The Rush Political/Religious Survey Results

TL;DR Rush is awesome, and so is its fanbase. I put together a survey to try to figure something out about Rush’s career arc, but the author of the survey (me) didn’t get enough information and didn’t capture the right information to make the survey much more than pure entertainment.

Table of Contents

The Hypothesis

The survey was initiated by a shower thought: why, exactly, do people prefer the songs and albums they do?

To understand this question, let’s establish some basic information about how Rush’s albums are perceived. This is my view and isn’t necessarily the objective truth, so take it with a grain of salt; if you’re following along and ranting to yourself about how wrong I am, that’s okay.

Rush’s career can be thought of in terms of peaks (not valleys, unless you count “Feedback.”)

Rush, Fly By Night, and Caress of Steel are sort of foothills, with Fly By Night being a really good one, maybe a mountain. If it’s a mountain, then Caress of Steel is another one, but Caress of Steel’s “mountain” is full of potential avalanches and crevasses.

Then you hit an awesome stretch of albums: 2112, A Farewell to Kings, Hemispheres, Permanent Waves, Moving Pictures, and Signals, with two live albums thrown in for good measure. This is the “golden era of Rush,” if you like.

Grace Under Pressure is sometimes included in that golden era, but to me it seems more like a transitional album. It’s great – I love it – but it’s missing something essential that the six studio albums before it possessed.

Then you hit another stretch of albums: Power Windows, Hold Your Fire, Presto, Roll the Bones, Counterparts, and Test For Echo (with another set of live albums in there) – all really good albums, to be sure. The worst of them would be a proud accomplishment for most other bands.

After that you had a long stretch while Neil Peart dealt with family tragedy… and when he finally got back to Rush – which was by no means his duty to the fanbase, but something in his own soul, hopefully – they hit another peak period, with Vapor Trails, Snakes and Arrows, and Clockwork Angels, with an album of covers thrown in and a whole slew of recorded tours (more tours than studio albums!)

In my opinion, these three studio albums had the “it factor” that the “golden era” had, in most ways.


What was the “it factor?”

It shouldn’t be musicianship; if anything, later Rush was even more musically accomplished than the early Rush was. (If you asked me to play bass and sing “Turn the Page” at the same time, from “Hold Your Fire,” I think I’d cry. And I don’t really cry.)

The production values might change – but Rush generally tracked the current best practices, and if the older production was “better” then the industry wouldn’t have changed how it produced music.

Geddy’s voice got lower (at least, he sang in lower registers) and they added the “chorus of Geddys” – but given how many people chose to dislike Rush because of Geddy’s falsetto, you’d think that the later Rush would appeal more. Maybe the chorus of Geddys hurt somehow, but … I doubt it had that much of a potential effect. (I found it annoying in a lot of ways, but … not enough to say “gosh, enough of this.”)

That leaves a few remaining areas: song construction (which stabilized around the time of Grace Under Pressure into a song form of guitar-driven verses and synthesizer-driven choruses, although much of it debuted on Signals) and songwriting (i.e., lyrics).

The song construction might be a significant factor; Rush certainly used standard verse/chorus/bridge construction in their songwriting, but they’d been pretty progressive even so, mixing time signatures and choosing sequences that were often difficult to predict and were musically interesting. In the “lesser period” this seemed to be a trope of the band, so while the playing might be intriguing during one section or another, listeners could easily predict the next time signature or “feel” in a given song.

To my mind, though, song construction wasn’t the problem. After all, popular music (using the term loosely to cover most genres) has used similar constructs for a long, long, long, long time. Hundreds of years, maybe thousands. Rush didn’t create a new song construction; they created art, yes, but not some new way of constructing songs. They still used intros, segues, outros, verses, choruses, bridges, instrumental breaks, etc.

The possible problem, as it seemed to me, was songwriting.

When I think about … say, Hold Your Fire, I think that Rush is telling me how I should perceive things. When I listen to Permanent Waves, I think Rush is telling me how they perceive things. It ends up feeling like the “valley” period – the “lesser” period between Signals and Vapor Trails – is more preachy.

That does not imply that it’s not great music – to the contrary, looking at the lyrics for the “valley” period is an amazing experience, as a writer. Peart is an amazing lyricist; sure, there are a few songs where his effort shines through to the song’s detriment (“Dog Years,” “Virtuality”) but you also have beauties like “Bravado” and “The Pass,” “Alien Shore,” and “Everyday Glory” (a good example of a “preachy song.”) Even “Tai Shan” is a beautiful song even if it’s an awful Rush song.

But to me it felt like I should feel a certain way when listening to much of the music. You could feel Peart’s disdain for some modes of thought, and that feels unusual, when compared with something like Limelight – which should communicate disdain but doesn’t.

So from there we see my hypothesis: Rush’ fanbase preferred music that was less preachy, being a bunch of independent thinkers with fantastic taste.

How to validate that? Well, a survey, of course!

The Survey

Making the survey was really pretty hard. I knew what I wanted to do: I wanted to correlate what people wanted to listen to with their comfort at being told how they should think or feel.

But what does “comfort at being told how to think or feel” mean? How would I tell? And given the broad selection of songs in each era, how would I build a meaningful correlation?

Those are good questions, and I don’t think I answered them well.

What I did is obvious, if you’ve taken the survey; I collected information about “favorite studio album,” “favorite live album,” and political and religious leanings, as well as some very basic demographic data (i.e., educational level and geographical region). I wasn’t sure the latter questions would be worthwhile, but I thought they might be.

The problem is that I had to balance what I wanted to know with what people would be able to easily identify about themselves. If I asked what I actually wanted, then people might feel that I was being dismissive or intrusive, and they wouldn’t answer (or they wouldn’t answer honestly).

So I chose what I thought were neutral descriptions of political leanings, descriptions that I thought were pretty broadly understood: right, left, center, with right being concerned with upper class concerns and preservation of historical mores, left being concerned with lower class concerns and dismissal of historical mores in favor of change that favored the lower classes or minorities, and center being more independent or favoring middle class concerns.

Put in coarse form, right is conservative and Republican (if you’re in the United States), left is progressive or liberal (and Democrat), and center is more independent or Libertarian, choosing things on a more issue-by-issue basis.

This choice of representation was a mistake.

It’s far too coarse, and the truth is that the individual motivations about which I was concerned are simply too-fine-grained to be exposed through a “liberal/conservative” filter. My hypothesis centered around a core idea that said that the progressives were more willing to dictate and be dictated to, therefore more amenable to the “lesser” period, and the independents and conservatives were more willing to be more independent in thought.

While I was willing to happily concede that this isn’t necessarily a good mapping to political leanings, I thought that it would hold in the general sense, largely because of how I perceive the political parties in the US, which… don’t actually map well to “conservative” or “liberal” even though they might claim those labels.

So… let’s see the results, and then I’ll bore you with my conclusions.

The Results (i.e., the Fun Part)

I cannot begin to express how grateful I am to the Rush fanbase. I wanted 500 responses, and hoped for 100. I actually ended up with, at this writing, 436. That is freaking amazing.

However… the responses mostly confirmed how awesome Rush is, and how dominant the “golden era” is for the entire catalog.

298 of the 436 – a whopping 70% – chose an album from the “golden era” as their favorite. Moving Pictures dominated, with 81 (19%) choosing it; Hemispheres came in second place (with 65 votes, for 15%); the “least favorite” of the six albums was Signals (with 6%), and only two albums that were not in this period did better than the worst album in this period. Signals got 5.73% with 25 votes; Power Windows got 6.42% with 28 votes, and Clockwork Angels got 6.19% with 27.

I think it’s safe to say that the “golden era” was, in fact, dominant, despite people on r/java being willing to claim that Caress of Steel was their best album or whatever. The “valley period” only collected 86 total votes, for a whopping 20% of the overall votes despite having eight albums to choose from (poor Test for Echo got no votes at all!) – the “trailer period” starting with Vapor Trails got 49 (11%) votes all by itself despite only having three albums to choose from! (Feedback was the only other album to get no votes, which didn’t surprise me at all.)

(If you’re interested: Rush got two votes, Fly By Night got four, and Caress of Steel got nine.)

The live albums were more “interesting” than “relevant” for what I wanted to know, because I was trying to understand songwriting appeal. But with that said…

Exit… Stage Left is the clear winner. It got 113 votes (26%) for favorite live album; the two behind it in popularity (Rush in Rio and R40) got 50 and 52 votes, respectively. All the World’s A Stage was in fourth place, with 40 votes.

So even live, we see the dominance of the early “golden era,” with a resurgence around Rush’ return from Peart’s hiatus.

Now to the political leanings, where things fell apart badly…

First, the raw numbers. Most of the responding fan base was left-leaning with 43%. Centrists were close: 42%. Right-leaning and “other” were both pretty far back: right got 35 votes, and other got 28, with some identifying as “other” who might better have fit in other categories… but even then, most of the “other” would probably fit better in “left” or “center,” rather than as an even distribution.

The problem here is that everyone loves the golden era, regardless of their political self-identification. I needed to see larger trends, with something in the responses that said “someone who ticks this particular set of boxes is more likely to prefer songs from the later era to the songs from the ‘golden era.'”

I did not get that data; too many people preferred the golden era, regardless of political leanings.

Religion was interesting but not significant; that actually mapped pretty well to an actual cross-section of (primarily American) culture; 51% atheists, 17% other, 27% Christian, with a smattering of others sprinkled around. (I actually should have included agnosticism and “none” as choices here. I tried to add agnosticism, and “none” was wisely suggested by a survey participant, but it was too late at that point to change the survey.)

Education and region were red herrings for the survey as well. If you’re terribly interested in the results, I can write those up too, but honestly, they’re largely a cross-section as well and while it’s possible younger people would prefer the later stuff (with older people having more nostalgia for the ‘golden era’) there just weren’t enough people who liked the later albums to really generate correlations we could trust.

The Conclusion

The short form: Rush rocks.

My ability to write surveys… does not rock at all. It doesn’t even swing. Maybe it taps its feet out of time or something.

I don’t know if my hypothesis is necessarily wrong, because the data didn’t disprove it … but at the same time, my hypothesis received far too little data to actually be strengthened at all. So while it’s still my personal opinion that the songwriting got more “preachy” and that (along with nostalgia and a few other details regarding personal preferences) explains why I prefer the golden era to the more modern stuff. I think the bottom line is that Rush managed to resonate with people on a fantastic level during that period, with a noticeable dropoff afterward for a while, but got its groove back with Vapor Trails.

Rush is awesome, y’all, and so are you.

WebStorm tip

When you’re working with NodeJS in JetBrains’ excellent WebStorm IDE, don’t forget to configure your NodeJS environment properly.

I was using the default configuration, and it was warning me that process.env wasn’t imported, and needed to be. Everything ran okay, though, so I was not very pleased with the warning.

I want my warnings to tell me about things that I need to change. I don’t want to get used to ignoring them.

The problem is, as I already mentioned, the NodeJS configuration. By default, the NodeJS core library is not enabled; open up the Settings, go to Languages & Frameworks, then Node.js and NPM; for me it looks like this.


That “Node.js Core library is not enabled.” is the core element. Enable it, and all of a sudden the local variables like process resolve, and I’m a much happier coder because more of my warnings are actual warnings instead of incidentals.

First they came for.. but so what

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –

Because what could I do? There were lots of them, and one of me. So I left it up to someone else, who was surely better equipped and better informed than I. That way, not only was my burden lighter, but the ones who were best equipped could do the work in less time and with less effort than I could, and everyone wins, right?

With apologies to Martin Niemoller, who wrote “First they came…” It’s an inspirational poem. Pay attention to it. What you can do, you should do. It’s better to try and fail than it is to decide the effort isn’t worth it; I’d rather have someone who tried to climb a mountain that was too high than someone who shrugged and didn’t even try.

It brings to mind Rush’s “Bravado” (“We will pay the price, but we will not count the cost”.)

The question is: where do you do? The thing that got me thinking about this was another meme on Facebook, saying “What if police cars had ‘Inshallah’ instead of ‘In God we Trust'” or something like that, then saying “That’s how atheists feel!”

Well… in that case, atheists aren’t worried about it and aren’t inspired to post stupid memes on Facebook, right? Because if I saw that, I’d feel about like I do when I see Christian themes: I’m not worried about it. Maybe I’m even inspired some. Certainly my faith, such that it is, isn’t so externally driven that I’m shaken by something that someone else, even a group of someone elses, says… even when that “someone else” might be the government.

Maybe I should worry; after all, the Holocaust wasn’t built in a day. But at the same time, I have a greater trust in humanity than others do, I guess: ironic that these atheists say man is inherently good but refuse to trust, while as a Jew I’m supposed to assume that man is ignorant yet I am able to trust my fellow humans…

How I See Rush’s Albums from Ten Thousand Feet

This is how I think of Rush’s entire studio catalog, in short summaries.


This is a set of young rockers trying to follow their dreams. Raw, immature, full of pride and purpose. Surprisingly good, especially when you consider that “Working Man” was an earnest staple of the band for their entire career.

Fly By Night

Sophomore effort; apparently switching drummers to the new guy worked out. The sound’s a lot lighter, the playing is far less raw, and the topics are much better than on “Rush”, even though it still had songs like “Rivendell” on it. This is a band trying to figure out its new sound, and it’s working.

Caress of Steel

This is a band indulging itself after Fly By Night; it’s almost like they said, “Hey, Fly By Night worked, let’s do that, but more of it.” It sounds indulgent in retrospect, but it’s still Rush and it’s got some great stuff on it – Bastille Day, The Necromancer, even The Fountain of Lamneth has value despite the indulgence. The sound didn’t grow a ton from Fly By Night to Caress of Steel, and neither did the writing… they grew some, but not much. It ends up feeling uncommitted.


Commitment time! With Caress of Steel feeling unfulfilled and the band teetering on the edge, the guys decided to go for it and do what it feels like they really wanted. Instead of trying to figure out what someone else wanted, they did what they wanted to do, and gosh, it seems to have worked. The sound was a little better than on Caress of Steel – the sound really hadn’t taken a leap yet – but the playing and writing is very, very strong. This one might be a classic.

A Farewell to Kings

An album produced by the confidence gained through 2112 and a successful live album. It sounds like they were inspired by doing well when they did what they felt like doing. It’s a confident album. It also had a giant leap in sound quality with Cygnus X-1. They introduced more instruments, too – the synths finally started really rearing their heads, becoming core parts of Xanadu and other songs. The synths were an interloper in the sound spectrum; this becomes important.


Wait, did we say A Farewell to Kings was confident? Then Hemispheres takes that confidence and multiplies it by ten. This feels like they decided to challenge themselves to do listenable progressive rock, yet still propelled forward by things other than pastoral sounds. The actual sound of the album is a little fuzzy, a little dark (where’s the sustain on Geddy’s bass?) but the album itself… you either love it to death or hate it. (I love it. Probably my favorite Rush album.) The synths were still trying to find out where they went, though; La Villa Strangiato won with them, Circumstances… used them. But when Circumstances is the weakest song on your album, you have a winner.

Permanent Waves

They finally moved away from the indulgence of prog rock. Tightened the songs dramatically. Also opened up the sound a good bit, and the synths fit well here. If Hemispheres wasn’t the perfect Rush album, Permanent Waves was.

Note that this is a crappy summary. Permanent Waves is a freaking great album. Natural Science, Freewill, Spirit of Radio, Jacob’s Ladder (which gave me chills, seeing it live on their last tour), Different Strings, Entre Nous… all fantastic songs. And that’s every song on the album.

Moving Pictures

Here, they took Permanent Waves and amped it up again. The sound is brighter and entirely … Moving Pictures. This is Rush’ best-sounding album – it’s also one of the best sounding albums (IMO) from anyone, anywhere, and it’s built on nothing but fantastic songs all the way through. The synths are still lurking, still looking for where to really be used, but they’re just right – just like everything is on this album. If Permanent Waves wasn’t the perfect Rush album, Moving Pictures was.

And if we’re telling the truth, Moving Pictures is the perfect Rush album.


Signals is what happens when you don’t know where else to go – and you choose a different direction. The underused synths from Moving Pictures took the limelight, so to speak, and the sonic spectrum suffered dramatically for it – the synths collided with everything, drowning out the drums (which sound muddier than ever before, even compared to Hemispheres) and the guitars (Rush had a guitarist?). It’s a great album, really; the music as written is fantastic, but the sound really hurt it. If Moving Pictures wasn’t the perfect Rush album, Permanent Waves was. Not Signals.

Rush chose to go a different way with Signals – on later albums, they would just stick with what worked. I liked the choice they made here, even if the sound suffered from it. I wish they’d have been as adventurous later. Apart from Vapor Trails and Snakes and Arrows, this is the last experimental album Rush made (and neither of those later albums was as experimental as Signals, for Rush’s sound.)

Signals was my introduction to Rush – from here I went to Hemispheres and then to… everything.

Grace Under Pressure

Grace Under Pressure was an album where they tried to figure out how to fit synths in with everything else, trying to craft their sound. The synths actually tried to duck the guitar (which was what hurt Signals) and the bass (now a Steinberger headless, not sure what model) also tried to dodge the drums. The band was trying to find the perfect mix again, but with more instruments to choose from. Songwriting was still very tight; Peart sounds like he’d pretty much done everything he wanted to do, from a drummer’s perspective, and was basically playing around (something that had started on Signals.) Geddy went from a melodic bass approach (where every line was a melody, duh) to more of a traditional bass player’s approach, where he was holding down the low end of the sound when he wasn’t playing keyboards. Song construction stabilized; guitars, then synths in the chorus, lots of ringing guitar chords.

Geddy changed his singing technique – his deep vibrato started to disappear at this point. I missed it.

Power Windows

Grace Under Pressure, amplified. Clearer sound than Grace Under Pressure, still great songs, but it feels like they just did Grace Under Pressure with newer instruments and more of them. I think it’s still the Steinberger bass, but it doesn’t matter. (Later research: nope, it’s his Wal bass, which he used for this and the next three albums.) It’s still got little meat because it’s trying to dodge the drums.

Hold Your Fire

More of Power Windows’ attitude of “let’s run with this synth thing.” The sound is great, even though I find Geddy’s Wal bass to be really weak here, and the snare was… weird. Alex’ sound was meatless because of the sonic spectrum. Great playing, but still strangely lifeless. This album is sort of the Grace Under Pressure’s gutless grandchild; the genes are there, but the heart isn’t, even though the songwriting, as usual, is about as good as you could hope for. (Song construction was still kinda boring, with the same guitar-driven then synth-driven shifts throughout.)

Geddy’s enunciation during this period drove me nuts. “Hold yuh fiyuh,” indeed. Thankfully, this was a vocal tic that lasted for only this and the live album that accompanied it.


At last! Back to guitar rock! The song construction finally changed, and the band sounds like they’re trying to work out how to get back to playing with meat. It’s not here – this album sounds really light, apart from subject matter – but they’re searching for the sound again instead of saying “Where is it? Let’s add a synthesizer.” Who knew Rush had a guitarist?

Roll The Bones

Having rediscovered that they have one of rock and roll’s unheralded heroes at guitar, they decided to use him. More bass (and low end, period) than Presto, it’s a funny, great album. Good mix, but still a little top-heavy. Ged’s still on the Wal. Neil still sounds like he’s searching for a reason to play the drums.


Having rediscovered that they have one of rock and roll’s unheralded heroes on bass, they decided to put him in the mix… big time. Geddy finally abandoned the Wal and went to a good bass for him, his Jazz. One of Rush’s better bass guitar sounds. Very heavy album, almost a reaction to how light the previous six albums had sounded. Has “Alien Shore” on it, which would make any album good. It’s still only a decent Rush album, though. (Most bands wish they had something as good as this.)

Test for Echo

This is where the song construction finally overtook the songwriting. (This was a one-album phase, thank goodness.) The songwriting here feels… tired. The playing’s pretty good, even Neil sounds interested on drums (he started taking lessons from Freddie Gruber for this album). The sound itself is a little raw, but still mature – it’s a good, bright sound. Not as good as Moving Pictures, but few albums are. This album was a Rush album – again, most bands would kill to have something as good as this, but for Rush, it’s another album that’s good to listen to, but it’s also “meh” because of high expectations.

Vapor Trails

Years have passed, with much tragedy for Neil, between Test for Echo and Vapor Trails. The sound took a giant, giant, humongous leap backwards – this can be a hard album to listen to, because of the recording quality (everything is brickwalled). Very few examples of dynamics, and even when they’re there (“Secret Touch,” “Ghost Rider”) they’re still pretty much brickwalled. Everyone is playing incredibly hard the whole way through – Alex sounds like he’s kinda where Neil was on the prior seven albums (“What’s left to do? Oh, I’ll noodle.”) but Neil’s playing like a man who needs an income again. Unfortunately, he’s also playing like he’s done most of what can be done.

I totally love this album. If not for the sonic quality, I’d have it on a pedestal along with the “Golden Era” albums from 2112 through Grace Under Pressure – and given that it sounds like Rush was actually interested again, it probably belongs on the pedestal despite the sound quality. And if you’re wondering, I actually find I still prefer the original flawed release; the remaster sounds much better but I love the rawness of the original.

With this album, we started seeing more live stuff from Rush than studio work. Rush is a great live band, but… I wanted studio albums more than live.


“Hey, let’s record an album of covers so we can make a lot of money on tour! Maybe we can go on tour again afterwards just so we can promote that we were on tour! And then go on tour! Where’s my money?”

Let’s just say that while I like a lot of these songs and am always super-excited when Rush gives me stuff to listen to… I was not impressed.

Snakes and Arrows

New producer who doesn’t want the band to rest on its laurels in any way, Neil’s actually invested in lyrics again… Nick R. wanted the sounds to harken back to the classic sounds from the band (so you get echoes of every great Rush album here, it feels like), so in some ways it sounds like they’ve freshened up a ton of their catalog… and it all works. Great mix, great songwriting, adventurous. Their best album since Moving Pictures, in my opinion, although if I had to make a choice between this and Signals, Signals would probably win.

Clockwork Angels

Let’s do Snakes and Arrows, except in a concept album! It’s actually really good, but the sound didn’t mature much from Snakes and Arrows, and the concept album part felt a little lazy to me. It’s still a great album, and it’s definitely something for the pantheon, but it’s not a competitor for “best album” like Snakes and Arrows would be.

And the endless “give us money” tours preceding and following the album finally broke Neil for the road.

My rules for social media

Recently, a fellow I know on Facebook mentioned unfriending someone (for very good reasons), and it got me thinking a little more on the rules on how I use the site.

I find that I have four fairly simple rules.

Rule #1: Add People I Might Respect as Friends

I add people who I think I would respect in real life as friends, and follow them. It means I don’t have a giant list of friends, I suppose, but it does tend to mean that when I have someone on my list, it’s someone whose name I would recognize in real life.

I add them because I know them (in real life) or I came across them through their interactions with others (i.e., friends of friends) and would want to interact with them.

It generally doesn’t matter if I agree with them or not, although there are some simple metrics that would probably prevent my bothering with them, I guess. A friend of a friend who constantly refers to and as God’s given truth is probably not someone with whom I’d interact. (It’s not that those sites cannot say something true, but they’re so typically slanted that … ugh.)

It happens that I add people who I get to know better over time, and … who knows? Maybe I regret it, but I’m not a fan of surrounding myself with people with whom I do nothing but agree. I don’t want to be expected to comply with someone else’s ideology; why would I demand someone comply with mine? (See Rule #3.)

Rule #2: No “Likes”

I use Facebook’s “Like” feature very very rarely. The general rule for me is that if I might “like” it, I’ll choose to share it or comment on it instead. This goes for everything; posts, comments, whatever.

It’s not that “Like” isn’t useful – it’s been designed to show a response to a posting, after all, and it’s gotten more nuanced than it was.

In general, though, I don’t want Facebook altering my feed based on what it thinks I will respond to.

Rule #3: No Unfriending

I want a heterogenous culture surrounding me. I want different viewpoints. I want different opinions. I want people to challenge me intellectually and emotionally. I don’t want a horde of potential sycophants providing content.

If I thought enough of you to add you as a friend, regardless of what wacko thoughts you had rolling in your head, then I trust myself enough to keep you as a friend.

This doesn’t mean that I will never unfriend someone, I guess, but it happens very rarely. (I don’t remember the last time I unfriended someone.)

I will, however, stop following people under some conditions, mostly related to problems with Rule #4.

Rule #4: Avoid Discussions with People Ruled by Emotion

When someone shows that their decision processes are ruled by emotion, I stop interacting with them.

Facebook has a lot of people on it who seem dominated by rage and offense. (I don’t think they’re this way in real life – but on social media, some aspects of personality are emphasized to cartoonish levels. People who don’t recognize this really need to stay off of social media altogether, but that means 99% of Facebook would have to quit.)

The truth is that a lot of the rage is probably justified. In the last week, we had the “Stanford Rapist” – a rapist who received an outlandishly short jail sentence – and the Orlando mass murder at the Pulse nightclub.

Both situations were horrifying, in different ways; both deserved a visceral response.

Spoiler alert: they got their responses.

However, the nature of the responses – especially through discussion – tells me a lot about the person with whom I might interact.

It doesn’t bother me if they’re emotional; these are emotionally laden events! Anyone who can read about a rape without emotion is a robot. Anyone who reads about 49 people killed and has no feeling of horror… that’s someone desensitized to being human.

My thought is: feel the emotion! Understand it – and then act rationally. Emotion is a perfectly valid stimulus for decision-making.

It’s a terrible sole source for decisions, though, just like “pure reason” would be.

The world’s not simple, folks. Emotion wants simplicity; the killer used guns? NO MOAR GUNS! FOR ANYONE! EVAR! The rapist was a white man? NO MORE WHITE MAN! ALL WHITE MEN ARE THREATS!

That’s stupid. That kind of insistence on trigger-laden decision making is something that I can’t deal with.

I recognize the validity of the emotion; it’s emotional, after all. It’s not that the person echoing these sentiments is unjustifiable, or invalid, or stupid. I don’t want to say “don’t feel what you feel” – that’d be wrong.

But reacting that way tends to lead to them telling me that I shouldn’t feel what I feel. That’s just as wrong as me telling them how to feel.

So once they show themselves willing to accept this kind of decision-making, I … simply … stop. I don’t tell them they’re wrong. I don’t inform them of their error. I don’t tell them that I’m not talking to them any more. I don’t unfriend or unfollow them.

I just watch and listen. I still (probably) value their expertise and humanity in other ways, after all. I just can’t interact with them without endangering their perceived safe spaces, and I don’t want to bother with their emotions. They’re not my emotions, after all, and if they’re not willing to treat me with rationality, well, I’m okay with that. I don’t want to inflict my views on them any more than I want them to demand that I comply with their views.


So there you have it; my basic four rules for social media. There are more, realistically:

  1. I try not to insult people (although it happens, because I’m sarcastic and have a very dry sense of humor).
  2. I try to avoid personalizing religion. I have no problem discussing religion, but it’s removed; I’ll explain religious orthodoxy but I won’t demand compliance to it (especially if it’s not, you know, my religion.) People have to make up their own minds. I despise ignorance; someone claiming a blood libel’s truth is going to get an explanation of the blood libel, but I’ll leave my own history with it (if any) out of the discussion unless it’s explicitly relevant.
  3. I try to write formally and precisely. This gets me in a lot of trouble, because people don’t know how to read precisely. (“My initial reaction was…” doesn’t mean “this is how I feel,” it means it was my initial reaction.)

How do you govern yourself on social media?

Facebook: good and bad… really bad

I find I have a difficult relationship with [Facebook](https://wwwfacebookcom/josephottinger) I think Facebook has a lot of potential value, but with so many people using it so differently, it ends up taking almost as much as it gives. It not only gives me a neutral environment to interact with friends from my distant past – people from middle school whom I still remember fondly! It’s given me a chance to see old friends’ lives – as their careers and their children mature. It’s given me a chance to vicariously participate in the things that matter to them – graduations, successes, failures. I’ve had closure for things from years and years ago – conversations with people who had tried to bully me, whether ignorantly or not. It’s given us a chance to see each other as people, actual adults, as opposed to the caricatures created by first impressions of strangers. Facebook is excellent at fostering light connections, but such connections do a poor job of representing actual *people* – including me. On Facebook, an offhand statement, meant mildly and in context, appears as a core belief, a statement I am willing to defend to the death and because of the nature of first impressions, no amount of context changes that impression. Incidentally, I think libertarians who advocate anarchy are wrong, although I do think a society composed *solely* of people with decent rational self-interest could exist and prosper in pure anarchy. But Facebook readers *tend* to not recognize that continuum and its potential for growth and refinement. ) But at the same time, in America we advocate innocence until guilt is proven – and Facebook ignores the potential innocence. I’m tempted to filter Facebook quite a bit – spend a few days looking at who posts most often on my feed, and what they post.

I find I have a difficult relationship with Facebook. I think Facebook has a lot of potential value, but with so many people using it so differently, it ends up taking almost as much as it gives.

Facebook: Some of the Good

The good of Facebook comes in the connectivity. It not only gives me a neutral environment to interact with friends from my distant past – people from middle school whom I still remember fondly! – but it exposes me to a wide variety of outlooks and experiences I wouldn’t have encountered otherwise.

It’s given me a chance to see old friends’ lives – as their careers and their children mature. It’s given me a chance to vicariously participate in the things that matter to them – graduations, successes, failures. It gives me a chance to commiserate and congratulate, even though years and miles separate us.

I’ve had closure for things from years and years ago – conversations with people who had tried to bully me, whether ignorantly or not, for example. It’s given us a chance to see each other as people, actual adults, as opposed to the caricatures created by first impressions of strangers.

It’s given me a chance to meet new people with common interests – the YYNOT “band” (they’re not really a band, but they create videos of cover songs for Rush, even though the people involved are separated by thousands of miles in most cases.)

It’s given me a chance to see others’ agony and interests – and question my own reactions. In some small ways, it’s helped me define myself, in how I see the world, in the things I value, and in the things I could do better.

Facebook: Some of the Bad

At the same time, it’s frustrated me. Facebook is excellent at fostering light connections, but such connections do a poor job of representing actual people – including me. On Facebook, an offhand statement, meant mildly and in context, appears as a core belief, a statement I am willing to defend to the death… and because of the nature of first impressions, no amount of context changes that impression.

People on Facebook don’t get to know each other – they get to know caricatures.

It’s easy to look at oneself in the mirror, and say “I know myself, I know what I like and don’t like, I know who I am,” and maybe that’s even accurate. The problem Facebook propagates is that the impressions formed by things people post on Facebook are perceived as being just as accurate as that self-image – thus, you might see my (hopefully) carefully worded statement advocating caution in judgement, and it becomes an erroneous impression that I defend actions that are, in the end, indefensible.

Those impressions are not accurate. They’re one piece in a puzzle that has two thousand other pieces. Even if that piece is horrifying (“I’m voting for Donald Trump!”) it doesn’t actually say all that much about someone – it’s just one piece of data among thousands. During the Cold War, the Russians loved their children, just as we loved ours.

Plus, people don’t seem to expect growth and self-examination on Facebook. I am not who I was ten years ago – some would argue that I’m barely who I was ten minutes ago. I have no problem saying “This is what I believe,” and learning from that point on. For example, I’m a libertarian – but people, including many libertarians, associate libertarianism with an advocacy of anarchy! So when I participate in a conversation, I see it as a conversation in a continuum, where I start from one position and may change over time, refining, rejecting, accepting points as they arise. But Facebook readers tend to not recognize that continuum and its potential for growth and refinement.

I also find that I tend to de-emphasize conflict where I can. When someone says “This sucks!,” my modus operandi tends to be to try to identify with the author (the one saying “this sucks”) and the objectified target. For example, when news first came out of a controversial family advocate’s hypocrisy, my stance was caution – we didn’t know what the terms used meant to the people involved.

For example, “Personicus Frankus had an affair!” might mean that Mssr. Frankus looked at a woman not his wife in a way that he would say was improper a la Jimmy Carter’s “adultery”, or it might mean that he had conducted actual relations with her… you know, the traditional meaning of “had an affair,” which Bill Clinton might have described as “not having sexual relations.” But to the people accusing Mr. Frankus, there was far more outrage at the potential hypocrisy – even though the actions he was accused of undertaking wouldn’t have offended any of them had he not publicly stood against them.

I understand both points of view; the hypocrisy bothers me, too. (A lot.) But at the same time, in America we advocate innocence until guilt is proven – and Facebook ignores the potential innocence.

It encourages clickbait, snap judgements, and purely emotional decision-making.

(I also find it humorous that someone who rushes to judgement in one post might then suggest empathy and understanding in the next post – “Those evil Republicrats are all going to Hell because they want to take away a label on fat content of cofferdams!”, and then “Can’t we all just get along? Look at these cute cats. I love everyone.” One can only presume that “everyone” doesn’t include those who disagree about labeling fat content of cofferdams.)

I’m tempted to filter Facebook quite a bit – spend a few days looking at who posts most often on my feed, and what they post. If their posts lack nuance or empathy, then I might remove them from the feed… but this strikes me as a really sad action to take, largely because the action itself lacks empathy.

I don’t want to protect myself from those around me. I want to be open and strong. I want to challenge myself to grow, and I can’t do that with a chorus of voices agreeing with me in unison. (With that, I only exacerbate my flaws. I don’t like my flaws. I want to get rid of them. I want to discover my weaknesses, and address them, not hide them.)

But at the same time, I find my agony, inspired by the travails and protests so easily lodged in public, is hardly endurable. I want to encourage collaboration and healing, maturation and empathy… and I feel like I’m one voice, whispering in a crowd of screamers. What frustrates me is that I have no choice; screaming for moderation is… uh… a flawed action. And refusing to stand up for moderation is irresponsible.

A New Maven Archetype for Starter Project

I’ve recently put together a new Maven archetype, based on something I saw in Freenode’s ##java channel a few weeks ago. Basically, someone had built their own archetype for “standard projects,” with a few sensible dependencies and defaults, and while I thought it was a worthwhile effort, it didn’t fit what I found myself typically doing.

So I built my own, at

Primary features are:

  • Java 8 as a default Java version
  • Typical dependencies
  • Maven Shade

Java 8

Look, Java 7 and older has been end-of-lifed; you can pay Oracle for support and fixes, but you shouldn’t unless you have a real reason to do so. Java 8 is the current Java version. You should be using it, and so should I. Therefore, I do.

It’s an unfortunate aspect of Maven that it defaults to an older version of the Java specification. My starter archetype presumes you want to live in the current year.

Typical Dependencies

My starter archetype has seven dependencies; they are the ones I either include without thinking about it (because I know I’m going to want or need them), or they’re the dependencies that are so common that few projects would blink at their inclusion.

The dependencies are organized into three groups: runtime dependencies, one compile-time dependency, and testing dependencies.

The compile-time dependency is Lombok; it helps remove boilerplate from Java code, so I can build a Java object with mutators, accessors, toString(), hashCode(), and equals() very simply:

public class Thing {
    // public String getName() and setString(String name) are built for me through Lombok
    String name;

The runtime dependencies are Guava, Logback, and Apache’s commons-lang3. Guava and commons-lang3 have a lot of overlap, but both are very common; logback is a logging library that leverages slf4j, so it’s a workable default logging library that doesn’t force you to stick with it if you don’t like it.

All together, they use up roughly 3.5MB of disk space for a starting classpath, with Guava using 2.3MB of it. Given how useful Guava, et al, are, I think this is entirely worthwhile; most projects will have these libraries (or something nearly like them), so it’s acceptable.

The testing libraries are TestNG, assertj, and H2.

It’s arguable that JUnit 5 might have caught up to TestNG in a lot of ways, but there are still some features I really like from TestNG that JUnit doesn’t have built-in support for (namely, data providers – although note that there is a project that provides data provider support for JUnit, unsurprisingly called junit-dataprovider).

AssertJ is a set of fluent assertions for Java. It’s not necessary – for example, I’ve used TestNG’s innate assertions for years without a problem – but the fluent assertion style is rather nice. The actual dependency is assertj-guava – which includes the base library for assertj – but I chose assertj-guava because of the inclusion of Guava as a default runtime dependency.

H2 is an embedded database. I use embedded databases so much for first-level integration tests that it seemed silly not to include it; I have a lot of sandbox projects that don’t use H2, but as soon as I do anything with a database, this gets included, so it makes sense as a trivial “default testing library.”

Maven Shade

I wanted to be able to generate an executable jar by default, not because I do that very much, but because it seemed to be a sane default. (Usually, my starter projects exist to support a test that demonstrates a feature, as opposed to being an independently useful project.)

Because I wanted others to be able to see more use out of my starter project, I added Maven Shade to create a viable entry point and an executable jar.

Using the archetype

Right now, you’d need to run the following sequence at least once to use the archetype:

git clone
cd starter-archetype
mvn install

Then, to build a project with the archetype, you’d run:

mvn archetype:generate \
    -DarchetypeGroupId=com.autumncode \
    -DarchetypeArtifactId=starter-archetype \

Future Enhancements

It’s still very much a work in progress. Things I’d like to do:

  • Migrate into the main Maven repositories (publish, in other words)
  • Add publishing support to the archetype itself
  • Include better throwaway demonstrations of the dependencies (a difficult task, as the default classes are meant to be thrown away en masse)
  • Figure out better default libraries, if possible

You’re welcome to fork the project, create issues, comment, use with wild abandon, as you like. It’s licensed under the Apache Source License, 2.0.