Friday, December 17, 2010

Photo of the day: Bhubaneswar

More from the maidan, which is only a couple of minutes away from the hotel where I am staying.

A pleasant evening it was, with the temperature probably at about 20 C (68 F)

But, the air is getting awfully smoky.  It is a literal version of "Smoke gets in your eyes" ... am guessing that people, in homes and without, got those charcoal and wood stoves going to cook dinner and to keep warm.  It felt like a forest fire just a mile away.

An evening in Bhubaneswar

The city is very different from what I had in mind.  Perhaps it is because I am in the affluent part of the city?

Anyway, there are lights galore.  Particularly in the maidan close to the hotel where I am staying.  It is all because of the Fifth Toshali Arts Mela.  Will post a video when I get better/faster connection to the web.

Now, I will head out to have dinner at .... Domino's, maybe?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Photo of the day: Chennai, India

Looks like the road was bombed out in war, right? 

No war ... a combination of poor infrastructure and torrential rains

It is a wonder that India continues to function when everyday life involves negotiating routines that consume a lot of time and energy.

The street in the photo below, also from The Hindu, is a couple of minutes from where my parents live.  It is the same story year after year ... actually, no, it gets worse with every passing day

Behind the academic curtains ...

I thought I had heard it all in academia .. but, apparently not!
Recently I overheard a tenured faculty explaining to a student, with all the sincerity and emotion that is characteristic of the person, that Thomas Jefferson was a slave-owing pedophile.
Awful. Simply awful.
I am willing to bet that it is only a matter of time when the academic world horrifies me, yet again :(

I was all set to write that it is not pleasant watching how sausages are made; but this NY Times report includes a remark that it "is offensive to sausage makers; their process is better controlled and more predictable." ht

A chart compares the elephant and the donkey on tax cuts

Andy Borowitz had the best line in this context: "This tax cut bullshit wouldn't be happening if we had a Democrat in the White House."
The original post here. (ht)

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Funniest cartoon of the day: North Korea and Iran

Elvis, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones: same generation!

Because Elvis was already an established star by the time the British invaded the US with their music, we tend to assume that somehow Elvis was much older than the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.  Well, compare their birthday info:
Elvis Presley: January 8, 1935
John Lennon:October 9, 1940
Paul McCartney: June 18, 1942
Ringo Starr: July 7, 1940
George Harrison:  Feb 25, 1943
Mick Jagger: July 26, 1943
Elvis and Lennon separated by a mere five years and months.  It is not as if they were a generation apart.  But, it is their music that makes us think that these are of two different generations.  And, add to this list Bob Dylan, who was born in 1941.

I suppose it is a challenge that performance artists have--how to keep up with the changing times, and the younger audiences ....  Hmmm ... to some extent we faculty also face similar issues in our working lives.  We have to keep up with the times and the rapidly changing technology and student expectations.  I am glad then that a couple of terms ago a student told me that I am "with it" in the way I conduct myself and my classes.  It will be awful if I am no longer able to connect with the students; I hope that day does not arrive too soon .. at least not before I turn 64 :)

200-year economic history of 200 countries in 4 minutes

I have used many of Hans Rosling's videos in my classes, ever since I watched the first TED talk of his.  While most of the students are, well, students who are indifferent to anything (even my awful puns!) there are always a few who are blown away by his explanations.
I am sure I will use the following next term (and after too?) ... ht

Wikileaks TMZ :)

The opener was quite imaginative.  The Hillary Clinton piece was way too funny

India goes nuclear--for electricity

India is going nuclear.  I do not mean the nuclear weapons—after all, that is almost a forty-year old news since the country detonated its first device in 1974.  The latest stir was caused by the federal government’s green-lighting of a nuclear power plant in the state of Maharashtra—the home of India’s commercial capital, Mumbai.

The rapid economic growth rate over the last two decades has resulted in an ever increasing demand for electricity from India’s businesses and households.  As with China, most of the electricity generation comes from coal-fired power plants, which account for about 70 percent of India’s power supply. 

However, in a land of a billion-plus people, there simply isn’t enough for everybody.  According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) “South Asia currently accounts for 42% of the total number of people in the world without access to electricity.”  Even Sub-Saharan Africa is better on this measure, with only 31 percent not having access to electricity there.  The IEA reported that more than 400 million in India “don’t have access to the energy needed for lighting, mechanical power, transport and telecommunications.”  That is a mind boggling statistic as we begin the second decade of the 21st century!

Energy consumption is result of economic prosperity as well as a requirement for economic growth and development.  The lack of capacity means that power cuts are a regular feature of life in India, particularly in settlements far away from the major urban centers.  One aunt of mine who lives in a smaller town, about 400 miles from Chennai where my parents are, has learnt to live with power cuts that last for anything from three to six hours every day.

Thus, it is understandable why the Indian government is exploring every possible way to speed up the expansion of capacity on this front. 

The proposed nuclear power plant, in Jaitapur, is expected to play a big role in filling the gap between the supply and demand.  With the nuclear reactor technology from France, the plan calls for a total capacity of 9,900 megawatts of power, which will make it the largest nuclear-power plant in the world.  The first of the six units is expected to be commissioned by 2018. 

As much as here in the US we have our own worries over nuclear power, there is considerable opposition to the project within India too.  In addition to issues of safety and radioactive wastes, there are serious ecological concerns.  The proposed site is by India’s western coast along the Arabian Sea, and a project of this magnitude is bound to have immense impacts on the marine life.  And, it is in an area that, like many parts of India, is not without any seismic risk. 

Despite opposition to the project, the federal minister for environment, Jairam Ramesh, came out swinging when he announced the clearance for the project: “I know the environmentalists will not be very happy with my decision, but it is foolish romance to think that India can attain high growth rate and sustain the energy needs of a 1.2 billion population with the help of solar, wind, biogas and such other forms of energy. It is paradoxical that environmentalists are against nuclear energy,” he said.

This battle between the economy and the environment will only get more complicated over the years, it appears.  We in the US, too, have a lot of soul searching to do in this regard, given that we lead the world in electricity consumption.  India’s total consumption is only a sixth of what we consume in America.  This means that on a per capita basis an average American consumes almost twenty times the amount of electricity consumed by an average Indian. 

It is not difficult, therefore, to imagine that as Indians begin to generate and consume electricity at even a fifth of our consumption, the impacts on the global environment will be a lot more than probably what we could imagine.

The atrociously awful tragedy is how much we in the United States just don't want to engage in constructive public discussions on our own domestic energy policies, and about the global situation.  Soon after 9/11, we had a wonderful chance to rethink the energy policy.  We blew that.  As we slid into recession, we had another small chance to rethink our energy approaches.  That ship has also sailed now.  

All we are left with is how the US tried to buy votes at Copenhagen, and how the Cancun summit will be a disaster as well.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

India's Naxalite group's ten year anniversary :(

In an opinion piece last week, I noted how the Maoists (Naxalites) are active in the poor, Third World, parts of India.  Well, apparently it is the ten-year anniversary of ...

When Naxalites announced the formation of the People's Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) a decade ago, security agencies dismissed it as an attempt by the rebels to regroup their cadres and propaganda to boost their perceived military strength....
Now, the security forces are bracing themselves for intensified attacks in Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal as the Maoists have announced month-long celebrations coinciding with the 10th anniversary of PLGA formation. All these years, the celebrations were only week-long. “This means bigger strikes can be expected in Maoist-affected States,” authorities concede.
Modeled after the People's Liberation Army, which is the military force in ... yes, China, which has ditched Mao.  The Red Army is the role model for this group, which is not good news at all ... It is awful that the poor are being left behind, and awful that their advocates are these guerillas.  And awful that the Indian government can't seem to recognize the underlying poverty and disenfranchisement as the issue, but responds with guns.

Since its inception, the PLGA has waged a relentless war against the security forces, and in the last decade, the rebels killed 2,000 security personnel, injured as many, and snatched nearly 2,500 weapons and one lakh rounds of ammunition, a Maoist document says.
A clear hierarchy has helped the Maoist military wing improve its strike capabilities. ...
On the organisational level, the PLGA has developed from a force of one or two platoons to having companies and a battalion now. ...
Another achievement of the PLGA has been transfer of technology. The technology for making and planting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) has been successfully imparted to the large 30,000 base force. “The making and use of IEDs has now taken a mass form,” another Maoist document discloses.
IEDs!!! If that does not make it clear that this is a war inside India.  And then there is a war in another of India's fronts: Kashmir.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Worrisome chart of the day: unemployment

Calculated Risk, the source for the chart as well, notes:
this recession is by far the worst recession since WWII in percentage terms, and 2nd worst in terms of the unemployment rate (only the early '80s recession with a peak of 10.8 percent was worse)

The poor have a right to .... garbage :(

A few days ago, the Register Guard published my opinion piece on the Third World India, which is not drawing the same level of attention as does the First World India.  The following news item from The Hindu makes the intersection of these two Indias quite surreal:
Ms. Bhadakwad had come 18,000 kilometres to the annual U.N. climate conference in Cancun on behalf of 6,000 organised landfill recyclers in her hometown Pune, to demand access to the waste now trucked instead to a new incinerator. Without their dump, they’re trying to survive by going door to door for trash in a community 20 kilometres away.
“We have a right to the waste that can be recycled,” Ms. Bhadakwad told a reporter. “We want to continue making a living without interference from such big private companies.”
Their environmentalist allies say some 50 million people worldwide depend on collecting waste materials for a meagre livelihood. And these advocates and poor recyclers have an environmental argument to make – incinerators not only produce toxic pollution, but “by burning waste they increase carbon dioxide emissions,” the biggest global warming gas, said Mariel Vilella, a campaigner with the international group GAIA, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives.
By collecting and recycling plastic bags and bottles, glass, aluminium and other material, those 50 million rag-pickers “represent a huge opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Vilella told reporters
Reminded me of the following video, from Nicholas Kristof, that I sometimes use in my classes:

Atheists wage war on Christmas

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Blitzkrieg On Grinchitude - Atheist Billboard & Capitol Christmas Tree<a>
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionMarch to Keep Fear Alive

Colbert explains reparations

Eating or drinking while watching this might be injurious to your life :)
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word - The Great White Wail
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionMarch to Keep Fear Alive

The miseducation of rioting European students

So, there are student protests in Britain and in Continental Europe as well.  Apparently more protests are planned.  It is because of fee increases, which were triggered by the spiraling budget problems, except perhaps in cash-rich Germany.

I am not sure whether these protests are any sensible and rational behavior by students, and seems more like anarchic outpourings, like what we used to see at the annual meetings of the WTO or the IMF. 

I mean, these students should go after their parents and grandparents who gave themselves rich retirement and other benefits, which otherwise could have gone into subsidizing education. 

The citizens of many European countries have for decades had a social contract with their governments: The people pay absurd levels of taxes and the government takes care of them from cradle to grave. Nationalized healthcare, Ample pensions. Hefty labor rights. Early retirement. Generous unemployment benefits. But can this contract survive the euro crisis? The heavy obligations imposed on European government budgets by the welfare system were already set to become even heavier as Europe's population ages. That means fewer working age and taxpaying Europeans will have to support a greater number of retired old timers. Now here comes the euro crisis, in which the stability of the national finances of European states have come into focus. That's going to put extra pressure on European governments to keep their debt and deficits under control.
Heather Mac Donald writes:
What a boon to anarchy—having your self-righteous tantrums treated as important and newsworthy.  I don’t know how to break out of the dilemma that all such preening displays of lawlessness pose.  Ideally, they would not command any breathless coverage from reporters who come running, cameras flashing, at the slightest hint of revolt against the “establishment.”  Pretending that such theatrics are significant is especially galling when the protesters are ignorant students who don’t understand anything about the world and certainly not about work and commerce.  Yet at some level one does need to know  what is going on.  Perhaps photos of riots against common-sense government reforms or good-faith police actions could be balanced by photos of businessmen struggling to balance their books while drowning in a sclerotic, state-sodden economy.
The commentary at Spiked is, as always, an interesting contrarian read:
The excited student protestors first imagined that smashing an office window was a victory over ‘Tory scum’, and then did their victory dance in front of the banks of cameras (there apparently being as many photographers as rioters present) without trying to conceal their identities. More than a few of them will soon be facing up to the consequences of their naivety as prosecutors study the film for evidence. Cynics have observed that it is a sad reflection on the miseducation of the nation’s youth that some seem to think you riot first, then put the masks on afterwards. Don’t these young adults know how to dress themselves? They also failed geography, attacking the wrong building - because they assumed that the Conservative HQ was still in Millbank Tower - before they realised it had moved down the road.
But if anything, Her Majesty’s finest in the Metropolitan Police looked even more out of their depth. Police commanders more used to looking tough in a press conference than fighting street battles appeared never to have thought that there might be any unpleasantness at a demonstration involving thousands of pissed-off young people. Nor did it seem to have occurred to them that Prime Minister Cameron’s Conservative Party might just become a target for the anger.

Students and assignments turned in late :)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Map of the day: where the elephant gained

The note at the source (ht),
The other side of the equation can be seen in the Pacific Coast states (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington). Despite the Red wave sweeping America, the net House gain for the GOP in these five states was zero (+1 in Washington and -1 in Hawaii). The Pacific states of California, Oregon, and Washington have become a Blue sandbar that can withstand even a Republican tsunami. Strong GOP candidates for Governor in Oregon and California were defeated. Credible Republican Senate contenders in California and Washington could not oust Democratic incumbents. With 53 House berths, not a single Golden State seat changed party hands. Back in 1994, the last GOP landslide year, Republicans picked up three seats in California. The story is worse for Republicans in Washington State, which was ground zero for the GOP in 1994, when the party won six House seats and held their Senate seat too. All the state’s House seats save one were impervious to a Red tide this time around.
Remember a key Democratic loss in 1994?
Foley became the first sitting Speaker of the House to lose his bid for re-election since Galusha Grow in 1862.
No significant GOP inroads since ... no complaints :)

The lame (duck) Congress

I was laughing all the way through this one :)
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Lame Duck Congress - Jake Tapper
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionMarch to Keep Fear Alive

Quote of the day: on inefficiency in universities

In the summer, apparently I didn't win friends when I mentioned in passing, in an op-ed on resource allocation, about inefficiencies in higher education.  I suppose it is safe to blog about the following; for one, I didn't author it (!) and, more importantly, those unhappy with my comments don't read my blog anyway :)
Curricular glut makes programs and institutions operate inefficiently and disadvantages both students and faculty members. Students are crippled because unnecessary requirements decrease the students' likelihood to graduate in a timely manner. And faculty members are challenged because the more curricular commitments a department has, the more difficult it is for professors to find time to pursue other objectives, such as research and creative activities.
In short, the curricular reform that is under way throughout higher education is, first and foremost, about serving our students. It's about streamlining general-education requirements so that they can progress in a timely manner. It's about making sure that a major's requirements don't place unnecessary hurdles in students' way. And it's about trimming underproductive programs so that adequate resources can then be invested in programs with strong enrollment.
We owe it to our students—and the public, in general—to operate as efficiently as possible.
Really?  We owe to our students and taxpayers?  OMG, isn't that heresy to utter such words in academe? (editor: ahem, can you be a tad more sarcastic, please?)

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Read my lips, no new taxes :)

Remember that old George H.W. Bush line that eventually tripped him when he had to, well, you know what happened ...
So, when Obama injures his lip at a friendly basketball game ... :)

The post-Thanksgiving dump: WikiLeaks :)

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Informant!
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorThe Daily Show on Facebook
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
WikiLeaks Document Dump - James Rubin
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionMarch to Keep Fear Alive

If you wondered what the heck professors were smoking ...

From a collection of 48 ads from the old days ... a collection to remind ourselves how awful those days were ...

Damn, if only they listened to me! On rising college costs

The cosmos regularly reminds me the same idea that Martin Krieger, one of my grad school professors, told us: it is not what you say, for the most part, but who says it that matters!

So, what is it this time?  More than a fortnight ago, I sent one of the newspapers here an opinion piece where my point was that the cost of attending college is not affordable, even at community colleges and teaching universities like mine.  And, to quite an extent, this is encouraged by government subsidies.
Apparently the editor thought otherwise, and it has not appeared in print.

And then today, I read this in the Chronicle:
College leaders often argue that the way to attract more low-income students to college is to increase the amount of need-based financial aid that states offer to those students.
But doing so may also increase the cost of attending college, according to a study that was presented this month at the annual conference of the Association for the Study of Higher Education. The researchers who conducted the study found that an increase in need-based aid resulted in higher tuition and fees at both public and private institutions in the state.
Hmmm .... so, what was the opinion piece I wrote, you ask?  Here it is:

Higher education, particularly here in Oregon, has been in an economic crisis for years now, and has resulted in it becoming an expensive investment, especially for those from lower-income backgrounds.  To a large extent, it is only the private sector that can help out—by shedding the requirement of college education and degrees for many jobs where such expensive credentialing is not required.

Often, we operate with a misconception that community colleges are significantly less expensive than a teaching university like Western Oregon University (WOU) where I am employed, and that research universities will be the most expensive among public institutions.

It ain’t so!

Consider, for instance, the tuition rates at WOU and its two immediate neighbors, Chemeketa Community College and Oregon State University.  For an Oregonian who is a full-time student taking fifteen credits per term, the annual tuition at Chemeketa will amount to $3,645, while it is $6,135 at WOU and $5,760 at Oregon State

Of course, decrease in state support is a big reason for tuition increases in the public system.  Rapid increase in non-academic expenditures is a significant factor as well. 

In addition, over the years, government subsidizing higher education has also contributed to tuition increases.  “Political Calculations” noted that between 1976 and 2008, there is “a really unique correlation between the average annual tuition at a four-year higher education institution in the United States and the total amount of money the U.S. federal government spends every year.” 

Government's role in subsidized loans to students has an effect which is not that different from how low interest rates led to higher home prices during the real estate bubble years. 

When monthly payment amount is a critical variable in the home purchase process, low interest rates make it possible for buyers to go after larger-value homes.  However, soon the homeowners also sense this, and home prices are correspondingly adjusted upwards. 

The later entrants to this crazy market do not realize that such a system will only help those who are already homeowners and, before they know it, those who joined this game towards the end find themselves "underwater."

In higher education, colleges and universities, like homeowners looking to sell in a bubble market, have been similarly adjusting their tuition upwards.  The net result is that increasingly students now are like the late entrants to the real estate bubble, and end up graduating with debts, loans, and underemployment that do not justify the costs.

In such a higher education bubble, we are wasting considerable individual and taxpayer investment through requiring college degrees for many jobs where such qualifications are way more than needed for productive performance. 

One better model could be for employers to appropriately scale down the higher education requirements.  And, by offering to pay for college courses as rewards for productivity on the job, they could actively encourage employees to value education as a life-long learning experience.  After all, there is infinitely more to education than pecuniary calculations, which is why I teach, and that too in Geography!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Graphic of the day: the rich and taxes in 1941

click on the image from the NY Times for clearer and zoomed view

Climate change: the Andean glaciers

In my intro and upper division courses, the final piece of the puzzle, so to say, is almost always the impacts on the environment.  I suppose I talk about these in the same dispassionately joking way that I discuss any of the topics.  But, most students know well that it is one hell of a serious person buried under all that humor.  (I wonder what the students will think if I told them that a faculty colleague accused me of not having a sense of humor--all because I questioned his pomposity!  I suppose my students know me way better than most colleagues do!!!)

With water as the theme for Geography Awareness this year, I had highlighted a few water issues through a couple of videos.  Apparently that caught the attention of a few students, at least.  It is not the polar ice caps melting kind of scenarios that interest me. Because, I think students are by now "enough already with that" attitude--their lives have been saturated with real info, and hyperbolic rhetoric.  I am, therefore, more interested in presenting to them the less discussed water and climate change issues.  Like how the people in the Maldives are seriously thinking about relocating because of rising sea levels.  Or, like the following one:

There are follow-up parts to this video here.  I might have a chance to spend a week in Ecuador next summer.  I hope that works out.  But, I will be far from these glaciers--I am more a city and human experience guy!

Maybe I should show my class the following video of the underwater cabinet meeting that the Maldives government held to highlight the urgency:

The latest edition of WikiLeaks: voyeurism by an anarchist

I am far from impressed with what has been reported from the latest WikiLeaks dump.  "Pentagon Papers" this aint.  I am all the more convinced now that Assange and WikiLeaks are, at best, hacker anarchists.  There is nothing particularly bad at being an anarchist.  But, pretending that this is all in the public interest and nothing but, and the world's papers going along with that song is, well, like the warm piss on oneself on a cold day!

I like what Spiked has:

This idea that the publication of private conversations and communications is in the public interest – whether it’s done by tabloids or by sanctimonious candidates for the next Pulitzer Prize – is a self-serving attempt to present voyeurism as an important public duty. It is not unlike the claims made by reality TV producers, who frequently argue that their tawdry offerings ‘raise awareness’ and serve the ‘public interest’.
How is the public interest served by the purposeless leaking of information? Since when has it been obligatory for institutions to expose their private deliberations to everyone on the internet? Has the public learnt something important from all this? Has some wrong been put right by the mass dumping of communiqués on to the world wide web? Or is this really a case of the narrow interests of the news organisations involved getting confused with the interests of the public?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Stat/quote of the day: America's military spending

The U.S. defense budget is now about the same as military spending in all other countries combined.
That is Gregg Easterbrook (ht) writing about the out of control defense budget, which grows even despite mounting concerns over the deficit and debt.  Even under Barack "Change" Obama's presidency:
This year, the United States will spend at least $700 billion on defense and security. Adjusting for inflation, that’s more than America has spent on defense in any year since World War II—more than during the Korean war, the Vietnam war, or the Reagan military buildup. Much of that enormous sum results from spending increases under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Since 2001, military and security expenditures have soared by 119 percent.
And then Easterbrook has this nugget way towards the end of his essay, which has plenty of specifics:
The mindset of top-heavy spending has also infiltrated the realm of counterterrorism and intelligence. For security advice, the president now has a secretary of defense, a secretary of state, a director of national intelligence, a national security adviser, a Central Intelligence Agency, a National Security Council, a President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, a National Security Agency, a Defense Intelligence Agency, separate Air Force, Navy, Marine, Army, and even Coast Guard intelligence commands, a National Counterterrorism Center, an FBI Directorate of Intelligence, a State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research, a National Reconnaissance Office, and a National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Even the Treasury Department has an Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.
The specter of terrorism obviously required an improvement in intelligence. But spending for the sake of spending doesn’t make the nation any safer, while multiple overlapping bureaucracies may only slow reaction time. The new security hierarchies are sagging under the weight of senior-grade officials who spend much of their time in turf battles. Recently, the director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, resigned after just 16 months on the job, after a sandbox squabble with the CIA over whose name comes first on memos. If that’s how people at the top of the security hierarchy are behaving, imagine how those in the middle are wasting the public’s time.

More on the ponzi scheme, er, graduate school!

Even if students did want to know, job-placement information would be hard to get. Most academic departments in the arts and sciences at universities nationwide don't share those data with students, because they don't keep close track of their Ph.D. graduates. Since prospective students don't demand it, departments don't collect it. And in this vacuum, some departments say they are reluctant to be the first to put their records out there, because they don't know how they would compare. The National Research Council wanted to use job-placement data in its latest rankings of doctoral programs but abandoned the idea when it realized universities didn't have the numbers.
...
"Program by program, the placement data provided over the last couple of years have been pretty pathetic," says Peter Conn, an English professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a former interim provost there. "It is not in the graduate faculty's interest to advertise the very, very mediocre results we have been having in Ph.D. programs, particularly as opposed to professional schools. Faculty like teaching graduate students more than they like teaching undergraduates, and graduate students provide them with participants for their seminar classes."
That sentence about faculty preferring to teach graduate students more than undergrads is one hell of an understatement in the report from the Chronicle of Higher Education.  That preference, and a "status" that goes with grad programs, is also why even our university has grad programs in a few fields.  It is a shame that we continue with such schemes :(

And how about this:
Even academic departments that are ahead of the curve in providing information do not always disclose everything that prospective students might want to know. Because it doesn't want to embarrass anyone, Michigan's English department does not publish information about graduates who don't get jobs. And, like most academic departments, it doesn't say how many students drop out before earning their Ph.D.'s.
Ah, yes, higher education is all about the pursuit of truth!

The ‘other’ India fails to get much attention from the West

During the last presidential primaries, Sen. John Edwards, who has since disappeared from the political radar, constantly referred to “two Americas” — one America that struggles to get by and lacks political clout, and another that has plenty of everything, including the ability to shape government policies. While this duality is subject to debate, such a schism is certainly visible all the way across the planet — the “First World” India of commerce, call centers and high technology, versus the poor and backward millions of “Third World” India.

After being ignored by successive American governments all through the Cold War, India now gets considerable attention. We have now had three successive, and successful, presidential visits by Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama. Of course, the economic and geopolitical angles are what interest the United States, and it is this “First World” India that we are increasingly familiar with. It is also thanks to such a familiarity that NBC now features a sitcom, “Outsourced,” whose context is India and its call centers.

And when the media report about the world’s first billion-dollar house, which will be home to the family of India’s richest individual, Mukesh Ambani, we are certainly impressed — and perhaps made a little insecure, too, by rapidly growing prosperity in a country that for years did not rank that much higher above Ethiopia in our mental impressions of poverty on the planet.

However, poverty has not really gone away; it is, unfortunately, alive and well in “Third World” India.
While it is true that rapid economic growth has lifted quite a few million Indians from poverty, the poor are by no means an insignificant minority. A multidimensional poverty index used by the United Nations Development Program counted 421 million people living in acute poverty in eight Indian states, exceeding in sheer numbers the 410 million in the 26 poorest African countries combined.

This is a staggering number of poor people, a number that does not show up in our calculated economic and geopolitical interests in India. Even those skeptical about the accuracy of the UNDP estimates will not find it difficult to imagine that the number of poor in India will be in the hundreds of millions.

Over the years, this parallel existence of an India that is poor has also resulted in a growing radical and violent movement, whose members are referred to as Maoists. Yes, Mao — as in China’s Mao Zedong, who has been pushed aside ever since Deng Xiaoping opened the Chinese economy in 1979 and declared that “to be rich is glorious.”

It is no surprise that India’s Maoists are active in the same states that are home to the vast numbers of poor tallied in the UNDP study of poverty. Decades ago, in a much poorer India, Maoist “rebels” were present in other states, too.

During my childhood, the adults in the family often spoke in hushed tones about a much older cousin of mine who had suddenly dropped out of college and gone “underground.” As a kid who only knew the literal meaning of the word, I didn’t understand then that “underground” meant that he had joined the radical, and often violent, communist groups.

But now, such groups are almost nonexistent in the southern parts of India that I visit — these states boast of homegrown multinational computer and automobile corporations. Maoists have long exited these regions, which have experienced economic growth and prosperity, and where governments offer considerable support for the economically and socially disadvantaged.

It is also not a mere coincidence that this cousin later on completed his college education, had a successful banking career, and is now a retired grandfather.

It is time for my next trip to India, and it includes spending a couple of days at a conference that will be held in one of those eight states with high poverty — Orissa. The focus of this academic conference is on rural laborers who, without land, property and political weight, find themselves in precarious economic situations.

Through the conference papers and a little bit of traveling, I hope to understand this “other” India, even as I spend most of my time in the successful “First World” India and report as your correspondent.

Published: Monday, Nov 29, 2010 05:01AM

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Rush Limbaugh and Family Guy. Hilarious :)

Hey coffee addicts, add some sugar too :)

I love coffee.
Sometimes with cream and sugar.
Sometimes black.
Sometimes it is a cappuccino.
So, naturally, I am delighted with this news:
A cup of coffee activates attentiveness and memory if it is taken with sugar.
University of Barcelona scientists found that taking caffeine and sugar together boosts the brain’s performance - more than taking them separately.
Researchers now believe each one boosts the effect of the other on brain functions such as attention span and working memory, the Daily Mail reports.

Time for a cortado then :)

Quote of the day: Nuclear power and environmentalists

“I know the environmentalists will not be very happy with my decision, but it is foolish romance to think that India can attain high growth rate and sustain the energy needs of a 1.2 billion population with the help of solar, wind, biogas and such other forms of energy. It is paradoxical that environmentalists are against nuclear energy”
That was India's minister of environment and forests Jairam Ramesh while  clearing the way for the Jaitapur nuclear power complex.  (BTW, isn't "environment and forests" tautological?  Doesn't the environment include forests?  Oh well!)

Ramesh is no simpelton politician. Or, to transliterate an Tamil expression, not a "ஒன்னரை அனா" :) (can't figure out how to bring in the correct letters!)  Which is why his statement has that much more weight.  He has excellent educational credentials--from india's top tier undergrad to America's best univs.  Ramesh is one of the technocrat-politicians, who are even more influential in China, who know well what they are talking about ...

Anyway, back to the nuclear power question.  The enormous need for energy is real. The constraints imposed by coal and petroleum and natural gas are real.  And, it is absolutely the case that with current technology and prices, we can't produce anything significant from solar or wind power ... and the fact that we need to square this off against global warming/climate change is undeniable.  Which then brings the nuclear question to the front.  Of course, the Greenpeace founder took quite a beating from environmentalists when he made the same arguments a couple of years ago; remember?  What did he write?  Ahem:
Nuclear energy is the only large-scale, cost-effective energy source that can reduce these emissions while continuing to satisfy a growing demand for power. 
Is there any difference between this statement and the one from Ramesh?  I think not.

Quote of the day: TSA and Stalin

Lavrenti Beria, Stalin’s notorious secret police chief, once said, “Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.” The T.S.A. seems to operate on the basis of an adapted maxim: “Show me the security check and I’ll find you the excuse.”
That was Roger Cohen in his NY Times column (ht).

I can't understand how such a madness called the TSA can continue despite all the protests.  I suppose if the ACLU can't stop the madness, then ... hey, join the ACLU

This just gets better, er, worse:
There are now about 400 full-body scanners, set to grow to 1,000 next year. One of the people pushing them most energetically is Michael Chertoff, the former Secretary of Homeland Security.
Oh crap!
Why stop at the airports?  We can start installing them in malls, government buildings, and in the classrooms too!

And, of course, the dark irony here that the company behind these TSA porn scanners is Rapiscan!
Cohen writes:
Rapiscan: Say the name slowly. It conjures up a sinister science fiction. When a government has a right to invade the bodies of its citizens, security has trumped freedom.

The modern temple at Rourkela failed Orissa?

The fall term is coming to an end and the results of the learning are evident right in the questions in class.  Like the one in the introductory course, from Mike, who, with his usual loud voice, asked from all the way in the back row, “so, how do things get going then?  How does a poor African country also get rich?”

This is, after all, the question that the world has been grappling with, particularly since the end of World War II, when newly independent countries were born with immense challenges of economic development.  Mike’s genuinely interested, and yet puzzled, question is the latest along this global struggle to figure out a formula for development. 

Since its independence in 1947, India has been a living laboratory to test out various hypotheses with the hope that the best solution would be found.  One of those was a rather simple idea—if only the government could accelerate the process by systematically investing in modern economic activities.

That certainly was the case behind the planned industrial township of Rourkela, in the state of Orissa, which is one of the economic laggards in India—then and now.  I should note here that Orissa was not always poor.  Its history is rich—materially and culturally.  Perhaps an easily demonstrable example, as I wrote in a column a few months ago, is the word “juggernaut” in the English language, which owes its origin to the Jagannath Temple located on Orissa’s coast along the Bay of Bengal. 

It was in Rourkela, located more than a thousand miles away from his home town in southern India, that my father pretty much began his engineering career more than fifty years ago.  Soon after getting married, he joined a German firm, which was advising the Indian government in the construction of one of the largest industrial projects at that time—an iron and steel factory. 

India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, referred to modern enterprises like the Rourkela steel project as “temples of modern India.”  It was more than rhetorical, in the sense that these new temples were expected to deliver tangible miracles to India’s millions.  In the academic and policy language, these were “growth poles” that would catalyze economic growth in resource-rich but economically backward regions.  Thanks to such initiatives, currently, Orissa accounts for, among others, about a tenth of all the steel produced in the country, and leads in the manufacturing of aluminum. 

After spending the first three-plus years of married life in Rourkela, dad took up a job in yet another “temple”—this time a thermal power plant complex in Neyveli, which also, incidentally, had German advisers.  The move brought my parents and my grandmother back to their “home” state of Tamil Nadu. 

Post-retirement, the city of Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, has been home to my parents for almost thirty years now, and the city’s sobriquet, “Detroit of India,” is an easy clue about one of its major, and fast growing, economic industries.

In contrast to states like Tamil Nadu that have surged ahead, others like Orissa always seem to be playing catch up forever, despite their tremendous natural resources.  The heavy industrial progress has not been matched by comparable advancements in the rural areas, which is where nearly 85 percent of the population lives.  Estimates are that of the nearly 37 million people in Orissa, about 46 percent live below the poverty line.  In some parts of the state, incidence of poverty exceeds 70 percent!

It is almost as if most of the Oriyas, as the people of Orissa are referred to, are still waiting for the payoff from the massive investment in places like Rourkela.  As a recent report from the United Nations’ World Food Program pointed out, “there is a major concern with the failure of that growth to translate into a somewhat proportionate reduction in poverty and malnutrition.”

Though I am disappointed that a field trip to Rourkela won’t be possible, given the more than 200 miles distance from the conference venue in Orissa’s capital city—Bhubaneshwar—at the end of it all, I hope to be able to offer a lot more to students like Mike. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

A tragic joke called Afghanistan

Why does god hate Haiti?

Religious believers tend to assume that all atheists are alike.  I suppose only atheists know that we are all very different in our socioeconomic and political outlooks.  For instance, the most visible face among atheists, Christopher Hitchens, might not have a whole army of atheists ready to take up the arms along his side, whether in Iraq or in Iran.  Equally interesting an intellectual is Heather Mac Donald who is at an interesting intersection of atheist outlook and libertarian-Republican politics.  She writes, in the context of Haiti and the latest of its problems, cholera:
Haitian-Americans in a Catholic parish in Queens, NY, have been ecstatically praying since an earthquake wiped out an estimated quarter-million of their island countrymen 10 months ago, following which Hurricane Tomas unleashed cholera in the survivors’ tent camps:
Certain women in [the] parish say so many Hail Mary’s on their own that [the pastor] no longer assigns them the prayers as penance for sins . . . In October, people packed into SS. Joachim and Anne, chanting and dancing and holding sick relatives’ pictures heavenward for healing.
Good luck with that.
(The New York Times displays the usual nauseating agnosticism towards the religious delusions of the left’s favored victim groups:
On a Saturday night in the basement of [the] mostly Haitian church in Queens, in a bare white room vibrating with hymns and exclamations, a young woman may find herself channeling the Holy Spirit to reveal news from Haiti.
Oh, really?  Yet let a Tea Partyer question the efficacy of deficit spending, and the Times will be certain at the very least to offer a contrary view.)
On this Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful for the human ingenuity that tries to foil such tragic Acts of God as the Haitian earthquake through heroic feats of engineering, and when such preventive efforts fail, that tries to save as many surviving victims through medical science.   I am grateful that human reason has conquered so much of the squalor and suffering that nature unleashes upon the world.  I hope that Haiti’s suffering comes to an end through tolerance, honesty, enterprise, and discipline.   
Happy Thanksgiving to all.
 Yes, here is to hoping that Haiti's sufferings will soon end

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The success that Gandhi had in India

The real magic of the Mahatma was not a trick of popular charisma, but in fact a deft ability to recruit, manage, and inspire a team of talented individuals who worked tirelessly in his service. Gandhi himself was one of the few people to recognize how this phenomenon worked. “With each day I realize more and more that my mahatmaship, which is a mere adornment, depends on others. I have shone with the glory borrowed from my innumerable co-workers,” he wrote in 1928 in Navajivan.
Recognizing this fact does not diminish the rare and valuable qualities Gandhi himself possessed. Rather, it acknowledges that great work is the product of collaborative processes, and that many hands working together toward a common purpose can achieve monumental results. In Gandhi’s case, it was the relationship between a visionary leader and the team supporting him—and their collective use of the right resources, such as the books in Mahadev Desai’s library—that paved the way for extraordinary and lasting accomplishments.
An excerpt from a wonderful essay, after reading which I am all the more blown away with how effortlessly Gandhi was able to get so many talented, eager, and committed people to sign on to his ideas.  One heck of a personality he must have had.  Gandhi died barely 60 years ago, but the events of his life time now seem quite a few centuries old.  At the speeds at which we seem to move now, it is all the more real when I think about Einstein's comment that future generations will find it impossible to believe that such a real life person in flesh and blood actually existed on this planet.

"First World" India v. "Third World" India

During the last presidential primaries, Senator John Edwards, who has since disappeared from the political radars, constantly referred to “two Americas”—one America that struggles to get by and doesn’t have political clout, and another that has plenty of everything, including the ability to shape government policies.  While this duality is subject to debate, such a schism is certainly visible all the way across the planet—the “First World” India of commerce, call centers and high technology, versus the poor and backward millions of “Third World” India.

After being ignored by successive American governments all through the decades of the Cold War, India now gets considerable attention.  We have now had three successive, and successful, presidential visits by Clinton, Bush, and Obama.  Of course, the economic and geopolitical angles are what interest the US, and it is this “First World” India that we are increasingly familiar with.  It is also thanks to such a familiarity that NBC now features a sitcom, Outsourced, whose context is India and its call centers. 

And when the media reports about the world’s first billion dollar house, which will be home to the family of India’s richest individual, Mukesh Ambani, we are certainly impressed, and perhaps made a little insecure too, by the rapidly growing prosperity in a country that for years did not rank that much higher above Ethiopia in our mental impressions of poverty on the planet.

However, poverty has not really gone away; it is, unfortunately, alive and well in the “Third World” India.

While it is true that rapid economic growth has lifted quite a few million Indians from poverty, the poor are by no means any insignificant minority.  A multidimensional poverty index used by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) showed that the 421 million living in acute poverty in eight Indian states exceed in sheer numbers the 410 million in the 26 poorest African countries combined. 

A staggering number of poor, which does not show up in our calculated economic and geopolitical interests in India!  Even those skeptical about the accuracy of the UNDP estimates will not find it difficult to imagine that number of poor in India will be in hundreds of millions. 

Over the years, this parallel existence of an India that is poor has also resulted in a growing radical and violent movement, who are referred to as Maoists.  Yes, the Mao as in China’s Mao Zedong, who has been pushed aside ever since Deng Xiaoping opened up the Chinese economy in 1979 and declared that “to be rich is glorious.”

It would not be a surprise, therefore, that India’s Maoists are active in the same states that are home to the vast numbers of poor tallied up in the UNDP study of poverty.  Decades ago, in a much poorer India, Maoist “rebels” were present in other states, too.  During my childhood, the adults in the family often spoke in hushed tones about a much older cousin of mine who had suddenly dropped out of college and gone “underground.”  As a kid who only knew the literal meaning of the word, I didn’t understand then that “underground” meant that he had joined the radical, and often violent, Communist groups.

But now, such groups are almost nonexistent in the southern parts of India that I visit—these states boast of homegrown multinational computer and automobile corporations.  Maoists have, hence, long exited these regions, which have experienced economic growth and prosperity, and where governments offer considerable support for the economically and socially disadvantaged.  It is also not a mere coincidence that this cousin later on completed his college education, had a successful banking career, and is now a retired grandfather!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanks for ... ?

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Thanks For Nothing
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorThe Daily Show on Facebook

Music video for a snowy/icy day

Remembrance of things past

All the way from 1979!  A couple of years into my teenage years.  I suppose one needs to understand the contexts for why I still remember this song so much, and enjoy it even now :)



I do not recall watching this movie.  I wonder why. But then I don't recall watching very many movies anyway, other than the ones at the outdoor club ... boy, am I getting old, if I am recalling events from 31 years ago!

The crazy North Korean government!

This past Veterans Day, one of the students, "D," talked to the class about his service in the military, and focused on his duty in the Korean DMZ.  "D" was a 18-year old soldier selected to serve in the inner rings of the DMZ and was, thus, witness to a crazy series of incidents--the "axe murder incident"--that left his captain and lieutenant dead.  "D" said that for quite a few days they were on full alert, prepared for an all out war, all over again.

But, and thankfully, that war didn't break out.

According to "D", and the few readings that I did later, this bizarre North Korean attack was to consolidate the ascent of Kim Jong-il.   Now, it is Kim Jong-il's time to hand over the controls to his anointed successor--his son, Kim Jong-un  The timing of this latest bizarre attack can be at least partially attributed to this succession.

The NY Times:
Analysts say the regime may be trying to ensure that the Kim family dynasty continues for a third generation by winning the loyalty of the powerful military with shows of force.
Time:
Analysts in Seoul said the thread plausibly linking the nuclear revelations and Tuesday's attack in the West Sea is the leadership succession now under way in Pyongyang. Both underscore what has been a central political component of the Kim Jong Il regime, the doctrine of "military first" politics. In Kim's words, it means "placing top priority on military affairs" and turning the North Korean army into a "pillar of the revolution." Just six weeks ago, the regime in Pyongyang effectively affirmed that Kim's son Kim Jong Un would succeed his father as the next ruler of North Korea. That the North continues to upgrade its ability to make nuclear weapons — the regime already has between 8 and 12 bombs, according to U.S. intelligence — while lashing out militarily during a high-profile visit to the neighborhood by Obama's special envoy shows one thing: when young Kim takes over, nothing much in the North will change.
"Kim Jong Un," says Cheong Seong-Chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute, a Seoul think tank, "is currently under the influence of more hawkish generals. The son's power base is derived from the military, and the power of military is greater than ever."
As David Letterman often jokes, it is not Kim Jong-il, but "Menta Ly Ill"

Monday, November 22, 2010

Woody Allen predicted the TSA scan porn ... kinda :)

In providing this hilarious Woody Allen video clip (from Bananas), Reason notes that all along we had the "solution to the problems posed by the underwear bomber" :)

America's Finest News Source will be on TV :)

Watching this video at the Onion, I wasn't sure if this, too, was a satire:

Onion News Network - Coming To IFC January 21

But then, there are news items, such as this one:
IFC plans to premiere Onion News Network and another new comedy series Portlandia back-to-back on Friday, Jan. 21. The network, part of Cablevision's Rainbow Media program unit, said Friday that the shows will debut that day in the 10pm and 10:30pm time slots, respectively. IFC previously also debuted The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret on Friday night, has been the go-to night for its comedy premieres under its "Always On. Slightly Off" slogan.
News, satire, comedy, politics, internet, television all merging.  Maybe this is the convergence that led AOL and Time Warner to merge; too bad they couldn't make money of it .... muahahaha

It does not come easily

कष्टं कर्मेति दुर्मेधाः कर्तव्याद्विनिवर्तते ।
न साहसमनारभ्य श्रेयः समुपलभ्यते ॥
- हरिहर सुभाषित
Idiots give up on a task assuming it would be tough to complete it. They do not understand that fame/success can come only when you start tasks (and complete it).
- Harihara Subhashita

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving Awards :)

From Saturday Night Live

Joke of the day: Psycho

It is amazing that fifty years hasn't made Psycho any less stellar; the movie seems that much more better with every passing year.  I so wish they hadn't tried that pathetic remake, which I refused to watch anyway.

So, there I was funnily analyzing what triggered the transformation of a young Norman Bates into a psychopath.  And here it is
Little Norman was born into well to do family, whose friends were rich enough to have butlers at home.
The family would often visit with their friends over the weekends.  And it was the butlers who, without their knowing, made a killer out of the playful and friendly Norman.
Why?
Because, the butlers always announced the arrival of the family as:
Mister Bates, his wife Missus Bates, and their son Master Bates
Muahahahaha
Though, I am sure that I am not the first one to have thought about this.  But, hey, so what if I am late to the party!

Posts popular the last 30 days