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Hanging with Capt. Abby

I’m happy to report the troll fumugation program is going well. The comments are not only a lot more civil, but more engaging. I’m learning from my own commentariat again.

Yesterday a certain person said we war hawks really need to learn more about Arabs. I’ve been reading piles of books about the Middle East for years now, I’m currently trying to learn the Arabic language (boy, is it hard), and I’m going to that part of the world myself in couple of weeks. Perhaps I can be excused for thinking such a charge is arrogant nonsense.

Anyway, one commenter who goes by TmjUtah posted a terrific response that’s also a great story. The reason I took action to save the comments is because I love reading great posts like this one that get published, almost by magic, while I am sleeping.

I spent two weeks in Jordan, back in the eighties.

Since their artillery practice happens from hardpads with known locations and aiming posts set in concrete, surveyors didn’t have much to do. I ended up being the liasion NCO for our Host Officer. Nice guy, told us to call him Capt. Abby. He and his sergeant/bodyguard hosted us at the Amman/Baghdad truck terminal souk one evening. It was an excellent experience, and renewed my parents’ lessons for me while growing up: you cannot hate people in groups.

See, after burying my best friend after Beirut, my intended goal for any liberty time in Jordan was to catch an Arab or two in any convenient alley and gut them like fish. I had a lot of hate back then, and Capt. Abby caught the vibe. Of course I was properly respectful for our guest (superior rank, royalty, host, and all that) but there’s a difference between formal and agreeable.

Anyway, after listening to the truck driver’s and sheepherder’s songs and poems about life, dreams, family, and tribe over coffee (sloppy full cups) and the strongest tobacco I’ve ever smoked, I got the strangest feeling these boys could fit in at the Penwell Truck Terminal at the end of a long day…just they wouldn’t be drinking any Coors.

I believe that people are just people. Each man makes calls and every man is responsible for choosing his path. Without my experience driving that Jordanian around I would have been one of those people wanting to see the mideast east of Israel turned to glass.

I also believe that the conflict before us is one that is unavoidable; we are not consciously committed to ending Islam but our very existence ensures the death of the religion because societies that embrace it cannot compete with western, capitalist societies. They are the ones who adopted jihad.

Anyway, that was many years ago. I have read the Koran three or four times by now…read commentaries, learned the timeline of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the yeast tray explosion of that creed through the Arab mideast. We have a muslim center up in Salt Lake; I’ve spoken with imams there more than once since 9/11.

CAIR is the Sein Feinn of al Qaeda. No more, no less.

These days I’m just trying to keep up with the world and decide what to do with myself since I don’t survey any more. Capt. Abby got promoted out of zone, and now runs Jordan as King Abdullah.

Don’t tell me I need to know more about Arabs. Thanks.

Missing Iraq

Iraqi blogger Omar posts a photo gallery from a couple of places in Baghdad.

He also has the best photos of marsh reed huts I’ve ever seen. The huts are brand-new, made from nothing but reeds. Saddam dammed up the marshes in Southern Iraq and set them on fire. The smoke could be seen from the space shuttle Endeavor. Now that the ecosystem is being restored, the Marsh Arabs are moving back in.

Some of these places in Iraq are pretty nice. Omar’s photos make Baghdad look like a completely normal city. In many ways, I’m sure it is. Suicide bombs aren’t a constant on every block – or on any block for that matter. Most people and buildings will never be bombed. Perusing these photos makes me wistfully wish I were there.

My worst kept secret is that I was planning to go to Iraq in December. I am very sorry to say that I have put that on hold. I’m a little bit brave, but not that brave. Not right now, anyway. Since foreigners from several different countries have been kidnapped and executed — some of them on camera – I’ve decided I’d better go later.

I really do want to visit. I want to talk to people and ask how they’re doing. I want to breathe the free air of Baghdad. I want to see a ruined country reborn. I want to report back and let everyone know how it’s going.

The United States is not attacking Iraq. The United States is defending Iraq. That would be something to see. It would really be something to write about.

In the meantime, I have other plans. Libya is first on the list. I finally reached a breakthrough in the painstaking process of getting a visa today. I’ll be there in five weeks, Inshallah.

New Column

Here’s a new Tech Central Station column from me where I take a swing at everyone’s favorite punching bag: the media. Spinning for Al Qaeda.

Winds of Change

Tossing Saddam in the slammer keeps yielding intended benefits.

TUNIS (Reuters) – Arab governments, responding to a U.S. campaign for Arab democracy, have promised to carry out political and social reforms in an oil-rich region which includes some of the world’s most repressive rulers.

In documents read out at the end of a two-day Arab summit in Tunis on Sunday, the 22 Arab League members promised to promote democracy, expand popular participation in politics and public affairs, reinforce women’s rights and expand civil society.

Now, you can count me among those who are awfully skeptical that this crowd is serious.

What’s important here is they feel they need to at least give freedom and democracy some lip service. They absolutely are on the wrong side of history. And they know it. The days of maintaining their rank political slums are numbered one way or another.

Yeah, it’s probably all talk at this point. And talk is cheap, especially if you live in a police state and the best you get from your thug-in-chief is some posturing.

But think about it this way. Imagine how you would feel about the prospects for life as we know it if we felt so much pressure from the jihad that North American and European governments got together and promised to implement Islamic law “reforms,” even if the promise was only an empty one. You’d be right to say we were losing. And you’d be right to say it’s a direct result of the violence against us and has little to do with diplomacy.

(Hat tip: Instapundit)

Troll Spray

I apologize for bringing this up again on the main page for those of you who don’t care about this, but I want everyone who has decided to avoid my comments section to know I’m in the process of cleaning it up now. I also want to issue a warning that no one will miss.

I’m ramping up my anti-troll counter measures. A few days ago I said “unserious, scurrilous, and idiotic commentary” will get the offender shown the door. No one who wasn’t already guilty of this complained much in the comments about the new policy.

Today Robert McClelland wrote in my comments “Writing ‘Fuck Jews’ is not anti-semitic” and then later said Jews who get offended by swastikas (in Berkeley) are “whining” about liberals. (!) (Earth to Robert: Liberals do not brandish swastikas.)

This is the sort of self-evidently idiotic nonsense I’m talking about. It drives reasonable people out of the comments and makes intelligent discussion impossible. No more. Act like that and you’re out with no warning on the grounds of abject stupidity alone. I’m going to hose down the walls if I have to.

As for the rest of you who are tired of trolls, please rejoin the discussion. I am not going to choose them over you any longer.

Your regularly scheduled opinionated blather now resumes if you scroll down to next post.

UPDATE: Meryl Yourish is cracking down, too, in her own way and for her own completely understandable and justified reasons.

An Epicenter of Hatred

I grew up in sleepy, dreary, conservative Salem, Oregon. I couldn’t wait to get out. The small city of Eugene, home of the University of Oregon, the Berkeley of the Northwest, beckoned me from sixty miles away. I felt like I’d finally found a real home, for the first time in my life, the day I moved into my quad.

Eugene was infinitely more cultural, more sophisticated, better educated, and – most importantly – more tolerant than Salem.

I don’t know if that’s really true anymore. It’s been ten years (almost to the day) since I graduated from the English Department and moved on to bigger and better things. For a while there I thought I could spend the rest of my life in college towns. They seemed to me culturally and intellectually superior little islands surrounded by boring and provincial satellite towns. If Eugene still follows Berkeley, and I’m almost certain it does, I’m happier than ever to be free of both it and Salem.

The East Bay Express, found via Roger L. Simon’s comments section, has another creepy article about hatred in Berkeley.

On the day after September 11, Micki Weinberg walked to the UC Berkeley campus still in shock. At the entrance to campus, facing Telegraph Avenue, huge sheets of blank paper were spread out as an impromptu memorial on which students, faculty, and other passersby were invited to write comments. Glad to have found such a forum, Weinberg scanned the inscriptions. Then he saw one, large and clear, that stopped him dead in his tracks:

“It’s the Jews, stupid.”

[...]

Almost three years later, Weinberg graduates this month as a student whose days at Cal were marked by what he calls “pinnacles of horror,” in the pinched tone of a man betrayed. He remembers pro-Palestinian protesters insisting that Israeli border crossings are as bad as Nazi death camps. He remembers the glass front door of Berkeley’s Hillel building — where he attends Friday night services — shattered by a cinderblock, with the message FUCK JEWS scrawled nearby. He remembers the spray-painted swastikas discovered one Monday morning last September on the walls of four lecture rooms in LeConte Hall accompanied by the chilling bilingual message, “Die, Juden. ”

[...]

Such anti-Semitism has always seemed the sinister province of fascists and neo-Nazis, Spanish Inquisitors and tattooed skinheads. How topsy-turvy, then, to discover that some of the most virulent anti-Semitism in America today seethes amid the multicultural ferment of American college campuses. And at UC Berkeley, which owes as much of its allure to radical rhetoric as to academic excellence, it thrives.

Read the whole awful thing.

Worst Album Covers Ever

The sequel to the Worst Album Covers Ever is just way too funny to pass up a link. Enjoy.

(Hat tip: Harry’s Place)

A Very Bad Day?

According to this article in The New York Times, most of the serious abuses at Abu Ghraib prison occurred on a single day in November.

The day of abuse — a Saturday — capped what had been the worst week for U.S. troops in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion. Nearly three dozen had been killed in a surge of attacks that left some other soldiers frustrated and frightened. Insurgents had attacked the Abu Ghraib prison and other U.S. bases in the area with mortars several times in previous weeks.

If that is truly the case, it knocks a body blow to the theory that this problem is a systemic one.

New Comments Policy

It’s time to start cracking heads in the comment section.

I’ve been getting too many complaints from reasonable people about trolls, and invariably the people who (rightly) complain tell me they don’t want to hang out here anymore or that they’re thinking about leaving.

This is going to stop now.

I’ve had open comments for almost a year, and I’ve banned fewer than ten people. So far I’ve only kicked people out for two reasons. Either they’re exceptionally rude to others or they’ve posted overtly racist and inflammatory statements. I had to summarily kick out one German neo-Nazi who wants his country ethnically-cleansed of Muslims and Jews and who bragged that his grandfather got a medal for shooting at mine sixty years ago. I kicked out another person who said 250,000 Bosnian Muslims deserved to die at the hands of Serbian fascists because they were all “stinking terrorists.” The rest I’ve banned because they have some kind of serious social personality dysfunction that I and everyone else found intolerable.

I have never kicked anyone out because I don’t share their opinions. And I won’t start now. Argue with me and everyone else all you want. That’s what the comments are for. But I am going to have to start showing people the door if they repeatedly harrass everyone else with unserious, scurrilous, and idiotic commentary. I won’t kick you out for arguing with me, no matter how sharply you disagree. But I will boot those who insist on acting like idiots and twelve-year olds.

For a very brief window of time I’ll be open to changing my mind. If you have a reasonable objection to this policy, use the comments and tell me why. I don’t want to be a hard-ass about this, but I prefer that option to letting my comments degrade like so many others all over the blogosphere. If you want to convince me to change my mind, address the fact that my comments are degrading and that something must be done to put a stop to it. I refuse to passively sit and watch it happen.

(As a side note, don’t bother accusing me of wanting to ban people because they’re liberal or conservative. Save the partisan victimology. This has nothing to do with your voter registration. Of those I’ve had to kick out so far, roughly half were left-wing, and the other half were right-wing.)

Islam’s Bloody Borders

Meanwhile, the Jihad is ramping up in Thailand.

Dave Rodriguez snagged a photograph from the latest article in a Thai newspaper before they pulled the story offline. Apparently, there are killings every day in the Muslim part of the country.

Brandon Mayfield Released

My fellow Portlander Brandon Mayfield was arrested a while back because his fingerprint supposedly showed up on evidence connected to the terror attacks in Madrid. Turns out the fingerprint belonged to an Algerian national. He was released today.

(Hat tip: Karrie Higgins via email.)

Pure Baathist Propaganda

I’m still amazed Stalinist George Galloway was (until they kicked his ass out) a Labor Party MP in Britain. He is a fascinating person, though, in a Hannibal Lector sort of way.

He recently wrote a new book. Johann Hari calls it pure Baathist propaganda.

It is not the allegations that he was being paid by Saddam Hussain – soon to be settled in the libel courts – that will destroy George Galloway. No, it is this book. In this strange, repetitive little manifesto – marketed as an autobiography but in fact a short and incoherent rant – Galloway does not just shoot himself in the foot; he machine-guns his own legs to pieces.

[...]

“Just as Stalin industrialized the Soviet Union, so on a different scale Saddam plotted Iraq“s own Great Leap Forward,” he says, and amazingly, this isn’t a criticism.

Do read the whole thing.

Against Suburbia

Megan McArdle (aka “Jane Galt”) and Matthew Yglesias grew up in the city (New York, as it happens) and are sticking up for cities as places to raise kids. Conventional wisdom says the suburbs are better, but Megan and Matt say they turned out just fine (I’m sure they both did), that they lost the “muddy creek” in exchange for urban hang-outs instead.

I grew up in the suburbs and I won’t defend them as places to raise kids. I would much rather have grown up in the inner-city where I live now. (“Inner-city” is not synonymous with Cabrini Green except in the heads of people who don’t live in cities or who live in Cabrini Green. “Inner-city” simply refers to the dense urban core, not all of which is a slum. In the case of Portland, Oregon, none of which is a slum – at least not any longer.)

The way I see it, the suburbs combine the worst of the city with the worst of the countryside. In the suburbs you’re stranded as if you were way out in the sticks, but you also get traffic. You have no choice but to get in a car to go anywhere, just as if you lived in the middle of nowhere. But you get none of the peace, quiet, and expansiveness of the woods, or prairie, or desert, depending on where you live. (Around here we have farmland and forest, but mostly forest.)

I live in inner-city Portland. I can see the skyline from my front yard. I can walk there in forty-five minutes if I feel like getting some exercise. More important, I have lord only knows how many restaurants, bookstores, cafes, movie theaters, urban parks, corner stores and practically everything else within five minutes walking distance from my front porch. Now that I don’t have an office job and do all my work from home (or, just as often, in a coffeeshop) I almost never have to get in my car. I can do or get anything in less time on foot than it takes a suburbanite in a car.

I grew up in Salem, Oregon, which is forty-five miles south. It’s not a small town, it’s a suburb without a city attached. It’s just barely too far from Portland to be a part of the metro area, especially from the point of view of a kid who can’t drive. Portland might as well have been in Canada for all its “closeness” was worth. Salem was (and still is) a dead moon in a long-shot orbit.

I was perfectly happy with Salem when I was six. I didn’t know it from Manhattan or Palookaville. When I was sixteen it was awful – truly a thundering bore. Now that I’m 33, my detestation for that town is at its peak. Not only is it a dreary smear of strip malls and burger joints, it’s a cultural black hole. You want museums, live music, bookstore readings, the theater? Forget it. Drive an hour to Portland. Worst of all, the place is an utter dead-end. Anyone who grows up in Salem absolutely must leave. There is little opportunity there outside the low-wage service sector and the state bureaucracy. Several people I grew up with never left, and every person I know who stayed is less successful than every person I know who got out. The place is a trap that must be escaped. I’m surprised how many don’t make it. Supposedly it’s a great place to raise kids, but I don’t know a single person who grew up there and left who agrees.

I know it’s harder to find good schools and enough space to raise kids in Manhattan, as Megan McArdle explains in her post. But not every city is like Manhattan. Most cities aren’t.

In Portland (as well as in other cities of a similar size, such as Minneapolis and Seattle) it’s easy. Some of our best schools are in the city, and the nicest neighborhoods are definitely in the city. Nothing in the ‘burbs can compare to our heavily wooded Victorian neighborhoods and the top-notch schools nestled inside them. The pre-automobile urban design is far easier on the eyes, and you can get anywhere without a car. That’s a bonus for bored kids and also for parents who otherwise have to cart them around.

There isn’t a right or wrong answer in the city versus suburb debate. Salem may have had some (well-hidden) advantages for me, at least when I was small, even though it didn’t as I got older. There probably are drawbacks to growing up in the city, disadvantages that I’m not aware of since I didn’t have that experience.

My real point is this: Conventional wisdom says suburbs are better for kids, and that any kid who grew up in the suburbs agrees. I’m saying that’s false. You can find people who were happily raised in the suburbs, and you can find others who were glad to grow up in a city. But you can also find people who grew up in the suburbs and hated it.

Every single one of my childhood friends who made it out, either to Portland or to a city someplace else, are glad they got out and wish they didn’t start out in that town in the first place. None of us like to go back. It’s boring, it’s ugly, and worst of all it’s depressing.

Not everyone agrees. My parents love Salem and think I’m totally full of it. Either way, it doesn’t matter who’s “right,” since much of this is a matter of personality, taste, and opinion. But don’t go thinking it’s a no-brainer that your kids will be glad you reared ‘em up in the ‘burbs. You might be surprised what they say when they get a bit older.

Maybe it’s worth asking where they want to live. If you prefer to live in a city, don’t torture yourself in the suburbs just for your kids. If my parents asked me if I’d rather live in a city I would have said yes.

Hmm…Sarin

You may already know a shell containing three or four liters of sarin was found in Iraq. I’m not sure what to say about this, but it’s one of those things that probably ought to be noted.

Christopher Hitchens basically says it all right here.

So a Sarin-infected device is exploded in Iraq, and across the border in Jordan the authorities say that nerve and gas weapons have been discovered for use against them by the followers of Zarqawi, who was in Baghdad well before the invasion. Where, one idly inquires, did these toys come from? No, it couldn’t be.

But he doesn’t quite say it all. James Lileks says the rest.

So they found a sarin shell? Eh. Halliburton put it there, it was old, and besides everyone knew Saddam had WMD, and we gave him the sarin anyway, and it would be news if we found 400 shells, but if they were old undeclared shells they wouldn’t count because they weren’t a threat to us anyway — do you know that most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi? Why aren’t we invading them? Not that we should, that would TOTALLY be about oil, anyway, did you read Doonesbury today? He had this giant hand talking in a press conference. This big giant floating hand. I think it was a reprint. I like when he has that bald dude who’s in charge of some Iraqi city. Bald dude is like, wasted.

The (Im)moral Case Against the War

The Nation used to be one of my favorite magazines before I started having the same problem with it that I used to have (and sometimes still have) with conservatives. What I can’t stand most of all, even more than its paranoia and conspiracy-mongering, is the way most of its writers (with a few noble exceptions) look at the horrible conditions of the wretched of the earth and simply shrug.

Paul Savoy decided to dress up his shrugging in moral and ethical drag. His new piece The Moral Case Against the War is anything but.

There is only one truly serious question about the morality of the war, and that is the question posed more than fifty years ago by French Nobel laureate Albert Camus, looking back on two world wars that had slaughtered more than 70 million people: When do we have the right to kill our fellow human beings or let them be killed? What is needed is a national debate in the presidential election campaign that addresses the most important moral issue of our time.

I can agree with him about that. But that’s about it. I certainly don’t come down on the same side of the question as he does.

[E]ven if as many as 5,000 civilians have been killed by US forces, isn’t freedom for 25 million people in Iraq worth the cost of 5,000 lives? Michael Ignatieff, director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard, argued this cost-benefit analysis in making the moral case for war in the New York Times Magazine before the invasion: “The choice [was] one between two evils, between containing and leaving a tyrant in place and the targeted use of force, which will kill people but free a nation from the tyrant’s grip.” Ignatieff concluded that killing people was the better choice if the United States was willing “to build freedom, not just for the Iraqis but also for the Palestinians, along with a greater sense of security for Israel.”

He does an okay job framing the question. This does get to the heart of it. Then he runs right off the rails.

Viewed in the light of our own moral ideals, as embodied in our constitutional tradition, the right to life is so fundamental that killing the innocent to advance the cause of freedom of electoral choice or any other purpose, however worthy, must be regarded as wrong.

In other words, freedom is not worth fighting for. Our constitutional tradition does not “embody” that notion at all.

You can’t have a war without killing the innocent. It just isn’t possible. We can do our very best to minimize that damage, but still it can never be zero. That, in fact, is Mr. Savoy’s unstated point. Since innocents always die in war, he explicitly states freedom is not worth fighting for under any circumstances because the death of some innocents is morally worse than slavery for everybody.

This is dubious enough in and of itself. The United States would not exist as a country if Mr. Savoy’s “morality” were the prevailing view at the time of the American Revolution. Nor would the slaves have been freed from the shackles of the Confederacy.

He fails, at this point in the piece anyway, to take into account that Saddam Hussein killed more Iraqis by orders of magnitude than the U.S. has or ever will. I know he knows this. He comes right out and acknowledges as much later on in the same article. He apparently thinks – he must think on some level – that it’s morally better if a lot of people die by someone else’s hand than if a few die by ours. This is nothing if not an abrogation of responsibility and a total lack of regard for the well-being of the people in question. The same rationale would tell us to let Slobodan Milosovic put the Muslim population of Europe to the sword. The same rationale excuses our (and everyone else’s) refusal to stop the past genocide in Rwanda and the current one in Sudan. It’s a great and terrible shrug. The post-Holocaust notion of “Never Again” doesn’t even enter in the equation. Did anyone who said “never again” mean a tyrant has to be exactly as bad as Hitler to be worth stopping? No. Even if that’s what was meant, Mr. Savoy still never takes that into account. In his view, genocide can only be resisted by the victims. Never by a well-armed third party.

It’s true that many people are dead in Iraq because of what we did. It’s equally true that a larger number are alive because of what we did. The well-being of Iraqis isn’t even remotely what’s at issue to Mr. Savoy. He only cares that we are morally pure. Tyranny, barbarism, and genocide are fine with him in a lesser-evil sort of way as long as we can sit safe and sound on our side of the ocean and not have to dirty ourselves by messing with it.

Not only is this morally reprehensible, it isn’t even logical. We do not sit safe and sound on this side of the ocean as the terrorism on September 11, preceded by Al Qaeda’s genocidal death warrant, has already shown. The political culture of the Middle East absolutely is our business. Middle Eastern political science topples buildings and kills thousands in our own cities.

Paul Savoy is a September 10th person. He doesn’t understand that we’re war whether we’re happy about it or not.

One of the problems with the September 10th mentality is known to some as the Genovese Syndrome, named after Kitty Genovese who was very slowly knifed to death in full view of her neighbors in New York City. Not one of her neighbors, witnesses all, lifted a finger to stop it or even to call the police. Better not to get involved, or so they thought before their morally repugnant passivism (or should I say pacifism?) shocked and appalled the rest of the country.

We denounce terrorists because when the freedom of self-determination they seek is weighed in the balance against the right to life of innocent people, it is the right to life that our collective conscience has decided should prevail. [Emphasis added.]

Good God. What “freedom” or “self-determination” are the terrorists supposedly seeking? The freedom to slash the faces of unveiled women? To stone adulterers to death? To throw gay people off buildings? To wipe Jews from the face of the Earth? If this is freedom, I’ll take slavery.

Mr. Savoy has stripped that lovely word of all its meaning, reducing it to just another post-modern relativistic construct. Freedom for me is a tyrant for thee. No wonder he doesn’t think it’s something worth fighting for.

This, apparently, is what happens to people who live a rarefied existence in a spoiled complacent country. Maybe he needs to take a holiday in Sudan (or even Cambodia) to see how the other half lives. You know, walk a mile in another’s shoes, get a little sympathy for the downtrodden. It’s amazing I have to say this to a liberal. It was the liberals, after all, who taught it to me.

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