Happy Holidays (Sorry)

Today is Thanksgiving, and you know what that means: only a month left of Christmas shopping before we start all over again for next year. Notice we were very careful to call it “Christmas” instead of, oh, “some unspecified festive occasion falling one week before New Year’s Day”? That’s because another thing you can always count on at this time of year is the punditocracy getting on a soapbox to rant about how there’s a “war on Christmas” being waged.

It’s not enough that businesses start decorating with Santas and snowflakes almost as soon as the Fourth of July has passed, or that we have a bona fide holiday – oops – Christmas shopping season that begins the day after Thanksgiving, or that around Halloween, retail establishments start bombarding customers’ ears with Christmas carols, or that there are Christmas clubs to plan your shopping a year in advance, or that there are round-the-clock Christmas movies at least throughout December.

No, if you hear somebody say “Happy Holidays”, it’s a sure sign that practitioners of that nasty intolerant political correctness are waging a war on Christmas, and want to outlaw it altogether. And we should boycott businesses and force people to say “Merry Christmas”, the way Amurrcan freedom demands.

The harbingers of this holiday holocaust (Oops. Sorry, but “Christmas holocaust” just didn’t have the same alliterative appeal; I hope this won’t be too many points against me.) are invariably people with a political agenda; specifically, they are proponents of the extreme right-wing, or at least they always have been to date. Which isn’t surprising, because this faction is aligned with extreme fundamentalists, with whom they share the common bond of a persecution complex. And their propagandists know that to mobilize the troops, you need to convince them of two things at the same time: (1) Christians in America are an overwhelming majority whose every whim ought to be mandated into law, and (2) Christians in America are an oppressed minority in danger of being persecuted into extinction.

An astounding number of people have no problem holding both of these beliefs at the same time. As a result, the “War on Christmas” meme continues to sell year after year after year. It’s become as much a part of hol- of Christmas tradition as mistletoe, eggnog, Hollywood blockbusters and nativity scenes in inappropriate places.

So brace yourself for at least another month of it. In the meantime, here’s hoping that today and all of your holidays will be happy.

Oops. Are we waging a war on Thanksgiving here?

A New Record for Lying?

Call the Guinness Book of World Records. We have a magnificent achievement to report that surely must be a new record-breaker.

 

It happened Nov. 19 on Fox News (sic) when two lieutenants of the network’s pinocchio platoon, Sean Hannity and Brent Bozell, were posing as the ultimate experts on climate change (Is there anything these people are not experts on?) and discussing the faux scandal of “Climategate”. Within the space of just under two minutes, they managed to squeeze in at least 8 lies. That’s an average of at least one lie every 15 seconds! Surely this outdoes their previous record – although at the rate they’re going, this one won’t stand long, either.

 

To be fair, some of these lies were repetitions or paraphrases of what they’d already lied before. On the other hand, our count includes only statements uttered by these two learned gentlemen, and does not include the lies stated or implied in the brief video within the video. Nor does it include the nutty claim that them thar evil scientists just concocted the global warming thing as part of a sinister plot to control the world’s economy. And it doesn’t even include the unintentional punchline at the end.

 

Be warned that if you watch this video, you may need to have your brain sprayed with Lysol afterward. You may think that your ears are playing tricks on you. But unlike many videos aired on Fox, this one has not been doctored.

 

Fox. The most trusted name in news.

Playing “Telephone” in Cyberspace

Few people make it through childhood without at some time or other playing the game of Telephone, though they may call it other names. In case you don’t remember or you’ve never been a child, here’s how it works. You sit in a circle, and one person begins by whispering something into the next person’s ear. That person then whispers it (as best he or she understood) to the next person, and so on all around the circle. By the time the phrase reaches the end, it usually has been mangled beyond recognition, often with hilarious results. Not only is the game fun, but it’s an interesting study in human nature – that is, in how the imagination fills in the gaps when information is missing, and the memory accepts it as reality.

The same thing happens when we watch a movie. The projector throws 24 frames per second up onto the screen, but if that was all it threw up, it would be a big blur, like nothing more than a projector throwing up. But the projector wisely inserts a brief blackout between images, knowing that the viewer’s mind will immediately conjure up an image to bridge the gap, and the viewer will believe that his or her eyes actually saw it, and will interpret the whole thing as a continuous flow. When you watch a movie, half of it is really just hallucination! (Although it’s more formally known as “persistence of vision”.)

When it comes to what we hear, the gaps are much larger – and thus the distortion in the game of Telephone. And when it comes to what we read or what we try to remember after a considerable time has passed, the gaps are larger still, and therefore there is an even greater potential for distortion. We all fill in the blanks; it’s the way we’re wired, and it might actually help us survive under some circumstances. But in 21st Century America, it’s gone way beyond survival mode. We’re wallowing in hallucination, in the form of loony rumors circulating on the Internet and the cesspool of talking head TV that passes for journalism. We’re still playing Telephone, but using modern technology to do it.

This first occurred to me several years ago when Ronald Reagan died. Shortly thereafter, I heard a comment about it from an RRR. (Rabidly Right-Wing Relative. We all have them, don’t we? And don’t they make family gatherings entertaining?) Actually, the comment was about Air America, the since-defunct “librul” radio network. The comment was to the effect that the people at Air America had said they were glad Reagan was dead.

Now I’d already learned long before that you NEVER want to suggest an RRR might be… um, a little mistaken about something unless you want the gathering to get even more entertaining – and in the process get yourself branded as a hopeless commie librul. But that remark just didn’t sound right. Granted, Air America had no great love for The Gipper. But unlike their right-wing media counterparts, I had never known them to be uncivil – which is probably why they didn’t survive.

So at the first opportunity I did some Internet research. And the first thing I saw was that the episode had been repeated repeatedly, and passed on as the truth. As I recall, some versions of the story even quoted someone at Air America as actually saying, “I’m glad he’s dead” or some such.

But then I did something really revolutionary: I traced the rumor to its source. That’s often a pretty easy thing to do in this Cyber age (it took all of about 10 minutes), so when I see people repeating rumors unquestioningly, I can only assume that they don’t really want to know the facts. That’s the conclusion I draw, for instance, when I see Tea Partiers marching and railing against “socialized medicine” and the “Nazi” president and “death panels” and so on. How many of them even know what socialism is? One in a thousand? One in ten thousand? How many realize that the communists and the Nazis were on opposing sides? And how many of them have actually read the health care bill? Even ONE? If so, that person is a great rarity – reportedly, even the lawmakers who voted on it didn’t read it. I confess I didn’t read the whole thing either, but I did read whatever sections of it were supposedly so evil, every time I came across one of those forwarded emails we all get. And in every case, the actual bill stated something very different from what the rumor stated – in some cases, it was the exact opposite!

In the case of the Reagan/ Air America incident, there really was no incident. It all started not with Air America, but with one of the pundits on some other network. (It was probably Fox Noise, but I don’t recall for certain, and on this occasion I’m going to invoke my once-annually Fox privilege of not doing any research. Besides which, I want to demonstrate that it’s possible to fill in gaps without getting hallucinatory.) That person said something like, “The people over at Air America are probably celebrating right now.” (Those may not be the exact words, so don’t quote me. I don’t want to be part of your Telephone game, thank you.) Thus, many viewers apparently assumed that the Air Americans really WERE celebrating, and therefore that they were glad Reagan was dead, and from that a fictitious quote bubbled up out of someone’s persistence of vision.

In a perfect world, any Internet outrage in this matter would have been over the childish and irresponsible conduct of the pundit, rather than over Air America saying what they didn’t say. In a perfect world, people would trace rumors to their sources, rather than blindly passing them on because it suits their ideology. But then there would be no need for sites like this one. And adults might not play their backstabbing version of Telephone so much.

And wouldn’t that be boring?

 

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (and Nazi Values)

Just finished reading “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”, a children’s (?) book by Irish novelist John Boyne. It’s a poignant look at the Holocaust, particularly effective because events are viewed through the innocent eyes of Bruno, a 9-year-old boy. He’s the son of the (fictitious) commandant of Auschwitz who befriends a Polish boy on the other side of the barbed wire. It may be dramatic license, but Bruno is unaware of the horrors unfolding right under his nose; he doesn’t know what a Jew is, or even that the people in the “striped pajamas” on the other side of the fence are being held prisoner.

In a way, Bruno’s naivete simply reflects the moral disconnect of the adults around him. The Nazis are not portrayed as monsters, but as normal people fiercely devoted to an ideology, people convinced that they are doing the right thing. Bruno’s father is a dedicated family man and a kindly soul who goes out of his way to help others in need – even as he oversees the extermination of an entire race. Ideology triumphs over reason and compassion, transforming human beings into us-versus-them creatures.

In my time I have known many, many people who were immersed in some hateful ideology or other: they were racists, homophobes, jingoists, religious bigots, and of course liberal-bashers among others. Generally, they were all of these things at the same time. But not one of them was really a bad person; in fact, most would have given you the shirts off their backs between their rages against THEM. An astounding number were devout Christians who could always pull up a Bible verse or two to prove that God structures the universe around their prejudices.

So what would it take to transform these kindly acquaintances into assassins who bomb clinics or hijackers who drive planes into buildings while praising God the whole time? In some cases, probably just personal tragedy and/or the right kind of propaganda. But even without hatred, anger, grief, a campaign of persuasion, or even loyalty to an ideology, people are always quite capable of rationalizing their me-versus-them mindset.

Many years ago while I was working for the library of a major city, it was my duty to deliver books and donated magazines to inmates. I became acquainted with and stood face to face with them (sometimes even without bars between us), some of the sleaziest characters ever to make headlines: cold-blooded killers, pedophiles, even an IRA terrorist awaiting extradition. All were congenial and likable if you could just forget what you’d read about them. The terrorist was especially soft-spoken.

One of them had stabbed two college students to death in a petty altercation. A devout Christian, he turned down an offer of girlie magazines because he thought it was improper. Another was a hit man who admitted having killed 57 people. He chatted amiably about how he got into his “line of work” because his father had done it, and he’d retired with two cars and a boat so obviously it was a good life. He seemed upset at having been caught, and having “no parole eligibility whatsoever”. It didn’t occur to him that there was anything morally questionable about his profession.

The world’s great atrocities are generally not committed by people who set out with the intent to do evil. On the contrary, they are committed by people who absolutely know they are right.

25 Things You’re Supposed to Believe (Because You’re Just Supposed to Believe, So Shut Up and Don’t Ask Questions)

1. The U.S. is in every way vastly superior to every other nation on earth. And we’re God’s favorite.

2. Everyone deserves his or her financial status, whether rich or poor. If you work hard enough, you’ll be successful, and if you’re poor, you’re just lazy. The only rich people who are just lucky are Hollywood celebrities, who are pampered airheads totally out of touch with the real world. (Except for Chuck Norris.)

3. Giving a pittance in handouts to the poor encourages dependency and is a major burden to taxpayers; giving billions in handouts to the rich encourages industriousness and is good for the economy. If we take care of the rich first, it will trickle down to everyone else.

4. The Confederacy was a noble cause, and the Civil War was inevitable. It was really about states’ rights rather than slavery.

5. The bombing of Japan was necessary to end the war, and it saved more lives than it destroyed.

6. The Democratic Party is the party of tax and spend, and the Republican Party is the party of fiscal restraint.

7. Eating meat makes you strong and healthy.

8. Ronald Reagan won the cold war, and brought about the downfall of the Soviet Union.

9. The Founding Fathers were all Christian, and intended the U.S. to be a Christian nation.

10. Islam is a more violent religion than Christianity.

11. It’s impossible to have a moral compass without religion.

12. It’s easy to read and understand the Bible; the English translations we have are very accurate.

13. Trying to guarantee equality of economic opportunity is the same as trying to guarantee equality of economic achievement; and it’s socialist/ communist/ fascist/ whateverist.

14. Capital punishment deters crime.

15. Outlawing abortion is an effective way to prevent it.

16. Pro-choice is the same as pro-abortion.

17. The Second Amendment gives you the right to own a gun.

18. Firearm regulation (“gun control”) means trying to outlaw guns.

19. Evolution means that humans descended from apes; and it’s only a theory.

20. Secularism means suppression of religious freedom.

21. There is an “invisible hand” guiding the economy, and if we just leave it alone, everything will turn out fine on its own.

22. Regulation of business practices is an unwarranted interference in free enterprise, and is socialist/ communist./ fascist/ whateverist.

23. Sex education just gives kids ideas that they’d never be able to think of otherwise; what really works is to tell kids to just say no.

24. “Political correctness” is a totalitarian mindset that squashes free speech.

25. There is a “liberal” bias to American media.

The Media’s Love Affair With the Tea Party

Quick Quiz: According to an ABC News/ Washington Post survey, what percentage of Americans are active in the Tea Party?
(A.) 10%
(B.) 20%
(C.) 30%
(D.) 40%
The correct answer is (E) 2%. Yes, that’s TWO, with zero zeroes, and not (as Fox “News” might have you believe) 200%.

I know, I know. You thought it was much larger, didn’t you? And certainly you can always quibble about the accuracy of this or any other poll. But the point is that the group is actually much smaller than you’re led to believe by its unceasing media (over)exposure.

Now it should be obvious that such a tiny faction, even if it had an army of the world’s mightiest propagandists at its disposal (which it does), wouldn’t be able to have much of an impact without the cooperation of a fairly large number of relatively normal people. And in fact, according to that same poll, 27% of the American public say they in some way identify with the Tea Party, whatever that means.

What it apparently means is that 27% approve of the group’s CLAIMED objectives, which primarily are (as stated on the Tea Party Patriots website) “fiscal responsibility, limited government and free market(s)”. Well hey, that’s pretty hard to argue with. Just about every politician CLAIMS to have goals similar to these. It’s like running on a platform of mom, apple pie and free oxygen. Only 27% support these goals??? Maybe too many people have listened to what else the teabaggers have said.

They’ve vowed to “take back our country” from the other 98%, and to apply “Second Amendment remedies” if they don’t get their way. They’ve called the president a “Niggar” (sic) and they’ve called him a racist. They’ve called him a Muslim and they’ve called him an atheist. They’ve called him a wimp and they’ve called him a bully. They’ve called him a communist and they’ve called him a Nazi. They’ve called him a foreigner, they’ve called him Hitler reborn, they’ve called him a terrorist sympathizer, they’ve called him the Anti-Christ, they’ve called him the love child of Malcolm X and Elvis. (Sorry, I just made up that last one. Guess I was overcome by the tea fumes myself for a moment.) And oh yes, they’ve called him hateful and divisive.

They’ve claimed he wants to take away our guns and hike up our taxes, that he wants to institute death panels to kill off our seniors, that he wants to destroy America and restrict free speech, and even “outlaw fishing”. (No no no, I did NOT make up that one.) And no, these are not just the actions and utterances of a few isolated elements of the group; even the leaders of the TP have been saying such things. These have included candidates for office, some of whom ran on a pledge to “shut down” the big bad guvmint they were campaigning to be a part of (presumably AFTER making sure it first ordered women to bear the babies of their rapists), but they somehow forgot to pledge they’d shut down the hefty paychecks they’d then be receiving for doing nothing.

Just for good measure, they’ve chanted in unison that “global warming is bullshit.” Now you may say that vilifying science for ideological reasons is an earmark of cult mentality, but these people just can’t be fooled. They know that scientists, including Nobel laureates, are all just a bunch of quacks, and the only place to get reliable info about science is from a trustworthy, totally honest expert like Glenn Beck.

But hey, these must be the sentiments of mainstream America, judging by the election results, right? Haven’t the media been telling us that the TP just pulled of a major revolution of cosmic proportions? Hmmm… Better hold the tea biscuits for a while. There are at least four reasons (which is a thousand by Fox math) to suspect that maybe the revolution was not quite so revolutionary as we’ve been repeatedly told.

First, voters rejected the nuttiest among the nutty of the TP candidates. It’s one thing to say you’ll eliminate Social Security and Medicare; and even if you babble about “socialized medicine” and “death panels” and birtherism, a lot of people might grimace but still vote for you anyway. But when you start advocating “Second Amendment remedies” and equating masturbation with adultery, most folks will start carefully backing away.

Second, California, which has a long tradition of being the crystal ball for how the rest of the nation will look a few years in the future, went as blue as ever if not more so.

Third, the Tea Party candidates really just won races that Republicanoids probably would have won anyway. Can you think of a single exception?

Fourth, and perhaps most significantly, they LOST several races that Republicanoids were clearly expected to win. This includes at least two Senate seats (Nevada and Delaware) where the Democratic candidates was presumed to be thoroughly dead donkey meat before being miraculously revived by someone else’s tea. In other words, it’s probably fair to conclude that because of the Tea Party, the GOP blew a golden opportunity to take the Senate. For what is being hailed by the media as a tea “tsunami”, that’s an awfully weak brew.

Back to that poll once more if we may. It also indicated that as people learn more about the Tea Party, they are more likely to oppose it than to support it. Thus, the TP propagandists have the unenviable task of trying to keep its real objectives concealed. They have had at least a degree of success so far, but it’s going to get harder as time goes on, particularly now that some of these characters are actually going to be governing. Not impossible, mind you, but harder.

It will be interesting to see how the propaganda plays two years from now when the tea has been drained from the cup and we are left with the leaves to read.

Media Narrative, and Spinning the Tea Party Triumph

The term “media narrative” is often used to mean a recurring motif that the media become obsessed with, and seek to superimpose over whatever facts may come their way. Suppose, for instance, that journalists take note that a few high school seniors have painted their noses green. It might then become the media narrative that high school seniors in general paint their noses green. The media will then seek out and report on such students, and more or less ignore those students who have painted their noses other colors.

For the past couple of years, a prominent media narrative has been that the economy is in terrible shape (true enough) and that the president’s only making it worse (not quite true enough). It’s also a media narrative that the president has been steadily losing favor among the public; and therefore the media report all polls that show him taking a nosedive in popularity, while generally ignoring those that show his approval rising – and there have indeed been some.

Which brings us to this messy midterm election we’ve just survived. For months leading up to it, the narrative was that there was an “enthusiasm gap” between Democratite and Republicanoid voters. And you know what? This was one case in which the media narrative was pretty much right on target.

Republcanoids, heavily stoked on tea, were all fired up to vote because they were “angry” at President Obama. But there’s really nothing new about such “anger”. Republicanoids these days are routinely “angry” at any non-Repubicanoid, no matter what he or she does. For the past 30 years or so (roughly since the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan), the Republicanoid narrative has been “This is OUR country, and WE have a divine right to rule it; and if one of THEM gets elected instead, then THEY are stealing OUR country, and WE will take it back.” (And anyone who questions this sentiment is being “arrogant”.) Granted, the “anger” this time was more intense than usual. Democratites often account for this by pointing out that this non-Republicanoid’s skin is darker than usual, but maybe that’s just coincidence. Maybe the “anger” just ripens with age, like cheese. What we do know is that it’s not really rooted in his job performance, because it was turned in his direction as soon as he claimed victory on election night.

In any case, there is a saturation point beyond which more “anger” doesn’t really produce more votes; it just makes the “angry” voters punch their ballots a little harder. In order to have a significant “enthusiasm gap”, there has to be an enthusiastic complacency on the other side. And lo and behold, there was.

Democratities seemed bound and determined to sit it out this time around. They were disgruntled with the president, and with Congress, and their way of showing disgruntlement with their elected representatives is usually to withhold their votes so someone even worse will get elected. (That’ll teach ’em!) If Democratites have a narrative, it might be “Let’s move this firing squad into a circle.”

And what was the reason for this disgruntlement? The same as it ever is: they did not feel that the president had lived up to party expectations. In other words, he was too conservative. And they had plenty of reason to feel this way: for instance, the kowtowing to corporate interests by emasculating the healthcare bill, the support for offshore drilling, the continuing Afghan imbroglio, the opposition to gay marriage, and many other issues made the president look more like a Republicanoid than a Democratite. And to their credit, the media actually reported the disappointment among the president’s supporters because of these stances.

But what a difference a day makes. Within hours of the election outcomes becoming apparent, the old media narrative was abruptly buried, and a new one took its place: the midterms were a slap in the face from the electorate for being “too librul”. (This in spite of the fact that the election results were not quite as severe as projected; the Democratites retained control of the Senate, and Californians seemed not to have received their voting instructions from the media at all.) Right on cue, the punditocracy began to hail the results as an indication that the president needs to “shift to the right”. (His supporters might answer that they’re just saying that because they know that if he moves any farther right, he’ll fall off his seat.)

So, to recap:
1. The media predict certain results, based on the perception that the president is “too conservative”.
2. Those results come to pass, though not to the degree expected.
3. Those results are then touted as proof that the president is “too librul”.

Such are the logic and consistency of spin and media narrative.