I went to the airport to check in and they asked what I did because I looked like a terrorist. I said I was a comedian. They said, "Say something funny then." I told them I had just graduated from flying school Ahmed Ahmed at C34
I was walking the streets of Glasgow the other week and I saw this sign: "This door is alarmed." I said to myself: "How do you think I feel?" Arnold Brown at The Stand
I went out with an Irish Catholic. Very frustrating. You can take the girl out of Cork... Markus Birdman at the Pod Deco
Q: Who are the most decent people in the hospital? A: The ultrasound people. David O'Doherty at the Gilded Balloon
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Friday, June 12, 2009
One idea that I was exploring in my head is apparently almost happening: the idea was whether internet providers would offer free netbooks and hook in customers, just as cell phone providers give away the phone for free and then get us for the services.
Turns out that this is a viable business possibility, according to the Economist:
Some mobile-network operators now throw in free netbooks if subscribers sign up for a mobile-broadband contract. This will put further pressure on prices, since mobile operators have more bargaining power than individual consumers, although it also opens a huge new distribution channel for computer-makers.Of course, the next step will be the technological merge of cellphones and netbooks. Anyway, the magazine also reports that:
... [Asus], a Taiwanese PC-maker, to develop one of its own, called the Eee PC, which it started selling in late 2007 for $250.
The timing was perfect. A few months later, the credit crunch hit. At the same time, Intel started selling its cheap and power-saving new processor chip, called Atom. By the end of 2008, Asus had sold nearly 5m Eees and all its rivals had jumped on the bandwagon. In total, 21m netbooks will ship this year, almost twice the number in 2008 and more than 15% of the entire market for laptops, according to Gartner, a market-research firm.
I asked the students in one of my classes whether they considered Iraq and Iran as important enough for Americans to know more about. There was no hesitation — students unanimously and loudly voiced their affirmatives.I interrupted their enthusiastic comments by handing out blank outline maps of the Middle East and directed them to identify as many countries as they possibly could. Well, it turns out that the familiarity that the class had about Iraq, Iran and Saddam Hussein did not lead to a spatial understanding of that part of the world.
After pointing out the countries at the end of the exercise, I directed them to look at Sudan and Ethiopia. As they kept staring at the countries on the map, perhaps for the first time in their lives, it became apparent to them that it is a relatively narrow body of water, the Red Sea, that separates these countries from a larger contiguous land area that we refer to as the Middle East.
For all purposes, Sudan and Ethiopia are, hence, only a metaphorical stone's throw away from Saudi Arabia, yet Ethiopia is imagined as somewhere in a remote part of Africa.
Of course, geography is not about memorizing maps or random and trivial facts about places. It is about understanding relationships — such as economic or political relationships — between and among geographic areas. Such a framework, though, begins with knowing the actual location of a place and its relationship with its surroundings. After all, if we didn't know where exactly Ethiopia is, would we really be able to understand why that country seems to have so many problems?The author and public intellectual Susan Jacoby, notes an interesting aspect of Roosevelt's "fireside chats." He urged Americans to buy maps of the world and then follow along with him details of the World War II battles that he "chatted" about in his radio addresses — with specific references to the geographic areas.
Roosevelt may have had in mind what a student in my class articulated in her journal assignment after the class exercise. She wrote: "One thing that stood out to me this week was ... I find that I get so caught up in these abstract, revolutionary concepts of how the world should be better without ever even taking into account what the world actually looks like."
In the contemporary world, too, America is actively engaged in the international arena. To play a constructive role, we citizens need to be informed enough in order to be able to convey to elected leaders the changes we would like to make.
Fortunately, unlike F.D.R.'s era, we now live in a world in which information is freely and easily accessible. This ease of obtaining information is all the more reason educators like me want our students (and the general populace) to understand the world and appreciate the importance of location.Perhaps add a world atlas to your summer reading list?
Published in the Statesman Journal, June 12, 2009. Note: I added the map for this blog post.
The Economist notes that:
New figures from economists at the IMF suggest that the public debt of the ten leading rich countries will rise from 78% of GDP in 2007 to 114% by 2014. These governments will then owe around $50,000 for every one of their citizens (see article)Say what?
So, what does the Economist say that we ought to do?
That bottom line is what I like the best: "doing nothing is no longer an option." But, rushing to do something could also make things worse. Hmmm, what do they say about a rock and a hard place?
All told the outlook is bleak. In a few countries, the financial crisis has badly damaged the public finances. Elsewhere it has accelerated a chronic age-related deterioration. Everywhere the short-term fiscal pain is much smaller than the long-term mess that lies ahead. Unless belts are tightened by several notches, real interest rates are sure to rise, as will the risk premiums on many governments’ debt. Economic growth will suffer and sovereign-debt crises will become more likely.
Somehow, governments have to avoid such a catastrophe without killing the recovery by tightening policy too soon. Japan made that mistake when concerns about its growing public debt led its government to increase the consumption tax in 1997, which helped to send the economy back into recession. Yet doing nothing could have much the same effect, because investors’ fears about fiscal sustainability will push up bond yields, which also could stifle the recovery.
The best way out is to tackle the costs of ageing head-on by, for instance, raising retirement ages further. That would brighten the medium-term fiscal outlook without damaging demand now. Broadly, spending cuts should be preferred to tax increases. And rather than raise tax rates, governments would do better to improve their tax codes, broadening the base and eliminating distortive loopholes (such as preferential treatment of housing). Other priorities will vary from one country to the next. But after today’s borrowing binge, doing nothing is no longer an option.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
I cannot understand how we might possibly keep going with federal deficits--not over five or ten years, but over an entire generation! What could be the logic behind this madness? Click here for an analysis related to the graph on the left.
Robert Reich offers this explanation:
First, some background: Deficit and debt numbers mean nothing in and of themselves. They take on meaning only in relation to something else. And the most important something else, in terms of deciding whether the nation can afford such deficits or debts, is the size of the national economy.Yes, sounds good in theory. But, while I don't have the data handy, wasn't it also the case that in 1946 taxation rates were much higher, and entitlements were much lower? Contrast that with the current anti-tax but gimme, gimme mentality. It does not make sense that growing the economic pie will also magically make the deficits less scary.
Pay close attention, in particular, to the debt/GDP ratio. True, that ratio is heading in the wrong direction right now. It may reach 70 percent by the end of 2010. That’s high, but it’s not high compared to the 120 percent it was in 1946, after the ravages of Depression and war.
Over time, the basic way America has reduced the debt/GDP ratio is by growing the U.S. economy. GDP growth makes even large debts manageable. When the economy is cooking, more people have jobs and better wages. So they pay more taxes. And they require less unemployment assistance and other social insurance. That’s why it’s so important now, in the depths of depression, that government, as purchaser of last resort, steps in and runs large deficits. Without large deficits this year and next, and perhaps the year after, the economy doesn’t have a prayer of getting back on a growth path, and the debt/GDP ratio could really get ugly.
Can't make any sense of this madness ..... oh well!
Slowly and steadily we are beginning to recognize the geopolitical importance of a stable Pakistan. President Obama’s administration now operates with a more nuanced “AfPak” approach, fully recognizing that Afghanistan and Pakistan need to be tackled together.
Iran shares a long border with Afghanistan. Iran and Pakistan are also neighbors, with a border that simmers with its own set of ethnic disputes, religious tensions and drug trafficking.
The best way to understand the Iran-Pakistan border issues is to start with one of the most under-reported stories from two weeks ago. At least 20 people were killed, and more than 50 were injured, when a bomb exploded in a mosque in the city of Zahedan in Iran. Zahedan is the capital of Iran’s southeastern province of Sistan-Balochistan, and the city is practically at the junction of the borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan.
At least three aspects of this bombing deserve our attention.
First, this part of Iran has a predominant Sunni population in a country that is otherwise majority Shiite. Keep in mind that Iran and Iraq are home to Shiite Muslims, while surrounded by Sunni majority countries.
Second, the explosion came only a few days before the presidential elections, which are scheduled for Friday. Further, the explosion occurred only three days after a historic trilateral meeting in Tehran of the presidents of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Third, and most important, a group called Jundallah claimed responsibility for this blast. Jundallah, which means “soldiers of Allah,” has gained strength in the post-Sept. 11 years. Jundallah claims to be fighting the Iranian government to secure equal rights for the Sunni and the Baloch people.
The Balochs are spread across the modern boundaries of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Pakistan, the largest province — in terms of land area — is Balochistan, where about half of the 10 million population is ethnically Baloch.
During the days of the empire on which the sun never set, the British were more interested in protecting the “jewel in the crown” — the Indian subcontinent — and, therefore, treated the unconquerable Afghanistan and the territory of the Balochs as a buffer against the threat of an expanding Russia.
When the British created Pakistan in 1947, Balochistan remained quasi-independent until 1948, when it was annexed into Pakistan. A feeling of second-class treatment has slowly led to the emergence of a significant Baloch militant movement. The Pakistani government has no control over 10 percent or more of Balochistan, land that is now under the control of separatists.
The Balochs are yet another aspect of intricate relationships among Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The bombing in Zahedan was not the first time that Jundallah struck in Iran. The significant difference when compared to its violence the last few years is that Jundallah almost always targeted Iran’s security forces and other officers of the government.
Until the recent mosque bombing, never have such a large number of civilians fallen victim to Jundallah.
To add another layer of complexity: Iran has consistently viewed this militant organization as one that has support from Pakistan and the United States.
Iran alleges that the U.S. aids Jundallah — directly or through Pakistan. Of course, Iran has no evidence to support these allegations.
So, what do all these mean? It took us almost eight years after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, to understand that stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan is of utmost importance, and that Pakistan is linked to this in many ways. Over the same period, Pakistan has come apart to such an extent that we are now worried about it becoming a failed state with nuclear arms.
I hope that our leaders have a clear understanding of the limits of our involvement in AfPak so that we do not end up staying there even one day longer than we absolutely have to. And, I certainly hope that we will not enlarge our engagement into the Iranian issues.
For The Register-Guard
Posted to Web: Wednesday, Jun 10, 2009 05:44PM
Appeared in print: Thursday, Jun 11, 2009, page A7
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Of course, Drezner is looking at an academic at a research university. But, hey, I am there with the compulsion to catch up on A&L Daily. I am used to A&L for so many years now .... In fact, even the link to Drezner's comments was thanks to A&L Daily :-)
For those academic wannabes out there, here's a simple three-question survey to help guide you through this very important choice:
A) You are happiest when you see your name:
- Mentioned on television.
- Tagged on Facebook.
- Listed in the acknowledgments of an obscure article written by a former professor for whom you were an RA.
B) It is 2 AM on Saturday morning. You are:
- Still out partying.
- Feeling an odd compulsion to catch up on Arts & Letters Daily.
C) Which of the following phrases gets you the most excited?
- "This job offer comes with a 401(k)."
- "I scored two tickets to the Red Sox game."
- "Your paper has been accepted without revision."
If your answer to all of the above was (3), then yeah, you're pretty much
doomedfated to trying out academia.
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
I disagree with the op-ed author (Harold Levy) for a whole bunch of reasons:
- I cannot believe that Levy would want to raise the age limit for compulsory education to 19. For better or worse, we already have 18 as the age when a kid becomes a legal adult. (of course, for alcohol they don't become adults until 21! that is another issue by itself.) The last thing I want to do is tell 18-year olds that they are not adults yet, and that we are going to tell them what they ought to do. To quite an extent, extending the compulsory education is almost the same as compulsory military service that a few countries have for their citizens. Compelling adults to do anything is not my idea of a free society.
- I have already made my point in an op-ed that longer school year is not a panacea. There are a number of other issues with K-12 that need fixing. For instance, studies have shown that children need sleep, more so teenagers. Yet, by starting the school day at 8:00, and in some places as early as 7:00, we rudely interrupt their sleep and pack them off to school. I am yet to meet a teacher who does not complain how most students practically sleep through the first and second periods. We continue with this schedule because it fits the parents' work schedule. When I was a kid, our school started at 9:00 am!
- Everybody talks about the long summer break, including Obama. I hate long summer breaks, which is one major reason why I teach summer school. It makes me less productive if I have that kind of a break. Which is also why I don't see myself taking a long sabbatical also. However, I do not want to force students into more schooling. I would rather lengthen the winter break by one more week, and have a longer spring time break, and thus shorten the summer break without adding more school days. Again, I think we won't do such things because it will interfere with the parents' work commitments.
I tell you, we are screwing the kids because of what will be a good schedule for parents, and then we blame the kids for not doing well. Nice game we have going :-)
- Levy's argument on truancy is the weakest of all his weak arguments. This way exceeds my threshold for how much society should take over parenting. I will leave it at that.
- One of the groundwork laying items that Levy lists is "losing the advertising wars to for-profit colleges". And, what he in turn proposes is nothing but how public colleges and universities ought to behave like those for-profit colleges. Which means, Levy and I have a serious disagreement on the very purpose of higher education itself.
When I criticize higher education, my concern is that we are promising students high economic rewards, but then screwing them up. I want full disclosure to students that there is no guarantee of productive employment upon graduation. I also want to emphasize to students that higher education is not about employment skills, but about something less tangible and more profound. Instead, we are currently playing a shell game of conveniently offering either of these explanations as bait and switch. When students worry about jobs, we tell them that higher ed is about more than jobs. But then we pummel them with how higher educated people on an average earn more. Of course, the world has conveniently raised the minimum education for even mindless routine jobs ....
- Levy's comments on making accreditation is a waste. Because, hey, the entire accreditation process was a joke at our own university. It is a fantastic process if done correctly and I completely believe in self-study-based-accreditation. However, in its current structure most colleges and universities simply play the accreditation game, which is a shame. And, it cheats the public with whom we colleges and universities have a social contract.
Monday, June 08, 2009
I'm all done with school now. Its a good feeling!It makes it all worthwhile. My thanks to students who have made this year, too, a wonderfully rewarding year.
Thanks for an interesting class this term. I can honestly tell you it was one of the ones that I talked about the most with my husband. The other day at dinner I was discussing my paper, and he said "I wish I would have taken a class like this in college, you make it sound really interesting."
Already looking forward to the next set of students :-)
As always, I am simply impressed with how articulate Christopher Hitchens can be, and this time it is about Guantanamo. I mean, consider this sentence:
To the huge list of reasons to close down Guantanamo, add this: It's a state-sponsored madrassa.Awesome. How powerful those few words strung together are! Hitchens' point is:
Suppose that you were a secular or unfanatical person caught in the net by mistake; you would still find yourself being compelled to pray five times a day (the guards are not permitted to interrupt), to have a Quran in your cell, and to eat food prepared to halal (or Sharia) standards. I suppose you could ask to abstain, but, in such a case, I wouldn't much fancy your chances. The officers in charge were so pleased by this ability to show off their extreme broad-mindedness in respect of Islam that they looked almost hurt when I asked how they justified the use of taxpayers' money to create an institution dedicated to the fervent practice of the most extreme version of just one religion.And this is the same mentality that Hitchens says is the problem when it comes to Obama's big speech at Cairo--by "respecting" the traditions and practices of religions (in this case, Islam) what if we are accomplices?
Take the single case in which our president touched upon the best-known fact about the Islamic "world": its tendency to make women second-class citizens. He mentioned this only to say that "Western countries" were discriminating against Muslim women! And how is this discrimination imposed? By limiting the wearing of the head scarf or hijab (a word that Obama pronounced as hajib—imagine the uproar if George Bush had done that). The clear implication was an attack on the French law that prohibits the display of religious garb or symbols in state schools. Indeed, the following day in Paris, Obama made this point even more explicitly. I quote from an excellent commentary by an Algerian-American visiting professor at the University of Michigan Law School, Karima Bennoune, who says:I am ok with Hitchens bringing these issues up because he beats up on any and all religions--so, it is not as if he has some agenda to promote one religion while critiquing another. I suppose Hitchens' only fault in this context was how much of a warmonger he was .... if only he had been less hawkish!
I have just published research conducted among the many people of Muslim, Arab and North African descent in France who support that country's 2004 law banning religious symbols in public schools which they see as a necessary deployment of the "law of the republic" to counter the "law of the Brothers," an informal rule imposed undemocratically on many women and girls in neighborhoods and at home and by fundamentalists.
(Click here for more of professor Bennoune's work.)But to the women who are compelled to dress according to the requirements of others, Obama had nothing to say at all, as if the only "right" at stake were the right to obey an instruction that is, in fact—if it matters—not found in the Quran.
ps: in case you are wondering what the heck a madrassa is, well, click here. and here for hijab v. chador
Sunday, June 07, 2009
I agree with the following comment in Cohen's column in the NY Times:
“Some of his sentences and paragraphs are a little complicated for the average listener. It sounds as though he thinks he’s speaking to the M.I.T. faculty or the New York Times editorial board.”Indeed!
And how about this also from Cohen:
All the rhetorical groundwork the president has now laid — on Iran, Israel-Palestine, the Muslim world — will come to nothing if high principle is not matched by street-smart cunning and maneuver. Obama’s got to get off the podium and down into the bazaar if he’s going to come home with the goods.Yep. This is what I was telling my friends at the dinner table. Which is also why I do not agree with Friedman's comment that it is not Obama but the Middle East countries that ought to act; Friedman writes:
“It’s not what he says, but what he does,” many said. No, ladies and gentlemen of the Middle East, it is what he says and what you do and what we do.
- First it was Roger Federer at the French Open
- Then it was Tiger Woods charging from way back to win it
- and, finally, the Lakers restoring order in the NBA.
Anyway, soon after, I fell hook, line, and sinker for the Dodgers thanks to Kirk Gibson's too-good-to-believe homerun while hobbling on a worthless leg, and the sheer superiority of Hershiser's pitching. So far, this year the Dodgers are doing well, despite Manny Ramirez's antics with drugs.
Is it too early to sing "happy days are here again?" :-)
In the graph below, which compares unemployment in the early 80s, early 90s and the current crisis (we're red), the vertical axis is unemployment rate. The numbers along the horizontal axis are the number of months since the recession started.