Michael J. Totten

Saturday, July 19, 2003

The Uranium Flap

I'm still agnostic about whether or not Bush and Blair lied about Saddam Hussein's supposed bid to get uranium from Niger.

The scandal seems overblown. Britain still stands by its intelligence report because the government has sources, or so Britain says, that are secret. No one who hasn't seen their classified report is qualified to say if it's a lie or not. But neither am I in a position to say the report is legit.

Either way, Christopher Hitchens gets to the root of the matter, and everyone, war supporter or not, needs to keep this in mind.

[T]o believe that the Saddam regime had nothing to hide is to believe that he threw out the U.N. inspectors in 1998 and then said to himself: "Great. Now I can get on with my dream of unilaterally disarming Iraq!" Who can be such a fool as to believe any such thing?

It looks like some people are prepared to believe this. I think they should ask themselves why.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Where's George Orwell?

The Associated Press still calls Palestinian terrorists activists.

No wonder people hate the media.

(Via LGF.)

Too Much Drama

Someone in Britain is up to no good. Or every conspiracy monger on the planet will go batshit.

Or both.

LONDON - A body found Friday in central England has been tentatively identified as a missing Ministry of Defense adviser suspected as the source of allegations that the government doctored a report about Iraq's nuclear program.

David Kelly's family reported him missing late Thursday when he didn't return to his home in Southmoor, about 20 miles southwest of Oxford, from an afternoon walk.

Brace for it.

More on Alterman

I'm not done with Eric Alterman yet.

Yesterday I wrote about his exasperating response to the spike of anti-Semitic violence in France.

He said, as though it's no concern of his:

If it’s a really big concern of yours, by the way, the best way to ameliorate it would be for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank. The occupation is obviously its primary source.

Imagine the following scenario.

A resurgent Ku Klux Klan goes on a lynching spree and burns black churches to the ground.

Then Trent Lott issues the following statement to the NAACP:

If it’s a really big concern of yours, by the way, the best way to ameliorate it would be for Robert Mugabe to stop taking land from white farmers in Zimbabwe. The land-invasions are obviously its primary source.

The analogy is imperfect. I don't mean to compare Israelis to Robert Mugabe. The point is...well, you get the point. Imagine what Eric Alterman would say about it.

Jeff Jarvis has more.

Imagining Allah

Charles Johnson found this story about how the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is demanding an apology from Buddhists in Flushing, New York because their Web site said Allah is a "figment of the imagination."

“They have hurt the feelings of not only the seven to 10 million Muslims in America, but the almost 1.2 billion Muslims all over the world,” said Ghazi Khankan...

Boo hoo, guys. Of course Buddhists think Allah is a figment of the imagination. If they didn't think that they wouldn't be Buddhists. Some of them think the entire freakin' universe is a figment of the imagination.

Lighten up and get over yourselves. This is America. People are different.

Interview with Roger L. Simon

Ross Johnson at the Writers Guild of America wrote a piece about Roger L. Simon, his new detective novel, and an interview at the end about writing, publishing, and blogging.

And hey, the piece mentions me.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Religious Tolerance in the US and France

Ronald Gans emails:

Your article made me recall something I witnessed in late September, 2001. The air was still acrid with the World Trade Center. (I live in midtown Manhattan.) I was walking up 8th Avenue between 55th and 56th Streets, during the afternoon. I passed by a taxi. The driver, a Muslim, had gotten out to pray on a rug he put down on the sidewalk. The interesting thing was, apart from me, no one paid him any attention (and I just walked by, of course). So, we had just gotten attacked, thousands died, cops everywhere, many streets blocked, sirens audible all the time; the West Side Highway still blocked below 14th and an Arab can pray openly without hindrance. No big deal and that is a big deal. I wonder if Jews can pray openly in Paris right now?

50 Words to Avoid on a Date

Stephen Green has a list of 50 words and phrases to avoid on a first date.

Here are 50 more.

Operating System
Free Market
Probation Officer
Custody Battle
Dry Heave
Bug Collection
Noam Chomsky
Our Lord Jesus Christ
Tart (the female variety)
Stock Options
Hit Points
Ear Wax
Death Star
Cripple (as a noun)
Transmission (especially "tranny")
Network Solution
Cat Box
Boo Boo
Anarchist's Cookbook
Key Deliverables
Soul Mate

The French Intifada

I have a Jewish-American friend who lives in Belgium and spends a lot of time in France. (I'm keeping his name out of this.) He is a student of languages, and his favorite foreign language to study is French. He's nearly fluent, and when he's in (Dutch-speaking) Antwerp he watches French TV and listens to French radio to keep sharp.

Today he's losing his edge. His French skills are on the wane. He can't bear to listen to the broadcasts because he says French opinion is no longer divided. It has become a monolith, and its very center of gravity is anti-Semitic and anti-American. (Two strikes for him.)

Last year he watched a terrifying anti-Semitic riot in a Jewish neighborhood. And he says it's gotten worse since then.

He protects his identity like never before. No longer content to keep his Jewishness to himself, he actively works to conceal it.

Here's what's going on. Here's why.

The file grows almost daily: 309 incidents in the past 15 months in the Paris region, according to Jewish council officials, and more than 550 since the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, broke out in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in September 2000. The National Consultative Committee on Human Rights, a government-funded body, reported a sixfold increase in acts of violence against Jewish people and property in France from 2001 to 2002.

A six-fold increase in a single year. That's a spike of racist violence like I've never seen in the West.

The alarm bells first started ringing for Zenouda in October 2000, as he watched television coverage of pro-Palestinian demonstrators in the Place de la Republique shouting "Death to the Jews" and other anti-Semitic and anti-Israel slogans. That month, five synagogues were firebombed and there were attempts against 19 other synagogues, homes and businesses.

The official response, he says, was "glacial silence," followed by rationalizations.

Rationalizations. Of violent attacks against Jews in a country where a large chunk of its intellectual class collaborated with Hitler. Paul Berman recently documented (in Terror and Liberalism) how the Vichy collaborators themselves began their tortured descent into Nazism when they rationalized Hitler as a victim as an excuse to avoid pre-emptive war in the 1930s. The slippery slope, at least in that country's past, has gone all the way down to the bottom.

Andrew Sullivan points out that the French are not the only ones to excuse this.

Eric Alterman, among many many others, is doing it, too.

There is no surge in French anti-Semitism at all and it is probably at a historical low ebb among French men and women.

Sorry, Eric. Wrong answer.

And if it’s a really big concern of yours, by the way, the best way to ameliorate it would be for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank. The occupation is obviously its primary source.

Israel should just surrender to Hamas. Otherwise, Jews in France are asking to be beaten and firebombed. Way to blame the victim and endorse collective punishment, Eric.

This is the perfect example of why I'm so fed up with leftists.

One of the many things that attracted me to the left in the first place is that it led the civil rights movement and recognized racism as evil. The left always knew better (or so I perhaps wrongly believed) than to blame the victim.

But not any more. Racism against Jews doesn't count for some inexplicable reason.
I'm sorry, old friends, but you've lost me. I just can't be with you on this thing, and I'm not going to keep quiet about it. You seem to have forgotten everything you taught me.

UPDATE: Sean LaFreniere has a sad explanation for why this has happened.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Hating and Abusing Art

Art for its own sake just isn't popular these days.

John Derbyshire writes in The Corner:

[T]here is a proud philistine faction among conservatives, certainly among NRO readers. Any time I blog about my encounters with high art (encounters of which, be it noted, high art generally gets the better) I get emails from readers telling me that this stuff is for the fairies (you can take that any way you like) and that a robust commercial republic of free citizens doesn't need poetry, classical music, or any of that sissy stuff--just guns, liquor, attitude and a banjo. (I think that's what they're saying.) Obviously I don't agree with this myself, but it's a point of view, and if you blog on NRO you better be ready for it.

My wife is a dancer. (She's a modern dancer, not a stripper, and she performs in a theater.) I write fiction, as well as all this opinionated stuff online. We don't do it for money, but we (and by that I mean all of us) hardly do anything in life for money.

In the LA Times David Weddle writes about his daughter's film school class. (Via Arts and Letters Daily.)

Alexis then plopped down two thick study guides. One was for the theory class, the other for her course in advanced film analysis. "Tell me where I went wrong," she said.

The prose was denser than a Kevlar flak jacket, full of such words as "diagetic," heterogeneity," "narratology," narrativity," "symptomology," "scopophilia," "signifier," "syntagmatic," "synecdoche," "temporality." I picked out two of them—"fabula" and "syuzhet"—and asked Alexis if she knew what they meant. "They're the Russian Formalist terms for 'story' and 'plot,' " she replied.

"Well then, why don't they use 'story' and 'plot?' "

"We're not allowed to. If we do, they take points off our paper. We have to use 'fabula' and 'syuzhet.' "


I wonder sometimes: Do the proud philistines think this is what art is about? Is that why they hate it?

This is no way to teach art, and it isn't what students show up to class for. I studied literature in college. I encountered some of this stuff myself, and I know what it means.

It's esoteric political dogma that uses art as a prop.

Yes, it's political.

Here are some fun quotes from Professor Branigan at the same school.

Benjamin says the camera strips people who are in front of the camera lens—like actors—and alienaaaates them from their labor! Alienaaaation! False coooonsciousness!


Benjamin says the camera does not show the equipment that's used to make the film. It obscures or hides or masks THE MEANS OF PRODUCTION! Now in Marxism if you hide the process of production, you are obscuring and further alienating the labor that goes into that, the BOOODILY labor that yoooou are contributing to that manufacture. OK? Which is a bad, bad fact...

Oh, stuff it, Branigan. Save the Marxism for movies about Marxism.

Teach art appreciation instead. The country could use it.

Meeting Dick Gephardt

Blogger Kris Lofgren got to meet with Dick Gephardt.

Kris is far more smitten with Gephardt than I am. I think Gephardt is a cynical politician (like most of the rest of 'em) who will say whatever he's supposed to say to be liked. That said, I do like Gephardt sometimes, I hope he kicks Howard Dean's butt, and it's great that a non-journalist blogger had a chance to actually talk to him.

While You Were Sleeping...

It's looking pretty bad in Korea.

WASHINGTON (AFP) - William Perry, who served as defense secretary under former President Bill Clinton, believes the United States and North Korea could be at war as early as this year.


"I think we are losing control" of the situation, he said, adding that he believes Pyongyang will soon be testing nuclear warheads and that terrorists could purchase the devices to use them against the United States.

If Saddam Hussein were still in power, I have no doubt Kim Jong Il would sell him a nuclear bomb. He'll sell one to Iran. He'll sell a bunch to the Saudis. If he can make a really small one, he'll sell it to Al Qaeda.

But here we are, arguing about whether or not the Bush Administration lied about Saddam Hussein trying to buy uranium in Niger.

I don't know if Bush and Blair lied about this or not. Some of the intelligence documents were forged. But the British insist the forged documents don't discredit their intelligence report. And anyway the forged documents were put into the intelligence channels by France. (Did the French lie to boost the case for war? Why would they do that?)

Even if Bush and Blair did lie, this is still a trivial distraction under the circumstances.

If North Korea sells a nuclear weapon to Al Qaeda, New York City and Washington could be destroyed. Our government would be finished. The United States would then be ruled, at least temporarily, by a military dictatorship.

Then we would be at total war.

Think about that for a minute and get some perspective.

I don't expect it will happen. A devastating war on the Korean peninsula is a far more likely event, and tragic enough.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Quit Complaining

Andrew Apostolou demolishes the BBC with a single sentence.

We are not going to put Saddam back in power to keep the BBC happy.

I have nothing to add.


Pat Robertson prays for God to get rid of the liberal Supreme Court justices. (Via Andrew Sullivan.)

At least, unlike Al Qaeda, he does not want the infidels to die. He just wants them to have health problems.

Way to be moderate, Pat.

Monday, July 14, 2003

Changes to the Blogroll

New blogs:

Secular Islam (the natterings of an unhappy American Muslim)
Beirut Calling (by the op-ed editor of Lebanon's Daily Star.)
American Digest

Five dead blogs have been removed.

Congrats to Bill Keller

Bill Keller will be named the new executive editor of The New York Times.

I am not as familiar with Keller as some. I do think, however, that he wrote one of the best pieces about Iraq last year, and that piece earned a permalink in the right-hand column of my page under "Essays."

(Unfortunately the article is no longer freely available from The New York Times, but you can read a copy of it here.)

He will not be another Howell Raines.

UPDATE: Roger L. Simon defends Bill Keller against excessive conservative grousing.

Note to conservatives: The New York Times is a liberal newspaper. It will therefore hire a liberal editor. Get over it. Bill Keller is neither a good nor bad choice because he is a liberal. Read his permanently linked essay that I mentioned above and decide if he is a good journalist based on his actual work rather than his opinions and party identification.

Just Say No to John Kerry

John Kerry on marriage:

Marriage is an institution between men and women for the purpose of having children and procreating.

That's his excuse for opposing gay marriage. Even though he is married and has no children himself.

UPDATE: Fact-checking reader Paul Stein informs me that Kerry does have two daughters from a previous marriage. Thanks, Paul.

According to Kerry's argument, though, he should not have been allowed to marry his current wife.

Just Say No to Howard Dean

Conservative writer Rod Dreher posts in The Corner:

Dean's my favorite Democrat, for the same reason he's Karl Rove's. Go, Howard, go!

Howard Dean is my least favorite Democrat for the same reason. To almost everyone but his fans, he's obviously unelectable for an obvious reason.

If you don't know what that reason is, odds are pretty good that you're a Deanie.

(Hint: It has to do with what happened to the Democratic Party in 1972. Click here if you still need help.)

We Do Like Our Immigrants

From The Guardian:

America just loves immigration - it's immigrants who aren't popular. As Muslims are now finding out.

Oh, give it a rest.

I have a (secular liberal) Arab Muslim friend from Syria who moved here last year. And he just loves the place.

Ten years ago he fled Syria to Greece. I asked him which country he likes living in better, Greece or the United States.

He says he likes America much better, and here's why:

In Greece, it was just not acceptable for him to be a Muslim. People were constantly trying to convert him to Christianity, and social pressures required him to invent a non-Arab name for himself.

Here in Portland he uses his real Arabic name. And not one single person has hassled him about his religion.

He had one flare-up with a racist co-worker, but that co-worker was sternly punished by the boss and was told he would immedietly be fired if he didn't leave my friend alone. In Greece, management would not have helped him out.

No one has ever called him a terrorist, and John Ashcroft has yet to summon him for questioning.

Maybe The Guardian would like to interview him.

Or maybe not.

(He asked me never to publish his name, not even his first name. He is afraid of Ba'ath Party spies in the United States, and he has vulnerable family back home. I told him I thought he was crazy for worrying about this, but he told me I just can't imagine how oppressive Syria is, and how much the dictatorship keep tabs on their potentially dissident expats. I don't know if he is paranoid, or if I am naive.)

UPDATE: Van Gale emails:

Funny you should post the bit about immigration because just this evening I had another happy immigrant experience. I had dinner at a restaurant called 'Centre City Cafe' which is kind of like Denny's but hasn't had any obvious renovation since it was built in the 60's. The kind of place that would be right at home on a Lileks postcard.

Anyway, turns out the current proprietor is Serbian and has been happily running it for 6 years. At first he told me they were from "Yugoslavia" so I asked "Serbian or Croatian?"

His response actually surprised me, "Well, I'm Serbian but my friend over there is Croatian."

I guess people who want to live in peace can when given a chance and I'm proud that our country gives them that chance.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Loud Mail

A reader named Bill sent the following letter to The New Criterion.

jesus the guy that wrote the article about the bbc is really fucked-up they just won 1st place with their website again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!take a look its a great svc and so is it tv news!!!!!!!!!! who the fuck cares what those spies did 50 years ago, its only a tv show!!

Whoah there, Jackson. Even if you traded one exclamation point for each missing capital letter, you've still blown your lifetime budget of ten.

Grinding on in Iraq

Those who want to withdraw our troops from Iraq (End the Occupation!), along with those who think the whole country is rising against us, might wish to consider the following by Reuel Marc Gerecht.

Contrary to so many left-wing and European depictions of the United States under George W. Bush, Americans in general, and military officers in particular, don't like using their power. Americans just don't like to thump on foreigners, even when they are palpably of the worst order. The Shiites, particularly Najaf's clerics, have been watching America's actions vis-à-vis the Sunnis closely. They emphatically understand that unless the old Sunni power structure is completely emasculated, the survivors from the ancien régime will inevitably try to kill their way back to power, leaving dead Shiites, as well as dead American soldiers, in their wake. The credibility of American power in the eyes of the Shiites hinges first and foremost on whether Washington is willing to sustain the causalities for as long as it takes to reduce the violent Sunni opposition to Washington's new order.

Throughout the Shiite regions of Iraq, there is probably not a single mosque that isn't plastered with dozens, often hundreds, of little notes about and pictures of still-missing loved ones. Add up the fatwas, the juridical decisions of Iraq's senior clerics, aimed at the "patronizing" Americans and they are very few compared with those that attempt to answer the awful, compelling questions about what to do religiously with mass graves and unidentified body parts. The Shiites will undoubtedly give us time to correct our "Sunni" mistake; the Shiite clergy have no desire to fight a battle themselves against the Sunni hard core, a battle they probably believe they'd lose, given the preeminence of military training among the Sunni Arabs. And they have so far shown no desire to cut any deal with the old Sunni order in an effort to remove the Americans from their soil sooner rather than later. The Shiites have no military power beyond the Badr Brigade of Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, the famous Iranian-aided wayward member of the al-Hakim family of Najaf. The four grand ayatollahs of Najaf have so far shown no intention of elevating the political capital of Muhammad Bakr or the potential power of the military wing of his Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Indeed, contemplating the future without the Americans is probably very unpleasant for the Howza. There are still numerous scenarios worse than a "lengthy" U.S. occupation.

Regime-change is only halfway complete. We are only just past the stage of regime-removal.

The war grinds on. And those who complain that Iraq is not instantly Switzerland are the same people who thought we would lose on the eighth day of the invasion.

The coalition forces are not the only ones who still need to establish credibility on the ground.

Copyright 2003 Michael J. Totten