September 30, 2004

A Draw? (Updated)

As far as the first presidential debate goes, I’m sure most of the blogosphere is on the fisking and fact-checking details right now. The left side will go after George W. and the right side will take on John Kerry. I'll let them handle it.

I had something else in mind.

The most annoying thing about the 2000 debates between Bush and Gore is that both candidates dodged so many questions. They almost acted as if the “moderator” didn't exist except to prompt them to spit out their own pre-rehearsed mini-speeches. So this time I decided to keep score. I wanted to know who answers and who dodges the most questions. I gave 2 points for answering, 1 point for half answering, and I subtracted a point for a dodge.

I hate to say this because I know it isn't exciting but…it was a draw. (You should have tried another angle going into this – ed. Yeah, yeah.) Both of them did pretty well, actually. Each candidate only dodged one question, and each answered most of them completely. I didn't give them points for the quality of their answers. I just didn't want anyone getting away with blowing off the moderator Jim Lehrer as if he didn't exist.

Bush's answers were better than Kerry's, I think. But I also tend to agree with Bush's foreign policy more than Kerry’s.

Still, I thought Kerry did the best he could with what he had to work with. I thought he handled himself very well, about as good as he possibly could have. I scoffed and rolled my eyes a few times, and I'm sure Kerry's supporters did the same thing to Bush. (Actually, I'll bet there was plenty of screaming in people's living rooms tonight.)

Anyway, I have to say that both candidates performed a lot better than I expected - which isn't saying much, but there you go. I can't get excited about either of them, but I find it impossible to hate them.

The questions, though. Come on, Lehrer. Ask something tough once in a while.

Here's what I wanted to hear:

Mr. President, why do you insist Saudi Arabia is an ally in the war on terror when the government spends billions of dollars building mosques and madrassas all over the world in order to export their fanatical Wahhabi ideology?

Senator Kerry, what do you think about Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 911?

Mr. President, why did the commanders in Afghanistan rely on local warlords instead of the United States military in the battle of Tora Bora?

Senator Kerry, what do you think of the fact that only a few days ago the governments of France and Germany announced they will not send troops to Iraq even if you are elected president?

Mr. President, what do you think is the biggest mistake you have made while in office?

Mr. Kerry, why did you dismiss allies like Britain, Australia, and Poland as parts of “trumped-up, so-called coalition of the bribed, the coerced, the bought and the extorted”?

UPDATE: Dean Esmay says in my comments section:
I will say that in all honesty I'm LESS frightened of a Kerry Presidency than I was 24 hours ago. He managed to convince me that he probably won't completely screw up. Although I still find his record troublingly inconsistent, I must grant that the life of a Senator is full of such things.
Yeah, I agree with that. But I've already tried to talk myself into voting for Kerry in my last Tech Central Station article. I can't say I was able to turn myself into a Kerry supporter, but I did manage to convince myself that if he wins it will be okay. If Bush wins we'll be okay, too. Neither of them are any great shakes, but we just didn't have the option of voting for John McCain or Harold Ford or Rudy Giuliani or Barak Obama this time around. One of these guys will hafta do. And one of 'em will.

UPDATE: Joe Katzman says both candidates suck and the world will suffer for it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:52 PM

Pre-Debate Reality Check

Tonight’s presidential “debate” is really just a joint press interview. John Kerry and George W. Bush will never actually debate anything. I expect the whole ordeal will be an hour-and-a-half long cringe-fest beamed into my living room. I imagine I’ll feel worse about this upcoming election than I do right now.

I can’t count myself a fan of either one of these mooks. Neither are particularly intelligent. And they’re both painfully inarticulate in different ways. (I am looking forward to the VP “debate.” John Edwards and Dick Cheney clearly are intelligent and articulate.)

John Kerry’s supporters are going to say he won the debate no matter what. George W. Bush’s supporters will say he won the debate no matter what. (Isn’t that a brilliant prediction?)

If I “declare” one of them a winner it will be whoever gets a boost in the polls. That, I’d say, is the only kind of announcement that makes any sense. If Kerry polls better tomorrow than he has lately, there is no way anyone can convince me that Bush will have outperformed him. The reverse is true, too.

So, calling all partisans: Please spare us the predictable “my guy clearly won” essays and blog posts. You won’t convince anybody no matter how much fun your cheerleading may be. Just something to think about. Now spin away, my commentariat comrades…

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:14 PM

September 29, 2004

The Dark Towers of Paris

I went to Europe for the first time on my honeymoon a little more than two years ago. Shelly and I started our trip in France, went south into Spain, and then north up to Amsterdam. She had been to Europe before. I had not, preferring instead to visit Latin America. (I still prefer Latin America. I fight boredom in Europe. It is too much like home.)

I remember looking out the airplane window at the vast expanse of farms over France. It was like magic. I would finally see the storybook land of city walls and bridges, ancient churches and castles. I wished, not for the first time, that I could live there.

And then I got out of the airplane and into a taxi.

The driver pulled onto the freeway and I saw Paris for the first time. It has a sprawling skyline of gigantic concrete block towers. Peering into the neighborhoods I saw a lot of trash and broken glass and little activity. There were no signs of life. Every vista repulsed me. And it went on like that for miles. It didn't help much that the predominant color was gray and the weather was overcast.

This can't be Paris, I thought. It looks like a Soviet Republic. Where were the church steeples? The amazing French architecture? The restaurant-lined boulevards?

I became physically depressed. Every last drop of excitement and anticipation drained out of me.

I have always hated American suburbs with their strip malls, fast food joints, big box stores, and inland seas of parking. They’re hideous and I’m glad I don’t live there. I always wanted to know: why can’t we build cities the way Europeans build cities?

That drive into Paris taught me what I should have known all along. Europeans don’t build cities like they used to any more than Americans do. Architectural modernism is a worldwide horror. Everyone who had a hand in building the lovely quarters of Paris died a long time ago.

I was shocked – truly shocked – to discover that suburban Paris is many times worse than Suburbia, USA. I had absolutely no idea. No one ever told me. (Now you can’t say no one ever told you.) No one publishes pictures in travel magazines of those god-awful swathes of modernist blight. Hardly anyone ever writes about what most of Paris is actually like.

The charming old city really is something. If you haven’t seen it I can tell you it is every bit as fantastic as most people say. But that part of the city takes up much less than 50 percent of the surface area. It’s an outdoor museum where some people are lucky to live. It took almost two days before I could shake my first impression of Paris and enjoy the old city the way I wanted to.

Needless to say, I spent no time at all in the outskirts. I had barely even a flicker of curiosity about what lay beyond the peripherique. Walking around in those neighborhoods would have been a deeply depressing experience. It was harsh enough just riding through them in a cab for half an hour.

In the current issue of City Journal Theodore Dalrymple describes what it’s actually like to live in some of those neighborhoods. After reading this I’m glad all over again I live here instead of over there.
Reported crime in France has risen from 600,000 annually in 1959 to 4 million today, while the population has grown by less than 20 percent… Where does the increase in crime come from? The geographical answer: from the public housing projects that encircle and increasingly besiege every French city or town of any size, Paris especially. In these housing projects lives an immigrant population numbering several million, from North and West Africa mostly, along with their French-born descendants…

A Habitation de Loyer Modéré — a House at Moderate Rent, or HLM — [is] for the workers, largely immigrant, whom the factories needed during France’s great industrial expansion from the 1950s to the 1970s, when the unemployment rate was 2 percent and cheap labor was much in demand. By the late eighties, however, the demand had evaporated, but the people whose labor had satisfied it had not; and together with their descendants and a constant influx of new hopefuls, they made the provision of cheap housing more necessary than ever…

The average visitor gives not a moment’s thought to these Cités of Darkness as he speeds from the airport to the City of Light. But they are huge and important—and what the visitor would find there, if he bothered to go, would terrify him.

A kind of anti-society has grown up in them—a population that derives the meaning of its life from the hatred it bears for the other, “official,” society in France. This alienation, this gulf of mistrust—greater than any I have encountered anywhere else in the world, including in the black townships of South Africa during the apartheid years—is written on the faces of the young men, most of them permanently unemployed, who hang out in the pocked and potholed open spaces between their logements. When you approach to speak to them, their immobile faces betray not a flicker of recognition of your shared humanity; they make no gesture to smooth social intercourse. If you are not one of them, you are against them.

Their hatred of official France manifests itself in many ways that scar everything around them. Young men risk life and limb to adorn the most inaccessible surfaces of concrete with graffiti—BAISE LA POLICE, fuck the police, being the favorite theme. The iconography of the cités is that of uncompromising hatred and aggression: a burned-out and destroyed community-meeting place in the Les Tarterets project, for example, has a picture of a science-fiction humanoid, his fist clenched as if to spring at the person who looks at him, while to his right is an admiring portrait of a huge slavering pit bull, a dog by temperament and training capable of tearing out a man’s throat—the only breed of dog I saw in the cités, paraded with menacing swagger by their owners.

There are burned-out and eviscerated carcasses of cars everywhere. Fire is now fashionable in the cités: in Les Tarterets, residents had torched and looted every store—with the exceptions of one government-subsidized supermarket and a pharmacy. The underground parking lot, charred and blackened by smoke like a vault in an urban hell, is permanently closed…

When agents of official France come to the cités, the residents attack them…Benevolence inflames the anger of the young men of the cités as much as repression, because their rage is inseparable from their being. Ambulance men who take away a young man injured in an incident routinely find themselves surrounded by the man’s “friends,” and jostled, jeered at, and threatened: behavior that, according to one doctor I met, continues right into the hospital, even as the friends demand that their associate should be treated at once, before others.

But [state entitlements are] not a cause of gratitude — on the contrary: they feel it as an insult or a wound, even as they take it for granted as their due. But like all human beings, they want the respect and approval of others, even — or rather especially — of the people who carelessly toss them the crumbs of Western prosperity… The state, while concerning itself with the details of their housing, their education, their medical care, and the payment of subsidies for them to do nothing, abrogates its responsibility completely in the one area in which the state’s responsibility is absolutely inalienable: law and order.

No one should underestimate the danger that this failure poses, not only for France but also for the world. The inhabitants of the cités are exceptionally well armed. When the professional robbers among them raid a bank or an armored car delivering cash, they do so with bazookas and rocket launchers, and dress in paramilitary uniforms. From time to time, the police discover whole arsenals of Kalashnikovs in the cités. There is a vigorous informal trade between France and post-communist Eastern Europe: workshops in underground garages in the cités change the serial numbers of stolen luxury cars prior to export to the East, in exchange for sophisticated weaponry.
I’m as interested in the architecture of these places as much as the societies inside them. I believe that, on some level at least, the design of a city influences its culture. Some places make the heart soar. Others – like outer Paris – pulverize the human spirit. So I was not at all surprised to read this from the same essay:
Architecturally, the housing projects sprang from the ideas of Le Corbusier, the Swiss totalitarian architect—and still the untouchable hero of architectural education in France—who believed that a house was a machine for living in, that areas of cities should be entirely separated from one another by their function, and that the straight line and the right angle held the key to wisdom, virtue, beauty, and efficiency. The mulish opposition that met his scheme to pull down the whole of the center of Paris and rebuild it according to his “rational” and “advanced” ideas baffled and frustrated him.

The inhuman, unadorned, hard-edged geometry of these vast housing projects in their unearthly plazas brings to mind Le Corbusier’s chilling and tyrannical words: “The despot is not a man. It is the … correct, realistic, exact plan … that will provide your solution once the problem has been posed clearly… . This plan has been drawn up well away from … the cries of the electorate or the laments of society’s victims. It has been drawn up by serene and lucid minds.”

It makes me shudder, in part because I have actually seen the results of this inhuman architectural ideology.

France can worry all it wants about the problems of immigration. And they can start by asking what they themselves have done to contribute to such extreme feelings of alienation among their newest of citizens. I am not trying to blame all the problems on the native French themselves. But I have to wonder how often, if ever, they question the way they treat the non-white non-Western people in their midst. We will let anyone become an American. But can anyone become French?

Even if France is somehow able to resolve its ethnic and social problems, I can’t help but think the people who live totally cut off from the mainstream of society in hideous Stalinesque blocks are going to continue feeling mentally out of sorts. Suffering that landscape for 30 minutes drained me of hope. And I was on my honeymoon. Perhaps I over-reacted because of my own inflated expectations and the fact that I’m a big fan of architecture – the good stuff, anyway. Either way, I’ll never believe again that the people who live in France now are somehow superior in their cultural and aesthetic tastes than we are on this side of the ocean. They constructed themselves a physical Hell, and it doesn’t surprise me a bit that it turned into a social Hell, too.

Hat tip: Sean LaFreniere and Winds of Change.

UPDATE: I'm corrected in the comments. The City Journal article isn't current - it's two years old. Whoops. Sorry. Well, I just now saw it for the first time so it's “current” for me…

UPDATE: Dan G., who has a brand-new blog called Sound and Fury, published an extremely well-written response to this post about New York City's own tyrant of modernist planning - Robert Moses.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:38 PM

Fahrenhype 911

Check out the trailer for the new documentary Fahrenhype 911. It looks good. Somebody needed to make a cinematic counterpoint to Michael Moore's crackhouse propaganda.

I can already see one problem with it, though. It was a mistake to put Ann Coulter in this movie. It isn't smart to trot out one extremist to counter another. No one who isn't already a certain kind of right-winger wants to listen to her. There are plenty of people on the right and the left who are interested in seeing Fahrenheit 911 debunked. Most of my friends are liberals and also are former fans of the man from Flint. Those on the left who want to see it debunked need to hear arguments from people they trust.

Zell Miller makes a few appearances in the trailer. It's nice to seem him talking informally and at ease instead of worked up in a lather.

I'm glad the movie was made. I hope it's a good one. I'd like to see it. But that obligates me to watch Moore's movie first, which I have to say isn't something I feel particularly jazzed about at the moment. I've seen his other movies and even read one of his books. I'm done.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:13 PM

September 28, 2004

Left-wing Fascism Watch (Updated)

I thought about fisking Arundhati Roy's comments in her latest interview at Outlook India. But what's the point? She is self-evidently an unhinged crazy person who managed to turn left-wing pablum into outright fascism. Her books are prominently displayed at the bookstore down the street from my house. Pardon me for finding that creepy.

Here's a taste from her latest. And there's plenty more where this came from.
Personally I’m not prepared to pick up arms now. But maybe I can afford not to, at whatever place I am in now. I think violence really marginalizes and brutalizes women. It depoliticizes things. It’s undemocratic in so many ways. But at the same time, when you look at the massive amount of violence that America is perpetrating in Iraq, I don’t know that I’m in a position to tell Iraqis that you must fight a pristine, feminist, democratic, secular, non-violent war. I can’t say. I just feel that that resistance in Iraq is our battle too and we have to support it. And we can’t be looking for pristine struggles in which to invest our purity.
The fact that she wishes the likes of Al Qaeda's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is even remotely capable in any alternate universe of fighting a “pristine, feminist, democratic, secular” war is mind-boggling enough. What's even more astonishing is that a person who supposedly believes in the values of feminism, secularism, and democracy can get a warm fuzzy feeling by cheerleading Islamofascists who would cut off her own infidel head and dump her body into a ditch. And hasn't she ever bothered to notice that the Iraqis who are democratic, secular, and feminist are pro-American?

Ugh. Fisking her point by point is a waste of my time. Her books sell well in my neighborhood, though, so I can't let this pass without some kind of comment.

Hat tip: Marc Cooper.

UPDATE: On reflection this reminds of me an essay Nelson Ascher wrote a few weeks ago about people like Roy. It really stuck with me. Read the whole thing, but here's the pertinent part:
They think they have outgrown and discarded religion. They don’t think of themselves as religious, but rather as post-religious people. But they are not. And I’m not talking here about their attachment to what are sometimes called “secular religions” (communism, Nazism etc.). What I’m saying is that they, though unaware of this, are still, in a certain way, conventionally religious. Actually, they’ve discarded only half of religion, its theology, but kept more or less intact the other half, its demonology. The demonology of the secular Left and that of radical Islam, despite many terminological differences, coincide, if just for the time being. The leftists do not believe in God, but they doubtlessly believe in the Devil or Devils and their Devils happen to be Khomeini’s Satans, both the big and the little one.

What makes the secular western Left so naïve is the fact that its members truly believe that a common demonology is more than enough to cement a long term alliance. It is not. To be wholly accepted by the fundamentalist (and, likely, the other) Muslims, you have to share both their demonology and their theology. If you don’t accept the latter, you’ll eventually become part of the first. Or, to translate it into more political terms, while the leftists have allied themselves strategically with the radical Islamists, these have only allied themselves tactically with them. Interestingly, the results of such an incongruent alliance could have already been clearly seen (where else?) in Iran, that is, Persia, when Khomeini himself, after being helped in his revolution by secular leftists, turned against them and exterminated them as soon as he got hold of power.

In short, there has been a pact made with the devil, but it wasn’t the secular Left that made it, but the radical Islamists. When the secular leftists discover that, in the eyes of their soon-to-be former allies, they are devils too, I wouldn’t like to be in their skins.
Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:00 PM

The President of Everybody

Marc Danziger, aka Armed Liberal, still doesn’t know which way to jump in this election. (He’s the Armed Centrist!) That makes it a bit easier for him in these days of hyper-polarization to say he’ll accept the election of either one of these mooks. I know it’s fun for some people to hunker down in their respective partisan trenches and fire off mortars at the Treasonous Liberals and the Imperialist Right. Still, take a break for five minutes and read Marc’s heartfelt plea for national unity. I promise it won’t hurt.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:55 PM

September 27, 2004

Department of Duh

John Kerry must know the truth about France and Germany. He’s a senator. He’s been around a while. Our two “allies” didn’t refuse to help the coalition in Iraq because they don’t like Bush’s cowboy talk or because Rumsfeld said they’re old. They didn’t lend a hand for their own reasons that have nothing to do with the Bush Adminstration’s alleged lack of diplomacy.

So I doubt he’s surprised by today’s news in the Financial Times unless, like me, he’s surprised at the timing.
French and German government officials say they will not significantly increase military assistance in Iraq even if John Kerry, the Democratic presidential challenger, is elected on November 2.

Mr Kerry, who has attacked President George W. Bush for failing to broaden the US-led alliance in Iraq, has pledged to improve relations with European allies and increase international military assistance in Iraq.

Kerry’s entire anti-Bush strategy rests on convincing the American public that Bush did not try, or did not try hard enough, or did not try properly, to get the French and Germans to help. But Jacques Chirac was never going to say to a President Kerry or to an alternate-universe President Bush: “Oh, you want our help? We’d love to. Thanks for asking.”

You’d think that if the leadership of France and Germany hopes Kerry wins the election they would have kept this to themselves. Instead they knocked out the legs from beneath his campaign.

I doubt this is the reason, but it’s an interesting bit nevertheless:
In fact, high-ranking German officials are privately concerned at the prospect of Mr Kerry becoming president, arguing it would not change US demands but make it more difficult to reject them.
Bush, apparently, is a convenient excuse for inaction.

It could not have been more obvious all along that the Germans and French wouldn’t help no matter what. But I’m glad all the same they did us the favor of clearing it up for those who thought otherwise.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:10 PM

Saudis: Eradicate Us!

The government of Saudi Arabia proposes self-eradication.

UNITED NATIONS - Saudi Arabia announced plans to host an international conference on combating terrorism but said on Monday that all Middle East security efforts will fail if Israel clings to policies that are “totally incompatible” with the peace process.

[…]

Saudi Arabia hopes the conference's outcome “will constitute an important addition … to eradicating the roots and causes of this dangerous phenomenon,” Madani said. [Emphasis added.]
(Hat tip: SoCalJustice in the comments.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:25 PM

In Defense of Heretics

I've spent a lot of words in this space smacking “the left” upside its own head for embracing or at least tolerating ranting neo-Stalinist goons while trashing liberal hawks as heretics, traitors, and (gasp) conservatives. It's one reason among many why George W. Bush is likely to be president next year.

In all this time hardly any anti-war left-liberal person I know of has been able to see how asinine and counterproductive it is. It works great as a Republican recruitment drive, not that most of these people really care. Results are immaterial. Purity is everything.

Marc Cooper gets it. He might be the only one. And so I have to link him today and say thanks. Read what he has to say. I've waited too long for this.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:45 AM

September 26, 2004

Hanging With the Cool Kids

I dearly love living in Portland. Almost everything about it is great - the city, the neighborhoods, the restaurants, the coffeehouses, the arts scene, the microbreweries, the friendly people, the lush scenery, the ocean and mountains nearby, and the climate. But I do have one complaint. It isn’t much of a writer’s town.

Los Angeles is a writer’s town. So it’s a great place for me to hang out. I spent a long weekend down there at La Casa de Roger L. Simon and got to enjoy the company of some of L.A.’s finest writers and bloggers: Roger (obviously), his wife Cheryl, Matt Welch, Emmanuelle Richard, Marc Danziger (aka Armed Liberal), Cathy Seipp, and the Dark Lord himself Charles Johnson. Marc Cooper and Megan McArdle (who lives in New York) were scheduled to be there, too, but they couldn’t make it. Both were missed.

It’s normal to write in Los Angeles. At least that’s how it feels when I’m hanging out in a room full of writers. In Portland it’s strange. I can’t talk shop when I’m home unless I do it by email or phone.

So thanks, y’all, for having me down there and indulging me. Don’t take each other’s company for granted.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:12 PM

"A war-mongering, death-worshipping thug"

While we're on the subject of Che Guevara (see the next post down), Ken Wheaton wonders why on earth any pacifist-leaning middle-class American would exalt a man who fought to the death against everything they stand for and believe in.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:31 AM

September 24, 2004

Totalitarian Chic

Paul Berman is one of the best left-liberal writers and thinkers around. His book Terror and Liberalism is the best I've yet read about the meaning of the attacks on September 11. He issues a liberal call to arms, on properly left-wing grounds, against what he calls the new totalitarians, the Middle Eastern inheritors of the Nazi, fascist, and Stalinist legacies.

Unlike me, he is still on the left. But he is a besieged minority within it. And today in Slate he blasts The Motorcycle Diaries, the new film about Che Guevara, and the standing ovation the audience gave it at Sundance.

Berman shouldn't expect his fellow lefties to take up arms against the new totalitarians until they stop applauding the old ones.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:02 AM

September 22, 2004

The Gender Gap Vanishes

John Kerry is the Energizer Bunny of losers. He takes a licking and keeps on sinking.

Not only do men prefer Bush to Kerry, women now prefer Bush to Kerry, too.
In the last few weeks, Kerry campaign officials have been nervously eyeing polls that show an erosion of the senator's support among women, one of the Democratic Party's most reliable constituencies. In a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last week, women who are registered to vote were more likely to say they would vote for Mr. Bush than for Mr. Kerry, with 48 percent favoring Mr. Bush and 43 percent favoring Mr. Kerry. [Emphasis added.]
A five point difference isn’t huge. It is almost within the margin of error. But the Democratic Party has had a lock on the female half of the population for as long as I’ve been paying attention to politics.

September 11 really has changed a lot. And the Democrats, supposedly the pro-change “progressive” party, are stuck in the past.

The Republicans have proven themselves a lot more flexible and adaptive. It’s partly an accident of history. They happened to be in power when the jets hit the towers. If the Democrats were in charge on that day I expect the Republicans would be scrambling to keep up with the shift in America’s mood. It’s hard to adjust to instant change when you’re stuck in the opposition. You feel obligated to oppose everything new.

In any case, John Kerry is trying to get his gender gap back.
It was no accident that John Kerry appeared Tuesday on “Live With Regis and Kelly'' and recalled his days as a young prosecutor in a rape case. Or that he then flew from New York to Jacksonville, Fla., to promote his health care proposals. Or that on Thursday in Davenport, Iowa, he will preside over a forum on national security with an audience solely of women.

These appearances are part of an energetic drive by the Kerry campaign to win back voters that Democrats think are rightfully theirs: women.

He doesn’t get it. I mean, he really doesn’t get it at all. The world changed, okay? A campaign that would have been effective on September 10 doesn’t resonate with people today.

Kerry fails to understand that women, at least a significant number of those in the center, are more likely than before September 11 to admire toughness and strength. It's not that he’s been neglecting “women’s issues” and needs to catch up. Rather, “men’s issues” are more important to most people now.

I hate to put it that way, and I apologize if it seems ridiculous. I don’t think of myself as a “man” when I vote. I have never asked myself who’s the most manly? and voted accordingly. (“Women’s” candidates have always won my vote anyway.) And I seriously doubt the women who moved to the right did so because they think Bush is “girlier” than Kerry. What a laugh! For one thing, hardly anyone actually thinks in those terms. And if they did Kerry would still have his edge among women. George W. Bush is not more “feminine” or “nurturing” or “caring” than John Kerry.

But Kerry seems to believe people do think that way. And that’s precisely why he’s losing support among women right now. “Women's issues” still matter, and they matter to me. But they are not front and center this year.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:31 PM

September 21, 2004

Terror and Victory

Back in January I tentatively planned to visit Iraq during this coming winter. I changed my mind for reasons that ought to be obvious, as I mentioned in this space before. Some parts of that country are the most dangerous places in the world right now, at least for foreigners. For a while there, though, I thought I would be safer in Iraq than I would be in Israel. Iraq wasn’t a quagmire. But Israel/Palestine was.

It’s amazing what a difference a year can make.

Take a look at the cover for this week’s New Republic.

Intifada_Is_Over.JPG

In one of the cover stories Yossi Klein Halevi and Michael B. Oren (author of the indispensable Six Days of War) explain how Israel beat back the intifada. Here’s the short version.
Israel's triumph over the Palestinian attempt to unravel its society is the result of a systematic assault on terrorism that emerged only fitfully over the past four years. The fence, initially opposed by the army and the government, has thwarted terrorist infiltration in those areas where it has been completed. Border towns like Hadera and Afula, which had experienced some of the worst attacks, have been terror-free since the fence was completed in their areas. Targeted assassinations and constant military forays into Palestinian neighborhoods have decimated the terrorists' leadership, and roadblocks have intercepted hundreds of bombs, some concealed in ambulances, children's backpacks, and, most recently, a baby carriage. At every phase of Israel's counteroffensive, skeptics have worried that attempts to suppress terrorism would only encourage more of it. [Emphasis added.]
The doom-mongers were wrong. Period. Just as they were wrong when they predicted disaster in Afghanistan. Just as they were wrong when they predicted disaster in Iraq the first time around. Just as they were wrong when they (although it was mostly Republicans this time) predicted disaster in Kosovo.

Those who keep insisting we or one of our democratic allies will actually lose a war have been wrong for a third of a century now. I am thirty four years old. The last time the doom-mongers were right I was three. They have been consistently wrong throughout my entire living memory. (Am I forgetting something? Have we lost a war since Vietnam?)

It’s always the same refrain. Only the details are different.

That doesn’t mean they are necessarily wrong about Iraq. Iraq could turn into an actual quagmire. It does happen sometimes. And they aren’t crazy to look at Iraq now and thinks is a mess. It is a mess, and it’s a bad one. I’m not in denial about it. I planned to visit, then I changed my mind, so I am well aware that the country has deteriorated.

My point here is that the pessimists among us were guaranteed to declare regime-change in Iraq counterproductive and/or a quagmire no matter what actually happened short of an instantaneous transformation of Mesopotamia into Belize.

It wasn’t at all long ago that I barred myself from visiting Israel. I didn’t expect to get killed if I went there. I would almost certainly have been fine. But I didn’t want to sit in a coffeeshop clicking away on my laptop and be consumed with worry about whether or not I was sitting at the “safe” table. I would visit today and hardly worry at all. If all goes well I’ll be in Libya over Thanksgiving, and that doesn’t scare me in the slightest. (Though it does worry my mother a bit.)

I hope the pessimists are wrong about Iraq, and I also hope they hope they’re wrong. The reason I’m pointing out their track record isn’t to say the optimists are right. No one yet knows. (If you’re certain you do know, can I borrow your crystal ball? Pretty please?) Nor am I saying we should do exactly what Israel did. We couldn’t even if we wanted to. We can’t wall off Baghdad.

I understand why people look at Iraq today and are overcome with a sinking feeling. It happens to me sometimes too. It’s so easy, especially if you opposed the invasion of Iraq in the first place, to look at the horrible things that happen and think they represent the whole story or are part of a trend that goes only one way. But remember Israel. They had a horrific spike in terrorism awfully recently. You could have predicted that trend would keep rising indefinitely. And yet it did not. The reason it didn’t is because Israelis fumbled around until they found a strategy that actually worked. Then they implemented it. Now the intifada is over.

A few days ago I linked to Victor Davis Hanson who started off his essay by quoting Georges Clemenceau:
War is a series of catastrophes that results in victory.
Indeed. It isn’t always this way. Sometimes, albeit rarely, we do lose wars. We lost in Vietnam, after all. But we almost always win. And when we do it is first by enduring a gut-wrenching series of catastrophes.

It isn't all going to be rainbows and sunshine, though, no matter what happens. Israel’s victory came at tremendous cost. And I don’t just mean the lives lost on both sides in the fighting. Orem and Halevi continue:

The price Israel has paid for its victory has been sobering. Arafat may be a pariah, but Israel is becoming one, too. Increasingly, the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty is under attack. Former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard, for example, has called Israel's creation a “mistake.” In Europe, an implicit “red-green-black” coalition of radical leftists, Islamists, and old-fashioned fascists has revived violent anti-Semitism. Along with the desecration of Jewish cemeteries by neo-Nazis and the assaults on Jews by Arab youth, some European left-wingers now sense a sympathetic climate in which to publicly indulge their anti-Semitism. In a recent interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Greek composer and left-wing activist Mikis Theodorakis denounced “the Jews” for their dominance of banks, U.S. foreign policy, and even the world's leading orchestras, adding that the Jews were “at the root of evil.” In the Arab world, a culture of denial that repudiates the most basic facts of Jewish history—from the existence of the Jerusalem Temple to the existence of the gas chambers—has become mainstream in intellectual discourse and the media. Government TV stations in Egypt and Syria have produced dramatizations based on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Boycotts of Israel are multiplying: The nonaligned states recently voted to bar “settlers”—including Israelis who live in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem—from their borders. Among young Israelis across the political spectrum, there's growing doubt about the country's future and widespread talk of emigration.
Just in case you don't know what the authors are driving at, here's the next sentence.
In its victories and its defeats, Israel is a test case of what happens to a democracy forced to confront nonstop terrorism.
Israel's present may be our future. Best get used to it now.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:48 PM

September 20, 2004

A Note to Commenters

I recently had Mt-Blacklist installed on this site to weed out annoying corporate spammers from my comments section. And I noticed that a few comments were automatically deleted that were left by regular people.

It has been several months since I last banned anyone from posting here. So if you try to leave a comment and you get a message that says you were banned all of a sudden, that was probably a mistake. (You would know if I banned you anyway. I don't do it quietly.) Please email me and let me know if this happens to you.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:58 PM

For Fear of Being Rathered

According to Jeremy Brown, Hugh Downs thinks news reporters will censor themselves even more than they did before because they’re afraid they’ll be Rathered by the blogosphere.

Eh. What a silly thing to say. Jeremy found the perfect analogy.
You're sitting in the back of a bus. You and some of the other passengers begin to notice that the bus is not actually going anywhere. You walk up to the front of the bus and you see that the driver is simply turning the wheel back and forth and saying “vroom-vroom-vroom” to himself, and screeching once in a while. You say, 'excuse me…you're not actually driving this thing, are you?' and he says, 'Look, buddy, I'm an experienced bus driver and you're just a passenger. Besides, I can't do my job if you people are going to keep bitching at me.'
Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:06 PM

September 19, 2004

The Hawkish Case for Kerry

I promised to write two essays: the hawkish case for John Kerry and the liberal case for George W. Bush. The first is published today as my newest Tech Central Station column. Have at it!

UPDATE: Centerfeud partly agrees. Patrick Lasswell dissents.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:12 PM

"Militant" = Terrorist

Nelson Ascher, for those of you who don't know, is a Brazillian journalist based in Paris who also writes in English at his blog called Europundits. He speaks, reads and writes, gosh, I don't know how many languages. He is also a poet and a professional translator. He has forgotten more about languages than I have ever learned with my quarter-knowledge of Spanish and my minimal understanding of Arabic.

So when he writes about words and languages, as he often does, I pay attention. Today he posted an interesting essay about the mainstream media's use of euphemisms for “terrorist,” such as “militant,” “rebel,” and even “dissident.” I've always figured the use of such words, especially “dissident,” unintentionally slanders the likes of the French Resistance, the Kurdish Peshmerga, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Those people do not deserve to be lumped in with the likes of Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Baathist dead-enders.

Anyway, Nelson Ascher thinks the use of these euphemisms isn't working as the media intends because it simply changes the meaning of the euphemisms themselves. That goes hand in hand with what I've always thought, but he takes it a step further. Those of you who cringe (as I do) when a gang of thugs who cut off the heads of innocents are called anything other than terrorists are encouraged to read what he has to say.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:43 PM

September 17, 2004

Don't Abandon Iraq

I was going to write something about why we should not leave Iraq prematurely, even though it's looking pretty grim again at the moment. But Victor Davis Hanson said what I wanted to say, and he said it better than I would have. His column is your homework for the weekend.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:44 PM

September 16, 2004

Honesty = Disloyalty

I'm enjoying the new blog by Eric the Unread, a disgruntled lefty type who lives somewhere in Britain and moved to the center like I did. (Hey, Eric. The Tories are useless, so at least you can stick with the Labor Party. I'm homeless. Can we have Tony Blair when you're finished with him?)

In an entry titled What's wrong with the left Eric points to this post at the Washington Monthly by Kevin Drum, formerly of Calpundit fame.

Last Friday I said that I was skeptical that the Killian memos were genuine, and boy did I hear from y'all about that. My inbox is still creaking under the weight of charges of liberal disloyalty.
Sorry about that, Kevin. At least now you know how Eric the Unread and I feel all the time.

Tim Blair published a list of those charges of disloyalty, culled from Kevin's comments box. It's pathetic stuff, really, and there is only so long a person can put up with this crap before saying to heck with it.

If you haven't checked out Eric's blog yet, treat yourself. It's good.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:40 PM

September 15, 2004

Dinosaur in a Suit

Arthur Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, manages to be both an elitist and a reactionary at the same time.

This takes us to another important on-line phenomenon, the rise of bloggers. These individuals publish web logs that offer an ongoing narrative of their thoughts and observations. Some are professional journalists, but the vast majority of them are just folks with something on their minds.

While some of these individuals are making a serious and thoughtful contribution to our global dialogue, too many simply contribute to the sense that we're in the midst of an opinion-ridden free-for-all.

Bloggers contribute to the sense that we’re in the midst of an opinion-ridden free-for-all? But we are in the midst of an opinion-ridden free-for-all. This is America. Sulzberger can try to feed his opinions to us on a spoon, but he can’t actually do it. Not in this country.

The end of old media as we know it will arrive when the majority of editors come to respect the blogosphere for what it is instead of sniffing at those of us who contribute to it like we’re a bunch of gap-toothed peasants raising pitchforks at the palace.

Yesterday I quoted Nelson Ascher who pointed out that his daily paper in Sao Paolo, Brazil, beat The Washington Post on the Rathergate story for no other reason than that he reads blogs. (He also writes a blog, but it’s the fact that he is a professional journalist who reads blogs that gave his paper an edge.)

Some editors get the blogosphere already. Nick Shulz, editor of Tech Central Station, reads blogs. He also has a blog of his own. He recruits writers out of the blogosphere. (Writers like me, for instance.) The pieces he publishes link to writers in the blogosphere. And a panel on the right side of the main page consists of links to both blog posts and “old media” articles of note.

Nick doesn’t run a daily newspaper, but he gets it.

Sulzberger doesn’t get it. If only he could understand that the blogosphere can work for him instead of against him. Bloggers do a great deal of work for the mainstream media, and they do it for free. Not only can editors use the blogosphere as a talent pool, they can use it to find stories and angles their own reporters and opinion writers often miss. (I would miss all kinds of things if I didn’t read blogs. My own would be hopelessly behind everyone else’s.) More important, they can use the blogosphere to beat their competition by publishing the good stuff first.

That is what will bring old media down. Or, I should say, that is what will transform old media into something better. If editors and publishers like Sulzberger are too isolated from the new media reality, they will lose their prestige to whichever competitor figures it out first.

Come on, editors. You have an enormous new resource, and it doesn’t cost you a penny to use it. How much longer are you going to sit there in your suits and scoff at those in pajamas who keep kicking your asses?

(Hat tip: Kaus)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:22 PM

Horror Re-enacted by Bunnies

Tired of politics and war? Take a break!

Andrew Sullivan linked to Jaws in 30 seconds, re-enacted by bunnies.

Sean LaFreniere linked to Alien in 30 seconds, re-enacted by bunnies.

Now I'm linking to The Shining in 30 seconds, re-enacted by bunnies.

These are great. The first is a little bit funny. The second is a little bit funnier. And like one of those rare jokes that somehow keep getting funnier every time you hear it, The Shining in 30 seconds is the best.

(The Exorcist in 30 seconds isn't bad, either.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:00 PM

September 14, 2004

Closing the Gap Between the First World and the Third

Matthew Yglesias thinks the blogosphere is a little too quick to slap itself on the back for breaking Rathergate.

I'm not quite sure I grasp all the blogosphere triumphalism surrounding the Killian memos. After CBS ran the story, the conservative side of the 'sphere came up with dozens of purported debunkings of their authenticity, almost all of which turned out to be more purported than debunking. Then after a few days of back-and-forth, traditional reporters at The Washington Post came out with a more careful, more accurate, more actually-debunking story.
I haven’t paid enough attention to this to know if Matthew is right or not. I've been impressed with some of the work on this I've seen in the blogosphere, even if some or even much of it is off-base. But let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that Matt is mostly right.

Even so. The blogosphere still deserves credit.

Nelson Ascher writes for a Brazilian daily newspaper in Sao Paolo. And his Sao Paolo paper, which usually lags behind First World media, wrote about Rathergate one day before the Washington Post did. The reason?

If I was able to come out with the story in my paper one day before the WaPo, that’s not because I’m a big-shot investigative journalist and this hasn’t been due to my personal merits or hard work either. It simply happened because I’m more attuned to the blogosphere than the average big media guy in the US or Europe. The merit obviously belongs to the blogosphere and, in this specific case, to the people of Powerline, LGF, to Instapundit, Roger Simon etc. But, thanks to them all, I have helped my paper publish the story one day before the WaPo. This, in the big media’s pecking order, is no mean change. In the realm of news there’s no First and Third World anymore.
Cool.

And that's beside the fact that the Washington Post may never have taken a look at this if the blogosphere hadn't first hammered it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:08 PM

September 13, 2004

Fisking Fisk

Robert Fisk continues to live up to his name.

His new piece is titled We should not have allowed 19 murderers to change our world.

He doesn’t say we should have acted as though nothing had happened, but he practically implies as much at the end.

[W]e should not allow 19 murderers to change our world. George Bush and Tony Blair are doing their best to make sure the murderers DO change our world.
I’d like to know how it could be otherwise. Seriously. The attack on September 11, 2001, was the worst terrorist act ever. It was also the most devastating attack of any kind inside America ever. Does Robert Fisk really think we should have treated such an atrocity the way we would a pipsqueak of a bomb in a trashcan at the mall by the IRA?

No one should doubt Al Qaeda would have used a nuclear weapon had they possessed one. Clearly they sought to maximize, not minimize, the death count. Even without a nuclear weapon the casualties could have been as high as if we’d been nuked. If the Twin Towers fell over sideways on impact the number of civilians murdered could have exceeded the death toll at Hiroshima. As Paul Berman put it in Terror and Liberalism, “It is worth asking if there is anything genocidal in this kind of terrorist impulse.”

Old school terrorists like the IRA and the Basque ETA don’t behave this way, nor will they ever.

History is what it is. It swung on its hinges on September 11. It would have done so if even if Dennis Kucinich sat in the White House and George Galloway ran Britain.

Allow me to back up a bit in Fisk’s piece and address him personally. (Hi, Robert. I hope you track the referral logs in your Web site’s stat meter and read what people have to say about your work.) The ending, obtuse as it is, is a lot less asinine than what led to it.

Merely to ask why the murderers of 11 September had done their bloody deeds was to befriend "terrorism". Merely to ask what had been in the minds of the killers was to give them support.
Says who, Robert? It's not the question that leads to this accusation. It's the answer to the question that does it.

You have been accused of "befriending" terrorists. I agree that putting it that way is over-the-top. The reason this happens, though, isn't because you ask why terrorists kill people. It's because you blame the victims.

Hell, you made excuses for people who assaulted you personally. Must I remind?

On December 10, 2001, you wrote the following:

They started by shaking hands. We said "Salaam aleikum" – peace be upon you – then the first pebbles flew past my face. A small boy tried to grab my bag. Then another. Then someone punched me in the back. Then young men broke my glasses, began smashing stones into my face and head. I couldn't see for the blood pouring down my forehead and swamping my eyes. And even then, I understood. I couldn't blame them for what they were doing. In fact, if I were the Afghan refugees of Kila Abdullah, close to the Afghan-Pakistan border, I would have done just the same to Robert Fisk. Or any other Westerner I could find. [Emphasis added.]
Really? Would you really have done just the same?

I may be arguing with you here, but I’m honestly sorry you were beat up for being a white guy. It was wrong. You hadn’t done anything to those people. They are precisely the moral equivalents of the criminals who assaulted random Arabs (and even, pathetically, Sikhs) on the streets of America after September 11. It is not okay to lash out at people who share the same ethnicity with those you are pissed at.

One article I wrote for The Independent in 1998 asked why Iraqis do not tear us limb from limb, which is what some Iraqis did to the American mercenaries they killed in Fallujah last April.
There you go again. Or, there you nearly go again.

If someone else had written that sentence, I might give them a pass. But you already said you would assault any random Westerner if you were a refugee in Afghanistan. It’s not a huge leap to think you might want to tear a Westerner limb from limb if you were Iraqi.

Jesus, Robert. Did it not occur to you that most Iraqis have more decency than to tear innocent people limb from limb? Don’t you see how insulting to Iraqis your question is? Let me help you out. I altered your sentence a bit.

One article I wrote asked why Englishmen do not tear French people limb from limb…
Or how about this alteration?
One article I wrote asked why Israelis do not tear Palestinians limb from limb…
How do those read to you? Did the first insult England? Did the second excuse and even suggest hypothetical vicious Israeli behavior?

Later in the same piece you argued with your own title:

America’s relations with the Middle East, especially the nature of its relationship with Israel, was to remain an unspoken and unquestioned subject.
No.

We did change our relations with the Middle East. One of the biggest examples is the one you hate most. We were no longer willing to keep troops on Saudi Arabian “holy ground” to protect a corrupt and reactionary crime family from the fascist next door.

You may also recall that we adjusted our relationship with Israelis and Palestinians. For the first time ever an American president explicitly backed Palestinian statehood and Palestinian democracy. Previously both Israel and the United States relied on the autocratic psuedo-proxy Yasser Arafat to fight a dirty anti-terror war for them. Those days are over.

Meanwhile, most Americans would like to see even more changes in our relationship to the Middle East. We aren’t finished with Saudi Arabia yet. The House of Saud needs to be hanged up and dried. Any time you feel like joining us in questioning our relations in the Middle East, instead of complaining that Bush and Blair changed the world, let us know.

Hat tip: Harry’s Place

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:23 PM

September 12, 2004

Forged!

When the CBS scandal first broke, I vowed to myself that I would stay out of it. The reaction in the media and in the blogosphere was so overwhelmingly partisan I didn’t know who to believe. Bush supporters seemed to me a little too sure of themselves. Kerry supporters were too dismissive and defensive.

But I’ll weigh in now because Jim Treacher pointed me to what looks like an awfully comprehensive debunking of those documents by Peter Duncan.

If you think the documents are genuine and that this is some kind of smear campaign, see if you can debunk Duncan’s evidence before arguing with me in the comments.

I rather doubt (pun intended, sorry) that this will affect the election, though, unless it can be shown that the Kerry campaign itself had something to do with it. That would be a real scandal. It would also be a dumb scandal.

We already know Bush wasn’t the best-behaved boy in Texas. Publishing yet more “evidence” won’t affect anyone’s vote for the same reason Bill Clinton’s approval ratings remained high after each successive bimbo eruption. Everyone familiar with Clinton (and that includes most people in Iceland, Pakistan, and Bolivia, as well as most Americans) already knew he had trouble with women, zippers, and pants. And we all know Bush had problems with responsibility and booze.

If you want to dig up new dirt on Bush, you have to find a new kind of dirt, not more of the same old dirt. We’ve already factored the old dirt in. It won’t move numbers.

It looks like the blogosphere found new dirt on CBS, though. It could move numbers.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:09 PM

September 11, 2004

Request for Help

Can anyone help me install MT-Blacklist? I'll pay you if you can make it work. I am not a techie. It's a bit beyond my level.

My comments are being swamped with so much spam for drugs, porn, and "penis enlargement" I may have to shut down the comments altogether until I can figure out what to do about it. I would rather not. I like my comments. So do other people.

For those of you who read my comments and don't know what I'm talking about: Most comment spammers are clever enough not to fill up space on current posts. They usually spam the older posts. Then they search Google for their own phrases, click the links, and boost the Google rankings for their own stupid "products." I'm tired of paying for their bandwidth. Check out the second half of this comments thread and you'll see what I mean. These spammers now make up almost ten percent of my blog traffic. It needs to stop now.


UPDATE: I got a lot of offers for help. Thanks so much everybody. I'm taken care of now.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:28 PM

Four Words

Here we are on the third anniversary of September 11, 2001, and John Kerry is getting clobbered in the polls. Is anyone really surprised? Does anyone think the odds of him winning are greater than 50 percent?

Bush's post-convention bounce seems to be sticking.

Here is the latest from Time:

Last week’s seismic voter shift to George W. Bush showed no signs of dwindling in this week’s Time Poll. Bush continues to lead Democratic challenger John Kerry among likely voters by double digits, 52% - 41%, in the three way race, with Nader at 3%, the same as last week.
Yesterday Mark Poling said in my comments section that John Kerry could easily beat George W. Bush with a platform that looked something like this:
Good war, bad occupation, but I'll make Iraq right, and I won't make the same mistakes with our other enemies...
Yep.

You could reduce it even further, all the way down to four words:

Good war, bad occupation.
That's it. Done. Some people would argue with that. But independents and swing voters wouldn't.

It amazes me that neither Kerry nor any of his highly-paid advisors could come up with these four simple words.

If you want to appeal to the middle, you have to know where the middle is. Centrists may be "wishy washy" when it comes to our two political parties. But that doesn't mean centrists are wishy-washy on terrorism. Bush beats Kerry by a whopping and insurmountable 23 points on this issue.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:57 PM

September 9, 2004

Fiddling on Two Fronts

If you're surprised by or skeptical of the following, please raise your hand in the comments:

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran is using negotiations with the European Union's "big three" on suspending sensitive nuclear activities to buy the time it needs to get ready to make atomic weapons, an Iranian exile and intelligence officials said.

With intelligence sources saying Iran could be months away from nuclear weapons capability, the United States wants Iran reported to the U.N. Security Council immediately, charging Tehran uses its civilian atomic energy program as a front to develop the bomb. Tehran vehemently denies the charge.

France, Britain and Germany want to avoid isolating Iran and have taken a go-slow approach, negotiating with Iran to suspend uranium enrichment activities.

"Iran continues to use existing differences between the U.S. and Europe to their advantage and tries to drag out talks with the EU to buy time," Alireza Jafarzadeh, an Iranian exile who has reported accurately on Iran's nuclear program in the past, told Reuters.

I have a humble request for George W. Bush and John Kerry. Just a small thing, really, if it's not too much trouble.

Shut the hell up about Vietnam, the National Guard, Swift Boat Vets, the Department of Friggin' Wellness, and all the rest of your stupid bullshit and tell me what you think about Iran. (If you can find the time.)

Thanks.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:38 PM

Kerry's Secret Recipe Revealed

Marc Cooper posted the hilarious cook-book style recipe John Kerry apparently uses for his campaign.

How can a cook-book style recipe be funny? Well, it just is. I laughed out loud eight or nine times.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:11 PM

Hitchens Eviscerates Klein

My God I hope I never get on the wrong side of Christopher Hitchens in print.

Yesterday he brutally eviscerated Naomi Klein's latest piece in The Nation:

Another small but interesting development has occurred among my former comrades at The Nation magazine. In its "GOP Convention Issue" dated Sept. 13, the editors decided to run a piece by Naomi Klein titled "Bring Najaf to New York." If you think this sounds suspiciously like an endorsement of Muqtada Sadr and his black-masked clerical bandits, you are not mistaken. The article, indeed, went somewhat further, and lower, than the headline did. Ms. Klein is known as a salient figure in the so-called antiglobalization movement, and for a book proclaiming her hostility to logos and other forms of oppression: She's not marginal to what remains of the left. Her nasty, stupid article has evoked two excellent blog responses from two pillars of the Nation family: Marc Cooper in Los Angeles and Doug Ireland in New York. What gives, they want to know, with a supposed socialist-feminist offering swooning support to theocratic fascists? It's a good question, and I understand that it's ignited quite a debate among the magazine's staff and periphery.

When I quit writing my column for The Nation a couple of years ago, I wrote semi-sarcastically that it had become an echo chamber for those who were more afraid of John Ashcroft than Osama Bin Laden. I honestly did not then expect to find it publishing actual endorsements of jihad. But, as Marxism taught me, the logic of history and politics is a pitiless one. The antiwar isolationist "left" started by being merely "status quo": opposing regime change and hinting at moral equivalence between Bush's "terrorism" and the other sort. This conservative position didn't take very long to metastasize into a flat-out reactionary one, with Michael Moore saying that the Iraqi "resistance" was the equivalent of the Revolutionary Minutemen, Tariq Ali calling for solidarity with the "insurgents," and now Ms. Klein, among many others, wanting to bring the war home because any kind of anti-Americanism is better than none at all. These fellow-travelers with fascism are also changing ships on a falling tide: Their applause for the holy warriors comes at a time when wide swathes of the Arab and Muslim world are sickening of the mindless blasphemy and the sectarian bigotry. It took an effort for American pseudo-radicals to be outflanked on the left by Ayatollah Sistani, but they managed it somehow.

Outflanked on the left by a conservative ayatollah. Psuedo-radicals, indeed. Man.

Marc Cooper, who is one of the editors at The Nation where Klein's piece was published, takes her apart point by point. His post is more than a week old, but don't let that stop you from reading it. (I missed it when it was current because I was out of the loop on my road trip.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:49 AM

September 8, 2004

How to Read a Newspaper (Updated)

I'm annoyed at the AP. My post yesterday made no sense after several people in my comments box pointed out that a Dick Cheney quote I republished had been Dowdified by the reporter.

I didn't agree with the Dowdified quote. I didn't agree with the real quote, either, but at least what Cheney actually said was less obnoxious than what I first thought.

Mark Twain famously said "The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers." This is so true. I know this in part because when I know a subject well I often scoff at how non-specialty newspapers cover it. My wife says the same thing, and her areas of knowledge are completely separate from mine.

So count me as one who appreciates what Jeremy Brown wrote today on his blog:

The trick is to not just believe what you read in the papers anymore. Naw man, you got to swagger in like you goin' into a used car dealership. Then you got to show them motherfuckers you ain't no easy mark, that you ain't nobody's two bit skank, never was, and got no plans to be.
Yep. I guess so. It's been that way for centuries now, hasn't it Mr. Twain?


UPDATE: Katherine in the comments points to this this Washington Post story:

In a change that highlighted the sensitivity of Cheney's statement, the White House yesterday released a revised version of the transcript of his remarks. The official transcript, posted on the White House Web site Tuesday afternoon and e-mailed to reporters, said: "(I)t's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2nd, we make the right choice. Because if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again."

In a version released Tuesday to reporters traveling with Cheney, however, the period at the end of "hit again" was removed and replaced with a comma, which linked his blunter statement to his standard stump language expressing concern that future attacks would be treated as "just criminal acts, and that we're not really at war."

(Sigh.)

So, okay. Maybe the quote wasn't actually Dowdified. It was taken out of context, which is kinda lame but a lot less lame. Then again, I'm going to follow Jeremy's advice and remain suspicious of newspapers at least for the rest of the day.

I would ask if anyone has an audio link to the Cheney speech, but it isn't really important. The reason I wanted to comment on this in the first place was to make a couple of points that aren't even relevant any more anyway. There is a point when a "he said, she said" argument about punctuation gets tiresome (how do you pronounce a comma, anyway?) and I think we've passed it. Next subject...

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:59 PM

September 7, 2004

We Cannot Fall Apart (Updated)

Dick Cheney is selling poison in Iowa.

DES MOINES, Iowa - Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday warned Americans about voting for Democratic Sen. John Kerry, saying that if the nation makes the wrong choice on Election Day it faces the threat of another terrorist attack.
As if we don't face the threat of another attack now. Who knew we were so safe? Not me.
"It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States," Cheney told about 350 supporters at a town-hall meeting in this Iowa city.
I don't need to tell Dick Cheney that terrorists want to hit us again no matter who sits in the White House. But I would tell Dick Cheney, if I were his advisor, that this line of argument is crude, obnoxious, and has serious backfire potential built into it. He is explicitly saying no terrorist attacks can get through if he and George W. hold the White House.

We all know this is b.s. and I shouldn't even have to point it out. It is not possible to deflect every potential attack. We could turn the United States into a totalitarian fortress and attacks would still get through.

If Dick Cheney is prepared to lay the blame of a future terrorist attack on both a Kerry Administration and even the voters (!) then his administration needs to accept the blame for terrorist attacks that occur on its watch. And that includes the attack on September 11.

I do not blame the Bush Administration for the attack on September 11. Nor do I blame the Clinton Administration. Nor will I blame a possible future Kerry Administration if it comes into being. Nor should anybody.

In The Art of War Sun Tzu famously told how to defeat an enemy's leadership: "When he is united, divide him." On that note I'd like to revisit an essay Lee Harris wrote for Tech Central Station on the second anniversary of September 11, 2001. He concludes:

The greatest damage that Al-Qaeda could possibly do to us is not to destroy our buildings or even to murder our people; it is to lure us into abandoning our sense of national unity at the very time we are most in need of it. 9/11 was not our fault, nor the fault of our leadership, of either party. Nor will the next 9/11, if it should come, be our fault, or the fault of those who might happen to be in power, and again of either party.

[...]

[N]one of us may not know for sure what we should do, we can all be absolutely positive about what we shouldn't do, and that is, we cannot fall apart. For if we in the United States fall apart, who in the world will put us back together?


UPDATE: It looks like Cheney's quote was snipped in the middle of a sentence. And the AP reporter used a period instead of ellipses to hide that fact. Here is Cheney's complete sentence:
Because if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again, that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States, and that we'll fall back into the pre-9/11 mind set if you will, that in fact these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts, and that we're not really at war.
That is a lot less inflammatory. The AP ought to be smacked for that. Will they run a correction? I'm runing a correction since I relied on their crappy reporting, so I certainly hope so. (Not holding my breath.)

I still think Cheney is wrong. John Kerry has said he will respond to any attack on the United States, and I believe him. Why wouldn't he? He is not a peacenik.

What worries me about a Kerry presidency isn't that he won't fight back but that he doesn't have any strategy that isn't reactive. We could fight terrorism tit-for-tat forever. Bush has his eye on both pre-emption and root causes while Kerry doesn't.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:59 PM

Quote of the Day

Natalie Solent:

Once it became acceptable to a broad section of Islam (and to Western apologists for terrorism) to select Jewish children as targets it was only a matter of time before non-Jewish children would also be selected. Children are the most convenient terrorist target as they are physically easy to control or kill, and because people will concede more to save them. The only thing that stops a Beslan happening every week is the shreds of morality that remain even in the minds of terrorists. Once the taboo was breached for Israeli victims it was breached for everyone.
Via sharp new blogger Eric the Unread.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:13 PM

September 6, 2004

Flip Flop Flap

John Kerry is a flip-flopper. Or Karl Rove is a clever liar who has convinced Americans that John Kerry is a flip-flopper. Depends on who you ask.

Let's see.

From August 9th:

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. (Reuters) - Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry said on Monday he would have voted for the congressional resolution authorizing force against Iraq even if he had known then no weapons of mass destruction would be found. [Emphasis added.]

Taking up a challenge from President Bush, whom he will face in the Nov. 2 election, the Massachusetts senator said: "I'll answer it directly. Yes, I would have voted for the authority. I believe it is the right authority for a president to have but I would have used that authority effectively."

From September 6th:
WASHINGTON - Democrat John Kerry accused President Bush on Monday of sending U.S. troops to the "wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time" and said he'd try to bring them all home in four years. Bush rebuked him for taking "yet another new position" on the war. [Emphasis added.]
It's okay to slowly change your mind over time. It's also okay to suddenly change your mind if you get a flash of new information or insight. People who never change their minds are either miraculously right about everything (yeah, sure) or hopelessly reactionaries who are sometimes right by sheer chance.

It is not okay to change your mind every couple of weeks or days or hours over and over again for no apparent reason. Especially when people are trying to nail you down so they can decide whether or not they want to vote for you.

The fact that John Kerry continues to do this on the subject of the sole-remaining super-power’s national security all but proves he doesn’t take the job he’s running for seriously.

Does John Kerry think changing the regime in Iraq was a good idea? Who on earth could possibly know? Does John Kerry have any idea how America should proceed in its prosecution of the Terror War? I haven't the slightest friggin' clue. And that is by Kerry's design. He has deliberately turned himself into the Rorschach Candidate. We see in him what we want to see - or so he hopes. That's the only way he thinks he can appeal to both peaceniks and hawks at the same time.

One other thing. The idea that Karl Rove and the Bush Machine invented the flip-flopping canard needs to die.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:36 PM

City Shots

Sean LaFreniere posted some urban photography from the road trip he and I took last week. I stuck to the nature side of things in my photo galleries while he got some great shots of Minneapolis, Chicago, Denver, and Salt Lake City.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:40 PM

September 5, 2004

Kerry Urged to Dodge Foreign Policy (Updated)

Anyone who wins a primary election deserves serious consideration for the presidency, even if they don’t get my vote in the end. The “hawkish case for John Kerry” will not be easy to write, but I feel I owe it to him all the same. He may or may not deserve my vote, but he does deserve a little mental effort and attention.

I’m in the middle of compiling my list of points for that argument. It isn’t easy, especially since the Kerry campaign can’t even convince itself.

Here’s the New York Times:

President Bush roared out of his New York convention last week, leaving many Democrats nervous about the state of the presidential race and pressing Senator John Kerry to torque up what they described as a wandering and low-energy campaign.

In interviews, leading Democrats - governors, senators, fund-raisers and veteran strategists - said they had urged Mr. Kerry's campaign aides to concentrate almost exclusively on challenging President Bush on domestic issues from here on out, saying he had spent too much of the summer on national security, Mr. Bush's strongest turf. [Emphasis added.]

I have no idea, really, why the Democrats did not see this coming. There were some liberal hawks on the primary ticket that could have neutralized this from the get-go.

I didn’t vote for George W. Bush in 2000. It’s been a royal pain to defend this president from his worst critics while my heart hasn’t been in it. And it’s going to be just as difficult to “carry water” for John Kerry when his own staff and his own self can’t even cobble together an argument to convince defense hawks that he’s a safe bet. I really don’t think a Kerry presidency would be as disastrous as many Republicans are saying. He is no Dennis Kucinich. Still, no one would ever photoshop something like this to make fun of Joe Lieberman.

kerry_on_tank.jpg

Image via Fark.


UPDATE: Some people in the comments take issue with the picture above because when John Kerry said he would fight a more "sensitive" war he did not mean he would be more sensitive to our enemies. Rather, he meant he would be more "sensitive" to Europeans. True enough, but "sensitive war" is an asinine thing to say in any context. War is a horror by nature, and the only things less sensitive are totalitarian oppression and genocide.

Besides, as "Bill" pointed out in the comments, Kerry has already referred to the Iraq coalition as "fraudulent." That was not a very "sensitive" thing to say about Britain and Tony Blair, not to mention everybody else who is an actual rather than a would-be ally of the United States.

Only in a child's fantasy universe did France oppose regime-change in Iraq because Bush was insufficiently "sensitive." If John Kerry actually believes he can get Jacques Chirac into the American orbit by being "sensitive" he doesn't know the first thing about French foreign policy since Charles de Gaulle. He'll learn if he is elected, but the political education of John Kerry is still somewhere off in the future.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:18 PM

September 4, 2004

Move On

Dave Barry:

Call me a dreamer, but I'm hoping that at some point before we go to the polls, we can get this campaign past the Vietnam era to at least, say, the late '70s.
It would be cool if we could argue about the late 70s. I was nine years old then. I actually remember the late 70s. Vaguely. I saw The Who's Tommy. Didn't understand it at all. Scared the heck out of me, actually. But I do sorta remember some of the craziness. It was a weird time to be a child, believe me.

I know it's hard for some people to understand, but I really don't care about Vietnam or the 60s. Sorry. I wasn't even born yet in the 60s and the Vietnam War ended before I began kindergarten.

Anyone who is stuck in the 1960s today is exactly as out of date as were those conservatives in the middle of the last decade when Bob Dole prattled on about going back to the 50s.

Lefty Boomers seriously need to stop and ask themselves if they want to be today's Bob Dole. Roger L. Simon told me on the phone today that when he left the Republican National Convention (where he blogged it live) he saw gray-haired protesters in the streets screaming exactly the same slogans he yelled more than 30 years ago when the world was a different place. People get reactionary as they get older. I guess it's just part of the process. But it can be resisted with effort.

We are never going back to either the 50s or the 60s. You know it, too, so please move on and get over it.

Yesterday I wrote this in my comments box:

History swung on its hinges in 1968. And it happened again in 2001. The scream you hear from certain quarters (but not all) of the left comes from the knowledge that 1968 has been topped.
When Roger writes about the new reactionaries this is basically what he's talking about, the difference being that he actually lived through the era in question.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:19 PM

September 3, 2004

Bush Gets a Bounce

A press release from Time magazine detailing their latest poll shows George W. Bush got a sizeable bounce from his convention.

New York – For the first time since the Presidential race became a two person contest last spring, there is a clear leader, the latest TIME poll shows. If the 2004 election for President were held today, 52% of likely voters surveyed would vote for President George W. Bush, 41% would vote for Democratic nominee John Kerry, and 3% would vote for Ralph Nader, according to a new TIME poll conducted from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2. Poll results are available on TIME.com and will appear in the upcoming issue of TIME magazine, on newsstands Monday, Sept. 6.
John Kerry polls slightly better than Bush on health care and "understanding the needs of people." Kerry and Bush are virtually tied on the economy. What seems to push Bush over the top is that he beats Kerry by more than 20 percentage points on the issue of terrorism.

More polls using a different methodology are sure to be forthcoming. Bush's lead could shrink or even grow.

John Kerry got a negligible bounce from his own convention, probably because he annoyed the hell out of damn near everybody who hadn't already decided to vote for him.

For the first time in many months I'm willing to predict the winner. I shouldn't even need to say who it is.

Can I make an old complaint still one more time? Why, oh why, did the Democrats have to pick Kerry? I voted for Kerry in the primary, too, but it wasn't my fault. By the time the primary election rolled around in my state the only choices remaining were John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, and Lyndon effing LaRouche. Do those of you who had early primaries have any idea how irritating those choices were? Next time, think ahead a little more. You could have gone with Edwards or Lieberman and neutralized Bush's national security advantage. That's what you should have done if you wanted "anybody but Bush." This whopping convention bounce is the punishment for making that decision.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:53 PM

September 2, 2004

The Zell Miller Speech

The polarization during this election season makes me lonely. There are few centrists left. Most have hitched their wagons to one partisan train or another. Hardly any honest dialogue remains.

When I see other people of a moderate persuasion writing sentences like these by Matthew Yglesias I feel a horrible sinking feeling that makes me want to stop blogging until mid-November. (I won't stop, but I do wish I could hit a fast-forward button.)

Here is Matt on the speech by Democrat-in-name-only Zell Miller at the Republican National Convention:

I don't believe I've ever heard a more disgusting speech delivered in the English language. The fact that I couldn't see a single person on the floor who seemed to feel anything less than the utmost enthusiasm for that lunacy was, well, a bit disturbing.
Come on, Matt. I have my own problems with the speech (see below) but it wasn’t anywhere near the worst ever. Have you not heard any of the hysterial speeches at anti-war rallies lately? Don’t tell me you have forgotten about those. Want some more recent examples from the left? Here’s one for you:
U.S. Rep. Major Owens, a New York Democrat, warned a crowd of feminist protesters that the Bush administration is taking America "into a snake pit of fascism."

Owens also said the Bush administration "spits on democracy" and is leading the country down a path reminiscent of "Nazi Germany."

And here is another:
A featured performer at a National Organization for Women rally accused President Bush of having "savagely raped " women "over and over" by allegedly stealing the 2000 presidential election.

Poet Molly Birnbaum read aloud to a crowd of feminists gathered in New York's Central Park on Wednesday night, as part of a NOW event dubbed "Code Red: Stop the Bush Agenda Rally."

"Imagine a way to erase that night four years ago when you (President Bush) savagely raped every pandemic woman over and over with each vote you got, a thrust with each state you stole," Birnbaum said from the podium. (If something is pandemic, it affects many people or a number of countries.)

Those speeches, Matt, were in English.

It’s not just the left that can be nasty. Some of the speeches at the 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston were a lot more disgusting than anything Zell Miller said yesterday. Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan prevented me from being a Republican for a decade all by themselves. I felt vaguely like a Democrat then, but I had no real party affiliation one way or another until I heard those two screwjobs declare war on their own country to roaring applause. I'm a bit older than Matt. Perhaps he doesn't remember what it was like to be a non-Republican twelve years ago. It was, at least for me, one heck of a serious no-brainer.

Today it is much less so. Like Zell Miller, I've been seriously torqued at the Democratic Party. But I'm no Zell Miller. I really don't get him. Why isn't he a Republican? He seems to me a lot more right-wing than other Republicans like Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Arnold Schwartzenegger. Granted they are all liberal Republicans, but they are still Republicans.

I don’t want to pick apart every sentence Zell Miller uttered. I do agree with some of what he said. He gave John Kerry one heck of a shellacking on military spending, for example. But in other areas he completely let himself go.

That's the most dangerous outsourcing of all. This politician [John Kerry] wants to be leader of the free world.

Free for how long?

Please. Who, exactly, is going to make the world unfree? France? Don’t make me laugh. Al Qaeda? Even if they nuke New York City they won’t be able to enslave the United States.

One of the strangest things about Zell Miller's speech is his trouble with the English language.

Motivated more by partisan politics than by national security, today's Democratic leaders see America as an occupier, not a liberator.

And nothing makes this Marine madder than someone calling American troops occupiers rather than liberators.

Get a grip, Miller.

Of course the American and British militaries liberated Iraq. Removing a totalitarian regime cannot plausibly be called anything but liberation unless another similar regime is installed in its place. But let's not kid ourselves. There are plenty of people in Fallujah who don't feel liberated. They sang in their Saddamite chains. It's horrible, but it's true. Keeping them out of power required a military occupation. You can't spin that away, and there isn't any point in trying to do so. Occupations are sometimes necessary. Getting prickly and defensive about it prevents any serious discussion of the subject.

Keeping Shi'ite religious goons like Moqtada al-Sadr out of power similarly requires an occupation, even though the insurgents in question recognize that they have been liberated from the secular tyranny that predated that occupation. Liberation and occupation are not necessarily exclusive. What the American soldiers are not is colonists. They aren't moving their families to Baghdad.

President Roosevelt, in his speech that summer [of 1940], told America "all private plans, all private lives, have been in a sense repealed by an overriding public danger."
Franklin Roosevelt is by far my favorite president of the 20th Century. But the man wasn't Moses, and I'm not going to praise everything he said just because he was the one who said it.

My private life has not been and will not be repealed. Don't any Republicans find that quote creepy? That's the kind of crazy talk that makes up Kim Jong Il's lunatic North Korean "juche" ideology.

I won't be misunderstood here. Obviously FDR was not a totalitarian Stalinist. He certainly wouldn't be my favorite president since Lincoln had that been the case. And Zell Miller is no Stalinist, either, nor anything like it. But come on. It would be scarcely possible for Miller or anyone else to find a worse quote from FDR to apply to the modern era. It really does bring to mind Christopher Hitchens' description of life in North Korea where everyhing that is not absolutely prohibited is absolutely compulsory. Because that’s what you get when all private plans and private lives are repealed. I know very well that Pyongyang isn’t what Roosevelt or Miller had in mind, but that is what those words point to. Recycling them does make me wonder about Zell Miller’s instincts. I just can’t imagine favorably quoting something like that. I would have to become a very different person in order to do so.

But don't waste your breath telling that to the leaders of my party today. In their warped way of thinking America is the problem, not the solution. [Emphasis added.]
Whoa there, Jackson. John Kerry is not Noam Chomsky. And John Edwards is no Michael Moore.

There are plenty of people on the left who think America is the problem, that America is eeeevil, that America is the new fascist police state. I've beaten them over the head with a rhetorical club on this blog for almost two years now. They are the most irritating people in the entire country, in part because plenty of them live in my neighborhood and I have to put up with their bullshit on a regular basis. I've also taken aim at mainstream liberals who refuse to call them out on the carpet. I expect a blowhard like Rush Limbaugh to make no distinction between a mainstream Democrat and a radical wingnut, but no one, and I mean no one, who is a Democrat himself has any excuse for not getting this right. If "the leaders of the Democratic Party" were as Zell Miller described them, Ralph Nader would be out of a job and Noam Chomsky would be a senator instead of a crank on the margins at Z Magazine.

Miller’s argument with Chris Matthews on Hardball was similarly offputting. (Click here to see the video.)

He makes some good points, but he's still a bully and a loose cannon. Chris Matthews is not generally known for amiability or grace under pressure, but I think he handled Zell Miller's steamrolling admirably. Miller can’t hold down a conversation with somebody who disagrees with him even when that person is ignoring the insults and the bullying. Matthews even professed admiration for Zell Miller, yet Miller still couldn’t resist threats of physical violence. He seems to have been knocked clean off his rocker by hatred for his own party. He's been seized by Bush-hatred inverted.

He ought to be my kind of Democrat since we’re both alienated from the party for some of the same reasons. But he's becoming a hallucinatory right-winger, incapable of grasping straightforward objective reality. It is painful for me to watch. The Democrats are a bit nuts right now, but it simply won't do to match their craziness and hysteria with more of the same.

Zell Miller might have made me more likely to vote for George W. Bush by presenting a reasonable case. Instead I’ll be stuck cobbling together my own “liberal case for Bush” and seeing if it holds up enough for me to run with it. What Miller is doing is acting as a kind of anti-role model for me. Note to self. Don't be like Zell.


UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias responds. And for the record, Matt, I do not think you are deranged. You're on my blogroll, after all.

UPDATE: When Laura Bush was asked what she thought of Zell Miller's speech she said “I don’t know that we share that point of view.”

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:55 PM

Hucksters

Andrew Sullivan is back from vacation and isn't any more impressed with the Republican National Convention than I am.

How to convey the spectacular incoherence of last night's continuing infomercial for the re-election of George W. Bush? The evening began with a series of speeches trumpeting vast increases in federal spending: on education, healthcare, AIDS, medical research, and on and on. No, these were not Democrats. They were Bush Republicans, extolling the capacity of government to help people, to cure the sick, educate the young, save Africans from HIV, subsidize religious charities, prevent or cure breast cancer, and any other number of worthy causes.
What a complete and utter joke these things are. I''m a swing voter, so I know both parties are trying to pitch to me right now. And I am not going to let myself get huckstered by either one of them. The Democrats pretended to be Republicans at their convention and swaggered more than generals at a Latin American military junta's parade. And now the Republicans are pretending to be big-government bleeding hearts. Gimme a break, people. If you want my vote, don't insult my intelligence. Seriously.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:22 PM

September 1, 2004

The Drive Back

Well, I’m back home again. Sean and I drove 5,350 miles in eight days. I don’t want to go anywhere near my car right now, but the next time I do have to drive someplace it won’t seem far. Mexico’s Sea of Cortez is only one fifth that distance. Big deal, no sweat, I can cruise on down there any time.

I hardly know the first thing about photography. I’m happy with a few of my nature shots, but I can’t seem to figure out how to take decent pictures of cities. Minneapolis and Chicago are both beautiful cities and I took plenty of pictures of each, but somehow the pictures just aren’t working for me.

I really do wish my Chicago pictures turned out since that was our destination. And what a fantastic destination it was. I used to live within three-hours driving distance, so the city was not new to me. But I missed the place because I hadn’t seen it for years. Sean had never been there before. And since he’s a graduate student in University of Oregon’s architecture program, not having been to Chicago was a mistake that needed correcting.

I was afraid I wouldn’t like Chicago as much anymore because I’ve been to Europe and New York in the meantime. But I have to say I still think Chicago is one of the greatest cities on Earth. It really is an architectural masterpiece. If Europe had a towering vertical city it would look like Chicago, not like New York. And Chicago’s sophistication and cosmopolitanism (people from every country in the world live there, just as they do in New York and Los Angeles) easily rivals that of any other world class city.

I’d go so far to say that out of all the American cities only New York beats Chicago, and only just barely. Every time I visit that city I have a hard time understanding why most people on the coasts overlook it. What is the deal, anyway, with the coastal snobs sniffing at “flyover country?” Is it because the Midwest is flat? Because it grows corn and has cows?

If you think San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York is the center of the universe, you’ll be shocked by what you see in Chicago if you ever decide to visit. Chicago makes everywhere else – and I do mean everywhere – seem painfully, even brutally, provincial.

Some day I hope to figure out urban photography. In the meantime, here are some of the places we saw on the drive home.


Iowa_River.jpg

Here is the the Iowa River just north of Iowa City. The Midwestern scenery may not be spectacular due to the lack of topography, but it is pretty and I won’t let anyone tell me otherwise.


Iowa_Rolling_Hills.jpg

One of the rolling green hills of Iowa, of which there are millions.


Iowa_Prairie.jpg

The Iowa prairie.


Nebraska_Grass.jpg

The trees of the Midwest vanish in Western Nebraska where the rain shadow of the Rockies casts an arid pall over the plains.


Nebraska_Fence.jpg

Nebraska has a different vibe from the lush Midwestern states around the Great Lakes. It feels slightly, but not quite, Western. And it’s a lot more conservative.


Nebraska_Ground.jpg

Look at the flatness! Some parts of Western Nebraska are just a gigantic featureless ground.


Utah_Hills.jpg

Eerie hills in Utah. It looks like God torched some sand dunes with a blow torch.


North_of_Moab.jpg

Arches National Park, north of Moab, Utah.


Arches_National_Park.jpg

Utah is like another world. I enjoyed the drive through Colorado, but it looks so much like my Oregon I’m a little hard to impress. But I can’t tell you how many times I said “wow” while driving through Utah. I need to go back and spend some quality time in the desert.


Utah_Arch.jpg

Here is one of the arches in Arches National Park. This thing is enormous, much bigger than it looks in the picture.


Through_the_Arch.jpg

And here is the view through the window of the arch to the desert beyond.


Utah_Sunset.jpg

A sunset near Castle Valley, Utah.


Great_Salt_Lake_Desert.jpg

The Great Salt Lake Desert. I heard distant thumping explosions from the military proving ground as I snapped this picture.


Nevada_Desolation.jpg

Nevada desolation.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:15 PM