BTDT – got the T-shirt

Met some friends at the motorcycle show in Long Beach this morning (what I’m doing instead of blogging). Lots of cool stuff, but the coolest thing was the t-shirt worn by the son of some of our friends, a young man just back from Iraq with the “XXX”th Ordnance Company – Explosive Ordnance Disposal (he actually has a business card with all this on it):

I am a trained bomb disposal expert.
If I am running, try to keep up.

He had some interesting comments on life over there, which will follow over the next few days. But having him home whole and hale is certainly good news to his parents and to us.

Iraq Coverage: Click Here Now

Instapundit and Roger Simon are all over the unbelievable, disgraceful, infuriating lack of coverage of the antiterrorist march in Iraq.

Unlike the Western antiwar demonstrators, who talk of ‘repression’ while getting free legal assistance, the demonstrators in Iraq are, literally, risking their lives.

And while I certainly won’t claim to have enough knowledge or perspective to come to a conclusion as to what these demonstrations really mean, I can absolutely say that by not covering them, the media are denying me – and everyone else – the ability to formulate that perspective.

I’m disgusted. But not, sadly, surprised.

If you share that response, you might want to send an email to the New York Times Public Editor, or his Los Angeles Times equivalent. It’ll just take a second, and like me, you’ll feel better once you do.


Blogger and fellow L.A. motorcyclist XLRQ took a spill today on the 405. Sounds like his bell was well-rung, but he’s hopefully OK, except for the huge diamond he appears to have promised Mrs. XLRQ.

We need to meet them…

This may be a good time to point out the study that showed a far lower rate of concussions for riders wearing Arai and Shoei – brand helmets. TG wears an Arai, and I wear a Shoei. [UPDATE: looks like he was…]

Click over and send him some good karma.

(Hat tip to Instapundit)


Went to the new Disney Hall for a concert by the Los Angeles Master Chorale tonight; a friend of ours had one of the solos, so we wouldn’t have missed it. And I’d wanted to get into the hall and hear some music since it opened a month or so ago.


Double Damn.I’ve enjoyed watching the building come up, and watching the scaffolding and barricades come down has made an interesting building a wonderful one to drive past.

And inside, it’s even better. We were in the front row center of the Terrace section (one balcony below the top), in the seats given to the artists – not exactly the pricey seats. But the sound was a million times better than in the old Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and better, to my recollection, than any other U.S. concert hall I’ve been in (most of the ones in California, New York, and Chicago). And it’s beautiful!

At a quiet point, someone in the orchestra dropped something – possibly a quarter – and the sound resonated through the hall with amazing clarity.

Oh, and the program and chorus was really, really, good as well.

I hate boondoggle redevelopment. I criticize the Skybox mentality that impoverishes government to ease the lives of the rich.

But I’ve got to say that when it’s done this well, my qualms get left at the door. I know what a quarter of a billion dollars – the cost of the hall – could do for people in this state.

But somehow, coming home from there tonight, I never doubted the worth of what had been built.

I talked about it before, talking about poet Mark Doty:

I had grown sick of human works,
which seemed to me a sum
and expression of failure: spoilers,

brutalizers of animals and one another,
self-absorbed until we couldn’t see
that we ruined, finally,

ourselves – what could we make?
An epidemic ran unhalted,
The ill circumscribed as worthless and unclean;

the promises of change seem hollow,
the poor and marginal hopelessly marginal,
endlessly poor. I saw no progress,

and the steeping ink of this perception
colored everything, until I felt surrounded
by weakness and limit, and my own energies

failed, or were failing, though I tried
not to think so. I awoke
in Manhattan, just after dawn,

in the tunnels approaching Grand Central:
a few haunted lamps, unreadable signs.
And with a thousand others,

Each of us fixed on the fixed point
of our destination, whatever
connection awaited us, I spilled

up the ramp and under the vault
and lugged my bag out onto 42nd Street,
looking for the Carey Bus.

The dawn was angling into the city,
A smoky, thumb-smudged gold. It struck
first a face, not human, terracotta,

on an office building’s intricate portico,
seeming to fire the material from within,
so that the skin was kindled,

glowing. And then I looked up: the ramparts
of Park Avenue were radiant, barbaric;
they were continuous with every city’s dream

of itself, the made world’s
angled assault on heaven.

…the made world’s angled assault on heaven.



My motorcycling community has been following the trial of Rep. Bill Janklow (R-S.D.) with obvious interest.

For those who haven’t been following it, Janklow is the sole Congressmember from South Dakota, as well as a two-time Governor and former state Attorney-General. Quite the big fish in that pond.

He was quite the leadfooted big fish, it appears, and unsurprisingly, his power shielded him from the consequences of the minor accidents, speeding stops, and other infractions he committed while doing the people’s business.

Until this year. On August 16, he sped past a startled Monica Collins, ran a stop sign, and was struck by motorcyclist Randy Scott who died at the scene.

He was tried for second-degree manslaughter, and today he was convicted.

His conviction won’t bring Scott back, and his resignation from Congress was just announced, meaning that whatever follows, Janklow’s life has also been derailed.

And I’m elated.

Because in this tragedy, a basic truth shows up; in this nation the law applies to us all. I have a hard time imagining that Janklow would have been convicted in most nations; the levers of power would have ensured that Scott’s family was compensated, but Janklow would have walked away. The U.S., the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, the Scandinavian countries would have convicted him. France, nope. Germany, maybe. Italy, maybe. Industrialized Asia or the Third World? Nope.

Those countries – the ones that would have convicted him – are the ones we need to seek out as out allies in the years ahead.


The third point of my proposed Democratic foreign policy platform was this:

Third, we’re going to stop Israel from building new settlements and push them to dismantle existing illegal ones;

I’d talked pretty extensively about it before:

But while we figure out how to deal with the charmingly erratic nature of the Palestinian polity, we need to do so from a position that is sustainable – militarily, economically, politically, and morally. And I’ve gotta question whether the current policies – of quietly burying a huge budget to subsidize people to move into the settlements, while talking about handing them back to the Palestinians – are sustainable on any of those grounds.

Militarily, the original justification for settlements was they would provide 24/7 sets of Israeli eyes to assure that there would be no pre-invasion buildup. Between satellite imagery and Predators, that justification seems pretty much evaporated at this point. I have to believe that in the face of constant, low-intensity attacks such as we are seeing now, the settlements cost a great deal more in readiness than they provide.

Economically, the Haaretz articles seem to speak for themselves.

Politically, I used to think that the slowly growing settlements were a ploy to induce the Arab world to hurry up and negotiate – if they waited too long, there wouldn’t be any land left over to make into Palestine. It may be that we’re hitting that point now (back to ‘Ruthless People’ again).

Note that this argument (that the occupation is such a ploy) is supported by a post by David Bornstein in Israpundit:

I propose that settlements be EXPANDED, new ones established and progressively more of Eretz Israel taken back and annexed on a sliding scale of time. Terror attacks will accelerate that process, and further, this policy publicly and aggressively announced. In other words, be good and we won’t kill you. The same applies to Hizballah.

The problem, of course, is who will pay.

The newspaper said it had given a team of reporters three months to interview officials, pore over ministry budgets and make calculations. The exercise was filled with frustration, but the conclusion drawn is that since 1967, Israel has spent roughly $10 billion on the settlements. Currently, the annual amount spent on settlements’ civilian needs is more than $500 million.

And the answer is that, fundamentally, we in the

U.S. assistance to Israel for fiscal year 2001 includes $1.98 billion in military aid (of which over $1.4 billion was earmarked for procurement from the United States) and economic assistance totaling $840 million.

Note that I don’t begrudge a dime of what we give Israel. But I’d like what we spend to be in Israel’s and then our interest, as opposed to the settlement policy, which I genuinely believe evolved as follows:

Once the West Bank, Golan, and Gaza had been conquered (in a war preempting a massive attack by the Arabs, let’s remember) certain forces within Israel wanted to keep them, as a kind of Eretz Israel. I tend to believe that the policy was very much a ‘Ruthless People’ one, in which by gradually building out a network of settlements, they would make it clear to the Palestinian forces that time was not on their side, and that they needed to settle.

For a variety of (mostly ignoble) reasons, the Palestinians refused to take the offer.

And so Israel is stuck with a hostage it doesn’t want and can ill afford.

Clearly, this policy of ‘civilian occupation’ is economically devastating to Israel (which we mask by loaning or granting the necessary funds). I’m hard pressed to believe that it isn’t militarily devastating as well, in the context of a terror war (as opposed to a conventional one). The burden of securing this scattering of small towns is immense.

From a Haaretz interview with reservists:

Samocha: “The energy that goes into maintaining `normal life’ there is inconceivable, not to mention the calculation of the economic cost versus the benefit. I’m not talking about the cost in the narrow sense – Doing a crude calculation, we found that the direct cost of the month that we served in Netzarim is NIS 12 million. Add to that the indirect costs and the sums are tremendous, I’m talking about the total cost of sanctifying the residency of 60 families, whose lives are in danger, and the lives of the soldiers guarding them, while gravely harming the lives of the Palestinians.”

Becker: “The issue isn’t money, but how we Israelis look within a society that allows the illusion of Netzarim to exist.”

‘The illusion of Netzarim.’ I certainly couldn’t put it any better.

We in the U.S. foot the bill for this. While our support for Israel’s right to exist securely cannot be challenged, I do believe that a full and frank discussion with the Israeli government on one simple point – the settlements must not be expanded by one house, and the illegal settlements must be permanently dismantled – until there is a final peace settlement with the Palestinians, or until we give up on peace, and frankly state that Israel has conquered and will keep the West Bank and Gaza.

Tales of a Mother’s Love (and Her Political Biases)

Two news stories today. Each tells a roughly parallel tale – of a mother travelling to Iraq to visit a daughter in the U.S. military. But the spin each story generates is itself a story.

From the L.A. Times (registration, use ‘laexaminer’/’laexaminer’):

“The Americans promised so much: democracy, freedom, security – now we have none of these things,” said Capt. Mazen Ayash Youssif. “We were better off before. We all prefer the time of Saddam.”

The depth of their anti-U.S. conviction underscores the difficulties the military faces in winning over ordinary Iraqis, especially in the Sunni zone of central and western Iraq favored by the former regime.

“If this is the way the people think here,” concluded Valencia, “then we’re in a lot of trouble.”

The sponsors of the trip?

The trip was sponsored by Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based activist group that opposed the U.S. invasion and is eager to spread its antiwar message. None of the parents had formal military clearance to visit their soldier children.

In the Tennessean, another mother goes to visit:

Many of the soldiers serving in Iraq volunteer to help in hospitals, schools and with athletics and other areas where they feel they can make a difference.

Holly’s unit has a lot of fun helping at the Baghdad Zoo, where more than half of its 800 animals were stolen, killed or eaten by looters after the invasion.

Some of the unit found a camel that had been stolen from the zoo. They put it into the back of the Humvee and hauled it back.

The unit works closely with the South African group Thula Thula, which has come to Baghdad to improve conditions at the zoo.

Holly and Vanessa took Raoul and me to the zoo, where we saw parents and children strolling the grounds.


I was on a 12-day trip to Iraq and Kuwait to visit my daughter, Maj. Holly Meeker, an Army reservist who was deployed in February with the 372 Mobile Public Affairs Detachment based in Nashville.

Operation Iraqi Freedom is her second war. And mine.

I’m coming to the conclusion that somehow Iraq has become a sandy mirror where our journalists – the eyes and ears of our polity – see what they set out to find. The activists find unhappy Iraqis; the military moms find peaceful families strolling through the zoo.

Somehow, in this era of instant communication, the fog of war is thicker than ever.

Palestine and Orange County

I’m stupidly busy, but will get some posts up over the next day or so, and just had to get these stories posted for comment and some thought.

I’ve said in the past that I’m not ready to support a Palestinian state, not out of a belief that Arab Palestinians aren’t worthy of having a state, but because one of the preconditions of statehood, I believe, is at least the approximation of a monopoly on the use of force. I quoted Max Weber:

…the right to use physical force is ascribed to other institutions or to individuals only to the extent to which the state permits it. The state is considered the sole source of the “right” to use violence.

Today’s Jerusalem Post has an enlightening story:

Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, said the Palestinian Authority should stop talking on behalf of all Palestinians. “A certain group should stop playing with the fate of the Palestinian people,” he said. “There should be partnership in making fateful decisions, and this partnership should be based on the centers of power in the Palestinian street. We must respect the opinion of the Palestinian street.”

“Israel understands only the language of violence and what we are doing is aimed at liberating the land, ousting the occupation and preserving the holy sites. We can’t accept a hudna similar to the one we had in June. The Palestinian people want their freedom and independence and Israel must pay the price for a hudna by halting the construction of the fence and settlements.”

“Our final response is that we are not ready to declare a new ceasefire,” said Muhammed Nazzal, a member of the Hamas delegation to the talks. “Hamas rejects the hudna and won’t accept it, because our reading of the current political situation shows that the Americans and the Zionists are in deep crisis because of the continuation of the resistance in Iraq and Palestine.”

He said there was a wide gap between Hamas and Fatah on the shape and content of the proposed truce. “This is a very big issue concerning the future of the Palestinian people,” Nazzal said.

So, in case you’re wondering when I do my post later on the Israeli settlements, why it is that I don’t call for the immediate formation of a Palestinian state. It has nothing to do with this statement from the same interview:

Hamas founder and spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin has told a German magazine that a Jewish state could be established in Europe. In interview excerpts slated for publication on Monday in Der Spiegel, Yassin opposed a two-state solution in which a Palestinian state would coexist next to Israel.

“That would not work,” he said. “The Israelis claim 80 per cent of the territory and will only let us have 20 per cent. It would only be an interim solution.”

Asked if there was no place at all for a Jewish state, he said, “They could set up a state in Europe.” Yassin also rejected the Geneva Accord, which was hammered out between Israeli politicians and Palestinian representatives. “That plan is worse than the Oslo one, because it abandons the right of return for the refugees,” he said.

On a more local front, an interesting article in the regional section of today’s L.A. Times (intrusive registration, use ‘laexaminer’/’laexaminer’):

Taking the Intifada to the Football Field

What could be more American? Dozens of young men in Orange County have planned a football tournament for the New Year’s weekend in Irvine.

But this gathering of Muslim American athletes on the gridiron – they say a first for Southern California – is being flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct by religious leaders dismayed by some of the team’s names.

Monikers for the flag-football teams include Mujahideen, Intifada and Soldiers of Allah and are accompanied on the league’s Web site,, by logos of masked men, some with daggers or swords.

There’s a dialog going on about it within the local Muslim community.

An organizer of the Jan. 4 event, geared for American Muslims in their teens and 20s, said the names are a sign of football bravado and a show of support for Muslims in the Middle East.

“A lot of the kids on our team are from Palestinian origin,” said Tarek Shawky, Intifada’s 29-year-old captain and quarterback. “We are in solidarity with people in the uprising. It’s about human rights and basic freedoms.”

“I think they should be more sensitive and show respect to other people’s sensitivities,” said Muzammil Siddiqi, director of the Islamic Society of Orange County and a national Muslim leader. “The words themselves do not have bad meanings, but people associate them with what’s going on in the world around them.”

Personally, I’m more than a little tired of the culture of sensitivity that we live in. That means that while I’m not happy with the names, and less happy with the political statements being made by the youth who have chosen them, it’s not a terribly big deal.

I will, however, wait with bated breath for Jackie Goldberg to weigh in on the need for cultural sensitivity.

It won’t happen. Because offense can only be taken by the powerless, of course.

Bonds. Arnold’s Bonds.

Atrios and Yglesias are piling on Gov. Ahnold’s fiscal plan. From TAPPED:

The only sentence from this article you really need to read is, “Well, not solved it, exactly” — because when you “solve” a fiscal mess by taking on additional debt, you’ve solved exactly nothing. Obviously, one way to resolve a mismatch between revenues and expenditures is to borrow the money to make up the gap, but next year the gap just comes back with an additional bill for the interest. Repeat this process long enough, however, and people aren’t going to lend you any more money, and then you’re still faced with the choice between raising taxes and cutting spending.

From Eschaton:

So, the Gropenfuhrer [AL note: I’d really like to use this opportunity to publicly bitch-slap Steve “$300K” Lopez for this contemptuous construct, as well as his overall mediocre coverage of pretty much everything in local and CA politics. Dear Jon Carroll; I can think of three bloggers who could do a better job for a whole lot less money. Email me at the address above if you’d like some suggestions.] is claiming that borrowing by issuing a 15 billion dollar bond is somehow different than other kinds of borrowing. I’m sure the media will do its job and explain this to the moron-Americans of California (hah).

But, there is an ad campaign which will hopefully do what the news media won’t. You can watch it at this website. Treasurer Angelides is sponsoring it.

ANGELIDES: Well, here’s what I’m saying. What he told the voters is that he was going to balance the budget, protect education, health care for kids, and he was going to balance the budget while doing it. And all I’m saying, Judy, is he ought to try to do that first.

And merely borrowing more and more money and putting the state further and further into debt, and sending the bill to our children, is not what he promised and not the right thing to do. So come January 10, he’s required to have a balanced budget plan. We ought to see it. Btu he ought not be asking to borrow $15 billion plus without a plan on how to balance the budget. He doesn’t have one.

Damn, this pisses me off.

Personally, I don’t yet know if Ahnold will be a good governor or not; I do continue to think, from my conversations with friends in Sacramento, that the shock of his election was a good thing.

But this attack is pure and simple B.S.

Let’s go through it quickly, from three perspectives.

First, I really do wish that someone with business experience would talk about why borrowing by a troubled entity – whether a household, company, or state – can sometimes be necessary. Since that apparently hasn’t happened, I’ll nominate myself.

A big part of my business is dealing with troubled projects; some of them are actual companies, and some are troubled real-estate deals.

The first thing you do is to assure sufficient liquidity to see through the time necessary to come up with an orderly plan.

A company has bills due, and needs to keep operations going while you figure out how to fix it or close it in an orderly fashion (thereby retaining as much value for the creditors and stakeholders as possible). To do that, one of the first things you do to a cash flow projection, and to sit down with the banks to figure out where the cash will come from.

It is often at this point that you wind up filing Chapter 11, because only in a post-11 environment will new loans be forthcoming (they get priority over the old loans).

Similarly, California’s budget isn’t going to be changed in 45 days. And to bust Ahnold for not having a new, balanced, and politically palatable budget in 60 or even 120 days is unrealistic. The test is whether the budget process is moving closer to reality, and we won’t know that for at least a year.

Meanwhile, we have bills to pay, and the reality is that we’re going to have to go to the bank to get the cash to do so. I’m not even sure this is the last bond issue that we’ll require for this purpose (note that tax revenues are improving, but it remains touch-and-go).

Second, in the specific context of the California budget; Davis and the Legislature sold about $10B in general-revenue bonds as a way of shuffling off the spending crisis. Those bonds are being challenged in court, and it is not unlikely that they will be found to have been illegally issued. This bond issue will cover (I believe) those bonds (retroactively legalizing them by getting authority from the voters) plus the additional car-tax-cut deficit, plus a little something in the kitty as noted above.

Finally, Atrios neglects to note (he’s not from here, so it may just be lack of knowledge) that Phil Angelides is the leading D candidate for Governor in the next cycle, and that he’s overtly begun the campaign with this attack.

I thought that he would have been a good candidate to run in Part 2 of the recall (along with Leon Panetta), and probably would have voted for him. A disclaimer – I knew him pretty well when I worked in Sacramento a long time ago, didn’t think much of him then, but thought he’d grown substantially in his role as Treasurer. The posturing he’s doing now may cause me to rethink my support. He blessed the bond issue Davis & Co. did (although he was critical), and his fiscal solution relies, unsurprisingly, on raising the taxes on well-off Californians.

I’ve discussed earlier why that isn’t necessarily a good idea.

I Have Just Got To Stop Reading the Guardian.

Today, Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen steps off the cliff into Idiotarianland.

The spiraling human rights crisis in suspended member Zimbabwe will grab most of the attention of Commonwealth leaders at the heads of government meeting in Nigeria this weekend. This is to be expected when there were more than a thousand reports of torture at the hands of the police and security services last year. President Mugabe must be sent a clear message that arbitrary detention, torture and systematic repression are at odds with the Commonwealth’s vision of democracy, the rule of law and good governance.

However, leaders must also look at how other members have trampled on basic freedoms in their rush to join the so-called “war on terror”, have attacked the right to seek asylum, and still permit cruel punishments and executions. Is it any wonder that Mugabe has got the message that human rights violations will not be challenged?

Our own government made the UK the only country in Europe to derogate from the European convention on human rights in order to rush through the 2001 Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act. It has used it to imprison 14 foreign nationals for up to two years without charging them or bringing them to trial. They face the prospect of remaining in detention indefinitely on the basis of secret evidence that they have not been allowed to see and therefore cannot challenge. These “security measures” are undermining the credibility and viability of basic legal safeguards.

The clampdown on the right to asylum has seen the Australian government’s “Pacific solution” set of policies enable it to hold for months scores of people, who have been recognised as refugees, in detention centres – a policy branded by a UN delegation as “offensive to human dignity”. Similarly, the new asylum bill in the UK threatens to criminalise those seeking asylum.

See, it appears to be like this. Unless we are perfect, anyone else has every right to do exactly what they will – and we of course can’t be critical. This is a consequence of that particular blindness that we seem to have nowadays in which everything bad becomes equivalently bad; it’s a kind of binary morality.

Sadly, I live in an analog world, as do the rest of the real people I know.

Ms. Allen, may I introduce you to your US counterpart, William Schulz?

Certainly I have argued within Amnesty that in the face of genocide, such as in Rwanda, the organization is utterly remiss not to take a position in favor of military intervention.

At some point we can spend our energy worrying about relabelling audio jacks labelled ‘master/slave’, or about liberals who criticize team names using racial epithets – or we can look at countries that are being looted by kleptocrats, and where the people are starving as a result.

It seems like an easy decision to me.