February 29, 2004

Dean is Nader

Roger L. Simon speculated a while back that Howard Dean never really wanted to be president. I found Roger’s psychoanalysis intriguing but also a bit much. It was just a gut feeling sort of thing, impossible to back up with hard evidence.

I can't imagine McGovern reacting to the capture of Saddam by saying it didn't make America safer. This is one of the more tin-eared remarks I can remember ever being made by someone running for the Presidency.

So why then did Dean say this? Although he's no genius (few in politics are), he's plenty intelligent to realize that the vast American middle (the voters who finally elect the President) would roll their eyes at this comment. Why didn't he say what a normal politican, even a normal person, would say under these dramatic circumstances? It may be that, as Novak indicates, he has simply gotten himself in an impossible box (but there are various ways he could have deflected the situation). Or it may be that deep down Dean does not want to be elected.

Turns out, he was right.

Howard Kurtz says as much in the Washington Post.

In different conversations and in different ways, according to several people who worked with him, Dean said at the peak of his popularity late last year that he never expected to rise so high, that he didn't like the intense scrutiny, that he had just wanted to make a difference. "I don't care about being president," he said. Months earlier, as his candidacy was taking off, he told a colleague: "The problem is, I'm now afraid I might win."
So Dean was Ralph Nader. At least on some level. He wanted to pull the Democrats to the left, and didn’t really want the responsibility that comes with being the president. (No doubt Nader never thought he would win.)

I voted for Ralph Nader in the last election, though I certainly won’t do it again this time. I was as frustrated with Clinton and Gore as the next person, but I had no desire whatever to vote for George W. Bush. I’ll admit that one of the reasons I pulled the lever for Nader was to punish the Democrats for being lame. (I also didn’t expect Bush to win, or I surely would have voted for Gore.)

I like to think I’ve changed since 2000. I won’t be supporting this year’s Ralph Nader (not the real one or the one from Vermont), but I have to admit my desire to punish the Democrats once again for being lame. Only this time the lameness is of a different variety. A vote for Nader was supposed to be a vote for Bush. So perhaps I haven’t changed at all and I’m just reverting to form.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:12 PM

February 26, 2004

Digging Holes

Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Florida) dug one heckuva hole.

She ripped into Bush’s policy on Haiti and called it “racist” (for some inexplicable reason) and said his administration is “a bunch of white men.”

Last I checked, Colin Powell was not a white man. Condoleeza Rice isn’t even a man, let alone a white one.

Oh, but it’s plenty worse than that.

Her outburst was directed at Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega during a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill. Noriega, a Mexican-American, is the State Department's top official for Latin America.
Now. Anyone who has visited Latin America knows it isn’t a racially homogenous place. Argentina, for example, is more caucasian than the United States. Mexico is much less so, but still there are white Mexicans, just as there are white Mexican-Americans.

But it doesn’t look as though Mr. Noriega is one of them.

Noriega later told Brown: "As a Mexican-American, I deeply resent being called a racist and branded a white man," according to three participants.
It’s always a good idea to remember the First Rule of Holes. When you’re in one, stop digging.
Brown then told him "you all look alike to me," the participants said.
Rep. Brown hasn’t studied that rule. Someone ought to help her out after she apologizes.

And perhaps while she’s at it she could spend a few minutes brushing up on foreign policy so she doesn’t drag the Democratic Party further into the hole it dug for itself. The First Rule of Holes applies to political parties as well as to people.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:07 PM

Required Reading

Read Sullivan now.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:19 PM

February 25, 2004

Freedom and its Discontents

Like Andrew Sullivan, Sheila O’Malley, and Roger L. Simon, I am frustrated but not at all surprised by George Bush’s support for a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage forever.

The very idea of using our Constitution the ban anything is viscerally repulsive to me, especially when we’re talking about the harmless pursuit of happiness.

You don’t have the freedom to rape and murder and steal, nor should you. That is universal. We do not, or at least I should say that we should not, limit the freedom of our citizens unless that freedom will be used to harm another. That is revolutionary.

Neither side in our binary political system gets it quite right. Some on the left, when they can, won’t let you smoke in restaurants or voice your opinion on campus. A large swath of the left was content to let Iraqis rot for the rest of their lives in a totalitarian dungeon.

Many people on the right really do want to tell me what I can and cannot do in my own bedroom. They would, if they could, force my children (if I had any) to pray to their God in school.

On some days I feel pulled to the left, and on other days I feel pushed to the right. It mostly depends on what’s in the news that day. Today I’m feeling left.

As frustrating as this is, there is an upside. There is a Glass Half Full way of looking at it.

When I find myself wishing we had a political party that consistently stood for freedom and against authoritarianism so that I might find a home there, I remember that our political system is binary. If one of our parties were truly liberal (broadly speaking), that would mean that the other would necessarily be an anti-liberal party. Freedom wouldn’t be an American value after all. It would only be a sectarian partisan value. And if that were the case, we’d be looking at civil war.

The left specializes in promoting certain kinds of freedom. And the right chooses to focus on different varieties. They balance and make up for the blind spots of the other. It’s not a bad system, really. But it’s awfully disconcerting to be in the middle of the vortex.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum points out that Bush supports five new Constitutional amendments, not just the gay marriage ban.

He really seems to think the constitution is just a rough draft, doesn't he?
Just think. If every president supported five new amendments and they all passed, how many would we have?

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:54 PM

February 24, 2004

Bush and Gay Marriage

Well, he did it. George W. Bush decided it's a good idea to use the U.S. Consitution to deny freedom to American citizens.

I wish I had time to write about this in detail tonight, but I don't. So let me send you over to Sheila O'Malley. She said it for me.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:58 PM

February 23, 2004

Outing the Jewish “Cabal”

Yesterday I took aim at Kalle Lasn, the editor of Adbusters magazine, for cheerleading the mayhem of World War IV.

I’m not finished with him yet.

His newest editorial is even worse than the last one. The title says it all: Why won't anyone say they are Jewish?

Let’s just pause a moment before wading into it.

It hardly matters who he means by “they” in the title. “They” are a group of people who, for whatever reason, Mr. Lasn thinks need to be “outed.” Here he is posing as the brave writer bucking the tyranny of political correctness to tell the truth that others dare not say. “They” are Jews. As if this means something important. Aha! he expects his readers to think. They’re Jews. That explains it.

“They,” by the way, are neoconservative intellectuals. Or, I should say, “they” are half the people on his list of neoconservatives. He has a tidy list of 50 people he labels as neocons. He penciled in a little dot next to all the Jewish names. At least he didn’t use a yellow star.

He admits it’s difficult to categorize neoconservatives because some of them, as he says, deny the label. Still, he doesn’t list his criteria. He just names names. Some of those on his list are not at all neoconservative. Gary Bauer? He’s a staunch religious rightist. Jonah Goldberg? He’s just a plain old conservative.

The fact that he doesn’t know a neocon from any other kind of conservative isn’t surprising. Few people do, and this vagueness is perhaps the biggest enabler of the lurid conspiracy theories out there. (If you’re unsure what neoconservatism is and if you genuinely want to know, you can read about it in the Weekly Standard from the godfather of the movement himself, Irving Kristol. The word “Jew” does not appear in his essay.)

Anyway, Mr. Lasn thinks it’s important that half the people on his list of neoconservatives are Jewish. And why does he think this is important? They “do not distinguish enough between American and Israeli interests,” he says. “For example, whose interests were they protecting in pushing for war in Iraq?”

This is one of the world’s oldest anti-Semitic slurs. For centuries Europeans suspected Jews of placing their loyalty to their ethnic “tribe” above whichever community they happened to be living in.

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Mr. Lasn’s loyalty charge does not have an anti-Semitic pedigree, that he’s the first person in history to make this accusation.

It’s still awfully peculiar. Anyone who bothers to trace the ancestry of my last name will learn that my family came to America from England. Yet no one has ever accused me of disloyalty to my country because I support Britain and think of the British as allies. There are two obvious reasons for that. First of all, there isn’t much of a stigma attached to having English ancestry. More important, it’s simply a fact that Britain is an ally of the United States. So it’s perfectly normal that I personally recognize Britain as an ally and care about her interests and well-being.

But it’s also simply a fact that Israel is an ally of the United States. Most Americans, and not just Jewish Americans, sympathize with Israel. There’s nothing odd or mysterious about that. Israel is a Western democracy. And Americans naturally sympathize with Israel because she is also a victim of the Islamofascist jihad. So of course neoconservatives, Jewish or otherwise, sympathize with Israel. It would be downright bizarre if they didn’t.

All this is outside the fact that regime-change in Iraq had nothing whatever to do with advancing Israel’s foreign policy. Saddam Hussein was nowhere near the top of Israel’s list of problems. The PLO, Hamas, Yasser Arafat’s Fatah, Hezbollah, the Iranian mullahcracy, and the Baathist regime in Syria are and have been far bigger problems for Israel than Iraq is or has ever been. If Israel called the shots in American foreign policy, or if our own defense team were acting out some “ethnic solidarity” adventure in the Middle East, the US would have invaded Syria, Lebanon, Iran, or the West Bank. Saddam would still be in power, and Yasser Arafat, Bashir Assad or some other tin pot jerk would be awaiting his trial instead.

Kalle Lasn isn’t left with much of an excuse for his list of Jews. He says he’s not anti-Semitic, and he very well may not be, at least not consciously. The thing is, he doesn’t need to be. Whether or not he’s the type of guy who lays awake in the middle of the night fretting about Joooooooos, or whether he’s just a left-wing hack with a kooky axe to grind, the fact remains that he’s repeating the ZOG propaganda of white supremacists. And he’s doing it in a left-wing magazine with the expectation that his readers will eat it up.

(Thanks to my old friend Karrie Higgins for pointing this out to me.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:07 PM

February 22, 2004

The Decline and Fall of Adbusters Magazine

A few years ago I was a big fan of Adbusters magazine. I loved the way it mimicked the obnoxious manipulation techniques of TV and magazine ads and flung it all right back at ’em. The skewering of shallow consumer culture really struck a chord with me.

After 9-11 I put this project on my own back burner. It was suddenly all so trivial. The writers, designers, and editors of the magazine must have sensed what they were doing was getting shunted off to the side by momentous events. So they ramped it up. They pushed their previously mild subversion into overdrive.

The current issues of Adbusters would have turned me off even then.

Here are some excerpts from a current piece by the editor Kalle Lasn. It’s called World War IV.

It has come down to this: a fight to the finish against the evil forces of capital that would wage a terror upon terror upon terror without end.
The evil forces of capital? I don’t remember the old Adbusters ever publishing sentences like this. Kalle Lasn has previously written that he has a visceral hatred of Communism. That wasn't so hard to believe. He’s from Estonia and knows Communism up close and personal. But it looks like some of the propaganda got hard-wired into his brain.
In time we will learn to modulate our resistance — to raise it to the point where airport-type security systems are needed just to let customers into stores, until the daily pain and cost of doing business as usual becomes simply too high to bear.
In other words, he wants to terrorize his community.
Then, at our pleasure, we will lower our resistance to reward the concessions being made.
Well that’s nice. At least he still has some sense of restraint. Let’s hope his readers share it.
We don’t have to get the shit kicked out of us like we did in Miami. Instead, we grow the power and sophistication of our networks and ratchet up our disobedience. We attack in the dead of night and under the noonday sun. We hit them before, during and after world events. Bit by bit, hit by hit we bend them to our will.
“We bend them to our will.” This thuggish mentality is definitely not the Adbusters I used to know.
Military might does not count for much anymore. The global capital machine is now so finely tuned, so delicately balanced, that just one virus, one blackout, one bushfire, one mad cow, one hand-held rocket launcher, one gram of plutonium, has the potential to crash the whole deal. From now on, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men will not be able to keep it together.

That’s the dirty, anarchic, kick-ass side of World War IV. [Emphasis added.]

From the context of the piece, it doesn’t look like Mr. Lasn expects his “culture jammers” to be the ones wielding the rocket launchers and the plutonium. I guess (although I am guessing) he expects Al Qaeda to carry out those attacks.

But it’s awfully telling, is it not, that he thinks downing a passenger jet with a rocket launcher or destroying New York with a nuclear weapon is “kick-ass.”

This brings to mind a powerful recent piece in Slate by Christopher Hitchens.

Having been screened by the special operations department of the Pentagon last August (see Charles Paul Freund's piece in Slate), The Battle of Algiers is now scheduled for a run at the New York Film Forum. Unless I am wrong, this event will lead to a torrent of pseudo-knowing piffle from the armchair guerrillas (well, there ought to be a word for this group). I myself cherished the dream of being something more than an armchair revolutionary when I first saw this electrifying movie. It was at a volunteer work-camp for internationalists, in Cuba in the summer of 1968. Che Guevara had only been dead for a few months, the Tet rising in Vietnam was still a fresh and vivid memory, and in Portuguese Africa the revolution was on the upswing. I went to the screening not knowing what to expect and was so mesmerized that when it was over I sat there until they showed it again. I was astounded to discover, sometime later on, that Gillo Pontecorvo had employed no documentary footage in the shooting of the film: It looked and felt like revolutionary reality projected straight onto the screen.

When I next saw it, in Bleecker Street in the Village in the early 1970s, it didn't have quite the same shattering effect. Moreover, in the audience (as in that Cuban camp, as I later found out) there were some idiots who fancied the idea of trying "urban guerrilla" warfare inside the West itself. The film had a potently toxic effect on Black Panthers, Weathermen, Baader-Meinhof, and Red Brigade types. All that needs to be said about that "moment" of the Left is that its practitioners ended up dead or in prison, having advanced the cause of humanity by not one millimeter.

Those on today’s radical left are having a similar “moment.” Plenty of these fools will end up dead or in jail. And even the strictly intellectual radicals aren’t doing a damn thing for the cause of humanity except reminding the rest of us that even after the fall of the Soviet Union there are enemies to the left. (No, not everyone on the left, just some of the radicals.)

It's depressing and sad to watch people I used to admire degenerate in this way. My consolation is that others, like Christopher Hitchens, who I admired at the same time for the same reasons, escaped from that quagmire, too.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:52 PM

February 20, 2004

Weekend Reading

Cara Remal's open letter to her anti-war friends.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:06 PM

The Unbearable Lightness of Scandals

Here's a shocker.

WASHINGTON - John Kerry's protests against the Vietnam War and President Bush's wartime service in the National Guard generate disapproval largely among people who already have made up their minds against that particular candidate, according to a national poll released Friday.
The scandal mongers are surely trying to win over independents by smearing the other guy. It doesn't work, obviously, but it does make the outraged feel superior. Political sleaze seems to me a strange form of emotional therapy, but hey, go with whatever works for ya. It had better feel good, because it wastes everyone else's time.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:49 PM

Quiz Time

This is great. The funniest political quiz I’ve seen yet. (I suppose that’s like saying “the best horror movie from Greenland,” but whatever.)

Are you a liberal, a conservative, a libertarian, or a communist? The communist answers are the best.

Some teasers:

What should people not be allowed to do in public?

CONS: Offend the sensibilities of others.
LIBL: Offend the sensitivities of others.
LBRT: Offend the sensibilities of yourself.
COMM: Offend the sensitivities of the authorities.

What's the best way to stop people from illegally crossing our borders?

CONS: Seal the borders so no one can get in.
LIBL: Do nothing to beef up security at the borders, and offer illegal aliens a wide array of free services.
LBRT: Allow unrestricted passage across the borders.
COMM: Seal the borders so no one can get out.

Via Porphyrogenitus.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:30 AM

The Passion of Hutton Gibson

I’ve always enjoyed Mel Gibson’s acting, and I’ll withhold judgement from his controversial new movie The Passion until after I’ve seen it. Sadly, it seems his father, Hutton Gibson, is an anti-Semitic lunatic who thinks the Holocaust was exaggerated, Alan Greenspan should be lynched, and the United States government should be overthrown. Meryl Yourish has the details.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:27 AM

February 18, 2004

My New Gig

It’s been a little while now since I’ve published an article at Tech Central Station. But Nick Shulz was kind enough to take me on as a bi-weekly columnist. So from here on out you’ll get a new column from me every two weeks.

Here’s my latest. It’s called Kill Saddam.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:13 PM

February 17, 2004

Yearning for Tyranny

The Guardian reports (surprise, surprise) that some British politicians were paid to help prop up Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.

Anti-sanctions campaigns by former Irish premier Albert Reynolds, former Labour MP George Galloway, and current Labour MP Tam Dalyell were bankrolled by money from the UN’s oil for food program.

Tam Dalyell made a name for himself last year when he attacked Tony Blair for being in thrall to a “Jewish cabal.” Whoops! Looks like Mr. Dalyell was projecting. He’s the one in thrall to a cabal. And not a make-believe cabal, but a real one based in Baghdad.

Galloway’s defense of himself is pathetic.

Mr Galloway said he was unaware that his financial sponsors were getting oil cash from the UN programme. But he accepts that he knew his supporters had links with Saddam's regime, and regarded that as an inevitable price to pay.

Galloway most certainly did not view the fact that his friends were Baathists as a “price.” He is and has been an open admirer of totalitarian regimes from the Soviet Union to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to Fidel Castro’s little tinpot paradise in Cuba.

After visiting Saddam in 1994, Galloway said to him, “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.” When asked if he was a Stalinist, he answered thusly: “If you are asking did I support the Soviet Union, yes I did. Yes, I did support the Soviet Union, and I think the disappearance of the Soviet Union is the biggest catastrophe of my life.” He supports North Korea while he’s at it. “If it comes to invasion of North Korea, I’ll be with North Korea. Be sure about that.”

Naturally he's a fan of the terrorists in Iraq. “The Iraqis have a legal and moral right to resist violent, illegal, foreign occupation, and that’s what they’re exercising.”

And, as Andrew Sullivan pointed out yesterday, he just adores Fidel Castro. “He’s the most magnificent human being I’ve ever met.”

The man is despicable, but give him some credit. He makes no bones about the fact that he sides with the enemies of democracy and the enemies of his country. He doesn’t waste any time dressing his wicked sympathies in liberal drag.

I can’t help but think some people admire totalitarian regimes not because they want to live in one, but because they want to be in charge of one. The Labour Party kicked George Galloway out on his ass, but he’s still a member of parliament.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:51 PM

February 16, 2004

Bogus Scandal

Via Andrew Sullivan, it looks like the John Kerry intern scandal is about as substance-free the Bush AWOL story. No big surprise.

Alexandra Polier, supposedly the intern Kerry had an affair with, denies she ever slept with him. That’s to be expected, and it doesn’t mean much of anything.

But she also says she never interned for Kerry, nor did she work for him in any other capacity. This sort of thing is so easily disproved if it isn’t true, and there’s no reason to deny working for him in any case. It’s an intern scandal without an intern.


Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:47 PM

Not a Serious Candidate

John Kerry talks as though he could wish the Terror War away through dint of sheer will.

Here he is at the debate two nights ago.

GILBERT: Senator Kerry, President Bush a week ago on "Meet the Press" described himself as a war president. He said he's got war on his mind as he considers these policies and decisions he has to make. If you were elected, would you see yourself as a war president?
This should be a no-brainer.
KERRY: I'd see myself first of all as a jobs president, as a health care president, as an education president and also an environmental president. And add them all together, you can't be safe at home today unless you are also safe abroad.

KERRY: So I would see myself as a very different kind of global leader than George Bush.

What a total ridiculous dodge. It isn’t even a dodge-worthy question.
Would you see yourself as a war president? The answer to that one ought to be obvious. Of course. There’s a war on.

Kerry is certainly free to have a different strategy against terrorism and rogue regimes than the sitting president. I, for one, would love to hear an alternate plan that doesn’t involve running away from conflict or handing responsibility over to the feckless UN. But to answer a simple foreign policy question with “jobs,” “education,” and “the environment” is enough to make me next-to certain that I can never vote for him.

I’ve tried to give Kerry some slack due to the built-in distortions of the primary season. And I will continue, at least in the short run, to do so. He’s not an ANSWER nut, nor is he Howard Dean. But on the single most important question so far he’s a big fat zero. He has no foreign policy whatsoever. He brings nothing to the table and clearly wishes the whole thing would just go away.

It won’t.

UPDATE: Stephen Green comments.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:46 PM

February 15, 2004

Vietnam at Half Volume

Mark Steyn paints John Kerry as the poster boy for Vietnam Syndrome.

Thanks to Kerry in his Hanoi Jane period, Vietnam was a disaster for America that gave the establishment a wholly irrational fear of almost every ramshackle Third World basket case on the planet. Look at what everyone from Arthur Schlesinger to Chris Matthews wrote about the ''unconquerable'' Afghans only two years ago. That defeatism was the Kerry legacy from the '70s: a terrified, Kerrified America.
True enough. John Kerry isn’t exactly Mr. Tough or Mr. Backbone.

But Steyn doesn’t seem to notice the good news farther up in his own column.

Look at Kerry's stump speech: ''We band of brothers,'' he says, indicating his fellow veterans. ''We're a little older, we're a little grayer, but we still know how to fight for this country.'' Thirty years ago, he came back from Vietnam and denounced his ''band of brothers'' as a gang of drug-fueled torturers, rapists and murderers.
He then proceeds to zing Kerry for his inconsistency. But let’s give Kerry some credit. Give the Democrats some credit. At least our soldiers aren’t still being libeled as baby killers, at least not by the establishment of the Democratic Party. (The goons in International ANSWER are another matter. They haven’t even caught up with the 60s. They’re still stuck in 1917.)

I believed (mistakenly, as it turns out) that the Vietnam Syndrome was buried in Bosnia. My own lukewarm pacifism did die in Sarajevo, but I was never scarred by Vietnam in the first place. I was a small child when Nixon pulled out, and I have no personal memory of it.

I’m glad to see that with Howard Dean’s primary loss, the worst of the anti-war paranoia will take a back seat in the election campaign. Kerry’s incoherent waffling on foreign policy is a problem for the Democrats, and it will be a problem if he’s elected. But even at his most extreme he doesn’t wistfully (at least not in public) recall his days with Hanoi Jane. He boasts about his service.

It was not so long ago that the Democrats had to play down the front-runner’s combat experience. It was unthinkable for them to tout their guy as a war hero. Even if it’s all image and no substance, it’s progress of a sort.

UPDATE: Turns out Kerry's 1971 testimony before Congress has been spun out of context. Kerry didn't quite say what Mark Steyn says he said. The New Republic has the details. (Thanks to Grant McEntire in the comments.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:52 PM

February 14, 2004

Weekend Time Waster

This rocks. 80s video games. You don't even need to download them. Just play them in your Web browser.

UPDATE: Here's more. Including Missile Command, Defender, Centipede, and Joust.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:42 AM

February 13, 2004

Happy Valentine’s Day…

…From Saudi Arabia.

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's religious authorities have ordered Muslims to shun the "pagan" holiday of Valentine's Day so as not to incur God's wrath, the local al-Riyadh newspaper said Friday.

"It is a pagan Christian holiday and Muslims who believe in God and Judgment Day should not celebrate or acknowledge it or congratulate (people on it). It is a duty to shun it to avoid God's anger and punishment," said an edict issued by Saudi Arabia's fatwa committee published in the Arabic-language daily.

"There are only two holidays in Islam -- Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha -- and any other holidays, whether to celebrate an individual, group or event, are inventions which Muslims are banned from," said the committee, headed by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh.

According to these clowns, God hates love, sex, romance, pagans, Christians, and holidays. At least they left the Jews out of it for once. But that was probably just an oversight.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:59 AM

February 12, 2004

Some Beauties in The Big O

I often complain that the opinion page in the Portland Oregonian is boring. There aren't enough opinions in there. Wouldn't want to offend the readers. They might disagree with something they read, the poor dears.

Man, were there some doozies this month, though. Law Professor Jack Bogdanski saved 'em.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:51 PM

Required Reading

I'm sick of the John Kerry scandal. Fox News hasn't even broken the story yet, and I already wish they'd move on. (I know that's not fair. I just felt like writing that sentence.)

Anyhoo, if you're in the mood for something serious, here is your required reading for Friday. Remembrance of Future Past by Cara Remal.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:48 PM

No Sleaze, Please (Updated)

Andrew Sullivan is plenty peeved about the Kerry story.

If the Republicans are behind this, they deserve to be trashed. This is absolutely not something that deserves to be a factor in our current debate.
Same goes for any Democratic campaign that might be behind this.

I certainly don't want to go back to the lurid and hysterical anti-Clinton days. I think that's true for a lot of people. So-called Clinton-fatigue was caused as much by Kenneth Starr as it was by Bill and Hill.

This is the first election since September 11. We have some grown-up problems to take care of, problems much of the rest of the world pretends don't even exist. Save the sleaze and the ass-clowning for Jerry Springer.

UPDATE: Several people in the comments point out that no one in the GOP is likely behind this story. The timing is off. It would make more sense to wait until Kerry is the nominee before “leaking”this story into the press.

That’s a good point. That won’t, however, exonerate the right if they decide to run with this and make a big stink out of a tabloid story during war time.

Free advice to Republicans: Drop it.

UPDATE: Can I direct my free advice to a wider audience? The media ought to drop this, too. They are unserious enough as it is.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:44 PM

Here We Go

Drudge reports that the Kerry campaign is about to implode. It’s another intern scandal.

Kerry isn’t my favorite person. He certainly isn’t my first choice for president.

But, you know? I just don’t care about his sex life. I really don’t. We aren’t electing the pope or the chief marriage counselor.

If Kerry were my guy, this scandal - if it’s even legit in the first place - wouldn’t change that. As it is, I don’t particularly care for him, but I don’t think much worse of him as a candidate. (At least not yet.)

That sound you hear in the corner? Howard Dean is licking his chops.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:19 AM

February 11, 2004

Did You Eat Paste in Fourth Grade?

Here is John Kerry in the year of my birth (1970):

I’m an internationalist…I’d like to see our troops dispersed through the world only at the directive of the United Nations.
George W. Bush missed some Air National Guard drills when I was three.

How much, exactly, does this stuff matter?

Jane Galt answers with a question:

What would you think of a job interviewer who wanted to discuss how many times you ate paste in the fourth grade?

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:24 PM

None of the Above

Matt Welch is bummed about the lameness of this year’s election. Wesley Clark is “miserable,” John Kerry is “as inspiring as a bag of kelp.”

So I'll pull the lever for either Dean or Edwards on March 2, if either are still around, and I might just vote for one of 'em if they stand aside. Too bad that this exciting political season lasted about three weeks.
His pal Ken Layne won’t write about politics on his blog anymore, so we have to read Welch’s comments box if we want to know what he thinks:
I also find Kerry stiff & creepy & an advertisement for everything wrong with spending your adult life trying to win higher office and / or fame. But your interest in Dean (an absolute clown who seems to stand for whatever he's told by some geeks on the MeetUp, and just as willing to toss all that for Al Gore and whatever lobbyist advisors) and Clark (possibly the weakest candidate -- and most worthless human being -- to run for this office since Dan Quayle) is utterly weird.

Then again, you proudly voted for Nader, which apparently taught you absolutely nothing.

Well, I proudly voted for Nader too. (Though I won’t do it again, Ken. I promise!) One thing I liked about the guy was that he backed a "None of the Above" option on future election ballots. If "None of the Above" wins, we pitch the losers over the side and hold a brand new election with different people.

This time, like last time, I want none of the above. I want a new election. Dump every candidate (except maybe for Edwards) and start over. Dump Bush, too.

Wishful thinking, I know. Kinda like voting for Nader…

UPDATE: Ilyka Damen is with me on this. She calls do-overs.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:22 PM

February 10, 2004

Statistically Speaking

Arnold Kling has forgotten more about statistics than I’ll ever know. He teaches the subject in school.

In his latest Tech Central Station column he applies statistical analysis to both the infamous Florida recount and regime-change in Iraq. I’m not even sure what this has to do with statistics in the first place, which shows you how much I know about it. But still this discussion is pretty interesting. Here’s a novel way (to me) of looking at the problem:

In the case of Iraq, the unknown quantity is whether, if left alone, Saddam Hussein's regime would have eventually killed Americans or blackmailed our leaders with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Ultimately, that is the unknown parameter about which we are concerned.

Next, let us describe Type I and Type II errors. A Type I error would be to back down from confronting Iraq and subsequently suffer a WMD attack. A type II error would be to invade Iraq when in fact we would not have been hit with WMD even if we left the regime alone.

The consequences of a Type I error -- an attack on Americans using WMD -- would go beyond even the death and destruction that would be involved. The response, in terms of military action and domestic security, would be very costly, both in terms of lives and in terms of compromises to our freedom and privacy.

The consequences of a Type II error would include loss of lives during the war and its aftermath. Also, we are left with a significant responsibility in helping Iraqis rebuild their state. By the same token, one could argue that a Type II error has benefits, such as ending the mass murders committed by the Hussein regime and giving Iraqis an opportunity to establish a better government.

We will never know the unknown parameter -- what the Hussein regime would have done vis-a-vis weapons of mass destruction had we not invaded. However, the failure to find weapons stockpiles increases the probability that we committed a Type II error and reduces the probability that by backing down we would have committed a Type I error.

The short version, of course, is that it’s better to overestimate danger than underestimate it . Underestimation can lead to another 9-11 or worse. At least overestimation can lead to a net positive – the removal of a filthy regime.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:28 PM


Oliver Kamm is back from vacation, and he’s hitting Al Gore pretty hard.

Al Gore confirmed his unfitness for public office with a speech whose standards of tawdriness and mendacity will remain unsurpassed till the stars burn out and the heavens implode…

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I had hoped for a Gore victory in 2000 (especially given his running mate), as indeed I have hoped for a Democrat victory in every Presidential election I can recall. (That goes back to the feckless Jimmy Carter in 1976 – I never said my preferences were correct.) Moreover, if you can credit this, I supported Gore primarily on grounds of foreign policy. I expected a Bush administration to have a view of national security so circumscribed that it would fail to see the strategic as well as moral necessity of maintaining Nato’s presence in the Balkans, and perhaps even seek to end the unstable system of containment of Saddam Hussein by cutting a deal with the tyrant (“no blood for oil”, so to speak)…

“Betrayed this country”, indeed – whereupon the former Vice-President adopts the nomenclature of Ann Coulter and Michael Moore in accusing his political opponents not merely of holding mistaken opinions but of practising treachery.

Read the rest. He’s right on target as usual.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:27 PM

Political Football

Roger L. Simon writes about the inanities of partisan politics.

If you do it, it sucks! If we do it, it rules!

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:25 PM

February 9, 2004

Missing the Point

From the AP:

A letter seized from an al-Qaida courier shows Osama bin Laden has made little headway in recruiting Iraqis for a holy war against America, raising questions about the Bush administration's contention that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror.
Actually, no, it doesn’t raise such questions. At least it shouldn’t.

Iraq is critical for strategic reasons. The Middle East will continue cranking out terrorists until its political slum has been renovated. We are not going to be safe as long as the Middle Eastern status quo is tyrannical. Slum-clearance had to start somewhere, and no dictator in that region had as pernicious an influence as Saddam Hussein.

The Al Qaeda letter does, however, cast a wee bit of doubt on the idea that invading Iraq would only inspire more terrorists. Chalk that one up to the latest overwrought doom-mongering. Remember that Baghdad was supposed to be the next Stalingrad. The Brutal Afghan Winter and the Empire Destroying Taliban Warrior fantasies didn’t amount to much either.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:31 PM

Meeting Dr. Frank

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds has been dubbed an Internet rock star. But Sunday night Shelly and I got to meet a real Internet rock star, punk-rockin’ Mr. T Experience front-man Dr. Frank, also known for his eclectic sometimes-political blog named What’s-It.

I started reading Dr. Frank’s ruminations on all things political and international long before I created this blog. He doesn’t know it, but he helped inspire me to start up my own. Here was a guy with a site named The Blogs of War (before he later changed it to What’s-It) who wasn’t exactly what Tim Blair would call a Right Wing Death Beast. Here was a blog for the sensitive warmonger, as he himself described it. He’s wasn’t Rush Limbaugh or even Andrew Sullivan. More like a "Daily Show Democrat" or a "Reno 911 Independent" as he now puts it. And yet he had a war blog. So somehow, I can’t quite explain why, it gave me a sort of permission to start up my own.

Some of my co-workers at my day job know Dr. Frank first and foremost as the cool punk rocker dude from the Bay Area who used to tour with Green Day. Like the rest of us, Dr. Frank has mellowed with age. The new MTX album Yesterday Rules softens up some of the punk rock edginess with some pleasant, even soothing, sometimes funny acoustic pieces. London starts out quiet, almost folksy as Dr. Frank delivers “You have to hate the world / It’s required by your clothes” with deadpan earnestness. The crunchier songs are fun, too. “Let’s keep the freaking out to a minimum” he sings on Sorry For Freaking Out on the Phone Last Night.

Dr. Frank’s most famous piece of blogosphere music is probably the Internet hit Democracy Whiskey Sexy, inspired by the famous liberated Iraqi’s quote about what America means to him. You can download the song for free and if you like it, hey, why not, order his Eight Little Songs CD, every one of which, like his blog for the “sensitive warmonger,” is mellow and cool.

So anyway, after reading and listening to Dr. Frank for over a year, Shelly and I finally got to meet him. His band blew through Portland on the second day of their tour and we met up for beer before the show and stole his attention from the groupies who tagged along.

There were a few, shall we say, problems figuring out where the concert was supposed to be. I couldn’t find the place and, oddly enough, neither could the band. Dr. Frank and I played tag on our cell phones trying to help each other figure out where the dang venue was located. That’s not how it’s supposed to go down. It was like something out of Spinal Tap, but hey, it wasn’t his fault. (Nor was it mine. I only live here.)

Frank doesn’t act like the rock star he is. (Just how, exactly, is a rock star supposed to act? – Ed. Heck, I don’t know. But he’s cooler than I’ll ever be, and if he knows it he doesn’t show it.) We talked music, politics, Internet dating, San Francisco, and blogs. He’s a great guy, a smart writer, and a fantastic musician. If you don’t know him already, you’re missing out.

Thanks, Frank, for the beer and for coming to Portland.

Dr. Frank’s What’s-It.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:53 PM

February 8, 2004

We Are Not Doomed (Updated)

Nelson Ascher posted a remarkably gloomy mini essay on Europundits. He basically says we are doomed.

It is absolutely, I repeat, ASOLUTELY unbelievable, but the enemies of the war are winning the peace or rather are managing to reverse a brilliant military victory. What took them years to do in Vietnam, they're doing right now in a matter of months. Iraq was defeated in weeks, the axis of weasels was demoralized, Saddam was captured and, even before that, his sons were killed. Yet, the guys whose jobs are in jeopardy are Bush and Blair.
I support the Bush and Blair foreign policy to the hilt. But still I have to say…their jobs must be in jeopardy. We haven’t had an election since September 11, and it is right and proper that their record so far be subject to referendum.

If they both get kicked out of office over the national security question, then I will be shocked and agree it is unbelievable. As it is, we still don’t even know who will run against Bush. (I’m leaving Blair out of this discussion from here on out because I’m a little too fuzzy about how this is going to play out in Britain.)

The likely Democratic nominee looks like John Kerry today, and he is alarmingly wishy-washy about the greatest question of our time. But he’s still in a primary race which drives American politicians toward the margins. The good news is that the farthest left John Kerry will go is only a half-hearted opposition to the liberation of Iraq. He did vote for the authorization, so even if he’s a bit spineless about it, he isn’t a peacenik or a reactionary isolationist.

In the meantime Sharon freed hundreds of terrorists [and] declared that he will pull out of Gaza while Arafat, whose tactics and strategy were soundly defeated, runs no risk at all [and] may begin to consider himself a winner of sorts.
That’s a bit of a bigger problem. But I’ll add that the settlers in Gaza are going to have to pull up their stakes at some point. It’s probably best that they wait until the jihadists are defeated so it doesn’t look like a weak Israeli retreat. But do keep in mind that most Israelis don’t want to hold onto Gaza. The Israeli advantage is miniscule compared to the diplomatic and security price paid. And nothing, not even Palestinian sovereignty, will stop Israel from plunging back in to stop threats to its people.
All this points to the wiseness of those who, immediately after 9/11, wanted to strike Iraq first.
I couldn’t agree more. We waited far too long to take care of Saddam. And for what?
It's hard to remember it now, but in those weeks after the attacks the US had carte blanche to do whatever it wanted: it could have nuked Kaboul, Baghdad, Ryadh, for instance, and nobody would have dared to complain.
Well, I would have complained. Quite loudly in fact. And so would a lot of other people. During the first week after September 11 I greatly feared an American over-reaction. And when I realized the Bush Administration wasn’t about to commit an atrocity in the Muslim world, I quickly swung around to a militant hawkish position. If we had committed atrocities, the Bush Administration would be massively, perhaps violently, resisted right here at home.
Instead, possibly convinced by Powell and Blair, Bush opted for a "rational", gradual strategy: Afghanistan first, then the formation of a coalition, then Iraq. We've seen what happened: this gradualism gave the fifth columnists inside the Western camp time to regroup and forge their own, up to now quite, successfull, counterattack.
John Kerry and Howard Dean are not fifth columnists. Leave that designation for the likes of International ANSWER. Kerry and Dean are weaker than Bush and Blair, but they do not hope the enemy wins.

Now is a good time to remind ourselves exactly what a fifth columnist is.

From dictionary.com:

fifth column

A clandestine subversive organization working within a country to further an invading enemy's military and political aims.
Back to Nelson Ascher:
During the run up to the Iraqi campaign I was quite worried: would the US have the nerve to go ahead? It seemed that Bush might well give the whole thing up at any moment. We're in the same situation again: the war on terror seems, outwardly at least, to have stalled. Memories of 911 are as good as dead for most of the world and, as before the invasion of Iraq, the UK is the weak link in a problematic chain. People are saying that Blair's mistake has to do with the 45 minutes claim, and this may well be true, but his much bigger mistake was probably to persuade Bush to postpone the Iraqi campaign in order to get the EU, the UN and who knows who else in the boat. He'll possibly pay for this mistake. The trouble's, however, is that he won't be paying for it alone. Maybe Bush will pay too and, choosing for both England and the US governments unconcerned with the Islamist threat, we'll all end up as losers.
I am very close to being a single-issue national-security voter. But most people are not. If Bush loses the 2004 election it will likely be despite, not because of, his foreign policy. Most Americans support an aggressive response to terror and dictatorship, and a lot of people are troubled with Bush’s presidency for domestic reasons. And that includes a large swath of Republicans.

If Bush loses, our enemies will almost certainly see that as a victory, which will be bad, unless the post-primary Democratic opposition matches his hawkishness with their own. But even if a weak-kneed John Kerry moves into the Oval Office, the Democrats will almost certainly grow more hawkish. They will have the burden of responsibility. It could change them as much as it changed the previously isolationist Bush. Mainstream Democrats are not instinctively pacifist. Opposition on the left to Bill Clinton’s raids over Serbia was miniscule. Much of the opposition to Bush’s foreign policy is pure partisan loathing and gamesmanship which will immediately evaporate if Bush is sent back to Texas. Dean, Kerry, and the rest of them are under a tremendous amount of political pressure to distinguish themselves from Bush. If one of them takes the White House, they’ll have a tremendous amount of pressure of a very different sort.

By the way: do the Islamists know about this? Can it be that their failure to attack Britain or the US itself was no failure at all, but a kind of tactical retreat, a way to allow their fifth columnist allies to weaken each country's defenses from inside before a new huge terrorist onslaught?
That’s certainly possible. I hadn’t thought of it before, and it could well be true. But Al Qaeda isnt’the most sophisticated bunch around, and they seem to have all the restraint of a rabid dog. I imagine they are as likely as Westerners to engage in mirror imaging, the projection of traits from their own culture onto our own. Osama bin Laden thought Americans would think 9/11 was an American military coup, thus showing just how out of touch with our country he is.

Still, these guys aren’t stupid, and they very well may be waiting for Bush to leave before they strike us again here at home. But all that will accomplish is a ramp-up in the hawkishness of the Democratic Party, which will leave the jihadists with no viable peace movement to save them.

Are they holding their fire because they expect, in the absence of some new outrage that would re-awake the public opinion, Blair and Bush to fall? If so, they're more dangerous than I've imagined, their alliance with forces inside the Western camp is deeper than I've imagined and, well, we are doomed.
Nelson, Al Qaeda doesn’t have an alliance with the Democratic Party. If a Stalinist goon from ANSWER were to run against Bush in the general election, then your fears would be grounded in fact. In the meantime, those on the fringe left who really are in cahoots with jihadists are marginalized. They set the tone at protests and have a corrosive effect on Democratic rhetoric and primary positioning, but so far that’s about it.

The tragedy of the liberals is that too many refuse to denounce the enemies to their left. And they often banish as heretics the moderates who do. The price they pay is that conservatives and some centrists actually fear them. But it’s easy to take this too far. The liberal left is much more than the punks in the streets and the cranks at The Nation.

If anybody can prove me that all or most of the above is wrong, I'd be quite grateful to hear about it.
I can’t prove it, and I doubt anyone can. If you want to take heart, just remember - you can’t prove your gloomy scenario either.

We are not doomed. The worst that can happen with a Democrat in the White House is we’ll have a weaker response to the threat than we currently have. Then we will get hit again. And in all probability, that weakness on the left will come to an end. It will have little chance of returning until the new war against fascism is over. The enemies of civilization will be very sorry indeed if that’s how Round Two goes down.


UPDATE: Many conservatives are giving me a shellacking in the comments section. Oddly enough, Nelson Ascher, who wrote the original piece I responded to, is not one of them.

He did respond in the comments, though, and I want to post his reponse on the main page where everyone can see it.

I've had no time yet to read most of the comments, but I agree with those, including Michael,who qualified my post as too gloomy. I wrote it under the immediate effect of having read Sunday's British press (where the 45 minutes stuff isn't going away in spite of the Hutton report and the BBC's partial debacle)and some of Melanie Phillips' posts too.

It surely wasn't my intention at all to depict the Democrats as fifth columnists and, if I gave this impression, let me correct it right here: it's not about them that I was thinking when I used the expression (though they may benefit from the work of the real fifth columnists, I wouldn't declare them guilty by association): I had in mind ANSWER, the SWP, part of the Anglo-American media and academia, some Euro governments. That's why I referred to a fifth column inside the Western camp, not exclusively in the USA. (I trust the worst democrats more than the average old European government.)

Actually I'm in Brazil right now and that, in a way, is worse than being in Paris because though I can ge acquainted first hand there with all their ill will, I'm also confronted day in day out by their (the French's) growing economic, diplomatic, political and social weaknessess and isolation, something the balances a bit my gloom.

In Brazil, on the other hand, it is really as if 911 had never happened or were but a relatively "normal" kind of event.

Still, just to reaffirm somewhat my main point: I've never seen people so eagerly trying do reverse the result of a war won by their country as I've been seeing this happen in the UK. It is as if they weren't actually reenacting the Vietnam protests, but rather beginning already from the quite developed stage where the anti-Vietnam war protests had stopped.

Habitually I'm less gloomy than that and, if you read some of my earlier posts, you'll see that I've even tried to find something positive about suicide bombings in Israel, namely that they became the only way the Palestinians could hit Israel, because their earlier and favourite methods, like using booby-trapped cars or truck bombs or kidnaping airplanes weren't working anymore. If I'm right, the suicide bombings are more a sympton of defeat than of victory.

And I also think there's a strong case in stating that the real fifth columnists are not re-fighting the Iraqi war, but really want to stop the WoT, and that they (not the Democrats, really) root for the enemy. Oh, and the idea that the UK was the coalition's weakest link is not mine, but David Warren's, another of those who alternate some moderate optimism with frequent pessimistic gloom.

Thanks, Michael and everybody else, for the comments: I actually wrote that gloomy post expecting to be refuted and I do hope those who did it are absolutely right.

UPDATE: Andrew Olmsted comments.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:32 PM

Reviewing the Democrats

Christopher Hitchens in Slate on party-mindedness:

I know many people who are much more intelligent than George Bush (even if they do keep saying so themselves) and whom I have heard, over the past decades, talk with perfect seriousness about the prospect of electing Gary Hart, Michael Dukakis, Bill Bradley, or Tom Harkin as president of the United States. Do such smart people really wish that Michael Dukakis had been president when Saddam invaded Kuwait, or when Mikhail Gorbachev began to signal from Moscow? Of course they don't, or not really, but they always think it must be better by axiom to have a Democrat (or "any Democrat" as they often put it) in office. Are they then in favor of permanent one-party rule? Of course not! They are for a healthy bipartisan system, where their candidate always wins.
He then reviews each of the Democratic candidates. He thinks Kucinich beats a lot of them (and he does have a point), and that Edwards beats them all.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:27 AM

February 7, 2004

Free Tibet

Jay Nordlinger in National Review implies that conservatives are behind the Free Tibet movement.

You will recall that, in previous columns, we have spoken of Meghan Howard, the Harvard kid who stood up to the Chinese Number One when he appeared at that school. Miss Howard is a supporter of the Tibetan cause. And the Harvard administration has come down on her for her disruption. Because, you know, that's what it always does: penalize students for disrupting various events for political reasons. (That was a joke: Leftist students who do such things are patted on the head for their conscientiousness and good citizenship.)
Hang on a sec. Is "Free Tibet" a conservative idea on the East Coast?

In my part of the country it's a left-liberal thing. I went to the University of Oregon in Eugene where every third hippie had a "Free Tibet" patch sewn into their backpack. Conservatives never seemed to pay the slightest attention to it.

Maybe it's different at Harvard. Who knew? I certainly didn't.

Is it true? Or is Mr. Nordlinger a little off base here?

UPDATE: Nathan Hamm thinks Jay Nordlinger is off base, and he has a lot more to say about the Chinese oppression of Tibetans and the rarely thought-about Uighurs of East Turkestan.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:49 PM

MJT Was Here

I feel like I’ve been to lots of places in the world, but sheesh. From the look of these maps, I’ve hardly seen anything.

I’ve been to all the red places.

Before the end of this year I expect to add Puerto Rico, Italy, and Tunisia.

create your own visited country map
or write about it on the open travel guide

create your own visited states map

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:03 PM

February 6, 2004

Schroeder is Out

Anti-American blowhard Gerhard Schroeder is stepping down in Germany. Buh-bye!

Take a look at this photo. Check out his feet...

UPDATE: Just to clarify, Schroeder is stepping down as the leader of his party. He's still in charge of Germany...for now.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:33 AM

February 5, 2004

The Race

Pakistan’s military dictator Pervez Musharraf pardoned Abdel Qadeer Khan for selling nuclear weapons secrets to North Korea, Libya, and Iran. The Beeb says there is tremendous public opposition to putting this guy on trial. In Pakistan he is a hero.

If Saddam Hussein still lorded it over Iraq, does anyone think Mr. Khan would have balked at helping him, too?

The Terror War is a race. On the one side we have a veritable axis of hard-line dictatorships trafficking in anti-Western terrorism and genocide weapons. On the other we have the guilt-ridden self-doubting West that slowly and in fits tries to civilize and democratize the unfree corners of the world.

The nuclear genie is out of its bottle. It cannot be put back in. Francis Fukuyama convincingly argues that the expansion of democracy is inevitable, but not on any particular schedule.

Which will spread the farthest and fastest? Liberalism or terror? Democracy or nuclear-armed jihadist regimes?

No one knows. Our intelligence agencies are broken and discredited. And most in the West want to think of sunnier things.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:33 PM

February 4, 2004

Road Trip Photo Gallery

Last weekend I went on a whirlwind road trip through the American West with my friend and Portland blogger Sean LaFreniere. Here are some photos from Sean’s digital camera.


A mountain lodge at the foot of the Cascades just as it’s starting to snow


The open road in Eastern Oregon


Me in the Old West (which actually begins east of Portland)


A lone tree in the high desert


Sierra Nevada mountain range


Sean behind a Joshua Tree


Death Valley sand dunes


Death Valley floor


James Lileks recently pointed out that America has 1.5 Empire State Buildings. Here’s the .5 in Las Vegas. (On the left.)


San Francisco from a hilltop

All photos copyright Michael J. Totten and Sean LaFreniere

UPDATE: Sean posted some pictures, too. They are all different from mine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:05 PM

Dissing the Homeless

Jonah Goldberg isn’t too impressed with political independents.

Their shtick goes something like this:
There’s that word again. It’s the shtick shtick.
"I'm an independent-minded guy (or gal), I don't let the parties do my thinking for me. I choose each individual candidate based on his or her individual merits. I am a very discerning and thoughtful person." If you've ever listened to C-SPAN, you've heard from these people. They sound like midlevel college administrators with chips on their shoulders. They don't want to be pigeon-holed, cookie-cut, "defined" by "mere labels" that don't take into account their discerning eye for the odd policy detail. "Did you know that candidate so-and-so doesn't have a policy on saving the manatees? Or didn't you do your homework?" They brag about how they look at every issue without ideological blinders on, and how they'll be damned if they are going to vote for a candidate merely because of "partisanship." They want to hear about issues and experience.

Lee Harris answers him in Tech Central Station.

Someone has to change his mind. Someone has to say, now and then, My heavens, I voted for the wrong man; I am sorry that I did.

The team player cannot change his mind, because his mind is the collective mind of the team, and he obeys it. He obeys it the way a good football player obeys his coach -- because this is what he must do in order to be a member in good standing of his team. You cannot remain on the team, and cheer for your team's opponents.

This is a good answer, but it isn't the whole story. Both writers seem to forget something that ought to be obvious. Some people are independent not because they changed their mind, not because they’re uninformed, and not because they’re looking for a shtick. Some people really are just, well, independent.

For me it’s real simple. In some ways I like the Democrats. And in other ways I like the Republicans. If that makes me weird, then I guess I'm just weird.

The 21st Century is the most complicated time in the known history of the world. We have the same eternal problems, plus a host of brand new ones. Globalization and technology are making the world one place. Riyadh is in New York’s backyard. And vice versa. New technologies present new dilemmas unthinkable in the past. Revolutions in media and publishing encourage more diversity of information and opinion than was ever possible before. Our binary political system can’t possibly accommodate every view of the world. A third party could hardly do any better. Even our two major parties are riven by factions.

The Democrats are a testy coalition of greens, labor unions, welfare statists, neoliberals, academics, secular humanists, racial and ethnic minority advocates, technocrats, and left-libertarians. The Republicans try to staple together right-libertarians, traditionalists, religious fundamentalists, neoconservative interventionists, and paleoconservative isolationists. Party-mindedness is often awkward or even fraudulent because each party can be split into several. If the US had a parliamentary system, that’s exactly what would happen. Many independents could then find a home.

On some days I think of myself as a right-wing liberal. On other days I’m a left-wing neoconservative. That’s not a contradiction. I like Hillary Clinton and John McCain in equal measure for different reasons.

If Jonah Goldberg thinks that’s a shtick, I’d just like to ask him which party I’m supposed to belong to. I suppose I could re-learn to take one for the team. But for which one?

UPDATE: Jason Holliston, an independent of a different sort, agrees.

How can I be a Republican if I'm for gay marriage? How can I be a Democrat if I'm for the tax cuts that recently went through? How can I be a Libertarian if I understand that public funding for schools and police is the moral and right thing to do?

I can't -- at least, I can't if I don't want to be a liar.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:56 PM

Worst Toy Ever

I agree with Bo Cowgill. This is the worst toy ever.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:49 PM

February 3, 2004

Road Trip Advice

If you want to drive from Portland to Las Vegas on back roads through the hinterlands in January, don’t go thinking you can get there in one day. You can do it – on paper. But the icy roads in the high desert have agendas of their own.

If you’re going to get your jeep stuck in a ditch on the side of the road, don’t do it on the top of Blizzard Pass (elevation 7,000 feet) on the Oregon/Nevada border as a winter storm rolls in. Traffic, such as it is, consists of a car every three hours. The nearest sign of human civilization is a telephone pole fifty miles down the road. Punching 911 into the cell phone is as likely to get you rescued as jumping up and down and waving your arms at passenger jets. If a truck driver comes along in a semi and can pull your sorry vehicle out of the ditch with a tow chain, consider yourself one lucky bastard.

If you expect to get a decent hotel in Las Vegas without a reservation on Superbowl Sunday while an auto convention is in town, don’t be surprised when you end up “downtown” in a creepy motel with signs on the bathroom mirror saying you’ll be charged if you stain the sheets or the bath towels.

If you make a detour into Los Angles to visit a friend (in my case, Roger L. Simon) and you get driving directions to the house, don’t get cute and cut across town looking for “shortcuts” with your low-resolution gas station map. Follow directions!

If you’re driving from San Francisco to Portland in one shot, try really hard to leave the Bay Area before it gets dark. It’s traffic hell all the way to Sacramento.

Oh, and if you like deserts and you’re anywhere near Death Valley in January, go. And take a long walk through the sand dunes at sunset. It is glorious.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:26 PM

I'm Back (Sort of)

Sorry for the unannounced hiatus. I'm back from a brief road trip, and blogging will resume shortly...

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:28 AM