Or at least invented it.
Every color digital camera in use today works because of the invention of Bruce Bayer, who worked at Kodak at the time.
He died November 13. The video explains how Bayer’s invention works.
Andy Williams was my parents’ music, playing on the Hi-Fi years before WiFi.
I used my iMac — the one I use only for photo and video editing — to put music on my mother’s iPad. So the music collection is Williams, Sinatra, Mel Torme and so on.
For some reason, from time to time, it will launch iTunes spontaneously and start playing this tune. Andy Williams, dead at 84, a very fine voice indeed.
The video is a bit hokey, but had the best audio quality.
We didn’t know him. We didn’t have to. We knew all we needed to know: his name was Neil Armstrong, he flew to the Moon, and he put a human print on the surface of another celestial body. The act was so audacious, so revelatory of mankind’s potential, that the usual machinery of pop-culture celebrity seemed abashed: this one gets a pass. This one stands apart. When you heard he died you may have struggled to call up the face, and all you got was a publicity photo of an ordinary fellow with a Rotarian grin. He was as remote and unreachable as the moon itself. That was okay with Neil; that was okay with everyone else, too.
He’s remembered for one thing, but he had a life before, and a life afterwards. The latter is more fascinating. How does a man incorporate such an accomplishment into his life? When does he start defining himself by something else? He had the life we all have: birthdays, toothaches, haircuts, oil changes. But when he looked up at night he saw something in the sky that had shone down on humanity from cave-age to yesterday, and he knew his relationship with Luna would always be unique. No one else would ever be first.
None of which matters when you’re on your hands and knees looking for your fingertip.
One day on his farm in 1979 he jumped off the back of his truck – you know he didn’t think heh, one small leap, because this was the farm, this was work – and his ring caught on a wheel. Ripped off part of his finger. He found it, eventually. Packed it in ice, drove to the hospital, had it put back on. When you come down to it, the hand is something NASA might develop: multiple redundancy – but I’m reasonably sure he wasn’t thinking “I used that finger to guide the Eagle to a safe landing spot.” It was bleeding. It hurt.
He was just a man on a farm, and these things happen…
I was certainly aware that this was a culmination of the work of 300,000 or 400,000 people over a decade and that the nation’s hopes and outward appearance largely rested on how the results came out. With those pressures, it seemed the most important thing to do was focus on our job as best we were able to and try to allow nothing to distract us from doing the very best job we could. . . .
Each of the components of our hardware were designed to certain reliability specifications, and far the majority, to my recollection, had a reliability requirement of 0.99996, which means that you have four failures in 100,000 operations. I’ve been told that if every component met its reliability specifications precisely, that a typical Apollo flight would have about [1,000] separate identifiable failures.
In fact, we had more like 150 failures per flight, [substantially] better than statistical methods would tell you that you might have. I can only attribute that to the fact that every guy in the project, every guy at the bench building something, every assembler, every inspector, every guy that’s setting up the tests, cranking the torque wrench, and so on, is saying, man or woman, “If anything goes wrong here, it’s not going to be my fault, because my part is going to be better than I have to make it.” And when you have hundreds of thousands of people all doing their job a little better than they have to, you get an improvement in performance. And that’s the only reason we could have pulled this whole thing off. . . .
When I was working here at the Johnson Space Center, then the Manned Spacecraft Center, you could stand across the street and you could not tell when quitting time was, because people didn’t leave at quitting time in those days. People just worked, and they worked until whatever their job was done, and if they had to be there until five o’clock or seven o’clock or nine-thirty or whatever it was, they were just there. They did it, and then they went home. So four o’clock or four-thirty, whenever the bell rings, you didn’t see anybody leaving. Everybody was still working.
The way that happens and the way that made it different from other sectors of the government to which some people are sometimes properly critical is that this was a project in which everybody involved was, one, interested, two, dedicated, and, three, fascinated by the job they were doing. And whenever you have those ingredients, whether it be government or private industry or a retail store, you’re going to win.
The most puzzling thing about the career of Gore Vidal, who went toes-up last week at 86, was the reverence in which he was held by people who might have known better. . . .
For decades Vidal had said that Franklin Roosevelt knew in advance of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and let the slaughter come anyway, and when 9/11 gave him the chance to make the same slander against another president, he went even further and speculated that George Bush had colluded with his vice president to encourage the terrorist attacks. At his death a critic at the Washington Post summarized the Vidalian view with an uncommon mildness: “He took an acerbic view of American leadership.”
The man must have felt bulletproof. With implausible romances like Lincoln and Burr he filled more readers’ heads with more historical crapola than anyone since Parson Weems. (“So powerful as to compel awe,” said Harold Bloom of Vidal’s make-believe histories.) He thought the Bilderbergers and members of the Bohemian Grove controlled world finance. (“He is a treasure of state,” said R.W.B. Lewis.) He befriended Timothy McVeigh and spoke warmly of him. (“Vidal did not lightly suffer fools,” said the obit writer in the New York Times.) He dished out anti-Semitism in a dozen different venues with imperturbable serenity. (“Both by temperament and by birth he was an aristocrat,” said the Times.) He called William F. Buckley a crypto-Nazi. (“Vidal was known for his . . . scathing wit,” said Diane Sawyer on ABC.) He wanted to try Henry Kissinger for war crimes and suggested that John McCain had invented tales of his torture at the hands of the Vietnamese. (“A savvy analyst and glorious gadfly on the national conscience,” said the L.A. Times.) . . .
I was interested in Diane Sawyer’s brief obituary on her ABC evening news show. It centered on the notorious confrontation (on ABC TV) between Vidal and Buckley in 1968, in which Buckley countered Vidal’s accusation of Nazism with the vigorous insight that Vidal was “queer”—not high on the list of Buckley’s scathing witticisms either. In recalling the event, Sawyer identified Vidal as the “celebrity novelist,” while taking special care to tag Buckley as the “arch-conservative.”
Why arch? The two tags make for a curious imbalance. For 50 years Buckley’s views were safely on the rightward edge of the American popular consensus; Vidal’s were shared by a tiny minority—cranks and ignoramuses in Hollywood, Manhattan, Northwest Washington, D.C., various college towns, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho. Yet it is Buckley who earns the ideological intensifier “arch.”
In John Huston’s “Fat City,” Susan Tyrrell gave one of the best performances as a drunk that I’ve ever seen. I never saw much more of her in the movies, but always remembered her performance.
Here’s the trailer for the film.
Andrew Breitbart left behind a wife and four kids, the youngest four years old.
One wonders if he knew his hours were numbered whether he would have spent them differently.
Breibart, the 43-year-old conservative pundit and provocateur who died suddenly early Thursday while walking near his Los Angeles home, had stopped into The Brentwood, a nearby bar and restaurant. There, he struck up a conversation with Arthur Sando, a marketing executive who didn’t know Breitbart but likely was the last person to talk extensively with him before he died.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Sando says he arrived at the bar in the tony Brentwood section of L.A. around 10 p.m. and soon the empty seat next to his was filled by a man with a familiar face.
“I tried to figure out how I knew him,” says Sando, a veteran publicity and marketing executive who has worked at CBS, King World Prods and Turner Broadcasting. “He was on his BlackBerry. And I said ‘Andrew?’ I told him I had seen his work.”
Sando says the duo quickly struck up a conversation that would last a little less than two hours.
Each of us is wired differently.
Apparently Breitbart was a brilliant, hyperactive man — the kind that seeks and needs stimulation. That said, I bet Andrew would trade those two hours talking politics with a stranger for time with his family.
Andrew passed away unexpectedly from natural causes shortly after midnight this morning in Los Angeles.
We have lost a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a dear friend, a patriot and a happy warrior.
Andrew lived boldly, so that we more timid souls would dare to live freely and fully, and fight for the fragile liberty he showed us how to love.
Andrew recently wrote a new conclusion to his book, Righteous Indignation:
I love my job. I love fighting for what I believe in. I love having fun while doing it. I love reporting stories that the Complex refuses to report. I love fighting back, I love finding allies, and—famously—I enjoy making enemies.
Three years ago, I was mostly a behind-the-scenes guy who linked to stuff on a very popular website. I always wondered what it would be like to enter the public realm to fight for what I believe in. I’ve lost friends, perhaps dozens. But I’ve gained hundreds, thousands—who knows?—of allies. At the end of the day, I can look at myself in the mirror, and I sleep very well at night.
Andrew is at rest, yet the happy warrior lives on, in each of us.
Peter Hitchens remembers his brother. Follow the link for great photos and the full column.
I set fire to my Bible on the playing fields of my Cambridge boarding school one bright, windy spring afternoon in 1967. I was 15 years old. The book did not, as I had hoped, blaze fiercely and swiftly.
Only after much blowing and encouragement did I manage to get it to ignite at all, and I was left with a disagreeable, half-charred mess.
Most of my small invited audience drifted away long before I had finished, disappointed by the anticlimax and the pettiness of the thing. Thunder did not mutter.
It would be many years before I would feel a slight shiver of unease about my act of desecration. Did I then have any idea of the forces I was trifling with?
In truth, it was not much of a Bible. It was bound in shiny pale blue boards with twiddly writing on the cover, a gift from my parents and until that moment treated with proper reverence, and some tenderness.
But this was my Year Zero. I was engaged in a full, perfect and complete rebellion against everything I had been brought up to believe.
As I had been raised to be an English gentleman, this was quite an involved process. It included behaving like a juvenile delinquent, using as much foul language as I could find excuse for, mocking the weak (there was a wheelchair-bound boy in my year, who provided a specially shameful target for this impulse), insulting my elders, and eventually breaking the law.
The full details would be tedious for most people, and unwelcome to my family. Let us just say they include some political brawling with the police, some unhinged dabbling with illegal drugs, an arrest – richly merited by my past behaviour but actually wrongful – for having an offensive weapon and nearly killing someone, and incidentally myself, through criminal irresponsibility while riding a motorcycle.
There were also numberless acts of minor or major betrayal, ingratitude, disloyalty, dishonour, failure to keep promises and meet obligations, oath-breaking, cowardice, spite or pure selfishness. Nothing I could now do or say could possibly atone for them.
I talk about my own life at more length than I would normally think right because I need to explain that I have passed through the same atheist revelation that most self-confident British members of my generation – I was born in 1951 –have experienced.
We were sure that we, and our civilisation, had grown out of the nursery myths of God, angels and Heaven. We had modern medicine, penicillin, jet engines, the Welfare State, the United Nations and ‘ science’, which explained everything that needed to be explained.
The Britain that gave me this self-confidence was an extraordinarily safe place, or at least so it felt to me as a child. Of our many homes, I was fondest of a modest house in the village of Alverstoke, just across the crowded water from Portsmouth.
It is almost impossible now to express the ordered peace which lingered about the quiet shaded gardens and the roads without traffic, where my parents let me and my brother Christopher wander unsupervised.
Dark green buses with conductors wearing peaked caps would bear us past a favourite toyshop to the Gosport ferry, from which we could view the still substantial Navy in which my father had served.
Then we made our way to the department store where my mother took me and Christopher, neatly brushed and tamed, for tea, eclairs and cream horns served by frilly waitresses.
There was nothing, however, peaceful about my relationship with Christopher. Some brothers get on; some do not. We were the sort that just didn’t. Who knows why?
At one stage – I was about nine, he nearly 12 – my poor gentle father actually persuaded us to sign a peace treaty in the hope of halting our feud. I can still picture this doomed pact in its red frame, briefly hanging on the wall…
…Let us turn in our hymnals to the gospel of Steve to the Stanfordites, in which he urged mass uniqueness:“Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love…Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”
Whether we’re talking about finding a job or finding a spouse, this is spectacularly poor advice for most people. (See, for instance, economist Robin Hanson.)
Holding out for the perfect and drifting restlessly from one bed/desk to another only looks smart from the top down, after you’ve made it to the CEO suite (or married Heidi Klum). If you’re just starting out, what you need to hear is something much more prosaic: Be reliable, work your way up and always be learning. The odds are against your founding one of the biggest brands on earth in your mom’s garage at age 20.
Jobs’ Stanford advice is not just trite, misleading and foolish, it’s also a symptom of a deeper problem with Generation Apple. They venerate great individuals without understanding that not everyone is great. Even those who are rarely get to call all the shots — no man is an iLand.
Let’s look at Wall Street Journal‘s Ron Alsop’s account of how the Jobsians are faring a year later, after they’ve taken off their flip-flops and put on their pumps.
When Gretchen Neels, a Boston-based consultant, was coaching a group of college students for job interviews, she asked them how they believe employers view them. She gave them a clue, telling them that the word she was looking for begins with the letter “e.” One young man shouted out, “excellent.” Other students chimed in with “enthusiastic” and “energetic.” Not even close. The correct answer, she said, is “entitled.” “Huh?” the students responded, surprised and even hurt to think that managers are offended by their highfalutin opinions of themselves.
If there is one overriding perception of the millennial generation, it’s that these young people have great — and sometimes outlandish — expectations.
The idea that you are the lone-wolf visionary hero of your own life and everyone around you is irrelevant or clueless is an enduring American myth. The personification of a rebuke to this dangerously self-delusional notion is … Steve Jobs. Not his life. His death.
Fans of Jobs should be angry with the arrogance that caused him to think he was smarter than his doctors. Medical opinion is all but unanimous in recommending surgery to remove the kind of tumor he had in his pancreas, with the expectation of many more years of good health will result.
Instead, Jobs thought differently. He treated his cancer with dietary adjustments and shunned surgery for nine months, effectively allowing the tumor to attack him at will. In the Stanford speech, he misled his listeners by saying he immediately had a biopsy that showed the cancer was curable with surgery and then “had the surgery.” He made no mention of the nine-month delay, which was reported in The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere.
Jobs made a fortune ignoring the experts at times, but in the case of his health a foolhardy refusal to acknowledge his relative ignorance may have substantially shortened his life…
Phoebe Snow is best known for Poetry Man but I’ve always had a soft spot for her version of Sammy Cahn’s Teach Me Tonight, a wonderfully crafted song from 1953, which benefits from her respect for lyrics and her voice, a precision instrument.
She gave up her career to care for her brain damaged daughter, who remained mentally a child for 31 years, dying in 2007.
I only knew Sidney Harman through his products. For years I owned Harman/Kardon stereo gear.
Until I read his obituary today, I never knew that hs company invented the stereo receiver that combined the tuner, preamp and amplifier into one device.
He did other important things with sound:
During World War II, he joined the Army and put his sound-engineering expertise to work at a top-secret installation in Watertown, N.Y.
He helped develop a “sonic deception” project that was used at the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium and in the Pacific. Various military activities were recorded, then played on powerful PA systems. “The object was to persuade sentries at enemy listening posts that a significant activity was underway, coming at them from the direction of the broadcast, while in fact the real action was developing from a different direction,” Harman recounted in his book.
Before his death early this morning at the age of 92, I placed the legendary West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd in the category of “only the wrong survive” along with Fidel Castro and Pete Seeger. I was not a fan.
In 2005 the New York Times published a predictably fawning profile of Senator Byrd by Sheryl Stolberg in “A master of Senate’s ways is still parrying in his twilight.” Around the same time I found an occasion to reflect on Senator Byrd’s discourse on Chaucer’s Pardoner’s Tale in “Tales of the Senate.” Today Adam Clymer provides the traditional Times obituary.
Robert Byrd was indeed a valuable link not only to the Senate’s past, but also to the Democratic Party’s history as the party of slavery, segregation, and opposition to equal treatment of blacks. Stolberg obviously loved Byrd’s cornpone constitutional shtick in favor of filibustering a Republican president’s judicial appointees. It’s a shame that Stolberg exerted no effort to put Byrd’s shtick in the context it merited.
Byrd was old enough, for example, to have vowed memorably regarding the integration of the Armed Forces by President Truman that he would never fight “with a Negro by my side. Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.”
Even after his resignation from the Klan, Byrd continued to hold it in high esteem, writing to the Klan’s Imperial Wizard in 1946: “The Klan is needed today as never before and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia.”
And Byrd was old enough to have participated in filibustering the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as to have voted against it after cloture along with 18 other Democrats — in the name of the Constitution, of course. Funny Stolberg didn’t invite Byrd to take a walk down memory lane on that subject. It would have been highly illuminating…
Joan Hinton, Manhattan project nuclear scientist, has died at 83.
In the anti-Communist hysteria of early 1950s America, nuclear physicist Joan Hinton was labeled “The Atom Spy Who Got Away.”
Recruited at 22 to help develop the atom bomb, she was so repulsed when the U.S. dropped it on Japan during World War II that she fled in 1948 to China, where she embraced Maoism and ran a dairy farm for much of the rest of her life.
Magazines from the era presented her in caricature as a trenchcoated femme fatale engaged in nuclear espionage, a charge she always denied. Hinton chortled when she told The Times in 1999 that reality was far more mundane: the science she practiced in China was aimed at finding the best way to breed horses and milk cows.
After working on the A-bomb, she was shocked when it was used.
The next month, she learned that the bomb had been used to destroy two Japanese cities. Horrified, she became a peace activist.
In fact, the US fire bombing campaign prior to this killed many more Japanese, just not as dramatically.
Influenced by her brother, William Hinton, a Marxist writer who documented Chinese village life, she moved to China as its revolutionary fervor was attracting left-leaning Americans.
The two A-bombs dropped on Japan both took (Japanese) lives and saved (Allied) lives. Mass death was certain whether we dropped the bomb or not – the Japanese regime planned a fight to the death.
So, how did things work out with Mao? The best estimates are that he killed 70,000,000 Chinese.
But hey, he was a cockeyed optimist, right? Said Hinton:
“Mao started the Cultural Revolution to cure the disparity between the few and the many,” Hinton said in 1996 in the New York Times. “How could that be wrong?”
It was a little over 30 years ago that I first laid eyes on the remarkable Larry Gelbart. The occasion was our high school’s 50th anniversary. I had been selected to host the celebration in the auditorium. It was also my duty to talk about what Fairfax High had been like when I was there during the 1950s. It was Larry’s job to report on the 1940s. As I recall, producer Mike Frankovich handled the 30s and singer Martha Tilton recalled the 1920s. Although I got to introduce Gelbart to the audience, we didn’t actually meet.
Several months later, in a weekly column I was then writing for the L.A. Times, I took exception to the constant trashing of TV. For all its obvious faults, I pointed out that over the years TV, not Broadway, books or the movies, was the place to find the best comedy in America. I went on to mention ten or twelve of the anonymous men most responsible for writing the funniest lines. Naturally, Larry Gelbart was one of the names on my list.
The next day, I got a phone call. It was Larry and he started out by apologizing. He said that he and his wife, Pat, had dreaded going to the Fairfax High bash, but that I had been very funny and they had had a terrific time. It seems he had meant to call me the very next day, but it had slipped his mind. Now he was calling to thank me for mentioning him in my article.
Oddly enough, I was anxious to get off the phone. Although I appreciate compliments as much as the next guy, I’m the guy who prefers them in writing. Even when I receive them over the phone, I feel like I’m blushing and have lost the power of speech. After being praised, just saying “Thank you” seems terribly lame, while trying to return the compliment seems awfully phony. But just before I was able to mumble my thanks and hang up, I heard him say, “I understand you sometimes write for TV. If you ever come up with an idea for a ‘MASH’ script, just shoot it over to me. I’m here at 20th.”
It had long been my wish to write comedy for TV, but I had not been able to break through, only managing to accumulate credits on “Dragnet” and “McMillan & Wife.” So, while I was greatly motivated, my problem was that I wasn’t a fan of “MASH.” I hadn’t liked the movie and the one time I had watched an episode, it just seemed like all those other lousy service comedies, like “Don’t Go Near the Water” and “Operation Petticoat,” that I had already come to loathe.
But, at the time nobody else was inviting me to write a comedy or anything else, so I sat down with my steno pad and prayed for a miracle. The miracle came in the form of an idea about an injured soldier showing up at the 4077th, claiming to be Jesus Christ.
“Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler?” led to seven additional MASH scripts, a shot at several other sit coms and ultimately swung open the doors to writing TV movies.
Because I owed Gelbart a debt that I could never hope to re-pay, I was grateful when he called one day and asked for a favor. It seems the WGA was hosting a tribute to Larry that very evening and Mel Shavelson, who was scheduled to emcee the event, had taken ill. Larry wondered if I would agree to fill in.
Inasmuch as my responsibilities would be pretty much limited to pointing to people in the audience during the Q&A session, and in some cases repeating their questions into a microphone, I felt I was up to it, if just barely.
Larry was his usual droll and hilarious self. The most memorable moment, though, came during the intermission when Larry and I left the stage to sit with Pat in the front row. A young fellow came down the aisle and kneeled next to Larry. As expected, he began by saying what a great fan he was, and how, being a writer himself, he regarded Gelbart as a role model. Larry, far more adept at handling compliments than I because no doubt he had had so much more experience, was smiling and nodding graciously. The big surprise came when the young fan concluded his remarks by saying, “And that’s why I’m so excited to be re-writing ‘Rough Cut’.”
“Rough Cut,” you see, was a script Gelbart had been writing for Burt Reynolds and David Niven. Until that moment, he didn’t know that he’d been replaced by the producer.
So, forget all the stuff he wrote for the movies (“Tootsie,” “Oh, God!” “The Wrong Box”); the stage (“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” “Mastergate,” “City of Angels”); and TV (“MASH,” “Your Show of Shows,” “Caesar’s Hour,” “Weapons of Mass Distraction,” “Barbarians at the Gate,”). Forget that at the age of 16, while still attending Fairfax High, he would go, still wearing his ROTC uniform, to write for “Duffy’s Tavern” and, later, Bob Hope on the radio. After all, anyone with the appropriate amount of God-given talent, wit and staying power, could do the very same thing for 65 years.
But the fact that he could listen to this pisher break the news to him that he had replaced him on a writing project and keep on smiling, shake his hand and wish him luck, tells you all you need to know about what sort of mensch Larry Gelbart was.
…Norman Borlaug, has died at age 95.
…Borlaug was the Father of the Green Revolution, the dramatic improvement in agricultural productivity that swept the globe in the 1960s. For spearheading this achievement, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. One of the great privileges of my life was meeting and talking with Borlaug many times over the past few years. In remembrance, I cite the introduction to Reason’s 2000 interview with Borlaug below:
Borlaug grew up on a small farm in Iowa and graduated from the University of Minnesota, where he studied forestry and plant pathology, in the 1930s. In 1944, the Rockefeller Foundation invited him to work on a project to boost wheat production in Mexico. At the time Mexico was importing a good share of its grain. Borlaug and his staff in Mexico spent nearly 20 years breeding the high-yield dwarf wheat that sparked the Green Revolution, the transformation that forestalled the mass starvation predicted by neo-Malthusians.
In the late 1960s, most experts were speaking of imminent global famines in which billions would perish. “The battle to feed all of humanity is over,” biologist Paul Ehrlich famously wrote in his 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb. “In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” Ehrlich also said, “I have yet to meet anyone familiar with the situation who thinks India will be self-sufficient in food by 1971.” He insisted that “India couldn’t possibly feed two hundred million more people by 1980.”
But Borlaug and his team were already engaged in the kind of crash program that Ehrlich declared wouldn’t work. Their dwarf wheat varieties resisted a wide spectrum of plant pests and diseases and produced two to three times more grain than the traditional varieties. In 1965, they had begun a massive campaign to ship the miracle wheat to Pakistan and India and teach local farmers how to cultivate it properly. By 1968, when Ehrlich’s book appeared, the U.S. Agency for International Development had already hailed Borlaug’s achievement as a “Green Revolution.”
In Pakistan, wheat yields rose from 4.6 million tons in 1965 to 8.4 million in 1970. In India, they rose from 12.3 million tons to 20 million. And the yields continue to increase. Last year, India harvested a record 73.5 million tons of wheat, up 11.5 percent from 1998. Since Ehrlich’s dire predictions in 1968, India’s population has more than doubled, its wheat production has more than tripled, and its economy has grown nine-fold. Soon after Borlaug’s success with wheat, his colleagues at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research developed high-yield rice varieties that quickly spread the Green Revolution through most of Asia.
Contrary to Ehrlich’s bold pronouncements, hundreds of millions didn’t die in massive famines. India fed far more than 200 million more people, and it was close enough to self-sufficiency in food production by 1971 that Ehrlich discreetly omitted his prediction about that from later editions of The Population Bomb. The last four decades have seen a “progress explosion” that has handily outmatched any “population explosion.”
Two days ago, I returned from a weekend in San Francisco to learn that my father had died. Sam Prelutsky was born in Russia, in 1901 or 1902. He never knew for certain. It didn’t seem to bother him.
As a young man in America, he settled in a part of Illinois where the most popular organization around was the Ku Klux Klan. After the Cossacks, though, I guess a bunch of farmers wearing sheets weren’t such a big deal. Years later, he used to laugh about his former neighbors inviting him – him with his nose and his name and his accent – on Klan outings.
Maybe they decided to overlook the obvious evidence of his ethnicity in the mistaken belief that Jews didn’t raise chickens and candle eggs.
Later, after he was married, he moved to Chicago. For a while, he worked for a cigar company, rolling the stogies he couldn’t stand to smoke. But for most of the time he was a fruit and vegetable wholesaler. He’d drive his truck to the big central market at 3 a.m., pick up his load, and spend the next twelve hours delivering produce. In the dead of winter, he’d be out on that truck shlepping sacks of potatoes. In the middle of summer, he’d be muscling crates of watermelons, just begging for the hernia he eventually got.
We moved to L.A. in 1946. At that point, he came to the conclusion that the people he’d been delivering to over the years had been living the life of Riley, home in bed snoozing while he was up shlepping. He decided to tackle the retail end. A few months at a bad location ate up most of his savings and sent him back to the truck. But L.A., massive sprawl that it was even then, was murder compared to the more compact Chicago.
His next venture was a cigar stand downtown. Not counting the drive, it was still a twelve-hour day, spent mostly on his feet. But at least the lifting and hauling was limited to soft drink cases and trash barrels. On the other hand, you had to learn to live with the goniffs who swiped candy bars during the noon rush and the merchant princes of the garment industry who’d run up good-sized cigar bills and let you stew until they were in the mood to pay up.
My dad was not an educated man. He couldn’t correctly spell the names of those sodas and candy bars he sold six days a week. I don’t know if he read two dozen books in his life. He loved America, Israel, pinochle and FDR.
He wanted me to get good grades, a college degree and have a profession – something safe and preferably lucrative, like medicine or the law. He couldn’t understand someone’s wanting to write for a living. Still, when I sold a poem for fifty cents at the age of thirteen, he cashed the check for me – and only much, much later did I find out that forever after he carried that check folded up in his wallet.
We buried my father this afternoon. I didn’t think I would, but I shed tears. I cried because he had worked too hard for too long for too little. For many years, I had resented him because he had never told me he loved me; now I wept because I’d never told him.
The rabbi’s speech was short and simple. What is there, after all, to say at the funeral of such a man? Had the responsibility been mine, I would have said: Sam Prelutsky, who was born in a small village 7,000 miles from here, sixty-seven or sixty- eight years ago, was a remarkable person. He was not a great man or a famous man, but he was the best man Sam Prelutsky could be. Now, let there be no more tears today, for we are laying to rest a man who’s earned one.
Anyone who’s made their own furniture appreciated the work of Sam Maloof, who died at age 93. Scratch that — anyone who appreciates fine art appreciated his work, although he refused to call himself an artist.
Many of my friends call themselves artists…
I guess if you can’t sit on a chair or can’t eat off of a table or can’t use a set of drawers, it’s art. Today I have a lot of friends who hand you a card and it’s artist in wood or everything but being a woodworker, and I don’t consider myself an artist. I never have. I’m a furniture maker, I’m a woodworker, and I think woodworker’s a very good word, and I like the word, it’s an honest word, and that is what I am, a woodworker.
There is one thing that I remember very vividly as I look back over the years: my wife once said to me, “Sam, God has been very good to us.” I hope somehow, in some way, that I have been able to give some of this blessing to others, perhaps in my writing, or in my lectures and workshops. I have tried to do this in the furniture that I have made for so many who have become my friends. So much of me goes into each piece that I make, how good it is, that in making each new piece, a renewal takes place. So it continues: a renewal in my commitment to my work and what I believe.
Too often we who make objects – and I speak of all media – become quite taken with what we have done. We accept all credit, all praise. We become smug and conceited. I believe no man has ever designed anything that approaches the complexity of the simplest flower or the grandeur of a great redwood tree. God is the Creator of all things, and the beauty He has given us is awesome.
Some people have more courage than others. And still other people have dead on guts that make the rest of us seem like terrified guppies in a sea of cowards.
That was Ron Silver.
Ron had been fighting terminal stomach cancer for well over two years now as if it were some minor skirmish interrupting his otherwise important dedication to the future of this country. And what a dedication that was – twenty-four hours of every day, when they didn’t drag him into Sloan Kettering for treatment… the place Ron would call to his friends with characteristic gallows humor – Sloan Spa.
We all knew Ron had cancer and most of us, I suspect, had some idea how bad it was. The summer before last (I think it was then) I remember him telling me about his recent operation. He was out for about six hours, he told me, and when he woke up he looked at the doctor and asked her how it went. She told him she couldn’t take out the cancer. It had metastasized. The six hours were for nothing. She had to sew him back up. They gave him about three to four months to live at that point.
My heart went into my toes, but Ron told me that matter-of-factly and then he went on to apologize for not writing some article or other for Pajamas Media and then asked me how I was doing. That was Ron.
We had a close relationship that came from a strange confluence of events. Perhaps the best movie that either of us worked on was the same one. – Enemies, A Love Story. But that wasn’t the real reason – it was politics. We had stayed friends after Enemies, as movie folks sometimes do when they have worked on something together that was successful, critically or commercially. We discussed other projects, but our relationship was fairly superficial then and gradually we drifted apart during the nineties.
Then 9/11 came and Ron and I were thrown together once again. We were 9/11 Democrats. We talked on the phone about our journey and the alienation we were feeling from some our friends, but we didn’t come face-to-face until the Republican Convention of 2004. I was a blogger there and feeling rather weird – an old leftie gone right – but there was Ron, far more out than I was, speaking to the entire convention. And he was brilliant. The man could speak in public as well as almost any politician and he had more intellectual background than almost all of them too. He swept the convention audience off their feet.
Read it all.
John Kanzius was a true PopSci guy: A former radio engineer who, upon being diagnosed, figured there had to be a better way to deal with cancer than his crippling chemo treatments. So he pulled out his wife’s pie pans and started tinkering, ultimately creating a machine that would have great success in animal trials using radio waves and carbon nanotubes to burn away cancer cells. He was even profiled on “60 Minutes.”
Dr. Steven Curley, a professor of surgical oncology at Houston’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, who’s worked with Kanzius since 2004, will continue researching the treatment.
Sean Penn is a fascinating study in human contradiction. He’s a fine filmmaker whose films — the one he writes and directs — suggest a man with a subtle understanding of human nature and the human condition. Yet the same Sean Penn is a useful idiot for dictators such as Castro, Hugo Chavez and the Iranian mullahs.
So much so that he’s even too much for the gay Advocate:
It’s not surprising that Sean Penn, thanks to his star turn as Harvey Milk in Gus Van Sant’s biopic Milk, is becoming a hero to gays. His performance is moving and, judging by the archival film footage, flawless; Penn simultaneously renders Milk as a figure of historic importance and a vulnerable individual with a sparkling sense of humor. Aside from the acting prizes he will surely win (and deservingly), Penn is likely to earn himself the iconic status of “straight ally,” a heterosexual who goes out of his way to take a stand for gay rights and is thus showered with praise from gays. A GLAAD Media Award, honors from the Human Rights Campaign, and a slew of prizes from other prominent gay rights organizations are only a matter of time.
Which is a shame, because Penn’s political activism, irrespective of his views on gay rights, negates the values for which a movement based upon individual freedom must stand.
The same week that Milk premiered in theaters, The Nation published a cover story by Penn based on interviews he conducted recently with Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro, the dictators of Venezuela and Cuba respectively. The article is a love letter to the two men, defending them against all manner of Western “propaganda.” It hearkens back to the notorious dispatches penned by Westerners fresh from the Soviet Union who reported on the amazing progress of the workers’ paradise. These worshipful epistles, often published in The Nation, neglected to mention anything about the gulag, the “disappearance” of political dissidents, the Ukrainian famine, or any other such inconvenient truths about communism. Lenin termed the individuals who delivered these apologetics “useful idiots,” and Penn and his enablers are nothing if not that.
Penn traveled to the region with the polemicist Christopher Hitchens, and while the loquacious Chavez was happy to entertain both men, the reclusive Castro was a harder get. Penn’s long-standing defense of the communist regime in Cuba, however, must have endeared him to the Castro brothers, as Raul decided to grant an interview only with the actor. The import of a communist dictator purposely deciding to sit for an interview with Penn and not Hitchens, who would have been less — how to put it? — deferential in his line of questioning, was apparently lost on the movie star and his readers. Reporting on his dinnertime conversation, Penn dutifully made all the standard arguments in defense of the Cuban regime, from pointing out that the Communist Party would win 80% of the vote in an open election to morally equating the United States’ Guantanamo Bay prison to Cuban jails that house the Castro brothers’ political enemies.