Monday, July 31, 2017

Art is only skin deep!

The midsummer nightmare has begun. The forecast about a week of heat makes even this grown man want to cry!

If even this formerly tropical kid feels this way about the insane heat, it is no surprise that the natives are complaining even more.  Many of the homes in this part of the world even lack air conditioning, which then means that people--used to temperatures in the 40s and 50s  have to figure out ways in which they can survive consecutive days of triple-digit highs.

Which is why there are more and more of the legs and arms and upper-bodies fully exposed.  It also means that I get to see tattoos all over.

It is almost as if every adult is inked.  Rare is an adult who is not.  The other day I ran into a neighbor, who was happy to engage in trump trashing talk with me.  I noticed ink on her left arm.  Joy.

"Is that new?"

"I got that for my 80th birthday," she replied.

While there are no definitive census data on the tattoed states of America, surveys indicate that perhaps up to 40 percent of the adults in this country have at least one tiny bit of a tattoo.  In the land of Puritans who not too long ago did not even allow their girls to pierce their ears!

A few weeks ago, at a routine health check at the doctor's office (I am healthy as a horse, thank you!) he commented about a noticeable keloid and some old scars from my childhood days.  "You don't scar well, my friend.  Be careful if are thinking of tattoos."

My doctor has no idea what a wimp I am.  No, make that a wuss!  I hate pain and discomfort, and I ain't going to let anybody jab me over and over.  "To create a tattoo, the artist punctures the skin with dye-filled needles at a rate of up to 3,000 times per minute."  Ouch, ouch, ouch!!!

The nerd in me got curious when the doctor made that comment.  He was glad to share some of the tattoo misfire horror stories.  "One patient ended up with bad keloids that made the tattoo look like some kind of a 3D art."

At least that patient lives on with a 3D artwork on his body, unlike an unfortunate "31-year-old man from Texas died after contracting flesh-eating bacteria through a new leg tattoo while swimming in the Gulf of Mexico."

An even ironical twist to the story:
The man had gotten the tattoo on his calf of an illustration of a cross and hands in prayer with the words "Jesus is my life" written in cursive.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sunshine of your life

During the school summer holidays, we kids were dispatched to grandma's home.  When we returned, father almost always commented that we had gotten darker. Of course we were more tanned on top of the already melanin-rich skins. Unlike when school was in session, we were no longer confined to the shelter of the classroom.  After breakfast at grandma's, we would run across to the cousins', and then until lunch time we were good for nothings under the warming sun. Post-lunch, we were good for nothings under the blazing afternoon sun, except when grandma was eager to play kattam with us.

I continue to be out and about even now, as a middle-aged, balding, grey-bearded, good for nothing.  And, yes, under the blazing sun, I continue to add to my melanin-rich pigmentation.  It is mid-summer and am already gloriously two-toned; the skin where the sun doesn't shine looks strikingly different from the rest.

Through all this, I am also helping my body produce a whole lot of vitamin D.

Years ago, I read that vitamin D is more than a mere vitamin.  It is like a hormone that regulates a whole bunch of biochemical processes in our bodies.  While we usually associate vitamin D with bone growth and strength, it is way more than that.

Since then, every visit to the old country, I have bugged my mother and aunts about the importance of spending a few minutes walking under the sun's light and heat.  But, hey, you know the story of my life--nobody listens to me.  Not even my mother!

I bugged them because by then I had started connecting a few dots through the sun-exposure and vitamin D links.  Typically, the older women in the extended family and in society had more bone-related structural problems, which the older men did not seem to suffer from as much.  (Of course, women also seemed to outlive men, but I was not doing any controlled scientific study.)  I began to wonder if the old country's fascination with lighter skin along with the restrictions on women's movements contributed to this health hassle that resulted from lack of exposure to the sun.

If that is the case, my logical mind suggested that such problems should be equally intense in many of the Middle East countries, where women are not exposed to the sun thanks to the layers of clothing and the restrictions on them.

I tell ya, there is always something happening inside the shiny dome of mine! ;)

Therefore, every time I read essays like this, I am not surprised one bit:
Vitamin D deficiencies are widespread, with around one billion people, from all age groups and ethnicities, suffering from them, even in countries with year-round sunshine. Indeed, they are particularly common in the Middle East, owing partly to the prevalence of skin-covering clothes and a cultural habit of staying out of the sun. That same habit, together with darker skin, contributes to lower levels of vitamin D among Africans. 
Read that essay in order to understand how vitamin D links to many, many, many aspects of health;  "there is no doubt that vitamin D is crucial for human health."

"So how much vitamin D do we need to reap its disease-fighting rewards?"

This, too, is an important question.  A few years ago, after the routine lab tests during the physicals, the doctor said I was deficient in vitamin D and he prescribed a dose of pills.  He wanted me to check in with him after three months.  I never did.  Because, as much as I believe in the importance of the hormone like vitamin D, I am equally convinced that too much of a good thing can be harmful--especially when it is an artificial intake via pills.  It is one thing to increase vitamin D intake through walking on sunny days, or through milk and yogurt consumption.  But, pills?

Which is why this doctor always recommends walking.  Early morning sun is best--when it is not too intense.  Come to think of it, I suppose I am prescribing nothing but a variation of the old traditional life--get up in the morning, walk to the temple, where you walk some more within the walls but under the sun, and then walk back home and have some yogurt.  Plenty of sun and walk to start the day.

But then, nobody listens to me! ;)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Stuff doesn't make you happy. HAHAHAHA!

I laugh because they had to do research in order to figure that out, when even half-baked and pretentious irreligious philosophers who blab, er, blog everyday have been saying that forever, channeling the wisdom from the old country!

I had to follow up on this 60-second science podcast at Scientific American.  I simply had to.
"One of the most common things people do with their money is get stuff," Norton tells Harvard Business Review. But research shows that "things" don't make you happy.
Instead, spend your hard earned cash on what Norton calls "prosocial" experiences — like a vacation or dinner with the family.
Seriously, how is this any different from the age old wisdom?
"When you ask people the secret to happiness, they talk about living with purpose or having close relationships," says Norton. And while money can get in the way of that — if you work all the time at a job you hate, for example — spending money on things that foster those goals actually does increase well-being.
Seriously, how is this any different from the age old wisdom?

There is one aspect of the research that deserves serious thought and discussions.  According to researchers--at the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School--"using money to buy free time -- such as paying to delegate household chores like cleaning and cooking -- is linked to greater life satisfaction."
"People who hire a housecleaner or pay the kid next door to mow the lawn might feel like they're being lazy," said study lead author Ashley Whillans, assistant professor at Harvard Business School who carried out the research as a PhD candidate in the UBC department of psychology. "But our results suggest that buying time has similar benefits for happiness as having more money."
"The benefits of buying time aren't just for wealthy people," said UBC psychology professor and the study's senior author Elizabeth Dunn. "We thought the effects might only hold up for people with quite a bit of disposable income, but to our surprise, we found the same effects across the income spectrum."
I suspect that this buying time contributes to one's happiness if that time were spent on "prosocial" experiences.  But, if that bought time were spent on, say, playing video games or mindless Facebooking, then I would think that the person comes out worse off.

There is another easy way to buy oneself time--simply cut the unnecessary waste of time.  Especially because of a fear of missing out, people increasingly seem to want to be engaged in a gazillion things and seemingly all at the same time.  Instead, if only people can be disciplined enough to simplify, simplify, and simplify; they would then have plenty of time to spend on "prosocial" experiences.

I would have told you all that for free without the "insights" from a HBS research, for which lots of money would have been spent.  But then, ahem, nobody listens to me! ;)

Friday, July 28, 2017

Higher education is all about employment readiness

Over the years, I have written op-eds in plenty in my attempts to convince people about the importance of educating the youth in the humanities and the social sciences.  The logic is a no-brainer for me: The concerns and worries that we have are not always problems for science and technology to solve, nor can science and technology ever solve them.

Scientific and technological advancements will happen, and countries will grow and prosper, yes, but, we will face an increasing number of fuzzy issues for which decisions will have to be made by people, as individuals and as societies.  However, if people are not sufficiently educated on those, and if people do not have the skills to think through fuzzy and complex issues for which there are no cut-and-dried answers, then we are screwed.

But, hey, you know well that nobody listens to me.

Consider CRISPR.  Yes, I have blogged about CRISPR before, which you old-time readers know about.  I will refer the newbies to, maybe, this post.

I read the news, oh boy, and I immediately tweeted it.  (I don't care if anybody reads my tweet--I am fully prepared that nobody cares a shit about what I have to say.)

What was that news about?  Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health & Science University successfully targeted a gene associated with a human disease.
Mitalipov's team worked with human embryos produced by sperm from men with a genetic mutation, the report said, noting they were of "clinical quality." They then modified the mutation using a gene-editing technique, CRISPR.
So what, you ask?
The work offers the possibility that one day science will be able to modify genes in human embryos to prevent disease. Critics worry, however, that gene-editing in embryos opens the floodgates to the creation of "designer babies" in which parents specify traits they want their children to have.
Of course, we are long, long ways from "designer babies."  But, I don't think it is hyperbole to suggest that we are on the path towards it.  Which is why we need to start thinking about and discussing this fuzzy and complex issue.  "we do need to decide when and how we should use this technique."
Should there be limits on the types of things you can edit in an embryo? If so, what should they entail? These questions also involve deciding who gets to set the limits and control access to the technology.
We may also be concerned about who gets to control the subsequent research using this technology. Should there be state or federal oversight? Keep in mind that we cannot control what happens in other countries. Even in this country it can be difficult to craft guidelines that restrict only the research someone finds objectionable, while allowing other important research to continue. Additionally, the use of assisted reproductive technologies (IVF, for example) is largely unregulated in the U.S., and the decision to put in place restrictions will certainly raise objections from both potential parents and IVF providers.
And those are merely the beginnings, with a gazillion other questions, like:
Moreover, there are important questions about cost and access. Right now most assisted reproductive technologies are available only to higher-income individuals. A handful of states mandate infertility treatment coverage, but it is very limited. How should we regulate access to embryo editing for serious diseases? We are in the midst of a widespread debate about health care, access and cost. If it becomes established and safe, should this technique be part of a basic package of health care services when used to help create a child who does not suffer from a specific genetic problem? What about editing for nonhealth issues or less serious problems – are there fairness concerns if only people with sufficient wealth can access?
"Now is the time to figure out how we want to see this gene-editing path unfold."  Yep!

There is no way I want to leave these questions to some "wise men" (almost always men!) to decide on behalf of humanity.  But, if I want healthier deliberations amongst us all, then it gets back to the fundamental question of the purpose of education.  Should we invest in educating the youth so that they can think about such fuzzy and complex issues, and help a democratic society decide? Or should we let the prevailing forces channel higher education to be about workforce preparation, and just fuck the philosophy departments!

I know where I stand on this.  And, unlike the current president and his minions with their ackamarackus, mine is a principled and consistent stand.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Seminal Worms and Meat Juices

Back in the high school biology lab, I, like the rest of the class, pricked my finger and placed a drop of blood on a glass slide, which I then looked at through the microscope.

I will tell you what else I do remember from back then.  I wondered if, like the biology book said, I might be able to see sperm in the semen.

No, I did not do that lab experiment.  Relax! ;)

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek did that for all of us.  No, he was not some lone guy doing strange things.  He was a married man, who fathered children.  Leeuwenhoek was one heck of a genius, and his insights gained from microscopes launched micrbiology.  His innumerable accomplishments are almost always dwarfed--in my evergreen teenage mind--by his observing the sperm ;)
Thanks to Antonie van Leeuwenhoek’s adventurous spirit, history marks him as the first person to actually see “seminal Worms”—as sperms were often called and spelled with that strange way of capitalizing nouns.
It is not merely about the sperm, however.  It played an important role in understanding procreation itself.  Keep in mind that back in the bad old days, most people believed in humans as god's creations.  Other than that, there was no clear understanding of what the man's "seeds" and the woman's monthly bleeding were all about.  Especially the blood, which continues to freak out people even today!

Leeuwenhoek's "contribution" was, therefore, "seminal". (This teen always looks for those awful pun possibilities!)
it’s completely astounding that a baby is made at all, let alone when you realize that just one out of millions of totally spastic sperms meets up with an egg. Reliving this moment of discovery in our species’ struggle to understand life’s mysteries shows we shouldn’t take our present knowledge for granted.
Lazzaro Spallanzani (1729–1799), also known in his day as “Magnifico,” "demonstrated that life does not arise spontaneously from “meat juices.”   That essay deserves to be read by all.

The latest in the pursuit of knowledge:
Sperm counts in men from America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand have dropped by more than 50 percent in less than 40 years, researchers said on Tuesday.
They also said the rate of decline is not slowing.
The results, published in the journal Human Reproduction Update, showed a 52.4 percent decline in sperm concentration and a 59.3 percent decline in total sperm count among North American, European, Australian and New Zealand men.
The former measures the concentration of semen in a man's ejaculation, while the latter is semen concentration multiplied by volume.
Are you thinking what I am thinking?  The poor research assistants in charge of dealing with the ejaculate! Lemme remind you that I am forever a giggling pimply teenager ;) 

All kidding aide, here is the significance:
"An unanswered question is whether the impact of whatever is causing declining sperm counts will be seen in future generations of children via epigenetic (gene modifications) or other mechanisms operating in sperm," he said in an emailed comment.
Richard Sharpe at Edinburgh University added: "Given that we still do not know what lifestyle, dietary or chemical exposures might have caused this decrease, research efforts to identify (them) need to be redoubled and to be non-presumptive as to cause."

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

There is no there there

A while ago, I decided that I would not seriously follow the news about the old country, and not blog about it either.  For a simple but deep reason: Increasingly, people there seem to be bent on doing all the wrong things.

 For one who is passionately attached to the old stories about the people and the places, it was a version of "I wish I knew how to quit you."  I had to cut myself off in order to set my own emotional boundaries, like how one does with an errant son or a daughter who is all grown up but is nothing but problems day in and day out.

I am not the first person to agonize over a place that is dear but also far away.  Nor will I be the last.  It is a never ending tale of nostalgia for us humans, from the moment that we wandered out of the Savannah.

In a post a few years ago, I quoted an article from The Economist, which carried with it a warning, presumably for people like me:
however well you carry it off, however much you enjoy it, there is a dangerous undertow to being a foreigner, even a genteel foreigner. Somewhere at the back of it all lurks homesickness, which metastasises over time into its incurable variant, nostalgia. And nostalgia has much in common with the Freudian idea of melancholia—a continuing, debilitating sense of loss, somewhere within which lies anger at the thing lost. It is not the possibility of returning home which feeds nostalgia, but the impossibility of it.
The impossibility of returning home.  Because, after all, home has also changed and is not what it once was.  There is no there there.

Life is full of twists and turns, and the best we can do is from this turn, walk on ...

There are times that the nostalgia kicks in.  Full force.

This time it was when I was riding my bike on a cool morning.  I remembered the years of bicycle riding in Neyveli--to school, to friend's homes, to the hospital when grandmother was getting treated, or simply biking aimlessly, which I often did.  And then the thoughts about friends who have drifted away, or from whom I have drifted away.  The friends who are already dead.

I returned home and played a few old film songs from the old country.  Whether or not music has charms to soothe a savage breast, it certainly does soothe a nostalgic heart.

Monday, July 24, 2017

No country for young people

When I got to graduate school, I felt overwhelmed listening to other graduate students talk about their research topics.  One of them--also from my part of the old country--was working on her dissertation on population economics.  Until I ditched engineering and came to graduate school, I had always been under the impression that economics was about money.  And that was it.  And she was talking about population.  One of the many foundational instances when I realized that I am nothing but a fake, whose fakery will soon be exposed.

Now, when I routinely discuss demographics in economic geography, I suppose some of the students--those paying attention--also begin to appreciate the important role that population change plays in our lives.  One of my favorites is to tell them that the longer we older people live, the less they will have.  If the class mood is right, I joke that they should not take it upon themselves to push us old folks off the cliffs ;)

With this president at the helm, and with his minions also not concerned about facts, I worry that we are not thinking about the world of a few years from now.  Take 2020, for instance.  Yes, that is when we will have the next presidential election.  But, from a demographic perspective, it will be a "yuge" deal for the world: For the first time in human history, there will be more people in the world over age 65 than under age 5.  Let me repeat that sentence for you: For the first time in human history, there will be more people in the world over age 65 than under age 5.  Get it?

Historic!  In 2030, the number of 65-plus on this planet will be--are you sitting down for this?--one billion people.  Imagine that--one billion 65-plus, including me!

That is worldwide.  In the old days, the lucky grandparents barely lived into their sixties.  Not anymore.  And not into the future.  Think of the economic implications.  Yes, the money aspect.  And think about one of the major issues--heath. You think this president is thinking about all those?  Of course not!  Imagine if we had a president and a bunch of leaders who were responsible and ethical and talked about such issues with substance.

We need such substantive discussions.  Consider the healthcare quagmire in which the Geriatrics Only Party has trapped itself.  And then think about the following chart:

Thirty years ago, I came to understand that experts were weighing in on how the changing demographics will affect everything.  Since then, the data have gotten better, and the quality of statistical models have become even better.  Most politicians also know about these trends; unfortunately for us, they choose not to talk about it and, instead, want us to chase some imaginary rabbits!

Aren't you all the happier with my plan? ;)

Saturday, July 22, 2017

A kumbha mela in Oregon

You recall Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh?  Yes, that fraudster who reinvented himself as Osho.

Back in the early 1980s, he and his fellow criminals bought up a ranch in Oregon and called that Rajneeshpuram.  As if people were hell-bent on confirming PT Barnum's "there's a sucker born every minute," devotees descended on the ashram.  With a matter of months, the place had the largest collection of Rolls Royce cars.

But then the Bhagwan and his minions could not fool everybody.  They then engaged in bioterrorism, were prosecuted, and Rajneesh, who was kicked out of America, went back to India where he lived the rest of his life as Osho.

The police mugshot of Rajneesh.
What has all that got to do with the kumbh mela?

That ranch area is prime viewing spot for the solar eclipse on August 21st!

You see the town of Madras (yes, named after the city in India--long story!)?  The ranch was close by.

Motels and campsites at those Central Oregon locations sold out months in advance.  People are renting out rooms in their homes for quite some rates.  Because, in those dog days of summer, that is a place in the mountain where the probability is very high that no clouds or weather events will spoil one's experience.

Hundreds of thousands of tourists will be flooding Oregon close to that date.  The transportation department has issued an advisory that traffic will be chaotic.  Small towns are worried that they won't have enough toilet facilities--even the portable ones.  Madness!

This is a secular kumbha mela.  People want to be awed by a celestial event over which we humans have no control.  Not even the tiniest of impacts.

When we cannot make sense of events around us, and when we have angst about our own existence, then we turn to the cosmos for answers and comfort.  Or, we turn to religions.  Or, we fall at the feet of fraudsters.  It is all the same to me.  Religions have better, and time-tested, institutional mechanisms to defraud people, unlike Rajneesh whose schemes were blown away.

We can submit to the likes of Rajneesh.  We can be devout our religions.  We can smoke weed.  We can go to religious and secular gatherings.  But, the angst about the meaning of life can be resolved only from within.

As for my own solar eclipse plans?  I live outside the belt of totality.  I don't care.  A colleague, whose home is smack in the zone of totality strongly advised me to get up to one of those places.  "It is a once in a life time event," he said.

I merely smiled.  Because I could not tell him that every breath that we take is a once in a life time event.  Every second that we are alive is a once in a life time event.  If only we cherished every second of our lives as we value the kumbha melas of many types!

I suppose it is because we refuse to understand and appreciate such a life that we seek the fraudsters of the world, who come in many shapes.  Beware!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Nothing beyond the profit motive or self-interest?

I think I have been to Whole Foods stores three times.  Maybe only twice.  Even those trips were only because of the unique circumstances in a city that I was visiting.  A few months ago, a Whole Foods store opened in town; I don't go anywhere near it.

The founder of that business, John Mackey, has always interested me though.  Because, he seemed to offer a political vision through his business.  A libertarian, Mackey articulated his socio-business philosophy in Conscious Capitalism.  In a blog-post on this more than four years ago, I quoted from an essay:
In Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, Mackey and his co-author, Raj Sisodia, make a case that businesses are at their best when reaching for a higher purpose that ranges far beyond any simplistic notions of the profit motive or self-interest.
The business as a higher purpose that is "far beyond any simplistic notions of the profit motive or self-interest."  This is why even the anti-libertarian limousine-liberals embraced Whole Foods.

Mackey has now sold his business to Amazon, whose socio-business philosophy does not have anything "far beyond any simplistic notions of the profit motive or self-interest."

After initial enthusiasm for Amazon, I have been trying to avoid buying anything through that behemoth.  Because, it is a ruthless business that couldn't care about anything other than to be the biggest and baddest of them all.  I have been increasingly worried about its tentacles into various aspects of life--the more a person shops at Amazon, the more the big-data driven profile of that customer.  My data becomes their dollars, and I am their raw material!  I way prefer to keep my preferences about books and rice-cookers away from those businesses.

And then my worries about the worker-bees at Amazon.
Amazon’s grand proclamations, on the other hand, tend to focus on domi­nation, not on providing any sort of abstract benefit to society outside the lowering of prices and the delivery of goods. The company has never put forth a rosy vision of the future of service labor. Amazon warehouse work is hard, often subcontracted and kept out of sight of consumers. According to a 2015 investigation by The Times, even at the corporate office, the work culture is unapologetically ruthless.
Ruthless is the word!

It is not merely the contemporary situation that Amazon that worries me.  Nope.  What really worries me is that Amazon might be the model as we rapidly enter into a future service economy, in which most humans become easily replaceable workers in a ruthless business environment that helps a very,  very few accumulate all the benefits.
Amazon’s attitude toward labor is emblematic of the culture it grew out of — and an augur of the service economy that’s on the rise today. Other tech companies, in particular platforms like Uber and TaskRabbit, have helped regular consumers grow comfortable with a software-mediated system wherein jobs are sliced into an endless series of assignments, with compensation negotiated wordlessly, instantly and without room for a second thought. Even Starbucks — once a champion of compassionate capitalism — recently began experimenting with pitiless automated scheduling software to assign shifts, before backing off after public outcry.
Yep, it is for these very reasons I have not ever used Uber either.

I wish more people thought about these rapid transformations.  But, apparently most humans do not care for anything "beyond any simplistic notions of the profit motive or self-interest." Even the uber-religious evangelicals who voted for a horrible human being, despite the message of selflessness from Jesus himself!

We are screwed!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Youthful bravado!

When I was an undergraduate student, a few friends and I planned to spend a couple of days in Ooty and Conoor, which were only a short bus ride away.  When I updated my parents, my father--who was all too familiar with those areas--had only words of caution about youthful bravado.

In those bad old days, inexpensive digital cameras had not even imagined, and the roll-film cameras were too expensive for us regular guys.  But, the brain is an awesome camera that holds plenty of still and moving images.  One of those images that I remember all too well is of a friend and me sitting right at the very edge at Dolphin's Nose.  At the edge.  Which made two other visitors nervous enough to warn us.  But, we sat there anyway.

Youthful bravado, indeed.  And this was by me, who usually lives a boring life!

I would think that the young have always done plenty of stupid things, all through our human story on this planet.  It is there in our genes.  I don't imagine other animals engaging in youthful bravado.  I bet that a young dog tries to stay away from anything that might put its life in danger.  A young lion carefully picks its fights.  Not us humans though.

This youthful bravado becomes even more a problem in these times of digital cameras, GoPro, Instagram, and YouTube, and more.

I am now the father worried about youthful bravado.

Worried I was when the friend and I hiked to the beautiful Tamolitch Falls, also known as Blue Pool.  It was a two-plus mile hike in from the parking place, which was already overflowing.  The hike was a constant flow of humans, and mountain-bikers.  Used to the quiet and lonely walks, I now felt as if I was in the middle of Ranganathan Street!

The pool was spectacular, yes.

But, the youthful bravado on display made a nervous Nellie out of me!

The cliffs seemed about thirty to seventy feet from the water.  We are familiar with the cold temperature of the waters of the McKenzie, and I guessed that the water temperature was maybe about 38 to 40 degrees.  Ice cold.

Youthful bravado.  Every few minutes, I could hear (I couldn't bear to watch) a young man jumping from the cliff down into the water.  A young woman in her bathing suit was swimming for a long time in the middle of the frigid pool.  I was sure I would witness an unfortunate accident.  In an area without cell signal, it would be a long time before rescue arrived.

The friend and I left in a hurry after finishing our lunch.

Today's paper has this news item:
A Texas teenager was seriously injured Monday while attempting to dive from a cliff into Blue Pool.
That teenager was a 17-year old girl.

She is fortunate to be alive, and with only a hip fracture.  Yes, people have also died at that pool.  But look at the timeline of this girl's accident:
Her jump: 12:30 pm
Bystander walks 2 miles to call 911:
First responders arrive: 3:00 pm
Finally, "40 personnel assisted with the rescue mission" help with getting her on to an Army National Guard Blackhawk helicopter at 5:43 pm.
In poor countries, the youthful bravado is held under check because the young people know that there is no concept of taxpayer-funded "search and rescue."  If I had fallen off that edge thirty years ago, well, that would have been the end of me, which is why I was so carefully perched there and not moving even a tad.

I suppose we humans are remarkably stupid animals as much as we are remarkably intelligent creatures!

Monday, July 17, 2017

The robot and the orange monster

I hope you remember these lines from The Sound of Music: 
When the bear woos
When the dinosaur churns
When I'm feeling steep
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel so creep
No, right?

You don't remember those lines because that is not what Oscar Hammerstein wrote.

That verse was authored by a Twitter bot called FavThingsBot.

Yes, algorithms.
Twitter bots are, essentially, computer programs that tweet of their own accord. While people access Twitter through its Web site and other clients, bots connect directly to the Twitter mainline, parsing the information in real time and posting at will; it’s a code-to-code connection, made possible by Twitter’s wide-open application programming interface, or A.P.I. The bots, whose DNA can be written in nearly any modern programming language, live on cloud servers, which never go dark and grow cheaper by the day.
Algorithms are so pervasive that there are sites like this one where you can engage in a Turing Test of sorts, and try to figure out whether even a poem--yes, a poem--was authored by a human or a bot.

Poetry writing bots don't kill people.  But, the robots are already ruining our lives.  "Robots posing as people have become a menace."  They even helped hijack the US elections last November.  What we have seen is the mere beginning:
The problem is almost certain to get worse, spreading to even more areas of life as bots are trained to become better at mimicking humans. Given the degree to which product reviews have been swamped by robots (which tend to hand out five stars with abandon), commercial sabotage in the form of negative bot reviews is not hard to predict. In coming years, campaign finance limits will be (and maybe already are) evaded by robot armies posing as “small” donors. And actual voting is another obvious target — perhaps the ultimate target.
The robots have arrived.  And we created them!
Using robots to fake support, steal tickets or crash democracy really is the kind of evil that science fiction writers were warning about. The use of robots takes advantage of the fact that political campaigns, elections and even open markets make humanistic assumptions, trusting that there is wisdom or at least legitimacy in crowds and value in public debate. But when support and opinion can be manufactured, bad or unpopular arguments can win not by logic but by a novel, dangerous form of force — the ultimate threat to every democracy.
I do follow one bot on Twitter--the bot automatically re-presents the president's crazy tweets into official statements.  This bot tells me that the batshit crazy president tweeted this earlier this morning:
This revolution is being digitized :(

Sunday, July 16, 2017

93 percent of the population cannot afford food

No, not in some sub-Saharan African country.

It is not in India.

It is in Venezuela!
Venezuela was once the richest country in South America, but food prices have skyrocketed in recent years, forcing many to scavenge for things to eat.
We humans are remarkably creative on the destruction that we can bring about :(

Everything was going well.  So well that a horrible human being--no, not this guy--stepped up to ruin it all.
Elected in 1998, President Hugo Chávez became widely popular for his promise to share the country’s oil wealth with the poor and to guarantee food security. To fund his “21st Century Socialism” agenda, he relied on oil revenues, which accounted for 93 percent of exports in 2008.
In one decade, chávez turned that country around, yes.  But, heading in the wrong direction.
During the oil price boom, the percentage of households in poverty fell to 29 percent from 53 percent. The government has not released poverty data since 2015. But a survey by three of the top universities in the country indicates that in recent years the government underestimated the level of poverty, which reached 82 percent in 2016.
"Put simply, many Venezuelans are starving to death. And their government often can’t or won’t do anything to help."

Two years ago to this date, the madman announced his candidacy for the presidency, and since then we have not been able to focus on serious issues like Venezuela.  What a tragedy!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The man who knew too little

Quite a few years ago, a well-known geographer, Neil Smith, came to campus, and I went to the talk/soirée.

There was a bar, where this teetotaler went to get a soda.  Or, pop, if you prefer.

The bartender was a student, who was of legal age and with the license to serve alcohol.  Of course I had to chit-chat with her.  It amuses me that I am not surprised that I have not forgotten that exchange.

She talked about her interest in Chinese opera.  It was one of the many moments in life when I was made to understand that I knew nothing.  I hadn't ever watched anything from Chinese opera.  Ever. And this young white woman was talking about it with some serious insight.  Even as I type this, I admit that I have not watched, nor listened to, Chinese opera.  Not even for a minute.

I am culture-challenged.

I have admitted to that all along.  I say that sincerely.  I have always said that.  But, people are quick to correct me.  Like the humanities professor back in California.  In our conversation about cinema, when I admitted to not knowing much, she immediately replied that I am a man of culture.  I am?

Over the years, I have come to understand this much then: Even my fleeting familiarity with a few aspects of literature, music, drama, and cinema, apparently make me culturally competent.  But, what about the ocean out there about which I know nothing, right?

Nobody knows it all.

After having truly understood that, the older I get, the more easily I admit to not knowing.  Especially when it comes to aspects of culture.  I am more and more at ease with responses like, "nope, I have not read that; what movie are you talking about?  who is he, or who was he, or is that a she?"

What remains is the primary experience of culture:
The problem was that in falling for New York’s endless cultural possibilities, I had — and still have — much less time for reading than I assumed would be my lot. In exchange for depth I got breadth. I relish, even when only half understanding, the paintings of Artemisia Gentileschi, the photography of Diane Arbus, the architecture of Henry Hobson Richardson, the operas of Giuseppe Verdi, the films of Kenji Mizoguchi, the theater of Peter Brook. On the other hand, I haven’t come close to reading the major works of William James or Toni Morrison or hundreds of other major writers whose oeuvres I once fondly imagined would be at my fingertips. I’m reminded of a story about the librarian/fabulist Jorge Luis Borges, who was once asked in an interview to venture an opinion about Gustav Mahler. As ever, the most stupendously erudite man of his time was ready with a trenchant reply: “Who’s Mahler?” How inspiring!
I experience culture for this: "its beauty, its reach, its strangeness, its ability to transform an ordinary life like mine."  Even though I have never watched Chinese opera, and even when I have no immediate plans whatsoever to watch one.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Rights and wrongs

Way back, when I was a kid who had barely gotten on to the bicycling phase, I complained to my father that our home was far away from where my friends lived.  He said that the industrial township was intentionally designed that way--with lots of open space and trees--in order to make sure that the health impacts from the open-pit (strip) mining would be minimal.

Fast forward a few decades.  We had a thirtieth high school reunion.  After the excitement died down, we middle-aged classmates even talked about our health issues, and our parents' health.  One classmate was convinced that his father's neurological disease was from the daily exposure to toxic chemicals at the fertilizer factory.  His father's health conditions were nightmarish, of an active brain trapped in an immobile body.

My slightly asthmatic hassles were what I brought to the discussion.  I added that my parents and siblings too had--and have--allergy issues that then complicate the nose, throat, lungs functioning.  A friend quickly jumped in at that point, with a forceful comment that most of us who lived there have those very issues and that, yes, the industrial air was the cause.

Of course, establishing the cause-and-effect is not easy, especially when it comes to geographic clusters of ill-health.  But, think about it: Extensive mining, where the topsoil and the layers underneath are stripped generating whatever into the atmosphere.  Then there are the byproducts of the factories.  There is enough and more to hypothesize, right?  I suppose I should be happy that the township was at least well spread out.

It is a strange "development" model that we have put into place over the past two hundred years.  We destroy the natural environment in order to do everything from making smartphones and tshirts and whatever.

The right to pursue happiness is one thing, but don't we have a more fundamental right to clean air, clean water, a clean environment?
The idea of environmental human rights is receiving growing attention worldwide, driven by our global ecological crisis.
I worry that this is coming a tad too late.  A couple of years ago, I went to India's IT capital to meet with a few friends, including this guy.  I was shocked at how warm and dry and brown it was, in contrast to my trip there when I was wrapping up high school.  My father routinely updates me that wells in my grandmother's village have gone dry.  Every visit, I am shocked by how polluted the city is.

I wish we talked more and often about environmental human rights:
The idea of environmental human rights dates back to the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s. It follows other, more established conceptions of human rights, such as civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights, and often is classified as part of a so-called third generation of “newer” human rights.
Few international agreements explicitly refer to environmental human rights. At the national level, however, more than 100 countries around the world have constitutions that enshrine environmental rights to some degree, including Brazil and Kenya.
Only a handful of U.S. states, including Pennsylvania and Hawaii, have constitutions that explicitly incorporate environmental rights. What is more, these provisions were largely established decades ago and have had uneven success in their enforcement.
With this president and his secretaries for the natural environments (EPA and Interior) we are well on our way to making things even worse.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

No college and all sports is the Republican dream

The other day, I told the friend that I doubt if there is even one Prius in the US with a confederate flag bumper sticker on it.  We might make fun of the liberals, yes, but at least they don't drive around with symbols of hate.

The stereotype of Prius owners exists because it reflects a great deal of the reality about them.  Similar is the stereotype of Republicans as military-loving and anti-intellectual types.  In those deep red states, the irony is their passion for college sports.  Yep, those very folks who aim their guns on colleges love, love, love football and basketball so much that they seem to tolerate the academic aspects of it because, well, without college there is no sport!

And with trump and his minions now in charge, hey, I am not at all surprised with this latest survey results:
A majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (58%) now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, up from 45% last year. By contrast, most Democrats and Democratic leaners (72%) say colleges and universities have a positive effect, which is little changed from recent years.
Fifty-eight percent of the Republicans say that colleges have a negative effect on the country.  58!  These are the same idiots who gladly voted for trump!
Among Republicans and Republican leaners, younger adults have much more positive views of colleges and universities than older adults. About half (52%) of Republicans ages 18 to 29 say colleges and universities have a positive impact on the country, compared with just 27% of those 65 and older. By contrast, there are no significant differences in views among Democrats by age, with comparable majorities of all age groups saying colleges and universities have a positive impact.
"just 27% of those 65 and older" Republican leaners think that college does good.  I wonder who these people voted for in the November election!

These anti-college Republicans elected a guy with no plans for the future of the country.
Trump’s innovation maybe wasn’t to bash college so much as to ignore it. Previous candidates, in both parties, paid at least lip service to the idea of expanding educational opportunities and retraining workers whose jobs were eliminated by changes in the U.S. economy. The first indications that that was changing came in the 2012 GOP primary, when Rick Santorum (B.A., Penn State; M.B.A, Pitt; J.D., Dickinson Law) accused Barack Obama of being a “snob” for trying to expand access to education. Trump didn’t bother to make the case for retraining or education; he simply promised dispossessed blue-collar workers that their jobs in mills, factories, and especially coal mines were going to come back.
As simple as that.  Just ignore higher education.  After all, nothing good ever comes from that, right?  Further, colleges are nothing but full of those damn liberals and it is better to shut them all down!

I will borrow Paul Krugman's words to wrap up this post:
Republicans have changed in the age of Trump: what was already a strong strain of anti-intellectualism has become completely dominant. The notion that there was a golden age of conservative intellectuals is basically a myth. But there used to be at least some pretense of taking facts and hard thinking seriously. Now anyone pointing out awkward facts – immigrants haven’t brought a reign of terror, coal jobs can’t be brought back, Trump lost the popular vote – is the enemy. In fact, I’d argue that anti-intellectualism was, in its own way, as big a factor in the election as racism.
What this means for the future is grim. America basically invented the modern, educated society, leading the way on universal K-12 education, building the world’s finest and most comprehensive higher education system; this in turn was an important factor in how we became leader of the free world. Now a powerful political movement basically wants to make America ignorant again.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The dirty truth that does not have to be mined

If only more people understood the importance of economic geography in their own lives.  I often tell students in my intro class that if they carried with them the economic geography way of looking at the world, ... but, of course, rare is a student who pays any attention to me.

Most of this current president's campaign lies were on issues that are absolutely economic geography.  China's competition with the US? Yes. Immigration from Mexico and elsewhere?  Yep. Coal? Of course, yes, dammit!

I read two essays on the coal country in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.  I am guessing this a region that this president won by a huge margin over Hillary Clinton, who spoke the truth about coal jobs not coming back.

Click here to zoom into the map
You know the economics of the region is in shit streets when even Walmart closes down a store.
Rural areas like McDowell County, where Walmart focused its expansion plans in the 1990s, are experiencing accelerating depopulation that is putting a strain on the firm’s boundless ambitions.
Hit hard by the longterm decline in coal mining that is the mainstay of the area, McDowell County has seen a devastating and sustained erosion of its people, from almost 100,000 in 1950 when coal was king, to about 18,000 today.
This president can bullshit all he wants, and 63 million people can vote for him, yes.  But, then there is the real world.

This wasn't even a regular Walmart store, which can seem huge to visitors from most other parts of the world.  This was a supercenter!
“It’s all about jobs,” says Melissa Nester, publisher of the local newspaper, The Welch News, which sells 4,500 copies three times a week and doggedly refuses to have a website. “Dollar stores have picked up some of the trade left by Walmart, but they haven’t created many jobs.”
At its peak, Walmart employed 300 people in the McDowell County supercenter. That was down to about 140 by the end, but it still made it the largest employer in the area.
 The reality of life in a corner of the US that is being rapidly left behind.  These are the "forgotten" people that this president bullshitted to.
After jobs, taxes are the next things to go. The town of Kimball in which the supercenter is located used to receive $145,000 a year in taxes from Walmart, and when that went it had to cut back its workforce and put all remaining staff on a four-day week.
The county government also lost $68,000 in taxes, most of which went to schools, and all its staff were given a 10% pay cut.
It does not take much for economic conditions to quickly spiral down.  Rome was not built in a day, but it did not take long for the decline and fall, right?

Linda McKinney ... "mourns the communal aspect of the supercenter, its quality as a “social hub”."
McKinney rattles off a list of all the community facilities that disappeared from the region in recent years as the population declined and the culture of mega-chains like Walmart took root.
There used to be 28 churches of her United Methodist denomination in the county, now there are six; there were seven bars in Welch, all but one have closed; there were three cinemas, now it’s down to one; there are no community centers left; many of the corner shops have gone. “There’s nothing here,” McKinney says.
A complementing essay at a different publication looks at another aspect of this economic geography: What can a community college do to help people?
As manufacturers shed workers and businesses gravitate to urban areas, they often leave economic devastation in their wake. Thousands of people reliant on a dominant industry, in this case coal, are thrown out of work and their options are few. In the hills and hollows of Eastern Kentucky, communities must also contend with low levels of education, high rates of poverty, weak infrastructure, and an opioid epidemic.
If you are like me, you are thinking this: A community college cannot do much to address such complicated issues.  True,  But, they try their best.
Meanwhile, state and regional leaders wrestle with a pressing challenge: Can they bring decent jobs to an area that lacks the infrastructure, education levels, and geography to support large manufacturers and skilled jobs? In 2014 the average annual wage for a coal miner in Kentucky was $72,000. Nothing has come along since to replace that.
Nothing will come along to replace that $72,000 job.  Of course, that is not the truth that this president and his minions talked about, right?

Keep in mind that there are other jobs.  It is just that those other jobs barely pay minimum wages.
"A lot of what you see in terms of opioid abuse, a decrease in life expectancy, a lot of that is being driven by the hopelessness of seeing jobs, but not good jobs," says Nate Anderson, who spends a lot of time in Kentucky as a senior director at Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit organization that promotes skills training and job opportunities for low-income people. "No one wants to spend their entire life in retail earning next to nothing. They want opportunity and that’s gone."
So, what can be done?

Anything that can be done will have to start at step number one, which will never ever happen.  That first step is this: Political leaders need to start talking the truth to people.  Because that will not happen, and because even partial-truth will only make losers out of candidates, well, ... we are where we are now!

The second best thing to do: Take courses in economic geography and save yourself a whole lot of trouble!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Pop talk

Today--July 11th--is World Population Day, my Google news-feed informs me.  It is also a thirty-year anniversary of the day that we recognize as an important demographic milestone:
World Population Day, which seeks to focus attention on the urgency and importance of population issues, was established by the then-Governing Council of the United Nations Development Programme in 1989, an outgrowth of the interest generated by the Day of Five Billion, which was observed on 11 July 1987.
Yep, thirty years ago, we were only five billion people on this planet.  We are now at 7.6 billion, and growing.  By 2100, we will have added about three-billion-plus.

India is projected to overtake China as the country with the largest population in about five years from now, though there are claims that it has already done so.  An extraordinary rate of growth from the "muppadu koti janangalin" (300 million) that the poet Bharati sang about a century ago. (Click here for the movie adaptation of the song from the old days.)

Population growth continues to freak people out.  Especially those on the left.  The latest to fall victim to that was the latest darling of the left--the French president, Macron.  He claimed that “civilisational” problems and women having "seven or eight children" are some of the main challenges in Africa.

As my intro students get to know well, Africa is way too diverse for any generalization.  We will ignore the "civilisational" aspect in order to focus only on the population aspects on this day.  Even my intro class students get to understand that women having "seven or eight children" is an old story in most of Africa.  Further, population growth is happening despite women having fewer children than before.  Yes, fewer.  As I emphasize over and over and over, population growth is not because of women having more children than ever before, but because children and adults don't die young as they used to in the past.  We live long.  Way too long has always been my worry.

Who you gonna believe?  Macron, or the data from Google?

Macron should at least be familiar with some of the African countries that his beloved France colonized and screwed up, right?

Oh well ... the gut-level Mallthusian worries do not easily go away.

Of course, more humans means more demand for various goods and services.  But, our long-term sustainability issues have less to do with more people.  Instead, those are almost always the result of economic growth and development, and various geopolitical happenings (colonization in the past, wars in the past and present, ...)

If Macron or anybody else wants to do something about population growth, the answer is simple.  It has been known to us for a long time now.  Educating girls acts works like a contraceptive.  The more illiterate the female population, the more they end up in the traditional childbearing roles.  And then provide women with the freedom that men take for granted, well, you will soon have to bribe women to have children.

Of course, with this American president, female empowerment is next to impossible. The 71-year old man-child has had more children than the previous three presidents have had.  We should be more worried about the growth in trump population than in the world population!

Monday, July 10, 2017

10LADs and women

It was about a year ago.  The hot summer days.  The Republican nominee for the presidency said that the news anchor at Faux News "had blood coming out of her wherever."

That was merely an addition to lots of other words and phrases he had used to describe women: Fat. Pig. Dog. Slob. Disgusting animal ...

Ah yes, the good times they were.  And they kept on coming.  And it keeps on coming, well past his advice on pussy-grabbing, thanks to 63 million Americans.

With him as the president, I have no right to comment on the state of affairs anywhere else in the world.  Those who live in glass houses ... and I am stark naked in my glass house :(

At least in the years past we pretended to worry about morals.  We Americans could claim the moral high ground as an aspiration.  But, the day to day reality now makes utter hypocrisy out of any moral finger-pointing.

The fact that we now occupy a stinking swamp having come down from the high ground does not mean, however, the world's problems have gone away though.

Consider, for instance, the death of an 18-year old girl in Nepal.  Even by itself, that death is a tragedy.  And then to think about other young women like here, only because they menstruate--you know, the "blood coming out of her wherever"--makes it terribly, terribly tragic.  All because of "a tradition known as chhaupadi that sequesters menstruating women from their families.":
The Supreme Court of Nepal ordered an end to chhaupadi, which is linked to Hinduism, in 2005. But it is still practiced in many of Nepal’s isolated villages, particularly in the west. A bill is pending in Parliament to formally criminalize the practice. Many people in rural villages believe that menstruating women are impure and can bring bad luck on a household. Under the chhaupadi tradition, the women are kept from taking part in normal family activities and social gatherings or from entering houses, kitchens and temples....
The practice has its dangers: Women must often brave winter cold or summer heat in rude huts where they are vulnerable to human and animal intruders.
Vulnerable to animals like snakes that bit that 18-year old woman who died a day after that unfortunate event.

All because of "blood coming out of her wherever."

Visualize this.  A kid might write to the President complaining about anything--from homework to stress to world peace to whatever.  From anywhere on the planet, for that matter.  (An uncle of mine wanted to name his home "White House."  So, he wrote a letter to President Eisenhower requesting his ok  And he received a formal reply stating that the President had no problems with that.)

Now, think about a Nepali girl who wants to tell the American President about this chhaupadi issue. ... you can fill in the rest!

Don't ever think that I am exaggerating such an aspect of the Presidency.  That's what the 10LADs in the subject refers to:
At the beginning of his first term, President Obama said he wanted to read his mail. He said he would like to see 10 letters a day. After that, the 10LADs, as they came to be called, were put in a purple folder and added to the back of the briefing book he took with him to the residence on the second floor of the White House each night.
Caption at the source:
In the Obama White House’s hard-mail room, each intern and staff member read and categorized 300 letters a day.
The reporter asked Obama "how he might advise Donald Trump on what to do with the mail if he were to become president."  Obama's response:
He laughed. “You know what, this is a great habit. But um, it, uh,” he said about the idea of a President Trump reading constituent mail. “I think it worked for me because it wasn’t something I did for anyone else — I did it because it ... sustained me. So maybe it will sustain others in the future.
No letter from a Nepali girl about "blood coming out of her wherever," will ever be read by this president.

Maybe those girls will write to the real leader of the free world, who personally knows well about "blood coming out of her wherever."

Sunday, July 09, 2017

The caveman speaketh!

One of the many charming, charismatic, aspects of M.K. (Mahatma) Gandhi was that in both still and moving images he always had a smiling and welcoming appearance.  Something rare for the culture in which I grew up where, at least in the old days, people did not smile when photographed.  I suspect that Gandhi's pleasant demeanor was no accident--that was his real persona.

Gandhi was one heck of a force that the militant white supremacists had to reckon with, and yet he comes across in the images as a soft dude.  A dude with a wonderful sense of humor.  One of my favorites about him is this: Gandhi was asked by a reporter what he thought of the western civilization.  Always quick on the draw, Gandhi replied, "I think it would be a very good idea."

Here we are seven decades after Gandhi was shot dead, and living under a different kind of a dark threat, with white supremacists boldly out in the open, and right in the White House.  The Oval Office occupant re-enacted his awful "American carnage" theme but this time in Poland, where he presented the world as a clash of civilizations in which he worried that the West did not have the will to survive.

In that international carnage speech, he said:
We write symphonies.  We pursue innovation.  We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs, and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers.
I suppose the "others" do not celebrate ancient heroes.  The people who are not from the West do not embrace their timeless traditions and customs.  What do people from Iraq, Iran, China, know about timelessness, right?  After all, it was only a few years ago that they barely crawled out of their caves, dragging women by their hair, and beating each other with clubs!  What does the Subcontinent know about music when all they do is clang stones together to create noise!

It is one thing for the fuhrer to engage in such awfulness.  It is another when a NY Times columnist pretty much offers similar arguments but cloaked in sophisticated language.  He seems to equate the white supremacists nationalism of this president and his voters, with the nationalism of the once colonized brown-skinned!

What a mess that 63 million voters have created!  If only the fuhrer understood his own words: "Words are easy, but actions are what matters."

Saturday, July 08, 2017

No love, in the time of cholera!

I went to graduate school because of my naïveté.  Living in my own bubble, I thought that the causes of the miserable human condition all around me in India and elsewhere had not been clearly understood, and that graduate school would lead to a breakthrough.

Turned out that I did learn a lot through my six years--problems continue primarily because of politics that prevents us from doing the right thing.

I don't mean politics as in elections and voting, but politics as in how we as individuals and groups prefer to view the world and, therefore, how to respond to the human condition--whether it is at the street corner or in a far away country.

Consider cholera, for instance.  Sure, once upon a time humans thought that this disease and fatality was some mysterious event.  But, a cholera outbreak in London during the height of its Industrial Revolution and urbanization was also when we humans figured out what was going on.  It is a story of geography and maps.  (Wikipedia can help, if it interests you.)

My point is this: If there are people dying from cholera in the year 2017, it ain't because we don't know what causes cholera.  We know all too well.  We know how it spreads.  We know how it kills.

So, why do people die from cholera?  Politics.

The worst of that politics is being played out in Yemen:
The Yemeni farm laborer was picking crops in a hot field when the call came. His children, all seven of them, had fallen gravely ill.
Some were vomiting, others had diarrhea, and all were listless, indicating that they had fallen victim to the latest disaster to afflict this impoverished corner of the Arabian Peninsula: one of the worst outbreaks of cholera infection in recent times.
No amount of graduate schooling by any number of eager-beaver students can help, when we are hell bent on making the human condition miserable.
For much of the world, cholera, a bacterial infection spread by water contaminated with feces, has been relegated to the history books. In the 19th century, it claimed tens of millions of lives across the world, mainly through dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.
That ended with modern sanitation and water systems. When it pops up now, it is usually treated easily with rehydration solutions and, if severe, with antibiotics.
Yep, we thought had condemned killing by cholera to history.  And then we watch it happen in real time:
Since a severe outbreak began in late April, according to Unicef, cholera has spread to 21 of the country’s 22 provinces, infecting at least 269,608 people and killing at least 1,614. That is more than the total number of cholera deaths reported to the World Health Organization worldwide in 2015.
How fucked up are we humans!
In October, the government stopped paying civil servants, prompting strikes from sanitation workers and leading to garbage pileups and septic backups. That contaminated the wells that many Yemenis rely on for water, providing the ideal environment for cholera to spread. The outbreak picked up speed in April, after dirty rainwater further polluted the wells.
Not everyone who is exposed to cholera will contract the disease. But in places like Yemen, where more than 14 million of Yemen’s 27 million people lack access to clean water and 17 million do not have enough food, people are far more vulnerable — particularly malnourished children.
“The average person lives on tea and bread. It’s just one meal a day,” said Jamie McGoldrick, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Yemen. “They are in a weakened state, and that is why they are getting sick.”
Making matters worse, the war has damaged 65 percent of Yemen’s medical facilities, denying more than 14 million people access to health care.
You have to wonder why we can't seem to get along, right?

Meanwhile, acute resource constraints in a remarkably rich world:
The United Nations says it needs $2.1 billion for its work in Yemen this year, but it has received only 29 percent of that amount despite repeated pleas for donations from aid groups.
In addition to shedding my naïveté, there is one huge difference between the graduate school me versus the me now--I am not a starving graduate student.

So, I did the only thing that I could--I donated, to my favorite group that does phenomenal work in such situations: MSF.

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