Willkommen auf dem Mond : American Pragmatism and Moon landing

buzz aldrin and the flag

July 20, 2017: DC. My good friend Joan who knew Michael Collins, the senior pilot and the command module pilot of Apollo 11, was giving a tour of the national cathedral in Washington DC where there is a moon rock on display. During one of her tours a young marine asked – What is a moon rock? She replied – Maybe I suppose a rock from the moon!!

48 years ago today mankind took a giant step forward. 1969 was a year to remember I suppose (I don’t because I was not yet born!). Apollo 11 landed on the moon, Woodstock music festival in upstate New York took place a few weeks later, and Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village became the focal point of the gay rights moment.

Apollo 11 travelled 240,000 miles in 76 hours. The next day, Eagle, the LM (Lunar Module), began its descent to the lunar surface, and at 4:18 p.m. it touched down on the southwestern edge of the Sea of Tranquility. Neil Armstrong, the commander of Apollo 11 radioed to Mission Control in Houston, Texas:  “The Eagle has landed.” Archibald MacLeish a three time Pulitzer prize winner wrote a poem for the New York times.

The phrase ‘The Eagle Has Landed’ was also made famous by British writer Jack Higgins. The thriller novel is set during World War II and first published in 1975. It sold millions of copies. I had heard of the book in India, but never had heard what Armstrong had said  about the LM in India!

What has this all has to do with American Pragmatism?

Prof. Raymond Pfeiffer gives a very nice succinct definition of pragmatism. According to him Pragmatism was originally a thesis that the meaning of an idea can be found by attention to its practical consequences.

What has that to do with moon landing? Why, Operation Paperclip of course!

According to Annie Jacobsen (2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist for the book The Pentagon’s Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America’s Top-Secret Military Research Agency) book Operation Paperclip: “The Secret Intelligence Program to Bring Nazi Scientists to America. “Operation Paperclip was a secret program of the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency (JIOA) in which more than 1,600 German scientists, engineers, and technicians, such as Wernher von Braun and his V-2 rocket team, were recruited in post-Nazi Germany and taken to the U.S. for government employment, at the end of World War II; many were members and some were leaders of the Nazi Party.”

According to Wendy Lower – “Among the trophies of the Second World War captured by Allied intelligence agents were Nazi scientists and their research on biological and chemical weapons. In a classified memorandum titled “Exploitation of German Scientists in Science and Technology in the United States,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff described these men as “chosen, rare minds whose continuing intellectual productivity we wish to use.” Such intellectual spoils were not to fall into Soviet hands. In 1945, Operation Overcast (renamed Operation Paperclip for the paper clips attached to the dossiers of the most “troublesome cases”) began. More than 1,600 Germans were secretly recruited to develop armaments “at a feverish and paranoid pace that came to define the Cold War.”

“The New York Times, Newsweek and other media outlets exposed Paperclip as early as December 1946. Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt and Rabbi Steven Wise publicly opposed the program, and according to a Gallup poll, most Americans at the time considered it a “bad” idea.”

“Jacobsen tracks 21 of these Nazi scientists and technicians. Eight of her subjects had worked directly with Hitler, Himmler or Göring; 15 were active Nazi Party members; 10 served in paramilitary squads like the SA and SS; and six were tried at Nuremberg. A few familiar figures pop up, including several pioneers in space exploration — Wernher von Braun, Hubertus Strughold, Walter Dornberger and Arthur Rudolph.”

I love America. I am so happy that we welcomed the Nazis and used them well. We defeated who knows what known and unknown enemies with their knowledge. And we landed on the moon!

That is American Pragmatism. – The side which has the most Nazis wins the moon race! And of course don’t forget 100 billion dollars spent on the total missions cost in today’s dollars (400,000 engineers, technicians, and scientists, and costing $24 billion in 1960s monies)

As I was just finishing this, my good friend Brian (a wonderful raconteur and an avid historian) texted tome me after I asked him about the aforementioned issue. He wrote, “Yes. At the end of the war both the Americans and the Soviets scrambled to capture Nazis who could help in what would become the Cold War, especially intelligence agents and scientists. The Americans ended up getting the most important German rocket scientist, Werner Von Braun, and his work was the basis for the US rockets. There was a good BBC docudrama about this on Netflix, but I am not sure if out is still there. Thanks for responding!”

We should at least make a good movie of it!

Happy exploring my friends!

Three days and three nights we journeyed, steered by farthest stars, climbed outward, crossed the invisible tide-rip where the floating dust, falls one way or the other in the void between, followed that other down, encountered cold, faced death, unfathomable emptiness. ……We stand here in the dusk, the cold, the silence, and here, as at the first of time, we lift our heads. – Voyage To The Moon – Archibald MacLeish

PS: the New York times has a photo of Walter Cronkite holding up John Noble’s Wilford’s front page article on the moon landing, titled ‘Men Walk on Moon’. Archibald’s Poem appeared in the latter pages


Shawshank Redemption and Frank Darabont and making of a legend

Shawshank redemption and Frank Darabont and making of a legend.

When you think of something like Shawshank redemption – What do you feel? As for me I forgot the number of times I have seen the entire movie or parts of it (whenever it is playing on one of the channels). My good friend Wendy – a marketing and sales professional says the same thing about it.  I see a few things – I feel a sense of satisfaction. I remember the first time I saw it in WVU around 1999. A deep sense of completeness, satisfaction and triumph.

But how does one create such enduring stories. I would like to say honestly I don’t know. I never have written any story that was enduring. But Ryan Holiday had me thinking. Ryan has about 6 bestsellers before 30.

Maybe it is admiring and building up on others works. Here it was Frank Darabont building on Stephen King. But where did Stephen King get his idea from? According to IFC – “King’s novella shares several plot points with a nine-page short story by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy called “God Sees the Truth, But Waits.” Both are about men sent to prison for murders they didn’t commit.”

Now Stephen King did sell the rights to Shawshank to director Frank Darabont for $1.00!!  Yes that is not a typo. 1 dollar. (I have read long time ago that Stephen King had it framed. I cannot vouch for this).

2014 was the 20th anniversary of the film. It did not perform well at all in the box office. It could hardly just about breakeven given all the costs. Just around 25 million dollars.

This is what Vanity fair says – “Darabont, who “wanted to honor the source material,” mimicked the novella’s narrative thrust in his screenplay and even lifted some dialogue verbatim. Other plot points were entirely his invention, sharpening the film’s themes and adding dashes of cinematic violence. In King’s story, a minor character, Brooks, dies uneventfully in an old folks’ home. The movie dedicates a poignant montage to the now more pivotal Brooks’s inability to make it on the outside and his subsequent heart-wrenching suicide by hanging. Tommy, a young con who can clear Andy’s name, trades his silence for a transfer to a minimum-security prison in King’s version. The script has Tommy “chewed to pieces by gunfire.” And Darabont condensed King’s several wardens into the corrupt Warden Norton, who eventually blows his brains out rather than pay Lady Justice for his sins.”

Notice – Frank improved/modified the story according to who Frank was. “Darabont says he “wasn’t ready” to sit down at his word processor right away, and five years passed, as he focused on paid jobs writing scripts for The Blob and The Fly II.”

Darabont sold his first screenplay titled ‘Black Cat Run’ in 1986. His television movie and his directorial debut ‘Buried Alive’ in 1990 for USA network.

Castel Rock Entertainment’s Rob Reiner offered 2.5 million dollars to Darabont and he declined it! Why did he decline it?  (Reiner wanted to star Tom Cruise as Andy Dufresne and Harrison Ford as Red!! )

Why did he decline! What did Darabont see? That is a lot of money even now!

Then someone called Liz Glotzer with “a prison obsession” likes the script to make it into a movie. Now look at this Liz works for Castle Rock. Rob reiner got offended that Darabont would not sell the script to him for 2.5 million dollars. Then somehow defying all odds, against human nature and intuition, Reiner he pays 3 million dollars (around that- Darabont would not say how much) to direct the movie. The movie bombs on the box office. Then after a decade or so it is the all time favorite of many, many people

Morgan Freeman relies on less empirical evidence. “About everywhere you go, people say, ‘The Shawshank Redemption—greatest movie I ever saw,’ ” he told me. “Just comes out of them.” Not that he’s a disinterested observer, but Tim Robbins backs his co-star: “I swear to God, all over the world—all over the world—wherever I go, there are people who say, ‘That movie changed my life.’ ” Even the world’s most famous former prisoner connected with the movie, according to Robbins: “When I met [Nelson Mandela], he talked about loving Shawshank.”

How does that happen?

I don’t know

Happy traveling mates!

btw today July 19 in 1799 the Rosetta Stone was discovered. How did the French Egyptologist Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832), who had taught himself ancient languages succeed when others failed?


John Muir : Ur-Vagabounder


Tim Ferriss calls John Muir that on Pages 364 of The tools of Titans

The above is the legendary photo of John Muir with President Teddy.

Muir is the patron Saint of the Sierra club (I have been on week long trips with them, you guys should try them out, they are fantastic) . Here is the account – “In 1903, Roosevelt visited Muir in Yosemite. Guided into the Yosemite wilderness by naturalist John Muir, the president went on a three-day wilderness trip that started at the Mariposa Grove, and included Sentinel Dome, Glacier Point, and Yosemite Valley among other points of interest in Yosemite National Park. Muir seized the opportunity “to do some forest good in talking freely around the campfire,” and the President, referring to John Muir, is quoted as saying “Of course of all the people in the world, he was the one with whom it was best worth while thus to see the Yosemite.”

Here is an interesting quote from the same page 364  –  “One of Muir’s Yosemite visitors in the summer of 1871 was none other than the “Walden” – Ralph Waldo Emerson! – who gushed upon seeing the sequoias – “It’s a wonder we can see these trees and not wonder more”. Then Emerson scurried off a couple of hours later. – Muir speculated wryly – “Has he really seen the trees”!

Be travelling my friends

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

T. S. Eliot

World’s largest Solar Farm in India: More than 17 times the size of National Mall in DC.


National Geographic Megastructures featuring Adani’s Solar Power Plant.

World’s largest Solar Farm: More than 17 times size of National Mall in DC.

Kamuthi solar farm produces 648 megawatts of electricity. Its 2.5 million solar modules are cleaned each day by a team of robots, themselves solar-powered.

The new plant generates 648 MW and can power 150,000 homes.

Adani, an Indian company that specializes in solar development, has recently activated the largest solar installation in the world. Located in Kamuthi in the state of Tamil Nadu, the project is composed of 2.5 million solar panels covering more than 2,500 acres of land. Vneet Jaain, Adani CEO, said: “Before us, the largest solar power plant at a single location was in California in the U.S. That was of 550 MW and was completed in around three years. We wanted to set up a solar plant of 648 MW solar plant in a single location in less than a year.”

The Kamuthi solar farm produces 648 megawatts of electricity but here is the astonishing part. It was completed in just 8 months. Not only is solar power inexpensive and getting cheaper, a complete solar installation can be completed in the shortest possible time — a critical factor for countries like India where large portions of the population have no access to reliable electrical energy. It cost $679 million to build, which is a small fraction of what a comparable coal powered or nuclear generating plant would cost. A nuclear power plant today can take 9 years to design, build, and get operational.

Source of the article

strange owl

strange owl

A Eurasian eagle owl, one of the largest owls in the world, whose wings may span more than six feet; from Mike Unwin and David Tipling’s <i>The Enigma of the Owl</i>

Humans have always noticed owls. One of the earliest examples of Paleolithic art is an owl engraved on the wall of the Chauvet cave in France. Among the peculiarities of owl physiognomy is that owls have both eyes facing forward, unlike most birds. They can also turn their heads 270 degrees (making up for their inability to move their eyes). It has been easy to imagine that these creatures of darkness, mostly experienced as an ominous cry in the night or a disconcerting stare during the day, have personalities, and malign ones at that. Even today, the two books under review tell us, in many parts of the world owls are killed whenever they are encountered, for fear of their evil influence.

The Greeks perceived owls more positively, as embodiments of wisdom. The “owl of Athena” portrayed on Athenian coinage represents a real species, the little owl (Athene noctua), which can still be seen among Mediterranean ruins. Nowadays Europeans and Americans generally regard owls as benign but sometimes as pretentious, as in The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology of Bad Verse, which famously mocks poetry of “sentimentality” and “banality,” or the pompous know-it-all in A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh who misspells his own name “Wol.”

A few have been found the old-fashioned way, by hard slogging in remote places. In September 1976, John P. O’Neill and Gary Graves, researchers from Louisiana State University, were studying the birds of an unexplored stretch of dense cloud forest high in the northern Peruvian Andes. They were preparing to strike camp after three unsuccessful days in the rain when a tiny owl turned up in one of their nets. They had never seen anything like it. They named it the long-whiskered owlet for its strange facial bristles. It was so unlike any other owl that it was placed in a new genus all to itself, Xenoglaux, whose name is derived from the Greek words for “strange owl.” Additional long-whiskered owls weren’t found until 2007

the first picture is : Xenoglaux

the second picture : A Eurasian eagle owl, one of the largest owls in the world, whose wings may span more than six feet; from Mike Unwin and David Tipling’s The Enigma of the Owl

Source : New York Review of Books:

A Parliament of Owls By Robert O. Paxton


Occam’s razor, bizarre food, and exploration – Part 1.

Balut egg in Dalat, Vietnam.

Balut egg in Dalat, Vietnam.

BR85R5 Corn Smut Ustilago maydis growing on field corn Michigan USA corn

Corn Smut Ustilago maydis growing on field corn Michigan USA cor

The drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Thomas Stearns Eliot OM, better known by his pen name T. S. Eliot
Poem : 4 quarters – section 5

I am structurally atypical in my likes and dislikes when it comes to eating food. I am happily in the company of Andrew Zimmern of the bizarre foods. Just like in Star Trek, the Original series – TOS, which I watched during my formative years in India, I love exploring foods of different cultures. I am fascinated by people, places, and the unique contribution food makes to human history – warts and all – the good, bad, and the ugly.
I have just discovered through BBC travel about a quora question that is absolutely my heart’s question: Ethnic and Cultural Differences: What food is popular in your country, but unacceptable in other countries?
Why do I like that?  I guess it could be my life long yearning to go off the grid and explore.
What I mean is this: What would I need (using the basic Occam’s razor principle) that would free up my time to explore the universe?
No let’s first look at foods that are popular in some parts of the world and then other people from elsewhere cringe at even the thought of it.

This is from Quora

Country (Subregion), Food (further info on food and its preparation if

•Australia, various atypical Meats (including Kangaroo, Alpaca, Wombat, Camel, Emu, Crocodile, Possom…)
•Australia, Witchetty grub (a 12 cm long grub, served raw or cooked)
•Australia, Vegemite (a paste made from brewer’s yeast, served spread on toast)
•Bangladesh, Panta Bhaat (rice soaked in water overnight)
•Bangladesh, Beef Tripe (served as a spicy fried fried curry)
•Bangladesh, Shutki (processed smelly dry fish, cooked into various dishes)
•Brazil, PET bottle contaminates (various foods are placed inside a PET bottle, then cooked over an open flame, possibly contaminating the food), abacate (avocado) with sugar, chicken hearts
•British Virgin Islands, peas soup (made with kidney beans, milk, and sugar)
•Chile, Ñachi, coagulated pig or lamb fresh blood, dressed and served in cubes with bread
•Camaroon (Northwest), Palm grubs and grasshoppers
•China, Thousand Year Egg (Egg fermented for several weeks)
•China, cow/bull genital and testicle (stew in Chao Shan beef hot pot)
•China, Virgin Boy Eggs (eggs simmered in the urine of young boys)
•Egypt, AkaWei (cooked cow or buffalo tails with vegetables), Lesan (Cooked cow tongues, Makhasi (cooked calf or buffalo testicles), KawaRee (cooked cow legs).
•Ethiopia, Raw Beef (from newly slaughtered cattle or delivered fresh meat, usually eaten along with spices, and kifto is a popular variant)
•Finland, False Morel (a toxic mushroom)
•France, Mimolette (a cheese that cheese mites are encouraged to run rampant upon)
•France: Rabbit meat (considered a pet in other countries)
•Germany, Blutwurst (a cured sausage made with pig’s blood and fatty bacon)
•Germany, Hackepeter or Mett (finely minced raw meat, eaten on bread, often with raw, chopped onions)
•Germany, Saumagen (a fresh sausage made inside a pigs stomach, incredients can include: potatoes, meat, onions, and more)
•Greece, Kokoretsi, (Sheep or goat intestine stuffed with liver and spleen and roasted
•India (southern), Oorugai (concentrated mix of pickled chillies and vegetables)
•Italy (Sardinia), Casu Marzu (”rotten cheese”, cheese that maggots are encouraged to live and grow in)
•Japan, furikake (anything you sprinkle over rice to add flavor, starting with dried salted vegetables through salted salmon)
•Japan, Natto (fermented soybeans, served mixed with rice and a sauce, has an extremely sticky, stringy texture and a strong smell)
•Japan, Tuna Eyes (unknown)
•Lebenon, Raw Liver (served with pita, mint, pepper and salt in bite sized portions)
•Macau, Fish Balls (made from shaped fish paste, served cooked, sometimes with a sauce, has a gelatinous texture)
•Mexico, Maguey Worm (moth larva, served fried with guacamole)
•México, Huitlacoche (aka corn smut, a fungus that parasitizes the kernels, served in quesadillas)
•México, Tacos de seso (cow brains tacos)
•México, Moronga (pig’s blood sausage)
•México, Tripas de cerdo (grilled pig’s small intestine, taco filling)
•New Zealand, Rotten sweetcorn, (Kanga Wai, a porridge made from sweetcorn kernels soaked in water for months)
•Norway, Smalahove (roasted sheep’s head)
•Philippines, Balut (also balot, cooked duck embryo, boiled in the shell)
•Russia, Kholodets (Meat Jelly)
•Scotland, Haggis (heart, lungs and liver of a sheep cooked inside its own stomach)
•Singapore (also S.E. Asia), Durian (aka the King of Fruits, an extra-ordinarily strong smelling fruit with a creamy texture, many find the smell unpleasant, banned on public transport there)
•South Africa, Biltong (dried meat, rather like jerky)
•South Africa, less typically used parts of Meat (BBQed sheeps head, chicken head and feet, tripe)
•South Korea, Sannakji (small raw octpus, seasoned with sesame oil and seads)
•UK (and others), barbecued hamburgers, (not considered proper to be barbecued in Brazil and maybe other S.A. countries)
•Vietnam, Balut (cooked duck embryo, boiled in the shell) , Dog meat , Cat meat.

We also have a bbc travel article.

E4PDN4 Brown False Morel (Gyromitra fastigiata), rare, Hainich National Park, Thuringia, Germany

Brown False Morel (Gyromitra fastigiata), rare, Hainich National Park, Thuringia, Germany

The false morel mushroom, described by some as having a nutty, sweet maple taste, is so good it might just be flavour to die for. The highly toxic mushroom is banned throughout most of Europe, but in Finland, the fungus is a delicacy. It requires delicate handling and preparation to remove most of the main toxins – it’s usually dried and parboiled at least twice. Even still, the preparation doesn’t remove all of the poisonous chemical – side effects can include everything from a queasy stomach to death for the metabolically sensitive.

Happy exploring and eating!!