"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show
"Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket
"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming
September 19, 2014
Secret CIA Document: Americans Are “Coarse,” “Emotional” and Lack Civility
The upper class in every country always believes the commoners are appallingly crass, irrational and impolite. (For instance, here’s a column by George Will called ”Civility and Civilization.”) Meanwhile from the commoners’ perspective, it’s pretty crass, irrational and impolite of the upper class to keep shooting them in the face.
The CIA has just declassified an article from its in-house magazine "Studies in Intelligence” embodying this dynamic. The article describes the CIA’s response to Gary Webb's 1996 San Jose Mercury News series "Dark Alliance" about the CIA’s protection of Nicaraguan contras whom the CIA knew were smuggling cocaine into the U.S.
Webb’s reporting was accurate and, we now know (partly thanks to an internal CIA investigation triggered by the series) arguably conservative. But from the perspective of "Studies in Intelligence," the problem wasn’t the CIA's alliance with drug dealers; it was that stupid, crude Americans believed this scurrilously accurate nonsense:
…ultimately the CIA-drug story says a lot more about American society on the eve of the millennium than it does about either CIA or the media. We live in somewhat coarse and emotional times—when large numbers of Americans do not adhere to the same standards of logic, evidence, or even civil discourse as those practiced by members of the CIA community.
Hilariously, the sentence about “civil discourse” is footnoted, but if you look at the end of the article, the source attesting to the CIA’s standards of civil discourse is redacted.
Even funnier, this article was declassified as the result of a lawsuit against the CIA by a former employee, Jeffrey Scudder. Scudder had pointed out that the CIA was refusing to release hundreds of decades-old documents that, according to the law, could no longer be kept secret. In response, the CIA very logically and civilly destroyed his career.
September 11, 2014
"Something Like 100 Years" — Christopher Hitchens in 1991 at Beginning of First Gulf War on How Long U.S. War With Iraq Would Last
On February 4th, 1991, as the U.S. bombed Iraq during the initial phase of the first Gulf War, Christopher Hitchens appeared on C-Span with Morton Kondracke. This was Hitchens' prediction of how long the U.S. war with Iraq would last:
BRIAN LAMB: Warren Strobel, who writes for the Washington Times, was here on Friday, and he has a piece in Monday’s paper that starts off by saying, “Pressures are beginning to mount for the United States to bring the eighteen day war against Iraq to a quick end, creating a political timetable that conflicts with the military’s best judgement." In other words, maybe a ground war?
HITCHENS: I think it’s appalling in a way that people talk about deadlines in terms of days, weeks and months, especially if they’re talking the political deadline. The political engagement the United States has made is one of appointing itself the arbiter of inter-Arab border disputes and of the middle east region as a whole—uninvited, in effect, and without proper debate. When people ask me how long this is going to go on, I'd say, “Something like 100 years.” And it’s not begun to sink in yet.
Today Is the 13th Anniversary of an Enormous Opportunity
Today, September 11th, 2014, is a good time for a short quiz.
1. What is this?
What did you answer? Did you say "That's the last moments of the lives of thousands of people"? Or "That's a vile act of mass murder"? Or "That's the beginning of a lifetime of suffering for everyone who loved someone who died at the World Trade Center"?
"Through my tears I see opportunity." – George Bush, September 20, 2001
"If the collapse of the Soviet Union and 9/11 bookend a major shift in international politics, then this is a period not just of grave danger, but of enormous opportunity. Before the clay is dry again, America and our friends and our allies must move decisively to take advantage of these new opportunities." – Condoleezza Rice, April 29, 2002
2. What is this?
This question is a little harder. Some people might answer, "That's the result of an Al Qaeda bombing of a hotel in Mombasa, Kenya on November 28, 2002 aimed at Israeli tourists." Others might say, "It's the place where terrorists murdered 13 people, including ten Kenyans and Israeli brothers Noy and Dvir Anter, ages 12 and 13." Or, "That's the place where, CNN reported, 'screaming children covered in blood searched desperately for their parents amid the wreckage.'"
They would also be wrong. The correct answer is, that is a GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY:
"Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meeting with ministry staff in the aftermath of the Kenya attacks, said that the incidents had presented Israel with a 'golden opportunity' to strengthen its strategic ties with the United States and other Western countries."
3. What is this?
Some might guess, "That's a five-year-old Iraqi girl covered in the blood of her parents, who'd just been murdered by U.S. soldiers." Or, “That’s something that every American should be atoning for until the day we die."
But again, that would be wrong. The right answer is, that's yet another GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY:
"Targeting America in Iraq in terms of economy and losses in life is a golden and unique opportunity. Do not waste it only to regret it later." – Osama bin Laden, December, 2004
Probably the point here is clear. But I'll go ahead and spell it out.
For normal people, it's an unmitigated tragedy when their fellow citizens are killed in terrorist attacks or wars. Normal people cry, become afraid, and think of children who now have no parents and parents who now have no children.
For our would-be "leaders," however – in every country – the situation is different. Of course, they pretend to feel the same as normal people. They give teary-eyed speeches about sorrow and suffering.
And yet, behind their tears, there seems to be something else. When they think no one is looking, you glimpse another expression flitting across their face. You think it couldn't be. But – yes, incredibly enough, they're smiling. Because before the bodies are cold, before the mothers have stopped shrieking, our leaders are thinking:
This is really a FANTASTIC OPPORTUNITY.
And for them it is. It's an opportunity for them to do whatever they wanted to do before, but couldn't get away with. It's an opportunity for them to smear anyone who criticizes them as disloyal. It's an opportunity for them to become much more powerful than they ever could be in peacetime. Leaders love war. That's why there's so much of it.
It's understandably hard for normal people to come to terms with this. It's scary to believe your leaders may secretly be, uh, not so sad if you die. But all you have to do is listen to them, and they'll tell you.
Can we change this? Maybe. But the first step in changing reality is facing it, no matter how ugly and frightening it is.
Happy September 11th.
August 12, 2014
Hillary Clinton and Ayman al-Zawahiri Compete in Violent Moron Mad Libs
What should you do when you’re a violent, moronic leader, but your “side” starts protesting your moronic violence? It’s easy: just start wondering out loud why your “side” is complaining about your moronic violence, rather than the moronic violence of the other “side.” And if at all possible, blame your “side”’s protests on religious bigotry. It works the same everywhere; each time the violent, moronic leader just has to change a few nouns and adjectives.
For instance, here’s Hillary Clinton using this rhetoric in a recent interview in the Atlantic, as she explains that people protesting against the Israeli attack on Gaza were motivated by anti-Semitism:
When I asked her about the intense international focus on Gaza, she was quick to identify anti-Semitism as an important motivating factor in criticism of Israel. “It is striking … that you have more than 170,000 people dead in Syria. … and yet we do see this enormous international reaction against Israel, and Israel’s right to defend itself, and the way Israel has to defend itself. This reaction is uncalled for and unfair.”
She went on, “You can’t ever discount anti-Semitism, especially with what’s going on in Europe today. There are more demonstrations against Israel by an exponential amount than there are against Russia seizing part of Ukraine and shooting down a civilian airliner. So there’s something else at work here than what you see on TV.”
And here’s al Qaeda’s current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri using the exact same rhetoric in 'The Exoneration', his response to criticism of al Qaeda by prominent Islamist Sayyed Imam Al-Sharif, to suggest that Al-Sharif is motivated by bigotry against Muslims:
This is a question that we address to the brothers who use the term "terrorism" to describe what happened in America. I would like an answer to it. This is the question:
When the United States fired missiles on the medicine factory in Sudan, destroying it over the heads of the employees and workers who were inside, what do you call this? What America did against the Sudanese factory, does it not constitute terrorism but what those men did against the American buildings is terrorism? Why did they condemn what happened in America but we heard no one condemn what America did to the Sudanese factory?
I see no difference between the two operations except that the money used to build the factory was Muslim money and the workers who died in the factory's rubble were Muslims while the money that was spent on the buildings that those hijackers destroyed was infidel money and the people who died in the explosion were infidels. Was this the difference that made some of our brothers call what happened in America terrorism? They did not condemn what happened in Sudan and do not call it terrorism. What about starving the Libyan people? What about the almost daily starving of the Iraqi people and the attacks on them? What about the sieges and attacks on the Muslim state of Afghanistan? What do you call all this? Is it or is it not terrorism?
There is one difference between these two violent morons, however: one will probably soon control a gigantic nuclear arsenal.
July 17, 2014
Israel: In 1967 Blockades Were Acts of War, in 2014 They’re Totally Awesome
You probably assume there’s nothing funny about the Israeli attack on Gaza, with the death toll among Palestinians currently at 230. (One Israeli has also been killed.) But that’s where you’re wrong, if you just ignore the human suffering and enjoy the hilariously sanctimonious hypocrisy of nation states.
Two days after Israel and Hamas first started shooting on July 7th, Hamas proposed a ceasefire agreement. Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade since 2007, and Hamas wanted it lifted in return for a cessation of hostilities. Israel ignored this ceasefire proposal, and instead proposed a ceasefire with no lifting of the siege.
Hamas rejected this, which – according to U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki – apparently makes every death on either side from now on their fault. (When asked about the killing of four Palestinian children on the beach yesterday, Psaki emphasized that Hamas was "putting their own people at risk” by not accepting the ceasefire.)
But how did Israel come to occupy Gaza in the first place? Well, in the Six Day War in June, 1967 Israel conquered Gaza (along with the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the Sinai).
Israel shot first in the Six Day War, and, as Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin later explained, it was a “war of choice” and there was "no proof" that Arab countries were going to attack them.
So what justification did Israel give at the time for shooting first? They said that in fact they hadn’t started the war, because Egypt had already started it by blockading an Israeli port several weeks before. Here's what Abba Eban, then the Israeli Foreign Minister and later the recipient of the Israel Prize, said to the UN General Assembly on June 19, 1967:
The blockade is by definition an act of war, imposed and enforced through armed violence. Never in history have blockade and peace existed side by side. From May 24 onward, the question who started the war or who fired the first shot became momentously irrelevant. There is no difference in civil law between murdering a man by slow strangulation or killing him by a shot in the bead. From the moment at which the blockade was imposed, active hostilities had commenced and Israel owed Egypt nothing of her Charter rights. If a foreign power sought to close Odessa or Copenhagen or Marseilles or New York harbour by the use of force, what would happen? Would there be any discussion about who had fired the first shot? Would anyone ask whether aggression had begun?
So that's the funny part:
By Israel’s standards, Hamas has been entitled (since the start of the blockade in 2007) to invade Israel and then occupy it for forty years.
Maybe Hamas officials should start pointing this out. They can direct curious reporters to the only place I can find Eban's speech online, the website of the Israel Defense Forces:
The Birdman of ATR
By: John Caruso
I don't believe I've seen Jon mention here that he spends much more of his time on Twitter than ATR these days (and his ATR postings are often elaborations of things he's already tweeted about). I suspect he's just too modest and self-effacing and tugs his forelock in fretful dismay at the very notion of putting this information out there, but I'd also guess that some of ATR's readers aren't aware of his moonlighting and are missing out on the fun, so I'm doing it for him.
— John Caruso
July 16, 2014
Israel Creates Stupidest Propaganda in Human History
Since 2000 and the beginning of the second intifada, Israel has killed 6.5 Palestinians for every Israeli killed by Palestinians, and it’s starting to be a problem for them. (The ratio was more lopsided before 2000, but it wasn’t a problem because back then nobody cared.) And it’s a particular problem right this second, since the ratio in Operation Protective Edge now stands at 178 Palestinians killed to one Israeli.
After all, has there ever in history been a conflict with such a lopsided death tally where the barely-dying side has been the good guys? No. So Israel needed some propaganda to deal with this, stat.
Here’s what they’ve come up with. (This is from a CNN interview yesterday with Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., but it’s a talking point used by lots of people.)
TAPPER: Is it the official position of the Israeli government that it is worth 17 people who you're not trying to target being killed if that one person is in the house?
DERMER: ...Some say Israel is being disproportionate because more Palestinians have been killed than Israelis, 200 versus one….It has nothing to do with a body count on both sides. Twenty times as many Germans died in World War II than Americans. It didn't make the American response disproportionate and didn't make the Nazis right.
OW OW MY BRAIN OW THAT IS THE STUPIDEST THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED
Just for comparison’s sake, let’s say you had 70 trillion male cane toads – an animal notorious for being so stupid it will have sex with anything that will stay still long enough to hump, including dead cane toads, dead lizards, dead snakes and (probably) dead people.
Then let’s say you extracted the essence of the 70 trillion cane toads’ stupidity and turned it into several sentences of Israeli propaganda. That would still be just one-half as stupid as what Ron Dermer said!
I assume I don’t have to spell this out for human beings reading this, but for any confused cane toads, Germany didn’t just kill Americans in World War II. In fact, they're kind of famous for this. They killed about eleven million people in the Holocaust, probably 20 million Russians, plus maybe another 10 million on top of that. That's why they were the bad guys.
Let’s imagine a World War II where Germany only killed 300,000 Americans, i.e., no one from any other country, and yet America killed seven million Germans. In this weird, hypothetical version of “World” War II, America would have been the bad guys.
Congratulations to Ambassador Dermer and all the Israeli propagandists who’ve worked so hard to reach this milestone in human stupidity.
July 08, 2014
Jesus Fucking Christ Jeffrey Goldberg Is an Idiot (No, ISIS Hasn't Captured Saddam’s Hidden WMD)
Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, one of the biggest promoters of the Iraq war in American journalism, was anxious to share this news today:
ISIS seizes Saddam's formerly nonexistent chemical weapons: http://t.co/3Fj29alvpF— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) July 8, 2014
The link goes to an AP story with this news:
Iraq has informed the United Nations that the Islamic State extremist group has taken control of a vast former chemical weapons facility northwest of Baghdad where 2,500 chemical rockets filled with the deadly nerve agent sarin or their remnants were stored along with other chemical warfare agents.
Iraq's U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim...singled out the capture of bunkers 13 and 41 in the sprawling complex, which according to a 2004 U.N. report also contained the toxic agent sodium cyanide, which is a precursor for the chemical warfare agent tabun, and artillery shells contaminated with mustard gas.
It was unclear from Goldberg's tweet alone whether this was simply a stupid joke — or whether Goldberg genuinely believed this shows we've discovered Saddam's hidden stockpile of chemical weapons, thus proving George W. Bush (and Jeffrey Goldberg) right at long last.
However, Goldberg then retweeted three other people (this, this and this) who seem to believe it was the latter; i.e., that we've now learned Iraq did have WMD. So apparently Goldberg believes this as well.
Here's what's actually going on:
Al Muthanna was a large Iraqi production facility for chemical weapons in the 1980s, and was heavily bombed during the 1991 Gulf War. After the Gulf War Iraq was required to declare all its chemical weapons to the UN and hand them over for destruction, and al Muthanna became the main collection and destruction site. According to the CIA's 2004 Iraq Survey Group report, "30,000 pieces of ordnance, 480,000 liters of chemical agents, and more than 2 million liters of chemical precursors" were incinerated or neutralized there.
So why were there any materials left in bunkers 13 and 41 (the ones mentioned today by Iraq)? First, because bunker 13 was damaged by the Gulf War bombing, making it too dangerous to remove the chemical weapons inside; and second, because the UN needed a place to put various kinds of contaminated materials (drained shells, equipment from the incinerator, etc.) that was difficult to destroy, and bunker 41 had not been bombed, so they stuck it all in there.
Then the UN did this:
Bunker #13 and # 41 were closed by sealing all entrances before the end of CDG [Chemical Destruction Group] mission. Each seal consisted of two brick walls with a 5cm layer of tar between them. Then a third brick wall at a distance of one metre from the second wall was built and the space between them was filled with reinforced concrete. Altogether, such a seal was over 1.5 m thick. The hole in the roof of the bunker #13 was also sealed with reinforced concrete.
So yes, there were still chemical weapons in Iraq when we invaded in 2003. But no, today's news doesn't prove "Iraq had WMD." Everyone on earth had known what was in these bunkers for 20 years, and Saddam had no way of accessing it.
Moreover, even if Saddam had gotten his hands on it everything had likely decayed so quickly that by the mid-nineties or earlier it would have been useless. By now it's certainly more of a danger to ISIS than anyone else, and then probably only if they drink it.
All of this information is available to anyone with an internet connection and the slightest interest in this subject. That apparently does not include Jeffrey "I've Had My Entire Cerebrum Removed" Goldberg.
P.S. Here's a UN diagram of bunker 13 and how it was sealed:
June 14, 2014
Someone Please Dig Up Christopher Hitchens and Show Him This Blog Post
Christopher Hitchens on Iraq, 2005:
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...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...it was like this is the nearest I'll get to taking part in the liberation of the country, to ride in with the liberating army...I will not allow it not to be said that that did not happen.
The Financial Times on Iraq, now:
On Thursday night, the militants running Mosul marched through the streets of Mosul and residents say they went out to greet them in celebration.
“People threw them chocolates,” said one woman in a white veil, heading into the Kurdistan region. Like many fleeing on Friday, she said she was not fleeing because of the militants, but because she feared that Mr Maliki would launch air strikes.
There has probably never in history been an invasion where some people didn't give the invading army a warm welcome. For instance, here are some Poles and Ukrainians in 1939 greeting the Nazi army with flowers. And certainly there's never been an invasion where idiot propagandists like Hitchens didn't triumphantly celebrate it as vindicating the invasion's morality. In fact, I'm certain ISIS has its own idiot propagandists at work on this at this very moment.
May 30, 2014
Those Who Own the Goalposts
John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State:
"The bottom line is [Edward Snowden] has betrayed his country, sitting in Russia where he has taken refuge," he said. "You know, he should man up and come back to the United States."
Abby Huntsman, TV host and granddaughter of a billionaire:
"Snowden needs to come home and face the music. That takes courage. Until then he's just a coward."
From The Doubter's Companion by John Ralston Saul, president of PEN international and one of my favorite writers on earth:
The idea of unregulated warfare appeals to our foolish self-pride by suggesting that only a weakling, a coward or an incompetent could be afraid to come out from behind artificial protection in order to fight like a man. Of course only a fool rises to this kind of taunting...
History is filled with a long list of small armies and small nations who have risen to the taunts of large neighbors. The next recorded event is their destruction...
In short, the people who cry loudest...fall into two categories: those who own the goalposts and fools.