Poe’s Law Keeps Getting Harder and Harder

I comment regularly in the letters section of my regional newspaper.  It’s probably as close to a social life as anything else I have, other than my regular Saturday night role playing game session on line.  It’s a good time, and I can usually work satire and parody in to my commentary and reactions to the commentary of others, which is half the fun, when I think about it.  Often that comes in the form of stating the opinions of various right wing religious god-botherers, gun-fondlers, and others in as ridiculous a form as I can think of, if for no other reason than to point out the silliness of their position.  Unfortunately, these people are often nearly impossible to parody.  Which brings me to Poe’s Law.

I am learning that I must include a sarcasm tag if I am going to indulge, as I have been mistaken for someone who really means the most ridiculous statements.  I have been told to think before I post, that I am a horible human being, and that I should have my computer taken away.

Poe’s Law states that “Without a blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of extremism or fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.”

The sad thing is that I’ve been taken in myself by a group on Facebook that makes the Westboro Baptist Church look like a bunch of bleeding heart liberals.  It took me all of half an hour to look them up and figure out it was a hoax, but I was actually quite impressed by their attention to detail.

I’m not a big fan of fundamentalism.  Personally I think that the Christian Right is as big a threat to our democracy as anything ISIS can think of.

But in the long run, the only real defense against fanatacism of any kind is to find the chinks in its adherents armor of belief, at least to the point where their certainty conflicts with observable reality. That won’t help with the 27% that are completely nuts, but those are not the dangerous ones. It’s the ones that can be persuaded to vote with the nuts despite knowing better, because they they are willingly distracted by the shiny objects of tribalism, fear and anger.

Not to go all Godwin, but these are the same tactics used by fascist regimes of the past to take power. Get people to blame their troubles on a convenient scapegoat and profit. Any group can fit the bill, whether it be the poor, who are freeloading from the rest of us, the Muslims, who are all bloodthirsty terrorists, the LGBTs, who are out to recruit our children and force Godfearing people to perform wedding ceremonies, the illegal immigrants who are taking our jobs and soaking up welfare, or the liberals, who want to do whatever, the Right has lots and lots of paranoid fantasies which they use to scare and anger people from realizing they’re voting away the hardfought rights of the past that they no longer even value because they take them for granted.

The worst part is that mockery and satire don’t work like they used to. One must have a modicum of self awareness before that can happen, and many of the leading figures of the Tea Party and their ilk appear to either have none or can ill afford to admit that they are mockable, which means that being outraged at the most trivial of things, and a distinct lack of humor about having it pointed out, becomes their stock in trade.

So in the end, what’s left? All we can do is try to point out ridiculousness as we see it, and hope someday that the purveyors of this stuff will be laughed out of power. I’m not holding my breath on that,, but I’m doing my part.


The Pragmatist Manifesto

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about how I came to my own set of political beliefs..  I’m not sure I really fit the mold of a progressive or a conservative, more of that of a pragmatist.

1.  I didn’t think Jesus was kidding about that whole “do unto others” thing.  Even though I’m an agnostic, I’m still strongly influenced by my upbringing, especially since as I’ve learned about other cultures, and faiths, most of them seem to say something very similar.  Doing things that are mutually beneficial seems to be the optimal way to organize human society, so I believe it should be the ultimate objective of public policy.

2. I like to learn about other cultures and people without worrying about missing something because I’m too busy judging them.  Usually I find they’re just as interested in learning about me as I am about them.  Dismissing ideas because they came from somewhere else is a good way to miss out on solutions.

3. I trust evidence and science, and am willing to change my beliefs if science and evidence provide proof that my beliefs are mistaken.  Dogmatic devotion to political or religious beliefs to the exclusion of any evidence to the contrary only blinds one to solutions or ideas that may result on solutions.

4. I believe that change is inevitable, the only question is whether or not I can find ways to adapt to it, not how long I can forestall it.  No culture on this planet has ever survived unchanged.

5. I believe that the interests of society trump the interests of business.

6. I believe that long term thinking must be a component of public policy even in the face of public opposition. Often public opposition is based on immediate needs, while public policy is based on long term opportunity.  For example, had we made the investments in renewable fuels and energy conservation during the first energy crisis of the 70s, the 90’s and 00’s might have looked entirely different.  Our interests and obligations in the Middle Easts would look entirely different absent a compromising interest in energy.

7. I believe that government is a better solution than private enterprise for problems that require long term planning and thinking though private enterprise can be an effective partner.   Private enterprise by its very nature is risk averse, and unwilling to commit resources unless there is a potential for return.  Government does and can direct resources to private enterprise to research and build solutions for longer term problems or opportunities.  See the Interstate Highway System, the Internet, the Space Program, REC and other projects where the government at the state or federal level gathered and redistributed the resources and used private enterprise to either research or build the project, thus creating economic opportunity.

8. I believe that when attempting to resolve an issue, people with actual training and experience in the subject being discussed should be deferred to over politicians with little or no knowledge.  To do so is not “elitist” or “snobbish” but common sense.  I no more want climate change policy set by an economist than I want my brain surgery performed by a dentist.

9. I believe that a thorough discussion of the the ins and outs of issues  is more valuable than talking points and sound bites.  To the extent that we reduce complex issues to bumper stickers and slogans we insult the intelligence of not only the general population but we reduce their interest and ability to debate the issues in the future.  If people fall out of practice because they’ve been trained not to think beyond the talking points fed them by talk radio and consultants, they will lose the ability to question what they’re being told and think critically about it.  The rise in prominence in sites like Infowars.com, HotAir.com and personalities like Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh are a perfect example of this.

We are in danger of becoming an Idiotocracy.  I only hope that we can come to our senses before there is no turning back.

Back to the Beginning

Life appears to be a cycle, at least to me.  Endlessly repeating coincidences and events that lead you right back to where you may have been years before.  For me, it seems to revolve around the name Anne.  My mother’s middle name is Anne, I’ve had several girlfriends who were either named Anne or Angie, or had the middle name Anne, and my wife’s name is Anne.  And now I’m heading back to work in my home town.

Home has always been somewhat of a variable term with me.  My parents moved a lot when I was growing up.  In fact, I never lived anywhere longer than 5 or 6 years until I dropped out of college.  My parents moved at least 6 times after I left home, though they finally seemed to settle down after while.  I don’t know if it was mostly my Dad or my mom, I think they were both in professions (ministry and pharmacy) where there weren’t that many jobs in their chosen fields in the small towns they preferred to live in.  In that respect, I’m somewhat fortunate, in that there are several places to find IT work within an hour and a half drive of the town I’ve lived in for the last 14 years.

I never thought I would live anywhere for 14 years.  My life hasn’t always been stable enough to support that kind of locational longevity. Instead it’s been a collection of  3 or 4 year stays, before moving on to another job, another life, another opportunity.  I wonder sometimes if this is why I finally ended up doing contracting, working on a project for a few months before moving on to another assignment.  It may be I have some kind of aversion to commitment, but I think it has more to do with getting bored easily, not an unwillingness to sticking with something.  After all, I will have been married to my wife fourteen years this year.  I think I’ve also not really found something that fit my predilections.  The job I accepted will very much be a good fit, as it’s with a small department where everyone does everything rather than just one thing at a time.



Snow! Snow! Really?

I have lived in the Midwest my entire life, so weird weather is pretty much a state of being.  Today I had to drive 80 miles to get to a job interview, which was an exercise much like war, in that it was long periods of mindless boredom punctuated by brief moments of sheer terror.  I quit conducting the CID (Cars in Ditch) count after the first 15 or so.

Driving by a car on the side of the road or in a ditch is most of all an exercise in “There but for the grace of God, go I”  I’m a pretty careful driver, but that’s because I have a overwhelming fear of fiery death because I was going too fast or not paying attention to what I was doing.  The only accidents I ‘ve had in the last 10 years have been car/animal encounters, one with a deer and one with an Ihavenoidea.

Hitting a large or small animal with your vehicle is a fairly traumatic experience when you think about it.  The deer took out an entire fender, my front bumper and the hood of my car.  I knew it was a deer not because of the brief flash I saw in the headlights but by the chunks of hair and flesh that were jammed into the cracks in the body work.  The USA (Unidentified Scuttling Animal) that crossed my path one dark winter’s night took out my radiator, my air conditioning unit and all sort of other damage.  Needless to say, neither the deer or the critter had liability insurance.

I should be used to it by now, but I still find it difficult to accept that there are animals too stupid to get out of the way of my car or to at least stay out of the way.  There was the squirrel who insisted on trying to beat me across the road and who got flattened for his trouble.  There was the large rooster pheasant who ran out in front of my car and met his demise in a cloud of feathers out the back end as I ran over him.  I don’t like running over innocent animals, I really don’t, but perhaps I’m doing my part for evolution in thinning the herd of the idiots.

The interview completed, I drove back home, this time the roads were wet instead of slushy, and other than the same cars that I saw coming in, only on the other side of the road, it was a much more pleasant drive.  I did get the word that I got the gig earlier today, so I will be making that drive on a daily basis through the end of the year or so.  I’m looking forward to it.  A long drive each day is a great way to let your brain relax and to grant yourself the opportunity to have a BFI (Blinding Flash of Insight).  I’m looking forward to it.

Looking for food in all the wrong places

Mickey Gilley is gonna sue me, but what the hell.  For those of you who don’t know the reference, GET OFF MY LAWN!

Being a long range commuter (70 miles + each way, each day) I havfe to admit my diet leaves a lot to be desired.  It seems like I’m unable to resist the temptations of McDonalds, Taco Johns, and where ever else I happen to pass on my way to and from my intended destination.  The everlovin’ of course is aware of this, because among my many faults I am a terrible slob.  The passenger side floor is fileld to the brim with the detritus of my dietary indescretions.  “Taco Johns today?” she asks, with an arch of one eyebrow telling me that she is NOT amused.  That’s not to say that she is imperious, holier than thou or anything else, she just tries to keep an eye on my diet so she can hopefully keep me around a bit longer.

I think the hardest thing about avoiding such temptations is that driving bores the hell out of me.  If I had the money, I’d have a Google self driving car right now.  To me, the height of luxury would be climbing into my vehicle, punching in my destination and then sitting back and reading my phone or listening to the radio without the distraction of trying to avoid flaming death by veering off the road and into a ditch somewhere.  Not gonna happen in my lifetime.  The only hope I really have is to find someplace to work where I can telecommute instead.

Telecommuting is a bit of a razor edge unfortunately.  On one hand you can climb out of bed and go straight to work in your shorts if you really want to (I’ll thank you to keep your mental images to yourself, I know they’re not pretty) but on the other hand, my family, meaning my dogs, don’t seem to be aware of the fact that if I’m working I can’t be getting up every five minutes to let them in and out.  Toby is especially bad about this.  First Buster the Lhasa Apso goes out.  After he comes in, Toby the Flat Coated Retriever has to go out and check what Buster did.  Then when I let Toby back in, Buster feels he has to go out and see what Toby did, and on and on until I think I should just give it all up and become a doggie doorman.  Toby is especially bad.  He walks to the door, then walks back to me.  Even if I tell him “No! You just went out!”, he continues back and forth and back and forth like a pooch pendulum too the door and back to me.  Whine a bit, then walk back to the door.  Lay down after I tell him to lay down, for about 5 minutes before getting back up rather creakily (Toby is 9 or 10) and then walking back over to me to whine a little more and then walk back to the door.  Essentially it’s Chinese Water Torture with 4 legs.

So I guess it’s really unhealthy food on one hand or mental infirmity brought on by my dog.  Maybe I should just start taking the dogs for a walk, they’d be too tired to bug me and I could use the exercise.  Who am I kidding.

Why Is Suffering a Virtue?

I’ve had to watch several of my family members (grandparents and elderly aunts) work their slow but meandering way toward the end of life.  The thing that struck me in all those cases is that often the desires of the patient for release from suffering is in direct contradiction to the doctor’s desire to keep trying.  I understand this urge, because I go through it myself, though I’m usually working on a computer and not something as messy and complicated as a human being.

I have lost count of the times that I have spent more hours than I ever had hope of getting paid for trying to remove a virus or diagnose a hardware problem.  There comes a point when it doesn’t matter that I’m losing money on the project, I just want to beat the problem.  I think doctors must have that exact same impulse.  It doesn’t matter how much agony the patient has to go through, they want to beat the disease.  I think there needs to be some consideration given to people having more control of their own lives when they know they are reaching the end.  I just read an article about an organization called Advanced Care Planning Decisions.  One of the neat ideas I thought really simplified the whole thing was the idea of discussing comfort as an equal consideration in deciding what to do in the process of dealing with disease, terminal or otherwise.  How much medical care gets inflicted on patients because they don’t know that they have a choice?

I’m not suggesting that we legalize euthanasia or start sending terminal people off to the Soylent Green factory (Soylent Green is People! for any young people who might be reading this, young in my mind being anyone south of 30) or setting up a board to decide whether someone should receive care to stay alive.  I do believe people need to be given the ability to choose between quality of life and quantity of life.  Given the choice of staying alive for 1o years in excruciating pain and 2 years with no pain at all, I think a lot of people would choose the latter, myself included.

I suspect the reason people don’t make that choice or even ask to make it is that humans are by and large a hopeful lot.  We have been given the ability to imagine things getting better, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that there is no hope.  I think what keeps people trying is that there might be the smallest chance of getting better.  I wonder if I wouldn’t keep trying just because I’d be afraid of someone finding a cure for whatever ails me the day after I kicked off.  I have that kind of luck.

Terrorism, Loneliness and where we go from here

Loneliness has always been a problem for me.  I’ve never felt particularly accepted in any group I’ve been part of, regardless of other’s efforts to the contrary.  My dad was the same way.  I think we both just preferred our own thoughts to having to figure out what other people were thinking or to feign interest when our mind was elsewhere.  Oddly enough I think a lot of people might have considered both of us extroverts in a lot of ways, though I think in both cases, it was as a defense mechanism rather than any innate desire to put ourselves out there.

In my darkest hours, I’ve never considered hurting anyone else because I felt isolated and alone.  I guess I’m not built that way.  But I can understand how someone more vulnerable to peer pressure or the influence of other people might be pushed to doing something horrible.  In looking at the horrible events of the past few weeks and months (Aurora, Sandy Hook, Boston) I don’t see a political problem, I see a cultural problem.  We have become so isolated from each other that it just becomes much easier to lose track of our collective humanity and empathy for each other.  The Me decade of the 70s and the elevation of selfishness to a virtue in the 80s are leading us to the disintegration of our culture and our society.

Lest you think I’m being too harsh, listen to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or any of the other people who seem to spend most of their time telling their listeners that they are the only ones that know the Truth and that everyone else is a liberal stooge or worse a sheeple.  Or listen to the conspiracy theorists who feel so insignificant and small that they have to invent conspiracies that only they know about to ease those feelings.

But if you’re not involving yourself in your community or with other people on even a minimal basis, you’re part of the problem.  Hell, I’m part of the problem.  My wife and I made a new years resolution to do at least an hour of community service a month, unfortunately, that has turned into another paving stone, but now that I’m starting to feel like I might be able to get out of bed without being in agonizing pain in the morning (Get Off My Lawn!) I might just be able to manage going out and helping someone else feel better instead of feeling sorry for myself.