Michael J. Totten

Saturday, March 15, 2003

War and the United Nations

Steven Den Beste thinks the war against Saddam will begin tomorrow. This sort of thing is extremely speculative, but he makes a good case nevertheless.

I give up trying to predict when it will happen. I've been wrong too many times. But it is certainly close now, and for all I know, it will start before I hit the "Publish" button for this post.

I hope we actually try to get a second (actually eighteenth) UN resolution. Not because I think we need it; we don't. France cannot dictate US foreign policy. They act unilaterally all the time themselves. Their disastrous excursion into the Ivory Coast a few months ago is only the most recent example.

I want us to try to get another resolution for two reasons.

One, to show the world and ourselves that we tried our best.

And, Two, to force France and whoever else to go on record as being for or against the right of Saddam Hussein to rule Iraq and flip his middle finger to the world.

No country that serves on the UN Security Council has the right of neutrality. The Swiss can be neutral if they choose. As can Belize and Micronesia. I'm sorry that countries like Camaroon and Chile are forced to make decisions about matters they prefer to have nothing to do with. But that's the way it goes. If they want the UN to be relevent, and they want to be a part of it, they are going to have to take a stand like the rest of us. Don't want any responsibilty? Then be like the Swiss and stay out of the UN. Or acknowledge the UN is irresponsible and has no writ.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Blacklisting the Bookshelf

Sen. John Kerry tells Vogue magazine that Pablo Neruda is his favorite poet. And so Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review says

It figures that his favorite poet would be a Commie.

It figures, eh? The old gutter swipe never gets old, does it? Never miss an opportunity for low-rent back-alley red-baiting.

Of course John Kerry likes Communist poetry. Inside every doe-eyed liberal is a bloodthirsty Stalinist just trying to get out, like the chest-exploding creature in Alien. Right?

Come off it.

I love Pablo Neruda’s work. So what if he joined the Chilean Communist Party. I also admire the work of Jorge Luis Borges, the extreme rightist literary grandmaster from Argentina. Does that say anything about me personally? Sure. I like Latin American literature. (Shrug.) So? Am I unfit for office now?

Neruda is dead. Borges is dead. Their politics, though obnoxious, are irrelevant to most of the work they left behind.

The great crime of totalitarianism is that it politicizes everything. There are places politics should never go. Literature is one of them. Most of Neruda's and Borges' work is apolitical. Especially that which is read and admired today.

To place an ideological litmus test on poets, to shame a writer's admirers because of the dead man’s politics, is to politicize literature as totalitarians do.

Mr. Ponnuru, Pablo Neruda wrote love poems. He wrote odes to this, and odes to that, even an ode to salt. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature. So he's John Kerry's favorite poet. What does that say about Kerry? It says he has good taste.

Conservatives wonder why the left says they act like Joseph McCarthy. Well, there you go. We’re called socialists and communists for every little thing. Pick up a book of love poems and the next thing you know you’re mugged and libeled by the GOP.

Neruda was a communist and Borges was some kind of fascist. But they were also men, they were also artists. I cherish them both.

Neruda is dead. Borges is dead. Their politics are dead. The work they left behind is alive.

Borges and I

by Jorge Luis Borges

It’s Borges, the other one, that things happen to. I walk through Buenos Aires and I pause – mechanically now, perhaps – to gaze at the arch of an entryway and its inner door; news of Borges reaches me by mail, or I see his name on a list of academics or in some biographical dictionary. My taste run to hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typefaces, etymologies, the taste of coffee, and the prose of Robert Louis Stevenson; Borges shares those preferences, but in a vain sort of way that turns them into the accoutrements of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that our relationship is hostile – I live, I allow myself to live, so that Borges can spin out his literature, and that literature is my justification. I willingly admit that he has written a number of sound pages, but those pages will not save me, perhaps because the good in them no longer belongs to any individual, not even to that other man, but rather to language itself, or to tradition.

Beyond that, I am doomed – utterly and inevitably – to oblivion, and fleeting moments will be all of me that survives in that other man. Little by little, I have been turning everything over to him, though I know the perverse way he has of distorting and magnifying everything. Spinoza believed that all things wish to go on being what they are – stone wishes eternally to be stone, and tiger, to be tiger. I shall endure in Borges, not in myself (if, indeed, I am anybody at all), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others’, or in the tedious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him, and I moved on from the mythologies of the slums and outskirts of the city to games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now, and I shall have to think up other things. So my life is a point-counterpoint, a kind of fugue, and a falling away – and everything winds up being lost to me, and everything falls into oblivion, or into the hands of the other man.

I am not sure which of us it is that’s writing this page.

Clenched Soul

by Pablo Neruda

We have lost even this twilight.
No one saw us this evening hand in hand
while the blue night dropped on the world.

I have seen from my window
the fiesta of sunset in the distant mountain tops.

Sometimes a piece of sun
burned like a coin in my hand.

I remembered you with my soul clenched
in that sadness of mine that you know.

Where were you then?
Who else was there?
Saying what?
Why will the whole of love come on me suddenly
when I am sad and feel you are far away?

The book fell that always closed at twilight
and my blue sweater rolled like a hurt dog at my feet.

Always, always you recede through the evenings
toward the twilight erasing statues.

Ode to Salt

by Pablo Neruda

This salt
in the saltcellar
I once saw in the salt mines.
I know
you won't
believe me,
it sings,
salt sings, the skin
of the salt mines
with a mouth smothered
by the earth.
I shivered in those solitudes
when I heard
the voice of
the salt
in the desert.
Near Antofagasta
the nitrous
a broken
a mournful

In its caves
the salt moans, mountain
of buried light,
translucent cathedral,
crystal of the sea, oblivion
of the waves.

And then on every table
in the world,
we see your piquant
vital light
our food. Preserver
of the ancient
holds of ships,
the high seas,
of the unknown, shifting
byways of the foam.
Dust of the sea, in you
the tongue receives a kiss
from ocean night:
taste imparts to every seasoned
dish your ocean essence;
the smallest,
wave from the saltcellar
reveals to us
more than domestic whiteness;
in it, we taste infinitude.

Fifth Column on the Right

Tonight I received an email from a person named Todd Weston who is promoting a book called Revolution! by right-wing extremist David L Miner. You can learn about Mr. Miner at http://www.freedomsite.net. (I won't provide a proper link because I don't want him tracking it back to my site.)

Here is Mr. Weston's synopsis of the book.

UN troops come to America to assist as Patriots across the country are rounded up and placed in prison camps. Thousands are shot dead or missing in the largest law enforcement operation in American history.

Many believe this will happen. Some believe it will happen soon. Now you can read about what could happen before it occurs.

REVOLUTION! Will Our Government Declare War On America's Patriot Movement? tells how one Patriot group responds to the government declaring war. This fiction book is as much prophetical as it is entertaining.

Can a small militia group be effective against the federal and UN war machine mounted against it? Can free citizens inspire those around them enough to wake up the average person? Can a militia group defeat hi-tech surveillance and avoid extermination?

Author David L Miner answers these and many other questions. As a Patriot for 12 years and a militia officer for three years, Dave Miner has special insight into how this war may develop and become a reality. Revolution! ties current events together in such a way that it explains how a supposedly conservative President can declare war on the militias and present it to the American people. PsyOps, tactical missions and defensive measures are all explained in this book. Revolution! is a fast-paced, riveting action novel that seems so real it is spooky! And it's clearly fiction… or is it?

If you fear the American Militia Movement, you need to read this book! If you have considered joining a militia group, you need to read this book. If you have been concerned about jack-booted thugs breaking down your doors, you need to read this book. If you think you will escape this coming war, you need to read this book.

Conservative, Constitutional, Christian, this book will blow your socks off!

If I were a conservative or a Christian, the very existence of a book like this would give me shudders.

I don't know what it is about the left- and right-wing fringes that makes them think America has become a fascist or socialist dictatorship, and that some kind of revolution could possibly improve our system. But they're out there, and will probably stick around.

The far-left has been eviscerated since September 11 for its sympathy with Palestinian and other terrorist groups. But the right has been given a pass. Perhaps because they quietly lurk in the hills with their guns preparing for siege, while the left storms the streets with puppets and placards.

Whatever the reason, the far right is out there, and before September 11 it was responsible for the worst terror attack in American history. Today rightists like David Duke write anti-Semitic screeds in Arabic newspapers. The far-right National Alliance expresses open sympathy with Al Qaeda. And now an advertisement for Revolution! lands like a thud in my inbox.

I have no doubt if Al Gore were president this sinister faction of the American right would be up in arms even more than they were in the nineties. Perhaps Bush keeps them quiet by sitting in office, as Clinton mellowed the radical left before him.

If Joe Lieberman takes the presidency in 2004, we are going to hear a lot more from this crowd.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

My Paper Has Been Graded

So I took the Political Stereotype Quiz and this is what it spit out:


Democrat - You believe that there should be a free
market which is reigned in by a modest state
bureaucracy. You think that capitalism has
some good things, but that those it helps
should be obliged to help out their fellow man
a little. Your historical role model is
Franklin Rosevelt.

Which political sterotype are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Perfect! Not only am I a Democrat (not too tough to figure that one out), but I'm the right kind of Democrat. The test tells me (quite accurately) that my historic role model is the grand-daddy Uber-Democrat who knew how to kick some ass when it needed kickin'.

Now I want to go back and monkey with the questions to see if I can make it tell me I'm Mussolini...

A Gutsy Fisking

Tonight is date night with Shelly, so you folks are just going to have to get along without me. But, that's okay because for your reading pleasure James Morrow fisks...The Koran!

The Religion of Peace

The Christian clergy in the US and Europe are nearly unanimous in their opposition to war against Saddam Hussein's regime. "Turn the other cheek" is a great rule to live by in ordinary life. Even so, as singer Nick Cave laments in Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere: I turn the other cheek, and you lay into that.

This is no foreign policy. In the 1940s it would have led to a Nazi empire in Europe and a Stalinist Empire in every corner of Asia. Costa Rica gets away with it, but only because it shares a border with pacifist neighbors and has nearly zero geopolitical significance.

Christopher Hitchens has no patience.

One wonders what it would take for the Vatican to condemn Saddam's regime. Baathism consecrates an entire country to the worship of a single human being. Its dictator has mosques named after himself. I'm not the expert on piety, but isn't there something blasphemous about this from an Islamic as well as a Christian viewpoint? I suppose if Saddam came out for partial-birth abortions or the ordination of women or the acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle he might be hit with a condemnation of some sort. (Until recently, one might have argued that his abuse of children would get him in hot water with the Vatican, too. But even that expectation now seems vain.)

In one way, the church's "peace at any price" policy is a historical improvement. The last instance I can find of Rome supporting a war was when it blessed Gen. Franco's invasion of Spain, at the head of an army of Muslim mercenaries who were armed and trained by Hitler and Mussolini. And everybody knows of the crusades, which were launched against Christian heretics as well as against Muslims and (invariably) the Jews. But one wonders how the theory of "just war," largely evolved by Catholic intellectuals such as Augustine and Aquinas, ever managed to endorse the use of force. As applied these days, it appears to commit everybody but Saddam Hussein to an absolute renunciation of violence.

The Hitch is right, but there is an upshot he does not see.

Osama bin Laden says the Crusaders of the Cross are at war with the true believers of Islam. This is now incontrovertibly nonsense.

Baghdad Dispatches

Reader Keith Tracy wrote in this morning and sent a link to a blogger in Baghdad named Raed. Thanks, Keith. :)

This guy is definitely worth checking out. He likes to call us invaders liberators. Click over and you can read posts like this one.

A week ago on the way to work I saw a huge column of blackest-black smoke coming from the direction of Dorah refinery which is within Baghdad city limits, thought nothing of it really. A couple of weeks earlier to that a fuel tank near the Rasheed army camp exploded and it looked the same, stuff like that happens. My father was driving thru the area later and he said it looked like they were burning excess or wasted oil. Eh, they were never the environmentalists to start with; if they didn’t burn it they would have dumped it in the river or something. The smoke was there for three days the column could be seen from all over Baghdad being dragged in a line across the sky by the winds. During the same time and on the same road I take to work I see two HUGE trenches being dug, it looked like they were going to put some sort of machinery in it, wide enough for a truck to drive thru and would easily take three big trucks.

A couple of days after the smoke-show over Baghdad I and my father are going past these trenches and we see oil being dumped into the trenches, you could hear my brain going into action, my father gave me the (shutup-u-nutty-paranoid-freak) look, but I knew it was true. The last two days everybody talks about it, they are planning to make a smoke screen of some sorts using black crude oil, actually rumor has it that they have been experimenting with various fuel mixtures to see what would produce the blackest vilest smoke and the three days of smoke from Dorah was the final test. Around Baghdad they would probably go roughly along the green belt which was conceived to stop the sandstorms coming from the western deserts. I have no idea how a smoke screen can be of any use except make sure that the people in Baghdad die of asphyxiation and covered in soot. I think I will be getting those gas masks after all.

Don't forget to check out the sidebar links. Iraq will be slightly less the black box if you poke around in Raed's place for a while.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

Our Common Humanity

I am no longer a Christian, and I spend a fair amount of time griping about the religion, particularly the right-wing Southern Baptist "God Hates Liberals and Fags" variety. But I always try to remember folks like the Unitarians, and the Methodists, and the Catholic aid workers in the Third World who take a vow of poverty and spend their entire lives helping people. I remind myself that a significant aspect of Christianity is simply teaching people to be decent human beings, and not everyone who goes to church wants to ban Satanic Darwinism in high school biology class.

Muslims, like Christians and Jews -- and even atheists like me -- are the children of Abraham. Even if they were not, they are our fellow human beings, as are Zen Buddhists, African pygmies, and reclusive half-naked tribesmen in the Amazon.

I recently befriended an Arab Muslim from Syria named Sa'id. He married one of my wife's employees after they met in Greece. He has lived in America less than a year. He has studied and spoken English for only ten months, and he is already almost fluent. A real language genius. I formally studied Spanish for seven years and still have the damnest time with it. Whenever I travel in Latin America I'm stuck with Tarzan Spanish; everything in the present tense. Alas. One day I will finally master it, but it will be a hard road.

Talking with Sa'id is a refreshing experience. Most of our exposure to Islam is limited to terrorism, dictatorship, war, and Islamofascism. It is easy to forget about normal Muslims who never make the news. People like Sa'id.

One of the first things he said to me when I first met him: You are my fellow human being. You have two eyes, two ears, and a mouth. I do not care if you are American, Israeli, or anything else. You are human like me.

Of course he would say that. I am sure most Muslims would or could, can and do. But we don't hear this kind of thing in the news. There is no story there, at least no "story" as far as the mainstream media are concerned. Newsworthy commentary from Muslims tends to be ranting and raving about cutting off the heads of Jews, and bringing down the "infidels." That gets plenty of coverage, as it should. But there is so much more to the Islamic world than this. Liberal and moderate Muslims don't get much airtime on Fox News.

We are on the eve of war with an Islamic country. Anti-Islamic feeling is running high, especially toward right-wing fundamentalist Islam.

So I'd like to direct you to this short and heart-warming piece by Joe Katzman who has decided to share the beauty of Islamic mystics every Shabbat. You will be happy to read this. It is a reminder of our common humanity in a dark time.

Copyright 2003 Michael J. Totten