Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Photo of the day: Fallen Marine's remains return home

Caption at the source:
A Marine carry team carries the transfer case containing the remains of Marine Cpl. Adam J. Buyes
of Salem, Ore., upon arrival at Dover Air Force Base, Del. on Wednesday Nov. 30, 2011.

Even students are getting a tad queasy about college football money :)

It is too bad that the term is coming to an end--just when students are brimming with so much opinions that they want to include me in the conversations.  Three of those conversations were all about college sports--football, to be specific.

A couple of days ago, "D" came to my office to talk about this paper. "BTW, Dr. Khé, you went to USC, right?"

"Yes" I replied.

"So, did you watch the USC-Ducks game?"

He was taken aback when I said I did not.

His reaction made me think that he was expecting me to gloat about USC killing UO's national championship aspirations with that upset victory.  I felt compelled to explain, which I did.

"As a graduate student, I used to follow football.  And later too.  But then the more I seriously started thinking about academics and students, all I could see in the football games was coaches earning millions of dollars.  So, I don't watch anymore."

It seemed like it took "D" by surprise.  When he asked me more on this topic, I asked him if he had seen the latest news about Bellotti and his retirement income.  He hadn't.  So, I pulled up my blog post on it, and it was neat to see the jaw-dropped expression on the Duck fan.

"He gets $41,000 a month in retirement?  But he also works for ESPN!"

I wonder if he will think about this when he watches the Ducks play UCLA for the Pac-12 title.  I hope he does.

Earlier today, I got an email from "S":
In case you did not see this (though I suspect you probably did), here is a news story that I had to read a second time to make sure the numbers were, in fact, monthly salaries.
Yes, she was also referring to the same Bellotti dollar figure news.

To cap it all, as I was walking towards the library, a voice yelling "Dr. Khé" forced me out of my thoughts.  It was "T," who is a football player too.  He, also, engaged me in a short conversation about the money in college sports.

I told "T" that I am all for students playing sports.  "It is the money that bugs me " I told him.  He agreed with me--at least, that is what he said :)

I wish I could bug all those three with this latest update:
At a time when college football programs are coming under fire for lionizing their coaches, Ohio State University hired Urban Meyer and agreed to pay him $4 million a year. That makes Meyer one of the highest paid college football coaches in the country.
Meyer will earn three times more than Ohio State President E. Gordan Gee, the nation’s highest paid university president. On most campuses, coaches top the payroll. And despite the economy, budget cuts and increasing tuition, coach salaries continue to climb.
So, the joke is on whom? Students? Faculty? Taxpayers? All of the above?

Oh, btw, this is the same OSU's president Gee who in a brutally frank manner hoped that the football coach would not fire him; remember that?

As my neighbor often comments, there are only two religions in America now: college football and NFL!

Barney Frank quits. "The king is dead. Long live the queen" :)

Students' excuse for not doing homework? It is Bernanke's fault :)


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Reading Greenwald's columns are always depressing. Yet, read them, I do!

When wrapping up one of the courses this term, many students remarked that the contents of the course were more depressing than they would have preferred.  Good thing that I don't share any of Glenn Greenwald's columns with them then, eh!

In today's depressing edition, Greenwald points out how the lamestream mainstream media so readily acts as the government's mouthpiece.  It doesn't matter if it is a Republican or a Democrat in the White House, propaganda machines they mostly are.
As usual, American journalists are the leading proponents not of transparency but of secrecy, not of  accountability but of covert decision-making in the dark, not of the rule of law but the rule of political leaders. As Cohen’s Washington Post namesake put it: “it is often best to keep the lights off.” That, with some exceptions, is the motto not only of The Washington Post but of American establishment journalism generally. That’s what NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen meant when he said that the reason we got WikiLeaks is because “the watchdog press died.” With some exceptions — some of this we have learned about from whistleblowers leaking to reporters, who then publish it – the American media does not merely fail to fulfill its ostensible function of bringing transparency to government; far beyond that, it takes the lead in justifying and protecting extreme government secrecy. Watching a New York Times columnist stand up and cheer for multiple covert, legally dubious wars and an underground foreign policy highlights that as well as anything one can recall.
It is doubly disappointing that all the hide-and-seek is being played by Obama the President.

Quote of the day, on the GOP presidential candidates

Compared with past commanders-in-chief, the motto of the current Republican candidates is simple: don’t know, don’t care.  
The "don't know, don't care" is a play, I presume, on that old joke, "what is the difference between ignorance and apathy?"

Anyway, that quote is from Daniel Drezner, who, in his own words is "a Republican in Name Only."

What an atrocious joke on the American and world population most of the current GOP candidates are.  Well, perhaps with the exception of John "no chance of winning anything" Huntsman.

Drezner again:
The Grand Old Party candidates’ current thinking on foreign affairs is a noxious mixture of cowardice, belligerence, ignorance — and, unfortunately, political savvy. 

Photo of the day: Election in Egypt

Caption at the source:
Fadila Mohammed, 90, is carried by an Egyptian Army captain and other voters as she leaves a polling station after voting in Cairo.

On the firing of Larivere. Let their people go!

The firing of Richard Larivere from his job as the president of the University of Oregon will be discussed for a long time.  As we engage in debates, there is one fundamental issue that we Oregonians have to resolve well before hiring a successor—should UO, and perhaps Portland State and Oregon State too, be spun off the Oregon University System (OUS,) with a separate governance system?

From the day I was hired to teach at Western Oregon University (WOU) back in 2002, I have wondered at the logic, or lack thereof, in having an OUS that governs both UO and WOU.  After all, WOU is what one would refer to as a “teaching university” while UO is a “research university” and the missions of these two institutions are very different. 

It is not that UO faculty do not engage in teaching—they do.  But, at research universities, the expectation is that faculty will devote significant effort into systematically creating new ways in which we understand the world.  The metaphorical earth-shattering scholarship in the sciences and the arts happen at research universities, and that is the yardstick with which we would then measure the “worth” of a research university like UO.  Thus, it is no surprise that faculty who gain membership into prestigious bodies like the National Academy of Sciences are from research universities—and not from teaching universities.

In the American higher education system, the typical expectation is that teaching universities like WOU have a markedly different role.  Pretty much all of our work is about teaching at the undergraduate level.  Nobel Prize winners are, therefore, not to be found in teaching universities, even when they are phenomenal teachers, as many of them are.

When there is such a wide gulf between what is expected at UO versus WOU, I am always surprised that both these institutions are governed by the same board. 

When I joined WOU, the OUS had a new chancellor in Richard Jarvis.  Jarvis was a geographer, and taught an introductory physical geography class for us--for free, as I recall.  But, even before his second year anniversary on the job, Jarvis was fired rather abruptly because the then governor, Ted Kulongoski, wanted to set a new direction for higher education. 

Unfortunately, all I have witnessed in these ten years is more hirings and firings, and the creation of more and more committees, without any directional clarity whatsoever.  This decade-long experience makes me conclude that the current crisis is not anything new that Larivere created, but is the cumulative effect of dilly-dallying.

I can only hope that the termination of Larivere’s contract will compel the governor and the legislature to settle the issues once and for all.  In working out a plan, they ought to recognize that WOU and its sister regional universities, EOU and SOU, are alike in their missions, while UO, PSU and OSU have very different institutional missions.  Forcing these institutions to coexist within the same OUS structure will merely prolong the agony, and is the worst possible deal for taxpayers and students.

Monday, November 28, 2011

We blow the whistle on higher education because ...

Perhaps to the astonishment of the few students who pretend to listen to me, I routinely state in my classes that none of the courses I teach will get them any job. I tell them ... well, here is Bryan Caplan, who, apparently, says the same kind of things (ht):
what matters is how much education you have compared to competing workers.  When education levels rise, employers respond with higher standards; when education levels fall, employers respond with lower standards.  We're on a treadmill.  If voters took this idea seriously, my close friends and I could easily lose our jobs.  As a professor, it is in my interest for the public to continue to believe in the magic of education: To imagine that the ivory tower transforms student lead into worker gold. 

My conscience, however, urges me to blow the whistle on the system anyway.  Education is not magic.  Professors can't make students better at whatever job awaits them with learned lectures on arcane topics.  I'm glad I have a dream job for life.  I worked hard for it.  But society would be better off if taxpayers saved their money, students spent fewer years in school, and sheltered academics like me finally entered the Real World and found a real job.
If only my faculty and administrative colleagues would pay at least a little bit of attention to what Caplan says, even if they want to continue to summarily dismiss my thoughts on this issue :)

The moral dilemma when my salary comes from ... student debt

I have worried enough in this blog that higher education has become an industry that only cares about maximizing its own welfare.  But, the issue continues and, so, I keep blogging about it!

A couple of years ago, when the faculty union at the university where I teach decided to go on a strike (it was averted at the proverbial eleventh hour) there were quite a few students expressing their "solidarity" with the faculty, some of whom ridiculously walking around with "will teach for food" hyperbole.  I asked one of those students, who keeps in touch with me even after graduating, whether he knew where the additional money for faculty salaries will come from.  I pointed out to him that if we faculty got raises, then it was a guarantee that student tuition and fees would increase.  He was stunned; he hadn't thought about it at all.

Since then, tuition and fees have gone up a lot.  After all, somebody has to pay not only for our salaries but also for expensive Taj Mahals!

But, I am increasingly uncomfortable in the classrooms, where I am painfully aware of the debt that students are getting into.  And, even worse is when those are from less-affluent backgrounds.  These kinds of dilemmas have haunted me throughout my life and, dammit, they don't seem to go away. 

In the case of higher education, as this writer points out:
Professors get paid in the form of borrowed money. In a speech to the demonstrators at Occupy Wall Street last month, Andrew Ross, a professor of American studies at New York University, deplored the fact that his salary is largely "debt-financed." He called the growing mountain of student debt "an unsustainable moral burden."
My father often remarked that many of the misfortunes in the extended family are a result of the bad karma of my great-grandfather having been a local banker.  Dad's logic is that every time the borrowers were forced to keep up with the payments when they could not, they were handing over the money while cursing the banker--my great-grandfather.  My scientific mind sees no cause and effect relationship here.  But, I do recognize the moral dilemma, which is no different from me collecting my paycheck that is largely from student debt.

Maybe I should call my paycheck a "blood-check" along the lines of "blood chocolate."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dr. Brinkley to Rep. Young: "I pay your salary"


Wonderful one-liners. Or, as my students might say, "burn!" 
"Rice is a university. I know you went to Yuba College and you couldn't graduate."
"You don't own me. I pay your salary."
"I work for the private sector. You work for the taxpayers."

I can't believe that an elected official would be so stupid and arrogant; but then, Rep. Young was the brain behind the bridge to nowhere! ... watch the video and check it out for yourself :) 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger. Yes, that SNL skit!

Am so glad Hulu had this awesome Saturday Night Live piece, with all those comedy maestros.  The diner where customers get cheeseburgers, and Pepsi--no Coke :)

The best GOP candidate is ... already in the White House!

One can easily imagine that the NATO bombing a Pakistani base and killing its soldiers will push the US-Pakistan relations to a new low. 

Keep that development in mind as you read the following sentences from an op-ed by India's former foreign minister:
South Asia is riddled with multiple antagonisms and mutual suspicions. India mistrusts Pakistan and vice versa. Afghanistan and Pakistan are at loggerheads. On the sidelines, China, Iran and Russia look to Afghanistan for opportunities to help themselves and crimp the United States. US officials, meanwhile, are preparing to retreat from a decade of war in the Afghan hills and valleys.
On the surface, one would not think so. US-Pakistan relations have turned poisonous, with blunt statements proliferating from both governments. In Istanbul, a recent gathering of Afghanistan's concerned "neighbours" produced only a rather anodyne statement in preparation for a meeting in Bonn later this year.
When confronted by such a diplomatic snarl, there are, in reality, only two options: either allow the disputes to boil in their own cauldrons, or lower the temperature on all of the region's antagonisms before a cataclysmic explosion occurs. Clearly, today's frozen regional diplomacy must end; far too much of global importance is at stake.
India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US form a rectangle of relationships in South Asia, with India, China and the US constituting a triangle that not only contains the South Asia region, but is also a major theatre in an increasingly global struggle. The emerging geopolitical centrality of the Indian Ocean, through which an ever-increasing share of world trade passes, is a third, complicating, factor.
Untangling this web, and imparting to it a co-operative order, should be high on the agenda of all countries involved. Consider India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US. Can these relationships be transformed into anything resembling a co-operative effort?
Good luck on that.

On top of everything else, I wonder why President Obama felt compelled to move into China's sphere of influence, with his decision to locate a military base in Australia.  Really?  Come on!

I am all the more convinced that the best Republican candidate is already in the White House!  It is just that the Republicans have rushed so far to the right extreme that they don't realize that Obama is way to the right of where many Democrats hoped he would be.  No surprise that hawks, like Walter Russell Mead, are happy with all this:
Congratulations should go to President Obama and his national security team.  The State Department, the Department of Defense and the White House have clearly been working effectively together on an intensive and complex strategy.  They avoided leaks, they coordinated effectively with half a dozen countries, they deployed a range of instruments of power.  In the field of foreign policy, this was a coming of age of the Obama administration and it was conceived and executed about as flawlessly as these things ever can be.
The US has won the first round, but the game has just begun.  The Obama administration and its successors will now have to deal with a long term contest against the world’s most populous country and the world’s most rapidly developing economy.  The Obama administration may not have fully counted the costs of the new Asian hard line; for one thing, it is hard to see significant cuts coming in defense spending after we have challenged China to a contest over the future of Asia.  It’s possible that less drama now might have made America’s point as effectively while reducing the chance of Chinese push back, but there is not a lot of point in debating that now.

Egypt and democracy: Two cartoonists play on puns

First this:

Now, the second:

I imagine cartoonists being fluent with puns and, therefore, cartoonists who work in two entirely different genres using the same pun with "gyp" is not that much of a surprise.  But, ...

Friday, November 25, 2011

And thus Black Friday reveals our consumption culture :(

BBC reports on a few ugly scenes:
  • A man is in a stable but critical condition in hospital after being shot in the early hours as he left a Walmart with a group of people in San Leandro, California, when they resisted two armed robbers who demanded their purchases
  • Police are reviewing CCTV as they look for a woman who left 20 people with minor injuries when she used pepper spray as shoppers rushed to buy Xboxes at a Los Angeles area Walmart on Thursday evening
  • A man was reportedly detained for resisting arrest after a fight at the jewellery counter in the early hours at a Walmart in Kissimmee, Florida
  • Police are looking for two suspects after gunfire erupted early on Friday at a shopping centre in Fayetteville, North Carolina; there were no reports of injuries
  • Security workers reportedly used pepper spray on shoppers who began grabbing at goods before they were unloaded from pallets at a Walmart in Kinston, North Carolina
  • A woman was shot in the foot by a robber as she loaded her purchases into her car in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; the gunman fled as one of the victim's companions brandished a revolver and fired warning shots
Seriously?  Pepper spray? Guns?  WTF!

This rap parody of life in the "first world" is more than a statement on our bizarre culture of consumption:

Saying thanks to ... teachers ... and students

Over the years that I have had to reflect on my life, I concluded that I have been a lucky guy who had quite a few wonderful teachers to guide me.  There wasn't any one special teacher, or any one particular moment, that stands out though.  But, with the exception of a couple of them, well, I have had fantastic teachers throughout, all the way to my PhD.

Today, the day that Story Corps suggests that we "thank a teacher," I pause to appreciate all those fabulous people.

Now, of course, I am one of them teachers.  Every year, practically every term, there are enough incidents where students explicitly and genuinely thank me, which is all I need to forget any professional disappointment and frustration, which are in plenty. 

A couple of days ago, a student, "B," popped her head into my office and sat down for a chat.  It had been a few months since I last saw her.  As we chatted about stuff profound and silly, she casually slips into the conversation that she is getting married in June and that I am invited. I was/am excited for her, and am so touched that she chose to privilege me with such a unique honor of being one of the few invitees at such a major transition in one's life.

A wedding celebration here in the US is, for the most part, very different from India in one important aspect: a typical wedding here almost always has a very small group in attendance.  In India, all the weddings that I have been to, well, they were major events with hundreds of people in the audience.  Thus, unlike in India, an invitation here is a result of a lot of thought on who gets invited and who does not.  To be then invited only as a result of teacher-student interactions is, therefore, very, very special to me.

This is not the first wedding invitation either. I could not attend a few because of scheduling issues.

Last summer, I attended the wedding of "L" and "P"--interestingly enough, they were both in my classes, and together in one term.  When I went there, "P," the groom, said "you will be the only teacher here, Dr. Khé.  In fact, you are only teacher we invited, of all the teachers from our first grade to college."  How special, right?  And when everybody from their parents to grandmothers to aunts treated me with "so glad you could come, professor" I felt like I had hit a jackpot!

This time, I don't even have to wait until next June to realize that I have won the jackpot.  In her follow-up email, "B" writes:
My father pointed out this evening that the only major event in my life that you will have missed so far is my birth. :-) You have really become a part of my family
Of course, it is not only through wedding invitations do students let me know that I played a constructive role in their lives. Even simple things like when they say "I don't care if I miss any other class, but I make sure to come to your because you are my favorite" or, as one student said a couple of days ago in a very appreciative tone, "you are so much like my father.  He is about your height and build, has a beard, and always has questions for us."  This was not from an "Indian" student but from a "white" girl :)

Because we don't have a "thank a student" day, I will use this context to note my thanks to all the students who have made it all worthwhile.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Do I have a groaner for my students! I Rock :)

I wrote about the (mis)pronunciations of Iraq and Iran, among a few others:
I make it a point to remind them that Iraq is not pronounced as “eye-rack” and Iran is not “eye-ran.” I do not mean to suggest that correctly pronouncing the names of these or other countries is all that matters. But correctly pronouncing their names will be a significant first step toward understanding them— particularly when we are the people determining the fate of Iraq, and when we are far from being a beloved country in the Middle East.
In case you don't trust my pronunciation, and you have good reasons to, well, here is Christiane Amanpour:

They teach human sexuality in colleges by asking students to masturbate?

"Well, at least not in the classroom" is how I consoled myself after reading this news item about a student in Nevada who alleges that "a professor there required students to divulge personal details of their sex lives and assigned them to masturbate"
Royce, 60, is a medical technician who's working toward a degree in social work. She said she enrolled in the freshman-level Human Sexuality class, which fulfills a social science requirement, based on the description of the class in the course catalog. It says the class covers topics such as gender, sexual anatomy, sexually transmitted diseases and commercial sex, among others.
Royce said the course began with a discussion of different sexual positions, and she said the instructor went on to assign students to double their normal masturbation routine over the course of two weeks and write journals about their experiences.
"I joked, but was serious and said, 'I don't masturbate, so zero times zero is zero!'" Royce wrote in her complaint, which she filed with the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights. "He became angry and ordered the class to masturbate if they intended to pass the class."

In case you are freaking out already, wait, there is more!
Other journal assignments in Kubistant's class included requiring female students to write "your views of your breasts and vulva," and the instruction: "Your orgasms. Draw them!"
The term paper for the course requires students to write a 12- to 14-page sexual case study on themselves.
The project begins with a sex history -- including a directive to reveal any instances of abuse -- and continues through sexual values, arousal patterns and atypical issues such as fetishes.
When Royce asked Kubistant for an alternative assignment, she said, he again refused.
"He said I absolutely had to complete it as assigned or I would not pass the class," she said in the complaint. "Then he inferred to the class that I had issues that (I) need to work out and this might be sexual freedom."
I am glad I was not a student in that class!

The news item does state that no other student has complained about the course.  So, I am not sure what to make of it.

But, it is not difficult to believe that such assignments might have been required.  A few months ago, a psychology class at Northwestern hit the national news because ...
Led by a man whose website describes him as a “psychic detective and ghost hunter,” it was called “Networking for Kinky People,” and began with a towel placed neatly on the auditorium stage. Next, a woman took her clothes off, and—with an audience of around 100—lay down on her back, legs spread. As students moved forward from the theater’s back seats, for a closer view, “The girl grabbed the mic,” says Sean Lavery, a Northwestern freshman. “She explained that she had a fetish for being watched by large crowds while having an orgasm.”No, the girl involved was not a student. Yes, she was over 21, we’re told—and the guy stimulating her was introduced as her boyfriend. “It was a committed couple who did the demonstration, and it happened at the end of the class,” says Ken Melvoin-Berg, the guest speaker, who helps operate a tour company called Weird Chicago that offers sex tours.
We'll spare you the gory details—but let's just say they involved the woman's boyfriend bringing her to climax on stage, using a contraption called a "fucksaw," and plenty of gasps, not just from flabbergasted students. “I was gauging everyone’s reaction,” says Lavery, who’s been in Bailey’s class since January. “I think everyone was just like, ‘Is she really doing this right now?’”
I noted Joseph Epstein's comment in that context:
One of the most important things that departed from higher education with the old ideal of the university was intellectual authority. One of the first changes I noticed from my own undergraduate education when I began teaching at Northwestern—and this is certainly not true of Northwestern alone—was all the junky subject matter being taught. Courses in science fiction, in the movies, in contemporary or near contemporary writers already consigned to the third class ... 
As I noted then:
Oh well, whatever happened to the university as the intellectual authority?  When did they begin to allow fakes like me into their campuses?

I suppose sex does sell.

Perhaps I should start thinking about renaming courses that way.  "The Indian Subcontinent" ought to be retitled "Sex in Bollywood" and "Introductory Economic Geography" can become "Why is Pornography in the Silicone Valley?"

Nah; will never happen. I am way too square for that :(

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ignorance Is bliss, on complex issues. So, outsource it to ...?

The less people know about important complex issues such as the economy, energy consumption and the environment, the more they want to avoid becoming well-informed, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.
And the more urgent the issue, the more people want to remain unaware, according to a paper published online in APA's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
This reports Science Daily (ht)

It is safe to assume then that people do not want to know about this finding either!

Even more worrisome is this:
people tend to respond by psychologically 'outsourcing' the issue to the government, which in turn causes them to trust and feel more dependent on the government. Ultimately, they avoid learning about the issue because that could shatter their faith in the government.

I tell students that I don't want them to blindly believe in anything, and that the single-most attribute I want to see in them is curiosity.  If they are not curious, then the purpose of education is lost, and with that will come crashing the whole idea of democracy.  To that effect, I remind them not to even trust what I say in the classroom, and that they ought to verify for themselves.  If the study's findings are largely true, then it is all the more important that I wage this battle, right?

We need to spend more on college football ... for retirement options!

$40,000 per month in retirement. WTF, eh!

I wonder if students ever think about how this misplaced priority is screwing them!

The consolation here: at least he wasn't a Paterno! 

Oh, BTW, Click here to get astounded by the gazillions that college coaches earn
An analysis by USA TODAY found that in 2006 the average pay for major-college coaches was $950,000. ...
The average compensation in 2011 is $1.47 million, a jump of nearly 55% in six seasons.
In the six conferences with automatic Bowl Championship Series bids, the average salary rose from $1.4 million in 2006 to $2.125 million in 2011. That's a jump of about 52% — meaning salaries at schools in the other five major conferences are going up at roughly the same rate as they are at higher-profile schools.
"The hell with gold," higher education lawyer Sheldon Steinbach says. "I want to buy futures in coaches' contracts."
Critics find it troubling that this rapid rise for coaches comes at a time when instructional spending at many schools has slowed or declined amid economic struggles and shrinking state education budgets.
Ha!  I am willing to sell you a Taj Mahal for about 20 mil :)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Worry about Facebook. A lot. And about Amazon, Google, ...

Yes, yet another entry on my love-hate relationship with Facebook, primarily, and, to a lesser extent, with others too.  As this piece at Slate puts it:
Facebook's monetary policy runs on just one simple idea: You can either give up your privacy and embrace the world of entertainment abundance—or you can fight to protect it and risk living in entertainment poverty. You choose.
That is the essence of the problem.

In the old days, well, just a couple of years ago, I could listen to any radio station I wanted to, read any book I cared about, watched ... well, you get the drift. But, such a level of anonymity seems to be rapidly evaporating:

What can compete with the seemingly infinite libraries of music available from streaming services like Spotify? Nothing—but try getting there today without a Facebook account and you would not advance very far: Spotify demands that new users already have an existing Facebook account—which they can't get unless they are prepared to register on Facebook with their real names! This is how listening to music anonymously becomes deviant; gradually, it may also become technologically difficult and expensive. Reading anonymously doesn't look deviant yet—but things will change as we bypass public libraries and start borrowing books from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The former would never think of selling our data to third parties; the latter wouldn't think twice about it. In fact, they would give us coupons for sharing our reading habits.
It's time that citizens articulate a vision for a civic Internet that could compete with the dominant corporatist vision. Do we want to preserve anonymity to help dissidents or do we want to eliminate it so that corporations stop worrying about cyber-attacks? Do we want to build new infrastructure for surveillance—hoping it will lead to a better shopping experience—that would be abused by data-hungry governments? Do we want to enhance serendipitous discovery, to ensure exposure to new and controversial ideas, to maximize our ability to think critically about what we see and read on the Net? Or do we want to build computers that would conduct autonomous searches on our behalf—only to pitch us the latest sales deals, recommend restaurants in the neighborhood, and feed us one answer instead of many? Do we want the Internet to remember everything that happens online, or do we want to introduce some noise and decay into our digital archives as they—and we—age? 

Christopher Hitchens on American Exceptionalism and the GOP primaries

The ancients taught us to fear “hubris,” and the Bible teaches the sin of pride.  I am always amazed that American conservatives are not more suspicious of self-proclaimed historical uniqueness. But proclaim it they do, as if trying to reassure themselves against the blasts of what looks like a very bad season.
The entire column is a must-read.

Update: Over at the Chronicle is this piece, which also discusses "exceptionalism" in the context of of the recent Pew Survey, I find this paragraph:

Any American who has spent time abroad, or read a book or two about people in faraway places, or who simply possesses an imagination, understands that Americans are hardly alone in feeling they are exceptional. With some notable exceptions, most people are convinced they, too, live in the greatest country on earth and that their way of life, and their values, are superior to everybody else’s. Exceptionalism, then, is a relative thing—a powerful illusion that seems to well up naturally. As long as there are distinct nations and cultures on this planet, exceptionalist feelings will endure.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Vegetables are like porn because ... "We know ‘em when we see ’em"

At the risk of sounding like a maniacal libertarian that I am not (only a maniac, thank you very much!) the recent tomato/vegetable controversy is a reminder that when government takes it upon itself to define something for all of us, then somebody who stands to gain from it will work to maximize their own self-interest.

First this update:

the House voted 298-121 that a slice of pizza spread with two tablespoons of tomato paste should be counted as a vegetable, at least when it’s fed to schoolchildren. Obama signed the bill into law on Friday.
One might question the wisdom of our reps at Congress worrying about tomato paste when they can't seem to figure out anything about the budget.

But, why this tomato paste bill you ask?

“It was Schwan and ConAgra that were lobbying the issue,” says Margo Wootan, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “If two tablespoons of tomato paste counts as a vegetable, pizza is a reimbursable meal. Because the crust counts as a grain, the sauce is the vegetable, and the cheese and pepperoni have protein. But two tablespoons of tomato paste isn’t a vegetable.”

You can't blame the food industry--they do what they have to do.  It is a logical consequence to government having taken up the responsibility to define a food pyramid and what our school kids can eat.

BTW, what is a vegetable anyway?

Suddenly all vegetables, not just the zucchini, are pornographic: We know ‘em when we see ’em. I asked a spokesperson for the Food and Nutrition Service, the USDA body that oversees the school-lunch program, how they defined a vegetable. “When it comes to defining foods, we hew to the FDA’s standards.” But Janet McDonald, an FDA spokeswoman, told me that such fundamentals were out of FDA purview: “We don’t have a definition of vegetables. Probably it’s under the USDA.”

Pansies who can't kill. Glad to be one of 'em!

"You must never kill a man, particularly if it means taking his life" ... wait, was that Yogi Berra's wisdom?

Speaking of the "moral imperative," Ron Rosenbaum wrote about the Kantian imperative in Catch-22:
There's a scene in the World War II novel when some officer or other reproves the novel's anti-hero, Capt. Yossarian, for trying to escape another of the ever-escalating number of dangerous bombing missions he's ordered to fly.

"Suppose everybody on our side felt that way," the officer demands, echoing Kant's imperative—that one should decide how to act by envisioning the consequences if everyone else acted that way. It's a maxim much beloved by parents. Mine, anyway.

So, if everybody else acted that way? "Then I'd certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way," Yossarian says.
Beautiful! It was one of the reasons I fell madly in love with the novel.
We pansy liberals read Catch-22, watch Woody Allen, and are anti-war and anti-killing.  May our tribe increase! 

Hey, we have the biggest weapon of all: Calvin :)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Who am I? A mechanic or a socializer?

I re-analyzed the blog's contents through Typealyzer, which, through a text analysis:
[Gives] a snapshot of the persona by looking at the communication style of the text in the moment it was written. Looking on the results over a period of time will, however, tell you something about how a blogger “normally” prefer to communicate, but it might still be a blog that more reflects a role than how the blogger feels inside.
So, what does Typealyzer say about me (my blog)?

It says I am a "Socializer":
The social and opinionated type. They are especially attuned to the feelings of themselves and others. They tend to be very aware of the values of their peer-group and tend to see things as either right or wrong, good or bad. They tend to be traditional and value their friends and family the most.

The Socializers are down-to-earth, practical people and very keen on making sure everyone is alright. This quality makes them enjoy social work places. Since they enjoy being and keeping things neat and tidy, they often also enjoy working in such environments.
Hmmm ... Apparently I am not the same person that I was three years ago, when Typealyzer evaluated my personality and declared me a "Mechanic":
The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts. The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.
No wonder then that "who am I?" is a tough philosophical question :)

Photo of the day: Natalie Wood

The note accompanying the photo at the source:

Calm at Cannes
In 1962, 23-year-old Wood remained her charming self even as the paparazzi "pursued her like jackals" according to LIFE. "At a party given by the Russian delegation, Natalie, the daughter of Russian emigrants, delighted her hosts by conversing fluently in their language and even joining in folk songs."
Wikipedia tells me that she was Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko before she became Natalie Wood.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Abolish NCAA sports. It has no "business" at universities ...ctd

How about the following point as a follow-up to this previous post?
In no other country’s university system, after all, does sports play anything like the central role it does in American academic life. Men do not go to Oxford to play cricket; the Sorbonne does not field a nationally celebrated soccer team. Even in the most sports-mad countries, sports is sports and education is education. That’s a better system.
Makes perfect sense to me.  Katha Pollitt has a simple bottom-line in that essay:
Cancel the season. Fire everybody. Get real about rape. Grow up.

Mogadishu was once scenic and attractive like this ...

Above, a picturesque downtown Mogadishu around 1936.
Pictured on the right is Arba Rukun mosque, known as the Mosque of the Four Pillars. Built in 1269 AD, the mosque predates Ibn Battuta's historic arrival in Somalia.
The Italian-built Catholic cathedral, which now lies in ruins, sits in the center, and the Triumphal Arch, honoring Italian King Emmanuel III, on the left. 
More here

Ibn Battuta, a big time wanderer whom I should probably study more given my wandering genes, visited India too, when a good chunk of the northern area was under the rule of Muhammad bin Tughlak.  Oddly enough, the first time I ever knew about this historical note was from Cho's satirical movie. Back in India, when I was a kid!  As I noted in post a few months ago, Cho's satirical writing and movies provided me with quite some fascination for satirical humor.

Abolish NCAA sports. It has no "business" at universities.

[It's] time for Division I sports programs to be severed from higher education. Our mission as employees of universities is to teach students and to do research. Supporting felons and keeping long-term pedophiles on the college payroll is not part of my job description.

If higher education is like religion, then atheists say ...

Have we developed some kind of a blind faith in higher education?
Education is as close to a secular religion as we have in the United States. In a time when Americans have lost faith in their government and economic institutions, millions of us still believe in its saving grace. ...

The American education gospel is built around four core beliefs. First, it teaches that access to higher levels of education should be available to everyone, regardless of their background or previous academic performance. Every educational sinner should have a path to redemption. (Most of these paths now run through community colleges.) Second, the gospel teaches that opportunity for a better life is the goal of everyone and that education is the primary — and perhaps the only — road to opportunity. Third, it teaches that the country can solve its social problems — drugs, crime, poverty, and the rest — by providing more education to the poor. Education instills the knowledge, discipline, and the habits of life that lead to personal renewal and social mobility. And, finally, it teaches that higher levels of education for all will reduce social inequalities, as they will put everyone on a more equal footing.
How is this "religious" belief working?  The author of this book review article scans a territory that is not new in this blog. 
we will need to turn our backs on assumptions of our most fervent boosters of universal higher education: that access alone is the primary purpose, and that when students and teachers are co-present, education occurs.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Supercommittee becomes Superbad!

Says Jon Stewart:

America's Finest News Source has a winning proposition to get us over the debt crisis:

Banking on the popularity of its original location, the country hopes to make millions by partnering with franchisees around the world, to whom it would license the trademarked United States brand name as well as the nation's flag, motto, preserved landmarks, college sports programs, movie studios, and bicameral legislature.
"Now, anyone interested in starting a new nation can open an official United States," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), co-chair of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. "America already has a brand everyone knows and responds to. Now the time has come for us to grow that asset and monetize it."
"Meanwhile, it's a great deal for our franchise partners, who not only get to fly the red, white, and blue, but also have access to our unrivaled network of foreign oil suppliers." Murray continued. "With an initial capital investment of just $20,000, interested parties can begin building their own U.S.A. immediately."
Thus it was another day here in these United States of America!

Map of the day: the wanderers

The Economist notes:
MORE Chinese people live outside mainland China than French people live in France, with some to be found in almost every country. Some 22m ethnic Indians are scattered across every continent.

As a wanderer myself, I am all the more excited with this discussion.  Plus, it is not the first time I have blogged about the wandering humans--like this one, for instance.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

You can change douchebags. But, ugly people? The economics of beauty

We can cluster-bomb you back to the stone age!

Some of the students who pay attention to what I say and write think that I have nothing but depressing stuff.  I joke with them that it is no wonder then that they avoid meeting with me in my office!  Well, I have news for them--read what Glenn Greenwald writes about and I will come across as the most optimistic person on the planet :)

It is because Greenwald writes, and often, about the reality that we would rather not recognize, leave alone discuss.  In this edition of inconvenient truth, Greenwald writes about the Nobel Peace Prize recipient, President Obama, being one aggressive warmonger, especially when it comes to cluster bombs that most of the rest of the world is opposed to:
Slightly more than two months after he was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama secretly ordered a cruise missile attack on Yemen, using cluster bombs, which killed 44 innocent civilians, including 14 women and 21 children, as well as 14 people alleged to be “militants.” It goes without saying that — unless you want Rick Perry to win in 2012 — this act should in no way be seen as marring Obama’s presidency or his character: what’s a couple dozen children blown up as a part of a covert, undeclared air war? If anything, as numerous Democrats have ecstatically celebrated, such acts show how Tough and Strong the Democrats are: after all, ponder the massive amounts of nobility and courage it takes to sit in the Oval Office and order this type of aggression on defenseless tribal regions in Yemen. As R.W. Appel put it on the front page of The New York Times back in 1989 when glorifying George H.W. Bush’s equally courageous invasion of Panama: “most American leaders since World War II have felt a need to demonstrate their willingness to shed blood” and doing so has become “a Presidential initiation rite.”
This alone should depress anybody enough to go jump off the nearest cliff.  But, that is merely the point of departure for what Greenwald wants to point out: despite opposition from even the toadies allies like the UK, Obama is relentless when it comes to the US' inalienable right to use cluster bombs:

Given how indiscriminate and civilian-threatening these weapons are, more than 100 countries have signed a treaty banning their production and use and compelling compensation to their victims. Needless to say, the U.S. has categorically refused to join the Convention, along with the other biggest stockpilers of these weapons, such as Russia, Israel and China. The Obama administration’s refusal to join the Convention has caused tension and controversy even with its most subservient allies, such as Britian, a signatory to the treaty. ...
But now the Obama administration is moving far beyond a mere refusal to join the convention banning these munitions. According to The Independent, the U.S. is playing the leading role “to torpedo the global ban on cluster bombs” through a “proposal that would permit the use of cluster bombs as long as they were manufactured after 1980 and had a failure rate of less than one per cent.”
Hey, where is the change from previous administrations that Obama promised, you ask on your way to that nearest cliff? Greenwald shows how much there has been no change at all:

Don Rumsfeld, November 21, 2002, on Iraq: “All I can say is if history has taught anything, it’s that weakness is provocative. It entices people into doing things that they otherwise would not do.”
Bill Kristol, July 24, 2006, on Iran and Syria: “We have done a poor job of standing up to them and weakening them. They are now testing us more boldly than one would have thought possible a few years ago. Weakness is provocative.”
Leon Panetta, yesterday: “Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been steadily escalating his warnings about the impact of the deep cuts facing the Pentagon if the congressional super committee fails to reach a deal. On Thursday, he played the last – and strongest — card in his deck, arguing that the hundreds of billions of dollars of mandatory cuts would directly imperil U.S. national security. . . . Mandatory defense cuts, he warned, would weaken the armed forces to the point that enemies would be emboldened to attack the U.S. ’In effect, it invites aggression,’ Panetta said during the new conference, just his second since taking office in July.”
Yes, President Obama’s Defense Secretary is actually running around the country trying to scare Americans into believing that if the U.S. cuts military spending, then the nation will be attacked.

Happy landing!  From that cliff, that is :)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ponzi lives on, through his name. Madoff won't :)

Quote of the day, on government providing hammocks for millionaires

The government’s social safety net, which has long existed to catch those who are down and help them get back up, is now being used as a hammock by some millionaires, some who are paying less taxes than average middle class families.
After reading that, one might be tempted to think it came from one of the Occupy Wall Street people, or The Nation magazine, or any one of the left-leaning faculty.

Guess again.

It is from a report titled The Subsidies of the Rich and Famous from, get this, Senator Coburn, who has solid conservative credentials and a strong conservative voting record.  On this issue, I suppose he will be in good company with Ralph Nader, which, I would have assumed, will never ever happen :)
Americans are generous and do not want to see their fellow citizens go without basic necessities. Likewise, we expect everyone to contribute and to demonstrate personal responsibility. Government policies intended to mainstream wealth redistribution are undermining these principles. The tragic irony is the wealth in these cases is trickling up rather than down the economic ladder. The cost of this largess will thus be shared by those struggling today and the next generation who will inherit $15 trillion of debt that threatens the future of the American Dream. These consequences are the results of shortsighted spending and tax policies like those outlined in this report that should be eliminated.

When even Coburn worries that wealth is trickling up, hey, there ought to be something seriously wrong here.

Waterboarding IS torture. Deal with it!

I have nothing to say to this part of the press conference other than, "Thank you, Mr. President"
Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Last night at the Republican debate, some of the hopefuls -- they hope to get your job -- they defended the practice of waterboarding, which is a practice that you banned in 2009.  Herman Cain said, “I don’t see that as torture.”  Michelle Bachmann said that it’s “very effective.”  So I’m wondering if you think that they’re uninformed, out of touch, or irresponsible?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  That’s a multiple-choice question, isn’t it?  (Laughter.)  Let me just say this:  They’re wrong.  Waterboarding is torture.  It’s contrary to America’s traditions. It’s contrary to our ideals.  That’s not who we are.  That’s not how we operate.  We don’t need it in order to prosecute the war on terrorism.  And we did the right thing by ending that practice.
If we want to lead around the world, part of our leadership is setting a good example.  And anybody who has actually read about and understands the practice of waterboarding would say that that is torture.  And that's not something we do -- period.

How faculty (intentionally) avoid critical conversations about academe

The university's computing services are after the few people like me who are yet to migrate to Google mail that the rest of the campus has transitioned to ... which is when I thought it might be worth spending time looking at the importance of deleting old emails once and for all. I read one email in a folder titled "Senate" and it became obvious that I will have a tough time deleting them all, and will end up migrating all those old emails to Gmail.

The excerpt below is from an email I had sent in June 2003--more than eight years ago--to the incoming president of the faculty senate.  As I re-read it, the feeling is of crushing disappointment that all these are the issues that academe is dealing with even now and we never bothered to tackle them, when all these were so obvious even to a moron like me!

A few days after I sent the email, a big time faculty-leader pulled me aside in the corridor and told me point-blank that the issues I was raising for discussions were within the purview of the faculty union, and that I needed to understand that the only role for the senate was to discuss curriculum.  What a shame!
i suppose that over the next couple of weeks you and the exec. team will put together a work plan for the next year.  may i request consideration of the following?

in my understanding, the higher ed system is rapidly changing.  in addition to the directly influencing acts such as drastic reductions in public spending on hr.ed., larger discussions such as liberal arts v. professional ed., traditional models v. the univ. of phoenix model, etc., are having, and will continue to have, significant impacts on hr. ed as we know it.

it seems like there is a rapidly evolving "new reality" that we faculty need to understand.  perhaps librarians are at the forefront in terms of experiencing the "new reality" that technology, in addition to other factors, is shaping for the profession.  yet, most of these discussions are happening outside the university, and very little is being deliberated by faculty bodies such as the academic senate.  but, faculty bodies, such as our senate, rarely take the lead to figure out what these may mean for their respective campuses; what these may mean not for the next year but for years down the road.

it will be neat if we can discuss at the senate these dynamic events that are happening outside.  in other words, to have the academic senate explore what the future may hold for WOU and how faculty may have to start thinking about that future.  while this will be separate from how the administration and the OUS perceive of the future, i am sure the senate's deliberations will be well received by them. 

examples: will we have to prepare for a future that could sharply change the lecture/discussion/assessment model of today?  all these may lead us to a different paradigm of teaching and learning.  if so, then how do we deliver the content in a new teaching/learning model?  what could be those changes and how can WOU's faculty prepare for those changes?  what do these changes mean for an incoming assistant professor who is joining us for a thirty-year period? 

perhaps this is too broad a discussion.  but, that is precisely my point--that faculty, as individuals and as a body, are perhaps not addressing these issues that form the context within which we conduct classes.  addressing these larger issues will help us in many ways.


Monday, November 14, 2011

If only students read this ... (and others too!)

In our eyes, we’ve done everything right.  We played sports and acted in plays even though we are not currently pro athletes or actors.  Shouldn’t it count for something that we were captains of JV tennis?  That’s what is most difficult to face out here in this adult world.  It doesn’t matter what we did.  It matters what we do, the creative choices we make to adjust, the people we have real live conversations with.  Because no one is going to get a job, live in a nice place, have money to date and take vacations simply because he was president of the campus doing-good society, no matter what he’s been told.  The sooner we stop demanding the world to mold to the rosy, impractical view we had as undergraduates, the better for us all.
 The entire essay is a must-read. (ht)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Scientific American: food, fracking, and the first Americans

I loved every article in the November issue of the Scientific American (subscription required.)

It will be so wonderful to merely have this issue alone as reading material in an upper-division general education class and discuss with students the science, politics, economics, and philosophy explicitly and implicitly addressed in the articles.  But, such a course does not exist ... ergo, I blog!

The editorial, and an article, present a compelling argument on the need to slow down our gung-ho approach to fracking--the fracturing of the shale layer in order to release the natural gas from down below.  The editorial points out that the "states are flying blind."  It was encouraging to read that Governor Chris Christie--my choice for the 2016 presidential elections--"vetoed a bill that would permanently ban fracking, then approved a one-year moratorium so his state could consider the results of the federal studies."  I tell you, this guy makes sense way more than other people do.

Now that we have reached that attention-grabbing seven billion number, we naturally start worrying again whether we can feed them all, especially when we know we will easily add another two billion-plus in less fifty years.  The essay here is not any doomsday Malthusian, unlike this one by Lester Brown in an issue a couple of years ago, but it lays out a few important variables that we need to consider, and offers five solutions too.Improving yields in Africa, Central America, and Eastern Europe is a key part of the puzzle.  This article, too, points out how much we can increase food availability if only we didn't use grains to fatten up livestock.  We can even have world peace before this can be accomplished! 

It was neat to read about the revolution in the understanding of when and how the earliest humans reached the Americas.  "They were literally strangers in a strange land. ... they exemplify the spirit of survival and adventure that represents the very nest of humanity."

I sometimes worry that we have lost that adventure spirit.  Everywhere I look, it is more often than not only wimps like me.  Whatever happened to the adventurous and wandering gene in us?  Don't we anymore want to go where no man has never gone before?  Have we become a bunch of self-satisfied creatures content to sit stupefied in front of big screen TV sets?  I hope not--that will be the end of humanity.

BTW, a funny juxtapostion on page 26: The headline screams "Meet your newest ancestor" and the bottom of the page--at the end of the short piece--is an image of Rick Perry and one of his anti-science statements.  You think this was intentional? A dig? I hope so :)

College Football: A tale of two universities

It was such a pleasure to read this op-ed by Barry Glassner, who is the president of Lewis and Clark College here in Oregon. He writes about being smitten with Division III sports, and notes:
Division III schools emphasize the experience of the athletes, not the sports-consuming public. The NCAA specifically calls on us to "place special importance on the impact of athletics on the participants rather than on the spectators ... and the general public and its entertainment needs."
On D-III playing fields, student-athletes really are student-athletes. At this level, no one gets athletic scholarships. Students compete not for fame and big crowds, not for a shot at a pro career, but purely for the fun, excitement and educational benefits they derive.
This is what most of us imagined colleges and universities to be--environments where there is enough opportunity to engage the body along with the engaging life of the mind.

In contrast, the former president of the university where I teach justified the gazillion dollar expenditures on athletics-related items:
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.
Perhaps Division III was no good for us?  Even though it is immensely more than good enough for Lewis and Clark?

(Sarcastic) Comment of the day on university faculty

Faculty are the citizens that Oregon can least afford to lose.
Randy Blazak is an associate professor of sociology at PSU.
Sociology professors are the the citizens that Oregon can least afford to lose!
That was one of the many comments in response to this op-ed in the Oregonian on why faculty salaries are important.

There are many wrongs in that op-ed.  The worst of all is this:
Portland State does a poor job holding onto tenured scholars because of salary. The salary increase that comes with tenure on the nine month school year contract is about $240/month after taxes. That's not much of a reward after a lifetime in school and enormous student debt, and most earn less than experienced high school teachers in Portland Public Schools.
It is a remarkably stupid argument that high school teachers earn more than PSU faculty.  It is a fact of life that different occupations earn differently.  There is nothing in the US Constitution that mandates that university faculty shall earn a lot of money, or at least more than what high school teachers earn.  If higher salaries are what the op-ed authors are looking for, then whatever prevented them from becoming high school teachers, or garbage truck drivers or Wall Street investment bankers?  This is a free country, right?

The claim that the university does a poor job holding onto tenured scholars because of salary is, I am willing to bet, a bogus claim.  If it were anywhere close to being real, then the authors would have provided the data--the number of faculty who left the university because they were "underpaid."

A "reward after a lifetime in school and enormous student debt" is ridiculous a statement to make.  I cannot imagine how the authors can be models for "critical thinking" that higher education is all about.  Clearly they do not suggest that salaries ought to be proportional to the years spent in school, and the debts added up in the process, do they?

The op-ed authors are clearly caught up in their own delusional logic that university faculty deserve to get paid a lot of money because they are university faculty.  If they don't work out their delusions on their own, well, reality will then soon knock some sense into them.

As another reader comments:
Does higher education teach anything but elitist entitlement philosophy anymore? I thought education was it’s own reward?

A quick note to the commenter: beware the difference between "it's" and "its." :)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The undeserving one percent, and the deserving 99 percent?

Whenever I read anything that Raghuram Rajan writes, I find that I have nothing to disagree with him.  Of course, the extra affinity for the shared cultural background is a bonus :)

Rajan writes about the one-percent that, for instance, the OWS targets.  He comments:
While eliminating inefficient spending, especially inefficient tax subsidies, can generate some of these funds, more tax revenues may be needed. The rich can certainly afford to pay more, but if governments increase taxes on the wealthy, they should do it with the aim of improving opportunities for all, rather than as a punitive measure to rectify an imagined wrong.
This is the distinction that the populist leaders and the OWS people do not make--they come across as angry people who want to punish the one-percent and seem to channel the old revolutionary and anarchist argument that all property is theft.  As Rajan points out:
It ignores, for example, the fact that many of the truly rich are entrepreneurs. It likewise ignores the fact that many of the wealthy are sports stars and entertainers, and that their ranks include professionals such as doctors, lawyers, consultants, and even some of our favorite progressive economists. In other words, the rich today are more likely to be working than idle.
But then such sit-down discussions won't help, right, in the contemporary atmosphere of loud, knee-jerk, talk whether it is from the left or the right!

Full disclosure: I am nowhere near the one-percent :)

As Rajan also notes, education will be key, yes.  But, not the kind we do now.  In fact, students seem to be systematically avoiding the kind of education that will be needed for our collective prosperity--the sciences.  Students avoid the harder subjects and swing to easier majors, like geography (!):
Although the number of college graduates increased about 29% between 2001 and 2009, the number graduating with engineering degrees only increased 19%, according to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Dept. of Education. The number with computer and information-sciences degrees decreased 14%.
And then we import students into these very fields!  (not that I am complaining about that in particular.)  One of the many reasons why students avoid these potentially remunerative fields:
Science classes may also require more time—something U.S. college students may not be willing to commit. In a recent study, sociologists Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia found that the average U.S. student in their sample spent only about 12 to 13 hours a week studying, about half the time spent by students in 1960. They found that math and science—though not engineering—students study on average about three hours more per week than their non-science-major counterparts.
The more I think about all these, the more I wonder why I even bother to get all worked up about these issues.

Instead, I can go about my life disconnected from these, show up at my classes, grade their work, collect my paycheck and say thanks. 

Naaaaah ... that ain't me!

Not from the Onion: Warrant for education minister who cheated in exams

Real life is hilarious enough that we don't even have to be creative to invent jokes in order to laugh.

Today's installment (and here Rick Perry can rest easy) comes from India--that other wishing well, which keeps on giving :)

Puducherry Education Minister P.M.L Kalyanasundaram, who is absconding after the Tamil Nadu police registered a case against him for alleged impersonation, was on Saturday dropped from the Cabinet.
Around 4 p.m Chief Minister N. Rangasamy wrote to Lieutenant Governor Iqbal Singh recommending that the Minister be dropped.
The case was registered against Kalyanasundaram by the Villupuram police for allegedly using a proxy to write the Class X supplementary exam in a private school at Tindivanam.
Four police teams are trying to trace his whereabouts.

Laughter aside, the sad thing is this: governments all across the world are made of people like this guy or Palin or Berlusconi or, well, name your pick.

The corporate world is not any better. Hey, if only there was a guy who was awful in the corporate world and in the political world--well, other than Berlusconi :)  Take it away, Jon Stewart:

The bottom-line: we are screwed!

Friday, November 11, 2011

What do Latvians and the Dutch want from my blog?

The chart below gives an idea of the countries from where visitors came to my blog last week (the single-digits are not included)

My blog provides only such a big picture--there is no way to match the visitor with the post they read.  So, I am curious about whatever it was that drew the Latvians ... I haven't tagged any post with Latvia, though the name of the country is to be found in these three posts that, however, do not discuss anything specific to Latvia.  

Maybe the CIA or the FBI keeps an eye on me through some proxy server in Latvia :)

Rick Perry's "oops" and Torch Song Trilogy

What can be better than a Jon Stewart clip to add to the Rick Perry collection!
"Are you not entertained?"

At the end, when Jon Stewart goes after the "oops!" I wish he had used the awesome lines from Torch Song Trilogy instead:
"Woops" is when you fall down an elevator shaft.
"Woops" is when you skinny-dip in a school of piranha.
"Woops" is when you accidentally douche with Drano!
No, Ed. This was no "woops."

Students ponder about what comes after Occupy Wall Street

I love it: Occupy Fort Lauderdale :)

BTW, speaking of students, "Paterno State U." students rioting because the pope Paterno was fired is a pathetic statement of the times.

I would have thought that students would have been ashamed of how the power of college football made it so convenient to cover up such a tragedy of the rape of preteen and teenage boys.

So ashamed that they should have demanded an immediate cancellation of the rest of the football season.

Or, at least, forfeit the upcoming game as a token of self-inflicted punishment.

But, the rioting seems to clearly convey the supreme priority for college football!

I am all the more impressed, therefore, with the student in this video (ht):