Friday, February 28, 2014

I am a wuss even at supporting the anti-war cause?

When driving back from work, if I leave campus during a certain time block, I can expect to see a dedicated anti-war group standing on the curb by the courthouse and waving signs advocating for peace.  As I pass them, I sound the horn once or twice and wave out to them.  These are no spring chicken, but, dedicated as they are, rain or fog or the sun never stops them, it seems.

The older I get, the more I am becoming anti-war and anti-violence. I suspect it is because I understand way more now than ever before how fragile life is.  When young, too, I was against war and violence, but I had no idea about the fragility of life. The commitment to peace is, thus, a lot deeper than it ever was.

Yesterday, when I left the parking lot, I knew I would see them. The pacifist in me smiled at the thought of waving at like-minded people.

I was about a mile away from the courthouse when a vehicle changed lanes and ended up ahead of me. The licence plate caught my attention--it was a "veteran" plate.

As we neared the courthouse, I now had a serious dilemma.  Will it be ok to honk and wave in support of the anti-war stance when driving right behind a veteran?  If it is the veteran driving the vehicle, as opposed to some other family member using the vehicle, then wouldn't it be rude?  Should I worry about the veteran's feelings when, after all, this was a public space? What if the veteran is also anti-war?

I told a friend the other day that sometimes I want my brain to shut down. It seems to be always at work. I am not sure how good or harmful that is. In this case, too, I would have preferred if my brain hadn't started analyzing all these and I had simply sounded the horn and moved on.

But, I am what I am, I suppose!

I drew parallel with the group on the curb. My hand came off the horn. I merely waved out at them. I drove on.

Does life always have to be this complicated?

The day ended with the nerdy me catching up on my reading. And, this chart on the US defense expenditure fed my anti-war feelings:

I will remember this chart the next time around and sound the horn four times to make up for the lost time!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

This old prof worries that he is merely a brick in the wall!

"I don't get no respect" I laughingly tell students. This punchline that I have freely borrowed from Rodney Dangerfield is to mask my nagging feelings of whether or not what I do is worth a nickel.

As it gets to the final phase of the term, every term, this inner feeling gets larger and larger because of the reality that I might never see most of the students again in any of my classes.  And rarely ever even on campus.  Would they have been better off had they not taken my classes?  Did the classes I teach add any value at all?  If the same class were taught by somebody else and not by me, would it have made any difference to the value (not) added?

Misery loves company--perhaps that is, also, why we write!  We hope to be a part of a support group where we can let it out. Yesterday, this essay was therapeutic:
For a few months, we are front and center in our students’ lives—or so we hope. They are the focus of our courses, our assignments, our examinations, our office hours, our meditations in the car ride home. We encourage them. We try to fill the gaps in their education. In some cases, we try to resolve the unique challenges that they pose to us (as well as to themselves), psychologically as well as academically. We modify our lesson plans and rework our syllabi. ...
And then it all comes to an end. Students leave, move on, transfer, graduate, and, quite often, we never see or hear from them again. And we are OK with that.
For us, the process starts over, and we soon find ourselves caught up in new stories, while the previous ones remain largely unresolved. ... We fill in the blanks about them based upon what we know (or think we know), and tell ourselves that their stories ended the way that we hoped.
This starting and stopping every term is often taxing--I never can figure out how much I want to be emotionally invested in the students.  What if I get carried away, and begin to even worry about their welfare, when they couldn't care?  What if I erred the other way around by not recognizing the behavior of students who want to cultivate a collaborative relationship with me?  It is exhausting to spend the energy and to then never know how the stories unfolded, and meanwhile having to start all over again with another group of students.
 I want to believe that what I do in the classroom matters on some level, that it has helped to shape their sense of the world and is responsible, in some small way, for their sense of self and belonging. 
Thus, with faith that it all somehow matters, we do what we do.  And learn to deal with the disappointments. And get excited when that rare student provides an affirming answer to whether it was worth a nickel.

No point talking about all these to friends who are dealing with way bigger problems in life. The age that I am in means that friends have their own problems and they are all much weightier than this for me to bug them!  Thus, I was more keen on listening to those far more pressing problems over dinner that a friend had cooked. And along with dinner I got a gift as well--a book of poems by Oregon's own William Stafford. I paused at a page; it seemed like the cosmos too, wanted to address my Dangerfield Complex:
Old Prof
By William Stafford
He wants to go north. His life has become
observations about what others
 have said, and he wants to go north. Up there
far enough you might hear the world, not
what people say. Maybe a road will discover
those reasons that the real travelers had.
Sometimes he looks at the map above
Moose Jaw and thinks about silence up there.
Late at night he opens an atlas
and follows the last road, then hovers
at a ghost town, letting the snow have whatever
it wants. Silence extends farther
and farther, till dawn finds the same page
 and nothing has moved all night, except
that his head has bowed and rested on his arms.
Rousing to get started, he has his coffee.
He sets forth toward class. Instead of the north,
he lets an aspirin whisper through his veins.
I don't feel the ton of bricks anymore. Maybe only a few!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The world is not your oyster. It is your life.

"Whatever happened to him?" I wrote yesterday in an email to two graduate school friends of mine.  The "him" was a graduate school professor of ours, and my dissertation adviser--Harry Richardson.

That was yesterday, and here I am reminded about him yet again because of the story in the NY Times about Merle Haggard and the old boxcar that was home to the young Haggard.

Towards the end of my graduate school existence, my life was transitioning from Los Angeles to Bakersfield.  Harry, who rarely ever talked anything personal with me--I am not sure if that was his nature or whether he kept me at length--talked about how much he loved the Bakersfield Sound.

If it felt odd, there was a logical reason--Harry was from the UK. I am from India, and was moving to a town called Bakersfield. And the Brit tells me he about his fondness for the country music of Bakersfield.

Merle Haggard was a big name, of course, along with Buck Owens, in this genre of Bakersfield Sound.  I could never get really into it; different strokes for different folks!  But, the intellectual part in the stories of the Dust Bowl migration, the migrants, the condescension towards the "Okies," the very different lifestyle in Oildale--with the zipcode of 93308--fascinated me. From the bluffs where our street ended, across at a distance, beyond the oil pumping jacks, was Oildale.

Merle Haggard grew up there.
Like much of the music associated with the Bakersfield sound, an unvarnished form of country that thrived in honky-tonks here in the 1950s and ‘60s, Mr. Haggard’s is rooted in the making-do values of the Dust Bowl. His parents migrated from Oklahoma in 1935 and, like thousands of Okies, they sought refuge in Oildale, a ragtag collection of camps and settlements on the outskirts of Bakersfield.
One of the advantages in migrating and travelling is this: we develop attachments to places that otherwise are mere factoids. Had I not lived in Bakersfield, I might have even skipped the NY Times story, unless I was into country music and the Bakersfield Sound.  Having been to Tanzania means that any news story about the country makes me pause and read that. No wonder then that Mark Twain noted this about travel:
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.
Thus, reading about Merle Haggard's old home stirs a feeling of familiarity.  I get it.  I can also understand why there is the feeling of urgency to preserve his old boxcar home:
Though occupied, the house today is nearly ruined, sagging under a tangle of vines. The campaign to “Save Hag’s Boxcar” is a recognition of the role of the house and the railroad in Mr. Haggard’s career, as well as a nod to the collective ingenuity of Depression-era craftsmen like his father.
Yes, it is about Haggard.  But it is also about the migrants. Of the conditions they faced. Of their fierce determination.
Boxcar houses were not uncommon during the Depression, as chronicled by Works Project Administration photographers like Arthur Rothstein. The story of how the Haggards acquired the car offers a glimpse of the era’s widespread prejudice toward Okies, though the singer’s own pride in his origins would later inspire his 1969 hit, “Okie from Muskogee.”
The family learned of the boxcar from a fellow church member, who asked James Haggard if he thought he could turn a surplus refrigerated train car she owned into a home, Mrs. Rea recalled. “She asked my daddy where he was from, and when he said ‘Oklahoma,’ she said, ‘I hear Oklahomans don’t work.’ Well, his blue eyes met her blue eyes and he said, ‘I’ve never heard of one who didn’t.'”
I suppose life is about collecting such stories and relating them all. Like how an Indian and a Brit can be connected by a thread that also ties in with Bakersfield and Merle Haggard.  Life is simply fascinating!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Are you worried about Englishnisation?

I did not invent the word Englishnisation:
There are some obvious reasons why multinational companies want a lingua franca. Adopting English makes it easier to recruit global stars (including board members), reach global markets, assemble global production teams and integrate foreign acquisitions. Such steps are especially important to companies in Japan, where the population is shrinking.
There are less obvious reasons too. Rakuten’s boss, Hiroshi Mikitani, argues that English promotes free thinking because it is free from the status distinctions which characterise Japanese and other Asian languages. Antonella Mei-Pochtler of the Boston Consulting Group notes that German firms get through their business much faster in English than in laborious German. English can provide a neutral language in a merger: when Germany’s Hoechst and France’s Rhône-Poulenc combined in 1999 to create Aventis, they decided it would be run in English, in part to avoid choosing between their respective languages.
Tsedal Neeley of Harvard Business School says that “Englishnisation”, a word she borrows from Mr Mikitani, can stir up a hornet’s nest of emotions.
I told you that it was not me!
businesses worldwide are facing up to the reality that English is the language on which the sun never sets. Still, Englishnisation is not easy, even if handled well: the most proficient speakers can still struggle to express nuance and emotion in a foreign tongue. For this reason, native English speakers often assume that the spread of their language in global corporate life confers an automatic advantage on them. In fact it can easily encourage them to rest on their laurels. Too many of them (especially Englishmen, your columnist keeps being told) risk mistaking their fluency in meetings for actual accomplishments.
We are really off to an empire where the sun never sets. All from a tiny island that is barely the size of Madagascar!  As I noted in this post, the British Empire disrupted and severed history and traditions, and it continues on with the increasing adoption of English as the language of commerce.

Slowly, this Englishnisation will trigger a greater awareness of the local languages. A couple of years ago, during the extended sabbatical stay in India, I bought at the Chennai Book Fair tshirts that had Tamil lettering.  When I wore them, boy did it attract attention from the autorickshaw driver to waiters at the restaurant!

Sadly, the business model of those tshirt makers didn't survive the brutal dynamics of the marketplace. But, they were on to something, as evidenced by this report in The Hindu:
There are so many reasons why quirky Tamil T-shirts are doing well these days, whether it is the increasing love for the language or adding a local flavour to one’s wardrobe. With more number of youngsters getting into this business, it is evolving from being just a fashion statement into a movement with everything from movie dialogues to Subramania Bharati’s poetry being flaunted on colourful, contemporary tees.
They sell because:
These tees, say the entrepreneurs, help people connect to the language and instil a sense of pride.

As long as it is not French that is imposed on us! ;)

Monday, February 24, 2014

A day in the fifth stage of a man's life

If all the world is really a stage, then there are also costumes that go with the roles we play.  Today it was black trousers, black shirt, black shoes, and a necktie.

Wearing a tie to work always draws a comment or two. I was ready with a couple of responses.

Sure enough, one student said, "looks like you are coming from a funeral, Dr. Khé."

Later, another student poked his head in and was pleasantly surprised with my outfit. And wanted an explanation.

"I have two that I can offer. Which one do you want? Option A, or Option B?"

"I'll go with B."

"If I get fired, all I have to do is remove my tie and take up that waiter job."

"Ok, what's A?"

"I am the Indian Johnny Cash."

"I like A" he said with a chuckle.

On my way back home, I had to swing by the grocery store to buy coffee. Else, I faced the horror of waking up to drinking decaf!

It was the chatty one at the counter. I knew she would have plenty to say about my attire. After all, it is very rarely do I ever go to the store in my work clothes, and that too with what I had on today.

"Do you always go so handsome to work?" she asked with a grin on her face.  "I wouldn't have known you even have such clothes."

I laughed.

"A coffee emergency, which is why I came here straight from work."

"Oh, good. I thought you had a night job or something that I didn't know about."

I laughed again.

I reached home.

I changed into a different costume for the next scene.

And now, I have to rehearse my lines for tomorrow's act.

 If only life always happened the way we script them out!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Why poetry? Who cares, right?

I read the poems in the New Yorker.  Sometimes, I even understand them!  And every once in a while, I head to my favorite poetry website and read poems there.

What is so great about poetry?

The prosaic person that I have been, and I am, have no competence to address this question and, hence, will excerpt from an essay by Cynthia Ozick:
Poetry itself, because it is written, because it is spoken, because it creates a world in the mind, tends to the scriptural—"the heterocosm," Harold Bloom calls it in an essay on Yeats, "or the poem as an alternative world to that of nature." But poetry also aspirates the given and actual cosmos, and rounds the mundane earth—mundane yet not profane. Here is Charles Wright, fashioning a scripture of plum blossoms:
Belief in transcendence,
belief in something beyond belief,
Is what the blossoms solidify
In their fall through the two worlds—
The imaging of the invisible, the slow dream of metaphor,

Sanction our going up and our going down, our days

And the lives we enfold inside them,
our yes and yes.
I like that description of the heterocosm.

Ozick adds:
What is strange about poetry is what is most manifest: not so much the unpredictable surge of its music as the words of which it is made. Everyone uses words; from minute to minute, from a million larynxes, a deluge of words falls on the air. Every word has its own history, and is a magnet for cultural accretion. A poet has the same access to the language-pool as a tailor, an archaeologist, or a felon. How strange that, scooping up words from the selfsame pool as everyone else, a poet will reconfigure, startle, and restart those words! How strange that what we call the norms of life—sociology, anthropology, the common sense of common observations of nature: call it whatever you like—how strange that all these habits and pursuits to which poetry is said to be irrelevant are precisely what poetry has the magisterial will and the intimate attentiveness to decode!

And to think that understanding the cartoon below will require at least a vague familiarity with this!
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
 So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Friday, February 21, 2014

I will walk home alone with the deep alone

A friend says that I am a gregarious hermit.  I suppose Volatire would have quipped that I am neither gregarious nor a hermit ;)

My father joked more than a couple of times that I have an ashram in Oregon from where I engage in my philosophical rambling.  I stay away from that description only because of the horror stories of a few years ago when a bearded philosopher from India set up an ashram here in Oregon.

But, there are times when I wonder whether it is indeed a hermit existence. There is, I suppose, at least a wee bit of truth in the hermit and ashram descriptions. I am, indeed, amazed by the mystery of it all.  Be it the river or the goslings or Ukraine or the computer, my instincts lead me to think about all of them.

A long time ago, back in my teenage years, I remember reading in one of Bernard Shaw's writings that most people do not think anymore--so much so that if one thinks even for five minutes, then that person is considered a philosopher.  Thus, a philosopher I am.

And then when I blog about a poem like this one, well, I can't really run away from the hermit in an ashram identity, can I?
I'm Going to Start Living Like a Mystic
By Edward Hirsch

Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater 
and walking across the park in a dusky snowfall. 

The trees stand like twenty-seven prophets in a field, 
each a station in a pilgrimage—silent, pondering. 

Blue flakes of light falling across their bodies 
are the ciphers of a secret, an occultation. 

I will examine their leaves as pages in a text 
and consider the bookish pigeons, students of winter. 

I will kneel on the track of a vanquished squirrel 
and stare into a blank pond for the figure of Sophia. 

I shall begin scouring the sky for signs 
as if my whole future were constellated upon it. 

I will walk home alone with the deep alone, 
a disciple of shadows, in praise of the mysteries.
It is a fascinatingly mysterious world. Enjoy it.

Visit with me in my ashram--typical of the modern day conditions, there is an entrance fee though ;)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Maidan. A word. Many countries. Many memories.

Back when I was a kid--in the old prehistoric days when even having a phone, a landline that is, was rare, the மைதானம்  (maidan) was my source of entertainment in more ways than one.  The odd cricket games that I have played there were fun because I was part of a group, and the memories were not because I made any significant contribution with the ball, or the bat, or on the field--after all, I sucked then, and suck now, in sports.  But, hey, our fond memories are not always because we were the star attraction, are they!

The maidan near our home was even more entertaining for me because of the political rallies that were held there. With no television or video games or any of the modern ways in which we amuse ourselves, and with my natural attraction to the political theater, I had more than my fill of the dramatic entertainment from the maidan. I chuckle even now as I recall the local politicians issuing threats to Reagan, who had become the president towards the final months of my existence in that small town. The American MGR, as they referred to him sometimes.

If I had been asked about the word "maidan"--then, or even until a few weeks ago--I would have replied that it is an Indian usage for an open space, like a playground or a meeting space. And you would have laughed at my ignorance and would have pointed out that it might be a word that is used in India, but it has its origins elsewhere.  So, I will save you the trouble and admit to be being an ignoramus.  And also tell you how I found this out.  I tell ya, every day is a revelation of what a remarkable idiot I am!

A few weeks ago, as the situation in Ukraine started worsening, our local newspaper featured an op-ed by one with extensive Ukrainian connections. A friend followed that up with an email that included plenty of photographs as well.  In all these, I noticed the word  "Maidan" being used for what was always referred to in the news as Independence Square.

The usage of maidan in Ukraine intrigued me.  As with anything, from the silly to the profound, Google came to my rescue.  And Wikipedia informed me that "in most cases derived from the Arabic term for "square."

So, a word derived from the Arabic was the one we had been using even in my part of the old country, and the word was also being used in Ukraine.  How awesome is that!  Kiev's Independence Square is Maidan Nezalezhnosti:
Since the start of Ukraine's independence movement in 1990, the square has been the traditional place for political rallies, including for large-scale radical protest campaigns: the 1989 student "Revolution on Granite", the 2001 "Ukraine without Kuchma", the 2004 Orange Revolution, and the ongoing Euromaidan.[2] Besides, the Maidan is a traditional point for several non-political events such as the city's Christmas Tree and the various festivities annually held on the Ukraine Independence Day and Kiev City Day.
I wish that news reports didn't use the translated name of Independence Square and instead reported about the events at Maidan Nezalezhnosti.  

Ukraine flashed on my radar back in those prehistoric days in the old country when I, like many in my cohort, read The Odessa File.  (The idiot I have always been, I first thought it was all about the Nazis in Ukraine!)  Years later, my friend went to study in the Soviet Union, and I have a vague memory of one his letters, which were always lengthy, describing his visit to the Black Sea one summer and noting that the Ukrainian girls were pretty. (No, he is not married to an Ukrainian; his wife is Czech!)

A couple of years ago, when a friend brought over a visiting Ukrainian to have dinner at my place, I showed her the gift that my friend gave me when I was in the final stages of the undergraduate program.  She confirmed that it was, indeed, Ukrainian. 

Another good friend from my graduate school days, who died a few years ago, was married to an Ukrainian--he was from Iran. A few years ago, I had a student with parents who were from the old USSR, and one parent was an Ukrainian. Another student not only had Ukrainian roots, but her great-granndparents had even spent a few years in Hyderabad--yes, in India--as they fled one of the many chaotic upheavals in Ukraine.

Back when I was playing in the maidan near home, I would never have imagined so many connections with a country that I have never visited. Yet, here I am. And trying to keep up with the developments in Ukraine because, well, it is kind of personal and not merely intellectual an interest.

We will wish for peace in the maidan in Kiev and throughout Ukraine.  

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

From nothing came infinity

What was there before the Big Bang?  Did all these come out of something, or out of nothing at all?

Won't it be awesome if humans figured this out?  That question has probably been driving us humans crazy ever since we started to think. How did we get here is, to me, far more exciting and challenging, and mysterious compared to why we are here. When it comes to the why, I am far more tempted to explain it with George Carlin's answer!  

As Stephen Hawking observed (at least, in my understanding of his book) time itself began only with that biggest of bangs the universe has ever known. What was there before means that even the word before does not apply--there was no time prior to the Bang.  Aaaaah!  But, dammit, where did the Bang come from?

We may never, ever find out. Isn't that a shame!  A tragedy. I am with Neil DeGrasse Tyson--I would love it it if some superior life form on some other planet knew the answer and could tell us--but, I would probably be dead before that happens, and won't do me any good.

Other than the curiosity aspect of it all, does it matter even one bit whether or not we figure out the cosmos before that Singularity?  But, dammit, what an awesome thing it will be to crack that puzzle.

Different religions and traditions have their own narratives on how all these came about. Growing up as a curious kid in a traditional, Hindu Brahmin family, I got more than the typical dose of the religious and philosophical explanations compared to most, I would think.  It was that curiosity that led me to "shunyam."  Shunyam is not zero.  Zero is something specific. It is neither a positive number nor a negative number.  Zero, thus, represents a value.  It is "poojyam."

Shunyam is more like null. Empty. Vaccuum. I have a vague recollection of a Vedic chant that was about this Shunyam. But then maybe I am imagining it.

The Rig Veda has a wonderful hymn that deals with Creation, and this site has a translation by Wendy Doniger--yes, that same controversial Doniger.  Set aside the controversy, and focus on the content here:
There was neither non-existence nor existence then.
There was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond.
What stirred?
In whose protection?
Was there water, bottlemlessly deep?

There was neither death nor immortality then.
There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day.
That One breathed, windless, by its own impulse.
Other than that there was nothing beyond.

Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning,
with no distinguishing sign, all this was water.
The life force that was covered with emptiness,
that One arose through the power of heat.

Desire came upon that One in the beginning,
that was the first seed of mind.
Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom
found the bond of existence and non-existence.

Their cord was extended across.
Was there below?
Was there above?
There were seed-placers, there were powers.
There was impulse beneath, there was giving forth above.

Who really knows?
Who will here proclaim it?
Whence was it produced?
Whence is this creation?
The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe.
Who then knows whence it has arisen?

Whence this creation has arisen
- perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not -
the One who looks down on it,
in the highest heaven, only He knows
or perhaps even He does not know.
I love the "perhaps even He does not know."

The old tradition in the old country recognized that from that nothing came about the infinite. While the world salutes India for inventing the zero, I am not sure if the world outside of India was familiar with the concept of infinity either.

The rhythmic and mellifluous chant of this couplet is a sheer joy to listen to in a real world setting:
puranam adah, purnam idam, purnat purnam udacyate
purnasya purnam adaya purnam evavasisyate.
which translates to:
That is infinite, this is infinite;
From That infinite this infinite comes.
From That infinite, this infinite removed or added;
Infinite remains infinite
Of course, the infinite that is referred to here is way more than mathematical concept, and if often interpreted through hours and hour of lectures that are devoted to each and every word in the couplet.

What always has impressed me, and continues to impress me, despite the atheist that I am, is that the Vedantic text and discourses in the old country made that wonderful and powerful link between nothing and infinity, and attempted to provide a narrative on how everything came about.

Here we are, a couple of thousand years later, struggling to figure out a narrative that is not merely based on conjectures but on evidence.  It is a frustrating project, I would think, to those in the quest for the answer via evidence and for people like me who would like to understand that evidence.  But, hey, that quest is not for nothing. Wait, it is for nothing!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Where do women have curly hair?

When I had a tough time recalling a student from the high school days, I posted a question about that classmate in our Facebook group.  "She had curly hair" noted another classmate.  I can't even recall who had curly hair and who had straight hair.  All I know is that they all had black hair, given that there were no blondes and redheads in that part of the world!

Later, I remembered a comedian (I think it was Mouli?) in an old Tamil movie playing on this theme of curly hair.
He asks his friend, "where do women have curly hair?"
The friend is shocked with what seemed like a question that was about the pubics.
The comedian then says, "in Africa."

Which then got me wondering, well, why is the public pubic hair curly? Risking doing this search using my work computer, I went ahead and asked Google that.

The BBC says:
Pubic hair is quite different from hair on the head. Instead of forming a round shape, the hair is oval. It is always short and has a coarse and curly texture. The growth period for pubic hair is short. Within six months, the hair follicle dies and the hair falls out. Pubic hair never gets a chance to grow longer.
But, it does not explain why the pubes are curly.  So, off to the Scientific American.  I am stumped even with this piece of information:
After all, we appear to be the only species of primate (perhaps the only species, period) that bears this type of strange hair around our genitals.
I would have thought that the chimps would have too, especially when they have a lot more hair all over their body. Aren't we special!
[Robin] Weiss speculates that one of the main reasons that human beings uniquely evolved a “thick bush of wiry hair” around their genital regions is its visual signaling of sexual maturation. (It also likely serves as a primitive odor trap and aids in the wafting of human pheromones.) So pubic hair acts as a sort of blinking marquee, indicating for prospective sexual partners that mating with that individual could be potentially a fruitful exercise in genetic perpetuity. Weiss believes that the advertisement of our fecundity suggests that pubic hair would have arisen only after we became “naked apes,” causing it to stand out so vividly against the backdrop of an otherwise hairless body.
No kidding!  We shed our hirsute appearance, became hairless, and in the process grew pubic hair?  Evolution happens with humor, too, eh!
It’s not entirely clear why pubic hair is so distinctly thick, short and, usually, curly, but a friend of mine, the biologist Anne Clark from SUNY-Binghamton, did point out to me last week (while we were hiking on Kapiti Island in New Zealand, which made it all the more memorable) that anything else would be rather impractical. To have long, flowing, stylish locks growing down there wouldn’t be terribly convenient, especially given the logistics of sexual intercourse.
Seriously?  This is the best explanation we have on why pubic hair is curly?

Oh well. Forget it then. If even the Scientific American does not have a quick and easy explanation!

Do we at least know why the hair on the head curls?  Slate explains with a physics lesson!

How on earth did we handle such curiosities before Google and the internet?

Monday, February 17, 2014

The lotus and the downward dog

A few years ago, when the luxury of a dual-income household afforded me a gym membership, which I rarely used anyway, I went to one of the yoga classes there. It felt strange that I had never cared for yoga back when I was growing up in the very country that was the homeland for yoga, but I was at a yoga class in a land halfway around the world that was now home to me.

The teacher was a white woman. Of course. And before the class began, she had us do some breathing exercises with the sound of "om" in the background. And ended the class with a "namaste." I could not understand why she could not conduct a yoga class that was focused on the exercises without all the om and the namaste.  I never went back!

Yoga is big business here in the US, despite all the om and namaste:
Across America, students, stressed-out young professionals, CEOs and retirees are among those who have embraced yoga, fueling a $27 billion industry with more than 20 million practitioners -- 83 percent of them women.
As Ramesh humorously noted a few months ago, the industry is not merely about the teachers and asanas, but also about the yoga gear:
What foxes me is this. Who on earth wants to pay $ 92 for a "Om pant".  Do yoga by all means, but concentrate on , well, the yoga. Does it matter an iota whether your pant is "om" or "not om" ?? 
So, how did this yoga craze begin?  In a review essay, William Dalrymple writes about a whole bunch of stuff that is simply way above my head--damn these smart people!  He notes there:
The Sanskrit word yoga means “union” and is etymologically linked to the English word “yoke.” Its earliest occurrence in the Rig Veda, which dates from the second millennium BCE when both the Pyramids and Stonehenge were still in use, links the word to the rig with which war chariots were yoked to horses; by the early centuries AD the same word is being used to convey the idea of the body and the senses being yoked and reined in so as to move toward the Absolute.
It is possible that the oldest image in Indian art shows a yogi in meditation: one of the Indus Valley seals dug up at Mohenjo Daro by Sir John Marshall in 1931, dating from between 2600 and 1900 BC, shows a cross-legged figure that Marshall interpreted to be Shiva as Mahayogi and Lord of the Beasts. This interpretation has been questioned by some scholars, but the Vedas, which date from maybe five hundred years after the Indus Valley seal, already contain references to flying long-haired sages that indicate even then the presence of a mystical tradition related to the world of the yogis.
I had no idea that yoga and yoke would be examples of the Indo-Latin family tree for languages. Something new every single day!
there has always been a clear duality visible in the objectives of the yogis. Some were focused entirely on the interior: on breathing exercises and mastery of the body as a route to self-understanding and spiritual liberation. Others, however, were clearly searching for the magical tantric powers that they believed yoga could unleash. There are hints of this tension already in the Yoga Sutras where Patanjali outlines the route to union with the Absolute, while making it clear that an accomplished yogi can perform all sorts of useful tricks in this life: flying, transmigrating, reading other people’s minds, and even defying death itself.
One interpretation of the Buddha's life that I recall is that he went through years of living the life of a yogi from that physical, body route.  The extreme rigor he put the body through as the route to self-realization didn't work though.

Even now there are yogis in plenty in India who practice that extreme-yoga, which always makes me wonder if an atheist will willingly engage in twisting self into a pretzel and denying oneself of food and water for days.

I am far more comfortable with the wisdom from my favorite yogi of all, Yogi Berra, who said you can observe a lot by watching. I will watch those doing yoga, especially when 83 percent of the yoga students are women ;)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

You had a so-so day? All the more why you should celebrate it.

It felt like a spring day, though the temperature was mostly only in the high 40s.  But, it felt like spring because the weather often alternated between light to heavy rain and sunny blue sky just like it typically does in April and May.  And, mostly in sync with the weather, the traffic also alternated between speeds above the speed limit when sunny, and slower when rainy.

I, for sure, slowed down whenever it started raining. It is a case of once-bitten twice-shy. Even though it was a few years ago, I can even now so vividly recall being catapulted off the freeway at a pretty good speed, when the car lost traction.  In that fraction of time, all I could think was "it is ok if I die, but I don't want to be a vegetable."  And then the car struck a pole and came to a stop. The radio continued to blare.  I checked myself and not a damage to me. A lot of injuries to my car, which the aut repair shop took care of. Since then, my joke has been that both the car and the driver are damaged goods though we look awesome from the outside!

I am now a lot more respectful of the rain and snow and anything else.  I, thus, slow down when I think it is a must.  And, today, I had to more than slow down--I had to come to a stop.

Because, there was an accident on the road.

A vehicle was lying upside down in the median space.  Two ambulance personnel had strapped a person on the gurney and were getting ready to load up the ambulance. The highway patrol officers were talking with a driver of a car that was parked by the upside down vehicle.

And then my life resumed at normal speeds.

But, to the one in the gurney, if the person is alive, normal will be resumed only after a while.

I suppose that a minute or two before the vehicle rolled over, the driver could have been having a normal day. Perhaps an exciting day it was. Or, perhaps, he was complaining to himself or to somebody else on the phone about his dull and boring life. And then shit happened.  It was not a normal day by any means--if that person is alive to tell the story of whatever it was that happened.

With every passing year--well, even with every passing day--I understand more and more how fragile life is. The physical fragility. And then there is that emotional fragility. It is almost like we were born with a sticker, invisible however--fragile: handle with care.

But, humans that we are, we not only do not care for our own respective fragility, we even treat other lives with utter disregard.  We toss aside the emotions of others. We yell, scream, and curse at others. We cause physical harm to strangers, friends, family.

Apparently we need to be asked on a daily basis: which part of fragile don't you understand?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Just burn the damn books. Who needs them anyway!

Fahrenheit 451 is one of my favorite books that I like to discuss with students.  In my initial years of teaching it seemed like quite a few students were aware of the book.  Now, it is increasingly rare for a student to know what I am referring to.  And it worries me all the more that we are getting closer and closer to the society that Ray Bradbury described in that profound story.

Back in the day, it was relatively easy to know which books would make me think more about life, and which ones would merely entertain me. I loved those potboilers, too.  But, perhaps it is because I am getting old that I worry that everywhere I turn it is nothing but potboilers that are read, if at all books are being read. 

Reading this New Yorker essay by George Packer on a rainy and cold winter day does not help either.  Maybe I should not have thought about reading and, instead, as in Fahrenheit 451, I should have simply been watching television.  After all, it is reading that makes one agitated and depressed, right?

Packer's essay is all about Amazon, which Jeff Bezos started as an online bookseller. One might think that Amazon did wonders to book selling and reading, by making available a gazillion titles at the click of a mouse button and at low prices, and with the Kindle reader that gets a reader the book within minutes of buying it online.  One would think that such a democratization, where the middlemen are axed out and one could even self-publish books, would be nothing but a win for the consumer. Right, George?
Bezos is right: gatekeepers are inherently élitist, and some of them have been weakened, in no small part, because of their complacency and short-term thinking. But gatekeepers are also barriers against the complete commercialization of ideas, allowing new talent the time to develop and learn to tell difficult truths. When the last gatekeeper but one is gone, will Amazon care whether a book is any good? 
In the old model, publishers, editors, and consumers too, cared about what was being printed and read. An army of people, so to speak, celebrated the good quality ones, and people like me then knew that Fahrenheit 451 was a must-read. Now, Amazon has been nuking those elitist gatekeepers.  "Will Amazon care whether a book is any good" as long as the widget it sells brings in the dollars and cents?
Several editors, agents, and authors told me that the money for serious fiction and nonfiction has eroded dramatically in recent years; advances on mid-list titles—books that are expected to sell modestly but whose quality gives them a strong chance of enduring—have declined by a quarter. These are the kinds of book that particularly benefit from the attention of editors and marketers, and that attract gifted people to publishing, despite the pitiful salaries. Without sufficient advances, many writers will not be able to undertake long, difficult, risky projects. Those who do so anyway will have to expend a lot of effort mastering the art of blowing their own horn. “Writing is being outsourced, because the only people who can afford to write books make money elsewhere—academics, rich people, celebrities,” Colin Robinson, a veteran publisher, said. “The real talent, the people who are writers because they happen to be really good at writing—they aren’t going to be able to afford to do it.”
I have had a love-hate relationship with Amazon, as I do with most corporations, for a number of reasons, including the worry that its model might really push us into the dark world where nobody reads books and even if they do, well, Fifty Shades of Grey is no Fahrenheit 451.

Unlike the old elitist gatekeepers of this literary world,
A former Amazon employee who worked in the Kindle division said that few of his colleagues in Seattle had a real interest in books: “You never heard people say, ‘Hey, what are you reading?’ 
Maybe it is that I am fast becoming an old curmudgeon. But, I like to believe that I am worried about all these not because I am getting old but because these are issues we--as a people--are not thinking through.
And so the big question is not just whether Amazon is bad for the book industry; it’s whether Amazon is bad for books.
Do us all a favor: get yourself a paper-copy of Fahrenheit 451 and read it. Now.


Friday, February 14, 2014

A Valentine's Day note to amorous undergraduate females. Heck, to males too!

To mark the occasion (!) I am re-posting this from last year, which itself was a re-post--maybe I should make this an annual tradition ;)

Am re-posting here most of an entry from two years ago.  That was in the context of male students rapidly falling behind their female counterparts, and universities like the one where I teach having a 60/40 split with men in a shrinking minority.  I think it will work in the context of Valentine's Day too :)
The author ends with this postscript of a Note to the amorous undergraduate female reading this
When you scan the campus and realize what your choices are, I know it is tempting to open a vein and slide into a warm bath. But here’s the thing: you may be an average undergraduate female, but there are above-average undergraduate males out there who are nearly your equal. They are out there. It’s just that you outnumber them about 100 to 1. Still, that’s no reason to open a vein and slide into a warm bath.
It is funny, every single time I read it--well, twisted humor, I know :)

When I was relatively new in my Oregon stint, one bright female student, "K," came to talk with me about her law school plans.  I asked her if she was free enough--without any significant other--to go wherever she wanted to.  Her reply was funny then, and is funny now, but is also a reflection of these gender issues.  "K" replied that she hadn't met anybody even her equal, let alone being better than her, and so it was all the more the reason for her to go far away from this part of the world.  I wonder whether she did find her soul-mate in graduate school.

I wonder how I came across to young girls/women when I was in high school/college.  No thanks to me, did a few young ones prefer to bash their heads against the wall than talk to me?  Or, was I so insignificant that I didn't even blip in their radars?  I ought to check with my old high school classmates, eh!  But then, what if they ask, "Sriram, who?" hehehe ;)

Valentine's Day greetings, y'all!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Don't worry, be happy!

Rarely does a day seem to pass without a politician or an opinion‐maker commenting about the dim prospects for the younger generation to lead a life that won’t be as bright as their parents’. Such a perspective is only partially correct, at best.

The future‐being‐bleak commentary is in the context of employment and earnings. That is, indeed, not off the mark. Thanks to competition that is now global, merely being born an American is neither necessary nor sufficient in order to lead a materially rich life, which is a shocking contrast to the old dominant narrative of a home with white picket fences being possible only, and anywhere, in America.

This dim view of the future is only partially correct. Not because of a proposition that the US will continue to be the most dominant economy—whether or not it will be is immaterial. But, we need to keep in mind that this paranoia over the future is merely about the economic aspects. 

Life is a lot more than merely economics. Thus, when we talk about the life that the youth have today—and will face in the future—and contrast that with the life in the decades past, we are conveniently overlooking many important non‐economic issues that will tell a completely different story.

Consider, for instance, the rights that people have now and compare that with those in the fabled Eisenhower era. Life back then was typically difficult for anyone who was not born with a privileged skin tone and into a privileged religious category. In contrast, the country is now, for the most part, “free at last, free at last.” We have a non‐White as the President, who was even re‐elected to that post. The senior‐most position in the President’s cabinet—the Secretary of State—only now has been filled again by a White male after sixteen years of non‐White and non‐male personnel, and in Condoleezza Rice a combination of both non‐White and female. General Motors, whose CEO proclaimed in the Eisenhower days that what is good for GM is good for the country, now has a female CEO—Mary Barra. There are plenty of female business leaders now compared to the generations past. 


One can think of many, many more examples that are phenomenal evidence for how much freer we are as a people and, therefore, how much more possible “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is. Is this not a much better country that the youth are inheriting, which they can—and will—make it even better?

Or, think about the natural environment around us. Even here in Oregon, the Willamette River is not by any means the polluted river it was back in the “good old days.” Thanks to national and state‐wide environmental legislation on various aspects of the environment, we live in a much cleaner and livable environment. The water that we drink out of our faucets here in Oregon is so intoxicatingly fresh and sweet that I wonder why people even reach for beer and wine!  The air is wonderfully cleaner even in downtown Los Angeles, which seems to have been always shrouded in smog in most of the photographs from the 1950s and 1960s.

Sure, there is a great deal of economic activity going on in China—our economic competitor that apparently makes us tremble with fear—but a mere reminder of the smog in Shanghai will send you gasping for air. 


One could list plenty of examples here to further the idea that the youth are inheriting a much better country than it was in the polluted and chemical‐laced environment a generation or two ago. Should this not be a cause for celebration, instead of simply moaning about a perceived loss of global economic domination?

I wish we would look at the future through a comprehensive framework. Of course, in my profession, I focus on the economic aspects and make sure that students gain an understanding of the rapidly changing economic global landscape. However, even in those classes, I often remind students that there is more to life than a pursuit of material happiness. Even the students who sleep through my monotonous monologues get the message that economics is merely one part of life, whose importance is dictated only by the values we ascribe to it.

My point is this—despite all our shortcomings, we have somehow managed to create a land of freedom, a cleaner environment, and affluence, which the younger generations will improve upon. The future does look challenging, no doubt, when it comes to jobs and economic competition. But, imagine trying to put a dollar value on the fact that people are immensely freer than ever before, or that we don’t choke when we breathe in the air, or that we don’t die from drinking the water. As the MasterCard ad reminds us, “there are some things money can’t buy.”

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The message from the cosmos was ...

Finally, the warm front came.  The rain came. The ice and the snow started to melt. It felt warm enough to head to the river without a gazillion layers on.

A jogger and a biker overtook me.  That was evidence in plenty that life was returning to normalcy.  A woman, who looked like she had a decade on me, seemed to be focused on the scenery as she was walking. As we neared each other, we smiled to say hello. "Beautiful landscape" I said as I continued to walk.

"Excuse me" she called out.  I stopped and turned.  "Did you move here from Napa?"

I have been asked different things, but not this.  

"You look so much like the guy who ran a bookstore a little bit away from where my husband and I lived."

I gave her the quickest possible version of where I am from after giving her a "from Napa, California? Nope."  And then added--after all, I am a university faculty who can talk on and on: "But, you know, strange things can happen. I move all the way to Eugene from Bakersfield and it turns out that my immediate neighbors are also from Bakersfield. What are the odds, right?"

Even in encounters of no consequence, it is not uncommon to ask the other what they did. Again, it is a part of our own respective identities. Apparently we are what we do.  We traded that information, too, before we got going in the directions that we were initially headed.

As I continued with the walk, I wondered whether I do the right thing whenever I do whatever it is that I do for a living. What if I am wrong?  What if I am merely a clueless idiot trapped in the fog on a dark night, but I am so clueless an idiot that I don't even realize that I am trapped in a fog on a dark night? 

The cosmos could not care less, and no point looking for answers there.  Life is simply what it is.  If I am a clueless idiot, then I am a clueless idiot.

A different day was born, but doubts piled in plenty.  Do most of the humans walk around with self-doubts?  Or, are they like me--merely presenting a facade of confidence and complete control?  

"Are you coming back to your office?" asked a student as I rushed out of my office to pick up a printout. "In a minute" I replied.

 She was there waiting when I returned. Walking into my office with me, she said she had a gift for me.  For having helped her out, and for being an honest teacher.

I liked that "honest teacher" part the best.  I did what I did because I would not have done anything otherwise. No student, even the most appreciative ones, has ever told me that I am an honest teacher. Thus, that phrase alone pretty much erased most of my self-doubts. And then the gift itself a huge bonus.

The emotional atheist in me considers these as secular miracles, even though the rational atheist in me knows fully well that the cosmos could not care less.  Life is what it is, and I have to do what I have to do.

But, yes, I love those secular miracles. They are awesome.  I prefer to think that the cosmos sent me a message. And this post is my thank you reply.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

If no incoming fire, you are bombing the wrong place

It all started with a tweet. A short one in my Twitter feed.

I haven't read that book, but remembered that it created a controversy in India and that there was pushback from nationalistic and Hindutva groups.

So, I then did a quick search to see if the author might have said anything about it.  There was nothing, but I came across a recent interview with her, which I watched. I then tweeted a response:

Apparently this was not a case of a tree falling in the forest and nobody hearing the sound it did, or did not, make:
It always amazes me that those who want to deny the freedom of expression and inquiry often do that with discourteous language too.  Not that I care for their courtesy while shutting me up!

Some random Twitter user is not going to scare me.  As a first step, I let "Teja" know that this "Stupidest fuck" read the tweet by ... well, I retweeted it!

The WSJ reports on this decision by Penguin:
One of India’s largest publishing houses has agreed to withdraw and pulp all copies of a 2009 book written by a leading scholar of Hinduism that reinterprets the history of the ancient religion. Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd complied with an agreement drawn up by a court in Delhi on Monday to recall and withdraw all copies of “The Hindus: An Alternative History” by Wendy Doniger, a professor of the history of religions at the University of Chicago, and cease to publish or sell it in India. 
In that same report, the WSJ reminds us that this is not the first instance of a book being banned in India. What a shame!

The paper also notes this:
A review of the book, published in the Journal in 2009 said that Ms. Doniger had succeeded in “making modern sense of the texts and tales of Hindu society, as well as of the rituals and symbols of the Hindu people.” 
At the end of it all, I figured that the best thing I can do is to buy a copy of this banned book, and read it over the next couple of months. "Teja" and his buddies will be delighted that their work has catalyzed me into buying the very book they have successfully banned in India.

As for the title of this post, I heard something along those very words in an NPR segment--I wish I remembered when it was for me to zoom into it and attribute the source.

Update: I should have known that some of the commentators I pay attention to will have something to say ... here is Shikha Dalmia:
[Her] aim in writing the book was to save Hinduism from misinterpretations of both hostile alien interlocutors and nativist Hindutva boosters.
Here is a flavor of the book from a review by Daily Beast columnist Tunku Vardarajan, former Newsweek international editor:
A religion without a central church or pontiff — and with no predominant sacred place (a la Mecca) -- Hinduism has spawned hundreds of competing devotional sects and theological strains. Ms. Doniger does a deft job of tracing their few unifying tenets — those of karma (actions) and dharma (righteousness) and a merit-based afterlife and of holding these beliefs up to critical examination against the obvious injustices of the caste system. Her most beguiling chapters, though, are the ones in which she examines the impact on the Hindus of India's numerous foreign invaders -- from the earliest "Aryans" in the second millennium B.C. to the imperial British, the last and perhaps greatest external shapers of Hindu society.
Am all the happier that I purchased the book. The paperback. I prefer the old style, when it comes to books.  As Dalmia notes:
The silver lining in all this, as Doniger told England-based Salil Tripathi last night, is that in the age of Internet, Penguin can’t actually ban the book. “Anyone with a computer can get the Kindle edition from Penguin, NY, and it’s probably cheaper, too.”
So go for it dear readers. It’s for a good cause.
Yes, buy it.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Get to know MILF. No, not that one!

Any time I read any decent publication--not that I read indecent ones--I am always amazed that students and other faculty have not figured out already that I don't know a damn thing. It is bizarre to be in the knowledge business and to realize on a everyday basis how we peddle the very, very, very little we know in order to make a living.  Yet, knowing whatever very, very, very little is all it takes to lead a "successful" life and it can be a struggle, sometimes, to know even that little bit? This is one tough world!

Wait, don't rush into a judgment that I am way too dumb not to have known about this meaning of MILF. I wasn't porn, er, born yesterday!

Funny story, speaking of MILF in that meaning.  About two years ago, when I blogged about this advice from a famous American personality on why young men should date older women, one student came to class and announced, before we got going, something like "Dr. Khé wants young men to go after MILF."  As one can imagine, it was one heck of a strangely humorous situation, especially when one student innocently asked what MILF meant.  But, hey, he had read my blog post!

Anyway, the ignorance was about this MILF, which I read about in the Economist.  The Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines:
The southern region of Mindanao is home to most of the predominantly Catholic country’s Muslim minority. The MILF is the most important in a range of armed groups that have been fighting for independence for the majority-Muslim areas. After 18 years of negotiations, often interrupted by heavy fighting, the government and the MILF concluded the last and most crucial part of a four-part peace agreement on January 25th.
Aha, MILF! The Economist adds:
Peace between the MILF and the government is one thing; peace in Mindanao is another.
From a cursory reading of Wikipedia, it appears that the group was in existence before the more familiar MILF got added into the colorful vocabulary.

So, I didn't know about this MILF. Or about the green thingy that I used in the flowers. I don't care. Because, I got a lovely email from an old friend--yes, female, of course!--in which she writes:
looks like you are a renaissance man.  Is there something you do not master?  I knew you were a smart guy but looks like you are too smart Dr. Khe!!!
As long as the ones who care for me think I know, what else matters, right?  Happy I am!

Unless she was being sarcastic and I am too dumb to know the difference between praise and sarcasm ;)

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Bird-brained they might be. Valuable lesson they taught.

Finally, the icy grip loosened. There is plenty of ice all around, yes, but, it was just about warm enough for the melt to begin. People in the neighborhood poked their heads out. I drove up to the grocery store.

A simple act of going grocery shopping. But, what a pleasure it was to stir out of the home, and see people out and about. We smiled at each other--I think we were all subliminally giving that same message of "am I happy to get back to my regular life!"  I suppose it is always thus in life--we never know how good we have until there is a major disruption that forced us to re-evaluate our priorities.  But then, soon we forget those lessons. Aren't we humans the ones that are bird-brained?

I walked past an open checkout counter in order to chat with one of my favorite clerks. She gave me a big smile even before she was done with the customer.

"Things went well with the ice and snow?" I asked her as I moved up to the head of the line.  "I remember you have a long drive to work."

"Yes. But, Friday night was treacherous.  The wipers also stopped working and I could barely see anything out in front.  But I made it back home."

See, right there is a major difference between her employment and mine. Thursday and Friday the campus shut down. But, we get paid anyway.  In her case, I would think that she would have lost wages if she had not reported to work. I was worried that she would turn around and ask me about my drive to work.

Well, she is a good conversationalist and she asked me about my work and the drive.

I flubbed the answer. And cut away to something else.

I returned home and restocked the pantry. Across the window, I noticed that the yard was full of robins. Not crowded enough for me to worry that I had been cast in the remake of Hitchock's Birds. Perhaps more than twenty of them.  For a reason--the ice and snow that were so freakishly unusual had messed up the birds' food sources. I think the couple of robins that visited with me yesterday had spread the word among the robins in the area that perhaps the orangish berry like thingys in my backyard were their only food.

And so they came.

I didn't know what else I could offer these desperate visitors. The only nuts I had--cashews--were salted. I didn't want to offer them chips. Perhaps the multi-grain bread?  I tore up a slice into tiny pieces and tossed them into the snow. The robins didn't even bother to check them out, and they kept going after those berries.

Here is the strangest thing: in all these years that I have lived here, never once have I seen any bird eat them. It was clear that these birds were so starved for food that they were ready to eat these brightly colored ones.  The last time I checked the plant, it looked like they had striped away all the orange and only the green remained. That's ok.

After meeting with the grocery clerk, and after watching the birds, you think I will complain about my life?

You betcha!

I will in a few days. Because, like most of us, I am bird-brained!

I will leave you with this from the old country:
शोकस्थानसहस्राणि दुःखस्थानशतानि च ।
दिवसे दिवसे मूढमाविशन्ति न पण्डितम् ॥
- महाभारत, अरण्य

Everyday there are thousand reasons to feel sad, hundred reasons to worry.
Such things only bother fools; not wise men.
Mahabharata, Aranya

Three "Cheers" to Dry-Bars. I will drink coffee to that!

I have a tough time finding "man" friends primarily because most of the fraternizing is over sports or alcohol or both, and I couldn't care for either one of them.  A couple of weeks ago, I was excited that I finally had a "man date" when I had coffee with an old friend.

Once, I met a guy at a get together and I was sure I could become friends with him. In a way, a female friend even became an intermediary and she emailed me about this "boy friend."  I tell ya, life gets difficult for a straight guy who does not drink or smoke or watch ball games to hang with the guys!  Not that I am complaining about having to interact with women most of the time!

Another fellow-blogger-friend--ahem, a female--had also commented about this issue.
Hubby and I don't drink (alcoholic beverages). We get many invites for socializing over alcohol, and we have to politely decline. The husband suffers more than me, as he does not get to hang out with most of the guy gang. But he really hates drinking (even socially), and refuses to put up with socialization centered around drinking.
Yep, there is something about hanging out with the guys that I miss.  But, "happy hour" is no draw for me. I am happy at different hours, I suppose, and via very different drinks. Which is why it is such a pleasure to know that there is an interesting development that could make people like me and the blogger-friend and her husband all pumped up--"dry bars":
Unlike many cafés, they stay open late. They emulate bars in other ways, with live music, comedy acts and films to pull in punters. When the lights go down and the DJ plays at Sobar, which opened in Nottingham in January, it looks like any city bar, hopes Alex Gillmore, the manager. Redemption misses the hefty profits made on alcohol, but temperance brings its own benefits. Business remains steady throughout the week rather than spiking at the weekend, says Catherine Salway, its founder. The absence of drunken, obstreperous patrons means that bouncers are unnecessary.
A bar that is not really a bar, but a place where everybody knows your name.  About time, I would think.

Now, do not confuse the coffee serving dry-bars with the likes of Starbucks that serve coffee (for the record: I don't care for the charcoal-like coffee beans that Starbucks uses!)  The dry-bars will have everything that one would expect in a pub--except the alcohol.

In this age of beer and bikini commercials, and high, highfalutin talk about the terroir of wine, we teetotalers are utter misfits. But, hey, if not for coffee shops--not alcohol serving pubs--the intellectual and social revolution might never have happened.
The coffee-houses that sprang up across Europe, starting around 1650, functioned as information exchanges for writers, politicians, businessmen and scientists. Like today's websites, weblogs and discussion boards, coffee-houses were lively and often unreliable sources of information that typically specialised in a particular topic or political viewpoint. They were outlets for a stream of newsletters, pamphlets, advertising free-sheets and broadsides. Depending on the interests of their customers, some coffee-houses displayed commodity prices, share prices and shipping lists, whereas others provided foreign newsletters filled with coffee-house gossip from abroad.
 And, here is an example of what went on in those old coffee shops:
Dark rumours of plots and counter-plots swirled in London's coffee-houses, but they were also centres of informed political debate. Swift remarked that he was “not yet convinced that any Access to men in Power gives a man more Truth or Light than the Politicks of a Coffee House.” Miles's coffee-house was the meeting-place of a discussion group, founded in 1659 and known as the Amateur Parliament. Pepys observed that its debates were “the most ingeniose, and smart, that I ever heard, or expect to heare, and bandied with great eagernesse; the arguments in the Parliament howse were but flatte to it.” After debates, he noted, the group would hold a vote using a “wooden oracle”, or ballot-box—a novelty at the time.
Yep. You, the reader, and I would not be here enjoying the democracy with a market economy if it were not for those coffee shops that couldn't care for alcohol.

While thanking the drink--coffee, that is--help me with the quest, you know, to begin to right the balance that is now heavily weighed down by female friends ;)

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