Friday, July 25, 2008

Remembering Randy Pausch

I just read of his passing, and felt compelled to post the You Tube video of his lecture. Others will of course do the same, but originality is over-rated.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Obama and Reagan?

Eli Lake, who writes on national security for the New York Sun, has written an interesting piece in the current issue of The New Republic. in which he argues that Obama is not the reincarnation of Jimmy Carter but rather that of Ronald Reagan (counter to the claims of Republicans like John McCain). What is that about, I wondered?

Well, one criticism of Carter was that he made human rights the dominant theme of his foreign policy, allowing friendly dictators like Somoza and the Shah fall in anti-American revolutions. Reagan, on the other hand, is celebrated for forging alliances with proxies to fight Communists around the globe, from Afghanistan to El Salvador; death squads and human rights were a concern, but secondary to the main objective.

Lake argues that - in the war on terror - Obama is much more likely to follow in Reagan's footsteps than Carter's. Lake points to the eminence of Randall Beers and Richard Clarke among Obama's senior counter-terrorism advisors.

Lake writes:
Both Clarke and Beers are lifelong national security bureaucrats who left the Bush administration in protest of the Iraq war. Both have offered private advice to Obama and might well hold top posts in his war cabinet. Clarke helped draft the campaign's counterterrorism strategy, and Beers contributed ideas for his August 1, 2007 counterterrorism speech. Both also have the trust of the party's antiwar base and have, in many ways, articulated the Democratic Party's most substantive critique of Bush's war on terrorism.
And what kind of advice do these guys give Obama?
Clarke and Beers in effect were drawing on a time-honored tradition of foreign policy...finding proxies to fight an enemy. [snip] It was a policy that manifested itself in U.S. support for the Nicaraguan Contras, Jonas Savimbi's insurgency in Angola, and the Afghan mujahedin. In a sense, the Reagan doctrine was a full-throated rejection of the Carter era. [snip]

So here we arrive at the central irony of the charge that Obama will revive Carterism: The two most important architects of his counterterrorism policy came of age at the height of the Reagan Doctrine, and that thinking continues to inform their strategy.
What does Obama have to say for himself, you ask?
Last November at a foreign policy forum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Obama said there may be "40,000 hard-core jihadists with whom we can't negotiate." He went on. "Our job is to incapacitate them, to kill them."

Learned Optimism

The psychologist and author, Dr. Martin Seligman, has recently been the subject of fierce criticism for having given a lecture on the subject of torture and interrogation in 2002 at the naval base in San Diego. In Jane Meyer's new book "The Dark Side" the author charges Seligman with collaborating with the government, by providing information useful in planning the interrogation of terror suspects.

Seligman is the author of "Learned Optimism" - a wonderful book that explains much about the nature of optimism and its power in our lives. It is hard for me to believe that an author whose writing in this instance was so hopeful, helpful and humane could be complicit in the use of torture.

Seligman claims that the purpose of his lecture was to provide US servicemen and women with insights that might help them to withstand harsh interrogation, and not to offer advice on how to torture others.

I am keen to read Jane Meyer's book, but I see no reason to reject Seligman's defense. There are, to be sure, many villains in the story of America's 21st century war crimes. A Truth Commission should be established to examine the record and bring an honest close to this ugly chapter in our history. But let us be fair to people in the process. It will bring no cleansing if we follow one witch hunt with another.

C'est magnifique

Jo Stafford and Ella. Why can't songs and singing be like this again?

Recorded in 1961, when I was 5 years old - long before I could appreciate such music. Even so, it is wonderful, no?

Remembering Jo Stafford

I read yesterday of the passing of Jo Stafford, one of the great talents of American song. Stafford is best remembered for the songs she recorded in the WWII years, when she earned the nickname "G.I. Jo" for her recordings on V-disks which were distributed among the armed forces serving in that war.

A woman with a unique sense of humor, she won a Grammy for a comedy record in 1961 - a set of songs performed with her husband and arranger, Paul Weston. The couple performed songs in which Jo sang a half-tone sharp and Weston played the wrong chords - butchering familiar tunes with a style only the truly talented could possibly pull off.

I may have one more post on Ms Stafford today. Meanwhile, you might like to read her obit, from yesterday's NY Times.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Gabriel's Oboe

Ennio Morricone wrote this for the movie "The Mission." Here, David Childs is the soloist (euphonium, or I can call him instead if you're too shy).

Having heard this performance on the euphonium, I cannot understand why Saddam Hussein wanted to make nukes with it. Apparently it is only dangerous after being run through a high speed centrifuge.

Yo Yo Ma made a nice recording of this theme on his cello. In the movie, Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) plays an oboe. Of the three, I think I like the oboe performance the best, but the euphonium makes a beautiful sound, doesn't it?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Another lush theme

An excerpt from Dvorak's New World Symphony, Second Movement ("Largo"), performed by the Dublin Philharmonic. I think I will be posting more music over the next few days - music connected in my mind by beauty and emotional power.

Good morning

I woke up this morning and soon was whistling the music in my head. I was hearing the melody of Claude Debussy's "Claire de Lune" -- when I arrived at the office this morning I found this interesting performance by classical guitarists John Williams and Julian Bream.

Good morning.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Back to work in the morning...

"Fanny Power", written by O'Carolan and performed by The Chieftains, featuring here the late, great Derek Bell.

Hope you had a fine weekend.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Yes, but who let the mouse drink the chianti?

Welcome news to those of us who prefer a glass of wine to a cardio workout...

A key compound in red wine known as resveratrol appears to protect against many of the health ravages associated with growing old, new animal research reveals.


"...Red wine is a good source of resveratrol," he added. "And, in this mouse study, we have shown that this particular compound has very strong positive effects on preventing cardiovascular disease, reducing heart inflammation, keeping bone health in terms of structure and function, and maintaining loco-motor and balance activity. So, if these effects translate into humans, it will have a very good impact on the standard of human health."


-- Seu Jorge, singing David Bowie's "Changes" in "The Life Aquatic"

For no particular reason, except that it was possibly the best part of that very strange movie.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Happy Independence Day!

Edward Berenson, the director of the Institute of French Studies at New York University, writes in today's NY Times about the Statue of Liberty, and the story behind this marvelous gift to America.

We Americans have come to see Lady Liberty much as Emma Lazarus described her in "The New Colussus" - as a beacon of refuge to immigrants and exiles. Standing in New York Harbor, the entry point for millions of immigrants to this country, the association in our minds is quite understandable.

But it does miss the point a bit. She is, after all, the Statue of Liberty.

Here in Gitmo nation, where elections are stolen and habeus corpus can be voided by Executive order; your privacy may be invaded by the government without cause or judicial review; where waterboarding may not be torture and torture may be okay anyway; where wars are started on the basis of deliberate lies and the liars go unpunished and where the Justice department itself enables and promotes this injustice, you would think we would cherish her as a reminder of what we have lost by negligence at the start of the new millenium.

Berenson, who is writing a book about the statue, explains that the statue was conceived in 1865 as a tribute to the Union's Civil War victory, which secured the promise of liberty in America, and also as a rebuke to the dictatorship of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (Emperor Napoleon III). By the time the statue was complete, Bonaparte had been deposed and France returned to republican government, but the statue continues to speak to the French, who have not forgotten the importance of liberty.

Have a safe and happy Fourth!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Fun with You Tube

Can you sing? Can you do impressions? Can you do both - at the same time?

Sammy Davis Jr.