Saturday, April 30, 2011

Post-Royal-Wedding commentaries ... in graphics ... and videos

Who did the Queen look like?

An anti-monarchy statement:

My favorite Queen?  Really? You have to ask?

Or, how about the Dancing Queen?

Going where no man has gone before: An Indian academic in Kazakhstan

No, I am not heading to Kazakhstan.  (editor: I bet your colleagues will be happy to pay for a one-way ticket out. Awshutupalready!)

There I was reading The Economist on a slow Saturday morning, and I come across an ad for faculty positions in the business school in Almaty, Kazakhstan.  I am intrigued.  I keep reading and find that the contact name is "Kishan Rana, PhD" ... An Indian name!  And that he is the "Dean of the Bang College of Business."

"Bang College" sounds so much like one of those diploma mills in India, until you note the compensation stated in the ad: "after-tax salaries up to $115,000"

The naturally curious person that I have always been, well, a quick Google search led me to more info about Rana, who is there after his years in Canada; he notes:
I was commissioned in the Indian Navy as a lieutenant after completing my bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering with honors.  I was in the top three of the graduating class. After my initial training of about 14 months, I was put in the warship-building program.  I was in uniform, not a civilian, and was in charge of building warships for several years.  I also served on warships at sea and participated in all kinds of exercises, including a war during the 1970s.
Kind of ironic, isn't it--a navy man now in a landlocked country, and even the Caspian Sea is far, far, away from Almaty!  Amazing how far and wide people of Indian origin are scattered around the world.

I suppose this Kazakh ad caught my attention because only a couple of days ago I read this piece in the New Yorker, (subscription required) about the country building a brand new capital city in Astana.  It is crazy that the country is spending so much of its resources into this. 
Astana has been the capital of Kazakhstan only since 1997, three years after the country’s leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, told a stunned parliament that a prosperous, independent country like Kazakhstan ought to have its capital “in the center” of the country, rather than on the border. Almaty, the old capital, was pleasantly situated in the foothills of the Tian Shan Mountain range, and was famous for its apple orchards. And Astana? It was six hundred miles to the north—that is to say, toward Russia—and bitterly cold.
And, hey, not any ordinary buildings in this brand new capital city. But, expensive structures like this--"The Khan Shatyr Entertainment Center at night":

And this--"The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation":

The article wonderfully and easily paints a picture of a cold place in the middle of nowhere.  It will not be a surprise, however, if this isolated place by the Steppe has an Indian tandoori eating place run by some guy from Kerala :)

But, to some extent, one need not be surprised with the Indian/Central Asian connection at all.  The map below, which I pulled up from my post about the Uighurs, makes the connections a simple case of geography. Well, not that simple!

Maybe it is a misnomer: not Indians as much as the wanderers, eh!

Friday, April 29, 2011

A night at the opera: toon and real

I guess I am not unusual in admitting that my introduction to Western classical music and operas were through cartoon characters.  It was only later that I got to hear/watch the real thing.  "The Barber of Seville" is one of those ...

First up, Woody Woodpecker

An even more impressive performance by Bugs Bunny:

Those fearless fighting foes, Tom and Jerry:

And a real opera performance:

Yes, of course I borrowed the title from Groucho Marx's crazy movie :)

The worrisome headlines of the day

All from Al-Jazeera:
Libyan fighters stray across Tunisian border: me worry?
Syria target hit by Israel was 'nuclear site': confirmation of that 2007 mystery
Death toll mounts on Syria's 'day of rage': 62 dead on Friday alone
Morocco steps up security after cafe blast: 14 dead in a cafe blast
Thai-Cambodia ceasefire breaks down: day eight of border fighting
and, the most worrisome of all ...
UK's Prince William weds Kate Middleton: ...
ok, it is just me annoyed at all the brouhaha over the public excitement over a prince marrying.  A global celebration of royal fornication to produce heirs, preferably male, in order to continue with the screwed-up monarchy.

The college tuition crisis

If you prefer a video, instead of reading text (no, it is not me in the video!) ... this is why we are now "re-branding" ourselves :(
Listen to them talk using all the words I have used in this blog for years now--words in the context of higher education: ponzi, bubble, taxpayers, athletics, .... I can only hope for the ponzi scheme to crash soon ...

Branding. University. Business. Ponzi.

In the thirty years since we completed high school, a classmate/friend, "V," has become a big guy (in more ways than one, right "V"? :)) in advertising, with his own firm, and a branding consultant.  For the fun of it, "V" even decided to "brand" our class of '81.  Yes, for free :)

Branding is a standard operating procedure in the world of commerce where it is important to establish a certain identity in the marketplace.  All the more when the competition is now global. The idea then spilled over to politics, which too seems like is all about money.  (editor: you think?!)  Candidates go to a great deal of length to develop a brand of who they are and what they stand for.  Well, what they stand for other than to screw the rest of us.

The logic is simple: where there is money, there is a need for branding.

Along that logic, as we realize that higher education has transformed (or transmogrification, which was a Calvin fave) to nothing but yet another commercial activity to make money--for whom, I know not--well, of course universities need to hire branding consultants and brand themselves.  "It is elementary, my dear Watson."

The university, where I apparently am doing my bit to help earn the university money, has issued a press release to this effect--no, not about making money, which will be a welcome full disclosure, but about branding:
On May 3 at 1 p.m. at the Werner University Center Plaza, Western Oregon University (WOU) will release the new athletic and academic logo marks for the university, designed by Rickabaugh Graphics.
Yes, of course.  If we didn't do all these, students and taxpayers might not be able to figure out where their monies are being wasted!
Developing an identity and brand is crucial because it tells the world how you see yourself now and in the future. 
Really? Don't we already have that?  Uh, hello, as a public higher education institution governed by a board appointed by the governor, we have a clear mission, don''t we? (This blank webpage is a statement by itself on the mission of the university!)  We are not like a BP, which has an identity, PR, and branding problem. Heck, Exxon shows that even if there are problems, the money just keeps rolling  in ...

Need any reminder on what Evita did to the country and its people?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Music videos of the day: Hemant Kumar

Even as a kid, I was drawn more to old movie songs in Hindi and Tamil--from the 1950s and 1960s--even as I enjoyed the contemporary ones. Well, contemporary as in 1970s and the early 1980s.  My familiarity with Indian movie songs pretty much end with the 1980s.

As I scanned through the ever-increasing options in YouTube, I came across the following two by Hemant Kumar.  He was a singer and a composer as well. A unique voice, that stirs images of a rural India more than the urban one, even though he was used in both the settings.  (SD Burman's voice is absolutely rustic.  His "Wahan kaun hai tera" is a gem)

Anyway, here is Hemant Kumar singing "Jaane woh kaise" in Pyaasa, which is recognized as one of the best movies ever--not merely Indian, but in a global listing. 

That is from 1957!
The one below is, according to the notes with the video, from a movie for which he was a composer, and a producer.

The female lead in this movie, Waheeda Rahman, was born in Tamil Nadu.  Even though I titled this post with "Hemant Kumar" it will be a shame if I don't include the video of Waheeda Rahman playing the dancer in "The Guide" for which Burman sang the intro song referenced earlier.  In the following video, it is one hell of a competition for "spectacular": Rahman and the choreography, the music, and the voice ... Incidentally, it is cool that Rahman, a Muslim, plays the role of Rosie, while dancing classically--she was a trained classical dancer. 

Does it matter that I don't understand a damn thing in the lyrics?  Nope! Never, ever ... :)

Photo of the day: sea-bound turtle hatchlings

Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings being encouraged to paddle to their habitat ... Story here

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

(Wasteful) Spending to get a college degree!

If only we were all aware of the cost of higher education and engaged in those discussions, as much as we are painfully in sync with gas prices!

Every once in a while, I point out to students that in the academic quarter system, it costs about $110 every week, per term, for each of the four-credit classes that I teach.  A majority is paid for by students through tuition and fees.  Taxpayers chip in which a significant amount as well. 

Such an expensive investment is guided by a belief that college education is about employment and economic productivity.  But, this is not entirely true.  In fact, this linkage of higher education to economic performance is relatively new in human history. 

Education, for the longest time, was not about credentialing for the trades.  As one looks back to the days of “gurukula” in India, or Plato’s “academy” it becomes clear that education was simply about knowing.  Preparations for the trades and professions happened elsewhere.

Thus, higher education wasn’t an “industry” either.  Galileo pursued research on the cosmos because of his undying, and heretical, curiosity, and not because he treated that as a convenient opportunity to charge students fees that they could not afford. 

But, especially since the post-World War years, there has been a transformation that has resulted in a twisted understanding that higher education is some sort of a credentialing service for young adults interested in joining the 21st century equivalents of trade guilds. 

The irony is that it does not require an undergraduate degree to complete the tasks in every service sector job either.  Yet, we have managed to convince ourselves that a college diploma is a must-have for mere survival, let alone prosperity.  Most students I talk to feel that they have no choice but to get a college diploma, if they want to get any job anymore.  And this is a horrible Hobson's choice they face.

After spending $110 week after week for classes like mine, students graduate, typically, with about $20,000 in debt only to realize the realities of employment.  Despite all my full disclosures in the classroom, they are shocked to find out that there isn’t really any job waiting for them, and that the diploma is not necessarily the guaranteed route across the (un)employment gates.  Further, trade guilds, often, add, and require, their own training and certification. 

At the end of the day, the only beneficiaries are colleges and universities that are, naturally, recording enrollment increases.  Even in my classes in the summer!  This enrollment growth then triggers the need for additional facilities, which necessitates a demand for more money from students and taxpayers.

Such a higher educational system cannot go on forever.  As Herbert Stein famously remarked, "if something cannot go on forever, it will stop."  I suspect that it will come to a crashing halt when students, and their families, and taxpayers begin to see the numbers flashing by really fast on their meters.  Maybe students and taxpayers will then demand a refund of the money they spent on my classes, eh!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Incredible India. Not the ad. But, for the reality there!

Many times I have blogged, talked with friends, and remarked to students, that I have given up on understanding India. 

It is a place of immense complexity, which is way too intense for my abilities.  So, I simply take it the way it comes. No questions asked. If it agrees with me, well, I make sure it shows. When it rubs me the wrong way, which happens a lot, most of the times I prefer to be quiet. 

The latest installment?  Courtesy of a student, who emailed me the link to the video that I have embedded here.  And, the interesting twist?  It is from ESPN; go figure!

Cartoons of the day: GOP presidential hopefuls

Unfortunately, for those of us who enjoy watching the political theatre, one clown has already withdrawn

Which then begs the question, "one billion dollars, for what?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Somewhere over the rainbow ... what a way to get to work :)

As a kid in India, and later even as an adult, there were always two things that stopped me if I ever spotted them: elephants and rainbows.  I would watch the sashaying pachyderm for as long as it was within my view on the street.  There is something majestically wonderful about elephants.

Rainbows were rarer than elephant sightings.  If anybody said about a rainbow outside, I always rushed out to admire them. To appreciate them. Even after the physics teacher, Vasudevan, had presented us with the explanation of white light and Newton's experiment with the prism.  The scientific technical details made it all the more impressive.

After moving to Oregon, in the rainy early fall, and throughout the spring days, I have now probably seen more rainbows than I have in my entire life before-Oregon.  Yet, every time, I am impressed even more than ever.  And, then those rare double-rainbows when two parallel arcs of colors magically appear across the big sky ...oh, those are times I think I have died and gone to the heaven that the religious people talk about.

And, so, there I was earlier this morning driving to work, and off on the western sky I had a rainbow accompanying me for a good chunk of the time.  Sometimes it faded out, and sometimes it was bright.  Not a full rainbow, because there were no clouds to provide a background for the zenith.  And then for a few miles when I had to drive west, I was facing the rainbow, which by then had become an uninterrupted arc, with a light drizzle falling on the windshield.  I thought to myself, "they pay me to admire this?"

Maybe the ultimate would be to watch an elephant walk against the backdrop of a rainbow, while the tune of "elephant walk" also plays :)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Rapists go free in Pakistan: the awful treatment of Mukhtran Bibi

One of those times when I feel the urge to yell at the world a big Fuck You.

It is a crazy world in which we live, where we are often spectators to all kinds of terrible injustices.  And Pakistan's court setting free the rapists who gang-raped Mukhtar Mai is one of those for which we owe her big time.  A sorry ain't enough :(

Lest we forget the reason why she had to approach the court in the first place--it goes back to the year 2002.  In condemning this "disappointing verdict," The Hindu notes in its editorial:
Since the day in 2002 when she decided to seek punishment for the men who had gang-raped her, Mukhtaran Mai has been a symbol of Pakistani women's struggle against a feudal and patriarchal society in which brutal crimes against women are condoned in the name of honour and custom. In Mukhtaran's case, a panchayat in her village abetted the rape as “punishment” for her 12-year-old brother's alleged illicit relations with a girl of a higher caste. It was expected that, after the treatment meted out to her, Mukhtaran, in keeping with tradition, would conveniently commit suicide, and no liability would fall on any man. But this extraordinarily brave woman, unlettered at the time of the monstrous crime, decided to defy societal taboos to take her attackers to court.
Yes, she was expected to commit suicide after having been gang-raped :(

The reality is also that Mukhtaran's case is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Most atrocious abuses, of women and children in particular, don't get aired.  Which is all the more the reason that Mukhtaran herself waged this legal battle--to ensure that it will set a precedent, in addition to punishment for the rapists.  Now the supreme court has set a precedent all right, but not the one that Mukhtaran sought to establish.  These innocent become "victims of law and apathy"
And this takes us to Meerwala Jatoi, a village in Muzaffargarh district in southern Punjab, where the influential men of the Mastoi tribe, Mai’s tormentors, rule the roost. They are otherwise small fry on the political landscape of southern Punjab, which is home to landlords with large holdings and all the trappings of a mediaeval feudal system in action. It is no secret that the abuse of landless, working men and women, and their children, is rampant here; some landowners even have their own private prisons.
Here, village councils, or panchayats comprising mostly uneducated men whose minds are steeped deep in the dark recesses of tribal, feudal rules and laws of their own making, run a parallel justice system aimed at further victimising the already marginalised in the land, especially those who dare to defy unjust social norms.
Amidst all this operate the rural police whose unwritten rules of duty stipulate that they assist the local landlords in their jurisdiction to maintain peace and order in their respective fiefdoms. This in turn makes the task of policing a cakewalk. They see no evil, they hear of none committed or alleged, and are hand in glove with the influential clans. For the underprivileged, it is literally a dog-eat-dog world.
This cruel social system continues to prevail because of a certain mindset that too is rampant, not only in rural areas but across the board. That’s why an entire neighbourhood can be roused to punish an alleged blasphemer, but there is little social outrage seen when girl children are ‘sold’ in marriages to older men; when women are traded off in forced marriages to settle tribal feuds; and yet others are killed, even buried or burnt alive in the name of so-called honour.
Not only does Mukhtaran Mai have to deal with this awful verdict, she now has to worry about the increased threat to her life:
'I'm disappointed. Why was I made to wait for five years if this decision was to be given?' said a sobbing Mai in a telephone interview from her village in the eastern province of Punjab shortly after the court announced the decision.'The accused can kill me and my family when they return home,' she added.
'I have lost faith in the courts, and now I am leaving my case to the court of God. I am sure God will punish those who molested me.'

So, is this a good time to rethink American foreign aid? You bet it is!

For the correct reasons, and not the wrong ones.

We don't want to reduce foreign aid because of the isolationist and Tea-Party nutcases.  Nor because of any stupid idea that this and cuts to NPR will somehow wipe away the trillions of debt.

It is time we re-configured the foreign aid because almost always we have been spending money on the wrong people.  I really like the points Ken Adelman makes:
Four of the largest U.S. foreign-aid recipients today -- Egypt, Israel, Pakistan, and Afghanistan -- all take contrary positions on issues of critical importance to the White House. South Vietnam once got gobs -- gobs upon gobs -- of U.S. foreign aid. That didn't help much. Likewise with Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Zaire (now the "Democratic" Republic of the Congo), and other "friendly" (read: graciously willing to take U.S. money) countries.
The conclusion seems clear: The relationship between "the United States' ability to positively influence events abroad," as Nye puts it, and the amount of U.S. foreign aid a country receives is unclear at best. For decades now, the United States has been the No. 1 foreign-aid donor -- it has given the most money to poor countries -- so it can't move up any on that scale. But this hasn't translated in making America the most popular or most influential country around the world. Quite the contrary.
Even the all-time No. 1 recipient of U.S. aid, Israel, rebuffs Washington constantly, on momentous issues of peace. Moreover, Israeli polls show the lowest approval for the U.S. president of nearly anywhere in the world.
Most of what Adelman writes is not new, of course.  His is a response to this piece by Joseph Nye.  Adelman has lots of examples, of which I liked this the best:
Let's recall: The State Department agreed to the Mubarak government's request for its approval before any U.S. democracy programs for Egypt got launched. To put it simply, the soft-power agency consented that anti-dictator programs appropriated by the U.S. Congress first get approved by that dictator.
Awful how we were all cuddly with dictators and showered them with gifts.  That certainly didn't buy us popularity with the people, did it?  Adelman concludes:
I've come to believe that liberals focus primarily on intentions, while conservatives focus more on results. No doubt the soft-power goals of the State Department and USAID on diplomacy, foreign aid, exchange programs, and the like seem wonderful. They're peaceful, caring, intercultural, and so on. They signal the right intentions.
The hard-power association with Pentagon budgets, weapons, and soldiers seems quite contrary. They signal the wrong intentions. But looking at the actual results of soft power versus hard power may yield results that make today's fashionable thinking seem soft, if not altogether squishy.
Nope, I don't want to increase spending on the hard-power--we have way too much already, and one only needs the graphic on the right to be reminded that both in absolute and relative terms we are over-emphasizing the defense budget.  And, if we go by outcomes, well, being stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan for this long tells us that in these days of asymmetric warfare the inexpensive IEDs seem to give our gazillion dollar hard power one hell of a competition, do they not?

What we really need to cut is the size of the defense budget.  But, unfortunately, there are not enough people with the cojones to go after that one.  In fact, it seems like there is always an overwhelming majority that is ready to increase the defense allocation.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day: What would George Carlin Say? :)

George Carlin was one heck of a truth teller.  The neat thing in his sharp humor was that he was not preachy, like how sometimes Jon Stewart can get.  Carlin delivered his social criticism straight that made us squirm even as we laughed with him.  I wish we had more Carlins around.

This is a special Earth Day edition. 

George Carlin on "stuff" ... I didn't know he had this routine when I wrote something similar a couple of years ago.  His critique of the consumerist behavior, which is why we then have Earth Day, well, watch it:

However, as much as I am one of those nutcases who takes reusable bags to the grocery store and don't waste "stuff" .... well, I get ticked off at all the phony talk on Earth Day, and there is nobody better than Carlin to expose the hypocrisy.  Watch him shred to pieces all the humbug about Earth Day

If only South Park had this Smug Alert episode in an embeddable form :)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

More on the Ponzi, er, higher education system

It seems like every single day there is yet another analysis of the utterly wasteful strategy of mandating college degrees for all.  If it looks, quacks, and walks the same way, isn't it about time we recognized it as a ponzi scheme?

Today's edition is from Matt Yglesias--far from a Tea Party nutcase he is.  Yglesias provides this chart (it is off the same set of data that I had blogged about last September):
See how much steeper the tuition increases are compared to even that other great ponzi scheme called housing?  Now, of course, the public tuition going up is a reflection of reduction in state allocations.  But, we can use the private tuition as the baseline index, which itself is enough.

So, as state allocations decrease, what do we do?  Increase federal grants, of course!  But then the more the feds subsidize, the more that "benefit" is immediately captured by the public institutions which jack up tuition and fees, instead of the benefit going to the poor student.  More on this here.

Against such a backdrop, faculty are already thinking about salary increases.  Welcome to the bizarro world.  Over at the Chronicle of Hr. Ed. is a lively debate on whether discussions about faculty salaries do more harm than good.  As far as I can tell, there is not any serious comment about the squeeze that we are applying on students :(

Increasingly I wonder whether students themselves realize they are being screwed.  My hunch is that they don't, or even if they do they feel like they have no choice in this matter.  oh well ...

update: this from the faculty union on campus:
Just a quick reminder that Monday (4/25) is Higher Ed. Rally Day at the state capitol steps.  Please join students and faculty for a rally which will convey our needs and goals to the Governor and the Legislature.  It startsat 12:30 on the steps and will last approximately an hour.  See you there.
So, where will the additional money come from?  Hmmmm ....

You have a daughter? Read this. Well, read it even if otherwise

Tina Fey's prayer for a daughter (ht)
First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.
May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.
When the Crystal Meth is offered, May she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half And stick with Beer.
Guide her, protect her
When crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock ‘N Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.

Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes And not have to wear high heels.
What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.
May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.
Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen. Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, For childhood is short – a Tiger Flower blooming Magenta for one day – And adulthood is long and dry-humping in cars will wait.
O Lord, break the Internet forever, That she may be spared the misspelled invective of her peers And the online marketing campaign for Rape Hostel V: Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.
And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.
And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back.
“My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.
I think of this as a wonderful tribute to mothers, who deal with crap--the literal and the metaphorical. A couple of weeks ahead of Mother's Day, I suppose.

Here is Tina Fey accepting the Mark Twain Award for American humor:

The site traffic data revealed that there was a surge in visitors who had come to my blog because they were searching for "after the storm." Yes, those very search words.

It might have been their because of the interests to find out more about the aftereffects of the storms that destroyed property and life in a few American states.

In Japan, more than a month after the shake and the tsunami, the people and the government are still working through the storm that has not quite ended.

And, throughout the world there are people dealing with metaphorical storms in their lives every single day.

Which is why I thought it is worth it to re-post that wonderful poem by Boris Pasternak:

After the Storm

The air is full of after-thunder freshness,
And everything rejoices and revives.
With the whole outburst of its purple clusters
The lilac drinks the air of paradise.

The gutters overflow; the change of weather
Makes all you see appear alive and new.
Meanwhile the shades of sky are growing lighter,
Beyond the blackest cloud the height is blue.

An artist's hand, with mastery still greater
Wipes dirt and dust off objects in his path.
Reality and life, the past and present,
Emerge transformed out of his colour-bath.

The memory of over half a lifetime
Like swiftly passing thunder dies away.
The century is no more under wardship:
High time to let the future have its say.

It is not revolutions and upheavals
That clear the road to new and better days,
But revelations, lavishness and torments
Of someone's soul, inspired and ablaze.

                 Translated by Lydia Pasternak Slater 
Pasternak is, of course, known to most of us as the creator of Dr. Zhivago.  Play that the lovely music from the movie version, in the video below, and read the poem all over again. Chances are quite good that you will feel the storms clearing ...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Remembrance of things past: School ends, 30 years ago

In cyberspace, we have been marking the passing of thirty years since we completed high school. Yes, it was back in 1981. In a small town, Neyveli. A town nearly as magical as Macondo in One hundred years of solitude.

In the culture then, I know not how things are now, there wasn't any formal occasion to note the last days of school. Nothing structured, I mean. All of a sudden the exams were over, and that was it.

I remember being confused--because it was the first time in my life that I didn't know how life was going to be when the summer break, or "annual vacation" as it was called, ended.  Up until then it was easy--roam around aimlessly and simply waste time. Eat quite a few mangoes. Care not about the hot Sun, despite all the yelling from parents and grandparents. And, as one who simply loved going to classes, I missed that structured learning, but knew that the soon I would head back to that known place.

But, this time it was all brand new. All I knew was that I would report as a student at a college. And it was going to be at a new place. With strangers.

Well, thirty years later, after meeting a lot more strangers in life, we have been reconnecting with those old mates.  Our faces are barely recognizable anymore--some have changed a lot more than others.  Out of the 120 or so students in the graduating class, we have connected with 40, and four are already dead. And perhaps we have lost more?

We have been sharing memories of teachers, good and bad. Many of the teachers are now long gone. YouTube came to my rescue with "To sir, with love" as the music of the evening as I thought about my teachers.. Of course, we didn't have any male teacher a tenth as good looking as Sidney Poitier is in this movie. Heck, not a millionth even :)  But then, well, he is Poitier, and it is not fair to compare any normal person with Poitier!  But, we did have a few teachers who really cared, as much as Thackeray did. And they were not "sir" but "miss" ... I suppose it is then "to miss, with love"

Natalie Merchant did a wonderful cover of this song--can't find a decent audio/video version of hers on YouTube.  But, there is one that is good enough--with Michael Stipe of REM

What is wrong with this editorial cartoon on baby boomers and unemployment?

The cartoon, on the right, suggests that the Gen X-ers are doomed because the baby boomers not retiring early enough.

What is the fallacy in this argument? 

Click here to find out

Stephen Colbert explains the significance of Easter eggs


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The travelin' man ... and his classmates? :)

In an earlier post, I wrote about how much, it turns out, my high school classmates have traveled all over the world.  One of them, apparently lived a life of island hopping from one island to another for many years, from Seychelles to Micronesia to Polynesia ... and now to Fiji ... As I was driving later, and thought about Polynesian islands, my mind kept going back to Ricky Nelson's "The Travelin' Man"

My first trip abroad was to the US.  It was from here, at the end of my first year, that I went to Venezuela.  During this trip that my fellow-grad students (I can't recall their names, except two!) introduced me to Belafonte's music.  His "Sweetheart from Venezuela" is a classic indeed.

The song that we did sing often was, of course, Belaftonte's "Banana boat song"

More on Gandhi's (bi)sexuality. Wait, the Mahatma or Rahul?

The nerd and the junkie in me are delighted with the craziness in this world, including all the attention on Gandhi's (bi)sexuality.  So, here I am three weeks after that first post, yet again yakking about it :)

The best one I read about all this was in the New Yorker.  But, that will be towards the end of this post.  Because, well, here is Aravind Adiga writing that Gandhi was the symbol of manliness in a country that was otherwise devoid of strong male figures, and where, he quotes MJ Akbar here, young boys were forever in the shades of the saris of their mothers and grandmothers. 

He exaggerates, but then he is a fiction writer :)  Plus, Adiga seems to confuse courage with sexuality and manliness. 
There were no Charles de Gaulles or Fidel 
Castros to inspire us. Independent India’s most important statesman,
 Jawaharlal Nehru, suffered from an air of masculine inadequacy, 
stemming from his failure to forestall the Chinese invasion of India 
in 1962. Liberal, tolerant Indian politicians almost always looked
 like pathetic specimens of masculinity; the charismatic men were 
either those who had advocated military action against the British—or the even more macho Hindu nationalists.
I am all the more convinced that Adiga should restrict himself to fiction, where he excels.

The New Yorker has one hilarious piece on this: "I was Gandhi's boyfriend"  ... I envy these writers for being so creative :) Here is one really funny moment there:
he eventually dumped me for this German-Jewish bodybuilder, and I warned him, I said, “Hello, been there, and I know that at first it sounds hot, but pretty soon it’s all ‘Nein, I can’t stay out late, because I have to get up early for the gym,’ and ‘Nein, we can’t do your rally for South Africa, because we’ve got my cousin’s Seder, remember?’ And his mother will be all ‘So, Mr. Gandhi, I’m told you like to lie down in front of railroad cars, to demonstrate a political point. Can you make a living from this?’ ”
 Meanwhile, there is loud talk that Rahul Gandhi is gay.  

Who cares, right?  Makes for interesting discussions, and blog posts though!

Monday, April 18, 2011

All we are is dust in the wind ...

Triggered by the NPR story on four hundred years since the King James Bible, which I was listening to when driving back home. 

A wonderful song it is ...

Crazy U.: Not recognizing that higher education is a business is to be in denial!

Over the last few years, one important buzz-phrase in higher education has been "enrollment management."  There are a few good aspects to it, yes.  But, all the good aspects are largely ignored by the overriding objective of all: maximization of student enrollment.

If student numbers--those enrolled--go up, the institution is happy.  I don't merely mean administrators being happy, but faculty too.  Faculty, true to their (our) parochial interests, see increase in numbers as a wonderful opportunity to offer that rare and special topic that nobody else cares about or, worse, outrightly bizarre courses.  Administrators compete for awards in their worlds, and the faculty-administrative complex is happy.

Except, this is not a happy situation.  Because, we are forgetting the students, aren't we? 

But, students, too, seem to be happy with this--high school continues on, and their adolescence extends well into twenty-something years.  And, of course, academic researchers validate this as "emergent adulthood."  So, if anybody asks questions, well, simply throw that phrase to spin a story that the youth of today are graduating into adulthood along paths and time-frames different from mine, leave alone my grandfather's!

A significant number of students I encounter don't seem to be interested in knowledge at all. Today, one student slept through most of the 100-minute meeting. And it was not as if I was even talking the whole time. Before we took a break midway, I handed their assignments back and, picture this: I am calling out students' names, most of whom I now know anyway. I call out this student's name, and well, he is fast asleep. I joke that perhaps somebody ought to wake him up. A few students sport a nonplussed look. We move on, take that break, resume classes, and this student sleeps through it all.  A few minutes before class ends, he wakes up startled. Looks around (I am watching all these even as I am explaining the dynamic changes in birthrates!) and as class ends, rushes out without collecting his paper. In fact, there has not been a single class over the last four weeks that he has not slept. Not a quick nap, but deep sleep. Well, I can only hope it is not some serious medical issue.  And if it is a medical problem, I hope he is getting appropriate care.

Some students, of course, go on a totally different track--questioning the very idea that education is about knowing.  Last term, one student complained--yes, complained--that he was being forced to take courses in subjects that he didn't care for at all.  No, his grudge was not against linear differential equations, but was about the very heart of the liberal arts--in the humanities and the social sciences!

Across the Atlantic, notes, Spiked, the newly elected leader of the National Union of Students said:
‘I think we should be honest about our priorities’, he said. ‘At the end of the day, the point of the university has changed. If you look at when only five per cent of the population went, that was about knowledge, discovery, pushing boundaries, people talked about the crème de la crème. [Now], it is about social mobility and people changing their lives. The reality is you need that bit of paper [a degree] to get into better jobs with greater earning potential and influence. So we want as many people to get one as possible, at the expense of quality if necessary.’
Wait, don't nod in agreement.  Re-read this.  Did you catch what he said? "we want as many people to get [a degree] as possible, at the expense of quality if necessary.’"  There, if ever we needed a clear articulation on how much education is all about numbers and not about quality, well, hey, thank this brilliant student leader for making it clear.

Spiked comments on this sorry state of education:
It is a remarkably naked assertion of the denigration of education from being about quality (knowledge, reflection, truth) to being about quantity (getting as many young people through as possible in order to improve their ‘earning potential’).

The question we need to ask ourselves is whether college really needs to be for everybody. Why shove it down everybody's throat by making a college degree a requirement for every bloody job there is?

The more we engage in this, the more higher education operates as an out-of-control industry whose only business is taking care of itself.  And, yes, Crazy U is a good metaphor :(

We are one of the great apes. Bananas please!

When I was driving back from Seattle, for a while I listened to the conversation with Richard Leakey in Ira Flatow's program

It was such a delight to be able to listen to a casual, and yet informative and educational, conversation.  I tracked down from the transcript the following exchange:
FLATOW: You know, a lot of people who are creationists and do not believe in human evolution, they like to say that no human has descended from a monkey or an ape or a chimpanzee. And that's exactly correct, isn't it? It's not that we were descendants from them, but there's a common ancestry somewhere.
Dr. LEAKEY: Well, indeed. And I think if we were very fair, which humans aren't, and one did - had the classification of primates done by a non-primate, there would be six great apes, not five, because we are just an ape. We just happened to have been a more intelligent one who did the classification ourselves.
I am not sure which one will be a tougher sell with the anti-evolution crowd: that we descended from an ape, or that we are also apes!
 I'm quite sure had Charles Darwin not suggested that we, too, had evolved, evolution would have been perfectly acceptable to everybody. But it wasn't thus and all the evidence today, and there's abundant evidence and very clear evidence, is that we have evolved. And if you go back far enough, our ancestors don't look anything like we do today.
I wasn't sure if Leakey meant it in all seriousness, or was making a political point of sorts that we--the surviving homo sapiens--ought to be recognized as a separate ape.  I am ok with knowing that I am on the planet of the apes :)

Leakey then went on to add this:
people didn't like the idea that the world wasn't the center of the universe. People didn't like the idea that the world wasn't flat. Given time and evidence, people learn to accept these things if they're true. And I think there's no question of the truth of human evolution. None at all.
But, it is quite a challenge:
Dr. LEAKEY: I personally believe that if we could accept human evolution and evolution, science would be much more acceptable. And I think the only way out of the mess this species that's in today is for science to get greater currency value in the world. And I think a lot of biological natural science has been discounted because of the fear of evolution.
Evolution is nothing to be afraid of. And if we could get a lot of money and a lot of attention and look at the last 100,000 years - which I think we can do now - I think we can clear this up once and for all. And it's late, but there is still time.
FLATOW: Are you saying it's a worldwide fear of evolution, or is it mostly in the United States?
Dr. LEAKEY: I think it's growing. I think it's - it is worldwide. I think it's much more of a case in areas where Christianity is - and Islam have a lot of influence. And I think the fundamentalist approach to religion that you're seeing both in those two great religions is making this worse. But you find it in Europe. You find it in England. You find it in Africa. In fact, there are very few African leaders who believe in human evolution and science.
FLATOW: Is that right?
Dr. LEAKEY: And it's very, very worrying, because Africa's problems will only be resolved by African scientists working on those problems. And if we don't teach science from early on, we're not going to get out of this hole, because nobody is going to pull us out of the hole, because they're in one themselves.
FLATOW: Does it make it hard to excavate in these African countries if they don't believe?
Dr. LEAKEY: Funny enough, it doesn't. Because if they don't believe we're looking for human ancestors, they don't care what you're doing.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The New Yorker on man versus machine :)


I blame my fascination for such humor on Madan, who had awesome cartoons in the Vikatan, during my younger days in India.

Ok, back to man v. machine:

Speaking of Madan, the cartoons I have spotted online seem to be from recent years.  I would love to get a hold of his collections from the 1970s.  Often, the punchline was a one-liner, like most New Yorker cartoons are.  Here is one of Madan's, which seems like a screen-grab from his talk:

Teaching credentials. One heck of a ponzi scheme?

A week ago, I had invited over for dinner at home four students who will soon graduate, and one with a graduate degree in teaching.  I asked "L" whether that grad degree is really needed when teaching in the third grade classroom, which is the career goal here.  Turns out that a mere grad degree is not that much of an employment credential anymore--additional certifications and licenses are also needed to land that job!

Unless all the four soon-to-be-graduates (all four in different fields of study) were faking it because I was the host (!), they were unanimous that the entire higher education came across to them as one "huge corporation."

This expensive credential inflation bankrupts the youth who are spending the money they don't have.  It, of course, makes colleges and universities rich and they can then build multimillion dollar gyms with climbing walls and student union buildings with wine bars.

The system is also rigged that teachers with graduate degrees get paid more too.  I have noted before--almost two years ago--the cost escalation to the system because of the additional compensation for teachers with graduate degrees:
A 2007 study estimated that 2.1 percent of all current expenditures can be attributed to teacher compensation related to master’s degrees. Seen another way, the master’s bump costs the average school district $174 per pupil.
... A Nebraska lawmaker, for example, should probably be aware that, on a yearly basis, roughly $81 million dollars—$279 per pupil—are tied up in master’s degrees and thus unavailable for other purposes. During this time of fiscal stringency, it should raise eyebrows when a state automatically allocates over 3 percent of the average per pupil expenditure in a manner that is not even suspected of promoting higher levels of student achievement.
Here in Oregon, according to this study, the extra cost as a result of this master's bump is $109,520,560.

Forget everything else, and merely use logical and rational thinking here.  How is a graduate degree holder better than an undergraduate degree holder when explaining anything to students in the third grade?  What do we Oregonians, for example, get for this additional 109 million dollar investment?  Nothing!  We spend all that money for nothing.
On average, master’s degrees in education bear no relation to student achievement. Master’s degrees in math and science have been linked to improved student achievement in those subjects, but 90 percent of teachers’ master’s degrees are in education programs—a notoriously unfocused and process-dominated course of study.
And, hey, if you want it from the proverbial horse's mouth, well, I blogged about that too a few months ago:
In a speech at an American Enterprise Institute forum on Wednesday, the secretary of education, Arne Duncan, said state and local governments should rethink their policies of giving pay raises to teachers who have master’s degrees because evidence suggests that the degree alone does not improve student achievement.
Coming soon to the third grade classroom in your neighborhood school: teachers with doctorates!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

When adjunct faculty compete for that one tenure-track spot

A pretty good episode from Juniper College:

At least the stamp doesn't have the nude Lady Liberty from India!

So, the world is having a good laugh at the US Postal Service using a stock photo of the Statue of Liberty, which apparently is of a replica at a Las Vegas casino.

Hey, be thankful they didn't use the images I have here; I took these photos while on a smoke-spewing motorboat on the Kerala backwaters, back in 2002.

And a closer look at her, ahem, backside :)

The rich are different from you and me. But, wait, I am rich, too

My air travel to India last year was via Frankfurt, where I had to get a new boarding pass for my onward flight to Chennai.  It was more than two hours to boarding time and the gate was rather empty.  I approached the counter, which was staffed by two young women.  I kidded with them that perhaps it was my lucky day and that they would give me a free upgrade from coach to the first class. 

One of them replied, "from where I am, even a regular economy ticket feels like first class."

Her reply was a powerful reminder that being materially rich is, well, relative.  I felt rather stupid for joking with her about the first class upgrade.  In any case, she directed me to return to the counter after a few minutes because they had just about gotten there to the gate.

I wandered around, and about a half an hour later returned to the gate to find quite a few passengers already lined up at the counter. 

I waited my turn, and presented my passport ... and no jokes this time.

With the stereotypical German efficiency, she handed me my boarding pass and in a formal tone said "welcome to the business class."

How much ever I think that I am a lowly paid university professor, the reality is that even within the United States, and definitely among the nearly seven billion on the planet, I am not one of the hoi polloi.  I belong to a privileged group. I ought to be humbly thankful about it, and the Lufthansa employee reminded me that I have a lot to thank for.

Yesterday, too, was another learning opportunity on this very subject.  On my drive back from Seattle, I stopped to fill gas.  It was also a break for me from the couple of hours of driving in the rain.  (Here in Oregon, only the gas station attendant can legally pump gas.) 

I handed my credit card over to the young woman and when she returned it after starting the pump, I engaged in the casual chit-chat that we often do. 

"How you doin' with the rain and the wind?" I asked her. 

"I have one more hour to go, and I can't wait because even my socks are all wet already" she replied. 

These are not warm rains--it was just about 47 degrees. To be outside in the rain in wet socks at that temperature, versus me in the warmth and comfort of my car ... I reached into my bag, took out a chocolate bar, and gave her that while adding "hey, I hope this will warm you up."

"Thanks so much" she said.  Her facial response itself made it a worthwhile gas station stop.

The larger picture on unemployment and income inequality in the US is not looking good at all.   

Read this without cracking a smile. Come on, try :)

Going Brazilian might take on a whole new meaning after this one:
Brazilian fingers wife in venomous vagina murder plot

A Brazilian man has claimed his wife attempted to kill him by putting poison into her vagina and inviting him to drink from the furry cup.
The unnamed husband, from São José do Rio Preto, in the state of São Paulo, told cops he and his missus had an argument. She then allegedly doused her privates with a "toxic substance" before suggesting her other half eat at the Y.
Luckily for the intended victim, he smelt something fishy before diving in, and thwarted the cunning cunnilingual plan.
Given the "unusual" nature of the case, officer Walter Colacino Júnior, of Rio Preto's 4th Police District, has decided to probe deeper into the matter before taking any action.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Academic bloggers. I wish all faculty did this

The NY Times lists a few academic bloggers ... a strange listing though ... Dan Drezner is a conspicuous omission here--I wish the paper had profiled his blog instead of Mankiw's ... Mankiw rarely does any serious analysis in his blogs, but Drezner does.  And, of course, who can forget that it was his blogging that supposedly made Drezner a lesser scholar, and then all those controversies over his tenure, or being denied one ...

I started blogging back in 2001, when I was in Bakersfield.  Lacking the big time credentials, I thought perhaps a few of us fellow academics could blog together, at least about issues of relevance to the Central Valley.  I figured that this collective output might draw web traffic.  But, the few faculty I chatted about this couldn't care.  An active local resident, a fellow planner, Graham Kaye Eddie, suggested that I team up with him and we recruit a few more people from the city and that we blog about local political issues.  But, I didn't want to be restricted to the really local topics alone.

After I got here to Oregon in fall 2002, again, lacking the gravitas to go solo, I tried to interest a few fellow faculty who engaged me in discussions.  This was before I was excommunicated.  But, they too didn't care for blogging, and as far as I know are yet to blog.  Perhaps a fear to face public scrutiny?

Anyway, here I am tilting at windmills :)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thomas Friedman defends Iraq, again. And wants more too?

Maybe I will seriously consider the NY Times' paywall only when the paper seriously rethinks having Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd as columnists.  Most of their columns are just fluff, or worse.

I am only now catching up with Friedman's column, thanks to conference stuff. (editor: when will you catch up with your classes? Awshutupalready!)  I had a metaphorical falling off the chair moment when I read this in his ranting:
The Arab world desperately needs its versions of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk — giants from opposing communities who rise above tribal or Sunni-Shiite hatreds to forge a new social compact. The Arab publics have surprised us in a heroic way. Now we need some Arab leaders to surprise us with bravery and vision. That has been so lacking for so long.
Another option is that an outside power comes in, as America did in Iraq, and as the European Union did in Eastern Europe, to referee or coach a democratic transition between the distrustful communities in these fractured states. But I don’t see anyone signing up for that job.
WTF! What a horrible "liberal" warmonger Friedman has been and continues to be!  Hey, here is an idea--even if those countries slip into civil war, which is their problem to begin with, why not employ your own Friedman Unit to advocate for patience?  You know, tell the American public that in six months those civil wars will turn a corner and, therefore, the US should simply stay out?  And then say the same thing again when the six months end. And again. And again. 

We need pundits to tell us the complex stories in language simple enough for all of us to understand.  Carl Sagan was a master at that. Paul Krugman does it well. Friedman, however, increasingly is being merely simplistic. Awful.

Presidents steal all the time. But, even pens?

The only consolation is that he didn't try to pocket the silverware at the banquet later :) (ht)
President of Czech Republic Václav Klaus "steals" pen during his official visit in Chile. President's spokesman Radim Ochvata said it was a gift.

From Wikileaks to YouTube, we are finding out a lot more about how governments and politicians really work. Well, hey, the best entertainment money can buy--though, of course, it is not that we are willingly paying for all of it. Often, as in this video, it is being stolen :)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Photo of the day: Nude painting

From this collection of goofballs for April Fools ... so what if I spotted this a few days after the event; it is hilarious anytime of the year :)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Chart of the day: America's military spending. O M G!!!

Ezra Klein has this chart
The outsized military spending on steroids compared to the rest of the world is simply astounding by itself ... but then when you think about this against the backdrop of all the discussions on budgets and deficits, isn't it ridiculous that under the pretext of 30 billion dollars the GOP is ready to shut the government down, and Paul Ryan is eager to go after Medicaid, and the military budget goes, well, untouched?

Klein adds:
Our military spending is absurd in comparison to the rest of the world’s, not particularly popular here at home and widely acknowledged to be full of waste. And yet it has emerged pretty much unscathed from the 2011 spending cuts and the 2012 budgets of both the House GOP and the White House. It’s really quite odd. Real deficit hawks would be spending some serious time with the report (pdf) of the Sustainable Defense Task Force. Guess we’ll see Wednesday whether President Obama is willing to take this fight on.
 Dream on, if you think that Obama will take on the defense budget.  Yes, I am thinking of Paul Krugman here on "Obama is missing."

I don't know if I should worry about defense spending or the fact that the politicos are willing to even restrict  the First Amendment rights in order to keep the military happy.  The following are what Senator, yes, US Senator, Lindsey Graham said:
Free speech is a great idea, but we're in a war. During World War II, you had limits on what you could do if it inspired the enemy.
Can you imagine ever going after the defense budget when such politicians govern? ever, ever , ever?  As Reason pointed out in that context:
You know what? We're always going to be in a war, thanks in no small part to the Lindsey Grahams of the world. Which means if we truly value our free speech, we're gonna have to bounce out every politician who subjects American expression to a wartime litmus test. Better yet, maybe start electing some who at least occasionally refrain from supporting new wars against majority-Muslim countries that have yet to make it through a Reformation.
Yes, war forever.  If not with Eurasia, then with East Asia.  There is no place for Winston Smith, unless he truly believes that 2 + 2 = 5.

At the end of it all, as Andrew Sullivan noted:
the liberties taken away by wartime are permanently taken away.
Going after the massive defense budget is, therefore, not merely about deficits, it is also to regain the liberties that the government has taken away from us.  But, ain't gonna happen :(

Cheap, risk-free, natural, abundant energy source found!

Damn, I wish I had seen this cartoon when I posted the lengthy piece on electricity, coal, and poor countries! :)

Oh, but burning wood will contribute CO2!!!  muahahaha!
And, if you are like me, well, you know very well that gas prices are on the rise, again

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Creationism. Only in America. But, not being proud here :(

I told my class the other day that I have pretty much stopped watching television anymore because there is rarely anything interesting.  What I didn't tell them, because of my antiquated notions of keeping politics out of the classroom, was this: American politics is the best sitcom that money can buy, and I am one serious fan of this sitcom.  And, BTW, dammit we spend a lot of money on this hilarious show.

The theatrical production that caught my interest today (ht) was this: Creationism gains ground in Tennessee
Tennessee House Bill 368, the creationist friendly legislation that we have previously covered on FrumForum, has passed through of the Tennessee House on a vote of 70-23. The Senate is expected to take up the bill for a vote on April 20th.
I suppose the vote will be in time for Earth Day celebrations in Tennessee, when the politicians will describe how god created the earth that is the center of this universe.

Oh, with one person who didn't vote with his Republican colleagues:
One Republican did vote against the bill however, Representative Bob Ramsey. According to his website, Ramsey also holds a B.S. in Biology.
Anyway, that is not the end of the sitcom--read the following quotes from the honorable members of Tennessee's legislature:
Williamson County Representative Glen Casada says science proponents are intolerant of dissent.
“But there’s now the new religion of evolution. And they in turn are now trying to suppress questioning and free thought.”
Representative Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, called the bill a return to common sense.
“And ever since the late ’50s and early ’60s, when we let the intellectual bullies hijack our education system, we’ve been on a slippery slope.”
Dr. Joey Hensley, a Republican from Hohenwald, says a scientific theory is…well, more theory than science.
“Every theory is… just that, it’s a theory. And many scientific theories that we’ve heard from, that people claim, every scientist believes a certain theory, that’s certainly not true.”

Representative Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, says that as a teacher he worried that he would be criticized for some of the things he taught.
“One of the things that really bothered me, I was told I couldn’t pray with my football players. So I did it anyway. Not only did I do it, I did it in the middle of the football field, on the 50 yard line. So sometimes, it’s important to just do it.”
Representative Sheila Butt, Republican from Columbia, says things she was taught in high school turned out to be untrue.
“I remember so many of us, when we were seniors in high school, we gave up Aquanet hairspray. Do you remember why we did that? Because it was causing global warming. That that aerosol in those cans was causing global warming.
Since then scientists have said that maybe we shouldn’t have given up that aerosol can, because that aerosol was actually absorbing the earth’s rays, and was keeping us from global warming.”
Who knew it would all come down to deeply-buried teenage angst over banning aerosol in hairspray!

Yes, we have our share of nutcases in these United States of America!

And, yes, Tennessee also gave us the famous "Scopes Trial"

At least, it got music :)

Self-interest “properly understood”: the growing inequality in America

Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office.
 Says a lot about American politics now, doesn't it!

That was from this piece by the Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz on how "1 percent of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret."  Stiglitz writes:
Of all the costs imposed on our society by the top 1 percent, perhaps the greatest is this: the erosion of our sense of identity, in which fair play, equality of opportunity, and a sense of community are so important.
The unemployment and the depressing economic situation that the youth face worries me a lot, perhaps because I see them everyday in the ready to graduate students.  I can't imagine them remotely thinking it is fair play when they are screwed ...

Stiglitz concludes:
The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.

An IMF study (ht) emphasizes that
It is a big mistake to separate analyses of growth and income distribution. A rising tide is still critical to lifting all boats. The implication of our analysis is that helping to raise the lowest boats may actually help to keep the tide rising!

The immediate role for policy, however, is less clear. More inequality may shorten growth duration, but poorly designed efforts to reduce inequality could be counterproductive. If these distort incentives and thereby undermine growth, they can do more harm than good to the poor.

Still, there may be some “win-win” policies, such as better-targeted subsidies, better access to education for the poor that improves equality of economic opportunity, and active labor market measures that promote employment.

When there are short-run trade-offs between the effects of policies on growth and income distribution, the evidence in our paper doesn’t in itself say what to do. But our analysis should tilt the balance towards the long-run benefits—including for growth—of reducing inequality. Over longer horizons, reduced inequality and sustained growth may be two sides of the same coin.

Would you be poor without electricity, or not poor in a polluted world?

Yesterday, one of the graduating students I had invited over dinner asked me what my favorite was of all the places I have visited.  I said I liked them all.  Perhaps Venice in Italy stands out in my mind because I can still recall that surreal experience of stepping outside the train station and being presented with the visual spectacle of water-taxis!

But then, the most depressing place I have visited was Tanzania.  Despite all the intellectual readings I had done, it shocked me that there places without electricity.  A simple act that we take for granted--to reach out for that light switch as the Sun goes down--had no meaning there.

Of course, there are plenty of places on the planet where electricity is still a novelty.  And in tremendous short supply.  India is one of those.  Are we surprised then that this country of more than 1.2 billion people with huge economic aspirations wants to produce a lot more electricity than it currently does?  And, given that coal is the most inexpensive way to get those electrons flowing, it ought not to surprise us that India, like China, is rapidly expanding on coal-fired power plants.

From the comforts of climate-controlled rooms here in the West, we are ready to point fingers at India and China for accelerating carbon emissions, which have immense implications for all the nearly seven billion that we are now, and the other flora and fauna as well.  It is simply bizarre that the advanced countries don't seem to appreciate the tremendous shortage in electricity, which is vital for modern economic activities.

The World Bank has essentially shorted its fuse in this context (ht).
The World Bank is planning to restrict the money it gives to coal-fired power stations, bowing to pressure from green campaigners to radically revise its funding rules.
WTF, right?

As Spiked notes, such a decision is the equivalent of keeping the poor in the dark, and contradictory to the Bank's mission to eradicate poverty!
where does this new policy leave China and India? Based on International Monetary Fund GDP figures, adjusted to allow for the lower costs of many items in poorer countries, China is the second-largest economy in the world and India is the fourth-largest. Yet both countries have massive, and overwhelmingly poor, populations. China is only in 90th place in terms of GDP per head, and India is 137th. So are these amongst the ‘poorest’ countries that will still get World Bank aid or not? Even these rising economic powerhouses are in desperate need of development.
But far from fretting about this shocking poverty, Western greens don’t seem very keen on the developed world having reliable electricity at all.
All those greenies who talk a boatload of crap about the simpler and "fuller" lives that the poor lead, well, I think they ought to relocate to places like the Tanzanian village I visited and live there for the rest of their lives.  Yes, I am bloody pissed!

India's minister for the environment, Jairam Ramesh, whose decisions I have blogged about a few times in the past, continues to defy the West and the greenies on this, even while recognizing the importance of protecting the environment.  I say, good for him, and the country too.  The latest:
Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh on Saturday asserted that India would not succumb to international pressure on any legally binding commitments to reduce carbon emission.
Speaking at the National Conference and Annual Session of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) here, Mr. Ramesh said the government would act only in the national interest on the issue.
“I can assure you we are not taking on any legally binding commitments under international duress."
Not only that:
Yielding to intense pressure from the coal ministry and end user ministries of power and steel, the environment ministry has agreed to consider approval of all proposed mining projects that obtained stage I forest clearance before 2010, and also offered to free up more forest land from no go areas for mining.
I am sure those whose blood runs green will be outraged.  But then they are aghast that even the screwed up World Bank plan doesn't go far enough because it spends too much on these conventional energy sources.  Hey, the Bank spends that because of the severe shortfall"

The World Bank's record on funding fossil fuels has long been a target of green campaigners. Last year, for instance, the World Bank was attacked for its controversial decision to grant nearly $4bn (£2.5bn) to the South African company Eskom to build what would be one of the world's largest coal-fired power stations.
The bank spent £3.4bn – one-quarter of all its spending on energy projects – on coal-fired power in developing countries in the year to June 2010. That was 40 times more than the sum spent five years previously.
The Bank knows all too well the reality on the ground:
In 2009, a World Bank blog post by Justin Lin, the organisation’s chief economist, explained why support for coal was essential. ‘The answer is that there is an urgent need for energy in the poor countries that we serve and indeed in my home country, China… Because coal is often cheap and abundant, and the need for electricity is so great, coal plants are going to be built with or without our support. Without our support, it is the cheaper, dirtier type of coal plants that will proliferate.’
But, when it comes to poor people, it is awful that the directly or indirectly their ideological opposition translates to the same Republican Party bottom-line of "screw the poor!"  And they oppose it even if the electricity generation will not be from fossil fuels:
when the Ethiopian government announced plans for a major new hydro-electric scheme - in a country where 70 per cent of people have no access to electricity - greens have demanded that international organisations like the World Bank and the European Investment Bank should refuse to support it (see They don’t give a dam about development, by Nathalie Rothschild).
I can forever keep punctuating my comments here with WTF!

Visualize in your mind the following "famous NASA image that is often called a "satellite photo of earth at night" when you listen to the greenies harshly critique the energy consumption in India and China as the most urgent climate change problem, and point out to them that the problem originates in the rich countries.

Ideally, the advanced countries, and the US in particular, would adopt energy policies that can then speed up the transition to feasible and inexpensive alternatives to coal. Because, climate change is for real, and carbon is one heck of an accelerator of this process. But then here in the US we area lot more concerned about Jersey Shore and Charlie Sheen and Obama's birth certificate and ....  Yes, WTF! yet again :(