September 30, 2005

Right On Time

By my observation, colonial wars always have three stages in the minds of supporters:

1. We've got to help these people!
2. Why are these people resisting our attempts to help them?
3. These people MUST BE KILLED!!!!!!!!

I didn't want to see this procession broken in Iraq. That would mean I'd have to rethink my view of reality, and that always makes me mad.

So, I'm pleased to learn Thomas "The Embodiment of Human Folly" Friedman is right on time:

Maybe the cynical Europeans were right. Maybe this neighborhood is just beyond transformation. That will become clear in the next few months as we see just what kind of minority the Sunnis in Iraq intend to be. If they come around, a decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and we should stay to help build it. If they won’t, then we are wasting our time. We should arm the Shiites and Kurds and leave the Sunnis of Iraq to reap the wind. We must not throw more good American lives after good American lives for people who hate others more than they love their own children.

This would be awfully funny if it didn't involve the potential death of millions.

No, wait—it's still funny!

At least if you are not the person being garroted!

Via The Poorman.

September 29, 2005

Popes Are Catholic; Goth Lead Singers Are Morbid; Politicians Are Disgusting

I used to joke that the Soviet Union collapsed because they only had one communist party. They'd still be around if they'd been smart enough to have two communist parties that were exactly alike on every issue except abortion.

So, here's an excerpt from a tangentially-connected post by Limited, Inc.:

[Begin] by viewing the parties as dead machinery. Not as ideologically colored, but as primarily vehicles to achieve political power by politicians. Now, just as we know that goth lead singers are going to be morbid, we know that politicians and those in the inner circle of politics are mostly going to be disgusting. I mean that special level of disgusting, that level on which every act of niceness, of goodness, is actually aimed at some incredibly narrow self-interested end. Politics collects manipulators. Furthermore, it is impossible to view politicians merely in terms of their political careers. In the age of big national governments, politicians long ago learned that this is a very good way to channel upwards and make money – with an elective office merely the junket that prepares one for the bucks of lobbying, corporate board membership, or the thousand and one ways to milk the cow that have developed since 1940 in D.C. Cheney simply puts into starker terms the reality of D.C. politics – it is all about making it in the “private sector,” which is actually as connected to the public sector as the function of the dryer is connected to the function of the washer. For a liberal like me, keeping my eyes on this primary fact – thinking, for instance, that it is as important in the career of Madeleine Albright that she lobbies for the Kuwaiti government as it is that she used to work for the Clinton administration – that the switches, here, are seamless -- is one way to get out of the magic circle cast by the reputation of the Democratic and Republican parties. For more politically important people than myself – people who govern NGOs like the Sierra club, or Moveon, etc. – this is a crucial step, although somehow I doubt they will ever take it. Eventually, they all plug into D.C. court society.

You should read it all. (Via.)

September 28, 2005

What I Do With My Time

When I first heard the They Might Be Giants song "Particle Man" many years ago, I was dissatisfied. As excellent as the song was, I felt the three verses weren't enough to make it artistically complete. Specifically, it needed two more verses right in the middle.

I sent "brain waves" to John Flansburgh and John Linnell to encourage them to expand the song in this way. The results were negligible. So, I was forced to come up with the additional verses myself.

These lyrics were long thought lost to history. However, I just found them in a box. Here they are:

(Added verses are in bold. You'll enjoy this much more if you sing it to yourself.)

Particle man, particle man
Doing the things a particle can
What's he like? It's not important
Particle man

Is he a dot, or is he a speck?
When he's underwater does he get wet?
Or does the water get him instead?
Nobody knows, Particle man

Triangle man, Triangle man
Triangle man hates particle man
They have a fight, Triangle wins
Triangle man

Testicle man, testicle man
Spreading the wealth with both his hands
Finds the eggs sacs in the sand
Testicle man

Has some orders just for you
Has a plan you must see through
Won't shut up until you do
Ex why man, testicle man

Intellect man, intellect man
Shiny hope from another land
And brand new cell all spic and span
Intellect man

Love machines to fly down there
Guns to shoot off all the hair
Lose on all fronts everywhere
Who's the man, intellect man

Triangle man, Triangle man
Triangle man hates intellect man
They have a fight, Triangle wins
Triangle man

Universe man, Universe man
Size of the entire universe man
Usually kind to smaller man
Universe man

He's got a watch with a minute hand,
Millenium hand and an eon hand
When they meet it's a happy land
Powerful man, universe man

Person man, person man
Hit on the head with a frying pan
Lives his life in a garbage can
Person man

Is he depressed or is he a mess?
Does he feel totally worthless?
Who came up with person man?
Degraded man, person man

Triangle man, triangle man
Triangle man hates person man
They have a fight, triangle wins
Triangle man

Bob Harris Causes Crime

Here's an exchange between Mike Brown and Rep. Steve Buyer at the Congressional hearings yesterday:

BUYER: So I’d like to know why did the president’s federal emergency assistance declaration of August 27th not include the parishes of Orleans, Jefferson and Plaquemines?

BROWN: …[I]f a governor does not request a particular county or a particular parish, that’s not included in the request...

BUYER: Let me ask this. Since you went through the exercise in Pam, was that not shocking to you that the governor would exclude New Orleans from the declaration?


We may never know for sure, but I think it's almost certain Buyer's question was inspired by this September 7th post on Bob Harris' site, pointing out the weird exclusion of Southeastern Louisiana from Bush's emergency declaration. Few people if any had noticed this before him, and the post zipped all over the world, Bob was asked about it by the BBC, etc. I suspect it also made its way to Congress.

Best of all, Brown apparently was lying about what Governor Blanco requested. Thus, Bob may be directly responsible for getting the ex-head of FEMA to perjure himself.

I don't see how anyone could argue this isn't a beautiful, beautiful thing.


September 27, 2005

New Slogans For The Democratic Party

Earlier I wondered who knew which U.S. President's family fortune came from selling opium. This is a shard of information that was unknown to me until 2002, so I was curious how widely it's known.

The answer I was looking for was Franklin D. Roosevelt, although I may have been wrong about there being just ONE president whose money was opium-based. In any case, thanks to Bob of Bob's Links and Rants for being the first person to chime in with FDR. But don't take our word for it; just ask the National Park Service:

Sara Delano Roosevelt [FDR's mother] was the daughter of Warren Delano, a wealthy merchant who made a fortune in the tea and opium trade in China...

This—combined with Joseph Kennedy's enthusiastic business dealings with bootleggers during prohibition—has always made me think the Democratic party should come up with some new slogans. For instance:

"The Democratic Party: All Our Best Guys are the Children of Druglords."

"The Democrats: Blood Money FOR THE PEOPLE."

Other suggestions welcome.

UPDATE: The comments are significantly funnier than the post.

September 26, 2005

There's A Side To Ann Coulter You Don't Know About

Here's some important information about Pat Tillman:

Interviews also show a side of Pat Tillman not widely known — a fiercely independent thinker who enlisted, fought and died in service to his country yet was critical of President Bush and opposed the war in Iraq, where he served a tour of duty. He was an avid reader whose interests ranged from history books on World War II and Winston Churchill to works of leftist Noam Chomsky, a favorite author.

What most people don't know is that it was Tillman's admiration of Chomsky that caused Ann Coulter to refer to him as "virtuous, pure and masculine like only an American male can be."

Even less known is that privately Coulter uses exactly the same words to describe Chomsky himself.

UPDATE: Somehow I missed this important part:

[Tillman's mother] Mary Tillman said a friend of Pat's even arranged a private meeting with Chomsky, the antiwar author, to take place after his return from Afghanistan — a meeting prevented by his death.

Was this friend who arranged the Chomsky meeting Ann Coulter? You might think the answer is obviously yes, because of her great admiration and affection for both Tillman and Chomsky. But my sources say no, it was actually Sean Hannity.

September 25, 2005

What You Should Do

You should see The Constant Gardener, even though the cinematography and editing will almost give you an epileptic seizure.

UPDATE: Speaking of the rapacious exploitation of other countries by Europe, En Ming Hee in comments mentions the opium trade. So here's a question: which U.S. president's family fortune came from opium?

This is #90,412 on the list of things they don't teach you in school.

The Nasser Quote That Never Goes Out Of Style

Here's Larry Johnson, former CIA agent, on his discussions with people he knows in the mideast:

Our friends and allies naively believe that we have a plan and know what we are doing... they are convinced that we have a secret plan we are not sharing with them... They look at me with disbelief and bewilderment when I tell them there is no secret plan and we are as incompetent as they fear.

Now, here's something Gamal Nasser said to Miles Copeland—another CIA agent—in the fifties:

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

Man, that's an evergreen.

Stephen Colbert: Yikes

Do not miss this interview with the alarmingly funny Stephen Colbert. Though be forewarned it includes something about his childhood that's the opposite of funny.

September 24, 2005

The Most Popular Subject Ever

For those of you fascinated by Columbia University economists—and really, who among us isn't?—here's an article by Doug Henwood about the peculiar career of peculiar Jeffrey Sachs.

September 23, 2005

An Actual Serious Question

Here's something from a Times of London story about Iran's growing power in Iraq:

Iraqi and British officials interviewed this week said Iran’s growing influence is being felt from Basra in the south to Baghdad in the north, where Iranians are blamed for stoking sectarian tension, undermining the coalition and trying to create a breakaway Islamic state in southern Iraq.

Responding to the clashes in Basra this week, Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, accused Tehran of being “interested”, “involved” and “not helpful”.

Tougher language is being heard in the Arab world, where Iran has been a foe from the time of the Persians. Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi Foreign Minister, said: “We fought a war together to keep Iran out of Iraq after Iraq was driven out of Kuwait. Now we are handing the whole country over to Iran without reason.”

Maybe al-Faisal was misquoted. But if not, here's a real, serious question: what is he talking about?

Ie, what "war" is he referring to? After the Gulf War in 1991, Saddam of course viciously put down the Shiites in southern Iraq. Was there some involvement in this by Saudi Arabia (or America) beyond just sitting back and watching it happen?

Moving Right Along, Without Any Indication Of Embarrassment

Hey, look over here at these things! Look! Look at them!!!

1. The interesting yet deeply depressing words of Hedgehog at Rhinocrisy about peak oil.

2. Chris Floyd's heartfelt call for decorum.

3. Bob Harris' Return to Upsidedownland.

don't look here

Do You Remember When We First Met? Back When We Had The Ability To Hover Several Hundred Feet In Mid-Air?

For the past few weeks, Salon has been intermittently running flash ads for Visa. They begin with the statement, "I wish we could relive the night we first met" and then segue into a picture of a happy couple eating dinner with a night city skyline behind them. If you have flash you can watch the section of it I grabbed, here.

Otherwise, here's a frame from it. The city in the background is clearly Chicago—you can see the Chicago River and Sears Tower:

What I enjoy is that, judging by the view, the happy couple is floating several hundred feet above Lake Michigan. Maybe the Visa ad is targeted at the demographic of "affluent people who are not subject to gravity."

The above claim was, in fact, completely wrong. The view is not looking west down the Chicago River as it enters Lake Michigan, but south down the river from where it forks. Thus, the whole raison d'etre of this post has collapsed.

Still—and I think this is the important part—this would have been a very, very funny thing to point out in an alternate universe. In other words, it is comedy from another dimension. I am disappointed, though not surprised, that normal people have a hard time appreciating it.

September 22, 2005

Again, I Find Myself Stymied By Life On Earth

Curtis Dahlgren of Renew America speaks:

I guess I've been writing about the Puritans lately because Katrina means "Purity." Liberal academics have a fear of "looking back" upon history--much like Frankenstein's fear of looking at a cross (that may be even more profound than modesty would appear to permit). What else would explain recent judicial "edicts"?

"Frankenstein"—ha! What an embarrassing mistake by Mr. Dahlgren!

Obviously the reference should be to Frankenstein's monster.


Welcome, Readers Of Juicy Matures!

I've been flattered yet confused to see this site's referral logs reporting a great deal of traffic coming here from such fine establishments as:


and of course:

•, which appears to be a German site offering "Preview of Tranny Porn Movies and shemale beauty"

So, what the fuck is going on? The general phenomenon seems to have started in April. Does it have something to do with comment/trackback spam? Or have these sites somehow surreptitiously stuck something on my server that they're linking to? For instance, this site once (though no longer) had this in its source code:

this.document.write(" left caret img src= + Math.random() + "' width='1' height='1' border='0'>"

Any insight/advice from the Internet Overbrain would be greatly appreciated.

September 21, 2005

A Joke

My favorite joke of today comes from the unrepentant English major King of Zembla:

You see, Mr. Gittes, most bloggers never have to live with the knowledge that, at the right time, in the right place, they are capable of posting... anything.

To truly understand the joke, you will have to go here.

Runner up in the joke competition: "America's bustiest governor".

There's Stuff On The Internet!!!

Professor William Domhoff at UC-Santa Cruz has a new website. It's based on and extends his book Who Rules America?.

Domhoff is also the author of Changing the Powers that Be: How the Left Can Stop Losing and Win. Don't miss the first Amazon review, which is by a certain David Swanson.

UPDATE: Here's a great quote from Who Rules America? It's from a 1788 letter home from Thomas Shippen, a rich young man from Philadelphia, who was visiting the French court at Versailles:

...a certain degree of equality is essential to human bliss. Happy above all Countries is our Country, where that equality is found, without destroying the necessary subordination.

I Have A Question

Just before the start of the Iraq war, a British Lieutenant Colonel named Tim Collins gave a speech in Kuwait to about 800 British soldiers:

We go to liberate, not to conquer. We will not fly our flags in their country. We are entering Iraq to free a people and the only flag which will be flown in that ancient land is their own. Show respect for them...

It is a big step to take another human life. It is not to be done lightly. I know of men who have taken life needlessly in other conflicts. I can assure you they live with the mark of Cain upon them...

If someone surrenders to you then remember they have that right in international law and ensure that one day they go home to their family. The ones who wish to fight, well, we aim to please...

As for ourselves, let's bring everyone home and leave Iraq a better place for us having been there.

Our business now is north.

The speech was beloved by war supporters, because it expressed so clearly their self-image: tough and manly—yet righteous. Apparently George Bush loved it so much he requested a copy to put on the wall of the Oval Office.

This week, however, Tim Collins—now retired from the British military—wrote this:

It is time for our leaders to explain what is going on. It was as a battalion commander trying to explain to his men why they would embark on a war that I came to public notice. The irony is that I made certain assumptions that my goodwill and altruistic motivations went to the top. Clearly I was naive.

So here's my question, which I would appreciate if some reporter would ask Scott McClellan:

Is George Bush going to put THAT on the wall of the Oval Office?

UPDATE: Your Right Hand Thief got here way before me.

September 20, 2005

Telling the Truth

Sam Husseini has an original suggestion for an Iraq exit strategy.

September 19, 2005

My Goodness

I strive not to write the "Look At This Ludicrous Thing [Someone Whose Political Viewpoint I Disagree With] Said On Their Blargh!" type of post. Life is too short. Life would be too short for that even if human life expectancy were 7,000,000 years.

However, I have to make an exception for screenwriter/novelist/hat-wearer Roger Simon. He recently read an AP story quoting the president of Iran saying, "Iran is ready to transfer nuclear know-how to the Islamic countries due to their need."

From that, Simon drew this conclusion:

If Saddam Hussein were still in power he wouldn't have to go as far as Niger or anywhere near that for for help in obtaining nuclear arms. He could get all the assistance he needed right next door.

I read this and I feel... stymied. I feel stymied just as I would if Roger Simon had revealed a belief that Saddam Hussein was just about to get nuclear weapons from Israel. I feel stymied as I would if Simon earnestly said we live on a planet called Xerxis IX, and then began expounding on Xerxisian political conditions.

Before the invasion of Iraq, I sometimes asked people gung-ho for war if they could tell me the history of the mideast since World War II. Nothing fancy, just five minutes of the basic highlights. I never met a single pro-war person who could.

September 18, 2005

September 16, 2005

Great Moments In The Non-Comprehension Of Acronyms

I understand some people are irritated whenever someone says:

I have to go to the ATM machine.

...since they're actually saying:

I have to go to the Automatic Teller Machine machine.

That doesn't really irk me that much. However, I was deeply irritated and/or amused to see this sentence in Thomas Friedman's latest column:

...although its fourth and eighth graders already score at the top of the Timss international math and science tests, Singapore has been introducing more innovations into schools.

...because, given what TIMSS stands for, Friedman was writing:

...although its fourth and eighth graders already score at the top of the Trends in International Math and Science Study international math and science tests, Singapore has been introducing more innovations into schools.

Read it out loud for the most funniness.

By the way, in addition to my in-depth knowledge of the Iraqi WMD programs and Social Security, I also know a great deal about international educational comparisons.

How my life turned out like this is a sad and tawdry tale.

Now More Than Ever, It's Critical That We Learn Nothing From History

Mike Gerber likes to refer to the History Channel as the Learn Nothing From History Channel. This is one of my favorite jokes ever made by anyone.

In honor of this joke, I would like to point something out. Everyone is familiar with this famous section of the October, 2004 article by Ron Suskind:

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality..."

Now, here's part of George Kennan's 1946 description of the Soviet Union in his famous "Long Telegram":

[The Soviet Union] is seemingly inaccessible to considerations of reality in its basic reactions. For it, the vast fund of objective fact about human society is not, as with us, the measure against which outlook is constantly being tested and re-formed, but a grab bag from which individual items are selected arbitrarily and tendenciously to bolster an outlook already preconceived... Problem of how to cope with this force is undoubtedly greatest task our diplomacy has ever faced and probably greatest it will ever have to face.


Remember the Long Telegram is one of the best-known documents ever in US foreign policy, and part of the assigned reading in any college class on post-World War II history. So you'd expect a senior adviser in any administration would realize the peculiar resonance of what he/she was saying about "reality."

However, you'd expect wrong! That's because these days senior White House advisers don't have the time to do old-fashioned things like reading. They're too busy watching the Learn Nothing From History Channel.

September 15, 2005

Something I Bet You Didn't Know

Everyone remembers this famous quote from Condoleezza Rice:

"I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile."

You probably know this wasn't, uh, 100% true. In addition to lots of other evidence, we just learned this:

American aviation officials were warned as early as 1998 that Al Qaeda could "seek to hijack a commercial jet and slam it into a U.S. landmark," according to previously secret portions of a report prepared last year by the Sept. 11 commission.

But here's something I bet you didn't know:

William Harlow was the Director of Public Affairs—ie, chief spokesman—for the CIA from 1997 to 2004. He was quoted all the time in the news after the September 11th attacks. But Harlow did more than just PR; he also had written a novel published in 1999 called Circle William.

The plot of Circle William revolves around an attempt by terrorists to crash a commercial airliner into the Knesset in Israel.

It would be incredible enough that Condoleezza Rice would say what she did, while all the while the public face of the CIA had written a book with almost that precise topic. But here's something more incredible: the media never, ever noticed this.

In fairness to them, of course, it was extremely difficult to find this out. I was only able to do so by using a special technique I developed, which I call "Having a Library Card."

Also, remember that 90% of the reporters at the New York Times don't speak English. And even if one of the 10% did get ahold of the book, there are no lights in the Times' offices, so it would be too dark for them to read it.

• • •

ALSO: Circle William is pretty entertaining, and often genuinely funny.

September 14, 2005

Let's All Chip In To Buy These Guys A Thesaurus

The Washington Post reports this:

With an hour-long slide show that blends satellite imagery with disquieting assumptions about Iran's nuclear energy program, Bush administration officials have been trying to convince allies that Tehran is on a fast track toward nuclear weapons.

The PowerPoint briefing, titled "A History of Concealment and Deception," has been presented to diplomats from more than a dozen countries. Several diplomats said the presentation, intended to win allies for increasing pressure on the Iranian government, dismisses ambiguities in the evidence about Iran's intentions and omits alternative explanations under debate among intelligence analysts.

I understand that it's the job of the American government to have no sense of shame—since if they had a sense of shame, they couldn't bear to do this kind of thing after what happened with Iraq. So I don't quarrel with that. But... couldn't these guys at least come up with some NEW WORDS?

Iraq—its infrastructure of concealment, deception and intimidation

This report draws upon a number of sources, including intelligence material, and shows organisations whose job it is to keep Saddam and his regime in power, and to prevent the international community from disarming Iraq, how the Iraqi regime is constructed to have, and to keep, WMD, and is now engaged in a campaign of obstruction of the United Nations Weapons Inspectors.

Story via Chris Floyd.

September 13, 2005

Things To Do

You could read and/or listen to:

1. An interview with the always-compelling Uri Avnery about Israel's disengagement from Gaza:

The great majority of Israelis are not aware of the real and present danger to Israeli democracy. They still have the illusion that this is something that will pass. Only when people realize that real danger is there and that people must come out and face it will there be a chance that some leadership will emerge. One can only hope that it will not be too late. I'm very much reminded of the last days of the Weimar Republic. I think about it constantly. And I think that the dangers that people were facing at that time are here. It has been said that the Weimar Republic collapsed not because the fascists overthrew it, but because at the moment of truth no one was ready to step up and defend the Republic. This nightmare pursues me.

2. David Moberg asking, Will History Repeat Itself?" regarding America's response to flooding in Louisiana.

3. An analogy from Chris Grayson in which Tom DeLay plays the role of the hurricane.

4. This American Life's show about the aftermath of the hurricane.

5. An NPR interview with Kurt Vonnegut about his new book A Man Without a Country

September 11, 2005

Today Is The Fourth Anniversary Of An Enormous Opportunity

I thought it would be nice to mark today, September 11, 2005, with a short test.

Here's the first question: what is this?

What did you guess? Did you say "That's the last moments of the lives of thousands of people"? Or "That's a hideous act of mass murder"? Or "That's the beginning of a lifetime of suffering for everyone who loved someone who died at the World Trade Center"?

Wrong! The right answer is: that is an OPPORTUNITY, an ENORMOUS OPPORTUNITY:

Through my tears I see opportunity.

—George Bush, September 20, 2001

If the collapse of the Soviet Union and 9/11 bookend a major shift in international politics, then this is a period not just of grave danger, but of enormous opportunity. Before the clay is dry again, America and our friends and our allies must move decisively to take advantage of these new opportunities.

—Condoleezza Rice, April 29, 2002

Now here's the second question: what is this?

This question is a little harder. Some people might answer, "That's the grotesque Al Qaeda bombing of a hotel in Mombasa, Kenya in November, 2002." Others might say, "It's the place where terrorists murdered 13 people, including Israeli brothers Noy and Dvir Anter, ages 12 and 13." Or, "That's the place where, CNN reported, 'screaming children covered in blood searched desperately for their parents amid the wreckage.'"

Of course, those are dumb answers. The right answer is: it is a GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY:

Israeli officials view last week's terrorist attacks against Israeli targets in Kenya, apparently by Al Qaeda or an affiliated group, as reinforcing their argument that Israel and the West are battling a single enemy.

Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meeting with ministry staff in the aftermath of the Kenya attacks, said that the incidents had presented Israel with a "golden opportunity" to strengthen its strategic ties with the United States and other Western countries.

Now, here's the last question: what is this?

I hope you didn't answer, "That's a young Iraqi girl covered in the blood of her parents, who'd just been killed by U.S. soldiers terrified of car bombers." Or, "Something that every American should be atoning for until the day we die."

Because, again, those answers are stupid! The right answer is, that's a picture of yet another GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY:

Targeting America in Iraq in terms of economy and losses in life is a golden and unique opportunity. Do not waste it only to regret it later.

—Osama bin Laden, December, 2004

Probably my point here is clear. But I will go ahead and spell it out.

For normal people, it's an unmitigated tragedy when their fellow citizens are killed in terrorist attacks or wars. Normal people cry, become afraid, and think of children who now have no parents and parents who now have no children.

For our would-be "leaders," however—in every country—the situation is different. Of course, they pretend to feel the same as normal people. They give teary-eyed speeches about sorrow and suffering.

And yet, behind their tears, there seems to be something else. When they think no one is looking, you glimpse another expression flitting across their face. You think it couldn't be. But—yes, incredibly enough, they're smiling. Because before the bodies are cold, before the mothers have stopped shrieking, our leaders are thinking:


And for them it is. It's an opportunity for them to do whatever they wanted to do before, but couldn't get away with. It's an opportunity for them to smear anyone who criticizes them as disloyal. It's an opportunity for them to become much more powerful than they ever could be in peacetime. Leaders love war. That's why there's so much of it.

It's understandably hard for most people to come to terms with this. It's terrifying to believe your leaders may secretly be, uh, not so sad if you die. But all you have to do is listen to them, and they'll tell you.

Can we change this? Maybe. But the first step in changing reality is facing it, no matter how ugly and frightening it is.

Happy September 11th!

September 10, 2005

Everyone Connected To Everything

There's an extremely interesting post on Jonathan "Hugo Zoom" Versen's site about his mother Nezhat. Try not to read between the lines about the effect stupid, cruel politicians must have had on her life, because it would make you rip out your hair in anger.

Among the highlights:

• she left Iraq at seventeen by herself in 1951 to come to the US to go to college
• she hosted an Iraqi children's TV show in the late fifties
• she liked to sing "Over the Rainbow" to Jonathan V. over the phone

Read the whole thing.

September 09, 2005

I Am Impressed

I'm a grumpy malcontent and generally don't get enthusiastic about anything. But I'm impressed with Independent World Television.

IWT wants to build a real television news network without government funding or advertising revenue; essentially the plan is just to ask people for money. At first glance I thought this was ABSOLUTELY CRAZY. But no. They are trying to appeal to the entire English speaking world—ie, not just in the US but also Canada, England, Australia, even India. And if they can get one million people to pony up $100 per year, they'd have more than enough cash.

Add to this the fact that IWT is made up of serious people who actually know what they're doing, and that they've already gotten serious startup money both from foundations and the Canadian Auto Workers.

Beyond that, I just like their general social-movement-can-do-non-sourpuss attitude. I urge you to check them out, watch their video, and read the thoughts of IWT Chair Paul Jay on Hurricane Katrina, complete with historical references.

September 07, 2005

Longstanding Taibbi Mystery Solved

Fancy Robot and David Weigel are both wondering—is that Matt Taibbi behind Sean Penn?

Sources close to Taibbi confirm that the answer is: yes. Apparently something happened in New Orleans recently and he went down there to write about it for Rolling Stone.

Speaking of which, in all the idiotic stories making fun of Sean Penn, I've never seen any that mention an obviously pertinent fact: Penn is in a new film version of All the King's Men coming out later this year, and it was partially filmed in New Orleans. So it's not surprising he'd feel obligated to help.

Man, I hope they don't massacre the book, which is certainly one of the greatest novels I've ever read.

We clocked off five miles more, and I said, "But suppose there isn't anything to find?"

And the Boss said, "There is always something."

And I said, "Maybe not on the Judge."

And he said, "Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something."

September 06, 2005

The Eternal Puzzle

Avedon Carol has been trying to find out who originally said this:

"Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice."

Whoever it was, they were right. If you were sitting on the roof of your New Orleans house last week waiting to drown, you probably weren't wondering whether the Bush administration was acting out of incompetence or malice or a heady combination of both.

Farther away from the destruction, though, it's hard not to ask: idiots? evil? evil idiots?

In any case, it's good to remember that this is a conundrum that has arisen throughout the ages in many countries. For instance, here's George Orwell, writing more than sixty years ago:

It is still very uncertain what plan they acted on... and they may have had no clear plan at all. Whether the British ruling class are wicked or merely stupid is one of the most difficult questions of our time.

September 05, 2005

How To Be Treated As Normal While Being Completely Insane

The Washington Post editorial board has some good news about the destruction of New Orleans:

In general, disasters depress economic output temporarily -- companies and infrastructure that sustain damage stop producing until they are repaired -- but then comes a reconstruction phase that delivers a compensating boost to the economy... Twelve months from now, the economy may be bigger than it otherwise would have been.

This is true. It may be that, because of the huge amount of economic activity that will go into cleaning up and rebuilding New Orleans, America's GDP will be larger in a year than it would have been otherwise. And so if you're a certain kind of person—the kind who writes Washington Post editorials or reads them—you read that and you feel good. The economy may turn out great!


Doesn't it seem that if the way we measure things shows that the obliteration and forced reconstruction of a huge American city is positive, THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE WAY WE MEASURE THINGS?

For instance, let's say we decided to hold a nationwide lottery with 100,000 winners. The winners would have their legs blown off by extremely expensive high explosives.

True, this would decrease economic output temporarily. But soon there would be many jobs available for doctors, physical therapists, prothesis designers, and the manufacturers of expensive high explosives. In fact, within a year the economy might be bigger than it otherwise would have been!

Of course, this would be completely insane. Despite what the little numbers written down by economists might say, America would not be better off with 100,000 legless citizens.

The lesson here is that when you have to choose between reality and an abstraction from reality, you should choose reality. The downside is that if you choose reality—in fact, if you even realize there is a choice, no matter what you choose—you will never be hired by the Washington Post editorial page.

September 03, 2005

More Jokes I Wish I'd Made

Simbaud, King of Zembla, runs down the eery similarities between Swaziland and his own fiefdom:

King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, is due to attend the annual Reed Dance ceremony, which he has used since 1999 to pluck new brides from thousands of dancing girls dressed in little more than beads and traditional skirts. [Just like Zembla! -- S.]

... and so on.

Worth Reading

1. The prescient Mike Davis, writing in September, 2004:

The evacuation of New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Ivan looked sinisterly like Strom Thurmond's version of the Rapture. Affluent white people fled the Big Easy in their SUVs, while the old and car-less -- mainly Black -- were left behind in their below-sea-level shotgun shacks and aging tenements to face the watery wrath.

New Orleans had spent decades preparing for inevitable submersion by the storm surge of a class-five hurricane. Civil defense officials conceded they had ten thousand body bags on hand to deal with the worst-case scenario. But no one seemed to have bothered to devise a plan to evacuate the city's poorest or most infirm residents...

2. You've probably already seen this, from Molly Ivins:

To use a fine Southern word, it's tacky to start playing the blame game before the dead are even counted. It is not too soon, however, to make a point that needs to be hammered home again and again, and that is that government policies have real consequences in people's lives...

This, friends, is why we need to pay attention to government policies, not political personalities, and to know whereon we vote. It is about our lives.

3. A huge stew of further New Orleans-related information from Chris Floyd's excellent new site.

September 01, 2005

New Orleans

I'm relieved to see oyster of Your Right Hand Thief got out of New Orleans safely with his family. They are apparently now safely sheltered in Florida with relatives for the forseeable future. Don't miss this pre-Katrina post.

Meanwhile, Chris Floyd's fancy new site is up and running. It includes his thoughts on New Orleans:

The destruction of New Orleans represents a confluence of many of the most pernicious trends in American politics and culture: poverty, racism, militarism, elitist greed, environmental abuse, public corruption and the decay of democracy at every level.

Much of this is embodied in the odd phrasing that even the most circumspect mainstream media sources have been using to describe the hardest-hit victims of the storm and its devastating aftermath: "those who chose to stay behind." Instantly, the situation has been framed with language to flatter the prejudices of the comfortable and deny the reality of the most vulnerable.

It is obvious that the vast majority of those who failed to evacuate are poor: they had nowhere else to go, no way to get there, no means to sustain themselves and their families on strange ground. While there were certainly people who stayed behind by choice, most stayed behind because they had no choice. They were trapped by their poverty - and many have paid the price with their lives... well as the lyrics to Randy Newman's song Louisiana, 1927.