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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.

Out of Libya

I made it. I’m out of Libya and have moved on to a much more dangerous country – France. Think I’m kidding? It’s statisically possible I’ll be mugged here. And I spent much of the day looking at paintings and artifacts inside France’s largest terrorist target. Say what you will about Libya – it isn’t dangerous as long as you keep your mouth shut and only engage in note-taking behavior behind closed hotel room doors.

I’m in France because of a booking error. So I’m “stranded” in Paris for two days. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. Hell no. I just spent a week in a physically and culturally arid totalitarian police state. Boy, is this place a sight for sore eyes. I can’t tell you what a soothing balm the St-Germain des Pres neighborhood is after wandering around a spiritually pulverizing Soviet-syle metropolis imposed on the good people of Libya by North Africa’s Caligula. Yeesh, what a place Tripoli is. No hopping resort town, that. You’ll “love” my photos when I can post ‘em.

I’ll be home shortly. Enjoy the guest-blogging in the meantime. (Thanks, Jeremy, for keeping the blog warm.) Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. I didn’t get any turkey, myself. I had camel instead. (Yes, really.)

Cheers.

Bush’s South America Security Detail

Posted by Jeremy Brown

There is a report today that would seem to vindicate the unapologetic emphasis on keeping presidential security in the hands of the Secret Service during Bush’s trip to South America (despite some friction and accusations of arrogance). In Colombia for instance:

Security was extraordinarily heavy in Cartagena as Mr. Bush arrived, prompting one prominent Colombian columnist to remark on what he called American paranoia. Military helicopters bristling with armaments flew over the old walled city, which is nearly 500 years old. The bay was used only by naval and other military boats, including rubber crafts used by American commandos. Mr. Bush used an armored S.U.V., instead of a limousine.

…which seems pretty over the top, considered outside of the contextual framework of this:

BOGOTÁ, Colombia, Nov. 27 – Marxist rebels had planned to assassinate President Bush last Monday during his four-hour stopover in Colombia to meet President Álvaro Uribe, Defense Minister Jorge Alberto Uribe said Saturday, without offering details or proof.

“According to informants and various sources, we had information indicating that various members of FARC had been instructed by their leaders to make an attempt against President Bush,” the minister told reporters, referring to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group by its Spanish acronym.

The White House and the Secret Service declined to comment. Jonathan Cherry, a Secret Service spokesman, said, “We do not discuss any alleged threats to our protectees.”

The Four Wars for Iraq

Posted by Jeremy Brown

I’m blogging via Web TV or I’d iclude a proper permalnk, but I would urge you to read a post today by Norm Geras titled “The Four Wars for Iraq.” If I have linked to Norm more than once in my brief tenure at this blog and you want to know why, read that post.

I wish I were more able to read and conribute to comments here, but I’m looking forward to being able to do so again starting Saturday night.

The Meaning of Thanksgiving

Posted by Jeremy Brown

The best Thanksgiving sentiment I’ve seen so far today can be found on this blog of this Englishman. Suddenly I find myself in the holiday spirit.

Happy Thanksgiving then to all Americans: Atheist, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan…all those who don’t consider themselves under the thrall of a fatwa to the contrary.

But I must load the car and drive now.

Our Turkey Day

Posted by Jeremy Brown

We are staying in a lovely undisclosed hotel in Manhattan very near the Empire State Building which is lit up in red and green. It used to be lovely browns and oranges this time of year, but Christmas comes increasingly early these days.

Anyway, we can see that majestic but lonely skyscraper right from our hotel window and, though I have now been living in rural Massachusetts as long as Ilived in the Big Apple, it makes me teary with pride in this Gotham of my youth (must end this sentence because I have run out of nicknames for NYC).

We had a wonderful feast with the family and my parents courageously ate the sugar-free cheesecake I made for them thought it tasted like drywall joint compound (granted a smooth, high grade brand. For the sugar eaters, Cara’s gorgeous apple pie was a smashing success. She couldn’t have done it without moral support from me, of course.

I am blogging this from the hotel using the TV internet and I haven’t figured out how to copy and paste text, so I’ll give you my take on a couple of stories of the day off the top of my head (hey, it’s a holiday post; they can’t all be gems).

I see that one of the brand new floats in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade was SpongeBob Squarepants. I like that very much. I thought America would lke to know that.

Looks like a hold has been put on the Ukranian election results. While knockng on wood, I think we can stop rocking anxiously in our cushy, faux Queen Anne rocker/recliners now. Maybe.

And Colin Powell’s source for the Iranian nuke report has been called into question in some capacity I can’t qute recall. A lot of folks enjoy pointing out that he has been in this sort of situation before. But from where I sit, it seems to me that the world pretty much recognized that, while Iraq probably had some sort of chemical or bio weapons way back when (though no one really expected as little as was found) it was pretty widely understood that the Bush Admin was milking that angle to an extreme. It gave people like Kerry something to hide behind so he could vote thumbs up on the war authorization.

When it comes to Iran, no one who has been paying attention has any doubt that the Mullahs have an active nuclear weapons program. So, while the precise details may or may not be as Powell reports, no serious person can say that this is a tale wagging a dog. It’s fairly clear, when it comes to resolving an accurate picture of what has really been going on with Iran’s nuclear program, the world is playing catch-up.

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope you all have a good one, even if you don’t celebrate this American holiday.

Cara and I are heading down to Manhattan tomorrow to see my family.

UPDATE: If you were a little confused by the next sentence, it’s because I meant to post that over at my own blog. I’ve got to watch out our it will all come crumbling down. What I meant to say is that I will be blogging here every, but at my own blog, maybe.

I’ll keep blogging here, as best I can, and will certainly be blogging at Michael Totten’s.

Two Filmmakers With Eyes Open

Posted by Jeremy Brown

Readers of this blog are probably aware that blogger, novelist, and filmmaker Roger Simon has not failed to understand the message stabbed to the freshly slaughtered body of Theo Van Gogh. Aside from Hollywood’s collective lack of shock and outrage over the violent act itself, why has there been so little (read none) evidence of American filmmakers recognizing that war has been declared on the free expression of ideas through film (that being just for starters)?

And we’re not talking about a need to grudgingly tolerate the freedom of people to make films bearing reprehensible ideological messages, we’re talking about a man being brutally murdered because he made a film exposing the oppression of women. You’d think this would merit even the most token expression of solidarity against the silencing of artistic and political speech from ‘progressives’ in the Hollywood film industry.

Well Roger, as far as I’m concerned, is Hollywood now. By moral default. And so is a screenwriter named Bridget Johnson. Here’s Johnson from a WSJ article that Roger links to today:

Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh’s short film “Submission,” about the treatment of women in Islam, written by female Dutch parliamentarian and former Muslim Aayan Hirsi Ali, had aired in August on Dutch TV. Van Gogh was riding his bike near his home when a Muslim terrorist shot him, slashed his throat, and pinned to his body a note threatening Ms. Ali. This appears to be an organized effort, not the act of a lone nut; Dutch authorities are holding 13 suspects in the case.

After the slaying, I watched “Submission” (available online at ifilm.com) and my mind is still boggled that 11 minutes decrying violence against women incites such violence. There’ve been many films over the years that have taken potshots at Catholics, but I don’t remember any of us slaughtering filmmakers over the offense. You didn’t see the National Rifle Association order a hit on Michael Moore over “Bowling for Columbine.”

One would think that in the name of artistic freedom, the creative community would take a stand against filmmakers being sent into hiding à la Salman Rushdie, or left bleeding in the street. Yet we’ve heard nary a peep from Hollywood about the van Gogh slaying.

Johnson identifies as a conservative and speaks of a growing conservative culture within Hollywood. I applaud Johnson for speaking out on this issue. But I don’t want liberal filmmakers to evade this. This is an issue that should not fall prey to the division between Left and Right.

I consider myself a liberal (though I’m still scratching my head over what the hell has happened to my liberal friends, where they have gone) and I’m still outraged that Roger Simon is the only liberal in Hollywood whose voice has been audible on the Van Gogh murder and what it portends. In light of this sort of failing on the part of liberals, I am much more comfortable in the company of conservatives like Johnson who are willing to pick up some of the core principles my comrades have left to rot. But I’m not fully content with that. It’s time for my fellow liberals to wake the hell up.

Ukraine Links

Posted by Jeremy Brown

I admit I don’t know much about what’s going on in Ukraine. As I read up on it I’ll post some links that seem useful. Here are a few to start with:

A fistful of Euros has numerous links for more information.

Pora, a student pro-democracy organization in Ukraine has a website with frequently updated information (via Harry’s Place who also have a number of posts to scroll through)

Instapundit is a good place to scroll through in search of links to people blogging this story.

If you have any links to suggest please add them in the comments.

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