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October 06, 2008

Will Rogers And His Misunderstanding Of Biology

This is a famous quote by the early 20th century comedian Will Rogers:

I love a dog. He does nothing for political reasons.

Now, here's a story about Saddam Hussein:

Saad al-Bazzaz...came close to being executed by Saddam's henchmen. As head of the state broadcasting ministry, he was summoned to one of the dictator's many opulent villas on the outskirts of Baghdad...

Chillingly, the President enquired after his health...It soon became clear what he'd done to offend the dictator. Iraqi state television and radio broadcasted hours of saccharine poems and songs in Saddam's honour every day. Much of the output was dismal, and in recent weeks al-Bazzaz had instructed producers to dump the worst of it. Saddam wanted to know why. "Who made you judge?" he hissed. "Who are you to stop people expressing their feelings for me?"


—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at October 6, 2008 06:40 AM

Look, it sounds slightly offensive here, but are you saying that Saddam's contempt for his subjects is shown by how he reduces them to the level of dogs, or that those oppressed, even against their will, and not rising up and just making a living to save their Goddamn necks, are the equivalent of dogs? I'm somewhat confused.

Posted by: En Ming Hee at October 6, 2008 06:57 AM

No one who has seen a little dog posturing---barking loudly at strangers to impress the owner---would claim that dogs aren't political. Their politics are simply more direct.

Saddam Hussein is exactly the kind of egomaniac who would be pleased with every bark for his benefit.

Posted by: weasel_word at October 6, 2008 07:34 AM

Obviously an "oh, shit" moment for the minister.

I hear he begged for mercy - "So shoot me. I just can't listen to that crap anymore."

Posted by: ddjango at October 6, 2008 08:27 AM

My girlfriend's dog Kirby is so old and he's politically incorrect. He poos on the rug. He'd poo on Saddam's rug. If he were a pet for the Hussein family Saddam might have put him to death, or he might have loved the dog enough to give him his own palace. Kirby wouldn't see the connection between his treatment and his crapping.

He's lost the connection between his brain and his bowels. Many people are like dogs. Many people aren't like dogs.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at October 6, 2008 09:17 AM

The point is this: dog owners (like dictators) are deluded into believing that their dogs genuinely like them, when in fact dogs (like people) are simply displaying their instinctive reflex to submit to power.

Posted by: john at October 6, 2008 10:49 AM


To be even more blunt, saying things like "genuinely like" presupposes a degree of free will which simply does not exist, any more than your aura, karma, or eternal soul. Feelings like "like" are just words that we use to describe the ways in which our neural pathways are being stimulated, much in the same way we use the word "red" to describe stimulation by 700 nm light.

Posted by: john at October 6, 2008 11:00 AM

My little dog is extremely manipulative and skilled in politics, both domestic and foreign. Not to mention economics.

Not sure what it has to do with Saddam admirers, though.

Posted by: abb1 at October 6, 2008 11:03 AM

Aren't we all POLITICAL ANIMALS? Does not matter what one's field, journalism, teaching, law, medicine, politics etc etc, we say or do not say and do or do not do something because it is convenient or beneficial at the moment ( Of course, there will be some who will act according to their beliefs irrespevtive of any gains and a FEW of them may even gain something because it just happened to be politically right thing to do at that moment!).
Regards Mr Rogers statement--wonder if he had one dog or more. If he had one, I can may be accept it. If he had more than one, probably he did not know, he made a statement too soon!

Posted by: Rupa Shah at October 6, 2008 11:50 AM

Some other words of wisdom from Will Rogers...

Everybody is ignorant. Only on different subjects.

You can be killed just as dead in an unjustified war as you can in one protecting your own home.

I don't care how little your country is, you got a right to run it like you want to. When the big nations quit meddling then the world will have peace.

All I know is what I read in the papers.

Posted by: cemmcs at October 6, 2008 02:07 PM

One more...

Diplomacy is the art of saying 'Nice doggie' until you can find a rock.

Posted by: cemmcs at October 6, 2008 02:11 PM

sorry, four more...

Anything important is never left to the vote of the people. We only get to vote on some man; we never get to vote on what he is to do.

You can't say that civilization don't advance; for in every war they kill you a new way.

I have a scheme for stopping war. It's this - no nation is allowed to enter a war till they have paid for the last one.

There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

Were there electric fences in Will Rogers' day?

Posted by: cemmcs at October 6, 2008 02:27 PM

Were there electric fences in Will Rogers' day?

Yes, they were brand new. Probably there were a nontrivial actual number of men who did pee on the electric fence for themselves. A surefire story that would quickly make the rounds via the Sidetrack Cafes of the country...

Posted by: Nell at October 6, 2008 02:55 PM

It should be a new rule that all stories, blogs, newscasts, advertisements, etc. should have a dog or two in them.

And any and all future references to Saddam should be deleted (or at least explained when they have a dog in them).

Posted by: namvetted at October 6, 2008 03:05 PM

When we have our own models based on and verified against reality, like Winston Smith's 2+2=4, we have freedom. When the models are from outside, a product of evolution or accident of birth, perhaps once correlating with reality, but no longer so, or even constructed entirely for the benefit of others, we are constrained. Then there is the gray area: political necessity. Where the models come from outside, but we shape them to become as free as we can.

Posted by: me at October 7, 2008 06:44 AM