January 31, 2012
Pulling a Tooth for Mandy
This 1865 letter from Jourdan Anderson to his former owner in Tennessee has been circulating online for a while, but I just saw it yesterday. It seems too beautiful to be real, but apparently it's genuine. If I were editing an anthology of the funniest writing in U.S. history, I'd definitely include it. This is the section that made me laugh the hardest, as Anderson explains the conditions on which he'll take up his owner's invitation to return to Tennessee and work for him:
Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams's Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio.
Sure, dunning your former owner for back wages is funny enough on its own. But what makes it is the sentence about deducting his owner's expenses (especially the perfect specificity of "pulling a tooth for Mandy"). You wouldn't want to be unfair to the guy who enslaved you.
January 29, 2012
À La Recherche des Homemade D&D Modules Perdu
One of the weirdest things about brains is how they're filled with a giant jumble of memories that you paradoxically can't remember you have without help. Like everyone except Marcel Proust, I usually notice this with songs. Something comes on the radio from 1993 and I realize I remember every single thing about it, but I wouldn't have had any conscious memory that the song even existed until it started playing.
For the first time in my life, and maybe anyone's life, I just had this experience with a homemade Dungeons & Dragons module. I was fustzing around and read this post on Boing Boing:
Homemade D&D module, 1981
Tim H sez, "A recent and amazing donation to the PlaGMaDA.org [ed: Play Generated Map and Document Archive] project: A beautiful, hand-made homebrew addition to the classic TSR Against the Giants series."
I saw that and I thought: wow, that looks incredibly familiar. And as I read through it I realized it looked familiar because I'd spent 700 hours playing it after elementary school during the early Reagan administration.
Even stranger is that I emailed the guy who originally posted it, and it turns out he didn't get from its creator, my 5th grade friend Gaius (aka G.J. Caesar). Instead, somebody gave it to him after they picked it up on eBay.
I can't help but wonder what else from my childhood that I've almost completely forgotten about is about to be posted online. Sometimes I wake up convinced that I accidentally killed someone in 1986 and successfully hid their body and kept the secret ever since. I think that's probably not true, but now I feel like I'll have to keep checking the internet every day just to be sure.
By: John Caruso
Actually, accusing people like Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson of "dual loyalty" is deeply offensive. Their loyalty to Israel is second to none.
ADDED BY JON: Sorry to pile on a joke with something serious, but the ridiculous part about all the internet's yammering about this is that almost none of it on any side has anything to do with reality. Saban, Adelson, etc. have as much loyalty to the actual Israel (i.e., the one made up of the people who live there) as Netanyahu—in other words, none at all. Remember Sara Netanyahu's views:
Bibi is a leader who is greater than this entire country, he really is a leader on a national scale. We'll move abroad. This country can burn.
Saban and Adelson's actions, like Netanyahu's, have nothing to do with the well-being of actual Israelis, and everything to do with feeding their own bizarre egos and lust for power. And obviously it's the same with right-wing politicians and their funders in every country. George W. Bush was eagerly consolidating power after 9/11 even as his EPA lied to everyone in New York City and helped Osama bin Laden kill more of us.
You might say that Saban and Adelson have a greater loyalty to Israel's right-wing oligarchy than America's right-wing oligarchy, but I'm not sure even that is right. I'm pretty sure if you got to nut-cutting time, they'd choose America's oligarchy over Israel's, just because it better serves the hungry ghost inside of them.
January 25, 2012
State of the Illusion
By: John Caruso
For anyone on the left who's tempted to relapse into 2008 euphoria by the president's early-campaign turn to rhetorical populism, this remains as true as it always was: Obama is not your ally who's been co-opted; he's your enemy who is co-opting you.
— John Caruso
January 19, 2012
Why I Support SOPA
I support SOPA because it will formally transform the United States into a communitarian paradise. Just look at its official description:
To promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes.
And here's Rep. Lamarr Smith, who introduced SOPA last fall, explaining why it's awesome:
The problem is a $100 billion problem. That's how much we think the theft amounts to of American goods, American products and stealing our inventions...These are online pirates. They are stealing our property.
What does this mean? Well:
1. 40% of stock market wealth is held by the richest 1% of Americans, and 80% is held by the richest 10%.
2. Large chunks of media corporations based in the U.S. are owned by foreigners (for instance, Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal).
It would be one thing if SOPA were just about protecting the wealth of the world's richest people at the expense of everyone else's free speech. But au contraire! It's clear from what its supporters say that SOPA will turn U.S. media conglomerates into our common property. We'll all get checks from them every year, like Alaskans do with their oil!
This is why I support SOPA and everyone smart like me should support it too.
January 18, 2012
This Sentence Is False
By: John Caruso
In protest of SOPA/PIPA there will be no postings whatsoever on ATR today. If you're looking for a way to register your dissent, head on over to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
— John Caruso
January 15, 2012
I Paid Gingrich
The world's billionaires clearly plan to rerun the 20th century and see if it turns out differently. Given that, during a brutal economic downturn we should be on the lookout for what happened in the 20th century's most brutal economic downturn—i.e., right-wing businessmen funding crazy right-wing politicians so they can attack the "bad" kind of capitalists. These turn out not to be regular financiers, but "parasitic" financiers. The goal is to divert anger away from the "good" capitalists (who usually do exactly the same things as the "bad" ones), while gaining power to go on the attack against any left-wing alternatives.
And right on schedule, Sheldon Adelson is forking over millions so a Newt Gingrich-supporting PAC can attack Mitt Romney for his parasitic financier ways. Traditionally, the inherently-foreign-cosmopolitan-minorities-controlling-all-via-parasitic-finance would be Jewish. (And of course that's the undertone of the right's attacks on George Soros.) However, Adelson himself is Jewish, so 'King of Bain' had to look elsewhere. It's actually pretty funny to see them groping around for villains that will work for their audience. In the end, the puppeteers ruining the fatherland turn out to be from Massachusetts and/or Latin America and/or speak French.
Anyway, while I don't think Newt Gingrich is Hitler or Sheldon Adelson is Fritz Thyssen, it is unnerving to see this phenomenon cropping up again, even on a small scale.
January 02, 2012
Matt Taibbi EXPOSED
...some of Rand's quirks seemed to have been pulled more or less directly from [Woody] Allen's movies; her dictatorial stance on facial hair ("She...regarded anyone with a beard or a mustache as inherently immoral," recalled one Rand friend) could have fit quite easily in the mouth of the Latin despot Vargas in Bananas, who demanded that his subjects change their underwear once an hour.
1. Vargas was the dictator of San Marcos at the start of Bananas. The person who talks about underwear is Esposito, the rebel leader who overthrows Vargas.
2. Esposito doesn't demand that the people of San Marcos change their underwear every hour. It's every half an hour.
ESPOSITO: All citizens will be required to change their underwear every half hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check.
I think it's fair to say Taibbi has now completely discredited himself, and nothing he ever writes should be believed.
P.S. Thanks to Jacob Weisberg for teaching me everything I know about reviewing books.
January 01, 2012
Christopher Hitchens: Wow, What an Asshole
One of my New Year's resolutions for 2012 is to be even more boring and petty than normal. Here we go!
My friend Sam Husseini at the Institute for Public Accuracy has written a long post about his interactions with Christopher Hitchens. There's a lot to it, but Sam actually is much too easy on Hitchens about the grossest part of it, in which Hitchens enthusiastically embraced vile human instincts. This is what happened:
1. On September 20, 2001, Hitchens wrote this in the Nation:
Does anyone suppose that an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza would have forestalled the slaughter in Manhattan? It would take a moral cretin to suggest anything of the sort...
Of course, Hitchens knew exactly what he was doing here: creating a ridiculous straw man argument at which he could then sneer. He did it because he knew he'd look like an idiot if he'd written, "Does anyone suppose that a two-state Israel/Palestine solution on the 1967 borders, combined with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia and the lifting of the murderous sanctions on Iraq would have forestalled the slaughter in Manhattan?" Lots of people (including me) would have honestly answered "yes."
Moreover, even Hitchens' straw man hypothetical turns out to be surprisingly realistic, since Bin Laden & co. paid much closer attention to the minutiae of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than I would have thought in 2001. As the 9/11 Commission Report said:
According to KSM, Bin Laden had been urging him to advance the date of the attacks. In 2000, for instance, KSM remembers Bin Laden pushing him to launch the attacks amid the controversy after then-Israeli opposition party leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem...he was [also] urged to launch the attacks early  in June or July 2001, supposedly after Bin Laden learned from the media that Sharon would be visiting the White House.
2. Sam sent private email to Hitchens stating that "The fascists like Bin-Laden could not get volunteers to stuff envelopes if Israel had withdrawn from Jerusalem like it was supposed to -- and the U.S. stopped the sanctions and the bombing on Iraq."
3. Without asking, Hitchens quoted Sam's email in the Nation, and added:
You've heard this "thought" expressed in one way or another, dear reader, have you not? I don't think I took enough time in my last column to point out just what is so utterly rotten at the very core of it. So, just to clean up a corner or two: (1) If Husseini knows what was in the minds of the murderers, it is his solemn responsibility to inform us of the source of his information, and also to share it with the authorities. (2) If he does not know what was in their minds -- as seems enormously more probable -- then why does he rush to appoint himself the ventriloquist's dummy for such a faction? Who volunteers for such a task at such a time?
4. Then Hitchens emailed that column to Sam, and told him:
I am dead serious about my first point and will call you on it again. If you claim you knew what these people had in mind, I want you to show me that you contacted the authorities with your information before you sent your blithering little letter to me. Either that or you shut the fuck up -- not that it matters any more what you say. And you claim to know how enemies are made...You have no idea.
5. It's hard to overstate how aggressively stupid Hitchens' "point" was. Anyone with an internet connection could find Bin Laden's many previous statements about his claimed motivation for attacking the U.S. (His 1998 fatwa is here.) It's like Hitchens was demanding to know how someone who claimed the U.S. had bombed Iraq during the Gulf War because Iraq had invaded Kuwait could possibly know what was in George H. W. Bush's mind.
(It's also very funny, given that Hitchens' original column consisted entirely of him explaining that he knew "what these people had in mind.")
6. All of the above is bad enough. But here's the disgusting part: Sam is Palestinian-American. Moreover, his last name is one letter away from Hussein—and his actual first name is Osama. His father lives in Jordan, and his mother often returns there to visit.
It's easy for everyone else to have forgotten this by now, but American Muslims and Arab-Americans were TERRIFIED in the weeks after the 9/11 attacks. Female Muslims in New York City were frightened to go outside just to the grocery store. On September 15th, a Sikh was murdered in Arizona by someone who thought he was Muslim. Soon enough Michelle Malkin would be writing her book In Defense of Internment, with a picture of Mohammed Atta on the cover.
In the annals of history, there are truly no worse human beings than ones who use societal moments of panic to assault and intimidate the society's minorities. What kind of thuggish bully would publicly attack a Palestinian-American "friend" in those days and demand that he report his knowledge of the attacks to "the authorities"—or failing that, "shut the fuck up"? Christopher Hitchens, that's who. What an asshole.