Hoisted from comments

by Henry on January 13, 2011

At another blog, but by regular CT commenter ‘Davis X. Machina’

Ms. Palin … represents a new phenomenon. Instead of trolling a message board or blog comments, she’s trolling an entire nation.

Discuss.

{ 79 comments }

1

P O'Neill 01.13.11 at 1:46 am

With Politico as the force multiplier.

2

Maurice Meilleur 01.13.11 at 2:50 am

Jesus. It’s true enough that I’d put it in the category of ‘wish I said that first’. I’ve been hanging out at Mark Kleiman’s site a lot since the AZ shootings, and I was thinking Thomas and Brett Bellmore were in rare form–but the Thrilla from Wasilla really does make them look like pikers.

Still, if Rick Perlstein’s right, then RMN himself was the über-troll before there was even such a thing as trolling. He helped to shut down reasoned deliberation in the US for running on to five decades, and still counting.

3

Substance McGravitas 01.13.11 at 3:30 am

She bagged Xeni at Boing Boing. That’s some troll mojo, especially drawing out a “but he’s a good guy” regarding Glenn Reynolds getting the blood libel ball rolling. A masterpiece of the art, and she’s unbannable.

4

Martha Bridegam 01.13.11 at 3:56 am

Not a new phenomenon. Trolls have risen to lead nations before, with nasty results.

5

Michael Bérubé 01.13.11 at 4:51 am

Well, let’s not forget who started all this nasty incendiary divisive and also uncivil “blood libel” discourse in the first place, back in March 2010 when Gabrielle Giffords was unfairly criticizing Palin’s gunsights innocent little surveyor’s marks. Not to say that Rep. Giffords is responsible for setting this unfortunate chain of events in motion, of course. But she did write the initial post for the entire nation, “Hey, This Kind of Rhetoric Might Have Consequences.” Palin just showed up in comments to defend herself, as is her First or maybe Second Amendment right.

I’d suggest we disemvowel Palin’s comments from this point on, but I don’t think they’d be any less coherent as a result.

6

logern 01.13.11 at 5:18 am

I think she’s John McCain’s doomsday machine for not getting elected.

—In the true spirit of vitrol (100 proof)

7

tatere 01.13.11 at 5:43 am

Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out.

8

Glen Tomkins 01.13.11 at 5:49 am

You defame the name of “troll”

I once had a patient who was an actual troll, in the sense that he literally lived under a bridge. Well, it wasn’t actually a bridge he lived under. It was this extended section of I-10 that was elevated as it passed along Claiborne Avenue right by downtown New Orleans. My patient had lucked into one of the very few storage spaces in one of the abutments of the Interstate that was not in use, and was left unlocked. Not only did he thus have a roof over his head, putting him at one stroke into upper middle class status in the world of the homeless, but this place of his was right by Charity Hospital. Location, location, location.

I met him in his capacity as a troll in the medical sense (someone who frequents ERs more for social rather than purely medical reasons) precisely because he had recently lost this living space to another homeless person who grabbed it while he was hospitalized for an exacerbation of his Chronic Paranoid Schizophrenia. It had turned cold and rainy, and he no longer had that roof over his head, so he decided to have an exacerbation of his insanity for the eminently sane purpose of getting a bit warm and dry for as long a he could cadge from a heartless (but not nearly so heartless then as we have become since) system.

Well, everybody in the intake sytem at Charity knew this gentleman, knew about his recent fall from grace in homeless society and that his visit to Charity that night almost certainly had more to do with a change in the weather than any change in his medical condition. You get better service if you’re a regular, you know. So it was thought sufficient to have a medical student evaluate his condition for the appropriate medical disposition, and thus I met my troll.

One of the few things they told you when you started out doing this work — they certainly didn’t give you any instruction in psychiatry, you were supposed to pick that up from your own reading — was to always sit between the patient and the door. Well, I had been doing this a while, had never had any really out of control patients, was starting to appreciate the truth that these folks are infinitely more likely to be at danger from others than a danger to others, I had been told that this patient wasn’t really thought to be out of control, but just in for a warm cot, and lastly, he just smiled so congenially when I entered the room, that I didn’t make him get up from the chair nearer the door, but took the one on the other side of the table.

Starting with the smile, even a beginner such as I was found it fairly easy to build up a picture of a very, very well-compensated schizophrenic. He was on his meds, which he could name and recite dosage schedules for without error, and his meds were obviously working. His affect was somewhat flattened, but less so than the average General Surgery resident, if slightly more than the average Ob-Gyn. Yes, he did believe that people, especially a distant relative and former college roomate from his immediately pre-psychotic days, were plotting against him, and he did have his delusional system, centered, as was almost always the case with schizophrenics in New Orleans at that time, on religion (Even here he showed unusual coherence for a schizophrenic, in that he felt confident enough to discuss the theological underpinnings of his system. I recall that he explained the animus to the former college roommate as arising from his commission of the one unforgiveable sin, which he identified correctly, I mean, correctly if you follow the Baltimore Catechism, as the Sin Against the Holy Spirit.) But he was able in his current state of compensation to set those concerns on a back burner, and grew most animated in our conversation when describing such practicalities as the recent loss of his home, and the discomfiture this had caused him. Most impressively, he was able to admit, without putting it in so many words, that he was really there that night to get out of the cold and damp. The ability to tell a white lie, and more than that, the tacitly admitted white lie, with grace and tact, may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but it is a social skill beyond, say ,the average Academic Internist, and quite an achievement for a schizophrenic. Even I, in my then beginner’s state of training, could recognize a schizophrenic who was very well compensated and clearly not a danger to self or others, well except maybe at danger from the weather, so I would triage this patient to 24 hours of observation. That’s plenty of time for a New Orleans cold front to pass.

But I wasn’t experienced enough then to trust what was quite obvious, so I asked him the obligatory questions about homicidal or suicidal ideation or planning. Yes, indeed, he answered he did think often about killing the former roommate. And, yes, he did have a plan. For the first time, I was a bit apprehensive about the patient being between me and the door. It’s the quiet, controlled ones you have to worry about, you know. But hoping to get more reassuring answers, I sought further clarification. Now, he had mentioned earlier that the roommate now lived in Chicago. Did he have any way to get to Chicago? Well, no, of course he couldn’t even afford bus fare. But the distance didn’t really matter, the patient reassured me. He was going to kill his ex-roommate with brain waves, you see, flashing his warm smile at me.

I think about my troll, and brain waves, and my brief unneccessary fear before he had clarified that he was going to do his murder most foul via brain waves, whenever we have one of these Shoe Bombers or Underpants Bombers that everyone is encouraged to get into such a fright over, but whose homicidal ideation boils down to a plan no more dangerous to others than brain waves.

I also thought of him again when we had this shooter out in Arizona, but this time about the vast difference between this crazed person and my eminently sane schizpohrenic. Perhaps Loughner is indeed schizophrenic, an untreated, poorly compensated schizophrenic, as everyone seems eager to assume. But a politically centered delusional system, and murderous action resulting from that delusional system, are so much more characteristic of the True Believer than the schizophrenic, that I tend to doubt this diagnosis for Loughner. Both are paranoid, but the schizophrenic no more than the True Believer, and the craziness of Loughner’s website musings do not differentiate between these two possibilities.

And now we have Palin linking herself to this chain of mental illness.

Now, when I think about the Underpants Bomber, and the Shoe Bomber, and Loughner, I am sad and angry. My troll was a sad case in many ways, but was able to carve out of the very unpromising material circumstances of his life a human space that all of us could admire, and even perhaps envy. Trolls, bums, schizos, terrorists –however low the status we accord them, they’re still recognizably human.

I don’t know what to think or feel about Sarah Palin. I’m sure she has some reality as a person, somewhere, but she has chosen to recreate herself for us, her public, as a fake person, a pretend person, apparently in order to win an office that is already metastasized almost beyond the human, and would need only her assumption of it to break its final connection with reality.

You defame the name of “troll” when you call Sarah Palin a troll.

9

David 01.13.11 at 6:06 am

Xeni has had a thing for Glenn Reynolds for quite some time. More than a few favorable linkings/mentions. Her judgment is suspect.

10

David 01.13.11 at 6:12 am

@ Glenn Tomkins. Thank you.

11

anon 01.13.11 at 6:20 am

Our nation is slowly disintegrating and all people have to offer are pithy witticisms, sarcasm and irony.

It’s easy to say something like that, because it makes people feel better. But really, Sarah Palin is popular and a lot of people like her. That is what makes it a true horror show. Dismissive jokes, false equivocation, etc. are basically variants on cynicism and arrogance – excuses not to engage in constructive action. I’d say that Jon Stewart is the master of this having done a lot to defuse liberal anger…

12

John Protevi 01.13.11 at 6:24 am

Glenn Tomkins: that was the single best comment I’ve ever read in 6 years of pretty intense blog reading.

13

Shelby 01.13.11 at 7:24 am

I don’t generally read the political threads at crookedtimber, partly because I disagree with most of the viewpoints expressed but mostly because the level of political discourse here is so amazingly far below that addressed to other issues. Do adherents to the conventional politics here find the discussion of them much more elevated than I do? As opposed to simply more sympathetic?

14

Chris Bertram 01.13.11 at 8:36 am

Palin’s use of the term “blood libel” is just an extension of the opportunistic use of the term in other contexts. I see, for example, that Alan Dershowitz is now defending Palin on the grounds that he himself used to the term to criticize the Goldstone Report!

15

Marcellina 01.13.11 at 8:59 am

Trolling the nation, indeed.

And the nation is acting in response like an internet forum, Loving/hating on her, anticipating her every word, allowing her to get between groups that might otherwise learn to live with each other, trying to explain her, allowing her to derail the discussion over and over again. I have seen this behaviour enough times concerning actual internet trolls, and I see it now. The American press and, sadly, the blogosphere simply can’t get enough of her.

16

ajay 01.13.11 at 10:37 am

8: get that man a blog.

12: no, no, I find the level of discourse pathetically low too. I just turn up to make myself feel frightfully superior by comparison. It’s like going on holiday to south-east Asia if you want to feel tall.

17

paul hebden 01.13.11 at 10:54 am

@8: ‘The ability to tell a white lie, and more than that, the tacitly admitted white lie, with grace and tact, may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but it is a social skill beyond, say ,the average Academic Internist, and quite an achievement for a schizophrenic.’
Just one of many stand out passages from an elightening and refreshing post.

18

Epikhairekakia 01.13.11 at 11:20 am

@Glen Tomkins: Thanks for your insightful and unrelentingly humane comment. (I second ajay at 14 – perhaps it already exists?)

19

Dan 01.13.11 at 11:23 am

‘troll’ seems to me a concept that could usefully cross over from the net into the academic world. If you take it in the sense of causing controversy in a community to disrupt it and/or show how laughable it is — you’ve described a fair amount of how politicians deal with the world.

Somebody like Sarkozy, for instance, can build an entire career out of highlighting issues that will get the left squabbling uselessly. In a slightly different sense, parts of anonymous described Assange as ‘possibly the most successful international troll of all time’

Presumably there are already trolling specialists among the ‘social media experts’ now lurking in any politician’s entourage. At some point they’ll presumably start applying the same tactics offline as a matter of routine.

20

ejh 01.13.11 at 11:33 am

More or less anybody who writes in the music press is a troll by some definition, since the saying exaggerated and provocative things for effect is not only common practice but almost universal.

I suppose this comment might be thought of as trolling the music press. Unfortunately, it isn’t.

21

otto 01.13.11 at 11:41 am

13: yup

22

Steve Williams 01.13.11 at 1:43 pm

@12

Myself, I don’t usually venture down into the kitchen very much, what with etiquette and all – it’s important to keep a strict distinction, don’t you know – but the other day I had some chums from the Conservative Club over for a quick bite to eat, when we discovered a hair – a hair! – in one of the vol-au-vents. Needless to say, I attempted to laugh it off, as a gentleman does, you know, but eventually I decided I had to go downstairs and tell those cretins that they’d perfectly ruined my day.

Took me an hour to find the place of course, but when I got down there, boy, did I let rip! Really told ’em. Now those plebs know quite where the limit is, and the limit is the foot of the stairs.

/grumble

23

Anderson 01.13.11 at 1:44 pm

Don’t feed the national troll.

24

LFC 01.13.11 at 2:01 pm

I think Henry got it right at The Monkey Cage when he said (my paraphrase) that: (1) there is in general an association between violent political rhetoric and increased likelihood of violent acts but (2) there appears to be, at least based on what we now know, no direct link between a specific piece of rhetoric (e.g. Palin) and this shooting. The more that people persist in trying to tie Palin to this in some direct way the more she will have occasion to utter absurdities and engage in what Machina calls ‘trolling’. Maybe we should drop this particular thing and then she will drop it. That would be desirable, no? That certainly seemed to be one message of Obama’s speech at the memorial service, and I tend to agree.

25

Henry 01.13.11 at 2:10 pm

bq. Don’t feed the national troll.

I was just discussing this on an email list, where I claimed first dibs on publishing t-shirts with pictures of Ms. Palin and the “DNFTT” logo beneath …

26

The Modesto Kid 01.13.11 at 2:16 pm

Just to add my voice to the chorus of praise for comment #8 — an excellent read and I look forward to reading more from Dr. Tomkins.

27

Alex 01.13.11 at 3:10 pm

There’s no obvious payload, but I wonder if 13 is actually spam? You could trivially sub in any web site’s domain name for “crookedtimber”.

28

Tim Wilkinson 01.13.11 at 3:14 pm

Glen Tomkins: also, people like the Doodle Bomber, who is doing 30 years for basically nothing, and also btw just to add to his misery keeps getting seriously attacked by other inmates, for example by having hot oil poured over him.

I’m interested on the True Believer/schizophrenia business – the former is presumably not a recognised psychiatric diagnosis. And in paranoia – what do you take this to be, and in what way does this latest advert for the US gun laws* manifest it?

I’m assuming there is a nascissistic or over-egocentric element, and a delusory one in psychotic cases. (Which also begs the q: what do you take this guy’s delusions, relevant to political paranoia, to consist of? Do we even have any info about what if anything he conscously took himself to be achieving?)

Basically, just a request to expand on your remarks as they relate to this specific case.

*In the UK he would probably just got increasingly into self-med ganja, and the worst damage he would have done would have been to provide an anecdote to assist the Daily Mail et al. in their whipping up of drug hysteria, via his parents latching onto the weed as a handy exogenous cause for everything.

29

Alex 01.13.11 at 3:20 pm

From 8: His affect was somewhat flattened, but less so than the average General Surgery resident. Classic.

always sit between the patient and the door

There’s the title of your new blog!

30

LFC 01.13.11 at 3:38 pm

T Wilkinson @28 —
I think this is not solely a U.S. problem; see e.g. Chris Brown’s comments in the thread attached to this post.

31

John Protevi 01.13.11 at 3:39 pm

@24: I’m not sure I like this binary between having to show a direct link between specific pieces of rhetoric and the act or having to content ourselves with general correlations. That seems to restrict our notions of causality too much. Let’s take Susan Bordo’s famous phrase, “psychopathology as crystallization of culture,” which she used to resist medicalization of anorexia. We would never be able to identify one image and the onset of anorexia in a particular anorectic, but I wouldn’t want to say there was no connection at all between cultural images of desirable thinness (plus those of thinness as sign of willpower, etc) and that particular anorectic. So I think we shouldn’t say that short of finding a passage in Loughner’s journal where he says “I just saw this Palin (or Jesse Kelly or …) ad and I’m now convinced Giffords must be eliminated” that we can’t say anything about Loughner-in-Tucson and Giffords.

At the risk of blogwhoring, I go into this in more detail at New APPS.

32

chris 01.13.11 at 3:49 pm

there appears to be, at least based on what we now know, no direct link between a specific piece of rhetoric (e.g. Palin) and this shooting

Maybe so, but if so, it’s Palin’s good luck. (Well, all of ours, I guess — in that a related shooting would be in addition to the unrelated one we already had.) The gunsight map is well up into turbulent-priest territory, and the early speculation that the obvious might have happened is not any kind of libel, let alone an ethnic slur involving cannibalism. It just happens to be, in this case, wrong. If we’re really lucky, it will stay wrong.

Anyway, it’s a long way from “there is no direct link between Palin’s rhetoric and this specific instance of violence” to “there’s nothing wrong with Palin’s rhetoric” to “anyone who criticizes Palin’s rhetoric is just like the perpetrators of a crime against humanity”. Criticism is not censorship, and even censorship (bad as it is) is not a pogrom.

33

chris 01.13.11 at 3:52 pm

Also, I agree with John Protevi. Causation is not always a neat, discrete process like deductive reasoning. Many events are influenced to some degree or another by a variety of causes. The concept of “the” cause of an action can be seriously misleading, and accordingly, “either X was the cause of Y or it wasn’t” is a false dichotomy, not a genuine instance of the excluded middle.

34

roac 01.13.11 at 3:52 pm

It occurred to me the other day that Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes is who Palin is.

It was not a big surprise when Google showed that I was far from being the first to trip over this insight.

35

LFC 01.13.11 at 4:03 pm

John Protevi @31:
Thanks for the reference to New APPS.
I don’t want to get into a debate here with you about causality, especially as this has been and is being discussed in various other places and, more to the point, I have not made a close study of Loughner’s ‘statements’ and I don’t particularly want to. If you have a quarrel with what I said @24, I suggest you might take it up with Henry Farrell, since I was merely repeating what he had said in a post at The Monkey Cage which made sense to me (although I might not have said it in exactly the same way).

36

JP Stormcrow 01.13.11 at 4:19 pm

I was just discussing this on an email list, where I claimed first dibs on publishing t-shirts with pictures of Ms. Palin and the “DNFTT” logo beneath …

Which is, of course, itself a big feed. Wittgenstein Prop 7 for the succinct troll strategy win.

Although somewhat in the spirit of the Unfogged ToS -> Pauly Shore rewrites, I’m thinking there is some third-rate celeb (or character in a book or movie) that it would be refreshing to imagine giving her lines (and no need for rewrites!). Not that I’ve come up with a good candidate.

37

John Protevi 01.13.11 at 4:19 pm

LFC: I don’t have a “quarrel” with anyone, you or Henry. I was making a point about a philosophical concept. I would be very happy if Henry or you would like to continue this discussion, but I wouldn’t say it would be a quarrel by any means.

38

PHB 01.13.11 at 4:40 pm

Trolling is a pretty good description of what she is up to. She just can’t believe that there can be anything important than herself or any public event that isn’t first and foremost about her.

The problem with Conservatives is that they are abject cowards. They know that the game Palin is playing is thuggery and intimidation. Whatever the consequences might have been from Palin’s ‘crosshairs’ poster, the intention was clear: to send a message to liberals that people who disagree with Palin put their lives at risk.

Palin knew exactly what message she was sending at the time. When asked to repudiate it she doubled down with a speech that was clearly intended to intimidate.

What I find particularly disgusting about the right is their total lack of self awareness. They throw a daily panty-twist about some obscure anonymous comment found on a liberal blog that might be interpreted as advocating violence, then attack liberals for criticizing their political leaders for advocating violence. Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck are rather more significant in the Conservative movement than any of the commentators they have got themselves in a panty-bunch over.

When they talk about second amendment remedies they are advocating that their supporters further their political goals at the point of a gun. That is called treason in my book.

This may all seem like a jolly little game to an intellectually challenged know-nothing like Palin. But such words can have real consequences as anyone who follows the history of Northern Ireland knows. Without the hate filled rhetoric of Ian Paisley and those like him the UVF might never had existed. It was the threats to the Catholics and the attacks of Protestant para-military groups that started the troubles.

39

Tim Wilkinson 01.13.11 at 4:43 pm

LFC@30 – I didn’t say (idiotically) that gratuitous murder was solely a US problem. But few adolescents in the UK can easily get hold of firearms, and without firearms, murder sprees are much more difficult.

On a tangent – the small arms race in the US also enables the authorities to kill people much more easily, e.g. the Branch Davidians, countless victims of not-obviously-necessary police shootings. The culture of routine extrajudicial state killing is indeed on the increase in the UK too (there was an extremely dubitable example of supposed ‘suicide-by-cop’ recently, when some guy got hold of a shotgun; IIRC, anonymous armed cops treated it very flippantly), but as in so many things, we haven’t quite caught up with the more advanced US yet.

—————–

John Protevi @31 – yes, but while you’re right to criticise the demands for nothing short of direct proof of simple causation, that is a merely negative point. There’s also a need for a positive account of generalised cultural effects. Saying ‘causation is complicated’ is nowhere near good enough: whatever socio-cultural causal influence you assert must be – and should preferably be demonstated to be – amenable to analysis in terms of the substrate of ordinary causal relations as envisaged by Newtonian physics, emprical psychology and sociology, etc.

And such a generalised view doesn’t displace or render irrelevant the more specific causal thesis. I don’t know how widely the incitement was disseminated, to what extent the attention it’s received subsequently is due to hindsight, but if it’s likely that this guy would have seen it, then given the great (and often subliminal) power of images and visual symbolism, I’d say there is a clear prima facie case for a specific direct connection between the oh-so-fucking-jocular ‘Kill Gifford’ incitement and the selection of Gifford as target of killing.

The null hypothesis of mere coincidence between the two seems a poor one in the absence of some better explanation for the choice of this particular woman as victim (which may exist, I don’t know). I have the impression that this kind of targeted killing generally has some kind of salience for the perpetrator, based – however arbitrarily or tenuously – on some kind of real, external source of information.

40

bianca steele 01.13.11 at 5:42 pm

To ignore more recent comments and jump back to Glen Tomkins’, which I also praise, it may or may not be interesting, in light of his experience with the military, that the most extreme psychopathic troll I’ve ever encountered was posting from a .mil address.

41

John Protevi 01.13.11 at 6:31 pm

@ Tim W: yes, those are excellent points. Though I do think it is important to make the negative point that we shouldn’t settle for an exclusive binary between direct causation and general correlations, as I’ve been running into that binary a lot in this case. Now of course we also have to beware just chanting “nonlinear dynamics” as some sort of mantra that let’s us say anything at all about the culture – subject relation.

I’m on the run between errands, but I can say I try to work out some aspects of this case over at New APPS (again, apologies for the self-reference) and in a more general case in a book called Political Affect that came out with Minnesota in 2009. But I’m not assigning homework, just to say I’m aware of the issues you raise and will be back in a few hours to say more here.

Thanks for pushing me on these very important issues.

42

nnyhav 01.13.11 at 7:21 pm

I don’t think it useful to conflate trollery with demagogy. It obscures the extent to which Palin has taken to heart Paul Ford’s internet tendency as applied to broader media.

43

LFC 01.13.11 at 7:29 pm

From John Protevi’s post at New APPS:
Note the “Loughner-in-Tucson” syntax. I think that’s a key: it’s the assemblage that counts, as I argue in the Columbine chapter in Political Affect. So the idea is that Loughner was not outside culture in being insane. On the contrary, he was too close to it; he had no filters, or not strong enough filters. Not only that, but Tucson provided him no buffers; it was all “guns are the solution to government” all the time. Having no filters in Ann Arbor Michigan might keep have kept him in a basement making YouTube videos, but having no filters in Tucson put him in that supermarket parking lot.
Don’t you have to know a whole lot about the details of the particular person and case before you can validly say something like this? I’m not a philosopher or a psychiatrist, but surely there are different ways of being insane, and some ways of being insane probably do put the person “outside culture”. This passage strikes me as making a lot of assumptions that aren’t necessarily warranted here. I have not read Political Affect but I assume in the chapter in question that you draw on the details about the Columbine event and its perpetrators that became available over the years. Surely there hasn’t been enough time for all the relevant details to emerge in this case, so at a minimum I would say this analysis is premature.

44

BenSix 01.13.11 at 8:04 pm

I tend to think that demagogues should boast an agenda of some sort – even if it’s crude. I’m not sure what Palin’s for. She’s adopted a false persona, made sure that it’s aggravating and diverted people into fruitless arguments. That bears all the hallmarks of trollery (with, perhaps, a dash of the ideological astroturfer (and, perhaps, the added bonus of being a sockpuppet)).

45

john in california 01.13.11 at 8:11 pm

I have had only one personal experience with a paranoid schizophrenic, again a homeless person, and from that alone, would not generalize, however her ‘symptoms’ seem a part of what I read once or twice a year about some here in LA who has this condition and, given some kind of stressors, blows up and acts out on their paranoid fantasies by attacking someone they know with whatever is close at hand, usually a knife or some kind of tool. Almost inevitably the outcome is a bullet from a police gun. Maybe these are the only incidents that make the news, but again, from my personal experience, this kind of quick eruption is typical. (maybe the doctor could comment). My point is, this guy had a plan, left notes, bought a gun way ahead of time, bullets, etc. However inarticulate and whatever his pathology, he seems to have more in common with the unabomer or Timothy McVeigh than the violent eruptions of a paranoid schizophrenic. And he didn’t go after just any government official, he went after a democrat who had been a prominent tea party target.

46

jre 01.13.11 at 9:00 pm

I see that I am not alone in having overlooked the jewel that is Glen Tomkins. And we have no excuse — his stuff has been sighted here before. For example, on the topic of quasi-recreational testosterone:

If you are ever tempted to start getting your weekly or monthly shot of essence of manhood and youth, just think of it as an opportunity to become more like Strom Thurmond. You, too, can have a reptile brain! Well, you can have a placebo that gives you an excuse to act like you have a reptile brain. Strom probably came by it naturally, you’ld have to fake it.”

47

John Protevi 01.13.11 at 9:36 pm

LFC, yes, there has to be some detail. We already know an awful lot about the images and rhetoric of Tucson (the Jesse Kelly campaign in particular) and we know an important detail: the choice of target. “Validity” is too strong for what I’m claiming, but I’ll be happy to claim something like “relatively grounded speculation.” But again, what I think is most important is that we not go looking for an ideological match. Here’s what I said in New APPS post in response to a similar objection:

Yes, I completely agree as to necessity of a link, but not as to the level on which the link was made. The link seems to be immersion in the anti-government (and violence as solution to government problem) milieu of Tucson. But I think it’s a mistake to look for ideological motivation, as in a match between message intake and output, i.e., looking for a repeated key phrase or even key idea, as would be evidence for influence in the history of philosophy example. But Loughner didn’t have a coherent ideology. Nonetheless, he, like many others in the last two year, chose a Democratic politician targeted by right wing rhetoric, and intensely so targeted by Giffords’s opponent in the last election.

So I think we have to look not to a smoking gun ideological match but to the way the target provided a promise to at least make a mark, to show he was serious, etc. Any big target would do (why not Gov. Jan Brewer?) but this one had more energy attached to her. So the ideology doesn’t belong to Loughner, but he picked up on the energy that a particular ideology aimed at Giffords.

Summary: it’s not the ideology that counted to Loughner, but the social energy that became attached to Giffords. And that energy was not generalized “anti-government” sentiment, but specifically targeted by those who do have an ideology.

Henry, if this constitutes thread-derailing, I’m happy to stop the conversation here.

48

John Protevi 01.13.11 at 9:38 pm

3rd and 4th grafs above should be indented as well.

49

nick s 01.13.11 at 10:23 pm

Not the first time it’s been mentioned.

I remain saddened by the reluctance of people to apply the term ‘troll’ to contexts not specifically bound to internet culture. Palin is trolling, of course — the argument is whether it’s in the old-school way, where it’s all about the rise and the attention — but none dare call it trolling.

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chris 01.13.11 at 10:25 pm

But Loughner didn’t have a coherent ideology.

So? Lots of people have incoherent ideologies, I don’t see that it holds them back much. Paranoids are perhaps especially likely to be incoherent by ordinary standards, with seemingly unrelated or opposed groups secretly working together as arms of the conspiracy. Any belief that the government is coming to take your guns or impose socialism or kill your grandma or whatever could fit enough for the crosshair map to be interpreted as a call to action (as indeed it was, even if the intended mode of action was electoral rather than homicidal), and most paranoids will probably fit the government into their conspiracy theorizing somewhere, anyway.

Much is made in some circles of evidence that Loughner supposedly had some animus toward Giffords dating back years; but he didn’t attack years ago, he attacked now, after the 2010 elections failed to remove Giffords from office. IMO, there is currently not enough information to be sure one way or the other whether the ramping-up of rhetoric surrounding the election pushed Loughner from just disliking Giffords to trying to kill her. It may never be determinable without telepathy. But it’s not an obviously ridiculous suggestion, even if no rational person would be driven to murder by the same rhetoric.

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Shelby 01.14.11 at 12:13 am

@27: No, not spam; I find the problem worse here than at other blogs that are primarily apolitical (or nonpolitical, if you prefer) but have roughly the same percentage of political posts. That may be partly because, political issues aside, the discussion here is usually quite good (an excellence that extends to political economy, but not to politics per se). The fall-off may therefore be more noticeable.

Incidentally, @8: I agree, an excellent comment, but one that I thought was unfortunately marred by its linkage to Palin. I understand that it was a response to the initial post, but it became simply nasty at that point. I’m not an adherent of Palin’s, but the dramatic overreactions to her say more about the people overreacting than they do about her.

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engels 01.14.11 at 12:46 am

Can someone explain to me how it is possible to have an ‘elevated’ political discussion of anything to do with Sarah Palin?

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Tim Wilkinson 01.14.11 at 12:59 am

No; DNFTT.

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PHB 01.14.11 at 1:07 am

@Engels 52

By burying her under the mountain of horse manure she spews forth daily, turfing it over and sticking a park bench on top with a WiFi hotspot.

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PHB 01.14.11 at 1:08 am

Not that I am advocating that be done of course. And it is utterly irresponsible of you to accuse me of doing so.

Why do you hate America?

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Antti Nannimus 01.14.11 at 2:07 am

Hi,

It is admirable that CT didn’t become just another venue for emotional, ill-considered, immediate, leaps-to-judgment and commentary on these atrocious and tragic events. However, perhaps we can now respectfully once again consider the lessons we seem to have such a hard time learning.

It would appear that Americans actually love these massacres because if not, we would have long ago done something about the widespread availability of the unnecessarily lethal personal firearms that make them possible. It has amost always been possible for us to protect our persons, homes, and families, from local violence, without also giving every fragile personality among us the “right” to commit extreme acts of mayhem and anonymous genocide on large numbers of our population. And when that has not been possible, these instruments of mass murder have not been the solution.

Although this is NOT an attempt to blame the victims, we must all be conscious of our own personal responsibility for the “way things are”. For example, in the latest issue du jour, it’s ironic, that both Judge John Rolls, and Representative Gabrielle Giffords, were apparently supporters of “gun rights”.

Giffords opposed the Washington, D.C. ban on handguns in 2008. She even bragged that she is the owner of the same kind of semi-automatic, easily concealed, high-capacity, Glock pistol that was used to shoot her. She said she considered gun ownership a constitutional right and an “Arizona tradition.”

She said, “As a gun owner, I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. In February, I was proud to sign the Amicus Brief in District of Columbia v. Heller asking the Supreme Court to uphold the lower court ruling that overturned the long standing DC gun ban. This is a common sense decision that reaffirms the Constitutional right – and Arizona tradition – of owning firearms. I commend the Court for ruling in favor of restoring our right to bear arms.”

Rolls was a George Bush appointee, and probably a Republican conservative, and it seems he apparently issued a ruling in support of “gun rights” from the federal bench. I can’t find the reference to that ruling at the moment, but I recently read about it. In any event, I’m sure he was put on the bench in order to support the conservative interpretations of the 2nd amendment.

No, these people absolutely did NOT deserve to get shot for holding these views. Let me reiterate—these victims did NOT deserve to be victims of this atrocity. However, until we understand that we are ALL the potential victims of our national policies and laws, none of us can believe we are safe from the lethality of the weapons we allow to circulate amongst us in large number without significant controls on who has them, or why they do.

It is particularly unseemly that this recent new atrocity has become such a big, important, urgent, issue, because this time it was a federal judge and a U.S. congressional representative who were the ones to get shot. Without that fact, this event would have once again been a quickly passing news item. It seems it is only a matter of minor concern when dozens and scores of children and anonymous civilians are killed in the frequent, regular, predictable, shooting massacres in our country. When the suggested remedy is to make it illegal to carry or use firearms against U.S. Government officials, never mind the rest of us, it seems to not matter that others of us without such official powers are also killed and victimized. In fact, the greatest loss in this latest atrocity was 9-year-old Christina Green who never had the time in her brief remarkable life to be responsible in any way for the circumstances that led to her murder. What are we going to do to protect her?

With both liberal and conservative justifications, our country has now long and systematically put mentally unstable people outside the reach of our “helping” and custodial systems, so that many of them continue to sink deeper and deeper into alienation, depression, and pathological behavior. That’s where most of these tragedies and atrocities emanate, even in this “Age of Terrorism”. I have very little optimism that will change any time soon.

With a rational understanding of the problem and risks to all of us, we could at least finally marginalize the extremists on this constantly recurring issue, and fix the problem of easy and indiscriminate availability of these high-lethality, easily concealable murder weapons. Do we really need to be able to have these murder weapons for hunting deer, or even for protecting ourselves? Who do you need to kill today?

Have a nice day!
Antti

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JJ 01.14.11 at 3:13 am

Bravo, Nannimus. But let’s not get carried away and demand the abolition of overloaded and concealed weapons. After all, the principal victims of this tragic event are Sarah Palin and her libeled class of lawfully-armed supporters.

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CharleyCarp 01.14.11 at 5:51 am

51.2 — This woman has a large and devoted following, and serious ambitions to be a kingmaker (if not a queen). Whether her agenda is, as her fans seem to think, revolutionary, or as her detractors think, venal, the stakes here are awfully damn high. I see a whole lot more underreaction than overreaction.

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idlemind 01.14.11 at 8:42 am

Large and devoted following: check. Presidential aspirations: check. But this is a woman who quit the governorship half way through her term with no greater excuse than that the media was being mean to her. The idea that she would make it through a campaign far enough to get nominated, much less elected, is preposterous. Not because of her followers, who will remain steadfast. Because of herself, who will not.

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praisegod barebones 01.14.11 at 8:46 am

While I wouldn’t want to claim more celebrity for her than she’d claim for herself, it’s perhaps worth mentioning that over at Making Light, Abi Sutherland has been comparing Geert Wilders to a troll for quite some time. See eg here

If she’s right – and there are few people I’d rather go troll-spotting with – then the Palin phenomenon is to that extent precedented.

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chris 01.14.11 at 2:08 pm

It would appear that Americans actually love these massacres because if not, we would have long ago done something about the widespread availability of the unnecessarily lethal personal firearms that make them possible.

Does the phrase “unintended consequences” ring a bell? Gun massacres are a consequence of the widespread availability of firearms (especially high-rate-of-fire ones), but they are not its goal. Actually, I’m not sure if the high-rate-of-fire part *has* a goal, other than pissing off liberals; you certainly don’t need a hundred rounds per minute for hunting or self-defense.

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bianca steele 01.14.11 at 3:33 pm

This does not apply especially well to Sarah Palin because she is one of a kind, and Republicans are not personally responsible for the actions and words of all the people who identify with them and goals their political goals (any more than Palin is responsible for, say, the Sarah Palin Prayer Circle), but they should either take some concern for the consequences of their own speech or decisively repudiate those people. Wrapping themselves up in the pretense that facts, which they are in the best position to know, are ridiculous, is reprehensible.

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CharleyCarp 01.14.11 at 4:33 pm

no greater excuse than that the media was being mean to her she could make a ton of money, and play a bigger role in national politics, without being accountable to anyone outside her control.

She doesn’t have to be a successful candidate to be a player. If she dips in to the race, and is driven out by the elitists and RINOs, her position will only improve with her following. Nader had a smaller and considerably less devoted following in 2000, and played the spoiler. No Republican is going to take that chance in 2012, and so even if she’s never a candidate, she’ll be courted. Probably a prime convention speaking spot. Certainly input on the platform. And she’ll get to tour the country raising money and fighting communists.

This buffoon is serious as a heart attack.

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Uncle Kvetch 01.14.11 at 4:46 pm

I tend to think that demagogues should boast an agenda of some sort – even if it’s crude. I’m not sure what Palin’s for.

She’s for everything that the rest of the Republican Party, as currently constituted, is for. The only differences between her and, say, John Boehner or Eric Cantor are purely stylistic. She feeds red meat to the base while they keep up appearances for the benefit of the inside-the-Beltway crowd.

I’d like to heartily endorse Antti Nannimus’ comment above. The fact that it relegates its author (and me) to the lunatic fringe of current American political discourse is…rather sad, to put it mildly, but I don’t know what to do about that.

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bianca steele 01.14.11 at 4:59 pm

She feeds red meat to the base while they keep up appearances

That’s the problem, isn’t it? People who should know better seem to have confused “buying off so they’ll be quiet” with “feeding them red meat” (at least that’s the way it seemed to me at the point when I took my seat in this theater). It’s as if they are convinced it’s so obvious that keeping the rightwing party in power is necessary that they can persuade people of it by saying “but don’t you see it’s so obvious,” or maybe that politics is about getting votes for parties that preexist them and that they can’t do anything about.

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nick s 01.14.11 at 7:32 pm

Gun massacres are a consequence of the widespread availability of firearms (especially high-rate-of-fire ones), but they are not its goal.

Really? Every gun massacre becomes a cue for the NRA and Republican congressmen of very little brain to demand even greater availability — nay, mandatory issue — of firearms under the spurious pretext that having the entire populace weighed down with ballistic steel will somehow do, uh, something. (The latest shooting was followed a rush of purchases of the exact gun model used to carry it out.)

Gun massacres might not be an explicit goal of the more-guns-everywhere crowd, but they’re clearly a highly valued waypoint.

67

Substance McGravitas 01.14.11 at 8:38 pm

More evidence for the troll theory or business as usual?

Palin to deliver address at gun convention
By Jordan Fabian – 01/14/11 08:59 AM ET

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) will deliver a keynote address to a gun convention later this month.

Palin will speak Saturday, Jan. 29, to the Safari International Club (SCI) in Reno, Nev., according to the group’s website. The organization bills itself as “the leader in protecting the freedom to hunt and promoting wildlife conservation worldwide.”

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Substance McGravitas 01.14.11 at 8:38 pm

Why CT’s HTML differs from the HTML of, you know, THE WORLD is baffling.

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dan 01.14.11 at 8:44 pm

Not exactly new; it’s just that the phenomenon of internet trolling serves as an incredibly illuminating vantage point from which to observe what has, for years, been the default operating procedures of the American Right.

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dan 01.14.11 at 8:46 pm

or as Atrios has pointed out time and again – pissing off liberals is pretty much their sole guiding principle.

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Salient 01.14.11 at 9:50 pm

pissing off liberals is pretty much their sole guiding principle.

Hmmm. Ok, when 2012 rolls around, let’s all very publicly and emotively express how much it would upset us if Palin [a] entered the Presidential race as a third-party candidate or [b] was selected for White House Press Secretary.

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Josh 01.15.11 at 11:02 am

But Chris Bertram, Dersh used “blood libel” as shorthand for “destructive lie about Jews,” which is not rare among people of his political persuasion. How he gets from there to a defense of Palin’s using the term is beyond me: I guess his mode of reasoning is, as ever, “Spew non sequiturs and don’t let your opponents talk.”

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skidmarx 01.15.11 at 3:30 pm

@Substance McGravitas – expectinga new era of civility to break out is perhaps as fanciful as ever expecting Palin to retreat rather than reload.

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Jamey 01.15.11 at 9:56 pm

I think that Sarah Palin is something far more dangerous than a mere troll. She is the latest development in the blurring of the line between politics and celebrities who are merely famous for being famous. I don’t believe that she will be the one to become President though. Our political culture needs to degenerate further. But in another 30 years, it’s conceivable that the Snooki of that time could be a President or Senator and P.T. Barnum will be regarded as our nation’s greatest political philosopher.

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Glen Tomkins 01.16.11 at 5:22 am

Bianca Steele, @40

Practically speaking, the .mil address may indicate your troll is on deployment, since most military people would use their private e-mail accounts for blogging rather than their professional accounts, if possible. Among the many reasons for this would be network security concerns, professionalism in the sense of not pursuing leisure activities like blogging on company time (I assume you would normally only have your .mil account on your work computer), and professionalism in the sense of not mixing military status with political advocacy (much as you wouldn’t canvass in your uniform). Of course, civilian DoD employees and even contractors would get .mil e-mail accounts, so at least the last consideration might not apply if your troll is not actually uniformed military.

People on deployment tend to have quite a bit of time on their hands. Even for actual combat troops, deployment even to a combat zone tends to be a matter of days of boredom punctuated by seconds of sheer terror. And, of course, most of even the uniformed people we have in combat zones aren’t combat troops, and they have hours of hard work puntuated by hours of boredom to deal with. Not that having nothing better to do is any excuse for your troll’s behavior, but it perhaps makes its peculiar floridity and zest more understandable.

That said, I’ve been out of the game for five years, and perhaps they’ve changed the rules on how you get to use your .mil e-mail.

Formal rules or not, I can say that at least the informal rules on part of what I mentioned under professionalism above were definitely changing even before I got out of the game. The US military is definitely becoming more tolerant of its members blurring the lines between their official, military status and political expression. Since only the Right is interested in blurring the distinction, this has been a quite asymmetrical process. It’s made a winger both more likely to be in uniform, and less likely to feel that being a soldier should impose any restraints on expressing the most extreme views in the most extreme fashion.

At any rate, if this troll has crossed any serious behavioral lines, you might consider asking your Congressperson to make an inquiry about the abuse of the .mil account. I would urge this even more strongly if this person has revealed any involvement with Aryan Nation, the American Nazi Party, or any of those organizations that the SPLC would be interested in, and that even if there has been no really egregious violation of netiquette.

I might be able to give more useful observations or advice if you could give me a link to any of this person’s postings of interest.

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Glen Tomkins 01.16.11 at 7:02 am

Tim Wilkinson @28,

They say that owners gradually come to resemble their pets. The same seems to hold true of physicians and their patients, and you are quite correct that True Believer is not any sort of diagnosis. I’m afraid it’s more of a term of reference, a phrase that a schizophrenic has appropriated to a private meaning.

That said, I don’t really mean anything exotic or strange by the term. I’m simply referring to the frequent paroxysms of widespread belief in clearly delusional content, and often the spasm of murderous action on such beliefs, that wrack whole nations from time to time in their history. We see in such ideas as that witches threaten us, or that there is an International Jewish Conspiracy, or that Obama wasn’t really born in the US, a level of distortion of thought comparable to that in schizophrenia, and even with similar patterns of distortion, but occurring to whole populations, not individuals. Not that these individuals would meet criteria for CPS even if anyone dared call “sick”, the victims of so widespread a “mass psychosis” (another term of reference!) that the sick outnumber the sound of mind. They don’t have social/occupational dysfunction. They’re joiners and followers and obeyers, rather than anti-social loners, and that social success, that clubbishness, is what makes them destructive, where CPSers tend strongly to harmlessness to all but themselves.

This difference between the True Believer and the CPSer made me very skeptical from the outset that Loughner had CPS (of course, the diagnosis wouldn’t get the Chronic part of that label anyway just based on the first break). The fact of the murders itself tends to decrease the probability of, though obviously not categorically disprove, the idea that he’s schizophrenic. Though people rush to that explanation for any murder, especially mass murder, that can’t be explained as a crime for profit or a crime of passion, actually, very few CPSers (it’s not a rare disease) kill people. I haven’t seen statistics on the subject, I don’t think the police keep murder statistics by mental status of the killer, but if such statistics were available, I would be very surprised if the results were not that schizophrenics were much less likely than “normal” people to commit murder.

I also found the materials on the web site, also available right away, quite unconvincing for the diagnosis. Sure, there are all sorts of manifestations of disordered thought — ideas of influence, terms of reference, loosened associations, perscutory and grandiose delusions, etc., etc. — but all that is par for the course on the Right these days. Nothing there you can’t find in the “thinking” of Constitution in Exile people, and Paulites, and Posse Comitatus people. I have been out of the game for a while, but back in the day, I never had a single patient whose delusional content was political. So this factor too seemed to make CPS less likely as a diagnosis.

Put these two factors together, a murder that is political, and politically-centered delusions, and in the combination you have someone who is far more likely to be a True Believer, a victim of mass psychosis, than of individual level, actual diagnosis, schizophrenia.

That said, the more recent revelations about his recent social and occupational dysfunction, do tend to make at least some diagnosis, if not paranoid schizophrenia, more likely. This dysfunction does give him the other main criterion of that diagnosis, but there are plenty of reasons — physical health, mental health, or not at all medical in any sense — for people to have social/occupational dysfunction. You would still need to link the disordered thought to the dysfunction, see that the disordered thought is thus global and not just political, before you diagnose CPS.

Even if such linkages could be made, it is unlikely that they could be made without talking to the patient, with interviews of family, friends and witnesses to the outbursts helpful but not decisive. Based on what has been revealed so far, I would rate a manic episode, and/or a personality disorder, as more likely diagnoses, with it not being at all clear that any diagnosis is possible. People do grossly irrational things all the time without falling under suspicion that they suffer from any thought disorder.

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Tim Wilkinson 01.16.11 at 2:29 pm

Glenn, yes, that all sounds sensible and chimes in with my limited experience of diagnosed schizophrenics (‘diagnosed’ use here as a modal operator, like ‘alleged’, ‘suspected’, ‘so-called’, mainly because I think at least one of them was misdiagnosed even by the somewhat sketchy standards used for classifying these things).

I suppose the lack of political content in paranoid delusions makes quite a bit of sense, if it makes sense to talk of such things making sense, if paranoia is at root an excessively self-regarding view of the world – the negative, anti-Napoleonic side of disfunctionally excessive egocentricity. A focus on one individual (oneself) doesn’t mesh too well with politics, the letter being a fundamentally social thing.

Which in turn is relevant to the hegemonic stereotype of ‘conspiracy theories’ that is so useful to [insert defensive conspiracy joke]. The image of conspiracy theories is heavily skewed by inclusion in that category of theories about aliens, the supernatural, global warming, Obama’s closet-skeleton etc. All these of these basically acquire a proetectove film of minimal conspiratoriality (well, the last two are much more complicated) simply because the core belief is going to rub up against co0ntradiction from official sources, and the most obvious way of handling that is to posit the minal conspiracy represented by cover-up.

In the same way I suppose that theories that the government is part of the persecutory group is pretty likely to arise (because e.g. if they aren’t, why haven’t they done something about it/why is there no point, as one knows at some level there isn’t, in calling on them for help etc.). But such involvement isincidental and specifically not political because, in the end, being ranged against person X and engaging in horrific activities like replacing a spouse with a close but subtly different substitute, for reasons which are probably a bit obscure and shifty, is not a political kind of goal.

Which of course, just to linger longer on the old conspiracy theory soapbox, is why the ‘paranoid style’ and the tinfoil hat are so fundamentally inappropriate as images of the believer (even the True Believer) in political conspiracy.

Also: The US military is definitely becoming more tolerant of its members blurring the lines between their official, military status and political expression. Since only the Right is interested in blurring the distinction, this has been a quite asymmetrical process.

That may be enough to explain the assymetry, but I’d bet that there’s a backstop, too: if the political expression were to get all socialistic or civil libertarian (in a non-gun-totin, commie, kind of way), the tolerance would probably dry up pretty quickly. But then as a signed-up member of the cultic milieu of conspiracist fanatics, I would say that wouldn’t I.

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bianca steele 01.16.11 at 8:54 pm

Glen,
This was quite some time ago, and although a Google search turned up some troubling facts, is probably of mostly academic interest now. The person did stop using the .mil account for postings and unsolicited offlist e-mails, and someone with a similar name and similar attitudes began posting shortly after that from a free account, and though the topics touched at the edges of the acceptable (including several of the standard bugbears of the borderline paranoid), and was extremely hostile, there was no mention of real-world groups of any kind or activity more organized than a chess club (at least by the troll and in the threads including the troll).

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Anand Manikutty 01.18.11 at 9:43 pm

I like to think of it as the progressive “Donigerization” of American politics (see link above). Like with Wendy Doniger, you have one person unleashing a whole bunch of nonsense and it takes a small army of journalists and fact-checkers to set the record straight.

What may be done about politicians such as Sarah Palin and George W. Bush? Perhaps universities should require degree holders who gain achievement beyond a certain level in politics or business to do something to maintain their degrees. If Harvard Business School had added an “expiry date” to their MBA degree, at least we would have known what to expect with George W. Bush.

On the other hand, what is being proposed by Dean Nohria and Rakesh Khurana is an oath. The MBA Oath does absolutely nothing at all to solve the inherent problems of people going beyond into responsibilities that are well beyond their capabilities. It is just a ten minute oath, which changes nothing. Of course, that would have been obvious from the start for anyone with an ounce of common sense.

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