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).


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