Thursday, May 31, 2012

How Zuckerberg spells "hype"

India slowly regressing to the old Hindu rate of growth?

My punditry is perhaps no different from advertising in that perhaps half of what I say are correct, but the problem lies in not knowing which half it is!

Thus, it is always more than comforting when I can spot the instances where I have been correct all along, and then it turns out that those are not happy developments either. It is a bloody no-win situation.

For a while now, I have been blogging and writing op-eds on how not everything is going well in India, and that Indians ought to be really, really worried.  Instead, of course, Indians appear to care only for whatever happens in the cricket and movie worlds, while ignoring the phenomenally more urgent issues--like India's s(t)inking economy, about which, it turns out, I have been way more right than wrong.

The Economist reports that India's economic growth has considerably slowed down.  In its characteristic punning style, the magazine newspaper captioned it as "A Bric hits the wall":
perhaps most important—issue raised by lower growth is another kind of stability: social. India, unlike the other BRIC countries, is still desperately poor. One businessman and guru interviewed by your correspondent recently declared that "the next fifteen years will be India's worst since independence" and that there was a one-in-ten chance of a revolution. If India's economic miracle turns out to have been a mirage, it will not be so easy to dismiss that kind of talk as cranky. There is already widespread disgust at corruption. And at least ten million young folk will enter the workforce every year for the next decade or so. They will be coming to the big cities, looking for jobs that won't be created if India expands at a rickshaw rate of growth. Talk of a demographic dividend may turn back into talk of a time bomb.
 The Economist worries about the economic miracle having been a "mirage" while I have referred to it simply as a hype.  But, otherwise, we are referring to the same set of economic conditions.

The Hindu adds:
In tandem with a host of negative factors at home and abroad impacting the macro-economic environment, the country's GDP (gross domestic product) growth slumped to a nine-year low of 5.3 per cent during the fourth quarter (January-March) of 2011-12 as compared to a robust 9.2 per cent expansion in the same quarter of the previous fiscal. ...

The scale-down in growth rate for 2011-12 to 6.5 per cent — the lowest since 2002-03 when the economy grew by four per cent — disappointed both the government and the industry but came as no surprise as indications of a steady slowdown have been there for quite some time.
Disappointed with the dismal GDP figures, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, however, expressed cautious optimism and pointed to some signs of recovery in some select sectors. ...

In a statement, Mr. Mukherjee said: “GDP growth is the lowest in contemporary period. It has been substantially because of the very poor performance of manufacturing sector…The government would take all necessary steps to address imbalance on the fiscal front and on the current account. It would help in checking inflationary expectations and inspire confidence for improved capital inflows as well as recovery in domestic investment growth”.
This is the same finance minister, who, less than a month ago, stated:
 India was growing at over 9 per cent before the global financial crisis of 2008 pulled down the growth rate to 6.7 per cent in 2008-09. India has projected a growth rate of 7.6 per cent in 2012-13, up from 6.9 per cent recorded in the previous fiscal. 
Seriously!  It is a huge difference between 7.6 percent and 6.5 percent within four weeks, don't you think?

The good news: at least it is not 1991!
Bimal Jalan, Former Governor of the RBI showed confidence that the Indian economy has not gone back to the 1991 era yet.

Jalan was of the opinion that both the political and economic situation during the 1991 crisis was very difficult. He said that at present the economy has the strength to grow on the back of the industrial sector. He hoped that India will not be faced with a situation similar to the unprecedented external debt crisis of 1991. 

Well, I suppose the swearing in of the Indian cricket god, Sachin Tendulkar, as a member of the upper house of the parliament will by itself transform the sluggish economy, right?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A New Yorker cartoon that is not funny? Yep, it happens!

It ain't funny because the cartoon simply presents the reality, about which there is nothing to chuckle:

But then, the magazine has another cartoon for people like me who didn't think that the internship cartoon was funny:

Ok, am laughing now ... call off the mafioso :)

The better war-president? Bush or Obama? A trick question?

Over the last couple of days, I have read one too many news reports and commentaries about Obama's use of drones and his zealous pursuit of wars that no amount of sunshine outside can lift my spirits up, it seems.  Compared to the bumbling Bush, the current president executes a war plan. I mean, "execute" with all the presidential powers that are granted by the Constitution, and even those that are not!

A lengthy NY Times report notes:
Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.
“He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go,” said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser. “His view is that he’s responsible for the position of the United States in the world.” He added, “He’s determined to keep the tether pretty short.”
Nothing else in Mr. Obama’s first term has baffled liberal supporters and confounded conservative critics alike as his aggressive counterterrorism record. His actions have often remained inscrutable, obscured by awkward secrecy rules, polarized political commentary and the president’s own deep reserve. 
 Of course, this report itself isn't really anything new.  But, depressing every single time I read about how much this president is more a drone fanatic than the previous one was.  
Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.  Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good.
So, how does the leader of the most powerful country on this planet go about this killing route?
Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.
This secret “nominations” process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia.
The video conferences are run by the Pentagon, which oversees strikes in those countries, and participants do not hesitate to call out a challenge, pressing for the evidence behind accusations of ties to Al Qaeda.
“What’s a Qaeda facilitator?” asked one participant, illustrating the spirit of the exchanges. “If I open a gate and you drive through it, am I a facilitator?” Given the contentious discussions, it can take five or six sessions for a name to be approved, and names go off the list if a suspect no longer appears to pose an imminent threat, the official said. A parallel, more cloistered selection process at the C.I.A. focuses largely on Pakistan, where that agency conducts strikes.
The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name. He signs off on every strike in Yemen and Somalia and also on the more complex and risky strikes in Pakistan — about a third of the total.
 You see how lethally focused on the job Obama is, compared to Bush who felt proud about not caring for nuances?  Aren't we happy that we have such an efficient killer as the president?

I was sure that Glenn Greewald would have something to say in response to the NY Times report, and he sure does.  Greenwald quotes from this Foreign Policy article that there is no difference between Obama and Romney when it comes to foreign policy:
A post 9/11 consensus is emerging that has bridged the ideological divide of the Bush 43 years. And it’s going to be pretty durable. . . .  As shown through his stepped-up drone campaign, Barack Obama has become George W. Bush on steroids.
Yep, I have often blogged this as Barack O'Bush and other variations.  The bipartisan cheering for wars simply nauseate me.  I told my neighbor that this November, too, my candidate of choice will not be the Democratic or Republican ones, but I will vote a lunatic as my protest vote.

The net result of all the drone warmongering?
Drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants; in his 2010 guilty plea, Faisal Shahzad, who had tried to set off a car bomb in Times Square, justified targeting civilians by telling the judge, “When the drones hit, they don’t see children.”
 Because, yes, children die.  Like this kid, Fatima:

How did Fatima die?
Around midnight on May 21, 2010, a girl named Fatima was killed when a succession of U.S.-made Hellfire missiles, each of them five-feet long and traveling at close to 1,000 miles per hour, smashed a compound of houses in a mountain village of Mohammed Khel in North Waziristan along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Wounded in the explosions, which killed a half dozen men, Fatima and two other children were taken to a nearby hospital, where they died a few hours later.
Is this the best that we can do as the richest and most powerful country ever?

Our grade-inflated world makes college that much more worthless!

I semi-seriously note in my classes that neither the students, nor my colleagues, nor the world outside ever listens to what I have to say.  I refer to this as the Rodney Dangerfield syndrome, but the reality is that hundreds of thousands of people paid to hear what Dangerfield had to say!

Take, for instance, the issue of higher education, about which I have blogged a lot. I mean, a lot!  I have also authored op-eds in newspapers, like this most recent one.  But, I bet people pay a lot more attention when, say, a Robert Samuelson says the same thing, even though I beat him to these arguments by quite a few years :)

Thus, here I am blogging more about higher education, and about grade inflation, even though this merely adds to my collection:
A University of Minnesota chemistry professor has thrust the U into a national debate about grade inflation and the rigor of college, pushing his colleagues to stop pretending that average students are excellent and start making clear to employers which students are earning their A's.
"I would like to state my own alarm and dismay at the degree to which grade compression ... has infected some of our colleges," said Christopher Cramer, chairman of the Faculty Consultative Committee. "I think we are at serious risk, through the abandonment of our own commitment of rigorous academic standards, of having outside standards imposed upon us."
Well, in this age of every kid getting a standing ovation for merely doing the routine work, grade inflation ought not to surprise us at all anymore.  Yet, I am, every time I read yet another report on this. 
University of Minnesota anthropology professor Karen-Sue Taussig suspects that today's "grade-inflated world" can be traced to the growing cost of a college degree, i.e. today's "tuition-inflated world." As Taussig told the Star Tribune, "They're paying for it, and they worked really hard, and they put in time, and therefore they think they should get a good grade."
Makes sense to me--the more we operate in a business-like world, the more we are tempted to tell customers what they want to hear.  And what they want to hear is that they are all above-average.

We also devise elaborate shenanigans so that students can even begin to feel awesome about their routine work.  I need not go outside my own academic walls for that--we have an Academic Excellence Showcase coming up in a couple of days. 
The entire day will be dedicated to the presentation of student scholarly activities, including original research papers, projects, artwork, performances, and upper-division course projects, presentations, and papers. 
Such a description might convey a notion that there would be presentations galore that resulted from "original research."  Except, it is not.  Here, the term "research" is used in the meaning that students and I use when we deal with assignments.  Like, when I tell them, "do your research on this topic before you write the three-page paper."  "Research" is nothing but, well, do your homework.

It turns out that the celebration of "academic excellence" is often nothing more than standing ovations for routine coursework.  And lost in this circus is real accomplishment when that happens.  Like a former student, "A," who presented a philosophy paper at a regional conference as a true freshman.  Yes, a true freshman.  Now, when the excellent work like hers is granted the same ranking that a routine coursework gets, you now get an idea of the Lake Wobegon traits in colleges.

Full disclosure: when the idea of undergraduate research was kicked around on campus, I was one of the very few involved in that original effort.  But, I got severely disillusioned when the discussions quickly morphed into how to make students feel great, and how faculty ought to get workload compensation.  I stopped my involvement right there.  Because, remember, nobody listens to what I say, which was the story at those meetings, too :(

Monday, May 28, 2012

Harvard prepares Presidents, judges, and China's commie leaders?

A follow-up to my earlier post.  Matt Yglesias corrects Niall Ferguson with this simple graphic (HLS is Harvard Law School, and Harvard's business school is HBS)

So, Harvard is tightening its grip on the Executive branch, it has more than a choke-hold on the Judiciary! And they are prowling on Wall Street, too!

Hmmmm ...

If Harvard is that good, well, it should not surprise us then that Harvard "is training the next generation of Chinese Communist Party leaders"
The Harvard curriculum, specially designed for this program, resembles a midcareer executive course. Housed at the Kennedy School’s Ash Center—the same graduate school Bo Xilai’s son attended—Harvard faculty teach Chinese officials leadership, strategy, and public management. Some of the lectures are given by big-name Harvard professors, including Roger Porter and Joseph Nye. Although the classes are restricted to Chinese officials, these party members have ample opportunity to mix with the school’s faculty and general student body. Borrowing from the case-study method made famous at the university’s business school, the coursework zeroes in on specific topics such as U.S. policy and government, how the media operates, negotiation strategy, and even social media. The classroom work is supplemented by site visits to places like the Massachusetts State House, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and larger institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations. Besides its main leadership program, which lasts eight weeks, Harvard runs more tailored courses, too. One is focused on crisis management. Another is entirely devoted to the Shanghai municipal government. A new energy program will bring together executives from the China Southern Grid Power Corporation. “The goal is to help the Chinese government work in this environment of globalization,” says Lu. “To catch up.” 
Harvard specially designed a curriculum for this? As Johnny Carson often said, "I did not know that!"  The difference, however, is that this this Harvard story ain't funny. 

BTW, the graphic interests me for another reason: I will add this to my venn diagram collections--well, this be only the third!   The Venn diagrams that my math teacher, Vimala Sitaraman, taught us a long, long time ago :)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

"Pyaasa" for poetry, music, and life itself

This world of palaces, thrones, and crowns
This world of societies that resent humanity
This world of those hungry for material wealth
What is this world to me, even if I can have it?

Each body is afflicted, each soul thirsty
With confused eyes and hearts full of sorrow
Is this the world or the realm of the senseless
What is this world to me, even if I can have it?

In this world where a person's being is only a toy
It is an establishment that worships death
Where it costs less to die than to breathe
What is this world to me, even if I can have it?

Here youth wanders in apathy
Young bodies are decorated and sold in the market
Where love is treated as a product to trade
What is this world to me, even if I can have it?
That is the translation of the lyrics of this wonderful song--the translation provided by this YouTube user.  May their tribe increase!

Incidentally, this movie Pyaasa has always been highly rated by critics.  My second-favorite song from the movie is the following one though:

As the rupee speeds towards 60 ... hey, retirement age!

India's economic situation and the worsening rupee are beginning to consume my attention, which is not good news!

The Financial Times editorial notes that the situation is quite serious:
Not so long ago there was excited chatter in India about the possibility of the country overhauling China to become the world’s fastest growing large economy. But the Indian tortoise, far from gaining on the Chinese hare, is going backwards. Growth has not edged into double digits. Instead it has sagged back towards 6 per cent. In recent days, three investment banks have downgraded their view of India’s prospects. Morgan Stanley says the slowdown, the result of policy paralysis and a worsening external environment, could be deep and prolonged.
The symbol of India’s fall from grace is the rupee. It has sunk more than 17 per cent against the dollar this year to its lowest level on record. That ought at least to have helped exports. In fact they have shrunk, along with industrial output, which fell 3.5 per cent in March.
 Remember all the time and the effort that went into selecting a symbol for the rupee?  The focus ought to have been on the substance and not merely a symbol.  Well, hey, the new sign is fast losing its shine!
If foreign investors take fright, India’s balance of payments situation could quickly deteriorate. Standard & Poor’s has warned it may downgrade the rating on India’s sovereign debt unless Delhi can get the fiscal deficit under control. India also needs faster growth to help bring hundreds of millions of people out of abject poverty.
Mr Singh, who used to be lauded as the architect of economic reforms, is now routinely derided. More than a prime minister, he is characterised as an errand boy for Sonia Gandhi, the Congress party leader. Indeed, the 79-year-old Mr Singh seems to have lost all ambition, as well as any grip over the administration he might once have had.
Singh has become a punchline--an awful way to be finally remembered in history!

But, forget all the words of the commentators; editorial cartoonists distill them well into a neat image, like this one:

Sometimes, I wonder if Indians are way too intoxicated by their cricket obsession to even notice the deterioration.  An outright ban on cricket might be the best fiscal policy, eh!

Bets are always on the US

The juggernaut that the US is, I expect it to easily keep moving along for a very long time. 

In responding to this post blogged by a friend from the other side of the planet, I commented:
My long-term bets, if I were a betting man, will always be on California and not on, say, Oregon, just as the bets will favor the US over any other country in the world.
Of course, I have written about this earlier too, like here.  The more I read and think about this, the less I am convinced that the juggernaut will be stopped in its tracks anytime soon. 

So, what I did read to trigger these additional remarks?  For one, The Economist concludes, after reviewing two books on this topic:
All things considered, America looks remarkably strong. I will be very surprised if another large country is richer and more stable than it two decades from now.
Of course, there is plenty wrong with the US--from bombing the shit out of innocent families to an increasingly dysfunctional political system where a majority vote in the Senate is often broadcast in the media as a bill having failed to pass to ... well, the list is quite endless.    

Yet, it is the US that I would bet on.  At one level, the logic is quite simplistic, similar to how in the bad old days the pinks and the reds would be asked a rather simple question: how many people in the world would rather immigrate to the US versus immigrating to the USSR?  Sometimes such Occam Razor-like thoughts, as simplistic as they might sound, carry a great deal of weight.

There is also plenty going well for the US, which the Economist also points out:
[One] thing that is often underappreciated about the place is its remarkable economic and institutional flexibility. When Michigan's economy implodes, that's bad—but people find it remarkably easy to pack up and move to sunnier climes. When Congress can scarcely keep the money for highway repair flowing, the city of Chicago pioneers new public-private sources of infrastructure finance. America's federal government is often a wreck. Luckily, America's success isn't driven almost entirely by the choices and actions of the federal government. China's success is really remarkable in so many ways, and I don't pretend there is nothing America can learn from its success. As a special report this week indicates, it is in many ways a surprisingly resilient economy. Its institutions are well-equipped to handle a major macroeconomic shock. Yet every government makes mistakes, and an economy built on the assumption that the government won't make too many mistakes is putting itself at risk for eventual stagnation, or perhaps collapse.
Meanwhile, American innovation is proving as impressive as ever. The golden age of the Space Race may be long gone, but private firms in America are putting ships into orbit. Apple is the envy of the world, and rightly so. Google is doing pioneering work on autonomous vehicles, which could revolutionise transport. IBM's Watson, and things like it, could change medicine and many other fields besides.
 To quite an extent, this Houdini-like magical performance of the US was probably what led the taxi driver in Nagercoil to remark that it is amazing that America always comes out on top.

As Branko Milanovic points out in his wonderful book, The Haves and the Have-Nots, even if the US grows at a mere 2.5% a year, while China and India grow at 7% a year, well, catching up won't be easy.  Furthermore, as countries reach that middle-income sweet spot, it becomes difficult to maintain high growth rates.

If one considers California as a barometer, a leading indicator, of what lies ahead for the US, Dowell Myers, whose class I have had as a graduate student, cautions that we do not believe any tales of the Golden State's gloomy future.  Even when it comes to population dynamics:
When it comes to retaining native sons and daughters, California has the fifth-strongest attraction of all 50 states. Among California-born adults who were at least 25 years of age and old enough to have moved away, fully 66.9 percent were still choosing to reside in the Golden State in 2007, the last year of high migration before the recession held people down. Texas, with 75.1 percent of native Texans still living in the state, has the strongest loyalty, and the other three rounding out the top five are Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Georgia. California’s top-five ranking is all the more impressive when you take into account the state’s high living costs and other negatives. We must have something going for us.
A variation of that old question comparing the US and USSR, would one rather go to, or be in, California, versus living in, Utah?  Is it any wonder why Facebookistan would be headquartered in California, though the authoritarian founder is a New Yorker!  Here, too, it is not that everything is well in California, but my bets are on that state.

But, would I ever want to move back to California?  Sure, to La Jolla, if I can afford it :)

Never on Sunday!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Go to college when there is nothing else to do?

The old joke about teaching was a simple one liner: if you can't, teach.  Increasingly, the reality seems to be that if you can't, go to college--for students, too!

Enrollment at the university where I teach has been on the rise for a few years, as the following chart shows.

Given that most students way prefer not to be in classes, and given that we have not experienced any remarkable demographic surges that could drive this growth, the most obvious cause that we can hypothesize is, well, the Great Recession and the high levels of unemployment, right?

The following chart shows the unemployment rates in Oregon and the US over the same time period:

A remarkable level of similarity in how the lines in both the charts seem to go and up and down at the same time, eh!

It might also seem that even though unemployment rates have started dipping downwards, enrollment numbers seem to be climbing to new highs. But, notice that the growth rate itself has slowed--the changing slope of the enrollment line.  Further, we can hypothesize that there will be a lag between economic conditions improving and enrollment correspondingly changing.

But, there could be a "hidden" reason that is even more possible as the agent for continued enrollment growth: the unemployment rate we look at is the "U-3" number and not the U-6 number.  This distinction is important because U-6 counts:
Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force
U-6 is, after all, a much higher rate than is U-3.  In April 2012, for instance, while the official unemployment rate was 8.1%, U-6 was a whopping 14.5%

The chart below compares U-3 and U-6 numbers for Oregon:

 Huge differences, right?

At a 16.9% U-6 rate:
“It will take more than normal job growth to get folks back to work,” said Nick Beleiciks, a state employment economist, at Tuesday’s release of the latest unemployment numbers.
 Thus, enrollment continues to grow?  But, will students be really interested in learning for the sole purpose of knowing?

The graduate student enrollment has already turned into a negative growth, which could reinforce the notion that graduate school was nothing but a place to kill time until one found productive employment?

Of course, with enrollment reflecting horrible economic conditions, the student debt situation, too, is kind of a natural corollary, isn't it?  When we begin to look at the entire higher education industry along these lines, the worthlessness of a graduate degree and, to some extent, the wasted time and effort in getting an undergraduate degree, become all the more troubling. 

All these mean one more aspect: if and when the employment and economic conditions really take off for the better, then it could bring back enrollment down to what I would consider as more realistic levels. Universities like mine seem to operate as if this growth will happen forever, and they might be in for a rude awakening?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Memorial Day travel plans? Are we there yet?

With lower gas prices (everywhere but here in Oregon, apparently)
About 30.7 million people will drive more than 50 miles for Memorial Day trips, according to auto club AAA. That's 400,000 more than last year, a jump AAA attributes to improvement in the economy and consumer attitudes.
Happy travels :)

Redefinining, forever, success in Afghanistan

I wonder why Thomas Friedman hasn't come up with more of his 'six months more for turnaround' columns!

A river runs through student debt and academic integrity

In an email that invites us to invest "in our future generations by making a gift today at the highest level," the president of the university, where I am privileged to be employed as an instructor, writes:
Our graduating seniors are paying the lowest tuition rates in the state while our entering freshmen are charged among the highest. Because of the disinvestment by the state in state higher education, we must revamp our tuition structure yet again to assure affordability for all students, and we are counting on you to help this special university.
Right now our graduates face significant challenges, from average loan debt exceeding $25,000 to the difficulty of starting a career that utilizes our students’ skills and education in this economy. We have done well these past couple of years by increasing student aid and scholarship from your donations and from university sources. But, to ease the financial burden on our students, we must do much better.
For once, I would like the president to first issue an apology for the misguided expenditures, like this Taj Mahal, that have then translated to unnecessary fees for students, who then go on to amass debts.  It is not that the Taj Mahal alone resulted in all of the $25,000 debt he refers to, but a dollar here and a dollar there and soon it is real money, right?

But, of course, it has never been kosher to ask such troubling questions, even within the settings of universities, which are the places that we idealize as environments for "critical thinking."  And more so for somebody like me whose sincere attempts to engage in difficult and urgent topics led to my excommunication from the flock.  I suppose if you don't drink that metaphorical kool-aid that everybody else is drinking, ...

In those years when I was engaged with the "professionals" on campus who were behaving without any sense of integrity and accountability, one colleague suggested that perhaps I should recognize that some topics are off-limits--he was sympathetic to the faculty union, whose bizarre ideas I was questioning.  I asked him if he was suggesting that I could criticize the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, where billions were being wasted and lives were being lost, but that I could not criticize what was happening locally?  And, by silencing me on the local issues, weren't they enacting their own versions of Bush's insane argument of either you are with us or against us?

It shocked me when he argued that it was one thing to criticize the policies on wars but not ok to criticize the union's policies.  Yes, that was his argument!

The lack of professional and academic integrity continues to shock me, even though one would think that after all these years I will be used to such behaviors.  Maybe I should worry when the day arrives that I am no longer shocked--that will be the day that I think I should quit--it will not be worth it if I ever become so apathetic not to be shocked.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Remembrance of things past ...

Race and caste in the two largest democracies

Matt Yglesias, who inherited the last name from his Cuban grandfather while the other three grandparents were Jewish, questions this bizarre ritual of race and majority and minority, and notes:
America has never operated with a stable conception of race. The factoid that 50 percent of our latest baby crop is other than non-Hispanic white is true only relative to the 2000 census scheme. There’s no reason to believe that this particular categorization will continue as bureaucratic practice or social reality.
Crazy stuff.

Whenever I am asked for race/ethnicity information, I choose whatever I want to be that very minute.  As I have blogged about earlier, sometimes I have been an Asian Indian, sometimes a white, and sometimes an African-American.  I believe I am correct in all the three choices: born in India. But, then born as a brahmin in India means that there is the perennial question of whether brahmins were at least part of the group that wandered into the Subcontinent from the Caucasus, which then means I am a Caucasian!  And, hey, ultimately we are all descendants of ancestors who decided to look what might be there outside the African continent and, thus, I am an African-American, too.

On the other side of the planet, India's effort to count people by caste is well underway. Unfortunately!  The purpose?
As with the British census it is seen as a means of classifying and categorising the social universe into groups entitled to or not entitled to certain benefits.
I tell ya, we humans are crazy anywhere on this planet!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Why I hate the Facebook IPO: Greedy inside-trading bastards

Soon after my work Monday began here on the America's Pacific Rim, I checked the news and was so delighted with the update on the share price of Facebook that I tweeted:
The schadenfreude was not because of the love-hate relationship that I have with Facebook; after all, there are many companies and individuals who trigger such emotions in me.

The joy at the falling share price was simply because of the manner in which Zuckerberg and his buddies demonstrated yet again at how much the system has devolved into a crony capitalism.  To begin with, they dragged out the whole going IPO process by initially offering big investors a slice of the company.  And then began the lengthy process that reminded me so much of how Lebron James went about choosing his bride team--remember that one?  Remember then how nauseating that was to most of us, even if we were not from Cleveland or cared about any sport?  And, therefore, how much we jumped up with joy with Lebron couldn't win the championship?

If you remember all that, you can easily begin to understand my schadenfreude, though I have no nickel to invest in any stock.

And then, one of his co-founders renounces US citizenship and moves to Singapore in order to avoid taxes, the news reports said.  Seriously, isn't that a cheap version of corporate-national prostitution to sell oneself for money?

By the time public (not pubic!) trading began, I was rooting for the share prices to go down.  And to go down fast.

This Forbes column clearly articulates what I would otherwise struggle to write (ht):
2. Mark Zuckerberg’s disdain for investors. He never wanted to be a public company. This became all too obvious during the IPO road show’s crucial stop in New York when (a) Zuck hid out in the bathroom and forced the audience to wait, and (b) he took the stage wearing his hoodie. Zuckerberg’s view of shareholders is like President Obama’s view of blue collar workers. He needs them but secretly laughs at them.
 3. Facebook left nothing for the common investor. The insider pig pile of PE firms and celebrity Silicon Valley angels took it all. This is a rather new, post-Sarbanes-Oxley fact and it should make Americans very, very angry. When Microsoft when public in 1986, its market value was $780 million. Microsoft’s market value would rise more than 700 times in the next 13 years. Bill Gates made millionaires of thousands of ordinary public investors. When Google went public in 2004 at a $23 billion valuation, it left less on the table for you and me. Still, if you had invested in Google then and held your stock, you would be sitting atop a 9x return. Zuckerberg and his Facebook friends took it all.
Yes, it is that attitude that makes me want to celebrate the plunge in the share price.

This attitude of not wanting to share--and we are not talking about taxes and redistribution here--is a continuation of the trend over the past decade during when, as the Economist points out, the number of public companies has dramatically fallen: "by 38% in America since 1997 and 48% in Britain."  This is worrisome because:
First, public companies have been central to innovation and job creation. One reason why entrepreneurs work so hard, and why venture capitalists place so many risky bets, is because they hope to make a fortune by going public. IPOs provide young firms with cash to hire new hands and disrupt established markets. The alternative is to sell themselves to established firms—hardly a recipe for creative destruction. Imagine if the fledgling Apple and Google had been bought by IBM.
Second, public companies let in daylight. They have to publish quarterly reports, hold shareholder meetings (which have grown acrimonious of late), deal with analysts and generally conduct themselves in an open manner. By contrast, private companies and family firms operate in a fog of secrecy.
Third, public companies give ordinary people a chance to invest directly in capitalism’s most important wealth-creating machines. The 20th century saw shareholding broadened, as state firms were privatised and mutual funds proliferated. But today popular capitalism is in retreat. Fewer IPOs mean fewer chances for ordinary people to put their money into a future Google. The rise of private equity and the spread of private markets are returning power to a club of privileged investors.
You say privileged investors, I say crony capitalism!

Turns out there is more:
the disastrous performance of the overwhelmed stock exchange and new rumors that Facebook might have broken the law before its first minute as a public company by leaking exclusive news about its earnings to large banks, who then went ahead and told big investors to sell Facebook at the opening.
You see why I wrote"Greedy inside-trading bastards" in the title?

Finding humor in too big to fail, and too small to succeed

"J," who brought to my attention the hilarious "five minute university" clip sends me this cartoon after I had tried, yet again, to scare the life out my students through the articles and concepts that I force them to think about:

Hey, getting such feedback is evidence that my approach is working? 

Speaking of "too big to fail" ... I am reminded of this joke that I was so proud about--I came up with this joke all by myself a couple of years ago when walking by the river ...

The entire football team signs up for the macroeconomics course, which made the instructor very happy.
But, week after week, the footballers never turned in any of the required work.
Midterm exams come and go, and the footballers don't even bother coming to the exam hall.
The final day of class, the instructor is so pissed that he decides to ask them about this strange behavior.
"But, professor" the star middle-linebacker began, "passing this economics course is a no-brainer. After all, we are too big to fail."


Oh the pubic, er, public ... Typo is a witch, er, bitch :)

A while ago, I had blogged about how it took me a while to figure out--way back in high school--that the new hair that was growing was not "public" hair but "pubic" hair ... and, therefore, how I am always on guard when I have to use the word "public" because you accidentally miss the "l" and the whole world will have a good laugh ...

Shall we say, mistakes were made at the prestigious University of Texas' ... well, check it out :) (ht)

 Click here for more of my grammar-related posts.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Philosophy professors will do it ... topless?

South of the border, geographically and not anatomically speaking, there is one heck of a war going on--the drug war.  One candidate for the Mexican Congress, a 34-year old philosophy professor, decided to shake the voters into action in a rather innovative manner (ht):
[Natalia] Juarez decided to appear topless on a billboard surrounded by half-a-dozen supporters of her party, the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution). The billboard shows the seven women, including Juarez, naked from the waist up and covering sensitive areas with their right hands while they raise their left fists.
The candidate says it's her way of giving voters in Mexico a wake-up call.
"Society is lethargic. We don't seem to be aware of our role. We need to get energized. We need to tell people, 'Hey, wake up because if you don't, sharks are going to eat you up. Wake up, you citizen and politician," Juarez said.
A caption above the women on the billboard reads: "I dare you to build a new project for a nation with no prejudices."
Of course, women baring themselves to protest is not new.  It seems to happen quite regularly in Ukraine.  In the past, such attempts may have worked--when intentional nudity or even semi-nudity in the public would have been extremely rare.  But, the shock value is immensely low, I would think, in these contemporary times of "whatever."

In Nigeria, women threaten to do that as a shaming strategy ... 

"How deep is your love?" ... I was asked this morning!

To mark the demise of Robin Gibb, I played "Stayin' Alive" during the short break that we typically take in a two-hour class.  It was neat to watch even twenty-year olds singing along and enjoying a song from 35 years ago.  A wonderful piece of evidence for the phenom that the song and the group were.

The Bee Gees continued to be in the news yesterday, too, which was one reason why I decided to play the Saturday Night Fever CDs during the 100K drive to work.  A contrast to my usual habit of a silent drive where my thoughts keep me busy and entertained, or how I let NPR's programs accompany me.

"How deeps is your love" had barely started playing when I whizzed past a fawn that was ambling along the tall grass by the side of the freeway.  Just as that image registered in my brain and I thought that perhaps I ought to stop, I passed another fawn.  I now consciously scanned ahead but no signs of deer.  I decided against pulling over and walking back to where the fawn where.

The sighting of deer when I drive continues to be exciting even after all these ten years of living in Oregon.  It was quite a change from the semi-desert conditions that I was used to in Southern California, and the nearly-equatorial environment in which I grew up in India. The deer and the hawks and the trees and the grass and the flowers and the mountains and the rivers ... all constitute the psychic income that former governor Tom McCall said we earn by simply living in this paradise.

But then there are the times when I don't see deer dancing away by the roadside and is heart-wrenching to see them discombobulated having been stilled by fast moving vehicles. It is simply awful to see a deer dead that way, all because we invaded their territories, built roads, and end up hitting them as we speed along for whatever. 

As I type this, I feel I shortchanged myself by not stopping as soon as I spotted the first fawn.  I hope it is not because my love for them is any less deep than it was ten years ago.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Presidential primary: Ivy League or bust!

Now that we know that either Obama or Romney will be President next year, we also know that, from 1989 through at least 2017, every President of the United States will have had a degree from either Harvard or Yale or, in the case of George W. Bush, both. That could be a three-decade accident, or it may be a sign of something lasting—the educational version of the inequality surge, elevating “one per cent” institutions far above the rest. 
Yep, Reagan was the last of the "99 percent" Presidents--however, I doubt whether the OWS folks will celebrate Reagan!  Anyway, Reagan graduated from Eureka College.  But, wait, while Eureka is no Ivy, it is not a relatively inexpensive state school either.

Perhaps Obama transferred out of Occidental to Columbia because he truly understood this aspect of an Ivy League education!

Anyway, that is from Nicholas Lehman's short essay in the New Yorker, in which he adds:
In higher education, the United States may be on its way to becoming more like the rest of the world, with a small group of schools controlling access to life membership in the élite. And higher education is becoming more like other areas of American life, with the fortunate few institutions distancing themselves ever further from the many. All those things which commencement speakers talk about—personal growth, critical-thinking skills, intellectual exploration, breadth of learning—will survive at the top institutions, but other colleges will come under increased pressure to adopt the model of trade schools.
Ahem, we have already strayed from education and become a bunch of trade schools!

With every passing day, the wisdom of the five-minute university grows more and more appealing :)

Free Fallin ... the Indian Rupee exceeds the 55 speed limit!

A couple of weeks into my sabbatical stay in India, I noted in my column that India's rupee was falling against the dollar--it was big time news because the rupee was trading at worse than 54 to the dollar.  A little bit of the Reserve Bank's intervention helped stabilize the situation, but, the slide was certainly coming back if the government's policies weren't changing and India's economic outlook wasn't improving.

Well, it is almost five months since then.  Government policies at the federal and state levels continue to be crazy and chaotic.  India's economic situation isn't improving all that much, despite the fact that the world is not in any recessionary trough.

So, should we be surprised at all with this development?
The rupee, on Monday, plunged below the psychological 55-level to close at an all-time low of 55.03 against the dollar amid robust demand for the U.S. currency from banks and importers
In the bad old days of the government fixing the exchange rate, which was how it was done way back when I left India for graduate school in the US, it was, as I recall, about twelve rupees to a dollar.  Later, when India had no option but to restructure its economic policies in the early 1990s, the rupee's price was determined not by the government but by the market forces, and soon it was into the thirties and then forties, which is where it stayed for a long time.

Now, Indians better start getting used to the fifties.  In fact, buying a dollar for 55 rupees might even sound like a good deal because chances are high that it could get worse:
Analysts said rupee is likely to weaken further due to gloomy macroeconomic data and uncertainties in global economy.

"We expect it to depreciate further in the coming few months. Short-term measures by the RBI may not assist in reversing the trend," said Anis Chakravarty, senior director at Deloitte in India.
It used to be said about Argentina that if ever the government could do the worst thing at the wrong time, well, the leaders made sure they didn't waste that opportunity and, thus, for decades, the country has terribly underperformed.  In the years before WWII, Argentina was thought of as the next and Rostow felt so convinced by the data that he pronounced that the country was ready for one huge but delayed takeoff.  Instead of taking off, it has been a series of North Korean launches, it seems like!

India is not that far behind Argentina in that respect.  In the post-recessionary world, with Europe in one heck of an economic mess of its own, and with the US over-expended, one would have thought that India would have capitalized on the opportunity.  After all, unlike China, which relies way too much on foreign demand while severely restricting internal consumption, India has a robust internal demand for goods and services and can, thus, insure itself against the vagaries of foreign trade.  But, the country is so keen on going the Argentine route. 

The Hindu's editorial notes:
More effective measures should aim to check the trade and current account deficits. Unfortunately, many of the factors contributing to the widening deficits are beyond the control of the government. Oil prices are expected to remain sticky at the current high levels. The import bill is unlikely to come down in the foreseeable future. On the other side, exports have faltered after a heady run during most of last year. The rupee's fall is a symptom of a deeper economic malaise.
Yep, a very deep economic malaise, unfortunately.

All these remind me of a play that we read in high school, called "The Refund."  In that play, two former classmates run into each other and the successful one tells the loser that he became rich by trading in currencies.  The loser cannot understand how one can get rich that way.  To which the successful one replies that the loser ought to go back to their high school and ask for a full refund of the tuition he had paid over the years.  The play then gets to be quite farcical. 

Indians, similarly, ought to figure out how to get their monies back from the crazy politicians at every level whose personal riches have been at the expense of the regular folks who work hard.  For starters, they can get vote all the bums out.  The problem though is this: throwing the bums out will mean new bums will get in!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

From whispering about sex to blogging about vibrators?

Way back, when I was a young teenager and living in a small industrial town in India, I had no idea about many of the facts of life.  

And then all of us grow up.  In the old days, the Tamizh saying was that "மன்மத கலை சொல்லி தெரிவதில்லை" (to mean that one doesn't learn the art of making love from classes.)  But, increasingly, it looks like those were the very old days, given the contemporary world in which seemingly everybody freely exchanges information and tips on sex.

When I worked and lived in California, one day colleague1 recalled a hilarious conversation he had had with colleague2 earlier that day.  Apparently irritated over the continued presence of the mother-in-law, colleague2 ranted away and told colleague1 that "she just sits there like a dildo."  A few minutes later, colleague2 rushes to colleague1 and says "I meant dodo. Not dildo."  I laugh even as type this :)

How much ever square I might be, there is, of course, plenty of sex-related intellectual stuff that has come across my computer screen and magazines.  In graduate school, I was more than flummoxed when in the academic article that I was reading the author characterized New York as a masculine city for its emphasis on a single-center of activity with phallic high rise buildings, and Los Angeles as a feminine city that demonstrated many centers of activity comparable to women having many pleasure points.  This was one particular moment when I thought that perhaps I had made a mistake in ditching engineering!  The nerd in me then read some more along these lines and came across a study that referred to research on measuring the location of the clitoris with respect to the distance from the vagina (which, now, is so easy to scan through at this Wikipedia entry!)

A few months ago, I was reading the New Yorker--always my favorite magazine--when I was blown away with:
For centuries, physicians had been treating hysteria in their female patients with “pelvic massage,” but in the early eighteen-eighties Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville patented the first electromechanical vibrator, which advanced this particular medical procedure considerably. (The vibrator was made available as an over-the-counter treatment two decades later, when it was the fifth domestic appliance to be electrified, after the sewing machine, the fan, the toaster, and the teakettle; it remains the machine most important to a great many smoothly functioning households.)
I was shocked.  This was not a Captain Renault kind of shocked, shocked, but a genuine one.  I had no idea that for centuries "physicians" had been treating hysteria in female patients by bringing them to orgasm!  And that the idea of a vibrator is not any recent, but was something sold even through catalogs just as toasters were sold.  WTF!

Last week, the Atlantic had a story that builds on all these: about the Steve Jobs of the vibrator and sex toys industry:
Ethan Imboden, the company's founder, is 40 and holds an electrical engineering degree from Johns Hopkins and a master's in industrial design from Pratt Institute. He has a thin face and blue eyes, and wears a pair of small hoop earrings beneath brown hair that is often tousled in some fashion. The first time I visited, one April morning, Imboden had on a V-neck sweater, designer jeans and Converse sneakers with the tongues splayed out -- an aesthetic leaning that masks a highly programmatic interior. "I think if you asked my mother she'd probably say I lined up my teddy bears at right angles," he told me.
What the ... what? The guy is a regular nerd with engineering and industrial design degrees from prestigious institutes?
In January 2005, the Little Gold made it into the Golden Globe Awards gift suite, the freebie swag lounge that, in those days, A-list celebrities actually visited. "To have a non-fashion item like that at one of these showcases was really unusual and groundbreaking," Rose Apodaca, the West Coast bureau chief of Women's Wear Daily at the time, told me. "It was the hot item everyone was trying to get their hands on." Teri Hatcher and Jennifer Garner, by picking one up, became among the brand's first celebrity endorsers. Apodaca wrote about it in WWD's awards season special. "Suddenly there's this tool for sex being featured in the bible of the fashion industry." After Kate Moss was spotted purchasing a Little Gold from a Greenwich Village lingerie boutique -- a "buzz-worthy bauble," Page Six wrote -- Jimmyjane appeared in Vogue.
Thus, as you can imagine, I was not in any kind of a shock when I came across this piece in which the author writes about having been to the "vibrator museum."  I scroll down after reading that to find another piece on Maggie Gyllenhaal talking about her "vibrator movie"
“Hysteria,” the charming, lightweight feminist farce from director Tanya Wexler that explores a key event in the history of female sexuality: the invention of the vibrator by Mortimer Granville, a Victorian doctor who was seeking to cure the mysterious “female malady” that lends the movie its title.
Wow!  So, they even made a movie out of this Victorian invention; as always, I am late to this party too :)

Hot chicks! Moms also looking great!!

It doesn't surprise us in Eugene that clouds have started rolling in as if to make fun of our plans and desires to watch the ring of fire.  But, clouds or no clouds, it was too good a spring day not to walk by the river and take in the sights.

And, what sights they were!

I had barely walked five minutes on the path by the river when I spotted a huge gathering of geese and goslings.  The last time this happened, I was so mesmerized by the sight that it didn't occur to me to take photos until it was way too late.

"Not making the same mistake today," I told myself as I immediately reached out for my camera.

I stood there watching the birds for a while.  Two large women on bicycles stopped by to check out the chicks.  I couldn't but wonder how they managed to get their rather large behinds on the tiny bicycle seats, and yet they did as they pedaled away!

I continued walking.  And more chicks.  The mother goose (technically, a goose can only be a mother, when the male is a gander, right?) looked up at me as if waiting for food to drop down. 

Perhaps the birds have come to treat humans as food providers because quite a few continue to feed the birds despite signs advising people not to do that.  If only humans would learn--story of our lives!

When the birds realized that I wasn't going to give them anything to eat, perhaps they were disappointed like how some students get when they realize that I never cancel classes :)

So, they took off and almost right away fell into a straight line formation.

No more chicks to drool over, and I resumed walking. 

The grass seed pollen levels were certainly getting to the unhealthy side--my eyes were beginning to water, and my nose and throat were getting itchy.  But then I kept going--allergy be damned!

Which is when I noticed new graffiti all over the signs.  The chicks didn't do that.  Stupid humans did.  Whatever compels these psychopaths to engage in such destructive behavior?  Why can't they simply enjoy watching the geese and the ducks and the turtles and the herons?  I suppose a stupid is as a stupid does!

And even worse, their grammar sucks!

Oh well; the awful grammar is the least of the worries!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Photo of the day: Chen Guangcheng now in the US

Does size matter? Facebook and friends, that is :)

In a matter of months, we will soon find out if the proud owners of Facebook shares are holding anything more than a worthless piece of paper.  I won't be surprised if FB begins to roll out fees for this and that in order to increase the revenue stream.

If the data on ourselves and our "friends" are what FB will have to monetize, then I suppose both the numbers of people and the quality of data will matter, which is where this Pew study's (ht) numbers become important:

If the user data is ultimately for advertisements that will translate to real sales, then mere numbers might not matter all that much if the disposable incomes of the youngest cohorts is insignificant.  It will, once again, come down to the size of the wallet, which in FB world is not the same as the most number of friends, right?

BTW, the same Pew report notes:
Of people who use social networking sites, 63% have deleted people from their "friends" lists, up from 56% in 2009; 44% have deleted comments made by others on their profile; and 37% have removed their names from photos that were tagged to identify them.
A majority of social network site users - 58% - restrict access to their profiles and women are significantly more likely to choose private settings.
For once, I am not in the minority then :)

Don't forget Pakistan. Not now, please!

I worry that Pakistan seems to be rapidly fading from our radars.

A little over a year ago, the American population was keenly following the events in Pakistan, thanks to the reports of the very cinematic killing of Osama bin Laden in a compound only miles away from the capital city of Islamabad. But, since then, the media coverage of that country appears to have slowed down to a trickle.

It is not as if everything is all peachy on the other side of the planet. For one, even if it was bin Laden and Al Qaeda that we were fixated on, we need to keep in mind that the militant organization hasn’t been completely wiped out. Earlier this month, while in India, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton observed that Osama’s deputy, Ayman al‐Zawahiri, was “somewhere in Pakistan.” Of course, the Pakistani government quickly rejected the possibility, reminding us of how it used to consistently deny the odds of Osama ever being there!

We need to keep Pakistan in our minds because there is a lot more to the country than our own interests in going after Al Qaeda and the Taliban. For starters, it is a near miracle that the shaky government continues to be in power four years since it was elected, despite all the fears that the weakness of the leaders and the killing of Osama might trigger a military coup. The worries were justified, to some extent—ever since the country became independent in 1947, the military has directly ruled the country for a majority of its existence, and has exercised considerable influence over political matters even when democratically elected governments were in power.

Yet, the government has survived. Thus, the optimist in me views the current government headed by prime minister Yousaf Gilani and president Asif Zardari as evidence of a waning influence that the military has had in Pakistani civilian affairs. The four years that Gilani has served as the prime minister makes him the first leader to have served the longest continuous term in office in all these sixty‐five years. Further, this combination of democratically elected Gilani and Zardari will be the first ever civilian government to complete an entire term, if everything goes well, before the next round of elections in 2013. While an elected president serving the full term in office might be routine to us here in the United States, the completion of a full term will be a significant milestone in Pakistani politics and history.

A relatively stable Pakistani government does not automatically mean that life for the people couldn’t be any better there. The troubles relating to Afghanistan and India are far from over. It could easily be years before any sense of a geopolitical calm prevails in that part of the world. But, the path towards that peace is through the civilian government, which is all the more why the elections next year will matter a lot not only to Pakistanis but to the entire world too.

Internally, the Pakistani economy appears to be far from healthy. The decades of an existential anti‐ India obsession that translated to unsustainable military expenditures severely shortchanged the growth and development of a sophisticated economy. In the 1950s and 1960s, Pakistanis had higher per capita incomes than did Indians. Since then, and especially over the last twenty years, India’s economy has taken off while Pakistan continues to be in the doldrums.

It is perhaps because of a healthy confluence of urgent economic and geopolitical factors that now the governments of India and Pakistan are beginning to engage in normalizing trade relations. Of course, a number of things could go wrong, as they have many times in the past whenever these two neighbors attempted to normalize relations across their borders. But, hope springs eternal in the human breast!

On our part, here from the US, we ought to cheer these developments, and support them in every possible way we can. We definitely do not want to perpetuate a long‐held sentiment around the world, particularly in Pakistan, that the US quickly forgets as soon as its own selfish objectives have been met.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A crash in the morning. A crash in the evening. Life!

Perhaps "S" and "U" and my parents will be surprised to know that I have not had oatmeal for a while now.  I am now on to a boiled egg and toast routine, to go with coffee.  Soon after breakfast and other morning routines, I was off, on my 100K drive to work.

It was a gorgeous spring morning.  Sunny and bright, with just a little bit of nip in the air.  I wanted to go off the road, and stop by the river, but I kept driving.  The gas station attendant commented "it is a beautiful vehicle" as he cleaned the windshield, and I was tempted to tip him just for that comment.

Even the radio was off throughout the drive--there were enough and more for the eyes, and plenty of thoughts in my mind.  I worried that my students might not be all that interested in the materials that I had scheduled for discussion.  I was thinking about the kind of videos that I could use as I came to a stop when the traffic light turned red.

From the left side of the intersection came an ambulance with its lights flashing, and it turned into the road that I was on and sped.  My light turned green and the ambulance that was ahead of me rushed through the traffic light where I had to stop again.  By now, my mind was completely off the class and the videos, and was preoccupied with the ambulance.  Suddenly, two police cars sped past me like the proverbial bats out of hell.  And then a fire engine followed.

A mile later, the entire traffic came to a complete stop. The lights from all those vehicles were flashing away.  After about nine minutes, the long line of cars and trucks slowly crawled past the crash site.  Two cars looked smashed--perhaps a head-on collision.  I hoped that there were no serious injuries and no fatalities.

The rest of the drive to campus was nothing but variations of my appreciation of the life I have.  That I could even enjoy a sunny spring day like today.

Before class time, I scanned the few web sites that I usually do, and oddly enough one essay that I read was "Is death bad for you?"

I thought I would check the news and got bummed out that Donna Summer had died.  Made me wonder all over again whether death was bad or good, and for whom it was good or bad.

After a relatively long day at work, I was back on the road, homeward bound.  Thoughts about life and death perhaps prompted me to take in as much as I could.  I took the longer route home in order to enjoy the scenery, and picked up a flowering pot from a nursery.

About three miles away from home, a sign by the slow lane flashed "crash ahead."  It felt really, really, strange that my day was bookended by crashes.

While here I am blogging about it, I wonder what happened to those who were involved in the crashes.  I hope they will be ok soon enough to enjoy life.

Walking by the river was especially soothing today.  The sight of dogs wagging their tails, kids trying out the words they learnt, adults pondering life, and birds not caring for anything.