A Dragonfly in the Ointment

Ramblings and Rants


Marysville, California, USA
March 11
Title? No one said there would be titles!
No, thanks, I'm a loner
I'm 45 years old, married for 22 of them, and the mother of 2 teenagers. I'm a software test engineer by profession, and rather geeky. I've spent almost my entire life in Northern CA.

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FEBRUARY 19, 2010 3:32PM

I know many Joe Stacks

Rate: 5 Flag

Joseph Stack, the pilot who rammed his plane into an IRS building after leaving a nearly incoherent note on his website, apparently lived in my neck of the woods for several years in the mid 90’s. I may well have chatted with him in line at the supermarket, or sat next to him at the movie theater. He lived a mere 10 minutes from the company that employed me for 20 years, but I did not know him personally.


However, reading his rambling suicide note, and reading abut his life in news reports, I recognized him. Or rather I recognized the type. Joe Stack was a software engineer, and, after working in the software biz for 23 years, I have worked with dozens of guys just like him. Allow me to extrapolate to what kind of person he probably based on my experiences with those engineers.


Let me start by telling a joke that illustrates the thinking of people I think are like Joe Stack:


An engineer, a priest, and a doctor are playing a round of golf. They are becoming increasingly frustrated by the slow play of the group in front of them. Finally they ask a groundskeeper about the slow group. The groundskeeper informs them that the group is made up of firemen who were blinded in a devastating fire in the clubhouse a few years ago, and the country club allows them to play for free whenever they want.


“How horrible!” exclaims the priest, “I shall light a candle and pray for them every day!”


The doctor says, “I know one of the best eye surgeons in the nation, I shall arrange for them to get a free consult!”


The engineer sniffs, “I don’t see why they don’t play at night.”


Those of you who know any engineers are probably laughing your asses off right now, because you know it’s so true.


Joe Stack, I suspect, was one of those engineers like the guy in the joke. They have the empathy of a rock. They would not give you the shirt off their backs, because they worked hard for those shirts and you didn’t. The fact that they have the shirts and you don’t means that they were virtuous and better then you and why should they help your lazy ass out when all you had to do was get a job and buy your own damn shirt?


On a political/social level, they think that anyone who is poor is poor because they are lazy. They never once think that bad things can happen to good people (until it happens to them, of course). They dislike paying their taxes because they think that the evil government is going to give their hard earned money to lazy, undeserving people. They believe in social Darwinism; it’s easy for them because they white males who were born middle class. 


They do not acknowledge that other people have disadvantages they do not face. If they get an email that the Society of Women Engineers, or the Black, or the Mexican, or the Gay Engineers, is having a meeting, they will whine that they can’t have a White Male Engineer meeting. They will earnestly complain about how white middle class males are discriminated against, completely without irony or self-awareness. One of them actually told me the day after Obama was elected, “I guess the black people are out of excuses now, huh?”


The people I know like Joe Stack are Libertarian in their thinking. If they bothered to vote in the last election, it was for Ron Paul. They agree with the aims of Tea Party, but think most of them are twits and tools, so they won’t join in. Mostly, though, Joe Stack’s political philosophy could be summed up as he was out for himself and the rest of us could go fuck ourselves. Sick? Too bad, should have had health insurance. Starving? Your fault, get a job, you should have majored in computer science like him. You got kids that are suffering? You shouldn’t have had them; and, if we help your kids, you the parents will not be properly punished for your sins.


The software engineering business is full of these guys. Politics is a means to them to try and hang onto to more of their money. If you want their vote, all you have to do is promise to cut taxes. Then they will bitch about all the potholes in the street out front.


They also think they are smarter than just about anyone else. They would rather be right than happy, or even loved. This why they will argue with you until you give up in exhaustion. They think they are smarter than anyone in a position of authority. This was Joe Stack’s downfall.


One of the problems with this type of person is that will not admit they are wrong and learn from their mistakes. Despite the fact he was probably more than willing to blame others for their situations, it’s pretty obvious from his manifesto that Joe Stack thought his own situation was not his fault, that was it was result of evil forces conspiring against him, trying to take his hard-earned money away.


Joe Stack found out he wasn’t nearly as smart as he thought he was. (No one is that smart, really) His attempts to worm out of paying his taxes brought him the unwanted attention of the IRS. You know, the guys who finally took Al Capone down, and Joe Stack wasn’t nearly as bad-ass as Al Capone.


I’m sure he was a good coder and a good engineer, but his ego wrote checks his understanding of the tax code couldn’t cash. His ego also would not allow him to admit that he made mistakes, so he had to strike out at the evil forces who were keeping him down. Now that it was his turn to be a powerless loser, to be one of those people he had sneered at for many years, and he couldn’t deal with it.


The really scary part is that there thousands more just like him out there.

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I did not read his entire suicide note but its sheer length certainly proved your description of the egotism of some in his profession. Does he blame the IRS for outsourcing and globalization likely to have made his job skills no longer as needed?
Does he blame the IRS for outsourcing and globalization likely to have made his job skills no longer as needed?

He actually blamed corporations and politicians as well as the IRS. He actually made some very valid points, but his methods will render his message moot.
Very interesting. Having not known any engineers as such, I'll have to take your word for the mentality, although I'm sure you might get some blow-back for stereotyping. Whatever his mindset, I like the whole blow up the IRS strategy.
I should emphasize that not all engineers are ego driven pricks, but the profession sure does attract more than it’s fair share of that type. I know, I’ve been doing it for 23 years and my liberalism is quite a curiosity.
He was mad at the IRS because of the 1986 change to the tax code that makes it impossible for IT people to be self-employed. Section 1706 changed that for all of us. It was an earmark requested by IBM, which was the biggest software developer in the world at the time.
Yes, that was one of his beefs, but it was not his only beef. He also mentioned in his rant that he joined some sort of "tax reading group", which tells me that he did play fast and loose with his taxes beyond the changes in the scope of the ‘86 change. He had 2 different corporations that were suspended in CA for non-payment of state taxes as well, and the local paper reported that he told his airplane mechanic that he wanted to move to TX for the “better tax structure”.
The change in ’86 was a very bad change, no doubt about it. Apparently Moynihan tried to repeal it a year after it passed and was unsuccessful.
What if "Joe Stack" chose to end his life because he was not like all those engineers you are so familiar with? What if Joe Stack was a man with a boyish romantic heart who happened to be very good with technical things? What if he did everything society said he should to look after his life, and then found that he was obsolete by age 40 as technology whizzed past him, and he couldn't gear up fast enough to keep up with his trade? What if he hadn't found a love to share his life with and prospects were looking dimmer? The scary part to me is that "Joe Stack" is us. How can we co-create a less scary society for ourselves to live in?
What if "Joe Stack" chose to end his life because he was not like all those engineers you are so familiar with?

Not all engineers are Joe Stacks, Zing. Most of them are actually doing quite well, even the ones who have faced a lot more adversity than Stack did. he did schoose ot end his life because he was who he was, an angry outsider who tried and failed to job the system.

How can we co-create a less scary society for ourselves to live in?

This is why I am a liberal, my politics are all geared to making this society better for everyone. Making a society where one little mistake doesn;t doom you to live under a bridge.
With his humble upbringing one could think that he would have happy with less; and it didn't looklike he was hurting that bad. I have had very little contact with engineers but your well-wriiten post just described them.
Thanks you Daniel. Many people have wondered how bad off Joe Stacks actually was since he could afford an airplane. I know several other engineers who have had to give up the hobby as too expensive.

Please note that not all engineers fit this description, but there is a rather large subset that does. I also know many liberal, caring engineers who would cut off thier arms befoer they would jion the Taa Party.