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I didn’t watch Roger Federer win the Australian Open yesterday; the match occurred in the middle of the night,  East coast time, and by that time I was fast asleep. Apparently, there was a delayed telecast, but I heard about it too late and missed that too. No matter. I hope to watch the full match on YouTube. I have already watched the highlights and the Fed seems as awesome as ever. Marin Cilic tried hard and uncorked some gorgeous shots of his own but Roger merely shifted to a higher gear and pulled away in the fifth set.

By this time, everything that can be said about Roger’s matchless style has already been said and I am not going to repeat it here. Rather I want to talk focus the pleasure he gives us tennis fans every time he steps on court. It is not just the beauty of his game but the way he conducts himself: the sportsmanship, the modesty, the lowkey demeanor that makes us all his acolytes. What a treat to see an all-time great like Rod Laver in the stands applauding and later taking a selfie with the Fed. How wonderful to hear what other greats like John Newcombe, Mats Wilander, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Lindsay Davenport had to say about the Fed. And to see the overwhelming support that Roger enjoys from the fans in the stands no matter where he plays. Pity Marin Cilic and all the other opponents that Roger faces: every game must seem like an ” away” game.

I think it was ESPN which came up with an amazing statistic: The 2018 Australian Open marks the 200th Grand Slam of the Open era which began in 1968 and, by winning his 20th Grand Slam, Roger has won fully 10% of all Grand Slam finals played. As amazing as this is, it doesn’t go far enough. Why include the Grand Slam tournaments that Federer never competed in ? If you consider that he has competed in 70 Grand Slam tournaments over the course of his career, his winning percentage  is 28.6% ( 20/70). If you consider that he has entered 30 Grand Slam finals, that percentage works out to a phenomenal 42.8% ( 30/70). The percentage of semi-final appearances is close to 50% !

No one else is in the same league.

Generally, when a player or a team is so dominant, fans tend to root for their opponents , the underdogs. So it is that football fans ( outside of New England) are overwhelmingly rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles to pull off an upset in next week’s Super Bowl even as they know it is highly unlikely. Not so with Federer. Now that he has won his 20th, we Federer fans have begun to dare to dream of # 21 at Wimbledon in May. Part of this is because of the Federer- Nadal rivalry and  the worry  that Nadal may yet catch up with the Fed in terms of Grand Slam wins.( Admittedly, this is a very faint possibility with Federer four ahead of Rafa. However, one can never be sure. Nadal is five years younger and, with the injuries to Murray and Djokovic, there is no one other than the Fed in Nadal’s way if he is able to overcome his injuries). A bigger reason is the sheer pleasure of watching Federer play. He is now 36 and, sooner or later, age will catch up with him. This is at the back of our minds every time we see him on court; we want to see him play as long as we can.

P.S. One final story about Roger Federer that I simply have to share with you. Roger Federer’s first coach , Peter Carter ,was an Australian who died in a car crash in South Africa way back in 2002. Roger has never forgotten the man whom he credits with having molded him into a tennis player and whom he calls the ” most influential coach” he has ever had. He has kept in touch with Peter Carter’s parents, Bob and Diana, and every year he has hosted them at the Australian Open, paying for their airfare, hotel, limo service etc. This year too they were in the players box cheering Roger on to his 20th Grand Slam.

It is such actions that make Roger Federer the most beloved athlete in the world and it is why everyone roots for him.

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Even though India lost the Test series to South Africa 2-1, and even though their lone victory came after the series was already decided, the Indian team’s performance was commendable and the result as good we could have expected. Even in the first two tests, India were always in the game and had their catching been better and had they fielded the right team, they could have won at least one of the first two matches and taken the series 2-1. This is not to offer excuses or indulge in ” coulda, shoulda, woulda.” South Africa won the series all right but for Indian fans there is much to be happy about. Topmost among them is the lion hearted performance of our bowlers. In all three tests, India were able to bowl out South Africa in both innings, a feat rarely achieved by past touring sides from India. Before the tour started, I’d been very curious about how our pacemen would fare on  the fast sporting South African tracks. They did just fine. True, they did not always bowl the right lengths and were sometimes wayward in their deliveries but overall they acquitted themselves very well. When they were all bowling well, they mounted sustained pressure on the Proteas batsmen.  Bhuvaneshwar was magnificent, Ishant slightly less so. Shami and Bumrah were not always consistent in their lines and lengths but they had their moments. Overall, a very good performance by the unit.

The other thing that is praiseworthy is the fighting spirit displayed by the entire team, particularly the batsmen who stood up to a fiery pace attack in the second innings at Wanderers. On a pitch with unpredictable bounce with balls rearing up sharply, the entire team showed grit as they compiled a match-winning total of 247. This sort of stout hearted resistance has not often been seen in past Indian teams. Full credit to the batsmen and to Kohli for fostering this never-say-die attitude. Kohli also deserves accolades for his batting in the series, never more than in the second test when he gave a batting masterclass in the course of his superb innings of 153.

On the other hand, Kohli also deserves censure for the team selection. No matter what he says, I’m sure his was the decisive voice in selecting the playing XI. He has tried to justify his moves in selecting Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma over K.L.Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane but his reasoning doesn’t hold water. The first two have well deserved reputations for being vulnerable on seaming tracks. Meanwhile,  Rahane was not only India’s best batsman in matches abroad but India’s best slip fielder. To have persisted with this folly in the second test while also leaving out Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, India’s most successful bowler in the first test, was indefensible. I cannot help thinking that Rahane was omitted because Kohli sees him as a possible rival for the captaincy.

One wonders what would have happened if Anil Kumble were still the coach rather than Ravi Shastri who doesn’t seem to do much. Shastri  seems to go along with everything that Kohli wants and he also does not provide anything in the way of strategy or coaching. If Kumble had been in his place, one feels things would have been quite different. There would not have been these selection blunders and Team India would not have been so sloppy in the field. Kumble is just as committed to winning as Kohli is even though his style is different. When Kumble was let go, we were told that unnamed team members thought he was too much of a taskmaster. Well, perhaps a task master is just what was needed for this young team. Perhaps then we would not have seen spectacles like Pandya being run because he failed to ground his bat, Pujara being run out twice in the second test and Pandya and Shami colliding as they fluffed a chance for a simple catch. Kumble’s experience would also have been invaluable to the bowlers. And finally, Kumble would have reined in Kohli’s aggressiveness and his unnecessary abrasiveness. As it is, Kohli is not making any friends for India with his behavior and is a terrible role model for the team.

Still, this has been a good start to the tour and cricket fans will be waiting with bated breath to see what happens in the ODIs and T20Is. Having run South Africa close in the Test series will have immeasurably increased the team’s confidence.

Go India.

 

 

 

 

 

Portmanteau Words

Portmanteau words are those in which two meanings are packed into one word. They are formed by blending or combining two words into one. Lewis Carroll, best known for the classic” Alice in Wonderland”, was the first to come up with such words in his poem Jabberwocky. Two of the his words are brillig ( brilliant+ evening) and slithy (slimy + lithe).These two never became popular but there are many others that are in widespread use today. I was amazed to find how many portmanteau words there are. I divide them into three classes.

I. Those in common usage that we don’t think of as portmanteau words. Two examples are flare ( flame + glare= a sudden burst of bright light) and chortle ( chuckle + snort = to laugh in a breathy gleeful way). Those two I like, but I hate meld (melt+ weld= to blend or combine) probably because it is overused.

II. Those which are commonly used and are obvious portmanteau words. Some examples are smog, brunch, sitcom, infomercial, Chunnel, Cineplex, modem and fanzine. Turducken (Turkey+ duck + chicken =  a chicken stuffed into a duck  stuffed into a turkey) is the only  three-in-one portmanteau word that I know. These are all familiar and easy to decipher but there are others that are of more recent vintage which may not be so obvious. A prime example is affluenza ( affluence + influenza) which means “a lack of guilt or motivation experienced by people who have made or inherited a lot of money”. Apparently, the word dates back to 1954 but became known to the public at large as a result of the notorious drunk driving trial of Ethan Couch. Couch was a 16 year old who drove a pick up truck into a crowd of people that was helping a stranded motorist. Four people were killed and one of the passengers in Couch’s pickup was permanently paralyzed. Couch’s blood alcohol limit was tested at 0.24 ( three times the limit). At his juvenile trial in 2016, a defense expert used the term affluenza while arguing that Couch’s wealthy parents had coddled him into a sense of irresponsibility ! He was found guilty and sentenced to only 120 days in jail and 10 years probation. Before he began his sentence, Couch’s mother spirited him off to Mexico but they were found and extradited back to the U.S. He was subsequently sentenced to two years in jail.

III. Those that are not only obscure but are impossible to break down into their component words. For example, what do you think listicle means. I would have guessed an article that is part of a list. Wrong! It actually means ” a piece of writing or other content presented wholly or partly in the form of a list”. Go figure! What about manspreading? It is defined as ” the practice whereby a man traveling on public transport sits with his legs wide apart so as to encroach on an adjoining seat or seats”. I must admit I found that word hilarious, even though it wasn’t as funny as when I encountered its practitioners in real life.

However, the word that really gets my goat is glamping which is a combination of the words glamour + camping. It means vacationing in a rustic setting while enjoying luxurious amenities such as sleeping on soft bedding in a safari tent or teepee, having ample hot water, toilets with heated seats and restaurant quality food “cooked” under the supervision of a chef. ” Cooking”, in this case, means turning your steak when chef at your elbow tells you exactly when to do so. The word angers me because it is the antithesis of camping which implies roughing it out in the great outdoors. Glamping merely gives the illusion of ruggedness while babying customers who pay handsomely for the experience. If I were to coin a word to describe my feelings about such people it would be contempsise ( contempt + despise). The word does not exist ( I just made it up) but all the other portmanteau words in this post can be found in the Oxford English Dictionary. Hard to believe but true!

Winter Sun

In all of December 2017, Moscow received exactly six minutes of sunlight. Six minutes…. over thirty-one days!! The rest of the time it was cloudy and overcast. Not that last December was much worse than usual. The average amount of sunlight that Muscovites enjoyed in other Decembers was eighteen minutes. Still pitiful.

The lack of sunlight, the early darkness and the longer nights are the things that bother me most about winter. The cold and the snow of a New Jersey winter I can handle particularly since I don’t have to worry about shoveling the driveway ( taken care as part of the maintenance package in our development) or going to work ( I’m retired). What’s also good is that, in New Jersey, there are usually aren’t periods of sustained cold and that, even when it is cold, the sun is out almost every day. We count sunlight hours , not minutes… unlike Moscow. And what a difference it makes. True, the sunlight is weak. It doesn’t matter. Just the fact that the sun is shining is enough; that we can see it provides a lift to the spirit. We had some days last week when the temperature was in the teens ( 14 deg. F = minus 8C) but this week it is in the mid-forties ( about 7 deg. C). It’s a big difference and one almost feels warm today.

And winter has its compensations. It snowed last week  (about 4 inches) and, because it was below freezing, the snow froze and clung to the tree branches like icicles. I was driving to the supermarket and it was a fairytale setting with the snow covered fields and the ice clad trees. By today, all the snow had melted and one was left with the stark beauty of barren fields and leafless trees. There was also the knowledge that this is a passing phase. February is usually the coldest, snowiest month but then there is the promise of spring . Winter just makes us appreciate it more.

San Diego is said to have the perfect weather.. sunny all year around with the temperature never far from 70degrees F.  I admit that it sometimes sounds attractive but then I think it would soon become boring. ( Another perfect day… Ho hum). Give me New Jersey and the change of seasons any day.

 

The New York Times recently had an interesting article “Does Your Doctor’s Age Matter?” It was authored by Dr. Haider Javed Warraich, a 29 year old Fellow in Cardiovascular medicine at Duke University Medical Center. In the article, Dr. Warraich states that, when it comes to choosing a doctor, patients place a premium on age because they equate age with experience. Dr. Warraich argues that “In medicine, a lack of experience may actually not be a bad thing” and to support his opinion he cites a Harvard research study which says that patients treated by younger doctors are less likely to die. The study concluded that younger doctors are less likely to 1) order unnecessary tests 2) to face disciplinary action and 3) be cited for improper prescription of opoid painkillers and controlled substances. It also found a positive correlation between lack of experience and better quality of medical care. Younger doctors were found to be more likely to use innovative practices, learn new procedures and be free of relics of the past.

Now, I have the highest respect for Harvard University but I find it difficult to accept these findings. For one thing, I have no idea how pronounced the results were in favor of younger doctors. How strong was the correlation between lack of experience and better medical care? Furthermore, some of the conclusions seem contrary to what common sense tells me. It seems to me that younger doctors, because of their inexperience, would be less confident and thus likely to order more tests rather than less.

I prefer to trust my own experience with doctors even though it is anecdotal.

To begin with, let’s agree that age and competence are not mutually exclusive. There are some good young doctors, some bad ones and many in-between. There are also some good old doctors, some bad ones and many in-between. I would not choose a doctor solely based on age. If a good friend strongly recommended a doctor (and if that doctor accepted my medical insurance), I would want to be his patient regardless of his age. I will admit that if a doctor was very youthful, I would be a little uneasy about his skills and I would definitely be uncomfortable dealing with him because of the generation gap. Contrary to the Harvard study, which said that younger doctors are “more likely to place the patient on a pedestal than themselves”, I have found younger MDs to be brash and less respectful. Sometimes, I also feel they are less interested in older patients, an unspoken vibe that “You have had your innings already.”

The one thing that I will agree with is that younger doctors are likely to be more innovative and open to new procedures and techniques. I remember that when my wife was considering a knee replacement we were very impressed by a local surgeon who had performed thousands of such operations and received the highest accolades from his patients. Then, a close friend told us of her experience with a surgeon in his forties who used new techniques that resulted in less invasive procedures, smaller incisions and a much reduced rehabilitation period. My wife doesn’t need the surgery anymore but, if she did, I know which one she would prefer.

On the other hand, medicine is not only a science but an art. Med school is only the beginning of a doctor’s education. The greater part of his education occurs later as he hones his skills on real world patients, real life situations. I remember a doctor who used to practice in Rahway. He was not impressive in his appearance or manner but his diagnostic skills were phenomenal. He was able to accurately diagnose what was wrong merely by listening to a patient’s description of symptoms and by asking the right questions. His patients loved him and valued him highly. His office receptionist once said to me, “If I ever fell ill, there is no one I’d rather have as a doctor than Dr. M.”

Insofar as choosing a doctor for myself is concerned, I would opt for the one who was strongly recommended, regardless of his or her age. Wherever possible though, I’d choose one who was in his or her fifties or younger but that is for a practical reason. I want a doctor who is not close to retirement age, one whom I can rely on for the next several years.

Changing perceptions

While watching the smash hit  Netflix series The Crown, I was struck by how the Duke of Windsor has gone from being a hero to a shallow,  selfish dilettante and quite likely a Nazi sympathizer. Initially, he was admired by many of my parents’ generation for giving up the throne of England to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson. That view has long since been discarded. Historians now feel that it was lucky for his country that he abdicated, paving the way for his younger brother to become King George VI.  By all accounts, the latter was a man of sterling character who overcame his insecurities and worked well with the wartime prime minister Winston Churchill to guide Britain through her darkest days. The Duke meanwhile was an embarrassment who was appointed Commissioner to the Bahamas to keep him out of the way and spent his later years as little more than a pitiful shell of a man who spent his days travelling and attending endless parties.

An even more striking example of changing perceptions is Herbert Hoover, the most derided American president of his time. His image is forever tarnished by his ineffectiveness during the Great Depression  which began in October 1929, just eight months after his inauguration. Hoover’s insistence on balancing the budget even at the cost of raising taxes sent the economy into a tailspin from which it never recovered until FDR succeeded him. And yet, there was much about Hoover that was laudable. His early years read like a Horatio Alger story. Orphaned at age 9, he was sent to live with an uncle who disregarded the young boy’s brightness.   He was sent to work as an office boy even  before he completed high school. At age 17, he passed an entrance exam that enabled him to attend Stanford University, then a free school. After graduating from Stanford with a degree in geology, he was unable to find an engineering job. He took a job loading ore carts at a gold mine in Nevada City  CA, working 10 hours a day, seven days a week for the miserable pittance of ten cents an hour. After several years of this dead end job, he was chosen as trouble shooter for a British mining company where he rose to become chief engineer. When World War I broke out he helped evacuate Americans stranded in Europe by the war and displayed remarkable efficiency in bringing home 120,000 of them home. His finest moments were after the war when he was chosen to head The Committee for Relief in Belgium. At the time, Belgium was in sad shape , its  farms destroyed, its factories shut and its food stocks depleted. The Belgians were in grave danger of starving but Hoover managed to supply them with 20,000 tons of food, every week for a period of 2-1/2 years – a feat which made him an international hero and earned him the title of the Great Humanitarian. However, a  recent book by Bill Bryson is not so laudatory. Bryson’s book says that Hoover missed no opportunity to publicize his humanitarian work and that others, such as Myron Herrick, the U.S ambassador to France worked just as tirelessly but never sought the spotlight. So how should Hoover be remembered … for his humanitarian feats or for his ineffective Presidency? There is no easy answer.

In bygone days, celebrities were usually protected from the results of their peccadilloes and their character flaws hidden from the public. JFK , for instance, was  a serial womanizer whose affairs were kept under wraps until long after his assassination. Journalists felt an obligation to do so out of respect for the President, the position not the man. In those days, there was too little information about public figures. Nowadays, there is too much. Every action is dissected, audio and video equipment intrudes on every moment, public or private. News is mostly opinion and it is difficult to know what the truth really is.

The British cricket writer , Peter Roebuck, tells in his autobiography of a chance encounter with a soldier.  At the time, Roebuck had been dealt with rather shabbily by the powers that be. The soldier approached, shook his hand, wished him well and said” The closer you get to men of substance, the more they seem like shadows.”

How true.

Friends had long ago told us about the Netflix series The Crown and how good it was but we put off watching it. “How interesting could it be?” we thought. I am not a fan of the British royal family and Queen Elizabeth has always struck me as a colorless character, her monarchy boring. Consequently, my wife and I didn’t watch The Crown until two weeks ago. Then, in the space of eight days we raced through both seasons ( 20 episodes) and absolutely loved it.

These first two seasons ( I believe a total of six are planned) cover the early years of Elizabeth’s reign which began in 1953. The first episodes provide a preamble to her ascension to the throne with flashbacks cluing us to the circumstances that led to it , notably: the abdication of Edward VIII ( later The Duke of Windsor) and the short reign and early death of George VI, Elizabeth’s father. We also get vignettes of Elizabeth’s childhood: her father’s affection for her and her sister Margaret, and her marriage to Prince Philip her impoverished second cousin from another branch of the family.

The series is a masterly collage of scenes that give us a sympathetic portrait of a young woman, totally unprepared for the monarchy, who nevertheless grows into it, overcoming government ministers who look down upon her, palace intrigues, a petulant husband who feels emasculated by his role as Prince consort and a train of events that she has no control over but which will reflect upon her as the Queen of England. Among the problems she has to deal with: her sister Margaret’s dalliance with a married man Group Captain Peter Townsend, and her later marriage to Antony Armstrong- Jones; the aging PM Winston Churchill, at 80 a shadow of his former self who still thinks of himself as indispensable; his successors Antony Eden beset by health problems and in over his head  and the weak ineffectual Harold McMillan; the Suez crisis; the breaking away of Britain’s African colonies beginning with Ghana and, in the last episode of the second season, the Christine Keeler scandal which threatened to ensnare Prince Philip if only because of his connection with Stephen Ward the osteopath and procurer who committed suicide before he could be tried.

As she overcomes these problems, Elizabeth is shown as growing from an inexperienced, under-educated unsure young woman into a true monarch even though she has limited powers. Claire Foy is magnificent as Queen Elizabeth, portraying her as one imbued with a strong sense of duty, dignified, hardworking, vulnerable and lonely and yet possessed of a quiet strength that comes through when she needs it most. The scene in which she stands up to her uncle, the Duke of Windsor, and turns down his quest for a meaningful job is a masterpiece. It made me want to stand up and cheer.

She is ably supported by the rest of the cast particularly Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret, John Lithgow as Winston Churchill and Alex Jennings as the Duke of Windsor. The one weak link, in my opinion, is Matt Smith who plays Prince Philip and turns in a one-dimensional performance. Other strengths of the series are the excellent writing ( Do people in real life really express themselves so well?), the attention to historical detail, the costumes and the pageantry and the lovingly photographed English countryside.

The Crown does not have violent scenes, nudity or even partial nudity. Neither does it have epic  battle scenes. That it yet is so gripping is a tribute to the acting, the smooth pacing of the unfolding story and the superior acting and writing. There was one episode, about Prince Philip’s  struggles as a young boarder at Gordonstoun which I thought was given more screen time than necessary. I understand how it led to his insistence that Charles follow in his footsteps and attend that school but surely it need not have taken up an entire episode. I would have much preferred to know more about the early attraction of the young Elizabeth to Philip , as also the way in which both Elizabeth and Philip neglected their children, particularly Charles.

Growing up in India in the fifties and early sixties, I was exposed to more coverage of the British royal family than most Americans. Once I came to the U.S in 1968, I ceased to follow news reports about them and read only the major stories about them such as the death of Princess Diana and its aftermath. Consequently, most of what I knew about Queen Elizabeth pertained to the early years of her reign. I certainly didn’t know the extent of the Duke of Windsor’s Nazi sympathies or what a bounder Antony Armstrong Jones was or the suggestions ( in this series) that Philip was a womanizer who played around.  I am sure the writers and producers of the Crown have a solid factual basis for the events described in the Crown but have no way of knowing which of the details are imaginative extensions of the truth. This, after all, is faction ( a blend of fact and fiction) or ” creative non-fiction”.

Whatever be the case, the series has left me impatient for the next season. Until then, I am going to bone up on stories about the British royal family. Already, I have gotten from the library a book on Prince Philip. In The Crown, Philip does not come across as a likeable character. He is always whining, obnoxious and loudmouthed, resentful at his secondary role, harsh with Prince Charles and not there for his wife when she really needs his support. I didn’t like him even before I saw The Crown but was he really that bad? The book I have seems to say that he was a talented man with many accomplishments to his credit. I want to find out if that is really true.

 

 

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