November 21, 2013

Wow, 2013 Samantha Power Was Just EXCORIATED by 2003 Samantha Power

This is what Samantha Power, now U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said today when asked whether the U.S. owes Afghans any kind of apology:

POWER: We have nothing to apologize for. Our soldiers have sacrificed a great deal.

This is what Power said at her confirmation hearings earlier this year:

POWER: America is the greatest country in the world and we have nothing to apologize for.

This is what Power said in 2003 about the weird, gross refusal of states and the people who serve them to refuse to ever apologize for anything:

POWER: It's the tendency of states, and as you could argue that on some level it is also of individuals, not to look back and not to reckon with what we've done wrong. Often if you look at our country ... we don't, states don't do that generally speaking.

So it's actually more interesting to look at historical precedents where states do. … And what's so amazing, briefly, is how much more it means to the victims, how therapeutic it can be, simply even to say it happened. It's a continuum, right, of reckoning – from "It happened," to "It happened and I was there," to "It happened and I was there and in fact I did it," or we, our predecessors did it, to "We did it and we made a mistake," to "We did it and we're sorry," to "We did it and we're sorry and here's your property back and here's some money." You know what I mean? And to not even start along that road ... but again, I do think we need to look at ourselves...

For more on Power's transition from someone who occasionally was honest about the U.S. government to someone who constantly lies, see here.

Already the Ring tempted her, gnawing at her will and reason. Wild fantasies arose in her mind; and she saw Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age, striding with a flaming sword across the darkened land, and armies flocking to her call...


—Jon Schwarz

Posted at 12:57 PM | Comments (18)

November 16, 2013

World's Luckiest Cat Runs Out of Luck

(Muppet, seen here upset about being interrupted while working on his novel)

Many cat owners believe their cats have some kind of unique personality, different from other cats. As someone who's owned his fair share of cats, I can attest that this, in most cases, is just a tempting illusion. Cats generally have one lovable but generic personality, with minor variations.

That said, there are unusual cats, and my cat Muppet was one of those. I was hoping he would make it to November 22nd so that [JOKE REDACTED DUE TO PARENT SENSITIVITY]. Then he'd leave the world in as unusual manner as he lived in it. But it was not to be.

I found Muppet the night of January 7th, 1996 as I was walking home from midtown Manhattan to my apartment on West 109th Street through the third-worst blizzard in New York City history. I was on Central Park West around 103rd Street when he appeared from between the garbage cans outside the front door of a building facing the park. He looked almost full grown, was incredibly friendly and didn't have a collar or any other sign of belonging to people. And the snow was falling so thickly. I couldn't help picking him up and taking him with me; what I remember is that he didn't struggle at all, he just somehow accepted that I had his best interests at heart.

Our crossing paths was the first and biggest stroke of luck in Muppet's life. He was about to begin the greatest rags-to-riches story in cat history.

It was a dicey decision to bring him home because my roommate Robert and I already had a cat, Harold. And Muppet and Harold did not get along. Harold was a big cat, significantly bigger than Muppet. But Harold had been raised since kittenhood by people. He was not prepared to stand up for himself when confronted by a cat from New York's mean streets. Also, when Muppet started eating regular cat food instead of human garbage, he produced the most spectacular and voluminous cat diarrhea I've ever witnessed. So I sent him to live with my parents in suburban Maryland.

This was another huge stroke of luck for Muppet, because their house was cat heaven. It wasn't in a city or near a large street, so he could go outside. Yet it wasn't in the country, so there were no coyotes or owls to carry him off. Cats were the neighborhood's apex predators.

And although he lived with my parents for the rest of his life, he always remained my cat. Whenever I came to visit he immediately glommed onto me, ditched my parents and slept with me until I left.

This was gratifying, but I eventually learned this may have had less to do with his love for me and more with him being the world's greatest grifter. He was incredibly skillful at figuring out who in his immediate environment had the most power over his wellbeing, and making them love him. Whenever we took him to the vet, his focus shifted from us to the vet and vet techs. Every time I picked him up after some procedure, they said something like, "He is SUCH a wonderful cat! We wanted to keep him!"

Beyond that, he was constantly working on a backup plan in case things with my family fell through. Every now and then my parents would call, worried, because he'd disappeared for several days. But he always came back, smelling – this sounds made up, but is 100% true – of cigarette smoke and perfume. We finally figured out that he was intermittently living with different middle-aged single women on my parents' street. From then on we liked to pretend that he was bringing home matchbook covers with phone numbers written in them, and that my parents were getting calls from nervous women asking, "Hi, uh, is Muppet there?"

He also had a striking physical presence. Because he wasn't neutered until after he'd gone through puberty, he had a neck ruff that was sort of a mini-mane. And it really worked in evolutionary terms: if you saw him coming at you, the ruff made him appear much larger than he actually was. (For more on the subject of Muppet and evolution, see #3 here.)

And though he was on the small side, he was extremely dense and muscular and if he wanted to could mess you up. However, the effect of this was ruined on the rare occasions he spoke, because his natural voice was a high-pitched squeak. He was sort of the Mike Tyson of cats.

He lived a long long and extremely happy life with my parents, all the while dodging bullets thanks to human care and his continuing, incredible luck:

• He almost died due to a urinary tract blockage, something which often fells male cats, but my parents took him at 3 a.m. to a 24-hour vet hospital which saved his life.

• He developed diabetes five years ago and for a time required daily injections of insulin. But thanks to the internet, we learned that diabetes can often be cured in cats with the proper diet. It worked great with him and he never again required treatment for diabetes. If you have a diabetic cat, I strongly encourage you to look into this.

• He started obsessively overgrooming himself in his old age, tearing out tufts of his fur. At first we thought this was due to a thyroid problem and unsuccessfully tried to treat it with medication. Soon afterward my parents moved, and the overgrooming ceased; apparently he'd developed an allergy to something in my parents' previous house. It was such perfect timing that it was as though they moved just to make him more comfortable. The best part was that their new neighborhood requires that cats be leashed, and he somehow managed the impossible and carried this off with panache. (You can see him wearing his harness, above.)

In particular we're grateful for the extraordinary comfort he provided when my father was seriously ill for several years. We often spoke of how we didn't know how we would have gotten through it without him.

And because he was so good to us, we vowed that we would never keep him alive just because we didn't want to let him go – that we would make decisions based on what was best for him, not us. Amazingly, his luck held to the very end, and he had a high quality of life up to his final 24 hours, when the right course of action became obvious.

So that's that. I can't claim to have learned the secrets of love or the universe from Muppet, but he was a wonderful cat, my favorite cat ever, and set a high standard that I have a hard time believing any future cats in my life will meet.

—Jon Schwarz

Posted at 04:56 PM | Comments (22)

November 10, 2013

Mark Dubowitz Is an Object Lesson in Where Bigotry Comes From

Mark Dubowitz is the director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank which was "founded by a group of former U.S. officials and visionary philanthropists shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001 to help free nations defend themselves."

Right now Dubowitz is defending America by making sure we aren't fooled by Iran in the current nuclear negotiations. He recently told the New York Times "the Obama administration has entered the Persian nuclear bazaar and gotten totally out negotiated," and the Daily Beast that it "sounds like Obama decided to enter the Persian nuclear bazaar to haggle with the masters of negotiation and has had his head handed to him." And he's not the only one: Washington Post foreign policy specialist Jim Hoagland has warned "Fooling foreigners and adversaries is an ancient Persian art form." Israeli columnist Smadar Peri writes that the U.S. could be facing "a trick in the spirit of the Persian bazaar." And Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute says it's too late: "The world’s great bazaaris are chuckling because they’ve just sold their nuclear weapons program to the world’s worst bargainers."

So the message is clear: Iranians are extremely sneaky – and simple, honest folk like ourselves are vulnerable to their devious machinations.

But are Dubowitz & co. right? I can't claim I've conducted a careful, in-depth study on comparative Iranian sneakiness. In fact, I'm not even sure how you'd do that. So let's look at it from another angle: have people like Dubowitz ever been convinced that another group was particularly wily and ready to take advantage of our naiveté at any moment?

Spoiler alert: yes.

• Let's start with Native Americans, who were awful from the beginning. A Jamestown colonist wrote "A Breif discription of the People" in 1607, where he explained:

The people steal anything that comes neare them, yea are so practized in this art that lookeing in our face they would with their foote betweene their toes convey a chizell knife, percer or any indifferent light thing: which having once conveyed they hold it an injury to take the same from them; They are naturally given to trechery

You have to admit, that sounds pretty Persian.

• In 1789 a doctor named James Makittrick Adair wrote Unanswerable Arguments against the Abolition of the Slave Trade, which contains a chapter titled "Moral and Political Character of the Africans." It turns out they were just like Native Americans:

CUNNING. Most savage nations are artful...and their acumen in concerting the best means to attain the end desired is wonderful; and the artifices and pretexs they use...are so various, and often so uncommon, it is very difficult to detect them.

• Then there are Jews, who, as described by Joseph Goebbels in 1941, turn out to be exactly the same as Native Americans and Africans:

It is difficult to detect their sly and slippery ways. One has to be an experienced student of the Jews to recognize what is happening...the Jew is the master of the lie. He is such an expert on twisting the truth that he can tell his innocent opponent the exact opposite of the truth even on the plainest matter in the world.

Just as the Germans were lucky to have Goebbels, we're lucky to have Mark Dubowitz, who's an experienced student of the Persians and can recognize what is happening.

• During Pakistan's civil war in 1971, Richard Nixon had strong feelings about the people of India, who were giving him problems with their neutrality in the cold war. And it turned out regular Indians were indistinguishable from American Indians:

The President [said] they [Indians] are "a slippery, treacherous people." He felt that they would like nothing better than to use this tragedy to destroy Pakistan. ... The President said that the situation "smells bad." The Indians are not to be trusted.

At another point Nixon told Henry Kissinger that what "the Indians need" was "a mass famine."

• During the late seventies, Richard Helms – the former head of the CIA and ambassador to Iran – told Congress that Eastern Europeans and "Asiatics" can easily lie in a way that honest Americans just can't:

We discovered there were some Eastern Europeans who could defeat the polygraph at any time. Americans are not very good at it, because we are raised to tell the truth and when we lie it is easy to tell are lying. But we find a lot of Europeans and Asiatics can handle that polygraph without a blip, and you know they are lying and you have evidence that they are lying.

• Finally, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak revealed this about Palestinians in 2001:

[Arafat] did not negotiate in good faith…They will exploit the tolerance and democracy of Israel...They are products of a culture in which to tell a lie…creates no dissonance. They don’t suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture. Truth is seen as an irrelevant category. There is only that which serves your purpose and that which doesn’t...There is no such thing as "the truth."

So, what should we make of all this?

It's a little easy to call Mark Dubowitz a hateful bigot. So let's do it: Mark Dubowitz is a hateful bigot. And his grandchildren will be embarrassed by him just as white American teenagers today are embarrassed when their racist grandfather starts blathering about Obama being born in Kenya.

Nevertheless, it's a mistake to view Dubowitz as inexplicably, irredeemably awful. What history demonstrates is that every group of human beings tends to see itself as uniquely honest and trustworthy, and other groups as abnormally tricksy. And this tendency becomes especially pronounced within a powerful group when it's brutalizing another and has plans for further brutalization. Human beings can't do terrible things to people who are just like them, so they invent reasons why those people aren't.

In other words, racism is generally structural rather than the fault of specific, bad human beings. James Makittrick Adair didn't start out as a racist and then decide that made it cool for him to own Africans. Instead, he wanted a bunch of other people to work for him for free, and that made him a racist.

Likewise, Dubowitz didn't start out as a racist and then decide that, because Persians are so sneaky, the United States has to run the mideast. Instead, he started out by believing the U.S. has to govern the mideast with no Iranian influence, and – because it's insane to think it makes sense for a country 6,000 miles away to run a region with no input from the people who live there – he had to become a racist in self-defense.

Et voilà, the sneaky Persian bazaar. So people like Dubowitz won't stop being bigots and then give up on their bizarre, impossible fantasy of eternal U.S. power over every inch of planet earth. It can only happen the other way around: if they give up their fantasy, their bigotry will evaporate. It's not impossible this will happen to Dubowitz. (And then he'll have to get another job.)

P.S. The New York Times and Daily Beast would never publish people expressing this kind of garbage about non-Muslims. Hopefully it won't be long before they won't publish it about anyone.

—Jon Schwarz

Posted at 08:19 AM | Comments (15)