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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Nomads, et al

I just left a post on that reflects some of my thoughts on the "e-" projects that seem to be all the rage (e-Democracy, e-Government). My scepticism about such efforts finally spilled over into comments when William Heath of idealgovernment asked for my reactions to the latest fad/buzzword among "e-"ers: co-creation. I have been a non-contributing member of that blog for more than two years (Heath is obviously a persistent man -- he never gave up on me), and this seemed the time to toss my ideas into the mix.

Having done that, I was listening to a podcast (from Weekend America) this morning that included a segment I think provides a clear example of the emerging generation of "nomads" I write about in that post. Listening to the folks interviewed in that segment, I realized that these were of the generation I was writing about. And it really wasn't about what they did in front of some computer, but rather the immersive lifestyles they sought. These are the folks that form the target populations of the future for e-Democracy and e-Government.

And as if the put a point on it, another recent podcast came to mind -- this time a segment from yesterday's On The Media that explored the world and development of Second Life.

Interesting stuff....

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Overwhlemed, buried alive, and into The Wire....

Those who visit my web site or my webcam site typically see this shot of my home office, and in the forefront is a modernistic "Sisyphus" pushing a rock -- or attempting to do so. For those who know me, a more appropriate interpretation might be that the Sisyphus character is actually trying to hold back the boulder from rolling over on him....

While I have all the best of intentions to keep my "reshelving" project (see previous posts) going, life keeps getting int he way. The attempt will get into gear again in the near future... I hope....

In the meantime, for those who want more to think about than just the mundane tasks of everyday life, consider the "Unspeakable" subject in a Wednesday column/audio/podcast. That will put things in a bit of perspective....

And while you are at it, read up on Slate editor Weisberg's view of The Wire....

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Bush and the war story

The past few days has seen the White House finally engage in a critical aspect of war-making: the development of a clear war narrative. Problem is, it might be too much, too late.

For five years the Bush Administration has either been inconsistent in its articulation of why we are at war -- and with whom, and to what ends, and with what strategy -- or else just plain reluctant to engage in what it regarded as a waste of time. Taking their corporate management view of the world, they assumed that just saying "we are at war" would be sufficient for a trusting workforce of citizens who would leave things up to the central office. But plagued by both the arrogance of their managerial ideology and a lack of historical knowledge, it wasn't sufficient. War means different things to different people, and the fact that this particular war lacked historical precedence meant that people were filling the narrative vacuum with their own sense of what a "war on terror" involved. Of all the people in the Bush Administration, only Colin Powell seemed to understand that -- and he was effectively overshadowed by the lesser lights in the White House.

For those who viewed war as a total mobilization of state and society -- the Garrison State -- this was a war that required an all out commitment of troops and resources to fight the evil enemy. But these folks soon learned that its government wanted to get the economy and social life back to normal as fast as possible after 9/11. William Dobson discusses how successful this was in his article on "The Day Nothing Much Changed" in Foreign Policy.

For folks who accepted the need to get things back to normal on the domestic front, the war became an effort best left to the professionals in the military and intelligence communities. By now, however, they have been disabused of the notion that we can establish a glass wall between the homefront and the frontlines in a war in which we are vulnerable from within. That narrative just doesn't play well when we learn about wiretaps, torture, and other challenges to the very values that are supposedly being safeguarded by those professionals under orders from the White House.

An "enemy within" narrative plays well in the movies and on the TV, but it begins to chafe a bit when the inconveniences of symbolically heavy gestures (e.g., somewhat silly security checks of two-year olds at airports, people in khaki uniforms patrolling the city streets with weapons at the ready) become just too much to deal with. And after five years, the idea that these practices have been institutionalized and are here to stay certainly puts the lie to any narrative that calls for temporary sacrifices for the sake of long-term peace.

Listening to Bush over the few days, it is clear that the Administration finally gets the point that it needs to do what should have been done much sooner and with much more clarity -- to confront the American public's need for a war narrative that can be used as a reference point for understanding what the war on terror involves. But while they have finally understood the need for a clear narrative, they seem to miss the point that content matters. Their confused and contradictory storyline has not changed -- it is just more obvious now that the Administration is itself baffled about the what the war on terror entails.

Today, for example, Bush was very good at showing how the infamous CIA program(s) for detaining and interrogating the thousand or so "enemies" in the war has led to the preemption of attacks and saving lives, but in the end it was not a war narrative but a crime-fighting story which will end with the prosecution of a handful of individuals who will be brought to juridical justice. Save for a few passing (and disconnected) nominal references to Iraq and Afghanistan, there was nothing about "war" in the presentation, nothing to indicate the loss and ruin of so many lives has some rational basis. Scratch the surface of the current rhetorical offensive and you still find a narrative vacuum.

In fact, the only hope for the Bush Administration in its effort to establish a legitimate war narrative is also its worse nightmare -- another attack of 9/11 proportions....

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Paroemiograph this!!!!

I subscribe to an email news list -- or whatever they are called -- that offers a bit of entertainment each day in the form of a "worthless word". Today's entry was "paroemiographer" -- a person who collects proverbs.

For those of us who study Public Administration, not such a worthless word after all. Herbert Simon, the Nobel Laureate (for economics, 1978) with roots in the discipline of political science and the field of Public Administration, launched his attack on the then-dominant paradigm of the field by noting the "proverbial" nature of their fundamental arguments -- a critical body blow given the assumed anti-scientific nature of proverbs.

In an obscured (and thus underappreciated) analysis published years later (here and here), Hood and Jackson broadly applied the logic of Simon's point to many other arguments and premises. I can now say that they were engaged in paroemiography!

More recently Jon Elster has given new life to the value of proverbs, perhaps even making paroemiographers potentailly valuable members of the social science community (see here and here and here for examples...).

Three cheers (at least) for the local paroemiographer!!!!

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Mum...and mummer

Friend Stephen blogged the other day about interesting things that "mums" say -- and I was reminded of my favorite anecdote from my own "mum".

When I was about age 15 or so (around 1962), my father decided to take a job in Pueblo, Colorado. While the rest of us stayed back east, my father went out to see if he would like the position -- and after a short time he was hooked on the west and came back to retrieve the family for the move. At some point I recall a discussion where my mother raised the key question: Which side of California is Colorado on?

I have since learned -- as do we all -- that our parents are not as ignorant as we might have thought when we were teens. At 84 and having travelled many places since, my mother can give me a geography lesson or two (she is now saying she wants to take a cruise to Alaska for her 85th birthday...).

But the memory of that question remains quite clear -- and I can only attribute it her status as a born and raised child of New York -- the New Yorker cartoonist Saul Steinberg had it right!

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Digging into a wet Waldo...

An number of tasks and meetings put a temporary halt to my little project of posting comments on books damaged by the May flooding of my home (basement) office, so it is now time to get back on track. This time with another "classic" that I really cannot afford to be without.

Dwight Waldo's The Administrative State is, for most folks in "mainstream" Public Administration, the must read for all graduate students and anyone with a pretense to studying or teaching PA. I have no argument with its importance -- although I might put a couple of other works (here and here) in that Pantheon. Originally published in 1947, it was released again -- intact and unedited, but with a brilliant reflective introductory essay by Waldo -- in 1983. It was that 1983 paperback edition that sits all wrinkled and stiffened on my desk. While not impacted by mold (the dehumidifying worked well!) it is a chore to hold open and some of my marginal markings are blurred beyond recognition (not much of a loss there...).

This one is worth replacing, and while you cannot find the 1983 version available from Amazon, with a bit of hunting you can find the publisher (Holmes & Meier) and order directly from them. Be a little patient and you can get the Transaction Books edition (with introduction by Hugh Miller) that is due out in December.... (I've opted for the TA book and have already submitted a pre-order.)

I have reason to turn the crinkled pages of Waldo's book these days, because I have been reading an edited volume (Revisiting Waldo's Administrative State) that features articles reflecting on the its relevance today. I will be posting on individual chapters in that edited volume over the coming week or so, but in starting my own revisit of Waldo's 1983 edition, I have to say that no one can match the value of his own reflections of the original book.

Although I was not a student of Waldo's, I did meet him several times and the impression one came away with was that of a modest and gentle person -- a style reflected in his writing, at least on the surface. Dig a bit deeper into the endnotes, however, and you find a more critical Dwight Waldo. In his autobiographical comments (many found in the endnotes) in the new Introduction to Administrative State, he admits that his publisher suggested changes to some of the prose in the submitted dissertation version of the manuscript for the sake of maintaining his job prospects. Waldo also admits to a very negative attitude toward his subject matter that posed some problems with fellow attendees at meetings of the American Society for Public Administration. (In another example of how important it is to read Waldo's endnotes and footnotes, his famous and long standing "debate" with Herbert Simon was triggered by seemingly innocuous comments by Waldo in footnote to a 1953 American Political Science Review article that Simon took exception to in a response published in the next issue....)

More to come....

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