Wednesday, August 16, 2017

J'accuse! J'accuse! J'accuse!

In June 2016, I was in an airport shuttle van with an Armenian-American driver and two German tourists.  The male tourist said that because it is illegal in Germany to say or do anything supporting Nazis, there is nothing there, at least in the open.  He blamed the US for exporting neo-nazi stuff to Europe.

This past weekend, the neo-nazi side of America was in full display.  A woman's death, and a black man's near-death, and more ...

Even prior to that post, in May 2016, I wrote about the looming dark clouds.
It starts with a swastika and 1488 etched on a bench on a bridge over a river :(  Here is to hoping that we will end it all before it even takes hold.
The evil has taken a firm hold, and eradicating it now will be a much tougher problem than anybody could have imagined.

In those posts, the two highly religious and openly Republican readers who used to comment stayed away from commenting.  One of them had even pontificated a year prior in a post on our biased and bigoted selves:
I do not understand how one person thinks he is better than another simply because of skin color or religion or any accident of birth, such as the wealth of the parents or location of the home. Every human has value and has gifts and talents and skills to share. None is more important than another.
I bet that those readers were two of the 63 million who voted for trump, who was thanked today by the former KKK leader.  The "thanks" was because the president equated "activists protesting racism with the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who rampaged in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend."

Two weeks after the November election, I wrote that white nationalism is not new to the GOP.
The big difference between 1984 and 2016 is this: Reagan used the political dog-whistle to remind the GOP white loyalists about blacks and immigrants.  Trump ditched the dog-whistle and went for the straight talk.
Elections have serious consequences.  This past election was perhaps one of the most consequential one ever, which is something for future historians to write about.

I quoted Ta-Nehisi Coates, who wrote:
Trump’s victory, in light of all of his antics during the campaign, makes it all but impossible to deny the continuing currency of racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia in the United States. It’s on display for all to see. This could be a good thing: It forces us to reckon with who we really are. Is America really about the democratic, progressive values professed in the founding documents? Or, are we really the small-minded, bigoted place Trump’s election represents?
The nine months after the election have made it clear that the 63 million did vote for racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia, and more.  They stand accused!


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Other than that, Frau Schmidt, how was the sex?

One of the strange essays that I read in the NY Times was this one on "Why Women Had Better Sex Under Socialism."

The title had all the warnings for me--as an old pinkie, I am highly suspicious of anything that hints of how life was/is awesome in a socialist/communist society.  Which is why, for instance, I usually have nothing but criticism for the rah-rahs about China, where people aren't free.

Anyway, the essay talks about how the old USSR and East Germany and others were progressive, and how "women under Communism enjoyed more sexual pleasure."
A comparative sociological study of East and West Germans conducted after reunification in 1990 found that Eastern women had twice as many orgasms as Western women. Researchers marveled at this disparity in reported sexual satisfaction, especially since East German women suffered from the notorious double burden of formal employment and housework. In contrast, postwar West German women had stayed home and enjoyed all the labor-saving devices produced by the roaring capitalist economy. But they had less sex, and less satisfying sex, than women who had to line up for toilet paper.
The author explains more with comparisons of women from those socialist years and their daughters who live in liberal democracies:
This generational divide between daughters and mothers who reached adulthood on either side of 1989 supports the idea that women had more fulfilling lives during the Communist era. And they owed this quality of life, in part, to the fact that these regimes saw women’s emancipation as central to advanced “scientific socialist” societies, as they saw themselves.
This is like how commies like to refer to, for instance, Cuba as an awesome country for healthcare.  Or, even until a couple of years ago, how Venezuela is a paradise for the poor.  And they always induce the same response from me: I want to puke!
Because they championed sexual equality — at work, at home and in the bedroom — and were willing to enforce it, Communist women who occupied positions in the state apparatus could be called cultural imperialists. But the liberation they imposed radically transformed millions of lives across the globe, including those of many women who still walk among us as the mothers and grandmothers of adults in the now democratic member states of the European Union. Those comrades’ insistence on government intervention may seem heavy-handed to our postmodern sensibilities, but sometimes necessary social change — which soon comes to be seen as the natural order of things — needs an emancipation proclamation from above.
"may seem heavy-handed to our postmodern sensibilities"?
"may"?
"seem"?
What the hell is wrong with such people?

Apparently I am not the only one who found it to be puke-worthy:
I would have chosen to commemorate 100 years since the Bolshevik Revolution and the birth of the Soviet Union in a different way. Over one hundred million people have died or were killed while building socialism during the course of the 20th century. Call me crazy, but that staggering number of victims of communism seems to me more important than the somewhat dubious claim that Bulgarian comrades enjoyed more orgasms than women in the West. But, as one Russian babushka said to another, suum cuique pulchrum est.
I am, however, intrigued by the striking similarities between the Times articles. To the greatest extent possible, they seem to avoid the broader perspective on life under communism (i.e., widespread oppression and economic failure). Instead, they focus on the experiences of individual people, some of whom never lived in communist countries in the first place.
Exactly.
But don't take my word for it. You can still visit a few communist countries, including Cuba and North Korea, and compare the social status and empowerment of their women with those in the West. Had the esteemed editors of the Times done so, they would have, I hope, thought twice about publishing a series of pro-communist excreta.
Exactly!


Monday, August 14, 2017

It was thirty years ago, today too

The long and winding road ended at the airport in Madras.

I sometimes refer to the end of that road and to the new beginning as my own "tryst with destiny."  Other times, I refer to myself as one of the "midnight's children."  During the same transition hours that marked India's beginning in 1947, I was ending the journey in the old country and venturing towards something unknown.

I have no idea how I came across to others back then, but I know I was stressed out.  Way stressed out.  And the stress was not helping the acidity situation in my stomach, as I would later come to find out during my graduate school years.

I was stressed not because I was going to a far away place. Not at all.  The newness was cause for excitement.  The stress came from the fact that I was headed towards graduate school in a field for which I had no formal educational preparation.  What if I failed at my attempt, and had to return to India?  What if I was unable to complete a PhD?  And, by the way, how does one do a PhD?  Would I be able to find a job after graduate school?

Yes, I had a plan that I was executing.  But, the plan had no details beyond getting on the plane in Madras.

I was stressed out.

It seemed like the few other students I met while waiting at the airport were all traveling the plans that were all familiar--graduate school in engineering or science.  And many of them seemed to be going where they would even re-connect with their college seniors.  Their only challenge was to decide between returning to India after graduation versus working in America at least for a while.

All I knew was that I was not going back to India.  America will be home.  As for everything else, well, I had to fill in the blanks.

And thus, in 1987, I boarded the Singapore Airlines flight a little before the midnight hour.

I stepped into a "jumbo jet" for the first time in my life.  I felt like I had entered into a huge hotel lobby. And there was a staircase, for the privileged travelers to get to their seats!

I reached my seat, which was in the rear of the plane, only a couple of rows ahead of the "smoking section."

The stress.  The excitement.  And everything new.  I don't think I slept much.  Not in the flight from Madras to Singapore, nor in the long haul from Singapore to Los Angeles with a stop in Tokyo.

The plane landed in Los Angeles.  The disembarking took forever.  I joined the long line snaking its way to the immigration counters for visitors.

Finally, it was my turn.

I gave the officer my papers and my passport.

My life in America commenced.  Thirty years ago, on August 15, 1987.



Sunday, August 13, 2017

It was thirty years ago, today

It is the 14th of August in India as I type this.

On the 14th, in 1987, I was in the old country.  At my parents' home in Anna Nagar.  Packing my suitcase and saying bye to people.

The day had finally arrived.  I was headed to America.  To Los Angeles. To graduate school.

It was a long and winding road that I had traveled in order to get to where I was on August 14th, 1987.  A journey, that was mostly unhappy, after the Neyveli school years ended in 1981.  The important stops along the way included Nagpur, Coimbatore, Calcutta, and--of course--Sengottai.

It seemed like I had no choice but to take that winding journey ... all because I was good in math and science!  Math came easily to me; I enjoyed learning and doing math.  In school, I routinely did the classwork way ahead of the rest and then used up the remaining time to finish the assigned homework. (Which explains why my mother claims, and rightfully so, that she has never ever seen me do homework or study.)

Talented and able boys were expected to do engineering.  It did not seem like there was any other route for me.  

In my first year, I tried talking about this angst of being in the wrong place with Vijay.  But, I was not able to connect with him even when we met.  Only later did I know that he, too, was going through very similar emotions.  I heard through the Neyveli grapevine that he had dropped out of college, and that he had embarked on a road that was less traveled--journalism and poetry.

I did not have the guts to drop out.  I have always been a wuss!

I wrote to a couple of universities inquiring whether I might be able to join a program in economics.  One university responded; the letter from the University of Delhi informed me that I was not eligible.

I stuck around in engineering.  If ever I managed to get engaged with the subject, despite my lack of interest, I did well.  Else, I barely maintained my "first class" standing.

All through, I kept doing the hard work, asking myself what I really wanted to do.  I discovered the world of literature to be comforting.  I read Dickens and Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn and more.  I clearly understood that it was the human condition, and not the computer chip, that interested me.   But, how would I make the change in the travel plan?


I was one of the few who got a job through campus interview, even before I earned my diploma.  I asked for a posting that would be far away from home.  I went to Calcutta.

All it took was a week for me to get all the evidence that I ever needed that I did not care for engineering.  I was now convinced beyond doubt that I had to get the hell out of India, study in America and make my home there.  I quit the job even before the third month anniversary!

The travel plan was slowly taking shape.

I bummed around for a few months in Chennai and Sengottai.  I logged plenty of hours in the library at the American consulate, reading newspapers and magazines and looking through university catalogs.  I selected a few programs and universities that matched my broad interests in the human condition.  I took the required GRE and TOEFL exams.

I went to interviews, mostly for an external confirmation that I was not an idiot.  My fragile ego was worried that people might think I was no good.  I took up a job, but ditched that within two weeks.

An uncle, a wonderful man, was worried that I was wasting away my time chasing dreams that might not work.  He pressed me to interview for a job where he worked.  I was hired.

I worked there, and followed-up on the letters from American universities.  The long and winding road was coming to an end.  I was now left with one major decision to make: Should I take up the admission and scholarship offer and live in Los Angeles, or take up the offer from Iowa because it would give me much more money.  I chose Los Angeles.

I quit my job.

I was now a man with a plan to execute.

And soon it was August 14, 1987.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

The new normal is ... a new slavery?

In graduate school, a professor casually commented that unemployment is a privilege of the rich.  The poor simply cannot afford to be unemployed, he argued.

I had a question right then but did not ask.  I was way too self-conscious about my accent and I worried that I might have to repeat the question in order to be understood.  I stayed quiet.  The question was this: What if people are working but the returns are next to nothing.  You know, like slaves.  Like hamsters running forever but not really going anywhere.

That question continues to bug me.  I have forever worried that the automation means that owners of those digital abstractions will get to hoard way more money than ever before.  This, in a political environment that discourages redistribution of income, will lead to workers working away but ...

The NY Times adds more to my worries, via this chart:

Soure

So ...
The message is straightforward. Only a few decades ago, the middle class and the poor weren’t just receiving healthy raises. Their take-home pay was rising even more rapidly, in percentage terms, than the pay of the rich.
...
In recent decades, by contrast, only very affluent families — those in roughly the top 1/40th of the income distribution — have received such large raises. Yes, the upper-middle class has done better than the middle class or the poor, but the huge gaps are between the super-rich and everyone else.
Megan McArdle, who is by no means left of the political-economic center, writes about the slow wage growth even though unemployment rate is at a low, low 4.3 percent:
So this slow wage growth may simply be what the labor market now looks like. Earlier eras of tight labor markets produced big increases in wages, but those increases were matched by rising worker productivity. Today, employers striving for productivity may replace the worker altogether, either by outsourcing to a lower-wage country or by giving that job to a machine.
So the biggest mystery is not why U.S. wage growth seems stuck even as unemployment falls. The biggest mystery is how we’re going to adjust our economy, our culture and our politics to the new normal.
It is no mystery to me--I have forever blogged about the need for a new social contract.  If only this president and his minions, and the likes of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell who manically advocate tax-cuts for the wealthy, will honestly respond to these real trends, instead of inventing their own alternative facts!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The bougainvillea of life and death

Those were the simpler days of childhood innocence.

I woke up every morning looking forward to going to school, and to spending time with my friends.  It was a twenty-minute walk to the school, before the years of riding the bicycle.

One school day, perhaps in the fifth standard it was, I was walking back home with my best friend back then.  We started arguing about the spelling of a word.  The name of a flower.  Bougainvillea.  The argument was about whether or not there was an "e" in the word.

Soon, we traded the few "bad words" we knew.  When that colorful language was not enough, our arms started swinging.

Before I knew it, my shirt pocket was ripped and I had a tear that was beyond repair.  My school uniform shirt.  We stopped our fight right then and there.  We knew we were in deep trouble with our parents.

The rest of the walk was in silence.  When we reached the roundtana, we went our separate ways.

I reached home and explained to my mother how I ended up with a huge hole in my school shirt.

And then I rushed to check with the dictionary.

He was correct.

Of course he was, as I had suspected was the case all through the argument and the fist-fight.

As if that fight was the cause, which it was not, we slowly drifted apart as we got older and became teenagers.  I visited with him a couple of times during our undergraduate years, before he withdrew from college in order to follow his true love of writing.

After a long gap, I met with him, and his parents, about six years ago.  We laughed about the infamous bougainvillea incident.

Today, there was an email from my brother:
Not sure if u heard the news
If not sorry to let u know
My old childhood friend, Vijay Nambisan, has died.

Vijay now joins two other wonderful childhood friends--Manibaba and Rangayya.

Vijay was remarakbly gifted and talented.  He was one of the very few that I have known in life who were exceptional in the analytical and the creative.  He was truly one of a kind.  I wish we hadn't drifted apart.  But that is what life is--we grow into our own personalities, and we live our own lives.

I picked up from my bookshelf the book that I got from him as a gift more than forty years ago.  His friendship, and the fight over the spelling of bougainvillea, were even better gifts of life.




Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The tyranny of the old

"Old soldiers never die, they just fade away," said Douglas MacArthur.  To which maybe it is time we added a twist: The old are neither dying nor fading away that easily!

I have complained enough about the choke-hold that older people have on everything going on in the world.  I have called them names, like tyrannosaurus elderex!  Of course, I have screamed at the senior citizens in my profession to retire already.  For whatever reasons, we do not engage in honest conversations on senior citizens who don't want to call it quits.

Remember the political campaigns here in the US just a year ago?  How could you forget, right?  Now think about the three of them who were yelling every single day: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and donald trump.  Who was the spring chicken there?!

This country has slipped into a gerontocracy even as we were all watching.
The highest levels of American politics bear an uncomfortable resemblance to a gerontocracy. From the Senate to the presidency to — perhaps most strikingly — the Supreme Court, top positions are held more and more by people in their 70s or above.
What happened, right?
In the body as a whole, 23 senators are at least 70. Seven are 80 or older.
Keep in mind that there are only 100 senators.  Which means, 23 percent is at least 70 years old.  Whatever happened to graceful retirement and encouraging a new and younger set of people taking over?
We should address these matters without rancor or cruelty, but also without euphemism or undue reticence.
These matters are hard to talk about in American politics because they are hard to talk about in our own lives. I see my mortality etched on my father’s face, as my daughters see it in mine. Mortality and bodily fragility are two great constants of human life. How we handle those constraints provides a small but important test of American democracy.
And that is the crucial point: Whether it is in our personal lives, or in the context of our public officials, we do not engage in open and honest conversations regarding aging and mortality.  As long as we do not address these issues, well, expect the drooling and fragile tyrannosaurus elderex to get more and more powerful.

Monday, August 07, 2017

I scream!

Two decades ago, my parents made their first and only visit to the US.  An incident from that trip that my mother recalled, when we were talking during my visit to India, revealed a lot about my regimented and boring life.  An incident about which I have no recollection till this very day.

So, what happened?  As my mother remembers it, I had almost warned her that everything sugary is inexpensive in America and, therefore, she should pay particular attention to chocolates and ice cream that she ate. Especially ice cream, for which she had an extra fondness.  Apparently I had also explained the logic for the warning: Ice cream is a easy way to gain pounds in no time at all.  On top of that, well, because of diabetes in the family.

What a horrible son, right?

Wait, there is more to the story.

Soon after they returned to India, a routine blood test revealed that she had diabetes!

See, I am a good son, after all! ;)

Ice cream is very American.  In my first "winter" in Los Angeles, I was surprised to see Americans rushing to the ice cream outlets even when it was cold outside.
Kids and adults eat ice cream.
A lot.
While walking.
Sitting.
Standing.
And, of course, while driving too.

Ice cream is so much a part of America, in ways about which I had no idea. Like this one:
When the 18th Amendment outlawed the sale of spirits in 1920, many early American breweries, including Yuengling and Anheuser-Busch, turned to soda and ice cream to stay afloat. By the end of the decade, Americans were consuming more than a million gallons of ice cream per day—and, crucially, associating it with the comfort and diversion formerly assigned to alcohol.
"Ice cream had become inseparable from the American way of life" so much so that the boys fighting for the country abroad had to served with this comfort food that reminded them of home.  Ice cream became a part of the massive military-industrial-complex:
The U.S. Navy spent $1 million in 1945 converting a concrete barge into a floating ice-cream factory to be towed around the Pacific, distributing ice cream to ships incapable of making their own. It held more than 2,000 gallons of ice cream and churned out 10 gallons every seven minutes. Not to be outdone, the U.S. Army constructed miniature ice-cream factories on the front lines and began delivering individual cartons to foxholes. This was in addition to the hundreds of millions of gallons of ice-cream mix they manufactured annually, shipping more than 135 million pounds of dehydrated ice cream in a single year
Of course, for many of us with bloodlines outside Europe, all that intense lactose of ice cream is one big hassle.  At the same time, I too crave for the ice cream experience. And, of course, I too love the comfort food that stirs the memories of childhood days in India.  America offers a product for that too:
Description at the site:
We make this exotic sorbetto simply with ripe Indian mangos, pure sugar and fresh lemon. It’s vegan and free of milk, though your mouth might have trouble believing it at first. Just keep eating it until your mouth admits it was wrong and apologizes.

God bless America! ;)



ps: A "cold" fact that will make this guy happy: Talenti is a subsidiary of Unilever, after the fast-growing upmarket private company was snapped up for an undisclosed amount ;)

Sunday, August 06, 2017

The disrobing of Lady Liberty

With trump as the president, I wonder and worry, more often than not, what his election and his presidency mean for the pursuit of knowledge and truth.  Of course I will wonder and worry about this, given that my profession is all about the pursuit of knowledge and truth.

"Everything but the truth" has been the approach in trump's quest, from the time he launched the birther movement, questioning Barack Obama's birth certificate and, therefore, his eligibility to be in the White House.

trump earned his cred pursuing this lie, and propagating it.  The elders of his adopted party encouraged the lie and the liar, either explicitly or implicitly.

Of course, literature and mythologies offer plenty of such instances.  I suppose the powerful remaining silent spectators is not anything new.  In the traditions in which I was raised, I grew up listening to, and reading, the old epics: the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

One of the worst ever instances of the rich, the powerful, and the wise, being silent spectators even as unjust actions were committed was the disrobing of Draupadi in the Mahabharata.  The old and wise, including Bhishma, did not say or do anything.

"Disrobing of Draupadi"
Source

I recall one of the many (religious) lectures in Neyveli, to which my parents took us when we were kids.  Pulavar Keeran provided his commentary on the Mahabharata. As he dramatically built up the telling of the disrobing of Draupadi, an older man sitting by me--he was our school's business manager--could not contain himself and yelled out Krishna!  And he fainted!

The mere retelling of a scene in a story made an old man faint.  A story in which the wisest and most powerful were silent spectators.  The modern day, contemporary, Duryodhana, is on a mission to metaphorically disrobe as many as he can and as publicly as he can, after privately disrobing countless women and grabbing their pussies.  The Bhishmas of today watched the spectacle unfold, while the Kauravas of the GOP cheered Duryodhana and Dushasana.

But then ... what do I know!

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Our own moral awakening

More than a year ago, I received a letter from a then 96-year old woman--"a member of the WWII generation."  She wrote in the letter, which was in response to my op-ed on homelessness in America:
You and no one living in the USA at this moment would be where he or she is if my generation had not made it possible.  That includes the dropping of the bomb.
This pacifist hates wars. Hates conflicts. The older I get, the less I am able to tolerate fights and destruction even in movies.  Therefore, it is always jarring to me when people defend the destruction to civilian life and property from the bombs that were dropped in Hiroshima--on August 6th--and three days later on Nagasaki.

The interpretations of the historical happenings are conflicted.  I am biased; I believe that the war could have, would have, been brought to an end without America flexing its nuclear muscles. My preferences for peace are why I find it discouraging that there is a majority in America that agrees with the letter writer regarding the bomb:

Source

A year ago, Obama visited Hiroshima, ahead of the anniversary of the tragic event.  In all these years since 1945, Obama was the first sitting president to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.  In a moving speech, Obama noted how the world changed since "death fell from the sky" on that cloudless August morning in Japan:
Those who died, they are like us. Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.
The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.
These are dark times.  But, one has to be hopeful; what other choice do we have.  Here is to hoping that despite the effects of the fateful elections this past November, we will get on to the path of our own moral awakening--sooner than later.


Friday, August 04, 2017

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

There are more and more homeless people in town.  And our town is no exception--growing numbers of homeless is an issue that seemingly every American city is dealing with.  At the same time, the economy is humming along and unemployment rate is down to 4.3 percent, which should convince anybody that homelessness is not simply an economic issue--it is not merely about poverty.

I do wonder whether the homeless, despite all the hardship, are more in tune with real life and what it means to be human than most of the rest of us who live disconnected from all things real.

We live increasingly in artificial environments.  We live online, via texts, blogs, emails, tweets, Instagrams, and--of course--Facebook.  Through most of our waking hours, we are completely disconnected from "real" and deal only with the virtual.

The homeless--the mentally competent and otherwise--deal with the real all the time.  Real people. Real heat. Real cold. Real hunger. ... So, who is really leading a real life?

The older I get, the more I worry about this.  The more there is technology, the more I worry about this.  I am reminded of the science fiction from a century ago, about which I have blogged before: E.M. Forster's The Machine Stops.

As I noted in this post two years ago:
We live in a world that Forster wrote about back in 1909.  Screen time of all kinds.  Instant messages.  Tweets and Facebook status reports and blog posts like this all passing of as knowledge, just as Forster had feared.  We have replaced real human interactions with virtual ones.  So "satisfied" with the virtual interactions, and thinking that the virtual even eliminates the need for real interactions, we seem to believe that visiting with parents, children, friends, is not needed anymore.  We live in our own cells.
We already live in a world in which the machine has taken over our lives.  The machine even knows way more about us than we do about ourselves.  We can try to run from it, but we can never hide from the machine.

And, of course, homelessness is especially worse in cities that are home to the creators of the machine.  Like San Francisco and the Silicon Valley.   It is a bizarre juxtaposition of affluence and unimaginable high technology, versus shaggy men and women pushing carts mumbling to themselves.

The digital high tech industry is rapidly leading us into an increasingly virtual world, where we humans become disposable.  We real humans matter less and less to the machine.  We humans, in turn, care less and less about all things real.
Cannot you see, cannot all you lecturers see, that it is we that are dying, and that down here the only thing that really lives in the Machine? We created the Machine, to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now. It was robbed us of the sense of space and of the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act, it has paralysed our bodies and our wills, and now it compels us to worship it. The Machine develops - but not on our lies. The Machine proceeds - but not to our goal. We only exist as the blood corpuscles that course through its arteries, and if it could work without us, it would let us die.
PS:
Click here to read The Machine Stops, if you have never read that before.
The blog-post resulted from reading this book review essay in the LRB.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

From riches to rags! :(

It was once the richest country in the continent. Now, its people are fleeing. Some of its women try to make a living by doing sex work in the neighboring country.  Those who haven't fled are terribly undernourished.

No, it is not some cliched African country.  But, a country that until recently was a darling of the left.  Venezuela!
According to the International Monetary Fund, Venezuela’s GDP in 2017 is 35% below 2013 levels, or 40% in per capita terms. That is a significantly sharper contraction than during the 1929-1933 Great Depression in the United States, when US GDP is estimated to have fallen 28%. It is slightly bigger than the decline in Russia (1990-1994), Cuba (1989-1993), and Albania (1989-1993)
Just awful!
Venezuela is now the world’s most indebted country. No country has a larger public external debt as a share of GDP or of exports, or faces higher debt service as a share of exports.

So, where is the fucking intellectual left that used to adore Chavez, whose policies set Venezuela down this hell hole?
The list of Western leftists who once sang the Venezuelan government’s praises is long, and Naomi Klein figures near the top.
In 2004, she signed a petition headlined, “We would vote for Hugo Chavez.” Three years later, she lauded Venezuela as a place where “citizens had renewed their faith in the power of democracy to improve their lives.” In her 2007 book, “The Shock Doctrine,” she portrayed capitalism as a sort of global conspiracy that instigates financial crises and exploits poor countries in the wake of natural disasters. But Klein declared that Venezuela had been rendered immune to the “shocks” administered by free market fundamentalists thanks to Chavez’s “21st Century Socialism,” which had created “a zone of relative economic calm and predictability.”
How about the big guy himself?  You know the one. Noam Chomsky?
Chomsky, whose anti-capitalist teachings have inspired millions of American college students, praised Chavez's "sharp poverty reduction, probably the greatest in the Americas." Chavez returned the compliment by holding up Chomsky's book during a speech at the U.N., making it a best-seller.
Is Chomsky embarrassed by that today? "No," he wrote me. He praised Chavez "in 2006. Here's the situation as of two years later." He linked to a 2008 article by a writer of Oliver Stone's movie who said, "Venezuela has seen a remarkable reduction in poverty."
I asked him, "Should you now say to the students who've learned from you, 'Socialism, in practice, often wrecks people's lives'?"
Chomsky replied, "I never described Chavez's state capitalist government as 'socialist' or even hinted at such an absurdity. It was quite remote from socialism. Private capitalism remained ... Capitalists were free to undermine the economy in all sorts of ways, like massive export of capital."
What? Capitalists "undermine the economy" by fleeing?
Chomsky has always been good with words, and knows how to use them in order to make sure he comes across as the wise sage.  Godawful!

Just because I will not forget nor forgive the 63 million who have unleashed trump and his demons on us, does not mean that I will be soft on the near mirror image on the left: the Berniacs, whose economic policies are nearly as insane with their anti-globalization and America-first rhetoric.  Which is why I will wrap up this post with this:
In the age of Trump, Brexit and a wider backlash against globalization, left-wing economic populists are enjoying a resurgence in mainstream credibility by railing against free trade and “neoliberals.” This is a scandal. For in the form of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the world has a petri dish in which to judge the sort of policies endorsed by Jones, Klein, British Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, homegrown socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders and countless other deluded utopians.
There, the ghastly failures of their ideas are playing out for everyone to see; a real-time rebuke, as if another were needed, to socialism. That these people are considered authorities on anything other than purchasing Birkenstocks, much less running a country, is absurd.
When you buy the socialist rhetoric, Caveat emptor, as "neoliberal" economists like to say!


Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Born in the USA!

Consider the following chart:


The Bloomberg columnist writes:
the overall point is that the U.S. has been losing ground relative to other OECD members in most measures of living standards. 1 And in the areas where the U.S. hasn't lost ground (poverty rates, high school graduation rates), it was at or near the bottom of the heap to begin with. The clear message is that the U.S. -- the richest nation on Earth, as is frequently proclaimed, although it's actually not the richest per capita -- is increasingly becoming the developed world's poor relation as far as the actual living standards of most of its population go.
USA! USA!
We are #1!
From the bottom!

Improving the numbers for life expectancy at birth, or healthcare coverage, will require a rethinking of the social contract that we have in the US, about which I have blogged here over and over and over again!  The columnist also notes:
One major difference between the U.S. and most of the rest of the developed world is ideological: People and politicians in the U.S. are much more ambivalent about the modern welfare state than their peers in other wealthy nations and have been less willing to raise taxes to finance it.
And then we wonder why the white middle class is angry and on opioids!

That chart was from an IMF report.  The IMF is headquartered in the US.  But, according to its charter, it can't be here for long:
The articles of the organization say the headquarters should be the country of the member with the largest economy.
Uh oh!
Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, joked on Monday about donning “dream binoculars” and seeing the possibility of relocating the group’s headquarters to China.
“We might not be sitting in Washington D.C.,” Ms. Lagarde said at a Center for Global Development event here in which she envisioned what the I.M.F. might look like in 2027.
Ms. Lagarde may joke, but her comments reflect a concern that world leaders have about the changing role of the United States in global organizations.
I don't understand why we in the US would systematically do things in order to decrease our global standing and also mess up our own people.  Are we that fucking stupid?  I suppose we are; after all, we elected the madman to the presidency, and also have a bunch of loons in the congressional majority trying to legislate godawful policies in the cover of darkness.


Tuesday, August 01, 2017

I'm leavin' on a jet plane ... Oh babe, I hate to go

When I read this essay, of course I had to tweet about it; after all, have I not bugged this poor guy,  and others, for years now with my commentaries on the meaning of life!

The author writes:
One day I will die. So will you.
...
So, take a moment to think about the mythologies informing your purpose. I’ll reflect on mine, too. The universe, however, won’t. And that might be the most meaningful distinction of all.
As I have often noted here, the cosmos--I prefer that word to "universe"--doesn't care about you or me or about anything.  It just is.  We come and go.  We are born. And then we die.  We have to make meaning out of the reality that our parents had sex, and the wriggly sperms rushed towards the eggs in order to make us happen.  We also have to make meaning out of the reality that our parents die, our friends die, and that it is only a matter of time before we, too, die.  Throughout all these, the cosmos is just there.  That is it.

Cultures developed myths to help people through their existential angst.  And, for whatever reason, plenty of people cling to their favorite myths as "the truth" while making fun of other myths.  But, all those are myths.  The husband of a cousin of mine relates an encounter almost every time we meet.  He--an atheist now after having been raised in a fundamentalist Christian family--once asked his friend to explain the Hindu mythology, especially about the god Krishna.  The friend told him, "it is not a myth.  He is my god."

Cultures have developed traditions to help people deal with the loss when their loved ones die.  Leave the dead to the vultures; bury, cremate, ... Just as religions have evolved, these end-of-life traditions can also evolve, right?

A latest example is from the old country:
Antim Udan Moksha Airport in Gujarat, the first of its kind in India, puts the departing souls of the dead cremated here on international flights to the heaven for ultimate salvation or moksha: freedom from the cycle of birth and death.
Located in Gujarat’s Bardoli on the banks of Mindhola River, the crematorium is modeled on an airport and equipped with two giant replicas of aircraft. The airplane replicas at Antim Udan Moksha Airport in Gujarat are named Moksha (salvation) airlines and Swarga (heaven) airlines 
What’s the most interesting about Antim Udan Moksha Airport in Gujarat is the airport-like announcement which is made to guide funeral parties on entry into the crematorium and instruct them where to keep the body, how to proceed for cremation, etc. 
There is very little difference between the announcement made at the crematorium and that at airports as well as in planes.  What makes the crematorium more like an airport is the typical noise that an aircraft makes while taking off. A similar noise is created when dead bodies are placed in furnace at Antim Udan Moksha Airport
Whatever it takes to make meaning of the death of a person.  We humans have always struggled to figure out our existence, and this is perhaps the latest interpretation.  I am sure there will be many more.  I don't think the day is far away when, for instance, the ashes of a cremated one are taken to the Moon or Mars.

Yes, take a moment to think about the mythologies informing your purpose.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Art is only skin deep!

The midsummer nightmare has begun. The forecast about a week of heat makes even this grown man want to cry!


If even this formerly tropical kid feels this way about the insane heat, it is no surprise that the natives are complaining even more.  Many of the homes in this part of the world even lack air conditioning, which then means that people--used to temperatures in the 40s and 50s  have to figure out ways in which they can survive consecutive days of triple-digit highs.

Which is why there are more and more of the legs and arms and upper-bodies fully exposed.  It also means that I get to see tattoos all over.

It is almost as if every adult is inked.  Rare is an adult who is not.  The other day I ran into a neighbor, who was happy to engage in trump trashing talk with me.  I noticed ink on her left arm.  Joy.

"Is that new?"

"I got that for my 80th birthday," she replied.

While there are no definitive census data on the tattoed states of America, surveys indicate that perhaps up to 40 percent of the adults in this country have at least one tiny bit of a tattoo.  In the land of Puritans who not too long ago did not even allow their girls to pierce their ears!

A few weeks ago, at a routine health check at the doctor's office (I am healthy as a horse, thank you!) he commented about a noticeable keloid and some old scars from my childhood days.  "You don't scar well, my friend.  Be careful if are thinking of tattoos."

My doctor has no idea what a wimp I am.  No, make that a wuss!  I hate pain and discomfort, and I ain't going to let anybody jab me over and over.  "To create a tattoo, the artist punctures the skin with dye-filled needles at a rate of up to 3,000 times per minute."  Ouch, ouch, ouch!!!

The nerd in me got curious when the doctor made that comment.  He was glad to share some of the tattoo misfire horror stories.  "One patient ended up with bad keloids that made the tattoo look like some kind of a 3D art."

At least that patient lives on with a 3D artwork on his body, unlike an unfortunate "31-year-old man from Texas died after contracting flesh-eating bacteria through a new leg tattoo while swimming in the Gulf of Mexico."

An even ironical twist to the story:
The man had gotten the tattoo on his calf of an illustration of a cross and hands in prayer with the words "Jesus is my life" written in cursive.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sunshine of your life

During the school summer holidays, we kids were dispatched to grandma's home.  When we returned, father almost always commented that we had gotten darker. Of course we were more tanned on top of the already melanin-rich skins. Unlike when school was in session, we were no longer confined to the shelter of the classroom.  After breakfast at grandma's, we would run across to the cousins', and then until lunch time we were good for nothings under the warming sun. Post-lunch, we were good for nothings under the blazing afternoon sun, except when grandma was eager to play kattam with us.

I continue to be out and about even now, as a middle-aged, balding, grey-bearded, good for nothing.  And, yes, under the blazing sun, I continue to add to my melanin-rich pigmentation.  It is mid-summer and am already gloriously two-toned; the skin where the sun doesn't shine looks strikingly different from the rest.

Through all this, I am also helping my body produce a whole lot of vitamin D.

Years ago, I read that vitamin D is more than a mere vitamin.  It is like a hormone that regulates a whole bunch of biochemical processes in our bodies.  While we usually associate vitamin D with bone growth and strength, it is way more than that.

Since then, every visit to the old country, I have bugged my mother and aunts about the importance of spending a few minutes walking under the sun's light and heat.  But, hey, you know the story of my life--nobody listens to me.  Not even my mother!

I bugged them because by then I had started connecting a few dots through the sun-exposure and vitamin D links.  Typically, the older women in the extended family and in society had more bone-related structural problems, which the older men did not seem to suffer from as much.  (Of course, women also seemed to outlive men, but I was not doing any controlled scientific study.)  I began to wonder if the old country's fascination with lighter skin along with the restrictions on women's movements contributed to this health hassle that resulted from lack of exposure to the sun.

If that is the case, my logical mind suggested that such problems should be equally intense in many of the Middle East countries, where women are not exposed to the sun thanks to the layers of clothing and the restrictions on them.

I tell ya, there is always something happening inside the shiny dome of mine! ;)

Therefore, every time I read essays like this, I am not surprised one bit:
Vitamin D deficiencies are widespread, with around one billion people, from all age groups and ethnicities, suffering from them, even in countries with year-round sunshine. Indeed, they are particularly common in the Middle East, owing partly to the prevalence of skin-covering clothes and a cultural habit of staying out of the sun. That same habit, together with darker skin, contributes to lower levels of vitamin D among Africans. 
Read that essay in order to understand how vitamin D links to many, many, many aspects of health;  "there is no doubt that vitamin D is crucial for human health."

"So how much vitamin D do we need to reap its disease-fighting rewards?"

This, too, is an important question.  A few years ago, after the routine lab tests during the physicals, the doctor said I was deficient in vitamin D and he prescribed a dose of pills.  He wanted me to check in with him after three months.  I never did.  Because, as much as I believe in the importance of the hormone like vitamin D, I am equally convinced that too much of a good thing can be harmful--especially when it is an artificial intake via pills.  It is one thing to increase vitamin D intake through walking on sunny days, or through milk and yogurt consumption.  But, pills?

Which is why this doctor always recommends walking.  Early morning sun is best--when it is not too intense.  Come to think of it, I suppose I am prescribing nothing but a variation of the old traditional life--get up in the morning, walk to the temple, where you walk some more within the walls but under the sun, and then walk back home and have some yogurt.  Plenty of sun and walk to start the day.

But then, nobody listens to me! ;)


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Stuff doesn't make you happy. HAHAHAHA!

I laugh because they had to do research in order to figure that out, when even half-baked and pretentious irreligious philosophers who blab, er, blog everyday have been saying that forever, channeling the wisdom from the old country!

I had to follow up on this 60-second science podcast at Scientific American.  I simply had to.
"One of the most common things people do with their money is get stuff," Norton tells Harvard Business Review. But research shows that "things" don't make you happy.
Instead, spend your hard earned cash on what Norton calls "prosocial" experiences — like a vacation or dinner with the family.
Seriously, how is this any different from the age old wisdom?
"When you ask people the secret to happiness, they talk about living with purpose or having close relationships," says Norton. And while money can get in the way of that — if you work all the time at a job you hate, for example — spending money on things that foster those goals actually does increase well-being.
Seriously, how is this any different from the age old wisdom?

There is one aspect of the research that deserves serious thought and discussions.  According to researchers--at the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School--"using money to buy free time -- such as paying to delegate household chores like cleaning and cooking -- is linked to greater life satisfaction."
"People who hire a housecleaner or pay the kid next door to mow the lawn might feel like they're being lazy," said study lead author Ashley Whillans, assistant professor at Harvard Business School who carried out the research as a PhD candidate in the UBC department of psychology. "But our results suggest that buying time has similar benefits for happiness as having more money."
...
"The benefits of buying time aren't just for wealthy people," said UBC psychology professor and the study's senior author Elizabeth Dunn. "We thought the effects might only hold up for people with quite a bit of disposable income, but to our surprise, we found the same effects across the income spectrum."
I suspect that this buying time contributes to one's happiness if that time were spent on "prosocial" experiences.  But, if that bought time were spent on, say, playing video games or mindless Facebooking, then I would think that the person comes out worse off.

There is another easy way to buy oneself time--simply cut the unnecessary waste of time.  Especially because of a fear of missing out, people increasingly seem to want to be engaged in a gazillion things and seemingly all at the same time.  Instead, if only people can be disciplined enough to simplify, simplify, and simplify; they would then have plenty of time to spend on "prosocial" experiences.

I would have told you all that for free without the "insights" from a HBS research, for which lots of money would have been spent.  But then, ahem, nobody listens to me! ;)


Friday, July 28, 2017

Higher education is all about employment readiness

Over the years, I have written op-eds in plenty in my attempts to convince people about the importance of educating the youth in the humanities and the social sciences.  The logic is a no-brainer for me: The concerns and worries that we have are not always problems for science and technology to solve, nor can science and technology ever solve them.

Scientific and technological advancements will happen, and countries will grow and prosper, yes, but, we will face an increasing number of fuzzy issues for which decisions will have to be made by people, as individuals and as societies.  However, if people are not sufficiently educated on those, and if people do not have the skills to think through fuzzy and complex issues for which there are no cut-and-dried answers, then we are screwed.

But, hey, you know well that nobody listens to me.

Consider CRISPR.  Yes, I have blogged about CRISPR before, which you old-time readers know about.  I will refer the newbies to, maybe, this post.

I read the news, oh boy, and I immediately tweeted it.  (I don't care if anybody reads my tweet--I am fully prepared that nobody cares a shit about what I have to say.)

What was that news about?  Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health & Science University successfully targeted a gene associated with a human disease.
Mitalipov's team worked with human embryos produced by sperm from men with a genetic mutation, the report said, noting they were of "clinical quality." They then modified the mutation using a gene-editing technique, CRISPR.
So what, you ask?
The work offers the possibility that one day science will be able to modify genes in human embryos to prevent disease. Critics worry, however, that gene-editing in embryos opens the floodgates to the creation of "designer babies" in which parents specify traits they want their children to have.
Of course, we are long, long ways from "designer babies."  But, I don't think it is hyperbole to suggest that we are on the path towards it.  Which is why we need to start thinking about and discussing this fuzzy and complex issue.  "we do need to decide when and how we should use this technique."
Should there be limits on the types of things you can edit in an embryo? If so, what should they entail? These questions also involve deciding who gets to set the limits and control access to the technology.
We may also be concerned about who gets to control the subsequent research using this technology. Should there be state or federal oversight? Keep in mind that we cannot control what happens in other countries. Even in this country it can be difficult to craft guidelines that restrict only the research someone finds objectionable, while allowing other important research to continue. Additionally, the use of assisted reproductive technologies (IVF, for example) is largely unregulated in the U.S., and the decision to put in place restrictions will certainly raise objections from both potential parents and IVF providers.
And those are merely the beginnings, with a gazillion other questions, like:
Moreover, there are important questions about cost and access. Right now most assisted reproductive technologies are available only to higher-income individuals. A handful of states mandate infertility treatment coverage, but it is very limited. How should we regulate access to embryo editing for serious diseases? We are in the midst of a widespread debate about health care, access and cost. If it becomes established and safe, should this technique be part of a basic package of health care services when used to help create a child who does not suffer from a specific genetic problem? What about editing for nonhealth issues or less serious problems – are there fairness concerns if only people with sufficient wealth can access?
"Now is the time to figure out how we want to see this gene-editing path unfold."  Yep!

There is no way I want to leave these questions to some "wise men" (almost always men!) to decide on behalf of humanity.  But, if I want healthier deliberations amongst us all, then it gets back to the fundamental question of the purpose of education.  Should we invest in educating the youth so that they can think about such fuzzy and complex issues, and help a democratic society decide? Or should we let the prevailing forces channel higher education to be about workforce preparation, and just fuck the philosophy departments!

I know where I stand on this.  And, unlike the current president and his minions with their ackamarackus, mine is a principled and consistent stand.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Any way the wind blows doesn't really matter to me, to me

Last week, I submitted an essay to a journal, in which I wrote: "Even the president of the United States cannot rewrite the logic of economic geography."  The logic can be redone, yes--but, only if enormous taxpayer subsidies are involved!

The president's boast about Foxconn investing in Wisconsin is precisely along those lines.

The logic of economic geography says that Foxconn's manufacturing costs will be lower in locations like China and India than in the US.  Therefore, if Foxconn locates a factory in Wisconsin, it has to work against the flow.  It has to make water flow uphill.  For which somebody has got to pay.

Which is exactly how it is being worked out.

Luring Foxconn to Wisconsin will "cost $1 billion to $3 billion in local, state and federal incentives over coming years."  Suck on that, taxpayers!  "If the deal cost $1 billion and the company created 10,000 jobs, the government would spend $100,000 per job."

Did you hear the president talk about this high a cost of job creation?  If this is worth it, then why not extend the same deal to every major employer?  What is good for the goose is certainly good for the gander, right?

Recall that big moment when the president rewrote the logic of economic geography?  You know, when as president-elect he intervened in the Carrier plant brouhaha?  He "saved" American jobs?  The short attention span that the public has means that he can say whatever and do whatever and then move on.  Nothing really maters to him, but matters a lot to us regular people.  The latest news about the Carrier plant?  Have you forgotten that already? :(

I expect Bernie Sanders to maintain silence on the Carrier plant issue as well as on the Wisconsin story.  After all, Sanders was the political left version of trump's "Made in America" bullshit salesmanship. I even expect the entire Democratic Party to stay away from this issue because, well, we know what happened to Hillary Clinton when she spoke the truth--like when she said about coal miners:
Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories. Now we've got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don't want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce the energy that we relied on.
In a trump America of alternative facts, it is more important than ever for politicians to never even accidentally speak the truth!

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
No escape from reality






Update:
I later read this in a Bloomberg report:
Wisconsin is paying as much as $1 million per job ... Wisconsin shows that Foxconn isn't building the American Dream -- America is building the Foxconn machine.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Seminal Worms and Meat Juices

Back in the high school biology lab, I, like the rest of the class, pricked my finger and placed a drop of blood on a glass slide, which I then looked at through the microscope.

I will tell you what else I do remember from back then.  I wondered if, like the biology book said, I might be able to see sperm in the semen.

No, I did not do that lab experiment.  Relax! ;)

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek did that for all of us.  No, he was not some lone guy doing strange things.  He was a married man, who fathered children.  Leeuwenhoek was one heck of a genius, and his insights gained from microscopes launched micrbiology.  His innumerable accomplishments are almost always dwarfed--in my evergreen teenage mind--by his observing the sperm ;)
Thanks to Antonie van Leeuwenhoek’s adventurous spirit, history marks him as the first person to actually see “seminal Worms”—as sperms were often called and spelled with that strange way of capitalizing nouns.
It is not merely about the sperm, however.  It played an important role in understanding procreation itself.  Keep in mind that back in the bad old days, most people believed in humans as god's creations.  Other than that, there was no clear understanding of what the man's "seeds" and the woman's monthly bleeding were all about.  Especially the blood, which continues to freak out people even today!

Leeuwenhoek's "contribution" was, therefore, "seminal". (This teen always looks for those awful pun possibilities!)
it’s completely astounding that a baby is made at all, let alone when you realize that just one out of millions of totally spastic sperms meets up with an egg. Reliving this moment of discovery in our species’ struggle to understand life’s mysteries shows we shouldn’t take our present knowledge for granted.
Lazzaro Spallanzani (1729–1799), also known in his day as “Magnifico,” "demonstrated that life does not arise spontaneously from “meat juices.”   That essay deserves to be read by all.

The latest in the pursuit of knowledge:
Sperm counts in men from America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand have dropped by more than 50 percent in less than 40 years, researchers said on Tuesday.
They also said the rate of decline is not slowing.
Uh-oh!
The results, published in the journal Human Reproduction Update, showed a 52.4 percent decline in sperm concentration and a 59.3 percent decline in total sperm count among North American, European, Australian and New Zealand men.
The former measures the concentration of semen in a man's ejaculation, while the latter is semen concentration multiplied by volume.
Are you thinking what I am thinking?  The poor research assistants in charge of dealing with the ejaculate! Lemme remind you that I am forever a giggling pimply teenager ;) 

Source
All kidding aide, here is the significance:
"An unanswered question is whether the impact of whatever is causing declining sperm counts will be seen in future generations of children via epigenetic (gene modifications) or other mechanisms operating in sperm," he said in an emailed comment.
Richard Sharpe at Edinburgh University added: "Given that we still do not know what lifestyle, dietary or chemical exposures might have caused this decrease, research efforts to identify (them) need to be redoubled and to be non-presumptive as to cause."

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

There is no there there

A while ago, I decided that I would not seriously follow the news about the old country, and not blog about it either.  For a simple but deep reason: Increasingly, people there seem to be bent on doing all the wrong things.

 For one who is passionately attached to the old stories about the people and the places, it was a version of "I wish I knew how to quit you."  I had to cut myself off in order to set my own emotional boundaries, like how one does with an errant son or a daughter who is all grown up but is nothing but problems day in and day out.

I am not the first person to agonize over a place that is dear but also far away.  Nor will I be the last.  It is a never ending tale of nostalgia for us humans, from the moment that we wandered out of the Savannah.

In a post a few years ago, I quoted an article from The Economist, which carried with it a warning, presumably for people like me:
however well you carry it off, however much you enjoy it, there is a dangerous undertow to being a foreigner, even a genteel foreigner. Somewhere at the back of it all lurks homesickness, which metastasises over time into its incurable variant, nostalgia. And nostalgia has much in common with the Freudian idea of melancholia—a continuing, debilitating sense of loss, somewhere within which lies anger at the thing lost. It is not the possibility of returning home which feeds nostalgia, but the impossibility of it.
The impossibility of returning home.  Because, after all, home has also changed and is not what it once was.  There is no there there.

Life is full of twists and turns, and the best we can do is from this turn, walk on ...

There are times that the nostalgia kicks in.  Full force.

This time it was when I was riding my bike on a cool morning.  I remembered the years of bicycle riding in Neyveli--to school, to friend's homes, to the hospital when grandmother was getting treated, or simply biking aimlessly, which I often did.  And then the thoughts about friends who have drifted away, or from whom I have drifted away.  The friends who are already dead.

I returned home and played a few old film songs from the old country.  Whether or not music has charms to soothe a savage breast, it certainly does soothe a nostalgic heart.


Monday, July 24, 2017

No country for young people

When I got to graduate school, I felt overwhelmed listening to other graduate students talk about their research topics.  One of them--also from my part of the old country--was working on her dissertation on population economics.  Until I ditched engineering and came to graduate school, I had always been under the impression that economics was about money.  And that was it.  And she was talking about population.  One of the many foundational instances when I realized that I am nothing but a fake, whose fakery will soon be exposed.

Now, when I routinely discuss demographics in economic geography, I suppose some of the students--those paying attention--also begin to appreciate the important role that population change plays in our lives.  One of my favorites is to tell them that the longer we older people live, the less they will have.  If the class mood is right, I joke that they should not take it upon themselves to push us old folks off the cliffs ;)

With this president at the helm, and with his minions also not concerned about facts, I worry that we are not thinking about the world of a few years from now.  Take 2020, for instance.  Yes, that is when we will have the next presidential election.  But, from a demographic perspective, it will be a "yuge" deal for the world: For the first time in human history, there will be more people in the world over age 65 than under age 5.  Let me repeat that sentence for you: For the first time in human history, there will be more people in the world over age 65 than under age 5.  Get it?

Source
Historic!  In 2030, the number of 65-plus on this planet will be--are you sitting down for this?--one billion people.  Imagine that--one billion 65-plus, including me!

That is worldwide.  In the old days, the lucky grandparents barely lived into their sixties.  Not anymore.  And not into the future.  Think of the economic implications.  Yes, the money aspect.  And think about one of the major issues--heath. You think this president is thinking about all those?  Of course not!  Imagine if we had a president and a bunch of leaders who were responsible and ethical and talked about such issues with substance.

We need such substantive discussions.  Consider the healthcare quagmire in which the Geriatrics Only Party has trapped itself.  And then think about the following chart:

Source
Thirty years ago, I came to understand that experts were weighing in on how the changing demographics will affect everything.  Since then, the data have gotten better, and the quality of statistical models have become even better.  Most politicians also know about these trends; unfortunately for us, they choose not to talk about it and, instead, want us to chase some imaginary rabbits!

Source
Aren't you all the happier with my plan? ;)


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Blowing smoke up our asses

Rare was a politician who did not bullshit. But, trump and his minions have completely rewritten bullshitting.

Soon after the 2016 elections, one of the big news stories related to jobs and the economy was when president-elect Trump intervened in United Technologies’ decision to shift 2,100 jobs from Indiana to Monterrey, Mexico. Through the deal that he made, even prior to the formal inauguration, Trump assured the American public that he had saved 1,100 jobs.  Remember that?

Here's the update:
Carrier Corp. plans to eliminate 338 jobs at its Indianapolis furnace factory Thursday — and the timing is likely to raise some eyebrows.
The previously announced layoffs coincide, to the day, with the six-month anniversary of Donald Trump's presidency. They are part of a deal Trump struck with the company in December to prevent deeper job cuts at the plant.
The terminations are the first wave of about 630 planned before the end of the year as the company shifts work to Mexico. Carrier's parent company, United Technologies Corp., also plans to lay off another 700 workers at a factory in Huntington near Fort Wayne.
Yep.  And, that is not fake news!

Fifty-five year old Brenda Darlene Battle, who is one of the employees whose contract Carrier terminated, says:
Trump came in there to the factory last December and blew smoke up our asses. He wasn’t gonna save those jobs. 
trump blew smoke up 63 million asses.  It is one hell of a smoke job!

And he continues to blow smoke up people's asses.  Like with his rhetoric on steel from China.  Unlike the 63 million idiots here, the Chinese steelmakers are not putting up with the smoke that trump is blowing up their asses.
China’s steel industry association, which represents 80 per cent of the country’s steel production, has called on Beijing to get tougher with the administration of US President Donald Trump and to threaten retaliation if Washington moves to curb Chinese steel imports.
Meanwhile, the idiot-in-chief touts Made in America.  His bullshit has no place for logic and, therefore, the 63 million idiots do not seem to care what might happen if every country on this planet practiced their own versions.  

The 63 million (and the Berniacs too) can learn a lesson or two from, for instance, the craziness unfolding in Rwanda, which is pushing through a plan to ban second hand clothes within two years because its president, Paul Kagame who wants: "We have to grow our economies. We have to grow and establish our industries."  And the import of second-hand clothes is, therefore, the target.

The irony?
The United States, which is the leading exporter of used clothes to East Africa, has threatened to revisit favorable trade terms if any East African country goes through with the ban. Kenya, which was supposed to enact its own ban, backed off following the U.S. threat. But Rwanda and its president, Paul Kagame, who addressed the band during a press conference last month, stayed the course.
So, let's recap.  The US,  which is a gazillion bazillion times as big as the Rwandan economy, threatens Rwanda that wants to pursue a "Made in Rwanda" strategy,  which is no different from the "Made in America" that trump wants to pursue.

The bullshitter-in-chief continues to blow smoke up our asses because of 63 million smoked out idiots!



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