Mining the culture wars for clicks

Have you seen the gender neutral Santa story? Of course you have. It’s been everywhere. The tale that 1/4 of people want a gender neutral Santa has appeared in my news feeds so often I could recite it from memory, so I will.

A new study found that 25% or 26% or 27% of people – the numbers vary from report to report – want Santa to be gender neutral.

If you’ve reported it like that, you’re on the naughty list.

The “study” was a survey by a graphic design company of a few hundred customers. Those customers of unspecified demographics were specifically asked what gender a modern Santa should be, and given the choice of male, female, or gender neutral.

This is not what you would call a reliable poll.

Nevertheless, the story is everywhere. It’s on BBC Three and in the New York Post, on and PinkNews, on Fox News and Newsweek and in the Mirror and the Daily Mail.

This kind of bullshit infests the media, and it has consequences. As Joseph Earp writes in Junkee:

Throwing out these distorted figures and studies feeds the right-wing lunatics who believe that members of the LGBTQIA community are secretly plotting to take over the culture. And it encourages a pile-on of hatred towards the community from those who consider themselves to be part of the ‘sensible centre’ (whatever that means.)

I’m not sure that Earp is right about the intent of the graphic design company, which “knowingly weaponised the ire of the mainstream media”. I suspect they just thought they were being funny and/or cute.

But there’s no doubt about the malicious intent of much of the reporting. Somehow a bullshit story about a fictional character is evidence of the evils of LGBTQ people generally and trans people in particular.

When the story reaches the likes of the Daily Mail or Breitbart, which of course it has done, it’s presented as the latest example of political correctness gone mad, of the sinister trans lobby pushing its values down ordinary god-fearing people’s throats.

This tweet is by no means unusual.

i’m all for same sex marriage, trans operations, etc,but the LGBTQ+ community is deadass starting to shove their way of life down people’s throats. equal opportunity for shows & movies is great, but not every movie needs a gay lead & Santa doesn’t need to be gender fuckin neutral

This happens time and time again. A story with little or no connection to the LGBTQ community is presented as the latest example of their unreasonable demands and used to demonise them in the media and on social media. It’s already made its way into anti-LGBTQ opinion pieces, and it’ll continue to circulate for years to come as an example of those terrible LGBTQ activists and their unreasonable demands.

Children who behave badly don’t get Christmas presents. Sadly there’s no such penalty for journalists.

Boo! I’m a ghost!

Ghostwriting is a very odd thing to do for money. I’ve done quite a lot of it, from ghostwriting entire books to writing public statements and blog posts in character as various executive types. I’m good at it, but it’s a weird gig – especially in books, where the pay doesn’t really reflect the amount of work involved and your existence is kept a secret from the readers.

Sometimes it just isn’t worth it. About a decade ago I was offered the gig of ghostwriting a book of cosmos-focused hippy-dippy bullshit by a Very Famous Television Personality, but I turned the gig down on the not unreasonable grounds that said Very Famous Television Personality was a twat. Some gigs just aren’t worth doing.

That’s clearly the case for the ghostwriting gig Sean Patrick Cooper applied for, and writes about in Baffler magazine. You don’t need to be a writer to enjoy the story, although if you are a writer you’ll find yourself reading a lot of it through your fingers.

Sundered from all the now-obsolete protections and best practices of a free and independent press, journalists will do what displaced workers everywhere must: get on with the necessary business of making a living. And a select few will fall into what is perhaps the grimmest possible simulacrum of journalistic endeavor: they will join the now burgeoning market for luxury ghostwritten memoirs.

The whole piece is a horrible joy, and it has some interesting points to make about the horrible shit-show professional writing so often becomes.

Faced with job that pays a pittance, Cooper decides that it’s better to outsource the task to a writer even more desperate than he is. The gig is horrifically paid to begin with, but Cooper’s plan – which I suspect is by no means uncommon – is to delegate it so that the person actually doing the work is paid even more horrifically.

The future of media, I realized, wasn’t about writing well or sustaining a core democratic institution. It was about delegating to the lowest bidder. I calculated that if I got the LifeBook gig, with this American Ghostwriter’s going rate on a fully commissioned LifeBook project at worst 2.4 cents a word, then I should be able to find someone out there willing to do the writing exam for less than that, and still turn a profit of a few pennies.

This particular piece is about a very particular niche, which is vanity projects for the 1%. But a lot of what Cooper describes is relevant to much wider range of writing. As he says at the very beginning of the piece:

THE PROGNOSIS FOR AMERICAN JOURNALISM is not good. In due course, the cancerous forces of Google, Facebook, and algorithmic optimization will complete the terminal ravaging of the journalistic trade from the inside… as journalism slouches toward oblivion, it churns out high-outrage, low-grade content for its web-addled audience, who click and share anything that flatters their ideological preconceptions.

Things don’t sound the same

I have one of these, in the same “unpleasant coffee table” finish. It sounds as pointy as it looks.

One of my favourite musical jokes goes something like this. A guitarist is on stage and puts one guitar down to pick up another. “Oh, good,” the audience thinks. “Everything’s going to sound so different now!”

I find it funny because it’s true: while there are sound reasons for swapping guitars on stage (to get them tuned, mainly, but also because some guitarists move between different tunings or play 12-strings for certain songs), most of the time you can’t tell the bloody difference through a PA.

On record, though, things are different. Guitars and bass guitars sound different from other, ostensibly similar guitars and bass guitars. So different that Rush bassist Geddy Lee has written a massive book just about different bass guitars. It’s easy to mock but I think it sounds fantastic.

In it, he talks about the Fender Precision Bass, the Fender Jazz bass and the Gibson Thunderbird. I’ve got all three, albeit in cheaper form. And he’s right when he talks about how they sound.

I never took Gibson basses seriously because they have a muddier, deeper sound — much harder to get that twang that I love in my sound. So they were pushed off my plate, like when a little kid has peas on his plate — he doesn’t want to do there [laughs]. Yet friends of mine played Thunderbirds, for example, and loved them. When I started doing this whole revisionist look at the instrument, I had to check those out. As a player 42 years into my career, how does that feel in my hand? I found that fascinating, and I fell in love with all the bottom end coming out of those basses.

I’ve been a Fender player for many years, because they’re great guitars – and in my RSI-raddled hands, more comfortable to play than Gibsons, which feel different. But man, the sound a Thunderbird makes is really something. Fenders are at home in any company, but T-Birds are thugs. Where the Fenders are scalpels, the Thunderbird is a club with a nail stuck through it. The first time I played mine, I laughed.

It’s even more pronounced with lead guitars. Again, I’ve been a Fender fan for a long time: in my previous gigging days I played and loved a Fender Telecaster, and I also have a Stratocaster and a gloriously weird Marauder. But while they’re fun to play and very versatile, you can’t make them sound like Gibsons.

All of my Fenders are “proper” Fenders while my Gibsons are the lesser Epiphone models, but the Riviera and Explorer have sounds that you just don’t get from Fender guitars. They’re nowhere near as comfortable to play – my fantastically pointy Explorer has the ergonomics of a dining table – but they have a very distinct sound. The Riviera is fat and hot, while the Explorer hangs around with the wrong kind of people and like its Thunderbird stablemate is tooled up and looking for trouble. No wonder it’s so popular in heavy metal circles, played by the likes of Metallica and Therapy? (and U2’s The Edge, back in the day; he still uses the Explorer live for that authentic post-punk drive). As with the Thunderbird, the first time I played my Explorer I burst out laughing.

The guitar is only part of it, though. As Geddy Lee points out, even when you’re trying to emulate a particular guitarist, even if you have the same guitar and the same amp and the same effects and the same settings, you can’t mimic them entirely.

You can put the same bass, the same amplification in the same song with another player, and it’s not gonna sound like Chris Squire. Only Chris Squire sounds like Chris Squire. Only John Paul Jones sounds like John Paul Jones. That’s the personality of the player. When I was producing records for a short time a number of years ago, guys would come in and say, “I would love to sound like this guy.” I would say, “I’d love you to sound like that guy, but you’re not that guy. We’ll give you a similar sound to that guy, but you’re gonna sound you — you’re never gonna sound like him because you’re you, and you should celebrate the ‘you-ness’ of that.”

Many of my favourite musicians happily admit to trying – and failing – to sound like their heroes.

Lee again:

…failing to get it right is actually your benefit — when you fail to mimic them, you accidentally get your own thing out of it. I often say that style comes from being influenced by so many people that you can no longer recognize the influence and you’ve developed confidence in your own personality and that’s started to supersede the influences.

“We” didn’t miss anything

This week, The New York Times made a podcast called “The Rise of Right-Wing Extremism, and How We Missed It”. Esquire’s Charles P Pierce is not amused: who, exactly, does the NYT mean by “we”?

To take the simplest argument first, “we,” of course, did no such thing, unless “we” is a very limited—and very white—plural pronoun. The violence on the right certainly made itself obvious in Oklahoma City, and at the Atlanta Olympics, and at various gay bars and women’s health clinics, and in Barrett Slepian’s kitchen, and in the hills of North Carolina, where Eric Rudolph stayed on the lam for five years and in which he had stashed 250 pounds of explosives for future escapades.

Pierce – rightly, I think – argues that the problem isn’t that these things aren’t noticed, or flagged up. It’s that the people who warn about them are ignored by a largely urban, white, straight media class.

One of the best examples of that is the rise of the hard right in online spaces, where women and minorities have been yelling about the problems for many years now. Because the abuse didn’t affect people who weren’t women or minorities, media didn’t give a shit. This has been going on for a long time, and its reach is enormous.

Here’s Matt Miller, also in Esquire, on how online trolls have poisoned Star Wars fandom.

These “trolls” are the anonymous, despicable beating heart of America. They are holding up a mirror to our society. They are insuring that the worst of us have a voice to incite real change. They elected an amoral, racist golden toilet for a president. And that same sickness has bled into something once as harmless as a children’s space movie.

Something that’d be funny if it weren’t so serious is the way anti-trans people so frequently follow the same script: starting off by being hateful towards us before – surprise! – being hateful to other groups too. So the anti-trans legislators in the US start with us and then target cisgender women and trans men’s reproductive freedom. Anti-trans cultural commentators turn out to be misogynist. Anti-trans voices variously include domestic abusers, racists and anti-Semites.

It’s become a bleak running joke in some trans circles when yet another vicious bigot turns out to be viciously bigoted against more than one minority. That’s the thing about bigotries. They tend to travel together.

I wrote about neo-Nazi ideology yesterday, and that’s a good example of the kind of thing that gets completely ignored until it explodes into real-world violence. It’s of particular interest to me because neo-nazis online are very specifically and openly attempting to groom “gender critical” – ie anti-trans – women because they believe these women are very close to being “red pilled” and becoming “tradwives”.

Red pilling, if you’re not down with idiots, is an idea from the film The Matrix: if you take the red pill you will see the world as it really is. The fact that The Matrix was directed by two trans women, the red pill is based on estrogen tablets and the whole sodding film is quite probably a trans allegory escapes these dolts, because neo-Nazis aren’t very clever.

And “tradwife”? A tradwife is a woman who rejects feminism and embodies “wifely” qualities of submission, chastity and domestic servitude.

The idea that any self-respecting feminist would be in cahoots with these woman-hating tools is mind-boggling, and yet here we are.

Again and again the most vocal anti-trans voices echo the tropes of the religious right and the alt-right, shaming women for supposedly inappropriate behaviour. reinforcing the biological essentialism that feminism fought so hard against and supporting serial abusers of women because their enemy’s enemy is their friend. To see feminist groups in open alliance with evangelical, anti-women groups is quite something to behold.

This isn’t just happening in anti-trans circles. Neo-nazis have deliberately targeted anywhere they think they can find vulnerable, angry people: not just forums of angry women but for young, angry men who can’t get laid, forums for people with mental health issues, forums where people are lost and desperately need somebody coming along to take them under their wing.

The problem with hate is not that nobody’s talking about it. It’s that by and large, the media isn’t listening to the people who are desperately trying to sound the alarm: women, ethnic minorities, LGBTI people, disabled people. And when rhetoric becomes reality, when online radicalisation makes a Christian shoot up a synagogue or a straight guy shoot up a gay bar or an “incel” drive a truck into a crowd of shoppers, they wail “how did this happen? How did we miss this?”

You missed it because you weren’t listening.

Bigots don’t read books. They burn them

Here we go again. In the latest bout of anti-trans madness, washed-up comedy writers are comparing trans people to Nazis to the delight of their many thousands of followers. In the aftermath, Scots MSP and newspaper columnist Joan McAlpine approvingly retweets an anti-trans group – a group that had been invited to the Scots Parliament to discuss gender recognition reform – saying much the same thing. The same group is currently putting anti-trans posters in toilets in Scottish bars.

According to the group, “there’s transactivists who are going to claim they were the victims of Nazis. We need to be clear, the LGBT victims were lesbians & gay men, not people who identify as trans.”

Nope. Trans people were sent to the concentration camps too, usually because the Nazis considered them to be gay. They weren’t big on nuance.

Cisgender, straight white women were okay though. Some of them got to be the camp guards.

The women here are Helferinnen, women auxiliaries. The photo is from Solahuette, a kind of holiday resort for the staff of Auschwitz.


Let’s have some history, shall we?

Before the Nazis came to power, Germany was a centre of excellence for trans knowledge. One of the most notable people in the field was Magnus Hirschfield, whose institute for sexual science carried out extensive research into the psychology and biology of trans people. Hirschfield was the first person to systematically describe and work with people he termed transvestites and transsexuals; what we’d call trans people today.

By the early 1930s, people came from around the world to undergo reassignment surgery in Berlin. Then Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany in January 1931. Two years later, his brownshirts broke into Hirschfeld’s institute and burned his journals and research. When Hirschfeld was out of Germany on tour, the Nazi student group marched on the Institute. Over 20,000 books were set aflame, as well as medical diagrams and photographs crucial to understanding sex reassignment surgery. Hirschfeld and his colleagues were Jewish, but it wasn’t just that. Hitler also publicly raged against the “vice” of homosexuality and the “degenerate” lives of transsexuals. They weakened the Aryan cause.

Mia Mulder is a scholar of this particular part of history, and she sets out the detail on Twitter.

It is true that trans people were not categorized specifically as trans by the nazis (with few exceptions), because *they* saw trans people as Gay or lesbian due to a common misunderstanding in medicinal history to link gender and sexual orientation.

… This institute and Magnus himself advocated for LGBT rights in Weimar Germany, provided safe haven for many lgbt people and developed early methods of trans transitioning healthcare, many developed versions of which still exist today.

The Nazis targeted this place and saw no practical difference between LGBT people. They saw us all as sexual degenerates. They were nazis, they’re kind of dicks that way.

Were trans people targeted as a separate category? Mostly, no: they were considered gay or lesbian and given the same pink triangles. But there were exceptions. Sometimes trans people were targeted.

In November 11, 1933 the head of the Hamburg police was told to pay special attention to transvestites (a term which then means trans people as well as cross dressers) and bring them to concentration camps.

in 1938, a german medical journal recommended that the “phenomena of transvestism” be exterminated from public life and said that the current measures (concentration camps) were good enough for this task.

…during the bookburning of the entire library of the institute, the one thing they made sure to not burn was the member roster, which contained names and addresses which they used to round up as many people as they could and shuffle into concentration camps.

That roster, incidentally, is one reason trans people really, really don’t like the idea of any kind of register of trans people being created.

To say trans people weren’t targeted by the Nazis is patently untrue. In fact, it’s Holocaust denial: as soon as you ignore the evidence of what the Nazis did because you hate one of the groups they targeted, you open up the door to others: the homophobes, the racists, the anti-semites.

As a feminist woman I know put it (no name or link because I don’t want to send extremists her way):

This is not difference of opinion, or “debate” or “discussion” or “concern for women.” It is Nazi revisionism and it is fuelled by hatred and it should concern anyone opposed to far right rhetoric creeping into our democracy.

The Holocaust is not, and should never be, something to “debate”.

The stories we share

My friend Chris Phin has blogged about what he calls a really simple idea:

Everyone around you, indeed, everyone all over the world, has a story that brought them to today, to this minute, this second, that is as rich and internally consistent as yours.

That reminds me of my beloved This Is Water, in which David Foster Wallace notes that as you don’t know what people’s stories are, you might as well assume the best of people: you’ll never know one way or the other, so you might as well go for human warmth and empathy. You’ll have a much better life if you do.

(If you missed it, I wrote about this last Christmas in a post covering all kinds of things including how I stopped being a snob about Christmas lights on strangers’ houses.)

We humans are a storytelling species. This, in Time magazine, caught my eye:

Now, a new study in Nature Communications, helps explain why: storytelling is a powerful means of fostering social cooperation and teaching social norms, and it pays valuable dividends to the storytellers themselves, improving their chances of being chosen as social partners, receiving community support and even having healthy offspring.

It’s a really interesting study: researchers studied “forager cultures” and found that their tales “carried lessons about social cooperation, empathy and justice, and many taught sexual equality too.” It’s a small study, but I love the fact that it found “storytellers were chosen over people who had equally good reputations for hunting, fishing and foraging — which at least suggests that human beings may sometimes prize hearing an especially good story over eating an especially good meal.” I bet the storytellers were offered exposure rather than any payment, though.

Not everybody wants to share their stories, or read others’. I think in particular there’s a generational issue, where some people who grew up before the internet don’t understand why on Earth anybody would send their darkest thoughts into the public sphere. But for those of us who grew up with social media, or were introduced to it fairly early on, it’s perfectly natural.

As the late Douglas Adams so excellently put it:

I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:

1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

My very first article, some 20 years ago now, was about the then-new phenomenon of “journalling”: people posting about their lives online. It seemed strange then; today, it’s normal. And I think that can be powerful.

As Chris says:

I’m currently – today – feeling hopeful. Because around me, in the friends I have in cyber- and meatspace, and the media I chose to be exposed to, I see people much more willing to be emotionally vulnerable and honest. To allow people, in other words, to read that story inside each of us, and not to be afraid to show the world that we’re not the 2D cardboard cut-out people we usually feel we have to present as.

There are many problems with social media, but it has many positives too. Reading other people’s stories has helped me make sense of my own, has provided support when I really needed it, has helped me see beyond my bubble.

Chris again:

I’m seeing people using social media to articulate and own their issues, their problems and their insecurities – their stories. They’re prepared to show the workings-out of how you become a good and kind and whole person, rather than persisting in the fiction that they’re already complete, autonomous adults. And that’s marvellous, I think; I have become closer to friends who have embraced their chaos and their fuckups, and I believe people have been drawn closer to me when I’ve purposefully dismantled the façade I so carefully built from my teens on.

Storytelling is valuable to the storytellers as well as to the readers or listeners. I’ve been quite open on this blog, possibly more than some people would like, but I find the process of writing my thoughts down and putting them out there is useful. And I’ve had many real-world conversations with people about things I first talked about here. Sometimes all you need is a little “liked” icon to tell you that somebody found what you wrote useful, or interesting, or valuable, or funny.

Like Chris, I built a facade in my teens. And like Chris, I find I’m much happier having dismantled it. Being open online is part of that. It means I’m showing my authentic self: an imperfect human who’s trying to be better.

The roots of rage

A fascinating (and long) piece in The Atlantic by Charles Duhigg on rage: where it comes from and what it’s doing to America. Much of it applies on this side of the ocean too.

When we scrutinize the sources of our anger, we should see clearly that our rage is often being stoked not for our benefit but for someone else’s. If we can stop and see the anger merchants’ self-serving motives, we can perhaps start to loosen their grip on us.

Local journalism isn’t working


We’ve known for some time that local journalism is in crisis, partly because people don’t want to pay for news and largely because media owners are trying to extract as much money as possible from their titles, accelerating their inevitable closure by sacrificing quality.

This is a problem because local journalism is about the only thing that can hold local councils to account. The nationals simply aren’t interested, even when they do local sites: for example Trinity Mirror’s Glasgow Live is very good at telling you if there’s a crash on the M8, but much of what it produces is rewritten press releases from property developers and restaurants.

In an attempt to address that, the BBC’s Local Democracy Reporters funds local journalism specifically to cover local politics. In Glasgow and its surrounding areas, the money goes to the publishers of the Herald and the Evening Times.

Let’s see how that’s going, shall we? In a piece promoted with the exciting news that Glasgow will get a new tree-lined avenue, The Evening Times reports on a new, sizeable development that’s just been given planning permission.

Get Living have approval for the development on derelict land to the east of High Street close to the train station, in a historic part of Glasgow.

It will create a new city centre residential community with a new public square.

Work will also involve a new tree lined avenue through the development connecting the Merchant City out towards the east end.

Exciting! And yet, as the excellent A Thousand Flowers blog points out, not so excellent. The development deals a fatal blow to the Crossrail project, which hoped to solve significant problems with Glasgow’s public transport.

…any future proposals to develop Crossrail have today been dealt a fatal blow after Glasgow City Council approved a major mixed-use development on the “High street curve” site that would be vital for creating the link. The £200m high rise plans – from Get Living Group (Glasgow) Limited – are for 727 build-to-rent homes, 99 student studios and more than 3,000 square metres of retail, leisure and business space on a former goods yard site.

The blog also points out the shady financial status of the developer, whose Glaswegian-sounding company is registered in one tax haven and has a parent company registered in another tax haven.

Still, a development of this size will include affordable housing, won’t it?

Won’t it?

Unsurprisingly, the Section 75 planning agreement between Get Living Group and the council makes no reference to affordable housing provision nor rent levels in the flats being developed. Get Living Group currently operate two similar build-to-rent schemes in London where flats are on offer for between £1,650 and £3,856 per calendar month, which provides an indication of the market segment that they will be aiming for.

This story represents a failure on multiple levels, and it’s exactly the sort of thing we need local journalism to report on. But what we’re getting isn’t journalism. It’s churnalism.

Update, 12 Dec: The ET has returned to the story, quoting one MP’s criticisms. Credit where credit’s due – but the time to question planning is before the applications are approved, not afterwards.

“The body blow of wishing”


I really like Kirsty Strickland, one of Scots media’s more interesting columnists: she’s funny on Twitter, incisive on politics and occasionally devastating on Medium.

Here, she writes about how grief is part of Christmas for so many people.

Because for all the joy that Christmas can bring, its braying decadence and opulence can also provoke harsher, sharper feelings — separately and intertwined with one another — like the scalding heat of freezing fingers.

One of those is certainly grief. It’s a place where your happy memories and treasured times with a departed loved one collide with the body blow of wishing beyond anything else that they were still here.

I love the imagery in her post, grief as a wound that “will fade over time to a silvery scar.” She’s writing about death and loss here, but of course death isn’t the only kind of loss. Some of us will be experiencing Christmas alone after years of family life, or with parents who no longer remember who we are, or with diagnoses predicting horrors in the days and months to come.

Our streets will be still on Christmas Day and all the ordinariness of life will grind to a halt. This gives us time to think and to remember; to rejoice and, yes even to grieve.

As Strickland notes, if you’re struggling and need somebody to talk to then the Samaritans are available 24/7 by calling 116 123 or emailing

Finding the good things you weren’t looking for


I’ve been writing a lot about “discovery” recently, the way in which apps attempt to find things you might like based on what you’ve liked before. But the best discovery is when you find things that aren’t just based on your purchase history or listening history.

For example, over the last couple of days I’ve discovered all kinds of fun things: the beautiful glass jewellery of Rachel Elliott, the gorgeous voice of Courtney Lynn, the hip-hop artist Becca Starr and the stunning folk/rock of Annie Booth.

I came across all of these things by accident. Elliot was selling her stuff in a one-off market in the downstairs of a pub; Lynn just happened to be playing in a bar chosen at random for a quick Sunday drink; Starr was performing in a venue where some of my friends hang out and Booth was played on a radio show I don’t usually listen to.

It’s a great demonstration of why it’s important to explore, whether that’s physically – going to places you don’t usually go – or in a less physical sense, by being open to new things or experiences.

There’s a word for encountering great things without going looking for them: serendipity, which means happy accidents: when things occur entirely by chance in a happy or beneficial way. Some of my very favourite things in the whole world came to me through serendipity. I don’t believe in destiny, the idea that everything we do is somehow pre-ordained. But I do believe in serendipity, that some of the word’s greatest joys come when you aren’t looking for them.

I love the origins of words, and this one’s particularly great. It was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754 in his Three Princes of Serendip, a fairy tale where the heroes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.”

I wasn’t planning to look into the origin of it; I just wanted to see if there was a better definition. So the delight I have in that little nugget of information is serendipitous too.