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Friday, December 22, 2006

Pondering the "dead on arrival"

I am about to "shift gears" for a couple of weeks. The fall semester is now over, and as we enter winter break I am committed to catching up on my writing and research work, including (perhaps) finally getting serious about my long planned book on accountability. In the midst of this, of course, I also have to put together a couple of undergraduate courses and try to get a handle on a dozen other projects and tasks....

And obviously the blogging will play a role in all this by giving me a place to openly ponder....

One ponderable is the "dead on arrival" label now applied to the Iraq Study Group Report. It seems that Bush and company were able to brush its recommendations aside in short order, but out of sight is not out of mind in this case. While the report itself may not contribute directly to specific policy change, its release has already proven to be a watershed event no less significant than the November elections. The fact that it was put forward by a group of legendary members of the elite -- one can hardly have thought of a more "blue ribbon" group -- and pulled few punches in its critique of the current conduct of the war makes this important. The fact that the group had Baker as its (co)chair brings the symbolic power of the document up several notches.

If there is anything remotely comparable in US history, it might be the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Ellsberg's "Papers" (see here and here) did not contain recommendations, and in fact was a documentation and history of US involvement more than a "report" or assessment. But its meaning and impact was derived from the fact that it was the product of the very same "best and the brightest" of the national security community that supposedly helped launch and sustain the Vietnam War. Its symbolic power was as a critical consideration of the war and how we got there. Obviously it generated more heat than fire, for the war lasted another 5 years,, but hardly anyone denies it as a turning point in the tone and direction of the war effort.

Such is clearly going to be the historical role that will be attributed to the ISG Report.

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

'Tis the season

I live knee-deep -- actually hip-deep -- in books, and over the past decade or so I have spent several thousands of dollars each year adding to my 'library' (such things must be tracked for tax purposes...).

Thus, when faced with the decision of what to get their dad for Father's day, birthdays or the holiday season (Chanukah is the family focus at this time of year), the choice my kids make is typically a book they suspect I do not have
or a gift card to some local or online bookstore.This year my Chanukah gift from each kid was a gift card for Barnes and Noble, and I had no reluctance in spending my new found religious holiday loot on four "sacrilegious" books I have been hearing about for the past two or three months as the debate over the revival of atheism has mounted.

Back in February I purchased Dennett's Breaking the Spell and got deep into it before having to turn to other matters. I am a fan of Dennett (see here and here) and planned to get back to the book over this winter break, but then I got drawn to the arguments being made by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion and Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation and The End of Faith .

Are the atheists piling it on? Some think so -- see Gary Wolf's article in Wired ; also Richard Shweder of the University of Chicago attempts to counter their efforts (see his NYT Op-Ed here and listen to the On Point show of December 11 which also features Harris). Today's NYT Week in Review included a piece on how those leading the atheist "juggernaut" have retained some of the religious holiday spirit -- the Harris family has a seasonal tree, and even Dawkins admits to joining in on the family gatherings this time of year.

As for me, I get a kick out of the religious ritual of receiving presents from my kids, and I gladly spent it on expanding my collection of atheistic tomes....

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Who is Ahab?

For decades (literally -- no pun intended) there has been a division of labor in the Dubnick household -- Randi did the literature, I did the politics. Nice arrangement until I finally awoke to the fun of studying politics as narratives....

It also helps to stumble across some really interesting discussions such as a recent exchange on Christopher Lydon's Open Source considering Melville's Moby Dick as an allegory for the current US administration. Andrew Delbanco from Columbia University takes the lead, author Jonathan Raben takes up the game, and then Washington's Sidney Blumenthal jumps in. Later in the show Susan Cheever throws cold water on the whole effort and then makes some excuse to get out of the conversation -- but overall a pretty interesting hour. Hear the podcast here.

The one thing they seem to agree on is that Colin Powell is definitely Starbucks-like....

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