It Just Happened Here

For thirty years, I’ve heard conservatives lecture everyone else about the supposed “lessons” of Munich, Neville Chamberlain, and appeasement, all in order to rationalize endless warfare against “threats” abroad. Every time they want to start a war, they roll out their canned lectures on Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler at Munich, the one-size-fits-all analogy that justifies any brutality from the Gulf of Tonkin to the Persian Gulf. In fact, all they’ve managed to accomplish is perpetual war abroad, and fascist sedition at home. (Paul Krugman’s columns on this topic have been both prescient and explanatory.)

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Dominance and Submission

From the classic discussion of the psychology of interruption in discourse: a power-oriented interruption is an attempt to establish dominance over an interlocutor by non-rational, semi-coercive means. In a televised debate, the television audience is a sort of interlocutor, so interruptions can be interpreted as attempts to establish dominance over the audience.

In this context, the relevant question is not who won the debate, but whether the audience acquiesces in domination or resists. The outcome of the “debate” was irrelevant because it wasn’t one. The whole event was simply a bid for domination, full stop, and its success or failure as an attempt depends on how the audience responds to the bid. Does the audience play along with the bid, take its aims for granted, and make excuses for it? Or does it push back in wholehearted rejection? There’s not much room here for neutrality or agnosticism.

Each one of us knows the answer to that question in our own case, and has the power to figure out what it is, partly by bringing it about. Voting may not give you much power or control over the powerful. But that one act does.

Imagine All the People

When Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election, there were people out there who were absolutely certain that the explanation was sexism: the American people couldn’t (they insisted) handle the idea of a female president, and voted accordingly. You couldn’t get such people to consider the possibility that maybe Hillary Clinton lost the election because she was a complacent, uninspiring candidate. Continue reading

Giving the Devil His Due: Donald Trump and the Afghan War

I’m not a Satanist, but I do believe in fairness, so I don’t mind giving the Devil his due. The Devil in this case is Donald Trump, and his achievement is getting us out of Afghanistan. Or, well: signing a deal that if adhered-to, and if all goes well, will someday get us out of Afghanistan. I ended my 2008 review of Sarah Chayes’s The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban like this:

To ‘keep trying’ to occupy and rebuild Afghanistan is to sacrifice lives and money on an ill-defined, increasingly pointless, and probably Sisyphean venture. A thousand lives and billions of dollars into that quest, we’re no closer to its completion than we were when we first started. That is as much a ‘punishment of virtue’ as anything Chayes describes. We’re entitled to ask when it will end.

We now have a better sense than we did a few days ago of “when it will end.” The answer is: some day. To paraphrase Metallica, the good news is that the light at the end of the tunnel may not be a freight train coming our way.  Continue reading

Donald Trump’s Slurred Speech: A Diagnosis and Prescription

While teaching a class today, I slurred over a word. I’m so far gone that I don’t even remember what word it was. It might have been “statistical,” but I can’t remember.

Am I drunk? Am I on drugs? Am I suffering from ADHD, or some neurological disease? All of the above?

No, as it turns out, I only got four hours of sleep last night. When I’m tired, I slur my words. Illy coffee helps, but not entirely. Continue reading

Assuming the Original Position

Say what you want about John Rawls, but he doesn’t deserve to be invoked by Alan Dershowitz in defense of Donald Trump–on the floor of the U.S. Senate, no less. And yet here we are.

Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought.

Curious what Trump or Dershowitz think of that one, or if they have any idea what it means.


Dershowitz on Rawls at 3:23:30:

https://www.wgbh.org/news/politics/2020/01/27/watch-live-trumps-impeachment-trial-resumes

War with Iran (16): The Headaches of War

In episode 13 of this series–and “episode” is the only word for a war that resembles a reality TV show–I pointed out that the Trump Administration misstated the number of casualties suffered by American troops in the recent Iranian attack on Iraqi military bases where those troops are stationed. Trump had originally said there were no casualties, but at that point, it was reported that 11 soldiers had been evacuated for injuries suffered in the attacks. But it gets better. Now the number evacuated is starting to rise. From 11, it’s become “about a dozen.” One report puts the number in the “teens.” So what’s the explanation for the discrepancy–that the Pentagon is hiding the truth from us, or that it can’t count? Continue reading