An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

August 10, 2010

Conservapedia: Propaganda or Performance Art?

Is there anyone among us who hasn’t gotten a little tipsy at the club, stumbled home safely, and spent an hour or two laughing their nether regions off at Conservapedia?

I didn’t think so.

I know I’m a little late to the party with this story from Talking Points Memo, which relates the tale of Conservapedia founder and second-generation douchebag Andy  Schafly’s inability to remember the difference between general relativity and moral relativism. Whatever, I’m sure even after someone explains the difference to him, he’ll still believe that understanding deep physics leads people away from Jesus (which, ok, there may be some correlation/causation there), and that that means Einstein must have been wrong. Luckily, Conservapedians were able to snark right back, with this mathematically & logically sound bit of self-referencing on their main page:

Counterexamples to the Bible 0
Counterexamples to Evolution 60
IQ of Atheists 0 divided by 60

Oh, snap! Zero divided by 60! That’s gotta be less than regular zero!

But there’s so much more to love about the internet’s most fake encyclopedia. You could go for the obvious, reading the reality-challenged articles on feminism, atheism, gay rights, Obama’s birth certificate, or other far-right hobbyhorses. But the real genius is the care with which they’ve fabricated delusional alternate-universe explanations for  innocent seeming topics.  Did you know that liberals lie about certain species of North American cactus being endangered, so we can up the supply of peyote? (to be fair, they seem to have deleted the entire article on cacti to hide their shame on that one) Or that Dodos might have gone extinct all of their own? Or that the bible proves the existence of unicorns? Unicorns, people. Normally I’d say don’t feed their egos, but this is some seriously worthwhile comedy reading. Just look at today’s top pages:

Most viewed pages
Main Page 8,067,661
Atheism 4,940,958
Homosexuality 3,565,061
Barack Hussein Obama 1,429,644
Wikipedia 924,932
Adolf Hitler 822,325
Sarah Palin 771,927
Liberal 721,863
Examples of Bias in Wikipedia 688,911
John McCain 585,396

Barack Hussein Obama! Adolf Hitler! Sarah Palin! In that order!

Hours of crying while laughing (followed by laughing while crying) are at your fingertips, thanks to the magic of the internet. Welcome to the future.

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August 5, 2010

The Teabagger Style in American Politics

Somewhere out there, for some reason (I think I can blame Thomas Frank for this one) I wound up googling up a copy of The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Originally published in Harper’s Magazine circa 1964, it holds up pretty damn well. It’s like Richard Hofstadter was the Nostradamus of Wingnuts, except literally right. More right than he could have imagined, actually–he describes the proto-wingnuts of American history as decidedly fringe elements even within the right wing. Still, passages like this show a lot of insight:

The paranoid spokesman sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms—he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization. He constantly lives at a turning point. Like religious millenialists he expresses the anxiety of those who are living through the last days and he is sometimes disposed to set a date fort the apocalypse. (“Time is running out,” said Welch in 1951. “Evidence is piling up on many sides and from many sources that October 1952 is the fatal month when Stalin will attack.”)
As a member of the avant-garde who is capable of perceiving the conspiracy before it is fully obvious to an as yet unaroused public, the paranoid is a militant leader. He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated—if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.

***

It is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him. The enemy may be the cosmopolitan intellectual, but the paranoid will outdo him in the apparatus of scholarship, even of pedantry. Secret organizations set up to combat secret organizations give the same flattery. The Ku Klux Klan imitated Catholicism to the point of donning priestly vestments, developing an elaborate ritual and an equally elaborate hierarchy. The John Birch Society emulates Communist cells and quasi-secret operation through “front” groups, and preaches a ruthless prosecution of the ideological war along lines very similar to those it finds in the Communist enemy. Spokesmen of the various fundamentalist anti-Communist “crusades” openly express their admiration for the dedication and discipline the Communist cause calls forth.

Sound familiar? (I have a post brewing somewhere still from when I read What’s the Matter with Kansas? about the mileage the US right has gotten out of choosing impossible goals, and the damage that same tactic has done to the left.)

Really, though, it’s not exactly prescience. Hofstadter was describing the ideological ancestors of today’s paranoid conservatives–constantly, intensely afraid that some enormous but invisible conspiracy of foreigners and the US elite was deliberately…doing something UnAmerican. Sometimes it’s ill-defined, sometimes it’s defined in ridiculous, implausible detail. A lot of the ideas that were floating around in ’64–that the President is a secret capital-C Communist, that the income tax is some sort of socialist plot, that the US is being intentionally invaded by non-anglo Catholic immigrants who want to destroy Our Way of Life*–still have a solid, sometimes growing (or regrowing) following.

It’s a long article by intertube standards, but worth the read. Just replace 2 of every 3 references to ‘communists’ with ‘terrorists,’ and you could write your own AM radio show.

*if you’re feeling strong-stomached, google ‘Aztlán conspiracy’ and look at some of the wingnutty top hits.

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August 2, 2010

What Does an Illegal Immigrant Look Like?

The other day, I was out drinking with some friends, when some regrettable dude decided to hit on my friend Lauren. Between his fumbling attempts to tell her she must want to hear she looks younger than she is, being too drunk to realize she was brutally mocking him, and some crash-and-burn I’ll get to in a sec, it was bad. I have never seen anyone try so hard to impress another human, and come away looking so dramatically unfuckable. I’m surprised she didn’t brand ‘Douchebag’ into his forehead to keep other people from hooking up wit him. Seriously.

The nail in the coffin was when he decided to fill a lull in the conversation by asking what everyone thought of the then-new Arizona SB 1070. When faced with a unanimous angry face, dude perked up. ‘Y’know’ he said ‘I think it’s great.’ We were then treated to a looooong diatribe about how, since the law prohibits racial profiling, obviously the cops would never racially profile. Instead, they will just use their immigration-status-sensing superpowers to ‘just know what they [undocumented immigrants] look like.’

Now, a good chunk of my family is Scandinavian–my uncle, some cousins, and a few people of more convoluted relationship to me immigrated to the US from one of the more glacial, fjord-laden parts of the world. My uncle lives in a small Appalachian town where most of his friends don’t even try to pronounce his name correctly. He has a Sweedish Chef-meets-Arnold Schwarzenegger accent, wears black socks with birkenstocks, and greeted the rumors that Obama would socialize medicine with a smug ‘About time, ya?’ Dude is clearly not from around those parts.

But no one ever questions his right to be in the US.

People sometimes think my uncle is a tourist. They ask him how long he’s been in the US, how he likes it here, and so on. But they don’t think of him as an immigrant, his blue-eyed face isn’t the one people have in mind when they say we need a ‘solution’ for immigration. He’s just some guy who happens to be from somewhere else originally. I doubt it ever occurs to anyone that he could possibly be undocumented, even though the difference is a paperwork slip away. Strangers never harass him for his documents or ask what he’s doing here. When he gets a speeding ticket,  goes to the hospital, or waits outside while his wife goes to vote, his immigration status never comes up. No one ever questions his right to be in this country.

I told this whole rambling story to Mt Strikeout.  How I’m sure that whole side of my family could run every stoplight in Arizona without a single cop pulling them over and drawling ‘Y’all are awful sunburned to be from around here. You got your green cards?’ About how no one ever asks to see my uncles papers even though he’s so clearly an immigrant.

‘Sure,’ he said triumphantly, ‘But does he look like an illegal immigrant?’

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July 16, 2010

Libertarians: Overt Douchbags

Today’s post is brought to you, belatedly, by this lovely post over (link should work now) at Gin and Tacos and my thoughts thereon. Long story short: the post is an, er, scathing critique of James Sherk’s (of the Heritage Foundation*) recent appearance on Hardball. (note: much of the audio on the latter half of the video is ruined by Matthews laughing his ass off the soundstage) Sherk asserts that, basically, the Science of Economics Proves having unemployment insurance discourages people from sucking it up and getting a job, any job, ASAP–even if that means moving to where the jobs are, or taking something out of your field and way below your former pay grade. Or all three. And, we are to believe, that’s a Bad Thing, because unemployed people are using Your Tax Dollars to hold out for jobs like their old ones, rather than accepting that the invisible hand of the marketplace has booger-flicked them out of the middle class.

One thing I’ve always wondered: Isn’t it maybe better, long term national economic policy-wise, for the abruptly unemployed to have a chance to hold out for whatever their definition of a ‘good job’ is? Having someone who’s highly trained–whether they have a Ph.D or 20 years experience as an underwater welder–take work way out of their field puts their skills to waste. I’m guessing Sherk would say they’re welcome to keep looking for another teaching or welding job while they flip burgers, but taking that minimum wage job is bound to slow down their job search waaaay down–it’s not like their new boss has any incentive to let a newly-trained employee leave, and they’re not under any mandate to give employees time off to go to interviews. I’m not just speculating, this was been a problem for me when I was in food service and looking to get out. The longer you’re out of a profession, the harder it gets to get back in. At 6 months, you’re an unemployed welder. At 2 years, you’re a former welder.

And for people who don’t have the education or experience to get out of shitty jobs, a sudden influx of formerly-white collar workers is bad, bad news. To take this to a bit of an extreme, consider this: when the last 5 people a McDonald’s hired have a BA or an MBA, there’s a good chance HR will start skipping over applicants sporting a GED. You can see this in places with chronic over education and high employment–isolated college towns and Portland, OR come to mind.

The percentage of Americans with college degrees has meandered ever-upward over the last few decades, and with it, the minimum qualifications for many jobs have gone up incrementally too. Office drone & secretarial type listings often demand a bachelor’s degree rather than a HS or associate’s degree, unskilled workers are expected to have graduated high school, and skilled labor has slowly swung from on-the-job training toward a tech school first, employment later model. I think this downturn will push that trend a little further, as the unemployed people with MBAs settle into office jobs a tier or two below their last position, the people with undergrad degrees go down another notch or two, and so on. People who are highly educated aren’t going to be unemployed forever, they’ll just wind up pushing everyone below them down a notch.

Human-interest stories about the crappy economy always focus on the former banker who now works as a gas station attendant. But what about the guy who can’t get a job as a gas station attendant because all those jobs are now going to college graduates?

I’m guessing Sherk hasn’t had much experience being unemployed without good prospects. So he sat down and thought real hard about it, read some intro economics texts that say things will all work out so long as everyone makes ‘rational’ choices and people have perfect information. And using his Rational Power, he deducted people should go where there are jobs.

But he obviously didn’t talk to anyone in the ‘real world,’ (or even in the rural poverty hot zones of Real America (TM)) or he’d have noticed that he’s full of shit. For starters, there’s no where in the US right now where business is booming and jobs are plentiful. And if he’d talked to anyone actually dealing with unemployment,* he’d know that the whole ‘rational decision’ model isn’t what’s actually sensible for people to do. In a model, moving for a crappy job is better than staying put with no job. But in practice, there are all kinds of costs–the cost of moving, of giving up your friends, family, professional network, etc. If only one person in a couple is unemployed, moving just to see if a state with 7% unemployment is better than one with 10% unemployment is especially stupid. I could go on, but I’m sure everyone gets the point.

*Yeah, I know, the Heritage Foundation fancies itself more conservative than libertarian, but in this case, the economic argument is pure free-market freebasing, which both teams support but libertarians do so with less social finesse. Sherk’s fuck-you-and-your-kids attitude is a stellar example of that kind of malicious social cluelessness. So there.

**At one point he cites his well-off unemployed friends, who he doesn’t seem to have talked to at all, and who are exempt from his admonitions to take jobs they currently consider beneath them.

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