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Bad Drinking Scene

Sometimes the little things are the most telling.

Here’s a just-discovered interview with Michael Kelly just before he was killed on assignment in Iraq.

Give me a sense of Baghdad as a tourist. Is it different from Amman or is it similar?

Well, it’s grimmer. A lot of the Arab world is pretty grim. That whole sort of city of jollity and light and magic tends to be lacking in despotic regimes. When you have the feeling that if you get an eensy bit too drunk the Mukhabarat are going to come and remove your fingernails for making a little Saddam joke at the bar, it puts a stifling effect on an evening out with the boys. Iraqis are big bar-goers. There’s a lot of drinking in Iraq. But it’s the grimmest drinking environment you could ever imagine. They could give lessons to the Scots on grimness in drinking.

Grim how?

When you go into bar, and let’s say it’s even a packed bar…. This is a true story. About three days before the war started, I went to a belly-dancing place. There was this woman there belly dancing, or her belly was dancing, whatever. There were forty or so guys there. Everybody’s got their bottles of this horrible, horrible Iraqi-produced knock-off Scotch that’s fake Johnnie Walker red. They’ve got fake labels that say “Johnnie Walker rouge.” Just awful grim stuff to be drinking in the first place. There were like four guys to a table and they were all smoking—swfft, swfft, swfft—and drinking.

Do they smoke cigarettes that they roll themselves?

No, they smoke knock-off cigarettes like Marbrills or Camroll. Terrible existence. It’s like some kind of Orwellian hell. It’s just grim drinking to relieve the misery of life there. They drink until they’ve had enough, which is when they slip silently under the table and have to be carted out by the Mukhabarat.

So, what’s the bar scene like now?

I imagine it’s cheerier, though still a bit glum, but I don’t know. Someone should find out.

Sounds like a job for Christopher Hitchens.

Discrediting the ICC

I’m a big fan of bringing dictators to justice. And so in principle I should wholeheartedly endorse the new International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Some of the conservative arguments against it don’t wash, as Randy Paul ably demonstrates. But nothing will discredit it faster than politically motivated accusations like this one.

Tony Blair was accused yesterday of “crimes against humanity” in a lawsuit lodged at the International Criminal Court in The Hague by Greek lawyers.

Say what you will about the Iraq war. Say it wasn’t worth it if you must. Gripe about proceduralism if that’s what you care about most.

But liberating an enslaved people from a genocidal monster is not a crime against humanity. It put an end to crimes against humanity.

Placing bleeding-heart liberals like Tony Blair in the same moral category as Saddam Hussein and Pol Pot won’t garner a whit of sympathy from the United States for any court that might take such arguments seriously.

I think it’s a shame that General Pinochet is still living in his mansion in Chile after he was thrown in the slammer in Britain. And it’s worse that no one got Idi Amin extradited from Saudi Arabia before he died an old man in Jidda. France should be ashamed of itself for letting “Baby Doc” Duvalier move on in.

So, seriously, what kind of moral idiot scans the international scene for the worst criminal elements and zeroes in on Tony Blair after passing over Kim Jong Il, Robert Mugabe, and the rest of them?

I’d love to see an international criminal court that does what it says it will do. But maybe we aren’t grown-up enough yet to make it happen.

Another Left Hawk

Norman Geras has already been linked by Andrew Sullivan so he hardly needs any help from me. But in case you missed the plug, I’ll second it.

Norman is on the right side in the terror war, and I don’t mean “right” as in “conservative.” He isn’t a liberal, either. He’s a leftist.

(I still promise that one of these days I’ll write a nice long essay explaining what I see as the differences between “liberal” and “leftist.” Suffice it to say for now that Norman seems to be part of the Old Left, not the New Left.)

See especially his essay titled The War in Iraq.

The City in Mind

Tonight is date night with Shelly so you won’t get a new essay on my shiny new Web site just yet.

But here’s a great interview with James Howard Kunstler for you. He writes novels and also the best books about American cities I’ve read by anyone. (The Geography of Nowhere and The City in Mind.)

Here’s what you’ll get if you click through the link.

Q – In your recent book “The City in Mind,” you write about the architectural monstrosity that is Boston City Hall. You said that it “looks like the back office of Darth Vader’s Death Star, a brutalist trapezoidal heap of stained beige concrete on a despotic brick podium… windswept, cold, vacant, cruel, petty, bland… a nightmare.” How could a design that’s so obviously *bad* actually get approved and built?

And in answering a different question he gets right to the root of it.

[W]e Americans have a weakness for the idea of the cutting edge, and we’re easily led into mystification. It comes from our hysterical Protestant Puritan national experience, which breaks out every 60 or 70 years, like the Great Awakening in the 1740s, Mormons in 1830s, hippies on 1960s. Americans like to by mystified, and they’re easily impressed by obscurantists, wizards of Oz, people coming from Europe with their funny accents.

In Europe, architecture had social and political content, but when it came to the US it became just a matter of fashion. So you have all the practitioners in the post-war era doing this brutal architecture in which history has been eliminated, and the forms are brutal, and you have an additional problem: our cities are being tyrannized by automobiles. You’re getting a wholesale degradation of public space. In one sense, Americans’ public space is being systematically degraded, and on the other hand, the architecture being used to occupy it is becoming more and more degraded.

This was a main component of the Marxist hoodoo that attached itself to architecture after 1945: in order to be good, it had to shock and appall the bourgeoisie. That’s us, normal educated people. When you say that normal people know that this is bad, they’re reacting appropriately to buildings designed to shock them and injure their sensibilities.

Read it all. Kunstler is equal parts witty and wise.

The Poisoned Fruit of Anti-Americanism

No more do I want to hear that Europeans are more sophisticated than Americans.

Here’s the latest.

BERLIN, July 23 (Reuters) – Almost one in three Germans below the age of 30 believes the U.S. government may have sponsored the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, according to a poll published on Wednesday.

In Europe the lunatic fringe is going mainstream.

Maddening as this is, I really do worry for them. I’m beginning to think something terrible might happen over there.

I have an American friend who lives in Belgium, and he recently came by for a visit. I asked him why he thinks Europe is becoming such a dark place all of a sudden, and I must admit I wasn’t prepared for his answer.

He said Europe has always been a dark place and it hasn’t changed at all.

UPDATE: A couple of readers emailed and accused me of hyperbole. Fair enough. This German conspiracy theory isn’t the mainstream.

Even so, I don’t think it’s right to compare German gullibility to American gullibility by pointing out, for example, that lots of Americans falsely believe Saddam Hussein was involved with the September 11 attacks.

There is a qualitative difference between believing Saddam was behind an attack on America and believing that the American government was behind an attack on America.

It is at least plausible that Saddam had something to do with it, even though he didn’t. The idea that the US government committed that deed is insane.

The New Digs

Welcome to the new site.

As you can see, I now have a Comments section so you can flail me in public instead of only by email.

The site is brand-new so let me know if you see any kinks that need to be ironed out.

I spent all evening building this sucker so I don’t have time for any new postings just yet. But I transferred the past few days worth of posts from the old site in case you missed them.

I know it’s annoying, but you’ll need to reset your bookmarks and blog links. Sorry about that. But hey, the Web address is easier to remember now. It’s just michaeltotten.com. (I did not include my middle initial. Just my first and last name.)

Regular posting will resume as soon as possible.

Thanks, everyone, for reading. Cheers.

(Who’s going to be the first to leave a comment? Come on, folks. Don’t start me off with a troll here…)

Why the Hitch Beats the Rest

Here’s a snip from an interview with Christopher Hitchens, just back from Iraq.

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, VANITY FAIR: Well, I had been there earlier this year in late March, in fact, on the southern border, briefly. And I remember then that the whole mind set of the press, you may remember it, was that it was a quagmire. It is a better story. Remember that week when Donald Rumsfeld seemed to have lost the plot? Most of my colleagues thought, “Well, that reads better.” And I remember that mentality when I was there recently. I was in north and south and central Iraq. The press is still investing itself, it seems to me, in a sort of cynicism. It comes out better for them if they can predict hard times, bogging down, sniping, attrition.

And so if no one is willing to take the gamble, as they see it, of saying actually that it’s going a lot better than it is, but it is. It’s quite extraordinary to see the way that American soldiers are welcomed. To see the work that they’re doing and not just rolling up these filthy networks of Baathists and Jihaddists, but building schools, opening soccer stadiums, helping people connect to the Internet, there is a really intelligent political program as well as a very tough military one.

GIBSON: You know, Christopher, we never hear about that.

HITCHENS: No.

GIBSON: Are they really rebuilding the schools, and rebuilding hospitals and rebuilding soccer …

HITCHENS: I’m serious. I don’t consider myself to be that credulous. I’m very sales resistant, in fact. In Mosul where I was, I left too early. I left on Monday early. If I waited 12 hours, I could have been there [when Uday and Qusay were killed]. But they weren’t just very confident about the amount of information they were being given and the number of informers and tips that were coming to them. They had more, they told me, than they could sift about that. But one of the palaces, for example, that Saddam built, he’d stolen the land for from Mosul University.

Mosul is the site of a very famous old Iraqi university. The American forces were refurbishing the place. They were going to tear down some of the outer walls, give this palace to the university. They’d also connected the university to the Internet and to the Web. Helped people contact scholars on the outside world. That was all the job of these very good- humored, very thoughtful officers who were really helping to rebuild the place.

GIBSON: You know, Christopher …

HITCHENS: I felt a sense of annoyance that I had to go there myself to find any of that out.

Read the rest.

Egypt Loves Sharon?

I wonder what backroom pressure led to this.

CAIRO – Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said on Saturday Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was the only Israeli politician capable of forging peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

“If he has the desire for a solution, I think he is the only one, and I don’t think there is anybody else apparent on the Israeli political scene,” said Mubarak, whose country has played a major role in Israeli-Palestinian peace making.

Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. I doubt it, but I don’t know. It’s not very likely that Hosni Mubarak believes it. But he said so to a group of Egyptian students in Alexandria.

Did somebody have a nice little chat about the 2 billion dollars in aid money we give Egypt every year?

The Two Faces of American Liberalism

Bill Whittle:

Two of the most malignant and cruel mass murderers, rapists and torturers to ever walk the earth have departed the planet — and the left sneers. [I added this link. -MT]

There was a time — I can remember it clearly, though it seems a lifetime ago — when “liberals” were people who fought for humanity and human rights, people who despised murder and torture. Now, wherever we look, the people who call themselves the most “liberal” seem to be the sole remaining defenders of murder, rape and torture.

Joe Katzman:

The results of our contest to find liberals who were actually happy about Uday and Qusay Hussein’s death are in, and I’m pleased to report that many self-identified liberals did indeed have worthy things to say.

They’re both right. Some sneered, others cheered.

Joe has a list of links to those who know who the bad guys are, including yours truly.

Thanks, Joe. And thanks to the rest who know who and what to cheer for.

UPDATE: Some people are more defensive than necessary. Hesiod Theogony writes:

Hey Mike,

I’d appreciate it if you publicly apologizing for, essentially, calling me a “defender[] of murder, rape and torture.”

If you had taken more than three seconds to read my blog [and many posts on it] you’d know that was absolutely untrue. Especially the particular post you link to.

I am assumming you are completely ignorant about what I posted, and what I stand for, so am just asking you politely to stop mischaracterizing that link to me you have on your blog, and to apologize for unfairly labelling me a “defender of murder, rape and torture.”

Not only that, for the sake of your own credibility, it makes sense. When people click on that link, and read what I actually wrote, they will not think very highly of your powers of description or honesty.

So, if you don’t want to do it out of common courtesy, do it out of your own self-interest.

Thanks.

–Hesiod

Hesiod: I added that link because you sneered, not because I think you defended murderers. (You did not defend Uday and Qusay.) The link text says “the left sneers,” which is exactly what you did.

Enemy Propaganda

During the Iraq war I raised the eyebrows of some of my friends when I bluntly described the Arabic language TV station Al Jazeera as “enemy propaganda.”

Here’s what Iraqi blogger Salam Pax says about Al Jazeera today.

I still have hopes for the day they catch Saddam. Maybe we will have our street party then.

And I would like to add that Jazeera is the worst ever. They should be banned under Mullah Bremer’s Fatwa banning all pro-saddam/pro-ba’ath propaganda. That political analyst they have, something al-ani, is a fucking saddamite.

Thank you.

The Globalization of Gaza

I have a new Tech Central Station article up today: The Globalization of Gaza.

Quote of the Day

From Merde in France who blogs from, well, France of course.

Remember Americans, you are hated here. Hated more than the worst terrorists and murderers.

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