Sunday, March 28, 2010

Holy Cow

Never loved you enough to trust you,
We just met and I just fucked you,

, Eminem

You give me fever, when you kiss me

Fever when you hold me tight

Fever in the morning

Fever all through the night

, Peggy Lee

There she is, Miss America

There she is, your ideal

The dreams of a million girls

Who are more than pretty

--There She Is, Miss America,

Wayne Bernie

She’s a very kinky girl,

the kind you don’t take home to mother.

She will never let your spirits down,

once you get her off the street

, Rick James

I'm a slave for you. I cannot hold it;

I cannot control it. I'm a slave for you.

I won't deny it; I'm not trying to hide it.

--I'm a slave 4 U
, Britney Spears

Sunday homily: Redemption and penance

This is the part II of debunking the myth of parity for women, or "Why We're NOT in Afghanistan" ["Everyday Housewife" was Part I.]

Allow me to re-visit the arc of last year's improbable diva, Susan Boyle. I feel it encapsulates nicely why we are not the ones to show the world the way to treat our distaff side.

For those who say, "
WTF does this have to do with war?" -- I beg your indulgence. It has to do with societal lies and willing suspension of disbelief, the behaviors which allow for your current wars.

Homely and hirsute, 47-year old "never-kissed" songbird Boyle encapsulates every trope used when we think of women (and underdogs, in general). Boyle, slow-witted and frowsy, harrumphed onto"Britain's Got Talent" stage and won acclaim for staying on-note singing wistful tunes of a life that might have been
(I Dreamed a Dream, Memories) and audiences swooned on key.

Ms. Boyle prostrated her shapeless self before a reality-show audience, only to be met with the predictable howls of execration when she wagged her over-sized female bits in an attempt at sauciness. Before the first strains began, she was pilloried, and the circus delighted in her pro forma humiliation.

Moments later came redemption for Boyle as she stayed on key and did not provide the expected embarrassment of matching a homely voice to her homely exterior.
The erstwhile executioners sought insta-penance via their leader, judge Simon Colwell, who allowed, "You are one special lady, I have to say, you really are." Why special? Because you're such a loser, and you took our ridicule, and you actually did what you came to do, despite all the rotten fruit we threw at you. You beat the odds. Brava!

Brave because when you are a women past your gravidity and have sprouted a moustache, you should remain safely ensconced behind your council house door with
your cats and clean the chancery in quiet, when others have left and need not be exposed to your doughty self. And that is what it is to be a Susan Boyle: One stays in her hermitage or risks diminution every day of her life.

If you're a train wreck and sing a melancholy self-deprecating tune while we heckle you, we might throw you some fish. It was
modern minstrelsy, so apt was face to tune. We will accept you because you are operating within your metier, and are the perfect exemplar of what our society will allow for women of your station.

In the ultimate and yet predictable deliverance and penitence, Ms. Boyle's Christmas album became the top-selling debut album of any female recording artist
[Boyle: 4th Week #1 (Guardian), Susan Boyle, Top Seller, Shakes Up U.S. CD Trends (NYT)]. But the heavily Photoshopped cover says it all, really, for who would wish to open a box and see the actual frowzy Susan staring at them?

Packaging sells, and so the face we see is divested of its double chins, facial hair
and Don King hairdo. The non-real Susan looks a bit coquettish, even minx-like!

This is what we like from our women. Showered with a little positive
regard, the once-hulking, androgynous Susan has blossomed, such is the mythology of the collective ego we enjoin. All a woman needs is a bit of love, and the glow of being transformed into a member of the group of -- as a male associate once crudely put it -- "well-laid women" will show in the blush on her cheeks.

But Ms. Boyle's glow was created by retouching, and her adulation was shallow, as it hung or fell on the Next Big Performance. When she showed herself a bit
addled on a You Tube (Foiled by You Tube), the mediocre Regis Philbin, himself the champion of mediocrity, was quick to gambol about in a Halloween costume crucifixtion of the underling's one-time darling.

We loved her for what we perceived as her facing down of our relentless condemnation of an ugly woman who dared to make us listen.
We are intrigued when our perceived lessers attempt to transcend their societally-constructed bounds, as we anticipate their tragic fall.

The news saturation was complete, from the Wall Street Journal to the entertainment rags.
Every major news outlet gushed with admiration at the heroic march (Desperately Seeking Susan (NYT); Dream Over: Boyle Finishes Second in Talent Contest (abc); Improbable Star Falls Just Shy of Apex (WaPo); "Susan Stuns Again with 'Memory'" (Reuters) ...)

Reader "Cheron" left the following late-night comment on HuffPo's, "The Untold Susan Boyle Story":

"It's 2am here in Saskatoon Canada and I happened upon this video....feelin g all down and freaken sad because its my 59th birthday this day I heard Susan Boyles audition and I smiled the hugest has hope again because one lady out of nowhere had a dream come true!!" [sic]

Sorry, Cheron -- but your life will be no better just because Ms. Boyle stayed on key. You are still 59 and alone on your birthday in Saskatoon -- Susan Boyle will
not save you from your facticity.

Society will not be any kinder to you when you develop your double chin and turkey skin neck (see Ephron's, I Feel Bad
About My Neck). You will have lost your value in the marketplace of appletinis.

Susan is a joke, but we feel magnanimously toward her. We are implicated in the misogyny which is the subtext of her accolades.
"Wow -- a dowdy sow like that can sing?" What an amazing surprise.

I resent the pretense of our adulation, because Ms. Boyle is really NOT fine as she is; she could be better. Susan is, what the mountain people might call, a bit "quare". Deprived of oxygen upon birth, she is a "slow learner" according to her brother. And this may be the reason she presses on in the face of otherwise insurmountable odds and humiliation.

If Ms. Boyle were instead some pneumatic and tanned Malibu surfer, we might say, "Eh, nice voice." But stupendous, rock-my-world outstanding? Meh. As Simon
would say, "Next." Because no one believes that her better days are behind her, whereas everyone believes that Ms. Boyle has seen better days; probably never even had them. And we share a conspiratorial collective guilt in her marginalization. Our hypocrisy and our schadenfreude roars. She was good, but not that good.

Susan's flip-side is no less the object of derision -- the Baby-Boomer Cougar, whose every plastic need is catered to by a booming cosmetics industry. But you know what
you are: An old broad who can afford the nips and tucks, and who is no better than your sugar daddy contemporary.

In fact, you have it worse, 'cause you need to
get the wrinkles between your augmented breasts ironed out every four months. We all know how he gets the arm candy, and you, too. Did you think Trump got Ms. Maples because of his boundless good looks and coiffure? Not.

Oh, and war.

Well, marketing is king. We are told Afghanistan is about liberating women being trampled upon. Meanwhile, over 1,000 women are
murdered in domestic violence scenarios annually in the U.S., and over 200,000 are raped (according to latest NOW statistics).

In the Army itself, 3,000 female troops were raped last year by their fellows. From Time this month:

"The Pentagon's latest figures show that nearly 3,000 women were sexually assaulted in fiscal year 2008, up 9% from the year before; among women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number rose 25%. When you look at the entire universe of female veterans, close to a third say they were victims of rape or assault while they were serving — twice the rate in the civilian population (Sexual Assaults on Female Soldiers: Don't Ask, Don't Tell.)

The WaPo's opinion writer Parker exemplifies our hypocrisy. In
A Revolution Named Zahra, Parker writes, "[I]n Iran as elsewhere in the Muslim world, violence against women -- as well as against homosexuals and others considered inferior according to the mullahs' masculinist standards -- isn't only permitted but justified with religious doctrine." Our patriarchy doesn't do much better.

We are not being honest with ourselves. See Susan on the street, you would think, poor broad -- chunky, doughty -- not gonna find a man. Sturdy, a
good charwoman, perhaps. We don't believe that humans are equal. We would not have jeered and then guiltily bent over backwards singing her praises if we did. We wouldn't have airbrushed her album cover.

Christianity implies equality and brotherly love. But if anyone believed it,
bias and hatred and violence would go out the window. Because a God who understands the essential equality of living beings could not countenance such foolishness on any grounds.

I'm not saying ugly women get stoned, but they do get marginalized, ridiculed and abused.
Even the pretty ones meet with abuse, so it is the fact of being female that allows for the abuses of paternalism.

We are the second sex still, and though there are some wonderfully evolved people in every society, I do not buy that we in the U.S. have the moral cachet to
export a healthy acceptance of women to any society.

Nope -- our passion for liberating women is not justification for our presence in Afghanistan, despite the claims of many members of the military.

How Safe is Too Safe?

Rob Farley over at Lawyers, Guns and Money has an interesting post about the effect that our oceanic Maginot Lines have had on our geopolitical thinking about the dangers of those Sneaky Furriners With Missiles. He references this article about a speech Deputy SecDef Bill Lynn gave back on 3/22 where he compared the efforts of modern "rogue states" to the late-WW2 German work on an improved V-2 variant intended to strike the continental U.S. Lynn said:
“new and more complex era of hybrid threats” in which potential U.S. adversaries might combine high-tech and low-tech tools to mount a surprise attack. And to make his point, he drew on a history lesson: German plans during World War II to develop a longer-range version of the A4 ballistic missile, better known as the V-2 rocket. “Had the war lasted longer,” Lynn said, “The Wehrmacht may have been able to hit New York.”
Farley in his own post on the subject quickly disposes of the fantasy that the oddity that was Project Laffarenz:
"In the end, the Germans could have killed some Americans at huge risk and at huge expense. A standard Type VII boat using its 88mm deck gun could probably have done as well if the Germans had ever thought it useful to risk a submarine in order to kill a few Americans unlucky enough to have the wrong beachfront property. Now, it sucks when Americans get killed, but the actual operation would have had NO EFFECT WHATSOEVER on the US war effort."
Farley's political point is well worth emphasizing given the recent confusion between our political enemies' intentions and their capabilities.The is no doubt that there are people, and organizations, that would LIKE to inflict harm on the U.S. mainland. The capability of these groups and individuals, however, is something entirely different, and its well worth reminding those who are making political bank off stirring the paranoia of the American public about scary booga-booga Islamofascist plots that making your defense plans not on what your enemies can do but what they SAY they can do is completely insane.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Some Guys Just Don't Get It!

Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, Commander US Army Pacific is vying for the 2010 Singlaub Award for borderline mutiny. In a March 8 letter to Stars and Stripes, the armed forces daily newspaper, Mixon said President Barack Obama's call for repeal of the "Don't Ask - Don't Tell" law is "ill-advised." He urged troops, military families and veterans who share his sentiments to "write your elected officials and chain of command and express your views."

Of course, since the bulk of the population haven't a clue as to how dead wrong such behavior is, there is not much more that his superiors can do than chastise him, as Adm Mullins did. More appropriate action would only result in a firestorm from the radical right that would only make the President's job even more difficult.

I have no opinion on the issue of the repeal, as I have no first hand knowledge of the current sociological state of the military. I do, however, have an opinion of the general's actions, and he needs to find another line of work. I wonder how LTG Mixon would have handled a captain back in 2004 who took a similar step in expressing his opinion that we should have pulled out of Iraq immediately?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Martin Luther King, American Strategist, a Clausewitzian Analysis

Dr. Martin Luther King was a leader of a movement whose goal was the establishment of justice. He was very conscious of being part of a much wider, even world-wide phenomenon which we are still experiencing today. This post argues that Martin Luther King's strategy of nonviolent direct action fits within a larger Clausewitzian strategic theory framework, specifically Clausewitz's General Theory of War, by providing the theoretical threshold of violent and nonviolent coercion. This assumes of course that King's strategy was a form of coercion, that is a struggle for power and thus is within the realm of strategic theory. I will start with a discussion of the strategic theory framework concerning coercion and connect it to direct non-violent action. From there I will describe King's strategy in terms of its purpose and main elements and finally conclude with what King's strategy tells us about today's geo-strategic situation.

In his popular text, the Clausewitzian strategic theorist Colin Gray provides us with an adequate definition of strategy:
Strategy is the bridge that relates military power to political purpose; it is neither military power per se nor political purpose. By Strategy I mean the use that is made of force and the threat of force for the ends of policy. This is an adaptation of Clausewitz, though certainly not an adaptation of his plain intent. In On War, Clausewitz provides an admirably tight and terse, yet apparently narrow, definition: 'Strategy is the use of engagements for the object of the war.' Clausewitz's definition is a superior one. His definition has an operational, even battlefield orientation, that suggests a restrictive focus on combat. But his definition has a more that compensating virtue in clarity on the core of the matter. If one can think expansively about what should be encompassed by the idea of 'engagements', the merit in Clausewitz's approach is overwhelming. Freely translated, he tells us that strategy is the use of of tacit and explicit threats, as well as actual battles and campaigns, to advance political purposes. Moreover, that strategy at issue may not be military strategy; instead it may be grand strategy that uses 'engagements', meaning all of the relevant instruments of power as threat or in action, for the objectives of statecraft.
Modern Strategy, page 17

The definition that Gray introduces is not the limit of applying Clausewitz to King's ideas, rather it is only the first step. Of even greater interest is the distinction Clausewitz makes in Book 1, Chapter 2 of On War between inflicting "general damage" and "inflicting pain":

. . . The first tends to describe the more military, the second the more political alternative. From the highest point of view however, one is as military as the other, and neither is appropriate unless it suits the particular conditions. The third, and far the most important method, judging from the frequency of its use, is to wear down the enemy. That expression is more than a label; it describes the process precisely, and is not so metaphorical as it may seem at first. Wearing down the enemy is a conflict means using the duration of the war to being about a gradual exhaustion of his physical and moral resistance.

This is the distinction between inflicting physical damage which is normally linked to the idea of gaining a military victory, and inflicting pain or the threat of pain to coerce the other side to give us what we want. Notice that Clausewitz's third method or element of wearing down the enemy includes both the above along with the exertions the enemy himself makes due to opposing side's continued resistance.

For my purposes here, what is important to understand is the distinction between physical force as in destruction (associated with military victory) and inflicting pain as in coercion (associated with bringing the other side to negotiation). King knew that violence was not an option for the US black population, and by avoiding violence and refusing to enter into a cycle of escalating violence (one of Clausewitz's tendencies to the extreme described in Book 1, Chapter 1, Section 3), that is by employing nonviolent coercion and duration - Clausewitz's second and third elements described above - King would be able to achieve his goals through his strategy. I will develop this more below.

It is interesting to note that this distinction in Clausewitzian theory was also being developed by another like-minded theorist - as in fitting within a larger Clausewitzian framework - at the time, Thomas Schelling, who wrote in his 1966 classic, Arms and Influence:

Military strategy can no longer be thought of, as it could for some countries in some eras, as the science of military victory. It is equally, if not more, the art of coercion, of intimidation and deterrence. The instruments of war are more punitive than acquisitive. Military strategy, whether we like it or not, has become the diplomacy of violence.
page 34

So I have linked Clausewitz to coercion, but is King's strategy of non-violent direct action, coercion, and was it so seen at the time? To answer that question we need to go back even further than King's 1960s to someone who was to have a profound influence on him, another American minister, a theologian and political activist - Reinhold Niebuhr.

In 1932 Niebuhr wrote commenting on Gandi's approach:

The social and moral effects of these very vivid proofs of moral goodwill are tremendous. In every social conflict each party is so obsessed with the wrongs which the other party commits against it, that is it is unable to see its own wrong-doing. A non-violent temper reduces these animosities to a minimum and therefore preserves a certain objectivity in analyzing the issues of the dispute . . .
One of the most important results of a spiritual discipline against resentment in a social dispute is that it leads to an effort to discriminate between the evils of a social system and situation and the individuals who are involved in it. Individuals are never as immoral as the social situations in which they are involved and which they symbolise. If opposition to a system leads to personal insults of its representatives, it is always felt as an unjust accusation . . . An impartial teacher of morals would be compelled to insist on the principle of personal responsibility for social guilt. But it is morally and politically wise for an opponent not to do so. Any benefit of the doubt which he is able to give his opponent is certain to reduce animosities and preserve rational objectivity in assessing the issues under dispute.
Moral Man and Immoral Society, pp 162-3

No mention of coercion yet, but Niebuhr brings up a very interesting point from a Clausewitzian perspective. By keeping the conflict below the threshold of violence the leader using direct non-violent action retains firm control of the rational instrument he or she is employing. By not reacting to the unjust situation or to provocation, the proponent of non-violent change is making the unjust issue the only issue, not converting or diverting that issue to one of personal attack or the use of force. In actual war, following Clausewitz's general theory, it is the resistance of the defender that initiates hostilities and the interaction of violence between the two sides, leading to ever more violence due to the interaction of both sides within an environment of passion, chance and subordination to the political purpose. By leaving out the possible escalating cycles of violence and all the confusion, chance, friction and passion that they usher forth, the practitioner of direct non-violent action steps forward in very focused and determined steps towards his of her goal. This of course would not do away with any of these elements (confusion, chance, friction and passion would remain), but they would not be taking place within a vortex of escalating violence and would be theoretically much more containable/manageable.

Niebuhr continues:

Both the temper and the method of non-violence yield another very important advantage in social conflict. They rob the opponent of the moral conceit by which he identifies his interests with the peace and order of society. This is the most important of all the imponderables in a social struggle. It is the one which gives an entrenched and dominate group the clearest and the least justified advantage over those who are attacking the status quo. The latter are placed in teh category of enemies of public order, of criminals and inciters to violence and the neutral community is invariably arrayed against them. The temper and the method of non-violence destroys the plausibility of this moral conceit of the entrenched interests . . .

Non-violent coercion and resistance, in short, is a type of coercion which offers the largest opportunities for a harmonious relationship with the moral and rational factors in social life. It does not destroy the process of a moral and rational adjustment of interest to interest completely during the course of resistance . . .

This means that non-violence is a particularly strategic instrument for an oppressed group which is hopelessly in the minority and has no possibility of developing sufficient power to set against its oppressors . . .

The emancipation of the Negro race in America probably waits upon the adequate development of this kind of social and political strategy. It is hopeless for the Negro race to expect complete emancipation from the menial social and economic position into which the white man has forced him, merely by trusting in the moral sense of the white race. It is equally hopeless to attempt emancipation through violent rebellion.
pp 164-5

Notice especially Niebuhr's use of terms such as "strategic instrument" and "political strategy". The direct connection with Clausewitzian concepts is obvious. Also obvious is the influence Of Niebuhr on King who mentions Niebuhr by name in connection with this particular book in his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail. With King's strategy of non-violent direct action placed in a proper strategic theory framework, I would like to now describe that strategy.

Martin Luther King outlined his ideas effectively in his sermons and speeches which received wide-spread dissemination. Education of his approach was a key requirement for it to be carried out effectively, and as we will see, this education and commitment were given specific emphasis allowing for his strategy to be successful.

I have used three of King's speeches to provide an outline his strategy, they are the already mentioned Letter from a Birmingham Jail of 1963, Nonviolence: The Only Read to Freedom of 1966, and his last speech, given the day before he was murdered, I've Been to the Mountaintop of 1968. I think these three speeches adequately outline the strategy, although this would not preclude expanding on this analysis by bringing in other King references. I am not saying that this is "the best way", let alone the only way, to conceive of King's strategy, rather my intention is to show the intellectually-deep conceptual nature of King's approach and how his strategy fits within a larger strategic theory framework, which only indicates its continued durability and applicability in my opinion. This makes Martin Luther King one of the best American strategists of the 20th Century, which is something altogether different from being a strategic thinker or strategic theorist (such as Thomas Schelling) in that King actually developed and carried out successfully his own strategy. For the purposes of this post, I will only refer to "Letter", not the other two speeches. This allows me to limit the analysis in terms of space and at the same time allow for a follow-up post or paper going into more detail and using the other two references. For that reason consider this post simply my first word, not my final word, on the subject.

In "Letter" King defines non-violent direct action (NVDA) "whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and national community". As to purpose, NVDA "seeks to create such a crisis and foster such tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored" (Letter). NVDA consists of a series of interrelated concepts which form a complex whole, these concepts can be described as "tension", "love", "self-defense" and the "economic element". They are combined with two operating principles: the four basic steps of a non-violent campaign and the organization of marches. Let me start with the two operating principles and then weave the four concepts into the overall framework, keeping the purpose and definition of NVDA always in mind.

In "Letter" King writes, "In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action." From what King writes it seems that the first leads into the others, based on the merits of the situation, but steps two and three (negotiation and self-purification) are continuous and ongoing. The final step of "direct action" is the campaign itself which includes sit-ins, marches and highly focused economic pressure (boycotts).

Marches are organized to last over a longer period - 35-45 days - and attempt to get as much press coverage as possible.

To these operating principles we can now add the four concepts of which "tension" is perhaps the most important from a Clausewitzian perspective, since it adds measurably to the general theory of conflict and war itself. King writes:

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. So the purpose of the direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.

The "tension" that King speaks of is the gross injustice of the situation which has been allowed to continue. This "constructive non-violent tension" he speaks of is directly related with non-violent coercion, which makes it distinct from violent coercion. What King has done from a Clausewitzian theory perspective is defined the area of non-violent coercion as an area of political/economic operations and devised a strategy for operating at this level, while at the same time carefully avoiding that the operations spill over into violence and thus lose their focus and advantages. By linking "tension" to the operational level of non-violent coercion he allows for Clausewitz's definition of strategy and the achievement of his community's political purpose.

This concept is dealt with in a very innovative manner since the actual "tension" is within the value system of the oppressing group, since it is they who are not living up to their own professed values. One cannot argue that "all men are created equal" and then treat a large segment of the population unequally based on the color of their skin. In this way King does not make the confrontation personal, as Niebuhr warns, but makes it one of NVDA confronting the oppressors with the contradiction of their own position, shows them a mirror to reflect the oppressor's own hypocrisy. NVDA does not produce the tension, but as King states, only uncovers it:

. . . the present tension in the South is merely a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, where the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substance-filled positive peace, where all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

One can see here where another of the basic concepts comes in, that being "love". Another reason that this conflict does not become violent is that the NVDA activists do not hate their oppressors, but rather consider them as "sick brothers", people in need of their assistance since by forcing the tension and the issue to successful negotiation, the movement allows the oppressors to stop living in hypocrisy and to "heal". Thus King writes:

One who breaks an unjust law must do it openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law.

We see here clearly where "tension" and "love" combine, both being linked with justice and righting an unjust situation.

The next interrelated concept of that of "self-defense", which is really more the act of submitting oneself to the situation, giving up the right to self-defense in the pursuit of justice. King warns that too often self-defense, once taken up becomes the only goal and the focus, whereas the injustice itself must remain clearly the focus of NVDA. The very definition of NVDA requires that the activist present his or her own body as a target to injustice in an attempt to bring the tension to the surface, bring about fruitful negotiation and a resolution to the injustice so that a healing process can begin. Focusing on self-defense can too often turn into counter-violence which will only impede the goals of NVDA. Consider that in the four basic steps of a non-violent campaign both negotiation and self-purification are continuous, that is the activists must constantly be open to communication with the oppressors AND be mindful of what their actual purpose is. This specific attitude towards "self-defense" is explicit in the very definition of NVDA itself.

Finally, the last concept of the "economic element" is important for two basic reasons: It is both a source of weakness for the oppressor and a source of strength for the NVDA activist. NVDA often leads to a separation of interests on the side of the oppressors, since the economic interests involved may find it profitable to negotiate separately from the political power. In Birmingham this was the case, as king indicates:

We decided to set our direct-action program around the Easter season, realizing that with the exception of Christmas, this was the largest shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic withdrawal program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this was the best time to bring pressure on the merchants for the needed changes.

From a Clausewitzian perspective, this would indicate a low level of both moral and material cohesion among the oppressors which King's NVDA movement, with high level of both types would be in a good position to exploit. This economic element gained increasing importance for King as his strategy developed.

Since this post is already quite long, I'll end it here with one more comment concerning King the strategist. Not only was Martin Luther King able to formulate an effective strategy, but he was also able to pick and choose his engagements effectively and lead his followers into the campaign which followed. He knew that going to Birmingham and facing Bull Connor would lead to a decisive action, that is Birmingham would either make or break the movement.

Martin Luther King was a remarkable American.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Die, Freedom!

It's embarrassing for a political junkie to admit, but I completely passed on the "health care reform" debate and votes this weekend.

Part of this was having two active and busy kids (and part of a third, with Christine's little guy the Poet coming over Sunday afternoon to give her a break), part of it was wanting to stay on top of home and house business.

But a big part of it was simple disgust.

This issue has become a Ministry of Silly Walks, really, and I've long since gone past irritation through anger to revulsion and into indifference at the ludicrous posturing over what is really a very minor adjustment in the U.S. medical system.

The reality is that the fundamental dysfunction - the idea of making a profit off giving medical treatment to the sick - is unchanged. The fee-for-service and for-profit health care business will, therefore, continue to swell up and swallow more of the nation's wealth. The well-duh realization that pretty much the whole rest of the world has reached - that sick people don't and won't "shop" for bargains, that the disjunction in knowledge-level between the medical "provider" and "consumer" is so huge as to be unbridgable and prevents even a smart guy like me from "shopping" for medicine even if I wanted to, and that the complete lack of external controls, either regulatory or market-based, on medical costs virtually ensures that they will bubble until they grow beyond sustainability - has utterly escaped us.

No, this is a band-aid on a tumor, and although it will help a relatively small group of Americans get medical insurance it stays well away from doing anything to actually help reform the for-profit system.

What I did get out of this mess, however, is the degree to which the U.S. party system is broken, and that because one of the two parties has become flat-out, no-holds-barred, bug-fucking crazy. Let's elide the usual political bullshit (John Boehner’s argument, for example, that you won’t be able to keep your health insurance under this plan is just a lie. But we've come to expect this sort of lying by now.) and look at some of the top GOP quotes on the health-care issue (courtesy of Alterdestiny):

Tom Price (R-GA): "If health care passes, "We lose our morality. We lose our freedom."

John Shadegg (R-AZ): "This bill will destroy freedom and do damage to the very fabric of our society."

Marsha Blackburn (R-MN): "Freedom dies a little bit today."

Devin Nunes (R-CA): By passing health care reform, Democrats "will finally lay the cornerstone of their Socialist utopia on the backs of the American people. For most of the 20th century people fled the ghosts of communist dictators. And now you are bringing the ghosts back into this chamber."

Waa...hunh? Obama is Stalin? Forcing people to buy expensive insurance is the COMINTERN? (Guess nobody told the auto-insurance KGB, hunh?) Freedom dies when poor people get medical coverage? Baby Jesus weeps when insurance companies don't get to kick people off their insurance when they get cancer? (Oh wait, they still do - there's nothing in here that prevents rescission.)

I do believe that these gomers are talking out their fourth point of contact. They don't REALLY believe any of this "freedom is dead" rhetoric. The problem is that there's a whole bunch of mouthbreathers out there that DO believe it, and this sort of playground bullshit gets and keeps them worked up.

You can't keep a republic when a third of the citizens believe that passing civil legislation in a majority-vote fashion means "We lose our freedom."

I've said this before, but it bears repeating. One of the deadliest things a republic can do is allow one group or faction to put it's interests not before the interests of others but before the interest of a functioning republic. If one side stops accepting that the other gets a turn at the helm, then there is no solution but conflict, and if one side stops accepting the results of that conflict as played out with votes then it must be played out with guns and ammunition.

Based on this sort of language a fraction - hard to say how large, but given the relative importance of the sort of people like Limbaugh and Coulter who say just the sort of things I've quoted above it is substantial - of the GOP, circa 2010 is already most of the way there.

And where is the alternative? Where is there a place for the "conservative" who doesn't want to hector people about profit!abortiongaysgunsandGod?


(Cross-posted from GFT)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Vallum Aelium

I've been following with a sort of mild delight and horror the postings of a Facebook friend about some sort of mass conk light installation thing planned for the ruins of Hadrian's Wall in the English March district.Apparently the idea is that tonight everybody and their cat is going to turn up - I'm exaggerating, there is some sort of organization to where everyone is going - and light up the old vallum and the castria for the first time since the old fortification went dark some time in the middle 5th Century A.D.
"A sequence of 500 "illuminations" at 250-metre intervals will roll westwards from Segundum fort, Wallsend, at 5.45pm, reaching Carlisle three quarters of an hour later and ending on the final, largely fragmentary stretch of the wall above the Solway. Timings and gas supplies are being synchronised so that the whole of the ancient frontier will be illuminated at the climax for the first time since Hadrian ordered its building in AD122."
The history geek and goof in me that likes this sort of fun and silly stuff - dressing up in garb and playing at knights, SCA-stuff and all that - loves the notion that reenactors, Roman wannabes, history buffs, birthday partiers, bicycling cheese enthusiasts, a theatrical troupe doing son et lumière at Segundum fort and "a torchlit fancy-dress procession with acrobats dangling from a heliosphere balloon in the centre of Carlisle" will converge on this ancient artifact and have a big ol' goof with gaslights for the night.The old soldier in me shakes his head and wonders what the old sweats of the Legio II Augusta have thought of the cycling cheese-lovers or the dangling acrobats as they dug the trenches and built the 2nd Century equivalent of the MacNamara Line.

What would the local garrisons, left behind when the legions sailed to the mercies of the Picts, the Norsemen and the Saxon invaders, have thought about the "display by one of her five children who is a trained fire-eater"?

What would the reivers who rode the Border for centuries have thought about all this peaceful fire in the night?

And it occurs to me that they would probably have grinned and nodded, pleased that their descendants are able to assemble in great and abiding peace to make a silly show of their grim old battlements. For the reality, when you think on it, of the story of the Wall, its abandonment, and the hard centuries between the fall of Roman Britain and today are one of great unease, of war, suffering and tragedy as the people of Roman Britain, already conquered by one invader, were left to be seized by another as the Angles and Saxons swarmed in. And after them the Vikings, and the Normans. And this was when the locals weren't fighting one another.

Like most of the rest of human history, the story of the Wall is a story of a hard-won safety briefly kept.

So while the soldier and historian in me mocks the acrobats and cyclists and cheese-eaters - gently, a little - for playing foolish games amid the ruins of a deadly and desperate fortification, the soldier, the man and the father in me revels in that all these people can be foolish and fond and silly and peaceful and happy, lighting the remains of that grim, unhappy time. In the best sense, what soldiers and fathers and mothers do is win that brief space of time and place for those they love to be safe, happy and loved.

For when the night is often long, and cold, and the moments of sunlight and peace fleeting, they are all the dearer for their brevity.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Guy Fawkes

The latest exhibit to justify our War of Terror is one Najibullah Zazi. Of him, Reuters says,

"Security experts had considered the case of Zazi, a former coffee vendor from New York who had moved to Colorado, among the most serious within U.S. borders since the attacks of September 11, 2001. In recent weeks, however, the case has been overshadowed by the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner (Zazi Associate Charged in New york Bomb Plot.)"

We can see how the exploits of would-be panty bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab would shove the other would-be bomber off the front page (look what happened when Britney went commando; we are as a nation, underwear fetishists.) One gets the idea that these bombers-manque are some sort of latter day Guy Fawkes.

Zazi appears to be an al-Qaeda bomb-making trainee willing and able to carry out attacks in the U.S. He has low-level bombing capabilities and intent, if we believe news sources. That is all the bad news.

The good news is that like the shoe bomber Reid and crotch bomber Abdulmutallab
, Zazi was an ineffectual operative.

Zazi allegedly manufactured the explosive TATP out of beauty supply store ingredients with the intent of bombing something in NYC. The target has never been disclosed, nor has the actual amount of TATP in Zazi's possession. There has been no evidence presented that the homemade explosive was in fact an explosive mixture, but presuming that it would have exploded, how would it have been detonated?

Two pounds of homemade explosive is not adequate to blow up a house or any high-value structure. It could blow up a car, but it could not make a car bomb. T
wo pounds of explosives wouldn't take down an oak tree, and would likely not be more than a statement, and the statement would be, "We al-Qaeda trained bomb makers are pathetically incompetent."

We are spending billions to counter buffoons. Our three major stateside threats -- Reid, Zazi and Abdulmutallab -- all possessed less than two pounds of homemade explosive materials, creating a device that would be not much more than an irritant. Contrast that with the hundreds of tons of explosives dropped on Afghan targets.

Zazi is being charged with "conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction."
Since when has less than two pounds of explosive become a WMD? A bomb isn't a WMD, it is just a nasty bomb. The concept of bomb involves fear because we think of our own powerful bombs.

Zazi's desire and intent may have been to use a WMD, but the reality is quite the opposite, just as Saddam promised to bring the
"Mother of all Wars," but was not quite up to the task. We humans are often burdened by delusions of grandeur, or just bog simple delusions.

As a nation, we should not be reacting to delusional thinking.


Monday, March 8, 2010


I've been thinking about kids lately.

I love my children, but I do not confuse them with "free resources" like air. Instead they are something like food and drink; critical for life but with a debt you incur for needing them.

But for the purposes of this post I am thinking of children in general, rather than mine in particular.

Or, rather, this is about humans as the global apex predator.

Didn't used to be this way, of course. My understanding is that our proto-hominid and hominid ancestors were about where the large apes are in the food chain, a multi-level consumer but also prey for large carnivores. But it has really been a long time since we were in danger of predation. The only animal that can prey on humans is human; ecologically, we are our only real population control. For all that we often act like sheep, we're the wolves, or, rather, we're the predator that the wolves WISH they could be. I'll bet if you gave a wolf voice for a day and turned it loose on the works of Man it'd go for our killing technology in a big way. Would a wolf with a cluster bomb unit do the kind of damage to caribou that we do to each other?

The mind reels.

Of course, the sorts of population controls that have probably always killed more humans than other animals still cull us; cold and heat and drought (and the associated starvation and diseases) and the various epidemics from influenzas to plagues. We're never safe from something. But the combination of industrial agriculture, scientific medicine, political stability and general education has done much to broaden the sunny, clear portions of human lives, pushing back the frightening things that made our existences so frighteningly brief and tenuous.We live longer, breed more successfully, and die less agonizingly - generally - than we ever have.

I'm not sure at this point what CAN limit human ability to reproduce. We are pretty fecund creatures, able to pop out about one offspring every year to eighteen months (dear GOD! but still...) from about fourteen years of age to somewhere in our forties or even fifties. Most of us don't, naturally, but the trend since the first human tribes has been a slow increase in population until about the late Middle Ages.

Improvement in things like sanitation, the understanding of the germ theory of disease, inventions as commonplace and simple as chemical fertilizers and vaccinations...all these have made the Earth circa 2010 an extraordinarily safe and healthy place for humans. We've responded by doing what we've always done; finding another human (usually of the opposite sex, but, whatever...) and a flat piece of ground (which we can do without if needs must) and putting Tab A into Slot B and the next thing you know the place is swarming with brats...

Which brings me to my point, which is, that I cannot think of an organism or a species of organisms that thrives without some sort of population control.

Producers need consumers or they will exhaust the non-organic resources - air, water, soil nutrients - and the population will crash. Nastily. All natural populations that don't recieve a thorough culling tend to be designed to boom and crash. So deer, freed from natural predation and turned loose on suburban gardens full of browse, multiply until they become nuisances and, regularly, suffer from apalling die-offs during hard winters. In popular fable lemmings are said to run to the sea, voluntarily doing the work that cold and starvation do on the deer. Predators suffer the same effect; too many and the prey is depleted. The predators seek food elsewhere, or die.

So far we seem to be overwhelming any sort of natural controls on our population. Since the dent the Black Death made in numbers back in the 15th Century it's been all uphill for us hairless monkeys. The only systematic control on human numbers appears to be, well, us.

I'm not really talking about predation of the war-and-disease type. I'm thinking about kids.

Kids are work. Often good work, occasionally fun work, typically productive work, but many times grinding, frustrating, repetitive work. Work enough that the stats pretty definately show that we're often happier as couples without them. Work enough that when medicine, nutrition and industrialization free people from the need to pop out a half-dozen or so (either to ensure that half will survive or to work the family goat ranch) familes tend to decline in size precipitously. Two kids aren't twice the work of one - they're more like three or four times. Six? Eight? I can't imagine.You'll notice that nearly all the population growth in the past 100 years has been in the "developing world". It's these folks who still need the big families to survive...or are still living in a culture that pushes you to have kids, whether you still "need" them or not.But these kids, their parents, their cultures don't want to be herding goats forever. They want what I have: the sturdy house, the car and the truck, the bank account, the computer and the clean clothes and the fatty foods.

Clean water. I take it for granted here in the rainy Northwest, but clean water - or any water at all - is a huge issue for much of the planet. What would it take to ensure access to sufficient clean water for every person on the planet? How much would it cost, both physically and politically? How likely is it that instead of cooperating to secure it people would, instead, fight over it, expending even more resources in the process?

The point is that all of this stuff fucking costs. It costs in the materials consumed to make it, to maintain it, to heat the house and fuel the car, light up the basement, and storybook the little Girl and soccer ball-and-cleat-and-uniform the big Boy. I am, we are, damn expensive to produce and maintain; one of me could feed and support a dozen or a score of men my age in a Lahore slum or in a village in Shensi. One of my family unit "costs" probably as much as an entire little settlement in the Sudan, or a nomadic encampment in Mongolia.

I would imagine that once the men in Lahore, Mongolia, Sudan and Shensi acquire their own wood-frame homes, cars, computers, washer-driers and little lawns they'll be ready to cut back to my own 2.25 kids (the cats are about a quarter-of-a-kid-pain-in-the-ass...).Okay, well, maybe some of them.

But where's the safe "stopping" point? What's the top-end human load that the Earth can sustain at my lifestyle? How long? What will that mean for the rest of the creatures on the planet? How do we know?

I'll posit this: we don't. And we won't. We'll find out the limit the hard way - by crossing it.

Because there's another factor at work here.

The simple answer would seem to be to slow down right now. Why not? Let's say that if we all get things down to about five kids per four adults that we will be able to slowly bring most of the world up to some approximation of a Western European/North American middle-class lifestyle. Okay, lower middle class lifestyle. Can we do that? Without strip-mining the planet, I mean? How about just providing every single person on the planet with scientific medical care, clean water, a sturdy home and a reliable supply of food? IS even THAT possible, if we stabilized the human population at today's numbers?

Because there's a real worm in that apple.

I can tell you that I'm a patriotic American, that I love my country, that I'd fight to defend it.

But what if my son had to defend it? Or my daughter? Or both?

I don't have "spares" - I know that's a callous way to describe it, but there it is. If my son dies in war my name dies with him. I have no further biological stake in my home, my state, my nation other than my own intellectual one. A nation whose reproduction drops to near replacement level is in the same position as I would be personally; there's no slack, my neighbor's death really does lessen me. A war, an epidemic, a famine...anthing that hits the public hard could result in a catastrophic drop in the ppulation.

And war here is the particularly menacing prospect. Kids, old people, disabled...these folks can't fight. Nobody yet has found a way to dispense with a man or woman with a rifle, and only the relatively young and relatively fit can fight as infantrymen, tankers, artillerymen.So taking this as a need for ensuring survival, the survival of the various groups and nations would seem to preclude there ever being a "stable" human population on the planet. We can't afford to stop reproducing if another group has excess young people to throw at us to take us down, no?

Thing is, I don't think this is a "solveable" problem; that is, I don't think there's a social or technological way to evade it or do more than defer it. I think that the human population will continue to grow, and that human needs and wants for the ever-more complex and costly goods and services that First Worlders like myself take for granted will grow with it. And that a combination of desire for offspring among some and a fear of being overrun by a competitor that is outbreeding them will prevent anyone from even making a real run at this. I think that we will see ever more people on Earth for the forseeable human future.Some technologic means, a "leap" such as the Green or Industrial Revolutions, might help defer the moment that we begin to overwhelm our natural resources. Or we as a species might figure out a way around this "reproduce-or-fail" trap. I just can't think of anything. I see a narrowing gap between that we have on Earth to sustain us and the number of people - and the way those people live - consuming it.

So I suspect that we're in for a shock when those lines converge. I don't know what that will mean in detail, but in general I suspect that means something bad; some long years of iron and blood, for my children, or their children, or their children's children.I hope I am not here to see it.

(Full version posted at GFT)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

New Bartender

I have asked Jim (whose gun chief Lisa is a member of the bar staff here) of RANGER AGAINST WAR to join the rest of the waitstaff here. Many of you know him as a long-time commenter here, and you may have encountered his verbal stylings at his own blog. He describes himself as "twice retired from the Department of the Army. His past incarnations include DAC/SME Training Specialist/Terrorism Counteraction/ SF Branch Officer, retired."

He adds that "Since retirement, he has unsuccessfully been attempting to become a feeling, sensitive being, like FDC himself." To which I can only reply that feelings and sensitivity are relative terms. The sensitivity of my feelings about, say, the fellow that used to post at the old Intel Dump as "Diogenes" can be summarized as a strong inclination to kick the man somewhere...sensitive.

But I welcome Jim here and look forward to his additions to our discussions.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Clausewitzian Attack on John Boyd?

Kinda sort of, in an indirect way. But not really the one that Zenpundit claims. In this post, in which he first compliments me, he finishes with this, "but then [seydlitz89] launches a strange volley of his own, essentially blaming Col. John Boyd for George W.Bush’s invasion of Iraq (which would come as news to most of Boyd’s acolytes, almost all of whom have been militant and vocal critics of the Iraq War)."

I take it that "almost all" doesn't include Dick Cheney. Here's the offending portion of my last post:

Post Script-

The only thing I wish to add is an emphasis on John Boyd, who surprisingly is not mentioned in connection with the OODA Loop, instead that being associated with the "Clausewitz cult". So is there, or has there been a cult? I would point out that in the distant past - all the way back in 2003, if anybody can dimly remember back that far, the cult if any was associated with John Boyd, who according to the hagiography of Robert Coram had "changed the art of war" itself. Boyd's ideas where seen everywhere in 2003:

In all that time, in all that glut of information, I've yet to hear any coherent explanation of U.S. fighting doctrine, strategy, or tactics, especially with any reference whatsoever to the man who very clearly (to my mind) laid out that doctrine and those tactics, just as he did in Gulf War I. That would be John Boyd.

With two teeny, tiny exceptions. Last week the Navy League sponsored its annual Sea-Air-Space Exposition at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. On April 16, Army Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed the exposition's luncheon gathering (I didn't go, but I heard it that evening on C-SPAN radio driving home from Pax). In the course of his talk Myers mentioned how we had gotten "inside Iraq's decision cycle." That's Army-speak for the OODA Loop. And he mentioned "maneuver warfare."

The next day, April 17, the luncheon speaker was Adm. Vern Clark, the CNO himself. In his talk I actually heard him say the "O" words, "OODA Loop."

Not only do I think it is quite clear John Boyd's theories and tactics "designed" the conduct of GWII, I also think a great deal of the criticism of the war's tactics, especially in its early days, stemmed from the fact that few people understood Boyd's (and the Pentagon's) doctrine, and nobody bothered to explain it after it was over, when it would do no harm to say, "Look, this is what we did and why we did it."

The most famous point of contention occurred when critics (some "armchair" critics and some former and current Army generals) blasted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for "not sending enough troops" to Iraq. Close behind was all the brou-ha-ha over the ballyhooed "Shock and Awe" campaign that never happened.

Boyd's theories spend a good deal of time talking about using psychological weapons ?"psy-ops" in the modern parlance ? to break the enemy's morale even before the battle begins. In retrospect it now seems reasonably clear that all the pre-war talk about launching a Shock-and-Awe campaign that would bomb Baghdad "back to the Stone Age" (to use a Vietnam-ism) using 5,000 Tomahawk missiles and "smart-bombs" was pure psy-ops.

How was this possible? As everyone knew who had followed Boyd's thought at time, Boyd had powerful people among his closest followers. As Coram explained in an interview:

Boyd met all of the above when he was the leader, the spiritual leader, if you will, of the reform movement. Dick Cheney, then a young congressman from Wyoming, heard his briefing, then had a number of one-on-one sessions with Boyd. When Cheney became secretary of defense, he was rare in that he knew more about strategy than most of his generals did. He called Boyd out of retirement in the early days of the Gulf war, and from him got an updating, if you will. And it was Boyd`s strategy, not Schwarzkopf`s, that led to our swift and decisive victory in the Gulf war.

The vice president, Cheney, gave me about 30 minutes to talk about Boyd. And on television, he seems very reserved and controlled, but when he talked to me about John Boyd, he was enthusiastic, and I could tell he had great respect for this man.

Cheney knew more about strategy than most of his generals. That was the view among the war party in 2003, that being based on his close association with John Boyd who "had changed the art of war". Cheney of course had his own followers within the military who were also praising Boyd:

"John Boyd was a thinker ahead of his time," said retired Gen. Michael Dugan, who was chief of staff of the Air Force during the buildup to the first Persian Gulf war. "Without giving him a lot of credit, the U.S. military is following his ideas."

The Marine Corps was also heavily influenced by Boyd:

Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf had presented Cheney with a plan for a head-on offensive. "Not only did Cheney reject it, he used Boyd's colorful language to do so," wrote Boyd's biographer, Robert Coram.

As vice president, Cheney exerts considerable influence on strategy in Iraq as one of President Bush's inner circle of war advisers. But the most significant convert may have been Gray, who first heard Boyd's briefings as a colonel. Later, as commander of the Second Marine Division, and later still as commandant of the Marine Corps, Gray was in a position to implement Boyd's ideas about "maneuver warfare."

Their first combat test came in Grenada in 1983. They passed.

"We've got two companies of Marines running all over the island, and thousands of Army troops doing nothing," an Army general was quoted as saying at the time. "What the hell is going on?"

Pentagon analyst Franklin "Chuck" Spinney, Boyd's closest associate for many years, said, "The Marines [later] used Boyd's tactics in the first Gulf war, and they worked like gangbusters."

My point is if there is "a cult" associated with the military adventures of the Bush administration, it has nothing to do with Clauewitz. Rather, the most influential theorist in the period of US military history Astore is talking about is probably John Boyd. Boyd of course followed Liddell Hart's flawed interpretation of Clausewitz and never really was able to link political purpose to military strategic effect. His emphasis was on tactics and technique, which has remained the case up to now.

So, if there was a "cult" - this is Astore's word, not mine - it obviously wasn't connected with Clausewitz, but would have been probably connected with the most influential theorist of the time, who given his influence on Richard Cheney, the Vice President of the US at the time . . .

John Boyd died in 1997, he obviously has no connection with the invasion of Iraq, but there were plenty of US officials who thought in 2003 that his ideas offered the way forward to an easy victory, even a "cake walk". To point that out is not an attack on John Boyd, but rather to question what has become part of his legacy.