Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Two lessons

Five years ago yesterday I left a comment at Inside Higher Ed on a story about Egypt. Mohammad Morsi, candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, had just been elected president, and IHE's piece explored whether study-abroad programs would suffer under the new regime. I wrote,

According to two authorities cited in the article:

"[T]he new leadership will probably lead to greater stability and economic growth . . . and not a less tolerant view of Americans, especially women, studying in Egypt."

"[T]he president-elect’s American education gives him reason to value higher education."

The Muslim Brotherhood's motto:

"Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Qur'an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope."

The Brotherhood and Western civilization are irreconcilable. To believe otherwise is delusion.

Two other commenters expressed sentiments consistent with mine. A third, Steven Hanchey, mocked us:

Glad to hear this positive thinking from three respected and distinguished experts on study abroad in Egypt.

I replied,

Good. Let's check back in five years to see who had it right, the optimist (Mr. Hanchey) or the pessimists (the rest of us as of this writing). . . .

This is one of those times I'll be glad if proven wrong.

I score my comment 50/100, by which I mean I failed. Though right that study-abroad programs in Egypt would be affected—they ended and have yet to be revived—I missed the enormous fact that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood would soon be overthrown by Egypt's military. I expected sharia to tighten its grip inexorably. Meanwhile, clear-sighted, knowledgeable analysts such as Daniel Pipes anticipated a military coup.

Lesson: The casual observer, however intelligent, tends to prove no match for the expert analyst.

To Mr. Hanchey I award the rather worse score of 5/100. I did lack expertise, thus his five points; otherwise he was completely off. (Yes, I'm inferring a lot from his one sentence.)

How could a man with experience in the State Department and the American University in Cairo have been so wrong?

My guess is that Mr. Hanchey's specific knowledge, and his wishes, weakened his judgment. He likely had friends and acquaintances in Egypt with no fondness for the Muslim Brotherhood and sharia, and so he underestimated how much life would change under Morsi. He also, I'm sure, wanted the study-abroad programs to continue, and he let his hopes color his view.

Lesson: Beware the analyst, expert or otherwise, whose career would benefit from a particular outcome.

(Edited since first posted.)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The thirty-day song challenge

I found this meme via Terry Teachout. In repayment, I'll steal his formatting and follow his example by giving all answers now.

1. A song you like with a color in the title
Nat "King" Cole and his Trio and Stan Kenton and his Orchestra, "Orange Colored Sky" (Delugg/Stein)

2. A song you like with a number in the title
Caro Emerald, "One Day" (Schreurs/DeGiorgio)

3. A song that reminds you of summertime
Naked Eyes, "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me" (Bacharach/David)

4. A song that reminds you of someone you would rather forget about
Paula Cole, "I Am So Ordinary" (Cole)

5. A song that needs to be played loud
Sammy Davis Jr., "Talk to the Animals" (Bricusse)

6. A song that makes you want to dance
Smoove & Turrell, "Hard Work" (Watson/Turrell) (?)

7. A song to drive to
John Hiatt, "Memphis in the Meantime" (Hiatt)

8. A song about drugs or alcohol
James Taylor, "A Junkie's Lament" (Taylor)

9. A song that makes you happy
Art Brut, "Good Weekend" (Argos/Breyer/Catskilkin/Chinchilla/Feedback) (?)

10. A song that makes you sad
Karla Bonoff, "The Water Is Wide" (traditional)

11. A song that you never get tired of
The Beatles, "I Saw Her Standing There" (Lennon/McCartney)

12. A song that you love from 2011
Fountains of Wayne, "Acela" (Collingwood/Schlesinger)

13. One of your favorite Seventies songs
Robert Palmer, "Sailin' Shoes" (George)

14. A song that you would love played at your wedding
Frank Sinatra, "Around the World" (Adamson/Young)

15. A song that is a cover by another artist
Mason Jar Music featuring Gabriel Garzón-Montano, "You Can Make It If You Try" (Stewart)

16. One of your favorite songs from a movie
Keira Knightley, "A Step You Can't Take Back" (Alexander/Brisebois/Carney)

17. A song that features your favorite artist
James Taylor, "(I've Got To) Stop Thinkin' 'Bout That" (Kortchmar/Taylor)

18. A song from the year you were born
Tom Lehrer, "The Vatican Rag" (Lehrer)

19. A song that makes you think about life
Hem, "Not California" (Messé/Maurer)

20. A song that reminds you of your mom
Frank Sinatra, "Nancy (with the Laughing Face)" (Silvers/Van Heusen/Burke)

21. A favorite song with a person’s name in the title
Donald Fagen, "Maxine" (Fagen)

22. A song that motivates you
Todd Rundgren, "Drive" (Rundgren)

23. A song that you think everybody should listen to
Ben Folds and Nick Hornby, "Belinda" (Hornby/Folds)

24. A song by a band/group you wish were still together
The Beatles, "I've Just Seen a Face" (Lennon/McCartney)

25. A song by an artist no longer living
Ray Charles, "Smack Dab in the Middle" (Calhoun)

26. A song that makes you want to fall in love
Sting, "Fields of Gold" (Sting)

27. A song that breaks your heart
Lyle Lovett, "Nobody Knows Me" (Lovett)

28. A song by an artist with a voice that you love
Kelly Jones, "Subway Song" (Jones/Viola)

29. A song that you remember from your childhood
The Joe Cuba Sextet, "Bang! Bang!" (Cuba/Sabater)

30. A song that reminds you of yourself
Joni Mitchell, "The Last Time I Saw Richard" (Mitchell)

Full playlist here.

(I've made some changes since first posting this.)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Others have made the comparison, but I'm startled by how much Trump's presidency resembles the plot of the movie Network.

In each story, an outspoken celebrity wins followers, and neither he nor they realize that the true power lies in the background: in Network, with producers and company executives; in Trump's presidency, with advisors and cabinet secretaries.

The resemblance isn't exact, of course. Unlike Howard Beale, Trump holds final say. If he doesn't sign the order or the bill, it won't take effect.

But Trump's authority means less than it should. Lacking intelligence, ideas, and philosophy, he's subject to manipulation by cleverer men. (From a New York Times report: "Mr. Bannon remains the president’s dominant adviser, despite Mr. Trump’s anger that he was not fully briefed on details of the executive order he signed.")

Trump shouts and scraps, his fans applaud, but he's a tool of those behind him.