’ve all heard about the scandals that erupt when a comic goes over “The Line” ™. Usually, the line is crossed in regards to jokes of a sexual or racial nature, or other hot button issues like rape, abortion, etc. But here’s the thing, the line is a completely arbitrary construct. It does not exist in the real world, and is based entirely on the collective judgment of that crowd, in that room, at that hour.

I have seen comedians joke about every subject that you’ve been told are “never funny” and absolutely slaughter with them. I watched a man not two weeks ago strangling his microphone stand with the mic cord, pretending to be a parent murdering their own child for being creepy. I’m the father of a three year old girl. That joke should be over my line, but it wasn’t. The amount of groundwork he’d put into laying out the joke, coupled with the trust he’d built up with the audience and his general zany persona on stage had all created a situation where the audience was not only comfortable going along with the premise, but empathized enough with it to reward him with enormous laughter, myself included.

The same is true of any other subject or situation. The line is crossed when a comic fails to do their job of building trust with their audience and finding ways to give the audience permission to laugh. The line is entirely contextual. Jokes a gay man can tell with impunity a straight man could get booed for if they’re not careful. What’s different? Trust and permission. And it takes a lot of practice to figure out how to ride the edge. Some people never manage it, but the truth is riding the line is where the best, most impactful comedy and social commentary comes from. So when someone finds themselves on the other side of it unexpectedly, give them the benefit of the doubt before you decide to go rip them apart on Twitter and start leveling accusations at their character.

8) Hosting/Guest spots are the hardest part of the show: If you’ve ever been to a comedy club, you’re probably familiar with the show format. It goes something like this: A host comes out and welcomes/thanks you for coming, makes a bunch of announcements, then goes on to tell between 8-12 minutes of their own material. Then you might get a special “Guest” comic that appears to do 5-10 minutes of material. After that the “Feature” comic appears to do 20-25 minutes, and finally the “Headliner” closes everything up with 40-60 minutes and we call it a night.

Odds are the Headliner is the only name you’ve ever heard before and maybe the feature act. Those two are professional comics. They are busy touring the country, even the world. They aren’t making a killing doing it, but they’re living the dream. So who are these other two knuckle heads?

Well, let me tell you. The guest comic is almost invariably a local comic who has gotten good enough to catch the attention of the club manager or booker. They aren’t being paid, they may not even be getting free drinks. The guest spot is the first stepping stone in the comedy world to bigger things. Think of it as an audition. Guest comics are trying to make an impression in a very short amount of time in front of an audience who isn’t there to see them and probably doesn’t know or care who they are. It’s probable that they’ve been in front of a genuine club audience fewer that a half dozen times. It may even be their first time. A good set means they get to try it again on the way to hosting a night or weekend, a bad set may push them back down the list and cost them months of work to build back up again. Guest spots are under a great deal of pressure to perform, yet have the least experience doing so. It’s a tough gig.

The host isn’t much better. Hosts are usually the guest comics that survived and are given more responsibility. They are usually paid a small amount for their work, but not always. They are trying to build up their reputation enough to become a feature act. They have to step out in front of a cold crowd who’s drink orders are still being delivered, and remember not only their material, but the club announcements and the other comics names and accolades. This is about where I am at the moment, and while it’s a lot of fun, it’s also pretty stressful and nerve-wracking.

So please, pay attention to the host and the guest comics. They have a lot riding on the outcome of the show, even more that the headliner in some respects. Throw them a laugh when they earn it, and when you’re filing out of the room, shake their hand and let them know their work was appreciated.

I’ve got more to say, but this post has gone on a lot longer than I planned, so it’ll have to wait for another day. And comics, feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments.

After the Draft: Let’s Talk Money

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There’s been a movement among authors lately to be more open and transparent about what they earn.  Jim C. Hines has been sharing an annual report for seven years already, while Hugo winner Kameron Hurley made waves last week with her own blog post.

The purpose of these reports is not to boast. Far from it. Instead, these authors and many others are trying to give aspiring writers more realistic expectations of what a career in publishing looks like. And if more people understand that not all creatives are swimming in Scrooge McDuck money, just maybe a reader or two will think twice about torrenting or otherwise pirating the next book they want to read.

I support this drive towards greater transparency, so I’ve decided to add my own data points to the conversation. As readers of the blog will know, I’ve recently signed my very first book deal with Angry Robot Books for my debut novel THE ARK and a sequel. Here’s the final deal:

THE ARK (Fall 2015)

Advance: £3,000 ($4,500 at current exchange rate)

TRIDENT’S FORGE (Summer 2016)

Advance: £3,000 ($4,500 at current exchange rate)

As far as I can tell, these advances are a little on the low end for a debut author from a major publisher, but that is not a reflection on Angry Robot Books’ generosity. In the case of this deal, my agent and I decided to take smaller advances in exchange for retaining audio rights. This gives us opportunities for more sales in the future and multiple revenue streams, although there are certainly no guarantees.

I think I’ll follow Jim’s example and make this a yearly report for those who are interested, and I encourage other writers to do the same.

Hating Football Doesn’t Make You a Better Nerd

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With another Super Bowl Sunday upon us, my social media feeds are again reminding me of the truly bizarre, self-imposed wall that exists between so much of nerdom and sports.

I am a massive nerd. I am also a massive football fan.

These are not contradictory stances. One does not exclude you from being the other. Growing up in WI, it was simply assumed that one was a Packers fan. It’s a religion up here, something that binds us all together and helps to get us through not only the long winters, but family gatherings that would otherwise be incredibly awkward. During football season, we didn’t bother playing D&D on Sundays, because the elven ranger, dwarven defender, and halfling rogue were ALL watching Brett Favre. That’s just the way it was, and still is.

So it was truly  striking and alien to me when I started traveling to cons throughout the country to see the dismissive, outright hostile attitude so many geeks display towards anything pro-sports. There are those among our community that actually take pride in their complete, self-enforced ignorance of what are the most popular passtimes in our society.

This attitude is the antithesis of everything I understand being a nerd to mean.

Let me tell you something about being a geek, maybe the best part, actually. Being a geek means not having to be embarrassed about the things that you love. It means you can shout your enthusiasm from the rooftops without caring what the mundanes think about it. It means being part of a community that doesn’t judge you for your over-the-top devotion to the strange, the off-beat, the obscure.

So why do some of us think it’s okay to be so dismissive, even antagonistic towards the love of things slightly more mainstream? I have a secret; sports fans are some of the biggest geeks out there. You want endless lists of stats to memorize? They have you covered. Merchandise to collect? Done. Throngs of rabid fans who will sit out hours or days in freezing temperatures for tickets? Honey, you have no idea. Cosplay? Have you seen a Buffalo Wind Wings on game day?

They’re no different, and no better or worse, than the rest of us. Sure, the guys huddled around their laptops in the sports bar drafting their fantasy team may not recognize the parallels to a basement full of guys rolling character sheets, but they’re still there. So stop pretending there are different strata of geekdom, or that some types of nerdiness are less legitimate than others. That reeks of the same type of arrogant elitism and entitlement that so many of us chaffed under back in school.

I am a geek about many things. I wear my Packer Superbowl XLV hat as proudly as I display my One Ring armband tattoo. And that’s okay.

This is not to say that nerds shouldn’t have opinions about sports, even negative opinions, about racist team names, or drug abuse, or concussion scandals, or the scourge of domestic violence. Absolutely you can, and should voice your opinions on these issues to try and shape the culture of professional sports and their impact on our society going forward.

But don’t pretend that remaining deliberately ignorant of a thing somehow makes you better or more enlightened than those who embrace it.

When is that ever true?

9 Blogging Tips for Writers

If you’re an aspiring author working your way through the minefield of today’s publishing environment, you’re probably looking for every way you can to stand out from the crowd and draw attention to yourself and your work. Pressure on authors to build a “platform” is higher than it’s ever been. Fortunately, your options for building that platform are more numerous than ever before as well.

Many contemporary authors use blogging as one means to build audience, and I’m no different. So I thought I’d jot down some of the basics I’ve learned over the last couple of years and save y’all the pain of learning through trial and error.

1: Your blog should be targeted to a particular market, topic, sub-culture, product, or service. Blogs that stay on target tend to build stronger, more loyal audiences over time because people come to know what to expect and recognize you as an authority on a given subject. So a writer should probably blog, first and foremost, about writing and writing related topics like the state of the publishing industry, book reviews, etc. A couple of examples of very successful blogs I follow that fit this description are author Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds, and John Scalzi’s Whatever.

If your experience follows mine at all, there will be a strong temptation to chase after whatever type of content drives the most traffic. Historically, my most popular posts haven’t been about my writing, but instead covered current events or political topics. But while running up the page views feels great, the analytics shows that the people who pop in for these off topic posts don’t tend to stick around. They are far less likely to peruse the rest of your site, maybe even convert into customers, because it wasn’t interest in writing or your work that brought them there in the first place.

This is not to say you can never color outside the lines. I certainly have, maybe more than I should. But try to stick to a ratio of say 3:1. For every off-topic post, you need to write three posts directly related to what you started the blog to talk about. I came up with this ratio through the time-honored tradition of totally making it up, but it feels about right, you know?

2: Your blog works in concert with all of your other social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Google+ (if that’s still a thing) etc. Posting and tweeting whenever you have a new blog post will alert your friends and followers that it’s time to head back to your website to read it, share it with others, and expand your reach far more than simply throwing it up and hoping for the best.

3: Titles of your blog posts should be short, on target, and catchy. Short titles fit into tweets and other cross-platform promotion better and are more likely to get people to click on the link. And no puns, for God’s sake. People hate puns. They’re the death of comedy.

4: Pictures. Posts should always include an image of some kind. This way, when people are sorting through their feeds, your post isn’t just a dry title. Images draw the eye and draw interest, and drastically increase the odds someone will click on your link.

See? Caught your eye, didn’t it? No, I don’t have the first idea what’s going on here. Not the point.

5: The length of your posts are actually less important than you might think. You’ll find a lot of advice online that tells you to keep the posts themselves short, no more than 500 words or so, because people have such short attention spans these days. Ignore these twits. Personally, I think 500 words should be considered a minimum length. My most popular posts have all been in the 1,000-1,500 word range. If your writing is engaging, people will stick around to the end. And even if they don’t finish and wander off somewhere in the middle, you still got the traffic. You lose nothing by writing a post long enough to complete your thought and tell the whole story. However, if your post starts looking like a Dickens novel, you might want to rein it back a little.

6: Frequency. When your blog is updated, and how frequently, is of enormous importance to its reach. At a minimum, your blog should have new content weekly. Less than that, and there simply isn’t enough on the buffet line to keep people coming back for seconds. You need to stay fresh in people’s minds, and you do that through providing them with content to chew over.

7: Timing. There are specific days of the week, and even times of day to put up your posts to give them the best chance at the widest possible audience. Weekends are where blog traffic goes to die. Once Friday afternoon rolls around, don’t bother putting anything up until noon on Monday. If you have a great idea for a post and pound it out on Saturday night, save the draft and publish it once the work week starts. People have better things to do on the weekend.

The same is true of evenings. After around 8:00 or 9:00pm, blog traffic collapses. People are at home, relaxing, drinking, watching Netflix, doing chores, what have you. The same is true of other social media posts linking to or otherwise promoting your blog. The best time to put up your post is Monday-Friday, and Noon to just after dinner time. This is when your audience is captive to their office desks, busying themselves playing on their phones and avoiding work. They’re looking for things to waste time on. Give them something.

8: Mobile devices. Two thirds of your audience will be reading your blog on mobile devices. Probably in traffic while eating Arby’s, but that’s not your problem. Your blogging software MUST support mobile viewing, or you’re giving up the majority of your audience before you’ve even started.

9: Everything should be arranged in a goddamned list. Someone just pointed this out to me, so I remade this post into a list. Let’s watch the page counter skyrocket.

But the final question you probably have is simply, “Is a blog worth it?” And honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know of a good way to measure the cost-benefit ratio for the time and effort you’ll put into your blog. There are examples of very successful authors writing blogs with enormous reach and influence, and examples of those with none who still manage to routinely crack the NYT bestseller list. In the end, how and where you spend your finite time promoting your work is entirely up to you.

Personally, I find my blog to be rewarding and cathartic in a way. It’s a platform for me to express my thoughts on certain topics more completely than is possible in a tweet or a FB post. Maybe it’s helping, maybe it isn’t. And I’m okay with that.

Like this? Want to see more? Follow me on twitter @stealthygeek.