Wirtism? Summer political crazies explained in history

August 30, 2009

Santayana’s Ghost has been restless these past two months.  Now we know why:  Summer 2009 replayed summer 1934.

Micheal Hiltzik explained it in a column in the Los Angeles Times:

To me they’re merely the latest examples of a phenomenon that might be called Wirtism.

If you find the term unfamiliar, that’s because I just coined it to honor the memory of William A. Wirt. Wirt’s day in the sun came back in 1934, when the obscure Midwestern blowhard placed himself at the center of a political maelstrom by “discovering” a plot by members of Franklin Roosevelt’s Brain Trust to launch a Bolshevik takeover of the United States.

That Wirt’s yarn was transparently absurd didn’t keep it from being taken seriously on the front pages of newspapers coast to coast, including the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. He gave speeches, wrote a book and went to Washington to give personal testimony at a standing-room-only congressional hearing.

If that reminds you of the overly solicitous treatment given by the press, cable news programs and Republican office holders to purveyors of such lurid claptrap as the Obama birth certificate story or the fantasy of healthcare “death panels,” now you know why it pays to study history.

How did it end?  Not soon enough, or well enough, but it ended:

“Roosevelt is only the Kerensky of this revolution,” he quoted them. (Kerensky was the provisional leader of Russia just before the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.) The hoodwinked president would be permitted to stay in office, they said, “until we are ready to supplant him with a Stalin.”

Those words caused an immediate sensation. Wirt hedged on naming the treasonous “Brain Trusters” — which only intensified the public mania. Into the vacuum of information poured supposition masquerading as fact (certainly a familiar phenomenon today). This newspaper, then a pillar of Republicanism, gave Wirt the benefit of the doubt on the grounds that “the activities of the ‘brain trust’ during the past year fit neatly into the Communistic scheme” he described — a reminder that the most potent fabrications are those that confirm what the listener wants to believe.

For that’s what Wirt’s story was — a fabrication. Hauled before Congress, he said he heard of the plot during a party at a friend’s home in Virginia. The other guests, mostly low-level government employees without any connection to the Brain Trust, subsequently testified that none of them could have mentioned Kerensky or Stalin even if they wished, because Wirt monopolized the dinner-table conversation with a four-hour harangue about monetary policy.

Now you know.  So don’t act stupidly.


Bathtub reading, mortuary, cemetery, restaurant and airport version

August 30, 2009

Family funerals combine bitter and sweet.  A long life well-lived, the grief over loss, getting together with family and friends from eight decades — and then it’s back to work in a jolt.

Trying to stay caught up:

Outrageous insult to Darwin and Constitution in Missouri: Were the parents concerned about the quality of the brass section in the band, or did they really object to a humorous depiction of “the evolution of brass” in 2009, the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth?

They deserve to have their brasses kicked, but the innocent kids don’t.

P. Z. Myers caught the grossest tragedy:

Band parent Sherry Melby, who is a teacher in the district, stands behind Pollitt’s decision. Melby said she associated the image on the T-shirt with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

“I was disappointed with the image on the shirt.” Melby said. “I don’t think evolution should be associated with our school.”

She doesn’t want her school associated with evolution?  How about associating the school with the Taliban of Afghanistan?  How about associating her school with Homer Simpson’s stupider brother?  How about associating her school with backwards thinking, 16th century bad science?  How about associating her school with the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre and the sort of stupidity that leads religiously-based violence?

Ray Mummert probably got the call to help Sedalia out, and he’s organizing to fight the forces of smart and intelligent people.  Comments from residents of Sedalia are shocking in their lack of information, and depressing.

Kids, pay attention in science class: A proud science teacher in Minnesota, and probably some proud parents, tooTip of the old scrub brush to Pharyngula on this one.

Anybody who complains about this deserves to get their tail kicked with Tom Delay and every Republican who redistricted Texas last time around. (Sen. Ted Kennedy suggested the Massachusetts legislature should allow the governor to appoint a temporary replacement to represent the state in the U.S. Senate in the event of a vacancy, until a special election can be held.)

First Amendment wins again: Kentucky had a law that said the state could be safe from al Quaeda attack only by the grace of God.  A judge, noting that it will take a lot of work by a lot of dedicated Kentuckians who deserve credit, and that it’s illegal to make such a claim in law, overturned the law.

Private insurance failed this woman; Medicare would pay for the treatment under some circumstances, but there is no lie opponents to health care reform won’t tell in order to scare people away from the facts. They claim the woman couldn’t be treated under government care, but Medicare pays for the expensive drug in question.  Can’t they at least tell the truth?

This is getting depressing.  I’m going to go look at mountains.


Where’s a conspiracy theorist when you need one?

August 30, 2009

1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it…”

While Tom Delay dances with the starlets, and Jack Abramoff actually does time, isn’t anyone curious about who organizes all the protests against health care reform?

(Lookie here, P. Z. — Christians doing good.  Of course it’s not justification for the faith.  It’s one hopeful sign in the Sea of Hamhovind idiocy.)

You may also want to see:


Hey, parents: School’s in; do you know where your kids are?

August 30, 2009

School’s in.  Most of the students are in class.

But where are their parents?

Education success often depends on the involvement of parents; a friend in Oregon alerted me to this opposite-editorial piece by Aki Mori, a teacher in Beaverton, Oregon.  Notice the comments, too (do they just grow commenters stronger in Oregon?) and Mori’s getting into the discussion.

Inter alia, he wrote:

When I spent a high school year abroad in Japan in 1986, I found myself to be nothing but a minor leaguer trying to play in the big leagues when it came to math and science — a real blow to my pride since I’d always been a first-team all-star back home in the United States. On the other hand, not a single teacher in that highly competitive school left any impression on me in terms of his or her teaching skills.

I was equally underwhelmed last summer when I was among 50 teachers from around the world who were invited to Japan to visit Japanese schools and learn about their educational system. The shocking truth is, on the basis of pure teaching talent, American teachers are superior to those in Japan. Whereas Japanese teachers are by and large more knowledgeable and stronger generalists than American teachers, they do not possess key qualities that are essential for succeeding in the American classroom such as creativity, resourcefulness and compassion.

And,

In the famous story of the little Dutch boy, a child was able to save his country from disaster when he called upon others to help plug up leaks until sufficient repairs to the structure could be made. Our American system of education is leaking in many places — how serious you feel is the threat depends largely on your location along the dike. But it is clear to me that teachers and schools cannot fix the problem alone. For better or for worse, we will always end up exactly with the system of education that we as a society deserve. Perhaps in the future enough of us will work together to deserve better than what we have today.

Discuss (in comments).


U.S. Boy Scouts join UN and NBA to fight malaria

August 28, 2009

Press release from the malaria-fighting group Nothing But Nets:

Nothing But Nets Teams Up With Boy Scouts of America to Fight Malaria

Boy Scouts of America Celebrate 100 Years of Service by Extending Reach Outside Nation’s Borders; Millions of Scouts Across the U.S., including Distinguished Eagle Scout Bill Gates Sr., Spread the Word on Malaria Prevention.

Detroit, MI (Vocus/PRWEB ) August 28, 2009 — The United Nations Foundation’s Nothing But Nets, a grassroots campaign to prevent malaria by sending long-lasting insecticide-treated nets to families in Africa, announced today that the Boy Scouts of America has joined the malaria-prevention campaign as part of its 100th Anniversary Celebration. Throughout the year, Scouts from around the country will work within their communities to raise awareness about malaria, a leading killer in Africa.

BSA Chief Scout Executive Bob Mazzuca and Nothing But Nets Director Adrianna Logalbo launched the life-saving partnership today during a malaria workshop at Detroit Edison Public School Academy. Bill Gates Sr., Distinguished Eagle Scout and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Honorable Dave Bing, Mayor of Detroit and Deron Washington of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, joined Mazzuca and Logalbo at the workshop to teach more than 65 local Scouts about malaria and how to help prevent the deadly disease.

“Every single day, in almost every community across the nation, Scouts are doing their part to make this world a better place by becoming good citizens. But our concern for others doesn’t stop at our borders. We are global citizens,” Mazzuca said. “Even during a challenging economic recession, it’s hard to imagine that nearly 3,000 people die every day from a preventable disease like malaria. We’re pleased to work with the UN Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign to help make a positive difference for the children in Africa.”

The Boy Scouts of America joined the Nothing But Nets campaign as part of its newly launched A Year of Celebration, A Century of Making a Difference program, one of eight major engagement programs the organization is undertaking as part of its 100th Anniversary Celebration. A Year of Celebration is a recognition program that rewards Scouts, leaders, and BSA alumni for devotion to five of Scouting’s core values: leadership, character, community service, achievement, and the outdoors. For the Year of Celebration service award, Scouts can choose to participate in the Nothing But Nets service project.

“We are pleased to partner with the Boy Scouts of America and see hundreds of youth leaders work together to raise malaria awareness and spread the message of how simple it is to prevent the disease,” Logalbo said. “This initiative is powered by passionate people, and we are grateful to have the Boy Scouts help us build support to prevent malaria in Africa.”

Through this partnership with Nothing But Nets, Scouts will help build awareness about malaria and prevention by conducting service projects such as removing standing water in parks–a breeding ground for mosquitoes–and creating educational tools and activities that illustrate the impact of malaria on the global community.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been a partner of the UN Foundation and its Nothing But Nets campaign since 2006 and is dedicated to eliminating malaria deaths. “It is wonderful to watch the Scouts reach out to help other young children in Africa,” Bill Gates Sr. said. “I am proud of the Boy Scouts’ dedication to service and welcome another great partner in the fight against malaria.”

Long-lasting, insecticide-treated bed nets are an easy and cost-effective method to help prevent malaria. Bed nets prevent malaria transmission by creating a protective barrier against mosquitoes at night, when the vast majority of transmissions occur. For more information about Nothing But Nets, visit www.NothingButNets.net.

About Nothing But Nets:
Nothing But Nets is a global, grassroots campaign to save lives by preventing malaria, a leading killer of children in Africa. Inspired by sports columnist Rick Reilly, more than 100,000 people have joined the campaign that was created by the United Nations Foundation in 2006. Founding campaign partners include the National Basketball Association’s NBA Cares, the people of The United Methodist Church, and Sports Illustrated. It costs just $10 to provide a long-lasting, insecticide-treated bed net to prevent this deadly disease. Visit www.NothingButNets.net to send a net and save a life.

About the Boy Scouts of America:
Serving nearly 4.1 million youth between the ages of 7 and 20, with more than 300 councils throughout the United States and its territories, the BSA is the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. The Scouting movement is composed of 1.2 million volunteers, whose dedication of time and resources has enabled the BSA to remain the nation’s leading youth-service organization. For more information on the BSA, please visit www.scouting.org.

More information about 100 Years of Scouting can be found at www.scouting.org/100years.

Press Contacts:
For media inquiries regarding the United Nations Foundation’s Nothing But Nets, contact:
Amy DiElsi
Communications Director, Children’s Health
(o) 202-419-3230 (c) 202-492-3078

For media inquiries regarding the Boy Scouts of America, contact
Nicole Selinger
(o) 314-982-0573 (c) 314-805-2165


Hubble Deep Field , 3-D animation

August 28, 2009

Here’s something that will make the Texas State Board of Education cringe and cower under their desks; watch it in good health:

Tip of the old scrub brush to DVice.


David Horsey can’t draw that, can he?

August 27, 2009

Sometimes the only bastion of sanity on the editorial pages is the editorial cartoon.  David Horsey at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has good one’s all the time, and especially over the past few weeks of the Congressional recess.

But, did the P-I actually print* this one?

Cartoon by David Horsey, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, copyright 2009

Cartoon by David Horsey, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, copyright 2009; August 22, 2009

Well, of course they didn’t actually print it . . . publish?  post?  release?


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