About ten years before my mother’s death at the age of 87, a friend of hers told me on a visit to mom in upstate NY, while she was out of the room, that she was “slipping”. When I asked her to give me some examples, she said that her driving had deteriorated—a function largely of cataracts. She had also begun to lose her temper more and more easily. And the biggest problem apparently was her obsession with Israel, writing letters to the local newspapers on practically a daily basis with the latest hasbara talking points she discovered on the Internet using the Macintosh computer I bought her. The bad driving and the hair-trigger temper I could discount but the Zionism surely was a sign that she was losing it.
As I march inexorably toward my own “slipping” moments, I wonder when people will begin to take notice of me. My eyes are considerably worse than hers were when she was my age. I just got my driver’s license renewed—a stroke of luck—but I will not drive after dark. On losing one’s temper, I am probably even crazier than her considering my inability to tolerate a lot of the bullshit I read on the Internet or hear on television or radio. With the age of email upon us, I can’t resist giving some jerk a piece of my mind. Mostly the recipient is smart enough to ignore me, since I am obviously a bit “off”. Frankly, if someone like me wrote me a hostile email, I’d ignore it. I guess I often get a reply because I don’t write the conventional “you are such an asshole” thing but tend to be more sarcastic than anything else. I also use my Columbia email address to get attention. For some reason, big muck-a-mucks take my email address seriously even though there are lots of idiots at the university, starting with President Lee Bollinger and the dean of the business school Glenn Hubbard.
Don Novello as Father Guido Sarducci
About ten years ago I reported on some exchange I had with some politician or academic “expert” who got on my wrong side to the PEN-L mailing list which prompted economist Max Sawicky to compare me to Lazlo Toth, a persona adopted by Don Novello, to goad big shots into replying to his goofy letters. Novello was better known for his Father Guido Sarducci character on Saturday Night Live back when it—like Woody Allen movies–was funny. A typical Toth exchange looks like this:
From: Lazlo Toth …… November 19, 1977
To: Commanding Officer, AIR CANADA
Dear Sir: I recently flew on your airline and I must say I was more than somewhat disappointed! First of all, the stewardess asked me if I wanted to see the movie. I said, “No, thank you.” Later, when I asked for some earphones, she said, “I thought you didn’t want the movie?” She thought right, I didn’t want the movie, I just wanted to listen to some music, I told her. She said the music was only for people who paid for the movie! “Otherwise, how would we know you weren’t listening to the movie,” she said. How about the honor system? In my country they don’t go around accusing paying customers of cheating! I could afford to fly to Canada, do you think I couldn’t afford $2.50 for a lousy movie? Besides, that’s $2.50 in Canadian dollars — cheaper still! I saw a lot of people watching the movie who didn’t pay for it! Why don’t you charge to watch the movie instead of to listen to it? Why can you watch a movie for nothing but have to pay to listen to some records? It’s just not fair! Next thing you know, you’ll probably be charging people to look at record albums! Also, my tomato soup was ice cold! I thought it was because I was the only one polite enough to wait until everybody got served before I started eating, but when I told the stewardess my soup was cold, she said it wasn’t tomato soup, that it was tomato juice! How was I suppose to know it was tomato juice? What was the soup spoon there for then? I wasted two or three minutes eating it like that! Why don’t you label those things? If you can label “salad dressing,” why not juice and soup? I knew the salad dressing was salad dressing — what else could it have been — jello? Come on! Why do you label something that doesn’t need a label and not label the thing I mistook for something else? I think that by labeling the soup and the juice and starting free music you can make a giant step towards better understandings between both of our countries. Things are unstable enough without these things getting in the way, too. Your neighbor,
To: Lazlo Toth …… December 29, 1977
From: A.R. Godbold, Manager, Customer Relations, Air Canada
Dear Mr. Toth: We were very sorry to learn of your disappointment in some aspects of our service during your travel with us in November, but appreciate your giving us your observations. Recorded music is available on some of our flights at no charge; however, on flights where music is provided in conjunction with a movie, it is felt that, in fairness to all passengers, the charge for the movie must be levied on all passengers making use of the earphones. Soup is very seldom served by the airlines, because of the difficulties inherent in its provision, and it is regretted that this was not clarified with you. Thank you for your interest in writing. Yours very truly,
When I got up yesterday morning I spent my customary 30 minutes or so listening to AM radio. If WBAI was half as good as it was in the 1980s, that’s what I would listen to. No such luck, I’m afraid. So I listen to a few minutes of Boomer and Carton, a sports talk show, until I get tired of discussion about Alex Rodriguez’s contract. Then I’ll give the aging, crapulent shock jock Don Imus a few minutes until the right-wing guest he is schmoozing with becomes too much to bear. After Imus got fired by WFAN (he was replaced by Boomer and Carton), he moved over to WABC and became oriented to the reactionary pigs there. Ornery as ever, Imus will call Rush Limbaugh a fat, drug-taking idiot but will bend over backwards to be courteous to Sean Hannity.
Last stop on the AM express is the Mark Riley show on WWRL a black-owned and black-oriented station that used to be devoted to Air America programming until that liberal garbage dump went under. Riley is an African-American and in Obama’s back pocket just like Al Sharpton who has a show on the same station at 9pm. Mostly I listen to the show for the men and women calling in from the Black community, about half of whom are disgusted with Obama.
That day I turned to Riley’s show when he was in the middle of an interview with Barry Blechman, the director of the Stimson Center. Blechman was making the case that Iran was guilty of conspiring to kill the Saudi ambassador. Feeling some pressure to maintain a progressive veneer, Riley asked Blechman to explain some of the obvious inconsistencies—like why Iran would want to deal with a used car salesman who was in no position to line up Mexican drug cartel gunmen, let alone his next month’s rent.
Blechman assured him that there was hard proof of Iran’s involvement, starting with the wire transfer of money to said used car salesman. That was enough to set my hair on fire.
When I got to work an hour or so later, I dashed off this email to Blechman:
You said that the wire transfer of money proved that Iran was behind the plot to kill the Saudi ambassador. Aren’t you aware that wire transfers from Iran to American banks are prohibited? How in the world did you get into the position of speaking as an expert? Or is your role the same as Judith Miller’s?
I had a feeling that this would get under his skin, as would later be borne out:
Dear Mr. Proyest, [sic]
Thanks for your comment; it’s nice to know that someone was listening. According to the sworn affidavit of the FBI official submitted in support of the indictment, two transfers of $49,960 each were made from Iran to an unnamed US bank. Now you may believe that FBI officials will swear to information they know is false in legal proceedings, but I don’t. One explanation might be that knowing of the plot, the government permitted the transfers to be made, even though they are prohibited by sanctions legislation.
The actual 21-page indictment can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/10/11/us/Iran-Plot-Indictment-Doc-Viewer.html?ref=us. It may answer some of your questions of fact. Barry Blechman
My reply will surely irritate him further, hopefully enough to prompt another email:
“Now you may believe that FBI officials will swear to information they know is false in legal proceedings”
Well, I for one am not shocked that gambling is going on at Rick’s place either.
As far as the wire transfer is concerned, this is absurd on the face of it—leaving aside the question of the sanctions legislation. Haven’t you ever seen a good spy movie? Payments are not made by wire transfers. They are made in cash transported around in a good, solid aluminum briefcase by a character named Abu Hassan. You know the kind of dirty Arab or Iranian I am talking about—they get killed by Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger in the bloody finale.
Btw, have to chuckle about your credentials as a nuclear disarmament expert running something called the Stimson Center. That’s like an environmentalist running the James G. Watt Center.
“…in [July] 1945… Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act. …the Secretary, upon giving me the news of the successful bomb test in New Mexico, and of the plan for using it, asked for my reaction, apparently expecting a vigorous assent.
“During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at that very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of ‘face’. The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude…”
– Dwight Eisenhower, Mandate For Change, pg. 380
In a Newsweek interview, Eisenhower again recalled the meeting with Stimson:
“…the Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”
– Ike on Ike, Newsweek, 11/11/63
Look to this space for updates to the great Lazlo Toth/Unrepentant Marxist-Barry Blechman debate.