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Another chain letter response

February 19th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

This chain letter was forwarded to me out of frustration at having received the letter rather than because the sender agreed with the contents. Nonetheless, it was in my inbox, and that meant a debunking was called for. It’s long, and I had time on my hands, so it’s a bit involved, but it’s a valuable exercise in the actual anatomy of a chain letter.

For the brave among you, read on!

When you receive a chain letter, keep in mind that in the vast majority of cases—and this is especially true of political chain letters from the extremes (either extreme)—the letters will be riddled with inaccuracies, exaggerations, half-truths, and outright lies. If the letter is coming from someone who shares the general views of the letter they’re passing on, they’re almost certainly suffering from an acute case of confirmation bias.

This letter appears to fit the mold perfectly. Let’s start from the top.

Begin forwarded message:

Subject: Fwd: SCARIE………….??

Telltale signs of chain letter

1) Fwd
2) All caps
3) Excessive punctuation
4) misspelling

—–Original Message—– :

Take the three minutes to read this. Maybe he is wrong, but what if he’s right?

>

Terrible formatting from going through so many different email clients causes “>” to be placed at the beginning of every line, making not only the content but also the formatting of such a letter obnoxious. I’ve taken the liberty of removing every subsequent occurrence of “>"

David Kaiser is a respected historian whose published works have covered a broad
range of topics, from European Warfare to American League Baseball. Born in
1947, the son of a diplomat, Kaiser spent his childhood in three capital cities:
Washington D.C. , Albany , New York , and Dakar , Senegal .. He attended Harvard
University , graduating there in 1969 with a B.A. in history. He then spent
several years more at Harvard, gaining a PhD in history, which he obtained in
1976.. He served in the Army Reserve from 1970 to 1976.

He is a professor in the Strategy and Policy Department of the United States
Naval War College . He has previously taught at Carnegie Mellon, Williams
College and Harvard University . Kaiser’s latest book, The Road to Dallas, about
the Kennedy assassination, was just published by Harvard University Press.

This is true. David Kaiser is a respected historian. Much of these paragraphs (if not all of them) come from Dr. Kaiser’s Wikipedia page. However, also on his Wikipedia page is this:

In April 2009, a viral email comparing Barack Obama to the rise of the Third Reich was wrongly attributed to Kaiser. Kaiser has stated that the email is a forgery.[1] The email does not reflect Kaiser’s actual views. Snopes.com traced the email content to an anonymous commenter on Pat Dollard’s blog.

So the first paragraph asking “what if he’s right?” is moot. He’s not anything. He’s not a part of this email. He’s just a guy whose accomplishments are being used to give the absurd paragraphs that follow it the veneer of authority and respectability.

Continuing on:

Dr. David Kaiser
History Unfolding

“History Unfolding” is the actual name of Dr. Kaiser’s blog. Nothing below this line ever appeared in this blog.

I am a student of history. and I have studied history all my life. I have come
to think there is something monumentally large afoot, and I do not believe it is
simply a banking crisis, or a mortgage crisis, or a credit crisis. Yes these
exist, but they are merely single facets on a very large gemstone that is only
now coming into a sharper focus..

Translation: “I’m an expert on this issue because I’m writing under the guise of a historian. All your irrational fears can now be justified historically!”

Something of historic proportions is happening. I can sense it because I know
how it feels, smells, what it looks like, and how people react to it. Yes, a
perfect storm may be brewing, but there is something happening within our
country that has been evolving for about ten to fifteen years. The pace has
dramatically quickened in the past two.

Translation: “You’re right to have irrational fear of Obama. It’s his fault. I know the bailout happened under Bush and that the spending problems were precipitated by someone you supported, but it’s ok: Obama’s the one who’s really got the ball rolling, so you don’t have to feel bad about supporting Bush.”

We demand and then codify into law the requirement that our banks make massive
loans to people we know they can never pay back? Why?

“The crisis was caused by the Community Reinvestment Act even though the data show this to be wrong. I’m saying this so that you can blame the crisis on the Democrats and on the lower class, you loathe the former and don’t have occasion or desire to talk to the latter. I’ve therefore kept you and your friends in a bubble of blamelessness.”

We learned just days ago that the Federal Reserve, which has little or no real
oversight by anyone, has “loaned” two trillion dollars (that is
$2,000,000,000,000) over the past few months, but will not tell us to whom or
why or disclose the terms. That is our money. Yours and mine. And that is three
times the $700 billion we all argued about so strenuously just this past
September. Who has this money? Why do they have it? Why are the terms
unavailable to us? Who asked for it? Who authorized it? I thought this was a
government of “we the people,” who loaned our powers to our elected leaders.
Apparently not.

Translation: “Be angry at elected officials over the actions of the Federal Reserve Bank, even though the bank is not beholden to anyone within the government and Bush nominated Bernanke. Because hating the direction of the Federal Reserve as an independent system would mean the only elected official towards which you could direct your ire would be a Bush appointee, we’ll just ascribe to president Obama all actions taken by the federal reserve for the past 4 years.”

We have spent two or more decades intentionally de-industrializing our
economy… Why?

“Don’t worry, I’ll work this sentence back around to Obama. I promise.”

We have intentionally dumbed down our schools, ignored our history, and no
longer teach our founding documents, why we are exceptional, and why we are
worth preserving. Students by and large cannot write, think critically, read, or
articulate. Parents are not revolting, teachers are not picketing, school boards
continue to back mediocrity. Why?

Translation: “You’ve been asking yourself how an America-hater like Obama got elected. I’ll tell you. It’s because our schools aren’t teaching patriotism anymore! They’re not teaching about those good old-fashioned American values that you view as immutable! Pay no mind to slavery, internment, colonialism, etc. We need to teach ‘America: The Good parts Version’.”

We have now established the precedent of protesting every close election
(violently in California over a proposition that is so controversial that it
simply wants marriage to remain defined as between one man and one woman.Did you
ever think such a thing possible just a decade ago?) We have corrupted our
sacred political process by allowing unelected judges to write laws that
radically change our way of life, and then mainstream Marxist groups like ACORN
and others to turn our voting system into a banana republic. To what purpose?

Translation: “Judicial activism is new. Contested presidential elections are new. Read all about it in ‘America: the Good Parts Version’ (Marbury v. Madison and the elections of Thomas Jefferson and Rutherford B. Hayes omitted.) And everyone’s been talking about ACORN, so let’s throw them in there.”

Now our mortgage industry is collapsing, housing prices are in free fall, major
industries are failing, our banking system is on the verge of collapse, social
security is nearly bankrupt, as is Medicare and our entire government.

Translation: “I’m strongly implying that all the problems in the news are caused by right wing buzzwords like ‘Judicial Activism’, ‘voter fraud’, and ‘ACORN’. Does this make sense? No, but I don’t have to defend it not making sense because I didn’t explicitly draw the causality. I just implied it with the structure of my paragraphs. Fun, huh?”

Our education system is worse than a joke (I teach college and I know precisely
what I am talking about)

“I mentioned this before, but I’ll mention it again as I just remembered I’m pretending to be a college professor, so this’ll carry weight.”

– the list is staggering in its length, breadth, and
depth.. It is potentially 1929 x ten…

“I’m working my way up to something, but let me hit all the touchstones of American horror. We’ll start with the great depression.”

And we are at war with an enemy we cannot
even name for fear of offending people of the same religion, who, in turn,
cannot wait to slit the throats of your children if they have the opportunity to
do so.

“And we’ll continue with some fear of terrorism through a lovely little bit of Islamophobia.”

And finally, we have elected a man that no one really knows anything about, who
has never run so much as a Dairy Queen, let alone a town as big as Wasilla ,
Alaska ..

“We won’t talk about other people who never ran anything before becoming President (John McCain, John Kennedy, Harry Truman, and some guy named Abraham Lincoln. However, a couple of these are Republican heroes, so we’ll contrast Obama with right wing hero Sarah Palin.”

All of his associations and alliances are with real radicals in their
chosen fields of employment, and everything we learn about him, drip by drip, is
unsettling if not downright scary (Surely you have heard him speak about his
idea to create and fund a mandatory civilian defense force stronger than our
military for use inside our borders?

“I love trotting out this canard. People eat it up! This all comes from Obama’s commitment to using diplomacy as much as military might, but why let the truth get in the way of a good chain letter?”

No? Oh, of course. The media would never
play that for you over and over and then demand he answer it. Sarah Palin’s
pregnant daughter and $150,000 wardrobe are more important.)

“I know I’m dating my email with this little nugget, but people covering ridiculous but true stories about Republicans infuriates me to the same degree that making up things about Democrats excites me!”

Mr. Obama’s winning platform can be boiled down to one word: Change. Why?

I have never been so afraid for my country and for my children as I am now.

“Are you ready? Here comes my malarkey-de-resistance!”

This man campaigned on bringing people together, something he has never, ever
done in his professional life. In my assessment, Obama will divide us along
philosophical lines, push us apart, and then try to realign the pieces into a
new and different power structure. Change is indeed coming. And when it comes,
you will never see the same nation again.

“Be afraid! I’m about to break Godwin’s Law in 3…2…1…”

And that is only the beginning..

As a serious student of history, I thought I would never come to experience what
the ordinary, moral German must have felt in the mid-1930s In those times, the
“savior” was a former smooth-talking rabble-rouser from the streets, about whom
the average German knew next to nothing.

Nevermind that Hitler grew famous while in prison for attempting to overthrow the government. He grew rich from sales of Mein Kampf. So in the mid-30s, people already knew a) that he hated Jews and b) that he tried to violently overthrow the government.

What they should have known was that he
was associated with groups that shouted, shoved, and pushed around people with
whom they disagreed; he edged his way onto the political stage through great
oratory. Conservative “losers” read it right now.

All of this was well known.

And there were the promises.. Economic times were tough, people were losing
jobs, and he was a great speaker. And he smiled and frowned and waved a lot.

Translation: “He was a politician.”

And
people, even newspapers, were afraid to speak out for fear that his “brown
shirts” would bully and beat them into submission. Which they did – regularly.

“This has nothing to do with Obama, as I haven’t even attempted to draw parallels, but because other prevarications I’ve told have tenuous and dubious parallels, your mind will assume this one does too! Psychology 101!”

And then, he was duly elected to office, while a full-throttled economic crisis
bloomed at hand – the Great Depression.

A new leader comes to power in bad economic times? You don’t say! (Hoover –> Roosevelt, Carter –> Reagan, Bush –> Clinton, etc. etc. etc.)

Slowly, but surely he seized the
controls of government power, person by person, department by department,
bureaucracy by bureaucracy. The children of German citizens were at first,
encouraged to join a Youth Movement in his name where they were taught exactly
what to think. Later, they were required to do so. No Jews of course,

“More things that Hitler did that have no corollary! But you’ve already bitten by this point and you’re not going to let go!”

How did he get people on his side? He did it by promising jobs to the jobless,
money to the money-less, and rewards for the military-industrial complex.

A politician who promises jobs, an improved economy, and a strong military. Name me a presidential candidate who hasn’t campaigned on that in the last 50 years.

He did
it by indoctrinating the children, advocating gun control, health care for all,
better wages, better jobs, and promising to re-instill pride once again in the
country, across Europe , and across the world.

Let’s break this down: a) indoctrination: no corollary. b) gun control: no corollary (gun control was never a strong plank of the Obama platform, and he has done only one thing to change gun rights since he’s taken office: he’s now allowing them in national parks). c) health care cooperatives developed first in Germany, this is true. The only trouble is that they developed (in the form that continues today) in the late 1800s under Otto Von Bismarck. So that doesn’t work. d) reinstilling pride in the country? Once again, find me a presidential candidate who didn’t promise this. It certainly would fit the campaign of Ronald “It’s morning in America again” Reagan.

He did it with a compliant media
- did you know that? And he did this all in the name of justice and …. . …
change. And the people surely got what they voted for.

If you think I am exaggerating, look it up. It’s all there in the history books.

“Actually, I’m telling you to look it up as a derisive dare. This will reexert my authority as a (faux) historian and make you less likely to look it up. Because boy, I’m in trouble if you do even five minutes of research into this!”

So read your history books.

“But not really.”

Many people of conscience objected in 1933 and were
shouted down, called names, laughed at, and ridiculed. When Winston Churchill
pointed out the obvious in the late 1930s while seated in the House of Lordsin
England (he was not yet Prime Minister), he was booed into his seat and called a
crazy troublemaker. He was right, though. And the world came to regret that he
was not listened to.

Yes. He was right about Hitler. This has nothing to do with Obama. Incidentally, he also thought that England under the Labour government that came to power after the war would institute a Gestapo in England, so let’s not go saying he’s some kind of Nostradamus.

Do not forget that Germany was the most educated, the most cultured country in
Europe . It was full of music, art, museums, hospitals, laboratories, and
universities.

As were most western European countries.

And yet, in less than six years (a shorter time span than just two
terms of the U. S. presidency) it was rounding up its own citizens, killing
others, abrogating its laws, turning children against parents, and neighbors
against neighbors..

“I’m going to ignore all the historical and social factors that enabled Hitler’s rise to power, because they don’t have parallels in the modern world at all. I won’t mention the pervasive anti-Semitism endemic to all of Europe (the only thing approaching this in America right now is the Islamophobia that this essay endorses), nor with the psychological blow that Germany had suffered with its defeat in World War I.

All with the best of intentions, of course.. The road to
Hell is paved with them.

As a practical thinker, one not overly prone to emotional decisions, I have a
choice:

You’re not a practical thinker. You are prone to hyperbole and hysterics.

I can either believe what the objective pieces of evidence tell me (even
if they make me cringe with disgust);

“You know, the pieces of evidence I made up out of whole cloth to fit my preconceived notions!”

I can believe what history is shouting to
me from across the chasm of seven decades;

“I made some of that up, too!”

or I can hope I am wrong by closing
my eyes, having another latte, and ignoring what is transpiring around me..

Please do. For the love of truth, please close your eyes and have a latte.

I choose to believe the evidence.

“My evidence!”

No doubt some people will scoff at me, others
laugh, or think I am foolish, naive, or both.

I not only think that, I think you’re a fraud. No, I know you’re a fraud. And a liar.

To some degree, perhaps I am.

Finally, some truth!

But
I have never been afraid to look people in the eye and tell them exactly what I
believe-and why I believe it.

I pray I am wrong. I do not think I am.

You don’t have to pray. You are wrong. To an absurd degree.

Perhaps the only hope is our vote in the
next elections.

No, our only hope is for people on both extremes of the political spectrum to stop being so easily led around by snake oil salesmen like whomever you are.

David Kaiser
Jamestown , Rhode Island
United States

“But not really”

By passing this along, perhaps it will help to begin the awakening of America as
to where we are headed.

Or perhaps it will spread lies and idiocy around the Internet. Which, my friends, it the purpose of most chain letters.

People who send political chain letters around, I have found, are dogmatic to the point of intellectual myopia. I befriended a Tea Party guy at the Health Care protests I photographed. He sent me about 10 chain letters. All of them—to the very last one—had serious lies in them. Many of them were debunked on snopes. I replied to all that I could with corrections and exhortations for him to be more sceptical of what he reads. The funny thing is that he considers himself to be very sceptical. That’s the truly pernicious nature of confirmation bias. It blinds us to our own weaknesses.

If you ever get chain letters—especially ones like these—please forward them to me. I have a side project with a friend of mine debunking them. It’s sporadic, but we do it. And I enjoy it, strangely enough.

Stay alert. Stay sensible. Stay logical.

Andrew.

If you made it through that letter, congrats. I hope my commentary was caustic, trenchant, and amusing. OK, I actually just hope it was readable. As I read through the chain letter, I became more and more frustrated that someone I know bought into it uncritically.

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