Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Comment on Green Lanternism

This post is a brief reflection on what MY and others have called the Green Lantern theory of geopolitics. This theory, in a nutshell, is that willpower--not firepower, not alliances, not other factors--is the deciding factor in war, especially. This is an old idea, but found it's most recent manifestation in the neocon fantasies of the 2000's. The phrase, "Green Lantern theory" is, of course, mocking the theory, so although the theory has many proponents, they probably wouldn't call it that.

Like I said, it's an old idea. I am reading Hastings's Winston's War (2010) right now, and of course Winston Churchill was something of a believer in the theory, although it had not yet been formulated as such.

Reading WW, I have a new corollary to the Green Lantern theory: Willpower alone is never sufficient to win a war. You need something, some kind of advantage, to actually win a war. (Sometimes, facing an enemy with inferior morale ("willpower") may be close to enough.) So the Green Lantern theory is wrong, sort of. But, and here's the corollary: Willpower is often enough to prevent losing a war.

Take the situation of the Brits in 1940, after the fall of France. It is not inconceivable that HMG might have sought terms with Hitler at that point and thus lost the war. Indeed, that would not have been a particularly unreasonable course of action, even though it would have been a bad result. The Brits, without allies, simply could not conceive of a course of action for winning. The British Army was not an effective fighting force, was under-equipped and poorly led, for the most part. The RAF and Royal Navy were better, but fighting a land war on the Continent was not a realistic possibility, even with Dominion and imperial forces.

Churchill's only real hope was to bring in the United States, but he couldn't actually do that. It was the Japanese, who in one of the worst manifestations of the Green Lantern theory ever, succeeded in doing that.

But Churchill refused to give up, and that was important. He was never able to instill his "will" in his fighting forces. The British forces surrendered at Singapore (three times the losses sustained in France in 1940) to smaller numbers of Japanese attackers, for example. But simply refusing to quit was enough to avoid losing.

That and, of course, the English Channel.

The same basically holds for Stalin and the U.S.S.R. after June 22, 1941. The refusal to capitulate was enough to prevent losing, but without more, not enough to win; vast distances, weather, massive resources, allies were enough to win.

Now, of course, in our contemporary situation: the will to continue may be enough to forestall losing in, say, Afghanistan--if "losing" has any meaning in that context--but given the difficulties of the war, it is almost certainly not sufficient for "winning"--and again, I'm not sure how one defines that in this context.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

FOX Unbound

The best analysis I've seen so far of the Shirley Sherrod incident comes from David Frum, whose recent commentary on conservatism has been especially astute. Aside from an unmerited swipe at Dan Rather, there's not much to disagree with there.

What's missing so far, I'd say, is that not many liberals have seen this as the golden opportunity to strike at FOX itself that it surely is. The conservative movement long ago took a structural approach to battling liberalism: attack the institutions of liberalism and of rational discourse and you weaken your opposition. Hence the endless slandering of unions, universities, social security, the establishment media, etc. Doesn't matter if the complaints are true, just repeat the grievance and eventually the narrative will sink in. Liberals, maybe because of their greater ideological sympathy for pluralism, free speech, and fair play haven't had much stomach for reciprocity in that kind of battle. But here's a case that exposes the rotten core beneath FOX News in an especially glaring way: a racially motivated hit piece against an innocent (and even noble) public servant. Why not denounce their behavior and then hammer it home? For Pete's sake, they fumbled the ball in their own end zone. Fall on the ball!!!

It never ceases to amaze me that other news outlets treat FOX as if they're just another set of concerned and objective "journalists," albeit conservative-leaning ones. FOX has been pushing their luck for quite some time now. It wouldn't take much for liberals to take them down a notch--just some guts.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Better Headline

How about "FOX Frames Official to Stoke Racial Fears"? More accurate and "objective" than these.

Partisan Emotions

This post over at Plain Blog About Politics, one of my new-ish daily reads, raises an interesting point, obliquely. When folks like Eric Erickson call for a filibuster of Kagan, I don't think that it's that they think that such a tactic will work, in the sense of actually achieving an end. For the partisan, it can be that the tactic is the point.

Many people derive psychological utility from partisanship, or the actions of their co-partisans, in much the way that, say, fans of the Dallas Cowboys derive satisfaction from the performance of their team. Partisans like it when their team adopts a more confrontational posture, for its own sake. They often like to talk trash. They like to see the other team bruised, humiliated. Just like in hockey, they love their own team's goons and hate hate hate the other teams'.

I actually think that this is part of the reason that many on one side of the aisle have been disappointed in Obama. It's not just that he hasn't done things that they would have liked him to do. It's also that he has adopted too conciliatory a tone. He hasn't provided his partisans with enough red meat.

Again, I'm not saying that a more confrontational posture is desired for its practical effects. I'm saying that it is desired for its own sake, by some people.

In many ways, the Old School Senator is as frustrating to certain folks as is "Obama as Spock" to others. If one really carries oneself in such a way as to maintain the dignity and decorum of the institution, then folks in certain parts of the system are going to be dissatisfied, even if you have an extremely conservative voting record. This is almost certainly the problem McConnell has in Kentucky. Like him or hate him, but McConnell is pretty old school. Maybe Inglis in South Carolina (on the House side), too.

So would an "active filibuster" of Kagan "do any good"? In all likelihood, it wouldn't change the final outcome. But it's not just about delay, for the partisans, on the outside looking in. It's about "not conceding." Not giving up. It's about playing the entire game. And yes, many folks are completely fixated on the game.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Memory whole, pt. 1: The Bicentennial

You may (or may not!) be old enough to remember the bicentennial. Maybe not as a rising senior at a high school in Texas (that would kind of be the plot of Dazed and Confused), but maybe as a seven-year-old whose birthday is July 4. No? Maybe that's just me.

Well, on that august occasion, some of my cousins made me an exploding birthday 'cake.' I use the scare quotes because it was really firecrackers (M80s or whatever) embedded in cake and frosting. The picture below is of my cousin Mike lighting the 'cake.' I'm the extremely thin little boy, with my sisters, Lisa, center, and Angie. And I'm sure that none of us are wearing 'sunscreen.' I don't believe that that concept had been invented in 1976!

And lest you are interested, it blew cake and frosting EVERYWHERE! I don't seem to have a picture of that. But, yes, it did. We are actually standing too close, in hindsight, and I don't remember this, exactly, but Mike must have been really 'frosted.' It was a pretty short fuse.

I know that any number of readers of this blog (it does have readers, no?) have heard this story. But here's proof of a sort.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Go Partisan

We all know how bad a year 2010 should be for Dems in Congress. There seems to be a lot of hand wringing about whether or not we're sufficiently panicked about the situation. But that's a pretty stupid way to look at the situation. Freaking out would undoubtedly make things even worse. The real question is, given a toxic environment, what do the Dems actually do?

Here's one man's suggestion: go partisan. Hard. I recognize that this crosses the wires of every synapse in the hunker & survive brains of Dem congressmen and their high paid consultants. Oh my, oh my, off-year election!, distance yourself from your president and party and just hope the voters don't know!!!! How can I say this in a cliche? Recipe for disaster. Bringing a knife to a gunfight. Burning a winning lottery ticket. Pissing in your own kitchen. I think you get it. They want us to run scared. If we do, we'll forget to play our best card: they're Republicans!

OK, so here's my logic. We all know why Obama's numbers are low right now, and it's not because he's too rational (thanks, Maureen Dowd), or he's "snakebit" (Peggy Noonan), or too partisan & liberal (Broder!), or he hasn't been to the Gulf enough (David Vitter), or not focused enough on jobs (Charlie Cook). That's all just beltway B.S.--the media "frame" to personalize a much more prosaic story. Which is: the economy still sucks. That's it. And guess what, voters are more likely to blame the GOP than the Dems, and less likely to trust the congressional GOP than even Pelosi and company. Many Dems get this, which is why we've started to hear them argue that this race is a choice between parties, not a referendum on Obama. (So says Obama himself.) OK, so let's double down on that. I want to see every Dem commercial this year throwing the word "Republican" around like the Tea Party uses the word "Communist." It's a "brand"--use it like one. The beauty is that this isn't a new narrative. The public already knows it, and likes it. They just need to hear it. Over and over and over.

Have some fun with it too. I want to see reels and reels of footage of the tea parties with their Hitler-Obama signs. I want to see cartoons with Sharon Angle in a tinfoil hat, John Boehner handing out checks from Wall Street on the House floor, and Rand Paul on his knees sucking on BP's pipe. The script writes itself: these mofos are craaaaazzzzyy!!!! Also, can we talk about Bush & Cheney a bit more? Please? I know the media won't like it (that was soooo 2009!). Screw them. Those grovelling wanks can respect us when we win. I'd also like a bit more aggression with respect to GOP candidates: put them on the spot over stimulus, health care, and financial reform repeal. Ask them if they want to investigate Obama's citizenship. Ask if they want to impeach him. Ask them if they think Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are ever wrong. Or, better, accuse them of slavish devotion to radio crackpots and force them to deny it. With specifics. That always goes well with Rush & Glenn too--I'm sure they'll forgive those who betray them. Then put it all in your commercials with some scary voice overs. You know, like the Republicans would if they were running your campaigns for you. Make them say crazy ass shit. Believe me, they will do it. They can't help themselves. It absolutely pains them to act like they have normal beliefs. Every time I see Rand Paul on TV I feel like Tom Cruise strategizing in A Few Good Men about getting Jack Nicholson to confess on the stand that he ordered the code red: he wants to say it! Just ask him. Is that clear? Chrystal.

Let me add that I think this advice will be especially important in the south and midwest. One thing the GOPers around here do not lack is confidence. Another is hubris. Use this. The candidates around here are the ones most likely to overplay their crazy hands. I can't tell you how sick I am of all the political ads around here. Every damned one of them sounds like it was written by Jefferson Davis or George Wallace. Obama!, and socialists!, and immigrants!, oh my! Usually, what this would mean is that Dems act like giant wussies: "I like Tea Parties too! I'll stand up to Obama too!" Well, there's no vote there, it's already taken.

Here's what I want to see in my Dem candidates for Congress and governor say: "Hi, I'm Joe Dem. Are you tired of all these Republican politicians running ads blaming your problems on Muslims, or immigrants, or President Obama? Are you tired of all those extremists who take their orders from Glenn Beck and the Tea Partiers? I don't know what's worse: that they think we're all a bunch of racist hicks or that they think we're idiots. We all know who's to blame for this mess. It's George Bush and the Republicans. They crashed the economy, they ran up the debt, and they sold our government to Wall Street and the corporate lobbyists. And then they apologized to BP and the bankers. They want you to blame some poor immigrant. They want to end the stimulus, so that we have to fire teachers and police officers, good jobs right here in Tennessee. But you know better. This November, send them a message. Vote Democrat."

I can imagine a dozen variations on that ad. With all the hate that gets spewed around here, I think a straightforward call for human decency and common sense would come like a bolt from the blue. And since we're already in the hole, what have we got to lose?

Update: a few hours after I posted, Krugman had a good column thinking on very similar lines. He spends a bit too much time with 20/20 hindsight. In retrospect, a bigger stim would have been the key play IF it could have passed in Congress, which is debatable. But what does that mean for NOW? Fatalism? I'd say no. Voters are going to be pissed, but Indies are clueless about ideology and famously confused about whom to blame. Meanwhile, a "go partisan" strategy would help fire up the Dem base to approach GOP intensity. So you've got two real pluses there, even if continued economic stagnation will make the objective one of minimizing losses rather than picking up seats.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Dixie Dispatch, or Deep in the Heart of "the Crazy"

As bad an election year as 2010 promises to be, that badness will have an epicenter, and that epicenter is likely to be here in what the Drive By Truckers dubbed "the dirty South." Judging from the campaign commercials we've been getting, the South will rise again, only this time as the "North." The North circa 1890, that is--the year when an activist right-wing Supreme Court filled with Commie-fearing, dollar-doting, states' rights-bloviating radicals began waging war against democracy on behalf of the "real" America. I.e., the rich, the corporate, and the racist. I don't see this as an enduring national trend, the way it was in 1890. But it is our new regional religion, and we will be lucky if this tent revival ends at dusk.

Tennessee may not be as bad as Alabama, where the treasonous Rick Barber dreams of piking the President and eating his entrails, but the climate here is toxic, at least on my TV. [An aside: someone should really explain to Barber that you shouldn't put Lincoln in your commercials equating federal taxes to "slavery" when it was Lincoln who invented the federal income tax and even made it progressive!!!!!] The governor's race features the most visible and risible of the villainous in Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. His call to "Give em' the boot!" (re: Obama, Washington, etc.) so closely evokes segregationists of old that even the Republicans seem a little creeped out. Ramsey is running a distant third in polls, well behind Congressman Zach Wamp (a charter member of the C Street "Family" who cries armed resistance on the stump while copping a vaguely inoffensive technocrat feel in his ads), and the front runner, Knoxville mayor Bill Haslam, whose ads give treacle a bad name. Ramsey gives them red meat, Haslam slays them with tar tare: red, but cool, superficially classy, and likely to impress the moderate businessman.

Our congressional race to replace the beloved Bart Gordon bodes more ominously. The GOP race is a three-way between my state senator, Jim Tracy, state senator Diane Black, and local GOP honcho Lou Ann Zelenik. Tracy, the early fave, may have come across as too lacking in crazy, so Black and the demagogic Zelenik have charged into the breach. The key issue seems to be who hates Obama, immigrants, and Muslims the most--although 'round here that's just one thing. Cause, you know, the grandchildren are our future. In particular, everyone seems to be going all pee-pants over the proposed building of an Islamic Center just outside the Boro. Read this for a little fear mongering--old school, yo.

I was hoping that a holiday jaunt to the SC would provide some relief. Because nothing makes TN crackpottery look mild like a trip back home. My folks' district recently sent the reliably conservative Bob Inglis to crushing primary defeat for having had the temerity to suggest that Glenn Beck might not be all that and a bag of chips. On the way, we had the pleasure of spotting this billboard on I-85 in Atlanta. Like breadcrumbs to my cottage!

The sandlapper state did not disappoint, either. Lots of nuttiness. But surprises too--what the Truckers call "the duality of the Southern thing." Turns out that the big issue in the Burg was a raging battle in the paper over whether gays were all going to burn in hell. Context: the mayor is now a guy named Junie White, who I remember as the good ol' boy owner of the Exxon station around the corner from my house growing up. Well, it seems ol' Junie proclaimed "Gay Day" and compared the gay rights cause to the Civil Rights movement--in a good way! Apparently, Junie spent much of his time at Exxon promoting racial solidarity and mentoring lost souls of many a shape and color. He also converted to his wife's Judaism at some point, and yet was none-too-impressed with local wingnut citations from Leviticus. Junie has taken a lot of heat, but I was shocked to see how much published support he was getting as well. "The Crazy" may have finally stirred the SC progressive minority from its lugubrious slumber.

Then there was church. Because what else should a good Carolina boy do first thing in the morning on July 4th? The sermon at the First Presbyterian--one of the largest congregations in town--was, not surprisingly, a classic case of politicized Christianity. Rev. Arthur had a few bones to pick. He started with the famous passage from Romans, beloved by fundies far and wide, about how government should be a "terror" to evildoers. Then he finished the section of scripture. Apparently, God wants us to respect the authorities and stop bitching about our taxes. See, Paul was in Rome, where they had "real tyrants," and he wasn't some whiny ass titty baby about it. Then, the good preacher segued into an attack on cul de sac narcissism and a celebration of sidewalks for building community, before ending with a story comparing Afghanistan to Vietnam and lamenting the human toll of war. I wonder how the rest of the flock reacted? Me? I was home at the epicenter of the Crazy.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Bob Probert Is Dead

He was 45 years old.

If you were a Detroit Red Wings fan in the 1980s and early 1990s, then it's a sad day. Probert was one of the great goons in NHL history (5th all-time in penalty minutes), but actually a pretty decent hockey player. I didn't realize he spent 7 years in Chicago, too.

As someone who just turned 41, it's a little frightening to see pro athletes like Jose Lima, a few weeks ago, and now Probert, dying at young ages. Now, Probert did have a long history of substance abuse, including that motorcycle crash with cocaine in his system . . . but still. These guys were professional athletes. They had to have been in pretty good shape at one point.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

41! With My Girl

The truth is that, as I get older, I see that I look more and more like my mother. Bee looks more like my dad's side of the family.