“Hey, idiot. You’re crazy and gullible.”

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Question: What is the value of a “Letter to the Editor” in the age of Internet comments?

I ask because Internet comments share the worst of our collective discourse on important topics and issues.  There are no standards for making or confronting an “argument” and most statements are colorful assertions or troll  bait.

Letters to the Editor, on the other hand, are supposed to be something different.  For as long as newspapers have been printed, they offer space for the “common person” to share ideas and thoughts.  Usually, these are well-crafted missives that, while sometimes lacking in objectivity, provide the reader with a different perspective.   These letters are vetted, edited, and presented as thoughtful essays bringing value to the broader discussion.

So, when I read a “letter” headlined, “A few questions for all you Democratic Socialists” I had to wonder if the line between Internet Troll and Concerned Citizen has faded a bit.

Local man Ron Keller had his letter posted in pennlive.com and I share it as an example of the kind of empty rhetoric that should not find the spotlight in a professional publication.

Here is the letter and my commentary.

Here’s [Here ARE, plural] a few questions for all of you Democratic Socialists who are blindly wishing for a socialist form of government in America.

Within the construct of “I’m just asking questions here,” the writer has conjured a group of people to address. The trouble is, he has described, labeled, and judged them in one sentence, negating any chance of a reader identifying with his “target audience.”  No one reading this description would recognize themselves even if they hold values similar to what the writer is actually trying to describe.

First, we have “Democratic Socialists” qualified by the subset of those who are “wishing for a socialist form of government in America” further qualified by those who are “blindly” doing so.  At this point, I bet there’s maybe one sight-impaired, self-described Democratic Socialist Extremist having this letter read to him by his buddy Carl who just wants to share how stupid this “letter” is.  Otherwise, no one self-identifies as “blindly seeking” anything.

Second, the writer is creating a caricature and copy-pasting it into a group, assigning one driving thought behind it.  Who are these people?  One name?  It helps the argument if you relate it to real people and ideas rather than some faceless boogeyman.

Third, it’s never a good idea to judge someone while identifying them. Using context clues, I can tell the writer is looking to address those with socialist-leaning values in order to warn them against the bad things he believes will result.  Okay, fine. But in this format, you may want so simply address the audience as “Hey, idiots!”

Have you lost your collective radical minds?

“Collective”- Ha!  I see whut u did dere.

Implying there’s a hive mind further pushes aside any kind of helpful content for invective.  It’s also a rhetorical question. The writer expresses, hyperbolically, perhaps, his belief that people he has only vaguely identified are mentally ill.  This is far from a reasoned, constructive approach to winning hearts and minds. From a structural standpoint, the writer blew his salty wad on an awkward first paragraph.  This “question” is basically the payoff of “Hey, idiots! Are you CRAZY?!”

And let’s not forget our young millennials. Do you have even the slightest understanding of what socialism really is; much less a knowledge of its origin, history, and goals?

Here’s another faceless boogeyman, this ignorant and brash (latest) generation.  They know nothing.  Every younger generation knows nothing.  Easy target to create and hit.

Because you are young, even if you are educated, you can’t possibly understand what you believe in the slightest.  There’s no evidence here that the writer has done any research into why “our young millennials” believe what they do enough to set up even the slightest poor rationale for a knock-down.  It’s another rhetorical question that assumes facts not in evidence. What is the value of asking questions in a letter? Is it the value of the insinuation? Is it the “snark” alleged in the wordplay?

Change the question to a statement.  “Our young millennials do not have the slightest understanding of what socialism REALLY is.  They have never studied it in history class.”

See what happened there?  A statement can be challenged.  A question can be answered, but this isn’t a conversation.  Further, the writer isn’t interested in hearing an answer.  He’s just not bold enough to make the statement.

I strongly suggest that you do a little research on socialism before you support politicians that want you to have a form of government that you will undoubtedly detest if you ever have to live under its tyrannical grasp. Are you really gullible enough to believe that all the “free stuff” your Socialist Democrats will offer you is really “free.” Truth is, as a taxpayer, you will fund every penny of your government’s benevolence.

SO much to unpack here without even trying to disagree with his blunted point.

So far in this “letter” has established the writer’s unsubstantiated belief in a nebulous group of people representing values he opposes.  He has created this entity, assumed it to be of some size and scope, and challenged it, weakly.

It’s like a letter to the editor confronting “The Dragon on Third Street” without any context as to who the dragon is and what it believes, or even proof IT EXISTS, before saying it must be slain.   Let’s work through this:

  1. “…do a little research on socialism…” – again, assumes people who support candidates and officials with certain beliefs haven’t heard of or read about socialism.  What constitutes “research” in this case? A casual reading of the works of Marx? A history of the USSR and its military and economic implosion? A graduate class in economic studies?
  2. What is the writer’s own special knowledge on the subject that makes this opinion more than just words in a comment section?  It says, “You disagree with me and, despite providing no evidence of my own, your opinion shows a lack of education on a subject.”  This works both ways. “Someone this inarticulate or ignorant in his own opinion needs to open a book. He needs to learn the alphabet and words, how they string into sentences, and other fundamental parts of English rather than, I assume, have his buddy transcribe his idle conversation into a ‘letter to the editor.’”  See how that works?
  3. Supporting policies, socialist or not, is not the same are supporting a “form of government.” The United States has policies that are socialist by definition.  We collect taxes for the greater good. We build and maintain roads. We build schools and post offices, finance a military, protect the environment from abuse, and help pay for access to essential services so that the less fortunate can continue to live and function in society.  We also subsidize corporations, farms, and other ventures to strengthen the republic. My money. Your money. We have no say in where it goes or even in how much we pay. That’s our “form of government” with elements of socialism in it. Here, the writer wraps another blind assumption about a nebulous group of people implying they want to change the Constitution and adopt a socialist form of government.  How you get form “Hey, stupid! Are you crazy?!” to that conclusion is an exercise best left to stupid and crazy people.
  4. So these dumb, crazy people who are actively trying to overthrow the government with some socialist government are unaware of the tyranny that comes with such a construct.  “You won’t like tyranny,” he says.
  5. And the old chestnut that government-provided services are “free” – assumes people believe this to be true.  Anyone who gets a paycheck and looks at how much is being taken right away for Federal, State, and Municipal taxes knows that what they get in return isn’t “free” so that’s a stupid argument.  I knew that when I opened my first paycheck in 1985 and it was about 35% smaller than my gross estimation. It also ignores the common, easily discoverable (for someone who has done so much “research” on socialism, anyway) argument that it isn’t about getting things for free but reallocating the collected wealth of the proletariat to human services and programs that benefit American people who are suffering.  And if the Top One Percent were taxed somewhere around the same as they were during the great post-war expansion of our infrastructure, these things could be paid for without putting the pressure on middle and lower class taxpayers.  Without so much as google, I’ve contributed more of an argument than the writer did in his “letter” to the editor.
  6. Again, he asks another question.  There’s not even the pointed stick of an accusation.  It’s a feckless question to an empty chair.
  7. If you’re keeping track, the writer’s “dumb” and “crazy” boogeyman is also “gullible.”

Have you been paying attention to what socialism has done for Venezuela and much of Europe? These countries have gone from the penthouse to the outhouse in a very short time. What a tragedy that your ultra-leftist comrades are setting up our great America for failure.

In what could be an astonishing closing argument, the final paragraph reads like the last idea of someone who runs out of time on a soapbox and throws out a few extra talking points.  There’s nothing to tie the writer’s “better” ideas into a shot against the opposition. It ends with a dire message that reads more like paranoia and “old man yells at cloud” mentality.  Not only did the writer fail to create a relatable target of his screed, but he also failed to identify a single, specific idea to confront with better ideas. Instead, we have someone who creates a caricature of the kind of person conservatives believe exists and taunts it with weak “questions” that could never be answered.  There isn’t even the strength of a direct accusation to make this an ad hominem attack (“ARE you stupid, crazy, and gullible?”) The writer is always free to take any confrontation about this piece, hold up his palms and say, “Hey, I’m just ASKING here.”

In essence, this entire letter fails to rise to a level of satire or even humor.  It is a letter without reasoned opinion, a comment under a more substantial editorial, little more than the old Simpsons headline “OLD MAN YELLS AT CLOUD”. Yet, somehow, someone felt the writer’s words were worthy of more attention.

In conclusion, what makes this letter worthier of a showcase than any other newspaper comment under an article?  I’ll offer an actual answer:  There isn’t one.

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Haunted and Betrayed by Hill House

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“Well, that’s a thing that just happened.” – Hugh Crain

I’m a little late to the party, but that’s me.  I like horror stories at Christmastime.  Ghost stories make sense at Christmas.  Dickens taught so, too.

So I was hooked on the slow-burn of Netflix’ re-imagining of Shirley Jackson’s classic American haunted house novella, “The Haunting of Hill House.”  I forgave the original story dressed up in someone else’s intellectual property and enjoyed this family drama with supernatural elements told out of order. This morning, I watched the final episode.

Spoilers

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“WHY?!” – 03 CAPTAIN KYLE WILLIAMSON

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Captain Kyle can be spotted at conventions all over the east coast as one of many characters, including “Q” from Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Governor from The Walking Dead, and others. But there’s more to this cosplayer and actor than his fashion sense.  Jay talks to the performer, author, and host of Fandom Spotlite, about growing up in a time before being a geek was cool, the joys and challenges of performing and providing information to fandom. 

“WHY?!” is produced by Holden Smith and Jay Smith with music by Kevin MacLeod.  The show is sponsored by ARCHIVOS: Your Stories, Illuminated.

Captain Kyle and others will be appearing at Sci-Fi Saturday in Harrisburg PA, September 22, 2018 at 2nd & Charles, Harrisburg Mall.

“WHY?!” – 02 – Dave Robison

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In this episode of “WHY?!” Jay talks with podcaster, author, and child of The Muses, Dave Robison.  They talk about keeping motivated, finding the joy in the work that comes with creation, the long game of building a career, and the importance of the solitary artist to indulge in collaboration to experience the world from different perspectives.

Also, we introduce PROJECT: ARCHIVOS, a contest to create a unique story based on elements by our guests.

“WHY?!” is produced by Holden Smith and Jay Smith.  Music by Kevin MacLeod.  The program is sponsored by ARCHIVOS: Your stories, illuminated.  www.archivos.digital

“WHY?!” – An Introduction with Jay Smith

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This episode introduces the series. *WARNING LANGUAGE*

Creating the series, Jay Smith attempts to explain how his life intersects some interesting and successful people.  He explains his situation using a metaphor that, while apt, is not appropriate for younger listeners.  So, like, don’t play this on the car radio with the kids on route to extra-currics.  And not with your pastor.  Or people who hate the word F*ck.

And, for the record, “F*ck” is a metaphor for “candy”.

And “candy” is a metaphor” for “caring about things”.

“WHY?!” – An Introduction with Jay Smith

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This episode introduces the series. Jay Smith explains why he needs to keep refilling his Box of Fucks and how it is important to keep giving them when the time and energy required to do so doesn’t support the desire.   We embark on a journey to recapture fucks to give by listening to artists, writers, and other creatives.  But here is Jay’s preamble and explanation.

“WHY?!” – The Pilot – USS SUSQUEHANNOCK

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-4vew2-980e36

Jay talks with members of the USS Susquehannock, a Star Trek fan group and charitable organization in Central Pennsylvania.  They are planning a free and family friendly “Scifi Saturday” event at 2nd and Charles at the Harrisburg Mall. 

Our guests talk about the event, their mission as a member of Starfleet, and fandom in general.  I enjoyed talking with them.

What is ‘WHY?!’? Where and When Can I Listen? How is This Possible?!

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I’m betting that there are entire tens of you out there wondering why I haven’t been regular in my Buck Rogers updates.  To that small band of beautiful weirdos, I offer my sincere apologies.   I’ve committed to a project that took priority.

Several weeks ago, I met with the good people behind SCI FI SATURDAY, a Harrisburg-based pop culture event hosted by the local 2nd & Charles at the Harrisburg Mall on Saturday, September 22nd, 2018.  This is a fun, free event open to all audiences set in a huge store packed with books, comics, vinyl, toys, collectibles, and other cool stuff.  There will be guests there like bestselling author Greg Cox, Internet’s own Captain Kyle, and others.  I will be there as will my lovely wife, Dame Dahlia.

One of the things to come out of that meeting with the event’s sponsors was the idea of promoting the show with a podcast. Happy to help, I agreed to talk to some of the guests in advance, not just about the event, but about their connections to pop culture, their art, and their work.

While planning this, I realized something very important:  I have so many friends who are FAR more interesting and accomplished than I.  LOTS.  And I have always wanted to sit down with them to just talk about things, how they decided to become an artist or why they went down their particular path in this life.  They have the kind of stories that aspiring artists need to hear because they have dealt with the things we struggle with daily when balancing “real life” with our dreams of creating good art.

So I put together a list.   I stopped at 157 names. 

“WHY?” is a conversation based on the question “Why the hell do we do what we do?  Are we insane?  Are we stupid?  Are we the chosen few?”

Okay, that was more than a question. 

I hold a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction Writing.  I also hold a fat promissory note to the US Department of the Treasury as a result.  “WHY?!”

See the theme there?

“WHY?!” will be a series of conversations with writers, artists, designers, filmmakers, producers, craftspeople, photographers, and other people at different stages of a career with different perspectives.  It will be a diverse group representing different races, faiths, generations, heights, politics, experience, ice cream preference, and favorite shade of sunset. We are all united by the struggle that we face making good art.

“WHY?!” will be a conversation, modeled on the Con Suites and Green Rooms or various conventions, where people just relax, let down their guards and talk honestly about their craft and their lives.  It won’t be about gossip and won’t promise a 12-step plan for your success.  It’s just talk between people who happen to be on a very long, lonely mission toward something in life.

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I am PROUD to say that our conversations will be sponsored by ARCHIVOS, the online story development and presentation tool that allows you to document and explore your story worlds.  If you’re a storyteller and have a complex fantasy world, or you’ve got a number of different stories and characters to keep track of, ARCHIVOS helps you index, connect, and explore all your story elements.

I have a subscription and there is no way I could keep track of everything in The Winston Casey Chronicles without it.   It is a fantastic visual interface that allows you to keep track of your own work, but also collaborate with others on stories, role-playing adventures, and more.

ARCHIVOS is helping us out this first season by supporting our “‘Why?’ Storytelling Confab” event where every guest of the show will introduce a new story element to the board.  At the end of the series, we’ll invite listeners to pitch a story based on all the elements we’ve collected.  A prize of some kind will be offered to the winner.

We’re still working that out.

“WHY?!” will be available to download and stream for free from our host at Podbean as well as through iTunes, Spotify, and other fine podcatching services.  Our guest list and schedule will be posted soon.