August 31, 2004

Some Hideous Historical Irony, As Armenian Genocide Week Continues

As a hobby, I collect instances of oppressed groups through history brilliantly attacking their own best interest. One horrific example is that the Ottoman government subcontracted a significant portion of their Armenian-massacring to Kurds. As this online encyclopedia puts it:

...the deportations themselves were a silent method of massacring the rest of population, by forcing them to march endlessly through desert, without food or water or enough protection from local Kurdish or Turkish mobs. In the process several hundred thousand died in the resulting death marches from starvation, dehydration, disease or exhaustion. Several hundred thousands more were massacred by Kurdish militia and Ottoman army, giving an estimated total of 1,500,000 Armenians dead.

I guess the reasoning on the Kurds' part was: As a weak minority, the best way for us to advance is by cheerfully helping the people in charge exterminate a weak minority! This can only be good for us, because if there's anything history shows, it's that a government which tries to exterminate one weak minority never ever does the same to others!

It reminds me of my favorite section of Our Dumb Century:

Japan Forms Alliance With White Supremacists in Well-Thought-Out Scheme

From the East Asian Correspondent, Sept 1, 1939. -- In a course of action praised by many as "far-sighted" and "tactically brilliant," the Japanese government has sworn its allegiance to the Axis powers led by white-supremacist Nazi Germany. In a formal statement, Japanese leaders declared, "We wish to be counted among the loyal allies of this back-stabbing, racist hate nation."

Following the announcement, Japanese General and military leader Hideki Tojo told reporters, "We are pleased to enter into an alliance with the paranoid, xenophobic government of Nazi Germany. We anticipate a deeply enriching exchange of our military aid with their deep-seated hated of our non-white heritage."

Tojo went on to say that the "unbeatable team" of Germans and Japanese will one dominate the industrialized world as "Aryans and those hated by Aryans, working together."

Likening their war instincts to those of "a very advanced clan of yellow apes," German Chancellor Adolf Hitler praised the government and military of Japan.

"I salute you, chinky-dinky rat men, who have been given life by the confused hand of some long-dead pagan deity," he said. "When Germany stands victorious on a conquered Earth, and Aryan supermen wipe out the undesirable mud races one by one, your like will surely survive to be among the last to be exterminated."

August 30, 2004

Jessica Simpson, Holocaust Denier

Jessica Simpson -- like everyone else -- is GUILTY, GUILTY, GUILTY!!!

Ha ha. Just kidding, of course. (See my diatribes below.)

Bernard Lewis, Holocaust Denier

This post has been corrected and expanded, based mostly on Chapter 10, "Freedom and Responsibility of the Historian: The Lewis Affair," in Remembrance and Denial: The Case of the Armenian Genocide. Thanks also to Fazal Majid for his cogent comments.

I was planning on bringing up Bernard Lewis next, but Anna in comments here beat me to it. Lewis, of course, is well known as the author of Islam: What Went Wrong? and the coiner of the phrase "Clash of Civilizations." Paul Wolfowitz is a prominent admirer.

It's an involved story, but briefly what happened is this:

1. Lewis mentioned the Armenian Genocide in his 1961 book The Emergence of Modern Turkey, referring to it as a "terrible holocaust."

2. In 1985 Congress tried to pass a resolution referring to the "genocide perpetrated in Turkey between 1915 and 1923." Sixty-nine historians sent a letter to Congress disputing this, writing:

As for the charge of "genocide," no signatory of this statement wishes to minimize the scope of Armenian suffering. We are likewise cognizant that it cannot be viewed as separate from the suffering experienced by the Muslim inhabitants of the region. The weight of evidence so far uncovered points in the direct of serious inter communal warfare (perpetrated by Muslim and Christian irregular forces), complicated by disease, famine, suffering and massacres in Anatolia and adjoining areas during the First World War.

One of the sixty-nine historians was Bernard Lewis.

The letter also complained it was unfair for the resolution to refer to Turkey as though it were synonymous with the Ottoman Empire. Amusingly, in The Emergence of Modern Turkey, Lewis uses "Turkey" to refer to the Ottoman state eleven times in just one chapter.

The historian Gerard Chaliand wrote to Lewis to express his dismay that Lewis had signed the letter. Lewis' main concern came through clearly in his reply. And guess what? It wasn't historical accuracy. "The only sure result of the resolution," Lewis wrote to Chaliand, "would be the disruption of US-Turkish relations."

3. In 1993 Lewis gave an interview to Le Monde in France in which he declared that what happened should not be considered genocide -- and that calling it genocide was just "the Armenian version of this story." In a second interview a few months later, he referred to "an Armenian betrayal" in the "context of a struggle, no doubt unequal, but for material stakes... There is no serious proof of a plan of the Ottoman government aimed at the extermination of the Armenian nation."

4. France's civil code has a section stating "Whoever is guilty of causing harm must make reparations for it." On this basis Lewis was sued by an Armenian organization and the "International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism" on the grounds that Lewis' statements caused harm to Armenian survivors. The judge found that Lewis had indeed committed a "fault" by "hiding elements which go against his thesis... that there was no 'serious proof' of the Armenian Genocide." Lewis was symbolically fined a franc.

France also has a bizarre criminal law, dating from 1990, under which it is illegal to "call into question" crimes against humanity as defined by the Nuremberg trials. Lewis was also charged under this. He was found innocent because the law, strictly construed, only applies to crimes of the German government from 1939 to 1945. However, according to Remembrance and Denial, the court "did recognize the historical validity of the Armenian Genocide."

I can't find the actual Lewis interviews online, but this article from the Armenian Weekly seems to quote additional excerpts. As the article points out, what Lewis says is deeply creepy in the way it precisely mimics denials of the Nazi Genocide. The Armenians, you see, were rebelling against Turkish rule. And the Ottoman government only wanted to expel them, not kill them. And where's the signed document by the Ottoman triumvirate ordering the annihilation of Armenians? And besides, lots of OTHER Turks died in World War I! Lots of people died in general! Why all this fuss about the Armenians specifically? Isn't this really all about the desire of the greedy Armenians to play on world sympathy so they can tear off a piece of the former Ottoman Empire as a homeland for themselves? Why doesn't anyone ever ask about their motives?

As I say, creepy.

5. In an interview with Ha'aretz after the case (generously hosted online by the Assembly of Turkish American Associations), Lewis disingenuously stated, "The deniers of Holocaust have a purpose: to prolong Nazism and to return to Nazi legislation. Nobody wants the 'Young Turks' back, and nobody want to have back the Ottoman Law." In other words, Lewis is saying that if the Armenian Genocide actually happened, no one would have any motive to deny it.

This is nonsense, and of course Lewis knows it's nonsense. The Turkish government has every reason to deny the Armenian Genocide occurred -- not least because it brings up awkward questions about what exactly they're doing to Turkish Kurds in the present day. So the head of the Turkish government archives wrote in a 1995 book that "The Turks have always been fair and just and tender against the people and minorities under their patronage," although the Armenians responded with "ingratitude and betrayal." I guess this must be true. After all, since nobody wants the Young Turks back, why would this guy lie?

So Lewis is clearly a repellent character. But I guess we already knew that.

6. The nice part of this story is that Israel Charny showed his worth as he did with Shimon Peres (see below). Lewis stated in a submission to the court in the suit against him that as a historian he had an obligation to change his mind when presented with new evidence. Charny wrote Lewis a letter mentioning this and asked:

I am making the above request to you that you send me, as soon as possible, a compilation of researches on which you base your statement to the court that the evidence about the massacres of the Armenians has changed over the years in the direction of disproving any organized plan and operational program of extermination.

Lewis never responded.

ADDENDUM: I think the French laws allowing people to be prosecuted for falsifying history are completely insane, and that "convicting" Lewis for what he said is preposterous. It was under these laws that Robert Faurisson, a denier of the Nazi Genocide, was prosecuted in the eighties. This led to a gigantic, stupid controversy when Noam Chomsky (along with hundreds of others) signed a petition calling for the French government to respect Faurisson's "freedom of speech and expression." Gigantic, stupid arguments about this can still be found clogging the internet today.

Interesting that all the people who attacked Chomsky don't seem to mind what Bernard Lewis did. Interesting that Lewis' actions have never caused a huge controversy. Interesting that someone who's equivalent to Robert Faurisson can be a respected political commentator in America.

Yes... interesting.

Shimon Peres, Holocaust Denier

Clearly I'm pissed off today for some reason. First Bill Clinton, now Shimon Peres.

Anyway, on April 11, 2001, Peres was quoted in the Turkish Daily News as saying:

"We reject attempts to create a similarity between the Holocaust and the Armenian allegations. Nothing similar to the Holocaust occurred. It is a tragedy what the Armenians went through but not a genocide."

Peres' motives were, of course, transparently political. Turkey is probably Israel's most important ally after the US. It's certainly its only Muslim ally. And Turkey lets Israel station part of its airforce there and probably serves as a base for Israel to infiltrate northern Iraq. So Peres believes that Israel's significant interests (see the post about Bill Clinton below) make it necessary for him to behave in the most vile way possible.

However, there is a hero in this story -- Israel Charny, a professor at Jerusalem University and perhaps the world's foremost scholar of the psychology of genocide. When Peres said this, Charny wrote a letter to him saying: have gone beyond a moral boundary that no Jew should allow himself to a Jew and an Israeli I am ashamed of the extent to which you have now entered into the range of actual denial of the Armenian Genocide, comparable to denials of the Holocaust.

And this wasn't Charny's first run-in with the Israeli government. As this Jerusalem Post profile of Charny explains:

Charny's advocacy of the Armenian cause led him into a more serious confrontation with the Israeli government in 1982. He had invited several researchers to deliver papers on the Armenian genocide at the first international conference on the Holocaust and Genocide which he organized, together with Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel. Under pressure from Turkey, the Israeli government urged the organizers to cancel the conference or hold it outside Israel, but Charny refused. The incident led to a brief falling out with Wiesel, who ultimately withdrew from the conference, which was held in Israel and attracted some 300 participants. Charny also believes the affair may have cost him his job at Tel Aviv University, where he lost his bid for tenure shortly after the controversy.

The whole article's worth reading. I'm sort of jealous of Charny, because I myself hope to someday be described as "something of a maverick, oddball, pioneer and pain-in-the-ass."

August 29, 2004

Bill Clinton, Holocaust Denier

Do you remember how, at the end of Bill Clinton's second term, numerous members of Congress prepared a resolution formally recognizing the "ethnic cleansing and genocide" by Germany during World War II? But then Clinton asked Dennis Hastert not to bring it to a vote, because it "could have far-reaching negative consequences for the United States"? And how Clinton explained, "We fully understand how strongly both Germans and Jews feel about this issue. Ultimately this painful matter can only be resolved by both sides examining the past together"? And Hastert told Clinton: no problem, I'll take care of it?

You might be saying: No way that happened. I've never heard that, and if Clinton had done it there would have been such a huge outcry everyone on earth would know about it. And you're right -- it didn't happen.

What did happen is that members of Congress, as they have for many years, tried to put the United States on record as recognizing the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Armenians by Turkey. And Bill Clinton did ask Dennis Hastert to stop this because it "could have far-reaching negative consequences for the United States." And Clinton did say, "We fully understand how strongly both Turkey and Armenia feel about this issue. Ultimately this painful matter can only be resolved by both sides examining the past together."

Why was this resolution so dangerous? Well, Clinton said, "We have significant interests in this troubled region of the world: containing the threat posed by Saddam Hussein; working for peace and stability in the Middle East and Central Asia; stabilizing the Balkans; and developing new sources of energy."

It's worth reading that sentence out loud. That bland, bureaucratic language is the sound of millions of people dying.

Why did France and England turn down a chance to halt the Armenian Genocide? Significant interests. Why did the US and Cuban governments turn away the passengers of the SS St. Louis? Significant interests. Why did the Reagan and Bush I administrations help Saddam Hussein massacre the Kurds? Significant interests.

One way or another, there are always significant interests that are more important than whether regular people live or die. And even decades after regular people die, there are always significant interests that prevent us from telling the truth.

It's Armenian Genocide Week At A Tiny Revolution

Do you think there's nothing funny about the Armenian Genocide? Oh, you are so wrong! Granted, as far as I know there's only one thing that's funny. But that's a lot more than zero.

As you may know, Hitler famously said, "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" However, despite what many believe (including Elie Wiesel, lots of U.S. Congressmen and Robert Fisk), this was not in reference to the Shoah* per se. Rather, Hitler said this in a August 22, 1939 speech to his generals before the invasion of Poland, as encouragement to them to kill Poles of all religions:

I have issued the command — and I'll have anybody who utters but one word of criticism executed by a firing squad — that our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy. Accordingly, I have placed my death-head formations in readiness — for the present only in the East — with orders to them to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language. Only thus shall we gain the living space which we need. Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?

Okay, not funny so far. But what IS funny is that deniers of the Armenian Genocide and the Shoah both dispute that Hitler ever said this -- but for different reasons. Those who claim there was no Shoah say Hitler didn't say this because, I mean, why would he have? That's the kind of thing that only those planning to engage in genocide would say, and Hitler was a kindly old gentleman who only wanted the best for all humanity, so the idea of him saying it makes no sense. QED.

Meanwhile, the Turkish government claims Hitler wouldn't have said it because there was no Armenian Genocide, so why would he ever have referred to it? Don't be stupid.

Adding to the merriment is that both groups hate to be lumped together. Deniers of the Shoah don't deny the Armenian Genocide, whereas the Turkish government would never claim there was no Shoah. Neo-Nazis will say The Armenian Genocide was a terrible crime against humanity that must never be forgotten!, mostly because they hate Muslims and see the propaganda value in hyping atrocities against Christian Armenians. Meanwhile, the Turkish government weeps bitter tears over the Shoah, since Israel is one of Turkey's most important allies.

Ha ha ha! Granted, all this would be funnier if it didn't involve the deaths of millions.

*I believe Robert Fisk (among others) is correct that Germany's attempted annihilation of Jews, Gypsies, etc. during World War II is properly referred to as the Shoah rather than "the Holocaust." There have been quite a few Holocausts in human history, including the Armenian Genocide.

August 25, 2004

O How Our Hearts Bleed For The Suffering People Of The Middle East

When I was on WSBU on Monday the host asked me about the humanitarian case for invading Iraq. I said I respect the views of anyone who was horrified by the hideous crimes of Saddam Hussein and wanted to help the people of Iraq. The problem is that while regular Americans may feel this way, the war and its aftermath are being executed by the US government. And while governments are delighted to use the best instincts of their citizens to get the citizens to support wars, governments themselves essentially never care about the suffering of people elsewhere.

Or to be more precise, on some occasions individual members of governments may genuinely care what happens to people elsewhere. But it's nearly impossible for them to force this into a prominent place on their government's agenda. For instance, if you were to make a list of the top 1000 priorities of the US government, the well-being of Iraqis might rank as high as 994th. And that's nice enough. It's just that if their well-being conflicts with any of America's top 993 priorities, they've got to go.

To illustrate this, during the interview I told a story about the Armenian Genocide that has extremely strong echoes today. I first came across the story in the book The Splendid Blond Beast: Money, Law and Genocide in the Twentieth Century by Christopher Simpson, a professor at American University in Washington, DC.

Conveniently enough, this section of The Splendid Blond Beast is online. Here's what it says:

At the height of the pogroms in 1915, the governments of France, Great Britain, and czarist Russia issued a joint declaration denouncing the mass killings of Armenians as "crimes against humanity and civilization" and warning the leaders of the Turkish government that they would be held "personally responsible."

But too often there was little of substance behind the indignant rhetoric. At the height of the genocide, a factional split among the Young Turks [the rulers of the Ottoman Empire] opened the possibility that Turkey might put an end to the massacres in exchange for an agreement from the Associated Powers to abandon their claims on Turkey and the Ottoman Empire. Djemal Pasha, a member of the triumvirate that ruled Turkey, had settled into Damascus and exercised local control over much of what is today Syria, Jordan, and Israel. In late 1915, while Turkish efforts to exterminate Armenians were at their height, Djemal sought out an Armenian emissary and convinced him to carry an offer to the governments of the Associated Powers. If czarist Russia, France, and Britain would back him, Djemal promised, he would undertake a coup d'etat against his Young Turk rivals, end the massacres, and take Turkey out of the war. Djemal himself would then emerge as sultan.

The price for the plan was that the European powers would abandon imperial claims to what is today Iraq and Syria and provide reconstruction assistance to Djemal's government after the war. Djemal, for his part, was willing to concede control of Constantinople and the Dardanelles to Russia.

"Djemal appears to have acted on the mistaken assumption that saving the Armenians -- as distinct from merely exploiting their plight for propaganda purposes -- was an important Allied objective," writes David Fromkin, a historian specializing in Ottoman affairs. The Russians favored Djemal's plan and for a time assured him that the other Associated Powers would cooperate. But in early 1916, France rejected Djemal's offer and claimed southern Turkey, Syria, and parts of Iraq. Great Britain followed suit, claiming Iraq on behalf of a local "Iraqi" government created by London. "In their passion for booty," Fromkin writes, "the Allied governments lost sight of the condition upon which future gains were predicated: winning the war.... Djemal's offer afforded the Allies their one great opportunity to subvert the Ottoman Empire from within" -- and to save innocent lives -- "and they let it go."

As Simpson writes, after the end of World War I there were some efforts by England, France and the US to hold the Turkish government responsible for the genocide. But it never came to much because doing so would have interfered with the scramble to divide up the Middle East.

By the start of the Harding administration in 1921, massacres of Armenians had begun again. And while regular Americans remained outraged -- partly because it was a matter of Muslims killing Christians -- the US government was more concerned about US access to mideast oil. Delightfully, one of the people working on this at the State Department was junior staffer Allen Dulles, later to be head of the CIA under Eisenhower. (And fired by Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs.)

The Splendid Blond Beast explains:

"Confidentially the State Department is in a bind. Our task would be simple if the reports of the atrocities could be declared untrue or even exaggerated but the evidence, alas, is irrefutable," Dulles wrote in reply to [US High Commissioner to Turkey Mark] Bristol's requests for State Department intervention with U.S. publishers to shift the tone of news reports still dribbling out of Turkey and Armenia. "[T]he Secretary of State wants to avoid giving the impression that while the United States is willing to intervene actively to protect its commercial interests, it is not willing to move on behalf of the Christian minorities." Dulles went on to complain about the agitation in the U.S. on behalf of Armenians, Greeks, and Palestinian Jews. "I've been kept busy trying to ward off congressional resolutions of sympathy for these groups.''

Yes, it's all there: the feigned concern for human rights; the actual concern only for money; the desire to manipulate the media; and the need to squelch any concern by US citizens for people elsewhere, unless it lined up with the making of money. In a world of tumult and change, it's nice to see the US government has remained exactly the same for 80 years.

INTERESTING HISTORICAL FACT: The plane that hit the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 took off from Dulles Airport in Virginia. Dulles Airport is named after Allen Dulles' brother John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State in the Eisenhower administration.

August 23, 2004


I'm going to be on WUSB, a community radio station based at the State University of New York at Stonybrook, starting around 11:15 am ET today (Monday) for up to an hour. I'll be talking mostly about the history of US foreign policy towards Iraq, plus some about exciting opportunities to get gay incest for free.

The station can be heard "on most of Long Island, and in Southern Connecticut, parts of NYC (Brooklyn and Queens), and Westchester County," or you can listen to a streaming webcast here. Or you can pay me to come live in your basement and furnish you with my opinions every day. This option really gives you the most Jon for your dollar.

August 20, 2004

What "Everyone" Knew

Back in December of 2002, after the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1441, the Brookings Institution in Washington held two events about Iraq's purported WMD. Kenneth Pollack, author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, was at both, and David Kay was at one.

The transcripts are lots of fun to read now. Pollack and Kay seem to be holding a contest to see who can say the thing that will look the most embarrassing in hindsight. In terms of opportunity for ridicule, it's a target-rich environment. (However, I will leave the actual ridicule as an exercise for the reader. See here and here.)

Beyond that, the transcripts contain many things that are interesting in their own right. For instance, here's an exchange between Pollack and Martin Indyk from the Brookings Institution, who was moderating the panel:

POLLACK: ...there is a real risk in going down this path which is every time the inspectors go to a site and find Iraqis cooperative and find the site clean, it reinforces the notion of those people around the world and in the United States who want to believe that the Iraqis are coming clean, that they are coming clean. We've had Iraqis come up to Martin in recent days and say to him maybe the Iraqis don't really have weapons of mass destruction.

INDYK: Correction. It wasn't Iraqis.

POLLACK: Israelis, pardon me. It's different. And when you've got Israelis saying that it's clear Saddam's strategy is working. It is having an impact.

This is more evidence that "everyone" wasn't wrong about whether Iraq possessed banned weapons. There were many people who were right. It's just it was hard to hear them over the sound of Kenneth Pollack calling them dupes of Saddam Hussein.

And then there's this snippet from Indyk's introduction to the first session:

INDYK: My understanding of Saddam's strategy starts from the premise that he still possesses weapons of mass destruction capabilities. If that were not the case he would have long ago completed the disarmament process and had the sanctions lifted and Iraq would have been able to rejoin the international community.

Indyk -- who held various high level posts in the Clinton administration -- must know this isn't true. It is the case that the relevant UN Security Council resolutions required that the sanctions be lifted when Iraq had "completed the disarmament process." But the Clinton administration stated flat out that it wouldn't allow this to happen. As Madeleine Albright put it in 1997, "We do not agree with the nations who argue that if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted."

Rather, the US wanted sanctions to remain as long as Hussein remained in power. As Tariq Aziz said later in 1997, "The American government says openly, clearly, that it's not going to endorse lifting the sanctions on Iraq unless the leadership of Iraq is changed."

So who was right, Aziz or Indyk? It's depressing that the answer is: the guy from the totalitarian regime.

August 19, 2004

We Know He Knew They Knew, And So On

As I mentioned recently, the BBC just interviewed Jafar Dhia Jafar, the head of the Iraqi nuclear program during the eighties. While the website article doesn't mention it, the piece that was broadcast includes this exchange:

REPORTER: As war grew closer, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic made increasingly alarming claims about Iraq's capability. [TO JAFAR] What was your reaction in the run up to war when you heard some of the claims coming from politicians about Iraq reconstituting its nuclear program?

JAFAR: I knew they were lying to their people. That was my reaction. And I knew they knew they were lying.

You'd think the US networks, what with their relentless hatred of America and all, would want to interview Jafar too. The fact that there has been no interview of Jafar on US TV or even a mention of the Jafar BBC interview almost makes you think the media isn't liberal -- that in fact it's corporate and right wing. Fortunately, this evidence can be discarded because the conclusion is impossible.

And speaking of Jafar, here's an enjoyable excerpt from an appearance by Donald Rumsfeld on Face the Nation on April 13, 2003:

BOB SCHIEFFER: David Martin of CBS News has learned that the -- that we have custody, I guess is the word, of the head of the Iraqi Nuclear Program... the name we have been given is Jafar dhia Jafar... One of the things that apparently he has told U.S. officials is that the Iraqi Nuclear Program ended in 1991.

SEC. RUMSFELD: That's been the standard mantra from the Iraqis over a sustained period of time... There hasn't been much that they've said that is believable. Anyone who's watched them over the years knows that they're liars, skillful to be sure. And they've been able to get the world's press to carry their lies around as though they were true without saying, "Be on notice. Caution. These people lie repeatedly."

It's like a compulsion with Rumsfeld, isn't it? I'm waiting for him to go on Face the Nation and say:

RUMSFELD: Look, Saddam Hussein regime's lied. That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. It invaded countries under false pretenses, pretending it had to for its own national security. Worst of all, its Secretary of Defense is a deceitful man named Donald Rumsfeld. Yet the media will let him go on shows and lie repeatedly without challenging him. In fact, he's on Face the Nation this very second.

People I Admire Roundup

1. This is a funny piece slagging libertarianism by the humorist and non-fiction writer Ian Frazier. The best line:

I've got my own little weather satellite, which I launched last year on a two-stage rocket I built from a kit. It was sending back data beautifully, so I didn't have to rely on politically skewed reports from the National Weather Service.

Also good:

I don't need obscure, long-forgotten phrases from the U.S. Constitution to tell me right from wrong.

I'm a big, big admirer of Frazier's writing. If you've never read it, you should also check out "Lamentations of the Father."

2. I was touched by this column by Arianna Huffington about Bernard Levin, an old boyfriend of hers.

I worked for Huffington briefly at the 2000 Shadow Conventions, and while being her employee was not really my cup of tea, I did find her appealing as a person. From direct observation I can report that:

a. She is very tall and slender with a large head.
b. She is genuinely funny.
c. She owns Let Them Call Me Rebel, a biography of Saul Alinksy. I like anyone who owns Let Them Call Me Rebel.
d. She has an extraordinary personal history that is poorly known. Both her parents were in the Greek Nazi resistance during World War II, and her father was an editor of a resistance newspaper. After the war her family was quite poor, but Huffington was so smart and driven she got a scholarship to Cambridge and managed to become the first female president of the Cambridge Union while debating in a second language.
e. A close friend of hers told me a story illustrating her loyalty and commitment as a friend that I found impressive.

This column about Levin fits in with everything I know about her.

August 16, 2004


This is a nice line from a BBC article about the relations between the US and Hugo Chavez:

The Bush administration and the Venezuelan leader have struggled to co-exist.

Ah, how the Bush administration has struggled to co-exist with Chavez -- very much like lions have always struggled to co-exist with gazelles. Or John Hinckley struggled to co-exist with Ronald Reagan.

Despite the flaws of Chavez, I can't help but guffaw as I imagine the steam rising today from the ears of the Bush administration and America's foreign policy cognoscenti. First they support a coup attempt in 2002, then the general strike in 2003, and then the referendum yesterday. And they lose every time.

It reminds me of "The Cycling Tour" episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus. The Soviet army has captured the main character, Mr. Pither, and sentenced him to be executed by firing squad. But somehow the firing squad keeps missing him. After one of their failed attempts, Mr. Pither is thrown back in his cell, and John Cleese (as a Russian officer) points at him and says:

Next time, DEFINITELY!

Short Humor Pieces Have More Of An Impact Than You Think

Israel declared psychological war on hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners Monday, saying it would barbecue meat outside their cells to try to break their will.
-- "Israel Turns Up Heat on Palestinian Hunger Strike," Reuters
The problem with the hunger strike is that after several days one can get quite hungry, particularly since sound trucks are paid to go through the street saying, "Um...what nice chicken--umm...some peas...umm..."
-- "A Brief, Yet Helpful, Guide to Civil Disobedience" by Woody Allen

I can only hope that some of the short humor pieces Mike and I have written will similarly inspire the Israeli government in years to come.

Our Rich, Melodious Voices

You've probably already seen this on This Modern World. But if not, check out this interview with Bob Harris about the upcoming Homeland Security Awareness month. I think the most exciting part will be the urinal cakes in every movie theater in America, stamped with instructions on surviving nuclear terrorism.

Bob's interview is on the program On The Media, which is produced by WNYC in New York. I used to spend time at WNYC, when Mike Gerber and I occasionally wrote and performed sketches for their show The Next Big Thing. I believe this one is still pretty funny. And even if it's not, it will give you the opportunity to hear my rich, melodious voice.

August 14, 2004

Is Hugo Chavez 1000 Times Worse Than Beelzebub? Or Just 100 Times?

The world needs to know about the crimes of Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela. So thank goodness the New York Times ran a detailed indictment of Chavez by Bernard Aronson today. I will quote some of Aronson's findings, but before I do, I must warn you to prepare yourself. If you care at all about the people of Venezuela -- if you care about humanity -- this will make you sick to your stomach.

Ready? Here goes:

Mr. Chavez has been spending state oil revenues freely and registering new citizens and voters en masse.

Good God almighty, what a monster! But as hard as it is to imagine, it gets worse. Aronson is too polite to mention it, but the government of Venezuela hasn't just been spending its oil revenue freely on nothing. It's been spending it -- the natural wealth of the country -- on health care and food for the country's citizens! And then it's spit in the face of democracy by REGISTERING VOTERS! Is it too soon to declare Chavez the combined reincarnation of Hitler and Stalin? I don't think so!

But at least the beleaguered people of Venezuela have found a champion in Bernard Aronson. Aronson was assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs in the first Bush administration, and now works for "a private equity firm that manages investments in Venezuela." Nothing says "I have the best interests of the people of Venezuela at heart" like those credentials.

Thanks also to the New York Times for making space for the column. It would have been easy for the Times to have said: look, we already did enough for Venezuelan democracy by endorsing the military overthrow of Chavez in 2002. But the Times decided to go the extra mile and print this.

August 12, 2004

Let's All Ignore What's Right In Front Of Our Faces

When the Butler report came out in England recently, America was treated to the edifying spectacle of various conservatives bloviating about how it PROVED Iraq actually had tried to buy uranium in Africa. For instance, Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) learnedly explained that "a report released today on British intelligence confirmed that Iraq sought to purchase uranium from Niger."

Of course, the Butler report did no such thing. It merely claimed that it was credible for Bush and Blair to say so "on the basis of intelligence assessments at the time" (Butler report, para. 499) -- that is, before we invaded Iraq.

Is it still "credible" now? Well, we've captured all the most important government officials and scientists in Iraq and have access to all of the former regime's documents. Yet no evidence whatsoever has been located by the Iraq Survey Group to substantiate the uranium claim. Indeed, just the opposite -- David Kay says they found that Congo tried to sell Iraq uranium, and Iraq turned them down.

Now Jafar Dhia Jafar, the former head of Iraq's nuclear program, is saying that "the British government's assertion that Iraq tried to purchase uranium from Niger is false."

But really, who cares what all the scientists and government officials in Iraq say? Who cares that it would make absolutely no sense for Iraq to try to buy uranium, since IT HAD NO NUCLEAR PROGRAM. Far more more important to trust pre-war intelligence that the British government refuses to show anyone. After all, the rest of the pre-war intelligence was right on the money.

Michael Rubin, Unintentional Humorist

I always enjoy people being unintentionally funny. So I appreciate this recent column by Michael Rubin, a "resident scholar" at the American Enterprise Institute.

The occasion for the column was the recent issuance of an arrest warrant for Ahmad Chalabi. Chalabi has been charged with counterfeiting Iraqi dinars.

Of course Rubin, as a fervent neo-con, leaps to Chalabi's defense. But he didn't choose his words very carefully:

From Washington's perspective, the raid on Chalabi's compound backfired. Not only did U.S. authorities not find any significant documents, but Chalabi's currency increased exponentially among Iraqis.

August 09, 2004

Jake Sexton in Extra! (Exclamation Point In Original)

For reasons even I don't understand, I despise the word "bl*g." Out of the kindness of his heart, Bob Harris invented the alternate term "eblo" to refer to this site.

In any case, Jake Sexton, an occasional visitor here, has written an excellent article about b__gs in the August issue of Extra!, the magazine of Fairness and Accuracy and Reporting. Unfortunately it's not online, but perhaps this can be rectified.

The one flaw in the article is that it doesn't mention that the word "b@!g" is an abomination before God.

ALSO: Jake's website links to this article about the JibJab brothers suing Woody Guthrie's estate. They want to establish that their This Land Is Your Land parody is fair use -- ie, not a violation of the copyright.

This lawsuit, and the general issue of fair use, is actually quite important. If the little people (ie, us) can't parody previous works of art, the world will become bleaker.

August 08, 2004

The Corporation, STARRING Smedley Butler

I recently went to see The Corporation. My only criticism: it wasn't long enough.

Ha ha! Seriously, it's a great movie, despite the fact that after some audience members starved to death the rest of us had to eat them to survive.

So you should definitely see it if you haven't already. Besides the barrage of useful information it contains, anyone should be encouraged just that a movie like this is reaching a large audience. I saw it in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, and the theater was 70% full.

My favorite part was the footage of Smedley Butler they dug up. If you've heard of Butler to begin with, you probably know he was a famous Marine Corps general who vociferously denounced US foreign policy after his retirement -- most famously in his speech "War is a Racket":

War is just a racket...

I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country's most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism...

I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

But even if you know the famous Butler quotes, you may not know that in 1933 he helped stop an attempted fascist overthrow of the Roosevelt administration by various corporate interests. The movie focuses on this, which I appreciated. I clearly remember thinking, when I first read about this (in Nicholas von Hoffman's book Make Believe Presidents): How'd they leave THAT out of my high school history class? And... what ELSE did they leave out? A good summary of the coup attempt is here.

So beyond what Butler did, what history did to him is also quite instructive. In the first third of the 1900s, he was as as famous as Douglas MacArthur. Yet for some reason Butler has somehow dropped out of mainstream historical memory, while MacArthur remains. I grew up half a mile from a road named MacArthur Boulevard, but you could look long and hard without finding any roads named after Butler.

Interestingly, where Butler is remembered is in Latin America. My uncle, who lived all over Latin America during the fifties and sixties, told me that even then Butler was so feared that Latin American mothers sometimes used Smedley Butler as the Boogeyman. "Go to sleep," they'd say to their children, "or Smedley Butler will come and get you."

August 06, 2004

Hooray For Everyone

In one of Edward Said's books -- I think it's Oslo and After -- he tells a story about trying to arrange a meeting in England between some up and coming youth from the PLO and representatives from the ANC. The idea was that the PLO could learn from the ANC about to how to conduct a successful international political campaign. But the youngsters from the PLO weren't interested. Said writes that they scornfully told him: "We are not blacks."

OUTSTANDING!!! I believe this could be rephrased in many ways and mean the same thing. For instance, the youthful PLO members could have told Said:

1. "We are not intelligent."
2. "We are not people who actually want to win."
3. "We are not capable of perceiving the world around us."

I was reminded of this when I read this interesting article about the new South African ambassador to Israel (via The Head Heeb). Not because it contains more wonderful statements like the one above, but just because the story of South Africa, the ANC, Israel and the Palestinians is a tangled and fascinating one that has never been fully told.

Just for instance, Israel apparently -- in an act of true genius -- helped apartheid South Africa with its nuclear weapons program during the seventies. Then South Africa turned around and sold Iraq some of its new nuclear weapons technology. I guess Israel's perspective had been: hey, if we can't trust a racist hate nation built on quasi-Nazi ideology, who can we trust?

August 04, 2004

Le Spam De Porn

Until recently this website thankfully escaped the notice of the spam demons. Now, however, they're onto us. I've been deleting the spam as assiduously as possible, but now there's so much I'm going to have to automate the deletion process. Either that or hire a 7 year-old in Burma to do it for me.

But there's an upside to all this. For instance, without the spam I would never have come across a site offering "free gay incest." This is a great boon to me, as I've been overpaying for my gay incest for many years.

August 01, 2004

Oh Thank God Some Funniness

Courtesy of Ed Page of Danger Blog!, here's a link to John Cleese's new website, which has just posted a video of John Cleese talking about it.

Gamal Nasser, Quipster

I've been reading an excellent book called Containing Arab Nationalism. It's a close look at America's policies toward the mideast during Eisenhower's second term.

The book quotes the memoirs of the late Miles Copeland, a CIA honcho (and father of Stewart Copeland, drummer for the Police). According to Copeland, Gamal Nasser once told him:

The genius of you Americans is that you never made clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves which makes us wonder at the possibility that there may be something to them we are missing.

This is funny. But it also illustrates a problem human beings often have in politics, which is thinking there's more going on in the minds of their opponents than there appears to be. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, there's actually less.

In other words, when you're President of Egypt and you find yourself asking, "Are these people really that stupid, or is this all part of some huge diabolical scheme?" the answer is: they really are that stupid. Powerful people are, generally speaking, the stupidest people on earth.

(And speaking of stupidity, let me also recommend the funny and profound book The Story of Stupidity. A college friend of mine lent me his copy. Which was pretty stupid of him, because I never returned it.)