2014/07/22

Gaza 2014


I truly hate the issue of Gaza versus Israel as I have good friends on both sides. It's about the only issue that currently splits liberals from each other.

The fellow here makes a good case for the Israeli side. Essentially, Israel is under siege by a foe that will settle for nothing less than their complete destruction. Hamas doesn't want to simply co-exist with Israel, they want to annihilate the state and all its people.

The case that Hamas makes to the people of Gaza is also pretty straightforward. The people of Gaza are locked into an “open-air prison” that even Pope Francis condemns. They have no seaport of their own, no airport, their border is sealed on all sides, their access to fishing on the sea is very restricted. I haven't heard much lately about residents of Gaza being hungry or having their food supplies restricted, but that certainly did happen in the past, until Egypt had its revolution and partially opened their border with Gaza.

“So, all right, Mr. Smarty-pants, what would you do? How would you square the circle?”

Back during the late 80s, I did a lot of reading on guerrilla war, including several books on the Vietnam conflict from left-wing, middle-of-the-road and right-wing perspectives. My following of the Iraq War has very largely confirmed the conclusions I reached back then.

In every guerrilla movement, there are two components, the hard-core fighters, the ones who run things and compose the propaganda and who promise to take over when the fighting is done. Then there are the people at large. The people are the ones constantly just trying to live their lives, to get out of the line of fire, to raise crops and children as best they can amid all the gunfire. It is quite impossible for the hard-core fighters to succeed without at least the tacit cooperation of the people.

Thousands of South Vietnamese, appalled by Diem’s corruption and brutality against Buddhists and suspected communists, rushed to fight with the NLF. Those unwilling or unable to fight – including women, children and the elderly – gave support in other ways, such as providing food, safety and information about enemy troop movements.

So how does an occupier win a guerrilla war? By allying oneself with the people and thus robbing the fighters of the support without which they can't survive. As Mao Zedong had put it: “The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea,” (There's a more comprehensive quote here, on a page where Mao emphasizes that guerrillas must treat the people well, so as to gain their enthusiastic support) so if one “drains the sea” by addressing and solving or at least mitigating the grievances of the people, the hard-core fighters will be left high and dry and will not gain power.

It is of course possible that the Palestinian people in Gaza will still be motivated to annihilate the Israelis after their conditions are softened and mitigated and their existence is rendered to be less than a concentration camp, but people in general tend not be fanatics and if they find they can live their lives, stay out of the line of gunfire and raise crops and children in a relatively unmolested fashion, fanaticism tends to die in those circumstances.

The people of the Middle East have demonstrated this through their attitude towards America over the past decade and a half. They have shown that “The publics in every nation polled in both 2008 and 2009 showed an increase in confidence in Obama compared to Bush--on average 37 points.” Obama was, and remains, much less aggressively in-your-face than Bush was and so maintains a much higher degree of popularity than his predecessor did.

I believe that Israel would do far better to try and separate the Palestinian people from the hard-core fighters of Hamas via policies that lessen the harshness of their lives than through the current policy of collective punishment.

2014/07/07

Glenn Davis and the 190th District

Glenn Davis is the Chair of the Philadelphia Green Party and is running to be the Representative for the strongly Democratic 190th Pennsylvania House of Representative district. His campaign is currently in the process of getting signatures and the real campaign will commence once that's done. Is there any chance he'll be a spoiler and that splitting the liberal vote will result in a Republican Representative? Happily, there are no Republicans running for that district, so a vote for Davis and the Green Party is a free vote.

If he's successful, will Davis be a good Representative or is he just interested in the symbolism of the Green Party winning a seat? Davis has three children, Shyenn (11), Nathenn (8) and Shanenn (7) and he's heavily invested in seeing to it that his children receive the best education possible. He is very interested in reversing the damage that has been done to Pennsylvania schools via Governor Corbett's mindless and destructive cuts.

The 190th Legislative District is largely a one-party district. Just as in the Senatorial race in Mississippi was pretty much done and over with when Thad Cochran prevailed against Chris McDaniel (There are very few votes to be had for Democrats in MS), so Vanessa L. Brown thought she had the had the race for Representative safely locked up as soon as she had prevailed in the Democratic primary. With the Green Party in the ring, Davis can, if nothing else, press Brown to take better positions prior to her winning November's election.
Davis is a veteran of the Gulf War of 1991 (He was an Army Specialist (E4 68J) from 1989 to 1993) and currently makes his living by working at McDonalds. His house is currently, along with those of many thousands of fellow Philadelphia citizens, in foreclosure. He is energized by that issue as pay for a fast-food worker is inadequate to solve that problem. He is also the Vice President at the Shepard Recreation Center and is involved with the Women's Community Revitalization Project and DecarceratePA.

 
Mayor Nutter recently tried to address Philadelphia citizens whose minor legal problems were making their job searches unnecessarily difficult. Davis sought to get a 2009 misdemeanor charge pardoned and found that he was in a group of roughly 3000 fellow citizens who were all seeking pardons for similarly minor offenses. Nutter appears to have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who needed relief, so this is yet another issue that is energizing Davis. He and the Green Party are both trying to see to it that the average citizen gets a break.

The Philadelphia Green Party website is at GPOP.org.

2014/06/09

Ambassadors


I sent a veteran buddy of mine a piece on an official military honor guard joining a Gay Pride march in Washington DC. His reaction:

Fantastic, unbelievable there is a feeling of respect in the gay community
which I originally relayed about gay veterans. I will always say the stereo-type does not
always fit reality. Like I said before it's not always about pink poodles

No, it's not. Pink poodles are certainly part of the gay image, but no, they became a focus because people outside of, and in many cases, people who were hostile to, the LGBT community, made that the gay image.

That exchange reminded me of a book I read back in junior high (Nowadays called middle school). It was about the struggle between Northern and Southern Italians. The Northerners were exploiting the South by extractng their resources, largely farm produce. Southerners launched a rebellion in the 1800s. Northern Italians in Rome sought to understand what was going on and looked around to speak with the only Southern Italians they knew, the aristocrats who collaborated with the North to send food from the South to the North. Naturally, because it was hardly in their interests to truly illuminate how the situation was so bad for Southern Italians in general, the Southern Italian aristocrats gave the Northerners bad advice and the situation got worse.

It's important then, for countries and cultures to have at least works of art to act as ambassadors to the culture that's in a dominant position. I've seen a number of works that have done this. I paid attention to the struggles in Central America that came to my attention as a college student in the late 70s, with conflicts in El Salvador and Nicaragua. But it wasn't until the comic book Love & Rockets was put out that I had more than a one-dimensional image of the larger Latino community as doing and being more than just fighting, dying and cursing the gringo. Reading it gave me a more complex picture, one that emphasized both the differences and similarities between them and us white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants, both the things that made us all human and the things that made our groups distinct from each other.

What was the first artistic ambassador that explained one world to another? My guess would be Uncle Tom's Cabin. It described a society and a way of life that Northerners lived next to, but most of them had no personal experience of. As the University of Virginia concedes, Harriet Beecher Stowe drew an essentially accurate portrait of what it was like to be a slave in the South. The minstrels of the era tried very hard to present their own version of slavery as a benign institution, but their efforts didn't make much headway.

During the Iraq War, an educated young Iraqi woman who named herself River wrote a blog that captured the imaginations of at least the people who opposed the war there. In 2013, she added a post taking a look back. Her writings emphasized both how different the Iraqi culture was (She generally didn't like Saddam Hussein, didn't wear one herself, but was well-disposed towards wearing the hijab, was strongly opposed to the American invasion and documented how it hurt the Iraqi people) and, by adding lots of personal touches and mentions of people she knew (Always as pseudonyms), emphasized the common humanity of Iraqis and Americans.

Probably the most well-known comic that did the same thing for the gay community was Desert Peach. Pfirsch (Peach) Rommel was General Erwin Rommel's fictional gay younger brother, a colonel who was in command of the “469th Half-Track and Grave-Digging Battalion” that generally stayed in the background of the war in Northern Africa from 1941 to 1943. And yes, like the real-life Erwin Rommel, Pfirsch was a complex character who tried to do the best he could in a situation that didn't allow for a whole lot of humanity or decency.

A fellow straight person commented on Facebook on how much he appreciated the TV show Will & Grace that ran from 1998 to 2006. A gay person replied on how that was a show that he never paid much attention to. He regarded it as a bit of fluff that had nothing important to say. I agreed that it probably had little to say to gays themselves, but thought and still think that the show provided a good introduction to gay life for straights. Jack sort of, kind of resembled the old stereotypes, but Will most certainly didn't. I can see Jack walking a pink poodle, at least in his much younger days. Can't see it for Will at all. The effect of that is to assure people that the stereotype is not entirely wrong, it's at least based on truth, but that it's a terribly cramped and limited way of viewing gay people.

Making contact with a larger, dominant culture can be a very useful thing for a less dominant culture to do and no, it's not necessary for members of the less dominant culture to say to themselves “Someone else is doing the cultural outreach, so I don't have to.” You never know what exactly will spark the interest of people in the dominant culture, so it's best to take an "all hands on deck" or "full court press" approach, to just try everything. 

2014/05/31

Godzilla


I got so used to Godzilla acting all by himself and getting stopped by the humans in the end, I was taken by surprise ('Cause I, of course, didn't read any of the previews) by the twist in this one. In this, Godzilla defends humanity against creatures that are far worse and more destructive than he is. Suspense gets high as he's stomped and bitten by the worse creatures and buildings collapse on him. Less than halfway through the film, we're all like “Go, Godzilla! Git 'em!”

2014/05/24

X-Men: Days of Future Past


Very cool! An adaptation of a two-part 1981 X-Men story. Fills in lots of history on the characters and shows what happens when people take paranoid theories too far. Sometimes ya just gotta have a bit of faith in your fellow humans.
Pretty spectacular scenes, but not as much sheer destruction as Man of Steel or Avengers, which is cool. 

2014/05/21

Why some scandals are covered and some are not


Jennifer Rubin, the right-wing WaPo columnist, asks “How different is this [Veterans being treated shabbily by the VA] from the myriad of other scandals that have plagued the White House?”

Good question. First off, we can very much agree that the way veterans have been treated is indeed shameful and that something must done yesterday!

Is it the Obama Administration's fault? Of course it is, to some extent. There's also the refusal of Republicans to allocate the money necessary to fix the problem. The problem is not simply one of doing things poorly, it's also a problem of the VA no having the resources to do enough. Congress could very easily fix that part of the problem by putting enough money into it, but they had the chance to fix it and instead

U.S. Senate Republicans blocked legislation on Thursday that would have expanded federal healthcare and education programs for veterans, saying the $24 billion bill would bust the budget.

Yeah, we had an extra trillion or so dollars to spend on fighting a war of choice, but a tiny pittance of $24 billion would “bust the budget.”

Let's look at Rubin's ideas of what constitutes a true scandal:

In the case of the Internal Revenue scandal, we now have documentation that targeting conservative groups was not a rogue operation out of a local office, but organized in the D.C. office.

Erm, actually, we have no such thing. The Boston Herald article that Rubin links to is full of weasel words that mean far less than meets the eye. FAIR covers the emails that Rubin thinks are so significant (Starting at the 1:30 minute mark) and shows, again, that the “scandal” is considerably overstated. The IRS “scandal” is also less significant than it appears to be as progressive groups were targeted more than conservative groups were.

Here's an interesting charge:

Funny, CNN covered the partisan Democratic witch hunt about the Bush administration’s entirely legal dismissal of U.S. attorneys.

How serious a scandal was the firing of US Attorneys? As legal as the firings may have been, keep in mind that it took quite a while for non-Bush Administration insiders to even know that the US attorneys were being dismissed on a systematic basis or that the Bush Administration was behind the firings.

The White House's active involvement in the firings, as depicted in the report, can be divided into two broad categories: First, its role in initiating and promoting the overall plan to remove an unspecified number of U.S. attorneys -- traditionally treated as apolitical prosecutors who operate independently from the political agenda of the administration -- deemed insufficiently committed to the Bush agenda. And second, its apparent work in pushing specifically for several of the most high-profile dismissals.

Were the firings “entirely legal”? It's not at all clear that crimes were committed, but why was the Bush Administration so hush-hush and secretive about something they had every right to do? In December 2006 “...seven U.S. attorneys received phone calls from DOJ asking them to resign,“ but in October 2008, “ TPM says the scandal “broke early last year.”

Is Rubin a good judge of what does and doesn't constitute a scandal? I don't see any evidence that she does.

2014/05/09

The Amazing Spider-Man 2


Quite good! Really good pacing, plenty of complex human relationships and credible reactions. One of my favorite aspects of the first Fantastic Four movie was the bickering between the team members, it “rang true” to the characters as they were presented in the comics. That aspect rings true again here. Awesome ending! Great way to finish off the movie!

Update:
Someone asked me how Amazing Spider-man 2 (Andrew Garfield this year) compares to Spider-man (Tobey Maguire in 2002). I thought it was like comparing Superman II (Christopher Reeve in 1980) with Man of Steel (Henry Cavill in 2013) where, in both cases, the title character meets General Zod and company. In both cases, the two sets of movies are made with such different sensibilities and the pairs of lead characters are so unalike that the two sets of movies aren't really comparable. 

Probably the biggest similarity between the Cavill Superman and the Garfield Spider-man where both of them dramatically contrast with their earlier versions was in the immense amount of property destruction that the later versions engage in. In both cases, Reeve and Maguire are sunnier, more cheerful characters than their later versions are.