Saturday, November 29, 2003

Gobble Gobble, Revisited: In Defense of GW 

I've decided that the last post about Bush's trip to Iraq was a little bit shrill. Except the hat joke. I've also decided to keep it up, in the interest of full disclosure and because I agree with most of it, though it was unbalanced: this post intends to balance it. I should be fair: I feel like Bush did "a good thing" by making soldiers there happy and motivated, but I also feel like it wasn't the prime motivation for the visit, and I do feel like it was distracting from real issues in the traditional Bush manner of doing things.

The one strength of GW Bush is this stuff; on 9/11 he won me over for maybe 20 minutes to "he's a pretty good guy, I guess." This visit has me a lot more weary, and what the probable reality of the issue is, is he's a dumb guy, emotionally. (I think anyone who wins a presidential nomination is intellectually smarter than most armchair political theorists could ever imagine- but the idea that "smart" means "left" or that "leftist" means "smart" is off by a long shot- try talk to a militant anarchist sometime).

So he's got this big dumb puppy sort of thing he does, and it makes him endearing, and it makes him look so stupid and so naive that most cynics or skeptics can find endless evidence for the guy's intellectual stupidity. It's the emotionally stupid lazy charm that comes off to me like "do good things for good people and good people'll do good things for ya back." (That's not the emotionally stupid part. The emotionally stupid part is its flip side, which I summarize as: "When there's people who want the good people to not get good things done for'em, then those people'r bad people. And I'm gonna fight bad people everywhere.")

It's his key political strength, and I have to believe it is genuine, and not affected for political gain (though certainly emphasized for it) but serves and has served some sort of interior psychological purpose, which I am not gonna pretend that I am in a position to analyze in a fair manner. But to dismiss this charm so cynically, as I have done in the Gobble Gobble post, is unfair, and most importantly, hurts the left, because our dismissal of this charm doesn't prepare us for how powerful it can be. It can be demystified and put aside so that we (and undecided voters) can look at his record of accomplishment, which is weak and traditionally against the interest of moderates. But so much of the left wing dialogue stems from a personal hatred for the charm that he possesses, and a cynical assailment of it, that we don't see it as his only legitimate strength. Which means we don't address it- as if saying the guy was human makes him harder to demonize- and that's political disaster.

So: I think the guy did it cuz "it's a good thing to do for good people", and I think he has no problem with "doin' good things for good people" while a camera is on, because modesty is an intellectual concept that he probably understands but rejects. This sort of stuff isn't the problem, just like his actions on 9/11 aren't a problem. The problem is 4 years of misguided policies by a guy who believes business knows best how businesses should be run (and that we ought to trust them to do it), who believes in his Religion ahead of the Constitution, who doesn't think that intellectualism has any place in politics, believes that when people don't want to help him get the bad guys then they must be bad people, and who relies on fear, social control and sentimentality to explain or win support for his ideas, which are independently weak.

A candidate needs to show this to America without resorting to cheap attacks (leave that to me and the liberal bloggers) and then, they've got to offer a real alternative to these things. Which begs the question: Dean or Clark? I'll be singing that in my head until the primary.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

"Gobble Gobble" It Up, America! 

They said they'd be serving the soldiers Turkey.

That's right, I called you Turkey, Mr President!

Since his campaign staff realized they couldn't use the "Mission Accomplished" photo anymore, George Bush has gone and visited soldiers on Thanksgiving day in a top secret trip to Iraq in order to try and get a new snapshot to define the 2004 campaign. The event was top secret, but sure as hell isn't anymore. But as a result the President had to wear a disguise: "I slipped on a baseball cap, pulled 'er down — as did Condi. We looked like a normal couple." Wow! Here's how he might have looked in his secret disguise, do you recognize him?

Bush's Top Secret Disguise!

I suppose, regardless of the events transparency, it is still good that the soldiers in Iraq got a morale boost by having George Bush use them to run for re-election. God knows they need a morale boost after fighting a war that is becoming less and less justified every day, except to the guys firmly on American soil who talk about how letting our soldiers get killed on a daily basis somehow translates to "supporting them." It's also got to be pretty great to watch the guy who sent you to Iraq jump back on a plane after two hours and then head home, just like you were supposed to until that guy extended your tour of duty. Nothing takes the place of overwhelming, insurmountable evidence that you don't care about the troops like a few hundred pictures of you sitting on the battle field with some soldiers.

I guess I just think this smacks of two of the worst things about Bush Rule:

1. Mistaking Bravado as a means of excusing poor policies.
The President did not say "Bring'em On" while he was having dinner with the troops, but did do a lot of other stuff, including pay cuts, medical benefits cuts, military school closings, and denying money a court awarded to soldiers tortured by Saddam Hussein. "But hey! He stopped by for Turkey! He must care about the military! And what courage he has! He must be a better leader than those weak, articulate sissies!"

2. The use of images (and lack of images) to control the debate climate.
Nevermind the soldiers that are getting killed on a daily basis, or the thousands injured in his wars, or the panicked acceleration of the Iraqi restoration. Here's how you solve that problem: Show an image of Bush hobnobbing with troops in Iraq, don't show footage of flags over caskets, and that means things must be going well. "Well! If the president's there, it must be safe! Curse that liberal media!"

By the way: Tomorrow is the busiest shopping day of the year. Remember not to buy anything.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Is Your Laptop Racist?  

At least it's a ridiculous suggestion, not a ridiculous law:

In the computer industry, "master" and "slave" are used to refer to primary and secondary hard disk drives. The terms are also used in other industries. "We would request that each manufacturer, supplier and contractor review, identify and remove/change any identification or labeling of equipment components that could be interpreted as discriminatory or offensive in nature," Sandoval said in the memo, which was distributed last week and made available to Reuters.

It seems to me that having a slave drive on a computer is a very different thing from owning a slave in antebellum times. It also seems to me that hard drives and editing equipment have no racial characteristics, and are therefore incapable of being racially offensive if they are referred to in such a manner. I can understand the concept that we should eliminate all metaphors which are oppressive, but this is not metaphorical. A master hard drive is literally a master hard drive which has direct control over the literal slave drive. The words are the most accurate for the relationship between them. The relationship isn't a metaphorical one. If African/American slavery never existed, this description of the relationship between equipment would still be accurate.

It seems like a backward argument: Slavery was a word used to describe the relationship between plantation owners and forced labor. African slaves were treated as slaves, and that is the problem. The fact that they are not, now, treated as slaves does not mean that word "slave" has changed its meaning. The idea that we can place this word on machines is one thing, but the idea of applying it to people is what makes it offensive, because people shouldn't be treated like machines. It seems really obvious.

I would say that this idea is why reasonable people hate liberals, but it isn't actually a "liberal" idea, it's just a really stupid, reactionary idea that gets pinned on Liberalism for no good reason. It just goes to show how knee-jerk paranoid this country is about race, so it comes out in these really weird, indirect ways because no one is willing to actually talk about it out in the open. It's interesting that the Right Wingers agree with me on how ridiculous this issue is, but still went apeshit when Howard Dean said the words "Confederate Flag", or when Ted Kennedy used the word "Neanderthals" to refer to the group of nominees for judicial appointments that happened to be of mixed race. As if anyone in their right mind thinks the Republicans are the party for minorities. Unless, I guess, you ask this guy.

How about if, instead of worrying about accurate descriptions of relationships between computer parts, we start worrying about some stuff like the 3 in 5 chance that a black man has been incarcerated or on probation? Or that almost a quarter of Blacks are living in poverty, and a fifth of Latinos? Or how about the idea that integration efforts at universities across the country tend to result in shared attendance but divided social structures between races, with no actual social integration? How about the idea that in a society where Blacks and Whites were actually on even footing, we wouldn't have to have programs like affirmative action, which guarantees equity on paper but does nothing for the perception of equal worth between races? (I'm not against affirmative action- I'm against the forces in this country that make it necessary.)

I think black conservatives like Shelby Steele are pretty right on with some points concerning "regulated" racism, ie, "if all men are created equal, then racial differences cannot sanction power", and by this he refers to the power of "racial innocence" which he says is worthless. But I don't know about his idea that White institutions will do anything if they are told that not doing it, somehow, translates to racism, and I definitely don't know about his idea that Blacks use this as a source of power and control over Whites. Steele asserts that the use of this power inspires Blacks to stay powerless, because if they ever got actual power, there would be no more control. I just don't see a lot of that in actual play in this country, but I can easily envision it in occasional cases. I imagine that Steele would point to OJ Simpson, or Al Sharpton's attacks on Dean's reference to the Confederate flag.

But in all honesty, I have no idea who's right. I'm a total white bread bastion of racial ignorance. Living in New Hampshire and Maine isn't exactly guaranteed to expose you to a panopoly of diversity or cultural submersion. But then, that's the problem I'm talking about, isn't it?

The No Power Party 

Who wields power is not the problem. Power itself is the problem. The desire for power is the problem. The need to control others to obtain or maintain power is the problem. Just like wars are fought over scarce resources, humans fight over power- in personal relationships, in local politics, national politics, internationally. In corporations, in anarchist communes, in government, in schools, in marriages, in families, at work, in bars, people fight over power as if it were a scarce resource. But maybe this all just stems from one group of people tricking us all into wanting their power instead of developing our own? From the media and the social conditioning that says: "power is out there somewhere, go get it now!"

How about a "no more power" platform? No control, no coercion, no more convincing. Everyone just lets everyone else do what they want to do, except for exercising dominance, power, or control. We can make it the national culture, it doesn't even have to be "law." It can just be social protocol. From now on, what do you say?

The No Power Party is already a success because it holds no office.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Anyone Can Play Guitar 

Alternet has a good discussion between Howard Zinn and Radiohead's Thom Yorke on art in a time of war.

Zinn: "...the political power is controlled by the corporate elite, and the arts are the locale for a kind of guerilla warfare, in the sense that guerrillas in a totalitarian situation look for apertures and opportunities where they can have an effect. When tyrannies are overthrown – as, for instance, in fascist Spain or the Soviet Union – it starts in the culture, which is the only area where people can have some freedom. It starts with literature and poetry and music, because those don't represent direct threats to the establishment. They're subtle and indirect, so the establishment gambles that they won't lead to anything threatening, but often they lose that gamble."

Monday, November 24, 2003

Tracking Dissent 

This is bad, but not so shocking or, really, all that bad, in my opinion. It's bad, but it's not the end of free speech some people are making it out to be. I pretty much always figured that the police and FBI could have their eye on any protesters at any rally already. But mostly, I wonder if it is actually effective in regards to the war on terror? The problem here isn't the invasion of privacy per se, kind of an ironic complaint given that protests are designed to give faces and physical mass to a cause or an idea. Why go to a rally if you are unwilling to go on the record for that cause?

The problem is, it is a resource hog that I believe will yield very few positive results, or make Americans any safer. Terrorists are not likely to be attending rallies, or, for that matter, taking advantage of any attempt to sway the opinion of a Liberal Democracy by way of reason. The terrorist mind doesn't hate "freedom," but they do shun reason. If terrorists believed in the guiding principles behind a rally or a protest, they wouldn't have any desire to blow up the symbols or tools of that Democracy. Going to a protest means you still believe your voice can be heard, and you still believe you can change things. You only blow things up when you've given up that faith, or when you are, quite literally, deranged.

More good links on this subject, are available via Natalie Davis' blog.

The Sunday Editorial: Why Not Wes?  

Being an avid Dean Volunteer and supporter, I was worried when Wes Clark joined the race. I was worried because, to me, it meant Dean was finished. I was worried the Dean Revolution would be over and that the energy would go to a guy like Wes Clark, who seemed smart but passionless, sort of a Bill Clinton without the sex and a little bit of Al Gore but with animation. I was happy because Clark was a shoo in to beat Bush, but I was unhappy because I wanted a fight. I wanted Dean on a debate platform with Bush and I wanted Dean to point fingers and ask George Bush to account for himself. In short, I wanted Dean because I wanted Wholesome American Liberal Values shoved in the face of America. I wanted liberalism tested and I wanted a man who could ensure a high score. Howard Dean was that man, because he stood up and risked his career on the civil union issue in Vermont, dropped to 30, 40 percent in the polls from a previously guaranteed re-election, took the issue on, fought it on its merits and convinced people that it was right instead of relying on them to think it was right on their own. He was a leader, he was a guy who stood up, said what had to be said, and kicked ass.

He has lived up to it too. He's taking on the role of Progressive Powerhouse based on rationality and not just liberal reflexes. He's trying to bring up conversations about race, he's talking about what it means to be a free society, he's talking about the abuse of power that Bush Inc. has put into the White House. He argued against the war based on logic and on its merits, not on some knee jerk reaction, like Dennis Kucinich. He argued that now that we're there we have to stay there even though its ugly because abandoning Iraq isn't an option.

But then Wesley Clark has always been there, in the background. Poll after poll says that he would already beat Bush while Dean would have to struggle. He's considered the "second front runner." He's got influential people supporting him, and he's brilliant, brilliant in a way that is genius, as opposed to the moral force, conviction, and sincerity of Howard Dean. Dean is smart. When I met him, I could tell, he knows what he's talking about. Anyone running for president has to be quick, has to know so much. Dean- and any candidate- has to be able to talk to one guy about farm subsidies, one guy about terrorism, someone about race issues, someone about gun control, labor statistics, health care costs, Medicaid, foreign policy, economics- all of that in one rapid fire five minute burst.

I've watched enough CSPAN to know that if you ask a Democratic candidate a question, you'll get different responses. Gephardt and Lieberman will know just enough about every issue to carry on a conversation. John Kerry and Al Sharpton will bullshit you. Braun will reason with you. Dean will ask you what you think. Dennis Kucinich will give you Naderisms verbatim. But Wesley Clark knows the answer.

There's a profile of Wesley Clark over in the New York Times this week. There was also a good Q&A; on C-SPAN today, where he inexplicably got barraged with requests to autograph hard boiled eggs. But in his talk, he spoke about a lot of really good ideas. For one, he says one of his priorities is to take an assessment of what the American People see as their most idealistic vision for what 2025 and 2050 can look like, what scientific advancements will have been achieved, what the world will look like, and he will then fund it. If Americans want a cure for cancer and a colony on the moon, he'll start it up, he'll give out grants to pursue it and he'll focus the country around those goals. That's part of what he was doing with his non profit organization before he entered politics in any regard: he was in charge of a group that simply asked, "What is your vision for America?"

He spoke on 60 Minutes II this week, and was asked why he thought Kosovo was so important, and he was amazing. He said America should stop Genocide at any point and at any place when we know its occurring. We went to Kosovo to stop the slaughter of Muslims, and he says we should have gone to Rwanda. When he was asked why we didn't, he came near tears when he said he felt America didn't get involved because there wasn't any oil. Dean would have tossed it out as a caustic aside; Clark brought out pictures of people slaughtered in the streets and said "We can't stop this?"

His personal background is colorful, to say the least. His dad died when he was 4, and his mother remarried another man, a (by then) reformed alcoholic who walked out on another family. Clarks father raised worms and crickets for a living. He swims, and it is hard not to like a swimmer. Anyone enamored with submerging of the body gets points with me. When he was 12 he was afraid of the Russians, so he went to the library and taught himself Russian. That's the making of a great President.

Here's a quote in the article: 'My physics teacher at West Point told me: `Whenever I drop a piece of chalk I always look up, because according to quantum physics there is always a small chance that it will fly up. So if it happens I want to see it.' "

Another quote from a General he went to school with: "They say in the military that you bring to your boss three solutions: one that's too hot, one that's too cold and one that's just right. That's called the Goldilocks solution. You have an answer and you steer him to it. Wes doesn't recognize the Goldilocks solution. He'll say: `Well maybe we shouldn't eat any porridge. And why are there bears in here? And who is this Goldilocks character wandering around? And by the way, what is the whole purpose of fairy tales?' And this drives some people nuts."

I wonder about Howard Dean, President, as opposed to Howard Dean, Political Phenomenon. I wonder if Howard Dean would be effective. I wonder what the country would look like 25 years after a Howard Dean presidency. I wonder if there would be another attack, and I wonder if he could convince people, like he did in Vermont, that there are important ideas in the world and that we've got to listen to them.

For some reason, the idea of 4 or 8 years of Dean is appealing. But the idea of 25 years after a Clark Presidency fills me with a different kind of hope. Dean gives me a feeling like I can take my country back from the assholes. Clark makes me feel like there might not be any assholes. Dean makes me feel like this country can be something different, but Clark makes me feel like this country can be something amazing.

In the end, it is just politics, but I am torn apart by this decision now. Clark stumbled on early entry, and he entered the race so late. I remember when I felt like Dean had not yet launched the home run that won me over, until his comments on race, and until his comments on re-regulating bushiness. Clark has got time. It's too early to say he's sunk himself. He's got time to warm up, and I am going to keep an eye on him. I have a feeling that late in the race, he's not only going to hit a few grand slams, but he's gonna point to where the ball will land. I am definitely undecided in my choice for President, as desperate as I am to be convinced that Dean is the guy.

I'm waiting.

[editors note: corrected spelling thanks to some keen comments, but I liked my "re-regulating bushiness" typo- it's appropriate, after all- so I left it in. It should have said "re-regulating business."]

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