June 30, 2004

To the Sahara

We’re off.

We leave for Rome in a few hours. Tonight will be the third night in five where I spend the night on an airplane. The day after we get to Rome we fly to Tunisia. Thank God that’s a short one. By the time we get there I will have spent almost 50 percent of a week having my every move micromanaged in part by a state and in part by a corporation. But hey, within the space of six days I’m seeing three foreign capitals on three continents for the first time, so it’s worth it.

When Libya was on the itinerary I was not planning to blog from there. But Tunisia is run by a relatively enlightened benign dictatorship, a bit like Jordan or Morocco with a president instead of a king. So stay tuned! I’m not afraid to blog from there, so I will when I can.

Here’s a piece in The Atlantic Monthly called Roman Africa by Robert D. Kaplan that triggered my interest in visiting Tunisia in the first place. If you don’t know much about Tunisia, you might be surprised by what it’s like. It’s the Costa Rica of Arab North Africa, profoundly influenced to this day by the civilizing influence of the Roman Empire. Tunisians are bilingual (speaking both Arabic and French), their culture is fairly liberal, and they get a proper education. Radical Islam is pretty thin on that ground. Should be good times.

Don’t be strangers. This blog is still live.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:52 AM

June 28, 2004

No Visa

We did not get our visas for Libya.

My contact at the Libyan embassy told me as much over the phone Friday. They needed a few more weeks. So the fact that they didn’t pull it together in the last minute was expected.

That was about all I expected. I had never been inside an embassy before, let alone the embassy for an erstwhile enemy police state. I would have been surprised if goats were hanging from the ceiling, but not by much else.

The Libyan embassy is in Suite 1000 of a modern glass office tower. So I found the right building, went inside the elevator, and pushed 10. The doors opened up to a darkened hallway and a small waiting area next to a well-lit room shielded with bullet-proof glass and a little window for passing documents through. On the wall in big flaming back-lit letters, first in English, then in Arabic: People’s Bureau of the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahariya. This must be the place.

Two women worked behind the desk. The older one wore a blue head covering, and a younger 30-something woman did not.

“Hi,” I said. “My name is Michael Totten. My wife and I applied for tourist visas and I need to pick up our passports.” The woman with the head covering recognized my name. She was Rena, my phone contact.

She knew why I was there and what I needed, to my relief. I had a whole backup contingency plan in case, for whatever crazy reason, the embassy wouldn’t hand over our passports. (Trust me. You would worry about this, too, if you spent the past four months submerged in Libyan bureaucracy.)

She sat me down in the little waiting room. Another woman with a thick Arabic accent (and, a bit to my surprise, blue eyes and red hair) served me coffee in a little cup on a dainty china saucer. She insisted on putting the cream in my coffee for me, then she insisted on stirring the coffee for me, too. After the cream turned the coffee color to caramel she asked "Is that good enough for you?" She seemed to me one of the world’s sweetest people. Over her left shoulder was a framed photo of a fist-pumping Moammar Ghaddafi.

While I waited, a 50-something man in a power suit strutted out of the elevator and barged through the security door like he owned the place. He must be the boss, I thought. Then another man did the same thing, followed by several others. None of them smiled at me, but one did say “Good morning.” One was a dead-ringer for Saddam Hussein, moustache and all.

A young black man about my age stepped out of the elevator and walked up to the reception window. He spoke in Arabic and – hey – I even understood some of it.

“As-salaam ahlaykum. Ureed blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, lau samaht.” Which means (translation obviously mine): “Peace be upon you. I’d like blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, please.”

So, okay. My knowledge of Arabic isn’t comprehensive just yet. I have no idea what the man wanted. But a month ago I wouldn’t have understood even that much. All of it would have been blah blah blah. When I’m just starting to learn a new language, it’s satisfying when I can understand even a fragment. It gives me confidence I can eventually pick up the rest of it.

Rena came out and handed me our two passports. There were no visas stamped inside, but there was 160 dollars in cash – our application fees. They could have kept the money and I would not have complained.

I don’t blame the folks in the embasssy for not getting this finished on time. They can’t issue visas without a green light from Tripoli. They did what they could within the confines of the leviathan.

I can’t say I got a good vibe from the Libyan men in the embassy. I was furniture to them, and so were the women. But the Libyan women were wonderful and they left me with a good feeling. We're determined to reapply for visas the minute we get back from Tunisia. We’ll get them next time, Inshallah.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:58 AM

June 27, 2004

In Ottawa

I'm in Ottawa, Canada, mildly jet-lagged and severely sleep-deprived. I was going to post some photos and commentary, but tonight it ain't happening.

First thing tomorrow (Monday) morning I go to the Libyan embassy to pick up my passport. I had to send it to them along with my visa application. Word has it I won't get the visa right now because all of a sudden they need several more weeks to process the paperwork. Sigh. But who knows? They've told me contradictory things on the phone before. I guess I'll find out for sure soon enough. Either way, I'm going to Libya. I'll go later this week if I'm lucky, or else I'll go in the Fall.

In any case, Shelly and I leave for Italy on Wednesday, and then we're off to Tunisia and the mighty Sahara on Friday. (Should be nice and warm this time of year.) I can't (or won't) blog from Libya, but I can and will from Tunisia.

Too tired for now. More soon...

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:16 PM

June 25, 2004

Are We Out of Gas?

It looks to me like the Bush Administration, its namesake doctrine, and America’s race to pre-empt terrorism of mass destruction has run out of gas.

Jim Hoagland says in The Washington Post he thinks there will be no more Iraqs.

The threshold for preventive war, for example, will be raised significantly for the immediate future. Intelligence on weapons of mass destruction and the intentions of dictators or terrorist gangs that seem to possess them are unlikely to be sufficiently clear to meet the standards for action demanded by the post-facto doubts and recriminations on Iraq. Intelligence analysis will become even more cautious and ambiguously stated to policymakers. Vulnerability to surprise attack could grow again.

Widespread disillusionment will also seriously undercut idealistic rationales for deploying U.S. forces overseas. The growing acceptance of humanitarian intervention that gave rise to the slogan "No more Rwandas" is marginalized today by the drumbeat of "No more Iraqs." The mishandling and abuses of the Iraq occupation have negated much of the idealism of the liberation in one long, bloody year.

I hope he’s wrong but I don’t think he is.

Look at what’s happening in Iran right now.

Iran made good on recent threats yesterday and announced that it will resume building equipment essential for a nuclear weapons program, despite its agreement with three major European powers.
On the one hand, that’s a counterpoint to what Hoagland said. There should be no doubt whatever that Iran wants nukes. It hardly matters if our intelligence is weak and often wrong. Unlike Saddam, the ayatollahs brazenly announce their intentions.

But it also underscores Hoagland’s point. Iran is getting away with it.

Were we supposed to feel better because Europe was “handling” this problem? Of course the ayatollahs violated their agreement with Britain, France, and Germany. That’s what rogue dictatorships do. Only fools trust murderous psychopaths who killed their way into power and kill to hold onto power to obey the instructions on a piece of paper waved in their faces by appeasement-minded EU diplomats.

Where’s Bush? He just blew away the regime next door for less than this.

We have more than two options here. It’s not a choice between entrusting the safety of the world to Jacques Chirac on the one hand and ramping up for a full-bore invasion and occupation on the other.

We have hard power, and we have a lot of it. A little sabre-rattling would go a long way with Iran if we’d try. Tell them to knock if off or they’re next. If they call our bluff we don’t have to bomb the capital or change the regime. Just a few pinprick strikes on military targets at night would let them know we’re serious. Don’t think for a minute that wouldn’t scare the pants off ’em.

I used to think I would vote for Bush because he wouldn’t let Iran go nuclear and Kerry just might. Well, now it looks like neither one of them, or anyone else for that matter, intend to do much about it. Kofi Annan certainly isn't going to pick up the slack.

The Democrats aren’t much interested in stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction. They seem to have forgotten everything they ever knew about nuclear proliferation as they harrumphed themselves into a corner over Saddam. I’m not hearing much from the right about this either, and my guess is because they trust Bush will handle it. Maybe I’m missing something, but I’m just not seeing it. Bush might as well be off on a bender in the Bahamas right now.

One advantage to a Kerry presidency is this: Terror War hawks won’t sit idly by and assume a problem like this will be taken care of. They’ll scream and demand action. And who knows? Maybe they’ll get it. Hardly anyone is demanding Bush do something about Iran. If this keeps up, the mullahs get nukes.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:45 AM

June 24, 2004

The Neo-Centrist Alliance

This passage from Christopher Hitchens' new Vanity Fair piece about the intra-Republican civil war really stuck with me. (No link, not online.)

It's not the only attack from the old right that describes the neocons as Johnny-come-latelies: chancers who had changed their party allegiance just in time to catch the Reagan tide, but who remained liberals and cosmopolitans under the skin. Indeed, William Kristol has proved Buchanan's point, by telling The New York Times that, if pushed, by which he clearly meant "in any case," he would prefer an alliance with liberal hawks to one with anti-war Republicans.
Sometimes I wish the neos could form their own party: the neo-liberals and neo-conservatives against the Democrats and the Republicans. Not gonna happen, I know. But that is the "party" I feel like I belong to these days.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:12 AM

June 23, 2004

Quote of the Day

It is quite remarkable that the American state, with its unelected president, venal Supreme Court, silent Congress, gutted Bill of Rights and compliant media represents the crushing of internal dissent in order to propagate the resurgence of White Supremacist ideologies. It appears that the appropriation of Arab resources leads our attention to this calamity brought to us by a horrific onslaught, known as Shock and Awe. So far, the 15-minute speech delivered Monday night by President Bush brings about the police state which has come to pass. Nevertheless, the apparent demise of "anti-Americanism" as a respectable means of stifling recognition of American imperialism represents the repudiation of international law in order to bring about an oil war masquerading as an endless crusade against "terrorism."
- Mark Nugent's automated Leftist Cant Generator, aka the original Chomskybot.

If anyone knows of an automated Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, or Rush bot let me know.

(Hat tip: Roger L. Simon's comments section.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:22 PM

The Case for Kerry

Anne Cunningham makes the best case for John Kerry I've yet seen in the space of three consecutive posts.

One. Two. Three.

If you're an anti-war liberal you probably won't think much of Anne's case. She isn't speaking to your concerns. This is the case for liberal hawks and disgruntled neocons to consider. Whether she's ultimately right or not, I don't know. But she makes a host of great points that need to be taken seriously.

It's probably best to read all three posts before commenting, either on my site or hers. They complement each other.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:16 PM

Our Indecent Senate

So. The Senate decided it wants to fine every single person, and that could include you and me, 275,000 dollars just for saying one naughty word (that is, whatever the FCC unilaterally decides is a naughty word) on the radio or the TV. One senator – one senator! – voted against this thing. So here’s a tip of the hat to Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) and a big FUCK YOU to the rest of ‘em.

My house is worth less than 275,000 dollars and it will take me 30 years to pay it off. Hey, senators. Ever hear of the word “proportion?”

Since when did our entire senate, including almost all the Democratic Party, become a prissy uptight puritanical right-wing freakshow anyway? I expect this kind of authoritarian crap from people like Orrin Hatch and Trent Lott, but what on earth is the matter with Ted Kennedy and John Edwards and Hillary Clinton? Oh, and John Kerry too. He voted for this garbage as well.

They’re afraid to take the fight to religious nutjobs who want to kill us, and they’re afraid to stand down the local nutjobs who want to control us. Cowards. Wash my mouth out with soap if you must, but you can stick your 275,000 dollar fine in your ass.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:36 AM

A Neat Trick

It's late and I'm too tired to have an opinion. It happens.

In the meantime, check this out. Dean Esmay pointed me to this neat little automated mind-reading trick. I know the secret and will reveal it later in the comments. See if you can figure it out how it works.

Your regularly scheduled opinionated blather will resume shortly.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:40 AM

June 22, 2004

Hitch on Moore

Wow. I sure hope Christopher Hitchens never guns for me in print. I'll need an icepack and a vacation if it happens.

Today in Slate he gives Michael Moore one hell of a thrashing for his new "documentary" Fahrenheit 911.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:06 PM

Ralph Nader Jumps the Shark

I enjoy reading Marc Cooper’s blog. I never know if I’ll go over there to argue or applaud, and I like that. Unpredictable is good and besides, he’s one of the most pleasant people to disagree with you’ll find. (Well, unless you’re far right, in which case you probably won’t enjoy it so much.) Anyway, today I’m not arguing.

We both liked Ralph Nader the last time around. I liked him because he was honest and because he reminded me of the old school Democrats, the kind they don’t make any more. After 9/11 he doesn’t make me think of FDR so much as a kookier and more rumpled George McGovern. That’s really not what I’m looking for at the moment.

Nader is up to his armpits in all sorts of other problems I wasn’t aware of until now, and Cooper’s on it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:23 AM

Into the Neoconservative Lair

Roger L. Simon risked life, limb, and reputation to descend into the neocon lair in Washington where he caught Dr. Michael Ledeen – on camera! – translating The Communist Manifesto from its original Straussian into corporate jargon for the purpose of duping yuppies at malls. Spooky.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:19 AM

June 21, 2004

Good Riddance to the Intifada

Shortly after Ariel Sharon was elected in Israel he cynically demanded a full week of quiet before he would agree to negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. I say “cynically” because most people, not least himself, knew a week of quiet was not going to happen. Hamas and Islamic Jihad were murderously opposed to negotiations. Yasser Arafat was in their pocket. (Or were they in his pocket? Does it make any difference?) So Sharon could come across as a reasonable man willing to talk when we all knew full well he had no intention or desire to talk about the intifada. What was there to talk about? It wasn’t going to stop until it was crushed or Jews fled Israel in boats.

Well, goodbye to all that. Charles Krauthammer notes in The Washington Post:

At the height of the intifada, there were nine suicide attacks in Israel killing 85 Israelis in just one month (March 2002). In the past three months there have been none.
It’s a good idea to teach children that violence does not solve problems. It almost always is true. It certainly hasn’t done much for the Palestinians.

The sad fact of the matter, though, is that violence does sometimes solve problems. It worked for Israelis. Smashing terrorist nests, assasinating terrorist leaders, and implementing the Israeli left’s (non-violent) demand for a separation fence paid off handsomely.

Now it’s time to talk peace. Now it’s time for a “road map” that might actually work.

It’s theoretically possible that Yasser Arafat is tired of living in his bombed out compound in Ramallah (he’s been trapped there by tanks for over two years) and would like to sign a treaty. He can’t be a cheerleader for an intifada that no longer exists.

But I don’t see much point in including the man in any talks. Most likely he’ll drag out the process as long as he's sucking oxygen. If he does decide to cut a deal and stick to it, the Palestinians will have to suffer with him as their dictatorial overlord until he finally keels over or someone speeds up the process and feeds him a bullet.

Better, I think, to keep Arafat marginalized. Start a new “road map.” Have an election in the West Bank and Gaza where Palestinians elect someone to negotiate on their behalf. If they choose a new leader wisely, Israelis will send Ariel Sharon back to his farm and give them their state.

If they prefer to drag this out for several more years, it's their choice and their loss.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:13 AM

June 19, 2004

The Latest

Here are photos of what Al Qaeda did yesterday in Saudi Arabia. If CNN will air photos of abuse in Abu Ghraib they need to publish these.

I'm tired of issuing warnings along with my links to graphic photos. Most of us do need to see this. I'll be in the Middle East myself in two weeks, and unless you're my mother this is no time for a whitewash.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:40 AM

June 17, 2004

To Hell with the Republican Party

Dear Andrew Sullivan,

I see you’ve decided not to support the re-election of the president. Well, good for you then.

For a while there I was a v-e-r-y reluctant Bush supporter because the Democrats refused to take the Terror War seriously and picked a worm in the primary. Now I’m back in the undecided swing-voter camp for most of the same reasons you are. I don’t know who I’ll vote for. But I’m sure I’ll hate myself in the morning no matter which way I go.

I see there’s an Andrew Sullivan hate-fest going on over at Lucianne Goldberg’s Web site. I read the first half of the comments in that thread and didn’t see a single person sticking up for you. It’s nothing but accusations of “fag,” “traitor,” liberal,” “anti-American,” and so on ad nauseum.

Look. I went through the same thing on the other side. For a while I thought I was a dissident hawkish liberal. But there are only so many times a person can be told he or she is a heretic before walking out of the ever-shrinking “big” tent with their sleeping bag and gear to set up camp somewhere else.

Political parties are cruel to people who think. The more partisan members are bigots. They hate people in the other political party, and they hate you if you don't follow orders. If you’re going to talk about principles you might as well be writing in Martian for those who will jump at a moment’s notice to stay on the right side of the party line.

Quit. Just walk away from the Republican Party. They are not your comrades as you can plainly see. Don’t bother calling yourself a conservative anymore. Publicly declare yourself an Independent and a Centrist. Don’t let anyone call you anything else. Oh, but they’ll try. Ann Coulter will call you a traitor and a leftist. Michael Moore will say you’re an imperial neocon cabalist. Who cares what they think? They’re slapstick buffoons, not your peers.

Your conservative friends who are worth their body weight in water will still be there for you. Your subscription to The Weekly Standard will still arrive in the mail. Your boyfriend will still love you. Your neighbors will still wave hello. Your favorite bartender will still smile when he sees you pull up a stool. Your Web site will still be one of the most popular blogs in the world. Don’t be afraid to lose readers. Some of us have learned a lot from your work, and we are not going anywhere.

The Democrats will no longer have me. That’s fine because now I am free. If the Republicans no longer want you, we in the middle will welcome you. Come on in. The water’s fine. It’s only cold for a second.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:18 PM

June 16, 2004

Al-Sadr Becomes Pat Robertson

The insurgency of Moqtada al-Sadr, Iraq's fundamentalist fanatic-in-chief, is toast.

NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) - Radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr sent his fighters home on Wednesday in what may mark the end of a 10-week revolt against U.S.-led forces that once engulfed southern Iraq and Shi'ite Islam's holiest shrines.

With the formal end of U.S.-led occupation just two weeks away, Sadr issued a statement from his base in Najaf calling on his Mehdi Army militiamen to go home.

He's damn lucky he's breathing.

So it looks like he's decided to become a "mainstream" Religious Right figure now. He'll be Iraq's Pat Robertson instead of Iraq's Ayatollah Khomeini, unless he just can't resist the temptation to bring the gun back into politics, in which case he won't be just toast he'll be burnt toast. If he's smart he'll get a TV show where he can rail against Godless heathens, raise money for kooky causes, and call it good.

I suppose this development is fine and all, but there's a danger here. It could have been al-Sadr's plan all along to throw a gigantic fit to get in on the action. Other marginalized wingnuts might decide to follow his example and see if it works for them. I don't expect they'll be happy with the results if they try.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:54 PM

Someone Will Be Fired

In general I'd rather write about the good news in Iraq than the bad since the media likes to pretend it's all bad. I'm sorry to tell you I have no good news for today.

Iraqis are furious. The CPA's approval rating is 11 percent. It's going to get worse before it gets better, so I suggest you brace for it.

Here is Christopher Hitchens in Slate:

The graphic videos and photographs that have so far been shown only to Congress are, I have been persuaded by someone who has seen them, not likely to remain secret for very long. And, if you wonder why formerly gung-ho rightist congressmen like James Inhofe ("I'm outraged more by the outrage") have gone so quiet, it is because they have seen the stuff and you have not. There will probably be a slight difficulty about showing these scenes in prime time, but they will emerge, never fear. We may have to start using blunt words like murder and rape to describe what we see.
Here are my gut-level predictions for which I admittedly have no evidence. Donald Rumsfeld will "resign" in order "to spend more time with his family" when this footage comes out.

Or:

Bush will be fired in November.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:39 AM

June 14, 2004

America: Not So Polarized After All

The conventional wisdom - which isn’t half as wise as conventional wisdom thinks it is - says Americans are more politically polarized than ever, at least since the days of the Civil War. Left-wing Bush-haters compare the president to Adolf Hitler while the more obnoxious partisans on the right denounce the Democratic Party as a near-treasonous de-facto ally of Osama bin Laden. The leftovers of the 1960s culture war are warmed up again and again in the microwave, as if we hadn't yet had enough of it all twelve years ago when Pat Buchanan railed against the liberal side at the 1992 Republican convention in Houston.

(And let me tell you something, folks. The vast majority of people in my generation think the culture war is idiotic. It's just not relevant to people who are 30 years old. The whole "values" debate is an eye-rolling intra-Boomer squabble spawned from, apparently, Woodstock or something. I don't know a single person my age, other than myself, who has ever used the phrase "culture war" in a sentence. And politics comes up a lot in my circle. The culture war is old. It's older than we are. Knock if off, already.)

We keep hearing about the Red States versus the Blue States, as if it means something important. Oh sure, there's something to it. No doubt California is a different place from Oklahoma. But it seems so overblown to me. My own state of Oregon was only declared “blue” after first being lumped in with the red. Al Gore squeaked past George W. Bush from behind in 2000 by a minuscule percentage only as the last votes were counted. I live in a seriously blue neighborhood in a heavily blue city. But my state is only half blue. It's actually purple. Or checkered. Or striped. Or something.

Anyway, John Tierney in The New York Times cites the work of several political scientists and says the whole polarization concept is a load of fatuous nonsense. It’s the polical elites (who apparently include activists, intellectuals, pundits (ahem), and apparatchiks) in both parties who are polarized. Meanwhile, most Americans are in basic agreement about most things.

[D]o Americans really despise the beliefs of half of their fellow citizens?

[…]

To some scholars, the answer is no. They say that our basic differences have actually been shrinking over the past two decades, and that the polarized nation is largely a myth created by people inside the Beltway talking to each another or, more precisely, shouting at each other.

These academics say it's not the voters but the political elite of both parties who have become more narrow-minded and polarized. As Norma Desmond might put it: We're still big. It's the parties that got smaller.

[…]

"If the two presidential candidates this year were John McCain and Joe Lieberman, you'd see a lot more crossover and less polarization," said Professor Fiorina, mentioning the moderate Republican and Democratic senators. He is the co-author, along with Samuel J. Abrams of Harvard and Jeremy C. Pope of Stanford, of the forthcoming book, "Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America."

"The bulk of the American citizenry is somewhat in the position of the unfortunate citizens of some third-world countries who try to stay out of the cross-fire while Maoist guerrillas and right-wing death squads shoot at each other," the book concludes. "Reports of a culture war are mostly wishful thinking and useful fund-raising strategies on the part of culture-war guerrillas, abetted by a media driven by the need to make the dull and everyday appear exciting and unprecedented." [Emphasis added.]

Maoist guerillas and right-wing death squads, eh? Odd metaphorical choices for writers who say we aren’t really even polarized in the first place. But I get (I think) what they’re saying. It gets easier every day to find political hacks who describe their opponents using just such language. If it’s true that we’re mostly centrists, whichever party knocks this off first could mop the floor with the other.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:23 PM

European Earthquake

Elections in both Britain and Germany all but annihilated the political status quo.

The British Labour party came in a humiliating third place, which according to Andrew Sullivan is the worst showing at the polls of the party in power in British history ever. The right-wing Tories came out ahead of both Labour and the Independence Party, but even so it’s their worst performance since 1832.

Germany’s small-s Socialists were badly beaten in the worst landslide against them in postwar history.

I don't follow European politics closely enough to know what actually caused this. But I can see one thing that seemed to have nothing to do with it: Iraq. Blair favored the war and was creamed. Schroeder didn’t and was hammered. Perhaps there’s a wave of anti-incumbency sweeping Europe. Maybe Europe is swinging to the right. Then again, we’re only looking at two countries here. There may be no trend at all.

If this is a part of a trend, at this point I’d put my money on an anti-EU reaction. From the BBC:

Elsewhere in Europe governing parties in Germany, France and Poland are suffering big losses.

As in the UK, Eurosceptic groups are enjoying their best result at the polls.

[…]

Celebrating his victory, Mr Kilroy-Silk said: "Now we know why the British public are fed up with the old parties. They are fed up with being talked to in that simplistic manner.

"They want their country back from Brussels and we are going to get it back for them."

I’ve been skeptical about the EU for a while. I love the idea, especially for the sake of Eastern Europeans who could really use a leg up. Integration with the rest of Europe seemed to do wonders for Ireland and Spain and could do the same again for those left behind in the east. But the EU is a ham-fisted overly-centralized anti-democratic behemoth. I wouldn’t design it that way if I were in charge, and even though a European union makes a great deal of sense considering Europe’s tendency to chew off its own leg, I might vote against the current drift of the thing if I lived there, too.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:15 AM

June 12, 2004

Tourism in Ottawa

So it looks like I may have to fly 3,000 miles to Ottawa, Canada two weeks from now to run a 20-minute errand. (Yes, I'm serious. Long story. Don't ask. Just understand that the Libyan tourism-visa bureaucracy is something to behold. And thank goodness airfare to that city is cheap at the moment.)

Anyway, I'll have two days while I'm in town. I've been to Victoria and Vancouver many times, Montreal and Quebec City once each, but never to Ottawa. Does anyone live there or know the city well enough for some recommendations? (Please use the comments.)

I'll be staying downtown, of course. What I really want to know is...which part of town has the best eye-candy? I like old buildings and walking around the quaint pre-automobile parts of cities - when such places exist, that is. Also, anything with a French theme is good. I know my own Anglo culture pretty well already.

I'll post pictures.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:35 PM

June 11, 2004

NYC Photo Ban

New York City is considering whether or not to ban photography in and around the subway for security reasons. The New York Times reports hundreds of photographers rode the subway all at the same time and started snapping away in protest.

At a protest by photographers, you see things like a guy taking pictures of a guy taking pictures of a few more guys taking pictures of one another.

There was such a protest yesterday, but it might take hundreds of pages to describe it, given all the pictures that were taken, each one worth at least a thousand words.

[...]

"The point is really to make everyday people wake up and realize that photographers are not terrorists," said Joe Anastasio, who organized the event. "In the last few years, photographers near anything vaguely important have been getting harassed."

Mr. Anastasio went on to tell the story of a friend who took his wife's picture near the Whitestone Bridge, only to be called in for questioning by the police. He told another of a man caught snapping pictures at a Metro-North station who was interrogated for nearly two hours by authorities at the scene.

"The paranoia," he said, "has gone a little too far."

You should expect these kinds of rules in places like Libya. Ghaddafi is the hated boss of a military police state, so he has plenty to be afraid of. So does New York City after 9/11 for different reasons, not the least of which is that Mayor "Nurse" Bloomberg needs to protect the city while Ghaddafi needs to protect his ass. But the salient difference is that New York is an open liberal city and Tripoli isn't.

Rudy Giuliani found a mix of liberal Republicanism that most New Yorkers thought worked pretty well, but Bloomberg - even though he was a Democrat until he entered the mayoral race - can't seem to figure out how it's done.

Here's a clue for Mr. Bloomberg: Popular tough leaders don't act like hectoring school principals - especially not in a freewheeling place like New York - nor do they get nicknames like "Nurse." (No offense intended to the fine nursing profession.) Try being more of a leader and less of a boss and see how that works for a while.

In fairness to the mayor, this is not his idea. It comes from the NYPD. But Bloomberg is in charge more than anyone, and he's been "a picknose control freak," as Christopher Hitchens put it, ever since he took office. He has more power to turn this around than anyone else.


UPDATE: Jason Holliston, a friend of mine who is a small-l libertarian, makes a good point that I didn't expect to see from someone with his point of view.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:35 AM

June 9, 2004

New Column

My new Tech Central Station column is up: The Berkeley Intifada?

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:06 PM

My Up and Coming Internet Nirvana

One of my local alt-weeklies Willamette Week tells us why if you’re a tech geek (or a blogger who makes his living as a telecommuting writer who relies on constant Internet access) there are some serious bennies to living in a thirdwave-anarcho-libertarian-semipinko-antiestablishmentarian place like Portland: Free wi-fi for everyone, baby. And it doesn’t look to me like there’s jack the big corporate boys can do about it, though that won't stop 'em from trying.

And I don’t mean it’s going to be some “free” taxpayer-funded government-run deal, I mean it in the sense that it’s free to listen to the radio if you already own a radio. That kinda free.

Sign me up!

Actually, I don’t have to sign up, all I have to do is wait. Excellent.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:38 PM

June 8, 2004

Anti-Semitism Watch (Updated)

Here is a picture of a modern skinhead.

smash-the-jewish-state.jpg

Okay, maybe the guy isn’t technically a skinhead. He might have hair under that hat.

Why is it that when anti-war protests make the news, people like him are almost always edited out? This isn’t a photo from the media, it’s from an LGF reader who goes by the handle Zombie.

I’m selective about which photos I choose to publish, just as newspapers are. In a sense I do what they do, only the opposite. I don't include photos of the nice church people who show up to protest.

The difference is I don't pretend the nice church people don't exist. Besides, this is an opinion site with no claim whatever to being comprehesive or objective. I'm not trying to keep a record of everything here. That's more than a one-man job.

Also, I don’t feel the need to mention the nice people at protests because I don’t have that much to say to or about them except when I'm arguing about foreign policy generally. Plenty of nice people attend peace rallies, I know that very well. I think they’re a bit naïve, but they mean well. They’re decent people. And because they’re decent and well-meaning people I’d like to see them kick the guy in the picture out of their parade. I bet they would do just that if he put a sheet over his head, and he might as well.


PS - I don't attend "pro-war" rallies. If I did and I saw a guy with a sign that said "Smash Muslim States," I'd call him out on it. And if that guy wasn't being challenged by the rest of those in attendance, that would be the last time I hung around that crowd. I'm not asking anyone to do anything I wouldn't do myself.


UPDATE: Oberon in the comments points to a comment on this Indymedia post.

These are lies.

I am an anti-war leftist fed up with the anti-semitism in the anti-war movement. I had the sign "pro-israel, pro-palestine, pro-peace." I marched with SF Voice for Israel (NOT with Protest Warriors, who I deplore).

I was there until 3pm. Nobody on our side started shit. There were people from the pro-palestinian side shoving us, coming into our space and shouting "I hope they push you fucking assholes into the sea!"

STOP LYING ABOUT THE PROTEST.

Smash The Jewish State IS RACIST.

I am AGAINST the occupation. But there WERE anti-semetic signs at the protest and that's why SF Voice For Israel exists. MANY people on the SF Voice for Israel side were fellow leftists who feel alienated by the anti-war movement because nobody speaks out against the anti-semitism within.

STOP THE LIES.

That's what I'm looking for. Too bad this person is in the minority among the activists, but I'm glad at least someone inside that group is getting fed up with this crap.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:35 PM

June 7, 2004

Need a Reagan Fix?

The news right now is all-Reagan-all-the-time. I was going to write more about him, but why ape the media? It’s time for me to move on. If you do want your Reagan fix, though, here's an intense personal reaction by my friend Karrie Higgins who didn't like Reagan at all but still feels sad at his passing.

Now it’s time for me to change the channel.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:52 PM

The Film-Watching Habits of Josef Stalin

Josef Stalin's personal papers were recently made available to the public. It's already well-known that Uncle Joe loved the movies, even those made in the decadent bourgeois West. Now the Daily Telegraph tells us Stalin sent hit squads out to assasinate John Wayne, and Kruschev (softie that he was) rescinded the order.

They poked around in his papers and found all sorts of details about his film-watching habits and the "advice" he liked to give to the people who made them.

As if often the case with Stalin, the small and subtle details are somehow the most interesting and revealing. The guy was about as funny as Hitler (ie, not much) but there's some real black comedy here.

"What will Comrade Bolshakov show us today?" Stalin would ask. His terrified cinema minister, Ivan Bolshakov, had to gauge Stalin's mood. If it was good, Bolshakov could risk a new Soviet movie.

[...]

At a typical movie night with Stalin, when the showing was over, he would often ask: "Where have we seen that actor before?" He frequently asked actors who were playing him in films over for dinner: once he asked the best "Stalin", "How will you play Stalin?" "As the people see him," replied the clever actor. "The right answer," said Stalin, presenting him with a bottle of brandy.

[...]

Bolshakov once authorised a movie for national release without asking Stalin, who was on holiday. At the next showing, Stalin asked him: "On whose authority did you release the movie?"

Bolshakov froze: "I consulted and decided." "You consulted and decided, you decided and consulted," intoned Stalin. "You decided." He then left the room in a doomladen silence. Eventually, his head popped round the door: "You decided right."

[…]

None the less, all the time, this homicidal movie-buff insisted on pretending that he was merely giving "advice" to his filmmakers. "You're a free man," he liked to say. "You don't have to listen to me. This is just a suggestion from an ordinary viewer. Take it or leave it." Of course, they always took it.

See the wonderful Australian film Children of the Revolution if you’re up for two hours of this sort of thing.


UPDATE: Gary Farber collected some Maoist movie reviews.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:52 PM

June 6, 2004

A Liberal Empire?

I hate the word empire when used to describe the United States. If the US is an empire, it sure is empire-lite. We are not expanding the borders. It’s hard to have colonies when you don't have any colonists. Aside from Iraq for the next three and a half weeks, we do not administer foreign countries.

But if someone wants to use the e-word to describe America, I’ll let them get away with it as long as they define it in a way that describes the world as it really is.

British historian Niall Ferguson is one of only two people I know of (the other is Robert D. Kaplan) who can talk about an “American Empire” in such a way that doesn’t make me dismiss them as paranoid fantasists. And like Robert Kaplan, Ferguson says America’s empire is both liberal and good.

Frank Bures interviewed him for the Atlantic Monthly. I want to excerpt this at length because I think it’s the single most important issue Americans need to work out.

You say America is an empire, but an empire with no administrators, no settlers, no direct rule, and with no imperialists. What kind of Empire is that?

It's an empire that has all the functions of military empire, if you like. It has the capacity to project itself in terms of force over vast geographical distances. It's an empire that is remarkably adept at spreading its culture globally. In that sense, it's an empire with almost unrivaled military and cultural power. But when it comes to what might be called imperial governance, it is an empire which, precisely because it doesn't recognize its own existence, consistently underperforms.

This term you use, "liberal empire," seems sort of oxymoronic. Can you explain the contradiction?

Well, it certainly didn't seem oxymoronic a hundred years ago when there were self-proclaimed liberal imperialists in Britain, liberals who saw the British Empire as a means of spreading liberal values in terms of free markets, the rule of law, and ultimately representative government. There was an important and influential faction within the Liberal Party who saw empire as an instrument for globalizing the British liberal model.

Globalizing Britain?

To these people, globalizing the British model was synonymous with globalizing liberalism. They looked around and said, Well, not many people have our combination of institutions. What we need to do is plant the seed of this system in as many places as we can and make the world suitably Anglicized. It's only a contradiction in terms if you define "liberal" in a rather early-twenty-first-century American way, meaning that you like to hug trees, or you have a fit if somebody fires a gun in anger. My sense of liberal is the classical sense. Liberalism stands for creating the institutions of political, economic, and social freedom. And it's very obvious that in a dozen or more countries in the world, there is absolutely no chance of those institutions developing autonomously. These countries are either so under tyranny, or so completely anarchic, that it's never going to happen.

So far so good.

Foreign intervention is an awfully dicey business, though. I may seem gung-ho about intervening abroad now, but I wasn’t always and I don’t regret it.

Take, for example, Guatemala. It would be a whitewash to say in the early 1980s General Efrain Rios Montt ruled that country with an iron fist. Rios Montt was a bloodthirsty monster. Augusto Pinochet ruled Chile as a Swedish social democrat by comparison.

Last year Randy Paul published a graph of the number of killings per year during the Guatemalan civil war, and the death toll spiked exponentially when Rios Montt was in power.

It wasn’t an accident, nor was it the fault of the guerillas. Rios Montt waged a “scorched earth” campaign in the countryside to utterly annihilate places where he thought guerillas were hiding. (And that's to say nothing of the rampaging White Hand and ESA death squads.) If that man were in charge of the American campaign in Iraq he would have carpet bombed or even nuked Fallujah.

He still casts his shadow over Guatemala. I was there last November when he was running for president. His own political party held power. His face was plastered on billboards all over the countryside. Violent mobs of his supporters had recently convulsed Guatemala City. White hands in the clenched fascist fist were painted on cliff faces. Thank heaven he lost.

Ronald Reagan supported this creep in the early 1980s and called him a "a man of great personal integrity" who got “a bum rap on human rights."

This is not a snapshot of the American empire at its most liberal or finest.

Now let’s get back to Mr. Ferguson.

One of your arguments is that for an empire to be successful, it has to pay dividends to both ruler and ruled. What dividends were paid to countries like Nicaragua under Somoza, or Guatemala under the generals, or Iran under the Shah, or other countries that could be considered colonies of the American Empire?

I think the truth of the matter is, not much. One of the problems with America's Central American adventures, along with its Caribbean adventures, was precisely that they failed to establish very obvious collaborative frameworks, other than with military elites. Those frameworks that they did establish quickly morphed into dictatorships when the Americans held a traditional election and went home. And I think that does help explain the very, very dismal showing of America's Central American policy. The irony that the country that has performed best in the region is the one where the Americans never went—Costa Rica—speaks for itself. I mean, the Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary turned out to be a recipe for chronic instability in Central America. You have to feel that the British would have done it better. But the United states from a very early stage staked out a monopoly position south of the Rio Grande—with wholeheartedly dismal results, I'm afraid. I think that reflects the fact that the model of empire that the United States has followed has been defective. It was almost as defective in the days of Theodore Roosevelt as it is today.

So what if the goal, then, is first and foremost to just get rid of the governments that are unfriendly, and there's not much thought given to what happens after that?

Well, I think that became the model when the Cold War set in. Indeed, it had been the model even before the Cold War, in the days of Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt—the "Our Son of a Bitch" model. And when you look at what happened in countries from Chile to Iran, I think it's obvious that the cost of that approach probably outweighed the benefits. The legitimacy of American foreign policy suffered serious long-term damage because support was given rather uncritically to some pretty lousy regimes. Indirect rule through petty dictators has the defect that you really have a problem controlling the bastards that you are notionally sponsoring.

Mr. Ferguson gets it. Because he’s in favor of a liberal American “empire” and because he understands what went wrong in Latin America, I just ordered his book Colossus from Amazon. He may be one of the very few people who can write at length about our “imperialism” past, present, and future without making me cringe.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:48 PM

June 5, 2004

The Death of Ronald Reagan (Updated)

Ronald Reagan is dead.

I am not a member of his fan club.

I've said plenty of things about him that I don't regret, but I would choose not to say them in front of his family or in public on the day that he died.

I did not and do not hate him, though. Hatred is such an utterly wasted emotion, especially in politics.

There are things to admire about the man no matter what your political leanings. He gave real hope to millions of suffering people when he spoke these words at Brandenberg Gate in West Berlin.

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
I've felt sorry for Reagan for years. He was one of the two most powerful men in the world, and during his final years he couldn’t remember what he had done. To be so successful in life and then to have the entire experience cruelly erased is just another form of dying.

I don't want the man's picture on my money or his head on Mt. Rushmore. But he did some good in this world and for that I thank him.

Kindest regards and best wishes for his family.


UPDATE: Matt Welch:

And so it was that when the old fella said "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" I laughed at his blustery naivete, as I did whenever he uttered the phrase "Evil Empire." Needless to say, I was wrong about that, and he was right, and I'm still ashamed about it.
Yes, I can say the same and I should have. He was right and I was wrong. Thing is, I knew he was right when he said it. Of course I knew the Soviet Union was an evil thing. I never went through a communist or socialist phase, I was just afraid he was egging them on. What I didn't understand, because I was just a kid, was that most people who lived in the Soviet Union agreed with him. I'm sure I'm wrong about some things now and I'll be wrong again in the future. But I'm not making that mistake again.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:05 PM

June 3, 2004

Columnist Fisks Self

Check it out. Jim Washburn literally fisks himself in his own Orange County Weekly article.

I am about to offend some of you by using the N word. I know it is a word so laden with emotion and historical horror that it should not be used lightly. But sometimes no other word gets the point across.

Nazi.

That’s right, I’m adding my voice to the other hysterical-seeming Americans who are likening the current White House administration to Germany’s grim men in gray.

[...]

Bush would have to go a ways to even begin approximating the horrors of Saddam Hussein, let alone Hitler.

Just in case the self-fisking isn't totally obvious, let's just turn it around and see what happens.
I am about to offend some of you by using the C word. I know it is a word so laden with emotion and historical horror that it should not be used lightly. But sometimes no other word gets the point across.

Communist.

That’s right, I’m adding my voice to the other hysterical-seeming Americans who are likening the Clinton administration to Russia's grim men in red.

[...]

Clinton would have to go a ways to even begin approximating the horrors of Fidel Castro, let alone Stalin.

(Hat tip: Instapundit)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:05 PM

Tenet "Quits"

So George Tenet was fired.

WASHINGTON - CIA Director George Tenet, buffeted by controversies over intelligence lapses about suspected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has resigned. President Bush said Thursday that Tenet was leaving for personal reasons and "I will miss him."

Okay, so I don't know if he was actually fired. They always just "quit" for "personal reasons."

Maybe Tenet really did quit for personal reasons. Of course that's possible. Maybe he's just rich and old and wants to hang out at the house and in the Bahamas. Who could blame him?

Here's some free advice, though, for the Bush Administration and every other adminstration that follows: When you fire someone who's embattled in controversy, just say that you fired him. It might not be nice, but it will earn you some points as well as protect the reputations of people who really do quit for personal reasons.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:53 PM

My Other Roommates

Okay, I've finally given in after a year and a half. It's pet blogging time. (With apologies to dog people.)

Miloblueroom.jpg

Here is our cat Milo. He doesn't have a job, so all he really does is lay around and complain. Good thing for him that he's cute.


Backyardpond.jpg

And here in the pond behind the house is where our four little fishes live, two koi and two goldfish. They don’t care too much for our two cats.

This yard, by the way, was only a sad-looking patch of grass when we bought the house. Since then my wife turned it into her largest-ever art project.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:55 PM

Interview with Roger L. Simon

Roger L. Simon is one of my favorite bloggers. One reason is because he's a friend, and another is because he probably agrees with me more than anyone else. So okay, I'm biased. But there you have it.

He says he's the only American writer he knows of to be written about favorably by both Mother Jones and National Review. Could very well be. Here's his profile and interview on NR. Everyone who reads my blog ought to be reading his. He's like a more famous older brother.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:54 AM

June 2, 2004

Tilting at Science

Michael Crowly writes in The New Republic about how America is rapidly falling behind the curve in a key sector of biotechnology.

Last month, The Boston Globe published a science article, datelined from far away Brno, Czech Republic, that carried political implications for the Bush administration much closer to home. Surveying research laboratories around the world--including one in tiny Brno--the Globe found that embryonic stem cell research has blazed ahead in foreign countries since George W. Bush cut off federal funding for such efforts in the U.S nearly three years ago. According to the Globe, foreign scientists have developed nearly 100 new embryonic stem cell lines since Bush announced his policy in August 2001. That confirms one warning Bush's critics issued at the time: that embryonic stem cell research would continue rapidly with or without U.S. sanction, and that Bush's policy would make America--which has already been losing its scientific hegemony in other areas--a bystander in a vanguard field.
America most likely will benefit from the “wicked” stem cell research in the Czech Republic. In the era of globalization, there will be no keeping out biotech products unless religious conservatives somehow manage to pull a European-style freakout and ban them outright.

Virginia Postrel wrote about this phenomenon in The Future and Its Enemies. She divided people into two groups – dynamists and stasists. Dynamists are classically liberal, open, and tolerant. Most important, they aren’t control freaks. They let others do as they will, permitting creativity and innovation to flourish. Dynamic societies are vastly more successful than closed static societies. (You could say, although she did not because her book is too old, that the Terror War is an epic confrontation between dynamism and stasism.)

There are two kinds of stasists: technocrats and reactionaries. Communists are the ultimate technocrats. They are progressive rather than reactionary, but they insist on managing every last aspect of progress in the most controlling way possible. The Taliban were their evil opposite twins, resisting any and every sort of progress whatsoever.

This isn’t a partisan thing. There are right-wing technocrats, too. You could say Chile’s Augusto Pinochet was one of those. Left-wing reactionaries aren’t too hard to find. Look no further than Europe’s hysterical fear of genetically-modified food.

As far as the religious conservative objection to funding stem cell research, there might be a moral justification for it, but that doesn’t make it any less reactionary. The United States is arguably the most dynamic society on earth. Banning or restricting research and development of anything that isn’t unquestionably harmful goes against the American grain. We became great by unleashing freedom and creativity, not by restricting it, and not by sponging off the labor of more dynamic foreigners.

American conservatives can tilt at the supposed immorality of stem cell research if they really feel like they must, but it won’t change much from any perspective they care about. They can’t stop it, not really. It only means the Czechs or someone else will lead the way and export the results of their labor to us. America will benefit from the research and the products one way or another, at least in a strictly consumerist sense, but the Czechs will benefit more if we hand them that industry. The Bush Administration's position amounts to little more than moralistic posturing and should be rescinded at once.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:31 PM

June 1, 2004

A Glass Half Full

Tonight (Tuesday) is one of those evenings where I don't have time to write much, but I would like to highlight this from Andrew Sullivan.

If someone had said in February 2003, that by June 2004, Saddam Hussein would have been removed from power and captured; that a diverse new government, including Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, would be installed; that elections would be scheduled for January 2005; and that the liberation of a devastated country of 25 million in which everyone owns an AK-47 had been accomplished with an army of around 140,000 with a total casualty rate (including accidents and friendly fire) of around 800; that no oil fields had been set aflame; no WMDs had been used; no mass refugee crises had emerged; and no civil war had broken out... well, I think you would come to the conclusion that the war had been an extraordinary success.
I don't want to pretend there aren't any problems. There were always going to be problems in Iraq no matter what we did, whether we invaded or not, whether we invaded and occupied differently or not. But the fact that there are problems (which, again, was inevitable) doesn't mean the project flopped. Imperfection isn't evidence of failure, and it never has been.

Iraq is a better place this year than it was last year. If Iraq is better off next year than it is right now, it will be nice if the media notice. Anyway, if they won't I will.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:12 PM

Matching Donations

One of my readers who goes by the handle spc67 offered to match donations (up to a maximum of 1,000 dollars) from others on this site who donate to the Spirit of America to help the people of Iraq. (See the next post down.) C.O.O. Marc Danziger says he'll let me know how much money this site raises. So pitch in. Your contribution will be doubled.

I just donated 50 dollars. If anyone donates 100 dollars, let me know and I'll pitch in another 50.


UPDATE: I'm not sure if the logistics for keeping track of this are in place yet. So if you donate, at least for now, please note the amount in the comments. Thanks all.

SECOND UPDATE: This site has already raised 3,000 dollars. See the comments. Wow. THANK YOU.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:05 PM

Spirit of America

Winds of Change blogger Armed Liberal finally came out of psuedoanonymity - his real name is Marc Danziger - because he’s the new C.O.O. of Sprit of America.

I’m teaming up with Marc, Jeff Jarvis, Roger L. Simon, and some others in a drive to give Spirit of America a boost.

Jim Hake, who started SofA, has already raised one and a half million dollars to help Iraqis out. Help give him (and them) another cool million and a half. Some people died to put Saddam Hussein in that cage and clear the way for projects like this one. I think you can spare 20 bucks.

For those of us who pushed for an invasion of Iraq to help transform the Middle East, it’s time to put our money where our mouths have been.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:22 PM