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Joshua Sharf

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« November 2006 | Main | January 2007 »

December 8, 2006

Jeane Kirkpatrick, RIP

The AP is reporting that Jeane Kirkpatrick has died. Ms. Kirkpatrick, some will recall, was one of the occasional UN Ambassadors we've had - Stevenson, Moynihan, Bolton also come to mind - who used their position to aggressively and relentlessly defend US interests and positions.

A Democrat from a time long ago when that party took foreign policy seriously, Kirkpatrick was invited into the Reagan administration after he saw her piece differentiating between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. That piece provided the intellectual heft necessary to distinguish between enemies and unpalatable temporary allies.

Kirkpatrick also famously described the UN Security Council as less debate than mugging, and was astonished at the UN's institutional anti-Semitism.

The irony of her passing this week of all weeks, when her heir John Bolton threw in the towel; when the ISG Report (which would have been beneath her time had they even bothered to ask her) was issued; when Robert Gates returned to public life, couldn't be more obvious, and most likely will be missed entirely by the Washington punderati.

Kirkpatrick had moral clarity. More than that, she understood that without moral clarity, success in foreign policy is fleeting and illusory. It was that understanding that led her to initially defend the same jokers who issued yesterday's ISG report. As long as the vision was there, she wrote, the men executing didnt' matter. She must surely have been disappointed both then and now.

December 7, 2006

Thursday Morning

Talk about making lemons from lemonade. I was at home the other day, receiving a new bookcase, and turned on the Retro channel (sorry, Jared) to see Man of La Mancha was on. There are only three conditions under which actors should be allowed to sing their own parts:

1. They can actually sing
2. Marnie Nixon isn't available
3. The film will be shown only at Galludet

The problem with Man of La Mancha is that it's already a little sappy and the "message" is a little trite by now. Sure, we all know about the power and limitations of believing in spite of everything. Maybe this seemed like really inspiring stuff during the Johnson administration, but 40 years and 4 revivals on you're looking for comfortable memories and singable songs, not "message."

Rex Harrison could get away with it because he knew enough to talk through his songs as Henry Higgins. He sings maybe three notes the entire musical. Other than that, he's either shouting ("Let a Woman in Your Life!") or musing ("I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face"), but the one thing he's emphatically not doing is singing. So you want Richard Kiley (who was in two of those revivals), not Peter O'Toole. (Ironically, Rex Harrison was supposed to create the role, but backed out and Kiley took over for him. Would O'Toole's efforts have looked better or worse by comparison?)

The non-singing-singing only works twice. Once when Sofia Loren is spitting "Aldonza" at poor Don Quixote, and again when the roughs are taunting her with "Little Bird." And even "Little Bird" sounds like the writers were aiming for "When You're a Jet" but didn't quite have the wings. Of course we're supposed to laugh a little when Quixote is made invulnerable by the Golden Spittoon of Mambrino. A little, though, not a lot. Richard Kiley's booming baritone makes you think, "Well, just maybe it'll protect him a little." All the soft focus in the world can't help Poor Li'l Peter look like anything but a sap.

The good news is that maybe the original cast album will be available as an MP3 now. After having relived the same mistake they made with DVDs, DAT, video tape, 8-track (ok, maybe not 8-track), audio tape, TV, radio, the phonograph and probably paper and the clay tablet, too, the recording industry has figured out that MP3s won't just go away if you ignore them long enough.

More later.

December 4, 2006

Name of the Rose

In striking contrast to Ms. Barakat was Flemming Rose, editor of the once-obscure Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, now famous for having shamed its larger, American competitors by publishing and standing by a series of fairly mild and somewhat amusing cartoons, some of which show Islam in a less-than-flattering light.

Mr. Rose is a truly courageous figure, and will be speaking at CU-Boulder law school this evening, Wittemyer Courtroom, at 7:30 pm.

Barakat Baccarat

Afficianados of James Bond will recall that in the book Casino Royale, Bond attempts to bankrupt SMERSH at a game of baccarat. In the current movie version, the target isn't SMERSH but a terrorist financier, and the game is Texas Hold 'Em. Unlike in poker or blackjack, in baccarat, there's no bluffing, and the players have no choice in how many cards to draw. They were right to change the enemy, but the producers should have kept the original game.

Which brings us to last night's "interview" with local terror apologist Rima Barakat Sinclair. The whole "interview" played like a game of baccarat, with Ms. Barakat refusing to engage, simply reeling off scripted and irrelevant answers to simple questions, and refusing to discuss other fairly simple, mundane matters. It was without a doubt the most frustrating interview I've been a part of in my eight months on Backbone Radio.

And yet, the experience was enlightening in its own way. For instance, Ms. Barakat refused to discuss her affiliation with MILA. She spent several minutes arguing that her activism within the local Islamic political community wasn't relevant to...her local Islamic political activism, and then complained off-air that she had been sandbagged. (No doubt she meant that she was unprepared to find people prepared to ask tough questions, although, "you work with Muslims Intent on Learning and Activism?" hardly qualifies as a tough question.)

Worse, she tried to claim that her ties to the group were purely as a participant who sometimes went to their meetings. In fact, the MILA website clearly identifies Ms. Barakat as a member of the Steering Committee and coordinator of MILA's PR Committee. When confronted with this, she smiled somewhat sheepishly and admitted that she sometimes helped organize events and that she sometimes acted as spokesman for the group. Never admit anything until you know what they have on you.

Her claim that the Hamas Charter doesn't call for Israel's destruction is risible.

Perhaps more interesting is Ms. Barakat's own history. While she likes to describe herself as Palestinian, this seems to be true in the same way that George Clooney is Irish, with the difference that Palestinian "national identity" seems both to predate its inception and outlive its accuracy. While in some places, Ms. Barakat claims to ahve been born in Jerusalem, in other announcements she is described as having been born in Saudi Arabia of Palestinian parents, and having grown up in Lebanon. This would also seem to be bolstered by her appearance on an alumni roster of the American University of Beirut. Although it's unclear if this is the same Rima Barakat, it certainly undermines the claim that American Universities abroad make friends for us.

We'll be trying to post the audio of the "interview" later in the week.

December 2, 2006

Radio Books

Tomorrow night, we'll be interviewing Rima Barakat, local Muslim activist and author of a...remarkable...piece in the Rocky Mountain News a few weeks ago.

We'll also be interviewing Rebecca Hagelin, author of Home Invasion, a book about the hurricane of popular culture that too many parents are trying to fight with duct tape and a few sandbags.

December 1, 2006

Writing For Business

There's a reason Jim Cramer and Robert Krulwich are popular. Jim Cramer may be a maniac, a Wizard of Ahhs with nothing behind the curtain, but he's entertaining. Robert Krulwich was merely the Stan Freberg of business radio journalism. I remember him doing a bit on just-in-time manufacturing back in the early 80s which incorporated both the song and what NPR producers pride themselves on - "environmental sound" - into a brilliant 5-minute exposition. Any b-school prof I had would have killed for the kind of attention you paid to that piece. (The environmental sound was fake. At one point, an assembly-line worker interrupts the song to shout, "Hey, Frank! The radios are here!")

So why do we write coverage reports and updates as though the people reading them are robots? Are we afraid that they won't take us seriously otherwise? Ironic that the current euphemism for "explanation" is "color," and then we proceed to drain every last bit of it out of our writing.

My guess is that these guys read the bullet points, maybe skim through the numbers, and then go on to the next report that reads like shoe leather left over from last year's tourist season at Moab. Spice it up a little, get them to expect that they might get a smile out of it, and they're more likely to stick around long enough to appreciate your insights.

Naturally, you have to make it clear enough that the humor-impaired fellas don't miss the point you're trying to make. The second-to-last thing you want is someone scratching his head mumbling to himself, "no, I don't see why newspapers any anything like clay tablets..."

The last thing you want is a page 1 WSJ article about how your entire research staff needs to be packed off to Khe Sanh for sensitivity re-education. So avoid the racial, ethnic, sexist, political, and religious jokes, since pretty much everyone's a member of the investor class nowadays - that stuff isn't just in poor taste, it's bad for business.

Still, this leaves lots of room for personality, and lots of room to get your subscribers to grin rather than groan when they see your updates in their inboxes.


Power, Faith, and Fantasy

Six Days of War

An Army of Davids

Learning to Read Midrash

Size Matters

Deals From Hell

A War Like No Other


A Civil War

Supreme Command

The (Mis)Behavior of Markets

The Wisdom of Crowds

Inventing Money

When Genius Failed

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Back in Action : An American Soldier's Story of Courage, Faith and Fortitude

How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?

Good to Great

Built to Last

Financial Fine Print

The Day the Universe Changed


The Multiple Identities of the Middle-East

The Case for Democracy

A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam

The Italians

Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory

Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures

Reading Levinas/Reading Talmud