The Sound of Freedom

The Daily Breeze again gives me a topic. Rancho Palos Verdes is one of the wealthy communities just up the hill from where I live. Apparently the possibility that Marines might conduct live-fire training on an abandoned theme park there…as they have done many times in the past…is just too anxiety-provoking for them to deal with.

Even though they would have notice of the multiple-day ‘window’ during which the Corps would be conducting the training, the City leadership feel that the residents will be unnerved ‘at this times of a possible war with Iraq and the potential for terrorism.’

So the real solution – well-trained Marines – can’t be used, because the symbolic solution – not disturbing these little babies in their sleep – seems like a better idea.

Someone needs to rent a clue.

Folks, that’s the sound of freedom.

Camp Pendleton Marines have been denied permission to conduct night training exercises in June at the defunct Marineland theme park, but Rancho Palos Verdes officials say it’s a lack of disclosure – not patriotism – that is prompting the move.

“I think the city and our citizens can see the need for that kind of exercise, but what I find it hard to understand is why we can’t tell people in advance that it’s going to happen,” City Manager Les Evans said. “Everybody has to know what’s going on down there.”

Marines have used the vacant 102-acre Long Point property – which boasts dilapidated buildings ideal for urban warfare training, an isolated beach to practice landings on and towering cliffs – as many as four times a year over the past five years.

But Evans said the Marine Corps is less than forthcoming about when its training exercises will occur.

Consequently, residents are often startled by the clattering of large helicopters coming in off the ocean and gunfire and loud explosions emanating from Long Point in the middle of the night. In the past, city officials – and, on occasion, council members – have been left to field telephone calls from angry or scared residents demanding to know what’s going on.

With people unnerved by a possible war in Iraq and the potential for terrorism, Evans said it’s more important than ever that residents are kept abreast of such activities.

[Update: Check out the comments for an email response from City Manager Les Evans. I’m unimpressed, to quote:“Thanks to the misleading caption “Permission for Training Denied” and the emphasis on denial rather than the “notification to residents” issues…” (emphasis mine) Um, Les, you denied or you didn’t. The issue wasn’t “City Manager Requests Assistance with Notification,” it was that the City Manager denied the request, and then offered to reconsider if notification issues could be resolved.]

This time around, the First Marine Expeditionary Force was seeking to train at Long Point sometime between June 15 and 18, Evans said. He said an FBI agent who heads up the local Special Weapons Team and who contacted him about the exercise initially indicated the Marines may go ahead with it anyway since they have the property owner’s permission.

In case you have some concrete suggestions about this, here are some people to contact:

Douglas W. Stern – Mayor

Barbara Ferraro – Mayor Pro Tem

Larry Clark – Councilmember

John McTaggart – Councilmember

Peter C. Gardiner – Councilmember

Office of the City Manager
Les Evans, City Manager
Carolynn Petru, Asst. City Manager
phone: (310) 544-5205
fax: (310) 544-5291

Squandering Moral Capital

I haven’t been particularly impressed by France & Germany’s opposition to the U.S. position on Iraq (cooperate or we’ll invade), and I haven’t had an easy time explaining exactly why that was.

Then, over my morning cup of Morning Thunder, I read this column by Jack Kemp – of all people – in my local paper, the Daily Breeze:

I’ve just returned from an extraordinary pilgrimage to Selma, Montgomery and Birmingham, Ala., celebrating and commemorating the struggle for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and other vital civil rights legislation for America.

We re-enacted the historic march from Selma to Montgomery led by John Lewis, a young Freedom Rider and leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who is now a U.S. congressman from Georgia. The march, 38 years ago on March 7, 1965, never got past the Edmund Pettus Bridge spanning the Alabama River because Sheriff Jim Clark stopped it with Alabama state troopers on horseback and armed with billy clubs and tear gas.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was called in to galvanize a nonviolent march to Montgomery in protest of the killing of a young black boy and the attack on the Lewis-led marchers. Believe it or not, only 2.5 percent of Alabama blacks were allowed to register and only after paying a poll tax and answering stupid questions such as how many bubbles are in a bar of soap.

As I joined Lewis, Williams, Ruby Sales, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Martin Luther King III, Jesse Jackson, Republican and Democratic members of Congress, and Mayor James Perkins of Selma to march in solidarity with that noble cause across the bridge last Sunday, I asked myself why I wasn’t there back in 1965. Where was the party of Lincoln when called to live up to its founding principles as a party of civil rights and emancipation? Where were the white churches of America, North and South, when our brothers and sisters and fellow Americans were getting clubbed and beaten as they demonstrated for their rights?

Damn right. In fact, the moral credibility the GOP lost that week is a debt they are still paying off.

The GOP had failed to do the right thing for a ninety years up until 1965, and then lost a chance to do the right thing at a critical moment in our history, and that failure taints their positions on issues of race and federal power even today. This is a subject I’ll revisit, and one that I believe is critically important in understanding current politics.

But better, it serves as a springboard in talking about my disinterest in hearing what the French and Germans have to say about Iraq and the Middle East.

They have had forty years to step up and lead the world toward a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflicts. They have had ten years to lead the world toward a resolution of the issues around Iraq. And they haven’t done a damn thing.

And now, when the moment to act is at hand, when if they can’t stand with the U.S., they should be coming up with some realistic third way they hide behind a fig leaf of proceduralism and bless a reluctant sham of compliance that was only granted – grudgingly – by Iraq as U.S. tanks and carriers moved into position over the objection of the French and Germans.

There may be actors who have the moral authority to lecture the U.S. on this issue, but I don’t think they live in Berlin or Paris.

[Update: C’mon folks, I’m perfectly aware of the ‘Dixiecrats’. The Democratic Party, under the leadership of Southerner – Texan LBJ – made a conscious decision to break with them, which is why George Wallace wound up running for President and, as I recall, Richard Nixon got elected.]

Moran Again

Look, I’m not calling for the guy to resign; the voters in Virginia do and should pick their Representative.

But the guy is clearly a sleaze (on his better days) and deficient in several kinds of judgment.

And, more important, I think a political tone needs to be established in which no religious or racial group is singled out (I’m quite happy to single people out based on behavior, social class, etc. etc., but you can’t help race and, to a lesser extent, religion) for political criticism.

Let’s review.

My first acquaintance with the guy was from the New York Times article on the (bad) bankruptcy bill, in which it was disclosed that MBNA (an obvious beneficiary of the bill):

gave a $447,000 debt-consolidation loan on what critics viewed as highly favorable terms to a crucial House supporter of the bill only four days before he signed on as a lead sponsor of the legislation in 1998. Both MBNA and the lawmaker, Representative James P. Moran Jr., Democrat of Virginia, have denied that there was anything improper about the loan.

Of course not! There’s nothing outrageous about this! Actually it crosses a fairly bright line in which we wink and nod while special interests buy votes with cash used to purchase political power, and so indirectly benefits the elected official, but we reasonably get uncomfortable when the same cash is used for benefit. That’s called a bribe.

Then we had the most recent story…

“If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq we would not be doing this,” Moran said, in comments first reported by the Reston Connection and confirmed by Moran. “The leaders of the Jewish community are influential enough that they could change the direction of where this is going and I think they should.”

He apologized:

“At a recent meeting with constituents to discuss the impending war with Iraq, I answered several questions about why we were going to war, what the effect the war would have on our relations with the international community, and why more Americans are not outspoken in their opposition to the war.”

“I responded in a general way to questions and comments from constituents about how groups and organizations that have influence in the United States have not been using that influence to oppose the war. The reason I referenced the Jewish community is because a woman asking a question identified herself as being Jewish and I regret doing that.”

“By no means did I intend or believe that members of the Jewish community are united in their support for a possible war with Iraq. And I certainly never meant, nor do I believe, to imply that the Jewish community is responsible for or should be blamed for this war. I wholeheartedly apologize to anyone whom I unintentionally offended with my insensitive comments. I strongly support not only Israel’s sovereign right to exist, but its security – and there should never be a question of that.”

“It’s my hope that everyone -including people of all faiths – will come together and work to raise more questions about a war that I believe is ill-advised at this time.”

Which sure reads to me like “I didn’t really say what I said; I wasn’t talking about Jews in relation to the Middle East, just about ethnic groups in general.”

He tried again with a better apology a few days later:

“At a recent open meeting with constituents, I made some insensitive remarks that I deeply regret. I apologize for any pain these remarks have caused to members of the Jewish faith and any other individuals.”

“I should not have singled out the Jewish community and regret giving any impression that its members are somehow responsible for the course of action being pursued by the Administration, or are somehow behind an impending war.”

“In my response, I should have been more clear. What I was trying to say is that if more organizations in this country, including religious groups, were more outspoken against a war, then I do not think we would be pursuing war as an option.”

“I don’t blame anyone who has criticized me for making such unreflected, if unintended, comments. I have only myself to blame. As such, I deeply regret any hurt that I may have caused and sincerely apologize to anyone I may have offended.”

Now that’s certainly better, but begs a few questions; like why did he wait until the story was on to try harder?

Eugene Volokh got an email:

Jim Moran’s been saying this kind of stuff for years. The people at my synagogue have been aghast for a long time. Some of them even supported (egads!) the Republican against him last election (these are pretty liberal Jews, so that’s a big deal). There’s been a move afoot for awhile to get a Democratic challenger to him, which makes much more sense because it’s a very Democratic district. My rabbi, Jack Moline, has called on Moran to resign. Moran is also horrible on consumer issues (esp. bankruptcy legislation), has tangled with ethical issues around money and politics and is a notorious womanizer. Funny how the major press reported the apology but there was no story when he originally made the remark more than a week ago.

I haven’t had the time to go through his contribution records; maybe someone out there can substantiate or disprove the claim in the Washington Post that:

Moran’s relationship with pro-Israel organizations and American Jewish leaders has steadily worsened in recent years over his pro-Palestinian stands in the Middle East conflict, interpretation of Israeli history and acceptance of campaign cash from individuals sympathetic to the terrorist organization Hamas or under investigation for terrorist ties.

As I’ve noted in the past, I’m not a Jew, much less a Jewish activist. But I am someone who believes that we need to make racial claims – whether by Trent Lott, Jim Moran, or Al Sharpton – a suicide play in contemporary politics.

As I’ve said above, the people of Reston will choose their Representative. But the Democratic Party hands out committee assignments.

From Rep. Moran’s biography:

Congressman Jim Moran was elected to his seventh term in the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2002. He is a member of the Appropriations Committee, where he serves on the Defense Subcommittee, the Interior Subcommittee, and as ranking Democrat on the Legislative Branch Subcommittee. He also is a member of the House Budget Committee. At the beginning of the 107th Congress he was elected to serve as a Regional Whip.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s email is …

Moran: A Weak Response

Below is a list of liberal bloggers; taken from my ‘interesting liberal’ list at Armed Liberal. There are 34 of them. 5 6 are hyperlinked. These 5 6 are the only ones who gave any coverage to Jim Moran’s anti-Semitic comments. Ted Barlow and Kevin Raybauld took stands that he should step down; CalPundit looks on in bemusement, Matthew Yglesias comments on the politics of it, and Mac Thomason points out that the Right is really more anti-Semitic than the Left.

Look, this is just weak. I’m not Jewish; my brief for Israel is the fact that it is a country that (relatively) promotes values that I can support. But for a political figure at the national level – which a Member of Congress is – to make this kind of comment is pathetic, and his lame-ass ‘apology’, which parses down to ‘I didn’t mean what I said’ is no better than Lott’s ‘some of my best friends are…’ excuses.

And more that that, this is the guy who took out a half-million dollar loan from MBNA shortly before he co-sponsored a bill that sold out working men and women in favor of the big banks.

The Left stood up together and demanded that the Republicans sort this out. We can’t ask less from the Democrats. This guy needs to do some serious atonement; better still he needs to be gone from public life.

[Update: check out the comments, and go over to Eugene Volokh’s for this great quote:

An acquaintance of mine who is a solid liberal Democrat, and who knows what he/she is talking about, writes me:

Jim Moran’s been saying this kind of stuff for years. The people at my synagogue have been ahgast for a long time. Some of them even supported (egads!) the Republican against him last election (these are pretty liberal Jews, so that’s a big deal). There’s been a move afoot for awhile to get a Democratic challenger to him, which makes much more sense because it’s a very Democratic district. My rabbi, Jack Moline, has called on Moran to resign. Moran is also horrible on consumer issues (esp. bankruptcy legislation), has tangled with ethical issues around money and politics and is a notorious womanizer. Funny how the major press reported the apology but there was no story when he originally made the remark more than a week ago.

Folks, we on the left have an obligation not to sit still for this nonsense. Many of the anti-Semites in the Democratic Party get a free ride on the issue because they are black, and the cost of taking on that fight is huge. Here’s a low-hanging fruit, and I’m going to kick and scream on this for a while.

Atrios, Josh Marshall, Max Sawicky, Nathan Newman…where are you guys on this one?]

[Update 2:My bad, somehow my high-tech Ctrl+F search process missed Atrios’ post on Moran…Kevin pointed me to it…but which I would characterize, like Mac’s as weak. The money quote: “…I also agree with Ted – cut the guy loose for all I care.” You ought to…]

The Lefty Directory
Ted Barlow
Chris Bertram
The Bloviator
Cal Pundit
Jeff Cooper (not that one)
D^2 Digest
Brad DeLong
Andrew Edwards
The Flaming Moderate
Robin Goodfellow
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
Ken Layne
Liberal Desert
Brian Linse
Devra M
Politics in the Zeros
Kevin Raybould
Rebecca’s Pocket
Ann Salisbury
Captain Scott
A Small Victory
Through The Looking Glass
War Liberal
Matt Welch
Matthew Yglesias

Our Phoney-Baloney Jobs

Instapundit carries a Washington Post story on a Democratic representative’s anti-Semitic meltdown:

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 10, 2003; 3:22 PM

Jewish organizations condemned Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) today for delivering what they said were anti-Semitic remarks at an anti-war forum in Reston, in which he suggested that American Jews are responsible for pushing the country to war with Iraq and that Jewish leaders could prevent war if they wanted…

Hey, isn’t this this guy?:


CTD…From today’s NY Times

The bill, which has been vigorously opposed by consumer-rights groups, had long been the top legislative priority of credit card companies and some banks, which insist that many debtors abuse the bankruptcy laws to escape debts they should be able to pay. The companies sharply stepped up campaign contributions to members of Congress in recent years as they promoted the legislation.

Among the biggest beneficiaries would be the MBNA Corporation of Delaware, which describes itself as the world’s biggest independent credit card company. Ranked by employee donations, MBNA was the largest corporate contributor to President Bush’s 2000 campaign.

The company has also recently acknowledged that it gave a $447,000 debt-consolidation loan on what critics viewed as highly favorable terms to a crucial House supporter of the bill only four days before he signed on as a lead sponsor of the legislation in 1998. Both MBNA and the lawmaker, Representative James P. Moran Jr., Democrat of Virginia, have denied that there was anything improper about the loan.

I’m too disgusted to comment.

Posted by Armed Liberal at 09:27 AM

I love this guy!! He’s better than Governor LePetomaine! (and you have to know your French vaudeville history to get that character’s name)

The Liberal Hawk

Joe has challenged me to put together an affirmative policy that would stake out my position as a ‘liberal hawk’. I’m working on it, in between consulting, launching a new product, more consulting, taking care of the kids, commuting, and whining about how busy I am.

I thought a good starting place would be to pull together some quotes from stuff I’ve written in the past – I originally did it for myself (at my age it’s hard to remember what you said a week ago), and realized that it could stand as a kind of placeholder, and that the comments it might engender would improve my own understanding and arguments.

So here goes:

From my ‘State of the Union’ piece:

…on the war:

We will move to require that all U.S. Citizens and resident aliens suspected of terrorist activity or conspiracy [on U.S. soil] be dealt with through the legal system, and to ensure that political speech and actions as opposed to terrorist conspiracy are fully protected.

…we propose reallocating the bulk of the funds proposed for ballistic missile defense implementation, as opposed to research, to strengthening the technology and personnel who can secure our ports, airports and highways against terrorist attacks.

We propose substantially increasing the budget for public health to create mechanisms to defend us against the possibility of both natural and man-made diseases.

…on fiscal and tax policy:

We want to retarget his [the President’s] changes in the tax rates downward.

The repeal of the estate tax was an expensive mistake. We want to undo it.

We support a reduction in corporate taxes as well, and would support his effort to eliminate taxes on dividends, as long as it was combined with a tax on ‘mailbox’ corporations that do business and are truly headquartered in the U.S., but maintain fictitious addresses in foreign tax havens.

We also want to examine the subsidies built into the tax codes for the largest corporations, and retarget those at the true engines of prosperity and job growth, the small and regional businesses that are the backbone of American wealth and well-being

We propose a national task force on local government finance, with a deadline of next year and the honest charter to find a way to keep the states and local cities from going bankrupt.

…on energy:

…we will propose the entire Federal civilian vehicle fleet be transitioned to natural gas over the next five years, and that a series of tax and regulatory incentives be put in place to encourage the use of natural-gas powered vehicles.

We propose to end the [fiscal and regulatory] subsidies to fuel-inefficient small trucks and SUV’s.

From my comments on Iraq:

1) We won’t take Iraqi oil as booty;

2) We will work to wean ourselves from Middle Eastern oil through efficiency and domestic sources (but this time, unlike the Alaska pipeline, we won’t lie to Congress and the people and go sell the oil to Japan)

3) We’re in this for the duration.

This covers a few of the topics that need covering; to them I’ll add the following:

1) How should we have ‘sold’ the war domestically and internationally;
2) How we should finance the war;
3) How we should tie the war to the ‘War on terrorism’ and to settling the Arab-Israeli conflict.

More Teachers

I don’t want people to think – just because I’m a bit skeptical of the level of fervor around the Maine reports – that I don’t believe that teachers can be strongly antiwar and antimilitary and then act inappropriately on their feelings. Here’s an article from last week’s Daily Breeze:

A week after an ROTC student was removed from a Carson High School classroom for wearing military fatigues, school officials Friday said they would permit cadets to don the camouflage uniforms in the future but with some restrictions.

It remained unclear, however, what those restrictions would be, as administrators struggled to draw new policies that balanced the concerns of teachers with the requests of ROTC members.

The problem arose Feb. 28 when some cadets put on the outfit — which has splotches of green and brown and is known as “Marine utility” dress — instead of the more formal uniform that the ROTC typically wears once a week during the program’s “inspection” days.

It was the first time Carson’s ROTC had a chance to dress in the popular fatigues, and a teacher reacted by asking a student in the new uniform to leave the classroom and finish the day’s lesson in another room. Tricia Churchill, the history teacher who dismissed the student, declined to comment.

Carson Principal Doug Waybright said the teacher found the apparel “inappropriate,” but did not elaborate. He told the teacher that “we as public educators do not have the right to advocate a position,” though he would not say whether disciplinary action was taken.

Lt. Col. Ted McDonald, coordinator for the Los Angeles Unified School District’s ROTC program, said he advises ROTC instructors against allowing students to wear the uniforms on campus, except for major events, to avoid the kind of problem Carson experienced.

“Some teachers object to what appears to them as a war uniform,” McDonald said. “But we don’t need to cause controversy and we’ve elected not to use that uniform except for camping and hiking.” That policy, McDonald added, has exceptions and was in place when he took over the district’s ROTC program in 1990.

Cheryl Geurbaoui, a Carson teacher, disapproved of students wearing the uniform, especially at a time when the country is on the precipice of war.
“They encourage people to think about war when they should be learning and it just bothers me because this is a tense time,” said Geurbaoui, who believes that dislike of the outfits is widespread among schools, not isolated to Carson. “I don’t think it’s unpatriotic to not want kids in the uniforms on campus.” But many students voiced strong support for the uniform and felt the teacher was out of line.

“The uniform doesn’t symbolize war. To me it’s about being proud of your country,” said Brandyn Robinson, a Carson senior. “They let athletes and cheerleaders wear their uniforms but when it comes to ROTC they don’t. It doesn’t make sense.”

Meliza Marshall, a sophomore enrolled in ROTC, said she felt dejected about by what she viewed as “discrimination” against the cadets.

“We worked hard for those uniforms and we want to wear them and we’re proud to wear them,” she said.

ROTC students at other schools were similarly upset. Cadet Sgt. Maj. Mike Heitmann, a senior at Redondo Union High School who leads his ROTC unit, said he interpreted the action as an insult to the military in general.

“I think it’s ridiculous because the military is here to protect its people; we’re not warmongers,” he said.

I hear the voices of future leaders here.

And while it’s amusingly predictable that a few teachers would stand in front of their students and object, I’ll also tip my hat to the school administration for stepping up and dealing with this unprompted.

I have a feeling that had the Maine administrators acted in the same way, we wouldn’t have been debating the issue.


People know how little I think of ‘SkyBox’ Gray Davis. But two recent news stories show him an even less favorable light.
We know he lied about the budget deficit before the election.
Now he’s lying about the causes of the deficit. From the Sacramento Bee, when Dan Weintrab sets him straight:

The important fact about the treatment of energy purchases as loans is that they did not affect, in the slightest, how Gov. Gray Davis and legislators fashioned a state budget in 2001 or 2002. While they may have created a cash-flow squeeze, requiring additional outside borrowing, the energy loans had absolutely no effect on the budget itself, as state budget officials repeatedly pointed out at the time. Some Republican legislators suggested that the energy outlays be treated as budget outlays, rather than as loans, but the dominant Democrats rejected that suggestion because it would have sharply curtailed other spending.
This bit of fiscal history is being offered because Davis, Attorney General Bill Lockyer and other state officials have decided to rewrite it to serve their own political purposes. The false account of what happened is contained in filings this week with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, supporting their assertion that California was ripped off during the energy crisis by energy generators and brokers.

So, basically, we got mugged by the energy providers. And, having blown our paycheck at the stripper bar, we’re looking at our domestic partner sadly, and explaining that we’d have brought the paycheck home if only we hadn’t been hit on the head.

That’s a deliberate lie. There’s no other term for it because Davis, Lockyer and the others who filed the papers with FERC know the truth. It’s a lie that not only bolsters their case with FERC for refunds, but one that also, in effect, acquits Davis and legislators of responsibility for the budget crisis that did develop in 2001.
The budget crisis occurred because Davis and lawmakers of both parties foolishly succumbed to political pressure from various interest groups to cut taxes and raise spending when state revenues suddenly spiked upward in 2000, even though they knew that the windfall could be a one-time occurrence. It was just a one-time revenue boost, as it turned out, but because spending had been ratcheted upward and multibillion-dollar tax cuts had been enacted, the state was left with a huge “structural deficit” between income and outgo. The current estimates of the problem, something in the $26 billion to $35 billion range, are the accumulated deficits of the past two budgets, plus the projected shortfall for the next fiscal year.

I don’t have trouble with Gray Davis because he’s liberal, or because he’s a Democrat, or because he shoves his staff members around when annoyed. I have trouble witH him because there was never a state policy he wouldn’t rent for a campaign contribution, or a state issue where he’d directly sit down with us – the voters he’s here to serve – and tell us the truth except when it served his immediate political interests.
Sorry, Ann, but this is just too damn much. But wait! There’s more!
Despite the fiscal crisis, and the fact that the jobs of teachers, home health workers (but not prison guards!) are on the block, ‘SkyBox’ always has room on the payroll for a few good men and women – who worked hard on his campaign. From the normally supine L.A. Times (intrusive registration required, use ‘laexaminer’/’laexaminer’):

As California’s budget problems leave the prospect of freezes and layoffs hanging over tens of thousands of state employees, many of the people who worked on Gov. Gray Davis’ reelection campaign have been given new government jobs or promotions.
At least 21 of the governor’s campaign workers have been either hired into new state jobs or have received promotions despite the current hiring freeze and a call by Davis to cut half a billion dollars annually out of salary and benefit packages for public employees.
Sometimes their salaries come out of the very departments facing cuts that will be directly felt by the public — areas such as environmental protection, disease research and child protection services — even though most of the employees actually work on the governor’s support staff.

After all, who’s gonna take care of his Presidential campaign??
Look, it always happens that good election staff get jobs. That’s the normal deal. But at this moment in time, it’s disgusting. And that’s why I’ll never support Gray Davis for anything, ever.


I’m a gearhead, and have been one for as long as I can remember. Colin Chapman was my hero as a preteen, and I have great memories of forcing my poor dad to take me to Can Am races back in the glory days of Bruce McLaren and Jim Hall.
In high school, I worked in a race-car shop to pay off the bills for the suspension and engine work I had done to my Austin Cooper S so I could race it more successfully in autocrosses (and on Mulholland Drive).
I’ve had BMW’s (including a M5), Saabs, and a variety of other cool vehicles…including a proto-SUV, a Toyota FJ60 Land Cruiser.
I’m laying this out so that when I criticize SUV’s you don’t think I’m some kind of hair-shirt environmentalist who believes that we should all drive Suzuki Swifts running on recycled french-fry oil. I’m not. The smell of carb solvent is actually kind of pleasant to me (even though I wear gloves now when I handle it), and one wonderful thing about Tenacious G is that she doesn’t go ballistic when I wash small parts in the kitchen sink.
I love vehicles, and love good design and good engineering wherever I can find it.
And when I bought my Land Cruiser, I bought it for many of the reasons people buy SUV’s today.
I had driven an Acura before that, and had been tail-ended hard enough to require knee surgery by an unlicensed, uninsured woman in a Buick. When the car was totaled, I determined to replace it with something safer.
And I worked in a highly status-conscious industry, where my peers competed to own the most expensive and exotic vehicles. So I tried a sidestep and bought something that at the time had no slot in the status curve…a truck.
The Land Cruiser model I had was bare-bones; cloth and exposed metal in the interior, manual transmission and windows, it was the furthest thing from the leather-lined luxury cars my peers drove.
And it was safe; I had an accident in which a Mercedes driver threw his door open in front of me; I probably did $15,000 in damage to his car. The rubber end cap for the bumper cost $25 to replace.
People got out of my way; at the time, vehicles that size were fairly unusual, and merging onto the 110 was suddenly much easier.
Plus Moby (it was white) was just damn cool. The FJ60 series had that hard-to-define elegance that good design always has.
It did have some drawbacks. It got 14mpg highway or street. It was more than a bit hard to park, and had the turning radius of a semi. My wife tore her skirts getting into it all the time. It was slow. The suspension was so stiff that it make my sons carsick regularly…we re-nicknamed it ‘the Chuck Wagon’.
I had driven back and forth to the Bay Area almost weekly when I was in college; I could drive my BMW 2002ti from Berkeley to LA in five hours, have dinner, go out, and still have some energy left over to dance for a while.
Driving Moby to SF was tiring. It took seven hours. When we got there, we were a bit spent. At first I thought it was just age; then we drove up with a friend in their Mercedes, and realized that the car was fatiguing us. It was noisy, rough, slow, and steered vaguely enough to require constant focus and attention.
And one day we caught a ride in a Taurus wagon taxicab and realized that it was almost as large inside as the Land Cruiser. It even had a rearward facing jumpseat so we could seat two more kids.
And we started thinking about it. We’d had Moby for seven years, and it looked like it would run another seven easily. But it was worth almost as much as we’d paid new for it, and the hassles were starting to add up.
So we sold it, and bought a Taurus wagon. I also sold my M5 and bought a Mustang convertible. Part of this was about my giving up on the idea of a car as a status object – heresy here in L.A., I know. But I was tired of working to pay for something that basically impressed parking valets.
But a part of it was just the realization that while the Land Cruiser was a brilliant piece of machinery for running safaris in Kenya, or for hauling journalists in Afghanistan, it wasn’t really a good solution to transporting a family living in Los Angeles.
And over the following years, as I saw more and more people move to Suburbans, and Expeditions, and Excursions, I’d occasionally scratch my head.
My neighbors both had Tahoes (mini-Suburbans) at one point; we all went skiing to Mammoth together (us in our Taurus), and while they could carry more than we could, it wasn’t very much more at all.
And the front-wheel drive of the Taurus worked fine in the six inches of snow that we faced.
Ultimately, we had Littlest Guy and went from two sons to three, and decided we wanted something bigger. We looked at a Suburban, and then bought an Aerostar minivan. It was bigger inside, cheap to run, relatively easy to drive. I went through a couple of years with no car at all, just a motorcycle and rental cars, and then when we divorced, bought a Subaru Outback.
I wanted a slightly macho wagon, didn’t want to spend the $$ to get an Audi or BMW, and just wasn’t in touch with my inner Soccer Mom enough to drive a Taurus again. The Outback was as big as a Forerunner or other midsize SUV inside, and drove brilliantly…I managed to shock more than a few sports cars with it.
When Tenacious G and I got together, we decided we needed a big car again, and looked once again at SUV’s and decided to buy an Odyssey minivan. It drove far better than a Suburban, was as big inside, smaller outside, got better gas mileage, and was better built. As soon as TG lets me supercharge it, it will be the perfect urban family vehicle.
So my objection to SUV’s isn’t aesthetic, it isn’t moral, it’s functional.
If I lived in Wyoming, and had two miles of dirt road to cover on my way to drop the kids at school then head to the office – and two months a year it was six inches of muck, and four months a year six to twelve inches of snow – my old FJ60 or one of the modern ‘upscale’ replacements would begin to make sense. And that’s exactly what’s being sold with each SUV – the image that you don’t live on a curved street in a suburb in Thousand Oaks, but on the old family homestead in rural Wyoming.
And in buying the ‘image’ of the SUV, folks are like the self-deluding people who believe that wearing Ralph Lauren will suddenly give them a generations-old family place on the Cape. The style isn’t the thing.
And for a true gearhead, the idea of buying image over function just doesn’t sit well.


One of the more commented-upon posts I did over at Armed Liberal was this one on patriotism and the Democratic Party.

It is an issue I feel strongly about, and one that is behind my comfort with blogging alongside Joe, Trent, Adil, and Celeste, who I imagine are somewhat more conservative than I am (it may have something to do with why Joe invited me, as well).

Well, I saw some good news today, and thought I’d share it.

In the Atlantic (that wonderful, thoughtful magazine that was kind enough to mention me!) this month is an article on:

“A lot of Democrats seem to regard foreign-policy and national security issues as distractions that, with luck, will soon go away. On Iraq, the party snapped back – with whiplash speed, seemingly as if Clinton had never happened – to the pacifism and confusion of the McGovern and Mondale years. That makes Democrats not only wrong but, in national races, unelectable.

“We have reached the point where this has metastasized into a crisis in the party,” says Bergreen. “What I would like is to have a Democrat be comfortable reading the words that were in John F. Kennedy’s inaugural. Have you read that recently? That’s tough stuff. That liberty and freedom are something worth fighting for, worth bearing a burden for. Just because there’s no Soviet Union doesn’t make these things less relevant.”

And so Bergreen is pounding the pavements of Washington, looking for money and support for a new organization, to be called Democrats for National Security. “The problem,” says Doug Wilson, a former Clinton Pentagon official who counts himself among Bergreen’s supporters, “is to be able to say ‘Democrats for national security’ and not have people think it’s an oxymoron.”