This Wingnut Called Me an Idiot

This Wingnut Called Me an Idiot. Here’s What I Said Back.

(This was first posted to the Bullshit.ist, that awesome Medium publication.)

So I just got verbally abused online by someone I don’t know, who I’ve never met, and never will. Surprised, right? It’s not the first time. It won’t be the last time.

I bet just about everyone reading this post has been attacked for some kind of political comment online, at some point. And I bet just about everyone’s blasted them right back.

Take a look at the country right now, and let me ask: How’s that working out?

Since we are all citizen-activists online, here’s what I’m asking you to do. Every time you come across a comment thread which has descended into attack-and-parry name-calling, jump in with a message of kind humility and find a way to connect. Yes, even when their point of view seems ridiculous. Yes, even when they’ve just called you something totally offensive.

I’m not saying this is easy.

Think of it this way. Everyone wants what’s best for the country. And everyone has been so subsumed by emotionally-driven propaganda they no longer see the other side as human. If you know your history, there is nothing about this situation that turns out well.

It’s not “them.” It’s you. It’s me. Even college-educated, smart, well-read liberals are just as easily manipulated by propaganda as the most passionate Trump voter. Let’s be honest with ourselves.


So, here’s how I handled it. First this guy insisted that all the marchers in DC were paid by George Soros. Later on, he called me “absurd” because I suggested the Woman’s March was about passionate people reacting to the direction Trump is taking the country, including an oil-driven foreign policy and attacks on a woman’s right to choose.

Then he said:

They’re against “oil” are they? How did they get to DC then? Did they walk? Defending “women’s rights” were they? And yet their candidate took payments from Saudi Arabia. Ridiculous hypocrisy as ever from the left. And as for “people power”, you won the popular vote because Obama gave the green light for illegals to vote. How can ANY country allow voting without ID? It is preposterous.

There was more. But that’s enough. I thought for a few minutes, and wrote something like this:


I hear your passion. Here’s the thing. I bet we agree on a lot more than you imagine. Why do we keep blasting each other? We need to figure this out. Me and you, we could figure this out. We compromise all the time in our lives, in our homes, with our families. It’s what the country was founded on. We don’t do it over politics anymore. It’s all “my way or no way.”

So, you’re worried about voter fraud. Well, you’re right, it’s a democracy, what’s more important than that? It’s true, I burn oil all day. I just wish we’d find a way to use less, our kids breathe that air. You see hypocrisy with Hillary Clinton and Saudi Arabia. If I’m honest with myself, you’re right about that, too. It is bullshit. It is hypocritical. Where I think you’re wrong is assuming “all” liberals think it’s okay. Maybe a lot do. A lot more might be open to think about it if they heard your message without being called absurd or preposterous.

Just like republicans might hear me if I stop calling them “idiot red staters.”

Did you ever consider that these so-called “sides” are created to get us pissed off and fighting each other, so that real changes or progress can’t happen? I’m not a big fan of conspiracy theories, but I’m really starting to think there’s some truth to this.

Thanks for listening with an open mind.


I have no idea if this guy will really listen to me with an open mind. He could respond by totally slamming me. But there is zero chance that he’ll listen to me in any sort of serious way if I just call him a better name than the one he called me.

Admittedly, being “nicer online” won’t stop the big, appalling, even frightening policies (to me) that are coming down, seemingly on an hour-by-hour basis. Yes, we should make our representatives listen, we should march and organize. We should read, memorize, and implement the strategies in the Indivisible Guide. But diffusing anger, even with people who attack us, starts the process of building community, one comment at a time.

That’s what I think. What about you?


UPDATE: Well, I can share that my “adversary” responded to what I’d written him, and I’m happy to say the first sentence was this:

Eric, of course you’re right — the way the message is delivered makes a huge difference in the way it is received.

And then he reiterated his strong point of view. Okay, so I didn’t turn him into a Bernie Bro. We are still world’s apart. But we found something to agree with — me and this guy! And the attack festival ended up as an interesting debate.

In writing this and trying to have it embody all of my social media interactions, I’ve come to start thinking that kindness in the face of hatred is POWER. So I learned something here. Maybe he did too. I’ll call that a victory.

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11 Rules for Writing Online, Because Internet

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Yes, this is satire, first posted over at Medium’s Bullshit.ist publication. Go forth and like it, por favor.

Writing for the web takes a certain style, because as we all know, it’s the clicks that count. To help get you started, here are 11 ways to write great posts online that are sure to make you a cyberstar.

1. Start with a rambling paragraph that repeats your main point several ways so you can meet Google SEO content requirements.

2. Entice clicks using unrelated photo of a sexy girl, preferably with nose ring and yoga pants, surrounded by fields of wheat.

3. Put a number in your title so readers can quickly determine how little thinking will be required. Because why should they. Think. Much.

4. Use single word sentences for punctuated emphasis, rather than incorporating any adjective thingies. Like. The. One. Above.

5. Use cutesy words to downplay any pretense of intellectualism, for example ‘thingies.’

6. Use “like” a lot. Like, all the time. Also, reference complicated concepts as “a thing.” Yes, this is a thing.

7. Use “fuck” everywhere; it will jar people into reflexive re-tweets like fucking automatons.

8. Use clever word creations like “internety” as if they were legitimate terms.

9. Employ “I” “me” or “my” at about five-words-to-one. I’ve found that in my writing it helps prove my ability to show how awesome I am. Because. I. Am. Awesome.

10. Assume your audience lacks any historical knowledge whatsoever and explain even obvious references. (Ex: World War ll, a clusterfuck between good and bad guys back in the olden days, was a big fucking deal. Really. Fucking. Big.)

11. Make your article about sex. If it’s not about sex, make it about sex. If you can’t make it about sex, find some other internet.

There you go, surefire rules that’ll shoot you straight to the top of the feed. And what’s writing for anyway? So go out and get ’em, keyboard cowboy!

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Fan is Short for Fanatic

mr.metI am a Mets fan, in the full sense of the word: I am a fanatic. I like to rail against fanaticism in the real world, but I give myself a pass for baseball. It’s ridiculous, basically. It’s a game and it doesn’t matter. So why does a killer ending to a Mets season cut me off at the emotional knees?

Because I’m a fanatic, that’s why.

I’ve been a Mets fan since I was ten years old – I’m 49 now – so this is the longest relationship I’ve had  in my life. It’s been mostly a rocky marriage. I could list out all the excruciating New York Mets failures, but why waste good bandwidth. Here’s a Google search with 1,560,000 results. Have at it.

Usually the Mets are bad from start to finish, and for a momentary madness here on the day after Game 5 of the World Series, I almost prefer it that way. The creeping certainty that your season’s over around May 15 might be easier to bite down on than a sudden-death, kick-to-the-gut, season-killer in November. Still, it has become an annual ritual, just as the leaves start to fall, to look at the sky and ask an irrational universe: Why, oh why was I born a Mets fan?

My sister – a Yankees fan – once asked me to describe the feeling you get when your team’s season ends with disappointment. This was back when her team never ended that way. And as all Mets fans know, it’s like having your heart broken. The baseball season runs day after day for months; you live and die with these guys every night. You can’t help but get to know the personality of the team in what can only be described as an intimate way. When your team wins it all, they come back every anniversary. When your team loses, they go away. You never see them again.

I guess that’s what stings the most about this year. I fell in love with this team. So did a lot of people. Where did all those Mets fans come from, and where’ve they been hiding all this time? My father, who hasn’t watched a baseball game since Bobby Thompson, was leaving me voice mails about “that awesome Murphy!” I was proud. My team dominated the NLCS. In four games!

Now I feel a little responsible. These people didn’t know better. Back in July, when they started to catch on, I should have tried to shake some sense into them, “What are you thinking! You have no idea what you’re in for!”

Of course, this could have been so much worse. Think about 2008. A last-day collapse on the last game at Shea. My grandfather took me to Shea Stadium; thirty years later I took my own daughter there. When the car rounded that bend near Willets Point and the blue mass of Shea rose into view, I watched her seven-year-old eyes open in amazement, just like mine on my first trip in ’77, when I asked my grandfather what all that green outside the field was for, and he told me all that green WAS the field. Citi Field is awesome, and it was rockin’ like mad this year, and I’ve got no complaints. But I’ll always miss Shea.

I’ll miss the 2015 Mets too. That had such a nice ring to it. Never has a Mets season held so many twists and turns as this one. We were supposed to win it. This feels like some kind of alternative universe; in the real one, Duda’s throw was true to the plate; Terry Collins sent out Familia to lock it down, Murph hit a homerun in every game of the series. But alas, nothing’s promised. Baseball doesn’t run on a script. Anything can happen. And it usually does.

I woke up this morning and I said that’s it, I’m done. I’ve got better things to do with my life. Who needs a stupid game to make me miserable. I should get out more, read more, spend time with my kids more. Turn off the TV more. Baseball. It’s ridiculous.

But I know what’s going to happen. In a few days I’ll realize that holding emotional water for a baseball team is pretty dumb. And there are all these free agents and trades we could make. So I’ll start reading MetsMerized again, and refreshing Twitter like a crazy person during the winter meetings again, and pretty soon it’s February and I’m counting the calendar to Opening Day.

Let’s face it, 29 teams let their fans down every year. Imagine being a Cubs fan right now. Yes, our team made embarrassing errors. Yes, a few inches here or there, we’d have won most of these games, heading back to KC with a chance. There’d be a baseball game to watch for a few more nights. The 2015 Mets would last forever.

But still – we won the NLCS. We’re the champs of the LEAGUE. We’ve got the best starting pitching staff in memory. KC came back from heartbreak last year to finish the job. The Mets can do the same in ’16.

So it stings today. It hurts like hell today. It’ll pass. It always does. We’re fans. It makes no sense, but we keep coming back. And for the first time in a long, long time, I can honestly say, I can’t wait ‘till next year.


(Deep bow and tip of the hat to MetsMerized for posting this one….)

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Reading at Farley’s Bookshop, May 7 2015

I’ll be coming out of retirement to read with Nancy Scott at Farley’s Bookshop in New Hope PA on Thursday, May 7 2015.

The reading starts at 7 PM. Farley’s is located at 44 South Main Street, New Hope, 18938. Phone: 215-862-2452. 

 

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Alan Greenspan, Free Marketers, and Fanatics

Alan Greenspan is back in the news, after Bernie Sanders’ classic confrontation from years ago came up in the Democratic Debate (go watch it, it’s well worth your five minutes). I’ll admit, I haven’t thought about Greenspan for a while, not since he came out with that shocker after the ’08 crash (“Greenspan Concedes Error on Regulation“) where he admitted:

“Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief.”

So it sounded like the guy most closely associated with the Chicago School of Economics was having a religious conversion. If you don’t know the Chicago School, Wikipedia sums it up as a theory whereby “regulation and other government intervention is always inefficient compared to a free market.” So there you have it, the foundation for Movement Conservatives, Libertarians, the Tea Party, and others who find joy in scapegoating “big government,” deregulating the economy and undoing the better parts of the twentieth century.

It’s also what you’d expect from someone who’d grown up with the Objectivists, and Greenspan was one of Ayn Rand’s very own personal favorites. Objectivists are back in vogue these days, because they believe that only the free market, when allowed to prosper in pure, unregulated capitalism, delivers the ideal form of human society. That’s because when individuals are free to act according to their own self interest (the theory goes), you have a society of right-thinking, right-acting folks. According to the Objectivists, such freedom can only be realized under complete separation of state and economics, similar to the separation of church and state.

In other words: Regulations, bad, and you can see why Mr. Greenspan was so puzzled to find out that banks – surprise – sometimes act irrationally. (How a man who ideologically rejects regulation was allowed to run the Federal Reserve – the most powerful economic regulatory organization in the world – is a head-scratcher.)

You should check out the Objectivists some time. They make a lot of sense when you read them, especially when you’re 18 or 20 and have yet to live in the world – and by live I mean work, struggle, earn, experience, and interact with people beyond your own family. That’s when you realize that few things ever neatly line up in your day-to-day existence the way they appear to line up when you’re reading about them in books.

What Objectivists fail to recognize – just like libertarians or communists, for that matter – is that no single ideology will satisfy every problem, every time. If you ever find a political group that takes that approach, then my advice to you is to run, for you will have found yourself among zealots.

Sure, humans are often motivated by self interest. And just as often they are motivated by compassion and empathy and selflessness. You can’t build an entire social order around one or another, since all are true.

We humans are flexitarians at heart. It’s that flexibility that’s gotten us – skinny, fur-less and loping along – all the way to the top of the food chain. I wish more people would remember this, instead of battening down their thinking hatches and sticking to a fanatical view of the world, where everything would be perfect if only we’d follow one particular approach to the exclusion of anything that smells like “the other side.”

What we need are fewer zealots running the instruments of power. We need people with open minds and intellectual curiosity, with flexibility to apply a variety of approaches to solve a dilemma, rather than handcuffed to a single view. Like trying to manage the US economy by eliminating regulations as part of an unquestioned trust in free market-based solutions, every single time. It’s bound to fail, and it seems to, every ten years or so (don’t these people read history books?). These bubbles and crashes aren’t caused by “greed” on Wall Street (as if that’s something new) but by an absence of appropriate rules and boundaries to keep things in good working order. Regulations, by any other name.

I was a fanatic myself, two different times: Once of the Right (God Bless Ronald Reagan) and once of the further left, lets say.  But as I’ve gotten older and – maybe wiser – I don’t know what my personal political bucket should be labeled anymore. When you tie yourself down to a unbending viewpoint, you spend your energy rejecting any idea that doesn’t neatly fit with your preconception. And you’ll miss an awful lot of good ideas as a result.

That’s how grown-ups act; when we’re kids, and by kids I mean up to about 28, we take a monolithic, arrogant view towards the world. We’re adamant in our certainty. We know what’s what, and have yet to develop the maturity to recognize that the true path to wisdom starts from a perspective of uncertainty. Some of us achieve this among our close circle, when as parents, as friends, as uncles or aunts we learn to give advice based on our experience in an empathetic way that helps guide others to find their own answers. We don’t have such a good track record of this in the wider world, and if you don’t believe me, find a single example of a talking head on cable news who stops in their blathering to say, “well gee, that’s a good point, I never actually considered it.”

Cornell West once said, “When your prejudices and preconditions no longer sustain you, you’ve been educated.” Imagine a society filled with open-minded, contemplative grownups? That’s a world I could be happy living in. A world filled with people out to solve problem, rather than win arguments. And maybe that’s our hopeful destiny.

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Lost in Translation – Why it Breaks Your Heart

lost-in-translationI re-watched Lost in Translation the other day – I got the idea after stumbling onto this interview with Bill Murray on the Charlie Rose show. (Do yourself a favor – take 50 minutes out of your life and watch this clip. Three-quarters of the way it becomes a spiritual experience.) One of my life’s dreams is to have Garrison Keillor read a poem of mine on his Writer’s Almanac radio show. Now I have a new one, and that’s to spend an hour or two hangin’ out with Bill Murray.

But that’s not likely to happen, so I streamed Lost in Translation over my laptop in the afternoon on the kitchen table (it’s on Netflix) instead. And even under those less-than-ideal movie watching circumstances, I was so completely taken into the world of this film that 48 hours later I’m still heartbroken. That’s really the only word for it. I fell for it pretty hard ten years ago, but this time it’s a whole different thing. Why would a beautiful film leave me so rattled?

In one way, this movie leaves an impact because it is such a total sensory experience. It’s filmed using natural light exclusively – apparently this is rarely done – so it looks warm and real. There’s very little camera “action” or panning – it’s like a documentary made of perfectly framed photographs – so it’s slow, and peaceful, and hypnotic. The acting is as subtle – and sublime – as life. It has Scarlett Johansson (sigh). And the soundtrack is as enrapturing as a Buddhist temple.

But there’s something else at work here. I suppose my personal circumstances – divorced, surprised, wondering here at the halfway mark if this is all there is, and what could possible come next, if anything – make me particularly susceptible to elegiac paeans to love and delayed gratification and the meaning of life, especially when so gracefully, honestly presented, with characters you can’t help but like.  I also know, as someone who once wrote, that I’ve been mostly silent for years, trying to translate deeply felt experiences into words but finding it impossible to do, a kind of poetic laryngitis. And this is just like the characters in the film, who are so bewildered by their circumstances – physically as well as emotionally exhausted – they seem to lack the vocabulary to express what it is they’re experiencing in their own lives, even as they experience it. So this is a work of art that transcends commercial appeal, and gets right to the heart of what it means to be lost – in another country, in one’s life. And it leaves you wistful and moved and yes, heartbroken – for them, and I suppose for yourself, if that’s where you are at that moment in your ride.

Over at Wikipedia there’s an analysis on the movie’s themes and aesthetics, which is cool. But first, go stream it while you can, and break your heart in the most sublime way possible.

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Reading at the Princeton Library

I’ll be reading along with poet Dan Maguire on Monday, August 12 2013 in the Princeton Library, Fireplace 2nd Floor.

More information at http://www.princetonlibrary.org/events/2013/08/poets-library.

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Reading at the Bucks County Bards – Newtown, PA

I’ll be coming out of hibernation to read at the Newtown PA library as part of the Bucks County Bards series on Feb 15, 2013. More details: http://www.newtownlibrary.com/Events.html.

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Reading at the Hamilton Library – April 23

I’ll be reading along with poets Nancy Scott, Ray Brown, and Peter Dabbene at the First Annual Hamilton Library PoetryPalooza. In celebration of National Poetry Month. Open mic follows. More details: http://www.hamiltonnjpl.org/

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Reading at Farley’s Bookstore, New Hope June 2, 2011

I’ll be reading for the “First Thursday Poetry Series” on June 2, 2011 at Farley’s Bookstore, 44 S. Main Street, New Hope, PA, at 8 p.m. with one of my favorite poets, Nancy Scott. Call (215) 862-2452 for info.

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