Friday, December 08, 2017

Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die

When we were kids, my parents meticulously kept accounts of household expenses.  I know it well because even we tiny ones were involved with the accounting.  We helped count up the coins and helped them remember the expenditure items.

Thus, we were all intensely aware that there was no free money lying around. Often, the parents borrowed from the rainy-day-fund.  We became intensely aware that the rainy-day-fund was being depleted.

Those were the hard cold days before credit cards.  So, there was no concept of spending money and then worrying about paying that later.  If we didn't have it, well, we couldn't spend it either.  It was, therefore, no surprise that, for instance, we did not have a fridge at home, nor a "scooter" leave alone a car.

Every once in a rare while, we would be allowed to get "hotel food"--those tasty puri/potato or masala-dosai or, yes, ice cream!  I did not know of a phrase called "eating out."  Well, with mother making awesome foods and snacks and sweets, why would we want to eat out anyway, eh!

It is a different world now.  It seems like everybody eats out.  I simply do not understand how that can be possible.  Do people have unlimited expense accounts?

Turns out that "adults tend to underestimate how much they spend on eating out by more than twice what they’re actually spending."  Yep, they have no idea how much they are wasting, er, spending.  A few years ago, I remarked in class that back in my undergraduate days, we would split a cup of tea from the corner stall--we could not afford even that cheapest tea.  We took for granted that students would have to live on tight budgets.  And, I continued on with the contrast of students walking around with mochas and lattes, which easily add up to quite a few dollars per month.  People blow their budgets on eating and drinking out.
This phenomenon matters because around the world, people are eating out more than at any point in modern human history. According to most estimates, it constitutes as much (or more) than 45 percent of food expenditures in the United States.
More importantly, studies have shown that those earning less tend to spend a greater proportion of their disposable incomes on eating out.
It is insane!

On top of that, I should also note here my grandmother's observation: While mothers and grandmothers prepare healthy foods for their families, the "hotel" people do not care.  One grandmother loved remarking, "and you never know where their hands went before they cooked."

Grandmother was not way off:
while eating out doesn’t necessarily need to be unhealthy, people often aren’t aware what’s in the prepared meals we’re buying from restaurants, markets and cafeterias.
The solution is simple, I think.  Don't eat out often. Live within your budget.  Make your own damn meals and coffee, instead of wasting time on Instagram!  Right?

Nope.  This is America.  Nobody will listen to General Malaise!
The Greek philosopher Plato once said, “The first and best victory is to conquer self.”
But in a culture that implores people to “let loose” and “live a little,” self-control shouldn’t be equated with self-punishment. I like to point to a maxim of celebrated chef Julia Child: “You must have discipline to have fun.”
Apparently all I have is discipline and no fun.  As a cousin once told me, "live a little!" I am left with only one alternative: As an American, I will blame my parents for instilling in me such a fun-killing discipline ;)

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Wrongful birth and parental choice

In yesterday's post, I quoted the anti-natalist philosopher David Benatar:
While good people go to great lengths to spare their children from suffering, few of them seem to notice that the one (and only) guaranteed way to prevent all the suffering of their children is not to bring those children into existence in the first place
This is not as abstract as it may seem.

Enter the discussion of "wrongful birth."
Wrongful birth is a legal cause of action in some common law countries in which the parents of a congenitally diseased child claim that their doctor failed to properly warn of their risk of conceiving or giving birth to a child with serious genetic or congenital abnormalities.
Serious genetic or congenital abnormalities.  For instance, a doctor could warn a couple with sickle-cell problems that their child will inherit that.  The couple then not having children is what Benatar writes about: "the one (and only) guaranteed way to prevent all the suffering of their children is not to bring those children into existence in the first place."

What if the doctor knew something was wrong and did not convey that to the parents-to-be?  And then the child is born with a death sentence like cystic fibrosis (CF) that puts the child through hell on earth?

That is exactly what happened to Jen Gann, who writes an emotion-laden essay about how she never got the chance to prevent her son from being born with CF.

First, what is CF?  The body mishandles chloride and sodium:
On the outside, this means CF patients have extra-salty skin. On the inside, it means they have thick, sticky mucus in their lungs, pancreas, and other organs, leading to digestive problems and low weight gain, clogged airways and trapped bacteria. The excess mucus causes persistent lung infections, severely limiting patients’ abilities to breathe until, eventually, they no longer can. People who have CF must treat it vigilantly, with physical therapy to clear airways, inhaled medications, and fistfuls of pills. Doing so takes lots of money and staggering amounts of time.
It results in a life of suffering.  And a short life at that:
Time is important in describing life with cystic fibrosis: how many hours each day you spend on treatments (for my toddler son, two; for adults, up to four), how many weeks at a time you spend in the hospital (a couple, if you’re having a “tune-up” for a lung infection), how many months since you last saw a doctor (during periods of relative health, three). How many years you can expect to live: In 2016, half of all reported deaths occurred before the age of 30. In the later stages of the disease, you might measure time between incidents of coughing up blood, keep track of how long you’ve been on oxygen full time, or, should you qualify for one, count the number of years you’re expected to live after a double lung transplant (about five). Most patients with CF die in a hospital setting, after a long, steady decline, of overwhelming lung infections. The first time more adults than children were living with cystic fibrosis was just three years ago, in 2014.
Would you wish this on anybody?  Would you want to bring a child into this world with such daily suffering? Is life worth starting?
The more I discuss the abortion I didn’t have, the easier that part gets to say aloud: I would have ended the pregnancy. I would have terminated. I would have had an abortion. That’s firmly in the past, and it is how I would have rearranged my actions, given all the information.
Again, to quote the anti-natalist philosopher: "the one (and only) guaranteed way to prevent all the suffering of their children is not to bring those children into existence in the first place."

Once that birth happens, then there is no undo.  We live through the agony that life is.  While death is the solution, to quote Benatar, "Life is bad, but so is death."  We, therefore, make our calculations on what gives us joy and grab on to whatever we can.  Even when the child, whose birth could have been prevented, is living with the terminal disease of cystic fibrosis:
But the most consuming, language-defying pain is just the other side of the most overwhelming joy. There are no words for the feeling of walking down the street with the person I love most, no words to describe why I wanted to have a child in the first place. After all this pain and humiliation and anger boiled down to records and money and who did what, the love I have for my son feels like the one thing that can’t be taken from me. It’s what I know more than anything in this world.
Such is life that we know because our births were not prevented in the first place!

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Look who's talking!

I am here because my parents had sex.

I know, it is bizarre to open a blog-post with that sentence.  But, hey, we have to face that reality that our existence is due to our parents having had sex, at least that fateful day.

During that sexual congress, of the about 200 million sperm that raced, one cracked open the egg shell and, I emerged forty weeks later.

Had it been some other sperm, or another day, "I" would not exist.  It would have meant a child that would have been different from me. "I" would not have been born.

So, let's recap.  "I" exist thanks to the randomness of a sexual act on a day in which one of the sperms met the egg.

In other words, it is an itsy-bitsy-tiny chance that resulted in me.  Well, your existence, too, resulted from such an ultra-low probability event.

Don't get me wrong.  Now that I am here, I am enjoying life with its warts and all.  But, keep in mind that after we are born, it is a game of survivor every single day.  And then the aches and pains and everything else.
We’re almost always hungry or thirsty, he writes; when we’re not, we must go to the bathroom. We often experience “thermal discomfort”—we are too hot or too cold—or are tired and unable to nap. We suffer from itches, allergies, and colds, menstrual pains or hot flashes. Life is a procession of “frustrations and irritations”—waiting in traffic, standing in line, filling out forms. Forced to work, we often find our jobs exhausting; even “those who enjoy their work may have professional aspirations that remain unfulfilled.” Many lonely people remain single, while those who marry fight and divorce. “People want to be, look, and feel younger, and yet they age relentlessly”
The "he" is David Benatar:
An “anti-natalist,” he believes that life is so bad, so painful, that human beings should stop having children for reasons of compassion. “While good people go to great lengths to spare their children from suffering, few of them seem to notice that the one (and only) guaranteed way to prevent all the suffering of their children is not to bring those children into existence in the first place,” he writes
The only way to prevent all the pain and suffering is if I didn't exist in the first place.  We can blame our parents for having brought us to this world, but, ahem, there is no undo!
“Life is bad, but so is death,” he concludes. “Of course, life is not bad in every way. Neither is death bad in every way. However, both life and death are, in crucial respects, awful. Together, they constitute an existential vise—the wretched grip that enforces our predicament.” It’s better, he argues, not to enter into the predicament in the first place.
Our existential crisis will not be there if we had "[not entered] into the predicament in the first place"!
He doesn’t imagine that anti-natalism could ever be widely adopted: “It runs counter to too many biological drives.” Still, for him, it’s a source of hope. “The madness of the world as a whole—what can you or I do about that?” he said, while we walked. “But every couple, or every person, can decide not to have a child. That’s an immense amount of suffering that’s avoided, which is all to the good.”
Spilling one's seeds is actually a good thing to do!  Strange to think that had the seeds been spilled on a fateful day, "I" would not exist, and would not be bugging you like this; "fate," as they called it in the old country ;)

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Flowers bloom on Chowringhee Lane

When my cousin asked me about movies that I had watched recently, I laughed and reminded her that our movie tastes do not always coincide.  I told her about two movies that we had watched, and strongly recommended them.

Right from a young age, I have gravitated towards the non-commercial, non-formulaic, movies. One of my greatest complaints when growing up was that the "art" movies were not shown in theatres near me.

Fortunately, television solved that problem.

One of those non-commercial movies that I watched and enjoyed, and one which made me think a lot, was 36 Chowringhee Lane.  I was impressed with every aspect of the movie.  About how the story was told. About the story itself.  And about the director being a woman!

The main character there was an Anglo-Indian woman.  Only because of that movie did I know that she was the wife of one of the big-time commercial Hindi actors--Shashi Kapoor.  I felt a personal loss when she, Jennifer Kendal, died soon after I came to know about her.

Now, more than three decades later, Shashi Kapoor is also dead.
Balbir Raj Kapoor was born on March 18, 1938, in what was then Calcutta (now Kolkata). He had no trouble breaking into the movie business: His father was Prithviraj Kapoor, a famous actor. His mother was the former Ramsarni Mehra.
Shashi, as he became known, was still a child when he appeared in his first films, in the 1940s and ’50s.
There is so much of a dynastic effect in some professions, especially in movies.

Shashi Kapoor, too, was more than a mere lip-syncing Bollywood actor:
In 1963 he played a teacher in the domestic comedy “The Householder,” directed by James Ivory and produced by Ismail Merchant, the first of a series of films Mr. Kapoor made for that production team.
Yep, that Ivory-Merchant team that gave us all those awesome movies in which nobody danced around trees!

But, as much as I loved the non-commercial movies, I loved the junk-food that the commercial ones were. Not because of any weighty stories that helped understand the human condition.  Nope, those Bollywood movies couldn't care about them. Shashi Kapoor himself talked about it:
“Of course, a lot of these films look silly,” he told The Times for an article about how movies had become a sort of balm for India’s poor. “But this is exactly what people want, pure escapism. You have people who are uneducated, poor, hungry — they want to escape from all that, they want and need some unreality.”
I couldn't understand the language too.  But, there was one thing that was awesome in those movies--the melodies of many of those film songs.

My favorite of the Shashi Kapoor film songs is this one, particularly because of the classical raaga that is the basis of the tune.

Yes, Shashi Kapoor did what was expected in the commercial Bollywood. Like life itself, it is all a part of the package.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Frosty the ... sun man?

About this time of the year, by now we would have had quite a few frosty nights and mornings.  And dense fog.  My first November here fifteen years ago, the temperature one night dipped down to 16 degrees.  Thanksgiving days have always involved chattering teeth and icy proximities.

This past November has been awesome.  As we walked up to our friend's home for Thanksgiving, I joked that it is great to have Thanksgiving in the summer.

We are not the only ones to experience such above-normal temperature.
Nearly every corner of the country is warmer than normal.
How much warmer?
Temperatures in the Rockies, for example, are more typical of mid-June than late-November. On Monday, Denver reached 81 degrees—some 34 degrees above normal and warmer than Los Angeles, Houston, or Tampa, Florida—the warmest temperature ever recorded there during the month of November. On the same day, it was so unusually warm in Salt Lake City that the city broke its record high—at 2:20 a.m. Tucson, Arizona, set record highs all four days of the long Thanksgiving weekend, peaking at 92 degrees on Sunday—the highest reading ever measured there so late in the year.
No wonder the camelia that blooms in late fall has been going strong this year.  The flowers keep on coming, and we are already into December!
The warm weather isn't just confined to the U.S. Parts of Australia, China, and the Arctic are all experiencing similarly intense heat waves. In Greenland, temperatures on Thursday are a whopping 36 degrees above normal.
Wait, what?  36 degrees above normal?

Why are the seasons becoming so confusing?
There's some science to what's happening here. Human-caused climate change is shrinking the duration of winter around the world, with cold days arriving later in the fall and not persisting as long during early spring. Winter is the fastest-warming season for most of the U.S. in part because, as snow packs shrink, darker surfaces like soil and plants are able to retain the sun's energy better.
What a scam.  Our president has assured us that climate change is a hoax.  If only he can get rid of all these fake news, so that we can all go about grabbing p*s in the warm December days!

Friday, December 01, 2017

What's good for the president is ...

For various reasons, I chose not to write any op-eds.  It has been months since I sent anything to the editor.  But, ... am thinking that I will send an edited version of this one

We are rightfully preoccupied with the political theatre in Washington, DC, especially with President Donald Trump’s tweets, and the ongoing developments in the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Trump’s Russia connections.

This also means that we are not paying attention to a number of other issues that will affect the country over the long term, and for which we will need to develop constructive public policies.

One of the trend lines that does not make the headlines is the falling fertility rate in the US. If we do not worry about this now, it will become too late to do anything in the future.

The total fertility rate is the average number of children born to women in a society during their childbearing years. Adjusting for various factors, like kids who might not live to become adults or parents, demographers have presented us with an understanding that the fertility rate has to be about 2.1 children per woman in order for the population to be stable.

Fertility rates higher than 2.1 explain population growth that we see in countries like Nigeria. On the other hand, countries like Japan and Italy are on a path of population decrease because the fertility rates there are significantly below 2.1. In Japan it is 1.46 children per woman and, therefore, the population there is projected to shrink by a third in fifty years. If those trends continue, Japan will have less than half of its current population in a hundred years from now.

Here in the United States, we talk so much about “baby boomers” that we have completely overlooked the fact that we are going through a baby bust. Fertility rates in the US have been staying below that magical 2.1 children per woman. The latest data show that fertility rate has dropped to 1.77 children per woman.

This decrease is not really a surprise. After all, most other economically advanced countries have already experienced such a decline in fertility. The surprise is that the US has been a contrast to Europe and Japan for so long, and is only now showing signs of joining them.

There is, of course, an important reason why the US has been different from Europe and Japan in terms of fertility rates. It is related to a huge public policy issue—immigration.

As reported by the Pew Research Center, “were it not for the increase in births to immigrant women, the annual number of U.S. births would have declined since 1970.” While immigrants accounted for only one in seven Americans in 2015, a quarter of all the births in America were to immigrant women. “Births to women from Mexico, China, India, El Salvador, Guatemala, the Philippines, Honduras, Vietnam, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico accounted for 58% of all births to immigrant mothers in the U.S. in 2014.” Even here in Oregon, births to immigrant mothers have offset what would have otherwise been a decrease in births from 1990 to 2015.

In fact, we need to look no further than the White House for these trends. Of the five children that President Trump has, only one was born to his second wife who is from the US, while the other four are the children of immigrant women he married—Melania and Ivana, who respectively immigrated from Slovenia and the Czech Republic.

The facts are clear: Without immigrants, the US too would exhibit the low fertility rates of Europe or Japan.

It has become fashionable, and a politically winning formula, to beat up on immigrants. However, the nativists might not be aware, or perhaps they refuse to acknowledge, that without immigrants and their children, the US population will not grow, but will decrease. And, like Japan, we too will be trapped with a stagnant economy.

The question, therefore, is “so what?”

The research is also very clear that it is not easy to provide incentives to American women to have more kids. Fertility rates are dropping because women, and men too, are intentionally making those choices. People prefer to invest in education and to lead comfortable lives in leisure. Such preferences mean that they choose to have fewer children.

As any parent knows, having children is expensive. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates the average cost of raising a child till adulthood to be about $233,610. USDA notes that housing, food, and childcare account for almost two-thirds of those expenses. If we want women to have more children, then it is clear that higher fertility will not happen unless the American people are willing to pay for those expenses. It is highly unlikely that we will subsidize fertility at such high levels.

The answer to “so what?” is, therefore, obvious and staring at us: Encourage immigration for continued growth and prosperity in the United States.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Mama says there'll be days like this ...

Every visit to India, I shamelessly ask my mother to make some of my favorite dishes.  Of course, everything that she cooked was divine.  But, even there, we all had our own favorites.

A few years ago, I asked if she could make keppa-dosai (கேப்பை தோசை).  Mother's reply was not what I expected.  She said that it was not easy as it was when we were young to get the needed keppai.  And the couple of times she tried, apparently it did not pass her quality standards.

It has been a long, long time--decades actually--since I had keppa-dosai.  Some day, when I am old, maybe I will have a moment like in Ratatouille!

It is millet that I am talking about.  Yep, millet.  As kids, my brother and I loved drinking Ragimalt, which was an industrial millet concoction that was a much better alternative to Bournvita.  My grandmother thought it was hilarious that we were so much into what she referred to as keppai-kanji (கேப்பை கஞ்சி).

That millet was in India long before the "English vegetables" arrived.  Long before the polished white rice.  Long before granulated white sugar.

In the process of rapidly modernizing, we are also rapidly losing our agrobiodiversity; it is declining in many countries:
Generally, agrobiodiversity is significantly lower in wealthy nations, where the industrial food system pushes toward genetic uniformity.
The wealthier we get, the more we gravitate towards inexpensive sources of calories, continuing along the direction in which we started moving ever since we invented agriculture.
Global shifts of urbanization, migration, markets and climate can potentially be compatible with agrobiodiversity, but other powerful forces are undermining it. The imperatives of producing food at lower cost and higher yield clash with efforts to raise high-quality food and protect the environment. The future of agrobiodiversity hangs in the balance.
It hangs in the balance, for certain.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Life must go on; I forget just why.

Another death in the extended family.

He was barely 59.  Fifty-nine!

I am always struck by how a person's death upends life as they know it for the immediate family, while the rest of us merrily carry on with our lives without any interruptions.  Every death is perhaps also a reminder of how truly irrelevant we are right here on earth, leave alone in the cosmos whose vastness we cannot even imagine.

Such is life that must go on.

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

Listen, children:
Your father is dead.
From his old coats
I'll make you little jackets;
I'll make you little trousers
From his old pants.
There'll be in his pockets
Things he used to put there,
Keys and pennies
Covered with tobacco;
Dan shall have the pennies
To save in his bank;
Anne shall have the keys
To make a pretty noise with.
Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten;
Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine;
Life must go on;
I forget just why. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A poem for the day

This being the month to honor the Native American heritage, the shittiest president ever decided to call a few of them to the White House, positioned them in front of another shitty president who is even called "Indian Killer" ... and then goes on to further insult Native Americans

Yet another proud moment for his 63 million voters!

How to deal with such a president?
Let’s recognize his motives and not obsess over his cynical behavior as if he’s devaluing the office of the presidency. He isn’t. He is devaluing himself. We’ve said before that Trump as president is no role model. He was disrespectful as a candidate too.
That ain't enough for me.

So, here's a poem. 


Monday, November 27, 2017

The implicit brutality of male sexuality

Years ago, an older friend who was married to an European, remarked about an aspect of the male-female relationship that did not exist in my old country nor in the adopted one.  "Harmless flirtation" at parties and at places of work is very European, he said.  Of course, the European flirtation that he referred to was in the married context, where people are in committed relationships.

Having been raised in a culture where girls and boys, and women and men, lived socially separate lives, and as one curious about how different societies around the world dealt with issues like this, I found all these to be fascinating.  In the old country, women even in my grandmother's generation rarely talked with men, which then did not even crack open the possibility of harmless flirtation.  

In enforcing such a separation between the male and the female, one of the metaphors in the Tamil culture was about fire and cotton--these need to be kept far away from each other because otherwise the cotton will get burnt.  Females being the cotton here, of course.  It was to protect women from the fire and fury that men are.

Vice President mike pence practices such a separation between men and women.  He has proudly noted how he doesn’t eat alone with any woman other than his wife.  While it might seem like a great idea, it is another version of la majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain.  Why?  Because, in practice it means like this:
One reason women stall professionally, research shows, is that people have a tendency to hire, promote and mentor people like themselves. When men avoid solo interactions with women — a catch-up lunch or late night finishing a project — it puts women at a disadvantage.
So, isn't a better approach to empower women?  Give them agency?

Masha Gessen notes:
In the current American conversation, women are increasingly treated as children: defenseless, incapable of consent, always on the verge of being victimized. This should give us pause. Being infantilized has never worked out well for women.
In this post-weinstein era, I hope we don't swing to the other extreme and strictly enforce the gender separation that continues to exist in many parts of the world.

Instead, I want something else: Serious and sincere conversations on how to deal with the biological wiring in men, and how nurture can address that aspect of nature.  But then, nobody listens to what I have to say!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The browning of America is delayed ...

In the world of sovereign states after the Second World War, very few of them have allowed foreigners to permanently move into their countries.  Quite a few, like the ones in the Persian Gulf, tolerate migrant workers, and most of the rest of the countries practically do not allow for immigration.

The United States continued to stand out, in contrast.  In the 1960s, it even shed its racist immigration policies and made possible browns like me to make ourselves at home here in America.

And then trump happened.

Immigration is now targeted from many directions.  Because it is pretty much only non-whites who want to move to America--thanks to the global demographic dynamics--the anti-immigration nationalism is ethnic-cleansing through federal policy!

We are now setting ourselves up for immense losses.  Highly qualified, talented, and capable people are being denied work visas.  Like in this case:
After earning law degrees in China and at Oxford, after having worked in Hong Kong as a lawyer at a top international firm, after coming to United States three years ago for an M.B.A. and graduating and joining a start-up, I was given just 60 days to leave the country. I have 17 days left.
Law degrees, including from Oxford. MBA from Stanford.  Anything else?
My work involves artificial intelligence and big data, and my letters of support came from an authority in my industry and veteran start-up investor, and a Nobel Prize winner. But it wasn’t enough to convince the government that my job requires advanced skills.
What do Nobel Prize winners know anyway!  It is not like many American Nobel laureates are from other countries, right?

So, any final thoughts from the Hong Kong visitor who has been given her exit papers?
America is losing many very skilled workers because of its anti-immigrant sentiment, and while this is a disappointing blow to me and my classmates, it will also be a blow to the United States’ competitiveness in the global economy. Tech giants such as Google and Tesla were founded by immigrants.
I can’t make sense of why an administration that claims to want this country to be strong would be so eager to get rid of us. We are losing our dreams, and America is losing the value we bring.
As I make plans to go back to China, I find myself wondering: If I am not qualified to stay in the United States, then who is?
Who is?

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Beware: Drug dealers all around

Remember that powerful line from The Bridge on the River Kwai?  "What have I done!"

That's the sentiment that slowly some of the technology folks are beginning to express.Like some early Facebook employees, who now worry "about the monster they have created."
As one early Facebook employee told me, “I lay awake at night thinking about all the things we built in the early days and what we could have done to avoid the product being used this way.”
It is not merely with Facebook.  It is the same with Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, ... the list is endless.

Why?  The reason is a simple one, which I have discussed a lot in this blog.  But, we need to be reminded over and over again:
One of the problems is that these platforms act, in many ways, like drugs. Facebook, and every other social-media outlet, knows that all too well. Your phone vibrates a dozen times an hour with alerts about likes and comments and retweets and faves. The combined effect is one of just trying to suck you back in, so their numbers look better for their next quarterly earnings report. Sean Parker, one of Facebook’s earliest investors and the company’s first president, came right out and said what we all know: the whole intention of Facebook is to act like a drug, by “[giving] you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever.” That, Parker said, was by design. These companies are “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” Former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya has echoed this, too. “Do I feel guilty?” he asked rhetorically on CNN about the role Facebook is playing in society. “Absolutely I feel guilt.”
It is easy for the likes of Sean Parker to say that now, right?  After all, he has made his gazillions; Wikipedia notes that he is worth $2.4 billion!  Our addiction is their dollars.  If only users paused to question why they are getting these services for free.  No free lunch, as economists always remind us.

People who know me sometimes even make fun of my regimented life.  I stick to my eating regimen, my sleeping regimen, and ... Even when playing bridge, I commit myself to ending the playing by typing to other players that I will play one final game and after that game, well, I sign off.  It is all because I know well how delightful it is to have that extra chocolate. That extra cookie. More time in bed. One more ... We humans are wired for such addictions.  And technology is now explicitly and intentionally tapping into our addictive personalities.

So, what can be done?
[A]  rigorous technology of the mind is really what we need now as a civilization because the thing that’s killing people nowadays is too much Facebook and cheeseburgers. We solved the problems of the biological age by vaccines and antibiotics and discovering all these things, and stopping the things that were killing people, and we’re not going to find the technologies to fix these behavioral problems of addiction, technology overuse, overconsumption of everything by walking away from the technologies of the mind. We’re going to solve them by getting rigorous and having a complete science and technology so that people can reprogram themselves into the people they want to be.
We need to "reprogram" ourselves?  Ain't gonna happen!

Friday, November 24, 2017

On teaching and blogging ...

A few years ago, a student remarked in class about my blog; he said that the more he kept reading a few old posts, the more he realized a striking similarity between the blog content and the class content.

Of course those were the old days before trump, when my writings here were rarely unprofessional.  Which is also why I have now stopped telling students about my tweeting and blogging.

But then, maybe I should, because it will be a powerful evidence that while I am highly charged and definitive about issues and people here in my private space, none of that spills over into the classroom.  In classes, even when students ask me what I think about whatever the issue is that we are discussing, my typical response is that while I certainly have my own opinions, my job is not to bring them to the classroom, but to push them into thinking from multiple perspectives.

You, dear reader, on the other hand, have never observed me in my classes.  And perhaps you have often wondered whether I am a ranting nutcase in the classroom.  Rest assured that I am one hell of a straitjacketed professor in the professional environment.

So, in that spirit, I provide here a task that I assigned a class.  You will notice that the topic is not new to this blog, but the tone is markedly different from how I would have written about it here.  Right?

Finally, you will also notice a parallel between blogging and teaching.  In both, the structure is the same: We lay out the arguments, and bring in appropriate quotes, right?  Even the task that I assigned is the same way ... The real difference between my teaching and blogging is how "professional" I am in my language ;)

Go ahead, and write up the 2,000-word essay, and I will give you feedback ;)

In his op-ed (from class discussions on 11/15, or click here) the Dalai Lama writes:
The time has come to understand that we are the same human beings on this planet. Whether we want to or not, we must coexist.
He adds that “empathy is the basis of human coexistence.”

Such a coexistence, the Dalai Lama argues, requires the United States, too, “to think more about global-level issues.”

While the Dalai Lama does not refer to any specific event or issue in that particular op-ed, he has been vocal about the ongoing Rohingya crisis. In other contexts, he has also explicitly called on the global leaders, which includes the United States, to act on the Rohingya crisis.

The Rohingya crisis brings together, unfortunately, many aspects that we would want to understand: For instance, the role of religion and religious differences; the level of economic development; the structure of governance in the country/countries directly affected by the crisis; and even the “different” looks of the people. Thus, in a tragic manner, the Rohingya crisis makes an ideal candidate as a global issue, and also makes as a final exam topic.

Your task for the final paper is this: In addition to clarifying the complexity of the Rohingya crisis itself, do some background reading in order to understand:
  • What has the Dalai Lama said about the Rohingya crisis?
  • What has the current president of the US said about the Rohingya crisis?
  • What has the president’s secretary of state said about the Rohingya crisis?
  • How do their views compare/contrast with the Dalai Lama’s call “to think more about global-level issues” and with “empathy is the basis of human coexistence”?
Based on all that reading, and based on the relevant materials from the course, you will write an essay in response to the following:
Do the views of the president and his secretary of state agree with the Dalai Lama’s views—about the need for global thinking and about the Rohingya crisis? If they are not in sync, then whose position do you agree with and why?
In writing the essay, keep in mind that the essay is an end-of-term demonstration of how you have met the course goals:
  • Understand the complexity and interdependence of contemporary global issues.
  • Appreciate how one’s own culture and history affect one’s worldview and expectations.
  • Appreciate the vastness of the world and the opportunities to create a better future for all peoples.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Vanity Fair ... and Radhika?

I will admit it; I hadn't known about the publication Vanity Fair until Christopher Hitchens started writing there.

No, I take that back.  I first heard about it when Tina Brown became the editor of the New Yorker.  Reports said that she was a huge success at Vanity Fair, which made me wonder what the deal was.  Turned out Vanity Fair had quite some back story.

As I read those sentences that I have written, even I am amazed at how far from electrical engineering I have come, and how much I have immersed myself in the literary world.  Maybe this is another piece of evidence for why I continue to think a lot about CP Snow's Two Cultures.

Anyway, back to Vanity Fair.  Just as much as Tina Brown caused a sensation, it is the news about the appointment of a new editor that the literary/journalism world is talking about.  The editor's name is Radhika Jones.

The all-knowing Wikipedia notes:
Radhika was born in New York to an American father (Robert L Jones) and an Indian mother. They had met in Paris in 1970s. Jones grew up in Ridgefield, Connecticut. She has a brother and a sister (Nalini).
Talk about globalization, eh.  An American and an Indian meet in Paris, and the story unfolds!

What are Radhika Jones' credentials?
Ms. Jones graduated from Harvard College and received a doctoral degree in English and comparative literature from Columbia University. She has lived in Taipei and Moscow, where she got her start in journalism as the arts editor at The Moscow Times, an English-language newspaper. (Her Russian, she said, is rusty.)
Harvard undergrad, and then a doctorate from Columbia.  Holy shit; you don't want to mess around with such an academic background.

Interesting that Jones did not then transition into the role of an academic, right?  Good for her.

There are plenty of intellectuals like Jones who crossed over into the world of journalism after earning their PhDs.  Some of my favorites, even when I mostly disagree with them, include Bill Kristol and Andrew Sullivan.

Sometimes, I wonder if the path of academic credentials and then writing for the public is the path that I would have traveled had I known better, or if I had grown up in the US.  The roads we travel, and the forks that we diverge on, is what life is all about, eh!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

You can have this virtual cake ... but, eat you cannot!

After the meeting, I was hanging out at the airport killing time by walking around and observing life.  I spotted two colleagues waiting for their flights.  I walked over and chatted with them.

One talked about how she enjoys having a second home in Brooklyn, even as she continues to work and live for the most part in a town four hours away.

"The two mortgages are tight ... sometimes I feel like I can't ever go on a real vacation.  But, then I reach Brooklyn, and my friends are right across from me, and I am happy," she said.

"Yes, ultimately it is all about the human-human interactions, right?  It is not really about the vacation travels."

People increasingly seem to be forgetting the importance of the human interaction in real time and space.  They fail to understand that virtual is not the same. It is like my favorite example that you can't eat a virtual cake.  It is only real water that quenches the thirst, not the virtual.

David Brooks writes in his column that "Online is a place for human contact but not intimacy."  But, people seem to be mistaking one for another, and fail to understand the difference between contact and intimacy, between acquaintance and friend.

There is no turning back.  The virtual will increasingly be the preferred choice, even as people know within that it is the real that they truly seek. 

And then one day in the future, humanity will run into the very scenario that E.M. Forster wrote about years before all these developed:
"You talk as if a god had made the Machine," cried the other. "I believe that you pray to it when you are unhappy. Men made it, do not forget that. Great men, but men. The Machine is much, but it is not everything. I see something like you in this plate, but I do not see you. I hear something like you through this telephone, but I do not hear you. That is why I want you to come. Pay me a visit, so that we can meet face to face, and talk about the hopes that are in my mind."
She replied that she could scarcely spare the time for a visit.
Cry is all we can do!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Should I be positive about negative emissions?

When two of my favorite magazines have essays on the same worrisome issue, it can only mean one thing: Curl into a fetal position, suck your thumb, and pray to your favorite gods!

First it was The New Yorker and then The Economist on "negative emissions."  Here's how the Londoner puts it:
The Paris agreement assumes, in effect, that the world will find ways to suck CO2 out of the air. That is because, in any realistic scenario, emissions cannot be cut fast enough to keep the total stock of greenhouse gases sufficiently small to limit the rise in temperature successfully. But there is barely any public discussion of how to bring about the extra “negative emissions” needed to reduce the stock of CO2 (and even less about the more radical idea of lowering the temperature by blocking out sunlight). Unless that changes, the promise of limiting the harm of climate change is almost certain to be broken.
Yep, if the CO2 that is piling up cannot be sucked out of the sky, well, your grandkids are in for some deep trouble!

The New Yorker's treatment of the subject is an awesome essay by the Pulitzer winning Elizabeth Kolbert.  She writes quoting Klaus Lackner:
The way Lackner sees things, the key to avoiding “deep trouble” is thinking differently. “We need to change the paradigm,” he told me. Carbon dioxide should be regarded the same way we view other waste products, like sewage or garbage. We don’t expect people to stop producing waste. (“Rewarding people for going to the bathroom less would be nonsensical,” Lackner has observed.) At the same time, we don’t let them shit on the sidewalk or toss their empty yogurt containers into the street.
Of course CO2 is a waste product.  We have been allowing factories and cars to throw the waste into the air that surrounds us.  So, what does Lackner suggest?  What is the paradigm shift that he wants us to think about?
One of the reasons we’ve made so little progress on climate change, he contends, is that the issue has acquired an ethical charge, which has polarized people. To the extent that emissions are seen as bad, emitters become guilty. “Such a moral stance makes virtually everyone a sinner, and makes hypocrites out of many who are concerned about climate change but still partake in the benefits of modernity,” he has written. Changing the paradigm, Lackner believes, will change the conversation. If CO2 is treated as just another form of waste, which has to be disposed of, then people can stop arguing about whether it’s a problem and finally start doing something.
I am all for it.  The guilt talk does not work.  It is way more practical to talk about trash removal.  Except, removing this trash ain't easy!

If we keep adding CO2 to the atmosphere, what will the story be?  Like I said, adopt the fetal position, and suck on your thumb!
The I.P.C.C. considered more than a thousand possible scenarios. Of these, only a hundred and sixteen limit warming to below two degrees, and of these a hundred and eight involve negative emissions. In many below-two-degree scenarios, the quantity of negative emissions called for reaches the same order of magnitude as the “positive” emissions being produced today.
“The volumes are outright crazy,” Oliver Geden, the head of the E.U. research division of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told me. Lackner said, “I think what the I.P.C.C. really is saying is ‘We tried lots and lots of scenarios, and, of the scenarios which stayed safe, virtually every one needed some magic touch of a negative emissions. If we didn’t do that, we ran into a brick wall.’ ”
Are you all curled up yet?  No?  Ok, then read on:
Early last month, the Trump Administration announced its intention to repeal the Clean Power Plan, a set of rules aimed at cutting power plants’ emissions. The plan, which had been approved by the Obama Administration, was eminently achievable. Still, according to the current Administration, the cuts were too onerous. The repeal of the plan is likely to result in hundreds of millions of tons of additional emissions.
So, what is Elizabeth Kolbert's bottom-line?
As a technology of last resort, carbon removal is, almost by its nature, paradoxical. It has become vital without necessarily being viable. It may be impossible to manage and it may also be impossible to manage without. ♦
Boy will the grandkids curse us all!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Does the Dalai Lama tweet?

I have no idea which god is out there applauding trump in the Oval Office, nor do I have any idea about the god that his 63 million voters pray to.  These religious people I can never understand!

Other religious people have tried to talk sense to trump.  Like the Pope himself.  Remember this one?
When the President met the Pope at the Vatican, last week, it was as if they were members of different species, so far apart in values and style that the actual content of what separated them proved elusive. Francis slyly presented Trump with a gift, though, that—as of yesterday—defines their opposition as absolute. The gift was a copy of his encyclical on climate change, “Laudato Si’.” Trump politely promised to read it. Sure.
If you believe that trump read even one page of that book, hey you are one of the 63 million voters!
[The] dangerously degraded planet, for Francis, is a manifestation of a deeper problem, for “we cannot presume to heal our relationship with nature and the environment without healing all fundamental human relationships.” Though the Pope would not say so, Trump is an embodiment of the moral pollution that generates atmospheric pollution, a sign that something has gone gravely wrong in the way we humans relate to one another.
How awesome that the Pope reasons that our moral pollution is the cause of atmospheric pollution.

Another religious/spiritual leader has stepped in with his anti-trumpism.  The Dalai Lama writes "America First" is deeply flawed:
There are no national boundaries for climate protection or the global economy. No religious boundaries, either. The time has come to understand that we are the same human beings on this planet. Whether we want to or not, we must coexist.
I am sure trump immediately understands this.  His 63 million voters, many of whom include deeply religious Catholics--now denounce him.  Of course I am being cynical!

The Dalai Lama continues:
We must learn that humanity is one big family. We are all brothers and sisters: physically, mentally and emotionally. But we are still focusing far too much on our differences instead of our commonalities. After all, every one of us is born the same way and dies the same way.
I wonder if the pussy-grabber really knows that he too is going to die some day, like every one of us.  Maybe not.  Maybe he thinks that he will merely step into a golden plane and be off to much greener golf courses!

So, what does Tenzin Gyatso--aka, the Dalai Lama--suggest that we do?
The young generations have a great responsibility to ensure that the world becomes a more peaceful place for all. But this can become reality only if we educate, not just the brain, but also the heart. The educational systems of the future should place greater emphasis on strengthening human abilities, such as warm-heartedness, a sense of oneness, humanity and love.
Words that trump does not even seem to know.  And 63 million voters elected him!  Shame on them!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Twenty years ... and counting

The public's memory is notoriously short.  Which is why politicians get away with anything, for the most part.

Remember the Terry Schiavo tragedy in the public sphere?  It was awful.  Here was a young woman in an irreversible vegetative state for years, and Republican senators in DC adamantly stood against pulling her plug, in order to defend the sanctity of human life.  They were ok with wars and killing, prisons and killing, cops and killing, but no pulling the plug nor aborting fertilized eggs.  Nutcases!

Their leader at that time, Bill Frist, even made his own diagnosis--without having ever met the patient!  I tell ya, the GOP has been home to nothing but nutcases ever since that newt-led revolution in 1994.

Finally, after 15 years in a vegetative state, Schiavo died.  By then I was already an Oregonian.  And had already authored an op-ed on the state's Death With Dignity Act.  I wrote that in late 2002, soon after I moved to Oregon in response to the Bush administration's effort to overturn the Oregon law.  That effort was led by a religious fanatic John Ashcroft, who was the Attorney General.

The nutcase Republicans in DC gave it their best shot, but Oregon's law prevailed.  A couple of weeks ago, it was the law's 20th anniversary.
In Oregon, use of the law has steadily grown. Last year, it happened 133 times. Nearly 1,200 people have died using the law in the last two decades. A vast majority cited loss of autonomy as their main reason.
You remember how horrible it was before the Oregon law passed?  Like this one:
In 1990, a Portland woman, Janet Adkins, traveled to Michigan where Dr. Jack Kevorkian helped her use his lethal injection device in his Volkswagen van. Her death inflamed a national debate.
Kevorkian was later found guilty for his assistance in a number of cases.  He served time too, which is unfortunate. Almost nine years in prison, as an old man himself.  But, boy did he stand up for his beliefs!

I understand that not everybody will be ready to exit the planet as I am.  I love life. This existence is simply fascinating.  I hate the very idea that I will miss out on everything that I cherish.  But, like every saint and sinner who ever existed, I too will die.  A lonely event that will be.  Living like today could be the last day ever makes clear what my priorities are, how I should spend my time, and what I need to plan for.   Which is also why I don't have much in my bucket-list.

Here today, gone tomorrow! You should even think in terms of writing your own obituary.  At the very least, we could all benefit from having the most difficult conversations: Talk to the next of kin and make clear one's end of life choices.  After all, we talk shit all the time.  We have time for sports. We talk endlessly about the shittiest human ever in the White House.  We talk forever about the weather, for heaven's sake.  We definitely have time for this important conversation.

If you want some ideas on how to go about having such a talk with your people, check out the resources here.

In the meanwhile, enjoy the precious gift of life!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Take it back. Now!

In a few days, my fellow Americans will overeat.  Most men will also unbuckle their belts and sit down in front of the television and watch football while having yet another huge slice of pie.

As the day comes to an end, whether or not people sincerely thanked their stars for being alive during the best time ever in human history, quite a few will finalize their plans for the big shopping the following morning.

Black Friday is around the corner.

And then, a few days later, many will head back to the stores to return stuff.  Apparently throughout the year, we return a lot of stuff that we bought:
Returning stuff is an American pastime, a tradition even. The industry-wide consensus is that 8 to 10 percent of all goods bought in the U.S. will be returned. For online sales, the rate is much higher, in the range of 25 to 40 percent. Retailers see their return policies as a way to win loyal customers and undercut the competition. Some e-commerce companies make it so easy to send back used products that it can feel like they're almost begging you to do it.
Returns are far less common in other countries. In Asia and Europe, less than 5 percent of purchases are returned. "It's a very uniquely North American phenomenon," says Charles Johnston, a former executive at Walmart and Home Depot who worked on the returns team. "If you go to Europe and other countries that Walmart is not in, most people don't return. You go to Germany and it's just not an expectation." (The exception is the U.K., which behaves like us.)
Such is life in an age of affluence!

If so much stuff is returned, then, if you are like me, you begin to wonder what happens to all that returned goods.

An entire industry has evolved to deal with this--"reverse logistics":
Logistics giants are vying with each other to make returns as speedy and simple as possible. Last year, for example, FedEx spent $1.4bn to buy GENCO, a specialist in so-called “reverse logistics”.
Head. Spinning.!!!

So, the returned goods, and the unsold stuff, are hot business--in the US and abroad.  Go figure!
The brick-and-mortar stores that are succeeding are in the outlet or overstock side of the business. According to the commercial real-estate and analytics firm CoStar, five of the 10 U.S. retail companies that added the most square footage in the first half of 2016 were so-called value stores: Dollar General, Family Dollar, Dollar Tree, Marshalls, and TJ Maxx. During the Great Recession, customers started doing more of their shopping at dollar stores and outlets, and those habits stuck after the recession ended. Consider that there are now more Nordstrom Rack stores than there are Nordstroms, and Macy's recently launched Macy's Backstage to compete with Nordstrom Rack.
Perhaps like how Hollywood created a channel for straight-to-video, maybe the big retailers now have a straight-to-secondary route.

Now, think about how rapidly e-commerce has grown, and will grow.  This means:
More e-commerce means more returns, as customers buy goods without seeing them, often in several sizes, then send back what they don’t need.
After buying all that stuff, if people don't have space at home?  There is another industry that helps out, for a fee: Self-storage!

This is the American Dream, and the pursuit of happiness?

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The end is ... not at all near?

Remember the magic number 75 that I often refer to here?  I have always suspected that 75 will be a mere stop as I continue on.

Today, this website gave me more for me to worry about; it says that I will coast along well after 75.  And might come to a final resting place only by 100.
Your Healthy Life Expectancy is 42.6 Years
Your Unhealthy Life Expectancy is 2.9 Years
Your Life Expectancy is 45.6 Years 
Out of the potential  45.6 years ahead, thankfully only the final three will be unhealthy.  Small mercies!
This is the first time such a measurement tool has been developed. While it’s too early to validate the accuracy of our calculations with actual data, we have been careful to ensure that the model assumptions are based on established actuarial sources and the modeling results are logical and consistent.
Big data at work here, behind the scenes.  The big data that the Social  Security folks and life insurance folks use.

As if the potential 45 years ahead of me is not scary enough, the researchers note this: "One thing it doesn’t take into account however is the impact of the genetic revolution."  Oh, great!  The rapidly advancing genetic medical technology will then make me live for another twenty years.  I will be 120 when I finally die!  Un-fucking-believable!

The lead researcher there is Jeyaraj Vadiveloo.  For us Tamils, that name is recognizable.  But the twist in the spelling from the usual one that we find back in the old country means that this Jeyaraj Vadiveloo was born to people of Tamil stock who lived in places like Malaysia/Singapore, South Africa, the West Indies.  The diaspora tried their best to retain names from the old country, and in the process came up with their own spellings.

One of my favorites along those lines is the name Mahendra Nagamootoo.  In Tamil Nadu, the name "Nagamootoo" would be usually spelled "Nagamuthu."  But, the diaspora community went with the sound and then created their own spelling of the name.  Jeyaraj Vadiveloo is here in the US via Malaysia.  Vadiveloo is the "Vadivelu" of the old country.

When I eventually die, a gazillion years from  now, people are going to have a tough time linking my last name to the old country!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

What do they eat in Iran?

Consider the following map:

Asia is pretty darn huge, right?  Look at Iran and Kazakhstan alone.  Asia is huge.

No wonder then that the New York Times has a lengthy write-up: Asian-American Cuisine’s Rise, and Triumph.  It is about "America’s long, complicated love affair with Asian cooking":
As a nation we were once beholden to the Old World traditions of early settlers; we now crave ingredients from farther shores. ...
These are American ingredients now, part of a movement in cooking that often gets filed under the melting-pot, free-for-all category of New American cuisine. But it’s more specific than that: This is food borne of a particular diaspora, made by chefs who are “third culture kids,” heirs to both their parents’ culture and the one they were raised in, and thus forced to create their own.
True, right?  What a melting-pot this country is!

The report continues:
Could we call it Asian-American cuisine? The term is problematic, subsuming countries across a vast region with no shared language or single unifying religion. It elides numerous divides: city and countryside, aristocrats and laborers, colonizers and colonized
So, at this point, I should lower the boom.

The "Asian-American" discussed there has no place for Iran. No Kazakhs, No Nepalis.  It is all about the "Asia" that Americans refer to: China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand.  Not even Indonesia!

The American (mis)understanding of the world is unique in many ways.  Reminds me of another map on this theme:


If only we would spend some time and energy understanding the world!  Oh well; hasn't happened before, and ain't gonna happen in trumpistan!!!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Inch-wide and a mile-deep!

Often I have worried that my intellectual preparation has made me a mile-wide and not even an inch-deep.  I might be a flake. A man who knew too little about too many.

And then after a few minutes, that worry eases and I am back to reading, thinking, teaching, and, yes, blogging!

The lack of "depth" is a tradeoff that I systematically made in order to do what I do.  Expertise on the dreaded question of angels dancing on a pin has not ever fascinated me.

Such an approach makes me appreciate life and understand the world.  Like when I read this essay in The New Yorker on how most rural communities in America stagnate, while a handful survive and prosper.

A wonderful essay all by itself, in which the author writes:
In his 1970 book, “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty,” the economist Albert O. Hirschman described different ways of expressing discontent. You can exit—stop buying a product, leave town. Or you can use voice—complain to the manufacturer, stay and try to change the place you live in. The easier it is to exit, the less likely it is that a problem will be fixed.
I know what the author is writing about.  In fact, you, dear reader, also know that I know; remember this post of mine in which I paid tribute to Hirschman?  In that post, I wrote that they don't make thinkers like Hirschman anymore? And how Exit, Voice, and Loyalty is one of the few books that I bought and retain?  Hirschman's intellect though was a mile-wide and a mile-deep!

Back to the New Yorker essay:
Americans, Hirschman wrote, have always preferred “the neatness of exit over the messiness and heartbreak of voice.” Discontented Europeans staged revolutions; Americans moved on. “The curious conformism of Americans, noted by observers ever since Tocqueville, may also be explained in this fashion,” he continued. “Why raise your voice in contradiction and get yourself into trouble as long as you can always remove yourself entirely from any given environment should it become too unpleasant?”
The fabled mobility of Americans is rapidly changing.  I routinely ask students in my introductory classes whether they would move to places like Alabama or the Dakotas, or Sub-Saharan Africa, if that's where their economic futures might be.  Rare is a student who is ready to move.

But, in a trump America, it will be interesting to see how Americans react.  We now have a solid blue wall along the West Coast, which is certainly bound to annoy quite a few trump toadies.  Will they pack up and exit?  (I hope and pray they will!)  Will frustrated progressives in states like Texas stay back and voice their opposition? (I hope and pray they will!)

This barely-scratching the surface wannabe-polymath will watch with great interest how Hirschman's thesis plays out in trumpistan, er, America.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Thank you for smoking!

Nope, this is not about the cigarette industry.

It is about people who smoke without actually smoking.  Yep, without lighting up a cigarette, people smoke about two packs every single day.  Adults, children. Everybody.
On Tuesday, levels of the most dangerous air particles, called PM 2.5, reached more than 700 micrograms per cubic meter in parts of the city, according to data from the United States Embassy. Experts say that prolonged exposure to such high concentrations of PM 2.5 is equivalent to smoking more than two packs of cigarettes a day.
The smog in Delhi is so intense that breathing that air throughout the day is the equivalent of smoking more than two packs of cigarettes!

While in many contexts I metaphorically write about puking, kids and adults are literally throwing up because of this atrocious conditions:
Manish Sisodia, the deputy chief minister of Delhi State, said he was driving to a meeting Wednesday morning when he passed a school bus and saw two children throwing up out of the window. “That was shocking for me,” he said. “I immediately told my officers to pass the order to close all the schools.”
Schools closed for a week.  But, what are the kids going to do?  Their homes don't filter out all the crap.  Further, they will end up playing outside.
The situation prompted the state’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, to say on Twitter: “Delhi has become a gas chamber. Every year this happens during this part of year."
A gas chamber!

Pollution kills. It kills way more than the notorious tobacco industry can ever kill.  “Pollution has not received nearly as much attention as climate change, or Aids or malaria – it is the most underrated health problem in the world."
Pollution kills at least nine million people and costs trillions of dollars every year, according to the most comprehensive global analysis to date, which warns the crisis “threatens the continuing survival of human societies”.
The vast majority of the pollution deaths occur in poorer nations and in some, such as India, Chad and Madagascar, pollution causes a quarter of all deaths. The international researchers said this burden is a hugely expensive drag on developing economies. 
People, especially those in India, need to ask themselves whether such a "development" of a country is worth all the physical and emotional toll.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

A year of anger ...

I am with Katha Pollitt on this one:
I’m working on suppressing my rage.
Anger management; I have a long, long way to go.

The following is a re-post from a few months ago.

Even prior to this post, I have blogged 37 posts that I have tagged with a label that matters to me a lot: Empathy.  In her speech last night, Meryl Streep reminded us about that noble human quality.  By pointing out how empathy-deficient the pussy-grabbing president-elect is:
It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter—someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie; it was real life. And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.
I still cannot believe he won despite such talk and action.  A horrible human being as the President!

It is even more depressing to think that he won because of such talk and action.

To quote the philosopher Adam Smith--yes, that same Smith who is canonized as the saint of capitalism--"by changing places in fancy with the sufferer, that we come either to conceive or to be affected by what he feels."  We imagine how it would be to be disabled. Or to be terminally ill. Or to live in Aleppo.  Normal human beings, therefore, do not mock the disabled, or the dying, or those being bombed in Aleppo.  Yet, if millions voted for that horrible human being to be the president, then I worry more about my fellow citizens than about the pussy-grabber himself!

Which is why right from election night I have been operating with a clear bottom-line: There is no such thing as a good trump voter:
Trump campaigned on state repression of disfavored minorities. He gives every sign that he plans to deliver that repression. This will mean disadvantage, immiseration, and violence for real people, people whose “inner pain and fear” were not reckoned worthy of many-thousand-word magazine feature stories. If you voted for Trump, you voted for this, regardless of what you believe about the groups in question. That you have black friends or Latino colleagues, that you think yourself to be tolerant and decent, doesn’t change the fact that you voted for racist policy that may affect, change, or harm their lives. And on that score, your frustration at being labeled a racist doesn’t justify or mitigate the moral weight of your political choice.
To empathize requires a fundamental starting point of recognizing and respecting the other--who does not look like me. Not with this demagogue and his voters!

Empathy is also what serious art conveys to us.  As Streep said, "An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us, and let you feel what that feels like."  Like even when a eleven-year old boy silently sheds tears because an animated character dies.

Unlike that eleven-year old boy, the demagogue has an utter lack of an ability to "fancy with the sufferer"--a complete and total lack of empathy.  There will be situations during his presidency when he will have to be the comforter-in-chief.  There will be situations when he will have to weigh whether or not to bomb a place or a country.  There will be situations when his policies might have drastic effects on people.  But, when he lacks empathy ... progress will stall.  We might even regress.  The trump voters will stand accused!


Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Airline passengers welcome!

Remember that old line from Anatole France?
In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.
Australia has had a version of that:
By law, Australia will not resettle any migrants who approach the country by boat.
Sounds fair, right, how in its majestic equality, the law forbids anybody entering the country by boat?

I didn't enter Australia by boat when I visited.  Many Indians did not enter by boat when they immigrated to Australia.  I wonder who tries to enter Australia by boat these days!

Of course, we know who tries the boat route: Political and economic refugees, who, incidentally, are brown-skinned people.

So, what happens when they try?  They are held at a detention center on Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea.
By law, Australia will not resettle any migrants who approach the country by boat, a policy intended to discourage dangerous ocean crossings and human smuggling. Since 2013, Australia has paid Papua New Guinea, its closest neighbor, to house hundreds of migrants caught at sea while trying to reach the continent.
About 600 migrants, all men, and mostly from the Middle East and Southeast Asia, remain at the center. Most of them have sought status as refugees or asylum seekers.
Many of the men have already had their asylum claims vetted and approved by the United States and are awaiting placement there, according to American officials. But nearly 200 have been rejected, leaving them in legal limbo.
The asylum claims were the ones that pissed off the American fascist, remember? A "dumb deal" he called it.  What an asshole!

The Manus Island facility is now officially closed.  So, what happens to the detainees?  It is yet another humanitarian crisis:
A diplomatic predicament is now brewing alongside the humanitarian one. Australia will spend A$250m to keep the new accommodation running over the next year, but insists it is no longer responsible for the detainees’ security. PNG says it has held up its end of the deal. It claims that it has no obligation to refugees who do not want to live there, nor to the 150-odd men (among those barricaded in the detention centre) whose claims for asylum Australia denied and whom Australia expects to return home. Many are from Iran. There is no “clear understanding” of how the countries will resolve these problems
Meanwhile, "The limbo has been taking a toll: so far, six of the men on Manus Island have killed themselves."

Caption at the Source:
An image taken from social media depicts detained migrants protesting on Monday at their camp on Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea. The detainees refuse to leave, despite a suspension of services. Creditvia Reuters
Russell Crowe, the Australian actor, offered on Twitter Wednesday to provide housing and jobs for six of the men. Calling Australia’s refugee policy the “nation’s shame,” he added, “I’m sure there’d be other Australians who would do the same.”
I am sure the Australian government will allow that as long as the refugees land at airports after having traveled in business class!