As of press time, civilians control the military

Peter Beinart, I think, has the best analysis on the McChrystal affair, at least in this first sentence:

The press is turning a story about policy into a story about penises. What matters isn’t what McChrystal said about Obama—it’s what he believes about Afghanistan.

I think this is partially true, but I think Beinart identifies reasons that are not precisely correct.  Later on, Beinart compares the issue with Truman’s handling of the firing of Douglas MacArthur.  And while he makes a fair point, namely that MacArthur believed in unlimited war in order to achieve total military victory, while Truman (correctly) discerned that such a victory would come at an unacceptable cost to real American power.  I don’t disagree with him, but I think there is another element to the whole affair that needs to be constantly repeated.

The civilian leadership sets military policy.

The “correctness” of a civilian decision regarding military is so immaterial that to even reference it in a praiseworthy fashion is to suggest that, had Truman’s decision been bad, he would have been at fault in firing MacArthur.  This is not true.  That “Truman kept the pursuit of military victory from destroying American power” is true, but even had it been reversed–had Truman been pursuing American victory at the expense of American power, where MacArthur was the one wanting to draw back and wage a limited campaign–Truman still would have been both justified in firing MacArthur and obliged to fire him.

Americans must realize that the central potential threat to freedom in any situation, no matter where you are, is force, weapons, armaments–it is hard to claim your rights in the face of those who have guns.  Whether or not the Athenian response to the Melians–that the strong do what they will, and the weak suffer what they must–is true as an ethical precept is immaterial.  It is true as a practical reality.  I worry about this a lot, because American military power is, quite frankly, overwhelming.  Not invincible–witness Vietnam–but overwhelming.  There is, essentially, nothing the civilian leadership could do if the military actually decided to pursue the policy it wished.  The military could, in fact, overthrow the civilian leadership and pursue the policy it wished; I’m sure the Tea Party would approve.  And so working on maintaining a political, social, and ethical climate in which it is understood that civilians–i.e., the representatives of the people of a democracy–make policy decisions for the military is paramount.

Truman fired MacArthur because his actions were consistent with an arrogant military perspective that assumed it had the right to set policy.  It had to be reminded that civilian leadership sets policy.  And now Obama must fire McChrystal.  It’s as simple as that; it has nothing to do with respect.  McChrystal’s preferred policy has nothing to do with it: whether he’s right or wrong, his error is in assuming that he has the right to pursue his policy preferences independent of civilian control.  That’s the issue here, and I’m just waiting for the news that McChrystal has joined the ranks of the unemployed.

Will You Just Leave Obama Alone Sheesh

A friend alerted me to a post over at Ephphatha Poetry on the politics of the Tea Party — and what might be the response if the protesters were black.  It’s a nice thought experiment, for sure, but even more valuable than that, I thought, was the documentation of several recent actions and statements by Tea Partiers and their supporters that I had missed.

And if you haven’t heard yet, this just happened:

[An armed man] was arrested Sunday near the runway around the time President Barack Obama’s flight was leaving Asheville Regional Airport.

Continue reading

(God) I Love Philip Pullman

Andrew Sullivan posted this video:

Let me be clear: I don’t agree with Pullman on his materialist atheism.  But boy do I love a man who defends free speech like this!

But on this Good Friday, I thought I would say this: Christ was a scoundrel, and the Christian who is offended by that statement hasn’t read the gospels.  The Christ I proclaim as crucified on this day threw a wrench in the organized system of cruelty that was the Roman Empire, and was hung between robbers as a result.  The Christ I worship opened his public ministry to scoundrels and vagabonds and the powerless.  I pray that I might one day be counted as such a scoundrel.

The Google Book Settlement

I’ve been reading a little bit about the Google Book Settlement, primarily because Ursula K. LeGuin is one of my favorite authors.  She has made waves recently by being the ringleader of a prominent group of authors opposed to the settlement, and who have either withdrawn or condemned the Authors’ Guild for its involvement in the settlement plan.

However, I am really struggling to figure out what I think about the settlement.  Part of me is with LeGuin — she is right to be concerned that the settlement wrests control of her work away from her and gives it to a corporation, allowing it to enrich itself without paying her fairly for its appropriation of her content.  This is a very real concern, and we already have enough “indentured servitude” outfits out there — youtube, for example — that make money on other people’s work and creative products.

But at the same time, I find it hard to square LeGuin’s opposition with many of the more philosophical works she has written on human solidarity, sharing and becoming detached from notions of possession and deserving, and building a world in which individual cultural products serve the good of everyone.  Let me be plain: if I had written The Dispossessed, I would be pissed as hell if I wasn’t making money off of a work of singular genius.  But I would also struggle equally with the fact that I feel the ideas of The Dispossessed are far too valuable to put a price on their circulation.

Because I also agree to an extent with people who want to decentralize notions of copyright — namely, that cultural production should generally be freed in the service of cultural impact.

But I would say — it does seem unfair for Google to make money in perpetuity from advertisements on other people’s works without paying the authors a portion of the ad revenue.  So in a sense, I don’t quite get the full complications of the settlement.

A good article on the issue, by the way, is at io9.

Rod Dreher doesn’t understand culture re: fat people

Well, just when you thought Rod Dreher couldn’t get more annoying, he comes out with this post.  A taste:

I push back hard against well-meaning people like Harriet Brown, not because I think Fat People Are Bad, but because I want to push back against this culture that tells me I can’t overcome my own sloth and gluttony, that I ought to settle for the spiritual disorder that results in my being overweight.  Weight loss really is hard, …you have to push back against this permissive, indulgent culture at every turn.

He’s referencing an article by Harriet Brown in which she basically finds that medical professionals are willing to say horrible things about fat people without hiding their biases.  Furthermore, Brown outlines how this attitude among medical professionals leads them to treat fat patients with less respect, spend less time with them, work less hard on their cases, and assume that they won’t follow prescribed treatment.  (And we wonder why there might be health issues associated with obesity — I’m not saying that weight has nothing to do with it, only that the cultural attitudes held by your primary care-giver might play into the quality of care received.)

But Dreher is really annoying here, and he’s annoying because his assumption is basically wrong.

Continue reading

A thing I thought

This video went around the interwebs a while back:

It makes a valuable point, so watch it.

But I was thinking about another way, not always so obviously racially coded, that doesn’t get as much media play and yet still gives a good example of the problems associated with idealized notions of what humans are and the way they look and act and communicate.

Continue reading