June 30, 2005

Eavesdropping on Iraqis

Those of you familiar with the Friends of Democracy site already know what’s it about. Essays from the Iraqi Arabic-language blogosphere are translated and sent to me. I then edit and publish them.

We had a bit of a problem with our old translator, so the posting has been sporadic for quite a while. But we have a new translator now – I should say here that he’s doing a terrific job - and new posts are being published more regularly.

Iraqis who blog in English are aware that their audience is primarily Western. Iraqis who blog in Arabic are talking to each other in their own language. While editing the site I feel like I’m eavesdropping on them and helping you eavesdrop on them too.

Today I published a piece by an Iraqi named Shirko. He declares Syria an enemy state and demands regime-change in Damascus. He’s saying this to his fellow Iraqis. In Arabic. Soon they will be sovereign. And they will have their own Western-trained army. Read Shirko’s essay with those things in mind.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:01 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

Euros for the “Resistance”

The far-left and far-right are playing in the same sandbox again. (Hat tip: Vodkapundit.)

Who's funding the insurgents in Iraq? The list of suspects is long: ex-Baathists, foreign jihadists, and angry Sunnis, to name a few. Now add to that roster hard-core Euroleftists.

Turns out that far-left groups in western Europe are carrying on a campaign dubbed Ten Euros for the Resistance, offering aid and comfort to the car bombers, kidnappers, and snipers trying to destabilize the fledgling Iraq government. In the words of one Italian website, Iraq Libero (Free Iraq), the funds are meant for those fighting the occupanti imperialisti. The groups are an odd collection, made up largely of Marxists and Maoists, sprinkled with an array of Arab emigres and aging, old-school fascists, according to Lorenzo Vidino, an analyst on European terrorism based at The Investigative Project in Washington, D.C. "It's the old anticapitalist, anti-U.S., anti-Israel crowd," says Vidino, who has been to their gatherings, where he saw activists from Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Italy. "The glue that binds them together is anti-Americanism."

This isn’t surprising. Far-left and far-right terrorist sympathizers have been mouthing off about this sort of thing for years.

Consider for example how Billy Roper, head of the “White Revolution” in Arkansas, reacted to the attacks on September 11.

[T]he enemy of our enemy is, for now at least, our friends…We may not want them marrying our daughters…but anyone who is willing to drive a plane into a building to kill Jews is alright [sic] by me. I wish our members had half as much testicular fortitude.
Last year leftist writer and activist Arundhati Roy told Outlook India that she supports the Iraqi “resistance” as well.
[W]hen you look at the massive amount of violence that America is perpetrating in Iraq, I don’t know that I’m in a position to tell Iraqis that you must fight a pristine, feminist, democratic, secular, non-violent war. I can’t say. I just feel that that resistance in Iraq is our battle too and we have to support it.
It was only a matter of time before cretins like these started putting their money where their mouths are.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:11 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

June 29, 2005

The Bush Speech

I neither saw nor heard President Bush’s speech last night. I wasn’t particularly interested in anybody’s reaction, either. The right cheered. The left booed. Big shocker, that. I could have written a typical liberal response to that speech on the day before the speech was given. I could have written a typical conservative response, too. How hard could it possibly be? Just fill in the utterly predictable blanks. Foreign policy speeches these days - by the president during a war - are treated as nothing more than political footballs. Boo to that. We’re incredibly immature for a superpower sometimes.

So far I’ve read exactly one response to that speech that is worth reading and linking. It was written by Callimachus.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:16 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

June 28, 2005

Firefly and Serenity

Last week I groused about Hollywood’s appalling lack of imagination. Today I want to thank Hollywood for saving us from Fox’s appalling decision to cancel Joss Whedon’s Firefly series - arguably the best science-fiction show in television history - before it could even finish its first year run.

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Joss Whedon, as you may already know, is the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. I never saw a single episode of either of those series, but if they’re anywhere near as good as Firefly I am going to have to get the DVDs now.

Firefly takes place in the future. It is not the politically correct utopian future of Star Trek. If you act like an asshole in Joss Whedon’s future you’re liable to get a fist in your face, if not a wrench slammed into the side of your head. It’s what you would get if you crossed Star Wars with a Clint Eastwood Western. And I mean that in more ways than one. As in Star Wars, the universe – most of the populated part anyway – is ruled by the oppressive imperial Alliance regime. The “good guys” are rogue rebels, smugglers, and thieves operating on the fringes of known space on frontier planets. And when I say “frontier planets,” I mean frontier planets. They’re Wild West outposts with horses, saloons, and laser-toting outlaws. It sounds ridiculous, but somehow it works brilliantly.

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That’s the backdrop. Here’s the story: One group of smugglers who pilot and live on an outdated “Firefly” ship make a rogue’s living running errands (which often involve ripping worse people off) for big-shot criminals. They pick up a spooky young woman named River Tam, formerly a child prodigy who was abducted by the Alliance regime so they could conduct hideous, tortuous medical experiments on her. Her brother breaks his traumatized and brain-damaged sister out of the futuristic equivalent of Buchenwald and now they’re on the run from Alliance assassins. The Firefly crew is likewise hunted by the Alliance, now that they’re carrying fugitives, which only makes their little back-planet smuggling racket more complicated than it already was.

Fox cancelled the show before the first year was even up. They even brainlessly aired the two-hour pilot episode last. I have no idea why they pulled the plug, but Firefly’s fans pitched an epic-sized fit. They threw such a big fit that Hollywood decided to let Joss Whedon finish telling the story on the big screen. So Firefly will continue, in theaters this September, as Serenity.

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I had not even heard of this show until recently. (I pay precious little attention to what’s on TV.) I heard about it from Patrick Lasswell who came over to my house and all but forced the DVDs on me.

“The movie is coming out in September,” he said. “And it is going to be huge. You need to be ready.”

I think he’s right. Firefly has developed a fanatical cult following since Fox replaced it with whatever forgettable series they replaced it with. The fans love it so much they’re working overtime on their own to promote the movie themselves. They’re even lovingly creating – by hand – their own posters, some of which you’re seeing here. (Thanks to fellow Portland writer M.E. Russell for the tip off.)

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I’ve watched almost the whole series now, and I don’t think there’s a single line of bad dialogue in there. George Lucas should be utterly shamed by the existence of Firefly. It may not be as well known, but oh my God does it beat the pants off the hackneyed dreck he’s been cranking out lately. It beats Star Trek, too, for its gritty realism and its refusal to pull its punches and tell overwrought morality tales. The characters are fully realized human beings who live, breathe, grow, suffer, and change in the crucible of wrenching experience. It’s hard not to have sneaking affection for even some of the least likable characters in this story.

The Firefly universe isn’t necessarily one I would want to live in. It’s dangerous, rude, and oppressive. Still, it’s one heck of a place to spend a dozen or so hours, which is what you get if you order the DVDs. (I strongly suggest you do that if you have any intention of watching the story’s finale, Serenity, on the big screen.)

But even a dangerous, rude, and oppressive ’verse like Firefly’s has its free spirits, its lovable bad guys who – when you get right down to it – are really the good guys.

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They certainly are the kind of people I’d like to hang out with if I lived in their world. I think I will cry if Joss Whedon kills off any of them in the finale.

A high-resolution trailer for Serenity is available here. Do go and watch it. I’ve seen it at least ten times by now, in breathless anticipation.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:25 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

June 27, 2005

Life in the Bubble

The more time you spend in a rarefied office, be it an office at a university, a newspaper, a government bureau, or even a bank, the more likely you are to become like Andrew Jaspan.

Jaspan is the editor-in-chief at Melbourne’s The Age. Seems he was a bit offended when his fellow Australian Douglas Wood said the guys who kidnapped him in Iraq are “assholes.”

I was, I have to say, shocked by Douglas Wood's use of the a---hole word, if I can put it like that, which I just thought was coarse and very ill-thought through and I think demeans the man and is one of the reasons why people are slightly sceptical of his motives and everything else.

The issue really is largely, speaking as I understand it, he was treated well there. He says he was fed every day, and as such to turn around and use that kind of language I think is just insensitive.

Apparently, people can succumb to the Stockholm Syndrome from half a world away these days. Wood’s kidnappers kicked him in the head, tied him up blindfolded for 47 days, and murdered two other captives in front of him.

There are concrete steps you can take to avoid becoming like Andrew Jaspan. Get out of the office. Visit a third-world country – Cancun in Mexico doesn’t count. Work on a shrimp boat. Join the military. Become a journalist embedded with the military in a war zone. Become a cop. Go on “ride alongs” with cops – if you’re a writer, as Jaspan is, they will let you. Work in construction for a couple of months. Next time you go to Europe, visit Bosnia instead of France. If you do spend your life in a rarefied office (and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that all by itself) read books written by people who don’t spend their lives in rarefied offices.

Those are just some suggestions. I’m sure there are plenty of other activities that might do the trick just as well. (Hat tip: Dr. Frank.)

UPDATE: Callimachus makes a similar point in a different way.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:01 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

June 26, 2005

Unbelievable

I’ve been a news junkie of sorts ever since 1982 when I got my first paper route. I read the news every morning at 5:00 a.m. while rolling up papers with rubber bands so I could toss them on people’s doorsteps from the street.

I believed everything I read then. The newspaper was, to me, a precise, factual, and comprehensive record of Everything Important That Happened Yesterday. It didn’t even occur to me that anything in those pages might be inaccurate in any way or that anything important might be left out. I was twelve years old and the people who wrote for the paper were all-knowing grown-ups.

I don’t think newspapers have changed much in the meantime. Not really. Today’s media problems were yesterday’s media problems. I’m the one who changed.

Lots of people have changed since then. And not all of them changed from twelve-year olds to 34-year olds. They changed because their tools changed.

The Pew Research Center has been tracking how many people believe what they read in the press for at least the past 22 years. Here are the results. (Graphic stolen from Jeff Jarvis.)

Believability Graph.gif

The number of sources of information each person has at their disposal keeps going up. We can read newspapers in other countries now. We couldn’t before, at least not nearly so easily as we can today on the Internet. There are blogs, of course. And not just American blogs. Also Iraqi blogs and military blogs and Iranian blogs and politically iconoclastic blogs. I can “interview” people myself, people who live on the other side of the world, just by sending an email. There also is Google. How on Earth did I ever live and learn without Google?

I don’t even bother with my daily newspaper now. It’s not even valuable as one source of information among many unless I want to know what happened yesterday right down the street – which is usually not very interesting.

Daily newspapers have all sorts of problems that can and ought to be fixed. But even if every one of them were fixed I don’t think they would poll a lot better than they do now. They would still be only one source of information among many. With the explosion of information technologies, daily newspapers – along with every other possible source of information – will remain more easily fact-checked than they ever have been in history. That isn’t the fault of newspapers or journalists. That’s history’s “fault” and technology’s “fault.”

I would like to see newspapers strive to regain the 84 percent believability level they had when I was 14 years old. But I doubt they ever will. I will never be 14 again. And we will never again be in the fact-checking dark as we once were. 84 percent was artificially high. It was before The Times Online, before Instapundit and Atrios, before MEMRI, before Wikipedia, before Google. We can't go back.

UPDATE: Apparently, journalists themselves think journalists are less credible than they once were. Hilariously, though, only one percent - one percent - think blogs are credible. They probably aren't reading this guy.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:16 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

June 25, 2005

Anti-Americanism

In about twenty minutes a friend of mine is going to board an airplane to Belgium. He lives there on-and-off part time, in Antwerp, and this morning he told me he’s dreading going back there. The anti-Americanism gets more hostile and deranged by the week. It’s grinding him down so much he can hardly stand being in Europe.

He isn’t a defensive right-winger who can’t take any criticism of George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. He is a leftist who voted for Dennis Kucinich in the Democratic primary election.

It’s not just Europe, either. Australia, staunch ally that it is, also looks like a rough place for Americans if you hang out in some circles. (Hat tip: Tim Blair.)

AMERICAN students are quitting Queensland universities in the face of hate attacks by Australians angry at US President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq.

One university has launched an investigation into claims an American student returned to the US after suffering six months of abuse at a residential college in Brisbane.

American students have told The Sunday Mail the verbal attacks are unbearable and threatening to escalate into physical violence.

Griffith University student Ian Wanner, 19, from Oregon, said abusive Australian students had repeatedly called him a "sepo" – short for septic tank. "It is so disrespectful. It's not exactly the most welcoming atmosphere here," he said.

The Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission has described the abuse as "horrible" and says it could be classed as racial vilification.

The abuse problem is so prevalent that US students are being given formal briefings before leaving home on how to cope with abusive Australians.

Mr Wanner said even female Australian students were verbally abusive. He warned the problem could "escalate into a very large brawl".

"There has already been confrontations between people," he said.

A female American student from Griffith, who wished to remain unnamed, said she had met some "exceptional" people in Australia – but was leaving this month in shock over her treatment.

She said she was desperate to go home after the slurs, which also spilled over at pubs in central Brisbane.

"They basically picked on me," she said. "At first, I thought it was a joke. Then I just had it out with them and told them I came here to be treated respectfully.

"I have had a few incidents in bars. I had a guy and he heard my accent and he said: 'I hate your president. I hate your country.' "

Another Griffith student has already returned to the US after enduring six months of abuse at the university's residential college in Brisbane.

All the students received counselling before arriving and were warned of the backlash against the US.

They said they were advised not to carry any items that would identify their nationality.

What I find most odd about this phenomenon is that Arab countries (at least Libya, Tunisia, and Lebanon) are a lot more welcoming of Americans than other Western countries are. Arabs are the ones who supposedly hate us the most, but they are vastly vastly more polite and more pleasant to hang out with.

What’s up with that? Is the Arab code of hospitality the only explanation? Maybe it is, but I’m not so sure. Whatever the explanation, the difference in the way Americans are treated in different parts of the world certainly is counter-intuitive.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:34 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

What Rove Wrought

Glenn Reynolds thinks Karl Rove is politically smart because liberals and Democrats, all of a sudden, are brandishing their hawkish credentials. Soft on terror? Us? It’s an interesting point, and it’s a point well taken, but that isn’t the only change that’s happening on the left all of a sudden.

Centrist Democrat Bull Moose has this to say:

Karl, you have performed a great service for the nation and for the party - the Democratic Party, that is. With your comments, you have brought together old Democrats, new Democrats, liberal Democrats, moderate Democrats, conservative Democrats, fat Democrats, thin Democrats, Christian Democrats, Jewish Democrats, Muslim Democrats, Pagan Democrats, Dennis Kucinich Democrats, Joe Lieberman Democrats, meat eating Democrats, vegetarian Democrats, Daily Kos Democrats, Bull Moose Democrats, New Donkey Democrats, Atrios Democrats, MoveOn Democrats and DLC Democrats.
Indeed. Bull Moose could also include many ex-Democrats in his list.

Joe Gandelman has more:

Many centrists and independents may soon conclude that the only solution to this is to not to vote if they feel inclined to vote GOP, or even hold their noses and cast protest votes in 2006 and 2008 for the Democrats.

Why? Because the GOP never could have won the last elections without garnering some votes from the center and from Democrats who felt their party had gotten too extreme.

Karl Rove is taking a sledghammer to the GOP's carefully-constructed past image.

I’m not going to vote Democratic as a protest vote against the GOP, not because of one outburst from Karl Rove. But Joe has a point. It certainly doesn't make me more likely to vote Republican next time. It's not going to make anybody more likely to vote for Republicans next time. It's not exactly news that conservatives are more hawkish than liberals. But Ann Coulter type rants are repellent to many people who prefer the foreign policy of Republicans to the foreign policy of Democrats.

I will probably vote for Democrats in 2006. My opinions on the two parties are divided. I can go either way, depending on what we're talking about. The Republicans dominate all three branches of government, and voting Democratic is a balance-restoring corrective. I have no idea which party I will vote for in the 2008 presidential election. No idea at all. It depends on way too many unpredictable variables.

If the Republican Party were less polarizing and obnoxious, though, I might consider actually joining it. Every former Democrat has to deal with this question. Do we join the right, or do we halt our rightward drift in the center? The reaction on the right to Karl Rove’s hatchet job tells me I’m right to stop in the center.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:50 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

June 23, 2005

Extremists and Their Hallucinations

Sometimes I wonder if the more people think about politics and work in politics for a living the more likely they are to become deranged about politics.

Look at Karl Rove’s latest outburst.

Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.
I know several people who responded to 9/11 exactly as Rove described and continue reacting to the Terror War this way even today. But let’s not forget that regime-change in Afghanistan polled at 90 percent support levels at the time. Assuming every single person who opposed that war is on the left (which is probably close to the truth) somewhere in the ballpark of 80 percent of those who voted for Al Gore or Ralph Nader supported the violent overthrow of the Taliban.

The 10 percent who didn’t support it do not count as “the liberals.” They are the loudmouth activistas, Hollywood celebrities, campus intellectuals who live in unreality bubbles, and reactionary far-leftists. There was, however, so much wailing and gnashing of teeth from that ten percent that I can hardly blame conservatives for forgetting about the silent majority of hawkish Democrats at the time.

Rove painted with too broad a brush. But that’s not really the issue here. Conservatives who are defending Rove’s statements are ignoring what else he said:

Let me just put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts the words of Senator Durbin to the Mideast, certainly putting our troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals.
So there it is. Liberals deliberately hope to put our troops in greater danger, according to Rove. In other words, Liberals=Traitors.

Anyone who has liberal friends and family members ought to know exactly how rotten and despicable and indefensible that statement is.

Al Jazeera did pick up Dick Durbin’s commentary, which only makes anti-American propaganda in the Middle East seem all the more plausible. That does (at least theoretically) put our troops and even civilians in greater danger. The Middle Eastern variety of anti-Americanism is a violent political force that topples skyscrapers and kills thousands. That’s one reason Dick Durbin deserved the shellacking he got.

But feeding anti-American pathologies was not Dick Durbin’s intention. He intended to get more humane treatment for prisoners at Gitmo – an honorable objective I happen to sympathize with. That couldn’t be any more obvious than it is.

"Conservatives are fascists." "Liberals are traitors." "America is the new Nazi Germany." What the hell is the matter with some people? If even one of those political hallucinations really were true, if liberals really were traitors, if conservatives really were fascists, the United States would explode in a convulsion of civil war.

UPDATE: John Cole (yes, he's a conservative) isn't impressed either.

My party no longer is merely content selling our bullshit. We are now starting to believe it. I'd say Mr. Rove has an apology to issue.
SECOND UPDATE: Wagner James Au adds in the comments:
It's true that Moveon.org, Michael Moore, et. al. are a fetid film on the soul of FDR's party, but Karl Rove must be the absolute worse person in the world to make that point. It's like watching a leper challenge a hemophiliac to full contact karate.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:28 PM | Permalink | Comments Off
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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