Kyle’s (Second) Hot Take On Gun Violence In America

Image from CNBC

I didn’t want to write this post. Nothing I say here will do anything to change the past or alter the course of the future. No one’s mind or vote will be changed, and no one’s bullets will be stopped.

But I’m going to write this anyway, because frankly I’m too pissed off not to.

Back in 2018, I wrote my original take on gun violence in America in the wake of a shooting at a Madden tournament in Florida. I ran through the sickening numbers, discussed the positions of both major political parties on the issue, laid out my thoughts, addressed some common counterarguments, and closed with the following sentence:

“It’s time for a change, America. What that change winds up being, I leave to you.”

Four years later, in the wake of mass shootings at a Buffalo supermarket, a church in Laguna Woods, California, and an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, it’s clear that the change I asked about then has been no change at all. The numbers look worse now than they did then:

Right now, we’re also an outlier in that many countries have taken action in the wake of such tragedies, while around here we just wring our hands (which is not easy to do when we’re also sitting on them), offer scripted thoughts and prayers, and wait for the next bullets to fly. It’s time to stop talking and start acting.

So what do we do? Given that we’ve done nothing so far, I think my wishlist from 2018 is still a good starting point:

“I think assault rifles and large-capacity magazines have no place in a peaceful society, and they should be banned.”

“I think anyone that wants to own a gun should attend a comprehensive safety course and be subject to a comprehensive background check and mental-health screening, which better ensures that gun operators are both fit and able to use them properly. In fact, I’d be willing to take a page from Japan’s book and require that gun owners repeat these tests every few years.”

“I think we need rigorous national standards for gun ownership requirements. I believe this makes sense from a bipartisan perspective, as it means a) that we know that any gun owner in America went through the same process to get it, and b) it makes firearm reciprocity laws simpler, as states no longer have to deal with competing standards.”

“I think we should treat gun violence as a public health issue, and look deeper into the reasons why people commit these atrocities. I don’t think people just wake up one day and decide to kill indiscriminately, and instead feel that these acts are often the end result of untreated underlying issues. We need to get a sense of what these issues are, and see what sorts of countermeasures are most effective.”

Some of these are admittedly broad and vague, but there are concrete steps our leaders can take right now to start moving forward on these ideas. For example, H.R. 8 would “require background checks on all gun sales,” closing current loopholes that let unlicensed sellers avoid background checks on sales at shows or online. If legislators are serious about looking for “commonsense gun laws,” I think H.R. 8 more than qualifies.

I’ll throw a few more wishes out there:

  • Let’s put an end to the either/or baloney that certain politicians (especially on the right) lean on in times like these, and let’s attack this problem from every possible angle. People like Texas governor Greg Abbott and Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene like to focus on mental health issues when discussing gun violence, and either ignore or reject gun control as a possible solution. Even if we set aside the dangers of “bluntly linking mental health to gun violence,” there’s an underlying fallacy at play here: We don’t have to do one thing or the other—we can do both! We can—scratch that, we should—take steps to limit the number and availability of firearms and take steps to address our nation’s mental-health crisis. A huge problem like the one we’re facing now requires a comprehensive strategy to address it, and every option should be on the table.
  • It is time to toss the filibuster into the dustbin of history once and for all. Gun control is just the latest in a long line of important issues that have been stymied and stonewalled despite being supported by a majority of senators and the population. Yes, I’m aware that this action has ramifications beyond this issue, and I’m willing to accept them because the alternative is a do-nothing, useless legislative body that serves no purpose, holds no trust, and adds to the rising tensions instead of being the ‘cooling saucer’ it claims to be. Is it time to make the United States Senate a place of action again, where senators go on record for their convictions and those in the minority must hone their arguments and find ways to change the hearts and minds of their colleagues and constituents. If House Wolffort can find a way to move forward on tough decisions, so can Washington.

At this point, doing nothing means that we’re okay with the blood-stained status quo, and I am not okay with that. If someone wants your vote this November, you should demand that they have a good answer to this question, because allowing this level of violence to be inflicted upon our fellow citizens on a daily basis is simply unacceptable. We (and the people that represent us) need to stop cowering behind our thoughts and prayers, and instead take a stand and start making moves to make this better.

I’m not asking for change this time; I’m demanding it. Do NOT make me write this post again in 2026.

Kyle’s Statement On The War In Ukraine

Image from The Associated Press

(WARNING: Language)

As much as I’d like to discuss the recent Pokémon Presents or the latest single from the Zac Brown Band, when a madman initiates “the largest ground war in Europe since World War II,” you have to pay attention.

Relations between Russia and Ukraine have been tense (to put it mildly) for years, and Russia had been illegally occupying the Crimean peninsula since and backing separatist military forces in eastern Ukraine since 2014. Late last week, however, Russian president Vladimir Putin decided that Ukraine had to be punished for having the audacity to exist, and launched a full-scale invasion to topple the Ukrainian government.

Putin likely thought that taking over Ukraine would be a quick affair that would draw a lot of complaining but very little action from the West. To say he was wrong on all counts this time is an understatement: The Ukrainian people have risen up to mount a fierce defense of their nation, and the international community finally brought their soft power A-game to the table, booting major Russian banks out of the SWIFT financial messaging system, cutting off key technology exports to the country, and even closing their airspace to Russain planes. Note to Putin: You know you done fucked up when Turkey announces plans to limit your access to the Black Sea and the Swiss (the Swiss!) set aside their longstanding neutrality policy to tell you how badly you suck.

Now, the sad truth is that Russia has far more military might than Ukraine, and while President Volodymyr Zelensky and the Ukrainian forces are putting up one heck of a fight, the odds of Russia taking control of the capital city Kyiv and detaining or executing Ukrainian government leaders are still too high to make anyone comfortable. As I hide behind a keyboard from half a world away, I also know that nothing I say or do will have any impact on the eventual outcome of the war. Still, I wanted to add my voice to the millions who for calling for the war to end and for Putin to GTFO of Ukraine.

The violence and bloodshed we’re seeing in Ukraine right now is an absolute travesty, and I place all the blame for it squarely on Putin’s tiny little head. His claim that he needed to de-Nazify Ukraine is flimsier than a Dustin Lynch lyric, and he is 100% in the wrong here. He needs to withdraw his troops from Ukraine immediately, cease his support for separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine, end Russia’s occupation of Crimea, and go back to his palace and stop menacing Russian citizens and antagonizing the rest of the world.

As for President Zelensky, the amount of leadership and bravery that this man has demonstrated in the last few days is more than most of us will show in a lifetime. This guy is toast if the Russians ever get their hands on him, yet he rejected an American evacuation offer and remained “in the firing line” with the rest of his nation, a bold move that I don’t think I would ever have the guts to do. (Calling out Niko Moon on a blog is one thing; staring down a nuclear power that’s out for your head is another.) Zelensky has risen to meet the moment, and he deserves every accolade (and arms shipment) that’s been sent his way.

So what should we be doing right now? On a personal level, there are a number of organizations that people can donate to that are trying to support the Ukrainian people during this crisis. On a political level, I’ve been impressed with how President Biden has handled the situation so far, even if I’m disappointed that we weren’t able to deter him from invading in the end. The NATO alliance has been far more united than I expected, the administration’s strategy of radical transparency made it abundantly clear that the invasion was a blatant power grab regardless of what the Russians claimed, and while I’ve seen headlines about sanctions taking a toll on various nations, I’ve never seen them make an impact this quickly. Congress stands ready to do more if needed, and I’m in full support of sending whatever military and economic assistance we can to Ukraine. (As far as no-fly zones and putting NATO forces into potential direct contact with Russian troops: I’m not quite ready to go there yet, but that feeling may change as the situation on the ground develops.)

When Russia made its move, there was a lot of talk about how a new world order had begun, and how our rules-based international system will be challenged by despots engaging in pure power politics with a “might makes right” mentality. While I’m a pessimist by nature, I’m actually not ready to throw dirt on the old order and institutions just yet (even if some of them haven’t proven to be terribly effective in this crisis). The way the world came together after Russia dropped its facade and made a beeline for Kyiv (and the impact that the world’s response and the Ukrainian resistance has had so far) make me believe that the old rules might still apply, and if Russia ends up getting swatted hard enough for their foolishness, maybe other would-be dictators will think twice about pulling a similar move in the future. It’s up to us to impose a severe punishment on Russia for breaking the rules so flagrantly, and do everything we can to bring peace back to Ukraine.

To paraphrase a now-famous statement: Vladimir Putin, go fuck yourself.

Image from The Atlantic

State Of The Blog Address: What Now?

We did it! Now if only someone would tell me what “it” is…

At this time last year, we were trapped within a swirling vortex of chaos: A pandemic, an election year, a reckoning over racial injustice…current events became impossible to ignore, and the stakes were so high that I turned last year’s address over to The New England Patriot to talk about it all. As we know now, things managed to get even crazier in the months following that post (culminating in an attempted coup at the start of the new year), but somehow we managed to get through it, and 2021 was billed as the year things would start to return to some semblance of normalcy.

At we sit here today, 2021 can be called many things, but “normal” ain’t one of them:

  • A stubborn resistance to taking vaccines and a highly-transmissable new virus variant have allowed the coronavirus to survive (and even thrive) this year.
  • The 2020 election continues to be litigated despite no credible evidence that anything nefarious happened.
  • It seems that whatever momentum we had for moving towards racial equity as a society has already fizzled out, if the Morgan Wallen incident is any indication.
  • Oh yeah, and there are other major issues bubbling up that the blog has never even touched upon, the biggest being climate change and its potential (and present) impact on the world.

So yeah, there hasn’t been a ton to celebrate this year. However, to paraphrase both the wording and the sentiment of Alan Jackson and George Jones, it’s been a good year for the blog.

So what is the state of the blog, anyway? As I mentioned back in my 1000-post celebration in May, things are looking up: As of this writing the site’s total view count is just a hair under 300,000, and certain posts (especially the deep dives) continue to set the pace for overall viewership. The rapid growth that kicked off almost the minute last year’s address came out finally cooled off early in the summer (I took it as a sign that people were finally starting to emerge for their quarantine hideaways and weren’t scouring the Internet for content 24/7), but readership remains surprisingly robust, even as the post topics get a bit more scattershot.

That being said, are there some potential concerns lurking in the background? Absolutely, and it’s about time I talked about them:

  • Deep dives on country artists are by far the most-popular posts on the site, but they’re also some of the rarest, with the most-recent one (discounting the 100-post special) published back in May. Part of the issue is the same scheduling concerns that made me cut back from 5 to 3 posts a week are still present, but I think there’s a bigger issue at play…
  • As you’ve probably gleaned from my Pulse posts over the last few months, I’m really not happy with the state of country music right now. We seem to have mostly escaped from the irritating nihilism that was the Cobronavirus movement, but the meta right now, in a word, is formulaic: Every song feels like it uses the same three instruments and the same twelve words, and they continue to be framed in stereotypical “country” terms: The beer, the trucks, the nighttime drives down dirt roads, etc. (Spoiler alert: There’s a reason I’ve been putting off that Frank Ray review.) There have been diamonds in the rough, of course, but by and large listening to country music right now is not an enjoyable experience, and by extension writing about it isn’t any fun either.
  • So what does a music fan do when there’s little to celebrate in the present? They go back to the past and listen to what they liked before, and that’s what I’ve found myself doing more this year. (Case in point: My most recent CD purchases have been Chapel Hart, Steve Wariner, and…Lefty Frizzell.) My biggest fear with this blog is becoming an unsatisfiable curmudgeon who doesn’t like any song that’s less than ten years old, but I can definitely feel myself getting pulled in that direction, and that’s led me to question whether I’m the right person to write the Pulse posts and assess the current state of the genre.

On the flip side, after a bit of a dry spell the last year or two, the gaming space is getting a lot more interesting these days, and I’ve been trying to work it into my schedule more often (which is where the random Splatoon 2 weapon guides are coming from). It’s still a small fraction of my current output, but it’s a space I’d like to do more in, even if such content isn’t always suited to the (virtually) printed page.

So given all this, where does the blog go from here? Perhaps a better question might be “Why are we constraining ourselves to this platform in the first place?”

After getting laid off back in 2017, I had a brief run on YouTube with the “Kyle Vs.” series, where my philosophy was simple: Play hard level, record suffering, post death montage. The series came to a quick end when lost my reliable network connection, but after 2020 forced me to become an educational content creator (I like to say that I was no longer an instructor, but my students’ new favorite streamer), I decided to revive the series this month as a test to see a) if I could do it, b) if it was fun, and c) if people would be interested in watching it. The formula remains the same as before, but I’d like to work in more games and more series if my schedule allows for it.

Wait, does this mean you’ll be stepping back from the blog? No way! The current plan is to continue on the usual three-post-per-week schedule, and given that the above video took me over ten hours to edit, I doubt I’ll be ramping up video production past one a week in the short term. The bigger question is “What should I cover on the blog?”

  • I’ve been waffling on keeping the Pulse posts for a while: They force me to write more reviews about more songs I don’t really care about, and honestly it doesn’t seem like folks are all that interested in the Pulse anymore. I’ll probably keep them around for a while longer, but if there’s any type of post I’m looking to drop, it’s this one.
  • My song review rate is a lot lower than it was in 2019, but I’d still like to cut it back a bit more. Spending so much time talking about a track just to ultimately declare that it wasn’t worth talking about in the first place is getting old—I’d rather focus on highlighting the really good stuff and breaking down the bad stuff to see what went wrong. That’s part of the reason I’d like to drop the Pulse—if a song’s stuck in the mushy middle, I don’t have to overanalyze it.
  • If I’m listening to more retro stuff, then I should probably talk more about retro stuff, right? That could mean the return of deep dives, plus perhaps a few other new features (Sam Wilson suggested a while back that I cover some one-hit wonders of yesteryear, which is definitely a possibility). I’m not much of an album reviewer, but I suppose digging through my collection of hand-me-down musical media and doing some retrospectives on a few of them might be fun too.
  • I don’t see gaming posts going anywhere: Nintendo’s still going to do stuff, and I’m still going to have opinions about it. However, if I ever break down and (gasp!) buy a non-Nintendo system, it might help broaden the scope of what I cover and care about, and open up some more possibilities on the video front as well.

In other words, I think the state of the blog is fine, and it’s certainly better than the state of the world in general right now. For all the hope that this year promised, 2021 has been a bit of a disappointment (to put it mildly), and people are hesitant to look forward right now given how badly we’ve been burned. The truth is that things could definitely be better, but they won’t get better unless we all put in the work to make it happen. Whether it’s bringing the pandemic to a close, closing our immense political divide, or addressing concerns about your own pet projects (like, say, a blog), we’ve got to take ownership of the problem and take leadership of the solution, whether it be with your words or your deeds.

Where we are may not be satisfying, but where we go is still up to us. If you’ve got a vision of the future (either for yourself, your community, or your world), get out there and make it a reality.

1000 Post Special: What Happened To Kyle Akers?

Willie Nelson was right: It is funny how time slips away, isn’t it?

A few weeks ago, I noticed that the blog was closing in on the 1000-post mark, a major milestone for a blog whose future has been in doubt on multiple occasions over the last few years. The realization inspired me to check the site’s total view count (WordPress’s new UI doesn’t display the total like it used to), and I was even more surprised to find that Kyle’s Korner had crossed the 250,000 view mark (in fact, at the time I wrote we were just short of 261,000). I know that spam bots and other automated web crawlers generate a lot of traffic, but still: A quarter of a million views?! The number caught me a bit off guard, and it made me reflect on everything that had transpired since my eulogy for José Fernández was posted all those years ago.

Since its founding in 2016, Kyle’s Korner has survived three jobs across three states, the rise and fall of Bro-Country, the release of the Nintendo Switch, the suicide of a close friend, the Trump administration, an attempted coup, a nationwide reckoning on race, and a global pandemic. (To say that this is not the world I thought we’d be living in when I started the blog is the understatement of the millennium.) Posts have gotten longer, monthly readership has grown from the tens to the tens of thousands, the sport and gaming topics I thought I would be talking about have taken a backseat to song reviews and artist deep dives, and Thanos has turned Luke Bryan into “the other Luke” in country music. All of these developments give rise to a simple question: How?

Since deep dives have become the biggest draw on the site, it seemed like putting together one for Post #1000 would suit the occasion, and it turns out that both Zack Kephart and Jmaster824 had the same question that I did:

So today, we’re booting up old laptops, logging onto old accounts, and diggin’ up bones a long-forgotten hard drive from the Sudikoff courtyard (I had to move it anyway, the department is moving to another building this fall) to answer a few questions:

  • How did we get here?
  • Why are we still here?
  • Have we learned any lessons that might be useful for posterity?

In a nutshell, the journey to Kyle’s Korner is one of perseverance and self-discovery, a long quest to find a place in this world in which the eventual decision was “F*** it, I’ll just make my own place.” By going back through the story, perhaps we can unearth some nuggets of wisdom that will help you on your own path through life.

Act I: The New England Patriot (2004-2006)

The original header image for ‘The New England Patriot’ (the template added the title automatically, but not the tagline).

My first blog was a product of mixing the political climate of the early 2000s with a heaping helping of dumb luck:

  • In 2002, President George W. Bush and his cronies began agitating for military operations against Iraq, claiming that then-dictator Saddam Hussein posed a threat because he possessed weapons of mass destruction. Subsequent U.N. inspections turned up no evidence of such weapons, but the administration kept claiming that they were there and needed to be dealt with, and Bush eventually led a “coalition of the willing” into Iraq in 2003. The resulting quagmire dominated American politics (and country music) for the next few years, and in the end no WMDs were ever found.

I ran with a pretty liberal crew at the time (Editor’s note: He still does), and while we weren’t Bush’s biggest fans to begin with, his insistence on invading Iraq despite having an extremely flimsy case for doing so really made us mad, and a few of them responded by founding a blog called “Satire Is Dead,” where they ranted about and mocked the antics of the Bush administration (think Seth Meyers’s “A Closer Look” series, but in blog form and nowhere near as funny). I wasn’t a founding member of the site, but they looked like they having fun and I had a few choice words I wanted to share, so when they asked me to be a contributing author, I said yes.

  • A few months later, I was contacted by a friend who was doing some IT work as part of his college work-study program. His boss had tasked him with setting up a blog on a development server in order to test out some website monitoring tools, but he didn’t have any content to generate the traffic he needed to monitor. He knew that I had some blogging experience through SID, so he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: I could take control of the blog, customize the look, feel, and branding, and write whatever random junk I wanted, and he would analyze the traffic and take care of all the messy backend stuff. (Looking back, I’m surprised he wasn’t more worried about getting fired for this…) Being super bored at my own position, I agreed, and we sealed the deal over coffee the next day.

“The New England Patriot” published their first post on December 3, 2004, discussing President Bush’s nomination of Bernard Kerik to lead the Department of Homeland Security. (The name was a play on the NFL’s New England Patriots, who were just starting to dominate the league under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. To this day, I wonder how many confused football fans showed up at the blog just looking for NFL news.) For the next two years, I would spend most of my day reading the news online, writing up and publishing a post about something if it irritated or amused me enough, and sending it over to Satire Is Dead if the humor was biting enough (at least until that blog disintegrated as people left to pursue other projects). There was no set post schedule, no hard limit on topic choices (if I wanted to rant about Rafael Palmeiro’s steroid use or the uselessness of college rankings, I did), and no assumption of readership—in fact, given how little engagement the blog got, for most of its tenure I figured I was just shouting into the void. (All my sysadmin partner would ever tell me is that he had to keep messing with his firewall to block all the spam commenters.)

So if no one was listening, why did I keep talking? On one hand, there were definitely elements of ego and boredom involved: I thought I had something that was worth saying, and I had nothing better to do than to say it. There was probably an element of “What harm could it do?” as well, especially if no one was actually reading the posts (although today the fantasy of cyberspace/reality separation has been thoroughly dispelled).

However, upon further review I think the biggest driver behind The New England Patriot was that the blog allowed me to talk about the things I wanted to talk about, nothing more and nothing less. At the time, I was operating in a tech-centered bubble where most people preferred to talk about things like graph theory and runtime analysis, and the blog was the digital equivalent of screaming into a pillow, letting me ramble on about whatever on my mind even if no one was actually listening.

What I discovered later, however, was that people were actually listening:

  • Late in 2005, I got an excited email from one of my Satire Is Dead colleagues saying that one of my posts has been quoted in the Express, a newspaper distributed in the D.C. area:

While I really wish the paper had used a better quote than that throwaway line, it was amazing to think that I had crossed over into an old-school publication. Still, D.C. lives and breathes politics, so it’s not surprising that even an obscure blog like ours would pop up on their radar. What about local attention?

  • In 2006, when Vermont Daily Briefing (a blog that still exists, although it’s no longer politically-focused) reported on the vandalizing of the PoliticsVT blog, I asked my sysadmin partner if there was anything he could do to help. He in turn reached out to VDB’s founder with some ideas about recovering the data, and they mentioned in their response that they knew about us and had been checking in on The New England Patriot for some time! The revelation absolutely blew my mind: I had following VDB for a while, but never imagined that the reverse might have been true.
  • The reaction became even more local in the wake of the campus conservative publication The Dartmouth Review using a grossly offensive characterization of Native Americans in their paper in late 2006, leading a number of campus and community members to rally in support of Native Americans and proclaim, as I reported on the blog, “that Dartmouth cannot and will not stand for such outright bigotry and bullshit.” My writeup of the event quickly became the most commented-on post at the site, finally driving the point home that yes, people were paying attention to my words.

So naturally, less than a week after I finally realized I had an audience and some momentum…my server admin decided to leave his job and join a startup company, and thus had to decommission his servers. Just like that, the reign of The New England Patriot came to an unceremonious end.

However, I learned a valuable lesson for my days on the political beat, albeit one I could have picked up much more quickly just by watching Kevin Costner: “If you build it, [they] will come.” If you stand on a digital street corner and shout long enough, eventually people will stop and listen, and the more you post, the more you hone your craft and figure out just what you’re trying to say. These were important lessons that I applied in my return to blogging a decade later.

Act II: Green Akers (2011-2016)

The cover image for Mortal Kombat: Equestria.

So what did I do in my hiatus from the blogosphere? For a while, I didn’t do much at all, because I was wrestling with a bigger question: What do I want to be when I grow up? The answer eluded me, so with no better options I continued walking the technological path I was on, finishing school and eventually moving into academic research. However, the more time I spent in the field, the more frustrating and less fulfilling I found it, and I began to wonder if a career in tech was really what I wanted.

It goes without saying that I was playing a lot of video games at the time (this was the heyday of the Nintendo Wii and DS, after all), and making video games with the reason I’d gotten into programming in the first place. As time went on, however, I realized that it wasn’t the technology aspect of the games that fascinated me, but the storytelling, and how games like RPGs had strong narratives and complex characters that came together to form deep and engaging tales. To heck with this computer stuff, I thought, I’m going to be…a writer!

Unfortunately, there were two problems with this goal:

  • Writing is a notoriously poor-paying profession for most of it practitioners, and I kind of like to eat, pay rent, and buy Nintendo games.
  • I am the most unoriginal person in the world. Put me in an existing world and I can riff off of it endlessly; tell me to develop my own world from scratch, and I’ll stare at a blank page for months.

The solution to both problems was to enter the realm of fan fiction, letting me use existing universes to practice while also settling the question of whether this was a profession or a hobby (trying to make money off of other peoples’ copyrights isn’t a good idea, so the second option was definitely the safest!). I spent the next year or so working on projects featuring different franchises (most of which will forever remain unfinished and unpublished), but my work suddenly entered the public domain when Lauren Faust brought the fourth generation of My Little Pony to life.

Scene from “Swarm Of The Century” (Image from Fandom.com)

I was hooked by the way the show subverted the classic tropes of princess-oriented cartoons and worked in a bunch of real-world messiness to hilarious effect, and apparently so were a lot of other people, as ‘bronies’ seemed to take over the Internet in the early 2010s. As the community grew, a rich corpus of fan stories (some good, others kind of cringey) began to accumulate, and after much deliberation, I decided to toss my hat into the ring, if only to see if what I was producing on my own was any good.

If you ask me “Where did your first story idea come from?”, I honestly have no idea. A random thought just popped into my head one day: “Hey, I bet no one’s ever tried to combine My Little Pony and Mortal Kombat before!” There was probably a good reason for that, as the franchises were pretty much polar opposites of one another (M-rated gore and violence vs. kid-friendly problem-solving with just the right amount of action), and trying to smash the two together and turn the whole mess into a slapstick comedy was even more bewildering. (I also didn’t know a whole heck of a lot about the MK franchise – I worked more off of the 1995 movie than the actual games.) In other words, it probably shouldn’t have been the first story I published.

Nevertheless, that’s exactly what I did, publishing Mortal Kombat: Equestria at the tail end of 2011 under the name “Green Akers” (it seemed like a witty play on words at the time). The earlier chapters are a bit rough and hard to revisit now (that Trollestia trope was overdone a year before I used it) and the moderators at Equestria Daily never thought much of the tale, but the story wound up being fairly well-received, which just emboldened me to go even wilder with the humor and pop-culture references in later chapters. (Re-reading it now, I even found some Brad Paisley and Jerry Reed references that I tossed in.)

Okay, but what does all this have to do with Kyle’s Korner?

Well, besides the fact that MKE and subsequent stories got me back into the writing game, I definitely learned a few things from the fanfiction experience:

  • When I first started writing MKE, I had no plan besides “Ponies fight through tournament.” I had no idea how each battle would go, how the universes would actually interact, or how the story would eventually end, so I basically spent the next three years figuring things out on the fly. Up until this point, I had a bad habit of dropping projects before I finished them, and this story got dangerously close to that point several times over its lifespan. Ultimately, however, I decided that come what may, I was going to stop leaving things half-finished and see MKE through to completion, which I finally did late in 2014. That dogged stick-to-itiveness I developed has come in really handy when running Kyle’s Korner, which has been on shaky ground more than a few times during its run.
  • Country music and Nintendo are a strange pairing, but it’s way less strange than putting Mortal Kombat and My Little Pony (and later MLP and Splatoon) together. The experience taught me that unconventional combinations can still work if they’re executed well, and gave me more confidence in my decision to let my current blog be more scattershot with its subject matter.
  • This act also introduced me to the darker side of the Internet, as some MK fans (and one in particular) were not happy with the irreverence I treated that franchise with, and they weren’t shy about telling me what they would do to me in response. After a few encounters like those, having someone call you a moron over a 5/10 song review just doesn’t have the same sting.

I wrote more and better stories during and after the MKE era (Grounded is probably my favorite of the bunch), but it was MKE that kicked off this new era of prose, and since the story is celebrating its 10th (!) anniversary this year, I figured it was a good time to once again thank it for its service.

Act III: Kyle’s Korner (2016-Present)

The original header for the blog (I still use it for the ‘About’ page).

I can’t say exactly what caused me to fall away from the MLP fandom. I will say that the episodes got more predictable as time went on, and it got harder and harder to watch characters put themselves in obviously-bad positions and then slowly watch the train wrecks unfold. I gave the show up for good halfway through 2015, and though I tried to give my work a shot in the arm by mixing in my new favorite franchise Splatoon, it’s really hard to make your work canon when you don’t know what canon is.

Life was changing in other ways as well: Most notably, my Ph.D. advisor finally got tired of having me around, and the school declared me to be ‘Dr. Kyle’ and told me to GTFO. I’d had it up to here with academia and research by then, so I set off on a cross-country journey to join the corporate world and finally make some real money.

How did that go? I’ll let 2019 Kyle explain:

I always knew that 2016 Kyle was in a dark place, but I’ve only recently realized just how dark that place was, not to mention how long he’d been stuck there. He had sold his soul to be a faceless cog in a corporate machine, and was now aimlessly adrift deep in the heart of Texas with a bleak future of monotony and isolation ahead of him. Sure, he had more space than he knew what to do with and he was eating all the frozen Walmart chicken that money could buy, but his was an existence without purpose, and his only reason for living was to sit around and watch himself die…

2017 Kyle didn’t fare much better, as said corporate machine decided that his group was expendable and gave him the axe that summer. While they ultimately did me a favor by cutting me loose, in doing so they unleashed a period of great anxiety and uncertainty, which only grew with each passing week of unanswered applications and unsuccessful interviews. It was pretty clear that the world wanted nothing to do with this poor slob anymore, and I’d be lying if I said there weren’t moments when I wondered if the clock on my personal scoreboard had ticked down to zero.

“State of the Blog Address: Rollin’ With The Flow,” September 25. 2019

So yeah, it was not fun. It’s only been five years since I left Texas, but it feels like fifty, and that was before 2020 took another twenty years to pass by itself.

As 2019 Kyle put it, Kyle’s Korner was “a boondoggle that was meant to kill time while waiting for the Grim Reaper to show up, as well as a place to use those writing skills I’d spent years sharpening on research papers and My Little Pony fanfiction.” As I mentioned, however, writing skills weren’t the only contribution of my earlier projects:

  • From the beginning, I told myself not to get caught up in the numbers, such as post views or likes. My stint as The New England Patriot taught me that eventually people would stop and see what was going on, and if they didn’t, that was fine too—I was writing for me this time, not for anyone else.
  • My only rule for post topics was that there were no other rules: I was going to talk about whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. The original tagline included music, gaming, and sports, and while the last of these has mostly been abandoned, early posts discussed Madison Bumgarner, Buck Showalter, and NASCAR alongside Justin Moore (my first official review) and Super Mario Maker. Only politics were deemed off-limits originally (I figured I’d already served my time in that realm), and even that restriction crumbled in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Over time, the blog kind of found its own niche in country music, but I still detour into the realm of game reviews, Pokémon Nuzlocke challenges and Splatoon 2 gear guides when I feel like it, and I don’t plan on stopping soon (Side note: Look for a Bravely Default II review soon!). In short, I went in without a plan or a point, confident that things would work out just as they did with Mortal Kombat: Equestria.

I gave this a 6/10 back in the day. If I’m honest, it’s probably a 4 if I reviewed it today, given how much Moore’s pushy attitude irritates me now.

So what am I still doing here three states and nearly five years after that José Fernández eulogy? Part of it is that I’m actually kind of proud of what I’ve put together here, and I want to see how long I can keep the momentum going. The blog’s reach seems to grow by leaps and bounds every year, and it really exploded in the second half of 2020, to the point where we’ve now exceeded 10,000 views for the last five months and are on pace to make it six in May. Certain features, such as the weekly chart Pulse updates I stole from Josh Schott and the occasional deep dives I do into the careers of older country stars, have really taken off, and my Toby Keith deep dive has blown up to the point where it’s nearly four times as popular as everything else here, and for that matter everything else I’ve ever written. For perspective:

However, the biggest reason I’m still here is that I’ve given myself the freedom to make this blog whatever I heck I want to. There’s no central thread of politics or ponies; if I ever wanted to get back in the fanfiction game or go off on a wild tangent about cooking or educational pedagogy, I can do it here. I’m the big cheese here in this cyber castle, and if I don’t think the grass is green enough, I’ll add whatever I think counts as Miracle Gro until I’m satisfied.

That said, I’ll admit that I’ve been tempted by other mediums beyond the printed word over the years, and have thought about branching out into other spheres. For example, I had a short-lived “Kyle Vs.” series on YouTube back in 2017—do I follow in Grady Smith’s footsteps and try to reboot that channel, or maybe spin up a channel on Twitch and start streaming some Nintendo classics? I’m not really in a position to do that sort of thing right now, but I’m not getting any younger either, so we’ll see if my attitude changes as 2022 approaches…Regardless, I think I’m in a good spot now, and I have the flexibility to keep this a good spot into the future, so don’t expect to get rid of me anytime soon.

A group photo of the blog’s editorial team.

Conclusions

In my expert opinion, Kyle Akers is a deeply disturbed individual who has spent much of his life trying to figure out what he wants to do with said life. The answer, to quote Terri Clark, is “I Wanna Do It All”; no one topic, industry, or cinematic universe seems to contain or satisfy him. He is doomed to wander this world forever, aimlessly bouncing from topic to topic and trying futilely to weave them all into a single, coherent narrative. Kyle’s Korner is nothing more than the chronicle of this pitiful journey, an attempt to inject meaning into what is ultimately a useless existence. No one cares that it is here, and no one will miss Mr. Akers when he is gone.

—The Honorable Dr. K. G. Akers, Esquire

Good grief Doc, did you have to be so negative with that statement? While I’ll admit that the Kyle of 2004, 2011, and 2016 would probably agree 100% with the good doctor’s drivel, 2021 Kyle sees the journey a bit differently. The story of my writing “career” is ultimately one of learning, growing, and eventually informing (and maybe even inspiring) others along the way. Whether it was a fictitious trip through the Trottingham jail, a guide to using the Tenta Brella effectively, a treatise on why should add Mickey Guyton to your playlist (and remove Michael Ray), or even my weekly Pulse reminders to wear a mask and keep your distance from others, I hope readers were able to take something positive away from my ramblings, and what they lacked in coherence they made up for in usefulness.

So let’s wrap this up with this goal in mind: If you’re still reading, what should you take away from this story?

  • If you’ve ever wanted to start a blog, YouTube channel, or any other creative project, don’t be afraid to do just do it. Sure, your first few projects might be rough and hard to revisit later, and people may ignore you at first, but just stick with it. The more you do it, you’ll better you’ll get at it, and the more people will stop and take notice.
  • When deciding what to focus on, make passion a priority over experience. Seriously, if I wrote about things that I’m a formal “subject matter expert” on, I’d be writing manuals on computer network protocols and intrusion detection systems, topics so dry and dense that even Twilight Sparkle wouldn’t bother reading about them. When I started reviewing songs, my only qualifications were decades of listening to the radio and owning Randy Travis’s entire discography, but when you’re driven to take on a subject, you go the extra mile to figure out how you think you should do it, and you learn from your mistakes along the way. Don’t worry about being an expert right from the start; if you do something often enough, you’ll become an expert along the way.
  • That said, don’t box yourself in by picking a specific focus if you don’t want to. I’ve made some seriously weird pairings work over the years, so if you want to talk about things that don’t seem to go together, go for it! There’s always at least one common thread between your topics, and it’s you and your enthusiasm for them.
  • Above everything, do whatever makes you happy. There’s no “right” way to do any of this stuff; we all mostly make it up as we go along. Critics and doubters will always pop up and say you’re doing something wrong, but if you’re happy with your work, that’s really all that matters.

Nothing lasts forever, and I can’t say for sure how long I’ll be hanging out at Kyle’s Korner. My only hope is that when I’m done here, those who passed this way will say one thing about me:

Acknowledgements

I can’t end this post without thanking the following folks for their support, encouragement, and inspiration over the years:

Special thanks to Josh Schott of Country Perspective for letting me take over the Pulse of Mainstream Country Music feature that he started. Good luck in the next chapter of your professional career!

An extra-special thank you to Zackary Kephart of The Musical Divide and Country Universe for being the blog’s biggest booster (not to mention the author of one of the most-popular posts on the site!). Those first six years are only the beginning—you’ve got a bright future ahead of you, and I’m excited to see it unfold. (Note to the reader: If you haven’t read Zack’s series on the history of modern country music, what are you waiting for? Stop reading this right now and go check it out!)

Finally, an overdue shoutout to my old New England Patriot sysadmin partner (I’m still worried he’ll get in trouble for letting me use that server!). You’ve served as my sounding board and therapist for almost twenty years now, and have done more for me than you’ll ever realize. From the hard rock bottom of what’s left of my heart, thank you.

The Faint Pulse Of American Democracy: January 6, 2021

Image from NPR

(Editor’s Note: Country Aircheck doesn’t print 2021 charts until next week, and frankly, we’ve got bigger problems to worry about right now.

Also, language warning)

To quote Vince Lombardi: “What the hell’s going on out here?!”

Because the state requires that all vehicles be inspected once a year, I spent much of today on the road and off the grid, intent on spending some overdue quality time with my 3DS (I actually consider it a better handheld gaming option than my Switchfor one thing, the control stick still works). While driving, I brainstormed potential ideas for today’s post: Do I take the daily Mediabase charts and do another temporary Pulse post? Do I push forward with song reviews and tell people how ambivalent I am about “Tequila Little Time”? (Don’t worry; that review’s still coming, assuming the entire country isn’t burnt down by Friday.) Do I bust out the old iPad and bring back the Lost In The Shuffle series? The possibilities seemed endless. Sure, the electoral votes were being officially being counted today, and there were legislators who planned to object to the results and  protestors gathering to whine about the whole thing, but the results would be certified and nothing too crazy was going to happen, right?

Then I get home and find a voicemail from my father saying that the MAGA morons, egged on by our current idiot-in-chief, had stormed the Capitol and disrupted the count. If you’ve ever wondered what a coup d’etat looks like, this is it.

Image from Noah Caine on Twitter

When I started Kyle’s Korner, one of the few things I decided at the time was that I was not going to touch politics. I’d done my time as a political blogger during the George W. Bush administration and didn’t want to go back down that road, and our politics have only gotten more toxic since then. I mostly managed to stick to that declaration for the first three years or so, only bringing up Donald Trump in the context of Nintendo (for example, how his administration or his trade war might impact the company). In 2020, however, as Donald Trump and his army of enablers and sycophants sank to ever lower depths, I waded back into the muddy morass of politics to make a few points.

I started including the coronavirus death toll in my Pulse posts, and railed against how this administration was turning health measures into wedge issues and causing people to die as a result. I discussed the death of George Floyd and the movement for racial justice, I demanded that citizens wear masks and that Congress pass a second stimulus bill, and I even brought “The New England Patriot” back on the blog’s birthday to ask people to cast their ballots and patiently wait for the results. Current events in 2020 were too important not to discuss, and that stretches into 2021 to include today’s attempted Capitol takeover.

Image from Bill Russell on Twitter

Today marks one of the lowest moments of our democracy, and the images of the incident coming from D.C. are sickening. A president who is too insecure to accept defeat told his supporters to march on the Capitol and pressure Congress not to accept the will of the people, and then in true chickenshit fashion, he went and hid in the White House while his stans did his dirty work. Every SOB who stormed the Capitol deserves to be locked up and prosecuted to the full extent of the law (and while I get that some of these people are trapped within what Seth Meyers calls “the right-wing cinematic universe” and are fed a consistent diet of lies and mistruths, at some point they have to take responsibility for their own actions).

As for Trump, the man is a scourge upon this earth, and he cannot be trusted with running the country a moment longer. He needs to be removed from office either via impeachment or the 25th Amendment, and must never be allowed to run for public office again.

The only good news here is that despite all the shocks to the system, democracy is still holding on: The Capitol has been cleared and secured, and Congress has resumed the electoral counting process. Unfortunately, the New England Patriot’s statement back in September (“I’ll be honest with y’all: I see no scenario on November 3rd that does not end with violence in the streets and people dying unnecessarily”) proved to be prophetic, as “at least one person was shot dead” in today’s chaos.

Image from NPR

So where do we go from here? We do two things:

  • We continue the formal certification process of Joe Biden’s victory, and inaugurate him as president on January 20th.
  • We never forget what transpired today, and we never forget what led us to this point. We know now exactly what “the downside for humoring” the baseless fraud claims of a soulless narcissist can be, and we need to make sure we never let this happen EVER again.

The people have spoken: They don’t want another four years of Donald  Trump, and no amount of red hats or broken glass will change that. He and his supporters may have damaged our democracy, but they haven’t destroyed it. Its pulse may be faint, but its heart is still beating, and we all need to resolve never to let America end up in this bad of shape in the future.

State of the Blog Address: A Patriotic Takeover

(Warning: Language)

“So this is the end of the New England Patriot? …No! NEVER! The powers that be…shall never keep me away from the mic! …I will not quietly withdraw from the blogosphere. I’ll [sic] just going to have to find a new soapbox, that’s all. Stay tuned, folks—a new evil plan is being formulated as I type.”

The New England Patriot, “The End Of The Line?”, December 2, 2006

“At long last, I have returned! …Er, Kyle? Why are you standing so far away and wearing that weird mask?

…What the fuck have you done to my America, Kyle? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!”

NEP Today

You know, the last time I looked around this place, things didn’t seem all that bad. Sure, that moron Dubya and his cronies were running rampant in the White House committing war crimes and trying to read all our emails, but the people had a new Democratic Congress with an ambitious agenda (raising the minimum wage, cutting student load interest rates, negotiating for lower drug prices, etc.), the country had a new direction as it tried to move past Bushie’s failures in Iraq and New Orleans, and I had a shiny new Nintendo console with fancy new motion controls. There were problems looming on the horizon (*cough* climate change *cough*), but there was an optimism in the air that America could rise to the challenge.

So when Kyle called me to write an anniversary post for his…whatever the heck this blog is supposed to be (“Random thoughts on country music, Nintendo, and other things” is a nice way of saying “scattershot rants that no one will actually read or care about”), I figured it was a great chance to look at how far we’d come as a country in the last fourteen years, and imagine what the future held in store.

What I did not expect to discover were that the answers to those questions were “we’ve lost ground” and “we’re on the verge on a second civil war.”

So let me get this straight:

Dammit Kyle, why the hell didn’t you call me sooner? And why are you wasting your breath on some guy named Robert Counts when the nation is collapsing around you?

This is a DISASTER! In case Donald Trump and his toadies have forgotten, the U in USA stands for UNITED. We’re facing problems on a nation-wide (and even planet-wide) scale, and we need all hands on deck if we’re going to find any solutions. Instead, we’re drawing lines, building walls, and sticking our fingers in our ears, trying to wish and hope our way out of a maze that we ourselves constructed. When governors are competing over personal protective equipment and Trump is drawing distinctions between blue-state deaths and red-state ones, we’re not the United States of America anymore—we’re just states.

Oh, and now we’re learning that our democracy has been tested about as well as our computer software, and this administration is more than happy to be our pentester. The Trump team is already putting together a plan to suppress the vote, cast doubt on the results, and bank on GOP-controlled legislatures and a friendly Supreme Court to turn the Electoral College in his favor. The GOP has already demonstrated their willingness to use their power to flout their own rules in the debate over replacing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (“oh, we said justices shouldn’t be appointed in an election year? Oh well, sucks to be you, huh?”), so don’t be surprised to see this crew pull out every last stop to keep their guy in the White House. (I can’t believe that after all the sparring I did with Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, they only turned out to be mini-bosses, and the real final boss wound up being Mitch fucking McConnell.) Some outside groups have also started mapping out potential scenarios for the election, and their findings (no matter who actually wins the election) aren’t reassuring either.

I’ll be honest with y’all: I see no scenario on November 3rd that does not end with violence in the streets and people dying unnecessarily. I made fun of my project partner freshman year for getting drunk and trying to hitchhike to Canada, but I’m only one or two more refusals to commit to a peaceful transfer of power away from attempting the same trick sober.

So what are we supposed to do in the face of such an electoral apocalypse? Here are my suggestions:

  • Vote safely. Whether you do this in-person or via an absentee ballot, the key is to make sure your voice is heard. Stephen Colbert and The Late Show are putting together a guide for voting in all 50 states, so that’s a great place to start learning about the process, but you may also want to check out your state’s “Secretary of State” website for more information. Regardless of what the talking heads on cable news say, it will make it much harder for anyone to claim power if the vote count doesn’t turn out in their favor.
  • Demand accountability from your politicians. If a candidate wants your vote, make them earn it. Are you passionate about climate change, criminal justice reform, or gun control? Don’t let a politician skate by with token lip service; push them on these issues. Do they have a plan, and is it actually going to change things for the better? And if they win and get into office, keep the pressure on and make sure they follow through on their promises.
  • Don’t overlook the down-ballot races. When the federal government’s response to COVID-19 turned out to be a shrug emoji, it was up to the states to figure out how to combat the virus and try to keep it under control. Those with competent leadership at the state and local levels have manage to bend their curve and (mostly) keep it bent, and those that didn’t saw the virus explode in their faces. Defense in depth isn’t just a cybersecurity thing: You need competent, reasonable people at every level of government to maximize your chance of success against a nationwide threat.
  • Be patient, and don’t expect the final results to be available on Election Night. News organizations need to treat November 3rd as just another day at the office, and not with a six-hour special that tries to call the match before their competitors do. No one will know who’s going to win that night, and anyone that says they do is lying through their teeth. It’s going to take a while to add up all the numbers, so ignore the shouting matches that are sure to erupt on social media and wait for credible results from a trusted source.
  • If you see something, say something. If your state’s vote total and the actions of your state’s legislature don’t seem to line up, don’t let it happen quietly. Speak up and make sure your elected officials know that if they mistreat your vote this time, they won’t get it next time.
  • If you want something done right, do it yourself. It’s a bit late for this election cycle, but if you aren’t satisfied with the candidate options you have, maybe it’s time to consider throwing your own hat in the ring. (This has admittedly crossed my mind quite a few times over the last nine months.) There’s a part of me that thinks we need to have a generation shift in Washington, and start recycling some of these stagnant career legislators in favor of some fresh faces with fresh perspectives. That fresh face could be you! And it doesn’t have to be a national-level position; there are plenty of opportunities in state and local governments to get involved and make a difference. (Heck, it doesn’t even have to be an elected position—if you’ve got expertise that would be useful in a civil service position, go ahead and send in your application! I wonder if Vermont needs a state blogger…)

2020 has been a rough year by nearly any measure, but we’ve got an opportunity to take back control of the ship and put America back on the path of trying to live up to its ideals. It’s going to take a long time to undo the damage that’s been done, but we can take the first step towards fixing things in a few months, and we have to take it. Sitting on the sidelines is no longer an option (I’m talking to you, Kyle)—if we’re going to keep this democracy, we’ve got to get involved, stay involved, and make “liberty and justice for all” a mantra rather than a bumper sticker. Our forefathers would expect nothing less.

When Kyle invites me back here in 2034, I want to see a nation that stepped back from the abyss. Instead of rolling over and dying in the face of a paranoid, closed-minded ideology that considers some people more equal than others, I dream of a country that recommitted itself to being that “city on a hill” it always liked to think of itself as, where all of Dr. King’s hopeful prophecies finally became reality. A country made great again not by exclusion and hate, but by kindness and generosity, A country where a person’s value is not measured by the size of their bank account, but by their contributions to the community and the world. A country that I would once again be proud to call my home.

Stay safe and stay strong.

—The New England Patriot

The Current Pulse of American Society: June 3, 2020

Luke Combs and Eric Church spent a second week atop the Billboard airplay chart with “Does To Me.” No one cares.

We are a nation of frayed nerves and boiling tempers right now, and it’s hard to know where to begin after the week we’ve just lived through. On top of a pandemic that has killed over 105,000 Americans and thrown at least forty million people out of work, the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin⁠—the latest in a long line of deaths of African Americans via police brutality, and an especially gruesome scene involving Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over eight minuteshave moved thousands of people to take to the streets to voice their anger and frustration at a broken system.

I made a brief statement about Floyd’s death on Saturday, but the more I look back on that post, the weaker and more platitude-filled it reads. It declares that “We talk about [racial inequality] a lot, but we never seem to have the guts to follow through and actually address it”…and then fails to offer any avenues to address the problem itself, outside of “Let’s work together to make sure no one else gets treated like that ever again.” It’s certainly not the most helpful set of instructions in the world.

So what can we do to make a difference? How can we turn all this anger that we feel into true progress?

  • We can donate. You can put your money where your mouth is by donating to organizations working to support activists and achieve racial equality. You can donate directly to organizations such as Black Lives Matter, or you can follow the links compiled by others below:

  • We can protest. Everyone’s voice is needed more than ever right now, and while standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a mass of screaming people is risky in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, if you feel strongly enough to join them, there are things you can do to help lower the risks to you and to others around you. Wear cloth face masks to avoid spreading the disease to others, try to maintain proper social distancing as much as possible, and use signs or instruments to make your point instead of chanting or singing (or perhaps use megaphones to increase your volume without increasing vocal stress). If you’re not comfortable being around crowds right now, you can still sign petitions or voice your support on social media, though I’d encourage you not to stop there.
  • We can support creators of color in our community. If you have a platform, you can put creators and artists of color in front of your audience and increase their visibility, such as Zack Kephart and Derrick Bitner have done today. If you don’t, you can still go out and support entrepreneurs of color who are operating in your community.
  • We can vote. This is a big one, because if we want change, we need to put people in power who are dedicated to making that change happen. Start by demanding that the people asking for your vote take a stand to put an end to things like providing warrior training and military weapons for law enforcement, and ask about policies like a $15 minimum wage and expanded health care options to address pay gaps and health-care disparities. (For what’s it worth, Joe Biden has pledged to introduce legislation for some of these ideas if elected.) We can’t just focus on national politics either: As President Obama pointed out, “the elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels.” It’s up to us to make those who wish to govern clarify their positions on these matters, and hold them accountable while they are in power.

Above it all, we as a people need to draw a line in the sand and set a standard for the proper treatment of others. Letting longstanding racial disparities fester instead of fixing them is not okay. Having police departments brutalize the very people they’re sworn to protect is no okay. Using racially-coded language like “thugs” and the use of “vicious dogs” while discussing protesters is not okay. As a country, we need to be better than this, and must start looking for solutions rather than excuses.

The pulse of America may be shaky right now, but I believe a strong heart still beats underneath it. If we make a conscious decision to lift this country out of the dregs of racism and ignorance we’re laying in, we have to power to construct a society in which we not only say that all people are created equal, but we actually mean it.

The blog will return eventually return to its regularly-scheduled programming (oh joy, a new Walker Hayes single is coming out…), but America will not, and frankly, it shouldn’t. There’s a lot of work to be done, but a more just and equitable nation is possible if we’re willing to put in the time and effort.

Kyle’s Statement On The Death Of George Floyd

By now, you’ve probably all heard the news: On May 25th, 46-year-old George Floyd died after being pinned to the ground with a knee on his neck by a police officer for over eight minutes (and with two other officers kneeling on him as well). The videos of the incident are equals parts disturbing and infuriating, and the city of Minneapolis and many cities across the country have seen protests and calls for justice in response.

In listening to the reactions of the incident, I’ve noticed a few things:

  • A prominent plea from many is that it cannot just be people of color who voice their outrage and call for change. White America needs to join these calls for justice as well, and several prominent figures, such as Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, have done so.
  • A number of musicians have spoken out about this tragedy, but country music as a whole has been conspicuously silent on this matter. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places, but the only statement I can find from anyone in the genre is an Instagram post from Rascal Flatts lead singer Gary LeVox. Beyond that, crickets.

I’ve been silent on the matter up to this point too, so let’s change that right now: What happened to George Floyd this week was inexcusable. Nothing he did justified him getting choked to death by law enforcement. The matter demands a complete and thorough investigation, and those found responsible should be punished to the full extent of the law.

There are certainly issues with law enforcement training that can be corrected, and Hasan Minhaj does a good job outling both the problems and some potential solutions in “Patriot Act.” However, what happened to Floyd, as well as what happened to Christian Cooper and Ahmaud Arbery, are symptoms of a much larger problem with racial inequality in our society. We talk about it a lot, but we never seem to have the guts to follow through and actually address it. At some point, we need to say “Enough,” and make an unequivocal commitment to the idea that all people are created equally and should treated fairly. I don’t know what the next steps are, but I believe that if enough people stand up (that includes you too, country music) and start looking for a solution, we can find one, and we can change society for the better.

George Floyd was the latest in a long line of people of color who have been held down and not allowed to stand up. Let’s work together to make sure no one else gets treated like that ever again.

Should We Be Worried About COPPA?

Welp, there go my plans to become the next GameXplain…

Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Comission leveled a record $170 million dollar judgement against YouTube for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by illegally collecting information on children without consent. As part of this settlement, YouTube must stop collecting such information (obviously), and “develop, implement, and maintain a system that permits channel owners to identify their child-directed content” so that the site can comply with the ruling going forward.

Youtube’s initial attempt at developing this system (which will go into effect January 1, 2020) has set off a lot of teeth-gnashing and brow-furrowing among content creators, as the system puts them in a tough situation:

  • Mark a video as “made for kids,” and you lose the ability to receive targeted ad revenue from it, which Game Theorist founder Matthew Patrick estimates in his above video to be where 80-90% of creator revenue comes from. Losing 80-90% of your income would be devastating in any circumstance, and might force creators to leave YouTube.
  • Mark a video as “not made for kids,” and you set yourself for major liability if the FTC disagrees with you. Violators can be fined $42,530 per  non-compliant video, and a financial hit like that might also force creators to leave YouTube.

So what? I can hear you ask. Kyle’s Korner is a blog, not a video series. This is Grady Smith‘s problem, not yours.

It’s true that Grady, Mark Grondin, and a host of other music critics will need to make some big decisions in the next month or so, but believe it or not, I’m actually out there too:

Back in 2017, I put together a short-lived Kyle Vs. video series to “take on super-hard Super Mario Maker levels to see what gives out first, either the level or my sanity.” (Spoiler alert: It was usually the latter.) Things went haywire soon afterwards and the series went on hiatus, but the videos are still there, along with a pair of songs I recorded. The series was little more than a hobby and I never monetized anything (although some copyright claims may have put ads on them anyway), but there was no harm in leaving them up for posterity to laugh at, right?

Suddenly, that answer to that question is a) not so clear, and b) has potentially a lot of money riding on it.

On determing whether or not a video is aimed at children, the FTC will consider a number of factors, including:

 

  • the subject matter,
  • visual content,
  • the use of animated characters or child-oriented activities and incentives,
  • the kind of music or other audio content… (from the FTC’s Business Blog)

 

“Subject matter,” “child-oriented activities,” and “audio content” are the sort of vague legal language that can say anything and nothing at the same time, so they’re not terribly helpful. Still, let’s try and break this down:

  • Gaming content makes up the vast majority of my videos (even the music ones relate to gaming in some way). Gaming could easily be construed as a “child-oriented activity” (in fact, given the governmental audience it’s probably easier to make that case than it is to say it’s an adult-oriented one). Does that mean my videos are intended to target children? Mario games are fun for everyone, but the biggest (and most stereotypical) audience for them are younger children, which means that the FTC would likely roll their eyes if I shouted “But I didn’t mean to make videos for kids!” at them.
  • What about country music? We have a hard enough time coming up with an actual definition of the genre, to say nothing of who it’s intended audience is, and the proliferation of party songs this decade shows that country music is desperately trying to skew its audience younger. Is this skew enough to run afoul of the FTC?

Of these topics, I think country music is in the safer position: Its classic cheatin’ and leavin’ tropes are definitely aimed at mature audiences, and for once the genre’s alcohol addiction may work in its favor (you have to be at least 21 to drink that sort of stuff legally). Gaming, however, is in a really precarious spot, and given how all my videos revolve around it, that leaves me open to a fine of up to $382,770. That’s the kind of number that would make me seriously consider jumping off of that ship altogether.

Up to this point, I’d been thinking about the next logical move for Kyle’s Korner, and given how some other critics are faring, I was mulling the idea of moving to a video format hosted by YouTube or some similar platform. In the wake of this debacle, however, not only am I not moving to YouTube anytime soon, but I’m thinking it may be time to turn the lights out on my current channel. I don’t talk about it much and it’s not a big part of my online presence as of right now, so why have it out there if it’s just a huge liability?

Am I overreacting? Perhaps: I’m a small fish in a big pond, I don’t monetize anything I do, and according to their post, “the FTC considers a number of factors in determining the appropriate amount, including a company’s financial condition and the impact a penalty could have on its ability to stay in business.” Still, there’s so little clarity on this issue right now that it appears that everyone who’s posted a YouTube video needs to seriously consider their next move. Where the FTC sees a $35K fine as a moderate alternative to the YouTube judgment, I see a massive chunk of my salary disappearing over content I made several years ago on a whim. Talk is cheap, but $35,000 is not.

Of course, anyone who’s invested a lot of time and resources into YouTube producing content that could be spun as kid-friendly faces a much bigger decision than I do. We won’t really know the implications of this ruling until next year, but it’s the sort of thing that could really use a lot more guidance instead of the legalese we’ve been hearing so far. The FTC is soliciting comments on the current COPPA rule until December 9, so I’m planning to ask for a little more clarity on how it might apply in this case. If you’re a content creator of any size of you’re worried about how this might affect the video channels you enjoy watching, it may be worth your time to voice your (thoughtful, not rageful) opinion here.

In the meantime, I’ll be here doing what I’ve been doing all along right here on WordPress. Don’t expect a video face reveal anytime soon.

The Streak Is Broken

You know, I was pretty proud of my unbroken Monday-Friday post streak. Through wind and rain and travel and home maintenance and grading blizzards and Splatoon 2 cold streaks, nothing qualified as a showstopper for this blog!

Something qualified today. I won’t go into details, because frankly I just can’t even right now. I’ll see you all Monday.