Thu. Jul 18th, 2024

When I first joined the writing staff at The Puzzle it was called Political Pulpit. “Puzzle” came later. I was glad, simply because “pulpit,” to me, had unintended religious implications. For a short while it was Political Penguins. I never did figure out how penguins and the concept were copacetic, except the little buggers keep insisting on jumping into half frozen water while splashing each other. Sometimes I wonder if splashing each other with ice water as they dive in is intentional. Sounds almost as stupid as some of the things posters said to each other during the worst Puzzle postings. Always reminded me of some of the antics of the characters in the movie Idiocracy.

Political Puzzle was created and manned by net guru David Allyn who is our go to guy here at LT Saloon. The main concept at both Pulpit and Puzzle was one that I still embrace as I often surf over to debating rooms like Volconvo. The hope, if I remember right… and David, if you read this, feel free to correct me… was to get people discussing, debating and posting about today’s issues from all ends of the political/sociological/theological spectrum, but in a civilized fashion. Maybe we’d come to some rough consensus, or maybe we’d just learn to respect and understand each other just a smidge more.

I think the main reason the site was abandoned was because barn burning had become so popular that the goal was impossible in today’s climate. What a damn shame. One poster, Barbara who, from what I have heard, was actually a fairly high placed political operative, was pretty antagonistic. I probably remember her with less animosity than most because we generally got along: despite the fact we pretty much disagreed on everything.

Being one who has used a few of these tactics a bit too much myself; if you consider all my net posts: both as “Ken” and as “other,” I know the important questions to ask. Amongst them: how exactly do you respond to one part snot, one part over the top vitriol and the rest a willingness to say anything; including name calling?


Doesn’t really work.

Fire back? Well, better than “ignore,” but it certainly leads us away from the goals I just mentioned, right? Usually it winds up being a never ending boxing match that at least one poster into using senseless rhetoric: often both.

I am not claiming that any of us, no matter what political persuasion, were pure. I would claim that the Right is a lot better at it. However the Left is getting better.

Is this really the direction we wish to go as a nation?

Considering my various posts and columns over the years I would never claim to be pure. I do, and have, posted under other names and persona, with the purpose I would vaguely describe as, “No unilateral disarmament.” To let any single side of the equation to have the vitriol ball achieves even less than kicking it back harder than they kicked it. Neither usually achieves anything; kicking it back just achieves stalemate. Not kicking it back is worse than stalemate: it gets you kicked over and over again: hard. It’s a bit like a real nasty game of dodge ball using big friggin rocks instead of a soft ball. So many people think if you throw a soft ball and they throw rocks that’s the correct approach. I suspect a lot of people who promote this idea come down mostly on one side and insist they use the soft ball because they like seeing certain people get pounded. But assuming good intent for the moment, it’s a bit like parents advising a kid to ignore a bully, the poor bastard who lets the other side throw rocks without responding in kind finds out their vision of how it should be done simply doesn’t work, unless you’re a bit masochistic.

Popularity certainly doesn’t follow the kinder party either. Why do you think during a playground fight the kids gather and a large majority often root for the bully? How does a bully get a gang? Simple, power… even ill-gotten power, attracts followers.

There’s one lesson I’ll never forget. It was time to line up and go back to class. We were on the south side playground at Liberty Street School. I got in line and, after a while, the kid in back of me; a known playground bully, pushed me down; I have no idea why. I tried to get up. He kept pushing me down. A crowd gathered. He started swinging and I started dodging. I said and did nothing to antagonize him. He just kept pushing. The crowd was large and several yelled out: “Fight! Fight! Fight!!” The one said, “Kill the blond kid! I hate him.” I turned, looked, and realized I had never met any of these kids before, not even the one who said he hated me. “Well, fight me snot boy!” I looked at my opponent who had finally said something, shook my head, and said… “This is so stupid. Just stupid.” And I walked away to the cries of, “Coward!”

Did that stop the bullies? No, in fact I increasingly became the target until one day I decided, “to hell with this,” got off my bike and beat back. Odd, suddenly the bullies decided to find more convenient targets.

We hate people simply because they are on the other side, the other team, sometimes simply because they are. It’s encouraged by the media, always looking for ratings, the kids egging on the bullies.

The solution is a no toleration policy for bullies, but that’s not likely to happen.

Will there ever come a time when both sides see the pointlessness of such nonsense? Oh, Lord, please say it’s so.

In large part I feel this childish dynamic that many are familiar with has seeped into our discussions. There is a large group of baby boomers and post baby boomers who simply never grew up. They think this is how you approach issues: if someone isn’t on your side you say, you do, anything that shuts them up. I remember this from the other Cons when I was a kid in school during the 60s. Like William F. Buckley, I actually had more Liberals as friends than those who agreed with me. Unfortunately there’s a good portion of Righties and converted Lefties that are still living in the days when you weren’t mature enough to handle debates and discussions in an adult fashion. They know little of politeness and even less about knowing how and when to back off. In fact some think damn near any issue is so important that backing off and politeness are at least morally wrong; if not evil.

Anyone else notice this is the well worn path, traveled by our McVeighs and bin Ladens?

Once again, I claim no purity for either end of the political/social/religious spectrum, I just think the Right has this immature, nasty, say anything, spew any lie shtick down far better than the Left. There’s a good portion on the Left who still think it wrong to behave like that and think if they just behave in a more civilized fashion they will be rewarded by the media and the public in general.

Silly Liberals.

In my opinion there is no issue, no matter how absurd the opposing opinion may be, where backing off and politeness are “morally wrong.” But simply taking abusive language is. Sometimes debate and discussion does require firing back in kind unless one really wants to be a willing victim, or simply just shutting down the conversation in blunt terms. And sometimes it may take beating back harder so they will think twice about abusing you for fun.

It’s all a little like living in the movie Idiocracy. In Idiocracy interbreeding of stupid people and media trends have turned society into a mass of morons unable to grasp simple concepts. People have been dumbed down so much that they’ll release a prisoner who claims he’s in the wrong line as he enters prison. They think because some corporation claims plants would rather be watered with a sports drink that plants don’t need water to grow. Punishment for extreme crimes is in televised games that are like a cross between WWE and monster truck. Politicians gain political office and power through showmanship; boasting, lying or exaggerated claims, rather than brains or ability… much like some gain attention on talk shows these days.

So we’re part way there, right?

Our debate and national discourse increasingly seems like something straight out of Idiocracy to me; especially when I see a congressman holding up a baby and claiming the baby thinks health care is bad, that he fears the future if health care passes. Who is less intelligent, the citizen who accepts this as a valid form of discourse, or the congressman who proposes this ludicrous balderdash?

This is the kind of trend Puzzle was working against even back then: the beginning of this decade, and the loss of Puzzle says far less about the wrongness of concept than it says there’s evil afoot in the way we handle issues in society. The concept was spot on, we just weren’t mature enough as posters; or a society, to make it work. Are we getting less mature as the years pass, or is that just the cynic in me? If so maybe we’ll all end up reentering the womb soon.

We had many writers. But the seemingly unavoidable vitriol chased all but a few of us who, not so odd to imagine, generally agree about many things. The site actually wound up with the same result we have today everywhere on the net, on our TVs and especially on talk shows: a reflection of the times, people with differences libeling each other… at best. And everyone having their own Valhalla-like news sources; internet sites. God help us if we’re challenged to bloody think about our positions.

David created great pages for all our columnists. Inspection alone had some neat logos. One of the last banners was great too: the Puzzle logo on a field of puzzle pieces. The one at the top of the column: if you computer shows it… really doesn’t do that banner justice: it was better than that. And if you go to the internet Wayback Machine the pages left don’t do it justice either And you may wind up on the site that uses the URL now, and kept hijacking most of my clicks. Frankly the page simply gives no indication of what it is. Maybe just a site that provides links to other sites?

Many of the writers wound up at Grouchy’s Liberaltopia: the title pretty much defines the political intent. We miss Grouchy, he was good to us. Then when Grouchy could no longer run the site we became LT Saloon. Guess you might say the squirrels turned an abandoned house into a nice, bigger, multi-room nest, with more than just politics. So that’s how we wound up here.

Will we ever get to a time where something like the old Puzzle is not only possible, but preferred? Dear God, I hope so. Even though we, as a society, seem sometimes to be headed in the further down the road of extreme partisan hackery at the speed incredibly stupid.

Otherwise I think the society represented in the movie Idiocracy might be over the top optimism. In that case, thankfully, I’m not sure we’ll even make it that far before we cleanse the Earth of the vile infection we will have finally become.


Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.

Copyright 2009
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
All Rights Reserved

By Ken Carman

Retired entertainer, provider of educational services, columnist, homebrewer, collie lover, writer of songs, poetry and prose... humorist, mediocre motorcyclist, very bad carpenter, horrid handyman and quirky eccentric deluxe.

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Ana Grarian
14 years ago

I keep thinking about the idea of hitting back – and I still can’t accept it. Maybe it’s growing up as an Ana rather than an Andy – perhaps the rules are different.
There are at least 2 different ways of “taking it”. One is passive submission the other is standing up, face forward and refusing to fight back in the same manner.
The only physical bullying that ever happened to me was a boy who wanted me to remove my hand from the back of his bus seat. I was a standee and needed to hold on. My hand was not near the boy he just wanted to be confrontational. When I didn’t move my hand he broke a wooden ruler over it. I just stared him down. That seemed to solve the problem. I don’t think hitting back would have had the same affect. I have had similar luck standing up for a friend who was being harassed, and I have no concept at all as to why more people don’t stand up for the little guy. Everyone knows who the bully and his gang are. They are usually a very small group. Why doesn’t the larger group simply stand together? In these playground stories I often wonder “Where were the adults?”

I think Obama did it well during the campaign. Ignore the silly attacks, and speak out eloquently about one’s position. The Repugnants are still trying to use the Sarah, Joe the Plumber, McCain mud slinging tactics made popular by “follow the bouncing ball” Limbaugh.

On the progressive side I think that Rachel Maddow, Thom Hartman, Amy Goodman and Bill Moyers have a much better effect than Stephanie Miller or Keith Olbermann. Logic and facts in clear understandable language are better than constant cracks about someone’s name (Boner) or supposed adam’s apple or physical size (being fat does not make you stupid), a too long on air fixation on Bill-O or Flush detracts from the point.

Sarcasm is a fine line. Colbert does it well. Jon Stewart does also but some of his “correspondents” gp too far over the line into poop and penis jokes.

Anyway – well written article. I’ll continue to read and ponder and we’ll discuss. Keep up the good work.

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