Monday, October 19, 2009

PSO Notes: Mixing the media

[Originally written for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra: Outside Perspective]

I've told my students that they need to learn how to ask questions about other people's work, because if they stay in our field, they will always be entering someone else's territory. For all their skills and all they bring, they will always be entering someone else's environment, someone else's situation, someone else's world. And when that is the case, the first steps are to prove to the other person that you are paying attention to them. While you can ignore the guy on the ground if you happen to have authority behind you, you can get a lot further if the guy on the ground is convinced you are working for their interests.

I enjoy classical music because of its abstractions. And that so many have chosen to take the challenge of actually communicating something within the abstractions and creating works with such range. So I look upon pieces like Danielpour's collaboration with Maya Angelou with a somewhat skeptical eye. Is it forcing something that does not need to be forced? Or is it that the music could not stand on its own, and needed to vocals to give focus that could not be done otherwise? (we already know that Angelou's poetry can stand on its own)

In the event, I confess I was barely listening to the words. I was listening to music of orchestra and voice. And hearing the hope of youth to the melancholy of age. To a combination of music and words, that seemed to do all right even without the words.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Book Review: Welcome to Afghanistan by Benjamin Tupper

Welcome To Afghanistan: Send More Ammo Welcome To Afghanistan: Send More Ammo by Benjamin Tupper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Benjamin Tupper was a New York National Guardman sent to Afghanistan as part of an Embedded
Training Team, a two-man team that is embedded into an Afghan Army unit to train Afghan soldiers how to be real soldiers, by living with them and going into combat with them. When you see in the news discussions on giving the Afghans the ability to defend themselves, this is how it is done.

In his civilian life, Tupper is a social worker, and he describes his writing these blog entries that turned into this book as a part of his therapy. As such, the stories in the book range widely across the range of emotions. Pride in a job well done, joy in something working or a lesson properly taught, cursing at mistakes made, wonder of a disaster very nearly avoided through no fault of his own, depression of the loss of a comrade, exaltation over mere survival. And he even takes you home, as he deals with both his own demons and tries to help some of the other ETTs who have come back and have to reintegrate themselves into American society.

There is no claim of looking at a bigger picture here. It is one man discussing his experience as part of the U.S. military at war. But the ETT experience is distinctive in the world of war. Missing are the supportive comrades of arms that the soldier can lean on for support during and in between combats. The ETT works in pairs, away from the close support of other American units. The ETT is exposed to all the same hazards as the Afghan army units he is with, and because he is different, he is exposed to even more hazards and stresses as an outsider to the group he is embedded in. And even when ETTs joined the rest of the Army (like his trips to Bagram) it is like a different world. Other then special forces type units, there are none like this.

I overlapped with Tupper in Afghanistan for a month. I'm not saying I knew him, but I recognize his characterizations of people (Army and local), events and situations.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

QOTD: INFORMS 2009 Part 1

P1: What do you do?
. . .
P1: What does your wife do?
. . .
P1: You are going to have brilliant babies!

P2: (while standing between two baggage claim terminals for 5+ minutes) What baggage claim are the bags from ___ coming?
Me: I know nothing.
. . .
Me to P2: You know, I try really hard to cultivate the 'I know nothing' look, obviously I'm not doing nearly a good enough job at it.
P2: You already got your bag.

P3: "Buenos dias (more stuff in Spanish). Ooh, (aside to coworker) I just started speaking in spanish to him."

P4: I did not know anyone else was doing work on ___. How come I don't know who you are?!
. . .
P4: (to a section chair) I want to have a session on ___ (next year). (to me) You will have something, right?
Me: My student will have something ready.

Me to P5: I'm here to do what traditionally gets done at conferences, meeting someone who works one block away from me.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Book Review: The Unforgiving Minute by Craig Mullaney

The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education by Craig M. Mullaney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Unforgiving Minute is about the training of Captain Craig Mullaney, U.S. Army. Craig starts out at West Point as part of training to be an infantry officer. He does the usual path of West Point and Ranger school, but also takes a detour, to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. And then to find out if the training was right, be leads men in battle in Afghanistan as part of the American effort in Operations Enduring Freedom.

Two underlying questions: First, was the best leadership education that the United States Army could devise sufficient for bringing us into a different kind of war then we had prepared for. Second, does the finest liberal arts education in the world make a difference in what is sometimes called the graduate school of war.

The first part of the book looks at his training. Military training at West Point, Airborne School, Ranger school, Infantry Officers Basic Course. And it contrasts with his time in Oxford. Each type of education brings its merits. The stress put into military training was attributed to instill attention to detail and precision in action, even when under stress. Such discipline would be needed in a battle, when your duty must be done perfectly even under the worse conditions, or it would mean someone's death. The education and habits of thought at Oxford provide the ability to think critically, and to grasp the overall picture and understanding where details fit in the overall scheme of things. And it comes together at the end, where Craig is now teaching the next group of young officers-to-be, and he has the opportunity to put everything together as best he knows how.

Another aspect that made this book unique was how it was in the context of something else. All of us have lives, even soldiers. And much of the book had as background his family life, his relations with his father, mother and siblings, and his courtship and marriage of his wife. All in a context of an Army whose members believe that it is only one part of a full life. And the parts intrude on each other. Not just the interference in time due to duties, but all the ways that it affects the plans of life into the future.

One scene near the end was poignant. Before his wedding, he went to Arlington Cemetery with his fiance. I remember doing the same, walking through the area with the newest graves from the time I was in Afghanistan with my fiance.

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Toyota as Bait

I'm in a couple of Call of Cthulhu games, and I found this to be hilarious