Tags: political theory

The Hugo Awards: they've done it again

Last year, I posted this commentary on the Hugos (reprinted below, to go with this new thought). This year, as the new ballot has been released and once again the "true Hugo fans" are up in arms over the results, it occurs that if the anti-puppy people ever do get their acts together sufficiently to form their own party to "take back" the Hugo Awards, it will most probably result in the pre-nomination balloting we in the US are currently experiencing: primary season. Gosh, won't that be fun.

Touching guns makes one evil?

Just now on CNN, the current "issue" was that in last night's Democratic debate, once again, Bernie Sanders said gun manufacturers and gun dealers -- who follow the laws and sell guns legally -- should not be open to lawsuits when guns are used to kill people. CNN had an outraged family member shocked that he could possibly believe this.

The part that surprises me the most is that Sanders hasn't said "Wait a minute. The law says it is legal to make and sell these things under certain circumstances. Why should the manufacturers or retailers be liable if they've adhered to the law? Why should they be liable if a legal customer then misused their product? When a car crash injures someone, the victim's family doesn't (and shouldn't be able to) sue the car dealer that sold the car, or the auto manufacturer. Why is it only guns?" Consider the recent spate of "slashings" in New York City: none of these victims are going to bring suit against the knife manufacturers, or the stores that sold those knives. Only guns.

They're not hacktivists, they're religious extremists

Using the term "hacktivists" to describe those who stole the private data from Ashley Madison and posted it on the internet is imputing to them a certain nobility they do not deserve. They are not champions of an honorable cause: they are the moral equivalent of the taliban, al qaida, and the terrorist group isis. These "hacktivists" have determined what is "moral" and what is "immoral," and are trying to impose their view on the world, just as those other, more recognized terrorist groups have done. But with so many focusing on "cheating" as the main thrust of the story, we're in danger of ignoring the true criminals involved in the act. And if we do accept their action "because the only people injured were 'cheaters'," what happens when these religious zealots in hackers' disguise decide that another secretive group should be outed, perhaps members of Alcoholics Anonymous, or people who've sought abortion counseling, or Masons? Stop using the term hacktivists and call them what they are: religious terrorists.

Foolishly jumping into the Hugos mishegas

I told myself I wasn't going to get involved. I don't have the time or interest to argue Hugo rules. But enough of my friends are involved in the current debate that I keep hearing about it, so I have formed an opinion, which I want to share:

The Puppy Power people have changed the Hugo Awards, quite probably forever. You can cry about it or laugh about it, bemoan their evil deeds or try to take the moral high ground. But what you can't do is close Pandora's Box and shut them back in it.

What we're witnessing right now with the Hugo Awards is nothing more or less than the rise of party politics.

I'm a Presidential historian. When I think about party politics, I think of the early debate over the formation of parties (and George Washington's warning against it). I think of the schism within Washington's Cabinet, when the Federalists and Democrat-Republicans staked out their ends of the political spectrum. That was a real-world example of what we're seeing now: when there is a prize of some perceived value, people will naturally come together to exert their joint influence to try to take that prize.

The Federalist Party faded from the political scene, and in 1820, James Monroe was re-elected almost unanimously, because there was no concerted opposition to the Democrat-Republicans -- they were the only organized party. In 1824, with no real external opposition, the Democrat-Republicans splintered, causing a four-way election to be thrown to the House of Representatives, which chose John Quincy Adams as President. In 1828, the fractured party turned into the Democratic Party (which backed and elected Andrew Jackson), while the other pieces slowly coalesced into an opposition party. In 1836, that opposition party finally got its act together as the Whigs, but they weren't consolidated enough to make a strong showing in the election, and Martin Van Buren won over a variety of Whig candidates. In 1840, the Whigs figured out that power came from everybody in the party supporting one candidate, and William Henry Harrison was elected. In 1856, the remnants of the Whig Party spawned the Republicans, and in 1860, they won their first Presidential election with Abraham Lincoln. Since then, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have maintained their shared stranglehold on American politics, recognizing that a hundred million random voters are not nearly as powerful as an organization of fifty million voters, and that keeping them organized requires both an articulated set of goals and a strong opposition.

So, to bring this back to the Hugo Awards: we have something which a significant number of people value. And it's something that has a set of operating instructions, which can be followed and gamed. Now, after sixty years of giving out Hugo Awards, some of the voters have realized that acting in concert gives them power within the system, and the Puppies Party has been born and instantly proven its viability.

Many people who are not part of the Puppies Party are decrying their actions, rending their garb, declaiming their love for the Hugos, and announcing their hatred for those people who would dare to "hijack" the award with concerted effort. The Puppies Party appears to have issued an ultimatum that they will keep doing what they've done in the future; I don't doubt they can (I do doubt the value of doing it, but not the ability to do it).

So, to those opposed to the Puppies Party, I can only say: welcome to party politics. If you don't like what they've done, you have a few choices:

1. You can do away with the Hugo Awards, simply retire them as a concept.

2. You can change the rules to make party politics impossible (though off the top of my head, I can't see an easy way to do so).

3. You can embrace the not-so-modern paradigm and form your own political party.

You can hate the concept of politics within the "purity" of the Hugo Awards, but now that a party has been formed and started operation, complaining about its existence will be a futile exercise. The Puppies Party has the power of unity that those who oppose it don't yet have. So, who among you is going to step up and start the conversation to form your party?

And for our European viewers, none of this thinking is to deny the validity of the parliamentary system. Perhaps the Hugo Awards may evolve into a multi-party system. Although the awards, as winner-take-all prizes, do tend to lend themselves more to a two-party system.

Is "multiculturalism" at odds with "citizenship", or "freedom" for that matter?

An interesting article in the New York Times about, well, treating people equally. I agree with the sentiments Prime Minister David Cameron expresses, and wonder how it would have played on my panel "Idols with Feet of Clay" at Arisia (see this review for my discussion of that discussion). In this article—"Cameron Criticizes 'Multiculturalism' in Britain" by John F. Burns, published today, posted yesterday at this link—Cameron discusses the failure of Britain's 40-year-old policy of multiculturalism. I recommend reading it, but I've pulled out some quotes that caught my attention:

Mr. Cameron said the multiculturalism policy… based on the principle of the right of all groups in Britain to live by their traditional values—had failed to promote a sense of common identity centered on values of human rights, democracy, social integration and equality before the law.

Perhaps most controversially, he called for an end to a double standard that he said had tolerated the propagation of radical views among nonwhite groups that would be suppressed if they involved radical groups among whites.

"We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong," Mr. Cameron said, speaking of immigrant groups, dominated by Muslims… "We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values. So when a white person holds objectionable views—racism, for example—we rightly condemn them. But when equally unacceptable views or practices have come from someone who isn't white, we've been too cautious, frankly even fearful, to stand up to them."

He's echoing my continuing call for the ideals of "The Great Melting Pot", the concept that immigrants to the US would remember where they came from, but adopt the culture and mores of their new homeland, becoming "Americans". That's what my family did when they arrived. But the modern immigrant to the US seems much more likely to shun American ideals and values, which puzzles me.

Perhaps the Oath of Allegiance needs a modification. Currently, it starts "I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen…" Perhaps we need to add "or any supposed moral authority whose teachings conflict with the ideals of freedom and equality espoused in the US Constitution," to that renunciation.

Isn't the true villain in the Gulf oil spill... us?

I was reading Ellen Reiss' editorial in the current The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known (from the Aesthetic Realism Foundation), which talks about the Gulf Oil Spill, and attributes it to corporate greed overwhelming public good. And I keep hearing similar complaints from most every source out there: the evil oil giant BP tried to squeeze every last dollop of profit out of their oil trade, and thus cut corners, resulting in this massive disaster. Isn't BP evil.

But what I haven't heard is the true source of the blame: us. We, the people who want more and more oil and gasoline and petroleum products at cheaper and cheaper prices. Give us more gas, make us pay a few cents a gallon less, and we're happy with almost everything.

BP wouldn't have been drilling this well if they didn't know there was a market for the product when they got around to producing it. And if we had been able to say "We've got enough. We're not going to buy any more plastic products this month. We're going to leave our cars in the garage for the next few months and walk," BP wouldn't have been drilling that well in the first place. But we'd never do that. Oh sure, a few of us might pay a few dollars more for "locally produced" food, rather than stuff that's trucked in from the other side of the country (or flown from the other side of the planet), but since the introduction of the internal combustion engine, there has never been a significant, lasting decline in its use. Which means oil companies are going to keep drilling.

But I'm not complaining about our mobile society. A great many good things have come from our increased ability to travel easily. To go back to a society dependent solely on foot and horse power would be a horrible step back. No, what we need is a completely different energy source.

If someone were to pop up tomorrow and say "Lookee here! I've got this new fuel that's easily portable, storable, and replenishable, as safe as gasoline, that doesn't pollute any more than burning fossil fuels, that can be generally available, and that will push your car forty miles for only two dollars," OPEC would shrivel up and die, the oil companies would see their stocks plummet to spare change, and we'd be operating under a new paradigm.

But until that time, we can whine and bitch about BP all we want, but they know, I know, and you know, that we're just like junkies complaining about our pusher. The only thing that really matters is that we're going to hand over our money for his product, again and again. Our words mean nothing compared to our actions.

Where's Daniel Shipstone when we need him?

Balanced reactions to terror?

The public outrage over the Israeli military's attack on a blockade-running flotilla headed for the Gaza Strip would be a lot more convincing if the cheerleaders heading that outrage—the news media—were a bit more equal in slinging about their condemnation.

Where was the outrage when Turkish warplanes yet again bombed Kurds in Iraq? Well, no, because we classify their targets as a terrorist organization.

Any comment on this car bomb in Kandahar? Hell, no. Heck, we barely even acknowledge such events anymore, let alone feel any shock or revulsion at them.

Was there a peep about the murders of six Afghan policemen? Or the Taliban's claim of responsibility for the deaths of nine policemen and the wounding of 23 others? Of course not. Heck, we'll even run both facts in one article, just to save space, because nobody really wants to say anything about it.

And how about this whack-job, who is threatening attacks on the United States. Has anyone even questioned why he hasn't been disowned by his family, friends, or followers? Why he's just running around loose?

Anybody outraged about the murder of 98 people, including 75 at prayer in Afghanistan? Naw, I guess we've seen enough of that to just accept it.

And those examples are just from the last week.

It couldn't just be that the Taliban is a terrorist organization. No, it couldn't, because the US, the EU, Japan, and Canada have all declared Hamas (the group running the Gaza Strip) a terrorist organization, too.

Is it only because we expect Israel to adhere to a higher standard than the subhuman Taliban and other groups? Well, that one I might accept.

I'm not defending Israel here; I'm attacking the news outlets that determine what we'll see as "news", and then whip up sentiment for or against whichever story they think will get the most outrage. Were the Israelis wrong to kill nine of the blockade-runners? I'm still not sure. It's not like the blockade was a surprise. It's not like the people on those boats didn't know they were sailing into harm's way. See, for example, this article, in which those sailing to Gaza freely admitted that their blockade running wasn't really about humanitarian aid: "Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, called the flotilla 'a cheap political stunt,' saying 'If they were really interested in the well being of the people of Gaza, they would have accepted the offers of Egypt or Israel to transfer humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, along with the other 15 thousand tons sent every week.'" Also, "Noam Shalit, father of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, told CNN he offered through his lawyer to attempt to convince the Israeli government to let the flotilla arrive in Gaza if participants would pass aid, including letters and medicine, to his son. The organizers of the convoy refused, he said, telling him their main purpose is to break the siege."

Well, they certainly achieved their goal. Now everyone knows about the Israeli blockade (which has been in effect for more than three years). And everyone knows the groups organizing the flotilla were long on political savvy, if short on actual caring feelings and brains. So what do we do about it?

Increasingly, I'm thinking the US really should declare itself the world's policeman. Heck, we've pretty much got the job unofficially anyway. Maybe it really is time to say "Okay, no more. Any group that advocates the death of others is hereby declared a terrorist organization, outlawed, and subject to sudden death whenever and wherever we please. We don't care if you call yourselves freedom fighters, repressed minorities, or religions. Thou shalt not kill, and thou shalt not advocate death. If you do, you lose all your rights." Then, of course, we'd have to back it up. But perhaps, since so many of them claim some legitimacy from a religious text, we ought to take a page from their playbooks, and declare that "Yes, you are your brother's keeper. Anyone advocating death not only faces such a penalty themselves, but also brings down the condemnation on their families." Yep, it sounds like I'm advocating a reign of terror. I don't know that I'd want to live in such a world, but I know that what we're being dragged down into is also not the world I signed up for. Maybe we have to force the issue, make things bloodier, in order to emerge out the other side into a more peaceful life. Hari Seldon knew an interregnum was coming, and tried merely to cut its length from 30,000 years to 1,000. Perhaps we need to cause our own interregnum, in a controlled fashion, to limit it's long-term effects. Allen Steele's Sa-tong is a wonderful philosophy that has been much on my mind of late (in brief: god didn't create man in his own image; rather, each person is god. Treat them accordingly), but perhaps there really are some animals walking around that look like people, but aren't really. We need to find them and weed them out of the gene pool and the meme pool.

Howard Zinn (1922-2010)

I just found out Howard Zinn died yesterday (see his obituaries in the Boston Globe and New York Times. He'll probably get less press than he deserves, because we've also just found out that J.D. Salinger died yesterday.

Rather than recapitulate those newspaper obits, I'll instead say that he was my professor and adviser at Boston University, and I think I learned a lot from him. He was probably the first teacher I ever had who openly, vocally, disagreed with the administration of the school. While my parents are by no means "mainstream", Professor Zinn was the first "authority figure" I was in close contact with who wasn't part of the establishment, but rather was clearly, emphatically, at odds with it. And while kids are supposed to be rebellious to one degree or another, finding such rebellion in an adult, a teacher at that, had a profound effect on me (as I've come to realize much later). It was also a really neat bit of cognitive dissonance when I learned (during one of his classes) that he'd been a bomber with the US Army Air Corps in World War II—he wasn't just a rebel, he was a rebel who'd been part of the establishment before rebelling.

Taking classes with him, reading his writings, and talking with him were significant building blocks in forming my own political views. I also have to credit professors Murray Levin and Joachim Maitre (and it was fascinating to be in classes with Zinn and Maitre—seemingly polar opposites—at the same time), as well as writers Robert A. Heinlein and James P. Hogan. But it's Professor Zinn who I remember most strongly. And though my views don't echo his, I do thank him for the part of me that continues to question authority and the status quo.

I wasn't good at maintaining relationships I formed during my school years, and Professor Zinn is one of those I'm most sorry I didn't stay in contact with.

Once again, we're aiming to fight half a war

When did we become so militarily stupid? When did we forget that the object of fighting a war is to win, not to tie? Is it an outgrowth of the non-competitive, everyone-gets-a-trophy mentality we're trying to teach our children?

Earlier this week, President Obama announced an increase in the number of troops we'll be sending to Afghanistan, but he also announced that they'll be there for a limited time. To me, it sounds like we're throwing away lives because we have to be seen as trying to do something, but we're going to limit those losses calendrically. It's like saying to the enemy, "Okay, we're going to fight. But if you can hold us off for this long, you win."

He used the term "nation building", of which Washington seems to have grown fond. It makes for a nice analogy, when you consider home building. But it would work better if the political cognoscenti using it actually thought about building a house.

What happens when you decide to build a house? First, you plan, hire an architect, design what it will look like, make sure the infrastructure is there (roads, sewers, electricity, etc.), and that the new materials and labor are available. And once the planning is done, then what? Then you clear the land—cut down trees that are in the way, remove inconvenient boulders, and dig a hole for the foundation. And, if there's already a ramshackle house on the property—something with holes in the roof, that's falling down, and that you really didn't want to live in in the first place—you knock it down. You don't say "I like this bedroom, so I'll keep it, and this foyer is nice, and I like that six-foot section of the basement." You knock down the whole thing, clear the land (just like erasing a blackboard before starting a new lesson), and start fresh.

Analogizing back to military intervention, what we need to do is what we did when we fought wars to win them. We need to decide if we should be fighting, and if we can. Then we need to go in and win. Not tie. Not do some. Not hope. We're building a bridge to the future. And just like in bridge-building, you don't build half a bridge and hope someone on the other side will build a half that matches yours; you build a whole bridge. Then, after it's complete, if you want to give it away or sell it, you can do so.

In World War II, we didn't fight part of a war. We didn't go in telling Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan "we're going to fight you, but only until 1944." We fought to win, and only after our enemies surrendered unconditionally did we stop fighting. Then, after the peace treaties were signed, we didn't go into Germany and remove half the Luftwaffe; we didn't go into Japan and remove half of the Diet. We removed the entire governments and installed military governors (well, we shared responsibility for Germany with our allies). We ran the country until we were confident Japan could be a peaceful, self-ruling country, and only then did we allow them to form a new government. Ditto the Philippines after the Spanish-American War. Even the South after the Civil War; we didn't remove Jefferson Davis while leaving the Confederate Congress intact.

And I think that's the example of what we did wrong in Iraq. During the first Gulf War, we decided we didn't have the will or strength or resources to fight a proper war in Iraq, so we didn't even start. We sent in troops to free Kuwait, did so, and stopped at the border. This time, however, we sent troops into Iraq, we took out part of the government, but we held back. We knocked down the statue of Saddam Hussein, but didn't allow our troops to raise the Stars and Stripes over Baghdad. We stripped out Hussein's political party, but we didn't disband the Iraqi government. We tried to go only part of the way, and then hoped that the pieces we'd left would expand to fill the vacuums we'd caused. But of course there were other people with other ideas, who were eager for us to take out Hussein so that they could spread into those power vacuums. And now we're stuck, with half a bridge to Iraq's future, struggling against those who seek not to build the other half, but to knock our half down.

When we send troops into foreign countries to "help", they meet with resistance not only from "insurgents", or the bad guys, but from non-combatant citizens who bristle at the culture clash. And our troops wind up not only fighting the enemy, but struggling to not piss off the locals. It's an untenable situation.

When we send troops into battle, they should have only one, clear goal: to win. After they achieve total victory, then we can be magnanimous. Then we can go about setting up a local civilian-run government. But if all we want to do is send in policemen, we should be sending policemen, not trained, armed, fighting men.

It seems pretty clear to me that every time we try to fight half a war, we lose, but every time we go in fighting a total war, intent on victory and nothing less, we have a pretty good record of success. Maybe we need to choose our wars more carefully, rather than hoping our soldiers will move carefully once they're there.

Remember, if you want to complain, don't vote.

I just got back from voting. See previous post for how I voted.

But something I've been hearing frequently today (well, other than the avalanche of "Vote Bloomberg" ads: I really, REALLY hope the printers and recording studios he used are all in New York City) is the refrain "Remember, if you don't vote, you can't complain." They're wrong!

If you vote, not only are you expressing your opinion, but you're agreeing to accept the outcome of the election, whether your choice wins or not. It's just like buying insurance: if you kick in your money, you have the right to take some out under given circumstances (you might not get any back, but you might). But if you don't kick in, you're not part of the pool, and you're not bound by its strictures. If you don't vote, you're saying "I disagree with the whole system. I'm going to complain about it because I want something different." If you vote, you'll have to abide by the will of the majority.

Oh, and my predictions for the election? I predict that not one of the candidates for whom I voted will win election. I expect Bloomberg to be re-elected, Bill de Blasio to win the race for Public Advocate, and John Liu to be elected Comptroller. We'll see…