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Archive for May 3rd, 2010

What Should I be Reading?

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Quick question to the august readership:

What should I be reading? Not in terms of books, I’m buried there, but periodicals, e-zines and blogs? We all can get in a rut with what we read and the topics we look at; I am no exception.

Nominate any suggestions in the comments section, if you have the time.

Recommended Reading

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Top Billing! Scholar’s StageCases in Plutarchy: The US Senate by Graduating Institution

T. Greer has a superb post, after taking up an observation by commenter LFC as a challenge.:

….To be pithy: The erosion of this dream is the greatest danger American society now faces.

Therefore, those concerned with health of the Republic have a vested interest in understanding and explaining the source of this erosion. A meme to this effect has been bouncing around the blogosphere of late. The meme, which I have endorsed, can be summarized as follows: in America the most direct avenue to power and influence is an education from one of the nation’s elite schools. Beyond the generally superior education these institutions offer, an education of this type allows students access to the social networks that link America’s ‘biggest’ journalists, analysts, bankers, business executives, politicians, and thought-leaders. In terms of social mobility, the colleges churning out “the best and brightest” have the potential to serve as bridges between the classes, opening doors of success to smart and hard working students from the poorer sections of American society. Meritocracy in action.

The problem is that this has not happened. As most readers are probably aware, the last decade has seen college tuition rates soar to heights previously unknown. If they were not before, the best private institutions in the country are now beyond the price range of the all but a tiny minority of Americans. The upper middle class has been particularly hard hit; unable to qualify for financial aid offered to students from low-income families, students unwilling to rack up dangerous levels of debt have found themselves blocked from social advancement. When the reasons behind these tuition increases are considered, it is difficult not to see this as an inadvertent move to solidify the existing social structure. Plutarchy in action. 

That is the narrative. As it turns out, it is a narrative with some holes.

 LFC, a frequent commentator here at the Stage and other related sites, has objected to this argument (in several different forums). The problem with this meme, says he, is its premise: no one has produced any evidence that links Ivy League attendance to positions of power and influence. Absent hard data, we are working with perceptions, not reality, and there is no particular reason to believe that these perceptions are accurate.

It is a fair point. This author has been eager to make claims about these institutions absent data necessary to back these claims up. This post is an attempt to provide such data. Below is a breakdown of the educational background of a group of people who are unambiguously members of the elite: the 100 men and women who currently compose the U.S. Senate. Unless otherwise noted, all information recorded below comes from Scientists and Engineer’s for America‘s  list of Congress members by degree.

For the data and T. Greer’s analysis, read the entire piece here. This post is the germ of something that would make a fine book or research article.

Hey….the US NAVY..has a blog! It is called Navy Live - best of luck gents and welcome to the blogosphere. (hat tip Galrahn)

SWJ Blog (William S. “Mac” McCallister)Some Considerations for Planning and Executing a Military-Political Engagement in Afghanistan

….Much intellectual energy has been expended on whether to label our outreach efforts in Afghanistan as tribal or community engagements. This paper therefore does not attempt to settle the issue as to the primacy of tribal- and/or community- or interest-based identities. Suffice it to say tribal identities exist in Afghanistan but community and/or interest groups may not necessarily organize themselves based on these tribal identities. What matters most is that we engage the locals within their own cultural frame of reference.

Wisely said. Pragmatism over ideology is a good basis for policy.

FPRI -(Dr. Walter McDougall)-  Can the United States Do Grand Strategy?

My answer is: Historically, at times, if there is an existential crisis and no way to avoid it. Here is a snippet of Professor McDougall:

In spring 2003, following the last lecture in my survey course on U.S. diplomatic history since 1776, a brilliant, inquisitive student approached me in the hall to ask a final, confidential question. She said that my course helped her appreciate, as never before, how swiftly the United States had become the mightiest nation ever, with unprecedented military, economic, and cultural influence. But how long would it last? How long did I think the United States could stay on top?

At first I was tongue-tied, because I was loath to inject a future national leader with either complacency or despair. Then an answer occurred to me. It all depends on whether the United States is as exceptional as we like to believe. If the United States follows the pattern of all previous powers, then demographic or technological trends, new foreign threats, strategic folly, overextension, domestic decadence, or sheer loss of will must hurl it into decline, perhaps within fifty years. If, however, our institutions, values, and national character really do amount to a new order for the ages, a potent mix enabling the United States to reinvent itself and force other nations to adapt to the challenges posed by us, then the republic may stay on its asymptotic trajectory. I stopped there, but as I walked to my office I recalled Arnold J. Toynbee’s historical law to the effect that empires die by suicide, not murder.

Michigan War Studies Review (Arthur M. Eckstein)Book review – The Spartacus War by Barry Strauss

Looks like The Spartacus War is a good book about one of history’s most famous insurgents. Hat tip to Adam Elkus.

….Spartacus was certainly both a talented tactician and an insightful strategist. His tactical skills showed in the startling victories of his ill-equipped irregulars over the far better equipped and trained Roman troops. All along, the slave leader sought to avoid set-piece battles with the heavy Romans infantry, preferring maneuver and ambush. Spartacus’ strategic skill is evident in his desire to escape Italy, where he knew no rebellion of slaves could long withstand Roman power. He also knew that the discipline and obedience necessary for survival would be difficult to instill in an army of rebels and fugitives. The break with Crixus and the turning back from the Alps are indicative of the army’s indiscipline

The Committee of Public SafetyThis Town Needs An Enemy

Joseph Fouche is informative and amusing, in a post featuring Michael Jordan, Ibn Khaldun and dieting tips from Nassim Taleb.

SEEDWhy We Haven’t Met Any Aliens

This “fits” (pun intended) very well with Joseph Fouche’s post above.

Presentation ZenYou can learn a lot from a child (redux) and The secret to great work is great play

That’s it!


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