Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The day the music died!

My first full-fledged experience with the American presidential election was when Bill Clinton was the candidate, campaigning as a "new Democrat" against the Republican Bush and the independent Perot.  I did follow the 1988 elections, but I was still new in this country.  By 1992, I was well seasoned in Americana.

One of the coolest things in 1992 was Bill Clinton playing the saxophone while being a guest on Arsenio Hall's show.  It was not his sex, er, sax skills that impressed me.  I didn't care, nor do I even know how to rate such skills.  I was mighty impressed that a candidate to lead the most powerful country was not all stiff. and that there was a lot more color to his personality.

Clinton's presidency also marked my transition from graduate studenthood to life as a real adult, in America.  Like real Americans, I too started watching a lot of TV!!!  Except that mine included quite a few hours of C-Span and public television.

It always fascinated me that music programs were hosted at the White House and also broadcast.  I got to watch pop stars and opera stars alike performing in an intimate setting--right from my living room.

One of my favorites was a rather recent one (recent given my 30 years in America), when musicians performed Paul McCartney's songs in the White House.

Obama leading the crowd with Amazing Grace in a very emotional setting was memorable, yes.  It was also phenomenal leadership during a very tough time.

And now we have an uncultured and uncouth horrible human being, who is seemingly at ease only with everything that lives and breathes in cesspools!  Culture he hasn't shown.  The Economist writes that "The White House has become a cultural wasteland":
IT IS hard to imagine a presidential duty as easy, uncontroversial and plainly enjoyable as hosting the nation’s greatest artists, writers, actors and musicians at the White House. Such events offer a reprieve from politics and partisanship. They bestow glamour on an administration. They are a routine part of the job—a means of recognising and supporting the indispensable role of the arts in a great civilisation.
Yet for Donald Trump even this duty is proving difficult. Artists have snubbed him since the inauguration, when musicians like Elton John, Céline Dion and Garth Brooks refused invitations to perform. “Anything that gives aid and comfort to the adversary is a poor idea,” tweeted Joyce Carol Oates, a novelist, in support. By contrast, Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 drew together the very best in American culture—Aretha Franklin, Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, John Williams, Elizabeth Alexander and (for the Obamas’ first dance that night) Beyoncé. 
Of course, I will be labeled an "elitist" by the fuhrer's followers.  But, hey, I am talking about art that survives the test of time.  Puccini's arias and Aretha Franklin's songs will be around for way longer, well after we are all dead.  But, this president knows not such art, and the artists know better than to perform in this madman's presence.
After his comments on Charlottesville, all 16 members of the Presidential Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, established by Ronald Reagan in 1982 to advise on cultural policy, resigned. “We cannot sit idly by, the way that your West Wing advisors have, without speaking out against your words and actions,” they wrote in a letter.
Art--written, sung, spoken, drawn, painted, danced--helps us understand our existence.  We understand ourselves much more and much better thanks to the artists who help us with their creations and renditions.

But, this president does not care about what it means to be human.  He knows not what empathy is, and cares only for one thing--himself!
In the face of concerns like North Korea and neo-Nazis, Mr Trump’s rift with the art world seems insignificant. But it is another indicator of the tenor of his presidency and how drastically it breaks with previous administrations of both parties. Indeed, artists have usually attended White House receptions even when they disagreed with the sitting president. Bill Clinton honoured Charlton Heston, a staunch conservative. George W. Bush hosted Barbra Streisand, an ardent Democrat.
Mr Trump’s stance toward the artists who criticise him suggests he would rather take after, say, the Kremlin if he could: last week, Russian authorities placed Kirill Serebrennikov, one of the country’s leading theatre directors, under house arrest. In America artists still roam free. Will their resistance matter? 
I hope the resistance matters a lot.  Else, we are doomed!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Did you know that I am an Asian-American?

First, read the following sentences from an otherwise wonderfully informative essay:
Iraq taught us the cost of going to war against an adversary that we do not fully understand. Before we take a radical step into Asia, we should be sure that we’re not making that mistake again.
Do you see what I see?


"Before we take a radical step into Asia" is the key there.

That phrasing seems to ignore that Iraq is in Asia.  (Afghanistan, too, is in Asia.)  So, it should be phrased as "Before we take another radical step into Asia." Right?

Perhaps you are thinking that I am being picky.  No, I am not.

In the US, "Asians" has come to mean only people from the Far East: China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam,  and maybe even the Philippines.  This has been an issue that I have been fighting ever since my graduate school days when I reminded many white Americans that I too am an Asian.

One of my favorite encounters on this topic was post-graduate school, when I was working as a transportation planner.  An Anglophile colleague, Marilyn, walked over to my work space during a coffee break to ask me a question.  She was reading a novel set in London, and was confused that the Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi characters were being referred to as Asians.  I had to explain to her that Asia is a continent, and people from that continent are Asians, as much as the French and the Czech are Europeans!

A couple of months ago, I wrote a letter to The New Yorker, on this very topic.
In the essay on how television made Trump's presidency possible, Emily Nussbaum writes that “The Apprentice” attracted diverse contestants and audience.  Nussbaum notes: "It also featured contestants from Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern backgrounds, and, in Season 5, recent immigrants."  In that sentence, Nussbaum makes the same mistake that is often made here in the US--she identifies "Asian" as being separate from "Indian, and Middle Eastern," even though India and the Middle East are very much part of Asia.
In America, "Asians" has come to mean only those from from the far eastern edges of Asia--like China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam.  Perhaps this resulted from our military entanglements with those countries.  But then given our military expeditions elsewhere, like in Afghanistan and Iraq, and one would think that by now we would have figured out that the people of those countries too are Asians!
I didn't care whether that would be published (it was not) but I had to get that off my chest!  This time, I am not going to bother writing to that magazine again about Iraq being in Asia.  It is a losing battle!

Monday, September 18, 2017

To the GOP, denial is nothing but a river in Egypt!

I have blogged enough about climate change, which is all the more why I cannot understand how the maniacal Republicans can continue to be in denial.  Two years ago, back in August 2015, in responding to this comment by a GOP loyalist, I wrote:
What is, therefore, tragic is this: even when we now know better, we seem to want to continue along the same path that we have been traveling for decades. And the esteemed leaders of your favored political party even believe that the problems are all nothing but figments of the liberal imaginations. It is beyond my abilities to comprehend how politicians who have tremendous influence over our lives can be such vehement deniers.
The GOP loyalists apparently do not care for anything other than electing one of their own to the Oval Office--humanity be damned!

And then there were mysterious visitors, who continued to spout their denialist comments (like here.)

Thus, we continue to fail to address climate change.
Is this failure to act the legacy our generation wants to leave for the generations yet to come?
Apparently even the destructive hurricanes and extreme heat and all the other data won't convince the denialists!
[The] most savage heat waves that we experience today will likely become routine in a matter of decades. The coastal inundation that has already begun will grow worse and worse, forcing millions of people to flee. The immense wave of refugees that we already see moving across continents may be just the beginning.
In Washington, progress on climate change has stalled. The administration has announced its intent to withdraw from the global Paris climate accord. And top Trump appointees insist that the causes of climate change are too uncertain and the scientific forecasts too unreliable to be a basis for action.
A school "lifer" like me from the old country, who returned to India after earning his credentials here in the US, warns that storms and heatwaves will worsen because of climate change, and that monsoons will become more chaotic.  "It’s a question of taking onus and preparing for the bad climate," Krishna concludes.

Do that. Or, the alternative is to simply put into practice the words of the GOP's patron-saint of skulldaggery: deny, deny, deny!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Abdicate now: The world is flabbergasted!

I have had a few chocolate bars sitting on the dining table for a couple of weeks now.  In the freezer is a container that I am yet to open.  In the kitchen shelf is an unopened packet of potato chips.

Yet, yesterday afternoon, when I felt like snacking, I picked up a banana from the fruit basket!

For years, I have been suggesting to students that the challenge in these modern times is to stay away from inexpensive calories.  As animals, we want to spend the least amount of work in order to obtain the calories that we need.  As economic agents, we want to spend as little as possible for the calories that we need.  In this world of food abundance, it is, therefore, easy to get into our systems a whole lot of calories at very low prices.  And that is where the problem begins.
Across the world, more people are now obese than underweight. At the same time, scientists say, the growing availability of high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods is generating a new type of malnutrition, one in which a growing number of people are both overweight and undernourished.
“The prevailing story is that this is the best of all possible worlds — cheap food, widely available. If you don’t think about it too hard, it makes sense,” said Anthony Winson, who studies the political economics of nutrition at the University of Guelph in Ontario. A closer look, however, reveals a much different story, he said. “To put it in stark terms: The diet is killing us.”
We can blame the manipulative practices of the food industry for all we want, and they deserve to be blamed.  But, at some point, we need to look at our fat selves in the mirror and realize that we have met the enemy.

Brazil, which we associate with the fantastic beaches and skimpily attired shapely women, is no exception to this diet crisis:
The rising obesity rates are largely associated with improved economics, as families with increasing incomes embrace the convenience, status and flavors offered by packaged foods.
Busy parents ply their toddlers with instant noodles and frozen chicken nuggets, meals that are often accompanied by soda. Rice, beans, salad and grilled meats — building blocks of the traditional Brazilian diet — are falling by the wayside, studies have found.
Compounding the problem is the rampant street violence that keeps young children cooped up indoors.
All these are modern day problems that the hunter-gatherers did not have to worry about.  As I have noted before, these are all the results of a historic turn of events about 12,000 years ago: Settled agriculture.
For instance, the average time devoted each week to obtaining food is only 12 to 19 hours for one group of Bushmen, 14 hours or less for the Hadza nomads of Tanzania. One Bushman, when asked why he hadn't emulated neighboring tribes by adopting agriculture, replied, "Why should we, when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world?"
Archaeologists have proved this. If we examine two female skeletal remains from, say, 8,000 years ago, one from within a “grain” civilization and the other from mobile foraging and hunting peoples outside that civilization, the difference is clear. The bones and teeth of “civilized” woman are far more likely to have left a signature of malnutrition and iron-deficiency anemia while the bones of those outside these centers (the “barbarians!”) rarely bear such signs. What’s more, the barbarians are taller, less likely to be stunted. The difference is most striking among women due to the loss of blood during menses combined with a diet often lacking in the protein that would replace the red blood cells quickly.
We invented chocolate and ice cream, and that is our go-to-food for our kids because we parents work an insane number of hours.  Who is the smarter one: The Bushmen or us? ;)

ps: The title is from neologisms via The Washington Post:
Abdicate: To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach
Flabbergasted: Appalled at how much weight you have gained

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Free speech is for losers!

My father had a question for me.  "You have a flair for writing.  Why don't you write for the paper here?"

I told him only one half of the truth.  "I am not familiar with the nuances of India's politics for me to write about issues there."  He was convinced.

I did not share with father the rest: I have given up on the old country.

It is not that I don't follow the news about the country where I was born and raised.  I do.  But  ...

No wonder the courts always require "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."  Half-truths don't tell the entire story.

As I commented even here, I deeply value free speech, which is increasingly a endangered species in India.  The latest victim for speaking freely was a female journalist, Gauri Lankesh.
Gauri Lankesh was the editor of a weekly tabloid published in Kannada, the main language of the southern Indian state of Karnataka. She was murdered on the fifth of September at the gate of her house in Bangalore, shot in the head and chest at close range.
Back in my younger years, free speech was severely curtailed during the dark two years of Emergency rule under Indira Gandhi.  She threw journalists in jail, and heavily censored the publications that were critical of her. It seems like free speech is way more a risky proposition now in India!
From the moment she died, the press reported her death not as an individual event but as the fourth in a sequence of assassinations; to the names Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, and M.M. Kalburgi, journalists now added Gauri Lankesh. Politically they were all left-leaning, strongly rationalist, hostile to Hindu orthodoxy, and convinced that right-wing majoritarianism was the mortal enemy of republican democracy. They were also public intellectuals who chose to write in their mother tongues: Dabholkar and Pansare wrote in Marathi, Kalburgi and Lankesh in Kannada. They spoke to a vernacular readership beyond the reach of the country’s English media, with its pan-Indian but paper-thin Anglophone audience. Each of them was shot dead by men on motorcycles with homemade pistols who got away. 
And these are no isolated cases.  They fit into an overall theme:
The intimidation or murder of inconvenient journalists is part of a much wider violent tendency. Since Narendra Modi became prime minister, India has seen a spate of targeted assaults on poor Muslims and Dalits, plebeian groups who deal in hides and skins and cattle and meat. Dalits dealing in cow hides have been systematically thrashed by vigilantes, encouraged by the present regime’s commitment to cow protection. Muslims have been dragged from their homes and beaten to death on the suspicion of having eaten beef. Muslims involved in the cattle trade have been bludgeoned to death on public highways as they begged for their lives, or strung up on trees and lynched.
The deaths of Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi, and Lankesh weren’t just murders; they were lynchings, no different from the killings carried out by cow vigilantes.
Shikha Dalmia, who is a libertarian-conservative Indian-American journalist, whom I have been reading for years, writes about Lankesh's assassination.
To say that Gauri, whom I met in journalism school in New Delhi 34 years ago, was a remarkable woman would be an understatement. There was just no one I knew that was packaged quite like her. She combined a gentle warmth, profound compassion, easy forgiveness with a steely, unwavering, moral conviction. She was also preternaturally humble and honest—a hero who didn't have the vanity to imagine being one.
From years of reading Dalmia, well, her high praise means high praise.  Dalmia does not bullshit.
She made mistakes and had her blind spots, to be sure. Unlike me, she had a strong socialist streak. She didn't condemn Naxalism—a militant Maoist movement in India that fights for lower castes and farmers against feudal, upper-caste landlords—as forcefully as she should have. She called for the "rehabilitation" of its members because she saw them as more misguided than dangerous—and also because, whatever their excesses, they paled in comparison with those of a violent state that without any due process killed real and alleged Naxals in fake "encounters" (confrontations), including one with our journalism school senior, Saket Rajan, whose death profoundly affected Gauri.
I will end this with Dalmia's line:
Gauri's assassination shows just how far India's once-proud liberal democracy has fallen.

Friday, September 15, 2017

It is roses ... among the thorns

The boarding announcement stirred up the young and the old alike. I sat there people watching as they called out the group numbers.

A couple of minutes in, the older white woman leaned over from her seat,  "what is your group number?"

I told her the number.

"They already called your number. You should go."

"That's alright.  We are all going to the same plane anyway," I replied.

That was not the response that she was expecting.

"Are you a yogi?

That was not the question that I had expected.  I smiled.

"That's what a yogi would say, you know?"

"Yes." I smiled again, though wondering whether she would know that I was actually smiling.

I am, according to the friend, the calmest wreck.  Which is perhaps why the woman did not know that I was all agitated inside.

The agitation was not because of trump.  But from a simple fact that I have had plenty of bad luck with flights.  Flights delayed and canceled for all kinds of reasons.

My favorite (worst) were these two: Once it was because a flight attendant did not show up, and they had to cancel the flight.  Another time, the jet-bridge couldn't reach the doorway of the plane--a mechanical malfunction--and it stopped about a foot short.  They did not allow us to deplane, even though we could have easily crossed over the two-foot gap, and I missed my connection.

Yet, I apparently came across as a calm yogi to the older passenger.

"Shit happens" is a great bumper sticker, yes, but not when that shit happens to you, right?

Over the years, I have come to understand that shit not only happens, but it happens all the time.  "Life ain't all rose petals," I recently told my daughter.  "I wish it were," was her immediate response.

I wish her, and all of you, nothing but rose petals.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A conspiracy against the laity

The title of this blog is a GBS quote, as I have always noted in the margin.

When I first came across GBS, which was in middle or high school years in the old country, of course I had no idea about this quote.  It was a joke about the spelling and pronunciation issues in the English language that first made me aware of a George Bernard Shaw.

For many of us who grew up with a language other than English, and with the native script simultaneously phonetic as well, English was--and continues to be--a pain in the ass.  Or, a "royal" pain in the "arse," for those who prefer the Queen's English!

Thus, it delighted me to no end when I read that a certain GBS had made fun of the English language, by showing how "ghoti" should be pronounced as "fish."  (Much later in life, I would learn that the GBS-ghoti story is a myth!)

Then came GBS in the high school curriculum: An excerpt from his Pygmalion.

Once there was a collection of GBS in real life in the Readers Digest.  Here is how I remember two of them:
At a dinner party, GBS is seated next to a famous stage actress.  She tells him that if the two should have a baby together, it might be a powerful combination of her beauty and his brains.  Without missing a beat, GBS responds that it will be a disaster because the baby will have his beauty and her brains!
Another one:
GBS sent Winston Churchill two tickets to the opening night of his play, along with a note that one ticket was for Churchill and the second for any friend--if Churchill had a friend.
Churchill replied to that with a note that he would attend the second day of the play, if there would ever be a second day.
And then came GBS the Socialist.  Back in my commie days, I got to read about the Fabian Society, which had attracted the likes of GBS and Nehru.

GBS the socialist apparently adored Stalin!
Beneath Shaw’s infatuation with Stalin, moreover, was a force that is still with us: a desire to see in Russia all the qualities that the Western democracies lack.
I can easily relate to what the author writes as the context that lies under GBS' infatuation with Stalin:
But underlying all of this, there was an even stronger impulse: the fantasy of Russia itself. Long before the Bolshevik Revolution gave the dream a very particular political content, Shaw was primed to expect a global spiritual resurrection that would begin in Russia. This hope was not as fanciful as it may now seem: In the late 19th century, when Shaw’s political and artistic consciousness was being formed, Russian music, drama and literature were at the leading edge of modern Western culture. As he later wrote to Maxim Gorky, “I myself am as strongly susceptible as anyone to the fascination of the Russian character as expressed by its art and personally by its artists.”
I didn't know about GBS's Russian literature fixation, but I can relate to it.

By not understanding the tremendous richness of Russia's cultural past, and by equating Russia only with Communism--and putin--we do ourselves a huge disservice.  This tunnel vision is also a reason for why we are at a loss when it comes to understanding the Russian longing for the glory days of the old, which Svetlana Alexievich writes about.

Shaw's infatuation with Stalin is a lesson for all of us, especially in the donald "puppet" trump era:
Shaw’s infatuation with Russia became a full-on love affair with a Soviet autocrat, whereas the Trump bromance with President Putin appears unconsummated. But they share a fatal attraction that both preceded and survived the Soviet Union: the allure of a faraway place where the great leader is obeyed because he embodies a people’s soul.
All I can say is that the trump administration and the republican congress are certainly a conspiracy against the laity!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Yes, Virginia, colonialism exists!

I was an intern in a regional planning agency in Los Angeles, during my graduate school days, thanks to this departed friend.  The internship was one of the many awkward and uncomfortable phases of my life, but that is a different story for another day.

My supervisor was an African-American woman.  Boy was she excited when Clinton beat Bush!  There were two younger women of color who worked in the adjacent cubicles.  Both were full-time employees.  One was from Eritrea.  She was the first person, and the only one ever, from Eritrea with whom I have talked to in real life.

The other woman was from from the Caribbean, she said.  St. Thomas, she added.

My reaction was simple. "St. Thomas?"

Hey, there is only so much one can know.  Life does not teach everything all at once to everybody.  Learning is a lifelong activity.

It was before the days of the world wide web.  Back then, we learnt from each other.  I asked her a whole bunch of questions about St. Thomas.  Including whether they too enjoyed Belafonte's songs.

I thought I had learnt everything important that was to be learnt about St. Thomas.  Of course, wrong I was.  I had no idea all these years that:
One hundred years ago, the islands were called the Danish West Indies. Denmark sold the islands in 1917 to the United States for $25 million.
The Danish West Indies.  One speck of a tiny European country colonizing remote parts of the world, the old country included.

St. Thomas was in the news, but briefly.  Hurricane Irma smashed into the islands there.  Even though the island, along with a few others, is a part of the US, well, the people there aren't "real Americans."  We Americans are the colonizers, and they are the natives who are part of the whole but without any voting rights.

The island has been devastated.
When I finally received a text from my Aunt Cecile on Thursday, she wrote, “The post office is gone.” “What do you mean ‘gone’?” I texted back. She responded with a list: “Grocery stores gone. Schools gone. Hospital gone.” “What do you mean ‘gone’?” I asked again. “Gone,” she texted again. “Demolished. No roof. No walls.”
Imagine the scenario.  A tiny island. No where to run to.  You are stuck.  And now without anything.  Not even food and fresh water.  And you expect your government to come to your rescue, right?


Because, they are not "real Americans."
Virgin Islanders are led by a president who makes clear delineations between “real” Americans and all the rest. True, the people of the Virgin Islands didn’t vote for this current president. The people of the Virgin Islands didn’t vote for any president of our United States of America, because voting in the general election is not a privilege of citizenship that the federal government extends to us. Like the citizens of Puerto Rico, Guam and the other United States territories, we are not yet real Americans.
We Americans do not care when cyclones batter Bangladesh. We don't care even for the Virgin Islands.
No wonder TV networks and even the president’s homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, can’t seem to get it right.
In a press briefing last Friday, Mr. Bossert appeared to chastise the news media for not covering the government response to Hurricane Irma’s assault on the Virgin Islands. Watching him, I held my breath, wondering if now someone would claim us. But he mentioned the evacuation of American citizens from the Virgin Islands in the same way he talked about the evacuation of American citizens from St. Maarten and St. Martin. I took him to mean: We are evacuating the real Americans from these foreign Caribbean islands.
It is like how post-Katrina, many commentators were referring to the people fleeing Louisiana as "refugees"--because "real Americans" are white and, therefore, the non-whites were like those running away from Eritrea!

I suppose the "real Americans" are very happy with this real-American president!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

I goof around. Ergo, I exist!

I never watched any Woody Allen movie until I came to America.  Here in the new home, I think my first Allen movie was Banana Republic; I laughed throughout.  (Years later, when I watched it again, I found plenty that were not funny.  I think it is a movie that was for a particular time, and not one for all time.)

I watched a few more.  Once, I was talking about Allen with a graduate school mate, Steve.  I told him how much I loved Allen for both the artsy and the commercial aspects in his movies.  Steve agreed.  And more.  Steve, who was Jewish, said that I probably do not get some of the "inside baseball" jokes that are truly Jewish.  We both agreed that whether or not I got those, Woody Allen's movies easily reached a diverse global audience.

Over the years, I have watched a lot more of Allen's movies. Even brought him into more than one post here. (like this)

But ...
For years the evidence has accumulated: Allen is an astonishingly lazy director.
As in the recent years. Well, the last two decades.  Like Scoop.   If it were not for the fact that it was a Woody Allen movie, I doubt if I would have even picked that up to watch.  Of his recent ones, I did enjoy Match Point.  And even though Blue Jasmine won good reviews, I could barely watch the first thirty minutes and I then called it quits.

So, why does he make these kind of movies now when he can rest on his laurels?
Allen is bluntly honest. “I’m lazy and an imperfectionist,” he explained in a 2015 NPR interview. “Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese will work on the details until midnight and sweat it out, whereas for me, come 6 o’clock, I want to go home, I want to have dinner, I want to watch the ballgame. Filmmaking is not [the] end-all be-all of my existence.”
There is a profound bottom-line.  Pick your profession.  And that can always be used to fill the blank in "______ is not [the] end-all be-all of my existence,” right? (I will not be dragged into this aspect of Allen's life, at least not in this post!)

I have always had a fondness for people who make it clear through their decisions in life that "______ is not [the] end-all be-all of my existence.”  Because, hey, that has always been my approach too.  While I might be disappointed that many of my plans did not work out, even those "failures" are not the end-all be-all of my existence.

The handyman that the friend suggested was even way more committed to that philosophy that I am.  A guy who can fix just about anything.  Perhaps a few years older than me.  But, no ordinary tradesman he is.  An undergraduate degree years ago.  From the few minutes I talked with him, it seemed like his was a conscious and calculated decision on what he wanted from life and what would define his happiness.

I was so impressed that I bought a book that was related to his undergraduate subject and mailed that to him.

I don't worry about "______ is not [the] end-all be-all of my existence” primarily because of the conviction that I am here but merely on borrowed time.

John McCain, whose time might be running low because of the cancer, addressed that by quoting one of my favorite authors: "Everybody has to die, but I always believed an exception would be made in my case."

Of course, McCain will be remembered for a long, long, long time.  And Woody Allen too.  Most of the rest of us, on the other hand, will be forgotten like the millions who have gone traveled this one-way route.  Yet, we expend so much time and effort on ______, as if it is the end-all be-all of our existence!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Out of Eden

Typically, any new administrator who meets with us will at some point ask us what the difference is between geology and geography.  And we point out to them that geographers look at human environment interactions.

Makes sense, right?  It is not merely about humans and what we do.  It is not merely about the environment.  But, about that intersection.  Which means, well, pretty much everything.  (Therefore, to some, it can also mean it is about nothing.)

Now, what if that natural environment that is close to home--not far away like in the Arctic--is changing for the worse?  Like the paving over of wetlands, or seemingly permanently smoke-filled skies because of the cement factory in town, or ... you get the drift, right?

It is also easy to imagine that plenty of people get distressed over the destruction of that natural environment.  If only there is a word for that condition, you say?
While you won’t find it in the Oxford English Dictionary, philosopher Glenn Albrecht once coined one such word while working at the University of Newcastle in Australia. 'Solastalgia’ – a portmanteau of the words ‘solace’ and ‘nostalgia’ – is used not just in academia but more widely, in clinical psychology and health policy in Australia, as well as by US researchers looking into the effects of wildfires in California.
It describes the feeling of distress associated with environmental change close to your home, explains Albrecht.
The last two weeks here in Oregon made me feeling uneasy.  Forest fires all around the state were blowing smoke and fine particulate matter into the valley.  The blue sky and white clouds, and the hours outside, were gone.  The sun rose as an orange ball, and throughout the day its light was yellow and orange.  Sunsets were eerily spectacular.  People didn't stir out, and those that did wore masks to filter the air that they were breathing.  I couldn't even enjoy the simplest pleasure of walking up to the river, leave alone walking my favorite five-mile loop by it.

One day, I simply gave up.  It was a crappy day.

Turns out that I was down with solastalgia.
The symptoms include an underlying sense of loss, a vague sensation of being torn from the earth, a general out-of-placeness, homelessness without leaving home. ... Solastalgia is the unease we inflict on ourselves as we create a world we don’t want to inhabit, a world stripped of nature.
I am not even an environmental nut-case and I find that I suffer from mild solastalgia.

At least the deterioration in the natural condition around me was temporary.  After a few bad days, the high pressure system let go of its choke-hold.  The wind direction changed.  The temperature dropped.  The blue sky returned.  I said hi to the river.

But, what if the damage to the natural environment near our homes is permanent?  How does one recover from that?
 “Solastalgia,” Albrecht wrote, “is the pain or sickness caused by the loss of, or inability to derive solace from, the present state of one’s home environment. Solastalgia exists when there is recognition that the beloved place in which one resides is under assault.” The type of assault may vary. The force of the assault may vary. The loss and unease that follows in the wake of the assault do not.
Glenn Albrecht chose “solasta” as a new root word for two reasons. “Solasta” contains the sense both of “solace” and “desolation.”
Desolation is a serious condition, I would think.
The idea of solastalgia came out of a stripped landscape, that of the Australian droughts of the early oughts. They provided direct evidence of the mental health consequences of climate change. The effects were most acute among indigenous groups, scientists who confront climate change directly, and farmers whose land has been destroyed.
Understandable, given that indigenous groups and farmers spend every single day with the natural environment in ways that we city slickers cannot even imagine.
Solastalgia, the researchers concluded, appeared to “give clear expression, both philosophically and empirically, to the environmental dimension of human distress.”
Yes, empirically too.
Solastalgia is the latest human affliction, and like the other human afflictions before it, it calls out for a cure.
If you want, read that piece to find out how the market offers a "cure."  If you are like me, you will be even more depressed at that cure!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Greed is ... good? For real?

After Charlottesville, one commentator noted that corporate America has a greater moral compass than the fascist's evangelical advisers.  Even after the world found fault with the fuhrer for defending white supremacists, the faith leaders boldly and unashamedly heaped praise on their dear leader.

These are god's defenders!

Apparently that is how one gets  into heaven, unlike the fat cat gazillionaires who get stuck in the eye of a needle!

But, maybe corporate America has figured out something that the faith leaders are yet to understand: The current president has become irrelevant!
The new strategy by corporate executives to get the policies they once hoped Trump would deliver to them—tax reform, the repatriation of corporate profits, regulatory relief, and a comprehensive infrastructure plan—is to forget about Trump altogether
Imagine that!  The businessman-president can't get any respect from big business!
Many cited Trump’s defense of white supremacists in Charlottesville as a breaking point in a steadily fraying relationship. That sense intensified with the Trump Administration’s announcement, this week, that it would end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the Obama Administration policy that protected from deportation nearly a million undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children. More than four hundred C.E.O.s and business leaders have signed a letter supporting DACA, including the leaders of A. T. & T., Hewlett-Packard, Hyatt Hotels, and Wells Fargo. The usually staunchly Republican U.S. Chamber of Commerce criticized Trump’s DACA decision on both ethical and economic grounds.
Re-read that.  Even the US Chamber of Commerce is pissed off at this businessman Republican president.  Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!!!

Because, unlike trump and his white supremacists, big businesses employ people of different colors and abilities, and sell their products and services to people of different colors--all over the world.
Corporate executives increasingly view Trump as so erratic, unpredictable, and polarizing that being too close to him risks alienating employees and consumers. They said the American workforce is, more than ever, a mosaic of creeds, ethnicities, and religions, and executives have no choice but to distance themselves from a President who insists on using the bully pulpit to drive a wedge between groups rather than unite them.
Good for them!

They aren't merely looking at their own bottom-lines though. This shocked me the most:
corporations such as Apple and JPMorganChase that made large donations—a million dollars and five hundred thousand dollars, respectively—to the Southern Poverty Law Center after Charlottesville “just to show that they agree with the condemnation of Trump.”
This president and his toadies cannot last long, at this rate.  Especially when a former president of Mexico trolls the idiot-in-chief ;)

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Censored: C****** C*****


The guy who believes he was appointed to ruin the EPA and not run the EPA is pissed off that people are talking about c****** c***** when Hurricane Irma is knocking on America's doors, after flattening quite a few doors in the Caribbean.
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that talk about how climate change has played into hurricanes like Irma and Harvey is “misplaced.”
Scott Pruitt, who has expressed skepticism on the degree to which human activity causes global warming, told CNN that the country’s focus should be squarely on the immediate effects of the hurricanes for the time being.
“Here's the issue,” Pruitt told CNN late Thursday as Irma was heading toward Florida. “To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm; versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced.”
I cannot begin to understand why there is such a sustained denial of c****** c*****.  It seems like we can even remove quite a few words from George Carlin's list, but we need to add c****** c*****.

It turns out that even these hurricanes cannot and will not change the minds of the c****** c***** deniers.
"People are pretty certain of where they stand on climate change," reports David Koniksy of Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs. "Extreme weather does not move the needle much."
Does not move the needle!
"One reason may be that people do not yet closely attribute many common types of extreme weather to climate change," the researchers conclude. "Perhaps (over time) these linkages will strengthen in the public's mind."

I bet that the 63 million who voted for the denier-in-chief are blaming god, and not c****** c*****, as Irma knocks Florida around, and will thank him (neither god nor the president can be female!)

Friday, September 08, 2017

On the economic geography of health care

"Health care in America is in crisis" is a serious understatement. It will only get worse!

Consider, for instance, employment.  We tend to assume that health care is a growing industry and, therefore, that is where the income stream is, right?  Yes, jobs are there, but ...
Yet for every higher-paying job held by workers like nurses and doctors, more than six workers such as orderlies, phlebotomists and cooks make less than $15 an hour. Nationwide, 70 percent of hospital service workers make less than $15 an hour, NELP found. In the Midwest, it's 71 percent.
Now, the $15/hr might sound like quite a compensation to a person in Bihar.  But, ahem, a cup of coffee is not 15 rupees either; there is the cost of living:
Most counties in the U.S. have a cost of living across industries that isn't covered by minimum wage incomes, according to a recent blog post from Amy Glasmeier, a professor and co-chair at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's economic geography and regional planning Ph. D program.
For instance, in Chicago, a single parent of one child needs to earn $24.67 an hour to meet a definition of living wage, while a person living alone there needs at least $12.33, based on a living-wage calculator  developed by Glasmeier in conjunction with MIT.
At least the cities are better, when one looks at health care in rural America; "half of the country's rural counties now don't have hospitals with obstetric services":
Maternity care is disappearing from America's rural counties, and for the 28 million women of reproductive age living in those areas, pregnancy and childbirth are becoming more complicated—and more dangerous.
One important factor is nothing but dollars and cents:
If hospitals want to offer obstetric services, they need to be ready for a baby to be born at any time—they need to have a bed available, the equipment available for mom and for baby, clinicians and staff available that have the necessary skills. That's a substantial expense. If a hospital's revenues are limited because it has a low volume of births—as many rural hospitals do—or if revenues are unpredictable, that creates a really difficult administrative problem.
It is exactly in such situations that we expect the government to step in where the market fails, right?  Especially when you consider this: "Medicaid funds about half of all births in the United States, and an even greater percentage of births in rural hospitals."  So, if these health care services for pregnant women are gone ...?
State and federal programs to support the rural maternity workforce are crucial. There ought to be programs to support training in emergency births in rural communities that lose obstetric care, and to support the costs of providing maternity care in communities where there are willing providers.
trump and his 63 million voters can fix this all with a complete repeal of Obamacare, right?

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Were Adam and Eve the first ever to fuck?

I doubt that I knew anything about homosexuality when I was a kid.  I was drawn to girls from a very early age, though the feelings were forcefully repressed and buried deep down thanks to the screwed up social mores of those days.

As I got older, I have always wondered whether the love for the other sex does not preclude satisfying physical relations with the same gender.  Not having tested this out myself, I can only rely on what scientists and commentators have written about, and it seems like sexual fluidity is for real.

Whether or not straight people have sex--or fall in love--with others of the same sex, the more I have walked away from the old traditions of the old country, the more I have wondered what place law has in who people love, or who they have sex with.  I can even understand the religious orthodoxy issuing decrees on what makes something a sin.  If people do not like those religious decrees, then they can always shed that religious cloak.  But, the law?  One cannot simply walk away from one country to another, right?

In the old country, homosexuality as a crime was leftover from the years of the bastard empire's rules. A free India merely replaced the white masters with home-grown brown masters.
The criminalisation of homosexuality or what is popularly referred to as Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) dates back to 1860 when the British introduced it as sexual activities against the “order of nature.” ... The roots of the legality, however, can be found in European culture which for a long time had influenced Indian ways and thoughts.
We then have to ask ourselves where the white colonizers got the idea that homosexuality is not the “order of nature.”

Britain was Christian, though Catholics and Protestants killed each other in the name of Christ!  In the narratives that developed a couple of centuries after the death of Jesus, Saint Augustine invented the story of sex:
He needed to understand the peculiar intensity of arousal, compulsive urgency, pleasure, and pain that characterizes the human fulfillment of desire. He was not looking back on these feelings from the safe perch of a diminished libido, or deluding himself that they were abnormal. As a young man who had already fathered a child, he knew that, for the entire human species, reproduction entailed precisely the sexual intercourse that he was bent on renouncing. How could the highest Christian religious vocation reject something so obviously natural? In the course of answering this question, Augustine came to articulate a profoundly influential and still controversial vision of sexuality, one that he reached not only by plumbing his deepest experiences but also by projecting himself back into the remotest human past.
Or, to put it in simple words, Augustine had a penis problem!
How weird it is, Augustine thought, that we cannot simply command this crucial part of the body. We become aroused, and the arousal is within us—it is in this sense fully ours—and yet it is not within the executive power of our will. Obviously, the model here is the male body, but he was certain that women must have some equivalent experience, not visible but essentially identical.
So, what did Augustine do?
Augustine’s tortured recognition that involuntary arousal was an inescapable presence—not only in conjugal lovemaking but also in what he calls the “very movements which it causes, to our sorrow, even in sleep, and even in the bodies of chaste men”—shaped his most influential idea, one that transformed the story of Adam and Eve and weighed down the centuries that followed: originale peccatum, original sin.
This idea became one of the cornerstones of Christian orthodoxy
Augustine blamed his own penis problem on Adam and Eve's sexual relations!

That whopper of an explanation from 1,700 years ago bled into Catholic, and later Protestant, doctrines, which the white settlers brought to the United States too.
In his deeply researched new book, Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion, and Law from America’s Origins to the Twenty-First Century, Geoffrey R. Stone gives his answer to these and other questions about our country’s regulation of sex, with a special emphasis on same-sex activity. According to Stone, a scholar of constitutional law at the University of Chicago, Christianity has exerted the biggest influence on how we have addressed the issue from colonial times to today. The “central theme” of Sex and the Constitution “is that American attitudes about sex have been shaped over the centuries by religious beliefs—more particularly, by early Christian beliefs—about sex, sin, and shame.”
Stone reminds us that life was different in the pre-Christian, pre-Augustine Europe:
In a brief survey of sexual attitudes in the ancient world, he blames the early Christians for having taken all the fun out of sex. In pre-Christian times sex was considered “a natural and positive part of human experience” and not “predominantly bound up with questions of sin, shame, or religion.” He echoes previous scholars in finding that “classical Greek morality and law focused not on sexual sin, but on whether an individual’s conduct was harmful to others.”
The missing link between Augustine and the British sodomy laws?
If Stone holds Augustine responsible for promoting the idea of sex as an evil force, he presents Saint Thomas Aquinas as “the man most responsible for the hardening of the Church’s attitude toward same-sex sex.” Aquinas “systematized and expanded upon Augustine’s thinking.” His Summa Theologica (1265–1275) “rewrote the whole of Christian moral theology” and pronounced same-sex activity, which could not be for procreation, “especially contemptible in the sight of God.” Aquinas distinguished sinful acts carried out by opposite-sex couples from the sexual activity of same-sex couples. The latter activity was per se the “more grievous sin.” The church conferred formal authority on Aquinas’s views on these and other matters at the Council of Trent in 1563.
At some point in time, the sooner the better, we better develop for ourselves an understanding of what it means to be human, which will then provide clear answers to questions such as who the fuck cares what Adam and Eve did!

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

There's no business like ... the fake news business!

Once upon a time, Al Franken was a comedian and a writer.  Feels like that was eons ago, right?  Ah, those peaceful 1990s!

Back then, California was home, and Dave was an older friend.  Much older than me.  For an occasion--perhaps his retirement, or birthday--the gift I gave Dave was Al Franken's book.


We all laughed at rush limbaugh, yes.  But, I doubt that any of us could have predicted that twenty years after that a donald trump presidency would happen.  We now live in a political environment that was created by limbaugh on the radio, and by fox news on television, which both gained strength by peddling nothing but untruths during those Clinton years and after.

While Franken was correct, and is correct, to label limbaugh a big fat idiot, it sucks big time that we now live in a world that was created by the likes of limbaugh.

limbaugh is essentially an entertainer.  Like trump, all he cares about are his ratings and the money it brings him. The crude and horrific joke is that his millions of followers--dittoheads--do not think of him as an entertainer.  To them, he is the truth-teller, and the only one at that!

You can see how trump employed essentially this same formula, and continues to do so from the Oval Office too.  trump is the talk-show host.  He rants (tweets) about anything that is on his mind.  And he defines the topic and how it will be discussed.  Great ratings!

limbaugh continues to prosper as an entertainer.  Take, for instance, Hurricane Irma, which is now a Category 5 storm that is ready to beat the shit out of the islands in the Caribbean.  And it looks like Irma might upend life in Florida as another Category 4 storm, following up on Harvey.  Facts don't matter to limbaugh the entertainer, who "entertains" his base with a claim that Irma is all part of a vast conspiracy.

The big fat idiot actually said these:
“These storms, once they actually hit, are never as strong as they're reported,” Limbaugh claimed on his syndicated radio show. He added that “the graphics have been created to make it look like the ocean's having an exorcism, just getting rid of the devil here in the form of this hurricane, this bright red stuff.”
It is all about entertainment, folks!  So that he can get the dollars he needs for his drug addiction and the next marriage!

This bag fat idiot who lives in southern Florida, explains his "logic":
There is symbiotic relationship between retailers and local media, and it’s related to money. It revolves around money. You have major, major industries and businesses which prosper during times of crisis and panic, such as a hurricane, which could destroy or greatly damage people’s homes, and it could interrupt the flow of water and electricity. So what happens?
Well, the TV stations begin reporting this and the panic begins to increase. And then people end up going to various stores to stock up on water and whatever they might need for home repairs and batteries and all this that they’re advised to get, and a vicious circle is created. You have these various retail outlets who spend a lot of advertising dollars with the local media.
The local media, in turn, reports in such a way as to create the panic way far out, which sends people into these stores to fill up with water and to fill up with batteries, and it becomes a never-ending repeated cycle. And the two coexist. So the media benefits with the panic with increased eyeballs, and the retailers benefit from the panic with increased sales, and the TV companies benefit because they’re getting advertising dollars from the businesses that are seeing all this attention from customers.  
So trumpian with his own alternative facts to entertain his base, right?  But, remember that limbaugh has played this game for a long time before trump became a master at it.  Speaking of trump, what did the president have to say about Hurricane Irma?
Hurricane looks like largest ever recorded in the Atlantic!
The bigger, fatter, idiot knows only to tune into largest and greatest, even if it will be a destructive hurricane.  It is all about the ratings, as trump himself explained about timing the arpaio pardon during Hurricane Harvey.

The 63 million have plenty to answer to.  Given that a great majority of them are god-fearing religious folks, well, they will have to deal with their maker, come judgement day!

Sunday, September 03, 2017

trump is a complete f**king idiot

Back in March 2016, way before the fascist had secured his nomination, and when the Democrats were still duking it out, I worried that trump and Sanders were talking irresponsibly about trade.

To which this die-hard GOP loyalist wrote in her comments, "Sanders is an idealistic fool."

She and her fellow 63 million white supermacist Republicans now have to swallow their fuhrer's trade protectionism!

Republican "leaders" are now beginning to worry about the protectionism that trump had always talked about.

The big talk Nebraskan senator tweets:
The Admin. holds 18th-c. views of trade as a zero-sum game.
Only now he woke up to how much the GOP has changed?  What were these leaders thinking when they stood silently as trump played to the crowds?

Evan McMullin, who has been principled throughout--principled enough to run as a third candidate--once again tweets with reason and logic:
So it'll be a race to the protectionist bottom, neither party addressing automation and other more significant economic displacement causes.
What a disgrace that neither the GOP nor the Democrats want to address the real issues, and are instead talking about every other aspect of jobs and the global economy!

A former Democratic wannabe president, and a one-time head of the party, Howard Dean, tweets:
The real issue is automation which will very hard to remedy. Trade creates jobs.
Imagine that--Democrats are talking up trade!  Automation is not what the president cares about.  He is now getting ready to piss off South Korea and screw up Americans even more:
President Trump has instructed advisers to prepare to withdraw the United States from a free-trade agreement with South Korea, several people close to the process said, a move that would stoke economic tensions with the U.S. ally as both countries confront a crisis over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
Withdrawing from the trade deal would back up Trump’s promises to crack down on what he considers unfair trade competition from other countries, but his top national security and economic advisers are pushing him to abandon the plan, arguing it would hamper U.S. economic growth and strain ties with an important ally.
Like I said back in March 2016:
The "Made in ***" is so meaningless. But, try offering the explanation to the Trumpeters and the Bernies!
What a fucking disaster that 63 million Americans have created for America and the world!
Wendy Cutler, who was the chief U.S. negotiator for the free-trade agreement, said the prospect of canceling the deal could not come at a worse time.
“If not handled carefully, the latest impasse could lead to renewed trade tension between the U.S. and Korea,” she wrote in the Hill this week. “It also takes place at a time, after exceedingly threatening North Korean missile tests, when the bilateral alliance could not be more important.”
Keep in mind that the madman has the nuclear launch codes.  Have a nice day!

ps: I borrowed the words for the title

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Many shades of grey

During the couple of years before the faculty union blacklisted me, I used to engage in conversations with colleagues.  In one of those in-the-hallway chats, an adjunct faculty and I got to talking about imperfections in humans, especially the political leaders who transformed societies for the better.

We talked, in particular, about Gandhi and MLK.  And we both agreed that it does not help anybody by making them saint-like.  Instead, we ought to understand and appreciate them warts-and-all.  Such an unvarnished image then will help us understand that ordinary mortals like you and me were able to do so much, which will be way more encouraging to the youth than if they thought that one had to be super-human of sorts.

The adjunct's contract was not renewed, and I lost touch with him.  I tell ya, anybody who thinks like me doesn't last long.

During the road trip a few weeks ago, we were far, far away from anything and anybody familiar, when I heard a voice.


I turned around.  It was a former colleague, who was my lunch-mate during the couple of years he worked at my university.  I warned him in one of our early meetings that if he and I agreed so much, well, he might not last long on his job.  At our final lunch, I reminded him about my warning.  We both laughed.  And now after a decade a random encounter!

Anyway, back to Gandhi and MLK.  It is not that they had moral clarity from day one of their adult lives, and it is not as if they did not err in their daily lives.  Mistakes were in plenty.

Take Gandhi, for instance.  Most of us are familiar with his years in South Africa, which is when we began to understand white supremacy and, therefore, his own brown-skin standing in the bastard empire.  However, Gandhi in South Africa was not very much different from the white supremacists there, when it came to their views on the "native" Africans.  Gandhi thought less of black Africans, and his struggle was only to elevate the status of Indians like him who were there in the bastard empire, which he was not really fighting against.  As his biographer, grandson, wrote:
After all, Gandhi too was an imperfect human being. ... The imperfect Gandhi was more radical and progressive than most contemporary compatriots.
And by the time he became the Gandhi that we usually think about, he had become way less imperfect.
There is no need to create a false Gandhi here that ignores the real Gandhi since the real Gandhi is himself such a historical exception. And, of course, the fact that the real Gandhi was only remarkable – but not perfect, as per today’s moral standards – is also nothing to be ashamed of.
Gandhi was imperfect like the "deeply racist" Thomas Jefferson, about whom I have blogged here. Over the years, the more I understand the imperfect Gandhi, the more I have walked away from referring to him as a "mahatma."  But, while recognizing their imperfections, we ought to know better than to equate Gandhi with Churchill, or Jefferson with Hitler.  I am thankful that, Gandhi and Jefferson, despite their imperfections, worked towards constructing a positive, healthy vision for humanity.  

Friday, September 01, 2017

The virus that wouldn't die

In her routine, the stand-up comedian and actor, Sarah Silverman had a valid observation: She said that she is a product of her upbringing.  Her liberal activism is not a surprise, she said, given that she grew up with progressive Jewish parents.

You are perhaps nodding in agreement.

What about the children who grew up with parents who taught them to hate?  It is not difficult to imagine that there are adults who hate pick-your-group, and these adults have kids.  They are not going to teach their kids to love everybody when they are filled with hate for some "wrong" kind of people, right?  (Here's a lengthy essay on one such real life person, if you are interested.)

modi, putin, trump, duterte, and the like (all men?) have mainstreamed hate.  What previously was said and done only behind closed doors and in secret is now openly said and done.  Unlike the small pox or polio virus, hate apparently cannot be completely eliminated, and it keeps coming back to cause epidemics over and over again.  And, in the process, the hate virus infects even people who were brought up by parents who taught their children well.

Over the past few years, it seems that Muslims have displaced Blacks as the most hated group.  It is just bizarre that the hate virus goes after new targets if attacking the old targets do not produce the virulence that was once possible.  It does not matter to the religious that their messiah preached about love, and not about hate.  We humans are messed up.

Even the Buddha's name cannot stop his followers, it seems.  Yes, I am referring to the crazy hate-filled Buddhist monks leading the war against Muslims in Myanmar.  I first blogged about this back in April 2013.   Imagine that!

In 2014, I wrote that it is practically game over when even Buddhists commit genocide.  In 2015, I was shocked that even the Dalai Lama could not get the attention of the Myanmar politicians; they didn't care for what the respected religious leader had to say.

Earlier this year, before the fascist's official swearing-in, I wrote that we should stop saying "never again" given how much we have stood by witnessing the Myanmar genocide.  Should we be surprised then that the rest of the world has gone on with its business of hating immigrants, Muslims, Blacks, gays, trans, ...

Is hate, or evil,  a permanent feature of the human condition?  Or, "As the American clergyman William Sloane Coffin put it: “Nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer, and nothing is more difficult than to understand him.”"

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Something fishy about robots!

In my classes, I use plenty of contemporary examples in order to highlight the rapidly changing economic geography that makes our lives so fascinating.  Of course, not all students like my approach.  In her review of my teaching, one student wrote in the university's evaluation process that the "class is completely worthless and Sriram Khe should not be allowed to teach the way he does."  "Sriram and his shitty teaching style" made it hard for her to learn, she wrote.

Different strokes for different folks, eh!

I am sure that I will use during this academic year the example of the sushi robot; too bad if a student will not understand and appreciate its significance.

Sushi, which I have never even tasted, has been one of my favorite examples when discussing the geographic diffusion of culture.  Now, keep in mind that food is not merely cultural but has market value too.  Sushi can now be found in practically every grocery store in the US.  In the store next to mine, there is a sushi table where two chefs can be found rolling the sushi.

Sushi is not "native" to this land; it came from elsewhere.  Like how the chicken tikka masala is not native to the UK.  We live in an exciting world of awesome food possibilities.  Sushi, when first introduced in the US, was not a hit.  American consumers gasped at the very idea of raw fish.  And then Breakfast Club happened.  The rest, as they say, is history.

The making of sushi, too, has been automated.
Suzumo Machinery Co.’s robots are used by about 70,000 customers around the world, ranging from sushi chains to factories, and account for about 70 percent of the market for the equipment at restaurants, according to Suzumo’s estimates. Kaiten sushi, also known as conveyor-belt sushi, has become a $6 billion industry in Japan alone, partly thanks to Suzuki’s invention.
Cheap sushi “couldn’t have happened without our machines,” says Ikuya Oneda, who succeeded Suzuki as Suzumo president in 2004, a year before the founder died, and took over his life’s work. “You can certainly say that.”
So much of what we eat these days is a result of machines doing the work.  A while ago, I watched a video in which a creative Indian had mechanized most of the vadai making.  I am not sure if that became a hit in India.  But, it is only a matter of time before vadais become products of full automation, after which a few restaurants will advertise "traditional, hand-made" vadais.

Of course, sushi robots were met with resistance in Japan.
In 1976, sushi was still largely a food for special occasions. It was mostly sold through a legion of small restaurants, where artisan chefs dispensed morsels with no price tags and charged how they saw fit.
Not surprisingly, those chefs were up in arms when they heard about Suzumo’s plan. In their view, it took 10 years to train someone to make sushi. No machine could possibly do the job.
We humans hate change.  We are wired to be conservatives.   That is how we survived in the wild.  But then we humans are also quick to adapt to changes--once we see the benefits of change.
Suzumo stuck with the task, and two years later the sushi chefs finally said the machine was usable. In 1981, the company completed its first robot, which formed sushi rice into balls called nigiri. These days, it offers 28 different sushi machines.
“What they’ve done is allow kaiten restaurants to democratize and make good Japanese food affordable and accessible,” says Robin Rowland, chairman and chief executive officer of Yo!, a U.K. sushi chain with almost 100 restaurants globally.
And, thus, the conveyer-belt  sushi that we have seen, where people point to which box they want.  Further, in a market system, customers know what they want, especially if the price is right:
Already, about three-quarters of Japanese people say that when they eat sushi, it’s from a conveyor belt, according to a survey published by fishery company Maruha Nichiro Corp. in March. Almost half of them choose which restaurant based on price.
I tell ya, whether students find all these to be awesome or shitty, I have a great time understanding this fascinating world through my preferred framework.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Climate Change? Bullshit!

One of the many, many, many problems that trump has created for me is this: The fascist sucks up so much of my time and energy that I have very little left for the world outside.  I used to have plenty of time for the rest of the world; now, despite being on furlough, I barely have time to keep up with his shit!  And boy does he shit by the truckload every single day!!!

I don't even have the time anymore to talk about the old country.  Well, ok, that is also because I have given up on that old land.  But, it is not as if I don't keep up with the news about the Subcontinent.  For one, talking to my father every other day means that I have an idea of life there, however skewed that reporting might be.

As I have blogged before, one of the regular features of our conversations is about water.  Yep, water.  About the water shortage in Chennai.  About groundwater depletion in Sengottai.  And, of course, the monsoon.

We might be far removed from the village and farming life of our ancestors, but we father and son always worry about water, and the rains.

Therefore, the monsoon floods in different parts of India, too, have been regular topics.  "Remember the old news reels before the movies that you kids made fun of?  "பீகாரில் வெள்ளம்" (Floods in Bihar) in that grave newscaster voice?" he remarked.  Because, well, there have been floods in Bihar.  And in Assam. And ...

We humans are messed up; we do not understand how integral water is to our existence on this planet.  Despite scientists searching for water in the universe as signs of life, we fail to truly understand the preciousness of water.  We continue to abuse and mis-manage this life-giving resource.

But, hey, we humans are nothing but pesky irritants on this planet.  The more we try to mess with the planet, the more our own very lives will be threatened--either as water shortage, or as floods.

This summer, more than a thousand have died in the floods in South Asia; "while flooding in the Houston area has grabbed more attention, aid officials say a catastrophe is unfolding in South Asia"
“This is the severest flooding in a number of years,” Francis Markus, a spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said by phone from Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital.
Asked how the situation in Nepal compared with that in Houston, Mr. Markus said, “We hope people won’t overlook the desperate needs of the people here because of the disasters closer home.”
India has also suffered immensely. Floods have swept across the states of Assam, Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal and other areas.
It is not over yet.
And the rain keeps coming.
On Tuesday, Mumbai, the sprawling financial capital, was soaked to the bone. Nearly all day, the rain drummed down. As people scurried up the sidewalks, the wind tore umbrellas out concof their hands.
The sky seemed to fall lower and lower, pressing down on the building tops, cutting visibility to a few blocks, then a few yards. By midafternoon, it was so dark it felt like nightfall.
And, yes, like with Hurricane Harvey, climate change likely played a role:
"This is not normal," Reaz Ahmed, the director-general of Bangladesh's Department of Disaster Management, told CNN. "Floods this year were bigger and more intense than the previous years."
Climate change appears to be intensifying the region's monsoon rains.
Climate change?  News to me!
 Unchecked urban development has also left many communities in the region without proper drainage systems, which only compounds the problem when a natural disaster strikes. "A lot of the urbanization ... has happened in a largely unplanned matter," Abhas Jha, the World Bank sector manager for Transport, Urban and Disaster Risk Management for East Asia and the Pacific, told CNN
It is one thing if my blog-posts and op-eds echoing such logic are ignored; after all, I am but a lowly academic at a podunk university.  But, it is a shame that real experts continue to be attacked by the fascist and his adopted party.  What a fuck up!

Caption at the source:
Flood-affected people sleeping by a highway toll plaza in the Indian state of Bihar last week.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Climate change? Bah humbug!

In November-December of 2015, record rain fell in Chennai.  After visiting the city during the winter break, I wrote in an op-ed:
While scientists are cautious when postulating the cause-and-effect relationship, the role of climate change has not been ruled out. ...
Of course, the natural disaster was amplified by mismanagement of the land and water. Homes and high-rise buildings had been constructed at a frenzied pace in what were previously water-drainage areas, marshlands and lake beds. Thus, the floodwaters speeding along the natural contours of the land ended up in basement garages and ground floor units.
It feels like deja vu all over again, when I follow the horrific updates from Houston.

David Leonhardt writes in the (not failing) NY Times:
Obviously, some extreme weather events are unrelated to climate change. But a growing number appear to be related, including many involving torrential rain, thanks to the warmer seas and air.
“The heaviest rainfall events have become heavier and more frequent, and the amount of rain falling on the heaviest rain days has also increased,” as the National Climate Assessment, a federal report, found. “The mechanism driving these changes,” the report explained, is hotter air stemming from “human-caused warming.”
Leonhardt adds this:
In Houston’s particular case, a lack of zoning laws has led to an explosion of building, which further worsens flooding. The city added 24 percent more pavement between 1996 and 2011, according to Samuel Brody of Texas A&M, and Houston wasn’t exactly light on pavement in 1996. Pavement, unlike soil, fails to absorb water.
Add up the evidence, and it overwhelmingly suggests that human activity has helped create the ferocity of Harvey.
Houston became Chennai on an even larger scale!

The climate scientist, Michael Mann, who helped us understand the famous hockey-stick graph, is emphatic: "climate change made Hurricane Harvey more deadly."
There is a simple thermodynamic relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation that tells us there is a roughly 3% increase in average atmospheric moisture content for each 0.5C of warming. Sea surface temperatures in the area where Harvey intensified were 0.5-1C warmer than current-day average temperatures, which translates to 1-1.5C warmer than “average” temperatures a few decades ago. That means 3-5% more moisture in the atmosphere.
That large amount of moisture creates the potential for much greater rainfalls and greater flooding. The combination of coastal flooding and heavy rainfall is responsible for the devastating flooding that Houston is experiencing.
Mann continues about the stalling, which has made Harvey pour water from the skies.  This stalling is not only with hurricanes and cyclones though:
 More tenuous, but possibly relevant still, is the fact that very persistent, nearly “stationary” summer weather patterns of this sort, where weather anomalies (both high-pressure dry hot regions and low-pressure stormy/rainy regions) stay locked in place for many days at a time, appears to be favoured by human-caused climate change. We recently published a paper in the academic journal Scientific Reports on this phenomenon.
Hot days are hotter than ever and stay hot for a lot longer.  Wet days are wetter than ever and stay wet for a lot longer.

In another op-ed, after the devastating cyclone that tore through Chennai, I wrote in January 2017:
Such extremes are consistent with climate weirding. ...
Climate scientists warn that we have to prepare for more and more extreme events that result from climate weirding. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted that “a changing climate leads to changes in the frequency, intensity, spatial extent, duration and timing of extreme weather and climate events, and can result in unprecedented extreme weather and climate events.”
Of course, it is not merely about the rains. Heat waves, too, for instance, are increasing in both frequency and intensity. Unlike wind and rains, heat waves are not action-made for cameras — heat waves produce no images and videos that go viral. But heat waves kill more people than rains and cold spells do.
In that op-ed, I suggested that we Americans look at ourselves in the mirror:
We in the United States need to stop denying the human cause in the global climatic changes in this industrial era. As a country with an affluence that is the envy of the rest of the world, we need to assume leadership in addressing global weirding.
These will be enormous challenges during a Trump presidency and with a Republican-controlled Congress.
The 63 million who voted for trump and his climate-change-denying minions can now add Houston to the growing list for why they stand accused.


Posts popular the last 30 days