Saturday, February 10, 2007

"I Had a Vision of Love"

I never thought I would be quoting Maria Carey, but the lyric "I had a vision of love/ And it was all that you've given to me" has been pounding in my brain the last few days. My impulse here derives from the ever-expanding role of my family's love in my own life. But I feel myself reaching for some undefined "more" as well--a love that people can build in their public lives as well as in the walls of their homes.

This is one reason why I'm so glad that Barack Obama is running for the presidency even though I plan on voting for Hillary. My wife is only one of the people who favors Obama's candidacy because they have visions of what African-Americans call a "beloved community" and they associate those undefined but powerfully felt ideals with Obama.

In this context, I think that Obama's being African-American is somewhat of an advantage among his early white supporters. Because of the continuous little civil wars being initiated by the right-wing, an increasing number of whites (as well as African-Americans) are beginning to dissociate their political hopes from white politicians. Obama's title for his recent book--The Audacity of Hope--hits the mark. Hope is audacious and many in the white public associate that hope with Obama precisely because he is not white and therefore not the same as the politicians they despair of.

Of course, Obama can't win unless he puts together a broad coalition of Democrats, but his campaign has brought suppressed visions of love into play. Hopefully, Obama's infectious sense of hope rubs off on the other candidates.

Not Hopeless?

General David Petraus took over as the U. S. military commander in Iraq emphasizing at a Baghdad ceremony that the situation is "not hopeless."

But it's not exactly hopeful either.

Here's some of the extremely difficult taks that have to be accomplished for the surge to be successful.

1. The Iraqi Army. Getting the Iraqi Army to lead the effort to control Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods will be extremely difficult. Perhaps not completely hopeless, but there is no reason to be optimistic either. The Iraqi Army is riddled with militia members and militia sympathizers, corrupt, and poorly motivated for fighting anywhere but in their home provinces. Even if Petraus can transform the Iraqi Army from a glorified militia into an effective offensive force, the chances of success appear negligible. If Petraus can't do this, there's no chance whatsoever.

2. Avoiding Shiite Insurrection. The consensus seems to be that any success in stabilizing Baghdad means that Shiite militias have to be neutralized. However, there is a strong possibility that attacking the Mahdi Army, Badr Brigade, and other militias will trigger a general Shiite revolt to match the Sunni revolt in Anbar. The American military has to resist the temptation to arrest or kill Moqtada al-Sadr, avoid torturing the suspects they round up, not have any incidents where women and children are killed, not bomb innocent events like wedding celebrations or funerals, not manhandle any Shiite religious leaders, and not desecrate Shiite religious symbols. In other words, the American military has to stop doing all of the things it's been doing in Iraq. A tall order indeed.

3. Avoid Collapse of Iraqi Government. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the al-Sadr faction are the two biggest elements in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's governing coalition. If the American military is successful in attacking the militias connected to these political parties, there is a chance that the Iraqi government could collapse for lack of support among the majority Shiite population. The Bush administration has shown little understanding of the functioning significance of the Shiite militias for the government in Iraq. This might be another case of the Bush administration's commitment to ignorance coming back to bite them.

4. Creating Political Compromise. The Bush administration believes that the surge can only be successful if Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish politicians can make the compromises necessary to form a national unity government. Leaving aside the fact that the Bush administration has been extremely disdainful of negotiation, compromise, and cooperation itself, the Bush administration is expecting Shiite politicians to be willing to compromise at the same time that their communities are under enormous pressure from the American military. That seems extremely doubtful as well.

5. Jump-Starting Economic Reconstruction. The third leg of the "clear, control, build" strategy of General Petraus is economic reconstruction. However, there's little money for reconstruction on any scale, little incentive for Iraqi officials to be honest, and little patience with the inevitable corruption. There's also the problem that economic reconstruction projects are like schools, hospitals, and marketplaces in being extremely vulnerable targets to terror attacks.
Perhaps the surge is not completely hopeless, but I don't think it would be too pessimistic to say that the siege is almost completely hopeless.

Friday, February 09, 2007

RSI Visits

One of the popular right-wing blogs, the existence of RedState has always been a problem here at RSI. If I had known that RedState existed when I set up my blog, I wouldn't have named my blog "Red State Impressions." However, I refuse to change my blog name (at least so far). The honor of the Red States is at stake. The Red States may still vote Republican and the red states of the former Confederacy are still shamed by their association with slavery, segregation, lynching, and "whites only" signs. But RedState is so adolescent, so focused on gestures, and so content-free that it may be even more of an embarrassment to the Red States than the Confederacy.

Still, there is a lot to be learned from RedState.

1. The Right is in Trouble. That's trouble with a capital "T." Today's featured blog was an extended fantasy from "Academic Elephant" (AE) on the idea of a Donald Rumsfeld/ John Bolton Republican ticket for President. Admitting that conservatives are in a state of "malaise" and that the choice between McCain, Giuliani, and Mitt Romney would leave the right "squabbling over who is the least flawed," AE takes up Rumsfeld/Bolton as a dream ticket. So what's the dream? Although AE runs down reasons why a conservative would like Rumsfeld/Bolton, the underlying thrust is that a Rumsfeld/Bolton ticket would be enormously irritating to the left. AE quotes Jed Babbin on "how much Prozac the New York Times editors would consume if that dream came true R-B in '08." Then AE seals the deal by running down all the conservative icons like Ronald Reagan who like Rumsfeld and Bolton vs all the liberals who "hate" them. Things are so bad for conservatives that people on Red State have given up on appealing to the American electorate, winning the election, or governing. Instead, they've made flipping the bird at the left into their top priority. Even then, RedState is wrong. In fact, everybody on the left would be doing front hand-springs (my daughter went to gymnastics open-house tonight) at the idea of a Rumsfeld-Bolton ticket. Of course, Hillary would be salivating at the prospect of running against Rumsfeld as the only man in American history to lose two wars (Vietnam and Iraq). But so would Joe Biden--finally someone Biden could beat.

Why Pseudo-scandals Are In. Part of the problem for the right these days is that their positions on the Iraq War, health care, the environment, social security, and budget deficits are extremely unpopular. Worst of all, a conservative effort to ban abortion was defeated in a popular referendum in the extremely conservative state of South Dakota. As a result, the right is focusing its energies on promoting pseudo-scandals like the dispute over Nancy Pelosi's plane rides to California and whether or not John Edwards' bloggers are "anti-Catholic." This way, they can try to ensnare the Democrats in "controversy" while distracting attention from their own views. On RedState, three feature blogs focus on Pelosi while a fourth dishes on "blogger-gate." Unlike liberal bloggers like Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, I don't think this strategy has much chance of working, mostly because the right played and lost all their pseudo-scandal chips during the Lewinsky scandal.

The Politics of Truth. Relating to "bloggergate," RedState links through to a particular nasty web site called "The Secret Diary of Hillary Clinton" where a fictional Hillary disses the manhood of Edwards. From the right-wing perspective, this brutal, vindictive image of Hillary is the "truth" of Hillary Clinton and the right is determined to promote this image even if they have no evidence to support it. The same was true with the idea that Saddam Hussein was allied with al-Qaeda, that the Iraqis had mobile bio-weapons labs, that the Iraqis were seeking yellow-cake uranium from Niger, and now that the Iranians are seeking to "dominate" the Middle East. Where the American right gets themselves and the rest of our country into trouble is when they feel compelled to act on uncorrobarated accusations or fabricate evidence to give their fantasies an aura of realism. This is one of the reasons why the Bush administration has been continually at war with science and why Newt Gingrich has launched his own war against the First Amendment. The right wants to create it's own truth without reference to evidence.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Grief of a Parent

I've never followed the career of Anna Nicole Smith very closely and I won't pretend to have done so now that she's died.

It's worth noting however that a 20 year old son of hers recently died of a drug overdose. In my experience, there is nothing that kills the spirit of a man or woman more than the death of one of their children. This is true for the 17th century when witchcraft judge Samuel Sewell recanted his role in the Salem trials after the death of an infant child. It's also true for 18th and 19th century diarist who often recorded the death of adult friends from grief soon after the deaths of their children. I suspect the same will eventually prove to be the case with Anna Nicole Smith.

Most of the commentaries I've seen on love focus on the power of romantic love between men and women. Since I've become a parent myself, I've often wondered if love for children might be an even greater force in a person's life.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Brief Reflection on Homoeroticism

In my post on Ted Haggard last night, I argued that contemporary heterosexual college guys often associate any connection with femininity with being "gay." For these kinds of guys, being "straight" or a "real man" means limiting oneself to contacts with other guys as much as possible. In other words, heterosexuality is highly homoerotic for college guys these days.

How does that compare with homosexual males? I spent two years working in a gay bar during the 1980's and part of being gay for the guys at my bar was experimenting with stereotypically female gestures, attitudes, and identifications. Experimenting both with being distinctly feminine in relation to conventional masculinity and being attracted to other guys who experimented with feminine guises, the gay guys at Mont Serrat often engaged in a male-only version of heteroeroticism. This made this group of gay men seem less homogeneous in their male homoeroticism than the straight guys at my college in Kentucky.

The End of the Ride

Ride em in,
Head em out
Ride em in
Head 'em out


Rawhide's calculatin'
Your true love will be waitin'
Be waiting at the end of the ride

That is the theme song from the Clint Eastwood cowboy show "Rawhide" and it is the music of my first ten years as the dad of two daughters. No Mozart for me, I used to sing "Rawhide" all the time as I was herding my young daughters around the house getting them up, getting them out to the dining room to eat, and escorting them off to bed. It was a big part of the fun of being a dad. "Ride 'em in, Head 'em out."

Of course, we all know what's really waiting at the end of our ride. Yesterday, Frankie Laine, the guy who sang the Rawhide theme song died. Laine was 93 years old when he died and must have been a really game kind of guy because he sang in gin joints and little dives around Chicago and LA for 17 years before finally getting his big break.

Maybe my ride will last that long.

Ride 'em in
Head 'em out . . .

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Is Ted Haggard Still Gay?

Fallen evangelical mega-minister Ted Haggard re-emerged from "intensive therapy" to assure the world that he is "completely heterosexual" and is planning to join his wife in getting an on-line master's degree in psychology.

Personally, I'm relieved to know that you can have sex with a gay prostitute and be "completely heterosexual." That creates all kinds of possibilities in life. Couldn't Barry Bonds have been "drug free" while he was taking steroids and isn't Rush Limbaugh still married to all three of the wives he's divorced. I think I'll say that I'm a Hell's Angel even though I haven't been on a motorcycle in 45 years.

Of course, I imagine that Haggard and his wife feel relieved by this "discovery." But I don't think he understands that being a heterosexual or gay involves a lot more than it used to.

Perhaps there was a time when being heterosexual meant identifying oneself has heterosexual, having sex with the other sex, being in heterosexual relationships, and living in a heterosexual life-world. Likewise, there may have been a time when being gay meant things like identifying oneself as gay or being in gay relationships.

But that's all so old school.

Anyone who listens to college guys, and I mean straight college guys, talk these days comes to the quick realization that it's extremely difficult to avoid being gay. I began to realize this several years when a student got up in front of a class and claimed that any guy who did not go to strip clubs was "gay." In fact, college guys accuse their friends of being gay over anything that deviates from a strict macho image--clothes can be gay, accents can be gay, casual conversation can be gay. Any association with women at all can be associated with accusations of gayness. And yes, that means that guys who date women can be called gay. Strictly considered, heterosexuality is something between men while guys who associate with women are called "gay."

From the contemporary perspective, it isn't just Ted Haggard's sex with a gay prostitute that would make him gay. It would also be his pearly white teeth, that big ministerial grin, and perhaps his exaggerated evangelical clean-cutness. In this sense, Haggard would have been "gay" long before he called on gay prostitutes.

And being married to his wife wouldn't help either.

If Haggard wants to prove that he's "completely heterosexual" by current standards, he might think about spending a lot of time at sports bars. Better yet, he could join an "on-line" frat when he signs up for his classes. But I'm not sure that either Haggard or anyone else can reach the nirvana of "complete heterosexuality."

Senate Republicans Get Less of a Defeat

Senate Republicans have already shown that they're smarter than the Bush administration. Where the Bush administration often turns defeat into catastrophe, Senate Republicans have so far turned the potential catastrophe of the anti-surge resolution into a mere defeat. Passage of the Senate resolution against the surge would be a catastrophe for the Bush administration even though it's "non-binding. " The catastrophe would be on two levels. First, the anti-surge resolution would represent a no confidence vote that would serve as an official acknowledgement of popular opposition to the surge and would further isolate the Bush administration and their neo-con constituency. The public has already declared "no confidence" in the Bush administration's conduct of the Iraq War and the Senate resolution would turn that public opinion into an official government act. "Non-binding" or not, the Senate resolution would confirm the Bush administration's position as a renegade government working against the public consensus on matters of war and peace.

Second, passing the anti-surge resolution would confirm Congressional Democrats as the most important vehicle for broadly legitimate government on the federal level. In many ways, the Bush administration has abandoned the effort to represent the larger American population and is focusing instead on being the "representative" of a "little America" comprised of neo-con think tank operatives, talk radio, and right-wing voters. Like Nancy Pelosi's trip to Iraq, the surge resolution is a cautious effort by the Democrats to provide some representation for the whole population. Passing the surge resolution would have put the Bush administration's abandonment of the broader public into much bolder relief.

By delaying the debate on the surge, the Senate Republicans have dampened the damage being done to Republicans by the "surge." Though the public still overwhelmingly opposes the surge, the Republicans have kept the Senate from enacting that popular opposition into legislation however unbinding. Likewise, Republican delaying tactics have at least delayed the time when Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, and Chuck Shumer become the credible voices of American consensus. Although "the debate about the debate" is a defeat for the Republicans because it keeps the unpopularity of the surge before the American public, Republican success in delaying the debate keeps the defeat from becoming a disaster.

The skill of the Republicans in limiting the damage is no surprise. The new Senate minority leader is Kentucky's Mitch McConnell, widely known as one of the smartest people in American politics even though he doesn't have a high profile media presence. Here in Kentucky, McConnell has run rings around the Democrats for more than two decades and built the Kentucky Republican Party from almost nothing to a position of near-dominance. McConnell has lost some of his magic in the wake of the fumbling of his hand-picked governor Ernie Fletcher, but Kentucky Democrats still fear him about as much as Civil War union general George McClellan feared Robert E. Lee.

It is important to remember, however, that Lee eventually lost. The tremendous strategic advantages of the American side outweighed Lee's defensive brilliance. It appears that the same is the case with the Republican Party over the next two years. By pushing the surge in defiance of most of American society, the Bush administration has put Congressional Republicans in an extremely disadvantageous position. The best they'll be able to do is to continue the manuevering needed to make their defeats smaller.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The War Between Liberals and Neo-Liberals

My two favorite bloggers are Glenn Greenwald and Matthew Yglesias. Over the last couple of weeks, both of them have been engaged in a long-running critique of the Mainstream Media's proclivity for treating support for the Iraq War or willingness to consider support for the war as "serious" and opposition to the war as "immature," "irrational," and "emotional." Today's post by Greenwald takes special aim at The New Republic (TNR) for publishing a justification for the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping as "too complex" for war opponents to understand and criticize justifiably. Greenwald takes the argument apart by simply pointing out that the warrantless wiretapping violates the FISA law of 1978 and is therefore a crime punishable by a misdemeanor. But the deeper point for Greenwald isn't the support for the Bush administration, it's posing that support as "dispassionate," "non-partisan," and "above the fray." Like Yglesias, Glenn Greenwald is trying to reveal the partisan bias of excluding war opponents behind the non-partisan pose of the New Republic.

However, the New Republic's rhetorical strategy is the same as that of Joe Klein at Time Magazine, Mickey Kaus at Kausfiles, Jacob Weisburg (editor of Slate), Michael Kinsley, and a variety of other "neo-liberals" in the media.

But why do the neo-libs do it? Why do they so persistently pose justifications for the War or conservative positions more generally while treating liberals as too far left to be taken seriously.

Much of the reason is historical. Beginning as Democratic critics of liberalism, the neo-libs staked out positions to the right of liberals on taxes, deregulation, the welfare state, civil rights movement, and foreign affairs without being as programmatically right-wing as the Reagan Republicans. That allowed them to pose themselves as rational in comparison to the "partisan zealots" in both sides. But the chief rivals of the neo-libs have always been liberals within the Democratic Party and the neo-libs have always focused on criticizing liberals while finding "interesting," "counter-intuitive," and "intellectually compelling" reasons to agree with conservative views. This is the long-time formula for both TNR and Slate and is the context within which both magazines supported the Iraq invasion.

As the MSM began pandering more to the right, neo-liberals began (with few exceptions) to monopolize the "liberal" position in the media shoutfests. Thus, the MSM, neo-liberal journalists, and the right-wing attack media have combined to define all but the most mild liberalism as "outside" the realm of normal political discussion. As is the case with most blacks, gays, feminists, and union activists, the media has constructed a taboo on white liberals. This is why a struggle has developed between the left blogosphere and neo-liberals over foreign policy. Liberals and leftists rightfully want to leverage the fact that they've been right about Iraq into renewed media legitimacy. For TNR, Slate, Joe Klein, Thomas Friedman, et. al, continuing to exclude white liberals and the left is a matter of maintaining their own leverage within the Democratic Party and the media. In other words, it's a matter of survival.

That's the main reason why neo-liberals have been so nasty with their recent accusations of anti-Semitism. They sense that their position in American political life is being fundamentally challenged.

My Chiropractor's Car, or More on Athletic Injuries

Taking up the theme of the Super Bowl and football injuries again, my own bad back came back to haunt me this morning. I injured a disc in my lower back playing football during my senior year of high school. It wasn't one particular play. My back just started hurting.

One trip to the chiropractor fixed it and the only time my back bothered me for the next fifteen years was my freshman year of college.

But, the combination of my dissertation, a year in London, and the collapse of my first marriage resulted in my getting less exercise and the disc that had been injured in high school started bulging again. The day after I finished my dissertation (and foolishly tried to start exercising again), I was in agony and could barely move.

That's the way it is with these kinds of high school sports injuries. Like some kinds of viruses, they lay dormant for years before they start having their real impact.

That was more than twenty years ago and the sins of high school football have been haunting me ever since.

Not that my chiropractor minds.

He has a really nice car.

For professional football players, the long-term injury situation is tens of times worse. They play four years of high impact football before going on to careers in the NFL. I used to see reports of offensive linemen and running backs who could barely get out of bed for two days after a game when they were playing. Unfortunately, the injuries that they play through during their careers never go away. The old injuries just get more painful as the cartilege, ligaments, and tendons continue to deteriorate, arthritis sets in, and joint replacements are needed.

At my university, the football players occasionally wear morale-boosting shirts that say "the pain is temporary, the pride lasts forever."

But the truth is exactly the opposite. The pride is temporary. It's the pain that lasts forever. And it increases over time. As I noted yesterday, my old hero Conrad Dobler now needs 150 Vicodin per month, about five per day to deal with the pain from his leg injuries. It's not going to get any better for him.

Time to stretch my back out again.

Oh yeah! The Colts won the Super Bowl.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Heroes: Fallen and Otherwise

The Heroes of Winter. I'm sitting next to my oldest daughter who's got a 100.3 degree fever. Friday night she was sleigh-riding in half an inch of snow at 11:00pm. Now she's just another victim of random viruses, with only a CD of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and an unwilling cat for consolation. How the mighty have fallen.

Speaking of Harry Potter. I don't think that J. K. Rowling gets enough credit for continuing to write, and with increasing intensity, after she became a huge success, a big celebrity, and the wealthiest woman in the UK. It says a lot for her maturity as a person and her commitment as a writer. Everybody in the RSI household will be eager to see the next book and movie.

Using Them Up. Yesterday, there were a couple of Super Bowl-Eve stories about the horrific health problems of retired NFL players. Conrad Dobler, a former offensive guard for the St. Louis Cardinals who was known as the dirtiest player in the league during the 1970's, has had 7 knee surgeries in the last year and takes 150 Vicodin a month to cope with the pain. Being a dirty player who got ejected from two high school games myself, I always got a kick out of Dobler's leg whipping and eye gouging. But Dobler was either ripping up or wearing down the basic ligament, cartilege, muscle and bone structures of his legs as he played. Other retired players have to get multiple knee, hip, and shoulder surgeries. Mike Webster, the Hall of Fame center for the Steelers, had so many concussions that he became completely dysfunctional and homeless. The effects of his concussions led Andre Waters formerly of the Eagles to commit suicide.

The retired players talk about the need to improve pension and disability programs. But I wonder if the game's not the problem. That's because it's going to get worse. Today's players are much bigger, stronger, and faster than the players of the seventies and they hit harder. When today's offensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs retire, they're going to have it worse than Conrad Dobler. Perhaps they would think about changing the game if the NFL became fully financially responsible for the cost of the life-long injuries to their players.