June 16th, 2011

Lying Liars and the Lies They Tell

I have a really basic rule: the best way to detect a lie is to investigate its intersection with reality. If they don't match, well, _maybe_ it was a mistake. If the source doesn't match consistently, well, _maybe_ they're just really kinda foolish. But probably -- especially if it helped the source -- it was a lie and probably -- if there is a pattern of benefit -- they are a liar.

I also use non-verbals, but too many people believe the crap they spew.

It turns out that I _hugely enjoy_ lies being exposed and the chaos and disarray that occurs among those that believed the lie. I'm fairly certain this makes me a bad person (or at least worse than I would be without this characteristic), but I do try to be honest about my basic feelings. "Switch it off" should only be used very occasionally.

The last couple of days have been Fabulous for Exposing Untruth.




You can see the lie in the headline: retired military man posing as deaf, lesbian, widowed mother of twins. Really? Really? Anyone believed this? It's like a _failed_ high concept movie idea: you get a stack of index cards with trendy topics, shuffle it, pick a number between 1 and 10, select that number of cards, and build some very silly and traditional plot line on top of those topics (boy meets girl, type of thing -- I think the plot line in this case was let's get rid of don't ask don't tell and make gay marriage legal, but I'm bored by this guy already). In reality, of course, "retired military" is being kind. Try: unemployed construction worker who stole his wife's identity to use it online.

This guy was outed (cue rim shot, er, maybe not the _best_ choice of metaphors here, never mind) because of peripheral contact with the really big story:

"When news broke that Tom MacMaster, a 40-year-old American man, admitted to blogging as Amina Araff on the blog "A Gay Girl in Damascus", suspicions rose over Brooks' identity.

Apparently the two men posing as lesbians corresponded with each other - neither knowing the other's true identity, the Post reported."

I suppose I should say something about the Tom MacMaster incident and how it was exposed, but I am relatively certain that anything you might want to know you can find out by googling it (short form for people in the future who might have forgotten: white man from Georgia (in the Us) living in Scotland pretends to be an out-to-her-family lesbian in Damascus whose dad did heroic things like talk the guvmint into not arresting him or her or something like that and many, many other implausible things, culminating in MacMaster saying she was kidnapped because he wanted to go on vacation. His explanation of why he did this is incoherent and breathtaking and Edward Said's daughter has weighed in on the topic of Orientalism -- appropriately, in my irrelevant opinion). Again: very high concept failed movie idea.

In _Popular Crime_, Bill James describes a variety of famous historical crimes and speculates about what might _actually_ have happened and then rallies evidence in favor of his theories. Of course, at this distance and with completely inadequate evidence in many cases, it's hard to know the truth; I certainly found his stories compelling. In any event, one of the motifs that shows up repeatedly is the "person who inserts himself into the story" (to be fair, not always a man). James is highly suspicious of people who insert themselves into a crime story. And so am I. I think it's actually a great way to think in general about Lying Liars and the Lies They Tell.

James does _not_ think everyone who inserts themselves into a criminal investigation is a or the criminal. He goes to some length to describe in detail how common false confession is and the standard array of tactics used by police to confirm or disregard confession, and how those tactics can, on occasion, be undermined (police, after all, being humans and all). Also, a lot of the stories they tell are fantastically preposterous on the face of them. However, when police have nothing else to go on, and one of these people is _really_ convincing (good nonverbals NOT plausibility), trouble ensues.

I think some of the same elements are present here. There is _huge_ news going on in a part of the world that a lot of us have no personal connection to. But we _want_ a personal connection, and blogs are a way to get it. There are a _lot_ of people out there who wants to be the Center of Attention (mostly because they have really serious issues of their own or maybe are just unemployed and bored with looking at online porn, but never mind that now; these people have gotten too much attention already); lying in a way that puts them in the middle of this story is a natural fit.

The Washington Post did a nice summary of other online personas who turned out to be _really_ not true:


But honestly, this is exactly the same as the woman who claimed she ran around Europe being raised by wolves during WW2 and sold the book, the woman who claimed to be a white woman raised by a black family and to have all kinds of gang connections, Frey's exaggerations about the amount of time he spent in jail and so forth, etc. ad nauseum. With a little stretching, it's the same as a fake Vermeer that everyone believed in the 1920s that is so painfully obviously not even remotely Vermeer a few decades later that it is honestly hard to believe anyone fell for this. All these frauds work in the same way: get a stack of trendy topics, pick a number between 1 and 10, build a really dumb plot on top of it. If we _say_ it's fiction, it probably won't sell very well (unless it's Avatar), because the story is for crap and it is top heavy. But if we _say_ it's real, then it falls under the heading of "you couldn't make this stuff up", and as long as there's enough detail, a lot of people will cope with the obvious Wrongness and make excuses for you and blah, blah, bleeping blah.

Bloggers don't generally tell you their sexual orientation as part of the argument for an unrelated cause. Bloggers do not claim to have some 1 in 10,000 or even more unlikely event occur to them -- every month or two (a bunch of blogs get started and run for years off of an ordinary person trying to deal with the fallout of a _single_ rare event happening to them. Once.). Bloggers do not front-and-center a disability AND an unrelated cause. People who are genuinely marginalized because of their gender, orientation, ableness, etc. do _not_ draw attention to these attributes as a way of increasing the validity of an unrelated argument. Seriously. That's the _opposite_ of true. (Can you even _imagine_ me saying "I'm poly, therefore you should trust my opinion on economic policy"? How about, "My kid has autism and I probably have Asperger's, therefore you should be extra special interested in anything I have to say about the housing market"? Even better, "I was a dot commer, so my parenting advice must be true". I particularly like this one: "I was raised a Jehovah's Witness, therefore my urban fantasy book reviews should be taken more seriously." Not in a million years.)

There are straight, white, even male people out there who can gin up envy for people who are queer, brown, female, etc. and then exploit those attributes for their own gain. We know who two of them are now. That's probably an indication that there are more. Keep an eye out for them and Don't Be a Mark.

Finally, if you read the "full interview" with Graber, it's pretty clear that this guy can't keep even "the truth" straight. He claims he started the website because he has a lot of gay friends, but then says he doesn't hang out with gay people. It may make sense in his head, but it sure doesn't make sense written down.

Borders Bankruptcy in the News


Lenders are running things (this is BK, after all) and they had a deadline when something (leases, as near as I can tell) had to be resolved for certain stores, some of which are very profitable for the chain. The deadline was going to trigger an auction and store closures, which probably no one wanted to happen. It looks like this was a negotiating ploy with the people leasing the space to the chain.

I always find the game of chicken involved in bankruptcy -- and the lead up to bankruptcy -- somewhat amazing. I keep thinking that if someone comes to you and says, yeah, you know, things changed and I can't pay that any more but I could pay this -- and you _know_ you can't get any better than the new deal on the open market -- shouldn't you take it? Isn't that the rational thing to do? The Borders example seems fairly minor compared to the nonsense going on in housing, but still.

Foreclosures Drop NOT Due to Moratorium

Foreclosure filing rates are tracked for a variety of reasons. And foreclosure filing rates have been on-and-off misleading for quite a long while (probably, at this point, years) because various moratoria have been put in place to slow the process down and give homeowners an opportunity to recover.


This headline, however, isn't about moratoria. The banks have gotten into some trouble for trying to rush the process (viz. foreclosing on houses a buyer had paid cash for) and, in the course of doing so, breaking the law in a variety of ways.

"Foreclosure filings have fallen for eight straight months on a year-over-year basis as banks rework their documentation procedures following claims they improperly repossessed homes."

Worse, however, is this:

"Weak demand from buyers is making it difficult for lenders to sell the properties that they already have on their books, known as real estate owned, or REOs, according to RealtyTrac."

Lenders have consistently resisted any strategy that involved writing down principal, which is the only thing likely to keep homeowners in their homes (and that wasn't going to work for everyone anyway). And now they are dealing with the inevitable repercussions. This is not rational, however, it does take time for people to learn. RHI lenders are starting to write down principal on a case by case basis, however, it'll probably be a while yet before we let the bankruptcy courts handle it, which is what we should have done right at the beginning. _THAT_ would have cleared this much faster.

Comments from Random Strangers on Our Bicycles

I'm not going to do more than mention in passing what the junior high and high school kids say as I'm riding by on my way to pick up T.

Yesterday, as I was waiting to get T. at preschool, a woman with a little girl thanked me for riding a bicycle. I have no idea why she did this. It was sufficiently unexpected and confusing that I said, "Sorry, what was that you said?" and she repeated herself. She was pretty committed to delivering this compliment; I said thank you and went and got T.

Today, as I was digging the pruning shears out of the zipper pocket of the pannier and making sure T. did not continue further down the sidewalk ahead of me, a man in a dark red Volvo stopped in the middle of the road. This is a _busy_ road -- he was blocking a long line of traffic to do this, and he had passed us by several car lengths, so he was really having to shout to communicate with us, which I had no reason to expect him to do. He was saying, "I just have to say, You're Crazy." I looked around, saw him, saw the line of cars, and he repeated himself. I'm thinking, I just want to get the pruning shears out so I can whack some of this vegetation back that's grown way out into an already too narrow sidewalk, and there's some idiot in a Volvo blocking traffic to yell "You're crazy"? I guess it's me. I'm crazy. Unless this is some weird form of performance art and he really means he's crazy and, being crazy, having some trouble with his pronouns. I'm assuming he doesn't mean the shears, but rather that I'm out with a little kid on our bikes. On a _sidewalk_. Conspicuously _not_ blocking traffic. I yell back that "You're crazy", and that we have a right to use the sidewalk. I think he repeated himself, then decided to carry on with driving, which is sort of a pity, because I never had time to think to offer to shear something off of him with those pruning shears that I had finally gotten out of the zipper pocket of the pannier. Altho maybe not a pity, because in my more thoughtful, moral, and air-conditioned moments, I think that telling someone you're going to prune something off of them is inappropriately violent speech.

And speaking of air-conditioning, perhaps that was really the source of the Volvo driver's need to relieve himself of some parenting advice? Anti-bicycle bigotry? Maybe he thinks _we_ should have been in an air-conditioned vehicle (I have to agree with him on that. Bicycling when it's over 80s does feel somewhat nutty). I think he'd overheated, and important parts of his brain had shut down. You know, those things which inhibit us from speaking our mind at inappropriate times, to inappropriate people, about inappropriate things.

While blocking traffic.

Santorum Has New Rumors

Basically, if you're reading something quite spectacularly hypocritical about him it is probably not true. Here is Project Vote Smart's transcript of Terry Gross' 2004 interview in which he describes the events in question.


It's later in the interview; searching on "wife" gets you right to it.

I had actually heard this story about the Santorums before, in a context in which purportedly liberal people were freaking out that they had brought the body home and went through a mourning process. I was somewhat offended that anyone would mock an approach that struck me as sensitive and respectful of the shock associated with a late miscarriage/perinatal death. It is not helpful to a family to sort of pretend it didn't happen. There are a lot of ways to deal with this shock and the one chosen by the Santorums deserves respect.

Unlike their politics.

Another Way to Save Money on Health Care


A one year study on 700 smokers with heart disease who took Chantix to help them stop smoking turned up an increased risk of heart attack vs. placebo. Coverage saying "small" increase, but if you notice it in a one year with only 700 people in the study, that's a decent sized signal.

And it's not like Chantix was trouble free before this came out.

I guess if we keep discovering that drugs we are using have a lot of problems and stop using them (as much), that might net out to cheaper health care with better results. In a case like this (stopping smoking by taking a potentially problematic drug vs. continuing smoking), it's a really tough call.