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.
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.
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:
It was also covered by CNN in the video below:
The full story was covered in the local “Shelby Star” in four parts:
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.
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).
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 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!
Tags: Angelo's Fairmount Tavern, commercialization of Mother's Day, Egyptian and Roman celebrations honoring Isis, history of Mother's Day in the US, Mothering Day in England, Mothers Day in Kenya, New Melaka Restaurant, Seaview Resort in New Jersey, spending by category for Mother's Day
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.
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…….
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.
Less known is Bridges imitation of Barack Obama ….. it gives on a sense of how very talented an impressionist he was:
And this was what Bridges really looked like without the make-up!
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!
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.
Tags: Anne Spurzem, Carol Christ's focus on diversity at Smith college, cashmere coats and pearls, diversity at Smith college, impact of prep courses on SAT scores, importance of Ivy League colleges in Westchester and Fairfield counties, Smith college, Sophia Smith
“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.
“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.
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.
Tags: "I Dreamed of Africa", "The young perish and the old linger", Anita Easaw, Anita Newsom, Ben Easaw, Enis Easaw_Mamutil, eulogy for a brother, Kim Basinger as Kuki Gallman, Kuki Gallman, Maya Thomas, Priyabal Joseph, Vijay Joseph
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)
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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Tags: "God is not great", Christopher Hitchens and atheism, Hitchen's comments regarding Falwell's death, Hitchens interview with Sean Hannity, Jobs last words, Kobin Chino Otogowa, Mona Simpson's eulogy, near death experience, nirvikalpa samadhi
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
Tags: assasinated presidents, attempted assassination against presidents, facts about us presidents, presidents who had extra-marital affairs, presidents who presided over wars, presidents with black heritage, religion of presidents, states that have produced presidents, trivia about US presidents
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.
Tags: "I don't know why I should have to learn Algebra... I'm never likely to go there" -- Billy Connolly, Akshay Buddiga faints, Andrew Lay and "niggas", Calvin Coolidge and spelling bees, Frank Neuhauser, indians winnng spelling bees, Katie Seymour seeks help with spelling, Kennyi Aouad, Kiran Chethry interviewing Evan O’Dorney, Rebecca Sealfon, Sameer Mishra, South Asians dominate recent spelling bees
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:
Tags: Al Gore invades George Bush's space during 2000 debate, Gerald Ford's gaffe regarding Soviet influence in Eastern Europe, Jomo Kenyatta, Mwai Kibaki, Rick Perry blows debate, Ronald Reagan makes a joke about his age, Ronald Reagan's comment about Walter Mondale's age., Tom Mboya freedom movement, turning points in debates
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.
Tags: "The Anne Boleyn Files", American and British attitudes to each other, Anne Boleyn, Anne Boleyn's downfall, Anne Boleyn's speech before her execution, Anne of the Thousand Days, Genevieve Bujold as Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's break with Rome and the papacy, Richard Burton as Henry VIII, Sir Thomas More