I’m a total asshole and I can’t stop

I received an email forward today (big news huh?) from a friend, and replied to him about it. I don't know how to stop being a dick and manifest just a hint of social decorum. You'll want to skip down to the forward first to have some perspective on the how and why of me being a dick.

Hey ****, I'll bite,

Ya, I'm offended by this. I think the only thing worse than horrible things, are when people take action against those horrible things which causes them to feel like they're doing something but doesn't accomplish anything. When this happens (like when people forward emails around that are supposed to end up at president@whitehouse.gov) they feel like they're doing their part, are less inclined to do something that would *actually* affect change, and we are all thereby worse off than if the email forward had never gone around.

This is the primary vector through which email forwards function. Someone recieves an email forward, regarding this kind of thing, or a good luck chain letter or whatever, and they forward it on because "It's easy to do, and it might help". The problem is that everyone is working under this pretense, so you end up with a totally dysfunctional (though memetically sound) social aberration occurring, these viral forwards.

The reason I disagree with this is that I believe that the total cost of email forwards like this (aggregate time, network costs, and lulled-into-a-sense-of-having-done-one's-partedness) far outweigh the infinitesimally small benefit of the chance that a staffer at the whitehouse is going to read these emails, make a recommendation to the president, who would then reverse his action and realize that unlike every other policy which has a bunch of people in opposition to it this one is different because of an email forward.

So I don't mean to be harsh, I just thought I'd answer your question about if I was offended or not and request my commensurate smacking-around.


> Folks--
> I don't usually do the forwarding thing as I find it annoying and petty, but
> the events of the last week have made me keep my ear closer to the ground than
> usual. Please read this--if me forwarding this offended you in any way, let
> me know so I can smack you around a little.
>> Dear friends,
>> President Bush has announced his intention to appoint Dr. W. David
>> Hager
>> tohead up the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Reproductive Health
>> Drugs
>> Advisory Committee. This committee has not met for more than two years,
>> during which time its charter lapsed. As a result, the Bush
>> Administration
>> is tasked with filling all eleven positions with new members. This
>> position
>> does not require Congressional approval.
>> The FDA's Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee makes crucial
>> decisions on matters re-lating to drugs used in the practice of
>> obstetrics,
>> gynecology and related specialties, including hormone therapy,
>> contraception, treatment
>> for infertility, and medical alternatives to surgical procedures for
>> sterilization and pregnancy termination.
>> Dr. Hager is the author of "As Jesus Cared for Women: Restoring Women
>> Then
>> and Now." The book blends biblical
>> accounts of Christ healing women with case studies from Hager's
>> practice.
>> His views of health care are far outside the mainstream for
>> reproductive
>> technology and modern gynecological practice. Dr. Hager is a practicing
>> OB/GYN who describes himself as "pro-life" and refuses to prescribe
>> contraceptives to unmarried women. In the book Dr. Hager wrote with his
>> wife, entitled "Stress and the Woman's Body," he suggests that women
>> who
>> suffer from premenstrual syndrome should seek help from reading the
>> Bible
>> and praying. As an editor and contributing author of "The Reproduction
>> Revolu-tion: A Christian Appraisal of Sexuality Reproductive
>> Technologies
>> and the Family," Dr. Hager appears to have endorsed the medically
>> inaccurate assertion that the common birth control pill is an
>> abortifacient
>> (causes abortion).
>> We are concerned that Dr. Hager's strong religious
>> beliefs maycolor his assessment of technologies that are necessary to
>> protect women's lives or to preserve and promote women's health. Dr.
>> Hager's
>> track record of using religious beliefs to guide his medical
>> decision-making
>> makes him a dangerous and inappropriate candidate to serve as chair of
>> this
>> committee.
>> Critical drug public policy and research must not be held hostage
>> by anti-abortion politics. Members of this important panel should be
>> appointed on the basis of science and medicine, rather than politics
>> and
>> religion. American women deserve no less.
>> There is something you can do. Below is a letter to be sent to the
>> White
>> House, opposing the placement of Hager. Please copy all the text of
>> this
>> message and paste it into a fresh email; then sign your name below
>> and
>> Every 100th person, please forward e-mail to:
>> >president@whitehouse.gov
>> I oppose the appointment of Dr. W. David Hager to the FDA
>> Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee.
>> Mixing religion and medicine is unacceptable in a policy-making
>> position.
>> Using the FDA to promote a political agenda is inappropriate and
>> seriously threatens women's health. Members of this important panel
>> should
>> be appointed on the basis of science and medicine, rather than politics
>> and
>> religion. American women deserve no less.
>> ***************************************************
>> >>1. Carl Burns, New York City

So thanks Carl Burns of New York, for making me make an ass of myself to my friends.


  • sean says:

    I got this same one a couple of times, minus the question about offensiveness, and I deleted it. The logical disconnect that goes along with passing these things on is the idea that, somehow, 168 names and addresses on a forwarded e-mail are going to be so much more powerful than just 167 random names and e-mail addresses. It’s as if Carl Burns decided, OK, physical petitions with actual human signatures are pretty ineffective and ignored – can I possibly develop something even less meaningful and even more easily discarded?
    At least the fake Nigerian businessman are pragmatic about their annoying forwards.

  • cb says:

    I myself like assholes.

  • Dianna says:

    Ha! I just got this email again today.

  • gene says:

    Here’s the contents of the snopes link.
    Origins: This item began circulating in early 2003 and is now outdated, since the decision it sought to influence has long since been made. However, the outcome of the 2004 presidential election seems to have prompted a new cycle of forwarding among people who mistakenly believe this to be a pending issue.
    In December 2002, W. David Hager was one of eleven physicians appointed to the Food and Drug Administration’s Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs, a commitee whose job it is to evaluate data and make recommendations on the safety and effectiveness of marketed and experimental drugs for use in obstetrics, gynecology, and related specialties. Dr. Hager is a part-time professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University Kentucky College of Medicine and a well-known specialist on gynecologic infections, and therefore at first blush his appointment to this committee would seem a good fit.
    However, he is also vehemently pro-life and has vigorously played a part in the campaign to get the FDA to withdraw its approval of mifepristone (RU-486), a drug that terminates pregnancies. He is indeed the author of a number of books in which he’s advocated prayer and the reading of the Scriptures as cures for medical ills.
    Dr. Hager makes no bones about his beliefs but says they won’t compromise his judgment: “Yes, I’m pro-life. But that’s not going to keep me from objectively evaluating medication. I believe there are some safety concerns (about mifepristone) and they should be evaluated.”
    Contrary to the claim made in the now widely-circulated e-mail decrying his appointment, Dr. Hager says he does not deny birth-control prescriptions to unmarried women. However, Time magazine reported that “In his private practice, two sources familiar with it say, Hager refuses to prescribe contraceptives to unmarried women.”
    Dr. Hager maintained that his opposition to FDA approval of RU-486 was based purely on safety concerns:
    May I begin by telling you that no one who has written about me or broadcast information about me has ever interviewed me. The information being disseminated is rumor and innuendo. I am pro-life and believe in the sanctity of human life.
    I participated in the Citizens Petition to the FDA asking that RU-486 be withdrawn temporarily from the market until further investigation could be done out of my concern for the health and well-being of women and their unborn children. Mifeprex was approved under an Accelerated Approval Process, Subpart H, that has been reserved exclusively for anti-AIDS and anti-cancer drugs and an antihypertensive agent. All medications that are life saving, which mifeprex is not. The FDA always requires one or more than one randomized, controlled trials before approving a drug. There were none for mifeprex (RU-486). The nonrandomized, uncontrolled trials that were done insisted on the woman having an ultrasound scan to locate the pregnancy and insure that it was not outside the uterus (an ectopic pregnancy). The guidelines for use now do not require such a scan and we have reports already of death and morbidity from ruptured ectopic pregnancies since the symptoms of a ruptured ectopic and abortion from mifeprex are the same; abdominal pain and bleeding. The FDA requires that medications that may be used in children and adolescents be studied in those groups before approval (The Pediatric Rule) and this was not done with mifeprex. There have been two seriously infected 15 year olds. Finally, in studies reported to date, among women who fail to abort after receiving mifeprex (and this occurs 5-8% of the time when administered up to 7 weeks gestation) there have been limb deformities and absent limbs. I feel that the drug needs further study. Searle Laboratories, the manufacturer of misoprostol (the second drug taken after mifepristone) has issued a medical alert asking that the drug never be used in pregnant women due to risks of cardiovascular problems. There has been a fatal heart attack in France and a non-fatal one here in a 21 year old.
    Regarding contraception, I advise all of my non-married patients that abstinence is the best way to avoid non-marital pregnancy and STDs. If she insists on being sexually active or is already active, I advise the use of birth control pills and condoms as well. I do not believe that standard dose birth control pills are abortifacient, and have never written that. There is a chapter in a book I co-edited, that purports this idea, but it was included in our book to offer an alternative opinion, not because we believed the idea. Since when is it wrong to offer alternative opinions?
    Regarding my management and writing about stress-related disorders in women, I have always offered a holistic approach to therapy. I suggest diet/exercise changes, medications as needed, counseling when required, and meditation/prayer. This is very distasteful to NOW and Planned Parenthood.
    I hope this helps you and enables you to see how “horrible” I am in the eyes of the organizations you mention as encouraging me not to serve this Administration.
    Whatever one’s opinion of Dr. Hager, his appointment is a done deal. Dr. Hager is now a member of the FDA’s Advisory Committee on Reproductive Health Drugs, so a petition aimed at preventing him from reaching that position is moot. (Perhaps as a result of the controversy stirred up by the original position, Dr. Hager was appointed to sit on the committee, but not to chair it.) In June 2004, Dr. Hager was reappointed to the committee for an additional year.

  • danny says:

    I’m not completely done with this issue.
    I agree with gene that the tactic employed in this email fwd/petition is completely ineffective and nothing but annoying.
    Rereading this post several times now, as well as some other commentary on a related issue, it makes me wonder if the tactics I use to petition the government are worthy of my time.
    I am a member of ActForChange as well as other similar activist websites which often offer prewritten form letters for you to voice your opinions on current issues by sending them to your local representatives or other appropriate parties. ActForChange seems particularly useful to me not only because it stays on top of the issues better than I ever could (Thanks, job. Thanks, life.), but also because it will automatically send my complaints/petitions to my appropriate senator or House Rep when applicable.
    While it seems to me that this method of “activism” might be more effective than the damn chain mail (or certainly doing nothing at all), the question is: how much more effective is it, really? Is it really worth my time? Is my letter/petition more valuable when I change the wording that was set for me? How much of the wording do I have to change to make my concern seem genuine and sincere? Would it matter if I sent the email directly from my own email account instead of through the website? Would it be more effective if I printed out the letter and mailed it? (ActForChange, take note: I think it would be useful if your website would let me change the wording of the letter, then automatically take my words and create a printable PDF with the appropriate addressing already on the page.)
    On top of those questions: I often then send a link to the page (sometimes using the “recommend this page” link, sometimes not) to select friends who I think would be concerned about the issue at hand so that they may also take action. How different is this from forwarding on the “ineffective” (but certainly well-meaning) chain mail cited above? Aren’t I just as apt to irk the people under whose asses I want to light fires? Doesn’t this depend on how effective the recipient views the tactic?
    On a mostly unrelated note, I would love to be able to “Subscribe to this thread” so that I know if anyone ever bothers to reply to my comment (or even read it for that matter — sorry about the length).
    And on a completely unrelated note, Happy Birthday again, Gene.

  • jason s says:

    Subscribing to a thread. What a good idea. Work on it, Gene. You’re a big boy now.

  • Danny says:

    To give a better idea of the “form letters” I’m talking about, and at the same time to push an issue I feel is very important, Consumers Union has this letter to Lester Crawford, the Acting Commissioner of the FDA, about BSE-contaminated cattle feed.

  • didofoot says:

    Brian D: Yes, I think sending a link to a political activism letter is equally as offensive and useless as sending an email chain letter. (Links to sites containing reviews of DFW as a professor are, on the other hand, non-offensive, and totally useful for my stalkery of same.)
    That said, it is sort of hilarious that you would put up a link to one such site on this post of all posts.

  • Danny says:

    I did put it here to make a point.
    What exactly about it do you find offensive? Is it only offensive if the link is spammed to an entire address book (in which case I would agree) or is it also offensive if I sent the link to you because I believed it was an issue you were interested in — petitioning dfw to attend a Pleasant Hill Q&A session metaphorically naked?

  • didofoot says:

    i guess it is mainly offensive in the address book spam sense, yeah. but also there are a lot of people who think they know you and will send you things they think you’ll be interested in, but it turns out you actually have no interest in jesus allegories, jokes about penguins, or petitioning the government to disallow all beef consumption in the US. (clearly this is not you, since the dfw thing was spot on.)
    also, i think most people send links that they themselves are incredibly interested in to people who might be slightly sympathetic. and that is annoying.

  • Dianna says:

    Dear Kristen,
    I don’t normally send email forwards, but I knew you’d be interested in this one! 😀 :oP Have a great day!!!!! 😛
    >>>>Dear Friend,
    >>>>Please help us disallow all beef consumption >>>>in the US. I know
    >>>>that you are as concerned as we are about >>>>this
    >>>>issue. And with good reason! Beef cattle >>>>have
    >>>>horns, which clearly makes them the servants >>>>of Satan.
    >>>>Good Christians such as yourself all over the >>>>world are
    >>>>coming to the realization that, with our >>>>eternal
    >>>>souls at stake, we cannot spend our days >>>>eating
    >>>>the Devil’s minions. The five minutes you >>>>spend signing this email petition and sending >>>>it to all
    >>>>of your friends
    >>>>are minutes spent saving souls. We’re >>>>counting on you.
    >>>>Sincerely, the humble and food-conscious >>>>faithful
    >>>>of our lord Beelzebub^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H Jesus >>>>H. Christ.

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