MOTHER’s Newsworthies: James Leach, Melvin Calvin and the New World Quartet

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Learn how the New World Quartet uses Yoga to become more in-tune as a band and win the Naumberg Chamber Music Award.

Brief: Congressman James Leach  

There are quite a few Washington bureaucrats who wish that Iowa Congressman James Leach had never been assigned to the House Civil Service Committee. As he sat in on the organization’s hearings, the Hawkeye Stater learned the wondrous ways of the bureaucracy: how it grows … and grows … and grows. Leach soon decided that work-force bloat didn’t have to be a progressive disease, and he proposed that a remedy be tacked onto the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978. The congressman suggested that the government reduce — by the end of fiscal year 1979 — the number of federal workers to 1977’s level.

Much to everyone’s surprise, Leach’s amendment passed. And to everyone’s even greater astonishment, the program worked! When the Office of Personnel Management made its government employment study last December, it discovered that there were then 2,204,000 federal workers … 68,000 fewer than in 1978! The resulting saving to the taxpayer has been estimated at one billion dollars.

Now Leach has another concern. He’s discovered that there are millions of “quasi-employees” of the government … folks who are engaged in what’s called “contracted employment”. The nice thing — say the bureaucrats — about hiring people on contract is that such workers aren’t counted as being federal employees. The not-so-nice side of the coin — says Leach — is that it’s almost impossible to get a true idea of the size of the government work force … and that the people in contracted employment are not subject to the normal checks and balances of the civil service. Right now, there are 70 percent more people working for the government on contract than there are on the regular federal payroll (excluding the military and the postal service), so bringing them under some kind of control seems like a pretty good idea.

Leach has a bill in the hopper that would do just that.

Brief: Melvin Calvin 

Dr. Melvin Calvin won the 1961 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on photosynthesis. And now, Calvin is about to earn the gratitude of the motoring public … because the American scientist has discovered a plant that actually yields diesel fuel!

Calvin was already studying Brazil’s hydrocarbon-producing plants when he heard that the sap of a local bush — Copaifera langsdorffii — could be used as a fuel in diesel engines … just as it came from the tree! Dr. Calvin was understandably skeptical, but he soon discovered that the reports were, indeed, correct. The plant — which grows both along the Amazon river and on the Brazilian plain — can be tapped to yield up to 30 liters (per tree) of high-quality diesel fuel twice a year.

Until the Copaifera was brought to Calvin’s attention, its precious sap was being used as a perfume ingredient. Now, however, the Brazilian government is planting an experimental stand of 2,000 trees to be used for energy purposes. And Calvin believes that the tree can adapt to different climatic conditions … so some day you might be able to grow a leafy refinery in your own back yard!

The chemist, of course, is no newcomer to the field of energy-yielding plants. He’s recently been working with trees of the genus Euphorbia … a group of plants that might provide another rich source of fuel.– Lois Wickstrom.

Brief: New World Quartet

The four young men from Grand Rapids were faced with an almost impossible task. In order to compete for the prestigious Naumberg Chamber Music Award, the New World String Quartet had to play selections from the works of five very dissimilar composers — Haydn, Dvorak, Bartok, Mozart, and Stravinsky — in 30 minutes. The performers were allowed 15 seconds to pull themselves together between the pieces … and, after the half hour was over, they had to play a “surprise” piece selected by the judges. But the quartet managed the task with aplomb, and performed so well that they won first place!

How did the group manage to deal with the tension of competition? Violinist Yosef Yankelev has the answer: “Recently we began to dedicate about half an hour, before our daily rehearsals, to yogic practices. The exercise has brought us closer together spiritually, and made us freer and more relaxed with one another as well. We also huddle and do yogic breathing before every concert.”

Yankelev — whose schooling included stops in Lithuania, Jerusalem, and the Juilliard School in New York — is a strict vegetarian as well as an initiated disciple of Yogi Amrit Desai. Part of that spiritual path — followed by both Yankelev and his wife — involves a weekly 36-hour fast. And four times a year, at the change of seasons, the couple fasts for three full days.

While the remaining members of the quartet — Yuri Vasilaki, William Patterson, and Ross Harbaugh — do not share Yankelev’s total dedication to yoga, the New World String Quartet did celebrate its 1979 Naumberg victory by presenting a benefit concert for the Kripalu Yoga Foundation.