Sunday, July 25, 2010

News From the Fringe

1. Fringe? Us?  You may have seen the story of the Iowa Tea Party billboard featuring pictures of Hitler, Obama, and Lenin, with the titles, respectively, "National Socialism," "Democrat Socialism," and "Marxist Socialism." If not, it's worth a look just for the photo. (Update: The billboard has been papered over, but you can still see the photo.) A few quick remarks:

  • One surprise for me was the comment of a leader of the national Tea Party Patriots, who not only made the obvious political point that, "It's going to make people think that the tea party is full of a bunch of right-wing fringe people," but added, "When you compare Obama to Hitler, that to me does a disservice to the Jews who both survived and died in the Holocaust and to the Germans who lived under Nazi regime rule." I predict a brief career in the movement for Shelby Blakely.
  • Less surprising is the comment of the Iowa coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, who said that the billboard was offensive and unproductive, but he can understand the North Iowa group's feeling that Obama is "Hitler-esque." What does that even mean? That he has a little mustache? That he plans to annex Manitoba? That he has caused literally millions of people to be loaded into boxcars and sent to death camps?
  • Finally, in the Sad Irony department we have the caption for the billboard: "Radical Leaders Prey on the Fearful & Naive." I would suggest that as a motto for the movement: "The Tea Party Wants You-- Because Radical Leaders Prey on the Fearful and Naive."
2. There's No "We" in "Capitalism." The AP reports that a group in Kentucky, some of them Tea Partiers, has started a sort of summer school to teach the truth about civics.

"If we're going to take our country back, we've got to remember where we came from — not only as adults, but we need to teach our children," said Tim Fairfield, one of the teachers, who wore a three-cornered hat at the opening class of Vacation Liberty School....organizers say the program has drawn interest from people looking to start new chapters in Ohio, Colorado, New York, Florida and other communities in Kentucky.

The curriculum includes "understanding the falsehoods of separation of church and state," but it's not all dry lectures. Students simulated the oppression of colonial-era England by being told they must suppress their laughter, sit apart from their friends and flawlessly recite "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." Then after a difficult journey to America, they recreated the practices of John Winthrop and Cotton Mather by playing basketball, tossing beanbags, and riding a teeter-totter, while being showered with confetti.

After history, time for social studies. Students were given water pistols to shoot soap bubbles out of the air. They discovered that they could do it more quickly by refilling from individual buckets of water than from a collective one, thus demonstrating the superiority of the free enterprise system to secular communism. Good thing they weren't playing basketball in this part.

3. The Hall of Mirrors: Further Reflections. I was reading a few of the two thousand comments on a news story about the car bomb in Mexico, when I came across an utterly irrelevant comment. (This was not in itself surprising, as the same writer had posted several comments on the same story which were quotations from Thomas Jefferson about the evils of big government.) In this comment, he was inveighing (oyveighing? McVeighing?) against a recent statement by Sen. Chris Dodd, to the effect that a Republican attempt to require a 5% down payment on all mortgages was bad because it "would restrict home ownership to only those who can afford it." "You can't make up stuff like this!" he crowed.

As it turns out, though, you can. Dodd never made the statement. It comes from a "satirical" posting on a conservative website, and it immediately spread across the Internet. When I talked recently about politics blogs being like two mirrors facing each other and creating the impression of a vast corridor, I was thinking of opinions, not of the endless propagation of Internet urban legends. (Though since the Sherrod affair, that aspect has become more obvious.)

Anyway, this time I decided to look into the sociology a bit, and try to reconstruct some chronological order on this "quotation."

May 15, 2010:; labeled By John Semmens: Semi-News — A Satirical Look at Recent News 

May 15:; labeled A Semi-News/Semi-Satire From AzConservative

June 1:; letter to Rep. David Obey from a constituent

June 4:; reader comment

June 6:

June 6: (breakout into mainstream media)

June 7:; reader comment

June 7:; reader comment


June 7:

June 8: Debunked

June 11:

June 15: (Kewanee, Illinois)

June 18: Debunked

June 20: Debunked

June 25:

July 7: (survivalists)

Sociologically, what is interesting is how much this looks like a classic Internet rumor-spreading, with much of it going on through individuals rather than formal (even by Internet standards) outlets. As for Mr. Semmens, whose other rib-ticklers include "Hispanic Caucus Wants Illegals to Be Covered by Obamacare," "Justice Department Rebuffs Inquiry on Kagan Pay," and "President Calls Sherrod Firing 'Racist,'" two points. First, you're no Jon Stewart. Second, there gets to be a fine line between satire and lying.

4. Ingratitude. The AP recently reported that the California Highway Patrol arrested a man involved in a shootout with them on a freeway, who told them that he had been planning attacks on the ACLU and a liberal-leaning foundation in San Francisco. The most disturbing thing about this story is that it's so funny: as you peel the layers off the onion, there's a punchline under each one.

  • You may recall that former Attorney General Ed Meese once referred to the ACLU as "the criminals' lobby." Apparently not all criminals agree; Mr. Williams had two previous convictions for bank robbery.
  • According to the Oakland police, Williams wanted "to start a revolution." Here's a tip for revolutionaries that I read somewhere, possibly Mao's On Guerrilla Warfare: When you're out on parole and you're driving on the freeway carrying three guns and wearing a bulletproof vest, do not speed and weave in and out of traffic.
  • His mother told the San Francisco Chronicle her son had been angry with "the way Congress was railroading through all these left-wing agenda items." This makes sense. After all, who values liberty  more than an ex-con? And who values capitalism more than a bank robber?
  • Williams was arrested while driving his mother's  Toyota Tundra. So he planned to take back our country while driving a Japanese car. Well, it was probably built in San Antonio. By legals.

    1 comment:

    1. I really love the mirror analogy because it makes me think of a physical analog, the pumping cavity of a laser, which is sometimes represented as a sort of hall of mirrors. The acronym can even be made to work; Lying Amplified by the Stupid Emissions of Republicans (LASER).