Thanks for visiting! This site has moved to, where all new posts will appear! Please update your bookmarks accordigly.

The new feed URL is:

“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.”
— Thucydides

“A civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.”
— Jean-François Revel

An Encouraging Election Day in Iraq

Friday, December 16, 2005

Omar and Mohammed have aggregated election reports over at their weblog, Iraq the Model (many pictures included).

Starting from 7 am all the polling centers in Babylon opened their doors to receive the voters, the turnout was light in the first three hours but it increased after that in a good way. The first voter was a disabled man, Jasim Hameed (65) he attended at 6:30 am and insisted on being the first one to vote. When he put the paper in the box said “I'm here at this early hour to challenge the terrorists who want to kill the democratic process in Iraq and I want to encourage the healthy people to vote.”

Some would say I'm overly optimistic. I'd say I'm in good company.

UPDATE: Mohammed has added a post-election follow-up that includes some reflections sent in by a friend of his:

From 59 to 64 to one year our people have proven that the future belongs to them and not those whose claws scarred Iraq’s neck.

A few bombs and some bullets, that’s all what the terrorists could do to interrupt the carnival in Baghdad. The people heard the explosions but those weren’t loud enough to distract the marching hearts from their destination. I saw our policemen yesterday showing their hearts too when they refused to wear their armors, maybe because they didn’t want to let anything stand between our hearts from theirs.


It was a day of happiness for Iraqis and a day of loss for the strangers who thought their camels brought them to a land void of patriots.

It is a day we will await to come again for four long years…to do the right thing again or to correct the mistake if we did one yesterday. Anyway, I believe we left a mark on the face of history, a purple mark that will not be forgotten easily.

God bless Iraq and Iraq’s friends throughout this world. It wasn’t our day alone; it was your day too.

My Tribe is Grey. What Color Is Yours?

Monday, December 12, 2005

One important thing I've been meaning to do, and had originally planned to get to in due course while telling my own story, has been pointing out some of the absolute best stuff I've had the pleasure of reading in the past few years — on topics ranging from the 9/11 attacks and the War on Terror, to the economics and politics of liberty, to the characteristically American way of life and its critics and ideological opponents foreign and domestic.

I'm now thinking I'm going to try to get to that sooner rather than later, since it's become clear that it may otherwise take an indeterminate amount of time for me to get around to it if I stick to strict chronological order. We face serious dangers to our culture and way of life now, and I think we desperately and urgently need an attitude change if we're going to have hope of successfully tackling them.

So far I've been quietly stocking my sidebar with top-level links to sites that I feel especially merit readers' attention, but I haven't yet written much of anything about them beyond the brief descriptive comments I placed beside the links. It's my intention to now begin assembling, and soon post, a “top however-many-it-takes” recommended reading/listening list — which at this point will involve sifting through a few years' worth of browser bookmarks and jotted-down reading notes to make sure I don't miss anything important...

Meanwhile, I'll start with a positively easy first recommendation: If you haven't already read every bit of Bill Whittle's work, I can only say that you are missing out tremendously — by all means head over to his site and choose any essay at random from his “Silent America” series. (I hope to write more about specific pieces among them in the not too distant future.) Or, go straight to Bill's most recent piece, “Tribes” (link updated 2009-10-13), which I pointed out when he posted it back in September, and which I just had the supreme pleasure of re-reading again with fresh eyes. No writer I have yet encountered speaks so eloquently or clearly about the American idea and way of life, and why they are every bit worth risking one's life and security to defend and preserve. Bill lifted me up from the depths of despair when I needed it most, and for that I will be forever and gratefully in his debt. I can't speak to whether his arguments would be persuasive to someone coming from a strongly different ideological bent, but I would certainly recommend his work as offering some of the most coherently presented and meritorious advocacy in favor of the American path in general and our present course in particular. I urge anyone who may be undecided on such matters and open to considering a different point of view to give audience to Bill's ideas and expression of them. In my at least somewhat humble opinion, one's time can hardly be better spent.

More to come...

On cultural confidence, cohesion, and the "melting pot"

Saturday, December 10, 2005

(This post is no longer quite as timely as it was when I began it as a draft over a month ago — by the timescales on which the blogosphere operates, at least — but it's still relevant I think, so please bear with me while I dredge up a bit of the semi-recent past on which to ruminate.)

Back in August, I bookmarked this article by Michael Barone that appeared in the wake of July's London subway bombings. For such a brief piece, it managed to touch on several compelling points, but there was one 20-word quotation in particular that really reached out of the page (or browser window, as it were) and seized my attention. Citing Australian journalist Tony Parkinson quoting French author Jean-François Revel, Barone penned:

“A civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.”

I was floored — in the way that I'm floored on reaching The Moment, the gem of expression that many a Bill Whittle essay seems to contain. Revel's comment hit the mark succinctly and precisely, and in so doing it gave me a chill.

Revel made his remark in reference to Cold War attitudes in the West. Yet it seems as relevant as ever today, when we face enemies committed to our destruction at a time when we seem more heavily burdened than ever with one massive guilt-trip after another about our culture (both in the U.S. and, more broadly, in the West), the way we live our lives domestically, and the role our country plays in the world.

I fully believe that we can endure and prevail in the fight against violent Islamic extremism if we want to. The key question seems to be: Do we want to? Having seen everything from apparent indifference to some pretty clear “no” answers from the domestic left in the years since 9/11, I have gotten to be far more worried about our own frame of mind than anything that al-Qaeda and its brethren have in store for us.

Revel's statement expresses so clearly what I've come to believe is the primary danger facing us today, and makes a point so central to my motivation for starting this blog, that I feel it belongs at the top of every page — so there I have placed it.

Barone's article came to mind again as I followed blogospheric and mainstream news outlet coverage of the recent riots that began in Clichy-sous-Bois and subsequently spread across France for two dismal weeks — this time for reasons more closely related to the article's central theme. In it, Barone posed a rather un-PC but seemingly very important question: Is multicultualism's tendency to segregate and isolate people a source of problems? To which I would add a further question that I imagine Barone might have had in mind but didn't explicitly state: What happens to a “multicultural” society that becomes so tolerant that it allows itself to be a host for people who are anything from indifferent to it or alienated from it (as in the poor, predominantly Muslim suburbs of Paris) to committed to its subversion and destruction (as in the case of the U.K.-raised London bombers, or the transplanted 9/11 hijackers)? The answer seems as relevant to the current situation in France as it does to the broader war on terrorism or violent Islamic extremism.

Multiculturalism holds wide appeal in part because it is embodies a kind and noble sentiment: allow for people's differences, respect them as unique individuals and let them live their own lives in their own ways.

The seming problem with multiculturalism lies not in the abstract idea but in its reduction to practice. Multiculturalist critics of the characteristically American “melting pot” approach to immigration have long complained about its expectation that people adapt or “assimilate” into their adopted host culture, in spite of the demonstrable benefits that doing so confers — both for the individuals doing the adjusting, and for the society that in turn benefits from their contributions, productivity, and solidly founded feelings of inclusion and investment in the culture's survival and success. America may offer immigrants a place to succeed, but (there's always a “but”, isn't there) it exacts an unfair price, multiculturalists allege, by asking them in return to adopt and incorporate into their lives certain American attitudes, traditions, or ways of doing things. Multiculturalists' intended purpose seems to be to spare immigrants' feelings and offer sympathy for the challenges that go with building a new life in a foreign place. By asserting as their axiom that all cultures are unquestionably of equal value, and opposing the expectation that people adapt to succeed, multiculturalists ostensibly seek to suppress inter-cultural conflict and simultaneously improve immigrants' lot in life. But it's become apparent to me that this approach can and does backfire in many ways, and I suspect that the unfortunate events we've seen unfold in Clichy-sous-Bois and its environs are evidence of that. The social fragmentation that can result from applying such thinking has been aptly termed “Balkanization”, and it doesn't appear to be good for anyone.

Multiculturalist ideology also provides another rhetorical tool or set of justifications with which contemporary social critics can continue to disparage us. I suspect it holds special appeal among intellecutals because its obsession with cultural equivalence provides a way to denigrate or gloss over the pronounced achievements of contemporary Western society, which competing ideologies cannot allow to stand as objects of admiration or aspiration.

Though multiculturalism claims as its axiom the notion that all cultures are morally equal, “In practice,”, Barone notes, “that soon degenerates to: All cultures all morally equal, except ours, which is worse.” I have all too frequently seen the phenomenon that Barone describes in action, and the clear hypocrisy of it has been one of the many motivators for my move away from contemporary American liberalism over the past several years. People of other cultures are to be pandered to apologetically, it seems, but it's open season when it comes to criticism of America and her culture and lifestyles. I hate to have to say it, but I've really lost patience with the double-standard that others should be encouraged in celebrating their cultures but we in the United States, or in the Western world at large, should be constantly shamed. I feel justifiable pride in my own culture too, and I simply won't abide that disingenuous double standard anymore, pretenting not to feel the glow that I do feel in the core of my heart.

I declare here and now that I have every confidence in, and every hope for, our country, our culture, and our way of life in the United States. I feel deeply proud and deeply grateful to be in the company of such a courageous group of people, who would carve a life not out of guarantees of safety but out of raw, untamed frontier. I pledge to do my utmost to contribute to America's continued thriving and success, that she may remain a congenial home to those who cherish freedom and an authentic beacon of hope to all who choose this life of liberty that I hold so dear. To stand here and make this delcaration clearly and unequivocally — well, that in itself has been a significant part of my purpose in starting this blog, so it seems an appropriate segue for the end of this post.

Thanks for tuning in folks! Thanks for being witness to my small, but to me vitally important, declaration concerning who I am and how I will live. Hope to see more of you in the future as I get this project out of the shipyards and off to sea... Best wishes.

This is harder than it looks

To any few readers I have who might be stopping by periodically to check for updates here: I thank you sincerely for your too-kind interest, and I apologize. I've been itching to write more, and have a few almost-finished drafts that have been circling in a holding pattern for far too long, but I haven't yet managed to figure out how to fit this project in as a regular part of my life and land them. It is quite simply beyond my miniscule intellect's comprehension to understand how blogopheric giants like Glenn Reynolds manage to succeed in their full-time day jobs, have time for family, and simultaneously write (or even “link-blog” with brief, insightful comments) so prolifically. My work life isn't even at its most intensely demanding right now, so I would think I should be able to fit an allowance for writing into my still-existent free time now if ever. No doubt part of the problem is that I'm just plain slow at this when I do manage to sit down and get to it — a situation that I can only hope will improve as I gain more experience as a writer. In the meantime, to any who may be reading this, thank you for your patience! I hope to soon get the hang of what I'm attempting to do here and manage to produce some worthwhile prose on the burning issues that have motivated me to start this project. I'm going to try to put some time into finishing up one or two new posts today. Hope to see you again soon on the other side!

Drinks with Che

Saturday, November 26, 2005

In Salt Lake City where I'm visiting for the weekend, drinking is something of a more rebellious activity than elsewhere, due to the more restrictive state and local liquor laws. To have a drink in a bar, for example, one must pay dues and become a “member”, or else come as the guest of a paid-up member — a regulation whose practical utility in curbing irresponsible drinking I must admit I'm skeptical of.

The amusing upside of this is that it lends the bars that do operate here that certain special “je ne sais quoi” that goes with all things forbidden. And if you're decorating a den of quasi-forbidden libations in this town, what more perfect icon of fashionable rebelliousness to grace its walls than the omnipresent Che? Such is the fare at the “defiantly hip” Red Door downtown, where I ducked in for a couple of drinks with friends tonight. If I didn't know better, I might have thought I was back home in left-wing San Francisco.

It continues to bewilder me how people manage to associate this fellow with rebelliousness. Is there any more certain road to capricious, illiberal totalitarian rule than that which Guevarra and his ideological comrades represent?

“Tengo una remera del Che y no sé por qué”


Stranger in a strange land

I may be getting better at this. A little at a time, anyway. In the recent past when finding myself in mixed political company, I've found it more than a bit challenging to keep my blood pressure down when the remarks disparaging our president, or taking a derisively defeatist stance on the Iraq war, or mocking American expressions of animosity toward France, etc. begin to circulate (with the usual seeming expectation that all present must naturally agree). Today for some reason though, I managed to keep my calm through two such episodes with much less difficulty than usual. I don't honestly know what was different this time. Perhaps it helped that so little of what gets said in such episodes of group commiseration is shocking or surprising to me anymore, and in these particular cases the talk didn't go too far over the top. Somehow though I felt as if I'd been able to step outside myself for those moments, putting aside my frustration for a change to look at things in the way that a calm and curious observer from a faraway place might — listening to what people said in an emotionally detached way, and trying to see how all the pieces fit together consistently in their (in some ways very foreign to me) worldviews.

Perhaps today was a fluke, but I'd certainly like to think it's a possible sign of progress. Maybe I've started to reach some kind of stage of acceptance, in having understood what it means to have taken a substantially different path in ideas. I don't expect those around me to share my feelings of disillusionment with contemporary liberalism, much less share my confidence in our country, our culture, or our present course. Sometimes the price of following one's inner voice is being different, and there's not much one can do but accept the consequences of that and keep on moving.

Wanting to believe

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Enclosed with a recent letter, my parents sent me a brief clipping by regular Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Kirby, titled “Why the animosity? Can't find it in the Quran”, in which the author relates his preliminary reaction to beginning to read the Muslim holy book.

Kirby's piece begins:

On the wall above my desk is a framed quotation. I don't know who said it, only that I saw it once and liked it.

"A book is like a mirror. If an ass looks into it, you can't expect an apostle to look back out."

The quote is especially poignant now that I'm slogging my way through the Holy Quran. It's a tough read, but I don't blame the book. So much of it is deeply spiritual and I'm not.

Technically, I should be reading something else. The LDS Church wants all of its members to read the entire Book of Mormon again this year. We've been given weekly reading goals and everything.

Doing this is supposed to bring me closer to God. That's all well and good, but right now I'm more interested in staying alive.

According to the news, about a billion Muslims also want me closer to God and are eager to kill me to help me get there. It seems only prudent that I find out why.

Toward this end I picked up a copy of the Quran two months ago.

"Here's the deal," Kirby concludes a couple of jokes later:

So far, I can't find anywhere in this book that says I'm supposed to be killed. There's plenty that says I'm going to hell in a hurry, but that's nothing new. The Bible, the Book of Mormon, and my mom all say that.

What I do find are continual references to tolerance and well treatment of others.


If the rest of the Quran is like what I've read so far, I'm pretty sure I won't find anything that deliberately encourages violence toward me or anyone else.

Bible, Book of Mormon, Quran, they all come down to what kind of person is looking into them. It always seems to be way too many asses.

Certainly I have read similar claims before, and would like very much to believe them. This was my carefully considered reply:

I sincerely hope that Kirby is right based on his reading so far — I really do. But I must say that I feel skeptical about his conclusions based on evidence I have seen elsewhere. I want very much to believe the assertion — oft-repeated by our own embattled president, no less — that "Islam is a religion of peace". Yet I fear that our charitable desire to be tolerant and ascribe innocent intentions to others may be putting us in serious danger, by persuading us to dismiss evidence to the contrary in favor of what we might prefer to believe, or what fits our expectations of people who think and behave as we do.

As I see it, for tragic reasons we have yet to understand, Islam either produces a disproportionate share of the world's violent extremists, or at minimum seems disproportionately prone to being twisted into an attractive ideological recruitment device and justification by such extremists. (For how often does one hear of suicide bombers of Hindu, Christian, Jewish, or Buddhist affiliation?) There are men calling themselves Muslim clerics, rightly or wrongly, who preach a doctrine of violent holy war — not just in predominantly Muslim lands, but also in the U.K., Europe, and here in the U.S. Whatever its causes, this is a correlation that remains unexplained to me, yet whose implications seem important to honestly confront, investigate and understand. As Kirby himself says, "It seems only prudent that I find out why." I respect Kirby's open-mindedness and search for reliable firsthand answers, but in his conclusion he seems to verge on denying that any real problem exists beyond our suspicion itself, which I fear is a dangerous mistake that plays into the hands of the extremists. There is indeed a human tendency to see what we want or expect to see, and I'd certainly prefer not to be an ass. But I also have no desire to be an ostrich (especially not a dead one).

While I fully believe that the majority of Muslims are reasonable moderates who do not advocate or have ties to violent extremism, it's unfortunate that the world seemingly hears only hesitant criticism from them when it comes to denouncing the acts and rhetoric of such extremists, who invoke Islam in their calls for jihad against the West and in celebration of terrorist acts. I certainly hope we will see that change, and that moderate Muslims will be successful in reclaiming their religion and reining in the extremists among them. To paraphrase a blogger whose patient, reasoned and thoughtful writing I have enjoyed this past year, I don't feel secure in sitting on a hot stove waiting for that to happen. But I would be very happy to be proven wrong in that possible underestimation of the moderate Muslim community. I certainly hope I will be.

Explaining the barbarians to themselves

Sunday, October 23, 2005

During a recent visit to Urban Ore, a sort of catch-all used junk/treasure store and minor Berkeley institution, I found myself sucked into the used book section. It's inevitable, it seems -- I do the same thing at antique stores, and have to keep a close eye on my watch when doing so, lest I lose all track of time browsing the worn spines with curious titles, leafing through pages of words once read and now mostly forgotten, as if searching for nothing in particular and something I can't quite identify.

Among the more interesting relics I examined that day was a 1946 high school yearbook, whose first dozen or so pages were devoted to class-portraits-in-uniform of young men (and more than a few young women among them) who had served in the U.S. armed forces in World War II. I wish I could remember the moving words of humble gratitude that were placed therein to honor their service (and in many cases their ultimate sacrifice). I wondered if the yearbook committees of today were addressing comparable subject matter with such reverence.

The yearbook went back on the shelf, but another book that caught my eye went home with me -- a somewhat yellowed and tattered but otherwise intact copy of a poem by Stephen Vincent Benét, whose earlier work “Listen to the People” I had read and deeply enjoyed. “Western Star” is the title of this one, a book-length story, published in 1943, about the American frontier and those who made and lived it.

I picked it up and started reading tonight, and am enjoying it very much so far. Three pages into the “Prelude” came a passage that seemed especially appropriate to excerpt here:

The stranger finds them easy to explain
(Americans, I said Americans,)
And tells them so in public and at length.
(It's an old Roman virtue to be frank,
A tattered Grecian parchment on the shelves,
Explaining the barbarians to themselves,
A lost, Egyptian prank.)
Here is the weakness. On the other hand,
Here is what really might be called the strength.
And then he makes a list.
Sometimes he thumps the table with his fist.
Sometimes, he's very bland.
O few, stiff-collared and unhappy men
Wilting in silence, to the cultured boom
Of the trained voice in the perspiring room!
O books, O endless, minatory books!
(Explaining the barbarians to themselves)
He came and went. He liked our women's looks.
Ate lunch and said the skyscrapers were high,
And then, in state, passed by,
To the next lecture, to the desolate tryst.
Sometimes to waken, in the narrow berth
When the green curtains swayed like giant leaves
In the dry, prairie-gust,
Wake, with an aching head, and taste the dust,
The floury wheat-dust, smelling of the sheaves,
And wonder, for a second of dismay,
If there was something that one might have missed,
Between the chicken salad and the train,
Between the ladies' luncheon and the station,
Something that might explain one's explanation

When dinner parties and political parties mix

It's about time I posted something else to move the previous headline out of the way (lest someone think there had been yet another terrorist attack in Bali already).

I've started making progress again toward the second post in my intended series, but I don't yet have a feel for when that will be ready. Meanwhile, there's an interesting post and ensuing discussion on “Dinner party politics and how to avoid them”, over on Neo-neocon's blog -- discussing an awkward situation in which I've certainly found myself on more than one occasion.

Terrorists Have Struck Again in Bali

Saturday, October 1, 2005

...nearly three years after the nightclub bombings that killed 200.

Preliminary reports via CNN, AP, and Reuters claim at least 25 are dead this time, and four times that many wounded.


Update (10/3): The Economist posts its initial coverage as details continue to emerge:

FOREIGNERS were the target but most casualties were locals. The three suicide-bombers who walked into restaurants on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on the evening of Saturday October 1st, carrying bombs packed with ball-bearings, nails and glass, clearly aimed to kill and maim large numbers of tourists. By Monday the number of casualties was still unclear—perhaps 22 dead and 90 injured. However, most were known to be Indonesians, though several Australians and one Japanese man are also reported dead or missing.

The bombings were almost certainly the work of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), an Islamist terror group with a presence across South-East Asia. Unlike al-Qaeda, with which it has links, JI does not normally admit responsibility for its attacks, though it is known to have been behind the much larger bombings in Bali in October 2002, which killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists, as well as other attacks across Indonesia.

Tim Blair:

“The big “why” in all of this isn’t anything to do with terrorist motivation, but why so many on the left—facing a force that opposes feminism, homosexuality, diversity, freedom of expression, and democracy—seek cosy understanding of that force.”

Protests and Counter-Protests in D.C.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

As anti-war, anti-Bush, and, it appears to me, anti-U.S. protestors descended (from the moral high ground?) on Washington D.C. yesterday, I found it heartening to see counter-demonstrators making their own appearance in support of our country, our troops, and our fight. I wish I had been there to stand with them.

Instapundit has linked to various efforts to photoblog the day, here and here. Boatloads of interesting pictures at Ed McNamara's site and also at this blog.

I'm having trouble getting Blogger's image upload support to work at the moment, so I hope these folks won't mind my linking a few pics directly.

UPDATE: More pictures at Instapundit.

International A.N.S.W.E.R.: Authentically anti-war, or “pro-war, but on the other side”?

MORE: Pictures from the San Francisco rally.

Life So Far - Part 1

Saturday, September 24, 2005

For new readers just tuning in: after outlining my goals for this blog in an introductory post and follow-up, and picking up again with another follow-up and an acknowledgment, I'm finally launching into the first post in what I hope will become a (brief) series, in which I intend to explore how I came to see the world the way I do, and address the question of whether and how my views have changed in recent years.

Rather than digress into a full autobiography that would unnecessarily bore my readers to sleep, I'm going to try to keep this focused on the details and experiences that seem to have been most influential in shaping my ideas and attitudes. There's plenty of interesting stuff in the present and recent past that I want to get around to blogging about without much further delay, so I have motivation to keep this brief and stay on-topic. The way I envision the series now, I expect to get through it in about 5 or 6 posts. We'll see how that goes.


I grew up in Los Angeles (yes, people do do that in “L.A.”, to greater or lesser extent), spending the first 20 years of my life there during the 70s and 80s. For those interested in the math, that puts me in my mid-30s now -- wondering, as I think we all do now and again, where the time could have gone.

The older of two children, I grew up in a family with both parents (a fortunate situation that an early awareness of elementary-school classmates with divorced parents led me to appreciate), together with a lively and dear extended family centered around a nearby aunt and uncle and their two daughters. Thanksgivings, Easters, and Christmases were invariably spent around the semi-improvised dining room table of one sister or the other, enjoying good company, good conversation, laughter and meals that had been a much appreciated, hours-long-in-the-making labor of love. Now that my aunt is no longer with us, I miss the gatherings we used to have in those days all the more.

One might argue that as children we maybe aren't as attuned to such things as adults are, but in my recollection my parents were almost never vocally political, and it was an extreme rarity for politics to ever come up in conversation, whether at home or at such extended-family gatherings. Implicitly it seemed there were many more important and interesting things in life, such as cherishing our time together and taking an interest in one another's lives and happiness, and politics were a relatively less important matter and/or a personal one. This approach seemed perfectly natural to me then -- so much so that I don't think I ever took particular notice of it -- and surely had an influence on my own attitudes. Having grown up in that kind of environment, it's no wonder that I get uneasy today when people not only freely bring up their politics in conversation, but seem to assume that others must naturally share their (implicitly correct) views and opinions. In hindsight, it's perhaps an aspect of the bubble of my childhood that did not prepare me well for conflict. But on the other hand, I will say that I think there's something to the perhaps old-fashioned notion that such topics might not be considered polite conversation in presumably “mixed company”. There's a sort of humility to that seemingly forgotten convention that I would think might appeal to people who today advocate for tolerance of diverse viewpoints, though it evidently does not. As a result, in my adult life I have often found myself uncomfortably in the middle of an unexpectedly political conversation, looking for an exit.


Since early childhood, I have always been interested in figuring out what enabled people to be successful, in the sense of being happy and fulfilled. A reasonable level of material success was something I came to see as part of that, but as a helpful potential facilitator rather than the end goal. For certainly there were people who were rich and unhappy, and without question a deeply meaningful and worthwhile life could be had without the requirement of material success or reward -- yet, by the same token, it seemed that a person with goals and interests would do well to acquire sufficient means to support himself in their pursuit. The key seemed to be to find what you loved doing, and then figure out a way to make that your livelihood, so that you could devote your time and attention to doing it. It wasn't going to be easy getting started, and some began with greater obstacles ahead of them than others, but enough had made it to show that it was possible to get from anywhere to anywhere. The essential and indispensable ingredients, it seemed to me, were passion, determination, perseverance, integrity, hope, resourcefulness, a basic faith in life and humanity, and a can-do attitude. I sought out examples of that attitude and the success it produced, among both the famous and the people around me, and thought about the things I felt passionate about doing and how to make the recipe work for my life.

The flip side of this was noticing the self-defeating things that people so often did (all too frequently, it seemed to me, out of disproportionate or unfounded fear), which in many cases caused them far more grief than anything that others, or their accidental situation in life, had done to them. Avoiding the trap of fear and self-sabotaging attitudes seemed to be another essential part of the recipe. An awareness of fear's potential influence on us, and of the need to continually combat its debilitating effects in order to live a full life, continues to play an important role in the way I approach things. (I'm of course never quite as fearless as I aspire to be, but successful avoidance of fear's deadly traps is a goal toward which I continually strive.)

Throughout high school, I worked the occasional catering job as a bus boy, dishwasher, and sometimes prep cook or waiter, as my way of earning spending money. (I had long hair back then, for reasons that I now find more difficult to fathom when looking at old pictures, and that usually, though not always, limited me to the back-room jobs.) Catering work in L.A. included everything from weddings and bar mitzvahs to Academy Awards dinners and private parties at the homes of the rich and occasionally even famous. I remember the vast majority of our clients as having been kind and generous, and now that I've begun to enjoy a modest measure of success in my own life I've sought to pass that generosity on each time the opportunity arises to tip someone for a job well done. I mention this because it's one of the life experiences that comes to mind when I try to understand why I didn't develop the same ingrained resentment of or vindictiveness toward people with money that I occasionally see in other people and in contemporary politics. The rich whom I had met were people living productive and creative lives whose blessings they seemed to genuinely appreciate, and who were doing one of the best things they could possibly do for me and my fellow-catering-temp classmates by hosting events that provided us with good student jobs. Within a few years, I would leave that springboard to begin pursuit of a more technical/scientific career, but I am grateful for those experiences, for the character and responsibility that they helped me to develop, and for the many fine people I worked with and for.


It's been a bit of a strange feeling so far, going back to revisit my past, from the perspective of knowing what happened next, in an attempt to see and understand connections in my train of thought. In hindsight, though I wouldn't begin to realize it until my college years, my tendency to avoid political engagement and conflict, and acquired convictions regarding the primacy of one's own attitude and actions in determining the course of one's life, were to put me on a collision course with the culture of contemporary liberalism as it had developed in the U.S. In the meantime, before my awareness of the points of divergence in my own perspective began to take shape, I would myself live as an least peripheral part of that culture for the next several years.

(More to come...)

I Remember

Sunday, September 11, 2005

I had hoped by this date to have reached the point of September 11, 2001 in the telling of my own story, but I haven't yet managed to set aside enough time for that project to make it happen. I'll save the untangling of that painful knot for a future date. For now I just want to join others in solemnly marking the day and the passage of another year.

In past years, I've looked without much success for 9/11 memorial services to attend in the Bay Area. Maybe we're just too far removed from the sites of the attacks out here. (Maybe, I often think, we're also too far removed from the reality of that day.) Last year I ended up spending the day alone in quiet remembrance, watching and reading as memorial posts unfolded across the “blogosphere” with which I had only recently become acquainted. In hindsight, I did attend a memorial service of sorts that year, with a far-flung extended family that shared my grief. I expect I'll be checking in again with many of the same folks as today wears on.

Yesterday I finished watching the remarkable two-part National Geographic documentary “Inside 9/11” that Bill Whittle mentioned in his recent essay and that has been waiting for me on the TiVo all week. It was difficult stuff to get through, to be sure, but a journey I had to take. We must remember and clearly understand what happened on that day and in the decade-plus of malicious planning that led up to it, and I think the creators of the National Geographic documentary have helped facilitate that by producing an exemplary piece of journalism — one that presents us with the known facts, and leaves us to weigh them.

My watching of “Inside 9/11” prompted many thoughts, but I will leave it at one for now. In our grief, we must not forget this was not merely a “tragedy” or misfortune (though it was certainly the former), but an act of war by violent extremists who mean to destroy us by dividing us against one another. I often fear they may be succeeding. If we care anything for our culture and way of life, we must not allow them to prevail.


One of the most moving and memorable reflections I read this year was this 2003 article about the search for the identity of the famously photographed “Falling Man”. (Thanks to Michelle Malkin for the pointer!)

Also recommended: a 9/11 photo-essay at Pajamas Media.

Whittle's Return

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

Web-essayist extraordinaire Bill Whittle is back and in top form, with a new piece entitled “Tribes”!** Bill's is some of the best work I've had the pleasure and privilege of reading this past year (and quite possibly ever). If you haven't experienced a Bill Whittle tour de force before, I highly recommend you pay a visit to his site.

Bill's latest piece has left me reflecting on how fortunate I am to have lived most of my life within the artificial sanctuary of the flock. The attacks of 9/11 awakened the sleeping sheep dog in me, and I humbly hope to make myself useful in that capacity.

* UPDATE 2009-09-08: Sadly, “Tribes” appears to have been a casualty of Bill's move to I've updated the above link to point to where the essay should be -- and, I hold out hope, will be someday -- but for now the text of it is missing in action, and can only be found in the Second (print) Edition of Bill's excellent “Silent America” essay collection (which I can't possibly recommend highly enough).

** UPDATE 2009-10-13: “Tribes” is back online!

Václav Klaus: View from a Post-Communist Country Situated in Predominantly Post-Democratic Europe

Thursday, September 1, 2005

One more news item before I launch into my series:

Courtesy of Instapundit: Czech Republic President Václav Klaus delivered a remarkable address at a meeting of the Mont Pèlerin Society in Reykjavik last week. As a U.S. citizen of partly Czech ancestry who holds liberty dear, I can't help but feel a special affinity for the spirit of his stirring words.

Beginning with an exploration of the appeal that socialist thinking holds for intellectuals, and tracing his theme through to the development of socialism's contemporary derivative ideologies in Western Europe, Klaus ends up painting a clearer picture of the broad differences in thinking between Western European nations and their post-communist Eastern brethren than I think I have yet seen expressed.

There's an audio (.mp3) recording in the “Attachments” section following the Brussels Journal article, and a full transcript of Klaus' speech (which he abbreviated significantly in some places as he went). This is, without a doubt, one of those “read the whole thing” gems — so much so that choosing a brief passage to quote is difficult.

Fifteen years after the collapse of communism I am afraid, more than at the beginning of its softer (or weaker) version, of social-democratism, which has become — under different names, e.g. the welfare state or the soziale Marktwirtschaft — the dominant model of the economic and social system of current Western civilization. It is based on big and patronizing government, on extensive regulating of human behavior, and on large-scale income redistribution.


Illiberal ideas are becoming to be formulated, spread and preached under the name of ideologies or “isms”, which have — at least formally and nominally — nothing in common with the old-styled, explicit socialism. These ideas are, however, in many respects similar to it. There is always a limiting (or constraining) of human freedom, there is always ambitious social engineering, there is always an immodest “enforcement of a good” by those who are anointed on others against their will, there is always the crowding out of standard democratic methods by alternative political procedures, and there is always the feeling of superiority of intellectuals and of their ambitions.

I have in mind environmentalism (with its Earth First, not Freedom First principle), radical humanrightism (based — as de Jasay precisely argues — on not distinguishing rights and rightism), ideology of “civic society” (or communitarism), which is nothing less than one version of post-Marxist collectivism which wants privileges for organized groups, and in consequence, a refeudalization of society. I also have in mind multiculturalism, feminism, apolitical technocratism (based on the resentment against politics and politicians), internationalism (and especially its European variant called Europeanism) and a rapidly growing phenomenon I call NGOism.

All of them represent substitute ideologies for socialism. All of them give intellectuals new possibilities, new space for their activities, new niches in the market of ideas.

(Klaus' inclusion of “feminism” in this last passage is a bit surprising to me. — Is the dominant form of feminism in Europe an illiberal one?)

Interestingly, Virginia Postrel asserts that Klaus has finally come around to seeing it her way, years after repudiating her assertion that socialism in its traditional form is no longer cause for significant concern.

An Acknowledgement, as I get underway

Saturday, August 27, 2005

OK. Today, I begin.

But first, a tip of the hat is in order. (I'm not actually given to wearing hats very often, but let's just set that minor detail aside for the moment and go with the metaphor, shall we?)

One of the blogs I've been frequently reading and enjoying since first encountering it last Spring is written by a trained therapist living in New England. Blogging anonymously under the pseudonym "neo-neocon", her goal has in part been to explore the process of her own political change in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, in an ongoing series titled "A Mind is a Difficult Thing to Change". Reading her insights and perspective, and occasionally participating in the discussions in the comments sections following her posts, has been a very helpful kind of therapy for me, as someone going through a very similar experience earlier in life and on the other side of the continent.

Neo's thoughtful work has helped motivate me to begin recounting my own story and exploring my own process of change and of coming to better understand myself. I've been grateful for the thought and effort she puts into her writing, which consistently comes across as being motivated by a sincere desire to better understand things, and I hope to follow her admirably level-headed example in that regard. (Hers is certainly a blog to which I'd refer any Democrat with a sincere interest in understanding what the heck happened to his or her wayward former compatriots.)

As a practical means of keeping momentum on the writing end (with the added benefit of hopefully not boring my readers too terribly) I expect to try to stick to the essentials and get through this bit of storytelling fairly quickly. There is plenty of stuff in the recent past and present that I want to blog about, and I hope to start making more time for that soon. So if I can manage it, I'm going to do my level best to suppress any perfectionistic tendencies that might become an undue hindrance, and try to treat this more like writing a series of e-mail messages -- which, for whatever reason, don't seem to take as long to compose. Better to post something rather than to wait indefinitely for the right turn of phrase to come to mind, or to be sure that every last detail is in place.

The above said, I do feel the need to start this blog by establishing some basic context: Who am I, and what's motivated me to begin this project? In my most recent post, I wrote:

Discovering that I am more different from those around me than I had realized, in my way of seeing and thinking, has prompted me to try to understand the essential reasons for and origins of those differences. Is there just a different set of axioms wired into my way of perceiving, analyzing, and responding to the world? How did I acquire them? What makes me “me”?

As I get underway, these are the some of the questions I'll be setting out to explore.

I've been told that I have changed over the past several years. Have I in fact changed in my views? Have the Democratic party and "liberalism" with which I once decidedly identified changed? Have I grown to become more aware of and to more clearly understand the foundational differences between my own beliefs and the philosophy of contemporary liberalism in the U.S.? To some extent, each of these things has happened. And while the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and their aftermath have certainly been a catalyst for my own change and reexamination of my thinking, the story goes back farther than that and there's much more to it.

My first piece in the series is coming together. If I don't quite manage to finish it today, I hope to get it posted sometime in the coming week for sure. Stay tuned and thanks for visiting!

Getting Started (The Tyranny of Beginnings)

Monday, August 15, 2005

Having amply, if unintentionally, demonstrated what I meant by “weeks at a time,” I suppose I can consider it OK to get this project rolling now. I'm working on it, folks. The trouble is, I've been accumulating so many ideas I want to write about that figuring out just where and how to begin is turning out to be a big challenge. Combined with the need to make time to sit and write at reasonably regular intervals, the experience is giving me a whole new degree of respect for those who manage to make this look so easy.

I've been thinking a lot about what I want to say and the points I want to cover, jotting down thoughts here and there and composing fragments of future posts as they come to me in seemingly random order. I think throughout my life this has just been the way that the process of writing has worked for me. Occasionally, I've had the experience of writing something straight through from begining to end without looking back, and being reasonably satisfied with the end result. More often, though, I'll start at some random point in the middle (wherever my mind seems inclined to focus first) and build the thing up, adding fragments as they come to mind, and finally arranging them in sequence and linking them together until I have a coherent end result with a natural flow of thought to it.

At this stage the pieces are starting to come together, but not necessarily in sequential order, so it's going to take a bit more time before I can start to roll the first finished pieces off the assembly line. I assure you though, my mind is still on this, and I'm working on it when I can.

It's been an interesting exercise thinking back to earlier parts of my life and revisiting the path by which I became the person I am today, while attempting to distill from that the set of experiences that seem to have been most important in shaping the way I see and think. Discovering that I am more different from those around me than I had realized, in my way of seeing and thinking, has prompted me to try to understand the essential reasons for and origins of those differences. Is there just a different set of axioms wired into my way of perceiving, analyzing, and responding to the world? How did I acquire them? What makes me “me”?

As I get underway, these are the some of the questions I'll be setting out to explore. Stay tuned. I hope to have more in the coming weeks.

A Welcome Failure

Thursday, July 21, 2005

I was driving in to work this morning when the news of today's bombings in London came in. Thankfully they appear to have been an utter failure casualty-wise, due to faulty detonators. Investigators seem hopeful at this point that the undetonated bombs may yield significant forensic evidence that could identify the perpetrators of the attack, and apparently two suspects are now in custody in connection with the explosions.

Instapundit had the day's news roundup here, here, here, and here. John Howard's remarks seemed spot on to me.

Hold fast, London. We're with you.

A Reminder That Londoners Have Weathered Worse

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

A section of the exterior walls of London's Victoria & Albert Museum still bears damage from the Blitz, which has been preserved as a reminder of a time when Londoners lived under constant threat of attack.

I snapped these pictures during a visit last year, not imagining that I would soon revisit them with new eyes.

On the London Bombings

Sunday, July 10, 2005

I wish to express my deepest sympathy to our valued friends, allies, and fellow human beings in the U.K., who on Thursday, July 7th endured a terribly vicious set of attacks on their home soil — attacks that were clearly premeditated to kill, maim, terrorize, and intimidate as many as possible. Know that I and many others around the world and in the U.S. stand with you, in firm resolve that we shall not capitulate to such contemptible, apparently anti-civilizational acts.

I was traveling outside the U.S. on the 7th, and received the news of the bombings in a frustratingly slow trickle via CNN and BBC World beginning Thursday morning. Having limited Internet access during such an event made me appreciate just how valuable the blogosphere has become to me as a source of news, analysis, and commentary; during a too-brief opportunity I managed to quickly check in with Instapundit and read a few posts and comments on neo-neocon's blog and a few others. Back at home now, I'm frantically catching up with these and all the other sites I regularly read...

I tend to agree with others who've asserted that whomever was responsible has probably just made a very bad strategic mistake. They have underestimated the strength of our resolve and of our love for what we hold dear. We will not be intimidated. We're not afraid.

It would certainly be good to see a widely supported anti-terrorism protest in London. I hope there will be one.

Heaven, To Me

Sunday, July 3, 2005

I'm making a slightly early Independence Day post, since I don't know whether I'll be able to get to a computer on the 4th.

I'll remember 2005 as the year I first had the pleasure of hearing Madeleine Peyroux sing “Heaven to Me”, which caught me by surprise and moved me to tears of joyful recognition. It expresses with quiet grace what's in my heart on this occasion, and every day:

When I hear them say, there's better livin’
Let them go their way, to that new livin’
I won't ever stray
‘Cause this is Heaven, to me

‘Long as freedom grows, I want to seek it
If it's “Yes” or “No”, it's me who'll speak it
‘Cause the Lord, he knows
That this is Heaven, to me

If you've got your hands, and got your feet
to sing your song all through the street
You'll raise your head when the day is done,
shout your thanks up to the Sun

So when I hear them say there's better livin’
Let them go their way, to that new livin’
I won't ever stray, ‘cause this is Heaven, to me
‘Cause this is Heaven, to me...

Happy Birthday, America. Thank you for my life and for my freedom, and for all the wonderful things that they have made possible.

And last but not least, heartfelt thanks beyond the power of my words to express, to those past and present who have risked all, and in some cases sacrificed all, that we might live the lives of free men and women. May we be worthy of all that they have given up for us.

On Approach

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

A few things that I didn't manage to work into my first post:

I expect that my frequency-of-posting style in this blog will be to take whatever time I need to carefully consider and try to clearly articulate each set of ideas that I set out to cover, and therefore to post less frequently than many other bloggers do. (Which is not to imply that other bloggers don't think things through; I just suspect it will take me longer to approach such quality of work as I've had the pleasure of enjoying from others!) So if I end up being quiet for weeks at a time, don't despair or assume that I've given up. I'll make it clear when I consider this project finished, if that ever happens.

I'm writing under a pseudonym here to keep work and personal life separate, both for my own benefit and to protect my employer. It just seems like the smart thing to do these days, given how easy it is to Google up information and connect it to its source, and given how politically homogeneous the circles in which I currently work and socialize appear to be.

Irrespective of the free license to rant unaccountably that blogging anonymously provides, my intent is to try to keep the discussion here reasonable and say nothing that I wouldn't be willing to stand by. If I'm not sure about something, I'll say I'm not sure. I may at times feel the need to vent a bit when something really bothers me, but I'll make my best effort to take a good deep breath before doing so. Likewise, when I recommend or refer to other blogs, I'll try to stick to sites where reasoned discussion is the norm. I don't get much out of reading angry one-sided screeds, and it's not my style either.

Lastly, I hope it will become clear as I go on that, while I'm writing based on my own experience living in the United States, and feel a desire to express my love for the particular country and culture that have made my own life of freedom possible, I do not regard the love of freedom or the ability to adopt and live by its principles as being the exclusive purview of any particular nation or group of people. It is a universal concept to me, there for any who choose to strive for it. A high regard for the importance of freedom has certainly been a foundational and defining characteristic of American culture and governance, but of course we are a nation built by and of people from all over the globe, my own ancestors included among them. So to you, from wherever you may hail, if you feel this love of, this hunger for liberty too, then welcome, friend. I hope you will find comfort, inspiration, or something of value to you in these pages.

Hang in there folks. There's more coming, I promise.

A Beginning

Saturday, June 4, 2005

This is the beginning of an attempt to give something back to a country to which I feel I owe my life, and to a culture of freedom with which I am deeply in love. It is my long overdue thank-you letter to America. It is the still-unfolding story — told from inside this wonderful, imperfect bubble of relative freedom, stability and prosperity that I feel so deeply grateful to inhabit — of my own American Dream.

That last in particular is a rather loaded phrase to use these days, I have come to learn, but I leave it there with a purpose. It's the tragically baggage-laden name given to one of many concepts I intend to touch on here. Give me time and I will explain what it means to me, and why I think it is worthy of more than our derision.

Part of my approach to this project, I expect, will be telling fragments of the one story that I know best: the story that I have lived and seen with my own eyes. So it seems appropriate to begin with one such fragment, one thread drawn from the many that have run through my life:

Music has always been precious to me. The music I've known in my life has become an inextricable part of the way I remember times and places gone by, and of the way I think about the future. “Fearless Dream” is a phrase taken, in a sense, from a song I grew up with. During a pivotal phase in my life, between my friends' departures for college and embarking on my own adventures — now, I dare admit, roughly 15 years ago — one of the albums I listened to most was Rush's “Exit ... Stage Left”. It was frequently there in the background as I dreamt my own dreams and hatched my own hopeful and ambitious plans for the future. The second song on the album, “Red Barchetta,” tells the story of a young man's weekend escapes to his uncle's farm, where he takes an old roadster for harrowing white-knuckle rides down winding country roads. Geddy Lee's infamous soprano voice soars exuberantly over Neil Peart's equally famous rock-steady syncopated drumming, as guitar and bass drive the rhythm line home in tight and agile unison:

“Jump to the ground
As the turbo slows to cross the borderline.
Run like the wind of excitement
chilling up and down my spine.

For down in his barn,
my uncle preserved for me an old machine
(old in your years).
To keep it as new has been his fearless dream.

I strip away the old debris, that hides the shining car
a brilliant, red Barchetta from a better-managed time”

Or at least, that's how I always heard it. The consensus among the lyrics websites seems to be that the actual phrase is “dearest dream.” Some of the other details differ from what I remember too. But the above has stuck in my mind as what my ears always heard, and seems fitting in its own right — so, for my purposes, “fearless dream” it will always be. When I listen to the song today, those ringing words still lift my spirits as much as ever.

The phrase struck me as an appropriate title for this web log for two reasons. First — and this is a broad theme on which I hope to elaborate here — because I think it takes courage to live in a truly free society. Freedom comes with no roadmap and no warranty. Trying to figure out what to do with it can be scary as hell. It has been, at times, for me. This is something that I think most of us are not taught to expect, at least not directly. Yet acknowledging the inherent risk that goes in hand with having real freedom, and addressing the question of why living in freedom might be worth embracing the accompanying uncertainty and peril, is essential I think, if we're to have some hope of preserving this precious and hard-won gift. We must keep the answer to this key question in mind as we consider possible courses of action that can curtail freedom, or we may give it up without much of a thought.

Second, I want to make some humbly offered contribution here to illuminating and thereby hopefully helping to revitalize and preserve the ideas that have made this culture of freedom possible — ideas that I think form the essential cornerstone of our culture's success. Ideas of great prescience and beauty that we seem, from my current perspective, to be in actual danger of either forgetting or intentionally discarding. “...this brilliant, red Barchetta from a better-managed time...”

I don't think of myself as someone who's given to worrying overly much. If anything, I more often tend to fall into the middle-of-the-road “Crisis? What crisis?” category. But certain of the seemingly popular attitudes that I have encountered repeatedly since my college years have left me with the sinking feeling that something has gone terribly, terribly wrong in our perception of ourselves and our way of life. We seem to be paying an inordinate amount of attention to the hand-wringing of professional social critics, while forgetting the very good reasons for choosing to live as we do. At times, I fear we might be getting ready to throw this precious gift, born of so much sacrifice, out the window. Certainly I know people, including old and dear friends, who seem to think that the time for the American way of life, with its emphasis on individual freedom and carefully circumscribed governance, has come and gone. That we ought to replace the maxim of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and the legal and governmental framework that supports it, with something ostensibly better. If that is to be the case, then I feel the need to say my peace before it is gone. Because if we turn our backs on this idea of freedom that has been so foundational to our way of life, I think we should at least take the time to fully understand what it is that we will be giving up.

Writing this weblog is part of my way of dealing with the heartbreak of this apparent change in attitudes, attempting to understand what has caused it, and trying to figure out whether it might be reversible. Freedom has made my life possible, and it has taken me some years to appreciate just how precious and fragile it is, and to realize just how much I have taken it for granted.

There are so many interrelated ideas that I want to explore here, that it's difficult to say at the outset what the overarching, unifying theme will be. This has to do with how we think about economics, equality, responsibility, rights, science, reason, technology, art, culture, human achievement, history, and the future ... that great unknown and unknowable. I can't possibly forsee, at the outset of this project, whether I will be able to clearly articulate the many interconnections among ideas that I'm setting out to explore ... or whether I will even succeed in making the time, amid a very busy work and home life, to keep up the project. But these are things I find myself thinking about all the time, and touch on issues that I've come to think are crucial to our future. This stuff has been lodged painfully in my heart and I just have to get it out. So I will try.

I of course have my own filter, my own lens through which I see the world, which may well differ from yours. I have great confidence in the “free market in ideas” -- in your capacity as the reader to survey the wide variety of ideas that are out there and then draw your own conclusions based on the sum of the evidence and arguments presented. Critics have every right to criticize, and we have the right to ask whether what they're saying really makes sense. My aim here is only to use my one voice to say things that I think need saying. There are well-reasoned arguments to be made in favor of choosing freedom over safety and other competing demands, and I hope to shed some light on those here, for it seems we don't get much exposure to them nowadays.

In no small part, I am here to make what, much to my surprise, has become a pretty bold and audacious statement in the year 2005: that we in the United States have been needlessly losing confidence in our way of life. That we have a culture that, while it needs a little help here and there, is every bit worthy of our hope, enthusiasm, adoration, sacrifice, courage, loyalty, and devotion.

This is the beginning of an attempt to give something back to a country to which I feel I owe my life, and to a culture of freedom with which I am deeply in love. It is my long overdue thank-you letter to America. It is the still-unfolding story of my own American Dream.

Stay tuned. The best, I hope and believe, is yet to come.