Jon Stewart spreading misinformation about the Jew

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On last night’s The Daily Show, Jason Jones and Jessica Williams got a little carried away while they Monday Morning Quarterbacked Bowe Bergdahl’s failure to escape from Taliban prison. Their rendering of what he should have done got off to a realistic-enough start when Jones summoned his karate training to take out 20 guards, but quickly devolved into the absurd:

There she stands. A totally hot Taliban lady played by Sofia Vergara. And I think you know what that means [Jessica sings what the caption describes as "porn music"] — that means we bang. Respectfully. Through a sheet.

Stewart, who plays (for those who don’t regularly watch the show) the straight man to his army of senior correspondents, was quick to interject:

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Are Facebook’s relationship status options a little bit sexist?

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[Editor's note: Granted, everyone's a little bit sexist. But because the headline might imply otherwise, I should really tell you upfront I'm only talking about one of them.]

Facebook made a lot of headlines today with the announcement that it will now allow its users to choose from among fifty different descriptors of gender:

In a nod to the “it’s complicated” sexual identities of many of its users, the social network on Thursday added a third “custom” gender option for people’s profiles. In addition to Male or Female, Facebook now lets U.S. users choose among some 50 additional options such as “transgender,” “cisgender,” “gender fluid,” “intersex” and “neither.”

[Editor's note: Gender fluid certainly does sound like it would go nicely with a seafood dinner and a box of chocolate.]

The new options appear to be quite progressive, but is Facebook really just trying to cover up some of the other ways in which it is insensitive to gender differences? Just take a look at the various relationship statuses from which the service asks its users to choose:

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Source-checking the New York Times

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I once read an article in the New York Times that reported a fact so implausible my immediate impulse was to debunk it. Here it is:

More than 18 percent of marriages by Chinese- and Japanese-Americans [are] to American Jews.

18 percent – chai percent! – is a huge number. I call bullshit. But how to prove it?

My initial attempt to fact-check this quote last September failed miserably. I tried to demonstrate statistically that, given the size of the populations in question, the purported numbers were patently absurd and ridiculous.

Once I got my hands on some relevant statistics, I remained thoroughly skeptical, but was at least satisfied that what the New York Times had reported was within the realm of statistical plausibility.

Defeated in my quest to fact-check the New York Times, but unwilling to let all my effort go to waste, I ended up writing some ridiculous post linking the latest bizarre beauty trends in Japan to the desire to find a nice Jewish boy (See ‘Bagel head’: My theory if you’re interested in a bit more detail about my statistical endeavors).

Having failed to debunk the original fact, and having read it in the New York Times, I began to feel comfortable citing that 18% as an actual fact over the past year. So it was, perhaps in connection with JLSA’s upcoming mixer with APALSA (but not), I related that fact to a friend… and was again struck by the overwhelming impulse to debunk it. There’s just no way.

So I decided to go back to the source: New York Times. And so I discovered, simply “fact”-checking was the wrong approach all along. I needed to be source-checking.

Dredging up the relevant article was easy, as I had linked to it in my ‘Bagel head’ article. Next, I checked out the location of the reputed fact. The excerpt reads in full:

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Stephen Colbert hides a secret message in the closed captioning

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As I have previously noted, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s closed captioning services are often good for mild amusement at their own expense, like that time they transcribed “rectal scrape” as “rectal crepe”. [Editor's note: I suppose you can't really win that situation.]

I don’t normally share every delightful example of closed caption-anigans – I come across them every day, and I blog these days at something less than that level of frequency – but there was something different about last night’s episode of The Colbert Report: whoever put the captions together used them to make a joke. Sort of like what happens on The Word, only for deaf people.

The “mistake” popped up in Colbert’s segment about a candidate to succeed Michele Bachmann in the House, Tom Emmer. At first glance, the error seems rather innocent – a slip of grammar, specifically, a missing hyphen – but when you take a look at how the sentence as a whole was transcribed (that is, with two other, properly-placed hyphens), you get the sense that someone over at Comedy Central went out of his way to communicate what he thinks about state’s rights (or at least the candidates who espouse them):

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Facebook translations are truly the best

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Exactly five months ago, I shared Facebook/Bing’s very special translation of יחי אדוננו מורנו ורבינו מלך המשיח לעולם ועד. I owe that stellar discovery to my sharp-eyed brother, who is also responsible for the post to come.

Some quick background: A friend of ours recently attended a wedding and posted a photo of the event on Facebook. I share this information because it is not immediately obvious from simply looking at the heavily-image I am about to post. Aside from the blurry names and the [redacted] photo, notice anything funny about it?

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The more subtle irony of Orscon Scott Card’s plea for tolerance

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Ender’s Game is coming out later this year — not to be confused with Hunger Games II, which comes out three weeks later — and I’m pretty excited. I first read the book for fun, then I read it for an assignment in high school, and then I read it again for an assignment in college. But not everyone – including some fans of the book – share my sentiment. And it’s not just the usual litany of concerns, like “Will your movie be as good as the book?”, “Why did you pick a 16-year old actor to play 6-11 year old Ender?”, and “Why did you show the movie’s epic conclusion at the end of the first trailer?” [I trust my readers are astute enough to recognize that clicking on that last link is just asking for a spoiler.]

Instead, Ender’s Game has gotten some flak because the book’s author, Orson Scott Card, is — according to one online petition — “an anti-gay activist, writer, and board member of the National Association for Marriage.” It’s unclear why “writer” qualifies for strike II, but questions of sentence structure aside, I have to admit: I couldn’t care less about who wrote the book and what he thinks about gay marriage. We’ve all read books written by people we disagree with, and I’m hardly the only one who feels this way. Get over it, grab some beans, and get ready for Ender on the big screen on November 1.

Still, there are some people upset about the whole thing, and movie studio Lionsgate publicly distanced itself from Card and promised to host an “Ender’s Game”-themed benefit for the LGBT community, so Card felt the need to respond to his critics. He wrote in Entertainment Weekly:

Ender’s Game is set more than a century in the future and has nothing to do with political issues that did not exist when the book was written in 1984.

With the recent Supreme Court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot.  The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution will, sooner or later, give legal force in every state to any marriage contract recognized by any other state.

Now it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.

Headlines seized on the irony of the author’s plea for tolerance regarding his own intolerance:

Orson Scott Card Responds to Ender’s Game Boycott With Ironic Plea for ‘Tolerance’ – Wired

Poor Hateful Homophobe Orson Scott Card Is Tired of Being Picked On – The Stranger

But I want to point out another irony: Card’s work is part of a long line of science fiction authors who have taken it upon themselves to reimagine marriage in future societies. In The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Heinlein introduces us to the line marriage. In The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula le Guin imagines a society without any real conception of gender. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, if my memory serves me correctly, has all sorts of freaky things going on socio-biologically. And these are just the examples that popped into my head first.

Orson Scott Card’s work is no exception. In Children of the Mind — the third book in the post-Ender’s Game trilogy that follows the story of Ender himself — he envisions what opponents of gay marriage would characterize as the inevitable outcome of the legalization of gay marriage: the marriage of man and machine (though to be fair, George Lucas almost got there first).

I haven’t read the trilogy in a while, but I remembered the story in broad outline and knew just where to turn to to fill in the details: Wikipedia. These scattered excerpts should do:

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The only Supreme Court decision that really should turn on the wisdom of King Solomon

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[If at any point, you know exactly where I'm going with this post, stop reading it. I have nothing to say beyond the totally obvious.]

Gay marriage is just one of those topics that induces people to say dumb things. The latest seems to be Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who quoted King Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes in response to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on gay marriage:

“[The Supreme Court was] not aware that the most wise man in history, Solomon, said there’s nothing new under the sun. And this isn’t new, and it’s been tried over and over. And it’s usually tried at the end of a great civilization.”

Weighty stuff, to be sure.

The remark has been roundly ridiculued around the internet, from John Oliver on the Daily Show to some random guy on some liberal blog and every degree of cleverness in between, for the obvious reason that Gohmert might have picked a better person to make his point than a king who had 700 wives and 300 concubines to his name.

To his credit, Gohmert seems to have realized his mistake, or maybe intended to make it all along, and clarified/walked back the remarks in his week-end remarks on the House floor:

Although Gohmert cited the wisdom of Solomon in criticizing the high court, the Texan found fault with the king of Israel’s lifestyle.

“You know, King Solomon, many — including me — believe was the wisest man who ever lived,” Gohmert said. “Of course, then he had too many wives, and that [will] always mess up anybody’s wisdom.”

Now, I’ve gone on record to argue against invoking the Biblical conception of marriage in the argument over gay rights — both on the part of opponents and especially by proponents – but if we accept the wisdom of invoking Solomon in reference to Supreme Court decisions, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Louie Gohmert simply picked the wrong case.

Take, for instance, another case decided last week to comparatively-minimal media attention, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, which pitted the rights of an adoptive couple against the provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act:

One of the ways ICWA protects Indian families is by forbidding the involuntary termination of Indian parents’ parental rights. Under the statute, such terminations are forbidden in the absence of a heightened showing that serious harm is likely to result from the parent’s “continued custody” of the child. Brown based his argument on this statutory provision and won in South Carolina. After two years of living with the Capobiancos, Veronica was turned over to her biological father. But now, in a 5–4 decision, the Supreme Court has said that the South Carolina courts were wrong.

I found this case particularly interesting both because the YLS Supreme Court clinic played some small role (unfortunately, on the losing side) and because Roberts, C.J., and Thomas, J. (who both sided with the majority) are themselves adoptive fathers.

But if Louie Gohmert taught us anything, it’s that we should be less interested in the wisdom of the current nine Justices than in that of a certain, historical Judge, and — my apologies for the exceedingly anti-climactic punchline — but I think we all know how King Solomon would have decided this case:

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