Saturday, August 19, 2017

There's no business like ... sustainable business?

Profits are apparently better guides than prophets, as we found out post-Charlottesville.  To some extent, it should not surprise us; after all, businesses are all about the here and now, and not about heaven or hell.  So, if even the appearance of siding with the fuhrer would hurt their bottom-lines, then, of course, business leaders would abandon the fascist.

The fascist and his minions deny climate change, and by loosening up regulations and promoting activities that will further destroy the natural environment, they are all set to bring about hell on earth, instead of making heaven right here on earth.  The fuhrer gleefully announced that he was withdrawing the US from the Paris agreement.  What does the market think about all these?  Will business leaders cheer the maniac, or are they taking a different approach?

Harvard Business Review takes this up, which is made clear in the headline itself:


No ambiguity there, right?  HBR has created "the Future Economy Project."
We’ve enlisted prominent thinkers and leading CEOs who understand that sustainable business practices are in a company’s long-term interests. They will help us answer questions like: How does sustainability fit into a company’s strategy? How can you make core business operations more sustainable? How do you convince major stakeholders — employees, investors, the board, and customers — that sustainability is the right path? And what type of leadership will take us there?    
HBR adds:
We don’t pretend to have all the answers — and neither do the pioneering business leaders who are joining this initiative. But over the coming months, we will provide case studies and practical lessons from their experiences to help other executives who believe that profits and environmental responsibility must go hand in hand.
The Future Economy Project will culminate in the publication of a list of principles and actions, endorsed by our partners, aimed at outlining a path for businesses that want to pursue sustainable goals. The principles will reflect our partners’ thinking on how to operationalize sustainability throughout the enterprise.    
One of the HBR essays leads with this:
Despite conflicting messages about climate change from U.S. government leaders, sustainability is getting more and more attention at American companies. Shareholders are ratcheting up their demands on environmental and social issues. Consumers are registering their concerns about how companies make their products. And talented Millennial employees are voting with their feet by leaving laggard companies behind. Meanwhile, new technologies are making it easier for sustainability investments to pay off in the middle to long term.
I have always believed that transformations will be less of a hurdle if we created the appropriate contexts for the profit-motive.  Because, merely appealing to people to do the right thing rarely works, if ever.  And once we tap into that profit motive, things can happen seemingly overnight.

Of course, as conservative organizations, businesses are resistant and reactionary, especially if the change will not help the bottom-line.  But, businesses--unlike politicians--are not ideological and, hence, do change their outlook.  Therefore, in addition to yelling at politicians, we the people ought to yell even louder at businesses.  Chances are that businesses will listen to us and act way quicker than the elected official will.

At the university where I teach, for a year we worked on creating a new academic major called "sustainability."  I think my most important contribution there was to structure it such that students could focus on their business interests in sustainability.  To me, it was a no-brainer that business should be a part of the major.   For once, people actually listened to me! ;)  This HBR report adds that much more validation of the major that we have created.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The black man's burden

While waiting for the Filipina to join us for dinner, I commented that the Philippines was fucked up big time by the US and Spain combined, with a good dose of Catholicism as well.  So much so that even now that country continues to be strangely dependent on America in ways that few other countries around the world do.

It was in the context of the US screwing the Philippines that Rudyard "Jungle Book" Kipling wrote his famous (puke!) poem on the white man's burden.  What a fucking bastard!  But then he was also a man of his time.  After all, many white folks around then believed that the non-whites of the world were only a step removed from monkeys and apes.

White Supremacy is not new by any means.  All the celebrated British bastards who lived and died for the crown, like the cigar-chomping Churchill, were bloody white supremacists.  Not only did they feel superior, they were willing to go to all corners of the earth in order to colonize the brown-skinned.  It is an irony that a white supremacist blitzkrieging the lands of other white supremacists slowly began the end of the white-skinned empire building all over the world!

After WW II, after the Civil Rights movements of the 1950s and 1960s, and as the brown-skinned folks around the world started ridding themselves of the white overlords, it was only a matter of time before white supremacists died out.  Eight years of Barack Obama made us feel that we were becoming post-racial.  That is what we thought. We assumed.

Wrong we were, and wrong we are!
White supremacy is more visible and vocal than it has been in decades. Its reemergence can be traced to several developments: a reaction against the Black Lives Matter movement that began in 2013, the massacre of black worshippers at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015 that led to a reexamination of the meaning of Confederate symbols, and the election of Donald Trump in 2016. These issues fused tragically in Charlottesville on August 12.
Unfortunately, many Americans fail to realize that white supremacy is not an aberration in this country but for most of its history the norm, forced into retreat only by the actions of those who struggle to make liberty and equality, not slavery and racism, the polestars that guide the nation.
The "norm" for most its history!

Caption at the source:
The flag that W. E. B. Du Bois flew from the window of the NAACP headquarters on 69 Fifth Avenue in New York City

So, with a white supremacist president, what can we do?
So it is time to renew the battle, to continue the struggle. White nationalists can’t be convinced, but perhaps white moderates can. This was the thrust of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail in 1963. Religious leaders must step forward. Moderates must take a stand. White supremacists, and the politicians who support them, will be defeated only by those willing to continue to fight for what King called “the sacred heritage of our nation,” a heritage not of hate but of hope.
Yes, religious leaders must step forward.  But, it is pathetic that some of the most solid support that this white-supremacist president gets is from Jesus-loving, churchgoing Christians!  For some one who has always worried that the market has no morals, it was refreshing to note that the president's business councils were disbanded after CEOs started quitting them post-Charlottesville, while not a single person has resigned from the Evangelical Council!

If only the white supremacists would understand the profoundly poetic words of Carl Sagan about our fragile lives in "a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam":
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Bali Hai in the north

About two decades ago, during my California years, one day I drooled so much for fresh, home-made முள்ளு தேன்குழல் (mullu thenkuzhal) that I decided to make it at home.

Yep, get ready for the disaster story!

I got the equipment ready.  The flour and spices all mixed.  The oil was hot.  I squeezed the flour paste into the oil.

It exploded.  Hot oil blobbed on my arms.

I yelled. Screamed.  Turned the gas off.  And we rushed to the health center that was less than a mile away.

The physician was an Indian-American who calmly treated me.  And throughout, he talked about his own fascination with those delicious snacks.

I, always searching for a few good male friends, decided to become friends with him.

I like to think that it was not my friendship that made him leave town within a year! ;)  He sold his home, and moved to ... Guam.

He had never been to Guam.  But, he knew he wanted to live the island life.  A tropical island.

Which was pretty much the first time I had to ever learn about Guam.  Until then I knew there was a place called Guam, but otherwise knew nothing about it.

After a couple of years there, he moved again. To the Big Island, which is where he continues to live his tropical island paradise dream life.

Over the years of teaching, I have run into quite a few students--born and brought up in America--who do not know that Guam is a US territory.  It is like how back in the old country the people of the northeast are "aliens" to the rest of their fellow citizens.

Now, Guam is in the news, but for all the wrong reasons.

Description at the source:
Demonstrators hold signs during a People for Peace Rally at the Chief Quipuha Statue in Hagatna, Guam.

I know Guam.  And also know that I should never attempt to make those snacks.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

J'accuse! J'accuse! J'accuse!

In June 2016, I was in an airport shuttle van with an Armenian-American driver and two German tourists.  The male tourist said that because it is illegal in Germany to say or do anything supporting Nazis, there is nothing there, at least in the open.  He blamed the US for exporting neo-nazi stuff to Europe.

This past weekend, the neo-nazi side of America was in full display.  A woman's death, and a black man's near-death, and more ...

Even prior to that post, in May 2016, I wrote about the looming dark clouds.
It starts with a swastika and 1488 etched on a bench on a bridge over a river :(  Here is to hoping that we will end it all before it even takes hold.
The evil has taken a firm hold, and eradicating it now will be a much tougher problem than anybody could have imagined.

In those posts, the two highly religious and openly Republican readers who used to comment stayed away from commenting.  One of them had even pontificated a year prior in a post on our biased and bigoted selves:
I do not understand how one person thinks he is better than another simply because of skin color or religion or any accident of birth, such as the wealth of the parents or location of the home. Every human has value and has gifts and talents and skills to share. None is more important than another.
I bet that those readers were two of the 63 million who voted for trump, who was thanked today by the former KKK leader.  The "thanks" was because the president equated "activists protesting racism with the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who rampaged in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend."

Two weeks after the November election, I wrote that white nationalism is not new to the GOP.
The big difference between 1984 and 2016 is this: Reagan used the political dog-whistle to remind the GOP white loyalists about blacks and immigrants.  Trump ditched the dog-whistle and went for the straight talk.
Elections have serious consequences.  This past election was perhaps one of the most consequential one ever, which is something for future historians to write about.

I quoted Ta-Nehisi Coates, who wrote:
Trump’s victory, in light of all of his antics during the campaign, makes it all but impossible to deny the continuing currency of racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia in the United States. It’s on display for all to see. This could be a good thing: It forces us to reckon with who we really are. Is America really about the democratic, progressive values professed in the founding documents? Or, are we really the small-minded, bigoted place Trump’s election represents?
The nine months after the election have made it clear that the 63 million did vote for racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia, and more.  They stand accused!


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Other than that, Frau Schmidt, how was the sex?

One of the strange essays that I read in the NY Times was this one on "Why Women Had Better Sex Under Socialism."

The title had all the warnings for me--as an old pinkie, I am highly suspicious of anything that hints of how life was/is awesome in a socialist/communist society.  Which is why, for instance, I usually have nothing but criticism for the rah-rahs about China, where people aren't free.

Anyway, the essay talks about how the old USSR and East Germany and others were progressive, and how "women under Communism enjoyed more sexual pleasure."
A comparative sociological study of East and West Germans conducted after reunification in 1990 found that Eastern women had twice as many orgasms as Western women. Researchers marveled at this disparity in reported sexual satisfaction, especially since East German women suffered from the notorious double burden of formal employment and housework. In contrast, postwar West German women had stayed home and enjoyed all the labor-saving devices produced by the roaring capitalist economy. But they had less sex, and less satisfying sex, than women who had to line up for toilet paper.
The author explains more with comparisons of women from those socialist years and their daughters who live in liberal democracies:
This generational divide between daughters and mothers who reached adulthood on either side of 1989 supports the idea that women had more fulfilling lives during the Communist era. And they owed this quality of life, in part, to the fact that these regimes saw women’s emancipation as central to advanced “scientific socialist” societies, as they saw themselves.
This is like how commies like to refer to, for instance, Cuba as an awesome country for healthcare.  Or, even until a couple of years ago, how Venezuela is a paradise for the poor.  And they always induce the same response from me: I want to puke!
Because they championed sexual equality — at work, at home and in the bedroom — and were willing to enforce it, Communist women who occupied positions in the state apparatus could be called cultural imperialists. But the liberation they imposed radically transformed millions of lives across the globe, including those of many women who still walk among us as the mothers and grandmothers of adults in the now democratic member states of the European Union. Those comrades’ insistence on government intervention may seem heavy-handed to our postmodern sensibilities, but sometimes necessary social change — which soon comes to be seen as the natural order of things — needs an emancipation proclamation from above.
"may seem heavy-handed to our postmodern sensibilities"?
"may"?
"seem"?
What the hell is wrong with such people?

Apparently I am not the only one who found it to be puke-worthy:
I would have chosen to commemorate 100 years since the Bolshevik Revolution and the birth of the Soviet Union in a different way. Over one hundred million people have died or were killed while building socialism during the course of the 20th century. Call me crazy, but that staggering number of victims of communism seems to me more important than the somewhat dubious claim that Bulgarian comrades enjoyed more orgasms than women in the West. But, as one Russian babushka said to another, suum cuique pulchrum est.
I am, however, intrigued by the striking similarities between the Times articles. To the greatest extent possible, they seem to avoid the broader perspective on life under communism (i.e., widespread oppression and economic failure). Instead, they focus on the experiences of individual people, some of whom never lived in communist countries in the first place.
Exactly.
But don't take my word for it. You can still visit a few communist countries, including Cuba and North Korea, and compare the social status and empowerment of their women with those in the West. Had the esteemed editors of the Times done so, they would have, I hope, thought twice about publishing a series of pro-communist excreta.
Exactly!


Monday, August 14, 2017

It was thirty years ago, today too

The long and winding road ended at the airport in Madras.

I sometimes refer to the end of that road and to the new beginning as my own "tryst with destiny."  Other times, I refer to myself as one of the "midnight's children."  During the same transition hours that marked India's beginning in 1947, I was ending the journey in the old country and venturing towards something unknown.

I have no idea how I came across to others back then, but I know I was stressed out.  Way stressed out.  And the stress was not helping the acidity situation in my stomach, as I would later come to find out during my graduate school years.

I was stressed not because I was going to a far away place. Not at all.  The newness was cause for excitement.  The stress came from the fact that I was headed towards graduate school in a field for which I had no formal educational preparation.  What if I failed at my attempt, and had to return to India?  What if I was unable to complete a PhD?  And, by the way, how does one do a PhD?  Would I be able to find a job after graduate school?

Yes, I had a plan that I was executing.  But, the plan had no details beyond getting on the plane in Madras.

I was stressed out.

It seemed like the few other students I met while waiting at the airport were all traveling the plans that were all familiar--graduate school in engineering or science.  And many of them seemed to be going where they would even re-connect with their college seniors.  Their only challenge was to decide between returning to India after graduation versus working in America at least for a while.

All I knew was that I was not going back to India.  America will be home.  As for everything else, well, I had to fill in the blanks.

And thus, in 1987, I boarded the Singapore Airlines flight a little before the midnight hour.

I stepped into a "jumbo jet" for the first time in my life.  I felt like I had entered into a huge hotel lobby. And there was a staircase, for the privileged travelers to get to their seats!

I reached my seat, which was in the rear of the plane, only a couple of rows ahead of the "smoking section."

The stress.  The excitement.  And everything new.  I don't think I slept much.  Not in the flight from Madras to Singapore, nor in the long haul from Singapore to Los Angeles with a stop in Tokyo.

The plane landed in Los Angeles.  The disembarking took forever.  I joined the long line snaking its way to the immigration counters for visitors.

Finally, it was my turn.

I gave the officer my papers and my passport.

My life in America commenced.  Thirty years ago, on August 15, 1987.



Sunday, August 13, 2017

It was thirty years ago, today

It is the 14th of August in India as I type this.

On the 14th, in 1987, I was in the old country.  At my parents' home in Anna Nagar.  Packing my suitcase and saying bye to people.

The day had finally arrived.  I was headed to America.  To Los Angeles. To graduate school.

It was a long and winding road that I had traveled in order to get to where I was on August 14th, 1987.  A journey, that was mostly unhappy, after the Neyveli school years ended in 1981.  The important stops along the way included Nagpur, Coimbatore, Calcutta, and--of course--Sengottai.

It seemed like I had no choice but to take that winding journey ... all because I was good in math and science!  Math came easily to me; I enjoyed learning and doing math.  In school, I routinely did the classwork way ahead of the rest and then used up the remaining time to finish the assigned homework. (Which explains why my mother claims, and rightfully so, that she has never ever seen me do homework or study.)

Talented and able boys were expected to do engineering.  It did not seem like there was any other route for me.  

In my first year, I tried talking about this angst of being in the wrong place with Vijay.  But, I was not able to connect with him even when we met.  Only later did I know that he, too, was going through very similar emotions.  I heard through the Neyveli grapevine that he had dropped out of college, and that he had embarked on a road that was less traveled--journalism and poetry.

I did not have the guts to drop out.  I have always been a wuss!

I wrote to a couple of universities inquiring whether I might be able to join a program in economics.  One university responded; the letter from the University of Delhi informed me that I was not eligible.

I stuck around in engineering.  If ever I managed to get engaged with the subject, despite my lack of interest, I did well.  Else, I barely maintained my "first class" standing.

All through, I kept doing the hard work, asking myself what I really wanted to do.  I discovered the world of literature to be comforting.  I read Dickens and Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn and more.  I clearly understood that it was the human condition, and not the computer chip, that interested me.   But, how would I make the change in the travel plan?


I was one of the few who got a job through campus interview, even before I earned my diploma.  I asked for a posting that would be far away from home.  I went to Calcutta.

All it took was a week for me to get all the evidence that I ever needed that I did not care for engineering.  I was now convinced beyond doubt that I had to get the hell out of India, study in America and make my home there.  I quit the job even before the third month anniversary!

The travel plan was slowly taking shape.

I bummed around for a few months in Chennai and Sengottai.  I logged plenty of hours in the library at the American consulate, reading newspapers and magazines and looking through university catalogs.  I selected a few programs and universities that matched my broad interests in the human condition.  I took the required GRE and TOEFL exams.

I went to interviews, mostly for an external confirmation that I was not an idiot.  My fragile ego was worried that people might think I was no good.  I took up a job, but ditched that within two weeks.

An uncle, a wonderful man, was worried that I was wasting away my time chasing dreams that might not work.  He pressed me to interview for a job where he worked.  I was hired.

I worked there, and followed-up on the letters from American universities.  The long and winding road was coming to an end.  I was now left with one major decision to make: Should I take up the admission and scholarship offer and live in Los Angeles, or take up the offer from Iowa because it would give me much more money.  I chose Los Angeles.

I quit my job.

I was now a man with a plan to execute.

And soon it was August 14, 1987.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

The new normal is ... a new slavery?

In graduate school, a professor casually commented that unemployment is a privilege of the rich.  The poor simply cannot afford to be unemployed, he argued.

I had a question right then but did not ask.  I was way too self-conscious about my accent and I worried that I might have to repeat the question in order to be understood.  I stayed quiet.  The question was this: What if people are working but the returns are next to nothing.  You know, like slaves.  Like hamsters running forever but not really going anywhere.

That question continues to bug me.  I have forever worried that the automation means that owners of those digital abstractions will get to hoard way more money than ever before.  This, in a political environment that discourages redistribution of income, will lead to workers working away but ...

The NY Times adds more to my worries, via this chart:

Soure

So ...
The message is straightforward. Only a few decades ago, the middle class and the poor weren’t just receiving healthy raises. Their take-home pay was rising even more rapidly, in percentage terms, than the pay of the rich.
...
In recent decades, by contrast, only very affluent families — those in roughly the top 1/40th of the income distribution — have received such large raises. Yes, the upper-middle class has done better than the middle class or the poor, but the huge gaps are between the super-rich and everyone else.
Megan McArdle, who is by no means left of the political-economic center, writes about the slow wage growth even though unemployment rate is at a low, low 4.3 percent:
So this slow wage growth may simply be what the labor market now looks like. Earlier eras of tight labor markets produced big increases in wages, but those increases were matched by rising worker productivity. Today, employers striving for productivity may replace the worker altogether, either by outsourcing to a lower-wage country or by giving that job to a machine.
So the biggest mystery is not why U.S. wage growth seems stuck even as unemployment falls. The biggest mystery is how we’re going to adjust our economy, our culture and our politics to the new normal.
It is no mystery to me--I have forever blogged about the need for a new social contract.  If only this president and his minions, and the likes of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell who manically advocate tax-cuts for the wealthy, will honestly respond to these real trends, instead of inventing their own alternative facts!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The bougainvillea of life and death

Those were the simpler days of childhood innocence.

I woke up every morning looking forward to going to school, and to spending time with my friends.  It was a twenty-minute walk to the school, before the years of riding the bicycle.

One school day, perhaps in the fifth standard it was, I was walking back home with my best friend back then.  We started arguing about the spelling of a word.  The name of a flower.  Bougainvillea.  The argument was about whether or not there was an "e" in the word.

Soon, we traded the few "bad words" we knew.  When that colorful language was not enough, our arms started swinging.

Before I knew it, my shirt pocket was ripped and I had a tear that was beyond repair.  My school uniform shirt.  We stopped our fight right then and there.  We knew we were in deep trouble with our parents.

The rest of the walk was in silence.  When we reached the roundtana, we went our separate ways.

I reached home and explained to my mother how I ended up with a huge hole in my school shirt.

And then I rushed to check with the dictionary.

He was correct.

Of course he was, as I had suspected was the case all through the argument and the fist-fight.

As if that fight was the cause, which it was not, we slowly drifted apart as we got older and became teenagers.  I visited with him a couple of times during our undergraduate years, before he withdrew from college in order to follow his true love of writing.

After a long gap, I met with him, and his parents, about six years ago.  We laughed about the infamous bougainvillea incident.

Today, there was an email from my brother:
Not sure if u heard the news
If not sorry to let u know
My old childhood friend, Vijay Nambisan, has died.

Vijay now joins two other wonderful childhood friends--Manibaba and Rangayya.

Vijay was remarakbly gifted and talented.  He was one of the very few that I have known in life who were exceptional in the analytical and the creative.  He was truly one of a kind.  I wish we hadn't drifted apart.  But that is what life is--we grow into our own personalities, and we live our own lives.

I picked up from my bookshelf the book that I got from him as a gift more than forty years ago.  His friendship, and the fight over the spelling of bougainvillea, were even better gifts of life.




Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The tyranny of the old

"Old soldiers never die, they just fade away," said Douglas MacArthur.  To which maybe it is time we added a twist: The old are neither dying nor fading away that easily!

I have complained enough about the choke-hold that older people have on everything going on in the world.  I have called them names, like tyrannosaurus elderex!  Of course, I have screamed at the senior citizens in my profession to retire already.  For whatever reasons, we do not engage in honest conversations on senior citizens who don't want to call it quits.

Remember the political campaigns here in the US just a year ago?  How could you forget, right?  Now think about the three of them who were yelling every single day: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and donald trump.  Who was the spring chicken there?!

This country has slipped into a gerontocracy even as we were all watching.
The highest levels of American politics bear an uncomfortable resemblance to a gerontocracy. From the Senate to the presidency to — perhaps most strikingly — the Supreme Court, top positions are held more and more by people in their 70s or above.
What happened, right?
In the body as a whole, 23 senators are at least 70. Seven are 80 or older.
Keep in mind that there are only 100 senators.  Which means, 23 percent is at least 70 years old.  Whatever happened to graceful retirement and encouraging a new and younger set of people taking over?
We should address these matters without rancor or cruelty, but also without euphemism or undue reticence.
These matters are hard to talk about in American politics because they are hard to talk about in our own lives. I see my mortality etched on my father’s face, as my daughters see it in mine. Mortality and bodily fragility are two great constants of human life. How we handle those constraints provides a small but important test of American democracy.
And that is the crucial point: Whether it is in our personal lives, or in the context of our public officials, we do not engage in open and honest conversations regarding aging and mortality.  As long as we do not address these issues, well, expect the drooling and fragile tyrannosaurus elderex to get more and more powerful.

Monday, August 07, 2017

I scream!

Two decades ago, my parents made their first and only visit to the US.  An incident from that trip that my mother recalled, when we were talking during my visit to India, revealed a lot about my regimented and boring life.  An incident about which I have no recollection till this very day.

So, what happened?  As my mother remembers it, I had almost warned her that everything sugary is inexpensive in America and, therefore, she should pay particular attention to chocolates and ice cream that she ate. Especially ice cream, for which she had an extra fondness.  Apparently I had also explained the logic for the warning: Ice cream is a easy way to gain pounds in no time at all.  On top of that, well, because of diabetes in the family.

What a horrible son, right?

Wait, there is more to the story.

Soon after they returned to India, a routine blood test revealed that she had diabetes!

See, I am a good son, after all! ;)

Ice cream is very American.  In my first "winter" in Los Angeles, I was surprised to see Americans rushing to the ice cream outlets even when it was cold outside.
Kids and adults eat ice cream.
A lot.
While walking.
Sitting.
Standing.
And, of course, while driving too.

Ice cream is so much a part of America, in ways about which I had no idea. Like this one:
When the 18th Amendment outlawed the sale of spirits in 1920, many early American breweries, including Yuengling and Anheuser-Busch, turned to soda and ice cream to stay afloat. By the end of the decade, Americans were consuming more than a million gallons of ice cream per day—and, crucially, associating it with the comfort and diversion formerly assigned to alcohol.
"Ice cream had become inseparable from the American way of life" so much so that the boys fighting for the country abroad had to served with this comfort food that reminded them of home.  Ice cream became a part of the massive military-industrial-complex:
The U.S. Navy spent $1 million in 1945 converting a concrete barge into a floating ice-cream factory to be towed around the Pacific, distributing ice cream to ships incapable of making their own. It held more than 2,000 gallons of ice cream and churned out 10 gallons every seven minutes. Not to be outdone, the U.S. Army constructed miniature ice-cream factories on the front lines and began delivering individual cartons to foxholes. This was in addition to the hundreds of millions of gallons of ice-cream mix they manufactured annually, shipping more than 135 million pounds of dehydrated ice cream in a single year
Of course, for many of us with bloodlines outside Europe, all that intense lactose of ice cream is one big hassle.  At the same time, I too crave for the ice cream experience. And, of course, I too love the comfort food that stirs the memories of childhood days in India.  America offers a product for that too:
Description at the site:
We make this exotic sorbetto simply with ripe Indian mangos, pure sugar and fresh lemon. It’s vegan and free of milk, though your mouth might have trouble believing it at first. Just keep eating it until your mouth admits it was wrong and apologizes.

God bless America! ;)



ps: A "cold" fact that will make this guy happy: Talenti is a subsidiary of Unilever, after the fast-growing upmarket private company was snapped up for an undisclosed amount ;)

Sunday, August 06, 2017

The disrobing of Lady Liberty

With trump as the president, I wonder and worry, more often than not, what his election and his presidency mean for the pursuit of knowledge and truth.  Of course I will wonder and worry about this, given that my profession is all about the pursuit of knowledge and truth.

"Everything but the truth" has been the approach in trump's quest, from the time he launched the birther movement, questioning Barack Obama's birth certificate and, therefore, his eligibility to be in the White House.

trump earned his cred pursuing this lie, and propagating it.  The elders of his adopted party encouraged the lie and the liar, either explicitly or implicitly.

Of course, literature and mythologies offer plenty of such instances.  I suppose the powerful remaining silent spectators is not anything new.  In the traditions in which I was raised, I grew up listening to, and reading, the old epics: the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

One of the worst ever instances of the rich, the powerful, and the wise, being silent spectators even as unjust actions were committed was the disrobing of Draupadi in the Mahabharata.  The old and wise, including Bhishma, did not say or do anything.

"Disrobing of Draupadi"
Source

I recall one of the many (religious) lectures in Neyveli, to which my parents took us when we were kids.  Pulavar Keeran provided his commentary on the Mahabharata. As he dramatically built up the telling of the disrobing of Draupadi, an older man sitting by me--he was our school's business manager--could not contain himself and yelled out Krishna!  And he fainted!

The mere retelling of a scene in a story made an old man faint.  A story in which the wisest and most powerful were silent spectators.  The modern day, contemporary, Duryodhana, is on a mission to metaphorically disrobe as many as he can and as publicly as he can, after privately disrobing countless women and grabbing their pussies.  The Bhishmas of today watched the spectacle unfold, while the Kauravas of the GOP cheered Duryodhana and Dushasana.

But then ... what do I know!

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Our own moral awakening

More than a year ago, I received a letter from a then 96-year old woman--"a member of the WWII generation."  She wrote in the letter, which was in response to my op-ed on homelessness in America:
You and no one living in the USA at this moment would be where he or she is if my generation had not made it possible.  That includes the dropping of the bomb.
This pacifist hates wars. Hates conflicts. The older I get, the less I am able to tolerate fights and destruction even in movies.  Therefore, it is always jarring to me when people defend the destruction to civilian life and property from the bombs that were dropped in Hiroshima--on August 6th--and three days later on Nagasaki.

The interpretations of the historical happenings are conflicted.  I am biased; I believe that the war could have, would have, been brought to an end without America flexing its nuclear muscles. My preferences for peace are why I find it discouraging that there is a majority in America that agrees with the letter writer regarding the bomb:

Source

A year ago, Obama visited Hiroshima, ahead of the anniversary of the tragic event.  In all these years since 1945, Obama was the first sitting president to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.  In a moving speech, Obama noted how the world changed since "death fell from the sky" on that cloudless August morning in Japan:
Those who died, they are like us. Ordinary people understand this, I think. They do not want more war. They would rather that the wonders of science be focused on improving life and not eliminating it. When the choices made by nations, when the choices made by leaders, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of Hiroshima is done.
The world was forever changed here, but today the children of this city will go through their day in peace. What a precious thing that is. It is worth protecting, and then extending to every child. That is a future we can choose, a future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.
These are dark times.  But, one has to be hopeful; what other choice do we have.  Here is to hoping that despite the effects of the fateful elections this past November, we will get on to the path of our own moral awakening--sooner than later.


Friday, August 04, 2017

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

There are more and more homeless people in town.  And our town is no exception--growing numbers of homeless is an issue that seemingly every American city is dealing with.  At the same time, the economy is humming along and unemployment rate is down to 4.3 percent, which should convince anybody that homelessness is not simply an economic issue--it is not merely about poverty.

I do wonder whether the homeless, despite all the hardship, are more in tune with real life and what it means to be human than most of the rest of us who live disconnected from all things real.

We live increasingly in artificial environments.  We live online, via texts, blogs, emails, tweets, Instagrams, and--of course--Facebook.  Through most of our waking hours, we are completely disconnected from "real" and deal only with the virtual.

The homeless--the mentally competent and otherwise--deal with the real all the time.  Real people. Real heat. Real cold. Real hunger. ... So, who is really leading a real life?

The older I get, the more I worry about this.  The more there is technology, the more I worry about this.  I am reminded of the science fiction from a century ago, about which I have blogged before: E.M. Forster's The Machine Stops.

As I noted in this post two years ago:
We live in a world that Forster wrote about back in 1909.  Screen time of all kinds.  Instant messages.  Tweets and Facebook status reports and blog posts like this all passing of as knowledge, just as Forster had feared.  We have replaced real human interactions with virtual ones.  So "satisfied" with the virtual interactions, and thinking that the virtual even eliminates the need for real interactions, we seem to believe that visiting with parents, children, friends, is not needed anymore.  We live in our own cells.
We already live in a world in which the machine has taken over our lives.  The machine even knows way more about us than we do about ourselves.  We can try to run from it, but we can never hide from the machine.

And, of course, homelessness is especially worse in cities that are home to the creators of the machine.  Like San Francisco and the Silicon Valley.   It is a bizarre juxtaposition of affluence and unimaginable high technology, versus shaggy men and women pushing carts mumbling to themselves.

The digital high tech industry is rapidly leading us into an increasingly virtual world, where we humans become disposable.  We real humans matter less and less to the machine.  We humans, in turn, care less and less about all things real.
Cannot you see, cannot all you lecturers see, that it is we that are dying, and that down here the only thing that really lives in the Machine? We created the Machine, to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now. It was robbed us of the sense of space and of the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act, it has paralysed our bodies and our wills, and now it compels us to worship it. The Machine develops - but not on our lies. The Machine proceeds - but not to our goal. We only exist as the blood corpuscles that course through its arteries, and if it could work without us, it would let us die.
PS:
Click here to read The Machine Stops, if you have never read that before.
The blog-post resulted from reading this book review essay in the LRB.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

From riches to rags! :(

It was once the richest country in the continent. Now, its people are fleeing. Some of its women try to make a living by doing sex work in the neighboring country.  Those who haven't fled are terribly undernourished.

No, it is not some cliched African country.  But, a country that until recently was a darling of the left.  Venezuela!
According to the International Monetary Fund, Venezuela’s GDP in 2017 is 35% below 2013 levels, or 40% in per capita terms. That is a significantly sharper contraction than during the 1929-1933 Great Depression in the United States, when US GDP is estimated to have fallen 28%. It is slightly bigger than the decline in Russia (1990-1994), Cuba (1989-1993), and Albania (1989-1993)
Just awful!
Venezuela is now the world’s most indebted country. No country has a larger public external debt as a share of GDP or of exports, or faces higher debt service as a share of exports.

So, where is the fucking intellectual left that used to adore Chavez, whose policies set Venezuela down this hell hole?
The list of Western leftists who once sang the Venezuelan government’s praises is long, and Naomi Klein figures near the top.
In 2004, she signed a petition headlined, “We would vote for Hugo Chavez.” Three years later, she lauded Venezuela as a place where “citizens had renewed their faith in the power of democracy to improve their lives.” In her 2007 book, “The Shock Doctrine,” she portrayed capitalism as a sort of global conspiracy that instigates financial crises and exploits poor countries in the wake of natural disasters. But Klein declared that Venezuela had been rendered immune to the “shocks” administered by free market fundamentalists thanks to Chavez’s “21st Century Socialism,” which had created “a zone of relative economic calm and predictability.”
How about the big guy himself?  You know the one. Noam Chomsky?
Chomsky, whose anti-capitalist teachings have inspired millions of American college students, praised Chavez's "sharp poverty reduction, probably the greatest in the Americas." Chavez returned the compliment by holding up Chomsky's book during a speech at the U.N., making it a best-seller.
Is Chomsky embarrassed by that today? "No," he wrote me. He praised Chavez "in 2006. Here's the situation as of two years later." He linked to a 2008 article by a writer of Oliver Stone's movie who said, "Venezuela has seen a remarkable reduction in poverty."
I asked him, "Should you now say to the students who've learned from you, 'Socialism, in practice, often wrecks people's lives'?"
Chomsky replied, "I never described Chavez's state capitalist government as 'socialist' or even hinted at such an absurdity. It was quite remote from socialism. Private capitalism remained ... Capitalists were free to undermine the economy in all sorts of ways, like massive export of capital."
What? Capitalists "undermine the economy" by fleeing?
Chomsky has always been good with words, and knows how to use them in order to make sure he comes across as the wise sage.  Godawful!

Just because I will not forget nor forgive the 63 million who have unleashed trump and his demons on us, does not mean that I will be soft on the near mirror image on the left: the Berniacs, whose economic policies are nearly as insane with their anti-globalization and America-first rhetoric.  Which is why I will wrap up this post with this:
In the age of Trump, Brexit and a wider backlash against globalization, left-wing economic populists are enjoying a resurgence in mainstream credibility by railing against free trade and “neoliberals.” This is a scandal. For in the form of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the world has a petri dish in which to judge the sort of policies endorsed by Jones, Klein, British Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, homegrown socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders and countless other deluded utopians.
There, the ghastly failures of their ideas are playing out for everyone to see; a real-time rebuke, as if another were needed, to socialism. That these people are considered authorities on anything other than purchasing Birkenstocks, much less running a country, is absurd.
When you buy the socialist rhetoric, Caveat emptor, as "neoliberal" economists like to say!


Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Born in the USA!

Consider the following chart:


The Bloomberg columnist writes:
the overall point is that the U.S. has been losing ground relative to other OECD members in most measures of living standards. 1 And in the areas where the U.S. hasn't lost ground (poverty rates, high school graduation rates), it was at or near the bottom of the heap to begin with. The clear message is that the U.S. -- the richest nation on Earth, as is frequently proclaimed, although it's actually not the richest per capita -- is increasingly becoming the developed world's poor relation as far as the actual living standards of most of its population go.
USA! USA!
We are #1!
From the bottom!

Improving the numbers for life expectancy at birth, or healthcare coverage, will require a rethinking of the social contract that we have in the US, about which I have blogged here over and over and over again!  The columnist also notes:
One major difference between the U.S. and most of the rest of the developed world is ideological: People and politicians in the U.S. are much more ambivalent about the modern welfare state than their peers in other wealthy nations and have been less willing to raise taxes to finance it.
And then we wonder why the white middle class is angry and on opioids!

That chart was from an IMF report.  The IMF is headquartered in the US.  But, according to its charter, it can't be here for long:
The articles of the organization say the headquarters should be the country of the member with the largest economy.
Uh oh!
Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, joked on Monday about donning “dream binoculars” and seeing the possibility of relocating the group’s headquarters to China.
“We might not be sitting in Washington D.C.,” Ms. Lagarde said at a Center for Global Development event here in which she envisioned what the I.M.F. might look like in 2027.
Ms. Lagarde may joke, but her comments reflect a concern that world leaders have about the changing role of the United States in global organizations.
I don't understand why we in the US would systematically do things in order to decrease our global standing and also mess up our own people.  Are we that fucking stupid?  I suppose we are; after all, we elected the madman to the presidency, and also have a bunch of loons in the congressional majority trying to legislate godawful policies in the cover of darkness.


Tuesday, August 01, 2017

I'm leavin' on a jet plane ... Oh babe, I hate to go

When I read this essay, of course I had to tweet about it; after all, have I not bugged this poor guy,  and others, for years now with my commentaries on the meaning of life!

The author writes:
One day I will die. So will you.
...
So, take a moment to think about the mythologies informing your purpose. I’ll reflect on mine, too. The universe, however, won’t. And that might be the most meaningful distinction of all.
As I have often noted here, the cosmos--I prefer that word to "universe"--doesn't care about you or me or about anything.  It just is.  We come and go.  We are born. And then we die.  We have to make meaning out of the reality that our parents had sex, and the wriggly sperms rushed towards the eggs in order to make us happen.  We also have to make meaning out of the reality that our parents die, our friends die, and that it is only a matter of time before we, too, die.  Throughout all these, the cosmos is just there.  That is it.

Cultures developed myths to help people through their existential angst.  And, for whatever reason, plenty of people cling to their favorite myths as "the truth" while making fun of other myths.  But, all those are myths.  The husband of a cousin of mine relates an encounter almost every time we meet.  He--an atheist now after having been raised in a fundamentalist Christian family--once asked his friend to explain the Hindu mythology, especially about the god Krishna.  The friend told him, "it is not a myth.  He is my god."

Cultures have developed traditions to help people deal with the loss when their loved ones die.  Leave the dead to the vultures; bury, cremate, ... Just as religions have evolved, these end-of-life traditions can also evolve, right?

A latest example is from the old country:
Antim Udan Moksha Airport in Gujarat, the first of its kind in India, puts the departing souls of the dead cremated here on international flights to the heaven for ultimate salvation or moksha: freedom from the cycle of birth and death.
Located in Gujarat’s Bardoli on the banks of Mindhola River, the crematorium is modeled on an airport and equipped with two giant replicas of aircraft. The airplane replicas at Antim Udan Moksha Airport in Gujarat are named Moksha (salvation) airlines and Swarga (heaven) airlines 
What’s the most interesting about Antim Udan Moksha Airport in Gujarat is the airport-like announcement which is made to guide funeral parties on entry into the crematorium and instruct them where to keep the body, how to proceed for cremation, etc. 
There is very little difference between the announcement made at the crematorium and that at airports as well as in planes.  What makes the crematorium more like an airport is the typical noise that an aircraft makes while taking off. A similar noise is created when dead bodies are placed in furnace at Antim Udan Moksha Airport
Whatever it takes to make meaning of the death of a person.  We humans have always struggled to figure out our existence, and this is perhaps the latest interpretation.  I am sure there will be many more.  I don't think the day is far away when, for instance, the ashes of a cremated one are taken to the Moon or Mars.

Yes, take a moment to think about the mythologies informing your purpose.

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