I’ve been publishing Political Irony since May 2008, during the run up to the election of Barack Obama as president. I started this blog for several reasons.
Primary was my frustration with the US political situation under George W Bush (my wife and I moved to New Zealand for almost 5 months when he was re-elected after lying us into a terrible war). I knew I had to do something for the 2008 election or risk regretting my inaction for the rest of my life. In addition to the blog, I volunteered for the Obama campaign (even got to shake his hand) and did other political work.
A secondary reason was that I make my living programming computers, which I’ve been doing since I was a child. I had started several companies, so I had done some marketing for technical products, but I was really curious how one goes about marketing a popular blog. And the best way for me to learn is to do.
And finally, I’ve always believed that people tend to live up (or down) to other’s expectations of them. I’m a friend of Ward Cunningham (I often have lunch with him), who invented the wiki. This was in the age where the term “internet troll” became popular. Who would have thought that crowdsourcing entire websites would result in anything better than screams and obscenity, but somehow most wikis survived and even prospered. Why?
At the time, most political websites were inundated with insulting and obscene comments, so websites in general were cracking down on viewer participation; at worst turning off comments, but even at best requiring people to log in and prove who they are. I was determined to allow people to leave comments anonymously, and without providing their email address or other personal information. I even ran the blog under a pseudonym “iron knee” (a pun on “irony”), as a way to reinforce the point that it is the ideas that are important, not who they come from. I worked hard to establish a culture of respect for other people’s opinions, and intolerance of personal attacks. And it worked.
During the almost 10 years I have been running this blog, I have only needed to delete a small handful of comments. In most cases, other readers let flaming newcomers know that they were welcome to join in the conversation but not welcome to attack others. Some people whose first comments on PI were outright flames have evolved into thoughtful readers whose insights have changed my opinions about things. I am grateful for them having the courage to stick around a generally progressive website, and pleased that they felt comfortable expressing their opinions here.
So why am I posting this? What’s my point?
Several things have happened pretty much at the same time. The first one you have probably noticed. I’ve been working at Google for over three years now, and my new role is keeping me very busy. I love my job, and I want to spend more time on it. I just got back from a trip where I spent almost 6 weeks giving a dozen talks in 7 countries. It was fantastic but exhausting, and I had almost no time to post in PI.
Second, I have come to the conclusion that blogs (including mine) that are giving Donald Trump all the attention he so clearly craves are only making the political situation worse. I find myself getting tired of reading about him, let alone posting articles about him. I wanted to try to post articles that were only about political things other than Trump, but he is very good at sucking the air out of every situation. It may be that he purposely wants to exhaust his opposition, so I am embarrassed that he seems to have succeeded in accomplishing that with me.
Two more things just happened, and I think they are the straws that broke the camel’s back. First, I got a notice from my hosting provider that (once again) my website has been hacked into. This used to happen from time to time, and always took quite a bit of work to clean up after and to take measures so it would not happen again. And secondly I got a notice from Google (how ironic) that PI seems to be something of a click-bait site, so they turned off my ads. I don’t know if this is because of being hacked into again, or if it is just that companies like Google and Facebook are trying to crack down on all the propaganda and misinformation they are hosting or supporting, and are a bit overzealous just now. I can appeal to them but that too would take time. Besides, the payoff from my one ad a page was barely covering my hosting fees and isn’t worth fighting for.
What am I going to do? I don’t know. I have announced in the past that I was shutting down the blog, only to find later (soon later in some cases) the time to resurrect PI. But for now I really want to focus on work, and I really want to ignore US politics for a while. It was quite wonderful to be out of the US for over a month and not hear the latest stupid thing or daily outrageous lies from our president.
Of course, things change, and I may have more spare time and more inclination to do something about US politics in the future, so I reserve the right to jump on this again. Just not now.
In case you are curious, the project I am working on at Google is called Flutter. It is a new platform for building mobile apps. You can read about it on flutter.io.
Meanwhile, I will leave the site up (but might disable comments for a while, depending on what got hacked), so you can always find links to most of my sources. I encourage everyone to read Electoral Vote to keep up with things (I just wish they allowed comments).
And in case this is good-bye, I really want to thank all of my readers, even the ones who never commented. And thank everyone who commented and challenged me, and made me think. I never expected to do this past the 2008 election, but you have made it all worthwhile.
Wm Leler (aka, Iron Knee)
Also published on Medium.