One Day University: Saturday was One Day University. This time they did it at Lisner Auditorium, which is a good choice as the seats are reasonable comfortable and it’s easy to get to by metro.
The first speaker was Stephen Kotkin of Princeton, His talk was on American Foreign Policy: Where Are We Headed? He had a strong emphasis on the role of economic considerations, starting with the Clinton-era theory that as other nations got wealthier, they would become more like us. He focused on Iran, Russia, and China. His major points were that Iran is constrained by the Sunni-Shia conflict and the potential for Kurdistan to be a disruptive force in the Middle East. In short, he concluded that it shouldn’t be a priority. As for Russia, he said we can’t ignore it, but we overfocus on it. China, however, is an economic powerhouse and we should prioritize remaining competitive with it. The way to do that is to invest in infrastructure and scientific competitiveness. While he was an entertaining speaker, I thought his graphics were terrible. I also wish he had talked more about emerging nations. When someone asked a question about India, for example, his answer was entirely focused on their role as a buffer against China. I was also concerned that he made it all about economics and ignored moral questions, e.g. the Russian invasion of Ukraine. So I found his talk interesting but not entirely convincing.
The second speaker was Jacob Appel from Brown University on Ethical Dilemmas and Modern Medicine: Questions Nobody Wants to Ask.. He summed the issue up with two questions: 1) When do people have a right to healthcare that society refuses to give them? And 2) When can people refuse care that society wants to give them? Then he talked about several examples. Issues include the cost of treatment, quality of life, chance of recovery, whether or not the reasons somebody gives for their decision should matter, and how long-held someone’s beliefs are. My personal bias is to go with somebody’s stated wishes, whether or not I agree with them, but that’s easier said in theory than in practice. At any rate, I thought his talk was very interesting and the highlight of the day for me.
The third speaker was Carol Berkin, who is retired from Baruch College. Her talk was on What The Founding Fathers Were Really Like (and what we can still learn from them today). I have a quibble with her definition of founding fathers, as she focused entirely on the people who were at the Constitutional Convention. That leaves out a number of people who were important to independence, even if they may not have shaped the later form the United States took. But within her framework, the people she singled out as particularly notable were Benjamin Franklin, James Wilson, Robert Morris, Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, and (partly) James Madison. She had quite a lot to say about Gouverneur Morris, though I’d be somewhat more convinced had she pronounced his name correctly. At any rate, her key point was that most of the men at the Constitutional Convention were fairly ordinary, albeit rich. Still, 5 or 6 geniuses out of 55 delegates seems remarkable to me. Do we have anybody of that intellectual caliber in Congress nowadays? She was a good speaker, but I found her unconvincing, overall.
There was a break for lunch, during which I walked over to a Korean dumpling place I’d been meaning to try. Since when is it socially acceptable for somebody to occupy one of 6 seats at a restaurant while eating their own food out of a Tupperware? The food was just okay, by the way, so, for future reference, I would probably go to Beefsteak or Roti instead. Or maybe try one of the food trucks that were lined up around the corner.
The last speaker of the day was Anna Celenza from Georgetown University, speaking on The History of Jazz: America’s Greatest Original Art Form. This was the talk I was looking forward to the most. Perhaps it was the post-lunch haze or perhaps it was overly high expectations, but I was disappointed. She had some good points about the role of technology (specifically, recording, including piano rolls) in th spread of jazz She touched on several interesting topics (e.g. the racial divide in jazz, the role of agents) and ignored others (orchestration, role of women). Overall, her approach reminded me of my high school history teacher who spent months on the French revolution, 2 days on World War I, and one day on everything since.
Volunteer Training: Sunday saw me back in the city for a training session for the upcoming U.S. Science and Engineering Festival. The training was fairly painless. By the way, I think I was one of a handful of volunteers there who was not accompanied by school children. (I think the minimum age for volunteers is 13, but some of those kids looked younger to me.)
Work and Snow: We got a spring snowstorm on Wednesday. That meant the second day of my two-day meeting this week turned into a telecon. If I’m going to work from home, that’s probably the best sort of work to have. I was even able to reorganize my scarf drawer while listening to one of the presentations.
I was also busy because I had to cover a meeting for my boss and draft inputs for a semi-annual report. When I tell people that I go to meetings and write email for a living, I am only half in jest.
A Minor Ambition: Just once, I would like to finish reading the Sunday Washington Post on Sunday.
Now I am ready to search my house for a bag of pencils that I hope the other dimensional beings have returned. And to pack for my excursion to Connecticut for the ACPT.
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