A Constructive Critique of Today’s Comment of the Day

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Today’s Comment of the Day comes from HumboldtBlue, in response to this post that I left in the comments section:

So Balko, the only reason anyone with a functioning brain reads Reason in the first place is now calling for a blogger ethics panel? You suppurating wound of supercilious nonsense, you’re a writer for Reason for god’s sake.

You work with a stable of people who are so fucking callous they make a lumberjack’s hands seem like they have been soaking in Palmolive for 12 years.

You bemoan the political classes, you claim to have seen through the teabaggers, and yet, here you are a fucking Republican who just wants to smoke dope. What a sniveling little shit of a post from a sniveling little shit of a man. Smart enough to recognize authority run amok when it comes to the war on drugs but so fucking stupid you make Palin seem a MENSA member.

Face it, Libertarianism is nothing more than sophomoric hubris masquerading as intellectualism. What a fucking tool.

A few things, Mr. HumboldtBlue. First, I always like to start a critique with a compliment. We don’t want to stifle anyone’s creativity!  So in that spirit:

….. suppurating wound of supercilious nonsense

….is a masterful use of alliteration. It also paints a vivid picture. You’ve shown, not told. Well done!

Now, on to the constructive criticism. First, there are some factual errors we need to address. For example, I’m a writer. It being a magazine and all, so is the rest of the editorial staff at Reason. So on average our hands are actually quite soft. Never mind our ideology, for the soft hands alone we’ll probably be among the first wave of executions after the communist revolution.

I know, I know. You were referring to the callousness of our personalities. Still, I think that gets lost in the clunkiness of the lumberjack/Palmolive metaphor. You’re making the reader work too hard. Remember, this is a blog! Worse, it’s a blog written by a libertarian. And it’s read by quite a few libertarians, a group of people, remember, who you think are pretty fucking stupid! So remember your audience! Keep it simple.

Second, as for this line . . .

“…here you are a fucking Republican who just wants to smoke dope.”

I haven’t registered as a Republican since 1998. I voted for John Kerry in 2004. Also, I’m not a pot smoker. But buck up! Two errors in ten words isn’t so bad. And everything else in this line is perfectly accurate!

Let’s move on. I’m going to get a bit more critical now, so prepare yourself. Let’s start with this:

What a sniveling little shit of a post from a sniveling little shit of a man.

This really feels lazy to me. You can do better. “Sniveling little shit” is already overused to the point of cliche. It is evocative, so I probably could still have lived with it had you only used it once. But to use it twice, and in the same sentence, really left me wishing you had come up with something more creative. Perhaps you were using repetition as a rhetorical device, but it really reads as if you just got tired of coming up with colorful ways to express your contempt for me. Which is disappointing, because those first couple lines really had me wanting to believe that you hated me. If I could offer a suggestion: This might be a good time to return to the puss-oozing lesion metaphor. I think it serves you well in a couple ways: It vividly and luridly conveys your disgust for me, and it links me in the minds of your readers to something quite unpleasant—a festering wound. And a call-back is always a good way to keep your audience on its toes. You might even add some extra ickiness the second time around. For example, you might set the sore on someone’s genitals, or perhaps on an anus. That’s the beauty of writing! You are in control!

This brings me to the weakest part of your composition:

Smart enough to recognize authority run amok when it comes to the war on drugs but so fucking stupid you make Palin seem a MENSA member.

I understand that you’re trying to juxtapose my smartness about the drug war with my stupidity . . .  but my stupidity about what? You can’t just say, “You’re smart on the drug war but fucking stupid.” The lack of a second prepositional phrase describing the area of my stupidity in the same manner you’ve described the area of my smartness . . . well, it feels awkward. The way you’ve written this, it sounds as if you’re contradicting yourself. It’s as if you’re saying that I’m really fucking stupid—which, let’s face it, means possibly retarded—but that I still somehow managed to dumb luck my way into having unusually keen insight into “authority run amok when it comes to the war on drugs.”

I just don’t think this is believable.

If you’ll again indulge me the presumption of revising one of your insults of me, in a future draft you might write something like this:

Smart enough to recognize authority run amok when it comes to the war on drugs but so fucking stupid about economic issues that you make Palin seem a MENSA member.

See what I mean? This sentence has structural balance. Now I suspect your intent here was to convey that I’m fucking stupid about everything that isn’t the drug war. I think you’d be on firmer ground just naming a few other topics where I’m fucking stupid. But if you’re really committed to commenting on my overall fucking stupidity, you can simply add the word otherwise. To wit:

Smart enough to recognize authority run amok when it comes to the war on drugs but otherwise so fucking stupid you make Palin seem a MENSA member.

Or, if you’d like to spice things up by adding a nice rhythm to the put-down, trying putting otherwise on the other side of so:

Smart enough to recognize authority run amok when it comes to the war on drugs but so otherwise fucking stupid you make Palin seem a MENSA member.

See how it starts to march a bit once you hit the other side of but?

Also, the MENSA thing? Trite. Are there other indicators of really-fucking-smartness that you might use? Maybe something less obvious, but humorously niche, like, “…so otherwise fucking stupid you make Palin seem like the queen of backgammon.” See how the absurdity of Palin using her limited cognitive skills to dominate something as off-the-wall as a backgammon tournament makes it funny?

Perhaps you want to evoke an indicator of cleverness recognizable only to your fellow lefties. In that case, try something like, “…so otherwise fucking stupid you make Palin seem like she just replaced Paula Poundstone on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me…”

Trust me, that’ll have them roaring!

By the way, Mensa is not an acronym. Hope they don’t cancel your membership over that one!

Of course, once you’ve accumulated a bit more skill, you’ll want to explain what’s so “fucking stupid” about recognizing that the same limitations, conceits, and problems with government authority that would cause it to “run amok” in the drug war might also cause it to “run amok” if, for example, we were to put it in charge of health care. But this is composition. We’ll get to all of that when we cover logic.

Overall, this was a pretty good first try. Remember, writing is a process! Hang in there!


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95 Responses to “A Constructive Critique of Today’s Comment of the Day”

  1. #1 |  Aresen | 

    “suppurating wound of supercilious nonsense”

    That phrase sounds familiar and I suspect is not original with HumboldtBlue.

    It sounds like one of Wesley’s lines from The Princess Bride.

  2. #2 |  Elemenope | 

    Perhaps so, but it’s his blog and he’s entitled to have a little fun if he feels like it.

    Absolutely.

  3. #3 |  M.A.DeLuca | 

    I thought so too, Aresen, reckoning it was one of Charles E. Winchester’s put-downs from M*A*S*H, but nothing came back on a Google search except this website.

  4. #4 |  RomanCandle | 

    Dang. I just assumed that the Humboldt Blue guy was doing some sort of meta/performance-art parody of a hyper-partisan Radley was referring to in the original article.

    Also, it’s ironic he’d criticize you for supposedly being a pot smoker, since “Humboldt Blue” sounds like a particular potent strand of weed.

  5. #5 |  ClubMedSux | 

    That’s Bi-Mon-Sci-Fi-Con!

    Holy shit… can’t believe I screwed that up. I will officially turn in my ten seasons of Simpsons dvds now, and as punishment replace them with the Season 20 dvd set.

  6. #6 |  Joe | 

    Funny fisk.

    But voting for John Kerry (and his amazing running mate John Edwards)? That is not something to be proud of. John Kerry made George Bush look good.

    –3

    Whoooooooaaa. A few Kerry-Edwards supporters flushed out of the brush. I love it.

  7. #7 |  Joe | 

    OT but I will throw it out there.

    Professor Reynolds seeing the glass half full…

    and

    Debunking seasonal urban myth #1.

  8. #8 |  Juice | 

    I voted for John Kerry in 2004.

    Is that because you wanted to escalate the number of troops and the amount of money in the Iraq war? Because that’s what he promised to do.

  9. #9 |  Juice | 

    I voted for Barr in 2008.

    Ouch. Why don’t you just stay away from the polls?

  10. #10 |  Jody | 

    He really should have opened with “Radley, you ignorant slut”. It’s an oldie but a goodie. It’s effective because it really lightens the mood for a moment so we all have a chuckle, yet says “I’m here to be taken seriously”.

    Also, for #6 Mark, I’m going to worked “Crapped my pull-ups” into a conversation today. I liked that one a lot, for some reason.

  11. #11 |  KosKidz | 

    Hahahaha this was great. Markos never makes such awesome replies in any of HIS hatemail!

    Classical liberal = 1, Neoliberal = 0!

  12. #12 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Well done, but you flatter your subject with undeserved attention. It will only encourage him.

  13. #13 |  Cynical in CA | 

    BTW, how someone named HumboldtBlue could accuse someone else of being a pothead without proof is beyond me. Oh wait, he’s probably smoking the merchandise ….

  14. #14 |  Cynical in CA | 

    #4 | Radley Balko — “I didn’t vote for Obama! Though I did prefer him to McCain. I voted for Barr in 2008.”

    Don’t worry Radley, we’ll complete your electoral detox by 2012, when you will no longer vote nor endorse any political candidates.

  15. #15 |  ktc2 | 

    Battle of Wits v. Unarmed Opponent

  16. #16 |  PeeDub | 

    You guys do realize that voting for a candidate != “I love this candidate!!!”

    Some of us voted for Barr because we have craptastic state rules about minimum numbers of votes for third parties to keep them on the ballot.

  17. #17 |  Jeff | 

    But tell us, how do you -really- feel?

  18. #18 |  Anne | 

    I really enjoyed that.

    I think you’re wrong about the backgammon bit, though. The connection between backgammon and smarts is too obscure to even be off the wall, it’s just odd. It makes me stop and think “How hard is backgammon again?” and kills the flow. The Paula bit is much funnier because I have absolutely no idea who she is beyond the reality TV sounding show title you provide, so my brain registers the form of a reality TV joke without getting stalled on trying to analyze it.

  19. #19 |  Aresen | 

    @ ktc2 | October 28th, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Battle of Wits v. Unarmed Opponent

    Godzilla vs. Bambi was one of my favorite movies, if a trifle short.

    Roast venison, anyone?

  20. #20 |  Don | 

    Bravo! Bravo!

  21. #21 |  Jens Fiederer | 

    Anne is right on the backgammon bit. How about the New York Times Crossword Puzzle instead?

  22. #22 |  Noble | 

    Liberty-leaning residents here in Humboldt County, CA are trying to figure out if HumboldtBlue is a local. There’s a pretty good chance.

  23. #23 |  aJOHNymous | 

    You know that meme .gif of Charles Foster Kane passionately applauding with a stern look of determination? yeah, insert that .gif here. HumboldtBlue just got “Balkowned”.

  24. #24 |  Reg Reader | 

    Thanks, man. You’re ususally depressing or alarming me with horrible tidbits from the news. I enjoyed the chuckle.

  25. #25 |  John C. Randolph | 

    Barr was a terrible mistake by the LP. I guess they needed to learn that taking an allegedly repentant drug warrior who proved to be an arrogant jackass, instead of nominating a man of principal, isn’t a way to increase their support.

  26. #26 |  mmmwright | 

    That was really excellent. Thank you.

  27. #27 |  Will | 

    lmao

  28. #28 |  KristenS | 

    Pet peeve: pretentious pseudo-intellectual fuckers. Really bright people don’t need to show it off.

  29. #29 |  Sometimes There’s A Man | Popehat | 

    […] This reply, to something calling itself HumboldtBlue, is a masterpiece of the genre. […]

  30. #30 |  Elemenope | 

    Pet peeve: pretentious pseudo-intellectual fuckers. Really bright people don’t need to show it off.

    The more intelligent you are, the more you realize that intelligence doesn’t matter as much as is assumed.

  31. #31 |  SusanK | 

    I assume Radley’s brilliant response was born out of frustration and disappointment about the lack of hate mail from MADD about his drunk driving article.

  32. #32 |  A masterpiece of the genre « Blunt Object | 

    […] Radley Balko gives a comment-flamer a bit of helpful advice. […]

  33. #33 |  Elemenope | 

    I assume Radley’s brilliant response was born out of frustration and disappointment about the lack of hate mail from MADD about his drunk driving article.

    You know, you might be on to something there!

  34. #34 |  Jim A. | 

    My first visit to your site, and already I’m smitten with your approach to this flamer. Bravo sir, Bravo!

  35. #35 |  Juice | 

    John C. Randolph | October 28th, 2010 at 3:26 pm

    Barr was a terrible mistake by the LP. I guess they needed to learn that taking an allegedly repentant drug warrior who proved to be an arrogant jackass, instead of nominating a man of principal, isn’t a way to increase their support.

    Or a woman of principle, like Mary Ruwart, who was “supposed” to be the nominee until Barr and Root showed up. Barr was a “mistake” by barely half of the national LP convention.

  36. #36 |  How to Feed a Troll | The League of Ordinary Gentlemen | 

    […] Trolls” is impeccable advice.  Ordinary standards, however, do not apply to Radley Balko, whose course on Advanced Troll Feeding should be a prerequisite for graduation from Blogger […]

  37. #37 |  Mutant | 

    I really enjoyed reading that eloquent and helpful response. I thought the advice on writing was at once both concise and thorough.

  38. #38 |  Ima Wurdibitsch | 

    @ comment #10: Hey, watch who you’re calling a wordy bitch, okay??

    I must defend my ’08 vote for Bob Barr. My state was not going to be a state that mattered in the election. I wanted to show support for a candidate from another (any) party so the powers-and-political-funders-that-be would realize that a lot of Americans want a choice other than R or D. I wrote about it at http://bit.ly/do9gNx when I talked about Electile Dysfunction.

    Here I am: Fiscal conservative and mostly but not completely social liberal who has no candidate in any election. I do the best I can.

  39. #39 |  michael | 

    Barr, eh? A vote for him from Balko really demonstrates what a complete waste of time voting is.

  40. #40 |  IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society | 

    See, saying you can run your own life is egotistical. Saying I can run your life is just realistic pragmatic fairness.

    Oh, that is nice…. LOL

    I do think it works better with the emphasis I added, though…

  41. #41 |  Tom | 

    Of all the good comments that ask thoughtful questions of you that go unanswered, and you spend so much time responding to the ad hominem troll? Uhh… guess what Radley – you are never going to convince the likes of this guy that you aren’t what he thinks. Save your time and attention.

    I’m not sure what Radley was thinking, but this was by far his most entertaining post. Not a waste of his time or attention.

  42. #42 |  Justthisguy | 

    Not only that, but Barr doesn’t know how to work a pistol. He had a negligent discharge, in public, because he removed the magazine and failed to check the chamber for emptyness.

  43. #43 |  chsw | 

    LOL!

    Radley de Bergerac!

    chsw

  44. #44 |  Mercy Vetsel | 

    “you are a fucking Republican who just wants to smoke dope”

    I think Humbolt Blue is on to something here. In our two-party system third parties almost exclusively advance the opposite of their own beliefs. That’s why there are no socialist, fascist or progressive parties to speak of — the smart people in these movements have recognized that their best approach for achieving policy goals is to tilt the Democratic Party in their direction.

    So why then do otherwise intelligent people advocate and vote for the Libertarian Party?

    I’ll offer one major and one minor reason.

    Major reason — Republicans aren’t politically cool. Somehow despite the Grand Imperial Wizard KKK leaders, the slick corporatists/fascists and the thuggish labor cartels in the Democrat Party, the label that really sticks to Republicans for young, hip urbanites is “prude”. Sure there are a lot other nasty slurs that roll of the lips of the fashionable left, but prudishness is the key. Sexuality is the one area where Democrats arguably offer greater freedom than Republicans and certain fashionable enclaves — education, media, the easy-money billionaire club — set the trend.

    That so many hard-core Republicans insist on pretending to have a third choice shows just how effective the left’s argument by social ostracism actually is.

    Minor reason — The right to bitch. The other big advantage of voting for say Bob Barr is that it allows one to bear no responsibility for the bad outcomes inevitable for any electable candidate. I’m not sure why Losertarians think this is morally superior to simply not voting at all, but they clearly do. It’s a statement, a message. Unfortunately, the way I read the message is “I Big Government”.

    The solution to this nonsense is simple. To distinguish true libertarians, like myself, with the cojones to admit being a Republican despite the negative fashion connotations, from the Losertarians, I simply refer to all avowed Libertarians as “hard-core Republicans”.

    This both accurately describes their position and neatly punctures their aspirations to be politically fashionable or to stay above the fray.

    -Mercy

  45. #45 |  Radley Balko | 

    Mercy —

    My “beef” with the Republicans has nothing to do with being “socially cool.” Dear God. Have you been to an LP convention lately?

    The reason I don’t call myself Republican is because I outright disagree with half of their platform, and even on the stuff where I’m supposed to agree with them, they’re too cowardly and/or corrupt to actually do what they’re supposed to.