March 22, 2012

A Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Meh

Finally, an angry reporter looks back at the past few years and tells it like it is: journalists have developed into a group of incompetent lackeys who were puffed up with self-importance and who had no record of thinking critically...time after time, without the least objection, so many financial reporters seemed content to regurgitate the statements issued by C.E.O.s and stock-market speculators – even when this information was plainly wrong or misleading. These reporters were thus either so naive and gullible that they ought to be packed off to other assignments, or they were people who quite consciously betrayed their journalistic function…

[T]he normal journalistic mandate to undertake critical investigations and objectively report findings to the readers appears not to apply. Instead the most successful rogue is applauded...all remaining trust in journalists as a corps of professionals is being compromised.

Except I fooled you! That's from (the novel) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It's the perspective of the main character, Mikael Blomkvist, and obviously Stieg Larsson's too.

Man, I wanted so badly to love The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The first thirty pages were incredibly exciting because the themes were so powerful and promising: that, even in nice social democratic Sweden, there's both (1) enormous financial and corporate corruption, including among the journalists who cover the business world, and (2) enormous brutality against women...and that both go almost completely unexamined even though they're sitting there in plain sight. There's also the implication of a subterranean psychological connection between the two forms of violence.

And then…meh. I could barely finish it. I thought the plot was preposterous and unimaginative, and the exciting themes were barely developed. It doesn't come anywhere close to (the novels) Red Dragon or Silence of the Lambs, which are both beautifully written and painfully insightful about life here on our Terror Planet.

This is heartbreaking to me, because with those themes, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo could have been a masterpiece. So somebody still needs to write a great, exciting, massively popular novel about the world we're living in:

Many journalists give paid speeches to businesses and business groups. And Wall Street, as it happens, is probably the top source of such engagements. Household names like Bank of America as well as obscure hedge funds, private-equity firms, and others in the financial world frequently hire journalists—including scribes who regularly cover Wall Street—to deliver speeches at events ranging from publicized conferences to small private dinners with select clients. Millions of dollars have flowed to journalists in speaking fees in recent years.

That part's not from a novel, it's from the Columbia Journalism Review. No word yet on which of America's CEOs are (hands on) serial killers.

(Thanks to Matt Stoller for pointing out the article about paying off journalists.)

–Jon Schwarz

Posted at 07:13 PM | Comments (20)

March 20, 2012

America's 300 Year-Long Lucky Streak Continues

One of the great things about being American is we're just lucky. Lots of countries have killed millions of people, and it made their families really angry and sad. So the countries sometimes had to feel bad about it. But when WE'VE done it, we've always been lucky enough to do it to people who turned out not to mind being killed. So no harm done.

Most recently, Steve Inskeep of NPR pointed out that Afghans haven't gotten all bent out of shape about a U.S. soldier massacring sixteen of them, because "human life is already cheap" way over there.

That's great journalism. However, it would have been even better if Inskeep had found out whether life is not just cheap in Afghanistan, but also plentiful, like it was in Vietnam:

WILLIAM WESTMORELAND: The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient.

And what about Iraqis? Were they whiny bitches when we killed them? No way:

FRED KAGAN, ARCHITECT OF IRAQ "SURGE": If anyone has seen pictures of Ramadi or Fallujah, they looked like Stalingrad. Cities absolutely crushed...

The interesting thing is that when we were fighting those battles and doing that damage, on the whole the Iraqis were not bitching about collateral damage...the Iraqis don’t on the whole say "darn it, you shouldn’t have blown up all of our houses." They sort of accept that.

We know this is correct because Iraqis felt the same way in the twenties when they were being slaughtered by the British:

"The natives of these tribes love fighting for fighting's sake," Chief of Air Staff Hugh Trenchard assured Parliament. "They have no objection to being killed." The military's argument was that, though the often indiscriminate air attacks might perturb some civilized folks back in London, such acts were viewed differently by the Arabs. As one British commander observed, "'[Shiekhs] not seem to resent...that women and children are accidentally killed by bombs."

Then we come to Koreans. Here's a review of Curtis LeMay's autobiography, in which LeMay explained why massive carpet bombing of North Korea during the Korean War didn't make them surrender:

LeMay [argues] that bombardment failed because of an "undying Oriental philosophy and fanaticism." He says, "Human attrition means nothing to such people," that their lives are so miserable on earth that they look forward with delight to a death which promises them "everything from tea parties with long dead grandfathers down to their pick of all the golden little dancing girls in Paradise."

Of course, all this might make it seem like it's an Eastern Hemisphere thing, which it's not. People in the Western Hemisphere have never minded being killed by America, as U.S. soldiers have observed:

Marine major Julian Smith testified that the "racial psychology" of the "poorer class of Nicaraguans" made them "densely ignorant...A state of war to them is a normal condition." Along the same lines, Colonel Robert Denig observed in his diary, "Life to them is cheap" ... When asked if he ever witnessed American brutality in Haiti, General Ivan Miller replied that "you have to remember that what we consider brutality among people in the United States is different from what they consider brutality."

Finally, in Notes on Virginia, Thomas Jefferson investigated and found out that his African slaves didn't feel emotions like white people do:

Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them.

Other scholars discovered that Africans were less physically sensitive too:

Negroes...are void of sensibility to a surprising degree...what would be the cause of insupportable pain to a white man, a Negro would almost disregard.

So there you have it: maybe we've done some things that would have been bad if they'd happened to sensitive people like us, but in each case we've lucked out. Right now I'm getting the feeling that very soon Iranians will turn out not to mind being killed.

HA HA BUT SERIOUSLY: I've sent email to Steve Inskeep with all of these quotes and asked for his reaction. I'm especially curious what he thinks about the fact that in 2012 a journalist (him) was expressing a sentiment that in every other case came from the people directly inflicting the suffering.

—Jon Schwarz

Posted at 06:17 PM | Comments (43)

So All Politicians Everywhere Feel the Same

This is from USA Today:

The frustrations of the presidency once had Barack Obama reach for a literary metaphor.

"At times he couldn't help feeling, as he told one associate, a kinship with the protagonist in Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea," writes David Corn in his new book on the presidency.

"He had, against tremendous odds, caught a big fish, but on the long voyage back to shore, his prized catch had been picked to pieces by sharks," Corn writes.

This is from the CIA's Iraq Survey Group report:

One of Saddam’s favorite books is Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea, the Nobel Prize-winning story of one man—Santiago, a poor Cuban fisherman—and his struggle to master the challenges posed by nature. Saddam’s affinity for Hemingway’s story is understandable..In Hemingway’s story, Santiago hooks a great marlin, which drags his boat out to sea. When the marlin finally dies, Santiago fights a losing battle to defend his prize from sharks, which reduce the great fish, by the time he returns to his village, to a skeleton. The story sheds light on Saddam’s view of the world and his place in it.

Also, the Godfather is the favorite movie of both Obama and Saddam. That's less funny, of course, since the same thing is probably true for 50% of the people who've ever seen it.

—Jon Schwarz

Posted at 12:54 AM | Comments (15)

March 02, 2012


This is from an article by Jennifer Homas, Tony Judt's wife, about him writing his last book as he was dying from ALS:

The political manipulation of fear made Tony angry. Not upset or disappointed or frustrated, as it had in the past, but truly angry. Fear is the ultimate emotion and he lived at its door...To exploit fear for political ends, as had happened following September 11, for example, was to him an ethical abuse of the first order.

Tony had always been a forthright critic of social injustice; now he had zero tolerance. Not zero tolerance for halfway solutions—even a halfway solution is a solution—but zero tolerance for political deception and intellectual dishonesty. He acquired, in a way, the wisdom of a child: Why aren’t people angrier?

I feel you, Tony Judt. I AM THAT CHILD.

—Jon Schwarz

Posted at 08:10 PM | Comments (9)

Dear President of the United States: Please Stop Being FUCKING INSANE

What interests me the most about politics is the way power turns essentially everyone who gets it into a lunatic. It's especially striking because you generally can't rise to the top without amazing emotional intelligence about how you appear to others. But once anyone reaches the summit they lose this ability within the first ninety seconds.

For instance: Barack Obama. In a long new interview with Jeffrey "Profound Morality" Goldberg, Obama explains what he hopes will happen with Iran and nuclear weapons: is important for us to see if we can solve this thing permanently, as opposed to temporarily. And the only way, historically, that a country has ultimately decided not to get nuclear weapons without constant military intervention has been when they themselves take [nuclear weapons] off the table. That's what happened in Libya, that's what happened in South Africa.

Before Obama became president, a part of his brain would have told him: Proposing Libya as a model for a "permanent solution" won't be very enticing to Iranian leaders, given that after Libya gave up nuclear weapons we attacked them and Gaddafi ended up dead with a knife stuck up his ass. Yet now that he's president he just blathers on with no comprehension of how he appears to the rest of the world. (Note also that Jeffrey "W.W. Beauchamp" Goldberg didn't follow up about this; lickspittles are crucial to the process of turning powerful people into psychos.)

P.S.: This is from a Rolling Stone article by Michael Hastings from last October:

As Rice scrambled to line up votes at the United Nations, Qaddafi and Saif, his son and heir apparent, didn't believe that NATO would actually intervene. Why would the West move to overthrow him after they had reintegrated Libya into the international community? "Qaddafi was genuinely surprised," says Dirk Vandewalle, an expert on Libya...

Once the bombing started, Qaddafi and his sons felt betrayed. "We gave up our nukes and they screwed us," Saif told his dwindling circle of friends.

And here's how the world looks from North Korea:

[UK Ambassador to North Korea] Peter Hughes said senior officials there had told him that "if Colonel Kadhafi had not given up his nuclear weapons, then Nato would not have attacked his country"...

"You have to look behind that to find out what it means. It basically means in real terms that there would have to be total denuclearisation of the world before they will give up their nuclear weapons."

When you add this to our invasion of Iraq, you've pretty much guaranteed no one on earth will disarm for the next 100 years.

—Jon Schwarz

Posted at 01:04 PM | Comments (21)

March 01, 2012

The Y Chromsome Is the Scariest Chromosome of All

I guess if I were a more sensitive man, I wouldn't be so surprised by the ongoing right-wing male freakout about women. I just didn't realize how deep and sincere their...emotions...are on this. For instance, I would have assumed that Rush Limbaugh would have either the internal control or people around him who would prevent him from making his latest famous statements:

LIMBAUGH: What does it say about the college co-ed [Sandra] Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex...


LIMBAUGH: So Miss Fluke, and the rest of you Feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it. We want you post the videos online so we can all watch.

When I see things like this, my main concern isn't that it will be harder to get contraception. It's that a lot of powerful people are so weirdly angry that they're going to obliterate human civilization. Here's something that the writer John Ralston Saul said about this:

Hitler's favorite writer [was Arthur Schopenhauer]...Schopenhauer's attraction for Hitler may have been his overwhelming sense that evil was overwhelming the world and that the "root of all the slavery of the will."...

Schopenhauer also detested women, which, in the Saint Jerome—"Women are bags of dung"—tradition, is a sentiment closely related to the uncontrollable feeling that evil is inundating us. It is a little simplistic but not untrue that men who hate women will take out their sexual problems on the world if given a chance.

Whatever you want to say about Obama, it seems unlikely he'll blindly kill us all for this particular reason. Instead he'll coolly examine all the options and kill 45% of us because it will slightly increase Monsanto's profits.

(Thanks to Digby for the Limbaugh quotes.)

—Jon Schwarz

Posted at 05:39 PM | Comments (30)