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Thread: General/Opinion

Author Image Gerry Patterson. The world's most humble blogger
I didn't sign up for this s**t!

The Deadly Effect of Sarcasm - According to Conservapedia

Chronogical Blog Entries:

Date: Tue, 02 Jan 2008 23:03:00 +1100

After a long silence I have made a new year's resolution, to get my blog back on the road. So here is the first entry.

Note: Originally this was going to be about the Internet Filter. The whole issue of "Filtering" became several blog posts about The Great Internet Rabbit-proof Fence -- Click here to return to the Index page.

Although written communication is probably one of the most significant human inventions ever, it does not have the advantage of conveying subtle emotional nuances as quickly and accurately as conversation. This means that writers have to be cautious when employing sarcasm. I sometimes labour the point by using sarcasm tags. For example I might write about the <sarcasm>Nice</sarcasm> Mr. Howard when referring to our former prime minister. So in case my reader has had a total sarcasm-bypass and doesn't realise that I am actually employing the lowest form of wit when I refer to that Nice Mr Howard, I can use the sarcasm tags and thus avoid the tedious explanations that must ensue when such ironically challenged individuals then go to great lengths to point out out that: (1) Purging the Liberal Party of all liberals, (2) Persistently, consistently and habitually lying, (3) passing off the regressive, gormless, cobbled-together GST legislation as "Tax Reform", (4) Imprisoning refugees and their children in detention camps, (5) Speeding the redistribution of wealth to the extremely wealthy, (6) Reviving and nurturing the very worst atavistic Australian elements of racism and intolerance, (7) Denying, and than later just obstructing any consensus on climate change, (8) Supporting the Bush regime in the invasion of Iraq, (9) Generally supporting the Bush regime in the most obsequious and embarrassing manner imaginable (10) Abandoning his colleagues and destroying his own party rather than let Costello have a chance at leadership ... were none of them very nice, although that last one did have a certain piquant poetic justice that can be enjoyed along with a chilled glass of schadenfreude.

A conversation, on the other hand, is so much quicker, and easier. The listener can, within three-tenths of a second, detect that I add too much emphasis to the word "nice". He or she can hear the pitch inflection and observe that I roll my eyes a little and thus deduce that I am employing sarcasm. All of this and more passed through my mind as I encountered an intriguing little site on the web the other day.

I was searching for a list of Manufacturer IDs. These are are the one byte (sometimes three byte) binary numbers that are inserted into Universal Real Time communications for sequencer specific meta events as part of the MIDI protocol. Unfortunately, because I had made the mistake of starting with a search phrase that was too specific, I was having a hard time finding them.

I added to my phrase, and changed it about. It became increasingly deformed, obtuse and long-winded. Still no success. In desperation I added the word "Wikipedia" to the phrase. Sometimes this can bring up a well written and accurate article on the topic in question. I have forgotten exactly what sorry state my mutated search phrase was in by this stage, but somehow I got a page about Wikipedia written by someone on behalf of a site called "Conservapedia". This was a rather rabid rant about Wikipedia. Basically it asserted that Wikipedia was biased. And worst of all it was liberal bias.

Now, for those of us who use the Oxford Dictionary as our primary reference for the English language, such loathing of liberal bias may seem odd. Or at least it would have several years ago. According to that authoritative dictionary the word liberal is an adjective meaning willing to respect and accept behaviour or opinions different from one's own. However in the land of the free and the home of the brave, they do not defer to the Oxford Dictionary. For many of our less well educated cousins across the Pacific, the word liberal is now a noun meaning a godless pervert who wants to take away our guns and murder our unborn children. And when used as an adjective it means pertaining to those attributes that would aid and/or abet the commission of such unspeakable crimes. This is what is euphemistically known as the Conservative definition, bearing in mind that the word Conservative seems to have taken on its' own meaning as well. The folks that created Conservapedia are decidedly neither liberal in the Oxford sense nor the (US) Conservative sense of the word. They are Conservative and they are not Happy! And they are in no mood to accept behaviour or opinions different from their own. They claim to be a Trustworthy Encyclopedia. One that counters the liberal bias so often found in Wikipedia. And did I mention people who might have had a sarcasm bypass? Oh yes, I did, didn't I? (BTW: Whatever happened to Trustworthy Computing?)

My curiosity aroused, I searched their site for meta events. After all, the manufacturer IDs that I was searching for were contained in MIDI meta events. Not that I was expecting to find anything. I was just curious. And the Conservapedia search engine returned results! Not quite the results I was looking for ... I got back several articles about abortion and evolution. A little more investigation revealed that whatever I typed into the Conservapedia search engine has a high probability of returning an article on abortion or evolution. Which is not to say that there are no other entries in Conservapedia. There are several, but most of them are, what they refer to as, concise. Conservapedia have their own definition of concise as they do for so many common English words and phrases. In their own terms concise means an entry that is often limited to one or two sentences, and is non-liberal. For example searching for "Paris Hilton", one of the more popular search phrases on the Internet, brings up this definition:

Paris Hilton (born February 17, 1981), is an American socialite noted for appearing on the reality show, The surreal life as well as other less savory endeavors. Her coverage in regular media and in the tabloids is disproportional to any accomplishments she has had, leading her to be one of those people who is famous for being famous.

Hmm ... It may not be a bad thing if all Internet sources had a similarly pithy entry about Ms Hilton. This is surely one of the most concise entries I have ever seen regarding Paris. Sadly, many children with an Internet connection would have a far more detailed knowledge of her and her activities, and trying to pretend otherwise won't make it so.

But there is no such hint of brevity (conciseness?) when it comes to their favourite topics of evolution and abortion. It seems that Conservapedia contains dozens, possibly hundreds of articles on these two topics. And although I only glanced at two of them, I am going to go out on a limb here, and will suggest, without doing any further research, that most of these articles will boldly assert that evolution is only a theory that is self-contradictory, and that there is a large body of <sarcasm>scientific</sarcasm> evidence that proves that it (evolution) is a falsehood ... And that furthermore, God created the world and all the creatures a few thousand years ago just as it says in the Old Testament. The articles on abortion will probably conclude that this procedure is immoral and dangerous, exposing the unfortunate and misguided woman to all manner of health risks like cancer, heart disease, mental-illness, ulcers, liver disease and drug-addiction and is is most lkely only performed by evil atheistic medical practitioners who are, in all likelihood, liberals.

Although there is lots of material on the Conservapedia about why it is immoral and dangerous for women to seek to "terminate" a pregnancy, there does not seem to be any material explaining how they may have become pregnant. It seems that all work on "human reproduction", is a work in progress. Although there are some concise entries on human anatomy and physiology, there is no mention at all of organs that might be involved in getting a woman into the afore mentioned state. Apparently these pages are still under construction. But someday I am sure they might get around to it. It will probably be the same day that I reformat all the machines on my network and install Microsoft software.

Also online, there are a several detractors to Conservapedia. Not surprisingly, Conservapedia has many articles, of a rather strident nature, on the topic of homosexuality. And this has earned them the ire of the American homosexual community.

Now several people who are smart enough to realise that the earth is a tad older than the six thousand years than the pedagogic creationist dodos claim it is, have also taken a dim view of Conservapedia. Some of them have taken a few sarcastic potshots of their own. For instance, here are a few snide remarks from Eric D. Snider, which from the sound of it, is probably a nom de plume, in which he has a quite hilarious screen shot of Jesus Christ riding a dinosaur! This was captured from an earlier article on Conservapedia! Also a bunch of anti-Conservapedia folks, quite a few of them former Conservapeians themselves, have started their own site here. And Jon Swift is keen to demonstrate that he has opted out of the sarcasm-bypass operation necessary to gain admission to the fraternity of American Conservatives. He may even have had a sarcasm-enhancement procedure. Although truth be known, Jon hardly needs a link from my humble little, poorly maintained site. He rates as well in Google as Conservapedia does, and along with the other detractors has probably done a lot to contribute to Conserviapedia's overall ratings -- although the people going there are not going for the reasons that owners of the site might have hoped they would.

And then while wondering generally about the problem of America. For instance, what has happened to those brave can-do optimistic Yankees, who rebuilt the world from the wreckage of world war two, put a man on the moon and told us it was ok to be liberal in the Oxford sense? It seems that sarcasm is not entirely defunct in the good ol' USA. The folks at the Onion put an entirely different slant on evolution. And in this article, they give us some news about the war in Iraq, which is very similar to content on Fox News, but which comes from an entirely different perspective. Also the guys at Unencyclopedia, the content-free encyclopedia that anyone can edit, haven't forgotten about satire. I guess sarcasm is all they have left now.

All of which led me to look up the word sarcasm on Conservapedia. I found this intriguing definition:

Sarcasm is a sharp and often satirical or ironic attack designed to cause harm, either physical, mental or social, and intended to insult or wound. It is often a mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language and is usually directed against an individual. [1]

There is a thin dividing line between sarcasm and irony.

Recently, scientists have located parts of the brain used to comprehend sarcasm [2]. The research demonstrates that some people have difficulty distinguishing between normal speech and sarcasm.[3]

The references 2 and 3 both refer to the same source, a lightweight news item on BBC News, which states that damage to the pre-frontal lobes can impair the ability to comprehend sarcasm. Of course damage to these vital areas impairs ability to comprehend anything, but the little odd-spot article did not have enough paragraphs in it to mention this fact. Nevertheless I was impressed to discover that sarcasm could physically wound one's opponent. It must be that thin dividing line that makes it really, really sharp, and dangerous, like a razor or something? Gosh! Maybe, I should get a licence to practice the lethal martial art of sarcasm? I never realised I could injure, kill, slash and wound people with sarcasm. I always thought that sarcasm was used to mock one's opponent, but then again, I do stick with those crusty old Oxford Dictionary definitions, pedantic old citizen of Her Majesty's Commonwealth that I am.

Come to think of it, I do recall that Monty Python alerted us to the deployment of sarcasm by The Infamous Piranha Brothers . And some of the more caring, sensitive readers might find my comments about Conservapedia a trifle cruel. I would hasten to assure them that I am not entirely so, and beg them to reconsider me, like Dinsdale Piranha, as cruel, but fair.

Although, I must admit, it is important to get a diversity of opinion. And <sarcasm>with competition of this quality, Wikipedia will surely have to lift their game!</sarcasm>. Oh! Did I mention one of the properties of HTML? Browsers are supposed to ignore tags that they do not recognise. This is great! If you you have a non-sarcastic browser the sarcasm tags are invisible! Oh goody!

BTW: I found the manufacturer IDs. Really, all I had to do was search for "manufacturer ID MIDI". Maybe a case of too much knowledge? Here is a summary of them ... and yes, despite the keywords in this blog entry, it is a C include file. I gave up on perl because I have to admit that C is idiomatic for MIDI. To use this code file you would of course include it in your C program, and when a manufacturer ID is encountered in a Real-Time sequencer meta event, the text representation could be returned with the following code:

/* assuming the following pointers */
char *ptr;
char *long_name;

/* when ptr points to the manufacturer ID, use this code */
if ( *ptr ){
        long_name = manufacturer_descr(*ptr);
} else {
        long_name = manufacturer_descr( (unsigned char)ptr[1] * 256 + (unsigned char)ptr[2]);

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Copyright     2008, Gerry Patterson. All Rights Reserved.