Archive for the 'general' Category

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A Drive to Pescadero , California

We went on a week-end drive on 16 September to Pescadero , 45 miles away from San Francisco  through State Route 1 . The old state highway passes through some sparsely populated places and many beautiful beaches on the way , the Half Moon Beach , the most notable  among them. The drive took us about 75 minutes and the week-end traffic was normal.

Pescadero is a very small hamlet , part of San Mateo County , extending 4 square miles , population around 650 only ,living in about 200 households – mainly a farming community. The place is only 2 miles away from the Pascadero Beach on Route 1 ,14 miles south of the Half Moon Beach. The climate is wet and cool in Winter and mostly dry in Summer . There are many farms and lumber mills around with some good camping places.

The history of Pescadero dates back to 1833 as part of the MIssion Santa Cruz pasture. The place is also connected with the Wells Fargo Stage Coaches legend .An article in the Wells Fargo messenger states that a stage-coach salvaged and refurbished from the clipper ship Carrier Pigeon which wrecked at the nearby Pigeon Point in 1853 carried passengers and freight for 40 years on the Pescadero road for the Wells Fargo Company. Intel co-founder Gordon.E Moore also resided here till the age of 10 and his childhood home Lunasea still stands there.

The high point of our visit to Pescadero was our sumptuous lunch at the well-known Duarte’s Tavern with some choice white wine , sea food delicacies like jumbo fried prawns with artichoke and rice , artichoke soup and some very good pies . An enjoyable experience away from the city looking at the rustic countryside and farm lands on one side and the many beaches on the ocean front.

The American Dream

The American Dream starts with the neighborhoods …

Yesterday, while on a morning walk through Duboce Park in our neighborhood in San Francisco, we noticed the above message attributed to Harvey Milk, former Mayor of the City, on the wall of a school at the end of the park. The park itself is a microcosm of American social life where we find veterans, youngsters and their pet dogs enjoying a sunny day with plenty of open space to walk around, play and dream! I noticed with interest, the attention to detail, when I saw a water faucet specially designed for our canine friends.

We love San Francisco, where the old quaint Spanish style mansions and Mexican cuisine co-exist with the new-found prosperity of the Silicon Valley and Bay Area nearby. Wealth has multiplied many times over thanks to the IT Revolution but the City still retains its old world charm. A walk around the Alamo Park or the PanHandle over to the Golden Gate Park up to the Pacific Ocean is a great experience.

The expression -American Dream- is attributed to the famous historian James Truslow Adams who wrote in 1931 explaining the concept:

“Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement, regardless of social class or circumstance of birth.”

Earlier in 1925 , F Scott Fitzgerald had used a variety of literary devices in the Great Gatsby to portray the essence of the American Dream. Going forward, till the second world war or till the beginning of the cold war, the American Dream represented the national ethos of the US – a set of ideals to live by, rooted in democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity and equality.

In fact, the American Dream is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence which proclaims that “all men are created equal” with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The basic idea of the dream came about from the first experiences of the immigrants from Europe to the New World and from the concept of the shifting frontiers in the early stages. Subsequently, Martin Luther King Jr based his Civil Rights Movement in the African- American quest for the American Dream.

The post world war prosperity for the US brought about an expanded meaning for the American Dream into four different attributes, namely Dream of Abundance, Democracy of Goods, Freedom of Choice and Novelty. While this itself was OK, the unintended consequences were the social divide, class wars and a quest by the political leadership to practice hegemony over the rest of the world. What followed the Cold War was an expression of this want to spread the ‘Area of Influence’ across the globe, reminding one of the 19th Century British Empire where Sun never Set.

The Korean War, The Vietnam War, The Arab – Israel Conflict, the Palestinian problem, the Break Up of USSR, The Middle East problems, the Afghanistan War which also resulted in the 9/11 Disaster and the recent North Korean Nuclear Stand Off etc. are mainly attributed to the hegemony of the US in the garb of spreading democracy across the world. The UN has become a lame duck global institution mainly thanks to the Veto Power enjoyed by the US and a selected few. The old NATO and Warsaw Pact stand-off is now being replaced gradually by a new polarization against the US and its allies in the form of a possible Russia – China – Iran coalition to check mate the growing US influence in economic and political terms.

While the political establishment is concentrating on an equitable and desirable “World Order” as perceived by them and looking out for both economic and military measures to achieve them, the Millennials and the young Gen. Z [iGen] couldn’t care less for these initiatives at a huge cost to the US and they want a US which can address their concerns, looking inwards for a domestic ‘new order’.

Has the American Dream suffered in the bargain? I believe so because while the spirit is clear when one goes around the US now, there are visible cracks in the form of income disparities, jobs not easily available with unemployment at 5%, an apathy to established social norms and intolerance raising its ugly head in isolated incidents in the form of shoot outs and religious profiling. Social media bears abundant testimony to this shift in attitudes and at times gives expression to the underlying chasm affecting the American Dream.

A Visit to the National September 11 Memorial in New York



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I visited the National September 11 Memorial on 2 September along with my family. It was a very poignant moment in our lives, standing at the edge of the two large pools with voids in the center where the Twin Towers existed, symbolizing the economic power of USA until the greatest tragedy and disaster of a size never experienced by the humanity before, shattered everything in a matter of minutes on the fateful morning of September 11, 2001. 2996 lives lost, many more injured, business and normal public life coming to a halt, with no trading in Wall Street for two weeks and no flights to the US permitted for 10 days. Estimated Cost of the Relief Operation pegged at $10 Billion, with trillions of dollars lost in business opportunities and stepped up anti-terrorism Operations in the Middle East from where “THE EVIL”  ostensibly operated.

The international credentials of the US took a severe beating, a prohibitive cost for playing the role of a “global policeman” trying to influence the outcome of international affairs, with the lofty aim of upholding human values and democratic traditions. While the ‘Cold War’ days had a method in madness, there were no rules followed by the rogue nations deploying terrorists. The Middle East Crisis and the preferential status given to Israel made many enemies for the US, some of them face less. While many analysts point out serious flaws in the co-ordination of intelligence agencies with the national security agencies during the run up to the event, no one in the establishment in their wildest of dreams could imagine such a dastardly act devoid of any human emotions!

The Memorial is designed with utmost care, taking into account the sensibilities of those who laid down their lives in the horrific attacks of February 1993 and September 11, 2001. The Memorial recognizes the endurance of those who survived, the courage of those who risked their lives to save others and the compassion of all who supported the nation in the darkest hours. The sacred memories residing with the dependents and the global character of the victims irrespective of religion ,country or color of the skin is respected by the Memorial in every minute details. The endless pools with the water streaming into the voids in the center depicts the ‘eternal hope’ of humanity against such acts in future and the names of the deceased etched on the bronze sidewall will always remind a visitor about the supreme sacrifice made by those working in the twin towers at that hour and those fire fighters who lost their life trying to rescue those trapped inside the buildings. The memorial and the museum also depicts the history and many stories connected with the edifice as a tribute to the martyrs.

“May the lives remembered, the deeds recognized and the spirit reawakened be eternal beacons, which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance and intolerance”.

Mission Statement of the Memorial

Onam Festival – Down Memory Lane

Today is Onam Day – the day when Keralites all over the world celebrate the harvest festival irrespective of religion, cast or social status.The festival normally falls between mid August and mid September every year ,generally corresponding to the harvest season in Kerala, India. Malayalees await this season with a lot of anticipation and plan various cultural and sports activities for about two weeks . There are snake boat races in many lakes/rivers during the season . Families do the rituals of floral decoration in their courtyard , prepare for the SADYA [ grand feast ] on the Onam day , at times for four days continuously ,wear new dresses , and go out for shopping and movies together.

Looking back for almost three-quarters of a century , I remember in my early child hood , Onam was mainly celebrated by Hindu families , with the legend of Demon King Mahabali associated with Vamana , one of the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu who defeated King Mahabali in battle. Vamana tricks King Mahabali into asking for 3 things , by which he banishes the king to ” Pathalam ” [ the nether world ] with a condition that the King can visit his kingdom once a year to meet his people. Onam coincides with such visits when the people put up their best to impress Mahabali that the prosperity which he left is in tact!.

I remember my father who was a lawyer used to invite his non – Hindu colleagues to lunch on the Onam Day and we used to enjoy such celebrations. All of us from the household used to serve food to our guests in plantain leaves – a 20 plus course Lunch with at least four  ‘Payasam” [dessert ] . We also used to engage in games like ‘Head Ball ‘ using a leather ball , play in swings , and watch teams of players performing ‘ Tiger and Hunter ‘ games visiting households. Most of the Joint families in those days owned large tracts of farm  land which the farmers tilled. The farmers used to bring ” tributes ” to the landlord , mostly a set of vegetables or fruits and the landlord gave them money or new clothes as return gifts.

Today , Onam has transcended to a festival at the state level with the provincial government leading it from the front organizing many cultural events. People of all beliefs without exception take part in Onam celebrations all over the world wherever Keralites reside  . The colorful festival has now taken a new meaning of societal integration demonstrating the rich traditions of the past to the younger generation.

Here is wishing HAPPY ONAM to all.

Inspection Blues !

An Inspection in any organization is a major task involving month long preparations , brushing up all the SOP’s [Standard Operating Procedure ] , and many rehearsals before the D Day .There is always an element of  ” window dressing ”  to hide any possible shortcomings in the system , especially in the upkeep of facilities and equipment .The main purpose of an Inspecting Officer is to judge  the state of  ‘ fitness ‘ of an organization to discharge its intended role. In the case of Armed Forces , it is  to test  the ‘ battle readiness ‘ of a field force when there is no war  around. Thus , peace time soldiering is all about training for war and periodic inspections including technical inspections .

The incident here happened at Bareilly  in UP during the late 60’s where I was posted as the Adjutant in the rank of Captain in an EME Battalion. Our operational role was in the UP – Tibet  border against any possible threat from the Chinese. It was my job to ensure that all administrative aspects about the inspection was taken care of which included a ‘ book inspection ‘ by the staff of the divisional Commander  and above all  pull all the strings to get a good impression of the General during his visit to the battalion which includes a working lunch at the Officers Mess .

I got into the act and ensured that everything is taken care of in its minutest details. I came to know from the ADC to the divisional commander  that the General was very fond of gardening  and always appreciated good potted  flowers . Our Officers Mess lacked a good garden and I had noticed some good flower pots painted in blue with a variety of seasonal flowers with the neighboring Signals Regiment . The adjutant there was a good friend and I borrowed about two dozen flower pots from him for our Inspection. After a successful tour of the Battalion in the morning , the divisional Commander along with his staff came over with our Commanding Officer [ C O ]  to the Officers Mess for lunch. While walking in , the General noticed the freshly painted flower pots with good flowers and appreciated the same .  Everything went off well and my CO was very happy .

It so happened , our battalion was the first to be inspected by the General and the Signals Regiment was the last after a gap of two weeks or so . During the visit of the divisional commander to the Signals Regiment , unfortunately , there were some glitches while they were tested for establishing communications with the higher HQ and the General was not very happy with the CO about this lapse which reflected poorly on the ‘ fitness ‘ aspect of the regiment. When , he moved into the CO’s office for a final chat ,  he saw the same flower pots he noticed in our officers mess , this time displayed in front of the office of the CO of the Signals Regiment . I heard  he sarcastically commented to the CO there ” Come on Colonel , I am sure you can at least  have your own flower pots in front of your office ! You don’t have to borrow them from the EME Battalion ! ” .  The adjutant of the Signals Regiment , I believe , got a strong reprimand from his CO for this fiasco and did not speak to me for some time! . Inspection Blues!

An Inspection in the land of the Kanchenjunga

 

I am glad to refer my readers to one of my blog published last year in guftagu @ amolak.in. Hope you like it. The scenic beauty of this Himalayan State  , friendly locals , inhospitable weather with treacherous terrain especially at higher altitudes , eye ball to eye ball contact with Chinese  troops at the passes like Nathu La , Jelep La , Cho La  etc are still fresh in my memory . I am very closely following the Doklam Stand off which is in the news these days.

One of our patrol party strayed  into Chinese territory across the international border in 1980 . They were apprehended by the Chinese troops and were taken to Yatung , the local military HQ at the Chinese side of Nathu La for questioning .  We got them back after a week through negotiations at the Field Commander level. One Medical Officer , Captain , who was part of the party later told me that they were looked after well and every evening they were shown the Hindi movie ‘Awara ” .

Please also see my blogs on ” An Indian Rope Trick ” and ” Field Punishment ” which narrate  my experience and encounters in Sikkim.

i Gen and Beyond – Profound Social Changes with Great Impact on Our Lives

Today, I was reading through a review of a recent book titled  ” i Gen ” authored by Jean.M .Twenge , in today’s Wall Street Journal [WSJ] . The author categorizes ” i Gen ” as people born between 1995 and 2012 , labeling this birth cohort [ generally known as Gen Z] as a group that doesn’t know a world without the internet and smartphones and is now 24% of the US population. The population of this group in India will be much more , I guess , with equally tech savvy especially on the smart phones  . India has more than 900 million mobile phones and counting with at least a third of it smart phones  . Recently , on the occasion of the 70th Anniversary of India’s Independence , Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Group announced a package with a free smart phone and unlimited free calls and data for as low as Rs 159 [ less than $ 3 ] per month in his Jio Network for the first 20,000,000 subscribers ! I believe the pre -booking is almost done !

On the behavior side, iGen , according to the author , is neither cynical as Gen X , nor as over confident as Gen Y , with a radical departure when it comes to their views on religion , free speech  and relationships . Technology  and social media is central to understanding this generation’s experience , with their social lives shifted decisively from in – person interaction to the virtual world .   . Worse , they are not happy with their ” on line ” life!. A major cause of worry, according to the author is the stunted development of adult skills which creates a generation that prefers the ’emotional safety ‘ of virtual relationships to the messy entanglements of real ones .

From a Social Science perspective , Veterans [ Silent Generation – Seniors ] to which I belong adhered to rules , are  conformists , had a hard time growing up , believes in family values and became prosperous by hard work . The Baby Boomers who came after World War 2 , believed in equal rights and opportunities , were optimists and team oriented . The developed and developing world flourished because of their commitment and dedication . Gen X [ 1960-80 ] grew up in diversity of culture , are independent , entrepreneurial , informal , pragmatic , techno literate and  think globally . The Millennials [ Gen Y ] of 1980-2000 are more confident , achievers , fun loving , sociable , street smart , tech savvy – a  global community .

Each such generation brought along certain distinct  behavior and social dimension , generally towards the progress of mankind.  Today , in my own nuclear family , I can say that both me and my wife have adapted to technology  , spending about 3 to 4 hours a day on our smart phone ,  i pad or laptop , buying things and paying bills on line and able to understand GPS . A far cry from the days of coal gas buses , 78 rpm discs , analog radios , box cameras ,  and  35 mm movies in a theater . My children are very tech savvy , achievers with a great goal orientation and cannot live without net connectivity. My grand children spend more than half of their waking hours with electronic devices , especially when they are on a vacation ! . One really has to pull them away from a device to which they are glued in – with Netflix , Facebook , Whats App etc.

Where do we go from here ? . Technology is already leap frogging as a leading indicator of future possibilities . Cloud platforms , I o T , Automation , Robotics , AI and Machine Learning are making manual work redundant in almost all areas of repetitive and predictive work . Do the new Generation following i Gen soon compete with Robots and the like? . Does the sci-fi Star Wars become a reality in our lifetime ?  Will human habitats transcend the earth and move to the galaxies up there ?  What will happen to physical relations ? How about human cloning ? .  It is both scary and appealing  paradoxically at the same time !  I think it is time we need another Alvin Toffler to write a book on  ” Future Shock Revisited ”  .

Welcome Friends Old and New – Linger Here a Day or Two – Cape May , NJ

Lighthouse

WELCOME FRIENDS OLD AND NEW  – LINGER HERE A DAY OR TWO  – An inviting sign board at the Perry Street in Cape May captures the essence of this  seaside tourist paradise located at the tip of Southern New Jersey’s Cape May Peninsula.

Cape May has a rich history of more than 400 years – Henry Hudson, an English Sea Captain in 1609 came upon this small peninsula while sailing in his small yacht  “Half Moon” between the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware Bay. In 1620, a Dutch Captain MEY gave the place his name, later on changed to Cape May. This place continued to be a tourist destination, initially with the Native Americans and thereafter with the settlers over the years.  Good roads and rail roads soon connected this peninsula with many New Jersey and New York localities and today it is one of the most sought after summer Sea Side Tourist spots with clean beaches, trolley rides, ghost tours, home tours covering a rich history, the Sunset beach  with Victorian Style bungalows lining up on both sides of its approach, shopping and world class dining. A good number of hotels, home stays and condominiums cater for the visiting tourists. A population of merely 4000 caters for an average number of summer tourists numbering 40,000 plus every year.

WW2 lookout posts

We had a good look at Cape May on 13 Aug 2017 after a nice two hour drive from Montgomery through some of the scenic places en route. We began with an afternoon tea at the Carriage House Cafe and Tea Room located at the historic Emlen Physick Estate, followed by a two hour visit to the beach adjacent to the light house watching dolphins very near the coast.  The bird sanctuary near the beach, a second world war look out bunker were the added attractions at the beach.

At the beach.

We continued after sunset with a walk through Washington Street near the President’s Summer Retreat [ I understand US Presidents right from Abraham Lincoln holidayed here during summer] and a quick visit to the vibrant Perry Street where we saw many of the city population out there along with visiting tourists enjoying the Sunday evening. We concluded our short visit with a great Mexican dinner at De Mayo enjoying some of the best food cooked by a Mexican lady all by herself [ the place is open from 12 noon to 9 PM every day !] and managed by her daughter and two or three staff members.

Jerry Lewis – The God of Hollywood Comedy in the 50’s and 60’s

Jerry Lewis who made us laugh for two decades or more during the 50’s and 60’s is no more. It is with a lot of nostalgia that I remember his earlier movies in the 50’s pairing with actor – singer Dean Martin – My Friend Irma, At war  with the Army ,  Hollywood or Bust , The Three Ring Circus , to name a few which I have watched . They were a great pair and excelled in various pranks – mostly situational comedy graduating from the pure slap stick variety of Charlie Chaplin and others in the 40’s . While Martin played the cool guy with his charm , Jerry played the “goof up ” guy.

After falling out with Dean Martin , Jerry did some great comedy movies like The Bellboy , The Disorderly Orderly ,The Ladies Man ,The Nutty Professor and Boeing Boeing [ with Tony Curtis] . During this period , Jerry used sound and action to fashion a new form of physical comedy , the forerunner of movies  with Jim Carrey , Robin Williams Eddie Murphy and others. He also taught a film course at the University of Southern California and his students included Steven Spielberg and George Lucas .

For decades, Mr Lewis was the public face of the fight to cure muscular dystrophy , hosting an annual televised fundraiser for the MDA that , all told , raised nearly $ 2 billion. It was in 1976 , that in a public event Frank Sinatra surprised Jerry Lewis by ushering an unexpected guest onto the stage : Dean Martin!. The two who met after decades and embraced each other

Jerry Lewis was a totally committed comedian who depicted the ” fool ” with great abandon. Paramount Pictures signed him up for a $ 10 million contract in 1959 when he was 33 , allowing him to write , direct and produce his own films .  Jerry Lewis’s last screen appearance was in ” The King of Comedy ” a satire where he played the title role . The film was released in 2016.

Jerry Lewis has become a memory – and we will always  cherish the golden age of Hollywood Comedy  where Jerry played a major role.

Also see my blog “Out of the box thinking ” dated 31 October 2010 on this site.

Field Punishment – An episode from my early days in the Army

I tasted my first drink at the age of 15 when I was barely out of school . I used to drink once in a while at the college. During our training at the Indian Military Academy [IMA] ,Dehra Dun , India , we ,Gentlemen Cadets were  not allowed to drink .[I understand now they can have a glass of beer during social occasions!]. This episode happened when we were on a forward area tour of Sikkim during our course break in December 1965 .

After landing at Siliguri , the rail head , our batch of 20 cadets proceeded by road in military vehicles towards the Chinese border under the supervision of  an instructor, a Major  from IMA . After a lunch break at Teesta , we proceeded to Rongli , our night halt for Day 1 at a height of 3000 feet above Mean Sea Level. We were accommodated at the Officer’s Mess of an Animal Transport Company. The officer commanding of this Company  invited us for dinner . It was very cold at night in the peak of winter and the Major , our host ,wanted to offer us all a drink. He requested our Instructor for permission who reluctantly permitted all of us to have half a peg of any alcoholic drink.

While I was grudgingly taking my rationed drink, a Captain from the host company asked me if I would like to drink more, I said yes  and he took me to another side room and poured me a large peg of Rum. Needless to say I thoroughly enjoyed it and continued drinking with him for more than an hour without our Instructor noticing it . I believe I took about eight large pegs and was told later on that I was really in ” high spirits ” throughout the rest of the evening , started singing loudly and indulged in all “un- officer like ” behavior and skipped my dinner. I passed out on top of a ping pong table and was escorted to my tent by my colleagues for the night.

All hell broke when I got up in the morning and our Instructor wanted to take severe action on my conduct and report  this at IMA when we got back. He told me I will get relegated to the next junior batch losing 6 months of seniority in the bargain. The Company Commander pleaded with our Instructor against it and suggested that as this “offence ” happened in the field , I may undergo a ” Field Punishment ” there only . The punishment decided was that I should walk to the next destination – Padam Chin [height 10,000 feet] ,about 5 hours drive up the hills . Another cadet who did not give me away to our Instructor  ,the previous night when questioned about my identity , was also sent along with me.

We started after break fast and enjoyed the journey of about 12 hours on foot , bought some liquor en route and reached the destination by late evening. The party was already there by lunch time. It happened to be 31st December and our hosts at Padam Chin , another Army Unit wanted us to join the cocktail and dinner. We confided in the host about our rules for drinking. He said ,not to worry. What he did surprised us for its ingenuity – He got our instructor drunk in his tent , before joining for dinner . During the cock tail session, we played a game singing ” Nine green bottles hanging on the wall ‘ and each cadet singing will move to the bar and take a drink in turn. Our instructor was present but could not comprehend clearly what was going on !. Need less to say we enjoyed the New Year Eve party thoroughly and I for one and my buddy, the ” Field Punishment ” In Sikkim preceding that ,during the day.

Tail Piece – On the following day , New Year Day , we were hosted for lunch at Kupup Tri-Junction short of Jelep La pass by the local Brigade Commander. He ordered for beer for all the cadets and when our instructor objected , told him to keep quiet as he ,the Brigadier , is in command there and everyone will follow his orders!  We secretly said ” Three Cheers” to the Brigadier!

Post Script – I served in the rank of Major during 1979-82 in Sikkim at a high altitude field workshop as its Officer Commanding near Nathula Pass. I made it a point to visit the Officers Mess at Padam Chin out of sheer nostalgia.