Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Australia pivots towards the Asian Century

That is the official document from the Australian government on how the country could/should adapt to the changing conditions outside Australia and to the demographic changes within the country. (ht)

I wish the report didn't have a corny map like the one below... looks like Australia is trying to parachute down and away from the dark clouds way above :)


Yes, a good idea to systematically think about how to integrate with Asia where the action will be this century, unlike the approach here in the US, which is to portray China as a villain that we have to be ready to fight against.  Our pivoting is for all the wrong reasons, it seems like.

What a long way from this cartoon that I saw, among others, at the immigration museum in Melbourne!


Good luck to them.

Girls. Bond Girls, that is. Part II

A follow-up to this post; I have always wondered how the Bond Girls came across to impressionable young girls.  All I felt was that it would have been different.  Different from from the experiences of impressionable young boys like me.

As a graduate student, and as a lifelong student that I am as a faculty, I have become all too familiar with the feminist critiques of the representation of Bond Girls.  The blatant sexism, and the patronizing attitudes, and, of course, sensationalizing the female sexuality.   Which are not far off the mark, of course.

The recent Bond movies, however, have radically changed Bond and the women in the movies.  Bond shows emotions, and has a confident vulnerability.  Women?  A women "M" is a big change all by itself.  And the Bond Girls can do some serious ass kicking.

But, how did those original Bond Girls come across to the preteen and teenage girls in the audience?

Here is one engaging perspective (ht):

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Want a real Halloween scare? US defense budget!

I blame Ramesh, for his comment here, for why I am scaring you with how much we spend on fighting whoever it is against whom we are at war on any given day year decade!
America spends as much on defence as the next 17 countries combined (most of whom are American allies). America's main competitor for the title of most profligate is China, which spends about 17% as much as America on defence. That number will continue to grow, but to give you a sense of where China stands in relation to America, look at its big military accomplishment from this year: the successful refurbishment of an old Soviet aircraft carrier, its first. America has 11 aircraft carriers, another in construction, and one more in reserve.

Happy Halloween!

On finding Bambi lying dead in the middle of the road

Ten-plus years of living in Oregon hasn't dampened my excitement every time I spot deer casually strolling around by the roads, or even by the homes. 

Growing up in India, I had seen very few deer, and that too not in the town where I lived throughout my childhood years.  It is, therefore, quite a fascinating and exciting change; so much so that when driving--whether on surface streets or on the freeway--I have pulled over in order to spend a few minutes watching them and reminding myself that this was not India or even Southern California anymore.

But, then sometimes it gets up close and personal. 

Early in my Oregon life, a late autumn rainy evening I was heading back home on the two-lane stretch when the only other car on the road, which was ahead of me--started flashing the hazard lights and came to a stop.  I did the same.

It turned out to be the literal version of the metaphorical deer in the headlights.  The two deer stood there apparently unable to decided which way they ought to go.  This being Oregon, neither the other driver nor I sounded our horns or did anything to force the animals off the road; instead, we simply waited.  After a couple of minutes, the deer scampered away, and we resumed driving.

If only all such encounters were without any damage.  It is a terrible feeling inside every time I see a deer lying dead by the roadside.  Earlier this morning, I saw a deer smack in the middle of the road.

The everyday human in me feels the pain and emotions of the suffering and death there. 

But then there is the rational intellectual in me that wants to explain, perhaps even trying to make it easy for my heart, that America has a big time problem with deer--there are way too many of them!  The deer population has exploded over the past few decades, which then leads to:
The most dangerous mammal in North America is...Bambi. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that white-tailed deer kill around 130 Americans each year simply by causing car accidents. In 1994, these predator deer had a banner year, causing 211 human deaths in car wrecks.
There are about 1.5 million deer/vehicle collisions annually, resulting in 29,000 human injuries and more than $1 billion in insurance claims in addition to the death toll. Deer also carry the ticks that transmit Lyme disease to about 13,000 people each year. Economic damage to agriculture, timber, and landscaping by deer totals more than $1.2 billion a year.
 Oh deer, er, dear!
[Prior] to the arrival of European settlers, white-tailed deer numbered between 23 and 34 million. By the early 1900s, deer populations had fallen to between 300,000 and 500,000 animals. This population crash was a result of market hunting, that is, killing and selling the animals to butchers.
In 1900, the passage of the federal Lacey Act, prohibiting interstate traffic in wild game taken in violation of state law, effectively ended market hunting. At the same time, states like Pennsylvania and Virginia established game commissions that restocked deer and prohibited the hunting of does. Before the arrival of settlers, predators like wolves and bears, along with Native American hunters, had kept deer populations in check.
After their nadir in 1900, deer populations began to recover, rising to around 27 million animals today.
With this massive increase in deer population, it must be quite easy to hunt deer, one would think.  After all, if they are roaming around all over, how difficult will it be for a hunter to bag one, right?  Not so fast
Here are some curious facts. One: more white-tailed deer live in the United States today than at any other time in history. Two: fewer hunters are going after them than did even 20 years ago. And yet, three: deer hunting now rivals military combat in its technological sophistication. Outfitters’ shelves are crammed with advanced electronics, weaponry, chemicals, and camouflage, all designed to eliminate every last shred of chance from the pursuit. The average American hunter now spends nearly $2,500 a year on the sport, despite the fact that finding a deer to kill has literally never been easier
 Oh deer, er, dear!
Tom Gallagher, Cabela’s purchasing director, understands the game that’s being played. “It’s no different than the club that’ll drive the ball the longest, the bat that’ll hit the ball the longest, the weight-loss drug that’ll lose you the most weight,” he told me. “Americans love anything that’ll give them an opportunity.”
We also love a sure thing. Hunters took down more than 6 million whitetails in 2011. An old military joke comes to mind: the enemy is all around us—this time he shall not get away.
 Oh deer, er, dear!

Monday, October 29, 2012

The mystery that is called English grammar

A few years ago, back in California, I requested the English department folks to loan me a graduate student for 30 minutes every week.  The idea was that this student would remind students in my class about the basics of writing, and then as the term progressed, I would pass along to the graduate student problem-patterns in writing-related issues in the assignments, who would then use those real examples in the 30-minute session.

I went this route because as much as I emphasized the importance of writing, I was almost always at a loss when it came to explaining to students why something didn't quite feel correct.  There was one particular occasion when a student raised her hand in class and asked for the difference between "affect" and "effect" because I had crossed out her usage of "affect" and written there that she should have used "effect" instead.

I had no clue how to answer that question.  I was stumped.  I told the class that I merely had a feel for it after all the years of working with the language, and that they had to take it up with the writing folks.

Which is how I ended up asking my colleague, Kim, for a loan, so to speak.  Through her, I worked with quite a few grad students over the two years or so.  They helped me out with the in-class discussions every term.  One of them, Rebecca, said she loved the language so much that her favorite night time readings were typically books on English grammar!

I am sure students who are experiencing me as an instructor for the first time soon find out that I will bug them, bug the crap out of them, about learning to write.  I remind them that there is a long way to go, for me too.

Grammar issues like this, for instance, when punctuation kills :)


Another common error that we often run into:


That same site has this humorous explanation about "affect" and "effect"


It is not that I am a grammar-Nazi, but, ... :)


Sunday, October 28, 2012

The cost of war, as guns v. butter

The cartoonist here uses one of the metaphors that the "dismal scientists" use to demonstrate trade-offs:


How much has the US spent on the two wars, including the longest war ever that began in October 2001? 

But, don't ever suggest any reduction to the defense budget; we would rather go after those mooching unemployed!

Writer's block! How about these ideas?

I am stuck for ideas for blogging ... so, I bounced a few around :)


More in this note from the New Yorker's cartoons editor

Keep calm and die: Hurricane Sandy is god's plan to kill people

Hurricane Sandy is bound to bring a lot of misery. (Yes, I am intentionally channeling this!)  Along with it, within hours, we will read about, and watch, stories of survivors who will refer to how god saved them, or their homes, or their dogs, or all of the above.

Even as we commiserate with them and take in all the destruction of life and property, the rationalists and atheists amongst us will wonder at the contradiction: if they were saved by god, couldn't that god not have caused all the tragedy in the first place?  And what about the dead and injured who were not saved by god?  Were they not in god's plans?  Were they the infidels?  Satan worshippers?

The religious conveniently backtrack from these troubling questions.  "It is all in god's plans" will be their bottom-line.  A hurricane or a rape is god's way of testing the strength of those who believe in him.  Or, as I remember the line from one of the English essays we read in the early high school years, "god's will hath no why."

To which I have only one response: bullshit.

It is bullshit that we saw in the recent controversial remark about rape and pregnancy.  The Indiana Senate candidate said “if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” (I use the uppercase G because that is how the politician would have used it.)

To true believers, this consistent with their beliefs.  If good things happen courtesy of god, then bad things also happen courtesy of god.  A rape is, therefore, in god's plans.  A pregnancy that results is also in god's plans.

As Heather Mac Donald wrote in noting the politician's consistent theology, it is all thanks to god because:
I mean, if he can perform such Iron Age miracles as ventriloquizing through a burning bush , he can sure as heck prevent a rape if he chose to do so.  His will has no option but to be done
The Indiana politician (the name matters to me less--they are all the same!) was being brutally frank about his hardcore religious faith, unlike most of the rest who are a lot more capable at hiding their true beliefs while mouthing some bromide in the public.

This latest thorny religious issue is not new; it has been one hell of a long theological struggle defending and explaining god amidst all the misery and injustice that envelops us.
Sure enough, this kind of thing has made theologians and annotators very anxious: we have two thousand years of awkward and justifying commentary, in both the Judaic and Christian traditions. The Protestant and Catholic churches struggled for centuries with the implications of God’s foreknowledge of sin and suffering. You can try to wriggle out of these implications by arguing that we humans must have freedom to do good and evil or we would just be automata, remotely controlled by God. But this returns us to Mourdock’s dilemma. Because if God knows in advance what we will do, he knows that we will misuse our freedom, as he surely knew that Adam and Eve would. As Pierre Bayle, the seventeenth-century skeptic, sardonically puts it in his “Historical and Critical Dictionary,” divine foreknowledge of this kind is a bit like a mother who lets her daughter go to a ball, knowing in advance that she will be violated. What mother would do that? Why would God, Bayle says, bestow a gift that he knows in advance will be abused?
The Judaic and Christian traditions are not alone--it was pretty much the story in the Hindu tradition in which I was raised. 
[Religiously] speaking, there are only three possible responses: you can continue to believe in a God who knows in advance the number of our days; you can sharply limit your conception of God’s power, by positing a deity who does not know in advance what we will do, or who cannot control what we will do; or you can scrap the whole idea of divinity. The problem with the first position is that most believers, as Richard Mourdock did not do, run away from the dread implications of their own beliefs; and the problem with the second position is that it is not clear why such a limited deity would be worth worshipping. So cut Richard Mourdock some slack. He’s more honest than most of his evangelical peers; and his naïve honesty at least helpfully illuminates a horrid abyss.
I like that usage: "naïve honesty."

I would rather that more and more people scrapped the whole idea of divinity. 

Oh, how I miss Christopher Hitchens in this context!  I suppose killing Hitchens with cancer was god's plan too, eh!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Desi Humor ... Is it ok if non-Desis laugh at these?

In a Seinfeld episode, a competitor comedian goes through a religious conversion so that he can then joke about both his old and new religions, thereby vastly expanding his own safe-joke territories.

By becoming an American citizen, I feel I, too, have two wonderful safe-joke territories, in that I can make fun of, and laugh about, all things Indian or American. 

Heck, I can play my Indian card when it isn't even about jokes.  The other day, in class, "B" remarked something about pronouncing the word "treacle" to which my response was something like this: "you are asking a guy who walks around butchering every word with his accent."  I so know that I can get away with mispronunciations, while an American-born cannot :)

But, the more Indians view me only as an American, well, I think that my days of freely and publicly enjoying jokes related to India will be numbered.  I shall keep pushing my luck!

The following three are all from tweets with the hashtag #DesiJokes:
From @Sadia_Sandhu:
Rasgulay and Gulab Jamun. One is white and the other is dark. Both are sweet. Say no to racism
From @BipashaKhan:
If crack came in mango flavor, all desis would be mango flavored crack-heads 
From @Mandeep_Kaurx:
You offer someone a sincere compliment on their mustache and suddenly she's not your friend anymore.
Another thread is with the hashtag #DesiProblems
From @Srithanya:
I just read IPADMINI as I PADMINI
From @SanaTazeen:
Seriously though, ironing mens shalwar kameez is like ironing a tent.
From @Eagles9412:
20 min late to a party and still the first ones there
Hey, we know humor in both these countries; good for me :)

If mixing two countries results in humor being multiplied so much, imagine how fantastic it would be in the scenario that Russell Peters makes us laugh about:

Here is why neither students nor I have been productive

I have now revved up those metaphorical engines to catch up on my work, and I will soon find out where some students are.  I mean, I have to literally find them!

I suppose we all have one good, rock-solid, reason for not working:


What a dull life it will be without the New Yorker, where this cartoon is from, of course!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Women's votes ... and the anus, and Penis Worm?

The oversimplification of the "women's votes" in the presidential election has been driving me insane.  The sales pitch as if "women" are some kind of a lobbying group like the Sierra Club or the Chamber of Commerce.  If there is no talk of the "men's votes" then by the same token would it not mean that there is no "women's votes" either?  If men can have various political attributes that can disperse them all over the political spectrum, why treat women as if they are all the same?

Ah, I forget that there is no point arguing with fools!

Samantha Bee does an awesome job on this point. 

So, that led me to the "organ" that Samantha Bee satirically meant when she says that men use to think and act. 

No, not really.

It was a Scientific American tweet that got my attention.  About a "penis worm." Yes, you read that correctly. Now, say that with me: "Penis worm."

Apparently, some new insight from this penis worm could shake the evolutionary tree.  I thought it was something about the penis and the tree of knowledge that got us into trouble in the first place :)
Members of this branch — the protostomes — have historically been defined by the order in which they develop a mouth and an anus as embryos. But gene-expression data suggest that this definition is incorrect
Ok, stop the presses. If any species can't figure out the difference between a mouth and an anus, well, that is serious trouble right there!  Or, wait, this confusion between mouth and anus explains Donald Trump's craziness.

Jokes aside, I had no idea that life forms were also classified in biology based on these two openings:
a major step in evolution occurred when an embryonic ball of cells formed two indentations as opposed to one, giving way to a separate mouth and an anus rather than the single opening that creatures such as jellyfish and sea anemones have. In 1908, animals with a mouth and anus were divided into two groups. In the protostomes (from the Greek for ‘mouth first’), the mouth formed first, and the anus second. In the other, the deuterostomes (‘mouth second’), the mouth formed after the anus.
So, do you now have the same question that I had?  Are humans protostomes or deuterostomes?  I.e., did our mouths form first or was it the anus that formed first?  I am afraid you might not like the answer :)

A strange math: GI Bill + Henry Mancini = Lata Mangeshkar!

It is the middle of the term, and I have way too many papers to read and grade.  If only I simplified my life and students' lives by not assigning so much of writing, and instead used bubbling-in testing, right?

Nah!  Never, ever!

But, I always seem to have a great deal of inertia when it comes to this task.  I then look for distractions so that I can put off the reading and commenting and grading that much longer, even as the pressure builds within me that I am delaying it.

Following political discussions, or anything related to higher education, is, therefore, very, very appealing right now.  In this essay, I read:
it was the G.I. Bill that really gave us the Mancini we love. Without its backing he would likely not have been able to afford to study at the Westlake School of Music. There he attended one-on-one theory and harmony classes with Alfred Sendry, a former classmate of Bartok, and orchestration with Mahler’s son-in-law, the romantic-turned-atonalist Ernst Krenek. Anyone who admires Mancini’s score for Stanley Donen’s Arabesque, with its thunderously unsettling chromatic bass riff and its double harmonic (Arabian) melody line that can never quite settle on either A minor or G minor, should be thankful for what he learned at Westlake—and doubly thankful that he wanted to share it with us. If Bernard Herrmann’s scores for Hitchcock served to introduce many people to the discordant ideas of late romanticism, Mancini’s functioned to popularize the yet harsher sounds of Viennese modernism. Even the lovely waltz-time theme he wrote for Donen’s Charade, which finds room for an astonishing diminished C sharp arpeggio in it’s A minor melody, can pain as much as it pleases.
As I continued reading, in the background my mind was bothered that it could not remember the Charade tune.

So, when done with the essay, I hopped over to YouTube, and easily tracked down Charade.
As the music started playing, I was immediately reminded of a Hindi film tune.  Another quick search; here is Lata Mangeshkar singing the tune that is pretty much the Charade theme. 

Now, about those papers ...

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Brownies, tea, pie, and smiles. A good formula, right?

"S" got Thursday mixed up with Tuesday, and left me idling away the time that I had set aside for the meeting.  To make up for that, S turned up with a plate full of home-made brownies.

Earlier that day, "Z" had given me a packet of peppermint tea from Egypt.  Well, the non-caffeine peppermint herbal drink variety.

So, when S gave me the brownies, I showed her the peppermint tea packet that was on the table.  And said it was from Z.

"Oh, probably something all organic, I am sure, because he is all about healthy eating" was the reply.

It was!

"I just put a whole lot of butter and sugar, so it should be ok" S added.

Meanwhile, I have an email from "J" about home-made pumpkin pie: "maybe I will bring you a slice from the next pie that's made!"

At this rate of goodies from students, I must begin to watch my waistline,which has already expanded by a belt-notch over the year.

Earlier today, "MK" swung by with her gorgeous smile and a very unique and pleasant way of communicating.  She wanted to say hi, while waiting for her meeting with another faculty.

Looks like it is time already for me to say thanks, I suppose, even though the formal event is a month away.

Speaking of which, another student asked me about my Thanksgiving plans.  I told "L" that I always have a groaner-routine for that.  "I tell students that I am the best person to invite over for Thanksgiving."

She played along. "Ok, why?"

"Because, at the table, I am both an Indian and an American."

As always, I was the first one to laugh at my own joke, even though I have heard myself proudly crack that same joke a gazillion times!

No noise in the classroom, please. Students are asleep!

As enrollment has increased in the college where I teach, there has been an increase in the number of students who go through some of the classes that I teach.  The opportunity to help more numbers of students understand and interpret the world certainly pleases me.

However, along with the larger numbers, I notice that there is also a much higher increase in the percentage of students who don't show up even though they are registered for the class.  Sometimes they are no shows during the entire term.

Yesterday, at class time, only 15 out of the 36 were in attendance.  A couple more came in late, but we didn't even reach the 50%-plus-one that would be required for a quorum!

It worsened after the break--we were down to twelve.  Only a third of the class.

Yes, there was absenteeism even in the old days.  Ten years ago, when I started teaching here, of course, students did skip class.  I have never recorded attendance because, as I tell them, they are adults and I do not have to babysit anybody.  But, I don't even need any hard data to understand that the trend has been of decreasing attendance.

It sunk to a new low yesterday.

One reason could very well be that I am a crappy teacher, and such teachers might not be making their classes exciting enough for students, who need to be "edutained."  But, as I joke with students, if they thought I am crappy now, well, I was incredibly crappier years ago.  (One term, a student, who mistook my humor, told me in all seriousness "if you think you are bad, Dr. Khé, you really don't know what bad teaching means."  That was one awesome compliment I received that term!)

Thus, absenteeism has been on a steady increase even as my teaching has gotten better; how about that!

My hypothesis to explain the rapid increase is simple: we now have a lot more students than before who are simply not interested in higher education.  Yet, they are here because of the societal contexts that force them to be in classrooms.

Is it worth all this trouble?

When 24 students decide to skip class, it is a huge waste of precious dollars too.  At the approximately sixty dollars it costs each student for each class meeting, that was $1,440 flushed down the toilet in a little more than an hour.  Mine is not the only class where we witness absenteeism.  Now think about all the other classes that are offered at this university alone.  And then all the classes across all the colleges and universities.

I do not mean to suggest that coming to class is always better than not coming to class.  We have to count the number of students who do come to class and promptly fall asleep.  Yes, asleep.  A few years ago, a colleague, who since left for greener pastures, described to me what he did when he saw a student fast asleep with his face down on the desk.  The colleague walked up to the classroom door, and banged it shut.  The sudden loud noise jolted the student from his sleep and the rest of the class apparently had quiet smiles on their faces.

I don't do anything like what that former colleague did.  I might ask students whether they think it will be ok with their boss if they didn't show up for work, or if they slept on the job.  That is the extent to which I go about reminding them that their habits are not healthy.  I don't have to, nor do I want to, babysit adults.

Do students ever ask themselves whether all this fun and sleep is worth the $25,000 debt that they graduate with, on an average?

Should voters ask ourselves whether we should worry at all about the student debt accumulated via such a process?

Given that there is also public money involved in universities like the one where I teach, I am sure taxpayers are not going to be thrilled to know that they are subsidizing students who choose to skip classes, or treat class time as nap time.

I would love it if taxpayers routinely observed our classrooms and judged for themselves whether their hard-earned monies are being put to good use.  I am confident that if they did, well, that will be the end of even the little bit of funding that we currently get for higher education.  I, for one, would not blame taxpayers if they chose to do that.

After that, the taxpayers should also sit in on faculty meetings.  I suppose I would be blamed if it results in them jumping off the nearest cliff.  I bet quite a few administrators will gladly push them over too!

Welcome to the university, and have a nice day!


What do you do when Colbert makes an offer you can't refuse?

Especially when Colbert says that nothing would make him happier than to put something in Trump's mouth instead of something coming out of it.  Colbert at his best :)

Colbert is no dummy--not a surprise, therefore, that Obama said that he would not want to be interviewed by him; you know, many a truths expressed via humorous statements. 

Colbert explained the difference between what he does versus what Jon Stewart does in The Daily Show: Stewart deconstructs the news reports to point out how ridiculous the reports and the people are, whereas Colbert reconstructs the news.  And when his reconstructions get so real, well, we ought to be worried about the state of affairs.
Watch the entire interview here:

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Do people know what Vox Populi means?

A follow-up to this post on democracy


ht

It is ok for Obama to kill people because he is not Bush?

This graphic ((ht) says a lot, right, about how we have escalated the killing campaigns?:


As if the old stories on the kill list (have my colleagues nominated my name to be in the list?) were not enough to make us worry about due process and the constitution, the Washington Post reports:
Over the past two years, the Obama administration has been secretly developing a new blueprint for pursuing terrorists, a next-generation targeting list called the “disposition matrix.”
The matrix contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations. U.S. officials said the database is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the “disposition” of suspects beyond the reach of American drones.
WTF!

I thought "kill list" was enough of a new and unwanted phrase in our dictionaries.  "Disposition matrix"???

As I expected, Glenn Greenwald is furious about this, and he is way smarter and informed than I ever can be:
The Post's Miller recognizes the watershed moment this represents: "The creation of the matrix and the institutionalization of kill/capture lists reflect a shift that is as psychological as it is strategic." As he explains, extra-judicial assassination was once deemed so extremist that very extensive deliberations were required before Bill Clinton could target even Osama bin Laden for death by lobbing cruise missiles in East Africa. But:
Targeted killing is now so routine that the Obama administration has spent much of the past year codifying and streamlining the processes that sustain it.
To understand the Obama legacy, please re-read that sentence. As Murtaza Hussain put it when reacting to the Post story: "The US agonized over the targeted killing Bin Laden at Tarnak Farms in 1998; now it kills people it barely suspects of anything on a regular basis."
Oh my freaking lord!

To hell with Obama and Romney!

More Greenwald:
It is literally impossible to imagine a more violent repudiation of the basic blueprint of the republic than the development of a secretive, totally unaccountable executive branch agency that simultaneously collects information about all citizens and then applies a "disposition matrix" to determine what punishment should be meted out. This is classic political dystopia brought to reality (despite how compelled such a conclusion is by these indisputable facts, many Americans will view such a claim as an exaggeration, paranoia, or worse because of this psychological dynamic I described here which leads many good passive westerners to believe that true oppression, by definition, is something that happens only elsewhere).
Need I remind you that Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize . What a wonderful living illustration of George Orwell's 1984 scenario of war is peace :(


Are you with us, or against us?

If the title led you to think that the post would be about George W. Bush's insanely Manichean view of the world, well, it is not.

"Are you with us, or against us?" was apparently pretty much the question that President Eisenhower's Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles asked India's then prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Nehru was a champion of maintaining an identity that was not always allied with the the US or the USSR--the idea that later became the Non-Aligned Movement--and was actively encouraging the newly independent countries to join him in that flavor of international relations.  And given Nehru's influential standing among the leaders of the post-colonial nations, it is easy to understand why Dulles was trying his best to get Nehru over to his side.

So, what was Nehru's response to this question of "are you with us, or against us?"

Get this; his reply was "yes."

In a Book-TV airing--a repeat from five years ago--Shashi Tharoor described this and more from Nehru's life.  Tharoor explained what Nehru meant by that "yes": there was not going to be any wholesale siding with the US, but that on a case by case basis India would decide whether to support or oppose America.

The US decided it could not count on a democratic India as its ally in the Cold War against the evil Soviet empire.  And, therefore, it sided the neighboring country that went about systematically gutting any trace of democratic institutions.   Realpolitik!

Anyway, back to Nehru.  He had his flaws--personal and political.  But, there is no denying that if not for his efforts, democracy might not have taken a strong hold in India. 

Like George Washington here, Nehru had an overwhelming support--not only soon after independence, but for years later too.  But, again, like Washington he rejected any notion that he had any divine right to rule over the country.  Thus, while Pakistan fell to military generals, and many other newly independent countries slipped into the hands of dictators and maniacs, Nehru went about his business of cultivating democracy--even to the extent of growing an opposition when there was none.

Back in India, my father still retains with him an autographed photograph of Nehru--a symbol of how much Nehru was loved.

Too bad that even Nehru's daughter, Indira, would later ditch the ideals that Nehru and Gandhi fought for. Worse, she pretty much cleared the path for opportunism and cheap electoral victories that have nothing to do with any vision of principles. 

Of course, opportunism and cheap electoral victories is the story of American politics too :(

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Democracy is about critical thinking, not about cheering and jeering!

Jon Stewart had a funny comment a couple of days ago (I think it was in the segment immediately before this one) when he did a satirical "USA!, USA!" When the audience joined in the chant, Stewart laughingly noted that he had become like a Mussolini.

There is a lot more to that quip: democracy doesn't work well, perhaps doesn't work at all, if all we do is merely chant a few slogans, repeat what the great leaders tell us, and not think for ourselves.  Martha Nussbaum wrote about this in the context of higher education and citizenship:
The first is the capacity of Socratic self-criticism and critical thought about one's own traditions.  As Socrates argued, democracy needs citizens who can think for themselves rather than deferring to authority, and who can reason together about their choices rather than simply trading claims and counterclaims.
Nussbaum then adds:
We will have a chance at an adequate dialogue across political boundaries if young citizens know how to engage in dialogue and deliberation in the first place.
One can easily see then that societies that do not want democracy will perhaps even make sure that their approaches to education will not encourage students to think.  Aha, you say, as you think about the old Soviet Union or even contemporary China.  But, here in the US, commentators routinely cite the "success" of students in China or any number of other countries where education is for completely different goals. For goals that have very little to do with democracy and what Nussbaum writes as "human development" because:
The student's freedom of mind is dangerous, if what is wanted is a group of technically trained docile technicians to carry out the plans of elites who are aiming at foreign investment and technological development.
What a tragic irony then that we want to change our education systems in order to compete with the likes of China!  We want to institute national testing.  We want to focus on how education will immediately translate to jobs and economic growth. And, therefore, the "wasteful" expenditures on the arts, and the humanities, and the social sciences, ought to be diverted to more "useful" ones!

Doesn't work to improve and build on the dream of democracy, does it? 

Overlay this situation with slick marketing by politicians.  Well, I will leave it Calvin to remind us that ignorance is the ultimate expression of patriotism :)


Monday, October 22, 2012

What? There was a "foreign policy" debate?

A few notes by others, as a follow-up to this post in which I complained that the debate agenda was only about the Middle East




From James Fallows:
As a matter of substance, it was depressing in principle that this was the level of presidential-campaign discussion on China, India (nothing, or close to it), climate change and the environment (nothing I heard), energy (next to nothing), Europe (ditto). 
BTW, was that really a debate when Obama is pretty much a Republican in a Democrat label?

Is my blog the only place where I can be, well, me?

Towards the end of the conversation that "Z" and "D" referred to as "office-hopping" to kill time, D crossed his fingers and jokingly hoped that I would blog about them.  You happy now, D? :)

By checking out my blog, these two, and a couple of other students I know of, get to know way more about me--there is more to me than the relatively straight-jacketed instructor that I am in the classroom.  I even use the dreaded curse word here, in contrast to the proper appearance I present while on the job.

As Shakespeare said, the world is certainly a stage and we are merely actors.  We play our roles as teachers, students, friends, spouses, children, mortal enemies, ... the list of characters we play seems to be limitless.  One day, we exit the stage.

I find that I am restrained at other places too, and not merely in the classroom.  When I go to India, for instance, I have to keep my criticisms of India under check, and not praise the US much either.  There, I am increasingly considered an American who has lost the rights to criticize India.

Once, when I shared with my father a column I had authored that was critical of India's policies, he politely remarked that I should not write such pieces because it would offend people in India.  "Is there anything in what I have written factually incorrect?" I asked him.  He agreed that I was correct, but that the criticisms would have been ok had I been only an Indian and not an American.

Ok, that was in the real world.  Would I have imagined that I would not jump at the chance of commenting on a juicy intellectual topic at a blog?  Never.  And that is exactly what I did.  I read the comments, and resisted every temptation to present my understanding and interpretation.

I suppose I could have joined in.  But, where exists the line dividing a blog-based conversation from a serious and heated discussion?  What if I came across as an argumentative jerk?  What if the intellectual arguments are viewed as personal attacks?  Especially when I don't know who the others are, and they don't know anything about me?  (Well, when they know me, people apparently want to make sure that I am not heard!)

So, I didn't.

We don't always reveal to the world what we think. As Holly Hunter's character noted in a movie (which one was that?) if everybody were frank all the time, there would never be any family reunion, ever!  

I played the character that I often do even here on campus: the mute!  I am getting to be so good at this that maybe I should take on Harpo as my middle name!

Will end this with the following photograph of India Gate in New Delhi.  Why?  I ain't gonna tell ya!


It was one of those smoggy Delhi days, and tourists were having a great time posing in front of this monument.  I wondered how many of them reflected on what the structure memorialized.  If they did, would have been reacting very differently? 


Math: focus on the Middle East does not equal US foreign policy

I am once again ready to yell and scream about the fucked up politicians and pundits.  But, my throat is already a tad scratchy from all the lecturing earlier this morning!

Google News delivered this LA Times news item, which included the topics that the moderator has listed as the agenda for the third and final presidential "debate":
  • America's role in the world
  • Our longest war - Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • Red Lines - Israel and Iran
  • The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism - I
  • The Changing Middle East and the New Face of Terrorism - II
  • The Rise of China and Tomorrow's World
Do you see why I wanted to yell and scream?  WTF, right?

Items 3, 4, and 5 are all about the Middle East.  And, in a way, item 2 is related to the Middle East.  For all I know, item 1 will include the Middle East also.  So, the foreign policy debate is all about the Middle East, and a couple of minutes on China.  That does it.

Thankfully my ballot is already out of my hands; else, I might have been tempted to write across the candidates "WTF!"

Like Ahab, we seemed to be plainly obsessed with the Middle East.  Can't we turn our head a tad and look elsewhere, also?

Other than Libya and Egypt, which will be bracketed along with the Asian Middle East, we don't care to know what these two candidates think about Africa?  It is one big continent out there.

Misery loves company; here is Drezner:
Here are the following areas and topics that apparently won't be discussed: 
1)  The eurozone crisis
2)  Latin America
3)  Russia
4)  Africa
5)  Foreign economic policy
6)  India
7)  North Korea
Now I get that some of these topics won't come up in a foreign policy debate that lasts only 90 minutes.  But I'm also thinking that maybe, just maybe, it would be a better foreign policy debate if they actually talked about, you know, SOMETHING OTHER THAN THE MIDDLE EAST!!!!!!
I'm not saying the Middle East isn't important -- we have lost blood and treasure there, some of it very recently.  But I simply do not believe that the region is so important that it should occupy 66.7% of a foreign policy debate.  


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Julia Gillard: More on the Wonder Woman

Two-plus years ago, I wrote impressed with Australia's Julia Gillard, who was leading her party's contest at the elections (and won, of course):
And it is not merely because of the gender, which itself is a huge positive development.  Gillard, unlike politicians all over the developed world who strut around with their spouses and children, and talk about family values, is, well, not married.  Has never been married.  She has, as it once used to be said, shacked up.  And with one who is a hairdresser.  She has no children.  What a contrast from all the politicians we are used to, particularly here in the US.  A wonderfully fresh take on political life.

And the ultimate clincher: Gillard has openly said that she does not believe in god.  Hey, GOP, when do you think you might evolve enough to have such  person among your leadership?  For that matter, hey Dems, how about you?
It is a shame that people have to fit a certain profile in order to be political leaders here in the US.  By and large, a conservative country this is!

Recently, in a couple of different instances, Gillard once again demonstrated that she has quite some cojones.  It was awesome how she dealt with the leader of the opposition:
Gillard – Australia's first female leader – accused Abbott, head of the centre-right Liberal party, of repeated instances of sexism and misogyny, including his description of abortion as "the easy way out", his apparent characterisation of Australian women as housewives doing the ironing, and appearances at political rallies in front of posters urging voters to "ditch the witch".
She told MPs: "The leader of the opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well, I hope the leader of the opposition has got a piece of paper and he's writing out his resignation because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn't need a motion in the House of Representatives; he needs a mirror."
Abbott had sparked the Labor prime minister's fury by calling for the speaker of parliament, Peter Slipper, to be sacked over a series of sexist and vulgar texts he had sent to a former member of staff. Slipper has since resigned as speaker.
Seized with indignation and pointing her finger across the despatch box, she retorted: "I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. And the government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever."
Talk about, pardon the expression, bitch slap! You go, girl!

Soon after that, she made the news, yet again because of the gender issue.  An issue that won't bother male politicians--unless it was President Gerald Ford, who couldn't manage level ground even with flat shoes on.  Gillard fell flat on her face at the Mahatma Gandhi memorial in New Delhi.
Gillard so casually brushed that off; good for her.

Male political leaders, for the most part, do not have to worry about high heels. Or even having to spend time to get themselves ready for work.
"He had very self-consciously sought to eliminate all trivial decision-making from his life, such as what he wears to work," Lewis tells NPR's Renee Montagne about his interviews with the president for his piece in the October issue of Vanity Fair. "So, he says, 'I got rid of all the clothes I have except for gray suits and blue suits, so I don't even have to think about what I put on.'"
Why? The president "started talking about research that showed the mere act of making a decision, however trivial it was, degraded your ability to make a subsequent decision," Lewis says. "A lot of ... the trivial decisions in life — what he wears, what he eats — [are] essentially made for him."
Hillary Clinton was routinely made fun of for her pantsuits, but it is totally ok for Barack Obama to wear nothing but grey and blue suits.

I recall Hillary Clinton remarking--during the primaries--that Obama could allocate time for a workout because he didn't have to set aside time to get ready: no hair-dressing, no makeup, means that he has that much more time at his disposal compared to Clinton.

When Clinton went without her face all made-up, the photos and the jokes went viral, which says a lot about the atrociously different treatment we give men and women:
The caption read “Hillary Au Naturale,” and the photo showed the Secretary of state without makeup except lipstick, wearing black-framed glasses. Her hair fell in natural, unspectacular waves. Clinton was speaking at a news conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh during a trip to promote democracy and development. The event followed a complicated and highly dramatic trip to China.
Of course, if this was a male politician, few — if any — would focus on whether he had primped before his public appearance this deep into an overseas trip. It would only become a headline if Joe Biden suddenly started wearing eyeliner and lipstick.
But we aren’t accustomed to seeing female politicians and politicos without camera-ready makeup and, God forbid, showing wrinkles. 
Joe Biden with an eyeliner and lipstick?  Now you talking :)

Speaking of eyeliner and lipstick, remember this?


I don't care about the final debate: I've already voted!

So, the final debate is coming up. We will find out which of the two Obamas will show up for this one, and whether this will be the death of the salesman that the Republican has been. 

In either case, it doesn't matter to me at all.  In fact, my hopes and dreams can be quite a Halloween scare for the ideologues!

Even on practical terms, the debate won't make a difference for me because, well, I have already voted.

Yay!

Of course, I took the photograph of the top half of one side of the ballot before I marked my preferences.  It is a secret ballot, and I ain't going to show you how I voted :)

It has been a wonderful experience here in Oregon, where we get to vote by mail.

I have known nothing but vote-by-mail in my ten-plus years of life in Oregon.  It is absolutely cool, similar to the take-home exams I give students.  I get to refer to the hefty voter's guide, with the candidates' statements and explanations of the Measures.

I can take my own time, and vote with my pajamas on (or not?  For the record, I was fully clothed; remember, I am way too square!)

The NY Times highlights this Oregon innovation in this dialogue.   A fellow-Oregonian writes there:
I’m worrying, “If you talk about something good, you’re going to jinx it.”
...
It works, and it works well. So ssshhhhh: You might jinx it.
Yes, it works so well that I am surprised that the political hyenas have not done anything to screw this up.  Yet.

So, hey, you swingers, good luck to you if somehow you have managed to remain undecided even until now.  S(h)it through the debate tomorrow.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Am I too square a peg in a world of round holes?

Another wonderful advantage in going to the library, which is way past its time to be re-purposed, is the chance to chat with students, with whom I might not otherwise cross paths given our respective schedules and interests.  Always a pleasure when they are keen on even engaging me in substantive conversations.

"L" talked about the Body Modification event that she had been to on campus. 

"I always find those to be interesting" I told her, "especially when I don't even dye my hair.  I just don't get it."

"L" said the thought of the pain while tattooing, for instance, is one big reason why she has never attempted one.  I shared with her about an article I had read a while ago, in which one of the full-body-tattooed person profiled was a Wall Street investment banker.  Most of his work associates had no clue that underneath that suit and tie was a skin that was painted all over.

When driving back home, I was reminded of a strange experience once on a flight on the way to India.  It was in the domestic segment before the connection from Dulles.  I was in the window seat, a woman in, perhaps, her early-thirties in the middle, and an older man in the aisle seat.  The woman made it clear that she was interested in chatting, and every once in a while I participated in the conversation.  She was on her way to Belgium to try living there for a year with her boyfriend whom she had met online.  The success of this meant that she would make Belgium her home.

She got all excited when I said I live in Eugene.  A local tattoo artist was apparently her friend.  She started explaining to me about her professional expertise not only in tattooing but also in body modification.  Up until this conversation, I would have assumed that body modification might have also included piercings.  I would never have guessed scarring as modification.

Yes, scarring.

As if the topic itself was not enough discomfort to me, she made sure I would have a tough time sitting straight and not squirming.  "Let me show you my scar that I am very proud of" she said.

She removed her scarf, and undid the top button of her blouse.  Imagine me being asked by a full-bodied woman to look at her chest, and in the plane!

There it was--a long scar just above her cleavage.  A scar that she had designed and created!  Intentionally!

I had never seen anything like that before.  Yet, there it was in real life.  My mind immediately thought of the physical pain it would have caused.  "The pain was no big deal" was her response. No big deal?  I don't even like to accidentally nick myself when chopping vegetables in the kitchen, and she says the pain with creating that five-inch scar was nothing?

Different strokes for different folks, indeed!

But, it does increasingly seem that people with tattoos are everywhere.  Is that what I notice because I live in Oregon, and also get to experience California?

Over the summer, when driving back from California, I stopped at Starbucks a little outside of Santa Barbara for a scone and coffee.  At a table near the door was a young woman in a tanktop staring intently at her laptop.  The tattoo on her shoulder stared straight at me.

I sat outside to enjoy the sun, when I noticed that the woman to my left and front at another table was wearing one of those low-rise jeans with the butt-cleavage beginning to show.  And right above that cleavage was a tattoo.

The old stereotype was that tattoos were the markings of bikers or bums.  But, that old stereotype, irrespective of whether it was valid at any time at all, is certainly not true now.  The woman with the laptop, for instance, strolled out of the Starbucks and straight to her Lexus SUV.  She had her shirt on this time, and if that had been the first time that I had ever seen her, I might never have guessed that she had a prominent tattoo.

On hot summer days, when men and women of all ages expose themselves to the legal maximum, I feel like I am in the minority anymore.  No tattoos on me.  A regular haircut. No hair-dye. Grey beard. Big glasses.  

But, hey, my ears are pierced.

They have been that way since I celebrated my first birthday.

Maybe I should start wearing earrings, eh!

Nope. Not going to happen.

A bloody boring square bloke I am!  I-yam-what-I-yam :)

Friday, October 19, 2012

"Come home, America" ... Yes, please come home!

The more I got to understand American politics from the inside--I had been following the scene even from India, right from my young days--the more I came to realize how much I longed for decent and plain-speaking politicians who wanted to do the right things even if it didn't benefit them personally in any way.  In a contemporary setting, it was a rare person like Ralph Nader who seemed to fit that profile, though his views weren't always what I would have preferred.

After moving to Oregon, and after reading more about its senators of the past--Hatfield and Morse--it was all the clearer that I was stuck with the self-serving, dishonest politicians who, to quite some extent, were not that different from the dishonest, self-serving politicians back in India.  Perhaps the only difference is that politicians do not switch parties as easily as they do in India, though senators like Specter and Lieberman so casually did in recent times.

Thus, as I read news reports about the final moments of Senator George McGovern's life, I feel a great sense of loss, all over again, in not having been old enough to have lived, in real-time, during his years of senatorial service and his failed attempt to win the presidency of these United States.

Thanks to the uber-libertarian Reason, I read this charming and adoring profile of McGovern, and I especially liked the following sentences there:
“When the histories are written, I’ll bet that the Old Right and the New Left are put down as having a lot in common and that the people in the middle will be the enemy.” “[M]ost Americans see the establishment center as an empty, decaying void that commands neither their confidence nor their love,” McGovern asserted in one of the great unknown campaign speeches in American history. “It is the establishment center that has led us into the stupidest and cruelest war in all history. That war is a moral and political disaster—a terrible cancer eating away the soul of the nation. … It was not the American worker who designed the Vietnam war or our military machine. It was the establishment wise men, the academicians of the center. As Walter Lippmann once observed, ‘There is nothing worse than a belligerent professor.’
The kind of left and right that no longer exists. That common ground, which is where I find myself without politicians.  The specifics, below, exemplifies the kind of political approaches I prefer:
McGovern’s positions now seem positively temperate: he favored decriminalizing marijuana; he argued against “the intrusion of the federal government” into abortion law, which should be left to the states; and, as he told me, “I could not favor amnesty as long as the war was in progress, but once it was over, I’d grant amnesty both to those who planned the war and those who refused to participate. I think that’s a somewhat conservative position.”
In the home stretch of the ’72 campaign, McGovern was groping toward truths that exist far beyond the cattle pens of Left and Right. “Government has become so vast and impersonal that its interests diverge more and more from the interests of ordinary citizens,” he said two days before the election. “For a generation and more, the government has sought to meet our needs by multiplying its bureaucracy. Washington has taken too much in taxes from Main Street, and Main Street has received too little in return. It is not necessary to centralize power in order to solve our problems.” Charging that Nixon “uncritically clings to bloated bureaucracies, both civilian and military,” McGovern promised to “decentralize our system.” 
In today's lunatic political environment, neither the typical Democrat nor the typical Republican will agree with McGovern's positions.  What a tragic farce we have become!

Until I read that essay, I didn't know that McGovern was from a place called Mitchell in South Dakota.  It was an odd coincidence that yesterday Stephen Colbert had a segment on the same place.  I wonder why Colbert missed mentioning McGovern in his "amaizing" corn story; from what I understand to be George McGovern's personality, he would have surely had a good laugh.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A tree falls. I am there. I hear the noise.

As is often the case these days, I was lost in thoughts when walking by the river.  Sometimes the mind wanders across the world.  Sometimes it is focused on my classes.

Or, yes, about my own life and problems and unhappiness, which always seems to be in plenty.

The amazing thing is that by the time I return home, I have simply no idea what those thoughts were. It is like waking up after a good sleep, knowing that I had some great dreams but being unable to recall even a small piece of what was once vivid in my mind.

A sudden cracking noise of a tree falling somewhere separated me from my thoughts.  I looked around.  No fallen tree.  Two couples walking pushing strollers is all I saw.  They were also looking around.

A new variation of that old philosophical problem I was facing: if there is a loud noise of a tree falling in the forest but no tree is to be found, then did a tree really fall?

I chuckled within.  What a nerd, I thought to myself!  A smile might have even escaped my lips, I would imagine.

Two minutes later, there it was. A big branch across the bike path.  And my neighbors standing on the other side. R was on the phone.

"What did you do?" I asked D.

Apparently the tree cracked and branches fell only a step or two behind them."R is talking to the city" she said.

A dude, perhaps in his late 20s, on a bike stopped.  He took the earbuds out and let them hang.

"I bet a couple of us can lift and at least push these off to the side" I said as I grabbed one end of a weighty branch.  The dude, who had meanwhile parked his bike, grabbed the other and we heaved it off to the side.  And another.

We then went about clearing the broken branches off the bikepath.

R was done with the phone call, and he and D said bye and started walking home.  I stayed back for a couple more minutes pushing the debris away and looking at the scene.  The dude hopped back on his bike and sped.

I slowly walked towards home.  It felt good that we regular folks cleared the potential hazards from the path.  A couple of hands can get things done.

The next day, I again ran into D and R--I was returning home, while they had just started the walk.

"Don't break any trees today" I joked.  We laughed.

It has been a couple of days since.  The broken branches continue to lie there by the side. 

R says the city made it clear it is not the city's legal responsibility.

Charles Dickens said it best for all of us via Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist: "The law is a ass--a idiot."


The only honest man in America?

Ain't the presidential candidates :)

A Death in the Family

"We are ok" dad said when I answered the phone.

But, I knew everything was not ok.  It was a call that originated from India during the early hours of the day there.

We had learnt from the Tamil version of Ramayana--Kambar's--about how masterfully Hanuman conveyed to Rama regarding what he saw in Lanka, and about Sita--Rama's wife.  He reports, கண்டேன் சீதையை (Saw Sita.)  Getting to that important bottom-line right away.  And then moves on to providing the details.

Thus, dad, knowing that I knew it was not any normal, regular, call, gave me the bottom-line first that mom was ok. 

Then came the reason for the phone call.

A death.

Of his brother.

The only sibling he has ever had.

It was a long life into his mid-80s.  A long life compared to his father--my grandfather--who died in his early 20s.  A long life compared to his mother--my grandmother--who lived to 67.

However long one lives, a death is a death.  And however much we might not have been close, death is that final termination of a relationship. The finality of it all.

Every moment we live is a battle that we win against death.  But, ultimately, we lose the war.  One of the challenges when we are alive is to be ready for deaths. Of our dogs. Of parents. Of children. Of neighbors. Most of all, to be ready for our own deaths.

As Martin Luther King noted in his marvelous and moving speech the day before his assassination, "Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now."  It is that profound sense of being at peace inside and mentally ready for death to strike at any second. 

A death makes us notice the sharp contrast that life is.  The bright, vivid, luscious colors of life against the dark shades of death. 

Any time I am reminded of my own mortality, I feel compelled to ask myself whether there is anything left hanging loose that I would want to tie up before it is my turn to exit this wonderful planet, of which I have seen very little and of which I have understood practically nothing. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Will universities ever learn from Blockbuster Videos?

During the academic terms, I frequent the university library to read newspapers the old fashioned way--holding the papers in my hand.  I better do that now before they completely go away, right?

I go there to browse through the Economist too--again, for the pleasure of reading the paper version.  I joke with the student-workers there that if not for me taking a few papers and magazines off the shelves, they wouldn't have any re-shelving to do!

I suppose there might even be some truth in that joke: a few days ago, I was reading the WSJ when a student-worker walked over to where I was seated and said with the friendliest of  smiles "the new Economist is here for you." 

Every time I go to the library, I think it is a wonderfully new structure that is a vastly underutilized developed real estate.   The thousands of books and reference encyclopedias that seem impressive don't look like anybody has even moved them even an inch.

Students rarely ever seem to be holding books or magazines in their hands anymore, leave alone the newspaper.  Come to think of it, I cannot recall the last time I ever saw a student reading any of the newspapers in the library!  They work with their laptops, or at the workstations, or engage in group study.  A few even borrow laptops from the library and go sit in their favorite corners and work.

In other words, the library is not a library as we might have used it in the past.

So, why retain this old format then?  An expensive structure that is a huge warehouse for old books and magazines?  There are plenty of self-storage units where we can warehouse these instead for way, way lower rates.

It is because higher education--of which the university I work is merely one example--is notorious for making glaciers seem like fast moving objects.  It will be years before higher education realizes that a lot of things have changed outside the university.  After all, a few Marxist comrades do not seem to have understood yet that the USSR is long gone!

"Creative destruction"--the trait of the market forces outside--doesn't exist within higher education.  Well, for the most part.  Faculty, however "radical" they might be in ideological terms, are the ultimate preservers of the status quo.  The reason is simple: status quo suits them all too well.

If I had my way, I would, for instance, move my classes into the library building itself.  I would have my students sit in groups of three at each "pod" that would have a computer.  The assignments that I typically give them as homework can easily become classwork, and then we could discuss their researched answers to the questions I pose, and articulate well-informed responses.  Libraries will continue to be the portal for "information," yes, but in a completely different way.

I fully recognize that this ain't gonna happen anytime soon.  How awful!

As a contrast, consider, for instance, one of my favorite examples in economic geography: the demise of the blockbuster video store.  Only a few years ago, video rental places were like libraries--people went there to rent movies.  And returned them within the stipulated time.  These kind of stores became standard fixtures at important traffic intersections--prime real estate for the business.

The web changed all that, and now Blockbuster is kaput. Bankruptcy.  Creative destruction happens all the time.

Except in higher education :)

Oh well ... I will laugh this one, also, off with the Onion's satire of the Blockbuster--this is from a couple of years ago, well before the bankruptcy