On The Road Again (Literally, this time)…and a few passing thoughts.

Headed out in an hour to drive to the Bay Area and drop Littlest Guy off at CTY camp at Stanford. CTY has been a great (if $pendy) experience for him so far, and I’m looking forward to how he does this time.

I’m looking forward to walking him around the campus and saying “…if you work really hard in high school, you get to go to college at a place like this…”

I’ll get to see Joe and Sweetie, some old (long-time!! long-time!!) friends and enjoy California from behind a windshield with air-conditioning, not a helmet visor and Camelbak…

…Random thoughts:

Saw Batman last night and will have some comments when I get stationary – it seemed actually very relevant to some issues that we discuss here. And yes, it’s that good.

And it’s interesting how events trump politics, and how the changes in Iraq have dramatically changed what Iraq means to the election.

And on a final note, I do worry more than a little about our putting too big a footprint into Afghanistan.

More on all those in the next few days.

Mr. Smith Goes To Topeka

I’m working on a long post on Obama, the risk of incoherent narrative, and why that incoherence matters more electorally than politically.

But it’s late here in Chicago, I have an early flight, and I just read Memeorandum which sent me to Sean Tevis’ cartoon explanation for why he wants $9.00 from each of us to help him run for the Kansas state legislature.

Here’s what I like – the substance of his issues; the style with which he presents them; and the basic idea of someone who presents his thinking in a language different from the typical politician-speak our government is so tightly bound up by.

I donated $10.00 immediately. Why the h**l don’t we have candidates like that at home in California? How do I help find one? Bueller?

Responding To Chris H On Patriotism

Commenter (and now blogger) Chris H made two v. substantive points in our discussion of patriotism – one conceptual one on his blog, and one historic one in a comment here. While I don’t agree, they’re both good, tough challenges to the position I’m trying to take and as such I felt they were worth addressing in a post – probably a longer one than I have time for here, but at least this will serve as a kicking off place.

Here’s the core point (I think) in his blog post:

First, Kirchick, Hemingway, and AL don’t really seem to understand Yglesias’ argument; it’s not that patriotism is “bad”; it’s that the patriot can’t really talk to the non-patriot in a way that’s going to persuade the non-patriot to his point of view (to use an example, the American flag-waver won’t convince the Chinese flag-waver to drop his flag and start waving the stars and stripes). This has to do with the nature of patriotism, not with the nature of patriotism’s object. If patriotism is a sentiment of solidarity, enthusiasm, and affection, then the analogy to sports fandom is apt. But it’s misreading Yglesias to think that he’s accordingly equating a country with a sports’ team. He’s not.

Look, if all nationalities are fundamentally the same, then de gustibus is the only basis on which we talk about them, and I can certainly make the claim that, having never seen the sun set over the Adriatic, I cannot appreciate Croatia the way that I appreciate California.

And certainly when we talk about places – about Croatia, California, or Calabria – we’re talking about an admixture of things – culture, language, lifestyle, geography, etc. And each of those is a part of the centrality of place which can be extended to the particularity of nation.

And when we do so, we’re talking about nationalism – my nation vs. your nation. And it is certainly possible and appropriate for people to feel patriotism to their nation – let’s go back to Schaar’s useful definition:

At its core, patriotism means love of one’s homeplace, and of the familiar things and scenes associated with the homeplace. In this sense, patriotism is one of the basic human sentiments. If not a natural tendency in the species, it is at least a proclivity produced by realities basic to human life, for territoriality, along with family, has always been a primary associative bond. We become devoted to the people, places and ways that nurture us, and what is familiar and nurturing seems also natural and right. This is the root of patriotism. Furthermore, we are a all subject to the immense power of habit, and patriotism has habit in its service. Even if we leave the homeplace for a larger world, finding delight in its variety and novelty, we delight as much in returning to familiar things. The theme-of-homecoming is the central motif of patriotic discourse, as old and as deep as the return of Odysseus from Troy, and the feeling is always the same:

When we saw the top of the mountain from Albuquerque we wondered if it was our mountain, and we felt like talking to the ground, we loved it so and some of the old men and women cried with joy when they reached their homes. (2.)

The other side of the case is the melancholy figure of the lone wanderer, or of the Stoic whose “my home is everywhere” meant he had a home nowhere.

To be a patriot is to have a patrimony; or, perhaps more accurately, the patriot is one who is grateful for a legacy and recognizes that the legacy makes him a debtor. There is a whole way of being in the world, captured best by the word reverence, which defines life by its debts;: one is what one owes, what one acknowledges as a rightful debt: or obligation. The patriot moves within that mentality. The gift of land, people, language, gods memories, and customs, which is the patrimony of the patriot, defines what he or she is. Patrimony is mixed with person; the two are barely separable. The very tone and rhythm of a life, the shapes of perception, the texture of its homes and fears come from membership in a territorially rooted group.

The conscious patriot is one who feels deeply indebted for these gifts, grateful to the people and places through which they come, and determined to defend the legacy against enemies and pass it unspoiled to those who will come after.

(emphasis added)

Now, it’s equally possible for a pole to be obligated to her patrimony as it for an American or for a Canadian or for a Nigerian.

And if that was all that we were talking about then yes, Yglesias would be right and yes, it would be impossible to explain American patriotism to a Nigerian except as the American case of what the Nigerian feels about his own people and homeland.

But…

…the patrimony we have as Americans is not just a place, a culture, and economy or the artifacts of our history. It is not the gravestones of our fathers and mothers.

We have inherited a system – a system of beliefs and a system of government that was revolutionary at the time – although firmly embedded in the philosophy of the moment, and firmly tied to previous historical examples (Athens, Rome, Switzerland, the Netherlands). Now it is arguable that every nation similarly inherits ‘a system’. But I think there is an argument to make that most of these systems are more alike than different, and that the American ‘system’ is unique, is different enough to have been in a category by itself when it was derived.

People may differ on that, and I think it’s a useful razor for dividing those who believe – as I do – in American exceptionalism from those who do not.

Because if you don’t you can certainly see it in the context of wider enlightenment theories and make the claim that it was a part of an undifferentiated Enlightenment push for human rights throughout Europe.

And yet, if you believe that, how is it that the creaky system set up by the founders has lasted so much longer than any national political arrangement in Europe? How is it that the nature of American politics is so different?

I’ll suggest that that nature is so different because our national identity is not embodied in a person – in the Queen of England – nor in a culture, as defined by L’Académie française – but in a set of ideas and documents? Why does an incoming president or a new Army recruit swear their allegiance to the Constitution, not the Queen, the French people. Watch the video of Sarkozy’s inauguration (warning, boring and in French). There’s no timecode in it, but fairly early on in the speech given to Sarkozy: “…for the duration of your term, you incarnate France, symbolize the Republic, and represent the whole of the French people…” Sarkozy’s loyalty is thus to a nation, the ideal of a Republic, and to the French people. Nowhere is there any such loyalty to the French constitution (the 5th one) or the concepts of the French polity – except the airy ones of “libertie, egalitie, fraternitie”.

It is both the content of our Constitution and out attachment to it and the Declaration of Independence as embodying America that matter so much. Because if you took a handful of Americans and moved them to the moon, those documents would still have power – as I believe they have power beyond our national borders.

And there’s where we get ourselves in trouble. Because as much as those documents have power to people who are not American, we are still a nation, with all the issues that brings. And so we get ourselves caught between the universality of the values in our core beliefs and the specificity of membership in the polity that lives by them.

A lot of things get trapped in the fold, and I hope to write more about them in a bit.

Chris also posted a

Guns At Home

Bayou Renaissance Man has a neat series of articles up on selecting a weapon for home defense (he like a youth 20-ga pump shotgun – which we happen to coincidentally own one of). Go check them out.

The Danger Of relying On 911
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Reader Questions on Firearms & Recoil

Before you head to the gun store, however, let me encourage you to read two things of mine on how to decide whether you should buy a gun or not.

Are you ‘right’ to own a gun?‘ in the Examiner, and ‘I’m Buying A Gun‘ here.

Guns In The Woods

As ought to be reasonable to assume given my pseudonym, I support widening the ability of law-abiding, noncriminal Americans (actually Britons and Canadians as well) to own and possess arms for both self-defense and recreation. I didn’t write much about Heller, because as a non-lawyer there wasn’t much I could usefully add to the dialog.

But post-Heller, we’re seeing interesting regulatory and legal challenges to the prevailing “no-guns no-way” stance, and there are useful things that folks like us can do.

The National Parks Service has extended their comment period on a proposed rule change that would make bringing guns into national parks legal; that’s a good idea on so many levels, I’m not sure where to begin – between predatory animals and predatory humans, and a thin-stretched population of park rangers I think it’s highly responsible to be prepared to protect yourself and your family and friends.

Note that the firmly anti-gun National Parks Conservation Association has set up a form where you can send a comment directly to the regulators. You may want to edit their default message just a bit, however – mine was edited to read:

“America’s national parks are some of the most peaceful places in our country. While they offer solitude and an opportunity for reflection, they also present risks from natural and human predators. That’s why I am so pleased to learn that the administration is considering allowing loaded guns in our national parks.

Our park rangers cannot keep up with the activity already happening in our parks, and opening up the parks to allow guns even where hunting is not allowed will allow responsible, armed citizens to defend themselves and their loved ones when the Park Service cannot be available to defend them from threatening wildlife and criminals.

Please do open up our parks to loaded guns. This administration would be setting a truly decent and honorable precedent by allowing loaded weapons in our parks, and respecting the trustworthiness and basic rights of the millions of law-abiding respectful American citizens.

Sincerely,

Marc Danziger”

There’s also the opportunity to send a message to your friends about the importance of this – I sent a message to Kim DuToit and Glenn Reynolds. I’m sure you can think of a few friends who would like to participate!

If you’d prefer to submit your comments directly (you never know if NCPA vets comments before sending them on) you can do so directly on the US Department of the Interior website.

The Problem of Zimbabwe – A Good Solution

Every time I get shaky on my decision re Obama (and I have been this week), I read something that makes me take a deep breath and relax just a bit.

Via the always excellent normblog, here’s Samantha Power (in Coventry just now because she was honest about Iraq and mean to Hillary – but a core Obama advisor nonetheless) with a smart suggestion about Zimbabwe:

One by one, those African and Western leaders who claim to be disgusted with Mugabe should announce that they bilaterally recognize the validity of the March 29 first-round election results, which showed the opposition winning 48% to 43%, though the margin was almost surely larger. The countries which do would make up the new “March 29 bloc” within the U.N. and would declare Morgan Tsvangirai the new President of Zimbabwe. They would then announce that Mugabe and the 130 leading cronies who have already been sanctioned by the West will not be permitted entry to their airports.

Tsvangirai and his senior aides should do as South Africa’s African National Congress did throughout the 1960s and ’70s: set up a government-in-exile and appoint ambassadors abroad – including to the U.N. That ambassador should be given forums for rebutting the ludicrous claims of the Zimbabwean and South African regimes.

If “the U.N.” is disaggregated into its component parts, Mugabe’s friends will be exposed. “June 27″ countries will be those who favor electoral theft, while “March 29″ countries will be those who believe that the Zimbabweans aren’t the only ones who should stand up and be counted. This can be a recipe for gridlock in international institutions – but the gridlock won’t get broken by lamenting its existence.

Norm (who I believe was born in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe) continues, contrasting her approach with a far softer one via The Nation – and it’s worth reading.

Let’s Talk About Good And Bad Customer Service – Justin Winery (good) and Nameless Knife Guy (bad)

This month we’ve had experience with incredibly good and incredibly bad customer service, and the experiences were so wildly contradictory that I had to write something up.

Some baggage handler stole my old Spyderco Delicia from the outside pocket of my suitcase on one of my trips. I finally got around to replacing it, went to Froogle (yes, Google Product Search) and found a low-price vendor. Well, you get what you pay for…the knife never shows up. Seller explains that he mailed it. I explain that it didn’t show up. Seller asks if one of my neighbors might have stolen it. I explain that that’s unlikely since all three of them have keys to our house and could steal anything they wanted if they were so inclined. I ask if I need to deal with this through Paypal. He agrees to send mea new knife, registered mail, which he does.

He then demands payment for the new knife. I go “Huh?” and he says that the first one might still show up. I think about it, feel for the plight of the small businessman, and pay him, after getting his commitment that he’ll refund my full payment on the 30th day after the order.

I’m generous, I guess. Well, the 30th day comes and goes, I remind him of his commitment to pay, and he replies:

I sent two knives in an act of good will. You never insured the first this your act of good will……………..I have to say you’ve been the most unappreciative customer I’ve ever encountered. You just happen to throw away the packaging………………….. You ain’t entitled to nothing you should’ve gotten insurance but I think you got that one too……..just cause you threw away the packaging…………………… and start acting like your doing me a favor

I’ll send you a refund just as we agreed you’ll have it tomorrow

—– Original Message —–
From: “Marc Danziger”
To: “XXXXXXX”
Sent: Monday, June 23, 2008 7:02 PM
Subject: So where are we on this?

> I’ve paid you for two knives – in a clear act of goodwill – when I’ve only received one.
>
> You committed to refund my money if I hadn’t received the 1st knife on June 20 – which I haven’t received.
>
> So where are we?
>
>
> Marc

He then refunds the cost of the knife, less shipping and Paypal fees. I’ve redacted his name because I don’t want a long email hassle with him nor to improve his Google search ranking…

Then, on the other hand, there’s Justin Winery.

We had our great dinner at Justin, and when we reserved it, did so as a part of a package that cost $(umpty) per person. When we got the bill, our knowledgeable and funny server Tim gave it to me because TG was – um, happy. From the wine and the meal. Very, extremely happy.

I paid it, noting in the back of my head that they hadn’t charged us the ‘package’ price, but the menu price – which meant that we paid some $40 more.

Now I won’t say that it was because I was – happy – too, or because I didn’t want to bum the vibe of a great dinner. I just went “$40? eh.” and paid it.

Now TG is my opposite in all matters financial. Had she been engaged with Jim the Knife Guy, she’d have laid brutal emails on him, shut down his PayPal account, and had his dog sent to the pound.

She goes through all our credit card statements, catching errors and saving me from my worst Charlie Sheen tendencies (or at least making sure I don’t overtip). When she saw the $40, she hit the roof. I suggested we let it go, and apologized. She explained that she’d deal with me later (I may go into hiding).

Here’s the email we received from Justin:

“Dear [TG],

I have read your account regarding what transpired last Thursday with your Dinner Transportation package out to Deborah’s Room. While I am elated that your overall experience was very positive, I am sorry we did not do such a good job in recognizing the fact you had booked our All Inclusive Transportation Package. I did speak to Timothy about this and he admits to making a mistake in recognizing and applying the correct pricing for your dinner. We are taking the necessary steps to communicate with our staff and avoid further misunderstandings with these packages. Hopefully, we have learned a lesson from this that will help us better manage this program.

JUST to give you some background perspective about our transportation program. Back in April of this year we decided to begin offering transportation out to Deborah’s Room and satisfy the innumerable requests from guests who expressed their desire to come to our lovely winery restaurant without being responsible for the driving. We decided to move forward and “trial balloon” this service, treading the fine line between offering the service at a fair price while at the same time making sure the JUSTIN staff delivering the services is being compensated fairly for their efforts. For simplicities sake we decided to adopt an all inclusive pricing policy instead of “a la carte”. I am sorry that this became a source of confusion during your visit.

I want to thank you for taking the time to describe what happened. Your input is very valuable so we can “tweak” this program and be able to continue offering the service beyond this trail period. Also, I’m positively excited about Marc blogging about your experience and spreading the word about Deborah’s Room and our magical setting!!

I wish I could apply your overage to your next wine club shipment, but I think Rebecca has taken steps to credit your card directly for this amount. However, I do want to make myself personally available to you next time you plan on visiting JUSTIN. Please do not hesitate to contact me at the numbers below.”

Short of sending us a case of ’97 Isosceles (nice idea, but not called for), I’m not sure how it gets any better than that.

I’m not going to say that that’s the only reason one businessman has an immensely successful winery and the other is selling knives out of his garage … but it sure doesn’t hurt.

My hat is off to Justin, and no, I’ll never buy another knife from ‘Jim’ again. OTOH, the new Delicias are really nice – the clip is epoxy-covered and rounded, and the blade seems just a bit sharper than the old one.

The Journalist In The Hat Has A Brother

Wow, you’ve gotta just freaking love the arrogance of the media folks…

Patterico is involved in a ‘Dust-Up‘ at the LA Times with Marc Cooper (two friends going at it in Big Media).

They were invited to do a radio show – Which Way LA? – which you ought to listen to as well.

Patrick linked to it on his blog, and got this comment (reproduced in whole):

If you are the “competition” that the LA Times now faces for the first time, as you so ignorantly stated on WWLA (Olney caught you on that), I guess the Times can relax. Anyone who thinks even the best bloggers (which would not describe you, I dare say) are any substitute for the salaried hard work, reporting, investigation and experience of newspaper journalists is just a fool. How much of the real news on the internet comes from bloggers? By the way, that’s a rhetorical question. I can’t believe Olney had someone as naive as you on the show.

Comment by Sean Mitchell – 7/8/2008 @ 7:45 pm

Sean Mitchell, amazingly, writes for the LA Times.I wrote about guys like him a long time ago – ‘The Journalist In The Hat‘.

And what was interesting to me was this – that while I have (violently at times) disagreed with other bloggers in face to face discussions, I always had the feeling that there was a discussion going on, a dialog in which two people were engaged and trying to understand each other’s points, if for no other reason than to better argue against them. But in dealing with The Journalist In The Hat, no such dialog took place. He had his point to make, and very little that I said (or, to be honest, that others who participated, including Howard Owens, who pointed out that he had worked as a journalist) was heard or responded to. He had his points, and he was going to make them over, and over, until we listened.

Or until we said ‘bullshit’ too many times and he walked away in a snit.

And I wrote about the core problem the Times faces

I think that newspapers – as a model for the kind of legacy information middleman that makes up the media industry – are badly wounded, but I doubt that they will die.

But they will go from the 93% of the market for written news – and more important for a certain class of advertising – that they once owned to, say 50 – 60%. And more, they will lose the ability to set prices for advertising in the market, which will make the business model for the newspaper much, much tougher.

As an institution, they are going to have to change, and change a lot. I’ll pat myself on the back for a moment here; I was interviewed by Harry Chandler for a job in the fledgling “new media” division of the Times back in 1995 or 6. I did some homework, and as we sat and chatted, he asked me what the “new media” Times ought to look like; I told him that first of all, it was going to have to be much leaner. About 30% of the bottom-line revenues of the Times had come from classified ads, and those ads were about to go away, I told him. And world and national competitors were going to go after their readers – the Washington Post would compete on coverage of national politics, and the BBC on coverage in Europe. Their answer was to regionalize.

He didn’t like either answer, and I didn’t get the job.

I still think I was right…and the institutional rigidity and arrogance that the monopoly revenues bought them are what is keeping their OODA loop two miles wide today.

Hey Sean – looked at your circulation and advertising numbers lately? Do you think the kind of nonsense attitude on display might have anything to do with it? Or are you just a helpless victim of technology, like a whaleship captain?

Boy, I Just Love The California Democratic Party

The GOP in California have relegated themselves into a morally pure irrelevance, and the Democrats – oh, my Democrats. the San Diego Union-Tribune editorializes:

State Senate President Don [‘Pistol-Packin‘] Perata sure is determined to go out on a low note.

First, the termed-out Oakland Democrat launched and then scrapped a ludicrous attempt to recall a popular Republican incumbent, Sen. Jeff Denham of Merced. The only credible explanation for the effort? An investigation by the East Bay Express newspaper found that the recall allowed Perata to direct more than $280,000 in funds to his trusted consultant, his latest shifty campaign shenanigan in a career full of them.

Now Perata is once again confirming his reputation as the most fierce defender of a broken state government. Recently, he summoned representatives of various rich special interest to a meeting devoted to brainstorming on how to defeat a November ballot initiative that would reform redistricting of state legislative seats and create many competitive districts.

And the Sacramento Bee tells us:

The California Democratic Party has donated $250,000 to help Don Perata pay off his legal bills, as the Senate Democratic leader continues to rack up expenses fending off an ongoing FBI corruption investigation.

The party made the quarter-million dollar donation on July 1, according to campaign filings.

The money comes just in time for Perata, who, according to a May disclosure, had only $273 cash on hand in his legal defense fund and $250,000 in unpaid bills.

Jason Kinney, a spokesman for Perata on legal issues, said the donation — and the continuing expenses — are “no indication of anything.”

“As long as this scurrilous and seemingly endless investigation continues to meander, Senator Perata will unfortunately continue to accrue significant legal expenses,” Kinney said.

An Oakland-based federal grand jury launched the Perata investigation in 2004, probing the business dealings of Perata, his family and close friends. That year, FBI agents raided the homes of both Perata and his son, Nick. A year later, investigators subpoenaed Perata’s Senate e-mails over a six-year period.

Well, he’s gone soon…