January 31, 2005

Tied to one thought

by Mary Madigan

One of Friends of Democracy's Questions for Our Readers asked:

Do you think the American people have a good understanding of what is happening in Iraq?
I don’t think Americans understand what is happening in Iraq now because we don’t understand what life was like in Iraq under Saddam’s regime.

We don’t understand what it’s like to live in a state where neighbors and co-workers will inform on you for cash, where the threat that your leadership could inflict another genocidal attack like Halabja is always present. We don’t understand how the combination of state control and constant fear can deaden the lives of millions. We also don't understand what happens when that regime ends.

Mohammed of Iraq the Model expressed it this way:

2003; the year of freedom.
Before you I was mute, and here goes my tongue praying for the best,
Before you I was hand-cuffed, and here are my hands free to write,
Before you my mind was tied to one thought and here I find wide horizons and greater thoughts,
Before you I was isolated, and here I join the wide universe.
I will never forget you; you broke the chains for my people, and rid us from the big jail.
“A mind tied to one thought”; most Americans don’t know what that’s like, nor do most understand the source of what we vaguely call 'oppression.'

As David Brooks said, Saddam’s Baath Party slogan was “Unity, Freedom, Socialism.” Saddam was, first and foremost, a party man. His regime was part of a larger ideology that still thrives.

Immigrants to America who have lived under similar regimes, like Ceausescu's Romania, Soviet Russia or China understand. Many are willing to talk about lives lived in fear, but not everyone is willing to listen.

At Kesher Talk, Judith Weiss describes the reaction when these immigrants tried to speak their minds on Inauguration day.

At least half of those who called on the “Republican line” [for C-SPAN's Congressional Inaugural Luncheon & Presidential Review of Honor Guard] are immigrants, from Eastern Europe, Cuba, the Middle East. They are all fervent Bush supporters and understand and approve of his foreign policy ideals.
One person who called in on the “Democrat line” believed that these immigrants should have “stayed in their own countries and demonstrated and marched for their civil rights there, like we did here, instead of coming here and criticizing.”

Judith points out that “Of course many immigrants did exactly that and ended up tortured or imprisoned without trial, or had to flee for their lives.”

People around the world suffer from a less obvious form of oppression. Activists will blame this suffering on ‘poverty’ or, of course, capitalism, but from Zimbabwe to Libya, it’s clear that even the worst corporate villains can’t impoverish and oppress a population with the efficiency of a socialist-inspired regime.

In photographs, Michael Totten shows us a Libya where 99% of the people on the street are men, where even the mountains are plastered with state propaganda, where history is being erased and portraits of the great leader are everywhere. Despite Ghaddafi’s apparent flakiness, his regime is very efficient.

Oppressive regimes are responsible for most of the starvation in the third world. According to Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, “Africa could grow food for the world if its people were politically free to do so.” Tyrants are responsible for the twin scourges of poverty and starvation.

Although they claim to be anti-poverty and anti-oppression most Left-leaning activists don't seem to be able to handle the truth - or they actively suppress it. Amir Taheri describes this incident at a peace rally:

We managed to reach some of the stars of the show, including Reverend Jesse Jackson, the self-styled champion of American civil rights. One of our group, Salima Kazim, an Iraqi grandmother, managed to attract the reverend's attention and told him how Saddam Hussein had murdered her three sons because they had been dissidents in the Baath Party; and how one of her grandsons had died in the war Saddam had launched against Kuwait in 1990.

“Could I have the microphone for one minute to tell the people about my life?” 78-year-old Salima demanded.

The reverend was not pleased.

“Today is not about Saddam Hussein,” he snapped. “Today is about Bush and Blair and the massacre they plan in Iraq.” Salima had to beat a retreat, with all of us following, as the reverend's gorillas closed in to protect his holiness.

We next spotted former film star Glenda Jackson, apparently manning a stand where “antiwar” characters could sign up to become “human shields” to protect Saddam's military installations against American air attacks.

“These people are mad,” said Awad Nasser, one of Iraq's most famous modernist poets. “They are actually signing up to sacrifice their lives to protect a tyrant's death machine.”

Others, like anti-war Democrat Ramsey “Free Slobodan Milosevic!!” Clark devote their lives to the defense of oppression.

Yesterday, Iraqis finally got their chance to have the microphone. We saw them weeping with joy at the ballot box, we saw them defy terror for their chance to be heard. Critics complain about Bush and the neo-con conspiracy, but they can’t deny the power of those images. They can’t deny the power that the once-mute feel when they're finally allowed to speak.

Posted by Mary Madigan at 10:45 AM

January 30, 2005

Friends of Democracy Iraqi Election Broadcast

by Jeremy Brown

Are you watching? It's on CSPAN. You can watch it online via this page (if you missed the live broadcast you can watch the archived stream here).

Michael_cspan_1.jpg

The first panel, pictured below, listens to phone calls from Omar and Mohammed of Iraq the Model. Body-language quiz: can you spot the pessimist who, by all appearances, doesn't appreciate the brothers' enthusiasm? Cigars will be awarded for correct answers:

panel2.jpg

hitch2.jpg

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 12:34 PM

January 29, 2005

Questions for Readers

by Michael J. Totten

I have a cantankerous Wild West of a comments section. And that's great. Today I'm going to put it to productive use for a change. Actually, I'm going to channel it somewhere else.

As most of you already know, Friends of Democracy and Spirit of America are filming a live Iraqi election coverage TV show on C-SPAN Sunday from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm Eastern Standard Time. (That's 11:00 to 1:00 for you late-sleeping laggards on the West Coast.)

This will not be the C-SPAN you know and love (or loathe). It's going to be pretty slick compared to that channel's usual fare. It's being professionally produced and shot in the National Geographic studio, which I can tell you is a very cool place. I spent most of Saturday there getting ready for this thing. Here's a photo our tech guy Donovan took with his digital Nikon:

studio3.jpg

Part of what we want to do is solicit feedback from readers of the site. I am going to sift through that feedback and read some of it (live and on camera) to our guests and panelists. We have a pretty good lineup. It includes: Christopher Hitchens, author and journalist; Ahman Al Rikaby, former Director of Radio Free Iraq and current Director of Iraq's Radio Dijla; Entifadh Qanbar, Special Envoy from the Iraqi National Alliance; Ghassan Atiyyah, Director of the Iraq Foundation for Development and Democracy; Hassan Mneimneh, Director of the Iraq Memory Foundation; and Jim Hake, Founder and CEO of Spirit of America.

If you have your own questions, please ask them and we'll see if we can incorporate them into our programming. If you prefer to answer some of our questions instead, here is the place to start:
1. Was the Iraqi election successful?

2. Who are the terrorists and insurgents? What do you think they hope to accomplish through violence?

3. Do you think the American people have a good understanding of what is happening in Iraq? If yes, why? If not, why not?

4. People in America see that there is a great deal of violence in Iraq. Is there hope?
These aren't essay questions, and you don't have to answer all of them. A few sentences would be fine, although longer responses also are welcome. If you do ask or answer a question, be sure to tune in live on C-SPAN from 2:00 to 4:00 pm Eastern Standard Time and see if we use your material.

To make it easier for us on the show, please don't respond in my comments section. Respond in the comments on the Friends of Democracy site instead. Here is the link to the post where the questions are asked. That's where we need your comments. Not here. You can argue amongst yourselves all you want (as usual) here, but please don't do it over there.

If you have a blog and you feel like throwing some of your reader feedback our way, please link to that post. Send your vast hordes. Give 'em the chance to have a little C-SPAN fame of their own.

Thanks so much in advance.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:39 PM

Iraqi Exiles at the Polls

by Jeremy Brown

There was an article in today's New York Times that gives a vivid picture of the intensity of emotion among so many of the Iraqi exiles who have been voting in this Iraqi election. It has been heartening to see that the American mainstream press, it so far appears, is going to be covering this election:

SOUTHGATE, Mich., Jan. 28 - Ali Mohammed, who spent eight years in the Abu Ghraib prison in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, called the owner of the grocery store where he is a stock clerk before sunup on Friday to say he was putting on his best suit, the charcoal pinstripe he usually saves for weddings.

Glowing like proud papas, Mr. Mohammed and his supervisor, Hussain al-Jebori, cast the first ballots of their lives and lingered at the polling place here for three hours, clapping for friends and strangers and searching for familiar names, including a former cellmate, on the daunting list of 7,700 Iraqi legislative candidates. Mr. Mohammed, 39, said he decided on Friday to start a family, “because now my children's future is secure.”

[…]

“I wanted to keep the paper in my hand for long time,” Mr. Jebori said. “First thing I imagined how much the paper cost us as a country and a people. It cost us a million people's deaths. Now we get the victory, just now when we elect our representatives. I want to touch the victory. I didn't want to leave it.”

My only quibble with this and a great many of the articles on this election is the use of the term “expatriates” both in the headline and, once, in the article. Though the term in its generic sense – it refers to any person who has left his or her homeland whether willingly or not — may be technically accurate, it is too evocative of Bohemian enclaves of artists and writers in search of inspiration. There is a point beyond which I think you have to use the word 'exile.' Thus, those German Jews with numbers on their arms that I saw as a child in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, were exiles. The millions of people from all over the world who have emigrated to the United States because they are afforded the freedom to live where they please, are expatriates.

“They decided to vote even if they die,” Diaa al-Tamimi, 35, said of his relatives remaining in Iraq. “There's danger. But if not to vote, they're going to die anyway. Election, that's the best weapon for us. Terrorists, they use car bombs. We use the election.”

[…]

“It's not safe, but they will do it,” Mr. Aljayashi said. “We spent our life as a number on paper. Now we count as a people, a citizenship. This is worth a lot. This is worth even dying for.”

[…]

No lapel stickers declared, “I voted today.” But voters displayed ink-stained fingers as a sign of progress.
“I'm very happy to show everybody my finger now,” Mr. Jeburi, the grocery owner, said. “I wish it could stay there for years and years.”

These people have been a living embodiment of the bitter reality of exile. Let's save the word 'expatriate' for a time when Iraqis, as we are seeing the start of now, have the freedom to choose.

iraqi_exile_vote.jpg

Mehsin al-Busaid, in tears, voting Friday in Southgate, Mich., in the election for 275 members of the new Iraqi national assembly. Mr. Busaid's son was killed in the 1990-1991 uprising against Saddam Hussein. (photo by J. D. Pooley for The New York Times)

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 3:39 PM

January 28, 2005

Friends of Democracy on C-SPAN

Friends of Democracy will broadcast a live post-election event from 2:00 to 4:00 pm Eastern Standard Time this Sunday on C-SPAN. We're holding the event in Washington DC's National Geographic studio, so hopefully the production values will be a little higher than that of C-SPAN's usual fare.

Jim Hake, founder and CEO of Spirit of America, describes our event this way.
This unique conference from Washington DC will provide a consolidated picture of Iraq's elections featuring prominent Iraqis, selected guests (Cliff May from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and Christopher Hitchens), live call ins from the Friends of Democracy correspondents and bloggers, photos, video and stories.
If you don't get C-SPAN where you live, you can catch us on our live Web cast.

Thanks, Jim, for bringing me on board this great project. Thanks, also, for flying me out to Washington so I can be a part of it all.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:36 PM

Who do they think they are?

by Mary Madigan

The trial of Mohammed Bouyeri, the alleged murderer of Theo Van Gogh, began yesterday. According to MSNBC:

  • A note impaled in van Gogh’s chest threatened prominent politicians and vowed Islamic holy war, or jihad, against nonbelievers.

    A bystander who witnessed the crime yelled at van Gogh’s killer “You can’t do that!” to which the suspect replied: “Oh, yes I can. … Now you know what’s coming for you.”

  • Bouyeri’s lawyer, Peter Plasman, said his client “wants to take responsibility for his actions” but gave no further explanation. He said Bouyeri agrees with the interpretation of Dutch Finance Minister Gerrit Zalm that van Gogh’s killing was a declaration of war.
According to the Globe and Mail, prosecuters said that Bouyeri dreamed of replacing the Dutch government with an Islamic theocracy. He wanted to be held accountable for his actions, and sees them as part of a religious war.

The Dutch media believe that Bouyeri attended the El Tawheed mosque, an institution that shared Bouyeri's views. It is considered to be the epicenter of extremism in Amsterdam.

This mosque was previously associated with a Saudi-based charity, Al Haramain. Recently, the mosque has been criticized for selling books espousing extremist views, including female circumcision and the punishment of homosexuals by throwing them off tall buildings.

According to the IHT, “several legislators have called for the mosque to be shut down, but under the Dutch constitution it is difficult to do.”

According to the German publication, Der Spiegel, the killer’s actual target was Dutch legislator Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali immigrant. She and other legislators were so unable to ensure their security against extremist death threats, they had to leave the Netherlands to hide in the United States.

In short, a Western nation couldn't defend its own legislators against an occupying paramilitary group.

Fortunately, Hirsi Ali has returned. According to Spiegel’s report:

Hirsi Ali made championing the cause of Muslim women her career and eventually got elected to parliament. When the ambassador of Saudi Arabia called for her to be removed from office because of her polemics against Islam she just scored even more points with Dutch voters. In a survey of the most-popular Dutch people in 2003, she landed in second place.
The Saudi ambassador felt he had the right to call for an elected legislator to be removed from office. Who does he think he is?

Hirsi Ali’s homeland of Somalia understands something about Saudi influence. Somali journalist Bashir Goth wrote about the influence of Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi Islam in Somalia:

“Nowadays, it is sad to see… that the ideal harmony between Islam and Somali culture is swept aside by a new brand of Islam that is being pushed down the throat of our people - Wahhabism. Anywhere one looks, one finds that alien, perverted version of Islam that depends on punctilious manners more than it depends on deep-rooted faith. A strange uniformity… has crept into the social manners of our people. The unique fashion and identity of our people has changed forever. We have become a people without fashion, without culture, and without identity…

“It is a pity… to see that, at a time when Saudi Arabia, the home of Wahhabism, is reassessing the damage that Wahhabism and extremism had done to their country's name and to the reputation of Islam all over the world… that Wahhabism has to find a save-haven in our country.”

… “These people love to live in the dark. They thrive on the silence of the unwilling intellectuals and the gullibility of the ignorant majority. They hide under the cloak of religion and scare people with their indiscriminate use of terms such as blasphemous, infidels, apostates, sacrilegious, atheists, westernized minds and many others. They use the available democratic atmosphere to herd us towards the abyss.

They use the available democratic atmosphere, as they do in the Netherlands, in Beslan and in the Sudan

One result of the Wahhabi influence on the Somailis from the BBC:

Militias from the Islamic courts set up in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, are destroying a colonial Italian cemetery.

They are digging up the graves and dumping human remains near the airport.

The BBC's Mohammed Olad Hassan says he was horrified to see a large number of abandoned human skulls. Young boys were playing with one as a toy.

According to Sufi scholar Stephen Schwartz, grave desecration is a Wahhabi tradition:
Saudi agents uprooted graveyards in Kosovo even before the war began there in the late 1990s, and Wahhabi missionaries have sought to demolish Sufi tombs in Kurdistan. Late in 2002, the Saudi government tore down the historic Ottoman fortress of Ajyad in Mecca, causing outrage in many Muslim countries.
Jill at Legacy Matters said that the horrific grave desecration in Somalia was “beyond the Pale”:
Deep in all of us is a revulsion at certain behavior - torture, beheadings and the physical abuse of the weak and powerless, for example. Whether it's in our DNA or our souls, revulsion, I believe, makes us more human. By turning away with a feeling of violent disgust at certain acts, we shun the perpetrators. They are not recognizably part of anything with which we can identify. They are beyond the pale, outside the bounds of acceptable and civilized behavior.
In most cultures, beheading, amputation as punishment, spreading genocidal hatred and desecrating graveyards are beyond the pale.

In Saudi Arabia these activities are an established part of their culture and their laws. World leaders know about this, but they don’t turn away from them in disgust. Instead, they encourage these Wahhabis to join our society.

Wahhabi 'charities' still contribute heavily to American Universities, mosques, pacifist groups and Muslim special interest groups.

So, who do these Wahhabis think they are? Apparently they think they have the right to influence and attempt to overthrow established governments around the world. And the world is not doing enough to prove them wrong.

Posted by Mary Madigan at 8:15 AM

Going to D.C.

I'm flying out to Washington D.C. for the Spirit of America / Friends of Democracy post-election event on Sunday. It will be broadcast live on C-SPAN. More details to follow after I land, get settled into the hotel, and figure out exactly what's going on. In the meantime, enjoy the guest-blogging by Mary and Jeremy.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:23 AM

January 26, 2005

The Unwinnable War

by Jeremy Brown

With that immensely important election coming this Sunday in Iraq, the optimist in me is feeling a strong urge to look back toward the frankly startling success of the recent election in Afghanistan.

I'm not pretending that Afghanistan's problems are all fixed now, nor am I expecting Iraq's election day to be anywhere near that peaceful (though genuine peace has not been on the table in Iraq for decades and won't ever be, unless of course the country starts down the road to democratization this Sunday).

There's at least one way, however, in which the war in Afghanistan tells us something that very much applies to Iraq. Let me bring you back a few years to a time when a great many people — many of them very reasonable and reasonably intelligent (I was very briefly one of them way back then) — predicted that a war in Afghanistan, whether justified or not, would result in a quagmire that would rival Viet Nam or, more to the point, Russia's Afghan war. Remember that? Here, by way of random example, is the Christian Science Monitor in October 2001:

“Afghanistan is a quagmire that is easy to enter and very hard to leave,” says Irina Zvegelskaya, an Islamic expert and vice president of the independent Center for Strategic and Political Studies in Moscow. “If the US commits itself to changing things there, or propping up a particular government, it will be the beginning of a long, painful and very costly story - just like it was for us.”

[…]

Russian experts say that if the US is determined to engineer change in Afghanistan, it should make sure the United Nations is involved, and not commit American troops. “If the US acts unilaterally, it will look like a war on Islam, and all Afghans will unite behind the Taliban…

And that was just the well reasoned pessimism. Various fish in assorted barrels predicted far worse. Noam Chomsky, for example, would have had us believe that the U.S. was self evidently on the verge of a “silent genocide” that was going to kill several million afghan civilians.

As awful as any war inherently is, why didn't the Afghan war of 2001 go the route of Russia's atrocious war in that country?

I think the answer is clear: all those warnings about the impossibility of successfully invading and conquering Afghanistan presupposed an invading army attempting to defeat the will of the entire Afghan people. But the U.S. goal of toppling the Taliban regime, it should be perfectly obvious, was entirely in concert with the will of the majority of Afghans.

An important question to ask about the war in Iraq, then, is: which side, if any, is struggling to achieve an end that reflects the will of the majority of Iraqi people. Anyone who denies, however much many Iraqis may dislike being occupied by Coalition troops, that the majority of people in Iraq want democratization to succeed and the 'insurgency' to fail, is just not paying attention.

So it's important to remember, in the face of the brutal bombings and kidnappings that will probably continue for some time, that the Coalition troops not only represent the superior military power in this war but more importantly, because they are advancing the interests of the Iraqi people, they are on the winning side. You are probably aware that 80 percent of the Iraqi people are planning to vote. Which side of that equation would you rather be on?

The Baathist and Islamist 'insurgents' know what hurts Iraqis and how, if it can be done, to spark a civil war. But the inescapable fact is that, because they are fighting against the majority of the Iraqi populace, they are struggling hopelessly on the losing side of this war.

Once Iraqis have had this first taste of their democratic future, it will be damned difficult for anyone to steal it back from them.

Though the struggle to stop the killing will continue, in other words, the 'insurgency' is screwed.

I can think of no better rallying cry for this Iraqi election than Zarqawi's own words as reported just two days ago:

''We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology,'' the speaker said in an audiotape posted Sunday on an Islamic Web site. ''Anyone who tries to help set up this system is part of it.''

Let me repeat that last line for emphasis:

“Anyone who tries to help set up this system is part of it.” That's an offer the Iraqi people cannot afford to pass up.

Posted by Jeremy Brown at 9:50 PM

My New Gig – Iraqi Election Coverage

By Michael J. Totten

Jim Hake from Spirit of America brought me on to edit the Friends of Democracy site during the week before and the week after the January 30 election in Iraq.

We have more than a dozen local Iraqi correspondents, at least one in each province, filing daily reports. These reports include news, interviews, quotes, photos, whatever they can get in a day. They aren’t professional journalists. They are more or less ordinary Iraqis. Some of them you already know – Omar and Mohammed from Iraq the Model, for example. Others you don’t know because they don’t speak or write in English. Their reports are translated from Arabic before they are uploaded to the reports site.

My job isn’t to edit the reports, exactly (they are published raw here), but to run a blog on the main site which summarizes, excerpts, and links to the reports from the field. I’m also going to be excerpting and linking to essays and posts in the Iraqi blogosphere and - on occasion - stories in the mainstream and Middle Eastern media. The idea is to let Iraqis themselves tell their own story of their own first free election. What I do on the site has nothing to do with me. You won’t find me bloviating there as I do here. I am invisible. My name isn’t even on it.

The site is called Friends of Democracy: Ground level election news from the people of Iraq. To the best of my knowledge there is nothing else like it anywhere out there, at least not in English. (We also have a site in Arabic here.)

If you have the time, the inclination, and your own blog, please give us a link. This isn’t about me or my ego. This is for, about, and mostly by the Iraqi people themselves.

I feel honored that Jim asked me to do this. I’ve supported Spirit of America from the beginning, donated a bit of my money, and raised thousands of dollars from readers of this site just like you. Please, give us your support one more time. This time it’s free. All we need now is a link and some readers. Thanks kindly in advance.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:15 AM

January 25, 2005

Losing Their Religion...

- by Mary Madigan

Many thanks to Michael for this opportunity to guest blog (and congratulations!)

As a female blogger, I guess I should discuss subjects that are interesting from a woman's point of view. So I’ll talk about fighting.

[Fights are interesting from a woman's point of view if you're an Irishwoman]

In his New Republic* article, “A Fighting Faith” Peter Beinart suggested that Democrats should return to old-style liberalism; the liberalism which inspired the belief, held by Democrats like Arthur Schlesinger Jr., John Kenneth Galbraith, and Eleanor Roosevelt that:

“[B]ecause the interests of the United States are the interests of free men everywhere,” America should support “democratic and freedom-loving peoples the world over.” That meant unceasing opposition to communism, an ideology “hostile to the principles of freedom and democracy on which the Republic has grown great.”
I’d always thought that the New Republic was a sort of liberal hawk voice, and I thought their readers would agree with Beinart. I was wrong.

In the letters to the editor section, TNR readers made it clear – they don’t agree with Beinart at all. They believe that:

A self-described “lower middle class rube” believes the Democrats' enemy is Bush and big business

“Moore has been—and continues to be—a man fighting for economic justice. Fahrenheit 9/11 was sometimes puerile, but the film made convincing arguments that the 2000 election was stolen in Florida and that the Republicans' wars are being fought primarily by those who are daunted by their economic prospects in this country. His point was not, however, that all wars are pointless, but rather that the reasons for war need to be true, not lies, and clearly in the national interest, rather than for personal gain or personal payback. Even though I may disagree with much of what Moore postulates, I admire his willingness to take on President Bush and big business.”
A history teacher says: JFK was not a good leader
“Beinart argues that the Democrats must take a strong line on terrorism, just as Democrats after 1945 did on communism. He cites John F. Kennedy, who, in 1960, ran a campaign tough on communism and, while in office, “dramatically increased military spending.” Kennedy also campaigned on the missile gap, which he used to frighten audiences…

..He increased the number of military advisers in Vietnam to 16,000, and he helped unseat Cheddi Jagan in Guyana. I am not sure that these are examples to be followed.”

A lady from Missouri believes the “morality of fighting communism in order to save the world was nonsense.”
“Beinart's comparison of the present war on Islamic fundamentalists with the cold war doesn't hold up under scrutiny. He claims that the postwar Democrats had to oppose communism in the Soviet Union, but he fails to mention that, when Richard Nixon went to China, the morality of fighting communism in order to save the world was revealed as just plain nonsense. We did not need to fight communism then, and we do not need to embark on a world conquest of Islamic fundamentalism now.”
Out of six published letters, only one agreed with Beinart.

“We did not need to fight communism”?? I hope these letters to the editor don’t express the opinions typical of centrist Democrats. But I wonder. After all, this is TNR, not The Nation.

*registration required for TNR

Posted by Mary Madigan at 3:52 PM

New Blogging Gig

I have a new full-time blogging gig for the next two weeks, and I won’t have a whole lot of time to blog on this site. So I have a couple of guest-bloggers who are going to help me out: Jeremy Brown and Mary Madigan. I will probably post here, too, but not as often as I usually do.

Since there will be three of us here, or at least two and a half (the half would be me), there will be more fresh content here than usual, not less. So don’t go anywhere.

I’ll provide more info and links about what I’m doing and where I’m going once the project gets off the ground. In the meantime, stay tuned. And welcome Mary and Jeremy.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:23 AM

Stay Tuned

Very suddenly I went from not having enough work on my plate to having a lot of it. Such is the life of a freelance writer. Feast, then famine, then feast. Now is a time of feasting.

It's late Monday night and I'm going to bed. Don't go away. Your regularly scheduled opinionated blather will recommence shortly.

In the meantime, argue amongst yourselves in the comments about love, death, war, life, god, the universe, and everything. And be nice! Don't make me come in there with the battle axe.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:39 AM

January 23, 2005

Not Just For Neocons

One reason I’ve been pushed toward, but not all the way into, the right since 911 is because it sometimes seems like conservatives and Independents are the only ones I can relate to anymore. Nevermind that I don’t sign off onto all their opinions. No one agrees with me about everything, and I don’t expect anyone to. So it’s a nice treat to find Kerry-supporting Democrats like Tom Frank at The New Republic who really know where I’m coming from, not just intellectually, but on a gut level.

This band of socialists was the most effective recruiting tool for the Republican Party I'd ever encountered.

To begin with, there were the posters on the wall: MONEY FOR JOBS AND EDUCATION, NOT FOR WAR AND OCCUPATION. Let's leave aside that the meter is somehow dissatisfying (nine syllables followed by eight—no flow at all). The main point is, if the shallowness of this statement bothers you, to what party do you look for comfort? To the Democrats, many of whom condemn building firehouses in Baghdad and closing firehouses at home? Or do you say to yourself, in that moment, “I don't much care for Newt Gingrich—nor does anyone else—but I bet he hates that goddamn poster as much as I do”? I know where I was leaning.

Then there was the pooh-poohing of elections—any elections. Former soldier Stan Goff (supposedly of the Delta Force, Rangers, and Special Forces) spoke at length about the evils of capitalism and declared, “We ain't never resolved nothing through an election.” This drew loud, sustained applause. Nothing to get worked up about, I thought; just a leftist speaker spouting lunacy. But today it seemed particularly bad. It wasn't just that I was missing what might be lovely canapés (or perhaps spring rolls being brought about on trays with delectable dipping sauce); rather, it was the thought that the speaker was dismissing something that Afghanis of all ages had recently risked their lives to participate in, something Iraq's insurgents view as so transformative that they are murdering scores of Iraqis to prevent it. No, what I needed to counter this speaker was not a Democrat like me who might argue that elections were, in fact, important. What I needed was a Republican like Arnold who would walk up to him and punch him in the face.

But the worst came with the final speaker, a woman by the name of Sherry Wolf, who is supposedly on the “editorial board of International Socialist Review.” She talked, and talked, and talked; terms like “architects of the slaughter,” “war criminal,” and “Noam Chomsky” wafted about the room; and my eyes grew so bleary that I ceased taking notes. But then she brought up the insurgents in Iraq. Sure they were bad, she admitted: “No one cheers the beheading of journalists.” But, she continued, they had a “right” to rebel against occupation. Then she read from a speech by the activist Arundhati Roy: “Of course, [the Iraqi resistance] is riddled with opportunism, local rivalry, demagoguery, and criminality. But if we were to only support pristine movements, then no resistance will be worthy of our purity.” In sum, Wolf said, the choice boiled down to supporting occupation or resistance, and we had to support resistance.

So there it was. I even forgot about the Constitution Ball for a minute. Apparently, we were to view the people who set off bombs killing over 150 peaceful Shia worshippers in Baghdad and Karbala as “resistance” fighters. And the audience seemed entirely fine with this. These weren't harmless lefties. I didn't want Nancy Pelosi talking sense to them; I wanted John Ashcroft to come busting through the wall with a submachine gun to round everyone up for an immediate trip to Gitmo, with Charles Graner on hand for interrogation.
Very good, comrade. Welcome to the non-partisan, equal-opportunity, big-tent Militant Middle.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:16 PM

The Last Honest Progressive in America

I link to Marc Cooper’s blog a lot because I like him and I often like what he has to say. (He’s also a friend and the editor for my soon-to-be-published Libya piece in the LA Weekly.)

G.M. Roper discovered Marc’s blog via my blog and seems to have taken up residence in Cooper’s comments section. The two have become friends, and this makes me happy. Why? In part because I “introduced” them to each other, but also because G.M. is a conservative and Marc is an anti-war leftist. The blogosphere is often divisive, but it isn’t always. I wish this sort of thing happened more often, but I’m glad to see it happens sometimes.

G.M. wrote a flattering profile of Marc on his blog called The Last Honest Progressive in America. Marc isn’t really the last, but he is a progressive and he is honest. If you’re a conservative (or a centrist or a hawkish liberal or whatever else) and you’re looking for someone who thinks you’re wrong but can argue well and with integrity, bookmark him. He’s a worthwhile antidote to the echo-chamber.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:53 PM

Propaganda

Zed has links to active radical Islamist Web sites, including video and multi-media presentations, for anyone who is interested in poking around such places. He made the links inactive so he won't get any unwanted attention from the owners of those sites. You will have to cut and paste the links into your browser if you want to follow them.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:01 PM

January 21, 2005

A Plea for Iraqi Unity

In the comments box for the post below this one Dougf pointed out that the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has an archive of video clips from Middle East TV. I didn't know this until now. (Thanks, Doug.)

While watching TV in my Tripoli hotel room back in November I saw something I never would have expected to see in Libya: a touching ad pleading for Iraqi unity. It's cheesy, but I don't mean to complain. Iraq needs cheesiness now. (Note: This is not the same ad Doug links to in the comments. This one is better, I think.)

Here's a link to the video. Watch it. And imagine how I felt when I saw this in Libya while I was otherwise surrounded by hysterical totalitarian propaganda. It was an amazing moment.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:41 PM

A Short, Sharp Shove

A great swath of the blogosphere has already linked to the shockingly unprofessional hit piece in the New York Times about the Iraqis who blog at Iraq the Model. Their brother Ali, who now blogs at Free Iraqi, has posted a classy dignified response. He is much more polite to the so-called reporter Sarah Boxer than I would have been if she had done the same thing to me.

The article was, despite Ms Boxer's kindness, a bad piece of journalism. I had around 45 minutes long phone call with the reporter about my journey with Iraq the Model, my new site, the elections, the general situation here in Baghdad but she (or the paper) seems to have a certain agenda and managed to change the whole issue into a very silly gossip (going as far as quoting trolls!) that is way beneath any respectable paper and certainly beneath me so I won't give it more attention but lesson learned and I won't make the mistake of talking to anyone from the NY times again. It's important to note though that my feelings of respect, gratitude and love for the American people have never and will never change.
UPDATE: Jeffrey at Iraqi Bloggers Central wonders what would have happened to Sarah Boxer if she were a blogger, not a reporter.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:45 PM

January 20, 2005

Spongebob Squarepants: Gay Tool!

I sometimes bristle at the haughty sneers in Red America’s direction from the coasts. I used to live in a red state – Iowa. It was still barely a blue state then, and it’s barely a red state now. Blowing it off as “Jesusland” not only denies the state’s complexity and diversity (yes, I am talking about Iowa here), it’s also a snot-nosed condescending attitude unbecoming of grown-ups.

Still. Some people on the more crimson end of the spectrum don’t do Red America’s image any favors. Look no further than the latest hysterical outburst by the brainless, bigoted blowhard James Dobson.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:09 PM

Mullah Watch

Callimachus doesn't get enough attention. So today I'm going to give him some.

He has a thoroughly brilliant post up on his blog about Iran and nuclear weapons. I'm going to excerpt the first part because it's fun.
Does anybody think any U.S. administration isn't spying on Iranian nukes? Does anybody hope we're not? And did anybody read Seymour Hersh's recent article and say, “Gee, I had no idea the U.S. would have a contingency plan for taking out Iranian nuclear weapons. I never would have dreamed that the U.S. simply wouldn't allow Iran to get all the radiation bombs it wants, and use them as it pleases. How awful!”

Well, if there is such a “somebody,” he probably lives in Europe.

Now go read the rest of it. Seriously. Go read it right now.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:08 PM

January 19, 2005

The Totalitarian Impulse

Apropos of yesterday’s screedy post about binary-thinking activists and the bovine mentality that enshrines a party-line, there’s this from “Annette” on the Feedback page for my most recent Tech Central Station article about Hotel Rwanda.

Ill bet mr totten is a down the line liberal. how do i know this? he never mentions the name of the president of the united states at the time. guess who? bill clinton.
I probably spend more time than necessary studying totalitarian regimes, but I can’t quite help myself. I find them morbidly fascinating, in part because it’s sometimes hard for me to believe such places really exist. Even while walking around inside Libya and seeing the real-world results of contemporary totalitarianism all around me, it was hard to imagine just how much raw totalizing power was behind it.

Anyway, when I read comments like Annette’s above the first thing that often comes to my mind is this: how would such a person behave if he or she were in a position of power inside Stalin’s Soviet Union, Adolf Hitler’s Germany, or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq? It takes a special kind of person to pour over someone’s work looking for the most trivial details and omissions and using such meaningless data to jump to sweeping conclusions, usually followed by denunciations. It gives me the creeps, whether I’m the target or not. Who can adhere to such rigid party-line orthodoxy? A lot of people – millions of people – are dead because others who think this way have seized the levers of power. Thank God our political system prevents people like Annette from turning into anything more sinister than mere harmless cranks.

I do see this sort of behavior more on the left these days than the right. But it’s not a left-wing thing, not really. People on the right do it, too, and people on the right do it to me.

UPDATE: On a related note (well, related to yesterday's post, which is sort of related to this one), please see the always-brilliant Norman Geras.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:05 PM

January 18, 2005

“We Can’t Get Bogged Down in Analysis”

Back in the day when I still thought of myself as a dissident liberal instead of a swing-voting Independent with rightish tendencies at the top of my list, I was surprised at how many of my old comrades on the left thought that because I favored regime-change in Iraq (something I supported long before I even knew George W. Bush existed) I was somehow, all of a sudden, a Republican. What the hell? I was genuinely baffled. Why couldn’t I just be a liberal hawk? I understood perfectly well that anti-war liberals thought the liberal hawk position was a noxious one. But I couldn’t understand why others couldn’t grasp that liberal hawks even existed. A liberal hawk is no more a “conservative” than a pro-choice Republican is a “liberal.”

“Conservative Democrat” and “Liberal Republican” are, perhaps, fair designations for party members who wander off the reservation. But no one ever thought to lob “conservative Democrat” in my direction instead of something along the lines of “Republican shill,” “Republican hack,” “fascist neocon,” or what have you. I might have accepted “conservative Democrat,” even though actual conservative Democrats like Zell Miller and Joe Lieberman make me cringe with their sanctimonious moralizing and bombast. I’ll take the liberal blue-state Republicanism of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani any day over the so-called liberalism of those two.

I finally figured out that the war in Iraq had nothing to do with anything, really. It was a lightning rod for something else. I should have known all along what it was. I had experienced it in the past.

Back in 2000 I watched the election results in Portland’s fanciest hotel, The Benson, where the president of the United States (whoever he happens to be at the time) stays when he rolls into town. I was there with my friend Sean LaFreniere. We were Democrats and this was where the Democratic Party had its election night headquarters. So we felt right at home, even though both Sean and I voted for Ralph Nader as a protest vote against the mind-bogglingly irritating Al Gore and Joe Lieberman. (Since then Gore turns me off even more, if such a thing is possible, and I’ve come to have some margin of respect for Joe Lieberman, who still generally raises my hackles for many of the usual reasons.)

Anyway, as the election results came in Sean made an utterly innocuous comment about Ralph Nader: “It looks like he’s doing pretty good in Madison (Wisconsin).” This was overheard by a woman sitting next to us who exploded with instant and frightening volcanic rage. Spittle flew. Her face became red. She actually raised her fists. She screamed. God, she must have screamed herself hoarse.

It was quite a scene, let me tell you. I thought for sure that others in the room would come to Sean’s and my defense. But I was still pretty naïve about politics then. We faced a hostile mob. These were well-dressed professionals in the swankiest hotel in the entire state of Oregon, trembling with rage and shouting “Fuck You,” “Get Out,” and threatening physical violence if we didn’t comply. A photographer from The Oregonian was there (and he was on the clock, too) and he came to our defense. I thought it was a bit brave and rather interventionist for a man who was supposed to be a neutral journalistic observer. But that’s how bad it was.

Sean and I were successfully driven out. We were both shaken, and neither of us have had any affection for the Democrats since. Both of us at that time would have described ourselves as farther to the left than 90 percent of Americans. Yet we agreed that the Democratic Party, at least its active core, reeked with a palpable Stalinism. We were “traitors,” “objectively pro-Bush” since our votes for the leftist candidate were actually “votes for” the right-wing. I’m still shocked five years later at how much we were hated by total strangers in a place where people were expected to behave at their absolute best.

I am aware that it was Sean and I who were dabbling in the fringe politics of the left, rather than the so-called liberal mob at the hotel. And so perhaps it was slightly silly for us to think of those people as reeking of Stalinism. Their opinions were in all liklihood far more moderate than ours. But that’s how it felt at the time. They didn’t act remotely like moderates. We were infinitely more tolerant of our own differences with them than the other way round. Otherwise we would not have joined them with what started out as good cheer. If Sean and I had expressed some sort of nasty communistic International ANSWER-like opinions in public, maybe I could have understood their fierce denunciations. But we weren’t lunatic crackpots or freaks. We were just unhappy liberals who didn’t think much of either Al or George W.

It didn’t make any difference that Sean and I said we were registered Democrats, that we agreed with the core principles of the Democratic Party, that our vote for Nader was a protest against a pathetic gasbag of a candidate rather than an endorsement of his opponent or anything “right-wing.” What we believed and cared about was irrelevant. Only our actions mattered. This makes sense on some level, since action and results really do matter more than thoughts and intentions. Still, these people could not accept us as a part of their group in good standing because we had behaved incorrectly and gave “aid and comfort” to “the enemy.”

The same sort of thing happened in the runup to the war in Iraq. My support for the war may have been made on liberal grounds, but it gave “aid and comfort” to the Republican Party. Hysterical denunciations commenced. (I wasn’t kind to anti-war lefties then, and to this day I still don’t go easy on those who can’t show a little integrity, unlike Matthew Yglesias, Todd Gitlin, and Matt Welch who do have some integrity. I accept that I was asking for it at least to an extent. If I send out bad vibes to a group of people, I shouldn’t expect hugs in return - and I don’t.)

Anyway, it finally clicked, what separated me from the left-wing herd for many years even before 911. So many of them are activists. I’m not – not in any way shape or form whatsoever. I’m a book-reader, an intellectual, and a writer. I’m interested in history and ideas. They are interested in activism and power. You can’t tell an activist that Al Gore is a blowhard and a phony, or that Saddam Hussein ran a filthy regime that had no right to exist. These ideas are important to intellectuals, yet they are obstacles to activists. These ideas, whether they’re true or not, help the Republican Party. Therefore, to an activist, anyone who points them out must want to help the Republican Party. Otherwise, why do it? They certainly wouldn’t. It flies in the face of their job description.

My friend and editor (at the LA Weekly) Marc Cooper is a leftist intellectual. He likewise isn’t an activist, at least in part because he has many years of bad experiences with them under his belt. He links to an essay in Lip Magazine by Doug Henwood, Lisa Featherstone, and Christian Parenti, also left intellectuals, who butt heads with the same (literally) mindless beast.
“WE CAN'T GET BOGGED DOWN IN ANALYSIS, one activist told us at an antiwar rally in New York a while back, spitting out that last word like a hairball. He could have relaxed his vigilance. This event deftly avoided such bogs, loudly opposing the US bombing in Afghanistan without offering any credible ideas about it (we're not counting the notion that the entire escapade was driven by Unocal and Lockheed Martin). But the moment called for doing something more than brandishing the exact same signs—Stop the Bombing and No War for Oil—that activists poked skyward during the first Gulf War. This latest war called for some thinking, and few were doing much of that.

So what is the ideology of the activist left (and by that we mean the global justice, peace, media democracy, community organizing, financial populist and green movements)? Is the activist left just an inchoate “post-ideological” mass of do-gooders, pragmatists and puppeteers? No. The young troublemakers of today do have an ideology and it is as deeply felt and intellectually totalizing as any of the great belief systems of yore. The cadres who populate those endless meetings, who bang the drum, who lead the “trainings” and paint the puppets, do indeed have a creed. They are activistists.

That's right, activistists. This brave new ideology combines the political illiteracy of hypermediated American culture with all the moral zeal of a 19th-century temperance crusade. In this worldview, all roads lead to more activism and more activists. And the one who acts is righteous. The activistists seem to borrow their philosophy from the factory boss in a Heinrich Böll short story who greets his employees each morning with the exhortation “Let's have some action.” To which the workers obediently reply: “Action will be taken!”…

How does activist anti-intellectualism manifest on the ground? One instance is the reduction of strategy to mere tactics, to horrible effect. Take for example the largely failed San Francisco protest against the National Association of Broadcasters, an action that ended up costing tens of thousands of dollars, gained almost no attention, had no impact on the NAB and nearly ruined one of the sponsoring organizations. During a postmortem discussion of this debacle one of the organizers reminded her audience that: “We had 3,000 people marching through [the shopping district] Union Square protesting the media. That's amazing. It had never happened before.” Never mind the utter non-impact of this aimless march. The point was clear: We marched for ourselves. We were our own targets. Activism made us good.
Such people may not wish to get “bogged down in analysis.” But that only means they’ll get bogged down in something else, something worse: a reactionary anti-intellectual quagmire. If dissidents are democracy’s anti-toxins, deliberately brainless reactionaries are its toxins. They’re also thugs, and about as much fun to hang out with as fundamentalist religious fanatics and book-burners.

Marc Cooper writes in his own comments section in defense of yet another disgruntled leftist who posts there named Josh:

I personally find Josh's postings to be quite authentic and heartfelt. Do they reflect a certain amount of resentment and disillusionment? Yes. So what? He's entitled to feel that. It's extremely difficult to maintain normal personal relationships with hyper-activsists—- the atmosphere leaves little room for doubt or nuance. Perhaps someone should ask Josh what it was in his personal experience that generated so much hostiltity toward the Lefties he once worked with. And then after you ask, you might actually listen. Personally, I can’t think of anything worse than spending a Friday night in a dreary meeting with preachy self-righteous activists. About 20 years ago I ceased that practice. And then about 8 years ago I found it was TOO painful to even attend those meetings as the invited speaker (I would always regret having pissed away a perfectly good evening). And for the last 5 years I try to avoid those functions even as a reporter… I can only watch people twinkle with their fingers so many times before full nausea sets in.

I dunno..my wife is a Chilean Socialist and feels pretty much the same way about those sort of meetings. And my daughther, the infamous union organizer, was probably turned off for life by the BS she experienced as a member of small campus-based “Progressive Student Alliance” during the run-up to the Iraq War. Indeed, that's one reason she went into the unions— to escape into the real world and flee from the sectarian grupuscle wanking off that dominates activist politics.

A healthy democracy really does need its dissidents. And dissidents need to be active. It’s not always enough to write books, articles, and blog posts.

Perhaps my endorsement of the invasion of Iraq really was a stupid idea. Believe me, I wonder sometimes. I’ve been wrong about foreign policy before, and I’m bound to be wrong again. I like and need to have smart people who think I’m wrong tell me where I’ve gone off the rails. That’s why I read the likes of Marc Cooper and Matthew Yglesias. An echo chamber is an invisible mind prison. I’ll pass on that, thanks. I wish more people felt the same way.

UPDATE: See also Bravo Romeo Delta at Anticipatory Retaliation: “I wish, I do wish, that the Democratic Party would expel this particular kidney stone - I prefer living in a two party system. Not a system of one party and one rabble of the outraged.”

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:28 PM

January 17, 2005

Hotel Rwanda

My new Tech Central Station column is up. It's a review of Hotel Rwanda.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:02 PM

What I Did on my Three-Day Winter Vacation

Shelly and I had a great time in New York. She had work to do and I didn’t, but New York rocks even when you’re busy. (Who isn’t busy in New York, anyway?) She was still able to join me on most of my blogosphere social outings.

We met Jeff Jarvis at a Cosi coffeeshop which, apparently, is the place for wi-fi blogging when you’re in Manhattan. The first thing Shelly said to me after we left the café was “What a terrific human being that man is.” Well, yes. But I knew that already. Thanks, Jeff, for being you and finding some time for us.

20 minutes after saying adios to Jeff we met Steve Silver for dinner at the Heartland Brewpub, which just so happened to be located right down the street from both my hotel and his day job. Steve is younger than me, but (so far anyway!) a more accomplished writer. Peg Kaplan notes in my comments section: “I knew Steve Silver's mom long before she was pregnant with him - and now he's a successful writer in NYC??” You rock, Steve. Thanks for hanging out with us Thursday night.

Friday night Megan McArdle (Jane Galt) and her boyfriend Jim took us into the countryside (inner Queens) to a Spanish restaurant with live flamenco dancing. Krikey, she’s tall. She’s taller than me, and I’m taller than almost everybody. Megan and Jim, too, were great company: worldly, wise, well-read, funny, and charming. Shelly and I were instantly comfortable with both of them. And she was my Instapundit guest-blogging colleague. How could I go to NYC and not meet Megan?

The next night I went out with Eric Deamer (Young Curmudgeon), Judith Weiss (Kesher Talk), Mary Madigan (Exit Zero), Jeremy Brown (guest-blogger here and proprietor of Who Knew), and Jeremy’s wife Cara Remal who also occasionally blogs at Who Knew. (Jeremy and Cara have pictures, too, by the way.) We had dinner at a place in Brooklyn that unpretentiously calls itself Cambodian Cuisine. (My favorite unpretentious restaurant name is “Eat,” but “Cambodian Eat” doesn’t quite work.) Then we went to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to listen to some nice piano music before getting psychically chased out by the waiter for (apparently) showing up late, pushing tables together without asking, and daring to ask for a desert menu after the kitchen had closed.

All of us, I think it’s safe to say, have been made to feel like freaks at least a couple of times at various social gatherings because we voted for that Very Bad Man in the White House. That’s what happens to people who live in blue neighborhoods of blue cities in blue states and have a bunch of blue friends. (Don’t get me wrong, I love my blue friends, even the ones who think I’ve gone off some kind of political deep end. Besides, I voted for Ralph Effing Nader last time, so I’m used to getting the Treatment.)

It’s nice to have dinner with people who all read each other’s work and who don’t look at me like I have horns or two heads because of a one-time voting preference. It occurred to me half-way through the meal: I don’t think I’ve ever had dinner with a group of people who all voted for a Republican president. Not even once in my life. That kind of thing just can’t happen by accident on the East Coast or in the Pacific Northwest.

Go ahead and call me ridiculous, but it actually felt weird.

I looked around at all these people and noticed that it wasn’t just me: they don’t have horns or two heads, either. In fact, they’re all quite normal. I’m so accustomed to hysterical denunciations of conservatives as knuckle-dragging right-wing death beasts that I really did have a moment of minor surprise. (This may be because only one of us – Eric – is an actual conservative. Judith has long been independent, and the rest of us are disgruntled lefty types who gave the middle finger to “our own” John Kerry and the peaceniks. So, who knows? Maybe it’s the Republicans in Tom DeLay’s Texas district who have horns. Somebody’s gotta have ’em, I guess.)

(Jeff Jarvis and Steve Silver were refreshing in a different way. They’re both lefty bloggers who don’t give me a bunch of crap because we didn’t vote for the same guy. (I don’t give them any crap either.) Who you vote for shouldn’t make any difference on a personal level, but in news junkie circles it’s sometimes a Really Big Deal for people who mistake politics for high school.)

After dinner on Saturday the six of us went to C’s (A Picture of Me) birthday party in the East Village. I met a bunch more bloggers there. All of them (apparently) were actual hornless one-headed conservatives. Jessica, who blogs at The New Vintage. Karol at Alarming News. Ivan Lenin, who moved to the U.S. from Belarus.

Ace of Spades apologized for “taking a shot” at me a few months ago on his blog. I told him that wasn’t necessary. I get scrappy on the blog, too, sometimes. Big deal. There is more to life than this. No hard feelings, Ace.

I’m not exactly sure who else I met. I don’t even know if I met C, the birthday girl, because it was almost as dark as it was loud in that joint. Some people at the party knew who I was, but I didn’t know who they were(*). They talked to me like I was some kind of a famous person, which made me feel good and also like a fraud at the same time. It’s not like I can’t leave the house without being recognized and followed around by groupies. Bloggers can only be “celebrities” at blogger parties. That is probably not a bad thing. I wouldn’t want to live like Tom Cruise. It sounds like a royal pain in the ass to me. (I’ll take his salary, though.)

Thanks, everybody, for the great company and the grand tour of a wonderful city. I miss you all out here in the remote wooded provinces.

*The two ladies at Candied Ginger were the ones I didn't know but who knew me. Well, I know 'em now and I knew 'em live first.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:54 PM

Hate Crime in Jersey City

Ugh. What happened to Theo Van Gogh could happen to anyone. That means you.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:03 PM

January 14, 2005

In Gotham

I'm at a wi-fi coffeeshop in Midtown Manhattan. What a great city this is, even in January. This is only my second time out here. My first trip was right after September 11. I could smell the smoking ruin of Ground Zero (like burning tires) all the way up in Central Park. It was a strange and intense time to be here. It's nice to get to know the real New York City.

My wife flew out here to work. I tagged along because I felt like it and because I could.

There's a lot of socializing going on while I'm here. So far I've met Jeff Jarvis and Steve Silver. (Great guys, both of 'em.) Later tonight Shelly and I are having dinner with Megan McArdle. Tomorrow we're painting the town with Judith Weiss, Mary Madigan, and Eric Deamer.

I'll be home Monday. In the meantime, enjoy the fine blogs to your left. And be nice to each other in the comments! Cheers.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:55 PM

January 12, 2005

Rampant Perversion on Christmas?

Stephen Schwartz highlights a nasty rant by a Saudi Arabian blowhard about how the south Asian tsunami was the wrath of Allah.

In one such instance, Shaykh Salih Fawzan al-Fawzan, a high functionary of the Saudi regime, said on television, “These great tragedies and collective punishments that are wiping out villages, towns, cities, and even entire countries, are Allah's punishments of the people of these countries, even if they are Muslims.” He continued, “Some of our forefathers said that if there is usury and fornication in a certain village, Allah permits its destruction. We know that at these resorts, which unfortunately exist in Islamic and other countries in South Asia, and especially at Christmas, fornication and sexual perversion of all kinds are rampant. The fact that it happened at this particular time is a sign from Allah. It happened at Christmas, when fornicators and corrupt people from all over the world come to commit fornication and sexual perversion. That's when this tragedy took place, striking them all and destroyed everything. It turned the land into wasteland, where only the cries of the ravens are heard. I say this is a great sign and punishment on which Muslims should reflect.
I think I know what this Christmas business might be about.

I had a cup of coffee with one of my guides in Ghadames, Libya back in November. He sheepishly wanted to know if a particular rumor about us was true.

“I have heard,” he said, “that European and American men have sex with other men’s wives on Christmas. Is it true? Libyan people don’t like that.”

American people don’t like that,” I said. “No, it isn’t true. We don’t do that. Europeans don’t do it either.”

“You don’t do it? Really?” he said.

“No,” I told him. “Where did you hear that?”

He looked around the room at people sitting next to our table and shrugged. “Everyone in Libya thinks this. But I promise I will tell people that you told me it isn’t true.”

I appreciated his myth-busting services. And I appreciated that he asked about it. He seemed to suspect it wasn’t true. So I decided to be perfectly honest with him and told about the sixties, key parties, and swingers. He was a smart and fair man. It probably helped that I told him there was a kernal of truth (but only a kernel) to the Christmas myth, even though it wasn’t at all common and had nothing to do with Christmas.

Anyway, that might be what Shaykh Salih Fawzan al-Fawzan was shrieking about on Saudi TV.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:59 PM

January 11, 2005

Blog Traffic

All of a sudden I have no idea how many people visit this blog – or anyone else’s blog for that matter.

N.Z. Bear writes at Tech Central Station:
[I]t should also be noted that not everyone in the weblog world believes that SiteMeter data are perfect, or even the best counter available. Some bloggers scoff at SiteMeter, claiming that the results it provides undercount the actual traffic they see by measuring traffic more directly from their server logs. These complaints may or may not be true: I frankly don't know.
This is news to me. I’ve used SiteMeter ever since I started this blog and always assumed it was reasonably accurate. Maybe it’s not.

So I checked my traffic level using Webalizer (which is installed on my server), something I’ve never done before. And I was shocked.

SiteMeter says the average number of visits per day on my blog is 3,200.

Webalizer says my daily average is almost 6,000 for the same time period.

What’s the deal? How can these two traffic counters be off by so much? Does anyone have an informed opinion? (Both SiteMeter and Webalizer claim to count a single visit as all activity on my Web site from a single IP address with less than 30 minutes of idle time in a row between clicks. So it’s not like they’re comparing apples and oranges.)

I’m slightly inclined to believe the Webalizer stats since Webalizer is actually installed on my server and SiteMeter isn’t. But maybe there’s a flaw in the code that leads to overcounting. I’ve no idea.

I really would like to know how many people stop by here every day. It’s not just about ego or idle curiosity.

As N.Z. Bear notes at TCS:
This is a real problem, and one that will only grow in importance as weblogs continue to take their place alongside traditional media as a source of information and entertainment. Blogging is no longer exclusively a hobby done for the sheer pleasure of it: for some, it's a business, with real money coming in from real advertisers — who want to know exactly what real traffic they're paying for.
Yep. Maybe someone should conduct an experiment. Create a place-holder Web site where you can control exactly how much traffic it gets because you’ll be the only one visiting. Keep a careful tally of how many “visits” you auto-generate. Then compare different traffic counters and see which ones are accurate and which ones are not.

It would be a pain, but also a real public service.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:14 PM

North Korea Cracks Down on Longhairs and Slobs

When Christopher Hitchen described North Korea as a state “where everything that is not absolutely compulsory is absolutely forbidden,” he wasn’t joking around.

Here’s the latest from the ne plus ultra of nanny states.
SEOUL (AFP) - Stalinist North Korea has stepped up its campaign against long hair and untidy attire which its media says represents a “corrupt capitalist” lifestyle, reports said.

North Korean state television, radio and newspapers have led the grooming drive, urging people to cut their hair short and to dress tidily, the BBC said in a dispatch citing broadcasts from Pyongyang.

Men were asked to have crew cuts with hair growing up to five centimeters (two inches) in a twice-a-month visit to the barber, it said.

Not only health and hygiene but also intelligence was cited by the North Korean media as reasons for the crackdown on appearance.

Pyongyang television noted long hair “consumes a great deal of nutrition” and could thus rob the brain of energy, according to the BBC.

But another serious reason came from state radio which said tidy attire “is important in repelling the enemies' maneuvers to infiltrate corrupt capitalist ideas and lifestyle” in North Korea, it said.

The ruling communist party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, even warned inappropriate appearance under foreign influence could lead to national decay.

“People who wear other's style of dress and live in other's style will become fools and that nation will come to ruin,” Rodong was cited as saying.

Some North Korean TV broadcasts adopted a hidden-camera style video of longhaired men on various locations throughout Pyongyang in an unprecedented break with their usual approach.

The program showed those who were not “in accordance with Socialist lifestyle” just run away or make excuses of being too busy to trim their hair.
A guy who looks like this need to shut up about hair.
Kim_Hair.jpg

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:11 PM

January 10, 2005

Hands Off Bin Laden?

I never thought much of the CIA, and I still don’t. Articles like this one in the Times of London don’t inspire much confidence.

THE world may be better off if Osama Bin Laden remains at large, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s recently departed executive director.

If the world’s most wanted terrorist is captured or killed, a power struggle among his Al-Qaeda subordinates may trigger a wave of terror attacks, said AB “Buzzy” Krongard, who stepped down six weeks ago as the CIA’s third most senior executive.

“You can make the argument that we’re better off with him (at large),” Krongard said. “Because if something happens to Bin Laden, you might find a lot of people vying for his position and demonstrating how macho they are by unleashing a stream of terror.”
This little theory relies on the assumption that Al Qaeda is restraining itself at the moment. Otherwise, it’s absolute nonsense. Bin Laden’s buddies are already “unleashing a stream of terror.” They don’t need any more encouragement than they already have.
Several US officials have privately admitted that it may be better to keep Bin Laden pinned down on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan rather than make him a martyr or put him on trial. But Krongard is the most senior figure to acknowledge publicly that his capture might prove counter-productive.
Turning bin Laden into a martyr might not be ideal. But it sure beats leaving him alone so he can go on being a hero. Want to take care of bin Laden? Vanish him from the face of the earth. Turn him into the Jimmy Hoffa of terrorists.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:56 PM

January 9, 2005

The New Stalingrad

The more hysterical doom-mongers among us predicted Baghdad would become the new Stalingrad. Obviously it did not…except in a way it did, sort of.

Terry Barnich explains in Tech Central Station:
In [Osama bin Laden’s] newest tape he has demanded that Iraqis refrain from voting in the upcoming elections and has declared those who do exercise the franchise to be apostates. In effect he has confirmed that what is really going on is an Islamic civil war. Bin Laden's vision of a restored caliphate and a resurrection of Saddam's fascistic absolutism are at war with acceptance of the need to reconcile Islam to modernity.

In contrast, Ayad Allawi, the interim Iraqi prime minister, believes in consent of the governed. There is no in between in that struggle. And on that score the issue should now be settled for Americans of all stripes.

It may once have been correct to claim that Iraq was not strategically significant. But neither were the fields at Waterloo, Gettysburg or Stalingrad until the contending armies met in those places. By accident or political design, insignificant places become enduring historical names. How strange that in his own twisted way bin Laden would align with Bush on the strategic importance of Iraq in waging this civil war.
UPDATE: Let me put it another way, inspired by a discussion in the comments. If the US had invaded, say, Bolivia - Osama bin Laden would have completely ignored it. And those who would have claimed invading Bolivia had nothing to do with the Terror War would have been correct.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:46 PM

Michael Savage: No Foreign Aid!

I've posted and linked to plenty of left-on-left action on this blog.
Now it's time for a little right-on-right action. (Hat tip: Glenn.)

I'd say a post blasting the despicable Michael Savage is hardly worth
the bother, but the man has millions of fans - well, at least he has
millions of listeners. When I'm in the mood for some right-wing
whackjobbery (it happens sometimes when I get bored) I'm occasionally
one of them.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:55 PM

January 7, 2005

For Entertainment Purposes Only

It's generally a bad idea to cobble together a political theory that explains much of anything based solely on an idiotic comment thread found somewhere in the bowels of the Internet. Still. These things can be great fun to read.

On that note…the most asinine conversation in all of cyberspace is happening here.

The sad thing about it is that these people live in my city.

(Hat tip: Belgravia Dispatch.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:20 PM

January 6, 2005

Gonzales and Torture Redux

I’ve been shellacked in the comments for trying to make Alberto Gonzales into a poster boy for torture. Since my critics pounced on me at the precise moment Gonzales came out strongly against torture in front of the Senate…allow me to back off for now. I’m not ready to exonerate the man without looking a bit deeper into this, but I will declare myself an agnostic.

However, I won’t climb down an inch in my opposition to torture. And I’m not talking about make-believe “torture,” I mean real actual torture, the kind Andrew Sullivan is talking about here:
Let's retire at the start the notion that the only torture that has been used by the U.S. has been against known members of al Qaeda. This is not true. Many innocent men and boys were raped, brutally beaten, crucified for hours (a more accurate term than put in “stress positions”), left in their own excrement, sodomized, electrocuted, had chemicals from fluorescent lights poured on them, forced to lie down on burning metal till they were unrecognizable from burns - all this in Iraq alone, at several prisons as well as Abu Ghraib. I spent a week reading all the official reports over Christmas for a forthcoming review essay. Abu Ghraib is but one aspect of a pervasive pattern of torture and abuse that, in my view, is only beginning to sink in.
If someone were to ask me where I think we ought to draw the line while interrogating prisoners, I couldn’t answer. I don’t know. A question like that isn’t exactly a no-brainer. Reasonable people can argue about it and, most likely, come up with a reasonable compromise. But I will say this: raping, electrocuting, and crucifying boys (or girls or adults or anyone else) absolutely is over the line.

The fracas in my comments section only seemed to prove (at least to me) one of Glenn Reynolds’ points: Making this issue about a person (Bush or Gonzales) only turns the argument into a partisan bitch-fest. I’m sorry for “going there.” But I’m not sorry at all for saying that some things are over the line and that I don’t want them done in my name.

UPDATE: Please see The Belgravia Dispatch.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:45 PM

January 5, 2005

Sink Alberto Gonzales

Glenn Reynolds and I are both against torture. He’s worried that it’s too politicized and might actually be legalized as a result.

I've been against torture since Alan Dershowitz was pushing it back in the fall of 2001. (Okay, actually I was against torture even before Dershowitz was pushing it). But I think the effort to turn this into an anti-Bush political issue is a serious mistake, and the most likely outcome will be, in essence, the ratification of torture (with today's hype becoming tomorrow's reality) and a political defeat for the Democrats.
Perhaps. If George W. Bush becomes the poster boy for torture, and if the Bush=Hitler people frame the debate in their own hysterical terms, and if the moderate left and moderate right sit the debate out, Glenn could be right. But it doesn’t have to go down that way.

And what about Alberto Gonzales, Bush’s pick to replace John Ashcroft as attorney general?

Here is Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post.
Last month — really recently — lawsuits filed by American human rights groups forced the government to release thousands of pages of documents showing that the abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Naval Base long preceded the Abu Ghraib photographs, and that abuse has continued since then too. U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have, according to the administration's own records and my colleagues' reporting, used beatings, suffocation, sleep deprivation, electric shocks and dogs during interrogations. They probably still do. [Emphasis added.]

Although many people bear some responsibility for these abuses, Alberto Gonzales, along with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is among those who bear the most responsibility. It was Gonzales who led the administration's internal discussion of what qualified as torture. It was Gonzales who advised the president that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to people captured in Afghanistan. It was Gonzales who helped craft some of the administration's worst domestic decisions, including the indefinite detention, without access to lawyers, of U.S. citizens Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi.

If any American deserves to be the poster boy for torture, it’s Alberto Gonzales.

He’s expected to win confirmation for his nomination. But I’m not so sure. The Republican-controlled Congress has far less reason to be defensively partisan on Gonzales’ behalf than on behalf of the president. He has no constituency. He is not a GOP leader. There will be no popular backlash if he isn’t confirmed. Most people who aren’t politics junkies probably don’t even know who he is.

Some Republican Congressman might think he’s a good choice. Others will surely vote to confirm him because he’s “one of them.” Some Democrats would raise a ruckus about Gonzales no matter who he is or what his record looked like. But there are plenty of people who can’t be dismissed as namby pamby liberals or partisan sheep who think the ascendancy of Alberto Gonzales to the post of attorney general would be a disaster.
A dozen high-ranking retired military officers took the unusual step yesterday of signing a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee expressing “deep concern” over the nomination of White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general, marking a rare military foray into the debate over a civilian post.

The group includes retired Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The officers are one of several groups to separately urge the Senate to sharply question Gonzales during a confirmation hearing Thursday about his role in shaping legal policies on torture and interrogation methods.

Although the GOP-controlled Senate is expected to confirm Gonzales to succeed Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, some Democrats have vowed to question him aggressively amid continuing revelations of abuses of military detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The letter signed by the retired officers, compiled by the group Human Rights First and sent to the committee's leadership last night, criticizes Gonzales for his role in reviewing and approving a series of memorandums arguing, among other things, that the United States could lawfully ignore portions of the Geneva Conventions and that some forms of torture “may be justified” in the war on terror.
What Christopher Hitchens once said of John Ashcroft is also true of Gonzales: he might make a fine secretary of agriculture. I don’t believe for a minute that he is the best person available for the job of top cop. There are plenty of others who can fill that post in his stead, who can honorably prosecute terrorist suspects, who won’t tarnish the reputation of the United States of America, and who won’t be a polarizing lightning rod for the next four years.

I don’t know if I agree with Glenn Reynolds or not that an anti-torture campaign shouldn’t focus on President Bush. But it damn well better focus on Alberto Gonzales. Anyone who is against torture and doesn’t speak up is shirking their duty as a citizen in a democracy. I don’t know how big the “pro-torture” contingent is, but since it includes some liberals (like Alan Dershowitz and Oliver Willis) for all I know it could be huge. And it could win if the rest of us keep our mouths shut.

Glenn continues:
[M]any Administration critics are adopting a broad-brush view of “torture” that I think is likely to backfire. In fact, my fear — as noted in the original post — is that a big brouhaha will be made about torture, with various mild issues swept in to demonstrate the pervasiveness of the problem.
I completely agree. And that’s precisely why moderates (including the moderate left and the moderate right) need to speak up.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:29 PM

January 4, 2005

Where The Communist Manifesto Meets The Koran

My Libyan travelogue isn't ready for publication yet. But my new Tech Central Station column is up, and it's about Libya - Where The Communist Manifesto Meets The Koran.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:21 PM

Terrorist Caught in the Act

Take a look at this picture.

r3811391753.jpg

Here’s the Reuters caption:

A suspected insurgent asks residents for mercy after they caught him planting explosives under civilian vehicles, at a busy area in Baghdad, January 3, 2005. Insurgents killed 17 Iraqi police and National Guards on Monday in another bloody spree of ambushes, bombings and suicide attacks aimed at wrecking Iraq's January 30 national election.
If this guy was caught planting explosives under civilian vehicles, he is not an insurgent. He is a terrorist. Good God, will Reuters never figure this out?

It says something, doesn’t it, that he’s begging for mercy in front of a crowd of random Iraqis. He is not one of Mao’s revolutionary “fish” who swims in “the sea” of the people. He’s the scum of the earth. And he knows the Iraqi people think he’s the scum of the earth. He was caught trying to kill them. That’s why he’s begging for mercy.

I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the translation of this Iraqi poll posted at Powerline. But I have no reason to believe it’s not accurate. 87.7 percent of Iraqis reportedly support military action against terrorists inside their country. Why shouldn’t they? They’re constantly being attacked. The man in that photo is toast .

(Hat tip: Dougf in the comments.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:58 PM

January 3, 2005

Who’s Stingy?

Jonathan Last notes that tsunami relief donations from rich Muslim countries are - shall we say - stingy compared with Japanese, Taiwanese, and Western donations. I don’t expect fat aid packages from Afghanistan and Somalia. But surely the House of Saud can spare more than 10 million dollars. Amazon.com raised more than that. Oil-rich Iran won’t even pledge one million dollars.

Since so many people who desperately need help are Muslims, I was first tempted to say “so much for Muslim solidarity.” But I don't think that’s the issue. Except for Turkey (which so far promises less than 2 million dollars) every rich stingy Muslim country cited is a dictatorship. And with the exception of China, the top 16 donors are Western and East Asian democracies.

Free people are generous. Tyrants are not.

UPDATE: I should not have suggested the Saudis are stingy. They spend Allah only knows how much money exporting their racist knuckle-dragging jihadist ideology to the rest of the planet.

SECOND UPDATE: It looks like the Arab states in the Gulf are contributing quite a lot for relief aid. Kuwait and Qatar have now matched Saudi Arabia's10 million dollars, according to the New York Times. (Hat tip: Katherine in the comments.) The United Arab Emirates pledged 20 million dollars. The populations of these countries are only a miniscule fraction of the populations of Iran and Saudi Arabia. Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE aren't democracies, but their governments are a lot more moderate and benign than the House of Saud and the mullahcracy. Whether or not a country is Muslim seems to have little or nothing to do with the generosity of its government. It's the Middle East's worst regimes that aren't pitching in as much as the rest of us.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:03 PM

January 2, 2005

No Peace in Sight

Try to imagine an alternate America where well-armed right-wing death squads make regular incursions into Canada to massacre civilians on buses and in restaurants in Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto. Then imagine an upcoming election where the front-runner, a Republican, not only pledges to protect the death squads from Canadian counter-measures but also brings them along on his campaign.

That’s basically what’s happening in the West Bank and Gaza right now.
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday that he wants to shield Palestinian militants from Israel and indicated he has no plans to crack down on gunmen after upcoming presidential elections.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Abbas defended a series of recent campaign appearances with gunmen, saying the Palestinian leadership has a responsibility to protect its people.

“When we see them, when we meet them, and when they welcome us, we owe them,” Abbas said. “This debt always is to protect them from assassination, to protect them from killing, and all these things they are subject to by the Israelis.”

Abbas, the front-runner in Jan. 9 Palestinian presidential elections, has been courting militants, appearing with gunmen at campaign stops in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent days.

capt.nn10512301439.mideast_israel_palestinians_elections_nn105.jpg

Comparing my alternate-universe North America and the real-world Middle East has its limits, I know. Canada isn’t occupying the United States, for one thing. (Of course, Canada has no reason to do so. If the US had launched a series of failed genocidal wars against Canada, and if Americans continued to threaten the annihilation of Canada, things would be different.)

But let’s say Canada was occupying the United States. Can you imagine how absurd it would be if the most prominent American politician said he’s against a proposed Canadian withdrawal of its forces from, say, New England?

That, too, is happening in Gaza right now.
Abbas also said that Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which is being planned without any Palestinian input, is “unacceptable” and demanded a resumption of peace talks.
I suppose a reasonable person might explain how a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza is “unacceptable.” But a man who campaigns with terrorists isn’t the guy.

hamas-no-peace.jpg

Counter-terrorism will exist as long as terrorism exists. There is just no getting around it. The Palestinian people will be given a choice in their upcoming election. Do they want to continue bearing the brunt of Israeli counter-terrorism? Or would they rather do it themselves? They have to choose one. “None of the above” is not an option right now. A vote for Abbas looks like a vote for war and, whether they see it this way or not, a vote against their own sovereignty.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:09 PM