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Hate Crime in Jersey City

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

Hotel Rwanda

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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