April 29, 2005

My John Ralston Saul Frenzy Continues Unabated: No, Seriously

For anyone curious why I'm so enthusiastic about John Ralston Saul, I've scanned in the first chapter of Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West.

Don't be scared; it's only five pages long. And it should help you understand why, for someone like me, John Ralston Saul is so appealing. Just the Voltaire quote alone—"All methods are good, except the boring"—is worth the price of admission.

My John Ralston Saul Frenzy Continues Unabated

As you may recall, I am a fan of Canadian writer John Ralston Saul. Saul's most famous non-fiction book, Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, is dedicated to a man named Maurice Strong.

Strong's recently been in the news because he's the top UN envoy to North Korea. However, he has ties to a "South Korean businessman accused in the UN oil-for-food scandal in Iraq," and while this is investigated he's stepping down from the post.

But beyond this, who is Strong? Apparently quite a peculiar and intriguing character. First a prominent and wealthy Candian businessman, he then segued into these more recent activities:

Mr. Maurice Strong serves as Senior Advisor to both the Secretary-General of the United Nations and to the President of the World Bank. He is also Director of the World Economic Forum Foundation [Davos], Chairman of the Stockholm Environment Institute and of the Earth Council...

Mr. Strong is perhaps most well-known for the role he played in organizing the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro (Earth Summit), where he served as Secretary-General...

Not surprisingly, he's something of an obsession for America's right wing, as you can see in this National Review article. He also occupies a central place in the fevered imaginings of the Black-Helicopters-Ate-My-Homework crowd.

In any case, he definitely is given to making provocative statements, as Jeff Wells points out at Rigorous Intuition (via The Art of Smiling). For instance:

"... we may get to the point where the only way of saving the world will be for industrial civilization to collapse."

He has also mused about writing a novel in which world leaders intentionally make this happen.

In any case, the important point is that everything on earth is connected in some way to John Ralston Saul.

Now, That's A Sentence

Bob Harris says:

... I'm grunting like I'm about to pass a colony of beavers directly out of my rectum.

Oh man that's some good writin'. And it's part of an important story about Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Happy Birthday To My Tree

Today is Arbor Day. Thirty Arbor Days ago in 1975 I was in kindergarten. On that day my school gave each student a pine sprig in a small paper cup, with instructions to take it home and plant it. Both my sister and I did as we were told.

Oh, those were difficult years. I spent many grueling hours teaching my tree how to photosynthesize. Later I coached it through an (unsuccessful) application to law school. In the end, though, it all paid off. Over the past three decades my tree has thrived, growing from about four inches tall to a handsome 25-30 feet. (Weirdly, during the same time period I've actually gotten shorter.) My parents still live in the same house, and today they took a picture of the tree for me, which is below.

Why no picture of my sister's tree? Well, for many years my sister's tree was much shorter than mine, which brought me great satisfaction. Unfortunately, it has recently caught up to my tree and perhaps passed it. Thus, I am unwilling to let it share the limelight. It's just pure spite.

I Was Wrong And The Weekly Standard Was Right

As I've said before, one reason this website exists is to allow me to practice being honest and fair. I wanted to practice because being honest and fair requires practice. It doesn't just happen on its own—particularly for those of us, like me, who are human beings.

So in that spirit I'd like to point out a situation in which I was wrong, and Matt LaBash of the Weekly Standard was right. Recently LaBash wrote an article for the Weekly Standard about Ward Churchill. Here's one paragraph:

What Churchill is really trying to say is that from Wounded Knee to the Tokyo Firebombing to our sanctions starving half a million children in Iraq (his favorite talking point), we are guilty of an "uninterrupted stream of massacres." Saddam Hussein--who cared about Iraqi children enough to tie them to tanks as human shields, who skimmed $20 billion from the Oil-for-Food program after it was implemented in 1996, and who before that turned down deal after deal for humanitarian aid if it came with monitoring conditions to ensure it was being used for food (all while finding the scratch to build 48 palaces)--doesn't figure in Churchill's narrative.

When I read that, the bit about Saddam tying Iraqi children to tanks rang false to me. It was hard for me to imagine that in Iraq's wars with Iran and Kuwait this would be a useful military tactic. I also didn't find anything about it in a quick search online—and one thing I did find, a CIA report about Iraqi use of human shields, made no mention of children tied onto tanks.

So I sent email to LaBash, expecting that this was just something he'd heard somewhere, without a credible source. But I was wrong. He was gracious enough to respond and point me to his source, a Human Rights Watch report. It turns out Iraq did tie children to tanks as human shields—not during its wars, but while crushing the uprisings against Saddam in 1991:

Security forces in Basra used human shields to protect their tanks, either tying women and children to the tanks or forcing them to walk in front of them, according to several independent reports. A former resident of Baghdad who now lives in London and who entered Basra on March 7 in a convoy of relief goods, described watching with binoculars a column of 20 tanks proceeding from the al-Ashar district toward the city center on March 8:
I saw that the tank that was leading had three children tied to its front. They did it because four hours earlier they had tried to attack in the same way, and a 14-year-old girl with explosives had jumped on the front of the first tank and exploded it, forcing the whole column to withdraw.

Now, I do believe LaBash's overall point regarding Churchill and Iraq is way off. And I don't feel too bad for being skeptical, because I've read other things in the Weekly Standard about Iraq that were riddled with egregious factual errors and omissions. (For instance, this.) But my judgment on this specific point was wrong, and I want to acknowledge that.

I also want to reveal that I hope to turn this whole "honesty and fairness" shtick into a religious practice, and eventually a worldwide cult. Don't be shy—there's still time for you to get in on the ground floor!

April 28, 2005

Chris Floyd Talks About Bob Dylan

I've never listened to a lot of Bob Dylan, except for the big hits. But of course I know many people's worldview has been deeply influenced by him. As it turns out, Chris Floyd is one of them. He's written a column about Dylan that will appear in an upcoming anthology and is now on his website:

What I've come to realize over the years is that Dylan's music is not primarily about expressing yourself—it's about losing yourself, escaping the self and all its confusions, corruptions, pettiness and decay. It's about getting to some place far beyond the self, "where nature neither honors nor forgives." Dylan gives himself up to the song, and to the deeper reality it creates in the few charged moments of its existence. We can step through the door he opens to that far place and see what happens.

This reminds me of something I read in Harper's recently—although it's from an article not about music, but painting:

Balthus... said in a 1994 interview that he never wanted to be an "artist," adding, "I have a horror of the word... What I believe is that the people who paint today are not the same people who painted let's say 200 years ago, or 300 years ago... they're all artists today. What I find terrible is that need of expressing oneself. Why express yourself, why not express the universe?

By the way, as of this sentence this website is changing from jokes about politics to weird ruminations about Art.

And When I Say None, I Mean There Is A Certain Amount, More Than We Are Prepared To Admit

As the British elections approach, Tony Blair is getting irritated by claims that he lied about Iraq, and recently went on TV to say this:

"I have never told a lie. No. I don't intend to go telling lies to people. I did not lie over Iraq."

Blair then added:

"... may I take this opportunity of emphasizing that there is no cannibalism in the British Navy. Absolutely none."

Ah, so funny! Seriously, though, Blair of course lied about Iraq approximately seven million times. For instance, here he is on March 2, 2003:

As I have said, the UN inspectors found no trace at all of Saddam's offensive biological weapons programme—which, of course, he claimed didn't exist—until his lies were revealed by his own son-in-law. Only then did the inspectors find over 8,000 litres of concentrated anthrax and other biological weapons and a factory to make more.

This is a particularly impressive effort on Blair's part because it includes more lies than there are sentences.

1. UNSCOM had suspected Iraq had an offensive biological weapons program almost from the day inspectors arrived in Iraq. Under pressure from UNSCOM, Iraq admitted to this on July 1, 1995. Hussein Kamel, the Saddam son-in-law to which Blair refers, defected on August 8, 1995. (These dates are available on a State Department timeline.)

Blair told this lie because he wanted people to think inspections could only be effective with help from defectors like Kamel.

2. Inspectors never found "over 8,000 litres of concentrated anthrax and other biological weapons"—because Iraq had secretly destroyed them in 1991.

Blair told this lie because he wanted people to think Iraq could successfully hide WMD from UNSCOM, when in fact it never had. (Amusingly, on an earlier occasion Blair angrily denounced Saddam for not providing proof Iraq had destroyed the anthrax he now said had been found by UNSCOM.)

3. UNSCOM had long been aware of the factory (at Al-Hakam) to which Blair refers. The first inspection of Al-Hakam took place in September, 1991. Because of UNSCOM's suspicions, it was placed under continuous monitoring. While it had been used in Iraq's biological weapons program before the Gulf War, since 1991 it had been used only for civilian purposes.

Blair told this lie because he wanted people to think Iraq could successfully hide an entire weapons factory from UN inspections.


And Once Again: Things

1. Jeanne at Body and Soul has some extremely cogent thoughts about the new Pope and his time spent as a Nazi Youth, here and then here. Like me (and apparently several million others), she is surprised not that he acted as he did as a teenager, but that to this day he apparently claims resistance to the Nazis was "impossible."

2. Dennis Perrin watched the HBO documentary about Air America. Also, he tells funny stories about love and other stuff.

3. Bob points to an useful gauge of how rich you are.

4. David Swanson has written 37 more columns in the last eight minutes.

5. Normon Solomon reminds us that this Tuesday was the 40th anniversary of the US invasion of the Dominican Republic, and that Lyndon Johnson's justifications for the invasion were shifting and dishonest in a way that seems oddly familiar.

April 27, 2005

How Our Monkey Brains Work

One of the most amazing things in Nixon's White House tapes is a conversation between him and Bob Haldeman on June 12, 1972. In it, they discussed the famous picture (which had just been released) of a naked Vietnamese girl running from a napalm attack. This is what Nixon said:

"I wonder if that was a fix."

In other words, Nixon's immediate reaction was that the picture was a hoax.

What's so fascinating about this is the 29,000 pounds of self-deception it reveals. Certainly this was Nixon's honest reaction: he was speaking in private to his closest crony.

Yet he didn't say something ugly but rational, such as, "That's horrible, but it's the reality of war." Or something even uglier but still connected to reality like, "I want us to start claiming that picture's a hoax, whether it is or not." Instead, his first instinct was to escape into a fantasy world.

I believe this is standard in people at the pinnacle of power. They engage in extraordinarily gruesome crimes—and in the abstract, aren't bothered by this. After all, regarding Vietnam, Nixon had previously told Henry Kissinger, "You're so goddamned concerned about the civilians and I don't give a damn. I don't care."

However, when brought face to face with the results of their actions, leaders refuse to accept them. In this sense, Nixon is similar to Saddam Hussein, who after being captured was visited in prison by several of his main Iraqi political opponents. When asked about his victims in Iraq's mass graves, Saddam learnedly explained, "They were thieves." He also revealed that he had been a "just but firm ruler."

So, why do leaders act this way? Why didn't Nixon look at the screaming little girl, and say, "Well, that's life"? Why didn't Saddam say, "I killed those people because I wanted to stay in power"?

The answer lies in our little monkey brains, which require us to always believe we are good people, no matter what the evidence. Even Hitler thought he was misunderstood.

Richard Nixon: Just but Firm

April 25, 2005

The Main Problem With Richard Nixon? He Wasn't Anti-Semitic Enough

Daniel Ellsberg has posted transcripts on his website from the sections of the Nixon White House tapes that refer to him. According to Ellsberg, these are the first transcripts made of these particular tapes. And this is a shame, because they are further evidence that Richard Nixon was completely insane.

Specifically, Nixon seems unable to speak more than three words without referring to "the Jews." "The Jews" are conspiring against him. "The Jews" have taken over the State Department. "The Jews" are hiding in his breakfast cereal.

Of course, reading the actual transcripts takes time. So to save you the trouble, I've made up the following dialogue—which, while not technically real, is an accurate representation of the trancripts' spirit:

Nixon: Cronkite mentioned Ellsberg last night. Cronkite's a Jew, isn't he?
Haldeman: I'm not sure.
Nixon: Cronkike.
Haldeman: [unclear]
Nixon: What is it with the Jews and the network news, Bob? Maybe it's because "Jews" rhymes with "news."
Haldeman: That's true.
Nixon: "Jews" also rhymes with "shoes." Which is why they've [inaudible] the shoe business. You can't buy a Christian shoe these days. Try it and you'll see.
Haldeman: Have you ever looked at their feet?
Nixon: The Jews, the Jews, everyone knows they have special feet. That's how I knew William Sloane Coffin was a Jew. I saw him wearing sandals.
Haldeman: Whatever his feet, Jews wear sandals.
Nixon: Kissinger, though, that's a different story. I told him: Henry, your feet are almost Presbyterian.
Haldeman: Almost 100%.
Nixon: Bob, I, I need your help. I woke up at 2 a.m. this morning. Bob—
Haldeman: Sir?
Nixon: [whispered] I think my big toes are Jewish.

The genuine references to Ellsberg and "the Jews" are below. The funniest part of all, of course, is that someone this crazy was president and had the power to kill everyone on earth.

• • •

Nixon: I hope to God - he's not Jewish is he?

Ziegler: [Laughing] I'm sure he is - Ellsberg?

Nixon: I hope not, I hope not.

Haldeman: [unclear] is Jewish. Why the hell wouldn't he be?

Nixon: Oh yeah, I know, I know, I know, but it's, it's, it's, it's a bad thing for us. It's a bad thing for us. It's a bad thing. Maybe we'll be lucky for once. Many Jews in the Communist conspiracy... Chambers and Hiss were the only non-Jews... Many thought that Hiss was. He could have been a half... Every other one was a Jew - and it raised hell for us. But in this case, I hope to God he's not a Jew.

Haldeman: [Laughing] Well, I suspect he is.

Nixon: You can't tell by the name.

Haldeman: Or Halperin... Gelb is -

Nixon: Gelb's a Jew.

Nixon: You can never put, John, any person who is a Jew on a civil rights kind of case, or freedom of the press kind of case, and get even a ten percent chance. . . . Basically, who the hell are these people that stole the papers? It's too bad. I'm sorry. I was hoping one of them would be a gentile. [laughter] [unclear] The three Jews - Gelb - the three suspects... All Jews."

Mitchell: [laughing] Well, at least the Supreme Court yesterday ruled that the Jews couldn't get into a golf club.

• • •

July 3, 1971: Nixon and Haldeman, 10:41 A.M., Oval Office
Conversation #536-16; cassette #871

Nixon: Colson, he's a clever bastard. He had his office call the Bureau of Labor Statistics... Goldstein... I said, "Were they all Jews?" He said, "Yes. Every one of them was a Jew." Malek's not Jewish is he?

Haldeman: No.

Nixon: I want to look at any sensitive areas around, where Jews are involved, Bob. See, the Jews are all through the government. And we have got to get in those areas, we've got to get the man in charge, who is not Jewish, to patrol the Jewish -

Haldeman: [unclear]

Nixon: . . . full of Jews. Second, most Jews are [unclear]. You know what I mean? You have Garment and Kissinger.

Haldeman: And thankfully Safire.

Nixon: But by God, they're exceptions. But Bob, generally speaking, you can't trust the bastards. They turn on us.

Haldeman: And their whole orientation is against this administration anyway... And they're smart. They have the ability to do what they want to do. Which is, to hurt us...

Nixon: Henry doesn't have many Jews. Got this one...

• • •

Haldeman: He's got quite a few... He had Halperin.

Nixon: Yeah, I know. But, you know... he's got Haig, his secretary is not Jewish.

• • •

Haldeman: None of his aides have ever been Jewish, even Tony Lake who turned on us...

Nixon: That's right.

Haldeman: But his... the young guys, that he's always had...

Nixon: Well Tony Lake always seemed Jewish.

Haldeman: I don't think so. I wondered about that.

Nixon: He looked it.

Haldeman: I know.

• • •

July 5, 1971: Nixon, Haldeman, and Ziegler, 4:03 P.M., Oval Office
Conversation #537-4; cassette #876

Nixon: Jewish families are close, but there's this strange malignancy that seems to creep among them - radicalism. I can imagine how the fact that Ellsberg is in this must really tear a fella like Henry to pieces - or Garment. Just like the Rosenbergs and all that. It just has to kill them. I feel horrible about it.

Ziegler: Could make up an English name.

Haldeman: ... Rosenstein could change his name...

[general laughter]

Ziegler: It is right. It's always an Ellsberg.

Nixon: Every one's a Jew. Ellsberg's a Jew. Halperin's a Jew.

Haldeman: Gelb's a Jew.

Nixon: But there are [unclear] - Hiss was not a Jew. Very interesting thing. So few of those who engage in espionage - are Negroes. . . . In fact, very few of them become Communists. If they do, they like, they get into Angela Davis - they're more the capitalist type. And they throw bombs and this and that. But the Negroes. - have you ever noticed? . . . . Any Negro spies?

Haldeman: Not intellectual enough, not smart enough. . . not smart enough to be spies.

Nixon: The Jews - the Jews are, are born spies. You notice how many of them are just in up to their necks?

Haldeman: A basic deviousness.

April 23, 2005

Alice In CAFTA-Land

Bob Harris points to a Los Angeles Times story about the proposed Central America Free Trade Agreement. CAFTA will raise the price of generic drugs in Central America, including ones used to treat AIDS. It will do this, of course, by strengthening patents, which are a restriction on free trade.

So calling CAFTA a "free trade agreement" is a particularly nice touch, one I'm sure is appreciated by people in Central America with AIDS. They probably feel how I would feel about a bill called "The Protection of Jon Act" that made it legal for GlaxoSmithKline to hunt and kill me.

The Culture Of Life In Action

Jeanne at Body & Soul was kind enough to mention my post this week about Thomas Enders. She points out something I hadn't noticed: that Renato Martino, the presiding priest at Enders' funeral, recently was in the news saying this about Terri Schiavo:

"It is nothing else but murder," he said. "It is a victory of the culture of death over life. This is not a natural death, it is an imposed death."

Now, here's a famous quote from Father Daniel Santiago, an American Jesuit priest who spent many years in El Salvador and wrote a book called The Harvest of Justice. This is how Santiago described El Salvador during the eighties, the time Thomas Enders was Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs:

People are not just killed by death squads in El Salvador; they are decapitated and then their heads are placed on pikes and used to dot the landscape. Men are not just disemboweled by the Salvadoran Treasury Police; their severed genitalia are stuffed into their mouths. Salvadoran women are not just raped by the National Guard; their wombs are cut from their bodies and used to cover their faces. It is not enough to kill children; they are dragged over barbed wire until the flesh falls from their bones while parents are forced to watch.

Something strikes me as ironic about all this, but I can't quite put my finger on what it is.

April 22, 2005

More Thomas Friedman; More Matt Taibbi; More John Ralston Saul

Here's more from Matt Taibbi's review of Thomas "The Bleeder" Friedman's book The World Is Flat:

On an ideological level, Friedman's new book is the worst, most boring kind of middlebrow horseshit. If its literary peculiarities could somehow be removed from the equation, The World Is Flat would appear as no more than an unusually long pamphlet replete with the kind of plug-filled, free-trader leg-humping that passes for thought in this country...

The book's genesis is conversation Friedman has with Nandan Nilekani, the CEO of Infosys. Nilekani causally mutters to Friedman: "Tom, the playing field is being leveled."

Yes, the "level playing field"—otherwise known as the world's most cretinous ideological metaphor. Here's how John Ralston Saul defines it in The Doubter's Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense:

The Bleeder From Brandeis

The boxer Chuck Wepner was nicknamed the "Bayonne Bleeder." He was nationally renowned for his ability to absorb tremendous amounts of punishment—while bleeding copiously on his opponents—yet not go down.

I think of Wepner every time I watch Thomas Friedman get in the ring with the English language. Friedman is always overmatched, and takes relentless, crushing blows. You watch and think he's out. You think no man could withstand such horrific abuse. Yet the next week he pops up again, covered in blood, on the editorial page of the New York Times. This is why I like to call Thomas Friedman the "Bleeder from Brandeis."

Matt Taibbi has tracked this extraordinary phenomenon for some time. Here he analyzes what may be Friedman's most gruesome performance yet:

I think it was about five months ago that Press editor Alex Zaitchik whispered to me in the office hallway that Thomas Friedman had a new book coming out. All he knew about it was the title, but that was enough; he approached me with the chilled demeanor of a British spy who has just discovered that Hitler was secretly buying up the world's manganese supply. Who knew what it meant—but one had to assume the worst...
It's not that [Friedman] occasionally screws up and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It's that he always screws it up. He has an anti-ear, and it's absolutely infallible; he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse...


I'm trying to unbreak this website.

April 21, 2005


It always catches my attention when the same words are used repeatedly by the same types of people over and over again. For instance, I think it's interesting to see the repeated use of "justification" by national security types who want to invade other countries.

Yes... interesting.

1. This is from the cover page of the infamous "Operation Northwoods" memo (pdf file). This was the 1962 plan by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to stage attacks on American military personnel and civilians, and then blame them on Cuba so we could invade them. (Kennedy turned the Joint Chiefs down.)

2. This is the notorious passage from "Rebuilding America's Defenses" (pdf) by the Project for a New American Century.

3. This is from an article about Mickey Herskowitz, a journalist and Bush family friend who has written an authorized biography of Prescott Bush and for a time worked on the authorized biography of George W. Bush. Herkowitz said that in Bush circles, starting wars was seen as good for your political career:

Finally, here's a definition of "justification" from the 1996 Mirriam-Webster Dictionary of Law:


Dennis Perrin On Killer Liberals

Dennis Perrin accurately points out that the progressive online world has barely noticed that this past Tuesday was the 12th anniversary of the Waco attack. I did my part by blithely forgetting about it. Moreover, I'm embarrassed to say that until the second I read Dennis' post I didn't know the federal government had managed to kill SEVENTY-FOUR people at Waco.

Among other useful sources, Dennis points to Gore Vidal's article "The Meaning of Timothy McVeigh", Justin Raimondo's examination of the parallel justifications for Waco and Iraq, and something from the surprisingly well-written World Socialist Web Site.

April 20, 2005

The Downward Spiral

Here are Tom Tomorrow's thoughts about Time's Ann Coulter cover story.

Also, Billmon has some useful historical perspective on Time.

Everyone On Earth Is Crazy

From August 25-September 11 last year I went crazy, and wrote about the Armenian Genocide over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

I have no excuse for my actions.

But at least I recognize that my behavior was peculiar. At least I have that much of a grip on reality.

By contrast, on February 2nd of this year, a new comment appeared on this particular entry, posted by a certain "Norman." A scant five months late, Norman asserted that the "so-called Armenian genocide" was not a genocide at all. In fact, "518,000 documented Ottoman Muslims... were directly slaughtered by Armenians."

Okay. But it gets even more wonderful: this Monday, a man calling himself "Osman Karacan" appeared in the same place, providing an extensive list of massacres of innocent Turks by the filthy Armenians. According to Osman, these come from the "Turkish military and Ottoman archives," which "have just been opened up."

It is at moments like this I feel our species really needs to go back to the drawing board. Clearly there's something wrong in the original blueprints.

April 19, 2005

Some Pig

As I've said before, I actually don't have much interest in politics. The problem is that we have to pay attention to these people, because if we don't keep an eye on them they have a tendency toward mass murder.

What I really enjoy is learning about other aspects of life on earth. For instance, Epigraph.org has an appealing story about some pig:

Sleep would not be easy, because even with the straw it was insanely cold. But I shut my eyes and hoped for the best. Soon I felt a mouthful of straw passing my face, having been dropped in front of me. It was Gertie! (This is a gesture I’ve seen on occasion, a pig will bring an offering of straw, although I’ve never discerned the meaning.) But she then lay her big beautiful body down next to me, which was a godsend, as pigs typically have a body temperature of 102.5...

David Swanson On Baker-Carter Voting Commission

The Washington Post has a typically non-informative article today about the James Baker-Jimmy Carter "Commission on Federal Election Reform."

Fortunately, David Swanson was there in person, and has written a long but extremely interesting piece about it. If you have any interest in voting and/or having your vote count, you should read it. And it has pictures!

Via these pictures, we can see there's one thing wrong with the commission right off the bat: it doesn't have enough white people.

April 18, 2005

How America Works

Several years ago I helped organize a political event. We invited Gore Vidal to speak at it, and while in the end it didn't work out, during the process I got to speak with him.

We mostly talked about the American empire, or whatever it is, and Vidal's description of it in his books. I made a long-winded argument that the financial arm of our empire—basically the IMF, World Bank, and WTO—has actually killed more people than the military arm. There was a pause. Then Vidal said: "Well... let's call it a tie."

I still laugh every time I think of that. Anyway, to this day I think everyone pays too much attention to the military aspect of US foreign policy, and not enough to the economic aspect. And even when people do pay attention to the economic aspect, they often don't appreciate the degree to which US military and economic policies are intertwined. Moreover, this shouldn't be surprising, since the military and economic policies are run by exactly the same people.

This is demonstrated by a peculiar anthropological artifact I possess: the program from the funeral of Thomas Ostrom Enders, a high-level member of the US foreign policy establishment.

I should say immediately that I wasn't at this funeral, nor do I have any connection to Enders. The program fell into my hands by coincidence. So I won't make any jokes about this, since it seems disrespectful. Enders was a human being with a family. He also helped kill hundreds of thousands of other humans.

Who Was Thomas Enders?

As I say, Enders was an elite member of the US foreign policy establishment, perhaps one level down from someone like Henry Kissinger.

Enders is best known for two things. First, he was the State Department's chargé d'affairs in Phnom Penh during the early seventies, where he directed the illegal bombing of Cambodia. This killed an unknown number of Cambodians—100,000? 500,000? 700,000?—and set the stage for the Khmer Rouge.

Second, Enders was Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs from 1981 to 1983, where he helped run the Reagan administration's gruesome policy in Central America. Among other things, he helped cover up the notorious El Mozote massacre in El Salvador. He also praised Guatemala's Rios Montt, a genuine Nazi, for his "effective counterinsurgency" as Montt was engaged in literal genocide. (During this time Enders worked closely with John Negroponte, then US ambassador to Honduras.)

But this was only the military part of Enders' career. There was also a significant economic aspect.

Enders was from a wealthy Connecticut family that had sent members to Yale for generations. Enders himself graduated from Yale at the top of his class in 1953.

Enders then entered the foreign service and, before his time in Cambodia, had been Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Monetary Affairs. After Cambodia he was Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, and led the American response to the 1973 oil crisis. Then he was US ambassador to Canada, where he pushed for the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, a precursor to NAFTA. To cap it all off, after his time in the Reagan administration he was a managing director of Salomon Brothers until his death in 1996. (I've taken many of these details from a biography of Enders here.)

This entanglement of US diplomatic and financial leaders is glaringly obvious from other pages of the funeral program:

Red arrows

Here they are, the people who run the world:

Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat is an Argentinian billionaire. (Or near-billionaire, depending on economic conditions—recently she had to sell some of her Gauguin, Degas, Miro and Matisse paintings at Sotheby's.) She owns Argentina's largest cement company, as well as media outlets like La Prensa.

Henry Kissinger needs no introduction.

David Rockefeller, beyond being a Rockefeller scion, founded the dreary Trilateral Commission.

Deryck Maughan at the time of Enders' funeral was Chairman of Salomon Brothers. He has since been knighted and become Chairman and CEO of Citigroup International.

Blue arrow

As you see, the funeral's concluding rite was the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner. I don't believe I've ever been to a funeral at which this happened. You may draw your own conclusions about what this says about Thomas Enders and/or me.

Red arrows

Among the palbearers:

Christopher Kennan is most likely the Christopher Kennan who is the son of the late US foreign policy guru George Kennan.

Frieder Roessler used to be Director of Legal Affairs at the WTO.

Blue arrows

Among the honorary palbearers:

Albert Beveridge is the former president of the George Marshall Foundation and (I believe) grandson of Senator Albert Beveridge, who gave a famous 1900 speech supporting the US colonization of the Philippines. Here's an excerpt:

The Philippines are ours forever... And just beyond the Philippines are China's illimitable markets... We will not renounce our part in the mission of our race, trustee, under God, of the civilization of the world.. And we will move forward to our work, not howling out regrets like slaves whipped to their burdens but with gratitude for a task worthy of our strength and Thanksgiving to Almighty God that He has marked us as His chosen people, henceforth to lead in the regeneration of the world.

Paul Boeker was Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Finance and Development, then US ambassador to Bolivia and Jordan. He later was President of the Institute of the Americas at UCSD, which aims to be a "significant catalyst for promoting development and integration, emphasizing the role of the private sector, as a means to improve the economic, political, and social well-being of the people of the Americas."

Everett Briggs was US ambassador to Honduras, Panama and Portugal. He recently signed a letter supporting John Bolton's nomination to be US ambassador to the UN.

Gustavo Cineros is a Venezuelan billionaire media baron. He's a longtime supporter of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americans, and may have been involved in the coup attempt against Hugo Chavez.

Richard Gardner was US ambassador to Spain and Italy, as well as member of Clinton's Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations and a member of the U.S. Delegation to the 1999 WTO meeting in Seattle.

Charles Anthony Gillespie was US Ambassador to Chile and Colombia. He later explained that "Plan Colombia" (an aid package designed to defeat Colombian rebels) was packaged as an anti-narcotics program because "that's what sells." He's now a partner at the Scowcroft Group (founded by Brent Scowcroft). According to his online biography, "he organized and led the State Department's effort to achieve implementing legislation for the North American Free Trade Agreement."

Patrick Maugein is chairman of the French oil company SOCO international. He's a close friend of Jacques Chirac, and may have illegitimately received oil vouchers from Iraq during the nineties under the UN Oil for Food program.

Eduardo Mestre is Vice Chairman of Evercore Parners, an investment firm, and the son of a well-known Cuban radio mogul.

Edward Ney was US Ambassador to Canada. According to this article, he was also head of the advertising firm Young & Rubicam, and helped create George H.W. Bush's 1988 Willie Horton ad. The PR firm Burson-Marsteller, a subsidiary of Young & Rubicam, was instrumental in the push for NAFTA.

Alberto Verme is now head of Global Investment Banking for Citigroup.

Paul Volcker, of course, was the Chairman of the Federal Reserve before Alan Greenspan. He more recently led the investigation of the Oil for Food Program.

Count Wilhelm Wachtmeister is the former Swedish ambassador to the US, as well as "dean of the diplomatic corps and a favorite tennis partner of the first President Bush."

• • •

So, there you have it. In the US empire, military and economic decisions are made by exactly the same people. So it shouldn't be surprising if they are considering exactly the same issues in both cases.

Of course, those on the receiving end of these decisions might put it another way: the military and economic decisionmakers are two fingers on the same fist.

April 16, 2005

What Is This?

Can you tell what this is a picture of? I'm not sure I could have guessed.

UPDATE: Okay, everyone except for me seemed able to guess immediately. But can you name the Isaac Asimov story about a photograph just like this, and what the characters in the story see?

Bob Harris, Right Again

Bob Harris has further thoughts about the "America We Stand As Glurge" video:

I'm almost starting to feel bad for the guy, who has been mocked mercilessly for what was apparently a completely sincere effort. I mean, how would you feel? Years after making this obscure little power-ditty for charity in the wake of 9/11 (and remember, a lot of folks had their brains scrambled by all that), his total web traffic apparently doubles in just two weeks -- and almost all of it from people who think he's suddenly a poster boy for everything crass in American culture...

Granted, the video has perfectly captured the wide-eyed innocent empty screaming averageness Christopher Guest and friends have built entire careers out of simulating. There's no getting around that. Rarely has such a perfect item ever been created. You can almost imagine people holding midnight showings and acting out the parts in costume...

You should read it all.

April 15, 2005

A Birthday Interview With Chris Floyd

Today this website turns one year old. While I don't want to embarrass you with an unseemly display of emotion, I will say it's one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. It's been a great pleasure to get to know so many like-minded people. Or in some cases, like-minded AI algorithms. I very much appreciate everyone who stops by.

So to celebrate, today will inaugurate a new feature here: intermittent interviews. The first is with the journalist Chris Floyd, whose work (as I've mentioned previously) I greatly admire.

Floyd writes the weekly "Global Eye" column for the Moscow Times. Empire Burlesque, based on his columns, is available as an ebook here; he also has a new blog called Empire Burlesque. Some of his columns are archived here and here. A more detailed biography of Floyd can be found here.

We spoke by phone several days ago.

• • •

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in a small town about 40 or 50 miles from Nashville, Tennessee. Way in the deep country there. A farming town of about 900 people. My father worked at the feed store and was a Baptist deacon, and my mother worked as a bank clerk. Your standard heartland, homeland red-state, red meat-eating place.

I'm supposed to be the kind of guy who loves Bush. That's my background. I know the kind of people he's aiming at.

My father is conservative in a lot of his attitudes about social mores and the like. Both my parents really are red state people. My father's a Korean war veteran. He was in the Naval Reserves. I remember him slamming the people protesting Vietnam. He's a right down the line, literal-word-of-God guy.

But both he and my mother hate Bush with a passion. Boy, they hate him, because they see what he's doing. He's destroying the lives of people just like them. Middle-class people who have been driven to the margins, who need medical care, whose jobs and communities and civic structures are being wiped out.

That always encourages me. They come from the culture that Bush is supposedly appealing to. And of course you read the polls and you see that Bush isn't that popular in the first place.

I think where Bush gets his support is the suburbs. The people who go to churches that seat 3000. It's people in the exurbs, the suburbs. This is where the big strength of the Bush cult lies. More down South, the part of the country I really know about, they might go for Bush for some of these social reasons, if he pushes their buttons on gay marriage or especially gun control.

But like my father, many of them don't really like Bush. They don't like what's happening in their lives. But the spineless national Democrats don't give them anything either. They don't stand up for working people anymore—just look how many Democrats voted for the Bankruptcy Bill, a measure that's going to rip the guts out of the lives of countless working people and the poor. So where are these people supposed to turn? Some go to the Bush cult, but many of them have just sort of dropped out. They don't care about politics anymore. They don't want to hear about it.

So, how did you come to see the world the way you do?

Well, I was a kid in the sixties. I was born in 1958. And I was lucky because I have two older brothers, five and six years older than me, and they were teenagers in the sixties. They brought all the sixties culture into the house. They were the only people around with Nehru jackets, dead cool guys, blasting Motown, Bob Dylan, Hendrix through the house.

And at that time the general national culture itself was more liberal. Our paper there, the Tennessean, was run by John Seigenthaler, the great civil rights campaigner who used to be an aide to Bobby Kennedy. The media in those days just didn't roll over and pander to power. They went after LBJ's lies about Vietnam. They ripped into Nixon over Cambodia. And then Watergateevery day, I'd come home from football practice and tune in to Sam Ervin raking some Nixon bagman over the coals. There was a less obsequious attitude to authority, a healthy skepticism, not just in the counter-culture, but in the Establishment as well.

And the Christian part of it—as I say, my father is a very strong Christian—they didn't bring politics into it back then. It was perfectly possible to be a good believing Christian and a strong liberal Democrat. And my father was deeply interested in history and politics, on every level, local, national, world. He was mayor of our town for a while, state politicians sought him out for endorsements, to get in good with the locals—people like Al Gore, or "Little Al," as my father called him. When Gore ran his first Congressional campaign, my father introduced him around town. My father was also a great amateur archaelogist, unearthed thousands of flint arrowheads left behind by the American Indians who once used middle Tennessee as a huge hunting preserve, common ground for several tribes. So there was no sense back then that being religious meant closing down your mind or following some political agenda.

When I was a teenager, my brother and I used to watch televangelists on late night TV, because they were so funny. Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson, you know, curing bunions over the airwaves. We'd watch them and laugh. I've watched these people for 30 years now, slowly moving from the fringes of the fringe to the very center of state power. They're not so funny anymore. It looks like the joke was on us.

Also, like a lot of people, I was influenced by things like National Lampoon—back in the early seventies, when it was really funny, with that sharp, acerbic take on "normal" American life—just a totally different sensibility from our Southern Baptist background. And old Bogart movies, which ran every weekend: The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, Key Largo—there's a real moral sensibility for you.

You know, people who do comedy generally are highly moralistic and judgmental. They're all angry at the world, and they believe if they make enough jokes, people will wise up and change things. Later they dissolve into bitterness and misanthropy because they think they haven't accomplished anything. But I think the people who dissolve into bitterness just don't see that they HAVE changed things.

It's true. You can do an issue of National Lampoon, and one twirpy kid in middle Tennessee will have their mind completely turned around by it. But you don't know you've reached people like that. Or take Monty Python. They've affected the sensibilities of millions of people.

Were your parents unhappy to have National Lampoon and sixties music in your house?

That was the thing about parents of that generation. Like a lot of parents nowadays, I've probably been too involved with my children in that way, trying to know everything they're reading, watching, listening to, analyzing it all, calibrating the potential effects, and so on. I don't think we give children enough space in that regard. But my parents didn't care too much about things like that. The only thing they didn't like is when my brother brought home an album by Steppenwolf. It had a song called "God Damn the Pusher Man," and my parents couldn't quite hack having someone shouting "god damn" through the house on Sunday morning—even though my brother pointed out that it's an anti-drug song.

So, I was interested in all of this growing up. And then Reagan came along, which would have radicalized anybody with half a brain. Plus, I was a Russian literature major in college, so I was steeped in Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, Pasternak and Chekhov, all that deep moral purpose, that restless search for meaning and truth.

How did you get interested in Russian literature?

I'd always been interested in Russian culture. In the seventies when Solzhenitzyn was in the news all the time, I read The Cancer Ward and his other books. I hadn't read a lot of literature before college, but my girlfriend at the time said, you ought to read some great novels. I'd heard of Dostoevsky, so I went to the bookstore and I bought The Idiot. Ended up taking Russian language and everything else.

So I learned Russian and could read Russian, although I didn't do anything with it until I moved to Russia in 1994. By that time I'd forgotten so much of it that I could just get by. I couldn't sit around the kitchen table with people and have the kind of conversations about the human soul that you're supposed to have in Russia.

Do you like Gogol?

Yes, although he was one of the first Russian authors I read, and he almost put me off the whole thing. His Russian is really complicated and hard to follow.

By the way, if you like Gogol, you should definitely read The Master and Margarita. It's about Satan coming to Moscow in the thirties in the guise of a magician. It's got everything: Satan in Moscow, Jesus on the cross, naked witches, a Walpurgisnacht, rank hypocrites getting their just desserts in the most satisfyingly horrible ways. And also, by the way, deep moral purpose and restless search for meaning and truth.

What did you do after college?

I worked for a couple of newspapers. Then I went to work for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, up there in east Tennessee where they built the bomb. It's a huge federal research facility, and I worked for them as an editor and writer. You had to pass armed guards every morning to get in. It was the belly of the belly of the beast. The Defense Department did lots of stuff there, and the Department of Energy.

Did working there open your eyes to various political things?

The funny thing is, it really didn't. It was just like any regular job. Except I sort of fell through the cracks. They would give me an assignment and I would do it and then they would forget about me for weeks on end.

So I'd just read and read and read. That's when I really read Gore Vidal. That turns your head around. Here was one of the elite, talking from behind the screen. It was an eye opener.

You were sitting around at Oak Ridge reading books by Gore Vidal?

Yeah. Gore Vidal. The complete works of George Eliot. Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars. Of course, Oak Ridge didn't provide them as part of the facility. Had to bring 'em in.

How long were you there?

About six years. I eventually left to work for someone I met there who'd started a company creating educational software... in fact, using a lot of technology she'd learned there at Oak Ridge. So I annotated Shakespeare plays, classic American literature, British poetry, all kinds of stuff, for multimedia editions for universities.

It finally all fell apart, and I went to Russia.

How did you end up in Russia?

Because of a woman, basically. I got involved with a woman who worked at the American embassy in Moscow, so I went over there. Then I applied for a job at the Moscow Times. In one form or another I've been doing work for them for almost 11 years, but I was actually only in Russia for two years total, from 1994 to 1996.

So you were in Moscow for the craziest times?

Well, maybe not the craziest times. The craziest time was right when the Soviet Union collapsed. Then later they had another economic collapse, right after I left—although it wasn't my fault, really.

I was there for the Yeltsin election. He originally had a 3% approval rating, yet... somehow... pulled it out. All the Western powers wanted him to win, because the alternative was the communists. And there was a chance of that, because there was so much anger. In the nineties democracy became a dirty word in Russia. They associated democracy with rampant corruption, with the collapse of their whole social structure, the collapse of health care. "Democracy" means grandma is on the street selling her stockings.

I remember one weekend as a perk the paper sent us to a resort outside Moscow. Just this nice little place with a swimming pool, shuffleboard, pool tables, set beside a beautiful frozen lake and forested grounds. But this had originally been built for steelworkers, set aside for them a free place of recreation. This is the kind of thing that people had in their lives before that was suddenly gone, and replaced not with, say, a nice New England-style cozy democracy, but with violent anarchy and deprivation.

And Yeltsin was a part of that. He was a sad case, because he was brave when he stared down the coup after they kidnapped Gorbachev. But he became very corrupt. There was corruption all around him, violence all around him. Clinton was willing to cover for him all the time.

Yeltsin was like Blair, though, in that he was very lucky in his opposition. The leader of the communist party then was this complete lump, Zyuganov. Out of the Brezhnev mold, except he made Brezhnev look like Abraham Lincoln.

Anyway, when I was there it was wild enough on its own. You'd go out to eat in some restaurant, and the next day read in the paper how someone had been machine gunned there right after you'd left.

We worked on Pravda Street, which is where all the old Soviet newspapers were. One guy at another paper across the way was investigating corruption in the army for a Russian paper. One day he got blown up in his office. There was a lot of stuff like that going on.

I loved it, though. Moscow is a very strange place, even to Russians. You can't really say you belong there, but that's where I felt most at home in the world. Rilke said Russia was his spiritual homeland. It gets to people that way.

By the way, when you edit this, be sure to keep in me mentioning Rilke. Makes me sound really cultured. And I know how to pronounce it, too.

Another American writer who loves Russia is Ian Frazier. He's said a Russian friend of his once told him Russia exists to take human nature to its extremes.

That's exactly right. Yes, they take it to extremes, particularly anything imported from the West. They took Marxism and turned it into this giant googly-moogly of Bolshevism. Then they took capitalism and turned it into hyper-gangster capitalism. There's something in the Russian character, or Russian geography, or the Russian whatever.

Does the Moscow Times publish in English only?

Yes. It was started by some Dutch guys right after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. (They made their money setting up the Dutch lottery.) And immediately there was a huge English-speaking expatriate circle. There were Americans, and Brits, and a giant number of Irish. The Irish got there first for some reason, and there were all these Irish supermarkets and pubs. There was an Irish mafia.

There were lots of people from the paper during that period who you see now all over the place. Carlotta Gall, who's in Afghanistan now for the New York Times. I used to take her dictation when she'd call on her satellite phone from Chechnya. Anne Barnard, who's in Baghdad for the Boston Globe. Frank Brown, my roommate in Moscow, who writes for Newsweek now. Matt Taibbi was there.

Taibbi was a great reporter, a big, honking goon of a guy who'd ride with the police and get down in the real Moscow dirt. He used to make fun of me because I wore this black shirt with a pink tie—I had about four changes of clothes altogether while I was there, living out of a couple of suitcases—so he started calling me "Cheap Trick," because he thought I looked like one of the singers from that old band. Which I suppose tells you something about his musical tastes.

What do you think about the conjecture that the Russian government actually was responsible for the apartment bombings blamed on the Chechens just before Putin was elected? I should specify that all I know about this is two articles I read on the internet.

Well, that's all you need to know. Now you could be a columnist for the New York Times. Now you're Nicholas Kristof.

Anyway... to believe that about the Russian government is nuts. You know, it's like believing the president of the US could get a memo saying bin Laden is about to attack and then do nothing.

Yes, that's just craziness.

When it first happened I thought the government could be involved. And now this renegade oligarch, Berezovsky, who's in exile here in England, claims he has proof.

It is a fact that shortly after the first bombings, a group of local police in Ryazan found some Russian intelligence agents putting explosives in the basement of another apartment building. And the agents said, "Oh, this is just a drill!"

Of course, we'll never know because they never investigated it in any real way. My gut feeling is that someone in the government was involved, whether Putin knew about it or not. It didn't make sense for the Chechens at the time, and it was entirely too convenient for the Russian intelligence services. It got them everything they wanted.

That's my take, for what it's worth.

All this stuff is murky, and governments like it that way. It's like that Dylan song: "It's a shadowy world, skies are slippery grey."

Yes. I've made a conscious decision to never learn anything about the JFK assassination.

That's a very wise choice.

Inevitably I'd feel I'd have to learn EVERYTHING about it. I mean, I'd need a whole other life.

Seriously, though, I think in these situations there's often less than meets the eye. It's not that the government doesn't conspire to cover things up. It's that they're covering up things that are less exciting than you think. For instance, if I had to put money on it, I'd bet that the US government had no involvement in Kennedy's assassination. To us it appears like they might have, because they're so shifty. But I wouldn't be surprised if what they were always trying to cover up was all the embarrassing things Oswald was connected to...stuff with Cuba, trying to kill Castro, and so on. But not, you know, Lyndon Johnson on the grassy knoll pulling the trigger.

I'd tend to agree with that. A genuinely transparent investigation of the Kennedy assassination would have uncovered all these unsavory connections that instead have dribbled out piecemeal over the years. Their instinct is always to cover stuff up. And while I have no sympathy for the Warren Commission, the one thing they were trying to do that was reasonable was head off the war fever to attack the communists for killing the president. So you see a cover story and think they're covering up a deeper lie than they are.

And given my experience with human beings, I'd say they just can't maintain huge conspiracies over any length of time. They like to talk too much.

That may be the situation with 9/11... that they're not covering up that Bush called someone up one day and said, Now's the time to do it, I'm at 43% in the polls. Hit it now! They're trying to cover up unsavory connections with the Pakistani secret service and so on, plus their complete incompetence and criminal negligence.

But then, as you've pointed out in your columns, it IS true that governments sometimes consider terrorist attacks on their own citizens.

Yes—obviously that's true, as with Operation Northwoods. The Joint Chiefs of Staff came up with this whole plan they gave to Kennedy about setting the stage for an invasion of Cuba. They were going to blow up ships, plant bombs in US cities. And Kennedy said no.

These things are labyrinths. Once you get in them you'll never get out.

Noam Chomsky once jokingly said that if he were running the government, he would try to create some subject for people to obsess about, like the Kennedy assassination, so that everyone would miss the actual, indisputable horrible things happening right in front of their eyes.

In broad daylight. The fact that our government launched a war of aggression, which is an international war crime, is right in front of our eyes. They wave flags about it. There's no conspiracy. It's not nine guys in a room somewhere, or Sam Giancana. It's right there in your face.

When all's said and done, why do you care about this? After all, rationally speaking, the difference one person can make is miniscule.

Really, it's just that I can't dance. Otherwise I'd be doing that.

Which reminds me something I read in Rolling Stone, somewhere around 1975. It was in the Random Notes section, about a Marxist-Leninist dance band, done up like Sly Stone or Bootsy Collins, magnificent afros and platform boots. And one of their songs was, "You Been Dancing, Should Be Marching, So You Can Dance Some More Later On."

That's been in my head for thirty years. It'll be the title of my autobiography.

April 14, 2005

Brian Lamb Tells It Like It Is

As we know, Bob Somerby of The Daily Howler is in constant danger of his head blowing up. This is because he believes the media should actually be informing people about the world. When it doesn't, which happens 17,000 times a day, his skull creaks and pops like a diving submarine.

By contrast, I have no such problems. As I always like to say, I think the US media does a FANTASTIC job. Day after day after day, they do outstanding work.

By this, of course, I mean they're focused like a laser on what they exist to do: make as much money as possible for their owners. True, they do a horrible job at informing people about the world, but you should expect that. A chainsaw does a fantastic job at cutting things in half. But you shouldn't expect it to brush your teeth very well.

So, I was happy to find this exchange between Brian Lamb of C-Span and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, when Goodman was interviewed for the book Exception to the Rulers:

LAMB: Let me ask you this, though, you talk about CBS, NBC and ABC and lots of others—if they're so wrong about what they do, why do all of them do what they do and you do what you do? I mean, if you were right, wouldn't they look at you and say, well, that makes more sense than what we're doing?

GOODMAN: It's not a matter of who's right and who's wrong. The...

LAMB: But they're making lots of money.

GOODMAN: They are.

LAMB: So it's working.

Brian Lamb is exactly right: the chainsaw is doing a great job at what it's designed to do. Vrooom!

April 13, 2005

The Left And Death, Sittin' In A Tree, G-E-N-O-C-I-D-E

Several weeks ago I read a Peggy Noonan column about Terri Schiavo:

I do not understand the emotionalism of the pull-the-tube people...

The chairman of the Democratic National Committee... Democratic Underground... James Carville... They seem to have fallen half in love with death...

Those who are half in love with death will only become more red-fanged and ravenous.

When a society comes to believe that human life is not inherently worth living, it is a slippery slope to the gas chamber. You wind up on a low road that twists past Columbine and leads toward Auschwitz.

I must admit that at the time I thought Ms. Noonan was exaggerating to make a point about our country's left-wing. Oh, how wrong I was! If anything, Ms. Noonan was deliberately understating the situation. It's now clear The Left in this country is far more than HALF in love with death—as I realized when I received this invitation in the mail today:

The First Step On The Road To Peace Is Calling Each Other "Microbes"

I have some advice for nutjob Islamic fundamentalists. Are you ready, nutjobs? Here comes the advice:

Your propaganda needs to be more sophisticated.

I say this to you nutjobs with all love, because you're missing out on some wonderful opportunities. Take this section of a recent New York Sun article:

...meetings [in 2002 between the US and Hezbollah] were arranged by a former British MI-6 officer, Alastair Crooke, who served as the European Union's liaison with Hamas between 2001 and 2003, before he was recalled to London.

[Israeli] Reservist Brigadier General Shalom Harari*, said the former MI-6 officer had "become addicted to Hamas... What happened to Crooke is what happened to many researchers who make research on biology. He fell in love with the microbes he was researching."

Can't you nutjobs see that this is PURE GOLD? If you had your act together, you would already have emailed it to every newspaper columnist in America, along with concerned quotes about "eliminationist rhetoric" from a professor at Brown holding a chair you endowed. By this time tonight the professor would be on cable television, talking more in sorrow than in anger about the way such statements permeate Israeli culture.

To see how microbe propaganda should be done, check out this recent dispatch from the pros at MEMRI:

As part of our Arab TV Monitor Project, MEMRI monitors Friday sermons from mosques throughout the Middle East which are broadcast on government TV stations.

Sheik Abd Al-Jalil Al-Nazir Al-Karouri gave another recent sermon, from the Al-Shahid Mosque in Khartoum on August 24, 2004.

..."Our advice [to America] is like that of [Benjamin] Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers: The malaria microbe known as the Jews, which the U.S. carries in its stomach, will kill it sooner or later.

Now THAT'S what I'm talking about! You better believe this sermon long ago made it into Bill O'Reilly's hot little hands. It's certainly been scooped up by the wonderful folks at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

So the Israeli nutjobs are fulfilling their responsibility, which is to hype your "side"'s nutjobbery. Why can't you Islamicist nutjobs bring your game up to their level?

BUT SERIOUSLY: One thing that fascinates me about propaganda is that it can be 100% true. For instance, I'm sure the MEMRI mosque quote is real. The secret is to heavily publicize all the craziest statements from your "enemy," while never acknowledging your "own" lunatics.

And to be fair to Islamicist nutjobs, they sometimes seem to do an okay job of this. There have been many psycho statements by American Christians about Islam, such as Billy Graham's son Frank declaration that Islam "is a very wicked and evil religion." Concerned Christian missionaries in Islamic countries have reported back that:

"Comments by Christians in the West about Islam and Muhammad can and do receive much attention in our cities and communities on local radio, television and print sources."

(NY Sun story via Laura Rozen. Missionary statement via American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush by Kevin Phillips.)

*I particularly appreciate Shalom Harari's first name. Hey, you microbes: Shalom!

April 12, 2005

Thank You, Chris Floyd

A few days ago Salon.com ran an interview with the prominent British novelist Ian McEwan. Some of McEwan's claims about the invasion of Iraq deeply irritated me.

So I was gratified to see Chris Floyd was irritated too and has already written everything I might have said. This saves me lots of work:

[McEwan's] glib "analysis" betrays a painful ignorance of political reality. First of all, the "war for oil" argument has never been, "The U.S. only wants lots of oil." That's strawman-making with a vengeance. The charge—fully substantiated by the Bush gang's own copious writings about their geopolitical ambitions ("Project for the New American Century," et al)—is that a group of elite interests in the U.S. want to control access to world energy resources in order to maintain and expand their own power and privilege (which they equate with "American interests"), and to put the squeeze on any potential rivals for geopolitical predominance in the coming decades, such as China and India. Whoever has their hand on the oil spigot—or controls, by threats and bribes, those who do—can shape the future to their own ends. This power is what the Bushist elite wants, not just the actual black stuff under the ground.

If you like this kind of vicious writerly in-fighting, you also shouldn't miss another well-deserved smackdown Floyd gave Spy Magazine founder Kurt Andersen. I admire Kurt Andersen for all kinds of reasons, but in this particular instance he was cruising for a metaphorical bruising.

Well... At Least We Don't Use Curse Words

1. During the Kurdish uprisings in Iraq in 1991, the Kurds seized some tapes of Iraqi government meetings. On one of the tapes, Ali Hassan al-Majid (ie, "Chemical Ali") gleefully discussed his use of chemical weapons against the Kurds. Then he famously said:

"Who is going to say anything? The international community? Fuck them! The international community and those who listen to them!"

2. A recent AP story reported the release—over the objections of the Bush administration—of transcripts of tribunals at Guantanamo Bay. The president of one of the tribunals is recorded saying:

"I don't care about international law. I don't want to hear the words 'international law' again. We are not concerned with international law."

3. I have a headache.

(AP story via Charles Kinbote.)

April 11, 2005

Sexy Sexy Satan Sex

Many people have noticed a Washington Post article about a recent big conference called "Confronting the Judicial War on Faith." However, few have analyzed this section:

...lawyer-author Edwin Vieira told the gathering that [Supreme Court Justice Anthony] Kennedy should be impeached because his philosophy, evidenced in his opinion striking down an anti-sodomy statute, "upholds Marxist, Leninist, satanic principles drawn from foreign law."

Now, it should go without saying that sodomy is Marxist/Leninist/Satanic/Foreign, but you'd be surprised how many people don't know this. Or maybe you wouldn't be surprised, given the state of our nation's public schools!

Anyway, we all owe Mr. Vieira a debt of gratitude for emphasizing this. The only place I'd quibble with him is that he didn't delve into the larger issue. Yes, sodomy is Marxist/Leninist/Satanic/Foreign. But other sex acts are as well. And then there are the sex acts that are Marxist & Satanic & Foreign, but not Leninist; some that are merely Satanic & Foreign; and even a few (a very few) that are merely Satanic.

To lessen the confusion, I've produced the below Venn diagram that should help you understand sex better. As you'll see:

• all sexual acts are Satanic, with two small exceptions (see lower right hand corner and far right)

• most sex is drawn from foreign law, and all sex drawn from foreign law is Satanic (with one small exception; again, see far right)

• Lenin was an "invert"

I hope this clears things up. Please let me know if you have any questions about this important topic.

The First Of Many Cyberball-Themed Posts

David R. Mark recalls his long-ago days playing Cyberball with Brian Darling, the aide to Senator Mel Martinez who wrote the infamous memo about Terri Shiavo.

For those whose lives have been bleak and Cyberball-less, it was an Atari arcade game in which your imaginary team of future robots played football against your opponent's imaginary team of future robots.

As Many As Three People Will Find This Typo Hilarious

One little known aspect of the cold war is the assistance the AFL-CIO gave the US government—particularly the CIA—overseas. Generally this meant the AFL would try to organize competitors to unions that were deemed too left-wing. But they sometimes did more than that; for instance, in Chile in the early seventies the AFL helped the CIA damage the Chilean economy. The hope was this would also damage the Allende government and create the conditions for a military coup, which it did. (Some background on this general issue is here.)

So, people in progressive labor circles used to jokingly refer to the "AFL-CIA." It's therefore funny that when Daniel Moynihan entered a 1989 NY Post op-ed about that year's Salvadoran elections in the Congressional Record, it included this apparent typo:

The 17-person election observer team of the AFL-CIA reported that "at approximately 8:30 in the morning, a truck carrying campesinos from La Prensa cooperative was attacked with machine-gun fire. Ten people were wounded, three gravely."

If you read the whole thing, you'll see exactly why the CIA liked the AFL-CIO.

April 10, 2005

Yet Another Joke About Economists And Shit

Via Maxspeak, here's an article about a Harvard economics professor allegedly stealing manure from a horse farm:

Stable manager Phillip Casey says Martin Weitzman, Harvard University's Ernest E. Monrad Professor of Economics, has been stealing manure from Charlie Lane's Rockport farm for years.

This reminds me a joke!

Two economists were walking down the street one day when they passed two large piles of dog shit.

The first economist said to the other, "I'll pay you $20,000 to eat one of those piles of shit." The second one agrees and chooses one of the piles and eats it. The first economist pays him his $20,000.

Then the second economist says, "I'll pay you $20,000 to eat the other pile of shit." The first one says okay, and eats the shit. The second economist pays him the $20,000.

They resume walking down the street.

After a while, the second economist says, "You know, I don't feel very good. We both have the same amount of money as when we started. The only difference is we've both eaten shit."

The first economist says: "Ah, but you're ignoring the fact that we've engaged in $40,000 worth of trade!"

Of course, this joke only makes sense if you know that economists tend to believe trade is always good, no matter what the circumstances. In this case, an economist would say the trade actually was mutually beneficial, since both parties clearly felt it was worth $20,000 to them to see the other one eat shit. Yet neither one was out of pocket any money at the end.

I Respect My Comment Spam For Not Sucking Up To Me

I used to get comment spam that said things like "Dead on post!" or "Excellent point—I've bookmarked this site!" Then I'd get offended by the implication that I was so hungry for obsequious flattery that I wouldn't delete it.

So I'm pleased to say I just got spam (on the post "The Grand Re-Opening of BobHarris.com") saying:

i have to say i disagree

All right! I like the idea of healthy debate, even if one side of the debate is non-human!

While I went ahead and deleted it anyway, I urge you to visit the good people at

The Best Dental Insurance Info

for all your Best Dental Insurance Info needs.

NOTE: The link doesn't seem to lead anywhere, but that is part of the eternal mystery that is comment spam.

April 09, 2005

I Ask You: Must We Carry On?

Via Bob Harris, here is a unique product of American culture. (Quicktime required.) Details about its origin and creator can be found here.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned... everyone who watches this video dies exactly seven days later.

April 08, 2005

Happy Birthday To Seymour Hersh

Matthew Sullivan points out that today is Seymour Hersh's 68th birthday.

His office is listed in the phone book. If by 10 pm ET today ten people say in the comments here that you think I should, I will call him and leave a message wishing him a happy birthday from me and whoever comments. Or if anyone else wants to do it, feel free to volunteer.

UPDATE @ 9:47 pm ET: Voting has been extended to 11 pm ET, for two reasons. First, there is not yet a clear decision, with 6 yes votes, 1 no, 2 ruined ballots and 1 where the intent of the voter could not be discerned. Second, if I do call I want to wait until it's pretty certain he's gone.

UPDATE @ 11:09 pm ET: VOTING IS CLOSED. The race was extremely close (9 votes to call), but due to the arbitrary-but-completely-binding rules I set up, there will be no call to Mr. Hersh.

But—all is not lost. If I remember, I'll do this again next year on his 69th birthday.

Jane Fonda: A Non-Hero For The Ages

Mr. Dennis Perrin points out something dreadful-but-not-surprising about Jane Fonda's new memoir here and here.

Least-Loved Marx Brothers Movies

The most famous Marx Brothers movies had titles that fell into one of two categories:

(1) Animal themes. For instance, Animal Crackers (1930), Monkey Business (1931), Horse Feathers (1932) and Duck Soup (1933).

(2) A ______ at the _______. Examples include A Night at the Opera (1935) and A Day at the Races (1937).

As their film careers sputtered in the forties, they tried to recapture the old magic by revisiting similar themes. However, the Brothers' hearts weren't truly in it. In retrospect, this is obvious from the films' titles alone:

A Morning at the Drugstore Pharmacy (1941)
Gorilla Nougat (1944)
A Tea-Time at the Real Estate Broker (1946)
Lizard Omelet (1947)
An Afternoon at the Hospice (1948)

And their final, disastrous film:

Snail Hullabaloo (1950)

UPDATE: Dennis Perrin reminds us of these other Marx Brothers films from their decline:

A Seizure at the Petting Zoo (1939)
Hedgehog Matzohs (1945)
A Cocktail Party at the Slaughterhouse (1949)

April 07, 2005

Finally, Someone To Blame For This Website

Do you want to blame someone for this website? (God knows I do.) If so, you should direct your completely justified anger toward Doug Henwood, editor of the newsletter Left Business Observer.

Here's why:

1. Six years ago I bought Henwood's book Wall Street: How it Works and for Whom.
2. Because I liked the book, I signed up for Henwood's email listserv lbo-talk.
3. Via Henwood's listserv I learned about Max Sawicky and his website Maxspeak!.
4. Due to the inspiration of Maxspeak! (plus a few other factors) this site was born.


Henwood has just made Wall Street available for free as a pdf file. If you're interested in the financial world, I recommend that you check it out and then send Henwood some money.

Wall Street is dense but entertaining. Henwood mixes cogent explanations of abstruse economic concepts and sharp journalism with informed speculation about the sexual tendencies of Wall Street traders. (For instance, see footnote 19 on page 115. You pervert.)

What makes it so valuable is that the financial world has a huge impact on politics and just general life—but essentially no one except Doug Henwood writes about it both skeptically and knowledgeably. As Henwood says, "It's rare that someone should develop an obsession with Wall Street without sharing its driving passion, the accumulation of money."

So, America is lucky to have him. Go appreciate his work and shower him with cash.

A Plaintive Question

Colin Whitworth asks:

Q: Why was the Iraqi WMD informant called "Curveball"?

A: Because "Screwball" was taken.

April 06, 2005

My First Acts As Pope

Within the next few weeks, the College of Cardinals will meet and elect a new pope. Unless I've completely misunderstood the process, I expect that new pope to be me.

In my first acts as pope, I shall:

1. Choose my pope name: "Pope Pope the Popey I"

2. Graciously accept payment from all the people who bet me I wouldn't be pope

3. Break with Vatican protocol by granting my first interview to Martha Stewart Living

4. Break with Vatican protocol by recording a duet of "Islands in the Stream" with Dolly Parton

5. Excommunicate anyone who questions either of these decisions

6. Now that I'm famous, start asking out supermodels

7. Declare that the "Rock" upon whom the church is built is not Peter, but the movie star and pro wrestler

8. Stop chewing tobacco, at least in public

9. Get into a brawl with the Dalai Lama

10. Finally read the Bible

April 03, 2005

Beautiful Beautiful Beautiful

Mike Gerber and I went to see the new documentary The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. I don't know what motivated Mike, given his peculiar and frankly unwholesome tastes, but I wanted to go because of enthusiastic recommendations by the Daily Howler here and here.

It's about Mark Bittner, a man who has for many years fed, studied and loved a flock of wild parrots in San Francisco. The unusual thing is that it's simultaneously (1) rated G, appropriate for all ages and something kids will love; and (2) extremely adult and complex.

I won't say much more about it, except:


You can find out more at the movie website or Mark Bittner's site.

You cannot resist this. You can't. I defy you to watch the trailer—especially the part at the end with Bittner singing and one of the parrots dancing along—and not want to see this.

April 02, 2005

Chris Floyd & The Snarling Rictus

The writer and journalist Chris Floyd has a new website, which you should immediately visit and bookmark.

I'm a longtime fan of Floyd's writing. He combines literary flair, historical awareness and opinions I agree with. You can find out more about him at another website, this one about his book Empire Burlesque.

Some of Floyd's recent columns can be found here and here, as well as sprayed across the internet. Be sure not to miss one of my favorite pieces of all, "Animal House":

Every now and then the mask slips, and we see the true face of the system that marshals the world. For an instant, the heavy paint of sober wisdom and moral purpose falls away, and there, suddenly, with jolting clarity, is the snarling rictus of an ape.

Last week gave us two such moments: a quantum collision, where past and present co-exist temporarily, their overlapping images phasing in and out of synch, now Nixon now Bush now Kissinger now Rumsfeld, mouths, eyes, snarls morphing and shifting, with only one image holding constant between the eras—the twisted, shivered bodies of dead innocents...

Yet there's nothing uniquely "American" in these criminal policies, and the hypocrisy surrounding them. It's how elites have behaved from time immemorial, from the days of the apes: baring their teeth and pounding their chests, ruling through fear and violence, beating, biting, raping, whatever it takes to keep them at the top of the tree. They disguise their savagery—even from themselves—with masks of pomp and piety, but what moves them is the spirit of the beast, the blind gut-lust for dominance, the ape-remnants that live on in our brains. They're too weak, too stupefied with corruption to rise above this inherent bestiality.


Things! Things! Things!

1. Yesterday's pudubl*gging by Bob Harris is particularly funny and enlightening.

2. Joe Dunn, a California state senator, has written an important diary for Daily Kos about the use of pension funds to rein in corporate abuses. It's surprising, and very encouraging, to see an actual politician dealing with actual politics.

You can read more about the bizarre anomaly that is Joe Dunn at his website.

3. Gloria Lalumia of BuzzFlash attended a recent Seymour Hersh lecture. (Via Le Roi De Zembla.)

4. David Swanson writes about the new bankruptcy bill for Black Commentator.

5. Once every 42 years, the Washington Post publishes a worthwhile column about US foreign policy. Check back again in 2047.

April 01, 2005

How I Love People

On the one hand, it's sad we invaded Iraq on the basis of lies about WMD. But there is an upside, too, which is the endless stream of government reports about our lies about WMD. Read carefully, these reports demonstrate something I've always believed—the US government is filled with human beings. Which is to say, lovable numbskulls.

Too many people believe the CIA, White House, etc. are filled with supergeniuses, either malevolent or benign. WRONG WRONG WRONG AND WRONG. They are just like you and me; ie, big doofuses. And while they are often malevolent, this arises from weaknesses of which we're all capable... greed, vanity, pettiness, and lust for the large office on the second floor that Tom got but that we deserve.

A truly beautiful example of this is found on page 89 of the government report released yesterday (pdf). Apparently at the beginning of the 2003 the CIA had started to have doubts about the key defector "Curveball." (Nice codename!) So they sent email to a Division Chief at the Defense Intelligence Agency asking for more information on Curveball.

The DIA division chief was irritated by this request and forwarded the CIA's email to subordinates, saying "CIA is up to their old tricks" and did not "have a clue" about how Curveball had been handled.


Who among us hasn't made this type of embarrassing email faux pas? And that's my point: you assume that people who have the power of life and death over so many would be more careful than the rest of us. But you assume wrong.

Best of all, it's not just Americans who assume the US government has some idea what it's doing. The final CIA report on Iraq's non-existent WMDs described the thoughts of those in Saddam's inner circle as war approached:

Saddam told them, “What can they discover, when we have nothing?” But some of the ministers were not as sure. [Minister of Military Industry] Huwaysh said he began to wonder whether Saddam had hidden something: “I knew a lot, but wondered why Bush believed that we had these weapons,” he said. Huwaysh could not understand why the United States would challenge Iraq in such stark and threatening terms, unless it had irrefutable information.