Monday, August 31, 2009

Any way you look at it

It's a good thing to be be more respectful of the environment and the planet. We know that. We have heard it tons and tons of times in the media, from other people, etc. But, are we doing anything at all about it? I am not (except for being vegetarian, which I can't really claim credit for since it's upbringing and not my conscious moral choice that has been the cause).

I am not noble or selfless or particularly passionate about the planet. In fact, to tell you the truth if you gave me a lecture on climate change, my eyes would probably glaze over and my mind will wander. And this has been bugging me a bit. Why am I not more interested? Why do I perceive those who do care as saints and those who don't as being normal? How can the normal join the ranks of the saints without giving up their appetite for life?

From my very limited knowledge (what is this blog called again?), being green kind of looks like you've to give up a lot of fun. No car. No paper. No nothing. And to do all this for what? What is the selling point? A sense of personal virtue from being green? That is not bad, but really I don't care too much for that and neither do a lot of other people.

But the answer is hidden in plain sight. Our survival, our health, our children... real selfish reasons for why you might want to go green as opposed to being a selfless saint. Consider this article for instance, from which I've quoted the paragraph below.

"Just as liberal tree-huggers need to understand that we cannot make a case for altruism in any sense, least of all when it comes to saving the environment, conservatives need to understand that “saving the planet” is a euphemism for saving ourselves. It’s not the environment we’re actually concerned about. It’s our ego-driven selves, along with the future generations that will carry our DNA. And that’s the only compelling case we can make in taking any and all action to protect and preserve our vital ecosystems e.g. air, freshwater, forests, oceans, and the animals upon which they all depend."

So there is such a thing as selfish environmentalism then? As usual I turn to google for some answers. And as usual I found some very interesting reads that kept me up well past midnight. The most interesting one was "Can Selfishness Save the Environment?" by Matt Ridley and Bobbi S. Low. It was published 16 years ago and I think the intervening years have only proved some of their points.

They discuss some ways of dealing with over-exploiting common resources (land, air, water etc.). One effective way has been privitizing the resource. This may not always work in the desired way or it may be near impossible to implement (How do you privitize air?). Another effective way has been legislation. This is not necessarily effective all the time either. There may be other ways too.. such as a mutual benefit system (explained by the 'Tit for Tat' model in game theory). The article goes on to argue for the creation of positive incentives for being 'Green' and negative incentives for polluting. A bigger version of 'Tit for Tat'.

I don't think I did a good job at explaining it and would strongly urge anyone (anyone?) reading this blog to go read the article.

One thing that struck me was the USGBC's LEED rating system for buildings and how successful this program has been despite its many flaws. The article was probably written well before the creation of LEED ratings but can well explain its success.

Now that I've read this, what am I going to do next? I am still working on the answer.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

My reading journey

It started because I was starved of fiction. If I had fiction nearby, even if it was a book that I'd read already, I wouldn't have made much progress with non-fiction (unless it was related to babies somehow). Consider the fact that I bought 'The Botany of Desire' by Michael Pollan five years ago in 2004 to read on a train journey from New Haven to New York. I read a chapter, found it interesting but closed the book after the journey and forgot about it. Till now. Before I left for Belfast, I grabbed a couple of books from my shelf one of which happened to be this book. And so I read it finally after all these years.

It was entertaining and interesting and a surprisingly easy read. Pollan writes about four different plants and how they have evolved over the years by catering to four different desires of ours. The apple catered to our (fundamental) desire for sweetness long before sugar was made. The tulip catered to our desire for beauty. Marijuana is obvious in what it caters to. The highly controlled conditions that it is grown in now and the strains that have been married to get the most desirable qualities (including the quality of intoxication) made for highly interesting reading.

The last section of the book dealt with the potato. The potato was supposed to cater to our desire for control, something that didn't really make sense before I read the section. I also thought that this would be a terribly boring section, because after all how interesting could a potato be? I was wrong because this was the most interesting section!

This section discusses genetically modified potatoes (hence, control) and also gives us some historical insight about potatoes in general. Doesn't seem too preachy either and we are left to draw some of our own conclusions. For example, the Irish Potato famine is now famous in history. Why was it caused? A fungal blight. But had there been a variety of different potatoes, one strain may have survived where the other failed. The widespread cultivation of just one variety led them to this mess. He doesn't pose the question outright but the parallels are obvious by now. In today's world, dominated by crop monocultures have we really learnt our lesson?

The whole process of how the bt genes were introduced into the potato plant and the concept of genetic instability was fascinating too. Although, that's not the reason I picked up 'The Selfish Gene' by Richard Dawkins as my next book. I picked it up because I saw it in the library and remembered it as one of the books that Pollan had mentioned in his book. This however happens to be one of those books that change the way you think about several things. Had I read this book say about 10 years ago, I might have been even more influenced by its message. I am glad to have read it at all.

What should I read next? I visited Michael Pollan's website out of curiosity and read the introduction and first chapter of his book 'The Omnivore's dilemma'. Sufficiently hooked, I've placed a hold for it in the library and am eagerly waiting for it. Is it here yet? Is it here yet?

Meanwhile I have been reading online. Starting with a couple of articles by Pollan in NY Times and branching onto other related but varied topics, I've been reading about the slow food movement, bt brinjals, mindfulness and even something called slow sex. It has been interesting for sure. I have more questions than answers right now. Perhaps the biggest one being if I will actually make any lifestyle changes based on all this reading. Will I? Won't I? Only time will tell...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

More kuttipa words

Aggu - Hug (followed with a hug)
Bananga - Banana
Kaagu - Kaalu (leg, in Kannada)
Itty - Hottai (stomach, in Kannada)

Monday, August 17, 2009


It's 11:14pm here, Belfast time. I am sitting here feeling weird. I came to the computer after a long day with Kuttipa (who didn't even nap today) ended with him falling asleep for the night around 9pm. I figured I could put in a couple of hours of work except that when I checked my email, it looks like I've been fired from 'The Project'.

There is a part of me that feels terrible about this, since I've always been good at my work and this is the first I've let things slip by so badly. How does this reflect on me as a professional? How can I expect them to give me work again once I return to Calgary? What will happen when others in the small community that is my profession, come to know of this incident? These are only some of the questions awhirl in my mind.

Undeniably though, there is a small tiny part that feels relieved. And then I feel guilty for feeling relieved. But that doesnt stop the relieved part from feeling relieved. The mind is what it is.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I am currently reading 'The Selfish Gene' by Richard Dawkins. While there is a lot in this book that challenges my existing thought patterns and beliefs, the part that absolutely blows my mind is his concept of memes. Wow!!

Thursday, August 06, 2009


Kuttipa has a few words now...
Huppu - Hippo
Boa - Boa
Di zzah - Zebra
Hoovu - Hoovu (flower in kannada)
Apple - Apple
Wow (said with great exclamation) - wow
Baab - Ball
Dodda - dodda (Big in Kannada)
Dodda (said in a different tone) - He actually means little
Athe - Ashtae ('The end' in kannada). He says it sometimes after we finish reading a book.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Monday morning and you know how that goes

It's dull gray and dreary outside and both Kuttipa and I have a cold. Okay, I am actually feeling way better cold-wise than how he looks. Poor kiddo!

I do have some self-inflicted crap churning away inside my mind affecting how everything is perceived. For starters, there is 'The Project'. It is titled thus since I've been theoretically been working for an entire year on it. How much work have I actually put into it? About 40 hours - a regular work week(or less) for most people. Yeah, not a whole lot I know. I started work on it and then assumed with time it had died a natural death. I didn't receive follow-up emails asking for it either and so I continued with my assumptions. There were other projects that came along which I more or less finished on time and everyone seemed happy. And then came the call and an email about a few days ago asking me about the project status since the client was asking for it. Obviously I couldn't tell them that I thought it had died a natural death, that my weekends were spent roaming around Northern Ireland, that I'd actually rather go see Harry Potter if I do get a couple of hours off instead of working on this. Nooooo.... Instead I am lying low, trying to do as much of it as possible and send him an email with some updated work in the next couple of days. Except as you can see, I am blogging right now. Not working. Crap!

Self inflicted crap #2 (no pun intended there): Googled a friend's name. Couldn't help it. I've been doing it every now and then for the past several years. Ever since we had a falling out for unfathomable reasons really. The last time I did this was probably over a year ago. No results then. And then this time - several results. Came to know she is in Bangalore and doing very well work wise and probably personally too. Good, right? Yeah, except that it has somehow stirred up all the old feelings up again and I am all a-muddle. I went through quite a bit of angst about this a few years ago and couldn't even listen to certain songs because they would remind me of her. Most of this angst was because I had no clue why she cut off abruptly. And now here is her email address in plain sight. Her husband is on facebook. I can easily contact them and perhaps renew the friendship. But is that really possible or even desirable?

There is a tamil poem that likens friends who have parted ways, to a grain and it's husk. Once separated they can never be joined as before.

Okay, I'll go work now.