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Saturday, October 21, 2006

Filling the Void with Autism and Mayberry Machiavellis

I now realize that my early daily obsession with blogging while I was in Northern Ireland was driven, in large part, by my need to fill the vacuum of not being in the classroom. I suspect I just have to have an audience to "profess" to, and the blog filled that function quite well.

But now that I am back in the classroom weekly I find myself without the energy to blog -- I just use up all my blather on those poor folks who actually pay for the privilege...:-)

I am now on my way back from a conference in Minneapolis (literally -- I am writing this in the Cleveland airport lounge waiting for my connection to Boston), and having been away from any convenient victims... I mean students... I have the urge to blog once again. As it happens I just listened to a couple of Slate.com podcasts that cry out for some blogger attention.

The first was a podcast discussing a study empirically linking the growth of cable TV with the increase in reports of autism. This may sound a bit absurd at first, but it really is fascinating stuff, and right in line with some ideas I have been working about the impact of media on generational mindsets. But even without that excuse, if this study is credible it will have major implications in all sorts of ways....

The other podcast was the weekly "gabfest" on slate.com that is taped every Friday. This week's included discussion of new book by David Kuo, number two in the White House office overseeing faith-based initiatives when it first got off the ground in the pre-9/11 Bush Administration. I had seen some TV coverage of this by Keith Olbermann (whose staff obtained a pre-release copy by asking for one at a local DC bookstore...), but the attraction to me were the things said about a friend, John DiIulio.

DiIulio is perhaps one of the sharpest political scientists of his generation -- an individual who combines brilliance with energy and commitment. He was appointed head of the faith-based office when it was first established, and he worked incredibly hard pushing the initiative -- only to be frustrated to a point that impacted on his health. (As far as I know, he is the only public official to announce he was leaving his position because he was seriously overweight -- somewhat humorous, yes, but serious to those of us who saw the visible impact of the job on him in such a short time...). John resigned, and was soon (and is now) ensconced at the University of Pennsylvania.

In 2002 or so he got entangled in a bit of media hype when a letter he wrote to a reporter was quoted and then put on the web -- a letter that is best known for his labelling his former colleagues in the West Wing's domestic policy offices as Mayberry Machiavellis -- a label that seems to have stuck (see here). John almost immediately issued a public apology for the comments and has since been rather quiet about what happened -- almost reclusive. Given that context, the comments of the gabfest folks are very interesting, some implying John was silenced by pressure from a major UPenn donor.

Frankly, I don't buy it -- those who know John would find that hard to believe. More likely is the fact that John DiIulio is a man of considerable integrity, and that he truly felt that he had spoken out of turn by publicly characterizing his former colleagues as such. I suspect we will hear more from him at some future point when he feels the time is right. In the meanwhile, John stays high on my list of truly sincere and credible people....

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