Weekly Letter to the President
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INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
June 1, 2018 (posted June 4, 2018)
Mr. President: A sad and distressing anniversary slipped by this week almost
unnoticed -- the centenary of the first use of a premier killing machine. On May 31,
1918, the Renault FT a French light tank was first deployed in battle. The 30 tanks
sent against two German infantry divisions advancing in the sector bordering Ploisy
and Chazelles caused havoc, crippling the German attack. Yet, this was not the first
use of tanks; that had happened two years earlier.
So what changed? Earlier tanks were lumbering, heavy and slow; they could be
picked off by artillery. In contrast, the Renault FT was light, and it had a significantly
superior power-to-weight ratio, rendering it fast and maneuverable. It was the first to
have a gun mounted on a rotating turret, crew space in the front, and an engine at
the rear, innovations in use to this day. For all these reasons, it is rightfully
considered the forerunner of the modern tank.
The terrible loss of life in WWI was not enough to prevent the devastation of the
Second. War's horrors also advanced culminating in the ultimate. Nuclear weapons,
and their capacity to destroy life as we know it, have prevented conflict between major
powers ever since. Moreover, the haves endeavor to stop nascent nuclear states
(Iran) from acquiring the same, or curb increases (North Korea).
Thus we have Kim Jong Un's right hand, General Kim Yong Chol, visiting the U.S. for
talks with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The General arrived in New York and
made Pompeo travel up from Washington. The dinner and get-together on
Wednesday were followed by extensive talks on Thursday in preparation for the
Singapore summit ... certain once again, as anything can be with the mercurial Mr.
The dinner photos released show the parties with an affable Pompeo and a dour Kim
in a room painted yellow. Should color matter? How important is it? Very, it turns
out, according to the leading color theorist of the 20th century.
Faber Birren (1900-1988) spent his life studying color, and advocating its proper use
for effect and well-being. He thought of it as akin to religion in its power to heal and
change our feelings. According to him, humans are born with certain responses to
color, just as they are with a fear of snakes.
Birren's fascination with color began early. After two years at the University of
Chicago, he dropped out in 1921 to focus on his absorbing interest. Soon he began
writing articles on color, and in 1928 published his first book "Color in Vision". He was
to write seventeen of them and numerous articles. His experimentation and
exploration yielded financial rewards when he began offering his services as a
At a Chicago wholesale meat business he noticed the white walls of the coolers gave
the meat a gray look. Testing meat under different lighting, he determined a
blue-green backdrop made the cuts appear more red. Sales shot up and his
business career was launched.
He went on eventually to advise Walt Disney in the making of Bambi, Fantasia and
Pinocchio. In industry, he developed a code for safety: yellow for falling hazards, red
for fire protection and so on. His work is evident in many other spheres.
Hospital operating rooms are now blue-green; office walls darker than the machines
reduce irritability in the staff and improve attentiveness. Somewhat surprisingly, color
surroundings even affect one's blood pressure.
So what of the dour General Kim? Well Wedgwood Blue was the color of Birren's
dining room, a peach pink stimulates appetite, salmon promotes a sense of
well-being, light green reduces fatigue. And yellow is excellent for signalling danger
... perhaps not the best choice for the dinner. Is there an opportunity here to be
seized for the summit?