the real politique

On Heads In The Cloud

Far from allowing myself to sit in the cushy comfort of complacency, I occasionally muse aloud the mysteries of the universe: Is there intelligent life on other planets? Is backward time-travel possible? Is there a good reason why Republican Congressman Lindsey Graham, a person who has never sent an email in his life, is on the US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law? At the close of each one of these sessions, the answers to these questions remain as opaque as they ever were and – I suspect – ever will be.

It takes a special type of person to absolutely refuse electronic means of communication in the year 2015, and the US government is filled with this brand of individuals (even without venturing into the topic of other planets, I can’t say I don’t wonder if there is intelligent life on even our own). Suddenly, it’s no longer a mystery why so many people don’t believe in the scientific fact of evolution, man-made climate change, or the historicity of the Apollo moon landing; a plurality of Americans are so trapped in the past that they haven’t noticed the pace at which they’ve been left behind.

That government officials don’t use email is troubling for a number of reasons; already, paper documents are notoriously wasteful, difficult to sort through, a trouble to archive, and easy to misplace. Coupled with the fact that email is now a necessity, the likelihood that technologically illiterate representatives use additional staff members almost exclusively for the purposes of transcribing, printing, sending, and receiving email is is high, and it’s a disgrace that anyone so mentally obtuse or intellectually incurious as to not bother with one of the better examples of 21st century efficiency could be elected with the expectation that he or she improve the world in any way. Those satisfied with disorganization and wastefulness in their own lives can’t be trusted to make optimal decisions when it comes to policies that affect others, and while the constituents who voted in these fossils don’t necessarily deserve better (for who put these men and women into office if not they?), they need better.

Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham are like the grumpy old men who have never bothered learning how to swim, but have inexplicably become so obsessed with keeping the public pool free of insects and rodents that they’ve fully poisoned the water. Philistines who don’t read books shouldn’t tell other people what to read, or go to hospitals if they don’t believe in medical science. Correspondingly, people who don’t use technology or send emails shouldn’t legislate or try convincing others of the validity of their opinions on the topic, either.


Filed under: Cartoons, Politicians, , , , , , , , ,

On Korea’s Condom Rise

rubber met the road final-01-01-01-01I saw the news today about Korea. This is the first thing that came to mind.

Filed under: Cartoons, , , , , , , , , ,

On The Difference Between Religion and Culture

jew-deism-01-01-01I made this joke not that long ago, and it seemed to fit well into a comic format. Most of my Jewish friends are pretty secular, so I thought this would be fun to make. It’s a slow news day.

I thought I’d end up drawing things to supplement my essays (or whatever it is that I can call my lengthy, written posts), but it seems that cartooning and writing use up different bits of my brain. Still, writing will likely remain my main focus in the long run.

Filed under: Cartoons, , , , , , , , ,

On North Korea’s Latest Call for Aggression

icbm-01Like the missiles, this is a bit of a test run. For those who aren’t aware of gaming terminology, “BM” means “bad manners.”

I’m not happy with this one, but it’s up anyway. As it turns out, trying to create your own style sometimes makes you make strange design decisions.

Filed under: Cartoons, , , , , , , , , , ,

On My [Ended] Hiatus: Author’s Note

self portrait-01

A self-portrait

Excepting the last post, I’ve been away from the blog for just barely over three months, and much of the reason for such a long pause was a (thankfully!) temporary lack of motivation. Granted, I was traveling for a large percentage of that period, and the holiday season was uncharitable in lending me many opportunities to sit down and write uninterrupted, but that by itself isn’t an adequate answer for my absence. To be entirely honest, I was devastated by the end of The Colbert Report. The recent announcement of the end of Jon Stewart’s reign on The Daily Show hasn’t helped much, either.

I owe everything to The Colbert Report. I first stumbled upon it in late 2007, just a few months before the ’07-08 Writers’ Strike, and I’ve watched it religiously since; without exaggeration, I can safely claim to have seen every episode from at least early 2009 to late 2014, and a good portion of the shows before. Not unlike my phone’s GPS, the Report was a veritable Bible, and I consulted it often and followed it blindly.

If Professor Richard Dawkins gave me my fascination with clarity and truth, the late Christopher Hitchens a love of logic and writing as an art, and George Carlin an obsession with comedy and free expression, Colbert sowed the first seeds of interest that eventually led me to seek out my own intellectual development. Colbert led me to the wells of politics, satire, comedy, and writing, and I drank every one of them dry. The show’s end affected me in ways I couldn’t expect, and by my own admission, I still haven’t brought myself to see the last five episodes.

I’m finally back, and I will be implementing some changes to the site, which may include occasional web cartoons or comics. There are some problems with formatting that I’m still looking into, and I haven’t fully settled on a suitable drawing style yet, but I’ll hopefully make this work. This is a bit of a trial run, so please do be generous until I figure out what works for me. Likes, comments, and criticisms are all appreciated.

Filed under: Author's Note, , , , , , ,

On Hate Crime Watch

After years of devoutly practicing the well-worn and often discredited accusation of Islamaphobia, the church members of He-Who-Cries-Islamaphobia have finally landed their long-awaited offender. “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day” has never seemed more appropriate.

Predictably, most of the focus has been on Craig Hicks’s atheism and dislike of religion, rather than his surface obsession with guns, parking space and building policing, and violence. The irony of many a religious person’s distrust of nonreligious individuals and their accusing atheists of perpetuating death and hatred through Islamaphobia is side-splitting, and a quick look at the contrary evidence proves otherwise.

Of course, facts don’t support the mainstream (though it’s never clear what exactly is the mainstream) Muslim narrative – appropriated by bandwagon liberals – of Islamaphobia being a significant threat. If the 2013 hate crime statistics published by the FBI is any indication, anti-black sentiment – with 1,856 incidents of hate crime as a proxy – is the greatest menace to American acceptance of diversity, followed by anti-LGBTQ (1,233), anti-white (653), and anti-Jew (625) biases. Anti-Muslim incidents, tied with anti-Asian, reached a comparatively paltry 135 in that year alone. Given that Jews comprise 2% of the US population and Muslims 1%, it is evident that Muslims are not particularly enticing targets.

The claims that atheists also especially dislike Muslims and that Muslims are the most marginalized in western society are just as easily discredited. A 2014 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center showed atheists tended to view Muslims slightly less favorably than Catholics, but more positively than Mormons and Evangelical Christians.1 In contrast, atheists were ranked lowest by nearly all other religious groups, and studies have shown public trust of atheists in the US to be on par with that of rapists, and atheists behind gays, lesbians, and Muslims in electability. If persecution by other groups is a warrant for poor behavior, it’s a wonder why there aren’t more recorded cases of atheist violence or atheist mobs or collective acts of mass religious book burnings by angry nonbelievers.

That we’ve banded around this singular man – and by singular, I do mean without use of hyperbole – as a representative of the atheist community shows the willingness of some to truly trudge through the viscous lake of hypocrisy to label those without religious affiliation as evil without the slightest token impression of introspection. If even outliers are indeed to be taken as embodiments of their respective, self-identified groups, then surely every Catholic is a pedophile due to the acts of various priests, and each Muslim a terrorist for the actions of radicals and extremists. There is no doubt that atheists are likely the subject of at least some legitimate criticisms, but the accusation of deliberate incitement of physical violence against believers is pure propaganda by the most cynical and disingenuous of religious proponents. I won’t mention any of these Ministers of Disinformation, like Reza Aslan, by name here.

No, the Chapel Hill shooting is about as causally connected to atheism as a like of jelly donuts is connected to someone sneaking into a Krispy Kreme and stealing every jelly-filled pastry in sight. There is nothing about liking donuts that enjoins a person to steal, but it is admittedly more likely that a donut enthusiast steals donuts rather than, say, a package of salami from Walmart (given that he or she dislikes salami and we assume the market for salami is not exceptionally profitable). In the same way, it is possible – if Hicks is eventually found guilty of carrying out a hate crime – that atheism may have potentially caused him to focus more of his attention on Muslims or religious individuals, but given a different passion, it’s far from inconceivable that he would have committed murder for nearly the exact same reasons. It should not be surprising that crazy men with access to dangerous weapons occasionally kill other people, regardless of or despite what they purport to believe.

This is not a unique idea, and a version of this general concept has been adopted by some US Muslim leaders, such as Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Said Awad on the subject of extremism,

There’s no such thing as radical Islam. There’s no violent extremist ideology within Islam. Islam is one. Some people become extremists, but it’s not because of the religion — it’s because of themselves as individuals. I think people get entangled in terminology when, in fact, we are dealing with criminality. Criminals are criminals.

Especially given that atheism, solely the lack of belief in a deity, has no doctrines, commandments,or injunctions, no holy books or leaders who implicitly or explicitly demand any amount of bloodshed for any reason, it is only expected that those who share that belief, who – in addition – do not have any unified or codified set of morals, be immune from unsubstantiated accusations of provoking or executing nonexistent instructions of savagery. I won’t defend atheism as a whole here, as Sam Harris has done so already with an eloquence currently beyond my own ability, but I do wish to be a lighthouse in the absence of Harris’s sun. Tragedy is not and should not be used as an opportunity to make false claims about a group of people, and those who believe in the notion of Islamaphobia (and I deliberately use the word “notion” here) and proclaim it loudest should understand this better than others.

1 While one of the referenced charts from Pew shows public sentiments regarding Muslims to be the lowest in the US, this is only due to atheists and agnostics inadvertently skewing the score with their abnormally high rating of other atheists.

Filed under: Religion, , , , , , , ,

On Sunbathing in the Shade of Cliché

“Books, filled with prayers for peace, splattered with blood. Sacred vestments shredded by bullets and knives. Lifeless bodies in the sanctuary.”

– Daniel Burke, CNN

Rarely do I comment on the disappointing quality of professional journalism, but I couldn’t help myself on this occasion after reading an article on CNN that did all but trumpet itself as a product of either laziness or poor training in rhetoric and the literary arts. Sentences without verbs issued in groups of threes, a good writer does not use.

Too often, an appeal to “style” is exploited as an excuse for poor grammar or clumsily recycled platitudes. As a self-taught writer with negligible formal training in writing, I don’t claim to be an expert in the art, but I don’t think it’s too controversial a statement to define “style” as that which is the result of a conscious decision, not that which stems from the refusal to expend brainpower in the act of using colons, semicolons, and en and em-dashes, as well as words and phrases beyond those exhaustively and consistently misapplied by the offender since his or her exiting the fifth grade.

More importantly for me, however, than my own personal distaste for works that I can only describe as violence towards the English language is the fact that these pieces then become stencils for new generations of writers who blindly copy the worst qualities to continue an endless cycle of vitiation. It isn’t often said that there is too little discrimination in the world, but this is one area that would unquestionably benefit from a sharp increase in it.

My own attempts at improvement have largely been inspired by the late Christopher Hitchens, whose words on borrowed phrases have haunted me to this day.

My friend Martin Amis wrote a book… called the “War on Cliché”, saying that all of us who write and think and speak try to remind ourselves there’s nothing worse than borrowed phrases. Once you’ve said “the heat was stifling”, “she was rummaging in her handbag”, “to win two Nobel prizes was no mean achievement”? You’re abusing someone else’s words, and that’s part of literary, intellectual death. 

If there is suspicion that this is pedantry of the highest order designed purely for effect, I wish to quell those thoughts. I don’t fancy myself a bel esprit, but I do find the tendency of many writers’ need for grammatical and phraseological hypocorism insulting to their respective audiences; more often than not, longer words are shunned for the sake of simplicity of expression rather than simplicity of comprehension, malapropisms are embarrassingly masqueraded as puns, and clichés outright flaunted as if they were grand allusions. Incorrect and oversimplified usage of language not only reduces our ability to write — it diminishes our capacity to think.

Consider the use of the word “incredible,” which in today’s vernacular, means that which is surprising-yet-believable, rather than that which is impossible to believe. While this may say more about the credulity of our species rather than our willingness to misuse words to the point of creating auto-antonyms (words with more than one definition that contradict each other), this trend suggests a point of near-absolute convergence sometime in the future that prevents the formulation of complex ideas. “Incredible” has its synonyms, so this phenomenon seems relatively benign, but it is not coincidence that “doublespeak”, of Orwell’s 1984, takes advantage of the ability to limit thought through words to its logical extremes.

Of course, I don’t suggest that the destruction of “literal” as a meaningful word is by itself a slippery slope to totalitarianism. However, I do think that the same dangers do exist, regardless, to a lesser extent – despite not being guided by an absolute authority – and it is my firm belief that clear expression is a means of preventing intellectual suicide. Surely, if humans believe most animals to be mentally inferior due to their seemingly limited and simplistic means of communication, it is at least conceivable that ignoring language as not just the vehicle but also the driver of thought comes with the possibility of the degeneration of mental faculties.

In writing, we should not appeal to the least common denominator in a race to the bottom, but bid to drive each other to the limits of what can be achieved. Just as we don’t accept microwaved food from what we expect to be decent restaurant establishments, lack of freshness or quality from any professional author is simply inexcusable. In the words of my favorite writer, Christopher Hitchens,

Make a resolution that you will not use obvious or easy words and phrases…If you want to be any good at all as a writer you simply MUST throw aside the crap idioms that pass for speech these days. Purify the well of your English: there is no other way.

Social acceptance of mediocrity should not serve as a roof for those without the willingness or the foresight to bring their own umbrellas to shield them from the heavy rain that is literary criticism.

Filed under: Editorial, , , , , , , ,

On Neutering Net Neutrality

Note: In this post, I will not attempt to explain the principles and reasons for promoting net neutrality. Instead, this will cover the background issues and potential problems moving forward from our current state. For a simplified, visual guide to net neutrality, visit, an unaffiliated website. 

Corruption is not exclusive to American politics, but one strange – and perhaps unique – trait of the American system is the sheer difficulty of removing individuals from voted or appointed office through means other than sexual scandal. Short of outright hiring prostitutes to visit the man’s office, it seems unlikely we’ll be able to take down one of the most universally despised men, Tom Wheeler, from his FCC position.

As a longtime lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry, with nearly 40 years of experience working for and promoting the growth of telecommunications companies to the point of being inducted into their respective halls of fame, there is the possibility that Wheeler is some sort of double agent appointed by Obama to appease telecom executives and slowly and surreptitiously enact large-scale reform. However, in deference to Occam’s razor and Wheeler’s record of raising an estimated $500,000 for Obama’s 2008 campaign, and his efforts to create internet “fast lanes” in 2014, it seems this is akin to suggesting that 9/11 was devised by the US government and that dinosaur bones were implanted into the earth by a god to test our faith. It certainly is possible, but definitely not probable.

In 2014, it’s absolutely bizarre that the United States, perhaps the country with the largest collection of influential internet-dependent software and service firms, is incapable of beating not just Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea, which have around three times the average download speeds of that of the US, but also Romania, Lithuania, Latvia (a country most people probably confuse with the fictional country of Latveria, the nation ruled by Dr. Doom, the main enemy of the Fantastic Four), and another 20 countries besides the ones stated. For a country that likes to tout its status as “number one” in everything except European football (which Americans don’t care about to begin with), it’s clear that America’s leadership in most things that matter is nothing more than an illusion.

The principle reason behind this divide is the 1996 Telecommunications Act, signed by President Bill Clinton. The act was originally proposed to be intended to deregulate broadcasting and telecommunications as to allow for more competition, but due to Clinton’s infamous expertise in triangulation of the most cynical and self-serving sort and the bill’s introduction by a Republican senator in 1995, the intent is something that may be called into question. Instead of accomplishing the stated objective of bringing in more competition, the act allowed and encouraged corporations to merge. A key part of the act requiring interconnectivity, which obligated incumbents and market entrants to interconnect their networks as to disallow restrictive entry (and the enjoinment that incumbents allow entrants access to their networks at wholesale prices), created disincentives for incumbents to allow multiple firms to stay in one area. After a string of mergers that brought down the number of major firms to below 10, the remaining firms that captured their respective local markets took absolute control and entered a virtual state of no-compete.

While it is fairly accurate to say that these firms are local monopolies, and that the US market may traditionally be thought to be in oligopolistic competition, the way lobbyists come to government officials with such practiced and unified goals seem to be indicative of cartel-like behavior. Still, models of oligopolistic competition are perhaps the most useful in examining the situation. In A Theory of Dynamic Oligopoly, II: Price Competition, Kinked Demand Curves, and Edgeworth Cycles, a paper published in Econometrica in 1988, firms do not have an incentive to undercut each other unless they have production capacities above what they would produce at monopolistic prices. In the case that telecommunications companies are currently lying about their levels of infrastructure, a significant and successful push to classify the internet as a utility could cause a dramatic drop in prices. However, if telecommunications firms are indeed at capacity, then it is in their best interests to somehow increase the cost of creating new infrastructure to prevent a credible threat of price wars bringing them closer to perfect competition. Regardless of what Obama may attempt to do by reclassifying the internet as a utility, there are still ways to block price reductions.

Already, in the wake of Obama’s call for changes, AT&T has announced a pause of planned investment into its network, and in fact, Wheeler has stated that it may take “months” to look into reclassifying ISPs as Title II common carriers. If Wheeler is indeed a shrewd and proud member of the industry he represented for so long, this may be a delay tactic set specifically to allow other lobbyists to somehow increase the cost of adding and improving infrastructure through high taxes or regulation. By the time Wheeler “allows” net neutrality to happen, it will likely be too late.

Filed under: Policy, , , , , , , , ,

On Midterms and Meddling, a Medley of Middling

America just had another midterm voting season, and it seems that liberals have lost in overwhelming numbers, with Republicans retaking both the Senate and the House and winning the majority of the held 2014 gubernatorial races. What is most embarrassing for liberals, however, is that this happened in spite of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013, which successfully raised and pegged the minimum wage; a relatively successful implementation of healthcare that dropped the number of uninsured by 5% within a quarter and reduced to record lows healthcare inflation; passed bills to legalize marijuana in DC, Oregon, and Alaska following Washington and Colorado’s legalization initiatives; and swinging, positive public support for homosexual marriage. Interestingly, despite support for liberal policies, liberals do not consistently win midterm elections.

Likely and quite obviously, part of the problem is gerrymandering, which some Republicans have often outright shielded from reform, like Florida governor Rick Scott, who recently defended his post from former governor Charlie Crist. Another seems to be the fact that liberals seem to disproportionately flock to urban districts, while conservatives prefer to (or just do) live in less urban locales, causing conservatives to be spread out enough to win more districts overall. However, when it comes to the vote, more than anything else, it seems that the main cause of defeat is downright apathy.

Conservative efforts to win elections include forcing employees to vote Republican, campaign finance fraud, and stringent voter ID laws designed to prevent minorities from voting. In contrast, liberal efforts include, if any, sometimes not airing a TV show during a designated slot (rumored). This doesn’t necessarily mean that conservatives are more corrupt, but it does mean that the Republican party is, at least, filled with people who believe in the power of voting enough to try to influence who votes for whom and for what issues.

Liberals have become too cynical of democracy and have often found other ways of making a difference, like heading divestment issues, switching to hybrids, and supporting protests and gay pride parades, but the fact of the matter is is that voting does work, and conservatives prove it time and time again. Ironically, it seems that the reason liberals don’t believe in democracy is because it favors those who exercise the right to vote. A Republican-dominated Congress should further spur the Democrats and the left to vote, not discourage them.

Filed under: Elections, , , , , , , , , ,

On Maher-derdom

It isn’t my position that Bill Maher is the smartest man on Earth, or that he is necessarily the funniest or most informed; I have a list a mile long of intellectual heroes I admire before Bill, comedians I prefer to watch over him, and authors and members of the intelligentsia whom I think know far more than he could possibly hope to know on any given subject. But I do think Bill is one of the braver members of our species, on or off television, and most importantly, I don’t think he can be called a bigot.

People use the word “bigot” too loosely these days. I’m sure a few call Maher a bigot because they like parroting those who read a caricature of him that doesn’t represent him accurately, but I think far more like to attack him because in some capacity or another, they don’t like free speech exercised outside the theoretical realm. Let me explain:

In many of his criticisms, Maher cites primarily the Pew Research poll on Muslims from early 2013. While it is possible for Pew to have horribly misconstrued the opinions of the global Muslim population, as the sample sizes are, for the most part, above reasonable thresholds of statistical significance given that the organization did not include systematic or intentional errors, the results cannot reasonably be denied sans better evidence. As an example, support by Muslims for making sharia the official law is 86% in Malaysia, 77% in Thailand, and 72% in Indonesia, countries the West does not usually associate with extremism or political turmoil to the degrees assumed in Pakistan or Iraq. Of those who support sharia, 60% of sharia-favoring Muslims in Malaysia support stoning for adultery, 51% in Thailand, and 48% in Indonesia. Clearly, 35% to 50% of all Muslims within a country believing that adulterers should be stoned is not small enough to be labeled a minority, or even just a fringe population of extremists. Talking openly about this fact does not constitute a reason to criticize Maher, and denying these statistics is ignorant at best, and disingenuous or downright malicious at worst (admittedly, there are other examples of countries with less alarming figures, but many have still large enough numbers to question if those can indeed be labeled extremists).

Where does free speech come into the equation? I think most people have their own preconceived notions about the world, and they don’t like them being challenged. While I don’t like to cite personal events or anecdotes usually because I dislike perpetuating the meme that anecdotal evidence is in any way valid, I do have something of a powerful confession: until I came to university, I was unaware that I was, for whatever reason, deeply troubled by homosexuality. Growing up in a highly conservative neighborhood with somewhat ideologically (not politically) libertarian parents, I grew up “tolerant” of the idea of homosexual unions, but without exposure to anyone around me who admitted to being part of the LGBTQ community. I entered university fully convinced that I was friendly to LGBTQs, but when push came to shove, for months I never donated, never made close friends with any gays or lesbians, and never truly felt comfortable around them despite telling myself that I, in some vague way, supported the idea of marriage equality. It took months of reading moral philosophy, intentionally taking courses taught by professors I knew in advance I disagreed with, watching shows like Real Time with Bill Maher (I hated Bill Maher at the time), and making more gay and lesbian friends that took away a deeply ingrained prejudice that for years I was convinced I never had. In the same way, I think people who like to paint Maher as a bigoted person fail to see that while they like free speech in theory, they don’t like to see it executed by people they’re not comfortable with.

There’s nothing wrong with having opinions, and I understand that people, too, hate others sometimes, but it matters to me that the hatred is justified. I don’t mind people disliking Maher for being strangely anti-GMOs or too into progressive taxation; his stance on GMOs is unsupportable, and at least what the tax rate should be is debatable and not yet scientifically proven by economists. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I don’t care if Maher is hated for having a strange voice (which I don’t think he has) or a balding head. I don’t even care if Maher is hated for no reason at all. But hating him for bigotry? That’s like hating Justin Bieber for having lice. It simply isn’t true, and if you really want to pick and choose, there are plenty of real things I’m sure you can be angry at him for.

By this point, I’m sure I have brought on the ire of those who believe I have not addressed the topic of “Islamaphobia.” If it isn’t evident that criticizing Islam is not equivalent to outright bigotry towards all Muslims, who aren’t even a race, I’m not sure what I can say to convince that population of my readers otherwise. Bigotry is about hating people for genetic, epigenetic, or unchangeable characteristics one cannot choose, like race, gender, or perhaps even nationality. Challenging ideologies is just called critical thinking.

Over and over, Maher has supported the rights of Muslims in America against Christian theocratic tendencies, the right to build a mosque at Ground Zero despite not liking any houses of worship, and has always stated that most Muslims aren’t killers and suicide bombers. Discussing facts about the differences in the consequences of particular religions and self-reported beliefs by Muslims themselves isn’t bigotry towards a race, and unless Islamophobia just outright means bothering to think at all about Islam in a way that isn’t fully supportive of 100% of its doctrines, he’s not Islamophobic either.

Filed under: Free Speech, Religion, , , , , , , ,

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The Blog

The Blog in a Nutshell

Primarily, this is a blog about politics, and writing is the main focus. I delve into other topics occasionally, but I do try to keep my other passions relatively separate from this blog. Hurling vitriol towards any one group is never my goal, but I accept that my opinions are sometimes controversial. I prefer reason and evidence over emotion in arguing my points, and I always welcome a good debate.

I've recently started including some original cartoons that I hope to continue. For the most part, they'll be lighthearted humor, and I don't anticipate making any real political statements with them. If I have an idea for a joke, I'll make a cartoon, but it turns out that this has the unfortunate effect of making my writing less funny since I end up inadvertently saving my better material.

I also use UK grammar rules and stick to US spelling. It's largely unnoticeable, except for the occasional comma or period outside quotation marks. On most occasions, I don't believe the Oxford comma is optional, either.