Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Know yourself ... and your audience too

My neighbor flattered me yesterday with a question.  "Why don't you write for the New York Times?"

I never let these questions get to my head.  Because, I have a good idea of my mediocrity.  I am not at the level at which those big boys and girls play ball.  But, it is always a treat when somebody says such wonderful things.

The other thing that sometimes I am told is this: "You should write a book."

A long time ago, I read a rather sarcastic essay, which said that there is a book within every one of us, and it is best if that book stayed inside us ;)

Is there a point in writing a book that nobody would ever read?

Of course, academics do that all the time.  They proudly display their tomes in order to impress the gullible students and the universities faculty committees.  But, rare is an academic book ever read by anybody, even within academia!

In an essay that was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, back in 2001, I quoted from Chekov's play, Uncle Vanya, in which the uncle finally lets loose at a retired professor:
"All our thoughts and feelings pertained to you alone. Our days were spent talking of you and your work, we were proud of you, we uttered your name with reverence, our nights were wasted reading books and magazines for which I now have the deepest contempt! ... But now my eyes have been opened! I see everything! You write about art, but you understand nothing of art! All your works, which I used to love, are not worth a copper kopeck. You've swindled us!"
I then added:
Would people be disillusioned if they knew that only a few of professors' publications are ever read by more than a handful of other scholars? Would people be disappointed in higher education if they realized that most academics' publications would not sell even for a penny? Would people agree with Uncle Vanya that professors who write but are rarely read and cited are swindlers? Could it be that people already grasp the truth, and that their knowledge is one cause of the decline in the prestige our society accords to faculty members? If I did not teach at a university, would I agree with Uncle Vanya?
I don't care much for book-writing, academic or otherwise.

How about building on many of the ideas that I blog about here and writing books?  I don't think so.
You can tell a story to anyone who’s willing to listen. But writing a book that people will pay money for or take a trip to the library to read, requires an awareness few storytellers have. It is not performance, not a one-person show. It’s a relationship with the reader, who’s often got one foot out the door.
Which is why even in this blog I keep the posts short--I am fully aware that the reader is ready to move on, especially in this FOMO world.
If you want to write a book, do it. It’s wonderful and horrible and fulfilling and soul-crushing all at the same time. But do it because you want to, not because someone suggested it one time. Be mindful of what it fully entails before you start, so you have reasonable expectations and set reasonable goals. You don’t have to write with the aim to get published, and you don’t have to publish with a traditional publisher.
In the past, I have collected posts from this blog, re-formatted them as vignettes, and printed them. All for one reader: My father.  He keeps them in his safe, and refers to them by "volume numbers."  That's priceless!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Ganga cleanses ... but, only if you truly repent

We had a tasty lunch with fresh garden ingredients, in a gorgeous setting overlooking the water, and with a gentle breeze blowing to soothe us on a warm afternoon.  It is a popular spot, and our first choice for a salad was already sold out :(

Such a farm-to-table operation is possible because there are farms all over the charming island.  Only a few looking commune-like, which might have been set up by hippies of the past.  Most farms, on the other hand, looked like they were thriving and prosperous; perhaps they are the expensive hobbies of the digital hippies who have more than a few dollars to spare while telecommuting from their farms.

Prior to the internet economy, and tourism and forest-bathing, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, labor was imported from across the Pacific, from Hawaii and Japan.  Which means, for all purposes, Salt Spring Island was a mini-USA, with the exception of Mexicans.

So, like the US, Canada, too, reacted to the Japanese population on the island similar to how FDR's government treated them.  The few with Japanese links were forced into internment camps in other provinces that were inland and away from the Pacific.  The horror!

When the Japanese were gone, their land and property were conveniently sold by the government.  The families had nothing to return to, even if they wanted to.  Only one family returned and put down their roots, again.  We saw the sign on the way to the small little museum in town.

Life is calm and peaceful now because, unlike the US, Canada has been actively engaged in making its peace with its past, and now warmly embraces non-whites and non-Christians.  Good for our northern neighbors that they don't have as a head of government a pathological narcissist who stokes fear and hatred.  Maybe some day we, too, will have a truth and reconciliation commission, and we can finally let go of our awful baggage.
I roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
And all around me , a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me

Everything flows into the Ganga

All we were taught back in elementary school was that Columbus discovered America, because history is always written by the rich and the powerful, which the white supremacists were for a long time.  Not anymore, because the poor and the powerless are not poor and powerless as they were, though we have to live through the repercussions of the white supremacist actions over the centuries.

Salt Spring's story does not end with the white supremacist invaders and the natives.  The history over the past 150 years is multi-layered.  This post is about blacks in Salt Spring.

The lucky ones who were freed from the chains of slavery in the US, fled to a few states to lead better lives.  Some of them went to California, which did not have slavery. But, that did not mean that California did not have white supremacists.  Blacks felt threatened by some of the legislative shenanigans that were directed towards restricting the freedom.

Before you read on, pull up a map and familiarize yourself with the locations of California and Salt Spring Island.

And then think about the transportation systems of about 1850. No planes. No trains. No automobiles.

Now, consider the nightmarish logistics of getting from northern California all the way to Salt Spring Island, about 170 years ago.

Yet, blacks ventured out to a tiny island far away from anything they would have ever known.

When lives are in danger, people flee.  The logistics matter the least.  That was the story back in 1850, which is no different from what is unfolding in the waters between Africa and Europe, or on land at the US-Mexico border.
Many of Salt Spring's first settlers were Blacks who came from San Francisco. While some of these were former slaves or children of slaves, all were free citizens of the United States when they immigrated to British Columbia. They included a wide cross section of society?merchants, miners, farmers, educators, and others. What these Blacks all had in common was a desire to escape the discrimination they faced then under California law and to be able to function in society as free citizens. Like many other settlers, they had little money. Thus, it was the offer of free land that drew them to an island wilderness.
The governor of British Columbia, Sir James Douglas, welcomed them.  At least partly because of his own roots--his mother was black.
Charlotte Girard, a former University of Victoria professor who began researching the Douglas family tree in the 1970s, determined that Douglas’s mother was Martha Ann Telfer, a free coloured woman of mixed race living in British Guiana. His father was John Douglas, a white Scotsman.
Incidentally, Her fucking Majesty's Ship Ganges that wiped out the natives on Salt Spring Island was built with genuine Malabar teak in Bombay, India!  "Building began in May 1819, under the direction of master shipbuilder Jamsetjee Bomanjee Wadia."  Why a person in a colony of the white supremacists would gladly and proudly build a flagship with 84 guns is simply beyond me!

An unexpected series of lessons in an island that has the contemporary reputation of being home to hippies with artsy galleries, and aging Vietnam war draft dodgers.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Ganga, Tirukoṇamalai, and Salt Spring Island

Remember those British bastards who screwed up the lives of people all over the world?  For ever and ever?  How could you not?  After all, we are all products of the white supremacists' empire building!

They haunt me even when I go far, far, far away!

Yes, I am pointing to "Ganges" on the sign-post.

Notice the small little Salt Spring Island?  Of course, it is way small.  But, of course, no island was too small for the island that is increasingly irrelevant to the world!

Zooming into Salt Spring will reveal the reason behind the title of this post:

The spot marked is Ganges, and the channel to the north and east is, as you can read it, Trincomali Channel.

Yep, at a location that is about 49 degrees north of the Equator is Ganges by Trincomali Channel.

The backstory is all about the British colonial bastards.
Ganges Harbour, from which Ganges takes its name, was originally called Admiralty Bay but was renamed by Captain Richards in 1859 after HMS Ganges, and indirectly after the Ganges river in South Asia.
What about Trincomali Channel? "It is named for HMS Trincomalee which was assigned to the Royal Navy's Pacific Station at Esquimalt in the 19th Century."

The island had been home to indigenous people for about 8,000 years.  And then, one day, the white man arrived.

The rest of the story unfolded as one would hypothesize: Small pox wiped out most of the natives.  The women "married" the white invaders, the marriage then making it "rightful" for the white man to claim property that was not otherwise claimed through guns.

god save the queen, of course!

Friday, July 20, 2018

The thief left it behind

The thief, left it behind:
The moon
at the window.
Every single day is a humbling experience that I don't know anything.  How could one possibly know it all anyway.  But, the fact that we couldn't possibly know it all should mean that every one of us should be humble to the core, and yet we are not!

I came across that verse in this essay, in which the author provides the backstory to it:
According to traditional lore, the Japanese Zen master and poet Ryokan Taigu, who lived from 1758 to 1831, was a happy hermit. He trained in a monastery for 10 years, then rejected conventional religion. He went on to live a simple life, meditating, writing poetry, occasionally drinking sake with rural farmers, and sharing his modest meals with the birds and beasts.
He didn’t have much to steal. But one night, a thief came to Ryokan’s spare mountain hut looking for treasure. The criminal found nothing of value and was disappointed, which saddened the Zen master. It’s said that the poet pressed his clothes—or his blanket, depending on which account you read—upon the thief, saying, “You’ve come such a long way to see me, please accept this gift.”
The stunned thief took the poet’s clothing. But he didn’t take anything that mattered to the Zen master, who reportedly spent the rest of the evening naked, gazing at the moon in the sky—a jewel that no one could steal, yet everyone can enjoy. Ryokan was still a bit sad, as he hadn’t been able to give the thief this most valuable of treasures. In his diary, the Zen master penned a now-famous poem
Picture in your mind a naked Zen monk running after the burglar to give him the cushion that he forgot!
The story is told by Zen teachers to remind students that most people are attached to things that don’t really matter, while missing the marvels that abound in the natural world.

A couple of night ago, we looked up at the crescent of the moon, and almost right next to it was the ultra-shiny Venus.  We marveled at the sight.

The thief left it behind!

The following evening, Venus had moved farther away, and the moon was more puffed up too.
The thrill of an unusual natural event like a lunar eclipse only highlights the fact that we ignore the everyday wonders that surround us all the time. We spend our days and nights staring at screens, and don’t gaze up at the sky nearly enough. That means we’re missing out on great riches that are available to everyone, but appreciated by only a few.
There are great riches everywhere.  I often blog about these.  Good to also have this Zen story and verse in my back-pocket.


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Philosophy is for losers!

I shared with a few colleagues the higher-education related ethical issue that K.A. Appiah discusses in his NY Times column.

In his reply, one colleague wrote:
I am exceptionally pleased to discover that "The Ethicist" for the New York Times is finally employing an actual ethicist!
For almost three years, Appiah has been doing a phenomenal job discussing real-life ethical issues that we lesser mortals are often confused about.

There is a popular perception that philosophers tell us what to think.  If only!  Martha Nussbaum addresses this, too, when she says "I don’t like telling other people what to do."

Nussbaum, who is one of the sharpest intellectuals in my life, helps me out about my anti-trump emotions:
I think that the president has deliberately set out to feed fear of immigrants, racial minorities and of Islam and Muslims. These are ignoble fears, because they target large groups of people for sweeping condemnation without asking precisely who we are talking about and what the real issue is. They feed our ugliest tendencies—to scapegoat, to demonize, rather than to solve the real problem or even to ask what it is.
It is not that other politicians do not tap into our emotions.  They do.
The question is not whether politicians should appeal to emotions, but which emotions, and when, and in connection with which arguments. During the New Deal, FDR needed to convince Americans to accept a group of radical new proposals. He thought long and hard about how he could move voters to endorse the programs of the New Deal. We have Social Security because of the crafty ways in which FDR appealed to emotions. Similarly, we made much of our progress in civil rights through the ability of Dr. King to summon up positive emotions of hope and love in grim times. So it seems to me wrong-headed for liberals to say that we should not appeal to emotions. Imagine if Dr. King had spoken in the style of John Stuart Mill or John Rawls. He would have failed in the job he undertook.
I don't know how Nussbaum calmly states all those without getting emotional about trump!  Oh well ... but then it makes me feel good that even Appiah has taken to Twitter to vent about trump!

With Appiah and Nussbaum talking philosophy, it does not take much for any sensible person to understand the importance of philosophy.  If it were up to me, I would even make Appiah's columns a required reading for undergraduates.  But then, yes, there are all those people in the real world who believe that philosophy courses should not be required.  If people want to study philosophy, they should do that on their own dime.  Philosophy has no use.  We need welders, not philosophers!

I wonder when we will get out of this black hole!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Malls on wheels

Up until very recently, when we wanted to buy anything, we wore something relatively decent and walked or drove or took a bus to the shopping area.  The mall.  Which, of course, confused me when I was new to the country because the place to buy stuff is a mall, and an important landmark in the country's capital is also the Mall.  I suppose this is America's unique way of saying that business is the politics of the country ;)

Now, the shopping malls are quickly dying. So much so that in a truly American manner, there is a website that is all about dead malls.  You can even purchase dead-mall merchandise; only in America!

Malls are dying because it has apparently become too much of a pain to go somewhere and shop.  Instead, you can be in your underwear at home and placing orders on websites.  Soon, your purchases arrive at your doorstep.  You can even open the door when you are still in your underwear, and pick up the packages.

One can easily imagine the role of goods transportation.  Trucks have now become mobile malls, and truck drivers have replaced the ones at the delivery windows of the old.  "A side effect of the e-commerce boom is a shortage of truck drivers and an overwhelmed shipping industry."

So, what would you do?  Either hire more drivers, or make the drivers haul bigger trucks, right?  Yep! "carriers including Amazon and FedEx have been — unsuccessfully so far — lobbying Congress to allow nationwide use of longer trailers, hooked one behind the other."

Hiring more drivers is not easy:
The number of truck drivers has held steady at between 3 million and 3.5 million over the past two decades, according to the American Trucking Association (ATA). Freight volumes are expected to surge by about 37 percent over the next decade. The trade group estimates the industry now has a record shortage of 50,700 drivers, and expects that number to skyrocket to 174,000 by 2026 if "nothing happens."  
And even when the big trucks transport goods from one city to another, there is the challenge of the last mile--to get to the customer in his underwear waiting for the package.  Amazon tempts the gullible through its Flex program, which sucks the life out of those who sign up to be the last mile drivers.

Meanwhile, instead of walking around in malls, and interacting with fellow-humans, people are sitting at home in their underwear, staring into their blue screens of death and feeling lonely and depressed.

The real winner in all these?  Jeff Bezos, who certainly knew how to make suckers out of us all!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

After more than two decades, all of us--except my brother--went to the town where we had spent a good chunk of our lives.  A town that makes us recall nothing but good times, even though the ending was not what we would have scripted.

Of course, we went to the old home.  One of the many things that struck me was how green the entire compound was.  Immensely more than when we were there.  It was almost a private enchanted forest.

In the forests and the Savannah where we humans spent most of our lives before we invented agriculture and quickly became urban (and urbane too?!)  At a gut-level, it has always appealed to me that we should maintain those links to the old home--the wilderness.  But, the wuss that I am, I don't wish to be far away from the material comforts of our modern existence.  The nice bed. Indoor toilet. Shower. Hot food.  But, it is good to get away on a regular basis.

That I have been doing regularly. And now I have more reasons to keep up the practice:
Several theories have been proposed as to why spending time in forests might provide health benefits. Some have suggested that chemicals emitted from trees, so-called phytoncides, have a physiological effect on our stress levels. Others suggest that forest sounds — birds chirping, rustling leaves — have a physiologically calming effect. Yet evidence to support these theories is limited.
The "limited" does not discourage me because that is how science operates.  It takes a number of studies and under highly controlled conditions before researchers can confidently make their claims.  But, seriously, who among us thinks that “forest bathing” will not do us good?
“I usually encourage participants to sit or lie down on the forest ground and listen to the sounds,” [Dr. Hiroko Ochiai, a surgeon based at Tokyo Medical Center] says. “The hypersonic natural world can be soothing, and things are always moving even while we are still. It can be very calming.” 
Therein lies an important aspect of this nature treatment: It is about the mindfulness.  

I have encountered mountain bikers, for instance, along the nature trails.  They aren't listening to the "hypersonic natural world" because they are too focused on their movement.  Be still they cannot.  When we walk, however, we stop whenever we want. We look at the moss. The strange knots on trees. We feel the ground under the shoes. We hear the whistling sounds of the gentle breeze. The woodpecker. And, yes, the mosquitoes too.  

Unfortunately, in our modern existence, a significant number of humans have virtually no access to forests and lakes and rivers and oceans.  Most of us are trapped in concrete jungles with asphalt trails, and we wonder why we are stressed and unhappy, even as we spend all our times looking at tiny blue screens!

So, back to the scientific evidence:
The science is still lacking to prove it. But there is some evidence — as well as good old common sense — to suggest that spending time in nature is good for both the mind and body, whether done as a group or alone. It may be something we all need more of. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Fun game, colonization!

These days, I wonder if what the white nationalistic folks are really afraid of is this: The "superiority" of the past three hundred years is rapidly ending because the browns no longer kowtow to the melanin-challenged.  And their globally aware white nationalist leaders are fully in the know that the vast brown world, with the exception of a few Anglophiles and Francophiles, truly knows and understands how Europeans royally screwed them up through their colonization.  The worry now is that "they" are coming to get "us."

The white colonizers did one hell of a job messing up the lives of brown people all over the world.  All over.  Not merely colonizing and taking over the lands.  That is the least of it.  They successfully upended every aspect of the human condition. Language, traditions, foods, and--the biggest one of all--Christianity.

In the process, they committed horrors after horrors.  Belgians, who are famous now for their chocolates despite the fact that cocoa cannot be cultivated in Belgium, killed humans by the thousands millions:
Under the reign of terror instituted by King Leopold II of Belgium (who ran the Congo Free State as his personal fief from 1885 to 1908), the population of the Congo was reduced by half -- as many as 8 million Africans (perhaps even 10 million, in Hochschild's opinion) lost their lives.
Some were beaten or whipped to death for failing to meet the rigid production quotas for ivory and rubber harvests, imposed by Leopold's agents. Some were worked to death, forced to labor in slavelike conditions as porters, rubber gatherers or miners for little or no pay. Some died of the diseases introduced to (and spread throughout) the Congo by Europeans. And still others died from the increasingly frequent famines that swept the Congo basin as Leopold's army rampaged through the countryside, appropriating food and crops for its own use while destroying villages and fields. 
As I often blogged, the bastard Raj even systematically and intentionally killed millions in the Subcontinent.  And through the decades, the fucking Raj de-industrialized the Subcontinent and reduced it to a land of beggars. Now, it is an island that has lost any relevance in the world, and if it were not for the browns there, well, the sun would have set forever on the "empire."

As Mohammed Mossadegh, prime minister of Iran in the early 1950s, said about Britain: "You do not know how crafty they are. You do not know how evil they are. You do not know how they sully everything they touch."  Of course, by expressing such truth, he invited trouble, which came in the form of  British-American supported coup that killed him and installed the Shah of Iran.  The British evil schemes continued even after colonialism had ended!

One could write for ever and ever about all the atrocities that Europeans committed in the non-white, non-Christian lands.  Some of that has been explored in this NYRB essay.  Compared to how many were killed by colonizers, and compared with for how long the colonized were in servitude, the Islamic terrorists of today are barely gnats.
A comment by a young Muslim man who had studied at an American university sets the tone for the impressively far-ranging Crusade and Jihad. “The bottom line,” he tells William Polk,
is that no Muslim ever tried to enslave or slaughter your people. You might think of the attack on the World Trade Center, 9/11, as a counterattack. It was terrible and most of us are ashamed of it, but just remember—it killed about 25 hundred people whereas imperialists killed at least 25 million of our relatives and tried to destroy our way of life and our religion. Do you care about that?  
Or, a more contemporary one, if you think those are irrelevant old stories:
under the sanctions that followed the invasion of Kuwait half a million Iraqi children are said to have died—“more than the number killed in the bombing of Hiroshima.” When asked about that figure, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price—we think the price is worth it.” Polk comments:
Had such a remark been made about the deaths of children in Europe or America, it would have drawn universal condemnation; made about Iraqi children, it drew almost no attention in the American media. Nor would similar comments or similar actions against Afghan children draw condemnation. But such comments and such actions were widely reported and commented on throughout the Muslim world.
It is little wonder, then, that the deaths of Iraqi children featured prominently in the propaganda of Islamist ideologues such as al-Qaeda’s Abu Musab al-Suri and in Osama bin Laden’s recruitment videos, which showed Iraqi babies wasting away from malnutrition and lack of medicine.
All in a "mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."  For what?

Friday, July 13, 2018

Am mad as hell ... and ... am gonna talk with myself!

Anger is everywhere these days.  From what I read, I understand that cable television news is pretty much about anger and hate. 

We humans are strange.  We are easy with public demonstration of negative feelings like anger and hate, but find it difficult--even in the privacy of the home--to tell another with that same ease how much we love and appreciate the other.

I get angry, of course. The anger when wronged means that I neither forgive nor do I forget.

But, the anger does not mean that I seek payback.  I do not care for any just punishment.  Because of a very simple reason: The punishment to the one who did me wrong will not bring back what I lost.  Time moves only in one direction and the wrong deed permanently alters the sequence of events later on.

Martha Nussbaum--yes, that polymath public intellectual--writes:
Aristotle says that anger is a response to a significant damage to something or someone one cares about, and a damage that the angry person believes to have been wrongfully inflicted. He adds that although anger is painful, it also contains within itself a hope for payback. So: significant damage, pertaining to one’s own values or circle of cares, and wrongfulness. All this seems both true and uncontroversial. More controversial, perhaps, is his idea (in which, however, all Western philosophers who write about anger concur) that the angry person wants some type of payback, and that this is a conceptual part of what anger is. In other words, if you don’t want some type of payback, your emotion is something else (grief, perhaps), but not really anger.
Is this really right? I think so.
So, if I don't care for payback, then I am not really angry?  How interesting.  It makes sense to me. Maybe that's why my blood pressure is normal!

As a kid, I wanted payback whenever I got angry.  But, at some point, I saw the merit in my mother's approach to life--if you don't like a person's talk or action, then simply move away from them.  Of course, moving away from people who wronged me is also how I have ended up with a nearly lonely life.  Even my cyber-interactions have come down to me talking with myself!

Nussbaum writes:
The struggle against anger often requires lonely self-examination. Whether the anger in question is personal, or work-related, or political, it requires exacting effort against one’s own habits and prevalent cultural forces. 
Lonely self-examination.  Aha, the story of my life!

If lonely self-examination is all that it takes, then why don't more people do that?

Every religion has even structured that into the life of a believer in the form of prayers.  Prayer is not about uttering mumbo-jumbo believing that it will cause some effect.  Prayer is nothing but a time for honest self-assessment against the ideals, the perfection, that is represented as god.  A true believer can then make appropriate course corrections in life.  Seems so simple to me.  But then what do I know; am not a believer!

After discussing Nelson Mandela as a case study of sorts, Nussbaum concludes:
Whenever we are faced with pressing moral or political decisions, we should clear our heads, and spend some time conducting what Mandela (citing Marcus Aurelius) referred to as ‘Conversations with Myself’. When we do, I predict, the arguments proposed by anger will be clearly seen to be pathetic and weak, while the voice of generosity and forward-looking reason will be strong as well as beautiful.
I can relate to that.  I often kid around in my classes that I have plenty of conversations with myself when I am driving to/from campus.  Turns out that I am merely following the trail blazed by towering giants.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Wreck-it Ralph

By now, we ought to be used to him.  But, we can't.  The guy destroys one good thing after another, and then goes outside the country in order to destroy one good thing after another.

However, we ought to give the guy credit for one thing: Unlike other politicians who say one thing while campaigning and then do something else after winning the elections, this guy's words and rhetoric have not changed one bit.  If at all, he seems to have been further emboldened by his victory, and now he has successfully grabbed the Republican leaders' pussies.

So, when 63 million who care only for coal and fetuses voted for him, they knew exactly what they were voting for.  And for people like me, we know exactly why we opposed him and continue to oppose him.

He is now off to Europe on a demolishing mission. And has been successful so far.  After bombing the life out of NATO, he landed in the UK and promptly started dissing the British Prime Minister, in an exclusive interview with the Sun, which just happens to be a part of the Murdoch media empire that also includes his favorite news channel.

He goes around wrecking everything in sight, yet casually tosses out that May has wrecked Brexit!

May is dealing with “the practicality of Brexit”:
In the past few months, it has become increasingly clear that making a clean break with the E.U.—what the so-called hard-Brexit crowd is demanding—would wreak havoc on Britain’s economy. It would deprive businesses based in the United Kingdom of free access to the European market and to the extensive supply chains that many of them have in the E.U.
Of course, he couldn't care about nuances.  It is the harsh rhetoric without a real plan that always appeals to him.

Which is also why he rubs it in with the comment that Boris would be a great PM.  The Boris who will also do anything for power and fame, and who opportunistically became a Bexit man.
Early in his career, as a Brussels-based correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, he concocted all sorts of scare stories about the E.U. bureaucracy, including one claiming that the E.U. gauleiters were threatening to outlaw English sausages. After switching to politics and getting elected to the House of Commons, in 2001, Johnson made his mark as an articulate and socially liberal Conservative, a platform he used, in 2008, to become a fairly progressive and forward-looking two-term mayor of London. But after returning to Parliament, in 2016, he re-created himself again—this time as a pro-Brexit Little Englander—and in doing so he aligned himself with some of the most reactionary and xenophobic forces in the country.
Wreck-it don, wreck it.

But, we will survive and prosper.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Worse since the British Raj!

I usually stay away from blogging about the old country for a simple reason: I have long give up on India.

I know, it pains me to write that, and to say that I have given up on India.  But, the nature of my profession and my personality means that I end up saying and writing unpleasant assessments of life.

But, every once in a while, I read something so egregious that preoccupies me to an extent that only blogging can relieve me of the discomfort about the old country.  Such was the case when I read this about India's crony capitalism.

In the India that I grew up, society was "marked by divisions of caste, race and religion."  Such a stratification was not anything new:
Prior to the country winning independence in 1947, its people were subjugated by imperial British administrators and myriad maharajas, and the feudal regional monarchies over which they presided.
If there were a few good things in India's Nehruvian economic policies, it was that the affluent were held under check.
Even afterwards, India remained a grimly poor country, as its socialist leadership fashioned a notably inefficient state-planned economic model, closed off almost entirely from global trade. Over time, India grew more equal, if only in the limited sense that its elite remained poor by the standards of the industrialised west.
Not anymore. Over the past two decades of liberalization, "India has created a model of development in which the proceeds of growth flow unusually quickly to the very top."  Economic inequality now is worse than what it was even under the bastard Raj!

Even a casual visitor to India will find it hard not to notice the highly unequal society that the country is.  But, "perhaps because Indian society has long been deeply stratified, this dramatic increase in inequality has not received as much global attention as it deserves."  You know, that's how India has always been, so why bother!
There is every reason to believe that on its current course, the country’s the gap between rich and poor will widen, too. Perversely, the closer India comes to its achieving its ambitions of Chinese-style double-digit levels of economic growth, the faster this will happen. On most measures, it should already be ranked alongside South Africa and Brazil as one of the world’s least-equal countries. Even more importantly, poor countries that start off with high levels of inequality often struggle to reverse that trend as they grow richer.
While there are plenty of disagreements on the implications of inequality, I think there will be an universal agreement on this:
India’s greatest curse is inequality of opportunity. People with skills and access to global markets have benefited hugely, while those in rural areas without skills or connectivity have lagged far behind.
If victory can come from pointing to even worse conditions, then India can rejoice that it is not anymore the country with the largest population of extremely poor, who live on less than $2 a day; Nigeria is the new king! But, this is not the World Cup!
For many in India, such talk is sure to provoke sharp debate. Tens of millions of people remain destitute and thousands of farmers commit suicide each year. Nearly 40 percent of Indian children under 5 are short for their age, a sign of chronic undernutrition.
“The claims that India is on the verge of winning the battle against extreme poverty sit uneasily with the current concerns about job creation or rural distress,” said an editorial last week in Mint, a financial newspaper in India.
India is at yet another important crossroad
India is set to grow in economic might throughout this century, as America did during the 19th. By some accounts, it has already overtaken China as the world’s most populous nation; in others, the baton will pass during the next decade or two. Whatever the case, the fate of a large slice of humanity depends on India getting its economic model right. Meanwhile, as democracy falters in the west, so its future in India has never been more critical. To make this transition, India’s billionaire Raj must become a passing phase, not a permanent condition. India’s ambition to lead the second half of the “Asian century” – and the world’s hopes for a fairer and more democratic future – depend on getting this transition right.
But, I am not holding my breath; I gave up on the old country a while ago! :(

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The rule of the fucking law!

Consider the following sentences:
I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever “fixed” at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today. 
That was from a speech in 1987.

That paragraph could also serve as some kind of a Rorschach test, I suppose, on how we think about the Constitution and the rule of law. How do you feel about that paragraph?

That excerpted paragraph is from a speech that Thurgood Marshall gave when he was serving as one of the nine in the US Supreme Court.  It was in the context of the bicentennial celebrations of the US Constitution.

Marshall refused to participate in those events.
 The focus of this celebration invites a complacent belief that the vision of those who debated and compromised in Philadelphia yielded the “more perfect Union” it is said we now enjoy.
A sitting member of the Supreme Court openly critiquing the Constitution.  And I had no idea about that all these years!

Marshall pulls no punches. Not even a bit.
What is striking is the role legal principles have played throughout America’s history in determining the condition of Negroes. They were enslaved by law, emancipated by law, disenfranchised and segregated by law; and, finally, they have begun to win equality by law. Along the way, new constitutional principles have emerged to meet the challenges of a changing society. The progress has been dramatic, and it will continue.
The men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 could not have envisioned these changes. They could not have imagined, nor would they have accepted, that the document they were drafting would one day be construed by a Supreme Court to which had been appointed a woman and the descendant of an African slave. "We the People” no longer enslave, but the credit does not belong to the Framers.
It continues to boggle my mind that Marshall's vacancy was filled by Clarence Thomas!  And even more mind-boggling that we have justices who believe that the Constitution's "original" intent ought to be interpreted, despite all the moral fatal flaws from which the laws been birthed.
We will see that the true miracle was not the birth of the Constitution, but its life, a life nurtured through two turbulent centuries of our own making, and a life embodying much good fortune that was not.
Of course, very little of such substance will be discussed and debated over the coming weeks of the Senate's consideration of the President's nominee for the Supreme Court.  As has become the standard practice, the nominee will pretty much refuse to answer any question.  The uber-conservative judge will be confirmed, and will help solidify the "originalist" interpretation of the Constitution.

Tell me again why the "rule of law" is so crucial?  Whose law, and whose rule?

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Stop blaming consumers for our plastic crisis

My city is one of the many all across the country that are struggling to reconfigure the recycling collection, now that China has given us the much-needed kick in the rear end.  I am surprised that China took our crap--often the literal crap too--for this long, which allowed consumers in the US to waste without care.

But, it is not as if conscientiously recycling waste will clean up the air, water, and soil, and remake this the garden of Eden.
Recycling plastic is to saving the Earth what hammering a nail is to halting a falling skyscraper.
It makes us feel good, for sure.  But, if feelings alone can make wonders, then ...
Encouraging individuals to recycle more will never solve the problem of a massive production of single-use plastic that should have been avoided in the first place.
Aren't the manufacturers held accountable for this?  Right?  But we forget that over the years we people have put business and profits well ahead of anything in life.  We don't care a shit about anything else.

I want to proceed further only after reminding ourselves that the economics related to the use of plastics is highly complex.  It will boggle one's mind when we look at the different ways plastic makes our lives better.  The core problem is one of consumption; plastics is merely a symptom. But, recognizing that we are not going back to the caves, we ought to think about the downsides of plastic.

In dealing with the downside, instead of the problem being tackled at the source, the industry has successfully managed "to shift the onus of environmental responsibility onto the public."  There is "almost no responsibility on plastic manufacturers for the numerous environmental, economic and health hazards imposed by their products."

It is like with the fossil fuel industry too.  The older I get the less I understand why we call all these "progress"!

So, what does this public responsibility for the private crapping mean?
Effectively, we have accepted individual responsibility for a problem we have little control over. We can swim against this plastic stream with all our might and fail to make much headway. At some point we need to address the source.
We need to face up to the reality:
Our huge problem with plastic is the result of a permissive legal framework that has allowed the uncontrolled rise of plastic pollution, despite clear evidence of the harm it causes to local communities and the world’s oceans. Recycling is also too hard in most parts of the U.S. and lacks the proper incentives to make it work well.
This means that we need to address the problem right at the source.  Easier said than done, right?

Actually, it can be done.  Like how more and more restaurants are banning plastic straws, or provide them only upon request.
A small tweak like this can lead to huge changes in consumer behavior, by making wastefulness an active choice rather than the status quo. Such measures were recently adopted by several U.S. cities, and are under consideration in California and the U.K.
Notice that such approaches go beyond individual consumers.
A better alternative is the circular economy model, where waste is minimized by planning in advance how materials can be reused and recycled at a product’s end of life rather than trying to figure that out after the fact. To make this happen, we can support groups like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that are partnering with industry to incorporate “cradle-to-cradle” (i.e., circular economic) design into their products.
So, think about what you want to do in this project in order to mobilize people.
Start conversations with your family members and friends. Call your local and federal representatives to support bottle bills, plastic bag taxes and increased producer responsibility for reuse and recycling. Stand up against preemptive bans on local plastic regulation. There are signs that corporations are listening to consumer opinions, too.
Imagining such possibilities in the trump era, which was made possible by 63 million, might be rather difficult.  But, the alternative is worse.

Friday, July 06, 2018

This post will not be aborted!

Many of the self-righteous, Bible-thumping, Jesus-loving "principled" Republicans voted for their party's candidate, despite everything about his life being un-Christian, for one important reason: Abortion and the fetus.

To most of these 63 million, it matters that every fetus shall be protected and brought into this world as a baby, though they would not want a penny of theirs to be spent on the child after it is born.

To many of them, as one comedienne put it, women are mere wombs.  But, the 63 million can mandate whatever they want about abortion, there's one thing they won't be able to mandate: Just because women have wombs, they are not going to bear a lot of children.  They may even succeed with the holy-grail of overturning Roe-v-Wade, but that does not mean the trend of decreasing fertility rates will reverse course!
The U.S. birth rate hit a historic low in 2017, setting a new record for the second straight year. There were just 60.2 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age last year, down from 62 in 2016.
In this trend of decreasing rate, abortion is a non-issue.  Women are not mere reproduction machines, as much as men are not merely sperm donors.  As much as men like to pursue careers, climb mountains, play soccer, and waste time on Facebook, women too like to pursue careers, climb mountains, play soccer, and waste time on Facebook.
The total fertility rate — which estimates how many children women will have based on current patterns — is down to 1.8, below the replacement level in developed countries of 2.1.
The United States seems to have almost caught up with most of the rest of the industrialized world’s low fertility rates.
Yep, we are merely late to getting to where many European countries already are.  They have been there for decades now.

Why don't they want to have kids?
Wanting more leisure time and personal freedom; not having a partner yet; not being able to afford child-care costs — these were the top reasons young adults gave for not wanting or not being sure they wanted children, according to a new survey conducted by Morning Consult for The New York Times.
For those of us who have been teaching these topics for years, well, there is nothing new here!

Fertility options like freezing eggs don't necessarily mean that career women will have a gazillion kids later in life.  Not!
“The stereotype that these ambitious career women are freezing their eggs for the purposes of their career — that’s really inaccurate at the present time,” said Marcia Inhorn, a medical anthropologist from Yale University, and one of the authors of the study, which was presented Monday at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology’s conference in Spain.
So, what's going on?  "they were facing the overarching problem of partnership."
“Most men don’t want relationships,” and are willing to date uneducated women, whereas most educated women will not. 
In the rapidly changing world, when men are getting laid, and are able to have time for the stereotypical football-watching and beer-burping, where's the incentive for them to commit to a relationship?  Heck, where is the incentive for young men to even go to college?  The more men adopt this attitude, the more women stay away from having kids because rarely do educated women want to have anything to do with sloths.

It is not the woman's fault for not having kids.  It is not the man's fault either.  If the 63 million, worried about unborn fetuses, think that not enough babies are being born, there is an easy solution.  Or, they could try to save the males.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Cry me a river!

Europe has become an anti-immigrant continent.  Germany, too, where its chancellor is fighting to hold on to her job, which is under threat because of her past strong support for immigrants, especially refugees.

Anti-immigration sentiments mostly stem from "they" being "different."  The looks, speech, habits, dresses, ... Particularly if "they" are Muslims.  Even in the tiny country that is mostly irrelevant on the global stage.  No, I am not referring to the UK, but Denmark.
For decades, integrating immigrants has posed a thorny challenge to the Danish model, intended to serve a small, homogeneous population.
So, what is the Danish approach?
Denmark’s government is introducing a new set of laws to regulate life in 25 low-income and heavily Muslim enclaves, saying that if families there do not willingly merge into the country’s mainstream, they should be compelled.
Ah, yes, compel them.  "That tough approach is embodied in the “ghetto package.”"  And then the beatings will continue until the morale improves!

Whenever I read anything like that, the old anti-colonialist teenager that I was come out from within me.  But, what am I gonna do?  Stop eating havarti?

I did the only thing that I could do as a powerless member of the public.  I wrote a letter to the newspaper.  That will send a powerful message to the Danish government!  

Oh well, I know the letter wouldn't even get published, given the volume that the NY Times receives.  But, hey, I have my own blog where I can publish whatever I want; so, here is that letter:
Dear Editor:
I read with interest, "In Denmark, Harsh New Laws for Immigrant ‘Ghettos’".
Every time I read one of these reports on how European countries are "struggling" to deal with immigrants, especially Muslims , I wish such reports also included reminders about the past.
While Denmark might be peaceful now, with its people being the happiest on earth, the Danes imposed themselves on places and people far away from Scandinavia.  I grew up in the state of Tamil Nadu, in the southern tip of peninsular India.  In a small coastal town, Tharangambadi, Denmark established a trading post and then a fort nearly 400 years ago.  The Danish East India Company couldn't match the resources of the British East India Company, and ended up with a very small footprint in the Subcontinent.
Whether it is Denmark or France "struggling" with foreigners with hijabs and the Koran, it is history echoing how peoples far away from Europe "struggled" with foreigners who came with guns and the Bible.  I wonder if the native Danes are being educated about this even as the "ghetto children" are being forced into assimilation camps.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Sixty-one .... and ...

It was on the Fourth of July, in 1957.
In Sengottai.
Sixty-one and counting ;)

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Let's play ball!

I remind students that there is a really easy way to realize that we don't know a damn thing.  All we have to do is step outside and look at the living and non-living things around us and ask questions.  It is always humbling.

Or, without going outside, to read something.  Like this one.  

Now, before I get into that article, lemme ask you a question.  If you have seen elephants, there is a good chance you have seen an elephant's penis. Right?  Have you seen an elephants balls?  Its testicles?

Have you?

Think about it.  Picture a male elephant in your mind.  Go beyond the tusks and the ears. Look under its big fat belly.  Do you see its balls?

Until I read that essay, I had never paid attention to elephant testicles.  Not that I walk around looking at testicles.  But, yeah, of course, a dog's balls are hanging--unless we owners neuter them.  

Humans have dangling balls.  Elephants are mammals.  What about their balls? "elephants have their testicles nestled deep within their bodies, all the way up near their kidneys"
That’s unusual: In most other mammals, testicles form during embryonic development near the kidneys and then descend, either to the lower abdomen or an external scrotum, by the time of a male’s birth.
So, we have seen an elephant's penis but not its testicles because there is no scrotal sack where the balls hang!

I did not know that!
Biologists have wondered about this discrepancy for decades. Did the earliest mammals retain their testicles, like elephants, or did they let their family jewels drop?
Studying the DNA of 71 mammals, a German team concluded that testicular descent is an ancestral trait that was later lost in so-called afrotherians, a ragtag group that includes elephants, manatees and several insect-eaters that live in or originated from Africa.
Seriously,  how do people ever walk around with an arrogant sense of I-know-it-all?  

Which then led me to wonder ... we men have at some time or another, accidentally--like a ball crashing into our balls--or because of another person hitting us, felt an unimaginable pain when the testicles were punched.  Isn't it evolutionarily stupid to let such an important reproductive member exposed to danger?  Why aren't we humans protective of our balls like elephants are?

I leave that for the interested reader, along with this boner, er, bonus piece.

Monday, July 02, 2018

There goes the neighborhood!

A summer potluck was one of the many charming aspects of the neighborhood where I live.

(From an email a few years ago)


We did not have one in the summer of 2016.
Nothing in the summer of 2017.
And there are no plans afoot for a gathering in the summer of 2018 either.

You know why!

Last summer, a neighbor realized that I was no longer her friend on Facebook--this was back when I was active there.  She thought it was recent; little did she know that I had unfriended her well into the campaign season in 2016.

She asked me whether she and/or her husband offended me in any way.

I calmly explained to her that trump's election has changed everything.  "It is not about Republican politics," I reminded her.  After all, in the neighborhood we have always had hardcore Republicans and Democrats.  "trump is different," I remember telling her.

She attempted to defend the candidate that she loudly and vocally supported from the time he launched his candidacy.  "Give him some time," she said.

"I don't want us to debate about him."  I forced myself to be polite.

A couple of days ago, I was sweeping the sidewalk by my home.  Two older neighbors stopped by with the typical American humor.  "You have some great strokes with the broom," one joked. 

And then we talked serious stuff too.  "When Obama was the president, many of our neighbors constantly complained about Obama this, and Obama that.  Now, you don't see or hear anybody publicly complaining about trump, right?  People are afraid.  It is like Germany in the 1930s," the white neighbor complained.

I don't see any summer potluck possible as long as he is in the White House.  And then it will take years to bridge the divide between neighbors.  Meanwhile, older neighbors will die, and others will move away.  We will barely have anybody with any memory of the summer potluck gatherings that we once used to have.

I am not sure how we will overcome all these.