On Sunday afternoon, February 12, 2006, I check the New York Times Web site, as has been my custom since 9/11, to see if anything horrendous has happened since the morning papers arrived on my doorstep. The breaking news is that Vice President Dick Cheney has accidentally shot a quail-hunting buddy in Texas. What strikes me immediately about the story is not just that the vice president had shot somebody, but how he and the White House staff seemed to be handling it. The accident happened on Saturday night. The story wasn’t made public until Sunday afternoon, and it came out in an odd manner: not from any announcement by Cheney or the White House but from a story on the Web site of the Corpus Christi Caller Times, the result of a call Cheney’s host made to the local paper. Then, while the vice president remained out of view, members of the hunting party blamed the victim, Harry Whittington, for failing to observe hunting protocol. My reaction, which turned out to be the typical one, was that the incident perfectly illustrated the modus operandi of the Bush administration: when things go wrong, try to suppress the news; then, if you can’t, try to blame somebody else.
The timing of the story was remarkable for me personally. I had asked my friend Michael Yonchenko to help me collect e-mailed folklore from his friends on the day before the shooting. The column in which I asked my readers to help me with this project appeared on the day after the shooting. Here is what poured into my in-box in the days that followed:
Sunday, February 12
• Two photoshops under the helpful subject line “German Pope Makes Changes in Mass.” The first shows Pope Benedict XVI raising a glass of beer instead of a chalice of wine. The second shows him bearing a pretzel where the Eucharist would be.
• A talking parrot joke.
• A set of attorney-witness exchanges supposedly taken from transcripts of real trials. The exchanges were preceded by a friendly warning to me: “You may get more e-mail than you really want.”
• A joke about a psychiatrist and a proctologist.
• A joke letter to the IRS:
Enclosed is my 2005 tax return showing that I owe $3,407.00 in taxes. Please note the attached article from USA Today, wherein you will see that the Pentagon is paying $171.50 for hammers and NASA has paid $600.00 for a toilet seat.
(p.198) I am enclosing four toilet seats (value $2,400) and six hammers (value $1,029), bringing my total remitted to $3,429.00.
Please apply the overpayment of $22.00 to the “Presidential Election Fund,” as noted on my return. You can do this inexpensively by sending them one 1.5” Phillips Head screw (article from USA Today detailing how HUD pays $22.00 each for 1.5” Phillips Head Screws is enclosed for your convenience.)
It has been a pleasure to pay my tax bill this year, and I look forward to paying it again next year.
A Satisfied Taxpayer
• Subject line: “E-junk,” followed by a series of amusing and, presumably, real, road signs. (My favorite: A yellow, diamond-shaped sign says “Open Range.” Next to the sign is an oven with its door open.)
Monday, February 13
• An outsourcing joke, in which the photoshop shows a man pedaling a stationary bicycle-like generator that he is using to power up his laptop, the lid of which is labeled “MicrosoftTech Support Center #25 Bombay.”
• Two Bush jokes (see chapter 5).
Tuesday, February 14
I, along with a hundred or so other people, received an extraordinary response to a rather innocuous message that I and the same hundred or so other recipients had received the day before. Here, in its entirety, is the first message (I’ve changed the names and withheld the common denominator of this group of addressees to spare those involved any embarrassment):
Hopefully, we’ve solved my e-mail problems … you can go back to using my original e-mail address. Thanks for your patience.
And here was the response:
I’ve asked you twice in private (once last year and once recently - both with no response) so now I’ll try asking in public and see if that gets any results…
(p.199) Please….please, please, PLEASE stop listing everyone on the ‘To’ line of your emails! There is something called a ‘BCC’ line that will still deliver the email to everyone, but will hide the addresses from the recipients. [The URL for an online tutorial followed.]
Why should you do this?
1) My email address is now vulnerable to every email worm that may infect the computer of anyone on this list.
2) It violates the privacy of everyone on this list. What if my email address was “email@example.com”? Maybe I don’t want it splashed all over the place after I submitted it to you in confidence.
3) My email address is now free for anyone on the list to grab and use for spam.
4) Everyone has to scroll through the whole thing in order to get to the meat of the email. The headers of the email I’m replying to were longer than the email itself!
While I’m at it, may I suggest you clean up your list? I took the liberty of sorting it all out for you. Here is a list of duplicate addresses and the number of times they appear on your ‘To’ line: [The list followed.]
As I said, Dave, I’ve asked you to stop doing this twice before in private emails - -you did not respond and did not stop. I’m sure you’re a nice guy and all but please be more considerate and cautious when it comes to other peoples private information!
That message was followed, inevitably, by a succinct e-mail from another member of that interminable list of addressees: “I think you’re nuts. In the future, kindly spare me your rantings.” And finally, a “mea culpa” message from the ranter:
To all (and particularly to Dave),
Rash actions are flattering to no one, nor is there any honor in refusing to admit to mistakes. My mistake was including you all in my message to Dave who … does not deserve public flogging.
Thus, in response to my public diatribe, I offer a public apology in its place.
I also offer a subscription-based email list which I can host for free. This would allow users to add and remove themselves and provide moderation control if desired. I will leave it up to Dave and the rest of you to decide if you want it.
Again … my apologies.
There’s much to be learned from this little exchange. First, as Aaron’s message makes clear, people handle their mass e-mailing chores in ways that reveal not only their technical expertise but their familiarity with what has come to be called “netiquette.” Aaron obviously finds it rude of Dave to make him scroll past all those addresses when they could all be suppressed. As one who, for the purposes of this book, is interested in getting some idea of how many generations of forwards preceded an item of newslore’s arrival in my in-box, I’m disappointed when the addresses have been deleted or suppressed, but generally, I see Aaron’s point. What’s surprising about his diatribe is that in berating Dave about his breach of netiquette he committed two more egregious breaches himself: he sent a message that (p.200) was meant only for one person to an entire list of people, which compounds the second sin of “flaming.” All this hints at our growing impatience with the sheer volume of e-mail pouring into our in-boxes, and our inexperience at presenting our social selves in this strange new world of communication. Both issues, volume and netiquette, underscore the risks of forwarding newslore.
Here is what else arrived on Tuesday:
• Lyrics to “The Kennebunkport Hillbilly,” sung to the tune of the Beverly Hillbillies theme song.
• Another Bush joke (see chapter 5).
• A Bill and Hillary joke dated February 7, 2001 (see chapter 2).
• A Bill Clinton-George W. Bush joke dated February 9, 2001 (see chapter 5).
Then came the Cheney jokes:
• A fake news story from the Onion, not attributed.
• A list of Cheney’s Top Ten Excuses from the Letterman show, not attributed.
• An exchange between host Jon Stewart and “correspondent” Rob Corddry from The Daily Show.
• A triple one-liner, the humor of which depends on one’s knowing that Cheney has a heart problem, that the Bush administration was fending off charges that it was engaging in illegal domestic surveillance, and that the United States has been accused of torturing suspected terrorists in Iraq and through proxies in other countries:
After Cheney shot the guy he called out to the Secret Service: “Save his heart!” [Leno] And then: “OK, anyone else have a problem with domestic wiretaps?!”
Before he shot him he reportedly tortured him for 30 minutes.
• Two editorial cartoons and a photo collage of Cheney making a number of hand gestures, with the caption “Ten Ways Dick Cheney Can Kill You.”
Wednesday, February 15
• A transcript from “Ye Olde Briefing Room,” in which a presidential spokesman stonewalls questions about Vice President Aaron Burr’s role in the death of Alexander Hamilton, attributed to salon.com.
• “Actual SAT answers from Arkansas.”
Thursday, February 16
There were the usuals: “Russell Frank, I am calling from Benin republic West Africa” and “Congratulations, You Have Won US$500,000.00.” Funny that we don’t even bat an eyelash anymore when we see such tidings. Then came a poem consisting of verbatim quotes from (p.201) George W. Bush, attributed to a Washington Post writer, a fake news story from Salon, and still more Bush jokes (see chapter 5).
While I’m getting all this e-mail, and the late-night comedians are doing their thing, the newspapers are printing sidebars to the hunting accident story about the jokes. The key to this departure from standard operating procedure is that the shooting victim was not considered to be in any danger. On Wednesday, Cheney comes out from behind various administration spokespersons and takes responsibility for the accident. This does not stem the tide of e-mailed jokes about the incident.
“How about this one?” a colleague asks. It’s an animated game. Cheney raises his shotgun. A covey of quail flies up from the trees. Click your mouse when you want Cheney to shoot. I do so. Cheney spins and shoots one of the three people standing off to the side.
Friday, February 17
• Unconfirmed Urban Myth (1/19/02): Hard Laughter:
A female news anchor in Michigan, the day after it was supposed to have snowed and didn’t, turned to the weatherman and asked, “So Bob, where’s that eight inches you promised me last night?”
Not only did the weatherman have to leave the set, but half the crew did too, because they were laughing so hard.
• Five Enron/Arthur Andersen jokes (see chapter 6).
• Two unattributed political jokes (one of which is a metajoke):
I don’t approve of political jokes … I’ve seen too many of them get elected.
How come we choose from just two people for President and 50 for Miss America?
• A Social Security joke:
Kathy and Suzy are having a conversation during their lunch break.
Kathy asks, “So, Suzy, how’s your sex life these days?”
Suzy replies, “Oh, you know. It’s the usual, Social Security kind.”
“Social Security?” Kathy asked quizzically.
“Yeah, you get a little each month, but it’s not really enough to live on.”
• A couple of Bill Clinton jokes, one of which is in chapter 2. Here is the other:
Clinton is in the supermarket picking up some things for the new office in New York when a stock boy accidentally bumps into him.
(p.202) “Pardon me,” the stock boy says.
“Sure,” Clinton replies, “but it’ll cost you.”
• An oversexed and hypocritical pastor joke:
Jesse Jackson, Jim Baker, and Jimmy Swaggert have written an impressive new book.… It’s called: “Ministers Do More Than Lay People.”
• A George W. Bush joke (see chapter 5).
The Cheney joke of the day is a two-panel photo cartoon. In the first panel, Dick Cheney is on the phone; in the second, Bill Clinton is on the phone. Cheney is saying, “Bill—interested in doing a little quail hunting next weekend?? Bring the wife!”
Saturday, February 18
• An Arthur Andersen joke (see the introduction).
• Three Bush jokes, two of which are in chapter 5. Here’s the other:
- How many members of the Bush administration does it take to change a light bulb?
1. One to deny that a light bulb needs to be changed;
2. One to attack the patriotism of anyone who says the light bulb needs to be changed;
3. One to blame Clinton for burning out the light bulb;
4. One to tell the nations of the world that they are either for changing the light bulb or for eternal darkness;
5. One to give a billion dollar no-bid contract to Halliburton for the new light bulb;
6. One to arrange a photograph of Bush, dressed as a janitor, standing on a step ladder under the banner ‘Bulb Accomplished’;
7. One administration insider to resign and in detail reveal how Bush was literally ‘in the dark’ the whole time;
8. One to viciously smear No. 7;
9. One surrogate to campaign on TV and at rallies on how George Bush has had a strong light-bulb-changing policy all along;
10. And finally, one to confuse Americans about the difference between screwing a light bulb and screwing the country.
• A newspaper joke:
Five cannibals get jobs at a newspaper. During the welcoming ceremony the managing editor says, “You’re all part of our team now. You can earn good money here, and you (p.203) can go to the cafeteria for something to eat. So please don’t trouble any of the other employees.” The cannibals promised.
Four weeks later the boss returns and says, “You’re all working very hard, and I’m very satisfied with all of you. However, one of our janitors has disappeared. Do any of you know what happened to him?”
The cannibals all shake their heads no.
After the boss has left, the leader of the cannibals says to the others, “Which of you idiots ate the janitor?”
A hand raises hesitantly, to which the leader of the cannibals replies, “You fool! For four weeks we’ve been eating copy editors and supervisors and no one noticed anything, and you have to go and eat the janitor!”
• 25 Rules for Being a Loyal Republican
1) You have to believe that the nation’s recent and sorrowfully-missed 8-year prosperity was due to the work of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, but that yesterday’s gas prices are all Clinton’s fault.
2) You have to believe that those privileged from birth achieve success all on their own.
3) You have to be against government programs, but expect your Social Security and farm subsidy checks on time.
4) You have to believe that government should stay out of people’s lives, yet you want government to ban same-sex marriages and determine what your official language should be.
5) You have to believe that pollution is ok, so long as it makes a profit.
6) You have to believe in prayer in schools, as long as you don’t pray to Allah or Buddha.
7) You have to believe that only your own teenagers are still virgins.
8) You have to believe that a woman cannot be trusted with decisions about her own body, but that large multinational corporations should have no regulation or interference whatsoever.
9) You believe Jesus loves you, and by the way, Jesus shares your hatred of AIDS victims, homosexuals, and President Clinton.
10) You have to believe that society is colorblind and growing up black in America doesn’t diminish your opportunities, but you still won’t vote for Alan Keyes.
11) You have to believe that it was wise to allow Ken Starr to spend $50 million dollars to attack Clinton because no other U.S. presidents have ever been unfaithful to their wives.
12) You have to believe that a waiting period for purchasing a handgun is bad because quick access to a new firearm is an important concern for all Americans.
13) You have to believe it is wise to keep condoms out of schools, because we all know if teenagers don’t have condoms they won’t have sex.
(p.204) 14) You have to believe that the ACLU is bad because they defend the Constitution, while the NRA is good because they defend the Constitution.
15) You have to believe that socialism hasn’t worked anywhere, and that Europe doesn’t exist.
16) You have to believe the AIDS virus is not important enough to deserve federal funding proportionate to the resulting death rate and that the public doesn’t need to be educated about it, because if we just ignore it, it will go away.
17) You have to believe that biology teachers are corrupting the morals of 6th graders if they teach them the basics of human sexuality, but the Bible, which is full of sex and violence, is good reading.
18) You have to believe that Chinese communist missiles have killed more Americans than handguns, alcohol, and tobacco.
19) You have to believe that even though governments have supported the arts for 5000 years and that most of the great works of art were paid for by governments, our government should shun any such support. After all, the rich can afford to buy their own and the poor don’t need any.
20) You have to believe that the lumber from the last one percent of old-growth U.S. forests is well worth the destruction of those forests and the extinction of the several species of plants and animals that live there.
21) You have to believe that we should forgive and pray for Newt Gingrich, Henry Hyde, and Bob Livingston for their marital infidelities, but that bastard Clinton should have been convicted.
22) You have to believe that 50,456,169 is a higher number than 50,996,116.
23) You have to believe that “having a mandate” is defined as “losing the popular vote”.
24) You have to believe a woman should be “pretty and in her place”, unless she is a right-wing spokesperson or radio advice show hostess, in which case she should be “petty and in your face”.
25) You have to believe that even though you attack scientists and the “intellectual elite” as godless, and try to prevent their discoveries and theories from being discussed in the public schools, you should take advantage of their labors to extend your life and improve its quality.
A week later, my friend Michael and I exchange the following e-mails:
Are my sources coming through for you?
Loud & clear—it’s a big help.
Your sources? I don’t understand.
YOU wrote “Are my sources coming through for you?” ya nimrod.
Let me try to explain again. You see the highlighted part below? So I thought you wrote that back to me, not realizing that it was the attachment of my email to you. So you see….oh, nevermind.
Michael, later the same day:
(p.205) OK…it’s been a very crazy day. Let me set the record straight on the email exchange we had today. But first, let me sound off. I love to sound off.
I hate all digital means of communications. Yes! Commander Buttons wants to resign his commission. I can’t take it anymore. I had to replace my cell phone/Palm Pilot this week. I wanted the same model as the one I lost on a fishing expedition on Kauai (the second time I’ve done this in 2 years….a personal best). It is no longer made. So I get the new Treo 650 (which has already been replaced by the Treo 700). Because I need a phone that is Mac compatible, the only other choice was a Blackberry and for too many reasons to explain right now I definitely didn’t want one. So I’m saddled with the Treo 650.
This thing can do everything but make an espresso. It may be able to, but I haven’t figured out how to make it work. It can do so many things that I will never use. But in order for all of these things to work I will need an engineering degree. I don’t want a “memo pad” that is different from a “task” application which is different from a “graffiti pad” which is different from a “graffiti-2 pad”. I don’t need 3 different email applications. I don’t need the camera or camcorder. I suspect I can launch a missile attack with this thing….or maybe I’m looking at one of the many games I can play. ALL I WANT IS A CELL PHONE, CONTACT LIST, CALENDAR AND EMAIL!!! I can even live without the email!!!
The buttons are tiny. And given that Arthur Itis is beginning to set up housekeeping in my body, this presents problems. (If the body is the temple of my soul, then mine is the Temple of Doom). I make too many wrong mistakes…as Yogi would say (he’s the Zen Master of my temple).
I have spent a week trying to eliminate all the applications I call “the fluff stuff”…too much fluff stuff on this damn thing. I have been on the phone with tech support several times this week. Not because I’m making too many wrong mistakes, but because this thing is full of bugs. Although they insist it is Mac compatible, they did not thoroughly test or debug the applications. They are doing this in the marketplace using customers as test subjects. I am their beta-test site. And at the risk of sounding intolerant, I don’t like talking to the support people in India because their accents are impossible to understand on bad phone lines. I have had to apologize and ask politely to speak to someone else because I can’t understand what is being said. And these people are so wonderfully patient and polite that I can’t even consider getting frustrated or annoyed! So instead I snarl at Pinky and he doesn’t understand that he didn’t do anything wrong. So then he runs to Lea and she knows that I am having a problem with the Treo and she yells at me. I hide under my desk. I’m a bad dog.
And don’t get me started on email. It is as primitive a form of modern communications as can be. It is fast, but it leaves you without enough information or understanding. There is no tone of voice. There is no body language. And on top of it all nobody (p.206) writes good (I know….I’m just making a point). The language is clipped, cryptic and full of acronyms, abbreviations and is written without punctuation. “I went to the store to do my grocery shopping”, becomes: “went to store, groceries.” I find out that people are feeling insulted by my emails because they can’t “hear” that I am joking about the subject of our “discussion”. Puns are pointless. Sarcasm can’t be understood. The laughter in my voice can’t be heard. So now I have to “say” something with “(a joke)” typed next to what I have written.
- Just look at the simple email exchange we had today.
- I wrote:
- Are my sources coming through for you?
- This is the response I got from you:
- Loud & clear—it’s a big help.
- Are my sources coming through for you?
- I responded:
- Your sources? I don’t understand.
- You responded:
- YOU wrote “Are my sources coming through for you?” ya nimrod.
- Your sources? I don’t understand.
The previous sentence is the very core of our misunderstanding each other. As is usually the case, your email listed my original question without the date and time “quotation” of my original email. Therefore, I thought you were also asking me “Are my sources coming through for you?” Get it?
Huh? I’m thinking “Why are Russ’s resources talking to me, who are they and what did I need from them or what does Russ think I need? Am I really being a Nimrod? Or is Russ making a joke? Or is he angry that I’m confused and taking up too much of his time? Is he really that busy? How can folklore be busy work? You can’t rush folklore. There’s no rushing in folklore. Perfessers don’t ever rush. That’s what makes Russ a good folklore perfesser. Am I being insulted? Should I tell him to ‘go to hell?’” So now we are no longer addressing the simple subject at hand. We are now talking about what we THOUGHT we were talking about and what the intent of our words may or may not, have or have not, will or will not be or been.
And I’m trying to do this on Treo 650 that doesn’t work in American English, that has tiny buttons. I’m trying to do this while I’m driving and listening to the NPR report on the copyright infringement lawsuit brought against the makers of the Blackberry.
You know how much I love the buttons. But they don’t love me anymore. I could make them sing in the past, but now their tune seems like an aria from a Wagner (pronounced VAHGNUH) opera. Just give me a crayon, a piece of paper and a stamped envelope and I’m cool.
Cmdr. Buttons (ret.)
(p.207) Here are the totals for the week: 12 Bush jokes, 9 Cheney jokes, 6 Enron jokes, 3 Bill and/or Hillary Clinton jokes, and 14 miscellaneous jokes, half of which I would consider newslore in the sense that you have to have been paying attention to the news to understand the jokes.
One other postscript. On March 1, 2006, I received an e-mail with the following subject line, misspelling and all: “FWD: Chenney shot a lawyer.” Oh good, I thought, another Cheney joke. Here is what was in the body of the message: “It’s time to save on medicines! More than 900 meds”—including Cialis, Viagra, and Levitra. “Discreet package to your door! Shipped from Canada!” I must salute whoever sent this e-mail. Such stuff pours into my in-box every day, and it’s usually obvious enough that I can route it right into the trash without opening it. This one fooled me, and the way it fooled me is a measure of the mania for Cheney hunting jokes in the winter of 2006.