December 30, 2004

First Stingy, Now Unilateral

First we’re accused of being stingy in the wake of the tsunami. Now Clare Short is laughably accusing us of trying to help unilaterally.

United States President George Bush was tonight accused of trying to undermine the United Nations by setting up a rival coalition to coordinate relief following the Asian tsunami disaster.

The president has announced that the US, Japan, India and Australia would coordinate the world’s response.

Why single out Bush for this? Australia, India, and Japan are in on this neoconservative plot, too.
But former International Development Secretary Clare Short said that role should be left to the UN.

“I think this initiative from America to set up four countries claiming to coordinate sounds like yet another attempt to undermine the UN when it is the best system we have got and the one that needs building up,” she said.

“Only really the UN can do that job,” she told BBC Radio Four’s PM programme.
What a bizarre assertion. If the UN didn’t exist, what on earth would we do? Would south Asia drown in wreckage and mud while we tried to create a UN from scratch before we could send in some aid?
“It is the only body that has the moral authority.”
The US, Japan, India, and Australia don’t have the moral authority for crisis relief? Who bestows this moral authority? Clare Short? Who gave her the authority to do that?
”But it can only do it well if it is backed up by the authority of the great powers.”
Well, it isn’t backed up by the authority of the great powers. There’s a reason for that, Clare. Can you say Bosnia? Rwanda? Oil for food? What about the totalitarian and genocidal regimes like Libya and Sudan on the U.N.’s farcical “Human Rights Commission?”

The UN has no moral authority. None. Zero. Nada. Zip. Zilch. But the UN still manages to pull off some decent crisis relief once in a while. If even the UN can do that, surely the US, Japan, India, and Australia can do something, too.

“I don’t know what that is about but it sounds very much, I am afraid, like the US trying to have a separate operation and not work with the rest of the world through the UN system,” she added.
Over a hundred thousand people are dead. This is not the time to seethe and whine about process. Process means absolutely nothing to people who need help and need it right now. Speed and results, Clare. Speed and results. Roll up your sleeves and stick a sock in it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:06 PM

December 29, 2004

Adventures in News-Doctoring

I’m sure it’s fun taking a quote out of context and sticking it in a headline. You can make it seem like anybody said anything if you limit your excerpt to only three words.

Here's an AFP wire story titled Insurgency in Iraq 'will not end': Powell.

And here's a snippet:
[Colin] Powell reiterated that Iraq's January 30 elections will take place as scheduled and that the US and Iraqi forces are working to have security in place for the polls.

But, he told CBS television, “the insurgency will not end.”

The very same article quoted Powell as saying “the insurgency will be defeated.” Instead of writing a headline that said Insurgency in Iraq 'will not end': Powell it could just as easily have been written this way - Insurgency in Iraq 'will be defeated': Powell. Both are technically accurate.

If you want to know what Colin Powell actually said about the insurgency, what I wrote above is as worthless as the AFP headline and the story's first couple of paragraphs. But, hey, at least the reporter fills in some of the context around one of those contradictory quotes. Too bad he or she didn't do the same for the primary quote. [That would have wrecked the headline - ed.]

Here's the relevant context:
“These insurgents are determined to have no representative government. They want to go back to a tyranny,” Powell said. “And so the insurgency will continue and the insurgency will have to be defeated by coalition forces, but increasingly the insurgency will be defeated and brought under control, if not completely defeated, by Iraqi forces that we are building up as rapidly as we can,” he added.
I can only guess at the context of the primary quote, the one that appears in the headline. The reporter never did bother to tell us.

UPDATE: Spartacus has fun with subordinate clauses.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:12 PM

Video of the Tsunami

Pundit Guy is hosting several “home videos” of the tsunami. There is no gore, but more than enough horror. Some videos even show tourists on the beach who have no idea what is about to happen to them. If someone you know is missing you might not want to watch these.

He's getting hammered with bandwidth charges, so if you watch the movies please click the “Make a donation” link. He promises to send half the proceeds to disaster relief.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:10 PM

December 28, 2004

New Blog – Liberal Iraqi

Welcome Ali, Liberal Iraqi, to the blogosphere.

I am honored to be one of the first six linked on his blogroll. I consciously write to an American audience, and it never ceases to amaze me where in the world some of my readers live. When I first started this blog I had no idea people in Iraq would ever stop in to read it.

What does Ali mean when he describes himself as a liberal Iraqi? I'll let him answer that.
I want to say that it's a common knowledge that compared to the west, Iraq is a very conservative society, so being a liberal in Iraq caries a very different meaning than being a liberal anywhere in the west or more advanced countries. This does not mean that I'm against liberals anywhere, as on the contrary I find myself more close to them than conservatives, and I do have many friends on both sides as well as other centrists and independent people. I'm only against their view of OIF and the WoT in general. This is one of the few points where I do agree with the conservatives. I know that some conservatives have their own selfish motives behind their support for democracy in Iraq, but I believe that the majority of them just want Iraq to succeed and also want to have a friendly democratic government in the ME instead of a brutal mad dictatorship that has ties with terrorist organizations allover the world.

Back to Iraq and the main topic of this post, I and many freedom-loving Iraqis see traditions whether Islamic or tribal in origin as the main obstacle towards our march for a free democratic Iraq. You can count Arab nationalism as another obstacle in this field. We, those who call ourselves liberal Iraqis, are totally against such traditions and rotten ideologies. We see ourselves as part of humanity and that's all. Some people in Iraq accuse us of being too liberal to the degree where we lack a real identity. This is not true, as we have one and it's called humanity.

So there's no sophisticated ideology that I endorse, I just support freedom of press, freedom of expression, women's freedom, separation of “Church from the state”, freedom of religion and limited control by the government over economy. I do, however support strongly international aggressive interference in countries' internal policies to save others from oppression and humiliation.

In Iraq, we longed for a revolution to save us from what we suffered at Saddam's days. We made feeble attempts, but some Iraqis in the south and the north sacrificed and risked much more for the sake of our freedom, and the end was horrific. After that we almost went into total despair, and then the Americans came and our joy was beyond description. Still we do need a revolution, a revolution on the level of minds which without it, all the help we are getting from others and all the sacrifices that were given for Iraq to be free from tyranny, all these would be in vain. I still enjoy my freedom tremendously despite all the problems and dangers, and I have full trust in my people but I'm not ashamed of saying that we still need your help.
The last time I checked his Technorati profile, no one in the blogosphere had linked to him yet. Get the word out. Help promote this guy.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:22 PM

Worse Than (Our) Vietnam

The number of people killed by the South Asian tsunami will likely exceed the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War. The AP reports the casualty count has now passed 52,000. And it is going to be a lot worse.

The ministry statement said this figure did not include data from districts on Sumatra's hard-hit western coast, including the town of Meulaboh — meaning that the final death toll will almost certainly rise significantly. Earlier, the country's national disaster director, Purnomo Sidik, said 10,000 people were killed in Meulaboh alone.
Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:44 PM

December 27, 2004

Thousands of Miles of Hell

Sometimes a picture is not worth 1,000 words. Even though it's impossible, try to imagine thousands of miles of coastline looking like this. It boggles the mind as much as the death toll.















(Photos from Yahoo slideshow.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:51 PM

Shifting Geography


The magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck off Indonesia on Sunday morning moved the entire island of Sumatra about 100 feet to the southwest, pushing up a gigantic mass of water that collapsed into a tsunami and devastated shorelines around the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:27 PM

December 26, 2004

Tsunamis and Terror

John Hinderaker at Powerline wonders why the destruction wrought by tsunamis in Asia is somehow less shocking than acts of violence.

It's always struck me that casualties resulting from natural disasters inspire less horror than those caused by violence. More people have been killed today by tidal waves in Asia than have been killed in the last year and a half of violence in Iraq. Yet it is unlikely that today's earthquake will stay in the news for more than a day or two. I'm not sure why this is, but, frankly, I share the tendency to pay much greater attention to political violence than to natural disasters.
Political violence is more horrible. In part that’s because human violence of any kind is more horrible.

Think about it this way. Would you rather be killed by a tsunami or drowned by a hit man? Would you rather lose a loved one in a car accident or to an axe murderer? Which would be easier to accept?

Murder horrifies because it’s on purpose. It is tainted by evil. It causes more emotional damage because you know someone is happy your loved one is dead.

A tsunami is a very bad thing that just happens. A murder, a rape, an act of terrorism, a campaign of genocide, is shot through with malice. We recoil not only at the event, but at the mindset behind the event. Tsunamis aren't malicious, and nobody plans them.

The entire world can share in the grief and horror of the thousands dead in Asia. Thousands dead in an act of violence is different. The grief and horror of 9/11, for example, was not shared by everybody. Some people wanted 9/11 to happen. Some people celebrated the toppling of the towers. We all remember seeing Palestinians dancing in the streets that day. And we remember those who said we deserved it.

Some people hope to repeat 9/11. They have our undivided attention. (At least they have the undivided attention of some of us.) If someone had managed to trigger tsunamis in Asia it would be much the same. Partly this is because the event would have been much more horrible. But also because it would mean something is terribly, dangerously, wrong with the world – something that can and must be fixed.

UPDATE: The death toll is now over 19,000 and climbing. God. I can't even process this yet. That's just way too many people to die by a wave all at the same time.

UPDATE: Joe Gandelman has an Asian blog roundup. (Shudder.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:11 PM

Extraverted Intuitive Thinking Perceiving

Nancy Rommelmann linked to a Meyers-Briggs personality test online and said the test results precisely captured her personality. I was a little suspicious. But the test only takes a few minutes, so I thought I’d give it a shot and see what it said about me.

Turns out I’m the Extraverted Intuitive Thinking Perceiving type. My “report” is pretty accurate, at least insofar as I see myself. The last sentence doesn’t really describe me, but the rest is either close or exact:
“Clever” is the word that perhaps describes ENTPs best. The professor who juggles half a dozen ideas for research papers and grant proposals in his mind while giving a highly entertaining lecture on an abstruse subject is a classic example of the type. So is the stand-up comedian whose lampoons are not only funny, but incisively accurate.

ENTPs are usually verbally as well as cerebrally quick, and generally love to argue—both for its own sake, and to show off their often-impressive skills. They tend to have a perverse sense of humor as well, and enjoy playing devil's advocate. They sometimes confuse, even inadvertently hurt, those who don't understand or accept the concept of argument as a sport.

ENTPs are as innovative and ingenious at problem-solving as they are at verbal gymnastics; on occasion, however, they manage to outsmart themselves. This can take the form of getting found out at “sharp practice”—ENTPs have been known to cut corners without regard to the rules if it's expedient — or simply in the collapse of an over-ambitious juggling act. Both at work and at home, ENTPs are very fond of “toys”—physical or intellectual, the more sophisticated the better. They tend to tire of these quickly, however, and move on to new ones.

ENTPs are basically optimists, but in spite of this (perhaps because of it?), they tend to become extremely petulant about small setbacks and inconveniences. (Major setbacks they tend to regard as challenges, and tackle with determination.) ENTPs have little patience with those they consider wrongheaded or unintelligent, and show little restraint in demonstrating this. However, they do tend to be extremely genial, if not charming, when not being harassed by life in general.

In terms of their relationships with others, ENTPs are capable of bonding very closely and, initially, suddenly, with their loved ones. Some appear to be deceptively offhand with their nearest and dearest; others are so demonstrative that they succeed in shocking co-workers who've only seen their professional side. ENTPs are also good at acquiring friends who are as clever and entertaining as they are. Aside from those two areas, ENTPs tend to be oblivious of the rest of humanity, except as an audience — good, bad, or potential.
Try the test yourself. See if it’s accurate. I bet it will be.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:05 PM

December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas


Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:32 PM

December 22, 2004

The Worst Christmas Article

James Wolcott picked a fight with James Lileks over Christmas. I wouldn’t have done that. Not only because I’d hate to have Lileks rip me to pieces, but because Lileks is an eminently reasonable person. He's not the kind of guy you're supposed to pick fights with. You can disagree with him, sure. You can discuss things with him, yeah. But engage in a long-running public trading of insults? No. I'd advise against that.

Wolcott’s biggest error is in talking about Lileks as though he is this guy, Donald R. May, who wrote what is easily the worst Christmas article this year:
The Christmas Deconstruction Alliance just does not get it. They are dumbfounded as they have not been able to secularize Christmas. They throw tantrums because of the tenacity with which the vast majority of us hold onto our Christian beliefs and traditions. They do not understand why the United States does not roll over, accept the abolition of Christmas, close down our churches, and remove the crosses from our cemeteries.
I’d like to know…who is doing this? Who wants to abolish Christmas? Anybody? Who wants to close down our churches and remove crosses from cemeteries? Seriously. I’d like to know. But he doesn’t name names.

The (separate) argument about whether Christmas songs should be played in schools where non-Christian students attend is tiresome but, I suppose, worth having. But this is an argument about watering down the public culture to a lower common denominator. It’s not about abolishing Christmas. No one (at least to my knowledge) wants to open the school doors on December 25th so they can turn the kids into pagans. (Yes, Mr. May actually says “The liberal elite think their superior wisdom, and their control of education and the media, should convince us to become a bunch of pagans.”)

I thought about fisking his entire piece but decided to heck with it. This hysterical article (which Town Hall should be embarrassed to have on its Web site) isn’t worth my time or anyone else’s.

But I do want to zero in on one point he made because I’ve seen plenty of other people say the same thing.
Just what are some of the things opposed by those who would eliminate our Judeo-Christian heritage?… We definitely can’t acknowledge we are a God-fearing nation who’s Constitution is based on The Ten Commandments.
He really thinks the Constitution is based on the Ten Commandments. He and millions of others. So let’s go through the commandments one at a time.

1. I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other God before me. The first ten words of the First Amendment explicitly knock the First Commandment aside: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”

2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. This one is also knocked aside by the First Amendment since it protects the freedom of speech. Making a graven image isn’t technically speech, but it’s expression, and it’s protected.

3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain. See above. Speech is protected by the First Amendment.

4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. You know what’s wrong with this one, Constitutionally speaking? The same thing that’s wrong with all the others. It’s a commandment. Unless I’m forgetting something, the Constitution doesn’t tell individuals to do anything. It certainly doesn’t tell them to slack off on Sunday.

5. Honour thy father and thy mother. Good advice, if your parents aren’t violent drunks or child molesters. But the Constitution doesn’t address family matters. It addresses matters of state.

6. Thou shalt not kill. A fine law, even if it’s not in the Constitution. Every nation - Judeo-Christian or not - prohibits murder. So the idea that we have this law on the books because it’s in the Ten Commandments strikes me as dubious at best.

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Adultery isn’t a crime in the United States. It’s not a good thing, and it can land you in trouble if you find yourself in divorce court. But you won’t go to jail and you won’t be fined if you cheat on your spouse.

8. Thou shalt not steal. Again, a fine law. Also, again, every nation - Judeo-Christian or not - prohibits stealing. So the idea that we have this law on the books because it’s in the Ten Commandments strikes me as dubious at best.

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. This one is against the law, too. But, again, it’s not in the Constitution, not anywhere that I’ve been able to find. (If I’m wrong, show me where.) I don’t know for certain if bearing false witness is prohibited in every nation on earth, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it is.

10. Thou shalt not covet. This one is definitely not in the Constitution. The last thing the Constitution does is regulate the private thoughts of citizens. Only totalitarian regimes even try to do that.

I don’t see any overlap between these documents anywhere. But, hey, maybe I’m wrong. If the Constitution has some fine print that says something like Thou shalt have no other God before me I’d love to have someone quote the relevant text. Until then, I’ll assume anyone who says the Constitution is based on the Ten Commandments is either wallowing in wishful thinking or, as is obvious in Mr. May’s case, suggesting heathens like me are somehow not real Americans.

One other sentence stands out for its inanity:
We can’t have joy since the liberals and terrorists always are angry about something.
The conservatives and terrorists always are angry about something, too. Atheists and agnostics, for starters. Leave us alone. And understand this: most of us celebrate Christmas.

Meanwhile, Jonah Goldberg published a vastly more sensible article in the same online magazine. And he concludes:

Simply because there are more Christians than Jews or Muslims or atheists, doesn’t mean that Christians should always get the shaft. That said, Christians — or at least the politically organized ones — don’t do themselves any favors when they start talking like just another identity politics group. Christians seem to be complaining more this year than usual about the war on Christmas, even as they are finding more success. Arnold Schwarzenegger renamed the governor’s “holiday tree” a Christmas tree. George Bush is the first president ever to include a quote from scripture on his Christmas card. Besides, once “Merry Christmas” becomes a political statement, everyone loses.
What he said.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:49 PM

Fear of Santa

Click the image to see the funniest Christmas photo gallery of the year.


(Hat tip: Callimachus.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:39 PM

Killing Blog Spam Dead

This Web site has been flooded with an unspeakable level of spam in the comments section from jerks using automated spam-bots to promote everything from porn and viagra to vacations and car rentals. No more. It’s over. MT-CAPTCHA is now fully installed and operational.

From here on out, in order to post a comment you will have to manually enter a numeric code that first appears as a graphic. (Open the comments box and you’ll see what I mean.) Humans can read and enter the code. Spam-bots can’t. No more will that jerk who sends 1,000 spams at a time for mortgage refinancing be able to boost his business on the back of my bandwidth.

James Seng wrote the CAPTCHA plug-in and it’s free to download and install. (CAPTCHA stands for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.)

It’s a four-hour procedure, and that’s if you know what you’re doing. My Unix skills are pretty rudimentary so I paid Anthony Perez-Miller (who first installed it on his site) to install and set it up for me. If you have a blog and want to take care of this problem once and for all, send him an email. Hire him. He knows what he’s doing, he’s fast, and you can trust him.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:45 PM

December 21, 2004

New Column

My new Tech Central Station column is up: Marching Towards a Democratic Iraq.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:51 PM

21st Century Dilemmas

Roger L. Simon found a speech by Haim Harari caled A View from the Eye of the Storm that was delivered and published in April. I missed it then and so did he, but it's as valuable now as it was then.

The whole thing is worth reading, but here's an excerpt:
The civilized world believes in democracy, the rule of law, including international law, human rights, free speech and free press, among other liberties. There are naïve old-fashioned habits such as respecting religious sites and symbols, not using ambulances and hospitals for acts of war, avoiding the mutilation of dead bodies and not using children as human shields or human bombs. Never in history, not even in the Nazi period, was there such total disregard of all of the above as we observe now. Every student of political science debates how you prevent an anti-democratic force from winning a democratic election and abolishing democracy. Other aspects of a civilized society must also have limitations. Can a policeman open fire on someone trying to kill him? Can a government listen to phone conversations of terrorists and drug dealers? Does free speech protects you when you shout “fire” in a crowded theater? Should there be death penalty, for deliberate multiple murders? These are the old-fashioned dilemmas. But now we have an entire new set.

Do you raid a mosque, which serves as a terrorist ammunition storage? Do you return fire, if you are attacked from a hospital? Do you storm a church taken over by terrorists who took the priests hostages? Do you search every ambulance after a few suicide murderers use ambulances to reach their targets? Do you strip every woman because one pretended to be pregnant and carried a suicide bomb on her belly? Do you shoot back at someone trying to kill you, standing deliberately behind a group of children? Do you raid terrorist headquarters, hidden in a mental hospital? Do you shoot an arch-murderer who deliberately moves from one location to another, always surrounded by children? All of these happen daily in Iraq and in the Palestinian areas. What do you do? Well, you do not want to face the dilemma. But it cannot be avoided.

Suppose, for the sake of discussion, that someone would openly stay in a well-known address in Teheran, hosted by the Iranian Government and financed by it, executing one atrocity after another in Spain or in France, killing hundreds of innocent people, accepting responsibility for the crimes, promising in public TV interviews to do more of the same, while the Government of Iran issues public condemnations of his acts but continues to host him, invite him to official functions and treat him as a great dignitary. I leave it to you as homework to figure out what Spain or France would have done, in such a situation.

The problem is that the civilized world is still having illusions about the rule of law in a totally lawless environment. It is trying to play ice hockey by sending a ballerina ice-skater into the rink or to knock out a heavyweight boxer by a chess player. In the same way that no country has a law against cannibals eating its prime minister, because such an act is unthinkable, international law does not address killers shooting from hospitals, mosques and ambulances, while being protected by their Government or society. International law does not know how to handle someone who sends children to throw stones, stands behind them and shoots with immunity and cannot be arrested because he is sheltered by a Government. International law does not know how to deal with a leader of murderers who is royally and comfortably hosted by a country, which pretends to condemn his acts or just claims to be too weak to arrest him. The amazing thing is that all of these crooks demand protection under international law and define all those who attack them as war criminals, with some Western media repeating the allegations.
Those who care about international law must do two things. First, fix international law and make it actually relevent to 21st century problems. Second, remember that some people don't care a whit for international law because it gets in the way of fighting this war - so they won't do the job for you.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:33 PM

Aquarius Then and Now

Christopher Hitchens reviews a series of books on the 60s, hippies, Vietnam, and the commune movement for the New York Times. Lots of good stuff came out of that era, civil rights being only the most noted and obvious. (Also, Vaclav Havel - one of my absolute favorite people - considers himself a 60s person. That doesn't mean nothing.)

But not all was well, and much of the era's detritus is even worse. Just as I did yesterday, he's not afraid to use the word reactionary.

If you look back to the founding document of the 60's left, which was the Port Huron statement (also promulgated in Michigan), you will easily see that it was in essence a conservative manifesto. It spoke in vaguely Marxist terms of alienation, true, but it was reacting to bigness and anonymity and urbanization, and it betrayed a yearning for a lost agrarian simplicity. It forgot what Marx had said, about the dynamism of capitalism and ''the idiocy of rural life.'' Earlier 18th- and 19th-century American communards had often been fleeing or preparing for a coming Apocalypse, and their emulators in the 1960's and 1970's followed this trope as well, believing everything they read about the impending crash, or the exhaustion of the world's resources. The crazy lean-to of the Unabomber began to take dim shape at that period, even if many of the new pioneers were more affected by the work of the pacific Tolstoy or of C. Wright Mills (who used to recommend, if memory serves, that people should build their own cars as well as their own houses).

Is there a moral to point out here? Of course there is. Maybe more than one. The first is that, as Agnew deftly notes, more of her friends ought to have read about the Joad family before setting out. The second is that not all was wasted or futile. Everybody in society now has a better idea of our relationship with the natural order and our kinship with animals, and we are no longer so casual about what once seemed the endless bounty of our environment. In some ways, we have the ''love generation'' to thank for this. Meanwhile, though, the anti-globalization movement has started to reject modernity altogether, to set its sights on laboratories and on the idea of the division of labor, and to adopt symbols from Fallujah as the emblems of its resistance. Conservatism cannot and does not, despite itself, remain static. It mutates into something far more reactionary than anything from which the hippies were ever fleeing.

I don't know what anti-globalization has to do with Fallujah, but Gene over at Harry's Place noted the movement's connection to Hezbollah yesterday.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:00 AM

December 20, 2004

And God Rolled His Eyes

I have little time for writing tonight, so let me just hand it over (so to speak) to Jeff Jarvis for the moment. He wrote an essay on his blog about God, Christmas, and their discontents called And God Rolled His Eyes. He finds the right balance, I think, between the two often ridiculous sides in our annual holiday culture war.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:08 PM

December 19, 2004

Cities in Amber

If a place is frozen in time, how many years have to pass before it can fairly be called reactionary?

I lived in the Midwest in the mid-1990s. (Iowa City, in case you're interested. Nice town. Not what most people on the coasts imagine when they think of Iowa. Kurt Vonnegut lived, wrote, and taught there for a while.)

Several of my left-liberal friends liked to make fun of Muncie, Indiana (a city which I have to admit I never visited) because it was supposedly stuck in the 50s. Maybe what they said was true, and maybe it wasn't. I don't know because, like I said, I never went there. But if it really was stuck in the 50s at the laughably late date of the mid-1990s I think it would qualify as reactionary. Four decades out of date is long enough. It's longer than I've been alive.

Dr. Frank is reading The Voice of Guns, a book about the Symbionese Liberation Army, published in 1977. (I actually know one of the members of the SLA because I inadvertantly hired him.)

Frank cites an excerpt that describes the decade-old time warp that Berkeley was back in the 1970s. He says, and I agree with him, that Berkeley still hasn't changed. (I have been to Berkeley recently, so I think I can say this.)
Berkeley is the ghost town of the Movement, the morgue of the New Left. It is a city dominated by the huge University of California Berkeley campus; a college town uniquely caught up in its own peculiar atmosphere in which swift, turbulent currents of the sixties still swirl, settling well outside the American mainstream. Once the premier capital of the counterculture, Berkeley is still mecca for those seeking to discover or re-create the angry, hopeful anarchism that surged across the nation in the youthful rebellion of the last decade…

Here the Revolution never failed, it merely fell into limbo… Among themselves, they created a time warp, an enchanted-village effect in which much of what constitutes time seems frozen in 1969.

I think it's time we stop thinking of Berkeley as progressive and designate it reactionary instead. It's the Muncie, Indiana (assuming the old Muncie really was the old Muncie) of our time. Four decades out of date is long enough. It's longer than I've been alive.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:37 PM

December 18, 2004

Progressive Patriotism

George Orwell is one of my favorite writers, not so much for his novels (which are great) but for the essays he wrote during World War II. One of the pleasures of re-reading his work is to see how the more things change the more they don’t change at all. Also, as a side note, though it's not what he intended, he shows better than most how closely England resembles America.

In England Your England he wrote about the divorce of patriotism from leftism.
In intention, at any rate, the English intelligentsia are Europeanized. They take their cookery from Paris and their opinions from Moscow. In the general patriotism of the country they form a sort of island of dissident thought. England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during ‘God save the King’ than of stealing from a poor box. All through the critical years many left-wingers were chipping away at English morale, trying to spread an outlook that was sometimes squashily pacifist, sometimes violently pro-Russian, but always anti-British. It is questionable how much effect this had, but it certainly had some. If the English people suffered for several years a real weakening of morale, so that the Fascist nations judged that they were ‘decadent’ and that it was safe to plunge into war, the intellectual sabotage from the Left was partly responsible. Both the New Statesman and the News Chronicle cried out against the Munich settlement, but even they had done something to make it possible. Ten years of systematic Blimp-baiting affected even the Blimps themselves and made it harder than it had been before to get intelligent young men to enter the armed forces. Given the stagnation of the Empire, the military middle class must have decayed in any case, but the spread of a shallow Leftism hastened the process.

It is clear that the special position of the English intellectuals during the past ten years, as purely negative creatures, mere anti-Blimps, was a by-product of ruling-class stupidity. Society could not use them, and they had not got it in them to see that devotion to one's country implies ‘for better, for worse’. Both Blimps and highbrows took for granted, as though it were a law of nature, the divorce between patriotism and intelligence. If you were a patriot you read Blackwood's Magazine and publicly thanked God that you were ‘not brainy’. If you were an intellectual you sniggered at the Union Jack and regarded physical courage as barbarous. It is obvious that this preposterous convention cannot continue. The Bloomsbury highbrow, with his mechanical snigger, is as out-of-date as the cavalry colonel. A modern nation cannot afford either of them. Patriotism and intelligence will have to come together again.

Patriotism and intelligence will have to come together again. Can they? Of course. But I can’t say it’s an encouraging prospect considering how very long ago he wrote those words.

That doesn’t stop some of us from thinking about it, though. Via Roger L. Simon I discovered a new blog called Done With Mirrors. The blog’s author Callimachus wrote an essay called Progressive Patriotism. It is your required reading over the weekend.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:16 AM

December 17, 2004

The Martial Art of Book-Burning

A few days ago I wondered aloud on this page if any prominent conservatives would take on the “right-wing nanny-state jerks in their own party.”

I realize that libertarian Republicans do this on a regular basis. But libertarians are not conservatives. They are “classical liberals.” Many of them (like Glenn Reynolds) are basically centrists. Others (like Matt Welch) tend to lean to the left. What I want to see are actual capital-c Conservatives publicly challenge the right-wing authoritarians in their ranks.

If conservatives want to claim they stand for freedom, they need to actually stand for freedom. Arguing only with leftist opponents of freedom isn’t good enough. It comes across as cheap partisan opportunism that’s more anti-leftist than anything else.

Blogger John Coleman, self-described member of the religious right, seems to agree.
[I]n perhaps the most discomforting moves I have encountered in recent years, [a Republican] is burying books to “protect” our values. This of course, has been tried before, but to see it happen in the country that has served as a cove of comfort for writers from Rushdie to Solzhenitsyn is saddening. Even more frightening is the fact that so few of us have dared to respond. [My emphasis.]

I am not a prominent conservative; but I am a conservative. Moreover, I am a member of the religious right and a southerner by birth (born and raised in the heart of Georgia), and while my opinion matters little, I am ashamed that policies like this are allowed to persist in the party to which I often grant my support.


What happens when the party of the right leans away from the defense of liberty and toward the despicable martial art of book burning?
The question answers itself. Good for you, John, for asking it. Now if only you can convince Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity to do the same.

UPDATE: Unsurpisingly, Andrew Sullivan picked this up. Anyone else want to take this on without waving their hands and saying “nothing to see here”?

SECOND UPDATE: Roy Edroso accuses me of being a psuedo-liberal. Guess what, Roy? I plead guilty. I'm a psuedo-liberal! Just as I'm a psuedo-conservative.
I really don't understand why these guys don't just say “fuck it” and announce themselves Republican.
Haven't we been going over that for the past several days? I swear to you, Roy, there are more than two points of view in this country. Try really really hard and you might scrounge up enough of the popular (yet somehow elusive!) nuance required to grasp this.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:37 PM

December 16, 2004

Neocon Tree Huggers for Gay Marriage

When I read stuff like this I’m tempted to simultaneously declare myself a neocon and throw my support behind a ban on clear-cutting trees just so I can irritate people who deserve to be irritated.

(Oh, and just for the record, I'm not kidding about the trees. I live in Oregon and really don't like clear-cutting.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:42 PM

To the Woodshed, Once More

Jeff Jarvis takes Juan Cole out behind the woodshed for yet another well-deserved thrashing. He calls the professor pond scum and a hate blogger - and that's just in the title and the first sentence.

(I'm having dinner with Jeff next month in New York. I hope I don't rankle him much between now and then. Somehow I think I'll be okay.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:48 PM

December 15, 2004

Protect Alabama. Bury Alice Walker.

There are several reasons I’m not a Republican, but the biggest one, the top of the list, is the fact that the Religious Right is a faction in good standing.

Although I’m an atheist/agnostic, I really don’t care that the Religious Right is religious. Nor do I care that the Religious Right is right (so to speak). What I just can’t abide is the reactionary authoritarian impulse that lurks at the heart of it.

From a Guardian story last week:
What should we do with US classics like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or The Color Purple? “Dig a hole,” Gerald Allen recommends, “and dump them in it.”
Who is Gerald Allen? Some nut on the fringe that doesn’t deserve my attention? Don’t I wish.
Earlier this week, Allen got a call from Washington. He will be meeting with President Bush on Monday. I asked him if this was his first invitation to the White House. “Oh no,” he laughs. “It's my fifth meeting with Mr Bush.”

Bush is interested in Allen's opinions because Allen is an elected Republican representative in the Alabama state legislature. He is Bush's base. Last week, Bush's base introduced a bill that would ban the use of state funds to purchase any books or other materials that “promote homosexuality”. Allen does not want taxpayers' money to support “positive depictions of homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle”. That's why Tennessee Williams and Alice Walker have got to go.

I’ve tried to understand the opposition to gay marriage. I’ve listened to the arguments, at least the sane ones. And I’m convinced that opposition to gay marriage is not evidence of bigotry. For one thing, there are just too many people who oppose gay marriage but do support civil unions. Bigotry can’t explain the difference between my opinion and theirs – at least not in all (or even most?) cases.

But burying Alice Walker in a hole in the ground goes way beyond mere bigotry and slouches toward something far worse.

“Traditional family values are under attack,” Allen informs me. They've been under attack “for the last 40 years”. The enemy, this time, is not al-Qaida. The axis of evil is “Hollywood, the music industry”. We have an obligation to “save society from moral destruction”. We have to prevent liberal libarians and trendy teachers from “re-engineering society's fabric in the minds of our children”. We have to “protect Alabamians”.
I don’t know if Mr. Allen actually referred to Hollywood and the music industry as part of an “Axis of Evil” or if the writer inserted it for effect. This is the Guardian we’re talking about here, so I wouldn’t be surprised either way. But there’s more.
Would Allen's bill cut off state funding for Shakespeare? “Well,” he begins, after a pause, “the current draft of the bill does not address how that is going to be handled. I expect details like that to be worked out at the committee stage. Literature like Shakespeare and Hammet [sic] could be left alone.” Could be. Not “would be”. In any case, he says, “you could tone it down”
I hardly even know what to say. This guy (who unsurprisingly can’t pronounce Hamlet correctly) isn’t even able to defend William Shakespeare. We rubes “could” end up being allowed to check out the bard's books if the committee feels like it. Then again, maybe not! Shakespeare might end up being declared a “liberal” or a “fag” who somehow threatens “the children.”

When conservatives rail against “nanny state” liberalism they get my attention. Just once I’d like to see prominent conservatives other than Andrew Sullivan call out the right-wing nanny-state jerks in their own party. Any takers? Or are only liberals and centrists going to keep an eye on this crowd?

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:02 PM

December 14, 2004

Patterico Wins

It turns out that I didn’t win the Wizbang blog award for which I was nominated. Somebody cheated on my behalf and voted for me more than 280 times. I’d say “thanks for trying” but that sort of thing really isn’t okay. Why should I be grateful for the effort? I thought I won, and it turns out I didn’t. And I don’t want to win anything if I don’t deserve it.

Patterico obviously runs a pretty good blog or he wouldn’t have won. So why don’t you hop on over and check him out. I don’t have much else to say tonight because I’ll be busy watching this DVD which finally came out today. (50 extra minutes. Woo hoo!)


Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:39 PM

December 13, 2004

Fisking Juan Cole

I hardly ever - ever - pick fights with other bloggers. But I'm not finished with Juan Cole yet. It's long past time to give the professor from Michigan a double-whammy shellacking.

Yesterday he made up a conspiracy theory (all by himself, this time) about the Iraqi bloggers who write at Iraq the Model.
A related practice has been called by Josh Marshall “astroturfing,” where a “grass roots” campaign turns out actually to be sponsored by a think tank or corporation. Astroturf is fake grass used in US football arenas. What Mailander is talking about is not really astroturfing, but rather the granting of some individuals a big megaphone.
He wouldn’t want to let any individuals have a big megaphone. Especially not liberal-democratic Iraqis who don’t hate America like they’re supposed to.
The MR posting brings up questions about the Iraqi brothers who run the IraqTheModel site.
See what I’m talking about?
It points out that the views of the brothers are celebrated in the right-leaning weblogging world of the US, even though opinion polling shows that their views are far out of the mainstream of Iraqi opinion.
The brothers call b.s. on this one, but I don’t know. I don’t live in Iraq. Neither does Juan Cole. We’ll see what happens after the election in January.

But why should it make any difference to the right side of the blogosphere whether or not the Iraq the Model guys are mainstream or not? They are obviously friends of Americans. They share our liberal-democratic values. They helped found the Iraq Democracy Party. They aren't running around bitching about America or cutting off heads. They're the good guys. That's why we like them.

Juan Cole would rather align himself with anti-American Iraqis like the blogger Riverbend. Okay, whatever. But I have no idea why he expects conservatives and centrists to do any such thing. Most people in this world don’t reflexively side with those who hate them. One reason he is in the political wilderness and I’m not is because he does and I don’t.
It notes that their choice of internet service provider, in Abilene, Texas, is rather suspicious, and wonders whether they are getting some extra support from certain quarters.
Well, Lord help us. Someone in America supports liberal Iraqis against fundamentalism, Baathism, and jihad. Ooo, how suspicious. Better come up with a “theory.”
Contrast all this to the young woman computer systems analyst in Baghdad, Riverbend, who is in her views closer to the Iraqi opinion polls, especially with regard to Sunni Arabs, but who is not being feted in Washington, DC.
Maybe she’s more in line with the Sunni Arabs. I really don't know. But she certainly isn’t in line with the Sunni Kurds, who conveniently ceased to exist on the left the instant the United States government took Bill Clinton’s regime-change policy seriously.

But anyway. Why on Earth would an anti-American Iraqi be celebrated in Washington? Professor Cole might want to try really really hard to remember which country he lives in and, more important, which country Washington is in. That way he might be slightly less baffled by what happens outside his bubble.

The phenomenon of blog trolling, and frankly of blog agents provocateurs secretly working for a particular group or goal and deliberately attempting to spread disinformation, is likely to grow in importance. It is a technique made for the well-funded Neoconservatives, for instance, and I have my suspicions about one or two sites out there already.
As it turns out, Jeff Jarvis - who was an outspoken supporter of John Kerry - probably helped pro-American Iraqi bloggers, including those at Iraq the Model, more than anyone else. But it's much more fun for a certain kind of person to write off Arabs who support freedom and democracy as pawns in a neoconservative plot. Every time I come across this hystetical knee-jerk formulation my opinion of neoconservatives goes up and my opinion of illiberal so-called “liberals” goes down.

It's no wonder, really, that so many conservatives dismiss liberals and leftists out of hand as self-declared enemies of freedom and democracy. Not everyone on the left is like this, I know. Jeff Jarvis is only one of the more obvious examples of a liberal who's actually liberal. But Juan Cole is the “national security” hero on the left side of the blogosphere. It's not the right's fault that it has come to this.

UPDATE: Ali at Iraq the Model responds to the professor.
[Y]ou'd better focus on something other than Iraq. Talk about Lebanon, or Yemen. Yemen is good! You haven't messed up with a Yemeni blogger I assume? Or if you can't live without talking about Iraq, then keep it poetic. It saves my time and your reputation.
SECOND UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis, bless his bleeding liberal heart, accuses Juan Cole of libel and says he is pond scum.

THIRD UPDATE: Barb O. in the comments section points to Juan Cole's page on Some of his students don't like him very much. The person who wrote the top entry says he's “a hypocritical, double-standard spouting apologist for racism and religious fascism.”

CORRECTION: The professor linked to a Martini Republic post about “blog trolling” (his characterization.) I didn't read that post so I didn't realize MR came up with this silly conspiracy theory first. Cole didn't invent it, he just repeated it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:18 PM

Sick and Twisted

An American was murdered by an Iraqi because he “looked Jewish” and Professor Juan Cole (perhaps the most over-rated blogger in the world) blames, wait for it, Israel!

The Iraqi killer of Reserve Navy Lt. Kylan Jones-Huffman has been brought to justice in an Iraqi court. Although he has since changed his story, he at one point admitted to killing Jones-Huffman with a bullet through the back of the neck while the latter was stuck in traffic in downtown Hilla. The assassin said that he felt that Jones-Huffman “looked Jewish.” The fruits of hatred sowed in the Middle East by aggressive and expansionist Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza against the Palestinians and in south Lebanon against Shiites continue to be harvested by Americans.
This from a guy who arrogantly calls his blog “Informed Comment.”

Well, professor, I suppose you join a phalanx of “informed commenters” who blame the United States for the World Trade Center attacks. Nice company you have there. Do you blame black people for Ku Klux Klan lynchings and cross-burnings? Perhaps you blame the gay rights movement for the murder of Matthew Shepherd. I'm just assuming since you're a professor that you know how to apply a little consistency in your thinking, but I wouldn't know. I found this entry via Andrew Sullivan, who reads your blog so I don't have to.

UPDATE: Michael Kimmitt in the comments seems to think it's okay to blame Jews in one country for the murder of a guy who “looks Jewish” in a different country.
And precisely how many heterosexual babies were blown to pieces in collateral damage from gay strikes on heterosexual homes? Also, how long have gay occupiers administered the heterosexual US as a conquered territory without its denizens granted the basic rights of life, liberty, and property? I'm curious. Seriously.
I'll answer that question with another. Would it make sense if a Klansman lynched a black American and blamed it on the confiscation of white farms in Zimbabwe by Robert Mugabe?

SECOND UPDATE: Looks like Juan Cole blamed Israel for the massacre of American contractors in Fallujah, as well.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:23 AM

December 12, 2004

When in Rome

I considered moving to Tokyo to teach English right out of college but then chickened out. I wasn’t ready to live abroad in an alien culture at 22. (Actually, I probably was. I just thought I wasn’t.) Six years ago, before the eruption of the second intifada, I agreed to move to Jerusalem for an Intel tech writing job. But I didn’t go because the position was eliminated before I could start.

I thought long and hard about what it would mean to live in a culture different from mine. The first thing I would have to do – obviously – is accommodate myself to people who are different from me. If I moved to Japan I would expect to encounter Buddhism once in a while. If I moved to Jerusalem I’d expect something around a Jewish theme. And if I ever decide to move to Istanbul (to pick a random example), I'll expect a reduced selection of restaurant options at noon during Ramadan.

I can't imagine moving to one of those places and pitching a fit about and getting “offended” by the local traditions. Only the ugliest of ugly Americans would even think of it.

But some people do behave that way and – amazingly – fools let them get away with it.
Last week, a public elementary school in the northern [Italian] city of Treviso decided that Little Red Riding Hood would be this year's Christmas play instead of the Christmas story.

The teachers said the famous tale was a fitting representation of the struggle between good and evil and would not offend Muslim children. The school's traditional nativity scene was scrapped for the same reason.

In another school near Milan, the word “Jesus” was removed from a Christmas hymn and substituted with the word “virtue.” In Vicenza province an annual contest for the best Nativity scene in schools was canceled.

Conservative politicians and Churchmen blasted the moves.

“Are we losing our minds?,” said Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli, an outspoken member of the populist Northern League. “Do we want to erase our identity for the love of Allah?”
Some places are more hospitable than others, and the Muslim countries are at the absolute top of that list. But there’s a flip side to hospitality. It ought to go both ways. Let's not forget there's such a thing as a rude guest. Those brats and their parents in Italy are perfect examples.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:30 PM

I'm Losing Here, People (Updated - I Won It)

Patterico is ahead in the Wizbang blog awards. He's posting “vote for me” over at Free Republic, exchanging blogroll links for endorsements, bashing me as a “liberal” over at Little Green Footballs, and pulling all sorts of other shenanigans. That kind of behavior can't be rewarded. But so far…it is!

So please go here and correct it by voting for me.

Thanks, all. Your regularly scheduled programming will resume shortly.

UPDATE: Okay, polls are closed and I won best blog for the top 100-250. (Unless, that is, somebody cheated on my behalf - please tell me you didn't.) Thanks, everybody. And congratulations to Patterico and Meryl Yourish who took second and third place. They're both on my blogroll, and both well worth visiting on a regular basis.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:57 PM

December 10, 2004

No More Stolen Elections!

I know you're all tired of hearing about this, but it's crunch time and slacking off would be fatal.

That little beady red rat eyed punk Patterico pulled ahead of me in the Wizbang blog awards. He's bribing people for votes, spreading rumors about me and women's underpants, and is almost certainly otherwise rigging the system.

Meryl Yourish is in third place. She emailed me and said she would form an alliance with him to gang up on me, then betray him in the end. Well, Meryl, that betrayal had better come fast.

Thousands of people cruise by this site everyday. If every one of you takes just a few seconds to go on over there and vote for me I'll whoop 'em both by a fat whopping margin.

So come on, dearly beloved fans and antagonists. Help me out here. My gigantic ego depends on it. Vote for me. Early, late, and frequently.

Cheers. And cheers to you, too, Patterico and Meryl. You're alright - as long as you lose!

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:13 PM

December 9, 2004

Worlds Can’t Meet Worlds. But People Can Meet People.

I forget who first said that (the headline, that is) but I like it and I thought about it as I was walking around inside Libya, hanging out, and chatting with regular folks.

One of the most striking things, really, about meeting people in far away lands inside other civilizations isn’t how different they are, but how very much like me they are. It shouldn’t be odd, but somehow it is. Nothing busts up stereotypes better than travel. Common sense and mere mental effort can never compete with it.

It goes both ways, I’m sure. What must it be like for someone who spent their entire life inside a country (like, say, Iraq) where Americans were constantly demonized to come to the United States and hang out with regular people. It’s probably a bit like my experience in Libya.

Granted, Libyans as people were hardly formally demonized in America. But almost every one of my friends and family members thought I was crazy to go there. The unspoken fear was that the people might kill me.

Well, no. Nobody killed me. Nobody even looked at me funny. I knew that’s how it would be from everything I read in advance, but it’s nice to actually experience that and have the old adage “people are people” proven out through experience.

This is a long intro for something I want to point out.

Omar and Mohamed, the two Iraqi bloggers who write at Iraq the Model, are travelling around the United States with Jim Hake from Spirit of America. Jeff Jarvis was lucky enough to meet them. And oh, how I wish I had been there.

It occurred to me it had been a while since I’ve look at their site, so I hopped on over and found this entry from Omar.
I wanted to say that I only knew about the left side of the blogosphere months after we started. I thought that the right side was the whole thing, as in the beginning I thought we were just posting our thoughts 'into the darkness' and get lots of visitors without having any idea were they come from except Iraqi blogs. Later we found about the major blogs such as Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan, Buzz Machine, LGF, Tim Blair, Roger Simon, Right Wing news…Etc and for long months I thought these were the only major bloggers! I didn't know because these were the sites linking to us and from were we get lots of visitors and when I used to go to their sites I would find a somewhat similar list. It turned out to be that the other side top bloggers rarely if ever mentioned us or other Iraqi blogs except for the very anti-American ones. I realized lately that the blogosphere was divided into two major parts with very few bridges.
I think that’s sad for all kinds of reasons. But here’s his next sentence:
When I started looking at the 'enemy' I found out that most of them were not that horrible!
Exactly. Exactly.

Most people just aren’t that horrible. Whether they’re red-staters, Libyans, Iraqis, liberals, whatever, people are people.

Everyone knows this already, I know. But sometimes I get the impression when reading political blogs (and the comment section on my own blog) that liberals think neoconservatives have horns, and that heartland Republicans think Bay Area hippies have two heads, both of ‘em tattooed and pierced.

When I peruse the Guardian it sometimes seems like left-wing Europeans actually believe Americans have scuff marks on their knuckles and permanent drool stains on their shirts. Reading right-wing American magazines I sometimes wonder what on Earth some conservatives would think if they hopped on a plane to Paris and discovered that French people don’t have little beady red rat eyes.

Nothing distorts reality like politics and war. Those of us who spend our time on this stuff should try to keep that in mind once in a while. If you’re in a cocoon, try to get out more. It’s good for you. And it feels good, too.

PS - Don't forget to vote for me in the Wizbang awards. Patterico is running neck and neck with me, and I hear he really does have little beady red rat eyes. We can't let a guy like that win this thing, people.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:43 PM

December 8, 2004

Against PC Left and Right

Bridgett Johnson is a conservative screenwriter in Hollywood who isn’t happy with the Politically Correct orthodoxy that rules over the film industry. She wrote a guest column about it a few weeks ago for the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal where she makes the following point:

One would think that in the name of artistic freedom, the creative community would take a stand against filmmakers being sent into hiding à la Salman Rushdie, or left bleeding in the street. Yet we've heard nary a peep from Hollywood about the van Gogh slaying. Indeed Hollywood has long walked on eggshells regarding the topic of Islamic fundamentalism. The film version of Tom Clancy's “The Sum of All Fears” changed Palestinian terrorists to neo-Nazis out of a desire to avoid offending Arabs or Muslims. The war on terror is a Tinsel Town taboo, even though a Hollywood Reporter poll showed that roughly two-thirds of filmgoers surveyed would pay to see a film on the topic.

In a recent conversation with a struggling liberal screenwriter, I brought up the Clancy film as an example of Hollywood shying away from what really affects filmgoers—namely, the al Qaeda threat vs. the neo-Nazi threat. He vehemently defended the script switch. “It's an easy target,” he said of Arab terrorism, repeating this like a parrot, then adding, “It's a cheap shot.” How many American moviegoers would think that scripting Arab terrorists as the enemy in a fiction film is a “cheap shot”? In fact, it's realism; it's what touches lives world-wide. It's this disconnect with filmgoers that has left the Hollywood box office bleeding by the side of the road.

I don’t know about the Hollywood box office “bleeding by the side of the road.” If there’s any evidence for it, she doesn’t cite any. And if she’s right I imagine (although I admit I’m only guessing) that political correctness has precious little to do with it.

She’s on solid ground, though, about movies themselves. Plenty of movies were made with Communist villains during the Cold War. I don’t recall any hand-wringing about how Hollywood hurt the self-esteem of the Russians.

If fictional Muslim terrorists offend certain people, the real ones on the news must give them a heart attack. But that’s not CNN’s fault.

Johnson hopes to see movies in Hollywood made by conservatives.
A liberal friend asked me what conservative filmmaking was, envisioning staid, G-rated pictures. The movement is better described as rebellion from the Hollywood status quo, the dream of being able to make a feature film whose political content won't be altered to make the Republicans evil, in which politically incorrect yet pertinent material won't end up on the cutting-room floor. It's about having faith in filmgoers that they'll eagerly support pictures to which they can relate.
Sounds great. But I’m not holding my breath. This article appeared yesterday at the BBC:
The director and screenwriter of the film adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials is to remove references to God and the church in the movie.

Chris Weitz, director of About a Boy, said the changes were being made after film studio New Line expressed concern.

The books tell of a battle against the church and a fight to overthrow God.

“They have expressed worry about the possibility of perceived anti-religiosity,” Weitz told a His Dark Materials fans' website.
How on Earth can you make a movie about a revolt against God without mentioning God? (Okay, Blade Runner told that story in an extremely roundabout way, but that’s, well, another story.) Replacing Palestinian terrorists with neo-Nazis was silly enough, but this is even more gutless.

Here is the author’s agent from the same article:

Of course New Line want to make money, but Mr Weitz is a wonderful director and Philip is very supportive…You have to recognise that it is a challenge in the climate of Bush's America.
This is not Bush’s America. This is everybody’s America.

Boo hoo, some movies offend people. And those very same movies are often box office smashes. Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America: World Police is only the latest example. The very fact that Team America was as raucously anti-PC as it was hilarious was a major part of the draw.

If you’re afraid of the content of the script in your hands that’s a pretty good indication that you need to be making a different movie. Find someone who isn’t a coward and who won’t take a meat-axe to the plot and let them shoot it instead.

Political Correctness is juvenile and asinine. It irritates more people than the number whose precious feelings it saves. I applaud Bridgett Johnson’s stance against left-wing PC. But let’s not forget about the right-wing variety (which is really quite rich if you think about it) at the same time.

PS - Don't forget to vote often for me in the Wizbang blog awards. I'm losing my margin here because Patterico posts a “vote for me!” at the bottom of every single one of his posts. At this moment I'm only ahead of him by 0.1 percent, so you need to go here and make it all better for me. Thanks!

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:49 PM

December 7, 2004

They’ll Never Have Paris

I don't usually link to reviews of books I haven't read. And I've never linked to a rebuttal to a review of a book I haven't read. But sometimes these things are entertaining all by themeselves.

Like now, for instance.

John J. Miller and Mark Molesky wrote a book called Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America’s Disastrous Relationship with France.

Is the book good? I dunno. Maybe. Our relationship with France isn’t all that hot at the moment, so it could be interesting and informative. On the other hand, with an overwrought title like that it’s not hard to imagine a wee bit of hyperventilating.

I was in France last weekend after my grand tour of Libya. I was well aware of the strained relationship between our two countries while I was there. But the French even in Paris were absolute sweethearts to me. (Where they get the reputation for being rude, I have no idea. My experience does not bear it out.) I certainly didn’t feel like I was behind enemy lines. After Libya, I felt like I was home.

Anyway, one of France’s most famous intellectuals, Bernard-Henri Levy, wrote a nasty review for the New York Times. (Try to get over the shock.) Miller and Molesky strike back at NRO. Maybe everyone involved is full of crap. I don’t know, but the fight is fun either way.
In his one-page critique, Levy hurls just about every hysterical epithet he can find in our direction. He accuses us of “racism” and “Francophobia.” He calls our book “nauseating,” “fantastical,” “grotesque,” and in competition for the “grand prize in stupidity.” He even compares what we've written to “the fascist French literature of the 1930s.”

Now that's a curious putdown, comparing us to the French.

The only thing more curious may be the fact that before Levy goes diving off the deep end, he concedes so much of our argument. He readily admits that French anti-Americanism is “lodged in the heart of my country's culture.” He even calls our historical account of Franco-American diplomatic relations — which is to say, the vast majority of our book — “a more or less fair re-evaluation.”

What really seems to irritate him is that we have the audacity to examine how French anti-Americanism has shaped Franco-American relations throughout history. At its core, our book seeks to overturn the pervasive, deep-seated, and dearly beloved myth that France and the United States are traditional allies whose age-old friendship only hit the rocks when America's yahoo president decided to embark on an imperialist adventure in Iraq.

Levy's central complaint, however, is that we have committed the unforgivable sin of “essentialism” — i.e. that we reduce France and the French to a simplistic, noxious caricature. His evidence that we are dyed-in-the-wool essentialists comes from the second-to-last line of our conclusion, where we offer some parting thoughts on the future of Franco-American relations: “Will the French, in short, continue to be the French?” we ask. For Levy, this mortifying question is hard evidence of “a temptation to which it is surprising to see apparently respectable minds succumb: racism.” In other words, we are racists for even wondering it. Yet Levy completely overlooks something that is, ahem, essential to understanding our question, which is that our question is actually an allusion. It harks back to the opening lines of the conclusion, where we quote a prominent American politician who had just been asked whether he considered the French friends or enemies. “The French are the French,” he responded. “And I think most people know exactly what I mean.”

And who was this politician? Here's a hint: He spoke these words during a Democratic primary debate last year.

Still not sure? Some have said he looks French.

The odds remain slim, however, that the New York Times and Bernard-Henri Levy, now duly alerted, will soon condemn the junior senator from Massachusetts as a thoroughgoing essentialist, not to mention a fascist, a racist, and a Francophobe.
You can read Levy’s review here. And you can buy the book that kicked all this off over here.

I should add, for the benefit of those who don't follow the link, that Levy ends his piece this way:

''Our Oldest Enemy,'' an American version of what I used to call ''French ideology,'' reinforces my conviction that there is one matter of great urgency, and only one: to reunite our broken link and to go beyond the two chauvinisms to resume rational dialogue.
I think that would be nice.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:07 PM

Thanks for Voting Early. Now Please Vote Often.

This cannot stand.

Patterico is asking his readers to vote for him again in the Wizbang blog awards. So now he's gaining on me. How can I compete with him if he pulls a stunt like that and I don't?

He runs a pretty good blog, so there's no hard feelings here. But I don't see him running off to places like Libya and posting extensive photo galleries of places almost no one has ever seen. My blog is better!

Vote for me again. Please. Thanks in advance.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:07 PM

December 6, 2004

Andrew Sullivan = Starbucks

Right-Wing News published its warblogger poll results.

Funny how Andrew Sullivan won “Most Annoying Right-of-Center Blogger” and also took fourth place in the “Most Annoying Left-of-Center Blogger” category. People can't agree whether he's left or right (and that's to his credit, I say), but they do seem to agree that he's annoying.

I still like the guy, myself. And his traffic is up. Hating Andrew Sullivan is like hating Starbucks. All the cool kids do it, but the exact same people always hang out there anyway.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:21 PM

Reactionary Provincials

Marc Cooper points to a short, concise piece in The Nation by Michael Lind (an ex-conservative turned center-leftist who I’ve admired for years) that stands out in a sea of mediocrity.

In an era in which most U.S. population growth is occurring in the South, West and heartland, American liberalism is defined by people in the Northeast.

At a time when rising tuitions are pricing many working-class Americans out of a college education, the upscale campus is becoming the base of American progressivism.

In a country in which most working-class Americans drive cars and own homes in the suburbs, the left fetishizes urban apartments and mass transit and sneers at “sprawl.”

In an economy in which most workers are in the service sector, much of the left is obsessed with manufacturing jobs.

In a society in which Latinos have surpassed blacks as the largest minority and in which racial intermixture is increasing, the left continues to treat race as a matter of zero-sum multiculturalism and white-bashing.

In a culture in which the media industry makes money by pushing sex and violence, the left treats the normalization of profanity and obscenity as though it were somehow progressive, making culture heroes of Lenny Bruce and Larry Flynt.

At a time when the religious right wants to shut down whole areas of scientific research, many on the left share a Luddite opposition to biotech.

In an age in which billions would starve if not for the use of artificial fertilizers in capital-intensive agriculture, the left blathers on about small-scale organic farming.

In a century in which the dire need for energy for poor people in the global South can only be realistically met by coal, oil and perhaps nuclear energy, liberals fantasize about wind farms and solar panels.

And in a world in which the greatest threat to civilization is the religious right of the Muslim countries, much of the left persists in treating the United States as an evil empire and American patriotism as a variant of fascism.

American progressivism, in its present form, is as obsolete in the twenty-first century as the agrarian populists were in the twentieth. If you can't adapt to the times, good intentions will get you nowhere. Ask the shade of William Jennings Bryan.
I think he’s off base about Larry Flynt and Lenny Bruce. Hardly anyone cares a whit for nasty ol’ Larry, and Lenny is from another era. (Also, as an aside, anyone who doesn’t care for Lenny Bruce might consider watching Dustin Hoffman portray him in Lenny and see if you don’t change your mind.)

I also think he's wrong about sprawl. Ask your average American what he or she thinks of sprawl, and you're not likely to get an enthusiastic endorsement. It's one thing to like your house in the suburbs, and another to be a booster for 2-hour commutes from the exurbs. New urbanism is rising, not falling, in popularity - and for a reason.

But Lind’s basic point stands. Progressivism, as he calls it, is both provincial and reactionary. What used to turn me off about the right now repels me from the left.

Not entirely, mind you. The Democrats have been the party of fiscal responsibility since at least the 1980s. (The Republicans create deficits so the Democrats can reduce them.) And the Republicans have plenty of provincial reactionaries of their own. (Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, anyone?) But that’s just another way of saying anyone who is literally progressive, rather than dogmatically so, has nowhere to go.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:24 PM

December 5, 2004

No, the Dungeons Aren’t Charming

Cliff May, founder of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote the following post for The Corner.


The New York Times Travel section this week features Libya, which it describes as “a once-forbidden fruit …a complicated and confounding land on the North African coast, opened in February after 23 years of a travel ban tighter than Cuba's.”

There’s also this: “Despite American air strikes designed to kill its leaders, and a Bush administration that has enflamed Muslims around the world, I found the Libyans to be warm and self-deprecating. And despite being branded a rogue terrorist state by the international community, Libya felt perfectly safe in both urban and rural areas.”

No mention of Libyan dissidents being held incommunicado in prisons, such as the ailing Fathi Eljahmi.
I don’t want to pick on Cliff May. I have a great deal of respect for both him and his organization. (You’ll notice that I permanently linked to it on the right-hand sidebar of this Web site.) And a friend of mine, Andrew Apostolou, came over from Oxford to work for him – where he does some very good work, indeed.

That said, I want to address this post.

As regular readers know, I got home from Libya myself less than a week ago. And I’m working on a story about it for the LA Weekly.

My editor Marc Cooper explicitly told me he doesn’t want a newspaper-style travel piece like the one at the New York Times. And thank Heaven for that. I don’t want to write that kind of piece, which is one reason I pitched my story to the Weekly instead of many other places that might have been willing to send me. I don’t want to write a general article about tourism. I want to write an article that basically and honestly answers the following question: What the hell is it like to visit Libya? Hardly anyone knows. That’s the kind of story I’d like to read, so naturally it’s the kind of story I’d like to write.

I spoke to Marc on the phone last night and wondered out loud: How can anyone visit a place like that and not write about how weird and oppressive it is? He told me what I’m sure is the correct answer. That’s just not the kind of piece daily newspapers publish. Those kinds of articles are found in weeklies and magazines.

Cliff May’s point is to some extent a fair one. He points to an article about Libya that doesn’t mention dungeons or dissidents like Fathi Eljahmi. Okay. It's a glaring omission. Sure. But in another sense this criticism isn’t fair. It wasn’t a political article. And it wasn’t trying to be. The writer didn’t have an agenda that included covering up or smoothing over the political crimes of the regime. The writer was simply working on a different kind of article. His editor almost surely said “no politics.” The editor would have said “no politics” no matter which country the reporter was visiting.

I spoke to Fathi Eljahmi’s brother on the phone a week before I left. (He lives in Boston, and told me stories about Libya that harrowed up my soul.) Andrew Apostolou, one of Cliff May’s colleagues, put me in touch with him. I wanted to speak to a Libyan national who really knew the country, who could explain to me what goes on there behind the scenes, and who could give me some advice about what to expect and how to behave. I’d like to thank him for this.

I should also say that I don’t intend to mention his brother in my piece. It’s not because I don’t care about his brother or the rest of the suffering people of that country. (Believe me, I do, especially now that I’ve been there.) It’s because my article is, and must be, about what it was like on my trip. It won’t be a policy piece or an explicitly anti-Ghaddafi piece, but a personal one.

So give the Times reporter a break. The kind of article he wrote serves a purpose and has an intended audience. It’s not the kind of thing I want to write, nor is it the kind of thing Cliff May wants to write. And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean the New York Times wants to whitewash Ghaddafi as he implies.

UPDATE: Julie Carlson emails:
I agree with your point completely, but don't forget that this is the same New York Times that found a way to criticize the Bush Administration in a restaurant review, for heaven's sake. Many of their reporters certainly never miss a chance to take a shot at a Republican president (so to speak) in all kinds of stories where it is completely out of place. But I guess I'm glad to know that when it comes to dictatorial regimes, the NY Times has its journalistic practices well under control!
Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:25 PM

December 4, 2004

Sadr City Turns Around

I don't have much to say about this AP story by Hamza Hendawi. It pretty much speaks for itself. Happy to pass it along, though.

BAGHDAD, Iraq - After spending much of the year as a battlefield between militiamen and U.S. forces, Baghdad's Sadr City district is now embracing peace and reconstruction.

Anticipation is high for what the residents of the mainly Shiite district say is their overdue empowerment through elections Jan. 30.

The outdoor markets are busy again and the gridlocked traffic is back. The bands of excited children who walked behind local militiamen heading to battle in the fall now clamor around machinery laying down new water pipes.

Workers in orange jumpsuits are laying asphalt in dozens of potholes dug by the fighters to conceal roadside bombs meant to kill American soldiers. The clerics who replaced their turbans and robes with track suits to join the fight are back in mosques and seminaries.

The daily lives of Sadr City's estimated 2.5 million people have not seen much improvement in the two months since fighting ended. But the large Baghdad neighborhood appears on such a euphoric high that the mounds of festering garbage, the constant seepage of sewage and shortage of clean water seem to matter little.

In marked contrast to the skeptical Sunni Arab community, Sadr City's population is looking forward to the January ballot. Banners and posters exhort residents to vote, and booklets explaining the process are distributed house-to-house. Even the sight of U.S. military convoys darting through the district no longer draw resentful looks.
First, Sadr City. Next, Fallujah.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:33 PM

December 2, 2004

How to Save Liberalism – and America

Peter Beinart’s latest article in The New Republic has already made the rounds in the blogosphere. I probably don’t need to link to it. I’m going to anyway, though, because there is one point he makes, his very first point, that isn’t getting enough attention.

First, however, a letter to Andrew Sullivan:
Beinart is almost completely right, and I do think part of the problem this election year was John Kerry personally, which is another way of saying that as de facto leader of the Democratic Party he was unwilling to use the words “Iraq” and “democracy” or “Arab” and “democracy” in the same sentence, and tell the peacenik wing of the party to sit down and shut up. But I'm just plain sick and tired of trying to convince other liberals that America is now engaged in a multi-decade struggle against Islamo-fascism, and that this struggle will be the central organizing principle in American politics for years to come. Sadly, the central post-election narrative that “values” rather national security cost Democrats this election, combined with ridiculous and childish allegations of massive voter fraud in Ohio, has allowed Democrats the luxury of avoiding and denying what ails them.

But whatever.

If liberals are determined to play the role of Taft Republicans during the 1930s and 1940s, denying the threat posed by European fascism and Japanese nationalism, obsessing about freedoms lost at home during wartime, and as such remaining in the political wilderness for most of the next three decades, who am I to stop them? In fact as far as I can tell Democrats would rather watch the New Deal and Great Society pissed down the drain, and a hard right Supreme Court roll back the 1960s, than stepping up to the plate and committing themselves to the realization of liberty and democracy in the Muslim world. The peaceniks were allowed to destroy the party once before in the late 60s and early 70s. Will they be allowed to do it again? So far it looks like the answer is yes.” [Emphasis added by me.]
Now let’s take a look at the Beinart column. Here’s his first paragraph:
On January 4, 1947, 130 men and women met at Washington's Willard Hotel to save American liberalism. A few months earlier, in articles in The New Republic and elsewhere, the columnists Joseph and Stewart Alsop had warned that “the liberal movement is now engaged in sowing the seeds of its own destruction.” Liberals, they argued, “consistently avoided the great political reality of the present: the Soviet challenge to the West.” Unless that changed, “In the spasm of terror which will seize this country … it is the right—the very extreme right—which is most likely to gain victory.”
Exactly. The liberals pulled it together in 1947 and faced down Communism. If they had not McCarthyism would surely have ruled over the nation much more ferociously than it did. (Communists would have been dealt with harshly in any case.)

So here’s my advice to American liberals: If you want to win elections against the Republicans, strike the Islamists. Kill two birds with one proverbial stone. What could be easier? The Islamists are your real enemy anyway. They are far and away the most illiberal people on Earth.

But as long as the Terror War rages, if you keep lashing out at Republicans they will continue to beat you. In a time of war, your enemy is not the larger half of your country.

Do you want a liberal hawk in the White House? Or a conservative hawk? Decide.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:59 PM

Pentagon to Draft Robots

21st Century assymetrical warfare is hell, especially when it takes place in cities. Here's one way to reduce (our side's) casualties in these conflicts: draft robots.

From Wired:
ORLANDO, Florida — Hunting for guerillas, handling roadside bombs, crawling across the caves and crumbling towns of Afghanistan and Iraq — all of that was just a start. Now, the Army is prepping its squad of robotic vehicles for a new set of assignments. And this time, they'll be carrying guns.

As early as March or April, 18 units of the Talon — a model armed with automatic weapons — are scheduled to report for duty in Iraq. Around the same time, the first prototypes of a new, unmanned ambulance should be ready for the Army to start testing. In a warren of hangar-sized hotel ballrooms in Orlando, military engineers this week showed off their next generation of robots, as they got the machines ready for the war zone.

“Putting something like this into the field, we're about to start something that's never been done before,” said Staff Sgt. Santiago Tordillos, waving to the black, 2-foot-six-inch robot rolling around the carpeted floor on twin treads, an M249 machine gun cradled in its mechanical grip.


Four cameras and a pair of night-vision binoculars allow the robot to operate at all times of the day. It has a range of about a half-mile in urban areas, more in the open desert. And with the ability to carry four 66-mm rockets or six 40-mm grenades, as well as an M240 or M249 machine gun, the robots can take on additional duties fast, said director John Pike.

“It's a premonition of things to come,” Pike said. “It makes sense. These things have no family to write home to. They're fearless. You can put them places you'd have a hard time putting a soldier in.”
If you think the Iraqi guerillas and terrorists are kicking our asses, ask yourself if you'd like to trade places with them and face us for a change.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:30 PM

Vote for Me

Wizbang is taking votes for this year's blog awards. Mine is currently second place in the “Best of the Top 100-250 Blogs” category. If you think mine beats the others in this category, please click on over and vote for me. Show me the love. Thanks in advance.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:16 PM

New Email Address

I changed my email address, updated it on the sidebar, and thought I'd mention it here, too. I no longer use Yahoo and have moved on to gmail instead. So the new address is michaeltotten001 at gmail dot com. Please send all future mail to that address. Thanks much.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:13 PM

December 1, 2004

Weirder Than Libya

When you visit another country you meet other people who are also visiting the country. Inevitably you’ll discuss other places you’ve been. If you go to Costa Rica you’ll meet people who’ve been to Guatemala and Bolivia. Go to Cancun and you’ll meet people who like the Virgin Islands and Hawaii. Go to France and you’ll run into lots of people who talk about London, Prague, and Vienna.

So what happens when you bump into others in Libya? I met a photographer who spends every summer in Darfur. And I met a British guy named Felix who told me the next place he wants to go is North Korea. Shelly said she wants to go to North Korea, too. Felix grinned ear to ear. “It’s great to meet people who are open-minded about nuttiness,” he said.

My nutty “tourism” package is only a few days old. (I say “tourism” because although I went as a journalist, no one in Libya knew that.) I figured North Korea might be the only place left for me to go after Ghaddafi-stan. Well, no, not exactly. There is at least one more “tourism” package weirder than Libya but less freaky than North Korea. But I can’t go on this one because I am not fat.
ZIMBABWE has come up with a bizarre proposal to solve the food crisis threatening half its population with starvation. It wants to bring in obese tourists from overseas so that they can shed pounds doing manual labour on land seized from white farmers.

The so-called Obesity Tourism Strategy was reported last week in The Herald, a government organ whose contents are approved by President Robert Mugabe’s powerful information minister, Jonathan Moyo.

Pointing out that more than 1.2 billion people worldwide are officially deemed to be overweight, the article exhorted Zimbabweans to “tap this potential”.

“Tourists can provide labour for farms in the hope of shedding weight while enjoying the tourism experience,” it said, adding that Americans spent $6 billion a year on “useless” dieting aids.

“Tour organisers may promote this programme internationally and bring in tourists, while agriculturalists can employ the tourists as free farm labour.

“The tourists can then top it all by flaunting their slim bodies on a sun-downer cruise on the Zambezi or surveying the majestic Great Zimbabwe ruins.”

The notion that oversized, overpaid Americans could be enticed into paying to spend their holidays working free for those who seized the country’s commercial farms illustrates how far the Mugabe regime has descended into a fantasy world.
In the age of globalization, all the normal countries of the world increasingly resemble each other. But the whacked countries are all whacked in their own way. I’d think this was funny, but after wandering around the jagged-edged landscape of Tripoli I just think it’s sad.

(Hat tip: Sheila O'Malley.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:36 PM