August 30, 2004

Blogging While Driving

Check it out, I'm blogging while driving.


Okay, I'm not actually driving. Sean is driving and I'm the passenger. But I took this picture with my digital camera, "developed" it by uploading it onto my laptop, and published it here with my cell phone modem, all without getting out the car or even slowing down.

We're in Colorado heading toward Utah. Stay tuned for a lengthier post including pictures, commentary, and even - yes - opinion.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:02 PM

August 27, 2004

In Chicago

Sean and I are in Chicago. We will be at the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor of the John Hancock building (875 N. Michigan Avenue) at 10:00 tonight. If you live in Chicagoland, come on down - er, up - if you're in the mood for some conversation and the consumption of adult beverages.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:59 AM

August 25, 2004

From Idaho to Minnesota

Don’t try driving through Yellowstone National Park on the way to somewhere else, not even on a Tuesday. It can’t be done. I don’t even want to think about how many hours that “little” detour took me and Sean yesterday. The idea was to take a quick spin through the park on our way to Rapid City, South Dakota from Idaho Falls. But by 5:00 in the evening we were only 200 miles from where we started at 7:00 that morning. It was two hours before dark and we had 500 miles to go.

Our schedule was utterly shot. There was no hope of getting anywhere near South Dakota, let alone to Rapid City and the Badlands, before dark. So we just decided to heck with the plan. We would drive until we got tired and see how far we could get. We made it all the way to Minneapolis. (Not before dark, though.)

I don’t remember South Dakota. We blew through it on autopilot and cruise-control. Granted, it was dark for much of the way, but still. South Dakota, like Nebraska, is an enormous chore state. It seems to go on forever and ever and ever and there is almost no visual evidence of progress. How could Sean and I be so mentally zonked that we could forget that experience? We made that trip today. I still shudder at the memory of driving on I-80 across Nebraska ten years ago.

Anyway, I have some photo evidence of Eastern Idaho and Wyoming for you. I did snap one picture of South Dakota in an apparently brief moment of lucidity and awareness.

We're in Minneapolis now. Tomorrow we have to leave, but I don’t want to.


Morning mist rises out of a valley in Eastern Idaho.


The most beautiful place in Idaho – Swan Valley.


The Grand Tetons form the western wall of breathtaking Jackson Hole, Wyoming.


Wyoming is almost totally empty of people. There is no urban sprawl here.


You can’t speed through Wyoming the way you can South Dakota.


We paid money to get into Yellowstone, but the free scenery was best.


The sky in South Dakota is bigger and more open than here in Northern Wyoming, but this scenery frames it better.


The Missouri River winds through South Dakota.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:56 PM

August 23, 2004

Postcards from the Road

Today my friend Sean and I drove 750 miles from Portland to middle-of-nowhere Idaho just shy of the border near Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Here's what we saw.


Mt. Hood looms above Trillium Lake.


The forest around Trillium Lake.


After crossing the Cascade Mountains we entered Oregon's Outback. Most people don't know it, but half of Oregon really is desert. This photo was taken in the middle of the state just after the forest vanished.


Malheur County, Oregon, the most remote and least densely populated place in the lower 48 states. Outback, indeed.


Somewhere in Southern Idaho.


Somewhere else in Southern Idaho, near Pocatello, as the last rays of sunlight splashed on the mountains.

Tomorrow, eastward!

Will I post more photos? Or will I have enough time for the regularly-scheduled opinionated blather? Stay tuned to find out.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:20 PM

August 22, 2004

Swift Boat Psychodrama

I haven't written about the Swift Boat Veterans controversy for a number of reasons. One, I hate the Vietnam War. Two, that war ended when I was three years old and we are in a different historical era twice removed. Three, I can't stand mudslinging politics on this level. Four, I don't have the patience to sift through the Andes of accumulated hack pieces to figure out who is and who isn't a liar. Five, although undecided voters make up the target audience, participating in the game is for partisans.

I also have a reason number Six. I am neither a veteran, nor a Baby Boomer. I don’t feel the need to argue about the 1960s until I’m “eating” through a feeding tube in a nursing home. I have no right to harrumph that George W. Bush, like me, never saw combat. Nor is it my place to say John Kerry’s wounds weren’t bloody enough, as Bob Dole said today. (Bob? Was that really necessary?)

For one reason after another, this is just not my fight. But it’s everywhere now, and it gets harder and harder for me to stay away from it.

Andrew Ferguson in The Weekly Standard has written what I think is the very best piece on this subject. He psychoanalyzes the partisans on both sides of the controversy. The Democrats (according to Feguson) are trying to convince themselves they aren't wimps. And the Republicans are trying to talk themselves into voting against a war hero in favor of a war dodger instead.

I don't need to convince myself I'm not a wimp. Nor do I care a rat's ass that George W. Bush (or Bill Clinton or anyone else) doesn't have a war record. So I guess I'm the right gut to approve of Ferguson's theory. I suggest you read it, especially if maybe - just maybe - you think a reality check might do you some good.

(Also, please read the whole thing before sounding off in the comments. Thanks!)

(Hat tip: SoCalJustice)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:54 PM

Linking Johann

It has been too long since I've linked to anything by Johann Hari, one of the best journalists around. So today I am linking him twice.

I haven't been paying a lot of attention to Iraq's Ayatollah Sistani, but he has and what he reports is pretty encouraging.

Before the war, some of us argued that, in a Saddam-free Iraq, democratic strains of Islamic thought would begin to emerge. We were right - but the violence has been so terrible that nobody noticed. Reuel Marc Gerecht, an expert in Shia political thought, says that Sistani's philosophical arguments for democracy are "almost unprecedented in their scope. He speaks the language of inalienable rights: one man, one vote, and a constitution written by elected representatives and approved by popular referendum. Sistani has managed to launch a project that Muslim progressives have only ever dreamed of: establishing a democratic political order sanctioned and even protected by the clergy." Here are the slow, tentative roots of the Islamic Reformation so badly needed in the Middle East.
Read the rest. There’s plenty more where that came from.

The arguments between the left and the right don't interest me as much as the arguments within the left and within the right. Especially since the latest across-the-aisle mudslinging-fest is about Vietnam - not my fight. (Is it really too much to ask to have a presidential campaign about the current war in the current century? I guess with these two idiot candidates the answer is yes.) Even if Vietnam were my fight, there's nothing quite like grabbing a bowl of popcorn and watching the neoconservatives flail the paleocons.

Likewise, I prefer to read about a face-off between a brilliant leftist like Johann Hari and a nutcase leftist like the former terrorist Antonio Negri, co-author of "Empire," the new Communist Manifesto.

In the late 1980s, the Italian President Francesco Cossiga described Antonio Negri as "a psychopath" who "poisoned the minds of an entire generation of Italy's youth". Negri has been accused of murdering Italy's former Prime Minister, Aldo Moro, and of being il grande vecchio - the grand old man - behind the Red Brigades, one of the most notorious terror groups to attack post-war Europe until al-Qa'ida. In prison he co-wrote an anti-globalisation bible, Empire. Now he's out, and he's heading to London. I am waiting patiently at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, in the shadow of Buckingham Palace, to have my mind poisoned.
Don’t just read the teaser, read the whole thing.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:13 AM

August 20, 2004

Howard Dean: Arrogant Cowboy?

I took serious issue with Howard Dean's stance on the Iraq war, as anyone who has read this blog knows. Nevertheless, I have a lot more respect for him than I have for John Kerry. The man is not, as the JibJab cartoon says about Kerry, a "liberal weiner." He just thought the Iraq war was dumb. And he said a lot of dumb things about it.

He never did strike me as the kind of guy to back down from a fight. He can be both scrappy and ruthless, necessary traits in the confrontation with Islamofascism.

Did you know he is a columnist at Cagle Cartoons? Yes, he really is. (Hat tip: Armed Liberal.)

In his latest piece he pours a bit of ice-cold realism on the idea that John Kerry (or anyone else) will have an easy time knitting the trans-Atlantic alliance back together again.

Europeans cannot criticize the United States for waging war in Iraq if they are unwilling to exhibit the moral fiber to stop genocide by acting collectively and with decisiveness. President Bush was wrong to go into Iraq unilaterally when Iraq posed no danger to the United States, but we were right to demand accountability from Saddam. We are also right to demand accountability in Sudan. Every day that goes by without meaningful sanctions and even military intervention in Sudan by African, European and if necessary U.N. forces is a day where hundreds of innocent civilians die and thousands are displaced from their land. Every day that goes by without action to stop the Sudan genocide is a day that the anti-Iraq war position so widely held in the rest of the world appears to be based less on principle and more on politics. And every day that goes by is a day in which George Bush's contempt for the international community, which I have denounced every day for two years, becomes more difficult to criticize.
Bush can still be criticized, of course. But that criticism is meaningless if the behavior of European leaders isn't taken into account. The trans-Atlantic alliance is cracking up. Some of it is Bush's fault, some of it is the fault of European leaders, and some of it isn't anybody's fault.

Before the onset of the Cold War there was no such thing as any trans-Atlantic alliance. Western Europeans allied themselves with the U.S. through NATO specifically to counter the threat from the post-war Soviet Union. The NATO slogan at the time was "America in, Russia out, and Germany down." When West Germany mellowed out and the Soviet threat evaporated, the raison d'etre of the alliance no longer existed.

Europeans today tend to feel less threatened than they have in a very long time. That's because they are less threatened. There is no totalitarian army interested in, let alone capable of, launching a ground invasion.

We Americans, on the other hand, tend to feel more threatened than we have in a very long time. The oceans did not protect us from Al Qaeda as they once protected us from Hitler and Soviet ground forces.

So the fact that today Americans and Europeans tend to have different ideas about the use of military force isn't surprising or anyone's fault. It is a natural shift based on changed historical circumstances.

It's nice to see that Howard Dean, for one, is aware that something bigger is going on here than merely George Bush's arrogant cowboy style. John Kerry, or whoever else replaces the current president, will have to deal with it. I wouldn't expect an end to American "unilateralism" just because Bush goes back to Crawford. It started, after all, when Bill Clinton stomped Slobo in Belgrade without consulting the UN at all.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:35 PM

August 19, 2004

That Wacky Ken Layne

This is hilarious, especially if you have a Web site of any kind.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:22 PM

Comrade Chavez "Owns" Venezuela

Comrade Hugo Chavez and his gun-toting goons think if they win an election it's okay to murder the opposition. Those comparing him to Chile's Salvador Allende, stop. The number of people killed by Allende's government reached a grand total of zero. (Not that such a statistic absolves Allende from any other criticism, but this difference is a rather critical one.)

When Comrade Chavez says he is running Venezuela on the Cuban model and not the Chilean, he's serious.

Here is Thor L. Halvorssen in the WSJ's Opinion Journal today.

CARACAS, Venezuela--On Monday afternoon, dozens of people assembled in the Altamira Plaza, a public square in a residential neighborhood here that has come to symbolize nonviolent dissent in Venezuela. The crowd was there to question the accuracy of the results that announced a triumph for President Hugo Chávez in Sunday's recall referendum.

Within one hour of the gathering, just over 100 of Lt. Col. Chávez's supporters, many of them brandishing his trademark army parachutist beret, began moving down the main avenue towards the crowd in the square. Encouraged by their leader's victory, this bully-boy group had been marching through opposition neighborhoods all day. They were led by men on motorcycles with two-way radios. From afar they began to taunt the crowd in the square, chanting, "We own this country now," and ordering the people in the opposition crowd to return to their homes. All of this was transmitted live by the local news station. The Chávez group threw bottles and rocks at the crowd. Moments later a young woman in the square screamed for the crowd to get down as three of the men with walkie-talkies, wearing red T-shirts with the insignia of the government-funded "Bolivarian Circle," revealed their firearms. They began shooting indiscriminately into the multitude.

A 61-year-old grandmother was shot in the back as she ran for cover. The bullet ripped through her aorta, kidney and stomach. She later bled to death in the emergency room. An opposition congressman was shot in the shoulder and remains in critical care. Eight others suffered severe gunshot wounds. Hilda Mendoza Denham, a British subject visiting Caracas for her mother's 80th birthday, was shot at close range with hollow-point bullets from a high-caliber pistol. She now lies sedated in a hospital bed after a long and complicated operation. She is my mother.

In a jarringly similar attack that took place three years ago, the killers were caught on tape and identified as government officials and employees. They were briefly detained--only to be released and later praised by Col. Chávez in his weekly radio show. Their identities are no secret and they walk the streets as free men, despite having shot unarmed civilian demonstrators in cold blood.

There's plenty more where that came from. Follow the link. I don't have much more to say about this because I've been saying it for the past week.

(Hat tip: Fellow Portland blogger Mellow-Drama.)

UPDATE: Another fellow Portland blogger Sean LaFreniere found some evidence of vote fraud in Venezuela, and the International Herald Tribune found plenty more, too. Please read and follow the links before saying "Jimmy Carter said everything was fine" and thinking that should be the end of the story.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:05 AM

August 18, 2004

Sadr Quits Najaf (Updated)

Moqtada al-Sadr has quit his Iraq insurgency (for the second time):

Aug. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Iraqi Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al- Sadr agreed that his militia should lay down their arms and quit Najaf's Imam Ali Mosque, acceding to demands from an Iraqi delegation to end an uprising in the city, Reuters reported.

A letter from the cleric's office was read out to delegates at the government-backed Iraqi National Conference in Baghdad, saying that al-Sadr had agreed to their demands to join the country's political process, Reuters said. A spokesman for al- Sadr, Sheikh Mahmoud al-Sudani confirmed the accord to Reuters.

This could be interpreted as a victory for both sides.

The U.S. and Iraqi governments were able to coax some kind of surrender out of him without having to storm the Imam Ali Mosque.

And Al-Sadr is alive, out of prison, and has a political career ahead of him if he wants it. (He should not expect a life-long career as an insurgent leader unless he expects a short life.)

Something about all this seems strangely familiar. Oh yeah. That's right. On June 16 of this year I wrote the following:

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 guess that still stands.

I have an idea. Let's not make me post that again.

UPDATE: Okay, so that was a brief little "peace." He's fighting again. He cannot be reasoned with, bargained with, or trusted. Kill the bastard, and do it right now.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:55 PM

Life Imitates Spoof

For the three of you who don’t know this already, The Onion is a satirical newspaper. It is not “the paper.” The stories they publish are, you know, made up and stuff.

Sometimes they run bogus pieces that could just as easily be real. Area Man Confounded by Buffet Procedure, for example.

Same goes for this one from the last issue.

WICHITA, KS—Delivering the central speech of his 10-day "Solution For America" bus campaign tour Monday, Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry outlined his one-point plan for a better America: the removal of George W. Bush from the White House.

"If I am elected in November, no inner-city child will have to live in an America where George Bush is president," Kerry said, addressing a packed Maize High School auditorium. "No senior citizen will lie awake at night, worrying about whether George Bush is still the chief executive of this country. And no American—regardless of gender, regardless of class, regardless of race—will be represented by George Bush in the world community."


"This country has embraced a new and dangerously ineffective disregard for the world," Kerry said. "In order to win the global war against terror, we must promote democracy, freedom, and opportunity around the world. My national-defense policy will be guided by one imperative: Don't be George Bush. As will my plans to create a strong economy, protect civil rights, develop a better healthcare system, and improve homeland security."

Heck, run it in Newsweek.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:45 PM

August 17, 2004

Hatred, Real and Imagined

Gary Farber and Bjorn Staerk are rightly concerned about anti-Muslim hate in the blogosphere.

This problem is overstated by fools. (And I don't mean Gary and Bjorn.) I have been accused of hating Muslims and/or Arabs solely because I am anti-terrorist and anti-fascist. Pardon me for thinking that is almost explicitly racist right there. When did every Muslim or Arab become a terrorist, anyway? Not while I was looking. Only a bigot or an intellectual and moral idiot would equate terrorism and Muslims to such an extent that being anti-terrorist is the same as being anti-Muslim.

But now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, the other kind of bigotry, the hoary old-fashioned and straightforward kind, is alive, well, and kicking. It hasn’t received the attention it deserves. I’ve had to ban two people from posting in my comments section for racist remarks against Arabs - although I should note that I’ve had to ban more than twice that number for being explicitly anti-Semitic, and I had to boot one person from Germany who bragged about his Nazii grandfather and said both Muslims and Jews are “parasites” and the Children of Satan. I will never allow my own personal Web site to be used as a soap box for hatemongers, even though trolls like to say I “ban people just for disagreeing with me.” This an anti-hate site and will remain so. Thanks for understanding.

I don’t personally have a lot more to add on this subject because I steer clear of this stuff unless it comes my way uninvited. There's some real ugliness out there, though, and it's high time we hawks called out the bigots in the "ranks." (That is not to say such jerks are on any "side" of mine. I refuse to accept them as comrades for or against anything.) Gary Farber and Bjorn Staerk waded into the swamp and get down to brass tacks. They deserve your attention.

Also, please see Marc Cooper for the flip side of the story where PC goons try to prevent any criticism of Islam with their “intellectual blackmail” tactics.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:40 PM

August 16, 2004

Nader Backs Palestinian State. Big Deal.

Marcus over at Harry's Place posted this excerpt from Nicholas Wapshot in the Times of London:

While it is hard to distinguish much difference in their attitude towards Israel and Islam of either the President, who is strongly pro-Israel, or John Kerry, whose grandfather was Jewish, there is a ready alternative for Muslims in the third-party candidate Ralph Nader. Although not a Muslim, Mr Nader, who is of Lebanese-Christian descent, has backed three policies that Arab-Americans prefer: withdrawal from Iraq, the repeal of the Patriot Act and the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Is it really necessary for me to remind everybody that John Kerry and George W. Bush also support the establishment of a Palestinian state? Or is the American policy of promoting Palestinian democracy and opposing Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the dictatorship of Yasser Arafat really that distorted in Europe?

UPDATE: Whoa. Thanks to SoCalJustice in the comments section we find this Washington Post editorial from two days ago:

"The days when the chief Israeli puppeteer comes to the United States and meets with the puppet in the White House and then proceeds to Capitol Hill, where he meets with hundreds of other puppets, should be replaced."

"Bush also repeated the catch-phrase . . . 'committed to the security of Israel as a Jewish state,' which is repeated almost word-for-word again and again by Israel's sycophants and Capitol Hill puppets."

QUICK QUIZ: Which of the above quotations is lifted from the Web site of the white supremacist National Alliance and which was uttered this summer by independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader? It's a tough one. After all, both play on the age-old anti-Semitic stereotype of powerful Jews dominating politics and manipulating hapless non-Jewish puppets for their own ends. Yet if Mr. Nader is at all disquieted by the company he is keeping by using such metaphors, he sure isn't showing it. In a letter this week to the Anti-Defamation League, which had complained to him about his rhetoric, he responded with breezy indifference and more rhetoric that only compounds concerns.


This is poisonous stuff. And if Mr. Nader doesn't understand what such words actually mean, the less savory elements of American society certainly know how to read such code. But Mr. Nader, as always, is not backing down: "As for the metaphors -- puppeteer and puppets -- the Romans had a phrase for the obvious -- res ipsa loquitor," which means the thing speaks for itself. Indeed it does.

Quiz answer: The first quotation was Mr. Nader's

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:05 PM

Class Warfare - A Reality Check

The Democratic Party is frequently accused of waging "class warfare" inside the United States for bickering with the GOP about the tax code. Now is a good time to revisit what class warfare actually looks like.

From a blog I just discovered called The Fladen Experience:

A few years ago, I was traveling back from Mexico. In a mixture of Spanish and English, the guy next to me on my flight explained why he was not in Venezuela by telling me stories of how life had deteriorated under Chavez who preached open class warfare.

The worst story concerned a mother and her three year old child. Outside a shopping area, after dark, a robber accosted her. He demanded that she, at gunpoint, surrender her expensive earings. Scared for her life and holding her child closely, she did just that. The robber than gave her a look of scorn as he said "The President is right when he says that you rich people have so many possessions that you do not care if you lose one. Well, I am going to take something from you that you do care about it." With that he put the gun to the three year old's head, and blew his brains out.

UPDATE: Everyone in the comments thinks this is a bad example. Okay, fine. If I'm that outnumbered then it probably is a bad example. Of course I could have mentioned an old co-worker of mine whose entire family was liquidated by Maoists for being landlords, but I was trying to be current and topical...

SECOND UPDATE: Now someone comes in and defends my example. I give up!

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:06 PM

Notes on Hugo Chavez

Several people in the comments can't understand why I've been thrashing on Hugo Chavez. I suggest reading about his rather unimpressive record documented by Human Rights Watch. That's a good place to start.

As far as helping out the poor, the LA Times notes:

Economic and social conditions have deteriorated dramatically. The number of Venezuelans living in extreme poverty doubled between 1999 and 2003, Chavez's first five years as president...
It's also worth noting that the Bush Administration and the oil companies dropped their antagonism to Chavez before the recall vote and tacitly endorsed "stabilty" instead. How inspiring.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:44 AM

Dewey Defeats Truman, Indeed

Well, it looks like I goofed my last post pretty severely. I wanted to write about Hugo Chavez before bed, and this is what I get.

He didn't lose, he won. Damn.

By the way, Britain's Independent was the newspaper that told me he lost. Couldn't they have left their mistake out in the world and just corrected it like I did? Bah.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:40 AM

Defenders of Jackboots

Good riddance, buddy.

The Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, looked to be losing his grip on power last night as exit polls showed him to be trailing the opposition by almost a million votes.

The figures were early indications that, for the first time in the country's history, the President may have his term in office cut short by a referendum.

The mid-morning results showed that the opposition, already boasting an enormous 1,758,000 votes to Chavez's 798,000, is well on its way to reaching the target of 3.76 million votes it needs to oust the authoritarian, left-wing President.

This is what happens when you’re elected by an overwhelming majority and you think that means you can grab as much power as you can fit in your fist and use it to smash people. Guess what, boss. The people hit back. So now you’re out on your ass, and it looks like you’ll have to pull off a successful military coup to get your old job back.

Two days ago I wrote about how for a while there (until the facts came in) I thought Hugo Chavez was the right guy for Venezuela. Sure enough, someone in the comments section had to come along and prove John Derbyshire’s point.

Wherever there is a jackboot stepping on a human face, there will be a well-heeled Western liberal there to assure us that the face enjoys free health care and a high degree of literacy.
It’s embarrassing to watch it, and I’d like to think it’s even more embarrassing to be the one doing it. Sadly, no, apparently that is not the case.

I’m slightly annoyed that I have to quote John Derbyshire here. (I suppose I could quote someone else, but he nailed it best.) The reason I wish someone else said this is because even though Mr. Derbyshire is absolutely correct, he makes the same mistake in a different way. Grant McEntire in the comments wasted no time adding McEntire’s Corollary, also correct:

Whenever there's a right-wing authoritarian jackboot stepping on a human face, there will be a well-heeled American conservative there to assure us that the face enjoys a high level of stability and order and that it's in our national interests.
That pretty much covers the bases. All I have left to say is good riddance to another wannabe jackbooted bastard. I say “wannabe” because Hugo Chavez never had what it takes to join the big leagues, though it never did stop him from trying. That, or Venezuela was just a little more resilient and a little harder to break than he bargained for.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:23 AM

August 15, 2004

Compare and Contrast (Updated)

My seventh grade "social studies" class watched videos of the Holocaust.

Cara Remal and Jeremy Brown went to a children's play at their local school and saw the crimes of Saddam Hussein equated with children throwing snowballs. They were then told (as were the kiddies) to "put your fear and anger into loathing Bush."

UPDATE: Jeremy added a lengthy update to his original post answering a bit of controversy in my comments section. (My commenters get results! Way to go, folks.) So let me just clarify a few things on this end for those of you who choose not to follow the link.

The play was not performed at a school (that was my faulty assumption), but it was explicitly advertised and geared toward children. The snowball-throwing incident in question didn't represent the crimes of Saddam Hussein so much as the September 11 attacks on America (which is even worse) and the threat from Saddam more generally. No one actually said the words "put your fear and anger into loathing Bush." That was Jeremy's thematic paraphrase of something was supposed to be (ahem) subtle. As it turns out, after reading Jeremy's update the play was even more obnoxious than I had first thought.

Why even bring this up in the first place? It puts me in mind of something Marc Cooper wrote recently on his blog.

[T]he one change I know a Kerry administration would bring, a change that I lust for, will be an end to the incessant whining, doom-saying, fear-mongering and general apocalyptic paranoia that has come to permeate "progressive" politics. For that reason alone, I will be up at the crack of down on election day eagerly voting for Mr. A.B.B.
I don't know if I'm willing to go there as he is, but I do understand where he's coming from. A Kerry Administration would not soothe the angst of the radical left; nothing much can. But it would give the mainstream Democrats something besides George W. Bush to worry about for a change. Something like, oh I don't know, terrorism perhaps.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:17 PM

August 13, 2004

Kick Chavez in the Ass. Please.

Tomorrow (Sunday) Venezuelans will vote whether or not to recall their brute-in-chief Hugo Chavez. For a brief period of time (long since lapsed) I thought Chavez might be the right guy for Venezuela. Somebody had to come along and challenge the oligarchy that insults the nation's children first by ripping them off and second by teaching them they live in a rich country even when they live in Dickensian shantytowns.

Boy did I goof that one. Chavez can't even pull a good imitation of his comrade Fidel let alone reform Venezuela in a way that is even remotely defensible. Venezuela is now the closest thing Latin America has to a dictatorship outside Cuba. And this in a country that managed to skate through the Cold War without one.

A lot people got the guy wrong and they know it. Plenty of them live in Venezuela. Here's hoping they can free themselves from the bastard and that he doesn't kill anyone on his way out the door.

See also Marc Cooper, who smacks Chavez and his idiotic apologists hard from the left.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:22 PM

Sadr Cries Uncle?

A shaky truce has been called between the U.S. and al-Sadr's insurgency.

NAJAF, Iraq - Iraqi officials and aides to a radical Shiite cleric negotiated Friday to end fighting that has raged in Najaf for nine days, after American forces suspended an offensive against Muqtada al-Sadr's militia. Al-Sadr's aides said he was wounded by shrapnel, but Iraqi officials said the cleric was involved in the talks.
I have no idea what they're talking about, obviously. None of us do. It's possible that al-Sadr is giving it up because he is afraid and knows he'll be destroyed if he doesn't. (Especially if he really is wounded.) That might not be what's happening. I really don't know. But one thing I do know is that the U.S. military isn't afraid of any defeat. Sadr and his boys aren't that tough. Their only choices were to fight to the death or cry uncle. Looks to me like they chose the latter.

The potential problem here is that Sadr and his gang are calling a hudna, a truce in a moment of weakness, in order to regroup and fight again later. If that's the case this truce has no value from our point of view. A pause in fighting is not an end to fighting, and there's no point deluding ourselves that this is over unless Moqtada al Sadr is negotiating the terms of his surrender.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:41 AM

August 12, 2004

The Game Plan

We've launched a full-blown offensive against Moqtada al-Sadr's milita in Najaf. No doubt many will think we're doomed for no other reason than because this is happening, without regard to what it might look like when it's over.

Stephen Green (aka Vodkapundit) published his first Tech Central Station piece today and it goes rather nicely when the rest of today's headlines.

If you think war has become complicated, peace is messier still.

Nobody ever knows what the peace will look like. At Fort Sumter, who could have predicted the KKK, Jim Crow, or Radical Reconstruction? Who knew in August, 1914 that the European War would result in 20 million deaths, Russian Communism, or Nazi Germany? If you can find me the words of some prophet detailing, in 1940, the UN, the Cold War, or even the complete assimilation of western Germany into Western Europe. . . then I'll print this essay on some very heavy paper, and eat it. With aluminum foil as a garnish.

It simply isn't possible to plan for the peace. "No peace plan survives the last battle" is Green's Corollary to von Moltke's dictum that no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.

So then -- how do we win this Terror War, and what will the peace look like?

I don't agree with everything he says, but I think he's basically right and I suggest you read it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:54 AM

August 11, 2004

New Column

Here's my new Tech Central Station column about my experience with the legendary Arab hospitality, which I'm happy to report is alive, well, and understated: An American in Tunisia.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:50 AM

August 10, 2004

Kill Moqtada Al Sadr - Part Two

As expected, I'm being taken to task in the comments section in my previous post for saying it's time to take out Moqtada al Sadr. For whatever it's worth, at least some people in Iraq are with me on this. Obviously, some Iraqis like al-Sadr and sympathize with this goals, but they are part of the problem. I, for one, don't wish to let them run roughshod over those who want a secular democratic Iraq. If Pat Roberton or some other right-wing nut raised an American militia to overthrow the government and impose a theocracy, I'd want him and them taken out, too, not negotiated with or appeased. Call me crazy.

Here is Omar over at Iraq the Model. This is a long excerpt, but I want to make sure everyone sees this, not just those who choose to follow my links.

It seems that it’s time at last! I hope they get Muqtada this time and also all his deputies. People here are not only disgusted and upset with this gang but also most of them showed extreme anger and some of them went as far as condemning Islam and even the Mahdi himself!! I don’t agree of course with that, as Muqtada has nothing to do with Islam.

A She’at taxi driver told me, “ Why are we doing this!? Why among all religions we commit such horrible crimes?? If this is Islam then s**t on it and on Mahdi himself, we don’t want this! They went as far as attacking peaceful churches and I really don’t understand why! This is not the Islam we were raised to believe in, the Islam of peace and tolerance. I wish I could see this idiot dead.”

One of my colleagues; a She’at who used to sympathize greatly with Islamist whether She’at or Sunni, told me today that he is shocked with what the Mahdi army is doing, “ When he revolted the 1st time and they called him an outlaw we didn’t like it. How can they call a cleric who’s the son of Iraq’s most respectable Ayetullah, an outlaw. Now I cannot and I do not want to defend him. He’s a criminal and so are all his followers. They have killed civilians, policemen, destroyed a gas station in Sadr city, and are threatening to burn down the oil pipelines now! Why and for what!?”

None of the people I met today showed any sympathy with Sadr and all of them showed eagerness to end this situation in a decisive way, not by negotiation but through capturing or killing Sadr and disarming his militia... [Emphasis added.]

I do suggest you click over to his site. Lots of interesting stuff from a guy who actually lives there. He doesn't have much patience for the "soft on fascism" line. He would have to live with the real-world results of that policy.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:21 PM

August 9, 2004

Kill Moqtada al-Sadr

It's long past time to remove the gun from Iraqi politics. The irony is that you have to use guns to do it. If Iraqi liberals (ie, those who wish to replace bullets with ballots) are not willing to kill those who take up arms against them, Iraq will be ruled once again by the ruthless.

Moqtada al-Sadr cranked up his "revolution" and says he wants to fight to his "last drop of blood." Fine, then. Give the man what he wants.

It's one thing to let him throw a gigantic fit and then cut him a deal. It's another thing altogether to let him get away with it twice. Once is excusable. Twice is a pattern. If he gets away with this every crank with a grievance will be encouraged to kill people, too. Hey, if it works it works. Civil society cannot be built if the law of the jungle prevails.

Moqtada al-Sadr is an enemy of the United States and an enemy of the Iraqi government. He and his goons make peace, stability, and democracy impossible. Today's non-violent Iraqis will be a lot more encouraged to pick up guns of their own if al-Sadr and his Mahdi militia run rampant.

I say we go to the infinitely more reasonable Ayatollah Sistani and tell him what time it is. Either Sistani and the other Shi'ite clerics find a way to reign in the insurgency or Moqtada al-Sadr gets toe-tagged.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:37 PM

Loyalty Oaths

This has to be one of the dumbest campaign strategies I’ve ever seen.

RIO RANCHO, N.M. -- A Republican National Committee practice of having people sign a form endorsing President Bush or pledging to vote for him in November before being issued tickets for RNC-sponsored rallies is raising concern among voters.

When Vice President Dick Cheney spoke July 31 to a crowd of 2,000 in Rio Rancho, a city of 45,000 near Albuquerque, several people who showed up at the event complained about being asked to sign endorsement forms in order to receive a ticket to hear Cheney.

''Whose vice president is he?" said 72-year-old retiree John Wade of Albuquerque, who was asked to sign the form when he picked up his tickets. ''I just wanted to hear what my vice president had to say, and they make me sign a loyalty oath."

So, what happens if you lie when you sign the “loyalty oath?” What happens if you change your mind? Since we have secret ballots in this country (at least for those of us who don’t blog) nothing really could happen to you if you pledge to vote Republican and then vote for Ralph Nader (or whoever else) instead. But still. The RNC can’t possibly win voters this way, and they could easily lose several. I guess they don’t want anyone booing the speeches. That would look bad on the TV. Or so they think. This looks a lot worse.

No one who considers voting for Bush is going to watch one of his speeches on the TV, hear some guy booing in the back, and suddenly think: the booer is right! I can’t vote for this guy. But these “loyalty oaths” could easily be a factor. It’s no way to win over this swing voter. I’m not signing a loyalty oath for any political party. Not now. Not ever. Candidates are supposed to woo swing voters, not tell them to take a hike.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:26 AM

Catching Up Here

It’s amazing how quickly a guy can get behind on the news. I spent the weekend up in Seattle visiting some writer friends and being generally unplugged from whatever’s going on in the world. I’m not completely out of it like I was when I got home from North Africa, but there’s this vague sense of hmm that’s enough to keep from me from mouthing off at the moment. Your regularly scheduled programming will resume shortly.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:05 AM

August 5, 2004

Biden V. Kerry

It’s too bad someone like Sen. Joe Biden didn't run in the Democratic primary. (It would have helped even more had he won it, but that's another discussion.)

Peter Beinart, editor of The New Republic, compares and contrasts two foreign policy speeches in Boston, one by Joe Biden and the other by John Kerry.

Biden started by correctly naming America's enemy. Unlike Kerry, who mentioned "terrorists," "antiterrorist operations," and "a global war on terror," Biden never mentioned the "T" word. Instead, he spoke of the "death struggle between freedom and radical fundamentalism." The difference is more than semantic. Terrorism, as commentators have pointed out, is a tactic. Sri Lankan suicide bombers who blow themselves up in the name of Tamil independence are terrorists--but we are not at war with them. If militants in Iraq shoot only at American soldiers and not at civilians, they are not technically terrorists--but they are our enemies nonetheless. Radical Islam is an ideology, and calling it the enemy implies that America is fighting a war not just of national interest, but of ideas. "Radical fundamentalism," Biden said, "will fall to the terrible, swift power of our ideas as well as our swords."

Kerry also lauded American values, saying, "I know the power of our ideals. We need to make America once again a beacon in the world. We need to be looked up to and not just feared." But, because he hadn't defined the enemy by reference to its ideas, his statement about American principles lacked context and force. A beacon is also a very different metaphor than a sword. Biden said the "death struggle between freedom and radical fundamentalism ... breached our shores on September 11." Notice the implication: The war against radical Islam began before September 11--in other corners of the globe. Thus, victory requires the United States to play an active role in conflicts within other societies, particularly Muslim ones. Kerry's statement, by contrast, can be read as a call merely for the United States to live out its ideals at home, secure that the world is watching. Indeed, his speech said nothing about promoting democracy in Iraq or anywhere else.

There are people in the Democratic Party who understand what we're up against here. Hopefully, if John Kerry wins, he will staff them.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:34 PM

35 Questions

Everything you never cared to know about me one way or the other:


Purple. (My wife picked it.)


The Pillars of Hercules by Paul Theroux.


Eric Cartman.


Chess. Otherwise you might as well just play one of those “games” on the back of the Froot Loops box.


The Atlantic Monthly.




Blue. I guess.




Three. I should make it one instead.


My 110-year old house.


Chocolate. Are there other flavors?


Yeah, and I get busted for it every six months.


Hell no.


Cool. Awesome, even. Especially when they’re scary.


Red wine. Merlot or cab. Occasionally a nice Chianti. (Hold the fava beans.)


Just before the leaves turn orange.


Vegetables are boring, but if I have to eat one I guess I’ll take a carrot.


Travel writer.


If I could have any color hair I would just dye it, now wouldn’t I?


I’m married so, yeah, I’d say so.


Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, Blade Runner, and Gattaca




Nothing. Not even air. My bed sits directly on the floor.






Next question…


I have no idea what my favorite CD of all time would be. But if I had to pick what my favorite CD is right now it would have to be something by Nick Cave, Dead Can Dance, or Sixteen Horsepower.


Homicide: Life on the Street.


Definitely not hot dogs except at baseball games and campgrounds.


Chile. The jungles of Central America. The Sahara.




I only like their breakfast sandwiches.


Does Starbucks count as a restaurant?




The kazoo!

All questions stolen from Mike Silverman.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:32 PM

August 4, 2004

Fallujah Strikes Back

Here's some good news from Fallujah of all places.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - In an extraordinary assault, gunmen in the city of Fallujah stormed a kidnappers' lair and forced the overmatched militants inside to flee, freeing four Jordanian truck drivers held captive, local officials said Wednesday.
Notice how the journalist uses the word "militants" to denote the kidnappers. This old and silly game is shown to be the farce it is in the very next paragraph.
They [the Iraqis] called the kidnappers "terrorists" and outsiders.
The word terrorist appears in quotation marks. Now, granted, the word was an actual quote. The punctuation doesn't have a sneer on its face in this particular case. Still, if Iraqi leaders in Fallujah are calling these punks a bunch of terrorists I've got to wonder who the Associated Press is worried about "offending" with this supposedly loaded and controversial noun.

Oh, and just for the record, this hostage rescue wasn't carried out by the army. The anti-terrorists in this particular battle were ordinary Iraqis - basically a posse of pissed-off locals.

Sheik Haj Ibrahim Jassam, a tribal leader, said he received word late Tuesday that the men were being held in a house on the edge of the city. Local leaders gathered together armed residents, who raided the house, freeing the hostages and chasing out the kidnappers, he said.
This is huge. Terrorists are now getting their asses kicked by the locals in the biggest hotbed of violent activity in Iraq. They are not Mao's famous fish who swim in the "sea" of the people. They are hunted by the people.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:48 PM

Welcome to Memphis

How embarassing is this?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Iraqis visiting on a civil rights tour were barred from city hall after the city council chairman said it was too dangerous to let them in.

The seven Iraqi civic and community leaders are in the midst of a three-week American tour, sponsored by the State Department to learn more about the process of government. The trip also includes stops in Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago.


Elisabeth Silverman, the group's host and head of the Memphis Council for International Visitors, said Brown told her he would "evacuate the building and bring in the bomb squads" if the group entered.

If the visiting Iraqis learn anything useful from their Memphis experience they'll use it as an object lesson for what not to do back home. Somehow I don't think that's what the State Department had in mind. My experience with Arab hospitality tells me they didn't need to learn such a lesson in any case.

I sure hope someone official apologized to these people for the idiots in our country who manage to get themselves into positions of power yet still don't know how to behave.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:34 PM

No Blog for You

Looks like the CIA wants to shut down George W. Bush's blog. Or maybe not. The Onion reports, you decide.

Hat tip: Layne.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:47 AM

August 3, 2004

Terror Alerts Part Two

On the other hand, this makes the Bush Administration look truly ridiculous.

Ken Layne:

After getting through the insane security at CitiBank Headquarters -- caused by four-year-old Evidence of Terror Plans released Sunday to scare the bejesus out of you -- you get to say "Hi" to Laura Bush in the lobby! That's neat.

It's neat when schedules work out that way.

Oh, and the Immediate Alert Scary-Ville terror info? Now they're saying it actually refers to an attack planned for Sept. 2. You know, the last day of the Republican Convention in New York, when Bush gives his big speech?

This stinks. Go ahead and say, as Tom Ridge did this morning, "This is not about politics. It's about confidence in government." If you have to deny it's about politics -- while your party is actively campaigning in the locked-down buildings of New York City filled with teevee cameras and photographers and frazzled employees who wonder if today's Terror Day -- then you have done a Poor Job of showing us otherwise.

I'm not about to romp off to moonbat land, but this doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Who is the bright bulb behind this stunt, anyway?

Do I think the Bush Administration made up a bogus terror alert to get a jump start on the convention? No. Keep your Kool Aid. But they sure are trying to score points off it, aren't they? Say hello to Laura Bush in the target building's lobby. Please.

Kerry got no bounce - no bounce - from his own convention. If I were advising either Kerry or Bush I'd tell both of them to be quiet and stay away from the cameras. Quit bugging the bejeezus out of everybody. People aren't voting for in this election, they're voting against.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:02 PM

August 2, 2004

Terror Alerts

I'm tired of terror alerts.

The government has to warn us if they think something's afoot, obviously. The very fact that a warning is given at all may deter an attack in the works, especially in cases like the one over the weekend where specific buildings in Washington, New York, and New Jersey were singled out. Any Al Qaeda nut with a blueprint and a bomb is likely to hold off if a red flag is raised.

Still, every time a "false" alert goes out I'm slightly less interested in the next one. That's just the nature of these things, and there's not a lot the federal government can do to change that dynamic.

It would help, though, if alerts weren't raised based on information that precedes the attacks on September 11.

Much of the information that led the authorities to raise the terror alert at several large financial institutions in the New York City and Washington areas was three or four years old, intelligence and law enforcement officials said on Monday.
Well, doesn't that just make the government look like an ass. Maybe, just maybe, they might have told everyone that in the first place.

Not only does this sort of thing make most of us shrug off the next warning, it encourages the less stable among us - like Howard Dean for instance - to pop off about "politically motivated" terrorist warnings.

If Howard Dean really thinks terrorist warnings are just thrown out there by the Bush Adminstration to keep all of us hiding under the bed and voting Republican, then Al Qaeda must not be much of a threat after all. And if that's true, the Bush Adminstration has done a pretty fine job beating it back, wouldn't you say? I'm sure that's not the point Howard Dean is trying to make, but it is a logical end point of such thinking.

Meanwhile, John Kerry dismissed Dean's ravings the way a picnicker treats a fly buzzing around his barbecued chicken.

"I don't care what he said. I haven't suggested that and I won't suggest that," Kerry said. "I do not hold that opinion. I don't believe that."
If John Kerry manages to pull off this election I'll be interested to see what Dean and his flock will do next. Will they accuse the Kerry Administration of creating a "climate of fear" whenever suspected terrorists are pulled off the streets and when alerts hit the papers?

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:31 PM

A Crime Against Iraqis

Omar at Iraq the Model has an anecdotal report on his country's opinion of the bombing of four Christian churches over the weekend.

I’ve tried to ask as many Iraqis as I could about their feelings and all Iraqis I met showed anger, contempt and bitterness about what happened but noone gave signs of despair. I’ve watched many reactions on the internet and I found that many people considered what happened an aggression against Christians (and that this is what the terrorists want) while we in Iraq see it as a crime against Iraqis and this reaction is the last thing they want.
As much as these terrorists (not militants) try to make this into a religious war, they're having a hard time making the rest of us think about it that way.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:26 AM

August 1, 2004

Thought at the Meridian

Here's a new blog I discovered today: Thought at the Meridian. It's written by a guy named Frederick who describes his blog this way:

Politics and culture from a centre-left perspective. Libertarian. Egalitarian. Antitotalitarian.
There's something there for everyone. Welcome to the blogosphere, Fred.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:28 PM