Breathing exercises are for chumps

The wife hated the hospital experience with our first child enough that we had S2 at home. Still, it took several hours and a midwife helped.

Reuters has a story about a woman who delivered her child two months premature while using a toilet on a moving train.  She fainted a few minutes, then woke up to find that her baby had slipped down the chute. It's shockingly unhygenic and polluting of the countryside, but Indian trains don't have septic tanks. The toilet gunk goes straight out on the tracks. So, that's where the baby was, when she got the train stopped.   Alive ... after falling from a moving train onto wooden slats in the middle of nowhere.

That baby's survival is amazing, but what impresses me nearly as much is the hardiness of its mother, to deliver a child with hardly any effort, with no epidural, no breathing coach and no midwife.

It's a different world from ours that that woman lives in.

Eight, Nine or Eleven?

How many planets are there anyway? A recent National Geographic competition seems to suggest that they think that the answer is 11. They're including Ceres, Pluto and Eris to the astronomers' canonical list of eight.

Our kids' books all still sport nine, so S1 thinks Pluto is a planet. I'm not brave enough to pit myself against a book. So, as far as he is concerned, there are nine planets.

Prasad Mohan for president?

For hundreds of years, there have been trade links between the horn of Africa, Arabia and the Indian West coast.  There are several communities on the Malabar coast of India who are African in origin. And of course, several Arab and Persian trading communities too.

The reason I bring this up is that Swahili seems to have borrowed the words "Barak" and "Husayn" from Hebrew and Arabic. If they'd borrowed the corresponding Sanskrit-based words instead, we may be having a Prasad Mohan running for president.

Whether that would make it any easier for him, I don't know.

Keeping all your options open

When will behavioral economists stop ferreting out our ugly little irrationalities? It turns out, according to a MIT study, that people want to keep all their options open even if it is obvious that the option involved is a dumb one, one that you should not take. I'm going through one of those episodes of irrationality right now. There's a faculty position open; I was invited to apply and after hemming and hawing for over a month, I finally did. "Why not keep the option open?," I justified to myself, "I can make the decision if I do get the job."  In the end of course, I'll decide to stay at NSSL. I always have. But who knows how many productive hours (mine and that of others) I'll have wasted on trying to keep the option open?

Power & Motoryacht and Sail?

Hey, check out this review by the publishers of Power & Motoryacht and Sail magazines:

... it even shows something called NSSL Forecast Radar, i.e. a computer guesstimate of where the precip will be in an hour ... I’ve heard of this technology, but this is the first time I’ve seen it.

Never heard of the magazines before ... but it's nice to see the product of one of my research papers (Journal of Atmospheric Research, July 2003) find its way to real users. That kind of direct applicability to the general public is impossible in most scientific endeavors, and one of the reasons I love what I do.

The drive-by at a temple demolition

This video is via a classmate from high school.

A little background ... Shrines pop up by the roadside all over India. And every once in a while, someone who needs the land or road manages to bribe the police and the government to demolish the shrine. So, that's what the bulldozer's there for. Obviously, the priest at the shrine being demolished is literally taking it all in stride.

My first reaction was that this was #@$! unbelievable. Then, as the newcast kept repeating the image, the initial shock wore off and I started noticing all sorts of things.

First, the background music -- it's coming from the street. Wasn't added at the studio. Tea stalls in India blare out music at all hours, so this is likely by a tea stall. Interesting location for a road-side temple. Why? It's hard to describe the exact atmosphere at an Indian tea stall, but I'll try. To date, I've never seen a woman in one. Tea stalls are exclusively populated by men who stick around sipping tea and ogling passing women. Such is life in a culture that represses sex. And road-side temples? The clientèle, if I had to guess, would normally be 70% women. So, you can see why that combination is particularly interesting.

And that final interview at the end with the engineer who was run down ... Why is he describing what we all plainly saw in the video? Is that bath tile and soap in the background? Is he in his bathroom giving a TV interview? (on second thought, it may be a hospital. Indian hospitals go overboard on tile because it's easy to clean)? And could he wear a shirt please? And why is that baby crying in the background?

Not quite nickel and dimed

When I read Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, I kept thinking that surely things were not as bad as she made it seem.  Ms. Ehrenreich, a college professor, decided to get by as a minimum wage worker. She describes stints at Wal-mart and how precarious things were. As an example of the things that seemed totally ridiculous: she lived in a hotel for nearly $3000/month supposedly because she couldn't come with the one month deposit of about $500 to live in an apartment.

When I came to this country, I had $700 in my pocket and nothing else. Well, not quite nothing else. I had a fellowship from Ohio State worth about $1100/month.  Regardless, though, not only did I live for 1.5 years on $1100/month ... I had a couple thousand dollars in the bank when I graduated with my Masters degree.  It all, I think, comes down to making somewhat intelligent choices.  For example, I ate out perhaps 10 times in my months in Columbus, and I'm including fast food lunches in that total.

Looks like someone else had the same impression on reading her book.  He, however, was curious enough to spend nearly a year disproving "Nickel and Dimed".  Adam Shepard walked into a homeless shelter with $25. 10 months later, he had an apartment, a truck and $5000 in the bank.

To be fair to Barbara Ehrenreich, one thing about her book strikes me as particularly germane: that most poor people in America are one illness away from disaster. The cost of healthcare is the one big difference between the world she describes and the one that Adam Shepard and I encountered. We were young and healthy.

Personality Type

I had to take a Myer-Briggs personality type test when I volunteered years ago for the Big Brother-Big Sister program. My category came back as ESTJ (Extrovert, Sensing, Thinking, Judgmental) but it was closely balanced on the Sensing/Intuition and on the Thinking/Feeling score so it could as well have been a ENFJ (Extrovert, Intuitive, Feeling, Judgmental). In other words, I'm the guy who'll talk to anybody and everybody ("E") and prefers to have matters settled (the "J"). In terms of decisions, I balance current conditions and intuition (S/N) and make detached decisions but am tempted towards building consensus (T/F).

Canonical ESTJs ("supervisors"), according to Keirsey, are George Washington and Sandra Day O'Connor; canonical ENFJs ("teachers") are Oprah Winfrey and Ralph Nader. Consider me, then, a cross between George Washington and Ralph Nader!

The reason I was reminded of all this was an article suggesting that Hillary Clinton is an ESTJ as well. Barack Obama, who I've been shilling for? He's an ENFP (ENFPs are idealists who can build consensus and motivate others to do their best -- they're rare, only 2% of the population. Kiersey calls them "champions"). And John McCain is ESTP (ESTPs are practical and focused only on what is currently possible. Kiersey calls them "promoters"). So, why is it that my choices in the coming election (if the INS will get us our citizenship papers in time for me to vote in November!) are Obama, then McCain, then Clinton? Based on similarity of outlook, Clinton's the closest, then McCain, then Obama ... maybe because I realize how rare an idealist, unifying president would be!

P.S. There's a short online version of the Myer-Briggs that seemed to give (for me at least) results that were reasonably close to my full test results. I no longer volunteer for the Big Brother/Big Sister program. The reason is a long story, one that I'll reserve for another time.

On top of things

A friend called home on Saturday morning.

"We need to change our plans for today evening.", she said.

"Okay", I said, waiting for her to continue. But I must have sounded very doubtful about the whole thing.

"Well, you may not know any of this, but A- (the wife) and I talked it over the other day, and we are supposed to meet at a restaurant today at 6.30pm. But B-'s friends are having a party, and we've convinced him to come eat dinner with us before going there. So, can we do it at 6.00pm?"

This assumption of ignorance on my part would normally have been bang-on. On this occasion, though, I did have a general idea that we were going to a restaurant. And there is nothing that gets my gander up than being accused unfairly of something that I normally would do.

"No problem," I said, happy to demonstrate that I could make a decision too and was so on top of things, "6pm it is." Luckily, the wife didn't object.

P.S. How small a town is Norman? In the 2 hours that we were in the restaurant, we saw: the wife's doctor, a couple who are members of our food co-op and a group of graduate students currently working at NSSL.

Won't last long

We were driving on the road around 6pm Saturday when we spotted this cloud:
S1 (the six-year old) has decided that he's now seen a tornado. The cloud had the required shape and there were thunderstorms in the vicinity. But the temperature was in the 30s, so I kinda doubt it. But then what are you going to tell a six-year old? That tornadoes in freezing rain are a fairy tale?

Meanwhile, S2 (the three-year old) is looking to me for style pointers. Don't worry. I'm sure it won't last. But here she is, wearing a measuring tape on her waist:

Views from Windsor

I've updated the post about my border crossing (Detroit-Windsor) with photographs now.

A border crossing

"The forecast is for only 2 to 3 inches of snow," my host in Detroit told me, "so this is probably the worst it's going to get."

This was in response to my question on whether it was worth visiting Windsor, Ontario. There's something about borders and bridges ... I always get this urge to cross them.

So, off I went. The traffic was at a crawl, what with the falling snow. Still, I did make it to Windsor, through the Detroit-Windsor tunnel.

"How long do you plan to be in Canada?," barked the Canadian border agent.

"A couple of hours," I replied and was waved through.

The snow got worse and worse. From Riverside Dr. in Windsor, the view of downtown Detroit was of buildings like ghosts behind a haze of snow. An interesting view, but definitely not the one you see in all the postcards. I made it to the main shopping district, and walked around. There was an art-gallery gathering with some talk going on, but Windsor was pretty much shut down with all the snow.

When I crossed back into the US, the agent at the border crossing was amused. He was in his 20s and obviously bored. Mine was the only car at the crossing and there were no cars behind me.

"Where do you live," he asked.

"Oklahoma," I told him.

"And what are you doing in Detroit?"

I told him.

"And what took you to Windsor?"

"Just wanted to see the sights."

He seemed lost for words. "Just so you could go to Canada? Have you been to Canada before?"

"Sure, to Toronto and Vancouver."

"You mean you picked this day of all days ... in this weather ... to go to Canada ... to Windsor of all places ... Well, did you see anything?" He was cracking up at this point.

"Not much of a view what with all the snow," I admitted.

He shook his head with mock sadness and waved me through.

Cooking Dinner

This blog has veered into book reviews, bridge, travel stories, football, data mining and politics. Pretty much the only one of my interests that hasn't yet been touched on is cooking ...

Today afternoon, the wife was off in her pottery studio, the kids were taking a nap and I was at a loose end, so I decided to cook. Normally, I cook the Thai, Chinese or Western dishes at our house and the wife does the South Indian stuff -- she cooks Indian dishes better than me. But this this time, I decided to cook mostly Indian.

First off, what every South Indian meal ought to have: sambar. I made it with chayote squash. Normal, standard stuff. Even used ready-made sambar powder.

The other thing every South Indian meal has is a vegetable side (called "poriyal"). I did it with sweet potatoes. I modified Mark Bittman's recipe for mashed potatoes, except that instead of milk, I used the broth in which I'd cooked the sweet potatoes. And instead of brown sugar or maple syrup, I added green chilies and mustard seeds fried briefly in a teaspoon of oil.

I then made a Goa-style curry. The recipe is straight out of Camellia Panjabi. We find her curries too watery, so I simply doubled the main items and reduced the water a bit. The recipe calls for fish; I used tofu and shrimp. And oh, that hot-pot (the one with the brown glaze) on which the curry is resting is something the wife made ...

While the curry was cooking, I also made a tabouli salad. This was not for dinner. I'm leaving for Detroit tomorrow morning. For lunch, I need something that I can take through airport security (needs to be dry), tastes good when cold, and does not get soggy after 4 hours. Tabouli fits the bill perfectly.

The whole thing, from starting to chop the vegetables to cleaning up after, took a little over 2 hours. We have enough to last 5 to 6 meals. I can never understand why people think that eating out is faster than cooking.

Asians and Hispanics?

The thing that struck me about the news this morning was the exit polls from California, that Hillary won because of Asians and Hispanics. Hispanics, ok. But Asians?

On reflection, I suppose it's not too surprising. Asians put a lock of stock in credentials and in age, so the "35-years of experience" spiel would impress. Also, in much of Asian politics, nepotism is rampant. So, voting for the wife because you liked the husband's policies would strike an Asian as being quite normal.

Meanwhile, inspirational speeches and bringing new voters to the polls would not impress an Asian one bit.

Yikes! Missed it!

S1 and I watched the first half of the super bowl -- it was a slow-scoring game.  The Giants were getting to the Patriots quarterback, but didn't seem to be able to score on offense. 

When the half-time show came on, I gave the kids a bath, brushed their teeth, read them a couple of books and put them to bed. By that time, it was around 8pm, and I'd forgotten there was a game on.

So, I missed the fourth quarter. Yikes.

Answering Obama Myths

Since Oklahomans vote in the primary this Tuesday, I'm going to address a few common misconceptions/questions that seem to be going around. I decided to write things down, after I've given shorter versions of this answer to several friends (all of whom know, because of my blog, that I'm an Obama supporter).

"Obama lacks experience"

This meme is not true. It is also not relevant.

Why is it not relevant? Obama has more experience than Abraham Lincoln had when he ran for president. What matters in a president is judgment, not experience. Obama's demonstrated his judgment on several issues when it's required courage to do so. For example: he opposed the Iraq war from the very beginning, saying "I'm not against all wars, only dumb wars." He was right on Iran (they turned out not to be producing a nuclear weapon, yet most Senators were rattled into voting to authorize force). He was right on Pakistan, pointing out that we shouldn't be relying on Musharraf guaranteeing stability. On all three of these issues, none of the other candidates for president made the right call. On one illustrative domestic issue that requires courage to be correct: he's the only one to actually understand the facts on drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants (he's for them). New Mexico, under Bill Richardson, gave drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants and this increased road safety, because more drivers now carried insurance and there were fewer hit-and-runs (a driver without a license who is involved in an accident is going to run). In Oklahoma, we pay some of the highest uninsured motorist premiums in the country. Our inability to distinguish between the act (illegal entry to this country) and the person (the immigrant) is part of the reason why. On this, as on many other issues, Obama is the voice of sanity.

Bottomline: It's not experience, but judgment that matters. Usually, more experience leads to better judgment. But we now have Barack Obama, a person who's demonstrated that he has the required judgment. Why ask him to "pay his dues"?

Why is the meme not true? He's had experience as a community organizer, state legislator and professor of constitutional law besides his current job as US senator. His experience, in other words, is broad. Just not deep. There are times in our nation's history when we've needed different types of experience. Right now, after all the unitary executive nonsense the Bush administration has been pushing through, we need someone who understands (really understands) what the US constitution is all about.

"Obama is all talk, no action"

This critique is false on two counts.

It is misinformed in the way it underestimates the power of talk. The job of a president is not to pass laws. That's Congress' job. The job of a president is exhort Congress to get the job done, using the unique bully pulpit that the presidency provides. The most successful presidents are the ones who don't have to play defense, but can inspire the country. Ever wonder why presidents are so aware of their poll numbers? It's because it's a measure of the strength of the president to set the agenda. An inspirational personality is one of the best qualifications for a president.

On the issues: There are three problems that we as a nation have to solve going forward -- healthcare, loss of US soft power abroad and climate change. On all three of these issues, Obama has solid proposals on the table. Obama's healthcare plan is the most pragmatic of the lot because it takes the current system of employer-provided insurance and private healthcare providers into account. The source of US power (the French call it "hegemony") over the last 50 years was not because of military might -- we did lose in Vietnam and stalemate in Korea -- but because of the immense attraction of American ideas and openness (it's why I moved to America). With an unplanned occupation (Iraq) and the use of torture, we're frittering away those advantages. An Obama presidency is our best hope for getting back on the right track. Third issue: on climate change, a carbon tax is the cleanest solution, but it's never going to happen. The next best thing is Obama's carbon cap-and-trade proposal, something similar to the one that worked for acid rain. In other words, Obama is not all talk: he has substance.

Please vote for Barack Obama.

Extrapolating a winner

The three-year-old (S.) and I were playing "I spy" this morning on the way to daycare.  Early in the game, I missed a red sign that she spied.  She informed me that she now had 2 points and that I had only one.  She then continued, "when Appa have 2, S. gonna have 3 points. And when Appa gonna have 3, S. gonna have 4. And when Appa have 4, S. gonna have 5 .... and when Appa have 9, I gonna have 10 and ... Appa!"

"Yes, S.?"

"I got 10 points, I win!"