by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
The amount of e-mail “spam” I get on a given day is enough to make me howl “shut ’em down” anytime someone proposes legislation to make spamming illegal. In fact, the death penalty for spammers is probably something I could support at this point. So this year, I got a “spam filter” that has reduced the spam to a manageable amount.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t take care of the people who go through the effort to forward me all the crap from their inboxes. For example, one colleague – whom we will call Z to protect his anonymity – has a habit of sitting down at the end of each day and forwarding several “gems” to me and several dozen other lucky individuals. Nestled in with the off-color jokes, soft-core porn and holiday cards are some of the weirdest pieces of right-wing propaganda I have ever seen.
For example, this came from Z last week, along with a photo of several Marines in prayer: “If you look closely at the picture above, you will note that all the Marines pictured are bowing their heads. That’s because they’re praying. This has the ACLU up in arms. ‘These are federal employees,’ says Lucius Traveler, a spokesman for the ACLU, ‘on federal property and on federal time. For them to pray is clearly an establishment of religion, and we must nip this in the bud immediately.’ “
“When asked about the ACLU’s charges, Col. Jack Fessender, speaking for the commandant of the corps, said, ‘Screw the ACLU.’ “
This would be a real indictment of the ACLU if it were true. But it isn’t. The Marines can’t find any record of a Jack Fessender. And the ACLU has not made any protest about soldiers praying and has never had anyone named Lucius Traveler working for them. Also, the ACLU only takes on legal battles when an individual complains that his or her civil liberties have been violated. For example, when they defended Rush Limbaugh after police wanted to examine his medical records while investigating how he had illegally obtained OxyContin.
Or take this little zinger Z forwarded this past year. It is supposedly from a Dr. Johnson of the University of Mississippi, who volunteered to help hurricane survivors when they arrived in Houston. According his account, there was no problem with supplies, food or shelter. In fact, the convention center was packed with “queen-size beds, clean showers, a hospital, a library and even a theater room.”
No, the real problem was with the evacuees themselves. You see, when Johnson went to help serve food to the evacuees, things took a turn for the worse: “Evacuees come slowly to receive this mountain of food that is worth serving to a king! Many look at the food in disgust and demand burgers, pizza, and even McDonald’s! Only one out of 10 people who took something would say ‘thank you’ – the rest took items as if it was their God-given right to be served without a shred of appreciation! They would ask for beer and liquor.”
The e-mail describes numerous similar events, all with the theme of a surplus of supplies and a surplus of ungrateful, demanding refugees, until finally we come to the bottom line of the problem. “Why should I help people who don’t want to help themselves? I saw only one white family and only two Hispanic families. The rest were blacks.”
According to truthorfiction.com, Johnson does work at the University of Mississippi but says he is not the author of this e-mail and has not been in Texas for more than 10 years.
Another weird e-mail described a professor at UCLA that taught a required course for which the sole purpose was to prove that God did not exist. But this year, an intrepid young Christian was taking the course. At the end of the course, the professor challenged the class to prove that God existed by praying for God to prevent a piece of chalk from breaking when he dropped it on the floor. The young man took up the challenge and prayed for the chalk to remain intact.
“As it hit the ground, it simply rolled away unbroken. The professor’s jaw dropped as he stared at the chalk. He looked up at the young man and then ran out of the lecture hall. The young man proceeded to walk to the front of the room and share his faith in Jesus for the next half-hour.”
There is no way to verify this account except that UCLA currently doesn’t offer a course in proving that God doesn’t exist. Perhaps next semester.
These hoaxes fit right in with the right-wing ideology and do a good job of reinforcing right-wing stereotypes and prejudices: that the ACLU hates America, Christians and soldiers; that poor people are poor because they are lazy and/or black; and that our higher education system is designed to be anti-Christian. And, perhaps most important, it inoculates those who believe these stories from exposure to contradictory information that might challenge their stereotypes and prejudices.
All of these e-mails from Z end with the admonition to “send this to all your friends and everyone in your address book.” Listen, friends don’t send friends their spam. I know Z might be well-intentioned in his own weird way, but it doesn’t take more than a minute to research these reports and make sure you aren’t forwarding a hoax. Z, please check out www.truthorfiction.com, hoaxbusters.ciac.org or www.breakthechain.org before hitting the send button. Otherwise I will have to invest in a “sucker-filter” next year.