Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Should I be positive about negative emissions?

When two of my favorite magazines have essays on the same worrisome issue, it can only mean one thing: Curl into a fetal position, suck your thumb, and pray to your favorite gods!

First it was The New Yorker and then The Economist on "negative emissions."  Here's how the Londoner puts it:
The Paris agreement assumes, in effect, that the world will find ways to suck CO2 out of the air. That is because, in any realistic scenario, emissions cannot be cut fast enough to keep the total stock of greenhouse gases sufficiently small to limit the rise in temperature successfully. But there is barely any public discussion of how to bring about the extra “negative emissions” needed to reduce the stock of CO2 (and even less about the more radical idea of lowering the temperature by blocking out sunlight). Unless that changes, the promise of limiting the harm of climate change is almost certain to be broken.
Yep, if the CO2 that is piling up cannot be sucked out of the sky, well, your grandkids are in for some deep trouble!

The New Yorker's treatment of the subject is an awesome essay by the Pulitzer winning Elizabeth Kolbert.  She writes quoting Klaus Lackner:
The way Lackner sees things, the key to avoiding “deep trouble” is thinking differently. “We need to change the paradigm,” he told me. Carbon dioxide should be regarded the same way we view other waste products, like sewage or garbage. We don’t expect people to stop producing waste. (“Rewarding people for going to the bathroom less would be nonsensical,” Lackner has observed.) At the same time, we don’t let them shit on the sidewalk or toss their empty yogurt containers into the street.
Of course CO2 is a waste product.  We have been allowing factories and cars to throw the waste into the air that surrounds us.  So, what does Lackner suggest?  What is the paradigm shift that he wants us to think about?
One of the reasons we’ve made so little progress on climate change, he contends, is that the issue has acquired an ethical charge, which has polarized people. To the extent that emissions are seen as bad, emitters become guilty. “Such a moral stance makes virtually everyone a sinner, and makes hypocrites out of many who are concerned about climate change but still partake in the benefits of modernity,” he has written. Changing the paradigm, Lackner believes, will change the conversation. If CO2 is treated as just another form of waste, which has to be disposed of, then people can stop arguing about whether it’s a problem and finally start doing something.
I am all for it.  The guilt talk does not work.  It is way more practical to talk about trash removal.  Except, removing this trash ain't easy!

If we keep adding CO2 to the atmosphere, what will the story be?  Like I said, adopt the fetal position, and suck on your thumb!
The I.P.C.C. considered more than a thousand possible scenarios. Of these, only a hundred and sixteen limit warming to below two degrees, and of these a hundred and eight involve negative emissions. In many below-two-degree scenarios, the quantity of negative emissions called for reaches the same order of magnitude as the “positive” emissions being produced today.
“The volumes are outright crazy,” Oliver Geden, the head of the E.U. research division of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told me. Lackner said, “I think what the I.P.C.C. really is saying is ‘We tried lots and lots of scenarios, and, of the scenarios which stayed safe, virtually every one needed some magic touch of a negative emissions. If we didn’t do that, we ran into a brick wall.’ ”
Are you all curled up yet?  No?  Ok, then read on:
Early last month, the Trump Administration announced its intention to repeal the Clean Power Plan, a set of rules aimed at cutting power plants’ emissions. The plan, which had been approved by the Obama Administration, was eminently achievable. Still, according to the current Administration, the cuts were too onerous. The repeal of the plan is likely to result in hundreds of millions of tons of additional emissions.
So, what is Elizabeth Kolbert's bottom-line?
As a technology of last resort, carbon removal is, almost by its nature, paradoxical. It has become vital without necessarily being viable. It may be impossible to manage and it may also be impossible to manage without. ♦
Boy will the grandkids curse us all!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Does the Dalai Lama tweet?

I have no idea which god is out there applauding trump in the Oval Office, nor do I have any idea about the god that his 63 million voters pray to.  These religious people I can never understand!

Other religious people have tried to talk sense to trump.  Like the Pope himself.  Remember this one?
When the President met the Pope at the Vatican, last week, it was as if they were members of different species, so far apart in values and style that the actual content of what separated them proved elusive. Francis slyly presented Trump with a gift, though, that—as of yesterday—defines their opposition as absolute. The gift was a copy of his encyclical on climate change, “Laudato Si’.” Trump politely promised to read it. Sure.
If you believe that trump read even one page of that book, hey you are one of the 63 million voters!
[The] dangerously degraded planet, for Francis, is a manifestation of a deeper problem, for “we cannot presume to heal our relationship with nature and the environment without healing all fundamental human relationships.” Though the Pope would not say so, Trump is an embodiment of the moral pollution that generates atmospheric pollution, a sign that something has gone gravely wrong in the way we humans relate to one another.
How awesome that the Pope reasons that our moral pollution is the cause of atmospheric pollution.

Another religious/spiritual leader has stepped in with his anti-trumpism.  The Dalai Lama writes "America First" is deeply flawed:
There are no national boundaries for climate protection or the global economy. No religious boundaries, either. The time has come to understand that we are the same human beings on this planet. Whether we want to or not, we must coexist.
I am sure trump immediately understands this.  His 63 million voters, many of whom include deeply religious Catholics--now denounce him.  Of course I am being cynical!

The Dalai Lama continues:
We must learn that humanity is one big family. We are all brothers and sisters: physically, mentally and emotionally. But we are still focusing far too much on our differences instead of our commonalities. After all, every one of us is born the same way and dies the same way.
I wonder if the pussy-grabber really knows that he too is going to die some day, like every one of us.  Maybe not.  Maybe he thinks that he will merely step into a golden plane and be off to much greener golf courses!

So, what does Tenzin Gyatso--aka, the Dalai Lama--suggest that we do?
The young generations have a great responsibility to ensure that the world becomes a more peaceful place for all. But this can become reality only if we educate, not just the brain, but also the heart. The educational systems of the future should place greater emphasis on strengthening human abilities, such as warm-heartedness, a sense of oneness, humanity and love.
Humanity.
Empathy.
Love.
Heart.
Peace.
Words that trump does not even seem to know.  And 63 million voters elected him!  Shame on them!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Twenty years ... and counting

The public's memory is notoriously short.  Which is why politicians get away with anything, for the most part.

Remember the Terry Schiavo tragedy in the public sphere?  It was awful.  Here was a young woman in an irreversible vegetative state for years, and Republican senators in DC adamantly stood against pulling her plug, in order to defend the sanctity of human life.  They were ok with wars and killing, prisons and killing, cops and killing, but no pulling the plug nor aborting fertilized eggs.  Nutcases!

Their leader at that time, Bill Frist, even made his own diagnosis--without having ever met the patient!  I tell ya, the GOP has been home to nothing but nutcases ever since that newt-led revolution in 1994.

Finally, after 15 years in a vegetative state, Schiavo died.  By then I was already an Oregonian.  And had already authored an op-ed on the state's Death With Dignity Act.  I wrote that in late 2002, soon after I moved to Oregon in response to the Bush administration's effort to overturn the Oregon law.  That effort was led by a religious fanatic John Ashcroft, who was the Attorney General.

The nutcase Republicans in DC gave it their best shot, but Oregon's law prevailed.  A couple of weeks ago, it was the law's 20th anniversary.
In Oregon, use of the law has steadily grown. Last year, it happened 133 times. Nearly 1,200 people have died using the law in the last two decades. A vast majority cited loss of autonomy as their main reason.
You remember how horrible it was before the Oregon law passed?  Like this one:
In 1990, a Portland woman, Janet Adkins, traveled to Michigan where Dr. Jack Kevorkian helped her use his lethal injection device in his Volkswagen van. Her death inflamed a national debate.
Kevorkian was later found guilty for his assistance in a number of cases.  He served time too, which is unfortunate. Almost nine years in prison, as an old man himself.  But, boy did he stand up for his beliefs!

I understand that not everybody will be ready to exit the planet as I am.  I love life. This existence is simply fascinating.  I hate the very idea that I will miss out on everything that I cherish.  But, like every saint and sinner who ever existed, I too will die.  A lonely event that will be.  Living like today could be the last day ever makes clear what my priorities are, how I should spend my time, and what I need to plan for.   Which is also why I don't have much in my bucket-list.

Here today, gone tomorrow! You should even think in terms of writing your own obituary.  At the very least, we could all benefit from having the most difficult conversations: Talk to the next of kin and make clear one's end of life choices.  After all, we talk shit all the time.  We have time for sports. We talk endlessly about the shittiest human ever in the White House.  We talk forever about the weather, for heaven's sake.  We definitely have time for this important conversation.

If you want some ideas on how to go about having such a talk with your people, check out the resources here.

In the meanwhile, enjoy the precious gift of life!


Monday, November 13, 2017

Take it back. Now!

In a few days, my fellow Americans will overeat.  Most men will also unbuckle their belts and sit down in front of the television and watch football while having yet another huge slice of pie.

As the day comes to an end, whether or not people sincerely thanked their stars for being alive during the best time ever in human history, quite a few will finalize their plans for the big shopping the following morning.

Black Friday is around the corner.

And then, a few days later, many will head back to the stores to return stuff.  Apparently throughout the year, we return a lot of stuff that we bought:
Returning stuff is an American pastime, a tradition even. The industry-wide consensus is that 8 to 10 percent of all goods bought in the U.S. will be returned. For online sales, the rate is much higher, in the range of 25 to 40 percent. Retailers see their return policies as a way to win loyal customers and undercut the competition. Some e-commerce companies make it so easy to send back used products that it can feel like they're almost begging you to do it.
Returns are far less common in other countries. In Asia and Europe, less than 5 percent of purchases are returned. "It's a very uniquely North American phenomenon," says Charles Johnston, a former executive at Walmart and Home Depot who worked on the returns team. "If you go to Europe and other countries that Walmart is not in, most people don't return. You go to Germany and it's just not an expectation." (The exception is the U.K., which behaves like us.)
Such is life in an age of affluence!

If so much stuff is returned, then, if you are like me, you begin to wonder what happens to all that returned goods.

An entire industry has evolved to deal with this--"reverse logistics":
Logistics giants are vying with each other to make returns as speedy and simple as possible. Last year, for example, FedEx spent $1.4bn to buy GENCO, a specialist in so-called “reverse logistics”.
Head. Spinning.!!!

So, the returned goods, and the unsold stuff, are hot business--in the US and abroad.  Go figure!
The brick-and-mortar stores that are succeeding are in the outlet or overstock side of the business. According to the commercial real-estate and analytics firm CoStar, five of the 10 U.S. retail companies that added the most square footage in the first half of 2016 were so-called value stores: Dollar General, Family Dollar, Dollar Tree, Marshalls, and TJ Maxx. During the Great Recession, customers started doing more of their shopping at dollar stores and outlets, and those habits stuck after the recession ended. Consider that there are now more Nordstrom Rack stores than there are Nordstroms, and Macy's recently launched Macy's Backstage to compete with Nordstrom Rack.
Perhaps like how Hollywood created a channel for straight-to-video, maybe the big retailers now have a straight-to-secondary route.

Now, think about how rapidly e-commerce has grown, and will grow.  This means:
More e-commerce means more returns, as customers buy goods without seeing them, often in several sizes, then send back what they don’t need.
After buying all that stuff, if people don't have space at home?  There is another industry that helps out, for a fee: Self-storage!

This is the American Dream, and the pursuit of happiness?


Sunday, November 12, 2017

The end is ... not at all near?

Remember the magic number 75 that I often refer to here?  I have always suspected that 75 will be a mere stop as I continue on.

Today, this website gave me more for me to worry about; it says that I will coast along well after 75.  And might come to a final resting place only by 100.
Your Healthy Life Expectancy is 42.6 Years
Your Unhealthy Life Expectancy is 2.9 Years
Your Life Expectancy is 45.6 Years 
Out of the potential  45.6 years ahead, thankfully only the final three will be unhealthy.  Small mercies!
This is the first time such a measurement tool has been developed. While it’s too early to validate the accuracy of our calculations with actual data, we have been careful to ensure that the model assumptions are based on established actuarial sources and the modeling results are logical and consistent.
Big data at work here, behind the scenes.  The big data that the Social  Security folks and life insurance folks use.

As if the potential 45 years ahead of me is not scary enough, the researchers note this: "One thing it doesn’t take into account however is the impact of the genetic revolution."  Oh, great!  The rapidly advancing genetic medical technology will then make me live for another twenty years.  I will be 120 when I finally die!  Un-fucking-believable!

The lead researcher there is Jeyaraj Vadiveloo.  For us Tamils, that name is recognizable.  But the twist in the spelling from the usual one that we find back in the old country means that this Jeyaraj Vadiveloo was born to people of Tamil stock who lived in places like Malaysia/Singapore, South Africa, the West Indies.  The diaspora tried their best to retain names from the old country, and in the process came up with their own spellings.

One of my favorites along those lines is the name Mahendra Nagamootoo.  In Tamil Nadu, the name "Nagamootoo" would be usually spelled "Nagamuthu."  But, the diaspora community went with the sound and then created their own spelling of the name.  Jeyaraj Vadiveloo is here in the US via Malaysia.  Vadiveloo is the "Vadivelu" of the old country.

When I eventually die, a gazillion years from  now, people are going to have a tough time linking my last name to the old country!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

What do they eat in Iran?

Consider the following map:

Source
Asia is pretty darn huge, right?  Look at Iran and Kazakhstan alone.  Asia is huge.

No wonder then that the New York Times has a lengthy write-up: Asian-American Cuisine’s Rise, and Triumph.  It is about "America’s long, complicated love affair with Asian cooking":
As a nation we were once beholden to the Old World traditions of early settlers; we now crave ingredients from farther shores. ...
These are American ingredients now, part of a movement in cooking that often gets filed under the melting-pot, free-for-all category of New American cuisine. But it’s more specific than that: This is food borne of a particular diaspora, made by chefs who are “third culture kids,” heirs to both their parents’ culture and the one they were raised in, and thus forced to create their own.
True, right?  What a melting-pot this country is!

The report continues:
Could we call it Asian-American cuisine? The term is problematic, subsuming countries across a vast region with no shared language or single unifying religion. It elides numerous divides: city and countryside, aristocrats and laborers, colonizers and colonized
So, at this point, I should lower the boom.

The "Asian-American" discussed there has no place for Iran. No Kazakhs, No Nepalis.  It is all about the "Asia" that Americans refer to: China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand.  Not even Indonesia!

The American (mis)understanding of the world is unique in many ways.  Reminds me of another map on this theme:

Source

If only we would spend some time and energy understanding the world!  Oh well; hasn't happened before, and ain't gonna happen in trumpistan!!!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Inch-wide and a mile-deep!

Often I have worried that my intellectual preparation has made me a mile-wide and not even an inch-deep.  I might be a flake. A man who knew too little about too many.

And then after a few minutes, that worry eases and I am back to reading, thinking, teaching, and, yes, blogging!

The lack of "depth" is a tradeoff that I systematically made in order to do what I do.  Expertise on the dreaded question of angels dancing on a pin has not ever fascinated me.

Such an approach makes me appreciate life and understand the world.  Like when I read this essay in The New Yorker on how most rural communities in America stagnate, while a handful survive and prosper.

A wonderful essay all by itself, in which the author writes:
In his 1970 book, “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty,” the economist Albert O. Hirschman described different ways of expressing discontent. You can exit—stop buying a product, leave town. Or you can use voice—complain to the manufacturer, stay and try to change the place you live in. The easier it is to exit, the less likely it is that a problem will be fixed.
I know what the author is writing about.  In fact, you, dear reader, also know that I know; remember this post of mine in which I paid tribute to Hirschman?  In that post, I wrote that they don't make thinkers like Hirschman anymore? And how Exit, Voice, and Loyalty is one of the few books that I bought and retain?  Hirschman's intellect though was a mile-wide and a mile-deep!

Back to the New Yorker essay:
Americans, Hirschman wrote, have always preferred “the neatness of exit over the messiness and heartbreak of voice.” Discontented Europeans staged revolutions; Americans moved on. “The curious conformism of Americans, noted by observers ever since Tocqueville, may also be explained in this fashion,” he continued. “Why raise your voice in contradiction and get yourself into trouble as long as you can always remove yourself entirely from any given environment should it become too unpleasant?”
The fabled mobility of Americans is rapidly changing.  I routinely ask students in my introductory classes whether they would move to places like Alabama or the Dakotas, or Sub-Saharan Africa, if that's where their economic futures might be.  Rare is a student who is ready to move.

But, in a trump America, it will be interesting to see how Americans react.  We now have a solid blue wall along the West Coast, which is certainly bound to annoy quite a few trump toadies.  Will they pack up and exit?  (I hope and pray they will!)  Will frustrated progressives in states like Texas stay back and voice their opposition? (I hope and pray they will!)

This barely-scratching the surface wannabe-polymath will watch with great interest how Hirschman's thesis plays out in trumpistan, er, America.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Thank you for smoking!

Nope, this is not about the cigarette industry.

It is about people who smoke without actually smoking.  Yep, without lighting up a cigarette, people smoke about two packs every single day.  Adults, children. Everybody.
On Tuesday, levels of the most dangerous air particles, called PM 2.5, reached more than 700 micrograms per cubic meter in parts of the city, according to data from the United States Embassy. Experts say that prolonged exposure to such high concentrations of PM 2.5 is equivalent to smoking more than two packs of cigarettes a day.
The smog in Delhi is so intense that breathing that air throughout the day is the equivalent of smoking more than two packs of cigarettes!

While in many contexts I metaphorically write about puking, kids and adults are literally throwing up because of this atrocious conditions:
Manish Sisodia, the deputy chief minister of Delhi State, said he was driving to a meeting Wednesday morning when he passed a school bus and saw two children throwing up out of the window. “That was shocking for me,” he said. “I immediately told my officers to pass the order to close all the schools.”
Schools closed for a week.  But, what are the kids going to do?  Their homes don't filter out all the crap.  Further, they will end up playing outside.
The situation prompted the state’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, to say on Twitter: “Delhi has become a gas chamber. Every year this happens during this part of year."
A gas chamber!

Pollution kills. It kills way more than the notorious tobacco industry can ever kill.  “Pollution has not received nearly as much attention as climate change, or Aids or malaria – it is the most underrated health problem in the world."
Pollution kills at least nine million people and costs trillions of dollars every year, according to the most comprehensive global analysis to date, which warns the crisis “threatens the continuing survival of human societies”.
...
The vast majority of the pollution deaths occur in poorer nations and in some, such as India, Chad and Madagascar, pollution causes a quarter of all deaths. The international researchers said this burden is a hugely expensive drag on developing economies. 
People, especially those in India, need to ask themselves whether such a "development" of a country is worth all the physical and emotional toll.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

A year of anger ...

I am with Katha Pollitt on this one:
I’m working on suppressing my rage.
Anger management; I have a long, long way to go.

The following is a re-post from a few months ago.
__________________________________________________________________

Even prior to this post, I have blogged 37 posts that I have tagged with a label that matters to me a lot: Empathy.  In her speech last night, Meryl Streep reminded us about that noble human quality.  By pointing out how empathy-deficient the pussy-grabbing president-elect is:
It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter—someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie; it was real life. And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.
I still cannot believe he won despite such talk and action.  A horrible human being as the President!

It is even more depressing to think that he won because of such talk and action.

To quote the philosopher Adam Smith--yes, that same Smith who is canonized as the saint of capitalism--"by changing places in fancy with the sufferer, that we come either to conceive or to be affected by what he feels."  We imagine how it would be to be disabled. Or to be terminally ill. Or to live in Aleppo.  Normal human beings, therefore, do not mock the disabled, or the dying, or those being bombed in Aleppo.  Yet, if millions voted for that horrible human being to be the president, then I worry more about my fellow citizens than about the pussy-grabber himself!

Which is why right from election night I have been operating with a clear bottom-line: There is no such thing as a good trump voter:
Trump campaigned on state repression of disfavored minorities. He gives every sign that he plans to deliver that repression. This will mean disadvantage, immiseration, and violence for real people, people whose “inner pain and fear” were not reckoned worthy of many-thousand-word magazine feature stories. If you voted for Trump, you voted for this, regardless of what you believe about the groups in question. That you have black friends or Latino colleagues, that you think yourself to be tolerant and decent, doesn’t change the fact that you voted for racist policy that may affect, change, or harm their lives. And on that score, your frustration at being labeled a racist doesn’t justify or mitigate the moral weight of your political choice.
To empathize requires a fundamental starting point of recognizing and respecting the other--who does not look like me. Not with this demagogue and his voters!

Empathy is also what serious art conveys to us.  As Streep said, "An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us, and let you feel what that feels like."  Like even when a eleven-year old boy silently sheds tears because an animated character dies.

Unlike that eleven-year old boy, the demagogue has an utter lack of an ability to "fancy with the sufferer"--a complete and total lack of empathy.  There will be situations during his presidency when he will have to be the comforter-in-chief.  There will be situations when he will have to weigh whether or not to bomb a place or a country.  There will be situations when his policies might have drastic effects on people.  But, when he lacks empathy ... progress will stall.  We might even regress.  The trump voters will stand accused!

Source

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Airline passengers welcome!

Remember that old line from Anatole France?
In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.
Australia has had a version of that:
By law, Australia will not resettle any migrants who approach the country by boat.
Sounds fair, right, how in its majestic equality, the law forbids anybody entering the country by boat?

I didn't enter Australia by boat when I visited.  Many Indians did not enter by boat when they immigrated to Australia.  I wonder who tries to enter Australia by boat these days!

Of course, we know who tries the boat route: Political and economic refugees, who, incidentally, are brown-skinned people.

So, what happens when they try?  They are held at a detention center on Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea.
By law, Australia will not resettle any migrants who approach the country by boat, a policy intended to discourage dangerous ocean crossings and human smuggling. Since 2013, Australia has paid Papua New Guinea, its closest neighbor, to house hundreds of migrants caught at sea while trying to reach the continent.
About 600 migrants, all men, and mostly from the Middle East and Southeast Asia, remain at the center. Most of them have sought status as refugees or asylum seekers.
Many of the men have already had their asylum claims vetted and approved by the United States and are awaiting placement there, according to American officials. But nearly 200 have been rejected, leaving them in legal limbo.
The asylum claims were the ones that pissed off the American fascist, remember? A "dumb deal" he called it.  What an asshole!

The Manus Island facility is now officially closed.  So, what happens to the detainees?  It is yet another humanitarian crisis:
A diplomatic predicament is now brewing alongside the humanitarian one. Australia will spend A$250m to keep the new accommodation running over the next year, but insists it is no longer responsible for the detainees’ security. PNG says it has held up its end of the deal. It claims that it has no obligation to refugees who do not want to live there, nor to the 150-odd men (among those barricaded in the detention centre) whose claims for asylum Australia denied and whom Australia expects to return home. Many are from Iran. There is no “clear understanding” of how the countries will resolve these problems
Meanwhile, "The limbo has been taking a toll: so far, six of the men on Manus Island have killed themselves."

Caption at the Source:
An image taken from social media depicts detained migrants protesting on Monday at their camp on Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea. The detainees refuse to leave, despite a suspension of services. Creditvia Reuters
Atrocious!
Russell Crowe, the Australian actor, offered on Twitter Wednesday to provide housing and jobs for six of the men. Calling Australia’s refugee policy the “nation’s shame,” he added, “I’m sure there’d be other Australians who would do the same.”
I am sure the Australian government will allow that as long as the refugees land at airports after having traveled in business class!


Monday, November 06, 2017

Up is the only direction from way in the bottom

In response to this post on the accident of birth, my commenter-friend disagrees with me and writes:
Just come to China, or India, go to a BPO company ... happiness seeing how far their children have come as compared to them.
I don't deny that these have happened.  Even the children from humble backgrounds have come a long way from those origins.

But, we need to separate two different aspects that we are talking about: The opportunities to anybody, versus the opportunities that exist for the privileged at birth.

Consider, for instance, the schools that kids attend.  Thanks to every government in the world advancing literacy and spending money on education, children from any background can now attend school. (Sadly, there are countries where girls are not educated.)  Even if students do not have electricity at home.

This is a cause for celebration, no doubt.  It is phenomenal an achievement.  We humans deserve credit for making such a world happen.

To look at that development and engage in self-congratulations is, well, not what I do.  To begin with, that is not my job--I am a critic, by choice and by profession.

For another, in this context, if we were to merely engage in rah-rah about literacy even for the disadvantaged, we begin to overlook the serious troubles there. 

Does one imagine, for instance, that a government school in rural Uttar Pradesh is anywhere near the quality of the school that I (and the commenter) went to?  Why are the kids in rural Uttar Pradesh condemned to those godawful schools where teachers might not even come to class, leave alone being horrible teachers in the classroom, while kids in Neyveli get much better education?  Not the kids' fault that they were accidentally born to their parents who live in a certain area, right?

Now, think about how education is merely one out of the gazillion ways in which the accidental birth makes a huge difference in one's life.

Most of us in the political left-of-center always worry ourselves to death that such inequality that arises for no fault ought to be addressed via public policies.  Even while celebrating the fantastic reductions in extreme and absolute poverty, we worry about the uneven competition that exists only because of the accident of birth.

And speaking of inequality, my go-to-expert on this, Branko Milanovic, writes about how complicated this topic is. 

I rest.

Source

Friday, November 03, 2017

Geography at birth

For a while now, I have been blogging about the (mis)fortunes that come our way just because of our parents.  Who we are born to makes a huge difference in life.  Every time I blog along those lines, the frequent (and now the only) commenter, and others have disagreed with me.  (Check this out, or this, for instance.)

I have also blogged in plenty about luck. Dumb luck.

Thus, I have never really cared much for people bragging about how they made it all by themselves.  Not that he brags, but consider Bill Gates.  It is not as if he created his fortunes after growing up in the projects.  I was not born a Dalit and my father was not a manual scavenger.  The truly rags to riches, rising from the utterly disadvantaged, is a rare exception.  Most of us have only built upon the accident of birth.

To quite some extent, the cosmic dice rolled in our favor, which is why you and I are interacting here.
I started thinking as a social scientist on the role of circumstance and luck in how lives turn out. It's a sobering experience to realize just how many variables are out of our control
Yep.  That's what I have been saying for a long, long time.
What about intelligence and hard work? Surely they matter as much as luck. Yes, but decades of data from behavior genetics tell us that at least half of intelligence is heritable, as is having a personality high in openness to experience, conscientiousness and the need for achievement—all factors that help to shape success. The nongenetic components of aptitude, scrupulousness and ambition matter, too, of course, but most of those environmental and cultural variables were provided by others or circumstances not of your making.
Choosing your parents well has given you one hell of an advantage, dear reader!

Michael Shermer wraps up his column--his 200th for the Scientific American--with this:
There should be consolation in the fact that studies show that what is important in the long run is not success so much as living a meaningful life. And that is the result of having family and friends, setting long-range goals, meeting challenges with courage and conviction, and being true to yourself.
Ahem, I have been saying this, too, for the longest time.  Damn, I am good!

Thursday, November 02, 2017

There's no place like home!

Years ago, when my daughter came home from college, she put her bag down and said, "give me a couple of minutes, I need to drop the kids off at the pool."

In case you don't understand what she was referring to, well, it is scatological, dear reader! ;)

Coming home apparently makes us poop.  For some, it is right away.  There are plenty, like me, who believe that there is no place like home when it comes to shitting:
“This is indeed a very familiar story,” says Nick Haslam, a professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne and author of Psychology in the Bathroom. “Most people feel more comfortable going to the bathroom in familiar—and private—surroundings.”
Imagine that--a professor has written about the psychology in the bathroom!

The author then spoke with "Jack Gilbert, a professor of surgery at the University of Chicago, and the director of the university’s Microbiome Center":
to understand whether there is a physical call-and-response between my home and my body that might trigger the need to make a deposit in the porcelain bank. Or is it simply that I feel more comfortable at home?
Good question, right?

BTW, how did you like her phrasing this as "make a deposit in the porcelain bank"?  A good one, right?

So, what does Gilbert have to say?
“When you get back into your home, your glucose tolerance will change,” he continues. “Your adrenaline pumping will change, and the energy sensors of your muscles will change, altering your actual respiration, how much energy your burn, and how much fat you deposit. When you get back into your home your sleep patterns will change, because the hormones that control sleep will be altered. All of these factors influence how quickly food moves through your gut.”
Anything else?
“We are essentially automata responding to environmental cues,” Gilbert says. “I’m pretty sure I can train you as a human being to pee when you smell peppermint. That’s an example of how much of an automaton you are. It would be technically possible to do that.”
We have been programmed that way; we are automata!  Like how even adults feel like they want to pee when you make a slow hissing sound--as kids, they were toilet-trained that way.

The craziest thing in that essay? The sentence that the author, Julie Beck, writes to wrap up her essay on pooping at home:
Think about that the next time you drop the kids off at the pool.
"drop the kids off at the pool" is perhaps the lingo of that generation of, ahem, kids ;)

(If you want, you can also check out these related posts: One; two; three)

Source

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Virtual sin

A wonderful book-review essay in The New Yorker is about Martin Luther, on the occasion of 500 years since he hammered "his Ninety-five Theses to the doors of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, in Saxony."

Thanks to that essay, I now know that Luther did not really hammer those on the doors.  Makes for a nice story though.

There is plenty there to be impressed about.  One of those is this:
Luther was born only a few decades after the invention of printing, and though it took him a while to start writing, it was hard to stop him once he got going. ...
In the first half of the sixteenth century, a third of all books published in German were written by him.
Imagine if Luther had lived and died before Gutenberg had invented the printing press!  The Reformation was aided by the technological advancement of the day.

The printing press has been put to uses of many kinds since its invention.  Including for pornography.  Porn has always been at the cutting edge, ready to embrace the advancements in technology.  When it was print, porn in the papers.  Then porn in the films.  In the initial months and years of the worldwide web, porn led the way with web pages.  In an op-ed during those days, I wrote about how porn sites cleverly worked their addresses after popular websites.  A small little mistake took users, for instance, not to the White House page, but to a graphic porn site.  Porn also blazed the trail for payment and e-commerce.

And now, porn is all set for virtual-reality:
While virtual-reality pornography may feel like something out of a science fiction movie, it already has a formidable, if underground, presence. According to website Pornhub, views of VR porn are up 275 percent since it debuted in the summer of 2016. Now the site is averaging about 500,000 views (on Christmas Day in 2016, this number shot up to 900,000.)
By 2025 pornography will be the third-largest VR sector, according to estimates prepared by Piper Jaffray, an investment and management firm.
The primal, animal, urges that Luther's Christianity and other religions try to moralize about cannot be tamed that easily.

Porn, VR and regular, work for a simple reason:
Sex sells, and where there is money to be made, there will be entrepreneurs who want to adopt it and make money from it
The power of the market!

Many complications lie ahead, of course.  Not only in terms of technology, but also regarding ethics.  But, there is one issue that is increasingly the problem in these modern times that then fuels the need for VR porn too: Loneliness.
“There are people who are already lonely, and people who live their lives being alone. They work all day and come home to an empty house,” he said. “This is just offering an alternative to those types of people. They don’t have anyone else.”
Martin Luther did not have to worry about loneliness.  He was gregarious.  "He was frank and warm; he loved jokes; he wanted to have people and noise around him."  And he lived a happily married life, after theologically questioning "the requirement of priestly celibacy."

But, life now is not the life of five centuries ago.  Even a Luther cannot help us understand how to be happy and content in this modern kingdom.  

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

One bastard versus another bastard!

When Bret Stephens wrote his first column for the NY Times, there were protests online.  A few wrote about canceling their subscriptions altogether.  If you need a refresher about that episode, click here to read his first column.

Today, he showed yet again that he knows how to pick and choose in order to advance his argument.  First, what was his column about?  To some extent, Stephens has a legitimate point, like with this one:
Do the same people who rightly demand the removal of Confederate statues ever feel even a shiver of inner revulsion at hipsters in Lenin or Mao T-shirts?
I have written about this, too.  (What have I not blogged about, eh!)  In this post, for instance, I wrote:
Che's use of violence to achieve his version of utopia is no different from how Osama bin Laden didn't find anything wrong in killing civilians. Yet, while no rational person would walk around wearing an Osama t-shirt, thousands all across the world, including here in the US, think it is cool to wear a Che t-shirt. ...
I wish the world would stop applauding Che and making a saint out of this killer and, instead, remember him for what he was
Che was a secular jihadist.

And when Fidel Castro died, the title of my post says it all: Ding dong. The dictator is dead!

So, yes, I agree with Stephens that we should denounce Lenin and Mao and Castro, with as much loudness as we demand the removal of confederate monuments.

But then, Stephens resorts to quoting the big time empire-building white supremacist bastard, winston churchill.

Oh please, churchill was not all that better than Castro.  churchill was the guy who intentionally let millions of people in Bengal die.  churchill was a passionate defender of the British right to rule over the brown-skinned even when there were plenty around him who were increasingly uncomfortable with the brutal colonization.  churchill's rhetoric was all about saving the white skin; the browns be damned!  He openly said things like this:
I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.
As Shashi Tharoor says, churchill has as much blood on his hand as hitler does.  I wish people would stop making a saint out of churchill.  Fuck churchill!

Let's not cherry pick our way through; instead, let's be honest and admit that evil comes in all flavors--not merely the communist type.


Monday, October 30, 2017

I encourage you ...

A young white man and two young white women walked towards us.  It was clear that they were not accidentally walking in our direction.  There was a purpose to their motion.

What did they want?

After we exchanged "how are you?" in various forms, they got down to business.

"We are here to encourage you."

I am not kidding.  You can check with the friend.  That was their intention.  To encourage us.

They were students at Redding, they said.  At the Bethel ministry.  One of them was from Washington state--from Tacoma.

We started gathering our stuff.  As they sensed that we were leaving, the young man asked, "do you have problems?  Like with your back?"

"Nope. We are good.  We are yoga people," I said as we walked away.

It turns out that the Bethel ministry is one heck of a strange place.  It is officially the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry.  "Or, as students here like to call the place, Christian Hogwarts."

Surely that story is going to unfold well, right?

What is so special about this school?
The basic theological premise of the School of Supernatural Ministry is this: that the miracles of biblical times — the parted seas and burning bushes and water into wine — did not end in biblical times, and the miracle workers did not die out with Jesus’s earliest disciples. In the modern day, prophets and healers don’t just walk among us, they are us.
Aha, this is why the young man asked us about back pain.  He believes that he can heal!
The Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry is at the forefront of a burgeoning — and decidedly youthful — evangelical Christian revival. Some have called its movement the fastest-growing religious group in America — a loose network of churches, led by so-called apostles, who see supernatural gifts like prophecy and faith healing as the key to global conversion. While other religious movements struggle to retain members and draw in young people, Bethel attracts millennials in droves.
All this healing and magic approach reminds me of a famous fake in India!

America has all kinds of cults that make me wonder why this country is called an "advanced" country!  These nutcases in Redding are not the first nor will be the last.
For school assignments, students hang out in parking lots and grocery store aisles, asking strangers who use wheelchairs or crutches if they can pray for them to heal.
Surely that story is going to unfold well, right?

There is almost always a correlation between such religious nutcases and the local economic geography, right?
[Redding] has a high unemployment rate and a crime rate that’s almost twice the rest of California’s. Homelessness keeps climbing. So does drug use: marijuana, grown in the idyllic countryside surrounding the city, but meth too, and increasingly devastatingly, heroin, which is “exploding” across the county. Shasta County hospitals see three times the number of overdoses than the rest of the state averages.
Now residents swap stories of people found shooting up in the streets, cars broken into with cinderblocks in fits of desperation, and stores robbed, repeatedly, in broad daylight. In a Facebook group called “Redding Crime 2.0,” more than 27,000 members track down one another’s stolen cars, complain about homeless encampments, and post photos of shady characters caught dealing drugs in parking lots.
The only, ahem, bright spot here is this Bethel ponzi!
Bethel has devoted itself to fixing the struggling city of Redding, which is one of California’s poorest. It donates money to the police department. It buys out public buildings. It nurtures local businesses. It sends armies of students to clean the city’s trash- and syringe-strewn riverbanks. To the church’s leaders, Redding and Bethel are inextricable, and the city’s rebirth is one of the church’s most urgent missions.
Surely this story is going to unfold well, right?  Maybe this is the beginning of yet another Waco. Or Rajneeshpuram. Or Jonestown. ...

Gob bless America!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

We're children, needing other children

I grew up in a cultural context where it was believed that if one chanted mantras, well, good things will happen.  For quite a few years, I believed in that approach--after all, I was only a kid, who was being brainwashed into a certain way of thinking.

And then one day, the question arose within: If the mantras have that effect, then we should be able to bring about peace and prosperity in no time at all.  Of course, there are mantras for peace and prosperity.  There are mantras that when chanted rain should pour.   When the intended effects did not happen, the answer was always ready and waiting--the chanter was not qualified enough.

In the modern, secular, world, people chant mantras of different sorts believing that those will deliver happiness.  Epic failures.  But, such practices continue on.
The app I eventually chose messaged me every hour or so with a positive affirmation that I was supposed to repeat to myself over and over. “I am beautiful,” or “I am enough.”
Mantras!  Instead of some "holy" man teaching one the mantra, now an app coded by some stranger teaches one to recite the mantra.

I wish people would be confident like me, and go around proudly proclaiming that I am ugly. I am bald. I am an idiot.  I tell ya, these are immensely confidence-boosting because they are honest to the core!

Ok, sarcasm aside, people have always struggled to be at peace and be happy.  Some might want to explain this as the inevitable result of the original sin.  Others might preach for a path towards nirvana that will deliver us from these existential struggles.  I wish people would understand that what we are going through is not all that different from what our ancestors went through.  Once we recognize it, well, only after that can we begin to understand that chanting mantras won't help.
But while placing more and more emphasis on seeking happiness within, Americans in general are spending less and less time actually connecting with other people.
Increasingly around the world too.

There is a difference between happiness that is within, versus a belief that happiness comes from within.  Happiness that is within refers to the intangibles that make us truly happy, as opposed to the tangible stuff that we accumulate.  The intangibles, it turns out, are dependent on people.
if there is one point on which virtually every piece of research into the nature and causes of human happiness agrees, it is this: our happiness depends on other people.Study after study shows that good social relationships are the strongest, most consistent predictor there is of a happy life, even going so far as to call them a “necessary condition for happiness,” meaning that humans can’t actually be happy without them. This is a finding that cuts across race, age, gender, income and social class so overwhelmingly that it dwarfs any other factor.
To recap, this is what most people seem to be doing: Buy a whole bunch of stuff, travel as tourists without gaining any understanding, and waste a whole lot of time by themselves either watching TV or on social media.  To make things worse, they hang out with the wrong kind of people.  And then they wonder what they can do make themselves happy!

So, what can one do?  First, stop chanting any mantra--religious or secular.   Then, 
The most significant thing we can do for our well-being is not to “find ourselves” or “go within.” It’s to invest as much time and effort as we can into nurturing the relationships we have with the people in our lives.
As simple as that.  All you need is a few good people around you to be happy.  Just a few.  And then happiness gushes from within. 


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Ain’t That a Shame!

I read the news today, oh boy!
Fats Domino, the New Orleans rhythm-and-blues singer whose two-fisted boogie-woogie piano and nonchalant vocals, heard on dozens of hits, made him one of the biggest stars of the early rock ’n’ roll era, has died in Louisiana. He was 89.
In his memory, maybe later today I will play the CD that I have, which has a couple of his songs, and thank him for how much he helped me find my thrill.

While this news is not the cause, a note to the hundreds who silently visit this blog, and especially to this guy, that I shall return after a break.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Thank you for automating!

In high school, the language classes and discussions with friends on all things that really mattered helped me situate the math and physics that I loved in an appropriate context--humanity.  Had I known back then what I now know, and had I lived in the US, I would have pursued liberal education in my undergraduate studies.  But, all those ifs there are just that--ifs. It is like saying that if my aunt had balls, she would be my uncle!

The disconnect between engineering and the real world all around me was deeply troubling.  It was flawed.  It was messed up.  It continues to be messed up; that is what I was reminded when I read this essay in The New Yorker.  It is about automation, robots, and impact on jobs, with side notes on how they affected the elections that gave us the fascist.

Consider this excerpt about Stefanie Tellex, the roboticist at Brown University:
Tellex was admitted to M.I.T. and planned to pursue a liberal-arts degree, but her mother told her that liberal-arts graduates didn’t make any money. (“One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten.”) She completed her computer-science Ph.D. there in 2010. ...
She told me that she had never thought about the political implications of her field until the tense months leading up to the 2016 Presidential election. Her parents were Trump voters, and she found herself disagreeing with them about what the causes of society’s ills were, and what the best solutions might be. She was alarmed by the anti-immigrant sentiment emanating from Trump’s rallies, especially having spent her adult life surrounded by researchers from all over the world. Economic inequality was a driving theme of the election, and Tellex began to see that automation was a contributing factor.
Until about a year ago, the roboticist had not thought about the political implications of her field--robots/automation!  And, she is one of the better ones, given that she started with a real interest in the liberal arts.  There are hundreds of thousands of scientists and programmers who even now do not see how their field has such startling political implications.  How can one bring these to their attention?

I do not, cannot, understand how any professional can go about doing whatever it is that they do without systematically thinking about the larger societal implications.  Heck, there are hundreds of thousands who work in the cigarette industry, even after decades of our understanding about how tobacco kills.  I have no idea how all these professionals, with or without Ivy League credentials, make their peace.

I made mine years ago by quitting that career path, and doing what I now do.  I try my best to convey to students, readers, anybody who wants to listen to me, about the importance of thinking about what it means to be human and to feel that we are contributing towards securing a better future for the people of tomorrow.


Monday, October 23, 2017

Dream on!

With regularity, I seem to blog about sleep.  Yes, sleep! (Try this, or this, or this)

I find the topic of sleep to be fascinating for two important reasons: First, many--the young and the old alike--seem to have sleep issues these days.

I am interested in this topic for another reason too-- it is impressive that scientists have figured so many things out, but don't know squat about sleep, which babies do really well.  In fact, we are often envious, it seems, so much so that if we had an awesome sleep, we even say, "I slept like a baby."

I clearly remember one incident from years ago, well, decades ago, during the wedding of a cousin (who tragically died young.)  There was the usual loud thavil and naadhasvaram in the crowded setting. A much younger cousin, who was perhaps five or six years old, fell asleep while seated right next to the thundering thavil. An older uncle of mine commented jealously about the kid sleeping in that noisy setting. Slept like a baby, indeed!

I have a solution for all those who have trouble falling asleep: Listen to the recordings of my lectures in the classes.  In no time at all, you too--like many students--will promptly and easily settle into a deep sleep! ;)

Every time I read yet another essay on sleep, I am impressed with the trivial and the profound alike.  Like this one:
All humans dream, usually three to five times a night. And every time a man dreams he has an erection; every time a woman dreams, the blood vessels of her vagina become engorged. These changes in our genitalia are apparently unrelated to sexual thoughts before sleep or to sexual content in the dreams themselves. Rather, erections and vaginal engorgement seem to be the result of the state of dreaming itself.
That is the trivial one, of course! ;)

But, seriously, what the heck, right?

Over the years, I have also become convinced that no amount of comfy mattresses and gadgets can really deliver that awesome sleep.  Wasn't there an old Tamil movie song where that emperor of poetry, Kannadasan, wrote about this?

So, if science does not know any damn thing about sleep, and it is not all the fault of technology, then is there anything else we can think about as a way to good sleep?
A recent study now raises the possibility that sleep could be affected by the degree to which someone feels like their life is purposeful or meaningful.
A meaningful life.
Perhaps developing a sense of purpose in life could be as effective at improving sleep as following healthy habits, such as limiting coffee. In addition to promoting good sleep hygiene, doctors may end up recommending mindfulness practices or exploring one’s values as ways of helping older adults sleep better.
All I can say is that I am not surprised at such possible relationships in our behaviors.  It is the total package.  The more all our daily practices are aligned, the better off we will be.  Of course, the downside is that others then refer to us as being regimented and boring.  I will gladly take "boring" because I don't ever want to have sleep issues, as I prepare myself for that final sleep ;)


Sunday, October 22, 2017

What's in a name?

A year ago, I wrote about the controversies in higher education about names of buildings.  I used the context of the discussions on two buildings at the local university in order to address a much larger issue:
History cannot be undone, of course. We can constructively move forward by learning from history, and by establishing procedures whereby philanthropy will be appropriately vetted for the money’s olfactory backstories.
An easy solution exists: Do not name buildings after living people.  And wait for a while for history to vet the dead people.

But, that is all in an ideal setting. 

In the real world, universities sell the naming rights, for all purposes, and then shit happens.

For instance, remember bill cosby?  After his shit hit all over the place, universities hurriedly rescinded the honorary doctorates they gave him, and renamed the buildings that had his name.

Even my own small-time university engages in these naming rituals in order to gain access to money and power.  Awful.

Sensing political advantages in having influential lawmakers on its side, my university named two buildings after two people (like this one.)  And then two other buildings have been named after patrons who made significant donations (like this one.)

I am old-school when it comes to all these.  I don't want to sell the naming rights.  And, I want buildings to have names that mean something to the community.  Especially in public buildings.

And, yes, even my university has one such awesome example.  The residential dining hall carries the name Valsetz.

Why Valsetz, you ask?

No, it was not some old-time timber baron who donate a chunk of change.

Valsetz is a made up name for a community that does not even exist anymore.  Exactly as Wikipedia notes:
William W. Mitchell Company started the town in 1919 and named it as a portmanteau of Valley and Siletz Railroad, whose terminus was at that location. ... Valsetz post office was established in 1920.
In the US, if there is a post office, well, that makes it a real town, however small that is.

Railroad and timber.  Those were the old days.  And those days are long gone.  Timber became less important to the economy.  The town was closed down.
In 1984, the town and most of its structures were removed, as everything in the community, property and streets included, was owned by the corporation. The post office closed the same year.
So, what is the connection with my university?  The residential dining hall is named in honor of that community:
Between 1926 and 1931, WOU, then known as the Oregon Normal School, sent 16 to 20 student teachers for six-week sessions in the Valsetz elementary school.
A kind of a history that we can, and will, always be proud about, right?

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Life is sweet

The greetings call from my brother on Deepavali day was a sweet surprise.  We recalled the days from long, long ago when we were kids who were hell bent on figuring out where mother had hid the Deepavali sweets from our greedy eyes and mouths.  We always succeeded, and enjoyed the sneak-previews of the delights that awaited.

My favorite was the phenomenally awesome sweet that mother made with cashews.  And, those days, it was pretty much home-grown cashews--most of the nuts came from the tree within our compound. I could--and did--eat them all day long.  Which is why my brother joked: "When people give you sweets now, you are always, 'no, thank you.'"

Somewhere in my growing up, I became duller and more boring than I have always been. I became the party-pooper.  The killjoy.  Major Buzzkill.  "No, thanks" became my middle name! ;)

The more I live and learn, the more I am thankful that such an attitude change happened, and that I became sweet- and food-conscious.  Else, there is a fair chance that I would have become a part of the ever growing reports on obesity and diabetes.

Sugar is a major cause of this pubic health issue.  Not only in the United States but all over the world.  Sugar in the traditional sweets, which one can buy every single day, unlike the rarity of the old days.  And, sugar is seemingly an additive in everything that we eat and drink.  Sugar is toxic!
Insulin is secreted in response to rising blood sugar, and rising blood sugar is a response to a carbohydrate-rich meal. Sugar is implicated, in particular, because its chemical structure includes a large proportion of the carbohydrate fructose, and fructose is preferentially metabolised in the liver. As such, it is a prime suspect for the fat accumulation in liver cells that is hypothesised to be the trigger of insulin resistance itself. ...
The sugars and refined grains that make up such a high proportion of the foods we consume in modern Westernised diets trigger the dysregulation of a homeostatic system that has evolved to depend on insulin to regulate both fat accumulation and blood sugar. Hence, the same dietary factors – sugars and refined grains – trigger both obesity and diabetes.
It is not merely about calories-in and calories-out.  It is not about exercising to burn off the excess calories.  It comes down to sugar and refined grains.  It will be one hell of a battle to wage against the ever growing dominance of sugar and refined grains in what we drink and eat every single day.  This losing battle is why Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the probability that public health authorities in the foreseeable future will successfully curb the worldwide epidemics of obesity and diabetes to be "virtually zero."

Oh well ... General Malaise will do what he can--continue to blog, while the world gets fatter and diabetic!


Thursday, October 19, 2017

If the glove doesn't fit ...

Way back in the old country, when the government launched family planning in a big way, "Nirodh" condoms were advertised in magazines, on the radio, and even in movie halls.  Those were giggle times for us young fellas.

We tend to minimize the role of advertising in these important social causes.  There are wonderfully constructive social projects in which advertising has played phenomenal roles.  The use of condoms in India is one of those instances where without the creative advertisements--social marketing--India's family planning program would have stagnated and fertility rates would have stayed high for a long time.  The government subsidies that went towards Nirodh, and go towards such programs even now, are worth every damn bit!

Manufacturing condoms that would appeal to users ain't no easy task.  Through the years, a new breakthrough: We are talking about custom-fit condoms: "60 sizes, in combinations of 10 lengths and nine circumferences."

What's the urgency about this?
As the custom-fit condom company, Global Protection Corp., pressed the F.D.A. and industry standards associations for changes, a key priority was smaller sizes, said the company’s president, Davin Wedel. Until recently, standard condoms had to be at least 6.69 inches long, but studies find the average erect penis is roughly an inch shorter.
If it ain't the right fit, then we have a great deal of public health complications.  Men, and women too, might not want to use condoms.  Keep in mind that condoms not only serve in birth control, but also in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Now, Americans can have custom-fit protectors.
The custom condoms, marketed under the brand name myONE Perfect Fit, come in lengths of 4.9 to 9.4 inches and circumferences of 3.5 to 5 inches. (Standard condoms are typically 6.7 to 8.3 inches long and 3.9 to 4.5 inches in circumference.) The template that men are given to measure themselves does not include inches or centimeters, instead using randomly ordered letters and numbers. One man might be E99, another Z22.
Guess what?  Within hours of launch, "customers had ordered condoms in all 60 sizes."

What is bizarre is this:
Although custom condoms became available in Europe in 2011, sold by TheyFit, which Global Protection purchased, it took years of pressing the F.D.A. and two standards organizations, ASTM International and ISO, for the devices to reach the United States,
In 2011?  All because of the FDA's regulatory process?  

I wonder what some of the latest Nirodh ads in India look like.

Here's a beauty from another country that I blogged about a while ago:


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Greetings and wishes!

"How come Deepavali is so early this year?" I asked my father.

Mid-October?

In my memories, Deepavali came about the time that the northeast monsoon also arrived, or at least threatened.  There were quite a few Deepavalis that were dampened by the rains.  Maybe my memories are messed up, eh!

I can't even recall the last time I celebrated this Hindu festival, or any festival for that matter.  For this atheist, every single day that I am alive is enough cause for celebration.  Yet, similar to how I keep track of football and baseball scores even though I don't really follow any team or sport, I keep track of the major Hindu festival dates too.  Sports are conversational materials--especially with students-- and festivals are big deals for parents.

I use the word Deepavali because that is what we said during my years back in the old country.  Every once in a while, I use that other--perhaps more common--usage of Diwali.

"Diwali" annoys my sensibilities for one highly frustrating reason--there is no "w" sound in the Indian languages and, hence, should be spelled with a "v" and pronounced with that "v" sound.  "தீபாவளி" in Tamil has the letter for "v"--there is no "w" in Tamil!  No wonder that many of us from that part of the world end up pronouncing, for instance, wax as vax or van as wan.  I wonder why the old country's grammarians were so lax with introducing "w" where it does not belong!

Why overthink all these, you might ask.  Why not shrug the shoulders, and simply get to eating sweets even if not celebrating the day for religious reasons, right?  But, hey, thinking and overthinking is all that I can do.  There are moments, though, when I have wished for that thinking to be turned off ;)

Anyway, back to that original question of why Deepavali is so early this year.

It is all because of the lunar calendar that is used in the traditions.  When Deepavali is celebrated depends on when the new moon occurs in a certain month of that calendar.

I suppose it doesn't matter if it is Deepavali or Diwali.  Nor does it matter if you are a Hindu, or a Scientologist or even an atheist.  It is merely yet another reason to enjoy eating sweets. Have an awesomely sweet day.

Happy Deepavali!




ps: I don't want to make this political .. but, the way in which the Obamas so easily, elegantly, and charmingly engaged with such diverse socio-cultural moments, and to then have the current president and his wife ... what a shame!

Size is not everything!

With the background of the pussygrabber and now the weinstein scandals, one would think that journalists will be careful in their choice of words.

But then I am naive to have such expectations!

Monday morning, I picked up the newspaper that was waiting for me on the front porch, and the front page headlines was, well: pathetic, shocking, disgusting.  Check it out:


Seriously, "a study in size" is how the editors decided to refer to a news story about a small college in town?  Size?  WTF!

There is a good chance that most of us do not even notice these anymore, because we are so much used to such language.  Locker-room talk has been mainstreamed.

The report was not really a "study" in size either.  It was not as if there was any analysis of educational outcomes across colleges and universities that are small and big. 

In order to provide a link to the story, I searched the newspaper's website.  Guess what?  The headline there is different:


Why didn't they run that in the original, right?  "Small is beautiful" is not only a phrase that many of us are familiar with, especially thanks to Schumacher, but guess what?
One of the taglines on Gutenberg’s website? “Small is beautiful.”
Yet, the newspaper's editors originally captioned the story as about "size."  Idiots who continue to peddle that old and awful idea that sex sells!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Making China Great Again

First, there was Forrest Gump with his seemingly profound observations like "life's like a box of chocolates."  Which perhaps drove you crazy enough, when you also (mis)heard him say "shit happens."

Now, we have another one:
life is like a shirt with buttons where you have to get the first few right or all the rest will be wrong
Who knew, eh!

If I had said that about life being like a shirt, you would have laughed at me, and decided that I have finally snapped after the months and months of yelling at the fascist.

Relax.  I did not say that.

It was the world's most powerful leader who said that.  No, not the fascist. But, a real authoritarian--China's Xi Jinping.

Keep in mind that despite all the sucking up that Mark Zuckerberg has done, Facebook has no presence in China.  The great security firewall prevents Facebook from tapping into the 1.4 billion, whom Zuckerberg wants to desperately sell Russian fake news!  You don't mess around with Xi.

Where was I?  Oh yea, with China's politburo meeting coming up, finally even the American press is waking up to what this guy already has written up.

This piece in the NY Times caught my attention.  And then I looked at the byline: Reuters.  The NY Times does not have its own people to cover the big political event?

The Economist reviews Xi's domestic and international presence.  And then concludes:
Mr Xi may think that concentrating more or less unchecked power over 1.4bn Chinese in the hands of one man is, to borrow one of his favourite terms, the “new normal” of Chinese politics. But it is not normal; it is dangerous. No one should have that much power. One-man rule is ultimately a recipe for instability in China, as it has been in the past—think of Mao and his Cultural Revolution. It is also a recipe for arbitrary behaviour abroad, which is especially worrying at a time when Mr Trump’s America is pulling back and creating a power vacuum. The world does not want an isolationist United States or a dictatorship in China. Alas, it may get both.
All the power with Xi.
Here, the madman has the nuclear codes.
The warhead in North Korea is ready to go ballistic.
Vlad the impaler quietly goes around killing people.
Can somebody make the world great again, please?