Not Just For Neocons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very good, comrade. Welcome to the non-partisan, equal-opportunity, big-tent Militant Middle.


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

A Plea for Iraqi Unity

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

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

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

A Short, Sharp Shove

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

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

UPDATE: Jeffrey at Iraqi Bloggers Central wonders what would have happened to Sarah Boxer if she were a blogger, not a reporter.

Mullah Watch

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

He has a thoroughly brilliant post up on his blog about Iran and nuclear weapons. I’m going to excerpt the first part because it’s fun.

Does anybody think any U.S. administration isn’t spying on Iranian nukes? Does anybody hope we’re not? And did anybody read Seymour Hersh’s recent article and say, “Gee, I had no idea the U.S. would have a contingency plan for taking out Iranian nuclear weapons. I never would have dreamed that the U.S. simply wouldn’t allow Iran to get all the radiation bombs it wants, and use them as it pleases. How awful!”

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

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

Spongebob Squarepants: Gay Tool!

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

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

The Totalitarian Impulse

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

Ill bet mr totten is a down the line liberal. how do i know this? he never mentions the name of the president of the united states at the time. guess who? bill clinton.

I probably spend more time than necessary studying totalitarian regimes, but I can’t quite help myself. I find them morbidly fascinating, in part because it’s sometimes hard for me to believe such places really exist. Even while walking around inside Libya and seeing the real-world results of contemporary totalitarianism all around me, it was hard to imagine just how much raw totalizing power was behind it.

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

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

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

“We Can’t Get Bogged Down in Analysis”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My friend and editor (at the LA Weekly) Marc Cooper is a leftist intellectual. He likewise isn’t an activist, at least in part because he has many years of bad experiences with them under his belt. He links to an essay in Lip Magazine by Doug Henwood, Lisa Featherstone, and Christian Parenti, also left intellectuals, who butt heads with the same (literally) mindless beast.

“WE CAN’T GET BOGGED DOWN IN ANALYSIS,” one activist told us at an antiwar rally in New York a while back, spitting out that last word like a hairball. He could have relaxed his vigilance. This event deftly avoided such bogs, loudly opposing the US bombing in Afghanistan without offering any credible ideas about it (we’re not counting the notion that the entire escapade was driven by Unocal and Lockheed Martin). But the moment called for doing something more than brandishing the exact same signs—Stop the Bombing and No War for Oil—that activists poked skyward during the first Gulf War. This latest war called for some thinking, and few were doing much of that.

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

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

How does activist anti-intellectualism manifest on the ground? One instance is the reduction of strategy to mere tactics, to horrible effect. Take for example the largely failed San Francisco protest against the National Association of Broadcasters, an action that ended up costing tens of thousands of dollars, gained almost no attention, had no impact on the NAB and nearly ruined one of the sponsoring organizations. During a postmortem discussion of this debacle one of the organizers reminded her audience that: “We had 3,000 people marching through [the shopping district] Union Square protesting the media. That’s amazing. It had never happened before.” Never mind the utter non-impact of this aimless march. The point was clear: We marched for ourselves. We were our own targets. Activism made us good.

Such people may not wish to get “bogged down in analysis.” But that only means they’ll get bogged down in something else, something worse: a reactionary anti-intellectual quagmire. If dissidents are democracy’s anti-toxins, deliberately brainless reactionaries are its toxins. They’re also thugs, and about as much fun to hang out with as fundamentalist religious fanatics and book-burners.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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.


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