Remember the Signs

remember-the-signs

I have no intention of voting for Donald Trump on November 28 November 8.

Contain your shock.

I know some people are planning to vote for Trump.  I have no idea why they would want to do such a thing, but they have their unfathomable reasons, and they’re entitled to their vote.  Such is the nature of democracy.

And I know that Trump has said some pretty heinous things – things that could be interpreted as inciting his followers to engage in voter intimidation at the polls.  He has said things that indicate he has no respect for the election process.  He has said things that we should never accept from any citizen, let alone a candidate for the Presidency of the United States.

If you find Trump’s behavior as deplorable as I do, then you must wag your finger at anybody sharing this meme.

And why?  Because this meme is written in such a way that, without much difficulty, a reasonable person could construe it as a threat.  I’m not saying it definitely is a threat, but it’s vague enough to fall into that “potentially menacing” zone.

Remember when Donald Trump suggested that the “Second Amendment people” could do something to halt Hillary Clinton’s imaginary crusade against gun rights?  Remember how Trump’s ardent defenders said that the comment was not meant to be a threat, and that Trump was merely encouraging gun rights advocates to vote against Hillary Clinton?  Even if you accepted that explanation, it must still have stuck somewhere in your intellect that this statement – perhaps by design – carried a threatening undercurrent.

Or maybe you remember when Donald Trump encouraged Russia to engage in cyber-espionage against Hillary Clinton.  Again, Trump’s surrogates and disciples rushed to do damage control, but the fact remains: Trump, by his own words and actions, has painted himself as a man who is willing to sink to the lowest of depths in pursuit of his personal ambitions.

We, the people who seek to block Donald Trump from sitting in the Oval Office, must be better than this.  When Donald Trump and his supporters go low, we must go high.  This meme is not better than Trump.  Although the meme carries no face-value threat, it has an unmistakably aggressive tone.  It is, in essence, the kind of meme that Trump would encourage his supporters to share.  We cannot simultaneously blast everything we hate about Trump while sharing memes like this one.  It smacks of hypocrisy.

If you absolutely must share a meme addressed to Trump supporters, try this one instead:

mymeme


P.S. I know there are some Trump supporters out there just itching to tell me how horrible Clinton is.  Secretary Clinton’s merits as a Presidential candidate are not really the topic of this post.  Be sure to review my Comment/Troll Policy before proceeding; it will be strictly enforced.

Stupidity Is NOT A Social Construct

Hillary's Selling Point

As we rush headlong into the 2016 election season, it should come as no surprise that armchair pundits are cranking out politically-themed memes at an increasing pace.  It probably also comes as no surprise that Stupid Bad Memes has a decidedly leftist slant, which means that I am far more likely to write about memes sneezed out by right-wingers than I am to cover memes created by liberal-minded folks like myself.  Still, I try to be fair.  If I were to discover a left-leaning meme that misconstrued the opposition’s beliefs or political motivations as badly as this meme does, I like to think I would be fair-minded enough to write about it.  It’s just that…well…I haven’t seen such a meme.  I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist, I just haven’t come across it in my Internet travels.  Until I do, we’re stuck talking about this heap of garbage.

Like a Creationist riding an elevator, this meme is wrong on several levels.  Let’s start with the meme’s opening premise: leftists believe gender is just a social construct.  That’s not necessarily true.  For one, the term leftist could be applied to a broad set of political and social philosophies, not all of which are receptive to the idea that gender roles are socially defined.  Furthermore, the idea that gender is a social construct is not exclusively leftist property.  Let’s parse these ideas a bit and see what, if any, overlap exists between them.

A leftist, or left-winger, is a person who generally advocates for social equality.  He or she believes that social hierarchies create a system of advantage vs disadvantage, and that these structures should be reduced or eliminated as much as possible.  Radical leftists favor no less than the complete overhaul of the social and political systems that maintain the status quo.

What does it mean to say that gender is a social construct?  It means that gender roles are influenced as much by social expectations as they are by differences between the biological sexes – if not more so.  Our idea about what is and isn’t appropriate behavior for each gender evolves from our socialization.  This concept is espoused by many modern sociologists and psychologists, regardless of their political leanings.

Do not misunderstand me: I am not saying that all gender differences are socially constructed (although many conservatives falsely present this as the liberal viewpoint), just that the expectations of genders are socially constructed.  Society determines what is appropriate behavior for boys and girls from an early age.  Early gender socialization informs our expectations going forward.  These expectations have no doubt led to the sociopolitical furor surrounding trans men and women, who don’t fit into a rigid gender dichotomy.  Their rising visibility has forced society to deal with that – in many cases painfully.  But that is a conversation for another meme.

Now let’s leap to the meme’s thrilling conclusion: that Hillary Clinton’s only selling point is her gender.  This is an unabashedly sexist viewpoint to take, but it’s hardly unexpected from the kind of person who would intentionally misrepresent gender socialization as an exclusively leftist philosophy.  Now I don’t intend to spend the remainder of this post extolling the virtues of Hillary Clinton, but I think it is short-sighted and mean-spirited to say that her only claim to legitimacy as a Presidential candidate is the fact that she is a cis-woman.  Many pundits, including republicans, have admitted in no uncertain terms that Clinton is at least qualified for the job of POTUS, and some have offered their support.  Those hardly seem like the actions of people who think that Hillary Clinton’s only selling point is her gender.

I can only assume that when the author wrote SAVAGE AF at the bottom of the meme, he was using the historical definition of savage: primitive and uncivilized.  That’s the only appropriate way to describe this meme.

Gun Lies

Hillary v Washington

If you believe this meme, Hillary Clinton is a threat to Americans’ Second Amendment rights.  Thing is, you definitely shouldn’t believe this meme.  Every part of it is a lie.

Let’s start with the alleged statement made by Presidential candidate Clinton.  I deployed my considerable resources in a comprehensive fact-gathering mission to determine the veracity of this quote…I’m just kidding; I Googled it.  And do you know what I found?  If you’re the person who put together this meme, I’m going to guess the answer is no.

I found that the Clinton quote is completely fabricated, according to the urban legend debunking website Snopes.com, who rated this claim false:

…the link included with the above-displayed meme didn’t lead to a page containing Clinton’s purported quote. Additionally, a search of the Des Moines Register‘s archives yielded no results for the phrase in question. In fact, this utterance was absent from all major news publications.

We looked into a handful of memes posted by the “Shocking Hillary Clinton Quotes …” Tumblr page and found that the provided source links never matched up with the purported quotes.

And let’s not just take Snopes’s word for it.  The fact-checking website Politifact.com called this fabricated quote “Pants on Fire”, saying:

Clinton campaigned heavily in Iowa throughout the summer and fall of 2015, and Register reporters and the paper’s editorial board interviewed her several times. But she was not in Iowa on Aug. 8, when she allegedly made the statement. Clinton’s first visit to Iowa in the month of August occurred on Aug. 14, followed by public events on Aug. 15 and Aug. 26.

A review of the Register’s archives show Clinton was neither interviewed nor quoted directly on Aug. 8 or in the days immediately following.

It is well known that Hillary Clinton does support stronger gun control laws, including broader background checks, especially at gun shows.  She also proposes restricting gun sales to domestic abusers and the mentally ill.  At no point, however, has she publicly called for banning all handguns or dismantling the NRA.

Now let’s talk about George Washington, the man who, according to myth, could not tell a lie.  Too bad the author of this meme didn’t follow his example.

Politifact weighs in on this quote as well.  Spoiler alert: it’s made up.  According to Politifact, Edward Lengel, editor-in-chief of the Papers of George Washington project at the University of Virginia, says “there is no evidence that Washington ever wrote or said these words, or any like them.”  Lengel then says that while it’s impossible to prove a negative, he’s quite certain that the quote did not originate from George Washington.

What was Washington’s stance on gun ownership, while we’re on the topic?  In George Washington’s own words (his real words, taken from his first State of the Union address in 1790):

A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite; and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent of others for essential, particularly military, supplies. (emphasis mine)

Washington experts agree that the first President was referring to a trained militia for defending the new nation, and for national self-sufficiency in creating military supplies.  Lengel explains:

The idea of resistance to tyranny being dependent on a nation of gun-wielding individuals acting at their own behest or even on local initiative would have been anathema to Washington.  Indeed, during the (Revolutionary) war he very frequently lamented the crimes carried out by armed civilians or undisciplined militia against their unarmed neighbors. The solution to these crimes, as he understood it, was to increase the power of the government and the army to prevent and punish them — not to put more guns in the hands of civilians.

If you are in favor of looser gun control laws, it seems that George Washington might not be your primary source for inspirational quotes.

I’m not telling you this to sway your vote, by the way.  To paraphrase a meme from long ago, I don’t care if you don’t like Hillary Clinton – or any political candidate – but I do care if the reason why is a lie.  In fact, I mind it very much if any of your political opinions are based on lies.  Do some research, and make sure you know exactly whom and what you are voting for – as much as it is possible to know – when you step into the booth.  You owe your fellow Americans that much.

 

Irrational Vindictiveness

PoliceVindictiveness

No, dispatchers don’t really scan your social media profile, and even if they did, it would be illegal for them to refuse you aid because of your sentiments vis-à-vis having sexual relations with police officers.  This meme is pure fantasy, which raises the question: What twisted, dark, depraved mind fantasizes about a world in which a person can be abandoned to die for exercising his or her Constitutionally-protected freedom of speech on social media?

Apparently, The “Rational” Party does.  I looked up rational in the dictionary, and this meme isn’t it.  This meme is petty and vindictive, and those are its best qualities.

Imagine a scenario where you are angry, frustrated, maybe even fearful enough to write “F*ck the police” on your favorite social media outlet.  What could have driven you to do so?

Some people – the aforementioned “Rational” Party, perhaps – would say that only criminals fear the police, but that’s myopic and wrong.  If you’ve followed the news recently, you know that many people who have committed no crime nevertheless have a valid reason to fear the police.  I’m not only referring to black folks; Hispanics, poor people, and the mentally ill have also born the brunt of unjust police aggression. Any one of a number of disadvantaged minority groups could express their fear, distrust, and disdain for law enforcement officers, and I would understand their position.

There are also the supporters, by which I mean non-minorities who see what’s happening and find it disturbing.  A sympathetic soul – unlike a member of the misnamed “Rational” Party – might also post a derogatory meme about police officers, and by extension, the culture that allows them to be abusive toward minorities.  Our hapless victim might not be a member of a minority group at all; he may simply have had enough.  Who can blame him?  Who can look at the various ills that plague the justice system and not be disgusted to the point of profanity?

Let’s not lose sight of the most important point, though.  Whether the caller was justified in his social media rant or not, the police are not absolved of their responsibility to serve and protect.  That may be the most concerning problem with this meme.   Police officers swear an oath to uphold the law, and that oath does not include the words “unless the guy hates cops.”  Could you imagine if a doctor refused a life-saving procedure because he found out that his patient tweeted about how much he hates doctors?  Of course not!  That doctor would be justifiably booted out of the medical profession!  So what makes it such a funny fantasy to imagine a police officer or dispatcher doing the same thing?

As always when I write about police brutality against minorities, I feel compelled to reassure my readers that I know the problem isn’t endemic to all, or even most police officers.  But there’s a culture of protection for crooked cops that does stain all police officers.  That culture is maintained by people like the “Rational” Party, who, instead of acknowledging the problem and working to fix it, would rather blame those most affected by it.  Seriously.  F*ck the “Rational” Party.

The Right To Stomp

Flag Assault

Noooo, that’s assault, and it’s a crime.

There are a lot of problems here.  Let’s enumerate them, shall we?

  1. This meme is based on a logical error called a non-sequitur (Latin for “does not follow”).  It opens with a premise (“Stomping on the U.S. flag is free and protected speech”), then leaps to a completely non-supported conclusion (“Stomping on a flag-stomper is free and protected speech”) based on nothing more than a superficial similarity between the two acts.  In fact, stomping on any person is probably a crime, regardless of what unsavory act the stompee perpetrated.
  2. It’s disturbing how many people think that violence – or the threat of violence – is an acceptable way of addressing folks they disagree with (and they wonder why gun control advocates push for stronger gun laws).  Toddlers are often told to “use their words” when they feel frustrated, but apparently that advice has lost its grip by the time people acquire the sophisticated vocabulary necessary to heed it.  Adults who create and share memes like this are operating on a preschool level of problem-solving.  Rather than try to sway public opinion with impassioned speeches, thoughtful essays, or protests, their first thought is to come out swinging.  Sounds like somebody needs a time out.
  3. This meme is representative of the kind of hyper-patriotism that is actually, in my opinion, harming our nation.  It’s fine to love the United States, but you should realize that no nation – not even ours – is perfect.  When you hold fast to the idea that the U.S.A. is perfect, you do a disservice to your country.  When you pledge to blindly defend the nation and its symbols, with violence if necessary, against ideological criticism, then you are no longer an asset to your nation.  You are a wart, a blemish.  You are not upholding the ideals of this great nation; you are preventing them from maturing.  By violently squelching unpleasant growing experiences, you become the guy who peaks in high school; so enchanted with the way things are now that he resists moving forward.  Don’t be that guy.  You should seek to address the issues that drove somebody to desecrate the flag, not to punish them for doing so.  Speaking of which…
  4. You ought to champion the rights of people to stomp on the flag, even if you strongly disagree with the message they’re sending.  The First Amendment protects all Americans’ rights to speech, including speech that criticizes the U.S. government, its policies, its citizens, or its flag, symbolic speech, and speech that others find offensive. The Supreme Court has ruled twice (in Texas v. Johnson and in United States v. Eichman) that laws prohibiting flag desecration are unconstitutional.  Despite numerous attempts by Congress to pass a Constitutional amendment that would settle the issue once and for all, none have succeeded.  At least for now, flag desecration (distasteful as it may be) remains a valid and protected way for an individual to express his or her opinion.  You cannot claim to be an American patriot when you are unwilling to tolerate people making full use of the protections offered by the American Constitution.
  5. The name of the website that apparently produced this meme, AmericanStrong.com, is particularly ironic.  Somebody who is so offended by displays of ideological dissent that they must hurt the dissenter is the opposite of strong.  The website should be called AmericanInsecure.com.
  6. To the person who said “I’m prepared to go to jail if I see someone stomping on our flag”: are you prepared to be labeled a terrorist?  Because if you hurt or threaten to hurt somebody in order to intimidate them into espousing your political position, or to punish them for expressing their own, that’s what I’ll call you.  Of course, that’s just my opinion, and you don’t have to agree with it.  My opinion does not come with the threat of violence; only the assertion that the person who stomps an American flag is causing less harm to this nation than the person who stomps the stomper.

Confederate Controversy Confusion

Confederate Flag 1Confederate Flag 2

On June 17, 2015, a 21-year-old man named Dylann Roof shot and killed nine African-American worshipers during a Bible Study at the historically-important Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  According to Roof’s own statements, the mass shooting was racially motivated; in fact, Roof apparently wanted to start a race war.

That Dylann Roof’s actions were motivated by racist bigotry should not be controversial – he told us so in unambiguous language – although, institutional racism being what it is, there are still media elements scrambling to repaint his actions as the symptoms of mental illness.  There are other aspects of the case up for debate, however.  Dylann Roof’s website contains pictures of Roof posing with a Confederate flag – much more on this in a moment – the flag often identified with the rebellion that led to the American Civil War.  The surfacing of Roof’s apparent Confederate sympathies has re-ignited a fierce debate about the lingering presence of Confederate flags in America, especially on government property.

Now before we continue, I would like to make one thing clear: take a look at the right-hand flag in the second meme above.  You’ll hear a lot of people referring to that flag as the Confederate flag, but it was never the official national flag of the Confederate States of America.  The rectangular flag sporting a blue St. Andrew’s Cross emblazoned with white stars, set against a red background, is more reminiscent of the the Second Confederate Navy Jack, used from 1863 to 1865, or the Army of Tennessee Battle Flag.  The Army of Northern Virginia used a similar battle flag, but it was square rather than rectangular.  YouTuber C.G.P. Grey has a video sorting out some of the confusion surrounding the various Confederate flags.

Still, for all the various flags that flew above the government and the armies of the Confederacy, the so-called rebel flag is what most people think of when one says Confederate flag.  Please, spare me the pedantic comments .  I know, okay?  I know.

As of this post, the Confederate battle flag still flies above government property in several states, including monuments to Confederate soldiers.  The horrific murders at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church, and Dylann Roof’s connection to the flag have caused many people to question why state governments are still displaying a symbol that, to many, represents racial hatred and slavery.  Defenders of the flag say that it’s not about hatred, but about Southern pride and heritage.  People who just wish the issue would go away complain about their free speech rights being trampled upon.

Oh, and let’s not forget about the historical revisionists who insist that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery anyway and who want to know why everybody’s getting so upset about it.

I thought it would be helpful – nay, necessary – to take a look at the claims being made or implied by these memes.

  • Claim: Dylann Roof is crazy.

It seems like an open-and-shut case: anybody who would brutally murder nine innocent people must be absolutely crazy; what else could you say about him?  To tell the truth, I don’t buy it.  Crazy is a hard word to define, and even harder to apply to a person.  I submit that the only disease in Dylann Roof’s mind was intense racial hatred.

  • Claim: The Confederate flag is being banned.

This is false.  The word banned implies that you do not have a choice about whether to fly a Confederate flag on your porch, or to adorn your mud-splattered pickup truck with a Confederate flag bumper sticker.  You still have a choice.  You can still get a Confederate flag tattoo on your forehead, and you can still wear your Confederate flag swim trunks.  Nobody is telling you that you cannot adorn every square inch of your body, vehicle, and home with Confederate flags.  You probably shouldn’t do that, but you can if you want to.  Your choice.

(Just so you’re aware: if you do walk around wearing a Confederate flag tee-shirt, other people have the choice to think of you as a racist douchebag.  Freedom all around, right?)

Here’s what’s really happening, alarmist meme maker.  Several state governments are considering voluntarily removing Confederate flags from government property.  They’re doing this because they realize the flag has a long connection with slavery and racism, and it’s upsetting to many of the people they claim to represent.  In an effort to be more inclusive and representative of all Americans, these states are choosing to distance themselves from the flag and its history.

The word banned might be used in connection with many retailers’ decision to stop selling Confederate flag merchandise.  In that sense, corporate headquarters are banning their outlets from selling the flag.  But the flag itself is not banned in America.  That’s an important distinction to make.

  • Claim: Stomping on the American flag shouldn’t be protected speech (or the legality of stomping on the American flag is somehow connected to state governments’ decisions about flying the Confederate flag).

I guess this is a matter of opinion.  I personally have no desire to stomp on the flag, but like Evelyn Beatrice Hall, I feel very strongly that you should have the right.  People who conflate these two issues are missing the point.  Which leads me to my next quibble…

  • Claim: This is a free speech issue.

No it isn’t.  Once again, nobody is saying that you cannot make, purchase, own, or fly a Confederate flag in any of the fifty states.  Your personal rights to expression are not being infringed upon if South Carolina finally decides to pull down the Confederate flag that flies above the State Capitol grounds.  If Wal-Mart will not sell you a Confederate flag suspender thong, I’m sure you can find somebody who will.  Your life will continue, your rights unimpeded, just as before.

Of course, these aren’t the only erroneous claims made during the recent Confederate flag controversy.  If I may, I’d like to address a few other misconceptions you may have encountered in social media or at family gatherings.

  • Claim: The Confederate flag is a symbol of Southern pride, not racism.  Also, the Civil War was about states’ rights and high taxes; it was never about slavery until Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Regardless of the fact that some Southerners have adopted the Confederate flag as a symbol of pride, the claim that it’s not also a racist symbol has never been true.  By its own admission, the Confederacy seceded from the Union in order to protect the institution of slavery.  The CSA committed itself from the outset to the idea that black people were inferior to white people, and that their “natural and normal condition” was to be enslaved to whites.  The Confederate battle flag waved over the army of a nation that considered slavery a “positive good“.

After the Civil War, the Confederate battle flag saw little use until it was resurrected in the 1940’s by a political party that strongly opposed desegregation.  Remind me again how it’s not a racist symbol?

The Tattooed Professor provides tons of links that brilliantly destroy Southern apologists’ arguments about the Civil War, slavery, and hate.  He also demonstrates the futility of engaging said apologists in debate.  If you have a friend or family member who peppers their Facebook wall with pro-Confederate memes, you might direct him to that post.  Don’t expect it to convince him, but at least you’ve introduced him to the truth.

  • Claim: The United States flag flew over a slave-holding nation much longer than the Confederate flag did, but you don’t see people clamoring to take that down.

Well, some people are.  But that’s not the point.

Yes it’s true: the United States of America has committed some horrible atrocities beneath the Stars and Stripes, including a prolonged period of racist slavery.  But while the Confederacy fought and died in defense of that peculiar institution, the United States as a nation matured and moved on.  The CSA is extinct; a testament to a failed philosophy based on racism and hatred.  The United States, for all its warts, lives on.  We’re not perfect – we never have been – but I think we’re trying to be.  Removing a symbol of racism and oppression from all government property would be a good step toward showing we’re committed to never returning to that dark past.

  • Claim: Northerners and black people owned slaves too, you know.

And now they don’t, at least in the United States.  How is this justification for the continued presence of the Confederate flag on government property?

  • Claim: Lincoln started the Civil War and blah blah blah I want the southern states to be justified in everything they’ve ever done: before, during, and after the Civil War.

Yeah, good luck with that.  The rest of us, including your more enlightened Southern peers, will continue to move forward without you.


 

I’ve discovered this website called Twitter.  I don’t know, it probably won’t take off.  Anyway, I’ve created an account there called @stupidbadmemes.  I have no idea what I’ll use it for, but if you’d like to find out along with me, feel free to check me out over there.

Water We Fighting For?

Water Restrictions in California

While this meme aims at a real imbalance that needs to be addressed, it is Stupid and Bad enough to miss the mark.  Allow me to explain.

Recently California Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order to address dwindling water supplies across the state.  Governor Brown’s executive order includes a sweeping set of restrictions on water usage; sweeping, that is, to everybody except the two largest water-using industries in the state of California: agriculture and oil.

Agriculture alone uses 80% of California’s water and produces 69% of the nation’s commercially available fruits and nuts.  The oil industry uses about 2 million gallons of water a day, some of which is used in the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.  One can certainly appreciate why the average citizen, being part of the minority in terms of water usage, bristles at the thought of being asked to make the majority of the sacrifice.  It does smack of unfairness, which is why attention ought to be paid.

But this meme…this is no good.  The data in this meme are mismatched, and therefore incompatible without some number crunching.  Since I’m not a Californian, I’d like to review this meme with a somewhat more objective eye (if I can fairly use that word – objective – to describe what I do in this blog).

Let’s start by assuming the meme is correct in its assertion that it takes 1.6 gallons of water to flush the average Californian commode.  Let’s further assume that every Californian flushes only once per day (and to be honest, it’s probably more than that).  There are about 39 million people living in California, and if we multiply 39 million by 1.6 gallons, we get…carry the five…about 62.4 million gallons of water being used every day to flush toilets.  Over the course of a year, that’s…hang on, let me get out my slide rule…about 23 billion gallons of water!  That’s considerably more water than two of the examples the author picked for his meme.  And remember, I gave everybody in California only one flush per day.  Also, I didn’t account for any water that might be used for showering, cooking, brushing teeth, et cetera.

The author of this meme is trying to make a point, and as I said before, I think it’s a valuable point:  if John Q. Public is going to be restricted in terms of water use, then so should the largest water users in the state.  But the author is going about it the wrong way.  By bizarrely choosing to focus on some specific points in California’s water usage profile, the author has missed the big picture.  This is why memes seldom work for complex topics; in an effort to cram your opinions into a small, digestible meme, you have to gloss over a lot of complexity and thoughtful consideration.  When you do that, you lessen the impact of your arguments, and you make it easier for your critics to dismiss them.  I agree with the author’s implied statement that the water restrictions mandated by Governor Brown’s executive order are lop-sided, but if I didn’t agree, it would only take me 30 seconds with a calculator to determine that I could safely ignore the content of this meme…and its author.

Sergeant Stupid

Goat Humpers

Happy 2nd Birthday to Stupid Bad Memes!  I can’t believe we’ve been around the Sun twice and I’m still doing this!

First, a gripe about spelling: in this context, the word is properly spelled “losing.  Not “loosing”.  It’s actually easier to spell it correctly.  You have to hit one extra keystroke to be wrong.

Here’s a fresh-off-the-griddle racism pancake for you, served with a side of douchebag (the meme’s author, I mean, although apparently actor R. Lee Ermey is a bit of a douchebag as well).  The phrase “goat humper” is a slur often targeted at Arabs.  So, if I read this meme correctly, the delightfully sophisticated author believes our nation is being overrun by Arabs (Actual percentage of Americans that are of Arab descent: about 1%).  He challenges us to “grow a pair” and act like Americans.

With all due respect, angry Drill Sergeant sir, I already have a pair.  My pair and I don’t want to act like the kind of American you’re talking about.  I don’t want to be an angry, bitter bigot, in other words.  Yes, that’s what we’re talking about…bigotry.  Let’s just go ahead and acknowledge it: this meme is one steaming heap of racist, bigoted, hate-filled, spiteful, ugly, paranoid nastiness.

At least the meme’s author acknowledges that his message will be perceived as racist.  I’m not sure whether he deserves credit for that acknowledgement.  He’s not actually owning the racist mantle, but he has essentially declared war on tolerance.

I would love to have a conversation with the person that made this meme, or with somebody that agrees with it, because i have a couple of questions.

  1. Just to make sure: when you say “goat humpers”, are you referring to Arabs?  I want to understand which brand of ignorant, hateful racism you’re spouting.
  2. In what way are we losing (one “O”) the United States of America to Arabs, considering that Arab descendants make up a tiny percentage of Americans in general and have very little representation in local, state, or federal government?  (And before you even say it, no…President Obama is not a Muslim – just in case you’re conflating Muslims with Arabs – nor is he from Kenya.  And his Kenyan heritage on his father’s side does not make him an Arab, since Kenya is not considered an Arab nation.)
  3. In your opinion, what exactly does acting “like Americans” entail?  It sounds like you’re calling for some sort of ethnic genocide.  We’ve done something like that before, and it’s a sad chapter in our nation’s history.  Maybe we could try something new.  You know, something like tolerance and understanding.  We talk about liberty and justice for all – and those are lofty ideals; now let’s stop poisoning the well and strive to implement them in real life.
  4. Do you even care how others might feel about this meme?  Stop and think about it: What if a good, law-abiding Arab American citizen came across this meme on your Facebook wall.  How would it make that person feel?  Does it bother you at all that you might be making other people uncomfortable, perhaps a bit frightened?  Is that what you think a real American should do?   Or is your mind poisoned by the notion that every man is an island who shouldn’t be affected by the words, ideas, and actions of others?  Are you one of those “It’s not my fault if you’re offended” jerks?  Yeah, you are.  I can tell.

Look, if you want to be a jerk, I can’t stop you (obviously).  But I can rebuke you, and I shall.  Because you know what?  Your sentiments are not those of an American patriot, buttercup.  They are the thoughts of a person consumed by bigotry.  It’s not the “goat humpers” that have no place in America; it’s people like you.  I suggest you have a Scroogian turnaround double-quick, or else find a lonely island to inhabit by yourself.  There you can be just as racist and hateful as you want to be, and nobody else has to read or hear about it.  It’s a win-win.

Patently Silly

More Patent Silliness

What is it with conspiracy theorists and US patents?

This meme isn’t going to give you the answers: you have to do your own homework.  We’ll get to that momentarily, but first let’s examine the image.  We see a man in a suit with his head buried in the sand.  We might surmise that this man has discovered a head-sized hold in the sand and is intently examining the hole’s interior, but that’s probably not what the author had in mind.  Burying one’s head in the sand is a metaphor for willfully ignoring signs of potential danger.  It springs from a misconception that ostriches engage in a similar practice when faced with predators.  The threat in this instance must have something to do with the linear clouds crisscrossing the sky above.  Many people will recognize these extruded clouds as airplane contrails, a shortening of condensation trails.  Contrails happen when the hot exhaust of a jet engine, which contains water vapor, meets the super-cold air at high altitudes.  The vapor rapidly condenses into the liquid state, producing reflective clouds.  To the conspiracy-minded, however, these are chemtrails, sprays of chemicals knowingly released by the government for nefarious ends.  Chemtrail theorists argue that chemtrails persist longer than regular contrails, and that they often spread to cover the entire sky.  In fact, the persistence of a contrail has more to do with the humidity of the air in which it was formed, but you’ll never get a chemtrail theorist to believe that.

So what of these mysterious patents?  What danger do they represent?

US Patent 3,813,875 is for a rocket that releases barium vapor into the upper atmosphere for the purpose of creating high-altitude ion clouds.  Well those things certainly sound scary; maybe the government is trying to poison us after all.  But no…further reading of the patent indicates that this invention is intended to increase the efficiency of a technique already used by scientists to study high-altitude wind patterns.  Here’s the idea: scientists launch rockets to high altitudes (but still within Earth’s atmosphere), which then spew out a cloud of super-heated barium ions.  The barium ions produce brilliant colors.  As the ions are blown about by the wind, scientists on the ground can watch and learn how the atmosphere is behaving way up above.

Let’s be clear: barium is potentially harmful to humans, which is why the EPA regulates the amount of barium that can exist in groundwater and other resources that might be consumed by people.  But it’s important to note that barium does not bioaccumulate, meaning that, unlike mercury, barium gets passed out of your body and doesn’t slowly build up to dangerous levels.  Although locally high concentrations of barium have been discovered, these are probably due more to industrial pollution (and in one case, a misunderstanding of units) than to deliberate barium dispersion by shadowy government agencies.  The small amount of barium vaporized by atmospheric study rockets has a minimal impact on local concentrations, since, by design, this barium cloud is strongly scattered and diluted by high-altitude winds before finally settling back to Earth.

US Patent 3,899,144 is for a device that emits titanium dioxide powder for the purpose of scattering light; in other words, it serves to create a more visible contrail.  You might think that a government bent on sickening and/or subjugating its population through the use of sprayed chemicals would try to make their dispersal methods less attention-grabbing, but this invention still finds its way into the “evidence” locker of chemtrail theorists.  This invention was proposed by Donald K. Werle, among others, who also wrote the thrillingly-titled book Further Development of the Rotating Brush Aerosol Seperator.  The text in this patent application is every bit as dense as you might expect, so I turned to other sources to break it down.

Apparently this invention emits a highly-visible trail from the rear of a towed target, according to Mick West writing in Metabunk.org.  See, the military needs flying targets to shoot at, but they can’t shoot at piloted aircraft for hopefully obvious reasons.  Self-powered drones emit smoke via oil heated by the engine, but towed targets don’t have an engine.  This invention is meant to simulate the appearance of a contrail without the necessity of the aircraft part that produces the contrail.

US Patent 5,003,186 is a proposed solution to global warming.  Global warming happens when so-called greenhouse gases – notably carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane – trap infrared radiation close to Earth’s surface and cause the planet’s temperature to rise.  In some ways, this greenhouse effect is good for us; it keeps the planet’s surface warm enough for liquid water to exist.  Too much of a good thing can be harmful, however.  The artificial increase in greenhouse gases caused by human activities is driving the planet’s average temperature even higher.  An increase in the globe’s average surface temperature can lead to potentially devastating effects, including but not limited to: rising sea level and the flooding of coastal communities; more intense and/or frequent tropical storms; disruption of agriculture in many key areas; spread of disease; etc.

This patent claims to forestall the negative consequences of anthropogenic global warming by seeding the atmosphere with metal oxide microparticles that can absorb and re-radiate the trapped infrared radiation into outer space.  It’s an interesting concept, but I’m skeptical that it would actually work.  As far as I know, nobody’s actually using this technique at the moment, which means that the existence of the patent doesn’t establish the existence of chemtrails.

The next time you see a meme that lists a patent number, as if that’s proof of anything, consider these four important points:

  1. Just because a patent has been granted doesn’t mean the invention was ever actually built or used. Ideas can be patented as well.
  2. Just because a patent has been granted doesn’t mean the invention actually works.
  3. Just because a patented invention could be used for something nefarious doesn’t mean it absolutely must be.
  4. Governments that are trying to murder-death-kill their own citizens don’t place the patents for their evil inventions on publicly-accessible websites.

Before we part, let’s discuss House Resolution 2977.  This bill seeks to preserve the peaceful use of outer space for all mankind by preventing the deployment of a space-based weapon system.  Section 7, part 2A defines what is meant by “weapons” and “weapon systems”, and part 2B defines several “exotic” weapon systems, including – ominous chord please – chemtrails!

Is the House of Representatives openly acknowledging the existence of chemtrails as a potential weapon system?  Well, not exactly.  If you read the rest of part 2B, the Resolution also mentions psychotronic weapons (sci-fi devices using electronic transmissions to control human brains), extraterrestrial weapons, and tectonic weapons.  In other words, this particular section of the Resolution deals with what Michio Kaku would call Class I Impossibilities: technologies that don’t currently exist, but which might exist in the next few decades or centuries.  Clearly the authors of HR 2977 were trying to cover all the bases, even those that seemed far-flung.  The inclusion of chemtrails in a bit of Congressional legislation is not an implicit acknowledgement of the reality of chemtrails, only an attempt to say that chemtrails should never be used, in the same way that an alien death ray should never be used, in case we recover one from a crashed spaceship.

If it weren’t so frustrating, I would find it humorous that this meme was labeled by a group that calls themselves the Skeptic Society (a name I believe is intentionally similar to the Skeptics Society & Skeptic Magazine)  A few moments spent on the Skeptic Society’s Facebook page tells me this much: they are not skeptics.  Skeptics are people who reserve judgement on a claim or idea until they have heard the available evidence.  Chemtrail theorists and their ilk are not skeptics, because they’ve already passed judgement and are desperately seeking evidence that justifies their claims.  In many ways, chemtrail theorists are kith and kin with Creationists, Moon Hoax theorists, global warming deniers, flat earthers, 9/11 truthers, Obama birthers, and lots of other people who have voluntarily let go of reality.  These people display a public disdain for the official account of any event or phenomenon.  No, they indefatigably pursue their pet theories – the ones that make them feel smarter than 99% of the population.  Their cry is “Wake up!” which is extremely ironic because it is they – the conspiracy theorists and reality deniers – who have chosen not to see the evidence, unless it can be contorted in such a way as to loosely confirm that which they already believe.  It is they who live in a dream world.  Nothing these people do is suggestive of real scientific skepticism, and it pains me that they assume that mantle.

Wag the Ebola Dog

Ebola Distraction

I realize that facts are anathema to most conspiracy theorists, but let’s inspect them anyway, just in case this meme is…you know…incredibly stupid.

First, Mr Contemplative Chimp: Ebola did not just “up and vanish”.  As of December 9, 2014, Ebola is an ongoing threat in West Africa.  To date, nearly 18,000 people have been infected and more than 6,600 have died in the most widespread Ebola outbreak in history.  I’m sure the people of Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia would be thrilled if Ebola “up and vanished”, but that hasn’t happened.

I suppose you mean that Ebola “up and vanished” in the United States, but that’s not accurate either.  Despite peoples’ concerns, Ebola was never a major threat in the United States.  There were four patients diagnosed with Ebola in the United States at the height of the US “outbreak”, one of whom passed away from the disease.  And Ebola didn’t vanish; healthcare officials aggressively attacked the virus and contained its spread; subsequently, the remaining three patients recovered.  Their cases have been well-documented; it’s not as if they were just swept under the rug, never to be heard from again.

Now I think the US public’s reaction to Ebola was vastly overblown.  There was no need for the 1980’s-AIDS-like panic that sprang up around a very small number of cases, and yes, the media did their part in fanning the flames of unease.  But just because we blew this all out of proportion, that doesn’t mean Ebola was a “Wag the Dog” distraction from some deeper evil.  Sometimes, bad things just happen, and they can happen without government assistance or complicity.

But just for the sake of examining this issue thoroughly – and I know I’ll regret asking this – prithee tell: from what was the Ebola scare meant to distract us?

Mike Shepard contends in an opinion piece written for DC Gazette that Ebola’s foray onto American soil was entirely manufactured.  What evidence does he present in support of this audacious claim, you may justifiably ask?  He claims that if Thomas Duncan had really been carrying Ebola when he boarded a plane in Liberia bound for Dallas, Texas, then all of his traveling companions should have been infected.  After all, Shepard says, airplane passengers breathe recycled air.  One person’s disease is everybody’s disease on an airliner.

Of course Shepard completely ignores the well-established fact that Ebola is not an airborne virus, nor is it possible for a patient to spread the virus until he becomes symptomatic.  Duncan was not yet symptomatic when he boarded the plane to Texas; therefore, it would be extremely unlikely for anybody to catch the virus from him at that time.  The fact that the passengers of Duncan’s flight did not contract Ebola does not diminish the reality of Duncan’s unfortunate demise from that disease.

But Shepard is not content to spew just one egregious piece of misinformation.  Later, he asserts – naturally, without a shred of evidence – that the pseudo-Ebola scare was cooked up by none other than…ominous chord, please…President Barack Obama himself.  In Shepard’s paranoid fever dream, President Obama is plotting a major jihadist war against America.  What was Ebola’s role in all of this?  It was meant to distract the public while Obama sent his lackey John Kerry to smuggle ISIS operatives across our border.

I would understand if you thought I was making this up.  Nobody can be that paranoid, can they?  Nobody can be that blinded by their irrational hatred of President Obama, can they?  Well, read Shepard’s piece and judge for yourself: he really seems to believe his paranoid claptrap.

Okay, Shepard is a nutjob.  Is there anybody more rational that can show how Ebola was a manufactured distraction?

Ingri Cassel, the Director of Vaccination Liberation, thinks she can.  According to a flyer written by Cassel, Ebola isn’t even a naturally-occurring disease.  Cassel believes that the United States invented Ebola, and she has a patent application as “proof”.  (In fact, the CDC holds patents for several microorganisms and viruses, as Snopes explains, but not because it invented them.  The patents are meant to prevent for-profit organizations from patenting the organisms and extorting money from governments for research rights.)  Cassel charges that the government’s intention was to cause an epidemic and then to profit enormously from vaccine sales.  It should come as no surprise to anyone that the director of an organization called Vaccine Liberation takes a dim (and hopelessly misguided) view of all things vaccine-related.  No wonder, then, that Cassel has fallen into the conspiracy-thinking trap.  Anything she doesn’t understand, she adopts as “evidence” for that which she already believes.

Cassel’s contemptible claims do not end there.  She thinks that the ersatz Ebola outbreak is actually a vaccine-implemented sickness being used as an excuse to move troops into West Africa.  And why should the United States or any other country want an excuse to move troops into West Africa?  Why, to steal the region’s newly discovered oil reserves, of course.  It all makes sense, as long as you don’t let pesky things like facts get in your way.

Cassel’s ill-informed paranoid conspiracy theory goes on for almost two pages and draws heavily from the work of other conspiracy theorists.  After reading her flyer, one is filled with sadness – not because we actually live in the bizarro conspiracy-ridden world she suggests, but because she feels compelled to grasp at nonsensical straws to support her dangerous ideology.

I found a few more pages attempting to explain why Ebola is a distraction from something far more sinister, but the opinions of their authors seemed to fall along similar lines.  I haven’t the energy to recap each one, so I’ll conclude by saying this:  The Truth is out there, conspiracy theorists, but you cannot see it unless you’re willing to suspend your pre-formed beliefs.  You think that everybody else is blinded by complacency; I submit that you are blinded by your inflexibility.