Wednesday, December 31, 2008


I didn't know what ARCADIA referred to until I read a book called One Christmas in Washington by David Bercuson and Holger Herwig. It's about the conference (code-named ARCADIA) between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill that took place from late December 1941 to early January 1942 in Washington, D.C. This was of course just after the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II, and so Churchill thought it was important to get right over to see FDR so that the two leaders could craft a joint strategy and consolidate their views. Bercuson and Herwig craft a portrait of two leaders of comparable levels of personal pride and national ambition, each trying to coax and coerce the other into ceding to their point of view. It appears that at this starting point, although Churchill and Roosevelt had a fair amount of personal rapport, their general staffs and top military advisors had to overcome a lot of animosity to reach the agreements that formed the foundation for the Allied coalition in the war. But overcome it they did-- the British got past their arrogance for the largely untested Americans and the Americans overcame their Anglophobia to eventually agree on a joint command structure and production and shipping strategy that formed the base for Allied success over the next three-four years. One Christmas in Washington was a well-written book about a little-known chapter in World War II history when politics and personal animosity were overcome in favor of a broader worldview that lead to their ultimate victory.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hey, Bush Reads Too!

A few days ago, Karl Rove published a column in the Wall Street Journal about the reading competitions that he has been having with George Bush for the last three or four years. Countering the myth of Bush as a less than interested reader, apparently he has been quite a voracious reader of history and biography in particular. Then, weighing in, The Washington Post's Richard Cohen took a look at the books that Rove mentioned in his article and gave his own analysis of what they say about Bush's views and personality.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Predictably, reading and blogging both fell off the radar during the school year, evidenced by the sparseness of posts since August. Most of the reading I did was of the academic kind, for my classes, which were largely interesting in their own right but still, there's something to be said for having time to just sit down and read for your own interests. My friend Tom and I decided that we really just should quit school and catch up on our reading lists. Anyway, here's what I managed to get through during the first semester:

1. Love Is A Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield-- memoir by a Rolling Stone editor about the love of his life, his wife for an all-too-brief amount of time before she passed away from a brain trauma. Each chapter begins with a playlist of a mix that he made for her-- hence the name of the book. Speaks to the fact that music speaks to the deepest part of humanity, whether in love, in pain, in tragedy, in trial, in joy-- in everything.
2. Searching For God Knows What by Donald Miller-- more or less picks up along the same lines as another of Miller's books, Blue Like Jazz. A series of essays exploring concepts about God, how both He and then universe He designed are infinitely complex and that the sooner we accept that, the happier we will be and the more secure in our faith we will be.
3. Emma by Jane Austen-- classic English literature. I've been working my way through all of Austen's books. Having read Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, this was my next pick. Enjoyed the storyline, but hated most of the characters except for Mr. Knightley. He's pretty much the model gentleman, a sort of Mr. Darcy with less pride.

That's all I got to read for pleasure during first semester. Over Christmas break, I have been absorbing myself in reading, and at this point two weeks in I've read through more than double the books I did in the semester. These books are:

1. Murder at the National Cathedral by Margaret Truman-- Pres. Harry Truman's daughter found her calling in writing books, and some of her most successful were the Capital Crimes novels-- murder mysteries set at famous Washington, D.C. locations. This was the first one I've read, and I found it a quick, interesting, suspenseful, and fun read.
2. Presidential Courage by Michael Beschloss-- Beschloss, a well-regarded presidential historian, picked about eight presidents (some well-known, some not), and profiled incidents during their terms of office in which they showed courage that shaped the course of the country's history.
3. John Adams by David McCullough-- this book won McCullough a Pulitzer Prize and spun off a successful HBO miniseries starring Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti, and it's not hard to see why. It's an exceptionally well-written biography of the second US president, often underappreciated for the role he played in bringing the country into being and keeping it out of an unnecessary war that they would have almost certainly lost.
4. Born Standing Up by Steve Martin-- the well-known actor's bestselling autobiography details the years he spent doing stand-up comedy, showing both how he got into it and, most poignantly, why he got out and went into film instead.
5. The Last Jihad by Joel C. Rosenberg-- OK, I admit, this one is a reread, and a frequent reread at that. The politics that Rosenberg adheres to and demonstrates in his books are way too conservative for my usual taste, but I will give him this-- the man can write a great political thriller. And that's exactly what this is. Read it-- and follow up with the sequels: The Last Days, The Ezekiel Option, The Copper Scroll, and Dead Heat.
6. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama-- our new president's book, written back when he was a senator (really not so long ago, I suppose)...figured it was about time I picked it up and saw some of his articulation and early formulation of policy ideas. I was very impressed by the scope and fairness of his vision for the country as he laid it out, and it only reinforced my view that the US made a good choice this election cycle. Here's hoping we're all right.
7. Promises to Keep by Joe Biden-- continuing a trend, our new vice-president's autobiography, written while he was still a presidential candidate. It's pretty well-written, with the definitive Biden flair for storytelling. But his story is compelling, and his politics (especially his views on government's responsibility for security of its people, and on international responsibility) are solid, and so despite the highly political pitches at the end, it's worth a read. The title is of course from a Robert Frost poem, Stopping By Woods on A Snowy Evening: "For I have promises to keep/and miles to go before I sleep/and miles to go before I sleep."

Still got a couple of weeks left of vacation, and more books to read, so another post like this will probably be forthcoming...assuming I have time!

Thursday, December 04, 2008


This is the last week of classes at my university. As such, there are papers and projects and assorted pieces of work due in many classes, and most of us students are staying up until ungodly hours working on said assignments. So naturally this WOULD be the time that the maintenance and administration people team up to hit us (at least, those of us who live on North Campus) with a computer network and power outage with less than 24 hours notice. Honestly, people. There are over a thousand students affected by this, way more if you include those who would be affected by the shutdown in the academic buildings and the student center. According to my sources, the library was packed with everyone and their grandmother last night.
For me personally, I was lucky-- I had little enough work to do that I could get it done early on and just go to bed when the power went out. But it is not fair to the students of the university to hit them with this at such a stressful time of the semester-- way to make it even MORE stressful, guys. Way to go.

(P.S. The editors of my school's student newspaper agree with me-- bet you couldn't see that one coming. Oh, and on a completely unrelated topic, Jim Wallis has a good piece on the God's Politics blog today.)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Funeral Dirges

No, not for people per say, as for the Wall Street investment banking community as a whole. Tom Friedman's Op-Ed on Thanksgiving Day, "All Fall Down," definitely had the ring of a funeral dirge on the downfall of Wall Street (most recently, Citigroup) and who was responsible. Which is something people will be discussing for years to come, no doubt. His source for the Op-Ed, from, was an article by Michael Lewis called simply "The End." Lewis wrote a book back in 1989 called Liar's Poker, which some could say was the harbinger of the current crisis, chronicling the excesses of Wall Street and the not exactly truly financially savvy people who were dispensing investment advice to average citizens. Time proved him more or less right, clearly-- the Humpty Dumptys of investment banking fell off the Wall and now they're looking to all the president's horses and all the Congressmen to put them back together again.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Thoughts

From Deuteronomy 8:10-18 (emphasis, where added, mine):
"When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws, and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today."
As do so many passages in the Bible, this section from Deuteronomy rather speaks for itself. Addressing the Hebrews who had been wandering in the desert, it tells them that they need to remember to give thanks to the God who brought them to where they are, and warns of the dangers of not doing so. Forgetting to give credit and gratitude where it is due is dangerous to us as individuals, and to us as a society. Saying "thank you" is one of the first things we learn to say when our parents are teaching us manners. So why do we always forget to do so as adults, especially when it most matters? Giving thanks to God is not something that is intended to be limited to some Thursday in November. It is something that is meant to happen every day of our lives, in part because it is the right thing to do and in part because it helps to give us perspective. When we start thinking that it was us who earned our bounty, we start to lose sight of the people who, though they may work hard, have not made it quite as high as we have. There are many societal ramifications to that which I will not go into right now (I would encourage reading Rev. Mark Schaefer's sermon on the related topic of consumerism, "Our Power and Might," for anyone who is interested). For now, I will simply say this. Tomorrow, in between "gobbling 'til you're wobbling," say a little prayer-- for those you love, for those who struggle, for the grace of the God who gives you all the people and all the wealth in your life. Then repeat-- daily if possible. Praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Things You Don't Often Hear

Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) has an editorial article out on about Why It's Good to Have Former Senators In Charge. Interesting historical perspective included on the fact that very few presidents have come out of the US Senate...and all of a sudden both our prez and VP are products of that body.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Cabinet Speculation

Until January, the speculation about Barack Obama's Cabinet and top officials, and which of Bush's policies he will reverse, will be what predominantly dominate the political gossip-sphere. AOL News has an article out on just that topic.

Article Round-Up

Of course the news media was all over the election while the campaign was going on, and they're still all over the post-election happenings and postmortems. Here's some highlights of what I've been seeing:
From TIME magazine, an article speculating on how far Sarah Palin will go, some of the challenges she now faces in Alaska, and what it would take for her to get to national office.
Bob Greene has an article on's Political Ticker on the four different transitions that Obama, his supporters, and the country now have to go through. Meanwhile, Speaker Pelosi and others, delighted with their fresh mandate and increased majority, asked Obama to govern from the center as he starts his administration.
Less noticed on Tuesday was that the controversial Proposition 8 in California was voted down. Prop 8 allowed California voters to make the choice on whether they wanted gay marriage legalized in their state; their choice means that gay marriage is no longer allowed there. Naturally, supporters of gay marriage are extremely upset and have been protesting in the streets since Prop 8 was passed.
Finally- this is a not-to-be missed article from the Washington Post on November 7 about Eugene Allen, a former butler at the White House-- "A Butler Well Served by This Election."

Headlining Across the Globe

For any of you who may doubt the incredible international significance of Barack Obama's election as president of the United States...check out these images of headlines from across the globe on November 5, 2008, the day after the election. Congratulations, America-- the international community finally thinks you made a good choice for president. Maybe now you can repair your relationships and international standing so you'll have friends and allies again that aren't grudging.
Also, for a laugh, check out (from the same site) Obama's to-do list.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Election Round-Up Wrap-Up

It's been many months since I've been able to post here. Being back at college creates a rather different set of priorities, so blogging has gone on the wayside. To review, since I last posted in August, in big political events we've seen:

-the selection of Joe Biden as Barack Obama's running mate
-the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate
-the Democratic National Convention
-the Republican National Convention
-three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate
-many humorous political sketches back on SNL
-lots of jabs and punches thrown back and forth from the two campaigns
-Barack Obama getting elected to be the 44th President of the United States
-Barack Obama commencing his transition into that post

So, to start at the beginning, I thought that the selection of Joe Biden as VP by Obama was an inspired choice. I was initially a proponent of Biden for Secretary of State, but I definitely did not have a problem with his selection as VP. Biden probably helped sway some blue-collar voters and people who were concerned about Obama's comparatively minimal level of experience in the government, and I'm hopeful that Obama will make use of him as an advisor and diplomatic envoy, rather than shunting him to the usual VP role of state-funeral-attender-in-chief.
My first reaction when John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate was "who's that?" The unknown Alaska governor seemed an ununsually low-profile pick. I was expecting someone like Mitt Romney, who would shore up McCain's shaky credentials on the economy. Palin attracted a lot of attention, though, and it looked like McCain picked her to energize conservative voters and hopefully grab some women too...possibly even some supporters of Hillary Clinton. In very short order, though, as people started to find out about her, it was really only people who already leaned conservative that Palin helped to cement for McCain. Stories about her "diva"-esque behavior and lack of basic geographical competence have been flying around since she was picked.
The Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention were their usual interesting blend of pageantry and speeches by politicians of national and local significance. Some of the stars of the Democratic convention were Michelle Obama, Sen. Hillary Clinton, fmr Pres. Bill Clinton, fmr VP Al Gore, fmr VA Gov. Mark Warner, VP nominee Joe Biden, and of course the presidential nominee himself, who gave a great speech in front of a huge crowd at Denver's Invesco Field. The Republican Convention was also interesting, although the first day's events were largely canceled due to an incoming hurricane. It was incredibly patriotic, as the Republicans clearly tried to grab the title of "most patriotic" again with McCain's slogan "Country First." The most interesting moment of the RNC was easily Gov. Sarah Palin's speech, which was really the first chance for the country to get to know her. What's the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull, again?
As the general election campaign season progressed, each side shot back and forth with criticisms of policy, acquaintanceship, and personality. The Obama campaign persistantly linked McCain to the incredibly unpopular President Bush, and the McCain campaign tried to link Obama to domestic terrorist William Ayers. Obama and Bush clashed in three presidential debates, which progressively decreased in structure and virtually always gave the most attention to the defining issue of the campaign-- the slumping US economy. The vice-presidential nominees also debated, in the most-viewed debate in recent years. The Biden-Palin matchup was highly anticipated due to the stark difference in experience and knowledge between the two. But Biden didn't lose his temper or make any kind of gaffe, and Palin didn't completely flop and so, as my Government professor said, they both exceeded expectations.
The other, somewhat unexpected, major media contributor to this campaign was NBC's comedy program Saturday Night Live. It all started with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler's brilliant sketch of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton offering a message about sexism. From there, we continued to see the VP debate sketched, an endorsement from Bush (Will Ferrell in a reprise), and Palin's infamous interview with Katie Couric. Then the candidates themselves decided to get in on the action, and we saw John McCain and Sarah Palin themselves appearing on the show towards the end of the race.
Of course, it all had to come to an end at some point. And come to an end it did. On November 4, 2008, the voters went to the polls and cast their votes. The major issue in US elections is of course not the popular vote, but the electoral college votes. Obama or McCain had to get to the magic number 270 electoral college votes in order to win the election. As things turned out, the country was ready to embrace Obama's message of change. He took the traditionally blue states, and then grabbed the critical (and, for the past two elections, Republican-leaning) states of Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, New Mexico, and Colorado. I was watching the returns come in, keeping up with the electoral math on a map of the US, and as soon as Ohio was declared for Obama, my friends and I knew it was all over as soon as the polls on the West Coast closed. This proved to be true, and the party started around 11:00 PM ET. Here in DC, my entire campus went berserk, people screaming and crying and hugging and running around in insane joy. Ultimately a lot of people wound up down at the White House after McCain's very gracious concession speech (in front of considerably less gracious supporters) and Obama's victory speech, where my peers and half of the District of Columbia essentially held our own victory rally in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. It was a fantastic night.
So now the hard work begins. President-elect Obama has set up a transition team and is beginning the work of setting up a new government. He will be getting briefed on economic and foreign policy matters and appointing new officials. His first decision, announced a couple of days after the election, was the selection of Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, as his Chief of Staff. Emanuel will probably be a very effective Chief of Staff, regardless of the fact that he may not be the most diplomatic of men (his nickname on the Hill is 'Rahmbo'). The likely next appointment will be Robert Gibbs as Press Secretary. Other speculations include keeping Robert Gates on as Secretary of Defense, and appointing Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) or Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NB) as Secretary of State. Keep an eye out; further appointments will likely be coming frequently as Barack Obama prepares for the hard work that will face him in his new job as the 44th President of the United States of America.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Home...but not for long

Returned today after a week with my family at a rented cottage in the lakes region of the state. Not much to do up there but read, watch movies, play music, swim, and make occasional excursions to other towns around the area for shopping and such. It's a restful time if we manage not to kill each other. Now that we're back, I am going into high gear for a few days before departing for another year at AU. Trying to see a handful of people, pack, and run numerous errands, all in about four days. Not going to be easy...but hopefully it'll all work.
Here's the books I've completed this summer. Not expecting to complete any more, in all likelihood, before I go back to school...too bad. With any luck, I'll have some time to write reviews of some of these on here. I think they are all worth reading.
  1. God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It by Jim Wallis

  2. What Color Is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles

  3. Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller

  4. Stiff by Mary Roach

  5. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

  6. The Gifts of the Jews by Thomas Cahill

  7. Against the Tide by Sen. Lincoln Chafee

  8. The Summons by John Grisham

  9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

  10. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

  11. New Moon by Stephanie Meyer

  12. Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer

  13. The King of Torts by John Grisham

  14. Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

  15. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

  16. Big Russ & Me by Tim Russert

  17. The Pelican Brief by John Grisham

  18. When It Happens by Susane Colasanti

  19. Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer

  20. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

  21. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

  22. The U.S. of Eh? How Canada Secretly Controls the United States and Why That's OK by Kerry Colburn and Rob Sorensen

  23. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

  24. Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel: A Biography by Judith and Neil Morgan

  25. All's Fair: Love, War, and Running for President by James Carvill and Mary Matalin

  26. Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Home, Work, and School by John Medina

  27. Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

  28. Statecraft and How to Restore America's Standing in the World by Dennis Ross

  29. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

  30. What Happened by Scott McClellan

  31. The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

  32. A Time to Kill by John Grisham

For those interested in international relations, particularly with an eye to the current situation in Georgia (which is very serious and warrants close watch, particularly if it heralds a return to Russia's imperialistic past philosophies), I will say that I very highly recommend former Ambassador Dennis Ross's book Statecraft. All would-be diplomats should make this book a top priority on their reading list. And for those interested in an inside look at the Bush administration, look no farther than former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's book, which came out earlier this summer, called What Happened. It details the Bush administration from the 2000 campaign to McClellan's departure in 2006. Many important topics are covered, but of particular focus in this book is the circumstances surrounding the Valerie Plame case, which McClellan was deeply involved in, in that he was the one forced to lie (unknowingly) to the press and the public about Karl Rove and Scooter Libby's involvement. I'll do a more in-depth review later, but I highly recommend both of those books to individuals interested in current political affairs, domestic and international.