Saturday, January 12, 2019

Many happy returns of the day earth! It's been 4.53 billion years already.

[The wonderful Earth Day greeting, below is reproduced, with permission from and thanks to Balaton Group (balatongroup.org) member Anupam Saraph.  It was posted on the website Pune365.com)

From my human perspective, that’s ridiculously long to comprehend. We humans rarely see beyond our day. Or something we’ve come to call as the short term…
So we end up doing stupid things that we realise are stupid in the short now – or the lifetime of a child born now. Alas, only if we are able to think about the short now. But you have seen many short nows. For you, is that short term?
I’m told by my extremely clever friends who have been studying the lives of stars all their lives, that if we compare our 100 years life to your approximate life span, you’re probably about 45 years old.
We humans have been around for just a little over 7 days of your existence.
I’m enormously grateful to you for you working hard to make yourself habitable for life. You’ve made life thrive for over 35 of your 45 years. My geologist friends explain how you shaped yourself to create the most beautiful landscape we may ever set our eyes on. No landscape designers and engineers can match the magnificence and wisdom of your mountains, plains, rivers, deserts, seas and polar caps.
No architect can parallel your ability to create habitats where such a diverse set of homes for such a remarkable diversity of life may thrive. 
For the fresh air you provide, I express am eternally grateful to you. Without all the plant life that you support, the air would not be breathable. Without their absorbing the carbon from the atmosphere, temperatures would be unliveable. Without them releasing oxygen into the atmosphere our life may just not exist.
Without the bio-geo-chemical cycles you support would you be any different from the 100 billion other planets in our Milky Way? 
For the fresh water I can drink I owe you my sincere thanks. You created the rain so rivers may flow and give us water. So the ground may store it to keep itself from warming and to supply life with water and so that rivers may not dry. For the sea that allows the river to meet the clouds. So the seasons may continue to nourish life.
For the magic you’ve woven on to yourself to create the diversity of life that you support, both plants and animals and the billions of microbes, you’ve added unimaginable joy to existence. Something only you have managed to create among a hundred billion exoplanets in the Milky Way!
For the 1.6 trillion times you tirelessly went around yourself to give us our days so we may live our lives and nights that give us the rhythm of life, I am grateful. For every one of your 4.543 billion journeys around the sun, you created seasons that breathe life into spring, summer, autumn and winter! My amazement at your consistency, persistence and devotion.
Possibly, just like the cells in our bodies don’t recognise the tissue, organ or organism they are a part of, we humans don’t recognise ourselves as the cells in your living body. When our cells fail to work, the tissue and eventually the organ may fail and cause death of the organism. When we humans and our cultures fail, we endanger your health, perhaps your survival. When our cells grow without constraints, we call it cancer. Unless balance is restored and the growth of cancerous cells is stopped we die.
We humans have grown our population, our consumption and the trail of waste and destruction exponentially in less than 1 second of your life. I hope we are not the cancer you contracted.
When cancerous cells spread themselves to other tissue and cause growth of other cells in other tissues, we say the cancer has spread – it has metastasised. In just 0.000002 seconds we’ve destroyed 80 percent of the wildlife you had evolved over 35 years. When we spread our growth culture across your body, destroying other life forms, are we the cancer that has metastasised?
But, it’s your birthday today, So I will not talk of your ill healthIt’s our day to celebrate together. It’s our day to hope we will be the life that values and protects you. It’s our day to express gratitude of our relationship.
And it’s my day to express my love for you. It’s my day to pledge my role, small as it may be, to ensure your health for the next 50 years of your life!
Happy Birthday Dear Earth! 
Dr. Anupam Saraph grew up in a Pune that was possibly a tenth of its current expanse and every road was lined by 200 year old trees. He’s committed to the cause of de-addicting the short-termers. 

He can be reached @AnupamSaraph

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Exiting the Stage, Safety Harbor Florida, 5 January 2019

The customary retirement age for faculty at the National University of Singapore is about 70 years old.  However shortly after celebrating my 79thbirthday, I received an offer from the Residential 4 College Master to renew my contract for one or more additional years.  This was a remarkable offer. I had little doubt that if I accepted, I would be able to satisfy the requirements for a peer review of my teaching that university regulations required. 
As I pondered my decision, words of wisdom from my mother came to mind (for her,  aphorisms were a frequently employed parenting tool) “It’s better to leave the stage, while the audience is still applauding.”  
In responding to the Master’s offer, I recalled that when I first learned about the RC4 mission, educating “Systems Citizens,” using System Dynamics Modeling as a foundation, I said I would gladly work for free. This would not be necessary, he responded.  This offer had, in 2014-15 morphed in a joint Visiting Professorship with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (where I was already teaching) coupled with an appointment as one of the College’s “Resident Fellows” with direct the responsibility for about 100 students in residence. I offered to stay on as “Modeler in Residence,” with flexible schedule, again working without compensation.  My personal goals were to reinvigorate my System Dynamics modeling practice, to move forward with a research agenda emphasizing the envisioning of sustainable development and to spend more time with my family and the diminishing number of old friends who still remained alive. 
In response, the Master offered me the option of remaining for a year as a full time Resident Fellow, making myself available as mentor to students and faculty colleagues and offering an informal weekly colloquium in my apartment to a small group of highly able students who were extending the normal two-year Residential College term for study for a third year.
This kind offer ushered in one of the most rewarding years of my professional life, because of the opportunities it gave me to connect with students informally, without the obligations of marking and assessing. There were also opportunities for speaking and writing, though my research productivity was less and I had hoped for.  As the academic year drew to a close and I made plans to return to the United States, I made a special effort to connect with the friends and mentors who had made such a difference in my life over the preceding eight years.  Now the time has come, with my writings, to give thanks to the students, friends and colleagues in Singapore who have given me so much. Their gifts can never be fully repaid; however, I must do my best.   


Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Recollection on Mr. Roger's Neighborhood's 50th Anniversary

On days when I take lunch in my apartment, I often listen to podcasts.  Today’s listen was a 1984 Interview by “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross of US Children’s Television personality, Fred Rogers.  His popular program on US National Public Radio, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, debuted 50 years ago. In responding to a question about why his program was so popular, Mr. Rogers reflected,  “Every one of us longs to be in touch with honesty… I think we’re really attracted to people who will share some of their real self with us.”  The reach of “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” was brought home to me when two NUS Residential College Four colleagues, one from Singapore and another from Lebanon, told me they had watched it.
In 1982, the US Association for the Club of Rome held an event to commemorate publication of The Limits to Growth. The occasion also celebrated publication of the Association’s commemorative book, Making it Happen: A Positive Guide to the Future. Making it Happen…, was intended to make the Club of Rome’s message appealing to Americans, who had recently elected a pro-growth conservative Republican as their President. It drew parallels between the Club’s message and President Reagan’s Inaugural Address “Americans are too big to dream small dreams…” It described the lives of Americans, including some US Club of Rome Members, whose lives exemplified positive, affirming sustainable development visions.
In introducing the book, I asked members of the audience who had participated in the project to stand.  More 50 rose as I described the book’s message. Each audience member had received a copy and so all could view our “Bookazine” formatted highlights, which included illustrations, poetry, cartoons, and short biographies of contributors  (entitled “who am I?”) as I was speaking.

Why did the 1984 Terry Gross interview, to which I listened while taking lunch, bring back this 1982 memory?  Writing about my address, the Washington Post reporter said little about the substance, merely noting the book characterized contributors as “living exemplary lives.”  Rather what had attracted his attention was that my appearance, words and mode of speaking  “bore an eerie resemblance to Television’s Mr. Rogers.”  Later I wrote a short note to Mr. Rogers, mentioning the reporter’s message and accompanied it with a signed copy of the book.  As I would have expected, he responded kindly. However, as far as I know, Making it Happen: A Positive Guide to the Future, never made it onto the recommended reading list for viewers of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.   

Friday, October 20, 2017

Why you should practice and be prepared to administer The Heimlich Maneuver

Many years ago I was attending a luncheon organized by the biomedical section of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC.  The speaker was Dr. Henry Heimlich, who was just winning recognition for a new procedure to prevent choking to death from a foreign object (food) or phlegm obstructing the throat. Dr. Heimlich explained how he had discovered the method through studying the pneumatic physiology of the lungs.  He showed a film that demonstrated the method, which entails clasping the victim under the rib cage and compressing, producing a flow of air from the lungs that clears the passage. 
Now there are excellent online videos that demonstrate the method.  You should check them out, practice, and be prepared to act if someone experiences chocking, especially giving notice by placing one hand on her or his throat.
Not long after not after I attended Dr. Heimlich’s luncheon address and film, my daughter was stricken with severe bronchitis. See seemed ok, apart from needing bet rest and I was walking to the car when she appeared on the back porch of our home. Having heard my description of Dr. Heimlich’s speech she held her hand to her throat, giving the signal that she couldn’t breathe. I rushed up to the porch, cleared her throat so she could breathe and then sped with her to the nearest hospital emergency room.  Her life was saved.
Some time later , my wife and I were enjoying a steak dinner in my Washington apartment, overlooking Massachusetts Avenue. She attempted to swallow an overlarge piece of steak and it became lodged in her throat.  She couldn't breathe and immediately raised her hand to her throat – the choking signal.  I immediately got behind her, compressed her abdomen and cleared her throat.  Though Dr. Heimlich advised taking a chocking patient to the emergency room for further evaluation, she felt fine. We both had a second glass of good red wine and finished our evening.
 Whenever I hear someone who seems to be choking, I am still likely to jump up and be ready to render assistance.  My children call me “Heimlich Man” – a family joke.  I don’t mind.  Had I not attended Dr. Heimlich’s lecture, my (now former) wife and daughter might be dead.



Thursday, September 21, 2017

"Balaton Group" Members - bonded and empowered by face-to-face conversations

I am writing in my Ibis Styles hotel room, on a cold, rainy fall evening in Budapest, overlooking the Danube River. This morning, my Balaton Group colleagues and I concluded most recent of successive annual meetings on the shores of Lake Balaton that began in 1982.  The group’s mission “generating new research, new action and new solutions for sustainability” is aptly described on the Group’s website, www.balaton.org and need not be repeated.  A display of several hundred book covers of volumes published by Balaton Group members exhibits the range of member interests and contributions. There is a short video, crafted by filmmaker John deGraaf that conveys the texture of our annual meeting, limited to about 50 members, that more closely resembles an extended-family gathering than a professional meeting.
At this year’s conference, a survey by Balaton Group co-founder Dennis Meadows provided a useful way of capturing this distinctive ambience. Members were given a sheet listing the names of the 50 plus participants.  We were asked to enumerate our conversations with other members according to the following scheme: (a) a pleasant, casual conversation (b) an extended conversation including new information that would be professionally useful  (c) an extended conversation containing contextual and theoretically relevant content that could very likely lead to a future professional collaboration.
Conversations typically took place during meals, in one-on-one conversations arranged by appointment; on the bus-rides to-and-from Budapest, and on long walks. In “category b” I also included “professional coaching” sessions.  I always have extended conversations of this nature with present and former “Donella Meadows” fellows, highly capable young professionals who are invited to join the meeting and discussions, with full funding.
Reviewing this compilation was illuminating, both about the meeting process and my own role. I had engaged in at least one-on-one or small group casual conversations with all but three participants.  There had been twenty or more extended conversations, including those with Donella Meadows Fellowship recipients. Two of these lasted more than two hours, and several consumed more than an hour. At least three are likely to be followed up with professional collaborations.
I came away from the meeting, exhausted, but also enriched and empowered, both professionally and personally.  The result was exactly what Donella and Dennis Meadows envisioned when they founded the Balaton Group. I am reminded of a quotation from Lee Kuan Yew School Dean Kishore Mahbubani that I have posted in my office.   One of the oldest truths about the human condition is that direct conversation always helps.  There is no substitute for face-to-face dialogue