Happy 4th of July

Having spent our 50th anniversary in London, a few Independence Day thoughts are in order.

First, while watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, with all the pomp and rigidity of the occasion, I found it amazing that democracy originated out of this. But it did and the world owes them.

Second, the security surrounding the royals is intense and thorough. Guys with submachine guns with fixed bayonets etc. etc. I haven’t seen things like that since NY State penitentiary denizens were brought to my office for neurologic evaluations. I wouldn’t want to live like that.

Third, I can begin to see why 50+ years ago in grad school at Harvard, the US was regarded as somewhat crude, slow and inelegant. It was the era of the ugly American etc. etc. This, despite Don Voet’s observation that the Universal Scientific Language was broken English.

Going through London’s excellent museums one can see why people who’d been to Europe back then might have thought this way. But the museums are all about the past (except for an incredible exhibit at the natural history museum on epigenetics complete with research professor and two graduate students). What did the next 50 years bring? They’re all carrying cell phones over there, and iPads, and using Google and of course the internet, all originating in the USA. Compare the Science the USA has produced during that time to that of Europe: equal at the worst.

Never mind that we did it with European castoffs (4 of the 7 Nobels in the Harvard Chemistry department during this time, were Jewish refugees or their children). That’s the great strength of America, they’re as American as anyone else, just like Sergey Brin the cofounder of Google, a Russian Jew by birth. Or Andrew Grove, etc. etc.

Even back in the 60s, I never thought Europe was so wonderful. Two world wars, the concentration camps, Stalin and the Gulags to atone for. So I never regarded them as particularly civilized, something only strengthened in the 90s, with their atrocious handling of genocide in Kosovo.

Lest you think this is all in the past, my cousin the month we were in London was on some sort of river cruise down the Danube, and their tour of Vienna had to be rerouted because of a NeoNazi rally. They appear to have learned nothing from their awful history.

So happy 4th of July. Glad to be back in the good ol’ USA.

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Comments

  • PPedroso  On July 7, 2014 at 6:41 am

    You may have the present but Europe has the past and someone else (China, Africa?) will have the future.

  • luysii  On July 7, 2014 at 6:49 am

    Like Japan was supposed to in the 80’s ?

  • pm  On July 8, 2014 at 10:34 am

    A very blinkered view of the USA in there it seems to me. Good and bad on both sides. Extreme right just as much of an issue in the US (it appears to be more tolerated /mainstream there even), rampant religious extremism too. There is a lot about the US which seems uncivilised to Europeans – acceptance of gun crime, criminal interventionism abroad, inequality, poor social welfare etc. All depends on what makes someone civilised I suppose. I would certainly hesitate to make such crude generalisations about US citizens.
    I like most of your posts but occasionnaly, as in this one you show an unpleasant side which degrades you.

  • luysii  On July 8, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    As far as I know the US never had concentration camps designed for extermination of particular groups. We’ve bailed out Europe twice in the past century. Who do you think will help you when Putin moves west? The Palestinians? China? Venezuela?

  • luysii  On July 8, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    “Extreme right just as much of an issue in the US (it appears to be more tolerated /mainstream there even)” — Incredible as a defense of the continent that saw the National Front win 25% of the popular vote in France, Golden Dawn win 10% in Greece, the Freedom party win 20% in Austria and a neoFascist party win 15% in Hungary in elections held in May of this year.

    Is history repeating itself as farce over there?

  • Passerby  On July 10, 2014 at 3:09 am

    The level of civilization of a country cannot be judged by a hundred years’ worth of history or concentration camps alone. I can ask you – Europe gave us Beethoven, Mozart, Goethe, Kant, Lagrange, Monet, Galileo, Newton, Hume and Russell. What comparable talent has the US given us? This kind of one-upmanship is silly and biased and benefits nobody.

  • luysii  On July 10, 2014 at 7:04 am

    No question about past contributions. It was inspiring to be in Westminster Cathedral and see the tombs of Darwin, Maxwell, Faraday and Dirac within a few feet of each other.

    I’d argue about Russell’s contributions. As anyone playing the stock market, past performance is no guarantee of future performance. The past 50 years have seen US contributions in science far outstrip those of Europe in both quality and quantity. Woodward in organic chemistry, Feynman, Witten, Wheeler in physics, just about everyone in molecular biology.

    We’ve also been hectored about the greater moral superiority of Europe by such luminaries as Gunter Grass, Waffen SS fighter. As to social services, we’ll see what happens to them when Europe has to pony up to pay for its own defense against Putin. They’ve let the USA carry the load for the past 50 years.

  • Passerby  On July 10, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    True, but fifty years is a blip on the radar as far as history is concerned, and Feynman, Wheeler and Witten, while great scientists, are not exactly Darwin, Faraday or Newton. Also, I would strongly disagree that “just about everyone in molecular biology” has come from the US – what about Crick, Brenner, Monod, Jacob, Sanger and Perutz?

    Social and economic inequality in the US compared with completely over the top expenditures on things like defense are bleeding the country and cracks are starting to appear in the edifice. And this after just fifty years of being a superpower. In fact Noam Chomsky says that the only time the US was a real superpower – financially, technologically and morally – was in the few years after World War 2, until about 1950. And while arguing morality can be tricky, I would disagree that the US is morally superior to Europe – what about Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Nicaragua, Iraq and Afghanistan?

    England in contrast dominated for almost five hundred years. Can the US do this, especially in a globalized world where other countries are catching up in so many different ways? Only time will tell. My real point was that we should be past the point where we play such games, claiming that one country is “superior” to another. Every country carries its own baggage.

  • luysii  On July 11, 2014 at 9:48 am

    Comparing the 50 years of US scientific endeavor to European science of the past 150 years isn’t reasonable. Your choices of Crick, Brenner, Monod, Jacob, and Perutz are revealing, as their truly seminal work was done more than 50 years ago. Sanger’s wasn’t. I was speaking of the zeitgeist at Harvard and elsewhere in the early 60s when I first was in graduate school.

    “Over the top expenditures on things like defense” benefitted Europe more directly than it benefitted the USA. We’ll see what happens to Europe’s social programs, when (and if) they carry their own weight defensively against Russia and (perhaps) Iranian missiles.

    Although we clearly disagree, I appreciate your taking the time to respond so thoughtfully.

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