Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 in review

Why not blues in the basement on a New Years Eve? It's getting aulde sometimes, but hey, just saw Bob Stroger on CBS! [Kennedy Center tribute to Morgan Freeman].

I thought I'd seen it all. Famous last words. What hubris! Here comes a year and it’s a roller coaster on steroids. Knock down. Pick up. Knock down. Pickup. Repeat.

Hadn’t seen it all. Despite new lows, year had a good few moments and a great one. But I was disheartened and sorry too. Much loss. And you say, ‘me too,’ right?

In terms of blog .. didn’t put a lot into it. I tried to focus on some other projects non-bloggish, and next year will tell if that time was better spent.

Some stuff worth a second look.

A very hard year especially for Cecelia. Her mother Wes died in March. Wes left the world; her place in it was a hard working positive place. She brought her children up much by herself, working long hours, to keep the house bill met, and keep the kids on the path. Very remarkable. Very spiritual. I was travelling on business, but Jake and C took part in the services for This One Great Soul. Cecelia recorded a record with the Wolf Cry Singers. She got a new job with the NA Indian Center, and thus things continue to progress positively with effort.

Great part of year was working with Jeff Hull and just hanging out. He let me into his studio and Jake took then some pics and we talked about art as a window and I am pretty happy with the long piece I wrote for his opening. Next year we plan a mixed-media presentation of these words and I am sure his new art. Some of these wordsf.. for example....

Hull who bicycling down city alley hears the same sirens as the Edison man but to whom the pictures adhere and he goes back to the loft … Drawings and paintings. He just saw posters, sequenced, faded precisely on a wall, like old electric bulbs. He saw them – in Boston - and now, aloft. Rialto! Bijou! Telegraph! Also got to converse with Ed Sanders about his Electronic Bard System, which I hope turns into some nice stuff next year.

For Boston 2008 was an amazing sports year. Guess that caused me to think I was some kind of sports writer. I warned of hubris before the Super Bowl, and dammed if the Patriots who'd won all their regular season games and made it to the super bowl lost a lead to the hard-playing Jints in the last minute of play. I did my best: I was chanting "Defense.’ Dig it: The Red Sox won the World Series in Oct 2007; the Pats came very close to winning the Super Bowl in Feb 2008; The Celts would go on to win the NBA championship in June. Close it was to an incredible trifecta. Better than booze for getting your mind off trouble: Sports.

Was a fall of depression descended once the credit swaps came due. So I thought I was a business writer. Check out November's tomes ... Not much to recommend – I saw my duty and I done it. Scared now for the president-elect and what he must face .. feeling here is that the great monetary earthquake is the only thing that turned America’s color blinders on.

This year technology writing began as a writing managing editor for application development at TechTarget, ended up as writing site editor for “SOA” stands for service oriented architecture, a method of application integration. Couple of things I liked .. Outgoing Bill Gates says UML on tap in Oslo SOA modeler [a keynote writeup is not a highform of technical writing, but I thought this piece was able to depict Gates on the way out and yet find a story [if you cede that UML is a story]. Did the pic of Bill at left meself! Did a four-part series I did for on application performance:

Part 1: Problems and solutions

Part 2: Role of Java developer groups

Part 3: SOA performance management requires new strategy

Part 4: The challenges of Ajax performance testing

Not a large year for poetry, at least on the blog. Did rip off a screamer in September, about the time I started taking the train down to Hingham to see my mother. It's about how I walked into the train station, and they were filming a movie, and I gradually came to be able to pick out who were the ones that were in the movie and by elimination who weren’t. Nothing like a train ride to bring re-cognition in storm of life. This is kind of a one-note for me. I should get better at it. Might best blog less next year and take a course or something. Did a vid too..under the guise of Blind Lemon Pledge. Which sits atop this page-ola.

It is the snowy time again here. A picture in last week's Times of travellers boarding a train in snow brought back a memory of Christmas 1972, coming home to family the first time in their new Hingham home. This young balding stock broker in good spirits offered me – I declined - a slug from a flask of Southern Comfort. We took train through snow to our separate destinations. Should I use more articles of speech?

This year on trip saw Kerouac’s Orlando home and Cape Canaveral. And in Dec in an elevator at NewYorkNewYork hotel in Las Vegas, a National Championship Rodeo Cowboy told me I had shaving cream on my ear. “I am glad you are the first person I saw today, boss,” I said. And got on a plane [with the young Red Sox brass, in fact – they at baseball winter meetings] wondering if the dream life of news American was about to be extinguished; wanting to know what the new young president from ‘the other side of the tracks’ would bring to the table.

Anticipating less blogging next year. Less is more. There are ebbs low too. Stop the presses: May fold Epitome and RJ-11 blogs back into Moon Traveller. The idea was to have a more serious site with one or the other of those I guess. This reached a nadir with my report on the memistor [what to do with flux] and a low ebb with my rake of Bill Drake, even as was in his new grave. Suzy Creamcheese, what got into you?

No matter! Best New Year Happy Healthy Prosperous and with Love Dear Reader in the Ether!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Peace on All Us! Xmas meat mince upon a tyme!

- I remember a Special Ed Christmas party long ago -

...taking it in
Holding it a long time til
It tastes of drowning tears
the mothers clatter and hum
in my camera eye mind
at the Special ed party in a lobe
in an alternate Charlie brown universe
just seven daysbefore Christmas
watching the ceil while snow is falling
Kitchen band clangorous carrying abundant joy
great jubilee in this nebula life akimbo...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

U.S. Grant’s Personal Memoirs: Literary warrior from Ill.

Have been reading U.S. Grant’s Personal Memoirs this year. Finally: Big job, won’t finish soon. But here is my book report.

This book has a reputation as one of the best autobiographies by a president or general and it fully lives up to that status. Grant wrote it, in need of money, as he battled cancer. He composed it at the behest of Mark Twain, and the writing at times reaches a level like Twain’s. It deals with the Civil War, Grant didn’t live to write about his presidency, which was a debacle, anyway.

Grant was known to be somewhat taciturn – and with a bit of a dour countenance. Yet he was known for brilliant simplicity in his war making – in the way he wrote memos, as one example. His quietness belied a deep thinker; his writing style makes for great literature.

Grant’s fame lies in the fact that he brought the Civil War to an end. Many would argue that he spilled too much blood in the process. His perspective was probably that shorter war equaled less blood. That, itself a bloody algorithm. His tale is terrible and tragic and filled with a certain Midwestern resignation. It is vast, detailed and brilliant. Grant thought things out, and the book truly opens a window on the mind of a very substantial historical player.

Throughout his life he was a figure of much derision, yet he had tremendous confidence. His calmness in battle was considered extraordinary. He was very self-effacing. During the War, he confidently and correctly estimated the merits of West Point class mates who’d seemed to better him between wars [the Mexican and Civil]. Barely heroic but densely nuanced and modern is Grant.

He does not spend much time on his early life in the memoirs. The meat is the Civil War. But of his youth one story stands out.

At about 10 he went to buy a horse. His father advised him to take along the $15 dollars that the seller was asking, but to bid initially at $10; if that was rejected to split the difference and offer $12.50; if that was rejected than buy at the original $15; or something to that effect.

Young Grant, who eventually became famed as a horseman, approached the seller and said:

“My father told me to bid initially at $10, and if that was rejected to offer you $12.50, and if that was rejected to buy for $15.” At which point he handed over the full price.

The story of this hayseed horse trading followed Grant through his youth. In his home town he could hear people joke as he passed, even after attending West Point. It seemed to contribute to create his sense of humility. When he leaves town, and goes by river boat to West Point, hell if he don’t see the same horse of his youth – an animal he’d sold when it was going blind – pulling barges up the river.

So the story has pathos. The fact was that he went to West Point to get an education, hoping to become a professor some day; and it was chance and circumstance that put him in the position to lead the Union armies. He understood this deeply. 'There are but few important events in the affairs of men brought about by their own choice,' he writes, at the book’s outset. A key. Many people conspired against his personal success; although unlikely on the face of it, he had success after success in battle and finally won the day.

He appears to have been an indifferent student – although he read novels intently. Grant had a bit of the Midwest bumpkin about him – but his literary text betrays a famous stranger – he used his bumpkin mask to disarm, all the time observing, and planning tactics. He didn’t waste words on people unprepared to hear what he had to say. He would conveniently overlook a general’s request for additional troops if, as in the case of McClernand at Grand Gulf, Tenn., he’d observed the ground and knew how many troops the general could actually there engage. He knew from a long life of observation when his opponent was a poor general – as in the case of Floyd at Nashville – and set course accordingly. When a West Point colleague Buckner, then a Confederate captured, told him he’d not of taken Donelson so easily as he did if Buckner had been in command he replied that he’d have done it differently if Buckner had been in charge. Most importantly he was flexible and aggressive.

Although he’d served as a quartermaster, his experience in the Mexican War was very deep and quite enough to instill a warrior’s sense. [Tho his quartermaster experience was key – one thing he was always sure to do his best on was to make sure his troops had ammunition.] He was flexible as when he looked at his difficulties to maintain support long lines in the campaign on Vicksburg, and determined to use the Mississippi River to draw supplies. If his troops weren’t moving they were preparing to move. And Grant prepared for multiple contingencies.

His aggressiveness was in contrast to his predecessors as leaders of the Union army. He would always try to follow up one victory with another, and he always knew where he should go next. His first choice was to pursue a vanquished opponent. More than other Union generals, he did not wait to be hit. He’d attack an army before it could gain reinforcements; so many times his colleagues would wait and miss the march. His eye was on the big picture too; rapid movement meant acquisition of territory; it promoted Northern volunteerism that had tailed off from the beginning of the conflict. His tactic was violent, but the message in his book was that he was damned determinted to end this thing.

By the way, as I read this book, I read a piece as if companion. Grant (from the Great Generals series) by John Mosier. This is one of the best military books I have ever read. It is a part of a series of short treatises on famous generals. Without a deep background in Civil War history and geography, Grant’s story can be hard to follow. This book helped. It was quite interesting in its own right. Why does one read military biographies? To learn how the general managed resources, planned campaigns, reacted to adversity, dealt with personalities, encouraged his troops. This book is useful in that sense. Deeper folks than I have faulted it on Amazon. I’d say, if you are reading more than one or two books on Grant, this is useful, if your interests lean toward the matters of tactics and strategy. It is an incredibly refined mix of what many people are looking for in a military history. It is carefully distilled and incredibly focused on what is essential. Wesley Clark provides an interesting foreword.

To give a feel for Grant’s literary skill, I offer here a passage that covers the 1850s, when San Francisco was the Apex of the Gold Coast. Don’t tell me his novel reading did not pay dividends. It is interesting and a hopeful sign that our president elect in Dec 2008 seems to have literary skills on par with this great general’s.

San Francisco at that day was a lively place. Gold, or placer digging
as it was called, was at its height. Steamers plied daily between San
Francisco and both Stockton and Sacramento. Passengers and gold from the
southern mines came by the Stockton boat; from the northern mines by
Sacramento. In the evening when these boats arrived, Long Wharf--there
was but one wharf in San Francisco in 1852--was alive with people
crowding to meet the miners as they came down to sell their "dust" and
to "have a time." Of these some were runners for hotels, boarding
houses or restaurants; others belonged to a class of impecunious
adventurers, of good manners and good presence, who were ever on the
alert to make the acquaintance of people with some ready means, in the
hope of being asked to take a meal at a restaurant. Many were young men
of good family, good education and gentlemanly instincts. Their parents
had been able to support them during their minority, and to give them
good educations, but not to maintain them afterwards. From 1849 to 1853
there was a rush of people to the Pacific coast, of the class described.
All thought that fortunes were to be picked up, without effort, in the
gold fields on the Pacific. Some realized more than their most sanguine
expectations; but for one such there were hundreds disappointed, many of
whom now fill unknown graves; others died wrecks of their former selves,
and many, without a vicious instinct, became criminals and outcasts.
Many of the real scenes in early California life exceed in strangeness
and interest any of the mere products of the brain of the novelist.

Those early days in California brought out character. It was a long way
off then, and the journey was expensive. The fortunate could go by Cape
Horn or by the Isthmus of Panama; but the mass of pioneers crossed the
plains with their ox-teams. This took an entire summer. They were very
lucky when they got through with a yoke of worn-out cattle. All other
means were exhausted in procuring the outfit on the Missouri River. The
immigrant, on arriving, found himself a stranger, in a strange land, far
from friends. Time pressed, for the little means that could be realized
from the sale of what was left of the outfit would not support a man
long at California prices. Many became discouraged. Others would take
off their coats and look for a job, no matter what it might be. These
succeeded as a rule. There were many young men who had studied
professions before they went to California, and who had never done a
day's manual labor in their lives, who took in the situation at once and
went to work to make a start at anything they could get to do. Some
supplied carpenters and masons with material--carrying plank, brick, or
mortar, as the case might be; others drove stages, drays, or baggage
wagons, until they could do better. More became discouraged early and
spent their time looking up people who would "treat," or lounging about
restaurants and gambling houses where free lunches were furnished daily.
They were welcomed at these places because they often brought in miners
who proved good customers.

Some Grant on Gutenberg – Project Gutenberg
Mosier Grant book on Amazon – Amazon
Grant book on Barnes & Noble – Barnes & Noble

Oppy, we hardly knew ye

It is coming, a book on the Bomb that discloses all A-bombs can be traced from Oppenheimer's Abomb... But that is not the reason I am rehosting a bit of a homage or review [it focuses on his Cambridge life] of a great book on Oppenheimer and the bomb...

Reposted from RJ 11 - It is weird to think that the leader of the U.S. teams that created the first A-bomb was a delicate mesh of scientist and poet, in the end, a tragic figure, done in by his lethal invention and his soft-spot for arty friends who, in the style of their times, promoted liberal and communist causes.

Robert Oppenheimer is a truly haunting figure, well depicted in “American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J Sherwin. [2005]

Doctorow is quoted in the book saying “The Great golem we have made against our enemies is our culture, our bomb culture-its logic, its faith, its vision.” Sensitive, Oppenheimer tried to put the killer genie back in the bottle after creating it. This proved another reason he was marked as haunted.

Oppenheimer did not have his roots in Boston, but he did pass through here, like so many others. Like these others, he helped build the military-industrial complex based on the startling strings of scientific breakthroughs and technical innovations of the mid 2oth Century.

The son of a wealthy West Side New York clothier, Oppenheimer refused the fellowship Harvard offered him when he entered the university in eighty-five years ago. [1922]Oppenheimer began his Harvard days as a chemistry student. The chemist had been the epitome of the scientist - but that was changing just as he was entering college. In the 20s, Physics was steep in its ascent. He looked to take as many advanced physics classes as he possibly could. He didn’t have the basic courses. But he read five science books a week. And he was picking physics texts unknown to the typical student. American Prometheus authors report that one physics professor, reviewing Oppy’s petition [replete with a list of texts he'd read] to take graduate classes, remarked: “Obviously, if he says he’s read these books, he’s a liar, but he should get a PH.D. for knowing their titles.” He was brash and precocious.

The famous of science and math [in which Oppenheimer thought himself deficient] passed through Harvard’s gates. Oppenheimer attended lectures by Whitehead and Bohr. Still, he nurtured a love for literature. He was a great polymath. He read The Waste Ladn, and wrote poetry of sadness and loneliness. He edited a school literary journal known as The Gad-Fly [under the auspices of the Liberal Club at 66 Winthrope St]. After Harvard, he discovered Proust.

He kept much to himself. Had but a few friends. “His diet often consisted of little more than chocolate, beer and artichokes. Lunch was often just a ‘black and tan’ - a piece of toast slathered with peanut butter and topped with chocolate syrup.” When he lived in Cambridge, like so many other great scientific thinkers in so many places, he took to long walks. He lived for awhile at 60 Mount Auburn Street.

His outsider status at Harvard could be laid to his sensitivity, but just as significant if not more so was his Jewish heritage. He came to the school at a time when its head was considering a quota system to reduce the growing number of Jewish entrants. Surely, the straight road to Harvard success was not fully open to him, even if that is what he’d desired. He was offered a graduate teach position but turned it down.

Oppenheimer graduated from Harvard in three years. He wrote a friend: “Even in the last stages of senile aphasia I will not say that education, in an academic sense, was only secondary when I was at college. I ploy through about five or ten big scientific books a week, and pretend to research. Even if, in the end, I’ve got to satisfy myself with testing toothpaste, I don’t want to know it till it has happened.” From Harvard he went on to study in Gottingen in Germany, Thomson’s famed Cavendish Lab, CalTech, Berkeley, and, after the War, Princeton. Surely the Jewish Ethical Culture School he attended as a lad, which had a summer school adjunct in New Mexico, and the mesas of New Mexico, where he placed the crucial workings of the Manhattan Project, were most formative. He and his friends skipped the Harvard commencement to drink lab alcohol in a dorm room. He had one drink and retired. A bottled killer Genie of a life still ahead.For more, read American Prometheus, Vintage, 2005

Friday, December 05, 2008

Blue skies

I am ready to quick now get out of the Depression journalism business. It's funny, I was reading Galbraith's book Halloween and it was near fun - now my endowment is down as much [percentage wise] as Harvard's ... and it aint funny. Pop a top! Do you like the blues?

So one more depression post for now to make the triad. What we have here is a comment I put on Floyd Norris' blog - before the election. In those dark days when we - well me anyway - were -was- worrying about chads that would disrupt the Merican democratic swell back against Bush and forward to FDR II.

It's a look back at my youth where, if someone scraped some beans off the plate into the garbage dad would say 'you'll spend time in Purgatory for that.' Ahh, the days old good!

Here goes... October 31, 2008 1:57 pm Link It seems to me that recent events do bear similarity to aspects of the StockMarket Crash of 1929, if not yet to the Great Depression. Other folks have said this too.

I am a so-called Boomer, and the Depression was only real to me in so far as behaviors of my parents [eg., food in this house was consumed, and never thrown away].

Now, this election seems to me to be more about parties than candidates. My analysis would be that people that experienced the Depression [most of them now, second-hand] would, many of them, have a basic impression that Franklin Roosevelt, the New Deal, and Social Security are Democrat achievements.If they are concerned about the present economy, they will lean toward the Democrat, based on what FDR did.

Of course, their is a great number that do not know who FDR was. These are younger people, who may gravitate toward Obama the candidate. Who is Black. These people may or may not be more or less prejudiced than previous generations. They may feel more favorably toward the younger candidate Obama.

In either case, Obama sits in a favorable position. Yet, the vote must take place, people must really opt for significant change, and the chads must be counted ... — Jack Vaughan

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