Monday, February 28, 2011

Nine billion by 2050: Can we feed 'em all?

That is the focus of the special report that the Economist has.  But, first, I need to highlight the dry humor that I have come to expect in any report from this newspaper:
For years some of the most popular television programmes in English-speaking countries have been cooking shows. That may point to a healthy interest in food, but then again it may not. The historian Livy thought the Roman empire started to decay when cooks acquired celebrity status.
Well, but on to serious discussions then ...

It is one tough question.  Even this ill-informed blogger has often commented about the world's rather lackadaisical approach to the food issue, and the recent spikes in food prices.  But then when even my students don't listen to what I have to say, why should the world!
the fact that agriculture has experienced two big price spikes in under four years suggests that something serious is rattling the world’s food chain. ...
An era of cheap food has come to an end. A combination of factors—rising demand in India and China, a dietary shift away from cereals towards meat and vegetables, the increasing use of maize as a fuel, and developments outside agriculture, such as the fall in the dollar—have brought to a close a period starting in the early 1970s in which the real price of staple crops (rice, wheat and maize) fell year after year.
There are a couple of things happening: First, in the developed world, the fluctuations in raw grain prices do not affect us that much because the prices we pay for food are dependent more on costs of preparation, packaging, etc.  But, in a poor country, the population depends on that raw staple, which they meticulously cook and consume.  They feel the price hikes, and find it awfully difficult.  And we have the arrogance to blame them for wanting more food!

Second, we have come to believe that India and China and many other countries have become our competitors and, therefore, we have started discounting the magnitude of global poverty.  The reality is far from the truth.

So, where do we go from here?
it is not surprising that the food crisis has produced contradictory accounts of the main problem and radically different proposals for solving it. One group is concerned mainly about feeding the world’s growing population. It argues that high and volatile prices will make the job harder and that more needs to be done to boost supplies through the spread of modern farming, plant research and food processing in poor countries. For those in this group—food companies, plant breeders and international development agencies—the Green Revolution was a stunning success and needs to be followed by a second one now.
The alternative view is sceptical of, or even downright hostile to, the modern food business. This group, influential among non-governmental organisations and some consumers, concentrates more on the food problems of richer countries, such as concerns about animal welfare and obesity. It argues that modern agriculture produces food that is tasteless, nutritionally inadequate and environmentally disastrous. It thinks the Green Revolution has been a failure, or at least that it has done more environmental damage and brought fewer benefits than anyone expected.
So, what is the bottom line?
although the concerns of the critics of modern agriculture may be understandable, the reaction against intensive farming is a luxury of the rich. Traditional and organic farming could feed Europeans and Americans well. It cannot feed the world.
I have been preaching this same bottom line for years in my classes.  But then, to some extent, it is not kosher to make such statements anymore given the irrational penchant for locavore and organic eating, which, we forget, is a luxury that only the rich countries can afford.  It is like how one student a few years ago remarked in a class about the simple pleasures of boating--she loves to take her paddle boat to the river and spend hours floating by.  But, to the youth of her age in a poor country, that boating--on a rudimentary catamaran, for instance--will be the daily chore, for hours on, in a fishermen community that barely subsists.

I leave it to the Economist for the last words ...
There are plenty of reasons to worry about food: uncertain politics, volatile prices, hunger amid plenty. Yet when all is said and done, the world is at the start of a new agricultural revolution that could, for the first time ever, feed all mankind adequately. The genomes of most major crops have been sequenced and the benefits of that are starting to appear. Countries from Brazil to Vietnam have shown that, given the right technology, sensible policies and a bit of luck, they can transform themselves from basket cases to bread baskets. That, surely, is cause for optimism.
Here is to hoping that we, across the planet, will start doing the right things.

The good men haven't gone anywhere--they are having a great time :)

So, a few days ago I blogged about a WSJ article that was about the perception that young men increasingly don't "man up" ... Because my students had made similar remarks in class weeks ago, I had emailed that article to them and they are continuing to discuss it even a week later, and the educator in me is having a great time that students are passionately arguing. (Note to concerned taxpayers and partisans: the discussions on this topic have been happening in cyberspace, and we don't waste the contracted class time for it. So, there!) Hey students, are you reading this?

But, all we are doing--in class and in society--is just about beginning to wake up to a new reality. A reality in which women, who now have freedoms that even our grandmothers could not have imagined it in their wildest dreams (creepy to think of my grandma having wild dreams!) are beginning to mean it when they say "anything you do, I can do better"

If we keep thinking along these lines, then a question arises: why do young men seem to have the upper hand even whey are failing in life?
while young men's failures in life are not penalizing them in the bedroom, their sexual success may, ironically, be hindering their drive to achieve in life. Don't forget your Freud: Civilization is built on blocked, redirected, and channeled sexual impulse, because men will work for sex. Today's young men, however, seldom have to. As the authors of last year's book Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality put it, "Societies in which women have lots of autonomy and authority tend to be decidedly male-friendly, relaxed, tolerant, and plenty sexy." They're right. But then try getting men to do anything.
That is right: if men are slacking off, it is women's fault!
Yes, sex is clearly cheap for men. Women's "erotic capital," as Catherine Hakim of the London School of Economics has dubbed it, can still be traded for attention, a job, perhaps a boyfriend, and certainly all the sex she wants, but it can't assure her love and lifelong commitment. Not in this market. It's no surprise that the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds who are married has shrunk by an average of 1 percent each year this past decade.
Leave it to academics and researchers and their highfalutin language to make even sex a boring topic :)

Save academic freedom ... by killing it first

[Academe] has far fewer checks and balances than other peer review professions. Doctors can lose their licenses. Lawyers can be disbarred. But incompetent or dishonest professors are often forever. If they have tenure, they are very hard to fire, and just about impossible to retire.How did such a sorry state of affairs arise?
As a tenured faculty member, I am in agreement with that excerpt (editor: how did your colleagues make the mistake of granting you indefinite tenure? Awshutupalready!  It is their problem now, isn't it?)

Anyway, back to the question that Erin O'Connor and Maurice Black raise: "How did such a sorry state of affairs arise?"

Back in the days when at least a few faculty bothered to chat with me and ask for my opinions, I shared with them my worries that we are screwing things up big time in higher education.  And that we are violating the contract we have with society--that they should leave us alone and we will deliver the best service ever.  Now, it is becoming clearer to the public that we are not delivering anywhere near what we promised and, predictably, they don't want to leave us alone. 

O'Connor and Black write that:
Nearly a century ago, the AAUP predicted that failure to ensure professional integrity would license the regulatory intrusions of trustees, legislators, and others. Now that is happening. And while the professoriate’s collective abdication of responsibility is not the sole explanation for these intrusions, it is a shamefully neglected piece of the puzzle.
Academic freedom belongs to the public — it is not the property of academics. Professors must explain why academic freedom is vital to our democracy — and prove that they deserve it.
Unfortunately, we didn't explain and prove.  And they are coming after us, and not merely in Wisconsin.  The AAUP's leader is upset:
Cary R. Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, believes higher education will see more legislative attacks on matters that colleges themselves should regulate, and questions whether lawmakers are right to micromanage campus policies: "Do we really need legislators deciding if Sally should get a sabbatical next year?"
Sally would have had hers without any interference if we had been doing the job well, Professor Nelson.  (editor: ahem, full disclosure? yes, I will on sabbatical in winter 2012.)

If only I didn't know about the harm from oil and natural gas ...

The morbid curiosity that has been a consistent and strong feature of who I am--right from when I was a kid--means that often I think life will be wonderful if only I were not curious. I wish for that blissful ignorance sometimes.  Those occasions when I think that Socrates was being hyperbolic about a life not examined.  That charlatan ought to have tried before he figured out anything--if only humans had Philip K. Dick's "precogs" who would have zoomed into Socrates' "precrimes."

Can't undo any damn thing, and I am stuck.  So are you, if you are reading this--the joke is on you now, isn't it!  Ha!!!  At least there are a few fellow travelers in this misery from knowing something.  Or, maybe that is the problem--knowing something about a lot, as opposed to knowing something only about a little bit.   

So, why all this you ask?  Watch this:

As always, the question this time of the year, when an academic term comes to a close which is when I discuss the environmental impacts of everything that we discuss throughout the term, well, the question is how much should I take my own emotions and pessimism to the classroom?  It can be so easy to become unhinged and rant like a bloody lunatic--after all, these are awfully important issues.  But then so are the events in Libya. In Pakistan. The veterans with PTSD in town. .... the list is endless.

There is only one way out of this--watch it:

In The Know: Are Tests Biased Against Students Who Don't Give A Shit?

Yes, laughter is the best, maybe the only, way out!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

More videos: The Libyan "mad dog" Gaddafi and "Singing in the Rain"

Yes, democracy seems to be coming to the Middle East--what can be more evidence than hilarious remixing like this of Gaddafi's rambling rants and "Hey Baby" :)

Or, how about this one that plays on the crazy video of Gaddafi and his umbrella when he confirmed to this people he hadn't fled the country, and was in Libya:

Of course, it was not too long before the Rihanna umbrella theme took off to make fun of this crazy dictator:

Ok, enough with this, I say ... it is "time to muzzle the mad dog of Libya"!

The international community also has a responsibility to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches the Libyan population. Corridors should be opened from Tunisia and Egypt down which such aid can be funnelled. The UN should be ready to protect the oil installations if Col Gaddafi starts to destroy them.
Col Gaddafi’s misrule is surely coming to an end thanks to the bravery of the Libyans. While the wider world cannot do their fighting for them, it must do what it can to stem the dictator’s capacity for mayhem in what are hopefully his last days.

For now, let's get under Rihanna's umbrella!

Life, from a comforting old movie song

I suppose one would need to know Tamil to understand why this song here is appropriate in my life now :)

Wonderful lyrics by the poet Kannadasan, this includes the following lines:
வாழ்க்கை என்றால் ஆயிரம் இருக்கும்
வாசல்தோறும் வேதனை இருக்கும்
வந்த துன்பம் எது என்றலும்
வாடி நின்றால் ஓய்வதில்லை
உனக்கும் கிழே உள்ளவர் கோடி
நினைத்து பார்த்து நிம்மதி தேடு
Easier said than done, buddy!  (editor: why don't you translate it as best as you can? Nope, am not keen on screwing it up)

P.B. Srinivas is the male "playback" voice here.  Growing up, I was a big time Srinivas fan--his voice was/is simply awesome, and is so smooth.

Never on Sunday--the crazy Bollywood style!

Waiting for a Jasmine Revolution in China

I have never been a fan of the Chinese model of development; having grown up in India, and then life in America means that I have been mostly free than otherwise.  Those two awful years under Indira Gandhi's "emergency rule" were when I experienced government controls on expression.  One of my favorite Tamil magazines, Thuglak, used to have blank spaces in the commentaries--the sentences that were nuked by the censors.  Even as a kid--I was a pre-teen when all hell broke loose after the Supreme Court verdict in the case that Raj Narain had filed--I was highly uncomfortable with that political development, which all of a sudden muted India.

Of course, when we look beyond political freedom, onto issues of daily existence--from food to water to sanitation--the Chinese model has delivered a lot more than what India's government has given its people.
Kevin Hassett, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, explained that evidence is emerging that developing “countries that are economically and politically free are underperforming the countries that are economically but not politically free.” China, of course, is in the lead of the economically free but politically unfree nations. Hassett wrote, “The unfree governments now understand that they have to provide a good economy to keep citizens happy, and they understand that free-market economies work best.... Being unfree may be an economic advantage. Dictatorships are not hamstrung by the preference of voters for, say, a pervasive welfare state. So the future may look something like the 20th century in reverse. The unfree nations will grow so quickly that they will overwhelm free nations with their economic might.”
The kleptocrats who have ruled many developing countries in past decades have tended to come unstuck when Western aid dwindles, their own economies falter and then fall backward, and all too often rivals emerge within their armies. The China Model presents the possibility that such rulers can gain access to immense wealth through creaming off rents while at the same time their broader populations become content, and probably supportive, because their living standards also are leaping ahead.
The fascination to implement the Chinese model is, therefore, not difficult to understand.  Examples are a plenty, from Singapore which is geographically and culturally close to India and China, to Rwanda, which is in a completely different cultural and geopolitical context.
The China Model is, of course, admired in the West, too, with business leaders’ words (at platforms such as Forbes magazine conferences and the World Economic Forum, which has just instituted an annual summer session in China) providing great reinforcement for Chinese leaders. The World Bank is just one of the international institutions that champion China (its greatest client and in some ways its boss) as a paradigm for the developing world. Also fascinating is the appeal of the China Model to Russia, which as Azar Gat, professor of national security at Tel Aviv University, writes in Foreign Affairs, “is retreating from its post-communist liberalism and assuming an increasingly authoritarian character as its economic clout grows.”
Can this model last, not only in China itself but also its variations throughout the world?  Just as the world was beginning to erroneously conclude that perhaps even people prefer the Chinese model, well,
The example of Tunisia raises a related question, equally awkward. For China’s rulers, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the ousted dictator, would have been seen as following their own approach—the so-called “Chinese model” of economic growth combined with political repression—and having much success with it, or so it was assumed for many years. But the Tunisian people took to the streets to overthrow him. Did the people want something more than the Chinese model? How could that be?
One hell of a tough question, which all the dictatorial and authoritarian regimes now have to deal with.  Even in China:
evidence is strong and growing that the top leaders have become extremely nervous about the current situation, as they watch people rising up in country after country in North Africa and the Middle East, assisted by social media and the Internet. No doubt China’s leaders fear what would happen if jasmine ferment really did spread to their own masses—many of whom already harbor a lengthy list of grievances over corruption, bullying, land seizures, environmental destruction, and other items of unjust treatment. 
So, what did the Chinese government do?  Held special politburo meetings, and ...
On the morning of February 19, President Hu Jintao went to the Central Party School to deliver a speech to an audience of provincial governors and central government ministers on maintaining social stability. The speech stressed the glorious achievements of the Communist Party, emphasized the correctness of Party ideology, and in other ways bristled with unenlightening jargon. Its purpose seems to have been to present a public version of the policies decided at the secret Politburo meeting of a week earlier. Without directly mentioning the Middle East or any of the events in China that were making authorities so nervous, Hu made three basic points: one, we need to greatly strengthen control of information on the Internet; two, we need to regulate the “virtual society” that it has given rise to; and three, we need to guide public opinion in this society in “healthy directions.”
I cannot imagine this crazy system continuing on for a long time.  "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop."  I hope this news is only the beginning of the end of the Chinese model:
Online calls for peaceful Chinese protests to resemble Tunisia's "Jasmine Revolution" have ended with a number of reporters and citizens being bundled into Chinese security vehicles.
The protests had been planned via anonymous messages left on a U.S. website in China, and called for people to rally against the government in 13 cities including in Beijing and Shanghai to mirror the ongoing Mideast democracy movement.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Music video of the day: Awesome four year old at the drums!

So, what happens when the drummer is a four-year old kid? (ht) you start smiling :)

And, oh, here is that 'original" song, the video for which becomes boring after watching a four-year old kid :)  80's hairstyles at their peak, eh!!!

Cartoons of the day: Calvin's anti-war questions

No, not John Calvin, but the one who walks around with Hobbes.  No, not that Hobbes either :)

If only Watterson hadn't retired!  Oh well ....
So, why war all the time?

Well,  there is more to it:
Yep, stupid!

CIA orders Facebook shut down Feb 29th to 31st

Made you think twice, eh :)

Pundits are all over the map on how much the Arab revolutions were facilitated by Facebook and Twitter and ....   I like the cartoon here the best
ps: in case you are still wondering about the title of this post, ahem, check the calendar!

Higher Education Gone Wild. Not, it ain't the costs!

David Leonhardt of the NY Times summarizes the issues:
  • The complexity of the financial-aid process is one, because it scares away many poor students; in the ideal system, up-front tuition costs would remain low, and students would pay back colleges with a percentage of their income.
  • The patchy — and often shoddy — quality of education at many high schools and colleges is a major problem.
  • It’s also a problem that we don’t know which colleges are doing a good job and which are not.
  • Finally, it’s a problem that Washington and the states spend billions of dollars subsidizing higher education but do not demand accountability. See this Daniel de Vise article in The Washington Post for more.
It is not clear though whether all these have equal weight, according to Leonhartd, or whether the listing reflects his understanding of the relative importance.  The way I understand the problems of higher education, I would list the same in the following order--with the most important first:
  1. Washington and the states spend billions of dollars subsidizing higher education but do not demand accountability.
  2. We don’t know which colleges are doing a good job and which are not.
  3. The patchy — and often shoddy — quality of education at many high schools and colleges
  4. The complexity of the financial-aid process is one, because it scares away many poor students
Even in this re-ordered listing, it is clear thatpoints 1, 2, and 3 are referring to same issue of accountability.  For all purposes then we can summarize the problem into a simple phrase: Higher Education Gone Wild!

Costs are, to a large extent, the symptoms of the disease, and with our preoccupation with costs we seem to be confusing symptoms and causes.  Even there, at the end of everything, do we have any confidence that the costs, which are spiralling out of control, are worth it?

But, if course, most faculty and administrators will come together very quickly on the one issue of accountability--they will fight it because they like the current system where they can keep asking for as much money as possible without being held responsible for constructive outcomes.

Comedians are becoming better newsmen these days

David Letterman could have been a little less pushy and a tad funnier ... but, way better than the "news" programs where they "interview" politicians.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Quote of the day, on California's higher education system

A phenomenon without a doubt, and without a peer:
California is arguably the heaviest-hitting state in any league of higher education. To find something comparable, you would have to aggregate the combined performance of the entire Northeastern United States. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York together have produced precisely as many Shanghai top 50 institutions as California. And they have done so with the head start of an extra century or more of development, with the resources of a combined population base close to twice California's and, of course, with vast amounts of private-pocket financing.

The combined endowments of the 10 top-50 institutions on the East Coast top $80 billion. The West Coast's 10 top-ranked universities have a combined endowment of just over $21 billion, or about one-fourth of what their East Coast counterparts have amassed. Moreover, Stanford alone accounts for more than half of the endowment money held by the West Coast's top universities.

In other words, in terms of bang for the buck, the efficiency of California's university performance is staggering. Only a few state institutions in the Northeastern United States make it into the Shanghai top 50. All the others are plushly upholstered private institutions.
So, whatever happened to California, which finds itself in such a mess today?  

People taking the high ground in Libya, while Obama wusses out

The mad "our man in North Africa" Gaddafi continues to make things worse for his own people.  Firing on people, even children, hiring thugs from other countries in order to shoot and kill Libyans .... how much more insane can this guy get?

Yet, ordinary Libyans haven't lost it all (ht)

Christopher Hitchens is unhappy with President Obama's responses, or the lack of any, to the revolutions on the "Arab Street"
For weeks, the administration dithered over Egypt and calibrated its actions to the lowest and slowest common denominators, on the grounds that it was difficult to deal with a rancid old friend and ally who had outlived his usefulness. But then it became the turn of Muammar Qaddafi—an all-round stinking nuisance and moreover a long-term enemy—and the dithering began all over again. Until Wednesday Feb. 23, when the president made a few anodyne remarks that condemned "violence" in general but failed to cite Qaddafi in particular—every important statesman and stateswoman in the world had been heard from, with the exception of Obama. And his silence was hardly worth breaking. Echoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had managed a few words of her own, he stressed only that the need was for a unanimous international opinion, as if in the absence of complete unity nothing could be done, or even attempted. This would hand an automatic veto to any of Qaddafi's remaining allies. It also underscored the impression that the opinion of the United States was no more worth hearing than that of, say, Switzerland.
Perhaps the line about testicular fortitude was not off the mark, after all!  Hitchens concludes thus:
Libya is—in point of population and geography—mainly a coastline. The United States, with or without allies, has unchallengeable power in the air and on the adjacent waters. It can produce great air lifts and sea lifts of humanitarian and medical aid, which will soon be needed anyway along the Egyptian and Tunisian borders, and which would purchase undreamed-of goodwill. It has the chance to make up for its pointless, discredited tardiness with respect to events in Cairo and Tunis. It also has a president who has shown at least the capacity to deliver great speeches on grand themes. Instead, and in the crucial and formative days in which revolutions are decided, we have had to endure the futile squawkings of a cuckoo clock.
Or, as we put in bluntly at casual conversations, "all talk and no shit."

Wait, is Obama slowly backing away from all this for the reason that Jon Stewart has figured out?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The 20th anniversary of the Iraq (Gulf) War. Yes, that first war, remember?

Have you already forgotten "Stormin' Norman" who led the war on the ground? The "Scud Stud" who reported on the war?

Yes, that was twenty years ago--On February 28th, 1991 cease fire took effect.

Who were the coalition partners at that time?
Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Kuwait, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Portugal, Qatar, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Spain, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom
So, let us go through this list, with respect to the countries in the neighborhood:
  • Bahrain: protests going on
  • Egypt: Mubarak, who was the president then, was a key ally, and has been thrown out
  • Kuwait: in a holding pattern
  • Morocco: protests going on, though not large enough, yet, to topple the government
  • Niger: came back to haunt Bush, Jr., with the yellocake controversy
  • Oman: relatively peaceful, for now
  • Qatar: the home of Al-Jazeera, which came into existence in 1996, way after the war ended
  • Saudi Arabia: now, a land of shaking sheikhs, worried about their long-term prospects
  • Syria: protests, though not big time, yet
  • UAE: peaceful, for now, though one emirate, Dubai, is bankrupt for all purposes
Jordan was one of the many countries that sat out for all kinds of geopolitical reasons.  Stability through dictators was the aim of that war, which only delayed the inevitable:

The illusion of strength and permanence created around these essentially decrepit regimes means that the successful Arab uprisings came as a shock to all of us – and to them. Yet perhaps the bigger surprise should be that it took so long. The kings and tyrants of the Arab world have survived for years with only guns and oil to sustain them, lacking any real political authority or roots in their societies. Other props of the stable post-Second World War order, notably the Soviet bloc in eastern Europe, have long since collapsed. Now the Arab world is finally being dragged into the twenty-first century’s era of uncertainty.
And there seems little that the old imperialist powers such as the USA, Britain and France, who designed and long controlled the modern Middle East, can do to halt it. If the Gulf War of 1990-91 could not reassert Western authority in the long term, the attempt to repeat the trick in the second Gulf War of 2003 turned into a tragic farce.
But, don't jump into any hasty celebrations:
But there is also a common underestimation of what has really been taking place. The focus on the personal fate of a Mubarak or a Gaddafi tends to miss the powerful undercurrents of change that are shaking the Arab world and will have wider repercussions across the unravelling world order. There are no longer any certainties, and nothing that is on the political table today is in any way permanent. The one thing for sure is that the future is up for grabs.
It worries me that the "developed counties" will rush to ensure stability in the short-term and in the process create newer monsters.

Which is why I prefer all the comparisons being made to Europe in 1848--the revolutions didn't usher in any immediate stability and transformation but were merely the beginning of a much longer and drawn out process, which was awfully bloody as well.  I do hope that we would avoid large scale bloodshed ...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Multimillion dollar boondoggles in higher education. Even at my campus :(

The ponzi scheme of higher education is so awfully evident everywhere.

Consider for example the brand new structure that is almost ready for use: The Health and Wellness Center.
The recreation center is a 45,000 square feet addition to the Old P.E. building, comprising of a two-court gymnasium with an elevated track, two racquetball courts, three multipurpose rooms, a 2,400 square foot strength and weight training area, a 3,600 square feet cardiovascular area, a 40 foot high by 40 feet wide rock climbing wall, new locker rooms for the recreation facility and the existing pool and gymnasium, an equipment check-out area, and office space for campus recreation.
Yes, including the uber-fad: rock climbing wall!  Cool, we have arrived!  The mission of the university is accomplished.  I am sure the authors who listed my university as one of the best returns on investment will be really happy.

I refer to this building as our Taj Mahal!

Over the summer, the university president offered reasons for why such an investment is needed:
Since moving from NAIA to NCAA Division II in 2000, Western Oregon University has been adjusting to the economic realities of competing at a higher level.More money was needed for scholarships, travel and increased investment in facilities, such as the new Health and Wellness Center opening this year, that will relocate the football team from the Old PE Building on campus.
Well, wouldn't it have made economic sense then to have stayed in NAIA and, therefore, not have incurred all these additional expenses?  Taxpayer and tuition monies could have been put to better use if we had stayed back in NAIA, right?

But, of course, the mark of a real university is a football team, and a good chunk of real estate in this new multimillion dollar "Taj Mahal" will be for that reason:
The football program will have approximately 8,000 square feet of new space. The new space will provide the program the ability to house all of the coaches centrally, a more comprehensive training room, improved locker room, laundry and equipment storage space.
Awesome.  I could not have imagined a better scenario.

Now, here is the awful thing--we are not alone.  It is pretty much the same story, a tragic one, in higher education.  Here is an excerpt from an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Last fall, Winona State University opened a 90,000-square-foot Integrated Wellness Complex on the east side of the campus, just across the street from the university's performing-arts center. The complex houses classroom and administrative space along with aerobics facilities, weight rooms, a glass atrium, and a 200-meter indoor track. Massage therapy is available on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. It cost $19.5-million to build.
The eerie similarity is not simply with the construction of a wellness center.  There is more:
The institution was founded in 1858 as a "normal school," the 19th-century term for colleges that trained public-school teachers. In 1921 it began offering bachelor's degrees and was renamed Winona State Teachers College. As the population of college-going students exploded after World War II, Minnesota converted Winona into a bigger, broader institution, dubbing it Winona State College in 1957. The final upgrade came in 1975, in a trade of "College" for "University."
There are more than 150 former normal schools like Winona, educating hundreds of thousands of students nationwide. Nearly all followed an identical progression: They became teachers colleges, then dropped the "teachers," then dropped the "college."
Yes, pretty much the same story here too.

The author has a note of warning:
a higher-education system in which teachers colleges are building $20-million gymnasiums is a system that is dangerously vulnerable to forces gathering outside the city walls.
Yes, they will come for us with torch and pitchforks.

Analysis of the day, of the Wisconsin situation

From Clive Crook:
The main problem with Scott Walker's assault on public-sector unions in Wisconsin is not that it's unwarranted, but that it's disingenuous. 
Crook then zooms into the larger issues:
as FDR insisted, the public sector is a special case. It is one thing for unions to check the bargaining power of capitalists, another for them to check the bargaining power of taxpayers and their elected representatives.
The question for states and cities is not whether "collective bargaining" is a basic undeniable right, but how much union power in the public sector is too much.
Stephen Colbert says that it is time for Wisconsin to invade Iraq :)
Over to Jon Stewart then:

Ben Bernanke caused the Arab "cereal" revolutions?

Yes, our Federal Reserve's Bernanke.  No, he doesn't command over a military, and no he doesn't really print money.  So, what is the link you ask?

Step back for a second.  Back in October, I blogged about the aggressive approach that Uncle Ben was taking, and quoted Martin Wolf of the Financial Times, who explained how the global "economic" war was being fought:
To put it crudely, the US wants to inflate the rest of the world, while the latter is trying to deflate the US. The US must win, since it has infinite ammunition: there is no limit to the dollars the Federal Reserve can create. What needs to be discussed is the terms of the world’s surrender: the needed changes in nominal exchange rates and domestic policies around the world.

I liked his phrasing of "no limit to the dollars the Federal Reserve can create" for the powerful simplicity.  Inflation in the rest of the world--particularly in all those countries like India and China and the rest where economies were growing.  Inflation then would show up in various commodity prices, and food in particular.

And, boy, did food price inflation happen!  For instance, India's coalition government was all shook up when onion prices zoomed faster and higher than the rockets its space agency launched. More from Derek Thompson:
Dramatic inflation in corn, wheat and other agricultural products is feeding discontent throughout the Middle East, where families spend up to 40% of their income on food. When you glance at how the average Egyptian spends his money, you understand why food inflation can traumatize a country.


But what the heck does U.S. monetary policy have do with the price of wheat in Egypt? Remember that Bernanke's policy of "quantitative easing" aimed to stimulate the U.S. economy by printing trillions of dollars to encourage lending and spending. Easy money seems to have driven up equity prices (look at the stock market), but it might also have encouraged banks to plow their liquid cash into commodities -- like petroleum, copper, and wheat.
Of course, Bernanke doesn't think so.  He has been making the rounds defending his policies and offering  counterarguments to his critics.  I am thinking, hey, take a bow--you have done the world a huge favor by ridding a few dictators already, and it appears that quite a few more will follow suit.

Bravo, Ben Bernanke!  You did with paper what the mighty American military could not have ever achieved ...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert explain the Wisconsin situation :)

These guys have carved out quite a niche for themselves, and the world never stops feeding them materials for satire.
So ...
Should I then thank all the nutcases of the world, or should I be depressed with the seemingly increasing magnitude of insanity? :)

Colbert?  I suppose his report on the Badger brouhaha will be a day later ...  Here is a preview :)

BTW, a student referred to Jon Stewart as an old guy (are you reading this, "S"?)  "An old guy?" I asked her.  She says, "well, he has gray hair."  I suppose I am ancient then to college freshmen :)

Embarrassed Republicans Admit Confusing Reagan with Eisenhower

In time for Presidents Day is this report from America's Finest News Source:
The GOP's humiliating blunder was discovered last weekend by RNC chairman Reince Priebus, who realized his party had been extolling "completely the wrong guy" after he watched the History Channel special Eisenhower: An American Portrait.
"When I heard about Eisenhower's presidential accomplishments—holding down the national debt, keeping inflation in check, and fighting for balanced budgets—it hit me that we'd clearly gotten their names mixed up at some point," Priebus told reporters. "I couldn't believe we'd been associating terms like 'visionary,' 'principled,' and 'bold' with President Reagan. That wasn't him at all—that was Ike." ...
Following his discovery, Priebus directed RNC staffers to inform top Republicans of the error and explain that it was Eisenhower, not Reagan, who carefully managed the nation's prosperity, warned citizens of the military-industrial complex's growing influence, and led the country with a mix of firm resolve and humble compassion.
As always, of course, The Onion does a satire that is well founded on critical thinking.  It is amazing that the Onion staffers turn out such fantastic stuff without fail.

Thanking Egypt for diverting our attention away from Reagan's 100th birthday, I blogged earlier about the Reagan myths, which the Onion recaps here:
many were "horrified" to learn that the former president illegally sold weapons to Iran, declared amnesty for 2.9 million illegal immigrants, costarred in a movie with a chimpanzee, funneled aid to Islamic militants in Afghanistan, and suffered from severe mental problems.
2011 is also the 50th anniversary of Ike's farewell address when he referred to the military industrial complex.  Marking that occasion, Slate ran a great column that reminded us:
Eisenhower's fears about standing military power never outweighed his conviction that it was necessary. As Ledbetter writes, Ike was, "by any definition, a leading figure in that complex." He loved the army and devoted his life to it. Within the Republican Party, his great accomplishment was to drag the rank and file into the age of internationalism with his triumph over Robert Taft for the 1952 presidential nomination, which isolated the isolationists in the GOP.
The GOP could certainly benefit from one observation that Eisenhower apparently made (ht):
"This is what I mean by my constant insistence on 'moderation' in government. Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid," - president Eisenhower
Yes, Ike called them "stupid" :)

Crisis in economy, environment, health? Nah! Just watch TV and enjoy!

Not that different from politicians creating their own reality--we get the government we deserve!  Hey, Ray Bradbury, you were so right with your predictions of wall-to-wall television screens making people happy while ...

Monday, February 21, 2011

The emperor has no ... keffiyeh!

I can't wait for Col. Gadawful Gaddafi to flee the country ... like many other dictators, to Saudi Arabia.  And then when the revolution comes to Riyadh, I want these dictators to become nomads in the desert, and left to die without water!

I am simply amazed that the loony maniac was in power this long!  In India, Indira Gandhi suspended the constitution for almost two years as a way not to comply with the court's ruling that invalidated her electoral victory.  But, the pressure from within never really went away, and she was promptly booted out of office when she lifted the emergency rule.  It would have been one hell of a chaos if the anti-democratic government had lasted longer.

Gaddafi was no Fidel Castro to the young me.  At least Castro symbolized something--he consistently out-maneuvered the imperial America.  Of course, growing up resulted in a gradual disillusionment with Castro and now to a complete anti-Castro stance.  But, I could never understand Gaddafi's long tenure, and why the world tolerated him.  Oil is a pretty simplistic explanation.  After all, in the grand scheme of things, Libya's oil reserves and production, as Bogart's Rick said in Casablanca, "don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world" ... Libya is no Saudi Arabia or Iraq or Kuwait.

One hell of a crazy person Gaddafi was/is:
Qaddafi spent much of his career as one of the world's least discriminating sponsors of political unrest in Africa and worldwide. He is believed to have helped underwrite terrorists from the Black September group that conducted the 1972 attacks on the Munich Olympics to the IRA to Colombia's FARC to Carlos the Jackal. While he periodically seemed lucid and was charismatic enough to once inspire Nelson Mandela to name one of his off-spring after him, he has enough blood on his hands to earn him a place in the 20th Century madman hall of fame, admittedly not in the main wing with the really big time murderers like Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, but in the wannabe annex. 
Of course, even were Qaddafi to fall tomorrow -- which wouldn't be too soon -- he will already have served longer than any Libyan leader in almost half a millennium and his tenure, which began with a  coup in 1969, will rank among the longest worldwide of the post-World War II era. In other words, his departure, when it comes will be long overdue.
BTW, in case you wonder about the two spellings of the name: Gaddafi and Qaddafi:
"Muammar Gaddafi" is the spelling used by TIME magazine, BBC News, the majority of the British press and by the English service of Al-Jazeera.[99] The Associated Press, CNN, and Fox News use "Moammar Gadhafi". The Edinburgh Middle East Report uses "Mu'ammar Qaddafi" and the U.S. Department of State uses "Mu'ammar Al-Qadhafi". The Xinhua News Agency uses "Muammar Khaddafi" in its English reports.[100]
In 1986, Gaddafi reportedly responded to a Minnesota school's letter in English using the spelling "Moammar El-Gadhafi".[101] The title of the homepage of reads "Welcome to the official site of Muammar Al Gathafi"

Yes, it is all worth it.

Here is the latest reason, which is an excerpt from an email from an alum:
Thank you for teaching classes that make people aware of the world around them, I truly believe that your classes were the most important classes that I took at Western Oregon.
Isn't such an email a wonderful way to start a Monday?
I'm Going to Start Living Like a Mystic
By Edward Hirsch

Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater 
and walking across the park in a dusky snowfall. 

The trees stand like twenty-seven prophets in a field, 
each a station in a pilgrimage—silent, pondering. 

Blue flakes of light falling across their bodies 
are the ciphers of a secret, an occultation. 

I will examine their leaves as pages in a text 
and consider the bookish pigeons, students of winter. 

I will kneel on the track of a vanquished squirrel 
and stare into a blank pond for the figure of Sophia. 

I shall begin scouring the sky for signs 
as if my whole future were constellated upon it. 

I will walk home alone with the deep alone, 
a disciple of shadows, in praise of the mysteries.

2011 is the game-changing year that I have been waiting for?

With every passing day my blog entry from November 2009 seems to be even more profound than I had thought--noting the regularity of game-changers, I wrote then that "it is then tempting to worry that the next event is round the corner."

Turns out it is the authoritarian and dictatorial regimes all over that have do to the worrying in this fantastic year that 2011 is turning out to be!
Al Jazeera + Twitter + Facebook = Revolutions.  Who would've thunk it!!!

The enchanting smells of the Jasmine Revolution are waking up the Chinese too:
Skittish domestic security officials responded with a mass show of force across China on Sunday after anonymous calls for protesters to stage a Chinese “Jasmine Revolution” went out over social media and microblogging outlets. 
I wonder if it has spread all the way to Xinjiang?  The Economist's correspondent doesn't think the Chinese need to worry, right now, about the Uighurs launching a democratic revolution:
In Xinjiang  however the authorities might worry that Muslim Uighurs can identify more readily with their democracy-seeking co-religionists in the Middle East and Africa. Many of Kashgar's Uighurs do have much to complain about, from discrimination to unemployment to a makeover of their old city which has forced thousands of them from their homes into soulless new apartment buildings. Soon after my arrival on February 18th I noticed I was being followed by a black Volkswagen. It remained on my tail until I left the city 48 hours later. When I proceeded on foot, one of its occupants would get out of his car to lurk behind me. Kashgar's police have a reputation for intimidating foreign correspondents in this way.
They probably have little to fear, however, from any popular uprising in support of democracy. Xinjiang's troubles tend to be related to ethnic tensions rather than democratic yearnings (though some activists might hope that ending rule by the Han-dominated Communist Party might pave the way for democracy).
Here is to hoping that they would rise up, "Nur" (you know who you are!)

More on the Uighur issues

The attributes of an intellectual scholar? Really?

Am not so sure about this old saying:

अत्यंतमतिमेधावी त्रयाणां एकमश्नुते ।
अल्पायुर्वा दरिद्रो वा ह्यनपत्यो न संशयः ॥

A very highly intellectual scholar will have at least one of the below three misfortunes - short life, or poverty, or childless.
Fate some how ensures that his wisdom is not carried forward to future generations.

I suppose we could posit that wisdom is not something that is necessarily genetically carried forward. After all, if that were to be the case, then the world would have been flooded by Da Vincis and Einsteins, instead of blokes like me!

Without wisdom being passed down genetically, well, Hollywood has already covered that scenario--Idiocracy :)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Remembrance of things past ...

Recalling the "old country" is so easy and painless now, compared to decades ago.  I don't have to be anything like the millions of immigrants of the past, from all over the world, who forced themselves to forget the old country as soon as possible as a way to inoculate themselves from haunting memories ...
One of my earliest memories of Tamil movie songs is the one in this video here.  I suppose as a three- or four-year old I was surrounded by this melody all the time ...  The older I get, the more I appreciate the artistry of Padmini.  And, yes, wonderful choreography and editing ...

On life and death in India. Now "Congo Fever" :(

The Economist has one of the best opening lines ever in some of the recent journalism stories I have read recently:
YOU can be killed by an exotic variety of diseases in India.
Isn't that the case!

About four or five years ago, I was shocked when I first read about a Dengue Fever epidemic in India, and then even more shocked when I met one who was down with that fever.  And then the last time when I was there, I find out that an aunt had Chikungunya and took months to recover.  A couple of days before I left the country I called my friend's parents to say hi to them, and his mother said that she still has pain--months after a Chikungunya infection.  The good thing is that these women (all women? really?) recovered well enough.

Up until all these, I thought Dengue and Chikungunya were infections that we had to watch out for while in Africa.  I suppose there is phenomenal globalization in infectious diseases too. 

Anyway, what is the latest exotic killer in India, you ask? "Congo Fever:"
A tick-borne virus, endemic to parts of Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere, it passes easily from livestock to man, and then between humans. Horrible symptoms include fever, internal bleeding and liver failure. Some 30% of infected humans die, usually within a couple of weeks.
The authorities in Gujarat, western India, were therefore alarmed when in January a medical intern died of the disease, formally known as Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever. Earlier in the month it killed three others: a patient, plus a doctor and nurse who had cared for her. These appear to be the first recorded deaths in India from the illness. On February 5th doctors reported two more cases in Gujarat. The fever’s arrival is a mystery.
It is crazy!

It is unfortunate that rural development and health do not attract enough attention in India.  Politicians and governments are far more interested in urban-oriented investments with whatever money is left after they have swindled. 
Indian officials acknowledge that the country needs to increase investment in irrigation, encourage competition in wholesale and retail markets, and provide targeted food subsidies to the poor. And they also have to provide more education and jobs to villagers, so fewer people are forced to live off the land.
Experts say India needs to make changes like some of the ones China made, beginning in the late 1970s, when it started investing heavily in agriculture and eased regulations on farming.
As recently as 1977, Chinese and Indian farmers harvested roughly the same amount of wheat for each acre that they planted. But by 2009, United Nations data shows that wheat yields were 1.7 times higher in China than in India.
Kaushik Basu, a Cornell University professor who is also the chief economic adviser to India’s finance minister, says he now sees more willingness by Indian officials to reform agriculture policies.
But outside experts like Mr. Gulati are skeptical that real change will come from the government. The ruling coalition has been hobbled by corruption scandals, and an energized opposition last year effectively blocked proceedings in Parliament.
The country is rapidly devolving into a bizarre version of "democratic oligarchy" ... the phenomenal amounts being spent on cricket is evidence enough.
I hope a few more people will follow the example that Wipro's Azim Premji is setting with his philanthropy:

On Sonnets and Shakespeare. Ready for this? Be silent!

I say this is a pretty clever and funny poster (ht).  The language not that much out of place, in a contemporary way, for the master of double entendre

While not for the "b---s" ... the following sonnet appeals to hermits like me:
By Thomas Hood

There is a silence where hath been no sound, 
There is a silence where no sound may be, 
In the cold grave—under the deep deep sea, 
Or in wide desert where no life is found, 
Which hath been mute, and still must sleep profound; 
No voice is hush'd—no life treads silently, 
But clouds and cloudy shadows wander free. 
That never spoke, over the idle ground: 
But in green ruins, in the desolate walls 
Of antique palaces, where Man hath been, 
Though the dun fox, or wild hyæna, calls, 
And owls, that flit continually between, 
Shriek to the echo, and the low winds moan,— 
There the true Silence is, self-conscious and alone.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

CIA accidentally overthrows Costa Rica's government. WikiLeaks not!

It is from America's Finest News Source, of course:

O-SPAN Classic: CIA Accidentally Overthrows Costa Rica

Where have the good men gone?

Wait, here is one--blogging away :)

Ok, jokes aside, the title of this post is the title of an article in the Wall Street Journal.
(editor: do you want your socialist colleagues to know you read this capitalist publication?  Hey, it is not like they get me Christmas gifts even now!)

The article is yet another addition to my ongoing blogging on the the rapidly disappearing males--"save the males" as one author put it.
Among pre-adults, women are the first sex. They graduate from college in greater numbers (among Americans ages 25 to 34, 34% of women now have a bachelor's degree but just 27% of men), and they have higher GPAs. As most professors tell it, they also have more confidence and drive. These strengths carry women through their 20s, when they are more likely than men to be in grad school and making strides in the workplace. In a number of cities, they are even out-earning their brothers and boyfriends. Still, for these women, one key question won't go away:
Where have the good men gone? Their male peers often come across as aging frat boys, maladroit geeks or grubby slackers
How might we look at this from the perspective of a young male?
Today's pre-adult male is like an actor in a drama in which he only knows what he shouldn't say. He has to compete in a fierce job market, but he can't act too bossy or self-confident. He should be sensitive but not paternalistic, smart but not cocky. To deepen his predicament, because he is single, his advisers and confidants are generally undomesticated guys just like him.
Relatively affluent, free of family responsibilities, and entertained by an array of media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig heaven—and often does. Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man. But these rational choices on the part of women only serve to legitimize men's attachment to the sand box. Why should they grow up? No one needs them anyway. There's nothing they have to do. They might as well just have another beer.
Ouch!  I wonder when "gender studies" in American universities will begin to address this situation.  (editor: was that a rhetorical question? We are supposed to say "never," right? Awshutup!)

I am not at all surprised with these developments--after having grown up with an elder sister, who excelled in school, and having been educated in a coeducational setting where girls gave us boys pretty good competition for grades and ranking (no, make that pretty girls who gave us boys good competition for grades and ranking), and then having lived a family life with talented women.  If not for men restraining women through centuries, well, this day would have arrived a lot, lot earlier.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Lauryn Hill v. Esperanza Spalding: Who has more hair? :)

I was confused when I heard the news that Esperanza Spalding won the Grammy for best new artist.  New artist?  Even a music ignoramus like me knows of her and her music from two-plus years ago.  I have even gifted her music CDs--ok, I did that once!

Oh well ... I like her and her music.  I suppose she became that much more of an interest for me thanks to the lengthy profile the New Yorker had some time ago.  Her Oregon (Portland) roots help too ...

Anyway, back to the hair!  Doesn't her hair pale next to Lauryn Hill's? :)
Back to Spalding; here she is performing her version of Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed"

And here is one of my favorites by Lauryn Hill, which is also a cover version:

The Qu'osby Show: The All(ah) American Muslim sitcom :)

No Ukrainian nurse can help Libya's Gaddafi. Cheering the protesters

So, it appears that the Arab youth are mad as hell. 

And, Libya's Gaddafi is now at the receiving end of the  raging emotions that have been bottled up for 41 long years.  Yes, it was in 1969, almost 42 years ago, this maniac took over the country

But, Gaddafi will clearly not go away without putting up a fight, and he has quickly resorted to dirty tricks:

The mainstay of the unrest is in regional towns and cities, where many people live in poverty.
Foreign journalists operate under restrictions in Libya, so it has been impossible to independently verify much of the information coming out of the country.
But the BBC has confirmed that several websites - including Facebook and al-Jazeera Arabic - have been blocked.
And the airport in Benghazi, the country's second largest city, has been closed, amid reports that protesters have taken it over.
Residents in Benghazi told the BBC that electricity has been cut off, and tanks are posted outside the court building.
Benghazi protesters have told international media they have learnt from Tunisia and Egypt, and are determined to depose Col Gaddafi.
Media outlets loyal to Col Gaddafi had earlier conceded that security forces had killed 14 protesters in Benghazi on Thursday, though other accounts put the death toll much higher.
 The news channel that US cable corporations refuse to carry, Al Jazeera, also has a similar report:

Marchers mourning dead protesters in Libya's second-largest city have reportedly come under fire from security forces, as protests in the oil-exporting North African nation entered their fifth day.
Mohamed el-Berqawy, an engineer in Benghazi, told Al Jazeera that the city was the scene of a "massacre," and that four demonstrators had been killed on Friday.
"Where is the United Nations ... where is (US president Barack) Obama, where is the rest of the world, people are dying on the streets," he said. "We are ready to die for our country."
I hope my intro class students are tuned in--one of the two short stories that I have assigned for their final projects is Hisham Matar's "Naima."  Matar writes in the Guardian:
I appeal to Colonel Gaddafi and his security forces: for the sake of the mothers, for the sake of those who died, for the sake of Libya, please don't shoot and torture your people.
I blogged before that Matar knows well about this dictator and his cronies ...

So, why the Ukrainian nurse in the heading you ask?  Thank WikiLeaks for that

Writing, in 800 words or less

Paul Krugman writes:
If I had my way, we’d require students to write 800-word essays, just for writing and reasoning practice.
I have been doing this for years now.  It forces students to develop well-focused arguments.  There is also one other huge benefit: it minimizes the possibility of Bullshit.  (Come to think of it, we need to impose such word restrictions whenever faculty speak or write anywhere, anytime!  editor: does that include you? Awshutup!)

Anyway, back to Krugman:
It’s really, really hard to say something meaningful in a limited space. And yet, that constraint has its virtues: it forces you to be concise, to figure out what you really need to say and skip the rest, to find turns of phrase that are shorter and usually plainer. And my experience is that the process of doing all that almost always makes the thing read better.
Yep.  While my columns do not have the importance or reach that Krugman's have, I am always aiming for a length of between 675 and 725 words.  Unless the newspaper restricts me to 500 words or less.

Demand Al Jazeera in the US.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Women's Economic Opportunity: Eastern Europe looking good!

From the Economist:
Opportunity is defined as a combination of prevailing labour policies, access to finance, education and training, and legal and social status. One surprising finding: under communism women were encouraged (or expected) to work, and this attitude has persisted in many former communist countries, which continue to provide more opportunities for women.

The (worst) pun of the day! One hell of a groaner :)

Thanks to a friend who emailed this, along with nine others!
Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet.
He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and, with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath.
This made him (Oh, dude, this is so bad, it's good..)
a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A tale of two cities: Portland and Chicago

Lots of "city" news especially the last couple of days.

First, it turns out that Chicago's up and down ride the roller-coaster of economics and demographics continues:
A larger-than-expected exodus over the past 10 years reduced the population of Chicago to a level not seen in nearly a century.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday that during the decade ended in 2010, Chicago's population fell 6.9% to 2,695,598 people, fewer than the 2.7 million reported back in 1920.
After peaking at 3.62 million people in 1950, Chicago underwent a half century of decline that ended only when the 1990s boom years produced a small gain in the 2000 count. At that time, the city loudly celebrated its comeback.
But the recent recession accelerated a migration both to the metropolitan area's farthest suburbs and to the Southern U.S. Chicago nonetheless is expected to remain the nation's third-largest city, behind New York and Los Angeles and just ahead of Houston, for which final census numbers aren't in yet.
The exodus took a big chunk out of the city's black population in particular, shrinking it to 887,608 from 1,065,009, according to William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington.
Second, and in contrast to Chicago, it turns out that cities like Portland attract youth from all over, even when they are fully aware of the rather bleak economic conditions there.  Not entirely news to us, but, more evidence of the continuing trend.
Twenty years ago, the percent of people with college degrees in Portland was lower than the national average. Now, it's more than 10 points higher — about 40 percent. And Cortright says the grads aren't just coming for high-tech jobs. ...
Oregon economist Christian Kaylor says he can think of only one explanation for the migration into Portland: the quality of life.
Kaylor says wages there are sometimes 20 percent lower than in Seattle or San Francisco. But people keep coming. In fact, Portland's appeal is part of why the city's unemployment rate tends to be about a point higher than the national average.
"In recessions, Portland tends to see population growth, even as we lose jobs," Kaylor says. "So one of the reasons we have that higher unemployment rate is because people do continue to move here even as jobs disappear."
So, what is it about cities, right? 

Ed Glaeser was on the Daily Show last night talking about cities, which is what his latest book is about.  I have seen him up close and personal at a conference--it was last year at the AAG Annual Meeting, and I was in the front row!  I was particularly looking forward to seeing him in live action after having read a lengthy profile ...  Glaeser is one non-stop bullet train from the time he begins to speak, and boy does he cover a lot of intellectual territory above and beyond economics itself.  One can easily see why he is a Ivy-Leaguer :)

David Brooks apparently liked Glaeser's book and arguments a lot, and writes:
Cities magnify people’s strengths, Glaeser argues, because ideas spread more easily in dense environments. If you want to compete in a global marketplace it really helps to be near a downtown. Companies that are near the geographic center of their industry are more productive. Year by year, workers in cities see their wages grow faster than workers outside of cities because their skills grow faster. Inventors disproportionately cite ideas from others who live physically close to them.
But, does that mean that Glaeser is right?  I am not so sure.  Hi-tech has equally made it possible for dispersal of population.  So, the city might not necessarily be the kind of a 19th, or even 20th century city where one found dense urban cores for employment or residence or both.  The 21st century city might not have that much in common with the old model, when it comes to that "physically close" that Brooks and Glaeser write about.  As the Chicago and Portland stories tell us, city growth and decline in the 21st century might have dynamics that are very different from our old stories.

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