Monday, September 30, 2013

I Can't Make Sense Of It

When it comes right down to it, I don't understand the hostility to science that climate change deniers embrace. Even if the deniers are absolutely right, and the 97% of scientists who agree that anthropogenic climate change is real are completely wrong, only good things can come out of trying to do something about carbon dioxide emissions: a reduction in pollution, more sources of sustainable energy, a loss of political power for despots who control fossil fuels, etc.

Where is the effing down side to those things?

Conversely, if the 97% of climate scientists are right (and we have no credible reason to believe otherwise), the consequences of ignoring the threat of global warming are grave.

The basis of climate change denial seems to be only contrarianism and nihilism. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

The World According To Larry

It's you fucking liberals that let this shit into our society, so who are the sick bastards. Islam is not the only threat to our society, liberals and progressives are right next to them.
In the beginning, Larry was a low-information voter with a chip on his shoulder. He took care of his family, worked hard, and paid his dues and his taxes. But he could not escape the idea that someone was getting a better deal than him, that other people were lazy and taking advantage of him, and that the people and places and things he cared about were under attack from forces he could not quite define or confront.

There isn't anything particularly remarkable about his story: lots of people from everywhere throughout history have lived their lives harboring some sort of hostile attitude toward others. But then, a late-twentieth century convergence of culture and technology brought talk radio, Fox News, and the Internet into being. And there the real trouble began.

These entities nurtured the chip on Larry's shoulder by peddling a toxic blend of fear-mongering, misinformation, distortions, and ginned-up controversies. They created virtual communities of like-minded misanthropes indulging in all manner of imaginary problems and non-existent enemies. The chip on his shoulder thus grew from a minor antagonism into a seething resentment, and finally blossomed into a frothing, impotent rage, completely untethered to the reality of Larry's comfortable existence.

Larry has been sending me email for over a year, spanning countless topics, purposefully trying to annoy me. Now, I don't even know the man. We have never met. He's just a relative's nutty acquaintance. But after an unguarded response to one of my relative's emails, I ended up on his radar. And so the stream of emails began, and they just keep on coming.

A few weeks back, I wrote an open response to him in an effort to stop the madness. Of course, the madness didn't end. Like a puppy or a toddler, Larry feeds on attention. So I went back and surveyed his messages, and found a pattern striking in its consistency:
1. Larry sends an outrageous or provocative story, most often in the form a forwarded email of dubious and/or unknown origin.

2. When I bother to answer, I reply with evidence and sources that call into question some or all of the claims made in these stories.

3. Larry responds to tell me I am wrong, or to go on a rant, or he simply changes the subject. Sometimes he does all three. But whatever his response, he carefully avoids addressing the evidence I present, and offers no counter-evidence to dispute the veracity of my claims.
Literally every one of our exchanges has followed this pattern. In other words, he is a classic troll, as predictable as a clock, and pretty boring, actually. (And all this time, I've been unwittingly feeding him! Score one for Larry.)

But the simplicity of Larry's story and the banality of our interactions don't do justice to the complicated, phantasmagorical view of the world he and his kind have developed and wholeheartedly adopted. His emails have given me a first-hand view through the looking glass and into the world of his wingnut bubble. What follows is a snapshot of this insane milieu.

In Larry's world, liberals are the real racists.
It's the left that keeps bringing up the race card and dividing this nation, and for some reason you can't see it... [Sylvia Thompson says that] the Democratic Party stands for liberalism, and liberalism at its core, is racist. And I guarantee, she is much smarter than you are. 
In Larry's world, scary Muslims are poised to conquer all. 
You act like Islam is a peaceful religion when reality would tell something different... I dare you to walk down the street in Dearborn, MI, where all of the Muslims live... and come back with a feeling that they are a peace loving People. You most likely will not get out unharmed or alive. Get on-line and find out what the Madrassas are teaching their young. The only thing [Muslims] understand is death and their 72 virgins. 
In Larry's world, progressives are destroying women's lives with porn.
I'm glad you brought up how Liberals and Progressives have changed women's lives. You can now go into any adult movie store and buy movies depicting men [censored] and [censored] on naked young girls.  Or watch a group of men gang banging and [censored] in a young girls face.  But I almost forgot, you can see much of this on TV today. Or maybe you are into men [censored] each other.  That is what your Liberals and Progressive movement has brought into the world for your children to watch. 
In Larry's world, the globe is cooling, and science that shows otherwise is just an opinion.
It is an agenda that's at stake... A friend once told me, "opinions and reports that fit your beliefs are like assholes", everyone has one.
In Larry's world, violence is always the best solution.
The only thing [Bush] didn't do was Nuke the bastard [Osama bin Laden]. That is what I would have done, and there would have been no invasion and no other country would have dared attack us again...  I hope [Obama] bombs the shit out of Syria.  Then the true patriots take over to get people back to work and get the 50% On the Government dole off their ass and back to work... Liberals have no idea how to start or end a confrontation with a shit little country and/or a shit little Tyrant.
At the center of Larry's world is Barack Hussein Obama. President Obama looms over all as a towering villain, almost a force of nature. In Larry's view, Obama presides malevolently and gleefully over the decline of America. Yet strangely, he is simultaneously an over-matched, bungling incompetent. And of course, he's Muslim.
Obama [is] responsible for Benghazi, nine mass murders, the IRS targeting of the Tea Party for political reasons...

The bottom line: Obama is making things worse. He is extending America’s suffering. No amount of government spending will help. In fact, it will make our future far worse than most average Americans can imagine...

Obama - Muslim; Ziyad Abid - Muslim from Saudi Arabia! Saudi Muslim killer released a few days after Obama’s visit to that little town!

Obama doesn't know shit. Obama and all of his cohorts, Pelosi, Reid, and so many others do not understand OBAMA CARE!  They all signed something they do not understand, not only what it is but what it does !
Finally, here's a selection of his thoughts concerning yours truly.
You blogger guys are all alike.  You live in your own little world of Internet bullshit, and have no idea what goes on in the real world. You only blog about shit that fits your perception of reality... I hope Obama Care takes care of you, because that is the only way you will ever see the truth.
I don't hate and I am not angry, in fact I am having fun getting to you... I enjoy seeing your blood pressure rise.
Well, there you have it. The biggest threats to the world aren't war, poverty, or environmental degradation. The biggest problem in the United States isn't capital fleeing the country, it isn't the shrinking middle class, or spiraling health care costs, or decaying infrastructure. Even actual problems like religious extremism are treated with such cartoonish bombast that reality bears no resemblance to its grotesque caricature in his world.

No, none of those are the real issues of the day. In Larry's world, the biggest threats are Muslims, the Affordable Care Act, bloggers, liberals & progressives, and the President of the United States.  Larry's view of the world is as self-sustaining and impenetrable as it is wrong, and no amount of empirical data or reason will change it. I despair of ever seeing this insane bubble popped.

Here's Larry at his most refined, after the last message I sent to him: 
Fuck off Bro!
Well, as you wish. 'Nuff said. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Teen Power!

Teens are smarter and tougher than adults often credit. But they face difficult questions and mixed messages, and going through adolescence is confusing and very hard on a person (and that's not to mention how tough it is for parents!).

A few years back, I wrote a post with some goals I would have liked to have achieved as a teen. It was a response to a friend's post on the same topic. In honor of the start of the 2013-14 school year, I thought I'd revise and consolidate these two posts into a single list. The best part about this advice is that it really doesn't have expiration date: it is good for all ages!
  • Stick up for someone. A lot of adults will tell you that the some of the deepest shames in life stem from failing to stick up for a weaker kid. Cowardice is a behavior, not a trait, and it can become habitual unless you find some courage in yourself for someone else's sake when it's called for. You can do it! And the alternative sucks.

  • Make art. Join the school theater, get into the choir, play a musical instrument, start a band, write a story, take a drawing or a painting class. And don't just make it - perform it, put it on display, integrate it into your social life. This involves some risk, which is part of the point. Honing a creative skill nurtures something inside of you that is very different than what is built from the raw competition of academia or athletics. But more immediately, it's fun as hell.

  • Exercise. No need to be a jock. But don't phone it in: move around with some purpose. Screw the dieting crap, just eat right and keep the junk food to a minimum. Walk a mile or ride your bike every day is all the exercise you need.

  • Learn a language. Sure, I studied Spanish in high school, Finnish in college, and dabbled in French as an adult. But I still haven't become fluent in any additional language to my satisfaction. I think my life is poorer because of it. When you can read in another tongue or converse comfortably with a native speaker, then you have opened up your world immeasurably. So really learn it - do extra credit, put in time at the language lab, go to a language camp, take that semester abroad, join a club - whatever it takes. This is on my list of things to do before I'm dead.

  • Get a job. Even if you don't need the money, having a part-time job is great life experience. When you are an adult, no one will care about how cute you were or how well you pranked the substitute teacher or bounced a basketball. Being part of an organization that measures your worth in what you can do for it and that is wholly dedicated to making money is good preparation for the "real world." 

  • Start a savings account. Did I really need to spend that money on the bullshit I bought? If I had saved just twenty bucks a week in my teen years, I would have had $5200 by the time I turned 18. That's enough for a real adventure abroad, a significant investment, or some other substantial purchase. To be able to plan and execute a long term goal, especially a financial one, is truly a life skill worth learning and having. I'm a lot better at this now, but it took me way too long to get here. Put some money away for something big. You won't regret it.

  • See how the other half lives. The city in which I live doesn't have a shanty town or even an above-average unemployment rate. Even so, there are homeless shelters and food shelves and people on the street. Go lend a hand. Poverty is experiential and even a trivial brush with it is transformative.

  • Don't worry about what you want to be. I'm 44 years old and I'm working my second career. I don't expect to stay in this career until I retire. Heck, when I was 15, the job I have now did not even exist. There are young people out there who have the singular drive and interest to pursue a particular career as teens, but in my experience most people are not like that. So don't worry about what you're going to be when you grow up! But...

  • Develop interests and skills. Find something you're passionate about and go for it. It doesn't matter what it is, it is likely to have dozens or even hundreds of facets to explore. The ability to find and develop an interest is itself a valuable skill. Just caring about something other than who kissed so-and-so and where the party is this weekend makes you a better person. It may even turn into something you could get paid to do.

  • Finish high school. There's no excuse for not finishing high school. In an information economy dropping out of high school pretty much dooms you to a life of poverty which means you're making your problems into society's problem. So be serious and finish high school.

  • Don't have a boy or girlfriend. If you're under 18, casual, low-stress social mingling is more fun, more instructive, and ultimately more fulfilling for you than intense relationships that you may not be emotionally ready for. If you go to a buffet do you fill up your plate with apple cobbler? Hellz no beotch! You sample lots of different things.

  • Break clique boundaries. Hang with the jocks. Hang with the clowns. Hang with the partiers. Hang with the nerds. Don't be hidebound by your "natural" peer group. Find interesting individuals, don't settle for a group in which you feel comfortable. Getting along with a variety of people isn't a life-skill, it's living.

(Hat tip to TK for granting permission to use his post. Thanks, amigo!)

Update: of all people, Kareem Abdul Jabar recently wrote a piece on the very same topic. His piece is titled "How to Become A Man," but most of his advice holds true for both boys and girls looking for an enlightened path into adulthood.