Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011

Hard Targets and Tall Poppies: Why #OWS Should Not Pick A Leader nor Articulate Demands

Intentionally or not the Occupy Wall Street (#OWS) movement has enacted a classic guerrilla strategy in a scenario of asymmetric warfare. By avoiding naming a leader or articulating clear demands, #OWS has denied the coordinated right wing a hard target to attack and demonize. In classics terms, it has avoided giving its opponents 'tall poppies' ithat can be easily decapitated. #OWS has been successful by depriving the right of a whipping boy and a straw man. More below the break.

A little story from the classics:

The king [Tarquin senior] went into the palace-garden, deep in thought, his son’s messenger following him. As he walked along in silence it is said that he struck off the tallest poppy-heads with his stick. Tired of asking and waiting for an answer … the messenger returned to [the land the son was now ruling] and reported what he had said and seen, adding that the king, whether through temper or personal aversion or the arrogance which was natural to him, had not uttered a single word. When it had become clear to Sextus what his father meant him to understand by his mysterious silent action, he proceeded to get rid of the foremost men of the State by traducing some of them to the people, whilst others fell victims to their own unpopularity. Many were publicly executed, some against whom no plausible charges could be brought were secretly assassinated.
Livy's History of Rome

This often quoted passage refers to the advice a despot gives his son. If one destroys the leadership, one destroys the movement and there is no need to ruin the entire crop. How does this passage on the way a despot destroys their opposition relate to success of #OWS?

1. The faceless nature of #OWS has denied the right wing their weapon of Character assassination. The politics of character assassination (once a tactic of both the far left and right) has been fully co-opted by the right. From Alinsky;

Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. In conflict tactics there are certain rules that [should be regarded] as universalities. One is that the opposition must be singled out as the target and 'frozen.'...

"...any target can always say, 'Why do you center on me when there are others to blame as well?' When your 'freeze the target,' you disregard these [rational but distracting] arguments.... Then, as you zero in and freeze your target and carry out your attack, all the 'others' come out of the woodwork very soon. They become visible by their support of the target...'
Alinsky's Rules for Radicals

Although originally articulated by the left wing, the idea of character assassination has been fully embraced by Fox News and the right wing. We've seen it again again, whether the Target be John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Acorn, NPR, etc. When the McCain Campaign tried to paint Obama as an associate of Roy Ayers, the principal of character assassination was in play. The tactic is to personalize your opposition, make its face recognizable, and then make that face an object of scorn, contempt, fear, or hatred. The irony here is that name of Alinsky himself is now commonly used by the right wing in a character assignation attempts on the left.

The point being, by remaining faceless, #OWS has denied the right wing one of their primary mechanisms of attack.

2. The 'failure' to articulate demands, has allowed the real message of #OWS to disseminate. Don't misunderstand, #OWS has a message, it's message is strong, and its message is propagating? What is the message? Well while the specific message is a matter of personal opinion, the general message that there is something wrong with the American economic system and that the system is unfiar to regular people like you and me is crystal clear. This is exactly how it should be, and #OWS should take pains for it remain this way. Calls for #OWS to define their demands are misguided. Defining the demands of #OWS is counterproductive for at least four important reasons.

a. As above, defining a specific demand creates a target, and once a target can be defined and isolated, it can be distorted and destroyed.

b. Defining a specific demand stamps an end date on the movement. In the unlikely the event the demand is met, the movement ends. More likely when the demand is defeated the push will be to give up the 'unrealistic expectation'.

c. Defining specific demands serves the strategies of those that wish to define the objectives of the movement within the policy standards of the status quo. The existing status quo is extremely limited and suffers from a three decade long push towards the right. Any attempt to frame the demands of #OWS within the possibility set of current policy discussions in under-ambitious.

d. Focusing on specifics obscures the movement's message. The message of #OWS is not about policy details like reenacting Glass-Stegal or extendign unemployment benefits. the public hates specifics and glazes over when policy is discussed. The reason why #OWS is resonant is because its message is bigger than specific policies. Its message is a fully realized narrative that things are unfair, that there are people responsible for the unfairness, and that together we can fix it. The movement is terrifying because it tells a story. Reducing that story to wonkish policy details plays right into the right wings hands.

In short, #OWS is doing exactly what it should be doing. It's success comes not despite, but because of its lack identifiable leadership and policy specifics. Given the asymmetric nature of media control and power in this country #OWS must continue its existing tactics of denying their opponents a hard target to attack.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Verbatim Transcript

Son: Daddy, what’s that thing there?
Dad: That’s an empty coffee cup.
Son: Nooooo, that other thing?
Dad: That’s another coffee cup.
Son: No that thing that’s IN the coffee cup?
Dad: That’s a piece of old stale bread.
Son: Oh.


Son: Daddy . . . Why are there coffee cups and bread in your car?
Dad: Because mommy left them in here when she took the car out.
Son: Those shouldn’t be there daddy. I don’t like them there. Mommy . . . Mommy should THROWN those cups AWAY!
Dad: Yes, uhh hmmmm.
Son: You should tell mommy. Daddy you should tell mommy to THROW THOSE CUPS AWAY!
Dad: Ok, will do.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam WarMatterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Matterhorn is a first hand account of the Vietnam war written from the perspective of a boot Second Lieutenant. With Second Lieutenant Mellas, the reader embarks on a journey through initial confusion, to a basic orientation on how to do the job of platoon commander, to the more nuanced understanding of the Marine Corps culture and politics and the nature of war and suffering.

The book is engrossing and fascinating. While it is definitely a 'man's book' in its attention to the details of combat tactics and male camaraderie, there is much here that would be of interest to women too. The author's sensitivity captures the nuances of personal relationships, back channel communication, and other aspects of social interaction. In addition to being a novel about war, Matterhorn is also a novel of manners, class, race, ambition, and maturity. It is also absolutely engrossing and more than a bit of a page turner.

So why only four stars? I have two small critiques of the novel. First, it could be a good 200 pages shorter. Mind you, I am not complaining as I enjoyed the extra detail and I did not want the novel to end. Still the additional sections (mostly the return to Matterhorn) while entertaining are a bit superfluous and stand in the way of this book being a timeless great.

Second, the author was able to make the book as engrossing as it is by focusing on an aspect of the war, the engagement with the North Vietnamese Army along the DMZ, that was most like a conventional war. This is a fascinating aspect of the war to experience through literature but is possibly not typical of what most soldiers experienced in Vietnam. I would have been interested to also read at least a little about the chaos and corruption of the rear, or about the confusion created by the engagements in the south.

However, these are both very minor criticisms. Matterhorn is a terrific read, and portions of it, such as its treatment of the internal thoughts of an ambitious but raw young officer at the time of Vietnam are unsurpassed.

View all my reviews

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Found Art

Surprise.  A photo I posted on flickr was revisited by a viewer with a new look.  Three hyper-styled teens seen in the Seoul Seoul subway as re-imagined by yearned on her Tumbler site.  The internet and globalization at work.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What I'm Listening To . . .

It has been a while since I've written a what I'm listening to column, but its always an easy way to get me jump started back into the blogging spirit. If you like this column, you'd probably also like some of the earlier installments of it that can be found here, here, and here. So let's get right into it.

Empire - The Black Angels If the Velvet Underground's 'All Tomorrow's Parties' and the Doors 'This is the End' had a baby, this song would be their louche, abandoned love child. Cool and intense at the same time. I never quite figured out why the black angels aren't bigger stars than they are.  They have new album coming out September 14th (check their website for a sample track).  Maybe that will do it.

The Black Angels sound like Acid Rock with a darker, post-1970's feel. Highly influenced by the drug induced music of the Vietnam anti-war era, the Black Angels modernize the sound without losing the feeling. When I listen to this track, all I can think of is Martin Sheen putting his hand through the mirror in Apocalypse Now. I have to think that was intentional.

The Black Angels - Empire .mp3
Found at bee mp3 search engine

Friday, July 2, 2010

To Do List

1. Keep kids alive
2. Keep self alive
3. Don’t get kicked out of the house
4. Don’t get fired
5. Interact with kids
6. Talk with wife
7. Have sex
8. Advance career
9. Figure out what 8 means
10. Take pictures
11. Read fiction
12. Blog
13. Tweet
14. Socialize
15. Everything else

Friday, June 25, 2010

Yoforia Apologizes. Clarifies Position on Tap Water

I was happily surprised to receive a call yesterday from a Mr. JP Kim, the Vice President of Marketing for Yoforia Yogurt. He was highly apologetic about the situation that occurred on Wednesday when my daughter was denied a glass of tap water at their VaHi store. He emphatically stated that it is not Yoforia's policy to not offer tap water, and that the person who was in charge at the time acted unwisely. He also said that they had called all of their locations to clarify the company's policy on water.

Seems like a simple mix-up, and one that could happen to anyone. I appreciate the apology and I intend to enjoy a Yoforia frozen yogurt and a big cup of TAP WATER in the very near future. I would urge you to do the same.

Copy of  Yoforia's emailed statement to me below the break.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Yoforia refuses 7 year old paying customer a glass of water

I am not all that into complaining and I think everyone has a right to run their business the way they see fit. I just also have a right to tell my neighbors when I think something’s not right.

Here’s the story. We went to Yoforia on North Highland Avenue tonight and paid just under $15 for three cups of frozen yogurt. As we were eating my 7 year old daughter got thirsty and we went to the counter to ask for a glass of water. I thought we could use the opportunity to help build her confidence in ordering by herself. My daughter quietly asked “May I please have a glass of water sir?” The very nice boy at the register (it’s not his fault) got a little nervous, stammered, and then turned to me and replied that he was sorry but the store policy was to only sell bottled water. Personally, I think bottled water is a waste of money and the bottles hurt the environment. I’ll buy it in a pinch, but I do resent being forced into it.

Rediscover Yogurt?  More like rediscover rudeness. 

So I politely said to the boy “I’m really not into buying bottled water and my 7 year old is thirsty?” He stammered a little bit and said “Well, um we don’t have cups.” There was a stack of paper ice cream cups right in front of him so I said “Well maybe since we didn’t know this new policy before we came in you could just give us some water in one of these ice cream cups.” He said, he really wanted to and he would check.