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Magnets for paranoia, conspiracy theorists and Toynbee tiles

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Washington,  D.C., is a magnet for countless people. Some come for job opportunities. Others come for politics. I was significantly attracted to the idea of studying law in Washington (which I did) and staying here, thinking it a good place to have a chance to work both with the federal government and law firms. As time passed after a summer law clerk stint during my first summer in law school with the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, I became less enamored with the idea of working with any government agency, but ended up liking living here, and stayed.

Over the decades here, I have seen my share of people convinced that government agents were out to get them, people who were not even remotely on the radar of law enforcement; a man leafletting against the government’s transmitting radiowave messages to him (my communications law friend says radio waves have naturally occurred even before radios were invented); and signs (including painted on a van) of incomprehensible gibberish.

Adding to the seemingly inomprehensible gibberish are Toynbee Tiles, which I just learned about recently from an acquaintancwe who, with his friend, keeps Baltimore’s seedy history alive online, and before that on public access television.

Toynbee tiles are rectangular linoleum messages first spotted in the 1970’s and found on tar roads, usually with variations of this phrase: “Toynbee ideas in Kubrick’s 2001 resurrect dead on planet Jupiter.” There have been several spotted in Washington, D.C., including just two blocks from the Superior Courthouse.

Whether or not the Toynbee Tiles are mainly the work of one group of people (or just one person), the tiles’ seemingly bizarre messages are not merely haphazardly typed or handwritten on paper, but are the products of time taken to letter and cutout linoleum, place them on streets, and avoid getting run over in the process.

According to the Toynbee Tiles entry in Wikipedia, which source is always suspect for accuracy, at least one set of more verbose tiles shows a hostility to Jewish people and other people, but I have no idea to know whether that message is meant seriously or else as a way to criticize such a message.

ADDENDUM– January 2, 2011: Independent filmmaker Jon Foy has been so fascinated with Toynbee tiles that he spent five years making a documentary on the topic. His film has been accepted for the Sundance film festival.