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• • •
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"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

June 16, 2010

Dear Talk of the Nation: Thank You for Protecting Me from Relevant Information

Dear Talk of the Nation:

The world is full of important information that suggests the people who run the U.S. lie all the time and/or are insane. I don't want to know about that! It would make me sad, and I've been sad enough ever since I accidentally suffocated my friend Megan's hamster in 1977. That's why I appreciate your ceaseless efforts to protect me from sad, grown-up type facts.

For instance, just recently:

1. When you interviewed Victor Cha on May 31st about the tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, you could very easily have let slip that he had served for three years as Director for Asian Affairs on George W. Bush's National Security Council. But you didn't! Instead, as you told it, he was merely a nice professor at Georgetown. It's exactly this lack of context that helps me to not understand the world.

(It was also great that you decided to discuss the North Korean attack on a South Korean ship just hours after Israel had killed people aboard the flotilla going to Gaza. When Professor Cha explained that a "potential explanation" for North Korea being Crazee is that "they are a nuclear weapon state" and so "not vulnerable to retaliation," a lesser man than Neal Conan might have giggled. More undisciplined giggling might also have occurred when Professor Cha explained the significance of North Korea giving medals to sailors from the responsible submarine. It turns out this means North Korea "does not have peaceful intentions and it's really revisionist-oriented.")

2. When you covered the flotilla story the next day, June 1st, Sheera Frenkel said that "there were no sort of media crews onboard to just film the entire thing as it went down," so we may never "really get to the bottom of exactly what happened there."

Outstanding! I would never want to know that there were dozens of journalists aboard from all over the world, and that in fact they'd been reporting from the Mavi Marmara even before the attack. Thank you so much for not telling me.

3. When you did a show this Tuesday, June 15th about James Clapper, soon to be Director of National Intelligence, there was an awful danger: you might have accidentally informed your audience that in October, 2003, Clapper told the New York Times that Iraq's terrifying weapons of mass destruction had "unquestionably" been moved to Syria.

This would have made Americans realize that the people at the top of the U.S. government are dangerous fruitcakes. We depend on you not to tell us such things, and you came through!

So, thanks again. I look forward to listening to NPR for many years to come, and never, ever learning anything that matters.

your friend,

P.S. Now that you have this email in your possession, I know I can count on you not to pass along this unpleasant information to your audience. They don't want to know, and I know you won't tell them.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at June 16, 2010 10:23 PM

They don't want to know, and I know you won't tell them.

Of that, you can be absolutely certain.

Posted by: NomadUK at June 17, 2010 02:12 AM

"Clapper told the New York Times that Iraq's terrifying weapons of mass destruction had "unquestionably" been moved to Syria.

This would have made Americans realize that the people at the top of the U.S. government are dangerous fruitcakes."

I think this would have made Americans want to attack Syria.

IOZ on those who voted for the O-bomb (specifically the few who have realized they were fooled) and a fine description of the prez Himself:

"that's because you were a huge fucking sucker, a boob of colossal scale, a blinkered, magical-thinking dummy who let rump party affiliation and an East-Coaster's snide belief that a guy who don't call 'em no nukyoular weapons must certainly be like me convince himself that an insane, death-worshiping, peeping-tom war monster was some kind of admirably competent and reasonably ethical technocrat . . . that Barack Obama was, in other words, not running for President of the United States, but applying to be Director of Institutional Development at some nice two-year business college. Your bad!"

Posted by: marcus at June 17, 2010 02:17 AM

"October, 2003, Clapper told the New York Times that Iraq's terrifying weapons of mass destruction had "unquestionably" been moved to Syria."

This was because Clapper, like everyone one else in the whole wide world, was misled by Saddam Hussein. But now Saddam Hussein is dead, so Clapper will never be misled ever, ever again.

Do try to stay current, Jon.

Posted by: Paul Avery at June 17, 2010 03:48 AM

Um, Jon, by "the North Korean attack on a South Korean ship" are you referring to the Cheonan? I know that Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama and Korean President Lee Myung-bak say that the Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean attack -- and if you can't trust them, who can you trust? -- but there seems to be reason not to treat that claim with absolute credulity. I mean, it couldn't be that the Lee administration could have cooked up a story to try to help his party in the upcoming elections. He's our friend and ally on the Korean peninsula!

Seriously, there is no comparison between the sinking of the Cheonan and the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara. Maybe you meant to say that; I'm sure you did. But it's not obvious from the way you wrote this post.

Posted by: Duncan at June 17, 2010 03:59 AM

But I thought they were a bunch of liberals. That's what everybody says.

Posted by: grimmy at June 17, 2010 04:03 AM

My dorm roommate had a hamster. I remember once (must've been around 1977 also) he played Physical Graffiti (by Led Zeppelin) for about a week straight, 16 hours/day, maximum volume - and the hamster had gone crazy; brain damage. We released it into the wild.

I survived.

Posted by: abb1 at June 17, 2010 06:18 AM

Thought I'd try to "recycle" your comments by sending them to the ombudsman at NPR, just to see if I'd get a response.

So, copy-paste (added the links separately), and send.

Instantaneous response:
"A potentially dangerous Request.Form value was detected from the client (txtBody="... May 31st...")

You can't make this shit up!

I ended up being able to send it sans the links.

Posted by: Bruce B at June 17, 2010 07:28 AM

That post is so good it makes me giddy.

marcus made me laugh and think he's a wit too with "I think this would have made Americans want to attack Syria," but then he kind of killed the mood for me with the O-bomb ranticide. My mother-in-law the disability activist would never let her children make fun of the mentally impaired (such as their brother), so just remember Marcus, some of us who voted for Obama and still don't regret our delusional Lesserevilism might have a mental illness, which makes it mean to taunt us.

And what's up with Duncan? Have the North Koreans captured him and brainwashed him? I mean, that article he linked concludes:

"Like in the case of 9/11, careful fact checking and examination of the evidence by netizens has shown the South Korean government's case for the involvement of North Korea in the sinking of the Cheonan to be unsustainable."

"Like in the case of 9/11!" Duncan, are you sweet-talking me or do we need to send help for you?

Seriously, being an NPR listener sometimes, I hadn't even heard of a question about what happened to the Cheonan, so I assumed that there was no dispute that the North Koreans had sunk the ship. That just goes to show how easy it is to pick up assumptions. I should be immunized against that virus by now, but I guess I'm not. Shame on me.

Posted by: N E at June 17, 2010 08:07 AM

Speaking of giggling, I was reminded of an incident which took place when I was a trainee at a college counseling center (no names, please). One of the senior staff was giving a case presentation, about a woman client of his, and several times he burst into giggles as he did it. We all kept very straight and serious faces all through this, and I never heard any discussion about it.

However, I wondered then, and I still wonder now, "What's up with that?" I have my hypotheses, of course.

Later in life I listened to NPR interview John Yoo with a similar straight face. Now the only "current events" show I actually seek out and intentionally listen to on NPR is "Wait, wait, don't tell me!"

Posted by: mistah charley, ph.d. at June 17, 2010 10:23 AM

N E - since you're posting about the topic, I assume you know basic timeline

-ship sinks during US-SK war-games
-2 months pass, commission issues report
-narrative "NK sank our ship and now, 2 months later, we are righteously angry"
-rhetoric "we know this because it really looks like a picture of a NK torpedo"

The evidence finally public, experts point out it was a German-made torpedo. Whoops.

-rhetoric "NK did it and look how tricky they were to secretly buy German torpedoes in order to fool us"

In other words, the basic facts support a friendly-fire accident and a scapegoating. Hence .. no war.

Posted by: Henry at June 17, 2010 10:35 AM

About the South Korean vessel, the obscure fact which really clinches it for me is that the vessel sank in 25 meters of water. I find it hard to believe that this is deep enough for a submarine to launch an attack on another vessel.

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at June 17, 2010 11:03 AM


Thanks, I didn't know anything about it, which I admitted up front. But though I didn't go into it, I did find on the net and read a report by the usual impressive investigative committee, and even their recitation of the evidence wasn't too impressive. I remember somebody on NPR saying (I need a break from pop music sometimes!) that the South Korean public was outraged, so that's probably not true. I'm sure no one at NRP has the slightest idea.

You're right that the scapegoating part is important. I do know that there's a long history of that involving North Korea, and formerly China. Now the situation is less clear because it isn't as clear what the Chinese are now, at least from a wingnut perspective. Still, all the same regional power dynamics are there, especially the tension of the Japanese/Chinese/Korean relationship, with the US hovering in the sky above like a Mastadon.

I have absolutely no idea what's going on behind the scenes, but I don't know why North Korea would want to sink a sub. I heard something about revenge or retaliation, but I tend to think those types of motives are very rare. Nothing in the media can be believed, so I guess I shold should just listen to that crappy pop music to protect my brain.

Posted by: N E at June 17, 2010 11:54 AM

In addition to Duncan's post above, there was a suggestion that it was an American mine which caused the mishap, inadvertently!
I wonder why he did not interview Prof Bruce Cummings instead? He is not paying attention to his NPR colleagues, say like one in Chicago, who interviews the right people on his show.


Posted by: Rupa Shah at June 17, 2010 01:04 PM

continued from above....

"there were no sort of media crews onboard to just film the entire thing as it went down,"

And in spite of one hour long Al-Jazeera video, "A Voyage of Life and Death" and equally long video by Culture of Resistance
if the expert claimed, "there were no sort of crew onboard", it does not surprise me at all after having read what the MSM was reporting!
"How the U.S. Corporate Media Got the Israel Flotilla Catastrophe So Wrong‏"

And I would take the liberty, if I may, of suggesting Mr Schwarz, that you should not waste your time listening to NPR but then I would be the loser as there would not be such a fabulous post to read!

Posted by: Rupa Shah at June 17, 2010 01:32 PM

National Puppet Radio & Gulf of Tonkin.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at June 17, 2010 01:49 PM

When I heard about the Korean ship sinking, and the fact that the NK disputed it and claimed not to have done it, my first thought was, hey, I can't recall those guys EVER backing away from irrational craziness. The only reason I could think of for them to claim they didn't sink that ship was that, perhaps, just maybe they didn't actually sink that ship.

Posted by: steve the artguy at June 17, 2010 03:56 PM

My local listener-supported leftwing radio station, (KGNU, Boulder) likes to refer to NPR as "No Problem Radio". As in, "No problems, nothing to see here, move along."

I quit listening to them for good when they did a story on the new bankruptcy law and how it was really the best thing for the poor, when you think about it.

Posted by: nate at June 17, 2010 04:47 PM

I listen to NPR for the music.

Posted by: Susan at June 17, 2010 06:31 PM

I used to donate to NPR on priciple - don't anymore for the same reason. Better spent on the ACLU.

Posted by: Richard S at June 17, 2010 09:07 PM

Money intended for the ACLU is better off going to the Center for Constitutional Rights, as John Caruso explained on this very site:

Posted by: Michael Hughes at June 17, 2010 09:11 PM

Or you could just give me money.

Posted by: grimmy at June 17, 2010 10:15 PM

My problem with the ACLU is almost exclusively its position on corporate speech, which most recently was expressed in support of Citizens United in that recent landmark case expanding the right of corporations to directly spend unlimited amounts of money on election campaigns. Because corporate dominance of politics is more or less the root of the problem, for me it overcomes the ACLU's fine work against torture.

One can read the ACLU's amicus brief in the Citizens United case here:

Posted by: N E at June 18, 2010 12:16 AM