Saturday, December 28, 2019

"what prompted the book choice"

Even for this wannabe writer, there is plenty to write about from places that I go to, people I meet and interact, books and essays that I read, ... writing is how I process many of those.

In an email to a friend, I wrote:
I am just about wrapping up a book titled Amma. It is Perumal Murugan's book that has been translated from the Tamil.  The translation is not the stellar quality that Murugan's work deserves though.  But still the narration, his Amma and family and community that he writes about are all so real and relatable.
In the friend's reply was a comment/question: "what prompted the book choice"

Where do I begin?!

As I became aware of the world around me starting in my tweens, I began to understand that there were plenty of "others"--the differences of religion, caste, income, skin complexion, ... And people were signaling hierarchy explicitly and implicitly based on these, which were also often inter-related.  People even lived in different places because of these differences!  My curiosity to make sense of these added to my discomfort over the privileged position that I was afforded.

The stories that I read rarely ever addressed these issues.  Instead, most of the Tamil literature was about kings and queens of the past, or set in the context of the struggle for independence from the bastards.  Occasionally I chanced upon something by Pudumaipithan or Jayakanthan, whose writings laid bare the problems that I wanted to know more about.  Once in a while, a movie like Elipathayam or Yarukkaga Azhudaan helped me make sense of the context in which I was growing up.

Graduate school provided me a window into these but strictly from a social science perspective.  Complementing that, there were short stories and full-length books in plenty--in the English language and set in American contexts--that were all about the human condition.  There were art movie houses that screened American and European works about the lives of people in all the complexity.

Into my middle age, I became more and more interested in understanding the human condition.  Intellectual approaches did not help.  They didn't reach into the emotions as much as fiction, movies, and music did.  It was heavenly when non-white Americans too began to educate and comfort me.

I kept an eye out for anything from the old country too--if ever they rose to the occasion.  Even if they were only tshirts!  It was consoling to read others who lamented about "how completely the continuity of Indian life has been severed. A single generation of English education suffices to break the threads of tradition and to create a nondescript and superficial being deprived of all roots—a sort of intellectual pariah who does not belong to the East or the West."

Meanwhile, it seemed like Indians were becoming obsessed with material economic growth, cricket, and masala movies, and all the tamasha that never endsBook-reading had become an endangered human habit. To hell with art and creativity!

And worse was when people in India decided that any writing that was critical of the privileged would not be tolerated.  I was shocked at how much Wendy Doniger was attacked.  It was even more atrocious when a local--Perumal Murugan--writing in the vernacular was driven out of his job and writing; Murugan exclaimed that "Author Perumal Murugan has died"  Right then I placed an order for his book that created the controversy:


The book never arrived and my money was refunded.

Since then, during my visits to India, I have scanned the bookstores for One part woman.  No luck.  I did find one gem during my last visit.

A couple of weeks ago, I read in The New Yorker a review essay about Murugan's latest book in translation: The story of a goat.  Which reminded me about my unfinished business.

At my favorite bookstore in Chennai, I was again confused by the chaos, and sought help.  "Where do you have Perumal Murugan's books?"

He led me to a shelf.  One part woman.  Next to it was Amma.  I picked up both.

"Do you have his story of a goat?"

"It is out of stock. We have placed an order," he replied.

I didn't choose the books; they chose me.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Truth and history are for losers?

A year ago, I blogged a series of posts as a result of reading Jill Lepore's These Truths.  In one of those posts, I wrote:
In December 1765, George Mason wrote--an essay--to Washington "in which he argued that slavery was "the primary Cause of the Destruction of the most flourishing Government that ever existed"--the Roman republic."
Towns here and there voted in favor of abolishing slavery.  But, these were in the minority.
As the armed conflict between the colonies and the British worsened, Lord Dunmore "offered freedom to any slaves who would join His Majesty's troops in suppressing the American rebellion."  The bastards were no noble saints; it was merely their bloody divide and conquer strategy at play here too.
The symbolic Boston Tea Party didn't launch the revolution. Rather "it was this act; Dunmore's offer of freedom to slaves, that tipped the scales in favor of American independence." In doing so, Dunmore tipped the scales:
Edward Rutledge, a member of South Carolina's delegation to the Continental Congress, said that Dumore's declaration did "more effectually work an eternal separation between Great Britain and the Colonies--than any other expedient which could possibly have been thought of."
The NY Times reminds me about this in a lengthy response to a letter from five historians.  Jake Silverstein, the editor-in-chief, writes:
And yet how many contemporary Americans have ever even heard of it? Enslaved people at the time certainly knew about it. During the Revolution, thousands sought freedom by taking refuge with British forces.
Truths are often inconvenient!

The paper also offers another take--to complement yesterday's post--on why we shouldn't make saints out of our mortal leaders.  This time it is about Abraham Lincoln.  Yes, that Lincoln, about whom Silverstein writes:
for much of his career, he believed that a necessary prerequisite for freedom would be a plan to encourage the four million formerly enslaved people to leave the country. To be sure, at the end of his life, Lincoln’s racial outlook had evolved considerably in the direction of real equality. Yet the story of abolition becomes more complicated, and more instructive, when readers understand that even the Great Emancipator was ambivalent about full black citizenship.
I am not sure how many of the 63 million voters who wanted to Make America Great Again read Jill Lepore's book or the NY Times's 1619 Project.  Maybe they didn't care to even glance at these.  It is this base, more than anybody else, who need to read these.  Only then will we ever be able to have constructive conversations and move forward.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Warts and all

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

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

The adjunct's contract was not renewed, and I lost touch with him.

It is not that Gandhi and MLK had moral clarity from day one of their adult lives, and it is not as if they did not err in their daily lives.  Mistakes were in plenty.  Yet, they were able to accomplish what millions of us together will never ever be able to do.

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

I have always preferred unsanitized biographies of transformative leaders like Gandhi and MLK.  I don't want kids to go through the same kind of shocks that I went through when I learnt much later in life that MLK was no saint.  Had I known earlier that MLK himself said, "You don't need to go out saying Martin Luther King, Jr. is a saint," I would have appreciated him even more.  I would rather that kids understood how much MLK was able to fight white supremacy and taught all of us what it means to be human--through and despite his own personal flaws.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Santa Claus is coming to town

People were lining up against their yoga mats and sheets.  And then he appeared.  Mr. Claus himself.

India is a land of strange juxtapositions.  A costumed Santa at the yoga corner of the public park in a major city in India is, well, yet another thing that most locals don't even give a second look.  But, I, who for decades have been a foreigner in the old country, watched the spectacle with much curiosity.

Mr. Claus stood where the yoga teacher usually stands.  A couple of people walked up to him and took selfies.  Middle-aged people--not kids--with Santa.

Mr. Claus then slowly ambled towards the middle of the park.

I wondered whether he would proceed towards the small temple.  I prepared myself for the strangest of sights ever--Santa Claus bowing his head while worshiping the idol.

Alas, that did not happen.

Mr. Claus walked towards the gate, and prepared to exit the park.  He saw a toddler in the arms of the grandpa.  He walked towards them.

The kid screamed and yelled and started crying.

I suppose if I didn't know anything about the world, and if I saw a strangely costumed person walking towards me, I too would scream and yell even at my age.

Mr. Claus was on a mission to bring peace and love to kids.  So, he was not ready to give up.  And neither was the grandpa.  They both tried to get the toddler to look at Santa in the eye.  The toddler stiffened up and made sure to look in the other direction while letting out a loud cry.

Mr. Claus walked towards the road and soon disappeared.

I continued on with my walk towards the restaurant to get myself idlis and vadai, wondering if I will be served by Santa Claus ;)

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Will the real Buddha please stand up!

I thought I would stay away from blogging for a while.  A break.  Perhaps to also re-charge.

Wrong I am.

It is difficult.  Too. Damn. Hard.

I am reminded of a comment made by a former student, who is now a faculty colleague.  She loves dancing, and during the earlier years of her undergraduate years, she even toured with a dancing group.  Now, as a faculty, she works with a local dance theatre--I put her in touch with another former student who, too is dancer.  Anyway, she said, "we dancers have to dance."

It is not about being the best dancer ever.  It is not about becoming a star dancer.  It is about being a dancer. 

And I simply want to write.

So, here I am, hoping that an occasional reader might find something here.

Recall the story of the prince Siddhartha, whose mother had that vision when she was pregnant with him?  And the stark encounter of life provoking an existential crisis in the prince, which then leads the prince to ditch his royal luxuries in search for the meaning of life?  And how finally he became the awakened one--the Buddha?

What if all that story was, well, mere story?

Who was the real Buddha?

I suppose this is an example of how "religious studies" and faith diverge.  In the old tradition, it was often said, "ரிஷி மூலம் நதி மூலம் ஆராய கூடாது" (one should not try to find out the origins of the sage nor of the river.)  But, this is exactly what religious studies scholars do. Even when it pisses off the fanatics, as Wendy Doniger's experience demonstrates.

So, who was the real Buddha?
Bringing the reliable historical fragments together, and discarding mythic elaborations, a humbler picture of the Buddha emerges. Gotama was born into a small tribe, in a remote and unimportant town on the periphery of pre-imperial India. He lived in a world on the cusp of urbanisation, albeit one that still lacked money, writing and long-distance trade.
I think this Gotama becoming such a profoundly influential figure is far more impressive than the story of the princely Siddhartha growing up in a huge palace.

Impressive that from a small and remote place in that area between modern day India and Nepal, Buddha and his teachings have spread far and wide.  Of course, when the teaching spreads, ideas are morphed in a number of different ways.  The modern day mindfulness and meditation in the West too have their origins in the Buddhist teachings.  But, even the Buddha might not recognize and understand the contemporary practices of mindfulness!
The Americans who adapted mindfulness in the late-20th century drew on a 19th-century revival of meditation in Burma. And so rather than transmitting an ancient practice, they instead promoted a new spiritual discipline, formulated when Burmese Theravada was suffering in the shadows of the British Empire.
A feature of the modern mindfulness movement, inherited from fairly recent Burmese innovations, is its appeal to the laity, and hence its essentially therapeutic, rather than salvific, aim. Nothing could be further removed from the Buddha’s radical ideal of sagehood. By insisting on ascetic discipline and a life of homeless wandering, Gotama presented mindfulness as a total life commitment. Practised in this way, attending to the constituents of experience can be transformative: Gotama claimed it is a way of undoing one’s mentally constructed world, along with all its unsatisfactoriness and suffering.
Writing too helps me with the world "along with all its unsatisfactoriness and suffering."  Om!

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Going stag

Emma Watson created some brouhaha by declaring herself to be self-partnered.  The rest of us refer to that existence as being single.  Maybe she was serious about that usage, or perhaps she was joking.  But, a brouhaha resulted.  And a few commentaries on her statement, like this one, in whcih the author writes:
The problem with declaring yourself self-partnered is that you’re ceding the argument, agreeing with the precept that some kind of monogamous partnership is a necessary component to a fulfilling life. Self-partnered also makes the same mistake that most depictions of romantic partnership do—assuming that one person can be all things for another. Even a person in a perfect romantic relationship still needs intimate platonic relationships. Self-partnering turns us even more into islands, suggesting that with the right mindset we can all be self-sufficient. A woman’s singleness is not a situation to be corrected, transcended, or rebranded. Be single, Emma, and be proud.
The language issues aside, it is high time that we the people reconsidered privileging the married people through the laws that we have created and the monetary benefits that we bestow on them.  "single people still don’t have access to the legal benefits and protections the government grants to those who get married."  Like what, you ask?
In the US, there are more than 1,100 laws benefiting married couples, and that’s just at the federal level; many states offer perks and protections as well.
Spouses in the US can pass on Medicare, as well as Social Security, disability, veterans and military benefits. They can get health insurance through a spouse’s employer; receive discounted rates for homeowners’, auto and other types of insurance; make medical decisions for each other as well as funeral arrangements; and take family leave to care for an ill spouse, or bereavement leave if a spouse dies.
Now, those are not bad things.  In fact, they are fantastic.  But, why privilege the spouse?  After all, it is not as if single people are mere isolated beings who dropped on earth from outer space, right?  If you prick them, do they not bleed like us?
After all, singles are rarely all alone. They have parents, siblings and other relatives, they have close friends and, often, lovers. Why should they be denied the right to pass on their Social Security benefits to them when they die, instead of having their money absorbed back into the system? Why should they be denied paid time off work to care for them?
Aha, you say now, eh!

I have never understood why a government should subsidize family and marriage.  Especially when we are no longer a "traditional" world in which the man works and the woman stays home barefoot and pregnant.
The law professor Martha Albertson Fineman argues in her book The Autonomy Myth (2004) that the government should stop privileging married couples, and offer the same perks and protections to anyone in a caregiving role. The law professor Vivian E Hamilton makes a similar argument in her paper ‘Mistaking Marriage for Social Policy’ (2004).
Notice that both those authors who are quoted are women?  It is not any accident.  After all, the current framework benefits the man as the primary income earner in a traditional family and they aren't going to be complaining.

Some day, we will wake up to the new reality that has been around us for a while.  But, I know better than to hold my breath for this to happen.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Ginning it up

Quite a few summers ago, when visiting New York, the husband of my father's cousin offered to make a gin-and-lime-juice drink that he said will be refreshing.  I have never been tempted by anything alcoholic, and I politely turned it down.  Had he suggested a cold, chilly "ice coffee" that we used to have during the hot summers of my childhood, now that would have been refreshing.

Gin and the Subcontinent has an interesting medical history as well; recall this post from a while ago about how gin helped the colonizing bastards fight malaria with quinine?
Quinine powder quickly became critical to the health of the empire. By the 1840s British citizens and soldiers in India were using 700 tons of cinchona bark annually for their protective doses of quinine. Quinine powder kept the troops alive, allowed officials to survive in low-lying and wet regions of India, and ultimately permitted a stable (though surprisingly small) British population to prosper in Britain’s tropical colonies. Quinine was so bitter, though, that British officials stationed in India and other tropical posts took to mixing the powder with soda and sugar. “Tonic water,” of a sort, was born. ...
It was only natural that at some point during this time an enterprising colonial official combined his (or her) daily dose of protective quinine tonic with a shot (or two) of gin. Rather than knock back a bitter glass of tonic in the morning, why not enjoy it in the afternoon with a healthy gin ration? The gin and tonic was born—and the cool, crisp concoction could, as Churchill observed, start saving all those English lives.
Gin has, of course, become a huge part of the cocktail culture throughout the world, far above and beyond the gimlet or gin-and-tonic.  And that is the world that Anthony Lane--yes, that same awesome movie critic--writes about in The New Yorker.

I have no idea about the details of gin that Lane describes, but boy is his writing hysterical.  Like this one about the "botanicals" that are often touted in marketing the gin brands:
In most gins, the number of botanicals tends to stay in the single figures, or to hover just above. Not in Monkey 47, though, whose name is a statistical boast. Add three more (bubble gum, manure, and Marlboro Lights, say), and you’d have a nice round number. Personally, I can’t even think of forty-seven botanicals, and, unless the company is selling directly to neurasthenic beagles, I can’t conceive of any customer who will sniff out every aroma. Do some flavors not cancel one another out in the blending?
And, if that does not knock you out, Lane follows up with this:
Often, for reasons of practicality and pride, botanicals are selected with a nod to local produce. Take Calamity Gin, from Texas. Well-trained taste buds, given a slosh, will detect traces of juniper, lavender, bergamot, rose, and cardamom, plus zest of grapefruit, orange, and lime. But those are standard elements, found in varying ratios in innumerable gins. What makes this one special is its secret weapon, bluebonnets. And why? Because the bluebonnet is the state flower of Texas. As yet, nobody in New Hampshire has had the guts to brew a granite gin, with a delicate bouquet of damp stone, but these are early days.
"But these are early days" ;)

The botanicals that are unique to the Philippines are also the marketing angle that Matthew Westfall employs.

Who is Westfall, you ask?

A few days ago, when we were talking about the Philippines because of this talk that we attended, I wondered what ever became of a graduate school mate, Matthew Westfall, who had served in the Peace Corps.  In graduate school, he made a documentary project on Manila's slums--a documentary that was funded by Oliver Stone, among others.

I google his name. Voila!

Matthew founded and operates a gin distillery in the Philippines!  His artisanal gin has "unique range of Philippine botanicals like pomelo, dalandan, calamansi, dayap- the Benguet kind, and the mango."
ARC Botanical Gin and its sister spirits have already garnered international accolades, including two gold medals at the prestigious World Gin Awards in London, two gold medals at the SIP Awards in California, and two silvers at the World Spirits Awards in Austria, the first Philippine entrant in the event’s history.
These accolades come hot on the heels of Full Circle being recognized as “Philippine Distillery of the Year” at the Hong Kong International Spirits Competition in 2018 among other prestigious recognitions in Asia.
What a story!

What's so special about the Filipino botanicals that Matthew uses?
Our flagship ARC Botanical Gin draws on lots of fresh citrus: Davao pomelo, Sagada oranges, Baguio lemons, dalandan and calamansi, and nothing goes to waste—the peels go into the vapor basket and the pulp goes into the pot. We also use fresh Benguet pine buds, handpicked in Sagada, Mountain Province in northern Luzon, which adds a nice piney bit, and organic lemongrass, which is grown on a family farm in the province of Rizal. Lastly, we use fresh mangoes from our family farm in Dasol, Pangasinan, which by every report are the most delicious mangoes on the planet (pardon our bias).
It is a fascinating world that I get to learn about every single day, while always ginned up with coffee ;)

Matthew at his gin distillery
Source

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Slow cooking

Judging a post by its title would deceive you into thinking that this is yet another post on sanitas per escam.  It is not.

Instead, it is about CO2 emissions.
CO2 emissions were on course to rise 0.6 percent this year—slower than previous years but still a world away from what is needed to keep global warming in check.
In three peer-reviewed studies, authors attributed the rise to "robust growth" in natural gas and oil, which offset significant falls in coal use in the United States and Europe.
Where does the slow cooking come in then?
The new data shows that natural gas, which is less polluting than coal but still a fossil fuel, has become the biggest driver of emissions growth globally in recent years. ...
“Natural gas may produce fewer carbon emissions than coal, but that just means you cook the planet a bit more slowly,” said Dr. Peters. “And that’s before even getting into the worries about methane leaks” from gas infrastructure.
The fact that we are being slowly cooked, as opposed to a quick broiling, is not comforting, however.

India is key when it comes to further slowing down the cooking:
India, which is trying to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, was perhaps the biggest surprise in the new data. India’s emissions are expected to rise a mere 1.8 percent this year after an 8 percent increase in 2018.
Some of that slowdown, the researchers noted, can be explained by weaker economic growth and an unexpectedly strong monsoon season that allowed the country to generate more electricity from its emissions-free hydroelectric dams and less from its coal plants. But India’s government is also pursuing big plans to promote solar power and electric vehicles, and it remains to be seen whether those policies can help the country constrain future emissions.
But, we need to always keep this in mind:
The carbon footprint of fully industrialized nations remains far higher, however—both in terms of historic emissions and on a per-person basis. America’s per capita oil consumption, for instance, is 16 times greater than India’s.While these wealthier nations are now making a tiny amount of progress on emission reductions, they also relied on fossil fuels to drive their economic growth for more than a century. So these countries have a clear responsibility, as well as a greater financial ability, to cut emissions deeper and faster than emerging economies. They should also help those countries meet as much of their growth as possible with clean energy technologies, by providing low-cost financing, technological know-how, and other forms of support.
Try convincing tRump and his 63 million toadies about this!


Friday, December 06, 2019

Truth, Reconciliation, and Unbearable Burdens

I have written quite a few posts here on the caste and race issues of the old and adopted countries of mine.  The unbearable burdens of the past, as I often note them to be.

In the posts before tRump's election and mOdi's re-election that served as a Rorschach test of sorts, when regular readers had yet to reveal their true colors, the comments say a lot, like:
I understand, but do not subscribe to, the concept that any generation must apologise for the behaviour of previous generations. These symbolic apologies, in my humble view, are mere tokens and are not synonymous with real change, which is what is really important.
Am I to apologize for the actions of unrelated people centuries ago? Hollow apology. We should acknowledge our past and move forward. I am no more responsible for slavery than someone my age in Oregon is a victim of slavery.
Of course, the freedom of expression in a true democracy means that those views and worse are allowed in the public space.  But, if only they would think differently and better!

I wrote in one of my final commentaries for the local newspapers (or, was that the final one?) "We as a country have never truly come to terms with this history and the racial dimensions of contemporary America."  One of the emails that I got was from a reader (a stranger to me) who wrote:
I am so frustrated that Germany, a country which confronted its past head on, cannot be a lesson for America. Even the smallest acknowledgement of the horrors of slavery and the following disastrous treatment of black people cannot be found in the broader culture.
I am amazed that some of our finer movies which made powerfully and emotionally clear the evil and injustice of this treatment can't have a wider and deeper influence on the politics and everyday behavior in the U. S.
For me, some form of reparations seem correct, moral and necessary, but how can such a thing happen without acknowledgement of the crimes? I see your writing as a clear statement for the need of justice deserved.
Germany does provide us with an example that we can learn from.  Even now, in 2019, more than seven decades after the end of WW II, German leaders offer public apologies for the past.  There is no dismissive "acknowledge our past and move forward" nor are they "symbolic apologies."  It is sincere, heart-felt, and constructively moves into actions towards the future.

Angela Merkel did that again during her first visit as German chancellor to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Holocaust memorial:
Dressed in black, Merkel said the crimes committed at the site in southern Poland where the Nazis ran their largest death camp would always be part of German history.
“This site obliges us to keep the memory alive. We must remember the crimes that were committed here and name them clearly,” Merkel said during a ceremony attended by the Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki.
“I feel deep shame given the barbaric crimes that were committed here by Germans,” she added. 
What a profound statement by a leader who personally had nothing to do with the barbaric crimes that were committed in the past!

As Harvard's president noted in acknowledging the university's past:
The past never dies or disappears. It continues to shape us in ways we should not try to erase or ignore.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

And god said, "Let there be tRump"!

Back in the old country, the leader of the government boasts about leading a bachelor life in order to serve the country.  A day before the general elections, he went to meditate in a cave.  Or, so it was reported. I suppose questions shall not be asked on why his meditation had to be photographed and widely distributed.  This is the same leader who handpicked a "yogi" as the chief minister of the most populous state in the union.  Politics is nothing but doing god's work!

Back in the old days, when the Ayatollahs took over governing in Iran, we wondered and worried about such a convergence of politics and religion.  It was, ahem, unholy.  And these kinds of things never would happen in the beacon of democracy that the United States is, we believed.

Live long enough and you will see wishes and nightmares come true!

A number of Republicans, and especially the party's white evangelical members, believe that god chose tRump to be the President. His pussy-grabbing bravado is ok with god? His bigotry is ok with god? His lying is ok with god?  Heck, violation of every one of the holy Ten Commandments is ok with this god?

In fact, god has a clear plan, which the “Independent Network Charismatic,” or “INC Christianity” cheer, and "is significantly changing the religious landscape in America – and the nation’s politics."
A large number of evangelical Christians in the U.S. believe that God has chosen Donald Trump to advance the kingdom of God on Earth. Several high-profile religious leaders have made similar claims, often comparing Trump to King Cyrus who was asked by God to rescue the nation of Israel from exile in Babylon.
It is all good, as long as you keep your girls away from him, I guess.

Remember this post on the Bethel ministry youth who bugged, er, "encouraged" us?  Apparently that group also is a part of the INC Christianity.
Most INC Christian groups we studied seek to bring heaven or God’s intended perfect society to Earth by placing “kingdom-minded people” in powerful positions at the top of all sectors of society. These “seven mountains of culture” include business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, family and religion. In this form of “trickle-down Christianity,” they believe if Christians rise to the top of all seven “mountains,” society will be completely transformed.
Trickle-down Christianity.  Oh my!
While the Ukraine scandal, family separations at the border, and allegations of corruption have made some evangelical Christians question their support of Donald Trump, most of those steeped in INC Christianity will never abandon their president.
To them, as we found, to oppose Donald Trump is to oppose God who chose him specifically to bring America and the world back to God.
God's will hath no why.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

If only the damn liberals will have babies!

I read the NY Times column that had a polemical title: Are Liberals Against Marriage? 

I got ticked off.  I am a damn liberal and I have nothing against marriage.  I don't care if it is a heterosexual or same-sex marriage.  If people want to marry, fine.  If they don't want to, fine.  Isn't the whole point of conservatism to leave people alone and not interfere with their lives?

Conservatives want to interfere when they want to.  And, oh boy, there are lots of instances when they love to tell the rest of us what to do!

So ... I emailed the paper a version of the following:
*************

Ross Douthat argues that the downward trend in the fertility rate can be reversed if only the population were religious and conservative. Mr. Douthat assumes that conservative and religious societies favor higher fertility rates, and his entire column is woven around that assumption.

Evidence does not help his case, however. 

In the southern part of India from where I immigrated a long time ago, fertility rates have been considerably below replacement--at 1.6 to 1.7.  This region is not “liberal."  Instead, the more than 250 million in the five southern states, have high levels of religiosity, and with significantly low divorce rates. Yet, very few kids! 

The explanation for decreasing fertility rates comes down to a simple phrase that the conservative pundit Milton Friedman popularized--”Free to choose.”  If women, in particular, are free enough to choose, then, on an average, they choose to have fewer kids, or even forego motherhood entirely.

Ross Douthat should stop chasing the red herrings of liberalism, “out of wedlock”, and LGBTQ activism.

*************

If this topic interests you, here are a couple of posts from the past:

This from 2013, in which I wrote:
Tamil Nadu, where my people hail from, has fertility rates that are lower than the rates here in the US.  Americans, who are long used to images of too many babies in India, might find it a shocking revelation that we in the US have, on an average, more children than women do In Tamil Nadu, or in Kerala, or in Karnataka, or in .... These are not states with small populations either.  As this Wikipedia entry helpfully points out, Kerala's population makes it a Canada-equivalent. Tamil Nadu is like Turkey. With its low fertility rate, Karnataka is really like Italy!
From 2017, in which I argued that immigration will help counter low fertility rates:
As reported by the Pew Research Center, “were it not for the increase in births to immigrant women, the annual number of U.S. births would have declined since 1970.” While immigrants accounted for only one in seven Americans in 2015, a quarter of all the births in America were to immigrant women. “Births to women from Mexico, China, India, El Salvador, Guatemala, the Philippines, Honduras, Vietnam, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico accounted for 58% of all births to immigrant mothers in the U.S. in 2014.” Even here in Oregon, births to immigrant mothers have offset what would have otherwise been a decrease in births from 1990 to 2015.
The fascinating aspect to this story of decrease in fertility rates is that it has happened without strict government mandates. While public health messages do advocate for smaller family sizes, there is no strict government-imposed one-child policy, a la China.
All the more why I think that it is a lazy political argument that Douthat has written!

Monday, December 02, 2019

Reading the future ...

During the morning drive, I turned the radio on.  It was not about tRump.  Phew!

Source

What an interesting segment it was!  So interesting that I couldn't wait to return home and place an order for the book.  I added another book to the order.  The two books will reach my doorstep in a week, and just in time for the winter break.

I wonder, however, for how long books will continue to be printed.  Consider music, for instance.  It is mostly streamed.  When was the last time you bought music as a tangible CD or vinyl?  They don't even sell cassette tapes anymore, right?

Even now, quite a few purchase the e-version of books instead of the bound paper.  For how long will books continue to be printed on paper?

An even more troubling question is this: Will books be around?

Book maybe dead by 2039, the futuristic commentary argues.

How long did it take for vinyl to be replaced by tapes.  And then tapes by CDs.  How long did CDs continue to sell?

It is absolutely fascinating that printed books have survived this long.  Why 2039 for that commentary?
In 1439, an eccentric German goldsmith cast the Latin alphabet in lead, smeared the letters with oil-based ink and squashed them beneath a wine press. Johannes Gutenberg hadn’t invented the ink, the paper, the press or the alphabet, but by combining their powers, he built the first printing press and printed the first mass-produced book: a 1,200-page Bible printed on vellum and bound in pigskin.
The rest was history.

Soon, even books will become history in the coming "post-book world"?  Of course, rumors of books ending have been spread for a while.  "Until now. Or more accurately, until 2031, when the Verse arrived, and humanity discovered a new way to tell its stories."

As troubling as the commentary is, it seems entirely plausible.  If video killed the radio star, virtual reality (VR) killed the book authors:
By the mid-’20s, V.R. was sleeker and cheaper, but still posed no danger to Cinemark or Barnes & Noble (both of which declared bankruptcy in 2036). But the rise of cheap neural threads led to the first generation of V.R. implants, and in 2031 Google’s Daydreamer, Netflix’s ReelLife and Microsoft’s much-mocked Awegment were joined by Amazon’s Universal Experience, popularly known as the Verse.
What a clever piece of writing there, right?  Can't you already see those brand names?

The author makes an important point that it was never about the books per se.

"The stories." That's what the books were about.
And stories existed long before 1439. Stories are shape-shifters, infinite and immortal: They’ve been painted on the walls of Chauvet Cave and pressed into clay tablets; sung by griots in the streets of Old Mali and cut into the Peruvian desert; danced and drummed and whispered, spun like spider-silk across the Atlantic and painted on the undersides of overpasses. In the context of human history, the book was nothing but a format, a brief technological quirk in the history of human storytelling, younger than theater but older than soap operas.
Read the entire commentary. Maybe you will welcome that future.

As for me, 2039 neatly coincides with another landmark, and I hope to live with books as we know them!

Sunday, December 01, 2019

We all live in a yellow ... turmeric?

Pomegranates.
Açaí.
Kale.
Seaweed.
Blueberries.
Moringa.
Turmeric.

Why that listing?

One word, dear reader.  One single word explains them.

Superfood.

We live in crazy times.  We have never had it so good. Ever. There is abundance of staples and pulses and milk and sugar and everything that one could ask for.  We live longer and healthier lives than ever before.  Yet, we are always in the search for the magical elixir that will give us long and healthy lives, as if life now is shitty.  "We consume them like magic pills, as penance for our burger and fries we eat a handful of mystical berries or drink a green juice and keep our fingers crossed."

That search for the elixir means we have superfood de jour.

No, this post is not about any health value of any damn superfood.

But, this is about a superfood that is found in any kitchen in India: Turmeric.

When we were kids, there were plenty of reasons for us to need some kind of medical attention, as kids always are anywhere in the world.  Turmeric was there as a trusted medicine dispensed by the apothecary, who was either mother or the grandmother.  A bruise? Apply turmeric. Fever and cough? Drink warm milk with turmeric and pepper. (Click here, if you are interested)  It is a surprise that the subcontinent is not full of yellow-skinned people from all that turmeric!

Turmeric.  What I didn't know until now is this: Turmeric is now grown in Nicaragua too in order to meet the rapidly increasing demand in the US for this superfood.  In Nicaragua!

Source
All because of the curcumin in the superfood--turmeric.  "Nicaraguan turmeric has registered at 7.9 percent" compared to "a high of 6.5 percent curcumin in turmeric from Kerala, India, compared to an average of 3 to 3.5 percent in the crop from nearby Tamil Nadu."  In Nicaragua!

Sooner or later, the turmeric fad in the US will fade away and be replaced with some other superfood.  But, not in the kitchens across India.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

World Wide Fiction

Though I am not certain about this, the first fictional pieces that I read in the English language were the Enid Blyton series.  Unlike the stories in Tamil, in which I could understand the references, I was often lost in the particulars in the Blyton works.  Especially the foods the kids in those stories ate.  What were ham and bacon all about.?  These appeared all the time in the Enid Blyton books--the kids ate them with eggs before they went about their adventures.

What were ham and bacon?

We figured it was from pigs.  But, what then was the difference between ham and bacon.  There is a limit to imagining foods of a different culture, particularly in those primitive days before the internet, before the television, and when telephones were rare.  So, I figured out a solution to the puzzle: bacon and ham had to be something like idli and dosai, which are from the same ingredients but look and taste different from each other.

The power of imagination that fiction provides; they help us understand the world, and somehow make order of the chaos that is outside.

With the Indian fiction, especially like in RK Narayan's Swami and Friends, there was no need to imagine the foods they ate.  Because I ate the same kind of foods. Like Swami, I too hoped to have a good cricket game every single day.  Swami's grandmother reminded me a lot of my own grandmothers.  I could absolutely relate to this fictional kid in a fictional town.  The pains and pleasures of his were mine as well. His Malgudi was my Neyveli, plus Sengottai, plus Pattamadai.

The inability to understand an alien culture did not stop me, however, from reading a whole lot of fiction by British and American authors. And, of course, the Russian authors too.

Now, did I for a moment ever pause to think that the British authors were speaking for all the British, or that the American authors were portraying all Americans?  Of course not.  But, I could imagine the situations in which the Artful Dodger was trapped in a world of child criminals in a Dickensian world.  And could empathize with him and Oliver Twist.  I could feel for Anna Karenina.  The people and the settings that Somerset Maugham described were not difficult to understand.

I don't merely read fiction that is written by "my people" and set in "my contexts."  Zadie Smith writes about all these and a lot more:
I felt I was Jane Eyre and Celie and Mr. Biswas and David Copperfield. Our autobiographical coordinates rarely matched. I’d never had a friend die of consumption or been raped by my father or lived in Trinidad or the Deep South or the nineteenth century. But I’d been sad and lost, sometimes desperate, often confused. It was on the basis of such flimsy emotional clues that I found myself feeling with these imaginary strangers: feeling with them, for them, alongside them and through them, extrapolating from my own emotions, which, though strikingly minor when compared to the high dramas of fiction, still bore some relation to them, as all human feelings do.
It was never a one-to-one matching between me and the characters.  But, the human condition bore plenty of similarities.  Similarities to what I felt and experienced, or to what I observed around me.

As one whose imaginations are highly circumscribed, I have always believed that "some people will tell our story better than others."  I want them to help me understand the world in all its complexity.
[A] book can try to modify your behavior, but it has no way of knowing for sure that it has. In front of a book you are still free. Between reader and book, there is only the continual risk of wrongness, word by word, sentence by sentence. The Internet does not get to decide. Nor does the writer. Only the reader decides. So decide.
We can try to understand this wide world through stories.  Go ahead.

Friday, November 29, 2019

The colonial past ... and the free future

As I have often noted here, I have uber-schadenfreude over the Brexit problems in the UK because I hate so much how the Bastard Raj ruined lives forever.  It is such an anger that has also made sure that my travels have not even included a pit-stop in the island that has increasingly become irrelevant on the global stage--as it should be!

No man ever went to the East Indies with good intentions.”  As in no British man.  Over two centuries, Britain royally fucked up a good chunk of the world.  The effects of all that raping continues to manifest itself from Hong Kong to Kashmir to ... Cameroon.

I was compelled to quickly catch up on how the bastards messed up Cameroon, thanks to new people that I met.  I suppose the more I meet new people, the more we understand how much we are all in the same boat.  Or, as MLK put it: "We may have come on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now."

"We have over 200 languages back in Cameroon," he said.  The colonial history has pretty much driven those languages to extinction.  His pain about the dying languages, especially his own, was evident.  When the colonizers exited, after plundering the lands, English and French became the official languages.  Those language divisions are also today's political divisions.

The story of the United States is also one of colonial settlement by those islanders, whose king eventually lost the fight to retain his hold over the territory.  Whatever propelled the pale-skinned to trot all over the world and remake the places and peoples is one I can never understand, how much ever I intellectually engage with those topics.

Unlike the past that is filled with colonizers eradicating and enslaving the "others," the future looks infinitely better only because of the young.

At the Thanksgiving gathering, as we sat with plates loaded with food, the host said her young teenage daughter had one thing to say.  With a smile, the girl said, "I want us to recognize that we are on the land of the Kalapuya people."

The kids are alright!

Thursday, November 28, 2019

As the sun breaks through on a foggy morning

I offered to erase the white board.

"There is something calming when I wipe it clean," he said while offering to do it.

"It is like the Buddhist monks and their mandala," I replied as I slowly moved the eraser up and down and from side to side.  A reminder that "we are transients who merely rent a piece of real estate for a while."

"You truly believe that?"

"Yep.  Have believed that for a long time."

"Maybe because you were lucky to have been born in India.  I wish I had been born in India."

"Me too," was the echo from a long blond-haired young man who was reaching for the drinking water fountain.

We looked at each other and smiled.

Perhaps the accident of being born into a Hindu brahmin family that was religious and orthodox is the reason that I became so convinced over the years in my belief that we came from nothing and into nothing that we will be transformed.  If so, it was a lucky accident.  One of the many dumb lucks in life.

In my early years, I struggled with trying to understand from where we came to be, and whatever happens after we die. It was a struggle. Anxiety-ridden.  And then like the sun slowly burning up the fog, a realization eased the anxiety about birth and death.  A realization that those bookmarks are irrelevant.  The only thing that matters is the here and the now.

In this here and now, I hope I am drawing a good enough mandala.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

How my DAILY 10-hour fasting works

It is true. I fast every day.  Ten, maybe even eleven, long hours every single day.

Which is why I am always surprised when people make a big deal out of their fasting rituals.  Bah humbug!

My daily fasting is a part of my regimented life.  Dinner and dessert/snacking is done usually by 8 in the night.  And the eating/drinking starts again the following morning at about 6.  Ten long hours of fasting, you see?

This is how our biology is supposed to work.  We animals lived in the tropics close to the equator, and our lives were determined by sunrise and sunset.  There were no Cheetos to nosh on while watching TV.

The access to processed and packaged food has apparently messed things up for most people that some now compel themselves to a 24-hour fasting.

Which reminds me of the 24-hour fasting the the true believers in my extended family in the old country used to observe.  They did that for religious reasons--a sacrifice in order to remember and praise their favorite god, and to also be thankful for the foods that they were able to have.

The modern fasting, in contrast, is secular and supposedly for health reasons alone.  But, ahem, eating irresponsibly and then fasting for one day is not going to do any damn good, other than provoke a craving ;)  “There’s nothing magical here. We’re tricking people into eating less food, in different ways” ... exactly!
Basically, because our metabolism has evolved to digest food during the day and rest at night, changing the timing of meals to earlier in the day may be beneficial.
And you made fun of my regimented life?
Time-restricted feeding — fasting overnight and into the next morning — is likely the easiest form of fasting to comply with. A longer than normal fasting period each night allows you to burn through some of your sugar stores, called glycogen. That does a couple things. It gives your body a little bit more time to burn fat. It also may help your body get rid of any extra salt in your diet, which would lower your blood pressure, Dr. Peterson said.
Seriously, why isn't this immediately and instinctively obvious to most people?

Lunch time approaches and I need to break my 2-hour fast since I last had a banana.  You know what I am going to eat, don't you? ;)

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

First they came for the milkman, ... and I supported it

‘Amazon knows, if you’ve bought the game for the last three years or whatever, that you’re likely to buy it again.’ So they’ve already got it packaged up for you, waiting for you to press the button. You do that, and they’ll stick your name on it, and it’s gone.”
If that doesn't boggle your mind, then there is something seriously wrong with you! ;)

We live in a science-fiction world in which we search, click, and order ... and our orders show up on our porches within a couple of days. And if you pay more, they could reach you within even a few hours.

Think about your own childhood.  If you are old enough like me, then there years when milk was delivered. Newspapers were delivered. Mail was delivered. They happened according to a present schedule.  For everything else, we went looking for the stuff.  We walked or took buses or drove cars or whatever to the store to buy clothes, gadgets, utensils, shoes, ... And that is how people lived for the longest time.  It was primarily only what they bought that changed over the years.

In seemingly no time at all, this model has already flipped here in the US and increasingly all over.  Milk delivery stopped a long time ago.  Only old fogies like me even bother to check the mailbox and use the postal system!  Malls are rapidly dying.

If ordering stuff online and expecting that to be delivered within a matter of hours becomes the norm, what might the future hold?
Eventually, we will want our deliveries to be so prompt that we will practically be sitting on top of the products we will order. At Chetwoods, the architecture firm, a managing director named Tim Ward told me about “brownfield” sites in London that the e-commerce industry can swallow: real estate that has fallen into disuse, and that can be repurposed to hold inventory and sort deliveries. Car parks, for instance, that will empty out as people drive less, and which can be converted into fulfilment centres for half-hour orders. Or multi-storey towers, each floor connected to the next by a ramp, so that vans can drive goods up and down the building. Or underground storage caverns, one of which is already being prepared near Heathrow. Other companies had mined the area for minerals, Ward explained. “Why fill that void in? Why not use it for logistics? It makes an ideal use, and then you can put a lovely park across the top of it.”
Our push for this is also why there is an increasing level of surveillance that we willingly allow:
Which is why we are not taking any notice that the apparatus of buying will soon be everywhere in our lives. It is already under our thumbs in our apps, and in most delivery vans in most streets. Soon it will be in our fridges, washing machines and printers, ordering refills; it will be beneath our feet in storage canyons and delivery tunnels; it will tower above us in multi-storey city blocks.
A brave new world!

Oh, if you liked those excerpts, they are from a lengthy piece in The Guardian--I encourage you to donate to the paper like how I do.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Bombs Away!

Legal adulthood at 18 means that our war with Afghanistan is now a fully grown adult.  A month more than 18.

Who cares about that here in the US, right?  To tRump, it is a shithole and a Muslim country.  So, there. 

As for Democrats, it is not as if Obama was a peacenik either.  He too loved to bomb the shit out of brown people:
Our Peace Prize president has now been at war longer than any other American president, and has overseen the use of military force in seven countries—Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia. In the latter four countries, virtually all the force has come in the form of unmanned drones executing suspected terrorists said to be linked to al-Qaeda or its “associated forces.”
That an antiwar president has found the drone so tempting ought to be a warning sign.
Obama loved them drones!
Since Obama took office, media outlets have reported more than 300 drone strikes in Pakistan targeting al-Qaeda or the Taliban, outnumbering the Bush administration’s drone strikes five to one.
And that was merely at the halfway point of his presidency.  I suppose he truly deserved the Nobel Peace Prize!

So, in case you wonder, yes, the drone war continues on big time. Especially in Afghanistan.
As of August 31 this year, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism had documented at least 4,251 aerial strikes in Afghanistan for 2019, more than double the total for the whole of 2018. Most of these, it says, are thought to be by drones. These attacks are exacting an increasing toll on the Afghan people.
Quite an awful toll :(

I don't mean to suggest that it is easy to end our entanglement in Afghanistan.  It is not.  I don't mean to argue for any hasty and unilateral withdrawal either.  If we did, then the maniacal Taliban and ISIS will take over the entire country.

All I ask is something simple to begin with: Can be at least begin to be more involved with what is going in Afghanistan, at least to the same level of passion that we bring to the football games every damn Saturday?  Because, if we are involved, then the elected public servants will actually want to work towards a solution. Else, they have no real incentive to remind us that we continue to bomb the shit out of brown people in a land far, far away.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The streets of ... name-your-town

The series of tents on the sidewalks was no carnival but the crude shelters that the homeless have put up for themselves.

It saddens me to no end.

It angers me that this is the reality in one of the richest and most powerful country that humanity has ever known.

This is not merely an Eugene story, but all across the country.  Therefore, it pisses me off that the federal government could not be bothered about it.  As I wrote here a few years ago:
I pay taxes. I expect the government to use the revenue to take care of my fellow humans in this country. Instead of doing that, my government spends gazillions on the military in order to bomb the shit out of countries and send them back to the stone age. A gazillion for defense, but ask for a couple of millions for some homeless program and they cry poverty. And I am forced to then deal with this reality on a windy and rainy night at the grocery store parking lot. Pox on the war-mongering demagogues!
The President one-ups every one who was in the White House before him; the President directed aides to figure out “how the hell we can get these people off the streets" because he views that the homeless are living on the “best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings . . . where people in those buildings pay tremendous taxes, where they went to those locations because of the prestige.”  The madman can only think about real estate and dollars, and 63 million people, including the "true" believers of Jesus, applaud his views!

My personal consolation is that my work does not require me to personally interact with the homeless.  Because, given my empathetic wimpiness, I would be paralyzed into inaction.

Consider, on the other hand, this lengthy note in the NY Times' Ethicist column:
I’m a doctor in an urban emergency room in California, and I’m struggling with two classes of patients who are becoming more common in our E.R: patients experiencing homelessness, and patients with chronic pain requiring opiate therapy. 
By law, E.R.s are required to medically screen and stabilize all patients. What this means is that any person can come to the emergency room with any medical complaint and be given a warm place to stay until said medical complaint is evaluated. While this law is being used appropriately by the vast majority of patients, a small subset of patients (often the most vulnerable) take advantage of it. They know that if they present to the E.R. with a medical complaint — real or imagined — they will be guaranteed a bed for a few hours and a meal (per California law). We will often see the same handful of people once or twice a day. We know that they often have no other access to food or shelter, and we want to be helpful. The problem is that the E.R. is not meant for shelter and food. First, it is a very costly use of resources. Second, these patients often divert scant resources such as ambulances and beds from others who have acute medical needs. We often have to weigh whether to provide the desired food, shelter or clothing or deny those resources in hopes that the patients are helped elsewhere.
Similarly, we have seen an uptick in chronic-pain patients abandoned by primary-care clinics that no longer administer opiates due to the unclear crackdown on opiate prescribing, even legitimate opiate prescribing. Patients often come in desperate because of their ongoing pain, or because of the withdrawal from medicines taken safely for years. Some will even threaten to start using heroin if we don’t prescribe opiates, which we know is a real possibility. And again, while we want to help, we cannot have the E.R. become the default place for people to get pain medicine when others won’t help.
I struggle with these questions daily. The reality is that it is costing the health care system $200-$300 to provide a patient with a cold turkey sandwich. How do I, as a physician, proceed? Name Withheld
The Ethicist, Kwame Appiah, who is one of my favorite contemporary public intellectuals, reminds us in his response that this is not the doctor's problem, but our collective problem.  Appiah wraps it up with this:
But at the moment, you have good reason to complain: That we still haven’t addressed these problems adequately makes it harder for people like you to do your job.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Teach Your Children "Palate Training"

In yesterday's post on childhood obesity, my formula for addressing that began with "It is about the overall health.  Eat your veggies. ..."

But, what if kids don't want to eat the veggies?

To me, this is impossible to imagine.  As a kid, I ate every vegetable that my mother and all the women in the extended family cooked. There wasn't a vegetable and its prep that I did not like.

I tell ya, if all kids are like how I was as a child, then the mothers of this world won't have a single problem ever ;)

The New Yorker--the magazine that published my short letter, yay!!!--has an informative and thoughtful essay on baby food and kids not taking to veggies.  It is a must-read (though it might be behind a paywall.)

I loved this there:
[Saskia] Sorrosa has a simpler goal. She wants her children to eat the way she ate as a child. “In Ecuador, we had whatever the adults were having—it was just puréed and given to babies,” she said. “I learned to eat spicy young.” On weekends, friends and neighbors would descend on her parents’ farm for buffets of ceviche and sancocho soup (a beef broth with mashed plantains and lime juice), braised goat stew and shrimp in peanut sauce. All of which found its way into Sorrosa’s mouth as she hung from her mother’s hip.
That's how I remember life in India.  Adults would offer just a tad of whatever they were eating.  And, of course, they would also praise the kid for eating it--reinforcing the good behavior.  There was no concept of making something different for children because they didn't like something.  According to grandmothers, our job was to eat what was in our plates and clean it up.  My life in India was no different from Sorrosa's childhood in Ecuador--without the ceviche and sancocho and ... ;)
“Self-weaned” infants, who dispense with purées and just gnaw on their parents’ food, tend to be slimmer and healthier than those raised on baby food. But only if their parents eat healthy meals themselves.
There is your important link to the discussions on childhood obesity too.

The author wraps up the essay by contrasting the American finickiness with how a Congolese immigrant mother in Portland (Maine) was preparing food for her baby.
Rachel’s lenga-lenga was like no baby food I’d ever seen. It was full of onions and garlic and bitter green pepper. It had mashed eggplant and leeks that could give a baby gas. It was salty from the bouillon—the rest of the family would be eating it, too—and far from sweet. By the time it was done cooking, it was a thick green porridge, pungent with smoked fish and sulfurous plants. It made kale look like Christmas candy. And yet, when Rachel brought a bowl of it over to Soraya on the couch, she bounced up and down and clapped her hands.


Friday, November 22, 2019

The weight of childhood

When we were kids, the relatively chubby ones were rare and easily identifiable.  The Tamil word குண்டு ("gundu" to mean fat) was often how we kids referred to them.  And that adjective continued on even as the kid became a teenager and shed the baby fat.

Years after finishing high school, when I met up with a school-mate, and when we talked about old friends, he asked me where gundu-K* was!

These days, when I travel to and in India, the chubby kids are not that rare as it was when I was a kid.  Of course, here in the US too.

Meanwhile, many classmates who were even more stick-figures than how I was have ballooned up into குண்டு மாமா (fat uncles.)

Yes, there is all that sugar. And the ultra-processed foods that our biology is not wired for.  But, we have to deal with the world in which we live, and not some ideal world, right?  There is no going back.

We have to figure out what to do with childhood obesity that is way more than mere baby fat.

Childhood obesity has tripled over the past 20 years, and is projected to increase further. "According to a new report recently released by the World Obesity Federation, obesity will affect more than 250 million kids by 2030."

So, what can one do?

The first thing we need to keep in mind that slim does not equal health, and being chubby does not mean unhealthy either.  I bet you too know of slim people who have high blood pressure or high cholesterol or have suffered heart attacks, while the chubby ones continue to enjoy themselves.

Even our daily interactions tell us that it is not merely about the body weight or shape.

So, don't even try any stupid body-shaming route.  What matters is being healthy.

So, what can we older folk do?
Fundamentally, messages should emphasize health and health behaviors, rather than body weight. We need to communicate to children that their health, not a number on the scale, is important.
It is about the overall health.  Eat your veggies. And fruits. Minimize juices. Avoid soda. Walk, or even better, run.  Sleep.  ... Focus on the health, but never on the scale.

It is no different from the message I tell students when it comes to learning.  It is not about the letter-grade, which is comparable to a number on the weighing scale.

Ah, yes, you expect me to write at this point, "if only people listened to me."  That's merely a punchline that I use--there are students who listen to me.  Occasionally they even read this blog.  And there are adults who listen to me--heck, even my father sometimes says "like you said, ..."

Sanitas per escam! ;)

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Blame the goat?

I came across a poem. 

But, the essay in which I came across that poem is not really about the poem. Nor about the poet.

You need to read the essay. I highly recommend it.  Especially if you are an academic who has an inflated opinion of your writings ;)

Here's the poem by Shel Silverstein:

Blame
I wrote such a beautiful book for you
About rainbows and sunshine and dreams that come true
But the goat went and ate it—you knew that he would—
So I wrote you another one as fast as I could
But of course it could never be nearly as great
As that beautiful book that the silly goat ate
So if you don’t like this new book I just wrote
Blame the Goat.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Don't tell my heart, my achy breaky heart

I am acutely tuned into the weather.  All the time. It has been that way for many years. 

Maybe because right from my childhood, I was always listening to my great uncles and the people in the villages talk about the rains, water level in the canals, wind storms wiping out what would have been a bumper banana crop, ... So much so that I would get an uneasy feeling if there were reports that the monsoon had failed.  It felt personal.

It continues to be personal.  Acutely so.  There are times when I have had to calm myself down.

I am an environmental nutcase.

I have mentioned in plenty in this blog about what a paradise this part of the world is.  I often worry that climate change is messing up the paradise. 

The effects of a weirding climate are even worse in the old country; I have stopped reading news reports primarily because it aches my heart that we humans have made such a mess of life.

I can, therefore, relate to people writing and talking about climate trauma and eco despair--even though to most outsiders I don't ever come across as an environmental nutcase.
In the Red Hook workshop, which used the pioneering decades-old work of the environmental grief activist Joanna Macy, the facilitator, Jess Serrante, said something that hit me like a thunderclap.
“Our pain for what is happening is the other side of the coin of our love for the world,” she told us. “We feel such depths of despair because we love the planet so much.”  
I do. Which is why many times I have embedded in my posts Carl Sagan's moving, poetic, note about our pale blue dot--"a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."

There is always an underlying panic, I think, that the paradise won't be a paradise for long.  The writer says it well for me too:
I found myself paying greedy attention to the rustling trees, the flutter of teeny birds. I felt a visceral thrum of gratitude for what still exists, for what has to be fought for, while it still can be beheld.



Monday, November 18, 2019

When men come to god's defense

We live in such godawful times of a President tweeting and uttering incoherent rants that we have forgotten how much we used to adore, revere, and quote presidential observations and rhetoric.

Oh, don't worry; this post is not to vent about the horrible human being in the Oval Office nor about his 63 million bootlickers.  Nope. It is about the maniacal goings-on in the old country.

We used to quote Presidents.  Like Abraham Lincoln, who said,  "My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right."  If I were a believer, then that would be my position too--a true believer knows that god doesn't need us mortals to defend her honor.  Instead, it is us mortals who need god to protect us. This simple logic is apparently lost on most fanatical faithful!

And thus the Hindu fanatics--almost always men, across all the religions--continue to fight to keep menstruating girls and women away from a temple where the god is believed to be a bachelor.  I blogged about this issue back in February 2016, when tRump was looming as a threat, and when even those who hated him but later turned around and voted for him used to comment at this blog.

I wrote there that in India, the government oversees the functioning of temples.  As a result, of course, the judicial arm of the government has a say in whether menstruating women should be barred from entering temples.  Such is the theatre of the absurd!

That was in 2016 as the lawsuit was filed.  Two years later came the verdict: "In 2018, while lifting the ban on women's entry into the shrine, the Supreme Court had said that everyone had the right to practice religion and that the ban was a form of "untouchability"."

Last December in India, protests and counter-protests I saw and read about.  Intellectuals and leaders wrote commentaries.  Women were turned away from the temple.  The fight continues:
India's Supreme Court said Thursday it will set law on women’s entry into temples and mosques after being asked to review its decision lifting a ban on some women entering the Sabarimala temple in Kerala state.
Back to square one:
A temple official welcomed the ruling and appealed to women to stay away.
Women trying to enter the temple after the verdict last year were attacked by mobs blocking the way.
Many checked vehicles heading towards the temple to see if any women of a "menstruating age" - deemed to be those aged between 10 and 50 years - were trying to enter.
It is a disgrace that quite a few men are so obsessed with the reproductive system of women.  And these men so firmly believe that they are doing god's work?