Archive for April, 2009

Ten’s of Readers Can’t Be Wrong

Check out the editorial staff of the Utne Reader putting Jon Stewart in his place.  Aw snap.

Specter Joins the Dems

Wow – Sen. Alren Specter of Pennsylvania announced at noon today that he would caucus with the Democrats.  He said that his vote for Obama’s stimulus package cause a “schism [with Republicans] which makes our differences irreconcilable.”  Republicans are quick to note that he’s facing a 2010 primary challenge.

If our dear former Senator from the great state of Minnesota would do the honorable thing and concede, Al Franken would make the 60th Democrat in the Senate thus enabling them to block Republican filibusters.  As the healthcare debate picks up in the Senate (no small issue for Sen. Specter), Obama will have the muscle he needs to bring serious reform.  Hallelujah!

(It is interesting to note that former Sen Coleman left the Democratic party in 1996 shortly after the Gingrich revolution swept Congress.  My, how the politcal winds have changed.)

What Car?

What happens when a rocket traveling at 650 mph crashes into a Geo Metro?  Total awesomeness!

The Value of Arts

For video, see below.  This approx. 60 minute speech (with music at the end) is an investment in time but well worth it and works as a supplement to our last book, Promised Land: Thirteen Books That Changed America.

Wynton Marsalis ties together our Constitution’s founding fathers with bebop’s pioneers, Emerson & Thoreau with Thelonious Monk & Louis Armstrong, 1850’s minstrel music with 1992 rap.  He teases out the emergence of “rock and roll” and the debt it owes to its predecessors while demonstrating how much of what we know today is part of a cultural legacy we forget too easily or don’t bother to understand.

Nobody remembered that the American arts were integrated before baseball, but by the time the dust of the rock revolution had cleared, some kind of way, rock ended up being white, and the definitive “national music” and the blacks ended up with the minstrel show again. But this new minstrelsy was complex too – as suburban whites imitate the inner city blacks who embrace the bourgeois disaffection expressed in heavy metal nihilism fueled by the white misconception that black people are freer with their emotions and sexuality.

When I met Benny Goodman, there was absolutely no feeling of any mutual experience between the two of us. I knew his name and had heard a few of his recordings, but I didn’t know who he was. With all my education I was the perfect product of a disrespectful American youth culture…I didn’t understand what it took for Winslow Homer to paint black people with dignity in the 19th Century. I had never heard of him. And I definitely didn’t understand why any of this could be important to me.

The best of the American arts and the way they’ve been sung and swung provided human meaning to the questions posed by the Founding Fathers more than 150 years earlier…It told you we have a history, a depth, a tradition that requires skill and study but demands you apply those skills to search the frontiers of your soul. It told you that innovation and creativity hold hands with the tried and true.

The primary justification for the value of education is not some competition with other countries for technological jobs, or to win the so-called science race, or to beat anyone. Our arts demand and deserve that we recognize the life we have lived together.

From WE Dubois, “Education must not simply teach work, it must teach life.”

Executive Assassination Wing

As part of the University of Minnesota’s Great Speakers series, Seymour Hersh spoke with former VP Walter Mondale, now director of the Center of the Study of Politics and Governance at the Humphrey Institute.  Eric Black was in the audience and took note when Hirsch said Dick Cheney managed an “executive assassination wing.”  Later Black reported this in his blog and has since caused quite a stir.
Terry Gross interviewed Hersh and asked him about his comments.  First, he was dismissive of Minnesota and our climate…and I paraphrase, “what else are going to do in Minnesota on a cold and snowy March day besides create a dust up over a few comments in a West Bank auditorium?”  Despite his condescension, I think he was flattered by all the attention and no doubt increased the readership of the current issue of the New Yorker.
Anyhow, the substance of his remarks was that Cheney was running the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) which has/had(?) a list of “high value targets,” would go into random countries, find these people and execute them.  What’s worse, Hersh leaves us with this:
I’ll make it worse. I think he’s [Cheney] put people left. He’s put people back. They call it a stay behind. It’s sort of an intelligence term of art. When you leave a country and, you know, you’ve driven out the, you know, you’ve lost the war. You leave people behind. It’s a stay behind that you can continue to contacts with, to do sabotage, whatever you want to do. Cheney’s left a stay behind. He’s got people in a lot of agencies that still tell him what’s going on. Particularly in defense, obviously. Also in the NSA, there’s still people that talk to him. He still knows what’s going on. Can he still control policy up to a point? Probably up to a point, a minor point. But he’s still there. He’s still a presence. 

Visual Display of Information

I’m a big fan of Edward Tufte‘s.  Thanks to previous employers, I have attended two of his courses and have acquired four of his books: Beautiful Evidence (2006), Visual Explanations (1997), The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1992), Envisioning Information (1990), even (perhaps especially) his essay “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint.”  His work has honed my appreciation for clearly and concisely explaining large amounts of complex data.

So, I was thrilled when I read about Information Architects Web Trends Map series (screen shot below, but for a zoomable version go to Zoomorama).  They use Tokyo’s subway map as a metaphor to explain the relationships amongst web companies and the people that drive them.  Each colored subway line is a “trend line”, for example the “Identity” line has Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail as stations.  The “Creative” line has TED, flickr, vimeo, Creative Commons (also on the “sharing” line), and our own WordPress (also on the “publishing” line).  Other lines include: Application, Opinion, News, Consumption, Entertainment, and Filter.

Listed in the #1 spot is Google (the Shinjuku station) with Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt, Marissa Mayer, Vint Cerf and Larry Page as “trend setters”.  The wider the station, the more stable the company is; the Taller the station, the more successful.  The Google station is wide and tall.


Whose Father Was He?

Errol Morris is a Broken Spines favorite and creator of the documentaries “The Fog of War” (for which he won an Academy Award) and “Standard Operating Procedure” amongst others.  In his blog on the NYTimes website, he’s is in the middle of a 5 part series, one part each day this week, on an unknown soldier who fell at Gettysburg.  The story begins with him clutching an ambrotype photograph of his three children, as it turns out the ambrotype was the only thing that could identify him.  A gentleman, by the name of Dr. Bourns, takes it upon himself to publish articles and otherwise conduct a search for the family of this unknown soldier.  So far, I’m riveted – you can find it here.  

It was a full moon the night he died.  Here is the picture of his three children he died holding:

On a related note, Broken Spines has considered reading “Republic of Suffering” by Drew Gilpin Faust (first female president of Harvard).  In the book, she addresses how the Civil War changed the way Americans view death – largely because of the scale of the death and carnage and the introduction of photography that captured it.  Also noteworthy was the grim innovation that came out of the Civil War, the Dog Tag.  


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