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Fallujah Strikes Back

Here’s some good news from Fallujah of all places.

BAGHDAD, Iraq – In an extraordinary assault, gunmen in the city of Fallujah stormed a kidnappers’ lair and forced the overmatched militants inside to flee, freeing four Jordanian truck drivers held captive, local officials said Wednesday.

Notice how the journalist uses the word “militants” to denote the kidnappers. This old and silly game is shown to be the farce it is in the very next paragraph.

They [the Iraqis] called the kidnappers “terrorists” and outsiders.

The word terrorist appears in quotation marks. Now, granted, the word was an actual quote. The punctuation doesn’t have a sneer on its face in this particular case. Still, if Iraqi leaders in Fallujah are calling these punks a bunch of terrorists I’ve got to wonder who the Associated Press is worried about “offending” with this supposedly loaded and controversial noun.

Oh, and just for the record, this hostage rescue wasn’t carried out by the army. The anti-terrorists in this particular battle were ordinary Iraqis – basically a posse of pissed-off locals.

Sheik Haj Ibrahim Jassam, a tribal leader, said he received word late Tuesday that the men were being held in a house on the edge of the city. Local leaders gathered together armed residents, who raided the house, freeing the hostages and chasing out the kidnappers, he said.

This is huge. Terrorists are now getting their asses kicked by the locals in the biggest hotbed of violent activity in Iraq. They are not Mao’s famous fish who swim in the “sea” of the people. They are hunted by the people.

Terror Alerts Part Two

On the other hand, this makes the Bush Administration look truly ridiculous.

Ken Layne:

After getting through the insane security at CitiBank Headquarters — caused by four-year-old Evidence of Terror Plans released Sunday to scare the bejesus out of you — you get to say “Hi” to Laura Bush in the lobby! That’s neat.

It’s neat when schedules work out that way.

Oh, and the Immediate Alert Scary-Ville terror info? Now they’re saying it actually refers to an attack planned for Sept. 2. You know, the last day of the Republican Convention in New York, when Bush gives his big speech?

This stinks. Go ahead and say, as Tom Ridge did this morning, “This is not about politics. It’s about confidence in government.” If you have to deny it’s about politics — while your party is actively campaigning in the locked-down buildings of New York City filled with teevee cameras and photographers and frazzled employees who wonder if today’s Terror Day — then you have done a Poor Job of showing us otherwise.

I’m not about to romp off to moonbat land, but this doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Who is the bright bulb behind this stunt, anyway?

Do I think the Bush Administration made up a bogus terror alert to get a jump start on the convention? No. Keep your Kool Aid. But they sure are trying to score points off it, aren’t they? Say hello to Laura Bush in the target building’s lobby. Please.

Kerry got no bounceno bounce – from his own convention. If I were advising either Kerry or Bush I’d tell both of them to be quiet and stay away from the cameras. Quit bugging the bejeezus out of everybody. People aren’t voting for in this election, they’re voting against.

A Crime Against Iraqis

Omar at Iraq the Model has an anecdotal report on his country’s opinion of the bombing of four Christian churches over the weekend.

I’ve tried to ask as many Iraqis as I could about their feelings and all Iraqis I met showed anger, contempt and bitterness about what happened but noone gave signs of despair. I’ve watched many reactions on the internet and I found that many people considered what happened an aggression against Christians (and that this is what the terrorists want) while we in Iraq see it as a crime against Iraqis and this reaction is the last thing they want.

As much as these terrorists (not militants) try to make this into a religious war, they’re having a hard time making the rest of us think about it that way.

Terror Alerts

I’m tired of terror alerts.

The government has to warn us if they think something’s afoot, obviously. The very fact that a warning is given at all may deter an attack in the works, especially in cases like the one over the weekend where specific buildings in Washington, New York, and New Jersey were singled out. Any Al Qaeda nut with a blueprint and a bomb is likely to hold off if a red flag is raised.

Still, every time a “false” alert goes out I’m slightly less interested in the next one. That’s just the nature of these things, and there’s not a lot the federal government can do to change that dynamic.

It would help, though, if alerts weren’t raised based on information that precedes the attacks on September 11.

Much of the information that led the authorities to raise the terror alert at several large financial institutions in the New York City and Washington areas was three or four years old, intelligence and law enforcement officials said on Monday.

Well, doesn’t that just make the government look like an ass. Maybe, just maybe, they might have told everyone that in the first place.

Not only does this sort of thing make most of us shrug off the next warning, it encourages the less stable among us – like Howard Dean for instance – to pop off about “politically motivated” terrorist warnings.

If Howard Dean really thinks terrorist warnings are just thrown out there by the Bush Adminstration to keep all of us hiding under the bed and voting Republican, then Al Qaeda must not be much of a threat after all. And if that’s true, the Bush Adminstration has done a pretty fine job beating it back, wouldn’t you say? I’m sure that’s not the point Howard Dean is trying to make, but it is a logical end point of such thinking.

Meanwhile, John Kerry dismissed Dean’s ravings the way a picnicker treats a fly buzzing around his barbecued chicken.

“I don’t care what he said. I haven’t suggested that and I won’t suggest that,” Kerry said. “I do not hold that opinion. I don’t believe that.”

If John Kerry manages to pull off this election I’ll be interested to see what Dean and his flock will do next. Will they accuse the Kerry Administration of creating a “climate of fear” whenever suspected terrorists are pulled off the streets and when alerts hit the papers?

Thought at the Meridian

Here’s a new blog I discovered today: Thought at the Meridian. It’s written by a guy named Frederick who describes his blog this way:

Politics and culture from a centre-left perspective. Libertarian. Egalitarian. Antitotalitarian.

There’s something there for everyone. Welcome to the blogosphere, Fred.

Garden State

Huh. Dan Drezner is right. This trailer for Zach Braff’s film Garden State is addictive and hypnotic. It’s as much a music video as it is a movie trailer.

Dan watched it over and over again. I didn’t think I would even after I watched it myself. But I do find I’m drawn back to it. The actual movie had better deserve that trailer…

PS – For those who don’t think Dan and I are whacked, here’s another trailer for the same movie. This one is less cool and hip and hypnotic, but it’s also more of a normal trailer and has some actual dialogue in it.

Bad Econ

The economic case against George W. Bush is straightforward, and Matthew Yglesias nails it in three sentences.

Kerry can be maddeningly vague at times, but in a broad sense one knows where he stands — the government should spend more money in a variety of areas in order to try and solve various problems and tax rates should be set at a level adequate to matching those expenditures. An alternative philosophy would hold that tax rates should go down and then spending reduced to bring expenditure in line with revenue. Bush, though, doesn’t hold this latter belief.

There is more to it than that, obviously, but when you boil it all down to essentials that’s basically what we’re left with.

UPDATE: Matt (briefly) responds to my post and makes more good points here.

The Speeches

Okay, so I failed to keep my promise to myself. I did watch at least part of the Democratic Convention. I saw the speeches by both Edwards and Kerry.

Man. There has got to be some buyer’s remorse in the Democratic Party right now. I can still hardly believe they actually picked Kerry. (And I still can’t believe the GOP picked Bush instead of McCain.)

Not only is John Edwards recognizably a human being, he’s also inspiring. He reminds me why I became a Democrat in the first place. He’s upbeat, optimistic, and wants to help people out. Michael Moore he is not. Watching John Edwards after reading some of Moore’s vile screeds is like visiting a political spa. It’s especially nice, considering my views of the peaceniks, to hear Boy Wonder say “We are at war” and “We will destroy you” and hearing the audience erupt with applause. I guess tough-talking Southerners are only “cowboys” if they’re Republicans. Ah, but I knew that all along. It was the liberals and the left who taught me militant anti-fascism. Not the conservatives. It’s been politically fun and convenient to wallow in pacifism lately if you’re a Bush-hater. I’m glad Edwards can make them knock if off for one minute.

John Kerry hurts me. I yelled at him on the TV tonight. (I mean I yelled at my TV, not that my yelling was broadcast on the…oh, you know what I mean.) It annoyed my wife tremendously, but I yell at Bush, Kerry, and hack pundits on the TV so I don’t have to do it here and annoy all of you. (Sorry, Shelly. You hear it so everyone else doesn’t have to.)

John Kerry is a Politician. I’d give him a 50-50 grade on the content of his speech. Only trouble is he’s such a self-contradictory phony parsing his speech isn’t worth any effort. He says he won’t let any nation veto our foreign policy. Excellent. Glad to hear it, John! So what, exactly, was the point of your 18-month whine-fest because Bush more or less stuck to your promise?

Ah, why bother even wading into it that far? It’s only worth arguing with somebody if I have at least a flickering notion they take their own words seriously. Maybe Kerry is serious about not letting Jacques Chirac and Vladimir Putin veto our foreign policy. I certainly hope so. But how am I supposed to know? I was the intended audience for that line, and of course I know he could be trying to sucker me. Then again, maybe his 18-month whine-fest was a way to sucker the left and maybe it worked.

I do not know. But I do know that I do not like him. It’s a good thing for Kerry he’s running against George W. Bush. Because I can think of plenty of other Republicans who could easily mop the floor with his head.

The Real Iraqi Resistance

Meet the new Iraqi fascism. Same as the old Iraqi fascism.

70 civilians who were going about their day were torn to pieces on the streets of Baghdad today by Michael Moore’s heroes of the so-called Iraqi “resistance.”

He described them this way:

The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not ‘insurgents’ or ‘terrorists’ or ‘The Enemy.’ They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow—and they will win.

I know very well what Moore means when he writes the word REVOLUTION. It’s not, you know, a bad thing, especially since he explicitly compares the jihad to the American Revolution. “Minutemen,” my foot. I think Mr. Mike is actually more revolting to me than even Ann Coulter — an impressive feat if that’s what you’re aiming for.

Those bastards running around the country cutting off foreigners’ heads have so far killed a lot more locals than they’ve killed anyone else. Heck, they killed more today than all the foreigners combined since the “resistance” got started. Most of the governments of the West shrug at all this. They’ll change their entire foreign policy regarding that country just to save one of their kidnapped civilians. I understand and respect the impulse. Really, I do. If I were kidnapped I would want my government to do something to save me. But I must say this: if in the process of saving me another country was left to the mercy of murderous totalitarians, the survivor’s guilt wouldn’t be worth it. I don’t want someone else’s country getting enslaved on my account.

Because that’s what these jihadists want to do – clear out the foreigners so they can stomp their boots on the locals. Shouldn’t that be obvious by now? They have already turned their knives, guns, and bombs onto the local population. The taped beheadings are more sensational, but less instructive.

There is no “resistance” in Iraq except that of the brave Iraqis who pick up rifles and face the jihadists.

UPDATE: Iraqi blogger Omar at Iraq the Model has a lot more to say on this subject. Hang in there, Omar. We’re still pulling for you over here.

What if Kerry Wins?

Dean Esmay has an important question for conservatives to think long and hard about.

Left Schism

One benefit of a John Kerry victory over George W. Bush is that liberals and radical leftists will no longer have a common “enemy.” They will stop pretending for tactical reasons they have anything meaningful in common.

KerryBushHitler.jpg

I’m still waiting for the liberals to kick these jerks in the ass. But it’s not going to happen with George W. in power. That by itself isn’t reason enough to vote for John Kerry, but it is one variable in the equation.

Hat tip: Centerfield.

Great Convention Blogging

I said I was going to tune out the Democratic Convention, mostly for my own good, and that’s pretty much what I’ve done so far. But, see, my friend Matt Welch is blogging it for Reason magazine, and I read Matt’s stuff because he’s good and because I like him. So I ended up getting stuck following the convention anyway. And that’s okay because Matt’s stuff is great. It transcends its convention-ness.

Oh, and Tim Blair is helping him out. He’s wicked funny as usual.

Go read.

Kerry: Stop Genocide in Sudan

So far, the supposedly anti-war candidate John Kerry has articulated the most forceful position yet against genocide in Sudan.

I believe in the value of American leadership in the world. Today, a massive humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Darfur, Sudan, where 300,000 people or more may die in the coming months. This administration must stop equivocating. These government sponsored atrocities should be called by their rightful name — genocide.

The government of Sudan and the people of Darfur must understand that America stands prepared to act, in concert with our allies and the UN, to prevent the further loss of innocent lives. The United States must lead the UN Security Council in sanctioning the planners and perpetrators of genocide and authorizing an international humanitarian intervention.

It’s probably a bit much to assume the United Nations would sanction a humanitarian intervention anywhere at any time. The UN did nothing to prevent Bosnian and Kosovo Muslims from being massacred by the hundreds of thousands at the hands of Slobo’s regime in Belgrade. The Clinton Administration, after several years of dithering, finally had to tell the UN to stuff itself and intervene “unilaterally” without even trying to get Security Council authorization to intervene. I expect Kerry would have to do something similar if he wins and gets serious about stopping genocide in Sudan or in any other place (Syria and Iran anybody?) ruled by tyrants who deserve some rough justice.

That would be all to the good. Human rights are incalcuably more important than the sovereignty of a genocidal regime. Besides, an intervention against the Sudanese government would fit rather nicely within the contexts of the Terror War. Sudan harbored Osama bin Laden, after all. Sudan’s absence in the Axis of Evil is either an oversight or a mistake to be corrected. But hey, there’s an opening now that Saddam is in a cage, and if Saudi Arabia isn’t going to fill the void Sudan might as well.

The Arab regime in Khartoum has killed millions of people for the “crime” of being Christian and black, and it continues to do so today, using the janjaweed death squads as spear points. The fact that this regime climbed into bed with the world’s most famous Saudi Arabian Islamofascist should shock no one.

Any government that treats its “own” people this way is at least a potential threat to nearly everyone else. If the examples of Hitler and Stalin are a little too aged, look no farther back than the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Kudos to John Kerry for taking a stand while most of the world shrugs.

Hat tip: Harry’s Place

UPDATE: I’ve been corrected in the comments. Most of the people killed by the Sudanese regime have been Christian or animist, but the black Sudanese in the Darfur region are actually Muslim. I’ve read quite a bit about what went on in the south, and assumed a similar story was taking place elsewhere. Sorry for goofing it.

It’s genocide in any case, and as far as I’m concerned the particular ethnic faultline is irrelevant. The fact that genocide occurs against anyone for any reason is all that matters.

Readjusting to Reality

Is it okay for a guy who writes about politics to completely ignore the Democratic Convention?

I have no opinions today since I’ve been out of the news loop for almost a month. It’s a nice change, and it won’t last long. Oh no. Give me a day or two and I’ll have plenty. By that time the convention should be blessedly almost over. Should I really spend my time getting caught up on a bunch of nonsense? I’d rather catch up on the important things I’ve missed if that’s okay with everybody.

All I’ve really figured out so far is that some guy named Sandy Berger got in trouble for something that has to do with his pants. I’ve no idea. Please don’t explain it to me in the comments. This, I think, is one of those things that ought to go straight to the memory hole before even passing into the brain.

So anyway, the convention. Who cares? It has nothing to do with anything. It’s a bunch of b.s., just like the upcoming Republican Convention – which I also intend to ignore. No real news will emerge. That is by design. Ever since the right-wing put on that freakshow double-headed by the two Pats in Houston back in 1992 conventions are scripted to be boring on purpose. This is probably wise. That turkey in Houston scared me off the Republicans for a decade. No one in either party wants something like that to happen again.

Thank God I’m not a reporter stuck covering these things. I’d rather head down to Rachel, Nevada and write about UFO goofballs in the desert. That might actually be entertaining. My left-wing friend Marc Cooper is covering the Democrats and says (in my comments section) he feels he’s being “held prisoner” by the DNC. I’ll bet. He liked my Tunisia photos, said they were a nice break. I understand. The real thing was even better. I think Marc would rather be fishing the waters of Baja. So would I. So would most other people.

I don’t know who I’m going to vote for in November. In the next few weeks and months I’m going to be thinking long and hard about this. I’m going to build two separate cases: The liberal case for Bush and the hawkish case for Kerry. Both strike me as dubious, and will strike most other people as dubious too. But I don’t have anything else to work with here. The liberal case for Kerry is obvious. The conservative case for Bush is equally so. You don’t need me to explain either one and, besides, neither speak to my concerns at this time.

In the meantime, I’m saving most of my Tunisia material for paid work. If you’re still interested in reading about the country, I’ll provide links to those pieces as always. I’ll also post a travel narrative that won’t make it into a column just as soon as I’m finished writing it. So stay tuned for that.

It’s nice to be home. I have a brand-new home office that I finished remodeling just before I left the country. I can eat bacon and eggs for breakfast again. I can log onto the Internet whenever I want. I can talk to anyone I please without worrying about the language difference. I can get a cup of coffee that’s more than an inch deep, and I can sleep in my queen-sized bed where my feet don’t stick out the bottom all night. I can kiss my wife in public without being offensive. And I can pet my cats.

We came home and found baby fish in our pond. Life is good.

UPDATE: By the way, my traffic is down by half. If you have your own blog and you feel like letting the world know I’m back from vacation, I promise not to get mad.

A Photo Tour of Tunisia

Djebel_Bou_Kornein.jpg

Here is the North African coastline along the Gulf of Tunis as seen from the cliffside seaside village of Sidi Bou Said. In the days of Carthage the pagan God Baal was worshipped in a sanctuary atop the larger mountain Djebel Bou Kornein – the “two-horned hill” in Arabic.

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I have never been to Greece, but I felt like I was there in Sidi Bou Said. This was the most pleasant place we visited in Tunisia. A riot of vegetation tumbled down the cliff toward the shimmering Mediterranean. The streets are finely cobbled, the restaurants elegant, and the walls perfectly whitewashed. Here you’ll see as many women as men. You’ll also see couples holding hands. It’s a long way from the deeply conservative, seemingly all-male, offensively hot south of the country.

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The most intoxicating place is the haunting and labrynthine old medina of Tunis. You can avoid getting lost if you stay on the main paths. But what fun are ancient twisting streets if you don’t get lost in them? Pick a side street and start walking. You won’t truly feel like you’ve travelled far from home until you think you’ve tresspassed in someone else’s neighborhood and you don’t know how to get out.

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This is the view across the street from our hotel in Tunis. The name of that tower, the Hotel Africa, seems wrong somehow. Is Africa really this prosperous? Well, yes, at least one part of it is.

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Here is my wife Shelly at breakfast on the terrace of the Hotel Carlton where we stayed for three nights. The street below is the Avenue Habib Bourguiba, named after Tunisia’s own Kemal Ataturk. The ancient medina is only a few blocks away.

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150 miles down the coast is the smaller city of Sousse. Like Tunis, it is a relatively liberal and cosmopolitan place. A lot of tourists from Europe visit Sousse. Most go to the beach. I preferred the medina, which is what you see in this picture from above.

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And here is a photo of the inside of the medina. The medieval wall you see on the left was built when the Arabs conquered Tunisia.

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I was tempted to use up an entire memory stick on my digital camera taking pictures only of doors. Even the poorest Tunisians have a nicer door than the one on our house. We really do need to upgrade.

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Here is a picture of me on the medieval wall at the top of the Sousse medina. The Mediterranean keeps this place cool, at least when compared to the Sahara.

Ribat.jpg

This ribat is inside the medina. It, too, is medieval as you can see by the look of it. Its purpose was purely military. Ribats like this one were closely spaced along the North Africa coast and were built to watch out for Crusaders. When ships were spotted a signal fire was lighted at the top of the tower. This set off a chain of signal fires along the coast from one ribat to the next. Tolkien geeks will remember seeing something a lot like this, only on mountain tops instead of along the sea, in The Return of the King.

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Here is where you’ll find most of the tourists in Tunisia. The beach is pleasant enough, if rather ordinary. The beach looks and feels more like Miami than the Middle East. Even so, the Pacific in our Oregon is far too cold for swimming, so we couldn’t resist spending one day in the sea. No regrets.

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You don’t have to venture very far inland before Tunisia changes dramatically. 50 miles from the sea and it no longer looks like Mediterranean civilization. For one thing, mosques are made of mud instead of marble.

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You know you’re far from home when you see buildings that look like this one. I don’t know how to “read” this, and that’s exactly what I’m looking for when I travel.

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Exotic as the interior is, you can still find places that look familiar and “Western.” The temperature was more than 100 degrees when I took this courtyard photo, but somehow the architecture made me feel cooler. I suspect it may have been designed for that purpose.

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Before I went to Tunisia I didn’t know how to tell a Berber from an Arab. I knew the Berbers were in North Africa first and that they have their own traditions. But I wouldn’t have been able to tell on sight what was Berber and what was Arab. So let me help you out and give you an example of the difference in style. This is a picture of an Arab bar. (Yes, this is a real bar. They do drink booze in Tunisia.)

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And this is a picture of a Berber bar in the same town of Matmata. This place was tunneled into the ground. The Berbers went underground more than a 1000 years ago to escape the infernal heat of the Sahara. You would, too, if you didn’t have central air. You would tunnel into the walls with your hands if you had to. Trust me. It’s f-ing hot there in July. But these “troglodyte” houses are a cool 75 degrees at midday.

The Arab bar is more formally “nice,” but the Berber place was a lot more fun to hang out in.

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Here is where we slept in Matmata, at the Hotel Sidi Driss. This place won an award for the world’s “loopiest hotel.” This was also where part of Star Wars was filmed. This was where George Lucas filmed Luke Skywalker’s homeworld of Tatooine.

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This is what it looks like when you drive into the Sahara. The sky is as white as the background of my Web site in this picture, even though it was a perfectly clear day.

The desert isn’t all a sea of sand. (If it were there would be no roads.) Most of it is scrub and gravel plain bisected by mountain ranges and rock. All of it is hotter than Hell. I just can’t say it enough. That place is hot, the hottest place on the Earth during the summer.

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Some of the Sahara looks like this. This is the Chott el Jerrid. Don’t try walking across it. It’s a dried-out ancient sea bed, cracked by heat and encrusted with salt. If you do walk out there you had better cover your face. A hat isn’t good enough. Sunlight bounces off the surface and will burn you from below.

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I took this photo after a ten minute walk from our hotel in Douz. The dunes there are low and white. They manage to be pretty without being spectacular.

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The dunes around Ksar Ghilane are spectacular. We paid a guy a handsome sum to drive us deep into the desert and hook us up with another guy who took us into the dunes on camels. It was a physically brutal experience in the blistering heat of July, but we got to sleep outside that night and Shelly thanked me for dragging her out there. How could anyone take a look at this view and wish they were anywhere else?

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