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June 30, 2008

Freedom of Speech

I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.

- Hamlet, scene II

For every drawback that comes with long deployments there is a corresponding silver lining. Sometimes one has to be willing to turn over a rock or two to see it, though. One unintended side effect of packing the spousal unit off for an all expense-paid vacation at Camp Sandy Trau in Iraq was that it prompted me to begin taking road trips on weekends.

I enjoy traveling. As a child I loved to go exploring; to take off through woods and fields, going as far as my little legs or my bicycle would take me. When my boys were small I thought nothing of piling into the car and driving 12 or even 24 hours to visit my parents and in-laws. I drove halfway across the country to meet my husband once. But until last year I never did much traveling all by myself, never went anywhere just because I felt like it. The idea was intoxicating.

Freedom, or perhaps more accurately the perception of freedom, is a strange thing. When I left college, married, and became a mother in fairly short order my freedom of action narrowed suddenly and dramatically. At first I found the limitations hard to bear gracefully at times, though of course I said nothing. Each Spring the world grew green and vibrant again, and each Spring I grew distracted and restless as I went about my daily routine.

Once or twice I even dreamed of abandoning the life I had chosen: the life I loved with all my heart. I was reminded of this last October when I attended my first high school reunion in thirty years. That's a long time to go without seeing anyone who knew you "way back when", who hasn't seen you since you were young and didn't have a care in the world. It was an interesting and I suppose characteristic experience. As I prepared to leave I thought of all the times I'd read about women preparing for months on end for their high school reunions: cutting and coloring their hair, going on diets, getting their makeup and nails done, planning their outfits carefully.

Well, that wasn't me. I never prepare ahead. I don't even pack in any organized fashion - it ruins the sense of adventure. I like to throw my things into a suitcase on the spur of the moment and go. That's exactly what I did; crammed a pair of blue jeans, my favorite high heeled boots, a camisole, cropped blazer and a few t-shirts into a small bag, called the dog sitter, and bombed down 95 with the CD player blaring. Once there, I checked into a posh hotel, drove from one waterfront to another and stepped from my car straight into my past.

I don't know what I expected. I wasn't prepared to see myself through other people's eyes:

"Oh my God, you look exactly the same as you did in high school!" (Is this the Official Greeting of high school reunions?)

But there was also this:

"I can't believe you married a Marine. I just can't picture you staying home with your kids all those years. You were always so WILD."

I'm not sure when I began to contemplate turning this into a drinking game: every time someone says the word "wild" in reference to your checkered past, chug one brewski.

Can you say 'confirmation bias', boys and girls? I knew that you could. I thought it was funny the first time I heard it. By the end of the evening I found myself thinking: "You never knew me." Isn't it funny how people only see what's on the outside? I may have been a little wild a long time ago when nothing I did mattered, when I wasn't responsible for anyone else.

And it may have taken me a long time to reconcile myself to being a stay at home wife and mother. But it's also true that even as young as I was then, I never once doubted I was on the right path. As young as I was then, I never failed to understand there is a price to be paid for everything that truly matters in life. That is just the nature of the world we live in. Choices imply trade-offs.

I always understood that no matter which path I took in life I would have to give up something of value. Perhaps that's why I don't understand statements like this:

Bottom line - I am sorry that the Field level O is a jerk, and sorrier that LT G is in trouble for airing dirty laundry on his blog. Reality is that those serving don't really have freedom of speech, and here's the proof.

I understand the good impulses that prompted it, just as I understand John's protective instincts. They both come from a good place. But what bothers me about so much of the outrage over DoD regulation of Milblogging is that ironically, military bloggers enjoy far more freedom of speech when it comes to blogging than most civilian employees.

The fact of the matter is that civilians have been fired for blogging even on their own time and even when their blogs are anonymous, entirely personal in nature and don't mention their employers. Employees who believe the First Amendment gives them the legal right to voice their personal opinions without fear of termination should think again:

Cliff Palefsky, a San Francisco employment lawyer, says there's a false sense that employers can't punish their workers for voicing personal opinions -- on their blogs or anywhere else. "People mistakenly believe that the First Amendment protects them in the workplace, which is generally not the case," he said.

There are a handful of exceptions. Several states, including California, specifically protect workers from retaliation for their political views. Other states have broader protections covering "off-the-job" activities, said Palefsky.

Even those safety nets have limits when it comes to bad-mouthing the boss. "If you're going to be talking about your employer, it's hard to call that 'off-the-job' conduct," said Palefsky.

Military bloggers know this. What rational basis do they have, then, for expecting to be treated differently from their civilian counterparts, especially when one adds OPSEC and public policy concerns to the existing concerns of civilian employers?

What basis do they have?

It's an interesting argument. In fact, it's an argument we've heard before. You can't stop us from publishing, no matter what the rules say. What? You say that ordinary citizens are required to comply with this set of rules? Well, we are special. We should not have to comply with that set of rules because America depends upon us to supply them with critically needed information. You can't shut us down.

The end justifies the means. Where, oh where have we heard this argument before? Oh yes. Bill Keller. The New York Times.

"Just trust us".

And then there's the issue of the act which generated the post. I'm more than willing to concede that if everything is exactly as it was presented, it is a bit disturbing, though even there I have questions. But perhaps this entirely hypothetical scenario will illustrate my disquiet with some of the conclusions which have been drawn from Lt. G's post:

You are the regimental commander.

It has come to your ears - never mind how - that one of your field grade officers has threatened retaliation against a young Lieutenant.T The only "evidence" is a blog post. In the post, the Lieutenant accuses - in a roundabout way - his senior of threatening him with some unspecified and petty harassment as a consequence of the Lt.'s having refused a lateral transfer. The post is disdainful, contemptuous, and openly defiant of the officer.

You note, a few posts later, that the Lt. has been ordered to cease posting. Apparently he went on leave and posted the account of his falling out with his senior officer without clearing the offending post, something he knows well he is required to do. Given the tone, you are not surprised.

His photo is on the site, so there is no mistaking who he is. Anyone in the command would be able to trace it back, and therefore likely also identify the senior officer.

QUESTION: Based on nothing more than the contents of the post, do you call in the senior officer and tear him a new one?

Your call.

It's too dark
to put the keys
in my ignition,
And the mornin' sun is yet
to climb my hood ornament.
But before too long I might
see those flashing red lights
Look out, mama,
'cause I'm comin' home tonight.

Think I'll
roll another number
for the road,
I feel able to get under any load.
Though my feet
aren't on the ground,
I been standin' on the sound
Of some open-hearted people
goin' down.

- Neil Young


Posted by Cassandra at June 30, 2008 03:34 AM

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Comments

Based on nothing more than the contents of the post, do you call in the senior officer and tear him a new one?

Nope. You might want to ask him why he's allowed it to remain on the site, though.

*Then* you investigate to see if the results warrant a denticular reduction in somebody's keister. But only *if*...

Posted by: BillT at June 30, 2008 12:14 PM

I agree, Bill.

100%.
Which is why I'm so surprised to have seen so many people concluding this officer is guilty, based on nothing more than a post.

You might want to ask him why he's allowed it to remain on the site, though.

I agree, but I also think removing it looks like prima facie evidence of a coverup. He can't.

That, at least, would be my conclusion, were I him. That is what bothers me so about this. It is a serious but backhanded accusation that left no way for it to be refuted that didn't make the officer in question look worse.

I think if I were him I would have called it to my boss's attention. And for all we know, he may have. But I also think that very likely that is a career ender, even if you are innocent, at that level. Non-recoverable.

Sucks to be him.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 30, 2008 12:28 PM

I also think that very likely that is a career ender

Depends on the perspectives of the Higher-Ups. It could be the Kiss of Death, but it could also be used as an example of how well he had previously kept LT G in line.

There are wheels and there are wheels within the wheels, Lady Cassandra. And all are turning...

Posted by: BillT at June 30, 2008 02:32 PM

"And all are turning..."

That is until someone wraps a thong around the hub....

0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at June 30, 2008 02:42 PM

That is until someone wraps a thong around the hub....

While you're wearing it?

Posted by: BillT at June 30, 2008 03:19 PM

Well, now, that would give a whole new meaning to *high and tight*, wouldn't it?
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at June 30, 2008 05:38 PM

Heh. Like I said, I shouldna mixed my hot buttons when posting - or at least posted them in reverse order. That's my bad.

If the higher-ups cashier anybody over this, then, well, they're not better than that Senior O...

Oh, wait, I can't say that. Dammit, lemme try again...

What do I do? Me, nothing. If the senior was a dolt this time, it won't be the first time. I might take notes, however, to use in my notes about leadership. If I know that this is one incident in a string of similar, I may opt to do some of my own mentoring with the senior leader.

The LT is beyond my reach, really. That would be really sticking my nose in where it doesn't belong.

I'm sure we're spending far more time and effort on this that *any* of the actual in-the-box participants.

But I still think it's a good discussion to have.

I've learned from it. Others have - and I don't think anyone has been damaged by it.

Posted by: John of Argghhh! at June 30, 2008 06:22 PM

- and I don't think anyone has been damaged by it.

Unless you're counting the new words some of the ladies have been exposed to.

Wait. That didn't come out right...

Posted by: BillT at June 30, 2008 06:36 PM

Um no. I really don't think firefighters are any more restrained than military....oh...that isn't what you meant? :D

Posted by: Maggie100 at July 1, 2008 02:49 AM

"Even those safety nets have limits when it comes to bad-mouthing the boss. "If you're going to be talking about your employer, it's hard to call that 'off-the-job' conduct," said Palefsky.

"Military bloggers know this. What rational basis do they have, then, for expecting to be treated differently from their civilian counterparts, especially when one adds OPSEC and public policy concerns to the existing concerns of civilian employers?"

Honestly? I don't think all milbloggers know it. I ran on in a response to your last enty about this, in a way. I understand your reference to the Times but I'm not convinced some see it that way as it refers to themselves--as witness the continuing controversy about civilian employee writings. From what I hear from twenty somethings (or even some older) there seems to be a growing misunderstanding of what the freedom of expression actually means. The bit about *government* repression of free speech appears to be dropping out and conventional wisdom seems to believe that amendment guarantees free speech unrepressed by anyone under any circumstances anywhere. There is also an odd belief floating around in connection with that one that "freedom of expression" guarantees also "freedom from consequences" of that speech.

Posted by: Maggie100 at July 1, 2008 03:16 AM

There is also an odd belief floating around in connection with that one that "freedom of expression" guarantees also "freedom from consequences" of that speech.

Bingo.

People see the MSM or Individuals In High Places making outrageous statements without suffering any visible consequences -- such as being named in a
libel suit -- and do not realize (or know) that

a. the rules governing Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Expression are *different* and that

b. our Lawmakers passed laws exempting themselves from their own laws.

oh...that isn't what you meant? :D

I've got lots of friends who fight fires, Miss Maggie. I've even met a couple of them...

Posted by: BillT at July 1, 2008 03:45 AM

Understatement.

My local vols have *all* been to my house for beer 'n' bratwurst...

Posted by: BillT at July 1, 2008 03:48 AM

So, okay, I've been following this one for a bit now, but here's what I don't get. Does it not follow naturally that the freedom to act in a specific way is the freedom from officially sanctioned consequences?

I mean, otherwise you might as well be like Canada, where you can say anything you like, but face the CHRC and CHRT should someone take offence.

Or Iran, where you can be gay, but if we find out it's a short trip to Monsieur Guillotine for you, Mahmood.

As for the errant milblogger, being neither military nor American I do not have standing to comment on the case. I will point out that in a civilian employment situation, I did publish a blog containing my employer's name, hoping to talk about work-related stuff. My mentor pulled me aside quietly and told me to lay off; quite politely and rationally, so I did. Nothing adverse came of it.

In another situation, a former colleagues did a serious rant about his manager. Serious. No kidding rant. His ignorance about the Net is also serious, though, because he expected the manager NOT to find his blog. Which the manager found. And got a bit cheesed off. Hurt, too, I guess. IN that instance, it may have been a good thing he'd found new employment elsewhere before the manager found out.

So, I'm not so sure people quite grasp the ramifications of the technology; its quite literally worldwide reach and its complete transparency, Cassandra. Even those chest-deep in it, like I would consider myself.

Posted by: Gregory at July 1, 2008 06:15 AM

Does it not follow naturally that the freedom to act in a specific way is the freedom from officially sanctioned consequences?

Sure -- so long as it specifically follows the officially sanctioned guidelines, otherwise, it may be subjected to the officially sanctioned sanctions.

Posted by: BillT at July 1, 2008 07:21 AM

being neither military nor American I do not have standing to comment on the case.

Not so. I get annoyed with this line of thinking. On a thread over at John's place, I was told that not having been in combat disqualified me from commenting. That was equally irrelevant. It has nothing to do with this issue - it's basically a distraction. Any thinking person ought to be able to comment on a subject. You may not have an expert opinion, but often I've seen really dumb comments from the 'experts' and quite thoughtful comments from people who don't know much about a specific topic. So much for 'experts'.

People like to throw that kind of thing into an argument when they can't think of anything to say, but it's not a particularly compelling line of reasoning.

re: freedom to act and consequences, when has the freedom to act ever involved freedom from consequences? Only children enjoy such freedom, and only in a very limited fashion (and then, only if they are being spoiled by their parents). The effect is never good.

Divorcing actions from consequences blunts the signals which give us much needed feedback about the world in which we live. It's not a healthy thing.

This is what is wrong with things like price and wage controls.

Prices are signals - they give us feedback about market conditions. When we artificially impose controls upon them, we block the signals the market would normally send to suppliers and the supply chain gets disrupted (i.e., the supply goes down in response to prices kept artificially low). In the absence of controls, suppliers would rapidly enter the marketplace to take advantage of temporarily high prices, thus increasing the supply and eventually lowering demand and therefore, prices as demand fell off naturally.

The same thing happens with speech. Divorcing actions from consequences encourages irresponsible speech and often disincents thoughtful commentary (which is more time and effort-intensive). When there are no consequences for bad behavior, it increases b/c the 'cost' is minimal or non-existent. The 'cost' of behaving well, on the other hand, increases because it still requires the same effort not to be a jerk, but now you also have to put up with more a**holes than you used to b/c they've come out of the woodwork and there is no one to police them. You could spend all your time just swatting them down.

So many of the most thoughtful people just don't bother engaging anymore. It isn't worth their time.

Snotty comments aside, that is why I have tried to keep VC a place where both liberal and conservative readers hopefully feel welcome to comment, and why I continue to participate in the comments section even though sometimes I am so busy at work I don't have the most scintillating commentary on offer. A comments section requires monitoring, and takes on the personality and characteristics of the site owner.

If you don't care about it, if you can't be bothered to respond to people, it languishes. I don't do as good a job as I'd like to - every day I see and read far more comments than I'm able to respond to, and it bothers me that I'm not able to get to every one. But I do read most every one (even if I don't read them all in 'real time' - sometimes I am too busy during the day and can't read them until the next morning when I wake up).

Posted by: Cassandra at July 1, 2008 08:04 AM

Gregory, here is the difference between freedom of expression (as presented in the First Amendment) and freedom from consequence:

I post an article calling my Senator a moron. He cannot have me jailed. However, his supporters decide, based upon my comments that they do not want to do business at my establishment anymore. That's the consequence. My boss may even fire me, because I've hurt his business with my comments. That's not infringing on my freedom of expression, it's me facing the consequences for my actions.

Some folks seem to believe that simply because they cannot be arrested by the government for saying something, that their words have no consequence. The Dixie Chicks found out how wrong they were in that belief.

Posted by: MikeD at July 1, 2008 10:58 AM

"QUESTION: Based on nothing more than the contents of the post, do you call in the senior officer and tear him a new one?".....Not having been a member of the milatary fraternity my question/response may seem naive, but couldn't the senior to the above mentioned senior make some discreet, behind the scenes, inquiries ? And ,dependent on the aquired info, have a face to face with either or both involved parties ? I would think, perhaps my naivte showing, that conversations/decisions/direction changes could be made without ruffling feathers. But, hey, what the hell do I know.

Posted by: Edward Lunny at July 1, 2008 12:57 PM

...couldn't the senior to the above mentioned senior make some discreet, behind the scenes, inquiries?

Which is usually what happens.

A more formal inquiry is best reserved for more serious matters -- an aircraft mishap, a weapons discharge for no good reason (or for a bad one), assaults and suchlike.

Posted by: BillT at July 1, 2008 01:34 PM

"Which is usually what happens."...I thought as much. I've read the LT's blog, and this post in particular and I wonder if more isn't being made of it than warranted. He hadn't named anyone in particular, though that could be determined, he didn't really insult or degrade anyone. His shared thoughts might be considered mildly intemperate, might be, and perhaps shouldn't have been shared publicly. But, the suggestion that "free speech" issues are/were involved seems, to me at least, a bit melodramatic and overheated. At worst this seems to be a situation of airing his opinions a bit inappropriately, perhaps his timing was somewhat inopportune.

Posted by: Edward Lunny at July 1, 2008 02:32 PM

Heh. You have a flair for understatement.

Posted by: BillT at July 1, 2008 03:21 PM

Perhaps Edward is British? :p

Posted by: Cass Cohosh at July 1, 2008 03:30 PM

We'll know if he answers this correctly:

Q: What's brown and sticky?

Posted by: BillT at July 1, 2008 04:01 PM

"Perhaps Edward is British? :p "...um, no, attended the air show at Farnborough several years ago though.
"Q: What's brown and sticky?"...several possible answers come to mind, nearly all of them rather disgusting, perverted, genuinely foul, or all of the above. But, none of them the answer that you are likely looking for; nor suitible for mixed company.

Posted by: Edward Lunny at July 1, 2008 05:26 PM

Funny, I thought it would be some sort of pudding, possibly cocoa pudding :)

MikeD and Cassandra: Which is why I specified officially sanctioned. That actions carry natural consequences is to be expected; that *rights* should be infringed on, I am not so sanguine about.

BillT: Hmm. Yes, I see your point. I just happen to think that there are better ways of getting the job done besides stomping on someone, especially when it does not seem to be that the action warranted getting stomped on.

Which is, btw, why I don't feel overqualified to speak on this matter. On one hand, a person should not, while being employed, bring about disrepute on his employer. OTOH, I can't help but think that knowing that the armed forces have another Corp/Sgt/CPO/Captain/Major/General/Admiral A*hole would not hurt anyone. I mean, certainly the armed forces are not perfect, and there are all kinds of people in all walks of life. And I doubt I know sufficiently enough about the military, especially the American military, much as I admire people like Lex and Blackfive, to be able to offer cogent and coherent opinions.

Posted by: Gregory at July 1, 2008 09:42 PM

I just happen to think that there are better ways of getting the job done besides stomping on someone...

As does pretty much everyone in uniform, which is why it doesn't happen that often, and why it gets noticed when it does. You don't call in a B-2 to hit one sniper crawling along a drainage ditch.

"Q: What's brown and sticky?"...several possible answers come to mind, nearly all of them rather disgusting, perverted, genuinely foul, or all of the above.

Edward's not a Brit. Because the answer, obviously, is -- a stick.

Posted by: BillT at July 2, 2008 03:09 AM

I can't help but think that knowing that the armed forces have another Corp/Sgt/CPO/Captain/Major/General/Admiral A*hole would not hurt anyone.

Unless you're in the line of fire when one of them almost starts WWIII -- as in the case of Wesley (the Prince of Darkness) Clark -- from sheer incompetence. Or tries to initiate border incidents from sheer boredom, as in the case of someone who has since been removed to a job with adult supervision...

Posted by: BillT at July 2, 2008 03:17 AM

In which case, knowing *who* said A*hole is helps, not hurts, won't you say? :)

Where are you posting from, anyway, BillT? If from the USA, way past your bedtime, no?

Posted by: Gregory at July 2, 2008 03:21 AM

Those Who Know know *who* -- and, unless he decides to run for a position requiring some sense of responsibility, it will remain Close Hold.

I'm in FOB Warrior, aka, Kirkuk, Iraq.

[cue Doc-Lady Sly to enter, stage right, hollering, "Fobbit! Fobbit!"]

Posted by: BillT at July 2, 2008 03:58 AM

Ooh. Nice. Well, hellishly hot, no doubt. But nice.

Best of luck and my prayers to you and the rest of the milfolk deployed there and Afghanistan. And in case of any service interruptions, sorta kinda 2 days in advance, Happy Independence Day! Defending the Constitution just got a whole lot easier after Heller, didn't it? :)

Posted by: Gregory at July 2, 2008 04:26 AM

Well, hellishly hot, no doubt.

Not really. Average temp's only 120°F in the shade, and it dips down to 118°F at night...

Posted by: BillT at July 2, 2008 05:20 AM

50°C!!!!

Oh, boy, you sure have a different idea of 'not hellishly hot'. My personal definition is 'anything above body temperature, unless we're snuggling, in which case it's toasty warm' :)

Anyways, I think I should stop derailing Cassandra's thread. ;)

Posted by: Gregory at July 2, 2008 05:47 AM

It was toastier in Pakistan, last year -- we don't know exactly *how* hot, because the air temp gauges on the aircraft only went up to 60°C.

Cassie won't be concerned, but you'll have to deal with Sly -- she's the designated derailer. Just don't get her started on thongs...

Posted by: BillT at July 2, 2008 06:32 AM

You turned your aircraft into a microwave oven? Amazing.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at July 2, 2008 04:06 PM

Free Air Temp gauge measures the air temp *outside* the cockpit. Inside's more like a convection oven...

Posted by: BillT at July 2, 2008 05:36 PM

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