Sunday, November 6, 2011

Chapter Six

Tucker finished an unhealthy snack of microwaved pizza rolls and let out a deep and satisfying belch, looking quickly over his shoulder to reassure himself that he was alone. Why do we do that, he wondered sheepishly? Checking his laptop he saw that he was now connected to the internet via the air card, and he rolled up to his makeshift desk to begin surfing the internet in order to release the stage tension after the show. It was a ritual. Not a productive ritual by any measure, but a comfortable one. He could lose hours of his life working across the links on the top bar of his screen if he wasn't careful with his time. Being essentially anti-social, he did not start with social networking sites, but had to work up to those.

Tucker liked to start with the Drudge Report as his touchstone and go for a while where the links took him. He hopped links from Drudge's page off to newspapers and aggregators and blogs all over the world. There were straight news stories about the President or Congress and their latest standoffs. There were sensational news stories and even news of the weird to pique his interest. There were links at the bottom to all of the news agencies and all of the newspapers and all of the wire services from arond the world. Importantly to Tucker, there were links to all of the major op-ed writers and their current columns, if you could still call them columns when they were digital and not in newspapers in inches. On rare ocassions Tucker would open Drudge and see the flashing siren announcing a significant breaking news stories. They were not always accurate, Tucker knew. What did Drudge claim, something like 80% accuracy. No sirens tonight, though. There were just placeholder articles giving the last polling results a month out from the election.

Exhausting Drudge's links took a good twenty minutes or so and cleansed his news palate, so to speak. Transitioning, he  was off to the more specialized websites where Tucker's political bent would come into play and influence his choices of website's to visit. Tucker had arrived at this point of his life as a political conservative, as he defined it within the American political spectrum. He hadn't always been a conservative, that was for sure. Back in his younger days, his college days particularly, he was an energetic liberal. He even had a banner poster in his dorm room proclaiming his intention to go to Canada to dodge the draft should it come back. A brief stint in the military and then thirty years of factory work as a manager had slowly changed all of that, and he found himself shifting through a libertarian period and then finally to conservative worldview. All of that life experience found it's way into his comedy act now in various bits.

Tucker poured himself a cup of strong coffee, and then moved inexorably on the next level of news surfing - the partisan opinion aggregators. He liked the conservative websites like TownHall and Newsmax, which were run by think tanks or experienced journalists. There he could find a partisan take on the same new stories that he found on Drudge, as well as finding editorials from the leading conservative pundits and media stars. After spending himself on the conservative writing that caught his eye, Tucker liked to balance himself with a visit to the Huffington Post - which was reliably liberal in its selections. While he found himself heckling the site somewhat as he read, he wanted to get their take on the news and peruse the liberal opinion columns. Balance.

Surfing onwards to the most partisan level of news sites, Tucker indulged in the polar opposite forums of Free Republic vs. Democratic Underground. It was often no holds barred on these sites, with partisans chatting amongst themselves about the dire straits we find ourselves in, the betrayal of the folks by the cowardly political leaders who were selling out their parties, and the last chances to turn things around. He had learned how it worked. Someone would post an article for discussion, and then the partisans would have at it with sequential comments agreeing or disagreeing with the article's point of view and often taking potshots at their polar opposites - the "Freepers" or the DUmmies". It was all clearly red meat for the partisans, of which Tucker was undoubtedly one at this point.

All of the news sites were focused on the upcoming election.  Predictions were all over the map, with optimism running high on both sides of the spectrum. Some of it was rational, and some of it wishful thinking. In all likelihood the Republicans were set to hold the House, and make major gains in, and perhaps retake, the US Senate. The President was up for election in this cycle, as was his agenda. If the Democrats were, in fact, soundly defeated again, then his ability to carry further his agenda would be hampered by an emboldened opposition with the ability to block all of his legislative priorities. The President was traveling on a coat-tails tour of the battleground states hoping to pull off some saves. Many of the senior Congressmen in his party had barely survived in the primaries and were facing unexpectedly stiff opposition from the Liberty Movement in the general election. Some may not survive election day if the worst-case scenarios played out.

Tucker saw some stories about the early voting and browsed a few of those. Early voting was high, and seemed to be breaking for the Republicans. “How did they know that?”, Tucker wondered. Were they looking at the ballots when they were supposed to be sealed? Is that how they knew how many dead bodies to bring on election day? “Good one”, Tucker thought. “I should have used that one on stage tonight”. There were some stories of voting irregularities already showing up online. Some early voters had complained about not being able to select the candidates from one party on electronic voting machines. He even saw one article about machines in his own Congressional District  that already had a check mark next to Representative Washburn’s name. Wasn’t he a Republican, and an incumbent several times over?  But, he did have some controversial votes in the last session crossing the aisle to vote with the President. He had a strong challenger from the Liberty Movement as a write-in for the general election. Washburn was sinking fast in the polls and was desperate. The President had even flown in last week to stump for him, hoping to have one friendly face as a committee chair if the Republicans did indeed take the house.

Feeling sufficiently up to date on the election news, Tucker was ready to sign in to his social networking sites. He had two primary destinations for his social networking needs: Facebook and Twitter.

"Last show on the tour is in the books. Thank you all for coming out to see us. I'll see you on the road again somewhere", Tucker posted on his Facebook wall.

Facebook was mostly still eluding him in terms of being a useful tool. It was a necessary part of his business life as a performer. He had a small fan base on the B-circuit, and was able to keep up with the fans that he "friended". Mostly he listed his club schedule and a way for them to buy his one performance CD. He also posted comments occasionally on his wall about funny things that happened to him on tour or with links to videos and articles that he liked. He kept up with his three brothers in New York, Birmingham, and Los Angeles since he didn't get to see them often in real life. He also had been accepted as friends by the few celebrities that he knew from the entertainment business.

One of those celebrities - Robert Ingvall - was a prodigious Twitter user, and Tucker had himself become addicted to the pseudo-texting site. Here was a place that he could express himself fully, although concisely, by micro-blogging tweets out into the Twittersphere for his followers to read. His timeline was all over the place in terms of content. Some tweets were personal observations from daily life. Some were quotes from, and links to, articles that he had read on the op-ed sites. A lot of his posts were about politics, with content both original to him and in reply to those he followed. He even engaged in mini-debates on Twitter with followers on current news stories. Twitter-bates was the word he coined for that, and Tucker did that as well as anybody on there.

Ingvall was up late most nights, well into the early morning hours, and Tucker could see that he was on Twitter now. Strangely, he was tweeting about everything but the election. Probably because Robert was a well known Democrat and had been through enough election cycles in his long life to know that this year was not shaping up well. The unemployment rate had dogged the President all year and had not turned around in time to help his ratings. Robert was keeping his mind occupied with other things. From that lack of activity, Tucker knew that he would likely find him more engaged over on his blog.

Before he headed over to the blog to spar with his virtual friends, Tucker threw out a few Tweets. "Don't forget to register to vote in November, unless you're not paying attention. You guys stay home." He Tweeted that kind of stuff, plus links to a few op-ed columns that talked about how pivotal this election was for future generations. He saw that Lisa from St. Paul had sent him a Direct Message, and he replied to that. Lisa was recently widowed and trying to re-establish herself and he tried to help as he could with a little humor. Satisfied, he pulled up his favorite haunt - the blog.

Stumbling a couple of years earlier onto Robert Ingvall's web journal – or blog, in the vernacular - was a pleasant surprise for Tucker. He had been reading a review of Ingvall's latest best-selling feature film and saw a reference to a separate blog. Not a film blog, as Tucker had expected a famous film director to have. It turned out to be a general interest blog, where Ingvall wrote weekly articles on topics as diverse as politics, religion, science, and culture. Wow! Brilliant articles, Tucker found, that showed a breadth of thinking that transcended the blockbuster action thrillers that the Engvall was predominantly known for directing. Or, more accurately, that he used to direct more often years ago when he was in better health. In recent years health complications had limited his ability to work on location, and he had transformed himself into a gifted film editor - working from home on a suite of computers. Most knew that he had had complications from a virus that he had picked up on a jungle location shoot. What they didn't know was that he had developed a fairly pronounced case of agoraphobia and very rarely ever left his condo in the Willis building downtown Chicago. It didn't matter where he was physically though, as he maintained a near 24/7 presence online.

In the intervening two years since finding Ingvall's blog, Tucker had become a frequent commenter on the site. He eagerly read each new article weekly. He appreciated the brilliant and the eloquent writing. And he disagreed passionately with almost every article that he read. Tucker respected Ingvall enough to disagree, in a civil manner, in the comments. Not as a debate, but as a conversation. A conversation carried on weekly across the many threads of the blog. Sometimes, in fact, across many “threads” simultaneously.

Tucker was an old hand at the blog now, and he commented now differently than when he had first found it. That night he had written an angry comment in response to a blog post about a film that Ingvall hated, but that Tucker had really liked. It wasn't a vulgar comment by any means, but the anger behind it was palpable and left nothing to the imagination. What he hadn't expected from a comment left on a blog of a celebrity was a response. But he got one, in the form of reply embedded at the end of Tucker's comment as it was posted. Wow! Not only did he get a response, which thrilled him in itself, but it was quite a civil response at that. That set Tucker back on his heels, made him think about the nature of online anonymous posting, and set the stage for many hundreds of comments to come.

Many of his friends had posted on the latest thread in the last day or so, and Tucker spent some time catching up with comments. Blogs were a delayed conversation, compared to Twitter's near-instantaneous feedback. You might post a comment on the blog and not get the response you needed for a couple of days. Tucker hit "end" and went down to the bottom of the comments page and then worked his way back up, commenting as he went.

There were in fact multiple comments directed at Tucker! There was a scholarly comment from Johnathan Vandemeer, a professor at Notre Dame. There was one from a scientist in France. One from Teddy the horse rancher, tweaking him a little. One from GD in Australia, and another from "labrat89" in Canada. Tucker was perhaps overmatched by several of the commenters that he tangled with on the current topic of this thread: Theory of Evolution vs. Intelligent Design Movement. But, he had enough classes at the university and thirty years of studying the topic as a hobby to help him hang in there. He was one of the very few holding up the ID side of the discussion, and it took a while to get all of the comments answered. Fun!

Tucker looked up at the clock. 2 AM! Time had passed quickly online, and now he was just noticing how hungry he was. He grabbed a coat and headed out looking for somewhere he could get a filling meal on what was just barely Tuesday morning.

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