AFS Reunion in Croatia

About 30 former AFS exchange students in 1974 from over 14 different countries, many with their spouses, had a reunion in Croatia this week.

We came to this reunion from Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Croatia, England, Luxembourg, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Thailand and the US. I maybe forgetting a country or two.

We’re all 64 or 65 years old, and share one life-changing experience, a year abroad in the US with the AFS program. Here is a group picture.

Here are some of us on our first day in the country getting some much needed refreshments.

Here is a shot of us at the initial welcome dinner in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.

For about 10 days, all these 65-year-olds were 18 again.

Tribute to a Teacher

“I’m a success today because I

had a friend who believed in me 

and I didn’t have the heart

to let him down.”

— Abraham Lincoln

 

There are two teachers I remember who made a difference in my life early on. My parents were not able to provide guidance, leadership or direction. When I was in German elementary school in my little town, when I was 10 years old in 5th grade, there was one classroom for the first eight grades. The first row of six kids was the first grade. The second row was the second grade, and so on. In the morning, Herr Sicheneder started in the front and gave the “little ones” assignments and then he worked his way back. I was in 5th grade, and he usually combined grades 5 through 8 and taught them together, at least in subjects where it made sense, like history or geography. After 8th grade, you were done with school and everyone went to a trade school and start a three-year apprenticeship for a trade. I was a shy little boy who had no idea where he was going.

Herr Sicheneder pulled me aside one day and told me that I should apply for prep school. This was in 1966. In the German school system, in those years, maybe 5 to 10 percent of all kids got to go to Oberschule (high school), in German called Gymnasium, which was the only pathway to higher education and university. To get in, you had to pass an entrance exam. I had no idea what was involved, how you applied, and what the exam was like. Herr Sicheneder kept me in school after all the other kids went home for many months and tutored me. I still remember many of the drills today, almost 60 years later. Wegen, während, statt, kraft, oberhalb, unterhalb, diesseits, jehnseits are all German prepositions followed by the genitive case. Who knows stuff like that? I do, because Herr Sicheneder made sure I had them all memorized. He drilled me in German, mathematics, essay writing and whatever else was in the exam. I have no memory of taking it, but I passed, and in the fall of 1967 I started taking the bus to the city every day and went to Oberschule. Herr Sicheneder was the single most important influence on the direction of my life by a long shot. He put me on a course that resulted in what I am today, and without him, my life would have been very, very different.

Herr Sicheneder was in his late fifties then. As an adult, I never got the chance to go back and thank him for what he did for me. He passed away many decades ago.

I met the second teacher with similar impact on my life on my first day in Gymnasium at the end of August 1967. My professor of Latin and German, and my homeroom teacher, was a young man right out of university perhaps in his first year of teaching, by the name of Wolfgang Illauer. I had Professor Illauer in Latin and German for three years. Being a bit of a German literature snob, he taught us discipline in writing, grammar and spelling and made sure we appreciated German literature. Professor Illauer taught me how to write, imparted critical thinking, instilled values for beauty, art, literature and general culture. Being a professor of the classic languages of Greek and Latin, he had a strong classical background which rubbed off on me. Professor Illauer was my coach and teacher between ages 11 and 13, and he shaped my intellectual and cultural trajectory unlike any other teacher I remember. As I grew into the upper grades, I never saw him again.  Eventually I went on a scholarship foreign exchange program to the United States and got my entire college education here.

A number of years ago I googled Professor Illauer and being the academic he was, he had given some lectures as a guest professor in his retirement. I found his email address. We connected and established correspondence, mostly sharing our thoughts on literature, poetry, writing, education and all the things that academics of the classics are interested in.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, we met in person for the first time after more than 50 years. I spent a night at the Hilton at the Munich Airport, and he drove in from Augsburg to have dinner with me. When I was a child, he was a god. Today, we’re almost equals, two old men interested in a common quest for language and education. We’re on a first name basis and use the German familiar form of address. We talked about Tolstoy. Wolfgang recently read War and Peace in the original Russian language. Go figure. He recommended that I read Somerset Maugham’s short stories, which he reads in English.

I spent a couple of hours over dinner with an “old friend” and one of the two teachers with immeasurable impact on my life.

Wolfgang reads this blog. This is my thank you.

 

Camping with Devin – 27 Years Later

Devin was a Boy Scout when he was little. The picture below was taken of the two of us the morning after camping with his troupe at a Boy Scouts camp in Balboa Park in San Diego. I don’t have any exact record of the date, but I am guessing it was 1995 or 1996. Devin was seven or eight years old then.

Today we went back to re-enact the photo. I still have the same jacket, and the same chairs we used then. We got permission by the San Diego – Imperial Council of the Boy Scouts, found camp site #1, and sure enough, the fire pit was still there. We tried to match the same pose, even though this one was in late afternoon light, the old one was early in the morning.

Devin is now an experienced outdoorsman and athlete, and works for the California Conservation Corp. And I try to keep up, climbing and hiking as much as I can. It all started with the Boy Scouts.

It meant a lot to me to go back to the same spot, with Devin now three times the size he was then, and sit in the same chairs.

Too bad we didn’t bring any coffee.

Devin on Clouds Rest in Yosemite

Here are some pictures Devin sent me this morning. He is on top of Clouds Rest in Yosemite. This is a 9,931 foot mountain in Yosemite with amazing 360 degree views of the park. It’s not the highest peak in Yosemite, but since it’s so close to “the Valley” it’s very prominent.

I’ll be visiting him in camp at the beginning of September, and I’ll definitely hike to the top of this mountain while I am there. It’s about a five-mile hike one way from camp, or about 10 miles from the trailhead. As always, you can click on the pictures to enlarge them – and when looking at this view, you had better do that!

Here is a selfie of him with Half Dome in the background and the Yosemite Valley to the right.

Here is a better view of Half Dome and the Valley.

If you want to read about my climb of Half Dome in 2012, here is the link. It was one of the most iconic hikes of my life. I am looking forward to hiking Clouds Rest now.

Thanks for the inspiration, Devin.

Branson in Space

Richard Branson  took the first ride to space today in the spaceship he dreamed up, designed and built – over decades. It’s a phenomenal achievement for a private individual, and it celebrates human ingenuity, perseverance, drive and creativity.

In the early morning, at 3:00am, Musk showed up at Branson’s house to wish him well. Branson tweeted this.

As I read  the responses, I was astonished that there were quite a few adversarial ones. I posted a few here with my own comments.

Red talks about the “age of extreme greed” presumably accusing Branson, attributing his success to greed. There is so much wrong with this tweet.

  1. Who decides what is pointless as a task to spend one’s time on. I wonder what hobbies Red has that are less pointless.
  2. Branson is a private citizen who opened a record store in England when he was a young man. He called it Virgin Records, and eventually built an airline and now a space tourism company – from scratch. I wonder what Red has accomplished in his life that we can all read about?
  3. I wonder what infrastructure systems are failing, and how fixing those is somehow Branson’s responsibility?

Then I saw Natasha’s post below:

She is worried about the destruction of the world, and questions Branson and Musk about what they contributed to the world. Well, Musk probably has made more changes to our current world than almost anyone, perhaps except Steve Jobs. He has built a car company from scratch, and forced every major automaker in the world to start producing electric vehicles. Then he started a rocket company and revolutionized how America sends humans into space,  and in the process saved billions of taxpayer funds by drastically reducing costs. Musk came to Canada with a single suitcase in the early 1990ies and one of his first jobs was shoveling out a sewer line, standing knee-deep in shit. In 1995, he arrived in California, got enrolled at Stanford and then dropped out to start a software company. I wonder what Natasha’s credentials are, what she has done to save the world, and how it compares to the records of Branson and Musk.

Hmm, private citizens can spend their money on whatever they want to spend it on. I wonder what Neo’s fantasies are and what he spends his money on that is so lofty.

Scientific innovation is not a waste of money, it’s usually a seed to greater things. These guys are not billionaires because they are greedy, or were born rich, they are billionaires because they spent their entire lives coming up with new ideas and then materializing them, and getting back up after every setback and failure (and rocket explosion) and starting over again. Musk has earned fortunes through the companies he has started and almost lost them again every time, starting the next ones. But he has persisted.

Rolf has an interesting angle. He apparently thinks that it’s Branson’s responsibility to plant 100 million trees, or build the first efficient water desalination plant.

Why have we never heard of Rolf Oehen and his revolutionary desalination plants that he has invented and built. And I might ask, how many trees has Rolf planted? Surely not 100 million.

Has he planted any trees?

Then there is Greenspaceguy! He blankly states that billionaires don’t pay income tax? Really? How does he know? Does he listen to Bernie Sanders, perhaps?

The irony is that Branson isn’t even a U.S. citizen. He’s British. I certainly don’t know what income taxes he pays, but he wouldn’t owe the U.S. government trillions.

And no, billionaires are not created by not paying taxes. I know plenty of poor people who don’t pay taxes, but they are not becoming billionaires. You become rich by building stuff that millions of people want to buy and spend their money on. Then, after you make a lot of money, you get to start paying taxes on it. The money doesn’t come from nothing. It comes from human ingenuity, perseverance, drive and creativity.

I think I need to stop right here and enjoy Branson’s “overnight success” that he has worked his entire life on.

 

The Celebration of Ignorance

It was 1995.

Hardly anyone in the world knew what email was, and had never sent or received one. The first traces of the Internet were just surfacing. Google didn’t yet exist (it was created in September of 1998). Amazon was just founded less than a year before. Big tech was Microsoft on the desktop. Apple was just about to plunge into failure after Windows 95 was released, and it looked like it was going to die. Elon Musk had just moved to California to attend Stanford University but decided instead to pursue a business career, co-founding the web software company Zip2 with his brother.

That was when Carl Sagan wrote his book The Demon-Haunted World.

He had a vision of the future more than 20 years out that is eerily accurate and reflective of what we’re experiencing now, with the dumbing down of America in full swing. Here is an excerpt:

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time – when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost  the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.

It is now 2021. Good morning, everyone!

Featured Artist: Tatsuo Horiuchi

Tatsuo Horiuchi wanted to paint after he retired, but he didn’t want to spend money on supplies, and he didn’t want to buy a painting program. So he used what he already had: Microsoft Excel.

After using Excel for three decades myself, I didn’t know you could possibly use it to paint. I am amazed about the level of creativity and ingenuity this artist exhibits.

AOC’s Fundraising for Texas Hits Over $4 Million

When you read some of the responses below this tweet by AOC soliciting donations for Texas, there are some cynical and outright insulting comments by – of all people – Texans who are discrediting her motives and her efforts, including telling her to keep her money in her own district in New York.

She has, to date, raised more than $4 million for Texas and that’s getting a lot of attention.

I for one do not care about her motives. Her name is a brand, and she is using it for the benefit of suffering Americans. I personally donated $50 of my money to the effort. Without her call and publicity, there is no way this Southern Californian suburbanite (me) would have ever thought of making an effort to send cash to Texas. But I did, and I did it because of AOC’s call.

Somebody in Texas benefited from my modest contribution – and it would not have happened otherwise.

Berniegami

Picture Credit: Joseph Wu

Joseph Wu makes a living doing origami. Here is his Facebook page: Link to Facebook.

I checked his website, but it is broken right now. Here is the link, maybe he’ll get it fixed now that he is going viral with the Berniegami: Link to Joseph Wu’s website (broken site).

The Profound Impact of Steve Schmidt on our World

 

It will come early: ‘Fox News is now projecting Joseph R. Biden is the President-Elect of the United States’ The American people are going to throw you out of office. You will be repudiated and disgraced. You’ll leave nothing behind but the stench of epic failure. No American has ever failed this country worse than you. None. Your incompetence, ignorance, ineptitude, and old fashioned stupidity have caused the economic collapse and made the U.S. the epicenter of coronavirus death and suffering. You have shattered American alliances and weakened our military. You are a disgrace. Your name will be a synonym for losing, failure, and weakness. Biden is crushing you, and you want to know why? It’s because he is a good man and you are a bad one. He cares about the American people and you do not. He is respected on the world stage and you are laughed at like some type of grotesque and buffoonish clown. He is capable and you are not. You attack because you are scared. Take a minute to look at the picture of Fred Trump on your desk. Do you think he would be surprised by your failures? He would not. He bailed you out over and over again. He bailed you out because you couldn’t cut it as anything other than a con man. There will be no monuments and no encomiums for you. The whole country has watched you fail. The whole country is watching your increasingly feeble state. The whole country is watching you lose. We will all watch you return to your golf clubs as the biggest loser the American presidency has ever produced.”

– Steve Schmidt: former Republican strategist

Steve Schmidt is one of my favorite Republicans, albeit a “former” one now.

There is only one extremely important bad decision that Steve made back in 2008 that had profound impact on the American political system and truly shaped the world we live in. Remember he was McCain’s campaign manager.

He helped pick (and consented to choosing) Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate.

If he had not picked Palin, I believe McCain would have won the 2008 election. I would have voted for him, and so would have many others. McCain would have been president, presumably for two terms. We would have had eight years of solid conservative leadership under McCain and dignity in the office of the presidency. Obama, still very young at the time, would have risen, and been elected in 2016. We’d now be in the first Obama term. He would be running for reelection right now. The “tea party” movement of 2009 would not have happened. Trump and all that he stands for would never have risen.

Our world now is a truly different world from that, fashioned by Steve Schmidt’s direct contribution.

Any Female Urethra?

Here is a Facebook post by a good friend whom I have not seen in a long time. Thanks for this post, KL.

This will give you pause at first:

What weird little superpowers were you issued instead of the Flight and Super Strength you put in an order for? I have three:

1) I can catheterize just about any female urethra that crosses my path. Any species, although I have never been called upon to come to the aid of a hyena.

2) I am a clockhead: if I want to wake up at 2:13 AM, I wake up at 2:13 AM. Not that this makes me prompt.

3) And, like all middle-aged women, I get the invisibility superpower by default.

Your turn!

Now that you’re scratching your head about superpower #1, I should add that she is a veterinarian.

She is also one of the most quirky-humored persons I have ever met, and I can attest to the fact that she can keep you roaring with laughter for hours around the campfire with what she has experienced with all manner of animals large and small.

Ever wonder about a catheter for an elephant? She will have a story.

Thanks, KL, for adding some smiles in this gloomy world.

America’s Return to the Manned Space Program

Next Wednesday, May 27, 2020, is a big day. For the first time since July 8, 2011, American astronauts will be launched on an American spaceship from American soil.

When NASA grounded the space shuttle fleet in 2011, I didn’t think it was a good idea, and I never would have thought that for almost 10 years America would not have the capacity to launch humans into space. Of course, I also didn’t think in 1973 that we would not return to the moon for another at least 50 years.

On May 6, 2002, a 29-year-old South African immigrant named Elon Musk started a little company called SpaceX in Hawthorne, California. He wanted to make space travel cheaper so Mars could be colonized. I was a businessman in 2002, and if you had asked me if it was a good idea to start a rocket company I would have said you were insane. If you then had asked me if it was a good idea a year later to also start a car manufacturer in the United States, I would have said you’re insane squared. Musk did both of those things in 2002 and 2003 respectively, and has run both of those companies in parallel ever since. If you want to read a good biography of Musk, I can highly recommend Ashlee Vance’s Elon Musk.

The rocket and the spaceship that will launch two American veteran astronauts next Wednesday are built by SpaceX. This will be the first time ever a private company launches humans into orbit. I would not have thought this was possible in 2002. If told it was, I would have bet that the company doing it would be Boeing, or McDonnell Douglas, or Lockheed, but certainly not a startup.

I have been a businessman all my life myself. I have had many product launches, and deployments of new things for the first time. I know what it’s like to bet your company on a single product or a single project, and then succeed. I also know what it’s like that last night before “go live” when a thousand things can go wrong and make the whole project come crashing down. I know that the CEO can’t sleep the night before an important launch. I know how it feels when the pulse races, and the circular thinking at 2:30am does not let you calm down. I know what it feels like when all is at stake.

But even knowing all this, I cannot imagine what it must be like in Elon Musk’s life right now, for the next few days, when all is at stake and all the world watches as two American astronauts sit on top of a stack of highly explosive fuel to go to orbit, something no private company has ever done before. If something goes wrong, people die.

The pressure must be enormous.

I will be watching, and I am rooting for SpaceX and Musk.