Matthew Boudway is an associate editor of Commonweal.
By this author
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:
Dana Milbank: "The New Republic is dead, thanks to its owner, Chris Hughes":
At a 40th-birthday party in July for Franklin Foer, editor of the New Republic, the magazine’s young owner, Chris Hughes, got all choked up as he pledged to the roomful of writers at Foer’s country home in Pennsylvania that the two would be “intellectual partners for decades.”
There have recently been many good articles about what Amazon is doing to the book trade. In February, the New Yorker's George Packer offered a short history of the company, along with some shrewd ideas about how publishers might escape its vise grip. In October, Franklin Foer, the editor of the New Republic, described how Amazon violates the spirit, if not the letter, of our anti-trust laws. Back in 2012, TNR's Leon Wieseltier published this nice little lament for some of the important things Amazon is destroying. And in our own November 14 issue, Albert Wu wrote about how the French government, scrappy independent bookstore owners, and others are resisting Amazon's growing control over publishers, authors, and, yes, readers.
Now comes Ursula K. Le Guin, who lit into Amazon last night at the National Book Awards. She did not name the company; she did not need to. But her target was bigger than Amazon, and she hit it:
I see sales departments given control over editorial. I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us, the producers who write the books, and make the books, accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write.
After the jump, Le Guin's whole speech—all 432 words of it.