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Here’s my new Tech Central Station column about my experience with the legendary Arab hospitality, which I’m happy to report is alive, well, and understated: An American in Tunisia.

Kill Moqtada Al Sadr – Part Two

As expected, I’m being taken to task in the comments section in my previous post for saying it’s time to take out Moqtada al Sadr. For whatever it’s worth, at least some people in Iraq are with me on this. Obviously, some Iraqis like al-Sadr and sympathize with this goals, but they are part of the problem. I, for one, don’t wish to let them run roughshod over those who want a secular democratic Iraq. If Pat Roberton or some other right-wing nut raised an American militia to overthrow the government and impose a theocracy, I’d want him and them taken out, too, not negotiated with or appeased. Call me crazy.

Here is Omar over at Iraq the Model. This is a long excerpt, but I want to make sure everyone sees this, not just those who choose to follow my links.

It seems that it’s time at last! I hope they get Muqtada this time and also all his deputies. People here are not only disgusted and upset with this gang but also most of them showed extreme anger and some of them went as far as condemning Islam and even the Mahdi himself!! I don’t agree of course with that, as Muqtada has nothing to do with Islam.

A She’at taxi driver told me, “ Why are we doing this!? Why among all religions we commit such horrible crimes?? If this is Islam then s**t on it and on Mahdi himself, we don’t want this! They went as far as attacking peaceful churches and I really don’t understand why! This is not the Islam we were raised to believe in, the Islam of peace and tolerance. I wish I could see this idiot dead.”

One of my colleagues; a She’at who used to sympathize greatly with Islamist whether She’at or Sunni, told me today that he is shocked with what the Mahdi army is doing, “ When he revolted the 1st time and they called him an outlaw we didn’t like it. How can they call a cleric who’s the son of Iraq’s most respectable Ayetullah, an outlaw. Now I cannot and I do not want to defend him. He’s a criminal and so are all his followers. They have killed civilians, policemen, destroyed a gas station in Sadr city, and are threatening to burn down the oil pipelines now! Why and for what!?”

None of the people I met today showed any sympathy with Sadr and all of them showed eagerness to end this situation in a decisive way, not by negotiation but through capturing or killing Sadr and disarming his militia… [Emphasis added.]

I do suggest you click over to his site. Lots of interesting stuff from a guy who actually lives there. He doesn’t have much patience for the “soft on fascism” line. He would have to live with the real-world results of that policy.

Kill Moqtada al-Sadr

It’s long past time to remove the gun from Iraqi politics. The irony is that you have to use guns to do it. If Iraqi liberals (ie, those who wish to replace bullets with ballots) are not willing to kill those who take up arms against them, Iraq will be ruled once again by the ruthless.

Moqtada al-Sadr cranked up his “revolution” and says he wants to fight to his “last drop of blood.” Fine, then. Give the man what he wants.

It’s one thing to let him throw a gigantic fit and then cut him a deal. It’s another thing altogether to let him get away with it twice. Once is excusable. Twice is a pattern. If he gets away with this every crank with a grievance will be encouraged to kill people, too. Hey, if it works it works. Civil society cannot be built if the law of the jungle prevails.

Moqtada al-Sadr is an enemy of the United States and an enemy of the Iraqi government. He and his goons make peace, stability, and democracy impossible. Today’s non-violent Iraqis will be a lot more encouraged to pick up guns of their own if al-Sadr and his Mahdi militia run rampant.

I say we go to the infinitely more reasonable Ayatollah Sistani and tell him what time it is. Either Sistani and the other Shi’ite clerics find a way to reign in the insurgency or Moqtada al-Sadr gets toe-tagged.

Catching Up Here

It’s amazing how quickly a guy can get behind on the news. I spent the weekend up in Seattle visiting some writer friends and being generally unplugged from whatever’s going on in the world. I’m not completely out of it like I was when I got home from North Africa, but there’s this vague sense of hmm that’s enough to keep from me from mouthing off at the moment. Your regularly scheduled programming will resume shortly.

Loyalty Oaths

This has to be one of the dumbest campaign strategies I’ve ever seen.

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — A Republican National Committee practice of having people sign a form endorsing President Bush or pledging to vote for him in November before being issued tickets for RNC-sponsored rallies is raising concern among voters.

When Vice President Dick Cheney spoke July 31 to a crowd of 2,000 in Rio Rancho, a city of 45,000 near Albuquerque, several people who showed up at the event complained about being asked to sign endorsement forms in order to receive a ticket to hear Cheney.

”Whose vice president is he?” said 72-year-old retiree John Wade of Albuquerque, who was asked to sign the form when he picked up his tickets. ”I just wanted to hear what my vice president had to say, and they make me sign a loyalty oath.”

So, what happens if you lie when you sign the “loyalty oath?” What happens if you change your mind? Since we have secret ballots in this country (at least for those of us who don’t blog) nothing really could happen to you if you pledge to vote Republican and then vote for Ralph Nader (or whoever else) instead. But still. The RNC can’t possibly win voters this way, and they could easily lose several. I guess they don’t want anyone booing the speeches. That would look bad on the TV. Or so they think. This looks a lot worse.

No one who considers voting for Bush is going to watch one of his speeches on the TV, hear some guy booing in the back, and suddenly think: the booer is right! I can’t vote for this guy. But these “loyalty oaths” could easily be a factor. It’s no way to win over this swing voter. I’m not signing a loyalty oath for any political party. Not now. Not ever. Candidates are supposed to woo swing voters, not tell them to take a hike.

35 Questions

Everything you never cared to know about me one way or the other:

1) WHAT COLOR ARE YOUR BEDROOM WALLS?

Purple. (My wife picked it.)

2) WHAT BOOK ARE YOU READING NOW?

The Pillars of Hercules by Paul Theroux.

3) WHAT’S ON YOUR MOUSE PAD?

Eric Cartman.

4) FAVORITE BOARD GAME?

Chess. Otherwise you might as well just play one of those “games” on the back of the Froot Loops box.

5) FAVORITE MAGAZINE?

The Atlantic Monthly.

6) FAVORITE SMELL?

What?

7) FAVORITE COLOR?

Blue. I guess.

8) LEAST FAVORITE COLOR?

Brown.

9) HOW MANY RINGS BEFORE YOUR ANSWERING MACHINE PICKS UP?

Three. I should make it one instead.

10) MOST IMPORTANT MATERIAL THING IN MY LIFE?

My 110-year old house.

11) FAVORITE FLAVOR OF ICE CREAM?

Chocolate. Are there other flavors?

12) DO YOU BREAK THE SPEED LIMIT DAILY?

Yeah, and I get busted for it every six months.

13) DO YOU HAVE A STUFFED ANIMAL IN YOUR ROOM SOMEWHERE?

Hell no.

14) STORMS – COOL OR SCARY?

Cool. Awesome, even. Especially when they’re scary.

15) FAVORITE DRINK?

Red wine. Merlot or cab. Occasionally a nice Chianti. (Hold the fava beans.)

16) WHEN IS YOUR BIRTHDAY?

Just before the leaves turn orange.

17) FAVORITE VEGETABLES?

Vegetables are boring, but if I have to eat one I guess I’ll take a carrot.

18) IF YOU COULD HAVE ANY JOB, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

Travel writer.

19) IF YOU COULD HAVE ANY COLOR HAIR, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

If I could have any color hair I would just dye it, now wouldn’t I?

20) HAVE YOU EVER BEEN IN LOVE?

I’m married so, yeah, I’d say so.

21) TOP THREE FAVORITE MOVIES (IN ORDER)?

Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, Blade Runner, and Gattaca

22) DO YOU TYPE WITH YOUR FINGERS ON THE RIGHT KEYS?

Yep.

23) WHAT’S UNDER YOUR BED?

Nothing. Not even air. My bed sits directly on the floor.

24) WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE NUMBER?

i.

25) FAVORITE SPORT TO WATCH ON TV & IN PERSON?

Baseball.

26) WHAT IS YOUR SINGLE BIGGEST FEAR?

Next question…

27) FAVORITE CD OF ALL TIME & RIGHT NOW?

I have no idea what my favorite CD of all time would be. But if I had to pick what my favorite CD is right now it would have to be something by Nick Cave, Dead Can Dance, or Sixteen Horsepower.

28) FAVORITE TV SHOW OF ALL TIME & RIGHT NOW?

Homicide: Life on the Street.

29) HAMBURGERS OR HOT DOGS?

Definitely not hot dogs except at baseball games and campgrounds.

30) THE COOLEST PLACES YOU’VE EVER BEEN?

Chile. The jungles of Central America. The Sahara.

31) WHAT WALLPAPER AND/OR SCREENSAVER IS ON YOUR COMPUTER RIGHT NOW?

SETI@home.

32) DOES MCDONALD’S SKIMP ON YOUR FRIES & DO YOU CARE?

I only like their breakfast sandwiches.

33) FAVORITE CHAIN RESTAURANT?

Does Starbucks count as a restaurant?

34) IF YOU HAVE A BOY (OR HAVE ANOTHER BOY) WHAT WOULD YOU NAME HIM?

N/A

35) IF YOU COULD LEARN TO PLAY ONE INSTRUMENT OVERNIGHT, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

The kazoo!

All questions stolen from Mike Silverman.

Biden V. Kerry

It’s too bad someone like Sen. Joe Biden didn’t run in the Democratic primary. (It would have helped even more had he won it, but that’s another discussion.)

Peter Beinart, editor of The New Republic, compares and contrasts two foreign policy speeches in Boston, one by Joe Biden and the other by John Kerry.

Biden started by correctly naming America’s enemy. Unlike Kerry, who mentioned “terrorists,” “antiterrorist operations,” and “a global war on terror,” Biden never mentioned the “T” word. Instead, he spoke of the “death struggle between freedom and radical fundamentalism.” The difference is more than semantic. Terrorism, as commentators have pointed out, is a tactic. Sri Lankan suicide bombers who blow themselves up in the name of Tamil independence are terrorists–but we are not at war with them. If militants in Iraq shoot only at American soldiers and not at civilians, they are not technically terrorists–but they are our enemies nonetheless. Radical Islam is an ideology, and calling it the enemy implies that America is fighting a war not just of national interest, but of ideas. “Radical fundamentalism,” Biden said, “will fall to the terrible, swift power of our ideas as well as our swords.”

Kerry also lauded American values, saying, “I know the power of our ideals. We need to make America once again a beacon in the world. We need to be looked up to and not just feared.” But, because he hadn’t defined the enemy by reference to its ideas, his statement about American principles lacked context and force. A beacon is also a very different metaphor than a sword. Biden said the “death struggle between freedom and radical fundamentalism … breached our shores on September 11.” Notice the implication: The war against radical Islam began before September 11–in other corners of the globe. Thus, victory requires the United States to play an active role in conflicts within other societies, particularly Muslim ones. Kerry’s statement, by contrast, can be read as a call merely for the United States to live out its ideals at home, secure that the world is watching. Indeed, his speech said nothing about promoting democracy in Iraq or anywhere else.

There are people in the Democratic Party who understand what we’re up against here. Hopefully, if John Kerry wins, he will staff them.

No Blog for You

Looks like the CIA wants to shut down George W. Bush’s blog. Or maybe not. The Onion reports, you decide.

Hat tip: Layne.

Welcome to Memphis

How embarassing is this?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Iraqis visiting on a civil rights tour were barred from city hall after the city council chairman said it was too dangerous to let them in.

The seven Iraqi civic and community leaders are in the midst of a three-week American tour, sponsored by the State Department to learn more about the process of government. The trip also includes stops in Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago.

[...]

Elisabeth Silverman, the group’s host and head of the Memphis Council for International Visitors, said Brown told her he would “evacuate the building and bring in the bomb squads” if the group entered.

If the visiting Iraqis learn anything useful from their Memphis experience they’ll use it as an object lesson for what not to do back home. Somehow I don’t think that’s what the State Department had in mind. My experience with Arab hospitality tells me they didn’t need to learn such a lesson in any case.

I sure hope someone official apologized to these people for the idiots in our country who manage to get themselves into positions of power yet still don’t know how to behave.

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.

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