Thursday, April 10, 2008

Peace in the Age of One-Liners

Hate mail: thankfully we don't get very much of it, in fact it's extremely rare. A while back I started getting these emails from an ad I placed for one of my designs. Maybe I should be more careful with the really controversial stuff. This one said "Peace on Earth." Yikes, I know-- cool down there Paul, what are you thinking putting something like that out there with your name on it? Call me a maverick. Oh, and get this, it even has a peace sign on it! Yes, I'm positively on-fire with my rebellious creativity.

So this guy starts sending me emails-- can't remember them really, just a bunch of one liners that all had to do with, I don't know, let's just say he disagreed with my wild idea of "peace on earth." Now, this may come as a shock to you, but the concept of peace on earth wasn't even my idea. Beauty contestants have been relying on promoting "world peace" for quite some time now whenever they get asked how they would change the world if they could. I didn't invent the peace sign either. In fact, I merely photographed a guy who had drawn a humongous peace sign on the beach. Then I added the caption. The only original thing about it was the fact that a peace sign drawn on the earth accompanied by the words "peace on earth" is an incredibly bad visual pun.

So, I kept running the ad, and kept getting the emails. Being me, (a bit wordy at times) it was hard to keep from writing him back. But they were all one liners intended to annoy me, not a request for an intelligent conversation. They started to change, getting a little worse. One of them said "there can be no peace as long as a religion wants us dead." I'm 100% certain that there's no religion which wants us dead, but that was probably the best of the lot in terms of a potential argument. I have a Bachelors degree in Religious Studies; there is no major world religion advocating genocide. Also, the vast majority of members of every world religion don't advocate killing anybody, and that includes Muslims (of course) even though there appears to be some confusion in this country about that. Here is my one liner: it's not about religion. I don't have time for more than that here because this article isn't about foreign relations. It's about one-liners. It's about context.

So then there was the "freedom isn't free" email, a true statement; with freedom comes responsibility, but that still doesn't contradict "peace on earth." Here's the thing: me wanting to sell a t-shirt isn't an invitation for harassing emails, period. Anybody in this country still has the freedom to put just about any T-shirt on the market that they want to, including T-shirts promoting war if they really desire to do that, but that takes a little more effort than sending an email. Freedom of speech also extends to sending email, unless that freedom is abused to impinge upon the life, liberty or pursuit of happiness of another free citizen.

The emails kept arriving and they started to get worse. "Peace through superior firepower" was one, and another which said, "Liberalism is a mental disorder." Actually I'm a political moderate on many subjects, but I know when I'm being insulted. I'm also not a pacifist, even though I think peace is a really good idea, but my harasser didn't ask me any questions. He just wanted to mess with my head, provoke me. I also had to assume that since I was now being personally objectified, which is a first step towards violence, and that this individual was advocating a "might makes right" personal code that it was probably time to stop documenting and take the next step. I used my "superior firepower" (a brain) and contacted his internet service provider to request that his account be canceled. Things got real peaceful real fast, and I didn't even have to file a police report. I also doubled the ads for my "peace on earth" T-shirt and another design titled "bring our soldiers home" which features a lighthouse with a single beam of light shining in the darkness and an American flag at half mast.

I should probably explain here that my partner Sheryl and I are primarily spiritual counselors, we try to spread a little light in the world and that's about all. We aren't very politically active and we usually don't take an absolutely hard line on anything. When I'm not counseling I'm selling photos of pretty flowers, baby goats, pelicans and starfish. Sheryl creates designs like "ducky dreams" for children's clothing, or "make a wish" and the currently popular "rainbow heart." Most of the time we're about as aggravating as a puppy-dog. In fact, that's my nickname, "puppy." Once in a great while Sheryl or I write something that actually is controversial, but nobody has ever bothered us about that.

Sheryl was the next target, but from a completely different source. She's reprinting some articles on one of her blogs that she originally wrote several years ago. This collection of articles is now a book. Probably 99% of the information is still up to date and useful and the other 1% was accurate when written, is now historical, and still useful. The book is called The Spiritual Journey of Family Caregiving and it's all about helping families with disabled or elderly members who require caregiving.

So anyway, some guy using "google alerts" got alerted to a portion of Sheryl's article, it must have been a only a single line or two. The portion he was interested in was historically accurate. This guy calls himself "Cheapread." Cheapread didn't read the line in the first paragraph of the article which said, "[this article was originally published several years ago]" Instead he copied the tiny portion of the article he was interested in and reposted it out of context on an internet "forum" where he could ask his fellow forum posters about it. Not really a problem so far, except that he had missed the fact that this item was really old news, and his forum was all about pertinent and up to date information for his fellow investors. These are investors in a specific drug company. Even so, some of his fellow investors simply straightened him out pretty fast that this was way out of date info and not useful to them. So he had quoted out of context, no big deal, and basically asked the innocent question, "have you seen this?" It was an honest mistake and it could have ended right there. It would have ended right there except somebody freaked, went ballistic.

One of those drug company investors, I'll call her "Barb," decided that Sheryl needed to be straightened out, too. Of course, all she had to do was read the blog in it's entirety-- being sure to note the line "[this article was originally published several years ago]" in the first paragraph. If that wasn't good enough, she could have sent a courteous email, politely requesting a more prominent notice that "this article was originally published several years ago." But that's not what she did. Aside from attempting to post a couple of rude comments directly to Sheryl's blog (which Sheryl rejected immediately) she went back to her forum and called for everybody she knew there to "inundate" Sheryl with more comments and emails. That same individual went on to accuse Sheryl of purposefully misleading people in order to sell her book, and more. Her friends decided we both worked in a boiler-room, all day on a word-processor spreading misinformation with the express purpose of altering stock values through our svengali-like command of the internet. Busted, yeah, we play the world-wide-web like a violin. Evil genius, revealed. Some days I get upwards of a dozen people reading my blog. Now, in the aftermath of my guilt-ridden unmasking, I feel an odd sense of relief as a if a heavy burden has been lifted from me. But I digress. . .

Sheryl, for her part, as a courtesy to the confused or to anyone who might become confused added a big, bold-print notice at the start of her article and yet a third notice within the text. At which point her accuser, Barb, went back to her forum and accused Sheryl of engaging in a cover up, if you can believe that. I think the exact words were, "Now Sheryl claims she KNEW that the article was 5 years out of date." Well of course she knew; she wrote it herself, over 5 years ago. Maybe that's why the article contains and always did contain the words "[this article was originally published several years ago]".

It might also explain why the book containing that same article as part of the collection states very plainly in the foreword that ALL of the material was originally written years ago. Some further supporting info I will volunteer here in case any of the over 400 seasoned investors who visited Sheryl's blog within a few hours time happen to visit this one: a book is not a news source of current events. A personal blog is not a news source either. Most all of you know that, a few of you don't. One of you is puzzled as to why Sheryl didn't just delete her entire blog entry the second somebody took exception to it. "Maybe she likes the attention," he said. That would be Cheapread, the guy who originally quoted her out of context and innocently started the whole thing. No matter what I posted to his investor forum he wasn't going to get it, but then "You didn't quote her out of context" was what another investor claimed. That was Barb, the person who had called for Sheryl's blog to be "inundated." Context, in this case, would be all 6 paragraphs of Sheryl's article. Exhaustive, I know-- must've contained literally hundreds of words, all strung together to form phrases, sentences, paragraphs. . . not nearly so easy as a single forum post such as "piss-off tree hugger!" Yes, that is a direct quote from the investors website forum. Context.

Speaking of context, so that we don't get lost and since I never know who is reading this: pertinent context would be the inclusion of the original words "[this article was originally published several years ago]" even if you're short on space you can probably squeeze that in, but first you'd have to read it. Barb apparently holds a doctoral degree and has edited books and still doesn't know what context means. So I'll explain further: in the context of starting a hysterical, paranoid witch-hunt, Barb, you and Cheapread own all the consequences.

I'm not including the worst of the insults that were leveled at Sheryl, and then at myself for defending Sheryl, on a forum which has published post after post of libelous statements. They went after Sheryl and me like a pack of dogs. Ah well, I guess Sheryl had it coming, with her books, Changing the World One Relationship at a Time and The Solstice Evergreen: The History, Folklore and Origins of the Christmas Tree we should have known that The Spiritual Journey of Family Caregiving would finally bring down the wrath of the Gods. Who knew that an investors forum, created for the express purpose of advising investments in a pharmaceutical corporation, would finally be the undoing of our wicked, wicked ways. And I thought this was just a group interested in creating new drugs to cure or treat Alzheimer's, Multiple Sclerosis and other diseases. Nope, they're multi-taskers.

Here is my one liner on that subject:
Oh you captains of industry, you leaders of men, get a clue.

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