Friday, June 29, 2018

A pivotal moment in history

Lawrence Summers - What we can do in this dangerous moment: "we are in an economic environment where we have more to fear than fear itself. But this is no excuse for fatalism. The policy choices made in the next few months will matter to the lives of millions of Americans, to America’s economic strength and to the global economy"
Nodding your head in agreement?

Guess what?  That was from ten years ago!

If we step back from the insanity that trump and his 63 million voters have unleashed on the the US and the entire non-Russia world, we begin to realize that progress has always zigged and zagged, and has never run a straight line.

It does not mean that we ought to, therefore, yield to the maniac grabbing our pussies, even though we liberals rarely ever put up a fight.

We are always quick to compromise, unlike those who want to preserve the status quo and want to make America great again.  Because, they have plenty to lose from the changes that are inevitable, they will fight hard to take us back in time.

Press on we shall, fully recognizing that things will get worse before they can get better.  The hope is that the moral arc of the universe does indeed bend towards justice, even if the arc has been made longer by trump and his minions.


Thursday, June 28, 2018

Made in America

(I have sent this to the editor)
**********************************

President Donald Trump claims that imported autos pose a threat to national security. With a theme of “build them here,” the President has threatened to impose tariffs—as much as 25%—on imports.

Until two months ago, President Trump would have applauded me, despite my brown-skinned alien looks, because I owned vehicles that were made in America. For 14 years, I owned a Saturn Vue, which served me really well. Without a single breakdown over the nearly 310,000 miles I drove, my Saturn Vue was truly a testament to American manufacturing.

The Vue was not my first Saturn. I bought it after trading in my 11-year-old Saturn station wagon. Few ardent Trump supporters will be able to match my 25 continuous years of owning "Made-in-America" vehicles.



However, when it came time to retiring my rapidly aging Vue, I did not have an option to buy another Saturn—they are not manufactured anymore. Saturn was one of the companies that folded after the Great Recession that lasted from December 2007 to June 2009.

The Great Recession dramatically restructured the automobile industry, and General Motors ended the sales of Saturn vehicles in 2009. I, like other fiercely loyal Saturn owners, was thoroughly disheartened with GM’s decision. But, businesses dying is not anything new--it is consistent with the creative destruction that is a hallmark of the modern economic system. How many even remember Pan Am, which once dominated the skies? It is now one of the thousands of companies along with Saturn that lay buried deep in the economic graveyard.

The new car that I bought two months ago has 40% of its parts from Mexico with another 25% coming from Japan. The US and Canada also supplied parts for this car, which was assembled in Mexico. Altogether, my new Japanese car is more multinational than Japanese. In fact, if we were to go with the country that supplied the most components, and given where it was assembled, I could easily claim that I am now driving around in a Mexican car. Muy bueno!



The multinational aspect of cars is a modern manufacturing marvel. Alonso De Gortari, a scholar at Harvard University, reminds us in a recent essay of his that “the structure of world trade has changed radically over the last couple of decades with international supply chains spreading production processes across national borders.” Gortari adds that the integration of automobile production “across the three NAFTA countries is viewed as one of the most important international supply chains in North America and the world.”

Whether it is cars or smartphones or even the humble banana, we lead marvelous multinational lives irrespective of the country in which we live, through our daily economic activities. iPhones are “American” only because the company that designed it is headquartered in California. The phones are assembled in China, with components sourced from many countries around the world. And, of course, many of the employees working for Apple being immigrants to the US makes even the designing of the phone a multinational activity.

During my early years in India, the government had strict controls on the foreign goods that could be imported, which choked the national economy. After those import restrictions were removed in the early 1990s, India’s economic growth took off. Like India, the entire world has clearly understood the benefits of international trade and, yet, we in the US want to impose tariffs on imports?

As consumers, we buy goods based on our tastes and bank balance. Thus, for instance, even though apples are grown in plenty here in the US, bananas are the most widely consumed fruit here in the country. Bananas are imported from countries like Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Ecuador. We are not traitors just because we eat Guatemalan bananas instead of home-grown Honeycrisps, right?

Our lives are incredibly luxurious because of the widespread multinational economic interactions. At the same time, our behavior in the marketplace is not any kind of a litmus test on the loyalty to a country. As the owner of an imported car, I am no less an American than the American that I was as a Saturn Vue owner. I wish the President would convey to Americans that imported cars are not any threat to national security—and neither is my brown-skin nor my strange accent, even though I, too, am not “Made in America”!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A fruit for all seasons?

I didn't taste my first strawberry until I came to America.

That should not surprise anybody.  I grew up in a HOT near-equatorial place.  The fruits that I ate were bananas and mangoes and guavas and jackfruits.  On the other hand, an overwhelming majority of Americans would not have even heard of something called a jackfruit, leave alone tasting the awesome fruit or the sweet that mothers made.

Living a locavore life is what we humans did until very, very, recently.  In contrast to all our collective history, grocery stores now seem to sell fruits and vegetables that I hadn't even heard of.  I am yet to try out many strange looking produce items that are on the shelves in my grocery store simply because I have no idea what to do with them, nor do I have the remotest idea of how they might taste.

Strawberries I came to appreciate.  The sweet/tart taste with vanilla ice cream, for instance, is heavenly on a hot summer afternoon.  But then, slowly as I learnt more about the fruit, the more I started getting concerned about the labor used, and the pesticides and other chemicals, the less I became fascinated with strawberries.

After the move to Oregon, in one of my classes, a student remarked that it is easy to distinguish between strawberries from California versus the Oregon produce.  The ones from California are bloated, full of water, and tasteless, he swore.

I started paying attention. He was correct.

Over the past few years, I have been thinking more and more about the fact that the stores always have most fruits and vegetables, as if there is no seasonality/  Especially strawberries.
Today’s California strawberry industry, which grows 88 percent of US strawberries, was born in the 1860s in the Pajaro Valley, straddling Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.7 There, apple orchardists experimented with planting strawberries in the rows between trees. Once they began shipping the fruit to San Francisco markets, they found strawberries to be quite lucrative.8 Land in the Pajaro Valley was ideal for strawberry production, especially in the alluvial plains where the rivers meet the seas. The sandy loam soils drained well to prevent the build-up of moisture and salt and protect a fruit that is prone to rot.9 The Mediterranean climate was no less accommodating. With the vast majority of rain falling between November and April, the warm and dry temperatures of summer protected against molds and other moisture-generated pests and diseases during the harvest season. The natural air conditioning of the Pacific Ocean was an additional advantage, in the summer bringing cool, moist air into the low-lying coastal areas, while in the wintertime keeping frosts at bay. The benefits of what some call the “eternal spring” included a long harvest season, eventually inducing breeders to develop varietals that could be harvested nearly year-round.
The strawberry story is a complex one.  As demand grew, the use of various chemicals dramatically increased.  Now, we are wiser.  In a tight regulatory framework, strawberries present us with a wonderful example of the urgency to think about sustainability--to grow the fruit in plenty, with as little environmental impacts as possible, and while treating the labor fairly.
the strawberry case illustrates that sustainability itself is not a singular goal that can be achieved all at once. Instead, striving for sustainability in agriculture presents inescapable trade-offs in the use of resources and materials, not to mention social goals around working conditions, farmer livelihoods, and affordability. It’s time we started having a public conversation about the fact that those trade-offs exist and how we want to navigate them.
I, for one, have pretty much stopped buying strawberries from the stores.


Monday, June 25, 2018

(Be)Rate me!

I teach classes online, too.  Like other institutions of higher education, my university also uses a learning management software to house and deliver the learning materials.

Now, imagine that there are problems with this software and users--especially students--running into problems working with the materials and, therefore, doing the work.  Or, students having an expectation of how sophisticated the software will be and then realizing that it falls way short of their expectations.

Those kind of problems with the software has nothing to do with me as the instructor, right?  But, what if students get pissed off because of the software and end up rating me as a horrible instructor?

Yep, it happens.  More than we would like to.

But, at least I don't get penalized with a pay cut or worse.  In the academic environment, we fully recognize that student evaluations of instructors and classes can be misleading in many different ways.  And, of course, I am tenured!

However, the profit-is-the-only-bottomline private sector couldn't be bothered with the nuances related to evaluations.  The first time I took my car in for a service task, and after it was all done, the agent there said that I will get an email with a link--for customer satisfaction.  She added, "anything less than the highest means that my boss will call me in to talk."

She was not exaggerating.  It is getting awful.  We are now in a highly amped up version of Frederick Taylor and his "scientific management" techniques to improve industrial efficiency.

While Taylorism was in the context of manufacturing, in the post-industrial economy, evaluating the efficiency of service workers is happening in some horribly twisted ways.  Even in the restaurant business.
Ziosks are designed to increase restaurant efficiency by allowing customers to order drinks, appetizers, and desserts, and pay their bill from the table without talking to a server. But, as Bishop soon discovered, they also prompt customers to take a satisfaction survey at the end of every meal, the results of which are turned into a score that’s used to evaluate the server’s performance.
Taylor meets digital data.  And Taylor loves it.  Screw the workers!
Ziosk tablets sit atop dining tables at more than 4,500 restaurants across the United States — including most Chili’s and Olive Gardens, and many TGI Friday’s and Red Robins. Competitor E La Carte’s PrestoPrime tablets are in more than 1,800 restaurants, including most Applebee’s. Tens of thousands of servers are being evaluated based on a tech-driven, data-oriented customer feedback system many say is both inaccurate and unfair.
Heartless bastards!
Ziosk and Presto sit at the nexus of two major consumer trends: the idea that every product, service, piece of content, and interaction, whether encountered online or in real life, should be rated on a scale of one to five, and that these ratings in aggregate become an invaluable dataset, helping managers achieve growth and make money.
Customers have no idea how their ratings are (mis)used.  Here's an example of what happens with when the customer-is-always-right mentality intersects with evaluations, and without any meaningful human understanding of the workers nor the evaluation systems:
“A guest could order a medium-rare burger, and if it's cooked medium, they could rate me a four,” said Mathew. “That's literally not my job. I'm not a cook. I'm a server.” Brittany, who serves at a Chili’s in the Midwest, meanwhile, said customers have given her low Ziosk ratings because of problems with the plumbing in her restaurant.
This.Is.Insane!
Rajat Suri, CEO of the California-based Ziosk competitor Presto, is even more bullish than Baum about the technology: He imagines a future in which tabletop devices deliver customer feedback data to management constantly and instantaneously.
“We think there could be a server leaderboard in the back of house that ranks the servers in real time, based on guest surveys,” he said. “I agree it's going to increase stress. But it will put the emphasis more on performance.”
Whose performance? And is it worth the loss of humanity?
Though the temptation was real, Anna said she could never bring herself to ask for a rating. “You're already serving them,” she said. “You don't want to beg them, 'Please help me keep my job.'”
For the record: I have not been to any restaurant with any of these tabletop tablets. Now that I have read this piece, if ever I find myself in one of these establishments, I will walk away.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The high road is a red herring

In my personal life, I have ended friendships with people who voted for trump.  I have no space in my life for people who willingly sided with a horrible human being who has not only said and done godawful things but even boasts about them.

But, that is my personal life.

If I were running a business that is open to all, then if any of those trump supporters came into my establishment to buy my goods or services, well, I won't be happy to see their faces but will still serve them.  Not because of my interest in making money of those people.  But because a business transaction has nothing to do with who those fucked up people voted for.

Which is why even though the personal side of me is delighted that a restaurant owner turned away trump's "Baghdad Bob," I don't agree with it as a social practice.

This is not about Michelle Obama's "when they go low, we go high."  Nope. In fact, I believe that this taking the high road made it all the easier for trump and his 63 million voters to gain power.

Taking the high road works only when the other side recognizes the moral high ground.  Which is why Gandhi's moral war won against the British bayonets, and he could drive the bastards back to Britain without firing a single shot.  To their credit, the British bastards recognized their own moral weakness in how they screwed the browns, and also recognized the awesome power of Gandhi's nonviolence and civil disobedience.  Had Gandhi been against hitler, for instance, the maniac would have gassed Gandhi and hundreds of millions without a second thought.

In the case of the restaurant owner, I am not advocating any moral high ground.  Just as a baker ought to serve gays and lesbians similar to how he serves straight people, a restaurant ought to serve the fucked up trump voters too.

I was happy to read that one of the senior lawmakers on the good side, and a fierce critic of trump, saying this:
"I think, as far as the restaurant incident, I think the restaurant owner should have served her," said Cummings, the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee.
Cummings also added: "But again, I think President [Donald] Trump has created this."

Instead of restaurants turning away the trump people, I would way prefer that people take it upon themselves, like what happened to the baby-snatcher secretary to trump, kirstjen nielsen.
There is no high road with these trump maniacs.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Develop your passion

When we were kids, my sister was a picky eater who said no a number of vegetables.  The elders almost always had the same advice: By refusing to even taste those dishes, she had no idea what she was missing.

Decades later, she talks about some of those tasty dishes that she has now discovered.  "Remember that amma used to make it?" I have asked her more than once.

We do not know what we are missing out on. It is one thing to reject tasty veggie dishes, but another to make decisions on choices that will have implications for the rest of our lives.

I have forever complained about forcing 17 and 18 year olds to commit to studying fill-in-the-blank in college.  What the hell do we know at that age, and what the hell are we missing out on when we make those decisions?

Except for a tiny percentage, the overwhelming majority of kids in their late-teens have no idea what they want to do.  They don't know what their "passion" in life is.  Well, ok, for most boys there is only one passion ;)  Kidding aside, how do we know what we are passionate about when we have not even tasted the dishes that the academic and the professional worlds offer?

From a Stanford study:
Mantras like “find your passion” carry hidden implications, the researchers say. They imply that once an interest resonates, pursuing it will be easy. But, the research found that when people encounter inevitable challenges, that mindset makes it more likely people will surrender their newfound interest.
And the idea that passions are found fully formed implies that the number of interests a person has is limited. That can cause people to narrow their focus and neglect other areas.
Exactly!
Being narrowly focused on one area could prevent individuals from developing knowledge in other areas that could be important to their field at a later time
Seriously, don't people ever find out anything contrary to what I have been ranting about for years?
[After] reading a challenging scientific article on the same topic, students’ excitement dissipated within minutes. The researchers found that the drop was greatest for students with a fixed mindset about interests.
I have seen this over and over with many students.  They think they know about a field of study, which they think they are passionate about, and when they start getting into it, they begin to quickly lose interest in that field.

So, what is a better route?  The title of this post says it all.

How does a 18-year old develop their passions?  A two-word phrase that will be familiar to even a casual reader of this blog: Liberal Education.  Students get to taste the awesome dishes and then they figure out what their interests are, and how they can be productive members of society.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The diminished expectations of good ol' Americans

As trump and his party go all out in their racist war against immigrants, one of these days even his own minions will begin to understand that it is not white supremacy that made America great, but that only immigrants can make America great again.

Take the case of two comedians with origins in India: Aziz Ansari and Hari Kondabolu.  Both their fathers are medical professionals who immigrated from India, thanks to the changes in the legal framework in 1965. In Kondabolu's case, his mother too is a medical professional.

These two guys are not surgeons or lawyers, but they ventured into comedy--despite their stellar academic credentials and not because they could not make it.

Ansari and Kondabolu typify the American way of life, which the US army has crafted well into its recruitment campaign: Be all that you can be!  If all that you can be means not being a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer, that is ok too.

The parents, the immigrants, work hard so that their children and and grandchildren can do what makes them happy in life.  This is not a new American concept, however.  John Adams wrote in one of his letters to his wife, Abigail:
I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History and Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.
John Adams wished that his grandchildren ought to be able to pursue painting and poetry if that is what they wanted to do.  That is the American dream!

Such a wishful dream for his children is what this op-ed author--a highly successful son of immigrant parents from Asia--writes about:
I’m temperamentally unable to mimic my father’s succeed-at-all-costs immigrant mind-set, an instinct I share with most of my generation. And maybe that marks our immigrant parents’ ultimate triumph: We have become American. As part of the American parenting mainstream, I aim to raise children who are happy, confident and kind — and not necessarily as driven, dutiful and successful as the model Asian child. If that means the next generation will have fewer virtuoso violinists and neurosurgeons, well, I still embrace the decline.
Imagine an America that is walled off against immigrants.  In addition to a real decline in population--immigration and their fertility rates help the US not become a Spain or Russia--we will also have fewer people who are driven to succeed in medicine, or high tech, or ...

The author writes:
When I became a parent, I felt the wonder and uncertainty that accompany the awesome responsibility of fatherhood. But I was absolutely sure of one thing: The childhood I devise for my two young daughters will look nothing like mine. They will feel valued and supported. They will know home as a place of joy and fun. They will never wonder whether their father’s love is conditioned on an unblemished report card.
I’ve assumed this means my daughters might someday bring home grades or make life choices that my father would have regarded as failures. If so, I embrace the decline.
May our diminished expectations lead to happy lives!

Source

Thursday, June 21, 2018

There is no tilt to this post!

Sunrise earlier today: 5:29 am
Sunset later: 8:59 pm
Total sunlit hours 15 hours, 29 minutes, and 34 seconds  And then a few additional minutes of twilight after the sun goes down.

It is summer solstice.

All because Earth is tilted.

A slightly depressing thought--from now on, the days will get shorter and the Sun begins to move south towards the equator! On the other hand, my brother, who lives way down under, is perhaps delighted that the shortest day of the year is history and from now on the days will get only longer and longer ;)

When we learnt about the tilt, back in the 8th or 9th grade, it was merely an intellectual idea for me.  The real world in Neyveli, which is only about 11 degrees north of the equator, did not change much with the "seasons" that the book said happens because of the tilt.

Growing up in Neyveli, and spending summers even further south,  I was familiar with only three seasons: hot, hotter, and hottest! Of course, I am kidding; there was only one season--HOT :)

But, that one season worked well--as kids, we don't know any better.  Life was only in terms of school days versus holidays. And holidays meant doing nothing, or climbing up mango and tamarind trees, or biking all over the place, or playing cricket, or fighting with my brother while doing any of the previously listed activities ...

Even in California, I never really experienced the changing seasons.  But, here in Oregon, it is all magical.

The cold, damp, and dark months yield to spring when green shoots and flowers appear.  And then summer explodes around the Fourth of July.  When it does, the days seem to go on for ever and ever and ever.  We begin to complain about the heat.  We turn the air conditioners on.  We search for relief in the cool waters of rivers and lakes.

Just when it seems like we can't take the heat anymore, the cooling arrives.  We begin to appreciate why fall is just about everybody's favorite season.  The pace slows down.  We catch our breath.  The rains begin.

We embrace the first few rains like how we don't let go of a long-lost friend. And then the rains keep coming. And coming. The days get shorter and colder and darker.

We do this year after year.  All because of Earth's tilt!

May we live through a lot more solstices!

Caption at the source:
The solstice was also celebrated at Avebury Neolithic henge monument in Wiltshire, a Unesco World Heritage site.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Do white supremacists eat Mexican food?

There is certainly one thing that makes trump stand out from previous presidents--he keeps his campaign promises.

Remember Obama promising to close Gitmo on day one? Papa  Bush with his "read my lips; no new taxes"?

trump, on the other hand, campaigned as a racist and promised a lot on immigration.  63 million people loved his racism and voted him into the Oval Office.  The guy is coming through with one action after another, fulfilling his promises.

Thus, for instance, we have the crisis of children being separated at the border from their fathers and mothers.  If trump voters are now outraged, well, this is Faustian Bargain, and now the devil is collecting his dues.  Pay up, you fucking bastards!  trump never hid his cruelty!
The policy of shattering families and the cacophony of conservative voices defending it are the fruits of a campaign of dehumanization that began when Trump announced his candidacy for president, declaring that Mexico was sending rapists and drug dealers to migrate illegally to the United States.  ...
Dehumanizing “some” dehumanizes the whole. This has been Trump’s strategy from the beginning. It has been an essential element of the most shameful episodes in American history, a list to which the Trump administration’s policy of detaining children to frighten their parents must now be added.
Yep, it began with the very announcement that he was running for the presidency.  The fucking 63 million voters embraced this cruel and horrible human being!

Dehumanizing the "others" is not new in America.
The Trump administration’s purposeful separation of families has roused the ghosts that haunt America. In the antebellum United States, abolitionists seized on the separation of families by slave traders to indict the institution of slavery itself. Family separation was a key part of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which so affected some readers that, the historian Heather Andrea Williams writes in Help Me to Find My People, they went to slave auctions to bear witness: “Some travelers wanted to see for themselves the scenes that Stowe described in the novel, and they likened the people they saw to her characters.”
For the enslaved, who lived lives of toil and hardship as chattel, the forced division of families was among the most agonizing experiences they ever suffered or witnessed.
If you need to be reminded of that, check out 12 years a slave, which that essay also refers to.
To preserve the political and cultural preeminence of white Americans against a tide of demographic change, to keep America more white and less brown, the Trump administration has settled on a policy of systemic child abuse intended to intimidate prospective immigrants into submission.
It is the white supremacists' power play, all over again.
Trump’s harsh policies are the product of his view that Latin American immigrants will “infest” the U.S., changing the character of the country. It is a racialized view of citizenship, one that perceives white Americans as the nation’s rightful inheritors and the rest of us as interlopers. It is a worldview both antithetical to the American creed and inseparable from its execution.
Jamelle Bouie echoes many of these observations.
President Trump sees all Hispanic immigrants—and not just MS-13—as “animals” threatening the cultural and racial integrity of the United States.
The 63 million voters, including past commenters and some of my neighbors, can claim all they want that they are not racists.  But, racists they undeniably are.

I have been telling friends and family that things will way worsen and that we are yet to hit rock bottom.  Bouie says the same:
This will only get worse as November approaches and the president fights to hold a Republican majority in Congress. To energize its voters, the White House plans a campaign of vicious demagoguery.
Yep, even more vicious than how things are now, if one can imagine such a scenario!
It was always clear Trump would lean on racism to try to win the midterms. What’s now apparent is the shape and scope of that appeal. In 2015, when he kicked off his campaign by calling immigrants “rapists” and drug dealers, Trump also tried to give himself a sheen of plausible deniability: “Some, I assume, are good people.” But in 2018, he intends an unvarnished message of brutality and dehumanization; a white-supremacy campaign for the 21st century.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Whatever happened to the division of labor?

Gandhi preached self-reliance. We learnt about that school, and perhaps students learn that in India even now despite all the efforts of the modi toadies to rewrite Gandhi's and India's histories.

But, self-reliance has its limits.  We cannot do it all.  Where lies the line between doing-it-yourself versus having somebody else do it for you?

Over the past few years, it has been pissing me off that I am increasingly required to do everything. Like how at the big box stores, self-checkout is rapidly becoming the norm.  Even at hotels.  Remember this post from three years ago?
I walked up to check in.  There were more than a dozen flashing electronic screens instead of people.  Yep, those screens were for checking in.  First it was at the airports, and now at hotels too!
If I am going to be doing everything, wtf! 

You see how I have been pissed off about this for a while now?  I don't see how this level of self-service is progress.  It is a rapid annihilation of human contact, that's what it is!

Misery loves company.
Self-service supposedly represents the march of progress. A more prosperous society requires improving productivity: the best way is to substitute machine labour for the human sort. Are grumblers like me the modern-day equivalents of Luddites raging about the spinning jenny?
Exactly!
The self-service revolution is reversing the division of labour. You find yourself doing all sorts of jobs that you’re untrained for – acting as a travel agent booking a trip, an airport porter weighing and labelling bags or a shop-attendant checking out a basket of goods. Meanwhile a handful of companies suck up abnormal profits by turning their customers into unpaid labourers. The real sweatshop workers in the post-industrial economy are you and me.
We do all the work through self-service and some social misfits twenty-something programmers rake it in big time.  It is also highly likely that these programmers do not do a damn thing by themselves, and instead hire people through one of the many apps.  Self-service is for us suckers!

Monday, June 18, 2018

When you are with your child, put down your damned phone

The other day, we saw a three-year-old boy running excitedly on the bike path with a huge grin on his face.  His mother--we assume that was the relationship--was a few steps behind.

Nothing unnatural thus far, right?

Except that the mother was texting on her smartphone as she was walking.  And when she was done, she jogged to catch up with the boy.

If such a scene had been a rare occurrence, then I would not be worried.  But, it is not rare.  This has become the new normal, it seems.  Parents talking not to the kids but to somebody else on their smartphones.  Or texting. Or catching up on Facebook.

I suppose such highly distracted parenting will only worsen, which makes me all the more relieved that fertility rates have fallen to historic lows.  I would rather that people did not have children if they are going to be abandoning kids like this.

We have rapidly transitioned into a new world that runs against our own evolutionary mechanisms:
The new parental-interaction style can interrupt an ancient emotional cueing system, whose hallmark is responsive communication, the basis of most human learning. We’re in uncharted territory.
Unchartered, indeed!  There is decreasing levels of back-and-forth between children and adults.  I don't mean parents alone.  When I was growing up, it was not merely parents.  If they were not around, then I--like pretty much all children anywhere on this planet--was engaged in a back-and-forth with other adults or older children.  All these responsive communication helped all of us grow.
A problem therefore arises when the emotionally resonant adult–child cueing system so essential to early learning is interrupted—by a text, for example, or a quick check-in on Instagram. Anyone who’s been mowed down by a smartphone-impaired stroller operator can attest to the ubiquity of the phenomenon. ... “Toddlers cannot learn when we break the flow of conversations by picking up our cellphones or looking at the text that whizzes by our screens,” Hirsh-Pasek said.
It is all getting messed up!

Of course, parenting has always been associated with distractions.  A few days ago, a friend-couple recalled how when they were doing chores at home, their toddler daughter wandered into the yard--the door was accidentally open--and took a few sips of the lighter fluid.  Every parent has at least one awful story to tell.  But, that occasional distraction is different from the smartphone-distracted parenting of today:
A tuned-out parent may be quicker to anger than an engaged one, assuming that a child is trying to be manipulative when, in reality, she just wants attention. Short, deliberate separations can of course be harmless, even healthy, for parent and child alike (especially as children get older and require more independence). But that sort of separation is different from the inattention that occurs when a parent is with a child but communicating through his or her nonengagement that the child is less valuable than an email. A mother telling kids to go out and play, a father saying he needs to concentrate on a chore for the next half hour—these are entirely reasonable responses to the competing demands of adult life. What’s going on today, however, is the rise of unpredictable care, governed by the beeps and enticements of smartphones. We seem to have stumbled into the worst model of parenting imaginable—always present physically, thereby blocking children’s autonomy, yet only fitfully present emotionally.
All these don't add up well.  A brave new world!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Fathers and sons ... and daughters too

Whenever other kids talked about their grandfathers, I realized all the more that I didn't know what it meant to have a grandfather.  My father's father died when my father was a 40-day old infant. My mother's father suddenly died of a heart attack when I was barely four years old.

Of course, as kids we grow up in the context that we are in; often we don't know any better.  I think that growing up without a grandfather also was an early lesson for me that people die, and I became more accepting of death.

But, still, it would have been a richer life if at least one grandfather had been around.

My mother and her sisters have nothing but the fondest memories of their father.  In fact, nobody in the extended family had even one small thing to complain about him.  Even my cantankerous grand-uncle, who delighted in making fun of others, spoke highly of this grandfather.  My grandmother was so devoted to him that she died on the anniversary of his death--separated by three decades.

The older my father got, the more he talked about how maybe he should have found out more about his father from grandfather's relatives and college-mates.  But, in the old culture, they preferred not to talk about tragedies like my grandfather's death when he was only a few years into his twenties.  Even if father had attempted to engage in such conversations, I am sure he would have been quickly rebuffed.

A couple of years ago, father commented that perhaps his long life, and the long life that his brother had, was the cosmos compensating them for grandfather's brief existence on this planet. Who knows; our comings and goings continue to be a mystery.

I called up my father to wish him.  "Sunday is Father's Day here in America," I told him.

Father's Day and Mother's Day are alien to the old culture, which always has conveyed to children that parents are more important than even the gods."அன்னையும் பிதாவும் முன்னறி தெய்வம்" we learnt in elementary school.

"Yes, even here they have started with all these Father's Day and Mother's Day," he said.

Of course, as a father, this is my day too.  My daughter, who is traveling in Europe, texted me her greetings.


Saturday, June 16, 2018

Tick, tick, tick

A few weeks ago, a student emailed me an update about her health condition.  She now had an official word on it: "what is called chronic, or stage 2 Lyme disease, which means the disease is very aggressive."

Lyme disease.  Here in the urban parts of Oregon?
In the space of two generations, the natural landscape in many American states has been slowly transformed from a place of refuge and peace to one of peril and menace. Blacklegged ticks that transmit Lyme disease and other illnesses inhabit half of US counties, where they infect some 300,000 people yearly in grassy meadows, urban parks, backyards and many other places.
Oh shit!

As we conquer old bugs, new bugs creep into our lives.
The prevailing view of Lyme disease as an epidemic without urgency means that it has long been starved for funding. In 2016, U.S. health agencies spent less than $30 million to fight Lyme disease while giving $184 million to fight the mosquito-borne Zika virus. The hasty allocation was driven by valid concern for Zika’s potential to cause birth defects. But as people developed immunity to the usually harmless infection, the epidemic quickly petered out, with U.S. cases dropping from 224 in 2016 to seven in 2017.
Bites from blacklegged ticks offer no such immunity, and this plague will not soon retreat. Rather, ticks are moving to new and warmer places and delivering more illnesses
Yep, whether it is Lyme or Zika, as always, we panic about "threats" coming from outside our borders, even as we yawn over the much nastier ones that are home-grown.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Eid Mubarak!

"What did you cook for Eid?" I asked my sister.

Of course, there is no Eid celebration in the traditional Hindu household.  But, she played along.  "I should have cooked mutton."

The month-long Ramadan fast comes to an end.

Here's a thought: Have you asked yourself how people in Yemen or Syria might observe Eid when they are in the middle of terrible wars?  Especially in Yemen, which the United Nations has declared as one hell of a humanitarian crisis?

First, a recap of conditions in Yemen:
Yemen’s civil war has already led to what the United Nations described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis — at least three million displaced by fighting, a cholera epidemic that is now the largest outbreak ever recorded, and eight million people on the brink of starvation.
You think people there were thinking about Eid in such a situation?

Source
And, guess what?  Saudi Arabia, which is where Islam began, and the country leading a coalition in order to fight the proxy war against Iran, decided that such a humanitarian crisis is not enough.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and UAE-backed Yemeni forces launched an assault to retake Hodeidah, a Houthi-held port city through which 70 to 80 percent of commercial and humanitarian supplies enter Yemen.
Why is this a big fucking deal?
“A military attack or siege on Hodeidah will impact hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians,” Lisa Grande, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, warned in a statement  before the offensive began. “In a prolonged worst case, we fear that as many as 250,000 people may lose everything — even their lives.”
The misery is well into three years now:
The Saudis and Emiratis intervened in the war three years ago with hopes of a quick victory over the Houthis, whom they see an Iranian proxy. Instead, the two nations have been stuck in a quagmire.
Perhaps you wonder what the US is up to here.  After all, America rarely stays away from any opportunity to bomb the shit out of brown people, as George Carlin liked to say.  Right?  Especially when we now have a President who hates brown-skinned shitholers and he also hates Iran.  So, this Yemen war is a twofer:
With little public attention or debate, the president has already expanded US military assistance to his Saudi and UAE allies – in ways that are prolonging the Yemen war and increasing civilian suffering. Soon after Trump took office in early 2017, his administration reversed a decision by former president Barack Obama to suspend the sale of over $500m in laser-guided bombs and other munitions to the Saudi military, over concerns about civilian deaths in Yemen.
But, don't ever think that Obama was any angel of peace.  I have blogged a lot about that when was the President.  In this August 2016 post, for instance, I worried that Obama's legacy will include droning the shit out of brown people!

While who is the Oval Office might make a difference in domestic affairs, when it comes to dropping bombs over brown people, it is a free-for-all.
From 2009 to 2016, the Obama administration authorized a record $115bn in military sales to Saudi Arabia, far more than any previous administration. Of that total, US and Saudi officials signed formal deals worth about $58bn, and Washington delivered $14bn worth of weaponry.
Much of that weaponry is being used in Yemen, with US technical support.
trump has merely taken that to a whole new level!
Like much of his chaotic foreign policy, Trump is escalating US military involvement in Yemen without pushing for a political settlement to the Saudi-led war. His total support for Saudi Arabia and its allies is making the world’s worst humanitarian crisis even more severe.
So, at best, it will be a subdued Eid celebration in Yemen :(




Thursday, June 14, 2018

It is the pussy-grabber's birthday!

In this post, two years ago as the presidential campaigns were heating up, I blogged about what it means to be a man in the twenty-first century.
Pandering political rhetoric aside, there is a genuine question here: What is masculinity today? Is it flexing steel pecs and biceps? Is it bringing home the bacon? Is it possessing testicles and a functional urinary tube? Or is it merely the possession of a Y-chromosome in an era when the value of muscles plummets before a digital economy?
And then, for a good measure, added more about the two  angry old white men in the race who were muddying up the waters, by quoting from here:
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are tapping into what I’m calling a “Lean Out” generation of young, discouraged and angry men—men who are feeling abandoned by the thousands of years of history that defined what it meant to be a real man: to be strong; to be a provider; to be in authority; to be the ultimate decision maker; and to be economically, educationally, physically and politically dominant. 
The comments were flippant, which perhaps were indicative of how much trump's pussy-grabbing masculinity would end up as the winner!  Lock her up, indeed!

Of course, the pussy-grabber's blackmailer has been strutting around for a long time with his version of masculinity. All you need to do is a Google search (why you would want to do that, eh!)


I suppose we should be thankful that Dear Leader has not appeared in his speedo, given his looks ;)

Source

What's the point of this post, you ask?  My way of wishing the President a happy birthday, and thanking his 63 million racists misogynists xenophobes voters ;)


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Party like there's no tomorrow

The Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms famously asked a bunch of eminent academics at the London School of Economics why nobody noticed the Great Recession before it arrived.

A simple question that all of us regular people have.  Of course, all the economists do was hem and haw and look the other way.  After all, as the joke goes, economists have correctly predicted 7 of the past 4 recessions!

Predicting the next recession is not easy.  It is impossible.  But, hey, I am not an economist; so, it is not like my reputation is on the line or anything ;)  But, I wonder if we are getting closer and closer to the next one.

Four years after the Queen asked that question, she got an answer:
Sujit Kapadia from the Bank's financial services committee gave the Queen three reasons why the crisis happened - one of which was that it was rare event which made it difficult to predict.
He added: "People thought markets were efficient, people thought regulation wasn't necessary. Because the economy was stable there was this growing complacency,"
"Thirdly, people didn't realise just how interconnected the system had become."
The Queen replied: "I suppose, in money terms, it is very difficult to foresee. But people had got a bit lax. Have they?"
The system is even more interconnected compared to a decade ago.  We have in power at the Oval Office, in the Senate, and in the House, maniacs who believe that regulation is unnecessary.  And, we the people have become a tad too complacent. They don't add up well, do they?
Rapid technological advances are propelling the U.S. economy into a new paradigm, unemployment is the lowest in decades, corporate debt is rising, inflation is dormant and the expansion is one of the longest on record, even if growth isn’t that hot.
Much of that growth is being driven by consumer spending fueled not by rising income, but by borrowing more and running down savings, which have slumped to historically low levels.
Sound like the U.S. economy today? Yes, it does. It’s also the U.S. economy of July 2000
Yep, American consumers are at it again. Spending the money that we don't have, confident that the boom times will continue forever.

So, for how long can consumers can carry on spending, while saving practically nothing at all?
“The toxic mix of rising interest rates, falling savings, low or falling incomes and high levels of corporate debt is a train crash waiting to happen,” said Ann Pettifor, director at Policy Research in Macroeconomics in London. 
Any other perspectives?
The historically low household savings rate has caught the eye of Bernstein, which is now at least partially reconsidering its positive economic outlook for 2018.
 "A big financial shock — which is a plausible scenario for 2018 — not only would damage the consumption forecast but could end the expansion itself," Philipp Carlsson-Szlezak, an economist at Bernstein, wrote in a client note. "For 2018 it remains a core cyclical recession scenario in our coverage."
Always keep in mind that the day before the stock market crash of 1929, an eminent economist of the day, Irving Fisher, made the worst prediction ever:

Source

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The world changed for us in 1965

Two of my father's four close friends from his youth went on to earn their doctorates in chemistry.  And they both came to the US for their postdoc work.  One returned to India.  The other stayed back, and taught for nearly three decades at a research university here in the Pacific Northwest from 1969. 

Those two would have been among the first few from India who came to the US after 1965.  What happened in 1965?
Inspired by the Civil Rights revolution in American society, the 1965 Immigration Act explicitly abolished the discriminatory national origins quotas that had regulated entrance into the country since the 1920s. It explicitly prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence in the U.S. government’s decisions to issue immigrant visas. Instead, the law established a new system preference system based on professional status and family reunification.
Essentially, the US was now open to non-whites.

trump's person at the UN, nikki haley, too is a part of this post-1965 story:
Haley's parents moved to Canada after her father received a scholarship offer from the University of British Columbia. When her father received his PhD degree in 1969, he moved his family to South Carolina, where he accepted a position as a professor at historically black Voorhees College
Slowly, more and more people from India came in through those doors that were suddenly opened to us.  Initially it was a trickle.  And then it was a flow.  Soon, it was a deluge, too keep up with this metaphor.
In 1960, just 12,000 Indian immigrants lived in the United States, representing less than 0.5 percent of the 9.7 million overall immigrant population.
A mere 12,000 Indian immigrants in the pre-1965 era. Over the past two decades, the growth has been phenomenal, and now we are second only to the Chinese-Americans here:

Source
We are America's Shithole Success Story:
Indian Americans are living proof that hailing from "shithole" countries is no barrier to success in America (and, conversely, hailing from lovelier places is no guarantee of avoiding failure). Immigrants who choose to come to America don't in any meaningful way resemble the stereotypes of their native lands. Indeed, countries become "shitholes" because they are led by assholes. But these presiding assholes are no measure of the "quality" of the people they are governing.
I hope that the US, led by its presiding asshole, does not go back to how the conditions were before 1965!


Monday, June 11, 2018

Be dragonflies, not flatfish

When you read a line "The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of conformity," and with the author imploring you to rebel, chances are that you will be tempted to conclude that it is some uber-left intellectual who has gone off the rails, again.

The essay titled "Let your workers rebel" is in the Harvard Business Review.

I will give you a minute for that to sink in ;)

Now, my experience with the private sector was for a grand total of nine months, and that too in the old country.  And, it was in an era when India was still relatively a closed economy and with the Berlin Wall seemingly impenetrable.

But, one of the many reasons why I knew I would never fit into the private sector was this: I knew I could not conform.  Heck, I have that problem even in my chosen profession!

So, when the author--Francesca Gino--who teaches at Harvard Business School, writes and talks about the importance of non-conformity, I feel like I don't have to read the essay in order to agree with her.  But, read I did.
Few leaders actively encourage deviant behavior in their employees; most go to great lengths to get rid of it. Yet nonconformity promotes innovation, improves performance, and can enhance a person’s standing more than conformity can.
It is like with students and children too.  The downside is that the more successful we get at promoting constructive nonconformity, the less we enjoy the relationship when they begin to question and rebel ;)
My research also shows that going against the crowd gives us confidence in our actions, which makes us feel unique and engaged and translates to higher performance and greater creativity.
Seriously, they need to do research to find this out?

Of the different real world examples that Gino provides in her essay, the one that I liked the best was this:
Look for disconfirming evidence. Leaders shouldn’t ask, “Who agrees with this course of action?” or “What information supports this view?” Instead they should ask, “What information suggests this might not be the right path to take?” Mellody Hobson, the president of Ariel Investments and the chair of the board of directors of DreamWorks Animation, regularly opens team meetings by reminding attendees that they don’t need to be right; they need to bring up information that can help the team make the right decisions, which happens when members voice their concerns and disagree. At the Chicago Board of Trade, in-house investigators scrutinize trades that may violate exchange rules. To avoid bias in collecting information, they have been trained to ask open-ended interview questions, not ones that can be answered with a simple yes or no. Leaders can use a similar approach when discussing decisions. They should also take care not to depend on opinions but to assess whether the data supports or undermines the prevailing point of view.
I am mighty glad that the private sector is realizing the importance of non-conformity.  The old country is about all conformity.  I assume this HBR essay won't go far there!

Why "Be dragonflies, not flatfish" in the title?  Read the damn essay; I can't do all the work for you! ;)


Sunday, June 10, 2018

A nation under siege?

I have been following politics for such a long time that I cannot even recall when it began.  This trump era is unlike anything that I have experienced.

Even something as trivial as a handshake.  Political leaders shaking hands is not news.  But, trump's strange handshake maneuvers became newsworthy!  And it leaves a mark. Literally.

The presidents of France and the US shook hands.  And then this happened.
French President Emmanuel Macron was at it again Friday night, showing the world that he could beat President Donald Trump at his own crazy handshake antics.
Yep, handshakes are news now, thanks to the madman.

Macron left an imprint on trump!

Source

As one can imagine, such a thumb-war can be painful, especially for a septuagenarian:


I worry that my downtime is being consumed by trump news.  But, that's what happens when such a madman is in power.  People in many other countries have experienced similar situations for a very long time.

Masha Gessen reminds us that George Orwell worried about such preoccupation under totalitarians:
Orwell suggests one more way in which totalitarianism kills writing. “Serious prose,” he writes, “has to be composed in solitude.” Totalitarianism, as Arendt famously wrote, eliminates the space between humans, turning them into One Man of gigantic proportions. Separately, she spoke about the peculiar illusion of warmth and closeness that totalitarianism engenders. Totalitarian societies mobilize everyone. Supporters of the regime may be gathered in the big square, chanting their support for the leader, but opponents band together in tiny clumps that are always under siege, always in struggle to hold on to a patch of knowable truth.
Always under siege, and in a struggle to hold on to truth.  Sounds familiar, right?

In this siege mentality, I am not sure I want to delight in thumb wars, even though they do give me momentary relief like the warmth that we could get from peeing on ourselves when it is cold!  I can't wait to be free again so that my mind can wander about on all things profound and inane.


Friday, June 08, 2018

And then there were six :(

The unraveling of the liberal democratic world order is tragically surreal.   


Pause and think about this for a while. The US President treating the six closest economic and military allies as enemies, while talking up North Korea?

I am shocked, not at trump though.  Because, this is exactly what trump spoke about over and over and over in his obnoxious campaign.  Like in this speech about trade, back in June 2016--well before the November elections:
America has lost nearly one-third of its manufacturing jobs since 1997 - even as the country has increased its population by 50 million people.
At the center of this catastrophe are two trade deals pushed by Bill and Hillary Clinton. First, the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.  Second, China's entry into the World Trade Organization.
NAFTA was the worst trade deal in history, and China's entrance into the World Trade Organization has enabled the greatest jobs theft in history.
It was Bill Clinton who signed NAFTA in 1993, and Hillary Clinton who supported it.
It was also Bill Clinton who lobbied for China's disastrous entry into the World Trade Organization, and Hillary Clinton who backed that terrible agreement.
If you didn't take his words seriously and literally, then you were in some parallel universe!  He is now fulfilling his campaign promise to tear all the trade deals to pieces.

I am shocked that the "principled" Republicans, including many whom I used to know, voted for trump.  They used to talk principles of free market and world trade and more.  trump became quite a test of the character of the 63 million voters, and boy have they revealed to us who they really are!

The President of France tweets:


At the G-7, the six have pretty much booted the US out!  


The US President has turned six of America's closest allies against him.  Are you happy now, you 63 million voters?

And, would you have ever imagined such a headline? Ever?


Or this headline:



63 million voters for this guy, who is doing exactly all the crazy things that he said he would do.  Are you happy now?

Well, I bet they are absolutely excited.  So much so that even the guy who once correctly described trump as a con man only to later eat crow with him, is now confident and happy that trump will easily win a second term.

Maybe in his second term, trump will formally withdraw from G7 and form a competing G3 with Russia and China, and complete the annihilation of the liberal democratic framework.  All thanks to 63 million voters!  Gob bless America, indeed!


Thursday, June 07, 2018

Furlough 2018

It wasn't until a few years ago that I started referring to my summer break from teaching as furlough. Perhaps because I had also been forced to stay away from summer classes--not enough students enrolling was the cause.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and it is a similar dynamic with time.  Summer time has never been empty, with things to do.  The to-do-list for this upcoming furlough is already too long.  And weighty.  The planned fun moments of life in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest summer will be complemented by the planned productive work when the days will be seemingly endless.

The first of those furlough activities will be to read and review a book. I know, how much of a break is that from my regular life, right?  Furlough does not mean that I become a different person, though I would like to be George Clooney if I had a choice.  The same old me reads, thinks, writes, during the furlough too.

The book arrived today--well before the furlough begins.  Will be a good follow-up to the last furlough work.

I am on schedule.
Regimented.
Structured.
Yes, even during the furlough ;)



Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Angry old men are ruining my country!

As one without any affiliation with any political party, I tend to piss people off when I critique their favored political idea or person.  There are limits to which I can accommodate people's blind faith in their politics or politicians.  But, if they cross those lines, then, well, that's why I have had the instructions on top of the comment form:
DO NOT bother to say anything even remotely positive about the fascist in the US or in India, and
DO NOT even attempt to defend the supremacists in these countries.
I am plainly tired of those fucking people who fucking believe in supremacists!

Where was I?  Yes, how I tend to piss people off ;)

Back in 2008, when Obama was a candidate, I was not all too enthused about him, and was hoping that Senator Clinton would become the Democratic Party's nominee.  But, charmed by his personality, his cool, and smartness, along with a heavy dose of misogyny and Hillary-hating, the party loyalists went for Obama.  Interestingly enough, most of the people on my campus and elsewhere here in Eugene who were big time Obama supporters in 2008 were also big time Berniacs in 2016.  Says something, right?

I noted how Bush's economic adviser, Greg Mankiw, referred to Obama as better than McCain when it came to tax policies.   Two years into his presidency, Obama opposed--yes, opposed--same-sex marriage!  As Obama was gearing up for his re-election, I wrote that the best GOP candidate was already in the White House.  I wrote there, "It is just that the Republicans have rushed so far to the right extreme that they don't realize that Obama is way to the right of where many Democrats hoped he would be."

The far-right GOP elected the anti-Obama and ended Hillary Clinton's political aspirations.  A strange combination of trumperteers and Berniacs coming together to defeat Hillary Clinton.

Source
Sometimes I think I am angrier at the Berniacs than I am at the trumpeteers because of this: The trump supporters made their racism and hatred and misogyny and Islamophobia and more very clear.  They were out and proud with that shit.  Berniacs knew how to hide their misogyny. Berniacs were clueless that economic inequality has an overlap with racism, but that they are not synonyms.  In his old-man rhetoric, Sanders almost always implied white Americans when he talked about ordinary Americans.

Now, every day is one more disaster. Instead of calming people down as a leader, trump is rejoicing in the chaos that he knows well that is creating. And Bernie Sanders is exploring another run in 2020.  Fuck off!

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Deus ex machina

Over the years, after reading some of my blog-posts that I have packaged into collections, my father has understood that I have wandered far, far away from the religious confines.  He also knows that I am not one of those atheists who goes around dissing religions for the sake of dissing them. 

I stay silent, for instance, when he talks about one of his beliefs--miracles.  I remember all too well how as a faithful young boy everyday I waited for miracles to happen.  The older I got, and the more I understood science, I figured that there are plenty of things wrong in interpreting the happenings via miracles. 

As the polymath physicist Alan Lightman writes in this essay,
Miracles, by definition, lie outside science. Miracles are incompatible with a rational picture of the physical world. Nevertheless, even in our highly scientific and technological society, with most of us profiting enormously from cell phones and automobiles and other products of science—indeed depending on the consistent workings of science—a large fraction of the public believes in miracles. Most of us do not ponder that contradiction. One of my aunts was certain that her dead father visited her house and spoke to her every few months, and she got a tape recorder—a device of science—to document his voice. (Thereupon, the ghostly visits ceased.)
Miracles come from the world of imagination, of dreams, of desire; science from the world of practicality, of logic, of orderly control. I’ve always been fascinated by our ability to live simultaneously in these two apparently opposing worlds. Each in its own way, they reflect something deep and essential inside of us.
That excerpt gives away why I was drawn to that essay.  Through a number of posts in this blog, I have been trying to understand the simultaneous existence of people in "two apparently opposing worlds."  For a number of years now, I have asked quite a few science-educated people, including one who has a doctorate in astronomy--about their "faith" and how they reconcile the two. 

I have also come to understand via this maniacal inquiry that people believe in their gods because it gives them that concise narrative of why we are here.  Without that clear narrative, we will be forced to think about questions like: who am I? What does life mean? What happens to this "life" after death?  Why is there death?  How did all these come about?  Those are all troubling questions.  Religious narratives, whether it is Buddhism or Catholicism or Scientology, provide answers to those questions. 

And that is exactly what Alan Lightman also says:
Belief in a spiritual universe, I would suggest, arises to a large extent from a human desire for meaning, meaning both in our individual lives and in the cosmos as a whole. While science provides the psychological comfort of order, rationality, and control, it does not provide meaning. Such deep philosophical questions as “Why am I here?” “What is the purpose of my life?” “What is the meaning of this strange cosmos I find myself in?”, and such moral questions as “Is it right to kill an enemy soldier in time of war?” “Is it right to steal in order to feed my family?”, cannot be answered by science. Yet these questions are vital to our mental and emotional lives. We turn for answers to the spiritual universe, the realm that contains eternal truths and guidance, the realm that has some kind of permanent existence, in contrast to the fleeting moment of our mortal lives. In such a realm, logic, rationality, and regularity are not even part of the vocabulary.
I believe that father has also understood my profound appreciation for this universe that is awesome, beautiful, and mysterious. Which is why sometimes he even says things like "you refer to that as the cosmos."  To me, a wonderfully sunny day in fall is a miracle. So is the sparkling river, a rainbow, the blue waters of Sahalie Falls, the loving lick of a playful puppy, the unadulterated joyous laughter of a two-year old,  ... Which is why I so easily agree with Lightman's concluding comments:
My wife and I spend summers on a small island in Maine, far from any town. At night, the skies are quite dark. Sometimes, when there is no wind blowing and the tidal flow is small and the ocean is very still, I can see the reflection of the stars in the water near our dock. At such moments, the water looks like a dark carpet with a million tiny sparkles of light, which gently bob and ripple with each passing wave. Even though I know all the science, I am totally mesmerized and awed. For me, that is miracle enough.
Have yourself a miraculous week!