How fake is Alex Jones?

Alex Jones and a cake shaped like a gun

The shocking fact you need to know about Alex Jones is that he’s 43 years old. What happened? Maybe yelling stretches your face out. Perhaps knowledge of vast conspiracies has overtaxed his system. Or maybe he looks like a 43 year-old who got mutated in a tanning booth explosion 53 years ago because only his character is forty-three. The guy who plays him is older. Did you not realize, as I had not, that Alex Jones of Infowars and The Alex Jones Show is a character played by the performance artist Alex Jones? That’s what custody claimant Alex Jones’s lawyer recently argued in Travis County District Court, in the matter of Jones v. Jones. I quote the Austin American-Statesman:

At a recent pretrial hearing, attorney Randall Wilhite told state District Judge Orlinda Naranjo that using his client Alex Jones’ on-air Infowars persona to evaluate Alex Jones as a father would be like judging Jack Nicholson in a custody dispute based on his performance as the Joker in “Batman.”

“He’s playing a character,” Wilhite said of Jones. “He is a performance artist.”

Hold the phone—is Alex Jones breaking kayfabe? Never break kayfabe. The only time it’s okay is when your kids are on the line, as in the 1980s WWF storyline where Macho Man Randy Savage pretended to break kayfabe by wearing a suit and appearing  in family court as Randall Saváge, but then his essentially macho nature broke through and he hit his kids with a chair. Anyway, if you ever wanted to pin down Alex Jones and ask him whether he believes all the conspiracies his show presents as news, now is the time in Travis County.

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Awful poem will not, in fact, be read at Trump’s inauguration

Lyric poet Joseph Charles McKenzie

When I first read “Pibroch of the Domhnall,” a lyric poem celebrating the presidency of Donald Trump, it was in the context of an Independent story that made it sound like the poem would be read at Trump’s inauguration. It won’t. Although “Pibroch of the Domhnall” is an occasional poem Joseph Charles McKenzie wrote for Trump’s inauguration, it is not his inaugural poem. Snopes makes that clear, and in so doing throws a little shade at the Independent for sharing the story on social media with the tagline “Donald Trump to pay tribute to British heritage at inauguration with poem about Scotland.”

That formulation crosses the line between misleading and untrue. Instead of calling “Pibroch of the Domhnall” a Trump inauguration poem and letting the reader conclude it’s the inauguration poem, this version explicitly says the poem will happen at the inauguration. But it’s not the headline; it’s a social media post. Should the Independent apply to its Facebook posts the same standards of fact it applies to news stories?

The knee-jerk answer is yes. The newspaper relies on its reputation for accuracy, and that reputation attaches to its name on Facebook as readily as it does in print. But do we therefore expect them to fact-check every tweet? Must they respond to every @ with the same ethics that guide the sports page? Or do we kind of expect from social media a modicum of just sayin’ stuff?

We probably agree the social-media portrayal of how this poem relates to Trump’s inauguration is dishonest and therefore bad. But I suspect we also agree that it’s not as bad as if they did it in the newspaper. If this is true, and we expect more scrupulous accuracy in the news, then it follows that we expect the amount of dishonesty on social media to be greater than zero.

Finally, society has developed a system of mass communication less trustworthy than the newspaper. That we would not only welcome this advancement but also hold it to a lower standard of truth than other media—even as we panic over “fake news”—suggests that truth is not our number-one priority when it comes to information.

We want to know the truth, of course. But we want to know the truth already; we want the truth to support our existing views. The “truth” that Trump’s inaugural poem is rhyming doggerel about how Barack Obama was a tyrant confirms our view of the new president as a classless boor. It matters that it’s not his official inauguration poem, but it doesn’t really matter. The theme of that untrue story is true.

My favorite stanza is the one that celebrates the defeat of academia:

Academe now lies dead, the old order rots,
No longer policing our words and our thoughts;
Its ignorant hirelings pretending to teach
Are backward in vision, sophomoric in speech.

I’m so sick of college policing my thoughts. This poem really captures something about the marriage between smug populism and conservative opportunism that gave us President Trump. They really ought to read it at his inauguration. But we ought not to spread that untrue story on social media, even though it’s what we want to do. Perhaps some of that old, thought-policing order is good for us.

United States reserves the right to launch nuclear first strike

The first and last person to use nuclear weapons in war, Harry S. Truman

The first and last person to use nuclear weapons in war, Harry S. Truman

One of the central propositions of the Obama presidency, along with closing Guantanamo Bay and shooting Osama Bin Laden in the face, was to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in US foreign policy. In both Prague in 2009 and Hiroshima in May, the president called for “a world without nuclear weapons.” Until that world is ours, though, the United States reserves the right to nuke first and ask questions later, presumably while pouring water over a rag stuffed in your mouth. The Times reports today that national security advisors have convinced the president to abandon plans to foreswear first use of nuclear weapons in combat. As of today, but also as of 1945, you don’t have to nuke the US for the US to nuke you.

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Friday links! Put the T in the P edition

The official logo of the Trump-Pence campaign

The official logo of the Trump-Pence campaign

For a candidate who usually benefits from foreign tragedy, Donald Trump sure drew the deuce yesterday. He was all set to announce Indiana governor Mike Pence as his running mate, but then a truck driver killed 84 people during Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, France. Newt Gingrich called on us to realize that we are at war with “people who seek to destroy our civilization,” which is about the level of insight he offers. Chris Christie refused questions from his front yard, after a storm knocked out his power and a former aide pled guilty to bribery charges. Similarly contending with forces beyond his control, Trump postponed his announcement of a running mate out of respect for Nice, then had to announce early this morning, apparently to beat Indiana’s deadline for gubernatorial candidates to withdraw from the race. Then he released the vaguely sexual logo above. Today is Friday, and even the luckiest people in the world get snakebit sometimes. Won’t you savor the comeuppance with me?

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Tim Fox puts Montana back on the wrong side of history

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox and his little badge, which isn't like tucking your jeans into cowboy boots at all

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox and his little badge

It’s been a long time since Montana was on the wrong side of a civil rights debate. Since 2014, when Attorney General Tim Fox withdrew his appeal of a circuit court decision that declared our ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, you hardly ever see Montana in lists of states that begin “Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi…” Fortunately, President Obama’s directive that transgender people be allowed to use the public bathrooms of their choice has given us a new civil rights issue to be wrong about.

Last week, Fox filed suit against the federal government over Obama’s directive, putting Montana in cahoots with a couple dozen other states whose governors and attorneys general are deeply concerned with staking out territory on meaningless social issues during an election year freedom. Obviously, this is an issue that affects all of us, in the sense that we all have opinions about it even though it affects a small number of people. National estimates of the number of trans people in America are famously hard to come by, and estimates of the Montana trans population don’t exist. Here’s the New York Times on what we can glean from Social Security Administration data:

Since the Social Security Administration started in 1936, 135,367 people have changed their name to one of the opposite gender, and 30,006 also changed their sex accordingly, the study found. Of Americans who participated in the 2010 census, 89,667 had changed their names and 21,833 had also changed their sex.

Ninety thousand is probably a low estimate, since many trans people presumably do not officially change their names or genders with Social Security. Still, these numbers put the lowball estimate of transgender Americans at about .03% of the population. If we work from that estimate and assume Montana’s trans population is improbably identical to the national ratio, we can expect to find about 300 transgender people in the whole state.

And how many of them attend K-12? Fox’s lawsuit focuses narrowly on how Obama’s directive affects public schools. He may have taken the historically bad bet of using his state office to sue the feds over a civil rights issue, but at least he’s chosen an issue that is extremely minor. I think trans people should use whatever bathrooms they like, and I don’t mean to suggest that their rights are unimportant. But the effect of their rights on non-trans people is unimportant. I submit that transgender bathroom use is a purely theoretical idea for cisgendered Americans, particularly in Montana.  You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent, in which I praise Fox for his bold action. It’s ironic. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links.