May 24, 2004

Winds of Change

Tossing Saddam in the slammer keeps yielding intended benefits.

TUNIS (Reuters) - Arab governments, responding to a U.S. campaign for Arab democracy, have promised to carry out political and social reforms in an oil-rich region which includes some of the world's most repressive rulers.

In documents read out at the end of a two-day Arab summit in Tunis on Sunday, the 22 Arab League members promised to promote democracy, expand popular participation in politics and public affairs, reinforce women's rights and expand civil society.

Now, you can count me among those who are awfully skeptical that this crowd is serious.

What’s important here is they feel they need to at least give freedom and democracy some lip service. They absolutely are on the wrong side of history. And they know it. The days of maintaining their rank political slums are numbered one way or another.

Yeah, it’s probably all talk at this point. And talk is cheap, especially if you live in a police state and the best you get from your thug-in-chief is some posturing.

But think about it this way. Imagine how you would feel about the prospects for life as we know it if we felt so much pressure from the jihad that North American and European governments got together and promised to implement Islamic law “reforms,” even if the promise was only an empty one. You’d be right to say we were losing. And you’d be right to say it’s a direct result of the violence against us and has little to do with diplomacy.

(Hat tip: Instapundit)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:30 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

May 23, 2004

An Epicenter of Hatred

I grew up in sleepy, dreary, conservative Salem, Oregon. I couldn’t wait to get out. The small city of Eugene, home of the University of Oregon, the Berkeley of the Northwest, beckoned me from sixty miles away. I felt like I’d finally found a real home, for the first time in my life, the day I moved into my quad.

Eugene was infinitely more cultural, more sophisticated, better educated, and - most importantly - more tolerant than Salem.

I don’t know if that’s really true anymore. It’s been ten years (almost to the day) since I graduated from the English Department and moved on to bigger and better things. For a while there I thought I could spend the rest of my life in college towns. They seemed to me culturally and intellectually superior little islands surrounded by boring and provincial satellite towns. If Eugene still follows Berkeley, and I’m almost certain it does, I’m happier than ever to be free of both it and Salem.

The East Bay Express, found via Roger L. Simon’s comments section, has another creepy article about hatred in Berkeley.

On the day after September 11, Micki Weinberg walked to the UC Berkeley campus still in shock. At the entrance to campus, facing Telegraph Avenue, huge sheets of blank paper were spread out as an impromptu memorial on which students, faculty, and other passersby were invited to write comments. Glad to have found such a forum, Weinberg scanned the inscriptions. Then he saw one, large and clear, that stopped him dead in his tracks:

"It's the Jews, stupid."

[…]

Almost three years later, Weinberg graduates this month as a student whose days at Cal were marked by what he calls "pinnacles of horror," in the pinched tone of a man betrayed. He remembers pro-Palestinian protesters insisting that Israeli border crossings are as bad as Nazi death camps. He remembers the glass front door of Berkeley's Hillel building -- where he attends Friday night services -- shattered by a cinderblock, with the message FUCK JEWS scrawled nearby. He remembers the spray-painted swastikas discovered one Monday morning last September on the walls of four lecture rooms in LeConte Hall accompanied by the chilling bilingual message, "Die, Juden. "

[…]

Such anti-Semitism has always seemed the sinister province of fascists and neo-Nazis, Spanish Inquisitors and tattooed skinheads. How topsy-turvy, then, to discover that some of the most virulent anti-Semitism in America today seethes amid the multicultural ferment of American college campuses. And at UC Berkeley, which owes as much of its allure to radical rhetoric as to academic excellence, it thrives.

Read the whole awful thing.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:45 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

Worst Album Covers Ever

The sequel to the Worst Album Covers Ever is just way too funny to pass up a link. Enjoy.

(Hat tip: Harry's Place)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:44 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

May 22, 2004

A Very Bad Day?

According to this article in The New York Times, most of the serious abuses at Abu Ghraib prison occurred on a single day in November.

The day of abuse -- a Saturday -- capped what had been the worst week for U.S. troops in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion. Nearly three dozen had been killed in a surge of attacks that left some other soldiers frustrated and frightened. Insurgents had attacked the Abu Ghraib prison and other U.S. bases in the area with mortars several times in previous weeks.
If that is truly the case, it knocks a body blow to the theory that this problem is a systemic one.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:40 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

May 21, 2004

New Comments Policy

It’s time to start cracking heads in the comment section.

I’ve been getting too many complaints from reasonable people about trolls, and invariably the people who (rightly) complain tell me they don’t want to hang out here anymore or that they’re thinking about leaving.

This is going to stop now.

I’ve had open comments for almost a year, and I’ve banned fewer than ten people. So far I’ve only kicked people out for two reasons. Either they’re exceptionally rude to others or they’ve posted overtly racist and inflammatory statements. I had to summarily kick out one German neo-Nazi who wants his country ethnically-cleansed of Muslims and Jews and who bragged that his grandfather got a medal for shooting at mine sixty years ago. I kicked out another person who said 250,000 Bosnian Muslims deserved to die at the hands of Serbian fascists because they were all “stinking terrorists.” The rest I’ve banned because they have some kind of serious social personality dysfunction that I and everyone else found intolerable.

I have never kicked anyone out because I don’t share their opinions. And I won’t start now. Argue with me and everyone else all you want. That’s what the comments are for. But I am going to have to start showing people the door if they repeatedly harrass everyone else with unserious, scurrilous, and idiotic commentary. I won’t kick you out for arguing with me, no matter how sharply you disagree. But I will boot those who insist on acting like idiots and twelve-year olds.

For a very brief window of time I’ll be open to changing my mind. If you have a reasonable objection to this policy, use the comments and tell me why. I don’t want to be a hard-ass about this, but I prefer that option to letting my comments degrade like so many others all over the blogosphere. If you want to convince me to change my mind, address the fact that my comments are degrading and that something must be done to put a stop to it. I refuse to passively sit and watch it happen.

(As a side note, don’t bother accusing me of wanting to ban people because they’re liberal or conservative. Save the partisan victimology. This has nothing to do with your voter registration. Of those I’ve had to kick out so far, roughly half were left-wing, and the other half were right-wing.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:40 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

May 20, 2004

Sick Soldiers (Updated)

I trust no comment is necessary.

UPDATE: Some people (in the comments) are annoyed that I published these pictures without commentary. Okay, fine. Here's some commentary then now that I've had a chance to argue and think about it.

The only reason there is even a chance this sort of thing will come to an end is because these pictures are out in the public.

There is nothing new or uniquely American (or Republican) about what happened in Abu Ghraib. This sort of thing happens all over the world, not only in military prisons, but in civilian prisons. (And it's a thousand times worse in totalitarian states.) It happens in the U.S., and also in France and Canada, too. It happens even though most of us find it appalling. And it happens because we pretend that it doesn't.

I'm doing what I can to make it harder for us to pretend.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:31 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

Islam’s Bloody Borders

Meanwhile, the Jihad is ramping up in Thailand.

Dave Rodriguez snagged a photograph from the latest article in a Thai newspaper before they pulled the story offline. Apparently, there are killings every day in the Muslim part of the country.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:29 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

Brandon Mayfield Released

My fellow Portlander Brandon Mayfield was arrested a while back because his fingerprint supposedly showed up on evidence connected to the terror attacks in Madrid. Turns out the fingerprint belonged to an Algerian national. He was released today.

(Hat tip: Karrie Higgins via email.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:27 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

May 19, 2004

Against Suburbia

Megan McArdle (aka "Jane Galt") and Matthew Yglesias grew up in the city (New York, as it happens) and are sticking up for cities as places to raise kids. Conventional wisdom says the suburbs are better, but Megan and Matt say they turned out just fine (I’m sure they both did), that they lost the "muddy creek" in exchange for urban hang-outs instead.

I grew up in the suburbs and I won’t defend them as places to raise kids. I would much rather have grown up in the inner-city where I live now. ("Inner-city" is not synonymous with Cabrini Green except in the heads of people who don’t live in cities or who live in Cabrini Green. "Inner-city" simply refers to the dense urban core, not all of which is a slum. In the case of Portland, Oregon, none of which is a slum - at least not any longer.)

The way I see it, the suburbs combine the worst of the city with the worst of the countryside. In the suburbs you’re stranded as if you were way out in the sticks, but you also get traffic. You have no choice but to get in a car to go anywhere, just as if you lived in the middle of nowhere. But you get none of the peace, quiet, and expansiveness of the woods, or prairie, or desert, depending on where you live. (Around here we have farmland and forest, but mostly forest.)

I live in inner-city Portland. I can see the skyline from my front yard. I can walk there in forty-five minutes if I feel like getting some exercise. More important, I have lord only knows how many restaurants, bookstores, cafes, movie theaters, urban parks, corner stores and practically everything else within five minutes walking distance from my front porch. Now that I don’t have an office job and do all my work from home (or, just as often, in a coffeeshop) I almost never have to get in my car. I can do or get anything in less time on foot than it takes a suburbanite in a car.

I grew up in Salem, Oregon, which is forty-five miles south. It’s not a small town, it’s a suburb without a city attached. It’s just barely too far from Portland to be a part of the metro area, especially from the point of view of a kid who can’t drive. Portland might as well have been in Canada for all its “closeness” was worth. Salem was (and still is) a dead moon in a long-shot orbit.

I was perfectly happy with Salem when I was six. I didn’t know it from Manhattan or Palookaville. When I was sixteen it was awful - truly a thundering bore. Now that I’m 33, my detestation for that town is at its peak. Not only is it a dreary smear of strip malls and burger joints, it’s a cultural black hole. You want museums, live music, bookstore readings, the theater? Forget it. Drive an hour to Portland. Worst of all, the place is an utter dead-end. Anyone who grows up in Salem absolutely must leave. There is little opportunity there outside the low-wage service sector and the state bureaucracy. Several people I grew up with never left, and every person I know who stayed is less successful than every person I know who got out. The place is a trap that must be escaped. I'm surprised how many don't make it. Supposedly it’s a great place to raise kids, but I don’t know a single person who grew up there and left who agrees.

I know it’s harder to find good schools and enough space to raise kids in Manhattan, as Megan McArdle explains in her post. But not every city is like Manhattan. Most cities aren’t.

In Portland (as well as in other cities of a similar size, such as Minneapolis and Seattle) it’s easy. Some of our best schools are in the city, and the nicest neighborhoods are definitely in the city. Nothing in the ‘burbs can compare to our heavily wooded Victorian neighborhoods and the top-notch schools nestled inside them. The pre-automobile urban design is far easier on the eyes, and you can get anywhere without a car. That’s a bonus for bored kids and also for parents who otherwise have to cart them around.

There isn’t a right or wrong answer in the city versus suburb debate. Salem may have had some (well-hidden) advantages for me, at least when I was small, even though it didn’t as I got older. There probably are drawbacks to growing up in the city, disadvantages that I'm not aware of since I didn't have that experience.

My real point is this: Conventional wisdom says suburbs are better for kids, and that any kid who grew up in the suburbs agrees. I’m saying that’s false. You can find people who were happily raised in the suburbs, and you can find others who were glad to grow up in a city. But you can also find people who grew up in the suburbs and hated it.

Every single one of my childhood friends who made it out, either to Portland or to a city someplace else, are glad they got out and wish they didn’t start out in that town in the first place. None of us like to go back. It’s boring, it’s ugly, and worst of all it’s depressing.

Not everyone agrees. My parents love Salem and think I’m totally full of it. Either way, it doesn’t matter who’s “right,” since much of this is a matter of personality, taste, and opinion. But don’t go thinking it’s a no-brainer that your kids will be glad you reared ‘em up in the ‘burbs. You might be surprised what they say when they get a bit older.

Maybe it’s worth asking where they want to live. If you prefer to live in a city, don’t torture yourself in the suburbs just for your kids. If my parents asked me if I'd rather live in a city I would have said yes.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:10 PM | Permalink | Comments Off
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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