Ode to the Beet

Let this poem sing the praise of the beet,

From http://guardianlv.com

A finer vegetable you will not meet,

Not bland, not mushy, but delicate treat,

Displaying the best of savory and sweet.

 

The ways to make it are vast and wide,

Pickled, steamed, stewed and deep fried,

Its color is bright, a fun purplish-red,

So I don’t recommend eating beets in bed,

Though, I’m not Keats, nor Shelley or Byron,

I can tell you beets are a good source of iron,

To find lovers of beets just go to Ukraine,

Did you know that beets are good for the brain?

By increasing blood flow and rates of decay,

Things like dementia will long stay away,

And research shows, yes science, not rumor,

Stuff found in beets slows the growth of a tumor,

It’s got folates, fiber, phosphorous, magnesium,

Full of Vitamin C, B6, a great source of potassium,

And if the beetroot just isn’t your scene,

Then I ask you to turn your gaze to the greens,

If you thought they were trash, I’ve got a surprise,

Their delicious soup and great for your eyes,

If a good accompaniment is something you seek,

Try a fellow overlooked flavorful leek,

So get you some beets wherever they’re servin’,

At least so you can pee some reddish urine.

 

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Why is Barack Obama Black?

Barack Obama Jr. and mother (From http://www.slate.fr)

It is given as a fact by people and media alike that Barack Obama is the first black president of the United States.  This has always irked me a little because Barack Obama is not black; he is biracial, as his mother is unmistakably white.  It makes me wonder why race is being portrayed a certain way.  It is not as if African-Americans are claiming he belongs to their race and white people are claiming he belongs to their race, everybody refers to him as being black.

I am biracial, with my father being from India and my mother born in Canada (half Scottish and half Mennonite).  Even if I were to choose which race I identify with

Barack Obama Sr. and Jr. (From http://upload.wikimedia.org)

most closely, it wouldn’t change the fact that I am of mixed race or that my skin tone is a lovely olive shade in between my darker father and my white mother.  Obama is the same way.  He is clearly lighter than his father and darker than his mother.  So why is he still black?  Personally I would be a bit offended if people try to label my race in a way that ignored the genetic and cultural influence of both my parents.  Moreover I was struck by the fact that when it comes to celebrities like Tiger Woods or Shakira, nobody has any problems identifying them as mixed race.  So, again, why is Barack Obama black?

Now it could be that African-American’s are happy to tout him as black because they are still an oppressed race in this country and for the sake of unity as they continue their fight for equality they are looking for an African-American leader.  Someone who can fly the flag for their race and as president make great strides towards greater equality in this country.  It would be sensible, but I think it would be insulting to many African-Americans to assume they are that naïve to think that one man can make that much of a difference to an elected body that is still predominantly white males and has relatively few minorities and women (in discord with the percentages of minorities and women in the country).

Then I wondered whether or not this issue doesn’t make a larger comment about race and racism.  Many people who are biracial have experienced some lack of acceptance as a result of their mixed race (fortunately not me).  This probably not only extends to mixtures of black and white, but all races.  Now here in the U.S. few would complain about a mixture between an Indian and Chinese person, but in India (and probably China) this would be a big problem.  As prejudice towards black people still lingers in this country, I wonder if it isn’t much more comfortable to label Obama as being black than biracial.  Many white people have grown to accept that black people have just as much rights at them, but for some it becomes a whole different ball game when their white child wants to date somebody who is black, or any other race for that matter.  It strikes me as interesting that while the Supreme Court ruled that segregation was unconstitutional in 1954, it would be another 13 years before they ruled that banning interracial marriages was also unconstitutional.  It seems clear that people are uncomfortable with mixing.  And I know it’s not only white people, and I know it’s not just a matter of race either.  As a half Indian I am well aware how much of a problem it would also be for my dad’s side of the family (and probably also my dad) if I married a Muslim (even if they looked like any other Indian) given that my dad was born in the Sikh religion.  Indians also have trouble with mixing amongst classes.  If I were to marry an “untouchable” or low caste Indian then that would be even worse.

Finally, it’s important to ask Barack Obama how he identifies himself.  According to what I could find he filled in African-American on his census.  I imagine as someone who has darker skin and curly hair, he was likely treated as black by most people who did not know his ethnic origin and perhaps that is why he identifies himself that way.  Certainly his struggles would have been a bit similar, but of course he did have a fairly well educated and financially comfortable situation growing up.  The cynical side of me might say that he identifies himself as black instead of mixed race to gain more voters. Either way, maybe it’s best that we respect his wishes, but it still seems to me that his “white side” is essentially never mentioned.  He’s black. End of story.  As I jokingly tell my black colleague in my department, “Obama isn’t one of you, he is one of me!”  And although this is going to be very controversial, I don’t agree that Obama is the first black president, he is the first biracial president.  It could be that because he was largely raised by his mother and maternal grandparents that he acts and sounds white enough to please white voters, and looks black enough to please black voters.  There is that cynicism again.  I truly believe that being the product of two different races gives me more uniqueness and strengths in my worldview and how I perceive race.  Given our country’s history towards racial mixing, perhaps Obama’s biracial origin is something we should be celebrating more.

 

 

 

Let the Children Play

An idea had been running around in my head that, like oft times before, has required the harmony of 3 separate melodies that on the surface seem disparate and maybe even discordant:

  • Watching the behavior of my child as he grows
  • University politics
  • Interacting with some wonderful people at a wedding I went to recently

The idea is that we might all still actually be children.  Of course this isn’t altogether too radical of an idea, but it seems to me that we too often separate “the child” from “the adult” and it has been observation that perhaps the distinction between the two is somewhat arbitrary or at least highly subjective, depending on your definition of the two categories.

From http://www.kidspot.com.au

It has been a disappointing realization in a lot of ways that when I look at the behavior of some of the professionals at the university that their behavior is not too professional.  Perhaps I simply expected more out of a number of people with advanced degrees, but of course it is not different from any other workplace.  There are people that are petty, there are people that throw tantrums when they don’t get their way, there are people that are petulant, there are people that lie in order to not take responsibility, there are bullies who try to boss the other people around, and there are people who think the world is ending because in a metaphorical sense they’ve dropped their ice cream cone.  These qualities all seem quite understandable for a child to have.  Since they are still unsure of how the world works and how to properly interact with others we expect these behaviors in young people and as parents help correct this behavior.  But much to my surprise these behaviors are not something everybody grows out of and just as we think these behaviors will get us what we want as a child, there are many who see them as valid ways to act as adults.  I suspect that it does sometimes work or else they might change.  It’s simply unfortunate that they don’t see that there are other behaviors that a higher chance of success, but perhaps more importantly, lead to a better personal sense of well-being and happiness.

At a wedding this past weekend I met some wonderful people who are just easy to be around and a couple of them talked about how they felt like they’ve never really grown up.  I often feel that

From http://www.coulourbox.com

way too, but unlike the negative child behaviors I discussed previously these people demonstrated those things we love to see in children.  There were people who had a child-like wonder and fascination with the world, loved to play and be silly, were made happy by the simple things in life, loved to pretend for fun,  and took joy in just making you laugh or smile.

Now I may have overstated the idea a bit that we are just big children, but I think that there is definitely a child inside all of us and it might be worth asking the question “What child is inside of me?”  Is it the child that makes us others marvel and smile, or is it the child that drains other people’s energy, stresses them out or makes people just want to run away screaming?  As I watch my child grow it’s clear that behavior is not simply a result of innocence or naivety.  It’s clear that sometimes he just wants to play and sometimes he just wants to let out a yell so we look his way and pay attention to him.  As one grows and gains knowledge of the world, it doesn’t seem like any loss of innocence precludes any child-like behavior.

Sometimes in the face of the weight of the world a little time out for playing is probably the best way to maintain some sanity and gain one’s strength to keep pushing forward.  Sometimes when what you know seems sad, perhaps it’s time to learn about something else, or go some place new so your eyes can open with wonder.  Sometimes when you’re not smiling, do something nice for someone else and make them smile and see how much better you feel.  I think it’s important to carry with us the best part of childhood always, and I hope that as my child grows I can help him hold on to those beautiful qualities that give me such joy to watch now.

 

 

 

More ramblings about climate change

I was asked to submit an essay to include in an introductory climatology text by a colleague but what I originally wrote didn’t get accepted because it was decided they wanted to place it in another chapter with a slightly different take so I had to make some revisions and changes.  I liked the original though and thought I would post it here.

In 2010 the burning of fossil fuels and the production of cement released 33.4 billion metric tons of carbon into the air.  It’s a big number.  An intimidating one perhaps, but what does it really mean?  Can any human identify with such a number?  A weight we can’t possibly experience for a gas that we can’t see.

Global averages temperatures which are not experienced by anyone. (from http://www.globalsherpa.org)

As individuals we experience only a fraction of the surface area of the Earth at any one time.  Our ability to experience change on a global scale is extremely limited.   The detection of changes in temperature on such long time scales is masked by diurnal and seasonal fluctuations.  We don’t experience average temperatures, yet the important environmental issue of our times asks us to take action based on things we do not perceive in our everyday life.

As individuals we are heavily biased towards survival from the pressures we face every day.  Civilization has given us the comfort of living apart from environmental pressures that other species experience more acutely.  It could be that civilization only gives us the advantage of delaying these pressures and gives us the illusion of comfort.  As an evolved species of animals who depends on other life for our very survival, our ability to fight off the enormous pressures that nature can exert may be dwindling.

In a typical thunderstorm there are approximately 1 x 1018 droplets.  Of course no one droplet means very much, but the collective of droplets in

From http://www.albany.edu

the cloud itself can produce lightning, damaging winds and hail, and flash flooding.  With approximately 7 billion people on the planet it is easy to view ourselves as a single drop.  With the issue of climate change it may be time to focus on what we are in fact part of:  As a species with a massive and growing global population with a great deal of power to change the world for better or for worse.  The question then becomes, “What can we, as individuals, do?”

On September 27th meteorologist and journalist Eric Holthaus, in response to the 5th Assessment Report on Climate by the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), vowed never to fly in an airplane again.  He felt very strongly about his carbon footprint.  A criticism often made against climate scientists who travel to conferences and meetings to discuss the issue.  His gesture is extremely noble and perhaps sets a good example for the rest of us.  He participates in many meetings now via Skype to avoid flying.  There are probably many of us, companies and organizations alike, who may not be taking great advantage of the technology that is available to us.  However, his case may also be an example of our disconnect between experiences as individuals without seeing the whole picture.  A response by William MacAskill, an ethicist at Oxford, pointed out that while Holthaus’ individual footprint might be high, his active participation through face-to-face interactions with policymakers internationally may reduce carbon emissions so drastically that it more than offsets his carbon footprint.  We all have different roles as individuals as part of the whole and although Holthaus’ sacrifice is well intentioned, perhaps he has not chosen the best way to reduce his carbon footprint given his abilities and role in this world.

Life constantly asks us to find that delicate balance between our individual needs and those of the collective.  It asks us to evaluate how our individual freedoms impinge on the freedoms of others.   The consequences of our actions as individuals have never had more far reaching impacts.  Climate change impacts the largest community we are part of: the global community.  The truth is, we all share the same space even if we can’t experience it.  It’s important to remember that in the individual fight for survival we always do it best when we work together.

The Perfect Blog Post

From http://www.allposters.com

A concept that has fascinated me for some time is that of perfection.  People will say something is perfect, but what does that really mean?  If we look at the dictionary definition we see that perfect means having no mistakes and flaws or completely correct and accurate.  But all of these words have some subjectivity to them.  Few people agree on what a mistake or flaw is.  And is anything completely correct and accurate?  If something can be, we often find that there is disagreement here also.

It seems to me that perfection is ultimately an ideal that everybody holds, but that nobody really agrees on.  In this way I find it very similar to the concept of God.  And many people say God is perfect and so the analogy is even stronger in that respect.  Nobody can really agree on the nature of God and everybody holds a slightly different view of what God wants and how He/She behaves.    In addition to the fact that I believe it is not up to the atheist to disprove the existence of God (but up to the theist to prove the existence of God), it seems also a fruitless task to disprove something which is not clearly defined.  Perfection seems to me exactly like this.  If perfection is an ideal and what is ideal is subjective to the person holding the ideal then perfection as a concept maybe limited in value to all but the individual.  Which means just like you shouldn’t be trying to enforce your vision of God on anybody else, perhaps we should also not be so adamant that others share our view of perfection.

Can we truly experience a shared value of perfection?  Many have tried to define a perfect system of government, a perfect society or

From http://dancearchives.net

civilization, a perfect self, but it is unclear that everybody agrees with those ideals, and many times they seem so implausible to reach that it seems that they will simply be rejected because some feel they are not rooted in reality.  But I think those that try to come up with these “universal” ideas of perfection do believe they are obtainable, at least in some distant future.  I hold similar ideals as I am sure all you do as well.  It seems to me though that we define this conceptual perfection beyond the present, but feel that the goal of perfection is not so far away that we can eventually reach it.  Science might give us some better clues as to what some perfect state might be, but to do so we would have to be sure we knew absolutely all the variables.  And we are far, far away from that and it seems likely we will never be at a state in which we know everything about the universe.

The next question then is, well what if we really do reach some state of perfection?  I wonder if we can simply be content and happy in the long term, before we are really start thinking about how things could be even better.  This seems true at an individual level or even if we do have some shared value of what perfection is.  Unless we knew everything (highly unlikely) it seems like we would always be searching for more and that perfection is not possible.

Finally I think then it is worth asking the question, are such ideals like perfection a good thing?  If it is a goal we can never reach does it prevent us from being content and happy in life?  The answer is maybe.  I think if you accept that perfection is some point on the horizon that you can move towards but never reach (or at least not reach easily or quickly) then you might instead to learn to appreciate the journey you take to get there.  If on the other hand you believe the perfect state is actually reachable in a tangible way and you don’t get there, then this can leave one frustrated, disappointed and unhappy.

While I ponder about perfection frequently, the most recent inspiration was looking at my son.  He seems perfect.  He has no mistakes or IMG_7532flaws.  He will make mistakes and he will have flaws however.  Thus I began to wonder if maybe, even as a concept, perfection doesn’t exist.  It’s just something we believe in but have no evidence of.  Because he is who he is, and while we will try to nurture him positively into the world, everything about his life will be different than mine and who he ends up as will be who he is supposed to be.  He is supposed to make mistakes and have flaws.  Thus he is in accordance with his nature.  As we all are.  Our nature is to change, to grow, and be imperfect.  In the end perhaps we are all according to our nature, and maybe that is what perfection really is.  The good news is, nobody is saying you have to like it.

I think it is very important, however, that we have these lofty concepts, and that we continue to dream of better ways to live life, because it could be that in our imaginings we do end up moving towards some better future.  I think as long as we remain humble about our dreams of perfection and be willing to modify and change our ideals when life presents us with new information then the concept of perfection can have meaningful purpose.