November 30, 2007

Sharing the Joy

By: Bernard Chazelle

Two days ago, President Bush said of his presidency:

This has been a joyous experience, and still is.

h/t PDB


Written by Bernard Chazelle

Posted at 09:51 PM | Comments (8)

November 29, 2007

Help! We're Under Attack By Filthy Insane Barbarians!


Since declaring his candidacy for president in February, Obama, a member of a congregation of the United Church of Christ in Chicago, has had to address assertions that he is a Muslim or that he had received training in Islam in Indonesia, where he lived from ages 6 to 10. While his father was an atheist and his mother did not practice religion, Obama's stepfather did occasionally attend services at a mosque there.

Despite his denials, rumors and e-mails circulating on the Internet continue to allege that Obama (D-Ill.) is a Muslim, a "Muslim plant" in a conspiracy against America, and that, if elected president, he would take the oath of office using a Koran, rather than a Bible...

An early rumor about Obama's faith came from Insight, a conservative online magazine [owned by the Washington Times].

Just before the invasion of Iraq:

In the weeks leading up to the war, the Turkish press was filled with various articles reporting, mostly with suspicion, about the Iraqi Kurds' postwar plans.

A Feb. 17 article in the respected daily newspaper Hurriyet offered an interesting take on the situation: Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party, one of two political factions that control the autonomous Kurdish area of northern Iraq, is Jewish and comes from a long line of Kurdish rabbis, the article claimed...

Rifat Bali, a Jewish historian in Istanbul, said the Barzani story is part of a larger theory circulating for the past few years that has particularly strong popular support in Turkey's conservative nationalist and Islamist circles...

"It's fueled, first of all, by the obsession that Jews are behind everything, and that they use in front of them a crypto-Jew," Bali said.

More recently:

According to Amin Sabooni at Iran Daily, John Negroponte, the new U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, is "Jewish and of Greek-American stock," and is better known at the "ambassador of death squads"...

MEMRI does a fantastic job picking up this stuff from the mideast, so Americans can FINALLY UNDERSTAND how everyone there is an insane filthy barbarian. What we need is a well-funded jihadist propaganda outlet in the mideast to pick up the stuff about Obama, so people there can FINALLY UNDERSTAND how everyone here is an insane filthy barbarian. Only then will humanity achieve the mutual obliteration we've been longing for for so long.

Posted at 09:15 PM | Comments (13)

A Good Question for Peter Osnos

Bob Fertik has a very good question for Peter Osnos, publisher of the book by Scott McClellan set to come out next year.

Posted at 06:35 PM | Comments (1)

America's Next Top National Security Advisor

Back in the fall of 2002, I saw something written by Lee Feinstein about how we had to hold Iraq accountable for its terrifying WMD. Why? Because to do otherwise would irrevocably weaken the UN. Oh noes!!!

I recognized Feinstein from the Clinton administration, and sent him email listing dozens and dozens of serious violations of UN resolutions by the US and our allies. I asked him if he were aware of this, and how he thought people in other countries would perceive his current fervor for the sanctity of UN edicts.

Feinstein seemed genuinely taken aback. He said something like, "I never thought of it like that."

I assume that, since then, he's continued not thinking of it like that. Because he's probably going to be National Security Advisor in the Hillary Clinton administration:

"A lot of Obama's advisers thought this was a stupid war in 2002, and a lot of Hillary's advisers thought it was a good idea in 2002," said one Democrat with a national security résumé. "That's the original sin which causes people to make some choices."

"The campaign's advisers reflect a broad spectrum of opinion within the Democratic Party," countered Clinton national security guru Lee Feinstein...

Another Foreign Affairs essay, co-written in 2004 by Feinstein, is also drawing scrutiny. It argues Bush's controversial doctrine of "preemptive" war - attacking an enemy before it attacks the U.S. - "does not go far enough."

Feinstein, a former Defense and State department official, supported ousting Saddam in 2003 and believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Since then he has championed the concept of a "duty to prevent," which justifies preemptive strikes. He said the U.S. should try to build coalitions, but that it can attack without allies' support.

It's safe to say that all this massive violating of international law will be done because it is crucial that we strengthen international law.

Posted at 01:42 PM | Comments (17)

November 28, 2007

You Go to War with the Killers You Have, Not the Killers You Want

By: Bernard Chazelle

"Marines shot this boy!" he roars... He wants the boy evacuated to a field hospital. The major on duty informs him that Lieutenant Colonel Ferrando is sleeping and can't be disturbed. Fick is livid. "I wanted to tell the major that we were Americans, that Americans don't shoot kids and let them die, that the men in my platoon had to be able to look themselves in the mirror for the rest of their lives."

Lance Corporal Jeffrey Carazales:

Do you think people at home are going to see this—all these women and children we're killing? Fuck no. Back home they're glorifying this motherfucker, I guarantee you. Saying our president is a fucking hero for getting us into this bitch. He ain't even a real Texan.

Lieutenant Nathaniel Fick:

Worst of all were the accolades and thanks from people "for what you guys did over there." Thanks for what, I wanted to ask—shooting kids, cowering in terror behind a berm, dropping artillery on people's homes?

Evan Wright:

As Graves steps back in horror, his boot slips in the girl's brains. "This is the event that is going to get to me when I go home," he says.

Sergeant Antonio Espera:

Before we crossed in Iraq, I fucking hated Arabs. I don't know why. But as soon as we got here, it's just gone. I just feel sorry for them. I miss my little girl. Dog, I don't want to kill nobody's children.

Do you realize the shit we've done here, the people we've killed? Back home in the civilian world, if we did this, we would go to prison.

Evan Wright:

But when you see a little girl in pretty clothes that someone dressed her in, and she's smushed on the road with her legs cut off, you don't think, well you know there were Fedayeen nearby and this is collateral damage.

The problem with American society is we don't really understand what war is.

Sergeant Antonio Espera:

[The priest] told me killing is OK, for a purpose. Where in the bible does it say that? Where did Jesus say you can kill people for a purpose? As soon as the priest told me I could kill with a purpose, there was nothing he could tell me after that, because he lost all credibility with me.

Sources: Iraq: the Hidden Human Costs, by M. Massing, The New York Review of Books, Dec 20, 2007. (Not online yet.) Excerpts from "One Bullet Away" by N. Fick and "Generation Kill" by E. Wright (interview).

Posted at 08:40 PM | Comments (21)

All The President's Men

As long as I'm saying unkind things about Benjamin Bradlee, here he is appearing with Don Hewitt at the JFK library in Boston in December, 2004:

AUDIENCE: The Washington Post did admit that they didn't do enough adequate coverage of the lead-up to the war. So how do you think you fixed that, since then?...

BRADLEE: I was embarrassed by that piece, if you want the truth. And I thought that The New York Times piece was just as embarrassing. I don't think they really have a hell of a lot to hang their head about.....And if you think that maybe this story stretches this too much, maybe this doesn't exactly fit your preconception of it, you've got to lump that.

Here's a picture of one young lady who's taken Bradlee's advice to heart and is "lumping it":

EXTRA: Here's The Powers That Be by David Halberstam, describing the Washington Post's decision to go public in 1971:

But the future called: if going public was what was demanded, then go public Katharine Graham would. "Otis," she said somewhat plaintively to her friend Otis Chandler, whose family had preceded her in this course, "do I really have to make my salary public?" Otis assured her that she did.

That upset her some but nearly as much as it upset Ben Bradlee, who decided that he could not edit the paper if every reporter knew his salary, then about $100,000. So he resigned from the board...a few years later his name turned up in a list of Post stockholders who had 1 percent or more of the paper's stock. His own reporters did some rough calculations and decided that his stock was worth at least $3 million. When it was brought to his attention that this might in fact mean he was a wealthy man, Bradlee answered: No, no, if anyone knew how far he had had to go into debt to buy that stock, no one would think him wealthy...why, half of that $3 million was borrowed, he said.

The median U.S. income at the time was about $10,000.

(Thanks to Susan H for mentioning it was worth digging up the Boston event.)

Posted at 03:43 PM | Comments (7)

Bill O’Reilly’s Advice for the Young People

I wouldn't have thought it was possible anymore to be truly funny about Bill O'Reilly, but, given the assignment by the Village Voice, Tom Tomorrow proves it can be done.

Posted at 02:06 PM | Comments (0)

November 27, 2007

Valspeak for the Modern Leader

By: Bernard Chazelle

OK, some dudes are so totally like, you know, they go postal or freak out or something when they hear "bad" means "good," "baddest" means "way cool" and "you could care less" really means that you couldn't.

Turns out our beloved leaders have their own linguistic quirks, too. One of them is to replace "so totally" by "not." Why? Lesser mortals like me can't even begin to guess. But, thankfully, once you apply the reverse substitution "not" --> "so totally," then everything our esteemed leaders say, once incomprehensible, suddenly makes sense. For example,

I am so totally a crook. Richard Nixon
We will so totally rush to war. Tony Blair
We will so totally abandon innocent Palestinians in Gaza. Condoleezza Rice
I am so totally a dictator. Pervez Musharraf
British women can so totally cook. Prince Philip
I could so totally imagine somebody like Osama bin Laden understanding the joy of Hanukkah. George W. Bush

This being a civic-minded blog, I invite the commenters to add to this list and thereby help future generations acquire the linguistic chops needed to savor the wisdom of their leaders.

Warning: I will not accept quotations of dubious origin. Like this one:

We so totally fear the imperialist running dogs and their minions [...]; if attacked, all of China shall stand upon a chair, and, when given the signal, jump off simultaneously.

Chairman Mao, in exclusive interview with Our Kampf senior imperialist running dog experts MG & JS.

Posted at 09:06 PM | Comments (5)

The Horrible, Horrible Humans Of Washington, D.C.

From a new interview with Benjamin Bradlee:

KAISER: [T]hat's the problem—that we have this gigantic defense establishment. I think we now spend more on defense than all the other countries in the world...isn't that a little ridiculous?

BRADLEE: It is—this isn't my field of expertise. My president wouldn't do that. But on the other hand, my presidents have done that—so I don't know how to get out of that one.

Yes...why would it be Bradlee's field of expertise? I mean, he was only AMERICA'S MOST POWERFUL NEWSPAPER EDITOR AT THE HEIGHT OF THE COLD WAR. Why would he focus on a tangential issue like that? Or even know the minimum necessary to have an opinion on it?

And obviously Bradlee's instincts have stood the test of time. I mean, look at what a journalistic powerhouse the Washington Post is today.

BUT SERIOUSLY: Of course it isn't Bradlee's field of expertise or even something he appears to have the vaguest interest in. If he were the kind of person who was interested in things that genuinely matter, he would never have been editor of the Washington Post.

ALSO: When asked about Rupert Murdoch buying the Wall Street Journal, Bradlee says, "I don't worry about it. I think Murdoch is a better journalist than the rest of you do." Yes, I'm sure he does.

Posted at 05:33 PM | Comments (16)

IslamoHorowitzism Awareness Month(s) Continues

On November 14th, the Jon Schwarz Freedom Center kicked off IslamoHorowitzism Awareness Week. We quickly came to understand IslamoHorowitzism is too horrific to be aware of in just seven days, and retooled it as IslamoHorowitzism Awareness Month(s). Today my colleague Justin Elliott takes a closer look at the hideous damage IslamoHorowitzism can wreak on innocent lives. (Be sure to scroll down.)

And where are the "human rights" organizations on this one, I ask you? Their hypocrisy stinks to high heaven!

Posted at 12:00 PM | Comments (3)

Norman Solomon Interview

Here's a conversation I had recently with Norman Solomon about his new memoir Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America's Warfare State. If you liked this, hidden in the archives are similar talks with Matt Taibbi and Chris Floyd.

• • •
Where did you grow up?

SOLOMON: I was born in DC, and grew up in Maryland in what was at the time a New Deal community—Greenbelt, which is still there. We moved around a bit, and then when I was eight my family moved to Calcutta for a year and a half. After that I landed back in suburban Maryland in 1961, when I was ten. I stayed there until I went to college.

What was it that took your family to Calcutta?

My father was in the foreign aid program, and went over there on what was a forerunner to AID.

He was an economist who believed in the beneficent possibilities of operations research—better plant utilization, efficiency, all of that. This was part of the ethos of the trip out there. As a child who would have been in third and fourth grade, I saw people on the street who were just mindblowing to me. Thinner than thin. Very different than the American suburbs. I wanted to be back in the land of hotdogs and baseball cards.

My parents were liberal in their political perspective. Happy to hear from our flat in Calcutta that Kennedy had been elected rather than Nixon. My father worked for the government through just about the entire 1960s at the census bureau and did some travel overseas for aid programs. I can't speak for him, but in retrospect—he's now in his eighties—I think he feels he was largely suckered. That the layers of corruption went much deeper than he had realized at the time, both in the US and in foreign countries.

Consciously I didn't there was much of anything wrong with the main institutions of the United States until I was in my mid-teens. The first breach in the retaining wall was the civil rights movement, as I became aware of it. The first demonstration I ever participated in was to desegregate an apartment building in 1966 when I was fifteen. The next was an anti-war demonstration the next year. It was the Vietnam war that convinced me the system was run by people who were capable of the unspeakable.

Who drew you into these things? Usually it's not a complete self-invention project.

I would say my parents, especially my mother, because she was politically active as a liberal Democrat, encouraged me to consider the civil rights movement as something that would be meaningful. But I got into the anti-war movement pretty much on my own. It was part of the zeitgeist. I learned there was a demonstration coming in New York. And there was a special train leaving Union Station in DC to Penn Station, and I got on the train...and just never got off.

I remember vividly getting onto the train car, and there was a guy running a mimeograph machine. Obviously mobile media wouldn't be remarkable in the days of laptops and blackberries, but it was really something to me then. And it was turning to print a special newsletter for the people going to New York. The newsletter was being run by a guy named Bill Higgs, as I went on to discover. He had represented James Meredith at Old Miss, and had been pretty much exiled from Mississippi as a lawyer. His life had been in danger. And I got to know him. He represented H. Rap Brown. He was instrumental in the lawsuit Hobson v. Hansen, which was instrumental in the desegregation of the DC schools, which were essentially Southern-style.

Silver Spring, where I lived, wasn't rich. It wasn't poor, though. Just diverse. The high school was huge, and drawn from different neighborhoods and different economic strata as well. There were also what we called the collegiates, who wore brown shoes that you put a penny in, but you wouldn't.

I started into high school as a collegiate. But as my hair grew longer, the hyper-confinement of high school physically felt similar to the effort to confine us mentally. I remember there were these conferences on American civilization, and one of the speakers was General Lewis Hershey, who was head of the US Selective Service system. When we heard him speak we hated him. He was trying to justify the draft. I remember writing something at the time that he was puffed up life a bullfrog. These were the voices of death. And even though I was just sixteen, I felt that very strongly.

Later when I saw the film Hair, it certainly evoked that for me. At the end, when the guy is walking into the big hatch of death of the airplane to take him to Vietnam. That was very much of the era. I knew friends of my older brother going to Vietnam. I'd read Ramparts Magazine with full color photographs of Vietnamese children being burned up, years before daily newspapers were making much of a ruckus about such things. I was reading the Washington Post, and the editorials were very supportive of the war, but Nicholas von Hoffman was a columnist for what became the Style section.

A few months after the demonstration in New York was the march on the Pentagon. There was lots of confrontation in the air. That's what yielded the pictures of people putting flowers in the rifle barrels of the US Army troops. That also was very much a bellwether for what was happening.

How important was it to have a genuine counterculture? The one thing that seems to be missing now is to have some place to go, mentally or physically, that has a whole set of shared assumptions and a different way of looking at the world that sets itself up in opposition to the status quo.

I think there were real pluses and minuses to what we call the counterculture. We're not only worse off because it doesn't exist in such a state today. There was a hell of a lot of rigid ideology in the late sixties and early seventies. A lot of it was reworked old left dogma that I don't miss at all. And it was a very patriarchal sort of a scene. Feminism didn't intrude on the counterculture until 69 or 70, with ferocious battles still ahead. That was one debilitating dynamic. Also there was overrealiance on drugs, and a naive belief there were inherent qualities in drugs that were humanistic or even political.

As for positives, one was simply the people. Through Bill Higgs, I got to meet Dick Gregory in 67 or 68. And you learn from role models like that—not that they're being didactic, but just because you see how they are coping with the world and bringing what they can into the world. Like so many other people, Gregory was that for me.

I remember going with him and Bill to a radio station once around the time of riots in 68. And you could see this guy, who could have been making a lot of money as a comedian, being a part of movements—even though you could tell he was physically exhausted from everything he did, dragging himself out there.

I particularly remember his line, "If Jesus had lived today, instead of having little crosses around our necks, we'd have little electric chairs around our necks." A comment like that is so illuminating.

Lots of people made a big impression on me. Draft resistors, people who were refusing to go to Vietnam, seeing by example how people dealt with stuff. I worked for a mainstream local paper during my time between high school and college, and I interviewed a Quaker guy my age, who was about to go off to prison for a couple of years because he just wouldn't go into the military. I wrote the story and thought about it a lot.

So you go off to college after that, and what did you find college to be like?

I found it to be boring. I went to Reed College. I drove westward on the first Earth Day, spring 1970. Reed has a reputation as being very avant-guard, but there'd been a political purge the year before, and a lot of professors who were seen as troublemakers were gone shortly before I got there.

It was also my mindset. The war in Vietnam was still raging. I didn't find my professors that interesting. There was too much drugs and not enough politics on campus. The atmosphere of the campus seemed very disconnected. Disconnections between people, and disconnections between the campus and what was going on in the country and world.

I got drawn into the community radio station there, KBOO, was very involved in writing and activism. Wrote a lot, was involved in anti-nuclear organizing. I wrote a lot of fiction, most of it not very good. I was reading Joan Didion, James Jones, Norman Mailer, John Steinbeck, Donald Barthelme, John Hersey.

I remember once getting a long roll of paper, just hundreds and hundreds of yards, and just rolling it through the manual typewriter. I went to the Republican national convention in 1972. There were great demonstrations outside, very little of which was covered by the media. I wrote a little book that came out a few months later called "In the Belly of the Dinosaurs." I just looked at it.

Talk about an undercovered political moment—I really knew nothing about that convention until I read about it in your book.

One person I wrote about in that was Danny Schecter, and at the time he was talking about how undercovered the demonstration was. It was more creative, and certainly more non-violent that the 68 Chicago convention. Over a thousand of us went to jail. Every night was a different theme of theater in the streets, including a non-violent march against death. But the mass media had decided what was going on wasn't important.

I remember after being maced, I ran into a bar, and on the TV was John Chancellor saying, "There's nothing much going on in the streets outside the convention..."

The received image of the period after that the Vietnam war blunders to a close, and then everybody loses their focus. Is that how you experienced it?

I saw a real community focus, from food co-ops, to germination of non-commercial radio stations, associations, environmental organizations, and the women's movement and gay rights movement. But there was a severe falloff in the capacity to really mobilize. Lots of urban weekly tabloids folded or lost circulation. There was a loss of focus after US troops came out—which is not to say when the war ended. Gerald Ford was not much a foil.

Yes, as a figure of evil, he left something to be desired.

He presided over the fall of Saigon. Later there was a growing period for the anti-nuclear movement, which of necessity gained momentum under Carter, and then the movement against intervention in Central America. I think there was a reawakening of Gandhi's tactics, at the Seabrook nuclear power construction site and elsewhere. I was involved in organizing a group in the Northwest that did civil disobedience at an operating nuclear power plant named Trojan. Our actions were modeled after the Clamshell Alliance at Seabrook. It was an eye-opener for me. It was part of a whole campaign of public education. At one point in 1978 there were about 240 arrests. It raised a lot of questions about nuclear energy all over Oregon. From my standpoint it was very illuminating to see people could alter the entire state's view on whether nuclear power was viable.

And then I noticed there was this thing up the Columbia River called Hanford. And it took a couple of years of work before a lightbulb kind of went on for me about the nuclear weapons monolith.

Have you ever found any presentation about nuclear weapons in a book or a movie or wherever that really works for an audience? Because it is something most people actually find boring...because it feels so gigantic. It's like, "Well, the sun's shining again today." It's hard to say, "Let's have a demonstration to turn off the sun."

It's very hard to address, particularly in isolation. It has a whole economic and historic set of roots. To some extent I'm now writing this against my own will. But it's evasive to avoid it. The next probable war, with Iran, is partly about the right of the US to have nuclear weapons and the other country to have no such right. When I was in Tehran for ten days in summer 2005, I asked probably more than a hundred people the same question. And the people I was traveling with started making fun of me because I did it so much and always in exactly the same way. I would say, "Are you in favor of the Iranian government developing nuclear power for electrical generation." Next question: "Are you in favor of the Iranian government developing nuclear weapons?" For the first question, all but one person said yes. They all wanted nuclear power. To the second question, they almost all said they didn't want nuclear weapons. But after fifty years of denying that the nuclear power industry and nuclear weapons are connected, the White House, for its own convenience, is now saying that they are connected.

I came back, having been in the anti-nuclear movement, remembering that the nuclear industry has been trying since Eisenhower to tell us how great nuclear power is. Atoms for peace, etc. It was also a way to say that fission was not just bad. That's where the Eisenhower push came from. It was antithetical to Hiroshima. Remember, the nuclear age was announced with a lie, when Truman said Hiroshima had been bombed and was a military base—in the same breath. Even since, they've been trying to pretty this thing up. The phrase "too cheap to meter" was used early on. They wanted to make nuclear seem not ominous but uplifting. Now it's supposedly going to protect us from global warming.

It's the swiss army knife of technology!

And the nuclear power industry has finally found a population of believers—in Iran. They really saw it as a cheap clean sort of energy, better economically and environmentally. Now the US is bitching about it. Well, who taught them? The Shah got the push to develop nuclear power from Washington.

There's something else to it, too. I wrote a piece in 1980 for In These Times about a trip to the Nevada testing site. I've interviewed a lot of bomb designers, bomb testers, people at nuclear weapons plants in managing capacities. Generally they're technophiles and can-do believers. They can break this! It's a sweet problem, as Oppenheimer said.

What then drew you into media criticism?

It was really the combination of my efforts at activism and my experiences as someone who'd been a reporter. I could look at both sides. I had the basic reporting skills. And when I was involved in anti-nuclear activities I was soon an expert on media bias at the local papers and TV stations. I think this is true of activists generally. The disconnect between the coverage and what they see with their own eyes...

Their own maced, burning eyes.

After a while that split becomes gigantic. For me it was dramatic as I wrote about issues of nuclear power and weapons. I had this experience during the 1970s seeing the Oregonian newspaper getting a lot factually wrong and also spinning things. I was writing op-ed pieces about nuclear issues, and in 82 flew into LA and dashed into a TV studio to talk about a book on nuclear power. And I ended up meeting a guy who was also a guest on the show, this guy named Jeff Cohen. And we were chatting and got to be friendly. Over the next couple years we talked a lot, and then he told me he was thinking of starting a group called Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. So that really drew me into it. One thing led to another.

I think FAIR has had a huge effect. It seems to me that before FAIR there was Noam Chomsky, and Ben Bagdikian had written a book. And Michael Parenti and a few others. And that was mostly it, in terms of doing it in a serious, systematic way.

I think individuals can accomplish very little on their own. A sense of united effort and the multiplier effect of combined energy is crucial. FAIR has been a catalyst in that way. In think FAIR has had a lot of effects on people that no one will ever know about, including people who worked at FAIR. It's made it possible for a lot of people's insights to blossom and be shared. That, in contrast to the conventional top-down view of how things change, is really how things happen.

Also breaking down the division between media criticism and activism has been a really important ongoing achievement from FAIR.

I think we have to make sense to people and also sustain ongoing alternatives. You can't beat something with nothing. And to a large extent that's been the problem of progressives in the US. As Woody Allen says, 80% of success is showing up. And the right wing can always show up in force because of the huge money and momentum that they have. And we have to offer people some clear tangible evidence that we're asking them to grasp at something more than straws, that it's possible to go in a very different direction.

We've learned you don't always have to go back to square one. If it's quacked like a duck a thousand times, it may in fact be a duck. The worst part of the liberal tradition is that every time there's a new war, it has to be examined without a sense of the past. Hopefully we're learning from experience that structures seem to behave in similar ways over time.

I was on with Tom Snyder after Unreliable Sources came out, right around the time of the Gulf War in 91. I was talking about the lies that got us into Vietnam, and how the Pentagon has fought wars in the past, and he cut in and said, "but that was then, and this is now!" A split second later, a commercial.

Posted at 10:55 AM | Comments (3)

November 26, 2007

Ten Reasons I Resent Evolution

1. I resent evolution for making me mortal. Thanks a lot, evolution.

2. More precisely, I resent evolution for making me (a) be mortal, (b) be aware I'm mortal, and (c) care about my mortality. Any two of these would be okay, but adding the third creates lots of problems.

3. I resent evolution for making me care about other organisms which are mortal. If possible, I resent this more than #1 and #2.

4. I resent evolution for making bacon so, so delicious while also hastening one's experience of #1. Great system, evolution.

5. I resent evolution for making me—ever since I hit puberty—pay more attention to women who have the "correct" waist/hip ratio, and pay less attention to women who don't yet are more objectively interesting.

6. I resent evolution for making me think there's such a thing as people being "objectively interesting," when in fact evolution has merely created different standards under which you find people interesting, standards which may clash violently but none of which is more "objective" than any other.

7. I resent evolution's use of physical pain. If evolution wants to tell me certain things, like that it REALLY doesn't want me to drop a blender on my foot, it could simply send me a politely-worded letter.

8. I resent evolution's entire system of physical and emotional rewards and punishments. I appreciate evolution is extremely anxious that I behave in certain ways. However, I wish we could sit down and discuss it like adults.

9. Hair on my shoulders?!?

10. I resent evolution for making me resent it. I resent evolution for making me resent resenting it. I resent evolution for making me resent resenting resenting it. And so on.

Posted at 01:11 PM | Comments (37)

Annapolis: What's at Stake

By: Bernard Chazelle

Ignore the wailing of the Cassandras: Annapolis will be a success. Mark my words: this week in Maryland will see President Bush set in motion the beginning of the first tentative steps toward an approach to a process aimed at a distant horizon that will in due course lead to a compromise pointing the way toward the initial conditions creating the possibility of a climate that will catalyze the development of a mood conducive to an environment propitious to a confidence-building set of measures whose momentum will carry us further on the path to...

neutering Iran.

Since Hamas will be watching the proceedings from afar, the only two points of agreement among the participants at the meeting will be the succulence of the cole slaw and the need to keep Iran from nuking up. Not that, mind you, anyone actually worries about being vaporized by Tehran: no one does. The issue is balance of power. A nuclear Iran would cement that country's status as an ascending regional superpower and, in doing so, shift the balance of power irreversibly away from the West. Repeat after me: Intolerable.

Of course, the four reasons for Iran's rise (Taliban, Saddam, Shia power, price of oil) can be traced directly to Bush's policies. Oddly, for a country that has not attacked anyone in hundreds of years, Iran has few friends. But it has oil, and it is acknowledged by China, India, and Russia as a key player in the new Great Game. The main objective of Annapolis thus is to lower the temperature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict just enough to focus on Iran with none of the pesky distractions from the world's greatest outdoor prison: Gaza. A fake deal would give carte blanche to Arab powers (who don't give a fig about the Palestinians) to work with the US on an Iran containment policy (while Petraeus continues to need Iranian cooperation in Baghdad, military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities may have to wait).

How do I know that? Because there is nothing left to negotiate between Israel and the Palestinians. The outline of a two-state solution was agreed upon at Camp David 2000 and Taba 2001 and both sides know there is no other viable option for lasting peace. The only points left to iron out concern the difficult issues of land swap, water rights, refugees, East Jerusalem, etc, but the contours are known and the matter is essentially technical. Some problems in the world are inherently complex (Kashmir, the Sudan, etc). The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not one of them: there is a consensus on both sides about its solution. The problem is not that the conflict cannot be solved: it is that none of the powers-that-be wants it solved.

And so it won't happen. Not in Annapolis. Not any time soon. But before we sink into terminal pessimism, here is a quick rundown of the cast of characters:

Bush: Promised Sharon in 2004 that a return to the 1967 borders was no longer in the cards (which places him outside the Taba consensus). A lame duck who's taken his marching orders from AIPAC for 7 years, why would he suddenly be willing to knock heads, as any progress would require at this point?

Abbas: Has tenuous control over the West Bank and none at all over Gaza. Any concession might be signing his death warrant - literally. He can promise but he can't deliver. He is Arafat in reverse: the Israelis love him but (and because) he has no power. In the last 2 years, the Israelis have increased the number of roadblocks in the West Bank (living hell for its residents) by 58% with nary a whisper from Abbas.

Olmert: Give the Israeli establishment this: they have a great sense of humor. Just as their PM is landing in the US, he will find out whether the police will recommend his indictment in a corruption scandal. Timing, timing. But the larger issue is that for the majority of Israelis (at least those not on the receiving end of Qassams in Sderot), the conflict is no more than an irritant. The Palestinians have finally been contained in their jail and the Israelis have found in Abbas a suitable quisling to keep the inmates from rattling their cages too loudly.

Palestinian terrorism is at an all-time low. The Israelis are in no rush. Plus, their political leaders are weak and in no position to make the hard choices needed to implement Taba. If anything, Iran is now a higher strategic priority for Israel. Israel might release 450 Palestinian prisoners (out of 10,000) but, before you pop the champagne, remember that in October alone it arrested 600 of them. Olmert might promise to remove the illegal outposts: yes, the same outposts that he's promised to remove for years.

Hamas: Their invitation letter got lost in the mail, so they'll be watching on CNN. While munching on Iranian pistachios, Ismail Haniyeh may wonder: Did any of these clowns really believe the Irish "Troubles" could have been settled with a handshake between Tony Blair and the mayor of Boston? To make matters worse, Israel has decided to begin cutting off power in Gaza (which Hamas controls) beginning Dec. 2. That's a "war crime," but only in international law, so no one cares. As such things always do, it will work to Hamas's advantage.

Syria: Without putting the Golan Heights on the table, Bush doesn't have a prayer to accomplish his cherished goal of creating a wedge between Damascus and Tehran. The presence of Syria's deputy foreign minister in Annapolis means only that Condi won't walk out when the word Golan is mentioned (and it will). She'll just pretend she didn't hear.

Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia: Pity their leaders. There is no humiliation they won't suffer with all the glee of certified masochists. None of the Arab League's conditions for participation will have been met (eg, freeze on settlements, refugee status, Jerusalem - zilch, nada). But who cares? These countries will send their foreign ministers (and not just the "deputy" kind) to lick Bush's Texan boots or any anatomical appendage if so ordered. The poodles of Pax Americana always say yes. Which is a shame because it is Saudi Arabia that formalized the only comprehensive normalization initiative ever with Israel: once in 2002 and then again in 2006. Bush nixed it.

What too many observers in the US fail to appreciate is how close to extinction the two-state solution has advanced. We are nearing the point of no return, after which only a binational state will remain viable. The growth in the settlements (nearly half a million strong, counting Jerusalem - a 100% increase since Oslo) makes a return to '67 increasingly unfeasible. People who never liked a two-state arrangement in the first place should be careful what they wish for: the road outside Taba does not lead to Switzerland. It leads to war and enduring apartheid.

Palestinians and Israelis are stuck with one another. Demographics is working fast against the Israeli side so the window of opportunity for peace is narrow. Time is of the essence. And yet Bush has done nothing for 7 years, while the lives of millions of Palestinians and Israelis hang in the balance. The fact is that Israel has proven utterly incapable of advancing the peace process without prodding from the US. But, instead of prodding, the US has done nothing but prop open the gates of hell since 2000. No photo-op in Annapolis and no lucrative arms deals with the Saudis to contain Iran will change that.

Posted at 10:52 AM | Comments (9)

November 25, 2007

Administering And Normalizing

I'm tired of looking aghast at nice liberal Americans who are blind to the hideous effects of American colonialism. So, let's look aghast at nice liberal Britons who are blind to the hideous effects of British colonialism. Here's Rowan Williams, the nice liberal Archbishop of Canterbury, talking recently about how dreadful America's occupation of Iraq has been:

"We have only one global hegemonic power at the moment." But, he propounds, "It is not accumulating territory; it is trying to accumulate influence and control. That’s not working." Far from seeing this positively, he describes it as "the worst of all worlds," saying, "it is one thing to take over a territory and then pour energy and resources into administering it and normalising it. Rightly or wrongly that’s what the British Empire did – in India for example. It is another thing to go in on the assumption that a quick burst of violent action will somehow clear the decks and that you can move on and other people will put things back together–Iraq for example."

I certainly wouldn't want to be an Iraqi today. But then again, I also wouldn't want to be an Indian during the heyday of the Raj, when (in addition to everything else the British did) tens of millions died in famines caused by British rule. To characterize what happened the way Williams does makes him sound like a British Thomas Friedman. I guess it's always easiest to spot the louse when it's crawling on someone else's bonnet.

And why was it so necessary for the British to keep taxes high and export food from India even as people were digging up their relatives and eating them? Here, let Lord Lytton, Viceroy from 1876-80 during one of the greatest catastrophes, explain:

"The doctrine that in time of famine the poor are entitled to demand relief...would probably lead to the doctrine that they are entitled to such relief at all times...which we cannot contemplate without serious apprehension.”

AND: Here's Winston Churchill, in a letter during the 1940s: "I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion." Yes, you can see how he would feel that way. For some reason, people you rule over and slaughter always seem to be awful.

Posted at 08:41 PM | Comments (19)

Ice Blurgh

By: Bernard Chazelle

The Titanic didn't see it.

What's their excuse?


Posted at 05:10 PM | Comments (10)

November 24, 2007

John Howard Defeated; Looks Forward To Spending More Time Lying To His Family

With John Howard's defeat in Australia, now's a good time to look back at the shameless lies he told about Iraq and WMD. I've put the details over at Mother Jones.

Farewell, John Howard. Say hello to history's scrap heap for us.

Posted at 04:45 PM | Comments (5)

November 23, 2007

Nobel Time for Bonzo

By: Bernard Chazelle

The IQ brawl is raging in the schoolyard and I hear the bugle call, but, no, I will not step into the ring and cart the miscreants off to the detention office. When I spot a giant steaming pile of manure, I usually don't rush to climb on top of it and hoist my victory flag. (Do you?) I leave that to the desperados who would do anything to soothe the pain of their own intellectual insecurity. I'd only point out - if it were not so obvious - that crackpot pseudoscience has always been the crack cocaine of the totalitarian mind.

For starters, the very notion of IQ is bunk. What counts is DQ (for "dumbness quotient") and on that the science is clear: we're all equally dumb, with some Slate journalists more equal than others.

For true intellectual and moral guidance, I suggest we climb back up the banana tree from which we once descended. This way please:

Tetsuro Matsuzawa, a Kyoto primatologist, described a young chimp watching as numbers 1 through 9 flashed on the computer screen at random positions. Then the numbers disappeared in no more than a second. White squares remained where the numbers had been. The chimp casually but swiftly pressed the squares, calling back the numbers in ascending order: 1, 2, 3, etc.

The test was repeated several times, with the numbers and squares in different places. The chimp, which had months of training accompanied by promised food rewards, almost never failed to remember where the numbers had been. The video included scenes of a human failing the test, seldom recalling more than one or two numbers, if any.

Humans can't do it, Dr. Matsuzawa said. Chimpanzees are superior to humans [...]

So chimps are smarter than us. Yes, but we are better at making excuses.

Dr. Matsuzawa suggested that early human species lost the immediate memory and, in return, learned symbolization, the language skills. I call this the trade-off theory, he continued. If you want a capability like better immediate memory, you have to lose some other capability.


For moral advice, some turn to their church, their synagogue, their mosque, or their local branch of the American Enterprise Institute. Me? I head for the nearest zoo.

The emotions of caring and mourning have been observed, as in the case of the chimp mother that carried on her back the corpse of her 2-year-old daughter for days after she had died. After fights between two chimps, scientists said, others in the group were seen consoling the loser and acting as mediators to restore peace.

Devyn Carter of Emory described the sympathetic response to a chimp named Knuckles, who was afflicted with cerebral palsy. No fellow chimp was seen to take advantage of his disability. Even the alpha male gently groomed Knuckles.

Chimp vs Saletan: it's no contest.


Posted at 08:59 PM | Comments (27)

You're My Daughter

I see I'm a little late to discover the sketch group Derrick, mostly made up of recent NYU graduates. They've produced a ton of videos, many of which are genuinely funny. Here's my favorite. It's beautifully written and produced, and has been watched on YouTube over half a million times:

Posted at 01:31 PM | Comments (2)

November 22, 2007

Today, Let's Give Thanks For The Good Subhumans

Happy Thanksgiving! Today, let's join with Brian Kilmeade of Fox & Friends and celebrate the true meaning of this holiday:

Since we are global, we have people writing us from other countries saying, "We don't even know what Thanksgiving is"! They don't know about the Pilgrims. They don't know about the Hekawi [?] Indians we ended up signing a peace agreement with...Remember F-Troop? Those are my favorite Indians. They were good Indians.

It's hard to tell, but I think Kilmeade said the Pilgrims signed a peace agreement with the "Hekawi." The Hekawi were the imaginary (and imaginarily friendly) Indians on the sixties TV show he mentions, F-Troop, which was set in Kansas in 1865. So Fox's international audience may not want to rely on Kilmeade to learn US history. (Also, as far as I know, there is no "peace agreement" connected to Thanksgiving.)

But—were the Hekawi the only good subhumans? No! Here, let Richard Nixon tell you, from his Oval Office tapes:

NIXON: Many Jews in the Communist conspiracy...Chambers and Hiss were the only non-Jews...Many thought that Hiss was. He could have been a half...Every other one was a Jew...

Jewish families are close, but there's this strange malignancy that seems to creep among them...

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

The best Jews are actually the Israeli Jews.

I'd also bet that, as the Buffalo Soldiers were fighting in the Apache Wars, the Spanish-American War, and the Johnson County War, there were US presidents regularly referring to them as "the good negroes." But sadly, we do not have recordings from this period.

Posted at 07:43 PM | Comments (5)

Beyond Satire

By: Bernard Chazelle

Tom Lehrer, still a cult figure among math types of a certain age, on why he won't be honoring Bush with a song:

I don't want to satirise George Bush and his puppeteers, I want to vaporise them.

And yet, as Lehrer liked to remind his listeners, the power of satire is unstoppable: so much so that the legendary British comedian Peter Cook modeled his own comedy club on the political cabarets of Berlin in the 30s, because they did so much to prevent the rise of Adolf Hitler.

In this song, Lehrer distills the essence of US foreign policy:

Members of the Corps / All hate the thought of war / They'd rather kill them off by peaceful means.

Oh, one more thing. On this important day, when you say thank you to everything that moves, please remember: some turkeys had other plans.

November 20, 2007

Vengeance Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

By: Bernard Chazelle

It's always struck me as odd that a country so passionate about freedom be so quick to deny it to so many of its own citizens.

When you read the numbers below, keep two facts in mind: (1) only 15 percent of arrests involve serious property theft or violence; (2) we keep 10 times more people in prison than we did in 1970 when the crime rate was actually higher.

  • The US has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of all prison inmates.
  • The US incarceration rate is the world's highest, five to eight times higher than those of other industrialized nations.
  • Liberty-obsessed America has a million more prisoners than China, a police state with four times our population.
  • One third of all black males and 60 percent of black high school dropouts will go to prison at some point in their lives.
  • African-Americans serve as much time in federal prison for a typical drug offense as whites do for a violent crime.
  • African-Americans constitute 14% of the nation's drug users (roughly their fraction of the general population) but 56% of people imprisoned for a drug offense.
  • Over 5 million people are denied the right to vote because of a prior conviction.

Which brings us again to the Iron Law of Institutions: If the Democrats passed a law restoring to former convicts the right to vote, they might well secure for themselves a permanent majority. But whoever pushed for such a measure would likely pay a price. And, remember, a politician shall never willingly endanger his/her position.

One silver lining is the growing recognition from our top leaders that excessive prison sentencing is unbearably cruel and must be stopped at all costs!

I respect the jury's verdict. But I have concluded that the [30-month] prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive.

George W. Bush, 07/02/07

Jessica Hall, on the other hand, was not deemed worthy of a presidential pardon. A mother of three with a husband on his third tour in Iraq, she was sentenced to two years in prison for throwing a McDonald's ice cup at another car that cut her off while driving. She had no prior record and the tragic consequence of her "road rage" was the unfortunate spilling of McDonald's water on another car. She spent nearly two months in jail before the uproar created by the decision caused her sentence to be commuted to probation.

Sources: [1, 2]

30 Rock: Funny

It's not often I see jokes on sitcoms and think: HOLY CRAP I WISH I'D WRITTEN THAT. But it happened several times in last week's episode of 30 Rock.

#1: Tina Fey's character has convinced herself her Middle Eastern neighbor is a terrorist, and wants to turn him in. But she's worried about seeming racist. As she wanders the streets thinking about it, she sees the (real) bus stop ad which says:


Then she walks a little further, and sees another bus stop ad, which says:


I think I'll make that the new motto of this site.

#2: Alec Baldwin's character is at a fancy event, standing at the bar next to an attractive woman he doesn't know:

ALEC BALDWIN [to bartender]: I'll have a white rum with diet ginger ale and a splash of lime.

WOMAN: Wow. I never would have pegged you for a University of Tennessee sorority girl.

[WOMAN exits]

BARTENDER: Sir, here's your "Nancy Drew."

ALEC BALDWIN [looking offended]: For men it's called a "Hardy Boy."

O that is fine writing. The episode is credited to Kay Cannon & Tina Fey, although the way sitcoms work, these jokes could be the work of anyone on the staff. Perhaps it was the very funny Tami Sagher.

Why Does Joseph Addison Keep Copying Me?

Some time ago I was angered when I saw that Thomas Jefferson was copying me. But now I've learned that, regarding the same exact thought, Joseph Addison (1672-1719) has been copying Jefferson.

Thus, by the transitive law of copying, Addison has been copying me. And there's likely someone who lived even earlier who's been copying him, which means they've also been copying me. History is nothing but a long line of people who've stolen my thoughts before I had them. I Should Be Allowed To Think!

Nice Is Different From Good

In case you missed it last week, the high school in Berwyn, Illinois that planned to expel students for protesting the Iraq war has backed down:

District 201 Supt. Ben Nowakowski said in a statement that 14 of the 18 students who faced expulsion will be cleared to return to class Wednesday and that four students who bore more culpability for the disruption can return to class Friday.

Arthur Silber says:

We may be grateful that these brave students have escaped the most severe punishment. But what lessons do you think they may have learned from this episode? As I described in the earlier piece, they have learned that the operation of justice is excessively fragile, and that justice is meted out depending on how willing you are to accommodate yourself to the demands of authority in areas that should be irrelevant. They have learned that justice often depends on matters of race and class. They have learned that certain punishments may be avoided, but only if public protest is significant and sustained. In the absence of such protest, these students' futures would have been altered significantly, and perhaps destroyed in large part.

With regard to the subject of their protest, the students look to our national leaders, and they see that no one -- no one, with only a handful of exceptions -- recognizes the horrors the students see, and is committed to ending them. They see a government made up in large part of criminals, and they see that these criminals are suffering no negative consequences at all. The students were punished, and might have been punished much more severely -- but no one in Washington suffers a similar fate on any scale.

I award Arthur extra blurgh points for his illustrative use of Into the Woods. If I were a drama teacher at Morton West, I'd get the students to put on Into the Woods this year. Then I'd sit back and wait for them to realize it's not a weird, post-modern Broadway musical with no connection to their lives, but a weird, post-modern Broadway musical that's about nothing but their lives. Then I'd get fired.

November 19, 2007

Sheep, Abroad And At Home

Miles Copeland was a longtime CIA operative who participated in the 1953 coup in Iran. (He was also the father of Stewart Copeland, drummer for the Police.)

Here he is being interviewed by Robert Parry in 1990:

"Most of the things that were done [by the United States] about Iran had been on a basis of stark realism, with possibly the exception of letting the Shah down," Copeland said. "There are plenty of forces in the country we could have marshaled . ... We could have sabotaged [the revolution]. I think in the long run we'd have had a hard time to do it because Islam is the march of the future. But, yes, we could have done something about it. But we had to do it early. We had to establish what the Quakers call 'the spirit of the meeting' in the country, where everybody was thinking just one way. The Iranians were really like sheep, as they are now."

I wonder why the Iranian government finds it useful to refer to us as "the Global Arrogance"? Perhaps we will never be able to understand the Mysterious East.

In any case, it's been my experience that when someone looks upon people in another country as "sheep," they also see the people in their own country the same way. I doubt Miles Copeland was any different.

(The Copeland passage appears in Parry's book Secrecy and Privilege.)

November 18, 2007

"Why Not Just Make Stuff Up?": The Amir Taheri Story

Amir Taheri, the Iranian royalist who brought us the tale of Tehran's plan to make Jewish Iranians wear special yellow badges, turns out to have made up other things too...things which Norman Podhoretz and Michael Ledeen repeat as real. I've stuck the details over at Mother Jones.

It's this kind of bald-faced lying that makes me respect Taheri. Even the most egregious propagandists usually can't bring themselves to fabricate things out of whole cloth. Instead, they'll misrepresent what people actually did say, or cite facts selectively. It's just how our monkey brains work.

This often leads monkey-brained hacks to behave in preposterous ways, as they go to incredible lengths to consciously mislead people while not exactly "lying" (see a funny recent example here). I always look at their exertions and want to ask: since you clearly have no moral scruples, why not just make things up?

But clearly this is something we will never have to wonder about Taheri. And he is the bigger man for it.

Musharraf to US: "Put up or Shut up."

By: Bernard Chazelle

Not having Bill Kristol's crystal ball, I won't attempt to predict what will happen to our friendly dictator Musharraf. But this much is clear: the US has once again put itself in a lose-lose situation. Here is why:

1. It took two years for the Bush administration to engineer the Musharraf-Bhutto power-sharing agreement and one week for Musharraf to kill it. Benazir Bhutto is now thoroughly discredited: unable or unwilling to mount massive protests, she is viewed as a tepid triangulator with the heart of a kleptocrat - her husband was not named "Mr 10 percent" for nothing. The Army hates her and even her supporters are having second thoughts.

2. In Pakistan, what the Army wants, the Army gets. As Tony Karon reminds us, the military owns a third of the economy. The only serious threat to Musharraf's power might come from some disgruntled general (like the deputy head of the Armed Forces, Ashfaq Kiyani, who enjoys strong US support). Musharraf's coziness with the US has not endeared him to all corners of the Armed Forces. But the military chain of command is disciplined and the likelihood of an internal coup is slim.

3. Support for US policy is nonexistent among the people and increasingly thin among military leaders. There are two reasons for the latter: one is that the US has denied its old ally, Pakistan, the nuclear deal it has offered (unsuccessfully so far) to its new ally, India. The other is that the US is pushing the Pakistani army to fight a war that it is losing - and losing badly - not just in the tribal belt but in Pakistan proper. While Musharraf was busy rounding up lawyers in Islamabad, he was releasing top Taliban leaders from jail, including Mullah Omar's third in command. Why? Because 250 Pakistani troops had been captured by tribal militants without firing a single shot. No one in Pakistan wants - or knows how - to fight Bush's "war on terror." Fighting is supposed to take place on the other side of the country: For many Pakistani, it is obvious that Bush read the map upside down.

4. Lord Bush of Khyber has nowhere to go. His Bhutto gamble has failed and he has liittle leverage left over Islamabad. Musharraf, on the other hand, can at any time instruct his troops to leave the tribal militants alone and expose the utter disaster that has been Bush's Pakistan policy. Or he can launch a new offensive to please Washington. He gets to call the shots. Musharraf's cockiness after talking to Negroponte, "Washington is 200 per cent behind me," suggests he knows who is the pro in the room and who is the amateur.

Our friendly dictator still has a few tricks up his sleeves. So who knows what happens next? Just two things you can count on not changing any time soon: Pakistan's enduring sorrow and Kristol's bovine smirk.

The Problem With Friendly Dictators

What is the problem with friendly dictators? During a discussion on Fox this week about Musharraf, William Kristol explained:

KRISTOL: They are sending Deputy Secretary Negroponte over there earlier this weekend. This is the Marcos moment, I think, where we tell our ally, the friendly and decent dictator, that his time has passed.

The problem with these friendly dictators is they end up wanting to hang on, they like being dictators beyond when it is in their country's national interest, and beyond when it is in our interest.

I think this actually manageable. I do think Musharraf is going to have to go.

This is why we need experts like William Kristol. Unsophisticated people might think the problem with friendly dictators is the "dictator" part. In particular, individuals whose testicles the friendly dictators have hooked up to electrodes often focus on this to the exclusion of what actually matters, which is whether or not the dictators are effectively serving the needs of William Kristol and his friends.

Then there's the dictators themselves. They often are concerned with the way the lifespan of ex-dictators tends to be short. What they don't understand is that they should be happy to die if that's convenient for their employer, the United States. Just as William Kristol doesn't worry about what happens to his maids after they've outlived their usefulness, why should he worry about his dictators?

(Thanks to Dan for sending me this.)

November 17, 2007

Passing The Savings And Lead-Contaminated Toys On To You

Consumers Union has created another funny video with a song by the Austin Lounge Lizards. This time it's about America's hilarious lack of food and product safety inspections. You can watch it, and get involved in the Consumers Union campaign on inspections, here.

If you enjoyed that, be sure to watch this previous video, from their prescription drug campaign in 2005. I would like to meet the woman who does the voiceover at the end, and sing her a tender song.


From (according to the LA Times) "Nevada's best-known progressive blog," here's a description of the aftermath of the Democratic debate:

In the spin room later, Nevada state Sen. Steven Horsford, an Obama guy, predicted that the Social Security issue could become a "centerpiece" of the campaign going forward. That's probably a tad optimistic. But Obama is clearly right. And Clinton's strategy on Social Security, both in the campaign and as a matter of policy, clearly does not extend much beyond whispering the occasional sweet nothing.

Splendid. Also splendid is the failure of types like me to explain to many people with decent instincts that they're being played on Social Security, just like they were played with Saddam's Terrifying Weapons Of Mass Destruction.

Hillary Clinton has sometimes done an okay job on this, if you leave aside her warnings that Obama wants to hike taxes by one TRILLION dollars. Here she is recorded recently by Time:


I've said, these are Republican talking points. Social Security is not in crisis. Health care's in crisis. Medicare's in crisis. The energy—climate change is a crisis. And I'm not going to be repeating Republican talking points...

Why are Democrats having this debate? Democrats should be rejecting the premise of this debate. That's what we successfully did when we took Bush on with privatization. We said, "It's not in crisis. We're not going to play this game. You're trying to undermine and destroy Social Security."

So I feel very comfortable with where I am. And for the life of me I don't understand what my opponents are trying to achieve. There are a couple of folks who might give them an atta-boy, but when it comes down to it, let's focus on health care, Medicare, energy and all these other issues...

Believe me, no one is more horrified than I am to celebrate Hillary Clinton's stance on something. But there it is. Vote Cthulhu.

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

By: Bernard Chazelle

In this must-read review of David Shulman's "Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine," Avishai Margalit reminds us why periods of calm in the Middle East are always a bad time for peace while periods of violence are never a good time for peace.

Raviv Druker, an Israeli TV journalist, recently had access to polls [Ariel] Sharon never published. They reveal that in March 2002, at a moment when the second intifada was particularly violent, 70 percent of the respondents were willing to accept such a settlement [relinquishing 94 percent of the territories to the Palestinians in exchange for peace]; but when the poll was repeated in May 2005, a period of calm (just before Israel's disengagement from Gaza), only 44 percent were willing to settle on those terms.

Meanwhile, when all is not quiet on the eastern front,

[No prominent Israeli leader], whether of the center-right or center-left, is willing to make serious concessions to the Palestinians in times of violence, lest he or she be perceived as weak.

What to do then? Tom Friedman knows:

A nonviolent Palestinian movement appealing to the conscience of the Israeli silent majority would have delivered a Palestinian state 30 years ago.

Again, Avishai Margalit:

At the beginning of the first intifada, in 1988, Israel expelled Mubarak Awad, a Palestinian-American child psychologist who advocated Gandhian tactics for resisting the occupation. The Israeli government understood right away that nonviolent tactics had the potential to embarrass Israel, and was determined to stop him.

November 16, 2007

Paul Krugman Explains The Obama Problem

After I posted this last week about Barack Obama and Social Security, I heard from many people asking me why I was calling him a "moron," as well as a "moron," "moron," and to top it all off, a "moron." I was going to write something longer about it, but fortunately Paul Krugman has just explained it extremely well here. The column's one flaw is that Krugman doesn't call Obama a moron enough.

We Will Demand...One TRILLION Dollars

Here's Hillary Clinton in the debate last night, responding to Obama's proposal to raise the payroll cap for Social Security:

CLINTON: I do not want to fix the problems of Social Security on the backs of middle class families and seniors. If you lift the cap completely, that is a $1 trillion tax increase.

This is why my strategy is to hate all leaders, at all times, in all circumstances.

First, Obama uses right-wing talking points to tell us how we must be VERY VERY WORRIED about Social Security, so he can portray himself as a BOLD TRUTH TELLER.

Then, Clinton uses right-wing talking points to attack him for proposing a MASSIVE TAX INCREASE so she can portray herself as NOT A DIRTY TAX-RAISING LIBERAL.

In reality, there's no reason to fret about Social Security or change it at all now. Obama is trying to scare us by thinking there is.

But if we have to change things in the future, the changes necessary would be minor. Clinton is trying to scare us by throwing around huge numbers most people don't understand. The $1 trillion tax increase she's talking about would be over 75 years, during which time the U.S. GDP is projected to be $600 trillion. It would also only affect the best-off people in America. (Moreover, Clinton's numbers are wrong; eliminating the payroll cap would be more like a $4 trillion tax increase, depending on how you measure it. I suspect she lowballed it in order to make her fearmongering more credible.)

So hand in hand, Obama and Clinton each endorse one-half of the right-wing story, adding up to one gruesome whole. Here's Sean Hannity, speaking to you during the recession of 2012:

HANNITY: How can you criticize Republican proposals to privatize Social Security, when even Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton agree we should be VERY VERY WORRIED and that the only alternative to privatization is a MASSIVE TAX INCREASE?

AND: This is yet another example of the Iron Law of Institutions.

(Thanks to Dean Baker for help with the specific numbers.)

November 15, 2007

Speaking of Shared Values

By: Bernard Chazelle

UK Foreign Office minister Kim Howells was caught recently swooning over the "shared values" of Britain and the Saudi monarchy. Thankfully, observers did not have to scratch their heads very long before figuring out what the hell he was talking about.

A 19-year old Saudi woman is gang-raped 14 times in a single attack. In the land of Good King Abdullah, justice is swift and severe: 6 months in jail and 200 lashes!

And that's only for her.

Next time, she'll know better than to associate with men unrelated to her. I mean, who would do such a ghastly thing?


ADDED BY JON: To be fair to Howells, I'm sure he's horrified by Saudi policies toward women. It's just that it's awkward to bring up things like that with your friends when there are so many deeper values you really do share, such as corruption on a multi-billion dollar scale.

ADDED BY BERNARD: You raise an interesting philosophical question. What's worse: being blind to evil or being fully aware of it and enabling it?

More Obama On Social Security

From the New Yorker:

...on Social Security he proposes what is, in effect, a large tax hike. These issues all have one thing in common: Hillary Clinton’s positions are artfully vague—aimed at surviving the general election—while Obama insists that it is more important to be forthcoming.

On Social Security, Clinton has avoided a detailed approach to fixing the system, which is expected to run out of money by the twenty-forties; for now, she would appoint a trusty “bipartisan commission” to recommend solutions. Obama proposes raising the ceiling on income that is subject to the payroll tax. As a political strategy, this appears to be a terrible idea. A potential crisis in the Social Security system is a long way off. Why, then, would a new President spend political capital on yet another tax hike when he will almost certainly seek to undo the Bush tax cuts for more immediate demands, like universal health care? When I asked Obama about this, he smiled and leaned forward, as if eager to explain that my premise was precisely the politically calibrated approach that he wanted to challenge. “What I think you’re asserting is that it makes sense for us to continue hiding the ball,” Obama said, “and not tell the American people the truth—”

I interrupted: “Politically it makes sense—”

He finished the sentence: “—to not tell people what we really think?”

Horrible politics, horrible policy, all wrapped up in one. Impressive.

Also impressive is the New Yorker's inability to describe Social Security accurately. While the Social Security trust fund is projected to be exhausted in 35-40 years, Social Security would not and could not "run out of money." Even after the trust fund was all spent, payroll taxes alone would still be sufficient to pay recipients higher benefits than everyone gets today.

Robert Parry D.C.-Area Book Event This Saturday

If you're in the Washington, D.C. area, you might want to check out Robert Parry, one of the greatest investigative reporters in the United States, speaking about his new book Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush this Saturday in Arlington, Virginia:

Robert Parry, author of Neck Deep
Saturday, November 17th, 4 p.m.
Busboys and Poets
4251 South Campbell Avenue
Shirlington Village, Arlington, VA
(off I-395 at the Glebe Road-Shirlington exit)

Note this is not the Busboys and Poets store actually in Washington. More information, including directions, is available on the Busboys and Poets site.

Even if you're not in Washington, check out Parry's new article, "How False Narratives Work", for background on some genuinely shocking Republican/media lies that almost no one knows about. It involves Scooter Libby before he got famous.

Matt Taibbi Stuff

New Rolling Stone article: "Mike Huckabee, Our Favorite Right-Wing Nut Job"

New Huffington Post interview: "Screw the Bus"

MORE: Dan Coyle points out another recent Taibbi interview, with Reason:

Taibbi: Anyone who is willing to put up with as much shit as necessary to become a U.S. senator or president has to be a sociopath. That’s why you see all these crazy behaviors popping up with Sen. Larry Craig [R-Idaho] and [former Rep. Mark] Foley [of Florida]. These people have to drive their true selves so far beneath the surface to present this clean face to the world, and that’s why they end up indulging in these subterranean weirdnesses.

Daily Show Writers On Writers Strike

If I were Viacom, it would be worth a lot of money to me to get them to stop making fun of me this effectively:

...and not to get all political on you, but there's a sense in which "paying them a lot of money to stop making fun of Viacom" is exactly what the Daily Show is. It brings a ton of very talented people together, and pays them to produce something which—while extremely insightful about the media—really can't deal with something even deeper and more important: corporate power and commercial culture. Once the show's back on the air, it won't be featuring anything like this.

MORE: Steve Bodow, the Daily Show's head writer, on the strike. And since he mentions Clifford Odets, here's S.J. Perelman's parody of Odets' play "Waiting for Lefty," called "Waiting for Santy."

November 14, 2007

Profs Are Gods

By: Bernard Chazelle

Maureen Dowd reminds you it is no accident that we, academics, rule the world.

"[...] Columbia economics professor who conducted a two-year study, published last year, on dating. With two psychologists and another economist, he ran a speed-dating experiment at a local bar near the Columbia campus. The results surprised him [...] "

We also found that women got more dates when they won high marks for looks.

Tomorrow's shock announcement: "Five-year MIT study finds that bananas have higher nutritional value than razor blades."

Just Be Grateful You Never Met The Third Brother, "Pookums"

Now that we've escaped and survived, many of us have been asking each other: were those two guys torturing us in the basement of the upscale shopping mall really calling each other "Buzzy" and "Cookie"? Yes.

Americans And Iranians Say No To War

Here's something I can get behind:

President George W. Bush makes a statement to the press in Washington. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issues a letter from Tehran. But there is something missing from this debate: the voices of the people with the most to lose.

This is a campaign to bring the voices of Iranians and Americans into a discussion that is being dominated by extremists on both sides and bringing us closer to the unthinkable: nuclear war. Our leaders continue to rattle their sabers and spread fear, but we're ready to talk, and if they won't take that first step, we will take it for them. We've had enough. Enough posturing. Enough threats. Enough fear.

Our campaign begins with individuals willing to stand up and say no. This website will collect and display photos of people from the US and Iran (and other countries as well) holding up a hand in the universal symbol for "stop!"

These photos are the first step in what we hope will become an international campaign...Once we reach critical mass, we plan to hold actions to call on our leaders to sit down at the negotiating table. It’s time to put a stop to this dangerous cycle of threats and provocation and use diplomacy to avert this crisis. It’s our lives that are at stake.

That's from the organization Enough Fear. Check them out. This is exactly the kind of thing I hoped would fill in the "???" section of the diagram, reproduced below, from this old post.

On the same subject, here's notorious Islamofascist commie-symp Dwight Eisenhower:

I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.

IslamoHorowitzism Awareness Week

Today kicks off IslamoHorowitzism Awareness Week, during which myself and other speakers from the Jon Schwarz Freedom Center will be talking on college campuses to heighten awareness of the terrible dangers posed by IslamoHorowitzism.

I LOVE THE 80s: If you look closely, Horowitz seems to have a tin of chewing tobacco in his front pocket to go along with the boots and tshirt tucked into his jeans.

November 13, 2007

RIP, Donda West

By: Bernard Chazelle

My condolences to Kanye West, whose mother, Donda West, passed away on Sunday. Dr. West was 58 years old. She chaired the English department at Chicago State University until 2004, when she left academia to manage her son's career and chair an educational nonprofit.

A sweet song about his mom from his 2005 album Late Registration

Khmer And Balanced

From A Century of Genocide, here's a Khmer Rouge radio broadcast from May 15, 1975:

Upon entering Phnom Penh and other cities, the brother and sister combatants of the revolutionary army...sons and daughters of our workers and peasants...were taken aback by the overwhelming unspeakable sight of long-haired men and youngsters wearing bizarre clothes making themselves indistinguishable from the fair sex...Our traditional mentality, mores, traditions, literature, and arts and culture and tradition were totally destroyed by U.S. imperialism and its stooges. Social entertaining, the tempo and rhythm of music and so forth were all based on U.S. imperialistic patterns. Our people’s traditionally clean, sound characteristics and essence were completely absent and abandoned, replaced by imperialistic, pornographic, shameless, perverted, and fanatic traits.

It's this kind of thing that makes me sad Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage et al weren't born in Cambodia. They could have had even more consequential careers there.

Live In The Future, Now!

Everyone's always said we'd eventually live in a nightmarish world of privatized corporate armies. But who will do the necessary management consulting in our hideous dystopia? Laura Rozen has the answer, here.

The name of the company is particularly hilarious. These are funny, funny people.

TITLE SWIPED: From "I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus".

O Please

Scott Horton of Harper's takes a look at recent events, including the rise in oil prices, pushback from the military, and shifting Israeli analysis, and concludes the Cheney roll-out on Iran may be sputtering.

It's Hard To Enjoy My Food Court Pizza With The Sound Of The Screaming Ghosts

This is from The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, in a chapter about the 1976-83 dirty war in Argentina.

I always knew there was something terrifying about shopping malls:

In 1987, a film crew was shooting in the basement of the Galerias Pacifico, one of Buenos Aires' plushest downtown malls, and to their horror they stumbled on an abandoned torture center. It turned out that during the dictatorship, the First Army Corp hid some of its disappeared in the bowels of the mall; the dungeon walls still bore the desperate markings made by its long-dead prisoners: names, dates, pleas for help.

Today, Galerias Pacifico is the crown jewel of Buenos Aires' shopping district, evidence of its arrival as a globalized consumer capital. Vaulted ceilings and lushly painted frescoes frame the vast array of brand-name stores, from Christian Dior to Ralph Lauren to Nike...

For Argentines who know their history, the mall stands as a chilling reminder that just as an older form of capitalist conquest was built on the mass graves of the country's indigenous peoples, the Chicago School Project in Latin America was quite literally built on the secret torture camps where thousands of people who believed in a different country disappeared.

The Galerias Pacifico website is here. Who wants to be in charge of adding this to its wikipedia page?

Posted at 09:52 AM | Comments (13)

November 12, 2007

Veterans Day

By: Bernard Chazelle

After the spirited wit of Uncle Peter's enchanting verse, this may come as reheated pizza wrapped in a wet blanket. But try it. You'll find it nice and filling.

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

The poem reminds me of a teenager's funeral I once attended: it was me and a grand total of 14 people. I know because I counted. (Apparently, mental patients are not too good at making friends before they commit suicide.) I looked around at all the empty pews and I thought: Wow! So, that's what it all comes down to, huh? 14 people... Being young and insecure, I began to count how many might show up at my own funeral, but I got queazy and stopped before I got to 14.

Sassoon's poem is famous for its last stanza. But the closing verses are so full of the exhilaration of anger they make you forget the earlier punchline: "No one spoke of him again." That's what it's all about.

For Bush and his associates, Veterans Day is a day to honor remembrance (but not to remember), to celebrate victory (but not to mourn the defeat that is every dead body), and to pay homage to the Unknown Soldier, Sassoon's antihero, the "simple soldier boy who grinned at life in empty joy." So conveniently unknown that no one spoke of him again.

A Seaman In The Far East

For Veterans Day, here's a poem by my Uncle Peter, who's a wonderful, funny writer. This was written while he was stationed on an aircraft carrier during the Korean War.

And here's a small non-poem bonus: if I understand family lore correctly, he met my late aunt subsequent to this while he was in law school, after she had broken up with Ralph Nader.

A Seaman in the Far East

The Admiral is being courtmartialled;
how refreshing
the wind from the mountains!

Farther and farther west
an aircraft carrier
and me.

Wheeling for Hawaii
the last landbird
throws a lei.

Floating inside this carrier:
royal me
and twenty-seven types of bombs.

My paycheck tiny,
the national debt

The tide-green pier
lined with launderers:
Hello, Japan!

Sauntering with two friends,
from Miss Lumiko
three smiles.

On a rusty bicycle
pedalling here,
pedalling there.

in a hazy country lane;
the voice of a cow!

even the witless rooster
speaks Japanese.

The Great Buddha in Kamakura,
sad from pretending
tourists are worshippers.

The maiden pads in
with a bowl of cherry blossoms
and a whiskey bottle.

Rushing into the street
has Mt. Fuji gone?

the reproachful moon.

Two days out from Japan,
sighting the blue
shape of North Korea.

Pilots dozing
in the ready room;
envy of pilots.

The drooping 'copter blades
blur as they rise
up to a saucer.

sitting in the gin-tub;
clouds like women.

Allotted daily
to the Captain and me:
twenty-four hours each.

Onto the red-haired junior officer,
a rain
of chocolate smoke!

a stab at calisthenics,
months of languor.

Sighting in Tokyo
despite the riots;
purchase of mats.

Bargaining 700 yen
off the price
of a bamboo fishing rod.

Moving On Up

I'm pleased to say this site just became a thousand times classier, as I've persuaded Bernard Chazelle to start making appearances here when he has time. His first post is below.

Intertube readers will be familiar with his famous essays, such as "Antiamericanism: A Clinical Study" and "Why the Children in Iraq Make No Sound When They Fall". Regular visitors here know him for his damnably funny and informed comments. Also, academic types claim he has a mild interest in math.

This is quite a coup for all of us at tiny revolution headquarters, so please stop by and say hello.

Posted at 07:35 AM

November 11, 2007

Congratulations, You've Just Been Expelled From the Universe

By: Bernard Chazelle

The Morton-West case raises an interesting issue:

Should a student ever be expelled from a public school? The obvious answer is yes. The correct answer, alas, is not obvious.

Starting from first principles, we can all agree that a student has to be somewhere. (Like it or not, LSD-induced many-minds Gothic multiverses still count as "somewhere.") Unlike kidney stones, high school students are not really expelled: they are transferred. Expulsion from school A means, in leafy suburban environments, transfer to private school B, and, in more urban settings, transfer to public jail C. The purpose of expulsion, therefore, is not to solve a problem but, rather, to spread it around. Outlaws are run out of Dodge so the next town down the river can be graced with their presence.

In 1978, Stanford math student Theodore Streleski celebrated his 19th year in the PhD program by bludgeoning his advisor to death. Not only had the advisor kept him in school for 19 years, but he had also made an inopportune comment about his shoes (some folks just never learn when not to cross that line). Streleski was turned down for parole three times because of his rejection of a court-ordered ban from the Stanford campus. The judge's logic was unmistakable. It was not "don't kill again." It was "If you must kill again, Sir, please try Berkeley."

Or, just to stick to Santa Clara County, take the case of that incorrigible mischief maker, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. In typical kick-and-spread fashion, the Soviets stripped him of his citizenship and packed him off to the Hoover Institution, right in the heart of the Stanford campus. In no time, the great prophet climbed on his new soapbox to brand Daniel Ellsberg a traitor and call former antiwar students genocidal maniacs. Everyone agrees: this was disruption of the educational process at its disruptive worst. And yet -take note Morton West High- Stanford did not expel the bearded disrupter, nor did President Jimmy Carter kick him out of the country.

Which brings us to the main problem about expulsion: where would you go if every country on earth had a ban on you? The Arctic is melting fast and Antarctica is in the hands of Brits trying to teach the penguins how to pledge allegiance to the Union Jack. So forget about Planet Earth.

Your only option, I'm afraid, would be to become a human extraterrestrial: in other words, a Palestinian. Not a bad move actually, if you ever considered applying for admission to the one place on earth from which no one gets expelled. Ever.

Barack Obama, You Are A Moron

Usually I like to mix a little analysis in with my crude abuse. But in this case I'll just say: good job, moron.

Democrat Barack Obama said Sunday he will push for higher Social Security taxes if elected, viewing it as the best option for improving the retirement program's finances...during an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," Obama said taxing more of a person's income was the option he would push for if elected president. He objected to benefit cuts or a higher retirement age.

"I think the best way to approach this is to adjust the cap on the payroll tax so that people like myself are paying a little bit more and people who are in need are protected," the Illinois senator said.

"That is the option that I will be pushing forward."

Obama has tried to draw contrasts between himself and front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton on Social Security, saying on the stump and in TV ads that she has dodged tough questions about its finances.

Obama said some tough decisions will be in order because Social Security is the most important social program in the country.

"It's not sufficient for us to just finesse the issue because we're worried that, well, we might be attacked for the various options we present," he said.

I'm happy to explain the numerous different ways Obama is being a moron here, if anyone isn't familiar with them already. For now, however, I'll just make this point: wow, he's a moron.

I Love The Internet

Because of things like this Making Light post by Jim Macdonald.

1. Is weird little shard of American history.

2. Helps us understand where aspects of today—including Ft. Wayne, standing armies, and executive privilege—came from.

3. Available to everyone on earth with an internet connection.

4. Comes with a song you can listen to.

Iran NIE Finally "Finished"?

According to Gareth Porter, the intelligence agencies and Dick Cheney's office have wrestled to a tie on Iran:

The US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran has been held up for more than a year in an effort to force the intelligence community to remove dissenting judgments on the Iranian nuclear program. The aim is to make the document more supportive of Vice President Dick Cheney's militarily aggressive policy toward Iran, according to accounts provided by participants in the NIE process to two former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers.

But this pressure on intelligence analysts, obviously instigated by Cheney himself, has not produced a draft estimate without those dissenting views, these sources say. The White House has now apparently decided to release the "unsatisfactory" draft NIE, but without making its key findings public.

For your enjoyment, here are the conclusions of the two government "investigations" of whether the Bush administration pressured the intelligence agencies on Iraq. First, the Senate Intelligence Committee:

The Committee did not find any evidence that Administration officials attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities.

And the WMD Commission:

The Commission found no evidence of political pressure to influence the Intelligence Community's pre-war assessments of Iraq's weapons programs.

Look for the reports on how there was no pressure re Iran in early 2011.

EARLIER: How George Bush's speeches on Iran reveal this ongoing subterranean battle within the government.

November 10, 2007

Interesting Comment

Here's an interesting comment from Willy on the post below about the antiwar Illinois students threated with explusion:

I student-taught at Morton West a few years ago. The admin there is kinda crappy, given that I never saw the principal out of his office in the 10 weeks I was teaching. That he'd overreact to the students' demonstrating is no surprise to me...I got the impression he was afraid of students and teachers alike.

Another telling fact is the postponement of the expulsion hearing. Boards usually back their Superintendent, since this is the guy they hired to run the district. Voting not to expel would be a slap at the Super, and by association would be dissing themselves.

However, as a former school board member (not of Morton district) I would not be inclined to expel, mainly because there was no serious disruption to the educational process.

November 09, 2007

Stop Calling Them Nuts

Just as I wish everyone would stop calling Saddam Hussein and George Bush lunatics, so too with the US media:

[A waitress said] that Mrs. Clinton had failed to tip after eating at a Maid-Rite diner in central Iowa, an assertion that ricocheted around the Internet on Thursday...the story had been picked up and expanded upon on by, among others, the Drudge Report, which included a link to a report about a tip that Mrs. Clinton neglected to give in 2000. The Web sites of NBC News and ABC News also carried the story...

Reached at her home in Iowa, the waitress, Anita Esterday...said she did not understand what all the commotion was about.

“You people are really nuts,” she told a reporter during a phone interview. “There’s kids dying in the war, the price of oil right now — there’s better things in this world to be thinking about than who served Hillary Clinton at Maid-Rite and who got a tip and who didn’t get a tip.”

But the people who work for the New York Times, ABC, and NBC aren't nuts, nor is Matt Drudge. Their actions are completely rational. They're just doing what their bosses want them to do, because they want to keep their jobs.

It's true they seem nuts if you believe their constant yammering about how their only motivation is the search for Truth and Beauty. Likewise, Saddam seemed nuts if you believed his constant yammering about his only motivation being his luv for Iraq. And Bush seems nuts if you believe he's motivated by luv for America.

Why is it so difficult for societies to understand this about those in authority? I suspect it's connected to family dynamics. It's less scary to believe dad loves you, but is acting crazy, than to accept he's not crazy but genuinely doesn't care whether you live or die.

They Said It Was Insubordination

Arthur Silber explains the five lessons the students at Morton West High School in Illinois are being taught about life by the school's adults. And of course it's not just the students who protested who're learning; it's all of them.

The local school board yesterday postponed their vote on whether to go ahead and expel the protesting students, so they may be feeling the pressure. You can endorse a petition in support of the students, now with over 6,000 signatures, here.

How Unbelievably Creepy And Bizarre

Check out this story of Michael Albert's about rushing fraternities at MIT in 1965. It starts at 51:20.

This is everything I always hoped a fraternity would be, except twelve million times worse.

November 08, 2007

If The Nazis Could Make It Work, Why Not Us?

This is an unusual rhetorical gambit from Alan Dershowitz:

Marginal Democratic candidates certainly benefit from moving to the left on national security issues, but serious candidates--candidates who want to have any realistic chance of prevailing in the general election--must not allow themselves to be pushed, shoved or even nudged away from a strong commitment to national security.

Consider, for example, the contentious and emotionally laden issue of the use of torture in securing preventive intelligence information about imminent acts of terrorism...

There are some who claim that torture is a nonissue because it never works--it only produces false information. This is simply not true, as evidenced by the many decent members of the French Resistance who, under Nazi torture, disclosed the locations of their closest friends and relatives.

You know, I was on the fence there about torture, until Dershowitz pointed out it really worked well for the Nazis! Color me convinced!

(Thanks to BRG for noticing this.)

David Swanson On The Real News

Below is a Real News interview with David "Hardest Working Man in Progressive Politics" Swanson about Kucinich's recent introduction of an impeachment resolution on Cheney.

You can donate to The Real News here.

Jonathan Versen: Wrong From The Beginning

Jonathan Versen has been digging up comments on Iraq he left strewn around the internet before the war. For instance, here he is in April, 2002 on the BBC website:

Neither Bush nor the Democrats have the resolve to attack Iraq and see through the consequences of an ouster of Saddam Hussein. Most Americans who may be in favour of Saddam's ouster are unwilling to concede the responsibility to help a post-war Iraq rebuild itself. My impression is that most Americans favour a viscerally rewarding and superficial solution and I fear that we will just bomb the hell out of Iraq's infrastructure and leave her people desolate, with only token, guilt-salving efforts at reconstruction. If we do this we will have made our problems in this region much, much worse. We already seem to be headed in this direction in Afghanistan.

Wow, his face must be red now! More of his embarrassingly wrong pre-war observations here.

Once Again, David Neiwert Ruins Everything

As is his wont, David Neiwert destroys our enjoyment of the Ron Paul phenomenon by bringing up reality.

My Standards

I will link to any blog post that includes the phrase "Fuck you, Chomsky, you faggot."

November 07, 2007

Kissinger and Bin Laden's Dovish Worldview

In 1972, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger discussed how they should attack North Vietnam. The hawkish Nixon wanted to use WMD on civilians. But Kissinger was a dove: he argued they shouldn't do this because it would make America look bad:

NIXON: I still think we ought to take the dikes out now. Will that drown people?

KISSINGER: About two hundred thousand people.

NIXON: No, no, no...I'd rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry?

KISSINGER: That, I think, would just be too much...

NIXON: The only place where you and I with regard to the bombing. You're so goddamned concerned about civilians and I don't give a damn. I don't care.

KISSINGER: I'm concerned about the civilians because I don't want the world to be mobilized against you as a butcher.

In the late nineties, members of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden discussed how to attack America. The hawks within Al Qaeda wanted to use WMD on civilians. But bin Laden was a dove: he argued they shouldn't do this because it would make Muslims look bad:

Bin Laden was cool at first to the use of biological or chemical weapons, but he found himself at odds with Abu Hafs, who led the hawks in the al-Qaeda debate about the ethics and consequences of using such indiscriminate agents. Would they be used in Muslim lands? Would civilians be targeted? The doves argued that the use of any weapon of mass destruction would turn the sympathy of the world against the Muslim cause...

The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright

There is a significant difference here, however: in al Qaeda, the dove was the man ultimately in charge.

EARLIER: Kissinger and bin Laden's similar views on the importance of humiliating others.

November 06, 2007

Food Repair

Courtesy of the YouTube skills of Dennis "Comedy Encyclopedia" Perrin, here's the legendary "Food Repair" sketch from The New Show. The New Show was Lorne Michaels' short-lived 1984 follow up to Saturday Night Live. It was the failure of The New Show that made Michaels open to returning to SNL the next year, where he's been perched ever since.

"Food Repair" was written by George Meyer, who went on to greater renown with Army Man and then the Simpsons.

Snakes On A Brain

It's interesting to see how leaders use the same imagery over and over again through history. For instance: snakes. Political-types have repeatedly intuited that an excellent way to make their monkey subjects frightened of the Official Enemy Du Jour is to call the enemy "snakes." This suggests the effectiveness must have evolutionary roots, which makes sense. Indeed, I'm getting a little scared just writing this. Help, snakes!

Joe Lieberman interviewed by Glenn Beck last year:

BECK: I've been saying this before we even went into Iraq, that we're trying to change the face of the Middle East...We were trying to go and pop the head of the snake in Iran...

LIEBERMAN: Well, you're right.

Saddam Hussein, July, 1985 (via the BBC Worldwide Monitoring Service):

The plot in which the Iranian regime was used against our land, life and future was the most serious and the largest plot...The fine empty words spoken by the Khomeyniite snakes will not change the Iranian regime's racist, expansionist and terrorist nature.

Nazi propaganda, from The Nazis: A Warning from History. Written on the snake is "Marxism/International/High Finance":

Bipartisan Effort To Strengthen War Powers Act

Did you know a bipartisan group of six congressman have introduced a bill strengthening the 1973 War Powers Act? Neither did I. While this is perhaps the most important issue there is if you care about boring old things like democracy, it's gotten embarrassingly little attention online and almost none in the regular media. The best, in fact, is an impressively honest column by George Will.

If you want to know more, I've stuck additional details about the bill over here.

Thanks For Citibank, Bill Clinton

William Greider explains how the Citibank catastrophe comes to us courtesy of our beloved former president. We must elect Hillary so we can experience even more massive financial disasters.

Antiwar Illinois High Schoolers To Be Expelled?

[UPDATE: The Chicago Sun-Times has a good story on new developments.]

Arthur Silber has an appalling post about high schoolers in Berwyn, Illinois who may be expelled for holding a peaceful anti-war protest. Arthur grabbed the details from Chicago Indymedia, but it's also covered in detail by a local paper. An online petition opposing the expulsions is here, now with over 1,500 signatories.

November 05, 2007

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Obey Won't Say Whether They'll Fund Bunker Busters For Iran

The Bush administration recently sent Congress a request for $196 billion in "emergency" funding for Iraq and Afghanistan. Last week ABC reported that it includes one line asking for $88 million to upgrade stealth bombers to carry the 30,000-pound "massive ordnance penetrator":

So where would the military use a stealth bomber armed with a 30,000-pound bomb like this? Defense analysts say the most likely target for this bomb would be Iran's flagship nuclear facility in Natanz, which is both heavily fortified and deeply buried.

"You'd use it on Natanz," said John Pike of "And you'd use it on a stealth bomber because you want it to be a surprise. And you put in an emergency funding request because you want to bomb quickly."

Today David Obey, the Democratic Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, appeared at the National Press Club. You can see the footage via C-Span.

At 42:10, Obey is asked whether he plans to fund the bunker busters. He speaks for over three minutes, beginning by saying "Our Iran policy has been spectacularly stupid for 50 years," and asks, "Wouldn't we have been better off if we left Mossadegh in place?" Yet he never answers the question.

When Obey finally winds down, at 45:30, the moderator asks again: "Will you fund the bunker busters?" Obey replies:

Well, I don't have the power to determine whether we will or will not do anything. I certainly think that the bunker busters raise very serious questions about what the Administration's intentions are and I'm very skeptical that we ought to proceed but that's going to have to be a collective decision.

What does this mean? Probably that he, Pelosi, etc. haven't even discussed this, and are hoping they won't be asked about it again. Obey most certainly has the power to stop it if he wants to badly enough. But given the behavior of the Democratic Congress to date, it seems unlikely they'll refuse to fund it. Some of them want to bomb Iran. And the ones who don't will be scared to cut the funding. If they do it and the bombing goes ahead anyway with non-Stealth bombers that got shot down, you can imagine the ensuing weeks-long cable TV screamfest.

(Thanks to Just Foreign Policy for pointing this out.)

Questions For Lee Bollinger

John Caruso writes Columbia president Lee Bollinger a letter.

The Real News On Pakistan

The Real News has reposted an interview from two weeks ago with Asma Jahangir, Chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. She's now under house arrest.

For more on Pakistan from the Real News, see today's interview with Eric Margolis.

(Then send The Real News some money.)

November 04, 2007

Greeted With Flowers

(Read this even if you've already seen the similar post yesterday.)

As everyone remembers, Dick Cheney said just before we invaded Iraq that we'd be "greeted as liberators." According to Bob Woodward's book Plan of Attack, Bush and Cheney's thinking had been influenced by a meeting with exiled Iraqis, in which one said "People will greet troops with flowers and sweets."

Cheney was still standing by this view last year. And Christopher Hitchens says he witnessed it himself:

The welcome that I've seen American and British forces get in parts of Iraq...I want to mention first because there are people who say that that never happened. It is commonly said by political philosophers like Maureen Dowd say that the--where were the sweets and where were the flowers. Well I saw it happen with my own eyes and no one's going to tell me that I didn't...I will not allow it not to be said that that did not happen.

I assume Hitchens is telling the truth. But here's an important follow up question, one we should have been asking at the time in April, 2003: who cares?

The strange-but-true reality is that throughout history, whenever one country has invaded another, there have always been some people within the invaded country who've welcomed the invaders. Sometimes it's because they've been oppressed by their own government, are similar ethnically or religiously to the invader, or just know what side their bread is buttered on.

At the same time, those within the invading country who support the invasion have always seized on tales of the welcome they've received and declared it demonstrates the justice of their cause. And this is rarely pure cynicism. Human beings—even (or especially) the worst of them—need to believe they're moral.

Don't believe it? Take a look at these 1941 pictures of Lithuanian women greeting invading Nazi troops with flowers. (They're from the BBC documentary The Nazis: A Warning From History.) Similar scenes occurred during the Nazi invasions of Poland—see here—and the Ukraine.

I don't know who took this footage, but I'd bet a lot of money it was the Nazis themselves, and that they rushed it back home to bolster support for the war. I'd also bet they had a writer with them who returned to Berlin to boast about how he "saw it happen with my own eyes."

Of course, this doesn't mean the United States is Nazi Germany. People also greet troops as liberators when the troops are actually liberating them. It just means having someone greet your army as liberators has no significance whatsoever.

But what about the pictures of the Saddam statue being pulled down? Surely that demonstrated the righteousness of our cause, right?


That's also from The Nazis: A Warning from History, and from the invasion of Lithuania. It's probably a statue of Lenin.

A Warning from History was produced in 1998. Part of me wonders if someone from the Bush administration saw it and was inspired. But I'm sure the odd parallels are simply due to the fact there are only so many ways to stage propaganda.

EARLIER: Shaving prisoner beards through history.

(Thanks to Arthur Silber for recommending A Warning from History.)

Lee Bollinger Grateful And Excited About Pakistani Martial Law

As we know, Columbia University president Lee Bollinger is a man of deep principle and commitment to human rights. That's why, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia recently, Bollinger excoriated him as exhibiting "all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator."

So with Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf suspending the constitution and arresting 1500 political opponents, John Caruso points out it's a good time to remember the same courageous stand Bollinger took when Musharraf visited Columbia in 2005.

What's particularly impressive is that--while Ahmadinejad is an Official Enemy of the United States, and Musharraf is an Official Friend--it made no difference to Bollinger. He was just as stern with Musharraf, if not more so!

For instance:

Rarely do we have an opportunity such as this to greet a figure of such central and global importance. It is with great gratitude and excitement that I welcome President Musharraf and his wife, Sehbah Musharraf, to Columbia University...

We at Columbia are eager to listen. As a community of scholars and as students and faculty who come from everywhere in the world, we take a great scholarly and personal interest in what the President has to say. The development in Pakistan over the past several years, from its economic growth to its fight against extremism and terrorism, are vital issues for all of us...

It is rare that we have a leader of his stature at campus.

Is it too soon to say Lee Bollinger is a moral figure equivalent to Gandhi, Sakharov and Mandela all rolled into one? I don't think it is!

November 03, 2007

Greeted As Liberators

It's hard to tell, but these are pictures of ethnic Germans in western Poland, throwing flowers at the invading Nazi army in September, 1939. They're screengrabs from the BBC series The Nazis: A Warning From History.

I don't know who took this footage, but I would bet a lot of money it was the Nazis themselves, and that they rushed it back to the home front to demonstrate the extraordinary morality of their cause.

Supposedly many Ukrainians were also quite excited when Germany invaded them, shortly afterward. One odd fact of history is that in every invasion you could find someone in the invaded country who was thrilled about it. Thus, if you're in an invading country, you really shouldn't depend on this as a gauge of whether you're doing the right thing.

November 02, 2007

No Such Thing As Too Much Reuel Marc Gerecht

Building on this, here are more of Reuel Marc Gerecht's impressive insights into the mideast, from December, 2001:

I think Iraq must be the next place we go after Afghanistan. It is, more than anything else, the one issue that has cracked the awe of America in the Middle East, and I think it is the one issue that we must handle if we really are serious about regaining the essential fear and respect without which American interests and American citizens are simply not safe...the primary element that gives you respect in the Middle East is the awe that you must command fear...

At the same time he also told us this about the dirty Arabs:

They admire, even if they can't or choose not to emulate, many of the Western habits—individual initiative, personal discipline, civic responsibility, personal and corporate honesty...

Yes: personal discipline, civic responsibility, personal and corporate honesty. You can see how he'd want to highlight this, since nothing embodies these qualities like Gerecht & his friends.

BUT: Don't let his musings about the moral retardation of all Arabs make you believe he doesn't care deeply about Iraqi democracy. Here he is, explaining earlier this year why we must stay in Iraq:

...much of Washington would have gladly compromised democratic principle [in Iraq] for dictatorial strength.

(Last quote courtesy of Rick Perlstein.)

Take Two Massive Bombing Campaigns Of Your Country And Call Me In The Morning

I'd missed this, from a Robert Dreyfuss article last year:

[I]f the United States launches the sort of bombing campaign against Iran that is being considered—involving attacks against not just nuclear research facilities but also airfields, command and control centers, and other intelligence and military targets—to say that the consequences would be unpredictable is an understatement. The administration and many of its supporters are apparently ready to take the gamble that after an armed confrontation with Iran, a moderate, pro-American regime might emerge from the wreckage. Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA officer and fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is explicit on that score. "I don’t disagree [about] the convulsive effects that a strike would have. I actually think that it would be in the end a healthy thing for Iran internally."

Normally I would now (1) say "Holy mother of god, these people are monsters" and then (2) dig up some quote from Osama bin Laden saying essentially the same thing about America and 9/11. But I just don't have the energy. I invite you to take a shot at it.

BONUS INTERNATIONAL HEALTH CAMPAIGN: Here's Gerecht writing at about same time in 2006—i.e., at the height of Shiite death squad activity, which often involved killing people with electric drills:

Sunni and Kurdish fear of Shiite politically overdue and healthy for all concerned.

November 01, 2007

30 Senators Sign Webb Letter On Iran

James Webb sent his Iran letter to the White House today, with 30 senators total signing on. None were Republicans. Charles Davis has the full text and the list of signatories, noting:

...neither Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) nor Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) signed on, despite their criticism of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) for voting for the provocative Kyl-Lieberman resolution calling for Iran's Revolutionary Guard to be listed as a "terrorist organization." In contrast to both Biden and Obama, and in a sign that she has felt the heat over her vote on the Kyl-Lieberman resolution, Clinton signed on to the letter.

Yesterday I took a look at the significance of the letter, here.

America: Crazy About Iran

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me 9,348 times:

A majority of likely voters – 52% – would support a U.S. military strike to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon, and 53% believe it is likely that the U.S. will be involved in a military strike against Iran before the next presidential election, a new Zogby America telephone poll shows...

Democrats (63%) are most likely to believe a U.S. military strike against Iran could take place in the relatively near future, but independents (51%) and Republicans (44%) are less likely to agree. Republicans, however, are much more likely to be supportive of a strike (71%), than Democrats (41%) or independents (44%).