Thursday, October 07, 2010

Clash of the petty titans

Immovable objects

I wonder. Did Dad cheat when he and his brother played Cowboys & Indians? Perhaps you know what I mean. The kid who, when you draw a bead on him and shoot him at point-blank range, yells “You missed me!” and runs away. That's how my father seems to me. No matter how much well-grounded data supports my refutations of his inane right-wing arguments, he runs away entirely unscathed to repeat his Beck-embellished falsehoods as if they're gospel. Reality is an irritant and irrelevancy in his smugly ossified perspective on the world.

The latest contretemps began in the usual way. Dad included me in his e-mail distribution of yet another tawdry mass forwarding. The archives at always show his mailings to be the stale tailings of an old extremist quote mine or the whole-cloth rantings of some pseudo-scholar (bogus historians and economists are favorites). But Dad doesn't care how old they are, even if they were crudely edited to replace each occurrence of “Clinton” with “Obama.” He's beyond embarrassment.

This time my in-box contained a call to arms by someone who ostensibly loves the U.S. Constitution so much that he wants to call a constitutional convention to rewrite it. (Remember “We had to destroy the village in order to save the village”?) Once I waded past the innumerable forwarding headers (these people do not know how to forward a message cleanly), I was told that “Governors of 35 states have already filed suit against the Federal Government for imposing unlawful burdens upon them. It takes only 38 (of the 50) States to convene a Constitutional Convention.”

Both of these statements are false. They didn't even get right the number of states required to convene a constitutional convention. Big surprise.

The message then started to rant about Congress—always an easy target. (As Mark Twain famously said, “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress.”)
For too long we have been too complacent about the workings of Congress. Many citizens had no idea that members of Congress could retire with the same pay after only one term
Utter bilge.

Sometimes I ignore these missives. Sometimes I slap them down. It depends on my mood—especially my exasperation level. This particular bit of stupidity was quite irksome and contained extremely easy targets. I picked one and potted it neatly:
At 03:37 PM 9/15/2010, wrote:

Many citizens had no idea that members of Congress could retire with the same pay after only one term

Since it's not true, perhaps it's not so surprising that many citizens had no idea. On the other hand, something doesn't have to be true for lots of people to believe it or to forward it in e-mail.

No doubt Dad would either ignore my correction or yell “You missed!” and run away.

I was wrong. He decided to emulate his hero, the uncouth Rep. Joe Wilson.
You lie!! I never wrote that and I thought that you would NEVER do that.

Perhaps it's a liberal trait because I hear Obama do it all the time and any one that does not see it is deeply indoctrinated

Best wishes, dad..
“Best wishes”? My father has officially turned into a jerk. I replied, but not quite in kind.
Dear Dad:

Name-calling is not an argument. It is pathetic and sad. Have you ever considering using actual evidence to support a claim? Please identify any one-term member of Congress who retired at full pay. You can't, because it never happened. That makes me right and you wrong. Try to deal with reality.

You are entitled to think me mistaken and to disagree with me, but you have a lot of nerve to accuse me of dishonesty. I prefer facts while you embrace any forwarded Internet nonsense that agrees with your preconceptions. Apparently this does not embarrass you in the least, but it embarrasses me.

Don't bother to reply to this message unless it's with the apology you now owe me.

My father was unrepentant. Since a good offense is always a good defense, he responded with his own demand for an apology:
Dear son!!
The fact remains that I did not write that. It was a tiny part of that e-mail. and you e-mail my family and friends claiming that I had written it. So you owe me an apology too. sorry to offend you, Dad.
Oh, boo hoo! Now he's whining that I shared my refutation of his claim to the list of people who received the original spam-mail. Sorry, Dad (but not very). When I'm in truth-squad mode, expect my corrections to go out courtesy of Reply-to-All. He also complains that I picked on one “tiny part.” I doubt, though, that he would have been happier if I had gone point by point through the entire mendacious message.

Note well, however, how the old bastard has a tiny fig leaf to cling to. “I did not write that,” he says. Right, he merely forwarded it. And that's all I claimed, too. But if you go back to my original rebuttal, you'll see how my e-mail program cited the text to which I responded:
At 03:37 PM 9/15/2010, wrote:
That's Eudora's quoting style. Dad has seen it a dozen times before, but now he conveniently forgets and imputes the e-mail program's quote header to me, as if I had personally written it and accused him of personally writing the statement he forwarded. I'm sure it gives him a nice sense of grievance to nurse.

He neglects to consider that every recipient of my correction was also an original recipient of his forwarded message, so absolutely no one is under any delusion that he is the original author of the piece and absolutely no one was tricked by his duplicitously liberal son into thinking he wrote lies. Nope. He never really writes anything. He just forwards delusional right-wing rants and implies his agreement with them.

Take some responsibility, old man.

I did not take his “sorry to offend you” as any kind of apology. I did not respond to his message at all. In fact, he's gotten nothing but silence from me ever since. He called me a liar and I demanded an apology. He still owes me one.

There it sits.


Gene said...

So this is why so many bloggers work under pseudonyms. I have to admit that Zeno's father sure knows how to get his son's liberal goat. A real goat herder!

Zeno said...

Did you really mean to say goat herder?

cody said...

My mom has some crazy coworker/boss that forwards her that crap, and she tells me about it, sometimes asking me if this or that is true. A few times I've sent her back explanations of everything wrong, with sources, and asked her to continue forwarding them back through the chain. She's gotten pretty good at checking Snopes sometimes, but I think we need to organize a better response still.

It's weird that credibility is so important to us "liberal" types, and so unimportant to the whole teabag movement.

Gilraen said...

OMG, your dad sounds just like my ex-husband. I know that's cliche, but it's true.

I feel for you, Zeno. You should keep your walls up. You will NEVER get an apology from him. Or, if you do, it will be an "I'm sorry, BUT" - which, of course, is no apology at all.

I could rant, but I'll stop here and re-read your rant, instead.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it just a little bit sad that 40-50ish college professor hasn't figured out that he can't talk politics with his Dad?

Seriously. Talk about the weather or farming or family or hobbies or anything but politics.

Not easy, but I'm not sure I see the point of discussing politics.

Zeno said...

I thought it was obvious that I figured that out ages ago, Anonymous, so I never raise political topics with him. I also generally ignore his political rants, but that's about all I ever get from him. So now I ignore him completely.

Gene said...

> Did you really mean to say goat herder?

Yes, of course I did, how insulting that you'd ask. Now, whether it was worth saying, that's a fair question.

Anonymous had a reasonable suggestion, but you're not exactly "talking politics" with Zeno-pop. It's more like he's goading you and then not letting you respond.

I wonder if the life-long farmer is uncomfortable with a well-educated, well-spoken and liberal son who only touches dirt when he does his laundry. Something like that. I'll have to read the book.....

Liz Ditz said...

I miss my dad; he'd be 89 this year.

While he was a life-long Republican, I don't think he'd be a stupid-email-forwarder for three reasons:

1.He always claimed his fingers were "too fat to type"
2. Back in the day, he was embarrassed by the excesses of (for example) the John Birch Society
3. He was the one who taught me to look for the evidence.

I do get the threadbare forwardings from one of my brothers-in-law. About once a quarter, I fact-check the stupid and do the "reply to all". That slows it down for a couple of weeks.

Anonymous said...

My Dad had someone come install the Internet, as he says, two years ago. I explained how to use email, how to view web sites, and so on. A couple months later, the forwarded messages started. Not politics, though; Dad is into UFOs.

At first I replied point by point, gave links to Snopes and other debunking sites, and generally argued my points. No replies from Dad. I know he read my email, since he sometimes mentioned it when we met in real life. After a while I just replied with an URL. Finally I set up a filter to delete all messages from Dad if they contained more than three "Re:" in the subject, or a line starting with more than three '>' characters. Works great.

Zeno said...

Hmm. UFOs might have been simpler. But maybe not. Any such compulsive behavior drives one crazy.

MCPlanck said...

Zeno, you're gonna lose this battle. But you might win the war.

My dad went through a period where we didn't talk. Then one day I invited him to watch Lord of the Rings with the family at Xmas. After that the no-talking phase was over.

He still forwards me crap, but sometimes when I factually refute it (thanks Snopes!) he actually forwards the refutation to other people.

So maybe you can win, after all.

Anonymous said...

I have total sympathy for you, Zeno. I am in the exact same situation. My mother sends me all this creationist crap and I used to spend hours researching and typing replies, only to have her ignore them.

I've found there is no bottom to the pit of rationalization, bad argument, or just plain bullshit that these people will spout when called on the carpet. The closer you get to fencing them in, the more bizarre and angry they get.

I've wrestled with this - I love my mother, but I won't compromise my principles. Last year I hit upon the idea to treat my mother as one would a mildly insane or retarded person about these issues. When they come up (and they INEVITABLY come up, she's very evangelically religious) I smile knowingly, or nod with a pained look - but I don't engage. She gets the message and even looks a little abashed some times.

So far it's working, though I make no guarantees.

Good luck.

PS My Dad and I saw eye to eye. He died 5 years ago and I miss him every day. I wouldn't wish estrangement from parents on anyone... but each person's situation is different, I know.

Demonhype said...

I feel for you on this. The subject of parents/relatives with unevidenced beliefs who just won't quit is very personal to me.

My mom is one of the new-agey supernaturalists with a regular grab-bag of unevidenced beliefs. No email though--she's computer illiterate, plus I live with her. We used to get in tons of arguments, until I finally put my foot down and said "I will no longer debate these things with you because we always get into an intense fight, and I would rather enjoy the things that do not make us want to kill each other." I love my mom, so I'd rather avoid the things that make me want to strangle her. I'd like to actually enjoy my mother's company while she's still alive, you know? And I explained this all to her.

Despite that, we still get into some fights because she brings it up constantly--only a little less directly than she did before I decided I was done arguing with her. She either finds a way to shoehorn her supernatural beliefs into a discussion we are already having (example: we're talking about mental illnesses, next thing you know I'm listening to a sermon on reincarnation, or how psychiatrists need to "stop being arrogant with their stupid science" and realize that mentally ill people are actually just more "spiritually attuned" than the rest of us, and I'm being expected to listen and agree because any level of disagreement is pounced on as an "attack").

Or else she just sits there making increasingly insulting and snide remarks about how evil and close-minded the skeptics are, until in some cases it gets to be too much to ignore. Sometimes it's a combination: she starts with the shoehorning, I say that I am not interested in discussion a subject that always leads to a rip-roaring fight, then she accuses me of "shutting her down" and begins the snide insults.

Most insulting, my father, then and now, will come up to me and say "don't bait your mother, please don't start fights with her." Because it's obvious that I must be the problem, being a skeptical atheist. I explain constantly that she is the one who continuously brings up the subject and is therefore baiting me and he backs off, only to accuse me again the next time she says something so insulting I have to answer.

At least you've got a nice email filter between you! :) I look forward to the day I have some kind of barrier. I love them, but too much is just too much sometimes. It is really hard to deal with someone you love who simply will not leave the subject alone, and it's even harder when other people accuse you of being the problem or the instigator. It also sounds like your dad pulls the same tricks as my mom, saying or quoting something just to deny it later and pretend you're crazy. Which is absolutely infuriating and, for me, is a major source of that desire to strangle! :D Good luck!

Zeno said...

Thanks for your sympathy and your comments, Demonhype. Your situation is indeed much more difficult than mine. I recognized, however, the similarity between your mother and my father. They both cannot refrain from pushing their views on us -- one way or another -- and then manage to get angry with us because we either disagree or refuse to rise to the bait. It's a guaranteed lose-lose situation. Thank goodness I get to live independently from my parents and can limit my direct exposure to my father's extremist political views and my mother's gullible embrace of bogus medical nostrums.

Hang in there!