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“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

More Renovations Afoot

Thursday, October 29, 2009

No need to watch your step, folks … the surface changes are minor and shouldn’t cause any big trouble … but I’ve done a bit of remodeling behind the scenes here to better serve you, our valued patrons.

Specifically, I’ve finally finished porting my heavily customized blog template to Blogger’s newer “Layouts” format. The process was about as fun as it sounds, but part of the payoff is that I can now classify my posts using “labels” (a.k.a. “tags”) for your surfing and post-discovery convenience.

This of course means I have a new job to do (isn’t it neat how that works?) — choosing appropriate tag set, and going back and tagging all of my old posts. I’m only partway through that, with most of 2007 through 2009 left to go, so the categories aren’t yet complete (though “9/11” is mostly there already), but note that you can now discover posts on related topics using the “Labels” links that appear at the end of each post and under the “About Me” box in the right sidebar. (You may now welcome me to the early 21st century. Thank you.)

I’ll of course be tagging new posts as I go from now on, and I hope to finish tagging the rest of the old ones soon.

That’s it. Please let me know if you run into any problems during the bringup, including posts that seem misclassified. — Thanks!

The Management

Anita Dunn, Maoist in the White House

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What possible place could there be for an ardent admirer of Mao Zedong in the United States government? White House Communications Director, apparently. Madness.

At Say Anything, via Instapundit:

How can any high-level American political official seriously cite Mao as a favorite political philosopher and not be driven from office immediate with jeers and derision?

Mao was a mass murder. A tyrant and a dictator whose teachings amount to a cruel ideology that murdered tens of millions and oppressed hundreds of millions more.

Obama needs to explain to us why someone like Dunn is serving in his administration.

Nick Gillespie at Reason (also via Instapundit):

I admit it. I want my reality back. I don’t know when it went missing. But I want it back.

Victor Davis Hanson (thanks again, Glenn):

I am not a big fan of saying that officials should resign for stupid remarks. But interim White House communications director Anita Dunn’s praise of Mao Zedong as a “political philosopher” is so unhinged and morally repugnant, that she should hang it up, pronto.

Mao killed anywhere from 50 million to 70 million innocents in the initial cleansing of Nationalists, the scouring of the countryside, the failed Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, Tibet, and the internal Chinese gulag. Dunn’s praise of a genocidal monster was no inadvertent slip: She was reading from a written text and went into great detail to give the full context of the remark. Moreover, her comments were not some student outburst from 30 years ago; they were delivered on June 5, 2009. Her praise of Mao’s insight and courage in defeating the Nationalists was offered long after the full extent of Mao’s mass-murdering had been well documented. Mao killed more people than any other single mass killer in the history of civilization.

So where do all these people, so intimate with our president (Dunn is the wife of his personal lawyer), come from? A right-wing attack machine could not make up such statements as those tossed off by a Dunn or a Van Jones. There seems to be neither a moral compass nor even a casual knowledge of history in this administration. And now we have the avatars of the “new politics” claiming it’s okay to praise Mao’s political and philosophical insight and his supposed determination (“You fight your war, and I’ll fight mine”) because Lee Atwater supposedly once evoked Mao too.

Ms. Dunn should simply duck out of her D.C. suburb and ask any Tibetan or Chinese immigrant in his 70s and 80s what life was really like in Mao’s China.

Ironic Surrealism, via @velvethammer, has video of Anita Dunn describing the Obama campaign’s press strategy:

“Very rarely did we communicate through the press anything that we didn’t absolutely control,” said Dunn.

“One of the reasons we did so many of the David Plouffe videos was not just for our supporters, but also because it was a way for us to get our message out without having to actually talk to reporters,” said Dunn, referring to Plouffe, who was Obama’s chief campaign manager.

“We just put that out there and made them write what Plouffe had said as opposed to Plouffe doing an interview with a reporter. So it was very much we controlled it as opposed to the press controlled it,” Dunn said.

Continued Dunn: “Whether it was a David Plouffe video or an Obama speech, a huge part of our press strategy was focused on making the media cover what Obama was actually saying as opposed to why the campaign was saying it, what the tactic was. … Making the press cover what we were saying.”


At The Atlantic: Megan McArdle: “Radical Chic”:

I thought that this must be some kind of grotesque conservative exaggeration, but no, White House Communications Director Anita Dunn really did tell a graduating high school class to emulate Mao Tse-Tung’s bold and imaginative attitude during his takeover of China. Most of us look at the tens of millions who died and maybe think twice about trying to imitate the late Chairman, but hey, think different!

Glenn Reynolds adds::

The White House has long since outrun conservatives’ powers of exaggeration.

I’ll say.

9/11 Quotes

Friday, September 11, 2009

Following are quotes from some of the best writing I have seen over the past eight years, on the subject of the 9/11 attacks and their legacy. (I’ve also posted my own 9/11 recollections this year — my first time telling this story.)

Debra Burlingame, sister of the pilot of American Flight 77 that was crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11, cautioned us last year not to “misremember”

There is a disturbing phenomenon creeping into the public debate about all things 9/11. Increasingly, Sept. 11 is compared to hurricanes, bridge collapses and other mechanical disasters or criminal acts that result in loss of life, with “body count” being the primary factor that keeps it in the top spot of “worst in the nation’s history.”

Misremembering is as dangerous as forgetting. If we must know one thing, it is that the Sept. 11 attacks were neither a natural disaster, nor the unfortunate result of human error. 9/11 wasn’t the catastrophic equivalent of a 3,000-car pileup.

The attacks were not a random act of violence or insanity. They were a deliberate and brutal act of war committed by religious fanatics engaged in Islamic jihad against the United States, all non-Muslim people and any Muslim who wishes to live in a secular society. Worse, the people who perpetrated the attacks have explicitly told us that they are not done.

Commenting on this year’s designation of September 11th as a “National Day of Service and Remembrance”, Debra responded (hat tip: neo-neocon):

When I first heard about it, I was concerned. I fear, I greatly fear, at some point we’ll transition to turning it into Earth Day where we go and plant trees and the remembrance part will become smaller and smaller and smaller.

Robert Spencer wrote at at Jihad Watch in 2008:

[T]here has still never been a full and comprehensive discussion of the jihad threat in the American public square.

So seven years after the Towers went down and the Pentagon was wounded, the jihadists have every reason to smell victory — not in Iraq, where they are indeed on the run, but in their efforts to cow and intimidate the West into giving up all resistance to Islamization. It’s happening, but no one notices or cares, because it is happening in small steps.

Neo-neocon re-posted an apropos piece from 2006 last year — one that touches, among other matters, on the foresight we wish we’d had in anticipating and guarding against the attacks:

But the clearest foreshadowing of the event that would henceforth be known only by those numbers, “9/11” — as though words were somehow inadequate to describe it — was its most direct predecessor, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. That earlier attack distinguished itself in audaciousness by being the only large-scale Islamist totalitarian terrorist attack within the boundaries of the United States prior to 9/11.

And it was every bit as serious in intent. The only reason it wasn’t taken as seriously as it should have been was the seemingly Keystone Cops-like incompetence of its perpetrators. They would learn from their errors, and quickly. It would take us longer to learn what we needed to know.

Meghan Cox Gurdon:

The cruelty and implacability of the Islamic terrorists has made ordinary life seem fragile not in such a way that you appreciate each passing golden moment, but in a way that jolts you awake at night with strangled thoughts of whether everything you know and love will be taken away. But worse is finding that in this situation where, like our grandparents, we do face an obvious, common, and determined enemy, there is such self-loathing amongst our countrymen. When I hear people phoning C-SPAN to explain that 9/11 was an “inside job” by the Bush administration, or that the United States is to blame for “stirring up a hornet’s nest,” when the swarm was already upon us, it seems to me that national unity is impossible. Of all September 11th’s grim legacies, this seems to me the saddest.

Mark Steyn:

In theory, if you’d wanted to construct an enemy least likely to appeal to the progressive Left, wife-beating gay-bashing theocrats would surely be it. But Islamism turned out to be the ne plus ultra of multiculti diversity-celebration — for what more demonstrates the boundlessness of one’s “tolerance” than by tolerating the intolerant.

James Lileks, in 2006:

If 9/11 had really changed us, there’d be a 150-story building on the site of the World Trade Center today. It would have a classical memorial in the plaza with allegorical figures representing Sorrow and Resolve, and a fountain watched over by stern stone eagles. Instead there’s a pit, and arguments over the usual muted dolorous abstraction approved by the National Association of Grief Counselors. The Empire State Building took 18 months to build. During the Depression. We could do that again, but we don’t. And we don’t seem interested in asking why.

This year’s follow-up:

On the Hewitt show tonight I started talking about 9/11, and my mouth overran my head, because somewhere down there is a core of anger that hasn’t diminished a joule. This doesn’t mean anything, by itself — anger is an emotion that believes its justification is self-evident by its very existence. Passion is not an argument; rage is not a plan. But as the years go by I find myself as furious now as I was furious then — and no less unmanned by the sight of the planes and the plumes. Once a year I watch the thing I cobbled together from the footage I Tivo’d, and the day is bright and real and true again.

Or not. It’s all so far in the past, isn’t it? The ten-year-old you had to sit down and console and reassure is off to college. The President is retired — seems like he left two years ago. The wars grind on, but as far as the front pages are concerned, they’re like TV shows that lost their popularity but pull enough viewers to avoid cancellation. (The video store doesn’t even carry the DVD of the first two seasons anymore.) We’re used to the hole in the ground where the towers used to be, and if they announced they won’t rebuild, but will pave it over and use it for parking, people would shrug. We haven’t forgotten that the towers fell, but no one remembers what they planned to replace them with. The towers they planned looked empty in the pictures — shiny, contorted, as if twisting away to avoid a blow.

Right after the towers fell, people who’d never liked them as architecture wanted them back just as they were. Get back up in the sky! But it hasn’t happened. Even if they build the replacement towers, there’s still a space in the sky where no one will ever stand again. We could stand there once. That we couldn’t stand there eight years ago was their fault. That we cannot stand there today is ours.


Some additional quotes that have struck me as relevant (many of them repeated from my Memorial Day 2009 post):

“When I see the city … I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would like to throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body.” — Ayn Rand, “The Fountainhead”

“Our responsibility is to continue the search for beauty and humanity. That is what survives.” — violinist Isaac Stern, shortly after 9/11

“We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down.” — Sir Winston Churchill

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” — John F. Kennedy

“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” — General George S. Patton, Jr.

“We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” — Sir Winston Churchill / George Orwell †

“We fight wars not to have peace, but to have a peace worth having. Slavery is peace. Tyranny is peace. For that matter, genocide is peace when you get right down to it. The historical consequences of a philosophy predicated on the notion of no war at any cost are families flying to the Super Bowl accompanied by three or four trusted slaves and a Europe devoid of a single living Jew.” — Bill Whittle, “History”

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” — Edmund Burke

“We can’t share the earth with pure evil anymore than we can share the earth with smallpox.” — David Gelernter

“Evil must be confronted in its womb and, if it can’t be done otherwise, then it has to be dealt with by the use of force.” — Vaclav Havel

“The front line now, at this critical time, is in the hearts and minds of our own people. That’s where the real battle is now. That is our weakest point, our breach, our point of failure. We have not made the case to enough people and time is running out.

So maybe now, at this absurd point in this new kind of war, we’re the crack troops, we old and useless pajama patriots reduced to printing up pamphlets to sell war bonds to the weary, to make the case for holding on to an unglamorous, uninspiring, relentless grind because that — not Normandy and Midway — is the face of war in this gilded age of luxury and safety and plenty.” — Bill Whittle, “Deterrence”

† The “rough men stand ready” quote is frequently attributed to both Winston Churchill and George Orwell in various forms. It is a beautifully focused statement, whatever its true origin.

Previous post: My Experience of September 11, 2001

My Experience of September 11, 2001

In September 2001, I was living in Upstate New York (meaning, as the obligatory joke roughly goes, somewhere north of 186th Street). A little over a year earlier, I had heeded the call of wanderlust and left my rewarding but insufficiently purposeful and fulfilling videogame programming job in San Francisco to pursue my own entrepreneurial endeavor — the realization of ideas that had been gnawing at my restless mind for some time. The largely solitary research I then pursued being eminently portable, I was in the perfect position to relocate when my then-girlfriend, now wife decided to return to school for a graduate degree. New York state turned out to be the place, and the dramatically lower cost of living in the small town by the Hudson that we were headed for suited my purposes just fine. Lower expenses vs. living in Bay Area California meant a slower burn rate for the hard-earned, socked-away cash and investments I would be using to self-finance my project, and that was a very good thing — for what I needed most was time to think. We sold our furniture and non-essentials, and hit the road East for a new adventure. That was the summer of 2000.

Our first year of adapting to this transition went well, considering what a change it was transplanting ourselves to a quiet small town and the even smaller, more isolated community of the graduate art program. We had rented the upstairs of an old but satisfactory white clapboard house, for a price that would be unheard of back in California. We learned about heating oil and boilers and changing tires for the winter. We crossed a bridge over the magnificent Hudson River to do our weekly shopping. We visited historic sites that had been beyond the easy reach of our mostly car-less Connecticut college experience. We sledded.

I pursued my research, at the college’s libraries or at home, and strove daily to keep focus in my imperfect and occasionally uncertain, wandering mind. I had been on my own like this before (I will likely write about that at another time), knew that it would take all the self-discipline I could muster, knew also that if I didn’t persevere and give it my best shot I’d be driven mad by the road not taken, by ideas that would not leave me alone.

That year was also an eye-opening continuation of my first encounters with the Contemporary (as distinct from Modern) art world and the cultural attitudes and ideologies that have tended to dominate it, and a foreshadowing of many such encounters that would continue to this day (another subject I hope to write about at greater length another time). I had then only the first and faintest inkling of the bleak perspectives and frequent obsession with cynical cultural criticism that I would often encounter in the work of contemporary artists.

As summer 2001 rolled around, it became clear that our remaining assets weren’t going to last us comfortably another year at our current rate. Our investments weren’t doing as well, and I had underestimated some of our expenditures. I did some job-hunting, seeking to put my software engineering skills to use to generate some income for us. The suitable opportunities in that part of the country were few, and the prospects I did find would have required me to move on my own to Boston or Albany or New York City — incurring among other more practical inconveniences an emotional cost of separation that we did not want to bear.

In anticipation of my need to depart, my girlfriend had made arrangements to share an apartment with two of her female classmates who we had begun to get to know during the program’s first year. When August arrived and it became clear that I would not settle my job hunt before the time came to move, I was graciously invited to be a fourth roommate on a temporary basis. It seemed like a good arrangement, and it was at the time. None of us could have forseen the world-upending historic event that silently approached, or what it would mean for us.

On the morning of September 11th, my girlfriend and I were awakened from an otherwise ordinary night’s sleep by the alarmed shouts of one of our roommates outside our door. My girlfriend’s parents had called from their home in Europe, and our roommate had answered the phone and was relaying the news to us as she received it herself. I don’t know whether she was repeating exactly what was said to her, but I will never forget the sound of her increasingly alarmed words as she exclaimed through the door, phone in hand: “There are bombs all over New York!”

After hearing something so unthinkable we got up with a sudden start of course, and, like so many others that morning, headed to the TV with a great sense of urgency to find out what was happening. As the picture tube warmed up, in faded the scroll-by newsbytes, the solemn news anchor (I don’t remember which), and the terrible, haunting image of the North Tower of the World Trade Center bleeding a long, slowly rising plume of dark smoke. Reports were that a plane had hit the tower. Nobody knew why. Could it have been a terrible, terrible accident? How could such a thing have possibly happened?

We sat stunned and spellbound, anxiously awaiting each fragment of new information — even just new speculation — as the news coverage repeated and ad libbed in that early time before anyone had the remotest idea what had just happened, much less grasped its immense historic significance — that this was the sudden and irrevocable end of one era and the beginning of another. Hauntingly, the then-unexplained southward turn of American Airlines Flight 11, which was soon identified as the plane that had hit the WTC, had brought its flight path through skies fairly close to where we lived. I got a terrible chill thinking of its passengers’ last minutes alive, soaring past us down along the Hudson on that perfectly beautiful, crisp, clear day — surely, I supposed, not knowing the terrible end that awaited them in Lower Manhattan.

Then something still more unthinkable happened that, impossibly enough, shocked us out of the shock we were already in, and into a daze of complete disbelief and confusion — killing instantly any hope that this had been some awful accident. Before our very eyes, United Airlines Flight 175 flew into the South Tower.

As the impossible reality of the day’s events sank in, it gradually became clear to me: Our country and its people had been attacked. And in the slow dawning of that terrible realization through the coming hours — hours that brought with them the crashing of American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon, the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 and its heroic passengers in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and complete uncertainty about what else might still be in store — both a terrible fury and a somber determination welled up in me. Things were going to be different now. They had to be. I was sure that we would snap out of our useless, toxic gloom of cultural self-doubt, drop our idle infighting over comparatively trivial disagreements, identify those who sought to cause us all such terrible harm, and go after them with swift and united resolve — unequivocally removing their capacity to mount further attacks, and never again allowing such a thing to happen.

The terrible events of September 11th changed me, and seemed to mark what I was sure would be a watershed, a tectonic shift for our entire country, and for the world. I assumed 9/11 had had a similar effect on everyone I knew. I was soon to find out just how mistaken I was in that assumption.

It wasn’t long before the self-recrimination began to flow from those around me, first in a trickle, then more and more freely as the days went by. Didn’t you know, we had it coming? Probably deserved it, even. Of course, we’re going to jump the gun and blame The Arabs, while those responsible were probably homegrown fanatics of our own making. (Oklahoma City was still fairly fresh in everyone’s mind then.) People who looked Middle-Eastern were of course going to be targets of random mob violence on a massive scale, and/or rounded up and put in internment camps, because — don’t you know? — that’s just the kind of unsophisticated, “jingoistic”, racist simpleton bumpkins we Americans are.

“I can’t believe what I am hearing in this house,” I finally declared after perhaps two or three days of this. How could anyone begin to rationalize and justify such malicious horror — the deliberate, premeditated flying of aircraft full of people into buildings full of people — the vicious mass murder of so many?

At this, our roommate who had answered the phone on the morning of 9/11 shot back unhesitatingly in a dead-serious fury: “America mass-murders every day!”

I’m quite certain that my jaw dropped in dumbfounded astonishment. I was stunned — flummoxed beyond any ability to comprehend and respond to the concentrated vitriol that had just reached my ears, particularly in light of all that had just happened. The cognitive dissonance left me frozen in my tracks, speechless. I held no pretension that our nation’s history was flawless and unmarred, but surely this degree of venomous contempt was not deserved. (During my visit for the program’s graduation the following Spring, the same roommate quite casually announced — in much the same way that one might express delight in the discovery of a new favorite ice cream flavor — “I think I’m a Marxist.” Well, there you go. At least she’s not affiliating herself with mass murderers.)

I might have been able to dismiss such occurrences had they remained confined to our household. I soon learned, however, that the decay afflicting our culture’s self-image was (and still is) much more extensive and persistent than I had realized. All around me in this academic setting, the primary concern seemed to be not how we were going to win this one or what despicable monsters the attackers were, but what unjustifiably terrible things the United States was now likely to do. Mass e-mails expressing American resolve to stand up and fight back, of the kind that commonly circulated back then, were derided. The then-ubiquitous U.S. flags that flew from car antennas and windows were greeted with a disapproving roll of the eyes. The increasing prevalence of the same flags on commercial products was derided too, consistent with a worldview that holds commerce to be something outside of us that manipulates us, rather than an expression of and by us, an integral and vital part of our own culture that was simply reflecting the defiant, heartfelt pride and determination to go on that many authentically felt. In response to my despairing expression of incomprehension at such horrific and vicious attacks, another of my girlfriend’s classmates referred me to a website that he gently assured me explained it all. And that it did — through the grim and twisted lens of Chomsky-ite faith in America the Ugly and Brutal, and her innumerable (or perhaps enumerable) sins that made us deserving of the world’s contempt and such a hateful, murderous surprise attack.

This kind of thing continued in various other forms, until I gradually got the message that I was very, very alone in my thoughts and views. Even my girlfriend didn’t know what to make of my behavior, and was disturbed by my words and my anger, and the uncomfortable living situation they created for us. As the gloom of that realization and of that climate of cultural self-recrimination encircled me, I withdrew, holed up, and learned to keep my thoughts largely to myself. I had not at that point gotten wind of the budding “blogosphere”, much less managed to find solace in writers who felt as I did. I felt utterly and completely alone. I had to save myself, I concluded — to get out of an environment where I felt trapped and poisoned — but my remaining resources were by then very limited, and I had made the mistake of letting myself become financially dependent on what had become a very deeply psychologically bad situation for me. Gathering my last reserves of embattled optimism, I redoubled my job-hunting efforts. An attractive offer came in from my previous employer in February. I came very close to taking it, but my own need for self-rescue was not the only factor in play. My girlfriend was paddling hard against the proverbial current to finish her graduate degree, and needed me there for moral support. I stayed a while longer, keeping my feelers out for other, possibly more local job opportunities. Eventually another offer came from California, and with our savings dwindling and only a little over a month now left to go in the graduate program, I took it.

The fresh start did me good — being wanted, needed enough to be moved across the country by my new employer certainly helped to pick up my spirits. But I was still under the weight of a terrible gloom, still reeling from what I had been through and could not stop thinking about. I have an indelible image in my mind of sitting outside at lunch, looking up at a company building against a clear blue California sky — feeling simultaneously grateful to have a handle on my life and surroundings again, and somber with the weight of memories and thoughts I couldn’t shake.

At the program’s graduation ceremony in May of 2002, which I returned to attend, the college’s president followed his expression of sympathy for the 9/11 victims and their families with an expression of his profound shame at being an American in these times — for which, to my astonishment and disgust, he was roundly applauded and cheered. It took all my self control and decorum not to hiss and boo at this display of insular, ungrateful, self-righteous pontification.

Those who’ve kept track of the post-9/11 timeline will recall: Our nation’s response was still confined to the war in Afghanistan, back then.

I held my tongue. This day belonged to the hard-fought achievements of those who were being awarded their degrees, my girlfriend among them, and I did not want my own self-indulgence to detract from that. If only the college president had felt the same. Apparently, either no one objected, or they were just as silent about it as I was.

Prior to the events of September 11th, 2001, I had developed an awareness of our gloomy climate of cultural self-doubt, idle self-recrimination, and intellectually fashionable college campus radicalism — first with startled dismay, then with grim resignation — and naïvely supposed that the appearance of some new, bona fide external threat would eventually wake us out of our idle funk. In hindsight, I could not have been more mistaken. The roots of our cultural self-distrust run far, far deeper than I had ever dared suppose, casting our future as a country, culture, and civilization into serious doubt. To this day, I find myself deeply troubled by the question of what, if anything, we can do to recover from the sad state we seem to be stuck in, and for all my usual optimism I find it hard to imagine a day when I won’t have cause for such worry.

Previous post: Tomorrow is 9/11
Next post: 9/11 Quotes

Tomorrow is 9/11

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tomorrow is the eighth anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 al Qaeda attacks on the United States. I’ve finished writing a couple of posts detailing my own recollections of 9/11 — a project I’ve been meaning to get to for a while, and got a start on last year without quite finishing — and I’ll be publishing them later tonight or early tomorrow. After that, I’ll be keeping an eye out for new and noteworthy posts from blogs and sites that I follow (see the sidebar at right for links to many of my favorites), and posting links and quotes here and on Twitter (speaking of which, this will be my first year observing 9/11 in the virtual company of Twitter friends, which should make for an interesting supplement to my usual blog- and news-reading routine).

Meanwhile, following are links to my previous years’ 9/11 posts, going back to 2005, the year I started this blog. With the exception of my second 2006 post, which maybe sums up my own thoughts the best to date, most consist of links to and excerpts from superb articles by others that touch close to my thinking, and in most if not all cases express what I only wish I had the skill to say. Highly recommend reading.

Lower Manhattan Skyline, New York

September 11, 2001
I will never forget.

2006: 1, 2, 3
2008: 1, 2, 3, 4

My thoughts will be with those who lost their lives and loved ones on that terrible, hauntingly clear-skied day, and on the challenges facing us as we still struggle feebly as a civilization — some eight years later — to come to terms with the implications of 9/11’s horrific, era-defining events.

Next post: My Experience of September 11, 2001

Hot Air: The Death of the Individual

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Not to be missed: The Death of the Individual — an excellent short piece by Hot Air blogger “Doctor Zero”, on individual liberty vs. collectivism, in the context of recent journalistic attempts ascribe political value to Mary Jo Kopechne’s life and death:

The meme floated by the Left over the past few days, that Kopechne’s death was a reasonable price to pay for Ted Kennedy’s wonderful political career, is a brutally candid expression of the principle that even an individual’s right to live is negotiable — a commodity to be measured against the “needs of the many,” which the Left believes were far better served by Kennedy’s politics than Kopechne’s insignificant little life.

Read the whole, concise thing.

Victor Davis Hanson's "Thoughts of Our European Future to Come"

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

This is so important — a true must-read, from a man who has produced a great deal of deeply insightful writing. “On Becoming Europe” is among Victor Davis Hanson’s best, and its message is acutely and urgently relevant:

After concluding another 16 days in Europe. I am again reminded how different their form of socialism is, and yet how closely it resembles the model that Obama seeks for America. The vast majority of citizens lives in apartments, even in smaller towns and villages. Cars are tiny. Prices are higher than in the states; income is lower (The government taxes you to pay for things like “free” college, so you won’t have much to spend on antisocial things like your Wal-Mart plastic Christmas Tree or your second K-Mart plasma TV.)

Mass transit is frequent and cheap, but often crowded and occasionally unpleasant. The stifled desire to acquire something — large house, car, deposit account — is of course not quite destroyed by socialism, but rather is channeled into a sort of cynicism and anger, often leading to a hedonism of few children, late and long meals, and disco hours until the early morning. The number of Gucci like stores selling overpriced label junk like 200 Euro eye-glass frames and 1000 Euro leather bags to socialists is quite amazing.

My point? The more Europe professes to be egalitarian, the more cynical and conniving the people have become — almost as if the human craving for one’s own property and to make one one’s destiny cannot be denied by the state, but by needs will be channeled into what the state mandates as anti-social for most, but quietly a perk for a few.

Read the whole, very worthwhile 2-pager. There’s too much good insight in it to quote. Think deeply about it until the lessons sink in. This is our future-to-be, America, if we keep to our present course.

Fare Well, Sarah. I mean that.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

As I tweeted earlier today, you don’t have to believe Sarah Palin is “God’s gift” to conservatism to appreciate the content and spirit of her farewell speech as Governor of Alaska — a speech in which, it seems to me, she demonstrates a deep and heartfelt understanding of what it means to be independent and truly free.

Our Frontier spirit is still alive and well in a few places — thank the Founders. As long as there are states whose people understand and value Liberty and are willing to fight for it, there is authentic Hope for the rest of us.

Part 1:

Part 2:

UPDATE: Bill Whittle nails it as usual, with “The Destruction of Sarah Palin”:

Sarah Palin is the anti-Obama. He is urban; she is rural. He preaches dependency on the government and she leads a life of independence. He consistently apologizes for the sins of the country he was elected to lead, and she is unabashedly proud of it. He opposes the war in Iraq; she has skin in the game. And on and on.

And that is why she had to be destroyed, by the Democratic Party, by the New York media elites, and by many of the inside-the-beltway voices of various and sundry GOP “strategists.”

She needs to be destroyed because the one thing that can never be allowed to happen is this: you cannot have a voice in this political debate. You know who I mean. You rubes, you hicks out there in flyover country. Your job is pay taxes, vote for who they have decided over cocktails makes them feel better about themselves, and occasionally provide your inbred idiot sons and daughters for the army or police force or whatever you people without Ivy League educations do with your tawdry little lives.

Meanwhile, the Harvard-educated elitist geniuses will run the country according to their infinitely brighter intellectual and moral lights.

And whatever happens, do not be distracted by inconvenient facts that you might stumble upon as you listen to Faux News, or your hate-filled talk radio, or right-wing nutjob blogs. Pay no attention to the fact that small banks, run by hayseeds like yourselves, were in no financial troubles at all lending money and writing mortgages to people who could afford to pay it back, but who are now are being forced to pay for the failure of genius-level Harvard Business School ideas like Collateralized Debt Obligations which essentially brought down the greatest economy the world has ever seen.

And remember, it’s just a coincidence that Harvard grads John F. Kennedy and Robert S McNamara not only got us into the Vietnam war, they also determined the genius-level rules of engagement that caused inbound Naval aviators to look down at, but not attack, the surface-to-air missiles being unloaded at Haiphong Harbor. They’d see those same missiles again in a few weeks when they were shot down and killed by them.

That’s genius-level, Harvard-quality thinking. Not like that simpering idiot, that commonplace dolt Ronald Reagan. I mean, the man went to Eureka College, for God’s sake! Who’s even heard of Eureka College? The fact that he defied forty years of Harvard-educated State Department officials and defeated the Soviet Union with plain speaking and common sense and some antiquated, embarrassing and– one might say tacky – belief in his country and its people… well, that’s surely coincidence as well.

Read the whole blessed thing at PJM.

Independence Day 2009

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Signing of the Declaration of Independence, painted by John Trumbull

With the signing of America’s Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, the bravest members of our founding generation pledged “their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor”, assuming tremendous personal risk so that an independent nation of free people, the like of which the world had never seen, might have its chance at an anything-but-certain beginning. Today — two hundred and thirty-three years later — we are still free because of their vision, courage, and sacrifice.

I’ll be out celebrating today with my wife, her mother, and our four-month-old son, starting with a neighborhood parade in the morning (we’ve got our son’s stroller all decorated!), then on to enjoy other parades and festivities in Foster City and maybe Redwood City, wrapping up with watching fireworks (of course!) that I hope our little guy is still awake to see.

In celebration of the occasion, I offer a playlist of some of my favorite liberty-themed songs, along with this concluding passage quoted from Stephen Vincent Benét’s 1941 radio script “Listen to the People”, which I’ve mentioned before and highly recommend reading in its entirety. Its words ring as true today as ever.

Find it and keep it and hold on to it,
For there’s a buried thing in all of us,
Deeper than all the noise of the parade,
The thing the haters never understand
And never will, the habit of the free.
Out of the flesh, out of the minds and hearts
Of thousand upon thousand common men,
Cranks, martyrs, starry-eyed enthusiasts,
Slow-spoken neighbors, hard to push around,
Women whose hands were gentle with their kids
And men with a cold passion for mere justice.
We made this thing, this dream.
This land unsatisfied by little ways,
Open to every man who brought good will,
This peaceless vision, groping for the stars,
Not as a huge devouring machine
Rolling and clanking with remorseless force
Over submitted bodies and the dead
But as live earth where anything could grow,
Your crankiness, my notions and his dream,
Grow and be looked at, grow and live or die.
But get their chance of growing and the sun.
We made it and we make it and it’s ours.
We shall maintain it. It shall be sustained.

Following are some favorites new and old from my music library, with iTunes and Amazon links provided for your convenience. The songs span a range of styles/genres, such that I’m not sure this holds together incredibly well as a mix album, but on the upside there should be a little something in here for everybody (and I love ‘em all).

  1. Steve Vai, “Liberty” (iTunes, Amazon)
  2. Jon David, “American Heart” (iTunes, Amazon)
  3. Aretha Franklin, “Think” (iTunes, Amazon)
  4. The Cult, “Wake Up Time For Freedom” (iTunes, Amazon)
  5. Harold Faltermeyer & Steve Stevens, “Top Gun Anthem”
    (iTunes, Amazon)
  6. Stuck Mojo, “I’m American” (iTunes, Amazon, blog)
  7. Rush, “Freewill” (iTunes, Amazon
  8. Ella Fitzgerald, “Don’t Fence Me In” (iTunes, Amazon)
  9. Five for Fighting, “Freedom Never Cries” (iTunes, Amazon)
  10. Five for Fighting, “Johnny America” (iTunes, Amazon)
  11. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “American Girl” (iTunes, Amazon)
  12. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “Into the Great Wide Open”
    (iTunes, Amazon)
  13. Madeleine Peyroux, “This is Heaven to Me” (iTunes, Amazon, blog)
  14. Oscar Peterson Trio, “Hymn to Freedom” (iTunes, Amazon)

Steve Vai’s glorious 1990 guitar anthem “Liberty” spills over with soaring celebratory joy, and is about as natural a first track for a playlist as they come. Jon David’s “American Heart” is a brand new favorite I just discovered two days ago, thanks to a recommendation from my good Twitter friend, songwriter @ConservativeLA. With its timely message, it won me over instantly. “Go on, raise the flag / I’ve got stars in my eyes / I’m in love with her / and I won’t apologize.”

Some of my selections aren’t specifically patriotic songs, but fit the broader theme of freedom in some way. I put Aretha Franklin’s “Think” next because I just love, love, love it when she busts out with gospel verve singing “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!”. After having that bit stuck in my head for ages, I finally identified the song it was from this year. Love it.

The Cult’s “Wake Up Time For Freedom” is next. I just couldn’t resist. (The entire “Sonic Temple” album rocks mightily, by the way, and is a must-have.)

Next up, another great guitar anthem, the end title theme from “Top Gun”. This soars with so much of Eddie Van Halen’s phrasing style that I’ve always mistakenly attributed it to him. A great, soaring track that ages well in my book.

I wrote about Stuck Mojo’s “I’m American” last month — another much enjoyed new discovery this year, also thanks to @ConservativeLA. “Hate me, blame me / You can’t shame me / Come and stand with me / I’m American.” Rock. On.

Then it’s “Freewill” by Canadian prog-rock power trio Rush, as great a celebration of freedom in music as I’ve heard. The live version I linked to is from the same, excellent “Exit…Stage Left” album whose “Red Barchetta” inspired the title of my blog.

As with many a Cole Porter song, Ella Fitzgerald sings “Don’t Fence Me In” like no one else can. A truly great and fun song and a timeless classic beautifully done; one of my wife’s favorites too.

John Ondrasik writes and sings some truly great original songs under the hockey-inspired band name Five for Fighting, and has been a loyal supporter of America’s deployed fighting men and women. “Freedom Never Cries” is a timely meditation on taking our freedom for granted, and the way events can wake us up to a renewed appreciation of its preciousness. “I took a flag to a pawnshop / for a broken guitar / I took a flag to a pawnshop / How much is that guitar? / What’s a flag in a pawnshop to me?” The next track I’ve included, “Johnny America”, picks up the mood with an unsurpassed expression of American optimism against all odds. “Here comes Johnny America / Riding hard up Mission Hill / Some say he’ll make it to the top today / Some say he never will / Though he’s just a child at heart / he’s old enough to fall / Nobody in a hundred years / can touch him, faults and all”

Tom Petty’s “American Girl” is just plain fun, and “Into the Great Wide Open” is to me a classic expression of the American Dream.

I put Madeleine Peyroux’s rendition of “This Is Heaven To Me” (a great song whose history I’m very interested in but haven’t managed to track down yet) next to last, because I just can’t manage to listen to it without getting all choked up with tears in my eyes. If there is a more perfect expression of what freedom means, sung with more beautiful grace, I haven’t heard it yet.

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…

I close the playlist out with a piano instrumental: Oscar Peterson’s by turns reverential, playful, and celebratory “Hymn to Freedom”. A true gem.

Hope you all find something new to enjoy in here. Wishing you a very happy Independence Day!

Bennington Flag


Friday, June 19, 2009

One nagging thought that’s troubled me for several years now has concerned the nature of “frontiers” — the character of those who strike out to populate them, what happens as the populace of a former frontier changes over time, and what to do when we run out of new frontiers to settle.

The United States began life as a frontier of far-flung colonies — colonies that came to be populated by people who were brave, bold, and/or desperate enough to give up every semblance of stability in their former lives and risk everything on the possibility of a new and, they hoped, better future on the other side of a formidable ocean — a future they knew full well they would have to fashion by their own exertions, at considerable risk, in a land of many unknowns.

Over the few centuries since, the US has become a new home to immigrants with similar circumstances, motivations, dreams, courage, and drive hailing from every reach of the planet. Many more who might have wished to begin new lives here, but were fearful of the risks this life entails, did not come, and in this way our melting-pot population became a self-selecting group largely characterized by a measure of boldness, guts, and — I dare say — genuine, honest-to-gosh audacity.

At the same time, of course, we’ve also set about increasing our ranks the old fashioned way. Those born here sometimes successfully absorb the spirit of the place, and grow up to share such courage, determination, independence, work ethic, and mettle as their immigrant ancestors bore. Others somehow don’t acquire these traits, and seeing as they’re already here, don’t have to get here, and typically stay, they end up edging our average bearings as a population a bit farther away from that rugged pioneer spirit.

Roughly speaking, then, relative rates of immigration and birth, coupled with our rate of success or failure at instilling a love of sweet Freedom in our newly minted Americans, combine to determine the vitality of the American Spirit. (I leave out emigration as a relatively insignificant contributing factor because — funny thing — that just doesn’t happen much here.)

This all leads me to a question that, to my scientifically-trained mind, is reminiscent of the grand cosmological question of whether we live in an “open” universe (one that will continue to expand without limit) or a “closed” universe (whose expansion will eventually be slowed and then reversed by mutual gravity, leading it to recollapse):

Does a frontier inevitably move?

Maybe the answer should be intuitively obvious. A frontier doesn’t stay a frontier forever. New places are discovered, and become the new frontiers, while the old, now-familiar places accumulate a sort of inertia and become stable.

Only, what happens when we run out of new places? What happens when the old, former frontiers become gradually less friendly to those who dare to dream the really big dreams, who aspire to wide-open unencumbered FREEDOM as far as the eye can see, but there’s nowhere else left for them to go?

Barring the discovery of an unforseen loophole in the laws of physics as we’ve thus far distilled them, we are prisoners of our own solar system, whose eight — er, strike that — seven other planets aren’t particularly hospitable to human habitation. At great cost and with enough of the hardy pioneer determination that birthed this nation it could be done, perhaps, but there is no other home remotely as cordial as this precious blue-green marble we inhabit within our grasp. Firefly fantasies aside, enterprising interplanetary homesteaders don’t have a whole lot of choices — or, really, any — right now.

This fact has been keenly on my mind as we watch our beloved United States of America become seemingly less and less recognizable to those of us who prize untrammeled individual freedom as the Founders did. As our population gradually loses that once-indomitable frontier spirit, and in the place of cherishing Sweet Liberty increasingly demands the safety, security, and closing of material equality gaps that are promised by a culture of regulation, entitlement, and coerced redistribution, so our dear country begins to seem less and less the kind of place for an intrepid frontiersman or frontierswoman to hitch their wagon to.

Perhaps the strangest thing of all about this “Europeanization” of America is the insistence on implementing such ideas here, despite the litany of nations in which they are already practiced (a fact it seems we’re incessantly reminded of by domestic critics of the classically American Way of life — you know, the ones who insist that Swedes, Venezuelans, and Cubans are somehow “freer than we are”). “Diversity” is not so much to be sought and celebrated, it seems, when it comes to socioeconomic policy — at least when doing so favors the continued existence of classically liberal (economically permissive rather than socially engineered) societies. Oddly, though the United States places no restrictions on emigration, proponents of Europeanization rarely seem to choose that route to obtaining the lifestyle they favor. There is something about this drive that seeks to transcend personal choice and impose that choice on others (ostensibly for their own good, of course).

Maybe the subduing of America is a “Holy Grail” of sorts for those who aspire to bring the benefits of benevolent statism to the whole world. Transnationalism has been a key aspect of Marxism from the get-go, and some ideas die hard. Today’s transnational progressivism, with its contempt for and active attempts to undermine international tax and regulatory competition, seems little different in this respect. Transnationalism seeks to seal off all avenues of escape for those who crave and seek greater economic freedom and commensurate responsibility for assuming risk. There would be no way out in a future world that agrees on and enforces the same set of laws, taxes and restrictions everywhere. The message from control-hungry transnationalists is clear: Tough luck, buddy. One Vorld Government vill be gut, und you vill like it.

If even the fiery, fiercely independent souls who inhabit the United States can be berated into giving up Liberty for safety, superficial equality, “fairness”, “niceness”, or just to be like everyone else, then there is truly no limit to statism’s ability to dominate a willing, submissive, or even just indifferent humankind. If we choose — on a personal, individual and not just national level — to continually seek the approval of others in an exceedingly self-conscious high-schoolish popularity contest, in the place of cherishing our right to scandalize the neighbors, then we are as good as done, and the American Idea is dead — much to the delight of its very vocal detractors.

Take a good look at the following piece of contemporary art, which I took notice of among the 2008 “Zero1” exhibits in San Jose. Study it until you see the message behind the message.

Going Out of Business?

In the final year of the Bush administration, this was shown as mockery and criticism of America’s conduct in waging the Global War on Terror, from the perspective of the sort of person who thinks we ought to be ashamed of ourselves rather than fiercely proud and doggedly committed to our nation’s defense in the wake of the 9/11 Jihadist attacks on US soil. The longer I studied this image, the more the eagle’s tear rang hollow. Is the artist’s intent really to express regret at the decline in opinions of America that he or she obviously feels is justified?

I think there’s a clear second meaning here, that’s picked up by those who go in for such stuff, and it is one of triumphant celebration. There are people — the artist included, I strongly suspect — who could not be more pleased by this development, who don’t merely feel ashamed of what they think we’ve become, but cannot stand even what we once were and have long stood for, and who cannot wait for the American Idea itself — the notion of your life on your terms — to fall in the world’s esteem, lose its luster and appeal, and fade away as an object of aspiration for millions upon millions the world over. They want mindshare for governing ideas of their own, and those ideas have little to do with freedom I’m afraid.

Friends, it’s no accident that the tongue-in-cheek “fire sale” that this exhibit advertised accepts “Euros or Mao Bucks”:

Get your Euros and Mao Bucks ready, comrade!

"Department of Homeland Graffiti": Oh how clever

Why is it that we keep seeing these folks among the ranks of anti-war activists? It’s hard to avoid supposing that they are more accurately pro-war, but on the other side.

Look at the image again.

Going Out of Business?

It is not a lament, but a victory banner. Those it speaks for feign disappointment, but in truth couldn’t be more pleased. America and what she represents falling in the world’s esteem. Mission Accomplished.

These fellow citizens and others like them aim to demoralize us with their moralizing — to tame, subdue, and crush the defiantly independent frontier spirit that makes us us — and I fear they may be succeeding.

How we got to this point from our ruggedly independent, defiantly freedom-loving, living-my-own-way who-cares-what-others-think frontier roots is a very long story. But the net change in our national character could hardly be more pronounced.

Living in the far-West former frontier “Gold Rush” state of California as I do, I feel acutely aware of the especially radical transformation my state has undergone since its settlement — crossing the full spectrum from initially wild and lawless open country to one of the most social-engineering-heavy and burdensomely taxed and regulated (or, if you prefer, most “progressive”) states in the Union. To some, this is desirable progress. To me, it is the slow, tragic dying of a cherished dream and ideal.

Western Star

When I contemplate the Frontier, the “Invocation” of Stephen Vincent Benét’s epic poem “Western Star”, which I first mentioned a few years ago, always comes to mind. I’ve read this passage at home in far-West California; I’ve read it on vacation on a horse ranch in Wyoming, a state whose wide-open vistas preserve some of the last remaining fragments of the old frontier spirit. And it gives me a deep shiver. Every time.

Not for the great, not for the marvelous,
Not for the barren husbands of the gold;
Not for the arrowmakers of the soul,
Wasted with truth, the star-regarding wise;
Not even for the few
Who would not be the hunter nor the prey,
Who stood between the eater and the meat,
The wilderness saints, the guiltless, the absolved,
Born out of Time, the seekers of the balm
Where the green grass grows from the broken heart;
But for all these, the nameless, numberless
Seed of the field, the mortal wood and earth
Hewn for the clearing, trampled for the floor,
Uprooted and cast out upon the stone
From Jamestown to Benicia.
This is their song, this is their testament,
Carved to their likeness, speaking in their tongue
And branded with the iron of their star.
I say you shall remember them. I say
When the night has fallen on your loneliness
And the deep wood beyond the ruined wall
Seems to step forward swiftly with the dusk,
You shall remember them. You shall not see
Water or wheat or axe-mark on the tree
And not remember them.
You shall not win without remembering them,
For they won every shadow of the moon,
All the vast shadows, and you shall not lose
Without a dark remembrance of their loss
For they lost all and none remembered them.

Hear the wind
Blow through the buffalo-grass
Blow over wild-grape and brier.
This was frontier, and this,
And this, your house, was frontier.
There were footprints upon the hill
And men lie buried under,
Tamers of earth and rivers.
They died at the end of labor,
Forgotten is the name.

Now, in full summer, by the Eastern shore,
Between the seamark and the roads going West,
I call two oceans to remember them.
I fill the hollow darkness with their names.

Is it possible to read the above and not feel it in your bones?

The Frontier lives on in Wyoming

All this has been on my mind for a seemingly very long time now, but it took this superb blog post by “VodkaPundit” Stephen Green to prompt me to finally compose my thoughts.

American freedom was a huge, sprawling, messy, brawling thing. It consumed everything and anything, and spewed out an unimaginable bounty. For some, the freedom was about growing their business and making money. For others, it was about growing their hair and making love. But it was always here, for anyone willing to risk the journey and leave behind the Old World and its old ways.

But now that we have this wonderful place, this precious idea — what are we doing with it?

Already, the government runs our children’s education and our parents’ retirement. Now we’re allowing it to usurp our banks and nationalize what remains of our auto industries. Within weeks, Washington promises a plan to dictate our health care. To do all this, we’ve let Washington run up enough red ink to impoverish our grandchildren. As if all that weren’t enough, the president still found the time to kick our friends in London and Tel Aviv while courting a genocidal, election-stealing maniac in Tehran. He even gave a speech in Cairo — that oppressed, impoverished Old World megalopolis — in which he assured the world that America really is no better than anywhere else.

Well, once upon a time, we were.

Absent a warp drive, a wormhole, or some other science fiction escape to an uninhabited Earth-like planet, it’s impossible to recreate the conditions which allowed the creation of these United States. It can’t be done; there aren’t any New Worlds left to discover. Our maps are all filled in.

If the Old World comes here, where does the New World have left to go?

When the Puritans were persecuted in England, they risked everything to come to America. When young Germans faced the Prussian army’s grip, they gave up their ancient towns to come here. When Jews faced the Czar’s pogroms, they gave up their bucolic steppes for the slums of New York. Rather than accept stagnant lives in their own countries, Latin Americans risked uncertain lives in America. Rather than accept far milder impositions than our own, America’s Founding Fathers risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor just to sign their names on parchment.

Anyone with nothing to lose and everything to gain — and bearing wits and character enough to risk it all — came here. They ventured here. To America.

Whatever liberty we have right here, right now, in America … well, for all practical purposes, that’s all that’s left anywhere. If France had our freedoms, there would be no French here. If China had it, there would be no Chinese here. If it existed in Latin America, there would be no Spanish spoken here. And so it goes.

And so if we, here in America, throw it all away in a fit of panic or pique, then what we once called “America” will become as false as a fairy tale.

By all means, read the whole, brilliantly worded thing.

One more thought in closing:

Remember the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, when many on the left threatened to “seek asylum” in Canada if Bush or McCain won?

Those of us who cherish the classically American commitment to individual Freedom have no Canada. America is our last, best hope. Our opponents know it. And if we lose this ground for good, it seems to me we will have lost everything that matters.

For the sake of all we hold dear in this life, we mustn’t let that happen.

Bill Whittle: The Dowd Conundrum

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bill Whittle has outdone himself again, boldly going where no news commentator has gone before: The Dowd Conundrum: Why Vulcans and Other Intellectuals Don’t Belong in the Big Chair A must-watch episode of Afterburner, on PJTV!

Phyllis Chesler: Obama Throws Muslim Women Under the Bus

Did President Obama sacrifice the interests of Muslim women in his Cairo speech? Phyllis Chesler thinks so, and says as much in a characteristically well-articulated piece at PJM:

It is a Catholic woman’s right to become a nun and shave or cover her hair; it is an Orthodox or Hasidic Jewish woman’s right to shave or cover her hair; and it is a Muslim woman’s right to cover her hair and her face–as long as those women who refuse to do so are not browbeaten, beaten, ostracized, stalked, stoned to death or honor-murdered. I have written about just such cases in the West right here, at this blog, cases in which young American- and Canadian-Muslim girls were tormented, then killed because they refused to wear hijab.

In Europe, where there are many more Muslims, there is a veritable epidemic of such exceedingly dishonorable and incredibly gruesome “honor” murders.

But there’s something more. Let’s face it: The Islamic face-veil and headscarf have become symbols of “jihad” and Islamic religious apartheid or intolerance in the West. And, it is spooky, even frightening to see women, (or are they men?), face-veiled or wearing full-body shrouds. Masked people, hooded people, have cut themselves off from human contact; they can see you, but you can’t see them. You cannot see their expressions in response to what you are saying. I would not want to appear before a masked judge, study with a masked teacher, hire a masked lawyer, etc. Would you?

Whether I approve of their clothing choices or not, Hasidic (ultra-orthodox or anti-modern) Jews and Catholics are not threatening western civilization and are not out there be-heading those who leave Judaism or Catholicism. Nor are they force-converting Muslims and Hindus. Muslims are doing just that at this very moment in history when America’s President has reached out to the entire Islamic world.

What’s more, Jews and Catholics are not honor-murdering their daughters and wives because they refuse to veil their faces, their hair, or their bodies. Mainly Muslims do that.

See the full article for more good argument, and quotes from a worrisome exchange between President Obama and French President Sarkozy on the subject of women’s rights and headscarves.

4th Bloggiversary!

Friday, June 5, 2009

I just now realized, while looking back through my archives for something, that yesterday was the 4th anniversary of my first post here.

I’m finding it hard to believe that so much time has gone by, and I feel there’s a great deal more writing that I’d have hoped to find time do by this point, but at the same time I’m glad to have started the project and kept it going at least somewhat steadily, if slowly. I still remember sitting in the back of a conference hall taking advantage of some downtime to draft and publish my first post. The feeling of casting out a proverbial sort of “message in a bottle” was a real lift to my spirits, and I suspect is much the same high that so many other bloggers have said helps keep them writing and publishing.

My biggest regret so far is not having continued the project of recounting key parts of my own life, and exploring the ways they have influenced my worldview, that I set out to begin. I wrote a first [awkwardly self-conscious and not highly recommended] post in the intended series in September 2005, and didn’t get any farther than that. I still have hope of picking that project up again and making something interesting of it, if I can make the time. Soon, I hope (eternal optimist that I am)!

There are also many thoughts in the realm of economics, entrepreneurship, cultural self-perception and self-doubt/confidence that have struck me over the years and continue to nip at my mind, waiting impatiently to be written down and developed, and I’m hanging onto the mental, electronic, and paper notes where I’ve jotted bits down, hoping to get to those someday too.

Meanwhile, I have greatly enjoyed the past six months (amazed that it’s been that long already!) of meeting and conversing with so many amazing, interesting, insightful and devoted fellow freedom-lovers and America-lovers on Twitter. I highly recommend giving Twitter a try, to those who may feel as ideologically isolated as I do. I find the Twitter experience has been a great complement to blogging, rather than a replacement for it — a suitable place for fragments of thought that don’t require lengthier exposition, or that I haven’t yet found the time to develop into something in-depth enough to be worthy of a blog post. The blog, meanwhile, has served me well as a more permanent-feeling structure of sorts, on which to hang my expression of love for the American Idea and way of life. I aim to convey in these pages, not just concerns and gloom that have tended to occupy my thoughts at times, but also a sense of celebration of who we are and the way we live. I hope that comes across in the design as well as in the content.

My sincere thanks to any and all who have popped in now and then to read the pages here. Please do stop by again; I intend to keep this project going and have more to offer in the future!

Charles Murray: Europe Syndrome

This Wall Street Journal piece by Charles Murray went by a few months ago, but is such an excellent bit of writing that I’m belatedly posting about it as I meant to back then. “Europe Syndrome” is well worth reading in its entirety, but here’s a highlight.

I, for one, am an American Exceptionalist at heart — so grateful to have had the good luck to be born right where I belong. I often fear we are a dying breed. We must figure out how to keep the shining beacon, the defiantly individualistic spirit of American Liberty aglow.

American exceptionalism is not just something that Americans claim for themselves. Historically, Americans have been different as a people, even peculiar, and everyone around the world has recognized it. I’m thinking of qualities such as American optimism even when there doesn’t seem to be any good reason for it. That’s quite uncommon among the peoples of the world. There is the striking lack of class envy in America—by and large, Americans celebrate others’ success instead of resenting it. That’s just about unique, certainly compared to European countries, and something that drives European intellectuals crazy. And then there is perhaps the most important symptom of all, the signature of American exceptionalism—the assumption by most Americans that they are in control of their own destinies. It is hard to think of a more inspiriting quality for a population to possess, and the American population still possesses it to an astonishing degree. No other country comes close.

Underlying these symptoms of American exceptionalism are the underlying exceptional dynamics of American life. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote a famous book describing the nature of that more fundamental exceptionalism back in the 1830s. He found American life characterized by two apparently conflicting themes. The first was the passion with which Americans pursued their individual interests, and made no bones about it — that’s what America was all about, they kept telling Tocqueville. But at the same time, Tocqueville kept coming up against this phenomenal American passion for forming associations to deal with every conceivable problem, voluntarily taking up public affairs, and tending to the needs of their communities. How could this be? Because, Americans told Tocqueville, there’s no conflict. “In the United States,” Tocqueville writes, “hardly anybody talks of the beauty of virtue… . They do not deny that every man may follow his own interest; but they endeavor to prove that it is the interest of every man to be virtuous.” And then he concludes, “I shall not here enter into the reasons they allege… . Suffice it to say, they have convinced their fellow countrymen.”

The exceptionalism has not been a figment of anyone’s imagination, and it has been wonderful. But it isn’t something in the water that has made us that way. It comes from the cultural capital generated by the system that the Founders laid down, a system that says people must be free to live life as they see fit and to be responsible for the consequences of their actions; that it is not the government’s job to protect people from themselves; that it is not the government’s job to stage-manage how people interact with each other. Discard the system that created the cultural capital, and the qualities we love about Americans can go away. In some circles, they are going away.

The possibility that irreversible damage will be done to the American project over the next few years is real. And so it is our job to make the case for that reawakening. It won’t happen by appealing to people on the basis of lower marginal tax rates or keeping a health care system that lets them choose their own doctor. The drift toward the European model can be slowed by piecemeal victories on specific items of legislation, but only slowed. It is going to be stopped only when we are all talking again about why America is exceptional, and why it is so important that America remain exceptional. That requires once again seeing the American project for what it is: a different way for people to live together, unique among the nations of the earth, and immeasurably precious.

Memorial Day 2009

Monday, May 25, 2009

A collection of musical selections and quotes in honor of Memorial Day. I also highly recommend reading or re-reading Bill Whittle’s “Honor”, the first of his superb “Silent America” essays, as I just did. (Also recommended: a moving address by Donald Sensing that I linked last year.)

I am moved and humbled beyond words by the actions of men and women throughout our storied history, who have risked and sacrificed their very lives to secure our safety and liberty. What more profound love there could be for a nation, an idea, and one’s fellow man, I can’t imagine. May they have our undying gratitude and commitment to ensuring that their sacrifices will not have been in vain.


from Oscar Peterson, Night Train: “Hymn to Freedom”

from Dave Brubeck, Private Brubeck Remembers: “Don’t Worry ‘bout Me”, “We Crossed the Rhine”, “For All We Know”

from Five for Fighting, Two Lights: “Two Lights”


“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” — General George S. Patton, Jr.

“We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” — Sir Winston Churchill / George Orwell †

“We fight wars not to have peace, but to have a peace worth having. Slavery is peace. Tyranny is peace. For that matter, genocide is peace when you get right down to it. The historical consequences of a philosophy predicated on the notion of no war at any cost are families flying to the Super Bowl accompanied by three or four trusted slaves and a Europe devoid of a single living Jew.” — Bill Whittle, “History”

“To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace.” — George Washington

“War is an ugly thing but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feelings which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.” — John Stuart Mill

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” — John F. Kennedy

“We can’t share the earth with pure evil anymore than we can share the earth with smallpox.” — David Gelernter

“Evil must be confronted in its womb and, if it can’t be done otherwise, then it has to be dealt with by the use of force.” — Vaclav Havel

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” — Edmund Burke

“The front line now, at this critical time, is in the hearts and minds of our own people. That’s where the real battle is now. That is our weakest point, our breach, our point of failure. We have not made the case to enough people and time is running out.

So maybe now, at this absurd point in this new kind of war, we’re the crack troops, we old and useless pajama patriots reduced to printing up pamphlets to sell war bonds to the weary, to make the case for holding on to an unglamorous, uninspiring, relentless grind because that — not Normandy and Midway — is the face of war in this gilded age of luxury and safety and plenty.” — Bill Whittle, “Deterrence”

“We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down.” — Sir Winston Churchill

† The “rough men stand ready” quote is frequently attributed to both Winston Churchill and George Orwell in various forms. It is a beautifully focused statement, whatever its true origin.

Stuck Mojo, "I'm American"

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mentioned at the end of my previous post and well worth attention of its own: a beautifully worded and spirited anthem in praise of the good ol’ U.S. of A. — “I’m American”.

If we ever did retire the beloved Star-Spangled Banner in favor of a new national anthem, “I’m American” would be seriously in the running for my vote.

Lyrics, and an Independence Day dedication by Stuck Mojo lead singer Lord Nelson, below:

I’m an American related to all colors of brethren
Priests and Pastors and Prophets and Reverends
Divided we fall, united we stand — together, man
In this cultural melting pot there’s nothing better than
this land of the free and the home of the brave
populated by ancestors, immigrants and slaves
who met early graves, so we could see brighter days
and we could proudly praise and raise
the stars and stripes as Americans

Hate me, blame me
You can’t shame me
Come and stand with me
I’m American

I’m an American born in these states united
where racial discrimination keeps us so divided
Well we’ve got free speech, so I won’t be quiet
We’ve got a lot of problems here, man, I won’t deny it
But ain’t another place that I’d rather be
than in this land of great opportunity
where we can be anything that we want to be
so until the day I D-I-E
I stand tall as an American

Hate me, blame me
You can’t shame me
Come and stand with me
I’m American

Lord Nelson’s dedication:

On July 4, 1776 America adopted the Declaration of Independence, declaring independence from Great Britain. We have celebrated this historical event every year since that day. Today we live in an America that is a diverse melting pot of cultures, a place where so many races and faces of different color call home. Every July 4th, we celebrate freedom. We celebrate our strong and prideful disposition and unwavering love for country. Oh, what a feeling when we’re at an event and we see the red, white and blue flying. Americans engulfed in patriotism and love for fellow man.

From the fireworks to the barbecues, baseball games to swimming pools. We congregate and enjoy each others company like one big family. On this day we share a common thought of prosperity and family values. What it really means to be American. All having that desire to achieve the American dream.

The very reason that millions around the globe long to be a part of this great society. From the smallest towns to the largest cities, we all stand tall and proudly say “I’m American!” On this July 4, 2007, The Stuck Mojo Family would like to salute those troops who continue to fight for our freedom and way of life, and we would also like to praise and remember those who have fought and died for our beautiful country and for the principles that it stands for.

United we stand. Divided we fall. God bless America.