May 31, 2011
Shadows and Fog, a Woody Allen movie that came out in 1992, is atrocious. But it does contain one of the most surprising moments in the history of world cinema. It's neither a good surprise nor a bad surprise; it's just...surprising. I think anyone who's honest with themselves can admit that they expected to live and die without ever seeing this:
That's Jodie Foster licking Woody Allen's nipple. You can click it to see a larger version. It's available right this second to anyone with an internet connection and a Netflix account—just stream it and go to 1:10:05.
May 30, 2011
This Is Not a Form of Brainwashing. This Is Not a Form of Brainwashing.
Happy Memorial Day.
May 20, 2011
"Without Fear or Favor. NOT!"
This is one of the most interesting things I've ever heard about politics and the media—both in itself and because I'd never heard of it until right now. And considering how much media criticism I've plowed through in my life, that suggests almost no one else has heard of it either. It really goes to show how all the most important history just evaporates, leaving nothing behind but a sticky residue of self-congratulatory goo.
As you know if you're the right class in the U.S., the glorious reign of the New York Times began in 1896 when Adolph Ochs bought it and published a manifesto about the standards the Times would henceforth uphold: they would now "give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved." Ever since then, the paper's thankfully been in the hands of a family with the highest ethical standards. (The current publisher is Ochs' great-grandson.) The phrase "without fear or favor" is so much a part of media culture that it gets used as the title for books, documentaries, essays, articles and more.
Here's the whole paragraph:
It will be my earnest aim that The New-York Times give the news, all the news, in concise and attractive form, in language that is parliamentary in good society, and give it as early, if not earlier, than it can be learned through any other reliable medium; to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved; to make of the columns of The New-York Times a forum for the consideration of all questions of public importance, and to that end to invite intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.
But here's what they don't tell you at Stutts or anywhere else in America: that wasn't the end of Och's proclamation.
Here's the next paragraph:
There will be no radical changes in the personnel of the present efficient staff. Mr. Charles R. Miller, who has so ably for many years presided over the editorial pages, will continue to be the editor; nor will there be a departure from the general tone and character and policies pursued with relation to public questions that have distinguished The New-York Times as a non-partisan newspaper — unless it be, if possible, to intensify its devotion to the cause of sound money and tariff reform, opposition to wastefulness and peculation in administering public affairs, and in its advocacy of the lowest tax consistent with good government, and no more government than is absolutely necessary to protect society, maintain individual and vested rights, and assure the free exercise of a sound conscience.
So it's funny that Ochs stated so bluntly that "We will be completely impartial, except for our intense devotion to this long list of issues." But what's significant is that these issues are all right-wing economic obsessions—in 1896 and today. Then and now, rich creditors ferociously guard against inflation that will cause their assets to lose value (while moderate inflation is generally good for the economy overall and for debtors, who are the majority). Then and now, the right ferociously opposes taxes and any sign that the majority is going to use the government as a tool to improve their lives.
Ochs just announced straight up that the New York Times was going to be a standard-issue upper class conservative newspaper. And "history" has not just forgotten it completely, but used the exact same proclamation to congratulate the New York Times for being completely impartial. Thanks, liberal media!
If you want to read Ochs' words in their original form, see below or get it directly from the New York Times website here.
(Thanks to Brooke Gladstone of On the Media for pointing this out in her new book The Influencing Machine.)
May 19, 2011
The Road to Armageddon
Scattered through all the articles celebrating how we shot bin Laden in the face, I've seen sentences here and there that make me feel I'm going to read them again in about ten years...in a book looking back at how in 2017 one of Pakistan's nuclear weapons was smuggled into Chicago and detonated.
Anger simmers in Pakistani army over bin Laden raid
As Pakistan’s powerful military leaders seek to overcome extraordinary public criticism following the killing of Osama bin Laden this month in a Pakistani garrison city, they are also facing seething anger in barracks across the country...most of it is directed toward the United States...
Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani made town-hall-style appearances last week at five garrisons across the country, where he faced barbed questions from officers about the raid, according to some who attended. After a 45-minute address to the 5th Corps in the southern port city of Karachi, Kayani took queries for three hours. Attendees said questioners focused on the perceived affront in Abbottabad — and why Pakistan, in the words of one officer, did not “retaliate.”
In a meeting Sunday with visiting Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Kayani relayed the “intense feelings” of the rank and file, according to a two-sentence military statement...
"It’s never good for a military of that size to have a feeling of resentment," retired Lt. Gen. Talat Masood, a security analyst, said...
Pakistan should “immediately suspend cooperation with the U.S.,” said one officer in Pakistan’s north, who, like others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to speak publicly. “In the lower ranks, anti-Americanism is at its highest.”...shame and fury within the military is evolving into deeper antagonism toward the United States, an ally already suspect among all ranks, Muhammad said.
This is the same feeling I get reading about the would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad. He seems like the Ramzi Yousef to a Mohammed Atta of the future. But no one even cared about this at the time:
Of course, what will bring about Armageddon won't be nuclear terrorism in a U.S. city; after all, two Japanese cities got obliterated and Japan's still there. The Armageddon part will be our response.
May 17, 2011
Understanding Megan McArdle, Primate
But obviously you can't have someone on American TV criticizing Goldman Sachs without having someone defending Goldman Sachs, so CNN called Megan McArdle of the Atlantic. Here's how it went:
MCARDLE: What we have to do is disclose. It's perfectly legal for a dealership to sell me a car I'm not going to like or that's too expensive for me...I haven't read the disclosure documents personally.
TAIBBI: I have.
This upset Taibbi:
TAIBBI: You're not ashamed to do the job that you do. How are you not ashamed to apologize for these billionaires who ripped off ordinary people?...
MCARDLE: How do I answer that? I think that, you know...the fact is it's not Goldman Sachs' responsibility to make sure that Morgan Stanley makes money, any more than it's the Atlantic's responsibility to make sure that Rolling Stone makes money...
TAIBBI: I don't know how that makes sense on any planet in any universe. That is just insane.
But of course Taibbi is wrong. In fact, that makes the most visceral kind of sense, RIGHT HERE ON PLANET EARTH. It makes sense like it makes sense when you haven't eaten for three days and then take that first bite of medium rare hamburger, like it makes sense when you have churning diarrhea and make it home JUST IN TIME, like it makes sense for 12-year-old boys to look at Ms. Lombard's cleavage in 6th period French. No 938-page long CDO disclosure document is going to stop that from feeling oh-so-right.
Sure, it's infuriating if you're looking at it through the lens of "rationality" or "democracy" or "facts." So don't. Look at it through the lens of animal logic. As a primate, Megan McArdle has certain powerful instincts, and one of those instincts is: the head monkeys of my tribe are always right.
McArdle isn't a "libertarian," or "right-wing," or "conservative." She's just someone who's on the side of whoever has the money and guns. If she'd been born in 1932 in the Soviet Union, she would have been a hardcore communist and an editor at Pravda who burned with hatred for the merciless imperialist capitalists. If she'd been born in the Soviet Union in 1972, she'd now be a fervent Putinite writing angry articles about the conspiracy theories of Anna Politkovskaya. If she'd been born in Egypt, she would have written press releases for Hosni Mubarak.
A certain percentage of humans just have this instinct, and there's no point in getting mad at them, any more than there is in getting mad at the 12-year-old boys in Ms. Lombard's class. You might as well get angry at the tide for coming in.
Moreover, while I wouldn't defend primates with this instinct, I can certainly comprehend it. For instance, here are some facts about the head monkeys in our time and place:
1. The Bush family is close friends with the Salinas family of Mexico, including Raul, who controlled "practically all drug shipments through Mexico" and was convicted of organizing the murder of his brother-in-law. (Also, when Raul and his brother Carlos—later president of Mexico—were children, they shot and killed their 12-year-old maid while staging a "mock" execution of her for fun.)
2. Tony Blair recently received a "golden medal of freedom" from Kosovo, because, via the 1999 war, he helped install Prime Minister Hashim Thaci—who's the head of an organized crime ring that executed prisoners and sold their organs. You can see a picture of Tony and his organ-selling buddy together here.
4. Barack Obama finds it hilarious to joke about murdering people with flying killer robots.
What does this suggest? To me it suggests that the people who run the world are sociopaths. It also suggests that trying to lessen their power, somehow, is important. But I can understand why Megan McArdle's powerful instinct is that isn't true and no I haven't read the disclosure documents or New York Times articles or studies by the Council of Europe or reports by the United Nations and okay maybe it's sort of true but "I think there is a real desire to desire to track down a villain but I think that really underweights the power of human stupidity and poor system design which can produce terrible results even without anyone doing wrong" and it can't be true because shut up shut up shut up don't make me live in that world my sad little foetus won't open the envelope the head monkeys are good and nice and won't ever hurt me Megan doesn't want to be hurt.
May 16, 2011
Jim Henson died 21 years ago today, so this is for the three or four people with internet connections who've never seen it:
For another famously sad comic, go here.
May 14, 2011
Freedom's Just Another Word for Blowing Shit Up
Why are we bombing Libya? For freedom!
BARACK OBAMA: For generations, the United States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and as an advocate for human freedom....for generations, we have done the hard work of protecting our own people, as well as millions around the globe. We have done so because we know that our own future is safer, our own future is brighter, if more of mankind can live with the bright light of freedom and dignity.
Why has al Qaeda bombed places around the world? For freedom!
AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI: ...when we wage Jihad in Allah’s path, we aren’t waging Jihad to lift oppression from the Muslims only, we are waging Jihad to lift oppression from all of mankind...I invite all the world’s weak and oppressed ones to Islam, the religion of freedom...
Why has Libya bombed lots of people? For freedom!
MUAMMAR GADAFFI: It is one of our basic principles to support nations that are struggling for the sake of their freedom, to support those exploited and oppressed...We are morally responsible to stand by these just causes...We have no objections as far as we are able to aiding with arms and money nations struggling for the sake of their freedom.
Other leaders with a powerful interest in freeing other people include Napoleon and Hitler.
P.S. Here's Samantha Power, apparently one of people in the Obama administration who pushed for war in Libya, in 2004:
Much blood was shed in the last century by United States forces or proxies in the name of righteous ends. Because every state justifies its wars on the grounds of self-defense or altruism, Chomsky is correct that any ''profession of noble intent is predictable, and therefore carries no information.''
May 12, 2011
The System Works!
Osama bin Laden kept a personal journal in which he contemplated how to kill as many Americans as possible, including in terrorist attacks against Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, according to U.S. officials...
In one passage, Bin Laden wondered how many Americans would have to die in U.S. cities to force the U.S. government to withdraw from the Arab world. He concluded that it would require another mass murder on the scale of the Sept. 11 attacks to spur a reversal in U.S. policy, an official said.
So...it turns out bin Laden's real, private motivation was exactly the same as his stated public motivation: to stop U.S. intervention in the mideast.
Yet this isn't presented as being particularly important in this article. No politicians are asked whether this makes them consider whether it's worth running the risk of massive terrorist attacks in order to continue intervening in the mideast. It's just brought up, and...dropped.
We really have the greatest system ever invented. In a standard authoritarian country, that kind of straight-forward demolition of the most basic rationale for the government's foreign policy wouldn't be published. But here it can be, because it doesn't matter at all.
Now I'm going to take a nap.
P.S. I encourage the next person who sees Andrea Mitchell to approach her in a friendly, non-threatening manner, gently grasp her head in your hands, and scream into her ear, "ARE YOU FUCKING DEAF?"
May 03, 2011
Celebrating the Big Event
I could hear the cheers as I got out of the taxi, two blocks away...It was minutes after President Obama's announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed, and I was heeding a friend's suggestion that we – both Muslims – take candles and stand in vigil where the World Trade Centre stood before Bin Laden's footsoldiers took it down.
So it was a shock to find hundreds of others had turned that hallowed ground into the scene of a home crowd celebrating an away victory they hadn't attended...
This is from the transcript of the video of bin Laden and friends reminiscing shortly after 9/11 about how incredibly well it had gone. Sulaiman Abu Ghaith was then one of Al Qaeda's spokesmen:
OSAMA BIN LADEN: Those young men [inaudible] said in deeds, in New York and Washington -- speeches that overshadowed all other speeches made everywhere else in the world....
SLAIMAN ABOU-GHAITH: I was sitting with the sheik in a room, then I left to go to another room where there was a TV set. The TV broadcasted the big event. The scene was showing an Egyptian family sitting in their living room, they exploded with joy. Do you know when there is a soccer game and your team wins? It was the same expression of joy.
May 02, 2011
Credit Where Credit Is Due
By: John Caruso
I haven't actually checked the liberal blogs today but I'm sure they're filled with praise for George W. Bush, since the killing of bin Laden clearly vindicates his strategy of continuing the war in Afghanistan and expanding it to Pakistan.
ADDING: Here's Alberto Gonzales with the non-ironic version:
I congratulate President Obama and his team for this significant accomplishment. I also congratulate President Bush who carried the War on Terror to our enemies and adopted the legal framework for that effort that continues today.
Via ThinkProgress, who I thank for illustrating my point.
— John Caruso
Credit Where Credit's Due
Lots of Americans were mad it took ten years for the government to kill bin Laden, but I think it was worth being extra careful to make sure no one else got hurt.
Given that the U.S. did about exactly what bin Laden wanted every day for the past ten years, yesterday must have come as a surprise.
P.S. Will Shetterly says: "I suspect on the list of things he wanted was dying as a martyr." I don't know, maybe. He definitely wanted to be thought of as the kind of guy who wanted to die a martyr, but hiding out for years in a walled mansion suggests you also have a keen interest in staying alive.