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Table of Contents

Introduction--March 15, 2011

Week 1: Taking a Stab @ It

Week 2: Lacking Klout

Week 3: Welcome to the Party

Week 4: I Believe in Me

Week 5: Listing to the Right

Week 6: Twitterdreams

Week 7: I Blame Aristotle

Week 8: Electile Dysfunction

Week 9: You Can't Keep a Down Man Good

Week 10: Manifesto Destiny

Week 11: Shames People Play

Week 12: Tweets and CHiRPs

Week 13: Beck and Call

Epilogue: The Perfect Tweet


Don't Stop Believing

The following is an excerpt from "Week Four" of my upcoming book, Chasing Glenn Beck.


Facts are unimportant these days. We live in a time of instant myth-making, a time when revisionist history happens almost before history occurs, a time when the new model for rhetoric is to treat everything like it’s a high school term paper.

It’s Saturday afternoon. The 750-word essay that Mr. Winston assigned for your eleventh-grade U.S. history class is due on Monday morning, third period. You find the subject—the role of the Supreme Court—deadly dull, and after slogging through eighteen pages of densely packed text you are no closer to getting started than before. Your older sister suggested that you just go to the library and find an article to copy, but a gnawing conscience eats away at you and won’t let you do it. The day’s drifting away and your friends, all of whom have either completed the assignment or were lucky enough to get Mrs. Carfulli instead, are off playing stickball.

Sitting in front of an annoyingly blank piece of notebook paper and with a Bic poised in your right hand, you think about it for a few minutes, hoping that something will spring to mind.  You rescan the eighteen pages to make sure you have a basic understanding of the U.S. Supreme Court and its responsibilities, how justices are selected, and how decisions are made.  If you concentrate, you can just barely remember seven of the nine current members and their appointing presidents, enough, probably, for a B+ should there be a pop quiz. Forcing your mind back to the task at hand, you refocus on getting this shitty little essay drafted so that you can get it behind you and salvage whatever’s left of the weekend.

So you decide what to believe.  Your brain kicks in to get-this-over-with mode and you just go with your gut and believe something.  You take no time to explore facts or alternatives, or to analyze what you’ve read.   Your brain comes up with something like “members of the Supreme Court aren’t really objective when they decide cases,” then you roll the idea around a little to see how it tastes before deciding that it’s a reasonable mix of opinion and comprehension, just the kind of thing Mr. Winston likes. A quick review of the reading assignment reveals nothing that would disagree with your premise; the idea feels safe and solid.  It sounds good and feels good, so you go with it.

You haven’t done any research to support the idea and you can’t verbalize where it came from. Most likely you’ve internalized opinions half-heard  from your parents or the Huntley-Brinkley Re-port.   It doesn’t matter, though; you’ve decided.

Welcome to the birth of content-free thinking.

There’s still the actual writing to do, but now it’ll be a breeze.  You just need to cherry-pick a couple of supporting examples and a few references, then clothe them in a bit of intellectual underwear.  Seven hundred and fifty words won’t even raise a sweat. 

You head to the library where you find a couple of books that look like they’ll serve as useful references, then you dig up two quotes buried in a microfiched magazine article.[1]  Adding citations from two recent Supreme Court decisions fills nearly half of a note­book page.  You fill up another half with your basic argument, taking care to use as many extra words as possible in order to meet the essay’s length requirement.  Then you fit in the quotes you found where they seem to belong and log all your references in classic Strunk-and-White style. A final word count takes two minutes, then you spend another ten on a quick re-read. One subject-verb agreement error and a spelling mistake require correction, and you call it your second draft.  Recopying the essay onto a fresh sheet of paper finishes things off.

An idea that began as thin air now seems breathable.  You’ve finished the paper and have now spent a couple of hours working on a convincing argument.  In order to feel good about your work you need to believe it, at least a little bit.  And the more you believe it, the more you believe it more.  

The change isn’t just in your imagination; it’s in your brain. Recent discoveries in the area of neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain’s neurons to change, weaken, and strengthen with time and practice—confirm that concentration on an idea can reinforce the strength of that idea in your brain. Alvaro Pascual-Leone, chief of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard University, uses the analogy of sledding down a snowy hill in winter. The first time down, he says, you create a bit of a track down the slope.  The second time down it’s easier and faster to use the same track, so the track gets a little deeper.  Each time you ride that sled, you’re reinforcing what has gone before.  So, too, with the brain. Basically, the more you think about something you believe, the more that belief will strength­en over time.[2]   

Once you believe something, you’re also unlikely to let a little thing like facts get in the way, and that’s where things get scary. A series of studies conducted by the University of Michigan in 2005 and 2006 revealed that facts don’t change our beliefs—and can actually make our wrong beliefs even stronger. Our psyche doesn’t like to admit error.  If someone believes that Planned Parenthood is an abortion factory, telling her that PP is prohibited from using federal funding for abortions won’t change her mind.  She’ll just nestle more deeply into her belief, perhaps arguing that “money is money” and you can’t slice it up like that, or that no one can ever really be sure because they’re probably messing with the books anyway. Show an anti-death penalty advocate scientific studies that support the death penalty as a deterrent and he’ll respond by pointing you to a website like, which is filled with studies of the studies that prove all your points wrong. Then you dig in. You’re not immune; you demonstrate the same resistance to conversation, relying instead on broadcasting the same arguments and the same “truths,” as if—somehow—the fifth or sixth repetition will finally result in a changed opinion. 

At heart we’re all Journey fans: we won’t stop believing. 


[1] Today you just head to the internet, parked conveniently on your iPad or laptop and available while you munch on a Bacon Turkey Bravo at Panera. Back then it meant hopping on a green three-speed Stingray with an enormous sissy-bar and pedaling the four miles to the Gardner Park Library.


[2] From The Brain that Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge.  Full disclosure: I didn’t read it all.  Mostly I went trolling through it in order to cherry-pick bits of data that would support what I already believed or was pretty sure I had read elsewhere.




The Rick Santorum Ephiphany


The following is an excerpt from "Week 12" of my recently released book, Chasing Glenn Beck.


Sometimes a metaphor slaps you in the face so hard you just have to pay attention.

I’m sitting on the couch next to my wife, having my first cup of coffee and watching Good Morning America. On one side of a split screen Sam Champion delivers weather-related banter from somewhere in Times Square, while behind him members of the crowd hold up signs scribbled with forgettable sayings. There’s something about Ohio on one of them but the rest of the message remains partially hidden behind what looks like a grandmother-granddaughter combination waving furiously at the camera.  Another sign further extends an already overused trope by insisting that Geena, Maria and Alice love Good Morning America.

From her studio couch Robin Roberts smiles and says something cute, words she’s likely said umpteen times before. Sam giggles and then kicks it back to Robin who immediately shifts into her now-for-something-serious voice before passing the verbal baton to George Stephanopoulos, formerly the White House Communications Director under Bill Clinton and now Robin’s co-anchor. George introduces his upcoming story, a live interview with former Senator Rick Santorum.

Santorum, yet another extreme right member of the GOP parade with his sights set on the Oval Office, stands in front of the courthouse in Somerset, Pennsylvania. He’s dressed in a blue blazer and a light blue open-collared shirt. The location is symbolic; it’s where his grandfather immigrated to after fleeing a fascist Italy back in 1935. Santorum stands with a smile on his face while listening to the same thing we do: Stephanopoulos’ brief and bland review of an ordinary political career. Behind the former Senator the courthouse steps are in the early stages of decoration, a sanctum Santorum in preparation for a formal press conference scheduled later that day.  To no one’s surprise Rick Santorum is officially getting into the race and, in keeping with the latest trend (and having previously announced to announce), he’s now sort of announcing while not really announcing until his upcoming announcement.

Over Santorum’s left shoulder we see an artistic grouping of American flags positioned in a flowerbed. Up the middle of the courthouse steps runs a railing; though currently unadorned I imagine the bunting that will wrap it by the time the press arrives. The most prominent display is a group of red, white and blue balloons off to Santorum’s right, running along the edge of the steps, scores of balloons organized into stripes, bound together and framing the scene with a tapestry of patriotic color. At the top of the steps the balloon wall is tied to a pole standing in a weighted container.

The trite intro complete, Stephanopoulos starts the interview with a couple of softball questions that Santorum lofts easily into the seats, saying nothing anyone doesn’t expect him to say.  Yes, he’s “in it to win.”  Yes, he sees “a path to the nomination” despite the trouncing he took in his last Senatorial contest. And, yes, he’s “very excited about this opportunity.” Stephanopoulos gets slightly more aggressive when he reads a couple of questions from viewer emails, but Santorum stays with his talking points, all of which sound like the same pabulum any candidate feeds the electorate these days.  He answers each question with aplomb, the smile never leaving his face. He even adds a little fist pump at one point, though it appears timid, like he’s not quite sure the gesture is appropriate.  I imagine Jessica, the Republican Club guest I met several weeks back, sitting at home with a genuinely wide smile, watching as her chosen candidate manifests her dreams.

I start to offer my opinions aloud, but when I look over at my wife it’s clear that she’s struggling to maintain her patience.  I’m pretty sure she wants to flip over to The Weather Channel and would, too, if it weren’t for my recently spiked interest in all things political and her unwavering support.[1] She takes another sip of coffee and invites Zoe, our mixed-breed rescue, over for some gentle ear scratching.

As we listen to the innocuous back-and-forth between Stephanopoulos and Santorum, a slight flutter at the side of the image draws my wife’s attention. She stops the ear rubbing (much to Zoe’s dismay) and taps me on the leg.  One end of the balloon decoration has worked itself free and is starting to drift loosely in the breeze. The breeze becomes a gust and the balloons do more than flutter; they now begin to float away.  My wife starts laughing and I quickly join her.  We watch as a woman hustles up the steps, attempting to grab the runaway balloons much the way a teacher’s aide might try to corral little Jimmy before he wanders off into the cloak room. Now we’re laughing even harder.

The interview continues. 

The woman finally manages to herd the decoration and for the next few minutes we can see only her white-strapped sandals peeking out from below the recalcitrant display, like those of some guilty lover hiding behind a curtain in a 1930’s screwball comedy.  All of this happens with Santorum blissfully unaware that, off to his far right, carefully crafted plans are proving unruly. 

For a few moments nothing more happens.  Santorum and Stephanopoulos continue to chatter away but my wife and I aren’t even listening. Our eyes are riveted on that poor woman whose career aspirations undoubtedly never included miming a pole on national television. My laughter re-infects my wife and she starts laughing again, which only serves to get me going even harder.  Slowly the recursivity wears off and we’re just about back under control.

Then a balloon pops.

My wife and I totally lose it. Two other people—another woman and a man judging by the shoes we can see rushing in from off screen—quickly imitate additional poles. Rick and George act like nothing’s happened, but there’s no way they didn’t hear that balloon pop.

Santorum continues to babble and I continue to laugh, but now the laughter is mixed with a touch of disdain as Santorum rolls right along, talking now about the sanctity of life, Obama’s socialist agenda, and the need for prayer.  The smugness and surety leak from him like rusty water from an old faucet as he continues pretending that everything is just fine, thank you, despite the barely suppressed chaos going on around him.

I’m uncomfortable in the same way that I was a couple of weeks ago when I watched Jessica, a Santorum volunteer, stand before a small group of fourteen Republicans at a local meeting and lay out Santorum’s bona fides.

Santorum can say all the right words, but underneath it all what he’s really saying are all the far right words. Santorum, like most of the GOP field today, looks to motivate through emotion rather than convince through logic. He’s more interested in getting us angry that giving us answers. 

The ex-Senator continues to pound away at his themes and his voice begins to rise slightly, both in volume and pitch. He’s ruled by his own ideologies rather than by any rational view of governance and his disconnect from reality has never been so obvious to me as it is at this moment. He’s an extremist who has decided somewhere along the way that winning means riling up more people than the next guy.  There’s no way we should ever allow such pretenders into leadership. I would so much prefer to hear from those with responsible and compassionate ideas, people who marry the best of fiscal intelligence with a growing social empathy.  A bit conservative, a bit liberal—and a whole lot quieter. These people must be out there, and there must also be enough of a constituency to elect them. They need finding.

Another balloon pop, anyone?


[1] Some might say “indulgence.”



America Needs Its Bad Guys


The following is an excerpt from "Week 9" of my recently released book Chasing Glenn Beck.


America needs its bad guys—the more unambiguously hateful the better—and given a cultural blueprint that predisposes us to think simply, we’ll gladly embrace bad-guy rhetoric as long as it’s delivered with wit and style. Glenn Beck—for all that I may not like about him—has wit and style in droves.  He also knows that when it comes to bad guys, the blacker the hat the better.  So thanks (at least in part) to Glenn Beck, Adolph Hitler is enjoying an enormous resurgence.

Hitlerian comparisons have a long history.  Back in 2002 Matthew Engel, a writer for the Guardian wrote an essay entitled “Enough with the Hitler Analogies,” in which he reminds us that “Saddam Hussein is not Hitler, as hysterical Americans keep claiming,” nor is Israel “the mirror image of Nazism.” He adds additional comparative absurdities, including George Bush and Tony Blair as modern-day Adolphs.  More than a quarter century earlier the Hastings Center (a nonpartisan research institute) convened to discuss the use of Nazi analogies in ethical debate. Ten years after that Hastings was still discussing the habit and issued a report  describing how Hitler and Nazi analogies are often used to secure the moral high ground and thereby stunt any real debate, the rhetorical equivalent of taking Pork Chop Hill before the other guys get there.

Like just about everything else in our Twitter-centric universe, mention Hitler and the name echoes like the sound of a water droplet in Mammoth Cave: endlessly. In two months of tweeting I’m pretty sure that not a single day has passed when I haven’t seen at least a few such references. Eventually I got to the point where all the ‘Twittlering’ really bothered me:


BeckIsALib:  If I hear one more stupid, infantile, moronic Hitler analogy, I think I'll scream!!! 


Glenn Beck references Hitler quite a bit, perhaps more than any other talk show host out there.  A quick Google search for “Glenn Beck” and “Hitler” brings back a rich selection of links.[1] I chose a link to an article from The Economist in part because it’s not American and in part because the magazine always fills its pages with erudite and comprehensive reporting written in thick prose.  I know this because I subscribe to The Economist yet rarely manage to read it. 

The article in question bears the title “Glenn Beck’s Hitler Fetish.” In it the author states that “It's kind of fun to write about Mr. Beck, because he's created a zone in which Godwin's Law necessarily ceases to function.”

And there’s a good example of why I rarely read The Economist; deciphering the articles often requires an encyclopedia.

Turns out that Godwin’s Law (also known as Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies) states that the longer any discussion continues, the greater the odds of some reference to Nazis along the way.  Given enough time, apparently, every discussion in the universe will eventually include an analogy to the Nazis and/or to Adolph Hitler.  (Correlatively, given infinite time, every conversation will eventually include a Nazi analogy!)

It’s a brilliant idea, really, and Godwin makes clear that he intends the notion to be only somewhat tongue-in-cheek; he wants us to remember how horrible—truly horrible—Hitler and the Nazis were and to avoid trite comparisons that only serve to trivialize the horror. 

Glenn Beck’s not paying attention.

Beck’s analogies would make Salvador Dali’s clock melt.  He has compared the SS to the Peace Corps, Obama’s health care plan to Mein Kampf, and Al Gore’s conversations with school kids to recruiting for Hitler’s Youth.  Dana Milbank, the Washington Post writer who first exposed Beck’s Hitler obsession in a systematic way (and on whose work The Economist piece is partly based) noted that “In his first 18 months on Fox News, from early 2009 through the middle of this year [2010], he [Beck] and his guests invoked Hitler 147 times. Nazis, an additional 202 times. Fascism or fascists, 193 times. The Holocaust got 76 mentions, and Joseph Goebbels got 24.”

Thanks to Beck and his compatriots having mainstreamed the idea, it’s no surprise that my corner of the Twitterverse runs rampant with Hitlerian references. The far right wing of the GOP considers all Democrats to be Socialists, who are really just Godless Communists in disguise, which makes them Fascists, which makes them Nazis, which makes their leader, President Barack Obama, Hitler.  It’s the kind of loopy history lesson commonly born from a Glenn Beck chalkboard, with twisted thinking that leads to tweets like these:


JerryRibeye:   Liberal Democrat Jews are married to Obama. Hitler was backed by Rothchild, a Jew, some say the king of all Jews.


Getemoutnow:  Hitler used radical propaganda and caused the death of 26 million people in WWII. Now Obama is trying to beat that number. He needs to go NOW.


And this one, from an avowed Glenn Beck superfan who felt compelled to shout his disdain for what he believes are Obama’s attempts to mollify the Arab world:


BeckforPrez:   HITLER is looking 'UP FROM HELL' and 'PRAISING OBAMA' for his attempt to create a second 'HOLOCAUST' in 'ISRAEL'.


Tweets like these do not merely stretch the analogy, they shred it.  These people are referring to a man who introduced a health care plan based on Republican ideas, who wants to raise taxes on the top 2% of income earners, and who has proposed nearly the same Middle East solution as his predecessor George W. Bush, and they’re comparing him to Adolph Hitler.  How can that possibly make sense to anyone?  How can people hold such thoughts in their head and not wonder at their own sanity?

Lest one think that Hitler has a lock on the right, let me disabuse you of that notion.  The left are just as prone to Hitlerizing political dialogue. Searching Twitter for the terms “Hitler” and “GOP” turns up tweets like these:


Bizfreak:  Backed by the Church, hates minorities & Socialists: What do Hitler and the GOP have in common?


GrinningIndy:  If Hitler were alive, being that he was a European white male, the GOP would nominate him.


These constant references to Hitler, absent any irony at all, suggest to me that we’ve forgotten how good we really have it here in America. Very few of us experienced the Third Reich (including myself) and too many are learning their history from so-called teachers like Beck who layer a fresh ideological coat of whitewash over everything they say. No one needs to care whether Hitlerian hyperbole makes sense because we have nothing to compare it to.  We may pretend that having seen Saving Private Ryan or Patton means that we know what it was like back then, but we really don’t.  We’ve never seen anything like the European Theater during World War II. Very few of us have any perspective or any experience with such pain.[2]  Our pain these days—the pain that prompts us to compare our President to Adolph Hitler—is the pain of higher gas prices, natural economic cycles, financial and commercial regulations, depressed home values and potholes. These simplistic and embarrassing comparisons collapse instantly when the scaffolds on which they weakly hang are exposed to even the most basic reasoned dialogue.

Nazi analogies are nowhere near as prevalent outside of America. A Twitter search for French President “Sarkozy” and “Hitler,” for example, brings up a grand total of one result. Checking for the co-occurrences of Hitler’s name with the current German Chancellor Angela Merkel returns just thirteen examples, more than for Sarkozy but still a far cry from the hundreds I found linking the fuehrer with Barack Obama.

Godwin’s law is alive and well and, like much of what we do here in America, we’ve made it brighter and louder than ever before.


[1] In the most harrowing irony yet, just over six million….

[2] For the many who fought for America, both now and then, I know that pain was and is very real. I don’t mean to denigrate the suffering of our soldiers.  But for the average Joe on the street nothing has ever happened on American soil that compares with what happened to Europe during WWII, at least not since the Civil War.





Mrs. Loftus and the Social Network

The following is an excerpt from "Week 2" of my recently released book, Chasing Glenn Beck.

Back in 1970 Mrs. Loftus, my 7th-grade math teacher, first taught me about the dangers of social networking.

Mrs. Loftus and I both
spent our days at John Burroughs Junior High School (now John Burroughs Middle School), she as faculty and I as student.  John Burroughs (or JB, as we called it) is a beautiful brick building nestled on McCadden Place between Wilshire Boulevard and Sixth Street, in the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles.  Many of you are probably familiar with the school though you may not realize it; its grandeur—and proximity to Hollywood—led to frequent appearances in movies and television shows including Pleasantville, Pretty in Pink, Teen Wolf and Family Matters. It was quite lovely as Junior High Schools go, set as it was in an upper-middle class residential neighborhood. There were plenty of trees, several large grassy areas and a pretty decent field in which I sat more than once as wet morning grass soaked through the green and gold shorts we wore in gym class (and which we only occasionally remembered to take home for laundering).

I was twelve years old in the 7th grade, the second youngest in my class. I was still on the short side of puberty and was pretty sure (in retrospect) that I hadn’t a clue as to what it was all about; nevertheless I was starting to show some interest in girls.  Just one girl, actually.  Her name was Miri Day.  (What a great name.  It’s real, too.  I’m hoping that if she ever reads this she doesn’t mind.)  Miri was quite beautiful in a twelve-year-old sort of way.  She had skin that tended toward olive and pitch-black hair cut shoulder length, which she sometimes swept to one side so that you could just see the skin on the back of her neck. She was thin but not too much so, and had athletic arms.  Miri and I shared Mrs. Loftus’ math class.

Mrs. Loftus was a hard, hard woman.  Red-haired and middle-aged, she spoke with a faintly leftover Irish accent and looked a bit like an overworked washerwoman, rather like a cartoon Carol Burnett though not quite as attractive.  As a teacher she was like something out of a Victorian orphanage: drill, drill, slap a wrist (you could do that then), drill, embarrass publicly, then drill some more.  Every day she would begin class by randomly calling on a few students and lashing questions at them.  Each, when his or her turn came, would  rise to a crisp military stance and loudly shout back the answer.  “Janice Walker!  What’s the decimal equivalent of 3/8ths?” Janice, who was quite tall, knocked her knee on the desk’s underside as she leapt up and barked out “Point-3-7-5” as quickly as she could.   A stern nod sent her back to her seat while the rest of us sweated, wondering if we were going to be called on next and how long today’s torture would last.  

God help you if you were wrong.  Mrs. Loftus had raised public humiliation to an art form.  With carefully scripted glaring expressions, dismissive gestures and lip curls, she was like some mutant out of the X-Men comics that could wither your limbs from twenty feet away.  Legs turned to jelly and spines cracked under  the pressure. Mrs. Loftus was not to be trifled with, yet every once in a while someone tried. 

Social networks in 1970 operated like this:  A boy would slowly and ca
 ref ully rip a small piece of paper out of a notebook and while pretending to do multiplication exercises scribble a few words onto this tiny scrap, then fold it into the smallest possible package, but certainly no larger than what could effectively disappear inside a his fist.  Then, carefully, while the teacher’s back was turned, he would surreptitiously glide his hand forward or backward and pass the note to his nearest desk-neighbor, who would then hopefully pass it to his nearest connection, and so on, until the note reached its destination.  Any one of those connections might decide to read the note so one needed to be careful what was written on it. There wasn’t any security back then. Sending a direct message might have made more sense but that was very, very chancy. It meant either leaving your seat or attempting to toss the note while Mrs. Loftus wasn’t looking.  Neither was worth the risk.

Eventually, that note passed from me to Miri Day.  While it wasn’t a love note exactly, it was certainly a like note.  I had been lucky so far; the note had gone unread, and, given that Miri and I had exchanged a few odd glances now and then, I was thinking that perhaps by the following Tuesday or so she and I might be holding hands or kissing cheeks or something.  But as Miri opened the note to read my sparkling prose, Mrs. Loftus began to turn around.

I’m going to skip ahead a bit now.  It’s just too painful and embarrassing to recall.  But I will say that the bench outside any principals’ office is just as hard and uncomfortable as you remember it.  I will say, also, that tears did nothing to establish me as an apt suitor in Miri’s eyes.  

Most importantly, through our extremely simplistic, very slow and highly insecure 7th-grade version of tweeting and linking-in, I learned that, once an idea is out there, it’s out there.  Everybody—and I mean everybody—now knew about my infatuation with a girl.  My friends looked at me funny, as if I had somehow betrayed not just them but the entire male pre-teen demographic.  In the meantime Miri’s friends swarmed her with giggles, each punctuated with a glance in my direction.  What was I doing at the time?  Attempting to eat my lunch while melting into the hard bench on which I sat.  It was not until several days later than the furor had died down, superseded, no doubt, by some equally distracting blunder committed by someone else with early stage hormone rage.

[Footnote: Miri and I did finally have a very short and highly platonic romance. It included some cheek kissing and a very long game of Monopoly on her living room floor while her mother no doubt smiled to herself from where she stood making lemonade in the kitchen.]


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