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Monday, September 24, 2007

Make sure they're nodding when the music stops

I have to admit I've been addicted to Scott Adam's witty comic strip, 'Dilbert', since I first saw it almost ten years ago.  However, until this morning I was unaware that he also kept a blog.  One would think that this would be cause for celebration here at chez treppenwitz. 

One would be wrong.

I found out about Mr. Adam's blog when a friend sent me a link to an entry Mr. Adams had written about Iranian President Ahmadinejad entitled; "A Feeling I'm Being Had".

The post is such a well written bit of irony / sarcasm, and so disarmingly charming (despite the gratuitous swearing) in its mock rage, that one doesn't immediately 'get' that his deadly serious intent is to criticize Israel and Jews. 

Reading the piece through the first time was like being a lone American at a dinner party amidst a bunch of Brits... grinning along with the well-bred banter for ten or fifteen minutes before realizing with dawning horror that the 'colonial' they've been making jokes about all evening is you.

I had started out with the intention of quoting just a few passages of Mr. Adam's blog, but I realized that it would invite the temptation to abandon context... and that would serve neither his meaning nor mine.

So, without further ado, what follows is the 'fisking' of his post (his text appears indented in italics):

"I was happy to hear that NYC didn't allow Iranian President Ahmadinejad to place a wreath at the WTC site. And I was happy that Columbia University is rescinding the offer to let him speak. If you let a guy like that express his views, before long the entire world will want freedom of speech. "

Good start.  If Ahmadinejad comes to the US, he is (in the opinion of most reasonable people) entitled to all the freedoms we boast about to the rest of the world.  The Red Sox can't reasonably invite the Dodgers to Fenway Park and force the LA pitcher's to take a turn at bat while the Bosox trot out their DH!  The house rules must prevail for all! 

Freedom of speech is such a basic liberty that it rightly deserves to be the cornerstone of a piece that will test the reader's (many of them anyway) own tolerance for statements they find distasteful (to the extreme).  To that end, Adams begins with a perfectly reasonable sentiment that I share completely.  What happens afterward... not so much:

"I hate Ahmadinejad for all the same reasons you do. For one thing, he said he wants to "wipe Israel off the map." Scholars tell us the correct
translation is more along the lines of wanting a change in Israel's
government toward something more democratic, with less gerrymandering.  What an ass-muncher! "

Here's where Scott starts to grind his ax (and make stuff up).  He's got you nodding along with the whole freedom of speech thing and now ever-so-casually foists a complete falsehood on you. 

Exactly which 'scholars' provided this translation is left conspicuously unsaid, but so far as I can tell, it is completely unique, having been reported nowhere else that I can find.  I double-dog dare Scott Adams to provide one credible Farsi scholar who can support a direct translation of the 'wipe Israel off the map' remark having been simply a call for early Knesset elections and a more transparent Israeli government.

"Ahmadinejad also called the holocaust a "myth." Fuck him! A myth is
something a society uses to frame their understanding of their world, and act accordingly. It's not as if the world created a whole new country
because of holocaust guilt and gives it a free pass no matter what it
does. That's Iranian crazy talk. Ahmadinejad can blow me."

By this point in the piece, an intelligent reader must realize that what follows will be a recital of Scott Adam's beliefs, packaged in such a way that one might not immediately realize that he is no longer talking about Iran or it's leader.  He takes a repugnant libel (that the Jews invented the Holocaust) and tries to make it more palatable by indicating what those greedy, undeserving Jews had/have to gain from the continued invocation of the Holocaust.  Holocaust denial is beyond the pale... but attributing Israel's very existence and alleged moral 'free pass' to Holocaust guilt is apparently OK.

"Most insulting is the fact that "myth" implies the holocaust didn't happen. Fuck him for saying that! He also says he won't dispute the historical claims of European scientists. That is obviously the opposite of saying the holocaust didn't happen, which I assume is his way of confusing me. God-damned fucker. "

This pivotal paragraph is nothing less than verbal three-card Monty.  We're meant to give up trying to follow the ace of spades at this point and allow ourselves to be led from here on in.  Masterful work.

"Furthermore, why does an Iranian guy give a speech in his own language
except for using the English word "myth"? Aren't there any Iranian
words for saying a set of historical facts has achieved an unhealthy level
of influence on a specific set of decisions in the present? He's just
being an asshole. "

Notice, the Iranian leader isn't saying this... Scott Adams is.  He has completely hijacked the talking points now, but we're supposed to feign conspiratorial ignorance of this fact. 

"Ahmadinejad believes his role is to pave the way for the coming of the
Twelfth Imam. That's a primitive apocalyptic belief! I thank Jesus I do
not live in a country led by a man who believes in that sort of bullshit. Imagine how dangerous that would be, especially if that man had the
launch codes for nuclear weapons. "

Adams is talking about Israel here.  Nuclear ambiguity aside, Israel is the only country in the region with such weapons that has a national religious identity - Judaism - which is at it's core, Messianic. 

"The worst of the worst is that Ahmadinejad's country is helping the Iraqis kill American soldiers. If Iran ever invades Canada, I think we'd agree the best course of action for the United States is to be constructive and let things sort themselves out. Otherwise we'd be just as evil  as the Iranians. Those fuckers"

This non-sequitur has me stumped.  Clearly I'm not too bright, because I've reread it a few dozen times and can't find a constructive purpose for it's presence... other than to confuse. 

"Those Iranians need to learn from the American example. In this country, if the clear majority of the public opposes the continuation of a war, our leaders will tell us we're terrorist-humping idiots and do whatever they damn well please. They might even increase our taxes to do it. That's called leadership."

This is another attempt to get the last few readers on-board his train of thought.  By railing against the Bush administration's heavy handed dealings with the opposition and disregard for constitutional checks and balances, he is saying "If you are anti-Bush and against the war... you probably also share my other ideas".  Not very subtle.

"If Ahmadinejad thinks he can be our friend by honoring our heroes and
opening a dialog, he underestimates our ability to misinterpret him.
Fucking idiot. I hate him."

Here at the end we've come full circle back to the issue of whether or not to allow Ahmadinejad to go to ground zero (the WTC site).  As with his earlier statements about free speech and the right to protest the war without being labeled unpatriotic (or worse), he is essentially saying that if you love the basic principles upon which the US was founded, then you share his other - unrelated- sentiments about Jews and Israel.  It's all about making sure the people are nodding when the music stops. 

Judging by the positive comments at the end of his blog post, it seems to have worked quite well.

Update:  In his follow-up post (insultingly titled "Sorry I confused you", Mr. Adams puts on his tap shoes and says a lot of nothing.  In between riffs on "I didn't mean that", and "of course Israel has the right to exist" he un-does pretty much every conciliatory statement with a big fat "but...".

I'm sure I won't be missed among Scott Adam's mega-fan base.  But I'm leaving just the same.  Bye bye Dilbert.

Posted by David Bogner on September 24, 2007 | Permalink

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» Is scott adams antisemitic? from Soccer Dad
In a word, "no." I received an e-mail from a reader asking me to respond to a recent item in Scott Adams' blog. (I have to admit that the foul language of the item is very offputting. Adams has talent, why he can't express himself without an excess of ... [Read More]

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Very well put.

A few comments:

When Adams says "gerrymandering", I don't think he's talking about the Knesset. I think he's using a nicer code word for Carter's apartheid.


Another trademark antisemitic phrase is saying that the Holocaust has achieved an "unhealthy level
of influence" on the present. And perhaps I'm being paranoid, but I think the lowercase "h" he uses for Holocaust is not unintentional.

I think "primitive apocalyptic belief" is referring to Bush. I hadn't thought of Israel, but perhaps only because I don't really think of Olmert believing much of anything...

As far as "Iran ever invades Canada" - I think he's saying that Iran has the right to support terrorists killing US troops because Iraq is next door to Iran (as Canada is to the US.) Of course he conveniently forgets that the US invasion of Iraq removed a major enemy of Iran, and has led to the strengthening of their fellow Shiites there.

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Sep 24, 2007 10:17:21 AM

Scott Adams isn't going to miss you, as he has one of the top 50 blogs on the Internet and hundred of thousands of readers.

His blog covers a very straightforward and naive sort of political rant against all things societal, from support for Israel to politics to organized religion. While he's a funny writer, he also never listens or learns from anyone else.

It's for that reason that i stopped reading him a long time ago, finding him insufferable after only a few weeks.

As to this particular post, you're basically on, but you're off a bit:

- "I thank Jesus I do
not live in a country led by a man who believes in" is not talking about Israel, it's talking about the bible-thumping U.S. president. "I thank Jesus" should have given this away ...

- Regarding Iran/Canada, he is saying that Iran's assisting Iraq in tossing out the Americans is justifiable, just as it would be if the U.S. assisted Canada in tossing out any invaders. He is addressing those people who think that Iran should stay out of the conflict.

Yehuda

Posted by: Yehuda Berlinger | Sep 24, 2007 11:51:02 AM

Dave (Balashon)... I'll go along with you on the reference to Bush... the others I'm still not sold. Thanks.

Yehuda Berlinger... Points well made.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Sep 24, 2007 3:22:07 PM

Bush was also the first thing that came to my mind with that phrase. I asked my husband yesterday if he thought Columbia would invite Bin Laden to speak if he were available, and he said "of course they would."

Why is it that all the anti-war, anti-Bush folks are also anti-Israel. It's deeply disappointg . . .

Posted by: Annie D | Sep 24, 2007 3:28:47 PM

I stumbled on Adams blog a couple of years ago and found it to be quite disappointing.

It is purely do to his politics regarding Israel. I have seen enough posts to believe that he is anti-Israel which is not a crime.

However the shoddy reasoning, poor logic and questionable fact makes it impossible for me to stick around.

Especially because as Yehuda said he is insufferable and unwilling to concede that he could be misinformed.

Posted by: Jack | Sep 24, 2007 4:03:28 PM

Although, I seem to be becoming more and more outnumbered, I hadn't read his (initial) post quite the same way.

I'll admit I haven't read his blog much. I think I'd stumbled upon it and discovered that it was so profanity laced that it was impossible to read, so I don't have the context that Jack has.

Standing alone, though, I didn't view all his arguments as his own, but rather that he was inserting Ahmadinejad's in order to explain his loathing of the man.

Like I said, it seems I'm becoming a bit of a minority on this topic.

Posted by: soccerdad | Sep 24, 2007 4:11:26 PM

How very sad. Bye bye Dilbert. Your creator has rage issues and is less intelligent than I thought.

Posted by: Alice | Sep 24, 2007 4:31:03 PM

I was going to write what Yehuda and the others wrote about those two paragraphs. The first is definitely Bush, and it ties in with the whole,"if you hate Bush then obviously you agree with me" thing. The second one is an attempt to put us in the shoes of Iran--what would we do if someone invaded our neighbor. Of course we'd be completely justified in helping them oust them. However ridiculous the comparison is. If someone went in and liberated Cuba and offered them a democracy, I doubt we'd be sending insurgents over.

Posted by: psychotoddler | Sep 24, 2007 5:28:20 PM

Re: freedom of speech issue.

Adams is being disingenuous here as well. This whole thing has nothing to do with freedom of speech.

1) It's not like the government was forbidding him to come here at all. Plus he gets plenty of coverage in the press, and we don't have i censored out.
2)Incitement to violence is NOT covered by freedom of speech, especially if that violence may very well be imminent.
3) Private institutions such as Columbia can invite whomever they want, but doesn't mean they have to.
4) Columbia itself is acting hypocritically. If it really wanted to promote freedom of speech and vigorous dialogue, it would have been inviting people from all over the spectrum, and not just radical left/anti-Semites. I couldn't imagine them inviting Karl Rove or the Israeli ambassador to debate one of those hate-mongerers. In the rare instances, when someone from the right does come in, the polite treatment and safety wouldn't be guaranteed (see what happened last year with the visit from one of the Minutement).
5) Finally, there's the simple question of morality and good judgment. What do you gain by legitimizing this kind of rhetoric in a "civil" debate and by giving a dictator and a criminal even more space for his rhetoric than he already had?

So no, this is not about freedom of speech. This is about publicity and courting controversy. And I think Adams knows it as well as anyone, or else he's being extremely naive (not something that sounds very likely from reading his entry).

Posted by: Irina | Sep 24, 2007 6:05:57 PM

You should read the President of Columbia U's statement about the talk by Ahmadenijad:
http://www.columbia.edu/cu/news/07/09/ahmadinejad2.html

-------------
Sept. 19, 2007

On Monday, September 24, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is scheduled to appear as a speaker on campus. The event is sponsored by the School of International and Public Affairs (see SIPA announcement), which has been in contact with the Iranian Mission to the United Nations. The event will be part of the annual World Leaders Forum, the University-wide initiative intended to further Columbia’s longstanding tradition of serving as a major forum for robust debate, especially on global issues.

In order to have such a University-wide forum, we have insisted that a number of conditions be met, first and foremost that President Ahmadinejad agree to divide his time evenly between delivering remarks and responding to audience questions. I also wanted to be sure the Iranians understood that I would myself introduce the event with a series of sharp challenges to the president on issues including:

the Iranian president’s denial of the Holocaust;

his public call for the destruction of the State of Israel;

his reported support for international terrorism that targets innocent civilians and American troops;

Iran's pursuit of nuclear ambitions in opposition to international sanction;

his government's widely documented suppression of civil society and particularly of women's rights; and

his government's imprisoning of journalists and scholars, including one of Columbia’s own alumni, Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh (see President Bollinger's statement on Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh's release).

I would like to add a few comments on the principles that underlie this event. Columbia, as a community dedicated to learning and scholarship, is committed to confronting ideas—to understand the world as it is and as it might be. To fulfill this mission we must respect and defend the rights of our schools, our deans and our faculty to create programming for academic purposes. Necessarily, on occasion this will bring us into contact with beliefs many, most or even all of us will find offensive and even odious. We trust our community, including our students, to be fully capable of dealing with these occasions, through the powers of dialogue and reason.

I would also like to invoke a major theme in the development of freedom of speech as a central value in our society. It should never be thought that merely to listen to ideas we deplore in any way implies our endorsement of those ideas, or the weakness of our resolve to resist those ideas or our naiveté about the very real dangers inherent in such ideas. It is a critical premise of freedom of speech that we do not honor the dishonorable when we open the public forum to their voices. To hold otherwise would make vigorous debate impossible.

That such a forum could not take place on a university campus in Iran today sharpens the point of what we do here. To commit oneself to a life—and a civil society—prepared to examine critically all ideas arises from a deep faith in the myriad benefits of a long-term process of meeting bad beliefs with better beliefs and hateful words with wiser words. That faith in freedom has always been and remains today our nation’s most potent weapon against repressive regimes everywhere in the world. This is America at its best.

Posted by: Alan | Sep 24, 2007 6:55:35 PM

Free speech is wonderful especially when it's productive. Columbia could have easily set up really fascinating debates between respected thinkers. One has to wonder why they chose to get publicity, even if it means simultaneously giving it to a clearly wicked man, in lieu of educating their students and/or the public. Does anyone actually believe that that Columbia is going to rock Ahmadinejad's world with free speech, as Bollinger claims?

Posted by: Alice | Sep 24, 2007 7:04:55 PM

I echo Alan's words too. I hate that he's is speaking at Columbia, but that is what makes us different then them. We shouldn't censor ourselves but I do question why Columbia choose to have him? What their real goal or motive is?

What really pisses me off is that we are paying for his security while visiting our country.

Posted by: Jaime | Sep 24, 2007 8:11:03 PM

That's the nasty thing about free speech: sometimes you have to defend the rights of someone whose words make you violently ill.

After 11 September 2001, the citizens of Tehran marched by thousands in a candlelight procession in a spontaneous show of support for New York City. I know of no other demonstration like it anywhere else.

Posted by: antares | Sep 24, 2007 9:22:46 PM

I forgot to mention that the right to free speech does not include the right to be heard.

Posted by: antares | Sep 24, 2007 9:37:47 PM

He's not a US citizen and not entitled to any of our rights. Is there free speech in Iran? Let him start there.

Posted by: psychotoddler | Sep 24, 2007 9:53:18 PM

Just as a follow up, did anyone see what Bollinger said to him on the public stage?

Posted by: Annie D | Sep 25, 2007 1:01:17 AM

PT - he's not entitled as a citizen, but our institutions and citizens are entitled to have him be their speaker.

Posted by: Jaime | Sep 25, 2007 1:25:56 AM

Ugh, I had no idea Scott Adams was such an idiot. I'll never enjoy Dilbert the same again.

About the Ahmadinejad speech: I wasn't happy at all that Columbia invited him, but looks like he made an ass of himself on stage, with Lee Bollinger's help. Hehe. At least there's one silver lining...

Posted by: Chantyshira | Sep 25, 2007 3:04:59 AM

Scott Adam's statement ("The worst of the worst is that Ahmadinejad's country is helping the Iraqis kill American soldiers...") is a shot at the U.S. invasion of Iraq. His imagined Iranian invasion of Canada is (by Adams's reasoning) analogous to the American invasion of Iraq. Scott Adams seems to believe that Iran is justified in its support of terrorists in Iraq since the U.S. invaded its sphere of influence, the Middle East. Alas, such is the inverted thinking of those who have abandoned moral absolutes. No doubt Scott Adams reasons: "Who are we as Westerners to judge the actions of Muslims. They think we're depraved, so who are they (as Muslims) to judge us Westerners? Let them live according to their standards and we can live according to ours. The only problem is that we keep meddling in their business." And of course the biggest intrusion of Western culture is ... Israel.

Following the twists in Scott Adams mind is difficult. But worse, as C.S. Lewis confessed after he wrote "The Screwtape Letters", it's also a very depressing mental exercise.

Posted by: Bob | Sep 25, 2007 3:13:03 AM

Artists should be appreciated for their art, not their personalities, which may be as warped as this guy. But, admittedly, once you've been exposed to the personality, the art loses some of its appeal.

Posted by: Dick Stanley | Sep 25, 2007 4:40:20 PM

And of course the biggest intrusion of Western culture is ... Israel.

If only these pesky Jews would just roll over and play dead! Then the world would be at peace. Why couldn't Hitler have done a better job and just wiped them all out. Oh, wait, he didn't really try to do that, he's just misunderstood.

(Note to Scott Adams readers: That was sarcasm, not my true point of view!)

Posted by: psychotoddler | Sep 25, 2007 4:46:21 PM

Damn. What are we supposed to do with all our Dilbert books now?!

BTW- I didn't see his follow-up post as a tap-dance. Or even as conceding to a Jewish lobby of commenters/publishers or somesuch. That "Bulletproof Ghandi" comment makes it quite clear where he stands. And while I'm sad -but not hugely surprised- that he too subscribes to the popular view of trusting that the perceived underdog is justified and will prevail, I'm surprised that Adams felt the need to "go there" when his satire is generally so accessible.

Posted by: PP | Sep 26, 2007 7:53:09 AM

What a drag! Bye, Dilbert, and don't let the door hit you on the way out.

BTW - anyone who has paid any attention to Columbia University's politics over the last twenty years or so would not be surprised by their invitation to Ahmedinedjad. They have one of the most anti-Semitic Middle-Eastern Study departments in the country.

Posted by: psachya | Oct 2, 2007 12:15:57 AM

"Ahmadinejad believes his role is to pave the way for the coming of the
Twelfth Imam. That's a primitive apocalyptic belief! I thank Jesus I do
not live in a country led by a man who believes in that sort of bullshit. Imagine how dangerous that would be, especially if that man had the
launch codes for nuclear weapons. "

Adams is talking about Israel here. Nuclear ambiguity aside, Israel is the only country in the region with such weapons that has a national religious identity - Judaism - which is at it's core, Messianic.

I agree with Balashon - this is almost certainly Bush he's talking about.

Posted by: Kol Ra'ash Gadol | Oct 9, 2007 5:23:38 AM

I'm feeling perhaps not too bright this evening. If you included all of his post, I have to say I can't see why anyone (you or the commenters who agreed with him that you mention) thinks he was talking about Israel. It seems to me that he was talking about the US and our current inability to actually live by the values that we purport have and claim to desire to export around the world.

Posted by: Kol Ra'ash Gadol | Oct 9, 2007 5:27:10 AM

I'd caught a little of this article by Adams before, but (as occasionally is the case) this time I'd disagree with you, Trep. As an op-ed writer, and one who has personally produced well-written prose and unfocused screed, I'd type this as the latter. Adams has no pivot-point, and tries to do too much. The character of his "author," whether it is autobiographical or an attempt to create another Archie Bunker, is nebulous and ill-established. The jibes are willy-nilly, and smack of thrashing about wildly.

Most of the attack is against the US gubmint and This Administration, rather than Israel, but you are right about that odd, creepy side-trip, "it's not as if the world created..." Weird!

As with advertising, the best op-ed strategy is Keep It Simple.

I find Dilbert funny, and I suppose -- having read and heard some of his other work -- I salute him for reigning in his profanity and vulgarity when writing the comic.

I don't find his non-Dilbert work nearly as intersting, let alone funny; this piece just marked out (for me) a whole new frontier of not-funny for Adams. Then again, profanity *usually* decreases any funny statement(s) for me. I guess I'm something of a prude that way.

Posted by: Wrymouth | Oct 10, 2007 2:04:42 AM

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