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August 2007
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October 2007

Letting Others Do The Work

I'm not really ready to offer witty, erudite political commentary or a fascinating guide to the best of the Internet this week. Fortunately, my contributors are. So enjoy Reynolds, Vitale and Grobstein. I'm going to try to read a book about teaching loaned me by a member of my band.

Tales of Teaching

Been a long time since I had a Tale of Teaching; in this case, it comes from my friend Richard Dalton:

The following quote is from an woman I knew in high school and haven't seen in decades. She's helping to organize our 50th(!) reunion and contacted me recently. We have struck a really free- flowing daily mail exchange. As an ex-teacher she wrote this to explain her feelings about teaching. I thought it might resonate with you.

"I learned that if you listen, kids are for the most part really smart and I don't mean only in academic areas. I had one young lady who was an average student but had people smarts coming out her ears. Kids can spot a phony and a lie a mile away. I think I was a pretty honest person, but working with kids made me more so in small ways. I don't miss the administrative side of teaching, the paper work and testing and all the minutiae, but I do miss working with the kids; not little ones, though. A sense of humor (and of the ridiculous) plus compassion, respect, and a celebration of small victories make teaching a great thing to do."

Greenspan Book

Also from Richard Dalton, some thoughts on Alan Greenspan and his new book:

For a self-admitted numbers geek, Alan Greenspan is very endearing; he lusted first after a baseball career, then wanted to be a jazz saxophonist (at 17) and later became an Ayn Rand acolyte.

Interviewed (poorly in my view--why did she get the call?) by Lesley Stahl on the eve of availability of his new book, The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World, Greenspan called Nixon foul- mouthed, Ford ethical and Clinton the smartest president he served with. He said Hilary was definitely smart enough to be president but he's hoping (he sounded wistful to me) for a Republican candidate. He bridled a bit at the suggestion that he should have foreseen and acted upon the present credit crunch while Fed chairman but seemed willing to admit to other actions where he had made mistakes.

I just put in a request for his book at our library. I think a lot of people will also do this or, if they aren't as frugal as I am, go right out and buy a copy.


by Craig Reynolds

Amazon MP3 takes on iTunes Store: Amazon launched the beta version of its online music store. It has a lot going for it beyond the expected large inventory and convenience. It also offers its entire catalog in DRM-free fully interoperable MP3 format, music data is encoded at a higher bit rate and its prices are often lower than Apple's: Amazon's MP3 store: Better than iTunes, Amazon 2, Apple 0 and Amazon launches beta version of DRM-free music store. To keep the online music store universe in balance, apparently one must close when another opens: Virgin Fumbles in Digital Music Space, Closes Online Store.

Cosmic Debris: the Dawn probe was launched on its way to study two large asteroids: Successful launch for NASA probe, Asteroid Probe's Launch Ends Long Wait for Scientists and a slide show: NASA's Dawn takes off for asteroid belt. Other space news: Video: Fighting Fire with Sound ("Acoustic Waves Could Help Put Out Flames in Zero-Gravity Environments"), Martian tunnels: Cave Skylights Spotted on Mars , Astronomers Spot New 'Halley-Like' Comet and Cornucopia Of Earth-sized Planets Modeled By NASA.

Zoological surprises: I'm always happy to pass on news of newly discovered species, especially when they come in batches: Eleven new animal, plant species found in Vietnam: WWF (see WWF press release and pictures). Remember the vicious cunning predators in Jurassic Park? (Muldoon the big game hunter admired their pack hunting techniques, saying "Smart girl!" just before he was eaten. )  Well it turns out they had feathers, and might have been more like a big turkey with a bad attitude: "Jurassic Park" Raptors Had Feathers, Fossil Suggests and Scientists Say Velociraptor Had Feathers.

Old LED: unrelated to Star Simpson's near death experience for bringing flashing lights into Logan airport last week (although note you can help defray her legal bills by buying a t-shirt claiming Improvising electronic devices is not a crime) I happened to be talking about LEDs with my nine year old daughter. While these devices are totally mundane to her, to me they will always be miracles of modern science since I can remember the world before LEDs. Similarly I remember my mom marveling that I grew up in a world that always had TV, while to her they would always be a new-fangled contraption. My daughter asked a reasonable question: who invented the LED? We all know Edison invented the incandescent light bulb, why don't we know who invented the LED? So she and I asked Google. (How did parents answer why is the sky blue type questions before there was Google? Another miracle of modern science...) It seems the conventional answer is that Nick Holonyak invented the LED in 1962 (other profiles from PBS and MIT). But hold on there Mr. Smarty Pants "I'm feeling lucky" who doesn't read past the first Google hit: it turns out the story is a little more complicated then that. First of all infrared LEDs were co-discovered several times before Holonyak's visible light LED. But more surprisingly, Oleg Vladimirovich Losev discovered the basic concept in 1927: The LED - older than we thought.

Technobits: Technology gives world rare view of Myanmar's rage then Internet cut in Myanmar, blogger presses on --- Global web privacy rules needed in 5 years: Google --- Opening Up the Patent Process and Peer to Patent Program Sees First Submissions --- nano air vehicles: Tech wonders on homeland security horizon --- The blended-wing design of Boeing's X-48B (earlier) --- Rock Your Presentation with the Right Tools and Apps --- interesting as tech news, but what I really liked was the high-fructose headline: Apple and Orange at odds over iPhone deal --- what a cool style of locomotion: Tripedal robot swings itself into action.

Neal Vitale Reviews: The Kingdom

2.5 out of 5 stars

With The Kingdom, actor/writer/director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, TV's "Chicago Hope") appears to strive for a film that works on multiple levels, but succeeds only in delivering an accomplished shoot-'em-up. A US military complex in Saudi Arabia suffers a terrorist attack, and an investigation and search ensue. But a solid cast - led by Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner, Chris Cooper, and Jason Bateman - never achieves any emotional depth or connection. The political themes are obvious and clumsy. The script is utterly devoid of anything unexpected or surprising. While the action is compelling, The Kingdom rings hollow and insubstantial.

Neal Vitale Reviews: Control

4 out of 5 stars

Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn has made a career of still photographs and videos of rock musicians, notably U2, Depeche Mode, and Metallica. Control is his first feature-length film, shot in black & white, profiling the last seven years in the life of Ian Curtis, singer/lyricist with British post-punk band Joy Divison.  [Curtis and his group - which became New Order after his 1980 suicide - were also significant figures in the excellent 2002 film by Michael Winterbottom, 24 Hour Party People, a vivid snapshot of the late-1970s Manchester music scene and producer/manager/impressario Tony Wilson.] As played by young actor Sam Riley, Curtis is an opaque, contradictory, and chameleon-like soul - a mix of naif, sullen loner, oddly warm family man, conflicted adulterer, and self-absorbed poet/musician. Some of this jumbled quality may be a function of a screenplay, based on a book by Curtis' wife Deborah (played in the film in particularly unappealing fashion by the normally talented Samantha Morton), which seems intent on lightening and sweetening elements of Curtis' persona. Portraits such as this, of obscure but influential characters, about whom the public record is limited, often feel almost obsessive. Here, Joy Division's music - stark, brooding, and edgy - amplifies and underscores that intensity. It can be difficult, though, to discern fact from fiction. While clearly not a film destined for a wide audience, and not without flaws, Control is arresting and powerful.

Stardust: Second Opinion

Peggy Coquet was nice enough to point out both a typo and a factual error in my review of Stardust, both of which I have corrected. She went on to offer her opinion of the film (and she concluded with a compliment that makes me blush):

I adored this movie. I've seen it twice, and I expect it to join my permanent collection as soon as it comes out. It reminds me strongly of "Princess Bride," and "Ever After." Fairy tales with strong female leads are less rare than they used to be, but there's still a whiff of needing a man for completion in most of them. Not in this one; she brought more to the deal than he did!

I didn't think the segment with DeNiro was a distraction at all; it seemed to me a wonderful link for following their trail, and and essential expansion of the idea that people are seldom what they seem. It was also, of course, funny as all get-out. And who was the brave soul who suggested DeNiro paint a heart on his famous mole? I'm never going to see him quite the same way again!

Gwyneth Paltrow is a fine, lovely actress, but I think Claire Danes was just right for this movie. The dew is off Paltrow; Danes still has freshness and hasn't been over-used. I bet they tried for Paltrow, because she would be the obvious choice; to me, that makes her the wrong choice.

Oh, I do go on! Have a wonderful school year; I know your students benefit from your kindness, good humor and intelligence - as do your readers.

I'm thinking of seeing it a second time myself.

Letters: Fake ATM Receipts, Tax Dollars at Work, Dubious Iraq Reports, Lasusa Links, Dan Grobstein File

Kent Peterman says he has officially seen everything now: Fake ATM receipts

My old colleague David Strom is also coasting on the work of others this week, and came up with a provocative essay about Ebay entitled How Not To Do Customer Support.


Your federal tax dollars at work: E-mails show DOT chief fought state on emissions Official lobbied against letting California enforce own standard for tailpipe exhaust

This web site is so far off the map you need a map to find it, but what it says is interesting if true: Assassination of Sunni Sheikh "Ally Against Al Qaeda" Reveals Charade Petraeus Fronted to Congress

I doubt this one too, but wouldn't it be fun if it were true:

  • U.S.-IRAQ:  Fallon Derided Petraeus, Opposed the Surge
    By Gareth Porter
    WASHINGTON, Sep 12 (IPS) - In sharp contrast to the lionisation of Gen. David Petraeus by members of the U.S. Congress during his testimony this week, Petraeus's superior, Admiral William Fallon, chief of the Central Command (CENTCOM), derided Petraeus as a sycophant during their first meeting in Baghdad last March, according to Pentagon sources familiar with reports of the meeting.

Tom Lasusa surfs the web so you don't have to: A Jedi Order Establishes a New Temple - in Lower Manhattan.. .Navy covering up swastika barracks.. .Celebrate Stephen King's Birthday with REDRUM Cupcakes.. .Yeti footprint photo auctioned.. .Best Science Images 0f 2007 Honored.. .Witchdoctor caught at poll tribunal.. .Radio burst from space mystifies astronomers [(Translated into: The People of Xarkon 7 Wanna rock and roll all night and party every day).. Jackass of the week: Rush Limbaugh says Service members who support U.S. withdrawal are "phony soldiers".. .See how adidas makes footballs-- er soccerballs, oh.whatever (its still a cool gallery).. .Shocker - Dan Rather was a scapegoat?..


Dan Grobstein File

  • [Dan's commentary: Another Krugman link. I thought that Dubya invaded Fallujah to teach the locals a lesson for hanging the contractor's bodies from the bridge. I don't remember a delicate military operation going on in the city at the time. I'll have to do some googling. How much of the gazillion $ that we're spending every day goes to the contractor's pay and how many career military men are we losing to the contractors because they leave the service to make more money. But i guess the people who donate to the republicans can get their meagerly taxed large sums of money.

    OPINION | September 28, 2007
    Op-Ed Columnist: Hired Gun Fetish
    As far as I can tell, America has never fought a war in which mercenaries made up a large part of the armed force, as is the case in Iraq.
  • Bush lied to us about the Iraq war, told the truth to the Spanish prime minister

We sure reacted better to Kruschev 50 years ago. [Ed. note: NPR interviewed Sergei Kruschev, Nikita's son, for the 50th anniversary of Sputnik. Sergei is now an American Citizen and a college professor. Can you beat that?]


Dan Grobstein went to this panel:

A Reporter's Legacy: David Halberstam

The Pulitzer Prize winner's final book, "The Coldest Winter," tells of the political decisions and miscalculations on both sides of the Korean War, lending crucial perspective on American intervention in Korea and Vietnam - and Iraq. A look at the author's contribution as a reporter whose best-selling books, including "The Best and the Brightest," "The Powers that Be" and "War in a Time of Peace," exposed often painful truths about our country, at home and abroad.

Moderated by Leslie Gelb, Pulitzer Prize-winning former Times correspondent and senior official in State and Defense Departments, with Lt. General Bernard E. Trainor (Ret.) author of "Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq," William Stueck, author of "The Korean War: An International History," and Joseph Goulden, author of "Korea: The Untold Story of the War," with Dexter Filkins and Frances Fitzgerald.

Here's his report:

On the train home I was thinking that even though there were a number of questions about Korea (mainly why are our troops still there) and Vietnam and Iraq, I don't remember anybody asking about possible war with Iran. And I don't remember any talk about Ahmadinejad at Columbia U or the UN. I think that introduction was a great propaganda victory for him. But I guess the talk was supposed to be about Halberstam's new book on the Korean War.

Dexter Filkins had two observations that stuck with me: one we're damned if we do and damned if we don't stay in Iraq. You get a bloodbath either way. Asked about whether the war was for oil, he said that he had seen that the only government ministry guarded by US tanks after the fall of Baghdad was the Oil Ministry, but people were looting it anyway so he doesn't know. Also in the NY Times bureau, described as a house outside of the greenzone with blast walls, machine guns, sandbags and a lot of guards, there are 2 tvs tuned to Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera. There are constant images of US soldiers arresting Iraqis or breaking into houses or killing Iraqis which dissolve into Israeli soldiers doing the same thing. Not good for our future relations with the region. Oops that was 3.

I think it was William Stueck who said that the Korean War peace talks at Panmunjom didn't get anywhere because Stalin had told the negotiators to stall, but after his death they got new instructions from Moscow and an agreement was hammered out in several weeks. I had never seen the correlation.

General Trainor said that he wasn't saying that we could have won in Vietnam, but that we could have won if Congress hadn't cut off funding (after a long explanation).

C-Span was there taping the talk. I'll have to listen to se what I missed. Which reminds me that I saw Andrew Rosenthal (editorial page editor of the Times) interview Frank Rich a week or two ago. Rich said that as a source, John McCain is really good. If he was in a meeting and tells you about it, he gets who said what straight. Other sources talk about a meeting and you wonder if they were really there.

A Look Ahead

Another activity on Sunday was cleaning up my calendar, to remind me of my three recurring columns, all of which come this time of year: the anniversary of the founding of this column, my Thanksgiving message, and my Christmas message. I added one I won't repeat every year; it was either Nov. 30 or Dec. 7, 1977--30 years ago this fall--that I met my wife Vicki for the first time at a World Affairs Council wine tasting. Since I love that story, I'll retell it here in a few weeks.