Friday, September 29, 2006

Still no photo essay. But it's coming, I promise. There are too many good stories from this summer--I have to get them down (for posterity!) before they get lost among the random bits of flotsam and jetsam floating around in my dome.

Watched Domino the other night. I'm still twitching. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new archetype of the commercial as movie, with the flashing images and dramatic volume swings. Wait, "swings" is the wrong word. Swinging denotes a graceful path from one extreme to another. There are many words that can be uttered about Domino, but graceful certainly isn't one of them. Dramatic volume jumps: quiet, LOUD, quiet, LOUD, quiet, LOUD. LOUD. LOUD. LOUD.

I'm pretty sure it was about a pretty girl who became a bounty hunter. And I'm relatively certain that we got to see Keira Knightley topless, but it might have been a car accident caused by a goat in a blender that dropped out of a 747 flying six inches off the ground. One or the other.

Oh, how far Tony Scott has come since the days of Maverick and Goose, Cole Trickle and Robert Duvall, Denzel and Gene. We saw it coming. How could you miss it (unless you didn't see it, and most of you didn't), watching the promisingly frenetic Man on Fire? In Man on Fire Scott's new dementia worked, or at least it worked as much as the plot would let it. The girl should have stayed dead--it was a much better movie when the man was actually figuratively on fire.

But with Domino it looks like the dementia is just Tony's way of standing out next to big brother Ridley, he who has made many good and some very good (and one very great) films. Tony struggles by comparison, but then he toils under a Colosseum-sized shadow.

Get it? Colosseum-sized? Like the Colosseum in Rome? Where Gladiators played? You can't get that kind of wit just anywhere, people. And it's free! Now check this segue:

Speaking of disappointing Scott brothers movies. We, by which I mean my family, have Kingdom of Heaven saved on our DVR, where it's been hiding for months now.

I was thinking about the plans for the weekend. The wife and I can't do much because our children ruin everything. (I think it's best for kids to grow up in an environment of seething bitterness born of resentment for what could have been if they hadn't been born.) Unless we go through the whole rigmarole of a babysitter, the movie theater is out, late dinners do not work, and we can't even think of going to evening events like comedy shows or theater. Even with babysitters we can't go tie one on like the old days. Stupid kids, ruining all those hangovers with their unbearable cuteness, undying love, and boundless joy.

It used to be that renting a movie was a nice substitute for a night on the town. You could pop some popcorn, get some candy, and snuggle up on the couch to watch a movie. You could pretend it was an event. Then came DVRs and Netflix. Now we get movies all the time, watch them any evening we please, pause them and pick them up later. It's not an event anymore. Stupid modern conveniences making our lives so convenient.

By the way, I know Kingdom of Heaven is disappointing because I saw it in the theater with my friend Robert--actually, it was at the Athena in uptown Athens, Ohio. We went to the eternal Tony's afterwards to drink beer.

Side note. This may be the first time in my life that I actually remember where and with whom I saw a movie. I have a serious mental block in this matter: on several occasions in high school I remember telling my friend Chad about some movie I had just seen, only to have Chad remind me that he drove me to the theater and sat next to me in the movie I was describing. However, I could guess that we went to Bowles Crossing to see said movie, because that was probably our favorite theater in those days.

Which reminds me of the time that I went to a movie with my friends Ryan and Brandon at Bowles Crossing--no idea of the movie--the summer before our senior year. It just so happened that the guy who was the quarterback of our biggest rivals in football (Douglas County High School, the Purple Pansies) was at the theater that night. After the movie, Ryan goes to the bathroom, and who is in the can but this quarterback (who also played linebacker, lest you get the wrong image). Ryan steps up to the only open urinal, which happens to be next to the guy, whose name was Reed something or other. So they are there handling their business, and all of a sudden Reed leans forward, and with the arm nearest Ryan, kind of punches the wall with the side of his fist, leaves his fist and forearm against the wall, and flexes his biceps. Ryan was laughing so hard when he came out of the bathroom that I thought we were going to have to call an ambulance. Classic.

(We beat Douglas County that year to get a share of the conference championship and make a trip to the state playoffs. We stopped them on a two-point conversion that would have tied the game with time running out. Two of the other teams in our conference were at the game and cheering us on. Our crowd came out of the stands and rushed the field. Top ten moment in my life.)

Side note to the side note. My friend Chad had this amazing habit of taking jobs--waiter at a restaurant, cook at a fast food joint, stocker at a grocery store, etc.--and being the best employee the place had ever had. For about six months. I'm not kidding, he was awesome--he would show up early, leave late, work like a dog until his bosses were trying to make him into an assistant manager. Then he would drop off. He'd start calling in sick or, better yet, he would claim his fresh new set grandparents were dying one by one so he could miss work. Oftentimes, he would give massive amounts of freebies to his friends--not me, never me, I'd never accept something like that, never--and start borrowing things himself. By about six months, he get fired, usually with some threat about never returning or the police would be involved.

Last summer I heard that Chad had come out of the closet. My friends and me were thinking about sending a warning out to the gay community, letting them know that that for about six months Chad was going to be the greatest gay man ever. After that, he would stop showing up, start stealing things, and have to be fired. Which is pretty funny, if you think about it.

Second side note to the side note. I dated a girl in high school who had gone to Platte Canyon. The last time I went to Colorado, I had breakfast with my Dad at a restaurant in Bailey, which is on the way to my parents' house.

What made me think of that right now is that you can just about throw a rock from Bowles Crossing and hit Columbine High School. We played Columbine in football my senior year (we lost). I played with guys from Columbine in college. April 20, 1999 was my soon-to-be wife's twenty-first birthday. Not a good day in Colorado to have a 21st birthday, but we went ahead with the festivities. Around midnight, my friend Ryan (same one from high school), my soon-to-be wife, and me were at the Purple Pig, having a few cocktails. The phone rang at the bar. We were friends with the bar's owners, and they gave the phone to Ryan. His soon-to-be step sister never came out of the high school.

Her name was Rachel Scott. Look her up. A terrible loss, but there's some hope there, and hopefully there will be some hope to come out of Platte Canyon, too.

Have a nice weekend. As for me, since watching a movie is out, I guess we'll grab some neighbors and play Mexican train. Anyone know what kind of game that is? You betcha.

(See how it all ties together?)


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Apologies. A spike in the workload will keep me from offering any large updates this week, and keep me from explaining the mysterious post from the end of last week. No more secrets, fair readers, in the next week or so I will be writing a long photo essay describing what can only be called "The Summer of Love." We went to forty-seven weddings, bachelor parties, and cancelled reunions this summer, and engaged in all sorts of crazy hijinks.

The result of all that will be a series of posts here at tombruscino that will no doubt become an interminable slideshow for people who love to be bored. So hold onto your seats. It's coming.

In the meantime. I have the distinct pleasure of sharing a few links, and one, especially, gives me much joy. Here they are:

Someone talking about Clausewitz and the war and his usefulness to the war, again. Long, boring, but I guess I'm obligated to point it out anyway.

Victor Davis Hanson saying "fascist" is a perfect way to describe our Islamist enemies. I don't know that I agree, but at least he makes an argument with evidence.

You ever skim through an article and pick up a wayward phrase that catches your attention? Check out this one: "As further evidence of my fecal ice-cream thesis..." For some reason I felt compelled to read that Mark Steyn column a little closer.

A reminder to read the Bleat every day, but especially this one, if you are interested in seeing the entrails of the evicerated Keith Olberman spread around like so much raw umber in a Jackson Pollack studio.

In the 'I might have mentioned this once or twice or three times (thrice!) category', John Miller has an excellent article on the decline of military history in the academy.

Finally, my source of joy: Larry Miller wrote another column for the Weekly Standard's Daily Standard, which is nice enough news, but the links at the bottom of the article reveal that dear Mr. Miller is now keeping his own webpage, complete with his very own blog. Grand. Just grand.

Alright, to work. I have to write a 20-30 page article by the end of the week. It's called "Clearing the Jihad Superbowl."

And now you have seen all I have written so far.

I gotta go.

If I don't check in, or even if I do, have a nice week.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Be back next week to explain.

(The first three entries to this diary blog can be found in the September archive on the right side of the page.)

Monday, September 18, 2006

The power of photographs. Look at this:

It is one of fifteen photos from the Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection at the Brown University library. The portrait above is of one Monsieur Loria of the 24th Mounted Chasseur Regiment and a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor. Monsieur Loria and all of the other individuals on the Brown page were veterans of Napoleon's armies. The pictures were taken sometime in the 1850s. Take a look, but try not to get lost imagining what those old soldiers had seen.

I'm obviously not breaking new ground here, but I am consistently surprised at the power of photographs, especially portraits, to bring to life figures of the past. It is such a pleasant surprise to find pictures like these--connections to the time just before photography became a reality; but also tantalizing reminders that if Napoleon or George Washington had lived just a bit longer, we might be able to see them a bit clearer.

Sometimes we are lucky. In his third person autobiography, Henry Adams tells a wonderful story about an incident involving his grandfather John Quincy Adams:

All the more singular it seemed afterwards to him that his first serious contact with the President should have been a struggle of will, in which the old man almost necessarily defeated the boy, but instead of leaving, as usual in such defeats, a lifelong sting, left rather an impression of as fair treatment as could be expected from a natural enemy. The boy met seldom with such restraint. He could not have been much more than six years old at the time,—seven at the utmost—and his mother had taken him to Quincy for a long stay with the President during the summer. What became of the rest of the family he quite forgot; but he distinctly remembered standing at the house door one summer-morning in a passionate outburst of rebellion against going to school. Naturally his mother was the immediate victim of his rage; that is what mothers are for, and boys also; but in this case the boy had his mother at unfair disadvantage, for she was a guest, and had no means of enforcing obedience. Henry showed a certain tactical ability by refusing to start, and he met all efforts at compulsion by successful, though too vehement protest. He was in fair way to win, and was holding his own, with sufficient energy, at the bottom of the long staircase which led up to the door of the President’s library, when the door opened, and the old man slowly came down. Putting on his hat, he took the boy’s hand without a word, and walked with him, paralysed by awe, up the road to the town. After the first moments of consternation at this interference in a domestic dispute, the boy reflected that an old gentleman close on eighty would never trouble himself to walk near a mile on a hot summer morning over a shadeless road to take a boy to school, and that it would be strange if a lad imbued with the passion of freedom could not find a corner to dodge around, somewhere before reaching the school-door. Then and always, the boy insisted that this reasoning justified his apparent submission; but the old man did not stop, and the boy saw all his strategical points turned, one after another, until he found himself seated inside the school, and obviously the centre of curious if not malevolent criticism. Not till then did the President release his hand and depart.

The point was that this act, contrary to the inalienable rights of boys, and nullifying the social compact, ought to have made him dislike his grandfather for life. He could not recall that it had this effect even for a moment. With a certain maturity of mind, the child must have recognised that the President, though a tool of tyranny, had done his disreputable work with a certain intelligence. He had shown no temper, no irritation, no personal feeling, and had made no display of force. Above all, he had held his tongue. During their long walk he had said nothing; he had uttered no syllable of revolting cant about the duty of obedience and the wickedness of resistance to law; he had shown no concern in the matter; hardly even a consciousness of the boy’s existence. Probably his mind at that moment was actually troubling itself little about his grandson’s iniquities, and much about the iniquities of President Polk, but the boy could scarcely at that age feel the whole satisfaction of thinking that President Polk was to be the vicarious victim of his own sins, and he gave his grandfather credit for intelligent silence. For this forbearance he felt instinctive respect. He admitted force as a form of right; he admitted even temper, under protest; but the seeds of a moral education would at that moment have fallen on the stoniest soil in Quincy, which is, as every one knows, the stoniest glacial and tidal drift known in any Puritan land.
Now take the time to look at this daguerreotype* of the aged John Quincy Adams (click on the picture for a closer view):

Look closely. Look at his eyes. That daguerreotype shows something that cannot be found on the written page alone. There, in the picture, is the John Quincy Adams who took his stubborn grandson by the hand and led him to school in silence. There, for all of his writing and all of his great works, is the son, the brother, the husband, the father, the grandfather. There is the man, not lost to history, but there for all to see.


Maybe we don't want to lost to history ourselves, even if that means within our own family history. And so in this digital age we take photographs by the thousands. We still sit for portraits to preserve something of ourselves. We take our children, always the children, to studios to capture who they were before they become who they will be.

My sons.

I look at these photos and wonder if someday, someone will gaze into them, looking for insight into the men they became. Do the eyes in these pictures reveal something I should know? Something about who they are?

I don't know, but I look forward to finding out. And I'll take plenty of pictures, too.


* This daguerreotype comes from the frontispiece of Paul C. Nagel, John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998). This is the first time it has appeared online, to my knowledge.

Nagel writes of the picture: "This profile of John Quincy Adams, age 75, was made on March 8, 1843, in a Washington daguerreotype studio. Much intrigued by the new technique, he sat for three exposures (of which only this one is known to survive), and found it "incomprehensible" that each required only thirty seconds. Lost until recently, the daguerreotype appears here by courtesy of Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, to which it was given by William Macbeth Gallery in New York City."

On March 8, 1843, Henry Adams had just turned five years old.

Friday, September 15, 2006

It's official, he's overrated. I watched Rashomon the other night. About a month ago I saw Kagemusha. Sometime in the last two years, my friend Robert and me watched Ran. Sometime before that, I got around to seeing Seven Samurai. I liked Seven Samurai.

By no means does this viewing extravaganza make me an expert on Kurosawa--he's still got another fifty movies out there I haven't seen. But I don't think I'm going to bother. Sure, it's neat to see where George Lucas got the inspiration for C-3PO and R2-D2 and the idea to do diagonal wipes between scenes, but is that really a reason to watch a the full film library of a guy who is batting, by my estimation, .250? Nah. I'm done.

I know my general dislike for Kurosawa movies is because I'm an uninitiated barbarian westerner. At least that's Robert Altman's theory, who announced in one of the DVD extras that American audiences probably wouldn't understand Kurosawa's work. Guilty as charged. I don't understand the nuances of Japanese culture, especially if they include being bored to tears while it's raining on screen, or while a guy wanders through the woods, or while a woman with bizarre eyebrows wails uncontrollably.

Honestly, I don't get some of the cultural messages in the recent spate of popular Chinese movies (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Hero; House of Flying Daggers; Kung Fu Hustle). Maybe I was missing something, but I was scared as hell that the Chinese might really buy into the horrifying message in Hero that thousands must die to create a greater China. But I still enjoy the movies. They are still beautiful and exciting and interesting and moving and funny. I'm looking forward to Curse of the Golden Flower and Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles. I just don't have much use for Kurosawa. Sorry.

Soldiers and school update. My friend Rob, known also as Marine II, noticed an article in VFW magazine about veterans going to college. Read the whole article, but the Veterans Administration claims that "some 328,578 students on the nation's campuses received GI Bill benefits as of June 2006." Looks like those disadvantaged aren't staying disadvantaged, if you think going to college is necessarily an advantage, which I don't necessarily think, necessarily. But you get the point.

Speaking of Soldiers. Add this to the "I have the coolest job in the world" category. We are working on case studies of actions and operations from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They should be published in an anthology and be available online later this fall. We should all hope so, because there are so many great and important stories from this war that have been misreported, gone unreported, or gone underreported. I've written one already, and if my meager retelling gets by the bosses, it's a humdinger. Trust me, it's a great story.

I'm doing the research for my second article, and while it's not as focused and intense as the first one (sorry about being so vague, I don't want to ruin the effect if and when these come out), it is much broader in scope and involved many more participants. It is a complex series of operations with lots of moving parts.

Those moving parts are people--soldiers in the United States Army who have been on the front lines of the war in Iraq. In the course of writing both of these case studies, I have had the honor and pleasure to email, talk to, and interview dozens of American soldiers, male and female, from Specialist to Colonel, and it has been a remarkable and enlightening experience. These folks are every bit as intelligent, thoughtful, conscientious, and American as you could ever hope.

For example, last night I interviewed Master Sergeant Daniel Hendrex. MSG Hendrex is a bit of a celebrity because he was the First Sergeant of a tank company that had a 12 year old Iraqi boy wander into their post and become a key informant. The boy, whom they nicknamed Steve-o, pointed out a number of important weapons caches and insurgent cells. He also gave up one of the main insurgent leaders in the local city, a man who happened to be his father. You can read all about Hendrex and Steve-o in Hendrex's book, A Soldier's Promise, and I highly recommend that you do just that.

Hendrex told me that going into combat is the hardest thing he's ever had to do, but that writing the book was only a couple of notches lower. Believe me, I wish that writing a book was in any way equivalent to laying your life on the line for your country and comrades, because it would sure make me feel better about my contribution to this world. But I don't think so.

I'm an okay American, but everyday I get to talk to great Americans. And that's a huge part of why I have the coolest job in the world.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Religion and the West. I've mentioned before that I am a fan in general of Rodney Stark's book, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. Now it looks like Robert Royal has a similar work out called The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West At First Things, Richard John Neuhaus writes about Royal:

I am struck by a review of the book in the New York Sun by Brooke Allen.

She writes: "Mr. Royal's belief that religion has acted as a restraint on human cruelty rather than an instigation to it addresses a question that probably will never be settled satisfactorily. He points out, as others have, that anti-religious regimes like Mao's and Stalin's murdered many more people than religious persecutions ever did. While this is certainly true, Mr. Royal does not take into account the fact that ideology functions as a sort of religion in its own right, offerings its acolytes the feeling of transcendence normally associated with faith, and the sublimation of the ego in a larger cause."

This is part of a very old word game. If you say anti-religious ideologies are more destructive than religion, it is only because anti-religious ideologies are, in fact, religion in another guise.
Neuhaus points out that it is also a silly word game. Send the memo to Bill Maher, who insists on repeating the nonsense that 'more people have been killed in the name of religion then any other cause' to yet another round of adoring applause from a crowd that would applaud their arms off before they could clap one time for every person who was slaughtered in the name of anti-religious causes in the 20th century alone.

Add to the meaningless statistic category. The latest Atlantic Monthly has Stanford historian David Kennedy musing on the threat of our militaristic society. His main concern, it seems, is that we can go to war too easily in part because we can field a lethal military without straining our economy hardly at all. True enough. But then he adds this bizarre point: "In the general population in the eighteen-to-twenty-four-year-old cohort, nearly 50 percent of people ... have had some exposure to college education. In that same cohort in the U.S. military today ... the percentage of people who've had some kind [of] exposure to college education is 6.5 percent." Well, yeah, no kidding. People who join the military out of high school do not go to college (until, in many cases, after they get out of the military). Thanks for the update.

On the other hand, what do you suppose the statistic is for military officers' exposure to college? Oh yeah, 100%. And that's not just exposure, mind you, that is 100% college graduates.

What's even more interesting, to me anyway, is that it is possible that none of this matters as much as Kennedy seems to let on. Indeed, this Atlantic seems to have elite = college education on the brain. Witness Richard Florida's article on the concentration of college graduates in a few specific cities and regions. Florida explains this concentration: "Some of the reasons for it are essentially aesthetic--many of the means metros are beautiful, energizing, and fun to live in. But there is another reason, rooted in economics: increasingly, the most talented and ambitious people need to live in a means metro in order to realize their full economic value."

What does that mean? To me it reinforces what Matthew Crawford talks about in his article on shop class and manual labor. Office jobs, the types of jobs that college graduates do, are becoming more and more like factory work. Those jobs, with their TPS reports and PC Load Letter, are not as intellectually stimulating as advertised, but they pay reasonably well. Besides, those jobs are really all that people with the generic, useless, and ubiquitous business degree can do. So, like Florida pointed out, these elite college graduates flock to the business factory towns and work in cubicles at places like the Denver Tech Center along the always happily congested I-25.

If only our soldiers had more exposure to colleges that boost enrollment and increase revenue by offering mindless degrees to pump out white collar workers, then our military would no longer be exploiting the most disadvantaged in the country.

Look, if I learned anything from my ten years of college, it's that contrary to the airy expectations of high-minded educators, the overwhelming majority of students see higher education as, oh, let's call it "social training." They see their degree as a box to check on a job application. This is the dark side of American pragmatism--learning for the sake of learning, intellectually challenging yourself, learning to better oneself does not offer a readily apparent pecuniary benefit, so we don't do it.

A college degree used to mean something. It used to be an indication of some sort of intellectual elite status. Then it became just a key to better jobs. Now that might not even be the case. Being able to afford a college education probably indicates to one degree or another having somewhat more money to begin with, which is an advantage. But the college education itself is becoming less of an advantage with every passing year, and that's something none of these statistics are taking into account.

Note on the end of summer. The family went for a long walk on Monday night (Sept 11--I don't want to talk about that), and the fall chill has most assuredly arrived. The streetlights were on by the time we got home, another reminder that the days are getting shorter. I dread the switch to standard time, with it's evil premature sunsets forcing us to spend the better part of our evenings under artificial lights. The dimming daylight the other night was a sad reminder of the excitement of the spring, when the days get longer and you can stay outside and not even realize how late it's gotten.

But for all that, the cool weather, overcast skies, and approaching darkness felt right on Monday night. Long, hot days are great for working outside and having barbeques and washing cars and drinking beer on the porch into the wee hours, but by the end of the summer I always feel a little too stretched out. Summer provides opportunity, becomes busy, and ends up frantic. I need the weather to remind me to go inside and pick up a book.

Long way of saying thank goodness for the seasons.


And that's the sort of blogging that you'll probably see from me for the next little while. Hope you like it.