Tag Archives: 4th of July

Happy Fourth of July

Only immigrants truly appreciate this country.  So it’s worth repeating an earlier post about them. Happy fourth of July.

Hitler’s gifts (and Russia’s gift)

In the summer of 1984 Barack Obama was at Harvard Law, his future wife was a Princeton undergraduate, and Edward Frenkel a 16 year old mathematical prodigy was being examined for admission to Moscow State University. He didn’t get in because he was Jewish. His blow by blow description of the 5 hour exam on pp. 28 – 38 of his book “Love & Math” is as painful to read as it must have been for him to write.

A year earlier the left in Europe had mobilized against the placement of Pershing missiles in Europe by president Reagan, already known there as a crude and witless former actor, but, unfortunately possessed of nuclear weapons. Tens of thousands marched. He had even called the Soviet Union an Evil Empire that year. Leftists the world over were outraged. How unsophisticated to even admit the possibility of evil. Articles such as “Reagan’s image in Europe does not help Allies in deploying American missiles” appeared in the liberal press.

The hatred of America is nothing new for the left.

Reset the clock to ’60 – ’62 when I was a grad student in the Harvard Chemistry department. The best place to meet women was the International house. It had a piano, and a Polish guy who played Chopin better than I did. It had a ping pong table, and another Polish guy who beat me regularly. The zeitgeist at Harvard back then, was that America was rather crude (the Ugly American was quite popular), boorish and unappreciative of the arts, culture etc. etc.

One woman I met was going on and on about this, particularly the condition of the artist in America, and how much better things were in Europe. I brought up Solzhenitzen, and the imprisonment of dissidents over there. Without missing a beat, she replied that this just showed how important the Russian government thought writers and artists were. This was long before Vietnam.

It was definitely a Saul on the road to Damascus moment for me. When the left began spelling America, Amerika in the 60s and 70s, I just ignored it.

Fast forward to this fall, and the Nobels. The 7th Chemistry Nobel bestowed on a department member when I was there went to Marty Karplus. The others were Woodward, Corey, Lipscomb, Gilbert, Hoffman, Bloch. While Bill Lipscomb was a Kentucky gentleman to a T (and a great guy), Hoffman spent World War II hiding out in an attic, his father being in a concentration camp (guess why). Konrad Bloch (who looked as teutonic as they come) also got out of Europe due to his birth. Lastly Karplus got out of Euruope as a child for the same reason. Don Voet, a fellow grad student, whose parents got out of Europe for (I’ll make you guess), used to say that the Universal Scientific Language was — broken English.

So 3/7 of the Harvard Chemistry Nobels are Hitler and Europe’s gifts to America.

Russia, not to be outdone, gave us Frenkel. Harvard recognized his talent, and made him a visiting professorship at age 21, later enrolling him in grad school so he could get a PhD. He’s now a Stanford prof.

So the next time, someone touts the “European model” of anything, ask them about Kosovo, or any of this.


Those of you in training should consider the following. You really won’t know how good what you are getting really is until 50 years or so have passed. That’s not to say Harvard Chemistry’s reputation wasn’t very good back then. Schleyer said ‘now you’re going to Mecca’ when he heard I’d gotten in.

Also to be noted, is that all 7 future Nobelists in the early 60s weren’t resting on their laurels, but actively creating them. The Nobels all came later

Happy fourth of July

Two encounters in the past 2 days brought home just how fortunate we are to live in the USA, along with the realization that only the immigrants truly appreciate this country. One was with a Greek friend who is a professor of engineering at a local university. His wife is on her way to Greece acting as a money launderer (well not really) bringing US dollars to her family over there. We get his brains for free and probably those of his 15 year old daughter who grew up here.

The other was with our tile man Sergey, a Russian immigrant of 17 years. He describes how his grandfather was sent by Stalin to Siberia, surviving for 14 years. Why? He wasn’t at all active politically, but was a devout Christian. That was all it took. If you find this difficult to accept — look at the following post — https://luysii.wordpress.com/2010/03/01/reification-in-mathematics-and-medicine/. Some of the most brilliant mathematicians of the Soviet Union were persecuted for the same reason.

Not convinced? Over 25 years ago, the local paper where we were living at the time had an interview with a Ukrainian woman newly arrived in the states. She was asked what it was she liked best about this country. She said it was being able to have people over to her house for prayer without having the draw the curtains.

Yes, we complain a lot about how things could be better, probably a genetic heritage, as only those who were unsatisfied with their condition where they were had the gumption to get up and come here.

However, as great as we are, tonight’s fireworks pale in comparison to those of the Chinese New Year (they invented fireworks after all). Earlier this year my wife and I viewed a 30 minute display from 3 ships firing away in Hong Kong harbor. Some of them even spelled out Chinese characters according to our daughter in law. If you like loud, go to a Buddist temple for their new year celebrations.