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August 20, 2004
Now I belong to the ages
I have a bit of a temper, and it manifests nowhere more efficiently than on Usenet. Be a knee-jerk political zealot (regardless of stripe), or militantly defend your received wisdom despite palpable contrary evidence, and force me to converse with you, and I will likely become less than constructive after the sixth or seventh iteration of the same sort of argument with you. I start out sarcastic and end up resorting to the tactical nuclear insult.
That's part of why I spend a lot less time posting to alt.folklore.urban these days. The newsgroup's "corporate culture" has long rewarded clever, stealthy put-downs, the sort that the victim doesn't realize wasn't friendly agreement until later that night. Or maybe not at all.
And it's not like I needed any encouragement.
So I'm sitting on the metaphorical sidelines of one argument with a person who was particularly recalcitrant about the startlingly objective flaws in his argument one day. You know the kind of person I'm talking about, whose response when you say something along the lines of "well in fact, evolution of new species has been observed in the wild, and here are some links to peer-reviewed papers on the species in question, and in fact, Darwin never said that, what he said was this thing that means something very different, and here's a link to a reputable site that proves it, and the reason there are still apes if we evolved from apes is because we all have a common ancestor, and we evolved in different directions and yada yada" is to repeat the sentence you just rebutted in detail, top-posted on the entire text of your rebuttal. The kind of person that replies to a massive and burgeoning collection of peer-reviewed climate studies, documented in detail, with a half-remembered quote from Rush Limbaugh. That kind of person.
This guy was arguing caselaw with no expertise, and arguing with a number of people who were, you know, like lawyers and stuff. And I'm not a lawyer, but I did type every single word of my ex-girlfriend's law school homework for three years, and I must have done something right, because she passed the bar on her first try. I lost patience with this person, and I replied to him as you can see here.
To me, it seems an obvious reverse-engineering of Jim Hightower's remark about the President's dad: "If ignorance ever goes to $40 a barrel, I want the drilling rights to that man's head." But a regular inhabitant of a.f.u. reposted the comment to the group alt.humor.best-of-usenet, which was flattering, but not overly so if you read some of the stuff that makes it to that group. And then I forgot the whole thing happened.
Until this morning, when I was searching for something else, and found the phrase attached, unattributed, to someone's post as a .sig.
Intrigued, I searched Google Groups on the phrase. To my surprise, I got almost a hundred results. A dozen or so stemmed from one person, a guy named Andrew Kelly, who used my insult as a .sig for a while, kindly crediting me and naming not only the venue in which I wrote the mal mot but its target. Another dozen or so were from people in the same thread in alt.folklore.urban, who'd quoted my post. And a couple guys lifted the quote without attribution, one of them, amusingly, while berating another person for accusing him of stealing intellectual property.
But what really fascinated me was that the line had made its way into what appears to be a widely distributed list of insults posted to a large number of groups over a few months, and from there made it into blogs like this one.
The thing is, I can't be sure whether I'm peeved or relieved that the thing lost my name along the way.
Posted by Chris Clarke at August 20, 2004 08:53 PM
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I know what you mean about quotes floating about unattributed all over the net. Some of my best ones have made it from lists of attributed quotes to unattributed ones to sigs in frightening speed.
Years ago I used to maintain a huge list of ascii airplanes. As a matter of fact, you can still find it at http://xcski.com/~ptomblin/planes.txt. But I can't tell you the number of times I found people taking huge chunks of it, or even the whole thing, filing off the serial numbers, and calling it their collection.
I'm envious! What writer wouldn't want a clever expression of theirs to enter the folk canon? BUT as long as this blog's archives stay online and as long as Google flourishes, the mal mot's authorship will remain a matter of public record, no?Posted by: Dave at August 21, 2004 08:06 AM
(Well, maybe not, since you didn't include the text.)Posted by: Dave at August 21, 2004 08:07 AM
Funny that, out of all the pages and pages and pages you've written, it would be that short insult that first presented you with the problelm of intellectual property rights . . .
And just so you know, I'm planning on stealing your little gem myself.
Caribou. Heh.Posted by: Siona at August 21, 2004 06:20 PM
Wow... people still post to usenet?
(heh)Posted by: Chris Rieder at August 21, 2004 06:41 PM