Thursday, August 26, 2010

Eags Calls Out The BFI, Faux News, & Glenn Dreck As The Trifecta Of Dumb!

One out of five adults in this country believe the sun revolves around the earth, so how difficult was it to sell the weapons of mass destruction canard to a nation of dunces in 2003? In today's NY Fishwrap, Eags (Timothy Egan) climbs aboard the "How Dumb Can We Be?" train to nowhere. With the unbeatable equivalent of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance, we have The BFI (Big — F-word of your choice — Idiot)-to-Faux News-to-Glenn Dreck. If this is a (fair & balanced) double-play of dumbass doom, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
Building A Nation Of Know-Nothings
By Timothy Egan

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Having shed much of his dignity, core convictions and reputation for straight talk, Senator John McCain won his primary on Tuesday against the flat-earth wing of his party. Now McCain can go search for his lost character, which was last on display late in his 2008 campaign for president.

Remember the moment: a woman with matted hair and a shaky voice rose to express her doubts about Barack Obama. “I have read about him,” she said, “and he’s not — he’s an Arab.”

McCain was quick to knock down the lie. “No, ma’am,” he said, “he’s a decent family man, a citizen.”

That ill-informed woman — her head stuffed with fabrications that could be disproved by a pre-schooler — now makes up a representative third or more of the Republican party. It’s not just that 47 percent of Republicans believe the lie that Obama is a Muslim, or that 27 percent in the party doubt that the president of the United States is a citizen. But fully half of them believe falsely that the big bailout of banks and insurance companies under TARP was enacted by Obama, and not by President Bush.

Take a look at Tuesday night’s box score in the baseball game between New York and Toronto. The Yankees won, 11-5. Now look at the weather summary, showing a high of 71 for New York. The score and temperature are not subject to debate.

Yet a president’s birthday or whether he was even in the White House on the day TARP was passed are apparently open questions. A growing segment of the party poised to take control of Congress has bought into denial of the basic truths of Barack Obama’s life. What’s more, this astonishing level of willful ignorance has come about largely by design, and has been aided by a press afraid to call out the primary architects of the lies.

The Democrats may deserve to lose in November. They have been terrible at trying to explain who they stand for and the larger goal of their governance. But if they lose, it should be because their policies are unpopular or ill-conceived — not because millions of people believe a lie.

In the much-discussed Pew poll reporting the spike in ignorance, those who believe Obama to be Muslim say they got their information from the media. But no reputable news agency — that is, fact-based, one that corrects its errors quickly — has spread such inaccuracies.

So where is this “media?” Two sources, and they are — no surprise here — the usual suspects. The first, of course, is Rush Limbaugh, who claims the largest radio audience in the land among the microphone demagogues, and his word is Biblical among Republicans. A few quick examples of the Limbaugh method:

“Tomorrow is Obama’s birthday — not that we’ve seen any proof of that,” he said on Aug. 3. “They tell us Aug. 4 is the birthday; we haven’t seen any proof of that.”

Of course, there is proof as clear as that baseball box score. Look here,, for starters, one of many places posting Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate.

On the Muslim deception, Limbaugh has sprinkled lie dust all over the place. “Obama says he’s a Christian, but where’s the evidence?” he said on Aug. 19. He has repeatedly called the president “imam Obama,” and said, “I’m just throwing things out there, folks, because people are questioning his Christianity.”

You see how he works. He drops in suggestions, hints, notes that “people are questioning” things. The design is to make Obama un-American. Then he says it’s a tweak, a provocation. He says this as a preemptive way to keep the press from calling him out. And it works; long profiles of Limbaugh have largely gone easy on him.

Once Limbaugh has planted a lie, a prominent politician can pick it up, with little nuance. So, over the weekend, Kim Lehman, one of Iowa’s two Republican National Committee members, went public with doubts on Obama’s Christianity. Of course, she was not condemned by party leaders.

It’s curious, also, that any felon, drug addict, or recovering hedonist can loudly proclaim a sudden embrace of Jesus and be welcomed without doubt by leaders of the religious right. But a thoughtful Christian like Obama is still distrusted.

“I am a devout Christian,” Obama told Christianity Today in 2008. “I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” That’s not enough, apparently, for [the] Reverend [Mr.] Franklin Graham, the partisan son of the great evangelical leader, who said last week that Obama was “born a Muslim because of the religious seed passed on from his father.”

Actually, he was born from two non-practicing parents, and his Kenyan father was absent for all of his upbringing. Obama came to his Christianity like millions of people, through searching and questioning.

Finally, there is Fox News, whose parent company has given $1 million to Republican causes this year but still masquerades as a legitimate source of news. Their chat and opinion programs spread innuendo daily. The founder of Politifact, another nonpartisan referee to the daily rumble, said two of the site’s five most popular items on its Truth-o-meter are corrections of Glenn Beck.

Beck tosses off enough half-truths in a month to keep Politifact working overtime. Of late, he has gone after Michelle Obama, whose vacation in Spain was “just for her and approximately 40 of her friends.” Limbaugh had a similar line, saying the First Lady “is taking 40 of her best friends and leasing 60 rooms at a five-star hotel — paid for by you.”

The White House said Michelle Obama and her daughter Sasha were accompanied by just a few friends — and they paid their own costs. But, wink, wink, the damage is done. He’s Muslim and foreign. She’s living the luxe life on your dime. They don’t even have to mention race. The code words do it for them.

Climate-change denial is a special category all its own. Once on the fringe, dismissal of scientific consensus is now an article of faith among leading Republicans, again taking their cue from Limbaugh and Fox.

It would be nice to dismiss the stupid things that Americans believe as harmless, the price of having such a large, messy democracy. Plenty of hate-filled partisans swore that Abraham Lincoln was a Catholic and Franklin Roosevelt was a Jew. So what if one-in-five believe the sun revolves around the earth, or aren’t sure from which country the United States gained its independence?

But false belief in weapons of mass-destruction led the United States to a trillion-dollar war. And trust in rising home value as a truism as reliable as a sunrise was a major contributor to the catastrophic collapse of the economy. At its worst extreme, a culture of misinformation can produce something like Iran, which is run by a Holocaust denier.

It’s one thing to forget the past, with predictable consequences, as the favorite aphorism goes. But what about those who refuse to comprehend the present? Ω

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan is the author of four other books, in addition to The Worst Hard TimeThe Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest, Lasso the Wind: Away to the New West, Breaking Blue, and The Winemaker's Daughter. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

Copyright © 2010 The New York Times Company

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2010 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Hold The Phones! Only 1 In 5 Adults In The U.S. Is Stupid?

According to international IQ charts, the United States ranks 18th behind other nations in average intellectual levels. At the top is Hong Kong at 107; South Korea, 106; Japan, 105; Taiwan and Singapore, 104; Austria, Germany, Italy and The Netherlands, 102; Sweden and Switzerland at 101; Belgium, China, New Zealand and the United Kingdom at 100; Hungary, Poland and Spain at 99. The Land O'The Free and The Home O'The Stupid clocks in at 98. And on top of that good news, the Lone Star State has a statewide IQ of 97; this cohort consists of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. The lowest state IQ was shared by South Carolina and (surprise, surprise, surprise) Mississippi at 94. The state with the highest IQ gives its citizens the wonderful choice of living free or dying: New Hampshire (104). Is it any wonder that the Dumbos are strongest in the low IQ states? Full disclosure: the last time this blogger sat for an IQ-assessment, he received a letter from the Riverside Publishing Company (provider of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales, Fifth Edition) that his test score indicated that he owed Riverside Publishing 50 points for wasting company time. If this is another (fair & balanced) tale told by idiots, so be it.

[x TNR]
From The Department Of It Just Doesn’t Matter
By John McWhorter

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Who cares whether one in five people think Barack Obama is a Muslim?

Yes, that’s even more people than a couple of years ago, based on results from a Pew Research Center poll last week. But even so, though this misconception is a personal insult to a president many of us think warmly of, does it really matter? In the grand scheme of things?

Because the grand scheme is what should be on our minds, not score-settling and mud-slinging in the present moment. The foot-stomping frustration over the notion of Obama as Muslim—complete with the now-standard verbal footnote “And what would be wrong with it even if he was!”—is giving too much attention to the mere.

The Obama-as-Muslim issue is not the only one of late in which too many who ought to know better are yielding to the temptations of the mere. As it happens, the other Muslim-related issue in the headlines these days, the Ground Zero mosque controversy, is another one of them. Indeed, all arguments against its construction capitulate to the mere, and the mosque—sorry, Center—must be built.

The notion of the mosque in question is actually viscerally unpleasant to me to an extent. I dislike that some Islamists may interpret it as a Muslim victory flag in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. But I know that this sentiment is mere, and cannot inform my considered opinion on the matter. As a nation truly devoted to plurality, we can make no gesture more dignified and even superior than a mosque near Ground Zero, asserting our distinction between Islam and the murdeous perversion of it espoused by a pathetic few.

Will some of the fans of those few see the mosque as a victory flag? We can be sure of it. Is the mosque’s imam Feisal Abdul-Rauf, “moderate” though he is, categorically contemptuous of the terrorist actions of Hamas and like-minded others? Probably not—i.e. he likely wouldn’t pass the stringent test Reuel Marc Gerecht proposed in these pages. But the man is seeking to not entirely alienate more radical Muslims; inevitably he will round off some corners in his public utterances. But that is a matter of present-day cultural politics, while the mosque and the larger statement it makes will live on. As to 9/11 victims’ families opposed to the mosque, are they in an emotional position to dissociate the mosque from fanatic Wahhabism? Understandably not—but as such we cannot use them as counsel on an ecumenical gesture based on the abstraction of overarching principle.

Which brings us back to Obama’s supposedly being a closet Muslim, in that here, too, the overarching issue is what ought to concern us rather than the follies of the moment. Over what, precisely, do they arch, these follies? For one, it’s unclear to me why anyone is surprised that people have a way of believing what they want to believe. Those who think Obama is a Muslim are primarily conservatives, according the poll data, and thus the Muslim canard is linked to a general dislike of the man and/or his policies.

So: people who don’t like Obama are fond of the idea served to them by right-wing media that he is lying about his religion. Shocking indeed! But not, actually—when he also happens to have spent some years of his childhood in a Muslim country and has an Arabic middle name. Indeed, not so long ago there was the publicity over his membership in Jeremiah Wright’s church, and Wright does not exactly go about titling himself Imam. Yet if you are fond neither of Obama (nor of thinking a whole lot at all), you might make a lazy equation between the reverse racism of Wright’s sermons and those of Louis Farrakhan and suppose that a Black Muslim might feel at home at Trinity United in Chicago.

Try to put yourself in the head of someone like this. How likely will that person be dissuaded by some functionary blandly asserting that Obama prays to God daily? After all, that person is as reflexively skeptical of the media as anyone.

But I’d argue that these people simply don’t matter. Most people who think Obama is a Muslim are vanishingly unlikely to vote for him. Even among Independents, how many will vote for Mitt Romney in 2012—or even a Republican congressional candidate this year—out of pique at Obama’s having turned out to be a Muslim, as opposed to his decisions on much more important issues, like the economy?

To wit: what historical imprint will people who think Obama is a Muslim have? Granted, to many of them, “Muslim” is an insult, associated with reductive views of Islam just as much of the opposition to the Ground Zero mosque is. But the insult and the feelings behind it are mere—in current as well as future significance.

In seeking an analogy, it occurred to me that almost certainly, there must have been widespread rumors that Franklin Roosevelt was Jewish. Legions hated him as passionately as many today hate Obama and often even more so. In Roosevelt’s time, the Jewish charge would have been the precise equivalent, in implications, of the Muslim one today.

And wouldn’t you know, it turns out there was exactly such a rumor—which didn’t matter one bit in terms of Roosevelt’s legacy. It was a product of ignorance a long time ago. Today we’re dealing with some more ignorance, a hallmark of this thing called humanity. But today will be a long time ago before we know it. The Obama folks are to be applauded for their relative lack of interest in “combatting” this silly rumor. The rest of the media should follow suit, and Obamaphiles at functions and play dates should find something to share disillusionment about that actually matters.

In fact, ideally Obama would go as far as to do something he has studiously refrained from in public: speaking Indonesian. He spoke it as a child and certainly can hold a conversation in it now (the most authoritative discussion on this is here). He is one of our few presidents to be fluent in a second language: Martin Van Buren was raised in the Netherlands and slipped into Dutch when angry, and Herbert Hoover could speak some Mandarin—and now we have an Indonesian-speaking President.

Almost certainly we never see it because Obama feels that speaking it would fuel the fires of the Muslim rumor. Well, he should care little enough about such foolishness as to go ahead and speak a good paragraph of it with cameras rolling. It would mean that he is comfortable showing America and the world that he spent formative years in a Muslim country, was integrated deeply enough into it to speak its language, and is aware enough of the impotence of the rumor that this makes him a Muslim to feel no need to hide any of this. The clip would roll on assorted chatter sites as further evidence that he is a Muslim—the quintessence of the mere. Meanwhile Obama could continue in the larger, and realer, task of leading the free world. Ω

[John McWhorter now is a lecturer at Columbia University and a contributing editor at City Journal. Previously, he was an associate professor of linguistics at the University of California-Berkeley; McWhorter was educated at Rutgers University, B.A.; New York University, M.A.; and Stanford University, Ph.D. His most recent books are All About the Beat: Why Hip Hop Can't Save Black America (2008) and Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold Story of English (2008).]

Copyright © 2010 The New Republic

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2010 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves