It has been months since I updated this blog so our visit to the Holy Land seems a good reason to restart the blog. We returned earlier this morning from our tour and I will try and capture the salient parts both in terms of our visit to the religious sites as well as other thoughts and observations. There is too much to cover in one single posting so I will break it out over multiple postings.

A visit to the Holy Land is something that I have wanted to do for the best part of a decade. For one reason or another it never came to fruition until this year. The Achen who led the visit for our group – as well as some of the other participants – said that a visit to the Holy Land is something that happens when God deems the timing to be right because the best laid plans don’t seem to work according to schedule. Perhaps, that is the reason why we did not make it until this year. In any event, having Achen there to lead the group made a world of a difference in our appreciation of the holy sites visited and therefore any delay in the timing of our visit worked out for the best. I feel confident that had we gone with some other group – and there are many such groups that make these visits to the Holy Land from Kerala – the benefits derived from Achen’s vast experience would have been missed.

The Achen who lead the group was Rev. Sleeba Kattumangattu Cor Episcopa – Sleeba Achen as many in the group referred to him. The “Cor Episcopa” title is one step below a bishop of the church. It was originally meant as a “village bishop” but today the title is more an honorary one that recognizes exceptional contributions to the church and/or community.

Sleeba Achen

His organization has conducted over 1000 such tours in a span of twenty years or so with almost weekly tours occurring at the present time. He obviously does not participate in all such tours and therefore being part of a tour which he leads is a big plus. He has made it his life’s mission to organize and occasionally to lead these pilgrimages to the Holy Land. I was introduced to him by my cousin Joychayen (TP George) who had gone for the very same tour in October with his wife, Chellammakochamma and came away with a very positive experience.

Achen’s leadership style is quite low key and he provides a lot of useful information with humor and a personal knowledge of the various sites visited. Read the rest of this entry »

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We will be listing our house for sale in the next month and as anyone who has been through the process knows a series of tedious and time-consuming steps are involved in readying the house for sale to optimize its value and saleability. We have been busy having the house painted, giving away tons of stuff to charity and to people who wanted it – all in an effort to declutter the house. Our hardwood floors although basically in good condition looked rather dull after years of use so I wanted to find a way to “revive” its appearance. I did an extensive amount of research and made numerous inquiries into inexpensive options that would produce the desired results and most hardwood floor contractors made a concerted effort to steer me into spending a lot of money!

One of the sites I came across described the process we followed exactly as stated in the title to this post. It is a process called “screen and recoat” which is the least expensive option when it comes to giving a new lease of life to an existing hardwood floor ……. and it is an option that most hardwood floor vendors and service companies will not even mention because, presumably, it is not as lucrative for them as some of the more expensive options which they try and promote. “Screen and recoat” in essence involves removing any polyurethane that is left on the floor and recoating it with a couple of coats of new polyurethane! It produces a hardwood floor that looks like new! One does not replace any of the existing hardwood floor or do any restaining. It is very different than refinishing the hardwood floor which entails sanding out all the existing stain and then restaining it. Screen and recoat is what we did on about 1600 square feet of hardwood flooring and the results are spectacular ….. and it was done inexpensively.

Screening the floor

Frankly, it is something that someone with decent DIY skills can do oneself but I chose to use an experienced floor guy who was in business for himself who offered me an exceptional price. It took him all of 10 hours – 5 hours the first day when they (he and a helper) moved all of the furniture to one of the rooms. He then proceeded to screen and recoat approximately 1300 sq feet of hardwood flooring. They left and returned the next morning when another coat of poly was applied after light screening of the floor that already had first coat of poly from the previous day.

Recoating the floor with polyurethane

They then returned this morning and moved the furniture back to the rooms that had been completed and proceeded to screen and recoat the one room that had been used to “store” all the furniture in the remaining rooms when they were being worked on. Two coats of poly on the floor of that room and they were done. We said we would return the furniture to that one room the following day.

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TJ on February 28th, 2013

Last weekend, my grandson DJ, came over to spend the afternoon. After a while he asked if I had any funny DVD of TV programs to watch. I told him I had the whole series of “All in the Family” on DVD but I did not think he would find it interesting since although it was a hugely successful program over 40 years ago, it would be a bit dated for a teenager. Surprisingly he seemed to enjoy it but more relevant to this posting was his shock at the things that were said routinely during the program especially by Archie Bunker that today would be deemed politically incorrect and would cause a huge controversy. It just goes on to show how much things have changed today as compared to a few decades ago.

“All in the Family” was based on a British program, “Till Death do us Part” which was one of my favorite programs when I lived in the UK in the sixties. In that program, Alf Garnett played the part of a bigot who made the most irrational arguments. He made a ground-breaking move when he used the world “bloody” on TV – a word that was viewed as an obscenity at the time.

In the case of “All in the Family”, Archie Bunker played by Carroll O’Connor was also a bigot who said the most outrageous things but in an almost endearing way – it was his absurdity that neutralized the bigotry he displayed. O’Connor in real life was actually very liberal in his views though one would never suspect this based on the convincing job that he did on the program as a bigot. Bunker had a not too bright wife who he routinely treated rudely and called her a “ding-bat”. He had a daughter who was a hippy and a son-in-law whose views were completely liberal – Bunker referred to him as a “meat-head”. Despite all of his bigotry, he was quite endearing since his bigotry was not venomous and was usually quite ridiculous especially in terms of some of his pronouncements.

He routinely referred to his son-in-law as a “Pollock”, made racist comments against blacks, against women, referred to gays as “faggots” or “fruitcakes”, promoted stereo-types about Jews, etc. He used racial slurs without the slightest hesitation or inhibition and said the most inappropriate things without realizing it. Here is an example of Archie Bunker in action where he is called to give a eulogy for his friend, Stretch Cunningham, but does not realize that he was Jewish until he arrived at the wake. It is hilarious!

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The sad thing is that a program like “All in the Family” would never be allowed to air in today’s politically correct atmosphere because there would be a huge outcry against the type of humor that was part of that sit-com.

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It has been forty years since Idi Amin expelled all the Asians living in Uganda. Some of those who were expelled were born and brought up in Uganda – they were Ugandan citizens – and did not know have a sense of belonging to any other country. The trauma and upheaval experienced by these Asians are heart-wrenching in many cases but what is remarkable is the success that many have achieved in the countries that received them.

What happened to the Indians in Uganda cannot accurately be described as a “pogrom” since that word connotes a massacre or organized violence against an ethnic group. This did not happen for the most part ….. but what did happen was a government sanctioned expulsion of an ethnic group for no other reason than the fact that they belonged to that group. It was indiscriminate and failure to comply with the expulsion order would have resulted in dire consequences – a warning that was specifically communicated by the Ugandan government. In the process, the possessions of those expelled were confiscated with no compensation.

Many of the Indians were citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies and subsequently emigrated to the United Kingdom. Others became stateless after being stripped of Ugandan citizenship. Most of the Ugandan Indians, who were accounted for, went to Britain, which took around 27,200. 6,000 went to Canada, 4,500 ended up in India and 2,500 went to nearby Kenya. Malawi, Pakistan, West Germany and the United States took 1,000 each with smaller numbers emigrating to Australia, Austria, Sweden, Mauritius and New Zealand. About 20,000 were unaccounted for.

Reasons given for Amin’s action in expelling the Indians ranged from his having a dream in which God told him to do so to attempting to gain popularity with African inhabitants in Uganda by demonizing Indians who were viewed as being exploitative and viewing Africans in Uganda as being inferior. There have also been suggestions that Amin was spurned by an Indian woman who refused to marry him and others have suggested that he was mentally unbalanced. Whatever the reason or combination of reasons, the reality is that tens of thousands of Indians were literally thrown out of Uganda – for many of whom it was the only country they had ever known – with just 90 days notice.

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Gender selection with a marked preference for male children has been a major problem in India and some other countries. It has resulted in severely skewed male/female ratios in some parts of India with major repercussions as a shortage in the number of eligible young females has caused social unrest in these locations and the need to find eligible young women from other parts of India where the ratios are not as skewed.

The graphic below shows the extent to which these ratios are skewed because of gender selection which occurs mainly through the abortion of female fetuses. It shows the worst offenders among states in India where the greatest distortions are occurring in the number of female to male children aged up to six years.

Male to Female Ratio in 2001 and 2011

The Indian government passed legislation making gender selection illegal but from a practical standpoint it has had limited effect. So the problem continues to wreak havoc in the social fabric especially in some parts of North India. The normal ratio of male to female births is 105 males to 100 females and interestingly in the states of Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, the ratio of births is at the normal level.

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TJ on February 24th, 2013

The title of this posting was the headline of an article in an Indian publication. Indians have a reputation for being frugal or thrifty …. though some would describe them as being cheap.

Perhaps some of the explanation is because of the absence of any social safety net in India which causes people to feel the need to save and invest money for the proverbial rainy day. I know my father was quite disapproving of my more profligate days when I was single and a lot younger when saving money was a low priority. He, on the other hand, graduated from college about the time of the Great Depression and went through a difficult time finding a job in India. It left an indelible mark on him and having go to Kenya for gainful employment because there were not opportunities for him in India made him even more aware of the need to save money.

An article in the New York Times captured the essence of frugality among Indians. An excerpt:

“India is to frugality as Bethlehem is to Jesus. But in recent years, the megacorporations of the West, not content to foment irresponsibility at home, sent pinstriped missionaries here to nudge genetically predisposed savers to spend.

Citibank sprinkled a borrowing-wary nation with small loans for motorcycles: Live a little! Visa peddled plastic to lovers of gold: Let your hair down!

Millions of Indians converted, but millions of others ignored them – and, for the West, luckily so. As rich countries enter a new era of scarcity, the best practices of the gurus of frugality can serve as a textbook for frugality’s new pupils.

The first tip of the Indian frugalist is to wear your money. One rarely misplaces funds when they are kept in gold and hooked through your nose or strung around your neck. Some Indian women wear saris woven with gold thread. The danger of nudity discourages whimsical spending.

The truly frugal segment friends and associates into two camps: those who merit their money and those who don’t.

Cellphone calls may cost a cent a minute in India, but why call people who only rate a text? Why text when you can make a “missed call”? Millions of Indians dial and quickly hang up, hoping for the other person to call back and foot the bill.

Your upholstery is not for everyone. Sofas fray and stain; there is, in the final analysis, a cost per posterior. So cover your sofa with bed sheets and remove them for only the best behinds.

So, too, with crockery: Buy a set of expensive plates and keep it in a case where your friends can see them while they eat from the cheap plates you actually set before them.

When eating out, order soups fractionally: a certain number of soups split by a certain number of people. Start with “one into two,” the realm of Indian beginners, then graduate in time to “three into five” and “six into seven.”

For entrees, count the diners at the table, subtract one and order that many dishes – which, for a table of four, saves 25 percent over the one-person-one-dish norm.”

There are lots of jokes about Indians and some other Asian and Middle Eastern cultures who are also viewed as being thrifty. In fact, Indian and other Asian children who are brought up in the West often make jokes about their parents frugality! But Indians usually take pride in their frugality and view it as being an indication of their shrewdness.

Russell Peters, a well known Canadian comedian of Anglo Indian origin, brings out the frugality as well as other traits, of Indians very effectively. He is also quite perceptive about other ethnic groups and races. He says:

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TJ on January 31st, 2013

“The true hypocrite is the one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity.” ~André Gide

Gide’s observation came to mind in the context of Al Gore’s latest hypocrisy. The man who pontificated endlessly about the hazards of global warming and the need for the world to act responsibly in terms of the environmental impact of fossil fuels is now just another hypocrite!

Gore was a visionary when it came to his early warnings about global warming and climate change. He was way ahead of the times. Sadly, like many other public figures there is a huge chasm between his convictions and sermonizing and what he has done in practice.

I used to give Gore the benefit of the doubt when it came to some of his more questionable actions but his latest move to sell Current TV to Al Jazeera has caused me to conclude that Gore is just another self-serving hypocrite. He is really no different than some right-wing politicians who preach endlessly and self-righteously about the importance of “family values” and then express their regrets when it comes out that they have been less than stellar about their own personal lives.

Criticism of Gore’s double standards is nothing new. After he lost the 2000 presidential election, he built a mansion, [20-room, eight-bathroom] located in the upscale Belle Meade area of Nashville, TN – a house that consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year, according to the Nashville Electric Service (NES).

Yes, there are those who defend Gore by citing the buying of carbon credits as a mitigating factor but it still does not change the reality that his consumption of electricity is many multiples of what the average American consumes. Of course, this would not matter if Gore were not pontificating endlessly that Americans need to conserve energy and reduce their carbon footprint.

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TJ on January 30th, 2013

I grew up at a time when men were not supposed to cry …… and certainly not to do so in a public setting. It really was somewhat absurd because the expectation was that it was not “manly” to show such emotions and the thing to do was to repress them. Perhaps it was British influence …… what with the “stiff upper lip” and all!

Even as recently as the 70s’ a man displaying such emotion was viewed negatively. The Democratic candidate for president in the 1972 election, Edward Muskie, was leading in the race against the incumbent Richard Nixon whose popularity was impacted by the war in Vietnam and an economy that was in a downswing. But after the Manchester Union Leader, a leading newspaper in New Hampshire attacked Muskie’s wife, he made an emotional speech in her defense. It was widely reported that Muskie had cried although he said that it was actually snow flakes that had melted on his face giving the appearance of tears. But that single event doomed his candidacy because his tears shattered his image as being calm and reasoned!

Well, things have changed a great deal in the US and male politicians as well as other celebrities give vent to their emotions and choke or even break down and it is not held against them. In fact, it is even perceived as a positive because it is seen as someone who is sensitive and empathetic.

Perhaps the politician who is best known for such displays of emotion is the current Speaker of the House, John Boehner, who seems to cry at the drop of a hat. This is him in a 60 minutes interview:

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But more recently Obama choked up and had to stop his speech as he commented on the death of 20 school children at Sandy Hook in Connecticut – it was a rare moment of emotion for him:

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This has extended to other public figures. Here is a very controlled Walter Cronkite announcing the death of John Kennedy:

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In contrast, Dan Rather, a consummate professional who took over the anchor position from Cronkite broke down and cried on the David Letterman show after 9/11.

Of course men crying is not limited to politicians and anchors, one sees it in other fields whether it is the televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, crying before his congregation asking for forgiveness after he was caught with a prostitute.

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Incidentally, in 1991 about three years after the confession shown above, Swaggart was caught with another prostitute! On this occasion rather than confessing to his congregation, Swaggart told those at Family Worship Center that “The Lord told me it’s flat none of your business.”!!

The detractors of politicians invariably argue that the displays of emotion are fake and done merely to gain sympathy.

I don’t know how often male politicians cry in the UK. I think it is relatively infrequent compared to the US.

Ken Livingstone

There was, of course, the well known occasion when Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, who cried when he introduced his election manifesto.

I know that I was in awe at the self-control displayed by the very young William and Harry during the funeral of their mother, Diana.

For my part, I think it is healthy that it is no longer viewed as being a negative for a politician or other men to show emotion like any normal person would under certain circumstances.

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TJ on January 29th, 2013

My family knows that I have a proclivity for pranks. In fact, there is a sense of puzzlement among some within the family as to why a man in his mid-sixties is amused by such frivolity. I don’t have an explanation for this. I have loved shows like “Candid Camera” and more modern equivalents that have taken the place of that show.

Anyone who lives in the US knows that one of the irritations that one has to put up with is telemarketers who call, often at the most inconvenient times. In days gone by, this used to happen frequently but after legislation which allowed the registration of one’s phone number on a “do not call” list, telemarketing calls are far less of a nuisance though the legislation exempted calls from charities and from political parties and candidates running for office.

Tom Mabe decided to deal with one of these telemarketers in a manner that was a combination of creativeness and intimidation. It is hilarious and entertaining:

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The next one is a radio prank call which appears to have taken place in South Africa and is fairly harmless but amusing. It is a phone call to a BMW dealership complaining about the quality of a BMW vehicle.

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Of course, there is the tragic instance of a prank call to a nurse at the hospital where Kate Middleton was admitted which resulted in the suicide of the nurse. So prank calls can go wrong and I am certainly mindful of the downside of such calls.

British humor at its best is formidable for its dry wit. Perhaps because I lived in Britain for several years, I probably have a greater appreciation for British humor than most Americans.

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TJ on January 28th, 2013

Tony Blair in an address to British ambassadors who had congregated in London said:

“A simple way to take measure of a country is to look at how many want in.. And how many want out.”

Blair was not the first person to make such a remark about the attraction that the US holds for millions of people all over the world. George Will, the political commentator, in 1992 said something similar regarding how the US is a magnet for people all over the world.

Blair who clearly had an admiration for the US and Americans when he addressed Congress in 2003 said:

“But, members of Congress, don’t ever apologize for your values.

Tell the world why you’re proud of America. Tell them when the Star-Spangled Banner starts, Americans get to their feet, Hispanics, Irish, Italians, Central Europeans, East Europeans, Jews, Muslims, white, Asian, black, those who go back to the early settlers and those whose English is the same as some New York cab drivers I’ve dealt with, but whose sons and daughters could run for this Congress.

Tell them why Americans, one and all, stand upright and respectful. Not because some state official told them to, but because whatever race, color, class or creed they are, being American means being free. That’s why they’re proud.”

For those not born in the US, there is a pathway to citizenship for immigrants ……. and most immigrants to the US when they become citizens find themselves almost emotional about the experience. My younger brother when he became a citizen, visited us with his wife on the way back from the ceremony. He said he wanted to come over out of sense of gratitude and obligation since I was the one who sponsored him and his family and enabled them to come to the US as immigrants.

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Video of immigrants becoming US citizens

All of this came to mind today when there was a report on the national news that the Chinese were increasingly using the “anchor baby” provision in the US constitution to give birth to children in the US. Until now having anchor babies was very much a Central American phenomenon and mothers, especially from Mexico, would come to the US, often illegally, to give birth to their children in the US. In so doing, the child becomes a US citizen and has the right to enter the US at any time in the future.

The fact that this happens among Central Americans is understandable given the economic disparities between those nations and the US but the fact that the Chinese are doing the same thing is remarkable considering the widely held view that the Chinese economy will equal or surpass that of the US in the next 50 years. The Chinese coming to give birth to their children in the US is a more recent phenomenon and it is the more affluent Chinese who are doing this.

It is a perfectly legal arrangement because the parents come as tourists, give birth to the baby here and after obtaining a birth certificate they return to China!

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TJ on January 27th, 2013

I just love this story!

“Bob” – his full/real name is not known – worked for Verizon as a software developer/programmer drawing a six figure salary and came up with a creative idea. We all know of companies who outsource their work to India and China to save money. Bob decided to take things one step further: he outsourced his own job to China without the knowledge of his employer!

The software developer, who is in his 40s’ paid a Chinese firm about a fifth of his six-figure compensation to do his job for him while he spent his working days surfing the internet.

Bob’s creative use of personal outsourcing emerged via a blog by an computer forensic investigator at Verizon. The investigator, Andrew Valentine claimed that his company had been contacted by another US-based firm, whom he does not name, who feared their systems were being hacked after noticing that someone in Shenyang, China was accessing the system.

Mr Valentine said it became apparent upon investigation that one of the company’s employees had outsourced his own job, paying a Chinese firm approximately $50,000 from his salary to write computer programs on his behalf. Bob is described by Mr Valentine as “inoffensive and quiet someone you wouldn’t look at twice in an elevator”. He would then spend his day browsing the internet, looking at sites such as YouTube, Reddit, eBay and Facebook before sending his superiors a daily status report and going home.

According to Mr Valentine: “Authentication was no problem. He physically FedExed his RSA [security] token to China so that the third-party contractor could log-in under his credentials. It would appear that he was working an average nine-to-five work day.”

He added: “Evidence even suggested he had the same scam going across multiple companies in the area. All told, it looked like he earned several hundred thousand dollars a year, and only had to pay the Chinese consulting firm about fifty grand annually.”

Mr Valentine said that the employee, who no longer works for the company, had even been praised for ‘his’ work.
“Investigators had the opportunity to read through his performance reviews while working alongside HR. “For the last several years in a row he received excellent remarks. His code was clean, well written, and submitted in a timely fashion. Quarter after quarter, his performance review noted him as the best developer in the building.”

A spokesman for Verizon confirmed that the story was true, but declined to provide further details. However there are reports that the following was Bob’s typical workday:

9:00 a.m. – Arrive and surf Reddit for a couple of hours. Watch cat videos
11:30 a.m. – Take lunch
1:00 p.m. – Ebay time.
2:00 – ish p.m Facebook updates – LinkedIn
4:30 p.m. – End of day update e-mail to management.
5:00 p.m. – Go home

Reports are that the other companies that Bob worked for have chosen not to publicize what happened because they are embarrassed by what transpired.

What is also interesting is the comments that were generated by this whole story. There were those that made reference to the security risks for Verizon and other companies as a result of the Chinese having access to Bob’s user id and password. Others commented on Bob’s ethics and honesty.

But there were many more like these:

“He sounds like an excellent manager to me –
1. His ‘team’ delivered what was required.
2. As a developer himself he understood what his ‘team’ were doing.
3. He found things to occupy his time rather than get in the way of the workers.
4. He kept his manager informed of progress so he wouldn’t bother them.
And the dolts sacked him”

“In a capitalist society this initiative must rate five stars. What is the fuss about, recently a CEO of one of Americas largest companies who have been avoiding paying millions of dollars tax said that it was just capitalism at work and was OK. So anything goes. How many companies out source their work to China and others without any real issues. The question is why has this guy made the news and also, presumably lost his contract.”

“Surely that guy has to be promoted to manage a division that outsources sw dev to China. It’s the thing he is obviously very good at.”

“So he managed a multi project setup, are able to communicate the requirements to remote “team members”, deals with different time zone, deliver in time, with good quality … Sounds like he was just in the wrong position.”

“Let me get this straight. When companies outsource employees, that’s just good management, but when employees outsource their companies, that’s bad? Bob deserves a raise, a promotion and a speaking tour for how to improve you personal profits.”

This cartoon strip summarizes the comments of those who are complimentary of Bob … courtesy of

The thought that passed my mind is as to how many other programmers are doing the same thing without being caught …… and how many others might consider doing this given the potential rewards especially if they take the necessary precautions to minimize the risk of being caught.

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I have been down with a prolonged bout of the flu and so I have not kept up with the blog. I hope to make up for this over the next few days given that there is a plethora of subjects I have wanted to comment about.

But this post has little to do with my recent illness except in a very peripheral way – despite the post prior to this one also focusing on aspects of the same subject by Khushwant Singh.

Over the past several years I have been involved in discussions with peers and family about aging and the ramifications of doing so ranging from medical care, assisted living, family support, etc. These discussions have been quite casual and more in the nature of intellectual discourse and less to do with one’s personal situation.
One of my relatives, Sareena, with whom I have exchanged thoughts on this subject recently sent me the link to an excellent article which expresses in a profound and insightful way the whole issue of aging and how it has affected the writer of the article. It was a thoughtful and well-written article and brought to mind the challenges that my own parents faced towards the end of their lives. I will comment more on these aspects as it has affected my own family in future posts but for the time being I’d live to quote verbatim that above-mentioned article, written by Tim Kreider and titled “You are going to die”, that appeared in the New York Times recently.

“My sister and I recently toured the retirement community where my mother has announced she’ll be moving. I have been in some bleak clinical facilities for the elderly where not one person was compos mentis and I had to politely suppress the urge to flee, but this was nothing like that. It was a very cushy modern complex housed in what used to be a seminary, with individual condominiums with big kitchens and sun rooms, equipped with fancy restaurants, grills and snack bars, a fitness center, a concert hall, a library, an art room, a couple of beauty salons, a bank and an ornate chapel of Italian marble. You could walk from any building in the complex to another without ever going outside, through underground corridors and glass-enclosed walkways through the woods. Mom described it as “like a college dorm, except the boys aren’t as good-looking.” Nonetheless I spent much of my day trying not to cry.

You are older at this moment than you’ve ever been before, and it’s the youngest you’re ever going to get.
At all times of major life crisis, friends and family will crowd around and press upon you the false emotions appropriate to the occasion. “That’s so great!” everyone said of my mother’s decision to move to an assisted-living facility. “It’s really impressive that she decided to do that herself.” They cited their own stories of 90-year-old parents grimly clinging to drafty dilapidated houses, refusing to move until forced out by strokes or broken hips. “You should be really relieved and grateful.” “She’ll be much happier there.” The overbearing unanimity of this chorus suggests to me that its real purpose is less to reassure than to suppress, to deny the most obvious and natural emotion that attends this occasion, which is sadness.
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TJ on November 30th, 2012

I am within spitting distance of reaching 67 years and although I don’t by any means obsess about aging, there are articles and discussions about aging that catch my attention in a way it would not have done a decade ago. It is in this context that a recent excerpt from Khushwant Singh’s latest book made for interesting reading and those of us who are seniors can relate to some or all of what he writes.

Khushwant Singh

I have always enjoyed reading Khushwant Singh’s writing – a combination of the thoughtful, the irreverent, the insightful and, occasionally, the vulgar. He has been a controversial figure over the years but even his detractors acknowledge his talent.

This is an excerpt from his latest book. Although he is in his late nineties, his mind is as sharp as ever:

“By the time this book is published, I will be ninety-seven. I am a very old man. And there is one eternal truth I can tell you right away: Old age is not pleasant; it buggers up your life. I am not yet senile, but my memory, of which I was very proud, is failing. Though I can still read, my hands shake so much that it is difficult to write anything legible. I have been spared the indignity of shitting in bed pans and having nurses wipe my bottom, but I often need assistance to get to the toilet. I am on more pills than I can count. In short, my body is giving up. It is time to say alvida and depart…

But I should not complain. I have lived a reasonably contented life, and it will be easy to go. Sometimes, however, I wish I knew where to. I am not a man of faith. Since I do not believe in paradise or the possibility of rebirth, I have no idea where I will be after I die. It is like staring into an endless dark void…
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TJ on November 30th, 2012

Some thoughts regarding the recent presidential election:

The saying “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 20, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative when you’re 40, you have no head” is widely and wrongly ascribed to Winston Churchill. In actual fact, the phrase originated with Francois Guisot, a French statesman who was born in the 18th century, who said: “Not to be a republican at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head.” It was later revived by French Premier Georges Clemenceau who said: “Not to be a socialist at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head”.

This thought came to mind repeatedly in the context of the last presidential election. I voted for Obama in 2008 but seriously considered voting for Mitt Romney in 2012 because I felt that Obama really did not deserve reelection. I felt that Romney would be an effective and competent leader when it came to the economy and despite his right wing slant during the primaries on social issues, I felt that his overall track record was that of a right of center moderate. I finally decided against voting for him because Romney like most presidential candidates lacks foreign policy experience which should not be held against him ……. but the difference was that most of Romney’s foreign policy advisers were the same neo-cons who advised George W Bush (also a foreign policy neophyte) and were the catalyst for his disastrous decisions when it came to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama won the election because of overwhelming support from African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans. He also had more support when it came to voters under the age of 40 years. Obama got 93 percent of black voters (representing 13 percent of the electorate), 71 percent of Latinos (representing 10 percent), and 60 percent of young voters. He also won the female vote, getting 53 percent of women voters. However, Obama won only 39% of the white vote and men favored Romney over Obama as did older white people and the wealthy.

To illustrate the impact of demographic changes in the US over the past 20 years, it is worth noting that the percentage of the white vote that Romney received was about the same as received by George HW Bush in 1988 against Michael Dukakis ………. and Bush won that election by a landslide!

Shown below is an interesting graphic of the share of vote that Romney received among different demographic groups:

Demographic share of votes for Romney

My own views are decidedly liberal when it comes to social issues but despite these leanings, I do agree with conservatives who say that the US is becoming increasingly a “nanny state”. It is stunning that almost half the country pays no income tax and many of those people receive welfare benefits of some sort ……and not all are legitimate recipients of welfare in terms of need. For many years I viewed the claim by the right wing that welfare was being given indiscriminately as baseless or exaggerated. But more recently, I have become aware of instances where people known to me receive welfare and it would be a stretch to say that these individuals are under-privileged or truly needy. I also agree with Republicans who say that the Democrat’s solution to all of the social ills that exist is to throw money at the problem.
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TJ on October 30th, 2012

Robert Contreras, who first commented on my blog entry regarding the crash of Pan Am 217 sent me a number of images ….. some of them quite graphic …… which were published in the Venezuela newspapers at the time of the crash.

I am including all of the images ….. the script is in Spanish but barely readable except for the headlines. They can be viewed below.

Thanks to Roger for taking the time to send me these images.

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The pastor at the church I attend said in the context of this Sunday’s lesson from the gospels that some times one sees some thing that is so disturbing or traumatic that it is impossible to “unsee” it. Within this category is one of the iconic photographs of human suffering and cruelty by human beings to their fellow humans.

In March 1993, photographer Kevin Carter made a trip to southern Sudan, where he took now iconic photo of a vulture preying upon an emaciated Sudanese toddler near the village of Ayod. Carter said he waited about 20 minutes, hoping that the vulture would spread its wings. It didn’t. Carter snapped the haunting photograph and chased the vulture away. (The parents of the girl were busy taking food from the same UN plane Carter took to Ayod).

The photograph was sold to The New York Times where it appeared for the first time on March 26, 1993 as ‘metaphor for Africa’s despair’. Practically overnight hundreds of people contacted the newspaper to ask whether the child had survived, leading the newspaper to run an unusual special editor’s note saying the girl had enough strength to walk away from the vulture, but that her ultimate fate was unknown. Journalists in the Sudan were told not to touch the famine victims, because of the risk of transmitting disease, but Carter came under criticism for not helping the girl. ”The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene,” read one editorial.

Carter eventually won the Pulitzer Prize for this photo, but he couldn’t enjoy it. “I’m really, really sorry I didn’t pick the child up,” he confided in a friend. Consumed with the violence he’d witnessed, and haunted by the questions as to the little girl’s fate, he committed suicide three months later. Of course, there were other factors that contributed to his suicide but the image that won him a Pulitzer and the toll it took on him played a part.

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TJ on September 30th, 2012

I have never met Kersi Rustomji and first came to know of him through a Yahoo group consisting of mainly Asians who are or were residents in East Africa. We both lived in Kenya until the sixties.

Kersi Rustomji

Through our common membership in the Yahoo group we occasionally exchanged private messages. We have not always agreed on various issues but Kersi has always come across to me through his communications within the group and privately as an idealist and humanitarian. His opinions are very much founded on these underlying themes. He was a teacher in Kenya and then in Australia where he currently lives.

Recently after the death of Neil Armstrong, Kersi shared with the group something that he wrote about how as a teacher he involved his students in what was then a truly momentous event. What he shared with the group was subsequently printed in at least a couple of publications. As I read Kersi’s description what struck me was how he took a fairly unconventional approach in teaching his students in the context of the event and involved them in the process. Teachers in Kenya were quite conventional and tradition bound in their methods of instruction and Kersi’s approach was refreshingly original. It is a vivid description of how the entire school was involved in the the first moon landing and a remarkable example of how a good teacher can create a “teaching moment”.

Kersi gave me his permission to post what he wrote on this blog …… and it is well worth reading:

Mtu Mwezi na Armstrong: Man Moon and Armstrong

When in 1969 Apollo 11 blasted off, it had a magical and awe inspiring effect on a group of year seven students at a village school in Likoni, on the south coast of Kenya.

Neil Armstrong

Science being one of my teaching subjects at the Likoni Primary School, we had been talking about the forthcoming, greatest voyage in the history of the human race. Much earlier I had requested NASA to send all the information and educational material on Apollo 11. The arrival of the package and viewing of the pictorial presentations, and other displays in the standard VII classroom, was the school’s great historic event, as well for the pupils and the village of Likoni.

After all the school classes had viewed the display Mtu na Mwezi, Man and Moon, a special open day was held for the parents and public in the Likoni and surrounding areas. The classroom walls displayed information written in Swahili from the NASA package, translated and with illustrations done by the class pupils. Every boy and girl in the class was abuzz with the Mtu na Mwezi exhibit, and for the two days before launch, normal class work sat on back burner, with the moon shot the only topic.

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TJ on September 29th, 2012

Those of us who live outside of India occasionally express amazement because one can go to relatively remote locations around the world and one still finds Indians who reside in those countries. In fact – and I don’t know for sure if this is accurate – I read that Indians are to be found residing, either permanently or temporarily, in just about every country in the world with the exception of North Korea! But although Indians have emigrated and have settled in so many diverse countries what is surprising is that as a percentage of India’s population the Indian diaspora is actually relatively small. It is estimated that there are approximately 25 million Indians who live outside of India!

The country with the largest diaspora spread around the world is …………….. Ireland! Someone commented on the now defunct Sepia Mutiny:

“If you really want a people who are ‘freakin’ everywhere’, the world leaders, by far, are the Irish. They are a nation of 4 million and an estimated diaspora of 150-180 million encompassing 160 nations. The Irish diaspora research, aired sometime back on the BBC, corroborates this. They called it the “Irish Empire” – a people who conquered by the world as boat people!

The Irish have a joke, and very true, that if just 5% of Irish return back to their island, the whole of Ireland would look like a Tokyo subway train at rush hour. And If 10% come back, Ireland would be sunk 200 feet beneath the sea.

In fact, the Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and even Germans are all WAY ahead of desis in this regard. And I am only talking on absolute terms, let alone relative terms.”

One could write a book about how Indians ended up in so many countries ……. the stories are fascinating. For example, Abhay Singh offered the following explanation elsewhere on the web:

“I am a 4th generation Indo-Fijian, The British took our ancestors from India to Fiji Islands some 3 hundred years ago.The first ship sailed from Calcutta to Fiji in 1776.I believe our ancestors are from Bihar. We speak a dialect close to Bhojpoori. We still and will continue to hold strong Indian values. Our women adore Indian Fashion. We are devout Hindus and great devotees of Lord Rama. Practically shun inter-race marriage, hence kept our pure blood line. Our major food is Indian food but have also fused Island food in our Diet.We enjoy Indian Music and look forward to Diwali. Most of us never been to India but we know we belong to the 2 worlds (3 for me as I have migrated to U.S). So to recap We are all Indian but with a evolved Indian lifestyle due to mingling with other races. Some parts of Fiji have heavy Napalese. We have Muslims, Gujratis, Punjabis, Madrasis, Nepalese Handful of Malayalams and some I cannot recall now. Caste system is pretty much absent. We still maintain a wonderful Gurudwara and we have plenty of Mandirs and Masjids. We are proud to be of Indian decent.”

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TJ on September 1st, 2012

These were among the first words uttered by Neil Armstrong after the Apollo 11 mission landed on the moon in 1969. He actually said: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

The recent death of Neil Armstrong brought to mind memories of that extra-ordinary year when humans first landed on the moon. It was a remarkable technological achievement and a testament to American ingenuity and determination. Just about everyone around the world followed the event closely and with bated breath. With all the news surrounding Armstrong’s death, I became aware for the first time about some facts which I suspect most people would not be familiar with.

When the shuttle Challenger exploded, it was unexpected since manned space travel had been taking place quite uneventfully for over 20 years. Peggy Noonan, the extraordinarily skilled wordsmith, wrote the speech that Ronald Reagan gave the nation after the Challenger tragedy. It is ranked by 137 scholars of American political speeches as being one of the ten best political speeches in US history! Noonan drew from the poet John Magee and Reagan ended his address with the following reference to the deceased astronauts:

“We shall never forget them nor the last time we saw them, as they prepared for their mission, waved good-bye and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.”

What is less known is that when Apollo 11 made its historic journey to the moon, HR Haldeman – Nixon’s Chief of Staff – asked William Safire, one of Nixon’s speech writers, to draft an address that Nixon would give the nation in the event Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were stranded on the moon and could not return to earth. It is difficult to imagine today that a “protocol” had been developed as to what should happen if the tragedy should befall the Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in the course of the mission. The risks involved were stupendous and Armstrong himself Armstrong rated their chances of success as no better than 50/50!

The lunar module from Apollo 11 landed on the moon on July 20th, 1969. Safire provided Haldeman a draft of what Nixon should say in the event the astronauts were stranded on July 18th – two days prior to the landing on the moon! Not only had a speech been prepared but the White House – presumably in conjunction with NASA – had planned the precise sequence of events if tragedy did strike.

Shown below are images of the actual two page memo that Safire sent Haldeman outlining the address that Nixon would give to the nation.

Draft of speech - page 1

The second page:

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TJ on August 30th, 2012

The US, like many other countries, has had a long tradition of honoring its veterans and those who have died in the line of duty. There are specific days in the US – Veterans Day and Memorial Day that are dedicated for that purpose. There are also hospitals dedicated to veterans and favorable financing available to veterans to purchase homes. After World War II, the GI Bill was introduced to offer those who served in the war to go to college – many who availed of the GI Bill were able to attain the educational qualifications to obtain gainful employment.

My son-in-law’s father, Richard Stahl Snr, died in April 2012. He was a good man – he could properly be described as the “salt of the earth”. He was an ex-serviceman who served in the US Navy years ago as a Master Chief Petty Officer. We attended the funeral/memorial service in Maryland in April and there was representation from the US Armed Forces – two active duty personnel attended the serviced and participated in some of aspects such as the ceremonial folding of the US flag that draped his coffin which was then handed to his widow, Linda Stahl.

Last week, he was buried at Arlington Cemetery – a site that is reserved only for those who served in the US armed forces. The four months that elapsed since his death is because approximately 100 burials occur each week at the cemetery. Each one of these individuals is given a burial with full military honors in accordance with their rank while they were in the armed forces. In the case of Richard Stahl the entire ceremony was brief but moving.

Coffin being taken on horse-drawn carriage

At the appointed time we drove to the “transfer point” from the Administrative building where we assembled. The transfer point is the location where the urn containing his ashes was placed in a flag draped coffin.

"Taps" being played

The coffin, in turn, was atop a horse-drawn carriage that was escorted by an additional six horses – one of them riderless and signifying a “fallen soldier” in keeping with military tradition. It was taken to the burial site where about a dozen soldiers fired a three gun salute, an army band played “America the Beautiful” and “Taps”.

Ceremonial folding of US flag

Six members of the armed forces then ceremonially folded the US flag that draped to coffin and one of them gave the folded flag to his widow.

As I witnessed the entire ceremony and saw the thousands of graves in the cemetery, I could not help but admire the US for the way the country honors all who have served in the armed forces. There are few countries in the world that make a point of so honoring every person who served in the armed forces of the country or have dedicated cemeteries for their armed forces. In part, this is because the US and a few other countries like the UK, France, Russia, Italy, Germany, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Korea and Japan have borne the most casualties in armed conflicts over the years.

Arlington Cemetery is the best known of the American cemeteries dedicated to the armed forces of the US but there are others both in the US and in other parts of the world. Of course, the best known of the graves in Arlington cemetery are those of John Kennedy and his brothers Robert and Edward as well as former president William Taft.

Wikipedia states: “More than 300,000 people have been buried in the 600 acres that make up Arlington Cemetery and 100 more are buried each week – though most are former service men and women in the armed forces. Veterans and military casualties from each of the nation’s wars are interred in the cemetery, ranging from the American Civil War through to the military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Pre-Civil War dead were reinterred after 1900. Arlington National Cemetery is divided into 70 sections, with some sections in the southeast part of the cemetery reserved for future expansion. Section 60, in the southeast part of the cemetery, is the burial ground for military personnel killed in the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan.

“In 1901, Confederate soldiers buried at the Soldiers’ Home and various locations within Arlington were reinterred in a Confederate section that was authorized by Congress in 1900…….All Confederate headstones in this section are peaked rather than rounded. More than 3,800 former slaves, called “Contrabands” during the Civil War, are buried in Section 27. Their headstones are designated with the word ‘Civilian’ or ‘Citizen’.”

There are cemeteries in other countries around the world dedicated to American servicemen. Most are located in Europe and contain the remains of American service men and women who served in the World Wars.

American Cemetery at Aisne-Marne

The following are cemeteries in France: American Cemetery at Aisne-Marne, American Cemetery at Brittany, Epinal American Cemetery, Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial, Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial, Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Oise-Aisne American Cemetery and Memorial, Rhone American Cemetery and Memorial, Somme American Cemetery and Memorial,
World War I St. Mihiel American Cemetery and Memorial and Suresnes American Cemetery and Memorial.

American cemetery in Cambridge

In England there is the Brookwood American Cemetery and the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial site.

In Belgium there is the American Cemetery at Ardennes, Flanders Field and the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial.


Italy has the World War II Sicily=Rome American Cemetery and Memorial and the Florence American Cemetery , Italy.

There is also the American Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg and the World War II Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Netherlands.

Manila American Cemetery

Outside Europe, there is the Corozal American Cemetery in Panama, the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines, the Mexico City National Cemetery in Mexico and the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial in Tunisia.

Colin Powell, a former four star general, as Secretary of State in George W Bush’s administration was questioned as to US motives and especially territorial ambitions with regard to Iraq prior to the the US invasion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January 2003

In a question-and-answer session afterwards, Powell was asked by former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey if he felt the U.S and its allies had given due consideration to the use of “soft power” — promulgating moral and democratic values as a means of achieving progress towards international peace and stability, basically — versus the “hard power” of military force.

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Sotantar Sood on August 26th, 2012

Guest post by Sotantar Sood who lived in Kenya until the mid-1960s, attended Allidina Visram High School and returned to Kenya recently after 46 years. Sotantar currently lives in Canada with his family

In February and March of 2012, my wife and I spent 2 weeks in India followed by 3 weeks in Kenya. We go to India every 1 to 2 years to visit my wife’s side of the family. On this trip, after spending 2 weeks in India, we connected to Kenya via Mumbai, on a trip which I called my “pilgrimage of nostalgia”.

This trip had been due for 46 years. After completing “A” Levels at Allidina Visram High School in Mombasa, I had left for Leeds University in 1965. I returned a year later, somehow having managed to wrangle a summer job at the Bamburi Cement Factory. Soon after, in 1967, my father’s retirement came up and my parents left to spend their retired years in India. All of a sudden, there were no family ties pulling me back to Kenya and I felt free to explore and settle anywhere in the world.

However, I was left with a treasure trove of memories to cherish for a lifetime. Mombasa somehow managed to make an appearance regularly in my dreams. Usually this was about swimming in the warm waters, or wandering through familiar streets – the scenery frozen in a time capsule of my mind. During waking hours, I would sometimes daydream about slow languid evenings by the sea, the abandoned ice-factory on Tudor Creek which was our own private retreat where me and my friends could skim stones on the water and also try to bring down mangoes from the wild mango trees. Tropical fruits like guavas, ber, victoria, treats like roasted mohogo (cassava) with chili and lime. Memories of swimming in our own isolated crushed shell beach and crystal clear warm, sea water.

Looking at Google Earth, I could visualize some of the changes that had occurred over time – but still, the excitement built when I stepped into the sunshine at Mombasa Airport – a flood of memories came rushing back, making me eager for the drive through town to our hotel in Bamburi.

View of Old Town from Nyali Bridge

Driving from the Airport through Changamwe and over the Makupa Causeway gave me the first inkling of the impact of population growth on the City and surroundings. Changamwe was all built up – not what I remembered. The Makupa roundabout was recognizable, but barely. The intersection of Ziwani Road and Makupa Road is now termed “Saba Saba”. I was born in a house just off this intersection – but it seems that the area has changed more in the last 40 years than in the previous 200 years. Going over the new Nyali bridge, one has to pass by the old Allidina grounds. It is hard to figure out from the road where the grounds used to be . Looking at Google Earth, one can see that there is still some open space where the open grounds once stood – but there are now buildings fronting on Ziwani Road.

Bamburi at sunrise

Our 5 day stay at Whitesands was pretty comfortable – though Bamburi beach is not the quiet, uncrowded place that it was during our school days. Contrary to reports, we did not get hassled by hawkers on the beach. We enjoyed the fresh mangoes, coconuts and Tusker every day – and morning jogs on the beach to get rid of the excess calories. On the following Sunday, I finally completed the main task of our visit – an excursion into town with a car and driver.

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I was made aware about a huge controversy regarding some comments that Oprah Winfrey made during the airing of a documentary about India called “India: The Next Chapter”. Most of the criticism centered around a remark that Oprah Winfrey made while dining with an Indian family when she asked quite casually: “I heard some Indian people eat with their hands still?” It was this comment that caused umbrage leading to a tirade of criticism by columnists, opinion writers and many (mostly) Indian commenters. The criticism ranged from disappointment to being offended to outright racist comments about Oprah. Perhaps it was the use of the word “still” that caused offense but to offer context to the circumstances in which Oprah made the comment it would be worth checking out the video clip about how it transpired:

YouTube Preview Image

It was this comment that launched a tirade from the likes of Rituparna Chatterjee. Chatterjee launches a diatribe that includes the following:

“Oprah, your comment about eating with the hand is really not that big a deal to us; we are used to gross Western ignorance regarding our ancient country. But as a responsible public figure about to air a show that will be beamed across the world, you should have done your homework. Using our hands to eat is a well established tradition and a fact none of us are ashamed of. Our economic distinction has nothing to do with it. A millionaire here eats the same way a pauper does. You have been to Asian nations. You should know that.

In fact, we scoff at people who try to tackle their pizzas and rotis with cutlery. In one sweeping, general statement you linked the usage of cutlery to our progress. If anything, the mockery brings out in sharper focus the underlying insecurity and the latent threat developed nations sense from third world countries such as ours. Do you say you did not mean it as an offence? It is then an abominable insensitivity to Indian hospitality.”

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Jill Breitbarth on August 18th, 2012

Guest posting contributed by Jill Breitbarth in memory of Juana Maria Martinez. Jill says: “I hope others who knew her will see this and add their own memories.”

When I was six-years-old until seven months beyond my twelfth birthday, Juanita Martinez was my other mother, my confidante, and my mentor. Her mothering was not tied up in a complex family legacy of guilt, projection, and survival at all costs: she loved me as clearly as the Caribbean water in the shallows near our home. She showed me how, even with firm tones, guidance could be a kind offering. Juanita also showed me how laughter and sympathy go hand-in-hand; how the very poor people in the barrios created communities tight and whole; and how important it is to respect one another. The love she gave me was total.

Juanita Martinez

Juanita grew up in Guigue, where, I can imagine, she cared deeply for those around her and yet looked beyond the town toward a bigger world. She came to work “for” us in Valencia as part of her journey up and out. Juanita turned her work into a communal offering as she touched each one of us and became a part or our family. We were brought closer through Juanita’s presence, even as she urged us to be and relish our separate selves. My sister, my mother, my father, and I loved her without hesitation. We all felt lucky that she wanted to be with us when we moved from Venezuela to Connecticut.

After two years, Juanita had a good hold on the United States. She enjoyed many new friends, learned English in a more rigorous way, and found someone to marry. For the first time since she had left, this very bright, funny, affianced, loving, and serious woman was returning to Venezuela to be with her family on Christmas. I watched her pack her suitcase with clothes and gifts to take to her Guigue home. I already missed her when she tickled me and reminded me to wash my hands before every meal. I was a melancholy girl who sensed the poignant very early on. That night-before moment turned out to be the one that didn’t flow into others. It is stuck in my memory, always, just this way.

When Juanita was killed on Pan Am flight 217, something stopped inside of me for many years but something also began. Her gift to me was a steadiness of love I could fully feel and pass on to others. After 44 years, “passing on” has taken a whole new meaning almost entirely because of Juanita. To this day, I sense her and hold onto her: my other mother, my mentor, and my guiding friend.



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TJ on August 17th, 2012

For the most part, I have only a passing interest in sports. During my years in Kenya and later in the UK, I was interested in cricket but that faded over the years after I moved to the US. However, I have maintained a sustained interest in the Olympics – an interest that commenced with the Melbourne games in 1956 when I lived in Kenya. It was my mother who got me interested – she, too had only a passing interest in most sports except when it came to the Olympics. I recall talking to her about Roger Bannister breaking the four minute barrier in the mile for the first time in history! It was a momentous event at the time, even though it occurred in 1954 before the Melbourne Olympics.

Over the years there have been many memorable moments, athletes, performances and incidents ranging from Emil Zatopek’s incredible performance in the 1952 Olympics, Abebe Bikila’s winning the marathon in bare feet, Jim Thorpe winning the decathlon and pentathlon in 1912, Nadia Comenici’s incredible gymnastic performance in Montreal, Alberto Juantarena winning the gold medal in both the 400 meters and 800 meters in the 1976 Olympics – a feat that has never been achieved either before or since, the unforgettable performance by Florence Griffith-Joyner whose athleticism and fashion sense were a major attraction at Seoul, the formidable performances by Michael Phelps in the 2008 Olympics when he won eight gold medals in swimming events breaking the record attained by Mark Spitz at Munich in 1972 and the almost super-human running in the sprints by Usain Bolt in 2008 and more recently in London and of, course, the legendary victories by Jesse Owens at the Berlin Olympics in 1936! There was also the massacre of the Israeli athletes by Black September terrorists in 1972.

But the incident at the Olympics that is for me one of the most memorable was not an athletic feat but a protest that occurred during the 1968 Olympics at Mexico City. Tommie Smith from the US won the gold medal in the 200 meters and broke the 20 second barrier for the first time in history.

Smith winning the 200 meters

It was at the height of the civil rights movement and during the medal ceremony as the US national anthem was being played, Tommie Smith and John Carlos (also from the US and who won the bronze medal) each raised a gloved hand in what was widely viewed as a black power salute although Smith denies it as having racial connotations! It was a gesture that caused tremendous controversy at the time. Both Smith and Carlos were expelled from the Olympic village at the insistence of Avery Brundage – an American who was the head of the IOC – after the American contingent were warned that if Smith and Carlos did not leave the entire American contingent would be expelled. Brundage who was viewed by some as a racist and anti-Semitic charged that Smith and Carlos politicized the games. When he was asked about the Nazi salute by German athletes during the Berlin Olympics he rationalized its use as being appropriate since it was a national salute as opposed to a personal protest. Yet Brundage was opposed to excluding South Africa from the Olympics because of its apartheid policies.

The "Salute"

Smith and Carlos’ action has remained a symbolic moment in the history of the civil rights movement.

There were repercussions including death threats against Smith, Carlos and their families. A then young sportswriter named Brent Musberger called them “Black-skinned storm troopers.” An article by David Zirin said:

“Smith and Carlos wanted South Africa and Rhodesia banned from the 1968 games because of their apartheid politics. They demanded more black coaches in sports. They sought to hold Avery Brundage, president of the International Olympic Committee, accountable for what many black athletes thought to be policies of barely concealed racism. They wanted Muhammad Ali to have his heavyweight boxing title restored after it was stripped because of the Champ’s refusal to fight in Vietnam.”

Saluting again as they leave the podium

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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:

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It was also covered by CNN in the video below:

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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!

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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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