Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"United Breaks Guitars" but Launches Careers

Unless you've been living in a new-media deadzone lately, you've certainly seen the viral YouTube hit song "United Breaks Guitars." I think it's a catchy song, but for the life of me, I don't know why, as my local NPR station reported, United Airlines would be thinking of buying it to use as a "training video." It's a send-up, a spoof! Could they be buying it to kill it? A little late for that, don'tcha think? The horse is already out of the barn on that one. Perhaps they just want to use it as an "ice-breaker," before settling down to the task at hand: not trashing the instruments of their customers.

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I myself have had one serious mishap with an instrument on an airline: the neck of my banjo was broken on a trip from JFK to London Heathrow. The airline ended up settling, but it took awhile. The first agent I dealt with was unsympathetic, disbelieving of my claim, and rude. Then I went further up the line, and got satisfaction. But it was a couple of weeks of back and forth before they cut the check. One hoop I had to jump through was getting the instrument appraised and the damage assessed. They chose a repairman in my home city (at the time I was living in Pittsburgh). The funny part of it was, I already knew the guy! He had worked on my instruments before. He was a total pro about the situation, though, and jumped through the hoops with me, filling out the necessary paperwork, etc. In a couple of weeks the check arrived. Case closed.

I once witnessed (from my window on the tarmac) a luggage wagon piled high with bags, with an acoustic hardshell case on the very top (not mine, but belonging to someone on my flight). As soon as the wagon lurched forward the precariously placed guitar came crashing down onto the concrete, probably a distance of 7 or 8 feet. The guy picked up the guitar and tried to swing it back up to the original position! It didn't take, and he only half-heartedly tried to catch it on the way back down, breaking its fall (again) to the pavement only slightly. A horror show. The person whose guitar it was must have been on the other side of the aisle, or surely screams of agony would have been audible.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Best and Brightest (?)

I’ve always had a fascination with the Vietnam War, and particularly from the angle of the American government’s (mis)handling of it. Recently, two articles appears in the NY Times that both referenced David Halberstam’s book “The Best and the Brightest.” Below are the links. (BTW, if you can read only two books on the Vietnam War, that’s one of them. The other is Neil Sheehan’s “A Bright Shining Lie.”)

Richard Holbrooke (former U.N. ambassador) reviews of “Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam” by Gordon M. Goldstein:


My favorite passage in this piece has nothing to do with the book; it’s a personal anecdote offered by the reviewer toward the end of the piece:

As it happens, I was part of a small group that dined with Bundy the night before Pleiku at the home of Deputy Ambassador William J. Porter, for whom I then worked. Bundy quizzed us in his quick, detached style for several hours, not once betraying emotion. I do not remember the details of that evening — how I wish I had kept a diary! — but by then I no longer regarded Bundy as a role model for public service. There was no question he was brilliant, but his detachment from the realities of Vietnam disturbed me. In Ambassador Porter’s dining room that night were people far less intelligent than Bundy, but they lived in Vietnam, and they knew things he did not. Yet if they could not present their views in quick and clever ways, Bundy either cut them off or ignored them. A decade later, after I had left the government, I wrote a short essay for Harper’s Magazine titled “The Smartest Man in the Room Is Not Always Right.” I had Bundy — and that evening — in mind.


Frank Rich parallels the “Best and Brightest” of the Vietnam War with Obama’s new “Best and Brightest” economic team here:


Choice excerpt:

In his 20th-anniversary reflections, Halberstam wrote that his favorite passage in his book was the one where Johnson, after his first Kennedy cabinet meeting, raved to his mentor, the speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, about all the president’s brilliant men. “You may be right, and they may be every bit as intelligent as you say,” Rayburn responded, “but I’d feel a whole lot better about them if just one of them had run for sheriff once.”