Day By Day

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Return to China -- Part 2, The Forbidden City

Of course once we were in Beijing a visit to the Forbidden City was practically mandatory. It seems to be the starting point for nearly every tour, so early on the morning of our first full day in China we were up and on our way there. In the past we had entered the Forbidden City through the South Gate which fronts on Tiananmen Square and immediately found ourselves in one of the city's famous immense courtyards [here]. This time, however, we came in through the North Gate and entered the more intimate environs of the imperial residences.

Here's our local guide, "Susanna", who showed us through the complex.

And here is a picture of "Gavin", our national guide who stayed with us throughout the trip.

Both of them were pleasant, competent, and quite helpful. Gavin in particular proved to be invaluable to us later in the trip.

Most of the pictures taken in the Forbidden City feature the immensity of the place -- 9999 rooms including huge courtyards. Indeed these were what had impressed me on our first visit. But this time I chose to focus on smaller details, like this ornate gate through which we entered the imperial compound.

Or this elaborately decorated roof,

Or these stones decorating a walkway,

Or this pomegranate decoration on a door,

Or a lonely plant clinging to these roof tiles,

Or even some chipped paint on a doorway,

And of course I had to take a picture of this mama lion -- everybody seems to.

Since we were there, I might as well include a look inside one of the rooms of the royal residences. Nice to look at, but it doesn't seem very comfortable.

And, because it is expected, here a a shot of one of the courtyards. Impressive, no?

As we were leaving we passed these guys on their way in. I'm not sure what their purpose was, and couldn't stick around to find out.

A final glance back as we left the Forbidden City and went on to our next stop, Tiananmen Square, right across the street.

Rethinking the "Good War"

During our recent trip I had an interesting conversation with a friend regarding revisionist views on World War Two. Coincidentally, the New York Times this weekend published a nice review article by Adam Kirsch on that same subject.

Kirsch, of course, is writing from a Left perspective and his most important objection to the standard World War Two narrative [which emphasizes America's moral commitment to democracy and human rights, the heroic valor of Anglo-American participants, and nourishes the notion that America won the good war] is that it encourages a belief in American exceptionalism. He notes that Anglo-American involvement in the war was little more than a "sideshow" compared to the horrific slaughter that took place on the Eastern front. He also questions Anglo-American claims to moral superiority, noting that our ally Stalin was easily as horrific a figure as was Hitler, that Churchill was motivated by profound racism not much different from that of Hitler, and that the Allies knowingly committed atrocities every bit as nasty as those perpetrated by our enemies.

Leftist myths are just as easily challenged, [For instance it is now quite clear that Fascism is not a creation of capitalism and that Fascism and socialism are far more similar in their origins and values than is generally admitted. Nor is the old Frankford School canard that conservatives are closet Nazis sustainable. Nor can the global catastrophe of the war be attributed simply to an excess of nationalism.] but Kirsch doesn't consider these at all. His only concern is to challenge the idea of American exceptionalism. Still, it is important to note that our common understanding of World War Two and the lessons we draw from it are problematic and that historical revisionism is not just a normal, but a healthy, enterprise. So, despite its biases and blind spots, Kirsch's piece is worth a read.

Check it out here.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Return to China -- Part 1, Airport to Airport

The first day of our trip started, as usual, at Dulles Airport. The terminal building once was an impressive, state of the art structure but is now beginning to show its age.

Sun reflecting off pack ice in the Arctic Ocean. Once again we took the polar express -- direct from Washington to Beijing, about a fourteen hour flight.

The famous ceiling at Beijing International Airport -- the second busiest airport in the world [after Atlanta]. Last time we were here it was supposedly the biggest airport in the world (Heathrow, we were told, could be contained within one of its parking lots) but has since been surpassed by Dubai. There seems to be a continuing competition between the Arabs and the Chinese seeing who can build the biggest and best prestige structures. Similar to the competition a century ago between the French and the Americans. Aaaaah. adolescents -- they never learn.

While we were waiting for our group to assemble I took a few pics of other passengers standing around. This one turned out pretty well, I think.

Then it was off in a bus to our hotel, then to dinner and to bed. The real adventure would start in the morning.

Deconstructing Tarentino

For years we have been told that Quentin Tarertino's genius was his near photographic memory for film images and plot situations and his ability to inject them into new projects. Of course all director/screenwriters do this to a certain extent, but this remix shows just how completely unoriginal is Tarentino's work.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Whale Watchers

For years now environmentalists have been screeching at the top of their voices about the depletion of oceanic resources. Fish stocks are depleted, they cry, and will soon disappear, and whales, especially, are being hunted to extinction. But that seems to not be the case after all.

Science Daily reports that studies supposedly documenting the depletion of fish stocks are based on erroneous methods. They count the number of fish caught and subtract them from the estimate of the total population without considering that stocks replenish themselves over time. An alternative approach that measures biomass rather than catch shows that many stocks that have been portrayed as depleted and on the path to extinction are in fact quite healthy and sustainable. Read about it here.

And as for whales, scientists from Duke University have found that while the number of whales appearing at older feeding and breeding grounds has declined recently, new "superaggregations" of whales have appeared in previously unstudied areas thousands of miles away from older, better studied, grounds. In other words, instead of declining the whales have simply moved. The scientists, of course, attribute this to climate change, but it could simply be a natural movement in response to the serial depletion of krill in feeding areas. Or, perhaps they are trying to avoid all those pesky humans who keep bothering them in their old feeding grounds. Read about it here.

Monday, May 09, 2011

A Concert of Mishaps

Last weekend "She Who Must Not Be Named" and I accompanied some friends to the latest in the Shriver Hall Concert Series. The featured artist was clarinetist Gleb Kanasevich, a remarkable young talent. It was one of the most fun concerts we had attended in recent years, mostly because everything that could go wrong did, and Gleb was more than able to deal with the sequential challenges.

The first piece on the program was an old standard, Bach's "Sonata No. 2 in E-flat Major for Flute and Harpsichord". It was a bit different from what you usually hear because it was performed by Clinton Adams on piano and Gleb on E-flat clarinet, but was nicely done. The same two performers then did "Five Dance Preludes for Clarinet and Piano" by Witold Lutoslawski, which was more to my taste. I was starting to really enjoy the program.

Then things began to go agley. Next on the program was Andre Jolivet's "Sonatine for Flute and Clarinet" with Elena Yakovleva joining Gleb on the stage. Unfortunately, Ms. Yakovleva was still en route to the concert hall, so Gleb and Dr. Adams  performed instead a short piece by Camille Saint Saens that did not go very well. It was clear that they had not been able to rehearse the piece. Still, both were fine musicians and the piece was pleasant.

Then came intermission during which Gleb reappeared on stage to announce that there was yet another change to the program. He was scheduled to perform Mozart's "Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A Major", but some of the string players had not appeared. So he was going to improvise, performing two pieces that did not need external accompaniment. The first of these, Valentin Silvestrov's "Misterioso", was scored for piano and clarinet and Gleb proposed to perform both parts himself. Here is a video of Gleb rehearsing the piece. Weird, but impressive. I liked it. I was also struck how much it, like many modern chamber pieces, sounded like the sound track to a horror film.Things were starting to get really interesting.

Gleb then announced that his next piece would be Steve Reich's "New York Counterpoint" which he would perform backed by ten clarinet parts he had previously recorded, but first he had to take care of  some "technical problems" with his instrument. He left the stage.

A few minutes later he reappeared accompanied by a beautiful young woman and announced yet another change in the program. Elena Yakovleva had finally arrived and they would be performing the Jolivet piece they had originally promised. Here's how it sounded.

With that the concert, and the seemingly endless series of mishaps, came to an end. It was an interesting experience. I was impressed by the virtuosity of the young man and his ability to substitute appropriate pieces from his repertoire -- ones that did not rely upon accompaniment. Discussing it afterwards we all agreed that we had thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Our congratulations to Mr. Kanasevich, may his career flourish. I expect it will.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

The Greatest of All Time

Critics overwhelmingly choose Citizen Kane as the greatest picture of all time. Nigel Andrews explains why.
It storms after us down the corridors of history like its own hero. Bloated, grotesque, tremendous; destroying as it goes; influencing and renewing too. Every fresh decade calls it the best film ever made. Every new generation poses and tries to answer the question, "Why?"

Citizen Kane is 70. Three score years and 10 after its New York premiere in May 1941, it is still everywhere. Not just in its own flesh, as reissue, telecast or DVD, but in the monstrous spell it casts on filmmakers. 
Read the whole thing here.

I've seen the film at least a dozen times and each time I find something new to marvel at. It's not my favorite film [I'm not really sure what that would be], but it certainly is the greatest and most interesting I have ever seen!

Why Mel Gibson Must Be Rehabilitated

Joe Queenan explains why the film industry cannot afford to lose Mel Gibson:
If the year 2010 is the year Gibson goes down for the count, that is not necessarily something to cheer about, at least not from the film buff's point of view.... This is not an industry that can afford to lose talented actors and directors; it doesn't have that many of them. Moreover, you simply cannot talk about the last three decades of motion picture history without talking about Gibson's part in it. He is a linchpin of the industry, the kind of mainstream actor (not unlike John Wayne or Steve McQueen or Clint Eastwood) who does not himself win acting awards, but without whom there would be no actors making films. Whatever you may think of him, Mel Gibson is Hollywood.
Read it here.

He's right. Absent government subsidy, film makers must depend on attracting viewers, and that is something that Mel Gibson, throughout his career, has been able to do. And he has done it very well. What is more, he takes chances and pushes the limits of the medium in interesting ways. He is, for all his embarrassments, a major figure who is still young enough to be making important films. I, for one, would like to see them.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Good President (continued) -- Vindication

Christopher Taylor writes in the Washington Examiner:

President Bush was reviled and hated at an almost unbelievable level while in office, with almost no accusation or conspiracy theory untried or unbelieved by the left. Every single action the man took was considered evil and horrible, every single event was an excuse to shower bitterness and spite toward the man and all he did. President Obama's career and political campaign for eight years was largely shaped by how he acted toward President George W. Bush. Now all that has changed.

In one event, on May Day, the entire case against President Bush was demolished by one of his greatest critics: President Obama.
Read the whole thing here.

Of course Taylor is overstating the case, but that is what pundits do. It is true, however, that President Obama's actions with regard to the GWOT have generally confirmed the wisdom of his predecessor's precedents. Moreover, the political Left's case against President Bush has been pretty much demolished and their hypocrisy is prominently on display for all to see. All this is great and good to see, but there is danger here too. If we allow Obama's partisans to redefine the GWOT as a hunt for Bin Laden, we diminish and de-legitimate the far more important elements of our national efforts over the past decade. Operations in Iraq may have revealed important information on al Qaeda and Bin Laden, but that was not their only, or even their most important, purpose. We must not allow the Left to use the assassination of Bin Laden as a means to undermine our accomplishments and efforts elsewhere.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Bin Laden is Dead!

Best news possible. It has little operational significance, but it still is a great and good thing. Congratulations to both Presidents Bush and Obama, and to the men and women of our military.

ABC News reports:
Osama Bin Laden was killed not by a drone strike, but up close during a firefight with U.S. troops. He was not living in a cave when he died, but in a million-dollar mansion with seven-foot walls just 40 miles from the Pakistani capital, where U.S. forces killed him Sunday. 

The U.S. had been monitoring the compound in Abbottabad for months after receiving a tip in August that Bin Laden might be seeking shelter there. He had long been said to be in the mountainous region along the Afghanistan, Pakistan border, hiding in a cave as the U.S. sought to kill him with drone strikes from above. Instead, he was in a house eight times larger than its neighbors, with a seven-foot wall and valued at $1 million. The house had no phone of television and the residents burned their trash. The house had high windows and few points of access, and U.S. officials concluded it had been built to hide someone.
According to U.S. officials, two U.S. helicopters swept into the compound at 1:30 and 2:00 a.m. Sunday morning. Twenty to 25 U.S. Navy Seals under the command of the Joint Special Operations Command in cooperation with the CIA stormed the compound and engaged Bin Laden and his men in a firefight, killed Bin Laden and all those with him.
Read the whole thing here.

CBS News video report here.

Obama's announcement:

Perhaps the best thing about this is the way that the nation is drawing together to rejoice. Sure there are carpers in the blogosphere, but they are of no consequence. This is a great triumph for our nation, our military, and our political leadership, both in the previous administration and the current one.

I am glad to see that Obama makes the point that this is not the end -- that the war continues. All credit to him for his persistence in the face of intense political pressure from elements of his own party to quit.

Note to al Zawahiri -- you're next.

President Bush's statement:
Earlier this evening, President Obama called to inform me that American forces killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of the al Qaeda network that attacked America on September 11, 2001.  I congratulated him and the men and women of our military and intelligence communities who devoted their lives to this mission.  They have our everlasting gratitude.  This momentous achievement marks a victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world, and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001.  The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message:  No matter how long it takes, justice will be done.
From NRO Corner