All posts by danz_admin

Bill Mauldin Died TodayFrom

Bill Mauldin Died Today

From CNN:

‘It’s really good that he’s not suffering anymore,” he said. “He had a terrible struggle.”

His characters Willie and Joe, a laconic pair of unshaven, mud-encrusted dogfaces, slogged their way through Italy and other parts of battle-scarred Europe, surviving the enemy and the elements while caustically and sarcastically harpooning the unctuous and pompous.

Somewhere I have a complete book of the Willie and Joe cartoons. As an anti-Vietnam war protest leader, my memory of those cartoons, and the humane eye and hand of their creator is what made sure I stayed connected to my peers who wore uniforms.

We all owe a lot to our soldiers; I want to thank Bill Mauldin for teaching me that above all, they are us.

More on Despotic BureaucracyThis

More on Despotic Bureaucracy

This morning’s Daily Breeze covers the latest news from the City of Los Angeles’ Board of Airport Commissioners:

Only 10 rental car companies will be allowed to drive their shuttle vans through Los Angeles International Airport’s crowded terminal area under a new policy LAX directors unanimously adopted Tuesday.

Customers of the other 29 companies licensed to operate at LAX will have to take an airport bus to a remote parking lot where they will transfer to rental car courtesy vans, a practice known as “double busing.”

Airport officials say the change, which is to take effect next month, is aimed at cutting from 1 million to 810,000 the number of annual rental car shuttle trips through the terminal area, and increasing annual rental car revenue by up to $8.2 million. Currently, all rental car companies are allowed to send shuttles through the terminal area.

I’ve talked about this kind of ‘SkyBox Liberalism’ in the past, where a government agency has regulatory control and uses it to maximize its own revenues at the expense of the overall good of the community it serves. In this case, the 29 smaller car rental companies will probably be driven out of business by the decision, but since the 10 large ones will in turn raise their payments to the airport (and doubtless their charges to their customers, who will have fewer choices), the Commission supports the plan.

Who gains? The big players and the bureaucracy, who has more funds to spend on ‘economic development’. Who loses? The paying customers, who are inconvenienced and overcharged, and the local economy as the small business owners who really drive the local economy are driven under by their inability to successfully play politics.

I don’t own or work for any of these companies, and have no dog in this fight. But I’d encourage folks to drop a line to the board at or to Mayor Hahn at and let them know what you think.

Celebrity and Home-Built Airplanes

Celebrity and Home-Built Airplanes

New blogging star Bill Whittle stopped by and joined Tenacious G and I for dim sum last weekend; he’s on his way out of town for a while to go build himself an airplane.

We had a great lunch, and he’s such an interesting and pleasant guy that I’m kind of irked that we never got to meet until he had his bags packed and the car door open.

We talked animatedly about a number of things while G watched us with some amusement; liberalism and how he’d lost his faith in it and found himself on the other side of the table, the fact that somehow I’d kept mine, his great new essay on celebrity, modern technology, and homebuilt airplanes among a dozen or so other things while they cleaned up the restaurant around us.

If you haven’t found his piece on celebrity already, go read it now. It’s great on its own terms, and hits me close to home.

I grew up in Beverly Hills, in the shadow of celebrities everywhere. At Nate & Al’s deli, at Carroll & Co. and Sy Devore, where my dad bought his clothes, at Carl’s Market on Doheny and Santa Monica. This was in the 60’s and early 70’s, and it was different back then; somehow they were famous people, with an emphasis on people.

Groucho really did give out 50-cent pieces to kids who trick-or-treated his house. George Peppard came over in his bathrobe and screamed at my friend and I to “turn that damn thing off” as we tuned the racing engine on my friend’s Boss 302 Mustang in his back yard. We once wound up seated with Dean Martin’s family at Cyrano’s; I’ve never been certain why, but his son briefly went to Beverly High and remembered me there.

Something has changed. Bill recounts some of the symptoms, but I think we have to look in the mirror and ask ourselves exactly when it was that we handed the keys to our polity to the celebrity class? How exactly did that happen, and why exactly do we put up with it?

Because we do put up with it. I was at dinner maybe eight years ago in a fairly chichi restaurant (hey, I don’t just eat BBQ…) in Venice; I excused myself to go to the men’s room, and found my way blocked by an obvious bodyguard. “You’ll have to wait,” he explained to me. “No, I won’t,” I replied. “Not unless you have a badge that says U.S. Secret Service.” We had a brief but professional exchange of views, and at the point where I was going to step past him and he was going to have to make a decision, his principal stepped out of the bathroom and walked past both of us without looking up.

I didn’t recognize him.

The bodyguard was flummoxed because he was used to ready compliance. I’m sure that he’s used the “You’ll have to wait” line, and that the usual response was “Oh. OK,” followed by a craned neck to see who it was who might be important enough to warrant a bodyguard at dinner.

And we have made a sacrifice in adopting the point of view; not only of some measure of our self-respect, but of something that goes deeper still. I’m not sure how this ties together with how wonderful it is that Bill is heading off to build his own airplane, but it does.

I know one other man who builds his own airplanes; he is a retired immigrant rocket scientist. He worked at TRW or Hughes during the 50’s and 60’s, and while he worked building missiles, his wife invested every penny they had in beachfront apartments, and now they are quite well off. I stayed at their home north of Los Angeles when I first met them through one of their children, and when I woke up well before everyone else in the house (as I usually do) I padded about exploring, and went into the garage, where he was lofting a wing on the garage floor. My first reaction was “Holy Sh*t!! That’s a big model!!” Then I realized that he was building a damn airplane in his garage. His daughter woke up and matter-of-factly explained, “Oh, he does one of those every two years or so…he designs them himself”

And that’s one of the wonderful things about America, Bill and I agree. That an immigrant rocket scientist can become rich, and more, can build and sell airplanes out of his garage. It is that sense of hope, of possibility, of dynamic enterprise that has made this country wealthy and successful, powerful and great.

You don’t get that kind of hope sucking on the glass teat of celebrity, or clutching LOTTO tickets sweaty-palmed while you wait for the numbers. It comes from work, engagement, sacrifices and the real success that comes from some measure of accomplishment. If we liberals are to be taken to task for anything, it is for the fact that we succeeded in feeding the bellies of the poor here in America, but at the cost of any real hope. It’s there, someone’s just got to help look for it.

The Coastal Commission and

The Coastal Commission and Bureaucracy

As is usually the case with me, I started down one path in writing something and wound up taking quite another.

I started to write about the problems with the Coastal Commission, having written about some of the benefits, and demurred because first, I was uncomfortable talking abut my own direct experience with them (which is pretty substantial) because of that pesky pseudonym issue, and second, it began to look more and more like a litany of generic complaints about bureaucracy.

That started me thinking more generally about bureaucracy, which led me to another of those “aha” moments I’m prone to, and the realization that this takes me a little closer to an understanding of ‘4th Generation Liberalism’, as I’m wont to call it.

So what I want to do is set out some comments on bureaucracy, using as core examples the bureaucracy of land-use regulation with which I’m pretty familiar, and trying to tie it a bit to some examples from managing software development with which I’m also pretty familiar.

So here’s the outline I’m working to:

I. Introduction: the nature of bureaucracy, and the problem of rational despotism (today’s article).
II. Next up – Rational management of irrational processes; software development.
III. Finally – Some concrete suggestions.

My experiences in dealing directly with the Commission and staff convinced me that it was an organization that could charitably be called despotic. Now what do I mean by that?

A despot is an absolute ruler, whose power is . The term comes from the Greek term for the master of a household, whose power was domestic, rather than political.

And in many cases, modern bureaucrats are despots. How can that be? Wasn’t bureaucracy supposed to be rational and im? Wasn’t it supposed to represent the triumph of rationality?

Max Weber talks about it:

[The calculability of decision-making] and with it its appropriateness for capitalism . . [is] the more fully realized the more bureaucracy “deizes” itself, i.e., the more completely it succeeds in achieving the exclusion of love, hatred, and every purely , especially irrational and incalculable, feeling from the execution of official tasks. In the place of the old-type ruler who is moved by sympathy, favor, grace, and gratitude, modern culture requires for its sustaining external apparatus the emotionally detached, and hence rigorously “professional” expert.

Or, better:

The theory of modern public administration, for instance, assumes that the authority to order certain matters by decree–which has been legally granted to public authorities–does not entitle the bureau to regulate the matter by commands given for each case, but only to regulate the matter abstractly. This stands in extreme contrast to the regulation of all relationships through individual privileges and bestowals of favor, which is absolutely dominant in patrimonialism, at least in so far as such relationships are not fixed by sacred tradition.

From my direct experience, and I’m sure from others who can chime in, bureaucratic management of land use has become in large part an exercise in ‘patrimonialism’. What do I mean by that?

In the beginning, there was zoning; it specified specific types of uses for neighborhoods, in an effort to make sure that slaughterhouses would be moved away from homes, and that stamping plants would not be built next to shops. This grew out of the horrible conditions in many early industrial cities (in ‘Gangs of New York’, note that while the real gang battles were much tamer, the real physical conditions were much worse).

Within zones, physical standards began to be set, to assure, among other things, that apartments would have light and heat, and that some effort would me made to limit the susceptibility of buildings to fire, and to make sure their inhabitants could survive fire.

The modern ‘tenement’ building in New York, with lightwells and fire escapes, is a testament to these physical standards.

Over time, the physical standards got more complex, as layers and layers of new land-use and physical development regulations were created, and fairly soon, we find ourselves in a situation where the regulations overlap, are ambiguous, and often mutually contradictory.

So the expert interpretation of the zoning administrator is required.

In the idealized bureaucracy, the zoning administrator…the interpreter and enforcer of regulations…is a dispassionate professional, and most of the ones I know try as hard as they can to fit into that role.

But the fact that they and they alone are the interpreters, judges, and guides through these regulations means that for the average citizen, they are the zoning code, and their interpretation…their decision…is absolute.

Because the average citizen doesn’t ‘speak the language’, or have the specific knowledge to pull the relevant bits out of the code books, have the resources to hire someone who can, or have access to the local politicians to have them intervene, they are absolutely at the mercy of the bureaucrat, and the administrator’s power becomes entirely . I have known of ZA’s who have ‘mislaid’ files, delayed hearings, and otherwise impeded the planning process because an applicant was simply annoying.

When planning is local, there are some limits to this kind of despotism; the local citizen has some access to the Mayor, or to a city councilman, or to the local press. In a mega-city like Los Angeles, there isn’t much access, to be sure (which is one of the reasons why the city came close to being broken up, and why there are now several thousand new members of community ‘neighborhood councils’), and at the Coastal Commission level, where the elected officials are state legislators and the Governor, the average citizen effectively has no recourse outside the administrative process.

They do have recourse, of course, to hiring or buying access. They can hire me or one of the dozens of ‘expeditors’ like me for $150/hour; they can hire high-powered attorneys at $250 – $400/hour; they can spend thousands of dollars to attend fundraisers for legislators and the Governor and gain access as a donor.

And it takes time. My advice to clients looking at significant projects in the coastal zone was to budget three years, between applications, hearings, and legal maneuvering.

What this cost in time and money does is to segment applicants into two classes: those who can spend and wait, and those who cannot. Those who can, usually win; those who can’t take their chances.

So the small homeowner or developer has no recourse except to comply with any demand made by the coastal staff, no matter how thinly grounded in the law they might be.

Now, I believe that the Coastal Commission staff acted aggressively not to line their own pockets, but to protect the coast in the best light they knew how. There were clear instances of corruption on the appointed board (Mark Natanson went to jail, and Gray Davis got $8.4 million in donations from applicants with permits pending), but no one has made a credible accusation against the staff.

And their general efforts have definitely meant that California’s coast is less overdeveloped and mansionized than, say, Florida’s.

But they’ve created a two-tier system (not that the rich and powerful didn’t get or buy better before) where the gap in treatment between the ‘connected’ and the ‘citizens’ has never been greater.

And the consequence of that is profound, in the loss of legitimacy of the government, as I’ve discussed in the past.

Armed Liberal: My Thoughts on Iraq

This is an expansion of a piece I recently did at Armed Liberal.

I haven’t published much of anything about Iraq, although I’ve written a bunch about it and thrown it away. Most of what I’ve written has represented my own confusion about there I stand, and while honesty is a good thing, simply standing up and saying “I’m confused” seemed like a waste of my time and yours.

But I saw something the other day over at Oliver Willis’ place that made me sit up and think and finally brought me to some clarity.

It was an article in Newsday, suggesting that members of the Administration have floated a plan to take and sell Iraqi oil to pay the costs of the invasion. ‘Spoils of war” they call it.
Now I don’t doubt that someone has floated this as a concept, but I’m also a little dubious about whether it has been adopted as U.S. policy. I Googled it, and find the same story – literally, the same story, by Knute Royce, republished in three places – Newsday, the Sydney Morning Herald, and the Gulf News in the UAE. Googling Knute Royce I see that he’s apparently a two-time Pulitzer winner and the Washington D.C. correspondent for Newdsay, so he’s a credible guy. My jury’s still out on this one. But even if we don’t just take the oil as ‘reparations’ for our costs of invading, we’re apparently looking hard at the impacts on the energy economy. The Guardian has an article:

A model for the carve-up of Iraq’s oil industry was presented in September by Ariel Cohen of the right-wing Heritage Foundation, which has close links to the Bush administration.
In The Future of a Post-Saddam Iraq: A Blueprint for American Involvement, Cohen strikes a similar note to Chalabi, putting forward a road map for the privatisation of Iraq’s nationalised oil industry, and warning that France, Russia and China were likely to find that a new INC-led government would not honour their oil contracts.

I’m not putting on my “No Blood For Oil” t-shirt yet, but thinking about this brought some small clarity to my thoughts, and I realized just what it is that I think we’re doing wrong.

There are (at least) two issues at stake in our approach to the Middle East.

The first is that we (the industrial West) have profited quite substantially from Middle Eastern oil; our trading partners there have profited as well, but the profits haven’t built economies and societies that offer much to the average person. In fact, in an effort to ly keep their hands on the wealth that oil produces, these countries tend to be ruled by oppressive despots.

The second issue is that in no small part in response to the dysfunctional societies that have been built and maintained with our oil money, a culture has emerged which is virulently anti-Western; it combines the anti-Western Romantic intellectual strains that flowered in the 60’s and became intellectual commonplaces in the 90’s with traditions in Muslim history of conflict with the West. The despotic rules of the Middle East have supported these movements as a way of defusing the internal political pressure for reform.

This second issue, funded by the profits of the first, has emerged as a chronic, low-level war that has most dramatically shown itself on 9/11, but has cost thousands of lives over the last decade in less-dramatic attacks.

This second issue is a genuine threat to us, and to our allies in the West, as the hate and frustration has built to the point where it is being and will continue to be acted upon. In addition, the people who are forced to live in religious dictatorships in Islamist countries suffer (note that not all Islamic countries are religious dictatorships or post aggressive threats to the West).

This problem is in no small part of our (again, the West’s) making; we traded freedom for stability in the region in order to have secure and compliant trading partners. But having had a role in raising a psychopath doesn’t mean we should let ourselves be attacked by him as a way of assuaging our guilt.

I am coming to believe that the fight is inevitable. The rage that has grown in the Middle East won’t burn itself out, and the opportunities for reform are too few to deny it fuel.

If we are going to fight, we have a clear choice; we can fight to secure a supply of affordable oil, and to intimidate the other countries in the region into maintaining our supply of cheap oil; or we can fight to dismantle the social structures that our oil money and their dictators have created and attempt to free the people who have been forced to live hopeless, squalid lives. The first may come as a consequence of the second, but the second will never come as a consequence of the first. If we can help create stable societies in the Middle East, they will most likely be good trading partners. If we create good trading partners, they will most likely have to continue the repression that fuels their population’s hopelessness and rage.

There’s a bunch of issues collapsed into that paragraph that will require substantial discussion and explanation…at a later time.

Right now, I want to focus on one thing; that if we’re going to do this, we need to do it for the right reasons, or at least for reasons that aren’t transparently wrong.

If we are going to invade Iraq, we need to make two public and firm commitments:

1) We aren’t in it for the oil. Not in the short run, anyway. A prosperous, stable Middle East would doubtless want to sell and exploit their natural resources. We’d want to buy them. Sounds like a deal could be made. But planning now for our own version of ‘crony capitalism’ stinks, and it is already costing us much of our credibility and moral leadership.

2) We’re in this for the long haul. We don’t get to ‘declare victory and go home’ when the going gets tough, elections are near, or TV shows pictures of the inevitable suffering that war causes. The Marshall Plan is a bad example, because the Europe that had been devastated by war had the commercial and entrepreneurial culture that simply needed stuff and money to get restarted. And while we’re damn good with stuff and money, this is going to take much more, and we’re going to have to roll up our sleeves, work, and be willing to sweat with this for some time.

There are no good examples of this that I can think of in history. The postwar reconstruction of Japan comes the closest, and it’s not necessarily a good example, because the Japanese by WWII were a coherent, unified, hierarchical society that could be changed by fiat from the top. I don’t think that Germany is a good example, because once we de-Nazified, there was some tradition of liberal politics to work with. The Robert Kaplan-esque world we’re moving toward doesn’t have any of that.

3) We need to make a grand moral gesture to make it clear to the world that 1) isn’t the case. ly, I think that it needs to come both from the American people and businesses, from our government.

I think the whole anti-SUV thing is a good place to start. It’s an incredibly powerful symbol to the rest of the world that we’re killing people in Iraq so we can buy Hummers, Excursions, and Suburbans. I don’t believe it should be legislated, I don’t believe they should be banned, but I think that we should each examine what we’re willing to give up to play our part in changing the world so that 9/11 is an aberration.

I do think that on a national level, we should talk about moving toward taxing energy to encourage efficiency; there are a lot of arguments about this, but I’ll make a simple one: we can buy energy from outside our economy, or we can buy ingenuity and products that save it from within it. Which one leads to jobs?

I’m not one of the liberals who has a vision of essentially 19th Century village life as the way we all should live. That goal is of people who have an essentially abstemious belief set, and see a frugal life as it’s own reward. I don’t believe that sacrifice and frugality are in themselves character-building or good moral values. I do believe that sacrifice in the name of a goal is a good thing, and that frugality in the name of building a better future is something we could all use.

So if the Democrats want a response to the war, here it is:

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.

If we can’t answer all three as a solid “yes”, we shouldn’t go. We should just close out eyes, hunker down and hoep for the best.

If we can, we should. We’re in a fight, and wishing it away won’t make it disappear.

Zimbabwe and liberal guilt

Zimbabwe and liberal guilt.

Today’s L.A. Times has a laudatory article about land seizures in Zimbabwe.

They miss more than a few things, however, including the brutality aimed at stealing elections and terrorizing the white minority; the allocation of choice land to cronies of Zimbabwe’s despot Mugabe; the fact that the agricultural economy of Zimbabwe has collapsed and that the country faces starvation; and, finally, a growing body of work that suggests that real (in both senses of the word) property rights seem to be strongly correlated with development.

Now if you’ve looked at the history, you’ll note that part of the crisis was made in the U.K., who committed to fund a land buyout and apparently has issues.

Even Afrocentric commentators seem appalled.

A key element of my liberal beliefs is that we in the better-off, developed world need to help those who are less well-off become better off. A pervasive sense of guilt that allows us to look at something like the land seizures (which reinforce the notion that property is political booty) warmly isn’t going to get us there.

I have talked about a few things that might…

Welcomes From the Team: Armed Liberal

Welcomes From the Team: Armed Liberal

Well, first off my name really isn’t ‘Armed Liberal’, although both of those adjectives usually fit me pretty well.

I’ve been blogging over at since way back in May of 02, when you had to build your own computers out of sand and tinfoil, (or actually use Blogger which felt like you were doing that). I started, as many did, because of Glenn Reynolds, Ken Layne, and Matt Welch.

I’m joining this blog because my real life is sagging under the demands of a solo blog, and I’m hoping to do fewer better posts and still have time to take care of the boys, work, take care of the cats, take care of the house, and get snuggled by Tenacious G, my wonderful sweetie.

I started blogging because I’ve struggled for years to figure out how I could vote Green and be a member of the NRA at the same time, and why it was that my head never exploded from containing those two worldviews. And blogging seemed like a way for me to work out my political problems with the help of an unsuspecting public.

Because what I’m trying to do is rope that unsuspecting public into helping me figure out where I ly want to go, politically. Because I think that I’m actually pretty typical, and that the frustrations I feel with the current slicing of the political pie are felt by others as well.

And my goal in writing this stuff is to force myself to try and articulate some of these notions about issues and engage you in trying to bat them back and forth and see if there’s anything there.

My core focus is simple: How can we construct a liberal politics that respects individual rights? How can we accomplish liberal goals…helping the poor, improving the environment, equalizing the imbalances of power…without creating a stultifying bureaucratic state? I think it can be done, but I honestly don’t know how. And how can we do it in the face of a world where the imbalances within and between societies in power, wealth, and culture are running up against cheap communication, transportation, and weapons.

This is about testing the first assumption and solving the problem. I’m more of a ‘root causes’ guy than a ‘technique’ guy; I think we’re engaged in a War on Bad Philosophy, and that we’ll need to change our worldview as a part of the overall changes that will be necessary to get us through the next fifty years.

Stuff about me: I’m a middle-aged, middle-class guy who lives in the South Bay region of the Los Angeles SMSA. I have an advanced degree in urban economics and planning theory, and have worked in a variety of jobs in a checkered but wildly entertaining career. I’m the proud father of three wonderful sons, the proud ex-husband of two ex-wives, and the owner of too many motorcycles to fit in my garage and not enough shelves for my books.

I’l suggest three of my old posts as introductions:

Why be an Armed Liberal
Romanticism and Terrorism
The War on Bad Philosophy