Monday, September 29, 2008
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Sunday, September 14, 2008
"I write from Washington DC, where I've lived since 1988 -- came here to get an MA from SAIS and somehow never left. I worked on Capitol Hill for five years, then became a foreign policy speechwriter -- first for Secretary of State Warren Christopher, then for President Clinton. Now I'm a partner at a firm called West Wing Writers, together with four of my Clinton White House speechwriting colleagues. It's been an unexpected career for someone who majored in French, but one that has allowed to combine the things I always loved most -- writing and international affairs. And Washington has proven a wonderful place to live these past two decades (though it's hard to believe I've been here that long!); I married my high school sweetheart Dave LaFleur in 1997 and we've got two great kids, son Jack (10) and daughter Evan (8).
Needless to say, there are lots of Yalies in DC too -- but I always enjoy reading the class notes about people I haven't seen in a while. I especially appreciated Yuka Manabe's latest report -- she and I attended high school together as well as Yale, and I am impressed but not surprised to know she is doing such great things."
Monday, September 8, 2008
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
We caught up with Professor Robert Thompson -- TD's "Master T" -- recently. Here are some thoughts he was kind enough to share with the folks of the Class of 1987:
Y87: As the Master of TD, you get to know undergraduates pretty well. In what ways, if at all, are today's students different from students 25 years ago?
Master T: As Master, I get to know musicians in their concerts (we had a world class composer, Timo Andres, in last senior class), women and men from all directions and career choices working as my aides and assistants. I love football and obviously get to know those playing 'ball, but I make an effort to get to know the shy as well as the gregarious, the super-studious as well as the joe and jacqueline college types. With 382 rascals under our roof it is hard to get to know everyone but we damn well better try. Students today have the immortal concerns: will I get a job (a good one) after graduation, girlfriend and boyfriend problems, the whole human bit. Human nature, thank God, is not an electronic gadget, in today and obsolete tomorrow. Human nature is forever.
Y87: Has technology changed what you try to accomplish or can accomplish in your research or in the classroom?
Master T: Not really, though I have backup slides for when power point blows and becomes power pointless.
Y87: What current African-inspired art or music do you think we should be going out of our way to see or listen to?
Master T: The most thoughtful rapper I know is Kanye West, who actually sang a rap about Jesus and, on the latino side, the tremendous energy of reggaeton, Puerto Rico's home brand fusion of reggae, salsa, and the old habanera beat, the beat that goes back clear to W.C. Handy and his St. Louis Blues, the beat that formed the first tangos. It's back just as hard-thumping as ever, DA-ka-KA-kan, DA-ka-Ka-kan. Salsa is now international with a vengeance, and according to The Economist, of all journals, the number one beat of the planet now. I watched superb salsa and reggaeton dancing in Tokyo last summer and incredible salsa at a place called Mama Rumba in Nexico City. To coin a phrase, the beat goes on.
Y87: Many people in our class have children. What do you think we should be teaching our kids, about art and music, or about life?
Master T: The best thing to teach children, via the insights of mambo men and mambo women is: feel inferior to no one but feel superior to no one either. When you treat everyone the same, the world opens up to you.
Y87: I've used what I learned in your class twice in my career - once to land a job and once during a criminal trial. Did you ever think of your "New York Mambo" class as a pre-law course?
Master T: This happens all the time. One guy took my course and entered Proctor and Gamble. P&G guy hated him because he was a Yalie and so sent him out into the South Bronx hoping for zero response for him. The guy heard a Tito Puente mambo on a jukebox as he started to work and told people how much he loved him, then identified another mambo as it came on and la gente said, "valgame este gringo conoce mambo!" He kept his job all right and passed the other jerk by. A woman, trying to enter a law firm, was getting a cold shoulder until a Yalie noted she took my course. "You took mambo? I took it in 1974, is he still around?" She got the job If there is anything Yale taught me when I was an undergraduate it is that a liberal education leavens and prepares you to talk to the world in terms of what's important--as opposed to the latest electronic fad--like, values, for instance. If you want more of my philosophy check out the page Newsweek ran on me last February called 'Mambo On My Mind'. As for my research my latest book is called Tango: The Art History of Love which makes the point that Buenos Aires is one of the most civilized cities on the planet, more theatres than Paris, more psychiatrists than New York, and restaurants that stay open until 2 or 3 or whenever long after New Haven tables are broken down and you feel they are trying to tell you something at 9 p.m. I am working on a new book called Staccato Incandescence: The Story of Mambo and there is lots in there about the latino definition of humor--refusal to suffer--something that might help us deal with a world of shrinking economics.