"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
November 21, 2013
Wow, 2013 Samantha Power Was Just EXCORIATED by 2003 Samantha Power
This is what Samantha Power, now U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said today when asked whether the U.S. owes Afghans any kind of apology:
POWER: We have nothing to apologize for. Our soldiers have sacrificed a great deal.
This is what Power said at her confirmation hearings earlier this year:
POWER: America is the greatest country in the world and we have nothing to apologize for.
This is what Power said in 2003 about the weird, gross refusal of states and the people who serve them to refuse to ever apologize for anything:
POWER: It's the tendency of states, and as you could argue that on some level it is also of individuals, not to look back and not to reckon with what we've done wrong. Often if you look at our country ... we don't, states don't do that generally speaking.
So it's actually more interesting to look at historical precedents where states do. … And what's so amazing, briefly, is how much more it means to the victims, how therapeutic it can be, simply even to say it happened. It's a continuum, right, of reckoning – from "It happened," to "It happened and I was there," to "It happened and I was there and in fact I did it," or we, our predecessors did it, to "We did it and we made a mistake," to "We did it and we're sorry," to "We did it and we're sorry and here's your property back and here's some money." You know what I mean? And to not even start along that road ... but again, I do think we need to look at ourselves...
For more on Power's transition from someone who occasionally was honest about the U.S. government to someone who constantly lies, see here.
Already the Ring tempted her, gnawing at her will and reason. Wild fantasies arose in her mind; and she saw Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age, striding with a flaming sword across the darkened land, and armies flocking to her call...
November 16, 2013
World's Luckiest Cat Runs Out of Luck
(Muppet, seen here upset about being interrupted while working on his novel)
Many cat owners believe their cats have some kind of unique personality, different from other cats. As someone who's owned his fair share of cats, I can attest that this, in most cases, is just a tempting illusion. Cats generally have one lovable but generic personality, with minor variations.
That said, there are unusual cats, and my cat Muppet was one of those. I was hoping he would make it to November 22nd so that [JOKE REDACTED DUE TO PARENT SENSITIVITY]. Then he'd leave the world in as unusual manner as he lived in it. But it was not to be.
I found Muppet the night of January 7th, 1996 as I was walking home from midtown Manhattan to my apartment on West 109th Street through the third-worst blizzard in New York City history. I was on Central Park West around 103rd Street when he appeared from between the garbage cans outside the front door of a building facing the park. He looked almost full grown, was incredibly friendly and didn't have a collar or any other sign of belonging to people. And the snow was falling so thickly. I couldn't help picking him up and taking him with me; what I remember is that he didn't struggle at all, he just somehow accepted that I had his best interests at heart.
Our crossing paths was the first and biggest stroke of luck in Muppet's life. He was about to begin the greatest rags-to-riches story in cat history.Continue reading "World's Luckiest Cat Runs Out of Luck"
November 10, 2013
Mark Dubowitz Is an Object Lesson in Where Bigotry Comes From
Mark Dubowitz is the director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank which was "founded by a group of former U.S. officials and visionary philanthropists shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001 to help free nations defend themselves."
Right now Dubowitz is defending America by making sure we aren't fooled by Iran in the current nuclear negotiations. He recently told the New York Times "the Obama administration has entered the Persian nuclear bazaar and gotten totally out negotiated," and the Daily Beast that it "sounds like Obama decided to enter the Persian nuclear bazaar to haggle with the masters of negotiation and has had his head handed to him." And he's not the only one: Washington Post foreign policy specialist Jim Hoagland has warned "Fooling foreigners and adversaries is an ancient Persian art form." Israeli columnist Smadar Peri writes that the U.S. could be facing "a trick in the spirit of the Persian bazaar." And Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute says it's too late: "The world’s great bazaaris are chuckling because they’ve just sold their nuclear weapons program to the world’s worst bargainers."
So the message is clear: Iranians are extremely sneaky – and simple, honest folk like ourselves are vulnerable to their devious machinations.
But are Dubowitz & co. right? I can't claim I've conducted a careful, in-depth study on comparative Iranian sneakiness. In fact, I'm not even sure how you'd do that. So let's look at it from another angle: have people like Dubowitz ever been convinced that another group was particularly wily and ready to take advantage of our naiveté at any moment?
Spoiler alert: yes.
• Let's start with Native Americans, who were awful from the beginning. A Jamestown colonist wrote "A Breif discription of the People" in 1607, where he explained:
The people steal anything that comes neare them, yea are so practized in this art that lookeing in our face they would with their foote betweene their toes convey a chizell knife, percer or any indifferent light thing: which having once conveyed they hold it an injury to take the same from them; They are naturally given to trechery…
You have to admit, that sounds pretty Persian.
• In 1789 a doctor named James Makittrick Adair wrote Unanswerable Arguments against the Abolition of the Slave Trade, which contains a chapter titled "Moral and Political Character of the Africans." It turns out they were just like Native Americans:
CUNNING. Most savage nations are artful...and their acumen in concerting the best means to attain the end desired is wonderful; and the artifices and pretexs they use...are so various, and often so uncommon, it is very difficult to detect them.
• Then there are Jews, who, as described by Joseph Goebbels in 1941, turn out to be exactly the same as Native Americans and Africans:
It is difficult to detect their sly and slippery ways. One has to be an experienced student of the Jews to recognize what is happening...the Jew is the master of the lie. He is such an expert on twisting the truth that he can tell his innocent opponent the exact opposite of the truth even on the plainest matter in the world.
Just as the Germans were lucky to have Goebbels, we're lucky to have Mark Dubowitz, who's an experienced student of the Persians and can recognize what is happening.
• During Pakistan's civil war in 1971, Richard Nixon had strong feelings about the people of India, who were giving him problems with their neutrality in the cold war. And it turned out regular Indians were indistinguishable from American Indians:
The President [said] they [Indians] are "a slippery, treacherous people." He felt that they would like nothing better than to use this tragedy to destroy Pakistan. ... The President said that the situation "smells bad." The Indians are not to be trusted.
At another point Nixon told Henry Kissinger that what "the Indians need" was "a mass famine."
• During the late seventies, Richard Helms – the former head of the CIA and ambassador to Iran – told Congress that Eastern Europeans and "Asiatics" can easily lie in a way that honest Americans just can't:
We discovered there were some Eastern Europeans who could defeat the polygraph at any time. Americans are not very good at it, because we are raised to tell the truth and when we lie it is easy to tell are lying. But we find a lot of Europeans and Asiatics can handle that polygraph without a blip, and you know they are lying and you have evidence that they are lying.
• Finally, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak revealed this about Palestinians in 2001:
[Arafat] did not negotiate in good faith…They will exploit the tolerance and democracy of Israel...They are products of a culture in which to tell a lie…creates no dissonance. They don’t suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture. Truth is seen as an irrelevant category. There is only that which serves your purpose and that which doesn’t...There is no such thing as "the truth."
So, what should we make of all this?
It's a little easy to call Mark Dubowitz a hateful bigot. So let's do it: Mark Dubowitz is a hateful bigot. And his grandchildren will be embarrassed by him just as white American teenagers today are embarrassed when their racist grandfather starts blathering about Obama being born in Kenya.
Nevertheless, it's a mistake to view Dubowitz as inexplicably, irredeemably awful. What history demonstrates is that every group of human beings tends to see itself as uniquely honest and trustworthy, and other groups as abnormally tricksy. And this tendency becomes especially pronounced within a powerful group when it's brutalizing another and has plans for further brutalization. Human beings can't do terrible things to people who are just like them, so they invent reasons why those people aren't.
In other words, racism is generally structural rather than the fault of specific, bad human beings. James Makittrick Adair didn't start out as a racist and then decide that made it cool for him to own Africans. Instead, he wanted a bunch of other people to work for him for free, and that made him a racist.
Likewise, Dubowitz didn't start out as a racist and then decide that, because Persians are so sneaky, the United States has to run the mideast. Instead, he started out by believing the U.S. has to govern the mideast with no Iranian influence, and – because it's insane to think it makes sense for a country 6,000 miles away to run a region with no input from the people who live there – he had to become a racist in self-defense.
Et voilà, the sneaky Persian bazaar. So people like Dubowitz won't stop being bigots and then give up on their bizarre, impossible fantasy of eternal U.S. power over every inch of planet earth. It can only happen the other way around: if they give up their fantasy, their bigotry will evaporate. It's not impossible this will happen to Dubowitz. (And then he'll have to get another job.)
P.S. The New York Times and Daily Beast would never publish people expressing this kind of garbage about non-Muslims. Hopefully it won't be long before they won't publish it about anyone.
October 22, 2013
George W. Bush's Ass-Based Foreign Policy
George W. Bush's foreign policy was many things, but first and foremost, it was about asses. So it's no surprise an anonymous senior Bush administration official is now saying this:
"The only reason we went into Iraq, I tell people now, is we were looking for somebody’s ass to kick. Afghanistan was too easy."
According to the book Hubris, Bush explained that Saddam Hussein was that someone:
As Fleischer recounted [an exchange with Helen Thomas about Saddam Hussein] for the president, Bush's mood changed...Out of nowhere, he unleashed a stream of expletives.
"Did you tell her I'm going to kick his sorry motherfucking ass all over the Mideast?"
By contrast, during the lead up to the Iraq war Tony Blair's ass received special privileges:
Shortly before the Commons debate, Mr Campbell recalls President Bush promising: "If you win the vote in Parliament, I'll kiss your ass."
And of course in Bush's own book, Decision Points, he explained how focused he was on asses on 9/11:
"My blood was boiling. We were going to find out who did this, and kick their ass."
Moreover, we were not going to settle for animal asses, as Bush explained in the Oval Office two days later on September 13th:
"When I take action I’m not going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt."
Most importantly, asses would not just be kicked, as was described in a book by Israeli journalist Uri Dan:
“It was an excellent discussion with the President,” Sharon told me afterwards when we sat in a fancy colonial furnished corner of ‘Blair House’..."The President was very friendly and he replied that he is decisive in continuing his total war against Bin Laden...” and here Sharon stopped for a moment, like someone who finds it hard to express the President’s words, but he got over it and smiled: “He told me about Bin Laden – “I’LL SCREW HIM IN HIS ASS.”
However, historians still disagree whether bin Laden's ass was to be kicked before being screwed or vice versa, or if the U.S. ever developed the technological capability to do both simultaneously.
October 16, 2013
My Skin in the Game: How Ted Cruz and the Right Want to Help Cancer Kill Me, and Maybe You
Huh. That looks weird. Has that always looked like that?
I don't spend a lot of time looking at the back of my calves. I'm sure you don't spend a lot looking at yours. Kind of like the dark side of the moon, they're on the dark side of your body. And they're not interesting enough to make a special effort. What do the backs of our calves do all day long? Who knows, they could be plotting to overthrow the government and we'd never notice.
But for some reason a few months ago I did look at the back of my right calf. And I noticed that a mole I'd had there for my whole life looked slightly different. Or did it? I wasn't sure. In fact, I wasn't sure I'd looked at this mole since the Clinton administration. But whatever it used to look like, now it looked sort of...like it was splitting in half. Like one side was making a break for it and heading around my leg toward my shin.
Or maybe not. Maybe what I'd thought was one mole had always been two overlapping moles and I hadn't ever noticed. Maybe?
Maybe I should go to a dermatologist.
So I decided to make an appointment and go. And the most important thing about the way I made that decision, which quite possibly saved my life, is that I wasn't worried at all. I wasn't worried enough to hurry, it took me six weeks to get around to it. I wasn't worried when the dermatologist looked at it and said he'd go ahead and slice it off. I wasn't worried when the phone rang a week later and it was the dermatologist, calling me directly.
What I'd always heard about waiting for results from medical tests is that you want a nurse or receptionist to call you. You definitely don't want to hear from the doctor themselves. Yet I was so totally unworried that when I heard the doctor's voice, that never crossed my mind. To the degree I thought anything I thought: wow, this guy is such a caring physician that he makes a point of calling patients to tell them that they're perfectly fine.Continue reading "My Skin in the Game: How Ted Cruz and the Right Want to Help Cancer Kill Me, and Maybe You"
August 27, 2013
Help, We're Surrounded By Sneaky Foreigners!
It's tough being American. We're so honest and we live in a world of deceit, as former CIA Director Richard Helms pointed out back in the seventies:
RICHARD HELMS: We discovered there were some Eastern Europeans who could defeat the polygraph at any time. Americans are not very good at it, because we are raised to tell the truth and when we lie it is easy to tell are lying. But we find a lot of Europeans and Asiatics can handle that polygraph without a blip
It's also tough to be Israeli, because they're very very honest too despite being surrounded by liars, as former Prime Minister Ehud Barak explained in 2001:
Barak shook his head—in bewilderment and sadness—at what he regards as Palestinian, and especially Arafat’s, mendacity:They are products of a culture in which to tell a lie…creates no dissonance. They don’t suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture. Truth is seen as an irrelevant category. There is only that which serves your purpose and that which doesn’t. They see themselves as emissaries of a national movement for whom everything is permissible. There is no such thing as “the truth.”
Speaking of Arab society, Barak recalls: “The deputy director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation once told me that there are societies in which lie detector tests don’t work, societies in which lies do not create cognitive dissonance."
Iranians in particular lie constantly, as Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland wrote in 2007:
Fooling foreigners and adversaries is an ancient Persian art form. Saying exactly what you mean is a crude and dangerous way to talk, or to negotiate.
Ask anyone who's dealt with us—Native Americans, Africans, Palestinians—and they'll tell you: they may have had their disagreements with U.S. or Israeli policies, but one thing they never encountered was dishonesty.
July 20, 2013
Conservatives Grow the Same No Matter Where They're Planted
Imagine you were Iraqi and had the right personality to join Saddam's military in 1985, just before it engaged in actual genocide against other Iraqis, and rise through the ranks for 18 years until, by the time the U.S. invaded in 2003, you were a lieutenant colonel.
But then suddenly you're transplanted to America. Where would someone with your background and personality end up on the political spectrum here?
As [Muhanned al-Kusairy] ascended to the 19th floor of a downtown building on a Baghdad-hot afternoon, his hands trembled, his face flushed, and his stomach, he remarked, felt as if it were “filled with mice, not butterflies.” He was heading to see a man he had come to idolize since moving to Arizona three years ago, a man who he hoped would fulfill his American dream.
“Mr. Sheriff!” Muhanned exclaimed. “It’s a huge honor to meet you.”
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose hard-line approaches to illegal immigration have drawn nationwide attention, embraced the fawning Iraqi immigrant. “Tell me about yourself,” he said…
“My dream is to be a deputy sheriff,” he told Arpaio. “I want to work for you...Ever since I arrived here, I’ve wanted to wear a uniform with the American flag on it.”...
He and his family must wait two more years to become citizens — “it feels like two centuries” — but that has not dissuaded him from trying to be what he deems American. He covers his bald pate with a black Stetson, sports a stars-and-stripes sticker on the tailgate of his Tahoe, listens to country star Alan Jackson’s greatest hits and spouts off on politics when wedged in traffic on I-17.
“We have too many illegals here,” he said soon after picking me up from the airport last month. It was three days before his meeting with Arpaio. He went on to rail about how many immigrants receive state-funded health care and food stamps. “And they don’t pay taxes,” he groused. “They’re stealing from both my pockets.”...
“I came legally, and I pay my fair share in taxes,” he said. A few miles later, he returned to the topic. “I wish I was in charge of the Department of State. Anyone who doesn’t love the United States, I’d deport him to Mexico.”…
Muhanned has spent more than 40 hours in evening classes, learning how to use a two-way radio, process detainees and conduct a traffic stop. He is moving on to intermediate-level instruction this summer — “They will teach me to use a Taser!” — and he hopes to earn his certification to carry a sidearm and a posse badge by the end of the year….
He is unmoved by criticism that the squad of 3,500 civilians, some of whom are armed, has not been properly screened or trained. “Don’t believe everything you read in the media,” Muhanned said.
“We,” he told me, referring to the United States in the first person, “should have sent the sheriff to Iraq in 2003 instead of Paul Bremer,” the White House envoy who ran the initial U.S. occupation. “We needed someone tough like him.”
As this shows, no one's political perspective has much to do with ideas or the structure of their country's government or history or whatever. It's just about their personality. Some people like this guy Muhanned al-Kusairy just love taking orders from whoever's more powerful than them, while kicking the crap out of everyone less powerful. It doesn't matter who's giving the orders or why – it could be Saddam or Joe Arpaio or Vladamir Putin or General Zod or whoever. The important thing is just that someone is in charge and telling him what to do, and that this includes hurting other people while wearing a costume.
This would happen in the other direction, too. America's native-born worshippers of Joe Arpaio, at least the competent ones, would have loved being in Saddam's army if they'd been born Iraqi. And they would have all have patriotically massacred other Iraqis, just as they'll patriotically massacre other Americans if they ever get the chance.
July 13, 2013
What does Joe Biden think of Julian Assange of WikiLeaks?
That he's akin to a "high tech terrorist."
What does Joe Biden think of Hashim Thaçi, the Prime Minister of Kosovo and — according to a 2010 report by the Council of Europe – the head of a "mafia-like" organized crime ring which murdered prisoners of the Kosovo Liberation Army so they could sell their organs?
That he's, as Biden said when Thaçi visited the White House, "the George Washington of Kosovo."
Interesting fact: Biden said that about Assange on December 18, 2010, literally the same week that the Council of Europe report on Thaçi was released. A long New Yorker story here covers the Thaçi allegations in much more detail, including the murder of potential witnesses and a campaign of death threats against others.
May 30, 2013
Two Political Leaders Who Were Also Scientists
When you look at biology, look at the natural world, the roles of a male and female in society, and the other animals, the male typically is the dominant role. The female, it's not antithesis, or it's not competing, it's a complimentary role. We as people in a smart society have lost the ability to have complimentary relationships in nuclear families, and it's tearing us apart.
Saddam Hussein, famous Iraqi dictator and moustache-haver, in a 2000 speech:
Saddam then discusses the virtue of honesty and courage by men. He says the tank looks beautiful when its canon is pointing forward, and a man looks great when he fights while looking ahead and when he is truthful. Citing the example of sheep and chicken, Saddam says that the male species has always been charged with fighting and protecting the female.
Erick left out the beautiful tank part, but I think it's implied.
May 23, 2013
Michael Kinsley Can't Recall Michael Kinsley's Words of Wisdom
This is one of the key things everyone should understand about politics, by a great writer named Michael Kinsley in 2008:
When you hear the presidential candidates carrying on about democracy and freedom, do you ever wonder what they would be saying if they had been born into societies with different values? What if Mitt Romney had come to adulthood in Nazi Germany? What if Hillary Clinton had gone to Moscow State University and married a promising young apparatchik? What if Barack Obama had been born in Kenya, like his father, where even now people are slaughtering one another over a crooked election? Which of them would be the courageous dissidents, risking their lives for the values they talk about freely—in every sense—on the campaign trail? And which would be playing the universal human power game under the local rules, whatever they happened to be?
Without naming names, I believe that most of them would be playing the game. What motivates most politicians, especially those running for President, is closer to your classic will-to-power than to a deep desire to reform the health-care system.
This is some dumbass thing advocating budget cuts aimed at the middle class, by some dumbass named Michael Kinsley in 2013:
…[Paul Krugman] considers briefly, but seriously, that [my] problem might be simple “sadism,” but retreats from that daring charge to an only slightly more plausible conspiracy theory: that austerians don’t want the economy to recover until they’ve had the chance to use bad times as an opportunity to shred the social safety net. Either that or a psychological variant: they need bad times to continue in order to justify their status and their speaking fees. Amidst these far-fetched possibilities, let me propose one more: maybe austerians really, sincerely want what’s best for America and the world, and really believe that theirs is the better path than Krugman’s. Maybe austerians—poor, deluded creatures that we are—actually think that their path will result in less pain, not more.
How is it possible that Kinsley could write both of these things?* My theory – which has never been successfully disproven – is that there is an anvil in Washington, D.C., and all prominent American pundits are required to have it dropped on their heads once every six months. Kinsley actually has sustained less brain damage than most of them.
*In theory, there's no contradiction between the two things Kinsley wrote. As he says, powerful people are all motivated by "your classic will-to-power," rather than a burning desire to improve the general welfare of their nation. But human beings, including powerful ones, also have a need to believe that they're good. So all powerful people persuade themselves that they are motivated by a burning desire to serve their nation.
For instance, Saddam Hussein saw himself as Iraq's greatest patriot. He sincerely believed that him being in power was best for Iraq, and the occasional torture and massacres and genocides that that required would result in – as Kinsley puts it – "less pain, not more."
So sure, the austerians sincerely believe that slashing Social Security and Medicare – which will coincidentally mean they can pay lower taxes and be more powerful, since other Americans will be more desperate – is sadly necessary.
But obviously this isn't the point Kinsley is making. Despite what he wrote five years ago, he somehow believes the sincerity of the austerians has some significance. It's like someone saying that Saddam sincerely believed that dropping sarin gas on Hallabja was the best for Iraq. Of course he did. Who the fuck cares?