May 31, 2005
So, Christian Slater was just arrested for groping a woman.
This reminds me of a joke Mike and I sent to Weekend Update a while ago when Slater spent 90 days in prison for biting someone. They didn't use it, but I always thought it was funny:
Christian Slater has been sentenced to jail for biting a friend. Slater says his actions were caused by "low self-esteem."
That's the bad news. The good news is Slater's low self-esteem was caused by his belief that he wasn't brave enough to bite people.
I Wish I Lived In A World In Which There Were Such A Thing As Irony
Here's something else Dick Cheney said last night on Larry King:
CHENEY: I think there's a special obligation on major news organizations, when they're dealing with what can sometimes be life-and-death matters, to get it right.
This is the point at which Larry King, if he had any self respect, would have dumped a bucket of urine on Cheney.
Instead, King asked Cheney whether Newsweek had gotten the story wrong on purpose:
KING: Do you think it's deliberate?
KING: By the way, Mr. Vice President, the bottom of your shoe is particularly delicious today.
All Show Business
Uh huh. As Chris Floyd says in his latest column, we should be grateful to Dick Cheney, because he makes understanding the world so much easier:
Cheney is a pole star by which we can all plot our course on the roiling sea of spin and propaganda: whatever he says -- anything, on any subject -- is 100 percent guaranteed to be a lie. If you want to know the truth, simply look to the opposite of Cheney's assertions. If he says Iraq has WMD -- it doesn't. If he says the Bush Regime is not engaged in wholesale torture -- it is.
You should read it all.
May 30, 2005
Memorial Day Done Wrong
Memorial Day is supposed to be about soldiers who've died in all of America's wars. Veterans Day is for all veterans, whether they were killed in battle or not. But I'm going to ignore the rules and mention my late grandfather, who was in the Army during World War II but certainly didn't die then.
That's him, to the left. He was a captain for most of the war until he was promoted to major right at the end. He landed at Normandy on D-Day, although he was part of a military government corps—that is, the people responsible for setting up governments in liberated areas—so he was at the back.
Beyond this, my family doesn't know much about what he did during the war; he probably spent little or no time in combat, but whatever happened, he didn't talk about it much. But here are a few things my father and aunt remember that might or might not be accurate:
1. He had happy memories of giving candy and gum to French children
2. He accepted the surrender of several hundred German soldiers, which was ridiculous because because he was only a captain and had very few men with him. However, the Germans were desperate to give themselves up and my grandfather was the highest ranking American they could find.
3. He spent some time in charge of the 10th arrondissement in Paris. Most of his job consisted of trying to find the people who ran the arrondissement before the war and get them to start doing it again.
4. When the war was over, he may have traveled to Nuremberg to search for the members of his father's family who'd lived there. However, he couldn't find any of them.
That's about it. Below is another picture of him; he's in the back row, second from left. I have no idea who the other people are, although on the back of the picture is written "Mons, Belgium, Christmas Eve, 1944." Mons is a few hundred miles east-northeast from Normandy.
May 29, 2005
The Amazing And Shocking Thing Is What People Don't Find Amazing And Shocking
RAF bombing raids tried to goad Saddam into war
THE RAF and US aircraft doubled the rate at which they were dropping bombs on Iraq in 2002 in an attempt to provoke Saddam Hussein into giving the allies an excuse for war, new evidence has shown.
In a sense, of course, this shouldn't be news. In US foreign policy circles it was a given that we would carry out exactly this policy—ie, try to provoke Iraq into giving us some kind of pretext for the invasion that was going to happen no matter what.
The amazing thing is how accepted this was. For instance, The Threatening Storm by Kenneth Pollack was the book all good liberal hawks claimed had convinced them we just HAD to invade Iraq. And Pollack spoke about this strategy quite openly.
And yet as far as I can tell not a single member of the media pointed out how weird this was. (Of course, it's likely most of the people touting The Threatening Storm never bothered to read it.)
Specifically, Pollack writes about this in the "Case for an Invasion" chapter. He explains we have to invade Iraq because of Saddam's relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, other countries refuse to recognize this grave, grave danger. So in order to build as large a coalition as possible, we need some help from Iraq:
He then examines various possibilities and discards them: tying Iraq to a terrorist attack ("unfortunately, the terrorist attacks of September 11 point entirely to al-Qa'eda") and renewed weapons inspections ("as appealing as it might seem, it is a trap"). However:
The best part is that later ON THE SAME PAGE Pollack piously explains "the administration needs to do an honest job explaining to the American people... why the United States needs to undertake this effort."
So, there you have it: we're going to invade no matter what, but we should try to come up with some pretext, all the while being honest about why we're invading. If you're capable of believing that makes any sense whatsoever, you'll be a welcome member of the US foreign policy establishment.
After Downing Street
...to urge that the U.S. Congress launch a formal investigation into whether President Bush has committed impeachable offenses in connection with the Iraq war. The campaign focuses on evidence that recently emerged in a British memo containing minutes of a secret July 2002 meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top national security officials.
The odds of this actually happening are, of course, 7,000 to 1. However, that doesn't mean it's not very much worth trying.
One thing you can do immediately is write to your Congressional representative. You can also sign a letter to Bush requesting that he answer the five questions regarding the Downing Street Memo submitted to him by John Conyers and 88 other Congresspeople on May 5th. So far Bush has ignored them, because, you know, why should the president have to answer questions?
(Note that the main staff member for After Downing Street is David Swanson, the hardest working man in politics. So you know it's going to be good.)
May 27, 2005
Our Methods Of Being Cruel To Others Are Not As Creative As They Should Be
Given all the Koran hoo-ha, I'm surprised few people have paid attention to something the US definitely has done with detained Muslims: shave off their beards.
Many detainees have reported being shaved against their will. And we know this was part of US policy; on December 2, 2002, Donald Rumseld approved various interrogation techniques that included (pdf):
Human Rights Watch put out a press release about this, but it doesn't seem to have been picked up anywhere. And I assume this doesn't seem that important to most Americans. What's the big deal about shaving off a few beards? Shouldn't the detainees and the Islamic world generally just suck it up and get over it?
Well, maybe the below picture can make this issue clearer. I think everyone can probably figure out who's doing the shaving here and who's being shaved.
Of course, there's a critical difference between us and these German soldiers: they were doing it just for fun, while we have REASONS.
May 26, 2005
Revenge Of The Sith Will Suck Unless It Clears This Up
I haven't yet seen the new Star Wars movie. But I'm hoping it will answer what I believe is the greatest mystery of the Star Wars universe—something I've been wondering about since I saw the first one.
As we know, Han Solo assists in the rescue of Princess Leia because Luke tells him she's rich and the reward would be "more well than you could imagine." So they spring her from the Death Star's detention block and escape to the rebel base. There, as Luke and the rebel forces mobilize to attack the Death Star, there's a scene in which Han and Chewbacca are seen loading their reward onto the Millennium Falcon in plastic containers.
So, my question is this: what IS it? What's inside the containers? Paper money? Gold? 100% pure heroin?
This is a particularly urgent question because Han's getting whatever it is from a rebellion. Throughout history, revolutions have printed up their own money. The Continental Congress did during the American Revolution, the Assembly did during the French Revolution, the Bolsheviks did during the Russian Revolution, and so on.
But if the revolution fails, it's just a bunch of paper. For instance, one of my ancestors fought in the Civil War for the Wisconsin cavalry, and afterwards brought home as a souvenir some of the worthless dollars the Confederacy had printed. (I think my family still has them around someplace.) And even if a revolution wins, the money printed during the war may not be worth much. After the American Revolution, people started using the phrase "not worth a Continental" to describe something especially valueless. In the end, the new US government was only willing to redeem Continentals for bonds at 1/100th of face value.
Maybe George Lucas has let me down again and we'll never know. If so, I will continue doing what I've always done, which is imagine that the containers Han has received are filled with money that looks something like this:
May 25, 2005
Something Nice For A Goddamn Change
The hideous aspects of current events have been wearing on me lately. Of course, they've probably been wearing more on the people actually being killed, maimed, etc. But I've been suffering too, because I'm so sensitive.
Still, there's no point in focusing on the downside of lifeÃ¢â‚¬â€eg, that Planet Earth is run by psychotics. Instead, let's accentuate the positive aspects of existence: for instance, Mark and Steve O'Donnell.
The O'Donnells are twin brothers who've quietly been making things nicer for everyone in America for several decades. Both are extremely funny writers. Mark O'Donnell has mostly written plays/musicals (he co-wrote the script for the Broadway version of Hairspray) and books (such as the novel Getting Over Homer). Steve O'Donnell has mostly written for TV; he's best known for being head writer for Late Night with David Letterman when it was at its funniness peak during the eighties, and has also written for Chris Rock, the Simpsons, and (currently) Jimmy Kimmel.
Anyway, the O'Donnell brothers recently turned fifty, and interviewed each other for The Believer.
ALSO: The Believer also has an interview with Steve Martin, who supposedly is pretty funny himself.
May 23, 2005
Let's Force David Swanson To Stop Working So Hard So We Won't Look As Bad In Comparison
You should go visit.
May 22, 2005
Oily Oil Wars
If you're interested in Venezuela but aren't interested in the appalling crap about Venezuela that often appears in the US media, you should check out Oil Wars. Oil Wars isn't new, but it is new to me. So that's almost like being completely new.
Of course, as you can tell from its name, it's not just about VenezuelaÃ¢â‚¬â€it also covers the other oily mess, Iraq. Here's an excerpt from its first post:
This new blog "Oil Wars" will give ongoing news, analysis, and commentary regarding events in two countries where a liquid hydrocarbon, aka "oil", is the prime driver of current events.
In todays "post-industrial" world where information is transmitted around the world at the speed of light it is easy to overlook the importance of oil. However, almost nothing in the industrialized world would function without it. The entire transportation system is completely dependent on oil. Without it most workers could not arrive at their jobs, no materials could be transported to factories where they are needed, and no goods could be sent to market. Without oil there would be no lubricants, no jetting to distant shores for vacations, and no trips down to highway to visit grandparents or friends. Modern society would not exist as we know it without oil...
While many of us may have forgotten this the United States government has not.
May 20, 2005
The Greatest Historical Analogy Of All Time
You've probably already seen that yesterday Rick Santorum compared Democratic actions on the filibuster to Hitler in Paris in 1942:
Remarkable. Remarkable hubris. I mean, imagine... the audacity of some members to stand up and say, how dare you break this rule? It's the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942: "I'm in Paris. How dare you invade me? How dare you bomb my city? It's mine."
I believe even Hitler himself would endorse Senator Santorum's extremely accurate historical analogy.
May 19, 2005
Actually, It's Easier Than You Think
Tom Tomorrow says:
It must be tough to be a right wing blogger.
Every time you get your story straight, somebody comes along and screws up the narrative.
and points to an AP story about the International Red Cross reporting detainee complaints about mishandling of the Koran starting in 2002.
Mr. Tomorrow then sardonically adds:
Coming up next: righties earnestly discuss why the Red Cross hates America.
However, this sardonicnessism is misplaced. We've known FOR A LONG TIME the International Red Cross hates America.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (which is separate from the American Red Cross,) has completely lost its mind... The anti-American template must be followed...anything to make us look bad.
The International Red Cross, which is, well, kind of soft on terrorism, is demanding that Saddam Hussein either be released or charged by June 30, the handover day... Now I think we all admire the International Red Cross's compassion toward a vicious killer and this is just another example of how politicized the International Red Cross has become.
... the ICRC has become the leading practitioner of "lawfare"--a form of asymmetrical warfare that aims to constrain American power using the law.
We Are Being Unfair To Our Extremist Theocrats
Lots of people refer to extreme elements of the Christian RightÃ¢â‚¬â€particularly adherents of Dominion TheologyÃ¢â‚¬â€as the "American Taliban." But that's unfair to the extreme elements of the Christian Right. They got themselves organized before the Taliban. They're the O.G.s. So, it should be the other way around: we should refer to the Taliban as the "Afghan Dominionists."
And speaking of our homegrown Dominionists, there are two articles about them in the current issue of Harper's that are well worth reading. They're not online, but Tom Tomorrow has scanned in a section of one (written by Chris Hedges of War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, here.
May 18, 2005
We've Got To Pray To God They're Lying
I'd thought America's public life couldn't get any dumber, because if it did our autonomic nervous systems would stop functioning and we'd all die. But the Newsweek Korans-in-toilets affair has proven me wrong. At our new, lower level of intelligence, we couldn't win a battle of wits with a sea cucumber. Yet somehow we're still breathing.
Probably no first world country has a media as right wing and cowardly as the US. Most of it is garbage—as you'd expect, since it only exists to fill up the space between the ads. While there are many journalists who'd love to do a good job, the pressures on them make this almost impossible.
So every day the media is filled with 20 million mistakes, from misspelled names to garbled quotes to the uncritical transmission of lies that kill thousands of people. And the Newsweek thing WAS a mistake, even if the general story turns out to be be true; you really shouldn't publish something with such weak sourcing.
But of the 20 million daily mistakes, there are only consequences when the media steps on powerful toes. Journalists are free to create stories that are 99% crap and 1% truth, as long as its about Official Enemies or people without money. But write something that's 99% true and arguably 1% mistaken about a billionaire or US foreign policy, and you're going to media jail.
This is so obvious it might as well be written in letters of fire on Dick Cheney's forehead. So, the only thing that's interesting to me in the Newsweek blathering is whether or not the gleeful right wing reaction is sincere. For instance, here's Patrick Ruffini, the former webmaster for the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign:
Newsweek has now retracted its anonymously-sourced story about U.S. personnel at Guantanamo Bay desecrating the Koran... The damage that's been done is irreversible.
What kind of subculture generates these kinds of mistakes -- mistakes that conveniently tend always to fall in one direction? The same news media that was willing to believe this about U.S. troops was also willing to believe that they were deliberately targeting journalists. Had these reporters spent even one day in their formative years around the active-duty military, would we be seeing the slanted coverage we do today?
Apparently, this subculture is content to live and breed in a handful of closed-minded Eastern company towns, never interacting with the military they must cover so closely.
I assume this isn't sincere; I assume it's just politics to Ruffini. And if so, that's something I can respect. I might not agree with the Bush administration project of blood-soaked lies, but I admire hard work and competence in any field.
But... we have to consider the possibility that Ruffini actually believes what he's saying. It's one thing when the people in charge just spray everyone else with bullshit every day, but it's really something else when they start enthusiastically consuming the bullshit themselves. And it's possible that's what we're seeing here. America's right wing has built itself an entire self-enclosed fantasy world, and the people inside may be getting squirrelly.
Life in the United States now is like being trapped on a jet piloted by people who keep claiming there's a huge secret tunnel through the Rockies—and they're going to use it to fly us all through to the other side. You just have to pray to god they know they're lying.
ALSO: I'm sure Ruffini is NOT aware that the standard right-wing take on the media is classic anti-Semitism, just with "Jew" replaced by "liberal." I always enjoy Ann Coulter talking about the elite rootless cosmopolitans, with their insufficient allegiance to the Fatherland.
Still, while I'm certain Ruffini's heart is in the right place, it's somewhat weird to read about a "subculture" that's "content to live and breed in a handful of close-minded Eastern company towns." Well, at least he hasn't called for sterilization of the vermin so they can no longer reproduce.
PLUS, ANOTHER CONVENIENT MEDIA MISTAKE: Just when you think the radical left New York Times couldn't sink any lower, they come out with a story like today's "When You Wish Upon an Atom: The Songs of Science." Get this: they claim "They Might Be Giants produced 'Particle Man' and 'The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas.'"
Well, GUESS WHAT? There IS no song called "The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas." The song is actually called "Why Does the Sun Shine?"
Now, elite rootless cosmopolitans will claim this is just an honest mistake. Thank goodness we have Patrick Ruffini here to explain how these mistakes always "conveniently tend always to fall in one direction"—THE DIRECTION OF TEARING DOWN AMERICA BY GETTING SONG TITLES WRONG.
May 16, 2005
I Just Pray Our Uzbekistan Military Base Hasn't Been Damaged
More news from Uzbekistan:
"It was a massacre," said a 31-year-old cobbler who witnessed the killing outside School No. 15 from a side-street. "This sickening smell of blood, smashed brains, guts, and blood, blood, everywhere. I could not put my feet on a dry spot.
"I saw soldiers killing several wounded with single shots to the head after asking 'are there any wounded around'," he said...
He said he saw about 500 corpses in comments that could not be verified but were corroborated by others.
Sure, this looks bad. But there's NO WAY we could have seen this coming.
New Pill Lets You Launch Eight Blitzkriegs A Night!!!
Doug Ireland explains here why the world has suddenly witnessed an upsurge in German-language spam. Apparently Germany's Neo-Nazi National Democratic Party, in an attempt to boost its visibility for upcoming elections, has created a virus that generates the email.
This should come as no surprise, since among the email subject lines have been these:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Double the length of your Reich!
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Get Low Mortgage Rates for your Extensive Underground Bunker
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ NOW AVAILABLE: Cheap herbal Zyklon-B
Meanwhile, the neo-fascist party in Italy is still trying to figure out how to install AOL.
May 15, 2005
The Time Is Not Yet Right To Hate Islam Karimov
A while ago Matt Taibbi picked up on this:
In Soviet times, a man who was afraid to speak frankly on any topic in front of his own children and whose neighbor had disappeared two days before was capable of shedding real tears over the plight of the American Negro, a popular Soviet cause for decades. You see the same thing here in the States: no job, no health insurance, fucked for life by the credit bureaus, but swelling with pride over the sight of an Iraqi child with a candy bar.
Likewise, fervent Baathists would weep copiously over the plight of the Palestinians, as Saddam merrily waded through rivers of Kurdish blood. Today the Saudi royal family watches heartwrenching videos about Palestinians, the stirring soundtracks of which partly drown out the screams of the people being tortured in their palace basement. Etc.
So, whenever the US government decides Uzbekistan is an Official Enemy that should be invaded, America's right wing will suddenly become VERY, VERY ANGRY about the hundreds of people our good friend Mr. Karimov is killing this week:
Residents who fled Andijan 40 kilometers (25 miles) south to the Kyrgyz border town of Kara-Suu estimated the number killed on Friday and Saturday at 450, but journalists were barred from the area and could not independently confirm the death toll.
It might be nice if they could get mad now, when it could actually make a difference. But it would also be nice to live a big candy kingdom where all our work was done by singing elves. Man, be realistic.
(Stuff via this useful Billmon post.)
May 11, 2005
Tom DeLay And His Funny, Funny Friends
UPDATE: See here for a response from Tiomoid of Angle, author of "Stomping Out the Reds."
With Tom DeLay's recent troubles, it's a good time to remember something from the long ago past of 2003.
At the end of July, 2003 the College Republican National Committee held their 55th National Convention. According to CRNC's mission statement, it's "the largest and most active student political organization in the nation," with over 100,000 members at 1,000 colleges. Previous high-ranking CRNC staff include Karl Rove, Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist.
As you see on the schedule (pdf file), DeLay was the convention's keynote speaker, and was introduced by Jack Abramoff.
As the Washington Post gossip column mentioned at the time, later that day the outgoing CRNC chairman Scott Stewart led the delegates in singing a song called "Stomping Out the Reds." Stewart told the Post that "Stomping Out the Reds" and other songs they sang were "hilarious" because they were so dated and over-the-top.
I could get behind "dated" and "over the top." However, I'm not as sure about the "hilarious" part. That's because "Stomping Out the Reds" is literally sung from the point of view of Nazi Germany. Here are the lyrics; note the reference to "panzers":
To the tune of "Bringing in the Sheaves"
Meet the Left in action, put them all in traction,
Get great satisfaction, bashing in their heads!
Hear each girl and boy sing, triumph loudly voicing,
We'll advance rejoicing, stomping out the Reds!
Stomping out the Reds, stomping out the Reds,
We'll advance rejoicing, stomping out the Reds!
Lib'rals who pooh-pooh them, radicals who woo them,
Pinkoes who debut them, all are dunderheads!
Gladly we'll embrue them, hew and barbecue them,
Passing bullets through them, stomping out the Reds!
Stomping out the Reds, stomping out the Reds,
Passing Bullets through them, stomping out the Reds!
Bayonets bright gleaming, panzers forward
Hear the Commies screaming, underneath our treads!
Scorn their masses teeming, and their traitors' scheming,
We're the West redeeming, stomping out the Reds!
Stomping out the Reds, stomping out the Reds,
We're the west redeeming, stomping out the Reds!
Now, I could be the one in the wrong here. It could be it's really, really funny when our nation's future Roves enthusiastically sing a song celebrating fascism at a conference featuring the people who run the country. (Other conference attendees included Alberto Gonzales, David Horowitz, Grover Norquist and Karl Rove. Rove received the Lee Atwater Leadership Award just before the singing of "Stomping Out the Reds.")
It may be particularly funny to sing such a song when the powerful people in attendance have been keeping US citizens in custody without charge. I bet Winston Churchill would laugh about all this. Wouldn't he?
The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious, and the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist.
—Winston Churchill, November 21, 1943
Hmm. Well, it's probably just that Churchill and I and most human beings who've ever lived don't have a good sense of humor.
Still, it's interesting to wonder what the reaction would be if something analogous were done by progressives—except it's hard to imagine what that analogous something would be. We'd have to live in an America with a far left wing government that had invaded several countries and was imprisoning US citizens without trial. Then many officials of that government would have to attend a conference of their younger counterparts at which they sang a song celebrating the slaughter of fascists by Stalinist Russia.
The song would also have to be arguably anti-semitic, since "Stomping Out the Reds" mentions "barbecuing" the "Commies" and "traitors." (One of Hitler's rationales for the Holocaust, of course, was that Jews were natural-born traitors who were using communism to sap Germany's vital fluids.) Perhaps the alternate universe song could have approvingly mentioned the Doctor's Plot.
If our current media existed in this alternate universe, I suspect they'd have found the song and the presence of high government officials at the conference to be noteworthy. Here in this universe, however, barely anyone paid attention. The harshest criticism was found in the Washington Post story: it referred to the songsters as "exuberant."
"Stomping Out the Reds" is the creation of
the Party of the Right Tiomoid of Angle, Yale '78 and editor of the songbook of the Party of the Right; the POR is one of the six political parties in Yale's Political Union. The POR was founded by William F. Buckley, which may have something to do with why "Stomping Out the Reds" is so well written.
The outgoing CRNC chairman Scott Stewart graduated from Yale in 1998 after transferring from Brigham Young.
Doug Henwood of the Left Business Observer went to Yale and was a member of the Party of the Right. He's written about them and their unwholesome affection for all things Nazi here and here. (I first learned about "Stomping Out the Reds" from Henwood's mailing list, lbo-talk.)
The 56th Biannual CRNC conference is coming up next month. There's still time to register!
The Michigan State Republicans enjoyed "Stomping Out the Reds" so much they put the lyrics and a video of it online. Below are two screen captures of the video; the first shows the people singing at the head table, and the second shows audience members enjoying it in all its hilariousness.
If you look closely at the second picture and watch the video, you'll see it seems the lyrics appear in the banquet program. Ah, to be young and exuberant and... blond.
May 10, 2005
Our Old Friend "Justification"
I've finally read the famous Downing Street memo from July, 2002. This sentence in particular made me laugh with horror:
Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.
YES!!!! As I've said before, I can't get enough of the way this specific terminologyÃ¢â‚¬â€"justification"Ã¢â‚¬â€appears again and again in government planning documents.
You want to invade Cuba? Great! But we need to come up with some justification, since the real reasons won't fly. What if we bomb ourselves and blame it on Castro? That would work!
You've decided to remove Saddam through military action? Okay! But first we need to find some way to justify the invasion, since if people knew our actual motivation they'd hang us upside down from a lamppost!
I'd guess every invasion of every country ever launched was preceded by a high level "justification" conversation.
Saddam, invading Iran is a great idea! They've got so much luscious oil! But we need some kind of justification. Hey, how about that attempted assassination of Tariq Aziz? That would do it!
First comes the decision to kill other people. Then comes the frantic search for the justification. Just don't forget, no matter how many countries you invade, to talk constantly about your fervent desire for peace.
The Forceful Men Of FORCE Ministries
As you'll see, it's an organization of former and current Navy SEALs with the stated purpose of "equipping military personnel for Christ-centered duty." They cite Matthew 11:12:
"From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it."
They aim to get people's attention via precision skydiving, which certainly makes them unique.
I don't have much else to say—except that, if there were a comparable group of middle eastern men with a comparable website with a comparable picture reading "Purpose: Impart faith in Allah," it would get a great deal of attention here. I wonder if this has gotten a great deal of attention in the middle east.
May 09, 2005
How Interesting And/Or Terrifying
Today marks the kickoff of Arianna Huffington's Huffington Post. While I don't believe America has a desperate shortage of celebrity opinions, I do like Huffington and her large head, and hope this works out. (This is partly because, in all seriousness, I have a large head myself. It's part of my Wendish heritage. So I feel a sense of large head solidarity.)
Anyway, the Huffington Post today tells this fascinating and horrifying story:
According to a new book exclusively obtained by the Huffington Post, Saudi Arabia has crafted a plan to protect itself from a possible invasion or internal attack. It includes the use of a series of explosives, including radioactive Ã¢â‚¬Å“dirty bombs,Ã¢â‚¬Â that would cripple Saudi Arabian oil production and distribution systems for decades.
Bestselling author Gerald Posner lays out this Ã¢â‚¬Å“doomsday scenarioÃ¢â‚¬Â in his forthcoming Ã¢â‚¬Å“Secrets of the Kingdom: The Inside Story of the Saudi-US ConnectionÃ¢â‚¬Â (Random House).
According to the book, which will be released to the public on May 17, based on National Security Agency electronic intercepts, the Saudi Arabian government has in place a nationwide, self-destruction explosive system composed of conventional explosives and dirty bombs strategically placed at the KingdomÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s key oil ports, pipelines, pumping stations, storage tanks, offshore platforms, and backup facilities. If activated, the bombs would destroy the infrastructure of the worldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s largest oil supplier, and leave the country a contaminated nuclear wasteland ensuring that the KingdomÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s oil would be unusable to anyone.
Every day, being alive gets more exciting!
ON SECOND THOUGHT: I'm sure it's worth being skeptical about this. I can imagine Saudi Arabia would have considered such a scheme during the seventies, when Americans were openly musing about "Seizing Arab Oil." On the other hand, it would be somewhat crazy to keep it in place today; given the domestic unhappiness in Saudi Arabia, the royal family couldn't be sure someone unauthorized wouldn't blow everything up. On the other other hand, insulated ruling classes do all kinds of crazy things.
Perhaps they simply talk about it when they think the US is listening, as a deterrent. In any case, one thing's for sure: it would be a good idea to make the world economy even more reliant on oil.
Why I Am Neat
There was obviously no illusion about Syria being a police stateÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½at least one of those at the table had been in jailÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½but these Syrians are hardly asking for help from the U.S. government. Said one: "We will change things here, one step at a time, from the bottom up"...
But even as someone who works on media issues, I was taken aback by their focusing on the U.S. media. Said one: "We hate the U.S. not so much for your government as much as for your mediaÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½your lying, shitty, racist media. Fix the media and the government will follow."
The New York Times motto is "All the News That's Fit to Print." Fox has "Fair and Balanced." But I must agree with these Syrians: a more accurate slogan for both would be "Lying, Shitty, Racist."
You should read all of what Sam wrote, which is also about time he spent with his family in Jordan. Note that another issue he mentions, the Middle East's importation and abuse of women from Sri Lanka, is the subject of this New York Times story.
2. I am also neat because I can call the New York Times "lying, shitty, racist" and then recommend one of their stories. This indicates I have a very subtle mind.
May 08, 2005
If We Join Forces, We Can Become A "Large Tranche"
A large tranche of the once-secular liberal left has disqualified itself by making excuses for jihad and treating Osama bin Laden as if he were advocating liberation theology.
This is an extremely cogent insight, and I'm sure everyone appreciates Mr. Hitchens bringing this to our attention. However, it does have one small flaw: it is completely insane.
But that's where we come in! Currently Hitchens' statement bears no relation to reality... but if we put our minds to it, we can make it RETROACTIVELY true.
What do you think? I will get the ball rolling, below. If enough people are willing to make similar points, I will forward this to Mr. Hitchens. Then in the future he can cite this as evidence for his assertion, instead of being forced to fall back on the "make shit up" strategy.
So: as a member in good standing of the once-secular liberal left, I hereby declare:
1. We shouldn't criticize the terrorists who killed 3,000 people on September 11, 2001, because they were suffering from an itchy rash.
2. Osama bin Laden is a moral figure akin to Oscar Romero and should be sainted by the Catholic Church. Also, I support his Green Party candidacy for the Boulder City Council.
Now it's your turn. Just remember, we need enough people here to qualify as a "large tranche." So I'm thinking three or four at least.
May 06, 2005
Happy Day After Debt Repudiation Day!
Yesterday was Cinco de Mayo. Or, as los gringos call it, May 5th.
Most people have no idea what Cinco de Mayo is about, except for the cheap beer part. And arguably the cheap beer part is most important. But the rest of it is also interesting, and (unfortunately) relevant.
Cinco de Mayo celebrates the victory of Mexican troops over an invading French army at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. While militarily it wasn't that important, it was a big watershed in Mexican national consciousness. Nothing brings people together like fighting others.
Anyway, here's the important part: France was invading Mexico essentially because Mexico owed France money.
Through history, countries have built up unsustainable debts to others all the time. In this case, Mexico had borrowed lots of money from Europe while establishing its independence and then fighting the US invasion in the 1840s.
In these situations, it's best for everyone--both debtors and creditors--to work out some kind of default. But the creditors usually don't see it that way. They want their sweet, sweet money.
In this case, France wanted its money so much it invaded Mexico. After the loss at Puebla they sent more troops and installed Archduke Maximilian of Austria to run things so they'd get paid back.
This was admirably honest. International relations are often like organized crime on a gigantic scale, but people pretend otherwise. Here there was no pretense: the loanshark's enforcers beat the crap out an entire country.
By contrast, creditors today have things like the IMF, which is essentially a creditors' cartel. The IMF is in charge of squeezing countries until they pay back their debts. This often involves lots of people dying... but in quiet ways, without armies involved.
The reason this is relevant to Americans today is now WE'RE in deeper and deeper hock to others. Will China invade us to get their money back? Probably not. We're more powerful than Mexico in 1862. What's more likely is we'll go through the same kind of "structural adjustment" we've imposed on others via the IMF. This means slower economic growth, cutbacks in Social Security and Medicare, and all the other things that benefit normal people.
Now, you might assume this will have to be forced on us, because all Americans would oppose it. BUT YOU WOULD BE WRONG--just as you'd be wrong if you were a regular Mexican and believed no Mexicans would support Archduke Maximilian.
The truth is most of the richer people in America will push for it to happen, because it's good for them. True, it will make America poorer and weaker as a whole--but it will make them more relatively powerful within America. And that's what the elites of most countries care about, just as Saddam Hussein cared about himself rather than the well being of Iraq.
For a glimpse of our future, I recommend the book Savages about Ecuador, a country with its own foreign debt problems. Ecuador as a whole would be better off defaulting on its debt, but that doesn't matter:
My family and I rented an apartment in the new section of Quito... Beyond the office towers, up along the valley walls, were lavish new condominiums and golf courses and tennis clubs. A good French dinner ran about fifteen dollars, a full-time, live-in house servant about twenty-five dollars a month.
I called them servants; one of my neighbors, Alex, called them slaves...
For someone like Alex--that is, for anyone, American or Ecuadorian, who works in the white-collar end of the petroleum business... Ecuador's ever-increasing poverty was a windfall. The price of slaves kept dropping. "The debt?" Alex said. "I love the debt."
May 05, 2005
1. I can't read anything by David Brooks and the remora attached to him named John Tierney. This is because my brain is not powerful enough and would melt. However, Tom Tomorrow possesses the strength I lack:
Tierney and Brooks aren't really writing about red states and blue states. They're writing about the assumptions about red states and blue states which seem prevalent at the cocktail parties they attend, the dinners they go to. This isn't about liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans--it's about the elites trying to comprehend the lower classes, spinning out competing fantasies at those cocktail parties and on the op-ed pages of major newspapers: you don't understand real Americans like I do! And in a way, it's true--you'll never understand someone else's fantasies as well as they do...
3. Rahul Mahajan wonders whether the terms of Lynndie England's plea bargain included letting off her superiors in the chain of command. Under the Same Sun has more on England and Charles Graner here and here and here.
Kim Phuc Today
The Bruderhof people, who are so crazy they actually follow the teachings of Jesus, have posted a UNESCO interview with Kim Phuc, the screaming girl in the famous Vietnam picture. She is now 42 and lives in Toronto with her husband and children. As is obvious, she is still horribly scarred.
However, she's achieved a remarkable mental transformation and forgiven the people who did this to her. According to the interview introduction, she told an audience of American veterans that if she met the pilot who dropped the napalm on her, she would say to him "we cannot change history, but at least we can try and do our best to promote peace." As it happened, one of the men who coordinated the attack on her province was in the audience, and she embraced him.
I hope she can also forgive the extremely unpleasant actions of the Vietnamese government, which wanted to exploit her suffering:
In 1982, I went through another very difficult ordeal. I had been admitted to Saigon medical school. Unfortunately, one day the government realized that I was the little girl in the picture and they came to get me to work with them, to use me as a symbol, and I didn't want to. "Let me study," I asked them, "I don't want to do anything else." So they automatically kept me out of school. It was awful. I didn't understand: why me? Why could my friends continue their studies and not me? I felt as though I had always been a victim. At 19, I no longer had any hope and wanted to die.
I've said it before and will say it again: all governments everywhere are the scum of the earth.
May 04, 2005
"Anyone Who Moves In The Zone, Even If It's A Three-Year-Old, Should Be Killed"
Harper's Magazine has published a transcript of a recorded radio communication between Israeli soldiers near Rafah, in Gaza. It's not online officially, but Dennis Perrin has typed it in.
You should read the whole thing, but here's the gist:
SENTRY: We spotted an Arab female about 100 meters below our emplacement, near the light armored vehicle gate...
OBSERVATION POST: She's now behind an embankment, 250 meters from the barracks. She keeps running east. The hits are right on her.
HEADQUARTERS: Are you talking about a girl under ten?
OP: Approximately a ten-year-old girl... Looks like one of the positions dropped her... She's down. Right now she isn't moving.
COMPANY COMMANDER [to HQ]: Me and another soldier are going in. [To the squad] Forward, to confirm the kill! [to HQ] We fired and killed her. She was...wearing pants...jeans and a vest, shirt. Also she had a kaffiyeh on her head. I also confirmed the kill. Over.
CC: Any motion, anyone who moves in the zone, even if it's a three-year-old, should be killed. Over.
It would be interesting to know whether the guns and bullets used to kill this thirteen year-old girl were made in America. Of course, in the larger sense it doesn't matter, since no matter where the guns and bullets were made we paid for it.
Another interesting question is why this kind of thing makes the Arab world hate us. I guess it's just part of their primitive, benighted culture.
May 03, 2005
Steve Martin Is More Of An Influence On Iraqis Than You Think
Here's a bit from Steve Martin's old album A Wild And Crazy Guy:
I wanted to expand my life in the way Leonardo da Vinci did. And that's why I took up juggling.
I know what you're sayingÃ¢â‚¬â€you're saying, Steve, where do YOU find time to juggle?
Well, I juggle in my mind.
Now, here's an even funnier bit from a new New Yorker article about Doug Feith:
When I asked, for instance, if the Administration was too enamored of the idea that Iraqis would greet American troops with flowers, he argued that some Iraqis were still too intimidated by the remnants of SaddamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Baath Party to express their emotions openly. "But," Feith said, "they had flowers in their minds."
Excellent! I knew Saddam Hussein engaged in Thoughtcrime regarding WMD. However, I didn't realize it was possible for other Iraqis to engage in its opposite, which I hereby name Thoughtuncrime.
Thoughtuncrime does not entail life; thoughtuncrime IS life.
Thoughtuncrime is the only uncrime that matters.
Less A Web Site, More A Support Group
I wonder if there's some way I can change the software here so my blizzard of John Ralston Saul references will only appear to people who've opted-in. Alternatively, I could go with the flow and transform the site wholly into a support group for John Ralston Saul obsessives and the people who love us.
Gripe Gripe Social Security Gripe Wank Gripe
As far as I can tell, politics has little to do with political philosophy. It's generally about various groups trying to stick it to other groups. During the sticking-it-to process, the groups dream up reasons why the sticking is just and righteous and in the best interests of everyone. Sometimes they even believe these reasons.
That's why I strive never to engage in philosophical discussions with other people about politics, at least in public. It's like masturbation: self-delusion and fantasy, either alone or in collaboration with others, can be a fulfilling experience. However, I feel it's bad manners to do it on C-Span.
I thought of this when I read this statement by Stephen Bainbridge about Social Security:
After all, while the Dems may think the people are too dumb to fend for themselves, the Dem elites are pretty bright.
Bainbridge here linked to a Los Angeles Times column by David Gelernter:
How could anyone be opposed in principle to private investment accounts within Social Security?... Because private accounts violate the Infantile American Principle, so dear to Democratic hearts. Little kids should turn over their cash to the Big Smart Government for safekeeping.
I've heard this about Social Security a million times, and I'm sure the people saying it genuinely believe it. It actually sounds pretty good, if you think about it for one second. The problem is that if you think about it for MORE than one second, it makes no sense whatsoever.
I will now explain why in detail. Of course, as I say, this kind of philosophizing has zero relevance to what actually happens with Social Security; that will be decided by the relative power of the groups involved. My doing this in public is just an impolite form of self-gratification. Nevertheless, let me just unzip my pants here and... ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
First of all, the point of having a government is that some things work much better if done on a society-wide scale. For instance, most of us think it's a good idea to have mandatory taxes pay for a national military, rather than leaving everyone free to purchase however many nuclear weapons they can afford. Believing this does not mean you "think the people are too dumb to fend for themselves." It's just that human beings have found the whole warlord system doesn't go well over the long term. Similarly, the rationale for Social Security is that (one part of) the way our society handles retirement is best organized on a national scale.
This may or may not be true. But it's important to recognize that, at least publicly, almost everyone agrees that it is. George Bush isn't proposing to abolish Social Security; ie, eliminate payroll taxes and leave everyone to save that money or not as they choose. He might privately want to do this, and that might be the final result of his plans. But he recognizes you can't get anywhere in US politics if you propose this openly, just like you won't go far if you propose disbanding the army.
So, the main questionÃ¢â‚¬â€whether or not we should have a mandatory, nationwide retirement systemÃ¢â‚¬â€is settled. The remaining questionÃ¢â‚¬â€how it should be organizedÃ¢â‚¬â€is comparatively minor. That's why all the rhetoric about striking a blow against the tyranny of Harry Reid and the AARP is so peculiar. George Bush agrees with the Infantile American Principle that we should be forced to save. All he proposes is to move from forced saving where you have no choices to forced saving where you have three or four very similar, tightly controlled choices.
On the Football Field of Human Freedom, this advances the ball perhaps three inches toward the goal line. People who continually harp on this as a great moral triumph are, to my mind, severely weird.
Whew! Well, that really relieved my pent up tension. But now I've lost all interest in the subject and am immediately going to fall asleep.
May 02, 2005
Let's Work Together To Rewrite Classic Soft Rock Tunes
I've decided that this website has focused too much on the real world, and not enough on peculiar personal musings that no one but me could possibly enjoy.
In that spirit, I present to you my rewritten lyrics to the first verse of Gordon Lightfoot's ballad "If You Could Read My Mind". The original lyrics are on the left, my new lyrics are on the right.
I think you'll get more out of the new lyrics if you sing them to yourself in a quavering Canadian voice while wearing a turtleneck sweater.
|If you could read my mind love|
what a tale my thoughts could tell
just like an old time movie
'bout a ghost from a wishin' well
in a castle dark or a fortress strong
and I will never be set free
|If you could read my mind love|
I'd ask you: please, stop reading my mind
but I wouldn't say it out loud
because I could just think it instead
why does everyone that I ever meet
plus there's this satellite that's in
May 01, 2005
I'm Trying To Be Modest About This, But It's Difficult
This website doesn't do well in a Google search for "sexy".
HOWEVER—we are at:
#4 of 16.2 million when you search for sexy sexy.
#7 of 25.8 million when you search for sexy sexy sexy.
#3 of 12.8 million when you do the sexiest search of all for sexy sexy sexy sexy.
In other news, we're still holding strong at #1 for my left buttock.
And if I've said it once, I've said it a million times: I realize you're jealous of my left buttock, but this is no reason for you to be a hata.
Nice Liberals: AAAAAAUUUUUUUGGGGGGHHHHHHH
Bruce Springsteen has achieved more artistically, and done more good for humankind, than I could if I lived to be 10,000 years old. However, I still feel free to criticize him. Specifically, I've always been irked and amused by his song "My Hometown":
In '65 tension was running high at my high school
There was a lot of fights between the black and white
There was nothing you could do
Two cars at a light on a saturday night in the back seat there was a gun
Words were passed in a shotgun blast
Troubled times had come to my hometown
In fairness, the problem here could be attributed to the narrator of the song rather than Springsteen himself. In any case, one fact remains:
For black people, the "troubled times" in America probably began at some point before 1965.
I imagine black people in his hometown in 1965 weren't sitting around saying, "You know, the past four hundred years of being kidnapped, enslaved, raped and murdered by the millions wasn't so bad. The REAL trouble only started recently, when one person of indeterminate race got shot."
As you can see, nice (white) liberals—particularly at moments when they're at their most soulfully sensitive—have the ability to not see what's sitting right in front of their face and painted fluorescent purple.