Why most writers should stay away from Reddit

I will openly confess that social media has never really been my “thing”. And I think that most writers have an uneasy relationship with it, at best.

Most writers get onto social media and immediately want to promote their books.

“Hey! Buy my book!”

“Did you know I have a new book out?”

“Have you seen my new book? Here’s a link to it at Amazon, for your convenience!”

And so on…

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Did you see what I wrote? Did you?

I’m not quite that tone-deaf. I have rarely attempted the outright sales pitch on social media. I will admit, however, a tendency to use social media exclusively for linking to this blog.

“Hey, read this post I wrote yesterday. You’ve got to read it. World-changing stuff, I’m telling you!”

This is why I rarely use Twitter. Twitter is a place where people bitch about politics, and discuss material written on external links…by other people. And then they bitch about politics some more. And post some more external links. “Did you see what so-and-so said/wrote/did? Here’s a link.”

I’m not interested in doing that. I always want to post links to my material.

This makes me a bad Twitter user.

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Reddit is not for me

But if I’m a bad Twitter user, I would be even worse on Reddit. I wouldn’t even think about getting onto Reddit, in fact. According to the Reddit terms of service:

You should not just start submitting your links – it will be unwelcome and may be removed as spam, or your account will be banned as spam.

You should submit from a variety of sources (a general rule of thumb is that 10% or less of your posting and conversation should link to your own content), talk to people in the comments (and not just on your own links), and generally be a good member of the community.

And furthermore:

It’s perfectly fine to be a redditor with a website, it’s not okay to be a website with a Reddit account.

But the thing is, I would be a website with a Reddit account. I know that. This is why I stay the heck off Reddit.

My ratio would be the exact opposite of what Reddit prescribes. About 90% of my links would be to my own content.


On social media, it’s all about links…and brief, snarky comments

Think about it from my perspective: Why would I want to post only “10% or less” of my own content, when I write content all day? When I have so much of it to post.

You egotistical bastard, you might counter. What, do you think you’re smarter than everyone else on the Internet? Or a better writer, maybe?

My answer to that is: I’m smarter than some, not as smart as others. The same goes for being a better writer.

But there is another way to look at this. I remember the pre-social media days, when “webrings” were the thing. A common complaint back then focused on websites that consisted only of links—with no original content. Often you would go from website to website, finding nothing but lists of links.

That was considered bad netiquette back then. But Reddit and Twitter are all about linking to content you haven’t created. A complete flipflop of the Internet ethos.

This doesn’t mean that Reddit and Twitter are bad, mind you. I also understand the deeper reasons for the draconian “ten percent rule” at Reddit. The platform’s members don’t want to be overwhelmed with “buy my x!” posts, which would be the inevitable result otherwise.

But this is also why I mostly stay off Twitter and Reddit, and other social media platforms that are all about linking to external sources.


And why wouldn’t I link to my own stuff?

The bulk of my time is spent creating my own content. That leaves me relatively little time to gather and curate content written by others.

And yes, there is an unabashedly selfish side to this, as well: After I’ve spent a few hours working on an essay or a short story, will my first impulse be to link to something a stranger wrote? Or an article from USA Today?

Hell, no. My first impulse will be to link to what I wrote. That’s only natural.


Curator or creator: know which one you are

But there is also an unselfish side to this. The Internet needs people to curate content, but it also needs people to produce content. If no one produces, then eventually there is nothing to curate.

The key is to know which one you are—a content curator or a content creator.

If you’re primarily a content curator, Twitter and Reddit are for you.

If you’re primarily a content creator, then you should probably stay off Twitter and Reddit. Your time would be better spent working on your own books and blog posts.

Give the curators something to find. They’ll find your stuff…eventually.

The best rock albums of the 1980s (Ed’s list)

Oh, like this one won’t cause any controversy…I would be better off writing another political post if I wanted to avoid hate mail.

I was very much into rock music during the 1980s (especially the first half of the decade). I turned twelve in 1980, so you might as well say that the 1980s were my “coming-of-age years”. And it is during this time that we are most into youth culture—especially music.

The list that follows is unabashedly and unapologetically a personal list.

I don’t think you’ll find any albums here that are too far off the beaten path. Even if they’re forgotten today (though some of them aren’t) they all had significant followings at the time.

That said, I’ve left off some albums that were popular, but not for me.

For example, you won’t find any Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, or Michael Jackson on the list below. I had nothing against these artists (and I liked a few of their songs) but I was never one of their fans.

Oh, one other thing: I did not include any “greatest hits” or live albums on this list. I wanted to focus on music that was being heard for the first time between January 1, 1980 and December 31, 1989.

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Escape (Journey): Yes, I know: There is nothing especially original about this choice. Released in 1981, this album continues to have a footprint in the 21st century. “Don’t Stop Believing” was featured in the final scene of The Sopranos. I heard the song in a recent episode of MacGyver, too.


Foreigner 4: This is the only truly memorable album Foreigner ever put out, in terms of every song being a good one. But they hit a home run with Foreigner 4.

Back in Black (AC/DC): This album came out in December 1980. I still hear the title track in my mind sometimes at the most unexpected moments.

This is a great album to play when you’re working out!


For Those About to Rock (We Salute You) (AC/DC): A year after Back in Black, another great album from those Australian guys.


Third Stage (Boston): Boston spent most of the 1980s on hiatus. Third Stage came out in the summer of 1986, and the songs were on the radio constantly throughout the rest of that year.

There were many good ones—especially “Amanda”.


1984 (Van Halen): The year 1984 was significant because of the association with George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel set in that year.

Van Halen released 1984 early in 1984.

I especially liked “Jump” and “Hot for Teacher”. (I am guessing that the latter song would be considered politically incorrect, or triggering—or something—in these more sensitive times.)


5150 (Van Halen): This was the first Van Halen album with Sammy Hagar in the lead vocal role (instead of David Lee Roth).

Perhaps because of that, 5150 had a different vibe from previous Van Halen albums. More polished…and kind of mystic.

Does anyone know what the lyrics of “Love Walks In” mean? I’ve been wondering about that one for more than 30 years.


Reckless (Bryan Adams): There were a lot of great songs on this one. But it would make the list for “Summer of ’69” alone.


Scarecrow (John Mellencamp): From back in the days when John Mellencamp focused on making great music, and kept his political views to himself.


Permanent Vacation (Aerosmith): At the beginning of the 1980s, everyone thought that this band had left their best days behind them. They proved everyone wrong with this album in 1987. Aerosmith is still going strong today.

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Moving Pictures (Rush): “Tom Sawyer”, “Limelight” and “Red Barchetta” are among the great songs on Moving Pictures.


Signals (Rush): “Subdivisions”, “New World Man” and “Losing It” were among the songs that showcased Neil Peart’s lyrical skills—which were then at their peak (1982). Also, this is probably the only rock album in history that features a song about the space shuttle launch!


Piece of Mind (Iron Maiden): Dark and deep, but still very accessible, this is my favorite Iron Maiden album…and I like most of them.


Eliminator (ZZ Top): Some great MTV videos came out of this album..back when MTV still played music videos, that is.


Pyromania (Def Leppard): One of my all-time favorites, still sounds good after more than 35 years. The album that put Def Leppard on the map.


Brothers in Arms (Dire Straits): I like the politically incorrect, uncensored version of “Money for Nothing”…though it’s hard to find nowadays. Oh, how the finger-wagging do-gooders have ruined popular culture.


Invisible Touch (Genesis): The only Genesis album I ever really liked. But I liked this one.

This is my list. Which albums do you remember fondly from the 1980s (or wish you remembered fondly, if you weren’t around then)? Let me know on Facebook.

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Paying for compliments in China

Well, this is unusual:

CNBC spoke to participants and even got involved in one of the groups — known a “kuakuaqun,” Mandarin for “praising groups” — to find out how they operate.

Users can search for the groups on Taobao, an e-commerce site run by China’s Alibaba. Several different groups are listed there with different pricing options, starting from around 35 yuan ($5.21).

Once you purchase a round of compliments on Taobao, the seller will contact you with an invitation to a group on WeChat. There, you will be showered with praise from various people.

Seriously? Stories like this make me glad that I’m something of an… antisocial curmudgeon. I won’t be giving Taobao any of my money anytime soon.

Amazon releases a new Kindle

This one has some interesting new features, too:

Amazon has recently released a new version of its cheapest Kindle yet and it’s gotten slimmer compared to previous versions.

For only £69.99 in the United Kingdom or about $89.99, Kindle now has a better screen and front light as well as higher contrast and better touch screen, which were previously only available to more expensive Kindle versions.

This was also the first Kindle under £100 or $130 with a built-in adjustable front light, according to Eric Saarnio, head of the Amazon devices in Europe.

The article also reports the demand for e-reader devices has been down since 2015.

I don’t think this is because people have suddenly stopped e-reading. They are still reading ebooks. But now they’re reading them on their phones.

You may have noticed that smartphones seem to have hypnotic powers, transfixing people for long periods when they should be driving, stepping forward in line at the bank, or generally paying attention to what is going on around them.

Why you should learn Spanish first

If you live in the United States, learn Spanish before any other second language.

Many people who are drawn to foreign languages are immediately drawn to the exotic ones.

I once met a young woman who—for her first foreign language—decided to learn Estonian.

The young woman lived in Cincinnati, Ohio.

I don’t mean to insult any Estonians who might happen to be reading this. But there are only about 1.1 million native speakers of Estonian at present. And almost none of them live anywhere near Cincinnati, Ohio. (Estonia is a northern European country that was part of the Soviet Union until 1991.)

Oh, and Estonian is difficult. Estonian nouns and adjectives decline in fourteen cases.




Why would you want to put yourself through that from the get-go, for a language spoken by 1.1 million people who don’t live near Cincinnati, Ohio?

Some language-learners, in their desire to be “exotic” overlook the obvious.

I know that I’ve kind of picked a straw man with my example, Estonian (though I really did meet a young woman who decided to learn it, for no reason that either of us could discern).

Many language learners are flocking to Mandarin. I have nothing against Mandarin. It can be a very useful language.

But we’re talking here about the first foreign language you actually learn well. (No those two years of high school French don’t count, if you can’t actually function in French.)

Are you sure you want to start with Mandarin? Because Mandarin, as anyone who has mastered it will tell you—is hard.



Here’s an obvious, and (I think) commonsense suggestion: If you live in the United States, learn Spanish before you learn any other foreign language.

Why? Let’s start with the most obvious reason, and work our way down:


1.) Spanish is the unofficial second language of the United States.

There is a lot of controversy right now about the issue of “official English”, and I’m not going to address that here—not very much, anyway. Suffice it to say that I believe everyone who desires long-term residency in the United States should learn English.

But I don’t feel the need to politicize absolutely every decision I make. From a practical perspective, a lot of Spanish is spoken in the United States.

I’m sure you’ve encountered one of those automated telephone menus (perhaps when calling your insurance company) where a recorded voice says, “por favor, oprima numero dos para español.” I would be willing to bet you have never encountered a telephone menu in the U.S. in which a recorded voice has prompted you to press two for Estonian. You get my point.

Depending on how you tally up the numbers, there are between 50 and 60 million native Spanish-speakers in the United States.

That’s right: 50 to 60 million. That number is larger than the entire population of many European countries. The United States has more Spanish-speakers than any other country in the world, save Mexico.

With so many native Spanish-speakers in the United States, the odds are very good that you’re going to encounter one, sooner or later.

And probably more than just one.

As I’ve mentioned, I live in Cincinnati, Ohio. And I hear Spanish spoken practically everyday.

Go to Miami, Florida, or El Paso, Texas, and you can spend the whole day speaking Spanish with people. I probably don’t need to point out that there is no city in the United States where the same can be said about Estonian.



2.) Spanish-speakers are open to speaking their language with you. 

In my long experience, not all native speakers are equally open to speaking their language with English-speaking language learners.

Germans are among the snootiest in this regard. (In defense of the Germans, many of them speak fluent, or highly proficient, English.)

The Japanese have a reputation for being suspicious of non-Asians who speak Japanese—regardless of how well the Japanese person in question happens to speak English. Young Koreans of the professional class are so eager to practice their English with you (it’s a big thing in Korea), that few of them have an interest in wasting the opportunity by speaking Korean, even if your Korean is serviceable.

Spanish-speakers are extremely open, however, to speaking Spanish with you—once you’ve advanced to a level where you can actually hold a decent conversation.

I recently met a young woman from Venezuela. (Like many Venezuelans, her life was overturned by the bumbling mismanagement of that country’s socialist government.)

When it became clear that she spoke only minimal English, I addressed her in Spanish. (My Spanish is pretty good, having studied the language for more than thirty years, and having used it extensively in Mexico.)

My Venezuelan interlocutor didn’t miss a beat. She didn’t even comment on the fact that I spoke Spanish. She just continued our conversation in that language.



Does this mean that native Spanish-speakers are inherently nicer than native-speakers of Japanese and German? Wow, that’s a question that could earn me some hate mail. While there are doubtless readers who would make that argument, I attribute the openness of the native Spanish-speaker to a less contentious factor: Spanish, like English, is a major world language.

When we meet a person from Sweden, South Korea, or Taiwan who speaks English, we aren’t exactly shocked. This is because English is both widely spoken and widely studied. Few of us will even comment on the fact that the nonnative speaker has addressed us in English. We just continue the conversation as if nothing unusual were taking place.

And so it is with Spanish. Spanish has been an international language for centuries. (More on that shortly, as it relates to Americans.) Spanish is the official language of twenty countries. There are, at present, slightly more native Spanish-speakers in the world than native English-speakers, in fact.

English still trumps Spanish as a lingua franca that people learn as a second language. But many people around the world who weren’t born to it do learn it, nonetheless. Around 21 million people—twice the population of Greece—study Spanish worldwide.

While people do study German and Japanese, the numbers aren’t anywhere near that large.

This means that there is nothing particularly unusual about a nonnative speaker of Spanish who nevertheless has some proficiency in the language. Hence the openness of native Spanish-speakers to communicating with us in their language.



3.) Spanish is (comparatively speaking) easy for native English-speakers to learn. 

Have you ever tried to learn Arabic, Korean, or Mandarin? Those languages are hard to learn if your native language is English.

Spanish is comparatively easy. Spanish is a Romance (Latin-based) language. English also has significant Latin roots, both through Latin itself, and also through Norman French.

Spanish shares many cognates with English. This means that you already know quite a few Spanish words: crisis, plaza, región, tropical, and many, many others.

Spanish grammar has a few tricky aspects—like gendered nouns, and the subjunctive verb tense. But these are nothing like the mind-bending contortions you’ll face when learning Arabic grammar, for example.

Spanish pronunciation requires some practice to master. It is still a foreign language, after all. There are a few unusual sounds, like the double-l, or elle (ll) and the n with tilde (ñ). But these are cakewalks compared to the tones of Chinese or Thai, for example.



4.) There are plenty of learning materials available.

Remember that number: 21 million students of the Spanish language worldwide. This means that the study of Spanish has become an industry—not on the level of smartphones or automobiles, but large enough to produce some economic incentives for publishers.

Visit Amazon, my favorite bookstore, and you’ll find no end of books, audio courses, and flashcards designed to help you learn Spanish. And more are constantly in production. Because publishers know that the market for Spanish learning materials isn’t going anywhere.

Ah, capitalism!…or capitalismo in Spanish.



5.) Spanish has a long history in the United States.

Spanish colonization of the Americas began in the 1500s. While much of this occurred south of our borders (in present-day Latin America), there are huge swaths of the United States that used to be Spanish territory. At one point, New Spain covered most of the present-day United States west of the Mississippi, plus Florida.

As you study the Spanish language (and American history), you’ll learn that many U.S. states (Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, etc.) have Spanish names. Ditto for many U.S. cities: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Fe, and so on. This is because of these places’ long association with Spain (and later Mexico, in many cases).



If you live in the United States, and you’re motivated toward language learning, there is simply no reason not to learn Spanish.

When people begin the study of a foreign language, one of the first questions that often arises is, “Will you actually use that?”

If you’re studying Spanish, you can answer unequivocally in the affirmative. You will almost certainly have a chance to use your Spanish.

Spanish, all things being equal, offers the best effort-to-rewards ratio of any foreign language for the native English-speaker living in the United States.

Learn it first, unless you have an immediate and compelling reason to start with some other language.

Stairway to Heaven: the ‘Heart’ version

I was poking around on YouTube and I found this cover version of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven’ by Heart–a band I remember fondly from the 1980s.

I’ll admit when I clicked on this, I had my doubts: I mean, Heart…’Stairway to Heaven’?…Really?

To my surprise, however, Heart might actually have improved on the original. (Yes, I know this will seem like pure blasphemy to some of you. But give it a listen before you judge.)

The meaning…if there is one…of the lyrics of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ have been debated for years. I won’t delve into the occult controversy for now. Suffice it to say that the lyrics of this song sounded a lot more profound to me thirty-five years ago, when I heard them at the age of fifteen.  But a lot of things aren’t as good or as deep as we remember them, thirty or forty years later.

‘Stairway to Heaven’ is still a great song, part of the soundtrack of my (and many other people’s) youth. I’ll always like it.

Anthrax and anxiety

The other day I watched a documentary about some highly disturbing revelations to come out of the former Soviet Union.

In 1969 the United States, under then President Richard Nixon, unilaterally abandoned all testing and development on germ warfare. Nixon claimed he did this because he found these weapons simply too horrible to fathom. Pessimists claimed that Nixon was simply trying to cast himself as a peacemaker. (This was during the Vietnam War era, remember.)

What were Nixon’s true motivations? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

The Soviets, being the Soviets, took the most cynical, zero-sum interpretation possible. They signed the Biological Weapons Convention, along with many other countries, in 1972. In secret, however, they ramped up their germ warfare program to previously unimagined levels.

(Supposedly, the Soviets believed that Richard Nixon was lying about the U.S. unilaterally abandoning its germ warfare program. What country would do such a thing? (Certainly the USSR never would.) But in this case, at least, Nixon had been telling the truth.)

The Soviets built a huge anthrax weapons development facility near Yekaterinburg. (This was where Czar Nicholas II and his family were massacred by drunken Marxist revolutionaries in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution.) The Soviet government told the world—and its own people—that the site made nothing but conventional military tanks.

This being the USSR, there was an inevitable foul-up. Some anthrax, in aerosol form, was accidentally released into the air in 1979. Several hundred people died as a result. The Soviet government told the world (and its own people) that the deaths had occurred from ordinary food poisoning.

After this disaster, the Soviets built another biological weapons facility in a remote area of Kazakhstan. This facility created enough weaponized anthrax to wipe out all human life on the entire planet.

Then the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.

The government of the now independent Kazakhstan really wanted nothing to do with the USSR’s massive germ warfare facility—or its stockpiles. Throughout the 1990s, various efforts were made to clean up the site, and dispose of the stockpiles in a safe manner.

Much of the anthrax was placed into sealed containers and dumped into the Aral Sea, which lies between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Although this sounds inherently dubious, they figured it would be safe there.

But there was a problem.

The Aral Sea has been slowly drying up for decades. Why? More Soviet ingenuity at work. During the Khrushchev era, Moscow had the brilliant idea of diverting the two major rivers that feed the Aral Sea, in an effort to irrigate a desert in the area.

So the once submerged containers are gradually being exposed.

Most of these containers are still difficult to get to. But there are certainly terrorist groups with a lot of motivation, and there’s all that anthrax sitting out there, in those containers.

Oh, and it gets better: There are still scores of unemployed germ warfare experts from the former Soviet Union. Many of them are only in their fifties. And many of them are selling Chinese-made trinkets in Astana in order to make ends meet.


This is a lot to worry about, when you think about it: While the development of a nuclear weapon would likely be an overwhelming task for a stateless terrorist group, biological weapons require much fewer resources.

It is no exaggeration to say that the former Soviet Union’s biological weapons program could still wipe out all human life on earth. The USSR left a long shadow, and nothing left in that shadow was good.

On age and humility

I turned fifty this past year.

Age makes most everyone more conservative, more set in their ways.

I am no exception in this regard.

Age has also dimmed much of my youthful optimism.

On the positive side, however, age has definitely made me more humble.

When I was twenty-three (the most arrogant, self-important age, for most people), I had lots of ideas about myself and what I could do.

But I had not yet been tested. Not in any meaningful way.

At the age of fifty, I’ve definitely been tested by the big things: the deaths of loved ones, illness, disappointments, and the disillusionment of my youthful notions about “how the world is.”

And having been tested, I must report that I’ve sometimes found myself coming up short.

I’ve discovered that I am not that wonderful and impeccably principled person that I believed myself to be at the age of twenty-three.

Each of us is endlessly virtuous, until those virtues are put to the test.

At the age of twenty-three, I saw only black and white. At the age of fifty, I see many shades of gray…most of all in myself.

A cap on student borrowing

The Trump administration is considering new limits to student loans, with the aim of encouraging “responsible borrowing”.

We need to decrease third-party payments in the higher education market, as I discussed in a blog post yesterday. Third-party payments from the federal government have inflated the cost of higher education, placing an unreasonable burden on students, parents, and taxpayers.

The only real beneficiaries of the current system are the higher education elites.