June 1967: Sergeant Pepper, Vietnam and the Six Day War; a personal reflection

Sergeant pepper1

On June 1st 1967 I was 14 years, 4 months and 17 days old. It was  the release date of  a record that changed popular music for everyone and became the album that I still regard as the best album I have ever heard.

The album was “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by The Beatles.

My own personal story of when I first heard this story links with the ongoing Vietnam War which was raging at this time amidst huge protests at America’s involvement in a war that they eventually had to disentangle themselves from after the victory of North Vietnamese Communists over the western supported South Vietnamese regime.

I had developed a real interest at the time in military strategy. I cannot recall how, but although I lived in Hackney, I was able to become a lender from Theobald’s Road Library (in Camden). (This may have been caused by the proximity of the library to my school, I could walk there in about 30 minutes, or the fact that my father worked in the West End of London which was not a great distance away either).

At any rate, I used to enjoy taking two buses on a Saturday morning and going to the very modern (at that time) library and getting books to read. On Saturday 3rd June I was on my way to the library to get a book on the military history of the Vietnam War.

I remember getting off the bus just before the junction of Theobald’s Road and Gray’s Inn Road. I needed to cross at two sets of lights. At the opposite side of the second crossing was a pub. Above the pub was a flat (apartment). It was, I remember, a really hot and sunny day and the windows of the upstairs flat were open.

As I walked across at the lights I heard the opening bars of the new album played very, very, loud. I had never heard anything like it before and it was my introduction to the album of my life (so far!).

sergeant pepper2

I did a Google Maps Streetview search for the pub and much to my amazement it is still there (name much changed of course) 50 years after! (see above).

June of 1967 was about Vietnam, protest, race riots in the U.S.A. (the beginning of the long hot summer of riots) and on June 5th the start of the Arab-Israeli War that lasted six days and resulted in a huge change in the map and politics of that area the repercussions of which are still with us to this day.

sergeant pepper's4

I was 14, young, and idealistic, living in what was at that time the most exciting city to live in, in  the world, London.  I was, as the Google Map search above shows just 4.7 miles by road or two tube stations and a short walk  away from the  Abbey Road Studios where the album was recorded!

In just over two weeks time (as I write) on June 1st 2017, the great album will be 50 years old! One of the songs on the album is the wistful McCartney number “When I’m 64”. As I sit typing this blog post I have travelled, like the album through 50 years (which feels like fifty days!!) and am indeed 64!

For those interested there is to be a digitally remastered version of the album coming out to celebrate the 50th anniversary. I can’t wait to get my copy.



Powerful statements

I am a Facebook user because, from time to time, it gives me valuable information ( not just pretty pictures of cats and people saying which cafe they are in!).

This morning I read two interesting entries, both from the U.S.A., which I thought were both relevant and scary. I thought that they deserve reprinting without any further commentary by me.

1.  letter from America.

“I wish one thing for the British people in this upcoming election, I don’t care whether you consider yourself conservative, labour, yellow, blue, rich, poor, young, old, for or against the variety of political slogans thrown around. I wish every person eligible to vote, to vote for the NHS. Whatever that takes, whatever other policies you have to grey line on or even disagree with. Vote for the NHS. I tell you from experience that the negotiations that have already happened with United Health and other private bodies are against your best interests. Once the middle men of a fractured health, insurance driven system get in, you will never get them out. Few people are aware in England of how much it hurts to hear your child in pain and instead of whipping them up in your arms and taking them to the nearest hospital, you are on the phone asking a stranger if your policy will cover it. Being admitted to hospital and an over night stay with a single scan costing just over $4,000… and the quote for the treatment you need being 16,000 – that’s not including anesthesiologist fees or any complications arising. Who do you know right now has an extra $400 per person a month for insurance fees (that’s low, many pay much more) who then dictate what you can and can’t treat and the treatment for it. Who benefit if you die rather than fight, who call new treatments, for cancer especially, ‘experimental’ and refuse to pay. I have a friend who would not be here right now if it wasn’t for a go fund me page, because his insurance didn’t deem him fit for the heart surgery he needed, despite the surgeon saying he was. Please , everyone, fight for your NHS, because once it’s gone, no one will be fighting for you and you will no longer have a voice. Vote for the NHS, whatever it takes, fight for it!

2. Going to share two recent personal experiences, at risk of being called out for complaining or whining. I do this because they are so indicative of how women are viewed in our society, even if those women are accomplished and reasonably powerful. If there is a “bright spot” in what is happening right now, it is how much I am seeing and learning how deep racism, misogyny, and homophobia (and all sorts of other phobias and repressive crap) are still.

I work very closely with my husband Peter, running a small (and quickly growing) software company in the renewable energy space. Although we are small, we are extremely international and well respected in our specialized niche. He is CEO, and I am COO, and we are very much co-executives, each bringing our own talents and perspectives. We were recently in a high-stakes meeting with 3 men from another company, who had traveled to town to meet with us. We talked all afternoon, then continued over dinner. If you know me, then you know that I was very much part of the conversation. And if you don’t know me, well, trust that I was! As we got up from the table, the lead guy from the other company said, “Thank you very much for all your time, and thank you for bringing your wife.” There were gasps all around, really. It was kind of a stunning moment.
Then last night I was at a social event, and I was talking to friends. Peter was on my left carrying on another conversation with a woman neither of us know, who was there with her family. We had been only briefly introduced earlier, and she had seemed like an interesting and intelligent person. Then I overheard part of their conversation, and it went like this. Peter said, “Well Marilyn is the Chief Operating Officer. We work together.” And I hear this woman say, “Oh, I see. You have someone to handle the day-to-day for you.” Right. Translation – she imagines that I manage the office, do the books, and keep Peter’s schedule. NOT! Not what I do. Not for me. And not to say that might have been the case, but you know, had the roles been reversed, she would never have assumed that the man in such a role took care of “day to day” things. I was so stunned that I turned around and said, “Not exactly right there.” And knowing she had put her foot in her mouth, said something like, “Well, you give him the space to be creative.” OMG this is going downhill fast. I withdrew and rolled my eyes. No point in getting in a fight during a party, with a stranger.

This was a fairly young (35-ish) probably quite liberal woman.  And look at the assumptions she made, and the things she said, in order to suck up to Peter, presumably. Or something. And I wonder if she realized, really, what she had done when she said that – the box she had placed me into – the role she felt so confident I played that she spoke it out loud – there to make Peter successful. Someone to be sure there is TP in the bathroom.

My life has not been impacted by these events. I am no worse off for them. My point is not to say “Woe is me.” My life is actually fantastic. I share them because they are examples of what happens day after day after day after day when we put people into boxes. And I think about women of color or men of color or trans people or anyone else who was not in that disgusting photo taken last night in the Rose Garden, of white men celebrating their “big win” on a bill that is as cruel, greedy, and meaningless as it gets. And then every one of us must think about things we say and do, every day, and really how we see those around us, and what assumptions we make.

The Undoing Project

I have just read an excellent book by Michael Lewis called “The Undoing Project”

the undoing project

The author had previously written a number of books about the follies of American life like the madness of Wall Street gambling which saw the great crash of 2008 and a fascinating book (later made into a film) called “Moneyball” about the success of a low level baseball team in beating the odds and winning the national league with players that were largely overlooked by the bigger teams (reminds me very much of Leicester City winning the Premier League in football).

The origins of how a man who had previously written books on big money finance and sport came to write a book about two Israeli psychologists is that he read a review of his “Moneyball” book by two academics Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler.

The opening paragraph reads:

“Michael Lewis’s new book is a sensation. It treats a topic that would seem to interest only sports fans: how Billy Beane, the charismatic general manager of the Oakland Athletics, turned his baseball team around using, of all things, statistics. What next–an inspirational tale about superior database management? But there are some broader lessons in Lewis’s book that make it worth the attention also of people who do not know the difference between a slider and a screwball. Those lessons have to do, above all, with the limits of human rationality and the efficiency of labor markets. If Lewis is right about the blunders and the confusions of those who run baseball teams, then his tale has a lot to tell us about blunders and confusions in many other domains.”

I have outlined the key term in this paragraph, “The limits of human rationality”.

This is seen in the following paragraph from the review:

“Why do professional baseball executives, many of whom have spent their lives in the game, make so many colossal mistakes? They are paid well, and they are specialists. They have every incentive to evaluate talent correctly. So why do they blunder? In an intriguing passage, Lewis offers three clues. First, those who played the game seem to overgeneralize from personal experience: “People always thought their own experience was typical when it wasn’t.” Second, the professionals were unduly affected by how a player had performed most recently, even though recent performance is not always a good guide. Third, people were biased by what they saw or thought they saw, with their own eyes. This is a real problem because the human mind plays tricks, and because there is “a lot you couldn’t see when you watched a baseball game.”

The authors then go on to explain that these mistakes are caused by the mind playing tricks or the mental equivalent of an optical illusion that was investigated and made famous by two young Israeli psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.

Lewis was fascinated by this and decided to investigate a subject that he admits he knew little about. He was fortunate in that he lived in Berkeley California and had a personal friend Dacher Keltner who worked at UC Berkeley with Kahneman who happened to live only a few blocks away from Lewis! Keltner made an introduction for Lewis and his investigation into the incredibly important work and remarkable friendship of two brilliant minds in war-torn Israel over a period from the 1960’s to the 80’s began. It took five years to complete but was well worth the effort.

This is a book that explains how these brilliant minds used their talents in mathematical psychology (Tversky) and mental processes (Kahneman) to fashion a whole range of theories based on the idea that the mind has biases and works in patterns that are formed by what they call “heuristics” which are essentially set ideas. This allows us to not engage our deep, rational abilities and make quick decisions.

In his seminal book “Thinking Fast and Slow” Kahneman shows how evolution favoured quick decision-making to slow pondering of all possibilities (it meant that we avoided being some animal’s prey!). The Prefrontal Cortex, where we are able to rationalise and think deeply, uses up a lot of our energy, thus we are inherently shallow thinkers and indeed we have developed quick approaches to guide our actions, which has led to biases and mistakes of judgement. In short, we are very often irrational in our thinking and this plays out in so many aspects of our lives.

This is a key finding of cognitive psychology. It has influenced so many areas of our lives that are so well covered in the book by Lewis. A really good example is the work of Donald Redelmeier. a good example would be his paper written with Tversky “On the Belief That Arthritis Pain Is Related to the Weather”. Redelmeier was also one of the first people to point out the dangers of driving whilst engaged in a mobile phone conversation (which seems obvious to us now but wasn’t just a few years ago when drivers were killing themselves and others!).

Irrational thinking has shown itself in so many aspects of our life recently. Lewis was interviewed recently about his book by the Financial Times. The article is well worth reading in that he explains how Donald Trump fools himself all the time and is able to fool so many others and how dangerous this is for us all.

Apart from the importance of the psychology (which is huge), the book is about a great friendship in a place (Israel) that is in an almost constant state of war and imminent destruction. I found the personal stories and the history of the small embattled nation fascinating.

This is one of the best books I have read in a very long time and is well worth a read if you get the chance.