Saturday, September 30, 2017

The loneliest event of life

The conversations with my father last week were mostly about two deaths.  One was in his mid 70s, and the other was in her early 80s.

In one of those conversations, I told my father, "yes, we all have to go at some time.  But, when that happens, it is difficult for the others to handle."

It felt odd saying that.  For one, I am much younger.  And the son to say such stuff to his father?

Father agreed with me.  "Even the great souls could not stop death.  They too are gone."

I am pretty much convinced that it is the acute realization that I might be dead at any second that drives my decision-making.  I will be dead, after a fleeting existence.

It is good to know that I am not alone in thinking like this.  Today, I came to know that there is something called existential psychotherapy, and that there is an existential psychotherapist writer named Irvin Yalom

Yalom is practically my father's age.  He "helped introduce to American psychological circles the idea that a person’s conflicts can result from unresolvable dilemmas of human existence, among them the dread of dying."  Hey, that's what I have been saying and writing.  So, there is backing for my intuitive understanding.  Alright!
Another of Yalom’s signature ideas, expressed in books such as Staring at the Sun and Creatures of a Day, is that we can lessen our fear of dying by living a regret-free life, meditating on our effect on subsequent generations, and confiding in loved ones about our death anxiety. When I asked whether his lifelong preoccupation with death eases the prospect that he might pass away soon, he replied, “I think it probably makes things easier.”
Exactly!  Regret-free life. Effect on future generations. Talking about death and the anxiety.  To me, this is a healthy formula for a wonderful life.
“If we live a life full of regret, full of things we haven’t done, if we’ve lived an unfulfilled life,” he says, “when death comes along, it’s a lot worse. I think it’s true for all of us.”
Yep, the religions and cultural traditions do not matter one bit.  It always comes down to living fulfilled lives.
When two of his close friends died recently, he realized that his cherished memory of their friendship is all that remains. “It dawned on me that that reality doesn’t exist anymore,” he said sadly. “When I die, it will be gone.”
Friends die.  Sometimes suddenly. Relatives die. Every death tears the fabric of our own lives.  We worry that we did not spend time with them when they were alive.

But, memories remain. And memories are all that we can take with us.
“Dying,” he wrote in Staring at the Sun, “is lonely, the loneliest event of life.” Yet empathy and connectedness can go a long way toward reducing our anxieties about mortality.
Oh my, how come I never knew about Yalom all these years?  Empathy is perhaps the emotion that is most important to me, especially in the way it helps me understand my own existence and, thereby, my death.
For all the morbidity of existential psychotherapy, it is deeply life-affirming. Change is always possible. Intimacy can be freeing. Existence is precious. “I hate the idea of leaving this world, this wonderful life,” Yalom said.
Yes, the sincere thinking about death and my existence makes me appreciate life in ways that I never knew before.  The friend has mentioned more than once about how much I talk about the blue sky and puffy white clouds.  Or about the river.  There is way too much beauty in the world all around me.  I will terribly hate leaving all these behind.  But, when that day comes--perhaps only sixty years from now, much against my wishes--I hope to leave regret-free and with content.


Friday, September 29, 2017

It is all foreign to me ...

One of the many benefits to flying halfway around the world and making myself a home here in the United States is this: Over the years, I have had meaningful interactions with people from all over the world.  There is no doubt whatsoever that this has made me a better person.

Look at some examples that I have even blogged about:  Kugan from Sri Lanka. Siddiqui from Pakistan. Shahab from Iran. It has been a wonderful learning experience.

And there is a lot more to learn.  One life ain't enough.

Consider the Uighurs.  Yes, I have blogged about them too (like here.)  It was wonderful to have an Uighur student in class, who kept in touch with me for a few years even after she graduated.

Something new pops up all the time, even about Uighurs.

First, look at the person in this photo:


She could be French, right? Or Spanish. Or Persian.  Or Turkish. Or even an Indian.  Yes?
"In France, people spoke to me in French, thinking I was French," she says. "In Italy, they spoke Italian to me."
And she is ... Uighur model Parwena Dulkun.

Yep, a Uighur.  Which means that she is Chinese.
The only country where she isn't mistaken for a local is her own.
"In many Chinese cities, people think I'm a foreigner," Dulkun says, giggling.
She uses these moments to educate her countrymen.
"They try to speak English to me, and I answer in Mandarin," she says. "Cab drivers always turn around and ask me what country I'm from."
She says she smiles proudly and concludes her lesson by announcing: "I'm Chinese."
She giggles, while many others might get upset at being mistaken for a foreigner in one's own country.

While politically it has not been good for Uighurs to be under the Party, the world of commerce apparently cannot have enough of them--as models!

Xahriyar Abdukerimabliz, a 19-year-old model from Urumqi, says:
"Not to brag, but we are very good-looking," he says. "Our facial features are naturally attractive. We've got great eyebrows, big, beautiful eyes and double eyelids that weren't created by a surgeon."
Abdukerimabliz blinks, revealing his naturally creased eyelids. More and more Chinese are undergoing surgery to create a crease in their upper eyelids that about half of all East Asians are born without. Abdukerimabliz's "double eyelids" are topped with striking eyebrows, a long nose and expressive eyes that look either Asian or European, depending on his mood — or pose.
The market system, like god, works in mysterious ways! ;)  Which is also something that I learnt in graduate school, after getting rid of my commie colors in the old country. ;)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Embrace the humanity ... if and when you find it!

"when was the last time you gave someone a gift just because"

When I read that, I paused and smiled.  Because, I did exactly that, just a couple of weeks ago.

Over the past few years, as I got older and wiser, I have done lots of such things.  Like the bar of chocolate I gave the gas station attendant on a cold and wet evening.

A few years ago, two guys came to replace the broken roof gutter.  As I handed them the check, I asked if they would like a couple of chocolate candies. They were as old as I was, but boy were they delighted.  It is not the age of the person. It is not the dollar-cost of the gift either.  It is that something special.

I never did such things when younger.  I was an inconsiderate idiot back then.  I am slowly getting better, and have a long way to go.

I started engaging in such acts because of the realization that interactions are not mere economic transactions.  I am dealing with fellow humans.  And especially when they come across as good people, I want to truly embrace the humanity they present.
Well consider what we normally do when we order coffee. We tend to simply enact the generic role of “coffee shop customer”. But when we do this we act more or less like anyone else enacting that role. There’s nothing wrong with that, and society chugs along nicely when we have these efficient public roles to enact. But when we enact them we don’t express our individuality much at all, and we tend not to really look and see the individual we are interacting with.
One way to create awesomeness is to break out of the role and express yourself to them in a way that gives them an opportunity to express themselves. Crack a joke, compliment them or the drink they made, ask a kind question, or simply sincerely thank them. Of course, there are many ways we can fail at this! But when was the last time you gave someone a gift just because, had a nice chat with a stranger, or went out of your way to cook a special meal?
Once, I told a young man working at a coffee shop that he was good looking, which made him blush! ;)

Of course I do not extend such niceties to all.  Assholes deserve nothing from me.  I am, after all, a guy who neither forgets nor forgives.

But, when I don't know anything about the strangers, I have nothing to judge them either, which means there is nothing for me to hold against them too, right?
We can’t create these opportunities for shared expression and appreciation if we’re afraid of one another, dismissive, petty, or too quick to stereotype.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Who cares for the brown-skinned in the colonies!

Life just happens way too fast.

Only a month ago, in my response-comments to this post, I wrote:
Yep, it is a colony. Like how Puerto Rico is. Like how American Samoa is. Without using the word "colony" John Oliver describes that condition in the video that I had embedded. 
And we treat them that way because, ahem, they are brown-skinned.
And then Hurricane Maria happened.  The lives of three million Puerto Ricans completely devastated.  It is a huge humanitarian crisis.

But, apparently Americans do not care.  Why so?
Many Americans don’t realize that what happened in Puerto Rico is a domestic disaster, not a foreign one.
A new poll of 2,200 adults by Morning Consult found that only 54 percent of Americans know that people born in Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, are U.S. citizens.
Now, leave alone the notion that we ought to respond to a humanitarian crisis wherever that might be.  But, we can and should care at least about fellow citizens, right?  But, then how many Americans know that fellow citizens include the people of Puerto Rico, Guam, St. John, ...  More importantly, how many of the fascist's solid base know about these fellow-citizens?
Inaccurate beliefs on this question matter, because Americans often support cuts to foreign aid when asked to evaluate spending priorities. In our poll, support for additional aid was strongly associated with knowledge of the citizenship status of Puerto Ricans. More than 8 in 10 Americans who know Puerto Ricans are citizens support aid, compared with only 4 in 10 of those who do not.
We Americans are now behaving like how the Bastard Raj and its cigar-chomping bastard did during the famine in Bengal, which was after all only a colony with brown-skinned people!

Tribalism in the 21st century!
In this case, the lack of media attention could lead people to ignore Puerto Rico’s plight. Our sympathies for other people depends in part on whether we see them as fellow members of our tribe. Without more coverage, it may be easy to forget that the people suffering are our fellow Americans.
How did the fascist talk about Puerto Rico?
"This is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. It’s a big ocean, it’s a very big ocean."
And how does he know about the people there?
"I grew up in New York, so I know many people from Puerto Rico. I know many Puerto Ricans. And these are great people."
The demagogue tweeted a lot more about the NFL than about Puerto Rico!  This is the guy that 63 million, including past commentators here, voted for!  Shame on them!

Monday, September 25, 2017

On the loss of a moral compass!

I don't follow sports anymore.  That juvenile obsession, which lasted well into adulthood, ended quite a few years ago.

Even when I followed sports, I was always drawn to stories that were about justice.  Justice in the form of Jackie Robinson is one of the reasons why following Dodgers was sweeter--he was the first African-American to play in the major leagues.  Thanks to my fascination with the Dodgers during the graduate school days and a few years after that too, I got to learn a little bit about Robinson.  His academic and multi-sport talents.  And about his military service--Robinson was court-martialed because he refused to sit in the back of the army bus!
As detailed in the masterful Jackie Robinson: A Biography by Arnold Rampersad, on July 6, 1944, Robinson “became entangled in a dispute that threatened to end his military service in disgrace.” While riding on a military bus returning to a hospital from “the colored officers club,” Robinson sat next to Virginia Jones, the wife of one of his fellow officers. Jones looked white — at least the white bus driver thought so. After a few blocks, the driver abruptly ordered Robinson “to move to the back of the bus.” Robinson, justifiably outraged, refused. Among other things, he had read that segregation was no longer allowed on military buses (pdf) and proceeded to engage in a form of protest prefiguring a similar action by Rosa Parks 11 years later.
Had Robinson been found guilty, history would have unfolded very differently.
Testimony reveals how bravely Robinson had fought to defend himself on the evening of the incident, including reportedly saying quite heroically, “Look here, you son-of-a-bitch, don’t you call me no nigger!” After a four-hour trial, Robinson was exonerated: “Robinson secured at least the four votes (secret and written) needed for his acquittal. He was found ‘not guilty of all specifications and charges.'”
That was in 1944.

In 2017, the president of the United States, pissed off at the athletes who were protesting the continuing racism in the country, called them sons of bitches.  In a public rally, which was televised live, the president of the country called ball players sons of bitches.  Presidential, indeed!!!

We have no moral compass in this country thanks to 63 million voters, including past commentators at this blog!

trump said that in Alabama.  One of my other favorite stories about a team also involves Alabama.

I had never heard of the crazy American football until I came to graduate school.  Right away, I fell in love with the pomp and pageantry that was part and parcel of the game.

I came to know more about the lore, such as this one:
The story of the 1970 USC-Alabama game has become well-documented legend. Bear Bryant’s all-white Alabama Crimson Tide hosted the Trojans in the opening game of the season, a showdown of two of the best and yet two of the most different teams of the previous decade. USC featured a black starting quarterback, fullback and tailback along with a host of other African-American players, and would be the first fully integrated team to play in the state of Alabama.
And, yes, the USC team with the black quarterback and many other African-Americans beat the all-white Alabama team 42-21.

Race-related tensions have far from eased in Alabama, whose son-of-the-soil, george wallace, thundered back in 1963: " "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." That Alabama is where trump said this while addressing a practically all-white crowd:
When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they are playing our great national anthem."
"yourselves," "you," and "our" versus "those people"

63 million voted for this white supremacist, who loves stoking the racist flames!


Sunday, September 24, 2017

What, to the American slave, is the ...

Even a casual visitor to this blog would have noticed the pinned blog-post on the right: How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?

In that post, which was one heck of an educational lesson for me, I quoted Frederick Douglass:
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.
The 4th of July is a symbol. As much as the flag is a symbol. Or the national anthem.

Douglass's protest lives on even now because white supremacy has not gone away.  In fact, white supremacists have been able to even get one of their own in the Oval Office!

In an interview with the New Yorker's editor, Hillary Clinton has a lot to say about trump, to whom the GOP loyalists and bible-thumping Christians, including past commentators at this blog, flocked in the millions.
She castigates Trump for inflaming and giving “permission” to misogynists and racists. “Those attitudes have never gone away,” she told me. “But we had successfully—and this is part of the role of civilization—we had rendered them unacceptable: being an overt racist, being an overt misogynist, saying the terrible things that Trump said about immigrants or Muslims. All of that was not political correctness. It was respect. It was tolerance. It was acceptance. But there was a growing resentment, anger, that came to full flower in this election. . . . The Internet has given voice to, and a home for, so many more people. And so with Trump to light the match, from the first day of his campaign to the last, there was a sense of acceptance, liberation, empowerment for these forces.”
The racist lit another flame by attacking black athletes who channeled Douglass--they did not stand for the national anthem.

In response, players, activists, and commentators alike want to remind the fascist that we are well past the days of the white plantation owner telling blacks what to do.
Or, here is the NY Times columnist, Frank Rich:
Of course, fascists love to wrap themselves up with the flag and demand unquestioning obedience to the national symbols.  The proto-trump in the old country--modi--did that a few months ago when he and his minions mandated that moviegoers stand in attention to the national anthem prior to the movies.  My friend and her daughter were in the tiny minority who protested.  Of all things, women daring to protest.  How dare they, eh!  They were whisked off to the police station.

modi and trump have fucked up things so badly that it will take generations to recover from them.  The list of charges against the 63 million keeps getting longer and longer.

I will wrap this up with one of my old favorite poems.  By e.e. cummings :

"next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country 'tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water

Friday, September 22, 2017

Exit, voice, and loyalty ...

Much to this guy's displeasure, I have often remarked in this blog that life would have been better if India were not India but quite a few countries in the Subcontinent.  The Republic of Tamil Nadu.  The Republic of Nagaland. I would have traveled to the US on a Tamil Nadu passport.

Instead, the leaders who took over from the British went the other direction and even employed the military in order to force kingdoms and territories to join the union.  Of course, one of those forced integration projects continues on as a geopolitical problem that would not go away.

I am generally supportive of people who want their own identity and territory.  Which is a big reason why I cheered the Scottish referendum, which eventually failed.  I wrote there:
We are so much wrapped up with the idea of globalization that we forget we are humans and we like, we love, identities.  Identities especially when there is a long and rich history of the peoples.  Economics--being materially well off--does matter to us, yes.  But, we seem to overlook that we do not live on bread alone.  There is a lot more than mere material satisfaction that makes us human.  Identity--religious, ethnic, linguistic, ... and often these are also intertwined.
I think that makes a lot of sense even now.

I included in that post this: "There are more in the queue: Basque, Catalonia, Tibet, Xinjiang, Kashmir, Balochistan, ... it is a long list."

The people in Catalonia and Kurdistan will soon vote on their preferences.
On Sept. 25, Iraqi Kurdistan will vote on independence from Iraq. On Oct. 1, Catalonia will vote on independence from Spain.
Guess what?  I support the creation of an independent Kurdistan and an independent Catalonia.

Guess what?  The US opposes that spirit of independence.  Yep, a country that broke free from the United Kingdom does not want other people to break free from their overlords!  The country that made famous "give me liberty or give me death" typically opposes creation of new countries.  I still remember how the US did not even favor Bangladesh breaking away from Pakistan.
Our current period of cartographical stasis might turn out to be a brief anomaly. Rather than seeking to preserve the current map at all costs, American efforts might be better spent trying to ensure that these changes happen peacefully.
Exactly!  That's what I say!
When the shapes of new countries have been drawn by people who don’t live in them, it hasn’t usually worked out very well. There are very real reasons for skepticism about all of these independence movements. But that doesn’t mean that maintaining the world’s current arrangement of countries within their existing borders needs to be a guiding principle.
Yep, if the people within those borders feel that the arbitrary lines have not worked out well for them and, therefore, they want to decide whether or not they should break free, so be it.  It is about time that the Kurds, of all, got their own country.

If the trump era continues on, I would gladly vote to break away:


ps: I have mis-appropriated the title from this awesome intellectual's work.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

General Malaise strikes again!

I take pains to point to students that the world has never been better.  Almost always, they don't trust me when I say that.  But, what really gets them is this: I tell them to imagine a world without the internet and smartphones.  That always gets their attention.  I then follow it up with more evidence about the human condition.

I was, therefore, pleased when the man whom trump hates the most--Barack Obama--came out of his hiding place and delivered a wonderful speech, in which he said:
 By almost every measure, America is better, and the world is better, than it was 50 years ago, or 30 years ago, or even 10 years ago.
Obama continued with:
when I speak to young people, I often ask: if you had to choose one moment in history in which you could be born, and you didn't know ahead of time who you were going to be -- what nationality; what gender; what race; whether you'd be rich or poor -- what moment would you choose? You'd choose right now. Because the world has never been healthier or wealthier. Despite some ongoing conflicts, the world at large has never been more tolerant or less violent. Fewer people are dying young, and more people are living not only longer, but better. More girls are in school; more adults can read; more children get the vaccines they need. There has never been a better time to be a young person on this planet. There have never been more powerful, more accessible tools for each of you to make a difference in your world, than today.
These trends are real. They're not the result of mysterious forces or chance.
Yes, these positive trendlines did not mysteriously happen.  We the people made that happen over time.  We built on what the previous generations accomplished.

The Economist, and Bill and Melinda Gates, remind us that there is a lot more that is needed to be done.

Even the uber-optimistic Gates couple is not so optimistic, writes The Economist:
For a variety of reasons, from demography to American and European politics, Mr Gates fears that campaigns to eradicate extreme poverty, HIV and malaria are going awry. He also believes that the rich world has not noticed. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has hitherto been characterised by confidence, especially about the potential for technological innovation to solve the world’s knottiest problems. So the change of mood is significant.
It is difficult to be an optimist in a world of trump, modi, putin, duterte, mugabe, suu kyi ... :(

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The day the music died!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Did you know that I am an Asian-American?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Abdicate now: The world is flabbergasted!

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Free speech is for losers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

It is roses ... among the thorns

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

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

I told her the number.

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

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

That was not the response that she was expecting.

"Are you a yogi?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A conspiracy against the laity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Yes, Virginia, colonialism exists!

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

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

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

My reaction was simple. "St. Thomas?"

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

I goof around. Ergo, I exist!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 11, 2017

Out of Eden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 09, 2017

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


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

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

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

Friday, September 08, 2017

On the economic geography of health care

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

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

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Were Adam and Eve the first ever to fuck?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Many shades of grey

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

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

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

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


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

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

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