Friday, December 17, 2010

Photo of the day: Bhubaneswar

More from the maidan, which is only a couple of minutes away from the hotel where I am staying.

A pleasant evening it was, with the temperature probably at about 20 C (68 F)

But, the air is getting awfully smoky.  It is a literal version of "Smoke gets in your eyes" ... am guessing that people, in homes and without, got those charcoal and wood stoves going to cook dinner and to keep warm.  It felt like a forest fire just a mile away.

An evening in Bhubaneswar

The city is very different from what I had in mind.  Perhaps it is because I am in the affluent part of the city?

Anyway, there are lights galore.  Particularly in the maidan close to the hotel where I am staying.  It is all because of the Fifth Toshali Arts Mela.  Will post a video when I get better/faster connection to the web.

Now, I will head out to have dinner at .... Domino's, maybe?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Photo of the day: Chennai, India

Looks like the road was bombed out in war, right? 

No war ... a combination of poor infrastructure and torrential rains

It is a wonder that India continues to function when everyday life involves negotiating routines that consume a lot of time and energy.

The street in the photo below, also from The Hindu, is a couple of minutes from where my parents live.  It is the same story year after year ... actually, no, it gets worse with every passing day

Behind the academic curtains ...

I thought I had heard it all in academia .. but, apparently not!
Recently I overheard a tenured faculty explaining to a student, with all the sincerity and emotion that is characteristic of the person, that Thomas Jefferson was a slave-owing pedophile.
Awful. Simply awful.
I am willing to bet that it is only a matter of time when the academic world horrifies me, yet again :(

I was all set to write that it is not pleasant watching how sausages are made; but this NY Times report includes a remark that it "is offensive to sausage makers; their process is better controlled and more predictable." ht

A chart compares the elephant and the donkey on tax cuts

Andy Borowitz had the best line in this context: "This tax cut bullshit wouldn't be happening if we had a Democrat in the White House."
The original post here. (ht)

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Funniest cartoon of the day: North Korea and Iran

Elvis, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones: same generation!

Because Elvis was already an established star by the time the British invaded the US with their music, we tend to assume that somehow Elvis was much older than the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.  Well, compare their birthday info:
Elvis Presley: January 8, 1935
John Lennon:October 9, 1940
Paul McCartney: June 18, 1942
Ringo Starr: July 7, 1940
George Harrison:  Feb 25, 1943
Mick Jagger: July 26, 1943
Elvis and Lennon separated by a mere five years and months.  It is not as if they were a generation apart.  But, it is their music that makes us think that these are of two different generations.  And, add to this list Bob Dylan, who was born in 1941.

I suppose it is a challenge that performance artists have--how to keep up with the changing times, and the younger audiences ....  Hmmm ... to some extent we faculty also face similar issues in our working lives.  We have to keep up with the times and the rapidly changing technology and student expectations.  I am glad then that a couple of terms ago a student told me that I am "with it" in the way I conduct myself and my classes.  It will be awful if I am no longer able to connect with the students; I hope that day does not arrive too soon .. at least not before I turn 64 :)

200-year economic history of 200 countries in 4 minutes

I have used many of Hans Rosling's videos in my classes, ever since I watched the first TED talk of his.  While most of the students are, well, students who are indifferent to anything (even my awful puns!) there are always a few who are blown away by his explanations.
I am sure I will use the following next term (and after too?) ... ht

Wikileaks TMZ :)

The opener was quite imaginative.  The Hillary Clinton piece was way too funny

India goes nuclear--for electricity

India is going nuclear.  I do not mean the nuclear weapons—after all, that is almost a forty-year old news since the country detonated its first device in 1974.  The latest stir was caused by the federal government’s green-lighting of a nuclear power plant in the state of Maharashtra—the home of India’s commercial capital, Mumbai.

The rapid economic growth rate over the last two decades has resulted in an ever increasing demand for electricity from India’s businesses and households.  As with China, most of the electricity generation comes from coal-fired power plants, which account for about 70 percent of India’s power supply. 

However, in a land of a billion-plus people, there simply isn’t enough for everybody.  According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) “South Asia currently accounts for 42% of the total number of people in the world without access to electricity.”  Even Sub-Saharan Africa is better on this measure, with only 31 percent not having access to electricity there.  The IEA reported that more than 400 million in India “don’t have access to the energy needed for lighting, mechanical power, transport and telecommunications.”  That is a mind boggling statistic as we begin the second decade of the 21st century!

Energy consumption is result of economic prosperity as well as a requirement for economic growth and development.  The lack of capacity means that power cuts are a regular feature of life in India, particularly in settlements far away from the major urban centers.  One aunt of mine who lives in a smaller town, about 400 miles from Chennai where my parents are, has learnt to live with power cuts that last for anything from three to six hours every day.

Thus, it is understandable why the Indian government is exploring every possible way to speed up the expansion of capacity on this front. 

The proposed nuclear power plant, in Jaitapur, is expected to play a big role in filling the gap between the supply and demand.  With the nuclear reactor technology from France, the plan calls for a total capacity of 9,900 megawatts of power, which will make it the largest nuclear-power plant in the world.  The first of the six units is expected to be commissioned by 2018. 

As much as here in the US we have our own worries over nuclear power, there is considerable opposition to the project within India too.  In addition to issues of safety and radioactive wastes, there are serious ecological concerns.  The proposed site is by India’s western coast along the Arabian Sea, and a project of this magnitude is bound to have immense impacts on the marine life.  And, it is in an area that, like many parts of India, is not without any seismic risk. 

Despite opposition to the project, the federal minister for environment, Jairam Ramesh, came out swinging when he announced the clearance for the project: “I know the environmentalists will not be very happy with my decision, but it is foolish romance to think that India can attain high growth rate and sustain the energy needs of a 1.2 billion population with the help of solar, wind, biogas and such other forms of energy. It is paradoxical that environmentalists are against nuclear energy,” he said.

This battle between the economy and the environment will only get more complicated over the years, it appears.  We in the US, too, have a lot of soul searching to do in this regard, given that we lead the world in electricity consumption.  India’s total consumption is only a sixth of what we consume in America.  This means that on a per capita basis an average American consumes almost twenty times the amount of electricity consumed by an average Indian. 

It is not difficult, therefore, to imagine that as Indians begin to generate and consume electricity at even a fifth of our consumption, the impacts on the global environment will be a lot more than probably what we could imagine.

The atrociously awful tragedy is how much we in the United States just don't want to engage in constructive public discussions on our own domestic energy policies, and about the global situation.  Soon after 9/11, we had a wonderful chance to rethink the energy policy.  We blew that.  As we slid into recession, we had another small chance to rethink our energy approaches.  That ship has also sailed now.  

All we are left with is how the US tried to buy votes at Copenhagen, and how the Cancun summit will be a disaster as well.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

India's Naxalite group's ten year anniversary :(

In an opinion piece last week, I noted how the Maoists (Naxalites) are active in the poor, Third World, parts of India.  Well, apparently it is the ten-year anniversary of ...

When Naxalites announced the formation of the People's Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) a decade ago, security agencies dismissed it as an attempt by the rebels to regroup their cadres and propaganda to boost their perceived military strength....
Now, the security forces are bracing themselves for intensified attacks in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal as the Maoists have announced month-long celebrations coinciding with the 10th anniversary of PLGA formation. All these years, the celebrations were only week-long. “This means bigger strikes can be expected in Maoist-affected States,” authorities concede.
Modeled after the People's Liberation Army, which is the military force in ... yes, China, which has ditched Mao.  The Red Army is the role model for this group, which is not good news at all ... It is awful that the poor are being left behind, and awful that their advocates are these guerillas.  And awful that the Indian government can't seem to recognize the underlying poverty and disenfranchisement as the issue, but responds with guns.

Since its inception, the PLGA has waged a relentless war against the security forces, and in the last decade, the rebels killed 2,000 security personnel, injured as many, and snatched nearly 2,500 weapons and one lakh rounds of ammunition, a Maoist document says.
A clear hierarchy has helped the Maoist military wing improve its strike capabilities. ...
On the organisational level, the PLGA has developed from a force of one or two platoons to having companies and a battalion now. ...
Another achievement of the PLGA has been transfer of technology. The technology for making and planting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) has been successfully imparted to the large 30,000 base force. “The making and use of IEDs has now taken a mass form,” another Maoist document discloses.
IEDs!!! If that does not make it clear that this is a war inside India.  And then there is a war in another of India's fronts: Kashmir.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Worrisome chart of the day: unemployment

Calculated Risk, the source for the chart as well, notes:
this recession is by far the worst recession since WWII in percentage terms, and 2nd worst in terms of the unemployment rate (only the early '80s recession with a peak of 10.8 percent was worse)

The poor have a right to .... garbage :(

A few days ago, the Register Guard published my opinion piece on the Third World India, which is not drawing the same level of attention as does the First World India.  The following news item from The Hindu makes the intersection of these two Indias quite surreal:
Ms. Bhadakwad had come 18,000 kilometres to the annual U.N. climate conference in Cancun on behalf of 6,000 organised landfill recyclers in her hometown Pune, to demand access to the waste now trucked instead to a new incinerator. Without their dump, they’re trying to survive by going door to door for trash in a community 20 kilometres away.
“We have a right to the waste that can be recycled,” Ms. Bhadakwad told a reporter. “We want to continue making a living without interference from such big private companies.”
Their environmentalist allies say some 50 million people worldwide depend on collecting waste materials for a meagre livelihood. And these advocates and poor recyclers have an environmental argument to make – incinerators not only produce toxic pollution, but “by burning waste they increase carbon dioxide emissions,” the biggest global warming gas, said Mariel Vilella, a campaigner with the international group GAIA, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives.
By collecting and recycling plastic bags and bottles, glass, aluminium and other material, those 50 million rag-pickers “represent a huge opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Vilella told reporters
Reminded me of the following video, from Nicholas Kristof, that I sometimes use in my classes:

Atheists wage war on Christmas

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Colbert explains reparations

Eating or drinking while watching this might be injurious to your life :)
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The miseducation of rioting European students

So, there are student protests in Britain and in Continental Europe as well.  Apparently more protests are planned.  It is because of fee increases, which were triggered by the spiraling budget problems, except perhaps in cash-rich Germany.

I am not sure whether these protests are any sensible and rational behavior by students, and seems more like anarchic outpourings, like what we used to see at the annual meetings of the WTO or the IMF. 

I mean, these students should go after their parents and grandparents who gave themselves rich retirement and other benefits, which otherwise could have gone into subsidizing education. 

The citizens of many European countries have for decades had a social contract with their governments: The people pay absurd levels of taxes and the government takes care of them from cradle to grave. Nationalized healthcare, Ample pensions. Hefty labor rights. Early retirement. Generous unemployment benefits. But can this contract survive the euro crisis? The heavy obligations imposed on European government budgets by the welfare system were already set to become even heavier as Europe's population ages. That means fewer working age and taxpaying Europeans will have to support a greater number of retired old timers. Now here comes the euro crisis, in which the stability of the national finances of European states have come into focus. That's going to put extra pressure on European governments to keep their debt and deficits under control.
Heather Mac Donald writes:
What a boon to anarchy—having your self-righteous tantrums treated as important and newsworthy.  I don’t know how to break out of the dilemma that all such preening displays of lawlessness pose.  Ideally, they would not command any breathless coverage from reporters who come running, cameras flashing, at the slightest hint of revolt against the “establishment.”  Pretending that such theatrics are significant is especially galling when the protesters are ignorant students who don’t understand anything about the world and certainly not about work and commerce.  Yet at some level one does need to know  what is going on.  Perhaps photos of riots against common-sense government reforms or good-faith police actions could be balanced by photos of businessmen struggling to balance their books while drowning in a sclerotic, state-sodden economy.
The commentary at Spiked is, as always, an interesting contrarian read:
The excited student protestors first imagined that smashing an office window was a victory over ‘Tory scum’, and then did their victory dance in front of the banks of cameras (there apparently being as many photographers as rioters present) without trying to conceal their identities. More than a few of them will soon be facing up to the consequences of their naivety as prosecutors study the film for evidence. Cynics have observed that it is a sad reflection on the miseducation of the nation’s youth that some seem to think you riot first, then put the masks on afterwards. Don’t these young adults know how to dress themselves? They also failed geography, attacking the wrong building - because they assumed that the Conservative HQ was still in Millbank Tower - before they realised it had moved down the road.
But if anything, Her Majesty’s finest in the Metropolitan Police looked even more out of their depth. Police commanders more used to looking tough in a press conference than fighting street battles appeared never to have thought that there might be any unpleasantness at a demonstration involving thousands of pissed-off young people. Nor did it seem to have occurred to them that Prime Minister Cameron’s Conservative Party might just become a target for the anger.

Students and assignments turned in late :)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Map of the day: where the elephant gained

The note at the source (ht),
The other side of the equation can be seen in the Pacific Coast states (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington). Despite the Red wave sweeping America, the net House gain for the GOP in these five states was zero (+1 in Washington and -1 in Hawaii). The Pacific states of California, Oregon, and Washington have become a Blue sandbar that can withstand even a Republican tsunami. Strong GOP candidates for Governor in Oregon and California were defeated. Credible Republican Senate contenders in California and Washington could not oust Democratic incumbents. With 53 House berths, not a single Golden State seat changed party hands. Back in 1994, the last GOP landslide year, Republicans picked up three seats in California. The story is worse for Republicans in Washington State, which was ground zero for the GOP in 1994, when the party won six House seats and held their Senate seat too. All the state’s House seats save one were impervious to a Red tide this time around.
Remember a key Democratic loss in 1994?
Foley became the first sitting Speaker of the House to lose his bid for re-election since Galusha Grow in 1862.
No significant GOP inroads since ... no complaints :)

The lame (duck) Congress

I was laughing all the way through this one :)
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Quote of the day: on inefficiency in universities

In the summer, apparently I didn't win friends when I mentioned in passing, in an op-ed on resource allocation, about inefficiencies in higher education.  I suppose it is safe to blog about the following; for one, I didn't author it (!) and, more importantly, those unhappy with my comments don't read my blog anyway :)
Curricular glut makes programs and institutions operate inefficiently and disadvantages both students and faculty members. Students are crippled because unnecessary requirements decrease the students' likelihood to graduate in a timely manner. And faculty members are challenged because the more curricular commitments a department has, the more difficult it is for professors to find time to pursue other objectives, such as research and creative activities.
In short, the curricular reform that is under way throughout higher education is, first and foremost, about serving our students. It's about streamlining general-education requirements so that they can progress in a timely manner. It's about making sure that a major's requirements don't place unnecessary hurdles in students' way. And it's about trimming underproductive programs so that adequate resources can then be invested in programs with strong enrollment.
We owe it to our students—and the public, in general—to operate as efficiently as possible.
Really?  We owe to our students and taxpayers?  OMG, isn't that heresy to utter such words in academe? (editor: ahem, can you be a tad more sarcastic, please?)

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Read my lips, no new taxes :)

Remember that old George H.W. Bush line that eventually tripped him when he had to, well, you know what happened ...
So, when Obama injures his lip at a friendly basketball game ... :)

The post-Thanksgiving dump: WikiLeaks :)

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If you wondered what the heck professors were smoking ...

From a collection of 48 ads from the old days ... a collection to remind ourselves how awful those days were ...

Damn, if only they listened to me! On rising college costs

The cosmos regularly reminds me the same idea that Martin Krieger, one of my grad school professors, told us: it is not what you say, for the most part, but who says it that matters!

So, what is it this time?  More than a fortnight ago, I sent one of the newspapers here an opinion piece where my point was that the cost of attending college is not affordable, even at community colleges and teaching universities like mine.  And, to quite an extent, this is encouraged by government subsidies.
Apparently the editor thought otherwise, and it has not appeared in print.

And then today, I read this in the Chronicle:
College leaders often argue that the way to attract more low-income students to college is to increase the amount of need-based financial aid that states offer to those students.
But doing so may also increase the cost of attending college, according to a study that was presented this month at the annual conference of the Association for the Study of Higher Education. The researchers who conducted the study found that an increase in need-based aid resulted in higher tuition and fees at both public and private institutions in the state.
Hmmm .... so, what was the opinion piece I wrote, you ask?  Here it is:

Higher education, particularly here in Oregon, has been in an economic crisis for years now, and has resulted in it becoming an expensive investment, especially for those from lower-income backgrounds.  To a large extent, it is only the private sector that can help out—by shedding the requirement of college education and degrees for many jobs where such expensive credentialing is not required.

Often, we operate with a misconception that community colleges are significantly less expensive than a teaching university like Western Oregon University (WOU) where I am employed, and that research universities will be the most expensive among public institutions.

It ain’t so!

Consider, for instance, the tuition rates at WOU and its two immediate neighbors, Chemeketa Community College and Oregon State University.  For an Oregonian who is a full-time student taking fifteen credits per term, the annual tuition at Chemeketa will amount to $3,645, while it is $6,135 at WOU and $5,760 at Oregon State

Of course, decrease in state support is a big reason for tuition increases in the public system.  Rapid increase in non-academic expenditures is a significant factor as well. 

In addition, over the years, government subsidizing higher education has also contributed to tuition increases.  “Political Calculations” noted that between 1976 and 2008, there is “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.” 

Government's role in subsidized loans to students has an effect which is not that different from how low interest rates led to higher home prices during the real estate bubble years. 

When monthly payment amount is a critical variable in the home purchase process, low interest rates make it possible for buyers to go after larger-value homes.  However, soon the homeowners also sense this, and home prices are correspondingly adjusted upwards. 

The later entrants to this crazy market do not realize that such a system will only help those who are already homeowners and, before they know it, those who joined this game towards the end find themselves "underwater."

In higher education, colleges and universities, like homeowners looking to sell in a bubble market, have been similarly adjusting their tuition upwards.  The net result is that increasingly students now are like the late entrants to the real estate bubble, and end up graduating with debts, loans, and underemployment that do not justify the costs.

In such a higher education bubble, we are wasting considerable individual and taxpayer investment through requiring college degrees for many jobs where such qualifications are way more than needed for productive performance. 

One better model could be for employers to appropriately scale down the higher education requirements.  And, by offering to pay for college courses as rewards for productivity on the job, they could actively encourage employees to value education as a life-long learning experience.  After all, there is infinitely more to education than pecuniary calculations, which is why I teach, and that too in Geography!

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