Friday, April 27, 2007

To be a Virtuoso

So today I am a little bit sad because Mstislav Rostropovich passed away. I don't profess to have the most extended knowledge of classical music, but my parents did buy me season tickets at the Utah Symphony each year I was at BYU for my annual birthday present. I also know this: more than any other instrument, I love the cello. The only instrument that I know how to play at all is the clarinet, and although in my middle school days, I thought I was quite the talent, compared to people who have actual musical gifts, that was pretty much a joke. Nonetheless, if I could actually sit down and learn how to play any instrument very well, it would be the cello. The reason for that is partly because of Rostropovich.

The first time I heard Shostakovich's Cello Concert No. 1, written for Rostropovich, and played by Rostropovich in a recording, it changed the way I listened to classical music. Prior to that, Russian classical music was just the background for beautiful ballet choreography. I listened to Tchaikovsky, Stravinksy, in terms of the choreography that I could see in my mind. Or, growing up, I only thought about classical music in terms apart from ballet on Sundays, when my mother required us to listen to the local classical music station. But that recording affected me in such a way that I knew I would never listen to classical music the same. That cello sounded exactly like the way I thought my life would sound if it were an instrument.

Thank you Rostropovich.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Thank You Bill!

The best news of the week and of many weeks is that Bill Moyers has returned to PBS. I have felt this void in television news coverage ever since he left Now with Bill Moyers. Now, he is back, perhaps sensing that the world of television journalism needs him significantly. Tonight, his show explained the exact reason why the world needs Bill Moyers. By in large, television journalism, particularly the cable news shows, are reduced to pundits yelling at each other with scripted sound-byte phrases; or, the appropriate adminstration officials or politicians make statements from their own highly politicized points of view. This is what substitutes for actual investigative journalism these days. At least, that is what it is at the top levels. It is what sells and buys advertising space. It is catchy and shocking, but it doesn't inform anyone about what is really going on the world. I have been so disgusted with all of this that I haven't been able to watch television news channels at all. No thank you. It is NPR on the drive to and from work, and that is about it (Although, Bill also pointed out that there was some great investigative journalism done by Knight Ridder journalists and other less-marquee journalism outlets). Thank you Bill, for coming back. America needs you. America needs you to take it to those obnoxious youthful pundits. Eat it Peter Beinart! Bill Moyers just made you look like an obnoxious, whining teenager.

I think this is why I love research so much. It is such an undervalued skill these days. People think that the use of language can actually mask for substance. I see that in the courtroom every day. People just want to be heard and have their argument heard, who cares whether it is right or wrong in an objective sense, or supported by the weight of evidence. I just want to be one of those people who is obsessed with understanding and attempting to get to the truth of things, rather than trying to figure out catchy ways to persuade others to come to my point of view. For a long time, I wanted to be right, now, I think I just want to understand.

Bill made me think about some things that I have avoided thinking about too deeply about what is going on in Iraq. Frankly, I didn't support the war. I thought we were going to war for completely artificial reasons. But since we have taken away any sense of stability for most people living in that country, I have been devastated over what our obligation is now. It seems wrong to me to just pull out and leave a country in chaos, a chaos that our presidential adminstration wilfully created. Yet, I feel horribly for the members of our armed forces that are continuning to toil there, risking their lives for something that didn't make sense, but doing their best to try to bring some sense of security to the lives of the Iraqi people. What do we do? We created this terrible problem. Now, what I think we need is a leader with more humility and less pride. We need someone who can step up to the plate and tell the world that the USA is sorry for what we did. It wasn't right. And now that we are there, we need to know what the Iraqi people think that we should do to make it right. Then, we should do it. It is what we owe those people. It is what we owe the world. We need to get serious about regaining some international credibility. Is that a sign of weakness? Well, I guess that all depends on your definition of strength. I think that it takes a much stronger person to admit that they were wrong then the ease of maintaining the status quo and continuing to make excuses.

Once again Bill, thank you for forcing me to think again.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Her eyes narrowed in recognition. . .

I spent this past weekend in Utah. It was a pretty great trip. I went primarily to go to my friend Charelle's wedding on Friday, but on the trip I was able to see a few people that I hadn't seen in a while and have some good Utah times. Here are some of the highlights.

Friday, I went down to Provo and had lunch with my friend Neil at Cafe Rio. Sometimes, going back to Provo makes me feel like I never left at all. In addition to the fact that BYU students always seem to look the same, no matter how long I am away, conversations with Neil are always interesting and delightful. After the afternoon in Provo, I headed up Provo Canyon with David for dinner at Zoom, before heading to Charelle's wedding reception. It could have been like any other Friday night during my life in Provo - dinner in Park City, then heading to an event in Salt Lake. Zoom itself has been the scene of Friday night dinners, followed by the Utah Symphony, and law school graduation dinners of the past. It all had a very familar feel to it.

Charelle's wedding was great. Of course, Charelle looked beautiful and happy. It was great to see her. At the wedding, as a bonus, I got to see Olivia, who was in town from New York because she is friend of Carl, Charelle's now husband. Olivia is one of my favorite people in the world that I never get to see anymore. Not only is she a published author but she is also one of the most fun people that exists. So, I got to break it down dancing with both Charelle and Olivia. That is a pretty great event.

Here is the strangest part of the whole weekend, though - my old arch nemesis was at Charelle's wedding. When I was standing and talking to Charelle's sister, I saw her walk through the door and we caught each other's eyes and gave each other the old stink-eye. Suddenly, I felt like an eighteen year old living in the dorms, who had just seen the person that underminded her efforts to have any semblance of self-confidence in the presence of the boy that she adored. I don't need to go into details about the origins of the title of arch-nemesis, but let me just say this, the following lines will live forever in infamy: "Kate Moss is 5'7" and 107 pounds. That's not skinny." Who wouldn't want to punch someone that says that? Luckily, since that time, I haven't had anyone else enter my life as an "arch nemesis." But I guess, that in life, you can only have one arch nemesis.

On Saturday, I spent most of the day with David's family in Northern Utah. David has a new nephew, Nathan, who was born since the last time I was there.

Then, on Saturday night, I met my friend Kersten, whom I also have not seen in quite some time, and we went to hear Neil's band, The Eden Express, play. I credit Neil with alot when it comes to introducing me to some music that became pretty important in my life. So of course, if Neil was actually going to attach his name to a musical project, I had high expectations. Despite the poor sound quality in what had to be one of the biggest dives in Salt Lake, the band didn't disappoint (I was very happy that The Eden Express was so good after suffering through the first band, whose music was described by the bartender as "android porn." It was a rather apt desciption.). It was great to catch up with Kersten and Neil's wife, Sherisa as well. I had almost forgotten about how many of my favorite people live in Utah.

Here are some shots of The Eden Express:

All in all, a pretty great weekend.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Diaz Update

So David didn't spend yesterday with Cameron Diaz. She had to cancel. Darn. Well, that just goes to show her committment to the environment.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Save the Planet! Hang out with Cameron Diaz

So, I am not going to go too much into detail about this, but lets just say that David is doing a project for work for a prominant climate change organization, and today for his focus groups in LA, the representative from the organization that was his "travel partner" was Cameron Diaz.

I don't know what to think about this. I try to just think about how she looked in Being John Malkovich. That is fairly comforting.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

"I'll Always Regret that Rwanda Thing..."

That is what President Clinton said in May 2003 when asked by some student about why the US didn't do anything about Rwanda. For doing nothing during the Rwandan genocide, it is the one thing I find it practically impossible to forgive the Clinton administration for. All of Madeline Albright's excuses about how we didn't know, they just fall completely flat. It is one of the most embarassing exercises in US Foreign Policy history, the complete lack of regard we paid to hundreds of thousands of people being hacked to death when we actually could have intervened and done something. In April 1994, when the genocide was beginning in Rwanda, I was attending the Model United Nations conference at the UN in New York. The funny part is that a bunch of high school students were more active at the UN at that time than the actual UN. A bunch of silly kids passing around notes to pick up dates during their committee meetings were actually just as effective as the actual UN in stopping a genocide from occurring. That is pathetic.

I just watched the Frontline "Ghosts of Rwanda" that I Netflixed. It is something tht continues to devastate me. I try to think about it in the current political context. In 1994, we were afraid to call Rwanda a genocide because we were afraid that if we did we would actually have to apply International Conventions regarding genocide that would have required all of its signatories to act. This is how we have progressed. Now in 2007, we aren't afraid to call what is going on in Darfur a genocide, we actually did that a couple of years ago, but we still don't feel obligated to actually act to do anything. Nope. Our government is busier creating new opportunities for genocide in Iraq, so that the unrest that we create can give opportunity for sectarian violence that has the capability of resulting in a genocide the second American troops are withdrawn at some time in the future.

I feel the collective guilt of a government that did nothing. As an American, it is humiliating. I know I was just some 15 year old kid at the time, thrilled to be in New York for the first time in my life, oblivious to the fact that innocent lives were so brutally terminted half a world away. Still, the fact that we did nothing, history will not be so forgiving. Nor will history be so forgiving of our failure to act in Darfur now, in spite of our tough talking language.

Alright, I think this post has been sufficiently depressing. Luckily, The Office is coming on later tonight to bring me some laughter.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Why no Elephant Ears?

This past weekend wasn't all about Civil War Battlefields. To welcome spring, I also went to the Tulip Festival in Skagit County, north of Seattle. Friday, the weather was absolutely beautiful here, and I almost forgave Seattle for all of its weather annoyances of the winter months. Almost. As it turns out Seattle is a big tease. I went to bed Friday night to beautiful spring weather, and woke up Saturday morning to another damp, gray day. Thanks for mocking me, Seattle.

In any case, I decided I would try my best to welcome spring despite the misting rains of what seems like an endless Northwest winter. Tulips have to put one in a better spring mood.

Even with the scattered showers, it was a pretty beautiful day. I was sorely disappointed, though, that Tulip Town didn't have Elephant Ears, like they had last time I went to the Festival in 2005. On the upside, we did get to go on a tractor ride. I think that you can see the tractor in the background of one of these pictures (It looks like a Ford Tractor, but it isn't.). Something about my Mississippi sensibilities prohibits me from taking a picture of a tractor outside of Mississippi (David took the picture with the tractor). Nonetheless, I am all for tractor rides regardless of where they take place.

I do have to mention one other thing from the weekend. I can't entirely get away from civil wars, although this comment is about a different civil war. I read the book this weekend A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah about his experience as a child soldier in Sierra Leone's civil war. It was pretty powerful.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Cobb County, GA; MacPhearson Square; Farragut North - What do these names mean to you?

So I finally finished the ninth and final episode of Ken Burns' "Civil War". I have to admit, watching the entire series affected me far more than I thought it would. I don't think that I have ever thought too deeply about the Civil War. Southerners, I think, are inherently born with a deep since of either humiliation or narcissistic pride about the Civil War. I was one born with humiliation and thus, have always avoided thinking to much about what the Civil War means to me. Even in my high school AP US history class, or maybe my senior year IB History of the Americas class, which was probably the last time I seriously thought about the Civil War, I think that I learned what I needed to learn in order to do well on my exam and have some surface level conversation about the causes of the conflict. But the true cost of American blood, the true loss that people suffered, I never sought to understand.

Now, in thinking about it, beyond the soldiers who fought valiantly in the Civil War, the war really affected two groups of people in this country more profoundly than the rest. I liked the explanation that Shelby Foote gave in the documentary, that the North fought the war with one arm tied behind its back. Life in the North went on as normal, for the most part, aside from the soldiers who fought and the families they left behind. In contrast, the war turned the South upside down. Southerners not only had both arms in the fight but both legs and their head too. Thus, when the last fires in Richmond flickered out and the last skirmish was completed in Texas, people realized just how much the war wrecked the Southern economy and landscape. One in four army aged men in the South died in the war. In the years after the war, Mississippi spent one fifth of its whole state budget just on artificial limbs for Civil War veterans. Family farms were destroyed; livelihoods could not be rebuilt. The war did free the slaves in name, but in name only. In that way, the Civil War profoundly changed the lives of newly freed slaves, but it didn't yet achieve the full hope of freedom in America. After all, the epic, unjust Plessy vs. Ferguson was still to come.

And what does this mean to me? I am a product of that charred Southern landscape. In the ashes of the plantations were born the strip malls, high school football stadiums, and manufactured homes of the present. Our educational system in the Southern states is still mocked, our accents ridiculed as ignorant by non-Southerners. And yet, I think I understand so much better now why the South will always be my home, no matter how long I live outside of it. I understand more completely why place and home were thought so worthy of protecting by men who had no personal stake in whether or not slavery continued or ceased. The South absolutely needed to learn a new way of thinking, not the least of which was to do away with the absolute mindset of the inferiority of a group of people based solely on the color of their skin. But as with all people, there can still be some good found. The loyalty, valor, and grace of a Robert E. Lee is worthy of some admiration in our world today where there is so little respect for others, and so much in the way of vulgarity and harshness.

The most moving part of the whole series is that at the end of all of this bloodshed and the assassination of the President, people still found a way to forgive one another and move on with their lives, working with a unity of purpose. I can't imagine how that was possible. To see the footage of the old Civil War veterans, Blue and Gray, shaking hands and hugging one another, it made me realize that long after war is done, brotherhood and forgiveness are possible.

It is what we need today. I have never viewed myself as a great patriot. In the current geo-political context, I have often stated that I wish I was Swedish, or some other more peaceable nationality that respects international law and organizations. However, after watching this documentary, I realize just how much has been sacrificed to make America what it is, and how much of a responsibility each citizen today has to take the what remains from the battlefields of Manassas, Gettysburg, and a thousand other battlefields, and make the 600,000 lives that were lost in it worthy of meaning. They fought for their own idea of freedom. I shouldn't sit back today and watch our leaders squandering away what men so desperately gave their lives for. Furthermore, I shouldn't be so content to not think too deeply about the past and how it affects the present.

It is sad that probably in America today, most people wouldn't know any difference between General Meade and General Bedford-Forrest. A place like Vicksburg should mean something more to us than nickel slots at riverboat casinos. In my numerous road trips across the Southeast, I had no idea of the events that occurred in places I only viewed as interstate off-ramps. I didn't think about a ten month seige at Petersburg, or the burning of Atlanta, or even the battle of Mobile Bay. But that is my home. Shouldn't I know those places?

I think the Decemberists said it the best in their song "Yankee Bayonet":

"But when the sun breaks to no more bullets at Battlecreek
Then will you make a grave? For I will be home then
I will be home then."

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

blog content update

It never fails. As soon as I get a computer that functions, and I get excited that I can resume normal blogging content, of course my digital camera stops functioning for no apparent reason. So I still lack the ability to make my blog look interesting. Oh well, until this week in Seattle, it has been nothing but rainy days so there really hasn't been anything too noteworthy to document by way of photographic material. And I haven't travelled anywhere recently either. I am trying to put in my time at work and not take off too much time prior to my quitting date.

If I did have a camera that functioned, I might have considered putting a picture of my spectacular new hairdo that I got yesterday. However, I probably wouldn't because I fear that posting pictures of myself would make me seem like an incredibly vain person.
Instead, how about a picture of my favorite balloon at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?