Monday, November 30, 2015

Masala for your heart

Back in graduate school, a friend who was Jewish joked that his family always scanned the news for Jewish names.  He laughed while acknowledging that he, too, did that.  I joined in the laughter because I found myself watching out for Indian-American names.  Yes, even when I was fresh off the boat.

More than two decades later, it seems like Indian-American names are popping up all over the place.  It used to be only in the academic circles, or in the research wings of those large multinational corporations.  Now, Indian-Americans are seemingly everywhere.  Even governors and stand-up comedians.  Thankfully, no gun-crazy Indian-American on a shooting spree!

The NY Times had a Sunday review essay on heart diseases, which was authored by Sandeep Jauhar, who has authored a few pieces for the Times, and has also been at other major media outlets.  An interesting background too--he decided to pursue the medical profession while he was a PhD student in physics at the University of California, Berkeley!  How do people become such brainiacs?

Anyway, back to the NY Times essay by Jauhar.  It is on heart diseases.  What is of interest is this:
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and rates have risen over the past several decades. South Asian immigrants to the United States, like me, develop earlier and more malignant heart disease and have higher death rates than any other major ethnic group in this country.
The reasons for this have not been determined. 
One grandfather of mine--my mother's father--died from a cardiac event that, incidentally, was not his first either.  My grandmother--father's mother--died from an enlarged heart condition.  Whether or not that elevates my risk level is, well, we will find out within the next twenty-four years ;)

Jauhar writes about the Farmingham study that was initiated in 1948 with a key goal "to establish risk factors for coronary heart disease."  He quickly reviews there the research that went into identifying the risk factors that we now think is common sense--like high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking.  

But, those were about people who were of White European stock.  
Traditional cardiac risk models, developed by studying mostly white Americans, don’t fully apply to ethnic communities. This is a knowledge gap that must be filled in the coming years.
I need to remind myself that this was a guy who was on track to get his PhD in physics and after a career change, has been a cardiologist for years now!

So, why the "masala" in the title?  Did I have it there in order to provide a hint that the spices are killing South Asians?  Nope.
Fortunately, the National Institutes of Health have started such a study. Named Mediators of Atherosclerosis in South Asians Living in America, or Masala, it has enrolled about 900 South Asian men and women in two large metropolitan areas, the San Francisco Bay Area and Chicago.
I think that the researchers had decided a priori that the study would have a name that would also be a cultural reference, and then they came up with an acceptable scientific expansion of "Masala" ;)
Researchers are focusing on novel risk factors, including malignant forms of cholesterol (previous research has suggested that South Asians may have smaller and denser cholesterol particles that are more prone to causing hardening of the arteries), as well as other social, cultural and genetic determinants.
Hmmm ... for all I know, the tasty European butter that I prefer is transforming into artery-hardening cholesterol!  Oh yeah, there is a cardiologist in the family--he is not an Indian-American but is married to one though ;)  

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Angels and demons

One way to look at our economic activities is through the conventional framework of selfishness--we do what we do in order to serve our self-interests and that the "invisible hand" of the market produces all wonderful things that all of us get to enjoy.

That self-interest then leads critics to label the system as one that is driven by greed.  Of course, greed is not what most of us would consider to be a virtue.  Even as children, we instinctively understand that greed can be awful.  When we were kids, "greedy pig" was one of the many words that we yelled at siblings when unhappy about another's actions.  Michael Douglas, via his Wall Street character Gordon Gekko, made sure we would always equate the market economy with greed; remember that famous line?

Ricardo Hausmann offers a different way to think about the market:
But a market economy should be understood as a system in which we are supposed to earn our keep by doing things for other people; how much we earn depends on how others value what we do for them. The market economy forces us to be concerned about the needs of others, because it is their need that constitutes the source of our livelihood. In some sense, a market economy is a gift-exchange system; money merely tracks the value of the gifts we give one another. 
I earn my salary as a university faculty.  I get paid for educating students, whether or not I am really contributing to students' education in my classes.

My neighbor, "Archie," runs his own machine tool business, in which he makes products that others use.

I earn my keep by doing things for others.  Archie earns his by doing things for others.

Ah, if only it were that simple.  If only we were able to create a paradise in which we did things for others and everybody lived happily ever after!

We  humans are not always good-hearted.  That view of human nature is also why I, after a great deal of looking around, chose the Bernard Shaw quote as the title for this blog.

Of course, the understanding that we humans are not always good is not new; as James Madison put it:
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.
We humans are no angels.  There are all kinds of satans within us.  Most of us try our best to control the inner demons.  But, there are many who carry out the demon's instructions.  Government becomes a necessity.  But then, not all those who work in "government" are angels either!

Try as we can, as we do, I suppose we will forever be trapped in this struggle over dealing with our selves that are far from angels doing only good things for other people.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

I worry about climate change. So ... I contribute more to it?

I have been pissing people off all the time.  Throughout my entire life, it seems like.  It is that constant questioning approach that pisses people off.  Back when I was a student doing an internship to pay bills, my supervisor told me I was being a contrarian, which I am not--all because I questioned the ideas behind the project to which I was assigned.

It is difficult to consistently align one's ideas through all walks of life.  Those are the inconsistencies that people prefer to gloss over, which I question.  Even in my own life.

Take for instance my concern over climate change.  Unlike the deniers, I am convinced about the science behind it.  Climate change is for real.  When that is the case, then I have to ask myself what I do to help the cause.

I have blogged about the impacts of eating meat, for instance--the scientific analysis showing that being a vegetarian is significantly less of an impact on the environment unlike the effects of a carnivorous or omnivorous lifestyle.  I can feel good about myself.

I have also blogged about the very little trash that I generate--I barely have two small bags of trash for the garbage truck to haul away every two weeks.  Yep, one small bag of trash per week.

I rarely throw away food.  Because I do not buy a whole bunch and let it rot.  I do not cook a whole bunch and toss them away.  I do not eat out much either.  Good for the environment and good for my health, I gloat.

I continue to use old and outdated gadgets.  The music system that I use is a relic from the early 1990s.  My smartphone is so old that even the YouTube app has stopped working.  I feel smug that I am not participating in the wasteful disposable culture.

But, I also know I am one awful culprit.  I contribute way more than the average meat-eating, gadget-buying, food-wasting, middle-class American.  Consider, for instance, the following estimate of my carbon footprint, based on the average in the zipcode where I live and the income and household characteristics:

Check your footprint here

You see the travel component?  You see how it towers over food?  Over "other goods"?  Especially the air travel:
Flying is a luxury. Just 5 percent of the world’s population has ever set foot on an airplane. Of the almost 20 percent of Americans who have never flown, their household income is much more likely than average to be less than $30,000.
Imagine that!  A fifth of the American population has never, ever flown.  95 percent of the world's population has never, ever flown.  I, meanwhile, add up my frequent flier miles.

And, yes, flying is one hell of a contributor to climate change.  Yet, that source is the least regulated of all, compared to the stationary sources like factories and mobile sources like cars.  Why?
“Boeing is, by dollar value, the United States’ largest exporter,” she says. “The political clout of Boeing is huge.”
Actually it is more than Boeing alone.
Vera Pardee, the senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity, a party to the 2007 lawsuit, says recent related action by the European Union to force the industry into reducing its emissions via a carbon-trading platform also fell victim to industry influence. For nearly a decade, the European Union worked to establish an emissions-trading scheme that it wanted to apply to all aircraft landing in EU territory. In 2012, as the proposal was being finalized, Pardee says China, Brazil, and other countries threatened to cancel their orders with Airbus, which is based in France. Likely wanting to protect the bottom line of one of its biggest companies, the European Union agreed to “stop the clock” in 2013 on its enforcement of aviation emissions. According to Pardee, that’s evidence of the “amazing influence that the industry has over this entire process, and continues to have.”
I will continue to fly all the way across the continent for academic conferences, and all the way across the world for family reasons.  Yet, I refer to myself as environmentally conscious and that I worry about climate change.  Bah, humbug!

Oh well.  Soon the world's leaders and their scientists will fly to Paris for the global meeting on climate change.  And they will eat meat. And will drink bottled water. And will exchange notes via the latest electronic gadgets. And will wear fashionable clothes.  They too, like I am, are worried about global climate change.  Aren't we all!

How many will I have pissed off with this post? ;)

Friday, November 27, 2015

The times they are a changin

I was a prized grandson.  Not because I the most charming baby ever; I suspect I was as ugly as I now am.  Not because I was a child prodigy; have always been dumber than a doorknob.  But, because after having daughters, and then after the first two daughters in turn having daughters each, well, the grandparents were excited that I came along.  A boy!

Those were the days of old India where boys were considered assets and girls were seen as liabilities.  What an awful view of life that was!


That kind of a systematic ill-treatment of girls, especially in the less literate and developed areas of India, and similar practices in China and a few other Asian countries, were why demographers and thinkers--especially Amartya Sen--wrote and spoke about the missing hundred million women:
In 1990, Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize-winning Indian economist, shocked the world with an article in the New York Review of Books that estimated there were 100 million missing women because of discrimination.
Since then, demographers have devised more precise methods of calculating missing women in each country. They factor in the toll caused by malnutrition and poor medical care and, more significantly, also the numbers lost to abortions of female fetuses, a problem recognized in the years after Dr. Sen wrote his article.
In June of 2015, the Population Council, a New York City-based research organization, published a study saying there were 88 million missing women world-wide in 1990, when Mr. Sen wrote his article, and that there were 126 million missing in 2010, roughly half of them attributable to prenatal sex selection. Of those, more than 112 million were in Asia.
The paper, by John Bongaarts, a distinguished scholar at the Population Council, and Dr. Guilmoto, projects an increase to 150 million missing by 2035 and then a slight decrease to 142 million by 2050.
Of course, as one can expect, the missing women will also mean a whole bunch of problems for men who will be looking for spouses.

But, that is not the problem that I want to blog about.  Because it has been talked about a lot--it is one of those serious issues over which there is often a lot of talk and very little action.  Instead, I want to write about something impressive about women in the very areas in India that have had decades of gender issues.

Rajasthan in India is notorious for the lopsided female/male ratios, and for unequal treatment of women.  Yet, even there, there are wonderful stories like two sisters, Rimppi Kumari and Karamjit, who farm on their own.  Yes, women farmers.  Not on some tiny strip of ancestral land either:
"When my father died seven years ago I decided to take up farming. We own a lot of land, around 32 acres," [Rimppi Kumari] says, a smile playing on her lips.
How awesome is that!  And, there is more:
Rimppi gave up a job in information technology to grow soyabean, wheat and rice.
She is making more money out of the land than even her father did, helped by her decision to embrace modern farming techniques.
What?  Giving up IT?  How dare she! ;)

Caption at the source:
                     Rimppi is queen of all she surveys on her farm which is making more money than ever                 

Of course, the larger population is not in support:
But despite their success, the sisters are viewed with disapproval in their village.
Eighty-year-old Sardar Karamjeet Singh voices the opinion of many others when he says that "what these two sisters are doing is wrong. They should have been married by now".
"We don't allow our women to leave the house. Forget about farming."
The eighty-year old perhaps has no idea that the world is changing, and changing rapidly.

But, who cares about the world of eighty-year olds when the girls have an important woman backing them--their mother, Sukhdev Kaur:
"If you give opportunities to girls, if you allow them to grow, they can fly high," 60-year-old Sukhdev Kaur says.
"They just need their wings unclipped. I have always believed in my daughters. They show that daughters can surpass sons."
Indeed.  The daughters can, and will, surpass sons.  Well, especially the prized ones will be the ones left behind in the dirt.  Wait, why am I covered in dirt? ;)

Thursday, November 26, 2015


It was a cold, rainy morning when I pulled into the gas station.

It is one that I like to frequent because the attendant there is always pleasant, with a smile that is welcoming.  He definitely has seen more moons than I have, and with a weathered exterior that makes it clear that desk jobs are not what he has done through his life.

He handed me the receipt when it was all done.  As always, he added, "have a good day."

"Thanks.  And have a good Thanksgiving" I replied even as he was starting to walk away to the other car that was waiting.

He paused.  Perhaps  to make sure within himself that he did hear what he thought he had heard.

He retraced his path to my car.  "You too, man" he grinned.  "I got to work though.  But then, working is better than not working" he added with a chuckle.

I smiled, waved, and got back on the road.

On a cold and rainy morning, when a man who is older than I am genuinely smiles and chuckles about having to work filling gas on Thanksgiving, I feel so humbled realizing that I have no grounds to complain about any material aspect of my life.  I, like many, take my privileges for granted.

A couple of hours later, I opened the discussions in class with my favorite pre-Thanksgiving groaner that I have been doing for years now, ever since I gained my citizenship.  "Ask me why I am the best person ever to be invited to a Thanksgiving meal" I told them.

A student then asked me that question.  And now came my big moment for the punchline.  My life is always a punchline, it seems.

"Because, at the table, I am simultaneously an American and an Indian" I said.  And laughed along with the class.  It is really a good thing that I find my humor to be amusing; it keeps me entertained.  All these years and I still laugh at my stale groaner!

"No Thanksgiving for me.  I have to work" said one student.  Another joined in with having to work.

Plenty of people work on a day that is a holiday to most.  At coffee-shops, gas stations, airports, utilities, ...   The grocery store displayed a note that it will be open until three in the afternoon.  Meanwhile, at homes across the country, mothers and aunts and grandmothers prepare the Thanksgiving meals, putting in even more hours than they do on regular days, with fathers, uncles, and grandfathers occasionally chipping in.  We take all their work for granted.

I thank them all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

I, too, am America

I could not wait to become a citizen of the United States. I filed the application practically the minute I became eligible and then impatiently waited for the letter that would provide me with the details on the swearing-in ceremony. Finally, that cherished day arrived, during the halcyon days of the year 2000. There were the usual congratulations and wishes from friends and colleagues. One gift was special—a quilt.

A friend, who was a Japanese-American, brought the gift and explained that it was her mother who made the quilt. It had red, white, and blue in the square patches, obviously to reflect the colors of the American flag. But, those colors alone did not make the gift special.

The friend’s mother was one of 120,000 Japanese-Americans who were forced to relocate from their homes to the concentration camps. She was a young child when she was forcibly moved to a camp in Manzanar, California. The quilt was, therefore, very special because she loved the country despite how she and other Japanese-Americans were atrociously and inhumanely treated by her government and fellow-citizens. Her commitment to, love for, and pride about the United States were all there in the quilt that welcomed a new citizen.

I was reminded of that quilt and the Japanese-American friend when viewing the traveling exhibit—Art of Survival: Enduring the Turmoil of Tule Lake–at Eugene’s federal courthouse. The photographs and descriptions were about the conditions of the Japanese-Americans who were forced to live in the concentration camp in Tule Lake, which is in the dry elevations of northern California’s Siskiyou County, immediately to the south of Oregon’s border.

It seems so unreal that the federal government, under the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who led the country out of the depths of the Great Depression and instituted various programs including Social Security, rounded up its own people and sent them to camps where all their constitutional rights were stripped away. Their only crime was that they looked like the people of the country that attacked Pearl Harbor. The calculation apparently was that because Japan attacked America, Japanese-Americans were suspects.

Years later, the federal government, under the presidencies of Reagan and Bush, formally tendered its apology to Japanese-Americans. Of course, there is no amount that one can ever pay as compensation to those whose lives were so rudely interrupted, and which tremendously affected the rest of their lives after being released from those camps. 

Even though it happened seventy-plus years ago, it was chilling to look at photographs that had signs saying: “Japs Keep Moving, This is a White Man’s Neighborhood.” It was also surreal to view the images at the exhibit, and to think about the horribly simplistic thought that people had made equating Japanese-Americans with the enemy.

It is even more surreal to think that we are employing that same crude thinking in the context of the refugees from Syria and Iraq, and about Muslims in this country. Because the al-Qaeda and ISIS terrorists are Muslims, and because the recent terrorist acts in France and elsewhere are by ISIS, this country is quickly sliding into a dangerously erroneous conclusion that the Muslim refugees from Syria and Iraq are terrorists, and that even American citizens who are Muslims cannot be trusted. It was shocking, to say the least, to hear one presidential contender talk about the need for a database to track Muslims in the country.

I suppose my brown-skinned and bearded appearance, along with an accent that makes it clear that I am not from here, could make some believe that I am a Muslim who needs to be monitored. As the political hysteria gets louder, my worries about my own welfare increase, as was the case in the days and months after 9/11. If that’s how I feel, when I am not a Muslim and when I am not from Iraq or Syria, I would think that Muslim refugees and brown-skinned Muslims in this country are way more worried than I am. And then I think about the Japanese-Americans who were sent to concentration camps for the only reason that Japan had attacked America—what they experienced seems to be of a magnitude that I cannot even imagine.

The quilt from the Japanese-American mother was more than a mere gift. It was a profound statement on her love for America, with its warts and all. It was a patchwork quilt that echoed the African-American poet Langston Hughes’ line, “I, too, Sing America.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

So what if I am inefficient!

In graduate school, when I was just about learning to write essays--boy was that a struggle!--I wanted to write a paper questioning the primacy of efficiency and productivity.  But, back in those days, I had difficulty even piecing together a couple of sentences that made sense, leave along a 2,500-word essay.  I tell ya, no wonder I keep getting those nightmares every once in a while! ;)

I am far from a chop-chop guy; I am always wandering about.  The things that I like are never about efficiency either--from cooking to playing bridge to reading to grading essays to ... I mean, even on the "bike" path, I don't care to bike but prefer to walk.  Biking seems like wanting to rush through the experience.  It is not that I am wandering like a cow on a grassy meadow; I have a plan, of course.

So, where was I?  ;)

Contemporary economic conditions prize efficiency and productivity.  The drive to more and better while being faster. All the speed for what?  Especially when it is even in our personal lives?
If I’m using Google Maps, it’ll quickly alert me when a faster route becomes available. I speed even when I’m not in a hurry, just to see the minutes disappear on my ETA—to see that I’ve saved precious time. The very idea that I’ve “saved time” can give a sensation of pleasure and satisfaction.
Meanwhile, commercials offer quick-and-easy alternatives to any and every cooking, housecleaning, or maintenance job. Dinners get hurriedly prepared in microwaves or crockpots, coffee in Keurigs or even instant packets. Because efficiency—time saved—beckons to us like sirens from every corner.
What the hell do people then use that "saved time" for?
There’s nothing wrong with such desires. But when efficiency becomes an obsession, our lives become a constant, headlong rush. Our obsession with saving time results in no time—at least no time for the sorts of slowness that lead to bursts of intellectual creativity, physical health, and spiritual contemplation.
The ones who "saved time" and are in a rush always seem to be in a rush.  And then there are people like me who seemingly move like sloths but get the job done anyway.  What is with the speed?
 Speed has become the measure of success—faster chips, faster computers, faster networks, faster connectivity, faster news, faster communications, faster transactions, faster deals, faster delivery, faster product cycles, faster brains, faster kids. Why are we so obsessed with speed, and why can’t we break its spell?
Maybe speed is nothing but a fear of being alone.  Wait, let me explain.  In the old days, men and women in the villages were in their group settings.  They talked, laughed, cried, together--essentially wasted time.  That was the life they led.  Now, after the efficiency revolution, we are increasingly by ourselves.
Over time, technological developments have enabled workers to move away from a reliance on colleagues for support and instead trust in a system for getting things done.
Alone at work and at home.  We then don't know what to do with ourselves.  We want to run far away from that loneliness.  But, as much as we run, well, we find that we are alone all over again.  And then we run at even faster speeds!
I often wonder, too, if our obsession with productivity—with “filled time,” in essence—is stemming from a fear of free time. If we’re ever stuck in a moment of silence, we usually turn on the radio or television, grab our phones, or log onto our computers. We have to fill the empty space.

You see how quickly got to this point? ;)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Have you written your autobituary?

I went to a memorial service a couple of afternoons ago.  She was seventy.

The family, friends, and students who spoke described her as an unstoppable force with a bundle of energy.  They recalled poignant moments that they had shared with her.  One of the many thoughts that I had while listening to them, and watching the photo slideshow, was this: "too bad she is not here to listen to all these wonderful things."

Life is fragile.  It could be a heart attack.  Or a natural disaster. Or a senseless random shooting.  Whatever.  Gone in a minute.  Or maybe a year.  There is always that unpredictability.

A great-uncle of mine, who was as cantankerous as he was smart, knew well that he had made enough mistakes in his life and had caused problems for quite a few, even while being gregarious and magnanimous in many situations.  He commented more than once that after his death many would express relief that he was finally gone.  The remaining, he said, would ask, "oh, really, there was a guy like that?"

Recalling that uncle, I wondered if we all know within us what people might feel after they come to know that we died.  Maybe the seventy-year old professor also knew exactly how her colleagues, family, and students--and even acquaintances like me--will remember her?

If that is the case, it also means that we have plenty of control over how we would like to be remembered.  If I behave like an asshole, I know I will be remembered that I was an asshole.  I then have a choice--either I can continue to be an asshole, or I can change my behavior.

So, if people do not change their awful behaviors, then is it because they really, really want to be remembered that way, or is it that they lack that metacognition skills?  Do they care not about what will be said in their obituaries?

Especially in this selfie world, we need people to think about their autobituary.  It is important, now more than ever, that people understand that it is not our selfies that people will remember about us after we are gone.

How do you want to be remembered?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Hitler as an avatar of Vishnu? WTF!?

Understanding this cosmos will be quite a challenge for me.

That realization did not result from any Sunday morning meditation.  Instead, it was from reading.  Let me explain--after all, you want to know whether the title of this post was merely to catch your attention or whether there is real content about it, right?

One of the sites in my newsfeed is "Secular Right."  Yes, it is exactly what it means--that site features news and commentaries from the right side of the political spectrum but without (and often against) religion.  The report did not interest me.  But, boy am I glad that scrolled down to read the comment that sounded sarcastic:
Good to know. As I worship Adolf Hitler as an avatar of Vishnu, I look forward to prosecuting those who blaspheme my lord and fuhrer.
A hyperlink in the comment.  I moved the mouse over the link to see what the URL was--often trolls leave comments with links that are nothing but malware and virus.  Not in this case--it was a redirect to Wikipedia. So, of course, I clicked on it, which is when I was shocked to read about Savitri Devi:
Born as Maximiani Julia Portas in 1905,[4] Savitri Devi was the daughter of Maxim Portas, a French citizen of Greek and Italian ancestry and an Englishwoman, Julia Portas (née Nash).
Say what?  Something new every single day; I don't know how people can ever feel like they are bored!

And that was merely the beginning of the path down the rabbit hole.
n 1932, she travelled to India in search of a living pagan Aryan culture. Formally adhering to Hinduism, she took the name Savitri Devi ("Sun-rays Goddess" in Sanskrit). She volunteered at the Hindu Mission as an advocate against Judeo-Christianity,[7] and wrote A Warning to the Hindus to offer her support for Hindu nationalism and independence, and to rally resistance to the spread of Christianity and Islam in India.[2] During the 1930s she distributed pro-Axis propaganda and engaged in intelligence gathering on the British in India.[4]In the late 1930s, through her personal contacts, she enabled Subhas Chandra Bose (leader during World War II of the Axis-affiliated Indian National Army), to make contact with representatives of the Empire of Japan.[11]
Are you kidding me?  What a crazy story!  And then she marries "Asit Krishna Mukherji, a Bengali Brahmin with National Socialist views who edited the pro-German newspaper New Mercury."  Truth is certainly stranger than fiction!

Of course, I wondered whether Wikipedia might have been hijacked in this by some troll.  So, the Doubting Thomas that I am, I Googled, which led me to this:
Regardless of the tenuous link between the ancient Indians and the Germans (and the pseudo-science related to the study of the Aryans), Maximiani bought the dubious theories wholeheartedly. She viewed Hinduism and Nazism as one in the same, with no inherent contradictions.
Indeed, like Hitler (and the ancient Hindus), she espoused the beauty and values of the natural world, championing ecology, vegetarianism, animal rights and (above all) pagan mysticism.
And then another reference.
A recently released biography, Hitler's Priestess: Savitri Devi, the Hindu-Aryan Myth and Neo Nazism by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, reveals how the lady adopted India as her home. Till her death in 1982, she used this base to propagate a Neo-Nazi cult and keep the torch of Nazism burning in Europe and the USA. She was even hailed as 'Hitler's guru' by neo-Nazi publishers, Samisdat.
Holy shit!
She left for India in 1932 to search for the roots of the Aryan civilisation. She regarded Hinduism as the only living Aryan heritage in the modern world and was convinced that only Hinduism could take on and oppose the Judaeo-Christian heritage. Soon, she adopted the name Savitri Devi which would make her famous in neo-Nazi circles.
... By the late 1930s, she was involved with Hindu nationalist movements like the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh - then growing rapidly to counter Muslim ascendancy. 
OMG!  How did I not know about this bizarre story all these years?

I have noted before the creepy fascination in India for Hitler even after WW II--from books being sold on sidewalks, to politicians drawing inspiration from the mad man.  There is even Hitler ice cream in India!

Another article adds this:
This love of Hitler is further reinforced by a resistance to social progression. "There's the aspiring middle class, the bourgeoisie, the petit bourgeoisie," Ghosh explained, of which she estimates there are approximately 250 million. "And that group doesn't like the chaotic facets of Indian society. Things like lower [Hindu] castes demanding rights, gay parades, women campaigning for gender equality, things that are upsetting the traditional order of things." Indians resisting these changes have a profound desire for strong leadership, particularly of a kind which centers around conformity.
If even this small part of human behavior is so difficult to comprehend, forget understanding the cosmos!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Where have all the young gone?

Back in April, I blogged about the rule-obeying college students, in which I wrote:
And students seem to want such rules.  They seem to want to bring more rules on what they should not do on campus.  In fact, they gladly even lead such efforts.
What the hell is wrong with the youth today?
Since then, the pace of commentaries has not been able to keep up with the rate at which students are demanding rules that would govern their own behaviors.  Reason comments on a report from Pew Research Center:
While two-thirds of Americans correctly believe the U.S. government should not prohibit speech that offends minorities, a shockingly high number of millennials—40 percent—support such censorship. Young people, it turns out, are more likely to favor suppression of offensive speech than older Americans.
One would think that it will be older Americans who will want to impose censorship, yet it is a significant number of youth who want rules that would suppress free expression.  WTF!

The Economist also worries about this trend, exemplified in the controversy at Yale:
As happens at many American universities, Yale administrators sent an advisory e-mail to students before the big night, requesting them to refrain from wearing costumes that other students might find offensive. Given that it is legal for 18-year-old Americans to drive, marry and, in most places, own firearms, it might seem reasonable to let students make their own decisions about dressing-up—and to face the consequences when photographs of them disguised as Osama bin Laden can forever be found on Facebook or Instagram. Yet a determination to treat adults as children is becoming a feature of life on campus, and not just in America. Strangely, some of the most enthusiastic supporters of this development are the students themselves.
 As I noted in another post, this is not the kind of student that Mario Savio would have ever imagined as successors to their free speech movement in the 1960s.  The Economist also reminds us about that:
Fifty years ago student radicals agitated for academic freedom and the right to engage in political activities on campus. Now some of their successors are campaigning for censorship and increased policing by universities of student activities. The supporters of these ideas on campus are usually described as radicals. They are, in fact, the opposite.
It is crazy. Bizarre. And very much unlike the student protesters of the 1960s, the students of today are demanding care from authority figures:
When they experience the hurt that motivates them to political action, they’re deeply disappointed with parental surrogates for not responding adequately or quickly enough to support and nurture them.
While Mario Savio, et al, declared a "fuck you" on the establishment, including Ronald Reagan who was the governor of California then, today's college students want more and more safety and security from the establishment.  As my neighbor, "Archie"--who is a conservative establishment man himself--often comments with disgust, the youth seem to want to stay attached to mommies and do not want to be weaned off the breast milk!

Another commentary at Reason notes that while students are seeking the security and comfort of their small little "safe spaces" they are completely missing in action on the urgent problems of the day:
Throughout history—recent history, even—students have been some of the most reliable anti-war protesters. Where are they this time? (Indeed, where have they been for the last eight years of continued bombings in Afghanistan and Iraq?)
Students can pick whatever battles they like. But it would be great—and might even make a difference—if they were to organize against military interventionism and anti-immigrant xenophobia with as much urgency as they have against offensive Halloween costumes, problematic mascots, and Woodrow Wilson. (Even though he deserves it.)
I suppose navel-gazing is quite fascinating!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Throwback Thursday ... because it is Friday!

"I am curious how closely you align yourself to the ideals of humanism and existentialism" inquired a student in his email the other day.

If he follows-up with a meeting in my office, he will soon find out that I drive myself--and this guy too--crazy with my thinking and blogging about those issues over and over and over and over ... ;)

How awesome it is to receive an email from a student regarding those issues, right?  A few like that and I can rest assured that the future will be in safe hands.

It seems like I more often than not connect with the sincerely religious than with the secular folks. The first ever student, at the current university, with whom I connected that way was home-schooled in a religious family background.  When she invited me to her sister's "homeschool commencement," I felt privileged to have been included in that.  Knowing my atheism, she included a postscript:
 In all fairness, I should warn you that you'll be mixing with pretty conservative folk, should you choose to attend. And the graduation will be held at our church. So if either of those factors will be too unbearable or uncomfortable. . . [smile]
I went there.  It was the best commencement that I had ever attended.  The event was not about meaningless speeches and boisterous applause for all things trivial.  Instead, it was a heartfelt acknowledgement by the student and the teacher--the daughter and the mother--of the completion of an important stage in one's life, and the role that each played.  I was moved by the experience.

A few months after that, it was about this time of the year--before Thanksgiving.  I wrote an email to the sisters' parents about how their two daughters were simply wonderful.  Over their years at the university, I got invited to many more events at their home, including a wedding.

In life outside of interactions with students, my meaningful associations seem to be with people--the frequent commenters at this blog included, of course--to whom their faith matters.  The man with no faith always hanging around with people who are sincere believers is quite an interesting juxtaposition.  Even I find this particularly interesting!

I wrote back to the student,
Yes, in my atheist framework, I spend a great deal of time trying to understand what it means to be human and to belong to humanity, and to make sense of my existence.  It is a marvelous challenge.  
I hope to figure those out before my time runs out ;)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Till Death Do Us Part ... or until the contract expires?

A student who graduated more than a year ago knocked on my office door, came in for a chat, and sat down for a whole lot of talk.  Any time any such student comes by, well, it means that I know quite a bit of their stories.  I asked him about his sister and parents, whom I have never met though.  His parents are divorced, he said.

"Are you doing ok?" I asked him and told him about the research on adult children of parents getting divorced finding it more difficult to handle than the young kids who relatively easily adapt to the change.

"Mine was a twenty-year story" I said.  And then told  him about my parents who, if things go well, will celebrate sixty years of married life in slightly more than a year.  In their case, it will be "till death do us part."

But, being married to another till death was an idea that dates back to the times when the average life expectancy at birth was barely thirty-five.  Life, especially the number of years we live, has changed dramatically in a mere two hundred years.  In those old times, if people married at puberty and died in their mid-thirties, well, that is a twenty-year period.  Hmmm.... wait, twenty echoed in my life too!

What if we are operating with a model that is no longer applicable?
Our current contract – ‘until death’ – might have worked when people didn’t live all that long (according to the American sociologist and author Stephanie Coontz, the average marriage in colonial times lasted under 12 years); or when many women died in childbirth, freeing men to marry multiple times (which they did); and when men of means needed women to cook, clean and caretake, and women needed men for financial security.
One grandmother was married to her husband for less than four years--a tragic event killed grandfather.  The other grandmother was married for many more years than four--when grandfather died of a heart attack, they had been married for thirty years.  In both cases, it was "death do us part."  Of course, as traditions mandated, the grandmothers lived as widows for the rest of their lives.  Had the grandmother died after four years of being married, grandfather would have re-married, of course; but, that's a different topic for another day.

At the recent conference, a wonderful, older, colleague sounded a tad agitated over how his son's fairy-tale marriage ended even before the first anniversary--a divorce, not death, parted the couple.  We live in a different world now.
In a recent survey, many Millennials indicated that they’d be open to a ‘beta marriage’, in which couples would commit to each other for a certain number of years – two years seemed to be the ‘right’ amount – after which they could renew, renegotiate or split, as Jessica Bennett wrote in Time magazine last year. While it wasn’t a scientific survey, it points to a willingness to see marriage as something other than ‘until death’, which, in fact, it is not. In 2013, 40 per cent of newlyweds had been married at least once before, according to the US think tank the Pew Research Center. Since 10 per cent of first marriages don’t even make it past five years, a renewable marriage contract makes more sense than ever.
Marriage as a renewable contract makes rational sense.
In 1971, the Maryland legislator Lena King Lee proposed a Marriage-Contractual Renewal Bill so couples could annul or renew their marriage every three years. In 2007, a German legislator proposed a seven-year contract; in 2010, a women’s group in the Philippines proposed a 10-year marital contract; and in 2011, Mexico City legislators suggested a reform to the civil code that would allow couples to decide on the length of their marital commitment, with a minimum of two years.
But, imagine the logistical hassles of contract renewals.  Common property, kids, tangible and intangible investment into making the contract work, ... nightmares for most of us, but pleasant wet-dreams for attorneys who will think of billable hours!

At some point, we might have to admit to the outdated and pointless "till death do us part" notion and work on a major overhaul.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

From crisp jeans to ... CRISPR genes?

I suffer from many problems.  One of them is that I want to know about stuff even if I can't figure out any damn thing about it.  Well, that is not the problem as much as thinking that such a desire to know about stuff is some kind of an asset.  I am the perfect embodiment of a fool in his own paradise.  But, hey, it keeps me out of trouble!

The first time I read about CRISPR, I was, well, practically freaked out.  That was back in March.  To this day, if somebody asked me to explain the scientific process and technique of editing genes, well, I will draw a blank.  If I cannot explain it, then I should stay away from reading and talking about it, right?  But, I tell ya, I am a fool who has constructed his own paradise ;)

In that post in March, I had quoted, from the article that I read, one of the brains behind this gene-editing CRISPR technology--Jennifer Doudna,--who had this to say:
Doudna says she is also thinking about these issues. “It cuts to the core of who we are as people, and it makes you ask if humans should be exercising that kind of power. There are moral and ethical issues, but one of the profound questions is just the appreciation that if germ line editing is conducted in humans, that is changing human evolution,” Doudna told me. One reason she feels the research should stop is to give scientists a chance to spend more time explaining what their next steps could be. “Most of the public,” she says, “does not appreciate what is coming.”
You and I and nearly seven billion others are the ones that she was referring to as the ones who do not appreciate what is coming.

And then a month ago, I blogged again about CRISPR.  And now a third one.  Why?  Because I read this in the Scientific American:
scientists have just created a new kind of goat, with bigger muscles and longer hair than normal. The goats were made not by breeding but by directly manipulating animal DNA
How was the DNA manipulated?  You know the answer by now.  Yes, CRISPR.  And you laughed at me when I freaked out in March--a mere eight months ago!

Guess what?  Those scientists are in China--"at the Shaanxi Provincial Engineering and Technology Research Center for Shaanbei Cashmere Goats."
Once the goat team began to deploy CRISPR, their progress was rapid. In September Qu and 25 other collaborating scientists in China published the details of their research in Nature’s Scientific Reports. In early-stage goat embryos they had successfully deleted two genes that suppressed both hair and muscle growth. The result was 10 goat kids exhibiting both larger muscles and longer fur—designer livestock—that, so far, show no other abnormalities. “We believed gene-modified livestock will be commercialized after we demonstrate [that it] is safe,” predicts Qu
While the left is still battling GMO crops, and the right is battling climate science, scientists are forging ahead genetically modifying goats and dogs and soon it will be "gene-modified livestock."  The joke is on every one of us, who do not appreciate what is coming!

So, anything else to spook us?
“The ethical concerns are now upon us because the technology is real,” [George Daley, a stem-cell biologist at Harvard Medical School] adds.
This applies to CRISPR experiments to “edit” the DNA of all plants and animals—as well as in the future, perhaps, humans, if scientists like Qu further hone the technique. ... And on the even more complicated topic of potential CRISPR experiments involving human DNA, he wonders, “Can we draw a clear line between what might be allowable for medical research or applications and what we must strictly prohibit?” Finding an answer that the whole world can agree on is geneticists’ and ethicists’ next big task.
Over at the New Yorker, which also had a lengthy essay on CRISPR, Doudna describes a dream that she recently had:
Her eyes narrowed, and she lowered her voice almost to a whisper. “I have never said this in public, but it will show you where my psyche is,” she said. “I had a dream recently, and in my dream”—she mentioned the name of a leading scientific researcher—“had come to see me and said, ‘I have somebody very powerful with me who I want you to meet, and I want you to explain to him how this technology functions.’ So I said, Sure, who is it? It was Adolf Hitler. I was really horrified, but I went into a room and there was Hitler. He had a pig face and I could only see him from behind and he was taking notes and he said, ‘I want to understand the uses and implications of this amazing technology.’ I woke up in a cold sweat. And that dream has haunted me from that day. Because suppose somebody like Hitler had access to this—we can only imagine the kind of horrible uses he could put it to.”
I am now all the more convinced that I will be better off not reading such stuff.  I can only hope that Michael Specter is right:
CRISPR technology offers a new outlet for the inchoate fear of tinkering with the fundamentals of life. There are many valid reasons to worry. But it is essential to assess both the risks and the benefits of any new technology. Most people would consider it dangerous to fundamentally alter the human gene pool to treat a disease like AIDS if we could cure it with medicine or a vaccine. But risks always depend on the potential result. If CRISPR helps unravel the mysteries of autism, contributes to a cure for a form of cancer, or makes it easier for farmers to grow more nutritious food while reducing environmental damage, the fears, like the many others before them, will almost certainly disappear. 
Thinking about my favorite topic is so cheery in comparison! ;)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

All creatures great and small

A few years ago, my awesome neighbor--"Archie"--saw me clearing the cobwebs out on the porch.  The first thing he did was to take a photograph; he thought it was a rare, rare sight for me to be engaging in physical labor.  It is one of the many jokes that he has about me.  I remind him that when he has such jokes about me, it is his old-fashioned way of telling me how much he loves me.  We men are strange, I suppose ;)

And then he said, "if you let me, I will come spray some chemicals and you won't have to worry about them spiders."  He said that because my aversion to unnecessarily killing creatures is all too familiar to him.  If the creatures are in their own habitat, and do not come into my home, I am down with that, as the young folks say.

I have never cared for spiders.  If I see one inside my home, well, the critter doesn't live after that sighting.  While I am not paralysed with fear as arachnophobics might, I am not at ease either. What's up with this human fear and aversion towards a creature that is so insignificant in size compared to us?
[London Zoo's Head of Invertebrate Conservation Dave Clarke] rejects the idea that arachnophobia is based on an inherent human fear. "That's rubbish," he says. "People put all their negative assumptions on spiders,” regarding them as dangerous even though, in the UK, no species is capable of killing a human. Arachnophobics often develop their fear during childhood, after observing spider aversion in someone close to them—like a parent, sibling or school friend.
Clarke says even he had a fear of spiders at one stage, but his desire to become a zookeeper forced him to confront the issue. He chose the "flooding" method—a type of exposure therapy in which he forced himself to hold spiders despite wanting to do the exact opposite.
What the what?  Hold spiders as in plural?  He even has a "Friendly Spider Programme"
The four-hour program, run by Clarke and hypnotist John Clifford, has been operating for the last 20 years. Over an afternoon, up to 40 participants engage in discussions on arachnids and phobias before being guided through a group hypnosis. During the day, they are encouraged to find a "spider buddy": a fellow arachnophobic with whom they can swap stories and talk through their fears. This helps them feel supported during the afternoon's many physical and psychological challenges, and normalizes feelings of dread. Following a tea break, they face the ultimate challenge: a look-and-touch encounter with real, live spiders—including a big, furry Mexican red-kneed spider—at the London Zoo. 
“Spiders are quite cuddly, too, once you get to know them,” Clarke says.
Caption at the source:
Agatha, a Mexican red-kneed spider.
The craziest thing is that he is not the only one who thinks so.  Lauren Esposito, Curator of Arachnology at the California Academy of Sciences, says, “Spiders and scorpions and other arachnids are cuddly creatures."  What's wrong with these people!!!

Maybe I should stop reading all these creepy crawly things in my newsfeed and, instead, I should return to my favorite topic ;)

Monday, November 16, 2015

If you prick us, do we not bleed?

It is easy to dish out philosophical advice and comfort to others upon whom the cosmos might have showered misfortunes.  When a death happens but in a different home, we trot out all the platitudes.  The believers might even say things like "your loved one is now with god" or "god's will hath no why."

In the old country, there is an expression: தனக்கு பட்டால் தான் தெரியும், which translates to something like "you will truly understand it only when it happens to you."  When, for instance, a death happens in our own home--even if it is the death of beloved dog--we cry and sob just like how the neighbor did and we forget all those philosophical platitudes that we dished out to the neighbor.

It is one thing when such events happen at a personal, individual level, but, another when an entire country is going through an upheaval that I cannot even begin to imagine in my wildest imaginations.  I am referring to Syria here.  When the war and the killings unfolded in Syria, all those over the past few years apparently mattered less to us compared to when the horrific killings happened in our own home, in Paris:
Monuments around the world lit up in the colors of the French flag; presidential speeches touted the need to defend “shared values;” Facebook offered users a one-click option to overlay their profile pictures with the French tricolor, a service not offered for the Lebanese flag. On Friday the social media giant even activated Safety Check, a feature usually reserved for natural disasters that lets people alert loved ones that they are unhurt; they had not activated it the day before for Beirut.
“When my people died, no country bothered to light up its landmarks in the colors of their flag,” Elie Fares, a Lebanese doctor, wrote on his blog. “When my people died, they did not send the world into mourning. Their death was but an irrelevant fleck along the international news cycle, something that happens in those parts of the world.”
The implication, numerous Lebanese commentators complained, was that Arab lives mattered less
That was after a double suicide attack in Beirut only a day before the Paris tragedy.  A city that was finally becoming calm and peaceful after years of unrest, and despite all the chaos next door in Syria that was pushing out refugees into Lebanon.
“Imagine if what happened in Paris last night would happen there on a daily basis for five years,” said Nour Kabbach, who fled the heavy bombardment of her home city of Aleppo, Syria, several years ago and now works in humanitarian aid in Beirut.
“Now imagine all that happening without global sympathy for innocent lost lives, with no special media updates by the minute, and without the support of every world leader condemning the violence,” she wrote on Facebook.
I want to be very clear here, before some troll thinks that I am minimizing the tragedy in Paris--I am not, and these two posts make that very clear.

"All of these tragedies are "an attack on all of humanity," writes this commentator, who points out how the media even reported the events very differently:
Although the terrorist group behind the attacks in Paris and Beirut was the same, the Western media narrative has been vastly different. In Paris, ISIS attacked the city's progressive youth, massacring dozens enjoying their night out at a concert, a soccer game and a restaurant. In Beirut, ISIS struck a "Hezbollah stronghold" in the "southern suburbs of Beirut," a poor, majority Shia area often characterized as a bastion of terrorism in the region. The attack was portrayed as little more than strategic punishment for Hezbollah's ongoing involvement in the Syrian civil war and support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
As much as we are shocked and sad about the Paris attacks, don't we need to think about other places too where the same ISIS has made daily life a hell on earth?  Shouldn't what we feel for Paris and France be the same as what we feel for Aleppo and Syria?  For Beirut and Lebanon?  For Baghdad and Iraq?  for ...

It seems like we have forgotten this part that Shakespeare wrote:
If you prick us, do we not bleed?
if you tickle us, do we not laugh?
if you poison us, do we not die? 
But want to remember only the lines that come after that:
and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.

Caption at the source:
The relatives of one of the victims of the twin suicide attacks in Beirut mourned
during a funeral procession in the city's Burj al-Barajneh neighborhood.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Hipsters of Tamil Nadu: Plaid and the Madras Shirt

Perhaps it is my fascination for autoethnography and a quest for the meaning of life that makes me seek the connections between what I read and my own life.  It is my own way of finding my own personal connections to this universe and developing my own interpretation of the old mahavakya तत्त्वमसि (You are that.)

Today's piece in this fascinating quest: the plaid shirt.

Back in my first year of graduate school, I bought myself a plaid shirt, with the typical red and black color combination.  When I wore it to class on a Southern California winter day, a classmate--a White American woman--greeted me with "hey lumberjack!"

I had no idea what she was referring to.  Why am I a lumberjack because of the warm and colorful shirt that I was wearing?  Keep in mind that this was well before my immersion into all things Americana and, of course, before I figured out the importance of small talk in this culture.

Over the years I have also come to understand that as one from Madras (Chennai) and Tamil Nadu, maybe I had had the preference for the plaid shirt even back in India thanks to the Madras shirts--though I knew about the expression "Madras shirt" only after living in the US.  I know, I know, this autoethnographic piece is getting to be a ball of woolen yarn; so, will slowly thread the story for you ;)

In 1978, archeologists inspecting an ancient cemetery in China found the 3,000-year old remains of a "6-foot-2, tall, brown hair, and long-nosed" body referred to as the "Cherchen Man."  And, even more interestingly:
When the archeologists discovered this 3,000-year-old body, it was dressed in a “twill tunic and tartan leggings.” Various colors of wool were interwoven. They are the oldest preserved pants in the world and the first example of what we know as plaid. (Which isn't to say this is the first plaid ever made: There are references to the design that pre-date the Cherchen Man; his just happen to be preserved.)
While it's still not entirely clear how persons of Celtic descent ended up in China, the discovery is proof that the Scottish people have been using plaid/tartan as a design for more than 3,000 years.
Imagine that!

Fast forward from the time of the Cherchen Man to the British mercantilism morphing into imperialism.  The Subcontinent, especially in the cotton-growing areas, is way too hot for wool.
The modern day Madras fabric has a plaid or checked and sometimes even striped pattern in generally bright colors. These patterns, especially plaid, first made their appearance about a hundred and fifty years ago and were the result of the tartan craze which started with the visit of King George IV to Scotland in 1822. As was to be expected, this influenced the British in India and tartan started to be incorporated into Madras. The Harris Museum in Preston, Lancashire has two swatches of Madras fabric dating from 1866; one is a tartan and the other very similar to modern day Madras
I recall wearing plenty of checked-patterned shirts when growing up in India, but had no idea then about this rich story of Scottish tartans and the British Raj.

Of course, it was not I who brought the Madras Shirt to the US ;)
It first made its appearance in America in 1718 as a part of a donation made to the Collegiate School of Connecticut by the then Governor of Madras Elihu Yale.
Ahem, by now you know well about my thoughts on Yale--the person--right?
the big breakthrough came allegedly in 1958, when the leading textile importer William Jacobson embarked on a trip from the U.S. to Bombay in the hopes to return with this exotic fabric from India.
What happened?
Upon his arrival, the local textile Commissioner Mr. Swaminathan directed him to Captain C.P.Krishnan Nair the proprietor of Leela Scottish Lace Ltd, a textile exporting company from Chennai ( modern day Madras) who presented Jacobson with a fabric that he fell for right away. It was a Madras plaid fabric with a strong smell of vegetable dyes and sesame oils that was dyed in vivid colors that was originally made for export to South Africa. Mr. Nair was delighted to supply Mr. Jacobson with the Madras fabric at $1 per yard, warning him that the fabric required utmost care when laundering because the color would run out if it wasn’t gently washed in cold water.
The American exporter sold ( 10,000 yards ) of the same fabric to Brooks Brothers who manufactured trousers and jackets (which sold for $50) . 
Wait, this gets more interesting:
However Jacobson failed to fully explain the properties of the fabric and did not issue washing instructions to Brooks Brothers.
Customers were furious when they saw the colors run that ruined their expensive summer apparel. Jacobson was likewise furious and summoned Mr. Nair to the United States where his attorneys threatened to sue Mr. Nair and the Leela Scottish Lace Ltd.
Which is where the marketing genius kicked in:
One of the attorneys arranged an interview for Mr. Nair with the editor of Seventeen Magazine in which he created a story about this miracle Madras fabric from India that was exclusively made for Brooks Brothers in New York. In the following issue, the editor ran a seven-page article about fabric titled “Bleeding Madras — the miracle handwoven fabric from India”. And since pictures say more than 1,000 words, they added beautiful photographs with the caption “guaranteed to bleed”.
Within a days of the magazine hitting the newsstands, Brooks Brothers was flooded with thousands of requests for the Madras items and it became an overnight success. Both, Mr. Jacobson and Mr. Nair made a fortune from the sale and paved the way for future Indian fabric exports of millions of yards of Madras cloth.
In the 1960’s, David Ogivily, one of the leading “Mad Men” of the era, would further a very similar campaign for Hathaway Madras shirts, and all of a sudden customers couldn’t wait to see their Madras shirts fade fast enough.
To borrow the words from another American, "there's a sucker born every minute."

And to bring this to a close, from right here in Oregon, well, there is a town close by that is named Madras.  Why?
According to one version of the story, someone noticed a bolt of Madras pattern cloth and suggested that the town be called “Madras.” Others contend that the name was chosen because of the early settlers’ spiritual affinity with the city in India.
Namaste! ;)

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris, je t'aime

The highly empathetic pacifist that I am, I felt my body tightening up after reading the news about the latest act of terror in Paris.  I shut down the computer and lay down for a few minutes in silence.

As I blog this, it is nearly a full day since that first report.  "Third World War" is one of the trending themes in Twitter.  Turns out that it was after something that Pope Francis said:
Left behind in Paris were the latest scars, said Pope Francis, from the “piecemeal Third World War.”
If we really want to talk about a Third World War, then I would submit that it already happened, and it was in a different context--Congo:
Between 1998 and 2003, an extremely complex and chaotic civil war engulfed the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) -- a vast, thickly-jungled nation in Central Africa the size of Western Europe -- and spilled over into neighboring countries, including Rwanda, Angola, Burundi, Zimbabwe and Uganda.
While the estimated 5-million death toll from this war pales in comparison to the 15-million lives lost during World War I, and the 60-million who perished in the Second World War -- the DR Congo inferno was nonetheless was one of the ten deadliest wars in recorded history.
Moreover, given that the DR Congo war erupted in such incredible violence during the turn of the 21st-century (amidst the global internet communication phenomenon), its relative obscurity is puzzling, to say the least.
It was the deadliest since WW II.

In addition to the terrible tragedy of loss of lives and traumatic injuries--physical and mental--to many more, another problem arises, as Nick Gillespie wrote five years ago:
The problem isn't with the current moment's rhetoric, it's with the goddamn politicization of every goddamn thing not even for a higher purpose or broader fight but for the cheapest moment-by-moment partisan advantage. Whether on the left or on the right, there's a totalist mentality that everything can and should be explained first and foremost as to whether it helps or hurt the party of choice.
How can we begin to engage in constructive dialog in such contexts?  I do not mean a dialog with ISIS--those are irrational actors who are beyond any dialog.  I mean a dialog amongst the overwhelming majority of us who, thankfully, do not think and act like how ISIS and other terrorists do.  "It’s a simple strategy. It’s just not easy to implement":
[Reframing]  political arguments in terms of your audience’s morality should be viewed less as an exercise in targeted, strategic persuasion, and more as an exercise in real, substantive perspective taking. To do it, you have to get into the heads of the people you’d like to persuade, think about what they care about and make arguments that embrace their principles. If you can do that, it will show that you view those with whom you disagree not as enemies, but as people whose values are worth your consideration.
Even if the arguments that you wind up making aren’t those that you would find most appealing, you will have dignified the morality of your political rivals with your attention, which, if you think about it, is the least that we owe our fellow citizens.
Yep, easier said than done.  The inability to engage in a constructive dialog is why responses include stuff like this:

I hope some day we will learn how to talk with each other and take care of our common problems like ISIS.  Until then, it seems like this pacifist will have only stress-filled days :(

Wishing for peace

Friday, November 13, 2015

I am beginning to hate the zero-tolerance approach

There aren't enough minutes left in my life to list all the mistakes that I have committed.  Small and huge that affected other people.  I vividly recall many of them, and I bet there are more that I don't remember but which the affected parties recall all too well.  Some in elementary school, a few more in high school, and more in college.  These do not even include the works of the devilish idle mind when in the home environment--at my parents' or at grandmother's or ...

There is a fair chance that in most of those situations, the teachers and the elders knew that I was in the wrong, even more than I knew that I was in the wrong.  I bet they gave me a pass because, well, kids screw up all the time.  Some kids screw up more than other kids do.  I would have presented them with a problem if I were not learning from my screw-ups and, instead, were getting on the road to hell.  As long as I was not a repeat-offender, so to say, and as long as the errors were not way off the chart, what I did mattered not much to them.  It was not zero tolerance.

School kids are way more restricted now, it seems.  It is awful.  Even universities seem to be even more protective and less tolerant here in the US than how colleges were back then in India.

I thought I had seen and heard it all, until this flashed in my newsfeed:
9-Year-old Boy Who Passed Love Notes to Girls Threatened with Sexual Harassment Charges
Are you f*ing kidding me?  If a nine-year old boy cannot pass love notes to a fellow classmate .. That's the preciousness of a little romance!

Let's check in with his mother; what exactly did the love notes contain?  Can we have an example?
"How she wears the same uniform and how her eyes sparkled like diamonds," his mother said
Seriously?  If only I had known as a fourteen-year old to compare her eyes to sparkling diamonds!  He is nine years old!
But soon, she says other students started teasing her son about wanting to see the little girl naked.
"That's when the principal proceeded to tell me that it wasn't appropriate that he was writing the note and that if he writes another note, they are going to file sexual harassment charges on my 9-year-old," the mom said.
Hillsborough school district said the boy wrote more than one note and that the notes were unwanted, so that borders on harassment.
Of course the other students would say such things--kids act out in many ways.  Adults then correct them ... but threaten with sexual harassment charges?  They are a bunch of nine year olds, dammit!

The boy--and his classmates--need to be educated on not bothering other kids of any gender.  I wish I had been taught that when I was nine years old--heck, even when I was twenty years old.  That kind of important behavior-correcting education is different from the threat of sexual harassment.
Mild-mannered love notes sent by nine-year-olds do not constitute sexual harassment, and the principal who thought otherwise needs his safety-paranoia meter recalibrated.

We adults do not seem to be discussing important matters like these and are, instead, happily entertaining ourselves to death when not working ourselves to death!  Or, at best, we are scaring ourselves :(
Parents are told almost daily that their children’s health, welfare and safety are at risk, not just from strangers lurking in the park but from adults they know and thought they could trust, including family members, teachers, doctors and volunteers – and the apparently ever-growing menace of online grooming and abuse. Given this state of affairs, how could parents not end up being fearful and paranoid?
How should we, as adults collectively, think about how best to protect and care for children while at the same time challenging and testing them in creative ways? Why do we find it so hard to agree on a ‘commonsense’ approach to child-rearing? ... How might we find ways to develop character, determination and independence of thought and action in future generations?
Now, all I can think is this: thankfully, I am way past the years of youthful follies and, even more thankfully, I am way past the years of raising a child! Phew!!! ;)

Most read this past month