Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Goodbye to Ravi Shankar and Daniel Inouye

There are two classical concerts I can think of that transported me into another world.  Two memorable times when I was transformed from my auditorium seat and disappeared into the music.  One was the year I was a student in Germany.  I was at a concert in a beautiful new auditorium in Florence and David Oistrack played magic on the violin.  The concert ended.  The audience mostly left but there were maybe 15 or 20 other people who must have been inside the music with me who continued to stand in the place and applaud in the now mostly empty auditorium.  And Oistrahk walked back onto the stage and played an encore for this small group.  It was amazing.

A few years later, in Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer, I learned that Ravi Shankar was giving a concert in one of the hotel ballrooms in Bangkok.  Despite the uncomfortable folding chairs, the sitar strains entered into my body and took me to another world.

Probably my first introduction to Shankar was watching Sanjit Ray's Apu trilogy with my father, though at the time I wasn't aware of who he was or that it was his music in the films.   I became aware of Shankar, as a name and muscian. along with much of the Western world, through George Harrison. I had missed his concert at the Monterrey Pop Music festival, so I made sure I got into this Bangkok concert while I had the chance.  Another magical evening.  Here's some video of Shankar the same year I saw him.

From NY Times Obituary of Inouye

I never was, to my knowledge, in the same room as Daniel Inouye, but I remember 'meeting' him through radio and television when he was a member of the Senate Watergate Committee.  The whole committee was impressive - both Republicans and Democrats took their jobs seriously.  While the Republicans challenged any unsubstantiated comments or charges against Richard Nixon, they didn't deny the truth that was unraveling in the hearings.  They didn't attack their Democratic colleagues or raise red herrings to distract from the focus on the White House and its role in the Watergate break-ins.

 As a young graduate student studying public administration with the summer off, I was mesmerized by the hearings.  I was taken, along with the rest of the nation, deep into the workings of government in a way my classes couldn't match.  And I was watching a Senate committee that was working as it was supposed to - seriously, deliberately, and intelligently.  The committee - Republicans and Democrats - worked together closely to make sure justice was carried out.  We got to know each of the committee members and as a Californian whose knowledge of the South was coverage of the civil rights movement and the violent resistance to integration by many government officials, I discovered that there were indeed intelligent Southerners. 

Daniel Inouye was one of the most junior members, but he stood out as the only person of color on the committee.  He also was missing an arm from a war injury.   He impressed me and the nation with his sober questions and serious dedication to the unpleasant task.   His New York Times obituary says:
In 1973, as a member of the Senate Watergate committee, which investigated illegal activities in President Richard M. Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign, he won wide admiration for patient but persistent questioning of the former attorney general John N. Mitchell and the White House aides H. R. Haldeman, John D. Ehrlichman and John Dean.

Screenshot of Watergate Committee from MacNeil -Lehrer News on Youtube

The Watergate Hearings are my touchstone against which I compare the Senate and the US House today. If you watched the Watergate Hearings, you understand that despite the political divisions, the Senators at least acted like gentlemen and dealt with facts, even unpleasant ones, with dignity. That's not to say that they didn't scheme behind the scenes. But the Republicans didn't balk and stall because their president was being investigated.  Today's Senators and House members should all have to watch the Watergate hearings and the impeachment hearings to see how they are supposed to act.

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