Stupid White Men

Moore's 2000 book, "Stupid White Men," is one more chapter in the Gospel According to Michael. Its very title reveals the core of Moore's appeal in this narcissistic age.

Think of it for a moment. The drive to feel superior to others is a powerful motivator, particularly if a person has a bit of a self-image problem. It's powerful enough to fuel major political movements: the Know-Nothings of the 1850s rejoiced that they were superior to immigrant Germans and Italians; the segregationists of the next century rejoiced that they were superior to blacks, to say nothing of constant national rivalries.

Most of Moore's productions, filmed and written, seem to center on Moore showing how he is smart and sincere and everyone else in the production is foolish or nasty. The real emotional appeal to the viewer/reader is: follow Moore, identify with Moore, and you, too, are superior to these often-powerful but really ignorant people. You are not the loser -- they are!

"Stupid White Men" -- a perfect choice for a title. Not to mention Chapter Five, which begins "Do you sometimes believe you live in a nation of idiots?" By buying the book, and dare we say "believing in Moore," the follower demonstrates his superiority to "stupid white men" and the idiots that fill his nation. He may be an albino yuppie (a fair description of many followers), but he's proven he is not stupid, at least. Moore has invented a $25 self-esteem course for aspiring yuppies.


Stupid White Men is thoroughly humorous, although much of the humor is unintentional.

To read it without guffaws, one must suspend disbelief. Not to mention common sense. Mad cow disease has stricken 200,000 Americans. Enron and Halliburton are great investments. Nader did the Demos a real favor in the 2000 election. There is no economic downturn. Kim Jong II of North Korea is turning over a new leaf.

Let's warm up with few real whoppers, where any reader on Planet Earth should have stopped in wonderment.

200,000 Americans are dying of Mad Cow Disease, and nobody knows it.

"Americans are not immune from this deadly disease. Some experts estimate that some 200,000 US citizens diagnosed with Alzheimer's may in fact be carrying the alien protein and that their dementia is actually a form of mad cow." (Stupid White Men, p. 137).

Okay, back to Moore's end-notes. His source is an article by Deborah S. Rogers.

What she actually says is actually that mad cow disease is one variation of prion diseases, and we shouldn't focus upon mad cow disease when other prion diseases, such as Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD), are already known here. (How CJD is spread, other than by contaminated transplant tissue and other surgical transmission, is unknown. Based on similarities in the prions, it is believed that mad cow disease can cause one form of CJD known as new variant or variant CJD (vCJD), which is a tiny fraction of CJD cases worldwide.) The 200,000 estimate Rogers gives relates to CJD, not to vCJD or mad cow disease.

(While we're at it, Moore gives some paradoxical advice here. He says that even burning does not destroy mad cow disease prions: "But even when you burn them, the threat does not disappear; you can't kill them, as I said. The smoke and ash just carry them to another location. . . ." (Stupid White Men, p. 137). Then he goes on to advise, "Make sure, if you eat a burger or steak, to cook that sucker until it's black." (id.). Moore is dead wrong on both counts. Burning does destroy prions, cooking does not. They're protein, and cooked meat is still protein, but meat smoke is not.).

George Bush's Campaign Finances -- $120 million from 170 people, despite campaign contribution limits.

Moore's second chapter is an open letter to George W. Bush. (Moore loves open letters; whether he bothers mailing any is unknown.). He refers to "all those dudes who gave you a record $190 million to run your campaign (two-thirds of which came from just over seven hundred individuals!)"

Hmm... Federal elections laws then restricted individual Presidential Campaign donations to, what, $2500 each? So how would 700 people contribute about $120 million?

Moore does include end-notes, so I could check his sources. Let's see.... here it is. The data he cites actually show the $190 million and 700 persons refers to people donating "soft money" to the GOP as a party, not to Bush's campaign. Soft money can't be used to endorse a candidate -- the party uses it for voter registration drives, party recruitment, and issue ads ("Social Security is important to you") that cannot mention a candidate or a race (although they're obviously aimed at promoting an issue that the party wants as a voting issue).

By the way, the Demos are no slouches at soft money, either. The Washington Post in 2001 reported that "Democrats were essentially even with Republicans on the soft money chase, bringing in $243 million to the GOP's $244.4 million." And, like the GOP, their soft money is largely from big donors. Example.

Fred Barnes, graduate of UVA and Harvard Fellow, doesn't know what the Iliad and the Odyssey are.

Moore says that he heard Fred Barnes, apparently a conservative commentator of some sort (I don't watch TV) say that modern schooling was so weak that many students don't know what the Iliad and the Odyssey are. Moore's response:

"The next morning I called Fred Barnes at his Washington office. 'Fred,' I said, 'tell me what the Iliad and the Odyssey are.' He started hemming and hawing. 'Well, they're ... uh, you know ... uh, okay, fine, you got me -- I don't know what they're about. Happy now?'" (Stupid White Men, pp. 91-92).

No, I'm not," Moore continues, denouncing Barnes for hawking his purported wisdom to the nation without having any idea what he's talking about.

Barnes is a graduate of the University of Virginia and held a fellowship at Harvard, the type of joints which often teach the Iliad and the Odyssey, and sometimes even mention Aristotle and Shakespeare. But according to the Gospel According to Moore has never heard of the most basic of the classics. He pulled the words Iliad and Odyssey out of the air (probably heard someone discussing them on the subway), not having any idea whether they were about the Trojan War and its aftermath, or the postwar Greek economy, or astronomy. It must be true, for Michael has written it.

It is rather superfluous to add that, when asked, Barnes stated (1) he's read both in their entirety, and (2) he's never talked to Moore in his life. Another source. A third.

Idiot Nation Or National Idiot?

Moore's Chapter Five, "Idiot Nation," is the most obvious pandering to his readers' drive to prove their superiority by denigrating others. If you follow the Gospel of Mike, you can rejoice that "you're not like them." The chapter begins:

DO YOU FEEL like you live in a nation of idiots?

I used to console myself about the state of stupidity in this country by repeating this to myself: Even if there are two hundred million stone-cold idiots in this country, that leaves at least eighty million who will get what I'm saying . . . .

(Stupid White Men p. 85) The argument ill-becomes one who claims to be a spokesman for "the people."

His proofs? Let's see, people memorize sports statistics and watch ESPN. I personally don't care much for either -- but this is supposed to be a champion of the working classes?

And... "There are forty-four million Americans who cannot read and write above a fourth-grade level -- in other words, who are functional illiterates. How did I learn this statistic? Well, I read it." (SWM, p. 86).

Moore should have read better. His endnotes attribute the figure to the U.S Department of Education's National Adult Literacy Survey. (SWM, p. 264). I found it online here. It does report that 40-44 million Americans performed in the lowest level of literacy. The next paragraph notes:

Many factors help to explain why so many adults demonstrated English literacy skills in the lowest proficiency level defined (Level 1). Twenty-five percent of the respondents who performed in this level were immigrants who may have been just learning to speak English. Nearly two-thirds of those in Level 1 (62 percent) had terminated their education before completing high school. A third were age 65 or older, and 26 percent had physical, mental, or health conditions that kept them from participating fully in work, school, housework, or other activities. Nineteen percent of the respondents in Level 1 reported having visual difficulties that affect their ability to read print.

Not to mention that 4% of those surveyed (1,100 of 26,000) were serving time in jail. Surprise: functional English literacy is not high among the blind and visually-impaired, people learning to speak English, and prison inmates. This hardly makes the US a place that "GOES OUT OF ITS WAY TO REMAIN STUPID AND IGNORANT," in Moore's typically capitalized phrase. (SWM, p. 87). By the way, as the National Adult Literacy Survey confirmed, a disproportionate share of those Moore labels "STUPID AND IGNORANT" happen to be blacks and hispanics.

In any event, as Michael Moynihan points out, limited functional literacy is a worldwide event: "almost 20 per cent of Australian adults had inadequate literacy skills to be effective in everyday life;" "some 25 per cent of Irish adults are functionally illiterate and approximately another 20 per cent can perform only simple reading and writing tasks;" "American teenagers rank higher than the Germans in all three subjects (math, literacy and science); 30 percent of Germans drop out of university, roughly equivalent to Mexico;16% hold university degrees, compared with 35% in the United States."

Frankly, if Mike was of the working class, instead of a pretender to it, he'd understand something that I learned back in the No. 1 tunnel at Pima Mines. These guys may not write like Shakespeare, or go home to read Neitzsche and Spengler, but they are smart, live in the real world, and know one heck of a lot about the things that matter. I was in college, working summers, eventually bound for a doctorate in law -- and they left me in the dust when it came to knowledge of current politics.

[At that--Stupid White Men is a lot better than Moore's latest performances, which consist of invoking a National Geographic poll to the effect that most young Americans couldn't locate Iraq on a map, and using that to flatter by comparison whatever overseas audience he is currently sucking up to, e.g., from one of his speeches in Britain, "the dumbest Brit here is smarter than the smartest American." Personally, I agree that the dumbing-down of history and geography is deplorable, but it is not purely an American phenomenon. The same survey found that

"Young adults worldwide are not markedly more literate about geography than the Americans. On average, fewer than 25 percent of young people worldwide could locate Israel on the map. Only about 20 percent could identify hotspots like Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. Of all the young adults in the survey, only about one-third in Germany, Sweden and Japan, could name four countries that officially acknowledge having nuclear weapons. In the rest of the countries that number dropped to less than a quarter. In France 24 percent did not know that that their own country was a nuclear nation." Source

In fact:

89% of Canadians couldn't locate Iraq on a map, a higher "ignorance rate" than that of the United States.

81% of Canadians couldn't locate Israel on a map

5% of Canadians couldn't locate Canada on a map

90% of Britons couldn't locate Iraq on a map, again a worse figure than that of the US

21% of Britons couldn't locate the USA on a map

7% of Britons couldn't locate the England on a map

Swedes scored highest in the poll -- but even there 70% couldn't find Iraq. Source.

And possibly the world record on geographical foulups? The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has a granite map of North America on the floor of its lobby. A few minor problems: it shows shows Vancouver Island as a penninsula, and shows no trace of the Queen Charlotte Islands. In compensation for that loss, it gives Canada the state of Alaska. As the Ottawa Citizen reported,

This isn't the first time a bold new geography has been created for the North American continent. In July, the inaugural issue of the Canadian Tourism Commission's magazine, PureCanada, contained a map that eliminated Prince Edward Island, Labrador, Halifax and Fredericton.

And just last month, Ottawa International Airport's new terminal was opened, and a map in the baggage area located Atlanta in the middle of Alabama, Chicago in Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., in Virginia. Perhaps the map was meant to indicate where your luggage would end up. You know, if you fly to Atlanta, you'll have to pick up your bags in Alabama, and so on.

A thought on this latest development in the tale of Moore: Moore has merely discovered how to market himself on an international level. Many people are motivated by a drive to look down upon others, to feel that they are not a loser because others, especially apparent "winners," are the real losers. In the US, Moore panders to a following by ridiculing others and showing that he by extension his followers are not like them. Internationally, he simply substitutes the US as a whole for the others.]

Nader did the Democrats a favor, since his candidacy caused a tie in the Senate.

"If you're going to blame Nader for taking votes from Gore in Florida, then you must also credit him for bringing thousands of new voters to the polls who made the different for Cantwell, thus allowing the Democrats to force a 50-50 tie in the Senate." (Stupid White Men, p. 239).

Some favor.

There is no economic downturn.

Moore argues there is no real economic downturn. Yes, profits are down in comparison to preceding years, but that's only because the previous years were boom years and now the economy is now (i.e., 2001) returning to normal.

"Part of the reason you're hearing so much about how bad the economy is these days is that many of those getting the pink slips are friends and family of those reporting the bad news. . . . There is no downturn." (Stupid White Men, p. 55).

Glad to know it. So it is written in the Gospel According to Moore, so it mut be.

 

Moore's predictive abilities.

Okay, let's see whether Mike hacks it as a pundit. His predictions:

Kim Jong II of North Korea is really okay and about to straighten out.

Moore notes that North Korean leader Kim Jong II "has a huge army, and is even suspected of having an atomic bomb. In the past two years, though, Kim Jong II has showed signs of a change of heart, signs that he's emerging from the shadows." (Stupid White Men, p. 192).

Kim Jong of course responded by announcing plans to begin refining plutonium in order to make North Korea the first mental ward with nuclear capabilities.

Invest in Enron!

"Thanks in part to the California energy crisis, Enron has quickly grown into a $100 billion company." (Stupid White Men, p. 24).

It is not known whether Moore's endorsement played a role in Enron's economic collapse and bankruptcy.

And Halliburton!

"When nominated for the vice presidency, Cheney hemmed and hawed about divesting himself of his Halliburton stock. I guess he knew that good times were yet to come." (Stupid White Men, p. 17).

Upon reading this chapter, of course, intelligent readers ditched their Halliburton shares.

As Alan Wolfe noted in New Republic,

"It is beneath Moore, of course, to point out that Cheney did in fact divest himself of the stock--or that Halliburton, which was selling for roughly $40 per share in the fall of 2000, is now worth less than $20."

[Actually, the fad now is to criticize Cheney for having divested himself as he was asked to do.... From MSNBC:

"The developments at Halliburton since Cheney's departure leave two possibilities: Either the vice president did not know of the magnitude of problems at the oilfield services company he ran for five years, or he sold his shares in August 2000 knowing the company was likely headed for a fall."]

Okay, so Moore doesn't understand the election laws, politics, the economy, or anything else that he's writing about. Let's get down to what he considers serious.

ELECTION 2000

To Moore, it was all just a big conspiracy.

"The coup began long before the shennanigans on Election Day 2000. In the summer of 1999 Katherine Harris, an Honorary Stupid White Man who was both George W. Bush's presidential cochairwoman and the Florida secretary of state in charge of elections, paid $4 million to Database Technologies to go through Florida's voter rolls and remove anybody "suspected" of being a felon. She did so with the blessing of the governor of Florida, George W.'s brother Jeb Bush....." (Stupid White Men, p. 3)

"Harris and Bush knew that removing the names of ex felons from the voting rolls would keep thousands of black citizens out of the voting booth." (Id., p. 4).

As always with Moore, the truth is a bit more complex. And inconsistent with his story. In 1997, the Miami mayorial race had set something of a local record for voting scandals, due to votes being cast by felons (and some folks who were barred from voting because they were, well, dead.). The Miami Herald led the outcry with an investigation that won a Pulitzer:

More than 100 convicted felons -- muggers and con artists, drug traffickers and a few killers -- voted in the Miami election last November even though they had lost their right to vote. A flasher voted. He fatally beat his cellmate. A pot-smoking jailer voted. He helped two inmates escape. A convicted ex-Miami detective voted. He covered up the murder of a drug dealer. And a homeless, crack-addicted thief voted. His voting address: the apartment next to the place he burglarized.

The Herald counted 105 ineligible felon ballots in last November's mayoral election. But a three-week Herald study reveals no evidence that any candidate recruited the ex-convict vote.

The only thing that keeps felons from voting in any election is an honor system. And when it comes to weeding felons from the registration books, the system simply doesn't work.

The Panama City News Herald added that "The names of more than 50,000 felons fill the rolls of Florida's registered voters. And the names of nearly 18,000 dead people join them." A court ultimately invalidated the election on grounds of voter fraud.

The matter stirred the Florida Legislature -- not Jeb Bush, not Ms. Harris -- to appropriate $4 million in order to cleanse the voting rosters.

Moore continues:

"The law states that ex-felons cannot vote in Florida. And sadly (although I'm confident that Florida's justice system was always unimpeachably fair) that means that 31 percent of all black men in Florida are prohibitted from voting because they have a felony on their record." (Stupid White Men, p.4).

Thirty-one percent of black males in Florida have been found guilty of felonies? Nearly one out of three, and that's counting in 19 year olds who have hardly had a chance at adult crime, octagenarians who have neither inclination nor ability, the handicapped?

Greg Pelast, who was a major critic of the efforts to identify ex-felons, put the numbers on the purge list (which Moore claims was far too broad) at less than a tenth of the number Moore gives: "Together the lists comprised nearly 1 percent of Florida's electorate and nearly 3 percent of its African-American voters." (To be precise, I should say a under fifth of Moore's figure, since Pelast's figures relate to all blacks, and Moore's to males only, and most convicted felons are males.)

Moore then cites examples of persons mistakenly identified as felons and thus not permitted to vote. No doubt that happened. Any firearms owner is familiar with similar horror stories arising under the Brady Act background check. Honest people whose names and birthdates are close to that of a felon (or a felon's alias), who wind up forced to prove that they are not that person.

The important thing to note is that Florida sent notices to voters on the lists, allowing them plenty of time in which to contest the claim that they were a felon. Eight thousand voters did so, and were restored to the voting rosters in time to cast their votes.

Moore goes on to note that convicted felons strongly tend to vote Democratic (hmmm... a lesson here?) and then argues that if the mistakenly listed non-felons had been allowed to vote, they would have given Gore the votes he needed to win. I guess logic was not Mike's strong suit. All we know, if he is correct, is that real felons vote Demo. How honest-people-whose-names-got-confused with-those-of felons vote is unknown. Most likely they would have voted like honest people who have the luck not to share a name and birthdate with a felon -- that is to say, split almost perfectly between Gore and Bush. Not to mention that some predominantly Democratic counties ignored the lists entirely and let everyone Do Their Bit For Democracy :

"At least 39 felons -- mostly Democrats -- illegally cast absentee ballots in Broward and Miami-Dade counties in the Nov. 7 elections, according to a Herald analysis of absentee votes in those counties. . . . if felons cast illegal votes in the same percentages at the polls it could amount to more than 470 illegal ballots locally and more than 2,000 statewide." Source

THE CABINET

From there, Moore switches to the present Cabinet--"Who's Who in the Coup." I don't hang out with most of those folks (I left off frequenting the Capitol Hill Club after finding out that Ashcroft is a mean drunk), and really haven't the time to look up all of Moore's claims. But there was one case of special interest to me: Secretary of Interior Gale Norton. Moore treats her as an antienviromentalist pure and simple. Why, she "helped the State of Alaska challenge an Interior Department fisheries law. She has declared the Endangered Species Act unconstitutional and written legal opinions against the National Environmental Protection Act." (Stupid White Men, p. 21).

I can forgive Moore his lack of grasp of legal matters -- Interior doesn't enact fisheries laws, Congress does, so presumably the challenge was to some regulatory application of them, challenging whether it complied with the statute. (I notice Moore doesn't mention who won that argument). It would make little sense to write a "legal opinion against" a statute. (Come to think of it, the rule must have been pretty narrow. NOAA, in Commerce rather than Interior, has jurisdiction of fishing on the open seas, i.e., most commercial fishing.)

I went back to Moore's sources, which he cites at the end of his book, and sought to find what these meant, and when Ms. Norton had ever "declared the Endangered Species Act unconstitutional." Neither source supported Moore's claim. Okay.....

I had a personal interest in checking out this one. I used to work as an attorney/advisory (i.e., a grunt careerist, not a political appointment) at Interior Department. Specifically, the Conservation and Wildlife Division, which enforced the Endangered Species Act. For several years my boss was .... Gale Norton. If she had any compunction about enforcement of the ESA, as we called it, it never came to my attention. (Moore somehow manages to forget that after she left, she was elected Attorney General of Colorado. You'd think he remember a detail like that.)

Public Education

Chapter Five begins with "Do you feel like you live in a nation of idiots?"

(The chapter title is a rather obvious depiction of the central Moore theme. By buying his works and following him, you prove your superiority to others.)

The irony gets a bit thick when Moore turns to the subject of education. He recites various criticisms of present education and asks

"Considering the face-slapping that society gives our teachers on a daily basis, is it any wonder that so few choose the profession?" (Stupid White Men, p. 102).

Mike seems to forget that he himself spent most of the chapter complaining about teachers and teaching. "My dislike of school started somewhere around the second month of first grade." (Id., p. 95). "For the next twelve years I sat in class, did my work, and remained constantly preoccupied, looking for a way to bust out." (Id., p. 96). "High school is, we all know, some kind of sick, sadistic punishment of kids by adults. . . ." (Id, p. 97). "[T]hose running the public high school had one simple mission: 'hunt these little pricks down like dogs, then cage them until we can either break their will or ship them off to the glue factory.'" (Id., p. 97). We can be glad that Moore never gives teachers a verbal face-slapping!

Moore gets rather preachy when he tells us what our attitude should be:

"Teachers, thank you for devoting your life to my child. Is there ANYTHING I can do to help? I am here for you. Why? Because you are helping my child -- MY BABY -- learn and grow. . . . You are, thus, one of the most important people in my world." (Stupid White Men, p. 101).

Rather strange, since on the previous two pages Moore outlined his own approach. After the constitutional amendment passed lowering the voting age to 18, he ran for the school board on a platform of firing the principal and assistant principal of his high school, and won. Within months, both resigned. [Moore may actually feel a twinge of guilt for once, noting that the principal died, and had often been kind to him and other kids]. He advises students to "Threaten lawsuits -- school administrators hate to hear that word. Just remember, there's no greater satisfaction than seeing the look on the principal's face when you have the upper hand. Use it." (Stupid White Men, pp. 117-18). Hmmm... "Teacher, is there anything I can do to help?" seems to translate to "see you in court, jackass!" in Moore's world.

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