Sunday, June 16, 2013

News Blackout is Beginning Soon

I like to inaugurate my summers my taking a one week vacation from the news. The courses I teach requires me to stay on top of what's happening in politics, the economy, and global relations. By this point of the year, I'm no longer enjoying the news, but I'm reading it anyway, going through the motions with news stories and topics that aggravate me rather than intrigue me. The NSA big data scandal, for instance, should inspire me to take a clear stand one way or the other on this important issue of national security and civil liberties. Instead, I vacillate between ambivalence and irritation.

My last day with students is Wednesday. My last day of work is the 24th or 25th. But I'm starting the news vacation now. The toughest part of this will be turning away from the Twitter feed for a week. Oh well, that's an itch I'll just have to not scratch.

As an added twist this year, I'll dedicate time that would have gone to news digestion to instead read a book. I started Allan Guelzo's new account of the Battle of Gettysburg today. So far, it's been quite enjoyable. One interesting observation comes from Guelzo's quotes about officers at that time: contemporaries in the mid 19th century were so much more inclined to make allusions to animals when describing others. I found the anecdotes likening General Longstreet to a pig (his eyes) or General Ewell to a pigeon particularly fun.

More substantively, Guelzo makes a fascinating point about how utterly unprepared the nation was for war. We relied on "volunteers" rather than standing armies or conscripts (at least to begin the war). Our officer corps was woefully under-trained and under-manned relative to European armies of the time. Two chapters in, and Guelzo has left me with a powerful impression as to why the war stalemated and lasted four long, very bloody years.

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