Thursday, August 30, 2018

The killing poppy fields: Exit stage left

I wish John Oliver would devote one of his shows to Afghanistan.  You know, the country that the Soviet Union fucked up for a while, after which the Taliban screwed for a while, and finally leaving it to the US to have some jolly good fun. 

Yes, that Afghanistan!

As I noted in my op-ed back in 2008, the Soviet Union rolled into Afghanistan in December 1979, making it one awful year; annus horribilis, as I refer to it.  The countries with the international geopolitical events that year continue to be involved in geopolitical issues even now: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.

In everyday life, chances are that most Americans have completely forgotten about Afghanistan.  If only they knew about how much the Taliban has been winning friends and influencing people!
The Taliban have long had a powerful presence in Pakistan, where its leadership is based. In addition, both Iran and Russia have been providing some Taliban units with logistical support. It’s notable that, in parallel to the intensified military campaign, the Taliban has ramped up its diplomacy. In August, the group sent delegations to Uzbekistan and Indonesia, and Taliban representatives are frequent visitors to China.In early September, the Taliban is also sending a delegation to Moscow to take part in a conference on the future of the region convened by President Putin, who is now taking on the part of Afghan peacemaker. The US was invited but, needless to say, neither Washington nor Kabul will attend. In many countries, it seems, the Taliban are being met with open arms—and as the future victors of a war whose conclusion all now judge foregone.
putin, of course, never lets such opportunities slip past him. 
What is happening now is deeply reminiscent of how the Taliban conquered the country in the first place, during the 1993–1996 period that followed the Soviet withdrawal. In that campaign, the Taliban first secured the countryside, recruiting soldiers widely and offering the rural population the false promise of an end to the civil war even as they extended the fighting. ...  For Afghans, this present predicament is indeed a miserable moment. It appears that the international community is giving up its nation-building efforts and shifting its focus to opening relations with the Taliban. Seemingly forgotten in foreign chancelleries is how the first age of Taliban rule destroyed the country and deprived the population of economic opportunity, civil liberty, and education.
But, hey, it is not like the US really cared about Afghanistan anyway!  Why should we care for a country where men wear turbans and women wear hijabs and niqabs, right?
Unlike Vietnam, though, there are no mass American casualties, no draft, and no peace movement for the military planners and political decision-makers to contend with. The melancholy fact is that the American public is not much engaged with what happens in Afghanistan, either way. 
Mission accomplished! :(

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Don't ask. Don't tell. Vote trump!

White supremacists don't like it when football players bring to our attention the injustices in society through their protests during the national anthem.  Just shut up and play ball, is what they say.

As long as the white supremacists are entertained, well-fed, and taken care of, who cares about the brown-skinned, right?

The horrible murder of a white young woman, Mollie Tibbets, by an undocumented brown-skinned immigrant provides another opportunity for racists--to parrot the line that launched trump's campaign--Mexicans are rapists, murderers, and more.

To which, the father of the deceased woman responded with humanity that restores hope:
Rob Tibbetts has not publicly commented on the issue. But in his eulogy, he highlighted how the local Hispanic community had embraced him as he searched for his daughter in recent weeks.
While in Iowa for nearly six weeks, Hotel Grinnell put him up for free. During that time, he said he ate at a number of Mexican restaurants, where employees were sensitive and kind. They knew when he needed space or when he needed to joke, he said.
"The Hispanic community are Iowans. They have the same values as Iowans," he said, including an emphasis on family. "As far as I'm concerned, they're Iowans with better food."
The crowd applauded loudly.
Iowa has plenty of Hispanics, and without them--including the undocumented--their local economy will crash.
In Sioux County, four of every five immigrants are not U.S. citizens, Census data show. That includes people who are authorized to be here as well as undocumented immigrants.
"If all of Sioux County's immigrant labor left tomorrow, we'd have a huge problem. … We don't have the people to replace them," said Pruismann, a former Iowa Cattlemen's Association president who feeds up to 5,000 cattle.
So, what do the ag employers do, even as they vote for trump?
The fact is that Iowa's economy depends on its 84,000 immigrant workers — including those here without legal documentation, business and immigration experts say.
It's why some employers don't always take extra steps to check workers' documents, afraid they might discover inconsistencies, said Madeline Cano, who leads Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement’s immigrant rights project.
"They need the work to get done," Cano said, "so they'd rather not know. Don't ask, don't tell."
Meanwhile, there is also another don't-ask-don't-tell aspect of the family-friendly trump voter when it comes to undocumented immigrants--abuse of the children of those who attempted to cross the border without proper documents.

Making America Great Again, my ass!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

United States of the Traumatized!

In November of 2006--yes, twelve years ago--a faculty "colleague" emailed me, in which he wrote:
I did lack a bit of courtesy; however, if you are going to exist in an administrative/director position at any level at any university I suggest you quickly develop a thicker skin...faculty are frequently, mostly without intention, discourteous and disrespectful.
In another context more than a decade ago, a philosophy professor had some choice words for me in his lengthy email: "please shut up."

It is an endless list of faculty freely dishing out.  The irony is that many of these are the same ones who "fight" to protect students from words and ideas!

Of course, way back in graduate school, I had been educated enough on how unprofessional faculty can be.  I was mentally prepared for what academia will be.  But, every unprofessional response was a shock that continued to shatter into a million pieces the noble ideal, if ever it existed, of a Socratic exchange of ideas.

It is not only in academia.  Everywhere, all the way from the current Oval Office, people seem to simultaneously exhibit two attitudes: One in which they seem to want to always hit below the belt, and another in which they constantly whine that their feelings are being upset.  Bizarre!

So, what can be done?
[If] we are going to beat back the regressive populism, mendacity and hyperpolarization in which we are currently mired, we are going to need an educated citizenry fluent in a wise and universal liberalism. This liberalism will neither play down nor fetishize identity grievances, but look instead for a common and generous language to build on who we are more broadly, and to conceive more boldly what we might be able to accomplish in concert. Yet as the tenuousness of even our most noble and seemingly durable civil rights gains grows more apparent by the news cycle, we must also reckon with the possibility that a full healing may forever lie on the horizon. And so we will need citizens who are able to find ways to move on despite this, without letting their discomfort traumatize or consume them. If the American university is not the space to cultivate this strong and supple liberalism, then we are in deep and lasting trouble.  
Nope, the university has long ceased to be place for the professional and courteous battle of ideas.


Monday, August 27, 2018

If you call, who will come running?

Of the gazillion social media that one can now spend time on, the only one that I use is Twitter.  The best part of twitter is this--I don't have to be friends with anybody. I don't have to follow anybody. I can be my own, and yet keep track of whatever it is that interests me.

I used to be on Facebook.  Throughout the years that I used Facebook, I had a difficult love-hate relationship with that medium.  Not only because I was worried about the technology snooping into our lives and making money out of it, but also because I couldn't relate to the artificial "friendship" there with "friends" commenting about every damn thing, even though I knew very little about them in the real world.  Almost all of them were not really anywhere close to being my "friend."

Even back in high school, I didn't have many friends--according to the way I defined what friendship was.  If I didn't share anything close to my innermost feelings, they weren't friends but were merely classmates.  There were a couple of them who were friends.  Like this guy, when we were really young. And later this friend.

I have always firmly believed that it is impossible to be friends with many.  Again, a reminder that I am not using a loose definition of friendship.  We now have more and more scientific evidence to back me up:
Study after study confirms that most people have about five intimate friends, 15 close friends, 50 general friends and 150 acquaintances (green bars).
To me, a friend is what that previous sentence refers to as "intimate friend."  The rest are acquaintances.

Yes, we humans are social animals.  But, that social behavior is not the same as friendship.  Why?
This threshold is imposed by brain size and chemistry, as well as the time it takes to maintain meaningful relationships, Dunbar says. “The time you spend,” he adds, “is crucial.”
We have limited time, and there is only so much that we can spend on anything including friendship.

Which means, you, too, have an easy metric that you can honestly use in the privacy of your home.  Ask yourself how much time you have spent over the last year or two with people who are not related to you.  And rank them by the time you have spent with them. Right?

Sunday, August 26, 2018

On the death of a flawed maverick

There aren't many GOP leaders that I liked.  Well, not that many Democratic folks either.  But, at least there are moments of a person that I have liked.

John McCain was one of those who I liked at least a little bit, despite the many, many contexts in which I found him to be nothing more than yet-another-politician.  His role in the savings-and-loans disaster was one of my formative political lessons in my new country.  His war mongering I thoroughly disliked. It was McCain who gave us sarah palin and joe-the-plumber, remember?  And palin helped transform the GOP into a party of idiots and anti-science people, which eventually gave us the fuhrer we now have in the Oval Office.

When he was battling for the GOP nomination in 2000, his "Straight talk express" was scheduled to arrive in Bakersfield, where I lived then.  I went to the public park to see him, and listen to him, but his bus was running late and I left.  But, I did pick up a yard sign supporting him--even though I was not a registered party member (I have never been a member of any political party.)  If a Republican had to win in the elections in 2000, McCain would have been much better than the simpleton W.

McCain's half-assed response to a comment about Obama being an Arab has always bothered me.
But, I have always figured that no politician is ever going to be a saint, and flawed they all are.  Among the flawed on the national scene, McCain was certainly one of the best.

One of the best aspects of his personal life was also a major reason that W beat McCain.  W and his filthy crew that was headed by karl rove went after the racism that is part and parcel of the GOP.
Rove invented a uniquely injurious fiction for his operatives to circulate via a phony poll. Voters were asked, "Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain…if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?"
It was a cold, calculated question. Because, McCain had a dark-skinned daughter--the Bangladeshi girl they had adopted.
Bridget McCain was a seriously ill baby in Mother Teresa's orphanage when Cindy McCain visited and decided to bring her back to the United States for medical treatment in 1991. John and Cindy adopted her not long after.
In my book, this alone makes up for all his political mistakes.
Thanks, Senator McCain.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Modern kitchens, fancy tools, ... and crappy food!

I learnt early on in life that it is only a bad carpenter who blames his tools.  In Tamil, there is a horrible equivalent: ஆட தெரியாத தேவடியா மேடை சரியில்ல என்று சொன்னாளாம்  Horrible because, forget it; I want to keep going with my main point here.

So, yes, bad carpenters and tools. 

A couple of years ago, it seemed like a third of my neighborhood was going through home improvement.  There were workers and craftsmen hammering and cutting and doing everything that I cannot even dream of doing.  In most homes, the kitchens were being remodeled. 

One neighbor felt so good about their brand new kitchen that they even invited a few others to take a look at it.  Of course, I did not go there--I am not for making friends ;)

At what turned out to be the last ever neighborhood summer party--this was the year before the trump candidacy summer--the husband in the fancy remodeled kitchen home joked that his wife practically never uses the kitchen.  To which she responded with a cold stare.

My grandmothers and aunts and mother made divine foods even in the most basic kitchens.  During most of my childhood, my grandmother cooked only with firewood and charcoal.  Gas came much later, when I was a college student. 

The other day, my parents, my sister, and I listed all the fuel sources my mother used when we were kids: Charcoal, "leco," hot-plate (electricity,) kerosene, and--finally--gas.  Of course, no blenders or food-processors in the kitchen.

In contrast, now all of us have fancy gadgets in our kitchens.  But, the foods and snacks and sweets that we prepare mostly suck, and that is if we ever put them to use in the first place! 

What a delightful contrast to all the fancy kitchens is this story about the "king of chicken legs."

Friday, August 24, 2018

Money, sex, and entertainment ... today's American university!

In an email to my colleagues, in which I shared with them an informative video, I wrote:
People pushing STEM while systematically marginalizing the humanities and the social sciences need to understand such a big picture, which is what the idea of liberal education is all about.  If any of you want to share this video with the institution's STEM-pushers, feel free; I have long given up on them.
I then wonder why I don't make friends ;)

Apparently there is one set of higher educational institutions where the humanities and the social sciences are alive and well. No, not the Ivy Leagues and other private elites.  There, the best and the brightest are feverishly in the pursuit of fame and fortune via Wall Street and Silicon Valley.

So, where are the humanities and the social sciences prospering?
I’ve only found one large class of schools where humanities enrollments have held steady: historically black colleges and universities.
Apparently most of the rest of us do not care about "crafting a philosophy of life."
 In 1970, seven in 10 students thought it was very important or essential to “develop a meaningful philosophy of life” through education, while about four in 10 (and five in 10 men) put a priority on using it to “make more money.” By the mid-’80s, these ratios had flipped. Of all the statistics on the humanities I’ve seen, I find this one the most depressing: For the past 40 years, the percentage of first-year college students who think highly enough of crafting a life philosophy in the course of their studies to muster the energy to fill out a bubble indicating as much has flatlined below half. It’s little wonder that so few major in the liberal arts in the end.
Across the board, there has been an ever increasing interest, a passion, a commitment, to one part of higher education: Athletics--football, in particular!  No scandal shall ever stop this deep-commitment.

Most of the big-time football schools are public--yes, taxpayer funded--like the U of Alabama, Ohio State U, ... an endless list. Many of them still referred to as land-grant institutions:
Each of these universities is a land-grant institution, established by the Morrill Act of 1862, which was sponsored by Vermont Senator Justin Morrill and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln. Their guiding vision was to offer the highest quality of teaching, research, and service to communities across the country. These institutions have given our nation the greatest public-university system in the world.
Good ol' Abe will be shocked at how these institutions that he helped found have now become altars for entertainment, where coaches earn gazillion dollars, and scantily-clad women cheer the men on the field!

Do we have to then wonder how we ended up with this presidency, when even institutions that supposedly are about learning couldn't care a shit about life and truth?

Thursday, August 23, 2018

We screwed up, bit by byte!

First, I present to you two cover images--of two authoritative publications:

I might as well leave it there for you to fill in the blanks and have nightmares for the rest of your lives!

The editors of MIT Tech Review write:
Silicon Valley was full of hope and hubris about its power to democratize the world.
Today, with Cambridge Analytica, fake news, election hacking, and the shrill cacophony that dominates social media, technology feels as likely to destroy politics as to save it. The tech firms and their boosters either didn’t imagine that “democratizing” technologies would be used by anti-­democrats too, or else believed that truth and freedom would inevitably defeat misinformation and repression.
Have you drawn the line from these to trump yet?

Haven't you been wondering, and worrying, over the past couple of years just what the hell happened?
How did all this happen? How did digital technologies go from empowering citizens and toppling dictators to being used as tools of oppression and discord?
Yes, in stating such views, I am assuming that you reader are not a trump toadie.  If you are, hey, enjoy the moment before your dear fuhrer and his minions are thrown out and thrown behind bars!

We need to be reminded over and over again that "we didn’t get where we are simply because of digital technologies."
The Russian government may have used online platforms to remotely meddle in US elections, but Russia did not create the conditions of social distrust, weak institutions, and detached elites that made the US vulnerable to that kind of meddling. ...
Russia did not create the 2008 financial collapse: that happened through corrupt practices that greatly enriched financial institutions, after which all the culpable parties walked away unscathed, often even richer, while millions of Americans lost their jobs and were unable to replace them with equally good ones.
Russia did not instigate the moves that have reduced Americans’ trust in health authorities, environmental agencies, and other regulators. Russia did not create the revolving door between Congress and the lobbying firms that employ ex-politicians at handsome salaries. Russia did not defund higher education in the United States. Russia did not create the global network of tax havens in which big corporations and the rich can pile up enormous wealth while basic government services get cut.
These are the socio-political conditions that we created for ourselves, in which Russia waded in and helped trump steal the election, with all the technological tools that our bright minds created while seeking higher profits and market capitalization. 

We have met the enemy, and it's us!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The United States of Hoarders!

A few days after my new neighbors moved in a couple of years ago, I was sweeping my garage with the door open, of course.  My neighbors saw me, and in that very American way jokingly said the vast empty space, maybe they could store some of their stuff in my garage.

Ha ha, we laughed.

Whether we live in apartments or mansions, apparently we Americans collect a whole lot of worthless crap.  A few years ago, I wrote about in Planetizen.  I wrote there:
Of course, as many of us have observed, but for which data don't exist, most homeowners seem to fill their garages with refrigerators, freezers, bicycles, treadmills, etc., and then park their cars on the driveways or by the curb. When things have to be put away, households find that they have more stuff for which they need additional space, which is where the self-storage business comes in.
No, don't worry, this post is not about the self-storage industry.

It is about how this American "virtue" of accumulating crap has been made easy by Amazon and the malls-on-wheels revolution. 

Now, to become a hoarder is as easy as simply barking your shopping list at one of those "smart" boxes!
Thanks to a perfect storm of factors, Americans are amassing a lot of stuff. Before the advent of the internet, we had to set aside time to go browse the aisles of a physical store, which was only open a certain number of hours a day. Now, we can shop from anywhere, anytime—while we’re at work, or exercising, or even sleeping.
Ah yes, those old days when the malls were open only for a certain number of hours, and one had to physically get to the stores in order to buy the crap that we did not need.  Now, the stores are available to us 24x7, and we can shop for underwear while in our underwear!
All told, “we are all accumulating mountains of things,” said Mark A. Cohen, the director of retail studies at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business. He sometimes asks his students to count the number of things they have on them in class, and once they start counting up gadgets and cords and accessories, they end up near 50. “Americans have become a society of hoarders,” Cohen said.
I should start worrying that my non-hoarding behavior will be viewed as being un-American and that the FBI will soon come knocking!

Back in June, as students were vacating their apartments and dorm rooms, we noticed piles of stuff lying near the waste bins.  A mattress had also been discarded, and it looked to be in much better condition than the one on which I plomp down every night.  The ease of buying things also means the ease of dumping things.
 In 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, Americans put 16 million tons of textiles in the municipal waste stream, a 68 percent increase from 2000. We tossed 34.5 million tons of plastics, a 35 percent increase from 2000, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency. Over that same time period, the population grew just 14 percent.
Keep that in mind the next time some crazy person says that population growth is the greatest problem ever!

Maybe I should think about renting out my garage space!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Do women dream of having sex with robots?

If only more women would get into computer science and robotics!

No, it is not because I think they will create better sex robots.  It is because of the exact opposite--I feel they will spend less time on how to dehumanize us humans that male scientists seem to want to do by merging us humans with robots.

In one of the paired opinion pieces in the NYT, Sherry Turkle, whom I have referred to a lot in this blog (like here) writes that there will never be an age of artificial intimacy.  Why?  For a simple and profound reason that I often write about: Empathy.

Robots can some day effectively fake empathy, yes.  But, it can never be the real thing.  And the loss of the real thing worries me, and worries Turkle too:
We diminish as the seeming empathy of the machine increases. It is technology forcing us to forget what we know about life.
In life, you are struck by the importance of presence, of the small moments of meaning, the miracle of your child’s breath, the feelings of deep human connection. When you are thinking about technology, your mind is not on all of that. We program machines to appear more empathic. Being human today is about the struggle to remain genuinely empathic ourselves. To remember why it matters, to remember what we cherish.
These days, to be human is to keep one’s mind on the glory that one is.
In the other commentary, Andy Clark argues that it is a good thing that we are merging with robots.  Guess what word never appears in his piece? Clark has nothing to say about empathy!

While I have no evidence to back me up here, I believe that Clark's commentary fits well with the stereotypical male approach to feelings and emotions.  Even sex, which he writes about, is apparently not about feelings and emotions and intimacy.

If indeed these male/female stereotypes do feed into robotics, then that is one more argument in favor of recruiting capable females into computer science and engineering.

In the meanwhile, all we can do is reflect on what it means to be human, especially if we are not going to promote the importance of empathy.  We have one clear example of what happens when we lose sight of empathy!

Sunday, August 19, 2018

God's own country is now underwater!

(I sent this to the editor a week ago; since then the situation in Kerala has worsened. What a tragedy! Click here for information on how to contribute)

Before I left my home by the wonderful Willamette River, I registered my travel plans with the US Department of State. I am always worried that geopolitical issues and extreme weather phenomena mean that I might have to call Uncle Sam to bail me out of trouble when outside the country.

Within a couple of days of arriving in India, I received an email from the Consulate General in Chennai, warning me about the extreme monsoons in the state of Kerala. Noting that the “heavy southwest monsoon rains continue throughout the state of Kerala, triggering landslides and flash floods,” the email suggested that I avoid traveling in Kerala.

The rains in Kerala this monsoon season have been off the charts, and the human impacts have been severe. Floods across vast regions; roads washed away; flights suspended; and, worst of all, a drinking water shortage because of damages to the water supply infrastructure.

Meanwhile, on the other coast of the peninsular tip, it has been hot and humid in the city of Chennai where I am staying with my parents. Day time temperatures have been as high as 96 with 50 percent humidity--equivalent to 108 degrees--and it “cools” down to 81 overnight.!

The reactions in India to the extreme monsoon rains and humid heat always involves the same two words--global warming. India easily and overwhelmingly identifies the extreme weather events with global warming and climate weirding, even before climate scientists are able to attribute the causation.

The reactions in the US to global warming are a contrast to the pulse of the media reports and daily conversations in India. In the US, a significant percentage of the population--that leans Republican--actively denies global warming, leave alone the human cause behind it.

Of course, it is not only India that is worried that extreme weather events might be a result of climate change. Japan and most European countries have had record-setting heat this summer that literally killed people. In the small fishing village of Quriyat located in Oman, the temperature remained above 108.7 degrees for 51 straight hours, making it the highest low temperature observed on Earth's surface. Re-read that: A minimum temperature that was higher than 108 degrees!

Climate scientists offer plenty of evidence for India to worry about; in July, the New York Times reported: “Worldwide, among the 100 most populous cities where summer highs are expected to reach at least 95 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, according to estimates by the Urban Climate Change Research Network, 24 are in India.”

Humidity will amplify the problems as the climate gets weirder and temperatures increase. As another recent study put it, “Climate change–induced increases in humidity could actually exacerbate the effects of heat to the point of making certain places in the world uninhabitable later this century.”

As humidity increases, not only will it have the potential to dramatically alter the age-old precipitation rhythm and intensity, it will also impede the human body’s ability to cool down through sweating. Unless one is able to get to climate-controlled cooler environments, the possibility of heat exhaustion and even heat stroke is alarming.

The Indian Subcontinent and sub-Saharan Africa, which will be hit hard by the rising temperatures, are also home to a billion people who do not have access to electricity. This means that they have no access to cooling either--no ceiling fans, leave alone air conditioning and refrigeration. I shudder when I think about being unable to cool off on a 100 degree day!

Rasmus Benestad, a Norwegian climate scientist, writes that “we now are observing the first glimpse of a new normal.” Based on the current information and knowledge, the recent heat wave is “a new type of weather patterns we can expect for the future.”

Global warming and disruptions to the once-predictable weather and climate conditions are not hypotheticals anymore. As Somini Sengupta wrote in her recent report in The New York Times, “for many scientists, this is the year they started living climate change rather than just studying it.” Indeed, these trends are visible and can be felt across the Subcontinent.

When I started teaching more than two decades ago, we used the United Nations’ definition of Sustainable Development, which emphasized the need to think about development “without compromising the ability of future generations.” But, many of us are now worried that climate change threatens even our own generation.

Yet, there is very little that we can do unless and until there is a change in the US, which is the only global economic and political power that refuses to acknowledge climate change and, therefore, act with the rest of the world. Thus, it was only fitting that the email from the US Consulate concluded with the following advice: “Have evacuation plans that do not rely on U.S. government assistance.”

Friday, August 03, 2018

The steamy details!

In a recent email, a cousin referred to Chennai as "the hottest place on earth!"  I suspect that there was not much snark in that comment :(

Chennai, like seemingly all the places on this planet, appears to be getting hotter and hotter every year.  More than that heat itself, the humidity of this coastal city can suck the energy in a matter of minutes.

First, let's make sure we understand sweating: "Humans shed heat by sweating and letting the evaporating moisture carry excess heat away."  We cool down thanks to the stinky sweat.  If sweat smelled like perfume, well, I will be a walking cologne factory!

When you have a whole bunch of sweaty people in the tropics, hey, this is a big reason why women wear fragrant flowers on their hair and bodies, and men apply sandal paste on themselves.  We humans stink otherwise!

Climate change is not merely about the temperature.  It will also affect the humidity.  What happens then?
“It’s not the heat that kills you. It’s the humidity.” As climate change progresses, this is likely to become gruesomely true, according to a new study published Friday in Environmental Research Letters. Climate change–induced increases in humidity could actually exacerbate the effects of heat to the point of making certain places in the world uninhabitable later this century.
Why?  Because it alters the mechanics of the sweat-cooling process:
when humidity is too high, your sweat doesn’t evaporate as fast, because there’s already tons of moisture in the air. The cooling process is stymied, and your body can’t lower its temperature. Every part of you starts to feel tired, and if you can’t get inside to climate-controlled conditions, heat exhaustion or a heat stroke could take effect.
This is when you begin to think that maybe a place like Las Vegas is better because it is only dry heat. Think again!

There are no signs of any reversal of the hockey-stick trendline.  Which means:
If global greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current pace, they say, heat and humidity levels could become unbearable, especially for the poor.
And there is the heat-island effect.  The rich can hide only a little bit in air-conditioned cocoons.  They, too, will be screwed.

if current warming trends continued, by the end of the century, wet bulb temperatures — a measure of heat and humidity that can indicate the point when the body can no longer cool itself — would be so high that people directly exposed for six hours or more would not survive.
So, the wet bulb temperature. The heat index that factors in humidity also.  Consider Chennai's 90 degree heat (we refuse to use Celsius, dammit!!!) with 50% humidity.  That is the equivalent of 95 degrees.

Now, think of a 95 degree day in Chennai with 55% humidity.  It is 109 degrees!

You think trump and the Republicans care?


Thursday, August 02, 2018

Eat more fruits!

I was hungry for a snack earlier this afternoon.  I walked into the kitchen.  I knew exactly what I was going to eat.

I sliced three tomatoes, sprinkled a little bit of salt and a tiny bit of sugar on the slices.  I enjoyed those tomatoes.

It is a contrast to the experience that a former student related to me years ago.  Patrick was a big guy, with roots in California.  He came by my office once in a while just to chat, mostly about San Diego. 

In one of those chats, Patrick recalled the family's poverty when he was young.  His mother, with barely any money to feed her kids, often bought macaroni and cheese packets that were on sale.  The kids ate a lot of them.  Those empty calories made them big--but unhealthy. So, there he was as a young man, but with plenty of health issues.

Increasingly, the paradox is that poorer people tend to be more obese than rich people are.  It is not merely an American experience; The Economist reports about such a situation in the UK:
Poor children have been fatter than rich ones since around the 1980s. But over the past decade the rich have started to slim down, as the poor have got bigger.
A paradox, yes.

It is not difficult to understand some of the reasons, like this:
People have a limited amount of mental capacity to think about their problems, argues Hugo Harper of the Behavioural Insights Team, a part-publicly owned think-tank which co-authored a recent report on the subject with Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity. Parents concerned about paying rent and keeping the electricity on are thus less likely to think about cooking a healthy dinner.
Yep, that was my student's story as well--his mother was more worried about making sure they did not become homeless, and less concerned about healthy food.

So, what can be done?
But the underlying causes of childhood obesity are fiendishly tricky to fix. As Sir Michael Marmot, head of University College London’s Institute of Health Equity, puts it: “If you want to solve the obesity problem, you have to solve the inequality problem first.”
It might seem strange, but it is true that one can get fast-food that is less expensive than apples and oranges.

All these remind me of the poem that I learnt during the Tanzania trip:


Wednesday, August 01, 2018

"If everyone does a little, we’ll only achieve a little"

I drive a gasoline-powered car.
I fly--domestic and international.
I live in a house that is way big for one person.
I eat almonds from California.
These past few days, I have been cranking up the air-conditioning.

And, oh, I don't use plastic drinking straws, and I recycle paper, bottle, and plastic.

Can you tell me again why recycling and staying away from straws makes me an environmentalist, when my carbon footprint in everything else that I do is humongous?

For years, I have been complaining that we are not pursuing the big-impact issues, and are instead doing merely feel-good things. Like banning plastic straws and plastic bags.  I don't mean to suggest that banning these is a bad idea.  They are much needed.  But, it also does a huge disservice by making people think that banning straws and plastic bags is all that is needed.
If we want to educate conscientious environmental consumers, we should be honest about the scale of the problems and the results of our actions.

We should also remind people that this is a large-scale issue, and pointing fingers at individuals is ineffective.
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.
On top of that, a much bigger problem:
If environmentalism becomes about vilifying so many of life’s small pleasures and conveniences, I fear it will turn off more people than it rallies to its cause.
Like a neighbor who thinks that being environmental means to walk around with a stink--from not taking showers--and to wear dirty rags.

So, what should be done?

For starters, don't be a dick and blame population growth.  That is atrocious!  Our consumption patterns are the problem, not the numbers of humans born every year.

Go after the producers:
the best way to accelerate significant environmental progress might be to worry less about individual consumption and more about the production side of the equation.
Of course, this is increasingly difficult in this trump era; those in power now and the pro-business maniacs think that every shit that any business does is gold, and that those of us who worry about the long-term impacts on the natural environment are nothing but socialist snowflakes!

Elections have consequences, which the Berniacs did not think through when they went on a hate-Hillary campaign!

We are less than 100 days away from the next major election.  Do whatever you can to vote out these irresponsible scumbags who are robbing from the grandchildren.

ps: The title for this post was a quote in the essay that I have referred to.