"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show
"Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket
"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming
July 17, 2014
Israel: In 1967 Blockades Were Acts of War, in 2014 They’re Totally Awesome
You probably assume there’s nothing funny about the Israeli attack on Gaza, with the death toll among Palestinians currently at 230. (One Israeli has also been killed.) But that’s where you’re wrong, if you just ignore the human suffering and enjoy the hilariously sanctimonious hypocrisy of nation states.
Two days after Israel and Hamas first started shooting on July 7th, Hamas proposed a ceasefire agreement. Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade since 2007, and Hamas wanted it lifted in return for a cessation of hostilities. Israel ignored this ceasefire proposal, and instead proposed a ceasefire with no lifting of the siege.
Hamas rejected this, which – according to U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki – apparently makes every death on either side from now on their fault. (When asked about the killing of four Palestinian children on the beach yesterday, Psaki emphasized that Hamas was "putting their own people at risk” by not accepting the ceasefire.)
But how did Israel come to occupy Gaza in the first place? Well, in the Six Day War in June, 1967 Israel conquered Gaza (along with the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the Sinai).
Israel shot first in the Six Day War, and, as Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin later explained, it was a “war of choice” and there was "no proof" that Arab countries were going to attack them.
So what justification did Israel give at the time for shooting first? They said that in fact they hadn’t started the war, because Egypt had already started it by blockading an Israeli port several weeks before. Here's what Abba Eban, then the Israeli Foreign Minister and later the recipient of the Israel Prize, said to the UN General Assembly on June 19, 1967:
The blockade is by definition an act of war, imposed and enforced through armed violence. Never in history have blockade and peace existed side by side. From May 24 onward, the question who started the war or who fired the first shot became momentously irrelevant. There is no difference in civil law between murdering a man by slow strangulation or killing him by a shot in the bead. From the moment at which the blockade was imposed, active hostilities had commenced and Israel owed Egypt nothing of her Charter rights. If a foreign power sought to close Odessa or Copenhagen or Marseilles or New York harbour by the use of force, what would happen? Would there be any discussion about who had fired the first shot? Would anyone ask whether aggression had begun?
So that's the funny part:
By Israel’s standards, Hamas has been entitled (since the start of the blockade in 2007) to invade Israel and then occupy it for forty years.
Maybe Hamas officials should start pointing this out. They can direct curious reporters to the only place I can find Eban's speech online, the website of the Israel Defense Forces:
The Birdman of ATR
By: John Caruso
I don't believe I've seen Jon mention here that he spends much more of his time on Twitter than ATR these days (and his ATR postings are often elaborations of things he's already tweeted about). I suspect he's just too modest and self-effacing and tugs his forelock in fretful dismay at the very notion of putting this information out there, but I'd also guess that some of ATR's readers aren't aware of his moonlighting and are missing out on the fun, so I'm doing it for him.
— John Caruso
July 16, 2014
Israel Creates Stupidest Propaganda in Human History
Since 2000 and the beginning of the second intifada, Israel has killed 6.5 Palestinians for every Israeli killed by Palestinians, and it’s starting to be a problem for them. (The ratio was more lopsided before 2000, but it wasn’t a problem because back then nobody cared.) And it’s a particular problem right this second, since the ratio in Operation Protective Edge now stands at 178 Palestinians killed to one Israeli.
After all, has there ever in history been a conflict with such a lopsided death tally where the barely-dying side has been the good guys? No. So Israel needed some propaganda to deal with this, stat.
Here’s what they’ve come up with. (This is from a CNN interview yesterday with Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., but it’s a talking point used by lots of people.)
TAPPER: Is it the official position of the Israeli government that it is worth 17 people who you're not trying to target being killed if that one person is in the house?
DERMER: ...Some say Israel is being disproportionate because more Palestinians have been killed than Israelis, 200 versus one….It has nothing to do with a body count on both sides. Twenty times as many Germans died in World War II than Americans. It didn't make the American response disproportionate and didn't make the Nazis right.
OW OW MY BRAIN OW THAT IS THE STUPIDEST THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED
Just for comparison’s sake, let’s say you had 70 trillion male cane toads – an animal notorious for being so stupid it will have sex with anything that will stay still long enough to hump, including dead cane toads, dead lizards, dead snakes and (probably) dead people.
Then let’s say you extracted the essence of the 70 trillion cane toads’ stupidity and turned it into several sentences of Israeli propaganda. That would still be just one-half as stupid as what Ron Dermer said!
I assume I don’t have to spell this out for human beings reading this, but for any confused cane toads, Germany didn’t just kill Americans in World War II. In fact, they're kind of famous for this. They killed about eleven million people in the Holocaust, probably 20 million Russians, plus maybe another 10 million on top of that. That's why they were the bad guys.
Let’s imagine a World War II where Germany only killed 300,000 Americans, i.e., no one from any other country, and yet America killed seven million Germans. In this weird, hypothetical version of “World” War II, America would have been the bad guys.
Congratulations to Ambassador Dermer and all the Israeli propagandists who’ve worked so hard to reach this milestone in human stupidity.
July 08, 2014
Jesus Fucking Christ Jeffrey Goldberg Is an Idiot (No, ISIS Hasn't Captured Saddam’s Hidden WMD)
Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, one of the biggest promoters of the Iraq war in American journalism, was anxious to share this news today:
ISIS seizes Saddam's formerly nonexistent chemical weapons: http://t.co/3Fj29alvpF— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) July 8, 2014
The link goes to an AP story with this news:
Iraq has informed the United Nations that the Islamic State extremist group has taken control of a vast former chemical weapons facility northwest of Baghdad where 2,500 chemical rockets filled with the deadly nerve agent sarin or their remnants were stored along with other chemical warfare agents.
Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim...singled out the capture of bunkers 13 and 41 in the sprawling complex, which according to a 2004 U.N. report also contained the toxic agent sodium cyanide, which is a precursor for the chemical warfare agent tabun, and artillery shells contaminated with mustard gas.
It was unclear from Goldberg's tweet alone whether this was simply a stupid joke — or whether Goldberg genuinely believed this shows we've discovered Saddam's hidden stockpile of chemical weapons, thus proving George W. Bush (and Jeffrey Goldberg) right at long last.
However, Goldberg then retweeted three other people (this, this and this) who seem to believe it was the latter; i.e., that we've now learned Iraq did have WMD. So apparently Goldberg believes this as well.
Here's what's actually going on:
Al Muthanna was a large Iraqi production facility for chemical weapons in the 1980s, and was heavily bombed during the 1991 Gulf War. After the Gulf War Iraq was required to declare all its chemical weapons to the UN and hand them over for destruction, and al Muthanna became the main collection and destruction site. According to the CIA's 2004 Iraq Survey Group report, "30,000 pieces of ordnance, 480,000 liters of chemical agents, and more than 2 million liters of chemical precursors" were incinerated or neutralized there.
So why were there any materials left in bunkers 13 and 41 (the ones mentioned today by Iraq)? First, because bunker 13 was damaged by the Gulf War bombing, making it too dangerous to remove the chemical weapons inside; and second, because the UN needed a place to put various kinds of contaminated materials (drained shells, equipment from the incinerator, etc.) that was difficult to destroy, and bunker 41 had not been bombed, so they stuck it all in there.
Then the UN did this:
Bunker #13 and # 41 were closed by sealing all entrances before the end of CDG [Chemical Destruction Group] mission. Each seal consisted of two brick walls with a 5cm layer of tar between them. Then a third brick wall at a distance of one metre from the second wall was built and the space between them was filled with reinforced concrete. Altogether, such a seal was over 1.5 m thick. The hole in the roof of the bunker #13 was also sealed with reinforced concrete.
So yes, there were still chemical weapons in Iraq when we invaded in 2003. But no, today's news doesn't prove "Iraq had WMD." Everyone on earth had known what was in these bunkers for 20 years, and Saddam had no way of accessing it.
Moreover, even if Saddam had gotten his hands on it everything had likely decayed so quickly that by the mid-nineties or earlier it would have been useless. By now it's certainly more of a danger to ISIS than anyone else, and then probably only if they drink it.
All of this information is available to anyone with an internet connection and the slightest interest in this subject. That apparently does not include Jeffrey "I've Had My Entire Cerebrum Removed" Goldberg.
P.S. Here's a UN diagram of bunker 13 and how it was sealed:
June 14, 2014
Someone Please Dig Up Christopher Hitchens and Show Him This Blog Post
Christopher Hitchens on Iraq, 2005:
The welcome that I've seen American and British forces get in parts of Iraq...I want to mention first because there are people who say that that never happened...where were the sweets and where were the flowers? Well I saw it happen with my own eyes and no one's going to tell me that I didn't...it was like this is the nearest I'll get to taking part in the liberation of the country, to ride in with the liberating army...I will not allow it not to be said that that did not happen.
The Financial Times on Iraq, now:
On Thursday night, the militants running Mosul marched through the streets of Mosul and residents say they went out to greet them in celebration.
“People threw them chocolates,” said one woman in a white veil, heading into the Kurdistan region. Like many fleeing on Friday, she said she was not fleeing because of the militants, but because she feared that Mr Maliki would launch air strikes.
There has probably never in history been an invasion where some people didn't give the invading army a warm welcome. For instance, here are some Poles and Ukrainians in 1939 greeting the Nazi army with flowers. And certainly there's never been an invasion where idiot propagandists like Hitchens didn't triumphantly celebrate it as vindicating the invasion's morality. In fact, I'm certain ISIS has its own idiot propagandists at work on this at this very moment.
May 30, 2014
Those Who Own the Goalposts
John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State:
"The bottom line is [Edward Snowden] has betrayed his country, sitting in Russia where he has taken refuge," he said. "You know, he should man up and come back to the United States."
Abby Huntsman, TV host and granddaughter of a billionaire:
"Snowden needs to come home and face the music. That takes courage. Until then he's just a coward."
From The Doubter's Companion by John Ralston Saul, president of PEN international and one of my favorite writers on earth:
The idea of unregulated warfare appeals to our foolish self-pride by suggesting that only a weakling, a coward or an incompetent could be afraid to come out from behind artificial protection in order to fight like a man. Of course only a fool rises to this kind of taunting...
History is filled with a long list of small armies and small nations who have risen to the taunts of large neighbors. The next recorded event is their destruction...
In short, the people who cry loudest...fall into two categories: those who own the goalposts and fools.
February 16, 2014
Everything You Need to Know About U.S. Foreign Policy in One Short Paragraph
This is from the March 10, 1919 diary entry of Cary Grayson, Woodrow Wilson's personal doctor:
…the President said…that if the present government of Germany is recognizing the soldiers and workers councils, it is delivering itself into the hands of the bolshevists [sic]. He said the American negro returning from abroad would be our greatest medium in conveying bolshevism to America. For example, a friend recently related the experience of a lady friend wanting to employ a negro laundress offering to pay the usual wage in that community. The negress demands that she be given more money than was offered for the reason that "money is as much mine as it is yours." Furthermore, he called attention to the fact that the French people have placed the negro soldier in France on an equality with the white men, and "it has gone to their heads."
That one paragraph truly contains everything you need to know about U.S. foreign policy:
1. It's built on a foundation on upper class twit urban legend. Who knows what really happened with the "friend of a friend" of Woodrow Wilson. But I think we can be certain that, if the "negress" actually did exist, she didn't ask for more money than usual because she was inspired by bolshevism to say "money is as much mine as it is yours."
This reminds me of the time shortly after the 1992 Los Angeles riots when the nephew of a huge Hollywood producer told me he'd heard that all the black people in Compton were making plans for next time, when they were going to come burn down the three B's: Brentwood, Beverly Hills and Bel Air. Sure, you bet.
2. The terrifying danger that the U.S. upper crust perceived in 1919 wasn't that the lower orders were going to stage a Bolshevik revolution. It wasn't even that they were going to try to get the right to vote and have a voice in the government. It was that they were asking for a raise.
(Also, worker councils were not a good idea that made workplaces run better, but pure revolutionary bolshevism. If you paid attention to the right-wing freakout over the UAW trying to organize the VW plant in Chattanooga, you saw nothing whatsoever has changed.)
3. The terrifying danger wasn't coming from just any part of the lower orders, it was from the teeming non-white masses who want to take all our money.
4. What was the the natural response to the threat of a slight change in political and economic power within the U.S.? It was to invade another country (in this case, the nascent Soviet Union), together with the other main white powers, the UK and France.
You can draw a direct line from this diary entry to every foreign policy action taken by the U.S. in the past 95 years.
P.S. The house where Cary Grayson and his family once lived in Washington, D.C. is now the administration building of Sidwell Friends, the private school attended by Sasha and Malia Obama.
February 13, 2014
It's Not Our Fault If It's a Perfect Storm!
Whenever elites fail in a gigantic, public way, you can be sure of one thing: it was a "perfect storm," so you can't blame them for what happened.
Edward Snowden's leak of NSA documents was, at least by their standards, a big failure. But as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper explained to Congress on Tuesday, it wasn't their fault because it was a perfect storm:
The director, James R. Clapper Jr., testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Snowden had taken advantage of a “perfect storm” of security lapses.
Why was there a gigantic financial crisis in 2008? According to the International Monetary Fund's chief economist, you can't blame them because it was a perfect storm:
In short, underestimation of risk, opacity, interconnection, and leverage, all combined to create the perfect (financial) storm.
Why was New Orleans destroyed by Hurricane Katrina? According to then-Director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, you can't blame them because it was a perfect storm:
"That 'perfect storm' of a combination of catastrophes exceeded the foresight of the planners, and maybe anybody's foresight," Chertoff said. He called the disaster "breathtaking in its surprise."
And why did everyone in the U.S. government believe Iraq was teeming with WMD? According to a top U.S. intelligence official, you can't blame them because it was a perfect storm:
[W]as Iraq, as one senior intelligence official told the Commission, a sort of “perfect storm”—a one-time breakdown caused by a rare confluence of events that conspired to create a bad result?
That's four perfect storms in ten years. Man, our elites have the worst luck.
February 09, 2014
I.F. Stone on the Expensive Pointlessness of "Intelligence"
This is I.F. Stone speaking in 1984, from the book I.F. Stone: A Portrait:
This whole business of intelligence, it's a waste of money, highly overrated. You don't understand what's happening in history or in your time by peeking through keyholes…
What's the good of all the money we spend on intelligence? When they get an intelligence report that has something in it, they ignore it. They don't like to read. They want everything on one piece of paper…
There very few things that are really secret or remain secret for very long. Basically, an intelligence service is there to tell the boss he's doing the right thing. It's very overrated and we're swamped with these organizations.
We're becoming a partially closed society. It's a terrible concept...those few members of Congress who have access to the oversight committees become prisoners of the intelligence apparatus because they can't say what they've seen. And if they come out and criticize, they can't produce the proof, because the proof is classified. It's a disease…
When I was in Russia, the phone book was classified. The dictators in the Politburo, they don't know what's going on. You don't know what's going on if you depend on cops, on secret police. Paranoia is a disease of secret police. They're paid to be suspicious of their grandmothers. And that isn't the way you understand people or what is going on. We're getting Sovietized in this country. Thank God it is nowhere near as bad, but it's creeping.
January 06, 2014
Manfred’s Life (As I Knew It)
This is by my cousin Nora Hanke, who's a pediatrician, rescues animals, grows her own kale and has a huge solar array to help power her house. I.e., she does everything right. Also, she once told me about infected abscesses in such detail that I fainted.
Manfred’s Life (As I Knew It)
Manfred came into my life in September, 2000 when I saw a skinny little kitten run under dumpster at the Southampton Transfer Station. I asked a worker about him and was told, “Oh, he’s been hanging around here for a couple weeks. Someone dumped him off. It happens all the time. He is going to starve to death.”
“No way,” I thought.