Computer attacks and giving the mind a break

Some science items that recently caught my eye …

Military Computer Attack Confirmed: The New York Times reports, “A top Pentagon official has confirmed a previously classified incident that he describes as ‘the most significant breach of U.S. military computers ever,’ a 2008 episode in which a foreign intelligence agent used a flash drive to infect computers, including those used by the Central Command in overseeing combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Defending a New Domain: In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III claims that “the Pentagon has built layered and robust defenses around military networks and inaugurated the new U.S. Cyber Command to integrate cyberdefense operations across the military.”

Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime: The New York Times reports, “Even though people feel entertained, even relaxed, when they multitask while exercising, or pass a moment at the bus stop by catching a quick video clip, they might be taxing their brains, scientists say.”

Rescue, stimulus and the C.I.A.

Some news items that caught my eye …

Trapped Chilean miners face long shifts to keep their refuge clear of debris: The Guardian reports Thursday that the “33 miners trapped 700 metres underground in a collapsed mine are expected to work in 12-hour shifts to help dig themselves out because they will be faced with a constant hail of falling rocks that is expected to last for months.”

This rescue operation fascinates me. Here’s a sidebar story about the Chilean government asking NASA for advice on how to keep the men healthy and sane in their confined space. Earlier on Thursday, the Guardian reported that the the miners were told that their rescue could take months.

How the Stimulus Is Changing America: Time’s Michael Grunwald concludes, “Obama has spent most of his first term trying to clean up messes — in the Gulf of Mexico, Iraq and Afghanistan, on Wall Street and Main Street — but the details in the stimulus plan are his real down payment on change. The question is which changes will last.”

Key Karzai Aide in Corruption Inquiry Is Linked to C.I.A.: What?!? I’m am utterly shocked. Dexter Filkins and Mark Mazzetti write, “It is unclear exactly what (Mohammed Zia Salehi, the chief of administration for the National Security Council,) does in exchange for his money, whether providing information to the spy agency, advancing American views inside the presidential palace, or both.” Oh, I’m sure he does a lot more than that.

Two interesting Gallup polls: Iraqis More Approving of Own Leadership Than of U.S. and Americans Oppose Renewing U.S. Combat Operations in Iraq

Floods, doctorates, surrenders and Kanye

Some items that caught my eye …

NEWS

Pakistan Warns of More Floods in `Heart-Wrenching’ Disaster: Bloomberg reports, “Pakistan warned (Monday) of a new flood wave making its way south along the Indus River and more heavy monsoon rains, threatening to add to the 20 million people who have lost homes, farms and livelihoods. The forecast for further inundations in Sindh province came after United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the devastation was the worst he had ever seen and promised more emergency funding for relief operations. The UN said on Aug. 13 it had received only 20 percent of the $460 million it needs to provide aid to the homeless and hungry.”

Millions of Pakistan children at risk of flood diseases: The BBC reports, “Up to 3.5 million children are at high risk from deadly water-borne diseases in Pakistan following the country’s floods, a UN spokesman has said.” The BBC also offers a piece on the science behind the flooding.

POLITICS

Gates to leave in 2011: Foreign Policy’s Cable blog links to an interview with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said “he plans to leave office some time in 2011, once President Obama’s Afghanistan’s strategy review is completed.” Links to the interview and to a fascinating piece speculating on who may succeed him are included.

Obama’s Youthful Voters More Likely to Skip Midterms: In the New York Times, Megan Thee-Brenan recently wrote,”Will all of those young, enthusiastic Obama voters turn out in 2010? If history is any guide, probably not. Older voters are historically more likely to cast ballots in midterm elections than are voters under the age of 30. And this year, they are already more enthusiastic than younger voters about the coming campaign.”

The First Wave of Weary Aides Heads for the Exits: Also in the Times, the White House Memo column noted somberly that “(e)ven in calmer times, the White House is a pressure cooker that can quickly burn out the most idealistic aides, but it may be even more so in an administration that inherited an economic collapse and two wars — and then decided to overhaul the nation’s health care system for good measure. Add to that the nonstop, partisan intensity of the e-mail-Internet-cable era, and it takes a toll.”

Every morning, there’s always at least one story that pisses me off: From Salon.com’s War Room blog: “Florida Republican: Put immigrants in ‘camps’ ”

ENTERTAINMENT

#kanyenewyorkertweets: Thanks to my friend Sara Ines Calderon for turning me on to this jewel. Looks like Kanye loves it. Sign up here.

LITERATURE

Recently read Library of America’s Stories of the Week: Edgar Allen Poe’s “Hop-Frog” and “On Some Mental Effects of the Earthquake” by William James.

HISTORY

Historians rethink key Soviet role in Japan defeat: The AP’s Slobodan Lekic writes, “(S)ome historians have argued that the Soviet (attack on Japanese forces in northeast Asia) served as effectively as … the A-bombs in ending the war. Now a new history … seeks to reinforce that view, arguing that fear of Soviet invasion persuaded the Japanese to opt for surrender to the Americans, who they believed would treat them more generously than the Soviets.”

AND FINALLY …

What Exactly Is a Doctorate? From Gizmodo: “Ever wondered what getting a doctorate really means? Matt Might, professor of Computer Science at the University of Utah, explains it perfectly in this graphic presentation that starts with a simple circle.” Brilliantly done.

looking back on those looking ahead

Every day I savor wave after wave of email newsletters from all points on the political spectrum. Recently, I found a fascinating collection of pieces from the National Review. The conservative magazine republished four articles that originally appeared in the Dec. 17, 1963, edition, the first since the assassination of President Kennedy on Nov. 22. Their critical tone was expected but nevertheless, as I said, fascinating.

R.I.P: “The editors of National Review judged John Fitzgerald Kennedy to be a consummate technician of mass politics. His programs and policies — often chosen, by the evidence, in opportunistic furtherance of technical manipulations — we judged to be, for the most part, dangerous to the nation’s well-being and security, and to the survival of our perilously threatened Western civilization. Neither his death nor the fearful manner of it provides any reason to change these judgments.”

Which Way with LBJ? “If he can keep business happy, and deal with Khrushchev without kowtowing to him, the theme of ‘peace and prosperity’ could provide a stronger platform for him than it would have made for a Kennedy who had had three years’ headstart on him in making enemies.”

Foreign Policy of the Kennedy Administration: “From the point of view of its American proponents, the Yalta strategy looks both realistic and attractive, since they see it as the road to agreement between the two decisive world powers. From the point of view of the Kremlin it also looks both realistic and attractive: they see it as the best method for burying us.”

And Still … Goldwater Can Win: “One would think that after the brutal assassination of President Kennedy, responsible men would have recoiled in horror from capitalizing upon it for ideological ends. Yet, hardly had John F. Kennedy been officially pronounced dead than the Liberal Establishment broke forth in a nationwide television and radio orgy of lynch incitement against the American Right.”

preparing for ‘Mad Men’: history, design, protection

As the fourth season of “Mad Men” rages forward, I’ll mine the Web for interesting tidbits that will enrich the experience for all of us, and I’ll post what I find before the weekends. You’ll be properly marinated in time for the Sunday premieres of new episodes.

As happens with every new season, we take a moment to orient ourselves on the timeline of American history. New York Magazine made it a little easier with this look back at the real history that unfolded between the third and fourth seasons: “What Happened During Mad Men’s Year Off?” The New York Times recently assembled a magnificent interactive timeline of the history dominating the series, which can be savored here.

One thing we do know that continued during the show’s year off was Draper’s slick though not-always successful pursuit of women. New York Magazine created a slideshow exploring a question not even Draper can answer: “What Is Don Draper’s Type? A Guide to His Many Women.”

And what do those many women find so appealing about Draper? Natasha Vargas-Cooper, the editor of the blog Mad Men Unbuttoned: A romp through 1960s America and author of its book version, recently explored the answers in a piece in the Daily Beast. “Whether it’s ancient biology or socialized norms,” she concludes, “there is a protection that Don offers that we women want.”

The key woman in Draper’s life, arguably, is Betty, who has left him with hopes for a better life with Henry Francis. But do we know what her fate will be, regardless of how she may try to defy it? Open Letters Monthly offered Laura Tanenbaum’s grim review of the cultural and historical tides that have and will affect Betty’s evolution as a character. “It seems unlikely her life with Henry will bring her much in the way of feeling, phantom or otherwise,” Tanenbaum warns us. “As the series moves into its post-JFK assassination high-sixties moment, we don’t know where it’s taking us, but we’re fairly certain it will be leaving Betty behind.”

The aesthetic sense of the 1960s “Mad Men” examines through its historical prism is explored in “Designing ‘Mad Men,’ “ a short piece by Martin Filler in the New York Review of Books blog. Miller commends Matthew Weiner for “performing one of the most instructive—not to say diverting and entertaining—sleights of hand in the modern theater of memory.”

Many more links can be found at the wonderful Basket of Kisses blog.

(Photo from the ‘Mad Men’ soundtrack album)

great games, old letters and tragic legacies

Some items that caught my eye:

WAR

The end of (military) history? In Salon.com, Andrew J. Bacevich asserts that “the West no longer looks … triumphant. … (E)vents during the first decade of the present century have delivered history to another endpoint of sorts. Although Western liberalism may retain considerable appeal, the Western way of war has run its course.” (Photo from PopularPics.com)

The Great (Double) Game: In the New York Times, Tom Friedman says, “China supports Pakistan, seeks out mining contracts in Afghanistan and lets America make Afghanistan safe for Chinese companies, all while smiling at the bloody nose America is getting in Kabul because anything that ties down the U.S. military makes China’s military happy. America, meanwhile, sends its soldiers to fight in Afghanistan at the same time that it rejects an energy policy that would begin to reduce our oil consumption, which indirectly helps to fund the very Taliban schools and warriors our soldiers are fighting against. So why put up with all this duplicity? Is President Obama just foolish?”

Obama’s Legacy: Afghanistan: And on the New York Review of Books blog, Garry Wills reveals details of a dinner he and other historians had with President Obama, where they urged the president to give up on hopes for victory in the Afghan war. A subsequently despondent Wills writes that the “President might have been saved from the folly that will be his lasting legacy. But now we are ten years into a war that could drag on for another ten, and could catch in its trammels the next president, the way Vietnam tied up president after president.”

HISTORY

What was for FDR’s eyes only is now for yours: A little late, but here’s an interesting story from the Washington Post on “a newly acquired trove of 5,000 pages of Roosevelt documents that the National Archives said … should be a feast for historians of the president who led the nation through the Depression and most of World War II.” Included are letters from Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd, FDR’s lover.

the undiscovered country

I resisted creating a personal, standalone blog like this for a long time. Throughout my 10-year tenure as a news editor, online editor and book critic, I wrote a few pieces for my defunct MySpace profile page, wrote a simplistic blog on books for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and two blogs on mySA.com, the online partner of the San Antonio Express-News.

But I always wondered what I would do with a blog that had no limits on subject matter, commentary or personal control … one that was mine alone. I suppose I never made the time to find out, until now.

This new venue, Stillness of Heart (named for my favorite Lenny Kravitz song), offers me a vast landscape for my mind to roam, of which I will take full advantage. I expect the posts will reflect my varied (and some say eclectic) interests, my love for history and for books, and my fascination with foreign affairs, political controversies and dark humor.

I imagine it will all be intertwined with my own reviews of books, films and art, my celebration of great television drama, thoughts on life’s simpler matters, a smattering of fiction and perhaps even the blog-equivalence of gleefully jumping up and down when I’ve written a beautiful sentence. I’ll offer links to essays, articles and other items that have caught my eye, similar to what I usually do on Facebook.

Naturally, I invite my readers to point me in the right directions, introduce me to their great passions, pose interesting questions, and always challenge me to improve myself and expand my horizons.

My heart and mind are blossoming in many new ways as they’re bathed in the cool breezes and warm sunshine of this new, uncertain, strenuous life. May this be one of the best ways to fully embrace, document, enrich and explore this undiscovered and beautiful country.