Assassination Vacation

I just finished Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell.

I’ve been looking forward to this book ever since Stanek pointed me at The Partly Cloudy Patriot.

In PCP, Vowell combined a quirky sense of humor, tourism, and history lessons to produce a funny, yet thought-provoking read. It’s the kind of book that makes you laugh at exactly how silly and strangely loveable the culture you grew up in can be.

Vowell continues that tradition in Assassination Vacation. She points out all the little silly, and often sad, bits of our history. As she talks, you don’t get the sense that she’s talking like your old history teacher; instead, you’re left with the impression that she’s a tourist and pilgrim.

In a way, she reminds me of a lot of people in Italy: One of the things that struck me about Italy was that completely random people knew lots of local history. And not only did they know it, they were eager to share it. They could expound on thousands of years of history, that happened right in the town where they live and work. Really, if there’s any single reason to read Assassination Vacation, it’s that it’s delightful to see someone so excited to know completely arcane trivia.

reading list (reborn!)

I used to have a giant reading list that I was constantly updating. For every book that I read, I’d add between 5 and 10 (it was a very long list). Unfortunately, in the Great Harddrive Crash of ’04, I lost the list (among other things, like my photos, and possibly my mind). I thought, this morning, that I would try to reconstruct the list from the postit note on my brain. And possibly add to it on occasion. So, without further adieu:

Books I’d Like to Read Someday (in no particular order)

Well, that’s a good start (though, much shorter than the original list). I’ll add to this list as I remember things (or find new things! which, trust me, I will).

Plan of Attack

I semi-recently finished reading Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward. The book saw considerable news coverage by the media.

Woodward seems to enjoy an odd position with both the media and presidential administrations. He has a keen, multifaceted eye. He sees a story from multiple points of view. And, while, he doesn’t seem to take a side, he’s fairly clear about the filter that things pass through. It’s easy to see who he likes, who he dislikes, and who was willing or unwilling to talk to him (something which affected who he liked and disliked).

Plan of Attack was, if anything very dry. It was fact after fact, reconstruction after reconstruction. This dryness was part of its charm – Woodward takes an event and describes it – and then grounds that description in fact and interview.

His view of the administration is not a common one – Bush is portrayed as a manager who runs a very tight ship. He takes advice, makes up his mind, and then acts (though, one gets the impression that the first two are often reversed). Once he acts, he expects his orders to be carried out without any quibbling or argument. He’s very much a president who acts from his gut and his faith.

Cheney’s involvement in the runup to the war is brightly visible. He is portrayed as a primary supporter of the war in part due to deep convictions about the weakness of international diplomacy. Rumsfeld, though clearly in the “war camp,” was far more the implementer. Once Bush decided he wanted to go to war, Rumsfeld (with the aid of Tommy Franks – to whom the invasion plan is largely credited) made it happen. Colin Powell had among the strangest roles in the book: he was a tragic warrior and a left-out school boy all rolled into one. He took his orders and he worked within their structure. He often alternated between the voice of reason and a too-cautious advisor. Rice’s position was less one of “national security” and more referee between Cheney/Rumsfeld and Powell. She was continually portrayed as struggling with this job – more often siding with “war party” than not.

If I had a complaint about this book, it is that there is little significant mention of Karl Rove and essentially none involving Karen Hughes: two characters who clearly play an important role. Other than that, I heartily recommend the book: Woodward presents his work in a farreaching and insightful manner.

Just Another Empire

I just finished reading Just Another Empire by Mark Driver. The book is almost exactly what the tagline (Booze. Sex. Anarchy. Assassination. Burritos.) makes it out to be. Actually, it was mostly Booze and Burritos (with brief forays into anarchy and assassination).

Driver is (and has been – at least since I started reading him in 97 or 98) kind of a strange writer. Calling him anti-establishment would be an understatement (and not strange – there are plenty of people who write about the status quo). What makes Driver stand out is that he has fun with his position.

I dislike spoiling too much of a story, but what I can say is that I’d highly recommend the book. And, if you’re bored, I’d highly recommend his occasional essays (which, I guess I’ve been doing that for years).

Anyway. Read it. And the other stuff I linked to. It’s good.

Papers on My Desk

I’ve got a stack of papers currently sitting on my desk:

  • Renfro R. and Deckro R. A Social NetWork Analysis of the Iranian Government. 69th MORS Symposium.
  • Wu F. et al. Information Flow in Social Groups. CNLS conference on Networks (Santa Fe, NM, May 2003).
  • Newman, M.E.J. Fast Algorithm for detecting community structure in networks. Department of Physics and Center for the Study of Complex Systems, University of Michigan.
  • Union of Concerned Scientists. Scientific Integrity in Policymaking. February 2004.
  • Record, J. Bounding the global war on terrorism. Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College.