October 17, 2009


Recently, my son, Adam, asked this question while we were at the airport getting a quick bite, before his return to LA. I mentally replayed the conversation on my drive home and realized the question is a very good one, with many possible answers.

There are the obvious answers: unemployment is high, the economy is bad, the stock market crash greatly diminished peoples’ savings, and so on. It’s easy to be angry about any of these issues, but that anger is just one “symptom.” There is also blame, which leads to hate, which leads to unrest. At times, the combination of two or more of these “symptoms” can be volatile.

But these “symptoms” are just that – symptoms. The root cause is fear. It’s fear that makes people angry, blaming others and even hating enough to lash out. Sometimes that retaliation is physical, but most of the time it’s verbal or the written word.

With that said, I have a first-person, written-word example to share with you, that happened earlier today.

Recently, a comment on one of my posts resulted in me responding to their post, and so on. It was a good dialogue with both of us agreeing in most areas and having some minor differences in other areas.

This morning, I received notice of a response to one of my comments on that post by someone who calls himself “John Doe.” (I don’t understand why people don’t identify themselves.) Here’s his recent comment about me after I once again, discredited Rush Limbaugh. (I know the graphics will be too small for most to read, so I’ve inlcuded the text below each one.) 


John Doe

Michael Kontras is a blowhard. Rush Limbaugh is a political commentator. He does not make the news (usually), he takes items that are in the news and comments on them; he merely gives his opinion as to how they are relevant, why a particular person is doing what they are doing, how a particular new policy will affect us, etc. Obviously know it alls such as Mr. Kontras do not like what he says (”99% false”? Methinks you exaggerate there, twit boy). Obviously, what Limbaugh says resonates with many in society today. That’s why he has a twenty-million odd listership, and Mr. Kontras has a puny little blog that nobody reads.

This bit about the “government owns the radio airwaves” is just a convoluted way of trying to get around the First Amendment. The “government owns” them because the Government made a power play long ago to take control of them. No different than the Government taking over national parks. Or if the Government took over the internet bandwidths and said that it “owns” the internet. Or if it took over all newspapers and magazines. When the Government starts censoring what is said on the radio stations, then it runs afoul of the First Amendment. “Congress shall make NO law respecting… the Freedom of Speech…”

I had no intention of engaging in a back-and-forth of personal insults. This person has so many “facts” wrong, but because he is angry, any dialogue opposing his view would only elevate his anger. I responded with this:


Michael Kontras

Better to be an informed “blowhard” or “twit” than an uninformed blogger. 

Thanks for your comment, Mr. “Doe.”

Okay, maybe just a tinge of sarcasm – but hardly a personal “attack,” in my opinion.

We then heard from the owner of the blog, Federal Farmer.” This is a portion of the response:


Federal Farmer

I debated…but ultimately decided against…editing out the exchange between “Mr. Doe” and Micheal Kontras. For one thing, the first comment in the fight was a followup that showed up without me accepting it. By the time I saw it, Micheal Kontras had seen it and had sent in a reply. I felt obliged by that time let the entire exchange be shown (though I’ve had enough of it). In my opinion, the personal attacks are not necessary; in fact, they truncate the debate, as can be seen in Kontras’ curt reply. The substantive issues quickly recede and the conversation ends. This seems counterproductive to me where the purpose is to discuss political ideas. Moreover, I question the human tendency to “slide” from political differences of opinion to personal insults.

I thanked “Federal Farmer:”


Michael Kontras

My thanks to you, “Federal Farmer.”

You are obviously doing your best to keep the focus on the issues, and you are to be commended for your efforts.

If my response was deemed inappropriate, it was certainly not my intention. My curtness was a way of saying to Mr. “Doe” that I have no intention of engaging in personal insults. Calling him an “uninformed blogger” didn’t seem to be over the line, but if it was, I sincerely apologize.

There is plenty of valid information on all the substantive issues, including what our Founding Fathers considered to be “Free Speech.” I’m all for having a healthy discussion on this (or any) issue without the insults.

Mr. “Doe” continued his angry rhetoric: (The host took it down before I could grab a shot of the screen, but I managed to capture the text.)

John Doe

Federal Farmer, thanks for sounding reasonable. Please allow me to explain. Kontras attacked Rush Limbaugh (and by extension, his listeners, of whom I proudly count myself). Make no mistake, he used fancy words but HE ATTACKED Limbaugh. Rush is a “shock jock” and a “shill” and “99%” of what he says is false. What are those if not personal attacks? Is it “not a personal attack” so long as he is attacking somebody who doesn’t bother to read your blog? Why not just call him a paid whore who is always wrong? That’s what he meant. Trust me, Kontras, I am more highly educated than you are, and more informed on the issues. My blog’s bigger than your blog, my blog’s bigger than yours…” he he.

I agree that such attacks are “counter-productive” but so are attacks on those who are bigger and better than you are, who have actually DONE something with their lives, when they can’t defend themselves. Here me, Mr. Kontras?

As I said earlier, my original response to Mr. “Doe” hardly qualifies as an “attack” on him. I know he was itching for a “fight,” much like some high school bully, but out of respect for the owner of the blog, I did not engage him at all after my first and only comment.

However, allow me to have a little fun here, since I have “…a puny little blog that nobody reads.”

I don’t believe I have ever met Mr. “Doe.” So I am truly amazed at how he “knows” that I’m less educated than him. Trust me, Kontras, I am more highly educated than you are…” Really? Come on. I used “…fancy words… didn’t I? Maybe I should have used the “…highly educated…” word: “…whore.”  That would certainly put us on an equal intellectual plain, wouldn’t it?

“ ‘My blog’s bigger than your blog, my blog’s bigger than yours…’ he he.”  Spoken like a true third-grader in need of some parental “guidance.”

There is no doubt that Rush Limbaugh has “…actually DONE something…” with his life – especially for someone who dropped out of college after two semesters. But unlike Mr. “Doe,” who thinks Rush is “…bigger and better…” than me, I enjoy my angry-free life and have no desire to emulate Rush Limbaugh’s lifestyle, or anyone elses, for that matter.

As for my use of the word “shill”, I do have this tendency to resort to those pesky little things called “facts.”

Here are Rush’s own words – in the 2008 interview with the New York Times Magazine – upon receiving his $400,000,000, eight year contract: “First and foremost I’m a businessman,” Mr. Limbaugh told the magazine. “My first goal is to attract the largest possible audience so I can charge confiscatory ad rates… that enables me to sell airtime.” He didn’t say, “First and foremost, I’m a Conservative.” He’s deceiving people, making them think he cares about the Conservative Movement or the Republican Party, when in fact, his wallet is his only priority. He’s a shill, by definition.

“Federal Farmer” posted a very insightful comment about presiding over a debate, as opposed to getting involved in one. He felt we were both insulting. Here’s part of what was said:


In moderating this post and subsequent discussion, I am reminded that George Washington did not proffer his opinion on any of the debated topics during the constitutional convention because he was presiding. To preside literally means to stand before (from the latin). Being partisan on whatever issue is being debated detracts from ones credibility, and thus ability, to preside. Were I to have sided with Micheal Kontras, for example, “Mr. Doe” would not have given my effort to moderate the discussion much credibility. He would have begun fighting me, which would have put me in a conflict of interest…protecting myself vs. managing the blog. It is possible that Mr. Doe could then post a comment that contributes to the discussion even though it attacks me. I would be operating in a conflict of intersts–that of protecting myself and managing the blog.

I mention this as a hypothetical (in actuality, I view both parties to the dispute as being out of line in insulting the other) because I don’t think we as Americans realize that when the US President takes sides on an issue being debated, he undercuts his credibility to preside.

I agree with 99% of “Federal Farmer’s” comments. 🙂




PS – I received an e-mail from “Federal Farmer” later in the evening. Here’s some of what he had to say: “Thanks for visiting my blog… I’ve learned a lot today in terms of political theory (yes, I am too logical! lol) from moderating that discussion.  Mr. Doe has sent two additional comments that contained insults so I am blocking further posts from him. In any case, I appreciated that you stopped fighting with him.  I don’t know how I could have made it more transparent for him that I didn’t want continued insults.  Like I said in the blog, who knows what sorts of psychologies play out in politics at the grassroots level?”

Another good question.


  1. I too have wondered these same questions Mike. Kudos on not engaging him. I had a somewhat similar situation over on Facebook. I’m all for intelligent discussions where people disagree but as far as I’m concerned the conversation completely shuts down when any one side can do no wrong and is always right no matter what. At that point it just seems to turn into a pissing match and who needs that? 🙂

    • Agreed.

      I am often saddened by those situations because nothing productive or informative transpires.

      I guess the “squeaky wheels” of media always get the grease (attention).

      Thanks for responding.

  2. It is interesting to read part of the threaded discussion that took place on my blog being critiqued here. I had two difficult decisions to make in moderating the fight. First, I had to decide when I first became aware of the fight whether to delete what had already been posted. I decided I would use the case as a “teachable moment” rather than eradicate any traces of it. So I wrote on how toxic ad hominem insults are to continued discussion of political ideas (my posting had been on Rush Limbaugh’s free speech rights…and limits thereof). Both Mike and “John” sent replies. Whereas Mike apologized for his part in the fight with “John,” the latter continued to insult Mike. Given this asymmetry, I would be justified in treating their respective replies differently without “taking sides.” I had stated that I had had enough of the fight. “John” was ignoring my “hint” so I decided to delete his response. I realized (i.e., teachable moment for myself) that treating the different responses differently should not detract from my credibility–which is needed to preside over, or moderate, a threaded discussion. Privately, I was shocked that “John” had continued to write insults…going on to insult me as well. I had to wonder why sort of psychology was fueling such anger on his part. Mike has picked up on this point in this post, and Lisa G. aptly characterizes the fight as a pissing contest (i.e., the element of pride being involved).
    Rather than get into it with “John” in my blog, I decided not to take the bait. At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I would urge “John” to discuss his anger with a counselor. It must really feel horrible to be so angry (from what I can tell from the venting). To get to the point on Mike’s posting here, I think some people use political discussions to vent. As I wrote on my blog, I think this is condoned or accepted generally in this society, but I don’t think it should because it doesn’t follow from discussing political ideas that anger would be vented. It is like being in a restaurant and seeing two guys stand up at their table and start slugging it out. Such behavior in a restaurant would be considered beyond the pale and completely inappropriate–not legitimately ensuing from “eating in a restaurant.”
    So I protected the discussion on my post by essentially enacting “boundaries.” I have done so regarding content going from the post (It amazes me how people presume to take liberties to make comments unrelated to a post). With “John,” I decided to delete his replies following my warning concerning continuing the fight because I view the insults as not of the sort of replies that could reasonably be expected from a post on political ideas (even if society as a whole acts as though they naturally ensure). Given the societal norm here, I expect “John” is really pissed at me…as if I were doing something not ordinarily done. I can only reply that just because we as a society have come to almost expect venting in such discussions, I don’t. In fact, I view it as an indication that someone has unresolved psychological issues. To ignore a warning and continue venting, for example, points to a lack of self-control or a disrespect for me. Again, I do not assume that disrespecting another person follows from differences in political ideas. Ironically, “John” was defending Rush Limbaugh and in my posts I was defending Rush’s right to free speech. Again, that someone would eventually attack me for stopping a fight even though my original post was in line with his view, indicates something about how excessive anger can distort one’s perception.
    I emailed Mike to tell him that I appreciated that he had apologized for his role and did not continue fighting with “John” on my blog. I also mentioned my thoughts on the psychology behind “John’s” contining with insults. I emailed Mike because my comment was an aside–not part of my moderating capacity. Frankly, I am surprised that Mike has published the email without my permission. Teachable moment #3 for me: There is no “off time” from presiding with regard to the parties. Generally speaking, perhaps so much venting goes on in American political discourse precisely because we do not respect others’ personal boundaries enough.

    Federal Farmer (http://soozah.wordpress.com/)

    • Hello Federal Farmer,

      I just now found your comment. (Ever notice how life gets in the way of blogging?)

      I wanted to explain that I posted part of your e-mail to exploit your fairness in handling the situation with John “Doe.” My intention with the entire post and the e-mail was to illustrate your intelligence in the matter and that I agree with you: those who post should monitor their blogs for this type of unnecessary commenting.


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