Comic Verse About Indian Music, part 2

“Oral Tradition: Some Hidden Aspects — or, The Ustad’s Advice.”

When I was in my early days,
I fell in love with raags,
Though my mother said the singers
Sounded more like frogs.

I learned to sing the alap,
I learned to sing the cheez,
My taan became proficient,
But still it failed to please.

I asked an ancient ustad,
how to make a lovely note.
“My son,” he said, “it just requires
a clearing of the throat.”

“You start down in the glottis,
and gargle up some phlegm,
then bring it through your larynx
for a truly great ACC-HEM!”

“My son,” he then continued,
“Your music won’t be great, ’till
You can made a wad of mucus,
Stained red from years of betel.”

I listened to the records
Of the pandits and ustads;
’twas true, I found: the greatest singers
Made the biggest wads.

When Bade Ghulam Ali
Throws all his weight around,
His taans, alaps, and gamaks
Produce a stirring sound.

But he’s got something else, my friends,
Which modern singers lack:
A wonderfully resonating way
of going “Aaaaaaak!”

I heard the maestro Faiyaaz Khan,
who sang in days of yore:
He’d scrape his learned larynx,
and bring up more…and more.

Paluskar’s hack was beautiful,
And likewise Amir Khan…
But now this great tradition,
it seems cannot go on.

The modern crowd of singers
Will stay forever small,
For though they may sing sweetly,
They cannot cough at all.

An Obscure Genre: Comic Verse About Indian Classical Music, part 1.

“Intonational Variation in Oral Tradition — or, Tutti Shruti”

In bygone days in India, the emperor Akbar
Had in his court a singer who was known both near and far.

He had a wondrous repertoire, there was no doubt of that —
But every note in every raga came out slightly flat.

Because his voice was out of tune, they called him Besur Khan,
He founded a tradition, so his gayaki lives on.

For he had some disciples, and they disciples too —
And all of them sing ragas in a loud, discordant moo.

And if you ask them nowadays, “why do you sing so flat?”
They’ll say, “it’s our gharana.”
That’s all there is to that.

Year 4, Month 12, Day 31: Drink A Cup For Kindness’ Sake…

Aaaaand this letter marks the official end of the Climate Letter Project. That doesn’t mean I won’t be writing more, but that I am freeing myself from the one-a-day demand. I’m putting that daily energy into working on the Climate Message Project, q.v. Happy New Year!

This, from the Express Tribune (Pakistan):

The head of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Dr Rajendra Pachauri, called for greater cooperation between Pakistan and India when it comes to managing our joint water resources (the Indus River System), on his last visit to Pakistan. An Indian himself, he pointed out that our “culture and history has shown us that we can harmonise our actions in consonance with nature”. He also called for greater cooperation in the fight against climate change.

Last week, an India-Pakistan dialogue on energy and climate change was held to discuss this very topic, hosted by the Heinrich Boll Foundation and the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad. Experts from India and Pakistan came together to explore ways in which they could jointly hold their governments accountable to what needs to be done about climate change. According to sustainable development expert, Dr Tariq Banuri, who currently teaches at the University of Utah, “the science has become more certain and climate change is more certain now… the massive floods of 2010 were not part of our history; there are changes in weather patterns. Yet, climate policy is paralysed — people just don’t want to act.” There is a leadership vacuum at the global level, where climate change talks have stalled over the principle of equity.

A revision of one that saw publication in Dawn a while back. December 19:

South Asia will confront enormous challenges in the next few decades as the greenhouse effect intensifies, destabilizing weather patterns and making agriculture increasingly unpredictable. Potential strategic and political impacts could easily include bitter resource conflicts and refugee movements that would dwarf the horrors of partition.

The fact that this region has historically contributed hardly anything to the industrial emissions which have precipitated the climate crisis lends these looming disasters a sad irony. Meanwhile, the nations which were major sources of carbon pollution over the past century have been insulated from the effects of their behavior by geographical serendipity.

While morality demands that the industrialized world act immediately to reduce greenhouse emissions, the countries currently bearing the brunt of this human-caused climatic disruption must both reinforce their physical infrastructure (to ensure that humanitarian emergencies are easily resolved), and their diplomatic infrastructure (to ensure peaceful resolutions to the geopolitical crises that will invariably accompany global climate change).

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 30: Semolina Pilchard?

The Patriot-News (PA) runs a fine op-ed from Richard Whiteford:

Congressional legislators who deny climate change typically focus on free market economics and fail to acknowledge the destructive impacts and associated costs that we experience now from climate driven extreme weather events.

They grouse about the Obama Administration’s request for a 2014 climate change budget of $11.6 billion and the expansion of government agencies to combat climate change.

While realizing that the Republican party’s platform rests on smaller government and cutting government expenses to the bone, you can’t help wondering why their budget fetish ignores the fact that, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, between 2011 and the first quarter of 2013 extreme weather events cost us more than $136 billion and that doesn’t count the endless numbers of flood, sand storm, drought, and wild fire damages that happened since then.

Props for the man. December 17:

The oil and coal industries won’t relinquish the unimaginable profits they’ve enjoyed for decades without a fight. Because addressing global climate change will cut into their quarterly returns, these corporations have invested heavily in conservative “institutes” and “think tanks” which routinely supply America’s print and broadcast media with authoritative voices loudly denying the realities of climate science. The result? An essential public debate on the issue has been corrupted with half-truths, cherry-picked data, and outright falsehoods, stalling legislative action at a time when it is desperately needed.

Which is more likely — that activists and scientists are pooling their (very limited) resources as part of a secretive global conspiracy to advance a spurious environmental agenda, or that giant multinational corporations with a long track record of greed, mendacity and incompetence are employing wealth beyond the dreams of avarice to derail policies that would impair their profitability?

This is irresponsibility at the planetary level, and it will be justly reviled by our descendants, as they struggle to survive in the world we’ve made for them.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 29: Stately, Plump, Buck Mulligan…

The Port Huron Times-Herald reports on Michigan’s farmers, who are getting smacked upside the head by climate change:

Tim Boring knew it wasn’t a normal drought when the fields on his Stockbridge farm started to dry up during the summer of 2012.

Nobody escaped the magnitude of heat and dryness that year. Certainly not farmers.

“That drought impacted everyone,” said Boring, who produces corn, soybeans and wheat at his family-owned O’Brien Farms when he isn’t working his job as Michigan Soybean Promotion Committee research director. “It was certainly one of our biggest cases of severe weather lately.”

The drought wiped out a variety of crops, from corn to soybeans, and sent crop prices surging. Pictures of dried up, fractured grounds, stained corn leaves and livestock agonizing under the extreme heat were inescapable.

The dry conditions finally faded away, but not before earning the mark of the worst drought in a nearly a quarter-century, according to the Michigan State University Extension.

Severe weather events such as these, some experts and farmers worry, are on the rise.

I’ve used this letter many times in many different guises: epistodiversity! December 15:

Michigan’s farmers aren’t the only ones coming face to face with climate change’s troublesome realities. Extreme and unpredictable weather is disrupting planting schedules, making for increasingly uncertain harvests everywhere on Earth.

Coping with the accelerating climate crisis will require growers to change many of their ways. The era of massive monocropping is coming to an end; the potential for catastrophic crop failures from environmental disruptions or invasive pests is all too real, and highlights the importance of diversity in our agricultural system. A world-wide re-enactment of the Irish potato famine is a nightmarish thing to to contemplate.

There are countless viewpoints about the best strategies to prepare for a climatically-transformed future, but one thing’s absolutely certain: we’ll never successfully address the problem if we cannot admit its existence. Just like farmers in Michigan, our media figures and elected representatives must realize that the time for climate-change denial is long past.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 28: I Ain’t Good-Lookin’, Babe.

US News And World Report’s Jeff Nesbit, on the Keystone XL:

Right now, there is an awful lot of dirty, heavy, crude oil sitting underground in vast areas of the Tars Sands region of Canada. The reserves of this very heavy crude oil – which is more expensive to refine and bring to market than any other type of oil – are big enough that Bill Gates and Warren Buffett once visited the region just to marvel at the untapped economic potential and money to be made there.

The only thing keeping much of this heavy, unrefined crude oil in Canada is cost. It’s why TransCanada and the oil industry needs the Keystone XL pipeline. It now costs $17 a barrel to ship this oil by rail. The cost would drop to $10 a barrel if it’s shipped through a pipe. That’s enough of a cost differential to matter – and potentially keep much of the oil locked up in Canada if Keystone isn’t built.

By some accounts, the Tar Sands reserves are as big as anything in Saudi Arabia or Venezuela. All by itself, financial analysts say, the Tar Sands could supply all of the United States’ energy needs for the next 30 years if 170 billion barrels of oil are recovered. It’s that big.

But should it be recovered? That’s the question that no one ever asks. TransCanada, Exxon Mobil, Suncor and every other big company looking to make trillions of dollars from the Tar Sands region just assumes that the answer is…well, yes, of course. They are already making money from the Tar Sands region. They just expect to make a lot more, with a bigger profit, if the Keystone pipeline is built.

But should it be built? That’s another question that no one ever really asks, largely because it runs counter to the history and notion of innovation that has defined America. People invent things, companies innovate, new industries are born, and economic winners enjoy the spoils of victory.

Yet it’s a question that needs to be answered sooner rather than later now that we know, with scientific certainty, that we only have a limited amount of time in this generation – and a finite budget of carbon that we can burn globally – before we tip the earth’s climate system towards an unstable and inhospitable state. The science question is settled. The economic one isn’t yet.

Kill it before it kills us! December 14:

The assertion that a transcontinental pipeline will reduce the cost of Alberta’s Tar Sands oil ignores several troublesome facts. Pipelines leak, and the crude intended for transport in the Keystone XL is a particularly toxic variety. Let it contaminate an aquifer en route, and the price goes up to include countless thousands of human lives.

More importantly, the CO2 emissions from the project would trigger runaway climate change an order of magnitude more severe than anything we’ve yet experienced. Such a planetary disaster would carry costs of Brobdingnagian proportions — damages which our trivia-obsessed political establishment seems incapable of imagining.

Let the exploitation of the Tar Sands proceed, and all of these consequences are inevitable — natural consequences of a business plan that profits from environmental destruction. We’d be better off minimizing and eventually eliminating fossil fuels from our energy economy, and leaving all that dirty crude in the ground.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 27: Happy Day After Boxing Day!

The Edmonton Journal explores the potentials of the Tar Sands:

Alberta’s oilsands reserves are a gift, blessing the province with jobs, Texas-sized bragging rights and a revenue stream most jurisdictions would envy.

But it is a gift that comes with strings.

As an ongoing Edmonton Journal series exploring the oilsands industry illustrates, some of those strings are difficult to untangle — especially persistent environmental challenges such as tailings ponds and greenhouse-gas emissions.

Let’s start with tailings, which is a problem the industry has wrestled with from the beginning, but the province only started cracking down on in 2009.

Oilsands, as the name implies, is by its very nature heavy on sand. The process of breaking the bonds between oil and sand adds a host of chemicals to the equation.

For decades, the resulting tailings ponds have been a problem with a solution promised just around the corner.

Only a single 220-hectare site has been reclaimed. In the meantime, tailings ponds have blossomed from 50 square kilometres in 2005 to 176 square kilometres in 2010.

Premier Alison Redford promised a Washington, D.C., audience that tailings ponds will disappear from the Alberta landscape in the near future.

Companies are investing in research to solve the problem and there are promising projects. A viable, affordable solution could be close.

But as of this moment, there is still, despite Redford’s statements, no magic bullet to the tailings problem.

There are parallels between the old problem of tailings and the newly appreciated problem of carbon dioxide emissions.

It’s actually a pretty good piece. December 13:

The oil industry’s sales pitch for developing the Tar Sands is full of reassurances. “There won’t be any environmental damage, and if there is, we’ll fix it.” “CO2 emissions will be trapped and sequestered.” “We need the energy to power our civilization.” “Our economy needs the stimulus.” “Nothing can possibly go wrong.”

It’d all be very soothing, if only it were true. If only these fossil fuel companies had a track record of living up to their promises. If only their history of malfeasance, mendacity, venality, incompetence and corruption didn’t give the lie to their assertions. If only our politics wasn’t dominated and controlled by the financial power of these same multinational corporations.

Our society is addicted to the ostensibly cheap energy provided by oil and coal, and the platitudes of their purveyors sound disturbingly like a heavy smoker dismissing a cardiologist’s warnings. We’d be better off overcoming our addictions.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 26: Sliding Down The Razor Blade Of Life

The Dallas Morning News, on the belated introduction of fossil fuel corporations to climatic reality:

Exxon Mobil used to spend millions of dollars to lobby against efforts to tax or limit carbon emissions, and even denied the existence of man-made climate change. Now, the energy giant and several other businesses are factoring the likelihood of a carbon tax into their long-range plans.

We applaud this awakening, which research group CDP North America chronicles in a recent white paper. It brings a dramatically new dynamic to efforts to restrict carbon emissions. By CDP’s tally, at least 29 major companies — familiar names such as Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Walt Disney, Wells Fargo, General Electric and at least nine major energy companies — see a carbon tax in their future and are in the process now of building it into their business plans.

It’s (past) time for Congress to do the same.

Several factors underlie the development of this new dynamic, not the least of which is business pragmatism. Opinion polls show strong public support for the need to act on climate change. Legal victories have given the Environmental Protection Agency a stronger hand in regulating emissions. And President Barack Obama has vowed to regulate carbon emissions from coal plants, a major step toward the U.S. meeting its promise to reduce carbon emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050.

Exxon Mobil’s transformation, the first hint of which can be traced to a speech by chairman Rex Tillerson in 2009, is particularly significant. Exxon Mobil is among the nation’s most conservative companies. Its new position puts it at odds with the more conservative wing of the GOP, which denies climate change and opposes policies that would put a price on carbon.

But Exxon Mobil recognizes that fossil fuels, its lifeblood for decades, are falling out of favor around the world and that burning them probably contributes to global warming. Economists concur that establishing a price on carbon pollution would be an effective market-based incentive to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, like oil and coal, and encourage use of lower-carbon natural gas, nuclear energy and renewable energy alternatives, such as solar, wind and battery power.

When your voters are more conservative than Exxon, what are you going to do? December 12:

Republican politicians normally jump to do the bidding of their paymasters in the fossil fuel industry, so the growing readiness of big oil to embrace a tax on CO2 emissions should provide an opportunity for our profoundly dysfunctional government to move forward on policies that actually address some of our civilization’s primary contributions to global climate change. But “should” is a long way from “will.”

These lawmakers are trapped between a corporate rock and a demographic hard place; the tea-party zealots who are the majority of Republican primary voters are reflexively anti-science to the point that simply acknowledging the reality of climate change is electoral poison in many heavily gerrymandered Congressional districts. The result is certain: paralysis and gridlock in the face of crisis.

It’s long past time for our politicians to respect the laws of physics and chemistry and their implications for humanity. A carbon tax is long overdue.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 12, Day 25: Stop Making My Head Hurt.

Oh, for fuck’s sake. The LA Times:

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency plans to substantially reduce inspections and civil enforcement cases against industry over the next five years, arguing that focusing on the biggest polluters would be the most effective way to clean up air and water.

In a draft strategic plan, the EPA proposes to cut federal inspections by one-third from the 20,000 inspections it conducted in the last fiscal year, ended Sept. 30.

Moreover, it plans to initiate about 2,320 civil enforcement cases a year, compared with the 3,000 cases initiated last fiscal year, a 23% reduction.

The EPA said the shift for fiscal years 2014 to 2018 is not a retreat from enforcement but a more effective allocation of resources.

“From our work on the biggest enforcement cases, such as the BP Deepwater Horizon spill, to aggressively pursuing smaller cases that can reduce harmful health impacts and have the greatest environmental benefit, our enforcement work will continue to save lives and protect our environment,” said Alisha Johnson, an agency spokeswoman.

Representatives from industry organizations that frequently criticize the EPA, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Mining Assn., had no comment on the proposed changes.

Well, they wouldn’t, would they? Sheesh. December 11:

It’s hard to find a positive spin on the news that the EPA will be cutting back on its inspections of climate polluters. “More efficient use of resources” is pretty weak tea, at a time when the urgency of the climate crisis is no longer disputed by any reasonable person. What we need is more inspections, not fewer. What we need is more funding for the EPA, and policies in place that will enable the Agency to actually fulfill its mandate to protect our environment.

The history of medicine has shown over and over that intelligent early diagnosis saves both money and lives, and this is equally true for the planet’s health. Environmental inspections are essential for tracking pollution output, and are necessary both for predicting future outcomes and mitigating their impacts on society. Such superficially plausible thrift is a virtual guarantee of far costlier outcomes in the coming years.

Warren Senders