Thursday, September 13, 2007

What Happened To Our War Czar?

With the recent furor over the much anticipated "Petraeus Report", I found myself thinking: Whatever happened to our 'War Czar'?

On May 15th, with little fanfare, Lieutenant General Douglas Lute was appointed to the position of Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan or War Czar as the media dubbed it(or did Bush actually call the position War Czar to begin with--it seems too odd, but you never know).

The flaws of such a position are obvious: Isn't it the job of the Secretary of Defense and/or his staff to handle said position? Or perhaps the National Security Advisor? Why do we need to create a new position? Won't this actually generate more red-tape than cut it, as the administration has argued? The answer is clear: It was a publicity stunt to raise morale, to show that the administration is "serious" about the war (wasn't it already?) and it was the creation of a possible "scapegoat" if things go badly, though I think David Petraeus was filling that role already (and with the recent, and fascinating, volley of criticism towards Iraqi politicians, they too will be blamed--everyone is at fault, except the administration).

I think it is also telling that it took so long and that at least three retired four-star generals turned down the position before David Lute accepted it. If the war can be won, why were so many top military officers shying away from the position (and recently retired officers speaking out against it)? We have pundits and politicians still clinging to the idea that victory is possible in Iraq, but the military, the actual leaders who have to conduct it, seem considerably less assured and that is an important sign.

To be fair, those same officers may have shied away from the war, not because it cannot be won, but it cannot be won as it is being waged. It would take a draft--which would immediately tear down the administration if it attempted to institute it--and about another 200,000 soldiers on the ground in Iraq for at least a few years to establish some semblance of peace, a return to law and government and a stabilization of society. Those officers realize this and realize that the American public, rightly or wrongly, has no stomach for such a commitment. Still, the bottom line is: America cannot win the war.

I fear what this means. An escalated bloody civil war in Iraq? Ethnic cleansing? De-stabilization in the region? A new haven for terrorists? Oil shortages and a re-distribution of global-economic power? I wish it were possible to create a stable Iraqi state, but the reality of the situation does not lend itself towards such hopes.

Still the administration plods on and so I have to ask: What happened to our war czar? Since he was appointed, Douglas Lute is most memorable for mentioning that the draft should be re-instituted in order to "relieve the increasingly overstretched troops". He all but recanted this statement a day or two later. Since then, little has been heard from him. Was he there for the Petraeus/Crocker testimony? I imagine so, but he didn't say anything as far as I know. So why do we need this position? Where is our war czar and what is he doing?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Quirk: Oh, How I Hate It.

I listen to Brian Lehrer and Leonard Lopate on WNYC regularly. Both have interesting shows about a broad spectrum of topics; you can find their archives off of the WNYC site.

Today, Brian Lehrer had Michael Hirschorn, contributing editor at The Atlantic Monthly and executive vice president of original programming and production at VH1, on to talk about “Quirk”, something he discussed in his September, 2007 Atlantic Monthly article entitled “Quirked Around”. Though I subscribe to the Atlantic(thanks to Amanda!), I missed the original article. After the show, I hungrily read it, because what Hirschorn had to say resonated deeply with me.

One of the reasons I feel so strongly disconnected from society is my inability to find something to sink my teeth into in today’s media market. American Idol does nothing for me. Nor does CNN or Fox News. I do not subscribe to the ideology of the Bible Belt, but likewise, hipsters frustrate me beyond belief. Where do I fit in? Part of Gen-X? No thank you and here is why:

Quirk is associated closely with Gen-X and Gen-Y. To quote Hirschorn, Quirk is: “an embrace of the odd against the blandly mainstream. It features mannered ingenuousness, an embrace of small moments, narrative randomness, situationally amusing but not hilarious character juxtapositions…and unexplainable but nonetheless charming character traits. Quirk takes not mattering very seriously. Quirk is odd, but not too odd. That would take us all the way to weird, and there someone might get hurt.”

And that is why I dislike Quirk, though I am surrounded by it due to my age and peers. First and foremost, as Hirschorn mentioned, Quirk focuses on a narrow demographic--middle/upper-middle class white/Jewish, with nary a face of color. Second, for the most part, Quirk is either about nothing, or in my opinion, disingenuous in its attempts to have meaning(but it is important to not have much more than a sliver of meaningfulness, because that would be uncool or fake). I often hear from the Quirk apologists that if you don’t like Quirk, you don’t get it(read: you aren’t smart enough to get the coolness that is Quirk). No, buddy, I get it just fine; I think its stupid.

Hirschorn talks about different examples of Quirk and I find myself disliking most of them. On the positives, he generally places: This American Life(positive and negative in his opinion), Rushmore, and Everything Is Illuminated. On the negatives, he lists: Flight of the Conchords, The Royal Tenenbaums, Little Miss Sunshine and Arrested Development(unless I am misreading his analysis of it).

I might add(mistakenly, since some of these may not fall completely into Quirk): Seinfeld, Beck, David Eggers, The Producers, etc.

My friends alternately embrace or reject Quirk and I suspect part of it is environment. Bryan and Mathangi both seem more pro-Quirk than I and I think it is partially because they were schooled at the University of Texas, which along with Oberlin, is certainly one of the bastions of Quirk in a city(Austin) that can certainly claim to be a central nexus of Quirk. Neither of them, as far as I can tell, embraces Quirk wholeheartedly—neither are hipsters(thank God!). Mathangi shifts between worlds and differing ideologies, though she indulges in Quirk. Bryan pushes Quirk to its limits and beyond; in his movie Dear Pillow(which will be available on DVD on November 13th, I believe), he moves from the comfortably odd to the uncomfortably provocative(which is why I loved the movie and which is why, I suspect, it wasn’t fully embraced by the Quirkophiles—that and he didn’t have a big marketing machine behind him).

On the other hand, Amanda’s self-imposed hermitage has most likely immunized her from the allure of Quirk. HB is too divorced from Quirk due to her background and culture. And Michael, I think, tends to accept and consider all ideologies, trends, attitudes, etc for a time—then rejects them if he finds they do not fit him.

Don’t be offended if I named you here and you didn’t like my analysis—just my passing thoughts on my friends and their relationship to Quirk.

As an aside, I think Quirk has its cultural peers which I also do not generally like: The ethnic novel/movie(which is all about being, well, ethnic). I’ll save my issues with this genre for another day, however.

Quirk in small doses is fine. I’ll admit to my guilty-Quirk pleasures: Flight of the Conchords, Donnie Darko, the occasional Beck song, etc. But Quirk has permeated our culture so much as to be the flip side to the American Idol/Britney Spears coin and that is why I don’t like it; it is equally empty and nourishes nothing but a sense of superiority. In the end, Quirk fails us, fails our generation. There are some incredibly talented people putting out Quirk and that is a shame. Instead of rising to the times, times that desperately call for action, the creation of something of substance, they have fallen into the trap of showcasing style. The emperor has no clothes; let us knock Quirk off of its pedestal.

I hunger for something more. I hunger for weighty television shows/dramas, news programs, books and music. I want to be provoked and pushed, forced out of my box. I desperately desire something that means…something.

Back To Blogging.

So after a few year hiatus, I am back to blogging. Some of you reading this may know I once had a LiveJournal account, but I’ve since given up on LiveJournal for a number of reasons: 1) I found it tedious to keep up with the whole “LiveJournal community”. 2) I found it too cliquey. 3) Other random reasons.

I've taken the name "Diary of a Dissenter" for a simple reason: I feel disconnected from both mainstream and alternative society. I don't feel like I belong in any particular clique, group or organization. I am disconnected, I dissent. This is not my attempt to be "special"--I often wish I was more in synch with some sort of movement, but I've never found any school of thought that fits me well.

I am not entirely sure how often I’ll post on here, but I’ll take it step by step. Some days/weeks, I suspect I’ll be posting frantically, while at other times, I may drop off the face of the Earth. This corresponds to my own social energy levels.

The majority of my posts will probably rotate around observations on society, politics, etc. Some may be reviews of movies or restaurants, and occasionally books(strangely, though I love reading, I find reviewing books to be both difficult and tiring). I may also talk about my personal life and interpersonal relations with my friends/family/etc, but I don’t think that’ll be the emphasis of this blog.

This is a public journal, so I don’t mind people linking my posts to their own blogs or sending it to others or what have you, if they wish. I am not planning on making my family aware of this journal, however, so please don’t email them with: Look what Ajit just wrote!

For the most part, if referring to friends, I’ll use their first name(and sometimes their last, if I am hyping something they did), except for my lovely girlfriend who will only be known as “HB” to protect her identity. If you’re a friend and don’t want to be mentioned by name, let me know and I’ll give you a secret identity!

Finally, I don’t mind if people comment. I don’t expect comments, however, and I will probably only respond to the rare one(when I feel the need). If you write inane comments, I will promptly delete them, unless you’re a friend, in which case I’ll just smack you upside the head…or laugh, whichever seems more appropriate.