Tis the Season to be Snarky

Another campaign season is upon us and my eyes and ears already bleed from the ceaseless bloviating onslaught. Candidates rain down like fallout from a nookular bomb. Campaigns spend millions in corporate donations and $500-a-plate rubber chicken dinners – KFC should be so lucky – while agonizing over the sorry-arsed condition of campaign finance reform. Lobbyists are trampled in a lemming-like rush to have their picture taken next to their pre-purchased candidate. Never mind they’ll hold giant black hats over their faces when the photos make a NYT article about influence peddling. I’ve voted for more than 30 years and I ask the same unanswered question each time, “There are 300 million frickin’ people in this country and these clowns are the best candidates we can field?”

Bruising Bitchfests

Like a certain unnamed Gulf Coast hurricane, these bruising bitchfests are massively disastrous. For one, they’re waaaaay too long. Does anyone really need two years of uninterrupted caterwauling to decide which candidate is the least of a million evils? We’d be much better off if we simply said, “The election is next Tuesday. You have seven days to equivocate your position before we punch our choices into an electronic voting machine that will lose all the data anyway – except in Florida where their cracker jack, leading edge technology uses 1950s punch cards that apparently require more manual dexterity than many Floridians can muster.

The unseemly jockeying for first dibs on early primaries also contributes to the mess. If states keep moving the start dates back, people will vote in primaries before they’re born. Prepare yourselves for the rabid argument about exactly when a baby becomes a voter – conception, embryonic stage, or fully birthed decider. I fail to see how candidates dropping in for a planned, spontaneous Manchester coffee klatch serves much purpose other than giving the candidate free morning coffee and seeing New Hampshities modeling the latest in plaid cold weather gear. The cat-scratch campaign fights inevitably leave even the winning candidates so bruised and battered most people would prefer the Bin Laden/Musharaf ticket to McCain/TBD or Clinton/Barrak.

Pubic Hairs in the Coke

It’s not like all the money, primaries, unreliable voting machines, and rivers of fresh Iowa coffee mean much anyway. Eleven percent of registered voters will show up, vote their conscience, and find out that – despite winning the popular vote – the loser wins because the Supreme Court gets a political hair up it’s collective ass. Probably a pubic hair recovered from a Coke can at that.

No other nation on the planet has an electoral system quite like ours. Like many things, we’re going this election thing alone. Third World dictators run better elections than we do – just ask Jimmy Carter. Say what you will about Saddam, but he turned in overwhelming numbers. Ninety-nine percent voter turnout and garnering 100% of the vote isn’t easy, even in a totalitarian country. I’m beginning to wonder if raping, pillaging, and burning might not be a better system. At least it has the virtue of clear, unequivocal results.

My eyes and ears can only take so much. Could someone set the alarm clock and wake me up about a year and a half?

I’ll need my omnipotent strength to smite the winning Crapweasel as he takes the oath of office on the Bible…or Koran…or Torah…or….

Some People Just Don’t Get It

Editor’s Note: Remember to leave your guesses to yesterday’s post in the comments.

I’m not exactly a people person, so I’m often at a loss for why people do the things they do. What possesses someone to read the newspaper while driving? Why do celebrities make sex tapes when they know their penchant for feather dusters and anal sex will come out on the internet? How can postal workers not know that New Mexico is the state, not the country? How can some halfwit take us into a war without a plan?

Well, never mind that last one. I know the answer to that.

My typical defense against overwhelming stupidity is to check out mentally. This ability has saved my career more than once. If I actually paid attention in meetings I’m sure I’d vault across the table and strangle someone – as it is, I just drool on them while I’m asleep.

When forced to pay attention, I find that just being detached and aloof helps. After all, I am born omnipotent. I didn’t go to one of those cheesy online divinity schools to get my Ordination of Omnipotence. That would be so gauche. The nouveau riche – like the nouveau omnipotent – are just a bunch of pretentious scallywags. You simply can’t trust someone who hasn’t been a deity for at least 12 millennia. Fourteen is even better.

But sometimes I get sucked into the reality of the moment despite my best efforts.

Many years ago, when I was still a blue collar deity, I used to work night shifts. So when I went to the movies I usually went during the day and by myself. I always stopped at the concession stand for my 18-metric ton steam shovel of popcorn – with free refills too – and accompanying supertanker-sized soda.

One day I was helped at the counter by an excessively chipper chippy who was somewhere between high school and young divorcee age.

“OK, so I have a Coke and a popcorn. That’ll be one dollar please.”

“Uh, I think it costs more than that. Are you sure,” I asked?

Yessir! See, that’s what it says right here on the cash register and the cash register doesn’t lie,” she cheeped as her pigtails waved in time with her bobbling head.

I said, “OK then. If the cash register doesn’t lie, who am I to question it?” I handed her a $20 bill.

“Oooooh sirrrrr. Do you have anything smaller? All I have is ones,” she said with a lopsided, vacant grin.

“No.”

“Would it be all right if I gave you your change in ones,” she asked?

“That’ll be fine. It all spends the same way,” I said.

“Huh?” she said ignoring my fine quip.

“Let’s see, one, two, three… nineteen, twenty,” she said proudly as she counted out the money.

“Miss, you said the drink and popcorn was $1. I gave you $20. But, you gave me $20 back in change,” I said.

“That’s right sir,” she twilled.

“No, you don’t see. The popcorn was $1 and I gave you $20. That means you should’ve only given me $19 back,” I said reasonably.

“Is there a problem sir?”

“Yes. You’ve cheated yourself out of a dollar,” I replied.

“That’s not possible sir. You gave me $20 and I gave you back your change…$20,” she said. “I even made sure I counted it properly because that was an awful lot of bills and I didn’t want to make a mistake.”

“Well, I think you did. I still owe you $1,” I said.

“No sir. You already paid for your popcorn.”

“Are sure you don’t want me to pay for the popcorn,” I asked a little impatiently.

“No sir. You’re all paid up,” she said.

As I said, “OK” and turned around to leave, I heard her tell her countermate,”Geez. Some people just don’t get it, do they?”

“Yeah, they don’t,” I thought as I savored my first fist of popcorn. “They really don’t.”

A Tough Decision

Over the past two weeks, Team BIO has wrestled with a commenter whose responses to posts became increasingly personal and viscous. After receiving several complaints, the team discussed the best way to respond.

Some supported banishment because her screeds were virulently personal and hate-filled. They argued that she contributed nothing to informed debate and was grossly unfair and hurtful to those she attacked. They had no problem with her content, only with the way she delivered it.

The opposite opinion – one that I personally championed – was to let her rave. I strongly believe that censoring someone – no matter how vile their comments – isn’t what free speech is about. For me, the true measure of a democracy is how it treats its most odious dissenters. Whether you’re liberal, conservative, communist, or fascist, I believe you have a right to be heard.

But that’s a starkly black and white viewpoint – one where censorship is either wholly right or wholly wrong. It doesn’t account for the very real damage hate speech has. Hate speech can lead to violent confrontation. It can wound a person so deeply that it can have far-reaching consequences. And, it’s just plain wrong.

In BIO’s case, the damage was quite real. Two of our most valued diarists decided to leave because they could no longer tolerate her attacks. Others considered doing the same. We warned her to abide by our terms of use – and she did for a few days. But soon, the attacks resumed and became even more vehement. So we reluctantly banned her from BIO – something that has only happened three times before and only after repeated warnings each time.

Though I finally supported banning her, I was uncomfortable about it. Maybe that’s a good thing. If it becomes too easy, it’s too easy to fall into the trap of doing it as a knee-jerk reaction to anything we don’t want to hear. I’m confident that’s not the case here, but it did make me think about the validity of my position.

I still believe that total free speech is an admirable goal and I’ll continue to fight for it as forcefully and often as I can. However, I also have to keep in mind that free speech comes with responsibilities. The Supreme Court describes this as the right to say anything you want, but not to yell fire in a crowded theatre. To put it in the context of this situation, it’s the right to say anything you want, so long as your right to say it doesn’t impinge on someone else’s right not to be harassed. BIO never asked her to curtail her opinions, we only asked her to yell fire a little softer.

Was this censorship?

One of the definitions of censorship is to supervise the manners or morality of others. So in the strictest sense of the word, I suppose it is. However, part of that supervision requires an examination our own manners and morality.

This was clearly a case of someone whose manners would throw Dear Abby into a fatal swoon. Those poor manners directly damaged the BIO family by depriving it of the open and thoughtful discourse of others. Although not easy for me, I think the most moral choice we could make is the one we did make. We acted to protect guests who fulfill their responsibilities under free speech – to be civil. We acted against the person who chose to ignore her responsibilities. She yelled fire – or more precisely, repeatedly yelled fire – so we asked her to leave. I can’t say I like that decision, but I also believe she brought the problem on herself.

And you know what? I’m OK with that.