Monday, October 16, 2017

Making China Great Again

First, there was Forrest Gump with his seemingly profound observations like "life's like a box of chocolates."  Which perhaps drove you crazy enough, when you also (mis)heard him say "shit happens."

Now, we have another one:
life is like a shirt with buttons where you have to get the first few right or all the rest will be wrong
Who knew, eh!

If I had said that about life being like a shirt, you would have laughed at me, and decided that I have finally snapped after the months and months of yelling at the fascist.

Relax.  I did not say that.

It was the world's most powerful leader who said that.  No, not the fascist. But, a real authoritarian--China's Xi Jinping.

Keep in mind that despite all the sucking up that Mark Zuckerberg has done, Facebook has no presence in China.  The great security firewall prevents Facebook from tapping into the 1.4 billion, whom Zuckerberg wants to desperately sell Russian fake news!  You don't mess around with Xi.

Where was I?  Oh yea, with China's politburo meeting coming up, finally even the American press is waking up to what this guy already has written up.

This piece in the NY Times caught my attention.  And then I looked at the byline: Reuters.  The NY Times does not have its own people to cover the big political event?

The Economist reviews Xi's domestic and international presence.  And then concludes:
Mr Xi may think that concentrating more or less unchecked power over 1.4bn Chinese in the hands of one man is, to borrow one of his favourite terms, the “new normal” of Chinese politics. But it is not normal; it is dangerous. No one should have that much power. One-man rule is ultimately a recipe for instability in China, as it has been in the past—think of Mao and his Cultural Revolution. It is also a recipe for arbitrary behaviour abroad, which is especially worrying at a time when Mr Trump’s America is pulling back and creating a power vacuum. The world does not want an isolationist United States or a dictatorship in China. Alas, it may get both.
All the power with Xi.
Here, the madman has the nuclear codes.
The warhead in North Korea is ready to go ballistic.
Vlad the impaler quietly goes around killing people.
Can somebody make the world great again, please?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Anxiety and the nanny state

In my early years of graduate school, I came to read about--and watch on television as well--the free speech movement at Berkeley, and how Reagan, who was the governor of California then, could not stand those student protests.  Reagan perhaps even owed his political successes to the radical movements, which he attacked and capitalized on in his culture war against freedom in many ways and for many people.

Fifty years later, we continue to fight those same culture wars of free speech.  But, oddly enough, young people these days prefer restrictions on free speech, and seem to be even losing faith in freedom!
protecting children from needless harm became conflated with shielding them from stressors and uncertainties (such as having to solve everyday problems, like getting lost, on one’s own) that are critical for developing personal independence.
Those raised on free speech movements turned around to protect and shelter their precious kids so much that now these young adults are scaredy cats who don't want to be free!  On college campuses, it has taken on crazy forms:
Colleges and universities have exacerbated the problem of dependence by promoting what is sometimes called a culture of victimhood. American college students (who are some of the safest and most privileged people on the planet) are to be protected from, and encouraged to be ever-vigilant about and even report, any behavior that could cause emotional distress. Feelings and experiences that were once considered part of everyday life, such as being offended by someone’s political views, are now more likely to be treated as detrimental to mental health.
I get angry and depressed with trump's words, yes.  But, that idiot saying whatever pleases him is the very mark of freedom that makes America different.  How can college-age adults--the key word is "adults"--not understand freedom of expression?

One of the reasons is: Fear and anxiety.
Anxiety is the most common mental-health disorder in the United States, affecting nearly one-third of both adolescents and adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
That begins right from when they are children:
Suniya Luthar, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University who has studied distress and resilience in both well-off and disadvantaged teenagers, has found that privileged youths are among the most emotionally distressed young people in America. “These kids are incredibly anxious and perfectionistic,” she says, but there’s “contempt and scorn for the idea that kids who have it all might be hurting.”
What are the adults doing?
In a seemingly well-meaning effort to help kids avoid what makes them anxious, administrators actually make anxiety worse. “Anxiety is all about the avoidance of uncertainty and discomfort,” Lyons explained. “When we play along, we don’t help kids learn to cope or problem-solve in the face of unexpected events.”
And, given that you have been reading this blog for years, you know well there is one major factor behind an increased level of anxiety these days: Social media!
Anxious kids certainly existed before Instagram, but many of the parents I spoke to worried that their kids’ digital habits — round-the-clock responding to texts, posting to social media, obsessively following the filtered exploits of peers — were partly to blame for their children’s struggles. To my surprise, anxious teenagers tended to agree. At Mountain Valley, I listened as a college student went on a philosophical rant about his generation’s relationship to social media. “I don’t think we realize how much it’s affecting our moods and personalities,” he said. “Social media is a tool, but it’s become this thing that we can’t live without but that’s making us crazy.”
When these kids grow up ...?
Lyons sees a connection between how some schools deal with anxious students and what she worries is a generation of young people increasingly insistent on safe spaces — and who believe their feelings should be protected at all costs. “Kids are being given some really dangerous messages these days about the fact that they can’t handle being triggered, that they shouldn’t have to bear witness to anything that makes them uncomfortable and that their external environments should bend to and accommodate their needs,” she told me.
You can now see why college students now actually favor restriction on expression.

A few years ago, there was a young woman ready to graduate from the Honors Program.  She was heading to law school on the east coast after graduation.  Her only sister was already in London working on her graduate degree.  I asked her what her parents thought about their two daughters going so far away from home, from Oregon.

Her response was awesome.  And says a lot about her parents.  The parents apparently always told the two daughters that their task was to help the daughters grow their wings, after which they expected--and wanted--the daughters to fly on their own.

At graduation, I met her parents.  I shared with them what their daughter had told me.  They smiled.  They were happy.  No anxieties.  No fear.  No worries.  But that was a decade ago, and apparently life has changed a lot since then--seemingly for the worse!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The pot calling the kettle black

Back in the old country, the newspaper that I waited for every single morning had a weekly (?) column about the English language.  I think it was called "Know your language."  The column offered easy to understand explanations on idioms, more than merely about words.

One of those that I remember was about the pot calling the kettle black.

Which brings me to trump.

The campaign itself was a mess.  A lying, misogynist, racist, anti-science, thug, and a wannabe dictator, who boasted about pussy-grabbing, wins the elections, all the while also encouraging his minions to chant "lock her up."

If even half of these had happened somewhere else, in one of those "third world countries," we in America would have gotten all high and mighty, and would have pontificated about democracy and the rights of people.  I am surprised that Joshua Keating did not write up something along those lines in his awesome series on "If it happened there."

After the elections were over, the thug behaved exactly like how he said he would.  His anti-democratic and authoritarian style came through in one instance that Keating did write about:
The surprise dismissal of a powerful security services chief Tuesday night is widely seen here as a part of strongman President Donald Trump’s efforts to sideline critics and consolidate power, raising concerns about the state of democracy and the rule of law in this fragile but strategically vital North American country.
That is how we in the US would have talked about trump dismissing the FBI chief, if something like that happened "there."

We are now nine months into the strongman's regime.  All kinds of previously unimaginable events have happened.  At this point, we need to ask ourselves whether we have any moral standing to tell anybody anywhere else what they should or should not do.  Pot calling the kettle black it will be.

Which is what I felt on reading this NY Times editorial on the election confusion in Kenya.
There are ways to make Kenya’s complicated new voting system work better, many of them technical, and it is imperative that the electoral commission promptly and publicly show that it has learned its lessons. But first the political war must end. Kenya’s Supreme Court demonstrated that there were legal alternatives to street battles. For that to become a guiding precedent, Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Odinga have to make peace, restrain their followers and agree on ways to ensure a fair election.
How about that same paragraph with only the fewest of edits?
There are ways to make America's complicated new voting system work better, many of them technical, and it is imperative that the electoral commission promptly and publicly show that it has learned its lessons. But first the political war must end. The US Supreme Court demonstrated that there were legal alternatives to street battles. For that to become a guiding precedent, Mr. Trump and the GOP must restrain their followers.
Fucking 63 million voters have messed everything up!

Friday, October 13, 2017

And the winner is ... the fruit fly?

In high school biology, I came across Drosophila in the textbook.  There was a dead fly between the pages ;)

No, seriously, it was in high school that I knew about how it was not the frog that we dissected but the Drosophila that was the favorite of the researchers.  For a very important reason--drosophila have a life cycle of two weeks.  A fortnight later, you have a new generation.  A month later, it is the grand kids buzzing around!

Which is why over the years Nobel Prizes have been awarded to science originating from fruit fly research, including the award this year.
Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young – all based in the US – were awarded the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine for their work on the molecular mechanisms that control circadian rhythms – in other words, the 24-hour body clock that controls lives throughout the animal kingdom. Crucially, this work was done largely by experimenting on fruit flies.
Nor was this a first for drosophila research. At least five other groups have received Nobels for their work using fruit flies to unpick the secrets of human physiology and biology in general.
How fascinating, right?  Every day it is such awesomeness.
Today, scientists believe that about 75% of known human disease genes have a recognisable match in fruit flies. These include Down’s, Alzheimer’s, autism, diabetes and cancers of all types. “It’s almost as if they were designed to help scientists,” says geneticist Steve Jones.
Re-read that line:  “It’s almost as if they were designed to help scientists.”  More than anything else, you will need that at the end of this post, and to puke when you watch the embedded video of a know-it-all!

But, we now have a president who is smarter than the smartest.  He knows more than the scientists. More than the generals. The smartest human that ever lived.  So, ...
This year, President Trump proposed budget cuts of 22 percent for the National Institutes of Health and 11 percent for the National Science Foundation. These two institutes fund most basic biological research in the United States.
The importance of government support for basic research goes well beyond understanding nature. Basic research leads to advances that can transform industry and technology. In biology, current revolutionary approaches to genome editing and cancer immunotherapy owe their existence to basic research.
To paraphrase Monty Python, other than all that, what has science ever done anything for us, right?

Fucking Republican anti-science idiots!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Fool me once, ... shame on the GOP!

Back in the old country, the proto-trump boasted about his 56-inch chest.

Rational people laughed, and even questioned the literal measure of his chest.  Proto-trump carried on.

Naturally, after some time, modi toadies, as Salman Rushdie wonderfully and aptly described them, took it upon themselves to remind people that the fascist's size hasn't shrunk.  Not even a bit.

You know, every inch matters to a man!

We now live in a world where our male leaders want to remind us about their inches of manhood.

Stung by fellow manhood contestants, trump makes sure to remind us over and over again that he has some amazing manhood.

During the election season, I half expected him to tweet a photo or a video of his inches.  Or even wildly swing the inches out in the open while appearing in the nude during a rally.  Thankfully, the pussy-grabbing porn actor spared us that much!

He now continues to assault our intelligence on a daily--even hourly--basis.

Unhappy that his own cabinet member called him a "fucking moron," he boasted that he has the better IQ.  His base cheers him on, while the rest of the 63 million supporters of his are silently squirming over their votes in favor of this pussy-grabber.

He is well on his way to destroying knowledge and thinking.  And, "his administration is over-stocked with know-nothing fundamentalists."  Yes, not even "stocked" but "over-stocked."

But, resist we must.
We must trust that the intelligence that has allowed humanity to stave off death, make medical and engineering breakthroughs, reach the stars, build wondrous temples, and write complex tales will save us again. We must nurse the conviction that we can use the gentle graces of science and reason to prove that the truth cannot be vanquished so easily. To those who would repudiate intelligence, we must say: you will not conquer and we will find a way to convince.
We shall overcome, someday!


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Does where you live matter?

There is the accident of birth, which determines a lot of the rest of our lives.  And then add the layers of the choices that we make and the decisions that others make for us.

"Self-made" success is, therefore, one screwed up idea that we celebrate for no reason other than to fool ourselves.

Self-made failures?  How about a homeless person?  Their lives on the streets are "self-made"?

Consider the story of Matthew Shaver, who "lives on the streets outside of Union Station" in Los Angeles.
Shaver is from the Seattle area. He says he grew up in foster care, that he is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, that he was injured in Afghanistan about half a dozen years ago and that he has done stints in jail. In conversation, his thoughts frequently meander — and the details of his life are often described cagily and hazily, making many of them impossible to verify.
But a rap sheet that matches his name and his circumstances in Washington state shows a guilty plea for drug possession, among other things, and numerous appearances at a Veterans Treatment Court.
“Depression has always been a thing,” Shaver says over breakfast at a Denny’s across the street from Union Station.
“I like to get baked,” he adds. “I like to get high occasionally.” Though he says that in recent years he’s cut back on drinking, which has a tendency to bring out his aggression.
Which part of his backstory would you like to focus on?

Shaver was featured not merely because he is homeless.  But, because:
Matthew Shaver casually emerges from the packs of speed-walking commuters scuttling across Union Station and quietly takes a seat at the public piano at the heart of one of Los Angeles’ busiest transportation hubs.
For 20 straight minutes — the maximum play time, according to the posted rules — Shaver takes over the keys, filling the atrium with buoyant improvisations of jazz, pop and blues.
His playing often attracts a small crowd. Tourists film him. Regulars drop spare change and bills. He’s such a fixture that if the security guards are otherwise occupied (or feeling generous), he might get to play longer than the time limit.
Yes, he is a piano-playing, drug-using, homeless veteran.

A few months ago, the friend and I attended an event at the local university.  It was therapeutic in so many ways, after the fascist took over the White House and made it a "white" house.  The event was a talk by violinist Vijay Gupta, who:
deeply believes in music as a form of social medicine. He also believes that each of us has an obligation to share whatever our personal gifts are for the betterment of our communities and the world.
Gupta talked about his initiative to go to the shelters for the homeless and play music for the homeless and with the homeless.  He was not doing this as a social service.  Not as a resume-booster.  Not as a charity.
In 2011, Gupta co-founded and began serving as Artistic Director of Street Symphony, a non-profit organization dedicated to engaging distinguished musicians in performance and dialogue with marginalized communities experiencing homelessness and incarceration. A gifted spokesperson for the power of the arts to change lives, Gupta believes that musical engagement reconnects us to our shared humanity across vast divides, and ultimately impacts social justice.
The piano-playing homeless Matthew Shaver adds more evidence to Gupta's point about our shared humanity, and the obligation that each of us have to contribute to the betterment of our immediate communities and the world.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

It's a wonderful life ... if you are rich!

“The salary has been at the same level ... I haven’t seen my pay go up in five years.”

One might immediately think that it was somebody in the US who said that, right?  After all, here I am in the US where wage stagnation has been a puzzle to experts, leave alone the regular people.

But, that was from Norway.  From a 49-year old man in Oslo.
His lament resonates far beyond Nordic shores. In many major countries, including the United States, Britain and Japan, labor markets are exceedingly tight, with jobless rates a fraction of what they were during the crisis of recent years. Yet workers are still waiting for a benefit that traditionally accompanies lower unemployment: fatter paychecks.
Why wages are not rising faster amounts to a central economic puzzle.
What is going on, right?
The reasons for the stagnation gripping wages vary from country to country, but the trend is broad.
Same trend, different reasons.  Yet, the experts pretend that economics is a science, and they even managed to set up a prize (ab)using Nobel's name!

On the other hand, unlike the working stiff who have not seen a wage increase in years, there are quite a few who profit phenomenally from the same system.  As F. Scott Fitzgerald put it,:"Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me."  How different is their life?  Here's one example: If you have enough money, you can buy yourself a citizenship in quite a few countries!
Between 30 and 40 countries have active economic-citizenship or residence programmes, says Kälin, and another 60 have provisions for one in law. Some demand a straight cash donation, others investment in government bonds or the purchase of property. Some take a longer-term view of the potential economic benefits, offering passports to entrepreneurs who will set up a local company and create a minimum number of jobs. The required investment ranges from upwards of $10,000 (Thai residence, for instance) to more than $10m (fast-track residence in Britain). In some countries the original investment can be withdrawn after several years.
Do not forget that the fascist campaigned about the welfare of the middle class for whom his heart supposedly bleeds, but has a son-in-law who peddles this passport for sale:
The use of EB-5 by Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, to lure Chinese investors into his family’s development projects has also tainted the programme. Some senators want it scrapped. Congress is due to decide soon whether to extend it.
Ahem, if you believe that Congress will scrap this passport-for-sale program, then I have a bridge to sell you for a million dollars!
The typical passport buyer is unlikely to settle, will care little about her new country’s politics and will have no interest in defending its values. Unless her new citizenship is American – the United States is particularly hot on extracting taxes from all its citizens – she may well pay her new nation no taxes. The normal means of acquiring citizenship acknowledges that there is a cultural component: naturalisation typically takes years and requires an applicant to establish a real connection to their new country. An industry whose main purpose is to allow people to skip those queues does not.
So long, losers; eat your damn cakes!

Monday, October 09, 2017

Let's go, people!

I went to graduate school because I thought that I would find answers to the pressing questions of development.  Within a couple of years, I realized that plenty of highly capable thinkers had already thought up everything that I was worried about.  If everything had already been discussed, then what the hell?

I started understanding that addressing the human condition was not really about finding technical solutions.  Instead, it came down to the power of persuasion and, ultimately, politics.  I would no longer be fooled by fancy-shmancy data-driven models.

Which is also when I seriously started thinking about persuading others through easy to understand approaches.  One of the big topics then was free trade, and NAFTA in this part of the world.  I did not oppose free trade, especially after my experiences in the socialist India.  But, my logic told me that freely moving goods and capital alone merely provides advantages to those who are better-off.  I wanted free movement of people also. 

I went to talk about this with one of the professors.  He disagreed with me.  He gave me the same old textbook argument of how the movement of capital will counter and complement the controls on movement of labor.  I was not convinced.  I wrote an essay and sent that to Economic and Political Weekly.  Of course it was not published--I bet that it was one horribly written essay, stylistically and content-wise.

Over the years, I have been more convinced than ever that globalization ought to include freer, if not completely free, movement of labor.  Yes, I know that this exactly what the fascist thug campaigned against and for which he was rewarded with 63 million votes.  But, hey, the fascist can and will bullshit and lie.  But, the truth cannot be simply tweeted away.

One of the best contemporary thinkers on the distributional aspects of globalization, Branko Milanovic, whom I have quoted before, writes this:
income gaps are unlikely to be eliminated. Which, in turn, shows the importance of migration.  If a borderless cosmopolitan world is to be achieved (an objective with which I agree but see enormous political difficulties in reaching it), migration is absolutely essential. But as economic migration faces increasing obstacles in rich countries (and, it has to be added, not solely because of xenophobia but for economic reasons as well), the ideal of a world “without injustice of birth” recedes.
Yes, the injustice of birth.  Click here if you need a refresher on that.

Milanovic concludes:
I am very sympathetic to the borderless world but to believe that it can be achieved through trade alone, and without significant migration, is unrealistic. And once we say “migration”, we immediately open the Pandora’s box that the most recent elections in Europe and the United States have shown is a reality, not an imagination. Thus, our new “intellectual revolution” should be rather to address the issue of migration and citizenship than free trade. Free trade alone cannot solve world’s problems.
We need to think about migration and citizenship in new ways.  And we need to be able to think about that while dealing with the fascist thug's tweets and rants channeling his narrow and nativist takes on migration and citizenship.  Eventually, in the long run, truth will prevail.  But then, we need to also keep in mind that wonderful line: In the long run we are all dead.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

"The art of remembering is the art of thinking."

A few days ago, I was taking a quick walk on campus, after my lunch and prior to my class.  I heard a student yell out my name from the car that was passing by.  I looked at the car.  The driver stopped the vehicle and rolled down the window.

"I didn't expect to see you here, Jessica,"

We talked for a few minutes.  She was one of the more self-motivated and smart students I have met in this university.  It has been six years since she graduated.  I inquired about her sister and her nephew and her husband. "You have a steel-trap mind," she said.

Fortunately, yes.  I pay attention to important things in life, and they register in my memory.  (I know I am setting myself up for the flip side of this: I am bound to insult somebody when I do not remember the details that are important to them, right?)

Apparently remembering is becoming even more challenging for people because of one particular development: Smartphones.  They are hijacking our minds!
Now that our phones have made it so easy to gather information online, our brains are likely offloading even more of the work of remembering to technology. If the only thing at stake were memories of trivial facts, that might not matter. But, as the pioneering psychologist and philosopher William James said in an 1892 lecture, "the art of remembering is the art of thinking." Only by encoding information in our biological memory can we weave the rich intellectual associations that form the essence of personal knowledge and give rise to critical and conceptual thinking. No matter how much information swirls around us, the less well-stocked our memory, the less we have to think with.
But, of course.  Duh!  This is exactly what I have been telling students (and anybody who asks me about this) for a few years now.  In my intuitive understanding, we need to keep working the brain and its memory functions.  However, this is not about memorizing per se.  Just as fluency with the English language is not about memorizing words in the dictionary.  All these help us think, and think clearly.

It gets even worse:
It turns out that we aren't very good at distinguishing the knowledge we keep in our heads from the information we find on our phones or computers. As Dr. Wegner and Dr. Ward explained in a 2013 Scientific American article, when people call up information through their devices, they often end up suffering from delusions of intelligence. They feel as though "their own mental capacities" had generated the information, not their devices. "The advent of the 'information age' seems to have created a generation of people who feel they know more than ever before," the scholars concluded, even though "they may know ever less about the world around them."
You can see how we were ripe for the Russian fake news campaign that gave us the fascist, who turns around and calls all the real news as "fake news."

So, what can you do?  You can read that entire WSJ essay by Nicholas Carr, whom I have cited many times before.  Or, you can do what I have been suggesting for years: Keep that smartphone away from you as much as you can.
When we constrict our capacity for reasoning and recall or transfer those skills to a gadget, we sacrifice our ability to turn information into knowledge. We get the data but lose the meaning. Upgrading our gadgets won't solve the problem. We need to give our minds more room to think. And that means putting some distance between ourselves and our phones.
Not only will that help you think clearly, it will also reduce quite a bit of angst that the smartphones give the users.  Because, our brains are wired to be hijacked, and it is our responsibility to protect our brains that can then serve us well:
Scientists have long known that the brain is a monitoring system as well as a thinking system. ...
But even in the history of captivating media, the smartphone stands out. It is an attention magnet unlike any our minds have had to grapple with before. Because the phone is packed with so many forms of information and so many useful and entertaining functions, it acts as what Dr. Ward calls a "supernormal stimulus," one that can "hijack" attention whenever it is part of our surroundings -- which it always is. Imagine combining a mailbox, a newspaper, a TV, a radio, a photo album, a public library and a boisterous party attended by everyone you know, and then compressing them all into a single, small, radiant object. That is what a smartphone represents to us. No wonder we can't take our minds off it.
Seriously, have I not been saying and writing these through all these years that you have been listening to me and reading my blog?  You don't remember? ;)

Saturday, October 07, 2017

This, too, is America!

Back in 1987, it was my first flight out of the country and it was a seemingly never-ending transcontinental journey.  I was one of the many passengers who couldn't sleep, nor did I find the movie to be interesting.  It was not a pleasant journey, even though it was one hell of an exciting one. 

I wandered over to the magazine/newspaper rack.  I don't remember now whether it was Time or Newsweek that I picked up.  I started leafing through that issue.

I was shocked when I read one report.  It was about freeway shootings in Los Angeles.  I was headed there.  Los Angeles was the city where my graduate school was located.  

Shooting on a freeway?

That, too, was my "welcome to America."  

The land of guns and violence.  The wild, wild, west of the movies was also a real thing.  Cue the theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  Well, alright, I didn't know about this movie until after I had arrived in America.

My friend picked me up from the airport.  It was a long drive to his home, mostly on freeways.  I asked him about the shootings.  He laughed.

I was excitedly looking all around.  I was impressed with everything.  I had never seen such an uninterrupted flow of traffic. In India, cows and goats and humans all claimed the road at the same time.  But, not here.  And, all the vehicles were speeding in one direction, and across the barrier on the other side there were vehicles speeding in the other direction.  A gazillion lanes and everybody stayed within their lanes too!

And then the big trucks.  I had never seen such humongous trucks on the road.  Well, except the couple of monstrous heavy-engineering trucks used in the mines in Neyveli.  Whenever those trucks appeared on our street, my brother and I rushed to look at them.  And we always counted the number of tires that rolled past us.

But, here were trucks speeding at sixty miles an hour, and plenty of trucks as well.  Every truck that we passed, I kept staring at it and I always tried to get a view of the driver.  How could a human drive such a giant with ease!

At one point, my friend mildly suggested that I stop doing that.  "Don't make eye contact with the truck driver."  Ah, yes, the shootings on the freeways of Los Angeles!

A few weeks after my arrival, there was buzz among the Indian students about a group called the dotbusters that had even killed an Indian on the east coast.  They shot an Indian?  Was it a continuation of the wild, wild, west, in which they found a new kind of an Indian to kill?

In those first few weeks, I came to understand the American fascination with guns, and about the status of the non-white.

Thirty years have gone by.  The American fascination for guns has ramped up.  Violence continues against non-whites.

It ain't pretty!

This, too, is America!

Friday, October 06, 2017

"Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife"

My go-to China expert blogged a series of posts on the upcoming Chinese party elections.  All I could do was admit to my complete and total ignorance.  It is awesome to get old so that I can boldly and loudly proclaim that I don't know, in contrast to my younger self that would have either bypassed the conversation or tried to bullshit.

And then, he makes fun of my being messed up by the fascist thug.  Such is my life these days!

He comments that I can distract myself by "taking an interest in the politics of China. For the next 30 days write posts exclusively on China."

I wish I could say, "challenge accepted."  I wish.

Because it ain't easy to carve out time away from the reality show of the "clusterfuck of a presidency and its daily dramas."  63 million fucking voters have messed up every damn thing!

In fact, even the best of America's publications have no time and resources left in this "All Trump, All the Time News" landscape.

Let me demonstrate. At the NY Times homepage, I searched for "China Politburo Xi" and the following are the latest news pieces there:

That's all the leading "fake news" publication has had about China's politburo elections over the last ten days!

These are strange times.  "Not normal," affirmed Maria Hinojosa yesterday at the talk/conversation.

I was cursed at birth, I think, to be interested in freedom and, therefore, politics.  Thus, even back when I was a kid, I found it strange that people were not interested in civics and governance.  At least in India, I could write that off as a result of low literacy levels and economic deprivation.  But, here in the contemporary United States with all the affluence and education we end up with such a madness?
College graduates do go to the polls with greater frequency than citizens with only a high-school education. Still, half of all younger graduates did not vote in 2016. Moreover, researchers are divided on whether the higher turnout of B.A.s comes about because of college or simply reflects differences in the backgrounds and dispositions that students bring with them when they enroll. If college truly encouraged voting, one would expect that the large increase since the 1950s in the share of young Americans with undergraduate degrees would have caused election turnouts to rise. In fact, however, voting rates have declined during this period. Researchers have even found that the more courses students take in several popular majors, including business, science, and engineering, the less likely they are to vote after they graduate.
This. Is. Fucked. Up.!!!

Thursday, October 05, 2017

We have flown into the cuckoo's nest :(

While watching yet another segment of yet another late night comedian severely critiquing the fascist and his allies, I told the friend that I was getting more and more agitated.  Politics, which was to me the theatre of the absurd that entertained me more than troubled me, has now become a stress agent in my life.

Many of us knew well that this was bound to happen with this thug who was elected by 63 million.  But, I was confident that I would ride it out.  Wrong I am.

Soon after the election, this NY Times piece said it best:
[trump]  is, in a strange, meta way, a spectator of his own performance. For the next four years at least, we are living in a TV show that Mr. Trump is simultaneously starring in, consuming and live-tweeting.
A few months ago, this essay in Foreign Policy noted about "the impact of the shift to All Trump, All the Time News" that "is making it hard to focus on much of what might otherwise be worthy of our attention."
we need to tear our eyes away from the spectacle of this clusterfuck of a presidency and its daily dramas and periodically look up and out to our horizons, recognizing that the narcissism aside, there remains real greatness in America that needs tending, planning, and nurturing in the context of the real world — even if, at the moment, there is very little evidence of that greatness at the center of our government.
That was back in March, which seems like eons ago in trump time!  Like billions of people all around the world, I too have been unable to shift my eyes away from the "clusterfuck of a presidency and its daily dramas."  The result: I feel like I cannot take this anymore, even as I know well that it has not even been one year into his four-year term!

At least television shows have commercial breaks when we can rest a while.  No breaks whatsoever with this "All Trump, All the Time."

Late night shows that used to do silly comedy routines now have no time for silliness.  It is "All Trump, All the Time."  Initially, the laughing was therapeutic.  But, increasingly, it is obvious that even the show hosts are plainly angry.  They are even weepy.

Dinner conversations quickly turn to talking about the fascist thug and his people.  In the classroom, students seem to be referring to him without naming him.  It is no longer about I'm mad as hell and am not taking it anymore, but I am exhausted as hell and can't take it anymore!

Yet, I fully understand that I don't have a choice either.  I cannot afford to not fight back and resist.  I wonder how Gandhi and his people kept it up day after day.  Or how MLK and the millions kept at it day after day.

Maybe this stress and exhaustion will be the route to nothing beyond 75!

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

OMG! Another mass shooting that was committed by a woman?

Seriously, we have two problems: Guns, and men.

The party of thugs, aka the GOP, won't allow us to talk about these two.  Definitely not about guns.

Consider this chart from Pew Research:

Pew notes:
 As recently as 2007, 48% of Republicans and GOP leaners said it was more important to control gun ownership, while 47% said it was more important to protect gun rights.
That's a good chunk of the GOP, along with an overwhelming majority of the rest, in favor of controlling gun ownership.  Until 2007.

So, was there anything in particular that happened in 2008 for the GOP folks to become nutcase defenders of gun rights?  Think about 2008. Something dramatic happened in the country, remember?

In 2008, it seemed clear that the country would vote in a Democrat to the White House, after eight long Bush years of wars and crises that were ending with the global recession.  The two leading Democratic candidates belonged to demographic categories that the GOP typically does not favor: A woman and a black man.

The election happened.  The Onion carried the day with the best caption ever.

Gun sales skyrocketed.  And the GOP became cemented in gun rights.

In June 2017, Pew reported:
Nearly two-thirds of Democrats (64%) say there would be fewer mass shootings in the U.S. if it were harder for people to legally obtain guns; only about a quarter of Republicans (27%) say the same. And Republicans are skeptical that making it harder to legally obtain guns would have an effect on mass shootings: 54% say it would not make a difference, while 18% think restricting access to guns would lead to more mass shootings.
Tell me again how awesome the GOP is?


Tuesday, October 03, 2017

It was twenty years ago!

Perhaps there are researchers who have already done what I am hypothesizing: The get the government out of our lives ideology that compelled Bill Clinton to run as a "new Democrat" who proclaimed the end of welfare as we know it has merely reshaped the geography of "welfare" to a geography of drug dependency.

Back in 1997--yes, on August 28, 1997--in my op-ed that was published in The Bakersfield Californian, I wrote this:
[Superimpose] people without welfare support on an economy that is in the "down" phase, and you have a recipe for a disastrous level of homelessness and crime. ...
[If] we continue to adopt a misguided welfare reform program, we could be commencing the 21st century with more economic troubles than we would want to handle.
When I wrote that, I had no idea about the kind of economic transformations in China and India that transformed the world.  And then the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Which means, my projections were more optimistic than I am normally used to!

I ended that op-ed with this:
Irrespective of their party affiliations, Americans appear to be on a crusade to put an end to the safety net for the disadvantaged.  This ideological shift is a troubling sign.  America was always considered a nation that helped other nations and aided its disadvantaged citizens.  Since the Reagan era, America has drastically scaled down its assistance to other nations.  And now, America wants to tear the safety net protecting her own people.  Whither goest thou, America?
Twenty years later, we have a rabid Republican party that wants to get rid of programs that go back to the New Deal, and has repeatedly tried--and failed--to get rid of the most recent safety net program: Obamacare.  The fascist thug, elected by 63 million, wanders in his bathrobe.

At the same time, in a global economic landscape that is vastly different from that existed in 1997, we have millions of Americans who neither have ways to support themselves nor do they have government assistance programs.  Even the job-retraining programs are being gutted away by the ever greedy Republicans whose only goal is to make the rich fat people richer and fatter.

And the geographic areas that have suffered from the loss of jobs and government safety net are also the ones suffering the most from the opioid crisis.  These are also the same places that voted for the fascist!

It was gut wrenching to watch this video of babies in the neonatal wards struggling with the effects of their biochemistry that was altered by the drug addiction of their mothers.  The fascist loudly proclaimed that he was going to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency--such a declaration would then direct a whole lot of resources to address the problem.  Reports suggest that, on an average, between 90 and 100 Americans die everyday from drug overdosing.  It has been nearly eight weeks since that day when the fascist bullshitted--as he always does.

In recent days, the fascist has been hard at work attacking NFL players who are protesting against injustice, and has been attacking Puerto Ricans as being lazy who want everything to be done for them. The New York Times can't keep up with tallying his insults!

I don't recognize this America.  There's something seriously wrong here.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Peace seems a lot more distant in the rear-view mirror :(

When talking with my mother, with my usual sense of awful humor, I asked her if she made sweets to celebrate Gandhi's birthday.  And then on a serious note, I told her that Einstein said after Gandhi's passing that future generations might not even believe that there really was a man called Gandhi who did all those awesome things.

I was later reminded that a year ago, the local newspaper published my column that I had timed with Gandhi's birthday, in which I talked about the awful trump and his demagoguery without naming him.

All my worries--way more than this--have come true with the election of the fascist thug, thanks to the 63 million, including a couple of past commentators here.  Violence.  Every day, the fascist attacks somebody or the other, and his minions rejoice.  He even openly threatens nuclear war with North Korea!  And then the events like the one at Charlottesville.  The fascist and his followers are clear evidence that neither Gandhi nor Jesus matter to the maniacs.

I am re-posting here that column from a year ago.

The United Nations marks Oct. 2 as the “International Day of Nonviolence” for a very good reason — it is the birthday of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi, who was born in 1869, led the independence movement that, in 1947, resulted in the creation of two new countries of India and Pakistan and, with that, the end of the British Raj. The struggle for freedom, in which Gandhi passionately urged his followers to observe non-violence even against the colonizer’s brutal force, inspired many others, including Martin Luther King Jr.
Life is full of tragic ironies — Gandhi and King, the champions of peace and nonviolence, fell to bullets aimed at them. Unlike Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1948, King had not lived long enough to live in the promised land of freedom.

Albert Einstein summed it up best for all of us when he wrote about Gandhi that “generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.” On Gandhi’s birthday, it certainly will help us all to be reminded, as the U.N. puts it, of the human desire for “a culture of peace, tolerance, understanding and non-violence.”

In the contemporary United States, any talk in the public space about peace and nonviolence is rare. Politicians of all stripes want to prove how much tougher they are than the other, out of a fear of being labeled a wimp. This has been especially the case since the fateful events on Sept. 11, 2001. At the national level, the “tough” ones smell blood when an opponent does not talk of war. At this rate, even those running for the office of dogcatcher will have to prove their toughness.

Of course, violence is more than merely engaging in war. The political rhetoric during the past year seems to have been anything but peaceful and nonviolent. A new day begins with attacks on yet another person or group of people, based on whatever cultural trait is deemed to be the “wrong” one for the moment. Even I, as insignificant as one can be in the political landscape, have been a target for those who are seemingly at ease with offensive words and rhetoric.

While words, unlike sticks and stones, do not break bones, the violence conveyed through words causes plenty of harm. In the noise and confusion of the violent rhetoric that surrounds us in the real and cyber worlds, we seem to have lost a fundamental understanding of what it means to be human.

One of Gandhi’s favorite prayers says it all about being human: It is to “feel the pain of others, help those who are in misery.” Unfortunately, the rhetoric and practice these days is far from that interpretation of humanity.

When it comes to the terrible humanitarian crises, like the situation in Aleppo, Syria, it is depressing and shocking to see how quickly we closed ourselves off from the “pain of others” and how easily we refuse to “help those who are in misery.” We have refused to budge even when the screens all around us flashed the images of Aylan Kurdi — the toddler who was found dead, face down, on a beach — or the five-year-old Omran Daqneesh, whose dust- and blood-covered face looked dazed and confused.

Meanwhile, all around the world, the number of people displaced from their homes continues to increase. The United Nations estimates that by the end of 2015, the number of people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes reached 65.3 million. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, noted that “at sea, a frightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year; on land, people fleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed borders. Closing borders does not solve the problem.”

As I write, peace and nonviolence seem to be evaporating even in Gandhi’s old lands of India and Pakistan. Tension between the two countries is at such high levels that commentators wonder, and worry, whether the neighbors are getting ready for yet another war. As often is the case with these sibling countries, this time, too, the fight is over Kashmir, but with plenty of nuclear bombs on both sides of the border.

We shall certainly overcome, in the long run. In the meanwhile, on the International Day of Nonviolence, like the stereotypical beauty pageant contestant, I, too, wish for world peace.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Deal with your own shit!

Some of us knew that it was only a matter of time.  It finally happened.

We have to deal with our own crap--it is no longer somebody else's problem!

"We" as in even right here in Eugene: "On Thursday, the reverberations of China’s tough stance reached Sam Miller, owner of Lane Apex."

What does Lane Apex do?  "picks up curbside commingled recyclables such as plastics, unsorted paper, cardboard and metal cans from homes in Eugene."

What has this got to do with China?
China, by far the world’s biggest importer and re­processor of recyclables, has put the United States on notice that this fall and early next year, it will begin turning away all but the most pristine used plastics and unsorted waste paper.
Of course, it is not merely Eugene:
With China’s looming ban, the entire West Coast system for sorting and shipping off recyclables is beginning to slow down, as the industry realizes it may not be able to get rid of the stuff
Back in 1987, when I was new to this country, one of the interesting stories for me was about the barge from New York that was on the sea and for thousands of miles--the gar-barge.  The awesomely rich geographic areas have always used poorer ones as their dumping grounds.  China used to be one of those poorer areas.  Not anymore.  It is now an economic and political power in the world.  And it is no longer interested in other people's garbage.
“It could have a negative impact on recycling in general, as the system has relied on China for so long now,” said Brent Bell, vice president of recycling for Waste Management, the largest waste-service provider in the U.S. If the Chinese market is no-longer available, some experts question whether U.S. municipal recycling programs can remain viable, or if many of the products now considered “recyclable” will be reclassified as garbage bound for landfills.
How did this export of garbage to China come about?
For decades, the market for recycling exports has benefited thanks to the massive U.S.-China trade deficit. With more container ships arriving on U.S. shores then heading the other way, shippers were desperate for anything they could find for the return trip.
“And the thing they chose was scrap materials,” Moore told Bloomberg BNA. “Because of discounts the shipping companies offered, it ended up being cheaper to send that stuff to China than to process it here.”
Let's see.  China makes a whole bunch of stuff, while polluting its air, water, and land, and while treating its people like shit.  We buy the stuff that we really do not need, and generate a whole lot of recyclable trash.  But, we don't want to pay for the processing of the recyclables.  We put them in the empty containers and sent them to China.  Now, it is time to pay the piper!

Meanwhile, we have shifted to online shopping because, well, we don't have enough time to spend on Facbook and Instagram and whatever else and, therefore, we can't be bothered to go to the store round the corner to get a roll of toilet paper.  We place orders online, and they are delivered with a whole lot of packing materials.
“Online retailers like Amazon still need cardboard boxes and most comes from China,” said Jakob Rindegren, the recycling policy adviser of the U.K. association.
One corrugated box retailer on the online shopping site Taobao reached by Reuters, said the price of cardboard boxes had nearly doubled since the end of August to 8.8 yuan ($1.33) each.
As I wrote in this post on recycling, two years ago--almost to the very date:
I am especially drawn to issues like this because we are forced to think through the complications and question our own preferred ideas on how to make this world a better place for tomorrow.  A constant examination, a Socratic questioning, in which there is no sacred cow, so to speak.
The solution to all these is simple, right?  Consume less, and take care of your own shit!             

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The loneliest event of life

The conversations with my father last week were mostly about two deaths.  One was in his mid 70s, and the other was in her early 80s.

In one of those conversations, I told my father, "yes, we all have to go at some time.  But, when that happens, it is difficult for the others to handle."

It felt odd saying that.  For one, I am much younger.  And the son to say such stuff to his father?

Father agreed with me.  "Even the great souls could not stop death.  They too are gone."

I am pretty much convinced that it is the acute realization that I might be dead at any second that drives my decision-making.  I will be dead, after a fleeting existence.

It is good to know that I am not alone in thinking like this.  Today, I came to know that there is something called existential psychotherapy, and that there is an existential psychotherapist writer named Irvin Yalom

Yalom is practically my father's age.  He "helped introduce to American psychological circles the idea that a person’s conflicts can result from unresolvable dilemmas of human existence, among them the dread of dying."  Hey, that's what I have been saying and writing.  So, there is backing for my intuitive understanding.  Alright!
Another of Yalom’s signature ideas, expressed in books such as Staring at the Sun and Creatures of a Day, is that we can lessen our fear of dying by living a regret-free life, meditating on our effect on subsequent generations, and confiding in loved ones about our death anxiety. When I asked whether his lifelong preoccupation with death eases the prospect that he might pass away soon, he replied, “I think it probably makes things easier.”
Exactly!  Regret-free life. Effect on future generations. Talking about death and the anxiety.  To me, this is a healthy formula for a wonderful life.
“If we live a life full of regret, full of things we haven’t done, if we’ve lived an unfulfilled life,” he says, “when death comes along, it’s a lot worse. I think it’s true for all of us.”
Yep, the religions and cultural traditions do not matter one bit.  It always comes down to living fulfilled lives.
When two of his close friends died recently, he realized that his cherished memory of their friendship is all that remains. “It dawned on me that that reality doesn’t exist anymore,” he said sadly. “When I die, it will be gone.”
Friends die.  Sometimes suddenly. Relatives die. Every death tears the fabric of our own lives.  We worry that we did not spend time with them when they were alive.

But, memories remain. And memories are all that we can take with us.
“Dying,” he wrote in Staring at the Sun, “is lonely, the loneliest event of life.” Yet empathy and connectedness can go a long way toward reducing our anxieties about mortality.
Oh my, how come I never knew about Yalom all these years?  Empathy is perhaps the emotion that is most important to me, especially in the way it helps me understand my own existence and, thereby, my death.
For all the morbidity of existential psychotherapy, it is deeply life-affirming. Change is always possible. Intimacy can be freeing. Existence is precious. “I hate the idea of leaving this world, this wonderful life,” Yalom said.
Yes, the sincere thinking about death and my existence makes me appreciate life in ways that I never knew before.  The friend has mentioned more than once about how much I talk about the blue sky and puffy white clouds.  Or about the river.  There is way too much beauty in the world all around me.  I will terribly hate leaving all these behind.  But, when that day comes--perhaps only sixty years from now, much against my wishes--I hope to leave regret-free and with content.


Friday, September 29, 2017

It is all foreign to me ...

One of the many benefits to flying halfway around the world and making myself a home here in the United States is this: Over the years, I have had meaningful interactions with people from all over the world.  There is no doubt whatsoever that this has made me a better person.

Look at some examples that I have even blogged about:  Kugan from Sri Lanka. Siddiqui from Pakistan. Shahab from Iran. It has been a wonderful learning experience.

And there is a lot more to learn.  One life ain't enough.

Consider the Uighurs.  Yes, I have blogged about them too (like here.)  It was wonderful to have an Uighur student in class, who kept in touch with me for a few years even after she graduated.

Something new pops up all the time, even about Uighurs.

First, look at the person in this photo:


She could be French, right? Or Spanish. Or Persian.  Or Turkish. Or even an Indian.  Yes?
"In France, people spoke to me in French, thinking I was French," she says. "In Italy, they spoke Italian to me."
And she is ... Uighur model Parwena Dulkun.

Yep, a Uighur.  Which means that she is Chinese.
The only country where she isn't mistaken for a local is her own.
"In many Chinese cities, people think I'm a foreigner," Dulkun says, giggling.
She uses these moments to educate her countrymen.
"They try to speak English to me, and I answer in Mandarin," she says. "Cab drivers always turn around and ask me what country I'm from."
She says she smiles proudly and concludes her lesson by announcing: "I'm Chinese."
She giggles, while many others might get upset at being mistaken for a foreigner in one's own country.

While politically it has not been good for Uighurs to be under the Party, the world of commerce apparently cannot have enough of them--as models!

Xahriyar Abdukerimabliz, a 19-year-old model from Urumqi, says:
"Not to brag, but we are very good-looking," he says. "Our facial features are naturally attractive. We've got great eyebrows, big, beautiful eyes and double eyelids that weren't created by a surgeon."
Abdukerimabliz blinks, revealing his naturally creased eyelids. More and more Chinese are undergoing surgery to create a crease in their upper eyelids that about half of all East Asians are born without. Abdukerimabliz's "double eyelids" are topped with striking eyebrows, a long nose and expressive eyes that look either Asian or European, depending on his mood — or pose.
The market system, like god, works in mysterious ways! ;)  Which is also something that I learnt in graduate school, after getting rid of my commie colors in the old country. ;)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

I'm sorry, Dotard, I'm afraid I can't do that!

Yes, I merely substituted "Dotard" for "Dave" in the title of this post. 

You know where that line is from, right?  In that memorable scene, Dave is trying to get Hal to open the door.  Hal, or HAL, is--despite Arthur Clarke's denials--what many of us claim is only one corresponding letter away from the big computer firm of those days: IBM.

IBM's glory days are long past, though it is trying its best to claim the throne via Watson and other projects.  The digital world now belongs to other giants: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.  IBM, which essentially helped launch Microsoft, is now so faded in the public's collective consciousness that I doubt if the regular Joe and Jane--old and the millennial--even know what IBM is.

IBM is bigger outside the US than here
IBM has shifted its center of gravity halfway around the world to India, making it a high-tech example of the globalization trends that the Trump administration has railed against.
Today, the company employs 130,000 people in India — about one-third of its total work force, and more than in any other country. 
Which perhaps bothers nobody, other than the dotard himself.  The dotard likes a few punching bags to prove to the core of his 63 million voters that he has something left in his sagging cojones, and IBM is one of those convenient targets.
While other technology titans have also established huge satellite campuses in India, IBM caught the attention of President Trump. At a campaign rally in Minneapolis just before the November election, he accused the company of laying off 500 Minnesotans and moving their jobs to India and other countries, a claim that IBM denied.
It is not as if IBM is doing anything different from what other tech companies--or, for that matter, other multinational companies--do.  But, facts don't matter to the dotard and his doters!
[Vanitha Narayanan, chairman of the company’s Indian operations], who spent 12 years working at IBM in the United States and China before moving to India in 2009, said the company decided where to put jobs based on where it could find enough qualified workers and the customer’s budget. “It’s not as if someone says, ‘Oh, jeez, let me just take these jobs from here and put them there,’” she said.
Pause for a while.  Take a note of the name.  If you are not used to Indian names, then look at the personal pronoun used.  She.  Yep, a woman heading IBM's operations in India.  India--unlike the US--is a lot more supportive of women in commerce and politics.  If not for the misogyny here in the US, the dotard would not have won the elections!

Anyway, back to the IBM story.  The dotard beats up on American businesses offshoring to India and elsewhere.  Meanwhile, the dotard has his businesses in many countries outside the US, and he also imports labor from abroad.  Oh yeah, facts don't matter to the idiot 63 million voters, including past commentators here, who elected him the liar-in-chief!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Embrace the humanity ... if and when you find it!

"when was the last time you gave someone a gift just because"

When I read that, I paused and smiled.  Because, I did exactly that, just a couple of weeks ago.

Over the past few years, as I got older and wiser, I have done lots of such things.  Like the bar of chocolate I gave the gas station attendant on a cold and wet evening.

A few years ago, two guys came to replace the broken roof gutter.  As I handed them the check, I asked if they would like a couple of chocolate candies. They were as old as I was, but boy were they delighted.  It is not the age of the person. It is not the dollar-cost of the gift either.  It is that something special.

I never did such things when younger.  I was an inconsiderate idiot back then.  I am slowly getting better, and have a long way to go.

I started engaging in such acts because of the realization that interactions are not mere economic transactions.  I am dealing with fellow humans.  And especially when they come across as good people, I want to truly embrace the humanity they present.
Well consider what we normally do when we order coffee. We tend to simply enact the generic role of “coffee shop customer”. But when we do this we act more or less like anyone else enacting that role. There’s nothing wrong with that, and society chugs along nicely when we have these efficient public roles to enact. But when we enact them we don’t express our individuality much at all, and we tend not to really look and see the individual we are interacting with.
One way to create awesomeness is to break out of the role and express yourself to them in a way that gives them an opportunity to express themselves. Crack a joke, compliment them or the drink they made, ask a kind question, or simply sincerely thank them. Of course, there are many ways we can fail at this! But when was the last time you gave someone a gift just because, had a nice chat with a stranger, or went out of your way to cook a special meal?
Once, I told a young man working at a coffee shop that he was good looking, which made him blush! ;)

Of course I do not extend such niceties to all.  Assholes deserve nothing from me.  I am, after all, a guy who neither forgets nor forgives.

But, when I don't know anything about the strangers, I have nothing to judge them either, which means there is nothing for me to hold against them too, right?
We can’t create these opportunities for shared expression and appreciation if we’re afraid of one another, dismissive, petty, or too quick to stereotype.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Who cares for the brown-skinned in the colonies!

Life just happens way too fast.

Only a month ago, in my response-comments to this post, I wrote:
Yep, it is a colony. Like how Puerto Rico is. Like how American Samoa is. Without using the word "colony" John Oliver describes that condition in the video that I had embedded. 
And we treat them that way because, ahem, they are brown-skinned.
And then Hurricane Maria happened.  The lives of three million Puerto Ricans completely devastated.  It is a huge humanitarian crisis.

But, apparently Americans do not care.  Why so?
Many Americans don’t realize that what happened in Puerto Rico is a domestic disaster, not a foreign one.
A new poll of 2,200 adults by Morning Consult found that only 54 percent of Americans know that people born in Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, are U.S. citizens.
Now, leave alone the notion that we ought to respond to a humanitarian crisis wherever that might be.  But, we can and should care at least about fellow citizens, right?  But, then how many Americans know that fellow citizens include the people of Puerto Rico, Guam, St. John, ...  More importantly, how many of the fascist's solid base know about these fellow-citizens?
Inaccurate beliefs on this question matter, because Americans often support cuts to foreign aid when asked to evaluate spending priorities. In our poll, support for additional aid was strongly associated with knowledge of the citizenship status of Puerto Ricans. More than 8 in 10 Americans who know Puerto Ricans are citizens support aid, compared with only 4 in 10 of those who do not.
We Americans are now behaving like how the Bastard Raj and its cigar-chomping bastard did during the famine in Bengal, which was after all only a colony with brown-skinned people!

Tribalism in the 21st century!
In this case, the lack of media attention could lead people to ignore Puerto Rico’s plight. Our sympathies for other people depends in part on whether we see them as fellow members of our tribe. Without more coverage, it may be easy to forget that the people suffering are our fellow Americans.
How did the fascist talk about Puerto Rico?
"This is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. It’s a big ocean, it’s a very big ocean."
And how does he know about the people there?
"I grew up in New York, so I know many people from Puerto Rico. I know many Puerto Ricans. And these are great people."
The demagogue tweeted a lot more about the NFL than about Puerto Rico!  This is the guy that 63 million, including past commentators here, voted for!  Shame on them!

Monday, September 25, 2017

On the loss of a moral compass!

I don't follow sports anymore.  That juvenile obsession, which lasted well into adulthood, ended quite a few years ago.

Even when I followed sports, I was always drawn to stories that were about justice.  Justice in the form of Jackie Robinson is one of the reasons why following Dodgers was sweeter--he was the first African-American to play in the major leagues.  Thanks to my fascination with the Dodgers during the graduate school days and a few years after that too, I got to learn a little bit about Robinson.  His academic and multi-sport talents.  And about his military service--Robinson was court-martialed because he refused to sit in the back of the army bus!
As detailed in the masterful Jackie Robinson: A Biography by Arnold Rampersad, on July 6, 1944, Robinson “became entangled in a dispute that threatened to end his military service in disgrace.” While riding on a military bus returning to a hospital from “the colored officers club,” Robinson sat next to Virginia Jones, the wife of one of his fellow officers. Jones looked white — at least the white bus driver thought so. After a few blocks, the driver abruptly ordered Robinson “to move to the back of the bus.” Robinson, justifiably outraged, refused. Among other things, he had read that segregation was no longer allowed on military buses (pdf) and proceeded to engage in a form of protest prefiguring a similar action by Rosa Parks 11 years later.
Had Robinson been found guilty, history would have unfolded very differently.
Testimony reveals how bravely Robinson had fought to defend himself on the evening of the incident, including reportedly saying quite heroically, “Look here, you son-of-a-bitch, don’t you call me no nigger!” After a four-hour trial, Robinson was exonerated: “Robinson secured at least the four votes (secret and written) needed for his acquittal. He was found ‘not guilty of all specifications and charges.'”
That was in 1944.

In 2017, the president of the United States, pissed off at the athletes who were protesting the continuing racism in the country, called them sons of bitches.  In a public rally, which was televised live, the president of the country called ball players sons of bitches.  Presidential, indeed!!!

We have no moral compass in this country thanks to 63 million voters, including past commentators at this blog!

trump said that in Alabama.  One of my other favorite stories about a team also involves Alabama.

I had never heard of the crazy American football until I came to graduate school.  Right away, I fell in love with the pomp and pageantry that was part and parcel of the game.

I came to know more about the lore, such as this one:
The story of the 1970 USC-Alabama game has become well-documented legend. Bear Bryant’s all-white Alabama Crimson Tide hosted the Trojans in the opening game of the season, a showdown of two of the best and yet two of the most different teams of the previous decade. USC featured a black starting quarterback, fullback and tailback along with a host of other African-American players, and would be the first fully integrated team to play in the state of Alabama.
And, yes, the USC team with the black quarterback and many other African-Americans beat the all-white Alabama team 42-21.

Race-related tensions have far from eased in Alabama, whose son-of-the-soil, george wallace, thundered back in 1963: " "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." That Alabama is where trump said this while addressing a practically all-white crowd:
When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they are playing our great national anthem."
"yourselves," "you," and "our" versus "those people"

63 million voted for this white supremacist, who loves stoking the racist flames!