Matthew Boudway is an associate editor of Commonweal.
By this author
Readers of this blog will be interested in a web-exclusive interview with Noam Chomsky now available on our homepage. Did you know that Chomsky has a painting of Oscar Romero in the corner of his office at MIT? Nicholas Haggerty, a Fordham undergraduate and editorial intern at Commonweal, begins the interview by asking Chomsky about that painting.
Lent, like Advent, is a season of preparation and expectation. Officially, it ends on Holy Thursday, but Holy Saturday—the day between Jesus' public defeat and his quiet triumph—is the greatest day of expectation in the Christian calendar. For the church, this expectation is full of gladness: we know how the story ends. For Christ's first followers, though, the day brought more despair than hope. If he was truly dead, they had been fools. Had they been taken in, or had they simply misunderstood what he was up to? Either way, they were now at loose ends.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long been suspected of playing a double game, of speaking one way to his supporters in Israel and another way to the rest of the world. Since 2009, he has been telling the world that he supports a two-state solution. Meanwhile, he has been signaling to right-wing voters in Israel that they needn't worry about peace talks with the Palestinians going anywhere.
In a piece titled "The Robots Are Coming," John Lanchester explains why technology may one day force us to choose between capitalism and democracy. The word "socialist" does not appear until the last sentence of the piece, but the drift of Lanchester's argument is clear. And compelling.
At the Atlantic, Leon Wieseltier writes about the predicament of French Jews and the contradictions of French laïcité:
"A Trap Set for Conservative Catholics" is the ominous title of a piece by Austin Ruse at Crisis Magazine. The gravamen of Ruse's complaint is that people like me and Commonweal contributor David Gibson are defaming conservative Catholics by conflating their support for a "robust market economy" with libertarianism. As evidence for this claim, Ruse cites some of the presentations at a conference titled "The Catholic Case Against Libertarians," which took place last June in Washington, D.C.
Want to know what's at stake in the showdown between the new Greek government and the E.U.? Watch Yanis Varoufakis, Greece's new finance minister, explain it to a couple of German journalists:
— Mary Jenkins (@maryjenki) February 9, 2015
Can there be a more thankless task than assembling such texts? Paying homage to clichés ancient and contemporary; nodding to every constituency, large or small, lest anyone feel slighted; claiming to know history’s very purposes, while taking care to package such claims in bland (and therefore incontrovertible) generalities; inserting anticipatory rebuttals to the inevitable sniping of partisan critics: These number among the essential elements. Satisfying them necessarily results in a product that is to expository prose what Spam is to a pig: highly processed and short on nutrition.
Bacevich digs through the Spam to uncover the document's underlying logic, which is as evident in its omissions as in its "highly processed" rhetoric. He is especially hard on the NSS's flourishes of self-congratulation:
As measured by “might, technology, and geostrategic reach,” U.S. military forces are “unrivaled in human history.” More accurately: While the United States undoubtedly possesses enormous military power, it has yet to figure out how to translate armed might into politically purposeful outcomes achieved at reasonable cost. Time and again, vast expenditures of lives, treasure, and political capital yield results other than those intended.
The United States is “embracing constraints on our use of new technologies like drones.” A bit of a stretch, that. More accurately: Through its shadowy campaign of targeted assassination, the Obama administration is erasing long-established conceptions of sovereignty while removing constraints on the use of force. Something of a novelty when inaugurated by George W. Bush, drone strikes have now become routine—about as newsworthy as traffic accidents. In effect, Washington claims the prerogative of converting lesser countries like Yemen or Somalia into free-fire zones. What these precedent-setting actions imply for the future is anybody’s guess. One thing seems likely: As drones proliferate with astonishing speed, others are likely to avail themselves of the same prerogative.
In the current New Yorker, Adam Gopnik has a thoughtful piece about last week's massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. He provides some useful history, makes some important distinctions, and points out that, even in an era when the capacity of images to shock is supposed to have been enfeebled by "repetition and availability," a cartoon can still enrage.
This point has been made elsewhere, and no doubt it will be made again and again in the next few days, because it's an obvious point. But it's also an important one, so let me make it here too: Marco Rubio's sanctimonious response to yesterday's announcement that the Obama administration will begin normalizing U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba is impossible to take seriously. From the New York Times: