Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Will Liberals laud Walmart?

A year ago--in September 2013--I blogged about Walmart being way ahead of other businesses on at least one aspect that liberals love to talk about.  Yet, this news junkie hasn't read anything to that effect from the usual suspects.

So, what should liberals be applauding Walmart for?

Its adoption of green energy--solar power.

In that September 2013 post, I noted:
Among the corporations going solar, the biggest one is Wal-Mart.  Yes, that same Wal-Mart that the solar-loving left typically loves to hate.  Unlike the left that pushes expensive solar for reasons other than a dollar bottom-line, Wal-Mart does that precisely because it sees money in it
Now this update from Slate, which makes the story even more exciting:

105 MW.  That is huge.
the company now has more solar capacity than 35 states and the District of Columbia. 
How was the situation in that post a year ago?

From 65 MW to 105 MW!

You think that the Walmart-bashing, Apple-loving, liberals will cheer this?  Will faculty, who even organize their students to boycott Walmart, bring this to their students' attention?

Imagine if left-leaning environmentalist faculty get their students to write to Walmart appreciating the leadership the corporation has shown in this important issue of greener energy sources!

Of course, none of that will happen.  For one, we typically see only what we want to see, and we tend to dismiss evidence that does not resonate with our ideological perspectives.  Which means that chances are high that the liberal faculty who rail against Walmart and fossil fuels might not even know that Walmart is way ahead of them.  For another, even if they are aware of it, chances are pretty good that they won't give the devil its due.

As Slate notes:
Walmart's notoriously ruthless cost-cutting might actually burnish solar power's reputation as an economically viable choice rather than some goofy liberal fixation. The company wouldn't be building out an entire state's worth of capacity if solar didn't make fundamental financial sense. Corporate America doesn't get any more hardheaded—or mainstream—than Walmart, and that's great news for green energy.
Indeed.  Solar energy might really catch on if people and businesses found out that even the ruthlessly cost-cutting Walmart is going solar in a big way.  As they say, follow the money ;)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Pole-pole," not "hakuna matata," in Higher Education

"Pole-pole" was one of the first Swahili phrases that we--the group I was with--were advised to understand during our three-weeks as volunteer-tourists in Tanzania.  A phrase that suggests taking things slowly, to ease up, not to get all wound up, not to rush.  It was important that we Americans understood this, and approached our daily interactions with Tanzanians that way, given the American drive to get things done.  We had to ditch the favored "chop-chop" attitude in favor of "pole-pole."

Even I had problems downshifting to "pole-pole" despite my unhurried approach to many aspects of life.  As much as I quote Rumi and wonder why we hurry, I found the "pole-pole" life way too slooooooow.

I suppose I have my own speed in life.  I found the Tanzanian life to be slow, while my daughter thinks, even gets annoyed sometimes, that I take the longest time to complete a thought, a sentence!  The good thing, at least according to me, is that I don't force others to speed up to my pace, nor do I nag them to slow down to mine.

But, there is one aspect of life where I believe we are messed up with our excessive speed: education.
[Educators] are responsible for teaching students how to think critically and creatively about the values that guide their lives and inform society as a whole.
That cannot be done quickly—it will take the time that too many people think they do not have.
Acceleration is unsustainable. Eventually, speed kills.
Indeed! I agree with Mark Taylor, who is at Columbia, without any reservations whatsoever.

Instead of taking the time to educate, we are incorrectly focused on a whole bunch of messed-up priorities.  (No, this post is not about the wasteful spending on athletics, or on frivolous courses, or ...)
 People often ask me how higher education and students have changed in the four decades I have been teaching. While there is no simple answer, the most important changes can be organized under five headings: hyperspecialization, quantification, distraction, acceleration, and vocationalization.
Yes, from the faculty side of teaching and learning, hyperspecialization--even at undergraduate education--has been awful!
Since the early 1970s, higher education has suffered from increasing specialization and, correspondingly, excessive professionalization. That has created a culture of expertise in which scholars, who know more and more about less and less, spend their professional lives talking to other scholars with similar interests who have little interest in the world around them. This development has led to the increasing fragmentation of disciplines, departments, and curricula. The problem is not only that far too many teachers and students don’t connect the dots, they don’t even know what dots need to be connected.
I like how Taylor puts it: "they don’t even know what dots need to be connected."  The "they" includes teachers too.

Students and their parents, and taxpayers, have a twisted notion that higher education is about vocational training.  Many of these are the same people who oppose vocational education in high schools, and yet want to approach higher education as if it is a trade school!  As Taylor notes:
[It] reflects a serious misunderstanding of what is practical and impractical, as well as the confusion between the practical and the vocational. As the American Academy of Arts and Sciences report on the humanities and social sciences, "The Heart of the Matter," insists, the humanities and liberal arts have never been more important than in today’s globalized world. Education focused on STEM disciplines is not enough—to survive and perhaps even thrive in the 21st century, students need to study religion, philosophy, art, languages, literature, and history. Young people must learn that memory cannot be outsourced to machines, and short-term solutions to long-term problems are never enough. 
If only I knew how to practice the more famous Swahili phrase, "hakuna matata!"


Monday, October 20, 2014

Deepavali or Diwali? Don't pontificate, just celebrate!

"How come Deepavali is so early this year?" I asked my father.

I can't even recall the last time I celebrated this Hindu festival, or any festival for that matter.  For this atheist, every single day that I am alive is enough cause for celebration.  Yet, similar to how I keep track of football and baseball scores even though I don't really follow any team or sport, I keep track of the major Hindu festival dates too.  Sports are conversational materials--especially with students-- and festivals are big deals for parents.

I use the word Deepavali because that is what we said during my years back in the old country.  Every once in a while, I use that other--perhaps more common--usage of Diwali.  "Diwali" annoys my sensibilities for two reasons.  One, there is no "w" sound in the Indian languages and, hence, should be spelled with a "v" and pronounced with that "v" sound.  Second, and the more important point, is that there is no imagery associated with the word "Diwali" whereas "Deepavali" brings to my mind the image of lights--"deepam."

Why overthink all these, you might ask.  Why not shrug the shoulders, and simply get to eating sweets even if not celebrating the day for religious reasons, right?  But, hey, thinking and overthinking is all that I can do.

Even the Vatican, yes, the one in Italy, diplomatically employs both the usages:
As Hindus worldwide celebrate Deepavali or Diwali, the festival of lights, the Vatican has called on Hindus, Christians, followers ‎of other religions and people of good to foster together a culture of inclusion  for ‎a just and peaceful society.‎
Anyway, back to that original question of why Deepavali is so early this year.

It is all because of the lunar calendar that is used in the traditions.  When Deepavali is celebrated depends on when the new moon occurs in a certain month of that calendar.  If Wikipedia is correct, then the explanation is as:
Though the rest of the country celebrates Diwali traditionally on an amavasya day, Tamil Nadu will celebrate it on the preceding day, Naraka Chaturdashi. In Tamil Nadu, Diwali is calculated when chaturdashi prevails during sunrise, precisely at 4am-6am. If chaturdashi prevails after 6am it is not considered. For example, if chaturdashi tithi begins at 2:30 pm the preceding day and ends at 1pm next day, the next day will be celebrated as Diwali.
[Note: Amavasya refers to the new moon.]
I am sure father would have had a better and clearer explanation; but, these days he does not have enough free time for meaningless chit-chat because he is, as he calls himself, the "housewife" who prepares the breakfast, does the laundry, and coordinates household activities in the absence of mother who is sidelined with a fracture.

Recovering from the fracture means no home-made sweets either and this does not thrill my mother.  "I have ordered for sweets from the store" she said with a tone that suggested displeasure at the very thought that she had to take that option. I understand that tone, given the amount of sweets that she has made over the years and that I have consumed.

I suppose it doesn't matter if it is Deepavali or Diwali.  Nor does it matter if you are a Hindu, or a Scientologist or even an atheist.  It is merely yet another reason to enjoy eating sweets. Have an awesomely sweet day.

Maybe I will thaw a piece of the frozen jack-halva.

Thawed. Eaten. Done! ;)

Happy Deepavali, dear reader.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Into each life some rain must fall

"It has been raining here.  Fourth day" said my father.

The part of India where my parents live gets its monsoon rains this time of the year--about the same time that the rainy season begins in Oregon.  The difference between the two places in the old and the new country is simple--our rainy season will not end until it is late in the spring.  Do the math yourself on the weeks and months of rain and clouds ;)

After two spectacularly sunny and warm days, and that too to coincide with the weekend, rain is forecast to return, starting tonight.

I like the rains.  My dear friends they are.  I often remark "no rain, no green."  And, boy have I come to love the green.  Less than a month ago, when I was in Arizona for a conference, I could not stand the heat, and the dry and brown landscape.  I wanted to get back home, to green, green Oregon.

As I kept thinking about the rain, I remembered that way back in high school we studied a poem called "The Comforters."  Yes, as my daughter remarked more than once with annoyance, the nerd in me remembers such stuff that we studied decades ago.  Hey, that's the only skill I have--I don't know how to grow crops or dig for gold or even pound a nail!

Anyway, back to the poem. All I remembered was that the poem had something about the rain and the wind as comforters.  So, a Google search and the result was instantaneous.

Hopefully, there is nothing going on in your life for you to need a little comforting.  If there is something, may this poem ease your mind, in case you live in a place where there is no rain and wind to comfort you.

The Comforters
By Dora Sigerson Shorter

When I crept over the hill, broken with tears.
When I crouched down on the grass, dumb in despair,
I heard the soft croon of the wind bend to my ears,
I felt the light kiss of the wind touching my hair.

When I stood lone on the height my sorrow did speak,
As I went down the hill, I cried and I cried,
The soft little hands of the rain stroking my cheek,
The kind little feet of the rain ran by my side.

When I went to thy grave, broken with tears,
When I crouched down in the grass, dumb in despair,
I heard the sweet croon of the wind soft in my ears,
I felt the kind lips of the wind touching my hair.

When I stood lone by thy cross, sorrow did speak.
When I went down the long hill, I cried and I cried.
The soft little hands of the rain stroked my pale cheek,
The kind little feet of the rain ran by my side.   

The global war on Muslims is ... stupid and dangerous!

I wonder how a typical Muslim feels.

When in the company of the select few of their innermost circle, when they will have no need to worry about anything and can be completely at ease to express themselves, do Muslims feel their lives are like everybody else's, or do they worry that the global rhetoric and action are seemingly anti-Muslim?

Line up the world's largest economic and military powers of the day.
In the US, there is rabid Islamophobia, especially worrying when it is led by "liberal" atheists like Bill Maher and Sam Harris.
France has issues even with the veil.
Russia's shirtless Putin doesn't ever come across like he might want to accommodate Muslims.

And, of course, the "war on terror" subliminally and explicitly leading people to equate Muslims with terrorists!   It could easily seem like there is a global war on Muslims!

China has its own way to treat Muslims.  Particularly those in Xinjiang--the Uighurs.  You push a group hard enough and at some point they are bound to react with "I'm mad as hell" and will demonstrate how they can't take it anymore.  I am saddened, but not surprised at all, with this latest incident:
An attack on a farmers market in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang has reportedly left at least 22 people dead and dozens injured, Radio Free Asia, the news service financed by the American government, has reported.
Radio Free Asia said on Saturday that the rampage, which took place Oct. 12 in Kashgar Prefecture, was carried out by four men armed with knives and explosives who attacked police officers and merchants before the men were shot dead by the police. Most of the victims were ethnic Han Chinese and the assailants were ethnic Uighur, the news service said, citing local police officials.
Violence has been mounting in recent months despite a crackdown on what the authorities describe as Islamic-inspired terrorism. Human rights advocates say harsh security measures and tightened restrictions on religious practices are aggravating discontent among Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking minority who complain about job discrimination and Han migration to the region, which many see as an effort to dilute their ethnic identity.
The Beijing government is all fucked up!  How supremely confident in their inhuman approach they are when they try their best to wipe out the religious and ethnic identities that humans value.  Heck, if even the peaceful Tibetan lamas will set fire to themselves because they can't take it anymore, should we be surprised when the less peaceful humans decide to take up arms, however crude they might be?

This latest incident suggests that the intensity of violence has increased: last May, about 43 killed, and in July nearly a 100 died, in a "pattern of recent attacks in which Uighur assailants, often using crude weapons, target Han civilians as well as Uighur police officers and government officials."

The fucked up Beijing government is so panicky about the Uighurs that:
Ilham Tohti, a scholar who has been an outspoken critic of the government’s treatment of people of his Uighur ethnicity, was sentenced to life in prison for separatism. The ruling by a court in Urumqi, the capital of his native region of Xinjiang, was the harshest known sentence in years for someone convicted of a non-violent political crime in China. By jailing Mr Tohti, who says he supports Chinese rule, the government has signalled a desire to silence even moderate voices of dissent in Xinjiang, where Uighur separatists have often resorted to violence to express their grievances.
Why target him?
No other Uighur inside the country has come close to speaking out on such issues with his persistence. But the government, though unsettled by his pro-Uighur sentiments, has for a long time also worried about how to handle him: he taught economics at a prestigious university in Beijing that was established precisely to win over ethnic minorities like China’s Uighurs. Arresting such a calmly spoken academic risked fuelling even more sympathy abroad for the plight of Uighurs, most of whom are Muslims and many of whom chafe at China’s rule in Xinjiang.
I guess the world tolerates China's behavior because we are all happy with everything from cheap plastic stuff to iPhones manufactured there.  Who cares about some Muslim group in China that is ill-treated by the government when we deserve all the goodies, right?

It is not the Beijing government that is fucked up. We are!