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Open Letter to Spammers

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Dear Spammers,

In view of the thousands of opportunities I’ve passed up to enlarge my penis and my breasts, buy medications without a prescription, buy cheap software, get designer watches, make money working from home, start a new career, get another diploma, get another degree, provide my banking details to Nigerian widows and faux banking sites, view naked celebrities, and hook up with local singles for anonymous sex, I think you should know by now that I’m not going to fall for your puerile ploys. You can take me off your list. You can cancel my subscription. I don’t want your “services.” I won’t buy what you’re selling. I won’t surrender my identity.

Go, prey upon the noobs. Infect yourselves. Steal from one another. Emasculate yourselves.

I hope you are all caught and incarcerated and compelled to pay draconian fines.

Sincerely,

Chip Burkitt

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Deconstructed News

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Deconstruction was a hot, new technique in literary criticism 25 years ago when I was a grad student in English studies. It was hot because it was favored by the sexy French theorists like Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan and also because it authorized a detached, cynical approach to works of art. Deconstruction differs from analysis. The goal of analysis is to identify and examine parts that contribute to a whole. Analysis presumes integration: there is one work with perhaps multiple meanings but still an overarching significance. The goal of deconstruction is also to identify and examine parts, but not so one can see how they contribute to a whole. Indeed, the whole is illusory. The task of deconstruction is to reveal the constructedness of a work and examine how it produces the illusion of wholeness despite tell-tale signs of its constructedness. Deconstruction became the darling of postmodernists because of its suspicion of absolute categories like truth, reality, and meaning. Like all the darlings of the elite, the concepts of deconstruction soon found their way into mainstream culture stripped of all nuance and philosophical underpinnings. So it’s no surprise that “deconstruct” now appears in place of “analyze” in news stories:

New York Region
By SIMON AKAM
Published: October 11, 2009
Deconstructing a care package headed to a friend serving with the British Army in Afghanistan.
The article just details what’s in the care package. It’s even short on analysis and certainly does not represent deconstruction. They don’t always get it wrong, though:
Film
By MANOHLA DARGIS
Published: October 11, 2009
By slowing down a short film, Ken Jacobs shows not a work of art but what is behind its illusions.
You might expect a New York Times’ film critic to get it right, and she does.
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Headlines

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In a recent exchange with Facebook friends, it came to light that some people only read headlines. One interlocutor opined:

I’ve said for years, people read headlines, but nothing below that. The problem in this country is that people are too lazy to be informed. I disagree with turning off the TV. You just have to watch more than one channel for your news. Newspapers are a great source of info also.

Funny how it’s other people who only read the headlines. I wrote:

Who are these people who only read headlines? I hear about them everywhere from people who read the WHOLE article, but I never meet anyone who admits to reading only headlines.

I got this response:

No one would ADMIT to reading only headlines!!!!

In the interests of transparency, therefore, I admit I often only read headlines. Below is a list of recent headlines along with my reasons for reading no further.

Obama Makes Gains at U.N. on Iran and Proliferation
The headline says it all.

Taliban Widen Afghan Attacks From Base in Pakistan
Not technically news.

Oil Industry Sets a Brisk Pace of New Discoveries
Great. More oil.

President of Iran Defends His Legitimacy
Why am I not surprised?

Vietnam Finds Itself Vulnerable if Sea Rises
Future news that might not happen.

Guidelines in England for Assisted Suicide
It’s still illegal, but sometimes no one cares.

Immigrants Cling to Fragile Lifeline at Safety-Net Hospital
I almost read this. An Atlanta hospital is closing its kidney dialysis unit, but for some it’s the only place they can go.

For Pittsburgh, G-20 Meeting Is a Mixed Blessing
Pittsburgh wants to improve it’s image. Big deal.

Senator Tries to Allay Fears on Health Overhaul
Another politician weighing in on a hot issue.

Obama to Use Current Law to Support Detentions
Why mess with Bush’s legacy when it works?

White House Pares Its Financial Reform Plan
Backing down from industry pressure… again.

There are more, but this should suffice. The headline doesn’t say it all, but often it says enough. After reading the paper for a while, you start to realize that most of what gets written is not just unimportant, but completely useless. In fifty years no one except certain peculiarly wired historians will ever look at those articles. Most articles are full of useless and uninteresting facts. No one remembers them except the fact Nazis who troll news blogs looking for victims. (You know who you are.)

I like facts. Facts are our friends. They keep us from believing nonsense. Often, however, the relevant facts can be stated in a sentence or two. Take, for example, the recent debacle where Senator Joe Wilson interrupted President Obama’s speech to Congress, calling him a liar. Here are the facts:

  1. Senator Joe Wilson shouted “You lie!” during the President’s speech.
  2. Such behavior during a Presidential address to Congress is highly unusual.
  3. Some people were miffed. The President seemed unconcerned.

Volumes have been written about these facts. They have been analyzed and reported and re-reported and re-analyzed until hardly anyone cares any more. With all that has been written, however, I doubt that even one person changed their opinion about Obama or the health care proposals currently before the Congress. All those words have served only to reinforce opinions already held. What, then, is the point of reading any or all those words? To be better informed? To be swayed first one way and then another? To hear your own thoughts echoed by your favorite pundit (only in much better prose)? No! Once you have the facts, conveyed by the headline and possibly the first one or two sentences, you move on.

Very occasionally, however, some seemingly innocuous fact will wiggle its way into your mind and introduce a niggling doubt. Maybe, perhaps, not everything you believe with such firm conviction is right. Maybe, perhaps, you’ve been wrong about a detail here or there. It’s nothing really important or life-altering, of course, but really, there could be another way of seeing this particular issue. In fact, there might be some merit to arguments you had dismissed out of hand because they were so obviously wrong. You might have to adjust your thinking. You might have to broaden your perspective. You might learn something. You might grow up.

It takes humility—not much, but some—to let a mere fact whack you in the head until you finally realize you were wrong. God grant us all that much humility!

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