“The long-sitting MZ, the can of starter fluid, and the fire extinguisher”

This morning’s production at Casa Armed Liberal lacked the duration and comic impact of the last classic – “A sandy slope, a cable lock, an Aerostich, and the well-hung stable boy” but it added a certain dramatic intensity and had far better special effects. It’s titled “The long-sitting MZ, the can of starter fluid, and the fire extinguisher”.So the MZ motard – when it’s being used every day – starts like a champ. But if it sits for four or five days, you need racing rollers. My solution, after burning down the battery once or twice, was to invest in a can of starting fluid – basically, ether. Plus I can fantasize about using it to sedate people who annoy me…

So after leaving the MZ sitting for three weeks, I rolled it out of the garage, popped the seat off (which opens the air box), grabbed the starter fluid, and sprayed a little on the foam air filter.

Usually, it’ll start right up, die, and then start again and stay started. The hardest part is getting the three d**n Dzus fasteners back in to fasten the seat.

Today – well, today went a little worse.

I hit start and it fired immediately, and then backfired and died. A big cloud of white smoke filled the airbox, and then “whomp!” caught fire.

My initial – somewhat panicked – estimate had the flames three or four feet high, but on calm reconsideration, I’d say six or ten inches. I flapped my hand at them, and quickly realized that it’d take a little more to get this problem dealt with…

We usually have a fire extinguisher in the garage…look, look, crap!! … we’ve got to do a garage cleanup…

Don’t see it.

Run into the house and look above the dryer where we usually keep the one in the kitchen…look, look, crap!! “TG, where the f*** is the fire extinguisher??” She says that’s a sure sign that the morning is going to be an interesting one.

I peek at the pile of boxes under the kitchen bar and grab the extinguisher from there (we’ve been working on the house…) and run outside.

Pull the pin, point the nozzle at the flames (burning quite happily, thank you), press the lever and “whoosh!!” my most burning problems were solved. I’ve always wanted to actually put out a fire with one of those things…

I owe Blackfive a book review (tonight), and was going to give him grief for his little faux pas when I wrote it.

But I think, out of respect for both of our fragile egos, I’ll let it go today.

Live in California? Send the Governator A Message

My state Senator, Debra Bowen is deeply focused on “honest election” issues. She has two bills that passed the California legislature this session, and are sitting on Gov. Schwartzenegger’s desk. I’m supporting both, and would like to encourage you to as well.

Debra’s initiative reform bill, SB 1598, provides greater transparency in the process for gathering signatures on initiative petitions. First, it requires signature gatherers to disclose whether they’re paid or are volunteers. Second, the bill requires that petitions include a list of the top five contributors to the initiative campaign right at the top in large type.

The second bill, SB 1235, expands the use of hand recounts in California elections to gauge the accuracy of our voting systems. Current law, which Debra authored last year, requires that the 1% manual recount of randomly selected precincts include the paper trail from electronic voting machines. This year’s bill expands that recount requirement to include early voting and absentee votes — which by themselves represent as much as 40% of the votes cast in a typical California election — and requires that the result of this audit be made public.

Debra authored both of these bills to help restore public confidence in California’s elections process. We need more transparency in the funding of initiative campaigns, and we need to strengthen the auditing requirements of our elections to make sure that they are accurate.

Click here to go to a page on Bowen’s website and send a message to Gov. Schwarzenegger asking him to sign the bills.

So, I’ve been Thinking About This Whole War Thing

So obviously, the main issue (other than “what’s for lunch”) that I thought about while riding on my trip was the war. In my mind, it is centrally the broader “war” between an aggressive sect of Islamic radicals and the governments that have a symbiotic relationship with them. The battlefield in Israel and environs, Iraq and Afghanistan is the most visible front in the war – today.

What I want to do it set out in a fast pass the issues that I’ve been chewing over, and then try and return to the key ones in greater depth to talk about them – hopefully with my thinking and questions amplified by yours. It’s obvious that this is a time that requires more than a bit of serious thinking for people on all sides of the issue, and none more than folks like me – those who supported the invasion of Iraq and must now step back and look at the situation – which is neither as good as we’d hoped nor, I still believe, as awful as it is painted in some corners – and think hard about where we stand today.

So I want to start with questions and sketches of answers. Note that the answers may well be contradictory – it’s definitely true that I am conflicted and that I hope in my blogging in the next little while to dig into those contradictions.1. Why does the war matter? Does Islamist terrorism deserve the high level of attention and concern that many people are showing?

Contra Glenn Reynolds, who says at Instapundit:

To read some blogs today, you’d think that this was the 9th century, with camel-riding Jihadis ready to descend on helpless American towns, swinging unstoppable scimitars. It’s not that way; it’s more like the Ghost Dance or similar movements borne of frustration at losing, movements that do their damage all right, but that are doomed to fail. I don’t mean to understate the threat, which is real enough. But it’s not on the order of the Cold War, you know, and we won that one.

Not so much, Glenn. I believe that state-facilitated terrorism does potentially present a serious enough risk to the health of the US – to our global primacy politically and economically – that it fully justifies the level of concern. This isn’t just a symbolic war – it’s one with real material risks that we must confront.

Let me divert for a moment to talk about what I mean when I say “state-facilitated terrorism,” above.

To me, it is the difference between Oklahoma City and 9/11 – a difference of scale so profound that it becomes a difference in kind. As I’ve written before, the psychological/philosophical reaction to modernity that I call “Bad Philosophy” is certainly present in the West, and we will certainly feel flashes (maybe literally) of pain from it. But the scale of attack that is likely to be mounted by a domestic terrorist group is substantially smaller than the one that could be mounted by a terrorist group with state support – which implies larger amounts of money, easier access to weapons, a place where they can be housed or train without fear of arrest or attack, and the ability to manage or forge identity.

The next post will set out some scenarios which I believe could be plausibly carried out by a cadre of 10 committed terrorists with 20 – 50 ‘helpers’ and a reasonable amount of cash. From my point of view, the risks they impose are strong enough that they deserve to be treated as far more than a nuisance.

2. If Islamist terrorists are such a big risk, why not just go to war and conquer or kill them?

Well, first and foremost because it would be flatly wrong (to launch a full-scale war with the Islamic world) at this stage of the conflict. There are too many paths that lead to a less-violent (note that I don’t say nonviolent) solution, and we have the moral and practical imperative to use the lowest level of violence that we can. The risks I outline in 1) above are just that – risks, not prophecy.

We have to live in the world, and like it or not, as I tell my sons, that means you have to accept that you are sharing the table with people you may or may not like or be happy with.

That doesn’t imply that they can stab you with their dinner knives with impunity. But it does suggest a more-tolerant vision than I think many of the “bomb Iran now” advocates may have of our role and place in the world. That tolerance is our strongest weapon, and we should be using it to wage ‘soft’ war to go with the ‘hard’ one our troops are fighting today.

The basic principle is well-set out by Abu Aardvark:

A smart campaign against al-Qaeda and the jihadist fringe should drive a wedge between them and mainstream Muslims. It should demonstrate the absurdity of al-Qaeda’s claims about a Crusader war against Islam. Even today, the vast majority of Muslims reject al-Qaeda’s theology, tactics, and goals. We should be trying to keep it that way instead of trying to do al-Qaeda’s work for it.

This is a good variant on my favorite Clint Smith quote…

“You better learn to communicate real well, because when you’re out there on the street, you’ll have to talk to a lot more people than you’ll have to shoot, or at least that’s the way I think it’s supposed to work.”

The post after the scenario one will set out what I think are the shortcomings of what we’ve done to date in this sphere.

3. If you want to “talk” with the Islamists, doesn’t that undermine point 1., above? Aren’t you denying the real risk we face?

No, I don’t think so. Look, the goal of war is the bend the enemy to our will – not necessarily to kill him or enslave him. We want the Islamic world to behave well – to pursue national, racial, cultural, and religious goals in the time honored way that the gentle nations of the West have done so for – decades – since World War II. Seriously, we want to change the behavior of a variety of states and change the direction of a large number of people in several societies.

And winning – bending them to our will – implies a mixture of seduction and threat. The threat is simple, and present always – we could if we chose, follow Duncan Black’s prescription in which

…it’s you fuck with us a little bit and YOU NO LONGER LIVE BITCHES!

The problem is that until we decide we’re willing to kill “them” all – or kill enough of them to cow the rest into submission, we’re left needing to convince them that making peace with us – on terms acceptable to us – is worth their while. That something is in it for people on the other side.

Wouldn’t we rather sell people on rights, laws, freedom, and prosperity – on ‘democracy, sexy, whiskey!’ then fight them?

We’ve done a truly crap job of that selling, and to me that more than anything else is the core and abject failure of the Bush Administration.

Why aren’t we trying to seduce them with what the West has to offer? What are we doing to win the average person in Egypt over to our side? Hell, what are we doing to keep the average person in Des Moines on our side?

Doesn’t it seem – when we have the weapons at hand to confidently state that we can demolish their societies and reduce the survivors to sustenance in a weekend – that we have the responsibility to try and talk them out of committing ‘suicide by war’??

4. So how’s that Iraq thing working out for you, then?

Obviously badly. Worse strategically, I think than tactically – in that I remain convinced (admittedly with little evidence except my own perception of how we are being told what is going on and a sparse overlay of demographic facts) that things are brutally tough in Iraq right now – but not horrible.

The numbers of deaths don’t approach the levels of the Lebanon civil war, and aren’t vastly (they are 3 – 4X) above the peak murder rates we saw in California in the 1990’s. Again – that’s not good news – but neither is it a scene of ongoing pitched street battles with massive casualties.

But even as I’m somewhat optimistic tactically, I am a total pessimist strategically. My justification – and I believe, under all the layers, the justification of the Administration – was to shock the other governments and actors in the Middle East, primarily the Iranians and Saudis, into modifying their behavior and support for the Islamist movement. We hoped that Iran would act like Libya did.

Didn’t happen, unfortunately. There are a lot of reasons that are no one’s fault, and a lot of blame to parcel around for the reasons that are. It was clearly not a risk-free move. By threatening, we risked hardening the positions of those who weren’t afraid of us.

By squabbling – by overtly acting out within our political class and our public intellectuals – we make it transparently clear to the enemy – who does read our media – that we’re not so sure about this fighting thing.

And so those who oppose us are made stronger both because we aren’t doing as Abu Aardvark suggests and driving wedges within the Muslim world (meaning we aren’t seducing people away to join our side), and because while our soldiers are steadfast and resolute, our polity isn’t (which gives our enemies the clear impression that we can be defeated).

So the “undecided” Muslim populace and leaders see a brutal enough West to be repellent – but one insecurely questioning it’s own brutality enough not to be terribly frightening.

5. Why bother? Why not just sit down and work something out that makes the other side happy?

Because I don’t see that as being very easy, for good reasons and bad ones.

The alternative to changing their behavior is that we change ours – by tolerating their primacy in a number of areas. Thucydides talked about that a bit:

Again, your country has a right to your services in sustaining the glories of her position. These are a common source of pride to you all, and you cannot decline the burdens of empire and still expect to share its honours. You should remember also that what you are fighting against is not merely slavery as an exchange for independence, but also loss of empire and danger from the animosities incurred in its exercise. Besides, to recede is no longer possible, if indeed any of you in the alarm of the moment has become enamoured of the honesty of such an unambitious part. For what you hold is, to speak somewhat plainly, a tyranny; to take it perhaps was wrong, but to let it go is unsafe. And men of these retiring views, making converts of others, would quickly ruin a state; indeed the result would be the same if they could live independent by themselves; for the retiring and unambitious are never secure without vigorous protectors at their side; in fine, such qualities are useless to an imperial city, though they may help a dependency to an unmolested servitude.

I would rather bend the Islamic world to our will then bend to theirs, for the simple reason that I like ours better. They fly use our hospitals, not vice versa. The life of the poor here – or even of the stained middle class – is far better than the life enjoyed there. We don’t – as a state – execute gays, teenaged girls who are raped, or force women into servitude.

People here can question authority – rather vigorously – and don’t get thrown in jail. We can worship – or not worship – as we please.

It isn’t just because I am an American or a Westerner that I support one side in this conflict, and don’t see myself as impartial. It is because I genuinely believe that the values of the West are better, and worth defending.

I don’t delude myself enough not to believe that many people see our Western power as tyranny – and in some ways it has been and it is.

But the choices offered are not between the tyranny of Western values and institutions and an idealized freedom, but between the tyranny of MTV and Citibank that of the burqua, public stoning, and the Ministry For The Protection Of Virtue.

Our side – and yes, there is an ‘our side’ – is more than worth defending. The question is, as always, how.

I’ll close with two more Clint Smith quotes:

“You know the last words most [killed on duty] street cops ever say? ‘I’m gonna go in there and kick his ass!’ The word for that is suicidal aggressiveness.”

“If you carry a gun, people call you paranoid. That’s ridiculous. If I have a gun, what in the hell do I have to be paranoid about?”

The point, to hammer it home, is that right now we are equally at risk from suicidal aggressiveness and passivity. And that we are carrying guns (lots of them) and so what the hell do we have to be paranoid about? Calm assessment of the threats and the appropriate reaction to them makes a whole lot more sense.

3557 Miles, 12 Days. No Tickets, No Crashing, Just Great Riding, People and Places.

So we’re back home – actually were back home from the motorcycle trip Thursday night, and then turned around and left Friday morning for our annual 10-family camping trip on Catalina Island with Littlest Guy.

Not a lot of connectivity over any of those days…

But I got to think a lot, see a lot of the country (some like Yosemite quite familiar, some – like Eastern Oregon – completely new to me), have fun with TG and interact with a fair number of people – people we knew, like Michael Totten and Gerard Vanderleun, and TG’s cousin Yaeko – and lots of people we didn’t, who we met in scenic overlooks, gas stations and restaurants, all places where we seemed to spend a lot of time.

There’s something about travelling by motorcycle which changes the interaction you have with the people you meet while on the road. Maybe they presume that because you are more accessible to the elements you are more accessible to them as well, and so they walk up and approach you with very little hesitation. I think that’s great.

I’ll write more thoughtful things over the next week, about what we saw and who we met as well as things I thought about. But the overall impression is of the essential goodness and kindness of everyone we met – they were just nice and decent people who went out of their way to be helpful to us without expecting anything in return.

Our gear – my KTM 950 Adventure and TG’s Kawasaki Ninja 650, our Aerostich suits, Shoei helmets, etc. etc. all served us very well.

And the riding was great. We discovered a new favorite road pretty much every day.

And I got huge chunks of time with just TG, which reminded me why it is that I’m so darn lucky to be married to her.

On The Road Again

So TG and I are taking two weeks starting today to go ride our motorcycles to Canada.

Connectivity will obviously be low – I’m not taking a laptop, because she flatly said she’d shoot me and bury the body in an unmarked grave alongside the road the first time I booted it up – but enjoyment ought to be proportionally high.

We’re doing this trip in the “where do we feel like going today?” style, so we’re not completely sure where we’ll go or exactly when we’ll get there. There are a few folks we’ll make sure to see if we can…

So if you’ve got any suggestions for roads to ride, things to see, or – most of all – places to eat along the small roads between Los Angeles and Vancouver, this is the place to post them. I’ll peek at the site from time to time on my Treo when she’s not watching.

If you see two riders with bright yellow Aerostiches on an orange KTM and a black Kawasaki, wave as we go by…

And, as always, please try not to kill each other or blow anything up while we’re away. See you all on the 18th.

A Letter To My Governor

August 31, 2006

By Fax to: (916) 445-4633

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:

I’m writing to urge you to veto AB2948 (Umberg), a bill that would radically change the way that Presidential elections are held in the United States.

The bill – through an interstate compact – effectively abolishes the Electoral college and substitutes the results of the popular vote. While many people complain about the process or results involved in our creaky Presidential election process, I’d like to point out a few things and ask you to consider them as you weigh your response to this bill. First, and foremost, that the current system works. We are the longest-lived republic in the history of the world, and the cranky genius of the Founders who managed to build a federal system that manages to keep balancing all the moving parts of our society as it’s changed over the last two and a quarter centuries.

Next, simply, because one of the keys to the success of our system is specifically the balance it strikes between majority power and minority rights. I’ve lived all my life in California, one of the most populated, wealthy, and powerful states. But I have friends who live in New Mexico and South Dakota – friends whose vote for President would be effectively discounted as we moved to a purely population-based election system.

Finally, because a change of this impact and import should not be made without the clear attention, participation, and voice of the public, rather than in a late-session legislative maneuver that has been thinly publicized and is not well-understood.

I’ve heard you speak of the affection and admiration you have for the American system of government. Why risk carelessly damaging something you hold in such high esteem?

Almost thirty years ago, you stopped as you walked through a gym in Santa Monica to correct me as I did situps. I paid attention – as did the audience that gathered around to listen – because you obviously had a history of success in exercise. America has a history of success in politics, and I hope that you will pay as close attention to America’s success as I did to you that night.

Marc Danziger