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:

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?

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Dying slower: The curse of longevity

"You will be working for at least 45 years after you graduate" is something that I have been telling students for a long time.

I am not sure if any student gives a damn about it.

I suppose at 18, I would not have imagined 45 long years, when the prospect of 4 years of undergrad itself was huge.  Think about the proportions: 4 out of 18, and then 45 compared to 18.

As difficult as it might be to imagine these time horizons, we will be better off if we tried to.

If we did think about 45 years of working, and living into the 8th and 9th decade of one's life, then we might begin to appreciate the complex aspects of life.  We are already living nearly immortal lives compared to the average human a mere 200 years ago, when globally the life expectancy at birth was a mere 35 years.

When conditions have changed this rapidly, it also means that the magnitude of change has yet to sink into our collective consciousness.  Is it any wonder, for instance, that divorce rates are increasing?  Mating for life for about 2 decades before death strikes at 35 is different from mating for life for 70 years, right?  Not for everybody:  “Thirty more years of this joker? No way.”

What are we going to do with longevity anyway, when we are already bored enough that we watch endless cat videos?
After all, as writer Susan Ertz wryly observed in her 1943 novel “Anger in the Sky,” “Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”
I don't think it is any accident that our entertainment options have exploded an infinite number of ways along with the increasing life expectancy.  We have no idea how to spend our time, and are often bored out of our wits.  I won't be surprised if there is a show that is nothing but watching the paint dry. Oh wait, we already have that!

I am not sure if we are ready for longer and longer lifespans.  Yet, apparently we wish for longevity and immortality.  Be careful for what you wish for!

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The fear of the "other"

Consider Germany and the US.  If I were asked which country is the land of immigrants, well, the answer is a no-brainer.  That's what I would think.

As with many things in life, what I think might not be correct!

Take a look at the chart below:


Really?  Germany's foreign-born population slightly exceeds (percentage-wise) that of the US?

Sure, a significant component of the foreign-born in Germany are from other EU countries.  But, still, that high a percentage?

We live in a remarkable time when it is so easy to physically move to a new place that could be far from where we are born.  A plane ticket and a few hours later one could be on the other side of the planet.  It is practically magic.

But, the magic does not happen more only because countries--we, the people--prevent the movement.  And collectively we are losing:
If everyone who wanted to migrate were able to do so, global GDP would double, estimates Michael Clemens of the Centre for Global Development, author of a forthcoming book, “The Walls of Nations”. No other policy change comes close to generating such colossal rewards. If there is $90 trillion a year up for grabs, you might think that policymakers would be feverishly devising ways to get a piece of it. They are not.
How bizarre our behavior is!
It has become physically much easier to move, but bureaucratically much harder. Only 2% of those who arrived at Ellis Island a century ago were turned away.
Ahem, a century ago, those arriving at Ellis Island were not brown-skinned people!  But, ok, point taken.
Now it is extremely difficult to migrate legally from a poor country to a rich one, unless you are highly skilled or a close relative of a legal resident. America’s green-card lottery last year attracted 294 applicants for each of its 50,000 slots. Partly because of Mr Trump’s efforts to make life hard for them, the net inflow of all migrants fell by 74% in 2018, to 200,000 people. Globally, many more people would like to move than can. A Gallup poll suggests that 750m people—15% of the world’s adults—want to settle permanently abroad. That includes 33% of sub-Saharan Africans and 27% of those in Latin America and the Caribbean.
We can do better. But, when even an American citizen of Iranian descent is suspect, when the President's adviser on immigration wants to peddle racist tropes, ... I will conclude by quoting Branko Milanovic again:
[As] economic migration faces increasing obstacles in rich countries (and, it has to be added, not solely because of xenophobia but for economic reasons as well), the ideal of a world “without injustice of birth” recedes.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower

Watching the movie, in which the angst- and love-ridden and sexually-repressed teenage girl reads a verse from Wordsworth's poem, Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, was yet another reminder that a couple of lines of a poem can say a lot more to and about the emotions than can two pages of prose.

There have been many movie scenes where just a couple of lines do the trick.  Even in charming ones like that awesome situation in The Roman Holiday, remember?  Or like Frasier reciting Tennyson's poem as the series comes to an end?  Or this Longfellow poem at the card table scene?

Here's a Wordsworth poem that says a lot about life, childhood, and the jaded people that we become when we grow older.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Cowboys and stilettos

Now, now, don't start visualizing cowboys wearing stilettos.  Though, I am sure there is more than one who struts around somewhere in his favorite stilettos; there got to be some.

And, nope, I am not planning to become a cowboy.  Nor do I have any plan to wear high heels--they just don't work for my chicken legs ;)

I was reading this and I came across a parenthetical note: "(cowboy boots still use heels in this way)"

That stopped me right there.  I had never, ever associated cowboy boots with heels.  Heels?

I often tell students to trust, but verify.  Which is what I also did.  Ahem, it checks out:
Shorter men have extra reason to love cowboy boots — the heel adds anywhere from a half-inch to nearly two inches of height. Taller men will definitely want a lower-slung “walking heel” style, but particularly short men can sneak another inch or so in by wearing full “cowboy heels.”
I could use another two inches.  Of heels, I mean.  Clean your dirty mind!!! ;)

Look at this image of a men's cowboy boots:

That is for men?!

But, cowboy boots having heels was not the real shocking thing that I read.  Instead, it was this:
High heels were, in fact, originally designed for men – and had an immensely practical purpose. Soldiers on horseback wore them in tenth-century Persia, according to Elizabeth Semmelhack of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. The heel helped keep them stable as they stood up in their stirrups and took aim at enemies with bows and arrows
What the what?
Over time, heels appeared on the shoes of male aristocrats across Europe. Yet from the mid-17th century, heels became associated with supposedly “feminine” qualities such as frivolity, and so became women’s wear.
It was originally for us men and then women took over?  I suppose anything we do they really can do it better ;)

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

"I lose sight of my true being"

Every once in a while I look for poems at my usual sources.  There is something in a few lines of poetry that cannot be captured in prose. 

Those few lines appeal to my emotions.
They calm me.
Reassure me. 
Even as they make me mellow.

Today, I chanced upon one of those.  From my old country.  Well, the poem is from the old country.  But, packaged up wonderfully at The American Scholar.

I listened to it.
And I tweeted that:
The poet-philosopher knew what he was doing by titling the poem "Dungeon."  I, a much lesser mortal I am, would prefer "I lose sight of my true being."  Those are the words that speak to me.  "I lose sight of my true being."

Often in our lives, we lose sight of our true being.  When we realize what we have become, we wonder and worry.  By then, it is almost too late.  Way too late.  If only we weren't busily building walls all around and taking pride in them!

Here's Rabindranath Tagore's Dungeon.
(You ought to listen to it being read here.  You really, really should.)


He whom I enclose with my name is weeping in this dungeon.
I am ever busy building this wall all around; and as this wall goes up into
the sky day by day I lose sight of my true being in its dark shadow.

I take pride in this great wall, and I plaster it with dust and sand
lest a least hole should be left in this name;
and for all the care I take I lose sight of my true being.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Astrology, science, and the millennials

My favorite magazine had an essay on astrology.

I prefer to spell astrology as ASStrology in order to clearly and immediately convey what I think about it ;)

I read that essay, nonetheless.

And then I emailed a letter to the editor.

Not the first time that I have vented ;)  But, this time it was different.

A reply stated that they were going to publish my letter, but in an edited form because of space constraints.

Here is my letter in the latest issue of The New Yorker:
I was surprised that Smallwood, who notes that many millennials today “see no contradiction between using astrology and believing in science,” does not mention India, where scientific progress and astrology have long coexisted. The sage Varahamihira, who lived fifteen hundred years ago, studied the sciences, such as astronomy, and also astrology. In contemporary India, it is not unusual to meet people who are scientists at work and read horoscopes at home. Though believing in both science and astrology is not new, followers of astrology would do well to remember that harboring such a serious contradiction in thought may be perilous. One doesn’t need a horoscope to predict what the equation of non-science with science might bring about in India and elsewhere.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Moringa: From India to The Philippines

I had no idea that there exists a huge grocery store that caters to Filipino tastes.  The smell and sight of fish made me a tad uneasy though.  While intellectually it is easy to understand and appreciate the vast diversity of human eating habits, well, the real world experience is not always easy.

The vegetables, however, looked familiar.  I was pleasantly surprised to see a few. Like moringa leaves.  Moringa? Here in the US?  Not in any frozen food section, but as fresh food?  (Here's a post on moringa from 3 years ago.)

A big bunch of those leaves we picked up.  I made my own version of a favorite moringa leaf dsih from the old country.  While my mother might have laughed at my creation, it was awesomely tasty.

As kids, my brother and I ate everything that mother made.  My sister was the picky one who stayed away from quite a few.  We didn't need any grandmother to tell us that we had to eat them in order to be healthy.  We loved the taste of them all.

The moringa leaf dish was one of those.  Moringa is one of those that can easily quality as a superfood. (Read this essay in The New Yorker on why it is an under-appreciated superfood.)  Or like the neem tree that I was talking about a few nights ago with a visitor from West Africa.  "Veppampoo rasam" (a soup made from neem blossoms) was possible only because there was a neem tree in our yard.  The world continues to find out more and more about the awesomeness of neem--maybe soon I will also find neem blossoms in a store here!

I don't ever understand why people have a difficult time embracing a diet that has a wide variety before they are highly processed.  Instead, they rush from store to store buying the latest health fad at prices that shock me.  Like kombucha--I have never ever tasted one--that is not cheap, especially as a regular habit.

The moringa and the neem are examples of foods that do wonders to the awesome bacteria in our gastro-intestinal ecosystems.
One way to foster healthy intestinal bacteria is to eat more of the foods these bugs like to eat—namely, fiber.  Increasing your intake of plant fibers from vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds is like filling a bird-feeder with the kind of seeds that the beautiful songbirds you want attract like best. If you feed them, they will come!  
And if we want to attract a lot of different types of songbirds—er, bacteria—then we want to put out a variety of foods. That means you don’t just want to get all your fiber from a single source, such as a fiber supplement. You want to get it fiber from lots of different kinds of vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds. 
Like I often mention here, sanitas per escam

Sunday, November 10, 2019

This is no Rama Rajya!

It has been three months since the Indian government squashed the special status that Kashmir had since 1947.  "Life" goes on.

The government's road to political power was literally through the fabled land of a Hindu god, Rama.  In 1990, when the party was an outsider, it seized on the political opportunity to drive a hard divide between Hindus and Muslims and destroyed a 400-year old mosque.  Six years later, the party seized power, though it was short-lived.

After a brief but vocal stint in the opposition, the party now has a firm grasp on political power, and does everything possible--immoral and semi-legal ones too--to consolidate its power and to reduce the opposition to nothing.  And now, nearly three decades later, it has the highest court's verdict essentially legitimizing its illegal acts of 1990.

My adopted country's power-hungry reactionaries are no better.

Every day, I wake up feeling a tad more agitated and sadder.  The existential angst worsens by the day.

Even a detour from the interstate in order to have lunch at a park turns out to be a lesson about the times.

As we exited, we read a board that said that a state park was located four miles away.  It was a scenic drive with Mt. Rainier majestically soaring as a mirage in the distance.  After a few minutes of driving, with no signs of a state park, we decided to turn around.

At the very spot where we made the u-turn, well, there it was.  A confederate flag on a pole, flying right under the US flag.

A confederate flag all the way diagonally across from Mississippi and the Deep South!

Some day, maybe we will look past the color of the skin or the curl of the hair or the name of the god.  Some day.  Until then, sad and full of angst, we shall continue to resist the forces of darkness and evil.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Trust me!

"Do you rent this, or do you own it?"

That was the strangest question ever.

How could anybody ever ask that question?  And that too about my home where I live?

The only hypothesis I could come up with as an explanation is this: My home and the way I have organized the place somehow came across as way beyond my financial abilities.  If so, to make such a comment on my financial situation?

I was reminded of another comment years ago by a different person.  She, on the other hand, was clearly very appreciative of my home and its location.  "Professors are not supposed to live like this," she said.  She thought that the local paper might want to write about me and my home like how they had featured a local faculty couple, who were also her mentors.

Of course, there are times when I have wondered how some people go on vacations and own fancy cars.  Almost always, they are people with inheritance.

"Trust fund babies," as an old colleague in California used to say.  He once told me that it is fun to ask people whether they have already received their "K-1".  (I think K-1 is what he said.)  When I asked him what K-1 is, he laughed.  If I asked that question then it meant that I am not a trust fund beneficiary, and there was no point wasting time with losers like me ;)  Like us proles getting W-2 statements, apparently the trust fund beneficiaries get a K-1 statement.

Even as a kid, I was aware that there were people with family wealth backing them.  Our neighbor was one of them.  They owned a car. A fridge. And, heck, they even had an Alsatian dog (German Shepherd)!  They lived next door.  The man was about my father's age and worked a similar job. The woman was a stay-at-home wife like my mother.  Yet, materially they were incredibly well off.  Thanks to their family wealth.

Income and wealth are not the same was something that I picked up early on.  All the talk merely on income tax conveniently overlooks the wealth and inheritance that play a huge role in lives. 

You didn't see this political twist coming, eh!

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

I shat this morning too. I am happy!

I have blogged in plenty about happiness.  Perhaps even obsessively.  It is not at all strange to me that I think a lot about death as much as I do about happiness.  How could one not?!

One aspect of happiness that has always bothered me, and in increasing magnitude as I get older, is the "pursuit" of it.  As I noted in this post earlier this summer, when the context comes up--and it always comes up in any class that I teach--I remind students that they can go to Walmart or Amazon or wherever and buy whatever they can afford to, or even not afford to ... but, no retailer sells at any price something that we often talk about--happiness.

I commented here about the impossibility of pursuing happiness; if at all, we are in pursuit of death, from the moment that we are born!  The challenge in life then is to find that inner happiness when we pursue the ending that awaits us all.

"Pursuit" of happiness?  WTF!?
The Epicurean outlook on happiness – which Thomas Jefferson was thinking of when he enjoined Americans to cherish ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ in the Declaration of Independence – is exceedingly simple and different. As Epicurus saw it, happiness is merely the lack of aponia – physical pain – and ataraxia – mental disturbance. It was not about the pursuit of material gain, or notching up gratifying experiences, but instead was a happiness that lent itself to a constant gratefulness. So long as we are not in mental or physical pain, we can, within this understanding of happiness, be contented.
I am on-board with this interpretation of happiness.  Well, except about praising Jefferson.

Think about the lack of pain and not suffering from any mental disturbance.  What an awesome life that is, right?
One can see this understanding of happiness across the foundations of the Western world, as in the Jewish prayer of asher yatzar, in which each morning, after going to the bathroom, one says thanks for being able to achieve even this most basic task under one’s own power. Happiness, in the Epicurean sense, is as simple as being able to go pee.
Being constipated for a couple of days will be enough for anybody to appreciate such a view of happiness.

Alas, we live in a world in which happiness is all about the external.  People buy stuff, go places, and document all these in order to demonstrate that they are happy.  Money is made by those promising such fake happiness, and those chasing the fake lose time and money.  "But all of this happy pretending catches up. A person living in a Western culture is about four to 10 times more likely to develop clinical depression or anxiety than a person in an Eastern culture."

I am not sure about the Eastern culture either.  Back in the old country, people seem to be in the "pursuit" of happiness as much as people in the West do.  We are messed up all over world.


Monday, November 04, 2019

The boos and the chants

Though I have not been a sports fan for years now, despite a childhood in which cricket and hockey played big roles, I have often lamented about the loss of sportsmanship.  I even wrote a column more than ten years ago on this, using the "fouls to give" calculation in basketball as the context.  I wrote there:
I wonder, then, if involvement in athletics might end up doing more harm than good. What will children learn if their coach teaches them to grab the player in order to prevent an opponent from scoring? Is the lesson to focus on winning at any cost, fully understanding that they have “fouls to give”?
It is no stretch to argue that this notion of “fouls to give” is becoming common in society.
To win at all costs, stretching the rules as much as possible, and fouling to the extent possible, has become the prevailing attitude, especially since 2015 when tRump as the candidate showed up on our radars.

I often tell anybody who wants to listen to me that tRump has created a huge problem: If we want to play by the rules, when he on the other hand couldn't care about the rules, then chances are that we should expect to lose a lot before even his fans too start worrying about the rules.

I do want us to play by the rules.  I really, really do.

But then I think about Michelle Obama telling us that when they go low, we should aim high ... and tRump and his toadies ended up kicking us in our groins.  They went low. Way low. Because they don't care about the rules.  The rules that say, for instance, that you don't try to recruit foreign governments in order to attack political opponents.

The constant disregard for the rules is why, well, I don't want us to play by the rules until he and his toadies are defeated at the polls.  Which is why I loved every video that came across my news feeds of sports fans booing him.  First it was at the baseball championship game.
On what he might have expected to be his best day as commander-in-chief (he revealed the killing of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi hours earlier), he was hidden away in an executive suite. The Lerner family that owns the Nats did not want him sitting with them. And the one time he flashed up on the big screen the jeering of the crowd was thunderous. A chant of “Lock him up!” rippled round the stadium long after Mr Trump’s image was replaced by footage of smiling servicemen. “Veterans for impeachment” read a banner behind home plate.
I loved the booing.  Bring them on, louder and louder!

And then it was at what should have been his friendliest crowds. Instead of adoration, he was booed there too.

And then came the reality check.

That does not sound right.

It sounds bad. It is awful. A nightmare.

I suppose when it comes down to it, I am a wimp. A wuss.  I want to only play by the rules.  I don't want boos or "lock him up" chants.

I want that old-fashioned cricket back.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Being Woke in a Messy World

What does activism mean in these times?

I have been struggling with this question for a while.  And not merely as a response to tRump and his toadies--though even in that context I am at a loss.  What the hell can I do?  I can tweet my rants, but that does not do any damn thing other than to release the pressure within.  I can blog. I can talk to the few remaining friends that I have.  Nothing really makes any meaningful impact.

But, this is more than merely about tRump. But, let's start with him.  His rise to notoriety and power was not through any conventional methods of debating public policy issues or organizing movements.  He called into radio and television shows. He tweeted.  He colluded with foreign powers. He got elected to the White House.

In a way, this old orange monster presents us with the reality--political activities are not conducted the old ways anymore.  He has transformed it.  Now, routinely statesmen and idiots, elected officials and basement dwellers, anybody, tweet out their commentaries and activism.

So, yes, what does activism mean in such times?

I got pissed off with the answer that Barack Obama gave.  I mean, mighty pissed I was.
“I do get a sense sometimes now among certain young people, and this is accelerated by social media, there is this sense sometimes of: ‘The way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people,’” he said, “and that’s enough.”
“Like, if I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or used the wrong verb,” he said, “then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself, cause, ‘Man, you see how woke I was, I called you out.’”
Then he pretended to sit back and press the remote to turn on a television.
“That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change,” he said. “If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.”

My immediate thought was about #MeToo.  And then I thought about #BlackLivesMatter.  Black Lives Matter started in the virtual world, remember?
The phrase “black lives matter” was born in July of 2013, in a Facebook postby Alicia Garza, called “a love letter to black people.” The post was intended as an affirmation for a community distraught over George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin, in Sanford, Florida. Garza, now thirty-five, is the special-projects director in the Oakland office of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which represents twenty thousand caregivers and housekeepers, and lobbies for labor legislation on their behalf. She is also an advocate for queer and transgender rights and for anti-police-brutality campaigns.
Garza has a prodigious social-media presence, and on the day that the Zimmerman verdict was handed down she posted, “the sad part is, there’s a section of America who is cheering and celebrating right now. and that makes me sick to my stomach. we gotta get it together y’all.” Later, she added, “btw stop saying we are not surprised. that’s a damn shame in itself. I continue to be surprised at how little Black lives matter. And I will continue that. stop giving up on black life.” She ended with “black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter.”
Garza’s friend Patrisse Cullors amended the last three words to create a hashtag: #BlackLivesMatter.
So, WTF is Obama talking about!

I decided that the guy has become like one of those people who get old and start to angrily shake their fists at younger people.  Which is also why I liked this response:
His eagerness to dismiss one part of what happens when young people stand up for what they believe in as “casting stones” is a reminder of a largely generational divide about whether it’s impolite to speak out in favor of the most vulnerable among us and the world we’d like to live in. While there’s some debate about which generation Mr. Obama belongs to, he’s solidly in the older camp.
The issues that my fellow millennials, along with even younger people in Gen Z, tend to be “judgmental” about are the same ones many of our parents and grandparents have been debating for decades. Being outspoken about climate change, women’s rights, racial justice, LGBTQ inclusivity and gun control — and critical of those who stand in the way of progress on these issues — is work that’s been left to us.
Of course I agree with this.  I am damn judgmental.  I have booted out the tRump toadies. People opposing gun control can go to hell. And about the old country too. The mOdi toadies have no place in my life. I piss off the brahmins too. I am tired of the old approaches that have pretty much resulted in injustices to continue.

Of course, Black Lives Matter did not merely exist in Facebook.  Me Too was not merely a Twitter hashtag.  These translated to real work in the real world.  I hope the young will translate their online activism into real votes in the real elections in the real world and boot out the evildoers.

I am cheering on the young "Woke" people.
Mr. Obama is right that “the world is messy.” But the messiness we see looks like people who are suffering because others stubbornly reject progress and refuse to show compassion. Millennials and Gen-Zers are doing what we can to take down the Goliath many of our parents have been rightfully casting stones at for decades. We have a tool that has helped democratize public debates about these issues, and we hope it will move us to a more just world.
It’s called social media. And we’re going to keep using it. 

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Furry face

“You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion” wrote G.K. Chesterton. 

I have used that line plenty of times in my classes.  Like a few days ago too, when I told the class that writing a paper is not something that they should do at the last minute.  If they did, it will be as futile as trying to grow a beard in a moment of passion.

I said that while stroking my bearded chin ;)

It is yet another no-shave November.  Most young men who try to grow one will look at me in envy.  One of those rare moments in life when I will serve as a model ;)

When I am asked about growing a beard, I use the same lines that a late great-uncle did.  He was a bearded man himself.  If people asked him about his beard, he would reply with a snort, "I don't grow a beard.  I simply stopped shaving."

Which is why I like this approach to no-shave November--it is clear that the beard is a result of not shaving.  It is as simple as that.

As a bearded professor, I have more than a passing intellectual interest in beards though.  My curiosity knows no bounds after all.  Like, if only I could recall that exact moment in graduate school when I decided that I would grow one--a beard, that is.  Try as I might, I don't recall.  The few photos are evidence that I have consistently had a beard since sometime in my third year in graduate school.  But, when was that first attempt, and what was my thought process?

Those are the many moments that I seem to have forgotten.  Just like I don't really remember when it was that the first hair on my chest showed up.  When did that happen?  And when did they start turning grey?  Or on the legs?   For that matter, when did the first pubic hair appear?

I wish somebody had told me to remember those historic events in my own life; instead of remembering some random and trivial events of world history! ;)


Friday, November 01, 2019

You are what you eat?

Last night's dinner was a big salad.  Nope, there was no argument or disagreement on who gets credit for it ;)

It is a healthy meal even though it had cheese and oil and carbs!  Damn healthy while being damn tasty.  Unlike the ultra processed foods that are the curse.

Don't worry--this is not a post about the virtues of being vegan or vegetarian or about eating salads.  Nor am I going to argue that that the old days before processed foods were better. Nope. In fact, even students in my classes know how much I critique the "bad old days."  I have also blogged often quoting people like Rachel Laudan that we are much better off thanks to not having to grow our own greens, raise our own cows, make our own breads, ...
If we romanticize the past, we may miss the fact that it is the modern, global, industrial economy (not the local resources of the wintry country around New York, Boston, or Chicago) that allows us to savor traditional, fresh, and natural foods. Fresh and natural loom so large because we can take for granted the processed staples—salt, flour, sugar, chocolate, oils, coffee, tea—produced by food corporations.
Eating, in these modern times requires some kind of a ethos. A culture.  We need to think long and hard about it.  "Never has food been delivered in such abundance, so far, or so safely."  And this requires a new ethos, writes Rachel Laudan.

I agree with Laudan.  Even the big salad that we had is case in point.  We didn't grow the greens that went into the salad.  We didn't make the olive oil or the vinegar. We didn't make the paneer that we fried and added to the mix.  Yes, you read that correctly--fried paneer.  Nor did we bake the baguette.  "Never has food been delivered in such abundance, so far, or so safely."

And I agree that in developing a new ethos, we first ought to acknowledge this:
I find the complexity thrilling; the human ingenuity that has so improved our food, impressive. Yes, the systems are flawed, but they always have been. There never was a golden age when everyone in a given society was fed without environmental problems, social and economic inequalities, or nutritional inadequacies. Modern food systems have reduced the proportion of the globe’s population that goes hungry even as that population has soared. They have made safe, fresh food available in cities of a size not even imagined a century ago. They have expanded culinary options so that much of the world can enjoy dishes invented half the globe away. And they have unlocked the secrets of taste that chefs rely on.
From that point of departure, how do we develop a culinary ethos that will be about our health, about the environment, about justice, about ...?
Abandoning the slogan “Our food system is broken. We must fix it” would be a good start to this ethos. It is at best unhelpful, at worst misleading. “Our food system” suggests a monolith, perhaps even a conspiracy, with problems that no one except a chosen “us” has noticed or is trying to improve. “Broken” suggests that in the past this imagined food system was whole when it never was. Instead of such sloganeering, I urge continuing the steady, ongoing work of identifying and solving the multiple problems of our multiple food systems so that, without exploiting workers or endangering the earth, the riches so many have come to enjoy can be spread yet further.