Tag Archives: Amy Dockser Marcus

Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize address, book connections.

President Barack Obama spoke about the aspiration for peace and the necessity of war in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech today.

In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech today in Norway today, President Barack Obama spoke about the aspiration for peace and the necessity of war.

Obama opened his speech with the frank acknowledgment that his accomplishments are “slight” compared with others like Albert Schweitzer who have come before him before moving into a strong defense of the need, at times, for war.

Former warriors turned peacemakers like Nelson Mandela and Yitzhak Rabin have been awarded this honor before, but few so early in their tenure in public life and with so small a history of peacemaking behind.

In The Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela discusses the need for armed struggle in South Africa and the formation in the early 1960s of Umkhonto we Sizwe, or the Spear of the Nation, to carry out those actions. 

For his part, Obama asserted the importance of a clear-eyed assessment of reality.

“I face the world as it is,” he said, perhaps unintentionally echoing the first and cardinal rule of community organizing articulated by Saul Alinsky in Rules for Radicals: Deal with the world as it is, not as it should be.

For Obama, that means confronting the reality both that non-violence, as valuable as it is, would neither have defeated Hitler’s armies nor defeated Al-Qaeda, and that violent conflict is not likely to end in our lifetime.

The president conceded that his recent decision to send additional troops to Afghanistan, and, more generally, that war in general means two inescapable outcomes: “Some will kill. Some will be killed.”

Later in the address, he added that,  “no matter how justified, war promises human tragedy.

At the recommendation of Dart Fellow and Pulitzer Prize winner Amy Dockser Marcus, I just read David Finkel’s harrowing book, The Good Soldiers.  A Washington Post editor, Finkel spent close to a year with a division of Rangers in Iraq during the period of the surge to combat the counterinsurgency there.

I will devote a whole post to this book later, and for now will say that it provides indelible confirmation of Obama’s assertions about Afghanistan and war in general.  It makes for gripping reading.

Dr. King’s presence was significant through Obama’s address.

He mentioned King as a giant of history and as a proponent and practitioner of non-violent direct action.  Obama also quoted directly from King’s 1964  Nobel Peace Prize address

People who want to learn more about King and his speeches would be well advised to look at James Washington’s A Testament of Hope, a collection of many of King’s major addresses throughout the years. 

Clayborne Carson, my undergraduate thesis advisor and director of the King Institute at Stanford University, has overseen the publication of a number of books of King speeches, too.  Taylor Branch talks about what the global recognition of the prize meant to King in the second and third books in his outstanding trilogy about the civil rights leader that took 25 years to complete.

Obama closed his address by talking about alternatives to war, and about acknowledging the reality of war while striving peace.   “We can do that — for that is the story of human progress; that is the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.”

 The New York Times had  a fascinating piece earlier this week about how Obama arrived at his decision to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.  As with nearly all things, time will tell if that decision, and the doctrine he articulated today in Oslo, prove to be a wise one. 

What we can say for sure is that his tendency to avoid conventional formulations and to accept dichotomies-he has often talked about individual and government responsibility, for example-were on full display for the world to see and her.


Happy Thanksgiving, quick book notes.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! The late Benazir Bhutto's book about reconciliation is one of the many reasons I am grateful today.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

I feel grateful for many gifts in my life.

Most basically, I am grateful for a wonderful family and circle of friends, a sense of wonder and spirit and purpose, meaningful work, a clear mind that allows me to read, think, admit error and learn, a sturdy constitution and good health, and financial sufficiency.

I’m also profoundly grateful for the slivers of experience and memory that I have each day that remind me of what life is about: love, shared connections with other people, working for a larger cause, and trying to make the world better than it is now.

This blog has been a major project for me this year, and I am extremely grateful to all of you who have clicked on, commented, or in some way joined the conversation and community we are creating together.

Your ranks have grown.

The first day I blogged last December, seven people looked at what I had put up and written.

For the past eight weeks, it’s been just about 1,000 people per day.

This is a shared venture of the heart in every way, and I want, on this day of giving thanks, to thank all of you who have joined and contributed to the space.

Have a wonderful day!!

I’ve got a couple of quick book thoughts.

Longtime Washington Wizards’ owner Abe Pollin died earlier this week at age 85.  He is a minor character in When Nothing Else Matters, Michael Leahy’s highly unflattering portrait of Michael Jordan, the man generally considered by many to be the greatest basketball player ever lived.

I recently finished Dart Fellow and Pulitzer Prize winner Amy Dockser Marcus’ Jerusalem 1913, an intriguing look at the waning days of the Ottoman Empire that suggests how the current Arab-Israeli conflict might have turned out differently.

And yesterday I completed the late Benazir Bhutto’s Reconciliation.  Written after her dramatic return to her native Pakistan and right before her assassination two years ago, the book is an effort to bridge the chasm of understanding between the Western and Muslim worlds.  Bhutto takes on the legacy of Western colonialism and the current war in Iraq as well as Muslim extremists.

The One Minute Manager and Marcus Buckingham tells to go to our strengths.


One Minute Manager was one of the two books I read last night.

Dunreith and I hung out for a few hours last night at Border’s in downtown Evanston.

I love it there for many reasons, one of my favorite of which is that I get to wander around and see which books call me.

I’m never quite sure what I’m going to end up sitting down with, although I did know that I wanted to read Pulitzer Prize winner and Dart Fellow Amy Dockser Marcus’ book about 1913 and the start of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Although I did pull that one down from the shelf and have since taken it out from the library, I did not get to it last night.

Instead, I made my way two business books: The One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson and Marcus Buckingham’s Go Put Your Strengths to Work.

I initially got into business books as a way to connect with my brother-in-law Josh; however, I’ve since found that I very much enjoy the genre and often find elements that I can apply to my work and home life.

The One Minute Manager is told as a parable.

The protagonist talks about meeting the one-minute manager, who briskly explains both that he does not like unnecessary repetition and that the author should talk with his employees to find out what type of manager he is.

The protagonist does, learning that the one-minute manager believes in three essential elements: a one-minute goal, one-minute praise, and one-minute reprimand.

The emphasis in each aspect of the approach is that goals should be specific and able to be conveyed in no more than 250 words and 60 seconds.

The praise and reprimands both come within a context of rapid, if not instantaneous feedback, and emphasize letting the feedback settle in for a little while before affirming the person’s value to the organization.

If the method sounds straightforward, well, that is because it is.  Blanchard and Johnson both talk about the goal of management being to have employees who are excited about the work and who themselves go on to extend the method.

Which, unsurprisingly, is what the narrator ends up doing.

Behavior change is also the goal of Buckingham’s book.

I have not read his earlier book about discovering your strengths, and get the sense that this book is a call to apply the strengths identified through reading the previous work.

A former Gallup pollster, Buckingham takes square aim at the ideas-he calls them myths-that we should work to shore up our weaknesses, that our personalities change significantly over the course of our lifetimes, and that being a team player means doing whatever the team needs at all times.

Instead, he advocates identifying, and then figuring out how to spend more time doing, the activities we do well and that give us pleasure.

These are our strengths.

Buckingham’s book includes an online survey through which readers can identify how often they are currently applying their skills in their work. From that assessment, he supplies a six-week program to help raise that percentage.

The book also includes tips on how to talk with peers, friends and eventually managers about how to make these shifts without appearing overly self-promotional or unwilling to do necessary hard work.

Buckingham unfolds his method through talking about Heidi, a woman working for a hotel chain who has, over the course of eight years, lost her zest for her work.  By tracking the amount of time she does activities that either energize or drain her, she is able to start to increase the former and decrease the latter.

Buckingham states clearly that, while we may dream of a job in which we telecommute, hit the beach and make millions, few, if any, such jobs actually exist.

In a similarly unsurprising ending to the book, Heidi gets her work groove back through participating in the six-week program.

The book has some parts that don’t make much sense.

Buckingham cites Dennis Rodman, whose rebounding and defensive prowess were all out of proportion to the rest of his skills, as evidence of how one can parlay playing to one’s strengths.  Yet no serious fan of basketball would consider Rodman an all-time great at the level of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan, all of whom continued to refine and improve their games throughout their careers.

His statement that parents who do not harm their children have very little influence on them is also highly likely to raise eyebrows.

That said, both The One-Minute Manager and Buckingham’s book are worth picking up for a quick read. Accessibly written, both offer useful tips for one’s personal and professional development.