11 Rules for Writing Online, Because Internet


Writing for the web takes a certain style, because as we all know, it’s the clicks that count. To help get you started, here are 11 ways to write great posts online that are sure to make you a cyberstar.

1. Start with a rambling paragraph that repeats your main point several ways so you can meet Google SEO content requirements.

2. Entice clicks using unrelated photo of a sexy girl, preferably with nose ring and yoga pants, surrounded by fields of wheat.

3. Put a number in your title so readers can quickly determine how little thinking will be required. Because why should they. Think. Much.

4. Use single word sentences for punctuated emphasis, rather than incorporating any adjective thingies. Like. The. One. Above.

5. Use cutesy words to downplay any pretense of intellectualism, for example ‘thingies.’

6. Use “like” a lot. Like, all the time. Also, reference complicated concepts as “a thing.” Yes, this is a thing.

7. Use “fuck” everywhere; it will jar people into reflexive re-tweets like fucking automatons.

8. Use clever word creations like “internety” as if they were legitimate terms.

9. Employ “I” “me” or “my” at about five-words-to-one. I’ve found that in my writing it helps prove my ability to show how awesome I am. Because. I. Am. Awesome.

10. Assume your audience lacks any historical knowledge whatsoever and explain even obvious references. (Ex: World War ll, a clusterfuck between good and bad guys back in the olden days, was a big fucking deal. Really. Fucking. Big.)

11. Make your article about sex. If it’s not about sex, make it about sex. If you can’t make it about sex, find some other internet.

There you go, surefire rules that’ll shoot you straight to the top of the feed. And what’s writing for anyway? So go out and get ’em, keyboard cowboy!

Yes this is satire, first posted over at Medium. Go forth and like it, por favor.

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We’re Fans, That’s Why

mr.metI am a Mets fan, in the full sense of the word: I am a fanatic. I like to rail against fanaticism in the real world, but I give myself a pass for baseball. It’s ridiculous, basically. It’s a game and it doesn’t matter. So why does a killer ending to a Mets season cut a fan off at the emotional knees?

Because we’re fanatics, that’s why.

I’ve been a Mets fan since I was ten years old – I’m 49 now – so this is the longest relationship I’ve had  in my life. It’s been mostly a rocky marriage. I could list out all the excruciating New York Mets failures, but why waste good bandwidth. Here’s a Google search with 1,560,000 results. Have it.

Usually the Mets are bad from start to finish, and for a momentary madness here on the day after Game 5 of the World Series, I almost prefer it that way. The creeping certainty that your season’s over around May 15 might be easier to bite down on than a sudden-death, kick-to-the-gut, season-killer in November. Still, it has become an annual ritual, just as the leaves start to fall, to look at the sky and ask an irrational universe why, oh why was I born a Mets fan?

My sister – a Yankees fan – once asked me to describe the feeling you get when your team’s season ends with disappointment. This was back when her team never ended that way. And as all Mets fans know, it’s like having your heart broken. The baseball season runs day after day for months; you live and die with these guys every night. You can’t help but get to know the personality of the team in what can only be described as an intimate way. When your team wins it all, they come back every anniversary. When your team loses, they go away. You never see them again.

I guess that’s what stings the most about this year. I fell in love with this team. So did a lot of people. Where did all those Mets fans come from, and where’ve they been hiding all this time? My father, who hasn’t watched a baseball game since Bobby Thompson, was leaving me voice mails about “that awesome Murphy!” I was proud. My team dominated the NLCS. In four games!

Now I feel a little responsible. These people didn’t know better. Back in July, when they started to catch on, I should have tried to shake some sense into them, “What are you thinking! You have no idea what you’re in for!”

Of course, this could have been so much worse. Think about 2008. A last-day collapse on the last game at Shea. My grandfather took me to Shea Stadium; thirty years later I took my own daughter there. When the car rounded that bend near Willets Point and the blue mass of Shea rose into view, I watched her seven-year-old eyes open in amazement, just like mine on my first trip in ’77, when I asked my grandfather what all that green outside the field was for, and he told me all that green WAS the field. Citi Field is awesome, and it was rockin’ like mad this year, and I’ve got no complaints. But I’ll always miss Shea.

I’ll miss the 2015 Mets too. That had such a nice ring to it. Never has a Mets season held so many twists and turns as this one. We were supposed to win it. This feels like some kind of alternative universe; in the real one, Duda’s throw was true to the plate; Terry Collins sent out Familia to lock it down, Murph hit a homerun in every game of the series. But alas, nothing’s promised. Baseball doesn’t run on a script. Anything can happen. And it usually does.

I woke up this morning and I said that’s it, I’m done. I’ve got better things to do with my life. Who needs a stupid game to make me miserable. I should get out more, read more, spend time with my kids more. Turn off the TV more. Baseball. It’s ridiculous.

But I know what’s going to happen. In a few days I’ll realize that holding emotional water for a baseball team is pretty dumb. And there are all these free agents and trades we could make. So I’ll start reading MetsMerized again, and refreshing Twitter like a crazy person during the winter meetings again, and pretty soon it’s February and I’m counting the calendar to Opening Day.

Let’s face it, 29 teams let their fans down every year. Imagine being a Cubs fan right now. Yes, our team made embarrassing errors. Yes, a few inches here or there, we’d have won most of these games, heading back to KC with a chance. There’d be a baseball game to watch for a few more nights. The 2015 Mets would last forever.

But still – we won the NLCS. We’re the champs of the LEAGUE. We’ve got the best starting pitching staff in memory. KC came back from heartbreak last year to finish the job. The Mets can do the same in ’16.

So it stings today. It hurts like hell today. It’ll pass. It always does. We’re fans. It makes no sense, but we keep coming back. And for the first time in a long, long time, I can honestly say, I can’t wait ‘till next year.

(Deep bow and tip of the hat to MetsMerized for posting this one….)

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Funny Customer Service Chat Session

My friend Anne shared this actual customer service chat from her cable company, and it was so unintentionally, authentically funny, it still cracks me up and I’ve read it five times. Try pulling up first your account in my end. And you’re most welcmoe.

Susan > Hello ANNE_, Thank you for contacting Live Chat Support. My name is Susan. Please give me one moment to review your information.
Susan > Thank you for patiently waiting on the queue.Please be assured I will do my best to help you with your concern.
ANNE_ > My Issue: I cancelled TV service but my current bill does not show this change.
Susan > Hi there Anne!
Susan > I hope you are doing fine today.
Susan > I have read your chat reason and I understand that you have a concern about your charges that has not being change after you have made some changes with your current serice.
Susan > Oh, I can compeletely understand where you are coming from
Susan > No worries! I will definitely check this to your account.
Susan > Thanks for bringing your concern with us.
Susan > To further assist you with this, I may need to pull up first your account here in my end.
Susan > I see here that you have logged into your account so there is no need for us to verify security thank you for doing that.
Susan > Please allow me one moment to pull up your account here in my end.
Susan > Thank you for waiting.
Susan > I have now your account fully pulled up here in my end.
ANNE_ > ok thank you
Susan > You are most welcmoe Anne.
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The Moment the Mets Woke Up

If “The ‘15 Mets” takes on that special status we give to those magic teams, like “86” or “69”, I think you can point to a very specific, mostly overlooked moment from an excruciating July game that transformed our frustrating, dead-end year into one of the most exciting regular seasons we’ve had since….well, since a long time.

I’m not talking about Wilmer’s Tears or Cespedes for the Rest of Us or all the other soon-to-be (hopefully) legendary moments from this (hopefully) legendary year.

Let me take you back to that brutal, toss-your-shoe-at the-TV game against the Cardinals. July 19. Eighteen innings. Remember that? Six hours of agony. Our crappy team was 1-26 with RISP that day, and I was about ready to shoot myself.

It was the top of the 13th. The Mets offense was offensive. As it had been for weeks. Yes, there was that winning streak in April, when we had first place by a mile, before we gave it all back by June. Now it was July, and the Mets were on their way to another “Just Wait ‘Till the Year After Next Year” year.

And then, something happened that changed them in a deep and profound way. Curtis Granderson hit a single, an actual hit in extra innings. That was miracle enough, but as he rounded first, he decided to try for an extra base.  I really believe it was his way of saying “enough of this bullshit.” I swear, you could see the idea light up his face as he decided to do it. That’s how I remember it, anyway. Here’s the actual moment:

That’s right, a Hustle Double. I sat right up, and I said, “Whoah! Who are these guys?”

And then Kevin Plawecki did this:

Ok, they also left a bunch of runners on in that inning. And yeah. the Cardinals would go on to tie the game, and it took a few more innings for the Mets to score again and win the damn thing. And they didn’t catch fire right away. That win against the Cardinals just showed they had some pent-up fire in them after all. It took the trades, and the tears, for things to spark.

But I think you can point to Granderson’s Dash as the moment this team woke up. When they became The 2015 Mets, the one we’ve all fallen in love with, the team we’re about to ride into October, and maybe even November. That moment stands out for me as the turning point to all of it.

And the rest, we can hope, is history.

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Read this Gem of a Story: When I’m Gone

Sometimes a story sticks in your throat and hangs around your heart. Do yourself a favor, take nine minutes of your life to read this one, it’ll stick around nicely for  a while.


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Reading at Farley’s Bookshop, May 7 2015

I’ll be coming out of retirement to read with Nancy Scott at Farley’s Bookshop in New Hope PA on Thursday, May 7 2015.

The reading starts at 7 PM. Farley’s is located at 44 South Main Street, New Hope, 18938. Phone: 215-862-2452. 


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Alan Greenspan, Free Marketers, and Fanatics

Alan Greenspan is back in the news, after Bernie Sanders’ classic confrontation from years ago came up in the Democratic Debate (go watch it, it’s well worth your five minutes). I’ll admit, I haven’t thought about Greenspan for a while, not since he came out with that shocker after the ’08 crash (“Greenspan Concedes Error on Regulation“) where he admitted:

“Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief.”

So it sounded like the guy most closely associated with the Chicago School of Economics was having a religious conversion. If you don’t know the Chicago School, Wikipedia sums it up as a theory whereby “regulation and other government intervention is always inefficient compared to a free market.” So there you have it, the foundation for Movement Conservatives, Libertarians, the Tea Party, and others who find joy in scapegoating “big government,” deregulating the economy and undoing the better parts of the twentieth century.

It’s also what you’d expect from someone who’d grown up with the Objectivists, and Greenspan was one of Ayn Rand’s very own personal favorites. Objectivists are back in vogue these days, because they believe that only the free market, when allowed to prosper in pure, unregulated capitalism, delivers the ideal form of human society. That’s because when individuals are free to act according to their own self interest (the theory goes), you have a society of right-thinking, right-acting folks. According to the Objectivists, such freedom can only be realized under complete separation of state and economics, similar to the separation of church and state.

In other words: Regulations, bad, and you can see why Mr. Greenspan was so puzzled to find out that banks – surprise – sometimes act irrationally. (How a man who ideologically rejects regulation was allowed to run the Federal Reserve – the most powerful economic regulatory organization in the world – is a head-scratcher.)

You should check out the Objectivists some time. They make a lot of sense when you read them, especially when you’re 18 or 20 and have yet to live in the world – and by live I mean work, struggle, earn, experience, and interact with people beyond your own family. That’s when you realize that few things ever neatly line up in your day-to-day existence the way they appear to line up when you’re reading about them in books.

What Objectivists fail to recognize – just like libertarians or communists, for that matter – is that no single ideology will satisfy every problem, every time. If you ever find a political group that takes that approach, then my advice to you is to run, for you will have found yourself among zealots.

Sure, humans are often motivated by self interest. And just as often they are motivated by compassion and empathy and selflessness. You can’t build an entire social order around one or another, since all are true.

We humans are flexitarians at heart. It’s that flexibility that’s gotten us – skinny, fur-less and loping along – all the way to the top of the food chain. I wish more people would remember this, instead of battening down their thinking hatches and sticking to a fanatical view of the world, where everything would be perfect if only we’d follow one particular approach to the exclusion of anything that smells like “the other side.”

What we need are fewer zealots running the instruments of power. We need people with open minds and intellectual curiosity, with flexibility to apply a variety of approaches to solve a dilemma, rather than handcuffed to a single view. Like trying to manage the US economy by eliminating regulations as part of an unquestioned trust in free market-based solutions, every single time. It’s bound to fail, and it seems to, every ten years or so (don’t these people read history books?). These bubbles and crashes aren’t caused by “greed” on Wall Street (as if that’s something new) but by an absence of appropriate rules and boundaries to keep things in good working order. Regulations, by any other name.

I was a fanatic myself, two different times: Once of the Right (God Bless Ronald Reagan) and once of the further left, lets say.  But as I’ve gotten older and – maybe wiser – I don’t know what my personal political bucket should be labeled anymore. When you tie yourself down to a unbending viewpoint, you spend your energy rejecting any idea that doesn’t neatly fit with your preconception. And you’ll miss an awful lot of good ideas as a result.

That’s how grown-ups act; when we’re kids, and by kids I mean up to about 28, we take a monolithic, arrogant view towards the world. We’re adamant in our certainty. We know what’s what, and have yet to develop the maturity to recognize that the true path to wisdom starts from a perspective of uncertainty. Some of us achieve this among our close circle, when as parents, as friends, as uncles or aunts we learn to give advice based on our experience in an empathetic way that helps guide others to find their own answers. We don’t have such a good track record of this in the wider world, and if you don’t believe me, find a single example of a talking head on cable news who stops in their blathering to say, “well gee, that’s a good point, I never actually considered it.”

Cornell West once said, “When your prejudices and preconditions no longer sustain you, you’ve been educated.” Imagine a society filled with open-minded, contemplative grownups? That’s a world I could be happy living in. A world filled with people out to solve problem, rather than win arguments. And maybe that’s our hopeful destiny.

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Lost in Translation – Why it Breaks Your Heart

lost-in-translationI re-watched Lost in Translation the other day – I got the idea after stumbling onto this interview with Bill Murray on the Charlie Rose show. (Do yourself a favor – take 50 minutes out of your life and watch this clip. Three-quarters of the way it becomes a spiritual experience.) One of my life’s dreams is to have Garrison Keillor read a poem of mine on his Writer’s Almanac radio show. Now I have a new one, and that’s to spend an hour or two hangin’ out with Bill Murray.

But that’s not likely to happen, so I streamed Lost in Translation over my laptop in the afternoon on the kitchen table (it’s on Netflix) instead. And even under those less-than-ideal movie watching circumstances, I was so completely taken into the world of this film that 48 hours later I’m still heartbroken. That’s really the only word for it. I fell for it pretty hard ten years ago, but this time it’s a whole different thing. Why would a beautiful film leave me so rattled?

In one way, this movie leaves an impact because it is such a total sensory experience. It’s filmed using natural light exclusively – apparently this is rarely done – so it looks warm and real. There’s very little camera “action” or panning – it’s like a documentary made of perfectly framed photographs – so it’s slow, and peaceful, and hypnotic. The acting is as subtle – and sublime – as life. It has Scarlett Johansson (sigh). And the soundtrack is as enrapturing as a Buddhist temple.

But there’s something else at work here. I suppose my personal circumstances – divorced, surprised, wondering here at the halfway mark if this is all there is, and what could possible come next, if anything – make me particularly susceptible to elegiac paeans to love and delayed gratification and the meaning of life, especially when so gracefully, honestly presented, with characters you can’t help but like.  I also know, as someone who once wrote, that I’ve been mostly silent for years, trying to translate deeply felt experiences into words but finding it impossible to do, a kind of poetic laryngitis. And this is just like the characters in the film, who are so bewildered by their circumstances – physically as well as emotionally exhausted – they seem to lack the vocabulary to express what it is they’re experiencing in their own lives, even as they experience it. So this is a work of art that transcends commercial appeal, and gets right to the heart of what it means to be lost – in another country, in one’s life. And it leaves you wistful and moved and yes, heartbroken – for them, and I suppose for yourself, if that’s where you are at that moment in your ride.

Over at Wikipedia there’s an analysis on the movie’s themes and aesthetics, which is cool. But first, go stream it while you can, and break your heart in the most sublime way possible.

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Robert Frost Never Needed an MFA

I grew up in a house with books, the same books that probably filled a lot of mid-century, book-of-the-month-club suburban homes – there was Michener and Wouk and The Thorn Birds, and there was The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird and Fahrenheit 451.Sometimes I’d stand there quietly with my father, looking over the titles until, with a grunt of remembrance, he’d take one down and hand it over. I can remember very clearly the time he pulled down a paperback copy of Catcher in the Rye – I think I was fourteen – and I don’t care if this is a cliche, but it’s been in every living room I’ve ever had since and it ruined me as a fiction writer. But it started everything.

Poems-of-Robert-Frost-Modern-LibraryAnd so did the other one that still sits on my bookshelf and always will: My father’s Modern Library, schoolboy collection of Robert Frost, published in 1946 with a forward by the poet himself. I love that book, not just because it’s filled with my father’s junior-high sketches. It was the first time I got that ringing thrill from reading a poem.

I’m sure you don’t hear Frost’s name in graduate programs anymore. But here in the real world, his work feels as relevant as anything you come across in the poetry journals today. Too often, a lot of contemporary poetry suffers from an “MFA-style,” a secret code of wink and nod allusions that only graduate students care about. You look at poetry contest winners and inevitably they’ve got that MFA, and at the same time they’re writing inscrutable works, basically verbal acrobatics. Yes, the poems are well-crafted and ask a lot of the reader. But they’re often cold and barren, lacking emotional – or human – impact. Poems are not written by computers as an analytic exercise in word craft. They’re aimed squarely at our humanity. Or should be, anyway.

I’m not suggesting that we start elevating Hallmark Card writers to Nobel Laureate. Clearly there is a distinction between sappiness and seriousness. Ultimately the kind of work that I enjoy is the stuff that hits you in the gut and the brain. It’s a fine line between sentimentality and sublimity, and writers who live in that space are the ones I admire. My guidelines are poems that can be spoken out loud and make an impact without a thesaurus and mental jackhammer to comprehend. People poems, I suppose. I understand part of this is taste, and some will prefer more cerebral poetry and that’s OK.  And obviously there are great exceptions to my complaint. Fabulous poetry is being published in plenty of establishment publications. Take a spin through The Writer’s Almanac and you may never leave your laptop. I’m very specifically talking about the journals and contests where unknown writers, outside of academia, don’t have a chance. It hurts writers everywhere, because it makes it appear that poetry is too sophisticated for “the rest of us” who don’t attend graduate schools, and just want to be moved by a work of art.

There’s nothing wrong with Master Degrees. I have one, actually. What I’m complaining about is this “old boy/girl network” where a prosaic approach is promoted to the exclusion of other less academic styles, and which seems to fill up poetry journals today.

So back to Robert Frost, whose work connects on both the deeply felt and cognitive level, and I don’t know what else poetry is supposed to do. His work is about the pains, joys, wonders and sorrows of being alive. I’ll leave you with this one, a Frost poem which continuously grows in meaning as I grow older, as I look for emotional peace in the midst of conflict, uncertainty, and fear, much of it self-created, to find the wonder and humor in it all:

On Looking Up By Chance to the Constellations

You’ll wait a long, long time for anything much
To happen in heaven beyond the floats of cloud
And the Northern Lights that run like tingling nerves.
The sun and moon get crossed, but they never touch,
Nor strike out fire from each other, nor crash out loud.
The planets seem to interfere in their curves,
But nothing ever happens, no harm is done.
We may as well go patiently on with our life,
And look elsewhere than to stars and moon and sun
For the shocks and changes we need to keep us sane.
It is true the longest drouth will end in rain
The longest peace in China will end in strife.
Still it wouldn’t reward the watcher to stay awake
In hopes of seeing the calm of heaven break
On his particular time and personal sight.
That calm seems certainly safe to last tonight
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Carl Sagan, Denial, and Our Little Blue Jewel

Carl Sagan's CosmosThe other night, on a whim, I watched Cosmos on Netflix. I remember watching it as a kid, on my parents’ Sony Trinitron, back in 1980. I figured it would be hokey, dated and laughable.

I was wrong.  It’s a moving, provoking experience. Everyone on the planet ought to give it a try.

I think what’s so striking about this show is how it captured that stunned sense of wonder we experience when, on a dark night, with a quiet mind, we look to the stars. And then we’re struck: everything we are, just a spec of dust, floating in a universal expanse on an unfathomable scale of distance and time. Mostly we experience our lives in such an immediate, moment-to-moment way that when the scope of the universe hits us, we’re completely undone. It’s a kind of shock. All those galaxies, filled with all those stars, like droplets in the blur of a cloud. And that’s us on one of those drops, our entire history – protozoa to pyramids to iPhones – just a single note in an enormous symphony.

And that’s the macro cosmos. What about the micro cosmos, the uncountable cells just in our own bodies, each cell as vast, relatively, as the space between galaxies? The mind blanks at the glare. If the macro and micro cosmos are that vast, random and uncertain, where does that leave us?  So there’s the best explanation for religion that I can think of – it grounds us with perspective, gives a base to organize the immensity into a safer, sensible place. It’s more pleasant to pretend that we live in a human-centered cosmos with a kindly wizard directing events in a just manner.

For an organized-religion skeptic like me, it’s hard not to see this as classic denial, an eyes-closed way to give order to the randomness. We prefer certainty; uncertainty is a scary way to go through life. But at what cost? Certainly tricking ourselves that the universe is meaningful and our souls are immortal does make getting up in the morning a lot easier. But taken to other places, denial could be one of the biggest dangers to our existence, because it keeps us from acknowledging all the real and growing threats to our fragile blue bubble. I’m thinking about congressmen from certain reddish states who claim the world is really only 9,000 years old, or that evolution is a scam, or that global warming is the biggest lie since Joseph Goebells. Mass denial always looks flimsy when it happened “back then” – witch trials, the Inquisition, flat-earthers – but the denial we live with today is a lot more potent: Nuclear warheads on hair-trigger alert, rising seas, melting ice caps.

I get where denial comes from. Most of human history – as brief as it has been – has existed under a kind of warfare; war with each other and war with the environment, a daily exercise in survival against what was “out there” which might and often did kill you. Until yesterday, just about, we’ve been living through unrelenting battle fatigue. Add to that, we’re probably the only species on earth to have an awareness of our own mortality. We are sentient, we are finite, and we know it. What an unlucky draw of the evolutionary cards. Denial seems like a welcomed biological pain killer.

The problem is that it’s outlived its usefulness – most of us in the industrialized world don’t have to worry about our day-to-day physical survival. I’m not talking about denial in the Freudian, emotionally protective way. I mean a kind of macro, social denial that’s keeping us from tackling big problems, because it’s easier to pretend they don’t exist. But when you see that little pebble of ours floating in so much immensity, you can’t help but feel alarmed. I think this is what astronauts talk about when they come back from space, and why many have become passionate environmentalists.

Joseph Conrad got it right in the Heart of Darkness; mix power with denial and all kinds of horrors follow. What started out as a beneficial defense mechanism now threatens our willingness to address serious, man-made challenges. We are capable of creating the circumstance that can lead to our own annihilation. We know better, but we do it anyway. Has any other species in earth’s history acted in such a dysfunctional manner, wherein their own actions led to self-annihilation? I’m sure there have been times where a species’ natural behavior caused a change in their environment leading to extinction.  This is certainly the cause for many extinctions, give or take a meteor or two.

The difference, until now, was that such situations were localized; never before has a species been able to negatively impact the biosphere on a global level. And it’s a remarkable bit of chance that we’re here at all. Maybe, as Carl Sagan says, there are billions of bubbles of life like our earth; maybe life is as ubiquitous as the planets around the stars. Who’s to say. I only know about this one, and it’s a jewel.

We have great tools at our disposal to positively impact many of our modern dangers – human tools built through uniquely human capabilities of ingenuity, creativity, curiosity, organization, empathy, adaptability, and reason. We know how to fix our problems. We’re fixing some now.

So I’m hopeful – although it remains to be seen – that we can collectively look at reality straight on and not blink. Although I don’t know for sure, I imagine that this was one of the goals for Cosmos, a way to show the astonishing odds that we’re here at all, and the urgency needed to protect our home. Otherwise we are destined to be just another failed experiment, a dead-end branch of DNA that flourished beautifully but briefly in the immeasurable void.

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