I’m baaack!

December 27, 2014 • 4:53 am

I’ve just returned to Delhi after 11 days in Calcutta and its environs, including the fantastic terra-cotta temples of Bishnipur as well as Rabindrinath Tagore‘s “spiritual university” town of Santiniketan, where we heard a wonderful Christmas concert of Indian and Western music. It featured Tagore’s songs (he wrote 2500 among his many plays, poems, novels, and paintings)—some of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, Indian or otherwise. I’ll try to feature them over the coming weeks. Everything has been documented in photos, but since Internet is slow I may have to wait until my return Jan. 7 to give a full account.

And of course I haven’t neglected food, and I have dozens of pictures of delicacies, as I’ve eaten stupendously well: the best of Bengali cuisine, which is one of the tastiest cuisines of India. Be prepared to salivate.

I see that the website has been kept up well by my colleagues-in-writing. Special thanks to Grania for her many provocative and entertaining posts.

I will be departing again on Dec. 31 for Khajuraho, and back shortly after I return. Professor Ceiling Cat has a Big Birthday on Dec. 30, though, and I’m told that my hosts are having a “do” in celebration, which is very kind. Don’t forget to send presents!

In the meantime, fill me in on what’s happening. I have had virtually no news from the States, and haven’t looked at the internet in 11 days, which must be unprecedented in the last decade.  What is the most important thing I’ve missed?

Speaking of noms, it’s time for a late lunch, and there will be more later, including, I hope, a Caturday felid.

58 thoughts on “I’m baaack!

  1. Welcome back!!! 🙂

    News? Nothing but many people including Steven Pinker think this year is the one of the best years in history.

  2. Welcome back!

    I don’t think you actually missed anything of particular importance, save for the fact that the Sun died, laid low in its grave for a few days, and is now gloriously resurrected.

    Aside from that, it’s pretty much been business as usual — convicted felons staying in Congress, normalization of relations with Cuba, historic rainstorms in California…again, same old, same old.



  3. Gas has gone below $2 bucks a gallon, however if you don’t drive much, who cares. You can just be happy for your air carriers who are making a killing and not passing it on to you.

    1. Well, the low oil price is sending Russia’s economy into freefall, which, together with the sanctions, pressures Russia to ease up on Ukraine. Venezuela is in even more trouble and probably won’t be able to continue to subsidize Cuba, which is probably one factor that contributed to a US/Cuba rapprochement. Low fuel prices also contribute to lower prices overall because of reduced transportation costs. So even if you don’t drive much, it’s good news.

      A downside is that lower oil prices stimulate more consumption and reduce the competitiveness of alternative clean energy sources, which is bad for climate change. This would be a good time to raise the gasoline tax or institute a carbon tax, but don’t count on that happening.

      Regarding the airlines, they contract for fuel well in advance as a hedge, so they won’t feel any benefit for a while.

      1. A downside is that lower oil prices stimulate more consumption and reduce the competitiveness of alternative clean energy sources, which is bad for climate change.

        It’s also bad for the oil industry, for much the same reason it’s bad for Russia.

        Conventional oil is getting quite expensive to mine and process, too; we’re burning Canadian tar sands not because it’s good nor cheap, but because it’s about all that’s left. But it’s likely not profitable at all with today’s prices — and who here thinks the oil companies are going to drill out of the goodness of their hearts?

        Perversely enough, the oil companies will soon, if not already, be in a real bind…they won’t be able to afford to drill (or, worse, search for new deposits) at prices low enough to keep the economy going, and the prices they’ll have to charge to be able to pay for extraction and exploration will kill the market that pays for it all.

        Things get really ugly really fast when that happens…like what Russia’s going through, but the whole world over….


        1. I think it’s a good thing that high-cost, dirty oil production like tar sands will become unprofitable, and I’m not shedding any tears for the oil companies.

          1. Oh, I won’t shed any tears for the oil companies, either.

            But, like it or not, we are in bed with them…and it’s their oil we quite literally eat in the form of fertilizer and fuel for farm machinery and trucks to haul the produce to market. It’s going to take a lot of work over a long period of time to wean ourselves of the stuff…but it’s doubtful we have the will to do it and we certainly don’t have the time.


            1. I’m a farmer so I know that fuel and fertilizer costs are a substantial fraction of farming costs. Low oil prices should keep food prices down. That’s a good thing. I think you’re looking at this upside down. The only losers are the oil companies and the countries that rely on oil exports, and possibly the alternative energy sector.

              By the way, I don’t think these low prices will last long — maybe a year or two. But I don’t think they’ll get back up to over $100/bbl in the foreseeable future. The Saudis are playing the long game. They want to put the hurt on high cost producers to maintain market share, and they have enormous cash reserves. The production cost of Saudi oil is about $2/bbl.

        2. Also, it’s from Canada (the oil) and with all the buddy agreements Canada and the U.S. have I’m sure it goes for pretty cheap. I know canada often sells energy to the U.S. for cheaper than provinces sell it to one another.

          Oh, and stop buying our cheap oil. It is all our PM cares about and he silences scientists and destroys environmental legislation to do so. He hates Putin but he is so much like him.

        3. I don’t think low oil prices will have a huge negative impact on clean alternative energy like solar, hydroelectric, wind, geothermal, and nuclear. These sources are used to generate electricity, and petroleum accounts for only 1% of electrical generation in the US. Other fossil fuels, coal and natural gas, account for about 66%. Low oil prices will drive down coal and gas prices, but not to the same degree.

          1. All true…but the problem is that we can’t substitute electricity for petroleum products, except in some currently very limited domains. Today, the best commuter cars and luxury sedans are electric, but that’s a very small fraction of the transportation industry — and we may never see an electric airliner, let alone container ship.

            Worse, although you can make fertilizer and lubricants and plastics and pesticides and all that stuff from electricity…it’s rather expensive to do so. As Aidan’s father loves to point out, the stuff’s too precious to burn…and yet that’s mostly what we do with it.

            The same way it’s incomprehensible to us today that not that long ago whales were hunted nearly to extinction just for perfumes and oil to burn in lamps, it’ll be incomprehensible to our children that we burn petroleum in cars to drive back and forth from work.


            1. The are a number of zero-emission and carbon-neutral fuels, suitable for transportation applications, that can be made with electricity. It’s usually impractical now because the price of petroleum is too low and the price of electricity too high.

              1. To be sure. If nothing else, you can always extract CO2 from the atmosphere and turn it into syngas, and thence into pretty much anything else.

                Thing is…that sort of process is incredibly expensive. The most economical variations only become competitive with crude when crude is pushing $200 / barrel…and it’s not entirely clear that our economy can function with crude prices permanently in that range — at least, not with as many people in poverty on this side of starvation. Oil prices that high will almost certainly lead to widespread food riots, and not just in the developing world.

                The good news, of course, such as it is, is that it puts an upper limit to how much petroleum we’re going to extract. When alternatives are cheaper than petroleum, even if still very expensive, nobody will bother with the you-gotta-be-shitting-me expensive petroleum in favor of the crazy-expensive alternatives.

                Not exactly a rosy picture, but at least it sets some limits on carbon pollution….


              2. Conservatives have said, the market will solve global warming, that economic pressures will ensure the perfect mix of energy sources. If oil and coal become scarce, their expense will ensure solar and wind will come into economic importance. In the mean time nothing can help. I don’t think that’s what your saying though is it?

              3. No, I’m not saying that. I think we have to be proactive. There are lots of steps we can take now to reduce carbon emissions. The first step is getting the science-denying fools in politics to recognize that there’s a problem.

              4. That seems like a reasonable first step. Unless they already know what’s up, but don’t care.

              5. I’m reading The Martian (recommended here). With this climate-change problem, and the technical aspects of it, I’m feeling like we’re all collectively Mark Watley, and the Earth is Mars, and we’re desperately trying to find a technological way to stay alive.

      2. A problem we see in NY is crude from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale fields being sent via rail along the west shore of the Hudson to NJ refineries. The stuff is full of methane bubbles and can explode like a bomb. It also sinks in water so a spill here would be hard to clean up. It must be cheap though. Ka-ching! It’s fortunate the solar and wind economy is growing rapidly. Maybe they will reverse the long and dirty history of oil energy.

    2. Randy, you can’t say the airlines haven’t been passing it on. I notice the attendants are having their teeth cleaned again. They must have gotten some benefits back. So indirectly we win.

      1. wow, it’s amazing what you can start around here. Hopefully, none of the attendants on your next flight will see this.

        I do hear that American might be giving employees a larger raise this year due to the lower cost so maybe someone is seeing improvement.

  4. Welcome back!

    In the news: Poor family gets donations for Christmas. Soldier surprises his kid on camera. Don’t leave boxes on the curb that let burglars know what you got for Christmas. One sports team beat the other one. Someone tweeted something that annoyed someone else.

    Same old same old.

  5. Yes, indeed, welcome back!

    A nativity scene was vandalized. And some atheist billboards/signs met a similar fate. And the Zombie Nativity was ordered removed by the local town council somewhere.

    You missed The War on Christmas!

  6. It so happens that my daughter is in India right now. She and her husband are attending the wedding of friends. She has sent photos, but no verbal reports, unlike you, Jerry. If you see her, say hello. You can’t miss her…a red-haired American girl in a sari.

  7. Welcome back Jerry!

    Plus ca change, plus c’est meme chose:

    On 24 December three men were jailed for blasphemy against Buddhism in Burma. So much for enlightenment.

  8. News you might have missed: Late last week a Spacx rocket resupply mission to the space station took along 2 cats. Glenn and Gordo. The cat videos from space are making a big splash on Youtube. They took only a few hours to adapt to weightlessness and are at work now providing a calming effect on the human crew. I guess the litter box has been a bit of a problem.
    This story comes to you from, The Onion.

  9. Welcome back. You’re obviously enjoying India tremendously!

    I’ve got a wonderful little partially worm-eaten book: “”Lover’s Gift” and “Crossing”” by Rabindranath Tagore, 1944 reprint (first edition was in 1918), which was given to me by my then lover when I was in Pakistan in 1972. It is the most exquisite poetic prose. He wrote beautifully in English with great mastery.

  10. (As) If you’re possibly hurting for something to do, you might skim through the WEIT post “What not to say to an atheist,” to get an idea of what might prompt 478 reader comments.

  11. Welcome back! It has been a Mars forthnight:

    – Two weeks ago, the Curiosity team announced that they see and “taste” lake deposits where they now are, with very nice sandstone layering and a salt cemented “dried up” top layer.

    The deposits can mean one to a few tens of millions of standing lake (they do need to traverse and check for interruptions). That in turn means a humid atmosphere at the time, so a network of similar lakes and/or a northern ocean.

    – One week ago, the Curiosity team announced that they had seen 3.7+ billion year old organics in the Cumberland mudstone, after learning how to analyse it. And sniffed methane during the traverse from there, with concentrations and unprecedented rapid dispersal as the original -04 Mars Express observations.

    [ http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/mission/science/researchpapers/ ]

    – As Mars-mas present, the fossil biofilm expert Nora Noffke announced that she sees such in the the overlying Gillespie Lake Member sandstone (of the drying up playa). Noffke is she of the best 3.48 billion year old fossil observations (of these so called MISS) on Earth from last year.

    It may be the first expert fossil claim on another planet, and the blogs are cautiously mentioning it.

    Fun fact: The Gillespie Lake Member stretches to within a few dm from, and above, the Cumberland mudstone drill site as seen in Groetzinger’s images.

    [ http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/ast.2014.1218 ]

    1. To not overplay Noffke’s claim, the title is “Ancient Sedimentary Structures in the <3.7 Ga Gillespie Lake Member, Mars, That Resemble Macroscopic Morphology, Spatial Associations, and Temporal Succession in Terrestrial Microbialites". The paper promotes MISS as a "hypothesis", the press release has her describing it as "speculation" because the identification has to be done on sight.

      Mostly, she wants the Curiosity team to follow the -07 strategy where they should be looking for MISS and similar signs.

  12. We should do this once a week–a much better news synopsis than my NYT feed. 😀

    Welcome back, however briefly. Can’t wait for the ensuing posts!

Leave a Reply