The Visceral Nature of Email and Texting

Texting EmojiI am a connoisseur of click-bait. But I rarely click. Sometimes, though… Yesterday, I saw this headline, Study Proves Only Jerks End Their Texts With a Period. I didn’t want to click. I felt like I was being manipulated. Just the same, I figured I might get some useful information. And the grammarian in me wanted to know how a mere bit of punctuation could take an ordinary woman and turn her into Jerk-Woman — strange woman from another planet who can set emotional tone with the typing of a single stop.

After clicking over, I saw that it was actually fairly serious. I’ve even wondered about it in the past. Consider this text message, “See you tomorrow.” It comes off as distinctly uninspired. It’s emotional content ranges from Eeyore depression to Monty Python, “Piss off!” On the other hand, this seems very nice: “See you tomorrow!” So the study isn’t about what I had thought: not using a stop at all, but about the apparent need for text messages that are filled with exclamation points! Because everything we say will be twisted if we don’t! They will read the last syllable down and not up! And we can’t have that.

There is one person I work with very closely. She has the habit of filling her email with smiling emojis. At first I thought it was kind of odd. But I’ve come to think that she’s just protecting herself. There is something about electronic communication that makes us all really insecure. In the past, I’ve found myself fine tuning tweets so they can’t be misinterpreted. And it always ends up with me canceling the tweet, because it just can’t be done.

I wonder why it is that we can’t give each other the benefit of the doubt. There is another person who I used to work with. She was older and had been in the computer trenches long before the dot-com boom. And her philosophy was that email was fast and imperfect. You had to assume the goodwill of the person writing to you. I’ve always remembered that. But it is hard to do. When you read something — especially if it is meant specifically for you — it hits you in a visceral way. It isn’t an intellectual process. So it is no surprise that “see you tomorrow” becomes “go away.”

Talking, on the other hand, is amazing. I used to know this storyteller and performance artist. He frequented a number of pubs that I did. And one time he revealed to me that he was hard of hearing. So in a bar setting, he usually could not make out the words that people were saying to him. But with all the other information that people provided in terms of tone and pacing and body language, he got 90% of it. I’m sure he did! This is probably why people are usually struck by my fairly forceful writing style and my conversational style. I’m not sure how to describe the latter, but everything about it is designed to say, “Are you with me?! It isn’t my intention to offend!”

Given that, you would think that people close to me would know better. But I don’t think they do. So now I have something else to worry about. My texts must end with an exclamation mark! Because I am not saying piss off! I’m just going to bed!

Saadiq Long and America’s Due Process Problem

Saadiq LongDo you remember Saadiq Long? He’s the 10-year US Air Force veteran who lives in Qatar with his wife and daughter. In late 2012, his mother was very ill, but when he tried to fly home, he found he was on the no-fly list. Eventually, the government gave him a waver, and he made it to the US. But two weeks later, when he tried to return, he couldn’t, because he was still on the no-fly list. Eventually, he had to take a bus to Mexico and somehow get home from there. He was something of a cause célèbre on the left because this was a clear example of the ridiculousness of the no-fly list.

So you can imagine the glee among the Islamaphobes when conservative PJ Media “broke” the story, MSNBC’s “No-Fly List Is Islamophobia” Poster Boy Arrested in Turkey as Part of ISIS Cell. There was just one problem: it isn’t true. As Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain noted, “The story is entirely false: a fabrication.” This is just another segment of the ongoing “Saadiq Long is on the no-fly list” saga. He and his wife and daughter (both of whom are also on the no-fly list) were visiting Turkey, because they are looking at relocating there. But now, apparently because they are on the no-fly list, they are being deported from Turkey. There is no terrorism charge, much less a link to ISIS.

None of this stopped the usual suspects of crowing about the false report. Based upon nothing but the PJ Media report, Fox News published, Poster Boy for “No-Fly” Unfairness Held in Turkish Prison, Accused of Helping ISIS. The group of crowers also included everyone’s favorite atheist who just follows the facts, Sam Harris. He decided to take a victory lap based only on that one article:

I think Ben Norton had the right reaction to this, “[Sam Harris] claims to advocate the scientific method, but throws it all out of the window when right-wing propaganda confirms his bigotry.” And that the thing. It isn’t that I think that Harris is on par with Pam Geller. It is that Harris is the one who holds himself up as this icon of serious thinking. I like much of his work, but he’s a great example of how minds work: from the deep reptilian center outward; first comes the tribalism, then comes the justification.

But none of the details actually matter. What does matter is that this is just another case of people using individuals to represent groups. The smarter Islamophobes always claim that they are just talking about the jihadists — that most Muslims are fine people just trying to get by. So what did they get from this case? It would be exactly the same thing. We know there are Muslim terrorists, so why crow about this. Well, Greenwald and Hussain have an interesting idea:

The reason so many people were eager to mindlessly endorse this ISIS accusation is obvious. For his no-fly list challenge in 2012, Long was represented by CAIR [Council on American-Islamic Relations]. His story was first reported by The Guardian. And he was featured by a clearly sympathetic Chris Hayes in an MSNBC interview. So this entire episode started by this anonymous Pajamas [PJ] Media claim became a means of attacking people who have defended Muslim Americans from the relentless assault on their civil liberties, as well as generally trying to discredit claims that Muslims are the victims of civil liberties abuses. Smearing Long as an ISIS operative was just a tool to accomplish that end. He, his family, and their reputations were just collateral damage.

I think that’s about right. Again, with Sam Harris (who is one of the most reasonable people in the Islamophobic community), it’s important that he keep at least a patina of legitimacy. His fans don’t see him as standing up for racism; they see him standing for the truth, even when it is unpleasant. So when liberals have arguments against the no-fly list and other forms of official discrimination against Muslims, they feel the need to push back. Because the no-fly list seems like a pretty clear violation of due process, so at every point it is, “See! See! He’s actually a terrorist! These clear attacks on civil liberties only affect terrorists!”

To sum up:

In many ways, what just happened to Long is a microcosm of the abuses of the 14-year-old war on terror. First he was denied basic travel rights based solely on secret government suspicions. Now, an anonymous government official smeared him as an ISIS terrorist. A right-wing website “reported” the smear. And from there, a wide range of media outlets and individuals with prominent platforms and all kinds of axes to grind explicitly declared him to be a Terrorist: no evidence, no trial, no due process, not even any charges. The fact that he’s Muslim and under suspicion is enough for huge numbers of people to declare him to be a Terrorist, and he will now live his entire life under that cloud.

It would seem that the terrorists have won a major victory against us. They’ve managed to make the vast majority of the nation okay with a lack of due process for everyone in the name of going after Muslims.

This Just In

Anniversary Post: Alcoholics Anonymous

Bill WilsonOn this day 1934, according to Alcoholics Anonymous lore, Bill Wilson had taken his last drink. This has led to decades of drunks and other addicts all over the world suffering for far longer than was necessary. You see, AA is a religious program — a way to purify the soul. And in that way, I suspect it isn’t any worse than most other notions that Christians have about spirituality. But I have absolutely no idea what this has to do with drugs. It’s only thanks to decades of propaganda that anyone thinks addiction is a moral problem.

But you have to ask yourself: how did good ol’ Bill W get sober? I contend that it has squat to do with working the steps and all that malarkey. Rather, creating and building the group gave him something to do. I’ve long argued that rather than provide drug “treatment” in jail, they should provide job training. Give them something to do when they get out other than sit in useless — as much as it’s been tested, counterproductive — meetings.

“It works if you work it!” That’s what the AA bots say. Of course, that’s ridiculous. According to AA, addiction is a disease, yet its cure is some kind of spiritual self-help program? If you had cancer, would you ever consider an oncologist who told you that in order to cure the cancer, you were going to have a make a list of everyone you harmed and make amends? Of course not. You’d think she was crazy, or some sort of bizarre witch-doctor. And you’d find someone else.

Of course, the great legacy of Bill Wilson — the reason that he is known — is because AA became part of the criminal justice system. It needed something to do with all the drug users (Only some addicts!) that the state was arresting. So when a convict was on probation or parole, the state couldn’t just forget about “helping” the poor sod. Just the same, the state wasn’t willing to actually pay for anything that might work. And there was AA: the perfect thing! Did it work? No one cared. That’s the American way: it doesn’t matter that you actually accomplish something, so long as you look like you are working the problem. In that way, AA is perfect for America.

There is no question that Bill Wilson’s legacy is terrible. He has caused so much harm, it would be hard to calculate. Yet there are millions who admire him. This is because he created a cult. But not just any cult: a cult that was useful to the state! And then, with court-mandated “treatment,” lots of hospitals and private companies got into the 12-step gravy train. It’s been absolutely fantastic — for everyone but the addicts and their friends and family. For them, it’s sucked. Thanks Bill W!