Review: King Leopold’s Ghost (Adam Hochschild)

King Leopold’s Ghost has the most compelling opening I have ever read

 

The beginnings of this story lie far back in time, and its reverberations still sound today. But for me a central incandescent moment,  one that illuminates long decades before and after, is a young man’s flash of moral recognition.

The year is 1897 or 1898.  Try to imagine him, briskly stepping off a cross-Channel steamer, a forceful, burly man in his mid-twenties, with a handlebar mustache.  He is confident and well spoken, but his British speech is without the polish of Eton or Oxford.  He is well dressed, but the clothes are not from Bond Street.  With an ailing mother and a wife and growing family to support, he is not the sort of person likely to get caught up in an idealistic cause.  His ideas are thoroughly conventional.  He looks-and is- every inch the sober, respectable business man.

Edmund Dene Morel is a trusted employee of a Liverpool shipping line.  A subsidiary of the company has the monopoly on all transport of cargo to and from the Congo Free State, as it is then called, the huge territory in central Africa that is the world’s only colony claimed by one man.  That man is King Leopold II of Belgium, a ruler much admired throughout Europe as a “philanthropic” monarch.  He has welcomed Christian missionaries to his new colony; his troops, it is said, have fought and defeated local slave-traders who preyed on the population; and for more than a decade European newspapers have praised him for investing his personal fortune in public works to benefit the Africans.

Because Morel speaks fluent French, his company sends him to Belgium every few weeks to supervise the loading and unloading of ships on the Congo run.  Although the officials he works with have been handling this shipping traffic for years without a second thought, Morel begins to notice things that unsettle him.  At the docks of the big port of Antwerp he sees his company’s ships arriving filled to the hatch covers with valuable cargoes of rubber and ivory.  But they case off their hawsers to steam back to the Congo, while military bands play on the pier and eager young men in uniform line the ships’ rails, what they carry is mostly army officers, firearms, and ammunition.  There is no trade going on here.  Little or nothing is being exchanged for the rubber and ivory.  As morel watches these riches streaming to Europe with almost no goods being sent to Africa to pay for them, he realizes there can be only one explanation for their source: slave labor.

Brought face to face with evil, Morel does not turn away.  Instead, what he sees determines the course of his life and course of an extraordinary movement, the first great international human rights movement of the twentieth century.  Seldom has one human being- impassioned, eloquent, blessed with brilliant organizing skills and nearly superhuman energy- managed almost single-handedly to put one subject on the world’s front pages for more than a decade.  Only a few years after standing on the docks of Antwerp, Edmund Morel would be at the White House, insisting to President Theodore Roosevelt that the United States had a special responsibility to do something about the Congo.  He would organize delegations to the British Foreign Office.  He would mobilize everyone from Booker T. Washington to Anatole France to the Archbishop of Canterbury to join his cause.  More than two hundred mass meetings to protest slave labor in the Congo would be held across the United Sates.  A larger number of gatherings in England- nearly three hundred a year at the crusade’s peak- would raw as many as five thousand people at a time.  In London, one letter of protest to the Times on the Congo would be signed by eleven peers, nineteen bishops, seventy-six members of Parliament, the presidents of seven Chambers of Commerce, thirteen editors of major newspapers, and every lord mayor in the country.  Speeches about the horrors of King Leopold’s Congo would be given as far away as Australia.  In Italy, two men would fight a duel over the issue.  British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, a man not given to overstatement, would declare that “no external question for at least thirty years has moved the country so strongly and so vehemently.”

This is the story of that movement, of the savage crime that was its target, of the long period of exploration and conquest that preceded it, and of the way the world has forgotten one of the great mass killings of recent history.

This kind of thing is my heroism porn. Most movies are about people that set out to be heroes; they look at the costs and benefits and decide it is a trade off worth making.  That is great, and I don’t want to diminish it.  But they can build their lives around it, and that does reduce the costs.  What I find most affecting is people that were living ordinary lives who encounter something they cannot let stand, and don’t.  It was particularly touching in the case of Morel, who didn’t have to know what he knew.  Lots of people were on that dock and didn’t know or didn’t care.  He figured it out and switched tracks in his life when it would have been easy to pretend everything was okay. Everyone I talked to for the last two weeks heard how beautiful I found that.   I used the story to talk myself into doing things that were a little bit hard because they were so much less hard than what Morel did.

Here’s the story I told:  Under a humanitarian guise that fooled most Europeans at the time, Leopold created a form of slavery even worse than that of North America or even the Caribbean.  Men were worked to death attempting to free their wives and children from slavery.  Against that, Edward Morel and and increasing number of allies publicize the atrocities until Leopold backs down.  

This would be a really good story, and it’s what I thought was happening for most of the book, even while my knowledge that the modern Congo isn’t all sunshine and roses gnawed at me.  

In the last hour, it gets more complicated.     Yes, slavery went away and the rubber harvest (driver of much of the atrocities) declined.  But… the rubber decline could have been caused entirely by cultivated rubber farms coming online.  And Belgium may have stopped anything called slavery, they got about the same amount of financial value for about the same amount of violence out of their taxation system.  I realize the phrases “taxation is slavery” and “taxation is theft” are fairly loaded, but I think everyone can agree that people coming in from elsewhere to demand taxes and provide nothing of value to their subjects is Bad.  

And while there are the statistics that make the Congo look particularly bad, they’re mostly an artifact of size.  Per capita the other European powers in Africa were just as bad, and at the same time England (Morel’s home) was exterminating aborigines in Australia and America was going scorched earth on the Philippines (plus its usual policy towards American Indians).  

I could forgive Morel for advocating for a gentler form of colonialism.  People can only be so much better than their time, and a more correct person possibly couldn’t have accomplished as much because no one would listen to them. But my admiration for this man was very tied to the fact that he saw something he didn’t have to see, and chose to pursue it.  If he was blinding to himself to similar atrocities closer to home- especially when a great deal of African colonization, including Leopold’s rape of the Congo, was done under the guise of protecting Africans from Arab Slave Traders.

We don’t know Morel did nothing.  He went on to lead the pacifist movement against WW1, which was probably the right side but it’s even harder to argue he changed history for the better there.  But we don’t know he did something either.

This is a disappointing ending for a man I was well into planning how to get a Petrov-day style holiday.  He did better than average at seeing the horrors in front of him, but still not the ones that were done by his in-group.  It’s debatable if he accomplished anything.  He still sacrificed a lot, but I’m not prepared to valorize that alone.  It’s not even a good effective altruist cautionary tale because even with 100 years of hindsight it’s not clear what he could have done better.  Even focusing on Leopold’s horrors instead of England’s might have been the correct decision, since it let him gather stronger allies.

The book is beautifully written and read.  For whatever reason I was sadder and less callous listening to this than I am to most atrocities- maybe it was the writing, maybe because it was entirely new to me and I hadn’t had time to develop a shell.  And as heartbroken as I was to have my new hero brought down, I really admire the book for being willing to include that complexity when it could have gotten away with ignoring it.  So I can’t recommend it highly enough, assuming you want to be very sad.

“But they’ve repaid the debt several times over”

This gets repeated a lot in Debt (David Graeber), and in the world in general.  It annoys me.

Would you rather have $100 now, or in a month?  I’m guessing now, unless your tax circumstances are about to change drastically.  How much additional money would it take for you to prefer payment in a month?  $10?  $15?  What if there were transactions costs to receive payment were significant?  What if there was risk involved?  The fact that you would rather have money sooner than later is known as the time value of money.

This is the principle behind interest on a loan: you’re compensating the lender for them not having the money until later.

How much of an increase would you need to agree to delay receiving some money by 50 years, instead of $100 now?  I’m guessing it is a lot.  Many times the original $100.  The implication of the phrase “but they’ve repaid the debt several times over” is that this is morally wrong.  But if you’re not referencing the timespan on which that repayment took place, the statement is meaningless.  To compare apples to apples you need to do a present value calculation, which tells you the equivalent of what they paid if it had been delivered as a lump sum at the beginning.

This statement often gets entangled with the idea of usury (unfairly or immorally high interest rates).  I am not a big fan of the usury taboo: you’re not hurting someone by giving them the option to take a loan .  The counterargument is that deal was opaque (which is a fair criticism) or that the borrowers circumstances were so bad they had no choice.  Which is definitely a thing, but… maybe we should fix the problem at that end?  Much like debt forgiveness this appears to be a call to give poor countries/people more money, with a layer of obfuscation added by debt.  I am extremely curious why this seems to be more attractive than my solution “just give them money”.

Debt: The First 5000 Years (David Graeber)

This book seriously changed my thinking when I first read it, and I’ve shared many cool ideas from it, but I’ve found that when the ideas are challenged I don’t know enough to defend them.  So I’m going to reread the book and really dig in, with the following goals:

  1. Understand and be able articulate Graeber’s ideas without ambiguity
  2. Look up the data he cites and opposing arguments
  3. Update my beliefs based on what I learn

And I’m going to publish it here, probably chapter by chapter but if I need to break it down smaller I will.

What I publish will be a mix of “my understanding of his arguments”, “steelmen of his arguments”, “his argument updated by other things I know” and “things this made me think about”.  I will try to make it obvious what’s my opinion and what is his, but the application of the principle of charity is inevitably biased by what I consider charitable.

A few people have expressed interest in doing a small group chat over Whatever, in response to my “talk to me for an hour” offer.  If there’s enough interest, this strikes me as a good topic for that, so let me know if you’re interested.

And now, Debt: The Introduction.

You know what would be helpful?  A definition of debt.  Here is my idealized definition of debt:

Person A has a way to spend money to make more money later, but not the initial starting money (capital).  Person B has money, but no way to spend it to make more money.  Person B gives person B the money and A gives B money on a set schedule, up to a certain amount.  Everyone is better off.  Hurray.  The difference between debt and investment is that debts are owed no matter what, whereas in investment the risk is shared.

Graeber definitely isn’t using that definition.  There are a number of examples he gives that make me want to scream the chronological distribution of payment is not the issue here.  E.g.:

  • France billed Madagascar for their own invasion, and for the building of infrastructure they didn’t want.  Madagascar not having the cash on hand to pay them, this became a debt paid by onerous taxes.  Graeber claims Madagascar is still paying France, but I don’t trust him that this is the same bill.  He provides no source for this claim and I couldn’t find one.  But the wikipedia article on the subject makes it sounds like France had a bit of a dust up and somehow found itself running Madagascar, so I’m not convinced it’s unbiased.
  • France billed Haiti for the property damaged and confiscated during the Haitian slave rebellion, and convinced the rest of the world to embargo Haiti (unclear how long this lasted).  Haiti finished paying this in 1947.  No seriously, they had to pay France for no longer being slaves.
  • A Japanese legend about a woman who committed various commercial misdeeds, including loaning rice with a small cup and reclaiming it with a large cup.  The problem here is theft by deception.
  • Also in Madagascar: in the early 80s Madagascar had a resurgence of malaria, after almost wiping it out, because they couldn’t pay for their anti-malaria programs any more.  Graeber blames the IMF, which imposed austerity in order to refinance loans made by first world banks to Madagascar.  He makes no mention of whether Madagascar would have been able to pay for mosquito programs absent the loans.
  • As late as the 1970s, moneylenders in the Himalayas would take borrowers’ daughters as collateral and rape them as interest payments.  (source: “Galey 1983”, which probably exists because google scholar found other citations to it, but not the piece itself).  No one would have been happier if fathers had the ability to compel their daughters into prostitution proactively.
  • Graeber’s strongest point is that much of the debt owed by third world countries was taken by dictators and used for either personal enrichment or to repress the populace that is now forced to pay it.  Which is an extremely fair point, but still not any worse than repressive taxation in general.

So that’s a whole bunch of times the economic concept of debt was not the problem.  But… maybe the social constructs around debt let humans do things they wouldn’t otherwise do (this seems especially likely in the dictator case).  This seems curiously tied up with the concept of quantification (which is how he distinguishes between a debt and an obligation).  The way this makes sense to me is that this is an anthropology of debt, not an exploration of the economics

 

This is not a comprehensive summary of the chapter but it’s odds and ends and I don’t want this to turn into liveblogging, so they’ll all wait till their own chapter.

Parenthetical Reference ends three or four undending debates in or at EA in a single stroke.

 

…it’s the difference between “tzedakah”, which is a mitzvah/dedication I have to making the world better and where EA analysis is really important, and “generosity”, which is about being kind to the people around me.

Generosity is when my friend’s family has a health crisis and I come over with $100 worth of takeout and frozen food. It’s also generosity when I support my local arts and/or religious communities, and when I go out of my way to financially support free media. Generosity is good and we should feel good about it. It’s one of the ways we live our values. It can be personal and subjective and can be about feelings as much as ROI. In fact, it is inherently subjective, and the right specific generous acts should be different for different people, because they are distributed like tastes, interests, friendships, communities, and other personal attachments.

Tzedakah is deciding to donate 10% of my income to saving lives in the developing world, and doing my research to make sure it’s doing as much good as possible. Tzedakah is saying BED NETS BED NETS BED NETS. Tzedakah is a sense of urgency to make the world better for people I will never meet and who will never know or care about me personally.2 Tzedakah isn’t a corner I want to cut to buy something nice for myself.3

“What about the arts?” Sure, generosity.  But don’t cut your bednet budget for it.
“Donating based on numbers ruins the make-the-donor-a-better-person function of charity.” It arguably taints generosity but not tzedakah.
“I don’t need to feel guilty not donating to help my friend’s cousin coming back from Iraq because it’s more effective to…” No, you don’t need to feel guilty because when and how to be generous is personal choice.  Stop arguing it’s objectively wrong.

I’m so glad we could clear this up

Motion sickness cure: mint gum

I get really severely motion sick.  It’s worse when my sinuses are worse but even at my best I’m trading off how much misery I can stand with how much boredom I can stand.  I’m actually better with misery, but it still slows me down mentally and often lingers for many minutes afterwords.  Entirely accidentally I seem to have found a treatment: –mint gum.  It’s not quite 100%, but it doesn’t get any worse over time, and the ceiling is fairly low.  E.g. I’m writing this on a plane.

Internet occasionally mentions mint candy or aromatherapy as a treatment for nausea, but never gum.    I feel like the chewing part is important but who knows.  I suspect this isn’t very wide spread because if it was those stupid wrist bands would not be as popular as they are, but I doubt I’m the only one either.

Bone Broth

Bone broth is having its moment- paleo likes it, nut jobs who believe vaccines cause autism like it*, whoever the hell these people are like it, my nutritionist is a big fan.  The idea seems obvious- bones are full of nutrients that hard to get, especially in the typical American diet, surely drinking bones would be good.  Especially for calcium.  Everyone knows bones have calcium.

I got suspicious when I noticed that the nutritional label on my broth** reported 0% of my RDA of calcium.  I checked a few more brands, the top contender lists 2% calcium RDA and 4% iron/6 grams of protein.  Most list 0.  nutritiondata.self.com gives considerably better numbers, but no source.  Their listing contains a good deal more fat (9g, as opposed to 0 in any of the commercial broth I’ve found) and a non-zero amount of carbs.  None of the micronutrients they listed (vitamin C, a few Bs, iron, calcium, manganese) are fat soluble, but maybe there is something to preparing it at home.

Some of the websites touting bone broth list other substances that aren’t on nutritional labels but they believe are important.  I am well disposed to believe this claim.  There is no reason to believe science knows all the micronutrients we need, much less a USDA oriented towards the well being of farmers, not consumers.  The specifically mention glycosaminoglycans, a class protein/sugar hybrid found in joints.  This seems utterly plausible, but I was unable to find any numbers of this. At all.

I found one scientific paper on bone broth.  It is in Korean***.  It has some English but not enough for me to actually determine the micronutrient:protein ratio.  Beyond that you have studies about the components of bone broth and the assumption that it will be absorbed in this form.  For example this paper on collagen and rheumatoid arthritis (PDF).  Given it has 60 people and RA is a cyclic disease, their results are actually pretty good, but that still leaves it open to any number of manipulations.  The second best paper is a press relief on an informal study of chicken soup.

That leaves protein.  Everyone agrees bone broth has serious protein, but unfortunately not the most important kind.  Protein is made up of amino acids, of which there are two kinds: non-essential (which your body can manufacture) and essential (which you must take in via diet).  The RDA for protein is 0.8 g/kg body weight, of which 0.1 g should be of the essential amino acids (there are per-acid requirements but I’m not tracking 9 individual requirements), so 20% is putting  you ahead of the game, except that broth is missing two EAAs entirely.  After 20  hours of cooking (see korean) paper, 25% of the amino acids are glycine.  For comparison:

  • The pumpkin-based protein powder in front of me is 20% essential amino acids (and has way more iron than broth)
  • Whey protein is 60% EAAs.
  • Soy is 34%

I have trouble digesting protein and find bone broth stunningly easy to digest, so this is still a win for me, but it’s a slam dunk.

While traveling I’m using bone broth powder, which I’m increasingly convinced is a fancy way of saying “bone-based protein powder”.  I’m okay with bone based protein powder, although I might not have packed the pumpkin if I’d realized this.

Do you know what else is basically a protein powder?  Cricket flour.  They taste similar, cricket has a better amino acid profile (25% essential) and more trace nutrients (although I’m still tracking down how many more).  It is also cheaper, which should make !broth feel bad.

I find it more plausible than the average miracle food that bone broth has effects beyond what you’d expect from a naive read of the nutrition facts, because I expect animal bone + meat to fulfill a broader range of requirements than some berry.   I do feel better when I drink it, but a lifetime of digestive and chewing problems has given me a tendency to develop food security blankets, and broth is currently filling that role.   Simply by being a security blanket that is not jelly beans or peanut butter cups****, broth is a health food for me, personally, but I can’t really extrapolate beyond that. The current press around it appears to be almost entirely groundless.

Once again, the state of nutritional knowledge is embarrassingly bad and I would like us to shift money towards increasing it.  Also why the hell can’t I test the  nutritional content of broth I make myself?

 

*To their credit, they have an explanation that doesn’t rely on mercury, which has been extremely thoroughly disproven.  If they had presented it as a fringe thing they needed to prove, I would have entertained their hypothesis.  They presented it as fact, without any attempt to distances themselves from the atrocious denialism of the mercury-based anti-vaxxers.

**I buy it frozen on the theory that my time and not having my house continually smell of meat was worth the extra money.

***I don’t think this would be hard to determine if you read Korean, volunteers would be welcome.

****Trader Joe’s brand- I’m not an animal.

ETA: I only just learned that bone broth means “bones + connective tissue”.  Clean bones give you hardly any protein, even if there’s marrow in them.  Apparently I don’t need to pay $10/bag for store made stuff, I can use $8 worth of chicken feet and liver and eat for a week.

Spreading the Wealth Around

Conventional effective altruism wisdom is that however much money you are donating, you should give 100% to the best charity, because it is the best.  I think that is one perfectly good choice among several.  Until recently my explanation was “the estimated difference in effectiveness between these charities is many orders of magnitude smaller than the confidence interval of the estimates, so they are functionally the same, so I might as well do what makes me happy.”  Scope insensitivity makes donating $n to two charities twice as satisfying as $2n to one charity.  I would have given to several more charities this except my job matches donations by hand and the admin has other shit to do.  But recently I realized it is more complicated than that.

Synergies

I spend a lot of time reminding people that estimates of genetic influence and heritability are only valid for the environment in which they are measured.  The same is true for charitable interventions.  The effects of any one intervention depend on the environment, which depends in part on other interventions.

Free condoms and instruction on their use doesn’t appear to make a big difference in teen pregnancy- but that study measured a single free condom program that existed in an environment with lots of existing programs.   Anyone who wanted condoms already had them.  That doesn’t mean such a program wouldn’t be useful in a population with no knowledge of condoms.

Interventions are synergistic.  Tostan’s educational programs won’t do much for anyone who died of malaria, but I’m also not excited about saving infants from death only to spend their entire lives in misery.  We could run around funding whichever need is most dire at any given moment, but organizations are costly to set up and a lot is lost when they disband.  Keeping the operational capital of the second and third best things live will let us react faster when we hit diminishing returns on the first.

And that’s when we know what to do.  Tostan and even GiveDirectly are very much works in progress, and because Tostan is so complex and culturally specific it’s slow to scale.  GiveDirectly can scale much faster, but too fast and corruption will become an enormous problem.  If we want those solutions ready to go when disease and nutrition are solved, we have to work on them now.  And that’s before taking into account the synergies.

Predictability

100 small donors each dividing their donations among 5 charities is better for the charities than 20 small donors giving 100% to five different charities, because it’s more stable.  If a minuscule change in numbers causes half your donors to abandon your cause (and maybe come back two years later), your funding will swing wildly.  This is terrible for operational capital.

Risk of Neglect

And that’s assuming favorites are properly distributed.  If there’s an organization or cause that’s everyone’s second choice it should probably get some money, but under a favorites only system it never will.  My source at Effective Altruism Outreach says that’s exactly what the recent EA survey showed is happening to metacharities*; everyone has their favorite real cause, and then likes metacharities.  I’ve increased my estimate of metacharities’ value recently**, so I now think they’re underfunded, so this seems bad.

If you’re a very large donor none of this applies to you because you’re in a position to change charities’ behavior rather than just react to it.  If you’re a small donor who’s happiest donating to the charity with the single best numbers, keep going, I don’t think you’re doing any harm at the scale you currently operate on.  But if you’re like me or Brian  and will have more fun spreading your donations around, I think you’re doing a good thing and shouldn’t change.

 

*The publicly accessible survey summary doesn’t give numbers for individuals’ second choices.   This is still a good example if it’s not literally true so I haven’t bothered looking up the numbers, although I should do so before I actually donate to metacharities.

**I’ve also increased the number of friends I have working at metacharities.  This means I hear about the really cool stuff they do that can’t be publicized, but also that I’m more likely to be suffering from a halo effect or cognitive dissonance or simply a desire for my housemates to have more money because hiring a cleaner would make everyone’s lives easier.

2015 donations

GiveWell: $6,000
I needed to use up company matching quickly before quitting and GiveWell is never a bad choice.
Raising for Effective Giving: $5,000
I am generally fairly skeptical of fundraising charities, especially fundraising charities targeting EAs.  Their mechanisms for evaluating effectiveness seem pretty weak (e.g. Giving What We Can counting donations pledged to be made in 40 years by people who have never donated once).*  That doesn’t mean they’re ineffective or can’t become effective, but I didn’t sign up for this movement to throw money and hope it was at the right place.

REG is different. First, they started with an extremely specific mission: convincing poker players to pledge small portions of their winnings to effective charities. This is a group that was donating minimally before, and is much more susceptible to quantitative arguments than the general population.  They count only money already donated, not pledges. And their plans for expansion seem similarly crafted for very specific niches.  (More or less the same model for fantasy football, microtransactions in video games).  The money raised goes to charities I like

Tostan: $5000
Continuing education courses in small African villages teaching things like literacy, numeracy, cell phone usage, basic medical info, human rights… a lot of different stuff, basically. That makes them hard to measure, and they turned down GiveWell when they tried. But! They did share their data with someone at the Gates Foundation, who found them extremely effective, and I trust his judgement. My focus isn’t “who is producing the highest numbers right now”, it’s “who has the best system for improving themselves and is aimed at the right thing.” Tostan’s classes grew out of requests from the community, so it some ways this is the continuing ed version of GiveDirectly.

That said, I’m working on getting numbers from them. There’s a few different charities I’ve given money to that called me to thank me and ask for my input on their long term plans. My response is usually “but I gave you the money on the assumption you were better at curing poverty than me”, but this year I’m hoping to leverage it into getting them to talk to one of the evaluator charities.** It is not my only plan for accomplishing this, but it seemed worth a shot. And I’d like to offer that as an argument for donating to charities that do things uniquely right while falling down in other ways: once they’re paying attention to you you can nudge them to do better.

 

*This was uncomfortable to write given that I have friends that work at fundraising charities, but I think they will understand that that is why I had to publish it.

**Specifically Giving What We Can, whose wildly optimistic numbers could theoretically be part of the puzzle that gets Tostan to publish more public data.  I’m also trying to get Treehouse to talk to Impact Matters, on the strength of last year’s donation.

Solstice Speech Playlist

I mentioned I had a few things playing in my head when I wrote the speech and more than one person has asked what they were, so here is the list in no particular order.

This is who you are- Trans Siberian Orchestra


“You can run from all the memory but never get that far/For in the end they’ll find you/For this is who you are”

I Get Knocked Down- Tubthumping


“I get knocked down, but I get up again/You’re never gonna keep me down”

“Don’t Let us Get Sick”- written by Warren Zevon, performed by Madeline Martin


“Just make us be brave/and make us play nice”

A good part of the first act of Hamilton, but especially
Guns And Ships

Yorktown


“I’m Hercules Mulligan/I need no introduction/when you knock me down I get the fuck back up again”

Vindicated- Dashboard Confessional


“And I am flawed/but I am cleaning up so well”

More than Useless- Reliant K


“I’m a little more than useless/ And I never knew I knew this/ Was gonna the day, gonna be the day/ That I would do something right/ Do something right for once”

Amigone- Goo Goo Dolls


“Is it too late to call and tell you to be strong?”

No one who knows me expected me to go this whole thing without mentioning Guardians of the Galaxy


“Usually life takes more than it gives, but not today”

There isn’t a good clip for this, but the following memory was very present in my mind: I was 13, and either about to watch or had just watched Schindler’s List. My mom explained that the beauty of it was that this guy had up until that point been a mild negative on the world, found something morally righteous he needed to do, and the skills he’d acquired being a mild negative were instrumental to doing it. People who’d been morally righteous their whole life couldn’t have done what he did. That stuck with me in a way basically no other moral instruction from my parents did.