Flattening Our Future

“Mum is this what we call an “exvacator?” ten-year-old Ashita wondered out aloud.

“It is an excavator, Ashita”, responded Joanne while gingerly leading her daughter away from the damp mud and dampening surrounding.

“Gee, look at the speed with which it levels the soil” Ashita excitement was contagious.

(Photo Credit: wildverbs)

“You are right my child”, Joanne said losing herself for a minute in the wide expanse of muck, machinery, and men. “Is it just the soil that is being leveled or is it a flattening of our very future?” There was now a tinge of poignancy in her tone.

“Mum?” Ashita looked up at her mother with a mixture of bewilderment and alarm.

“Oh I am sorry my child. Just wanted to make you understand that creation is born out of destruction. But what we create might also destroy us. While cleared lakes may transform into cozy houses, there can be no comfort in thirst.

“So Mum, is Mother Nature the greatest leveler?”

“Absolutely my love” smiled Joanne bending to gently kiss the top of Ashita’ head.

(WORD COUNT: 175)

This story has been written as part of the FLASH FICTION FOR ASPIRING WRITERS – FFfAW Challenge #191, more details about which may be found HERE

For reading similar entries submitted in response to the FFfAW Challenge #191 please click HERE

Thank You wildverbs for the photograph!

Preserving Pictures and Purity – An Odyssey from Canyon to Canon

(Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon, AZ | Google Maps)

The Canyon was bathed in a magisterial hue of light reflecting the invincible power of the radiant sun. The magnificent Orb, the very source of life for the only Planet with recorded inhabitation was serenely enveloping the imperial rock formations. Thousands of shutters clicked and clacked away in unison with uncontrolled exclamations and unbelievable finger shifts. The spectacular sights this evening would be fodder for envy on Instagram tomorrow.

Parveen watched with a tinge of amusement and melancholy at the chattering tourists. Bucket lists would be ticked off, as would be showboating with selfies, but the rampant march of climate change will continue unabated. Flooding was shifting vegetation along the Colorado River to species with more drought-tolerant traits. Native willows, rushes and cattails were in great peril.

Mankind had to do something; she had to do something. Something that would go beyond mere rhetorical campaigns and Canon DSLR selfies!

(Word Count: 150)

This has been an edition of What Pegman Saw

For the complete list of entries, please click HERE

Stone Age & Cartilage

JSBrand2

(Photo Credit: JS Brand)

Neither an overcast morning nor an overhang of the ominously dark clouds dampened the enthusiasm of the two geriatrics as they cautiously ambled their way out the hotel and onto the cobblestone street. Peering intently over their copies of the pocket guide book, Zampa and Keith trudged along towards “The Spectacle of the Two Horses”. The pointed end of their umbrellas made a resounding clatter each time they came down.

“Keith, there you are!” Zampa was all glee as he made his way to the platform on which was erected the two magnificent horse sculptures.

“Zampa, it’s not at all far. The horses are right up ahead!” responded Keith, following Zampa.

“Of course they aren’t made of lead. They are cast in plain stone”, Zampa retorted

“No, No a nose does not have a bone. It’s just cartilage”, now Keith was angry.

“Balderdash & Malarkey! It wasn’t built in the stone age”, Zampa turned irate.

A “Keep Silent” plaque hushed both Keith and Zampa thereby giving them not only a golden opportunity to marvel at the imperial pair of horses but also to realise the fact that both of them had unwittingly forgot to put on their hearing aids.

(Word Count: 199)

Written as part of Sunday Photo Fiction. Write a story of around 200 words based on the photo prompt given (above). Hosted by Susan Spaulding. For more details, visit HERE.

To read more of the stories based on this week’s prompt, visit HERE

The Fifth Risk – Michael Lewis

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If Michael Lewis was to pen a 1,000 pager on the philosophical disposition of ants, that treatise would undoubtedly stand on top of the bestseller pile. Ushering in an Avant garde style of writing that has technology for a back bone, intuition for a brain and an indomitable imprimatur that breathes life into the overall structure, this phenomenal author has regaled his audience repeatedly over the course of many years. While his latest book “The Fifth Risk” (“the book”) is no exception, it however marks a significant departure from his erstwhile books. This book is an exception in spite of not being one! “The Fifth Risk” is a paean to the unsung, a deification of the unseen and a tribute to the unassuming. These stellar characters comprise the multitude of non-decrepit men and women who form an integral part of the American federal work force. It is this very bunch of selfless heroes who have been totally neglected by the Trump administration.

Focusing on three obscure Government agencies, the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Commerce, Lewis elects to elevate (deservingly so) the bureaucrats working tirelessly to ensure that the American populace lead a life of relative comfort and safety. The raison d’être characterizing the selection of these three departments is a reason that is extraordinarily close to Lewis’ heart – a relentless churning of an improbable quantity of humongous data. It is the effort of these indomitable yet isolated soldiers that Lewis intends to celebrate when he states, “We don’t really celebrate the accomplishments of government employees They exist in our society to take the blame.”

At the core and crux of this page turner is the ridiculous transition period (or an utter disregard of the same by Messrs. Trump and Co) between the controversial 2016 election and President Trump’s inauguration. It is common knowledge and a statutory necessity that every outgoing administration assists the incoming party prepare to understand the at times mystical workings of a myriad departments, agencies and functions of government. While true to this tenet, the Obama administration spent invaluable time preparing exhaustive briefing books and presentations for their successors, irrespective of the party to which they belonged, the bureaucrats were in for a rude shock. The successors just refused to turn up! Paraphrasing a former top official in the Energy Department “We had tried desperately to prepare them, but that required them to show up. And bring qualified people. But they didn’t.”  A gob smacking lapse considering the nuances and intricacies involved in manning and running these departments. John MacWilliams, a former investment banker turned Energy sector expert who was initially goaded by Obama to make the Department of Energy his home, elucidates in a matter of fact manner, the complicated rubric that runs throughout the Department. “Everything was acronyms, I understood 20 to 30 percent of what people were talking about. There were physicists everywhere. Guys whose ties don’t match their suits. Passive nerds. Guys who build bridges.”

When the Trump administration finally showed up, it was an unparalleled exhibition of utter disaster. Not possessing the requisite security clearances, some of the Trump officials displayed blatant disinterest and flagrant disregard. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture staffers had prepared 2,300 pages of materials, but the Republican staffers failed to show up until a month after the election, and when they showed up, they were just HIM – yes just a solitary individual. Demonstrating a blatant and myopic ideology, the Trump administration queried the Energy Department for lists of staffers who had worked on climate change, or going one regressive step further, instructing the USDA to stop using the term “climate change” altogether.

This lackadaisical attitude has resulted in an intolerable and undesirable disruption in the hitherto smooth working of the important Government machineries. As Lewis emphasizes, “Some of the things any incoming president should worry about are fast-moving: pandemics, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, but most are not. Most are like bombs with very long fuses that, in the distant future, when the fuse reaches the bomb, might or might not explode.”

In fact, it might have been a blessing in disguise if the Trump “landing teams” had failed to put in an appearance. When the President elect’s team finally turned up, it was for the worse. Donald Trump appointed the former Texas governor Rick Perry as energy secretary. The vituperative Perry, who once said he wanted to abolish the Energy department (he also wanted to abolish Commerce and Education), didn’t ask for a briefing on any D.O.E. program when he arrived. The de facto and de jure person in charge was Thomas Pyle, a lobbyist funded by the epitome of capitalism Koch Industries and the beachhead of the oil and gas industry, ExxonMobil. Tarak Shah, chief of staff for the department’s $6 billion basic-science program says “We had tried desperately to prepare them … but that required them to show up. And bring qualified people. But they didn’t. They didn’t ask for even an introductory briefing. Like, ‘What do you do?’”

“The Fifth Risk” is a study in contrasts. On one end of the administrative continuum, we have the likes of Kathy Sullivan, a geologist and astronaut (the first American woman to walk in space) who was in charge of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and whose endeavors included repairing NOAA’s polar-satellites program as well as studying how people can better respond to weather emergency notifications — thereby boosting their chances of survival. On the other extreme end of a continuum, there is the lethargic Trump administration rooted in ignorance and reeking with arrogance. As Lewis summarises, “If you want to preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems, it’s better never to really understand those problems, there is an upside to ignorance, and a downside to knowledge. Knowledge makes life messier.”

“The Fifth Risk” is a rousing story of an unfortunate disconnect between honesty and haughtiness. It is also the chronicle of a discord that has at its edifice the very future of a population constituting the largest democracy on the Planet. More than everything else it is a brilliant demonstration of the obnoxious trajectory that an ideological administration is set upon to the overall detriment of an entire nation. The entire book can be encapsulated in a paragraph where a visibly upset and raging Trump goes ballistic upon being informed that his transition planners were raising funds to pay for staff. “You’re stealing my money! You’re stealing my f—ing money!” Trump screamed at a befuddled and bemused Chris Christie.

Yes, there has been a theft. But as Lewis brilliantly illustrates, it has been a theft of confidence, a pillaging of conviction and a pilfering of caution. Right now American democracy is unfortunately deemed by a prejudiced Trump leadership to be one, by the ignorant, for the ignorant and of the ignorant.

The Arrow Of Wisdom

(Photo Credit: J.S.Brand)

“What do those beautiful shapes signify Mama?” asked nine-year-old Ashita in a voice tremulous with excitement.

“They signify the very essence of life my child” replied a calm and sedate Joanne. Every sculpture and design teaches you not only how hard it is to create something but also how alarmingly simple it is to destroy. Always remember that an arrow that has left a bow and a word that has divested itself of a tongue can never be retrieved.”

Even though the essence of the moral was lost on Ashita, she felt a swell of pride towards her mother.

 (Word Count: 99)

This story was written as part of the FRIDAY FICTIONEERS challenge, more about which may be found HERE

 For the complete list of entries, please click HERE

The credit for the breathtaking photograph goes to J.S.Brand 

The Perils of Perception:Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything – Bobby Duffy


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Is the Great Wall of China visible from Outer Space? My answer to this seemingly innocuous question would have been a resounding yes until I happened to read “The Perils of Perception: Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything” (“the book”) by Bobby Duffy. A Managing Director of the Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute and also the Global Director of Ipsos Social Research Institute, Mr. Duffy brings to bear his prodigious statistical expertise and experience in delivery a myth busting work that makes you think twice before even thinking. In The Perils of Perception, which surprisingly happens to be Mr. Duffy’s first book, the author attempts to tackle the various social, emotional, and cultural factors that converge and conflate to birth misperception. As he is quick to point out at the commencement of his work, Mr. Duffy makes a distinction (although “fine”) between misperception and ignorance. To paraphrase him, “ignorance means literally ‘to not know’ or to be unacquainted with. Misperceptions, however, are a positive misunderstanding of reality………”

The great Israeli American psychologist and Nobel Laureate in Economics, Daniel Kahnemann (in the company of his late redoubtable colleague Amos Tversky), has been the torch bearer and very beacon in pioneering the efforts to both understand and challenge the assumptions of human rationality. Mr. Duffy also treads the same path of empiricism in highlighting to his readers the perils of perception that characterizes the various assumptions, which, otherwise are perceived to be accepted wisdom or common place conventions.

True to the sub-title of his book, Mr. Duffy takes on various issues of topical importance that have a bearing and influence over how we as human beings go about our personal and professional endeavours, and regarding which there are extraordinary differences at what seems to be two extreme ends of an incredible continuum. From estimates about consumption of sugar to the prevalence of obesity and conflicting emotions undergirding the need for and abhorrence to vaccinations, Mr. Duffy demonstrates by way of extraordinary surveys and statistics, the differing (and wrongful) perceptions of the respondents to such surveys. Sample this startling fact: “three in five people across the countries as a whole were unsure, or believed that there is a link between vaccine and autism in healthy children.”

What is the underlying rationale behind such irrational thinking? Mr. Duffy elucidates that all varied explanations of our misperceptions can be classified into two groups: how we think and what we are told. Mr. Duffy talks about ‘emotional innumeracy’, “a theory which proposes that when we are wrong about a social reality, cause and effect may well run in both directions. For example, say that people over estimate the level of crime in their country. Do they over estimate crime because they are concerned about it, or are they concerned about it because they over estimate it?” In this particular case, Mr. Duffy proposes that it is a bit of both. Mr. Duffy also presents a vital link between our misperceptions and the media. “It (media) is still a vital actor in the system creating and reinforcing misperceptions. However, the media more generally is not actually the most important root cause of our misperceptions, though it is influential: we get the media we deserve or demand.”  It is not hard to fathom this logic especially in times where a referendum to either Remain or Leave the European Union is influenced by preposterous claims pasted boldly on the sides of buses, and where a dangerous clarion call of ‘nativism’ results in the election of a virtual demagogue to the highest office of the world’s oldest and powerful democracy. Not to mention a word about the dangerous dalliance between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica that had in the eye of its storm, the minds, decisions and future of 87 million human beings.

The book makes for a stirring and thought provoking read. We are made to get a contrasting glimpse of enthusiastic radical optimists and somber prophets of doom as they go about breathing life into myriad surveys. The moral arc of the respondents to the survey seemed to seek their curve depending upon the nature of information fed to them. For instance, the relationship between public concern about immigration, net migration and media coverage of the issue presented an interesting tendency: immigration numbers rise before the media and then the public notice. Also attitudes to immigration were starkly different depending on the respondents’ preferred choice of media.

Ronald Harry Coase the late a British economist and the Clifton R. Musser Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Chicago Law School and also the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1991, once famously exclaimed, “If you torture the data long enough, it will confess.” Mr. Duffy in his highly engaging book, not only concurs with Coase but also produces his own proofs.

After treating the foible of misperception in great detail and depth, Mr. Duffy, then proceeds to provide a ‘checklist’ for managing our misperceptions. Exhorting us to “cultivate skepticism, but not cynicism”, goading us to “accept the emotion, but challenge the thought”, Mr. Duffy exudes confidence in the fact that “things are not as bad as we think – and most things are getting better.”  It is with this very positive exultation that I nurse my only reservation with what otherwise is a marvelous piece of work. Mr. Duffy with his ‘Pinkeresque’ conviction about the world being a better place to live now as compared with the past, might be misconstrued as urging his readers to view the Planet that we inhabit with rose tinted glasses. Even though one of the items in his ‘managing misperception’ checklist is ‘fact checking’, an unsuspecting reader might be forgiven in harbouring the impression that his erudite author is not averse to producing a paean to Pollyanna. One classic example being the subject of poverty. Mr. Duffy expostulates that “just one in ten correctly identified that extreme poverty has halved in the last 20 years.” While there is no disputing the fact that world now is definitely a more positive and healthy place than what it was two decades ago, the measure of ‘extreme poverty’ and its definitions may be subject to a myriad of interpretations and a plethora of contrasts. This shenanigans of Statistics may have the undesirable outcome of flattering to deceive.

As Thomas Pogge poignantly pointed out, “the morally relevant comparison of existing poverty is not with historical benchmarks, but with present possibilities: How much of this poverty is really unavoidable today? By this standard our generation is doing worse than any in human history.”  Also as Jason Hickel, painstakingly and adroitly shows in his phenomenal treatise “The Divide”, “the present International Poverty Line (“IPL”) theoretically reflects what $1.25 could buy in the United States in 2005. But the US Government itself calculated that in 2005, the average person needed at least $4.48 per day simply to meet minimum nutritional requirements, and that is to say nothing of housing and other costs necessary for basic survival.”  This and the preceding paragraphs are by no means either illustrative of a negative opinion or a criticism of Mr. Duffy’s work. It is just an instructive attempt to show that the tool of statistics can, – in fact is – a double edged sword.

“The Perils of Perception” by Mr. Duffy is an invigorating, timely and essential read. This is a book that needs to be not just read, but absorbed and assimilated, more so in a world where ‘truthism’ competes with ‘fake news’ for attention and ‘post-truths’ and propaganda walk in lockstep. By the way, The Great Wall of China is NOT visible from outer space. For all you skeptics, since the legendary Neil Armstrong is no longer amidst us to prove this fact, the next best clarifying port of call would be Mr. Bobby Duffy.

Over to you Mr. Duffy!

Bobbin Along

(Photo Credit: Yarnspinnerr)

Her world was a splash of riotous colours. An intricate abode of yarns, spindles and bobbins. The staccato burst from the sewing machine that accompanied a fast yet methodical movement of arms and legs was her way of embellishing an unsung melody. What began as an exciting calling had now transcended into a very affirmation of her soul.

Today was no different than what was yesterday and what would be tomorrow. Helen lived her present which was moulded by the past and made malleable to the future. Arranging her multicoloured yarn and threads in tidy boxes, she perched herself on her chair facing a table upon which sat her trusted sewing machine. Order was a perfect necessity for the desired outcomes.

With great precision Helen wound the thread on the spindle. Working with a dexterity that was ridiculously perfect, she began to stitch the first scarf of the morning. It was not always like this. Even now she involuntarily shuddered when she remembered the stumbles and slips when she first lost her vision.

(WORD COUNT: 173)

This story has been written as part of the FLASH FICTION FOR ASPIRING WRITERS – FFfAW Challenge #190, more details about which may be found HERE

For reading similar entries submitted in response to the FFfAW Challenge #190 please click HERE

Thank You Yarnspinnerr for the photograph!