Democracy or Free Press!!!

Growing up  I assumed that everybody knew the importance of a free press to a democracy . As I read about the horrors perpetrated by governments and those in power and the efforts by the free press to reel them in (Watergate , The Pentagon papers and the press in India during the Emergency readily come to mind ), I cannot help but believe that journalists are replaying the same role that Brutus played in ancient Rome when he assassinated Julius Caesar . Regardless of personal motivations , at the heart of the treachery was a love for Rome that overwhelmed his affection and loyalty to Caesar (the anti-Antigone behavior where the state comes before the self)  . To me this symbiosis of democracy and free press is as essential to democracy as oxygen to living creatures; even to a democracy as venerable as ours or especially to one as venerable as ours .

I love change.org and have support several of their initiatives including the brutal butchery of sharks for their fins , puppy mills , blood lions, human trafficking, dog fighting and even supported one initiative which recommended that we deport the lion killing dentist back to Zimbabwe to face trial (given the quick disappearance of that particular incident from the collective memory, I imagine life is back to normal for him). But the one that I remember the most is one that I did not vote for , it was so audacious that it has stuck with me. It was an initiative where they wanted  Facebook and Google to verify the authenticity of news that was being spread on their platforms . I love Facebook which I use to keep in touch with my family in India as well as friends in India and Ohio and it also serves as my online scrapbook for all the pictures that I take .But while Facebook is a luxury , Google is a necessity . I would starve to death without Google , every day I search for dozens and dozens of resolutions to issues that I cannot resolve and given the diversity of platforms , languages and libraries that software engineers have to deal with , Google is a life saver . So needless to say , I am grateful for both of them but I do not expect them to vet my news for me . Portals of free information on the internet cannot  be expected to be held to the same standards of reputable news papers.

Recently I listened in mute fascination to an associate who was reciting to me her total faith in the FDA.  Sometime back I was working for a giant pharmaceutical company in Philadelphia and I was part of the engineering team which comprised of mechanical , electronics , electrical , instrumentation and software engineers and on the pharmaceutical side was an army of PhDs . We had to document everything as was required by the FDA , my software was the glue that triggered the syringe to squirt the drug  , measure the volume of the drop , weigh the pill and send all this information to the central data repository that was a write once read many (WORM) database . Awesome stuff !! Great lengths to prevent tampering. Admirable except there was nobody who could audit what I had written , little to prevent a bug in my calculations (an implementation of Integration by parts; mention of calculus would have most software engineers in tears) , little to prevent an overestimation in the amount of drug in the drop and I certainly do not expect a FDA employee or even an army to go through the mechanical design, the electrical design , the software and the vagaries of organic chemistry to understand the drug . So we had to produce voluminous amount of documentation that they keep as part of their records .  What does this have to do with a free press ? a free press keeps everybody on their toes , some thing that is common to all Pharma companies is their fear of negative publicity , anybody remember Vioxx?  The FDA was bought into existence by Theodore Roosevelt who read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and was horrified to learn that it was not unusual for lard to have human remains .The vats were massive and it was extremely difficult and expensive to stop them . So if the odd Lithuanian immigrant happened to fall in , it was cheaper to pay money to his non English speaking family and if some nosy government agent started asking questions (as did happen after TR read “The Jungle” ), ship them back to Lithuania or Latvia . While the FDA is essential , it is the free press that keeps the Pharma companies in line . The particular process that I worked on was for a painkiller , the machine was first of its kind but once they found that the drug was causing cancer in rats , not only did they have to abandon the drug but also the machine , it was mandated as part of the FDA process which is overkill but it is due to the fact that they are seriously under equipped to deal with the technology and rapid innovation. At the other extreme are FDA agents who visit Joel Salatin’s grass farm in Virginia . They are hampered by his concepts like the open air abattoir which obviously do not require adherence to regulations that are in place to protect the McDonalds customer . If I buy a chicken from the Salatin farm , they slaughter the chicken in front of you if desired or the same day that you buy it alleviating the need to protect yourself from E-Coli or Salmonella. The McDonalds meat comes from some mystery farm in Kansas raised on a diet of who knows what . If interested ,read the Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan , a delightful book. In light of all this , it is easy to see that while we need the FDA , they are inundated and under equipped . Therefore our biggest defense is a free press that is not afraid to print and hold our businesses to high standards.

Cleveland ,OH is home to the Great lakes Brewery , the beer is delicious enough to almost claim it to be a micro brewery. I meet quite a few North East Ohio expats in the bay area and almost invariably the conversation becomes rueful once The Great Lakes brewery is mentioned because we don’t get it here. They have a delightful collection but the one that stands out for me is called Burning River. I wish it was just the amazing imagination of the brewer but unfortunately it is inspired by the Cuyahoga river which caught fire in June 1969 . I will let you digest that for a minute , the river caught fire!!! It was caused by the  chemicals that were being dumped by the companies who had nothing to stop them . President Nixon created the EPA to deal with issues like these . I have had zero dealings with the EPA but I imagine the same issues that plague the FDA plague the EPA as well and again it is only the free press which is our last defense against companies who would go to great lengths to avoid negative publicity and therefore try to hold themselves to higher standards.

I reserve my last argument for the financial regulations especially the Dodd-Frank Act. I have read almost all of Michael Lewis’s books where he details Wall Street’s antics  , the Wolf of Wall Street did little to assuage my growing anxiety and anger reserved at Wall Street. The Dodd-Frank act was created after the gigantic cluster f*#@ that was the 2008 financial crisis. The Big Short clearly details how many in Big Finance knew but did nothing to stop it quite the contrary.Around 2015 , one of my closest friends got a call from one of his drunk classmates who happens to work in Wall Street. This fellow had just received a huge bonus for creating a enticing financial product.  Being drunk , he could not help bragging about the fact that he had 7-8 $10000/hour hookers and proceeds to tell my friend that this product will be a poison pill in about 10 years but right now it is extremely profitable for his employer and hence the bonus. It was a scene right out of the Wolf of Wall Street. This is obviously after the Dodd-Frank act and under President Obama’s so called age of regulations . So the Wall Street analysts are still having a gala time . About 2 weeks ago another close friend and his wife go to their financial planner for advice , he was all agog with excitement because President Trump had promised to dismantle all of these regulations which was crippling the financial industry and he could offer them much better products . All I could think of was Bernie Madoff!!! The financial crisis caused trillions of dollars to vanish and yet nobody went to jail . Not too long after the rescue of Citibank in 2009, I remember reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about a Citi stock broker getting a bonus of $340 million. Here is another interesting article. All of this happened in spite of extensive news coverage so I am convinced that we need every weapon possible to protect us from them including government regulations and investigative reporters.

Growing up , I was of a libertarian bent of mind which believes in less government but the more I read of businesses that hire armies of lawyers and accountants to seek loopholes , engineer financial products that is engineered to swindle us out of our hard earned money, I am convinced that regulators are needed , they don’t exist to provide jobs to incompetent government bureaucrats but to protect us.I don’t know what is going to happen to these government regulatory bodies or regulations which are in place to protect us, the common man and woman . What I do know is that our only defense against big businesses or politicians running amuck at this point is a free press which is not afraid to print what they see . Regardless of  right or left leanings, Republican or Democrat or Libertarian beliefs, we need a free press to thrive in order to have a thriving democracy , to protect the land we love.

A free press cannot survive without its subscribers . I started my annual subscription to the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal . I urge every one of you to do the same , whether the subscription is to your local newspaper or a national one.

A Rev Evolutionary Edu Vacation

Shantiniketan is the home of a unique University Viswa-bharati , India (and Asia)’s first Nobel Laureate , Rabindranath Tagore used the money from the Nobel prize to further his father’s vision of a place of higher learning , one of the instances when the Nobel prize money was actually put to good use as was hoped for, by Alfred Nobel. Einstein actually used it to pay his alimony .

This is an open air school where each classroom has a tree and a podium for the teacher

Rabindranath Tagore as a child hated the traditional concept of a school and played truant on the banks of the river Kopai . I imagine the river looked more scenic in his day. Legend also has it that he wrote Gitanjali on the banks of this river

I found a vendor of date palm jaggery on the banks of the river

This is a date palm tree .

They use coconut shells to shape the jaggery.

The villagers use the dried leaves of the date palm tree as fuel. The sap is tapped and collected into buckets which is then heated on a fire . It reminded me of Maple syrup from Sugar Maple trees in Ohio and Canada. The process is very organic , natural , vastly different from the manufacture of any of our sweeteners . I don’t know but I am willing to bet that the Glycemic Index of this is substantially below industrially manufactured and bleached white sugar.

Viswa-Bharati has several different schools but the one that I could visit was called Kala Bhavan or the art school . Getting around in Shantiniketan is done via Tuk-tuks , an improvised contraption on wheels that runs on natural gas

Our guide told us that we could get to the school after classes were over at 1:30 PM so we ended up visiting a museum nearby which housed cultural artifacts and models of homes in several of the nearby states

The one that fascinated me most was the dwellings of the aborgine people of Andaman and Nicobar islands

These are supposed to be stilts and the house is built on a raised platform

The floor is made of bamboo and incredibly uncomfortable to walk on . I hear that they sleep on this . Mind boggling!!!

This was my first view of Shantiniketan

The grounds are immaculately maintained

These are works of the Sculptor Ramkinkar Baij

What is remarkable about these sculptures is that he created them by putting up a wireframe and then throwing gobs of concrete and plaster from a distance . I could not but draw parallels between this technique and Jackson Pollack

Walking in further lead to more amazing scenes like these murals

 

A painting in stone

Amazingly these murals were made with tiles

 

 

Watching this reminded me of Frank Wright LLoyds Fallingwater. A harmony of architecture with Nature !!!

Watching the Banyan vines made me nostalgic

 

This was an amazing artifact to me , the artist had created a bug with the gas tank of a Yamaha motorcycle , motorcycle mirror holders and other odd artifacts . In fact at the open air market outside the school were a variety of handicrafts , handloom textiles and curiosities as the above made beetle , all made from household materials . The artist had clearly seen regular every day items with a creative eye and produced something all of his own .

I loved the concept of this school , the idea of applying what you know while you are being taught . Unfortunately I could not quite see how the other schools in Viswa-Bharati were conducting their classes . It would be quite interesting to see the science schools

Education as a subject has always fascinated me . The current model of education all over the world which has pupils memorizing and regurgitate for the sake of the exam encourages a behavior where the student is rewarded for memorizing meaningless facts and promptly forgetting after the exam is over .

I have heard numerous arguments for allowing kids to drop subjects that they dislike . Math seems to be a popular choice for dropping . Plato had a quote outside his Academy that anybody ignorant of math should not enter  and if the ancient Greeks thought so highly of a well rounded education in those simpler times, this day and age simply demands it. I believe that not being exposed to the core ideas in all subjects is like going through life with your hands cuffed behind your back. I have learnt from personal experience as well as very interesting reading that exposure is what allows us to recognize patterns and exploit them .

Growing up in India and watching snow in movies made me believe that snow was white fluffy stuff that was good for skiing (which I thought was a risk less sport) and making snow balls and hitting your friends. I moved to Ohio in December and before the winter was out , I had recognized several kinds of snow , the fluffy ones , the heavy slushy ones . the ones that were overly slippery. I read that the Inuit living in the Arctic circle had 17 different words for snow . When your life depends on recognizing whether the snow / ice can handle your weight , I suppose it makes sense to be as specific as possible . It also makes sense to have specific words for it so you can hang your experiences on those words and thereby make it easy for recall.  Another  anecdote is about this tribe living deep in the Amazon rain forests who do not know the color blue . They know the color green and can discern minute difference in shades of green that most women would envy and yet when they were given a color wheel with shades of green and one blue and asked to point out to the color that stood out, none pointed at Blue. It is actually not too outlandish , first time I read Homer , I was baffled at his description of the wine dark sea . I could not imagine a sea that was the color of any wine that I had drunk . It made sense later on after I found out that the ancient Greeks had no word for blue . One could offer countless examples where one starts to recognize patterns only after one is taught to recognize the pattern or at least the principle behind the patterns .

The idea behind letting kids choose their future is an attractive one but to be able to do that , they need to be aware of all the choices and tools at their disposal. Paul Graham had an interesting essay , fair warning it is lengthy .

How to do what you love

In this playhouse of infinite forms I have had my play and here have I caught sight of him who is formless.
My whole body and my limbs have thrilled with his touch who is beyond touch; and if the end comes here, let it come—let this be my parting word.

This fragment from Gitanjali seems to refer to god but it could very well refer to that spark of creation that lies within each and every one of us , a spark that needs the tools that schools provide . This school is a testament to that spirit and to the vision of some great men who made it possible.

 

A Nobel diatribe

Little about this post is noble so I am getting rid of the difficult piece in the title . Though the spell checking fascists are already getting out their witeout to fix the mistake in my title . I can heard them already, NOBLE not NOBEL!!!

This is something that has been irritating me since I heard about it  . I heard that Bob Dylan has won …… Not the Grammy , not an Oscar , not the Presidential medal …. but the Nobel prize …. Do they have Nobel prize for songs?? I had no idea they had been introducing new categories . I thought old man Nobel was pretty strict about that , one of the reasons we don’t have a Nobel prize for mathematics though almost all the Nobel prizes for physics and chemistry (and Voodoo economics that seems to crash the world markets) could not have been won without mathematics that will twist most brains into the most intricate pretzels that would have Dr Hannibal Lecter drooling. So what gives!!! Apparently they decided that it was for literature!!! Bob Dylan has won the Nobel prize for literature . I have to admit that I am not a die hard Dylan fan though my favorite Jimi Hendrix song (this is sacrilege, I know!!!) is not Voodoo child or Purple Haze or even Foxy lady but ‘All along the watchtower’ which was written by Bob Dylan . Even the Guns N Roses ‘Knocking on heavens door’ is written by Dylan.  He is definitely the most covered artist in history (if it is an exaggeration , it is a well deserved one) and I would also be the last one to admit that his songs are anything but brilliant , for me his music might leave something to be desired but as a song writer , he stands alone. He draws inspiration from the most esoteric sources as the greatest writers do . But I am hard pressed to believe that songs can considered literature or even poetry. Literature and poetry have to stand by themselves without any help whereas a song has multiple dimensions . Having been a cook , I know that if I screw up adding a particular spice or ingredient , I can salvage by adding something else and I have done that on countless occasions and I see the same for a lot of songs , some of the best Rolling Stones songs would fall flat without the amazing music that accompanies it. So I eschew the concept that song writing is literature , I mean whatever next , are we going to give the Nobel peace prize to a terrorist ….. Guess they already did so let me revise that … .Are we going to give the Nobel peace prize to a racist …… Ooops , guess they did that too ….. … Are we going to give the Nobel peace prize to somebody who ordered the carpet bombing of a neutral country ignoring due Democratic process and withholding that information from Congress and the populace ??? …….. Oops , guess I should give up now.

I don’t deny that Bob Dylan is the most prolific song writer of our times (maybe even of all times)  and it is impossible to estimate his effect on music and artists . My argument simply is that  songs are a genre by themselves , clubbing it under literature is doing song writing and literature a great disservice .

Given that this is a completely subjective rant , I would love to hear what you folks think .

The Most Interesting Man in the world has a rival

When I was younger and prowled the bars  , a frequent experience would be that beautiful young girls would approach me and ask me if I had a green card . Lame as the excuse sounds , it never occurred to me to say “yes , I do!!!!” After my regretful negative answer, they would lose all interest in me and no amount of antics from me later would entice them to even cast a sideways glance. I have never been able to distinguish Eastern European accents very well , so I always assumed that they are from Russia .

These days , I am convinced that they have dedicated a poster board or something on those lines because I seem to be getting a lot of queries  from around there . The vast majority seem to follow the same pattern , they are all orphans. They are looking for the man of their dreams that they can trust , they can garden , cook , do a few martial arts , ballet and love to snuggle. In short!!!  I think I am a worthy candidate to replace the Most Interesting man in the world who does the Dos Equis commercials, what do you think ?

Not that I am shy about highlighting my various achievements , I have eaten a dozen ribs in a single sitting , downed a liter of rum/vodka/scotch in one sitting (at different times ) , probably an worldwide Olympic champion for watching True Detective season 1 , Two and half men (Charlie Sheen episodes)  and Yes Minister/Prime Minister reruns  and last but not least my two cats think I am the shit!!  Before somebody raises questions about my Doolittle abilities , I have irrefutable proof . Every evening when I get home , they greet me eagerly at the door and shower me with constant attention till I get a fresh can of food and dump into their gleaming food bowls. My infallible sense of logic leads me to  attribute all that to my animal magnetism .

Coming back to these girls ,I have been quite the good Samaritan for these poor worthy and talented girls . I am convinced that a lot of their issues stem from low self esteem so I try to prop their self esteem by praising their natural beauty (they are extremely beautiful so I am not lying) , I praise their various activities which seem rather extravagant considering that they always seem to be so poor , I imagine that their low self esteem in largely in part due to the fact that Russian men are crude and completely unable to appreciate their women . In my mind this would be the only reason for them to solicit men online with marriage proposals .

Invariably these women seem to have their spirits perk up (in no small part to my efforts) and they seem to be well on on their way to making me a fine wife . They are enthusiastic about cooking , cleaning , listening to my rants about the political candidates, they like to tell me about Raj Kapoor movies which seems to be a staple in Russia  , some even claimed to read my blogs !!! I stopped quizzing them after one informed me that Achilles and Hector were playboys . After much confusion and interrogation , I learnt that playboys meant boys who play together.  But on my part , I spare no effort myself and when they seem unable to pay their ballet fees or feed their family of 23 brothers and 46 sisters , I happily send them money and they are always grateful .But I have come to recognize a pattern here , after about 6 months of online pre-marital bliss , they either seem to become nurses in Africa or nuns in the Eastern Orthodox church with one exception who decided to move to Antarctica because she liked penguins . Telling her that the San Francisco and Oakland Zoos have penguins too did nothing to dissuade her  . I must have some kind of Midas touch to inspire piety in these poor women and while deeply disappointing , it is a bitter sweet victory . Oops , gotta go , got an email from another pretty 22 year old Russian girl interested in marrying only mature men.

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Disclaimer : I am poking fun at scammers  but fraud is no laughing matter , a few years ago a 83 year old woman in Millersburg, OH was taken to the tune of $43,000 through a mail scam known in popular parlance as the Nigerian 419 Scam. I don’t know her financial status but odds are that she could not afford to lose $43,000 at her age. I used to attend security seminars in Washington DC several years ago and statistics prove that cyber crime is second only to drugs in terms of profitability

Boundaries in North America

I had encountered the book “The nine nations of North America” by Joel Garreau several years ago on recommendations of a close friend.  The book mesmerized me as it described the cultural boundaries in North America . Boundaries in North America from a political perspective are simple ,  North America  is made up of the 3 behemoths ; Canada , US and Mexico and 20 or so islands in the Caribbean. (I am ignoring Greenland for this discussion because Greenland has never been a part of North America culturally or politically) .

When I got off the proverbial boat , I landed up in Ohio which is considered the Midwest . Ohio falls in the Eastern time zone and it made little sense to me that a state that was so far to the East could be considered mid or west . I heard a lot of convoluted explanations including the most common ;the term came over from the time when we had just 13 states !!! So essentially we are stuck with a term from 1790(or earlier) . The Louisiana purchase should have expanded our vocabulary and made Ohio the Mid east rather than the Midwest but habits apparently have stuck around for the sole purpose of bewildering legions of unwary immigrants .  Then I got married to a woman from Tennessee , she educated me that Tennessee is considered the south (though I would have liked to consider TN as the Mid south based on my Ohio experience) . We took a trip to see the Grand Canyon in Arizona which is geographically far more south than Tennessee can ever dream of but I would be corrected rather imperiously that Arizona was not the south , pointing on a map that Arizona was indeed south was useless . I also learnt that New Mexico is not south either , I concluded that south meant the south east but again I was in for a rude awakening , apparently Florida is not considered south . I imagined that the appellation “South” is more of a descriptor for the select number of states that were part of the confederacy during the Civil war(with apologies to Mississippi)  rather than the geographical indicator that it should have been (again habits , this time more recent , 1860)  . As I traveled around in Michigan , Pennsylvania and New York , there was rampant similarities.  I also got very familiar with the term “South of Mason Dixon” , though I was puzzled since the Mason Dixon line demarcates Pennsylvania and Maryland and has nothing running south. At one point, I went on a bike ride from Windsor , Ontario which is just across the river from Detroit all the way to Niagara Falls, Ontario and we stayed in small bed and breakfast inns in very small towns . Culturally I could not see any difference between the folks on the North shore of Lake Erie (in Canada) from the folks on the southern shore of Lake Erie in Ohio and Pennsylvania .However if I drove south for about 90 miles  , I was in a whole different country (figuratively speaking).  To put things in perspective, Pittsburgh is 110 miles, Philadelphia about 350 miles , Baltimore  400 miles and Chicago about 400 miles and these places feel the same to me but Ripley, WV about 100 miles south was an entirely different world.  It has always puzzled me until I finally read this book and it clicked together for me.

Ohio , Michigan , Indiana , Pennsylvania , New York , New Jersey , Maryland, Delaware , Connecticut  and the province of Ontario , the cities of Chicago and Milwaukee  are what he defines as the foundry and as he described the culture and values that are most important to this region . Similarly Arkansas, Kentucky , West Virginia, Virginia , Tennessee , North and South Carolina , Georgia , Alabama, Mississippi , Louisiana , Missouri and the part of Texas which is east of Houston is considered ‘Dixie’ and this fits in perfectly with what I have learned from folks down ‘south’ . Recently I am learning in California that there is a huge divide between the folks in SFO and the folks in LA so much so that there is a movement to split California into 6 different states  for administrative reasons (more red tape and legislators is the solution!!!! ). In the book the region called Ectopia that houses SFO also includes Vancouver (1000 miles away) and Anchorage (3000 miles) . I can personally vouch that people in SFO have little in common with their brethren in Los Angeles(350 miles away) .He does state that folks in Los Angeles have more in common with Mexico city(1800 miles away)  and Houston(1500 miles) than with San Francisco . Having lived in 2 of his nations and having visited 4 more , I have to admit that there is an intuitive appeal to argument that he is making .

Recently one of my colleagues watching me re read the 9 Nations , suggested American Nations by Colin Woodard. As I read it , some of Woodard’s regions match perfectly with what Garreau had suggested and unfortunately the three regions (Foundry/Midlands , Dixie/Appalachia and Ectopia /Left coast)  that I am well acquainted with , match the regions that they both seem to agree upon so I cannot say whose theory I endorse more . Woodard himself is frank about the influence of the earlier book . But I have to admit that while both the books are gripping in their own right, the 9 nations is history agnostic, Woodard’s work attempts to explain the difference using historical motives and at times , it reads like a gripping historical novel . Not knowing European and American history as well as I would have liked , I am unable to judge his conclusions for myself . Some of his conclusions directed at more contemporary times just seem downright Machiavellian , especially the era of George W Bush who has been accused of being the most divisive president in recent history . Woodard has an dark explanation for it that seems to have its roots in history to civil war times. His conclusions seem pretty dark to me as well which seems to indicate a further fragmentation of culture and possibly political boundaries. I would heartily recommend both books for interested folks who would like to puzzle out the cultural phenomena that is North America.

Reading this book inspired me to consider doing something similar in India until I realized that the cultural boundaries are not far removed from the political boundaries due to the demarcation of states based on the local languages. In that sense , India is closer in spirit to Europe , languages defining the political boundaries . Do I judge one way to be better than the other , the American way is obviously far more organic since it completely ignores man made state and country borders . Political borders based on culture seem to be more divisive . as time goes , I have watched India grow the number of states (and thereby increasing the number of bureaucrats and the amount of red tape) and though I love Yes Minister , I don’t believe that Red Tape holds the nation together.

Going Green

No , I am not green with envy or getting nauseous or queasy or covering myself with leaves …. though not knowing the difference between poison oak and maple, I foresee myself getting into all kinds of itchy trouble .But case in point , I am all excited about the green movement, about time we all shed our clothes and go back to covering ourselves with leaves and live in caves or the other extreme where we arrive into the world of the Jetsons. My ideas have not clearly formed yet as to the final destination with the whole green movement but I am all for it and I send my regular donations to the various conservation agencies to assuage my guilt for driving my car , using up enormous amounts of energy for my computer and whats not and generally having a carbon footprint the size of the abominable snowman or Sasquatch .

I even painted my car green and sent a letter to the IRS demanding a rebate for green cars but I am still waiting for a response but when I sent a letter to the DMV asking for the access stickers which will allow me to drive in the car pool lanes, they sent a psychiatrist instead who insisted on making me look at black splotches on paper. I wanted to impress the dude so I told him those were green splotches , he did not seem amused or impressed  , sadly. Some people are just so hard to please!!!

I made my customary quarterly trip to Costco and I found myself standing in front of a pallet full of cans of Australian Abalone . I don’t have the first damned clue what Abalone is but I put it in my cart because it looked like a fruit but wonders of modern technology came to my rescue and I increased my carbon footprint as I Googled on my iPhone and found out that they are water snails . I have eaten Escargot (which is a fancy french word for regular land snails not fancy water snails ) in Toronto and Shanghai (in French restaurants) and really liked it . As I read further , I find out that Australian abalone apparently are being threatened with extinction . I look  at the huge pallet in front of me , full of cans of Australian abalone and all I can think to myself is small wonder that they are going extinct. So now I am on the horns of dilemma , should I contribute to the speedy extinction of a species or do I pass up the chance to eat a species that could possibly go extinct thereby depriving me forever of the pleasure of eating an extinct species . Tricky!!! Tricky!!!

Another green solution that I was very much in support of is nuclear energy . In spite of reading about the Chernobyl disaster (which I wrote off to communist apathy) , I have always been gung ho about nuclear energy and looked forward to the day when I would be able to drive my nuclear powered car (or hover-car which would float at will and thereby allow one to bypass traffic jams) which would presumably run on one piece of uranium or plutonium or some other unpronounceable “ium”  for 10000 miles.  Nuclear energy is clean , efficient , no carbon footprint and relatively safe . I add the adjective `relatively` in light of the Fukushima disaster . Now I suppose we would have 3 eyed fish that glow in the dark so perhaps not so good except for people who like eating fish eyeball soup in the dark. But I stay optimistic

In some cases , I am not even sure that I understand the rationale of the Green thinkers . A case in point in Niagara Falls  , probably one of the most breath taking places that I have ever been to if not the most. There are two Niagara Falls , one  on the Canadian side and the other on the American side of the Falls . The American side is a state park , they have tried very hard to keep it pristine and natural and while it is extremely beautiful , most people don’t stay there because even a roach motel in Niagara Falls on the American side will cost you an arm and a leg and a kidney if you have one to spare and they all seem to be located in BFE . Parking arrangements close to the falls is always a nightmare  . So one goes over to the Canadian side which is heavily commercialized and one will bemoan the death and destruction of natural beauty but everybody(including the Green warriors) falls over themselves to book themselves into the Embassy Suites or the Marriott or the Sheraton which overlooks the falls so as to give one a spectacular view as soon as one hops out of bed . Add to that the fact that nature itself provides one with a much better view of all three of the falls from the Canadian side and everybody , green and non green make a beeline (lasting several hours with cars running idle) for the border.

This last incident is not so much a green as much as a conservation issue, though the two have intertwined in my head inextricably. The drought in California is so much on my mind that I have started advocating that people stop showering and buy perfume instead but alas that is tantamount to spraying Febreze on fish. Presumably the fish don’t like it as much either .  Or we could take a lesson from cats and try licking ourselves clean but after watching my cats very carefully , I have come to the conclusion that evolution has made that impossible . Now after watching all these socially irresponsible people shrink away from me on public transports , I have decided to forego my ‘green’ initiative and assuage my guilt the traditional way by sending a check to the WWF and The Nature Conservancy.

To Space and beyond

As a kid I had grown up on Tintin comics and two of the adventures deal with Tintin going to the moon . Herge had done such a magnificent job of portraying the process of space exploration that I had fallen in love with space exploration and astronomy.

Today I was browsing through various pages in search for a solution to a thorny technical problem when I landed on a video from NASA (I have no idea how I end up on pages like these , usually the videos tend to something far worse but one could do far worse than ending up with NASA videos) . Today they commemorated the anniversary of the Challenger disaster . To me it bought back memories to that fateful day where I was immersed in my homework but the rumble of the rocket taking off on TV was too much to resist and I watched in awe struck wonder as the rocket slowly lifted off amidst billowing smoke and flames so reminiscent of the Herge drawings. I was mildly envious of the astronauts who were taking off on this joy ride . I was idly wondering how funny it would be if they would repeat the last scene with Professor Cuthbert and Haddock where Haddock is given up for dead and as somebody mentions whisky, he jumps up . And then suddenly to my horror and amazement, the Challenger exploded . I remember devouring every piece of news for days on end about the Challenger and its ill fated crew . I remember even reading about the Senate hearings . None of the names in the senate investigation committee was memorable to me at the time .

A few years later . I happened to encounter a brilliant book by a Nobel Prize winning physicist . The book was called “Surely you are joking , Mr Feynman” . I fell in love with the book and idolized the man . For somebody like me whose primary drive in life seems to be an insatiable thirst for knowledge , intelligence is a highly desired attribute and  he was the epitome of intelligence . I had devoured books on Einstein , Newton , Galois , Gauss and several other intellectual giants but none seemed to be so down to earth as Richard Feynman. He was the archetype of the renaissance man if such a thing is possible in today’s world . His mantra was always simplicity before everything else . It was during my reading that I found out that he was appointed by President Reagan to investigate the Challenger disaster and while scientists were merely debating using complicated equations and simulations, Feynman showed them and to the world through a simple ice water experiment  the reason for the failure . It is also amazing to me that he did that while he himself was dying of cancer and in constant pain . But the elegance of the experiment and being shown that by a remarkable genius like Feynman that I admired so deeply, did little to explain away the horror that I felt that day, 30 years ago.

About 13 years ago , I was watching again on TV the reentry of the Columbia space shuttle back into the atmosphere and I watched a series of events unfold which bought back to the forefront of my mind,the horror of the Challenger .

We tend to hear a lot of grave and terrible news about the deaths of thousands of people and it seems to leave me jaded and indifferent . I hate to think on the lines of Stalin who claimed cynically that one death is a tragedy while a million deaths is a statistic . That sounds downright callous and awful . But somehow the deaths of astronauts affects me deeply and it is for the simple reason that they are risking their very lives for the sake of science , for the sake of humanity , for the sake of the greater good . When I hear the term, the greater good, I usually cringe but this time I cannot help but believe that this is what these brave men and women are doing. They undergo long periods of isolation away from their families and countless hardships and at times pay the ultimate price so that the process of furthering the cause of humanity continues, for you , for me , for every one of us.

A minute of silent respect to remember and commemorate these heroes .

The Challenger crew

The Columbia crew