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Saturday Afternoon

A "friend" has been inundating me with links to sites that reveal how Barack Obama, crazed for power as he is, has all these plans to stay in office for a third term, if not forever. Seems to me that each of our last few White House residents has been the subject of this rumor. Didn't Bill Clinton have this top secret scheme to create a phony Civil War in the U.S., then use that as an excuse to declare Martial Law and suspend elections indefinitely? George W. Bush I think had one, too.

In an odd way, I kinda like the Obama Conspiracy Theories that come out of Absolute Nowhere. There are plenty that at least start in reality…like someone finding something in the Affordable Care Act and going, "Oh…we'll claim this part sets up Death Panels!" You almost have to deal with those claims like they have some basis. But the ones that don't even pretend to touch reality are fun on some level, plus they do a lot to distract from possibly legitimate criticisms. Insane concepts are not always without value…to someone.

Back in the seventies, I worked briefly for a rather dishonest man who was forever starting new, unsuccessful business ventures. Each time one tanked, as they all did, he'd sneak away from it leaving a phalanx of angry creditors, and start two more. Each was based on a premise not unlike this…

He'd read a statistic somewhere like, "Twelve million people a week eat Butterscotch Pudding." Instantly, his mind would do the math: "Why, if I could get two dollars from everyone who eats Butterscotch Pudding, I'd make $24,000,000 a week!" And that would be his new business. He'd invent something like the Send-Me-Two-Dollars-Every-Time-You-Eat-Butterscotch-Pudding Club…and by the time it became obvious that enough people weren't going to do that, no matter. He'd have heard somewhere that six million people each week do a bad impression of Jimmy Stewart and, why, if you could get three dollars from every bad Jimmy Stewart impressionist…

During the brief time I knew him, not one of his plans succeeded the way he wanted them to but a few yielded enough money that he could pay rent for a while off them. They'd all collapse and he'd disappear into the night leaving stacks of unpaid bills. But some were financially worth doing in a small way. There actually were a few people out there stupid enough to send him money every time they ate Butterscotch Pudding or did an impression of Jimmy Stewart. I hate to think what he'd have made off someone who did an impersonation of Jimmy Stewart eating Butterscotch Pudding.

Stupid people often have money and the great thing about them is that when they do, they spend it like stupid people. You know those e-mail scams we all get from a stranger someplace who has $32,000,000 US due them and so badly needs our help to claim the loot that they're willing to share it with us? I used to wonder why those messages were so lame and obviously bogus…until not long ago, I discussed it with someone I knew who was wiser than I in the ways of the Internet. I said, "Those things are so badly written, they wouldn't fool anyone with an I.Q. over 30."

"That's the point," he replied. "The idea is to get you to give them access to your credit card and bank account. Someone with an I.Q. over 30 is not going to give them that. It's a waste of time to start a correspondence with someone who isn't really, really stupid. A guy sends out a million — literally — of those messages. 999,970 of them will get instantly deleted by spam filters if not by the addressees. The guy who sent them will get thirty responses and he'll write back and forth to those thirty…and maybe two or three will be dumb enough to fall for the whole routine and send their banking info.

"If the initial come-on message was more credible, he might get 200 responses and they'd write back and forth to them…but there'd still be only two or three who would be stupid enough to send the banking info. It saves time to make the initial pitch so incredible. It filters out the ones who are just plain not stupid enough."

I think there's something to that. I also think I see a lot of it in similar scams disguised as political action come-ons. I have a couple of special "junk mail" e-mail addresses and years ago, one got signed up for all sorts of ultra-conservative mailings. They never cease and most do not seem to offer unsubscription. Among the debris that address receives two or three times a month is an Urgent Call To Action from some fellow who claims to have hard, undeniable evidence that will put Hillary Clinton (and Bill, while they're at it) in prison for the rest of their lives. Each message describes how one or both of them is planning to destroy the U.S., abolish all religion and make it mandatory that we all star in gay porn videos…or something like that. Pretty much, the sales pitch comes down to, "You hate Hillary Clinton, right? Send me money and I'll destroy her for you!"

I've been getting these for fifteen years now, during which he somehow did not use his undeniable evidence to stop her from becoming a U.S. Senator and then our Secretary of State, let alone continue walking the planet as a free woman. If you did think it was worth your money to try and stop Hillary, there are better places you could spend it. But I guess it's worth his while to compose a new, hysterical e-mail every ten days or so. He probably always reaches someone stupid enough to PayPal him some bucks.

I think an awful lot of what passes for political discourse in this country these days works off that principle: There's money in making stupid people mad.