May 31, 2004

The Poem of Force

While we're on the subject of movies, Victor Davis Hanson pens a review of Wolfgang Peterson's new movie The Iliad - er Troy - on his blog. I read The Iliad, but only once and long ago in my college daze. Victor Davis Hanson, as you probably already know, is a military historian and a Classics professor. He is far more competent than I to comment.

(I do suggest bookmarking his blog while you're over there.)


UPDATE: It looks like Honora Howell Chapman was the one who wrote that piece, not VDH. But it's on his site, and no less worth reading. She, too, is a classicist at California State University-Fresno, where Hanson teaches.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:06 PM

The Weather Movie

Saw The Day After Tomorrow. You know, the weather movie. Global warming cooks up Antarctica which melts fresh water ice into the ocean causing a breakdown in the salinity level which makes the North Atlantic current to go all out of whack. Then these big huge hurricane-looking superstorms pound the Northern Hemisphere and suck cold cold cold air from the top of the troposphere down into places like France and Manhattan. It was, as Matt Welch put it in his five-word review, utter horseshit but damned entertaining.

This is one of those movies where the characters are every bit as dumb as the director.

Manhattan is suddenly submerged beneath fifty feet of water, right? (This just suddenly happens for no particular reason.) And a bunch of people hide in an upstairs floor of the New York Public Library. Then 20 minutes later the ocean freezes solid and a blizzard dumps a foot of snow on it. Okay, Iím thinking. Thatís total crap. Iím no climatologist, but I did live in the Midwest for a few years and I know how long it takes moving water to freeze Ė and weíre not talking 20 minutes.

So then everyone in the library gets a bright idea. Hey! We can walk out of here now that the ocean is frozen. The hotshot kid of a bad-ass climatologist says ďWait!Ē (This is only an approximate quote.) ďWeíll freeze to death if we go out there.Ē

A bespectacled man looks at the kid and asks, ďWhere did you get that information?Ē

And Iím thinking, dude. The ocean just froze solid in 20 minutes. Itís freakiní cold outside.

The whole movie is like that.

And throughout the whole movie I couldnít help but think how Western-centric it was. I wanted to know what was going on in South America. And what about the Equator? Was it hotter or colder than itís supposed to be? Was everything peachy in Peru? Was it raining llamas? Or what? There were token scenes of minor weather anomolies in India and Japan - nothing I havenít actually seen for myself in the Midwest, including the big whopping hail stones. (I lost my windshield to a fist-sized hailstone in July, and the same storm produced one thirteen inches across that was found on a neighborís lawn.) Other than the token scenes in Asia, almost everything happened in the US. We saw a little bit of Europe. It wasnít obnoxiously Western-centric, but enough for me to notice.

Then at the end of the movie the suddenly ďenlightenedĒ Dick Cheney character had the audacity to lecture me about how Western-centric we are. That just about killed me.

Fun movie, though.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:34 AM

May 30, 2004

25 Years Versus a Month

Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was stripped of his immunity from prosecution for mass murder, torture, and other crimes against humanity. He may face a trial after all, but we really donít know. The Chilean Supreme Court has previously said Pinochet suffers from dementia and therefore is unfit to stand trial.

You donít need to be a shrink to come up with that diagnosis. A dictator who turns a sports stadium into a concentration camp to torture and warehouse his political opponents obviously is demented.

Randy Paul has a great post up on his blog Beautiful Horizons. He cites this excellent excerpt by Dennis Roddy.

In power, Pinochet oversaw the murders of enemies real and imagined. One of them was Ronni Karpen Moffitt. Her offense was to sit alongside an exiled Chilean diplomat, Orlando Letelier, as they rode to work at a liberal think tank in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 21, 1976.

The car exploded.

Letelier was torn in half. Michael Moffitt, Ronni's husband, was hurled out a rear door. Flying metal slashed open an artery in Ronni Moffitt's neck. She drowned in her own blood on the streets of the western hemisphere's oldest democracy, killed by the men who had overthrown its second-oldest.

Itís hard to improve on that, so I wonít even try.

Marc Cooper lived in Chile and worked for the Allende government when it was overthrown on (yes) September 11, 1973. (You can read all about it in what he calls his Chilean anti-memoir Pinochet and Me.) He was lucky to get out alive. Many of his personal friends were captured, tortured, and killed.

Marc (barely) lived through one of Chileís darkest times. Heís written long and well about it. Comparing what that country went through and what weíre currently going through over Abu Ghraib he concluded:

[A]s testimony to the virtues of an open society, our response (with all its flaws) has been light years ahead of the Chilean reaction. What we have been debating the last month is what took the Chileans 25 years to achieve.
Go read the rest to see what heís getting at. Itís important. (No, heís not saying what happened in that prison is as bad as what happened in Chile. It isnít.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:38 AM

May 28, 2004

Torture

Click here if you want to see video of the Baath Party's method of political science put into practice.

Warning: This is violent and sadistic. I am not linking to this for your amusement. This video is not for everybody. Some people need to see this. Most probably don't.

Thanks (I think) to Andrew Apostolou.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:39 PM

Fisking Pat Buchanan

Pat Buchanan is being an ass again.

Fisking him may be, as Gerard Van der Leun likes to put it, one of those Fish. Barrel. Bang! type of deals. But still itís something that needs to be done every couple of months to reduce the asininity quotient in American letters by an iota.

So here we go.

Pitchfork Pat has a new piece up at antiwar.com called What Does America Offer the World?

So, how do we advance the cause of female emancipation in the Muslim world?" asks Richard Perle in An End to Evil. He replies, "We need to remind the women of Islam ceaselessly: Our enemies are the same as theirs; our victory will be theirs as well."

Well, the neoconservative cause "of female emancipation in the Muslim world" was probably set back a bit by the photo shoot of Pfc. Lynndie England and the "Girls Gone Wild" of Abu Ghraib prison.

Heís probably right about the setback. But itís funny he bills female emancipation in the Muslim world as ďneoconservative.Ē Not that itís totally wrong, mind you. The neocons are all for it. But there are plenty of people who think of themselves as liberals, feminists, independents, centrists, and just plain old conservatives (not of the old right variety like Pat) who think female emancipation in the Middle East is a cause worth supporting. Last I checked, the neocon cabal wasnít the only crowd that thinks a burkha is just another kind of ankle iron.
Indeed, the filmed orgies among U.S. military police outside the cells of Iraqi prisoners, the S&M humiliation of Muslim men, and the sexual torment of Muslim women raise a question. Exactly what are the "values" the West has to teach the Islamic world?
How, exactly, does the prison abuse raise that question?

I recall Pat Buchanan arguing on television (I forget which show) with Mona Charen about torture. Pat favored it, in the abstract. Iím glad to see heís opposed to what happened at Abu Ghraib. If even pro-torture Pat is against it, clearly itís over the line by our standards.

The abuse has not a thing to do with Western values. None. Zip. Nada. Zilch. Zero.

"This war ... is about Ė deeply about Ė sex," declaims neocon Charles Krauthammer. Militant Islam is "threatened by the West because of our twin doctrines of equality and sexual liberation."

But whose "twin doctrines" is Krauthammer talking about? The sexual liberation he calls "our" doctrine belongs to a '60s revolution that devout Christians, Jews and Muslims have been resisting for years.

Sexual emancipation is our doctrine. I couldnít care less that he and his old-right reactionary pals here and in the Middle East havenít even caught up to the sixties yet. The radical left may be stuck in the 60s, but geez, at least they got there. Maybe he just needs to accept that heís a museum piece like the burkha will be some day.
What does Krauthammer mean by sexual liberation? The right of "tweens" and teenage girls to dress and behave like Britney Spears? Their right to condoms in junior high? Their right to abortion without parental consent?
We all know what sexual emancipation means. Thereís no point in playing dumb. It means women and men are equal under the law and in society. Itís lower-case-f feminism, something the Middle East desperately, urgently needs. Charles Krauthammer isnít agitating for condoms in schools in Riyadh. And neither is anyone else.
If conservatives reject the "equality" preached by Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, NARAL and the National Organization for Women, why seek to impose it on the Islamic world? Why not stand beside Islam, and against Hollywood and Hillary?
Pat Buchanan thinks he has more in common with Middle Eastern sexual apartheid practitioners than he has with Hillary Clinton. Well, Pat, Iíll just have to take your word for it. And the next time I hear mention of the ďTaliban wingĒ of the Republican Party, I might have to let the comment pass without a rebuttal.
In June 2002 at West Point, President Bush said, "Moral truth is the same in every culture, in every time and in every place."

But even John Kerry does not agree with George Bush on the morality of homosexual unions and stem cell research. On such issues, conservative Americans have more in common with devout Muslims than with liberal Democrats.

I guess thatís true, too. Then again, gay people in the Middle East are tortured and executed. Itís a good thing for Pat that he only aligned himself with them on the issue of homosexual unions.
The president notwithstanding, Americans no longer agree on what is moral truth. For as someone said a few years back, there is a cultural war going on in this country, a religious war. It is about who we are, what we believe and what we stand for as a people.
Does Pat mean to say there is no such thing as Western values despite our arguments about the finer points? Or does he say that he doesnít believe in them himself? I really donít know because he really doesnít say. Either way, that isnít so good for him. Most of us have a notion of what Western values are, and most of us arenít too cool with those who reject or donít believe in them.
What some of us view as the moral descent of a great and godly republic into imperial decadence, neocons see as their big chance to rule the world.
Take out the word ďgodlyĒ and Pat Buchanan sounds like a tin-foil hat leftist. Let me know when someone floats a bill to annex Iraq and Iíll change my mind about our ďimperialĒ decadence.
In Georgia recently, the president declared to great applause: "I can't tell you how proud I am of our commitment to values. ... That commitment to values is going to be an integral part of our foreign policy as we move forward. These aren't American values, these are universal values. Values that speak universal truths."

But what universal values is he talking about? If he intends to impose the values of MTV America on the Muslim world in the name of a "world democratic revolution," he will provoke and incite a war of civilizations America cannot win because Americans do not want to fight it. This may be the neocons' war. It is not our war.

Everyone, and I mean everyone including Pat Buchahan, knows George W. Bush isnít thinking of MTV when he talks about values and freedom, especially when he mentions ďuniversalĒ values. He isnít referring to the right-wing opposition to stem-cell research, and he certainly isnít talking about left-wing bra-burners.

It may not be true that everyone in this world wants to be free. But you canít find a single country ruled by a despot where everyone loves their chains. It just doesnít happen. The desire for freedom is universal in that sense.

When Bush speaks of freedom as God's gift to humanity, does he mean the First Amendment freedom of Larry Flynt to produce pornography and of Salman Rushdie to publish The Satanic Verses, a book considered blasphemous to the Islamic faith? If the Islamic world rejects this notion of freedom, why is it our duty to change their thinking? Why are they wrong?
Now that is just astonishing. A tyrannical fascist regime in Iran orders the execution of a novelist in Britain. Iranís Ayatollah Khomeini sent death squads after a man who had never even been to Iran. And Pat Buchanan wants to know why thatís wrong.

It seems to me it ought to be self-evident to a man who writes books that itís not cool if youíre executed by a foreign government because it doesnít like what youíve written. But I guess it isnít self-evident if youíre a religious nutjob who canít get past the word blasphemy.

When the president speaks of freedom, does he mean the First Amendment prohibition against our children reading the Bible and being taught the Ten Commandments in school?
I certainly hope so. Bibles and Korans can be read after school. Shuttering the radical Islamic madrassas would do more to stop terrorism than anything else I can think of.
If the president wishes to fight a moral crusade, he should know the enemy is inside the gates. The great moral and cultural threats to our civilization come not from outside America, but from within. We have met the enemy, and he is us. The war for the soul of America is not going to be lost or won in Fallujah.

Unfortunately, Pagan America of 2004 has far less to offer the world in cultural fare than did Christian America of 1954. Many of the movies, books, magazines, TV shows, videos and much of the music we export to the world are as poisonous as the narcotics the Royal Navy forced on the Chinese people in the Opium Wars.

A society that accepts the killing of a third of its babies as women's "emancipation," that considers homosexual marriage to be social progress, that hands out contraceptives to 13-year-old girls at junior high ought to be seeking out a confessional Ė better yet, an exorcist Ė rather than striding into a pulpit like Elmer Gantry to lecture mankind on the superiority of "American values." [Emphasis added]

Here is where the wave of Pat Buchananís idiotarianism crests: He actually used the language of the left to say people like me are possessed by the devil.

I do what I can to combine the best of the left and the right. No one does better than Pat Buchanan in fusing the worst of both into a unifying and idiotic morass.

(Hat tip: Mike Nargizian via email.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:19 AM

May 26, 2004

Hanging with Capt. Abby

Iím happy to report the troll fumugation program is going well. The comments are not only a lot more civil, but more engaging. Iím learning from my own commentariat again.

Yesterday a certain person said we war hawks really need to learn more about Arabs. Iíve been reading piles of books about the Middle East for years now, Iím currently trying to learn the Arabic language (boy, is it hard), and Iím going to that part of the world myself in couple of weeks. Perhaps I can be excused for thinking such a charge is arrogant nonsense.

Anyway, one commenter who goes by TmjUtah posted a terrific response thatís also a great story. The reason I took action to save the comments is because I love reading great posts like this one that get published, almost by magic, while I am sleeping.

I spent two weeks in Jordan, back in the eighties.
Since their artillery practice happens from hardpads with known locations and aiming posts set in concrete, surveyors didn't have much to do. I ended up being the liasion NCO for our Host Officer. Nice guy, told us to call him Capt. Abby. He and his sergeant/bodyguard hosted us at the Amman/Baghdad truck terminal souk one evening. It was an excellent experience, and renewed my parents' lessons for me while growing up: you cannot hate people in groups.

See, after burying my best friend after Beirut, my intended goal for any liberty time in Jordan was to catch an Arab or two in any convenient alley and gut them like fish. I had a lot of hate back then, and Capt. Abby caught the vibe. Of course I was properly respectful for our guest (superior rank, royalty, host, and all that) but there's a difference between formal and agreeable.

Anyway, after listening to the truck driver's and sheepherder's songs and poems about life, dreams, family, and tribe over coffee (sloppy full cups) and the strongest tobacco I've ever smoked, I got the strangest feeling these boys could fit in at the Penwell Truck Terminal at the end of a long day...just they wouldn't be drinking any Coors.

I believe that people are just people. Each man makes calls and every man is responsible for choosing his path. Without my experience driving that Jordanian around I would have been one of those people wanting to see the mideast east of Israel turned to glass.

I also believe that the conflict before us is one that is unavoidable; we are not consciously committed to ending Islam but our very existence ensures the death of the religion because societies that embrace it cannot compete with western, capitalist societies. They are the ones who adopted jihad.

Anyway, that was many years ago. I have read the Koran three or four times by now...read commentaries, learned the timeline of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the yeast tray explosion of that creed through the Arab mideast. We have a muslim center up in Salt Lake; I've spoken with imams there more than once since 9/11.

CAIR is the Sein Feinn of al Qaeda. No more, no less.

These days I'm just trying to keep up with the world and decide what to do with myself since I don't survey any more. Capt. Abby got promoted out of zone, and now runs Jordan as King Abdullah.

Don't tell me I need to know more about Arabs. Thanks.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:21 PM

May 25, 2004

New Column

Here's a new Tech Central Station column from me where I take a swing at everyone's favorite punching bag: the media. Spinning for Al Qaeda.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:25 PM

Missing Iraq

Iraqi blogger Omar posts a photo gallery from a couple of places in Baghdad.

He also has the best photos of marsh reed huts I've ever seen. The huts are brand-new, made from nothing but reeds. Saddam dammed up the marshes in Southern Iraq and set them on fire. The smoke could be seen from the space shuttle Endeavor. Now that the ecosystem is being restored, the Marsh Arabs are moving back in.

Some of these places in Iraq are pretty nice. Omar's photos make Baghdad look like a completely normal city. In many ways, Iím sure it is. Suicide bombs aren't a constant on every block - or on any block for that matter. Most people and buildings will never be bombed. Perusing these photos makes me wistfully wish I were there.

My worst kept secret is that I was planning to go to Iraq in December. I am very sorry to say that I have put that on hold. I'm a little bit brave, but not that brave. Not right now, anyway. Since foreigners from several different countries have been kidnapped and executed Ė some of them on camera - I've decided I'd better go later.

I really do want to visit. I want to talk to people and ask how they're doing. I want to breathe the free air of Baghdad. I want to see a ruined country reborn. I want to report back and let everyone know how it's going.

The United States is not attacking Iraq. The United States is defending Iraq. That would be something to see. It would really be something to write about.

In the meantime, I have other plans. Libya is first on the list. I finally reached a breakthrough in the painstaking process of getting a visa today. I'll be there in five weeks, Inshallah.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:33 PM

May 24, 2004

Troll Spray

I apologize for bringing this up again on the main page for those of you who donít care about this, but I want everyone who has decided to avoid my comments section to know Iím in the process of cleaning it up now. I also want to issue a warning that no one will miss.

Iím ramping up my anti-troll counter measures. A few days ago I said ďunserious, scurrilous, and idiotic commentaryĒ will get the offender shown the door. No one who wasnít already guilty of this complained much in the comments about the new policy.

Today Robert McClelland wrote in my comments ďWriting ĎFuck Jewsí is not anti-semiticĒ and then later said Jews who get offended by swastikas (in Berkeley) are ďwhiningĒ about liberals. (!) (Earth to Robert: Liberals do not brandish swastikas.)

This is the sort of self-evidently idiotic nonsense Iím talking about. It drives reasonable people out of the comments and makes intelligent discussion impossible. No more. Act like that and youíre out with no warning on the grounds of abject stupidity alone. Iím going to hose down the walls if I have to.

As for the rest of you who are tired of trolls, please rejoin the discussion. I am not going to choose them over you any longer.

Your regularly scheduled opinionated blather now resumes if you scroll down to next post.


UPDATE: Meryl Yourish is cracking down, too, in her own way and for her own completely understandable and justified reasons.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:29 PM

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.

Whatís 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, itís 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 ďreforms,Ē even if the promise was only an empty one. Youíd be right to say we were losing. And youíd be right to say itís 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

May 23, 2004

An Epicenter of Hatred

I grew up in sleepy, dreary, conservative Salem, Oregon. I couldnít 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 Iíd 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 donít know if thatís really true anymore. Itís 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 Iím almost certain it does, Iím happier than ever to be free of both it and Salem.

The East Bay Express, found via Roger L. Simonís 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."

[Ö]

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. "

[Ö]

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

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

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

May 21, 2004

New Comments Policy

Itís time to start cracking heads in the comment section.

Iíve been getting too many complaints from reasonable people about trolls, and invariably the people who (rightly) complain tell me they donít want to hang out here anymore or that theyíre thinking about leaving.

This is going to stop now.

Iíve had open comments for almost a year, and Iíve banned fewer than ten people. So far Iíve only kicked people out for two reasons. Either theyíre exceptionally rude to others or theyíve 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 ďstinking terrorists.Ē The rest Iíve 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 donít share their opinions. And I wonít start now. Argue with me and everyone else all you want. Thatís 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 wonít 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 Iíll be open to changing my mind. If you have a reasonable objection to this policy, use the comments and tell me why. I donít 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, donít bother accusing me of wanting to ban people because theyíre liberal or conservative. Save the partisan victimology. This has nothing to do with your voter registration. Of those Iíve 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

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

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

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

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 (Iím 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 wonít 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 donít 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 youíre 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 donít 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. Itís not a small town, itís a suburb without a city attached. Itís just barely too far from Portland to be a part of the metro area, especially from the point of view of a kid who canít drive. Portland might as well have been in Canada for all its ďclosenessĒ 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 didnít know it from Manhattan or Palookaville. When I was sixteen it was awful - truly a thundering bore. Now that Iím 33, my detestation for that town is at its peak. Not only is it a dreary smear of strip malls and burger joints, itís 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 itís a great place to raise kids, but I donít know a single person who grew up there and left who agrees.

I know itís 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 arenít.

In Portland (as well as in other cities of a similar size, such as Minneapolis and Seattle) itís easy. Some of our best schools are in the city, and the nicest neighborhoods are definitely in the city. Nothing in the Ďburbs 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. Thatís a bonus for bored kids and also for parents who otherwise have to cart them around.

There isnít 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 didnít 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. Iím saying thatís 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 didnít start out in that town in the first place. None of us like to go back. Itís boring, itís ugly, and worst of all itís depressing.

Not everyone agrees. My parents love Salem and think Iím totally full of it. Either way, it doesnít matter whoís ďright,Ē since much of this is a matter of personality, taste, and opinion. But donít go thinking itís a no-brainer that your kids will be glad you reared Ďem up in the Ďburbs. You might be surprised what they say when they get a bit older.

Maybe itís worth asking where they want to live. If you prefer to live in a city, donít 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

Pure Baathist Propaganda

I'm still amazed Stalinist George Galloway was (until they kicked his ass out) a Labor Party MP in Britain. He is a fascinating person, though, in a Hannibal Lector sort of way.

He recently wrote a new book. Johann Hari calls it pure Baathist propaganda.

It is not the allegations that he was being paid by Saddam Hussain - soon to be settled in the libel courts - that will destroy George Galloway. No, it is this book. In this strange, repetitive little manifesto - marketed as an autobiography but in fact a short and incoherent rant - Galloway does not just shoot himself in the foot; he machine-guns his own legs to pieces.


[Ö]

"Just as Stalin industrialized the Soviet Union, so on a different scale Saddam plotted IraqŪs own Great Leap Forward," he says, and amazingly, this isn't a criticism.

Do read the whole thing.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:05 PM

May 18, 2004

Hmm...Sarin

You may already know a shell containing three or four liters of sarin was found in Iraq. I'm not sure what to say about this, but it's one of those things that probably ought to be noted.

Christopher Hitchens basically says it all right here.

So a Sarin-infected device is exploded in Iraq, and across the border in Jordan the authorities say that nerve and gas weapons have been discovered for use against them by the followers of Zarqawi, who was in Baghdad well before the invasion. Where, one idly inquires, did these toys come from? No, it couldn't be.
But he doesn't quite say it all. James Lileks says the rest.
So they found a sarin shell? Eh. Halliburton put it there, it was old, and besides everyone knew Saddam had WMD, and we gave him the sarin anyway, and it would be news if we found 400 shells, but if they were old undeclared shells they wouldnít count because they werenít a threat to us anyway Ė do you know that most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi? Why arenít we invading them? Not that we should, that would TOTALLY be about oil, anyway, did you read Doonesbury today? He had this giant hand talking in a press conference. This big giant floating hand. I think it was a reprint. I like when he has that bald dude whoís in charge of some Iraqi city. Bald dude is like, wasted.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:20 PM

May 17, 2004

The (Im)moral Case Against the War

The Nation used to be one of my favorite magazines before I started having the same problem with it that I used to have (and sometimes still have) with conservatives. What I canít stand most of all, even more than its paranoia and conspiracy-mongering, is the way most of its writers (with a few noble exceptions) look at the horrible conditions of the wretched of the earth and simply shrug.

Paul Savoy decided to dress up his shrugging in moral and ethical drag. His new piece The Moral Case Against the War is anything but.

There is only one truly serious question about the morality of the war, and that is the question posed more than fifty years ago by French Nobel laureate Albert Camus, looking back on two world wars that had slaughtered more than 70 million people: When do we have the right to kill our fellow human beings or let them be killed? What is needed is a national debate in the presidential election campaign that addresses the most important moral issue of our time.
I can agree with him about that. But thatís about it. I certainly donít come down on the same side of the question as he does.
[E]ven if as many as 5,000 civilians have been killed by US forces, isn't freedom for 25 million people in Iraq worth the cost of 5,000 lives? Michael Ignatieff, director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard, argued this cost-benefit analysis in making the moral case for war in the New York Times Magazine before the invasion: "The choice [was] one between two evils, between containing and leaving a tyrant in place and the targeted use of force, which will kill people but free a nation from the tyrant's grip." Ignatieff concluded that killing people was the better choice if the United States was willing "to build freedom, not just for the Iraqis but also for the Palestinians, along with a greater sense of security for Israel."
He does an okay job framing the question. This does get to the heart of it. Then he runs right off the rails.
Viewed in the light of our own moral ideals, as embodied in our constitutional tradition, the right to life is so fundamental that killing the innocent to advance the cause of freedom of electoral choice or any other purpose, however worthy, must be regarded as wrong.
In other words, freedom is not worth fighting for. Our constitutional tradition does not ďembodyĒ that notion at all.

You canít have a war without killing the innocent. It just isnít possible. We can do our very best to minimize that damage, but still it can never be zero. That, in fact, is Mr. Savoyís unstated point. Since innocents always die in war, he explicitly states freedom is not worth fighting for under any circumstances because the death of some innocents is morally worse than slavery for everybody.

This is dubious enough in and of itself. The United States would not exist as a country if Mr. Savoyís ďmoralityĒ were the prevailing view at the time of the American Revolution. Nor would the slaves have been freed from the shackles of the Confederacy.

He fails, at this point in the piece anyway, to take into account that Saddam Hussein killed more Iraqis by orders of magnitude than the U.S. has or ever will. I know he knows this. He comes right out and acknowledges as much later on in the same article. He apparently thinks - he must think on some level - that itís morally better if a lot of people die by someone elseís hand than if a few die by ours. This is nothing if not an abrogation of responsibility and a total lack of regard for the well-being of the people in question. The same rationale would tell us to let Slobodan Milosovic put the Muslim population of Europe to the sword. The same rationale excuses our (and everyone elseís) refusal to stop the past genocide in Rwanda and the current one in Sudan. Itís a great and terrible shrug. The post-Holocaust notion of ďNever AgainĒ doesnít even enter in the equation. Did anyone who said ďnever againĒ mean a tyrant has to be exactly as bad as Hitler to be worth stopping? No. Even if thatís what was meant, Mr. Savoy still never takes that into account. In his view, genocide can only be resisted by the victims. Never by a well-armed third party.

Itís true that many people are dead in Iraq because of what we did. Itís equally true that a larger number are alive because of what we did. The well-being of Iraqis isnít even remotely whatís at issue to Mr. Savoy. He only cares that we are morally pure. Tyranny, barbarism, and genocide are fine with him in a lesser-evil sort of way as long as we can sit safe and sound on our side of the ocean and not have to dirty ourselves by messing with it.

Not only is this morally reprehensible, it isnít even logical. We do not sit safe and sound on this side of the ocean as the terrorism on September 11, preceded by Al Qaedaís genocidal death warrant, has already shown. The political culture of the Middle East absolutely is our business. Middle Eastern political science topples buildings and kills thousands in our own cities.

Paul Savoy is a September 10th person. He doesnít understand that weíre war whether weíre happy about it or not.

One of the problems with the September 10th mentality is known to some as the Genovese Syndrome, named after Kitty Genovese who was very slowly knifed to death in full view of her neighbors in New York City. Not one of her neighbors, witnesses all, lifted a finger to stop it or even to call the police. Better not to get involved, or so they thought before their morally repugnant passivism (or should I say pacifism?) shocked and appalled the rest of the country.

We denounce terrorists because when the freedom of self-determination they seek is weighed in the balance against the right to life of innocent people, it is the right to life that our collective conscience has decided should prevail. [Emphasis added.]
Good God. What ďfreedomĒ or ďself-determinationĒ are the terrorists supposedly seeking? The freedom to slash the faces of unveiled women? To stone adulterers to death? To throw gay people off buildings? To wipe Jews from the face of the Earth? If this is freedom, Iíll take slavery.

Mr. Savoy has stripped that lovely word of all its meaning, reducing it to just another post-modern relativistic construct. Freedom for me is a tyrant for thee. No wonder he doesnít think itís something worth fighting for.

This, apparently, is what happens to people who live a rarefied existence in a spoiled complacent country. Maybe he needs to take a holiday in Sudan (or even Cambodia) to see how the other half lives. You know, walk a mile in anotherís shoes, get a little sympathy for the downtrodden. Itís amazing I have to say this to a liberal. It was the liberals, after all, who taught it to me.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:35 PM

May 16, 2004

New Column

My new Tech Central Station column is up: Saud-Free Arabia.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:36 PM

Operation Copper Green

Seymour Hersh dropped another bomb, so to speak, on the Pentagon this weekend in The New Yorker. He has plenty of (unnamed) sources who claim the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib in Iraq was given before-the-fact authorization by Donald Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers among others.

This sucker was all over the blogosphere even over the weekend. Reactions are predictable. Those on the left want Rumsfeldís head. Those on the right doubt Hershís report is even accurate.

The fact is that none of us know what's true and what isn't. Rumsfeld has no shortage of enemies in the military and intelligence services whoíve been embattled against him for years. Itís possible this is a politically-motivated cooked-up smear scandal by disgruntled adversaries of the Defense Secretary. It might be slightly harder to believe that if you actually read the whole piece. I read it. Did you? While Iím aware it could be absolute nonsense, not a single word seems implausible.

The gist is that a black-ops program sometimes known as Operation Copper Green was created where targets on the ground don't need bureaucratic pre-approval and detainees can be subjected to unconventional methods of interrogation.

The first part makes sense. Mullah Omar was spotted by a predator drone in Afghanistan, but he got away because no one had any authorization to take him out.

Weíve all seen what happened because of the latter part of the program.

Here are some key grafs for those short on time.

Fewer than two hundred operatives and officials, including Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were ďcompletely read into the program,Ē the former intelligence official said. The goal was to keep the operation protected. ďWeíre not going to read more people than necessary into our heart of darkness,Ē he said. ďThe rules are ĎGrab whom you must. Do what you want.íĒ

[Ö]

In a separate interview, a Pentagon consultant, who spent much of his career directly involved with special-access programs, spread the blame. ďThe White House subcontracted this to the Pentagon, and the Pentagon subcontracted it to Cambone,Ē he said. ďThis is Camboneís deal, but Rumsfeld and Myers approved the program.Ē When it came to the interrogation operation at Abu Ghraib, he said, Rumsfeld left the details to Cambone. Rumsfeld may not be personally culpable, the consultant added, ďbut heís responsible for the checks and balances. The issue is that, since 9/11, weíve changed the rules on how we deal with terrorism, and created conditions where the ends justify the means.Ē

[Ö]

The abuses at Abu Ghraib were exposed on January 13th, when Joseph Darby, a young military policeman assigned to Abu Ghraib, reported the wrongdoing to the Armyís Criminal Investigations Division. He also turned over a CD full of photographs. Within three days, a report made its way to Donald Rumsfeld, who informed President Bush.

The inquiry presented a dilemma for the Pentagon. The C.I.D. had to be allowed to continue, the former intelligence official said. ďYou canít cover it up. You have to prosecute these guys for being off the reservation. But how do you prosecute them when they were covered by the special-access program? So you hope that maybe itíll go away.Ē

[Ö]

The former intelligence official made it clear that he was not alleging that Rumsfeld or General Myers knew that atrocities were committed. But, he said, ďit was their permission granted to do the sap, generically, and there was enough ambiguity, which permitted the abuses.Ē

Iím still on the fence about the calls for Rumsfeldís head. I really donít know what he did and didnít do, what he knew and didnít know. Neither do most of the rest of us. But if Hershís story turns out to be true (and I have little doubt Congress will try to get to the bottom of this) both Rumsfeld and Myers need to be fired.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:49 PM

May 13, 2004

The Snuff Film Reality Check

Marc Cooper says the prisoner abuse in Abu Ghraib pales next to the barbarism in the Nick Berg snuff film. No kidding. But heís mercilessly heckled in the comments by the usual suspects. The only thing a certain kind of leftist seems to enjoy more than declaring and implying ad nauseum that the United States government is as nasty as Al Qaeda and the Baath Party is denouncing liberals, even columnists at The Nation, for not correctly adhering to the Proper Left-Wing Position.

Weíve all seen the gross pictures from Abu Ghraib. Now take a look at the snuff film.

Iíd like to know if anyone who has the stomach to watch it still thinks even our worst soldiers are morally equivalent. Have you not yet taken note of the genocidal death warrant issued to every ďinfidel?Ē

I did not watch the video. I did see the Daniel Pearl tape and boy was that enough. So in a sense Iíve already ďseenĒ this one. Itís the same atrocity all over again. I did watch the first few seconds of the clip at the link I provided to make sure the link works. It does. At least it did when I checked it.

I really donít recommend you watch it. The only reason Iím even linking to it at all is because I think a certain kind of person, a certain kind of moral equivocator, is obligated to watch it to make sure they really mean what they say. It's so easy to mouth off if you haven't actually seen. As for the rest of you, watch at your own risk. It can seriously mess you up. This is not at all like the prison photos.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:49 PM

Seriously Misplaced Outrage

I still havenít found anyone who explicitly supports the torture of Iraqis in Abu Ghraib prison. But some people do like to push it.

Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, for instance. This guy isnít exactly the conscience of America.

"I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment," Sen. James Inhofe said during a hearing on the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
It takes a special kind of person, really it does, to think anger at torture is worse than torture.
"I am also outraged that we have so many humanitarian do-gooders right now crawling all over these prisons looking for human rights violations while our troops, our heroes, are fighting and dying."
Apparently it hasnít occurred to some people (and Iím not just talking about loony right-wing senators) that itís possible to support our soldiers and humanitarian ďdo-goodersĒ at the same time. To me itís perfectly consistent and perfectly normal. Last time I checked ďhumanitarianĒ wasnít a dirty word, but human rights violations were anti-American.

(Hat tip: Grant McEntire via email.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:52 AM

May 12, 2004

Taking a Flying Fuck

Matthew Yglesias says Iím getting ready to become an ex-ex-liberal.

I donít know about that. Just because my vote is up for grabs at this moment doesnít mean Iíve undergone a personality change. Itís not like I was pro-torture a month ago. (And itís not like I was a pacifist two years ago, for that matter.)

More interesting are some of the comments, like this one from the anonymous BP:

As far as I am personally concerned, any pouting ex-hawk who feels entitled to a warm, bygones-be-bygones welcome back into the "fold" can go take a flying fuck.
I know it's silly to make a big deal out of a dumb thing someone said somewhere on the Internet. But this attitude is so depressingly common. If you're on the left and don't believe me, try dissenting from the Official Left-Wing Position in public and watch what happens to you.

First of all, Iím no ex-hawk. Just because some American soldiers abused Iraqi prisoners doesnít mean I wish Abu Ghraib prison was back in Saddamís hands instead. Let me know when we start dumping hundreds of thousands of innocents into mass graves and Iíll revise my opinion.

Second, Iím not asking anybody for permission to return to the left-wing ďfold.Ē

Dictionary.com has plenty of definitions for the word ďfold,Ē and these two stand out in particular.

A flock of sheep
and
A religious congregation
I am neither religious nor a herd animal.

People like BP have no desire to actually be successful in politics. No politician would ever act that way. You donít win elections by pushing potential supporters away. It's just plain suicidal. This is the behavior of people who approach politics the way a fundamentalist takes his religion. Heretics must be punished. Stubborn heretics must be banished. The more compassionate inquisitors may (if they feel like it) allow the wayward children to return if they prostrate themselves before the tribunal and beg for forgiveness.

I'll beg for no one's forgiveness because I think independently. Iíd rather take the flying fuck.

(As a side note, in case you don't already know, Matthew Yglesias is a reasonable person who does not engage in this type of behavior. It's not his fault he has jerks in his comments.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:38 AM

May 10, 2004

Holding Out for a Tie

President Bush is having trouble with his base, at least the intellectual part of the base.

After three years of sweeping actions in both foreign and domestic affairs, the Bush administration is facing complaints from the conservative intelligentsia that it has lost its ability to produce fresh policies.

Conservatives have become unusually restive. Last Tuesday, columnist George F. Will sharply criticized the administration's Iraq policy, writing: "This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts." Two days earlier, Robert Kagan, a neoconservative supporter of the Iraq war, wrote: "All but the most blindly devoted Bush supporters can see that Bush administration officials have no clue about what to do in Iraq tomorrow, much less a month from now."

The complaints about Bush's Iraq policy are relatively new, but they are in some ways similar to long-standing criticism about Bush's domestic policies. In a book released earlier this year, former Bush Treasury secretary Paul H. O'Neill described Bush as "a blind man in a room full of deaf people" and said policymakers put politics before sound policy judgments.

It looks like some conservatives can grok the way some liberals feel about Kerry.
"John Kerry Must Go."

That Village Voice headline may be a tad dramatic, but stories about disaffected Democrats are spreading like wildfire through the media forest.

Never mind that the Massachusetts senator is just about even with an incumbent president six months before the election. The naysayers are seizing the spotlight.

"There's definitely a Beltway maelstrom," says Democratic strategist Jenny Backus. "There are a whole bunch of Monday morning quarterbacks who live in Washington and feed a lot of these reporters. People use the press as a giant instant-message board."

No wonder Slate blogger Mickey Kaus has started a "Dem Panic Watch." Consider:

"Kerry Struggling to Find a Theme, Democrats Fear," says the New York Times.

"It's six months until the election, and Democrats are already having buyer's remorse," says John Fund of OpinionJournal.com.

"Democratic leaders fear he's getting 'Gored,' " says the Associated Press.

"The Trouble Is, So Far Kerry Stinks on TV," says the New York Observer.

Some Democrats are "pretty freaked out" by Kerry, says the New York Post. They see "a listless and message-less mishmash," says Newsweek. The man "has something of a gift for the toxic sound bite," says Time.

If I didnít write about politics, if I didnít have so much pressure to pick one or the other, I would probably vote for myself as a write-in candidate. Bush deserves to be voted out of the White House. The trouble is I have no good reason to put Kerry in.

The best I can say for John Kerry is that he isnít George Bush. The best I can say for George Bush is that he isnít John Kerry. May they tie in November and cancel each other out.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:18 PM

May 9, 2004

What Damage They Have Wrought

My disgust at the soldiers who abused Iraqi prisoners seems to be bottomless. Somehow it manages to get deeper every day.

The Terror War has two fronts. One is a war of bullets and bombs. The other is a war of ideas, a war of liberalism (broadly defined) against totalitarianism. Dishonorable people in our own military have done far more damage to the second front than any herd of illiberal anti-American jackasses could ever have hoped to accomplish.

How can I explain all this to my immigrant friend from Syria who loves America but does not trust the government? How can I look him in the eye and tell him our troops were as kind to the Iraqis as I promised him they would be? The answer is that I canít.

I'm already sick and tired of hearing complaints about the anti-war left on this one. Theyíre calling for Rumsfeld to go and they hated him from the very beginning. Yeah, and so what? That doesnít mean he should stay. The Economist thinks he should go. So does Megan McArdle. On even numbered days so do I.

The anti-war left is not even remotely responsible for this mess. The Democratic Party isn't responsible, either. It's a legitimate point of debate how much the Bush Administration is responsible, but it simply won't wash to say they, too, have nothing to do with it.

If President Bush doesn't get this resolved at least 50 percent to my satisfaction I will vote to kick him out of the White House in November. I will have no other honorable choice. I don't like John Kerry and I don't trust him with our foreign policy. But not in my worst estimation of him did I think he would cause as much moral and psychological damage as what some in our own military have done under this commander in chief.

I heard Neil Boortz on the radio this morning complaining about Nancy Pelosi because she wants Rumsfeldís head. Um, Neil? Nancy Pelosi is right to be pissed. She didnít get us into this mess, and she canít get us out of it. Somebodyís head needs to roll, and it isn't hers. If you donít think it ought to be Rumsfeldís, try suggesting another. If Bush doesnít fire someone, odds are good that he himself will be fired.


UPDATE: Sean LaFreniere, also a hawk, thinks Rumsfeld should resign too.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:14 PM

This is Not Justice

In some states you can go to jail for years if you're caught selling dope. You can get kicked out of the military if they find out you're gay.

But it you torture Iraqis in Abu Ghraib prison you might only get one year in prison and get to stay in the military.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A 24-year-old U.S. military policeman will be the first soldier to face a court-martial in connection with the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, the military said Sunday.

Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits of Hyndman, Pa., a member of the 372nd Military Police Company, will stand trial in Baghdad on May 19, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said.

Sivits has been charged with conspiracy to maltreat subordinates and detainees, dereliction of duty for negligently failing to protect detainees from abuse and cruelty and maltreatment of detainees, Kimmitt said.

If convicted of all charges, Sivits could face one year in prison, reduction in rank to private, forfeiture of two-thirds of his pay for a year, a fine or a bad conduct discharge, military officials said. Penalties could include only one, all or any combination of those punishments, officials said.

If convicted of all charges he needs to be locked up for years. But first he needs to be dishonorably discharged. He's a disgrace to our country. Strip that uniform off him.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:26 AM

May 7, 2004

A Portland Connection?

Brandon Mayfield is a 37-year old lawyer who lives in my hometown of Portland.

He converted to Islam in 1989 and goes to mosque in the suburb of Beaverton. And he was arrested yesterday because his fingerprint showed up on bomb-related evidence connected to the terror attacks in Madrid.

That attack was not carried out inside the United States or against the United States. But if this man did what it looks like he might have done, the only thing that prevents him from being a traitor and a fifth columnist amounts in my mind to a technicality.

I've read a pile of books and a countless number of articles about people who commit mass murder against "infidels." Those books and articles rarely account for people like my neighbor Brandon Mayfield who, if he is charged and found guilty, teamed up with people who would destroy our city with a nuclear weapon if they could manage it. I'd say that's a pretty serious oversight.

By the way, last September a bomb was found on one of our light rail commuter trains.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:52 AM

May 5, 2004

More from Marc Cooper

Marc Cooper says Michael Moore is the Ann Coulter of the left. One of his commenters wrote: ďYour hit count's going to go through the roof thanks to Drudge.Ē Another one said "Marc Cooper, and the rest of the Neo-Nazi.. er neocons think they are just swirling the bowl in Iraq."

Boy does that sound familiar. Iíve read the same bullshit again and again on other blogs and in the comments section on my own site. Itís always one variation or another on the same theme. Youíre giving aid and comfort to the Republicans. Yeah, and get stuffed. Marc writes for The Nation. Heís not a Bush shill. And so what if he were? Michael Moore is a left-wing Ann Coulter no matter who says so.

Some people just donít get it. When liberals criticize the wing-nuts on their own side it doesnít hurt them. It helps them. Defending liars and conspiracy theorists because theyíre on your own ďsideĒ makes your side look insane.

Ask yourselfÖshould conservatives run interference for Ann Coulter just because sheís right of center? Or should they tell her to get lost? Ask yourself what would be honorable behavior from the folks on the other side of the aisle. Then follow your own advice. Youíll feel better and help yourself in the bargain.

Meanwhile, Marc will be reading from his travel/history book about Las Vegas called The Last Honest Place in America at Powellís Books on Hawthorne in Portland Thursday night at 7:30. (3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd ). Iíll be there. If youíre in the neighborhood come on down, say hi, and get a live preview of a great book. (I finished it yesterday.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:49 PM

May 4, 2004

New Column

My new Tech Central Station column is up: Naming the Enemy.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:49 PM

Rush (Nearly) Defends Torture

In my previous post I asked who defends torture? Well, Rush Limbaugh comes pretty damn close.

You know, if you really look at these pictures, I mean I don't know if it's just me but it looks like anything you'd see Madonna or Britney Spears do on stage. Maybe you can get an NEA grant for something like this. I mean this is something you can see at Lincoln Center from an NEA grant, maybe on Sex in the City: the Movie. I mean, it's just me.
Asshole. How embarrassing is it that Rush Limbaugh is the most popular conservative in the media? If I were a conservative I would have to answer "extremely."

(Hat tip: Oberon in the comments.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:12 PM

May 3, 2004

Who Defends Torture? (Updated)

I occasionally stumble across a remark on blogs or in their comments sections to the effect that Bush, Rumsfeld, etc., are either in favor or torturing Iraqis or at least don't mind that it happened.

This was posted in my own comments section yesterday:

first ya just have to get Myers and Rumsfeld to bother reading the internal report that Hersh exposed.

oh yeah, they're gonna be real serious about making sure this little problem gets resolved.

I canít see why on earth they wouldnít want this problem resolved, if not for moral reasons than at least because they need good PR.

I'm sure the fact that the Bush Administraion is Republican has something to do with this brand of paranoia. Republicans, after all, are supposed to be evil death beasts. Why would evil death beasts have a problem with torture? Oh, and Bush is a liar. When he says heís disgusted by torture heís just joking around and saying bwa-ha-ha off camera.

Letís also not forget the military has been caricatured as a gang of savage war criminals for decades. Since conservatives love the military they supposedly approve of everything people in the military do, even things that violate the law and the code of military honor.

Hereís what I want to know. Has anyone bothered to make a public statement defending torture in Iraq? If so, I haven't seen it. The conservatives I pay attention to unanimously condemned it, and I know already that liberals donít think itís okay.

Maybe Iíve missed something. Iíve been a bit slow on the news the past week. Perhaps there really is a right-wing pro-torture faction somewhere that Iím not aware of. If so, itís rather quiet and small.

If conservative opinion is anti-torture, why should Bush, Rumsfeld, and Myers have a different view? Does the fact that they have leadership roles mean their evil is super-sized? I'll believe that the day I think John Kerry is a Communist.


UPDATE: Grant McEntire in the comments pointed to this poll on CNN asking "Is torture ever justified during interrogation?" It's an online poll, totally unscientific, but I still find the results creepy. At the time of this posting, 47 percent answered yes.

I wish the poll asked readers if they think this is okay.

This is not okay. This dirty deed wasn't carried out in an extreme case where a nuke is hidden somewhere in Manhattan and the cops inject a terrorist suspect with sodium pentathol (a so-called "truth serum"), which oddly counts as "torture" in some people's opinion. This is just sadistic, and thank heaven I haven't yet seen a single person defend it.

So far everyone who posted in my comments section is opposed to this crap. I figured that would be the case or I would have phrased my original post quite differently. I would like to see a poll about this specific incident. Perhaps people who aren't writers, intellectuals, or news junkies think it's okay, but I don't know. CNN's poll is useless because the question is too open-ended and allows for extreme hypotheticals.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:03 PM

May 2, 2004

We Are Winning

If you own Al Qaeda stock, I suggest you sell it.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- International acts of terror in 2003 were the fewest in more than 30 years, according to the U.S. State Department's annual terrorism report released Thursday.

The Patterns of Global Terrorism report said 190 acts of international terrorism occurred in 2003 -- a slight drop from 198 attacks the previous year and the lowest total since 1969.

The figure marked a 45 percent decrease in attacks since 2001, but it did not include most of the attacks in Iraq, because attacks against combatants did not fit the U.S. definition of international terrorism. [Emphasis added.]

I doubt this news will put to bed the idea that fighting terrorism and dictatorships only creates more terrorism. But it should.

(Hat tip: Sean LaFreniere)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:11 PM

Fallujah and the Fog of War

I donít know what on earth is happening in Fallujah. I get the impression, and so does Andrew Sullivan, that the folks in Washington donít know whatís happening either. And they know a lot more than I do.

Itís tempting to come up with my own take on it, but at this point Iíd be almost certain to get it all wrong.

Tacitus thinks we just lost the war. And Wretchard at the Belmont Club thinks itís all going swimmingly. Even though they wildly disagree with each other, theyíre both worth your time. They canít both be right and they both could be wrong, but I seriously doubt either of them will be entirely wrong. Read the whole thing at both links.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:00 PM