An American in Germany Amis in Deutschland San Francisco Kassel Hessen Hesse Hessia

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Compare and contrast: Andrew Sullivan vs. Victor Davis Hanson

It's amazing when you compare an essay like this one from Andrew Sullivan with one by fellow conservative Victor Davis Hanson. Both are excellent writers of course. What sets them apart is that AS actually takes an honest interest in describing the actual state of affairs in Iraq, no matter how painful it may be and can admit obvious mistakes without abandoning his faith in the mission. VDH, on the other hand, is clearly more interested in becoming the next Thucydides writing the official history of the Peloponnesian war of our times. He, like so many of my now estranged conservative brothers choose instead to play the role of propagandist and perky cheerleader convinced that this war is like many other great ones before it, that it does not in any way resemble. It's sad what happens when good people confuse giving up with necessary self criticism; the kind of criticism that is absolutely necessary when mistakes are made and things don't go as planned. It becomes downright self-destructive when good people become more concerned with how their political enemies will benefit by such criticism than trying to better the situation they themselves got us all into. We need more like Andrew Sullivan on our side. To the VDH's out there: wake up! Self Criticism is good, macho even, and much easier than trying to convince us that the Emperor is sporting his best Hugo Boss.

What I Got Wrong About the War
As conservatives pour out their regrets, I have a few of my own to confess

Mar. 13, 2006
Was I wrong to support the war in Iraq? Several conservatives and neoconservatives have begun to renounce the decision to topple Saddam Hussein three years ago. William F. Buckley Jr., as close to a conservative icon as America has, recently wrote that "one can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed." George F. Will has been a moderate skeptic throughout. Neoconservative scholar Francis Fukuyama has just produced a book renouncing his previous support. The specter of Iraq teetering closer to civil war and disintegration has forced a reckoning.

In retrospect, neoconservatives (and I fully include myself) made three huge errors. The first was to overestimate the competence of government, especially in very tricky areas like WMD intelligence. The shock of 9/11 provoked an overestimation of the risks we faced. And our fear forced errors into a deeply fallible system. When doubts were raised, they were far too swiftly dismissed. The result was the WMD intelligence debacle, something that did far more damage to the war's legitimacy and fate than many have yet absorbed.

Fukuyama's sharpest insight here is how the miraculously peaceful end of the cold war lulled many of us into overconfidence about the inevitability of democratic change, and its ease. We got cocky. We should have known better. The second error was narcissism. America's power blinded many of us to the resentments that hegemony always provokes. Those resentments are often as deep among our global friends as among our enemies--and make alliances as hard as they are important. That is not to say we should never act unilaterally. Sometimes the right thing to do will spawn backlash, and we should do it anyway. But that makes it all the more imperative that when we do go out on a limb, we get things right. In those instances, we need to make our margin of error as small as humanly possible. Too many in the Bush Administration, alas, did the opposite. They sent far too few troops, were reckless in postinvasion planning and turned a deaf ear to constructive criticism, even from within their own ranks. Their abdication of the moral high ground, by allowing the abuse and torture of military detainees, is repellent. Their incompetence and misjudgments might be forgiven. Their arrogance and obstinacy remain inexcusable.

The final error was not taking culture seriously enough. There is a large discrepancy between neoconservatism's skepticism of government's ability to change culture at home and its naiveté when it comes to complex, tribal, sectarian cultures abroad.

We have learned a tough lesson, and it has been a lot tougher for those tens of thousands of dead, innocent Iraqis and several thousand killed and injured American soldiers than for a few humiliated pundits. The correct response to that is not more spin but a real sense of shame and sorrow that so many have died because of errors made by their superiors, and by writers like me. All this is true, and it needs to be faced. But it is also true that we are where we are. And true that there was no easy alternative three years ago. You'd like Saddam still in power, with our sanctions starving millions while U.N. funds lined the pockets of crooks and criminals? At some point the wreckage that is and was Iraq would have had to be dealt with. If we hadn't invaded, at some point in the death spiral of Saddam's disintegrating Iraq, others would. It is also true that it is far too soon to know the ultimate outcome of our gamble.

What we do know is that for all our mistakes, free elections have been held in a largely Arab Muslim country. We know that the Kurds in the north enjoy freedoms and a nascent civil society that is a huge improvement on the past. We know that the culture of the marsh Arabs in the south is beginning to revive. We know that we have given Iraqis a chance to decide their own destiny through politics rather than murder and that civil war is still avoidable. We know that the enemies of democracy in Iraq will not stop there if they succeed. And we know that no perfect war has ever been fought, and no victory ever won, without the risk of defeat. Despair, in other words, is too easy now. And it too is a form of irresponsibility.

Regrets? Yes. But the certainty of some today that we have failed is as dubious as the callow triumphalism of yesterday. War is always, in the end, a matter of flexibility and will. And sometimes the darkest days are inevitable--even necessary--before the sky ultimately clears. Visit Andrew Sullivan's blog, the Daily Dish, at

From VDH - Take Your pick

My Main Man in Guanajuato gets Famous! (Sort of)

My alter ego in Mexico got his "View From My Window" picture on Andrew Sullivan!

Monday, October 31, 2005

The Jews are at it again . . .

Saturday, October 29, 2005

European Love Advice - Courtesy of "The Onion"

In honor of the onion and one of my favorite news stories of all time I am proud to present . . .

European Men Are So Much More Romantic Than American Men

An essay by Alyssa Lerner Junior, Boston University

I just got back from a semester abroad in Europe, and let me tell you, it truly was the most magical, amazing experience of my entire life. The French countryside was like something out of a storybook, the Roman ruins were magnificent, and the men, well, European men are by far the most romantic in the world.

You American men all think you're so suave and sophisticated. Well, think again! European men make you look like the immature, inexperienced little children you are. They really know how to make a woman feel special over there. Unlike the so-called men here in the States, European men know how to treat a woman right.

For one thing, European men aren't afraid to come up and talk to you. And they know how to start slow, with a nice cup of Italian espresso or a long walk on some historic street. They know the places you can't find in any tourist guide. They know the whole history of the cities in which they live—who the fountains are named after, who the statues are.

I remember one unforgettable night in Athens, I sat and listened to a Greek sailor for hours as he told me about the countless men who fought over Helen back in ancient times. Afterward, he told me he loved his homeland even more now that he'd seen it through my eyes. I ask you, would an American man ever say something as deep and beautiful as that?

European men know the most romantic little cafés and bistros and trattorias, candlelit places where you can be alone and drink the most fantastic wine. They tell you what's on the menu and what you should try. (If it wasn't for a certain young man in Milan, I never would have discovered fusilli a spinaci et scampi.) And the whole time, they're looking deep into your eyes, like you're the only woman on the entire planet. What woman could resist a man like that? Then, after a moonlit stroll along the waterfront and a kiss in the doorway of their artist's loft, you find yourself unable to—well, I'll leave the rest to your imagination.

I'll never forget my magical semester abroad. One thing's for sure—I'm ruined for American men forever!

American Women Studying in Europe Are Unbelieveably Easy

By Giovanni Di Salvi

I'm a 25-year-old carpenter living in Rome, and I don't mind telling you that I get all the action I can handle. I'm not all that handsome or well-dressed, and I'm certainly not rich. In fact, my Italian countrywomen could take me or leave me. But that's just fine, because Rome gets loads of tourist traffic, and American co-eds traveling through Europe are without a doubt the easiest lays in the world.

Being European gives me a hell of an advantage. I'm not sure why, but there's something about the accent that opens a lot of doors. All you have to do is go up to them, act a little shy and say, "Whould hyou like to go with me, Signorina, for a café?" I actually have to thicken up my accent a little, but they never, ever catch on.

After a cheap coffee, which to them always tastes better than anything they've ever had, because they're in Europe, it's time to walk them. Now, all they know about Rome is what they've read in Let's Go, so you can pretty much just make up a whole bunch of shit. It's fun to see how much they'll swallow: As long as I refer to Italy as "my homeland" and other Italians as "my people," they'll believe pretty much anything. I don't know who most of the local statues are, so I tell the muffins they're all great artists and poets and lovers. Once, just for the hell of it, I told a psychology major from the University of Maryland that a public staircase was part of the Spanish Steps, which she'd never even heard of. Another time, I told this blonde from Michigan State that the public library was the Parthenon, and she cooed like I'd just given her a diamond.

For dinner, I usually take them to some cheap little hole in the wall, someplace deserted where not even the cops eat. American girls think candlelight means "romance," not "deteriorating public utilities," so they just poke their nipples through their J. Crew sweaters and never notice that there's no electricity. Just as well, because Roman restaurants aren't exactly the cleanest. After a bunch of fast-talk about the menu, I get them the special, which is usually some anonymous pasta with spinach and day-old shrimp, and whatever cheap, generic, Pope's-blood chianti's at the bottom of the list.

By this time, they're usually standing in a slippery little puddle. Going in for the kill, I walk them past one of Rome's famous 2,000-year-old open cesspools. Then, as we open the door to my shitty efficiency, I kiss them on the eyelids so they don't see the roaches, making sure the first thing they see is the strategically positioned artist's easel I bought at some church sale. That's usually all they need to see and, like clockwork, they fall backwards on my bed with their Birkenstocks in the air.

I mean, they're hardly Italian women, but we have a saying here in Europe: Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Colby Buzzell - Justice

When I first started blogging, a while back, I must admit I was very taken by a blog called CBFTW “My War.” In all honesty he really was a big reason I started doing it myself to begin with.

In honor of Colby Buzzell, whose BOOK just came out and I just received from Amazon two days ago, I thought I would re-post something I wrote about CBFTW way back in the day. I think it’s worth a re-read as although the blog is all but dead (a large part of the archive is still online) my comments also go for the book, which I am reading now.

The book out now is Called “My War: Killing Time in Iraq” by Colby Buzzell, a SF Bay Area boy. When I heard he had a book coming out, I thought I would do my best to feed my Jones for more of his writing while supporting the success of someone with talent who deserves a every bit of recognition and $$$ he gets.

His success renews my faith is the concept of justice.

The Best Blog on the Web – One other thing that you might find worth a few minutes of your time in case you haven’t checked it out already is the link below to a Blog I came across a few months back. It’s written by a young soldier from San Francisco who is stationed in Mosul, Iraq in a ‘Stryker’ brigade and sees action (in it’s many connotations) often.

The fact that he gets shot at everyday is not the most interesting part, however. What makes this blog extraordinary is he writes about these events as well as mundane daily life with a rawness, clarity and naïveté that channels the events to us through a particularly American and very Californian point of view, complete with 'dudeonic' remarks. His references range from ‘that Gym teacher on Beavis and Butthead that says ‘kick me in the jimmy’ to Che Guevara.”

In other words, through his vivid, train-of-thought commentary, he humanizes and colors normally inexplicable events that most often end up in our collective daily realities as a monotone headline or watered-down seven second report on CNN of ‘two insurgents killed,’ ‘a bomb here,’ a mortar attack there,’ etc. . .

But leave both your Rush Limbaugh dittohead hats or Michael Moore fan club cards at home (please do that anyway and think for yourselves instead), as street-smart as Colby Buzzell (the blogger) may be, he is about as non-political as you can get. In fact if you read closely, many of his blogs are about him trying to figure the whole thing out, which he clearly hasn’t done yet. In others he clearly doesn't give a shit he just wants to survive and have a good time along the way.

He calls it likes he sees it, so just take it for what it is. Besides his perceptive writing, what makes his accounts different is that he doesn’t share events from some distant past, with the benefit of hindsight, and years of contemplation, but he tells us of events in the sometimes equally far-off and unknowable present in Iraq, adrenaline still pumping through his veins from a firefight earlier in the day as he types to us. Through his words we get the tiniest glimpse of what life is really like for those guys and gals over there. And it’s pretty damn funny too. Check this out:

The Soccer Fatwa - Have Monty Python Gone Imam?

I thought Monty Python had broken up. But apparently, they're just in hiding, disguised as Muslim clerics. Funny Shit. - Thanks to my Favorite Mexican - Ken for this one.

God Is in the Rules - Sharia on the Field


Published: October 16, 2005, NYT's

Fatwas, the legal opinions proclaimed by Islamic scholars, have proliferated in the Muslim world since the 1980's, driven by rising literacy rates and the Internet. The growth in fatwas - some of them contradictory - has led to a debate over who can legitimately issue them and has alarmed governments in the Middle East, since the decrees sometimes challenge state-sanctioned interpretations of Islam.

Yet criticizing fatwas about divisive issues like the propriety of killing civilians and Shiites can be dangerous for officials. So the Saudi government is trying a different tactic, zeroing in on what it considers frivolous fatwas in order to rally support for tougher measures on who can and who cannot issue opinions. Recently, Al Watan, a semiofficial Saudi daily newspaper, reported that a young athlete had joined the jihad in Iraq under the influence of a fatwa forbidding playing soccer by regular rules. The newspaper also republished the fatwa, said to have originally appeared on an Islamic Web site. Portions of the fatwa, which I translated from the Arabic, follow:
IN the name of God the merciful and benevolent:

1. Play soccer without four lines because this is a fabrication of the heretics' international rules that stipulate using them and delineating them before playing.

2. International terminology that heretics and polytheists use, like "foul," "penalty," "corner," "goal," "out" and others, should be abandoned and not said. Whoever says them should be punished, reprimanded and ejected from the game. He should be publicly told, "You have imitated the heretics and polytheists and this is forbidden."

3. Do not call "foul" and stop the game if someone falls and sprains a hand or foot or the ball touches his hand, and do not give a yellow or red card to whoever was responsible for the injury or tackle. Instead, it should be adjudicated according to Sharia rulings concerning broken bones and injuries. The injured player should exercise his Sharia rights according to the Koran and you must bear witness with him that so-and-so hurt him on purpose.

4. Do not follow the heretics, the Jews, the Christians and especially evil America regarding the number of players. Do not play with 11 people. Instead, add to this number or decrease it.

5. Play in your regular clothes or your pajamas or something like that, but not colored shorts and numbered T-shirts, because shorts and T-shirts are not Muslim clothing. Rather they are heretical and Western clothing, so beware of imitating their fashion.

6. If you have fulfilled these conditions and intend to play soccer, play to strengthen the body in order to better struggle in the way of God on high and to prepare the body for when it is called to jihad. Soccer is not for passing time or the thrill of so-called victory.

7. Do not set the time of play at 45 minutes, which is the official time of the Jews, Christians and all the heretical and atheist countries. This is the time used by teams that have strayed from the righteous path. You are obliged to distinguish yourself from the heretics and the corrupted and must not resemble them in anything.

8. Do not play in two halves. Rather play in one half or three halves in order to completely differentiate yourselves from the heretics, the polytheists, the corrupted and the disobedient.

9. If neither of you beats the other, or "wins" as it is called, and neither puts the leather between the posts, do not add extra time or penalties until someone wins. No, instead leave the field, because winning with overtime and penalty kicks is the pinnacle of imitating heretics and international rules.

10. If you play soccer, do not appoint someone to follow you called a "referee," since there is no need for him after doing away with international rules like "foul," "penalty," "corner" and others. His presence would be in imitation of the heretics, Jews and Christians and would follow international rules.

11. Young crowds should not gather to watch when you play because if you are there for the sake of sports and strengthening your bodies as you claimed, why would people watch you? You should make them join your physical fitness and jihad preparation, or you should say: "Go proselytize and seek out morally reprehensible acts in the markets and the press and leave us to our physical fitness."

12. If you finish playing soccer, do not talk about your game and say, "We were better than the opponent," or "So-and-so plays well" and so on. Instead be concerned with your bodies and their strength and muscles, and say, "We played only to drill in running, attacking and retreating, and to prepare for jihad in the name of God on high."

13. You should spit in the face of whoever puts the ball between the posts or uprights and then runs in order to get his friends to follow him and hug him like players in America or France do, and you should punish and reprimand him, for what is the relationship between celebrating, hugging and kissing and the sports that you are practicing?

14. You should use two posts instead of three pieces of wood or steel that you erect in order to put the ball between them, meaning that you should remove the crossbar in order not to imitate the heretics and in order to be entirely distinct from the soccer system's despotic international rules.

15. Do not do what is called "substitution," that is, taking the place of someone who has fallen, because this is a practice of the heretics in America and elsewhere.
These are some conditions and precepts so that morally aware youth do not inadvertently imitate heretics and polytheists when playing soccer ... Hell awaits those who die playing soccer according to rules established by heretical countries, at the head of which is America.

Geoff D. Porter directs Middle East and North Africa analysis at a political risk consulting firm.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Bullshitsphere

My best Buddy, an Expat in Mexico, just sent me this. We have been privately blogging to each other (it used to be called writing letters to each other) about my previous post “State of the Blogosphere,” and how ‘truth’ has become an anachronism, especially in today’s Blogosphere. This is also what I really had in mind when I named my blog “Agitpropolis” actually - I think this word better describes the state of the “Blogosphere” and it’s offspring than any pre-existing English word – an illimitable virtual Orwellian civilization whose sole occupation is politics but whose citizens ignore truth while treating agitprop as if it were the truth itself.

Anyway, I think what he writes is so right on, I’ll post to here:

“ . . . the major problem with "news" these days is that it doesn't exist. It's been almost entirely supplanted by blog, by talk radio opinion, by official propaganda, by infotainment, by soft-peddled corporate sponsored least-common-denominator human interest stories, etc etc. Of course, there's never been such a thing as "objective news" because objectivity is ultimately unattainable.

But I think there was at least, in the not so distant past, the IDEA that objectivity was attainable, and that it was the job of newsmen to strive towards an objective accounting of the real world. Even when Hunter S. went off the journalistic reservation, so to speak, it was in pursuit of getting CLOSER to an authentic truth about events. Now, everything is about spin and agendas and ratings.

In a word, it's all about bullshit. I use that word specifically because I was just reading another article about the philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt, who most famous treatise is on Bullshit. He writes, quite perceptively I think, that "It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it."

The bullshit artist, on the other hand, cares nothing for truth or falsehood. The only thing that matters to him is "getting away with what he says or advancing his cause" An advertiser or a politician or talk show host given to bullshit "does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all." (Read: it’s irrelevant to him)

And this makes him, Mr. Frankfurt says, potentially more harmful than any liar, because a culture that accepts bullshit as the norm is a culture in danger of rejecting "the possibility of knowing how things truly are." The article incisively concludes: "It follows that any form of political argument or intellectual analysis or commercial appeal is only as legitimate, and true, as it is persuasive. There is no other court of appeal."

. . . the idea of looking for facts and reporting them doesn't really seem to exist now very much. In fact, it seems like it's been discredited, viewed as a suckers' game. That by itself probably explains why most youth now get their "news" from the Daily Show. The youth recognize that since ALL news is now just spin, it's better to go to the place where the spin is right on the surface, where the agenda is obvious. That way you can, by inference, at least piece together a little bit of what the truth might be.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

California's New Language - Austro-English

The Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger has some important matters he would like to clear up now that the US Presidential election is over and "W" has returned from his European adventure.

First on his list of priorities: We will soon have a new language in California.

Subject: Austrionics

The California Governor has just announced an agreement whereby English will become the official language of the state, rather than German, which was the other possibility under consideration.

The Terminator's Government has realized that English spelling has some room for improvement and has accepted a 5-year phase-in plan that would become known as "Austro-English" (or, perhaps even better, Austrionics .).

In the first year, "s" will replace the soft "c". Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard "c" will be dropped in favour of the "k". This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards
kan have one less letter.

There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced with the "f". This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter.

In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling
kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible.

Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent "e" in the languag is disgrasful and it should go away.

By the 4th yer peopl wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" with "z" and "w" with "v".

During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaining "ou" and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensibl riten styl.

Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru.

If zis mad yu smil, pleas pas on a lenk to zis vebsit to oza pepl.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Hats off to the Irish

God bless the friggin Irish. First they save the last remnants of classical civilization from the barbarian hordes in the Early Middle Ages and now this. As the bartenders from my favorite Irish haunts in San Francisco used to say (about the English language) The English invented it, the Americans fucked it up but the Irish perfected it. How true.

Irish Radio Call

A Cork Radio Station (in Ireland), 96 FM, was running a competition to find contestants who could come up with words that were not found in any English Dictionary yet could still use these words in a sentence that would make logical sense. The prize was a trip to Bali for a week. The DJ, Neil, had many callers; the following two standing out:

DJ: 96FM, what's your name?
Caller: Hi, me name's Dave.
DJ: Dave, what is your word?
Caller: Goan spelt G O A N, pronounced "go-an"
DJ: We are just checking that (pause) and you are correct, Dave, Goan is certainly a word not found in the English Dictionary. Now the next question, for a trip for two to
Bali, is, what sentence can you use that in that would make logical sense?
Caller: Goan fuck yourself!

At this point the DJ cuts the caller short and announces that there is no place for that sort of language on a family show. After many more unsuccessful calls the DJ takes the following caller:

DJ: 96FM, what's your name?
Caller: Hi, me name's Jeff.
DJ: Jeff, what is your word?
Caller: Smee spelt S M E E, pronounced "smee".
DJ: We are checking that (pause) and you are correct, Jeff, Smee is certainly a word not found in the English Dictionary. Now the next question, for a trip for two to
Bali, is, what sentence can you use that in that would make logical sense?
Caller: Smee again! Goan fuck yourself