Archive for October 2012

Ending Radio Silence

I took an opportunity afforded to me by a heavy workload followed by a hectic “vacation” to Ireland to do something I’ve never done before: cut myself off from the news. Even while I lived in the African bush I was plugged in to the world through shortwave, following the Kobe Earthquake in Japan from the initial death toll of 200 that doubled every hour until the BBC and Voice of America reporters gave up at thousands dead. But the preparation for the trip and the heavy workload at my job consumed me in the days before the trip so I had little time to check news sites or blogs, and in Ireland I was more concerned about getting the most out of my brief stay there than wasting time on the news.

Some things managed to seep through of course. Ireland’s failure to secure more bailout funds from Berlin was a palpable embarrassment after Prime Minister Kenney went to Germany “cap in hand” as the way the headlines put it. The Irish are a rightly proud people, and to see them having to go “cap in hand” to anyone bothers me. Then there was the concern over a possible Romney win voiced by the pleasant waitress at the Galway hotel we stayed at, a place dating from the 16th century. I didn’t go to Ireland to lecture the Irish about the disaster the Obama administration has been; the issue is much too complex to communicate through light and brief conversation even by a person as partisan as I am. Nor did I assure her by saying that whoever won Ireland’s future would be secure. Ireland’s future is far from it, but it has less to do with who occupies the White House in Washington DC than it does who rules the Reichstag in Berlin. Ireland has nearly all of its history buffeted by larger nations that were beyond its control, the Vikings, Normans, English or as of today the Germans. Can I say without a doubt that a Romney administration would be better for the Irish than an Obama second term? Of course not.

In the silence that came from my self-enforced “news blackout” I realized just how deeply unhappy I am with the state of affairs in the world right now. It is nothing new; it has popped up here and there in this blog since its creation 11 years ago. For most of my life I have been an optimist, which looking back on it doesn’t make sense. I’ve always had a keen sense of History, and History doesn’t particularly relish happy endings. Things rarely turn out well for anyone, so why I remained an optimist for so long mystifies me. Well the optimism is gone, replaced by a darkness bordering on despair that I could have only dreamed of decades ago when I actually celebrated such things as a self-described “Goth.” Perhaps what underpinned the optimism was faith in America, or particularly the American people. Sure they could be misdirected for awhile by one fancy or another, but eventually they would return to the path of hard work, building a better future for their children and a better society for everyone.

That faith is completely gone.

In its place I see a shallow, self-obsessed, entitled people who can’t think beyond the next commercial let alone the next generation. I have a teenager who is inheriting a $180,000 debt, a payment to the current generation stolen from the future. The debt is so large that it has left the realm of conceivability, so it is unlikely that whomever wins the November election either this year or in four years will be able – let alone willing – to do anything about it. Just because the debt is inconceivable doesn’t make it any less real as he and his generation are about to find out. Just hope that they don’t read Logan’s Run; it shouldn’t be a problem because our current generation of teachers has failed to teach them how to read.

The American imagination has failed at a critical time. Progressives can’t move beyond their expensive socialist utopias that have failed to materialize after generations of progressive rule in New York, Illinois and California. Conservatives chant “small government” like some kind of monk schooled in the texts of Ayn Rand and Jack Kemp instead of the Buddha without offering solid, concrete ideas on how to make government work efficiently so that less was needed instead of just lopping off bone and sinew along with the fat. I’d brush off my Chinese textbooks if it wasn’t for the fact that things in China aren’t doing much better even as it becomes the world’s Beacon of Capitalism.

At the heart of my lost faith is an anger that I’m still struggling to quantify. I am angry at myself for taking the easy road and subjecting my child to the American Public School System that has systematically beaten any curiosity and interest in the world out of him, replacing it with a narcissism where “He is a winner!” thanks to the efforts of his self-esteem coordinator (a real title I shite thee not). I am angry that I sacrificed to put the Wife through medical school only to have her treated like she’s working behind the counter at a fast food restaurant, with Medicaid patients demanding “I need an MRI with a side of Vicodin,” and complaining to the hospital when they don’t get what they want. I am angry that I live in a country that is willing to consider re-electing an amateur golfer to the Oval Office, and an opposing party that couldn’t come up with a better, more inspiring leader than Mitt Romney after four years of thinking about it. I am even angry at the cheap tasteless food that I buy in grocery stores here. I had forgotten what real food tasted like until I left the country and found that while the prices are much higher, the quality is much better. I have a pound of strawberries rotting in the fridge that I paid the same as 2 oz of strawberries in a shop in Galway Ireland. They are tasteless while the Irish berries were fresh and sweet. Why?

At this point I’d like nothing more than to run away and raise sheep in Connaught near where my ancestors once did, but Ireland’s problems are even worse than ours in some respects, and in our globalized world there is simply no escape from them. So instead I’ll plug back in, bite my tongue where possible, let it slip when it’s not and try to make my corner of the world a bit better.

Tactical Driving in Ireland

Or How to Enjoy the Land of Your Ancestors Without Meeting Them

By my estimation I’ve driven about half a million miles throughout North America without a major accident or speeding ticket, yet the idea of driving in Ireland filled me with trepidation. I agreed to doing so early on in the vacation planning phase with the Wife figuring how bad could it be tooling around a country of four and a half million the size of Indiana? That was before I learned that my credit card would not insure my rental there because of the number of insurance claims in Ireland. The travel guide Frommer’s rates Ireland as the second most dangerous country to drive in Europe, trailing only Greece probably because Greece have fewer sheep.

The Irish road system has an international character. The vistas are pure Irish and one could easily pull over every few feet to see something so beautiful it will bring tears to your eyes. Do so and you’ll be run over by the Irish who drive like Italians on roads built by drunk Greeks following traffic rules dreamed up by the same country that brought you cricket, Hugh Grant and English spelling.

The best advice I found can be viewed here. The only thing I might disagree with is the comparison between Dublin and New York City. I’ve driven in New York City, and there is nothing quite like it. Dublin driving is challenging and I wouldn’t recommend driving around it initially, but after a few days of driving in the countryside and small towns it should be okay. Also, be sure to educate yourself on insurance including CDW, and super CDW insurance. American credit cards will not insure your rental so you will be on your own when it comes to insuring your vehicle. In my case I ended up buying all the insurance offered by the rental company and then going with a super CDW through a third party. Insurance ate up about 2/3rds of my total rental bill, but the peace of mind is worth it because your mind will be too busy keeping your car on the road.

1. Rent the smallest car you can tolerate. Here in the states I drive compact, fuel efficient vehicles except when I’m renting – then I get the biggest, most comfortable boat I can reasonably afford. If you are like me, forget it in Ireland and get the closest thing to a skateboard you can stomach. It’s certainly not to save money: as mentioned above the rental fees are miniscule compared to the cost of insurance, it’s because you will find yourself doing 60 mph on what is known here in the US as a bikepath, with an ancient stone wall covered with sharp rocks on one side of you and five hundred feet of beautiful but life-ending air on the other.

2. Learn how to drive a manual transmission before you visit. This will be a challenge due to the disappearance of the stick transmission here, but try to borrow a friend’s car or even rent one for a day to learn. While uncommon here, renting an automatic will easily double the cost of your car rental. The upside? Better gas mileage. The downside? Learning a skill that you’ll probably never use again unless you buy a high performance sports car. People say learning to drive a stick is easy, and it is with some practice. The problem in Ireland is your busy learning to navigate winding streets as narrow as the hallway to your bathroom, in a car where the steering wheel is on the right and the stick shift is on the left, on the left side of the road, with unfamiliar street signs, lane markers and of course, wandering sheep. More on those later.

3. Ask for a diesel. Diesel is cheaper in Ireland than unleaded and provides better gas mileage. I got 38 mpg combined driving a diesel Ford Focus with manual transmission. At $8/gal, the pain at the pump was the same as here when I fill up my SUV that gets 19 mpg combined at $4/gal. Just remember at the filling station over there the black (diesel) pump is your friend. Fill up your diesel with unleaded and be prepared for a big tank cleaning bill. All that insurance you buy does not cover idiocy.

4. With a friend’s help, using a piece of hotel soap pull the left side of the car so that the passenger mirror just hangs over the line. Be alert behind the wheel, sitting up as if you were driving and note where the line is on the left fender or hood, then have your colleague mark that spot on the hood. Adjust your passenger mirror so that the line is clear there, then move the car onto the right line and do the same on the driver’s side of the car. Those marks will help you stay in your lane, and you know when you are approaching them that bad things such as bills from smashed mirrors and scraped paint appearing on your credit card are in your future.

5. Drive with a navigator, preferably a living, breathing one although a GPS will do in a pinch. A second set of eyes will help see signs you miss and help you negotiate the chain of roundabouts that will set an American’s hair on end. You thought the occasional roundabout our jug handle in New Jersey was bad, imagine three of the things one after the other filled with Irish driving like New Jerseans minus the crude epithets and hand gestures. A GPS unit will not warn you that you are about to enter the roundabout exit the wrong way or sideswipe the thistle covered rock wall on your left. The Wife, who bless her heart could get lost in a walk-in closet, by the end of our trip navigated us through rush hour clogged Dublin streets after the piss-poor directions given to us by the Slovakian front desk clerk failed, managing to not only get us to the airport on time but also avoiding the M50 in the process. After that performance I won’t be trading her in for a GPS unit anytime soon.

If you don’t have a navigator, either bring a GPS unit with you or take the hit and add one to the rental. If the former, make sure it has an updated map of Ireland. Some units do not. Either way I do not recommend navigating Ireland on your own. The signs are small and from an American perspective oddly placed, and occasionally missing altogether. A wrong turn is often difficult to determine until after you are dozens of kilometers down the road, resulting in wasting $8/gal fuel and time.

If all else fails, and it will, stop and ask the locals. I did this three times on our trip and each time the locals were friendly, eager to help, and more importantly accurate. Do not hesitate to do this if you find yourself lost, just be prepared to pay with a brief chat about how your trip is going so far.

6. Signage – Signs are often small and placed using a logic that differs from the US. English appears often, though not always, below the Gaelic, even though Gaelic isn’t spoken by many people aside from a few words that are useful in a pub brawl. The biggest difficulty I found with the signage was the time wasted skipping the Gaelic to read the English, by which time I had to switch my gaze back to the road. Navigators are best for this.

7. Road hazards. There were times that I felt that I was driving in a video game. Roads are often flanked by walls and hedges on both sides. The Ford’s headlights were focused too near to the front end of the car so that I had to drive with the high beams on as much as possible until oncoming traffic appeared and I was forced to turn them off then watch the lines to stay in my lane. It rains a lot in Ireland so the streets are often wet, but it doesn’t appear to slow down the Irish. People often walk pushing strollers or bicycle on the road, making focused driving critical. While I was there two children were killed when their stroller was hit by a car. The worst was a bicyclist dressed in black at night in the rain on a narrow rural road. Then there are these things which are everywhere outside of the big cities:

Irish Sheep in Road

Ireland is famous for its sheep, and they will appear in your way at some point in your journey. Usually they will move out of the way, but only after they realize you are there. Amazingly enough I only saw a single dead sheep as road kill, and very little road kill overall with foxes and cats predominating versus the possums, raccoons and squirrels here in the South. I see more road kill on my way to drop the Kid off at school than I did the 600+ miles I drove in Ireland.

These were some of the tactics I learned while driving in Ireland that I thought I’d share if for the only reason that driving there intimidated me to the point that if I could have I would have chickened out and taken a bus tour. But I grew some stones and did it, maybe not with as much cool and aplomb as I might have liked but did it nonetheless, and I am glad I did. Ireland is an incredible place, and after all the places I’ve been in the world it’s the first where I felt truly comfortable outside of the US. It’s true there is a family connection as there are for many Americans, Australians and Canadians, but there was more to it. It has moved me in a way that I haven’t felt before, and while it was happening I knew it would take time for me to fully comprehend. I suppose it may be similar to the Jews who visit Israel for the first time, or perhaps a Muslim who makes his first hajj, but there is something truly magical about the place – and it has nothing to do with leprechauns, Guinness, or U2. It’s more sublime than that, undefinable. I mentioned it to my sister and she immediately understood. She felt the same way about the place and even though she hadn’t been there in 30+ years she spoke as if she had been there yesterday. I’m still feeling it, wondering what it means but happy that after all the far away places I’ve been to I’ve finally made to some place close to home – in more ways than one I suppose.

Don’t let the driving scare you from visiting this country and taking it in the way it is meant to be: person to person without tour guides, strict itineraries or coaches. I spent a total of 8 days there and when I started I was terrified of driving. Now it’s a non-issue and I’m already plotting my return to see things I missed on this trip, and to chase sheep in a rented Fiat 500. Hopefully these tips will come in useful as you explore the gem of Ireland and the Irish people who make it shine brightly in the heart.

The Council Has Spoken: Oct 26, 2012

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: Joshuapundit –Heart Of Darkness – The Real Benghazi Coverup

Noncouncil:   Bing West- First, Aid the Living

Full voting here.

The Council Has Spoken: Oct 19, 2012

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: The Independent Sentinel –False Benghazi Narrative Exposed, Bizarre Finger Pointing, a Leaderless White House

Noncouncil:  Lara Logan-We’re Being Lied to’

Full voting here.

You Can’t End Racism by Being Racist

Here’s a tip from someone in his 5th decade of life: If you do something on the basis of skin color that doesn’t involve sunscreen or biopsies, you’re being racist. There is nothing that justifies racism, period.

Racism is insidious in all its forms, and can easily sneak up on you without you even being aware of it. Case in point: black people who vote for Obama based on his skin color. Jesse Washington of the AP has written a provocative article that examines why black people are voting for Obama based on his skin color, and how they are justifying it. One black man justifies voting for Obama because of the color of his skin, “You’re black, you need to stand behind black people.” It’s not racism to him because he’s voting for someone who understands his situation better. Several Hollywood stars have come out in support of Obama because he’s black, and an actress of mixed race was called a “jigaboo” and “house n****r” for tweeting in support of Romney. A law professor at the University of Maryland, when asked whether it would be okay for a white person to vote for a white candidate based on his race, called this a “false symmetry” because of the history of black oppression.

Are these people racists? I’m not sure. They are doing racist things but I don’t enough to call them racist. As for me I do not consider myself racist even though I sometimes find myself sliding into racist thinking at times. But I catch myself and strive to overcome it. Racism is toxic, and I believe a steady diet of it will kill the human spirit within. So I’m a bit troubled by those who vote for Obama because his skin color is darker than the competing candidate’s.

If you think skin color matters, travel to Africa. The continent is full of black people, yet they have little in common with black Americans. The experience of black people in America is unique, and the culture they have created over hundreds of years of oppression is as different from any found in Africa as it is from the culture of white Anglo-Saxon protestant culture. This culture defines black Americans in ways that are easily apparent to Africans but not so apparent to other Americans.

Based on this, is Obama a black American? Sure he has the skin color, but his father was Kenyan, he grew up raised by his white grandmother in Hawaii and with his white mother and Asian stepfather in Indonesia. He did not grow up in black America. He did not experience the sting of racism that starts to define black people at a very young age here in America. He did not experience the smooth rhythms of Grandmaster Flash played on a boom box on the street, the dominance on the court of Dr. J, the vicious, side-splitting humor of Richard Pryor or the raw power of Hank Aaron on the baseball diamond in the 1970s. He missed out on house music and rap that defined a generation of black – and white – Americans. Washington’s article references the suspicion by the black community prior to 2008 that Obama wasn’t “black enough,” so I’m not the only one wondering if Obama is really “black.” Is it racist to ask if any black man besides Tiger Woods has played more rounds of golf than this president?

As for “false symmetry,” would it be okay if the Republicans nominated an Hispanic and Latinos said they would vote for him because he had three Latina women in the house? Hispanics, after all, are experiencing oppression today. Would it be okay if I voted for an Irish-American candidate simply because of the history of Irish oppression? The Irish have been some of the most oppressed people on the planet, suffering slavery, discrimination and genocide second only to the Jews. Speaking of the Jews, would it be okay for a Jew to vote for a Jew simply because of 4,500 years of oppression, slavery and antisemitism that culminated in the Holocaust? When does the guilt end? There is no one alive in the USA today that owned slaves. Most of my ancestors arrived after the Civil War was over, so why should I suffer for the immorality of men long dead who merely shared with me the same shade of skin color?

The problem with such judgements based on skin color is that they don’t work. I’ve been robbed at gun point by a white guy, not a black one, so any security I feel with a stranger who is white is misplaced. Similarly I’ve been the sole white face in a crowd of villagers in Africa and had nothing at all to fear.

One of the politicians I admire the most, the one that I’ve actually donated the most to, is Congressman Allen West. West shares my vision of a strong America, a man who says what he thinks, who takes pride in our values and doesn’t apologize or bow down to people who hide women in bags, kill homosexuals, or call for the death of others of different faiths. Lt. Col. Allen West happens to be black.

I don’t expect black people to change their minds based on the writings of a middle aged white libertarian living in rural America who believes that Obama is the worst US president since Carter not because of his skin color but because of his inexperience and naive policies. But I would hope that people began to recognize that racism isn’t dead, that it can surprise you when you least expect it, that the price of freedom – true freedom of action that is not tainted by irrational racist thought – is eternal vigilance. Once you accept that racism in any form is okay, then you have to contort yourself into a veritable pretzel using terms like “false symmetry” to avoid appearing racist. But it won’t work when all you are doing is repeating the same excuses that justified racism generations ago. The simple truth is you can’t end racism by being racist, and until that is realized racism will thrive like a cancer among us, all of us.

The Sublime Joy of Internet Radio

Growing up in the Midwest during the 1970s and 1980s was like living in a musical desert. St. Louis had a pop music station, a hard rock station, a classical music station, a black music station, a country music station and a smattering of adult contemporary stations playing Air Supply and Captain and Tenille. That was about it. If your tastes varied from that menu, then you were pretty much on your own. There was a single college radio station run by Washington University, and most of its programming was devoted to classical music and jazz. But for an hour or two a week it played what was then called new wave and punk rock. The show was called Pipeline, and on that show I was exposed to a veritable smorgasbord of alternative genres, from the punk rock of the Sex Pistols to the synthpop of Depeche Mode and Duran Duran. The first time I ever heard Madonna was on that station, and Pipeline provided a taste of The Specials, Siouxie and the Banshees and the Cure that sent one scurrying to the local record stores like Vintage Vinyl, West End Wax and Euclid Records to buy what was heard or even something similar recommended by one of the knowledgeable hipsters behind the counter.

It wasn’t until I moved to San Diego that I could tune into a radio station that played music I liked, and even that came from south of the border, 91X based in Tijuana. Things actually got worse when I landed in the Philadelphia area. Philly didn’t even have a classical station, and the rock stations could often be found playing the exact same song at the same time. There was little variety in that market, so as soon as I could afford it I purchased a CD player and pretty much never looked back. Today I have switched to MP3s loaded on a USB stick, 16 GB of everything from the hard-rock of The Cult to seizure inducing Skinny Puppy mixed in with lots of electronic dance music from DJs like Christopher Lawrence, John 00 Fleming, and DJ Apsara.

Several months ago The Kid introduced me to Pandora. For those who don’t know, Pandora is internet radio that plays music based on the selection of a particular band one likes. As I understand it, Pandora then plays songs by similar bands or bands liked by listeners who share interest in the band. For example, I have a Frankie Goes to Hollywood “channel” (I’m too old to be embarrassed). It loads up and might start with the band’s greatest hit, Relax, but then might follow with a song from The Fixx or Duran Duran, bands that are also liked by 80’s nostalgia freaks like me. I have several stations for African music, ska, industrial, techno, and hard rock. Pandora is streamed to my smartphone across Verizon’s 3G network, and I connect my phone to the car stereo. It’s like having your very own radio station but one for any particular mood you find yourself in.

It is a customized radio experience, and it is one of the ways I know I’m living in the 21st century. 30 years ago I couldn’t have even conceived of such a thing, but here it is, and what’s even crazier is it’s free. It’s paid for through advertisements targeted at the demographic of people who like a particular artist, so I end up getting a lot of Home Depot and Over 50 Singles ads directed at me.

Congress of course is still stuck in the 20th century, and tries to regulate internet radio in ways favorable to Clear Channel, the dominant force in dinosaur radio. But once you hear new music that appeals to you on your very own radio station, why would you go back to listening to dinosaur radio where you only hear what the record labels pay to be played? It doesn’t matter what your tastes in music are, or even your taste in music at this moment, Pandora and it’s competitor Spotify, will provide you with music. Welcome to the future.

The Council Has Spoken: Oct 12, 2012

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: Bookworm Room –The girl’s guide to visiting the USS Makin Island

Noncouncil:  Monkey In The Middle-Muslim Persecution of Christians: August, 2012

Full voting here.

Why I Love the Marine Corps

Marines are simply a different breed. Always have been. Always will be.

In the moments Ben was debating whether he could hop or maybe crawl the rest of the mile, a man named Matthew Morgan, a Marine who had volunteered to help at the youth event, stepped in.

“(Morgan said) ‘You need help?’ and I said, ‘Sure,’ and he picked me up and carried me,” Ben said.

For the next half mile, Ben held onto Pfc. Morgan with one arm and his prosthetic leg with the other.

Ben said he and Morgan didn’t really speak after their first exchange, but more Marines gathered around and sang a cadence.

As they reached the end and the crowd started roaring, Ben said he felt grateful for the help, but a little frustrated and embarrassed that he couldn’t complete the course on his own.

Young Ben will someday understand that receiving help from a Marine is not a sign of weakness. A Marine helping is a sign of strength.

Freed Pussy Riot Member Speaks

I found this interview particularly noteworthy for several reasons, but the greatest was the member’s response to Amanpour’s question about whether she thought her fellow bandmembers would have to serve their complete sentences. In countries with a solid rule of law, such a question is answerable. A criminal receives a sentence and knows at the beginning of that sentence how long he or she must serve, whether time off will be given for good behavior, etc. In countries lacking such system one doesn’t know. That answer reveals the situation in Russia.

Democrats Should Watch What They Wish For

Watching liberals freak out over a possible Romney presidency would be entertaining if it weren’t sad to those of us hoping to see Washington work again for the good of the country. If one were to believe the hysteria, minutes after taking the oath of office he is going to take away everyone’s health insurance and force them to buy private plans from insurance companies his friends own, send all American jobs to China, force women to emulate the Mormon wives portrayed in Big Love, invade Syria, Iraq, Iran and any other Middle Eastern country the angel Moroni tells him, and unleash torrents of crude oil into the wilderness all the while sitting behind his desk in the Oval Office tapping his fingers together and maniacally laughing. I’m sure forcing people to drive with their dogs on top of their cars comes his second day in office.

People on the right don’t get this at all. While liberals relished the spectacle of Republican Primaries where each candidate defined him or herself as more conservative than Mitt Romney by portraying him as a liberal RINO (Republican In Name Only), they evidently failed to notice that of all the GOP candidates Mitt Romney is the most liberal on many issues important to conservatives. He is after all the grandfather of Obamacare, the issue that nearly sank him in the primaries, and worse, wasn’t the governor of Texas, the way George W. Bush was, or California (which once had a flourishing conservatism) like Reagan. No he was governor of the bluest of blue states, Massachusetts, a state that many on the right refer to as Taxachusetts due to its tax code that more resembles socialist France than small-government loving New Hampshire. Face it, a Republican in Massachusetts is like a Pomeranian. A Pom is as much a dog as a Rottweiler. It may bark like a Rottweiler but if you are going to stroll through a city park at night you’ll note the salient difference between the two dogs and want the Rotty, not the Pom, at your side.

The rise of the Democratic party is directly the result of the election of 2004. Had Kerry defeated Bush that year it is unlikely that the Democrats would have taken over Congress in 2006 which laid the groundwork for the Obama election in 2008. By the time Congress came into session in January 2007 Bush was already a lame duck, despised by the electorate with no political capital to spend in Washington. What were the great achievements of his second term? See for yourself. He pacified Iraq of course, but that’s already unraveling. Domestically the only thing that can be loosely classified as an achievement is the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2005, a bill sponsored by then Senator Joe Biden which I vehemently opposed. As a rule second terms always disappoint. Clinton’s was marred by scandal and the failed attempt at impeachment, so he did what presidents often due to burnish their entry in History by chasing after foreign policy illusions. Reagan had Iran Contra, and Nixon, well let’s just note that ended badly for him.

There is no reason for the pattern to break. In a second term Obama will have a Republican House and possibly a Republican Senate. The GOP rank and file will follow the Democrat’s example and purge itself of all the establishment figures that shoved Romney down the throats of the Tea Party faithful, forcing the GOP further to the Right in the same way that Kerry’s failure forced the Democrats leftward. In the long-term this will be good for Conservatives because it will be nearly impossible for the Democrats to win again in 2016, and so the GOP will choose a candidate that will make Michelle Bachmann look as liberal as Nancy Pelosi. But he or she won’t be defeated in the primary by a centrist establishment candidate, because the establishment will have been purged of RINOs in the same way that the Democrat Party purged itself of conservatives like Zell Miller, Dick Gephardt and Jim Webb.

If Obama wins it is unlikely either the House of Senate will move back into Democratic hands. So in 2016 when America voices its desire for change it will elect a much more conservative Republican than Mitt Romney, and will hand him or her a unified Congress. If this doesn’t scare liberals today, it should, because had someone told me in 2004 that my vote for “W” would have resulted in the Democrats controlling both halls of Congress and electing the most liberal president since Carter, I would have voted for Kerry and encouraged my libertarian and conservative brethren to do the same.

Mitt Romney is many things, but he is not a conservative. He may claim Reagan’s mantle, and the GOP will pretend it’s his, but don’t fool yourself: Romney is a liberal Republican and honestly at this point that’s okay for me. I’m tired of extremists of any stripe, and would welcome a moderate in the White House. The question is whether the Democratic Party wants to remain relevant in the long-term by losing the election this November and likely retaking Congress in two years, or desires to re-elect Obama now and give up control of Congress until 2018 and risk electing a Republican extremist in 2016. Elections have consequences, Obama once said. They sure do, and Democrats should remember that before they cast their votes.

7:23 PM

The Kid and I are driving back from a trip to the mall and other various errands in the City. I’m driving into the darkness of the setting sun on a North Carolina road with Pandora streaming alternative hits from the ‘80s on the stereo. We talk about bad drivers since he will soon cross another line separating him from childhood, and he makes a joke that makes me laugh. He is becoming a man, independent from his parents, and will sooner than I want will be on his own, chasing his dreams, and driving roads I will never see. I glance at the clock, 7:23 pm, and for a moment I wish we are driving into the night together talking and laughing forever. As all moments must it passes into memory, but if I could stretch out a moment from an instant into an eternity, it would be this one.

Rural Justice

Small towns have long memories. In the early morning hours of October 5, 1996 Jonesville Police Sgt. Gregory Martin pulled over a red pickup on Interstate 77 just south of highway 67. Moments later he radioed that he needed assistance. Minutes later a North Carolina highway patrolman arrived at the scene and found Martin dead of gunshot wounds to his head.

Jonesville isn’t the most picturesque American small towns. Like many it sprung up in the late 1800s as textile mills grew around the area. It was a gritty, working town dependent on the mills that never developed any of the charm the way the neighboring town Elkin across the Yadkin river did. So when the mills closed they left a void that Jonesville, like so many economically depressed rural small towns in America, has struggled to fill. Still it survives, and at times manages even to thrive. It’s location on I-77 has contributed to the development of hotels and restaurants, and it benefits from the growing tourist trade at the nearby vineyards in Yadkin, Wilkes and Surry counties. It has a long way to go before it becomes a tourist trap, but the locals are optimistic for the future.

Since his death newly printed wanted posters hang in establishments around the area, and the memory of that event 16 years ago is passed to newcomers like me who share in the town’s grief and determination to see justice done. But 16 years is a very long time when most murder cases are solved within the first two days, so I didn’t think the news crew from Winston-Salem 40 miles away standing outside police headquarters had anything to do with Sgt. Martin’s death when I drove by.

My mind was occupied by another local tragedy, the deaths of two children from carbon monoxide poisoning in Elkin. The mother had just rented a small A-frame across the street from the middle school, and the power had not been turned on yet. Evidently she fired up a gasoline generator in the kitchen to run the refrigerator on the first night of their stay in the house. Six hours later the children were found dead in their beds, their mother collapsed in a hallway. She was taken to the local hospital and then flown to Duke where she is likely to survive. I’m not sure I would want to if I was her, though. People in the town of 3,000 new her and the children, and people talked as they are prone to do. The woman’s lapse in judgement wasn’t her first, but it was by far her worst, and her children paid the price. When I passed by the home the next morning candles burned at a make-shift memorial on a porch littered with flowers and stuffed animals.

Three years living here has changed me in many ways, and one way has been my appreciation for Life. Granted I have always “felt” things more than is healthy; I believe my struggle with alcoholism was partly an attempt to medicate my oversensitivity to outside events for example. But when you live with a few thousand people, you find that when things happen it impacts you personally. If you don’t know the victims directly, you know someone who does. Gossip remains the CNN or FoxNews of rural life, providing details that you will never hear in a newscast or read in a newspaper. I came here in a self-imposed exile to escape some of the pain of the world, but have found it impossible; it hurts even more when you’ve driven by the house countless times where children have died and thought it always looked sad and ramshackle before this event. Now I just want to see it disappear.

So when the news arrives that the authorities may have caught Sgt. Martin’s killer, it brings relief and a little something else. Call it faith in the justice system or karma, whatever, but the fact that the Arm of the Law is long enough to reach across 16 years and nab a killer of a small town cop makes me smile. There is yet another unsolved murder that haunts the area, and the possible capture of Sgt. Martin’s killer gives me hope it too will someday be solved and the killers brought to justice.

The Council Has Spoken: Oct 5, 2012

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: The Noisy Room – Infiltration, Treason, Jihad – Welcome to The Project

Noncouncil:  Ace of Spades-The Normative Power of Law and the Emotional Power of Drama

Full voting here.

An Obama Victory May Be Good for the War on Terror

In the final weeks before the election I’ve been thinking long and hard about what the outcome could mean for the future of my country. Regardless of who wins, he will face a China that is bullying its neighbors into American arms, a Middle East that has become more radicalized not less, an Iranian nuke or a war started by Israel or the United States but blamed on the Great Satan regardless of which flag is painted on the bunker busters. The November winner will face a crumbling Europe, a soaring American debt that has become so big no one knows how to tame it, and a catatonic domestic economy. American education spends more than any nation in the world on its students yet they learn less. The weight of the pensions of Baby Boomers threatens to crush public spending, turning cities and states into mob enforcers who shake down the working, relatively poor young and pass the cash to the retiring relatively wealthy elderly.

I will leave the economic issues aside for the moment to focus on foreign policy. In my view with the exception of China, Obama has made all of these problems worse. But looking at these issues over the long-term, say through the remainder of this decade, would an Obama loss be really a victory for those of us who have opposed him every step of his way to the office he now holds?

China stands as perhaps the only issue I agree with the administration on. I’ve studied China and East Asia for decades, and recognize that handling a rising superpower is never easy, especially one with a 4,500 year history and cursed by a long, often twisted, memory. The Obama administration has attempted to encourage the rise of a peaceful, prosperous China that would take its place as an equal partner in the Pacific, but at the same time has worked to support our allies such as Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea. It is an art more than a science, and while mistakes have been made by the Obama administration, they are to be expected in such a long-term important endeavor. The Chinese cannot understand why the United States would welcome a peaceful, prosperous and powerful China that is integrated with the rest of the world, and instead sees every American move through paranoid eyes and zero-sum calculations. We can’t do much to change this view of American policy in the Pacific, except by doing what this administration has done, setting policies that reassure our allies while encouraging the Chinese to play nice with others in the Pacific’s playground.

Unfortunately the tact, intelligence and real-politic shown by the Obama administration towards China has not been manifested anywhere else in the world. In the same way the reality of Iraq showed the folly of the neocon dream, the murder of our diplomat in Libya and the virulent anti-American nature of the “Arab Spring” has put paid to the dreams of Obama and his liberal eggheads. Obama believed that he alone could solve the Middle East problem with a grand speech in Cairo and apologies and bows to Arab leaders. He thought he could strong-arm Israel to make peace with the Palestinians, and that the Muslim world would see the wisdom of the Nobel committee’s awarding him his Peace Prize. He believed that once free from Iraq, he would be able to exit Afghanistan gracefully without fear of the Taliban taking it over and turning back the clock to 2000.

Nearly four years later America is even more hated than it was under the Bush administration. Iraq is becoming a satellite of Iran, allowing its Shiite neighbor unrestricted flights over its territory to resupply the Assad regime. Pakistan has degenerated into a pit of vipers that protected a man personally responsible for more American deaths than anyone since Ho Chi Minh and allowed Chinese to test a piece of top secret American gear left behind after its forces aired out his skull. Vast swathes of North Africa have been lost to al-Qaeda affiliated radicals including half of its most populous nation, Nigeria. Women are being secreted behind closed doors in Cairo and Tunis, as Egyptians copts are raped and terrorized out of their homes, putting an end to communities that date almost to the time of Christ. Liberals laughed when a man threw shoes at George W. Bush; they are oddly silent as they see Obama burned in effigy by crowds throughout the Middle East. Americans once were able to visit the Pyramids and Valley of the Kings; today members of the Egyptian government call for the destruction of the Pyramids and the State Dept warns Americans to avoid Egypt.

Hope and change.

The murder of the Libyan ambassador proves the Obama administration has failed to learn the lessons of 9-11. The average rapper has better security in Los Angeles than the Libyan ambassador. Threats against American interests there were ignored just as Bin Laden’s declaration of war against the US was in 1998. Many on the right including myself have given a pass to the Clinton administration for failing to imagine the attacks of 9-11 and stop them; today the Obama administration has no such excuses.

And speaking of silence, where is Code Pink, Cindy Sheehan and the other anti-war Left? Where are the anti-war drums that sounded for every dead Muslim civilian or American soldier arriving at Dover Air Force base in Delaware in the middle of the night? Where is the anger, the spiteful commentary of lost wars, the Vietnam comparisons that flowed thick through every mainstream news outlet during the Bush administration? As Walter Russell Mead notes, “If George W. Bush were president now, and had ordered the surge and was responsible for the strategic decisions taken and not taken in Afghanistan over the last four years, the mainstream press would be rubbing our noses in his miserable failures and inexcusable blunders 24/7. The New York Times and the Washington Post would be treating us to pictures of every fallen soldier. The PBS Newshour would feature nightly post-mortems on “America’s failed strategies in the Afghan War” and every arm-chair strategist in America would be filling the op-ed pages with the brilliant 20/20 hindsight ideas that our pathetic, clueless, failed president was too dumb and too cocky to have had.”

After his election I feared that Obama would weaken the position of the United States in the world. I envisioned Obama to be a pacifist who would gut our military, anger our friends and embolden our enemies. I was wrong about Obama’s pacifism; he may be a pacifist at heart but he has shown a willingness to kill America’s enemies that would make Dick Cheney offer him a high-five. Unfortunately he has succeeded in doing what I feared. Our alliances with our closest friends Australia, Canada and Great Britain are ignored. Our long-standing friendship with Israel rebuffed. A deep relationship with Egypt lost. Meanwhile Iran, North Korea and the socialist states in South America continue on as before, confident that the US lacks the resources to challenge them. As Machiavelli wrote “if one cannot be both, it is better to be feared than loved.” Obama should play less golf and read more because he has failed to do either.

The only solace I can take is that the Obama administration has shown a willingness to kill our enemies. Bin Laden is crab food, and drone strikes and special operations continue worldwide. The administration avoids calling it by its name, but the Global War on Terrorism continues using the same methods and tactics that the Bush administration developed and supported. What Obama has not done is use his speech giving abilities to provide an explanation to the American people why the war continues, and show that he and his administration understand the existential threat posed by radical Islam. It is a shame because it is possible that a liberal like Obama could do more to protect and advance freedom in the world for the same reason that a cold warrior like President Nixon could open up to China: his base trusts him.

And this is what concerns me about a Romney victory. If Romney wins I would expect that the Democrats would stoke the flames of their anti-war brothers at a critical time in our history. War is Not the Answer bumperstickers would sprout on foreign cars. Colleges would be wracked by anti-war protests. We need a coherent strategy explained to the American people while continuing the fight against terrorists around the world. There is the potential for Obama to do that, and for his allies to keep their anti-war instincts at bay. Likewise I suppose it’s possible that Obama, having achieved his goal of reelection would simply allow his own pacifist instincts to rule the day, putting American in even more danger. But I would hope that four years of at least occasional Angry Birds free Intelligence Briefings would have convinced Obama the threat to our nation is real.

So it is possible that the best outcome is an Obama victory for those of us who believe in the primacy of the war against radical Islam. The continued media silence at dead terrorists may be worth the price of four more years of Obama. This of course will not change my vote in November, but it has given me something to think about.