Thursday, September 30, 2010

On India's Commonwealth Games: the nasty sneers

I have blogged earlier about my opposition to the Games--the same reasons why I "boycotted" the Asian Games back when I had just about started my undergrad program; I don't recall watching even a single event on TV.  I did love the "swagatham" song of the games though.  And the reason is that such an expense ought to be a much lower priority than the more urgent ones. Like the hundreds of millions who are poor.  Or the reports of child labor in the construction activities.

But, it is a democratic government that is spending the money and will be punished or rewarded at the next elections. At the end of the day, these resource allocation decisions are India's internal matters.

It is strange that most of the governments and athletes from the richer and whiter countries did not worry about whether they ought to encourage India spending such large sums.  (though, investments like with the new airport or metro will payoff.)

They didn't worry either about the possible security issues that the event might trigger--for the athletes as well as for all in Delhi--Indians and otherwise.

They didn't even worry when reports were trickling in that the projects were well behind schedule.

But, now, they raise their voices about .... bathroom conditions?

Spiked says it much better than I can:
one does not need to be a supporter of the Indian government – and spiked is not – to see that the British critics want it all ways. They complain about the ‘obscenity’ of spending millions on shiny modern sports stadiums in the midst of the poverty of the city slums. Yet they scream like children with a spider in the bath when they discover that the facilities for ‘our’ athletes might not be up to luxury standards, ignoring the fact that the most ‘uninhabitable’ corner of the athletes’ village will have better facilities than the places that countless Indians inhabit every day.
I sympathize with my high school friend who has been pretty much on a "fuck you" mode in his Facebook postings in response to the hysterical yelling and screaming by the British and the Kiwis, and his fellow-Indians too ... I bet he will light up the cigarettes in the pack all at once if he reads what Spiked notes:
As Prince Philip famously remarked of a dodgy old fuse box during a visit to a factory in, er, Scotland: ‘It looks as if it was put in by an Indian!’
Ouch!  Does the Prince not know by now what is humor and what isn't?

The final words from Spiked:
Yet something else makes me want these games to be a success for India. There is a new orthodoxy abroad which preaches that staging major sporting events can benefit the peoples of developing nations and help to unite the world. This is pious nonsense, as the experience of the recent World Cup in South Africa has demonstrated once more. But the alternative sanctimonious prejudice of our age is, if anything, even worse. This one preaches that there is something ‘arrogant’ or ‘obscene’ about a developing nation such as India daring to attempt grand projects such as the Delhi games, rather than concentrating its efforts on the poorest. Thus the critics protest loudly about the ‘resettlement’ of thousands of shanty town-dwellers to make way for the stadium – the sort of slum clearance that always accompanies major urban redevelopment – and ignore the new airport, subway lines, roads and railway bridges that the bloated budget for the games has brought to the city. The message to India is: know your place. But the backlash in India against the international Delhi-bashing suggests there is as little chance of that happening as of Prince Charles winning a medal next week.

On the need for more teachers in school ...

More here

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

McDonald's food doesn't decay. So, eat it and live forever? :)

From Salon and the LA Times:
New York photographer Sally Davies left a McDonald's hamburger Happy Meal, complete with a small side order of french fries, siting on a shelf in her home for more than 130 days. Every three days, Davies took a photo of the food. By day 137, the food looked pretty much the same.

Some were quick to blame McDonald's for using preservatives to elicit the appearance of "fresh" food. But scientists now say it's preservatives aren't the reason why the Golden Arch's food won't break down..
Yes, it did not decay even four-and-a-half months after it was purchased :)  Explain away, scientists:
Marion Nestle, chairwoman of New York University’s food studies program, told us over e-mail that McDonald’s would have to use "really a lot of" sodium propionate to prevent bacterial or mold growth. McDonald's French fries, for example, which have repeatedly proven their hardiness to spoilage, contain citric acid as a preservative. But a bigger factor might be the fat content of the fries. About 50 percent of the total 250 calories contained in a small order of fries come from fat. "Anything that is high in fat will be low in moisture," says Barry Swanson, a professor at the Washington State University department of food science. And low moisture means less room for mold to grow.
BTW, isn't it neat that "Nestle" is the last name of the food studies program's chairwoman?  (editor: yes, you are the billionth person to find this funny. Don't you have a class to teach?)

However, don't load up on those burgers and fries to achieve immortality:
For better or for worse, McDonald’s is no more a chemical laboratory of secret compounds designed to embalm us from the inside than any other processed food maker. A Happy Meal manages to stay unspoiled because it is fatty, salty and practically empty of nutrients -- which, really, are all good reasons to avoid it anyway.

Dancing to celebrate the 1000 year old "Big Temple" in Thanjavur

From the descriptions, it certainly suggests an impressive spectacle of a performance by a thousand classically-trained dancers to celebrate 1,000 years of the "Big Temple" in Thanjavur.

The temple is not merely a symbol of the religion, but also of the rich history, and the achievements of the past.  The construction of the Big Temple for that time period is a remarkable piece of architecture and engineering, and art.

It is also a reminder of how much the usage "the dark ages" overlooks the bright economic, cultural, intellectual, and creative light in other parts of the world--like in Thanjavur, under the Cholas.

One of the dancers who participated in this, Madhumita Srinivasan, writes:
The scene was probably similar to the one witnessed by King Raja Raja Chola 1000 years ago: grandly lit temple, an entire town wearing a festive look, and thousands gathered for a visual and aural treat around the temple courtyard with dignitaries to witness it.
I bet it was.  Am reminded of the historical fiction that "Kalki" penned--"Parthiban Kanavu."  Come to think of it, I learnt a lot more about the history of Tamils--the Cholas and the Pallavas in particular--from Kalki's serialised novels that my parents had carefully bound together.  My favorite though was "Sivagamiyin sabadham."  In all those stories, Kalki helped me imagine the past in ways that no textbook could, and it would have been a wonderful experience to relive that past through this dance.

Srinivasan writes:
Then finally it was our time. The thousand, and in fact more, dancers were on their feet. Just the spectacle of all of us taking our positions attracted applause from the crowd. Soon the dance pieces – a customary invocation to Lord Vinayaka and Karur Devar's verses on the Thanjavur Peria Kovil were performed, blurring the lines between the past and present.
As if in a flash, it was over. Only the applause and the weariness of post-performance remained.

Am mighty glad they did this.

Cartoon of the day: airline flights

More on athletics versus education

Two items from the same issue (Sep 29th) of the newspaper:
First on athletics:
Chip Kelly, University of Oregon make a $20.5 million deal with new contract | Six-year deal puts Chip Kelly among the highest-paid coaches in the nation
And now on education:
The Oregon University System presents the state’s next governor and Legislature with a welcome opportunity. It’s understood that all state programs, including higher education, can expect less state support in the next budget period and beyond. Oregon’s universities, however, believe they can perform as well as in the past or better, even with stagnant or declining state funding, if Salem would give them more flexibility in managing their own affairs.
So, ... let me see. Despite all the tight controls that the state has on the little resources it allocates, universities find enough and more millions to spend on athletics.  And, they expect people like to me to believe that their spending on educating students will improve if only those controls would be released.  Oh yeah, it so excites me as a taxpayer that academics will suddenly become the overwhelming priority.  As a faculty member, I am ecstatic about total independence for state universities. (editor: can you be anymore sarcastic?!)

Oh, in case you thought this was the story only at the large schools in the system, I want to remind myself about this from the president of the smaller, regional, university where I am employed:
In 2008-09, university support accounted for more than half of the $4 million athletic budget this past year, reaching $2.2 million from just less than $900,000 in 2006.
Let us see when the highly entertained taxpayers wake up to reality that the joke that is on them on so many levels ...

Monday, September 27, 2010

We need more wishes for "world peace" from beauty contestants

On the same day, I read three news items that involve cross-border military activities:

Iran/Iraq (Kurdistan)--from the BBC:
Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards have crossed into Iraq and killed 30 Kurdish militants blamed for bombing a military parade last week, state TV reports.

Israel/Palestine--from the NY Times:
Three Palestinian militants were killed late Monday in an Israeli bombing in Gaza, witnesses, medical and security personnel said, a continuation of sporadic violence in the territory that is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas.

US/NATO (Afghanistan)/Pakistan--from the VOA:
Pakistan is strongly protesting two incidents in which NATO helicopters launched air strikes into Pakistan while in pursuit of suspected Taliban militants fleeing across the border.  NATO says at least 30 militants were killed.  Afghan officials cited a higher death toll of at least 60 combatants.
I suppose Pakistan is kind of ok with unmanned drones flying into its airspace and targeting militants, but not manned helicopters?

'nuff to lose sleep ... cue Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality:

Drooling for ... masal vada!

I wish I hadn't read this, and looked at the photo there :(

In a couple of months I know I will have this, and dad's favorite, thavala vadai, that he gets from a tiny restaurant run by a daughter of Kannadasan's ... she has this special only one day of the week :)

Barack O'Bush stays on course with wiretapping. Screw privacy!

Not a good way to start a week: the radio-alarm kicked in with NPR's Steve Inskeep talking with retired congressman, Lee Hamilton.  In a measured pace, Hamilton referred to Obama's foreign policies not being that much different from Bush's.  Half-asleep still, I pick up the local paper, which screams in its headlines that the Obama administration wants to expand wiretapping--which began under Bush.

I was sure that Glenn Greenwald would have said something about this; he does:
What these Obama proposals illustrates is just how far we've descended in the security/liberty debate, where only the former consideration has value, while the latter has none.  Whereas it was once axiomatic that the Government should not spy on citizens who have done nothing wrong, that belief is now relegated to the civil libertarian fringes.  Concerns about privacy were once the predominant consensus of mainstream American political thought. 
Greenwald notes that America is no different from Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates (and India too?) that demand:
full, unfettered access to all communications.  Amazingly, the administration had the temerity to condemn the UAE's ban on Blackberries on the ground that it impedes "the free flow of information," but in response, the UAE correctly pointed out how hypocritical that condemnation was:
Yousef Al Otaiba, the UAE Ambassador to the United States, said [State Department spokesman P.J.] Crowley's comments were disappointing and contradict the U.S. government's own approach to telecommunication regulation.
Not a good beginning to a week, which is also the beginnings of a new academic year.
And, here is how Greenwald ends his commentary:
What makes this trend all the more pernicious is that at exactly the same time that the Government is demanding greater and greater access to what you do and say, it is hiding its own conduct behind an always-higher and more impenetrable wall of secrecy.  Everything you do and say must be accessible to them; you can have no secrets from them.  But everything they do -- including even criminal acts such as torture, assassinations and warrantless surveillance -- is completely off-limits to you, deemed "state secrets" that not even courts can review in order to determine their legality.
Well, renew your ACLU membership, and fight for civil liberties that, yes, the Constitution guarantees us.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Remembrance of things past: சுராங்கனி சுராங்கனி (SuranganiSurangani)

Quote of the day: about faculty and universities

I suppose back-to-school has gotten me thinking a lot about higher education!
The following quote is a beauty:
the radical ambiguity of a profession in which one is hired for one purpose, expected to carry out another, and prized for achieving a third: teaching, research, and prestige are independent variables, besides being incommensurable per se. The upshot is as lively a set of anxieties for the agents and the responsible heads of the institution as one could hope to produce by teasing hamsters in electrified cages. Hence the peculiar governance and subdued restlessness of the American university.
If you find yourself nodding in agreement, you might all the more be impressed that the quote is from "The Academic Marketplace,  a 1958 treatise on scholarly prestige by the sociologists Theodore Caplow and Reese McGee."

Yes, prestige is a strange beast.  And it was prestige, or the perceived lack of, that triggered a lot of commotion on campus during the dog days of summer :)  The passing of fifty years means that the more things change, the more they do feel the same!

More on the higher education bubble

In an earlier post, I quoted at length Megan McArdle's argument that colleges and universities appear to have gamed the system in order to extract for themselves as much as possible the economic benefits of higher education that used to go to students in the past.  Political Calculations' post seems to add to this:
We didn't set out to go looking for it, but we couldn't help but notice what would appear to be a really unique correlation between the average annual tuition at a four-year higher education institution in the United States and the total amount of money the U.S. federal government spends every year.
First this chart:
Notice the jumps compared to the median household incomes.

The argument here is that when household incomes did not grow much at the median level, and when state governments decrease their allocations for higher education, then one would expect adjustments in the service provision that would try to hold the costs constant, or at least hold the increases to a minimum.

But, that hasn't happened. Why?  We might not immediately think of the federal government's role in subsidized loans to students ... it is not that different from how low interest rates led to higher home prices during the real estate bubble times.  I recall even my realtor making this point eight years ago.  Realtors and mortgage brokers know this all too well because they operate with a clear sense of how much monthly payment the potential homeowner can take on. To them, that monthly payment is a critical variable in the process.  So, when interest rates are held low, it makes it possible for buyers to go after larger-value homes.  But then the homeowners and their advisers also sense this, and home prices are correspondingly adjusted upwards.  Pretty soon, the later entrants to this crazy market do not realize that such a system will only help those who are already homeowners, and are we to be surprised that those who joined this game towards the end are the ones "underwater" now?

In this case, colleges and universities then correspondingly adjust their tuition upwards.  Increasingly, students are like the late entrants to the real estate bubble.

Back to Political Calculations:
This correlation suggests that the U.S. federal government is directly behind the bubble we observe to exist in the cost of U.S. higher education, with federal spending during years of recession effectively insulating U.S. colleges and universities from the nation's economic circumstances by subsidizing their operations.
Nominal Average Annual Tuition and Required Fees vs Median Household Income in the United States, 1976 through 2008 These subsidies, delivered at times of recession, free U.S. higher education institutions to set the price of their tuition independently of their students' ability to pay based upon their or their family's current household income.
The only limiting factor for U.S. higher education institutions then would be the actual growth of U.S. federal spending. This would be why the average cost of college tuition in the United States would appear to have come to track the total level of federal government spending so closely.
As a result, the cost of college tuition has skyrocketed with respect to the typical family's household income. Consequently, when a student attends college today, they must increasingly rely upon subsidies from the federal government that fill the gap between what their institutions charge and what they must pay for out of their own pockets.
How does all this translate to a typical student?  Here is a classic statement:
"I get financial aid but I get less because more goes to tuition," said Tiffany Webster, 22, who lives on campus. "It just seems like it is getting too high for a Cal State school. It should be affordable."
Which is how we end up with a scenario like the one in this graph from "Carpe Diem"'s Mark Perry, who adds that maybe, just maybe, students--like American consumers now--are not that excited to take on debt like they used to.  Perry notes that:
After remaining stable at about 11-12% of median household income between 1994 and 2001, student loans as a share of income climbed to more than 18% in 2006, before declining to 15.5% in 2007 and 13.6% in 2008. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Forty years of op-ed at the NY Times

I grew up with opinions (op-eds) as the norm in newspapers.  But, it wasn't always so.  The NY Times is celebrating 40 years of op-eds:
On Sept. 21, 1970, readers who turned to the last inside page of The Times's main section found something new. The obituaries that normally appeared in that space had been moved, replaced by something called Op-Ed. The vision of John Oakes, the editorial page editor, and Harrison Salisbury, the eminent foreign correspondent, Op-Ed was meant to open the paper to outside voices. It was to be a venue for writers with no institutional affiliation with the paper, people from all walks of life whose views and perspectives would often be at odds with the opinions expressed on the editorial page across the way. (Hence, Op-Ed - Opposite Editorial.)
The multimedia the paper has put together for this occasion is pretty good.  The following is one of those--more here.
For Op-Ed's 40th anniversary, Ali Soufan, a F.B.I. supervisory special agent from 1997 to 2005, recounted the events that triggered his Op-Ed in April 2009.

In the op-ed, Soufan wrote:
It is surprising, as the eighth anniversary of 9/11 approaches, that none of Al Qaeda’s top leadership is in our custody. One damaging consequence of the harsh interrogation program was that the expert interrogators whose skills were deemed unnecessary to the new methods were forced out.
Mr. Mohammed knew the location of most, if not all, of the members of Al Qaeda’s leadership council, and possibly of every covert cell around the world. One can only imagine who else we could have captured, or what attacks we might have disrupted, if Mr. Mohammed had been questioned by the experts who knew the most about him.
A lack of knowledge perhaps explains why so many false claims have been made about the program’s alleged successes.
 It is a new administration, but I am not sure how much things have changed.  Here is an exhibit on the continuation of some of those practices:
President Barack Obama's administration has invoked the state secret privilege to avoid a lawsuit on behalf of Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, whose father charges the US government of targeting him for assassination.
Nasser al-Awlaki last month asked two civil rights groups to sue the White House and the Central Intelligence Agency for placing his son on a list of people targeted for killing.
The younger Awlaki is considered a dangerous terrorist by the US government and is currently believed to be hiding in Yemen.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed the court action seeking to force the US government to say how it decides to target US citizens for murder far from any armed conflict without due process.
Am waiting for that "change" ....

Understanding what professors mean at meetings ...

A new academic year has begun ... so, the following is worth repeating...
One of the many reasons why I attend very few meetings on campus :)

David Galef writes:
the language in departmental meetings is difficult to read, even for veterans who’ve been teaching at U of All People for decades, and the proceedings really deserve a translation. In return for a modest travel voucher, the psycholinguist Martin Baffle has provided a rough equivalency chart for all future meetings:
Utterance Implication
Let’s come to order. This meeting should’ve started 15 minutes ago.
Who’ll take notes? I’m not doing it two months in a row.
We have five items on the agenda. We’ll be lucky if we get past two.
You have the documents in front of you. I see that none of you downloaded what I sent.
With all due respect ... I’m about to be rude.
I have a question. I have a comment.
I have issues with -- I can’t tell you how much this pisses me off.
Can you repeat that? I need to buy some time.
What’s best for our students ... What works for me ...
I’m a bit puzzled by ... I hate ...
Do I hear a motion? Will someone please save me?
Let’s send this back to the committee. Let’s deep-six this baby.
Can we take this up next time? I don’t have my minions here right now.
I have to leave early for another meeting. I’m more important than you.
I’m sorry, but I have to pick up my son. I have my priorities straight.
Do I see a hand? Stop interrupting.
As a point of procedure ... No other way I can stop this.
If I may make a comment ... Now that everyone else has had a say, I intend to drone on for as long as I like.
Shall we call the question? Can we for Chrissake get on with this?
Paper ballots, please. I see we don’t trust each other.
How about just a show of hands? We’ll smoke ’em out.
Please, this is a private matter. Back-channel all sniping e-mail.
As I recall, we do have a precedent for that ... As the longest-standing faculty member in the room, I can make up anything before 1970.
We can decide this next matter in a hurry. I hope no one’s read beyond page two.
That’s not what I said. I wish I hadn’t said that.
Correct me if I’m wrong. I know I’m right on this one.
Here are our recommendations. Here are our demands.
To speak anecdotally ... I haven’t a shred of evidence to back this up.
The administration may not agree with us on this one. The provost wishes we were dead.
I don’t believe Professor Jones has had a chance to speak. Stop marking papers, Jonesie.
We need to set up a committee. We don’t want to talk about it now.
I’m just the moderator. The buck starts here.
Let me remind you ... I know you know I know you know.
Personally ... I love talking about myself.
The dean has asked for our opinion. He wants a rubber-stamp approval.
You have proxies? But aren’t Professors Winthrop and Leighton dead?
The meeting is now adjourned. Time for a drinkie.

Student beware: these, too, are some of my favorites

Now, I am ready for the new academic year :)

On Looking Death in the Eye

Keep in mind that Christopher Hitchens looked like this before the treatment for cancer began ...

Nicholas Lemann says that higher education crisis is way overblown

I disagree with Nicholas Lemann, but in the spirit of being "fair and balanced" (yes, Faux Noose!) here are the concluding words from his piece in the New Yorker:
We have a lot of recent experience with breaking apart large, old, unlovely systems in the confidence of gaining great benefits at low cost. We deregulated the banking system. We tried to remake Iraq. In education, we would do well to appreciate what our country has built, and to try to fix what is undeniably wrong without declaring the entire system to be broken. We have a moral obligation to be precise about what the problems in American education are—like subpar schools for poor and minority children—and to resist heroic ideas about what would solve them, if those ideas don’t demonstrably do that. 
The biggest problem I have with his essay is this: in this short piece, Lemann clubs together the K-12 system with the higher education system.  
But, the problems in each have very little in common.  These are the metaphorical apples and oranges ...  I can't figure out why he chose this route for his commentary ...

An OMG photo of the day: Lowari Pass, Pakistan

It is from an essay in the NYRB by Jeremy Bernstein, who writes about his trip from Baltistan to Hindu Kush--back in 1969.

While the trucks in the photo suggest that this was from that trip forty years ago, it is equally possible that those trucks are plying these passes even today, and the roads are as hair-raising even today.  Maybe the photo is contemporary? :)

The geographic area where this photo is from is the Chitral Valley.

Bernstein writes:
The Chitral valley was formed by the Kunar river which veers off into neighboring Afghanistan. Looming over the town of Chitral is Tirich Mir, which at 25,230 feet is the highest mountain in the Hindu Kush range. We went in search of the local ruler Prince Bhirhanudin, to whom we had somehow obtained a letter of introduction. We had been told that he had an extraordinary wine cellar. We found him at the airport trying unsuccessfully to persuade a Pakistan Airlines pilot to ignore the cloud cover and to come to Chitral to pick him up. He was too busy to pay any serious attention to us.

A persistent story about this part of the world is that remnants of Alexander the Great’s army remained and founded a population that is now known as the Kalash Kafirs. They lived, a couple of thousand of them, in three valleys Birit, Rumbur, and Bumboret. The valleys are so well-concealed that even though we knew essentially where they were, we could not see their entrance from across the Kunar river as we drove in. The Kafirs had a bad reputation in Pakistan. They had a totemistic religion that included the drinking of wine which they manufactured from their own grapes. They looked Mediterranean and the women wore remarkable costumes and did special dances.
After reading this piece, I am struck, yet again, by the conflict in the India/Pakistan/Afghanistan areas.  Why couldn't humans simply enjoy the beauty and live peacefully, right?  We are some screwed up life forms! :)

So, where exactly is this valley and the pass?  Chitral is near the center in the map below; zoom and pan and enjoy!

View Larger Map

Friday, September 24, 2010

The ultimate student-athletes. Just awesome!

Sporting News has the 20 smartest athletes around.  One hell of an impressive list.  Makes sports and universities proud.
Scanning the list, I spotted this one:
Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Buffalo Bills
• Age: 27
• On-field accomplishments: 2004 Ivy League MVP, first Harvard quarterback to rush for more than 1,000 career yards. In 2005 with the Rams, became the fifth quarterback in NFL history to throw for 300-plus yards in his debut.
• Alma mater, major: Harvard, economics
• SAT score: 1580
• Off-field/intellectual interests: “I’m an Apple technology junkie.”
• If I weren’t a professional athlete, I’d ... “Probably (have) done the Wall Street thing for a few years and then maybe branched out a little bit. But finance is what I’d be involved in.”
• Nerdiest thing about me: “That’s probably a better question for my wife. But I love Scrabble. I’m playing Scrabble on my iPad constantly.”
Read more here

The American political hysteria over outsourcing. Pathetic!

Not that American political discussions have been spectacularly impressive the last few years ... the latest one is a wonderful addition to the list of idiotic things our politicians cook up:
senators will consider would impose tax increases on corporations that shift operations overseas, costing U.S. jobs.
So, why this now?
Democrats view the outsourcing issue as a big winner with voters because it speaks to the heavy manufacturing job losses that have devastated communities in Midwest and East Coast industrial states.
"There is no issue more important to the American people than the outsourcing of jobs, and that's why we're focusing on it," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of Senate Democratic leadership.
Ok, let us look at this logic, and the jobs in manufacturing. We want to manufacture for the domestic and external markets, right?  We are happy when we export, say, Caterpillar trucks or Boeing planes, correct?  You with me?

Suppose India imports Boeing planes. And it does.  Does it not mean that India has then "outsourced" to America all those jobs related to the manufacture of planes?  Hasn't pretty much the entire world "outsourced" to America (Microsoft) many of the jobs that then give us the various products from that company?

Global economy means that there is enormous give and take--we give others what we are good at, and take from them what they are good at. If certain manufacturing jobs have been lost, it is simply because there are a number of other countries who have gotten to be much better than us on that widget.  The problem is not that "they" have taken "our" jobs, but is a different one of figuring out what we can do and export to get access to their wallets.

This demagoguery six weeks prior to the election will further chip away the relationship that took years to build, with India in particular:
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Washington and, thanking President George W. Bush for pushing a landmark civilian nuclear deal between the two countries, told him that the “people of India deeply love you.”
Recent months have witnessed something of a cooling in that ardor. A series of events have contributed to the impression that the relationship is going through tough times.
In August, the civilian nuclear deal, a symbol of the two countries’ new closeness, came under strain when the Indian Parliament passed a bill that would increase the potential liability of nuclear plant operators. The United States expressed its concern and asked India to change aspects of the bill.
Also in August, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that hiked fees for the H1-B and L visa categories used by skilled Indian technology workers. Indians were incensed by Senator Charles Schumer’s characterization, during debate over the bill, of Indian businesses as “chop shops.” (He later clarified that he meant to say “body shops.”)
Then, earlier this month, Ohio’s state government announced a ban on the outsourcing of state technology projects to offshore centers.
 In fact, even before this Senate bill, there have been irate responses in the Indian media to Ohio's decision. The diplomat-speak is, of course, polite and tactful, but the emotion underneath is all too visible:
Describing the State of Ohio's ban on offshore outsourcing by government departments as ‘ill-advised', India has ‘firmly' conveyed to the U.S. its displeasure over the move and other protectionist measures such as the hike in visa fees for professionals.
“We have put it firmly in our discussions. I feel that the U.S. has seriously registered India's viewpoint as well as concerns of the Indian IT industry. We do hope there will be timely and appropriate responses,” Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma told reporters here on Tuesday ....
Citing the example of the recent Airtel-IBM deal, Mr. Sharma turned the table on the U.S., stating, “Airtel, an Indian company, has placed orders of $3.5 billion on IBM. Isn't that outsourcing? Where would those jobs be created? Where (would) those jobs would be supported?”
The largest orders for Boeing aircraft had also been placed by India. “How many jobs would have been sustained and how many jobs would be created?,” he asked.
If Republicans can be stupid on some issues, then Democrats ensure that they can be equally moronic, and up the ante!  I wish we could outsource the politicians' jobs!!!

A wonderfully ironic backdrop to these Senatorial pontifications?  Yesterday, NBC premiered its sitcom, Outsourced :)

Update: A history professor, writing in the Oregonian, finds fault, not with the Republicans, nor the Democrats, nor the Wall Street speculators, but "globalization":
Unless we have the courage and foresight to examine the significant problems of our national economy, a decade from now we may still be trying to stimulate a sluggish economy. In the 1980s Latin America suffered the "lost decade." It had zero economic growth and widespread social upheaval. If we don't seriously examine our economy and revise the WTO, we may face a similar decade.
Why does he compare the US with Latin American countries?  At least a comparison with Japan's experience the last few years makes sense--comparing two advanced economies, with a reliance on international trade. But, with Latin America?  Come on, we have not become a banana republic, and are far from that.

The High Cost of College

In the quarter system in which our university operates, the academic calendar has just about started ticking.  I wish my students well.  Many of them will be in college because they have often been told that a college degree is the only route for personal economic security, even if this takes them more than the four-years we normally think about (In the Oregon University System, "Just over half (53%) of bachelor’s graduates complete their degree in four years.")

Most students will be in colleges and universities across this country for this simple economic reason, and not with the idea of knowledge for the sake of knowledge. I hope to contribute to both these goals, which are often in conflict with each other.  (I might even explore related questions at an academic conference early next year)

But, in any case, all the students will come to know about one thing: the high cost of college. I am not talking about the opportunity costs, but simply the out-of-pocket costs.  At dinner, and later in emails, a friend asked the same question that Megan McArdle takes up in her blog (the title of this post was triggered by McArdle's post of the same title).  First, the question:
costs have gotten out of control. Why have tuition rates gone up so much? How does a six figure student loan burden affect a person's future? How are these costs affecting middle class families? Are middle class kids ending up at the University of Phoenix or the local community college, because they can't afford this nonsense? 
McArdle quotes Glenn Reynolds (better known as the Instapundit):
The government decides to try to increase the middle class by subsidizing things that middle class people have: If middle-class people go to college and own homes, then surely if more people go to college and own homes, we'll have more middle-class people. But homeownership and college aren't causes of middle-class status, they're markers for possessing the kinds of traits -- self-discipline, the ability to defer gratification, etc. -- that let you enter, and stay, in the middle class. Subsidizing the markers doesn't produce the traits; if anything, it undermines them.

What does this mean, you ask?  McArdle writes:
In the case of higher education, the form this subsidy took was particularly pernicious:  student loans. 
Ok, so let us see ... government notices that successful middle class existence seems to be neatly correlated with college education. So, why not then facilitate college going in order to help a lot more Americans realize that American Dream?  As with many noble ideas, there are unintended consequences.  Or, as we learnt quite early enough in urban planning, the road to hell is paved with good intentions :(
In the past, college degrees conferred higher incomes on those who earned them.  But almost all of that surplus went to the student rather than the college, because aside from a small number of extremely affluent families, the students were young and did not have that much cash.  If colleges wanted to expand their market, college tuition was constrained to what an average student, or their family, could pay.

Introducing subsidized loans into the picture allowed students to monetize that future income now.  It's hardly surprising that colleges began to claim more and more of the surplus created by their college degree.  Think about it this way:  if colleges create an extra million in lifetime salary, you're theoretically better off if you pay them the discounted present value of $999,999 in order to earn that extra million.
Or, in other words, government subsidies and loans have become a way to transfer monies from taxpayers to colleges--and not to students!  Will this continue for long?  Even in the new world after the Great Recession?
$1 million is close to the lifetime value of a college degree (it's actually about $1.4 million), and colleges are getting better at extracting quite a lot of that value for themselves.  And I expect that trend to continue for a while, until either the political will for the program is overwhelmed by the side effects (the diploma mills add little value, and burden students with high loans), or the middle class simply revolts, and decides the risk and the higher tuition aren't worth the benefit.  The present value of an extra $1.4 million is well over a quarter of a million dollars. 
The ultimate irony is this: most of the employees of colleges and universities--public and private alike--are middle class folks.  So, we are the ones perpetuating this and making lives increasingly difficult even for our own children and grandchildren?  Sounds bizarre, right?

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