Beau Biden’s tragic death of cancer and Joe Biden’s “Promise Me, Dad”


Joe Biden’s memoir, “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose” intermixes the most productive years of Biden’s vice-presidency under Obama, with the tragic loss of his son Beau Biden in 2015 to an aggressive brain tumor.

The book narrative is often out of sequence, starting out on vacation and then shifting to his vice-presidential home near the Naval Observatory, before taking off with competing narratives.

Beau had served as Delaware attorney general, and had been quite supportive of progressive causes, including LGBT marriage equality. The family’s Catholic upbringing did not lead to any personal moralizing on the social issues.

Biden first notice symptoms around 2010, which went away until about 2013 when he was diagnosed with an aggressive glioblastoma. His genetics made the cell type particularly aggressive.  The physicians (including MD Anderson in Houston) tried a novel approach of engineering a live virus that would attach itself to the tumor cells and stimulate an immune response.  In the end, it seemed promising for a while but Biden suddenly deteriorated and died with family present on May 30, 2015.

I had an uncle who apparently died at age 60 of a similar tumor in 1976.  Even with genetic causes, its actual appearance is unpredictable.

Biden discusses his foreign policy work, especially with regard to ISIS, Russia, and Central America. He covers the second Obama term well, a history that took a shocking deadend with the election of Trump. He wrote the book just before we have a real understanding of the Russian “fake news” campaign and of the way Trump would be able to resurrect tribalism within “the proles”.  Biden is quite specific in his account of Putin’s cruelty with rebels in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics.

He also talks about infrastructure, and his work on improving natural gas lines and other critical infrastructure, some of which he says is made of wood. He does not seem to particularly oppose pipeline developments and on may economic and industrial policies he may have been more conservative than Obama.  But he would have supported aggressive policy on climate change (picture above: damage in Florida keys from hurricane Irma, my visit).

But he also talks about the depth of the financial crisis of 2008, and of the need to make work pay better in relation to capital.

Toward the end, he talks about the sudden decision not to run against Hillary Clinton, and about his reservations about superfund money in the Democratic Party primaries.

Beau’s story also reminds me of the narrative of Lee Atwater, who collapsed at a speech in 1989.

Somehow, I wonder about the “originality” of books by established politicians, who have made their names for themselves before taking up the pen.  Echo Hillary’s book.

Author: Joe Biden (Beau Biden)
Title, Subtitle: Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose
publication date 2016
ISBN  1250171679
Publication: Flatiron books, hardcover (airport purchase) also Kindle, 264 pages
Link: official

(Posted: Monday, November 20, 2017 at 10:30 AM EDT)

“Legion of Brothers”: CNN airs Sundance documentary of the early days of Bush’s war in Afghanistan using the Green Berets

Legion of Brothers”, directed by Greg Barker, aired on CNN Sept. 24, focuses on the very beginning of the “War on Terror” announced by President George W. Bush after 9/11.

I remember a Sunday afternoon, around Oct. 6, 2001, when Bush announced from the White House his first major steps to the American public in a televised address. The major networks allowed an airing if a very personalized address from Osama Bin Laden to follow.  There would be another such video screed on December 13, the day of my layoff.

But this film follows what is rather little known, about the efforts of a group of about ten Green Berets to start the overflow of the Taliban, as a “Direct Action Team” (and phrase “Smoke ‘em”), which this film tracks for its 79 minutes. The battle scenes are quite graphic – it’s hard to believe that combat journalists could get such footage. The narrative intersperses with scenes back home, especially in Texas.  The two main soldiers are Jason Armine and Mark Nutsch.  Some men are badly ounded, as one loses an arm.

Sebastian Junger would interview Northern Alliance leader Massoud himself before the latter’s death.  Junger would later help produce “Restrepo” and “Korengal” and write the Vanity Fair “Hive” article “Into the Valley of Death”.

What would follow, of course, was Bush’s own war in Iraq, with over 7000 deaths (combined with Afghanistan), and the whole “Stop-Loss” issue (actually a 2008 film from Paramount) with what amounted to a backdoor draft.

It’s ironic that on Sept. 9, 2001, HBO premiered “Bands of Brothers”, set in World War II, both Europe and the Pacific.

Name:  “Legion of Brothers”
Director, writer:  Greg Barker
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  CNN, 2017/9/24
Length:  79
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  CNN Films, Gravitas, Sundance Selects
Link:  CNN

(Posted: Monday, September 25, 2017, at 9:30 PM EDT)

NY Philharmonic presents Johnathan Biss and Timo Andres in Part 2 of the Beethoven Concerto cycle

The New York Philharmonic and pianist Johnathan Biss presented one of the segments of Biss’s project of commissioning contemporary composers to invent new piano concerti inspired by the five Beethoven piano concerti. The concert was conducted by Courtney Lewis.

The concert presented Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #2 in B-flat, Op. 19, which was apparently the first composed and started at a young age. The starting point of inspiration was the more contrapuntal and even sometimes dissonant cadenza that Beethoven composed twenty years later.  Otherwise, the work is “not one of Beethoven’s best”.

The Beethoven opened the second half of the concert.  Biss, to my ear, seemed in accelerate his tempi during certain phrases in the first movement, an odd effect.

The inspired (I won’t say derivative) contemporary piece (performed first, before the intermission) is the 23-minute Piano Concerto #3 in B-flat by Timo Andres (B. 1985). The subtitle is “The Blind Banister”, a curious metaphor, of a stairway railing looking into an abyss, across a gulf, without light – danger for elderly people alone. The gulf was, though, what the decades-spanning special dissonances in the cadenza inspire.

I ought to do more guest posting myself (or invite it), but Biss explains his own understanding of the piece here, and this leads naturally do a discussion of how composers get works commissioned today, what audiences will pay to hear (and sponsor), and it’s all potentially sensitive.

The work comprises three movements: “Sliding Scale” (slow), “Ringing Weights”, leading to a cadenza, and then a “Coda: Teneramente”. The opening emphasizes descending scales in drop-rolls in the piano, somewhat lushly harmonized, even sounding familiar to me. The middle section becomes more Parisian to my ears, in fact reminding me of the day I spent in Lourdes, France on May Day 2001, as young males danced a healing ritual. The work slows down and will finally end loudly (unusual for Andres, who considers quiet endings a usually necessary courtesy for listeners).

The NY Philharmonic program notes for the new work are here.

I had the mistaken impression that the work had been called “The Blind Barrister”, which would be a curious idea indeed, given Brexit. (Oops?  England?)

The concert had opened with excerpts from Hector Berlioz’s Dramatic Symphony, Romeo and Juliet, Op. 17, after Shakespeare’s Tragedy. The excerpts (14 min) seem to contain the love theme that starts the slow movement, and the Queen Mab Scherzo. The very ending was a loud chord and one soft grace note (like the Dvorak New World, which I have always found very curious).  I’m not a fan of excepting from works purporting to be sonata-like “symphonies” In fact, I had heard the Montreal Symphony play the complete work (with chorus) in Minneapolis around 2002 when I got a comp ticket while working for the Minnesota Orchestra.  I remember the happy ending, as the feuding families reconcile.  Not so in the two movies (especially Ziffereli’s) that I have seen , one while working as a substitute teacher. In fact, when the play is taught in high school, teachers have to explain that it was legal (even expected) for women to fall in love and marry much younger than it is today.

The concert concluded with the 20-minute tone poem “In the South (Alassio)”, Op. 50, by Sir Edward Elgar.  That refers to the Italian Riviera. There is some nice octave work in the brass with some dissonance in the development. I have a Chandos recording of this with Thomson.

James Oestereich reviews the concert for the New York Times here.

(Posted: Thursday, April 20, 2017 at 11:45 PM)

“Careful What You Wish For”: Nick Jonas uses street smarts in another mini “Body Heat”

img_6103

Name: “Careful What You Wish For”
Director, writer: Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum
Released: 2016
Format: 2.35:1
When and how viewed: 2016/12/8, Netflix DVD
Length 91
Rating R
Companies: Starz, Anchor Bay, Image
Link: official site

Careful What You Wish For” (directed by Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum, story by Chris Frisnia) sounds like a nice conservative aphorism for a genre mystery set in the North Carolina Blue Ridge, at a lake resort.

Nick Jonas plays Doug Martin, working as a waiter at a lake resort, well raised by wealthy parents (mom (Kiki Harris) is a lawyer, conveniently). His best friend is Carson (Graham Rogers), who probably aspires for more than waiting for rich people himself.

One day, an investment banker Elliot Harper (Dermot Mulroney) and his Playboy wife Lena (Isabel Lucas) rent the house for the summer, and Elliot quickly hires Doug to maintain his boat. Quickly, Elliot demonstrates his authoritarian (like Donald Trump) personality, getting ahead with dealing and manipulating people. Lena is just as “bad” (eg, she his is “process piece”) and soon seduces Doug by playing on the duties of his masculinity. People used to try that with me – back in 1980, a female coworker in Dallas said that men should be able to change tires for women – it’s that kind of thing. What follows is a but of a reenactment of the 1980 thriller “Body Heat”, even with chimes.

Exactly half way through the movie, Elliot turns up dead. Lena claims to Doug that Elliot attacked her. But, predictably, the sheriff and an insurance investigator (Kandsye McClure) come into the movie and Doug is the prime suspect.

Doug has to use his street smarts and wits to survive this legally, in a typical thriller fashiom. But the very ending is a bit of a copout. Doug’s opening line is, “When you’re a kid, you don’t think about consequences.” As Dr. Phil says, the teen brain doesn’t see around corners.

But the movie can make you ponder why some people see everything through being able to manipulate others, as if that were the only virtue.

Nick Jonas certain looks good in the film. He had suddenly to deal with juvenile diabetes as a teen.

(The DVD came with English subtitles and all the screenplay parenthetical actions, even though the film is in English. I’ve never seen this before.)

(Posted: Thursday, December 8, 2016 at 12 Noon RST)