Monday, April 27, 2015

The Nepal earthquake brings out the Nero within us?

Of course, people die every day.  It will be the biggest news of all if nobody died anywhere on the planet even for one single day.  

But, when disaster strikes, I find that I  am almost always consumed by the news reports.  Fukushima, cyclone Nargis, the Indonesian earthquake ... and 9/11, Iraq War, ... and now the earthquake in Nepal.

It is strange that as individuals we continue on with our lives even when tragedies strike.  When something unfortunate happens to us, only then do we view it as an all-consuming and most-urgent issue.  As long as it--however small or huge--happens elsewhere, well, we might feel sorry for the people dead and alive in that somewhere else, but we go on with our own mundane lives.

I suppose such an approach is key to our own survival as individuals and as humankind on this planet; else, we could easily be numbed into inaction every single time something happens.  But, where does one draw the line between that selfish view of our individual existence versus a whole range of emotions for our fellow humans?

Of course, where to draw that line has been my obsession right from my teenage years.  Eleven years ago, I even wrote about it.  I concluded there that "perhaps academic life means a continuous attempt to redraw the line that separates what I teach from how I live."  I am all the more convinced about it.  And equally convinced am I that it is one frustrating attempt.  

We talk about the proverbial Nero fiddling while Rome burnt.  But, each and every one of us practices that all the time.  We know--really well, thanks to various information channels now available to us--that parts of the world are literally or metaphorically burning, but we fiddle away anyway. 

That fiddling while burning is another way of referring to the juxtapositions I referred to in the post yesterday.  

Today, from the same newspaper--the WSJ--are the following exhibits:

The WSJ has an excellent analysis of the financial impact of the quake on Nepal:


And in a different section is this opinion piece:



In the middle of the chaos in Nepal, you think the average person is wondering how awesome sex in the future will be?  

But, we continue on with our lives.  We might offer a small prayer for the suffering millions around the world and that is where we draw the line.  We humans are an interesting species, no doubt.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Why does god hate Nepal?

As I have often blogged here, living a Socratic examined life reveals a lot about our own priorities. A literal and metaphorical example came up in the context of the devastating earthquake in Nepal.  I captured this flow of tweets in my Twitter feed:


The juxtaposition of Pepsi and aspartame, and American kids and money, on either side of news about the tragedy in Nepal says a lot about the lives that we lead.  In all fairness to Vox, the Nepal news featured a lot in the tweets from that organization.  I value Vox as a news and analysis source; why else would I subscribe to that feed, right?  And, of course, WSJ tweets about all things trivial too.

Which is why I use that juxtaposition as a metaphor.  Think about some of the major events over the past few months that have terribly affected humanity.  The civil war in Syria.  Boko Haram in Nigeria. The convoluted Greek fiscal tragedy.  Ferguson and Baltimore.  The list is endless.

Caption at the source:
On Sunday, Nepalis in Bhaktapur, near the capital, Katmandu, cremate relatives killed in in the earthquake

Sure, we humans cannot be immersed in tragedies all the time and we might get tired of the bad news out there.  But, seriously, what percentage of our lives do we actually spend on the bad news?  Both in terms of time as well as money.  Or, let me put it this way: should we not at least match the time and money that we spend entertaining ourselves with time and money on the unfortunate situations that are all around us?  I don't mean our work time, how much ever that is entertaining to us.  I wish there were a meter of sorts--a meter that lets us watch sports for an hour, for instance, only after we spent at least half that time reading/watching in-depth news and reports about some of the issues that trouble fellow humans.

I suppose this rant is nothing but a secular version of the old religious ideas of caring for others, donating to help, not to be preoccupied with entertainment, and more.  But then most believers, of whatever gods they fancy, have long since walked away from those teachings, while this atheist continues to pound on those old-fashioned ideas!  Such is life :(

Just as I was writing that previous sentence, an emailed popped up--it was about Nepal:


If you feel like donating, then here is a list that the NY Times has put together.

PS: Why the title, you ask?  Click here for the answer.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

When women say no ... troubles ahead for India's young males

A couple of years ago, when visiting with the folks, an extended family relative came by to spend some time with my parents.  As is often the case, the elders inquired about her daughter's marriage--whether there were any proposals in the works.

Her reply fascinated me.  Something I would not have imagined.  Her daughter was very particular that she did not want any "boy" who was outside India or had plans to work outside India for a long time.

Such a stand by a young woman, an IT professional herself, would have been next to impossible a few years ago.  For one, not wanting to live abroad for a long time,  For another, and more importantly, a young woman with an education and career holds the trump cards.  Unlike the old days when women were at the mercy of the prospective groom's and his parents' fancies, this young woman clearly laid out the rules for this matrimonial sequence.

I was reminded of that encounter when I read this in the Economist.  About the marriage squeeze in India (and in China as well.)  Forget the causes for now (those are discussed in the essay); one of the main causes I had recently discussed in this post.

The following chart should interest you:


The chart on the left is a projection of how many men will be around waiting to get married; more men than women.

How much more?
Mr Guilmoto calculates that, in China, for every 100 single women expected to marry in 2050-54 there could be as many as 186 single men (see chart); in India in 2060-64 the peak could be higher: 191 men for each 100 women. This assumes the sex ratio at birth does not change. But even if the ratio were to return to normal in 2020 (which is unlikely), the marriage squeeze would still be severe, peaking at 160 in China in 2030, and at 164 in India 20 years later.
A marriage squeeze of this intensity would be unknown in China and India and extraordinarily rare anywhere in history.
Quite a few bachelors not because it would be their choice to remain unmarried.

The effects will not be felt uniformly across the economic levels, however:
In India and China, women tend to “marry up”—illiterate women marry men with primary education; primary-school women marry men with secondary education; and so on. As a result, men at the bottom of the pyramid, and women at the apex, find it especially hard to find spouses. So the marriage squeeze does not affect everyone equally. It disproportionately hits illiterate men and does not do much to help graduate women
Which also means that the young woman from two years ago, given that she is yet to marry, now inches closer to a risk that she could become too highly qualified and too old for the traditional marriage process, especially because marriages are not arranged when the male is younger than the female.

Interesting complications, yes.