July 31, 2004
Regret to Inform (Unfunny)
There's an old joke I love from the Vietnam war. Or maybe it just gets told over and over for every war. It goes like this:
A GI is visiting his friend in the hospital and asks how he was wounded.
His friend says, "I was out on patrol when I spotted a Viet Cong solider. Right before I was going to shoot him, he shouted, 'Fuck Ho Chi Minh!' So then I shouted, 'Fuck LBJ!'"
The GI says, "Yeah, but how were you hurt?"
The friend says, "Well, we were shaking hands in the middle of the road when we got run over by a tank."
I thought of this recently when I watched Regret to Inform, a documentary from 1998. I tried to think of some jokes about it or the general subject, but I couldn't because it's so overwhelmingly sorrowful. It was made by a woman named Barbara Sonneborn, whose husband was killed in Vietnam. In the film, she interviews other women -- both Vietnamese and American -- whose husbands were killed in the war, and visits the location in Vietnam where her husband died.
Then I tried to think of some words to describe men like George Bush and Dick Cheney who supported the war yet made certain other young men had to go kill and die instead of them. But I couldn't. I don't believe there are any such words in the English language. If we had more honor as a country, not only would Bush and Cheney not be president and vice president; they wouldn't be able to go outside without everyone spitting on them.
When Sonneborn gets to the village where he husband was killed, she meets a woman who belonged to the Viet Cong. Judging by her appearance, she must have been a teenager at the time. She and Sonneborn make an offering "to honor everybody who died in the war." Then she tells Sonneborn:
I am deeply touched by your visit and concern. I would like to send with you all the beautiful scenes that happened today. And please take them home to your people. And I hope there will be a good result. To help Vietnam heal the wounds of war. But the road from here to there is very difficult. But please try. And not just for us, you do it for yourself. And it will make us feel better that you tried.
This woman, living in a poor corner of one of the poorest places on earth, possesses a thousand times more wisdom in a lock of her hair than all the preening cretins who run America. As Chris Hedges (author of War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning) says:
Following our defeat in Vietnam we became a better nation. We were humbled, even humiliated. We asked questions about ourselves we had not asked before.
We were forced to see ourselves as others saw us and the sight was not always a pretty one. We were forced to confront our own capacity for a atrocity Ã¢â‚¬â€œ- for evil -Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and in this we understood not only war but more about ourselves. But that humility is gone.
I try very hard not to hate individual people. But I do loathe ignorance, and the arrogance to which it gives birth. There's certainly a lot of both to loathe these days.
July 29, 2004
Why Doesn't The Media Mention The Positive Parts Of Torture?
Nothing demonstrates the relentlessly liberal, anti-American views of the media like its treatment of torture. I'll admit up front that, yes, some parts of torture are negative. But why does the media focus only on the negative parts? What about the positive, upbeat parts of torture? To give a balanced, objective portrait of torture you need to show both sides. Not to do so is like reporting on serial killing and only mentioning its bad aspects.
1. Many people have heard about Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was picked up at JFK Airport in New York and shipped to Syria to be tortured. But how many people know that he was flown, bound and shackled, on a "midsize private jet with luxurious leather seats"? Many people would love to fly around the world on a private jet! Yet all of a sudden the US is supposed to be the bad guy!
Also, Arar lost 40 pounds while being held in a cell the size of a coffin. When he was released, he could fit into jeans he hadn't worn since high school! Now he'll probably make a mint writing a book on losing weight via this extremely effective diet. And we're supposed to feel SORRY for him! Only in America, my friends.
2. Dogs are lovable. And there are many dogs who need a good home. So what's wrong with the US Army giving them one? Yes, many will spend their days snapping at the genitals of naked Iraqi prisoners. But I guess you'd rather see little puppies thrown out into the street to fend for themselves. I ask you -- where are the animal rights activists on this issue? Their hypocrisy sticks to high heaven.
3. If there's one thing we can all agree on, it's that the world needs someone who dances like Michael Jackson. Ideally this would be Jackson himself, but what if he goes to jail for child molestation? Where will we be then? Thus, it makes perfect sense for British troops to take turns "kickboxing [Iraqis] against the wall and ordering them to 'dance like Michael Jackson.'" The British are merely encouraging the Iraqis to practice in case Jackson goes to prison and there's a worldwide shortage of Jackson-dancers. If it happens, the Iraqis can pick up the slack. Of course, don't look for the British to get any credit from the Britons who hate Briton and British kickboxing.
4. Many of the Iraqis beaten to death may have, before they were arrested, wanted to commit suicide but just didn't have the courage. Perhaps all the US did was give them a helping hand.
July 28, 2004
1. Joann Wypijewski quotes a woman in South Carolina as calling Al Sharpton's candidacy a "scampaign."
Wypijewski's article is about the history of Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition. It's REALLY interesting, despite the fact that it appears in the Nation.
2. Many people have pointed out that George Bush's most fervent supporters are like members of a cult, in their devotion and eagerness to ignore reality. However, writer David Corn says: "It's actually worse than that. At least cult members have someone thinking for them."
3. Matt Taibbi writes this in his New York Press column:
After about three weeks on the bus with Kerry, I was in a state of almost complete mental paralysis. It was almost like a state of amnesia, or the annihilating early onset of schizophrenic illness, brought on by some deeply traumatic experienceÃ¢â‚¬â€like watching your father butcher your mother to death, or catching your wife screaming with pleasure in bed with Hitler.
Let's say that one more time:
"... catching your wife screaming with pleasure in bed with Hitler."
July 26, 2004
The Autonomous Republic of Charlie Brownistan
A story yesterday in the Guardian quotes the editor of a Kurdish magazine in northern Iraq as saying:
"People are very pessimistic. Kurds felt they had friends abroad but now they don't. The US and the UK have their own interests, and we came out empty-handed."
I hate to make jokes about this, because Kurds have had, to put it mildly, a hard time of it. But...
HOW MANY TIMES DO WE HAVE TO BETRAY THE KURDS BEFORE THEY GET IT?
By my count, we're now working on our sixth betrayal of the Kurds since World War I. Yet they keep coming back for more. The Kurds have really become the Charlie Brown of international relations, always believing that Lucy, in the form of the US, is finally going to let them kick the football.
Joseph Wilson And The Making Of Sense
I could not possibly care less about the idiotic attacks on Joseph Wilson -- not because I have any investment in his honesty, but because the attacks seem to be (1) mostly groundless, and (2) completely irrelevant even if true.
Still... I can't help but notice Wilson's just made a particularly strange claim. On Saturday Kevin Drum mentioned an internal CIA memo dated June 17, 2003 that's included in the Senate report on intelligence about Iraq. The memo stated:
...since learning that the Iraq-Niger uranium deal was based on false documents earlier this spring, we no longer believe that there is sufficient other reporting to conclude that Iraq pursued uranium from abroad.
Drum speculated that Wilson saw the memo soon after it was produced, and it encouraged him to go public with his complaints about the Bush administration soon afterwards.
However, Drum reports that Wilson then emailed him, saying:
"I never knew about the June 17 document you cite in the blog....I did not know about it then and only your blog brought it to my attention."
This makes so sense. Wilson was attacked in the Senate report on intelligence about Iraq, and responded to the report with a long letter. So how could he have not read the CIA memo contained in the Senate report?
The only answers I can come up with are that (1) he's an incredibly bad reader, or (2) he wanted to flatter Drum. Who knows?
However, I still don't care.
What Words Actually Mean
This website exists to do several things. One of them is to provide a helpful translation service. For instance, when Richard Holbrooke says:
“It seems to me that John Kerry is as perfect an embodiment of our national passage since 1965 as John F. Kennedy was for an earlier generation... John F. Kennedy and George Bush senior were good heroes in a good war. Kerry was a good hero in a bad war... John Kerry is normally a cautious person, except that every once in a while he does these amazing things, like turning his Swift boat right at his Vietcong attackers. He is both careful and fearless, cautious when he approaches an issue, and then very decisive. He's not scared of head-on confrontation."
"Oh my GOD I want to be Secretary of State."
If I were John Kerry and I heard someone saying that about me ("you're the embodiment of our national passage!"), I'd throw up. Then I'd tell that person that I'd hire him for a prestigious post in my administration, just as soon as (1) I'm elected and (2) the sun explodes.
But of course Kerry won't do that. There's something about the psyche of almost all leaders that requires constant obsequious sycophancy from those around them. For instance, according to a recent New Yorker article by Edmund Morris, Ronald Reagan "ate up flattery with a spoon."
And thus almost all leaders are surrounded by repellent lickspittles. That's why you have Douglas Feith recently saying stuff like this (Washington Post, March 14, 2004; not online):
"[Our work on Iraq-Al Qaeda connections] was interesting enough that I brought it to Secretary Rumsfeld because Secretary Rumsfeld is well known for being a particularly intelligent reader of intelligence."
Translated, this of course meant:
"Please don't fire me."
July 24, 2004
This Does Not Mention Fox's Slogan "Fair And Balanced"
I don't think the most important thing on earth is getting the FTC to declare that Fox's slogan "Fair and Balanced" is deceptive advertising.
In fact, I love the "Fair and Balanced" slogan specifically because it's so shamelessly, brazenly false. It's like Fox having the slogan "Not Owned by Rupert Murdoch!" Or Bill O'Reilly starting each of his shows saying:
"Caution: You're about to enter the Not-Hosted-By-Bill-O'Reilly Zone. [pause] Good evening, I'm your host, Bill O'Reilly..."
July 22, 2004
More Terrifying Funniness
As I mentioned yesterday, the Senate Intelligence Subcommittee report on Iraq includes this sentence:
Two CIA Iraq WINPAC analysts told Committee staff that after looking at the documents, they did notice some inconsistencies. One of the analysts told Committee staff, "it was not immediately apparent, it was not jumping out at us that the documents were forgeries."
What I didn't mention is the next sentence:
The CIA then sent the documents to the State Department for translation.
The documents are in French. So... does this mean the CIA doesn't have any translators who SPEAK FRENCH? I mean, I realize French is an incredibly exotic, traitorous language that's only taught in 90% of the high schools in America. And like everyone, I'm offended when foreigners insist on making those guttural, non-English sounds they call their "language." Nonetheless, it seems to me the CIA might take some of those tens of billions of dollars they spend every year and hire people who speak the languages used by the others who inhabit this planet. Just because it's like, you know, the very most basic part of their job.
Besides Iraq and Iran, the purported military alliance the documents mention includes Niger, Sudan, Pakistan, and Libya. Uh, you bet.
Interestingly, after a quick read I see no sign in the documents that this imaginary military campaign was -- as the Senate report claims -- "being orchestrated through the Nigerien Embassy in Rome." That doesn't make the documents any less bizarre, but it does make me wonder what the report is talking about.
Finally, the high school English teacher in me wishes to point out that the report's sentence as a whole:
The members of the alleged military campaign included both Iraq and Iran, and was, according to the documents, being orchestrated through the Nigerien Embassy in Rome...
is grammatically incorrect. "Members" is plural, thus the verb should not be "was." In fact, the whole sentence should be torn down and replaced by two new, gentrified sentences:
The members of the alleged military campaign included both Iraq and Iran. The campaign was, according to the documents, being orchestrated through the Nigerien Embassy in Rome...
Perhaps one day the people who hold our lives in their hands will be competent at the most simple tasks. But don't wait up.
July 21, 2004
Let's Remake "Dumb & Dumber," Except With NUKES
You probably know the purported documents about Niger seeking uranium from Niger were forged incompetently. And the fact that the CIA took such clear forgeries so seriously might make you fear for America. Is it really possible that the people in charge are that stupid? (Yes.)
But the Senate Intelligence Subcommittee report on Iraq has more of the stupidity story that isn't being reported anywhere. It's also extremely funny:
...the thing that stood out immediately about the documents was that a companion document - a document included with the Niger documents that did not relate to uranium - mentioned some type of military campaign against major world powers. The members of the alleged military campaign included both Iraq and Iran, and was, according to the documents, being orchestrated through the Nigerien Embassy in Rome...
That's right! The uranium forgeries came along with a document about an attack on the rest of the world by Iraq IN ALLIANCE WITH IRAN. Moreover, this attack was going to be run via the NIGERIEN EMBASSY IN ROME.
An analyst at the State Department did notice this was... uh... not so likely. But here was the mild response at the CIA:
Two CIA Iraq WINPAC analysts told Committee staff that after looking at the documents, they did notice some inconsistencies. One of the analysts told Committee staff, "it was not immediately apparent, it was not jumping out at us that the documents were forgeries."
Uh huh. "The documents stating Dick Cheney is a giant space lizard didn't make us suspect the companion documents might be false."
I'm amazed humanity has survived this far.
July 20, 2004
I Should Be Allowed To Think
I thought I had invented the concept of "boring until extremely interesting." It's a concise label to apply to those things that can switch from being unbelievably dull to deeply fascinating in one second. Most of these things have to do with general societal welfare. See here and here.
But now I see that others have thought along these lines too. Here's a quote from a column by Garrison Keillor (emphasis added):
This is Democratic bedrock: we don't let people lie in the ditch and drive past and pretend not to see them dying. Here on the frozen tundra of Minnesota, if your neighbor's car won't start, you put on your parka and get the jumper cables out and deliver the Sacred Spark that starts their car. Everybody knows this. The logical extension of this spirit is social welfare and the myriad government programs with long dry names all very uninteresting to you until you suddenly need one and then you turn into a Democrat. A liberal is a conservative who's been through treatment.
What this shows is that no one should be allowed to think anything until I've decided whether or not I want to think it first.
In the meantime, unfortunately, I am not allowed to ever come up with a single original thought. I am not allowed to meet the criminal government agent who oppresses me.
William Safire Hungers For The Brains Of The Living
In his latest column, William Safire writes that "Bush had spoken the plain truth" when he made the claim about Iraq seeking uranium from Africa in the 2003 State of the Union address. As evidence, Safire cites this sentence from the British government's Butler report:
...we conclude that the statement in President Bush's State of the Union Address of 28 January 2003 that "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" was well-founded.
Well, case closed! George Bush was right all along! I mean, the Butler report said Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Africa!
Except that's not what the Butler report said. Here's the paragraph Safire was citing, in full:
We conclude that, on the basis of the intelligence assessments at the time, covering both Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the statements on Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa in the Government's dossier, and by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, were well-founded. By extension, we conclude also that the statement in President Bush's State of the Union Address of 28 January 2003 that:The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought signiicant quantities of uranium from Africa.was well-founded. (Paragraph 499; emphasis added)
In other words, the Butler report takes no position on whether Iraq actually DID try to buy uranium in Africa. That's because the Butler report had neither the time, resources, nor charter to seriously investigate the actual truth of any of the pre-war claims about Iraq, including the ones about uranium and Africa. That's what the Iraq Survey Group, run first by David Kay and now by Charles Duelfer, is for. The Butler report merely investigated whether the Blair government made proper use of the intelligence available "at the time." And at the time, the US and UK had not invaded and occupied Iraq, captured all of its top government officials, and seized its government's files.
So did the intelligence available at the time turn out to be accurate? Well, the Iraq Survey Group has "found no support for the report that Hussein was seeking uranium in Africa. In fact, [David] Kay said, the group found that the Iraqis had turned down an offer of uranium from a still-unidentified country."
What's funny is that before the war, people like William Safire took information about Iraq that was weak and hazy to start with, and then twisted and exaggerated it until it bore little resemblance to reality. Once we occupied Iraq, their claims collapsed in the most spectacularly embarrassing way imaginable.
Now, normal people might be chastened by this. Normal people might start behaving differently. Fortunately, William Safire has no sense of shame whatsoever. So when the Butler report comes out -- detailing how weak and hazy information was twisted and exaggerated before the war -- William Safire goes ahead and twists and exaggerates what it says until it bears little resemblance to reality.
Safire is sort of like a zombie, with a single monomaniacal goal from which nothing can dissuade him. He knows not hunger, nor thirst, nor the experience of worldwide public humiliation. The one difference is that rather than trying to eat human brains, Safire is merely trying to confuse them.
July 19, 2004
Who Makes Bizarre Deductive Leaps? Who?
The "did Iraq seek uranium from Africa" section of the Senate Intelligence Committee report is full of fascinating information, much of it poorly covered by the media. For instance, this appears on page 38:
an Algerian businessman, Baraka, was arranging a trip for the Iraqi Ambassador to the Vatican, Wissam al-Zahawi, to visit Niger and other African countries in early February 1999.
This raises the obvious question: is it possible that the "Algerian" "businessman" cited here was in fact AMIRI BARAKA, the former Beat and controversial poet laureate of New Jersey? Am I the only person who sees this has enormous implications?
True, I don't know exactly what those implications are, but there's no doubt they're enormous. Just for instance, is it possible the ENTIRE INVASION OF IRAQ was merely a ploy to induce greater sales of Baraka's What Was the Relationship of the Lone Ranger and the Means of Production?
This, my friends, is what the intelligence business is all about: connecting the dots.
Of course, I expect my interpretation will meet with resistance from the hidebound analysts at the CIA. They'll call it "unjustified," or "ludicrous," or "completely insane." Well, that's just what they said about my idol Douglas Feith, and look how things turned out there.
July 17, 2004
Tom Minchin Is Making Sense
An extremely intelligent letter has been published in the Guardian:
All round the world, leftists are gnashing their teeth at Butler clearing Tony Blair, sensing that he indirectly clears George Bush. The question is not how do we get rid of Bush and Blair, but how do we get rid of Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong-Il and the mullahs of Iran. The left holds endless postmortems on Iraq to keep the focus on governments that it feels are safe to criticise.
Thank God Mr. Minchin is telling it like it is! Leftists all over the world don't want to criticize the leaders of Al-Qaeda, North Korea and Iran -- because, frankly, they've seen the price you pay if you do so.
For instance, Michael Moore has received numerous death threats from people angry about his recent scathing film about Kim Jong-Il. And after Whoopi Goldberg made some adult jokes about Osama bin Laden at a John Kerry fundraiser, she lost her endorsement deal with Slim-Fast.
Yes, if you criticize the Axis of Evil, you know you better batten down the hatches and ride out the hurricane. Meanwhile, there are NEVER any consequences if you criticize the US government. And so leftists, with their endless cowardice, take the path of least resistance. Thank goodness brilliant individuals like Mr. Minchin are around to point it out.
July 16, 2004
US Government Targets 2016 As Latest Date To Acquire Email
There are many unintentionally funny things about the Iraq report by the Senate Committee on Intelligence. One of my favorites is the various references to government officials frantically faxing things to each other:
...the ADDI [Assistant Deputy Director of Intelligence] drafted a memo for the NSC outlining the facts that the CIA believed needed to be changed, and faxed it to the Deputy National Security Advisor and the speech writers. (p.56)
Although the NSC had already removed the uranium reference from the speech, later on October 6, 2002 the CIA sent a second fax to the White House... (p. 56)
On January 24, 2003, in response to a request from the NSC for additional details regarding IC input to "the case for Saddam possessing weapons of mass destruction," the NIO [National Intelligence Officer] for Strategic and Nuclear Programs faxed a packet of background information to the NSC. (p. 63)
...the NIO faxed additional information on Iraq's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs to the NSC. (p 240)
Call me a crazy utopian dreamer, but I believe the highest levels of the US government may have access to email by as early as 2016.
July 14, 2004
I Demand You Love Robert Parry
One of the best national security reporters in America is Robert Parry. He broke many of the original stories about Iran-contra, and has done an enormous amount of great work on other subjects as well.
Sadly, he's paid a significant price for this in terms of his career. After all, why would the Washington Post or New York Times want a hardworking, honest, knowledgeable reporter? That's just too much trouble. If you were his editor, his reporting might get you disinvited from fancy Washington dinner parties where you could sit between Andrea Mitchell and Richard Perle. Doesn't that sound like fun? Well, no it doesn't. I myself would do a lot to get out of going to such parties, including killing myself. But many people seem to like them.
So most of Parry's current writing now appears on his own website, Consortium News. One of his current pieces, about the politicization of the CIA since the Reagan administration, is particularly interesting. Personally I'd say he's way overestimating the professionalism of the CIA pre-Reagan, but what do I know? You should read the whole thing.
I noticed three things in particular:
1. Just as I've always suspected, Alexander Haig and Bill Casey were towering geniuses.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The day after Reagan's inauguration, Secretary of State Alexander Haig, believing that Moscow had tried to assassinate him in Europe where he served as Supreme Allied Commander, linked the Soviet Union to all acts of international terrorism,Ã¢â‚¬Â wrote Melvin Goodman, then-chief of the CIAÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s office for Soviet analysis. Ã¢â‚¬Å“There was no evidence to support such a charge but Casey had read Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Claire Sterling's The Terror Network and, like Haig, was convinced that a Soviet conspiracy was behind global terrorism.Ã¢â‚¬Â [Foreign Policy, Summer 1997]
CIA analysts had a secret reason for doubting SterlingÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s theories, however. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Specialists at CIA dismissed the book, knowing that much of it was based on CIA Ã¢â‚¬Ëœblack propaganda,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ anticommunist allegations planted in the European press,Ã¢â‚¬Â Goodman wrote. Ã¢â‚¬Å“But Casey contemptuously told CIA analysts that he had learned more from Sterling than from all of them.Ã¢â‚¬Â
This is a good example of what an Austrian journalist named Karl Wiegand said after World War I:
"How are nations ruled and led into war? Politicians lie to journalists and then believe those lies when they see them in print."
2. As I've noted before, a good rule of thumb is that whenever someone is called a "traitor," it means they are "telling the truth." Parry's article contains another example of this:
In a scalding assessment of the CIAÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Soviet analysis, the [Reagan] transition team accused the DI [Directorate of Intelligence] of Ã¢â‚¬Å“an abject failureÃ¢â‚¬Â to foresee a supposedly massive Soviet buildup of strategic weapons and Ã¢â‚¬Å“the wholesale failureÃ¢â‚¬Â to comprehend the sophistication of Soviet propaganda.
The transition report even questioned the patriotism of the career analysts who supposedly had underestimated the Soviet commitment to world domination. "These failures are of such enormity," the transition report said, "that they cannot help but suggest to any objective observer that the agency itself is compromised to an unprecedented extent and that its paralysis is attributable to causes more sinister than incompetence."
This brings to mind Hannah Arendt's famous essay "Truth and Politics." It's mostly about totalitarian states, but it rings alarmingly true for America, too:
The main effort of both the deceived group and the deceivers themselves is likely to be directed towards keeping the propaganda image intact, and this image is threatened less by the enemy and by real hostile interests than by those inside the group itself who have managed to escape its spell and insist on talking about facts or events that do not fit the image. Contemporary history is full of instances in which tellers of factual truth were felt to be more dangerous, and even more hostile, than the real opponents.
3. Parry quotes Richard Gates, Bill Casey's protege, as saying that Casey got angry when CIA analysts' work "was naÃƒÂ¯ve about the real world."
This illustrates another good rule of thumb: politicians who talk about being tough-minded realists -- as contrasted with their woolyheaded, naive opponents -- always themselves live in a bizarre fantasy world. It never fails. See: Cheney, Dick.
July 13, 2004
"Krauthammer Is A Fool!" Shouted Krauthammer
1. Despite Krauthammer's trouble with vocabulary skills, it's clear what he's saying when he calls Fahrenheit 9/11 "a full length parody of Sept. 11 and its aftermath." He's saying that for a while no one made any jokes about anything connected to Sept. 11, but now some people are, and he doesn't like it. He's probably also trying to imply, for people who haven't seen the movie, that Michael Moore makes fun of the attacks themselves. (This obviously is not the case -- just the opposite.)
So, on behalf of all joke-making people, I express this sentiment: fuck you, Dr. Krauthammer. Horrible people throughout history have issued decrees about what is and isn't acceptable to make jokes about. They do this to try to make certain subjects holy, and therefore beyond debate and questioning. This is exactly what Krauthammer wants regarding our purported War On Terror. So again I say to him: fuck you.
Furthermore, I don't recall Krauthammer attacking George Bush for his funny, funny joke about "hitting the trifecta." I wish Bush had been on lower 7th avenue on September 11, 2001, so I and everyone else there could have encouraged him to start making such hilarious quips.
2. Krauthammer also writes
"Is Islamic radicalism in potential alliance with terrorist states that possess [WMD] a threat to the very existence (hence: "existential") of the United States and of civilization itself? On Sept. 12, 2001, and for many months after, that proposition was so self-evident that it commanded near unanimous support. With time -- three years in which, contrary to every expectation and prediction, the second shoe never dropped -- that consensus has evaporated.
In fact, there never such a "consensus." Krauthammer believes there was, because he lives in a tiny bubble of rich, powerful white people in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. These types of bubbles allow those within them to believe all kinds of foolish things. (Those within Krauthammer's bubble also believe there was a pre-war "consensus" that Iraq possessed banned weapons.)
In the rest of the world, people saw the attacks and their significance very, very, very differently. Most earthlings certainly did not and do not believe the world faces a threat to "civilization itself." Obviously Islamic terrorism is a significant problem. But to most of humanity, Krauthammer appears to be frothing at the mouth.
3. Eighteen years ago Krauthammer wrote a column criticizing exactly the kind of apocalyptic thinking which he now champions. I've pasted it in below.
It's not that this is so significant. I hate discussions about politics that consist of people yelling: "In the past you said one thing! But now you are saying something else!" After all, the world changes, people learn more, etc. On the other hand, it's still funny to see Krauthammer v. Krauthammer.
Also, since Krauthammer sneers at those who were worried about nuclear war in the early eighties, it's worth noting the world came extremely close to armageddon on September 26, 1983. See here. But I'm glad it gives Krauthhammer a good chortle to think about all those idiots concerned with reality.
March 28, 1986
By Charles Krauthammer
The most important change of this decade in American politics has gone largely unnoticed: the end of the apocalyptic style.
Apocalyptic politics begins with a sense of imminent demise. It sees history not as a progression of ups and downs, but as a line on a graph headed toward some abysmal discontinuity.
In the '70s and early '80s, one favorite abyss was nuclear. Remember the great freeze debate of 1982? "I support the freeze because I do not want to die," said Rep. Barbara Mikulski on the floor of the House. "We are coming ever so closer to the brink of nuclear annihilation," said Rep. Edward Markey. "It is as clear as anything. We are going to have Armageddon at any moment," said Rep. James Weaver. And so on.
The other favorite end of the world scenario had the industrial world running out of resources. Remember the prestige and weight accorded the Club of Rome report? The Club, a committee of wise and breathtakingly shortsighted men, predicted (in 1974) that we would soon be wracked by waste, economic stagnation and scarcity. By now we should have run out of practically everything -- gold, tin, silver, mercury and, in a few more years, oil.
In fact, apocalyptic thinking reached such a pitch that it no longer took bad news to set off the doomsday bell. Too much good news could do the trick. First, it was oil running out. Then, in 1983, the first cracks in OPEC occasioned an avalanche of warnings about how free-falling oil prices would cause a global economic catastrophe.
Even those who welcomed lower oil prices warned that if it happened too quickly, collapse was in store. First Mexico, then Citibank, then the world. The doomsayers overlooked the obvious fact that any sudden cut in oil prices would produce a windfall for the industrialized world that would far exceed -- and thus, if necessary, easily cover -- any shortfalls in oil-producing debtor countries.
The apocalyptic era is over. Look at the past week. The United States conducts a nuclear test, exploding a Soviet- imposed moratorium, and draws back- page coverage and a yawn. The United States shoots at Libya, Nicaragua invades Honduras, Iran pushes into Iraq -- and the financial markets yawn. Five years ago, a rifle shot in the Persian Gulf would have sent gold (and oil) prices skyrocketing. In 1983, there was panic at the prospect of oil prices suddenly falling to $20 a barrel. In 1986, prices drop from $28 to $12 -- in three months. No Armageddon. No panic.
What has happened to the apocalyptic sensibility? First, it was mugged by a reality that proved too mundane. False prophecy engenders doubt. The Millerites (now Seventh Day Adventists) predicted that the world would end on March 21, 1843. Then again on Oct. 22, 1844. Then they stopped predicting.
Second, apocalyptic fever cannot be sustained forever. It is too psychologically taxing. Helen Caldicott announced in 1983 that "If Ronald Reagan is reelected, accidental nuclear war becomes a mathematical certainty." After a while, prophecy so smug takes on the aspect of misanthropy. People then give up marching and return to jogging.
Third, apocalyptic thinking owed a lot to a Galilean shift in consciousness, which occurred at the beginning of the '70s. That was when, for the first time in history, we saw Earth from space. The stark image of a small fragile planet suspended in space evoked feelings of global fragility and vulnerability. That image is now almost two decades old. Its shock has been absorbed and its force dissipated. It is by now too clich,ed to evoke millennial dread.
What follows apocalyptic politics? Regional politics. Apocalyptic politics implies that one cause fits all, dooms all. Regional politics recognizes that the world is a mess of problems, if not totally discrete, then distinguishable. And certainly not all hanging from a single thread.
The oil price crash and the attendant disinflation, for example, has not led to a general collapse. It has led to a painful, but manageable, contraction in certain regions: the "oil patch" (of the American Southwest), the farm belt and some oil producing countries. Real problems in real places. But not the end of the world.
In foreign policy, too, the stage has been scaled down from global to regional. The nuclear issue, which a few years ago wholly dominated the national consciousness, has been displaced by regional conflicts. Small uprisings in small places: Afghanistan, the Philippines, South Africa, Nicaragua, South Korea. Not one-world, but pointillistic, politics.
In fact, one of the reasons the president failed to arouse the populace with his recnt televised Nicaragua speech was its tone. It was apocalyptic, in a era when we have returned, largely due to the president's own lulling influence, to normality.
Three years ago, the idea of a Soviet nuclear warhead landing in Lawrence, Kan., elicited high ratings and higher anxiety. Today, the idea of a red tide lapping up imminently (two days' driving time -- when you're excited, the metaphors mix) at San Diego elicits only derision. The post- apocalyptic era is no time for alarums.
Popular uninterest in red tides and evil empires should come as no surprise to the president. It is no longer four minutes to midnight. It's morning in America -- remember? -- and morning is the time you reach for the butter, not for guns.
Why Don't Stupid People Understand Things?
Rich Lowry of National Review makes an incredibly powerful argument here about economic inequality, pointing out that "The percentage of Americans owning stock increased from 19 percent to 52 percent from 1983 to 2001." (Via Billmon.) Wow! We're a nation of shareholders! I don't see how anyone can see that and not understand that everything in America is fantastic and getting better all the time.
The only thing I don't get is why Lowry didn't mention that 100 PERCENT OF AMERICANS possess another type of wealth. This type of wealth, which I've dubbed "money," comes in the form of small metal disks and rectangular certificates with pictures of presidents on them. In other words: we're a nation of moneyholders! Therefore, we know that everything's great and the whiners should stop complaining.
Unfortunately, there are stupid people who say that statistics like this are meaningless. They'll tell you that what matters is not whether people have any of various forms of wealth, but how much of them they have. They'll say even if half of Americans own some stock, if 80% of it is owned by the richest 10%, economic inequality remains a serious problem. They'll even claim it doesn't mean anything when smart people like me point out that everyone in America has at least one penny.
Fortunately, we can ignore these stupid people, because everyone is America is rich! rich! rich!
July 11, 2004
Charles Krauthammer And William Shakespeare: Is There A Difference?
If you're a writer, it's a good thing not to understand what words mean. Any high school English teacher will tell you that. You have to not understand what words mean, or else you won't be able to use language in a way that's vague and confusing.
Not understanding words is a particular strength of Charles Krauthammer. For instance, here's something he wrote in a recent column:
The week after the [Sept. 11] attacks, the late-night comedy shows went dark -- and upon returning to the air they were almost apologetic about telling jokes, any jokes, ever again. Today, [Michael] Moore produces a full-length film parody of Sept. 11 and its aftermath.
The problem here is that "parody" doesn't mean "something that mentions something else and also has jokes in it." If that were so, Fahrenheit 9/11 would also be a parody of the 2000 elections, the PATRIOT Act, George Bush, and the invasion of Iraq.
Instead, this is what "parody" means:
1. a literary or musical work in which the style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule
So... is Krauthammer saying Fahrenheit 9/11 closely imitates the style of the terrorist attacks? Or that it is ridiculing the author, ie, Al Qaeda? Or... maybe something else? Who the hell knows! It's vague and confusing and nonsensical! And that's why Charles Krauthammer is the greatest writer alive today.
I Don't Get It
If you want guidelines on how to be alive, the Church of the SubGenius has provided the most cogent set of commandments in history. True, there are millions of them and most of them contradict each other. But it's easy to remember the most important ones, like "Don't Try To Be Funny If You're Not." Today the Washington Post published a prime example of someone violating this.
By the way, I don't believe it's impossible to be conservative and funny. (See here, for instance.) It's just very difficult.
July 10, 2004
America's Death Warnings Should Be More Clearly Written
I just bought some plastic garbage bags, and the wire ties that come with them have this message stamped on them:
"WARNING -- TO AVOID SUFFOCATION, KEEP PLASTIC BAGS AWAY FROM CHILDREN"
I like this, because it seems to be saying that if children get their hands on plastic bags, the ones you bought or any others, they will use them to kill you.
July 09, 2004
Unfortunately, given the Arab mind, this will likely give rise to conspiracy theories about how Shin Bet is participating in the interrogation of Iraqi prisoners.
July 08, 2004
O My Beloved People, You Are A Far Greater Enemy To Me Than Our Enemies
This is from a story about John Edwards in the Washington Post today:
For organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Association of Manufacturers, the case against Edwards was open and shut.
"A lot of people just don't understand that Enemy No. 1 for large and small business is not China, it's not terrorism," said Jerry Jasinowski, NAM president. "It's the extreme trial lawyers."
I like people who are honest, so I like Jerry Jasinowski. It's good that NAM will say right up front that they consider their #1 enemy to be not Osama bin Laden, but other Americans. It's good for soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan to know that the National Association of Manufacturers is behind them all the way, unless they or someone in their family are the wrong kind of American. It's good that NAM will honestly say: Don't believe the president when he spouts that patriotic garbage about us all being in this together. No way, you SUCKERS.
As an interesting thought experiment, imagine if John Sweeney, the head of the AFL-CIO, said: "A lot of people just don't understand that Enemy No. 1 for unions is not China, it's not terrorism. It's extreme CEOs." Imagine how that would lead every single publication and newscast put out by Rupert Murdoch. Imagine how it would take two days before Kerry was forced to disavow Sweeney, and Sweeney was forced to resign.
(Full Disclosure: I am a longtime fan of "X-Treme Trials Lawyers," which is on Wednesdays at 9 pm on ESPN 7.)
Paul Wolfowitz Gets What He Asked For
There's an article about Fallujah in last week's New Yorker by a writer named Nir Rosen that's been getting a lot of attention. And rightfully so. Rosen is one of the very few Western journalists who's been courageous enough to go to Fallujah recently. I assume Paul Wolfowitz will compliment him for not staying in Baghdad and spreading rumors.
Finally... Rosen is especially brave for one reason in particular. It may be widely known, but if it's not it's probably not right for me to mention it here. If my mysteriousness intrigues you, email me at tinyrevolution [at] yahoo [dot] com and I'll explain what I'm talking about.
Nicholas Kristof Should Stop Confusing Me
Like most Americans, I read the New York Times editorial page in order to know what to think. It is therefore critical that Nicholas Kristof stop saying things I don't understand.
For instance, on June 30th Kristof explained that:
I'm against the "liar" label for two reasons. First, it further polarizes the political cesspool, and this polarization is making America increasingly difficult to govern. Second, insults and rage impede understanding.
Then, in his very next column on July 3rd, he quoted Donald Rumsfeld as saying this about Al Jazeera:
We are dealing with people that are perfectly willing to lie to the world to attempt to further their caseÃ¢â‚¬â€and to the extent people lie, ultimately they are caught lying and they lose their credibility.
So, if you're like me, you assumed that Kristof would then wallop Rumsfeld for calling Al Jazeera liars. After all, it impedes understanding.
Instead, Kristof simply and sardonically writes: "Good point." That is, Kristof is implying that Donald Rumsfeld (or perhaps the Bush administration generally) has been caught lying and lost credibility.
So I don't get it. First it wasn't okay for anyone to call George Bush a liar. But three days later it seems to be okay to imply Donald Rumsfeld is a liar, at least if you're Nicholas Kristof.
Nicholas Kristof must be clearer so I can understand how to be alive properly.
Blair: "My Nose May Be On Fire. We Don't Know"
On Tuesday, Tony Blair -- in addition to revealing the shocking news that "we may not find" Iraq's supposed WMD -- explained that Saddam Hussein "may have removed or hidden or even destroyed those weapons. We don't know."
This is 100% accurate. All of those things -- Iraq removing its weapons, hiding them, or destroying them -- is something that "may" have happened. Of course, all the evidence indicates that Iraq destroyed its banned weapons more than ten years ago, and none of the evidence indicates Iraq removed or hid them.
In other words, it would just be as accurate for Blair to say, "Saddam Hussein may have given his WMD to the Pope, or hidden them in Michael Moore's pants, or eaten them. He may even have destroyed those weapons. We don't know."
How Blair can be so shamelessly dishonest so constantly is a mystery. If he were a normal person his brain would explode just so it wouldn't have to listen to itself anymore.
July 06, 2004
Blair: "Elvis May Be Dead"
Tony Blair said this today about Iraq's purported WMD: "I have to accept that we have not found them and we may not find them."
Blair went on to say he has begun to believe the Titanic has been lost at sea.
Ideas For Bush Administration
If you're going to invade a country and want the invadees to like you, you should avoid doing things the invadees will find unbelievably hateful and offensive. For instance, if you're America and you're invading Iraq, you should avoid using Israelis to torture Iraqis. Ooops!
But while this is incredibly stupid and arrogant of the Bush administration, is it stupidest and most arrogant thing they could do? I say no! Below I've listed three other actions the Bush administration could take that would, possibly, outdo this.
1. Rename Najaf "Bootylicious."
2. Vice President Cheney to appear on Al-Jazeera, urinating on a copy of the Koran.
3. President Bush to give speech at UN ending with, "I wish Mohammed would come back to life, so I could rape him with a pork chop."
Still, getting Israelis to torture Iraqis is a pretty staggering achievement in stupidity and arrogance, and I don't want my suggestions to take away from that.