Tuesday, January 31, 2017

In awe am I

A student met with me for the first time.  She is new to the state and the university.  As always, my first order of business was for me to know a little bit about her, and for her to know who I am.  "I like to know who my students are and where they come from.  I want the student to also know who I am," I told her.

And then, of course, I had to be funny.

"That way, students can then decide whether or not they want to work with somebody else instead of me," I added.

Fortunately, she, too, thought it was funny!

We are now a couple of weeks into the term and students are getting to know me.  "Are you being sarcastic now?" one student asked/commented in class.

"I have no idea what sarcasm means" I replied.

After the class laughed one student added, "it is difficult to tell whether you are being serious or funny."

I thought to myself that, well, it is the story of my life! ;)

The older I get, the less I take myself seriously.  I think with age, I have come to understand more and more that nothing really matters.  We die.  We will be quickly forgotten.  Once that is internalized, everything becomes a joke.

But, to get to that level every minute of the day is not easy; a mere mortal I am.  Like everybody else, I too think that the world revolves around me.  Well, of course, there is a yuge difference in scale between me and the POTUS, for instance, on how we think it is all about us.

Even a scientific understanding that it is not all about us is very recent, compared to the length of time that we humans have been around.  We are yet to truly understand that.  In the cosmos, we are insignificant.  Nothing.  But, we have been spinning stories that made us feel special, and we have one hell of a problem walking away from those stories that are deep within us.
We prefer religious and anthropic explanations that the universe was created and fine-tuned for us because they put humans right back in the center of the cosmos anthropocentrically—it is all about us. But 500 years of scientific discoveries have revealed that it isn't about us.
When I look up at the sky, I am always reminded that the cosmos does not care.  It simply is.  And, as insignificant as I feel, I am awed by it.  If only more of us would be awed by our insignificance!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Speak. Don’t be without a voice.

Remember Khizr Khan?  The Pakistani-American who spoke at the Democratic convention?  And he was later savagely attacked by the man who was elected to the White House by Republicans?

Yes, that Khizr Khan.

The New Yorker has an interview with him.  By Robin Wright, whose writings on global affairs are always phenomenally educational.  The executive order by the POTUS is the context.  You know which one that is:
executive order banning the entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely and all refugees for four months. The executive order suspends the entry of all citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen—for ninety days. 
 I cannot even begin to imagine what an Iranian-American goes through.  I think about the sweet and gentle Shahab, who was an Iranian-American.

It is terrible what this POTUS and his people are doing to Muslim-Americans, Muslims anywhere, and to the entire world.  Terrible!

As I wrote, back in June 2016, in an op-ed:
The anti-Muslim rhetoric makes a mockery of the noble idea of freedom to practice religion — a freedom that has been a foundational principle of the United States. ...
When we know people and have developed meaningful relationships with the “other,” it becomes difficult to tolerate sweeping statements that condemn hundreds of millions of Muslims because of a minuscule minority that bombs and kills. 
Anyway, I read Wright's interview with Khan.  His message not only to Muslims in America but to "all American patriots" includes this:
Don’t be without a voice. Speak about the issues that affect your society.
I wonder if perhaps Khan was also channeling the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who became a Pakistani after the horrible partition of India.
Speak, by Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Speak, your lips are free.
Speak, it is your own tongue.
Speak, it is your own body.
Speak, your life is still yours.

See how in the blacksmith's shop
The flame burns wild, the iron glows red;
The locks open their jaws,
And every chain begins to break.

Speak, this brief hour is long enough
Before the death of body and tongue:
Speak, 'cause the truth is not dead yet,
Speak, speak, whatever you must speak.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

We are the world, dammit!

When I was young, like some of my schoolmates, I too actively supported the United Nations.  I still have a certificate for having participated in the UNO Day activities.

The older I got, the more I was concerned that the UN was not achieving any damn thing.  Yes, a few agencies were doing phenomenal work--the FAO, WHO, UNICEF, for instance.  But, think about the UN and we immediately only think about the Security Council and the General Assembly.  The votes and vetoes, where the permanent members play nothing but cold, calculated, political games.

Hence, unlike the young me, the older me has always been highly critical and cynical about all things UN.  But, I understand that for all of us around the world to work together, we have no choice but to deal with various kinds of chaotic, inefficient, and bureaucratic ways.  And given the larger goal of world peace and humanitarian work, well, it is worth it.

Towards this larger goal, I expect my country to also contribute a lot.  After all, with the wealth and power comes great responsibility.  I would any day spend more money to achieve peace and prosperity through such inefficient institutional structures than by bombing countries back to the stone age!

But, we have a new sheriff in the wild west.  The sheriff's deputy to the UN is a brown-skinned woman whose parents immigrated to this country.  From my old country.  But, she has completely whitewashed herself.  From converting to Christianity to parroting the lines of the white nationalist party, aka the GOP:
“You’re going to see a change in the way we do business,” Ms. Haley said. “Our goal with the administration is to show value at the U.N., and the way we’ll show value is to show our strength, show our voice, have the backs of our allies and make sure our allies have our back as well.”
“For those who don’t have our back,” she added, “we’re taking names; we will make points to respond to that accordingly.”
Think about this: "we’re taking names."  To make such a threat to the members of the UN when presenting her credentials and introducing herself?  Not the language of a diplomat who will want to work towards world peace!
The administration’s antipathy toward the United Nations has been sharpened since a Security Council resolution last month condemning Israeli settlements. Mr. Trump and Ms. Haley have criticized the Obama administration’s decision not to veto the resolution. And several Republican senators have supported legislation threatening to defund the United Nations unless the Security Council reverses the terms of the resolution, which Council diplomats say would be politically unworkable.
The GOP pivots on one main issue on the domestic scene, and one main issue on international affairs.  Within the country, whatever be the internal disagreements on issues, it is all about the egg that has been fertilized by semen. When they lift their eyes from this zygote, it is about the "holy land" of Israel.  The concern about the zygote does not mean worrying about the life of the child that is born--to heck with the living is the typical GOP response.  Similarly, the maniacal focus on Israel is less about the tortured history of the Jewish people, and more about the day of reckoning that the GOP faithful want to prepare for.

So, domestic politics gets reduced to the zygote.  And the UN gets reduced to Israel.  Everything else be damned!  Like the situation in Syria; remember this image?

Oh yeah, I forgot that we took care of that Syrian situation with an indefinite ban!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Every place I go, I think of you ... sad!

It feels like an eternity.  But, it has been only a week since the new POTUS was sworn in.

As much as I try to get away from the topic of the POTUS and his party, it is everywhere.  The headline grabbing stories are always related to the POTUS, be it at The Economist or the Chronicle of Higher Education or the NY Times.

But then, such are the kinds of developments in one week.  A mere week.

Even at Scientific American!
Nearly 3,000 academics, including 13 Nobel laureates, have signed a petition denouncing an executive order signed by President Donald Trump that bars people from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the US.
I tell ya, it is difficult to read anything else anywhere it seems.

Even if one thinks that higher education is, well, insignificant, the businessman POTUS should surely know that it is one heck of an industry--after all, he tried to get into the action with a fake university, remember?  Unlike his university diploma mill, the signatories' institutions are real universities with plenty of hyphenated-Americans who are not white Christians.  Which is why, for instance:
Meanwhile, the executive order has already had a chilling effect in academia. On Friday evening, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s international scholars department advised students from the seven affected nations to postpone any international travel for fear they might not be able to return to the US.
I think about the small and medium sized colleges where foreign students bring lots of money.  Higher education is one valuable export.  Thanks to those students, the local communities also flourish.  I would think that this executive order will quickly translate into a death-knell for many colleges and their towns, similar to what happened at Pocatello, Idaho, after the intense violence--words and actions--from the townspeople against Muslims.  And that Idaho situation was when this POTUS was merely a candidate!  Now, the university is reeling from a red budget:
A decline in enrollment by Middle Eastern students in the past few years has left Idaho State University with a $12 million shortfall, President Arthur Vailas told legislative budget writers Tuesday.
“We are one of the many schools in the United States that had a significant impact on the change in policies of student scholarships from the Middle East,” Vailas told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. “It’s a 35 percent decline, and of course that’s going to impact revenue.
The hate-filled people didn't think about such developments!  In terms of number of students:
A university official told the Times that cuts in scholarships from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait would mean no Middle Eastern freshmen would arrive in Pocatello this fall, cutting enrollment by more than 250, on top of 100 Saudi students who already had chosen to leave. 
I would imagine that foreign students are carefully looking at the map of the US and figuring out the blue state versus red state politics.  As one Saudi female student--whom I met while traveling--found out, Oregon is a welcoming state true to its blue-politics, in contrast to the red-state politics that forced her out of Idaho.

Hmmm ... there is that old saying, right? Oh yeah, you can catch a lot more flies with honey than with vinegar!

Friday, January 27, 2017

It is fucking politics!

George Carlin made us all laugh and think with his seven words routine.  Remember that?

That was entertainment.  That was comedy.  But, that was also subversive dissent.  It questioned censorship.  "Question authority."

I had no idea about Carlin until I reached these United States, but I have always had in me a rebellious, questioning attitude, though only as a polite fellow.  As a teenager, I was not much of a fan of swear words. Even well into adulthood, I didn't care much for harsh language.  I was confident that questioning authority did not require language that was not parliamentary.  And that is how I operated even until very recently.

But, now we are in unchartered waters.  Over the past year and a half, the fucking demagogue has so ticked me off that in this blog and on Facebook I find that the less than attractive words that I hated using are the only ones that truly describe the man and his ideas.  Like the word "asshole."  I hated that word.  It was so harsh to my ears and eyes.  Now, I am grab that word to describe the horrible human being in the Oval Office.

The political discourse has been transformed.  It is not just me.  Even the former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, has been dropping the "f" word for a long time in his tweets against the fuhrer's campaign slogan of the wall.  He has been using a hashtag on Twitter: #FuckingWall.  Like in this tweet:
Former president Obama and his wife consistently walked and talked "when they go low, we go high."  Turns out that it fucking did not work.  A principled approach works only against an opponent who respects the truth.  For instance, M.K. Gandhi's non-violence and civil disobedience was successful only because the British bastards had a little bit of decency left in them.  If Gandhi had tried that against Hitler or Stalin, he would have disappeared the next second, and Attenborough would never have had a reason to make an Oscar-winning movie!

My point is this: The demagogue has been consistent not only from the time that he launched his campaign but all through the birther years as well.  He does not care for the rules according to which political discourse is handled.  He has been fucking with us for more than eight years now.  Going high appeals to my core beliefs, yes.  I would like to live by that golden rule, yes.  But, it will be one disastrous outcome if this fucked up demagogue and his minions win even more than what they have.  And win big they will if we do not come to terms with the reality that they fucking do not care about playing by the rules.

Question the fucking authority, dammit!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Jesus Christ Superstar

"You seem to forget this," is how I started my comment at a friend's Facebook post.  She is a diehard pacifist religious-left person.  Like me, she too is trying to make sense of how the country could have elected a horrible human being as the president.  Unlike me, she is also trying to understand how Christians could have voted for the orange monster.

(Of course, as a good Christian, she doesn't call him names, unlike me who chooses to use words and phrases like: Orange Monster, Demagogue, Fuhrer, Maniac, Tyrant, Horrible Human Being, Asshole, and sometimes those in combinatons.)

I continued with my comment, by quoting from a Pew report:
Those who supported Republican candidates in recent elections, such as white born-again or evangelical Christians and white Catholics, strongly supported Donald Trump
The white/born-again evangelicals voted in a higher percentage for trump than for Romney or McCain or Bush.  Imagine that!

Which means only one thing: Jesus and his teachings didn't stop his followers from voting for a horrible human being!!!  His greatest hits were immaterial to the bible-thumping moralizers?

So, why did the bible-thumpers vote for the fuhrer despite his extensive rap-sheet?  Even before the elections, the NY Times' religious-conservative columnist, Ross Douthat, provided a defense:
Tax rates go up and down, regulations come and go, but every abortion is a unique human life snuffed out forever. Hillary Clinton’s support for legal abortion at every stage of pregnancy may not be a sufficient reason to hand the Oval Office to a man like Donald Trump; I think that it is not. But given pro-life premises, it is a far more compelling reason than the candidates’s differences on tax policy or education or family leave.
And that’s without getting into the legal and regulatory pressure that a Clinton administration could bring to bear on conservative religious institutions, the various means that liberal legal minds are entertaining to clamp down on religious dissent from social liberalism’s orthodoxies. Asking Christian conservatives to accept a Clinton presidency is asking them to cooperate not only with pro-abortion policy-making, but also their own legal-cultural isolation. If you can’t see why some people in that situation might persuade themselves that Trump would be the lesser evil, you need to work harder to imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes.
I.e., the fertilized egg that might be prevented from entering this world a baby is infinitely valuable, which means that the vote went for the candidate who refused to answer questions on whether his past girlfriends or wives have had abortions.
Not accepting anything other than marriage as between a man and a woman was so important that they voted for a candidate who is on his third marriage, and has had relationships with several women.
The list of glaring contradictions is endless.

I suppose the religious-right is delighted with the awesome good White Christian, with spotless family values, as the president, after eight tyrannical years under that lying Kenyan-born Muslim who had four wives!


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The sun also sets

When I engaged with the wonderful readings this past summer, which now seems eons ago, I chose those works for an important reason:
The settings--the Soviet Union and Belarus, Romania under Ceausescu, and South Africa--will depress me through the 1,300 and more pages.  But, the human condition explored in those will, I am sure, help me understand not only my own existence but even the ongoing crises around the world
 As depressing as those were, they provided me with hope as well--the horrible regimes can try their best but they cannot really wipe out the human desire for life.  By life I don't merely refer to survival.  But to poetry. To music. To good food. To spending time with friends and family.

Reading such works of literature help me/us understand, with empathy, that there is hope for a better future.  As the former President, Obama, described it, they give me a renewed appreciation for the complexities and ambiguities of the human condition.

I have been thinking a lot about those books, and more, these past few days and weeks.  Especially over the past week when Obama became a "former president."  Every day, the decisions made at the White House seem to be darkening the landscape even more than did the actions of the day before.  A gag order on climate researchers.  A ban in immigration and refugees from certain countries that have Islamic population.  An all out assault on the media.  A threat to even impose martial law in Chicago.

Daily life now seems less joyful than before.  Cooking and cleaning now feel like real chores.  The ducks and the geese are less charming. The river does not capture my attention.

But, thanks to all those wonderful books and essays that I have read over the years, I understand and appreciate that life is what it is.  Life is not what it could be.  Though, the "could be" is the hope that shows us the path to a better tomorow.  It is perhaps with such an acceptance of the life that unfolds, even as they hoped for a better life that could be, that the millions in the Soviet Union, and Romania, and South Africa, and elsewhere, plodded along with determination.  And they wrote, and sang, and danced, and smoked, and drank till they were merry.

I stopped for a few minutes off the highway to look at the gorgeous sunset on a chilly evening.  To admire it. To be thankful for it.  Cars and trucks roared by, while I stood there watching the sun set over the hills in the distance.  The sun does not care for any maniacal tyrant.  Maybe neither should I; if only it were that easy!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Trade is for losers!

In this post in May of last year, I attempted to be funny when I wrote, "When I read or hear TPP, my mind thinks about TP and pee."  Now, I can update the "pee" with "golden showers."  If not for the demagogue getting elected, I might never have known anything about "golden showers" and I would have been much better off!

My concerns about the TPP were not because I was against trade.  Not at all.  I was primarily unhappy about the lack of transparency in the negotiations.
My suspicious mind is always inclined to worry about any agreement or bill when the material is classified.  What are they trying to hide from you and me?  How much of a secret is the text?
It is one thing for a private enterprise to be secretive.  It is entirely understandable when national security matters are not fully disclosed.  But, a trade negotiation between governments?

Well, I don't have to ask for transparency anymore:
President Trump upended America’s traditional, bipartisan trade policy on Monday as he formally abandoned the ambitious, 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership brokered by his predecessor and declared an end to the era of multinational trade agreements that defined global economics for decades.
It is more than merely about the TPP itself about which this demagogue is making a statement:
With the stroke of a pen on his first full weekday in office, Mr. Trump signaled that he plans to follow through on promises to take a more aggressive stance against foreign competitors as part of his “America First” approach. In doing so, he demonstrated that he would not follow old rules, effectively discarding longstanding Republican orthodoxy that expanding global trade was good for the world and America — and that the United States should help write the rules of international commerce.
I suppose not only the demagogue's minions but even the Berniacs will be dancing on the streets over the abandonment of expanding global trade.  I don't easily forget that when it came to trade, both the demagogue and Sanders were engaging in similar rhetoric.  In addition to those, add the loyal GOP voters who made fun of Sanders but are now delighted with the trickle that runs down from the demagogue's golden showers!

If I--a typically left of the center guy--find it shocking and depressing that the demagogue and the GOP-controlled Congress has engaged in such an economic blitzkrieg, I don't even have to imagine how ticked off the long-time reader/commenter (well, the only commenter in this post-election era) is.

Even more, ahem, "pissed" are the hardcore right-wing libertarians:
Trump declared that this was a "great thing for the American worker." He didn't mention that American consumers – aka "importers" – on the other hand would be "raped" (to use his own description for the ill-fated treaty).
Particularly hard hit will be low income households – you know those poor white working-class schlubs that this election was all about – who purchase foreign shoes and apparel at WalMart given that the agreement would have phased out U.S. tariffs most steeply on such items. But it will also affect manufacturers looking for cheap raw material, subverting Trump's core goal of rebuilding American manufacturing, while also limiting their ability to sell abroad given that the deal would have immediately eliminated all tariffs on US non-agricultural goods, and almost all agricultural goods.
Oh yeah, the Midwest farmers are unhappy with Trump's position on trade.  I tweeted with nothing but sarcasm about that one!

Back to the libertarians:
In short, he wants to build not just a physical wall around America but also a tariff wall, basically ending America's decades-long championship of global free trade -- not to mention mark a stunning turn for the Grand Old Party to the Grand Old Protectionist party.
That is a total shame
"Shame" is a gross understatement.  Let us see if the GOP voters laugh anymore at this video that makes fun of Bernie Sanders's economic nationalism!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Moving on up ...

The name of the new chairman of the Indian conglomerate, Tata Sons, sounded absolutely Tamil: Natarajan Chandrasekaran.  CEOs now are typically in my age cohort, and I wondered if he would be a contemporary of mine.

To me, even this is an example of critical thinking in daily life. Wearing that metaphorical thinking cap is a requirement not only when one is engaged in profitable ventures, or answering exam questions.  Every day life too presents plenty of opportunities to think critically about this world.  If only I can convince quite a few students about this!

So, I did a Google search for Natarajan Chandrasekaran.  Turns out that he earned his undergraduate degree from the same college that I attended much to my disappointment and disgust! ;)  Perhaps this is common knowledge to my college-mates, but news to me because I stayed away from the college.  In this case, I could have then avoided using my critical thinking skills because I would have already known ;)

It does feel good to know that even a podunk institution can produce a big shot, even if only occasionally.

Here in the US, it used to be the case that even small--especially public--colleges and universities provided upward mobility.  From the lower to middle and upper classes.  Like the fabled City College of New York.  It was in graduate school that I came to know about City College--when a professor chatted about European Jewish immigrants gathering in that college, and then moving on to influential roles in society.

It was in California that I also learnt about its tiered public higher education model.  By the time I started teaching, tuition and fees were not as low as they once were, but were still affordable.  Apparently that old  place where I taught for a couple of years is the third best in the country for upward mobility when colleges are ranked by percent of students from the bottom fifth of the income distribution who end up in the top three-fifths.
working-class colleges have become vastly larger engines of social mobility. The new data shows, for example, that the City University of New York system propelled almost six times as many low-income students into the middle class and beyond as all eight Ivy League campuses, plus Duke, M.I.T., Stanford and Chicago, combined.
How often do we get to read about the important and valuable work that podunk universities like mine do, right?
“[E]xpanding access to the high-mobility-rate colleges identified here may provide a more scalable model for increasing upward mobility for large numbers of children,” Chetty and his co-authors write. “The colleges with the highest mobility rates have annual instructional expenditures less than $6,500 per student on average, far lower than the $87,000 per student spent on instruction at elite private colleges.”
But, guess what?
The share of lower-income students at many public colleges has fallen somewhat over the last 15 years.
The reason is clear. State funding for higher education has plummeted. It’s down 18 percent per student, adjusted for inflation, since 2008, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
I.e., college is getting too damn expensive for working class students. 
The question is how to enable more working-class students to do so. “It’s really the way democracy regenerates itself,” said Ted Mitchell, Obama’s under secretary of education.
Ah, yes, we know fully well how much the new president loves democracy and, therefore, what will happen to the public higher education system.  Elections have consequences!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

If you understand this, it means that I am not an academic?

Over the winter break, when talking with the family in the old country, to hear them remark that it has been thirty years since I left for the US was, well, quite something.  Thirty years!

I continued to think about that--after all, reflecting on my life experiences is what I seem to do most of the time! ;)  Que sais-je?

One of the actions that resulted was an email to a graduate school professor of mine.  In that lengthy email, I thanked him for one thing in particular:
I want to thank you again for one particular aspect of my intellectual and professional life: There is a good chance you do not remember a conversation that I had with you during my grad school days, when I said I wanted to directly contribute to the public, instead of the traditional research.  You encouraged me in that, but also cautioned me that academia does not value public engagement.  You went one step more and said that society needs active engagement from academics.
Over the years, I have witnessed higher education call for public engagement. Over and over again.  Like even in a recent tweet from the incoming president of the American Association of Geographers:
But, higher education does not walk the talk.  Storytellers who engage with the public are not considered real academics.  Unless one publishes in journals that nobody reads, one is not really an academic.

The situation is worse in science.  Carl Sagan, despite all his formal and rigorous publications and research was not considered to be a top-rated scientist by his peers because he dared to be a phenomenal storyteller.  I don't ever understand why this is the case.

But, of course, with regularity, we find calls for more public engagement.  Like this one, in which the author wants scientists to be more than mere storytellers--he wants them to be more involved in the political process:
The dearth of lawmakers who bring a scientific perspective to national issues of energy, climate change, national security, and technology deeply concern me as a scientist and as an American. As scientists we are trained to embrace uncertainty, use the tools of data, hard evidence, and analysis to solve problems. For scientists, there are no facile answers; rather, there are complex questions that require disciplined, dispassionate and systematic thought —our aim to arrive at solutions that serve truth above expediency. I realize the importance of bringing the scientific perspective to bear on today’s urgent and complex environmental and technological issues because of my background and training.
The world of higher education would not care about these.  And then they continue to wonder why the public does not understand the importance of education and ideas!

Is It O.K. to Punch a Nazi?

Thanks to the awful, awful, awful Bible-clutching Republicans who voted a horrible human being into the White House, we are in completely unchartered waters on just about everything.  For instance, the nominee to lead the justice department was asked whether he considered grabbing a woman's genitals to be a sexual assault.  I mean, didn't we settle this question a long time ago?  Not during the caveman times, but at least during the "long dong silver" hearings?

Nominees were asked whether they agreed that Russia was behind the hacking.  And whether climate change was a hoax.  At this rate, I am surprised that the nominees were not asked whether they believed in Santa Claus!

The nominees are asked such questions because the demagogue and his minions have made it clear that they will say whatever they want to claim, fully knowing that the awful, awful, awful Republicans will go along because they drool for cheap political victories; principles be damned!

The demagogue worked up the neo-Nazis, and even has as his own Karl Rove who is way worse than Karl Rove ever was.  Which is why we are also left debating whether it is ok to punch a Nazi in his face.  Boy aren't we reversing fast in our socio-political values!

Yes, it really happened.   The guy who got punched in his face?  Richard Spencer.

The New Yorker's Evan Osnos wrote about Spencer and the neo-Nazis connect with the demagogue back in the summer of 2015!
Richard Spencer is a self-described “identitarian” who lives in Whitefish, Montana, and promotes “white racial consciousness.” At thirty-six, Spencer is trim and preppy, with degrees from the University of Virginia and the University of Chicago. He is the president and director of the National Policy Institute, a think tank, co-founded by William Regnery, a member of the conservative publishing family, that is “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of European people in the United States and around the world.” The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Spencer “a suit-and-tie version of the white supremacists of old.” Spencer told me that he had expected the Presidential campaign to be an “amusing freak show,” but that Trump was “refreshing.” He went on, “Trump, on a gut level, kind of senses that this is about demographics, ultimately. We’re moving into a new America.” He said, “I don’t think Trump is a white nationalist,” but he did believe that Trump reflected “an unconscious vision that white people have—that their grandchildren might be a hated minority in their own country. I think that scares us. They probably aren’t able to articulate it. I think it’s there. I think that, to a great degree, explains the Trump phenomenon. I think he is the one person who can tap into it.”
(BTW, you can see why I have been ranting against the demagogue for a long time now.  This was merely one of the many essays that warned us.  It was all in clear daylight.  Which is also why I am shocked, angry, and disgusted that the uber-Christian white Republicans voted for this horrible human being!)

So, anyway, back to the discussion of whether it is ok to punch a Nazi.
Spencer, who is credited with coining the term alt-right and describes himself as an “identitarian,” was punched in the head on Inauguration Day by a person clad in black as he was being interviewed by a journalist. At the time of the attack, Mr. Spencer was explaining the meaning of Pepe the Frog, a cartoon figure adopted as a mascot by the alt-right, a racist, far-right fringe movement that is anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic and anti-feminist. Video of the attack shows Mr. Spencer reeling to one side under the force of the blow and his attacker darting through a crowd after landing the punch.
I re-tweeted a tweet that I thought framed the discussion well:
We have ended up with such discussions because we now have a demagogue as the President.  Thanks to those awful, awful, awful, votes for this horrible human being!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Langston Hughes said it first: Make America (great) again!

e.e. cummings said it best for, and on behalf of, people like me::

"next to of course god america i
love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn's early my
country 'tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?"

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water

And here is "Let America be America Again" by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!                          

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Greatest Hits

I have set up this post to be published in advance of the noon hour in DC, when the horrible human being will be sworn in as the president of these United States.

I don't care about whatever the demagogue said or did prior to the launch of his campaign for the presidency.  For one, that is a long and dirty record, and for another what matters to me more is the fact that he openly said a bunch of horrible things during the campaign stretch and yet the Republican voters gladly cast their ballots for him even while tightly holding on to their Bibles!

I don't forget nor forgive.  Which is why I want to remind you about the following select hits from this hitman.

As he was getting ready to launch his campaign, he tweeted this in April 2015:

Think about it: He openly tweeted about Hillary Clinton not sexually satisfying her husband.  And that therefore she cannot "satisfy America."

Instead of an outright rejection of this horrible human being, Republicans elected him to the Oval Office!

When he launched his campaign, he said:
When Mexico (meaning the Mexican Government) sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you (pointing to the audience). They’re not sending you (pointing again). They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs.They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people!
Instead of an outright rejection of this horrible human being, Republicans elected him to the Oval Office!

He disparaged John McCain and his war service because McCain was captured by the North Vietnamese and was tortured.  The horrible human being said he prefers war heroes who are not captured by the enemy.

Instead of an outright rejection of this horrible human being, Republicans, who love to talk up the military, elected him to the Oval Office!

He defended the internment of Japanese Americans and advocated that as a model for treating Muslim-Americans.

Instead of an outright rejection of this horrible human being, Republicans elected him to the Oval Office!

He went after the only woman in the Republican primaries--Carly Fiorina--with even a comment like this: "Look at that face! ... Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?"

Instead of an outright rejection of this horrible human being, Republicans elected him to the Oval Office!

He openly bragged about his disdain for the law and how loyal his minions are: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose voters.”

Instead of an outright rejection of this horrible human being, Republicans elected him to the Oval Office!

When Hillary Clinton was down with pneumonia, he mocked her fainting at the 9/11 event.  And the audience applauded his act.

Instead of an outright rejection of this horrible human being, Republicans elected him to the Oval Office!

The list of his hits is long.  

As long as I live, I will never ever forget that he openly, loudly, mocked a disabled person to the delight of his supporters.
Instead of an outright rejection of this horrible human being, Republicans elected him to the Oval Office!


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Bearing witness to a genocide?

In July 2011, I blogged about the birth of South Sudan.  I wrote then:
On July 9th, South Sudan will officially become the latest country on this planet.
It does not mean that life will be peaceful from the 9th on, after decades of atrocious violence. I worry that things will get even worse. The Sudanese split will not be a Czechoslovakian story. Perhaps I am projecting here an understanding of the history of the sibling rivalry ever since the partition of India, where I was born, and Pakistan.
Even normally, in daily life, nobody listens to me, and my prognostications suffer from a Cassandra's curse.  You think anybody really cared what I thought about the conflict in Sudan and the birth of South Sudan?  Oh well, I do what I do.

Total chaos.
Hopes for South Sudan’s future soared when it became a nation, but now diplomats are scrambling to make sense of what went wrong. Some blame greed. As the new nation’s oil wells generated billions in revenue, a chaotic scramble for cash ensued. The rudimentary banking system couldn’t even handle credit cards, and government transactions were conducted using cardboard boxes filled with currency notes. Grandmothers and even four-year-old children were placed on the Army’s payroll. Some four billion dollars went astray.
It didn't take long for the new country to erupt into a civil war.  Into this civil war, Uganda stepped in as well:
Ugandan troops propped up Kiir and fought Machar. Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni had long seen Kiir as a protégé and Machar as a rival. The stalemate greatly prolonged the war, killing tens of thousands of people and causing over a million to flee their homes. Many South Sudanese saw Uganda’s presence as a foreign occupation, and many Ugandans, who have suffered mightily under thirty years of Museveni’s despotic and corrupt rule, wondered what their army, dispatched without parliamentary approval, was doing there.
Museveni has done enough and more damage at home that he now decides to cause more havoc outside too?  What a tragedy!

After peace treaties that were quickly torn, the usual catastrophe of "many innocent men, women, and children are again being massacred."

Where was the US?
the Obama administration’s South Sudan strategy is in tatters. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, the United Nations says, and rape has been rampant.
But, Ambassador Samantha Power?
But poor timing, bad judgment and a lack of a unified strategy have hampered the administration’s own efforts to avert a catastrophe, many advocates, aid workers and former United States officials say. In turn, it has drawn attention to the limits of American influence — that, too, in a country whose independence from Sudan the United States supported enthusiastically.
It is also a reminder of how challenging it has been for Ms. Power in particular to put into effect the idea that she is best known for: using diplomacy to prevent mass atrocities.
The "g" word comes up, again!
In her 2002 book, “A Problem from Hell,” Ambassador Power called for a global responsibility to protect people everywhere from crimes against humanity. Now that she’s about to retire, perhaps she’ll explain why this is easier said than done, but here’s some advice for the Trump Administration: genocide doesn’t happen overnight. It begins with small injustices, power grabs, and callous dismissals of the rule of law. Even more important than the responsibility to protect is the responsibility to prevent, using negotiation, diplomacy, and sanctions long before the killing starts. By then, it is far, far too late.
What did you say?  "Never again!"?  Bullshit!
“We have all been bystanders to genocide,” [Power] wrote. “The crucial question is why.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Reagan-Thatcher revolution comes to an end. Long live the revolution!

One of the Seinfeld episodes was about the Bizarro World in which Elaine finds herself.  Up is down, and left is right.  It is chaos, until "normalcy" returns.

While Seinfeld was inventing scenarios, we are living in a Bizarro World.  Consider the following from a recent speech:
“We must remain committed to developing free trade and investment.”
No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war,”
And, to put it more poetically:
“Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room,” he said. “Wind and rain may be kept outside, but so is light and air.”
That person, the champion of free trade and openness?  China's president, Xi Jinping.

Yes, China's president "positioned himself as a defender of globalization and free trade."  Xi also said:
Countries, he said, “should view their own interests in their broader context and refrain from pursuing their own interests at the expense of others.”
Up is down, left is right.

But, that alone does not make this a Bizarro World, unless the previously staunch defenders of free trade have also flipped, right?  They have.

The GOP's standard-bearer, the president-elect, campaigned on the very ideas of protectionism and putting America first.  Remember?  The Republican Party has been merrily going along with this bizarro approach.  Imagine that!  The Republicans have lost faith in the market!  The same Republicans who complain that Democrats are socialists.  The same Republicans who cheered on the criticisms that Obama is a communist.  Welcome to the bizarro world, in which now the president of a "communist" country is the defender of free trade and openness, while the leader of the "free world" wants to tax imports and close the borders!
Chinese trade experts with government ties have already hinted that if the Trump administration imposes barriers to Chinese goods, they are ready to retaliate through steps like switching aircraft contracts from Boeing to Airbus, diverting food import contracts to rival countries like Brazil and possibly making it more difficult for Apple to sell iPhones in China.
Head-spinning?  Get used to it; after all, the demagogue has not even been sworn in yet!
As Global Times, a nationalistic Chinese newspaper controlled by the Communist Party, put it in an editorial this month: “There are flowers in front of the China Commerce Ministry gate, but sticks as well, hidden behind the door. Both are waiting for the Americans.”
The demagogue does not care for flowers, as his tweets and his entire campaign showed us.  Unlike the wimpy Obama and the Democrats, the Chinese will bring their guns to the fight.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Nero to succeed Marcus Aurelius!

I know I have been harsh on Barack Obama the President.  As President, Obama always came across to me as a souped up combination of Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.  He seemed to lack the inner drive to go out there and strike deals.  Sometimes,  I even think that this personality trait of his has also contributed to Democrats getting cleaned out not only from the White House and Congress, but--and more importantly--at the state level in the legislatures and governors offices all over the country.

As a person, Obama has been a model human being at the White House.  Like how Carter was, and continues to be after his presidency.  Kids all over the world can--and should--look up to the likes of Obama and Carter and tell themselves, "I want to grow up to be like them."

I am equally proud of the remarkable level of intelligence that Obama has always demonstrated.  An intelligence that is not abrasive nor audacious, but humble.  Kids all over the world can--and should--look up to him and tell themselves, "I want to grow up to be smart like him."

A reader, as much as he is a writer and an orator:
During his eight years in the White House — in a noisy era of information overload, extreme partisanship and knee-jerk reactions — books were a sustaining source of ideas and inspiration, and gave him a renewed appreciation for the complexities and ambiguities of the human condition.
Yes, the complexities and ambiguities of the human condition.

What a contrast to the incoming president who has not for a nanosecond demonstrated anything about "the complexities and ambiguities"; in fact, he has taken to a whole new level the previous Republican president who made it clear that he did not do nuances and that he viewed the world as us-versus-them.

For Obama:
reading gave him the ability to occasionally “slow down and get perspective” and “the ability to get in somebody else’s shoes.”
To get into somebody else's shoes is what empathy is all about.

Not even the incoming president's fanatical bootlickers will think of their Dear Leader as capable of empathy!

Obama reads widely, including fiction:
He points out, for instance, that the fiction of Junot Díaz and Jhumpa Lahiri speaks “to a very particular contemporary immigration experience,” but at the same time tell stories about “longing for this better place but also feeling displaced” — a theme central to much of American literature, and not unlike books by Philip Roth and Saul Bellow that are “steeped with this sense of being an outsider, longing to get in, not sure what you’re giving up.”
In contrast, can you imagine the demagogue having anything substantive to say about Diaz or Lahiri?!  As one reader phrased it in his comments to the NY Times piece:
Like Blunder Woman Sarah Palin, Trumpty Drumpty always struggles to name a single book he's ever read.
Oh, I owe to another commenter at the NY Times the title for this post.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The demagogue's Indira Gandhi act!

I grew up in an India that was highly suspicious of goods that were manufactured elsewhere.  Import-substituting industrialization morphed into a regime that tightly controlled what could be imported (and exported.)  Imports were taxed at high rates, in order to discourage consumption of those goods.  All these policies, in turn, led to a highly profitable smuggling industry and, of course, a highly corrupt political system as well.

In such an environment,  when the father of a classmate of mine returned from an official trip abroad, my classmate brought to school a pen that was an advertisement for Pepsi-Cola.  I thought that was a fake product--after all, the only cola that I had known about was Coca-Cola, which had been kicked out of India.

The India that I left behind thirty years ago was such an India.  Which is why the first sip of Coca-Cola, as an adult, was so delicious to me.  As conditions worsened, India was forced to rethink its closed economy.

Now, it seems like any good that is on the shelves in stores here in the US is also available in India.  From dried prunes to iPhones!  During the recent trip, when I noticed a gadget at my cousin's home, I assumed it was from the US.  "No, we now get everything here," she laughed.

I am not even a far-right, pro-market guy, and even I can see the benefits of open-borders and free trade.  Which is why I am shocked that Republicans, who are typically rah-rah cheerleaders for the market, elected to the Oval Office a demagogue who promises to end trade as we know it, with pronouncements like this:
Trump threatened to impose a 35 percent tariff — he called it a “tax” — on every car that BMW imported to the United States.
Seriously, did the anti-abortion White Christian voters hate, hate, hate Obama and Clinton that much to lick this demagogue's golden boots?

Furthermore, automobiles are not "manufactured"--they are assembled from components that are manufactured all over the world:
A tough stance on autos from Mr. Trump may not have the same impact as that of President Reagan. Since the 1980s, automakers have made fewer of their own parts, buying them instead from hundreds of parts suppliers based all over the globe. That means an American car assembled in the United States could still have large chunks that are manufactured abroad.
Chinese manufacturers dominate the market for replacement parts in the United States, often undercutting prices for parts from the automakers by half or more. Tariffs on Chinese parts would end up being paid by Americans who took their cars in for repairs.
The world--not merely India--has changed over the last thirty years!  BMW, like practically every corporation that serves the global market, is hoping that Congress will check the demagogue:
“We take the comments seriously, but it remains to be seen if and how the announcements will be implemented by the U.S. administration,” Matthias Wissmann, president of German auto industry association VDA, said in an e-mailed statement. The U.S. Congress will probably show “substantial resistance” against the duty proposals, he said.
More than anybody else, the Germans ought to know how easily demagogues become authoritarians.  They expect Republicans in Congress to stop this madman? Not these unprincipled bastards!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Que sais-je?

We live in some strange times.  Especially with a demagogue who repeatedly tells us that he is the only one who knows how to fix all the problems and that he alone is to be trusted because everything else is nothing but fake.  He was supported by tens of millions of my fellow citizens, including the college-educated.

Que sais-je?
“What do I know?” was Montaigne’s beloved motto, meaning: What do I really know?
The demagogue, and his boot-lickers, do not ever worry about that motto.  "“What do I know?” is not what they worry about; after all, they know it all.  With certainty, it seems!  Of course, whites are superior to everybody else. Of course, Mexicans are rapists. Of course, ...

In the special, one-time, course that I taught last term, I emphasized to students the importance of intellectual humility.  The contrast between the classroom content and discussions versus the outside world of the demagogue and fake news and bullshit was stark.  Depressingly stark.  I am sure the students saw that too.

I remembered reading about Montaigne a couple of years ago.  Google helped me out:
It’s been said — by Bakewell, with reservations, and others — that Montaigne was the first blogger. His favorite subject, as he often remarked, was himself (“I would rather be an expert on me than on Cicero”), and he meant to leave nothing out (“I am loath even to have thoughts which I cannot publish”).
Yes, that was the one.  You can see why that made an impression on me--a blogger, who often uses autoethnography to understand this world and his place in it.
[The] distinctive mark of Montaigne is his intellectual humility. Like Socrates, Montaigne claims that what he knows best is the fact that he does not know anything much. To undermine common beliefs and attitudes, Montaigne draws on tales of other times and places, on his own observations and on a barrage of arguments in the ancient Pyrrhonian skeptical tradition, which encouraged the suspension of judgment as a middle way between dogmatic assertion and equally dogmatic denial. Montaigne does often state his considered view, but rarely without suggesting, explicitly or otherwise, that maybe he is wrong. In this regard, his writing is far removed from that of the most popular bloggers and columnists, who are usually sure that they are right.   
I am confident that Montaigne and his Essais are not what the demagogue and his minions care about!

But then, Que sais-je?!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Ni Hao!

I was perhaps eight years old, when I visited Trivandrum for the first time.  Or at least, that is my earliest memory of that city.  The buses had a red/yellow color scheme, and the lettering on them about the places seemed like art work.  I wondered how people read and wrote such stuff.

If the Malayalam script stumped me that much, you can imagine how much at a loss I was about the strange designs that were the script in the Far East.  I could not even begin to imagine how kids learnt those difficult languages.

I am now supposedly older and wiser.  But, only you blog readers know well that that the only thing that is true is that I am older.  To the rest, I pretend that I know shit.

Languages stump me all the time.  In graduate school, a new faculty member joined the same year that got there as a student.  He was a red-haired, balding, bearded white guy.  And he spoke Chinese with the students from China.  It was surreal to me.

In the life after graduate school, I interacted for a few years with another white guy, who was a few years older than me, who taught himself a few languages.  Including Swedish!  He would chat with the visiting Swedes in their language.  On every occasion, I always asked the visitors if his Swedish was ok.  They always said he was fluent, though his accent came across to them.

This Swedish-speaking white American was married to an immigrant from Hong Kong.  No, not an British immigrant, but a Chinese.  I asked the friend whether he learnt Chinese from his wife.  He said he tried, but it was too damn difficult for him.  Difficult for a guy who had taught himself a few languages!

Thus, when the NY Times reports about the passing away of the man who "made writing Chinese as simple as ABC," it more than intrigued me--despite that other news--to read that report.
Zhou Youguang, known as the father of Pinyin for creating the system of Romanized Chinese writing that has become the international standard since its introduction some 60 years ago, died on Saturday in Beijing, Chinese state media reported. He was 111.
I have no idea what Pinyin means, or what Romanized Chinese writing means either.  Ignorant I am, and shall always be.
Adopted by China in 1958, Pinyin was designed not to replace the tens of thousands of traditional characters with which Chinese is written, but as an orthographic pry bar to afford passage into the labyrinthine world of those characters.
Since then, Pinyin (the name can be translated as “spelled sounds”) has vastly increased literacy throughout the country; eased the classroom agonies of foreigners studying Chinese; afforded the blind a way to read the language in Braille; and, in a development Mr. Zhou could scarcely have foreseen, facilitated the rapid entry of Chinese on computer keyboards and cellphones.
I see Chinese students typing a gazillion words a second on their smartphones.  Would not have been possible without Zhou Youguang's contributions.
It took Mr. Zhou and his colleagues three years to develop Pinyin, but the most striking thing about his involvement was that he was neither a linguist nor a lexicographer but an economist, recently returned to China from Wall Street.
But because of a fortuitous meeting at midcentury, and a lifetime love of language, he was conscripted by the Chinese government to develop an accessible alphabetic writing system.
How interesting!  The crazy, twisted, path that life is, eh!
Knowing that linguistics was a hobby of Mr. Zhou’s, Zhou Enlai drafted him to come to Beijing and lead the committee. Mr. Zhou’s protests that he was a mere amateur were to no avail.
“Everyone is an amateur,” he was told.
That was Chou Enlai, when I was growing up, in the pre-Pinyin era.
“Pinyin is not to replace Chinese characters; it is a help to Chinese characters,” Mr. Zhou explained in the interview with The Guardian. “Without an alphabet you had to learn mouth to mouth, ear to ear.”
As a result, illiteracy remained rampant throughout China well into the 20th century — affecting, by some estimates, as much as 85 percent of the population.
What a wonderful contribution to humanity!  And to think that I never knew about Zhou Youguang until today; as the demagogue would tweet, "sad!"

Oh, and Trivandrum is now Thiruvananthapuram.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Only white commies are the demagogue's friends ... not the Asian ones!

The horrible human being and his minions are only a week away from taking control of the executive branch of the government, thanks to the unprincipled Republican voters who lovingly licked his golden boots and voted for him!

The morons have already ruffled more than a few geopolitical feathers.  Especially with China--the country whose name the demagogue often pronounced during the campaign as if it sounded like a short for woman's genitals!  The only difference is that he loves those genitals so much that he grabs them when can!

The guy in his cabinet who will be the face of the country to the rest of the world--a slippery oil man--said a few things during his confirmation hearings that have pissed off the Chinese.  In response, let me quote this China expert:
Normally, you would take these as childish antics that diplomats love to indulge in. Unfortunately, not so with China. One of the sad facts of Chinese society is that jingoism has been so drilled into the population that almost everybody seriously believes that the Chinese have been oppressed throughout history and that everybody is out to get them even now. With a highly controlled media, and no access to world perspectives, this is being fanned to a massive degree by the Communist Party. Look at the hatred of Japanese that has been whipped by a few rocks in the sea where not even goats live . So as long as this dangerous nationalism exists, China is always a threat.
That quote is this friend-debater's response to my post from November 2012.

While I have been only a China-watcher, he has lived there for years and continues to follow the political developments.  I assume he throws ping-pong and cricket balls at the screen when he hears the morons dump on China.

Anyway, the oil man who headed the company that systematically engaged in climate change denialism opened his big fat mouth in the Senate:
Tillerson told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday that China’s multibillion-dollar island-building campaign in the oil-and-gas rich sea was illegal and “akin to Russia’s taking of Crimea.”
“We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops,” Mr. Tillerson told the senators. “And second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.”
Should those words be translated into action after Donald J. Trump assumes the presidency on Jan. 20, it would be a remarkable change in the American approach to Beijing’s island-building in the South China Sea
Of course the oil man is interested in that part of the world--it has lots of oil and natural gas.  Which is why India too got into all that pissing match, remember?  Will keep that discussion for another day.  For now, the focus on China; its media responded as my China-watcher friend would have predicted:
It is not clear which point, among the many he made, he will prioritize. But it is worth looking at his remarks that China should not be allowed access to the islands, since this is the most radical statement from the US side so far.
China has enough determination and strength to make sure that his rabble rousing will not succeed. Unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish.
... As Trump has yet to be sworn in, China has shown restraint whenever his team members expressed radical views. But the US should not be misled into thinking that Beijing will be fearful of their threats.
Tillerson's statements regarding the islands in the South China Sea are far from professional. If Trump's diplomatic team shapes future Sino-US ties as it is doing now, the two sides had better prepare for a military clash.
And then there is Taiwan!

Have a nice day, you crazy Republicans!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Trust me, I know what I am talking about

"Those of you who are set on your majors based on employment opportunities now should keep in mind that the world twenty years from now--even ten years from now--will be very, very different, and your majors could become meaningless," I told the class.

I know nobody cares about these.  But, I have been telling students that for a long time.  I tell them that the focus ought to be on various kinds of skills that they need for the real world, and should not be on the jargon of the major.  I wish I didn't suffer a Cassandra's Curse situation!

"The best example is the iPhone.  Twenty years ago, such an idea might have been almost science fiction. It is now ten years old, and smartphones have dramatically changed the world," I continued.

I have never been able to understand why people--young and old--have never truly listened to me.  It is not that I am correct in every single instance; but, if I look back at my prognostications based on my understanding of the world, I have an awesome track record.  On the other hand, tens of millions of Republicans loved, loved, loved this bullshitting horrible human being and elected him the president!

Later that evening, my much older neighbor texted me, and I called her back instead of texting a reply.  "I called you because such texting is one of the many ways that the world is rapidly redefining human interactions and--more importantly--what it means to be human," I told her.  This is also an old idea that I have been saying/writing for years.  It might seem rather ironical for a hermit to be worried about human interactions, but we hermits are not misanthropes--we perhaps love humanity way more than all those social butterflies.

Smartphones are affecting human interactions in many ways, including damaging our social capital:
Could our increasing reliance on information from devices, rather than from other people, be costing us opportunities to build social capital?
Yes, of course!  I don't need any research on this.

The authors write:
Contrary to people’s expectations, casual social interactions even with strangers can be surprisingly enjoyable, and a powerful tool in building a sense of connection, community and belonging. Economists sometimes refer to these impalpable links that hold society together as “social capital.” But as intangible as they may be, these bonds between members of a society have very real consequences. When trust between people in a country goes up, for example, so does economic growth. At the individual level, people who trust others more also tend to have better health and higher well-being.
Thanks to smartphones, students in classrooms, for instance, do not even say hello to their fellow classmates.  They are almost always only interacting with their smartphones.  A contrast to the old days when students struck up conversations with the strangers that their classmates were.

Research led the authors to conclude that "people who used their phones to get information trusted strangers less."
As information technology continues to make our lives easier, our findings highlight the possible social costs of constant information access: By turning to convenient electronic devices, people may be forgoing opportunities to foster trust – a finding that seems particularly poignant in the present political climate.
Which the demagogue understood really, really, well when he proclaimed that he alone can and should be trusted.  What a tragedy that people who seem to have lost trust in fellow people are so willing to trust one awful human being whose every word--from his mouth or through his tiny fingers--can never be trusted.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Today's moronic idea ... is tomorrow's death!

When the demagogue and his minions love a Kennedy, then certainly those strange bedfellows can lead us only in one direction: Insanity!

It is more than insanity.  It is deadly.  Literally.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and the demagogue are simpaticos when it comes to vaccine and autism.
vaccine denialism became a central issue in American public health as a result of his study. And Kennedy, along with the actress Jenny McCarthy, became one of the cause’s most famous supporters. ... Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that Kennedy told reporters yesterday that Donald Trump—who has, over the years, issued a stream of inaccurate and conspiratorial tweets on the subject of vaccines and autism—has asked him to “chair a commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity.’’
Welcome to the United States of Bullshit; it is most fitting that the demagogue will now become the Bullshitter-in-Chief!
[The] Trump vaccine commission is not simply a bad idea—it is a deadly one. Asking Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., to chair a commission on scientific integrity is like asking Ted Kaczynski to run the United States Postal Service.
I love that line about Kaczynski ;)

But, smile and laugh we cannot.
A conspiracy theory such as the one about the autism vaccine is like an untreated wound. It has festered for years, and yesterday Trump and Kennedy guaranteed that it can only deepen—causing tremendous destruction and needless pain.
Thanks, you atrocious Republican voters who elected the demagogue!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Never again should we bother with "never again" :(

Up until four years ago, I had no idea about the Rohingya--the Muslim community that stands out in a Buddhist Burma.  In fact, if things were going well, I would not have known about them at all.  Perhaps all the way till my own end.

But, I read about them because all was not well.  Buddhist maniacs, especially led by one with an ominous nickname--the Buddhist bin Laden--were engaging in violence of every possible kind in order to wipe out the Ronhingya from Burma.

It was even more depressing when the much lauded Nobel Peace Prize-winning Aung San Suu Kyi kept silent.  Not a word from her.

I understand that a nobody like me can express all the righteous indignation I want, but that politicians have to compromise on principles in order to get things done.  But, compromise is one thing, and ethnic-cleansing/genocide is entirely another.  This NY Times report is a tough read!

The NY Times editorial says everything that I want to say:
Last month, President Obama lifted sanctions against Myanmar, citing “substantial progress in improving human rights” following the historic election victory of the Nobel laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party in November 2015. Tragically, that praise is proving premature.
Premature because of "a military campaign against the Rohingya."  In addition to covering things up:
Myanmar’s government has barred independent journalists from the region, and dismissed reports of abuses as “fake news” and “fake rape.”
The US, under the demagogue and his minions, is now providing plenty of cover for regimes to criticize the media reports as fake.  A remarkably depressing beacon we have become for the world!  Further, with all the Muslim-bashing that the fuhrer and his people did and do, we have no moral ground to tell the likes of Burma to stop the atrocities.  Thanks, you atrocious Republican voters!

We will simply stand by and watch as more and more Rohingya sob while saying, “They killed my father and mother. What is left for me in this world?”  Or like this:
Noor Ankis, 25, said the next morning soldiers went from house to house looking for young women.
“They grouped the women together and brought them to one place,” she said. “The ones they liked they raped. It was just the girls and the military, no one else was there.”
She said the idea of trying to escape flickered through her head, but she was overcome by fatalism. “I felt there was no point in being alive,” she said.
"Never again" has become such a hollow phrase. Sad!

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