Sunday, April 30, 2017

Dead Man Walking

Back in March 2010--yes, more than seven years ago--I blogged about 350 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere.  In only seven years, that goal has become even more a remote idea than it was even then.

The Scientific American reported ten days ago that we breached the 410 ppm threshold!
In what’s become a spring tradition like Passover and Easter, carbon dioxide has set a record high each year since measurements began. It stood at 280 ppm when record keeping began at Mauna Loa in 1958. In 2013, it passed 400 ppm. Just four years later, the 400 ppm mark is no longer a novelty. It’s the norm.
In 1958, it was only at 280 ppm  Think about that for a minute.

The article ends with this:
Right now we’re on track to create a climate unseen in 50 million years by mid-century.
Keep in mind that our species was not around 50 million years ago.  So, yes, what happened?  It was the Eocene:
a period when the world was completely different than the present due to extreme heat and oceans that covered a wide swath of currently dry land.
“The early Eocene was much warmer than today: global mean surface temperature was at least 10°C (18°F) warmer than today,” Dana Royer, a paleoclimate researcher at Wesleyan University who co-authored the new research, said. “There was little-to-no permanent ice. Palms and crocodiles inhabited the Canadian Arctic.”
For all we know, we seem to be headed towards "little-to-no permanent ice."
The Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet, suggests a huge assessment of the region. The warming is hastening the melting of Arctic ice and boosting sea-level rise.
Imagine that!  The more worrisome aspect is that what happens at the Arctic does not merely stay at the Arctic.  The Economist writes that we should be afraid. Very afraid.
The right response is fear. The Arctic is not merely a bellwether of matters climatic, but an actor in them (see Briefing).
So?
The hard truth, however, is that the Arctic as it is known today is almost certainly gone. Efforts to mitigate global warming by cutting emissions remain essential. But the state of the Arctic shows that humans cannot simply undo climate change. They will have to adapt to it.
While all this is happening, the New York Times hires a columnist who writes as if his employer is not the newspaper but Exxon.  My old classmate in India wants me to cancel my subscription to the Times.

My subversive activism has failed, and failed miserably, to convey the urgency of this problem to the denialists like some of the readers in the past.  My newspaper columns on climate change did not do shit.  My fellow citizens proudly elected a guy who claims that global warming and climate change are a hoax created by the Chinese, and his party elders bring snowballs to the Senate chambers as evidence that there is no climate change.

I know fully well that I cannot do a damn thing here.  Which is why, more to commiserate than with any hope of achieving anything, did I participate in a march last Saturday.  Ironically enough, while the march was about the future, a good chunk of  the young men and women in college--the intended beneficiaries--were partying in the streets, on the porches, in the apartments, and in bars, because it was the spring scrimmage, and they could not be bothered with joining the march.  Football beats climate change!


The future has arrived ... Robot Appleseed

It seems like forever that I have been writing here, and talking in the classrooms, about how the modern day automation is a huge job-killer and a contributor to income inequality.  And, therefore, why we need to rethink public policies.  The newspaper gives me more material evidence:
Harvesting Washington state’s vast fruit orchards each year requires thousands of farmworkers, and many of them work illegally in the United States.
That system eventually could change dramatically as at least two companies are rushing to get robotic fruit-picking machines to market.
The robotic pickers don’t get tired and can work 24 hours a day.
Yes, robots picking apples.

The anti-immigration folks can yell and scream all they want about the "illegals" in this country.  But, those illegals are also the ones working our farms, our yards, our hotels, our cows, our ... If that labor supply were to be choked off, it is not as if the apples will harvest themselves and miraculously get to the nearest grocery store!

Enter automation.  It is the same automation dynamics that have also led to severe job losses in manufacturing.  But, I don't want to digress; I want to stay focused on the farm.
“Human pickers are getting scarce,” said Gad Kober, a co-founder of Israel-based FFRobotics. “Young people do not want to work in farms, and elderly pickers are slowly retiring.”
FFRobotics and Abundant Robotics, of Hayward, Calif., are racing to get their mechanical pickers to market within the next couple of years.
Harvest has been mechanized for large portions of the agriculture industry such as wheat, corn, green beans and tomatoes for some time. But for more fragile commodities like apples, berries, table grapes and lettuce — where the crop’s appearance is especially important — harvest is still done by hand.
Did you catch that?  "Israel-based."  If only people understood that economic geography is global!
While financial details are not available, the builders say the robotic pickers should pay for themselves in two years. That puts the likely cost of the machines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars each.
FFRobotics is developing a machine that has three-fingered grips to grab fruit and twist or clip it from a branch. The machine would have between four and 12 robotic arms, and can pick up to 10,000 apples an hour, Kober said.
One machine would be able to harvest a variety of crops, taking 85 to 90 percent of the crop off the trees, Kober said. Humans could pick the rest.
Abundant Robotics is working on a picker that uses suction to vacuum apples off trees.
I was now fascinated with this suction technology to vacuum apples.  This from IEEE--back in college, I was a student member of this professional organization of electrical and electronic engineers!--offers some interesting observations:
Besides the sheer entertainment value, the vacuum picking technique (an approach being used by other robotics groups) looks like it might be faster in operation and easier to implement than a traditional gripper. Since it only exerts pressure when its, er, orifice (?) is mostly sealed, it can pluck apples out of trees while leaves remain untouched, and as long as it gets close enough, it looks like the apples essentially pick themselves.
The tricky parts are going to be consistently “seeing” apples that may be (I would guess) almost entirely hidden behind leaves and branches, and then managing to reach those apples with a very bulky picking system. Making it reliable and cost-effective will be another challenge, although the potential market is certainly significant. Of course, all we really have to go on right now is a blurry video of a prototype that’s almost a year old and our usual wild speculation, but our guess is that we’ll be finding out more within the year.
The video of the vaccuum-technology in apple picking is without sounds.  The gripper technology is impressive enough for me.

Building that wall--even the mere rhetoric--accelerates the building of more robots, I suppose.

As I wrote in my recent op-ed::
We the people need to try to understand such complexities in a rapidly evolving global economic geography. And, more importantly, we will need political leaders who can articulate constructive policy responses

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The future has arrived

In an op-ed back in January 2015, I wrote:
 I increasingly worry that there is a huge disconnect between how undergraduates spend their four or five — or even six — years in college and the real world, which is changing by the minute.
Some of the important issues of the day, which will influence our lives well into the next few decades, arise from China, India, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.
Will it shock readers to know that a typical college student can earn a diploma without learning anything substantive about these areas, which account for half of the world’s population even now, and whose share will increase in the future? Wouldn’t we want students to know at least a little bit about the global drivers of economic and political decisions?
Nobody cares for what I worry about!  We continue to graduate students who have no idea about China, India, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.  I wish I could ask every graduating student at my university to name the leaders of the governments of China and India, and to point out where Syria is on a map of the Middle East.

Students are like most Americans who simply have no idea how rapidly China has transformed.  If I were to present the following to them, they might simply collapse from hyperventilation:
China became the world’s largest economy (measured by purchasing power parity, PPP) in 2014. What isn’t so well known is how astonishingly fast the end came for the 140-year reign of the American economy as the world’s largest. According to numbers Rachman cites, China was just 12 percent of the size of the US economy in 2000 and only half as big as late as 2011. Such meteoric growth has been enough to lift hundreds of millions out of poverty, finance the US deficit, and still allow China to increase its military spending at double-digit rates every year for two decades.
In matters of national security the momentum of Chinese growth has meant, for example, that while Japan’s military spending was triple China’s in 2000, it was only half as large by 2015.
Go ahead, and re-read those previous sentences.

Seventeen years ago, China was merely an eighth of the US economy.  During those years, while the US was busy fighting wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and wherever we wanted to drop bombs, China went about expanding its economic and military might.  Here we are in 2017, with China launching a home-built aircraft carrier.

In that op-ed, I wrote about the need to learn the languages that we will need to learn and become fluent in, if we want to understand the future.  Especially Chinese and Arabic.  But, of course, most universities couldn't care!

I cannot figure out how much longer we can go on without truly understanding China, and recognizing it as an important player.
China is a challenge to the United States on several fronts; not an enemy. However, the relationship is riven with tensions that could escalate into open conflict. Neither side understands or trusts the other. Avoiding these thorns will depend on steady leaders and skilled diplomacy in reading each other’s behavior. Improvisation or short-sighted deals made for a domestic audience are likely to end badly. History also warns that success will not be easy. Most often, in the past, rising new powers have clashed with reigning ones. The US–China relationship will remain the most consequential in the world for decades to come.
And if we continue to insult China?
Never before has a president suggested handing over most of the currency of US global leadership to others, free of charge. China will not hesitate to seize every opportunity offered. A much diminished and less influential America, and consequently a much less secure Asia, would be the result.
Alas, we gleefully continue eating "Asian Salad"!


Friday, April 28, 2017

Fuck the welders and philosophers. We need entertainment, dammit!

(Am debating within myself whether I should send this to the editor, and make more enemies when published!)

Recall the sound bite "we need more welders and less philosophers" from back when it was the season of the Republican primaries? I wish we had engaged in a whole lot of discussion regarding that statement from Senator Marco Rubio. Instead, we collectively shrugged and moved on.

We could, and should, have used that opportunity to engage in discussions on what education ought to accomplish. If we had, then we would have agreed that we need both welders and philosophers, and that higher education is failing to deliver them.

Public higher educational institutions have suffered from extensive mission creep over the years. It is best (worst?) seen in how sports-oriented the taxpayer subsidized colleges and universities have become. Welders and philosophers are apparently way less important than athletics in the mission of higher education!

Countries where people are far more sports-crazy than we are do not waste their taxpayer monies like we do here in the US. Europeans, for instance, are maniacal about soccer, but they know well that sports is sports, and education is education. Or, consider my old country, India, where cricket is practically a religion. Colleges do not waste enormous resources on cricket and its gods.

If only we had continued to engage with the welders/philosophers soundbite, then we would have ended up talking about the wasteful practices in higher education, with athletics as perhaps the foremost waste of taxpayer money. But, of course, public institutions do not want us to talk about this, and the sports-addicted taxpayers are even less interested it seems.

A year ago, journalists in Michigan attempted to understand how much taxpayer money is spent on athletics by public institutions in their state. It was not an easy project. They “obtained through the Freedom of Information Act the financial disclosure statements provided to the NCAA from Michigan's 13 public universities that offer NCAA-level athletics.” Yes, through the Freedom of Information Act!

What they found did not surprise any of us who have been critical of this unholy mix of sports and academics in public higher education. Not only did the public institutions spend gazillions on athletics, “students are often "kept in the dark" when it comes to how universities fund college athletics and the degree to which colleges are subsidizing sports.”

Yet, whenever they cry funding shortage, universities are ready to ax philosophy before they even think of reducing the sports subsidies. I wish that legislatures, including here in Oregon with our huge budget deficit, would question the wisdom of public colleges as entertainment arenas.

The university where I have been teaching for fifteen years is no exception. A decade ago, a 25-million dollar facility was built primarily to meet the NCAA Division II requirements. Such an outrageous expense would not have been incurred if sports were played at the lower tier National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA,) in which the university participated until the year 2000.

America is exceptional indeed—when it comes to diverting taxpayer money on entertainment, when that could be spent instead on welders and philosophers. This taxpayer-supported entertainment is what the Declaration of Independence meant by "the pursuit of happiness.”

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Death is inevitable. A bad death is not!

This image in my Twitter feed captured my attention:


Of course I had to read the lead essay right then and there.

Yesterday, in class, when I laughed at one of my own "jokes," I told them that if I, like Chrysippus, should die laughing, they should make no attempt to revive me.  "It is the best way to die--laughing" I told them.

A sense of humor is so valuable.  After all, the older we get, life can get more sucky than ever.  Getting old ain't for sissies. With a sense of humor, we will be able to laugh them away.

The silly happiness, I have come to realize, lies on a foundation of contentment.  A peaceful sense of contentment even when I drown in my own sorrows.

Of course, poets have written about all these and more.  Well, not about dying while laughing, but about feeling content.

I went to my go-to-site for poems.  And was reminded of this one.




Yes, "Be still, I am content ... joy [is] a flame in me"


  

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

All About You

I have written in plenty about the need, the urgency, to understand "the other."  About the need for empathy, especially for the migrants fleeing the tyrants.  And, in the political setting, about how 63 million people elected to the White House a horrible human being who was proudly open about his cruelest approach towards the others.  And about how a significant number of that 63 million are bible-thumping, churchgoing moralists.

Now, consider this:
As I meet, or lend an ear to those who are sick, to the migrants who face terrible hardships in search of a brighter future, to prison inmates who carry a hell of pain inside their hearts, and to those, many of them young, who cannot find a job, I often find myself wondering: "Why them and not me?"
How about this?
Good intentions and conventional formulas, so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough. Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face. The "you" is always a real presence, a person to take care of.
The other has a face.  What if that face is you?  What if you are the one who needs help?
People's paths are riddled with suffering, as everything is centered around money, and things, instead of people. And often there is this habit, by people who call themselves "respectable," of not taking care of the others, thus leaving behind thousands of human beings, or entire populations, on the side of the road.
"[Each] and everyone's existence is deeply tied to that of others."  Right?

I was quoting the Pope throughout.  Yes, that Pope.  And in a TED talk!

Atheist I am, yes.  But, it does seem to me that what I really care about is in line with the Pope's message.  And, a good chunk of the 63 million who are bible-thumpers, including Catholics, apparently are then contradicting the Pope's interpretation of what Jesus's teachings mean.

No wonder the Pope in one of his previous messages said “But to be a Catholic like that, it’s better to be an atheist.”

I will wrap this up with the Pope's own words from his TED talk:
The future of humankind isn't exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies. Yes, they do hold an enormous responsibility. But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a "you" and themselves as part of an "us." We all need each other.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Big Bong Theory

There are people that you and I know who have beer or wine every day.  And over the weekend, the intake might even increase.

But, there is nothing to describe them the way the word "pothead" is used.  Beerhead? Winehead?  Whiskeyhead?  You see the problem?

As one who has never gone anywhere near marijuana, and as one who has rarely ever tasted anything alcoholic, I find this alcohol versus weed discussion to be a tad incomprehensible.  Intellectually, I have always argued in favor of legalizing, but regulating, drugs similar to how we regulate the sales and distribution of tobacco and alcohol.  So, this whole pothead thing intrigues me and confuses me.

Consider, for instance, the following paragraph from a marijuana user:
For the first time I have been able to hear the separate parts of a three-part harmony and the richness of the counterpoint. I have since discovered that professional musicians can quite easily keep many separate parts going simultaneously in their heads, but this was the first time for me. Again, the learning experience when high has at least to some extent carried over when I’m down. The enjoyment of food is amplified; tastes and aromas emerge that for some reason we ordinarily seem to be too busy to notice. I am able to give my full attention to the sensation. A potato will have a texture, a body, and taste like that of other potatoes, but much more so. Cannabis also enhances the enjoyment of sex – on the one hand it gives an exquisite sensitivity, but on the other hand it postpones orgasm: in part by distracting me with the profusion of image passing before my eyes. The actual duration of orgasm seems to lengthen greatly, but this may be the usual experience of time expansion which comes with cannabis smoking.
You are perhaps thinking, "spoken just like a pothead."  We then imagine some cliched images of the pothead who wrote that.

Well, the pothead who wrote that was, get this, Carl Sagan.  Yes, that Carl Sagan.

He was in his mid-thirties when he wrote that essay in 1969.  He was a lifelong pot user.

Sagan writes:
My high is always reflective, peaceable, intellectually exciting, and sociable, unlike most alcohol highs, and there is never a hangover. Through the years I find that slightly smaller amounts of cannabis suffice to produce the same degree of high, and in one movie theater recently I found I could get high just by inhaling the cannabis smoke which permeated the theater.
He concludes with:
the illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.
Recreational use of cannabis is legal here in Oregon.  Sagan could have been home in this gorgeous state.  Too bad he died when he was barely 62.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Epoch of Single Women

When I was young--yes, I was young a long time ago--women were actively discouraged from pursuing higher education and careers.  There were two big issues of those days: It could become a challenge to find a suitable groom, and an educated/career woman might not fit into the multi-generational household that was the norm then.

As a young boy, I bought into that.  But, at the same time, I could not understand how anybody in their right minds could prevent my aunt or sister from higher education or careers.  As I got into high school years, the more I observed my female classmates from afar--we couldn't talk to them!--I became convinced that it was wrong to stop them from doing whatever they wanted to do.

So much has happened within my life time.

Now, women everywhere seem to be ready to do, and as that old Hollywood expression goes, "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels."  Women are doing some serious butt-kicking!

Further, I now notice something else too--women don't seem to care all that much whether they are married.  Young men don't seem to care either.  Young women are awesomely independent these days.  We have seemingly transitioned into a society of singles.  All within my life time!  (Of course, it is the American context in which I now operate.)

The visionary feminist, Susan B. Anthony, foresaw this:
In the 1800s, Susan B. Anthony wrote: “In women's transition from subject to sovereign, there must needs be an era of self-sustained, self-supported homes.” Traister says that her prediction was correct, and that this has led to what Anthony once described as an "epoch of single women" in America.
All these are mind-blowing stuff.  If only we paused to think about them.  Daily life is changing so rapidly that I cannot even begin to imagine how it will be when my lifetime comes to an end.

I, therefore, have no problem with this statement:
The 21st century is the age of living single.
What a continuation of the two-hundred-year story!

And, oh, I can personally relate to this, even though the author is talking about young people:
Those who cherish their alone time will often choose to live alone. Some have committed romantic relationships but choose to live in places of their own, a lifestyle of “living apart together.”
So, in this century's chapter of the human story:
As the potential for living a full and meaningful single life becomes more widely known, living single will become more of a genuine choice. And when living single is a real choice, then getting married will be, too. Fewer people will marry as a way of fleeing single life or simply doing what they are expected to do, and more will choose it because it’s what they really want.
If current trends continue, successive generations will have unprecedented opportunities to pursue the life that suits them best, rather than the one that is prescribed.
A full and meaningful life ... as a single woman.  Something that my grandmothers could never ever have imagined!
 
But, our politics has yet to catch up with the reality.
So what we have is the need to reform all kinds of economic and social policies to better reflect the way that Americans are actually living, not the way that they used to live 50 years ago.
Amen, sister!


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Buy American, Hire American. ‘Oh, never mind’

The guy finally wrapped up his "work" and travel, and returned to blogging.  He has a lot to catch up on and in a hurry!  He resumed his blogging with his comments on the cheeto's executive order.
The problem of disappearing jobs is a real and serious one, but there are no easy fixes. It cannot be tackled by trumpeting economic nationalism. It certainly cannot be solved by sitting on the toilet seat and tweeting whatever comes to your mind.
If even he gets so sarcastic about this orange monster's "unpresidented" politics, ahem, allow me to let loose some choice words about trump! ;)

Unfortunately, cheeto and his base do not work with logic and evidence.  They just wanted to take their country back, and are now orgasmic about having done that.  But, the rest of us work and critique with logic and evidence.  Which is why, for instance, Adam Davidson's commentary notes this:
The products we buy are made of raw materials transformed into intermediate goods that are then assembled into a finished product. It’s not possible, or even advisable, to insure that an entire production chain will occur in one country. So a politician who wants to increase the percentage of American-made content in the products that are sold here needs to dig deeper. How will the U.S.-made content of a good be defined? Will it be by weight, by dollar value, by labor hours involved? Each metric would have different findings. 
Or, trump and his 63 million minions can simply read the classic "I, Pencil" essay that I require my intro class students to read.  Hey, if reading is a pain for the tweeter-in-chief, then he can watch this animated version before grabbing pussies!

Davidson concludes:
There is a real problem in the American economy. For much of the twentieth century, there was a wind at the back of working people—a steady increase in jobs, wages, and opportunity for those with basic education and a willingness to put in a hard day’s work. We have shifted from the era of good work for many to the age of the hustle, where those with luck, good connections, education, and ambition can do far better than their grandparents could have dreamt, while those without see their incomes stagnate or fall and face a future filled with doubt. A sober and serious look at the U.S. economy leads, inevitably, to the conclusion that we haven’t cracked this problem yet. In place of serious consideration from the White House, we have absurdist, self-contradicting theatrics.
Self-contradicting theatrics is also a wrong way to look at this presidency.  I agree with George Will's commentary:
Donald Trump’s “Oh, never mind” presidency was produced by voters stung by the contempt they detected directed toward them by the upper crust. Their insurrection has been rewarded by Trump’s swift shedding of campaign commitments, a repudiation so comprehensive and cavalier that he disdains disguising his disdain for his gulled supporters.
Yep, as for this latest executive order is concerned, trump knows that it will not do a damn thing.  But, oh, never mind!  What a fucking shithead that the 63 million chose as their fuhrer!


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Carrying coal to Newcastle

In my classes, I often remind students that for all practical purposes, it is the last two hundred years that have made a huge difference in the human condition, and that the rest of this century will undergo transformations that will be of a scale even grander than that of the past two centuries.

All those pretty much began with the way we started using coal to power the transformative ideas.  This coal-based transformation of the world, the Industrial Revolution, began in England.  The same place where history was made this past Friday:
Friday was the first full day since the height of the Industrial Revolution that Britain did not burn coal to generate electricity, a development that officials and climate change activists celebrated as a watershed moment.
The accomplishment became official just before 11 p.m., when the 24-hour period ended.
...
Now on a path to phase out coal-fired power generation altogether by 2025, Britain, also the home of the first steam engine, is currently closing coal plants and stepping up generation from cleaner natural gas and renewables, like wind and solar.
“Symbolically, this is a milestone,” said Sean Kemp, a spokesman for National Grid, Britain’s power grid operator. “A kind of end of an era.”
I wish the coalman-in-chief in the White House and his 63 million toadies will get to at least hear about this, which their only news source--Faux Noose--will not cover, I am sure.
“The first day without coal in Britain since the Industrial Revolution marks a watershed in the energy transition,” Hannah Martin, head of energy at Greenpeace U.K., told The Guardian. “The direction of travel is that both in the U.K. and globally we are already moving towards a low carbon economy.”
If not for the fucked up GOP, we would have moved a lot more towards a low carbon economy!

Not that the world of business is any better either.  Which should worry us when business schools rarely, if at all, include sustainability in their curriculum.
Even if we stop or reduce greenhouse gas emissions, global temperatures will continue to rise for 100 or more years due to carbon dioxide emissions already in the atmosphere. Today’s business students who will be tomorrow’s business leaders are guaranteed to face sustainability challenges.
Tell that to the businessman-in-chief, when he is not busy grabbing pussies!


What has science ever done for us?

The fantastically fucked up GOP, and its standard-bearer and the 63 million who voted for that idiot, are collectively so anti-science that I imagine that they sit around and ask themselves, a la this Monty Python skit, "what has science ever done for us?"

The rest of us, and the rest of the world, have to--unfortunately--live with their fucked up thinking!

But, we cannot escape the reality that science is political.
Statements about “the common good” or “the national interest” are inherently political. They should guide politicians in formulating public policy, and their interpretation should be clearly enunciated as the basis of the electoral process. But are they appropriate for governing scientific research? If history is any guide—from the Soviet misdirection of research in genetics, to Nazi claims about “Jewish science,” to the more recent effort to restrict research on climate change—claims about “the national interest” often hinder science in its pursuit of its most important goal: the unfettered and open questioning of even our most fundamental assumptions about reality.
After a great deal of thinking about the March for Science, I backed out of it.  Because, science itself has become politicized.  In my ideal world, science is all about investigating and finding things out.  We ask questions, and then systematically go about in our attempts to answer those questions.  We do not have any prior agenda in this.  The proverbial chips will fall wherever they will and not into specific slots that we create for them.
Science is a process for deriving facts about nature. It’s a process for enhancing our understanding of the world around us, and for separating nonsense from sense via empirical investigation, logical reasoning, and constant testing. Trying to define science as an activity that upholds “the common good” or is “in the national interest” distorts the fact that science is nothing more or less than a remarkably successful empirical process for uncovering the way the world works. At its best, this process is open-ended and curiosity-driven.
But, that curiosity-driven and open-ended approach is the ideal.  In the real world, people take sides on scientific issues, leave alone the technology that is derived from the science.

In particular, I like this point:
Science provides us with a new perspective on our place in the cosmos and a better understanding of ourselves as human beings. It helps us overcome our otherwise myopic preconceptions about how the world works. At a deep level, it allows us to see through some of our illusions about reality, which result from the peculiarities of space and time within which we happen to exist, and to perceive, instead, the detailed, fundamental workings of nature.
In these aspects, science resembles those other human activities, like art, music, and literature, that distinguish humanity as a species. We don’t—or shouldn’t—ask what the utility of a play by Shakespeare is, or how a Mozart concerto or a Rolling Stones song upholds “the common good,” or how a Picasso painting or a movie like “Citizen Kane” might be in “the national interest.” (Perhaps it’s because we insist on thinking in such terms that support for art, music, and literature is also under attack in Congress.) The free inquiry and creative activity we find in science and art reflect the best about what it means to be human.
Of course, authoritarians like to restrict those other human activities too.  The banned books. The banned music. Censored movies.  It is only a matter of time before the fucked up GOP and its evangelical base move to rein in the arts and literature too.

So, what should an apolitical March for Science do?
The March for Science must be clear-eyed in its defense of the scientific process as an independently valuable human activity. It should defend the core value of the scientific process: discovering more about the universe, and ourselves.
Yes, about ourselves.  


Friday, April 21, 2017

trump's cluster-fuck

When I switched from engineering to learning in graduate school the kind of issues that have always interested me, the benefits of agglomeration was one of the many ideas that impressed the crap out of me.  With graduate school in Los Angeles, why seemingly everybody who wanted to be in the film and television business wanted to be in Southern California started making sense.  Computer science and engineering classmates heading to the San Francisco Bay Area--the Silicon Valley--was then easy to explain through one impressive piece of jargon: Localization Economies.

Or, we can use a simpler one-word term: Clusters.

Not only in the US, of course.  There are advantages in such clustering.  Which shows up in China too:
Many Chinese towns have grown fat off of single industries. Much of the world’s hosiery, for example, comes from the village of Datang, also known as “Sock City.” Songxia is dedicated to umbrellas. Jinjiang is all about zippers.
But, this post is not about China.  Instead, it is about the US.  About clustering in the US.  About how trump's illogical economic thinking can fuck up the productive clustering.  Yep, it is almost like every post is about the shitty trump and the shitty people who voted for the idiot.

The New Yorker has a one-pager on clustering related to one particular product: Deodorants.  They are clustered near the "International Flavors & Fragrances research-and-development center, in Dayton, New Jersey."
Ten miles up the road from I.F.F. is the factory that produces Power Stick, a low-cost deodorant sold in bargain stores like Dollar General and Family Dollar. Fred Horowitz, the C.E.O., showed me around the plant, where dozens of workers combine ingredients—silicon, scent, aluminum sesquichlorohydrate—and operate a machine that squirts the mixture into plastic containers. I wondered why this plant, where a cheap, lightweight commodity is produced by workers who require no advanced education, was in the U.S.; this is the kind of manufacturing more often done in China or Mexico. If retailers are selling Power Stick for a dollar, Horowitz can’t be making much more than a penny or so per stick. I asked if he thought he could increase profits by moving to a country where wages are lower.
A good question, right?  Deodorants are so darn inexpensive.  We have come to assume that anything inexpensive is manufactured in China.  Yet, here in New Jersey?  What gives?  Why hasn't that manufacturing moved out yet?
“No,” he answered. “I’m in the center of all the innovation. It’s all happening here in New Jersey.”
Major scent companies, as well as logistics managers, branding consultants, and firms developing new packaging and production techniques, pitch their innovations to Horowitz and the many other cosmetic manufacturers nearby.
Yep, localization economies.  Or, clustering, if you prefer that word.

So, where how does the trump clusterfuck happen?
Innovation has become an overused word, but, for businesspeople like Fred Horowitz, it has a real monetary value.
Pontus Braunerhjelm, an economist at Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology, studies clusters and told me that it is all but impossible for government to create a cluster. But it can hasten a cluster’s death. The surest way is to cut off the flow of ideas from around the world. President Trump’s economic instincts—seeking to retain individual companies, not entire economic ecosystems; denouncing the arrival of people and products from elsewhere; cutting support for basic research and education—will only chase clusters away. A few hours on the stink highway would teach him that our highest economic hope is to be the place where the best from all over can come together.
trump's voters will soon realize how much they stink, just like their fuhrer!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Morals and the market

I often tell students who are awake in my classes that by default the market does not care for morals.  The market cares not whether you are a saint or a sinner. It does not care whether you are selling bread or cocaine.  It simply is.

I then remind them that the same market can also be made to enforce morals.  It can be done.  How to get that done is simple: Put your money where your mouth is.  If that moral high ground is important to you, then as a consumer behave accordingly, and if enough do the same then the market will respond.

But then you have heard many times how this ends, right?  I don't get no respect and nobody listens to me! ;)

The hassle is that most people do not walk that proverbial talk.

That walk-talk divide exists everywhere of course.  Which is why, for instance, the pussy-grabbing trump gets an overwhelming endorsement from the white evangelicals!  More than a year ago, when we were watching the reality show personality in the primaries, I quoted from the Harvard Divinity School:
GOP-registered evangelicals will not vote for Hillary. You could make a very good argument that Hillary is much more a person of faith and closer to evangelicals on her understanding of God than Trump. 
The reality show narcissist is now in the Oval Office thanks to those evangelical voters!  If evangelicals won't practice their faith, then what can one expect in other mundane aspects of life, like in buying and selling stuff, right?

Enforcing morals comes down to practicing those morals.  We cannot expect the pussy-grabber to enforce laws against sexual harassment.  Could the market work any better?

It works, but only if consumers make that clear.

Bill O'Reilly continued to rant on from his Faux News pedestal despite the sexual harassment stories (remember the falafel episide from years ago?) because he was bringing in money. In the millions.  His crappy books sold and brought in money. In the millions.  The market--which is essentially decisions by individuals--didn't care about how he treated women.

The corporation, therefore, did not care.  They paid out to the accusers and continued with O'Reilly jerking off in his television show.

Years go by.  Audiences flock to the psychotic's show.  Because of the demand, the advertising dollars flow in. He continues to abuse women. The corporation funnels some of the revenue into payments to settle with the women who file charges against the horrible human being (well, of the many at Faux News.)

And then the market spoke--major advertisers withdrew from the show, and the loss of dollars translated to an enforcement of morals.

Today, the asshole is gone.  Fired.
The resulting drop in advertising revenue must have changed the established harassment calculus of Fox News, which has for years seemed to have no problem paying its way out of the host’s past harassment allegations. It was worth at least $13 million extra to keep an alleged repeat abuser on staff, but apparently it wasn’t worth whatever projected loss might have resulted from this latest turn of public opinion against him.
After yet another kiss of death from the pussy-grabber himself!

Of course, it is not easy to enforce morals via the market.  But, it can be done.  Hurting the balance-sheet is a powerful approach.  If only we did this more often instead of merely talking the big talk.

And, oh, how can we ever get the evangelicals to understand morals?


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

If anything goes ... trump comes in then

A few years ago, ok, decades ago, I was at a seminar talk that was highly critical of the empirical approach to understanding the human condition.  I sympathize a lot with that crowd, yes.  I detest, for instance, how the GDP has come to signify the be all and end all of everything that we are.  Why do I get unhappy with this elevation of the GDP to some near godly status?  For a number of reasons.  The easiest that I can point to even without explaining at length is how the GDP does not account for the destruction of the natural environment.

So, yes, I have lots of problems with this stupid empirical approach that simultaneously takes a condescending view towards the gazillion things that have not been quantified nor can they be really quantified.  However, I have always had problems with intellectuals equating this empiricism mania with the scientific method itself.  The scientific method that is driven by logic and evidence.

Thus, I worried about the postmodernism that I was learning about in graduate school.  It challenged the very notion of "truth" and it easily slid into a common denominator of anything goes.  Challenging authority is one thing, which I always support.  But, to question the legitimacy of the truth that was being pursued?  If anything goes, then where is truth and where is the untruth?

Which brings us to trump:
Trump’s playbook should be familiar to any student of critical theory and philosophy. It often feels like Trump has stolen our ideas and weaponized them.
For decades, critical social scientists and humanists have chipped away at the idea of truth. We’ve deconstructed facts, insisted that knowledge is situated and denied the existence of objectivity. The bedrock claim of critical philosophy, going back to Kant, is simple: We can never have certain knowledge about the world in its entirety. Claiming to know the truth is therefore a kind of assertion of power.
I know, I know ... every post somehow seems to be about trump.  Of course, that is what happens when the authoritarian looms large.  Which is why scientists and poets alike in the old Soviet Union were haunted by the oppressors in everything they did every day.  It sucks being in such a system!

Anyway, back to trump and postmodernism:
Call it what you want: relativism, constructivism, deconstruction, postmodernism, critique. The idea is the same: Truth is not found, but made, and making truth means exercising power.
The reductive version is simpler and easier to abuse: Fact is fiction, and anything goes. It’s this version of critical social theory that the populist right has seized on and that Trump has made into a powerful weapon.
For people like me, who never got along with the postmodernist crowd nor with the fucking trump mob, we are now caught between the devil and the deep blue sea!

If you think that by now the critical theorists and their students have learnt a bitter lesson of reality, hmmm, think again.  A coalition of students at Pomona College (an expensive liberal arts college in Southern California) signed off on a statement against bringing ultra-conservative and right-leaning libertarian speakers to campus.  And they note in their statement:
Historically, white supremacy has venerated the idea of objectivity, and wielded a dichotomy of 'subjectivity vs. objectivity' as a means of silencing oppressed peoples. The idea that there is a single truth--'the Truth'--is a construct of the Euro-West that is deeply rooted in the Enlightenment, which was a movement that also described Black and Brown people as both subhuman and impervious to pain. This construction is a myth and white supremacy, imperialism, colonization, capitalism, and the United States of America are all of its progeny. The idea that the truth is an entity for which we must search, in matters that endanger our abilities to exist in open spaces, is an attempt to silence oppressed peoples.
The pursuit of truth of an attempt to silence oppressed peoples?  No wonder trump wins with his "plain speaking" that has absolutely no relation to truth!

Monday, April 17, 2017

You are (not) what you eat

Every time I visit India, and when it is time for me to pack up to return home, I am asked the same questions by people around me, which are all variations of "are you taking with you sweets and savories?"

I tell them that I am not.  The reason is simply: I usually eat from whatever is available in the place where I am traveling.

In Costa Rica, I ate whatever tasty stuff that I got from the local diner and baker.  I ate what I was provided in Tanzania.  It is the same in Canada, France, wherever.   If I can't get nutritious vegetarian dishes, then I reluctantly reach for a cooked carcass! ;)

What we eat is cultural, not biological.  Which is why any fad for diets amuses me.  A few years ago, my grandmother claimed that the Idli/yogurt combination was the healthiest ever.  In response, I asked her to explain how the Japanese, who don't know idli, live long and healthy lives.  "They eat a lot of fish.  Will you also eat fish?" I asked her.  I tell ya, the eternal skeptic annoys everybody, including his grandmother!

These are the kinds of reasons why I agree with this author who writes that "the so-called Paleo diet is a myth."   Now, unlike me, the author is a real expert: "Peter S. Ungar is Distinguished Professor and director of the Environmental Dynamics Program at the University of Arkansas."  Ungar writes:
Many paleoanthropologists today believe that increasing climate fluctuation through the Pleistocene sculpted our ancestors—whether their bodies, or their wit, or both—for the dietary flexibility that’s become a hallmark of humanity. The basic idea is that our ever-changing world winnowed out the pickier eaters among us. Nature has made us a versatile species, which is why we can find something to satiate us on nearly all of its myriad biospheric buffet tables. It’s also why we have been able to change the game, transition from forager to farmer, and really begin to consume our planet.
We humans eat an enormous variety of foods.  The Finns eat differently from the Tamils whose foods are different from what Peruvians eat.  No other animal does like what we do.  Without understanding this, people--about three million Americans alone--are on a paleo diet.  But, did even the paleo people have any universal "paleo diet"?
From the standpoint of paleoecology, the Paleolithic diet is a myth. Food choice is as much about what’s available to be eaten as it is about what a species evolved to eat. And just as fruits ripen, leaves flush, and flowers bloom predictably at different times of the year, foods available to our ancestors varied over deep time as the world changed around them from warm and wet to cool and dry and back again. Those changes are what drove our evolution.
What our ancestors ate depended on where they lived.
Consider some of the recent hunter-gatherers who have inspired Paleolithic diet enthusiasts. The Tikiġaġmiut of the north Alaskan coast lived almost entirely on the protein and fat of marine mammals and fish, while the Gwi San in Botswana’s Central Kalahari took something like 70 percent of their calories from carbohydrate-rich, sugary melons and starchy roots. Traditional human foragers managed to earn a living from the larger community of life that surrounded them in a remarkable variety of habitats, from near-polar latitudes to the tropics.
So, when we refer to a paleo-style diet, which paleo are we referring to?  The Kalahari's carbohydrate rich food?  The Alaskan sea food diet?

It is one crazy world out there, and I have to struggle to maintain my sanity.

I have my own dietary protocols.  A slice of bread with rich European butter and a tall mug of coffee is the reward for waking up.  Then a handful of nuts with another mug of coffee.  An awesome cheese sandwich for lunch and a banana.  Later, coffee with a few cookies.  And then dinner, with a postprandial orange.

There is no place in this for sweets and savories from India. ;)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

From ENIAC and EMERAC to ... HAL and Siri

There were three questions in this quiz. Ahem, I scored three out of three!

Go ahead, take that quiz, and come back for the rest of this post.  OK?


Alright, you are back.  Well, you never left, did you? ;)

Consider the statistics in the following image:

Source
Yes, even Kenya.  Wherever one is, the bottom-line is no different:
For all the differences between countries, many of automation’s challenges are universal. For business, the performance benefits are relatively clear, but the issues are more complicated for policy makers. They will need to find ways to embrace the opportunity for their economies to benefit from the productivity growth potential that automation offers, putting in place policies to encourage investment and market incentives to encourage innovation. At the same time, all countries will need to evolve and create policies that help workers and institutions adapt to the impact on employment.
For regular readers of this blog, this is all same-old, same-old, right?

Unfortunately, such stuff is not discussed on Fox & Friends, which is where the current president learns about what is happening around the world and in the US!

On the other hand, news programs like this one that the president and his 63 million fucking minions do not care for, remind him:
President Trump has very specific talking points when it comes to jobs in the U.S. They go kind of like this: China — bad. Mexico — bad. Outsourcing — bad. Made in America — great. Hiring American — even better.
Trump and his supporters have spent a lot of time focusing on trade policies and how to bring back jobs lost to globalization, but experts say most of those jobs are not coming back. The key issue facing the American workforce — and therefore America’s prosperity and stability moving forward — is not trade, but technology.
Ah, those supporters of his are soon going to figure out that they are nothing but 63 million suckers!

So, what can be done?
“The jobs that we’re preparing them for haven’t even been created yet, and really, that’s a hurdle that we need to figure out how to get over, because how do you prepare them for the unknown?”
Ahem, I have written plenty about this.  Even as op-eds.  Like this one in which I wrote about educating for a world of unscripted problems.  
Unscripted because we do not know what the future holds. But, we do have a sense of how we might be able to reasonably prepare for that future, by developing skills that will help people to constructively engage with the unscripted problems.
Yet, contemporary public policy discussions on higher education and workforce preparation rarely ever go into serious and sustained thinking about the “world of unscripted problems."
Some day, after I am gone, maybe a couple of people will remark that people should have listened to me ;)


Saturday, April 15, 2017

God has pity

It was a column on India.

It started with a photograph of the synagogue in Cochin (Kochi) in Kerala.

I was tempted to ditch reading it--yet another writer having stumbled upon the coexistence of people of all faiths in my old country.  Some bromides.

But, I gave the writer the benefit of the doubt, only because I usually like his columns.

I am glad I did.

Not because of any insights there about the old country. Nope.  Not to this old country man.

I am glad because of the following that I read there:
My favorite Israeli poet is Yehuda Amichai. In his poem “Tourists” a guide points to a Roman arch in Jerusalem. Amichai writes: “I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them, ‘You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important: but next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.’ ”
Such a simple message from a poet, right?  It is not about the arch from the Roman times.  It is about the people here and now, who are doing their best to provide their families with good lives.

The uninformed pretentious academic that I am, well, I have never heard of Amichai.  It is amazing how little I know.  It is a challenge not to let that feeling of ignorance overwhelm me into complete and total inaction.

Especially this being the month for poetry, I spent some time reading a few other poems by Amichai.  Which is how I ran into this, with which I will end this post.

God has pity on kindergarten children
By Yehuda Amichai

God has pity on kindergarten children,
He pities school children -- less.
But adults he pities not at all.

He abandons them,
And sometimes they have to crawl on all fours
In the scorching sand
To reach the dressing station,
Streaming with blood.

But perhaps
He will have pity on those who love truly
And take care of them
And shade them
Like a tree over the sleeper on the public bench.

Perhaps even we will spend on them
Our last pennies of kindness
Inherited from mother,
So that their own happiness will protect us
Now and on other days.

Follow the immigrants

This, which I have sent to the editor, builds on a previous blog-post
************************************************************

“Follow the immigrants.” 

That is an easy guideline to understanding the economic geography dynamics in the contemporary United States.

Consider the affluent neighbor that is immediately south of us. The prosperity in California correlates well with the percentage of foreign-born to whom the Golden State is now home. More than a quarter—about 27 percent—of its population was born outside the country. It is no wonder that the Silicon Valley looks more and more like the United Nations.

Consider a contrast to California. West Virginia is an economic laggard, where how one talks about coal—not silicon—is the way elections are won and lost. Here, too, there is a correlation between the economy and the percentage of foreign-born. Barely 1.4 percent of the population in West Virginia was born outside the US. To put it simply, immigrants do not flock to West Virginia.

It is more than a mere correlation, of course. The foreign-born population cannot afford to be jobless and poor, whether they are here legally or illegally, and whether or not they are skilled or unskilled. Hence, immigrants are almost always headed to states where there is potential for work and wages. California offers that promise, and not West Virginia.

In this broad framework, Abigail Cooke, an assistant professor of geography at the University at Buffalo, and Thomas Kemeny, a UB research assistant professor and at the University of Southampton in England, write about their research that was recently published in the journal “Economic Geography.” There is "a strong relationship between greater immigrant diversity and higher productivity—in this case, wages.”

Jobs and incomes are urban-based. "What we found was remarkable. In cities that are unwelcoming to immigrants, as diversity rises, people's wages either don't change, or they go up by only a small amount. In cities that are welcoming to immigrants, as diversity goes up, people's wages go up, and by a lot,” Cooke notes.

It is an interesting feedback cycle. Cities and states where the economies are growing attract immigrants. This influx strengthens the human capital that in turn creates more economic growth and development.

Such dynamics are not merely a contrast between California and West Virginia. In Oregon, the foreign-born account for about 9.8 percent of the population. Even within the state, we can observe differences between, for example, the metropolitan Portland where the economy is based on modern economic activities, versus Coos Bay whose economy was based on natural resources. 

An economy based on resources that were prized in the past—like timber—lags behind one that is driven by the likes of Intel and Nike. This means we will also notice a corresponding significant difference in the percentage of the foreign-born in the Portland area versus in coastal communities.  A diverse immigrant population is naturally attracted to regions for obvious economic reasons--even farming grains, fruits, and flowers, with considerable export potential, will attract immigrants.

However, this unequal economic growth and development across the geography of the country, and within the regions of a state, have had serious implications. 

Richard Florida—an academic and a public intellectual based in Toronto, who has always been enthusiastic about cities, is now worried about a new urban crisis.  Florida writes in a recent essay about the winner-take-all-urbanism “in which the talented and the advantaged cluster and colonize a small, select group of superstar cities, leaving everybody and everywhere else behind. Much more than a crisis of cities, the New Urban Crisis is the central crisis of our time.”

The story is deceptively simple, but a complex one. Modern economic activities are urban-based, and immigrants flock to those urban areas with the greatest economic potential. The reinforcing feedback cycle makes some cities and regions more prosperous than others, and soon we have regions that are seemingly left behind. These left-behind regions, like West Virginia, are also home to less-diverse population.

It has also been clear for a long time that economic advancement does not seem to reach the corners of West Virginia or a Coos Bay here in Oregon. We the people need to try to understand such complexities in a rapidly evolving global economic geography. And, more importantly, we will need political leaders who can articulate constructive policy responses that will not dampen the pace of economic development even while assisting the under-performing regions. 

Or, we can simplistically decide, for instance, that immigrants in a heterogeneous California are the reasons for the lack of economic opportunities in a significantly homogeneous West Virginia.

I would rather that we attracted the immigrants, instead of chasing them away.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Understanding the past and shaping the future

I have sent this across to the editor ... perhaps it will be published. If not, hey, you read that here ;)
****************

Thanks to Donald Trump’s election, and his statements and policies since the inauguration, students in my introductory economic geography class seem to be significantly more eager than ever to connect the academic discussions to the real world happenings. On their own!

During routine discussions on population dynamics, when my lectures usually put students to sleep reminding me of the hilarious scene in “Ferris Bueller's Day Off,” one question from the back row nearly jolted the class. A student asked, “Why is Portland so white compared to the other cities that I have been to?” Before I could respond, another question rang out: “Isn’t Oregon itself way white compared to even Washington?”

In my fifteen years of teaching at Western Oregon University, I have not been asked these questions even once in any of my classes. I doubt that these questions were merely a coincidence.

In responding to the students’ questions, and thanks to the technology in the smart classroom, I projected on the screen maps about the Great Migration from the American South and how very few came to Oregon. I pulled up a few photographs of African-Americans in Oregon, including about Vanport, in the Portland area. And about Oregon’s own “Trail of Tears.” The maps and photos were worth more than the proverbial thousand words.

As discussions died down, a student from a town in the Willamette Valley remarked that it now made sense to her why I am the first non-white teacher she has ever had in her entire life as a student—all the way from kindergarten through college.

Of course, as an outsider—first from India, and then from California—this whiteness in Oregon, and hence my brownness, was one of the first things that I had to quickly understand about this state that has been a wonderful home to me.

If this post-election politics has given us an incentive to understand these important issues, then we may as well put that to good use.

In the educational world of geography, there are many formal avenues for all of us to further explore and understand questions like the ones my students asked.  One such avenue is the Geography Awareness Week.  

The National Geographic Society created the “Geography Awareness Week to raise awareness to this dangerous deficiency in American education and excite people about geography as both a discipline and as a part of everyday life.”  Many centers affiliated with this activity have selected “civil rights” as the theme for the Geography Awareness Week in 2017, which will be during November 13-19.  

Civil rights has distinct geographic patterns and impacts. While we usually think of the American South, states like Oregon too have had, and continue to have, issues related to civil rights. 

We do not have to wait until the "Geography Awareness Week" in order to understand civil rights issues. As we plan for our excursions around the state during the gorgeous Oregon summer, I hope more among us will also spend some time stopping by the numerous places that will help us understand who we were and, therefore, who we want to be in the future.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Let them eat chocolate cakes!

The reality show nightmare continues.  And it is not even three months yet!
“I was sitting at the table. We had finished dinner. We are now having dessert. And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you have ever seen. And President Xi was enjoying it,” Trump said.
So, he is describing his dinner with Xi, right?

Wrong.
“And I was given the message from the generals that the ships are locked and loaded. What do you do? And we made a determination to do it. So the missiles were on the way. “
And I said: ‘Mr President, let me explain something to you … we’ve just launched 59 missiles, heading to Iraq [sic] … heading toward Syria and I want you to know that.’
“I didn’t want him to go home … and then they say: ‘You know the guy you just had dinner with just attacked [Syria].’”
The asshole is boasting about how he operated as the commander-in-chief while entertaining the visiting Chinese president.  "we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you have ever seen."  Oh how far have we fallen!

In an emotion-filled post at the NYRB, a Syrian-American physician writes about witnessing an earlier chemical attack--on August 21, 2013.   After this latest attack, he writes:
While I was submitting a report for the Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS) on how our hospitals in Syria handled the April 4 chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Shaykhun, I was struck by how familiar the aftermath is: journalists asking the same questions, pictures of the children killed, mothers looking for their kids among the unidentified bodies, Western leaders threatening retaliation, and the international media make a huge noise but without any effective action from the international community. All of this came to my mind.
Soap. Rinse. Repeat. :(

In lobbing the missiles, trump has traveled the same old rut:
Americans sometimes see the degree of military intervention as a function of political will — if the president cared, he would intervene. This reveals a deeper assumption: that American power can solve any crisis, but only if it is sufficiently and correctly applied.
Who else but trump who proclaimed that only he alone can solve our problems!  Remember that?
Jeremy Shapiro, the research director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, has argued that the United States is also driven by what he calls “the American omnipotence problem.”
A string of military victories in the early 1990s, Mr. Shapiro told The New York Times in October, established an assumption “that any problem in the world is basically solvable by American power if there is sufficient political will.”
As a result, when a crisis emerges, and Americans are confronted with images like those Mr. Trump saw from Syria, the question raised is often not whether the United States is capable of imposing a solution, but why it hasn’t.
Missiles lobbed.  Now what?
If the cruise missile attack was a one-and-done warning, it changes nothing. If it was an opening salvo of some kind, what follows? Either we're on a slippery slope toward deeper military involvement, or we remain helpless witnesses to unspeakable carnage.
Oh well, maybe the 63 million who voted for their fuhrer know better!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield

April is poetry month.  Something that even this prosaic blogger remembers and likes to blog about every April.

Poetry speaks to the emotional beings that we are.  I did not realize that until I was well into adulthood, as a working stiff in the US.  I went to a local poetry reading.  The poet was a local boy who had made it big on the other coast.  So, there was a middle-aged man reading lines from his poem and it hit me: This is what poetry is about!  Those lines spoke to me, which is what we expect from good poetry.

Since then, I have come to realize that when the right person reads a poem, oh boy, it is as if the mysteries of the universe are being solved.  One word at a time, and one verse at a time.  But, it does not always happen.  A few years ago, I went to listen to a faculty-poet read his poem.  Well ...

The other day, I watched a character in a Spanish movie, Julieta, refer to Ulysses.  In the high school class in which she is the classics teacher, Julieta talks about Ulysses reaching Calypso’s island, exhausted after a shipwreck.  The goddess Calypso offers herself to Ulysses and also promises him immortality.  Think about this: The most beautiful woman ever and immortality.

Ulysses turns down the offer.

And heads to the high seas.  An unknown expanse of adventure.

Ulysses wanted to live a life that he would not regret.  I remembered having read the final stanza of Lord Tennyson's Ulysses.  Here it is for you to read during this poetry month; maybe you can imagine James Earl Jones reading the lines:
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
I wish us all well with the chances that we take, and may we never have to regret the chances we didn't, and don't, take!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Diversity and economic well-being

Whether it is the US or the UK or France or ... aren't the political events related to this confluence of diversity and economic well-being?

Think about California's Silicon Valley.  A whole bunch of people from all over the world, right?  That is to be expected; after all, the Golden State demographics is heavily tilted towards foreign-born:
With 27 percent of California’s total population foreign-born — or not quite 10.5 million people — the state has more immigrants numerically than any other state and the greatest proportion of its total residents who are immigrants.
Now think about West Virginia.  Guess what?
West Virginia has the lowest portion of foreign-born people at 1.4 percent of the state’s total 1.8 million residents
Hmmm ... Silicon versus coal.  It is not mere coincidence, is it?

It is not any coincidence at all.  Modern economic activities are urban-based.  So, if some states and cities are drawing more foreign-born .... then? There is "a strong relationship between greater immigrant diversity and higher productivity—in this case, wages."
Diverse immigrant populations do more than enrich a city's cultural fabric. According to geographers from the University at Buffalo and Southampton University, they also boost wages. "What we found was remarkable. In cities that are unwelcoming to immigrants, as diversity rises, people's wages either don't change, or they go up by only a small amount. In cities that are welcoming to immigrants, as diversity goes up, people's wages go up, and by a lot," said Abigail Cooke, an assistant professor of geography in UB's College of Arts and Sciences. Cooke wrote the paper with Thomas Kemeny, a UB research assistant professor and a lecturer at the University of Southampton in England. The findings were published online ahead of print in the journal Economic Geography. "It's been shown empirically that as you have more immigrants and greater diversity of immigrants in a city, people's wages also increase, which is certainly not the narrative that is often told about immigrants in our society. But this is a pretty robust finding, especially in the U.S." 
This connection has been clear for a while.  In fact, Richard Florida was pretty much able to write his ticket based on these economic geography aspects.  The "creative class" of immigrants were no different from the native creative class:
The knowledge workers, techies, and artists and other cultural creatives who made up the creative class were locating in places that had lots of high-paying jobs—or a thick labor market. They also had what I called a thick mating market—other people to meet and date—and a vibrant quality of place, with great restaurants and cafés, a music scene, and an abundance of things to do.
They were not going to West Virginia.

Florida writes:
It became increasingly clear to me that the same clustering of talent and economic assets generates a lopsided, unequal urbanism in which a relative handful of superstar cities, and a few elite neighborhoods within them, benefit while many other places stagnate or fall behind. Ultimately, the very same force that drives the growth of our cities and economy broadly also generates the divides that separate us and the contradictions that hold us back.
Which is also why trump became president:
These political cleavages ultimately stem from the far deeper economic and geographic structures of the New Urban Crisis. They are the product of our new age of winner-take-all urbanism, in which the talented and the advantaged cluster and colonize a small, select group of superstar cities, leaving everybody and everywhere else behind. Much more than a crisis of cities, the New Urban Crisis is the central crisis of our time.
The diversity of immigration promotes economic advancement ... but that advancement does not seem to reach the corners of West Virginia or Pennsylvania.  Voters could then either try to understand the complexities of the rapidly evolving global technological economy.  Or, they could simplistically find that the immigrants are at fault.  And cheer on, and vote for, a fuhrer who would point to anybody who is not white as the reason why they were falling behind in West Virginia.  They voted for that despicable human being who cared not for the logic and evidence, and who cared not for serious policies for long-term solutions to these issues.

Caption at the source:
 Donald Trump supporters pose with a Confederate flag at a campaign rally in Jacksonville, Florida