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lighter side of life

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I heard of Tig Notaro, a couple of weeks ago, on KQED 88.1 FM.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer, in late July, this year. She, by now famously, went on stage (the next day) to perform a stand up routine at Largo in Los Angeles. It is really funny (and an amazing attitude to tragedy). Check out the excerpt here

Tig Notaro on this American Life

Also, I liked this cartoon that appeared in today’s San Jose Mercury News

Written by asterix98

October 14, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Posted in humor, life choice

Tagged with , , ,

The animal-industrial complex

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My friend, Namit Arora, recently published an excellent article – Eating Animals – in 3quarksdaily.com. I also recommend his blog – Shunya.net . It has great content and excellent photos from his many travels to different corners of the world.

Inspired by his article, I wrote a comment . I am reproducing it here.


As I write this, I am watching a KQED program called Orangutang Diary. The lengths to which the baby sitters and veterinarians go, to rescue an individual animal, is truly amazing. This is indeed testimony to the remarkable heights of compassion humans can achieve, for their fellow beings.

Stark is the contrast between this idyllic scenario and the dark realities of the animal-industrial complex Namit has painted for us. Even more interesting is the psychology of the individuals involved in either of these enterprises. In the Orangutan case, the employees are fully invested emotionally, while in the slaughterhouse the workers are fully divested.

I will venture that in either group, a significant portion of the individuals are meat eaters. Namit wonders why one can be both an animal lover and a meat eater, which cognitively smacks of engaging in double standards. That the brain is pretty adept at suppressing cognitive dissonance by responding with rationalizations and compartmentalization is fairly well documented in the psychological literature. Pertinent to the topic, I found this interesting article (http://www.onegreenplanet.org/lifestyle/carnism-why-eating-animals-is-a-social-justice-issue/) by a social psychologist Melanie Joy. In fact, she has written a book called Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism (I have not read it so cannot attest to its contents).

She writes “….Widespread ambivalent, illogical attitudes toward a group of others are almost always a hallmark of an oppressive ideology. Oppressive ideologies require rational, humane people to participate in irrational, inhumane practices and to remain unaware of such contradictions. And they frame the choices of those who refuse to participate in the ideology as “personal preferences” rather than conscientious objections.”

In the same article, she says “….Yet most of us have no idea that when we eat animals we are in fact making a choice. When we are growing up, forming our identity and values, nobody asks us whether we want to eat animals, how we feel about eating animals, whether we believe in eating animals. We are never asked to reflect upon this daily practice that has such profound ethical dimensions and personal implications. Eating animals is just a given; it’s just the way things are. Because carnism operates outside of our awareness, it robs us of our ability to make our choices freely—because without awareness, there is no free choice….”

The general consensus on the comment thread is we all more or less agree with Namit’s position and sense of outrage. But how do we effect change in the general population? The few converts, from meat eating to vegetarianism, have engaged in critical thinking (which by the way requires cognitive effort) to shift their perspective. What about the others (there are some example comments here)? I want to share a personal experience. I grew up in a vegetarian household (thankfully!) but briefly experimented with meat eating in my 20s . Funnily, meat never felt like a meal and cognitively I seemed to be asking where is the real food? I quit. Contrast this with a Hungarian lab mate I had, who was incredulous that I was vegetarian and perhaps wondered how I had even made it. My point is : we may have to catch them young, so it becomes part of your DNA. Of course, this means the parents have to be on board. Here Jonathan Safran Foer -author of Eating Animals offers some help (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/11/magazine/11foer-t.html?_r=2&pagewanted=1).

Lastly, Namit talks about us having lost touch with animals. If anybody doubts that animals have a lot more in common with humans, I suggest you point your browser to this article (a perspective on animals by a cardiologist who has worked with veterinarians)http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/10/opinion/sunday/our-animal-natures.html?pagewanted=all .

As I pondered the article, I thought it highlighted another important bias – one of size. I was thinking of live lobsters and crawfish, that get thrown to their deaths in boiling water.

In essence, we are trying to motivate a change in a fundamental human behavior, what biologists would refer to as one of the four Fs (Feeding, Fleeing, Fighting and Sex).

Thanks Namit, for a thought provoking article.


Written by asterix98

June 20, 2012 at 8:40 pm

an inspiring and entertaining talk

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A couple of nights ago I had the opportunity to listen to Dr.Michael Phelps from UCLA. He is the inventor of an imaging technique popularly known as PET (Positron Emission Tomography). Since its invention, it has been used 37 million times worldwide to help  detect tumors in vivo!

His early years were steeped in tragedy. He lost his two young siblings in a fire. His mother had 50% burns on her body. Due to the circumstances, he was given up for adoption to a neighbor. He was a boxer and a welterweight champion, till a coma suffered in a car accident put paid to his dreams of a boxing career. A friend coaxed him into attending college (“with the promise of women, sex, and booze….”).  Eventually, he obtained a PhD in Chemistry and started out a as faculty somewhere in Washington State. From here, he went on to describe the journey that lead to the invention (a key ingredient was passion …. with a little help from friends along the way). All this culminated in tremendous monetary success (he sold his company to Siemens for, I think, a couple of billion dollars).

He is a great speaker, peppering his talk with lots of well placed humor . He was speaking to an audience of wannabe entrepreneurs as well as seasoned entrepreneurs. His messaging was near perfect. In the space of 45 minutes, he told a beautiful story of tragedy, resilience, serendipity, entrepreneurship, innovation, success, humor, goodwill, passion, and friendships. This is a talk that will stay with me for a long time.

He ended the talk with this joke (not original) – I have reproduced it from this site

This Middle aged man was going through his mid-life crisis so he went out and bought him a new bright red Porsche. So he decided to take his new Porsche on a test drive down the interstate one day.He got up to about 85 mph and all of a sudden he saw this highway patrolman with his blue lights and siren blaring coming toward him. He decided he and his new Porsche would outrun the officer. So the man sped up to 95 mph,and then to 105 mph, but the patrolman was still coming.The man finally came to his senses and said to himself, “This is crazy, I could go to jail for this,” so he pulled over. The patrolman came to the car and told the man, “It has been a long week , it’s Friday and I am ready to go home.. If you can give me one excuse that I have never heard before , I will let you go.”

So the man told the officer, “Last night my wife ran off with a cop and when I seen you chasing me I thought you were trying to bring her back.”

The officer looked at the man and said, “Have a great weekend pal !”

Written by asterix98

May 19, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Stay hungry.Stay Foolish

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The words in this blog’s title are the last words in Steve Jobs’ brilliant commencement speech for Stanford’s graduating class of 2005. I think we will all do well to give it a read.

At one point in the speech he said “When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.”  My own encounter with this quote occurred much later in life, in my 30s. It showed up as a thought for the day, in one corner of the landing page, on our company intranet and it was more prescriptive. It read “Live each day as if it were your last”.  It instantly appealed to me. One it draws attention to the fact that your time here is finite. Two, it urges you to prioritize and focus on what’s important and relevant. But to make this your credo does require enormous mental discipline given the very noisy environment of daily commerce.

Again here, there are some gems in Jobs’ speech. It is his story on death. Read these excerpts carefully

“…Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart…”

“….No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

(My comment : Put another way, as somebody said, the leading cause of Death is Life).

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary…”

Jobs is not highlighting something macabre or being very dramatic. Instead I think what he is trying to do is establish a frame of reference for how you can maximize your potential, be useful, make a meaningful exit.  I want to believe I have followed this in my own journey so far (more recently augmented through the lens of Lechi’s death) . Maybe not as erudite but it can be captured simply as “maintain and follow your own internal yardstick”. We all face enormous pressures to keep up or do better than the Joneses. But that is not a winning strategy.

I want to mention one more thing. Jobs talks about connecting the dots.  In practice, this translates to not limiting your life experiences. This is very important, especially, in this age of intense specialization. Cross pollination is an essential ingredient for game changing innovations.

I want to end with a Mark Twain quote, which exhorts us to stay hungry and foolish, in his own brilliant, witty way. He said ” I did not let my schooling interfere with my education…..”

Written by asterix98

October 8, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Posted in life choice

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