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.


My first best friend

My first best friend was a book, or if I’m really honest, any book. I loved to read, even to the exclusion of the things that normal kids do. I think it had something to do with my inability to understand my peers and feeling like they definitely didn’t understand me.

I think if I had been born 10 or 15 years later, I would have been just in time for the PC revolution, and my best friend would have been a computer instead. At this point, other than my wife and child, and the friends I have in my gaming group, the computer is my best friend, and my books have been shunted aside as my primary form of escape and recreation.  I tend to read primarily for the purposes of learning rather than for enjoyment.

We are in the process of downsizing our household and part of that process has been culling my book collection. I’ve done this a couple of times in my life, neither terribly willingly, but I’m starting to get the hang of it.

The first time I had to cull my collection was when my first wife insisted that I get rid of the boxes of books that I had hauled along through multiple moves with my family and multiple moves as an adult. When she finally insisted, it was one of the major fights of our short marriage.  I finally gave in, perhaps because I decided I needed her more than I needed my books, but now that I look back on it, it was more of a power struggle than any real desire to downsize on her part.

I did it again when my current wife and I decided to downsize before we moved to our current home.  I’ve managed to refill my bookshelves though mostly with technical books.  Having a nook and a kindle app on my smartphone has been a godsend.  I now have a library of at least 100 books all in a 2″ X 5″ space.

My tastes in fiction have always tended toward genres, especially horror, science fiction, and fantasy.  I’ve even gone so far as to try to write some of each, though I struggle with the discipline to finish anything.  I have a novel in the works, and the beginnings of an RPG module if I can just get myself to just write instead of writing about writing.  There’s a lot to be said for just sitting down and pounding out the words.  Unfortunately, I’m inclined to try to write my final draft the first time out, not wanting to do the work required to fix my bad grammer, poor spelling, and lackluster plotting once I’ve gotten started.

The odd thing is, I can finish poetry, and I can write articles, but fiction never quite feels right.  I think I’ve been spoiled by reading so many great story tellers.  All I can think of when I write is “This isn’t as good as Asimov, King, Brown, Bloch, or de Camp.  Never mind all of them were masters of their craft by the time I started reading them.  I never saw their first fumbling attempts at storytelling, just their masterpieces.  Maybe beginning writers should only be allowed to read crap so they can find their own voices, while thinking “I may not be the best writer in the world, but I’m better than that!”  For me the first novel that brought that feeling was a book called “The Alien” at least that’s what I think it was called.  I’ve tried to forget it since, other than a vague memory that it was full of cliches, unnecessary gore, and dialog that sounded like something out of a 60’s Batman! episode.  Later, there were novels by James Patterson that gave me the same feeling.  “He’s churning this crap out and making millions.  Why can’t I do that?”

So I’m working on getting serious about writing again.  Below is the start of my fantasy novel.

Flight of the Pigasus

The laboratory smelled of sulfur and a hint of other things, preferably unknown, as the thought was likely to ruin one’s appetite.  Aladar leaned over a vat, his long beard dipping into the effluvia and coming back a good inch shorter and discolored at the end as though it had been burned off.  “Hmm..needs just a bit more grunberry, and a pinch of… fildric root!  That’s it!” He shuffled over to a shelf and pulled down several jars, inspecting the contents of each in turn before finding what he was looking for and tossing his discoveries into the vat, his leather apron protecting him from the back splash, which ate holes in the floor where it landed.

“Is it ready yet? Is it ready?” barked Grff happily, his wet nose shining in the lamplight, his tail making flickering shadows as it waved across the lamps.

“Not yet,” Aladar said, his rheumy eyes glowing wet behind the thick lenses that perched uneasily on his long narrow nose. “I think we need to give it just a bit more time.  Watch your tail Grff, you’ll knock over the alembics if you’re not more careful!”  He made one final inspection of the vat’s occupant and stepped back, satisfied. “This will take a bit and it’s time for supper.  Can I trust you to lock things up?”

“Oh yes!  Yes, I can do that!” Grff scampered about the room happily, pleased to be of service.  As Aladar left, he started to pick up glass beakers and crockery, putting each back in its carefully labeled place on the shelves.  He swept the floor and then pulled out the mop, wiping the bloodstains and other effluvia off the floor in great wet passes, like a dog’s tongue.

“Master likes the floor clean, yes he does!” Grff growdeled happily to himself.  It was low howling yodel combined with a growl.  Grff was prone to making the noise when Aladar told him he was a Good Boy or when the Master gave him new responsibilities.  He wanted to be a Good Boy.  Being a Good Boy had been all he had ever wanted, even before Master made The Change.  He continued his pass across the floor until he came to the sole window in the north wall.  What he saw in the yard caused him to pause and stick his head out the window.

“Grrrrrrruuufff!  Grrrrufffff! Grubbut! Grubbut!  Get out of my yard!  Grrrrrruffff!  Grrrrruffff!”  The grubbet froze, it’s green eyes shining in the darkness, and its long prehensile nose continued to sniff the ground, looking for the odd insect.

“I’ll show you, you old grrrrrrrubbet!” Grff squeezed through the window and ambled toward the grubbet, which scampered off into the twilight with Grff in close pursuit.

Back in the laboratory, the vat which contained Aladar’s latest experiment started to bubble.  First a snout rose above the turmoil, then a pair of pink ears, then a pair of leathery wings, which quickly started to flap, drying themselves as the rest of the creature arose from the morass.  When they were flightworthy, the creature hovered above the vat for a moment, gave a snort of surprise, and then flew out the window where Grff had gone, ready to experience the world outside.


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.



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.

Fathers and Sons

Like a lot of men, my relationship with my father was somewhat complicated.  That’s not to say that it was bad good or indifferent, just complicated.  It was complicated further by his sudden death 11 years ago at the age of 63.  He went out fishing  one afternoon and died in his boat.  In a lot of ways it fit him.  He caught his limit, and then just slipped away, the pole still in his hand when the park ranger found him the next morning.

In some ways, his death was as closed to me as his life was.  My mom didn’t have an autopsy done, and so I don’t know why he died, just that he did.  We suspect a heart attack or massive stroke, given that he smoked, had high blood pressure, and I suspect sleep apnea.   All things that are or have been part of my life.

I think sons take after their fathers in any number of ways, some conscious and some unconscious.  I catch myself imitating some of his mannerisms.  His sighs when frustrated, his tendency to say “Well…” when disagreeing with someone, his love of wit, his love of puns.  I recited the same silly rhymes to my kids, have committed the same poems by Housman and Service to memory.

With rue my heart is laden
for golden friends I had,
for many a rose-lipt maiden
And many a lightfoot lad.

By brooks too broad for leaping
The lightfoot boys are laid;
The rose-lipt girls are sleeping
in fields where roses fade.

He had a strong sense of melancholy about him, my father.  Another thing I inherited from him, though I was finally able to come to terms with the fact that it was clinical depression, and not just simple moodiness.  Being able to accept that instead of trying to justify it was one of the most important breaks I made from my father’s legacy.

Dad was distant and judgmental much of the time, I think because he didn’t really know how to be an involved or supportive father, at least not the way I needed him to be.  But then I don’t think I was the son he needed me to be either.  I wasn’t much interested in hunting, though I greatly enjoyed fishing.  Stomping around in the woods didn’t appeal to me at all.  I never really found spectator sports all that interesting.  I was more interested in politics and ideas.  His tastes in reading ran to World War II histories and biographies.  Mine ran to science fiction and fantasy.  In a lot of ways we were strangers to each other.   Long after I moved away from home (or more accurately, home moved away from me) he told my mom he didn’t think I got anything from him, unaware that I was indeed his son in temperament, in my sense of my humor, my love of language.

None of this is to say I don’t think he loved me, and I know I loved him, but I think it was perhaps a love borne out of obligation rather than out of prioritizing his family above his own needs to be alone, to have time alone with his thoughts.  I am guilty of the same things, only I think I recognize it as something I want to change about myself.

I think it would be easy to try to blame him for everything that’s gone wrong in my life, my lifelong search for mentors to take his place, but I’m not like that.  There isn’t any reason to try to blame things on him when I’m perfectly capable of accepting responsibility for my own life.

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.