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Reactionary Provincials

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

American progressivism, in its present form, is as obsolete in the twenty-first century as the agrarian populists were in the twentieth. If you can’t adapt to the times, good intentions will get you nowhere. Ask the shade of William Jennings Bryan.

I think he’s off base about Larry Flynt and Lenny Bruce. Hardly anyone cares a whit for nasty ol’ Larry, and Lenny is from another era. (Also, as an aside, anyone who doesn’t care for Lenny Bruce might consider watching Dustin Hoffman portray him in Lenny and see if you don’t change your mind.)

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

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

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

Andrew Sullivan = Starbucks

Right-Wing News published its warblogger poll results.

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

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

No, the Dungeons Aren’t Charming

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

THE DUNGEONS ARE PARTICULARLY CHARMING THIS TIME OF YEAR

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

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

No mention of Libyan dissidents being held incommunicado in prisons, such as the ailing Fathi Eljahmi.

I don’t want to pick on Cliff May. I have a great deal of respect for both him and his organization. (You’ll notice that I permanently linked to it on the right-hand sidebar of this Web site.) And a friend of mine, Andrew Apostolou, came over from Oxford to work for him — where he does some very good work, indeed.

That said, I want to address this post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: Julie Carlson emails:

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

Sadr City Turns Around

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First, Sadr City. Next, Fallujah.

New Email Address

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

How to Save Liberalism — and America

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

First, however, a letter to Andrew Sullivan:

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

But whatever.

If liberals are determined to play the role of Taft Republicans during the 1930s and 1940s, denying the threat posed by European fascism and Japanese nationalism, obsessing about freedoms lost at home during wartime, and as such remaining in the political wilderness for most of the next three decades, who am I to stop them? In fact as far as I can tell Democrats would *rather* watch the New Deal and Great Society pissed down the drain, and a hard right Supreme Court roll back the 1960s, than stepping up to the plate and committing themselves to the realization of liberty and democracy in the Muslim world. The peaceniks were allowed to destroy the party once before in the late 60s and early 70s. Will they be allowed to do it again? So far it looks like the answer is yes.” [Emphasis added by me.]

Now let’s take a look at the Beinart column. Here’s his first paragraph:

On January 4, 1947, 130 men and women met at Washington’s Willard Hotel to save American liberalism. A few months earlier, in articles in The New Republic and elsewhere, the columnists Joseph and Stewart Alsop had warned that “the liberal movement is now engaged in sowing the seeds of its own destruction.” Liberals, they argued, “consistently avoided the great political reality of the present: the Soviet challenge to the West.” Unless that changed, “In the spasm of terror which will seize this country … it is the right–the very extreme right–which is most likely to gain victory.”

Exactly. The liberals pulled it together in 1947 and faced down Communism. If they had not McCarthyism would surely have ruled over the nation much more ferociously than it did. (Communists would have been dealt with harshly in any case.)

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

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

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

Pentagon to Draft Robots

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

From Wired:

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

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

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

[...]

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

“It’s a premonition of things to come,” Pike said. “It makes sense. These things have no family to write home to. They’re fearless. You can put them places you’d have a hard time putting a soldier in.”

If you think the Iraqi guerillas and terrorists are kicking our asses, ask yourself if you’d like to trade places with them and face us for a change.

Vote for Me

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

Weirder Than Libya

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

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

My nutty “tourism” package is only a few days old. (I say “tourism” because although I went as a journalist, no one in Libya knew that.) I figured North Korea might be the only place left for me to go after Ghaddafi-stan. Well, no, not exactly. There is at least one more “tourism” package weirder than Libya but less freaky than North Korea. But I can’t go on this one because I am not fat.

ZIMBABWE has come up with a bizarre proposal to solve the food crisis threatening half its population with starvation. It wants to bring in obese tourists from overseas so that they can shed pounds doing manual labour on land seized from white farmers.

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

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

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

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

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

The notion that oversized, overpaid Americans could be enticed into paying to spend their holidays working free for those who seized the country’s commercial farms illustrates how far the Mugabe regime has descended into a fantasy world.

In the age of globalization, all the normal countries of the world increasingly resemble each other. But the whacked countries are all whacked in their own way. I’d think this was funny, but after wandering around the jagged-edged landscape of Tripoli I just think it’s sad.

(Hat tip: Sheila O’Malley.)

Michael is Back in Town

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Those footsteps you hear echoing in the hall mean that, yes indeed, Michael is in the building. He might not be posting immediately, what with the jet lag and all, but the man is back and so this is my last guest post.

I have truly enjoyed guest blogging here for the past ten days. So thanks, Michael! And thanks so much to those of you who stuck around, especially to those who commented; you all made me feel welcome and I’m grateful to you for that and for some lively conversation and debate.

Ah, but this need not be a final farewell. All you have to do is come by my own blog, Who Knew? where the party will continue…

And like the rest of you I’m eagerly awaiting Michael’s news from Libya…

Two Things Dubious Yet Hopeful

Posted by Jeremy Brown

File these under things we’d like to believe but are reluctant to, though it is nevertheless a hopeful sign that the words are even being spoken (you’ll have to write small to fit this on the file tab):

The first dubious yet refreshing thing:

The UN should be reformed to make intervention in failing states easier, a commission is set to recommend.

[...]

A year ago, in the wake of the international divisions over Iraq, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned the UN was at a “fork in the road”.

He said the organisation had to review its fundamental policies in order to address the increasing threats of global terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and nuclear proliferation.

He asked a panel of 16 veteran diplomats and politicians, chaired by former Thai Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, to examine ways the UN should be reformed.

The route the panel is set to advocate is much more interventionist, moving away from the UN’s traditional emphasis that it cannot meddle in the internal affairs of a member state.

[...]

The panel wants member states to accept a new obligation – a “responsibility to protect” their own citizens.

If they failed to do so, then intervention by the Security Council would be much more likely than under current UN procedures.

The second item, which I would like to think is more reflective of reality (via Harry’s Place):

The Palestinian Authority leadership has ordered PA-controlled media to stop all incitement against Israel and Jews, the London-based Arabic daily A-Shark Al-Awsat reported Monday.

The order also pertains to video clips, songs and music videos which call for the continuation of the armed intifada, the paper reported.

Home From Libya

Well, it’s a police state. You knew that already, I know, but it’s obviously a police state when you’re walking around in it. I saw more pictures of Ghaddafi during a week than in all the rest of my life put together. The colonel says he can’t help it if his people love him so much they put up his portrait all over the country. What a card that guy is.

Some of you will appreciate the fact that Ghaddafi’s picture wasn’t the only one plastered all over Tripoli. I saw at least 100 posters of Jacques Chirac (he was in town with much fanfare for Lord only knows what kind of business) and also Comrade Hugo Chavez who came by to pick up his “human rights” prize. Chavez professed solidarity between Venezuela and Libya because, as he put it in Spanish, “our roads go in the same direction.” God help the people of Venezuela. (And Libya, too.)

I have a lot to say about the country, but you’ll have to wait a while for the whole story. The LA Weekly paid me to go, so they get the scoop. You will, of course, get a link to the piece when it is published.

In the meantime, I have to find the dealie that connects my digital camera to the computer so I can upload my pictures. I will post a photo tour and some commentary, hopefully later today. Libya has some eerily beautiful scenery, but the Soviet-style urban planning is ghastly. You’ll see.

I’d also like to publicly thank Jeremy for filling in for me while I was out. It’s nice to know my blog is still kicking when I’m in a place where blogging is either reckless or impossible. Good work, bro. Thanks a bunch.

UPDATE: Here’s the photo gallery.

A Photo Tour of Libya

Like I said in my last post, you’ll have to wait for my LA Weekly story before you can read about my experience in Libya. But here’s a visual tour. Enjoy. There aren’t many pictures of Libya in the world, at least not compared to the number of pictures of other places. I’m happy to contribute a few more.

Tripoli_from_the_Air.jpg

Tripoli from the air.

Tripoli_Hotel_Urban_Wasteland.jpg

We were stuck in this hotel amid an urban wasteland. Can you guess what that object is in the foreground? I’ve no idea. It could be the world’s ugliest fountain, but I saw no pipes.

Tripoli_Me_Hotel_Lobby.jpg

Me in the hotel lobby. That’s everyone’s pal there on the wall. The people love him so much they put up his portait everywhere. They just can’t help themselves. He is the sun of Africa. At least that’s what he says.

Tripoli_Agoraphobia.jpg

I got agorophobia walking around Tripoli’s vast empty spaces.

Tripoli_Defunct_Regime_Compound.jpg

Here is one of the regime’s many defunct compounds strewn around Tripoli like so much junk.

Tripoli_Empty_Street.jpg

Tripoli is a safe city, but the sound of machine-gun fire in the background wouldn’t have seemed out of place.

Tripoli_Ghaddafi_Apartment.jpg

How would you like to live in this apartment building? Ghaddafi can’t even leave people alone when they’re at home.

Tripoli_Ghaddafi_Poster.jpg

The bastard is everywhere.

Tripoli_Harsh_Neighborhood.jpg

Can you see now why I said spending two days in Paris on the way home was a sight for sore eyes? Tripoli is awful. There are no soft edges.

Tripoli_Modern_Squalor.jpg

Tripoli was in the orbit of the Soviet Union, and it sure looks the part.

Tripoli_Waterfront.jpg

This is how Ghaddafi “decorated” his waterfront. Tripoli doesn’t feel at all like a Mediterranean city. It is totally walled off from its neighbors and its environment.

Tripoli_Tiny_Mosque.jpg

Here is the smallest mosque I’ve ever seen. It surely provides a nice little respite from the urban hell that surrounds it.

Tripoli_Green_Square.jpg

Green Square is famous, but it shouldn’t be. This is no Italian piazza we’re talking about. It’s a parking lot ringed by a six-lane urban speedway.

Tripoli_Italian_Quarter.jpg

The Italian quarter of the city, built by Mussolini in Italy’s fascist-imperialist days.

Tripoli_Old_City_Skyline.jpg

The skyline of Tripoli’s old city, the only interesting place in the capital.

Tripoli_Old_City_Charming.jpg

Some streets of the old city, while somewhat decrepit, still have their charms.

Tripoli_Old_City_Crone.jpg

An old woman walks the streets of the old city. Women were a rare sight, even in Libya’s largest metropolis. More than 99 percent of the people I saw were men.

Tripoli_Old_City_Havana.jpg

Tripoli’s old city made me think of Havana, not the details but the decay.

Tripoli_Old_City_Squalor.jpg

The old cities in Tunisia are exotic, but the old city of Tripoli is a little too slummy to have that cool Eastern vibe. It’s too run-down and sullen.

Tripoli_Modern_Hotel.jpg

There aren’t many nice modern buildings in Tripoli, but there are a handful. This one is a brand-new hotel that charges 250 dollars a night. I hope the hot water works. It didn’t in my hotel.

Tripoli_Modern_Mosque.jpg

The mosques are always nice to look at. They’re almost the only nice buildings in the entire country.

Sahara_Plain.jpg

Much of the Sahara is a vast arid plain.

Sahara_Mountain.jpg

A range of mountains crosses East to West just south of Tripoli.

Sahara_Old_House.jpg

An old house (I think) on the side of the road in the desert.

Sahara_al_Fatah_Forever.jpg

You can’t even drive in the countryside without running into the regime’s propaganda. Etched into the side of the mountain is “Al Fatah Forever.”

Sahara_Roadside_Propaganda.jpg

More of Ghaddafi’s bullshit hassles drivers on the way up to the city of Nalut.

Nalut_Old_Mosque.jpg

An ancient mosque in the old city of Nalut.

Nalut_Ksar.jpg

Human honeycomb. You might recognize this Berber architecture. You’ve seen it in the Star Wars movies. George Lucas used similar sites in next-door Tunisia as film sets.

Sahara_Driving.jpg

Driving in the desert toward the city of Ghadames, the fabled “jewel of the Sahara.”

Ghadames_Old_City_Cemetary_and_Sahara.jpg

A cemetary at the edge of Ghadames, and the vast empty Sahara beyond.

Ghadames_New_City_Mosque.jpg

Enormous minarets rise above the new city of Ghadames.

Ghamames_Old_City_Entering.jpg

Here is the entrance to the old city of Ghadames. It is beautiful and intoxicating, but people are forbidden to live there. Ghaddafi evacuated the city at gunpoint and forced everyone into modern concrete block housing.

Ghadames_Old_City_Passageway.jpg

The city isn’t underground. It was built with a roof on it to keep the summer heat out and the winter warmth in.

Ghadames_Old_City_Skylight.jpg

The city is lit by skylights. Some passages are pitch black even at midday. The inhabitants memorized the walls.

Ghadames_Old_City_Door.jpg

If Libya were a normal country and Ghadames were a normal city this place would be packed with hotels, coffeeshops, restaurants, internet cafes, and desert adventure tour offices. But Libya is not a normal country and the old city of Ghadames is an unwilling ghost town. At least I was free to walk around in it.

Ghadames_Old_City_Open_Air.jpg

Not all of the city is “underground.” Paths connect the houses and main streets to outdoor gardens.

Ghadames_Old_City_Traditional_Decoration.jpg

It isn’t quite right to call this decorative style “Berber.” It is unique to the city of Ghadames.

Ghadames_Inside_Traditional_House.jpg

This is what the inside of a traditional Ghadames house looks like. A family still owns and keeps up this house as a showpiece, but they are no longer allowed to live in it. Imagine being forced out of your own house by the state and shepherded into a concrete compound.

Ghadames_Cafe.jpg

Somehow Ghaddafi was persuaded to allow one single café to set up shop in the old city .This is what Ghadames would look like if it were allowed to live, if the indigenous Berber culture were not being erased by the regime.

Sahara_Empty.jpg

I walked to the edge of the city to snap this picture. Imagine setting off for someplace else in the old days before roads and cars were invented. Then imagine doing it in August when the Sahara is the hottest place on the Earth. (It is quite nice in November, a comfy 70 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Sahara_Algerian_Border.jpg

That line of trees is the Algerian border. The mountain of sand is inside Algeria. You can walk into Algeria from Ghadames, but no one I talked to had ever been there. It still isn’t safe. Just a week before I arrived some German tourists were found dead right across the border, presumably killed by Salafis.

Sahara_Big_Dune.jpg

The biggest dunes I saw in Tunisia were six feet tall. The dunes in Libya rise more than 300 feet.

Sahara_Dune_in_Sunlight.jpg

I climbed to the top of the dunes to watch the sun set. It took a long time.

Sahara_Silver_Dune.jpg

The dunes turn silver at twilight. Look to the horizon, past the wide distant mesas. You see what looks like a mountain range? That’s the Grand Erg Oriental, an enormous sea of sand that stretches hundreds of miles into Algeria and Tunisia.

Ruins_Leptis_Magna_Arch.jpg

The spectacular Roman ruins at Leptis Magna are better than anything I’ve seen in Italy. There were no tourists there – only me, Shelly, our guide, and some goats.

Ruins_Sabratha_Theater.jpg

The fabulous Roman theater at Sabratha.

A Laudable Use of Scare Quotes

Posted by Jeremy Brown

It’s good to see this self-effacing tactic — in which a headline declares something while gently shaking its head lest you allow yourself to believe it — being used defensibly. Tell me what you think, but for me the truth of this story is well served, for a change, by the scare quotes in the CNN headline:

Iran confirms ‘final’ uranium deal

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) — Avoiding a date with the U.N. Security Council, Iran has reached an agreement with three European powers to fully suspend its uranium enrichment activities, Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiatior said.

“We have reached a final agreement with the three European powers,” Hussein Moussavian told Iranian state-run television, referring to the 11th-hour understanding with Britain, France and Germany in Vienna on Sunday evening.

The deal enables Iran to avoid possible U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program.

But this time it’s double secret extra final. Sounds good to me.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Via Alan E. Brain I have come to appreciate the work of Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell, and a grand tradition in which the roots of his vision can be seen.

Here’s a cartoon by Steve Bell on the liberation of Iraq, that seems to owe something to this great precedent on the liberation of France.

Alan Brain shows a different example. Here’s Bell and here is some Nazi propoganda. Have fun.

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