Captured tweets via Gawker
This is the result of one single Twitter of mine, and those who were eager to misunderstand it. Tweets are limited to 140 characters, and here is what I tweeted:
@ebertchicago Kids who wear American Flag t-shirts on 5 May should have to share a lunchroom table with those who wear a hammer and sickle on 4 July.
Now what do you suppose I meant by that? It was tweeted at the height of the discussion over five white California kids who wore matching t-shirts to school on Cinco de Mayo, and were sent home by their school. This inspired predictable outrage in the usual circles.
Tweeted from lonestarag05: Its the USA not Mexico. They are allowed to be proud of their country. I wonder sometimes why you even stay here.
Many others informed me that Americans have the right to be proud of our flag, and wear it on T-shirts. Of course they do. That isn’t the question. It’s not what my Tweet said. What I suggested, in its 108 letters, is that we could all use a little empathy. I wish I had worded it better.
Let’s begin with a fact few Americans know: Celebrating Cinco de Mayo is an American custom. The first such celebration was held in California in 1863, and they have continued without interruption. In Mexico itself it is not observed, except in the state of Puebla–the site of Mexico’s underdog victory over the French on May 5, 1862.
Cinco de Mayo’s purpose is to celebrate Mexican-American culture in the United States. We are a nation of immigrants, and have many such observances, for example St. Patrick’s Day parades, which began in Boston in 1737 and not in Ireland until 1931. Or Pulaski Day, officially established in Illinois in 1977, and not observed in Poland. The first Chinese New Year’s parade was held in San Francisco in the 1860s, and such parades began only later in China. In Chicago this August we will have the 81st annual Bud Billiken Parade, one of the largest parades in America, celebrating the African-American heritage.
I invite you to perform four easy thought experiments:
1. You and four friends are in Boston and attend the St. Patrick’s Day parade wearing matching Union Jack t-shirts, which of course you have every right to do.
2. You and your pals are in Chicago on Pulaski Day, and wear a t-shirt with a photograph of Joseph Stalin, which is your right.
3. In San Francisco’s Chinatown for the parade, your crowd wears t-shirts saying “My granddad was at the Rape of Nanking and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”
4. In Chicago for the Bud Billiken Parade, you and your crowd, back in shape after three hospitalizations, turn up with matching t-shirts sporting the Confederate flag.
The question is obviously not whether Americans, or anyone else, has the right to wear our flag on their t-shirts. But empathetic people realize much depends on context. If, on Cinco de Mayo, you turn up at your school with a large Mexican-American student population wearing such shirts, are you (1) joining in the spirit of the holiday, or (2) looking for trouble?
I suggest you intend to insult your fellow students. Not because they do not respect THEIR flag, but because you do not respect their heritage. That there are five of you in matching shirts demonstrates you want to be deliberately provocative.
Therefore, you and your buddies should try wearing the hammer and sickle on the Fourth of July. You could try it at a NASCAR race, for example.
Ravi Somaiya at Gawker:
Five kids were sent home from a California high school on Wednesday for what seems like a fairly open-and-shut case of trying to start trouble. Of course, to the nutbag right, this was not the case at all and the whole thing was anti-American. Last week Ebert sent this message in response to the story:
@ebertchicago Kids who wear American Flag t-shirts on 5 May should have to share a lunchroom table with those who wear a hammer and sickle on 4 July.
According to an Ebert blog post today, it was met with predictable outrage from people with predictable Twitter handles:
@lonestarag05: Its the USA not Mexico. They are allowed to be proud of their country. I wonder sometimes why you even stay here.
Ebert has defended the Tweet very eloquently here. He points out, using humor, reason, logic and fact that the kids had done something analogous to wearing a Union Jack on St. Patrick’s day in Boston, or a Confederate flag to the Bud Biliken parade in Chicago — they were disrespecting the heritage of a community busy celebrating that heritage. Like, for example, “wearing the hammer and sickle on the Fourth of July.” He adds in the blog post that those who defended the kids might try that “at a NASCAR race, for example.”
Of course humor, reason, logic and fact are utterly alien to the Tea Party and their enraged acolytes. And they know no sense of proportion. Ebert, as this excellent Esquire profile outlines, has suffered through repeated bouts of cancer, and operations to remove that cancer, that have left him without a lower jaw. The picture above is the one that Esquire ran with that profile.
Knowing what we know about the Tea Party it shouldn’t have been surprising when Ebert tweeted this last night. But it was sad.
Scott Wampler at The Examiner:
Meet Caleb Howe, a self-proclaimed Tea Party member and dude who claims to write for RedState.com. Because it’s called RedState.com, it’s precisely the sorta website that someone like a Comedy Examiner avoids. And, it’s precisely because of the sort of Tweets that Howe made above that I’d avoid such a site. I mean, let’s make sure that we’re all on the same page here: Roger Ebert thinks that a handful of kids who were clearly just trying to stir up trouble were out of line…and someone (actually, more than just Howe, but let’s use him as our go-to dude on this one) mocks Roger Ebert’s cancer? Tweets that he wants to provide Ebert with a “mercy killing”?
Are you effing kidding me?
Chris Jones at Esquire:
But for me — as a friend, but also as a human being — Roger’s rebuke didn’t go far enough. I’ve still spent a lot of time thinking how good it would feel to punch Caleb Howe hard in the mouth. I can’t help it, even though I know in my heart that Howe wants all of this, wants to bask in anything that resembles the thin light of attention. His posts on RedState.com might normally earn five or seven comments; Roger’s eloquent blog entries can win more than a thousand. That must be incredibly frustrating for Howe, who clearly has designs on his joining our ranks of right-wing wrestling heels and saw, through the bottom of his vodka glass, his path to glory: He decided, like those California school kids, to make an unnecessary, calculated attempt to provoke. And it worked, the way it works for Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, whenever they say something inflammatory and terrible. He made me angry, and now he knows it. Good for him. I hope he’s happy.
Because if he’s happy, then I know that will make his fall that much harder in the end. Saying the things he said — under the guise of patriotism, or freedom, or whatever illogic he chooses to use — has to eat at a man. I have to believe that; the alternative is too awful to stomach. I have to believe that after Howe sobered up, he must have thought, if only for a moment, What have I done? He must have felt whatever passes for regret in him, the prickles of sweat growing on his forehead. He must have felt as though he had butted out a cigarette on his own soul. And because he can’t apologize for it — can’t dream of seeming weak in the eyes of his fellow scholars and judges — those pinhole burns will stay there forever. Yes, Caleb Howe is more famous than he was last week, but he’s famous for being a person who doesn’t know whether he should introduce himself to strangers at parties, just in case, and he’s famous for his allegiance to the very thing that Roger has already stomped again and again: Caleb Howe, for whatever unfathomable reason, has sided with cancer.
Caleb Howe at Mediaite:
I love Twitter. I use it all the time. When I say use, hear it the way an addict would say it. I use Twitter. I’m pretty good at it too. Not in the sense of having lots of followers, or being really popular, or anyone knowing who I am. Rather in the sense of knowing how to get certain things out of it that I want. Usually that’s traffic to a blog post. I admit that. But the most satisfying thing of all is a retweet. If you’re really good, or really famous, it’s easy to get a lot of retweets. If you aren’t either of those, it’s still easy. Be bad.
I do this sometimes. Late at night, typically. Angrily for the most part. Drunkenly on occasion. Twitter is real life and in real time, after all. Isn’t that what we all love and hate about it?
Knowing all this, I hatched a plan that’s been going swimmingly all week. You see, Roger Ebert is on Twitter too. And he can be exceedingly … unkind. He compared Arizona’s immigration law to the Holocaust. Twice. He routinely mocks “TeePees,” his adorably dismissive shorthand for tea party protesters. And most recently, in an exceedingly ill-advised and poorly-received tweet, he suggested that “Kids who wear American Flag t-shirts on 5 May should have to share a lunchroom table with those who wear a hammer and sickle on 4 July.”
Let us not today go into the ins and outs of the students sent home after refusing to cover their American flags on Cinco de Mayo. Suffice it to say that from my perspective this was an unconscionable outrage, and therefore Ebert’s escalation of the rhetoric to the level of hammer and sickle doubly so. It was an insight into him. Twitter, as we addicts believe, is real life. And in real time. And so … the plan.
It was amazingly easy to do. First, I warned Media Matters what was about to happen. Second, I began attacking Ebert with increasingly awful tweets mocking his cancer. Third, I waited.
When the hits started rolling in, I infuriatingly taunted the naysayers with non-sequiturs and your momma jokes. That’s when they started getting real. Saying awful things. Well you see, it’s ok with me. I had earned it.
And therein lay my plan. I’d wait a few days, gather the most insulting tweets, and publish. The fact that they felt free to “go there” with me proves they implicitly accept my premise. For they were using my logic, you see. Ebert had “earned” it, so I was free to open fire. Now I had earned it, so they were free to open fire. Media Matters was a no-brainer. I’d invited them in advance. But imagine my delight when bomb-throwing gossip site Gawker linked to my twitter feed. I fairly twisted my mustache and rubbed my palms greedily. Everything was proceeding as I had foreseen it; better, even.
This morning, I started in on the final phase: gathering the evidence. I started with Ebert. I spent hours poring over months of his twitter feed. I found he had a distinctive “dirty old man” streak. Screenshot. I saw how fond he was of mocking Creationism, intelligent design, Noah’s Ark, and Christianity in general. Screenshot. I found countless dismissive tweets about the ignorance of TeePees. The countless veiled accusations of racism. The endless tweeting and retweeting of anything critical of Sarah Palin. Screenshot, screenshot, screenshot. I found a totally right-on movie review of the movie Kick-Ass that mirrored my own thoughts perfectly. Screens … wait. What?
It is here. I’ve read Ebert before of course. He’s as good as his reputation. But this was more than a movie review. The objection was on a moral ground that I share. It was my objection to the movie too. Hmm.
Back to the Twitter I go. A little more uneasy, now. Ahhh, another TeePee reference. My righteousness has been restored. A-digging I continue. Screenshot. Screenshot. Appreciative chuckle. Dammit!
I started seeing quotable quotes. Witticisms I appreciated. Depth.
Ebert tends to appreciate the same sorts of lyrical turns of phrase on Twitter that I appreciate. I saw when he was being savaged about his position on whether video games can be art, he let the savagery wash over him. He even got a few quick quips out of it. I kept thinking “I should like this guy.” And then, TeePees, Michael Moore, and Markos. I couldn’t like him, even though I actually started wanting to. But his tweeting is so hot and cold. It’s like there are two of him. The one that everybody appreciates, and then the rabid lefty tweeter. I couldn’t figure it out.
And then I figured it out. That’s exactly how I am. Half of my tweets are normal, off-topic, funny (if I do say so) or conversational. And half must set afire the blood of any left-wing tweeter. I’m just like Ebert, minus the fame, fortune, education, writing talent, and painful disease. It’s like he was … human.
And that’s when it suddenly dawned on me. Twitter isn’t real life. It’s 140 characters. It’s a window, not a door, and certainly not the whole house. We all know this, of course. But we act in a manner that indicates we do not.
People like me, or anonymous Twitterer @shoq, and many others who do what we consider to be battle on Twitter “know” we are right. We know we are right because those we oppose are so very wrong. It’s all quite easy. You’re a TeePee. Yeah well you’re a moonbat! Tit for tat. Jab for jab. Round and round we go. The race to the most cutting insult never ceases. Do a search on twitter, some time, for “sub-human,” and/or “filth.” Try “despicable”. I bet it comes up a lot more than “beautiful.” Try “scum.” I bet it comes up more than “person.” Try “hate.” I think you get the picture.
You know what? It’s a polarized country we live in. Often rabidly so. I play that game. Most of you reading this, you play it too. We play for ratings, for clicks, for retweets. We play to satisfy bloodlust, vengeance, self-righteous fury. We play because we have contempt. And contempt is the one thing you will see on display more often than any other emotion in political tweeting. Because that’s not a person, it’s a TeePee. Not a man, a target.
Roger Ebert cannot be measured by his Twitter feed. Not even by his collective writings. Because he is human, and what’s more a human in pain. As am I. As are we all.
So now CNN should totally hire Caleb Howe because, like Erick Erickson, he’s grown up a whole lot since last week.
Caleb’s big mistake was apologizing. Did Ebert apologize to the many tragic victims of the Holocaust whose deaths he all but mocked and abused? No, of course not. Will he suddenly develop compassion for the victims of kidnappings and other crimes in Arizona? The people who feel trapped in their homes because of the Federal government’s refusal to act? Don’t hold your breath. As a political actor, he’s no more interested in their day-to-day lives, than we should be about his.
That’s because he’s a scumbag, a card carrying member of the disgusting Left, now using his position and even his illness as a platform to undermine the very country that gave him everything he has. And they never apologize for any of their ugly, or even anti-American filth.
Did Caleb lose it and go a little too far? Yeah, probably. I doubt I’d have gone on to that degree. However, these are especially tense and troubling political times for America with much at stake. It happens and, given the Internet/technological influences on communication, it happens even more. And I imagine it’s going to get worse, before it gets better. I went off on someone on our side yesterday because of a misunderstanding. Eh, you move on.
Karoli at Crooks And Liars:
He’s still wrong about Twitter. Real people do inhabit the place, just like the real people who inhabit comments on the posts here at Crooks and Liars. Real people, with real lives, real health problems, real concerns and real interests. They’re even real voters. They come to social networks looking for a connection and a conversation. It’s not all of life, but it is a part of daily life in this connected world of ours, and if Howe is really sorry, he’ll get a clue about that.
Howe’s declaration that Twitter isn’t real life reveals more about why he did what he did than anything else. When nothing is real, when it’s all a game, when cancer is a word and not a disfiguring disease, all bets are off. This is how those words made it through his filters, because no one was real to him. Not one person.
Caleb Howe is a fascinating look at how conservatives think. No one is real; it’s all a game. Roll the 20-sided die for your contempt score, move to the next battle. This ability to disconnect from humanity is what should disqualify them from any leadership role whatsoever.
Adrian Chen at Gawker:
Let us return for a moment to our original question: How drunk was Howe when he pounded that stuff out on his keyboard and hit the enter button! Probably really drunk, judging by what he tweeted directly from launching on his rant: “Wife just revealed twe (sic) have fifth of vodka in freezer. That means I’m about to say things about Roger Ebert that Media Matters won’t like.” In fact Howe has a long history of sitting in front of his computer drinking vodka and tweeting about it:
So, we’re going to say he was really drunk. Probably partial black-out? Maybe he had a vague memory of typing the next morning. Next question: How drunk was he when he wrote this essay? To be so deluded that this exercise in self-aggrandizement with a one-sentence apology at the end might make him seem like less of a creepy drunk pounding away on the Internet after a shot or twelve, spilling the worst parts of himself out into the world. (See also: His gleeful celebration of Congressman John Murtha’s death.) Also up for debate, the drunkness level of the Mediaite person that put this on their website. (Awesome get! A guy who makes fun of cancer survivors!) The first political essay for and by drunk assholes. Caleb Howe is like the Tucker Max of politics. (Without the writing talent.)
Update: Caleb Howe complained we did not get his comment on this article, so I interviewed him via Twitter:
EARLIER: Marilyn Manson T-Shirt, This Was Not