Pretty Impossible To Defend

The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy (the “TT”) is a motorcycle race – a time trial, actually – held on the public roads of the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. It is phenomenally dangerous and wonderful, and in this month’s print edition of Roadracing World magazine, columnist Mat Oxley uses the TT as a window into modern life.


The TT is pretty impossible to defend. Some years ago I argued that it should be shut down. I’m no longer of that opinion. The TT is as insanely dangerous as it ever was, so perhaps it’s me who has changed, or the world itself.

The TT is a relic from an age when most racetracks were similarly lethal, roped-off public roads. But while dozens of other street venues have been shut down, the TT survives because it sits on a self-governed island which is very fond of the millions generated by the race. If anyone else was in charge – the British government in Westminster or the European Union in Brussels – it would be just another piece of bike racing history.

And perhaps this is where the world and I have changed (please excuse me while I enter Grumpy Old Man mode). It seems to me that the world has been taken over by puritan megalomaniacs and I don’t like it.

These crusading cretins pretend they care about people but they don’t, they want us to stop riding motorcycles (why else would the British government keep tightening the bike test?) and quit doing all kinds of other fun stuff, but they start wars. The TT is a wild anachronism in an increasingly controlled society, it’s barking at the moon, a big fingers up to those who want us all to lead safe, decent, mortgaged lives under the all-seeing eye of the CCTV camera, obeying the command of a dayglo-clad security gorilla with an IQ of 50 and tranquilized by the government’s mantra of “your safety is our primary concern.” Bollocks to the lot of them.

I had a similar moment of changing my mind when I watched “Thank You For Smoking”; I’ve always hated smoking – seen it ruin my father’s health – and was always happy to see it restricted in any way possible.

But as I watched the film, I realized that freedom was meaningless if other people aren’t free to do things I hate and things that are “pretty impossible to defend”…


Theodore Sorenson has a draft acceptance speech up for the next Democratic presidential candidate:

To meet the threats we face and restore our place of leadership in the free world, I pledge to do the following:

First, working with a representative Iraqi parliament, I shall set a timetable for an orderly, systematic redeployment and withdrawal of all our troops in Iraq, including the recall of all members of the National Guard to their primary responsibility of guarding our nation and its individual states.

Second, this redeployment shall be only the first step in a comprehensive regional economic and diplomatic stabilization plan for the entire Middle East, building a just and enduring peace between Israel and Palestine, halting the killing and maiming of innocent civilians on both sides, and establishing two independent sovereign states, each behind peacefully negotiated and mutually recognized borders.

Third, I shall as soon as possible transfer all inmates out of the Guantanamo Bay prison and close down that hideous symbol of injustice.

Fourth, I shall fly to New York City to pledge in person to the United Nations, in the September 2009 General Assembly, that the United States is returning to its role as a leader in international law, as a supporter of international tribunals, and as a full-fledged member of the United Nations which will pay its dues in full, on time, and without conditions, renouncing any American empire; that we shall work more intensively with other countries to eliminate global scourges, including AIDS, malaria, and other contagious diseases, massive refugee flows, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and that we will support the early dispatch of United Nations peacekeepers to halt the atrocities in Darfur. I shall make it clear that we do not covet the land of other countries for our military bases or the control of their natural resources for our factories. I shall make it clear that our country is not bound by any policies or pronouncements of my predecessor that violate international law or threaten international peace.

Fifth, I shall personally sign the Kyoto Protocol, and seek its ratification by the United States Senate, in order to stop global warming before it endangers all species on earth, including our own; and I shall call upon the Congress to take action dramatically reducing our nation’s reliance on the carbon fuels that are steadily contributing to the degradation of our environment.

Sixth, I shall demonstrate sufficient confidence in the strength of our values and the wisdom and skill of our diplomats to favor communications, negotiations, and full relations with every country on earth, including Cuba, North Korea, Palestine, and Iran.

Finally, I shall restore the constitutional right of habeas corpus, abolish the unconstitutional tapping of private phones, and once again show the world the traditional American values that distinguish us from those who attacked us on 9/11.

Wow. I’m not quite sure what to say. Actually, I am. He says the candidate should commit to “building a just and enduring peace between Israel and Palestine, halting the killing and maiming of innocent civilians on both sides“.

Well from my point of view, I’d like to commit just as strongly to having a wonderfully romantic date with Uma Thurman. I’ll take her to my favorite New York City bistro, Devin Tavern on Greenwich in Tribeca, and we’ll have a wonderful and romantic conversation that will sweep her off her feet, and leave her desperate for my attention and affection. Oh wait, I don’t know her, am not likely to meet her, and I’m married.

Both of these look nice as words on the page. Words are not deeds, however … and I’d feel a lot better if the winning Democratic nominee was willing to think in terms of deeds rather than empty words like this.

OK, This is Just Plain Stupid

I’ve never understood the Administration’s love for the truly lame and useless fights they seem to want to pick with Congress. Someone help me understand what – in the wide world of sports – Cheny intends to gain from this doomed, grandstanding bureaucratic move?

There are things worth fighting over, and things which it makes no sense to fight over. Or it does make a certain kind of sense…

I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part.

Sadly, when they do lame stuff like this, we’re the somebody.

The View From My Window


I was sitting at the desk I’m using at my client’s, looking out, and realized how interesting it is that I’m sitting here doing work that has grown in no small part from my blog – and looking down on the site of the World Trade Center, which is a big part of why I started blogging.

Yeah, I know, it’s probably no big deal, but it feels odd.

Go Tell The Marines

Over at Blackfive, Grim posts a request from Marine Col. Simcock:

COL. SIMCOCK: (Chuckles.) I’ll tell you what, the one thing that all Marines want to know about — and that includes me and everyone within Regimental Combat Team 6 — we want to know that the American public are behind us. We believe that the actions that we’re taking over here are very, very important to America. We’re fighting a group of people that, if they could, would take away the freedoms that America enjoys.

If anyone — you know, just sit down, jot us — throw us an e- mail, write us a letter, let us know that the American public are behind us. Because we watch the news just like everyone else. It’s broadcast over here in our chow halls and the weight rooms, and we watch that stuff, and we’re a little bit concerned sometimes that America really doesn’t know what’s going on over here, and we get sometimes concerns that the American public isn’t behind us and doesn’t see the importance of what’s going on. So that’s something I think that all Marines, soldiers and sailors would like to hear from back home, that in fact, yes, they think what we’re doing over here is important and they are in fact behind us.

The address is

Someone will read and vet the emails, and then hand them out.

Say something nice…

Why Not Build A Movement?

Over at Netroots powerhouse MyDD, Jerome Armstrong railed in frustration as the juggernaut that is mainstream politics pushes the Netroots away from the levers of power that they so closely crave.

I don’t have a dog in the race, and voted “other” in the MyDD poll. But I gotta tell you, this race is Hillary Clinton’s to lose at this point. I wish to be wrong, and see Obama or Edwards get the nomination, but I honestly don’t see it happening from this vantage point, and it’s very frustrating. The Edwards candidacy was a longshot to begin with, and that he is still in it points toward how sound a strategy (combined with the luck of having Fiengold & Warner drop out), that he laid out; the frustration is more directed at Obama because he has the opportunity to lay claim with what’s grown in the netroots this decade and hasn’t grasped it at all, and it shows.

Then Chris Bowers announced that he and Matt are leaving MyDD and partisan politics – to start a new, unnamed site that will instead focus on building a progressive movement.

So, why am I moving on? I hinted at the reason in yesterday’s post, Expanding Beyond Just Partisanship. As much as I have enjoyed writing about politics and elections from a partisan Democratic viewpoint, my political background is in the social justice movement and decidedly on the left. I want to write about more than just elections and political infrastructure, and I want to explicitly work toward building a progressive governing majority. However, to do so would be to take MyDD too far away from its longstanding purpose. I have always argued that successful blogging is focused blogging, and MyDD won’t succeed if it loses its niche and its brand. Also, I want to do much more extended writing on single campaigns, ala Googlebomb the Elections, Use It Or Lose It, or The Inflated Clinton Poll Theory, and join in discussions with a wider variety of individuals and organizations in the progressive movement. Structurally speaking, that means moving somewhat away from the rapid, chronologically backward scrolling format of traditional blogs.

I ought to be filled with schadenfreude, but I’m actually kind of interested and impressed.

I’ve been harshly critical of the Netroots before there was a formally identified Netroots, and of the thinking of those who went on to become the Netroots – criticizing them as “the suicidal lemming branch of the Democratic Party”. But shockingly enough, I share many of their perceptions and some of their values.

Modern politics has become ossified; you need look no further than the ways in which elected offices – from local government to the White House seem to have become dynastic, which power handed down in families from parent to child. That is – forgive me, David Blue – fucking absurd, and antithetical to everything this nation was founded for.

An aristocracy has grown up, exploiting the nexus of social connection, governmental power (and spending) and private greed to perpetuate itself and the increasingly brittle web of allies, sycophants, courtiers, and bagmen who both serve as farm clubs for that aristocracy and as its enablers. One huge strike in the Netroots’ favor is that they saw this and when they did, they called a spade a spade. They gave voice to the frustration that the average American feels when they look at our political class.

That class ossification is – in my mind – a far greater long-term risk to this country (and by extension the values of liberal human society worldwide insofar as we are their primary defender) than any Islamist movement. They are a less acute risk (which is my rationalization for the balance of attention I spend on this blog), but a chronic one that saps our ability to do everything from educate our children to build infrastructure to defend our country and values.

That aristocracy is increasingly detaching itself from the interests of the modern proletariat – those who sell their labor a day or month at a time in a cubicle or restaurant uniform. The modern proletariat is the richest in the world – but in a flattening world, that can’t and won’t persist. To those who ride in Town Cars, that’s not a horrible thing – the help gets cheaper, after all, and more docile as it realizes how close it is to the edge and how their island of social and economic stability is shrinking. That detachment – the realization that an industrial and administrative elite can do just fine while everyone else sees their prospects narrowing – is what I call the Lizzie Grubman factor.

The elites blind themselves to their comfortable detachment by maintaining an overwhelming interest in identity politics – politics that center around every distinction except class. Race, sex, sexual orientation, language and culture – all are groupings the defense and interests of which the new aristocracy is happy to promote. Why not? Middle-class Marxism costs them almost nothing. And middle-class Mexican American Princes (the title of a great article in the LA Weekly) can suddenly ride racial and identity politics to a seat at the Big Table and all the goodies that brings with it.

So let me make a few suggestions to the disillusioned Netroots folks out there.

First, understand that you’re being used. You’re a moderately successful fundraising channel, and a dedicated but small and uncoordinated pool of volunteers and campaign workers – kind of the equivalent of a small labor union. You are blessed because of the information reach of the Net, and more, because your peers who went and got jobs in the media are fascinated with you and so will feature you and your thoughts in the frame of Big Media.

Sometimes (Amanda Marcotte) that spotlight makes you look like you have a bad complexion, and you get tossed under the bus.

But your belief – that there is a big pool of other people pissed off at Politics As It Is and just losing interest in playing – is absolutely right. Have the levels of disillusionment been higher at any time in our lives? Have as many people felt like standing in their windows and shouting “I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it any more!!” ? You’re 100% right about that, you’re just looking in the wrong place for the people who ought to join your movement.

You’re looking in the wrong place because you’re arrogant jerks (hey, I read all your stuff – trust me, you’re arrogant jerks) and instead of looking out your window at the American people and thinking about their dreams and hopes and how you can advance them, you persist in looking in the mirror (or looking on your computer screen and reading all the blogs that make you go “Yeah!” (new acronym: BTMYGY!) and believing that Of Course everyone thinks that Catholics are repressive assholes, and Of Course the average Rethuglican is a gender criminal, and Of Course typical Americans who worry about people who cut other people’s throats on video on the Internet are bedwetters.

You believed that if you swore undying loyalty to the Party – and ignored Democratic beams while criticizing Republican motes – you’d be recognized and rewarded.

Some of you will be – you’ll be the next generation of direct mail wizards – but for the most part, you’re going to get kicked to the curb as soon as the NRE is over. So why declare loyalty? Why wait for a magic figure – black, white or female – to embody your movement for you?

Why not build a movement?

But you’ve got a choice. You can build a movement of the soy-latte drinkers who know tats, startups, and hip underground bands and represent a highly visible 15% of the country and consider themselves madly progressive. Or you can accept the challenge laid out years ago by John Schaar, who wrote of the failure of the early New Left in America:

“Finally, if political education is to effective it must grow from a spirit of humility on the part of the teachers, and they must overcome the tendencies toward self-righteousness and self-pity which set the tone of youth and student politics in the 1960’s. The teachers must acknowledge common origins and common burdens with the taught, stressing connection and membership, rather than distance and superiority. Only from these roots can trust and hopeful common action grow.”

So here’s the suggestion. Move to the suburbs. Buy a minivan. Reach out and understand the hopes and fears of the average American. Help them reclaim our country.

Can it be done?

We’ve had three notable electoral successes where the political walls were scaled in this country. Wellstone, Ventura, and Schwartzenegger. What can you learn from that, and what can you learn from their struggle to craft an effective platform from which to govern once elected?

There’s a task for people who would build a movement.


Real world life is kind of making me feel like Laocoon – I’m commuting to NYC, working on a major project, dealing with some fairly intense (but positive) family stuff, and trying to get caught up so I can formally launch Victory PAC. I feel kind of like King Humperdink…

So posting will be scarce until July and even though there is a lot for me to defend in comments, my ability to weigh in is going to be pretty constrained. So don’t get cocky, chris!!

I’ll leave you by inviting you to a thread on this one question. By any right, the upcoming Presidential election ought to be a Democratic blowout. The polls today aren’t leaning in that direction.

Will it be a blowout? If so why don’t the polls show it now? If not, why not?

If I get some breathing space, I’ll call a drinks event in NYC. There are a lot of bloggers and folks I’d love to meet here.

The September Concert Series at Theresienstadt

I’ll have to confess that I’m gobsmacked by the reaction to my piece below on the LA Times story on North Korea. People seem to think that it’s just no big deal.

I commented:

Why? Because to have walked through Belsen in 1944 and noted the concerts, the “children happily singing” or the “carefully tended gardens” with giving a side note to the unmitigated evil of the place may in fact be technically accurate reporting – possibly the weren’t burning people that day – but is, as I put it, vile.

And the willingness to cover one’s nose to hide the stench of the dead while commenting on the charm of a Starbucks-free existence seems, sadly all to common in the world of the modern tourist.

I find my sense of smell a little to sensitive to make that work for me.

And before you suggest that Guantanamo or Abu Ghreib are as bad as North Korea – no they’re not. We put people in jail when they are caught doing things like that. In North Korea, they get extra rations.


Look, let me put it another way that might make things clearer.


This is a music program for September 1943 at the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

It’s an impressive collection of music.

Can you, for a moment, imagine the LA Times music critic attending a concert there, coming back,and talking about the music as though he was watching a concert at Lincoln Center?

Sadly, I can imagine it, because I see people doing it.

The LA Times ‘Does’ North Korea Again

Yes, it’s all karaoke and an amazingly commerce-free tourist experience in North Korea.

The LA Times – which was last caught fellating the brutal fascist dictatorship of North Korea in March of 2005 – hits its knees again today.

Pyongyang, North Korea — THERE’S not a lot to do when you’re a closely watched visitor in North Korea except hit the karaoke at day’s end, so we’re at it again.

From the sound of it, most North Korean karaoke falls into two categories. Soupy ballads about national glory, superior leadership, glorious workers. And hard-driving martial tunes urging citizens to think as one and pick up a bayonet. Rounding out the experience are video clips of goose-stepping soldiers and ozone-piercing missiles.

“It’s amazing to see streets without any commerce in Asia,” says Peter Tasker, a Tokyo-based private investor on the magical mystery tour. “It’s not always what you see that’s striking, but what you don’t see.”

The throwback nature of the entire experience is part of the attraction for many visitors. In a world of look-alike malls and identical Starbucks from Rome to Redondo Beach, there’s a refreshing lack of sameness about it, if you don’t stop to think about the suffering, hunger and deprivation underpinning the system.

One noticeable change from a visit in 2005 is the government’s apparent effort to skim more hard currency from foreign tourists. Most museums and monuments now offer souvenir shops, and a foreigners-only department store in Pyongyang has been expanded.

The problem is, there’s still hardly anything worth buying. A typical stand might feature books on the teachings of Kim Il Sung, some green and pink embroidery of dancing children, bottles of the local firewater known as soju, cans of peas and boxes of hemorrhage restorative herbal medicine. At one point while buying some apples, I try bargaining – de rigueur in most of Asia – to gauge the reaction, an affront that draws looks of shock and embarrassment.

[emphasis added]

Look that side reference to suffering, etc. – that’s called ‘throat-clearing’.

What’s amazing about North Korea is that you can get a vacation from the ‘world of look-alike malls and identical Starbucks from Rome to Redondo Beach‘ and enjoy the ‘refreshing lack of sameness about it

And the good news is that if you share the local’s diet, you’ll lose that unsightly tummy as well…

I’m dying to know what the editorial thought process behind these two articles really was. Maybe I’ll ping Kevin Roderick and ask.