Friday, October 31, 2014

To the Reader: Twilight

It was supposed to be the scariest evening of the year: Halloween.

It was anything but.

Treats everywhere.

The air was cool and moist when I stepped out for my favorite walk by the favorite river. The sky was gloriously colorful.

I came home refreshed, recharged, and renewed.

I wanted to read a poem that would fit the mood. The cosmos answered in the form of a Google answer.  The title of this post is borrowed from that poem:

To the Reader: Twilight
By Chase Twichell

Whenever I look
out at the snowy
mountains at this hour
and speak directly
into the ear of the sky,
it’s you I’m thinking of.
You’re like the spirits
the children invent
to inhabit the stuffed horse
and the doll.
I don’t know who hears me.
I don’t know who speaks
when the horse speaks.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

I find out that I am ... "bourgeois trash"

The academic world is a strange place.

Yes, that was an understatement.  But, I am trying to be polite here ;)

A couple of days ago, I was in my office, reading and writing as I always end up doing.  After all, in my life as an exile, it is not as if busloads of students and faculty come to chat with me, right?

I heard two colleagues conversing in the hallway, and quite loudly too.  From their voices, I knew who they were and didn't even have to peek out.

The louder of the two was complaining about some faculty colleague, who is not a member of the union.  Apparently this non-member had raised some questions regarding the use of "fair share" money for political activities.   I knew it couldn't be me--it has been years since I commented on anything, after I was told to "please shut up."

Anyway, this was when the louder voice got even louder: "that bourgeois trash has no idea how we do things" he yelled.

Such name calling does not surprise me anymore.  In the academic world, it has practically become the standard operating procedure not to debate ideas but to instead engage in ad hominem attacks.

And then the louder voice remarked to the other person: "you have one close to home too."  The other voice now mumbled something and the two immediately lowered their decibels.

Guess who was being referred to as the one close to home?  Yep, moi.

Which means, I am also "bourgeois trash."

Why academics shy away from intellectual debates baffles me to no end.  After all these years I should not be surprised, yes.  But, I cannot help it but be surprised at the virulent anti-intellectual atmosphere at a place that the rest of the world would think it is all about intellectual discussions!

I was thinking about this and walking towards the campus health center to get my flu shot.  I suppose I was so deep in my thoughts that I didn't even hear a colleague calling for my attention.  The driver of the car honked to get my attention.

"You are not supposed to walk in front of oncoming cars" she joked.

In the conversation that followed, she lamented about the anti-intellectual college environment.  "It is like what my friend says--the church is the best place these days to hide from god."

This atheist is now convinced that god is also my kind of people: "bourgeois trash" ;)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A kiss is just a kiss ... unless it is in the land of the RSS

Growing up in a traditional Tamil Brahmin family, I easily gravitated to the classical music that was the cultural lifeblood in the immediate and extended families.  A favorite of mine was a Bharatiyar poem set to music in the classical style, and the following lines when talented musicians would get into a jam session, as we might refer to it:

கன்னத்தில் முத்தமிட்டால்-உள்ளந்தான்   கள்வெறி கொள்ளுதடீ 
உன்னை தழுவிடிலோ- கண்ணம்மா  உன்மத்த மாகுதடீ. 

In this movie clip, that verse is when the male voice kicks in (at 2:25)

Those lines are about how the lover's heart feels intoxicated with a kiss, and about an embrace that is sensual.

The strangest aspect was this: as a kid, I had never seen in real life lovers kissing or passionately embracing.  Yet, here were these lyrics by Bharatiyar, who was a Tamil Brahmin himself, and whose hometown was not far from my grandmothers'.  There was no kissing in the public, or anything even remotely passionate an embrace, not only among the Tamil Brahmins but pretty much by anybody.  Those days, movies did not show kissing either.

To think that in my young days in the old country I had missed out on all the kissing and embracing, and the getting to first and second base that is all the norm for American teenagers!!!  What a loss! ;)

Kissing is in the news in India.  For the wrong reasons though:
To assert their right to love following an attack at a coffee shop in Kerala's Kozhikode district last week by the BJP activists, a group of youngsters in Kochi have decided to observe the next Sunday as 'Kiss Day'.
Yep, when a religious-nationalist is elected to power, then moral policing automatically follows.  To fight back, they have come up with a wonderful idea:
The event named Kiss of Love has been organised by a group of youngsters and invites everyone, old and young, to gather at the Marine Drive on Sunday evening and express their love in public. There is an air of excitement in the city and the social media is awash with youngsters confirming their participation. More than 2,500 people have registered for the event, while the likes have crossed 7000 and going up, something which even the organisers never expected. 

While the initial trigger--the attack in the coffee shop--was led by Hindu activists, the "Kiss of Love" is opposed by the Muslim moral police too!
The "kiss of love" protest has been opposed by both hardline Hindu and Muslim groups in Kerala who say the event is against Indian culture.
Yep, the kissing version of Bootleggers and Baptists!

Of course, it being the India where there are taboos in plenty against young men and women socializing, it should not surprise anybody that:
Many others on the net, boys and girls included, have expressed their willingness and excitement to take part in the event, but alas they are without partners.
The old country is beyond anybody's understanding.

Cocktails and tears

"Is this shuttle bus going to Gate 44H?" the forty-ish blonde asked with a tone of panic.  It is not that she didn't have reasons to panic.  American airports are going from worst to worstest ever and asking customer service folks for clarification will only make one panic even more.

The younger man standing next to me assured her that we were all headed to the same place.

"Are you also going to Phoenix?" she now asked.

"No, to Eugene."

"Hey, I am also going to Eugene" I joined in as the bus jolted to a start.

"Oh, Eugene is a fun city" the blonde said loudly to make sure the bus noise did not drown her out.  "More than twenty years ago, I went there when I was a teenager.  The Grateful Dead were performing and my friends were going. I asked my mother to pay for my airplane ticket.  From Montana, which is where I was then."

Ah, yes, the Deadheads. In Eugene. Tie-dye, and all.  Made for each other.

"My mother bought me a one-way ticket. I reached Eugene with a twenty dollar bill.  It was before cellphones."

By now she had moved closer to us and I got a strong whiff of alcohol breath.  The shuttle reached Gate 44 and I was separated from Ms. Cocktails.

At my gate, a young woman, perhaps edging close to twenty, was sobbing away while trying to get a few words across to whoever she was talking with on her iPhone.  A torture the separation from a loved one is when young.  The world seems to come to an end.  Even this old curmudgeon can easily recall those old teenage days.

It was time to board.  No hurry.

As she passed me, the sobbing young woman was now only silently weeping and drying her eyes with tissue in her hand.

I was the last one to board.

As I reached my seat, it was Ms. Tears next to me.

I sat down.  I reached for my seat belt and saw that she was looking in my direction.

"Are you ok?"

She nodded her head.

"I noticed you crying in the terminal ... I just want to make sure you are alright."

"Thanks. I am just having a tough time saying bye to a dear friend."

"Let me know if you think I can be of help" I said as I reached for the copy of The Atlantic that I had saved for this leg of the travel.

I imagined a young Ms. Cocktails twenty years ago sobbing away, and her mother spending her hard-earned money to pay for the daughter's airfare.  In my mind, I wished Ms. Tears a life of happily ever after.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Are academic deans furious and waxing wroth over the latest athletic scandal?

The athletics-driven higher education is finally in some serious shit.
Way past time.
But at least now.

What happened, you ask?
For 18 years, thousands of students at the prestigious University of North Carolina took fake "paper classes," and advisers funneled athletes into the program to keep them eligible, according to a scathing independent report released Wednesday. ...
In all, the report estimates, at least 3,100 students took the paper classes, but the figure "very likely falls far short of the true number."
If ever one needed a metaphorical smoking gun in order to take the issue seriously, well, now there is no denying it.
"As an athlete, we weren't really there for an education," Rashad McCants, the second-leading scorer on the championship University of North Carolina basketball team 10 years ago, told CNN's Carol Costello. "You get a scholarship to the university to play basketball," he said. In other words, the point wasn't for him to actually learn. That's just sad.
"The university makes money off us athletes," McCants told Costello, "and they give us this fake education as a distraction." When McCants first made these remarks, university representatives tried to shoot the messenger, attacking him and his credibility.
Remember the lawsuits against the NCAA that colleges and the sports body were simply making money off the students who were hired under the guise of "student-athletes" but were, ahem, not students and only athletes?  The whole thing is a "subversion of the academy":
 The NCAA is a cartel of the major athletic universities in the United States that sets wages, playing conditions, and other aspects of intercollegiate athletics. Most prominently of these is a restriction on payments to football and basketball players. These two sports create billions of dollars in local and national revenues via gate receipts, TV contracts, and ancillary merchandise, not to mention millions of dollars annually at member schools in donations by alumni and other supporters of athletic programs.
It is a tangled web that was woven at UNC.  A web that involved even a, wait for it, ethics professor!  Yep, an ethics professor, who "directed the university’s Parr Center for Ethics," was totally in the middle of this scandal!

The president of Macalaster College is furious:
this is not fundamentally an issue about sports but about the basic academic integrity of an institution. Any accrediting agency that would overlook a violation of this magnitude would both delegitimize itself and appear hopelessly hypocritical if it attempted, now or in the future, to threaten or sanction institutions—generally those with much less wealth and influence—for violations much smaller in scale.
Most of us work very hard to conform to the standards imposed by our regional accrediting agencies and the federal government. If falsified grades and transcripts for more than 3,000 students over more than a decade are viewed as anything other than an egregious violation of those standards, my response to the whole accreditation process is simple: Why bother?
Exactly!  Why bother with real work?  I agree with him that the university should lose its accreditation until it is able to convince us that the grades mean something.
The crime involves fundamental academic integrity. The response, regardless of the visibility or reputation or wealth of the institution, should be to suspend accredited status until there is evidence that an appropriate level of integrity is both culturally and structurally in place.
Anything less would be dismissive of the many institutions whose transcripts actually have meaning.
Of course, that will not happen.  Because, dammit, that won't happen!  After all, this ain't anything new :(