1810 stories

Happy Birthday, Karen E. Quinones Miller!

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Once upon a time, there was a young woman from Harlem and the Bronx who, because she was intellectually gifted, was offered a place in an overwhelmingly white school. She didn't want to go. A family friend, Mr. Johnson, a nice man who loved children, asked her why not. Eventually, she admitted it was because she wore hand-me-down clothes and didn't want the white children laughing at her.

Seriously, solemnly, he explained to her the importance of education and why she should make the best of herself that she possibly could. What he said made sense and she agreed to go. Shortly after, he gave her parents enough money to buy outfits for her new school

It was only years later, at his funeral, that she would realize that this kindly man was Bumpy Johnson, the "Harlem Godfather."

Karen E. Quinones Miller went on to join the Navy, get a degree in journalism, and work as a reporter for the Virginian-Pilot and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Her first novel, Satin Doll, got multiple rejections, so she published it herself to such success that Simon-Schuster won reprint rights in an auction. She went on to publish another seven novels and become an acknowledged authority on Harlem history.

Oh, and she became friends with Mayme H. Johnson, Bumpy's widow and co-wrote with her Harlem Godfather; the Rap on My Husband, Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson, the first ever biography of that complex man. Because Ms. Miller is the sort of person who always repays a kindness.

I was present when Karen was one of fifty writers picked by the city of Philadelphia to be recognized in the Philadelphia Literary Legacy project. The mayor of Philadelphia was introduced to her and he was clearly impressed.

All of which is buildup to this:

Today is Karen's birthday! If you like her, or women like her, please share so that others can look up her books and be made happy by them.


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When the KKK Murdered My Childhood Friend When the Ku Klux Klan...

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When the KKK Murdered My Childhood Friend 

When the Ku Klux Klan murdered my protector, it made me see the world differently.

I was always the shortest kid in school, which made me an easy target for bullies. To protect myself, I got into the habit of befriending older boys who’d watch my back.

One summer when I was around 8 years old I found Mickey, a kind and gentle teenager with a ready smile who made me feel safe.

Over the years, I lost track of Mickey. It wasn’t until the fall of 1964, my freshman year in college, that I heard what had happened to him.

Several months before, Mickey, whose full name was Michael Schwerner, had gone to Mississippi to register Black voters during what was known as “Freedom Summer.”

On June 21, Michael and two other civil rights workers, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, were arrested near Philadelphia, Mississippi by Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff Cecil Ray Price, for allegedly speeding.

That night, after they paid their speeding ticket and left the jail, Deputy Price followed them, stopped them again, ordered them into his car, and took them down a deserted road where he turned them over to a group of his fellow Ku Klux Klan members. They were beaten, shot at point-blank range, and buried in an earthen dam. Their bodies weren’t found until August 4.

The state of Mississippi refused to bring charges against any of the Klan members. Eventually, the U.S. Justice Department brought federal charges against Price and 17 others.

An all-white jury found seven of the defendants guilty, including Price. Ultimately none would serve more than six years behind bars.

When the news reached me that Mickey, my childhood protector, had been murdered by white supremacists — by violent bullies who would stop at nothing to prevent Black people from exercising their right to vote — something snapped inside me.

I began to see everything differently.  Before then, I understood bullying as a few kids picking on me for being short. Now I saw bullying on a larger scale, all around me. In Black people bullied by whites. In workers bullied by bosses. In girls and women bullied by men. In the disabled or gay or poor or sick or immigrant bullied by employers, landlords, insurance companies, and politicians.

Sixty years after the Freedom Summer murders, America still wrestles with bullies — a rise in hate crimes targeting people of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants, Jews, and Muslims — new laws restricting the right to vote, banning books, and stripping Americans of reproductive freedoms — leaders who insult and demean people with disabilities, women, and trans kids.

We must never give in to cruelty and violence. It is incumbent on all of us to stand up to bullies and be each other’s protectors.

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Pluralistic: Bankruptcy is very, very good (17 Jun 2024)

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A 19th century woodcut depicting a sadistically grinning jailer standing in the door of a cell of a wretched debtor's prison, in which three prisoners sit in attitudes of misery and hopelessness.

Bankruptcy is very, very good (permalink)

There's a truly comforting sociopathy snuggled inside capitalism ideology: if markets are systems for identifying and rewarding virtue, ability and value, then anyone who's failing in the system is actually unworthy, not unlucky; and that means the winners are not just lucky (and certainly not merely selfish), but actually the best and they owe nothing to their social inferiors apart from what their own charitable impulses dictate.

It's an economic wrapper around the old theological doctrine of providence, whereby God shows you whom he favors by giving them wealth and station, and marks out the wicked by miring them in poverty. And like the religious belief in providence, the capitalist belief in meritocracy is essential to resolving cognitive dissonance: it lets the fed winners feel morally justified in stepping over the starving losers.

The debate over merit and luck has been with us for millennia, and even the hereditary absolute monarchs of the Bronze Age had to find a way to resolve it. For the rulers of antiquity, the way to square that circle was jubilee.

Bronze Age jubilees were periodic celebrations in which all debts were canceled. Different kingdoms had different schedules for jubilees, but imagine some mix of "every x years" and "every time a new ruler takes the throne" and "every time something really portentous happens." To modern sensibilities, the idea that we would simply wipe away all debts every now and again is almost inconceivable. Why would any society practice jubilee? More importantly, how could a ruler get the wealthy creditor class to countenance a jubilee, rather than seeking a revolutionary overthrow?

The best answers to this question can be found in the scholarship of historian Michael Hudson, who has written extensively on the subject. Hudson doesn't just write for a scholarly audience, he's also a fantastic communicator with a real commitment to bringing his research to lay audiences:


Hudson's most famous saying is "debts that can't be paid, won't be paid." It's in this dense little nugget that we can find the answer the the riddle of jubilee:


Let's start with a simple model of debt and credit in an agricultural society. In agricultural societies, everything exists downstream of farming, which is the core activity of the civilization. If the farmers succeed, everyone can eat, and that means they can do all the other things, all the not-farming work of your society.

To farm successfully, you need credit. Farmers enter the growing season in need of inputs: seed, fertilizer, labor; they need still more labor during the harvest. Without some way to acquire these inputs before the farmer has a crop that can pay for them, there can be no crop.

No wonder, then, that the earliest "money" we have a record of is ancient Babylonian credit ledgers that record the debts of farmers who borrow against the next crop to pay for the materials and labor they'll need to grow it. Debt, not barter, is the true origin of money. The fairy tale that coin money arose spontaneously to help bartering marketgoers facilitate trade has no historical evidence, while Babylonian ledgers can be seen in person in museums all over the world.

Farming requires an enormous amount of skill, but even the most skillful farmer is a prisoner of luck. No matter how good you are at farming, no matter how hard you work, no matter how carefully you plan, you can still lose a harvest to blight, drought, storms or vermin.

So over time, every farmer loses a crop. When that happens, the farmer can't pay off their debts and must roll them over and pay them off with future harvests. That means that over time, the share of each harvest the farmer has claim to goes down. Thanks to compounding interest, no bumper crop can erase the debts of the bad harvests.

That means that, over time, "farmer" becomes a synonym for "debtor." Farmers' productive output is increasingly claimed by the rich and powerful. No matter how badly everyone needs food, the whims of the hereditary creditor class come to dictate the country's agricultural priorities. More ornamental flowers for the tables of the wealthy, fewer staple crops for the masses. "Creditor" and "debtor" no longer describe economic relations – they become hereditary castes.

That's where jubilee comes in. Without some way to interrupt this cycle of spiraling debt, society becomes so destabilized that the system collapses:


In other words: debts that can't be paid, won't be paid. Either you wipe away the farmers' debts to the creditor class, or your society collapses, and with it, the political relations that made those debts payable.

Jubilee is long gone, but that doesn't mean that debts that can't be paid will get paid. Modern society has filled the jubilee gap with bankruptcy, a legal process for shriving a debtor of their debts.

Bankruptcy takes many forms. The most important split in bankruptcy types is between elite bankruptcy and the bankruptcy of the common person. The limited liability company was created to allow people with money to pool their funds to back corporations without being responsible for their debts. This "capital formation" is considered "efficient" by economists because it creates the backing for big, ambitious projects, from colonizing and extracting the wealth of distant lands (Hudson's Bay Company) to spinning up global manufacturing supply chains (Apple).

Limited liability means that companies can take on debt without exposing their investors to risks beyond their capital stake. If you buy $1,000 worth of Apple stock, that's all you stand to lose if Apple makes bad decisions. Apple may rack up billions in liabilities – say, by abusing its subcontractor workforce – but Apple's owners aren't on the hook for it.

Economists like this because it means that you can invest in Apple without having to be privy to its daily management decisions, which means that Apple can accumulate huge pools of capital, "lever them up" by borrowing even more, and then put all that money to work on R&D, product development, marketing, and, of course, "incentives" for key employees and managers.

But limited liability also does a lot of work in the political sphere. Once an individual crosses a certain wealth threshold, they become an LLC. Accountants and wealth managers and financial planners insist on this. For freelancers and other sole practitioners, the benefits of forming an LLC are modest – a few more tax write-offs and the ability to get a business credit-card with slightly superior perks.

But for the truly wealthy, transforming yourself into the "natural person" at the center of a vast pool of LLCs is essential because it allows you to accumulate and shed debts. You can secretly own rental properties and abuse your tenants, accumulate vast liabilities as local authorities pile fine upon fine, and then simply dispose of the LLC and its debts. Plan this gambit carefully enough and the debtor LLC will have no assets in its bankruptcy estate apart from the crumbling apartment building, and its most senior secured creditor will be another of your LLCs. This lets the slumlord move an apartment block from one pocket to another, leaving the debt behind.

For the corporate person, shedding debts through bankruptcy is an honorable practice. Far from being a source of shame, the well-timed, well-structured bankruptcy is just evidence of financial acumen. Think of the private equity looters who buy a company by borrowing against it, pay themselves a huge "special dividend," then wipe away the debt by taking the company bankrupt (which also lets them shed obligations to suppliers, workers, and especially, retirees and their pensions). As Trump (a serial bankrupt who has stiffed legions of contractors and creditors) would say, "That makes me smart."

The apotheosis of elite bankruptcy is found in massive corporate bankruptcies, in which a corporation kills and maims huge numbers of people, then maneuvers to get its case heard in one of three US federal courtrooms where specialist judges rubber-stamp "involuntary third-party releases" that wipe out the company's obligations to it victims for pennies on the dollar, while the company gets to keep billions:


This process was so flagrantly abused by companies like Johnson & Johnson (which spent years knowingly advising women to dust their vulvas with asbestos-tainted talc, creating an epidemic of grotesque and lethal genital cancers) that it is finally generating some scrutiny and pushback:


But the precarious state of elite bankruptcies has more to do with the personal corruption of the small cabal of judges who run the system than public outrage over their rulings; like that one judge in Texas who was secretly fucking the lawyer whose clients he was also handing hundreds of millions of dollars to:


Certainly, we don't hear much about the "moral hazard" of allowing the Sackler opioid family to keep as much as ten billion dollars in the family's offshore accounts while walking away from the victims of their drug-pushing empire, no matter what bizarre tricks they deploy in pulling off the stunt:


But when it comes to canceling the debts of normal people, the "moral hazard" is front and center. If you're a person who borrowed $79k in student loans, paid back $190k and still owe $236k, we can't cancel your debt, because of the message that would send to other people who want to (checks notes) get an education:


The anti-jubilee side also wants us to think of the poor creditors: who would loan money to the next generation of students if student debt cancellation was a possibility? Of course, these are federally guaranteed loans, risk-free, free money for people who already have money, a kind of UBI for the people who need it least. The idea that this credit pool would dry up if you were limited to only collecting the debts that can be paid – rather than insisting that debts that can't be paid still be paid – elevates the hereditary creditor class to a kind of fragile, easily frightened, endangered species.

But the most powerful arguments against bankruptcy are rooted in the idea of providence. In an efficient market, anyone who goes bankrupt was necessarily reckless. They were entrusted with credit they weren't entitled to, because they lacked the intrinsic merit that would let them manage that credit wisely. Letting them walk away from their debts means that they will never learn from their mistakes, and that their fellow born-to-be-poors will learn the wrong thing from those debts: that there's an easy life in borrowing, spending, and discharging your debts in bankruptcy.

As it happens, this is an empirically testable proposition. If this view of personal bankruptcy as a personal failure is correct, then people who go bankrupt and live to borrow again should end up bankrupt again, too. On the other hand, if we accept the jubilee view – that debt is the result of accumulated misfortunes, often including the misfortune of birth into poor station – then bankruptcy represents a second chance with an opportunity to dodge misfortune.

In a new study from IZA Institute of Labor Economics's Gustaf Bruze, Alexander Kjær Hilsløv and Jonas Maibom, we get just such an empirical analysis. It's called "The Long-Run Effects of Individual Debt Relief," and it examines the lives of people for a full quarter-century after a bankruptcy:


The study follows Danish bankruptcies following the introduction of continental Europe's first modern bankruptcy system, which Denmark instituted in 1984. Prior to that, the Danes – like most of Europe – did not allow for a discharge of personal debt through bankruptcy. Instead, a debtor who went bankrupt would be expected to have about 20% of their lifetime wages garnished to pay back their creditors, until the debts were repaid or they died (whichever came first).

After 1984, Denmark bankruptcy system imported features of US/UK/Commonwealth bankruptcy, including the ability to restructure and discharge your debts. Not everyone is eligible for this kind of bankruptcy: there's a bureaucratic system that verifies that people seeking bankruptcy discharge don't have a lot of assets that could go to their creditors.

But for the (un)lucky people who qualify for bankruptcy discharges, there's a fascinating natural experiment in which the fortunes of people who see debt relief can be compared to bankrupt people who couldn't get their debts wiped out.

It turns out that the Bronze Age has a thing or two to teach us. Here's the headline finding: people who discharge their debts in bankruptcy experience "a large increase in earned income, employment, assets, real estate, secured debt, home ownership, and wealth that persists for more than 25 years after a court ruling."

After people are given the benefits of bankruptcy, they are less likely to rely on public benefits. They get better jobs. Their families live better lives. Their creditors get some of their money back (which is all they can realistically expect, since "debts that can't be paid, won't be paid").

As Jason Kilborn writes for Credit Slips, "the benefits of debt relief are not only substantial but robust, as debtors learn their lesson (if there was one to learn) about managing their finances, and they capitalize (literally) on their fresh start."

Score one for the luck-based theory of wealth, and minus one for the providential meritocracy hypothesis.

Americans should take note of these findings. After all, Danes are insulated from the leading American cause of bankruptcy: medical debts. In America, breaking a bone or getting cancer or even kidney stone can wipe out a lifetime of hard work, careful planning and prudential spending. The US refuses to seriously grapple with this problem. The best we can come up with is the (welcome, but tiny) step of banning credit bureaux from trashing your credit score because of your medical debt:


Millennia ago, everyone understood that debts that can't be paid, won't be paid, and they created a system for discharging debts and freeing productive people from the tyranny of accumulated liabilities, to the benefit of all. Dismantling that system required us to invent an elaborate theological system and dress it up in economic language.

Hey look at this (permalink)

A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Neuromancer jacket-quote https://memex.craphound.com/2004/06/16/neuromancer-jacket-quote/

#20yrsago Vatican reduces Inquisition’s atrocity-count https://web.archive.org/web/20040621234858/http://www.iht.com/articles/525118.html

#20yrsago Orin Hatch to make “counselling infringers” a crime https://web.archive.org/web/20040621210922/https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/archives/001631.php<

#20yrsago Why Microsoft should get out of DRM https://craphound.com/msftdrm.txt

#20yrsago Fark posts 1,000,000th link, Web surrenders https://www.fark.com/comments/1000000/Birds-learn-how-to-open-doors-at-Home-Depot-Finally-they-can-make-that-deck-for-birdhouse-In-other-news-this-is-1000000th-link

#15yrsago Vancouver cops affirm your right to take pictures https://web.archive.org/web/20090618134523/http://www.news1130.com/news/local/more.jsp?content=20090617_112051_8240

#15yrsago UK cop: ‘War on terror means no pictures of police vans in disabled parking spots’ https://shkspr.mobi/blog/2009/06/police-camera-action/

#15yrsago British cops stop and hassle thousands to “balance racial statistics” https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/jun/17/stop-search-terror-law-met

#15yrsago Mind Over Ship: David Marusek’s hyperfuturistic, hyperimaginative soap-opera https://memex.craphound.com/2009/06/17/mind-over-ship-david-maruseks-hyperfuturistic-hyperimaginative-soap-opera/

#15yrsago Bozeman, Montana requires job applicants to hand over all social network logins and passwords for background checks https://web.archive.org/web/20090621103931/montanasnewsstation.com/Global/story.asp?S=10551414&nav=menu227_3

#15yrsago Canadian cops want to wiretap the net https://web.archive.org/web/20090618223330/http://www.calgaryherald.com/Technology/Feds+give+cops+Internet+snooping+powers/1706191/story.html

#15yrsago China backs off on mandatory spyware https://www.crn.com/blogs-op-ed/the-channel-wire/217900033/china-caves-says-green-dam-software-is-optional

#15yrsago EFF kills another stupid internet patent https://www.eff.org/press/archives/2009/06/16

#15yrsago Kids lose their summer break due to impenetrable bureaucratic mess https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2009-jun-16-me-summer16-story.html

#10yrsago IRS won’t fix database of nonprofits, so it goes dark https://web.archive.org/web/20140715041700/https://bulk.resource.org/irs.gov/eo/terminate.html

#10yrsago Father’s Day: Groucho sings “Father’s Day” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0Dt9q8bkqg

#10yrsago Copyright trolls cut and run at suggestion that they’re a front for disgraced firm Guardaley https://www.techdirt.com/2014/06/16/once-again-as-details-questionable-copyright-trolling-practices-come-to-light-troll-desperately-tries-to-run-away/

#10yrsago London police’s secret “domestic extremist” list includes people who sketch protests https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/16/domestic-extremist-metropolitan-police-spying-elected-politician

#10yrsago Riot control drone that fires paintballs, pepper-spray and rubber bullets at protesters https://www.defenceweb.co.za/aerospace/aerospace-aerospace/desert-wolf-unveils-riot-control-drone/

#10yrsago Seattle paid $17.5K to “manage” online rep of public utility CEO https://web.archive.org/web/20140623210450/http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2023849447_citylightbrandxml.html

#10yrsago Oligopolistic America: anti-competitive, unequal, and deliberate https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/how-america-became-uncompetitive-and-unequal/2014/06/13/a690ad94-ec00-11e3-b98c-72cef4a00499_story.html?hpid=z3

#5yrsago Structural Separation: antitrust’s tried-and-true weapon for monopolists who bottleneck markets https://memex.craphound.com/2019/06/17/structural-separation-antitrusts-tried-and-true-weapon-for-monopolists-who-bottleneck-markets/

#5yrsago Fox News poll has Trump losing to Sanders, Biden, Warren, Harris, or Buttigieg https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/06/16/fox-news-poll-bernie-sanders-would-beat-trump-9-points

#5yrsago Traverse City, MI braves the wrath of telcoms lobbyists, pushes ahead with municipal fiber network https://upnorthlive.com/news/local/traverse-city-light-and-power-approves-fiber-optic-internet

#5yrsago After Hong Kong’s leaders delay plan to render dissidents to mainland China, 2,000,000 Hong Kongers march and demand resignations https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-48655634

#5yrsago The UK government gave away cheap money for property purchase deposits, which the wealthy abused, driving up property prices and leaving UK taxpayers exposed https://wolfstreet.com/2019/06/13/uk-government-blew-billions-on-help-to-buy-scheme-that-enriched-home-builders-and-drove-up-home-prices-taxpayers-on-the-hook-when-prices-sink-new-report-warns/

#1yrago Pizzaburgers https://pluralistic.net/2023/06/17/pizzaburgers/

#1yrago Conservatives are fringe outliers – and leftists could learn from them https://pluralistic.net/2023/06/16/that-boy-aint-right/#dinos-rinos-and-dunnos

Upcoming appearances (permalink)

A photo of me onstage, giving a speech, holding a mic.

A screenshot of me at my desk, doing a livecast.

Recent appearances (permalink)

A grid of my books with Will Stahle covers..

Latest books (permalink)

A cardboard book box with the Macmillan logo.

Upcoming books (permalink)

  • Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025

  • Unauthorized Bread: a middle-grades graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Credit Slips (https://www.creditslips.org/creditslips/).

Currently writing:

  • Enshittification: a nonfiction book about platform decay. Friday's progress: 807 words (12142 words total).

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

Latest podcast: My 2004 Microsoft DRM Talk https://craphound.com/news/2024/06/16/my-2004-microsoft-drm-talk/>

This work – excluding any serialized fiction – is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to pluralistic.net.


Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are included either under a limitation or exception to copyright, or on the basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.

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"When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla" -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla

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3 days ago
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50 Ways To Fuel A Conversation

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1. Be the first to say hello.
2 Introduce yourself to others.
3. Take risks and anticipate success.
4. Remember your sense of humor.
5. Practice different ways of starting a conversation
6. Make an extra effort to remember people’s names.
7. Ask a person’s name if you’ve forgotten it.
8. Show curiosity and sincere interest in finding out about others.
9. Tell others about the important events in your life. Don’t wait for them to draw it out.
10. Demonstrate that you are listening by restating their comments in another way.
11. Communicate enthusiasm and excitement about your subjects and life in general
12. Go out of your way to try to meet new people wherever you are.
13. Accept a person’s right to be an individual with different ideas and beliefs.
14. Let the natural person in you come out when talking with others.
15. Be able to succinctly tell others-in a few short sentences-what you do.
16. Reintroduce yourself to someone who is likely to have forgotten your name.
17. Be ready to tell others something interesting or challenging about what you do.
18. Be aware of open and closed body language.
19. Smile, make eye contact, offer a handshake, and go find the approachable person.
20. Greet people that you see regularly.
21. Seek common interests, goals, and experiences with the people you meet.
22. Make an effort to help people if you can.
23. Let others play the expert.
24. Be open to answering common ritualistic questions.
25. Be enthusiastic about other people’s interests.
26. See that the time is balanced between giving and receiving information.
27. Be able to speak about a variety of topics and subjects.
28. Keep up to date on current events and issues that affect our lives.
29. Be willing to express your feelings, opinions, and emotions to others.
30. Use T when you speak about your own feelings and personal things, rather than “you.”
31. Visually show others that you are enjoying your conversation with them.
32. Be ready to issue invitations to others to join you for other events/activities to further the relationship.
33. Find ways to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances you meet.
34. Seek out others® opinions.
35. Look for the positive in those you meet.
36. Start and end your conversations with the person’s name and a handshake or warm greeting.
37. Take the time to be friendly with your neighbors and coworkers.
38. Let others know that you would like to get to know them better.
39. Ask others about things that they have told vou in previous nonversation
40. Listen carefully for free information.
41. Be ready to ask open-ended questions to learn.
42. Change the topic of conversation when it has run its course.
43. Always search for the things that really get another excited.
44. Compliment others about what they are wearing, doing, or saying.
45. Encourage others to talk to you by sending out positive signals.
46. Make an effort to see and talk to people you enjoy.
47. When you tell a story, present the main point first and then add the supporting details.
48. Include everyone in the group in conversation whenever possible.
49. Look for signs of boredom or lack of interest from your listener.
50. Prepare ahead of time for each social or business function.

50 Ways To Fuel A Conversation, by Debrah Fine

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5 days ago
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The Cookie Monster Alphabet

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In case you or someone you know needs a little levity or pick-me-up today, might I suggest what might be the cutest thing that’s ever aired on television: a little girl named Joey and Kermit the Frog saying the alphabet.

Tags: alphabet · Sesame Street · TV · video

💬 Join the discussion on kottke.org

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9 days ago
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In honor of my father on this day

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In honor of my father on this day

June 6, 2024. For some, just another day. But for those of us with a direct connection to the Greatest Generation, it’s a day of remembrance and reflection.

Eighty years ago this morning, a 20-year-old Bill Maples went ashore on D-Day. As a medic.

Just sit with that for a minute. Twenty years old, from rural Missouri. A medic, on that hellish beach. Trying to treat and save men all around him.

He went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, and into Germany. Then, because he was a medic, he was one of the ones who liberated the death camps.

He rarely talked about the war. Occasionally, he would share a single incident. Some were humorous; some were horrible.


He was a first sergeant, and his unit was stuck in the hedgerows in France. They hadn’t moved in days, and the Germans two hedgerows over hadn’t moved either. His lieutenant, fresh to the front, was frustrated at the static situation, and suddenly decided to change the dynamics.

The lieutenant climbed to the top of the hedgerow they were behind, and yelled “Fix bayonets!” Up and down the line, the soldiers looked at him like he was nuts. He yelled it again: “Fix bayonets!” And, crazy or not, it was an order, so everyone with a bayonet — which they had just been using to open ration cans and such — attached them to their rifle.

Then the lieutenant yelled “Charge!” and took off running across the field. After a second, the rest of the unit followed suit, yelling and waving their rifles with the bayonets.

My father said he was sure they were all going to be cut down by machine gun fire. But when they climbed to the top of the hedgerow where the Germans had been, they saw the Germans running the other way.


During the Bulge, my father’s unit was forced to retreat. The unit had stored a large amount of supplies and ammo in an abandoned school, and had to leave it all as they pulled back in a hurry. My father and his best friend were told to stay and guard the school to prevent looters – but if they saw German forces headed their way, they were to take the remaining jeep and get out of there. Then, the rest of the unit left.

As my father and his friend were guarding the school, up the road came a convoy of U.S. jeeps. They stopped at the school, and the leader of the convoy got out to see what these two soldiers were doing there, all by themselves. It turned out to be Will Rogers Jr., the son of the famous humorist. When Rogers learned why the men had been left behind, he cursed at the order, then said, “Get in that jeep and get out of here. There are Germans coming this way.” Then Rogers and the convoy took off in the direction of the incoming German forces.

My father and his friend got in the jeep and sped away from the school. Unfortunately, a German jeep had seen them, and gave chase. My father was driving, and his friend stood up to fire back at the Germans. When he did, the German in the back of the jeep cut him down with the machine gun mounted in their jeep. My father couldn’t stop, but kept driving, trying to get away, with his best friend dead beside him in the jeep.


One Christmas, we were all gathered at my parents’ home, when after dinner my father announced “I want all the men to join me in the den.” My mother gave him one of those what-do-you-think-you’re-doing looks, but my father ignored it and joined us in the den.

Once he had shut the door, he pulled out a cigar box that I had never seen before. It was his WWII box. In it were his dog tags, some medals, a diary he kept at boot camp. And some pictures.

They were Polaroids, those black-and-white pictures you took that came out of the camera and self-developed in a few minutes. He started dealing them like cards on the table, and we could only look on, speechless. Because they were pictures from when he liberated the death camp.

Such horrible pictures. Such atrocities. Piles of bodies. Prisoners still hanging from the gallows. Emaciated survivors.

He said, “I wanted all of you to see these, to see what I saw, to know it was real and actually happened.”

Then he went into the back yard and burned all the pictures.


After the war, he was at loose ends for a few years. Eventually, he made his way to the University of Missouri, majored in journalism. Went to work, got married, had three kids. And never talked about the war.

Looking back, I’m convinced he had PTSD. He had nightmares about it for years, even decades. But, so did lots of other soldiers, so he just put it aside and kept going.

I cannot imagine, cannot fathom what he went through. What they all went through. All I can do is remember, and quietly say Thank you.

Thank you for wading through the water onto that beach of hell. Thank you for saving lives around you through your care. Thank you for slogging across France, and liberating a death camp, and somehow still coming out a decent, caring human being.

And I know you would scoff at this, and pooh-pooh the thought, but I’ll say it anyway:

Thank you for saving democracy.


As I reflect on this 80-year anniversary, and all that my father and so many sacrificed for all of us, I hope all of us both give thanks for their service and the saving of democracy, and renew our own pledge to do the same.


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