Sunday, August 30, 2015

Rest in Peace, Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks died today. A great loss for the humanity. I have come to known about his writings from his various articles, haven't got the chance reading any of his books yet though came very close to reading his book on music titled Musicophilia (now regretting not reading it). In February of this year I'd read his article in The New York Times, a meditative writing coming to terms with his terminal illness. Here is a memorable snippet from that article:
"There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate - the genetic and neural fate - of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own, to die his own death."
Tonight after learning of his passing away, I have read two of his more recent articles. The first one is titled, "My Periodic Table" and the second one is "Sabbath". In both of these articles, Oliver Sacks confronts his terminal illness, but doing so also provides a sense of belonging in this universe, the peacefulness that is the core essence of every human being's spirituality.

Life is short. The overused cliched sentence that it flashes by too quick is very true. All these precious moments of ours, daily chores, work, family, love, relationships, the pursuit of wealth, longing for happiness, are what make us what we are. All the senseless enmity, violence, wars, political exploitation, endless greed and shrewd pettiness, seem so shallow in the face of very finite life. Oliver Sacks had great mind. Even facing death, when it was not an abstract concept anymore, he still pursued his passion in writing, reading science articles, playing piano, swimming, and living life as intensely as he could.

Here are a few beautiful segments of Oliver Sack's last articles. From My Periodic Table:
"At the other end of my table - my periodic table - I have a beautifully machined piece of beryllium (element 4) to remind me of my childhood and of how long ago my soon-to-end-life begun."
 From Sabbath:
"And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest."
Rest, Oliver Sacks. Rest in peace.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Warming Seas Rising Faster than Predicted

Is it an alarmist article? Like many other similar warnings from reputable scientists, this new warning about warming seas faster than predicted, having global catastrophic consequences for the humanity, may not receive the adequate attention from the world populace. Out attention spectrum is shifting like a nomadic wind, from one distraction to another, from entertainment to sports, mind boggling senseless violence and wars, gossiping about the celebrities and other shape shifting fiasco. All the while this world, our very home planet, the only one so far we know conclusively supporting organic lifeforms are rushing toward an environmental calamity from which reversing the devastating possibility of submerged and washed away populous cities and nations may become a frightening certainty.

Here is a snippet from the article:
People need to be prepared,” Josh Willis, an oceanographer at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said on a conference call. “We’re going to continue to have sea level rise for decades and probably centuries. 
The new numbers up the stakes for coastal communities from Miami to Tokyo to Dhaka, the low-lying Bangladeshi capital where more than 14 million people live. NASA’s projections are on the high end of the 1- to 3-foot increase estimated two years ago by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,
You may say it a "baseless" super alarmist prediction, and I sincerely hope that it turns out that and that our world still has the time to reverse its course from the path of sure and non-discriminatory self destruction. Hope is all that is left.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Can a Novelist Be Too Productive?

I love Stephen King's writings. He is one of my favorite authors along with a few other exceptional writers. When I was a teenager, his novels and stories that I'd read, had profound effect on my love for contemporary English literature. Whenever time is available in these days of dwindling time in the middle of workday and family life, I still pick up his latest novels. To me Stephen King's prolific output is not shallow contribution to the world of literature.

His latest article on New York Times points out some snobbish ideas that some holds in the upper echelon of literary world that writing too many novels and stories diminishes a writer's worthiness as a great writer. In some cases this claim is true but as Stephen King states, "No one in his or her right mind would argue that quantity guarantees quality, but to suggest that quantity never produces quality strikes me as snobbish, inane and demonstrably untrue."

Here are some profound observations from Stephen King:
"I understand that each one of us works at a different speed, and has a slightly different process. I understand that these writers are painstaking, wanting each sentence — each word — to carry weight (or, to borrow the title of one of Jonathan Franzen’s finest novels, to have strong motion). I know it’s not laziness, but respect for the work, and I understand from my own work that haste makes waste. 
But I also understand that life is short, and that in the end, none of us is prolific. The creative spark dims, and then death puts it out. William Shakespeare, for instance, hasn’t produced a new play for 400 years. That, my friends, is a long dry spell."

Reference: Stephen King: Can a Novelist Be Too Productive?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Oil Price Tumbling

Oil price is in free fall. Close to $40 a barrel. A shocking downfall from its peak hovering way above $100 a barrel not too long ago. Fear has impact on market. A few factors seem to be behind the oil price fall.

First the supply glut. This is possibly pushing the price down steadily. What is surprising to me is the path that OPEC has taken so far by not cutting the production level. Only plausible reason could be that OPEC is putting pressure on the "unconventional" oil producers, a calculated move to push the competitors away.

Second is the lowering of demand. Because of low oil prices many businesses are affected, directly or indirectly, thus reducing the demand for oil. That's the conventional wisdom. However, some observers pointed out that this time around the "lowering" demand may not be the significant problem, it is the supply glut that has overwhelmed the demand. Here is a quote from the International Energy Agency:
Global oil demand in 2015 is expected to grow by 1.6 mb/d, up 0.2 mb/d from our previous Report and the fastest pace in five years
Oil is a finite resource. Eventually we will run out of it. Alternative energy source will fill the vacuum. However, before that inevitability, our world is not prepared to have any other major energy source than the carbon based fuel. Yes, it has the devastating impact on climate change via increasing the green house gas. But for now the world does not look to be prepared to embrace the alternative energy sources entirely without building the right infrastructure first. 

Fareed Zakaria has some timely observation, troubling but may prove to be true in the long run. First he quotes his conversation with a few oil insiders: 
Nick Butl former head of strategy for the Italian energy giant Eni, says, “There is no way to stop this phenomenon.” He predicts er, former head of strategy for BP, told me, “We are in for a longer and more sustained period of low oil prices than in the late 1980s.” Why? He points to a perfect storm. Supply is up substantially because a decade of high oil prices encouraged producers throughout the world to invest vast amounts of money in finding new sources. Those investments are made and will keep supply flowing for years. Leonardo Maugeri,that prices could actually drop to $35 per barrel next year, down from more than $105 last summer.
The impact from the sustained downward progression of oil price is uncertain, though there is already economic repercussion in the forms of jobs layoffs, shrinking profit margins of big to small businesses, not only oils but the retail sectors are affected too. Globally, it may also bring political instability in some of the most volatile regions of our world. Last time the oil price tumbled it was in 1980s. As Fareed Zakaria observed, then the former Soviet Union collapsed, though it is possibly debatable whether the oil price was the sole reason for its collapse.

No one is certain how low the oil price would go in its current slide. Some say it has almost reached its bottom most price and some say no, it would go further down, even may hit $10 to $15 range. These are all guesses like the extreme guesses of oil price to reach $250 or $300 not too long ago.

Alternative energy sources have a long way to go before becoming the mainstream suppliers of energy. However, in recent years the advancement in solar, wind and battery energy technologies is astounding. Perhaps this chaotic oil price and the volatile market may open more opportunities for the alternative energy producers to grab hold of more market share. That can be a positive outcome out of this tragic economic slide.