Over time, I have developed a particular habit here on Stonekettle Station.
In certain posts I tend to use comments from other websites and media to illustrate certain points of view.
Under the previous post, commenter Wez asked:
Just curious Jim, why respond to the insane posts by the fringe so often? I realize it helps to spotlight those A-holes who actually do think that way, but aren't you catering to the idiot element a little too much? The story of the lunatic in your office who made that comment was relevant, but were the multiple quotes of the ravings of those who can't even spell or construct a sentence a worthy use of your time?
That’s actually a couple of questions.
I’ll answer them in reverse order.
Why use quotes from Yahoo, Fox, RedState, WSJ, HuffPo, and so on?
Because these comments often duplicate the tons of hate mail I get or the obnoxious comments that I won’t allow to post here on Stonekettle Station. In some cases those comments are an exact match because commenters on Yahoo troll the web making the same type comments wherever their particular psychosis happens to lead them, sometimes they end up here. Take obnoxious Yahoo News regular “Tex Taylor” for example, who also showed up under my America Explained post, and then made himself a general nuisance around here for several months under a variety of pseudonyms. You can find some of his comments under this Yahoo article. Comments he makes on Yahoo and elsewhere are nearly identical to the ones he made here. Now, if I only used quotes from my email and/or unpublished comments or if I quote a guy who made a verbal comment outside my door – as I do upon occasion – you just have to take my word that those people exist. And not only that they exist, but that they are exactly as lead-paint swilling ‘roid-rage crazy stupid as I make them out to be. Since only I can see what’s in my moderation and email queues, you have to take my word for the veracity of any published examples I use from those sources. Some of you are perfectly willing to do that, and I appreciate your doe-eyed childlike trust. However, inevitably what happens when my posts get shared (or just plain stolen) and published elsewhere, particularly on blogs with less restrictive commenting rules or on discussion forums, is that commenters immediately accuse me of making things up because, so they say, there simply isn’t anybody on their side (whichever side that happens to be) who is that stupid, hateful, ignorant, and/or illiterate. Then typically, they accuse me of being part of some grand media elite conspiracy to overthrow democracy, destroy freedom, kill Jesus, stir-fry babies, implement Sharia Law, and gayify Chuck Norris. So, I commonly use comments from popular news sites to illustrate whatever point I’m trying to make, comments that are easily accessed by anybody with an internet connection. If I want to you see the exact comment I’m quoting, I’ll include a link to that website and page. If I want to you look it up for yourself so that you can see for yourself that the comments I’m quoting are a common trend and an easily determined one at that, such as in the previous post, then I’ll simply point you in the right direction and let you do the searching. I leave clues in the text, as I did in the previous article, i.e. you “don’t have to look very far or very hard” under Yahoo News to find the comments I quoted – and thousands more exactly like them or worse, much worse. I didn’t even have to give you a specific article yesterday, you can pick any post on the subject at hand and find thousands of comments similar to the ones I quoted. I typically use Yahoo as a source for this kind of thing because a) it is unrestricted and unfiltered, b) it is a primarily a news aggregator and its articles come from a variety of sources, left and right, c) it is commented on equally by Liberals, Conservatives, sane and insane, male and female, Americans and non-American (though, granted, it does tend to the, um , less well educated portion of the spectrum), and d) because Yahoo articles typically have thousands of comments providing a very, very large sample range.
Are these raving loons worthy of my time?
Yes. For a variety of reasons, the most important of which I’ll address further below. In the meantime rest assured that whatever effort I devote to these loons will in no way impact my Jonathan Goldsmith-like ability to discover heretofore unknown civilizations, memorize the timeless sagas of ancient Viking skelds in the original Icelandic, cure cancer through the power of Facebook coordinated group meditation, engineer free unlimited energy from the zero-point quantum foam, perfect the timeless art of erotic balloon animal sculpture, or work towards world peace through the magic of classic 60’s rock and roll. Also, I read really, really fast. I read a lot. I read everything, from the back of milk cartons to a dozen science journals per week to any news source that will hold still long enough and from as many facets of the political spectrum as I can manage. With acquisition of my internet enabled tablet, I read even more and from an even wider range of sources. I use a variety of data search and management tools. Information gathering, processing, and interpretation was my job for all of my adult life, I was highly trained in it and I helped to design some of the techniques used in modern military intelligence systems. I’m a generalist by training and inclination. I’m an information junkie. And I’m fascinated by crazy people, for a number of reasons. From a “worthy” standpoint, I’d be reading the comments from these raving loons even if I wasn’t using them as cannon fodder. If you’re in the information business, then all information is worthy.
Why go digging for comments beyond the one guy outside your office?
Because you can’t plot a curve from a single point – well, ok, you can, but it’s generally considered a bad idea. Under the previous article, a commenter suggested that I shouldn’t paint all members of a political ideology with the same brush. Point taken. One loud mouthed guy in the hallway is one asshole engaged in ignorant jingoism. One corpulent impotent pundit who calls a college student a whore is one asshole engaged in ignorant misogyny. One governor who thinks he can make it rain through prayer is one asshole engaged in ignorant malarkey. But, when tens of thousands of rain dancing fuzzy-wuzzies join the governor in his religiousity, when mindless millions join the pompous windbag in his slut shaming, and when millions more call a murderer a hero, well, then you’ve got more than enough data to plot a complex surface in three dimensions. I use comments to illustrate points of view. I use multiple comments to show that the illustrated point of view is not an isolated position.
Yeah, but why do this at all?
Aside from the fact that these silly buggers should be ridiculed publically, you mean? Because, I was trained as a intelligence officer. Because I was trained as a military leader. Nothing drives you to disaster quicker than assumption. You must know the battlespace, the failures of intelligence and assumption should be glaringly obvious to every single American in these post-911, post-Iraq days. You must know the adversary, how he thinks, how he sees the world, what matters to him. There is no substitute for boots on the ground, i.e. direct observation. Comments like those I used in yesterday’s post convey layers of information beyond the obvious opinion expressed by the commenter. Taken as a whole they show trends, memes, the spread of viral concepts though the public mind. In the previous post I used the noxious example “the only good Muslim is a dead Muslim.” You’ll find that sentiment or similar expressed thousands, millions, of times across the internet. Go look for yourself. But, while you’re looking through the Yahoo and FoxNews and RedState forums, also look to see how many times that position is challenged – and not just challenged by people from the opposite side of the political spectrum, but from the same side. Look at that statement in context. What do you see beyond just the obvious? It’s bad enough that one person publically calls for genocide, but what does it tell you when tens of thousands do so routinely? And they’re comfortable doing it. In a public forum. And it is those who don’t agree with genocide who are embarrassed to object, or too intimidated, or just don’t care enough. What does it tell you when sixty percent of conservative voters in Mississippi publically believe, and aren’t embarrassed to say so out loud, that their president is lying about his religious beliefs and birthplace? What does it tell you when a significant fraction of Americans on the other side of the political spectrum still believe that George Bush actually bombed the World Trade Center? And they’re not embarrassed to do so in normal conversation? What does it tell you when a significant fraction of Americans, a fraction numbering in the millions, actually believes that they personally really heard Sandra Fluke demand that they pay for her sex life?
Why do this at all?
Because far too many of us allow this kind of nonsense to go unchallenged. Far too many allow the Rush Limbaughs and the Glenn Becks and the Oprahs and the Yahoo commenters to go unchallenged. We allow the Louis Farrakhans and the Reverend Wrights and the Billy Grahams and the Bill Donohues to go on without rebuttal.
We do this because while we may not agree with it, well, we sort of think these silly bastards have the right to say it anyway.
And we shouldn’t. Not, we shouldn’t allow them to speak, we shouldn’t allow their silly bullshit to go unchallenged.
Oh sure, freedom, right? Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of belief.
Yes, of course.
We have a saying in the military, rank has its privileges. This is a true statement. What gets senior folks into trouble though is the unspoken portion of that statement. The part that is implied.
Rank has its privileges, true, but it also has its responsibilities. Forget that at your peril.
As an American, you have certain rights. But if you want to keep those rights, and freedom and liberty and a workable civilization, then rights must come with responsibilities.
Folks, allowing this kind of nonsense to go unchallenged has very real consequences.
For example: today, Arizona legislators have advanced a bill that would allow an employer to fire a woman who doesn’t want to have a baby.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Arizona House Bill 2625, passed by the state House two weeks ago and endorsed by the state Senate Judiciary Committee last Monday and advanced to the full Senate today would require that any woman who wants the cost of her birth control pills covered by insurance (any insurance, not just that provided by religious organizations, and not to mention insurance that she herself must pay for) must submit a claim to her employer providing evidence that it’s not for contraception. Now, if that wasn’t bad enough, the law would allow an employer to fire a woman for taking birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. This in order to, and stick with me here, protect the religious freedom of the employer. The woman’s religious freedom shall be protected only so long as it agrees with the religious doctrine of the crazy religious loons in the Arizona state government. This bill is different from other similar legislation at both the state and federal levels in two ways, 1) it specifically differentiates between birth control used for contraception and that used for medical reasons, and 2) it requires a woman to disclose that reason to her employer – not doctor, not insurer, her employer. I want you to take a minute here and think about that, think about a woman being required to discuss in detail her reproductive medical decisions with her boss – including her intentions to have, or not have children. Remember, her boss can then use that conversation to fire her. No. Stop reading for a minute and think about that in detail, think about all the vindictive small-minded pointy-haired religious freaks you’ve ever worked for. Think about a woman having to discuss her period with a boss like, oh, let’s just say Rush Limbaugh, or her sex life with Bill Clinton, or the results of her last OBG/YN exam with Newt Gingrich. Think about it.
No, really think about it.
Now, flip the coin and think about being that boss. Of having to screen the women under your authority, even if you don’t want to, because otherwise you could be fired for not enforcing company policy with regards to her reproductive system. Bad enough if you’re a man, but what if you’re a woman? If you’re the boss, and a woman, wouldn’t you always be under suspicion for any medical procedure you approved for other women? Would your company ever really trust you to make unbiased decisions when it comes to enforcing their reproductive health policies?
But, of course, nothing like that would happen where you work, right? No chance of, say, your company being bought out by a Christian investor? How about an Arab?
This entire thing is contrived. It’s the result of mass hysteria, of mass insanity. Laws like this weren’t even on the radar screen six months ago. And now? Now Arizona House Bill 2625 is likely to pass and be signed into law by governor Jan Brewer.
It’s the result of a political party gone mad with rage and fear and bizarre hatred.
It’s the result of religion gone insane with lust for power and control.
It’s the result of pundits and politicians and professional fear mongers who serve only themselves.
It’s the result of illiterates, and the righteously ignorant, and the vitriolic haters who call for genocide and the enslavement of women and are let off the hook unchallenged.
That, right there, is why I write what I write.
And why I do it the way I do.
And why I will continue to do so.