Monthly Archives: December 2006

The year’s best reads

I found the following extraordinary:

Clausewitz in Wonderland, by Tony Corn

“Amateurs talk about strategy, professionals talk about logistics.” In the five years since the 9/11 events, the old military adage has undergone a “transformation” of its own: Amateurs, to be sure, continue to talk about strategy, but real professionals increasingly talk about — anthropology.

And the Open Letter to the Pope, by a group of eminent Islamic scholars

… we thought it appropriate, in the spirit of open exchange, to address your use of a debate between the Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and a “learned Persian” as the starting point for a discourse on the relationship between reason and faith. While we applaud your efforts to oppose the dominance of positivism and materialism in human life, we must point out some errors in the way you mentioned Islam as a counterpoint to the proper use of reason, as well as some mistakes in the assertions you put forward in support of your argument.

Honorable mention. I wore a smile that lasted for a long time after I read God’s retort to Richard Dawkins. Nothing extraordinary, just workmanlike stuff (like Galilean carpentry, I suppose), and for that reason effective.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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Filed under Notes on Readings, Readings in Politics, Readings in Religion

Ruined by the Jesuits, repelled by JDV

A very busy fortnight, and it only got busier last weekend. But I did manage to write a Commentary for the newspaper on Jesuit education, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of my high school class. And I wrote my first  column for inq7.net: That little corner of the world is called Newsstand too, and it materializes on the sidewalk, like an illegal vendor’s stall, every first working day of the week. What were you thinking, Joe?

PS. The other day, Caloy Conde argued powerfully for his view that it was the terrorism threat that actually forced the President’s hand and led to the postponement of the 12th Asean summit. Today he says he can find merit in the other view, summarized in today’s Inquirer editorial, that political considerations were behind the decision to postpone. Perhaps it was a confluence of both?

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Generation Dem

Reading the prolific Stirling Newberry led me to the equally productive Sidney Blumenthal, the former Clinton adviser who writes regularly for Salon and The Guardian.   

The first several paragraphs of "Generation Dem" are tough going, a patient preparation, with statistic after telling statistic about the mid-term elections in the United States tilling the soil of analysis.

Then Blumenthal’s prose bursts into bloom.

Bush has been the formative political experience for the youngest generation of voters, those 18 to 30. Studies of voting preferences show that the experience imprinted on a generation in its 20s largely determines its future political complexion. This generation is the most Democratic generation ever — more Democratic than the youngest voting generations of the New Deal and the 1960s. In generational terms, their political alignment is also logical. As the children of the 1960s generation and the grandchildren of the New Deal generation, they have inherited those generations’ political genes. The in-between, more conservative generations — the so-called Silent Generation of the 1950s and their children — are smaller in numbers and weaker in cultural and political influence.

(That is a paragraph many will return to once the 2008 race heats up.)

The piece turns into a virtual anthology (in the original Greek, that is, meaning a collection of flowers) of political scholarship. Consider the following example:

George W. Bush became the first Republican ever to become president without winning California. Since Herbert Hoover’s election in 1928, every elected Republican had either been a Californian (like Hoover, Nixon and Reagan) or had run with one as vice president (as Dwight Eisenhower did with Nixon). The only Republican in that line to win the presidency on a ticket without a Californian was the elder Bush (with the Indianan Dan Quayle, an ersatz version of one of the Bush sons).

Without California, Bush’s coalition was invariably narrow and his conservatism a product of his constricted Southern orbit. While Bush presented himself as the true fulfillment of Reagan, resolving the political tensions of his half-breed father, the idea of Reaganism without California was utterly novel. Bush’s conservatism was a far more intensified strain than Reagan’s, drawing inspiration from the radical Southern Republican-led Congress of the late 1990s that Bush pretended to disavow in the 2000 campaign in order to present himself as "a uniter, not a divider." The absence of California in the Republican coalition was hardly the main factor in fostering Bush’s radicalism, but the changed composition of the party contributed to his insularity.

"Generation Dem" ends with a look at the political season that starts in January.

The overriding strategic imperatives for the Democratic Congress, besides restoring the constitutional obligation of oversight of the executive branch, are several-fold. The leaders of the new Congress plan to pass legislation that addresses working- and middle-class economic insecurity. If Bush vetoes it, he will be defined as their antagonist. On domestic policy, therefore, casting Bush as rejectionist works to the Democrats’ advantage. On foreign policy, it’s more complicated, even treacherous.

In their enthusiasm at finally attaining a measure of power, Democrats have not yet clarified that congressional power is inherently limited in foreign policy. By offering alternative tactics for Iraq that are overly precise, the Democrats may assume a share of the blame for a debacle that properly and solely belongs to Bush. Nonetheless, they can use their powers to illustrate the heedlessness of the president.

A terrific read.

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