Weak-kneed With Fanboyhood

Until tonight, I really didn’t get the culture of celebrity. I grew up in Beverly Hills, hung out with the children of people who were on TV and in the movies, grew up to be interested in politics, and have met and talked with a former President, a Governor (plus I worked for one) and a dabbling of other elected officials (I negotiated with Barbara Boxer over purchasing a surplus school site when she was a County Supervisor). They’re all people, and I’ve always been a little bemused by the chest-clutching regard in which they are held by some.
…tonight I went to a dinner organized by the indefatigable Bob McBarton, at which the lead investigator (boss) of the Mars Rover program (Spirit and Opportunity) was going to talk about the current state of the rovers and the program, and Mars.
Bob took me aside as I came into the Beverly Hills steakhouse where we met. “You’ll never believe who’s going to be here,” he opened. I looked at him cooly. “Who??”
“Buzz Aldrin!!”
“You’re kidding!”
“No, really.”
I’ll admit I was kind of excited at the prospect of meeting the second man who ever walked on the moon.
Then as the group moved to sit at the large table, a jaunty, white-haired man with a leather blazer walked in and took a seat. Could it be him, I wondered? He took out an iPhone and a Blackberry and proceeded to start playing with them. Maybe…I tried to remember the pictures from the books I have at home, and drew a blank.
Then we all introduced ourselves, and yes, he was Buzz Aldrin.
I suddenly felt giddy. That man had walked on the moon. Those eyes had looked over a strange horizon and seen the Earth. Those hands had held moondust. Those feet had left footprints that I imagine every month on the full moon that I can look up and see.
Steve Squyres led a humane, intelligent, and interesting discussion of the Rover program and the state of the rovers today (including the recent problems with Spirit). And the whole time I was watching Aldrin, turning my eyes slightly to the side so I could try and measure his reaction and interest.
We took a break and I walked up, said hello, and shook his hand. I cannot think of any other time I have done that.
I was weak-kneed with fanboyhood. I Twittered and Facebooked and emailed the world. Buzz-Goddamn-Aldrin is sitting ten feet from me!! He raised his eyes from his iPhone when I asked a question!! I’ll never wash this hand again!!
Suddenly I got the impact that celebrity has on people. I was, in fact deep in the throes of it.
I wanted to walk out into the restaurant and grab the diners by their collars and shake them until they realized that the second man to ever walk on the moon was sitting at a table among them.

We all acknowledged his presence; Bob went around the room and we all told what we’d been doing in July 1969. I spent the week on my mom’s sofa, missing school, glued to the TV.
When it came to Aldrin, Bob went to skip him, but he interjected regardless: “I was out of town with two other guys.” A line he must have used a million times, delivered perfectly – level, flat, and knowingly funny.
And that showed me something about celebrity as well.

OK, Things Ought To Be Working…

Commenting ought to be working, so please do!!

I’ve emailed all the active authors with a new password when they can use to login and then, I’d ask, create their own.

To change your password just log in, click on your name in the upper right-hand corner of the dashboard, then click on the ‘change password’ link.

If you’re still having problems, email me at blog09 at armedliberal dot com.

Open for Business

Welcome to the new MT 4.2-powered Winds of Change.NET.

We have a (slightly) new look – which may be tweaked slightly from time to time as we shake things out.

We will be announcing some new additions to the group of writers, and I’ll try and do a revision of Joe’s original mission statement.

One of the design changes we’ve made is to make comments more prominent in several areas; this site is all about the discussions. We’re making some changes there as well; we’re going to require registration to comment from now on. You can use several means to do it – openid, livejournal, vox and Typekey, as well as registering directly on the site. We’re working on integration with Facebook, but there are some bugs, sadly.

The goal is to promote civil, constructive disagreement through argument – which at our best we’ve done a lot of – rather than the usual blog commentary which sometimes tends to spiral downward into disagreement and abuse. Which I intend to minimize here in every way I can think of.

So disagree away, with me, with the other authors, with each other. But this is intended to be a place for conversation, which I’ve described on my work blog as:

Those manners are kind of a scaffolding around which conversation can grow. They imply a few basic truths which are at the heart of conversation.

The first is parity. When we engage in conversation with someone, the implication is that their words are as valuable as mine. We’re peers in the context of this conversation.

The next is agency. We have to believe that whoever is speaking owns their words; that they are speaking from their own authentic self rather than telling us what they have been told or deceived into saying. We respect the speaker as the owner of the words and ideas that they are sharing with us.

Next is openness. We have to actually hear and accept what someone else says. In a debate, I will use my opponent’s words as a springboard to make my own points. In a conversation I’ll accept what I’m told, unpack it, think about it, fit it with my own understandings and beliefs and then respond. The difference is that in one case we are listening to the ‘shape’ of what is told us and searching for a foothold to use to push it away, and in the other, we are actually open to the possibility that what the other person says could be true – that it could actually change our views.

Let’s see how we do on this.

If you’ve got blog technical issues for the next few days, email me at blog09 -at- armedliberal -dot- com



This article just appeared in the NY Times – ‘How Words Might End A War‘ – supporting my post below by suggesting that material considerations won’t settle Israel/Palestine, but also undermining my positionby suggesting that concrete nonmaterial considerations might.

Take a look and let me know what you think.

Djerejian’s New Foreign Policy

Greg Djerejian has a new missive up on his thoughts on what new foreign policies ought to be in the new Administration.

I’ve publicly admired and criticized Djerejian in the past, notably in a post called ‘Greg Djerejian and My Heard Heart.’My core objection to his then-comments on Iraq still resonate in reading his new policy suggestions. I wrote:

What’s missing from this, of course, is any sense of context at all for that narrative, any sense that – for example – there was an expansionist and brutal Soviet Union who would have gladly conquered all of Europe – and kept it conquered had we not opposed them. Or that there was a brutal China led my the mad, bad, and dangerous Mao Tse Tung who would have gladly enslaved all of Asia had we not opposed them. I’m more than a little puzzled by Greg’s failure to point out that gaping hole in Cohen’s logic.

So in that view, why is there war? Because America fights, of course.

There’s this weird notion I see in many smart commentators that somehow what we do is the central driver of what happens. It’s important, I think, to keep in mind that – as the military says – “the enemy gets a vote.”

Reading him last week, I was struck by the notion that somehow Djerejian writes his way around this point.

…I am also suggesting that we re-order our national priorities so that, to be sure, combating extremism (in whatever manifestations) remains front and center, but that the sine qua non of U.S. foreign policy not be carried forward or advertised as part and parcel of the ‘global war on terror’. There are too many other threats to confront, and it is overly convenient to rebrand al-Qaeda’s brand of terrorism as the new ‘ism to replace communism and fascism as decades long center-piece of this country’s entire national security apparatus, which to my mind would prove too much of a distraction from the many other pressing challenges which confront us as well.

I think a step back to see what the past eight years have changed in the landscape, and a decision to look coolly (something we’re all hoping Obama is truly as good as advertised) things over and make decisions about what we’re seeing is a great idea. But the notion that Al Quieda is only as powerful as we make them is kind of silly. It’s one thing to talk of a forceful public diplomacy that minimizes them and tries to find different levels of engagement; it’s quite another to believe that we can simply decide that AQ simply doesn’t matter.

…once the immediate, and inevitable, crisis management clean-up of the recent wreckage in Gaza is accomplished (first we need to help, if through proxies, mediate schisms as between Hamas and the PA, as well as more directly liaise with differing Israeli factions set to squabble mightily during the impending political silly-season there, where we may well end up dealing with the re-emergence of Prime Minister Netanyahu after the elections), thereafter the Taba precedent should be speedily used as launching pad, of sorts, with additionally other bold strokes considered, like asking the Israelis to free Marwan Barghouti, so as to help restore Fatah as credible counter-party to Hamas, and thereafter lead the negotiations on behalf of Palestine with the Israelis. Only a leader with charisma can close a deal of such magnitude and controversy, and Abu Mazen doesn’t have what it takes, particularly after Israel’s latest operation, given these grim (if woefully predictable) tidings.

There’s a certain hubris that I’m seeing in people who keep saying that if only, by gosh, we’d try harder at diplomacy, we’d be able to unwind two generations of poisonous politics and hatred. It’s even more amusing when contrasted against those who ridiculed the “Green Lantern” model when applied to the Iraq war.

Look if you believe that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people (raised as abused proxies for the Arab world) is a conflict over exact borders, water rights, trade, or jobs this makes perfect sense. But you know what? I don’t think that’s what the war is about at all. Because (among other things) if it was, it would have been settled by now. Go watch ‘Suicide Killers’ and come on back to us, Greg. What we have starts as a deep clash between cultures, and has metastized as we have allowed the Arab world (with US and UN funding) to raise two generations of Palestinian children who have been bred with hatred of Israel’s existence as their existential value. And as we’ve seen Israel harden itself to the plight of it’s neighbors in response.

You can’t wish that away, or talk it out of existence, or negotiate a document that will somehow settle it.

There are paths out of this that don’t involve massive killing; I think and deeply hope so. This isn’t one of them in any world that I understand.

Now we move to Iran, where tone matters:

Last, on Iran, we must not forget to employ a new tone in our conversations with the Iranians, something I’d advocated in the cyber-pages of this blog quite a while back here, quoting the Iranian Ambassador to the UN about his displeasure about the usage of ‘carrots and sticks’ verbiage to describe Washington’s approach to Iran.

As the Iranian Ambassador put it:

If you deal with the other side as less than a human society, then don’t expect to have multiple outcomes. What I’m saying is that in Western terminology, concepts are used that would infuriate the other sides. Even the terminologies used by the United States in the liberal realist tradition…such as “carrot and stick”…are not meant for humans, but rather for donkeys. In studies of Orientalism, the Eastern part of the world is dealt with as an object rather than as serious, real human societies with longer, older civilizations with concerns and needs that have to be dealt with.

Again, the political leadership of Iran calls Jews “pigs and monkeys” and the United States “Satan” demands temperance on our part, and Djerejian moves our insensitivity to a central place in his plans. It’s our actions, not theirs…somehow.

He suggests realpolitik with Russia:

There are critical issues where the Russians could be of significant assistance to us (notably nuclear proliferation issues, to include Iran, among many others) and nothing would be more effective to this end than signaling to the Russians that we are not simply hell-bent on extending some fictitious Pax Americana to the outskirts of Moscow and St. Petersburg via ‘encirclement’ on their southern underbelly (Georgia), and/or to their West (the missile defense issue in Eastern Europe) – which, like it or not, far too many in Moscow believe–rather than helping foster a high-level strategic dialogue with the Russians on these issues (having moved to put these particularly controversial issues on the table to signal our seriousness of intent about trying to forge a re-fashioned relationship).

Well, yes…but:

Stanislav Markelov acted for the family of 18-year-old Elza Kungayeva, whose murder in 2000 became a symbol of human rights abuses in war-ravaged Chechnya.

Markelov, 34, had led legal attempts to block the early release of Russian Colonel Yuri Budanov, who was convicted of her murder. Mostly Muslim Chechnya was rocked by protests last month when a court ruled Budanov should be released.

Prosecutors said Markelov’s body was found with several gunshot wounds on one of Moscow’s main streets. He had just given a briefing to reporters. “What happened to Markelov is just outrageous,” said Tanya Lokshina, deputy head of Human Rights Watch in Moscow. She called the murder as shocking as the 2006 killing of Anna Politkovskya, a journalist and outspoken Kremlin critic who reported on human rights abuses in Chechnya.

We do have to deal with Russia, to be sure. They’re here.

But, at the same time, the notion of a collegial relationship with people for whom this passes for policy seems like it needs a deeper dig than we have here.

Which pretty much sums up my view of the policies set out here…

The Inauguration – Under The Hood

Guest post by commenter TK – someone who secures these events for a living.

Ever wonder about the politics of political events? Probably not, unless you were at the inauguration or some other heavily attended event, standing in line for a few hours for a seat that you probably can’t see anything from anyway, while temperatures, tempers and various levels of discomfort rise and fall around you. As you begin to notice the slight ache growing in your left foot and the warning tingle beginning in your lower back, your thoughts began to display variations of the phrase: “Who the hell planned this shindig?”

And “Why didn’t anyone foresee these crowds?” Not to mention: “Who the heck is in charge here?!”Politicians are surrounded by people hired to make these things happen. In my experience, most of these enthusiastic planners of the party are 25 years old, highly educated, lightly life experienced and unfamiliar with what the event might feel like to the majority of attendees, because the priority will be placed on VIPs. Additionally, these starry eyed future senators and movie stars find it hard to believe that anyone would want to harm their beloved political star, be they a candidate, governor, president, first lady, etc. This is a notable departure from the attitude of the planners for foreign dignitaries by the way. It seems that the rest of the world understands the risks their top politicos face in public, though they give similar disinterest to the comfort of the crowds that may attend the event.

The crowds, you see, are props for the visual effect of the event. When the event is televised, or otherwise covered by the media, the handlers just need the world to believe that every single human on the planet is beating with one happy heart for the political agenda featured at the show. Close ups will only be of the smiling and clapping variety. The press will be in designated areas for the best views of the happiest crowds.

Behind the scenes, everyone is arguing about how to accomplish the desired degree of smoke and mirrors (including security) without spending any money. Law enforcement (usually multiple groups with competing interests) will submit plans that include crowd control, dignitary security, traffic flow, contingency plans and worst case scenarios. Fire safety will submit plans that include emergency medical response, fire response, incident command, traffic flow, crowd control, and worst case scenarios. Rigging companies (lighting, staging, etc) will submit plans that cover load in, set up, load out, truck parking and employees. Talent handlers will submit requirements for green rooms, catering, transportation and lighting. In fact, every single vendor, player, designer, producer or participant of any kind will have their own plan based on their vision of their role. Then comes the battle for the money.

We go back to the young, enthusiastic, naïve, but well intentioned workers for the star dignitary. It is hard for them to believe that a happy crowd will want to harm their candidate or each other, and they will begin cutting in the area of crowd control and traffic flow without realizing that their crowd will be considerably less happy when the lines get longer and wait more uncomfortable. Our planners tend to cooperate when it comes to dignitary security, if it is explained graphically enough and they tend to be big fans of the talent they invite which keeps the plans of talent managers intact. Fire Marshals are actually more powerful than presidents, which usually keeps the fire safety plans intact. That brings us back to crowd control and traffic flow…and so the budget gets cut. The one thing you can count on is that precautions are in place (many of them invisible) to assure the safety of the stars of the show and the rest is a roll of the dice where money spent is carefully weighed against the desired visual impact of the show. Crowd comfort and convenience are far further down the scale of importance and the people who see this as a matter of public safety are generally considered to be paranoid party poopers (sorry for the strong language). The end result is a roll of the dice that someone out in that big ‘ol crowd hasn’t snuck inside wearing a big coat with a rip cord and heavy belt filled with shrapnel. And as long as that didn’t happen this time, the planning will be deemed a success and the back slapping and congratulations on a job well done can commence.

If there is a disaster in the crowd, the Law Enforcement planners will willingly take the bullet in the after action investigation. If they object or tell the truth about what they wanted to do, as opposed to what they were allowed to do, the people who sign their budgets, give them raises, negotiate their benefits, authorize staffing and otherwise control their professional success will be very unhappy with them and they could end up suddenly retired or assigned the command of a small outpost station North of Fairbanks.

And that’s just the way it goes…..


The above is my opinion (a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty) based on personal experience and is not intended to offend starry eyed interns, future senators or movie stars, any particular party or religious faith, lifestyle or belief system.
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A Few Comments On Inaugural Logistics and Security

So we’re up and around and I’m back online. I’ll sort pictures today if I can and get some posted as soon as I do.

But I was to extend the comment I made in my post about the Inauguration, below.

And a huge back of the hand to whoever was responsible for organizing the crowds; there was none and what we had instead were color-coded mobs.

Others picked up this theme, and this morning on Memeorandum, I see posts by Firedoglake, Abu Muquama Abu Aardvark (sorry!!) (Marc Lynch), Tigerhawk, James Joyner, and others.They all paint the picture of a dangerous lack of crowd control. As our part of the yellow-ticket line was being compressed and asked to make a 270-degree turn while we were shoved body-to-body (literally – fortunately the woman in front of me had a thick coat on so my camera didn’t gouge her back – I had TG’s arm gripped in one hand and couldn’t have moved the camera with the other) I commented aloud that “This is exactly how so many Muslims get trampled to death in the Haj” which earned me a shushing from the one person around me that got my point.

We went through three or four chokepoints like this, and combined with the lack of any crowd control, information or really any planning for the lines at all – the yellow line got merged with part of the purple line at one point and we were all shouting out “yellow!” and “purple!” as a bottom-up means of sorting ourselves.

It’s amazing to me that no one did the simple math of the capacity of each seating area, the optimal width of the line, the length of line necessary, and laid out simple steel barrier rails to define the length of that line. It’s not like there was a shortage of steel pedestrian rail in DC this week.

Bluntly, we should have just waited until they opened the gates and then swarmed into them. My own politeness and rule-following nature (along with twenty thousand others like me in the Yellow line) didn’t just get us to the back of the area, but endangered TG’s and my lives.

The good news was that the crowd was – overall – extremely good natured, and that the attitude everyone showed for the first three hours of the wait was wonderful. I’m positive that at any other kind of event this kind of insanely stupid and dangerous lack of planning, combined with people’s normal aggressiveness would have resulted in dozens of fights.

Look, with all respect, this isn’t rocket science. I’ve been to a Super Bowl, to a Rose Bowl, to Daytona and other places where they move low-six-figures worth of people (note that I’m talking about the elite ticket holders where were between the Reflecting Pool and the Capitol – bot as to the parade, I’ll point out that parades with half a million in attendance happen all the time and while this one is different (need for security, etc.) it’s not that different. By comparison, the organization of crowd control here was criminally incompetent; only through luck is it that no one was injured because of it.

I’ll skip over the unnecessarily hurt feelings of supporters and fans who were treated worse than cattle; what happened yesterday was stupidly, un-necessarily dangerous, and the people responsible need to be replaced.

Now James Joyner points out that the people running the events were incompetent at crowd control because they were only concerned with the safety of the various principals:

Part of the problem is that the people running security are concerned only with the safety of the VIP’s, not whether people are disappointed.

“It was an absolute success,” U.S. Capitol Police Chief Phillip D. Morse said of the effort, which involved more than 30,000 law enforcement officers and military personnel from across the country. Although there were numerous complaints about chaotic procedures at security checkpoints, the event went off without serious disruption.

That’s just not true. TG and I received only a cursory search as I went through the checkpoint at the end of the lengthy line; whether because of the ineptitude above or the pressure the (very nice, very calm) Capitol police felt to get people moved through. They made two glaring mistakes with us – one I won’t point out publicly because it was so serious – and wound up waving me through the metal detector with a pair of Steiner binoculars under my arm. Binoculars that contain as much metal as a small handgun. I didn’t realize until I was collecting my cameras that I’d walked through like that.

Now I’ll point out that Rob Leatham with a handgun wouldn’t have been a threat to any of the principals from the front of the area we were in. But if they didn’t intend to keep handguns out, what the hell were they bothering with the searches for at all?

Incompetence, pure, simple and absolute, and a need to make a change at the top.

Fixed embarrassing brain fade confusing Andrew Exum and Marc Lynch.


Just back indoors and sitting talking about what we all just saw. I’m in this weird kind of place; this year has been a year of lots of reading about American history and the Founding – and one event that figures over and over again is the powerful one of the transfer of power between political enemies. All I could think of watching the grim face of President Bush on the Jumbotron (we were close but too far to the side to see more than the edge of the actual balcony where the ceremony took place) was that we were watching one of those turnings of the wheel.

And that – even more I think than Obama’s ascension today – moved me. Because it’s such a central a part of the greatness of the country that I love so much.

Obama looked weighed down – he didn’t have the bounce to his step – and his speech while excellent wasn’t the inspiration I hoped for. I don’t think that people will be citing this speech a decade from now. I wish it had been better – when I get some time, I’ll comment in more depth.

And when I get to my own computer, I’ll upload some pictures, including one of Bush flying past the trees in Marine One.

But one thing that struck me was the enthusiasm of the crowds – from the full planes flying into DC Sunday to the people we walked with across Capitol Hill into the mobs, to the crowd that stretched as far back on the Mall as I could see from the base of the Capitol.

And a huge back of the hand to whoever was responsible for organizing the growds; there was none and what we had instead were color-coded mobs.

What, I Was Serious?

I saw this the other day, and waited for it to get picked up and commented on. It wasn’t, so I’ll raise it here.

Here’s Spencer Ackerman writing in the Washington Independent:

Today a cohort of progressive bloggers unveils a new effort against the planned 20,000-troop increase of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. A website called GetAfghanistanRight, set up by bloggers at the Seminal and Brave New Films – and with the support of Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel – went live today, with the intent of blogging about the morass in Afghanistan this week.

Its mission statement:

We oppose military escalation in Afghanistan and support non-military solutions to the conflict.

This was probably inevitable, for two reasons.

First, the actual strategy employed in Afghanistan is rather murky – as Gen. Petraeus’ remarks to the U.S. Institute of Peace on Thursday indicate – and, pending some strategy review from the Obama administration and U.S. Central Command, it’s by no means clear why sending additional troops stands a greater chance of yielding success. For that matter: what is success in Afghanistan? The fact that there isn’t an obvious answer is a sure indication of policy drift. This is something that isn’t just a matter of concern for bloggers. Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Penn.) has been warning about the dangers of a military-only escalation, as has Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.).

I’m shocked, just shocked to discover that antiwar people are – you know – antiwar, no matter what. But that wasn’t the most interesting part.

Second, for at least four years, there’s been something of a dodge taken by liberals when discussing Afghanistan. To speak broadly, liberals have endlessly invoked the mantra that the real center of the war on terrorism is in Afghanistan, rather than in Iraq. But that’s been a statement about Iraq, rather than Afghanistan. To put it a different way, liberals, I think it’s fair to say, have discussed Afghanistan not on its own terms, but as a cudgel against the Iraq war. That’s by no means monolithic. A bunch of progressives – the Democracy Arsenal crew, Matt Yglesias, I daresay myself – have written about Afghanistan (TWI sent me there last year) from that perspective of first-order-national security importance. But lots of us have been content to take the safe position of rallying to the more-popular cause of the Afghanistan war as a way of insulating ourselves to charges of excessive dovishness for opposing the Iraq war. Well, as he’s said all along, Barack Obama will be calling that bluff.

[emphasis added]

I don’t have time to go search for cites, but pro-war bloggers (like me) have been making charges like this for quite some time. I think it’s interesting to hear a progblogger like Ackerman acknowledge the claim.

It’s a serious claim, for two reasons; first because if the anti-Iraq war commentariat has been lying about their positions – beefing up their hawkish credentials by talking tough on Afghanistan while pushing hard for folding our hand in Iraq – it’s something they should be called on (note that Ackerman calls out people who he specifically insulates from that charge – himself, Yglesias, and the folks from Democracy Arsenal). Second, because it’s kind of important that Obama not take or withhold military action in Afghanistan for domestic political purposes; I don’t want our kids sent somewhere (or not sent somewhere) primarily to make domestic political points; it needs to be about achieving our foreign policy goals.

There’s a fine, but important difference between the two – and it’s one that I sincerely hope Obama keeps in the front of his mind. Let’s keep an eye on that, OK?