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April 16, 2009

Comments on "And $104,000 to exhume President Taft":
#1 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2009, 10:40 PM:

That's shocking! $2M for Shamwows? I'm telling all my friends.

#2 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2009, 10:41 PM:

...What I don't see in the article is how far these got. Malkin? Beck? Savage? Signs at teabagger rallies?

#3 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 01:44 AM:

Did anyone bother to ask what we were supposed to do with Taft once we dug him up?

#4 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 01:55 AM:

Damn, I drive a '97 Geo, which would be subject to that phony recall. Maybe I'd better go look for product update bulletins!

For a bunch of Reagan worshipers, they seem to have forgotten his "Trust but verify" dictum.

#5 ::: Scott Wyngarden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 02:32 AM:

Exhumed Zombie Taft is clearly going to get back to work breaking up trusts. This time his methods will involve less law, more brain eating.

#6 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 03:08 AM:

I just want to point out this blog post of a Republican who got 'punked'. Because she has written an intelligent and thoughtful reply, and most of the comments on the thread are very much in that vein.

And it's good to be reminded that (a) 'we' can be just a gullible and susceptible to confirmation bias as 'them', and (b) that 'they' are often people a lot like us, rather than like the loud obnoxious jerks with radio/TV shows.

#7 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 03:41 AM:

I don't Twitter. This makes me doubly glad I don't.

You can fool some of the people some of the time. What is more important is that trust is paramount on the Internet. This Daily Kos guy just eroded it. I hope it was worth it, because I doubt it.

#8 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 04:23 AM:

Wyman #7: exactly right. The default setting for humans' BS detectors is off, and it's important that this should be allowed to remain so; otherwise no meaningful interaction would be possible. I think it's all very clever, but not a good thing to do.

#9 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 04:59 AM:

Ditto #7.

There's a real worrying possibility here, though. With US newspapers cutting 5900 journalist jobs in the past 12 months, where are we going to get the rebuttals?

Yes, yes, journalistic independence/political bias/accuracy/laziness. Nevertheless: those folks are in principle paid to investigate stories, and sometimes to call a reality check on them. We badly need a better press corps, yes: and this is a worked example of precisely why.

#10 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 07:23 AM:

Oh, don't be dreary, people. We're looking at a modern right wing that's busy convincing itself that the centrist politician who was recently elected President is:

(1) secretly not a citizen
(2) secretly not actually named "Obama"
(3) secretly planning to confiscate all their guns
(4) secretly planning to eliminate the dollar
(5) secretly a Muslim
(6) secretly a Marxist

Etc etc and also etc. In that context, it's not only interesting that a bunch of them were willing to believe that the stimulus program includes $855,000 to pay off Laura Bush's gambling debts. It's also hilarious.

Yes, of course we should all be conscious that the next person to slip on the banana peel could be us. That doesn't mean we can't laugh at other people's extreme behavior. Laugh and be laughed at, and move on.

I also don't buy that "trust is paramount on the internet." The whole point of this anecdote is that there's nothing magic about the internet, and that if you're in the habit of thinking that stuff confidently asserted in 140-character Twitter posts must be true, you should probably reassess.

What any of this has to do with newspapers, I'm unsure. I don't share some people's belief that something to replace the role of print journalism will inevitably emerge on the net. This seems to me a perfect example of modern Whiggishness, faith in the idea that all change is ultimately progressive. But I do agree with Clay Shirky's observation that what we need isn't newspapers, it's journalism. The "better press corps" that Charlie Stross says we "badly need" isn't something that can only emerge from a particular business model involving newsprint and advertising.

#11 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 07:35 AM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) #3: Isn't it obvious? Give him a bath.

#12 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 07:50 AM:

What strikes me is that so much of the fake stimulus seems to be better-directed than the bank bail-outs. It might be an over-simplified expression of Keynes' thinking, but the more moeny going into the pockets of the people actually digging holes, the better. Better to pay real employees, who will spend the money around the places they work, than feed the absentee employers of Wall Street.

And just what is the difference between Laura Bush's gambling debt and a TV report on the spaghetti harvest? They both have a fundamental silliness that the other fake expenditures do not. So much of the rest seems, from here at least, to be standard US pork-barrel.

#13 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 08:27 AM:

I don't count this as a win unless Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, or Michelle Malkin picked up one of these "facta" and quoted it as real.

#14 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 08:32 AM:

Even if they didn't fall for those specific Tweets, Beck, Limbaugh, and Malkin have shown a willingness to believe anything that helps their causes (see here for a recent Beckian example). If they didn't buy into the Taft or Shamwow lies, it's only because they weren't aware of them.

#15 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 09:12 AM:

Patrick @10

Speaking of a modern right wing and what they believe is a little too general in my opinion. That's kind of like thinking that the modern left wing all believed that the Bush Administration had set up FEMA concentration camps to put them away. I try not to generalize about people. I don't think of either the left or the right as monolithic. I fully expect outraged lefties when someone on the right pulls off a prank like this one.

#16 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 09:45 AM:

"I try not to generalize about people"

Yes, you're very very virtuous and Teresa and I are wicked for finding a prank funny.

#17 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 09:57 AM:

Patrick, who funds the press corps and distributes their output is irrelevant -- as you, I, and Clay Shirky seem to be violently agreeing, what we need is a press corps that works. Right now most of those laid-off journalists aren't working, or they're ending up in PR (which is frequently part of the disease, not the cure).

I'd be happier if this Twitteriffic prank had been called by someone else before the perpetrator stepped forward. Because, y'know, what else do we believe that ain't so?

(By all means call this a sense-of-humour failure on my part. It's just that I don't like having my inputs gamed ... and 140-character messages don't convey irony terribly effectively.)

#18 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 09:58 AM:

I grant you absolution, my child.

:-)

#19 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 10:07 AM:

Wyman, you might want to hold off absolving Patrick until I finish writing my response to #15. Shan't be long.

#20 ::: Mike Penner ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 10:21 AM:

I was kind of excited about the museum for the electric bass guitar.

#21 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 10:26 AM:

It does illustrate something about many on the right, also on the left to some degree. It's a disturbing willingness to simply buy into anything that can be used to help fuel ones rage or reinforce the world view. The whole Echo Chamber effect. Interestingly enough I read something recently that more technically inclined types suffer less from this syndrome. I think I heard it mentioned on "On The Media", did anyone else hear the piece?

#22 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 10:36 AM:

Teresa, I'm a political independent who thinks most politics are absurdist. Please do not take anything I've said wrong. I was trying to lighten the tone. I'm sorry if that fell flat.

#23 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 10:44 AM:

Dittoing everyone who agreed with #7. It seems like the truth never catches up with the lies--partly because the lies are promoted with more glee.

The Kos diarist didn't convince people to doublecheck facts. He only convinced them to watch out for bad people on the other side.

#24 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 10:51 AM:

PNH @10:
Yes, of course we should all be conscious that the next person to slip on the banana peel could be us. That doesn't mean we can't laugh at other people's extreme behavior. Laugh and be laughed at, and move on.

"For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?"
(Mr Bennett, Pride and Prejudice)

#25 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 11:00 AM:

And for those who enjoy a good punking, liberals getting punked by conservatives. I don't remember seeing much about it in liberal blogs last year, but I may've missed it.

#26 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 11:10 AM:

Teresa has asked me to say, could people hold off a moment while she finishes a comment.

#27 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 11:10 AM:

will @25:
Yeah, I didn't see much about it either, neither in the original nor in its debunking.

Must not have been a very successful punking, then, if no one noticed.

#28 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 11:11 AM:

Patrick @ 10... The centrist politician who was recently elected President is secretly a Marxist? I'll believe that when he puts on the funny glasses with the bushy eyebrows.

#29 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 11:30 AM:

Abi @27, depends on what you think of Corrente, firedoglake, wonkette, the diarist at Daily Kos, etc. On the one hand, there weren't 1000 of them--

Hmm. Actually, if you count their readers, there are more than 1000. Either way, it seems to me those are people who have a greater obligation to be sure of their sources than 1000 conservatives who thought they'd found a useful twitterer.

#30 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 11:32 AM:

I think I just stumbled on the key to wing-nut philosophy:

From the comments section on the site, one of the responders on the site apparently posted (as part of a list) that
Truth will set you free
Freedom is not free

If you take this as a syllogism, the conclusion must be:
Truth is not freedom

THAT explains FOX and Rush and all the rest: In order to be free, we must not listen to the truth!

#31 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 11:45 AM:

PNH #16: And there shall be no cakes and ale?

#32 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 11:46 AM:

Hmm. The longer I hold off, the more excited I get for the kick-ass Teresa comment that must be in the offing!

#33 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 11:46 AM:

Pedantic peasant @30 FTW!

#34 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 12:00 PM:

Wyman & Zander, #7-8: "Trust is paramount on the Internet"? "The default setting for human BS detectors is off"? I don't THINK so. Spam, phishing, MMF, pyramid schemes, the Big Lie tactic, con men... the world is full of people who are more than happy to exploit naive trust. Why else do you think "Caveat emptor" has been around since the time of the ancient Romans?

The byword for humans, on the Internet or otherwise, should be "Trust, but verify." When it's not, there's a problem. Of course there are different levels of verification required under different circumstances, but "random feed on Twitter from someone you've never met" doesn't merit the same level of trust as "someone you've known as trustworthy for 20 years".

#35 ::: Keith K ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 12:03 PM:

Speaking of a modern right wing and what they believe is a little too general in my opinion.

Seeing as how they were all out marching around on Wednesday with kooky slogans on signs, not really. The Tea Bagger's signs are a pretty good view of the modern right wing and what they believe, in tiny little bits that signify a core list of much larger issues, which Patrick summarized above.

Now sure, fidelity to that message will drift depending on the individual and how much they are invested in the movement but in order to be part of the modern right wing, you must believe to some degree in at least one of those idiotic articles of faith.

Hence, the mocking.

#36 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 12:03 PM:

will @29:
Congratulations, you have now made your tiresome point, and scored on a moderator. Indeed, you've done so on the mod who has the most patience for you. Happy?

Xopher @32:
I'm afraid I distracted her with a passage of bad prose. I couldn't help it. There were equestrian snakes with the ability to pour Scotch.

I'm sure it will be along eventually.

#37 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 12:09 PM:

As someone who's been playing deep left field for more than 2 generations now, I have to say that I think all politics and all political enthusiasts whether left, right, center, up, or down need a frequent swift kick in the funnybone to keep them from pompous irrelevance. If you can't laugh, you're probably missing some basic parts of the discrimination circuits that let you think critically about the information you receive and the conclusions you draw from it. But I don't think poking fun at good sources reduces their reliability; if anything, it will show how good they really are.

That said, I agree that we're in critically short supply of trustworthy news channels. We never had a lot of them to start with, but we have fewer now than at any point in my lifetime since the McCarthy Era.

#38 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 12:10 PM:

Abi @36, scored on a moderator? If that's a reference, sorry, I don't recognize it. All I was trying to point out is that punking is a game that punkers love, but no one wins.

#39 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 12:10 PM:

abi, equestrian snakes with the ability to pour scotch (presumably not while on horseback) sound like they belong in a Lewis Carrol story.

#40 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 12:11 PM:

Patrick@#10, #4 is especially good because it's *Ron Paul* who's planning to eliminate the dollar. (At least he's talked about it. It's part of his bizarre hatred of the Federal Reserve.)

That the US would lose a huge pile of economic power if the dollar wasn't the main reserve currency, and even more if there wasn't a single integrated currency across the US with correspondingly low transaction costs, doesn't seem to have occurred to him. Seemingly he thinks currency conversion costs nothing.

#41 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 12:13 PM:

Fragano @ 11

Need to find a very large tub.

#42 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 12:17 PM:

#35, Keith K: Just so.

Funny thing about generalizations. There are no human discussions -- none -- in which it's completely impossible to identify some and then complain about them. But there are lots of discussions in which it's kind of plodding to do so.

No human language is as granular as reality. We always generalize. The question is, do the generalizations in question tend to be useful? I think the generalization that "the American right wing has been more prone than usual to say kooky things over the last few months, particularly since November 4, 2008" is a generally useful one, notwithstanding the undoubted existence of civilized, charming, well-behaved people who quote Oakeshott over sherry.

#43 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 12:20 PM:

Amplifying my previous post: our (US and to some extent other First World nations) societal systems, formal and informal, have become very fragile over the last couple of decades. One of the uses of humor is to test systems for that sort of fragility; one reason that humor is not allowed or is seriously censored in most autocratic societies is that it usually shows clearly how fragile the systems are. Any time humor is considered dangerous, the appropriate response is not to limit humor, but to question the robustness and even the legitimacy of the targets of that humor.

#44 ::: Andrew L. ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 12:25 PM:

Given the theme of misplaced trust here, why do I get the feeling that Teresa's really awesome response (to which I'm looking forward as much as any) is being held in the Central Bank of Nigeria and we're all going to have to wire advance processing fees in order to get her to post it?

#45 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 12:26 PM:

PNH #42:

Just to point out that according to Jonah Goldberg Andrew Sullivan, whose doctoral dissertation was on Oakeshott, is no longer a conservative and that the festschrift for Oakeshott was edited by Bikhu Parekh and Preston King (neither of whom is a conservative). Quoting the Tory sage these days, apparently, makes one either a liberal or a socialist.

#46 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 12:29 PM:

abi @#36:

I'm afraid I distracted her with a passage of bad prose. I couldn't help it. There were equestrian snakes with the ability to pour Scotch.

My eagerness to read T's post has now been superseded by my eagerness to read about these snakes.

#47 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 12:29 PM:

will, abi is a moderator here.
You corrected her impression that no one much noticed the punking. That "scored on" her.
It also annoyed her.
She is the moderator here who has the most patience for you.
It was unwise of you to annoy her, even if your facts are correct.
It is not actually necessary to say everything you know every time you know something.
It is generally more agreeable, if one must correct a misapprehension on someone else's part, to do so in gentler verbiage than you employed in #29. For example, you could have said

Actually, several liberal bloggers fell for it, including Corrente, firedoglake, wonkette, and the diarist at Daily Kos. If you count their readers, it's a fair number of people.
It might have been advisable to hold off on the statement about the bloggers' readers until it was called for, as well.

#48 ::: pedantic peasant and the Restless Masses ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 12:29 PM:

We want Teresa!
We want Teresa!
We want Teresa!
...
oops here comes security

#49 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 12:36 PM:

Fragano 45: Just to point out that Jonah Goldberg is a doughy pantload who thinks socialism and national socialism are the same thing, because they have the word 'socialism' in them. I think he supports blowing up members of the British armed forces, because the Republican Party and the Irish Republican Army (pre-peace accord) both have 'Republican' in their name.

Which is a long-winded way of saying "Yeah, but anyone who listens to Jonah Goldberg is a flaming nutbar anyway."

#50 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 12:38 PM:

Wyman Cooke:

I try not to generalize about people.
Really? Not at all? Each one separate, approached upon first acquaintance like a clean slate mounted on the side of a black box? How very interesting! I'd have sworn humans were hardwired for a certain amount of generalization. It argues for a completely new theory of human cognitive heuristics -- in your case, at least. Perhaps you should be studied?

Or perhaps you're not saying what you actually think. I haven't previously noticed you abjuring the practice of generalizing about people. Let's look at what you've said in #15:

Patrick @10

Speaking of a modern right wing and what they believe is a little too general in my opinion.

Excuse me? You've participated in many discussions in which the right wing and their views have been discussed; ditto the left wing, and various factions and fractions thereof. If you find that "too general," you ought not be capable of participating in political discussions -- and yet, you do.

I believe that what you're actually saying there is that you dislike this discussion of the right wing and their views, and you want it to not be happening. That one, I'm afraid, falls under the common-law doctrine of Tough Noogies.

That's kind of like thinking that the modern left wing all believed that the Bush Administration had set up FEMA concentration camps to put them away.
No. It's nothing like that.

Shall we go back to the original post Bamos made on Kos, Twitter + Stimulus = Conservative Stupidity? It's precise and concrete throughout, references real entities and actions, and in general reads like the writeup of an experiment that it is:

Back during the debate for HR 1, I was amazed at how easily conservatives were willing to accept and repeat lies about spending in the stimulus package, even after those provisions had been debunked as fabrications. The $30 million for the salt marsh mouse is a perfect example, and Kagro X documented well over a dozen congressmen repeating the lie.
That's a clear statement of a real problem. The party in question explicitly rejected reality-based thinking when they were riding high, gave 21 different reasons (later 27) for going to war with Iraq, flagrantly lied about WMDs and other evidence supposedly justifying it, lied about damn near everything else, and nominated an attractive know-nothing for VP whose only real expertise was slinging non-reality-based right-wing talking points. Many of their rank and file are hooked on a constant diet of fraudulent tidbits retailed by professional liars like Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, Bill O'Reilly, and Michael Savage.

Since the Republicans have fallen out of power, their ground troops' passion for these bizarre groundless stories has increased to a level I previously wouldn't have thought possible. At this moment, the right-wing blogosphere is in the process of casting out Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs because he flinched in his support for such stories. Meanwhile, it's become evident that many congressional Republicans have lost the habit of checking facts before they make public statements -- or sign on to support a bill.

This is a problem. Historically speaking, it's also a strange new thing in American politics, and well worth examining.

Back to Bamos' writeup:

To test the limits of this phenomenon, I started a parody Twitter account last Thursday, which I called "InTheStimulus", where all the tweets took the format "InTheStimulus is $x million for ______". I went through the followers of Republican Twitter feeds and in turn followed them, all the way up to the limit of 2000. From people following me back, I was able to get 500 followers in less than a day, and 1000 by Sunday morning.

You can read through all the retweets and responses by looking at the Twitter search for "InTheStimulus".

Very clean procedure. The complete raw data is publicly available.

Bamos goes on to describe the first few days of posting about thirty "believable, but unsourced lies," such as "$3 million for replacement tires for 1992-1995 Geo Metros." These received overwhelmingly positive responses, including one from an actual candidate for Congress. Only a couple of people suggested that Bamos cite sources. The one person who called Bamos on it, and said the tweets were false, turned out to be an Obama supporter who'd accidentally been followed and included.

On Monday evening, Bamos started upping the ante by posting considerably less believable assertions, like the project to select a national insect, and the truly inspired "$2 million for Shamwows." (Anyone who doesn't get a giggle out of that one must have a heart of stone.)

Responses continued to be strongly positive. Bamos quotes a selection, then says:

A couple others finally called me out on this one. However, the rate of people unfollowing me was slower than those who were adding me. Even now, my number of followers is going up, even with these tweets:
* $473,000 to Fueled by Ramen, record label for such bands as Fall Out Boy.
* $4 million for Obama bobbleheads.
* $104,000 to exhume President Taft.
* $465 million for massive air conditioners to combat global warming.

And finally,
* $855,000 for the gambling debts Laura Bush incurred on diplomatic trips between 2004-2008.

Conservative anger towards Democrats has really blinded them, to the point of having broken BS detectors.
IMO, that's a restrained and warranted conclusion.

I suggest you abandon the habit of asserting the existence of false parity. "The other side does it too!" only works as a rejoinder if the other side actually does it too. In this case it doesn't, and your suggested parallel isn't.

I try not to generalize about people.
Vide supra.
I don't think of either the left or the right as monolithic.
What's that got to do with the price of tea in China? No one has said they are.
I fully expect outraged lefties --
One so seldom sees a sentence end well that begins in that fashion.

Also, I have to say it: aren't you generalizing pretty wildly here about a great many people?

If you want to make partisan arguments, make them. Put it out in the real world and argue about real things.

-- when someone on the right pulls off a prank like this one.
I'm going to call that an implicit assertion of false parity, because no one on the right can pull off an equivalent maneuver. It's entirely dependent on having a rank and file that's so eager to hear stories that support their seriously reality-deprived worldview that they'll accept and pass on obvious absurdities.

The center and left have their loonies and dunces. That's only to be expected, since a popular political movement that doesn't have room for them isn't very popular. What they don't have is the right's memetic ecology of deliberately cultivated falsehoods.

I'm sorry if you don't like that observation. My best advice is that you stop identifying yourself with that culture of lies. It doesn't mean you have to stop being a conservative. What it does is free you to go on being an honest one.

#51 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 12:46 PM:

I have a real problem with telling whether things are funny. It's a major social handicap.

Somehow, the prank at dKos just didn't tickle my funny bone, and I'm much more impressed with the commenters at It's Only Words 55 than with the Kos commenters. I'm willing to accept that the commentariat at IOW55 is elite while the commentariat at dKos is average.

Does it matter that Laura Bush is still alive, and doesn't need to be burdened with a reputation for a gambling problem and political corruption? I don't know how far the dKos prank will spread-- but that sort of thing isn't reliably debunkable if it does spread.

#52 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 12:48 PM:

Nancy, I doubt that'll be a problem.

#53 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 12:51 PM:

Wyman Cooke @ #7: ... What is more important is that trust is paramount on the Internet.
Zander @ 8: exactly right. The default setting for humans' BS detectors is off, and it's important that this should be allowed to remain so; otherwise no meaningful interaction would be possible.

Guys, let me know when your Internet makes it to 1991 or so.

Mine is currently up to 2009, and blind trust of anything you see on it is freaking idiotic. Specifically trusting what you see on the internet from an anonymous, unidentifiable, and unaccountable stranger is dangerously lunatic; it has been for almost two decades.

In the meanwhile, I have some fresh email this morning announcing that I've won 910,000 euros in the lottery which I'm happy to share with you, and I've also received info on some marvelous business opportunities for you to invest your winnings in. I hope this sad episode hasn't eroded your trust in them.

#54 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 12:59 PM:

Teresa, I'm more of an independent than a conservative. I'm not offended by what you've said. I may not agree with it, or necessarily think you're right, but I'm not offended. I hope I haven't offended you.

What I usually say is that some on the left or right said this or that. Some, not all. I try for precision; I don't always succeed.

#55 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 01:17 PM:

Clifton: I didn't say anything about blind trust. We should be able to trust that a discussion, one not involving Nigerian spam, is honest.

Mai intertubes is up to 2009. Ur putting me back in 1991? Oh noes!

#56 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 01:28 PM:

Wyman, Zander, Nancy, and no doubt others:

It's nice when we can find places where it's safe to turn down our BS detectors; but as Clifton Royston points out, it's been a long time since the open internet was one of those places.

I get nostalgic too for the days when most of the liars you met online were unpaid amateurs. Those days are gone. There's no use wishing you could trust everything you see. Once there were enough people online to make it cost-effective, the professional liars moved in, and they'll never move out unless we do first.

If you don't mind my harping on a favorite theme, this is one of the reasons why moderation matters. We put a lot of work into keeping Making Light clear of astroturfers, cut-and-paste comments, non-interactive agenda-pushers, talking-point clones, habitual bullies, PR hackery, pseudo-viral promo, and linkwhoring. We don't expect everyone to be brilliant or perfect, and we absolutely don't expect them to toe the line on a certain set of beliefs. We just want people taking part in the conversation to be here for the sake of the conversation and the other people in it. If they make mistakes, we just want them to be honest ones.

Is that enough? I know it's not up to the standards of the Golden Age of the Internet, but is it enough to make you feel comfortable here?

#57 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 01:30 PM:

Bruce, #43: Any time humor is considered dangerous, the appropriate response is not to limit humor, but to question the robustness and even the legitimacy of the targets of that humor.

I will argue that there must be a distinction made between "dangerous" and "inappropriate" lest this statement (with which I generally agree) be used as a defense of racism, misogyny, and general bullying disguised as "humor".

#58 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 01:39 PM:

We should be able to trust that a discussion, one not involving Nigerian spam, is honest.

Good golly, Wyman, why?

If someone you've never heard of, using an obviously false name, says something that you've never heard before from any source, is your instant reaction to say, "Okay, sounds good to me"?

The number one reason conmen get believed is because they say something that the mark already believes is true, like, "You are a man of uncommon honesty and discernment," or "Your book is publishable," or "The government is wasting your money," but why is it a good thing to go on to the next step, believing that the bag you're asked to hold really contains $100,000 in cash, or you should send $89 for a routine evaluation fee, or the taxpayers will be asked to pay $104,000 to exhume President Taft, without asking questions?

Crom's crotch, man, don't you shuffle and cut the cards even when you're playing with friends?

#59 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 01:40 PM:

Teresa @ 56... my harping on a favorite theme

This theme?

#61 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 01:46 PM:

I do feel comfortable here. I would like to hope I myself haven't made anyone uncomfortable.

#62 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 01:57 PM:

#56 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden:

I'm not sure what you intended to address in my post.

What's actually leaving me feel uncomfortable here at the moment is Patrick's implication at @10 that anyone who didn't think the dKos thing was funny is "dreary".

Or you at #50 saying that anyone who doesn't get a giggle out of the bit about the Shamwows must have a heart of stone. Until a very modest number of minutes ago, I didn't know what a Shamwow was. The dKos claim was, for all I knew, about a non-existent product with a silly name, and it wasn't especially funny. Maybe if I watch the infomercial on youtube, I'll think it's hilarious. Maybe not.

When I lay it out like this, it does seem pretty minor. Why *should* I care about what you think is funny? Or what you think everyone should think is funny?

On the other hand, part of feeling comfortable is not being told that my emotional reactions (no more voluntary than yours) are unsatisfactory.

#63 ::: hamadryad ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 02:07 PM:

Teresa @ 60

That is so disappointing. I would dearly love to read a story about equestrian snakes who drink scotch. :(

No, I'm not being sarcastic.

#64 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 02:18 PM:

"Patrick's implication at @10 that anyone who didn't think the dKos thing was funny is 'dreary'"

Nonsense. I said that particular people were being dreary. I made no categorical assertion about "anyone who didn't think the dKos thing was funny". Your idea that I "implied" such a thing amounts to pretending to read imaginary invisible ink.

The subject of my comment #10 was the issue raised by some of the previous commenters: is it okay to laugh about stuff like this? I argued that it is. Which has nothing to do with the question of whether any individual finds a particular thing funny, and contrary to what you've just claimed, I said nothing whatsoever to that issue.

I'm sorry if you feel uncomfortable or left out.

#65 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 02:18 PM:

Equestrian scotch-drinking snakes should be worth a short story, at least. With a footnote to a wikipedia article explaining how they train their horses, given the latter's traditional reaction to snakes. Snakey horse-whispering? "ssssstand ssstill, damn your eyesssss!"

#66 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 02:29 PM:

I'd never heard of Shamwow either (perils of not watching TV, I guess). Google brings this up:

Shamwow Guy and the Cannibal Hooker

#67 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 03:20 PM:

What, you haven't been receiving E-mail offers for genuine imitation wows, which look just like the real thing but are much less expensive, available for a short time only, send your credit card info today?

#68 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 03:44 PM:

Teresa @#60: oh, that's lovely.

hamadryad @#63: give the fluorosphere a day or two and perhaps you shall. Poetry, at least, seems likely.

#69 ::: hamadryad ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 03:53 PM:

Mary Dell @ 68 I will keep an eye out for it then. ;)

#70 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 04:27 PM:

Teresa @#60: In the course of reading as much of that ridiculous article as I could stomach, I ran across this fine image:

"the caverns of treasure they believe you sit upon like some great golden goose"

You and Abi are to be commended for getting all the way to the snakes.

My favorite bit was one of the query excerpts the author was, presumably, defending: "imagine a world where Camelot had never existed."

Now I shall have to toddle off to google and twitter more about this #queryfail thing. Silly me, I have only used twitter for seeing who among my friends has a cold or tickets to a show; clearly I'm missing all the good stuff!

#71 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 04:34 PM:

The word "exhume" makes me think of Keynes's solution of burying jars of cash for entrepreneurs to dig up.

#72 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 04:40 PM:

[on the ancillary subject of snakes and agents]

This is Just to Sssssay

I have drunk
the sssscotch
that was in
the ssssadlebag

and which
you were probably
sssssaving
for the occasion of your first
ssssale

(Also I have eaten
the horssses
[you knew I was
a sssssnake when you picked me up])

Forgive me
but it's not like you're ever going to make a ssssale anyway
unless your name is, like,
Sssssteven King

#73 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 04:42 PM:

Bruce Cohen, #3:

Obviously, one would disinter Taft in order to bury him in Grant's Tomb.

(Think of the barroom bets you could win!)

#74 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 04:47 PM:

Mary Dell --- Yessssss!

#75 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 05:15 PM:

Mary Dell @ 72... What? No ssssstud? No ssssstallion?

#76 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 05:25 PM:

Ssssserge @#75:

"...and there never was a hossss like the Tennessssssee Ssssstud"

#77 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 05:38 PM:

You be glad that Time was there to tell us this: now is the time to by fancy clothes, lobster, and a country club membership.

#78 ::: Darth Paradox ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 06:04 PM:

I swear there has to be some sort of analogue to Godwin's Law* that applies on this website. Something like:

"As the number of posts on a Making Light thread increases, the probability of someone writing a topical parody of 'This Is Just To Say' approaches 1."


* The original descriptive formulation, not the common usage that states that the Nazi-invoker loses the argument.

#79 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 06:14 PM:

Larry writes at #21:
The whole Echo Chamber effect. Interestingly enough I read something recently that more technically inclined types suffer less from this syndrome. I think I heard it mentioned on "On The Media", did anyone else hear the piece?

Yes indeed. Transcript and links to audio from On the Media episode of 3 April 2009.

The exchange about echo chambers is extracted from a long interview with Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project. The unedited interview is also available from a link on the page above. To quote:

BROOKE GLADSTONE: So the technology of the Internet will continue to redefine our personal relationships. But what about relationships on a societal scale, between political and religious groups, ethnicities and nations? Lee Rainie says that all the experts consulted by Pew agree that in a few years mobile devices will allow us to stay continuously connected to the Internet, but they're split 50/50 on whether that’s for the good. The optimists say:

LEE RAINIE: That the more we learn, the more we interact, the more that we discover about the world, it improves our lives and it improves the general social condition. We just get to know each other better, and good things happen because of that.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: The pessimists say:

LEE RAINIE: That our propensity to be nasty or propensity to shun those who are not in our in-group or the propensity for people to find just information that agrees with their world view, all of that will be amplified in this new world, and so we will become more isolated, more hard edged in our beliefs, and it will be a state of nature more than it will be Nirvana.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: A worry that’s long plagued media watchers – like me – is the echo chamber phenomenon in which likeminded people huddle in bubbles in the blogosphere where they never have to confront a conflicting opinion or unwelcome fact, where in defense of the dogma of the tribe, moderates are sidelined and extremists exalted.

Rainie conducted a study of people’s politics on the Internet during the 2004 presidential campaign. He found that the echo chamber phenomenon is a byproduct of human nature, not the Internet. The Net merely amplifies what’s worst and best in us all.

LEE RAINIE: One of the surprising things we found in that survey was that those who are the most technologically adept and those who are the most engaged with information actually are not in the echo chamber pattern; they are actually seeking out and finding out more arguments opposed to their views than those who are less technologically adept and less interested in political information.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Wait a minute, wait a minute. You have just blown my mind. [LAUGHS] So what you’re saying is that regardless of their political persuasion, the more comfortable they were in cyberspace, the more likely they were to know views across the spectrum and views other than their own.

LEE RAINIE: Right. They essentially behaved like information omnivores. They were soaking up all kinds of information in all kinds of ways. The people who worry about the echo chamber worry that people are going to narrow their universe, as information becomes more voluminous, that people, just as a coping strategy, will only look at the stuff that agrees with their point of view and only deal with the people who support their ideas.

But, in fact, these omnivores, in particular, the most technologically adept people, are, you know, scanning every horizon they can, and they can't help but bump into stuff that doesn't agree with them.

#80 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 06:30 PM:

Teresa @#50: That one, I'm afraid, falls under the common-law doctrine of Tough Noogies.

I am so stealing that!

#78: Eh, it's just one of our local in-jokes. If you want to sound learned, you can call it a "meme". And of course, we did have a whole thread of those, ("Smulp") not too long ago.


#81 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 06:45 PM:

Or, to put in Cheezburger speak:

Information Omnivore: I is one.

I can haz information?

#82 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 06:46 PM:

Mary Dell, #70: My first reaction to that quote was indeed to flinch. My second was to wonder about the context. Was the author talking about the Arthurian Camelot, or the metaphorical name for the JFK administration? If the latter, it may have been clumsy phrasing, but not as flinch-worthy as the former.

#83 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 06:56 PM:

By the way, President Zack Taylor was actually exhumed, lending an insidious plausibility to InTheStimulus's claim that the same thing is about to happen to Taft.

#84 ::: hamadryad ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 06:57 PM:

Mary Dell @ 72: Sssplendid!

I've been trying to imagine a world in which Camelot never existed and I just can't. Musical theatre without Camelot would be like a snake without scotch.

#85 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 07:13 PM:

hamadryad @ #84, or South Pacific without Bloody Mary.

#86 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 07:31 PM:

abi and xopher, put me with Patrick @64--I didn't mean what you heard. I'm taking the rest of the month off the web to think about how to be clear in ways that are clearly kind.

#87 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 07:34 PM:

Nancy @51, I'm finding the comments at that link funny too, but probably not in the same way you are. Take, for example, Bryan Myrick, who writes:

The hypocrisy of the left never ceases to amaze me. They demonize conservatives as fascists and then use the same tactics as fascist, communist and other totalitarian/authoritarian states have used through history to "manage" their opposition.

Yes, I'm sure we can all recall the shock and horror we felt when the Allies forces liberated the camps full of people who'd been told ridiculous lies about the contents of their national budget. And Solzhenitsyn has written at great and moving length about Stalin's archipelago of Twitter-prank facilities, where the inmates consumed 140-character posts "with relish."

Though, like you, I've not got a whole lot of fondness for the whole anyone without my sense of humor lacks any family of rhetorical forms. Spider Robinson, as I recall, is very fond of ascribing inhumanity to people who don't share his taste in music or favorite beverages or whatever, and it's one of the things that made me give up on his writing a decade or more ago.

#88 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 07:37 PM:

Xopher #49: Ernest Hemingway did an earlier version of the Republican joke in For Whom The Bell Tolls.

#89 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 07:42 PM:

It is pretty funny, and I think "trust but verify" applies on Twitter like nowhere else before. And you have to be an idiot to believe the stuff that guy was dishing out.

On the other hand it is important that the majority of information sources that we use are reasonably trustworthy. Otherwise, what does "verify" even mean? There is a second problem, which is that people aren't very good at correctly interpreting the lack of information, which especially tends to be the case early on.

Concrete example of both: in the run-up to the Iraq War overt propaganda was being produced to support the idea that Iraq possessed WMD and was a threat to the US. This was in newspapers, on TV, and coming from the US executive branch itself. Generally the information from those sources is reasonably reliable. We don't turn on the news and expect that what they're talking about is complete fiction. So that was an example of the subversion of conventional channels of trust. And there was a very limited ability to verify any of this, because news sources with doubts were in the minority, and it was physically impossible to go to Iraq and check for ourselves.

And further, even if you did interpret the news reports as containing a great deal of uncertainty and speculation and dubious evidence, making the correct interpretation was hard. I think a lot of people's thought process went like this:

1. It would be bad if Iraq had WMD.
2. The evidence for that is pretty shaky.
3. So, the chance of them having WMD is 50%. <-- Oops!
4. 50% is pretty high so we should invade.

We are evolved to be paranoid in our thinking and to highly weight dangerous scenarios even with only shaky evidence. No mouse ever died because it misinterpreted a shadow as a hawk swooping on it, and ran for cover. But jumping at shadows is pretty dangerous for humans.

#90 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 07:53 PM:

Where I agree with Wyman is the idea that trust, or the reasonable expectation of being able to trust, is a good thing. What Patrick and Teresa (and Jim and Abi and many others) have done to protect Making Light from scammers and trolls enhances trust. It's a good thing. It's a big part of why the site attracts so many interesting people, why we can have in-depth discussions about important issues, plus the poetry and the puns. This is valuable.

Where I might not fully agree is on the impact of this specific prank. Yes, people trusted the messages they received and then felt they had been used or taken advantage of. But the purpose of the prank, as I understand it, was to demonstrate that people were trusting messages they really shouldn't. It was not directed against them, but against the vast right-wing disinformation machine. Some people have taken the prank as a lesson that they should not trust liberals. It would be too bad if that were the only result, because it would leave us all less able to communicate. I am hoping that at least some may have learned that they should be skeptical of certain kinds of messages, regardless of who they come from. If they can be more discerning, they are less likely to be mistaken or misled, and we would have a better chance of working together.

Blind trust in undeserving leaders does not enhance trust across society as a whole. The first thing a demagogue will tell you is not to trust "the others". That isn't trust, it's gullibility enabling polarization and factionalism. I'm okay if that is diminished.

#91 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 08:31 PM:

Lee @ 57

I agree with you. "Dangerous" referred to "humor", "appropriate" to "response". And when I say "dangerous", I mean to the humorist.

#92 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 08:53 PM:

Will #86: Before you go, I'd just like to apologize (to you and the mods) for snapping at you the other day, over on OT-122:

Yeah, I was a bit annoyed that you clearly hadn't caught up (to my bow-out at #324 there) before replying to a previous night's message -- but a half-smiley doesn't excuse telling someone to "go home" on a third party's blog.

Stepping away from the web occasionally can be a good idea, though -- lately I've been hiking with friends on Fridays, and even taking most of a day away from the keyboard has been quite a tonic.

#93 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 09:01 PM:

Jacob Davies #89: in the run-up to the Iraq War overt propaganda was being produced to support the idea that Iraq possessed WMD and was a threat to the US. [...] So that was an example of the subversion of conventional channels of trust.

Well, ShrubCo was also actively attacking, even trying to silence, anyone who dared to contradict their claims. That goes rather beyond "subverting channels of trust".

#94 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 09:43 PM:

hamadryad @ 84... Musical theatre without Camelot would be like a snake without scotch

Did you mean THIS Camelot?

#95 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 09:43 PM:

hamadryad @ 84... Musical theatre without Camelot would be like a snake without scotch

Did you mean THIS Camelot?

#96 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 10:39 PM:

David Harmon, I'm still feeling guilty about not replying to your very kind comment the other day. I promise you, I did notice it.

#97 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 11:14 PM:

"Wow! This is too good not to be true!"

#98 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 11:26 PM:

Darth Paradox @78: You seem to be saying that the comment is just run of the mill wi-fi, but it's not, see! It's different -- it's so much better -- it deals with real human issues, not just taking sloes in a cold place!

#99 ::: sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2009, 11:49 PM:

Outside of our usual poetry and puns, I have been thinking that some of the 'humor' around here has gotten mean. This is an example. Lying, and then making fun of people when they believe those lies, is a schoolyard prank that wasn't funny then, and I don't find it to be so now. For the bunch of educated, erudite, compassionate people I believe this community to be, this seems juvenile and petty.

Yeah, 'we' won. Why don't we stop gloating and rubbing the other side's face in the mud? I understand making fun of Republicans Inserting Foot Into Mouth- I'll be right there with you (see; teabagging and 2M4M). But some of this has the potential (and some of it goes beyond 'potential) to be angry retribution/retaliation/bullying for 8 years of hell. I thought we were supposed to be better than that. I'm certain we promised to try to leave the bullying behind...

#100 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 12:17 AM:

I know that I am not "better than that". Not nearly enough Republicans are in jail for me to start singing Happy Happy Joy Joy yet.

#101 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 02:03 AM:

Teresa @60 & Mary Dell (applause for 72): pre-Lapsarian snakes – which talked & didn't slither on their bellies – surviving in alternative history, or given dispensation from their relatives' fate by some act or omission, in a traditional "place hidden from the world"? More sinisterly, a modern result of genetic experimentation & meddling, a la Moreau, could explain equine unreaction.

#102 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 02:09 AM:

I am not always better than that.

On the one hand, yes, taking advantage of the gullible is less than kind. On the other, how else to show them they are being that gullible?

Do I think it will work that way? No. Do I think the guy who did it really expected to fool so many people? No. I think he expected to fool some, and be called out by more. He didn't.

Did he harm them? Maybe, but mostly (to generalise), think they will internalise it as one more nastly liberal trick. Honestly, with what I've seen, and heard, the only difference between what we are laughing at, and what we are horrified at is the nature of the lies.

The prank was mostly harmless (I very much doubt anyone who as in favor of the stimulus package was persuaded against it because of this twitter feed). As such it's illustrative.

Now we just need to find a way to make the lie of O'Reilly, Beck, Limbaugh, Malkin, et al plain to them too.

#103 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 02:42 AM:

will @86:
I'm taking the rest of the month off the web to think about how to be clear in ways that are clearly kind.

You sound like Philip Larkin in Talking in Bed:

It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind
Or not untrue and not unkind.

From my read of your character (imperfect, since I see through the web darkly), that's usually a sign to take a break.

#104 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 03:15 AM:

sisuile @99:

Humor often has a mean streak, unfortunately. And we all have our own lines when things stop being funny.

I don't think that the tone here has become notably worse of late; I can think of threads from further back that were at about the same position on the continuum between humorous and hurtful.

I found this mostly funny. No one was physically hurt, lost money, or had their heart broken. I was, however, uncomfortable about the one about Laura Bush (not because it was plausible, but because she is not an elected official).

All that said, I appreciate that you (and Nancy @62) have weighed in. Twitter readers aren't the only ones who need examples and feedback to build a more complete picture of the community they exist in.

#105 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 04:34 AM:

Jacob Davies @89, actually, Dick Cheney advocated military intervention (in general, not Iraq specifically) even if he thought the chance of trouble was as low as one percent.

#106 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 06:16 AM:

Bruce Cohen @3, have him debate inaugural oath flubs with Chief Justice Roberts?

Fragano Ledgister @45, Xopher @49, IMO it's even better that Jonah Goldberg seems to seriously believe that France has such a big welfare state because the French are so submissive to their government (I think he once used the term "sucking up to the throne").

#107 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 07:47 AM:

Personally, I prefer staying away from humor that relies on making a fool out of someone. Yes, some people deserve to be made fools of. The problem is that those who did it to me probably thought I deserved it.

#108 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 07:54 AM:

Mez @#101:

Ooo, I like that explanation. I wonder how they'd develop the habit of drinking scotch?

I did manage to find a picture of a horse-riding snake, but it's not quite what the essay's author intended, I think.

#109 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 08:12 AM:

re 78 -- it had to be done:

This is just to say

I have parodied
that poem
in Making
Light

and which
you were probably
going to
use yourself

forgive me
it was so
obvious and
customary

#110 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 08:13 AM:

Arrrrrgggggh: remove "and" from first line of second stanza!

#111 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 08:35 AM:

Teresa #96: It's OK... you're also much busier than I am, even without microbiological seige.

#112 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 08:56 AM:

Sisule #99: Lying, and then making fun of people when they believe those lies, is a schoolyard prank that wasn't funny then, and I don't find it to be so now.

Speaking as someone who was often on the receiving end of such pranks (as it turned out, I'm "half an Aspie")... I'm still not all that bothered. As Abi points out, this prank was neither vicious nor exploitative.

More, the "payoff" here seems to be a mixture of "heh, gotcha", and "yikes, what won't those folks believe?" This stands in direct contrast to the neocons who were abusing not just our credulity, but their own credibility (and other people's reputations as well), in the direct service of power and profit.

#113 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 09:15 AM:

I don't think trust is any harder to come by on Twitter than anywhere else online. It's simple: I trust people who have a habit of linking. When someone I know is willing to say "here's where I got this" on a regular basis happens not to include a link on a particular occasion, I'm willing to think "yeah, okay, I can ask, or they'll probably add it in a follow-up anyway".

The problem with the right-wing noise machine right now is that it's not just detached from external evidence but actively hostile to it, and yes, that's a threshold beyond which I think a certain amount of pranking is entirely in order. I don't see the dKos diary, or our hosts, or anyone else inclined to favor this think it was a good idea arguing that it should replace to spread the truth in straightforward and effective ways, to challenge the inventors and promulgators of right-wing lies, or to try to reach their followers with grounds for better thinking and feeling. It just does two additional things - demonstrate by example the problems inherent in living that way to an audience that may include people who hadn't thought about it in these terms before, and encourage and provide a break for folks who've been fighting the good fight.

Burnout is, after all, a serious thing. We are not made as a species to be intense and serious all the time - just as we can physically exert ourselves to a point of intensity that'll kill us, so we can think at an intensity that'll ruin our health and then kill us. We have to laugh, to share an amusement with others who are also amused, to pass around some smiles and laughs. We also need to be reminded that although our enemies are as a group crueler, better funded, and much better at forming mobs than we are, they have their vulnerabilities too.

Nancy, I'd like to offer some thoughts on the experience of not sharing a particular set of social clues. It may belong at my LiveJournal, depending on how long it goes, and I've got some other writing chores ahead of it. Will you poke me on Monday or Tuesday if I haven't done it by then, though?

#114 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 09:43 AM:

#109: Have a plum. (And can we find another poem to parody, please? )

#115 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 10:02 AM:

Jon Meltzer @#114: By all means, find another poem and parody it yourself. I thought I was merely getting a ball rolling, but apparently not.

#116 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 10:14 AM:

Bruce Baugh @ 113... The problem with the right-wing noise machine right now is that it's not just detached from external evidence but actively hostile to it

..or, as Mythbuster's Adam Savage used to say:

"I reject your reality and substitute my own."

#117 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 10:22 AM:

My own uneasiness with the Kos thing (which, yes, I admit it, was funny) stems, I think, from a dislike of the idea of deliberately releasing false data into the wild. Stuff like that is a lot easier to turn loose than it is to call back, as H. L. Mencken discovered when he perpetrated the Millard Filmore White House Bath-tub Hoax.

#118 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 10:56 AM:

#64 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden:

Thanks, and apology accepted.

I was in a bad, weird mood yesterday, and over-interpreted what you wrote.

I think part of what was going on was that you were defending your right to be amused (or possibly the appropriateness of your being amused), and I was taking it as "what's wrong with anyone who doesn't join the party?". This emotional stuff is messy-- and part of what was going on was that some recent schadenfreude at my end hadn't gone over well.

me, at 51:

I have a real problem with telling whether things are funny. It's a major social handicap.

I don't know if it registered that this was intended as false modesty. Considering my button business, I actually think I'm unusually good at telling whether things (or at least one-liners) are funny. While I realize that not everyone here knows me socially, some do, and I don't think I'm that bad at getting jokes. Did my claim about having a problem with humor seem implausible to anyone?

#113 ::: Bruce Baugh:

Thanks-- I'm interested in anything you have to say on the subject.

#119 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 11:56 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz (118): Did my claim about having a problem with humor seem implausible to anyone?

Given your button business, yes it did. But I figured you know yourself better than I know you.

#120 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 12:20 PM:

Nancy, for what it's worth, I think there's a significant difference between "I know that others will feel X about this, reliably enough that I can sell it as producing X" and "I feel X about it myself", and that it's perfectly plausible to have one without a lot of the other. Going in either direction, at that.

#121 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 12:28 PM:

Someone tried to hijack my Twitter account this morning.

They didn't try very hard. Twitter's got the usual way of handling people who forget their passwords -- you ask for a new password, and they send verification message to the email address associated with the account. I got such a message around 8:30 this morning. Since I don't actually want to change my password, all I have to do is ignore it, no problem.

I just find it an odd coincidence that someone tries to hijack a Making Light blogger's Twitter account so soon after a Making Light blogger posts approvingly about a Twitter-based political prank. Patrick, Teresa, Jim, Abi, did any of you get one of these messages?

#122 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 01:10 PM:

"Camelot never existed" said the old knight.

"What?" said the boy. "But I heard all the stories - a shining city on the hill, Arthur's seat, the home of the Round Table..."

"Stories? Arthur had plenty of stories. How one day he'd build Camelot, or Tintagel, or Caerleon, or Cardigan, or Carlisle and it would be the great fortress and centre of learning. And then he'd ride off to fight the Saxon invaders or Irish slavers or Frankish raiders and nothing ever got built."

"What about the round table? And the Knights?"

"There was a round table, aye. And every man at it was equal; equal in drunkeness at least. It was that giant cup they'd pass round; no man was allowed to put it down without draining it. The grail they called it. Galahad couldn't hold his ale, but claimed it was the seat that made him fall down, as it had the previous men who'd sat there. But the worst was Lancelot. He was a snake."

"To steal a man's wife is low, and that of your liege lord, lower still..."

"No, he was an actual snake. No legs, forked tongue and scales. He'd ride around on that charger of his, jousting while swigging from a whiskey bottle, sometimes joyful, sometimes dolorous..."

"Dolorous?"

"Aye. Anyway, time's a wasting. Farewell lad."

"Farewell... wait a minute! How did Lancelot open the bottles of whiskey with no hands?"

#123 ::: Bill ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 01:23 PM:

Theresa in #60 and Mary in #72, the reason we brought the Scotch along was in case of snakebite. Unfortunately, the small snake we brought with us was bigger than advertised...

I had interpreted the "world without Camelot" as (if not just someone actively clueless) referring to a world without the whole Arthurian legend memes that have influenced our literature for centuries, not just the recent musical theatre.

#124 ::: Bill ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 01:28 PM:

Wyman #15, I don't know if you remember, but the "FEMA Concentration Camps" meme wasn't something the lefties invented after Bush's botched Katrina response - it was something that the right wingers were talking about during the Clinton years, when Clinton was building up FEMA (as opposed to Bush letting it atrophy and building up Homeland Security.) But once a good paranoid meme is out there, it's available either for the other side to get paranoid about, or for the cynical to accuse the other side of being paranoid about.

#125 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 05:03 PM:

In #118 Nancy writes, quoting herself:

me, at 51:

I have a real problem with telling whether things are funny. It's a major social handicap.

I don't know if it registered that this was intended as false modesty. Considering my button business, I actually think I'm unusually good at telling whether things (or at least one-liners) are funny. While I realize that not everyone here knows me socially, some do, and I don't think I'm that bad at getting jokes. Did my claim about having a problem with humor seem implausible to anyone?

Extremely implausible, knowing what I do about your business. I wasn't sure whether commenting on your rather startling statement was a good idea. I am glad to hear that it was deliberate understatement.

I have always enjoyed your writings online, and never noticed any shortage of wit in them.

#126 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 05:24 PM:

Bill @124

I didn't hear that about it during the Clinton years. I heard it during an Air America program. Now it was a caller and not a personality. The personality, I wish I could remember his name, pooh-poohed the notion. But the meme amazed me at the time.

I may have to give up comments for awhile. The router where I'm at is going wonky.

#127 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 05:50 PM:

I thought the notion of FEMA as an Evil Organization had first appeared in 1998's X-files movie. If cinema and TV are where the Truth comes out, does this mean that the Bureau of Indian Affairs really is funding a group of secret govt operatives, one of whom can turn invisible?

#128 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 06:59 PM:

Avram @ 121 Patrick, Teresa, Jim, Abi, did any of you get one of these messages?

I don't have a Twitter account. Nor do I particularly want to.

#129 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 07:10 PM:

Bill @ 124, Wyman Cooke @ 126, Serge @ 127:

Doesn't the whole "FEMA concentration camps" conspiracy meme really go back to the 1980s, during the Reagan administration? Google for "Rex 84" and you'll get links to various discussions of the idea.

This article suggests that early versions of this story first showed up in a right-wing publication (Spotlight, in 1984), but were then promoted by the (left-wing) Christic Institute.

#130 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2009, 07:36 PM:

Peter Erwin @ 129... It may be that, when the X-files movie came out, someone did some research into really crackpot theories so that they'd come up with one so stupid that it would have even Mulder laughing.

#131 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 01:50 AM:

Something doesn't feel right here, but I'm having trouble articulating it. I feel rather in sympathy with Nancy's comment @ 62.

Pointing out the deliberate placement of banana peels by the "Other Side," such as the posts on astroturfing and on vanity presses, seems inconsistent with PNH @ 10:

Yes, of course we should all be conscious that the next person to slip on the banana peel could be us. That doesn't mean we can't laugh at other people's extreme behavior. Laugh and be laughed at, and move on.

Ought a blog that generally stands for Truth and Right enjoy such schadenfreude pie?

Yes yes, I know, "foolish consistency" and "little minds", still, the sentiment rubs me the wrong way. [from DFB:] Do we need to add fuel to the fire of dumbness that gave us "teabagging"?

Or am I missing a resonance between this prank and, say, Atlanta Nights? In which case, never mind.

#132 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 09:30 AM:

Jon Baker @#131: this blog does stand for truth, per the heading at the top of this page anyway, but it also stands for fraud and folly.

#133 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 09:51 AM:

Mary Dell @ 132... this blog does stand for truth

"Why are you here?"
"I'm here to fight for truth, and justice, and the American way."
"You're gonna end up fighting every elected official in this country!"
"You don't really believe that, Lois."

#134 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 09:53 AM:

Mary Dell:

"Language, truth, fraud, folly..." Yes, but the way it has been carried out has generally been the exposure of fraud & folly in the light of truth. Not the perpetration of fraud & folly for their own sake.

Except in the case of Atlanta Nights, which was a fraud done to expose the truth, and that was in the direct service of Our Hosts' profession.

Here, someone else perpetrated a fraud for the purpose of poking fun at Those Silly Rightists, and we sit back and giggle in schadenfreude. While when Those Silly Rightists perpetrate frauds to support their side, this blog has repeatedly exposed the fraud. I'm just saying, the imbalance feels weird.

#135 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 10:07 AM:

Cf. the recent South Park episode, Eat Pray Queef.

#136 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 10:09 AM:

Jon, 134: IMO the difference is that when the right runs a scam, people die. (See also FEMA, the 2000 election, the War on Some Drugs, etc.)

#137 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 10:44 AM:

TexAnne @ 136: Um, that's a pretty big generalization. Who exactly dies from astroturfing a Congressional or State Legislature campaign, or an issue among voters?

Now, if we draw it more narrowly, such as "When Clinton lied, nobody died," that would sit better, I think.

I might also point out that the Right has long mistrusted FEMA, well before their failure to deal with Katrina. And FEMA was created by ... Pres. Carter in 1979. It was left to the Shrub to make it a division of the Department of Hapless Security [Theatre].

The War on Some Drugs has been perpetuated by administrations of both parties, since Nixon invented the phrase. The original marijuana prohibition was promulgated in 1937, under FDR, a Democrat, and supported by a lie told by Sam Rayburn, a senior Democrat in the House (that the AMA supported prohibition).

Alcohol prohibition, while bill-passage was directed by Andrew Volstead, a Republican, was passed with a Democratic Congress and White House.

Huh, imagine that - Democrats as well as Republicans will act against the common interest, and/or lie to make their case. Right now, the Republicans are riding high after their campaigns of lies almost brought down a potentially great President, and most recently brought our country into great disrepute, and death to over 100,000 dark people, but both sides have had their problems with the truth.

Maybe it has something to do with being Politicians? Rather than being from one side or another?

#138 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 11:30 AM:

Back to Snakes On a Horse for a moment:

One of the commenters has this insightful thing to say:

What really amuses me is the intimation that all literary fiction is “good”. It’s not. Like popular fiction, a small percentage is excellent, some of it is readable, but the majority is boring, self-indulgent drivel.
#139 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 12:02 PM:

Jon Baker @137: When comparing the lies of Democrats and Republicans, it's important to keep in mind that a major bloc of Democrats decamped to the Republican party over civil rights. While it is good to know that both parties have lied at times, it may be more useful to consider that a large number of the lies came from the same people.

#140 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 12:33 PM:

a) How many, though? The Civil Rights party shift was what, 40-60 years ago? From the '48 election through Nixon's "Southern Strategy, basically. How many of the Shrub-era politicians were active in politics that far back? So "same people" is a bit of a stretch. Rummy was just out of college in that era. Hastert was maybe in high school. Etc. Who really was left? Thurmond?

b) This is all a diversion from my discomfort at the imbalance/schadenfreude in the thread.

#141 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 12:46 PM:

The stimulus bill is accessible online, fully searchable, several iterations as it went from proposal to passage. If someone says it contains such and such provision, you can check it easily.

That's why I think the Twitter experiment was fair: every tweet from that account could have been verified/debunked with very little effort. Half an hour's work would have assured anyone following that it could not be trusted.

It's not like a single photoshopped picture. It's not a disinformation campaign deliberately crafted with multiple seed points designed to hoodwink thinking people. And it does highlight how desperately far rightists want to believe that legislation written by Democrats is full of drivel and foolishness and will lead us all to DOOM.

It's not fun to have one's hot air balloon punctured. But the basket's still on the ground; just shut off the fire and step out, already.

#142 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 01:00 PM:

Of course it's verifiable, but if Bamos hadn't admitted it was a hoax, would the ideas actually have spread farther?

From what I've seen, reading HR1, not everything is laid out to the last dollar. For instance, Jindal's bit of misdirection about the high-speed train between Anaheim and LV was just that - not entirely true, but not entirely untrue either. There is money earmarked for high-speed train projects, and there is a project in the planning stages for a high-speed rail link between Anaheim and Vegas, so in saying "It includes ... $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a 'magnetic levitation' line from Las Vegas to Disneyland," he was not being entirely untruthful. The money for high-speed rail projects had not yet been allocated to specific projects.

So who's to say there won't be money for this or that specific project, included under some more general category? Specific projects may not yet be verifiable - people are still submitting grant proposals, IIRC.

#143 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 01:09 PM:

!142
It's the repetition of those lies, with their getting farther and farther from the truth - the last version I heard of that train from Anaheim to Vegas (more likely LA to Vegas, which is a major traffic route), it was being described as 'Disneyland to Mustang Ranch' - without anyone repeating the lie ever seeming to notice that it is one. There was also the 'Pelosi mouse' line, to which there was no truth whatsoever.
The people doing this believe that if they say something loud enough and often enough, it will become the truth, regardless of facts.

#144 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 02:37 PM:

Jon Baker:
if Bamos hadn't admitted it was a hoax, would the ideas actually have spread farther?

But he did publicly reveal it as a hoax. Wondering what might have happened if he hadn't, well, I dunno. Still, the bill is readily available and can be searched, and the originator of the statements has disavowed them. That in itself tends to starve unchecked wild speculation.

When you say:
There is money earmarked for high-speed train projects, and there is a project in the planning stages for a high-speed rail link between Anaheim and Vegas

and then quote Jindahl so:
"It includes ... $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, such as a 'magnetic levitation' line from Las Vegas to Disneyland,"

I don't put those together as demonstrating that Jindahl was not being entirely untruthful.

What I get from that is that Jindahl is lying. Perhaps we just parse things differently.

I cannot verify that Bamos ever said anything about light rail and the stimulus package, btw, much less a specific proposed line between named destinations. Now, if salt marsh mouse restoration starts evolving in the wild, I think you can reasonably speculate on unintended consequences of Bamos' particular experiment.

#145 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 03:23 PM:

Pericat: What?

I didn't see anything in the Kos article about Bamos referring to a light-rail line.

Also, I think the salt-marsh mouse thing Bamos got from Drudge. Or did he feed it to Drudge? In February? That's when the story was in the conservative press.

#146 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 03:54 PM:

Sorry, wrote 'light rail' where I meant 'high speed rail'. And high speed rail was in your comment. Bamos did not tweet anything about rail, but rail was the example you drew from.

And my error on the mouse being one of Bamos' own tweets. All right, then: if one or more of the instances he coined all on his own begin to take on new life in unrelated conversations, that would surprise me, for reasons stated.

#147 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 03:56 PM:

Same group of people. Some of them the same individuals.

#148 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 05:39 PM:

TomB: Exception that proves the rule. Even you only found one more.

The people who turned their coats 40-60 years ago were almost entirely retired/dead by 2003, when BushCo lied our way into Iraq.

I'm also curious if you find the elderly Dixiecrats actually creating the lies, or simply repeating the ones created by the Executive Branch, in the White House, the CIA and the State Department, from 2001 onwards?

Party loyalty counts for a lot - why would Republican stalwarts have expected their President to be lying to them?

#149 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 05:56 PM:

Jon Baker: In spite of the common saying, exceptions don't prove the rule. Exceptions prove that the rule is not universal, and maybe not a rule. Also, why is the biggest political realignment in the last 50+ years of American history an exception?

#150 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: April 19, 2009, 11:31 PM:

You said,
"Same group of people. Some of them the same individuals. "

How can it be the same group of people if the individuals are all dead/retired? The people who were active in 2001-2008 all grew into political maturity AFTER the shift took place. A few old men were left, but they were the exception, which proves (since they were exceptions) the rule that the group that turned their coats, were not the same people who lied us into Iraq. Perhaps their political heirs did, but those heirs were not the ones who realigned, but those who were ALREADY Republicans.

Further, it was not Congress that lied us into war, it was the Executive Branch. So again, not the same group of people - appointees, not elected officials who benefited from the South's shift to the Republican Party.

So it was not the same group, BECAUSE it was 95% not the same individuals, AND BECAUSE it was Executive, not Legislative branch.

#151 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2009, 12:23 AM:

Exceptions Prove the Rule is a misunderstanding of that use of "prove".

The usage is the older one of testing e.g., "The proof of the pudding is in the eating."

So the exceptions test the reliability of the rule, which has gotten lost in the drift of language.

#152 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2009, 12:31 AM:

We don't need to make fun of these people.

Really, we don't

Payoff begins about halfway through, when a guy starts ranting about marketing, and George Soros, and digital TV being a brainwashing mechanism, and a lady in the audience suggests burning books.

#153 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2009, 12:33 AM:

I consider the dKos prank to be, as Jon Baker would put it, a fraud committed to expose the truth. Also, minimally prudent fact-checking would have revealed the falsity of Bamos's "InTheStimulus" assertions. Wingers were not only failing to check this new source's facts; they were enthusiastically passing on Bamos's increasingly bizarre claims.

The prank generated valuable information, whether or not it was funny.

#154 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2009, 12:35 AM:

Um.... the "group" is the Republican Party. I won't say it's the same individuals, but I will argue for a cultural history.

The people who were willing to lie to get their way built a culture around it (and the "Young Republicans" built a culture of dirty tricks and win at any cost; they are big players in the present party), and that culture persists. The people who won't play the game don't get to keep playing with "the big boys", and the culture pepetuates.

Are the Dems who do this? Yes, but I think the worst offenders of the age referred to jumped ship to the republicans, and decided (in part) that revenge on the folks who had betrayed them justified being even more ruthless.

#155 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2009, 12:35 AM:

How can it be the same group of people if the individuals are all dead/retired?

How can you accuse the Democratic party of lying to us when the lies were made by people who are either passed away or are now Republicans?

For that matter, how can you claim to be the same person who posted earlier when so many of the cells in your body have been replaced by new ones?

Further, it was not Congress that lied us into war, it was the Executive Branch.

Oh come on. You know full well it was the Republican Party that lied us into war. They had full ideological unity from top to bottom. Maybe they'd like us to believe it was just the Executive Branch. But that's just another lie. If you think anyone is going accept it, I've got a great toxic asset investment opportunity for you.

#156 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2009, 08:07 AM:

Terry Karney@151

According to snopes.com (specific URL www.snopes.com/language/notthink/exception.asp), the origin of the maxim is actually from early 17th century English law. And derives from a Latin phrase which translates to "The exception confirms the rule in the cases not excepted". Or, in other words, "the fact that certain exceptions are made in a legal document or announcement confirms that the rule is in force in other cases".

As an example (the one given by snopes), a sign that says "Free Parking on Sunday" leads to the conclusion that there is a charge for parking on other days of the week.

#157 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2009, 08:52 AM:

Terry Karney@151, Michael I #156:

In fact, ISTR that the legal precedent was actually inherited from Roman law -- remember, the Brits have a more-or-less continuous legal tradition from when they were part of the Roman Empire.

It's also worth noting that the phrase's meaning has recently bifurcated. The newer meaning applies specifically to scientific reasoning, and works as follows: Given a particular theory that's meant to explain an observed rules, the way to test that theory is to look for some singularity or edge case, where your theory (but not its competitors) predict something different will happen. Being able to predict such (previously) unexpected behavior (while staying true to prior observations) is a big win for a new theory.

For a couple of examples: Newtonian gravity predicts the ability to launch something into orbit around the Earth, which prior theories couldn't do. Similarly, Einsteinian relativity explained (inter alia) subtle oddities in planetary mechanics, such as the exact amount of Mercury's precession. ER also predicted a bunch of new phenomena, notably gravitational bending of light, and divergence from F=ma at speeds commensurable with the speed of light.

#158 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2009, 09:22 AM:

TNH: Yes, it exposed the truth that the Republican rank & file are gullible fools. We knew that, and clearly their leadership knows that. But did it need to be done? What valuable information was gained that we did not know before?

The teabag protests show that prank or no prank, the Rethug leadership will continue to exploit this gullibility. And Kos pointing it out will not teach them; rather, it will be rejected as partisan.

Will this prank affect the rank and file who believe Obama is a secret Muslim, secret Communist, etc. as PNH mentioned above? Was there evidence that Bamos' followers were passing the information along to others? I didn't see that in the Kos diary entry.

Even Bamos only found two results:

There are a couple lessons I like to draw from this. First, conservative activists are crazy and gullible. But second, be careful of what you read and believe on Twitter.

Nothing about actual spread of the lies beyond his 1250 followers. One person passed along the Shamwows to a @teabag stream.

Or is it just another way for us liberals to sit back and laugh at the gullible conservatives? Looking at the comment thread at dKos, that's really all it was. And as such almost pure schadenfreude, it bothered me.

#159 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 20, 2009, 09:40 AM:

David @157. the connection with Roman Law may ber a bit indirect, since English Law doesn't have the same continuous connection as in other parts of Europe. But once the Catholic Church came back to England, you get the same structures of reasoned argument, and when English Law really got running, we had the Norman Kings.

So there's a common set of tools being used by jurists, but it's not an application of Roman Law. Which can make a bit of a problem when the EU becomes involved, since so much of the EU was influenced by Roman-derived law, in particular Napoleon's efforts.

#160 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2009, 02:10 AM:

David Harmon @ 157:
It's also worth noting that the phrase's meaning has recently bifurcated. The newer meaning applies specifically to scientific reasoning, and works as follows: ...

Do you have any references showing this particular usage in a scientific context? It strikes me as extremely odd and unlikely; I've never heard it used that way in any scientific situation or writing I've come across.

(And I'm afraid your explanation doesn't make much sense: what's the "rule" and what's the "exception" in such cases?)

#161 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2009, 10:41 AM:

I've also heard the explanation that "the exception proves the rule" means that the existence of exceptions means that a rule exists.

As in, "Open 9 a.m. to midnight except Sunday" means that "Open 9 a.m. to midnight" is a rule, because the fact that the store isn't open on Sundays is stated as an exception.

Personally, I think that's tortured post-hoc reasoning to explain a mis-reading of the original "The exception proves the rule," where "proves" clearly means "tests." (See also, printers' proofs and proof marks.)

#162 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2009, 10:51 AM:

James Macdonald@161

According to snopes.com the original is a legal maxim (in Latin) from early 17th Century England: Exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis.

Which translated to English is "Exception confirms the rule in the cases not excepted."

Exception proves the rule is thus a shortening of the original.

#163 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2009, 11:40 AM:

Just to back up Nancy's concern here a bit (or, anyway, my angle on her concern):

I will concede that I would have enjoyed the whole InTheStimulus thing more heartily had they left off the business about Laura Bush. Much as I question her taste in husbands, I am squicked by crossing the line into libel, even for the sake of broad parody.

Unless of course she does have a gambling problem.

#164 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2009, 01:32 PM:

Michael: I don't think I tried to pinpoint the origin of "the exception proves the rule" but rather to address the confusion of the present idea that proof = confirms, as opposed to test (which, comes from the use of the past tense:, a thing was proved (as in "proofed armor" when it had passed the test).

I don't think what I said contradicts what the legal maxim states. Those exceptions. Looking at the actual Latin makes me think it's also an issue of translational paralells and linguistic drift.

Prove \Prove\, v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Proved}; p. pr. & vb. n.
{Proving}.] [OE. prover, F. prouver, fr. L. probare to try,
approve, prove, fr. probus good, proper. Cf. {Probable},
{Proof}, {Probe}.]
1. To try or to ascertain by an experiment, or by a test or
standard; to test; as, to prove the strength of gunpowder
or of ordnance; to prove the contents of a vessel by a
standard measure.

It's the root for a number of English words, Probative: Serving to test or try, as well as serving to prove. As a legal doctrine the last doesn't mean it's right, merely that it's not befuddling the issue. i.e. it relates to a question of fact, for the jury to decide.

Related to it is probatio -onis f. [proving , trial, examination; approval, proof, demonstration]., from which we get Probation: (n) probation (a trial period during which your character and abilities are tested to see whetheryou are suitable for work or for membership)
(n) probation (a trial period during which an offender has time to redeem himself or herself)
(n) probation ((law) a way of dealing with offenders without imprisoning them; a defendant found guilty of a crime is released by the court without imprisonment subject to conditions imposed by the court) "probation is part of the sentencing process"

#165 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2009, 01:41 PM:

Jacque, parody and satire are exceptions to the libel laws IIUC. So parody is not libel. IANAL; add grains of salt to taste.

I do see your point, though. I do think that bringing up LB's "gambling debts" was an attempt (fruitless, as it turns out) to get the followers of InTheStimulus to say "Hey, waitaminnit..."

#166 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2009, 01:51 PM:

Xopher: Ah, useful distinction, thank you. Nevertheless, my discomfort stands, but I get your point of trying to ping their credulity meters.

That they don't seem to have any--that's useful information, too. (For several, blood-chilling, values of "useful.")

#167 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2009, 02:00 PM:

Well, yeah, they've been believing Rethuglican lies for years, decades even. Anyone who listens to Rush and says "Ditto!" has no BS detector.

#168 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2009, 02:26 PM:

Well... half my comment was eaten when my system locked up. Sadly it was the half which was more interesting, and took the most work. We'll see how well I can reconstruct it.

I think I could mae a case that one could translate that latin as, "The exceptions put the non-excepted cases to a test" which is to say the normal law is strained by the extistence of the exceptions. Hard to say because legal latin in Englad was a limited use language, that needed case law and explanation in English to really decipher, as no one spoke it.

But the laws (esp. criminal) were so tortured in England that the exception was more often the rule.

The Black acts of the 18th century, and the organic growth of the criminal law; usually in response to things which terrified parliament, was such that hundreds of offenses carried mandatory death sentences, but not one in ten was actually carried out (and I wish I had my copy of Go to "The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People 1770-1868" page
The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English
which is where I first encountered this stuff, a couple of decades ago).

It wasn't until 1808 that judges were allowed to commute sentences (usually to transportation). Before that it was the Gov't's privilege (and, by 1800, pretty much duty) to grant clemency. The rationale was that keeping the possibility of ultimate sanction kept the law dreadful, and the commutation showed the State merciful. Thus keeping people in line through fear, and docile through gratitude.

It didn't really work. When the system started to unravel, in the 1830s, and Peel started to remove some of the capital charges (such as those of the Black Act) because they were never enforced, he tried to keep others, for those reasons. After he left office most of those too were repealed.

And we see the ratio of clemency drops, a lot.

For a quick, and broad take, one can look at:Criminal Law Reform: England - The Unreformed Law

#169 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2009, 04:27 PM:

Peter Erwin #160: I don't have "real" references immediately to hand, because this was from way back in my background reading. However, Wikipedia does give a terser version of the same idea. The strategy I describe is certainly well-known in science (regardless of nomenclature).

The "rule" here is the theory meant to describe a (previously-known) phenomenon. The "exception" is the odd case that shows your explanation and/or equations is more accurate than the simpler rules or theories derived from observation.

To elaborate my first example: people living on Earth's surface can observe that falling objects follow a "falling object rule" (FOR) d=1/2(g*t^2), where d is the distance fallen, and g is the acceleration due to (Earth-surface) gravity. (I neglect initial velocity for brevity.) Noting that this remains true in a mineshaft, one could naively suggest a universal rule, where "everything" moves toward the Earth's center at that rate, obstacles notwithstanding. That's why Ptolemaic and pre-Ptolemaic cosmologies tend to feature "crystal spheres" and the like -- they explain why the sun, moon, stars, etc. don't fall down.

The full equations for Newtonian gravity can be shown to yield the FOR as a local approximation, and their broader range (planetary orbits!) make them appealing -- but that doesn't actually provide evidence that the Newtonian equations are more correct for the everyday case. Actually sending something from one regime to the other, is compelling evidence that the FOR is not the whole story, even for the everyday case. Of course, that's not the only way -- if you can verify that Earth's gravity does in fact drop off according to the inverse-square rule, that would also "unify" the two regimes of Newtonian gravity. Which proof is easier will depend on what equipment you have available....

#170 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2009, 04:40 PM:

It seems the scientific uderstanding is a sort of way to apply Gödel's Theorem.

#171 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2009, 04:50 PM:

So, could $104,000 to exhume President Taft turn out to be money well spent?

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