July 31, 2008

Time for a rant

Oh well... it appears that at least some of the renewable energy guys have given up in frustration after the 8th rejection since 2007 of the renewable tax credits bill in the US Senate!

I just read this in a newsletter I get from Solar Nation:

Despite the efforts of advocacy groups, trade associations and public-interest groups, including over 3500 Solar Citizens, Congress failed this week for the eighth time since June 2007 to pass legislation extending tax credits for ordinary Americans investing in renewable energy.

In parliamentary language, the motion to invoke cloture on the bill (S.3335) was defeated on the Senate floor by a vote of 51-43. In everyday language, even with concessions made by Democratic leadership on a string of related and unrelated issues, Senate Republicans could not overcome their distaste for having the clean energy tax credits funded by tax revenue garnered elsewhere. This position parallels the Bush Administration's attitude to the proposal, as expressed in this extract from its Statement of Administration Policy:

"Overall, the Administration does not believe that efforts to avoid tax increases on Americans need to be coupled with provisions to increase revenue."

In earlier iterations of this danse macabre, majority leader Senator Harry Reid had quickly announced his determination to re-introduce the legislation at the earliest opportunity. On this occasion, he didn't. And with but a week to run before Congress' August recess, it seems likely that our legislators will vacate Washington next Friday without resolving this vital piece of business.

What are the chances of senators returning to work in September refreshed and recommitted to keeping our renewables industries alive at this critical time in history?

Here's a clue: thirty of them will be focused on a re-election race in their home state in November, rather than business on the Senate floor. Your choice.

It's not Solar Nation's role to throw blame at one political party or another, but given that our senators have had over a year to conference, compromise and cooperate on a simple ("it's already on the books; let's keep it going a little longer, chaps") but supremely important bill and have signally failed to do so, we can legitimately label this Congress as non-functioning, impotent, and of no use to the American people. In today's irredeemably divisive political climate, the purpose of Congress has been subordinated to unproductive doctrinaire warfare. The losers, as always, are the people, made to stand at the very back of the line as their representatives in government scrap with each other for first place.

We'd like to say how much we admire our elected legislators in Washington.

No, really, we'd like to be able to say that. Trouble is......

Copyright © 2007, Solar Nation All Rights Reserved.

They could have easily extended a bill already in existence but obviously they want to stop the momentum that the green moment has overtaken the country since the popularity of The Inconvenient Truth and as an effect of high oil prices. The powers-that-be would rather use the high oil prices as a scare-mongering tactic to change policy about drilling for AWNR oil, instead of investing in renewables; although the State government's own studies have shown that ANWR oil would have little impact on oil prices and keep the US heavily relying on foreign imports.
Opening an Alaska wildlife refuge to oil development would only slightly reduce America’s dependence on imports and would lower oil prices by less than 50 cents a barrel.
But of course drilling would mean more moolah for big oil companies in which Bush, Cheney, and cronies are heavily invested! And so, it is perhaps expected that politicians, who are too deeply embedded in the pockets of big oil, will instead continue the myriad tax breaks for the oil companies and will not allow an extension of the renewable energy credits. Afterall, big oil has clearly indicated they are not interested in renewables. They are gloating after the big-time looting that has been going on for quite some time now (the link is from an Op-Ed in Boston Globe in 2005. The profits have only soared upwards since!) and would rather see it continue even in the post-Bush era.

Also, let me take this opportunity to point out another huge record-breaking quarter for the oil companies. Exxon for example reported the biggest quarterly corporate profit in history at $11.7 billion. The right-wingers act as if the Saudis are making all the money but the margins at the US oil companies have not really decreased! You will note that it is net profit that increases to mind-boggling high values quarter after quarter, not just overall sales. #$@Q$#...

Notice how fast the prices at the gas station go up when the price of a barrell of crude goes up. But it has not come down that rapidly when the barrel price has fallen significantly in the last 2 weeks. On NPR yesterday, some oil industry expert tried to explain it away by saying that it is because the gas at the pump was actually refined some weeks back when the price was higher. What crock!! If that was true, then should it not take longer to go up too, since the reverse holds true then. The NPR reporter did not call him on it (it was actually not an interview - just the industry expert's sound-bytes that they used) then gave some hogwash about the rapid rise and the slow fall (rockets up and feather-falls down) of oil prices was only a perception of consumers. And there was some other BS too, possibly by another guy, about supply-demand issues and such i.e. he claimed that prices have actually dropped significantly this month since demand is low due to conservation (less driving, car pooling) by American population and so this lowered demand has resulted in a rapid drop at the gas station too. Somehow, I think the American public still feels that pinch and is not convinced there has been a rapid drop in gas prices. Somehow, that higher and higher profit every quarter tells me it is not merely a perception.

So, what does the renewable energy rebate provide?
Among other provisions, the bill would have extended a 30 percent investment-tax credit for solar energy and fuel cells for eight years, doubled the cap on the residential solar credit to $4,000 and extended the credit for eight years and extended production tax credits for wind-power facilities for one year (see Senate to Vote on New Renewable Incentives Bill).
I remember from my work in the solar field last year that the federal rebate was a mere $2000, which is insignificant compared to the cost of putting solar on a typical residential roof: $25K-$40K! Of course, there are various state level rebates in addition, which I think are still on; depending on which state you are in, the state rebates can be substantially more than the $2K. But obviously, as a policy, the federal policy matters to effect nation-wide change and nation-wide thinking. Its a travesty that politics of the Republicans in power have meant that the sunniest states in the US - like Texas and Arizona - have very poor solar subsidies. California is an exception and is by far the solar leader. And cloudy and not-so-sunny New England (Massachusetts, in particular) does pretty well in state subsidies because of their state government's liberal leanings.

P.P.S. Ads from Sierra Club and MoveOn hit McCain over energy policy. More of the same: "Another $4 billion giveaway to Big Oil."

P.P.P.S. (I think this is a personal record for postscripts.
Yes...its allowed, though apparently in poor style.)

Also, more bad news from another emerging solar market yesterday:

Spain's national energy commission has approved a new set of rules that could reduce the size of a popular solar-incentives program, if they are approved by the parliament and prime minister.

Germans and Polish at war

No... its not 1938 again. I'm just being frivolous. But this is precious!!

German nudists have been told to cover up on a beach after the removal of border fences with Poland. The Polish think the sight of naked Germans on the nearby beach is offensive and that "undressing is a perversion". In turn, the nude Germans think being gawked at by clothed Polish voyeurs with binoculars is a perversion.

Hmm.. all depends on which side (of the border) you are, huh! :)

Just landed at this news snippet after feeling the urge to go read some Ananova Quirkies, something I had not done in months, after my previous oddball quirky post.

Enough frivolousness for the day. Back to worrying about the world (environmental woes) or escaping into the tunnel of literature or music. :)

The Sentries of Romance

Sometimes it's a dog's world (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and news today of this dog that enjoys skateboarding! But sometimes, it is NOT and I am not saying this because some of them are being dragged into court! ;)

Read this
news snippet making the rounds today in Western media, which falls into what my friend, Amit would classify under the WTF news of the day:
Every single man knows: Walking a dog in the park is a sure babe magnet. Saudi Arabia's Islamic religious police, in their zeal to keep the sexes apart, want to make sure the technique doesn't catch on here. The solution: Ban selling dogs and cats as pets, as well as walking them in public.
So, somebody tell me where the dogs are going to do what they usually do when walked in public! (Ok: do NOT answer that! It's a rhetorical question.) Maybe the "keep the sexes apart" is only an excuse. After all even robots have feelings and Saudis are just human. In reality, some Saudi minister heard the Seinfeld joke about "What if an alien lands on earth tomorrow and sees human kind traipsing along behind dogs, picking up their you-know-what after them! Who will they think is the master in that relationship?"

I tell you -- it's a mad mad mad mad world (
1, 2, 3, 4) that we live in. Even The Onion could not come up with some of the news that we hear every day!


Not to make light of a serious infringement on human freedoms but isn't satire and humor the only way to deal with such farce. Its lucky they have not banned cellphones yet!

Saudi Youth Use Cellphone Savvy To Outwit the Sentries of Romance

(Also read this older but related news articles: No Oases for Saudi Youths

Though I must add that last year, one Western reporter
thought, albeit based on one observation, that he saw a change in attitudes for the better, albeit a glacially slow change.("Change here is glacial, but there is a thaw.")

July 30, 2008

The humdrum of conformity

Perusing through a book store in Porter Square today, I was numbed after a while by the number of books published these days. This was not a new observation. I have been wondering about it every time I go to the public library (2-3 times a week) and see the new books shelf, overflowing with new books. And the library probably gets just 10%, if that, of new books published.

I wondered if books have become like movies - new ones hit the shelves every few weeks and then they disappear into the dustbins of history. Movies go to DVD rentals, then sell for a few bucks a piece. Books end up in bargain book shelves in stores or on amazon.com, selling for throwaway prices - sometimes for less than a dollar. At the book store today, I saw a Pulitzer prize winning book in the bargain books section, selling for $3.99 within a year or two of having won the accolade. Where is the longevity to all that gets published these days? I guess, by its very definition, we will know in time. Also, 99% of everything published is probably crap. (Yes, Sturgeon was an optimist!)

I also wondered if publishers, like investors picking mutual funds instead of betting on individual stocks, pick a whole slew of first-time authors (on whom they do not have much to lose as I believe they do not pay first-time authors much; the latter are just overjoyed to be published and do not have the bargaining power that only success can bring them) not knowing which one of them will be the next 'God of small things' or 'Inheritance of loss'. (Sorry for my India-centric examples; I am sure there are other examples from US authors that would probably make my point equally well but names fail me at this instant.)

But how then
does one resolve the paradox of new novels being published by the hundreds every month and yet it being so difficult to publish?

And is it just me or is it true that literature from American authors has become like typical Hollywood fare: every now and then there is an unexpected and exceptional work of art but for the most part, they are formulaic, mundane, trite, and oh-so-conventional.

On the other hand, authors that I have read from non-UK Europe (lumping the UK for the time being with the US), I find that even in translation, novels from the last 25-odd years from France, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Albania, Russia, etc., and even those from the Arabic or African world, are much more out-of-the-box, more adventurous, a little less homologous; peerless pieces of literary forms that go beyond a genre or a fad. The same can be said of movies I have seen from non-UK Europe or the Middle East in the last 10-15 years: innovative fare that leaves you satisfied and moved more often than not; almost never repenting the time and effort spent in watching the movie.

To some extent this is a problem not just of North American writers but also South American writers, who indulge in the same old literary form of magic realism made famous by Gabriel Marquez (my ignorance - maybe it existed before, but arguably this has become more apparent to the English-reading world since the world took notice of and appreciated the adventure in magic realism through Marquez's successes); efforts that sizzle with life and imagination and yet are unified, and hence limited, by their homogeneity of style.

In some ways, Arabic, African, and anything from India or China, also runs the same risk as the Latin American writers of getting boxed into a certain genre, a certain way of thinking and writing. But since authors from these countries are still new to the Western world, perhaps their efforts are a little bit easier to tolerate; for the time being.

Perhaps the pressures to get published makes writers sync up their efforts to meet the current fad (memoirs; stories of love and pain and heart-rendering loss, etc.); although why this would be more true in the US than elsewhere is not clear to me. Perhaps this is a fallaciaous argument, biased by my own experiences living in the US. However, I remember someone else ruing this homogeneity too; aruging that the uniformity in voices and styles by American authors is a by-product of writers these days being products of the many MFA programs that have sprung across the nation, which train them in a certain style, beating the uniqueness out of them and rendering them impotent through the humdrum of conformity.

Anyways, just some random thoughts today after spending an hour browsing through the book store.

Thoughts? Is this a baseless allegation by me, warped by my own biases...or is there some truth to it?

P.S. Another question that I did not really ask but is sorta related and was explored in the New York Times earlier this week: Just who is really reading?

It is a
the first of a series of articles that the NYT will publish on the future of reading, comparing digital versus print reading and looking at "how the Internet and other technological and social forces are changing the way people read."

The art of war

Found some really good art, posted yesterday at a poetry blog that focuses (at least most recently) on what one could call 'war poetry'.
“This show is the expression of over 60 of the top graphic artists and illustrators working in the United States and abroad whose anguish has compelled them to produce works that challenge the self-destructive ignorance, indifference, incompetence and corruption that is the result of US Middle East foreign policy. These works of art will give a voice to those whose views are not represented by the mainstream media. We will be using this forum as a way to support those most directly affected by the harsh consequences of military combat—the brave men and women who serve their country as well as their family members who must live with the affects of war long after the parades are over.”
Rage on, artists and protesters everywhere! We have nothing to lose but our freedoms! (Earlier: 1, 2)

July 29, 2008

When it rains, it pours

The bad news keeps coming...
Home Prices Fall in May; Consumer Confidence Flat

Fed sees slower US economic growth amid higher price pressures

The Bush administration on Monday plans to project the U.S. budget deficit will soar to a new record of nearly half a trillion dollars in fiscal 2009 as the economic outlook darkens ...

White House downgrades US economic growth for 2008 and 2009
Sigh! And all that news is just in the last week (One article is a week old; others are from the last 2 days.)

He's going to need all the help he can and a big dose of 'audacity' and 'hope' in addition to a big wallop of good luck to go with it!

Both Obama and McCain focus on the economy this week.... time for more fuzzy math and blame-games!

Inevitable and essential


Time magazine takes a new (good) look at electric cars and profiles the two "impressive sleek sexy"-looking options for those in the market for electric cars (and with some moolah to spend, must I add!)
Britain's Lightning GT and the U.S.-built Tesla Roadster both reach 60 m.p.h. in 4 seconds or less, their makers claim, with top speeds approaching 130 m.p.h.

A couple recent news articles that indicate that finally there is some traction in the 'general' run-of-the-mill car companies in delivering some electric car options. So, for those without $100K+ to buy the Lightning or the Roadster, there will be some lower-end options!

General Motors allies with US utility group on electric cars
General Motors Corp said it is collaborating with an organization representing U.S. utilities to ready the nation's electric infrastructure for the widespread sale of plug-in electric cars, such as the Chevrolet Volt.

The company is the second major U.S. automaker to announce a collaboration with EPRI, which represents utilities that generate more than 90 percent of the power in the United States. Ford Motor Co announced its own partnership with EPRI in March.

Nissan says electric cars will be quickly profitable
The electric cars that Nissan Motor plans to start selling by 2010 will have varying capabilities depending on a given country’s driving patterns, but all will be priced competitively and will generate profits
Also, Greentech media enlightens us about a funky looking 3-wheeled hybrid car, coming to a dealer near you, if you live in California.

Electric-car startup Aptera Motors has raised $24 million to build its first car, a futuristic three-wheeled ride priced at $27,000.

The Carlsbad, Calif. Company plans to roll out its first Typ-1 from the factory in December. More than 3,300 customers have paid the $500 deposit to get the car, which the company is only selling in California for now.

An interesting profile by Thomas Friedman of Shai Agassi, "the Jewish Henry Ford now obsessed with making Israel the world’s leader in electric cars"

Also a few news snippets from the Plug-In 2008 conference in San Jose last week.
Electric Cars Are Inevitable - And Essential
Many experts agree plug-ins and EVs will only become more prevalent and could comprise half of all cars sold in America by 2050.
Petroleum accounts for 96 percent of the nation's transportation fuel, a position Lauckner says is untenable given the world's growing thirst for the stuff.

Critics argue 70 percent of our electricity is generated from fossil fuels and so plug-ins and hybrids don't reduce carbon dioxide, they just move it around. Not so, says the Electric Power Research Institute and the National Resources Defense Council. Their research shows plug-ins and EVs could cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 450 million metric tons annually by 2050. That's the equivalent of eliminating 82.5 million gasoline vehicles -- about a third of the number currently on the road in America.
Plug-in cars are going mainstream, and manufacturers have gathered in San Jose to show how they can boost mileage to 100 miles per gallon and beyond.

Electric car market could race for materials
My previous posts on electric cars: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Life isn't quite like a Hollywood movie

Total filmi.... and yet an endearing snippet of life.

The New York Girl of my Dreams romance did not have a romantic ending.

And so it goes.

The inventory of mortality

Jeez...this is eerie. After waking up this morning, I uploaded my dad's pictures from the 1960s and sent out the mail with a link to the pictures to friends and family, I started my daily routine of surfing around: web-strolling, as a friend wonderfully put it. And two clicks from a Mary Oliver poem I used in my email to family, I land on an essay from May 2008 in the Guardian by (one of my) favorite authors, Ian McEwan.

And eerily it starts with talking about photographs. This excerpted quote really hit home, reflecting some of my feelings this morning!

As Susan Sontag put it, "photographs state the innocence, the vulnerability of lives heading towards their own destruction ..."

"Photography is the inventory of mortality. A touch of the finger now suffices to invest a moment with posthumous irony. Photographs show people being so irrefutably there and at a specific age in their lives; [they] group together people and things which a moment later have already disbanded, changed, continued along the course of their independent destinies."

The essay is about fundamentalism and apocalypse; with McEwan positing that "with the rise of religious fundamentalism, prophets of apocalypse have become a new and very real danger". This is something I would normally not even begin reading about this morning, but for it being written by someone whose writing I love... and yes...indeed...he delivers once again. Though the above excerpt are words from Susan Sontag, the first few paragraphs from McEwan are oh-so-wonderful. Who else could talk poetry and poets (Borges and Phillip Larkin) in writing about religious fundamentalism!

We are well used to reflections on individual mortality - it is the shaping force in the narrative of our existence. It emerges in childhood as a baffling fact, re-emerges possibly in adolescence as a tragic reality which all around us appear to be denying, then perhaps fades in busy middle life, to return, say, in a sudden premonitory bout of insomnia. One of the supreme secular meditations on death is Larkin's "Aubade":
... The sure extinction that we travel toAnd shall be lost in always. Not to be here,Not to be anywhere,And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

Nothing more terrible, nothing more true. I miss my dad.

Perfection and lies

...by sidestepping the accidents, defects, and rough edges of truth, falseness reaches its goal much more easily, without hurdles or doubts, than a scrupulous approach which hews closely to the matter at hand.
No. I am not talking about political spin this election season. The above lines are an excerpt from the novel I just started - Conjugal love by the Italian author, Alberto Moravia.

Perfection is not a human quality; in most cases it belongs to the realm of lies rather than truth, whether those lies seep into our relationships with other people or they merely dominate our relationships with ourselves. This is because by sidestepping the accidents, defects, and rough edges of truth, falseness reaches its goal much more easily, without hurdles or doubts, than a scrupulous approach which hews closely to the matter at hand.
When I read authors like Moravia and Italo Calvino in translation, I wonder how amazing they must sound in their original! Of course, the epitome of this for me is Pablo Neruda's poetry. Such lilt and beauty even in translation; imagine how good it must be in Spanish! Given the vast body of Neruda's poetry, it would be an injustice to link to just a few of his poems here but it may be time worth spent to read his Nobel lecture.

July 27, 2008

Our energy choices

Blogging will continue to be light till Tuesday but a quick post with links to a few interesting posts I strolled into today.

First up, get an idea of what is at stake by reading Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming By Michael E. Mann and Lee R. Kump. Here's a book review through Dailykos.

Also, via Time magazine:
The Global Warming Survival Guide

Can one person slow global warming? Actually, yes. You—along with scientists, businesses and governments—can create paths to cut carbon emissions. Here is our guide to some of the planet's best ideas.

And an informative essay adapted from a Energize America presentation at Netroots Nation.

Happy reading!

July 26, 2008

Dream away

For some (most?), writing can be a process of wringing your heart and draining your mind in an attempt to warm the hearts and minds of readers.

You don't analyze a dream—you just pass through it. A dream is sometimes healing and sometimes it makes you anxious. A narrative is the same—you are just in it. A novelist is not an analyst. He just transforms one scene into another. A novelist is one who dreams wide awake. He decides to write and he sits down and dreams away, then wraps it into a package called fiction which allows other people to dream. Fiction warms the hearts and minds of the readers. So I believe that there is something deep and enduring in fiction, and I have learned to trust the power of the narrative." - Haruki Murakami in a lecture at First Parish Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts on November 18, 2005; as excerpted in a New York Review of Books article.

Incidentally, most dreams lately have made me anxious; very few have been healing. And I do not analyze them - just enjoy them, as I always have. Alternative realities that are alluring, despite, or maybe because of, all their incongruous uncertainities.

Also, sometimes one just gets too used to being in a state of disquietude -- numbed and decapacitated into inaction and yet a penetrating reminder of being alive. (This last thought is not something that is directly related to the idea of dreaming but just a reflection of a current state of being.)

July 24, 2008

The storm is within you

Excerpt from Kafka on the shore by Haruki Murakami:
''Fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn't something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn't get in, and walk through it, step by step."
This is how we all feel some days -- just have to close your eyes, plug up your ears, and keep walking.

I'm reading the book and enjoying it; though I am not sure I am following and experiencing every mind-bending journey the author takes us on. Like the first Murakami book I read, Sputnik Sweatheart, this one is also ..
...about loneliness and isolation; about the painfully fragmentary nature of our effect upon one another - the terrifying thought that maybe not even real, human love forges connections, that space, time and inexplicable events will always snake their way between ourselves and others.
And the blurring of reality and warping of time that makes us survive this loneliness.

I get a feeling one has to read this book a few times to appreciate and enjoy it more but who has the time. It's enough that I read it once. Next, I need to read his much praised Wind-up Bird Chronicle.

Update: Coincidentally, just this week via a Time magazine page, readers can ask the author questions.

July 18, 2008

And yet somehow the world goes on

After incessant blogging the last few weeks, blogging will be intermittent or non-existent the next ten days as I am traveling to see family and will likely not be at the computer all day like I have been lately (forced by a situation that could euphemistically be called as being 'between jobs'.)

I am sure all those readers I do not have will miss this intermission but trust me...

...somehow the world will go on. :)

All copyrights to the above cartoon lie with Stephan Pastis and whoever he has assigned it to. I am merely using it here as a humorous take on a personal situation. :)


I did not quite get the message in the winner (my inadequacy) but I loved the runner-up
in the cartoon competition organized by Earthworks 2008 to get the environmental message across.

Like the article (the last link above) says:
A picture may paint a thousand words, but a cartoon provokes, protests and entertains – all at once.


That's all there is to say after this!

Getting my stuff done

Being distracted by other things instead of focusing on the job at hand. Haah...sounds familiar! [At least he's getting some (other) things done.]

More great tales of mere existence (also on youtube) by Lev Yilmaz; who is interviewed here. His best ones, from the few I saw today, were the ones dealing with relationships: 1, 2, 3. He has already published a few books (with accompanying DVDs with the short clips), including the latest one which is cleverly titled: The seven habits of highly negative people. Take that, Dr. Stephen Covey! ;)

July 17, 2008

Boom time for the global bourgeoisie

And speaking of boom-times, even as we here in the US "whine" about the US economy, it's "boom time for the global bourgeoisie."

In the midst of the current widespread gloom and doom in the west, it is important not to lose sight of the true structural themes shaping our era. Linked to the current mood, commentators often depict an embattled and shrinking middle class, with sharply rising financial inequality. However, globally, this is simply not true. One of the most startlingly positive phenomena for many generations continues to unfold around the world. We are in the middle of an explosion of the world's middle class.

This may be news to people who have not visited India or China recently. From my exposure to India, it is definitely true about the middle and upper middle class in India. The Indian middle class is 'punch drunk' in a wave of prosperity, tempered only slightly by a sluggish stock market this year.

The article goes on to talk about BRIC economies - a topic of great interest to many who investment in mutual funds and ETFs. However, the article points out that this is a phenomenon which s not restricted to BRIC countries.

Middle-class citizens will appear in their millions in many other parts of Asia, central and eastern Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. This is a Bric-driven phenomenon, but the "next 11" are making their contribution and other nations will also participate.

This is a global phenomenon and is driven by globalization and the generation and redistribution of wealth it creates. (Yeah...yeah. We all know this. We've all read Friedman''s book 'The world is flat', right? In fact, I'd add that we knew all this even before he wrote the book. He just wrote the right book at the right time and got really famous doing it because in some ways, he said it out loud first and is hence (going to be) seen as a visionary; even if what he stated was obvious for anyone who was working and living in 1999-2003 and could have said all the same things if he thought a little bit about what was happening instead of just bemoaning 'outsourcing'.)

Anyways, do read the article. It contains some interesting data, for sure.

According to our calculations, the number of people living on incomes of less than $1,000 dollars a year ($2.75 a day) has already dropped significantly from about 50 per cent of the world's population in the 1970s to 17 per cent by 2000. According to our numbers, it could be as low as 6 per cent by 2015. On the more familiar World Bank defin-ition of one dollar a day, the same dramatic shift is evident. Probably no more than 5 per cent of the world's population now suffers this indignity. Of course, this is too much, but as long as the forces of globalisation continue we expect it to drop further.

Updated: Quite a few more articles on the subject recently.
One in the NYT (July 18th):
Boom Times Take Root in Dubai
Another in WSJ Blogs (August 5th):
Clean Tech: One Sector Is Bucking Global Economic Blues
and one more in NYT (August 12th): Cost-Cutting in New York, but a Boom in India

P.S. In reading up some other articles related to the above, I found this interesting related study about the spending and saving habits of Indians. It found that..

...people in India do not plan for long-term future and keep away from investing in long-term instruments though they save for long-term goals such as emergencies, education and old age.This phenomena is not just confined to just poor or middle-class households, but is prevalent in rich households too.

The survey reveals that most Indians prefer keeping 65 percent of their savings in liquid assets like bank or post office deposits and cash at home, while investing 23 percent in physical investments like real estate and gold and only 12 percent in financial instruments.

Damn...sounds like me! Can take the Indian out of India but not India out of the Indian! ;)

Real estate boom in the US

Yes.. you read it right. Even as US homebuilder sentiment falls to a record low and the government bails out Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae from a 5 Trillion dollar mess, it seems the "demand for sites for solar power projects (like this one, this one and this one) has ignited a land grab --- from California to Arizona."

Read more in this article in the July issue of Fortune Magazine

Elsewhere, a solar company many have followed quite a bit last year (mostly with reference to their stock; today: 288.60
+11.60 (4.19%); had hit a high $317 on May 14.) is in the news again:
First Solar jumps into the utility business
When it comes to solar companies, First Solar is the Google of renewable energy.
And so, solar continues to be big, despite Bush's ridiculous energy policy and the US Senate's inaction on extending subsidies for renewable energy; Cypress, IBM, HP, GE, Applied Materials ...they're all playing, in addition to all the start-ups and solar industry leaders who have been enjoying the ride the last few years.

Two hands, cold and distant

Like I had written earlier this year:
I have read only one Haruki Murakami's novel - Sputnik Sweetheart - and none of his other famous ones (1, 2, 3).
I hope to fix this soon and have picked up Kafka on the shore, which I hope to read in the next two weeks. I doubt I will be quoting much from the book but here is an image early on in the book that I loved.
I look around, standing stock-still, and take a deep breath. The clock shows three p.m., the two hands cold and distant. They're pretending to be noncommittal, but I know they're not on my side. It's nearly time for me to say good-bye.
How poetic!

A "truth" detached and purified of the pleasures of ordinary life

Perusing through more snippets of interviews at the Paris Review website, I found this gem of an exchange from an interview with Charles Simic, the current Poet laureate of the US. (Bold emphasis mine.)
INTERVIEWER: On the other hand, one of the main pleasures of your work, for me anyway, is the way it reminds us of all the ordinary pleasures of life, and urges us, or rather invites us, to enjoy them while we still can—things such as fried shrimp, tomatoes, roast lamb, red wine . . .

SIMIC: Don’t forget sausages sautéed with potatoes and onions! It’s also highly advisable to have a philosopher or two on hand. A few pages of Plato while working on a baked ham. Wittgenstein’s Tractatus over a bowl of spaghetti with littleneck clams. We think best when we bring opposites together, when we realize that all these realities, one inside the other, are somehow connected. That’s how the wonder and amazement that are so necessary to both poetry and philosophy come about. A “truth” detached and purified of pleasures of ordinary life is not worth a damn in my view. Every grand theory and noble sentiment ought to be first tested in the kitchen—and then in bed, of course.
Quotable quote, that last sentence! :)

Poetry is like masturbation

Maybe it IS time to burn all my poetry! :)
INTERVIEWER: You’ve talked before about trying your hand at poetry in this period. In an essay on writing, you said, “my poetry had the same functional origin and the same formal configuration as teenage acne.”

ECO: I think that at a certain age, say fifteen or sixteen, poetry is like masturbation. But later in life good poets burn their early poetry, and bad poets publish it. Thankfully I gave up rather quickly.
The above excerpt is from an interview with Umberto Eco, published in the Paris Review this month

Omnipresent and Invisible

No, not God but the Writer.
The writer's relation to his work must be like that of God to the Universe: omnipresent and invisible - Flaubert
I found this also at the great interview with Richard Yates, which I quoted from extensively in an earlier post.

July 16, 2008

Easy affirmations are silly and cheap

The author Richard Yates, talking about his book, Revolutionary Road, said in an interview in Ploughshares magazine in 1972:
I think I meant it more as an indictment of American life in the nineteen-fifties. Because during the Fifties there was a general lust for conformity all over this country, by no means only in the suburbs - a kind of blind, desperate clinging to safety and security at any price, as exemplified politically in the Eisenhower administration and the Joe McCarthy witch-hunts. Anyway, a great many Americans were deeply disturbed by all that - felt it to be an outright betrayal of our best and bravest revolutionary spirit - and that was the spirit I tried to embody in the character of April Wheeler. I meant the title to suggest that the revolutionary road of 1776 had come to something very much like a dead end in the Fifties.
If you replace 1950s by 2000s and Eisenhower by Bush, there are many parallels. It is perhaps not a dead end though -- history just repeats itself in phases and nuances. One only hopes that one gets out of these phases with "a kind of qualified hope" that things do get better again; if only to get back to the tired old ways yet again sometime in the future.

Changing topics, I loved the answers later in the interview.

Q. Another thing I've noticed, in what I've read so far, is that you haven't yet tried to show anyone who could really be considered an evil character - anyone who is human in being malicious, anyone who consciously plots to harm others.

Y. No, I haven't, and I hope I never will.

Q. But surely such people exist: witness Hitler or Manson.

Y. The question is not whether they exist in real life, but whether they work as characters in fiction. And I don't think they do - characters who succeed wholly out of malice of perversity, like Iago, which is the main reason why Othello is not my favorite Shakespeare play. I mean, if you can blame everything on one of the characters in the story, then where's the weight of the story? Nothing falls into your own lap. In the case of the Sharon Tate murders, if someone were to write a novel about them, the problem is that everything could be blamed on Manson, which would provide too great a relief and too easy an escape for the reader, allowing him to dismiss the whole horrible business the minute he'd closed the last page. I much prefer the kind of story where the reader is left wondering who's to blame until it begins to dawn on him (the reader) that he himself must bear some of the responsibility because he's human and therefore infinitely fallible.

Q. Well, but if you allow no evil characters in fiction, then what brings on the tragedy - or the calamity, or the downfall, or whatever? Where is the evil? Doesn't it exist?

Y. I like to think it exists as a subtle, all-pervasive force that permeates everything inThat's what brings on the calamity at the end. the story. It's in the very air the characters breathe as they all rush around trying to do their best - trying to live well, within their known or unknown limitations, doing what they can't help doing, ultimately and inevitably failing because they can't help being the people they are.


Easy affirmations are silly and cheap, of course; but when a tough, honest writer can look squarely at all the horrors of the world, face all the facts, and still come up with a hard-won, joyous celebration of life at the end, in spite of everything, that can be wonderful.

Well said! A lesson for everyone who thinks in black and white, good and evil, us and them.

Rock me, baby!

Time for some good music tonight. Here are three videos I've enjoyed in the last 15 minutes!

The thrill is gone!
(I wish I had seen BB King live!)

You are only coming through in waves

One of my favorite songs. Amazing guitar work, great lyrics, ...everything a good great song ought to be.

And here is another favorite, though I like the version from the album more than any live version.

Through the storm we reach the shore....

And last but not least, some amazing guitar work in this piece from 1983 by Clapton.

Clapton IS God! [1] :)

The whispering chambers of imagination

What if you could turn back time?

Trying to go to bed last night, I wished fervently that it was January 1, 2008. But then I quickly realized it would not do much good. Things were already in motion by then and I would not be able to prevent anything that has transpired this year. And then I had this thought - what if I woke up tomorrow and magically found that it was January 1, 1983. Surely, I have been in control of my own life in the last twenty-five years. What would I do differently? What would I not do? Which decisions would alter the course my life has taken and which ones would not affect it anyway?

What would I hold on to and not let go? Overwhelmed with memories of my father at this point, I snapped out of this reverie and stopped this 'vortex of immensity' with the following thought:

What is it that I have today that I will not have in 25 years? Better hold on to it and enjoy it now because no one knows what tomorrow brings.

Tomorrow (which in this case is already today), as the
clichéd saying goes, is another day.

`Mind and matter,' said the lady in the wig, `glide swift into the vortex of immensity. Howls the sublime, and softly sleeps the calm Ideal, in the whispering chambers of Imagination. To hear it, sweet it is. But then, outlaughs the stern philosopher, and saith to the Grotesque, "What ho! arrest for me that Agency. Go, bring it here!" And so the vision fadeth.' - Martin Chuzzlewit, Charles Dickens.

Only in man’s imagination does every truth find an effective and undeniable existence. Imagination, not invention, is the supreme master of art as of life.” - A Personal Record, Joseph Conrad

[Both quotes gleaned this morning from an interesting essay I found about imagination and poetry, which also refers to this wonderful poem, To Imagination, by Emily Bronte. Instead of me quoting excerpts from it, enjoy it in its entirety.]

July 15, 2008

Three Cups of Tea

Nicholas D. Kristof, who extensively wrote about Mukhtar Mai and Darfur when few others in mainstream US media were talking about them, tells us today about the lone Montana man who...

... has done more to advance U.S. interests in the region (isolated parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan) than the entire military and foreign policy apparatus of the Bush administration.
The man is Greg Mortenson, who builds schools in the region, 'working closely with Muslim clerics and even praying with them at times.'

His superb book about his schools, Three Cups of Tea, came out in 2006 and initially wasn’t reviewed by most major newspapers. Yet propelled by word of mouth, the book became a publishing sensation: it has spent the last 74 weeks on the paperback best-seller list, regulPublish Postarly in the No. 1 spot.


Mr. Mortenson found his calling in 1993 after he failed in an attempt to climb K2, a Himalayan peak, and stumbled weakly into a poor Muslim village. The peasants nursed him back to health, and he promised to repay them by building the village a school.
Scrounging the money was a nightmare — his 580 fund-raising letters to prominent people generated one check, from Tom Brokaw — and Mr. Mortenson ended up selling his beloved climbing equipment and car. But when the school was built, he kept going. Now his aid group, the Central Asia Institute, has 74 schools in operation. His focus is educating girls.
More power to him! Instead of focusing on people like this, our media is too busy focusing on some babies that two celebrities had. (Sorry.. I refuse to link to the ridiculous frenzy over the Brangelina babies.)

And many thanks to Kristof for once again highlighting stories, through his NYT articles and
his blog, that no one else talks about in mainstream media. There is so much there to learn about. For eg: A post a few days back highlights Students Crossing Boundaries, which is ...

... a diverse group of student leaders who have come together to empower each other and other students to explore realities of various conflicts, observe the social, cultural, economic and political conditions of the conflict and document and disseminate their experiences to the public.
Their first report on life in the West Bank is here and pictures from their visit can be seen here.

Ever green drop counts

I've broached the topic of avoiding excesses, conservatism (in the context of energy usage), and lifestyle changes only in passing in a few of my posts but have not taken the time to write a comprehensive post with all my thoughts. I am glad someone else did. :)

Shaping normative behaviors is key to climate strategies

The author is Marguerite Manteau-Rao, who in her own words is 'a bi-cultural product from France and the US' and blogs about behavioral solutions to global warming. I just found her blog via the Green Professionals Twitter Blog.

It is a nicely written post ...go read it at the original instead of me quoting bits and pieces here. Ok.. I'll excerpt one paragraph:

Every green drop counts. What I write here in this blog. What you write, either in your own blog, or as a commenter on others’ blogs. What you say in casual conversations to your friends and coworkers. What you ask from your elected representative. What you communicate through your example, as in here and here. What the “we” and the “Together” people do. What Barack Obama, and other leaders declare is important. What the New York Times, and the rest of the press put on their front page. What Arianna Huffington chooses to promote. It all matters.

Aah.. so my cynicism earlier today was perhaps misplaced. One does hope it is not all hype and a passing fad - one massive overdose of green-washing on multiple fronts. One does hope that a real tipping point is near.

It's a mad mad mad mad world - 4

A few oddball news from the week that was; gleaned from this week's Harpers weekly review :)

Big boobs in the news quite a bit. First comes news of a group called Busts 4 Justice protesting Mark & Spencer's policy of charging extra on some of its bras that are bigger than a size DD.

The British retailer Marks & Spencer defended a policy of charging extra for bras that are bigger than size DD, saying the charge represented “a small premium for [necessary] specialist work,” while the protest group Busts 4 Justice derided the price increase as an unfair tax.

And then there was the curious case of the woman who found a bat nestled in her ample cleavage and instead of freaking out felt sorry for the "cuddly bat!" Ignoring for the moment the curious case of cheiropterous love, what I want to know is who did she think was calling her for 5 hours and why did she not want to take the call for that long? :)

A British teenager who assumed that tremors in her bosom were caused by her vibrating mobile phone found a baby bat nestling in the padding of her 34FF bra. She was sitting at her desk at work when she decided to investigate the strange movements in her underwear. Abbie Hawkins, 19, of Norwich, had been wearing the bra for five hours when she plucked up the courage to investigate. When she did, she found a baby bat in padding in her 34FF bra. The hotel receptionist said she was shocked but felt bad for removing the "cuddly" bat. "It looked cosy and comfortable and I was sorry for disturbing it," she said.

Moving from big boobs to big men; I think it's the prayers that worked, don't you? :)

An Indonesian woman who used herbs, Islamic prayer, and supernatural powers to enlarge penises died last week. She was over 100 years old.
WTF.... Jess Jackson wants to do what? Why! What would he do with them! And as if having the first-ever black President won't be enough, maybe he wants a first-ever eunuch President? (Yes.. a castrated man started a great empire once upon a time... but this is no way to hope to stem the decline of the American empire, Jesse!)

The Reverend Jesse Jackson apologized for saying of Obama that that he wanted to “cut his nuts out.”
And then there is the curious case of the New Hampshire woman who was ...

... struck by lightning which entered through her legs and exited through her nose ring.

Ahem. We do live in interesting times! :)

Previously: 1, 2, 3

Infectious laughter

I saw this video on Facebook, where the poster challenged viewers to "watch the whole thing without ever breaking a smile or a laugh." I resisted. But within a minute, the older guy in the yellow t-shirt with his bray-like laughter got to me!

Record your reaction at http://www.skypelaughterchain.com and become part of the chain.

The life we never wanted

Quote for the day:
We can so easily slip back from what we have struggled to attain, abruptly, into a life we never wanted; can find that we are trapped, as in a dream, and die there, without ever waking up. This can occur. Anyone who has lifted his blood into a years-long work may find that he can't sustain it, the force of gravity is irresistable, and it falls back, worthless. For somewhere there is an ancient enmity between our daily life and the great work. —from Requiem for a Friend, by Rainer Maria Rilke

The wooden leg

Enjoy The Collector; based on the short story 'Good Country People' by Flannery O'Connor.

Loved everything about this - The song; the notion of capturing the essence of a short story in a silent movie like setting; the movie itself, shot in sepia tones. Very creative. Nicely done. (Thanks to Missflannery Weblog, where I found it.)

You can also see a short film based on the same story, as directed in the 1960s by Gary Graver and also read a short exposition of the nuances of this rather complex story.

And last but not least, here is what Flannery O'Connor herself wrote about the story, as extracted from an
excellent article on "Writing Short Stories" that I read yesterday; it is taken from her book of essays, Mystery and Manners.
In good fiction, certain of the details will tend to accumulate meaning from the action of the story itself, and when this happens they become symbolic in the way they work. I once wrote a story called "Good Country People," in which a lady Ph.D. has her wooden leg stolen by a Bible salesman whom she has tried to seduce. Now I'll admit that, paraphrased in this way, the situation is simply a low joke. The average reader is pleased to observe anybody's wooden leg being stolen. But without ceasing to appeal to him and without making any statements of high intention, this story does manage to operate at another level of experience, by letting the wooden leg accumulate meaning. Early in the story, we're presented with the fact that the Ph.D. is spiritually as well as physically crippled. She believes in nothing but her own belief in nothing, and we perceive that there is a wooden part of her soul that corresponds to her wooden leg. Now of course this is never stated. The fiction writer states as little as possible. The reader makes this connection from things he is shown. He may not even know that he makes the connection, but the connection is there nevertheless and it has its effect on him. As the story goes on, the wooden leg continues to accumulate meaning. The reader learns how the girl feels about her leg, how her mother feels about it, and how the country woman on the place feels about it, and finally, by the time the Bible salesman comes along, the leg has accumulated so much meaning that it is, as the saying goes, loaded. And when the Bible salesman steals it, the reader realizes that he has taken away part of the girl's personality and has revealed her deeper affliction to her for the first time.

Not one more refugee death, by Emmy Pérez

And just like that, my #NPM2018 celebrations end with  a poem  today by Emmy Pérez. Not one more refugee death by Emmy Pérez A r...