“Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.”
– Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

Nearly two decades ago I presented an excruciatingly dull paper (“Quantitative Analysis of Electrical and Overt Behavior of the Electric Fish Brienomyrus niger,” if memory serves) at the Animal Behavior Society’s annual conference, held that year at Tulane University.

While there I met a researcher who claimed to have demonstrated rudimentary speech in parrots. Not “Polly want a cracker,” but real speech, with the parrot using rudimentary grammar and vocabulary.

I never heard anything more about the subject, so I guess nobody was able to repeat her results. It’s too bad. Given how much parroting some human beings do, finding parrots to be a bit more human would have been fun.

But parrot we do, as I found out while awash in e-mail following my proposal that we hold a National Boycott Stupidity Day (NBSD) and my suggestion that much of the concern over the use of foreign technical workers sounds suspiciously like bigotry. Quite a few readers parroted currently fashionable political rhetoric, equating neo-conservatism with intelligence, liberalism with stupidity, and my assertion of bigotry with “playing the race card.”


The response to NBSD was so overwhelming that I’m actually tempted to organize the event. We have an alternate name (Intellicom) and several volunteer projectionists (for our continuous showings of Forrest Gump, which we’re all going to not watch together).

We also have a program change. We will allow curling after all, since several readers persuaded me that this is a game of wit and strategy, not just sliding things on ice. My apologies to all you curlers. Instead, we’ll ban ice fishing, since I have to offend someone and sitting in a hut on the ice in winter, drinking beer, and waiting for a nibble seems a safe target.

Speaking of offending people, several of you took offense at my excluding Newt Gingrich from NBSD. Supposedly, he really does promote intelligence, despite his ethics violation, his insistence on buying a bunch of B1 bombers the Pentagon doesn’t want, and his pursuit of his own foreign policy. Oh, if only he hadn’t been named after an amphibian …

(I’d give equal time to offending Bill Clinton’s defenders, only there weren’t any. Sorry, Mr. President.)

NBSD was, of course, satire. Its point wasn’t that you should promote your opinion as “smart” and opposing views, for example liberalism, as “stupid.”

Now I personally think liberals see everyone except the wealthy as victims, while conservatives see no victims at all unless a criminal receives legal protection or Bill Clinton is involved. I think both fraudulently promote simplistic solutions to the complex issues we face as a nation. But that’s just my way of making unpleasant generalizations about groups I don’t like, an activity as American as wiener schnitzel and burritos.

If I actually held NBSD, those who disagree with me would be welcome. Those who parrot other people who disagree instead of troubling to formulate their own opinions wouldn’t make the cut, though, nor would people who equate disagreement with a lack of intelligence.

Take this thought about parrots into your office: I sometimes think there aren’t more than a dozen people in this industry who have actual ideas. A new thought ventures into the jungle, gets squawked back and forth, and eventually sounds like a trend. Actually, it’s just one person with chutzpah and a bunch of parrots. You hear the parrots and, mistaking them for authoritative sources, think something important is going on.

Take this thought, too: The glib, simplistic solutions for complex problems you so often hear parroted around rarely work, despite our collective preference for easily understood concepts. Both technology and public policy are complicated. While simplicity may reflect design elegance, below the surface a lot has to happen before anything works.

Take one last thought into your office and keep it there forever: That irritating employee with the cubicle you placed as far away from yours as possible because of how often he disagrees with you … is he really irritating, or are you wrong more often than you think?