Saturday, September 25, 2010

Both a particle and a wave, across the universe

Just back from a concert of Carnatic music by the great violinist Dr L. Subramaniam (he graduated med school before choosing a career in music)

This was in a small hall at a local Hindu temple -- theater held maybe 300 seats.

Now I usually don't get a huge spiritual charge from south Indian music the way I do from Hindustani, but this guy is the real deal. His technique was flawless --- his ability to bow, finger, and pluck all in lightning speed while improvising opened up a new world for me. Very innovative technique, and yet seamlessly woven into a Carnatic raga. A revelation.

Whenever one encounters an artist who is non-pareil like Dr L, one is lifted to the heavens, high above the muck below.

I wanted to post a Youtube clip, but none of them really does justice to what I heard tonight....

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Sign of Our Times and a Question

I got this email from a friend who travels in political circles quite different from mine:

You Would Never Have Guessed

Captain Kangaroo passed away on January 23, 2004 at age 76 , which is odd, because he always looked to be 76. (DOB: 6/27/27 ) His death reminded me of the following story.

Some people have been a bit offended that the actor, Lee Marvin, is buried in a grave alongside 3 and 4-star generals at Arlington National Cemetery His marker gives his name, rank (PVT) and service (USMC). Nothing else. Here's a guy who was only a famous movie star who served his time, why the heck does he rate burial with these guys? Well, following is the amazing answer:

I always liked Lee Marvin, but didn't know the extent of his Corps experiences.

In a time when many Hollywood stars served their country in the armed forces often in rear echelon posts where they were carefully protected, only to be trotted out to perform for the cameras in war bond promotions, Lee Marvin was a genuine hero. He won the Navy Cross at Iwo Jima There is only one higher Naval award... the Medal Of Honor!

If that is a surprising comment on the true character of the man, he credits his sergeant with an even greater show of bravery.

Dialog from "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson": His guest was Lee Marvin.. Johnny said, "Lee, I'll bet a lot of people are unaware that you were a Marine in the initial landing at Iwo Jima ...and that during the course of that action you earned the Navy Cross and were severely wounded."

"Yeah, yeah... I got shot square in the bottom and they gave me the Cross for securing a hot spot about halfway up Suribachi. Bad thing about getting shot up on a mountain is guys getting shot hauling you down. But, Johnny, at Iwo, I served under the bravest man I ever knew... We both got the Cross the same day, but what he did for his Cross made mine look cheap in comparison. That dumb guy actually stood up on Red Beach and directed his troops to move forward and get the hell off the beach. Bullets flying by, with mortar rounds landing everywhere and he stood there as the main target of gunfire so that he could get his men to safety. He did this on more than one occasion because his men's safety was more important than his own life.

That Sergeant and I have been lifelong friends. When they brought me off Suribachi we passed the Sergeant and he lit a smoke and passed it to me, lying on my belly on the litter and said, "Where'd they get you Lee?" "Well Bob.... if you make it home before me, tell Mom to sell the outhouse!"

Johnny, I'm not lying, Sergeant Keeshan was the bravest man I ever knew.
The Sergeant's name is Bob Keeshan. You and the world know him as Captain Kangaroo."

On another note, there was this wimpy little man (who passed away) on PBS, gentle and quiet. Mr. Rogers is another of those you would least suspect of being anything but what he now portrays to our youth. But Mr. Rogers was a U.S. Navy Seal, combat-proven in Vietnam with over twenty-five confirmed kills to his name. He wore a long-sleeved sweater on TV, to cover the many tattoos on his forearm and biceps He was a master in small arms and hand-to-hand combat, able to disarm or kill in a heartbeat

After the war Mr. Rogers became an ordained Presbyterian minister and therefore a pacifist. Vowing to never harm another human and also dedicating the rest of his life to trying to help lead children on the right path in life.. He hid away the tattoos and his past life and won our hearts with his quiet wit and charm..

America's real heroes don't flaunt what they did; they quietly go about their day-to-day lives, doing what they do best. They earned our respect and the freedoms that we all enjoy.
Look around and see if you can find one of those heroes in your midst.
Often, they are the ones you'd least suspect, but would most like to have on your side if anything ever happened.

Take the time to thank anyone that has fought for our freedom. With encouragement they could be the next Captain Kangaroo or Mr. Rogers.

Send this on, will you please? Nothing will happen to you if you don't, but you will be awakening others to what a HERO is made of..

It turns out I have another friend who knew Mr Rogers very very well. So I forwarded this to him, credulously wondering how Mr Rogers could have been in Vietnam, since late boomers were watching him as that war was heating up.

Oh, please…

This stuff about Bob and Fred is all pure bullshit. I knew them both very well, Bob as a friend and Fred as a longtime colleague and friend. Bob did serve in the military but never saw combat. Fred never served in the military at all, and especially not during the Vietnam War which was exactly the time when “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was produced.

My question is: what exactly does this represent?

I know there is a militaristic hero worship thing going on out there, but why the need to coopt pacifist, mainstream, but presumably liberal icons into that narrative?

Is this an unconscious desire to be mainstream, or a calculated strategy to mainstream hero-worship?

Any thoughts or references would be appreciated.

On a side note, a current post at NC evokes comments that shock me in their near consensus that we face a serious social breakdown, and a neofeudal fascism in our future.

I suppose I should feel reassured: I thought I was the only one who thought that!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Just got home from a Harvard Med School Faculty meeting where a speaker discussed the special aspects of teaching the millennial generation.

Water from Peruvian glaciers to the English dinner table

This story sent by a friend opened my eyes to details that I have kept myself from learning, but is going to become depressingly common. Turns out that Peru is a huge exporter of asparagus...

"Asparagus grown in Peru and sold in the UK is commonly held up as a symbol of unacceptable food miles, but a report has raised an even more urgent problem: its water footprint.


The Ica Valley is a desert area in the Andes and one of the driest places on earth. The asparagus beds developed in the last decade require constant irrigation, with the result that the local water table has plummeted since 2002 when extraction overtook replenishment. In some places it has fallen by eight metres each year, one of the fastest rates of aquifer depletion in the world.

The full story here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Trying to Keep Hope Alive

My summer reading included James Lovelock's Revenge of Gaia. I'm afraid his dark view of our planet's near future (15 -20 years) was highly plausible to me. Reminded me of those days in 2006 and 2007 when the so-called experts were crooning soothing words about the great moderation in bond yields being a sign of stability, but each data point that I was seeing didn't fit their views. The biggest, consistent error humans make is to extrapolate the instantaneous slope of a non linear process as if it were linear. And this is what Lovelock highlights, along with network effects that seem to me to be obvious. So I found him profoundly credible, and have been struggling to cope since then.

Here is a (somewhat) more hopeful TED talk by a leading planetary scientist that shows us some of the way forward.

In passing, his talk seems to indicate that there is an emerging consensus among people who really know this stuff that we have 1 or 2 decades at most to head off a planetary catastrophe.

And, yes, on my recent weekend in Stockholm, I did notice those Swedes are, just like this guy, very slim and trim.

Saturday, September 11, 2010