TJ on August 8th, 2012

I had read some months ago that dogs were being trained to detect cancer ……. with some success.

But nothing could have been more remarkable than what happened with our very own dog, Max …… a German Shepherd who is just over five years old. Max is an intelligent dog and seems to have a strong sense of smell as evident in the way he goes about finding items as he sniffs around and locates them.

German Shepherds are often viewed as “one owner” dogs, in that they develop their greatest affinity to one person in the house. In the case of Max that affinity was towards me. He would often come and lay right next to where I was seated and certainly was most inclined to listen to my commands more than those of anyone else.


About four months ago, that pattern changed for no apparent reason …… Max commenced to lay next to my wife, Mini. This happened so often and was so untypical of his normal behavior that she commented on it repeatedly. The other thing he started to do was to stick his muzzle under her left breast ……. again, this was something that she would comment on and ask me what was wrong with Max. Towards the middle of May – about a month after the change in his behavior – during a self-examination, Mini noticed a very small lump towards the bottom of her left breast. A biopsy that was done about a week after she detected it, confirmed that it was malignant. She has since then had surgery to have the cancerous lump removed and is currently undergoing radiation therapy. The cancer was detected at a very early stage and the prognosis is excellent.

Since then we have remarked to others about this whole episode with Max …. to say categorically that he detected something different would be difficult to prove but there is no doubt that there was a change in his behavior. Now that the cancerous tissue has been removed, Max is back to laying next to me most of the time as was his normal pattern.

The training of dogs to detect cancer is apparently based on a different odor that is emitted when there is cancerous tissue. Max was certainly not trained to detect cancer but our assumption is that he likely smelled something different. The way he would stick his muzzle underneath the breast with the cancerous tissue was just not normal behavior for him. Was the different odor more marked underneath the affected breast?

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TJ on July 28th, 2012

I am not sure what it is that fascinates me about a website a South American, Diego Goldberg, started some years ago. Goldberg started to take pictures of his family from 1976 to the current year with following explanation:

“On June 17th, every year, the family goes through a private ritual: we photograph ourselves to stop, for a fleeting moment, the arrow of time passing by.”

Diego’s first pictures are of him and his wife in 1976 and over the years we see pictures of his children – three sons. There is a picture of the family every year right up to 2012 …… fascinating to watch how time has changed the visages of the various family members. This year there were images of one of Goldberg’s sons, Nicolas, and his family commencing in 2009.

Here is what Goldberg and his wife, Susy looked like in 1976, presumably when they first got married:

This is what they look like in 2012:

Similar images of Diego and his family appear every year and can be viewed on the “The Arrow of Time” website.

Perhaps it is a personal quirk that makes this concept so appealing to me or perhaps it is because I have seen how over the years my own family has changed ………. I know that I wish that I had done something similar in the case of my family. I certainly have made others who were starting their married life to consider some sort of pictorial record of their families as the years go by and, perhaps, some have done so even if they don’t post it on the web.

What brought this to mind and made it the focus of a posting on my blog was something similar that I happened to “stumble” upon quite by accident. This is a group of five friends who have been recording images of themselves every five years. They started doing so in 1982 when they were teenagers and thirty years later they took the latest picture.

Apparently, the story goes something like this according to an article on the CNN website:

“In 1982, When five teenagers sat down and posed for a picture at Copco Lake in 1982, they didn’t plan on making it a tradition. But that’s what it became.

Every five years for the past three decades, John Wardlaw, John Dickson, Mark Rumer, Dallas Burney and John Molony have been meeting at the California lake and taking the same photo.

The first photograph of the high school friends was just happenstance. Wardlaw, known as Wedge in the group, had a family cabin at the lake where the friends gathered in July 1982.

While hanging out on the deck of the cabin, Dickson, or J.D., set his 35-millimeter camera on self-timer to take a group photo.”

Here is how these five friends looked like in 1982 when they started taking the pictures:

“As the men went into their college years, they continued to return to the lake every summer. They spent their time fishing and reading and playing roles in homemade movies shot by Wardlaw, who is now a filmmaker.

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TJ on July 14th, 2012

It has been while since I posted …….. lots going on in my life and worthy of a separate post down the line.

But this post is about common usage of some expressions and sayings we take for granted without knowing their origin. It came up when I was curious about the very American expression: “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings” …. an expression commonly used today in the context of sports.


It essentially means that until the game is over don’t take anything for granted. I wondered about the origin of the expression and there are several views though the most accepted one is a reference to Brunhilde in one of Wagner’s operas. More specifically, the Fat Lady, Brunhilde, sings the final aria in Gotterdemerung, Brunhilde is usually seen as a Viking warrior with winged helmet and spear She is large…..or fat …….. and when she stops singing the opera is over.

Anyway, this made me curious about some other relatively common expressions and how they may have originated and here is what I found from multiple sources:


This old saying means to grin and bear a painful situation. It comes from the days before anaesthetics. A soldier about to undergo an operation was given a bullet to bite


Prince Edward, later Edward VI, had a boy who was whipped in his place every time he was naughty.


This comes from the days when livestock had their ears marked so their owner could be easily identified.


When a horse grows old its gums recede and if you examine its mouth it looks ‘long in the tooth’.

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Attending an Ivy League school is an aspiration of many students. Competition is intense especially in recent years and the acceptance rate is usually below 10% in the most selective of the Ivies like Harvard University. During a recent Science Fair that my grandson, DJ, was a Grand Prize nominee, there was a young Asian high school senior who won the Grand Prize for research he did on the effect of zinc on certain types of cancer. He was waiting to hear from a couple of the Ivies and mentioned how difficult it was to get accepted at Harvard. A perfect score in the SAT, an excellent GPA and multiple extra-curricular activities will still not give an applicant an edge. What they are looking for are students who have a passion for some subject or have achieved success despite extraordinary odds.

Dawn Loggins at her high school graduation

It was gratifying and inspiring to read about Dawn Loggins, a young lady from North Carolina, who overcame extraordinary odds to achieve academic success. It made the national news in the US shown in the Youtube video below. Her story is an remarkable testament to the perseverance of a young lady who achieved tremendous success against all odds. It is also a testament to the generosity and fundamental goodness of people who took it upon themselves to offer Dawn an opportunity by supporting her in a way that can only happen in a community that feels an obligation to help a deserving individual who through no fault of hers was left homeless.

The video below is from the national news aired a couple of days ago:

YouTube Preview Image

It was also covered by CNN in the video below:

YouTube Preview Image

The full story was covered in the local “Shelby Star” in four parts:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

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The relationship between Americans and the British and how they view each other is complicated and interesting. For obvious reasons Americans feel they share a common heritage with the British more so than people from other countries. But I know from my days as a student in the UK, there is a mildly contemptuous attitude by many Brits to Americans and all things American. Americans are viewed as brash, materialistic and superficial. Americans, on the other hand, despite their common heritage and fascination with the royal family, British pomp and ceremony and some movies and television programs, view the British like they view much of the world – they are inconsequential and irrelevant to their lives!

It is an attitude that infuriates much of the world and is born out of a sense of self-sufficiency and raw economic and military power as well as being on the cutting edge of all of the major innovations in the past century. It is one of the reasons why the level of indebtedness to the Chinese is so bothersome to the average American.

I recently read an interesting article about British outrage at the criticism of the NHS by some in the US in their opposition to Obama’s healthcare reforms and how adopting a single payer system tantamount to socialized medicine was viewed as anathema. Opponents of healthcare reform in the US claimed that a single payer system would result in a system as “inferior” as the healthcare system in the UK in place of the generally excellent healthcare that most Americans enjoy in the US. Brits were infuriated by what they deemed as unwarranted criticism of the NHS which offers virtually free care to people.

The spectre of something akin to Britain’s system of socialized medicine being forced down the throats of Americans as a result of Obamacare has been a powerful argument against single payer financing. There was a widespread view among Brits who commented on the article that those critical of the British health care system were the fringe element within the right-wing. Nothing could be further from the truth …. while the right may be the most vocal the vast majority of Americans of all political persuasions are generally opposed to socialized medicine or anything akin to the British system. Incidentally, the version of healthcare reform that was passed and is now awaiting a ruling as to its constitutionality by the Supreme Court, bears no resemblance to Britain’s NHS. The version that was passed essentially sought to mandate coverage to the uninsured/under-insured through private insurance companies. Even the “public option” which would have made the federal government a competitor to insurance companies could not pass Congress.

The American healthcare delivery and financing system is by no means perfect but the reality is that most Americans who have healthcare insurance are very pleased with the care they receive and the ready access they have to healthcare. The problem is with those who don’t have insurance coverage or adequate coverage available and they represent about 15% of the population – this is a yawning gap and most Americans agree that a solution needs to be found for the uninsured or under-insured but they are opposed to legislation that would impact the coverage and care received by those who are currently insured. Above all, they do not want a system of socialized medicine such as exists in the UK that limits choice and effectively rations care.

For those who are in any doubt that rationing of care is occurring in the UK, this excerpt from an article in the well-regarded “Independent” newspaper will be an eye-opener. Examples of the rationing cited in the article include:

* Hip and knee replacements only being allowed where patients are in severe pain. Overweight patients will be made to lose weight before being considered for an operation.

* Cataract operations being withheld from patients until their sight problems “substantially” affect their ability to work.

* Patients with varicose veins only being operated on if they are suffering “chronic continuous pain”, ulceration or bleeding.

* Tonsillectomy (removing tonsils) only to be carried out in children if they have had seven bouts of tonsillitis in the previous year.

* Grommets to improve hearing in children only being inserted in “exceptional circumstances” and after monitoring for six months.

* Funding has also been cut in some areas for IVF treatment on the NHS.

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One of the cultural divides that confronts immigrants to the US and possibly other Western nations is the perspective on career choices when it comes to their children. When I was growing up in Kenya and what happens to this day in India is that children are inculcated with a mind-set that one’s choice of college and educational pursuits is a blend of innate ability, spheres of interest and most importantly, the potential the course of study offers to find a job upon completion of college.

This came to mind because of two news events: first, there is mounting concern about the huge student loan debt, in some instances guaranteed by the US government, which now amounts to over $1 trillion …… and to make matters worse is that even as the burgeoning debt reaches levels that creates exposure to the entire US financial system, the employment opportunities for college graduates is increasingly tenuous which makes it difficult for these debts to be repaid thereby leaving both the individual student borrowers vulnerable as well as the US government which has underwritten some of these loans. Keep in mind that an undergraduate degree from the better known colleges costs well over $200,000 with very limited financial assistance other than student loans that have to be repaid.

The second news item pertains to a feature on “60 Minutes”, a well known and reputable TV program in the US about an entrepreneur who offers enterprising young men and women “seed” money of $100K to start a business instead of going to college. In effect, he discourages some of these students from going to college and incurring substantial debt to finance their college with little prospect of adequate employment opportunities paying enough money to actually live a comfortable life and repay their student loans. Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook has created fellowships to give students who are under 20 years old, a chance to ditch school and, as he says, begin to build the technology companies of tomorrow. Thiel’s approach has stirred considerable controversy since it goes against conventional thinking that the way to assure oneself a bright future is to get a college degree!

In fairness, Thiel does not suggest that dropping out of college or not pursuing college is the route for everyone. But he does argue that there is an excessive emphasis on college degrees and the pay-back that results is not commensurate with the cost of college. He argues that many students are better off pursuing training that will enable them to achieve qualifications such as becoming plumbers, electricians and other similar vocations …… fields of employment that would ensure a decent living without incurring substantial debt that would merely lead to occupations that offer limited potential in terms of future earnings.

More specifically with regard to those he provides with “seed” money to start a business Thiel says of the more than 400 applications well over 24 people have received Thiel Foundation grants. He goes on to say about those who received the grants:

“They’re all really impressive people. Just to illustrate with two of them: there’s Eden Full is a 19-year-old woman from Canada who’s passionate about alternate energy and making solar power cheaper. She has worked on a technology that enables solar panels to rotate less expensively. And she began developing this idea when she was 15 years old.

“Jim Danielson is a student at Purdue, sophomore. He’s designed a new electric motor for building more efficient electric vehicles. And one of the challenges he has is if he stays in college, a lot of the intellectual property would actually go to the university.”

Thiel himself took the more conventional approach and attended Stanford. He says:

“I think I benefited and certainly we’re not saying that everybody should stop out or drop out. If I had to do it over again, I probably would still go to Stanford Law School. It’s a little bit different from when I went 25 years ago because it’s gotten so much more expensive. The one thing I would do differently would be to think a lot more about it.

“The way I was thinking about it when I was a 17-year-old senior applying to college was I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life. I’m just going to go to college. When I was a 21-year-old senior in college, it was I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ll go to law school. And there was a way in which education and the university system was sort of a substitute for thinking about what I would do with my life.”

Some of Thiel’s comments are thought-provoking and it brings me to one of my own pet peeves about the education system in the US … and possibly elsewhere in the West. School counselors and college counselors, in my opinion, do a disservice to children in guiding them into courses of study that often have very limited potential in terms of employment after they graduate. I found this to be the case with my own children and those of other children of friends – though, for whatever reason, my children were persuaded that future job prospects were an important component in deciding their college majors. Now admittedly, part of my point of view is the result of the cultural divide that I referred to in the first paragraph of this post, based on my own upbringing. My parents and, for that matter most Indian/Asian parents, emphasize that the purpose of obtaining a higher education is to make one more marketable in terms of their skill set in order that they can be gainfully employed. School and college counselors encourage children to pursue whatever field in which they are interested and for which they have a passion ….. with minimal emphasis on whether the pursuit of that field of study will offer employment prospects down the line. In the process they encourage and guide young students into educational pursuits where they end up incurring substantial student loans with limited opportunities for gainful employment that would enable them to pay those loans off and achieve a comfortable life-style.

Given the current economic conditions in the US where jobs earning a decent income are increasingly limited, I have listened to CEOs’ of major companies lament their inability to find recruits for the many openings in their companies because of the lack of the right skill sets. There are numerous opportunities in engineering, the oil industry, information technology, etc and a dearth of qualified candidates and as a result companies end up recruiting from abroad ….. and, in fact, if they were not able to seek talent abroad, their operations would be severely impacted.

In the sixties, when I was a young man, most Indian parents would encourage their children – almost to a point of coercion – to become engineers, doctors, lawyers and chartered accountants (CPAs’) because there were excellent employment opportunities in those fields. Today, in India, the focus is in encouraging their children into the above professions as well as information technology. Of course, the pursuit of fields of study that one has no interest is not desirable but at the same time the current and past focus in the US on pursuing one’s passion without regard to career opportunities upon completion of college is leading to a generation unemployable or under-employed individuals and to make matters worse they have a mountain of debt to repay in the pursuit of their college degrees.

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TJ on May 14th, 2012

I must confess that I am not overly enamored by some of the holidays celebrated in the US mainly because of the extent of commercialization that occurs. My biggest gripe is about Christmas which has lost all of its real meaning because of rampant commercialization – and I commented on this in in a prior posting on this blog. The one exception is Mother’s Day which – although also commercialized heavily – is an occasion that I quite enjoy celebrating because it celebrates mothers. Of course, both in India and in Kenya, there was no such thing as Mother’s Day, though I understand that this is changing in the major cities in India and much of the developing world where Western influence is being felt. I wish there were something similar in Kenya when my mother was alive.

I love the idea of dedicating a day to celebrate and honor one’s mother. Usually our routine does not change much. I make coffee for Mini …… but then that is nothing unusual since I do that every day given that I am an early riser. But we do take her out to a special lunch and we try and make sure that she does not have to do any cooking despite her protestations! Where we take her for lunch is a surprise and she does not really know until we get to the restaurant. Until last year we did this together with Saira and family but now that she has twins who are just over a year old as well as another offspring who is not quite four years, the idea of going to a restaurant with all the kids is a bit overwhelming!

This year’s celebration of Mother’s Day was a change from the usual. We got back yesterday evening from a weekend in Atlantic City where we celebrated Mother’s Day with Mini. My role was limited because it was something that her children took the initiative in organizing and funding the occasion. My role was limited to suggesting it as a possible venue because I knew that it was something Mini would really enjoy since she loves playing the slots. We stayed at a very nice resort called “The Seaview” which is especially known for its golf courses. Various celebrities have stayed at the Seaview. Nods to the Seaview’s history can be seen in the plethora of framed photographs lining the walls. There’s a photo of Grace Kelly, whose Sweet 16 was held in the Oval Room (her father was a member at Seaview in 1946 during the days when it was a private club).

Seaview Resort

There are photo displays recognizing Presidents Harding, Truman, Eisenhower and Nixon, all of whom played golf at the Seaview. Other famous guests included, in 1940, Jimmy Demaret, Ben Hogan, Bing Crosby and Gene Sarazen, who all graced the greens at Seaview during a tournament.

Those whose passion is music, not golf or royalty, will be interested to know that The Rolling Stones were registered guests at the Seaview for 10 days in 1989, during their Steel Wheels tour. At the time, lead singer Mick Jagger was said to have met music legend Eric Clapton for lunch in the Grille Room. And music legend Bob Dylan also stayed there around the same time, registered under his pseudonym “Justin Case”.

Mini at Trump Tajmahal

Mini did not have a clue what was in store for her on Mother’s Day. It was a surprise until a couple of days prior to departing for Atlantic City. To make matters better she actually won some money! She thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent there; we (Amit and I) did so as well though neither of us were into gambling but it was fun to see the thrill Mini got from playing the slots! We also had a great dinner at “Angelo’s Fairmount Tavern” which is famous for its Italian cuisine – huge portions of authentic food. We ordered two entrees between the three of us and yet there were left-overs. We also had dinner at a Malaysian restaurant called the “New Melaka Restaurant” – it is a family run “hole in the wall” place but the food was out of this world! I’d recommend both these places to anyone who visits Atlantic City!

I decided to learn a little more about the origins of Mother’s Day …. something that I would not have thought of doing had it not been for how we spent the weekend and the fact that I maintain a blog!

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Concepts of beauty have varied among cultures and even within the same culture over a span of time. A few decades ago an attractive woman was a more full-bodied and rounded individual than would be the case today.


During the 50s’ the actress in India renowned for her beauty was Nargis who appears on the right. Today, it is Aishwarya Rai (shown on the left) who is considered to be one of the most beautiful women not just in India but in the world; the contrast is fairly obvious. The same holds true in the West, where Marilyn Monroe was the epitome of sexiness and beauty with her quite full figure – today Angelina Jolie is viewed by most people as beautiful. The former was said to wear a dress size of between 8 and 12 – Jolie on the other hand is now rumored to be a size 2! So being thin is “in” and the voluptuous image that was prized in the 40s’ and 50s’ is a thing of the past!

Most ads and commercials today focus on ways to lose weight using various diets and dietary products. Of course, this is because of the obesity epidemic that has impacted the US and most Western countries. It is ironical that at a time when the weight of the average woman has risen considerably over the last 50 years, the perspective of what constitutes an ideal weight and figure has gone down in that very same period.

It is difficult to believe, given today’s focus on slimness and weight loss there was a time not so long ago when the focus of advertisements was on selling women on products that would enable them to GAIN weight and develop a more full figure! It seems an almost alien concept in today’s environment given that an almost rail-thin appearance is the goal and objective of celebrities who view it as the epitome of beauty and a perfect figure.

Keep in mind that in the 40s’ 50s’ and even the early part of the 60s’ the celebrities who were heralded for their beauty were individuals like Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and Rita Hayworth. These women were each viewed as having attractive figures despite being “full bodied” – and by today’s standards among celebrities they would be viewed as needing to lose weight! Things began changing in the mid-sixties when Twiggy (shown on the left) became a fashion icon of sorts with a figure that matched her name – although at the time many people thought that her almost emaciated appearance did not make her particularly attractive. Perhaps it was the advent of the mini-skirt which helped promote the notion of slimness synonymous with attractiveness. The emphasis on thinness gathered steam in the seventies and especially the eighties for reasons that are not easily fathomable. It has been argued by some that the desirability of having a fuller and well-rounded body was in the aftermath of the Great Depression and World War II when there were shortages of a lot of foods and rationing was in effect and inadequate nutrition was not uncommon. People became thin and it was viewed as an indication of privation. So someone who was more well-rounded was viewed as being less impacted by these hardships.

It is an explanation that makes sense because in the context of Indian attitudes to weight, I know that in the fifties and sixties it was generally viewed as a compliment to tell someone they had put on weight because most people tended to be thin to a point of looking almost malnourished – even if they were not! Being on the heavy side was associated with being healthy in those days and also being prosperous. It is not the same any longer in India where there is increased focus on weight loss as the obesity epidemic makes itself felt even in India with the advent of fast food and limited physical activity.

Whatever the reasons for the sea-change in attitudes in the West, it is interesting to view the ads shown below that used to appear regularly extolling women on the positives of gaining weight and how to go about doing so!




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If you have ever, while typing on your laptop, found that the cursor jumps around for no apparent reason resulting in whatever you are typing not appearing where it should be, you have gotten, what I call the “jumping cursor syndrome”.

This is a problem that affected my Dell Inspiron 1764 laptop and after googling to find a solution, it turns out to be be a problem that obviously affects not only Dell laptops but those by other manufacturers including HP, Lenova, Compaq, Asus, etc. The indications are that it started with the Vista operating system but those who have Windows 7 are also affected by the problem. There is controversy about what specifically causes this to happen though the prevailing opinion seems to be that it is inadvertent contact with the touch pad while typing that causes the problem.

Assuming that you don’t have a defective touchpad – and the probability is that you do not – then take the following steps:

Make sure that you have the latest touchpad driver installed – some people have reported that with an updated driver the problem went away.

If that does not solve the problem, consider installing a free program called TouchFreeze. It takes very little in the way of resources and solved the problem for me. The installation is easy and it is set-up to automatically start when the computer boots up. The basic concept is to immobilize the touchpad momentarily while typing preventing inadvertent contact with the touchpad from causing the cursor to jump. Even if you think that you are being careful and not making contact with the touchpad, the likelihood is that you are doing so.

Here is how the TouchFreeze program is described:

“This is a very small but useful application that allows you to disable the touchpad of your laptop while typing. The program doesn’t need configuration, it automatically detects when you are typing and disables the touchpad momentarily in order to avoid changing the position of the cursor, changing to another window or executing any unwanted action while typing and sliding your hand accidentally on the touchpad surface. The installation procedure is very simple, you only have to execute the downloaded file, accept to run the program in the security warning window, and accept to install the program on the selected folder or browse to select another one on the wizard setup. After installing the program, there will appear its icon in the system tray, by right-clicking on the icon you can load/unload TouchFreeze at system startup and exit the program. The program only requires 100kb of free space on the disk and 3Mb of RAM. The operating systems supported are: Microsoft Windows NT, 2000 and XP.”

Some people claim that TouchFreeze does not work with Windows 7 – others have no problem. I am in the latter camp since I have Windows 7,  64 bit installed on my laptop and since then the curse of the jumping cursor has been resolved. Even if you have a laptop other than from Dell, this solution should take care of the problem.

There are numerous sites where you can download the TouchFreeze program. Here is one site where you can download it or you can download it from here.

UPDATE: Outlined below are the three steps you should take to try and resolve the problem. I hope it takes care of the problem for you – it certainly did so for me.

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TJ on April 22nd, 2012

I don’t know if Malayalees are unique in their choice of names for adults and children.

When I lived in Kenya in the fifties and early sixties, there were relatively few families from Kerala and everyone knew each other within the community. But even within the relatively small community, there were some interesting variations on names. For example, my father was referred to as Allidina Joseph to differentiate him from another individual with the same name who was called Agakhan Joseph – my father worked at Allidina Visram High School and the other Joseph worked at the Agakhan School. There were two people called Thomas – and to differentiate between them one was called Aluminium Thomas and the other was Agakhan Thomas. The former worked at the Kenya Aluminium Company and the other worked at the Agakhan School. Then we had a Business George — because he operated a private business!

My late cousin, KC Alexander, was called Baby by family and Mallu friends – he was likely given that nickname when he was a baby and it stuck. It was perfectly normal to us but a source of amusement to British friends and associates with whom he shared this information! His wife’s nick-name was Dedi – the origin of which was a function of her father’s religious conviction. When she was born, her father was reading the bible and saw the word “dedicated”. He used the first four letters of that word and she became “Dedi”!

My parents were really quite run of the mill when it came to naming their children: other than my younger sister, Fifi, all the other children have fairly mundane names. Even Fifi’s rather more exotic name was because the mid-wife who delivered her in Mombasa was from the Seychelles – a Mrs Hooker who spoke French and thought she was the cutest baby. She would refer to her as “ma fifi” constantly ie “my fifi”. There are several possible explanations for that name and two are quite credible. Apparently Fifi is interchangeable with Josephine in French – and give that our last name is “Joseph”, that seems like one possible explanation. It is also used in French to mean “little girl” … so that could be the reason.

But my parents were not typical of Syrian Christian Mallu parents who can be remarkably creative when it comes to naming their offspring as will be evident below………..

Also, I don’t know if this is unique to Kerala or whether it happens in other parts of India but private bus owners frequently express their pride in their children by naming their buses with the names of their offspring. One sees this frequently in Kerala as shown in the image on the right.

Of course, if there are several children and there is ownership of only one bus, parents have to get creative and they do something like the bus shown below and display the names of multiple children. You’ll note that “Rakesh” – a male name – enjoys greater prominence compared to “Asha” and “Kiran” who are female! Now these names are rather not commonly used in Kerala and seem to be more suggestive of names used in North India … in which case, this custom of prominently displaying the names of children on a privately owned bus seems to extend beyond Kerala!

A good explanation I have seen for the names that Malaylees name their children appears below. I’d love to take credit for authoring it but quite honestly it has been been making the rounds both in emails and also appears on several websites. It is a light-hearted explanation for the origins for some of the unusual names one comes across and despite the humor, there is a semblance of truth to it. For non-Mallus who have wondered about the origins of some of the names associated with Mallus, you are now fully in the know!
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We love cruising and have been on fourteen cruises since I arrived in the US. These have included several cruises in the Caribbean as well as ones to Alaska, the Mediterranean, the Mexican Riviera and the Yangtze river in China. Our last cruise was with my brother Peter and his family and it was on one of the largest cruise ships in the world…….the Carnival Dream which was 1000 feet in length, over 128,000 tons and accommodated more than 5000 passengers and crew!

Carnival Dream

Cruising is for me the ultimate relaxation and one can be as active or not as one chooses. There are multiple activities on board ranging from trivia and board games to pool side games as well as entertainment which is usually of the highest quality. Then, of course, there is the food which is usually excellent as well as having a cabin steward to make one’s bed and clean the cabin. Essentially all of one’s needs are taken care of and one also gets to visit exotic ports! What more can one ask for?

But this posting is about a very different type of experience on a couple of ships – far removed from today’s cruises. It was a ship that was used to provide basic transportation between India and Kenya. This was no cruise with all of the amenities I described above – though I have wondered on occasion whether my love for cruises is in any way related to the experiences recounted below.

The ships were operated by the British India Steam Navigation Company also known as the BI Line. There were several of these ships that plied the India to East Africa sea lanes. The better known ones were the Karanja, Amra, Kampala, State of Bombay, Muzzaffari and the Aronda! Most Indians who emigrated to East Africa from India from the 1930s’ to the 60s’ most likely arrived on one of these ships. All BI ships were named after places or areas where the company traded. One that I sailed on – the SS Amra – is named after a village east of Benares in Uttar Pradesh. Amra is also the name of a flowering tree that grows at high altitudes.

There were generally three classes of travel on these ships: there were a limited number of first class cabins usually occupied by Europeans (a term used in Kenya to describe anyone who was white), two grades of second class (2nd/A and 2nd/B) and the vast majority of the passengers were in deck class which was akin to multiple over-crowded dorms located in various parts of the ship.

I arrived in Mombasa in 1949 with my mother, my elder sister and brother on the SS Khandalla. I was three years old and remember nothing of that voyage. My father – who was already in Mombasa – told me that one of his lasting memories was the sight of us coming down the gangway at the port in Mombasa. My mother was carrying a bag in one hand and was holding on to my elder brother with the other hand. My sister was carrying me. My mother would always talk with horror about that voyage – apparently sea-sickness was rife and the overall conditions were horrendous.

Over a decade later a similar voyage on another of the BI ships was described as “full of six hundred vomiting Indian families fleeing East Africa because of the country’s (Kenya’s) upcoming independence”. So sea-sickness was very much part of the experience and some were hit harder than others especially if the seas were rough. It likely did not make things any easier for my mother given that she was traveling with three children. We all traveled deck class which was the least expensive method of travel – and the most crowded and least comfortable. Ventilation was poor and much depended on where within the deck one had a berth. Passengers to bring their own bedding since the ship would not provide it! There were common toilets and bathrooms …… just the most basic of amenities. It was essentially transportation and food! I believe the Khandalla was sold for salvage not long after that voyage.

But my most memorable voyages were on the SS Amra.

SS Amra

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TJ on April 8th, 2012

A few months ago, I posted about the crash of Pan Am Flight 217 in 1968 while en route to Caracas, Venezuela and more specifically about a friend, Franciska Buyers, who was an air stewardess on that flight. More about Franciska and my relationship to her and her family appears on this link.

When I first posted about that flight and the tragedy that befell Pan Am 217, it was intended more as a personal tribute to Franciska than anything else. There was nothing on the net that was readily available about her and many of the others on that flight. It was a pleasant surprise when several people commented on that post and cited the names of people close to them who died in that crash. People expressed their appreciation for the post and the very fact that over 43 years later the tragedy was still remembered. There were people who offered touching recollections about those who died.

One person whose comments brought back memories was from Cameron Kane, the brother of yet another member of the crew -Katherine Mary Kane- who was a close friend of Franciska. Here are some of his comments:

“I am the youngest brother to Katherine Mary Kane. My sister, Katherine was a close friend of Franciska’s. Katherine attended the University of Bordeaux to study French and Art History. I think they met there. After college they rented an apartment together on the upper east side of New York City. They both got jobs at Pan Am in May 1968 with some assistance from my father who had connections to the airline. They started flying in August on separate routes but wanted to fly together. They managed to do that in the late autumn. I had dinner with them in NYC a few weeks before the accident. We had a good time with lots of laughter and wit in the glamor of a New York City evening.

I remember Franciska was a beautiful young lady. I have a picture of them both in uniform walking down my parent’s driveway in front of the flowering crab-apple tree. She was stunning! I remember wishing I were older so that I could impress her but I was just the little brother.

The accident ripped Katherine out of my life. When I was born in 1952 my sister would climb into the crib to cuddle me through the night. About 2 years after flight 217 went down I went into Katherine’s room looking for something. As I stood there for a moment a finger poked me hard in the shoulder blade. I turned around expecting to see a friend but saw no one. Dumb me, I scratched my head and started on my errand when I stopped and looked up; and looked around and said something like “Jesus Christ! Is that you Katherine?” Not a word, not a movement and no apparition. I was disappointed that there were no other fireworks but upon reflection I was grateful for being the recipient of a significant gesture. For all of you who have added up the odds and decided this life on earth is one lucky splatter in the universe, I’ll say: “This life is just the tip of the iceberg and there’s a lot more coming!”

I thank you for posting your recollections and I thank the people who gave comments. Each remembrance fills in a piece of the puzzle for me and I see that other people also grieve over this tragedy long ago.”

During one of my relocations within the US related to my job, a box containing personal papers and pictures was lost by the movers. It included letters from my parents – now both deceased. Among the pictures lost were several of Franciska and other members of her family. Cameron kindly sent me a picture taken in 1968 of Franciska with his sister Katherine in their uniforms. I sought and received his consent to post the picture on this blog. My thanks to Cameron for providing this picture which appears below.

I am glad to be able to recognize Katherine in a posthumous tribute to the victims of that crash.

Franciska (on right) with Katherine

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TJ on March 31st, 2012

I am partial to most Indian foods …… no great surprise given my Indian heritage. During our recent stay in Kerala one of the pluses was being able to eat home cooked meals using the freshest ingredients, vegetables and fish/meat. We would buy king fish from a government approved vendor who brought a variety of fish, prawns and other shell fish each evening displayed on a cart. The vendor had someone who would clean and slice the fish based on specific requirements. The fish was so fresh that when it was cut for cleaning, it would frequently still ooze blood!

We ate very limited amounts of meat and chicken while in Kerala, but even these were literally from animals or poultry slaughtered the same day and in the case of chicken it was done in one’s presence.

But my favorite meal by far was a typical South Indian breakfast consisting of idli, coconut chutney and kadala (a spicy black-gram “stew”)! The idli was delivered each morning by an older Brahmin guy who would commute by motorcycle and dish out the required number of idlis to each customer from a container he carried with him. He and his wife made the idlis at home each morning for sale to his customers.

ldili & Vada

The idlis were delectable and out of this world – and of a texture and consistency that would be difficult to make at home. The kadala and coconut chutney were made by our very able cook, Risa. There are a variety of breakfast dishes in Kerala but I would mostly confine myself to the items mentioned above – sometimes combined with a dosa – mainly because as Indian cuisine goes, the idli has to be one of the healthiest of foods. It is described to Westerners as “rice cakes”. It consists of a mix of ground rice, ground lentils with water and it is allowed to ferment. The batter is then placed into a special vessel and is steamed …….. so there is no oil …… which accounts for it being one of the healthiest of all Indian foods. Between the idli and the kadala, one gets a generous supply of protein and carbs.


Since returning from India two weeks ago, we have been trying to stay with the same breakfast except that we have no Brahmin vendor to deliver the idlis and no Risa to prepare the garnishings to go with the idlis! But my cousin in Cochin gifted us with a heavy duty Preethi Indian blender/mixer/grinder which we brought to the US. Indian blenders/grinders are geared to Indian cuisine and are able to do a grinding job in a way that American or Western blenders cannot. After multiple efforts, we finally managed to get the idlis to a consistency and taste that is close to that of our Brahmin vendor in Kerala. Idlis are easily digested and with the kadala and other garnishings they are fairly balanced in terms of nutritions – though certainly not suited for someone on a low-carb diet!!

In India breakfast is regarded as one of the most important meals and in that respect it must appeal to dietitians who herald the importance of every one having a good breakfast. But unlike the idli, most Indian breakfasts are not the healthiest because of the oil and ghee that is part of the preparation. What gets served for breakfast varies within different regions of India – and the diversity is striking and in some ways is a microcosm of India as a country.


In East India (Orissa,Bengal) the most popular breakfast are idli, bara, puri, and upama. These are served with ghuguni (peas curry) or potato curry and also sweets like rasogala and chenapoda.


In South India, the most popular breakfast is an assortment with several possible main dishes, such as idlis, vadas, dosas, salty pongal, and chapatis. These are most often served with hot sambar and at least one kind of chutney. This is the typical breakfast in Tamilnadu. Kerala breakast includes puttu (eaten with kadala and/or ripe bananas), appam and stew, and other popular breakfast items like idli and dosa.

Stuffed Paratha

The usual North Indian breakfast is wheat based unlike that in the South that is rice based. It consists of stuffed parathas or unstuffed parathas with fresh butter, cooked spicy vegetables — especially aloo sabzi. Puri and chholey is also a popular north-Indian breakfast, along with rajma-chawal. Popular accompaniments include sweets like jalebi, halwa, and sweetened milk. Samosas, and combination of jalebi with yogurt (dahi-jalebi) comprise stand-alone breakfast items in U.P. and its surrounding parts.


Gujarati breakfast items include haandvo, dhokla, sev-khamni, theplas (a form of paratha), bhaakhri and assorted hard and crispy masala puris with pickles. There is a marked difference in flavor between the Gujarati breakfast items and those outlined above. Tea is a staple item in breakfast.

Maharshtrian breakfast dishes consist mainly of poha with potato or onion, brinjal etc, upama, sheera with banana or mango, thalipeeth with either onion or grated cabbage or grated carrot, raddish etc


In Hyderabad it is kitchri (yellow rice with dal) with keema or khagina (scrambled egg with onions and tomatoes), thil ki chutney (sesame and peanut chutney) and kata (imli water with raw onions and fried zeera, hara masala) with pappad.


In urban areas, omelettes and simple butter sandwiches are becoming a popular breakfast food as are cereals and other Western breakfast favorites. Compared to the typical Indian breakfast fare, the western breakfast seems remarkably uncomplicated! But the typical Indian breakfast does share one thing in common with its Western counterpart – it tends to be oily and calorie laden! But unlike the Western breakfast that tends to include meat items – sausage, bacon, etc – the Indian breakfast, almost universally is vegetarian.

As is evident the variety and range of items served for breakfast in India depending on the region seems almost limitless. There has been some migration between regions of different cuisines …… idlis and dosas have become part of the fare all over India and is no longer confined to the South and puri-bhaji is served frequently in restaurants in the South although they are uniquely North Indian dishes.

A confession: I started writing this post, prior to breakfast and after a morning walk ….. returning home with hunger pangs ……. so it, perhaps, explains the focus on food!

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TJ on March 27th, 2012

During our recent winter sojourn in Kerala, my sister and brother-in-law who live in Australia visited with us for a couple of days. We had an interesting discussion whether salvation is possible for non-Christians ………. and, in fact, whether any one who is not “born again” can achieve salvation.

I told them – much to their shock – that even Pope Benedict had issued a proclamation in 2005 specifically stating that biblical belief was not necessary to attain salvation. This was quite a revelation to them since it went against conventional Christian doctrine. Upon reflection, it is remarkable that Benedict – a conservative Pope – would have publicly adopted such a position. The following is essentially what Benedict said in November, 2005 while addressing 23,000 people gathered in St Peter’s square:

“Whoever seeks peace and the good of the community with a pure conscience, and keeps alive the desire for the transcendent, will be saved even if he lacks biblical faith.”

He went on to elaborate as to the rationale for the above declaration as outlined on the link.

Benedict’s position is not widely known even among Roman Catholics and, as one of my cousins who is Roman Catholic said, the church does not publicize it! However, Benedict’s declaration is a significant change from the common belief as to what the Catholic church taught in years gone by. I recall when growing up in Kenya and went to elementary school that was run by Roman Catholic nuns, we were taught that only Roman Catholics could attain salvation …… not even other Christians could do so …… a position that is rather similar to that of “born again” Christians today in their belief that only they are “saved”. Incidentally, the school I attended was called the “White Sisters’ Convent School” – this was in the early fifties and the name denoted the fact that it was run by white nuns, though many of the teachers were Indians. In my final year at the school, the name was changed to the “Star of the Sea School” – perhaps, in an attempt to be politically correct in the parlance of today’s terminology!

Many of the divisions within Christianity as well as other faiths and the resultant tensions. animosity and injustices perpetrated over the centuries often rest on interpretations of the scriptures of a religion.

Benedict’s broader view regarding salvation – which would be viewed as anathema among evangelicals and most conservative denominations, including some Roman Catholics, was well articulated by a poster (Trishie) on a Catholic forum who wrote:

“Who can be saved? Jesus says it’s about actively loving others or not which determines our eternal destiny. This therefore is the bottom line.

I am sometimes sad that there is sometimes less emphasis placed on Jesus’ words than should be placed on the words of the saviour of the human race who is God’s Son, who is God as well as human. Jesus is the source of salvation and the foundation of the Church. Can we call ourself Christians if we don’t accept the words of Jesus the Christ?”

She then cites biblical support for the point of view that she outlines above:

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TJ on March 8th, 2012

Today marks three years since I started this blog. During this period there have been 74 posts on a variety of subjects which have generated 334 comments from different readers. The blog has had well over 24,000 hits – most were during the second and third years of the blog.

This is not a high traffic blog – most blogs that cover a variety of unrelated subjects tend to have a limited following. The traffic this blog has experienced is relatively good given the generalized nature of the blog. The blogs that have repeat visitors are those that address a specific subject whether it is travel, computers, investments, cuisine, humor, children or anything that is focused on a specific area of interest. Most visitors to this blog are those who googled a specific subject and they literally come from all over the world. However, they don’t tend to be repeat visitors – but I knew when I started this blog that the regular readership would be limited.

As my nephew, Vivek, said half-jokingly in an email, commenting on the range of subjects covered: “I can’t think of too many blogs that would cover the Tudors and Nair weddings, a couple of entries later”!

The post that generated the most comments by far was the one that I did on Allidina Visram High School – my alma mater – and they were mainly from alumni of the school around the time frame when Kenya was still a colony of Britain. The posting that generated the most hits in the shortest period of time was the most recent one about the controversy relating to Smith College. Perhaps, the saddest and most poignant was a comment by the son of the pilot of the Pan Am flight which crashed in 1968 – I had a friend who died on that flight. Then there was the post which generated a gracious comment from the bride whose wedding I criticized as being overly lavish.

There have been periods when I have taken extended breaks from posting …….. more as a result of laziness than anything else. I had hoped to average about three posts a month and I would likely have achieved this goal had it not been for the months that I went silent.

When I started this blog, I was intrigued by the whole concept of blogging. I decided that it would be a good vehicle to offer a personal perspective about things that had garnered my attention. I had already started writing a series of personal and private letters to my children which I intended to share with them in the future. As I wrote these letters, I realized that while some of what I wrote was too personal to include in a public blog, there was other information that could reasonably be shared with others …… and the title of this blog reflected the nature of these writings: namely, a series of personal reflections, ruminations, recollections and a few rants and raves!

I have never really made any effort to publicize this blog other than to include the link to it below my signature in the emails that I exchange with family and friends. One thing that does surprise me is how high this blog ranks on google searches. I have no idea why this happens – it is certainly not anything that I have sought to do to improve the ranking of the blog. But the high ranking certainly explains the wide range of hits that the blog receives from all over the world. If there is one thing that I would like to do differently it is to reduce the length of some of the posts – it would certainly reduce the time I spend on posting. The average post takes me about one hour to complete ….. not a lot of time but shorter posts would likely lessen the time it takes.

So this blog moves into the fourth year of its existence…….

TJ on March 6th, 2012

I was shocked to hear about the death of Steve Bridges whose uncanny impressions of George W Bush were hilarious and always done without any malice. He was only 49 years old.

As I watched one of his more memorable imitations of Bush at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner – an annual fixture of Washington DC, during which there is well-intentioned fun made of the president and other public figures – one of the thoughts that passed my mind is that this sort of thing can only happen in the West. One cannot imagine that this would occur in most developing countries without the comedian facing serious repercussions. Perhaps it is a mark of the political maturity of a country when one can poke fun at its leaders without fear of retribution. Even in India with its very democratic traditions, it is difficult to imagine the prime minister or president participating in this sort of event. Of course, the likelihood of this occurring in countries with a more autocratic form of government is even more remote.

However, this posting is really not intended to be a commentary on the willingness of different countries to tolerate humor directed at its leaders but more a remembrance of a remarkable comedian who died prematurely and brought a lot of laughter with his impressions. One of the most memorable imitations he did was the one mentioned above at the Correspondents Dinner and it was done with the full cooperation of Bush. It is well worth watching …… and for those not familiar with some of the intricacies of US politics, there is a reference in the clip below to Dick Cheney and it has to do with the time when he accidentally shot a lawyer friend who went hunting with him.

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Less known is Bridges imitation of Barack Obama ….. it gives on a sense of how very talented an impressionist he was:

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And this was what Bridges really looked like without the make-up!

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TJ on February 29th, 2012

A firestorm recently erupted over a letter written by a Smith College alumna, Anne Spurzem, whose brazen comments were a mix of bigotry, classism, snobbery, ignorance, inaccuracies, misinformation and outright nastiness that was directed at the admission policies of the college in recent years.

Smith College is part of the “Seven Sisters”, a group of liberal arts colleges that have been historically women’s colleges. The others are Barnard College, Bryn Mawr College, Mount Holyoke College, Radcliffe College, Vassar College, and Wellesley College. Radcliffe (which merged with Harvard College) and Vassar (which is now coeducational) are no longer women’s colleges.

Smith’s alumnae have included some eminent women including Gloria Steinam, Betty Friedan, Julia Child and Sylvia Plath. In fact, just last Sunday, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, a Pakistani who also went to Smith, won an Oscar for her documentary film, “Saving Face”.

Anne Spurzem’s letter to Smith College’s “Sophian” publication, is quoted verbatim below:

To the Editor,

I am the president of the Smith Club of Westchester County. I enjoy reading the Sophian online because it helps me stay abreast of developments at the school.

I read your article about [President] Carol [Christ]’s resignation and it had some interesting statistics. It mentioned the percentage increase in the population of women of color and foreign students. The gist of the article was that one of Carol’s objectives coming into the position was to increase diversity and the article gave statistics that showed that she did.

As someone who has followed admissions for many years, I can tell you how the school is viewed by students in Westchester and Fairfield Counties. First, these counties are some of the wealthiest in the country. The children have parents who are highly educated and accomplished and have high household incomes. The children are programmed from day one to get into Ivy League schools.

To this demographic, Smith is a safety school. Also, very few of these students want to go to a single sex school. With the exception of Wellesley, it is not hard to get into the Seven Sisters any more. The reason why Wellesley is more selective is because it is smaller than Smith and in a better geographic location – Boston beats Northampton.

The people who are attending Smith these days are A) lesbians or B) international students who get financial aid or C) low-income women of color who are the first generation in their family to go to college and will go to any school that gives them enough money. Carol emphasizes that this is one of her goals, and so that’s why the school needs more money for scholarships or D) white heterosexual girls who can’t get into Ivy League schools.

Smith no longer looks at SATs because if it did, it would have to report them to U.S. News & World Report. Low-income black and Hispanic students generally have lower SATs than whites or Asians of any income bracket. This is an acknowledged fact because they don’t have access to expensive prep classes or private tutors.

To accomplish [President Christ’s] mission of diversity, the school is underweighting SAT scores. This phenomenon has been widely discussed in the New York Times Education section. If you reduce your standards for grades and scores, you drop in the rankings, although you have accomplished a noble social objective. Smith has one of the highest diversity rates in the country.

I can tell you that the days of white, wealthy, upper-class students from prep schools in cashmere coats and pearls who marry Amherst men are over. This is unfortunate because it is this demographic that puts their name on buildings, donates great art and subsidizes scholarships.

-Anne Spurzem ’84

What started as a heated controversy sparked by Ms Spurzem’s letter mainly involving Smith’s current students, alumnae and a sprinkling of those who attended other colleges making up the Seven Sisters now shows signs of going viral.

My daughter, Saira, who went to Smith – class of ’91 – made me aware of Spurzem’s letter and the reaction to it at a website that was started specifically to invite comments about Spurzem’s inflammatory and outrageous letter. The site, Pearls & Cashmere, encouraged those commenting to include a picture preferably wearing cashmere and pearls to mock Spurzem’s rant about the days of cashmere coats and pearls having coming to an end – it got a host of responses!

Mocking Spurzem's comments (courtesy "Pearls & Cashmere")

The Sophian was so inundated with responses – some angry and others expressing dismay and sadness – it removed the letter and comments temporarily because of alleged deterioration in the performance of the website because of the increased traffic.

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TJ on February 26th, 2012

K. Kamaraj

It is rare indeed for a leader to have the attributes of humility, loyalty and honesty and to be an effective leader but such a man was Kumaraswamy Kamaraj, a former chief minister of Tamil Nadu – formerly known as Madras state – and subsequently a key advisor to Jawaharlal Nehru. He was a man with limited formal education who rose from humble beginnings to the pinnacle of power such that he was at one time viewed as the “king maker” in India. His humility and loyalty came to my attention through an anecdote about Kamaraj related to me by my first cousin, Dr Alexander Joseph, who was a young teenager when it occurred. It is the type of story that I love ………… and the fact that it involved my maternal grandmother made it all the more appealing. But first by way of introduction………..

My grandfather, Barrister George Joseph, was active in the freedom movement in India through the 1920s’ and 30s’. He was one of the most prominent South Indians involved in the movement and certainly the most prominent Kerala Christian. He was intimately involved with some of the giants of the movement – Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah, Vallabhai Patel, etc – and was jailed by the British with some of these individuals for his agitation against colonial rule. He is mentioned in Nehru’s autobiography and my brother, George Gheverghese Joseph, wrote a biography of our grandfather – “George Joseph: The Life And Times Of A Kerala Christian Nationalist” – which has been well received. His premature death in 1938 resulted in his role in the freedom movement not being given the recognition that it deserves.

Barrister George Joseph

My grandfather, who practised as a barrister in Madurai, was intimately involved with Gandhi who stayed at his house in Madurai on several occasions. He was introduced to Gandhi by Rajaji (C. Rajagopalachari) in 1919. The relationship between George Joseph and Gandhi was one that lasted to his death in 1938 – although there were issues on which they vehemently disagreed.

However the focus of this post is Barrister George Joseph’s close relationship with the late Kumarasamy Kamaraj whom the latter viewed as a mentor. An excerpt from an article in the Hindu says:

“Joseph had a special relationship with Kamaraj. As a youngster, Kamaraj was busy with Joseph in organising demonstrations against Simon Commission and successfully organised thousands of volunteers near Tirumalai Naicker Mahal. When Kamaraj was implicated in the ‘Virudhunagar Conspiracy Case’ in 1933, Joseph and Varadarajulu Naidu argued on his behalf and proved the charges to be baseless.”

The role that George Joseph played in the acquittal of Kamaraj in the Virudhunagar case cemented an already close relationship between the two men.

More about the relationship between Kamaraj and George Joseph is encapsulated in an excerpt from this link:

“Importantly his (Kamraj’s)approach to governance and party control was never tainted with religious overtones and a secular commitment was natural and integral to his mission in life. Among his cherished political mentors, Kamaraj held George Joseph, a Kerala Christian nationalist who chose Madurai as his base for practising law and for his political activities, in high esteem.

Kamaraj’s association with George Joseph began early and grew in strength from the days when Kamaraj frequented political meetings addressed by George Joseph in Virudhunagar. It continued through the period of his involvement in the Vaikom Satyagraha then led by George Joseph, to the organising of demonstrations against the Simon Commission along with Joseph. It was George Joseph who defended Kamaraj and got him released when he was accused of making bombs and implicated in the Virudhunagar Conspiracy case. Profoundly fond of George Joseph and his family, Kamaraj continued to pay visits to the Joseph family especially his wife Susannah, even with his busy itinerary as chief minister.”

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“Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” was a best seller in the nineties by John Gray that sold over 7 million copies. It essentially sought to highlight the differences between men and women in dealing with problems and issues and how it affects relationships, etc. To segue from this to the focus of this post is, admittedly, a bit of a leap but one cannot help notice how male and female dogs react differently to situations. In fact, this is true of other species of animals as well.

We have two German Shepherd dogs, Max and Kaya; actually, Kaya belongs to Saira and Richard – my daughter and son-in-law. But Saira describes the ownership of the dogs as being analogous to a “joint custody” arrangement because they are kept together all the time. When we are in Northern Virginia, we usually have physical custody of the dogs and when we are away – as is the case right now – Saira and Richard keep them at their house. We try and keep the dogs together because they have been companions to each other since they were puppies.

What triggered this particular post is a picture that Saira sent me of Kaya with my younger grand-children. She is laying on the floor very contentedly with the grand-kids taking all sorts of liberties with her and she is happily oblivious of what is going on. In the background, you can see the front paws of Max whose attitude appears to be one of wanting not to totally miss out on all that is going on but at the same time he is not about to allow himself to be subjected to the Kaya “treatment” from the kids.

Both the dogs are attached to the kids and protective of them but when the twins – Praveen and Prakash who are 15 months old – get upset, it is Kaya who becomes a shade frenzied.

The differences in the way Max and Kaya react to varying situations are striking and is the reason why I used the Mars/Venus analogy. I don’t want to over-emphasize the gender difference too much because although there are differences in the way male and female dogs react, to some extent it also depends on the dogs and their individual traits. However, Kaya’s maternal instinct seems to come to the fore in her dealing with the kids. Max seems to be an observer – staying close enough but not about to allow himself to be “accosted”! But the protective nature of both surfaced for example when my grand-daughter, Deepali, was sledding in the snow in their back yard. As she slid down, both dogs were running on either side of her, keeping pace with her sled as if to make sure that she was safe as is evident in this short video clip.

Kaya, as those how have come into contact with her know, is not the brightest of dogs – Saira refers to her as a “special needs” case – but she is a very sweet-natured dog. Max is intelligent and a quick learner and affectionate but does keep his distance if he thinks he is going to be hassled. But it is Kaya who is the more alert of the two – she is the one who is first aware of anyone or anything that is in our yard and will react first by barking with Max following suit but being the more aggressive one after Kaya has sounded the alarm. This is very evident when both the dogs are on the deck in our backyard. Kaya first spots the deer that come to our backyard and barks and Max will bound down the deck and chase the deer even as Kaya just observes. It is almost as if she is saying: “I saw them first ………. now you deal with it!”

Contrast the earlier image of Kaya laying contentedly on the floor while the kids were playing with her with the video clip below where Max takes a limited amount of close interfacing with one of the kids and then pretty much decides that’s enough and moves away:

Anyway, just a few observations about our two dogs ……… perhaps there is nothing much that should be read into how they react to various situations or perhaps John Gray should collaborate with an expert on dogs and produce a canine equivalent of Mars and Venus!

Incidentally, the children are never left to play unsupervised with the dogs because although they are very gentle and protective of the children and the family, in the ultimate analysis they are dogs and can be unpredictable.

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TJ on February 11th, 2012

“The young perish and the old linger …………….. no parent should have to bury their child”
Theoden in “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”

When my mother was terminally ill with cancer in 1964, her mother who was then in her late sixties would tell me that she (my grandmother) would like to die. I could not relate to her comment and when I asked her the reason she would merely say that she had lived long enough and was ready to meet her Maker – my grandmother was a deeply spiritual person who believed that what awaited her after death was immeasurably better than her life on earth. It was my aunt Maya Thomas – my mother’s younger sister – who during one of these conversations said in her mother’s presence, half laughing but insightfully that the reason my grandmother expressed this sentiment was that she did not ever want to have to deal with the prospect of having another of her children predeceasing her. My grandmother did not disagree and her pained reaction made it crystal clear that was indeed her motivation in wishing she could die soon. She went on to live another seven years after my mother passed away and did not have to bury any of her other children.

I was then 18 years old and could not fully relate to my grandmother’s sentiments. I think one has to be a parent to comprehend the emotions a parent must go through when dealing with the prospect of a child predeceasing them.

Parents having to bury their children just does not seem like the natural order of things ………… and unless one goes through the experience it is difficult to comprehend the pain that a parent experiences. Fortunately, I have never had to go through this trauma and it is my earnest hope and prayer that I never have to do so.

The movie (and book), “I Dreamed of Africa” is based on the true story of Kuki Gallman, who moved to Kenya with her family in 1972 to start a cattle ranch. Gallman (played by Kim Basinger) lost her husband, Paolo, in a car accident and then three years later her 17-year old son Emanuele died of a snake bite from a puff adder while trying to extract viper venom for antiserum. At her son’s funeral she said:

“To bury a husband was hard. To bury my son is against nature………..and a pain which words cannot tell”

All of this came to mind recently because a relative of mine – Priyabal Joseph (Mona) and his wife, Susheela – had to go through this experience. Their son, Vijay, died after he choked on his food and by the time he received medical attention he had suffered irreversible brain damage. He was kept alive on a ventilator for a few weeks but after they were told that that there was no hope they had to make the heart-breaking decision to take him off of life support.

Vijay Joseph at the piano

After Vijay’s funeral, Mona shared with several family members a eulogy that his daughter, Anita Newsom, gave at his funeral. In days gone by, Mona had told me that Vijay who was autistic – and who I had never met – was especially close to his sister. He shared this information with me at the time when Anita was relocating from California to Ohio for employment reasons. Mona was saddened that his daughter would be moving so far away but he said that the one who was going to be the most affected would be Vijay because he was so attached to her.

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Life in Kerala – and, for that matter in India – involves a lot more social interaction than occurs in the West. This interaction occurs in different settings but one that occurs with frequency is attendance at baptisms, engagements, marriages and funerals. Birthdays seem to be less frequently celebrated except for special occasions like the first birthday of a child or the sixtieth birthday of an adult – the latter is considered a significant milestone in Kerala and in Hindu tradition and referred to as sashti poorthi. Since coming to Kerala we have been invited to several of these occasions.

This past weekend, we went to Trivandrum to attend an engagement on Saturday and a wedding on Sunday. Nothing remarkable about this except that for me it was the first Nair wedding I have attended and the second Nair engagement. The Nairs, of course, are part of the Hindu community in Kerala – it used to be a completely matriarchal group but with the passage of time, the Nairs have, for the most part, gone mainstream and the matriarchal element has receded to the background. The interesting thing for me – quite apart from the novelty of the experience – was how it contrasted with the typical Syrian Christian wedding in Kerala.

Mini is from the Nair community and the engagement that we attended was that of her late sister’s grandson, Tushi to Athira. His father, Gopal, is Mini’s nephew and he is married to Susheela who is close to Mini. Since Mini was the only maternal aunt present – and, in effect, a proxy grandmother – she and I were viewed and treated with deference. The most remarkable thing about both the engagement and – the marriage of another couple that we attended the following day – is the simplicity and brevity of the ceremonies.

The engagement ceremony started with Athira and Tushi being led around to the older relatives and pay their respects by touching the feet of the various individuals while the recipients would bless the couple. Mini, given her role, was one of the primary guests whose blessing was sought – and I was accorded the same attention by virtue of the fact that I am her husband. As they did so, I must confess the thought that passed my mind was that I wished I had polished my Rockport sandals that were a little grubby from the dust that is an inevitable part of life in Kerala!!

Athira being led by her mother as she paid her respects and sought the blessing of the older relatives

During the engagement, the fathers of the groom and bride sat cross-legged on the floor of a raised platform facing each other and exchanged the written horoscopes of the groom and bride – in effect, the bride’s father gave the groom’s father the horoscope of the bride and the groom’s father gave the bride’s father the horoscope of the groom. Of course, these horoscopes had been shared previously to ensure that the stars were in alignment thus enhancing the prospects that the marriage would be a happy one.

Fathers exchanging horoscopes

Following this, the two fathers vacated their seats and the bridegroom and the bride took their place. The groom and bride put a ring on each other’s finger on the right hand – a custom that is not part of the typical Nair engagement but is something that has been borrowed and adapted from the West!

Tushi placing ring on Athira’s finger

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What are the odds of someone being born in the 18th century having grandchildren – yes, GRANDCHILDREN – who are alive in the 21st century? Pretty infinitesimal most people would say and they would be right. But a confluence of factors resulted in just such a thing happening with none other than the tenth president of the United States – John Tyler!

John Tyler was born in 1790 and has grand-children who are still living today, 222 years after the birth of their grand-father!

Tyler succeeded William Henry Harrison who died after 32 days in office from pneumonia. He was born at a time when Napoleon Bonaparte was busy conquering Europe! To offer further context to historical events that occurred around the time Tyler was born consider that these events were occurring: in the year he was born, George Washington was sworn in as president for the first time, Thomas Jefferson was the first secretary of state, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were guillotined in 1793, mutineers from the Bounty were settling in Pitcairn Island and Tipu Sultan was at the height of his power and the British under Cornwallis were waging war to defeat him.

John Tyler – 10th president of the US

So how did it come about that Tyler has grandchildren living well over two centuries after his birth? Tyler married Julia Gardiner – his second wife – in 1820. She was then 24 years old and thirty years his junior.

Julia Gardiner – wife of John Tyler and First Lady

She gave birth in 1853 (when Tyler was 63 years old) to a son, Lyon Gardiner Tyler. This son, Lyon, in turn, married two times – his second wife Sue Ruffin was born in 1889 – and he married her in 1923 when he was 70 years old and she was in her thirties .

Sue Ruffin Tyler gave birth to two sons – Lyon Gardiner Tyler in 1925 and Harrison Ruffin Tyler in 1928. These are the grandsons of former president John Tyler and they are both in their eighties today!!

Grandson Harrison Tyler – 10th president of the US


Grandson Lyon Tyler

Truly remarkable and difficult to imagine that grand-children could be alive 222 years after the birth of their grandfather but it happened because of a confluence of factors – the former president having a son when he was in his sixties and that son then fathering his children when he was in his seventies!

This family tree gives a pictorial illustration of the relationships:

(Images – courtesy of the Daily Mail)

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TJ on January 25th, 2012

Yes, we are back in Cochin, Kerala where we spend our winters away from the frigid temperatures of Virginia. I start every trip with a sense of dread over the the long flight from the US to India – a good 17 hours of flying time – but once I am here there is almost a sense of exhilaration. This is all the more remarkable given that I have spent very little time in India over the course of my life and even less time in Kerala. So I am not able to explain the attraction that Kerala has for me. It is clearly not just the warm weather – since there are other places in the US and elsewhere that offers the same.

With each trip there is exposure to the positives and negatives of living in Kerala. I am overwhelmed by the friendliness of relative strangers who I encounter during my morning and evening walks – not just friendliness but a warmth that is just extraordinary, especially for someone who has spent much of his life in the West. We routinely get invited by strangers we meet to come and visit them at their homes – and these are not just courtesy invitations but are quite genuine. When we have occasionally responded to such invitations we have been treated with a warmth and hospitality that clearly suggests that they are glad we came to visit them. On a train journey from Cochin to Trivandrum, I was seated next to this middle-aged gentleman and while conversing with him he informed me that his daughter was getting married in about a week’s time – and not long thereafter he invited us to attend his daughter’s wedding and the reception indicating that it would be an honor if we would join them for the happy occasion. We declined the invitation pleading a conflict but the invitation was sincere and I was a little flabbergasted by it – again relating it to Western norms where such invitations are given quite selectively.

My natural sense of caution when I receive such invitations causes me to wonder whether there is some hidden agenda ….. and I am pleasantly surprised to find there is none.

Then there are the more “interesting” situations which would be viewed as offensive in the West but is accepted as the norm in Kerala. I was walking one evening shortly after we arrived here when we ran into one of our neighbors originally from Tamil Nadu who greeted me warmly and smilingly proceeded to tell me: “you have become fat!” – and asked me whether I had stopped walking regularly like I used to do. He was certainly correct that I had put on a few pounds and he certainly did not mean to be offensive – it was his way of telling me that I’d put on a little weight since our last visit! But I do recall a second generation Indian teenager and US resident who was hugely offended when relatives would comment on her somewhat plump appearance in quite candid terms.

Our stay here which has so far lasted a mere ten days has been fairly busy in that I had my sisters Fifi and Ashwathi visit us with their families and stay with us – the former lives in Australia and the latter in Chennai. We had a wonderful time with them reminiscing over old times and chatting about life in their respective abodes. It was also good to have Ashwathi visit us for the first time since we bought the flat and offer her a small measure of the hospitality that she routinely accords to us when we visit her in Chennai.

We were fortunate in having bought a well-located flat with a great floor plan that has a terrific view and is in one of the more desirable areas of Cochin – an area called Panampilly Nagar. It helps to make our stay more comfortable. It is large by Indian standards at 1900 square feet although small in relation to our house in the US. It does make us realize that we have way too much house in the US and that one can be very comfortable with a lot less space.

View from our flat in Cochin

View from our flat in Cochin

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TJ on December 27th, 2011

I have always been fascinated by the phenomenon of the “near death experience” – known by the acronym NDE. Perhaps it is my belief in an after-life – even though I am not sure what form it takes – which accounts for this interest. After all, for someone who believes in an after life the reports of what happens in NDEs’ seems to offer some sort of affirmation of what happens after death.

There are also scientific explanations that seek to debunk the spiritual explanations of such experiences. Scientists suggest that NDEs’ are attributable to physical causes such as brain chemistry (neural noise, hypoxia, etc.), psychological states (wish fulfillment or reliving the birth trauma), and sociological factors (religious fantasies based on social conditioning). But neither side is able to prove conclusively what these NDEs’ really represent – whether spiritual or something capable of a more scientific explanation. Perhaps it is just as well since it allows people to place their faith in whatever suits their purpose.

What happens during a NDE varies and the traits of a classical NDE may include one or more of the following: a sense/awareness of being dead, a sense of peace, well-being and painlessness, a feeling of being removed from the world, an out-of-body experience involving a perception of one’s body from an outside position including sometimes observing doctors and nurses performing medical resuscitation efforts, a “tunnel experience” frequently including a rapid movement toward and/or sudden immersion in a powerful light, an intense feeling of unconditional love, encountering “Beings of Light” or other spiritual beings, being reunited with deceased loved ones, approaching a border, a decision by oneself or others to return to one’s body, often accompanied by a reluctance to return and other similar emotions.

Anyway, all of this came to mind as I read about the death of two individuals – the first was Steve Jobs and the other was Christopher Hitchens . They were two very different individuals who left their marks in different arenas and both were men I admired although in the case of Hitchens I was less than enthused by his support of the war in Iraq which I found to be quite inexplicable given his general views – after all, Hitchen was a man who wanted Heny Kissinger charged and tried for war crimes because of his involvement in the Vietnam war and Cambodian incursion. Hitchens was horrified by the fatwa imposed on his friend, Salman Rushdie, by the Ayatollah Khomenei which resulted in Rushdie having to go into hiding for years. Perhaps, Hitchens perceived that what happened to Rushdie was the direct result of Muslim fundamentalism and extremism and felt that the West needed to take a stronger stance against Muslim countries who were inclined to sponsor terrorism.

Hitchens was a brilliant writer, polemicist and provocateur. I loved reading his columns – he was incredibly articulate, had a gift when it came to expressing himself whether in writing or orally and was very blunt without regard for political correctness. He was an atheist – vocally so – and wrote a book “God is not great” which was really a play on Muslim proclamations of “Allah u Akbar” which literally means “God is great”. He was deeply critical of phoney evangelists – and religious leaders of other faiths – who would proclaim piety at the very same time that they showed little compassion or tolerance for those with whom he disagreed.

A perfect illustration of his bluntness and unwillingness to observe the niceties of custom was his exchanges with Sean Hannity – a right-wing talk show host – when Rev Jerry Falwell died. Hannity tried to shout him down as he often does with those he disagrees but Hitchens was not having any of it and got the better of him as he calmly addressed why he said what he did about Falwell:


Hitchens, a heavy smoker, was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus about a year ago and was touched by the numerous messages he received from Christians and others who said they would pray for his recovery – he was struck by the magnanimity of those who he had ridiculed over the years because of their faith. He expressed his gratitude but never wavered to the very end in his atheistic beliefs.

Steve Jobs, on the other hand, while not known for being vocal about his faith was confirmed as a Lutheran but during his hippie days he visited ashrams in India during the 70′s and returned to the States as a Buddhist. This was not just a passing fancy because he was married to his wife at Yosemite National Park by Kobin Chino Otogowa, a Zen Buddhist monk. There were indirect allusions to his faith after he first became ill – especially in the address he gave at the commencement address at Stanford University.
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It was Rudyard Kipling who said that east is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet. Kipling was referring to India which was then the jewel in the British empire and Kipling, like other colonial apologists, maintained that the cultural bridge between Indians and the British could never be bridged.

This came to mind a few days ago when Kim Jong Il, the president of North Korea, died and there was a sense of shock and surprise in the US media over the public expressions of grief. There was much speculation that the grief was, at least in part, contrived and although that cannot be ruled out much of the speculation was likely because of how differently people mourn in the West versus the East. The scene below with the public grieving certainly seems over the top and one wonders to what extent it is a function of the fact Kim Jong Il was really viewed like a demi-god in his country as was his father.

This next video clip is also quite striking because it appears to be officials in North Korea making an open display of their grief on hearing the news of Kim’s death:

When I lived in Kenya I attended only one funeral – it was of a Pakistani veterinarian who had been killed after he was struck by lightning. I was about 11 years old at the time and I was struck by the wailing and crying and the beating of one’s chest by the mourners. The body in a coffin had been brought to the residence and was there on open display in the relatively small room surrounded by female mourners who were seated on the floor crying and wailing. It left an indelible impression on me – and I still have vivid recollections of the scene. A few years later when I was visiting India from England, my uncle died quite suddenly and his body was at his residence and, again, the displays of grief and mourning were public and uninhibited.

In the mid-nineties my daughters attended the funeral of their maternal grandmother in India and I recall my older daughter telling me that she was shocked and taken aback by the open and vocal displays of grief that she witnessed at the funeral. Both my daughters were brought up in the West and it was their first exposure to a funeral in India.

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I love You Tube and its endless variety of offerings. I also cordially dislike flying – everything about it infuriates me ranging from the security hassles at the airport, the less than customer friendly airline service, the cramped seating, the full flights and just about every thing that one associates with flying nowadays. I did not always feel this way about flying – there was a time in the eighties when I flew several days a week as part of my job. It was a different era then and many of the frustrations associated with flying today were not there then or to the extent they were, it was relatively minimal and infrequent.

So when I came upon a news item that I totally missed at the time, which showed how one individual was able to get back at indifferent customer service using social media (specifically You Tube) , it certainly caught my attention and interest!

The story is relatively simple. David Carroll, a relatively unknown Canadian country music singer and his group “Sons of Maxwell” were on a United flight from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Omaha, Nebraska and there was a change of planes at O’Hare airport in Chicago. While on board the plane at O’Hare, Carroll and other passengers noticed that guitars he and his band had checked in was literally being thrown by the baggage handlers. Carroll brought this to the attention of airline staff at Chicago but made no headway with them. When he collected his very expensive Taylor guitar he found it had broken at the neck and then began a saga to try and get United to reimburse him which got nowhere ostensibly because he had filed the claim late. He continued to pursue this with United for the next nine months and got no where. So in this internet age he used You Tube combined with his musical talents to make his point.
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TJ on November 26th, 2011

Some interesting facts and trivia about US presidents:

Eight presidents were born before the founding of the nation

Every president was born in one of only nineteen (arguably twenty) of the fifty states: these states are Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont and Virgina. The arguable one is that some believe Andrew Jackson was born in South Carolina and not North Carolina. Of the nineteen, thirteen states produced a single president – so the remaining six states produced multiple presidents. The most presidents -eight – were born in Virginia. Surprisingly, only one president – Richard Nixon was born in California – despite California’s size, economy and influence.

Eleven presidents – the largest number – were Episcopalian. The next largest group of presidents were Presbyterian. There was only one Roman Catholic – JFK.

Only fifteen presidents DID NOT preside over a war or other hostilities involving US troops. In other words, twenty nine presidents presided over a war or wars while in office – in some instances it may have been a war that started with a predecessor. Jimmy Carter was the last president not to be involved in any war or hostility. Clinton ordered action involving US troops to stop the massacre of Muslims in Kosovo and Bosnia. Reagan ordered military strikes/intervention against Libya, Grenada and Lebanon. His administration was actively involved in providing military assistance against the Sandanistas in Nicaragua. Both Bushes went to war with Iraq and George W also took military action against Afghanistan. Obama inherited the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and also intervened militarily in Libya.

Nineteen presidents had been the governor of a state prior to becoming president

Twenty three presidents were lawyers and eight were former teachers

Fourteen presidents had previously served as vice presidents

The only president not elected to that office nor elected as vice president was Gerald Ford who was appointed VP and succeeded Nixon upon his resignation. Nixon was the only president to ever resign from office.

Nine vice presidents became president as a result of the death or resignation of a president

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Spelling bees are fascinating and puzzling. The former because it is a pleasure to see young children being successfully tutored to a point that they are able to spell the most esoteric words which most people have never heard before and certainly few would use in either oral or written communication. It is the limited value in learning these rarely used words that makes the whole competition puzzling – these kids, their parents and tutors must spend endless hours and perhaps money trying to master these words. It reminds me of the old joke by Billy Connolly: “I don’t know why I should have to learn Algebra… I’m never likely to go there.” But Algebra will be more likely to be useful than most of these rarely used words. But, nonetheless, spelling bees are fun and one cannot but help admire the dedication of these kids in getting to a point where they compete in a national competition like the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Spelling bees are thought to have originated in the US though today these competions are held in various countries including the UK, Australia, Mexico, India, Canada and other countries. The first winner of an official spelling bee occurred in 1925 when Frank Neuhauser, then 11 years old, won the 1st National Spelling Bee, in Washington DC. The 9 finalists were invited to meet Calvin Coolidge at the White House, a tradition followed by presidents for most of the ensuing years of the contest.

In recent years, the national spelling bee held in the US has included contestants from other countries including Canada, the Caribbean and New Zealand.

For some reason I am not able to fathom Indian-American (South Asian) children have won the championship in seven of the last twelve years. This is all the more remarkable when one considers that South Asians represent less than 5% if the US population.

Although these spelling bees are pretty serious events with a lot of tension especially for the contestants they occasionally result in some quite humorous and unusual situations.

For example, here 2008 Scripps’ National Spelling Bee champion Sameer Mishra initially misheard the word and thought it was a word that suggested a less than edifying meaning! His relief when he realized what the word really was is apparent and hilarious.


In this next clip, Kennyi Aouad is given a word he has obviously never heard before and cannot control his amusement at the very word!


Andrew Lay of North Carolina is asked to spell a word that sounds like “niggas” – a word that is definitely not politically correct to say especially on a nationally televised forum. He asks for the meaning of the word and that does not help – in fact, it seems to confirm his fear that the word is just what he does not want to say. He finally spells it like it is pronounced and to his amazement and relief it turns out that he got it correct.

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TJ on November 10th, 2011

I am a political junkie and have been one since I was a teenager in Kenya during the height of the independence movement in that country. To give you a sense of how much of a political junkie I was even then, I attended a political gathering with my parents being addressed by Tom Mboya and Mwai Kibaki at a time when the release of Jomo Kenyatta was being sought from detention. ,After the speeches were over and hundreds of people were awaiting the departure of Mboya and Kibaki, I got around the police cordons and entered the building where Mboya and Kibaki were drinking tea after their speeches. I recall class mates of mine yelling out to me as I got through police cordon to get back but it did not stop me. What was my motivation? It was a time when I used to collect autographs and I wanted to get an autograph of Mboya. In the process I actually got two autographs of Mboya and one of Kibaki. I still have the autographs I collected that day around 1960! I was a rather precocious teenager. Kenyatta later became the first president of an independent Kenya, Mboya was a cabinet minister in Kenyatta’s government and was assassinated in circumstances that some feel was orchestrated by Kenyatta’s supporters who viewed Mboya as a threat and Kibaki went on to become the president of Kenya.

All of the above is to illustrate my interest in politics which continued when I moved to England for my higher studies, the stint I spent in India in 1970 and after I came to the US in 1971. I avidly follow debates that are part of the nomination process for president and then when the nominees have been selected, I follow the presidential debates.

Debates for the nomination and the presidency usually follow a fairly scripted format where there are few surprises. They therefore usually don’t have any game changing moments but once in a while something happens which becomes a decisive turning point in the process. Which brings me to yesterday’s debate to select the Republican nominee to run against Barack Obama – a debate that had precisely one of those moments which will doubtless be an instance of such a “game changer”.

Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, who upon his entry into the race for the nomination was viewed as a favorite among conservatives was discussing various ways of cutting federal expenses and he literally experienced a “brain freeze” and could not name one of the agencies he said was part of the plan. Of itself, it would likely not have been a disaster but coming as it did on top of several rather poor performances in prior debates, the video of his flubbing the answer went viral on Youtube and most pundits think that his chances of becoming the nominee are pretty much doomed. Here is the video of Perry’s gaffe:

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TJ on October 30th, 2011

I am not an Anglophile …….. in fact, I probably have something of a bias against things one associates with the English. My attitude is largely because of the time I spent in the the UK as a student in the sixties when discrimination against anyone who was not white was rife in just about evey facet of life including employment, housing and social acceptance. Things have changed today in the UK – admittedly there is still some discrimination though it is not the sort of blatant bigotry that one saw in the sixties.

I have always been somewhat puzzled by the average American’s fascination and admiration of all things British from the accent to the Royal family and various trappings associated with the pageantry that typifies English ceremonies. It is all the more ironical since the British tend to be quite condescending to most things American – of course, the British who emigrate to the US often choose to live here permanently even as they put down Americans and talk longingly about the wonderful life they left behind in the UK!

Given all of the above, my fascination with some facets of British history is a contradiction of sorts. I cannot explain it other than perhaps attributing it to the fact that history was one of my favorite subjects when I was in high school in Kenya at a time when it was still a colony of Britain. The curriculum was very much oriented to British history and the perspective was very much from a British standpoint at a time when they still were very much a colonial power. In high school we were exposed to only a minimal extent to Indian history or the history of any other country for that matter. To the extent that there was exposure to the history of other countries it was because the British were involved in those countries!

My primary interest is in British history during the Tudor era and especially Henry VIII and Elizabeth I – I have minimal interest in today’s royal family and I find it an irritant how Americans seem to revel in things associated with British royalty whether it be the soap opera with Diana and more recently with William and Kate and even the goings on about Pippa – Kate’s sister who has little going for her other than being William’s sister-in-law!

I bring this up because the past few days I have been watching the series “The Tudors” that aired on Showtime a couple of years ago. In years gone by, I have watched related movies or TV programs such as the “The Six Wives of Heny VIII”, “Anne of the Thousand Days” that I first saw in New Delhi in 1971 and the brilliant “A Man for all Seasons” which focused on the life of Thomas More and his ill-fated opposition to Heny VIII’s divorce of Katherine of Aragon. I have also enjoyed the various presentations about Elizabeth I.

I find Henry VIII a fascinating character. He was larger than life, very athletic and lived life to the fullest. He succeeded to the crown at a time when his position had not been consolidated fully and, given the times he lived in, the notion that Britain could be ruled by a woman was something that he could not envisage – and who can blame him. It was a different era and to compare the role of a woman today with what it was in the 16th century is absurd. Of course the irony is that his daughter, Elizabeth I, ended up being one of the great monarchs in British history!

I find the dynamics of that time with the political rivalries between the monarch of Britain, France and Spain fascinating – and the fleeting loyalties that existed when it came to alliances. Then we have the role of the Pope which was almost entirely geared to the repercussions that would result to the papacy if he offended any of the monarchs. Henry’s annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon by the Pope would likely have gone through without a hitch had it not been for the control that Spanish monarch, who was related to Katherine, exercised over the Pope.

The hapless Katherine, loved by the English people, and who loved her husband despite his many infidelities and flaws could not save herself from her fate because she did not produce a male heir and was past child-bearing age. She viewed Henry’s many mistresses as just passing passions which would come and go …… and she was right until it came to Anne Boleyn. Katherine viewed Anne as just another passing fancy that Henry would tire of like he did with numerous other women.

Anne Boleyn is perhaps the most fascinating of Henry’s wives She has been played by several actresses but one of the most memorable is the performance of Genevieve Bujold in that role in “Anne of the Thousand Days”. She won the Golden Globe award for Best Actress and was nominated for an Academy award for Best Actress. My favorite scene in which she appears is the one below. By way of introduction to the scene, Anne has been imprisioned in the Tower of London and is awaiting trial on multiple charges including trumped up charges of infidelity and if found guilty she would be executed. Henry, played by Richard Burton, unexpectedly visits her at the Tower.


Just for the record, the historians do not believe that Henry ever visited Anne after she was imprisioned at the Tower. So there is some dramatic license taken in the scene above intended to show Anne’s feisty nature and her strong personality.

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