Sunday, January 31, 2010

Viral Emails Follow-up

The very day I posted the previous piece, I got another viral anti-Obama email claiming that he was trying to force our troops to buy their own insurance to cover their wounds and basic health care. The email included two quotes attributed to Obama that were incredibly disrespectful of our soldiers.

The email was sent by a local retired military man to his entire addressbook, which included a large number of other retired military folks.

Problem is, the email was a lie from start to finish.

This is another example of a smear email campaign that takes a grain of truth and builds a new and false reality around it.

If you actually go to the snopes web-site or other fact check web sites, you'll find that there is no evidence that Obama ever uttered the vicious quotes attributed to him in this email. Those quotes instead came from a comic parody written and performed by a conservative comedian.

The non-quotation parts of the email were also false - or more accurately, are blatant lies.

What someone on the president's budget committee actually proposed was that the military bill soldier's existing private health insurers for the health care the military provides to soldiers (saving the Federal Government $540 million a year). It was a dumb proposal that was quickly put in the trash. In reality, no one ever proposed the ridiculously sinister plan outlined in the email.

With our country facing so many challenges, it's heart breaking to think someone takes the time to concoct such a vicious bundle of lies, and then emails them around the country. Scarier yet, is that there are so many people so eager to believe such stuff.

The day ofter I got this email, I got another one claiming that Obama's America is just like Germany as the Nazis were taking over.

I meet so many people who believe these emails and build their political views around them, I'm afraid for our country.

Friday, January 22, 2010

In the Land of Viral Emails

The email describes a 44” snowstorm in northern Michigan with 90 MPH winds that cut power to tens of thousands and stranded hundreds of motorists.

The email snorts that Obama, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Hollywood’s elite, and FEMA didn’t offer assistance and that victims didn’t demanded $2,000 debit cards or FEMA trailers. It brags, We did not wait for some affirmative action government,” or “ a welfare program that trades votes for 'sittin at home' checks.”

Though I got the email last week it’s nearly word for word identical to an email sent in 2005 about a supposed North Dakota blizzard. In other words, it’s a viral email masquerading as truth, manufactured to make a political point.

The comparisons to Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath and the racial overtones (ala, we white people take responsibility and don’t whine) are obvious, but did it occur to any who got and resent this email that snow up to your eaves and rushing water up to your eaves are not the same? One is a temporary inconvenience and the other destroys your home, your neighborhood, and the place where you work.

But we live in an era of digital germ warfare when mass viral emails are sent and resent, acting as the gossip mill for smear campaigns.

Remember the, “Obama is a Muslim,” and, “Obama won’t wear a flag lapel pin,” and, “Obama wasn’t born in the U.S,” emails that were easily proven false? I still encounter people who believe all three – who in fact get angry as hell that you don’t believe. Why do they believe? Because they got the emails and they want to believe.

Maybe you got the Dr. Starner Jones email. This one’s real, but disturbingly narrow-minded.

Dr. Jones complains about a Medicaid patient with a new gold tooth, expensive tennis shoes and an R&B ringtone on her phone (again, note the racial overtones). He writes, She smokes more than one costly pack of cigarettes every day and, somehow, still has money to buy beer.

And our Congress expects me to pay for this woman's health care?”

Defining health care reform as a giveaway to the lazy is an immoral oversimplification. Some facts:

1) The majority of families living below the poverty line have an adult working full time.

2) Half of all bankruptcies are caused by medical bills and over two thirds of those happen to middleclass people with health insurance.

3) Health insurance premiums paid to America’s largest insurers by middle class families have increased 87% since 2002.

4) During the same period those top 10 insurance companies’ profits rose 428%.

And Dr. Jones suggests health care reform is about buying insurance for lazy welfare queens?

Where are the angry emails about those bankruptcies, insurance premiums and insurance company profits? Kinda makes you wonder who actually authors and distributes these emails.

Another viral email is titled, “An Actual Commercial From the 50s.” In it, black & white footage shows people listening to a recording of a Ronald Reagan speech. You hear Reagan warn against the evils of socialized medicine and it’s slippery slope towards communism.

If you watch that footage and truly believe it’s an actual commercial from the ‘50s, I’ve got some magic beans to trade for your cow.

While the audio is a real Reagan recording, it’s heavily edited and from the early ‘60s. Reagan was talking about Medicare, but the email never mentions this. In the full speech he claimed that if Medicare passed, people in the future (the 1970s, '80s, & '90s presumably) would look back wistfully at what life was like in America back when people were free, before Medicare took our freedoms away.

As it turns out, Reagan was entirely wrong. Medicare did nothing he said it would do.

Our doctors are not socialized. The government has not seized our hospitals and clinics nor nationalized the drug companies. America is not a communist country and is in no danger of becoming one. And there's nothing about current health care reform that would do that either.

Of course, health care reform is what the email is really trying to effect.

Medicare is a remarkably popular and effective government program. If it's so bad, will the elderly who oppose health care reform renounce their single-payer, socialized, government Medicare and pay out of pocket - the free enterprise way?


The Reagan address was not a wise and dire warning from the past, it was a prediction that history has proven wrong. Still, the viral email’s impression is made and it’s transmitted from person to person like germs on a doorknob.

I haven’t even mentioned the anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant emails I’ve gotten from Conservatives lately and I don’t have space for the ridiculous emails that compare America today with Austria and Germany just before the Nazis took over.

I’ve come to believe that few of these emails originate with regular Joe’s concerned for their country. Instead I’d be willing to bet most are authored by lobbying firms, paid political strategists, and corporate public relations departments. Send them to a couple hundred of the faithful, then wait and watch while the germ spreads across the country, sent and resent by people ready and willing to believe anything that reinforces their fears or confirms their prejudices.

It’s interesting that I don’t get these kinds of emails from liberals attacking conservative beliefs. And I’m a liberal with plenty of liberal friends. Oh, I got a couple humorous email jabs at Bush during his 8 years, but they were obvious jokes. I get at least two of these half true conservative-leaning emails a week.

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, these viral emails are here to stay. Why? A study conducted recently by Elmhurst College in Illinois found that they’re very effective in shaping people’s beliefs.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Contrarian's Favorites for 2009

You’ll note I didn’t title this the “Best of ’09.” There’s no such thing as the best. There’s only what you like and don’t like. Here’s the music, movies and television I’ve enjoyed most this year.


Favorite Song: Mirrorball, by Elbow, from the album, The Seldom Seen Kid

I heard this song early in ’09 on Internet radio and was immediately captivated. What’s it sound like? Think Peter Gabriel. Think Massive Attack – at their most melodic.

An opening loop of repetitive keyboards and guitars gently rise and fall like sirens in the distance before lead singer Guy Garvey’s chalky voice breaths, “I plant the kind of kiss, that wouldn’t wake a baby.”

Mirrorball is as lush and beautiful a love song as you’re likely to hear these days. Set in a cityscape, the poetic lyrics describe how everything ugly is seen anew after falling in love:

We made the moon our mirrorball,

The streets an empty stage,

The city sirens violins,

Everything has changed.

The album version is the best by far, but on YouTube you can watch Elbow perform Mirrorball in the Abbey Road studios with the BBC orchestra. If you like Mirrorball, also try the track, Weather to Fly.

Favorite Album: Hold Time, by M. Ward

M. (Matt) Ward is one of those folky/rocky/country artists that there seem to be a lot of in the alternative music world lately, but none as talented and lovable.

Ward’s guitar work, mostly acoustic, is hook-heavy and highly proficient, backing his trademark echo-affect vocals. Hold Time is packed with diverse gems; the rollicking rockabilly ode to Jesus, “Fisher of Men,” the folky and optimistic, “Shangri-La,” the brilliant folk-rock of “Jailbird,” the joyful stomp and shout of his Buddy Holly remake, “Rave On,” and the haunting little classical guitar etudes Ward sprinkles throughout his albums.

Honorable Mention: Last year there was a growing assortment of young alternative bands who build their sound around harmonies, inspired by the Beach Boys, The Hollies and perhaps even Crosby, Stills, and Nash, but in many cases with up-to-date touch. Some recommended download samples:

-Two Weeks by Grizzly Bear

-He Doesn’t Know Why by Fleet Foxes

-Forever by The Explorer’s Club (you’ll think you found an unreleased Beach Boys track)

-My Girls by Animal Collective


Not sure why, but other than Lost, I watched no hour-long dramas regularly this year. Can’t get into any of the CSIs. Tried HBO’s Big Love, but that failed, too. Loved the first few episodes of HBO’s True Blood, but the whole vampire thing just got too silly. Even tried a few episodes of Mad Men, and while the costuming, staging and acting are as wonderful as the critics say, the show is so cold and cynical I couldn’t take it.

All my favorite shows this year were half-hour comedies.

1st- Curb Your Enthusiasm: This HBO show follows Larry David, the real life co-creator of Seinfeld in his fictional daily life. This year Larry resolved to stage a Seinfield reunion show as a ploy to get his ex-wife back. He convinces the original cast members to appear as themselves working on the reunion show. It is rude, funny, and priceless. Seeing the old Seinfeld sets recreated and hearing the old gang act out what would actually make a pretty damn good Seinfeld show made for my favorite show this year.

2nd -The Office: This show continues to be inventive and clever, parodying with painful accuracy the American office worker. (my kids tell me that if you don’t recognize yourself as one of the characters, you’re Michael)

3rd- Bored to Death: Jason Schwartzman (who you’ll recognize from The Darjeeling Limited) stars as a struggling New York writer who moonlights as a private detective. Also stars Zach Galifianakis (the bearded nerd in The Hangover) with hilarious performances by Ted Danson. Well written, well acted, and a loads of goofy fun.

Runner Up –Glee: You’ve probably read and heard enough about this show. Good, original television.


My two favorite films this year are both animated and both brilliant.

Up: It’s not often a film is so universal in it’s appeal that it can entertain a 5 year old, a teenager, a 45 year old, or an elderly viewer all at the same time.

If you’re like me, animated clips of an elderly man with balloons tied to his house looks like a promo for a PBS children’s show, put that our of your mind and just watch it. It will touch your heart and put a very big smile on your face.

Avatar: I had my guard up against this one as well. But halfway through the 3-D version I was reaching out for the insects fluttering in front of my face and wishing I could fly on dragons. It reminded me how Star Wars made me feel when I was a teenager in the ‘70s. You leave wondering if perhaps you just saw a glimpse of a revolution in.

And like Star Wars, the plot of Avatar is as trite as an after school special, but it so thoroughly transports you to a new and amazing place, immersing you in compelling reality that can’t possibly exist and is so brilliantly conceived and executed, you’ll forgive the plot shortcomings.