Archive for March, 2007

War and Peace, sans Tolstoy

March 29, 2007

In the recent (and no doubt soon to be revived) debate over the House and Senate Iraq funding bills, all the heat was centered on the bills’ inclusion of a timetable for withdrawing from Iraq.

The argument against a timetable was, as best I can tell, two-fold: we don’t want the enemy to know what our timetable is, and Congress should leave the timetable-setting to our commanders in the field. The first one I’ll readily grant. I don’t love the fact that the timetable in these bills is public. It’s far from ideal.

The second argument sounded reasonable at first, until I started thinking about it. Then it made no sense at all. When it comes to tactical planning and even in-theater strategic planning, yes, absolutely, the commanders in the field should be making the decisions. But the beginnings and endings of wars are always political decisions, and — except in military dictatorships — they’re always made by civilian politicians. Civilian politicians decide when a war will start, and they must also be the ones to decide when it will end.

According to the logic of the GOP’s argument, once a war has been started, the American people can’t stop it. No one can stop it except “the commanders in the field,” because no one can decide when it will end except those commanders; and if you can’t decide when a thing will end, you can’t decide that it will end. Not even the Pentagon brass or the commander-in-chief could end it, since they aren’t in the field. That’s not a tenable position for a democracy to be in. The military works for the civilians. It goes when the civilians say go, and it stops when the civilians say stop. In between, the military commanders should be predominantly in control; but those two endpoints are completely the purview of the civilians.

So not only can Congress decide when a war will end (whether instantly or on a timetable), they must. Ultimately, it’s their responsibility. Some, particularly on the right, argue that, no, this is all up to the president, who’s in charge of foreign policy and is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Personally, I have a hard time squaring that broad reading of presidential powers with Article I of the Constitution.

Regardless, the GOP acknowledges that Congress can end a war at any time when it points out that Congress can, of course, simply cut off the funding. But that then invalidates their “commanders in the field” argument against having a timetable. If Congress simply cuts off the funding instantly and immediately, like turning off a faucet, it’s imposing a timetable: get everybody out right now. And if Congress can impose that timetable — one that endangers our soldiers — surely it can impose another — one that doesn’t. Put differently, if it can cut the funding all at once and leave everybody in the lurch, it can also say, “We’re going to cut the funding by 30% on such-and-such a date, another 30% by such-and-such later date, and zero it out on such-and-such still later date. Commanders, plan your withdrawal accordingly.” Should the commanders have input into those dates? Absolutely. Should they decide them? Absolutely not.

The GOP knows all this, of course. They don’t really mean what they say (one hopes). All they want is to force the congressional Democrats into a false dichotomy: either cut off the funds precipitously and get a lot of our soldiers killed, or just sign the checks and butt out until we’re ready to impose a timetable.

I’ve stated my position on the Iraq War here before. I think it was, at best, an obvious and horribly foolhardy mistake, but now that we’re there, we should fight to win. So I have mixed feelings about the House and Senate bills. I would be fully opposed to them if not for the fact that it’s clear to me that we, as a nation, are not going to commit fully to this fight. Not even the people who led us into it are fully committed to it. That being the case, I grudgingly lean slightly toward thinking the best course probably is to get out.

But regardless of what I think about this particular war, it’s important to remember that, in America, war and peace are always political decisions. Not military ones.

The Future of Values Voting?

March 27, 2007

Here’s some reading material that might be of interest, if you’re interested in politics and/or what Americans think on the so-called “values” issues. It’s a study of such by the Pew Center, and it suggests some surprising long-term trends.

Since Noone’s Reading Anyway…

March 26, 2007

[Warning: This post is a bit disgusting.]

I was on a trip with some friends in college when we stopped at a park and there was a dead fish on the bank of the lake and it was a bit bloated. And one of my friends threw a rock at the fish and it exploded. Lesson: don’t throw things at dead, bloated fish.

It’s probably best not to do anything with dead, bloated fish. As some people in Tainan, Tawain, learned.

A Belated Update on Spring Break

March 22, 2007

Living and working on a beach, I sometimes forget when I’m on break and when I’m working. So I forgot to give all of you an update on how my Spring Break went a couple of weeks ago. Which I’m certain you are eager to hear about. (And my thanks to Whitney for tanning for me in my absence.)

1. I learned something about myself: good weather follows me whereversoever I go. It was sunny and 75 everyday I was home. People should pay me to visit them.

2. Played lots of swords with my nephews. They love swords. And hitting things in general. Joshy — the 5 year old — is well on his way to becoming a major league baseball player. He can hit the snot out of a ball. Plus he’s cute in his helmet.

3. I didn’t get to read as much as I wanted, so I’m only around page 500 on the Pynchon book, which I find myself going back and reading passages of just because they’re so good. It’s really not a book for people who don’t have a couple of months to devote to one book. But if you do, pick it up. (Also, it’s one of those books that I was having a problem with creating different “voices” in my head for, so I downloaded the audio-version via iTunes, and now I listen to an excellent reader read the book whilst following along in the book with my eyes. I do this occassionally, and it is a great way to read books — especially long ones, I found.)

4. When a woman is very, very great with child, you can actually see the child stretching in her belly. Didn’t know that, not having been around someone as great with child before as my friend was a couple of weeks ago.

5. I still love my mom’s cooking (have you ever had fried mashed potatoes? mmmmm….). And dad’s. He makes a mean pizza. And it don’t cost a thing.

6. Despite all of my boasts of living on the beach (which I actually don’t live on the beach — I live about 8 miles from it), I think I’ve matured a bit. I was determined in my early 20s to get as far away from my hometown as I could. And I did. But I really like going back now. I look forward to it. Because of my nephews and my family and because my friends there are the best I’ve ever had — we always pick up right where we left off. And they let me say whatever I want without judging me. And they’re good fun to be around.

7. If you’re ever in the Memphis airport…okay, so I’m not one of those people who likes to people-watch. When I’m in an airport, I have my iPod on, a book open, and a don’t-even-think-about-talking-to-me look on my face. So I rarely look up. Because people in airports LOVE to talk. But I was sitting in the Memphis airport, and I think I saw Tom Arnold (of Rossanne fame). About 5 times. Is it Memphis? Or do a lot of people look like Tom Arnold?

I think that’s about it. It was fun to be home. It’s fun to be back. I live in fear of the day I have to get a job in a world where there is no spring break.

Business Socks

March 14, 2007

Seeing as I posted something about YouTube yesterday, I thought I’d share one of my favorite video clips with you today. It’s a two-man band called Flight of the Conchords. Kind of a comedy duo with guitars sort of thing. Anyway. The song is called “Business Time.”

Go HERE now. And enjoy.

I Was Wondering How Long This Would Take

March 13, 2007

Someone is finally sueing YouTube.

I remember a friend telling me a few months ago that buying Tivo was a waste of money because you could just go to YouTube and watch whatever you wanted whenever you wanted. And I have a couple of friends who are addicted to YouTube — they are always watching clips, hours on end. I’ve not gotten into the craze too much, so I don’t know much about it. And I don’t know anything about intellectual property laws. But it does seem to me that YouTube isn’t going out of its way to stop illegal postings. (It’s the copyright holder’s responsibility to report any wrongdoing to YouTube, seems to be the current policy — which seems almost backwards to me.)

Hopefully we’ll get to have another Napster-like legal battle where television stars will appear before Congress to testify about intellectual property. I loved watching the drummer from Metallica testify. And he wasn’t even funny. So John Stewart could really do something fun.

Anyway, a couple of quotes from the linked article:

Bruce Sunstein, co-founder of intellectual property law firm Bromberg & Sunstein in Boston, said YouTube was still in the early stages of what was likely to be a “very long working-out of arrangements” with the owners of broadcast copyrights.

“Finding a way of peaceful coexistence is quite a struggle,” Sunstein said. “Google’s motto is ’Don’t be Evil,’ and you could argue that with YouTube that motto is wearing a little thin.”

The Rule of Law? Not So Much.

March 9, 2007

You may have seen today’s headlines about the FBI’s illegal use of National Security Letters to obtain private information on American citizens. Those reports don’t mention that issue’s conection with another one, one that I’ve been ringing the bell about around here for a long time: presidential signing statements and, more broadly, the expansion of executive power.

Glenn Greenwald has a brilliant post about both issues and the connection between them, here.

Guilty Scooter

March 6, 2007

Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff found guilty of obstruction of justice, perjury, and lying to the FBI.

A Personal/Political/Religious Post

March 6, 2007

A while back, Sandi mentioned that being the only non-religious person here was a bit isolating for her. I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. More correctly, I wasn’t sure if I should respond to that. The response itself, had I chosen to make it, would’ve been, “You’re not, actually. I’m not religious, either.”

I don’t mean anything clever by that, as in the chirpy, “I’m a Christian, but I’m not religious,” by which one means one is religious but not, supposedly, in a bumptious way. I mean I’m not religious, as in, “I’m not pregnant.” Not religious. Agnostic.

Or is that what I mean?

In a sense, I suppose I’m the ultimate agnostic: I don’t even know if I’m agnostic or not. Spiritually, I am. Is there a god? I don’t know and I don’t think it’s knowable. I can only say that neither nature nor experience inclines me to believe there is — at least, not one worth knowing. Is there a spiritual dimension to human life, of the kind spoken of in Christianity and some other religions? I don’t know and I don’t think it’s knowable, but it doesn’t ring true. Is there a heaven and a hell? I don’t know. I don’t even think the question is worth asking.

I’m pretty sure all that makes “agnostic” the correct box for me to check on the next census.

I certainly wouldn’t check any of the boxes that would identify me with any church I’m familiar with, which, to varying degrees, is most of them. Churches and me, we’re done with each other. That’s been true for a while, now. The last time I went to church, I felt like I’d stepped onto the surface of Mars. I walked in, I turned around, I walked out. I haven’t been back, and I don’t miss it. Ever. Not even kinda. But I’ve been contemplating visiting one or two here in my new hometown. People keep saying it’s the best place to meet people and build a social circle, which is something I’d like to do. But then I start looking at the local churches’ websites and I just can’t bring myself to go. It just isn’t worth it. Go back into that world? Nuh-uh. As the mapmakers used to say, there be dragons there.

I don’t look down my nose when I talk about this. Along with the relief I feel at not going, there’s regret at not being able to go and not being able to believe. Nor do I like talking about it. Those here who know me will have some idea why that is. In just about every possible way, my life would be easier if I could make a churchgoing, spiritual-realm-believing life work for me. But I’ve tried and tried and tried, and it just won’t take. It’s like transplanting a mismatched organ into a kidney patient. The longer I try to make it work, the sicker I get.

So in all those ways, I’m not religious, and you’re not alone, Sandi. In other ways, though, I’m very much not only religious, but specifically Christian.

The broad moral principles of Christianity are central to who I am. I’ve invested a lot of my life (and student loans) in pursuing a better understanding of them and of what they’ve meant to Christians at various times in history. I’ve worked hard at internalizing my best understanding of it all, and while I’ve certainly not entirely succeeded, I’ve succeeded well enough that I’ll never be not Christian in my basic notions of right, wrong, and what a life well lived looks like. I’ll likely never be a churchgoer or an apologist for the existence of god, but I’ll just as likely always be smitten with Jesus’ life and teachings.

Whatever that makes me — Christian, heretic, lukewarm, lapsed Catholic, casual Protestant, etc. — I guess that’s what I am. But it is what I am. “Here I stand. I can do no other.” The rest I leave to God, if there is one.

Bacon and Eggs With Cornbread

March 2, 2007

Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell found himself in trouble this past week. Maxwell is a radio announcer for the Boston Celtics; a team he helped win two NBA championships over the course of his eleven-year career. (Side note for basketball fans: Did you know the Celtics retired his jersey? Since when do players who average twelve points / six boards a game get their jerseys retired?) Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell is a goofy announcer. He literally quacks on the air for some reason, along with other sundry peculiarities.

Violet Palmer is an NBA referee. She, in fact, is the first female referee in NBA history, Further, she is the first female official in the world of United States professional sports, having broken the gender barrier in October, 1997.

Then there was Monday.

In response to a Palmer call during the game between the Boston Celtics and the Houston Rockets Monday night, Maxwell said on-air that Palmer should “go back to the kitchen,” followed by, “Go in there and make me some bacon and eggs, would you?”

Maxwell’s comments didn’t go over very well on, oh, say a million fronts.

In response to the firestorm of controversy he unleashed with his comments, he offered a public apology Wednesday, saying, “If I said anything that might have been insensitive or sexist in any way, then I apologize because she worked extremely hard to get where she is now, end of quote.”

This apology wasn’t received too well either by the folks I listened to on ESPN Radio, pinpointing the “if” in the apology. I listened to the callers offer their opinions. One mentioned that if this would have been a “race” comment then Maxwell would have lost his job, but since it was gender-related he was treated differently. Another wondered that if it would have been different had it been a homosexual rather than a feminist issue.

All this led me to do some thinking. How do we define these issues anyway? If Maxwell would have made fun of Dick Bavetta as being a “slow white boy who couldn’t outrun Charles Barkley” then it wouldn’t have made headlines. Or if he would have made a classic “black on black” remark, it wouldn’t have garnered attention either.

So where is the standard?

I came to a few conclusions. Feel free to roundly criticize them all.

* First, there’s the personal end of these things. I don’t know if Violet Palmer was offended or not, but either way she deserves a personal apology from Maxwell. Personal insults deserve personal apologies.

* Second, insulting a general class of people deserves an apology, too. I think that was what Maxwell was trying to do with his “if” apology (given the benefit of the doubt).

* But third, and most important for discussion I believe, insults should be considered on a level considering the effect it might have on oppression. I don’t think the hypothetical insult of calling Dick Bavetta a “slow white guy” will do much to keep Caucasian athletes from getting a track scholarship. I’m still fairly convinced that white American men (being one, myself) don’t have a lot to worry about in the world of oppression when it comes to those three specific characteristics (white…American…men…).

Because Maxwell’s comment presents itself as one that if perpetuated could hinder the future of gender equality in professional sports, then he deserved the firestorm he received. And in my humble opinion, future stupid remarks in this genre should be judged by a similar standard.