Why does the Internet turn us into idiots?

The other day someone placed a you tube video of someone testing an unusual pistol on google+. Various other people chimed in, commenting on how strange the gun looked. Some people  said they wanted one of these strange guns.

Here is the video:

I think the original poster wanted to link to it because the gun in the video looked so strange – a cross between a science fiction weapon and a toy. I watched the video, fast forwarding through most of it because I find videos of people shooting guns uninteresting. The gun in the video seemed to work very poorly. It’s a plastic pistol with a very awkward looking grip that uses a magazine from a Ruger .22 caliber rifle.

I looked the pistol up on google and discovered that it was the UFSA Zipgun 22 LR pistol. The name “Zip Gun” made me suspicious since I thought a ‘zip gun’ was a home made gun. In the 1950s, juvenile delinquents would make ‘zip guns’ that fired .22 caliber bullets from the tubes of auto antennae. The zip guns were horribly inaccurate and sometimes self-destructed, injuring the user. This name made the pistol sound cheap and dangerous — and the video does not contradict that impression. In the video, the semi-automatic ‘Zipgun’ continually jams. It looks like a plastic toy and doesn’t have a proper grip; the man demonstrating it seems to be able to hold onto it only with diffculty. The manufacturer’s web site described their product as a fun and innovative weapon for the shooting enthusiast. I thought it looked dangerous, cheaply made and badly designed, and, with a suggested retail price of $219.00, too expensive… especially since one can buy a .22 caliber rifle with a walnut stock for $160.00. Strangely, I found myself seething with rage.

I’m not particularly interested in guns or gun culture, but for some reason I hated this particular gun. I wrote and rewrote a reply to the video, telling everyone how stupid I thought the gun was, and each time I thought better of it and discarding my response. I then began to wonder why the zip gun made me so mad. All of my arguments (a .22 caliber rifle by Marlin cost less AND worked better than the zip gun, the ‘zip gun’ had no purpose other than being a cheap novelty and the expression of a ‘because we can’ gun culture, etc., etc.) were all predicated on the assumption that everyone else should share my values. And I have to accept that no matter how great I think my values are, all people don’t share them. Once I began to calm down, I realized that I was becoming more like the people I don’t like. Which is interesting but also a little disturbing.

I still think the zip-gun is a stupid idea. I just don’t think it should be my job to go around telling other people that the zip gun is a stupid idea. In a country like the US (where there might be more guns than people to shoot them), a pistol which fails to fire half the time, fails to hit the target more often than not and shoots a tiny bullet which is less likely to be lethal than a .38 special, a 9mm or other common round is probably the least of our problems.


Beanie Babies

I’m currently reading a book on a topic I never thought I would be interested in… and it’s fascinating. Zac Bissonette’s “The Great Beanie Baby Bubble” describes both the really strange man who invented the small plush toys and the way in which they went from being a plush toy for children to an investment mania in the manner of the great ‘Tulipomania’ of 17th century Holland.

HT_bankrupt_beanie_babies_dm_130726_16x9_992

His shirt says “Bankrupt by Beanies!” and he’s standing in front of a toy collection that was probably worth thousands of dollars one day, dozens of dollars the next.


Goose and Max

We added a second dog last weekend. This is ‘Goose.’

GOOSE

She is part lab/part pit bull, 9 months old and currently about 60 lbs. Our other dog, Max (also a new arrival) REALLY seemed to want a friend to rough-house with. ‘Goose’ has about 30lbs on Max, but Max is a bit more agressive, so it balances out… they really love wrestling, chasing each other and play fighting over toys. She came from rough circumstances so she is still getting aclimated to her new home, but aside from some regressive behavior (puppy nipping and occassional toilet training failures), she seems very happy. I’m not sure how I feel about the name Goose but we haven’t come up with anything better, so with each passing day it seems more likely that Goose will be her name, although naming a dog after a bird seems strange. She has the labrador webbed paws; when the lake ice melts, we’ll see if Goose likes to swim. If she does, maybe that will make her name more apt.

Here is an action shot of Goose and Max wrasslin’ over a toy. I think it looks like a Francis Bacon painting. Scattered across the floor you can see the mutilated toys that Max and Goose like to fight over. They sound like a pack of angry jackals when they go at it!

GOOSE AND MAX


Notes from the Underground

zombiesA few years ago, I discovered I had a group of online enemies. The fact that these enemies kept their identity a secret scraped against my anxieties more than having someone I knew angry with me (and I don’t deal well with conflict at all – I’m a writhing mass of insecurities). Someone sent me a message with a link saying, “Have you seen this?” I clicked on the link and, as I began to read, I began to feel panic and disgust. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to run away and hide or if I wanted to argue with these critics. I was driven mad by the opinions of others, like Dostoyevsky’s narrator in ‘Notes from the Underground.’

Let me back up. When I discovered the internet, I discovered that the world was filled with other nerdy people in their individual rooms, tapping away on keyboards to share whatever silly or demented ideas were rattling around in their heads and I loved it. Thanks to the web, I rediscovered one of the pastimes of my youth, Dungeons & Dragons, and was using the internet to contact other fans of the game. I’ve always had artistic ambitions and amateur and small scale publishers were springing up and they wanted drawings of the things I like to draw… monsters, heroes, wizards and lurid fight scenes. Some of them would even pay me for my drawings. Strangers were sharing their own creations or observations or opinions and becoming friends. It was fun in the same way that I suppose Star Trek lovers consider it ‘fun’ to meet and bond over discussions about Vulcan greeting rituals or Klingon verb tense or whatever… probably impenetrable to outsiders, but harmless.

Like most people, my first point of contact was on the internet forums. I ended up visiting a site called ‘Dragonsfoot’ (the site still exists but I don’t visit). I’m not sure if the tenor of the forum changed, or I changed or some combination of the two — after participating for a while, the banter began to wear thin. Some participants seemed to feel the need to critique the posting habits (or subject matter or spelling or vocabulary) of others to an excessive degree. Others would spam the discussions with nonsense or self-aggrandizing boasts or intentionally irritating posts which seemed like the equivalent of yelling “Look at me!” and jumping up and down in a crowded movie theatre while everyone else was trying to watch the film. There are times, I am sure, when I crossed the line myself. It seemed to me that as time wore on, more and more time on the forums was spent seeing people get into arguments over how one ought to use the forum or how someone else had misbehaved on the forum and the end result was that the culture of the forum gradually became more and more conformist and  less interesting to me. I participated less and less… and then not at all.

Then I discovered blogs. Instead of a forum, I could write my own observations and post pictures for the world to see. Hundreds of others were also publishing their own blogs. Initially, everything I posted was about my interest in the fantasy genre. Gradually I rediscovered the joy of writing itself and began to branch out into other subjects. If something happened in politics or social media that interested me, I would comment (often I would post before thinking — not everyone appreciated my views). There were hundreds of other blogs and I was acquainted, via email, with many of their authors. We read each other’s blogs and left comments. There were occasional spikes of nastiness, but most people (myself included) wanted to be a part of the broader community of like-minded individuals so there was incentive to behave or try to make amends if an argument went bad. I published pictures I had drawn or painted, posted links to the small press publishers who were producing things I was interested in and made some new friends.

At this point that someone sent me that link leading to the blog that made me very unhappy. When I read how deeply some other people seemed to hate me and my drawings, I was surprised because I thought I really wasn’t harming anyone, and, up until now, I had felt so comfortable and satisfied with blogging and drawing. Most of the people I interacted with online seemed to be a lot like me — somewhat shy and probably dorky, but enthusiastic and eager to share our enthusiasms. This link, however, took me to a blog where everything I had posted online was scrutinized and mocked. I wasn’t the only person this happened to, obviously, but the vitriol took me by surprise because I hadn’t started blogging with the intention of offending or angering people (although I had thought, naively, that even when people didn’t like what I had to say, they would at least respect me for standing up for what I believed in). It felt like everything I said online would now be snatched up and twisted to make me look bad and, short of fleeing the internet, there was nothing I could do about it.

My insecurities took over and I began to read the troll blog obsessively. The author(s) had clearly read everything I had ever posted online — and this exhaustive knowledge of ME by strangers started to frighten me — in the same way the psycho killer stalker frightens his victims by sending them messages saying, “I know all your secrets!” Not only did this group of strangers really dislike me, they had clearly invested a LOT of time in their dislike. The troll blog’s primary author (whom I will call “Todd”) was clever and funny and vicious and seemed to know exactly what to say to get under my skin. And that was when I started to do the exact wrong thing.

I started emailing other people who were also in the bad graces of Todd and the trolls and tried to share information in order to figure out who was behind the troll blog. In our email exchanges we agreed that whomever it was had to actually be a member of our online community whom we had all interacted with a great deal simply because he (or she) knew EVERYTHING about us that we had shared online in an obscure corner of the internet. ‘Todd’ was obviously ‘one of us.’ He was a fellow fantasy game enthusiast with two identities who logged into the regular forums and blogs under one name where he presented a friendly face to our little community and then retreated back to the troll blog where all the trolls shared a laugh at our expense. It was like having a two faced friend who said very different things about you behind your back. I wanted to confront ‘Todd’ and expose him to the rest of our community.

This did not go well for me. Insecurity, impatience, paranoia and anger don’t make you a good detective. I began to reread old forum postings and look for people who seemed to have gotten irritated with me in the past. I read Todd’s troll blog and then cross referenced it with posts made in the online forums. I tried looking up the ip addresses of people who had posted anonymous snarky comments in my blog. I tried to post ‘bait’ posts on the troll blog in hopes of getting the troll to reveal himself (or at least try to hurt him as much as he had hurt me). And then I accused the wrong people of being the troll. There is no way to sugarcoat it – I’d love to plead insanity or pretend that it was the fault of ‘Todd’ and the other trolls, but the fault was completely mine. I did get a few messages from a user who identified himself by a pseudonym that proved to be misleading, but I chose to act on the information even though I could not verify it. I was obviously and publically an idiot. I resigned most of my forum memberships and changed my blog and slunk from view with my tail between my legs.

Several years passed and I tried to put this behind me. I realized that the trolls had managed to exploit my weaknesses of personality and I had reacted like a crazy person… even spreading that crazy around by accusing people who had nothing to do with the trolling of being behind ‘the conspiracy.’ No doubt, from the troll’s point of view, this was the best possible result – a resounding victory. In my zeal to expose them, I had exposed myself as a stupid, insecure, angry and unstable person. For a long time afterward, the whole thing still felt like a raw wound. Sometimes it still does.

One of the reasons I think it hit me hard is that although blogging was going well before I found out about “Todd” and the trolls, other things in my life were not going well. I had gotten laid off from my job and was struggling to find a new position. I’ve always struggled with depression and anxiety, but when I discovered ‘Todd’ and the troll blogs, my anxiety and depression increased. Suddenly I felt like blogging was being poisoned for me. None of this excuses my having acted like a troll in a misguided attempt to fight trolls; I’m just hoping it helps to explain it a little bit.

I’d like to think that I have learned from this experience. I’m probably a lot more circumspect about what I post online and often think twice (or three times) before I click the ‘submit’ icon. My wife advised me to never visit the troll blog or attempt to engage with any of these people, pointing out that by responding, I was giving the trolls exactly what they wanted. I’ve tried to follow that wise advice. But part of me feels that in order to avoid the trolls, I have become more conformist in my behavior. I used to think I was braver than that. Nothing justifies my stupidity and the many mistakes I made, but in order to avoid ‘getting in trouble with the howling mob of trolls,’ and in order to avoid risking the disapproval of others, I have modified my online behavior — which means that the bullies and conformists have won.

 


Further notes from the Recovery

Internet WTF, Khunmar, other updatesAlmost three years ago I had a cataclysmic computer failure in which I lost a great number of my files. I thought I was protected because of my Windows back-up system… but that was not backing up. The only part of the loss that really bothered me was the loss of so many scans of artwork. Most of these images were organized into folders which gave the name of the project, the notes from the work, scans of the pencil sketches, scans of the artwork and then the final scans ready for layout — so there was a lot of info in there. I liked being able to look back over previous projects and being able to see what I did… sometimes using these files as reference to new work. In many cases I no longer own the original, so a good quality scan is all I have left. I tried a few recovery solutions and got some of it back but nothing was really satisfactory, so I set the hard drive aside.

Recently I tried Data Rescue for the second or third time and I was amazed at how much I got back. Perhaps the trick is to run scans several times. My folder system is completely fucked up… I am currently spending a lot of time digging through the folders of recovered materials that the recovery program generated  to find my pictures and in most cases I’ll probably never be able to match all images with the publications they appeared in, but it’s a better solution than any of the others I have tried. Currently I am spending an hour or so a night digging through the folder and trying to find all of the files I want to keep. It’s a time consuming process, but it’s not really something I cna figure out how to automate.

I continue to work on my writing as time allows. I’ve always been interested in editorial non fiction in the style of Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, Twain, etc. I doubt I have even a drop of the talent or vision it would take to write such work ‘for real,’ but I like to try my hand at writing in order to explore my thoughts on a given subject. I think I do this instead of writing a journal. In any case, I’ve discovered that I need to write one draft, save it and then go through and snip out all the occurances of ‘in my opinion…’ and ‘I assume’ and ‘I thought…’ and other apologetic sounding phrases. What is it about me that makes me want to apologize so much?


The King on his Throne (WIP)

king on his throne wip 72

I like to see ‘work in progress’ from other people so try to remember to post some of my own. This is about 1/2 done, what you see so far was drawn with a fine tip ‘sharpie’ magic marker on a large (11×14) sketchbook. The paper of the sketchbook is a little too thin for my taste but maybe I just need to get used to it. I haven’t decided if this big guy is made of vines or wood or veins or some other substance — this is just one of those ‘figure it out as I go along’ drawings. Unfortunately, as I was scanning this, my scanner made a horrible noise and I had to unplug it. Hopefully when I plug it back in, the scanner will decide that it is OK and go back to working.


The Psychopath Test

think%20different%20mansonI’ve been reading some books by Jon Ronson and listening to audiobooks like ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’ on my long daily commute — hearing about weird military experiments in the supernatural is oddly calming when you are stuck in traffic. I recently heard that one of the books I enjoyed, ‘The Psychopath Test,’ was being made into a film. Although several of Ronson’s books have already been made into films (Frank and The Men who Stare at Goats), I haven’t seen any of them (even though they sound like movies I would enjoy). From what I know from the internet, these films are fictions based on the non-fiction sources… if you are unfamiliar with Ronson’s books, he writes in a ‘gonzo journalist’ manner which has been compared to Hunter S. Thompson. For ‘Goats,’ Ronson became interested in various projects carried out by the US Military to employ paranormal techniques and new age philosophy over several decades. The title refers to a man who was said to have killed a goat by staring at it in an experiment on behalf of US Special Forces. It’s a strange and often hilarious (and tragic) book that both amused and depressed me. As far as I can tell, Ronson’s technique is to interview absolutely everyone he can get to talk to him who might be connected to a subject he is interested in and then reports the results of these conversations with humorous, self-depreciating asides and frequent references to his personal life that create the impression that he considers himself to be an unreliable narrator.

The Psychopath Test (the book) deals with Ronson’s investigation of psychopathy — what it is, how it is diagnosed and defined and how people deal with it (either as those who are accused of being psychopaths or those who claim to be victims of it). One of my favorite interviews from the book was read by Ronson on ‘This American Life’ (the audio is here). I have no clue how the book will translate into a narrative.


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