Friday, December 14, 2012

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Loss of innocent lives.  Again.  This time 20 elementary school children were killed by a mad gunman with assault rifles in Newtown, Connecticut.  White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, however, was adamant that today was not the day to talk about gun control.  And I thought, here is another episode about to be swept under the rug.  We seem to be needing larger rugs and bigger brooms.  President Obama talked about these episodes happening too often and promised "meaningful actions" (regardless of politics) as he wiped tears from his eyes.  Will more candlelight vigils and broken hearts lead to strict gun control laws?  Nah. My thumbs continue to prick.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Palestine --Conception?

Mahmoud Abbas
138 countries voted on Thursday   (November 29, 2012) to upgrade Palestine to a “nonmember observer state" of the United Nations. 9 countries voted against this move and 41 countries abstained from voting.  While the vote does little to bring Palestine closer to statehood, it does give Palestine access to international legal forums to challenge Israel on its activities in West Bank.  This also reveals the world’s growing sympathy towards the cause of Palestine. However, not much change is expected because of this announcement.  Hamas and Fatah have their fundamental differences.  A spokesman for Hamas said recently, “We do not recognize Israel, nor the partition of Palestine, and Israel has no right in Palestine…Getting our membership in the U.N. bodies is our natural right, but without giving up any inch of Palestine’s soil.” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, however, is willing to pursue the two states UN Partition Plan of 1947, but will not open negotiations with Prime Minister Netanyahu while Israel is trying to develop the region of the West Bank.  The US stand on Palestine has to undergo a metamorphosis. Rula Jebreal, of the Daily Beast writes, "The question that the US must ask is whether  it wants to empower moderates or the more violent Palestinian factions.  The status quo will only help Hamas and other extremist groups, and demonstrates the dysfunction and the double standards of American foreign policy in the region". (11/29/2012)  The US cannot promote cease-fire/truce as it did a week ago or curb the influence of Hamas in the region without acknowledging need for negotiations between Fatah and Israel.  

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Who Shot JR ? Larry Hagman (1931-2012)

Larry Hagman, the actor who played J.R. Ewing on the television series "Dallas" died of complications due to cancer at the age of 81.  Last year, I bought the entire series on DVDs and had a grand time watching them.  Here is a sample of his acting:

He also acted in another hit series "I Dream of Jeannie" with Barbara Eden.  His staid, uncomplicated  character as the astronaut Major Anthony Nelson was endearing but as the Texas millionaire with  wicked, wicked ways, he created a character viewers loved to hate.  "I really can't remember half of the people I've slept with, stabbed in the back or driven to suicide," Hagman said of his character. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Emergence of a New Breed of Voter

Obama’s win is significant as it celebrates the importance of a new kind of citizen—a global intellectual, who sees himself in relation to his community and environment, recognizing equality of all, and valuing the effort of his fellow human beings. This citizen has distanced himself from the society the Republicans represent that seems utterly male-dominated, with values that are outdated and totally uncompromising, sanctimonious and indifferent to the needs of non-whites. The ethnic composition of the American population is constantly changing; that is what makes this country unique. This is the only President who recognized this fact, judging by the cultural diversity of his campaign volunteers. In fact, nobody who owns a computer these days, conducts business on it, communicates with different parts of the world and exploits the information he receives has any right now to regard himself racially superior or to even claim gender superiority. 

The Republican candidate for the Senate in the State of Missouri, Todd Akin’s comment on “legitimate rape” reveals an appalling ignorance, an inexcusable insensitivity and gross callousness. EMILY’S List, an organization dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to political office, was spurred into action by this comment.  They supported the rival candidate Claire McCaskill, spending over $255,000 on her campaign, and led her to victory.  The organization's mission is to “continually make investments to help women develop political skills and cultivate resources so that we can bring more women into politics and elected office. Only then can we build a lasting progressive majority dedicated to social justice, civil rights, diversity, economic reform and compassion—and construct a society that values the contributions of all of its citizens.” The Republican landscape is not palatable any more.  Their priorities do not reflect a changing world. They are stuck on abortion, religion and marriage every election year. People came to this country to practice their religion without fear of persecution. Yet they force Christian values on others, find it hard to separate Church from the State and impose outrageous restrictions on women seeking abortion. Their pro-life arguments are based on religious reasons, namely that killing of the fetus is the killing of a sentient life.  It is hypocritical of them, in that case, to promote guns, and the killing of 90,000 cows every single day. 

Martha C. Nussbaum in her article “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism” (Boston Review, Oct/Nov, 1994) argues, “The American student must learn to recognize humanity wherever she encounters it and be eager to understand humanity in its ‘strange’ guises.” Since the place of birth is but an accident, “we should not allow differences of nationality or class or ethnic membership or even gender to erect barriers between us and our fellow human beings.  We should recognize humanity wherever it occurs and give its fundamental ingredients, reason and moral capacity, our first allegiance and respect.” This extends to illegal immigrants in this country. Politics and compassion seem strange bedfellows. Arizona’s Republican Governor Jan Brewer denied drivers licenses and other benefits to illegal immigrants who could take advantage of President Obama’s ‘deferred action” immigration policy.  The President won 75% of the Latino vote last night. Elise Foley of The Huffington Post reports that, “Immigration isn’t the top issue for most—jobs and the economy rank higher—but it remains an important one, and for many Latino voters it’s something of a litmus test.  If a politician seems to disrespect immigrants or Latinos overall, or if the party seems uninterested in winning their votes, the support isn’t going to come.  This year, it didn’t.”  Although Romney won the State of Arizona, he faced intense opposition from the Latino voters.  

Presidential candidates must express their concern for social development as much as their concern for economic development.  The nature of the family unit has changed, lifestyles have changed, and gender roles have been redefined. How do we understand these trends without a solid foundation of education?  Mitt Romney has been particularly silent on the subject of educational reform.  NEA(National Education Association) President Dennis Van Roekel told The Huffington Post that, "education is key to the nation’s success and helping us solidify the economic recovery of the last few years." Van Roekel said, "President Obama gets that, it’s why he’s supported education programs from early childhood through making college more affordable. Mitt Romney just doesn’t get that true education reform takes all stakeholders -- educators, parents, and community -- working together for students. Being divisive and providing kids with only the education they can afford hurts all of us in the end."  Recognizing the need for reform is the job of the public service official.  He represents the people, and steps in when there is a pressing need for interference. Instead, Romney saw government intervention as an opportunity for the poor people to behave like victims and not take responsibility for their lives: “These are people who pay no income tax.  Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. So he’ll be there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that is what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

What ultimately happened was Romney did not convince them to vote for him.  The thinking man rejected him.  A new breed of voter has emerged.  He is the world citizen who craves economic stability but respects human dignity more.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Yay Governor Christie!

Republicans have finally accepted the role of Government in our daily lives.  At least, the Republican Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie has.  Here he is, grateful to President Obama for his support in the wake of Hurricane Sandy disaster.  Snubbing Fox host Steve Doocy in an interview recently when asked if he would tour the disaster areas with Mitt Romney, Christie declared, "I have no idea, nor am I the least bit concerned or interested.  I've a job to do here in New Jersey that's much bigger than presidential politics and I could care less about any of that stuff.  I've got 2.4 million people out of power.  I've got devastation on the Shore. I've got floods in the northern part of my state.  If you think right now I give a damn about presidential politics, then you don't know me."

Trees are down, damaging power lines.  There are still 1.7 million homes without power and I have no hope of getting it within the next week. There is also a gas shortage.  However, President Obama has taken steps to provide immediate disaster relief.  Kudos to Governor Christie for putting aside partisan politics and taking care of NJ in distress.  

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Girl Child and Malala Yousafzai's Crusade

October 11, 2012 was the first International Day of the Girl Child.

This day was marked to focus attention on the challenges the girl child faces, the need for her social and economic development and the need to empower her through education and equal rights with men.

The Executive Directors of UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund), UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) and UN Women issued a joint statement that outlined the goal for this year. "This year we have come together to focus on child marriage."  To achieve this, the directors made a plea to all governments to do the following:

We call on governments, civil society organizations, the private sector, faith-based groups and the international community to accelerate efforts to:
  • Enforce legislation to increase the minimum age of marriage for girls to 18;
  • Improve equal access to quality primary and secondary education;
  • Mobilize girls, boys, parents and leaders to change discriminatory gender norms and create alternative social, economic and civic opportunities for girls;
  • Support girls who are already married by providing them with options for schooling, sexual and reproductive health information and services, including HIV prevention, livelihoods skills and recourse from violence in the home;
  • Address the root causes of child marriage, including violence against girls and women.

It is regrettable that women in underdeveloped countries face these challenges alone and are suppressed mercilessly with threats/acts of extreme physical violence. Malala Yousafzai 14, and a tireless advocate of girls' education since she was 11, was shot in her head and neck by Taliban gunmen as she was going back home from school on October 9. She was targeted because she spoke her mind about the ban on girl's education in the once Taliban-occupied Pakistan and for criticizing the militant group. The Taliban considers Malala's crusade for educational rights for girls an obscenity and a propagation of undesirable western values.  Laura Bush, our former First Lady, expressed the urgency for the creation of an environment in which girls can grow and blossom.

For a brief history of Malala's struggles in the Swat Valley, Pakistan, watch this video.  I warn, however, that there is some graphic content in it:

Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Parvez Ashraf assured his support to Malala's family and said:
"Today we have gathered here to pay tribute to the bravery and courage of Malala Yousafzai. The nation stands united in condemning the brutality and degradation of those who perpetrated this crime and the poisoned mindset that seeks to destroy the soul of our nation. The attack on Malala is not a crime against the individual. It is a crime against humanity. An attack on our moral and social values."
The youth today, the world over, is articulate, assertive and fearless.  We have seen revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria which were initiated by the new, thinking generation. We need to have faith in their ability to change the world for the better. However, it has always been difficult for women to organize themselves into a cohesive group due to their isolation, family and religious backgrounds, sheltered upbringing, and social stratification. In short, girls/women come with certain pre-existing conditions that deny them insurance for a happy, healthy life. It is extremely rare that girls like Malala come out and speak up for the cause of all women.  Malala Zindabad.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Not Even the Chair

I was listening to Neil Diamond's "I am...I said", and he sings:

"I am, I said
The Invisible Man
To no one there
And no one heard at all
Not even the chair."  

Doesn't this remind one of Clint Eastwood at the GOP convention?

"Trouble with the Curve", his latest movie, is also full of scenes where he conducts deep, philosophical "conversations" with inanimate objects--a tombstone, a photograph...

What does this trend --of talking to no one in particular---signify?  That Republicans cannot relate to anybody,  are happy talking to those that cannot talk back, and that they never feel the need to justify their actions...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Agra: Home to Beauty and the Beast

Given a choice between Jaipur and Agra, I always choose to visit Agra.  Cannot get enough of the Taj Mahal.  I was surprised to discover this time that there are other monuments to visit there! 

There are a few things that inspired me to write this post.  First, the Yamuna Expressway--a recently inaugurated 165.5 km long, 6 lane highway from Greater Noida to Agra guaranteed to cut travel time from Delhi to Agra by 3 hours.  The expressway is a marvel in itself and was built at considerable expense and sacrifice.  "In 2010 and 2011, the Yamuna Expressway, previously called the Taj Expressway, had become synonymous with farmers' politics in western Uttar Pradesh as farmers launched an agitation demanding more compensation for the land they sacrificed for the project.  The long drawn agitation spread across Gautam Buddha Nagar, Aligarh and Agra Districts, with Tappal, Jikarpur and Bhatta Parsaul emerging as the nerve centres of the agitation."  (The Hindu, 8/10/2012).  In Feb.2011, the agitation had led to police firing in which half a dozen people were killed.  The expressway cost close to $2.3 billion.

On the day that we traveled to Agra from Delhi, everyone and his grandmother was on the expressway. They were traveling in groups, stopping now and then on the shoulder of the highway, getting off their cars to lean against the railings and take photographs.  Not only was our arrival delayed, but we also had to stand in long lines everywhere in the sweltering heat.  I understand Agra ran out of food that day!! Somehow we managed the heat, the hunger and the crowd and gaped at the Taj Mahal, which brings me to my second point:

The Taj Mahal is yellowing.  Quite visibly.   It is terrible because even I could make that out. It's not a good feeling to recognize that the yellowing has occurred only in the last 50 years or so, in my lifetime.  I hope the Indian government and UNESCO can take care of it so the structure can last at least another 500 years. "The coloring was blamed on high levels of "suspended particulate matter"--or tiny granules of dirt in the air---generally caused by burning fossil fuels and dust.  The deposition of SPM on the shimmering white marble of the Taj Mahal imparts yellow tinge to the marble surface."(USA Today: 5/15/2007).  Maybe all it needs is a mudpack.  The Parliamentary committee on transport, tourism and culture, suggested a clay pack treatment that is non-corrosive and non-abrasive be carried out to remove deposits on the marble.  "The committee recommends that while undertaking any conservation activity at the Taj Mahal, abundant cautions should be taken to retain the original glory of the shimmering white marble used in this.(Reuters: 5/15/2007)  It is not just the yellowing of the Taj Mahal that is depressing.  Tourists just will not follow instructions not to photograph, or  touch objects.  They are clicking away merrily  on their cellphones, their cameras and leaning on the walls, touching everything with their sweaty bodies and palms, defacing the marble structure.  I had to yell at tourists to get off the black onyx throne (on which they were posing for pictures), at the Agra fort; an apathetic armed guard was standing right next to them. There were just too many tourists and not enough security or maintenance.  One most peculiar thing about Indian tourism is that Indians have to pay a much lower entrance fee to monuments than the foreign nationals.  I think if the government upped the price of tickets for the Indian nationals and imposed heavy fines for transgressions, we might see a little improvement in the treatment of these monuments.

The condition of Agra city itself is appalling. 

"Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
     (Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, from Through the looking Glass and what Alice found there, 1872)   
Reminds me of Agra's drains.
The open, smelly  drains, the stagnant rain water puddles, the floating trash and dirty streets do not inspire an overnight stay there.  

According to A Detailed Project Report (Revised) for Solid Waste Management in Agra, Uttar Pradesh  prepared by Regional Centre for Urban & Environmental Studies (Estd. by Ministry of Urban Development), 
Government of India, Adjacent Registrar’s Office, 
University of Lucknow, Lucknow:

  • The existing state of the open dumps in the city, road side dumps, clogged nallahs reflect the inefficiency of the present system. The safai karamcharis also dump the drain silt and waste at open dumps. 
  • There is a lack of awareness among city residents  and civic authorities. 
  • Awareness for segregation of waste  at source was very low and no segregation of waste was practiced at source 
  • Primary collection of solid waste was not appropriate. There was only limited door to door collection of waste. 
  • Secondary storage of solid waste is unorganized and  efficient. The dustbins were broken or rusted. There were no  closed dhallaos and main collection points were all open dumps. Animals strayed on open dumps, collection bins overflowed and waste collection appeared to be poor. There was no marking for segregation of waste into separate bins. 
  • Solid waste is transported in open vehicles like tipper trucks. Safai karamcharis involved in this activity do not use any personal protection equipment (PPE) for their protection.
  •  Slaughter house waste is mixed with  the MSW. 
  • Biomedical waste is not managed properly in all health care facilities.  Collection and disposal of construction waste is not appropriate. In EWS and LIG houses it is mixed with household waste 
  • Disposal of solid waste  is not appropriate as waste was being thrown at unauthorized dump yards. 
Jeremy Woodhouse

Actually, considering a picture is worth a thousand words--let me give you 3,000 words worth. 25,2009)

I did take pictures but they were mostly of the beautiful marble edifice.  I really could not bring myself to record this ugliness. I borrowed these pictures from other websites.

Agra garbage

Taj Mahal alone earned over $205 million in entrance fees last year.  I wonder why the city cannot spend some of it on an urban clean-up. After all, it 'attracts' millions of tourists from all over the world.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Aurora's "Joker" was no joke--Time for Gun Control

I am angry and sad (mostly angry) that crazy people have easy access to guns and ammunition.  I am angry that every time incidents such as the Colorado one happen, we have to hear the Republican nonsense of how guns don't kill people, people kill people.  At least 12 people were killed and 58 wounded when a gunman, calling himself "Joker", opened in a packed movie theater at Aurora, Colorado during the screening of Batman-the Dark Knight Rises. WE NEED GUN CONTROL.

This morning I was watching ABC's George Stephanopolous show about the Colorado shootings and there was this lunatic woman from The Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin, go on and on about US being beset with mental health problems (no kidding!).  The entire show she was blabbering about the need to fix crazy people but till that happened we'll help put guns in their hands!! I could see Joe Klein of Time magazine wince every time she opened her mouth.

Guns are dangerous. Even Dick Cheney couldn't help his gun from accidentally exploding into his friends face.  We have the right to bear arms to defend the country, not to kill everyone in it.
Why can't gun sales be recorded? How does that infringe on our freedom to bear arms? 

James Holmes, the Colorado shooter, had in the car an AR-15 assault rifle, a Remington 12-gauge shotgun, and a .40 caliber Glock handgun, said Chief Dan Oates of the Aurora police, and all three were believed to have been used inside the theater. Another Glock .40 caliber handgun was recovered inside the theater. Chief Oates said that “many, many” rounds were fired, but that there was no count so far.  In the last 60 days Mr. Holmes had purchased four guns at local gun shops, Chief Oates said. And through the Internet, he bought more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition: more than 3,000 rounds for the assault rifle, 3,000 rounds of .40 caliber ammunition for the two Glocks, and 300 rounds for the 12-gauge shotgun. The guns were all bought legally, a federal law enforcement official said. Mr. Holmes also purchased online multiple magazines for the assault rifle, including one 100-round drum magazine.  "With that drum magazine, he could have gotten off 50, 60 rounds, even if it was semiautomatic, within one minute,"Chief Oates said.

Why not have sellers report sales of such mass quantities of ammunition, and weapons to the police?   Why can't sales be restricted? We are not talking about  humongous dual-pack cereal boxes or a packet of 25 pairs of socks from Sam's Club. These are instruments of death.  Why are they so cheap?  We tax cigarettes to save lives, but on the way out of  7-Eleven we kill folks with bullets bought at street corners for a dime.

The opponents of gun control, to wit, Sen. John McCain(R-AZ), cite the example of Norway, where Anders Behring Breivik managed to kill 68 people inspite of the strict gun control laws there. Killers find a way, McCain thinks.  They certainly do. Where did this man get his ammunition from?  IT WAS MAIL ORDERED FROM THE USA!!

Isn't it time that we accepted responsibility and also took note of the fact that these violent incidents are on the rise?  I am not talking just about mass killings but the gun related violence on the streets of Philadelphia, Camden and New York City.  More people are gunned down on the streets everyday than even the number of victims in the Aurora, Colorado shooting. These deaths are just as tragic.  Higher gun ownership rates are related to higher gun deaths.

Republicans like John McCain must feed on a daily dose of stupid bread if he thinks he must respect the privacy of would-be killers or use the Second Amendment to protect their rights.  "Look, I think that the strongest second amendment rights people would be glad to have a conversation. But to somehow leap to the conclusion that this was somehow caused by the fact that we don’t have more gun control legislation I don’t think has been proved. ” He needs more proof of the necessity of gun control? How can it proved when there is no gun control?  Let us have gun control and gather this empirical evidence   He can't seriously think that America's founding fathers wanted us to bear arms to kill our friends and neighbors. Tchah! This is not happening to someone else, these are our families who are affected.

When asked if it would  have helped if someone in the audience were equipped with a hand gun, the Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey replied that more guns would have resulted in more deaths. He said he dealt with gun crimes every single day and the only way to solve these problems is through gun control. 

New York City's Mayor Bloomberg criticized President Obama and the Republican candidate Mitt Romney for not being more vocal about tighter restrictions on gun owners. "Leadership is leading from the front, not doing a survey, finding out what the people want and then doing it. What do they stand for, and why aren't they standing up?", Bloomberg asked.

New Jersey's senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who keeps getting re-elected despite his doddering years, has vowed to fulfill his promise to serve his people and plans on reintroducing a gun control bill. Lautenberg, one of the most vocal gun control advocates in the Senate, introduced a bill to limit high-capacity magazines following the shooting of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  The shooter in that instance fired his gun more than 30 times without having to reload.  The bill went nowhere.  Let us hope he has better luck this time. 

Each time these incidents happen, we hear of heroes who protect their friends, spouses, children and use their bodies to shield bullets.  Let us not give them an opportunity to be dead heroes.  We want them alive.

Friday, June 8, 2012

"You Are Not Special" Commencement Speech

David McCullough Jr.,  English teacher at Wellesley High School, Boston gave a rather unusual commencement speech this year. "You are not special", he told the graduating students shaking them out of their complacency. He urged them to think beyond themselves, their achievements, accolades and trophies.  His speech was everything I always said to my children.  Here is all of it: (, June 7, 2012)

Dr. Wong, Dr. Keough, Mrs. Novogroski, Ms. Curran, members of the board of education, family and friends of the graduates, ladies and gentlemen of the Wellesley High School class of 2012, for the privilege of speaking to you this afternoon, I am honored and grateful. Thank you.
So here we are... commencement... life’s great forward-looking ceremony. (And don’t say, “What about weddings?” Weddings are one-sided and insufficiently effective. Weddings are bride-centric pageantry. Other than conceding to a list of unreasonable demands, the groom just stands there. No stately, hey-everybody-look-at-me procession. No being given away. No identity-changing pronouncement. And can you imagine a television show dedicated to watching guys try on tuxedos? Their fathers sitting there misty-eyed with joy and disbelief, their brothers lurking in the corner muttering with envy. Left to men, weddings would be, after limits-testing procrastination, spontaneous, almost inadvertent... during halftime... on the way to the refrigerator. And then there’s the frequency of failure: statistics tell us half of you will get divorced. A winning percentage like that’ll get you last place in the American League East. The Baltimore Orioles do better than weddings.)
But this ceremony... commencement... a commencement works every time. From this day forward... truly... in sickness and in health, through financial fiascos, through midlife crises and passably attractive sales reps at trade shows in Cincinnati, through diminishing tolerance for annoyingness, through every difference, irreconcilable and otherwise, you will stay forever graduated from high school, you and your diploma as one, ‘til death do you part.
No, commencement is life’s great ceremonial beginning, with its own attendant and highly appropriate symbolism. Fitting, for example, for this auspicious rite of passage, is where we find ourselves this afternoon, the venue. Normally, I avoid cliches like the plague, wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot pole, but here we are on a literal level playing field. That matters. That says something. And your ceremonial costume... shapeless, uniform, one-size-fits-all. Whether male or female, tall or short, scholar or slacker, spray-tanned prom queen or intergalactic X-Box assassin, each of you is dressed, you’ll notice, exactly the same. And your diploma... but for your name, exactly the same.
All of this is as it should be, because none of you is special.
You are not special. You are not exceptional.
Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you... you’re nothing special.
Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. Yes, you have. And, certainly, we’ve been to your games, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs. Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet. Why, maybe you’ve even had your picture in the Townsman! And now you’ve conquered high school... and, indisputably, here we all have gathered for you, the pride and joy of this fine community, the first to emerge from that magnificent new building...
But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.
The empirical evidence is everywhere, numbers even an English teacher can’t ignore. Newton, Natick, Nee... I am allowed to say Needham, yes? ...that has to be two thousand high school graduates right there, give or take, and that’s just the neighborhood Ns. Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. That’s 37,000 valedictorians... 37,000 class presidents... 92,000 harmonizing altos... 340,000 swaggering jocks... 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs. But why limit ourselves to high school? After all, you’re leaving it. So think about this: even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you. Imagine standing somewhere over there on Washington Street on Marathon Monday and watching sixty-eight hundred yous go running by. And consider for a moment the bigger picture: your planet, I’ll remind you, is not the center of its solar system, your solar system is not the center of its galaxy, your galaxy is not the center of the universe. In fact, astrophysicists assure us the universe has no center; therefore, you cannot be it. Neither can Donald Trump... which someone should tell him... although that hair is quite a phenomenon.
“But, Dave,” you cry, “Walt Whitman tells me I’m my own version of perfection! Epictetus tells me I have the spark of Zeus!” And I don’t disagree. So that makes 6.8 billion examples of perfection, 6.8 billion sparks of Zeus. You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another–which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality — we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement. We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole. No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it... Now it’s “So what does this get me?” As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans. It’s an epidemic — and in its way, not even dear old Wellesley High is immune... one of the best of the 37,000 nationwide, Wellesley High School... where good is no longer good enough, where a B is the new C, and the midlevel curriculum is called Advanced College Placement. And I hope you caught me when I said “one of the best.” I said “one of the best” so we can feel better about ourselves, so we can bask in a little easy distinction, however vague and unverifiable, and count ourselves among the elite, whoever they might be, and enjoy a perceived leg up on the perceived competition. But the phrase defies logic. By definition there can be only one best. You’re it or you’re not.
If you’ve learned anything in your years here I hope it’s that education should be for, rather than material advantage, the exhilaration of learning. You’ve learned, too, I hope, as Sophocles assured us, that wisdom is the chief element of happiness. (Second is ice cream... just an fyi) I also hope you’ve learned enough to recognize how little you know... how little you know now... at the moment... for today is just the beginning. It’s where you go from here that matters.
As you commence, then, and before you scatter to the winds, I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in any more than you would a spouse you’re not crazy about, lest you too find yourself on the wrong side of a Baltimore Orioles comparison. Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction. Be worthy of your advantages. And read... read all the time... read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect. Read as a nourishing staple of life. Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it. Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself. Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might. And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer; and as surely as there are commencements there are cessations, and you’ll be in no condition to enjoy the ceremony attendant to that eventuality no matter how delightful the afternoon.
The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer. You’ll note the founding fathers took pains to secure your inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness–quite an active verb, “pursuit”–which leaves, I should think, little time for lying around watching parrots rollerskate on Youtube. The first President Roosevelt, the old rough rider, advocated the strenuous life. Mr. Thoreau wanted to drive life into a corner, to live deep and suck out all the marrow. The poet Mary Oliver tells us to row, row into the swirl and roil. Locally, someone... I forget who... from time to time encourages young scholars to carpe the heck out of the diem. The point is the same: get busy, have at it. Don’t wait for inspiration or passion to find you. Get up, get out, explore, find it yourself, and grab hold with both hands. (Now, before you dash off and get your YOLO tattoo, let me point out the illogic of that trendy little expression–because you can and should live not merely once, but every day of your life. Rather than You Only Live Once, it should be You Live Only Once... but because YLOO doesn’t have the same ring, we shrug and decide it doesn’t matter.)
None of this day-seizing, though, this YLOOing, should be interpreted as license for self-indulgence. Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct. It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things. Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly. Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.
Because everyone is.
Congratulations. Good luck. Make for yourselves, please, for your sake and for ours, extraordinary lives.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Shooting The Messenger -- Story of Jessica Barba

Jessica Barba, a high school freshman at Longwood High School, Middle Island, N.Y., was suspended for trying to raise awareness of a major issue--bullying in schools.  She produced a six-minute video on bullying for a high  school assignment, featuring a fictitious character (Hailey Bennet) as the victim, who ultimately commits suicide.  She also created a fake Facebook page in Hailey Bennet's name and posted an update that said, "I wanna be dead".  A concerned parent reported the page to the police. The school, ignoring all the notices on the page that it was mere fiction, suspended Barba for a period of five days for causing disruption.

Photo credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara
Barba right
Bullying has become a problem of such proportions because schools often tend to look the other way. At the beginning of every school year, school authorities convene assemblies to announce a no tolerance policy towards bullying.  Children are encouraged to report bullying to the counselors and teachers; however, either due to the volume of complaints or lack of trained personnel, the complaints get swept under the rug. With two children who have been through the public school system, I am aware of the horrors of the lunchtime school cafeteria and those unsupervised corners of the playground or the school corridors.  I know of parents who had to remove their children from such environment and pay exorbitant fees to private schools to keep them safer and happier and not just to give them a better education. 

Children that are bullied suffer loss of self-esteem, depression and anxiety and the trauma stays with them their entire lives. Schools have to nurture children and give them a carefree childhood instead of becoming a nightmare as they are apt to do nowadays. And there are none so blind as those who will not see; school officials must adopt stricter measures in combating this problem. "Bullying is 100 percent preventable," Barba says.The schools certainly should not punish somebody who is creating that awareness.  I think Jessica Barba is a heroine. 

UPDATE: The school reinstated Jessica Barba today.  It also promised to remove  the suspension off her transcript. Hopefully, it will now encourage free speech on this subject and allow dialogue and independent thought to address the issue.  For some more information on anti-bullying and proactive behavioral management, click here.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Winning Entry in a Short Story Contest: THE LONE WOLF by Renuka Vishwanathan

Renuka Vishwanathan is my classmate from high school and a very talented author.  Here is one of her pieces.

The site where her story appeared, will not allow me to copy and paste.  So I am providing the link.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What Is He Thinking? Or Is He? Mitt Romney on Women's Health

Women's health care has become a hot subject of political debate.  It seems that Republicans are not just taking a moral high ground here wagging their finger at some supposed promiscuity, but they are threatening to eliminate every safety net available to women.  Romney shows his concern for the middle class tax payers claiming they should not be burdened with more taxes...but here's a solution.  The rich could be taxed.  Affordable health care, I would presume, would be popular with citizens? In any case-- a poor, unwed, single mother is a bigger burden on the taxpayer.  The taxpayer not only feeds her but her uncared-for children as well, for their lifetime. 
Romney in a speech at Bradley University, Peoria, Illinois launched his "off with their heads" tirade against Planned Parenthood (PP)  and Obamacare. Dressed casually in denims and rolled up sleeves, obviously to represent the common working man and disguise his millionaire status, he very grandly directed women to go elsewhere for their health care--"Well they can go wherever they’d like to go. This is a free society.” Just not PP it seems.  Free society?  Apparently not. 
What's more, Romney wants to free the nation from debt by making its people go broke.

In the local community college where I work, young women and not so young women struggle with their student loans and the high cost of healthcare. Their part-time jobs do not provide them enough income to buy healthcare.  PP is very important to them. Republicans have to deal with problems realistically--if women get pregnant, usually there is a man behind it. Why are women being specially targeted? Republicans have become little Oliver Cromwells.  They are even squeamish about sex education.
The Tennessee Senate  passed SB 3310, a bill to update the state’s abstinence-based sex education curriculum to define holding hands and kissing as “gateway sexual activities.” Just one senator voted against the legislation; 28 voted in favor. Since the bill specifically bans teachers from “demonstrating gateway sexual activity”, educators would be prohibited from even demonstrating what hand-holding is.                                      (
Maybe they should support the gay marriage cause, no contraceptives or abortions needed. 
Who is to reason with people who believe all women are Jezebels, guns don't kill people or that when you fall and hurt yourself, the ground came up and attacked you.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Rabindranath Tagore's "Ekla Chalo Re"

A song by Rabindranath Tagore that inspires us to reach unafraid into the depths of our souls and find inner strength.  This song was the best feature of the film "Kahaani"(Hindi, 2012)

In Bengali
Jodi Tor Dak Soone Keu Na AsseTobe
Ekla Chalo re!
Ekla Chalo! Ekla Chalo! Ekla Chalo re!

Jodi Keu Katha Na Kai
Ore Ore O Abhaga
Jodi Sabai Thake Mukh Firae Sabai Kare Bhay
Tabe Paran Khule
O Tui Mukh Fute Tor Maner Katha
Ekla Balo re!

Jodi Sabai Phire Jai
Ore Ore O Abhaga
Jodi Gahan Pathe Jabar Kale Keu Feere Na Chay
Tobe Pather Kanta

O Tui Rakta Makha Charan Tale
Ekla Dalo re!

Jodi Alo Na Dhare
Ore Ore O Abhaga
Jodi Jharr Badale Andhar Rate Duar Deay Ghare
Tobe Bajranale
Apaan Buker Panjar Jaliey Nieye
Ekla Jalo re!


English Translation:
If they answer not to thy call,
walk alone!
Walk alone! Walk Alone! Walk Alone!
If they are afraid and cower mutely
facing the wall,
O thou of evil luck,
open thy mind and
speak out alone!

If they turn away,
and desert you when crossing the wilderness,
O thou of evil luck,
trample the thorns under thy tread,
and along the blood-lined track
travel alone!

If they do not hold up the light
when the night is troubled with storm,
O thou of evil luck,
with the thunder flame of pain
ignite thy own heart
and let it burn alone!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Supreme Court

Actually, it was a scary thing.  Back in November of 2011, three Justices of the Supreme Court attended a fundraiser dinner sponsored by the Federalist Society, a self-styled association of conservative and libertarian lawyers, that is trying to overturn President Obama's health care law (Affordable Care Act).  They were Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas  and Justice Samuel Alito.  Makes one wonder how impartial the Supreme Court justices are.  Bob Edgar writes, "This kind of activity by members of our highest court undercuts any claim of impartiality in the health care litigation by the justices involved. Worse yet, it clearly violates the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges, a set of ethical standards the Supreme Court helps enforce on lower federal courts but has refused to impose on itself. The Code warns judges to abstain from speaking or serving as the guest of honor at any fundraising event." (Huffington Post, 11/14/11)

The Nine Justices of the Supreme Court

As to issues concerning legislation, Supreme Court Justices tend to vote along partisan lines, in favor of the President who appointed them.  After all, we've been through this before in the 2000 elections, when recounting in Bush vs. Gore was stopped by the Supreme Court by a partisan vote.  In the case of Obama Care, all eyes are on Justice Kennedy who will cast the "deciding vote", which means the battle has ended before it began. Where is the blindfold that these Justices are supposed to wear? What steps must we take to preserve the system of checks and balances.  First of all,  I think Supreme Court justices should have a term of service.  They seem to sit like glaciers on our legal system for billions of years.  Next, they should not be political appointees but rather, elected by a legal board comprising representatives from all the states.  Knowing Congressmen and Senators and hobnobbing with them should be considered a disqualification--the judges should don a judicial "purdah".

Hopefully, the Supreme Court justices will make a decision that promises vision and changes the way people think about health care. A consistent 5-4 split is not justice, it is a mockery of it.  Remember that Brown vs. Board of Education returned a unanimous verdict.  "Today Brown is a nearly universal icon of social progress, while Roe remains an object of great controversy. But, for better or for worse, both cases represented efforts to change the everyday reality of American life. With Brown, the justices were tearing down barriers to racial equality; with Roe, the justices were eliminating laws that prevented access to abortion."(Cohn, The New Republic, 3/29/2012)
This bipartisan politics is only obstructing the growth of revolutionary ideas. America needs to change the way it conducts business.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Flush the Rush

Sandra Fluke testimony
Even conservative women must have wrinkled their nose in disgust at Rush Limbaugh's harsh, inappropriate and perverse invective against 
Ms. Sandra Fluke on March 1, 2012. Sandra Fluke is a law student at Georgetown University. She spoke to an unofficial hearing called by the Democratic party about her college's lack of health insurance coverage for contraceptive pills. Not only did Limbaugh reveal his ignorance of the uses of the birth control pill, he revealed his ignorance of health insurance system and to top it all, he let the entire country know that he has a sick yearning to see sex videos.  (Maybe Dharun Ravi could help here).  Although Limbaugh apologized for the words he used--he had called Ms. Sandra Fluke a 'slut' and a 'prostitute'--he maintains that contraceptives should not be covered under health insurance.  Maybe he prefers to pay welfare for women and children and their food stamps instead.  He is so busy condemning women for not taking responsibility for their actions and indulging in sexual promiscuity, he is so busy talking, that he is not putting on his "listening ears" as Judge Judy would say, and recognize that taking contraceptives is a way of assuming responsibility.  Besides, birth control is not the only use for the pill... 
Likes to be a voyeur

34  sponsors of his radio show decided the words he used mattered more than his views and withdrew support.

No one was more horrified than musician Peter Gabriel  whose song "Sledgehammer' was playing during Limbaugh's rant. "Peter was appalled to learn that his music was linked to Rush Limbaugh's extraordinary attack on Sandra Fluke. It is obvious from anyone that knows Peter's work that he would never approve such a use. He has asked his representatives to make sure his music is withdrawn and especially from these unfair aggressive and ignorant comments."

I wonder if he thinks when 'slutty' women prostitute themselves for sex, they share intimacy with parrots instead of men like him.  He has been married four times, he can't think babies are brought by storks.  Men don't need to be accountable?  I have an idea.  Maybe the women can save money (and the country too), conducting their lives Lorena Bobbitt style.

"No one with daughters the age of Sandra Fluke, and I have two, could possibly abide the insult and abuse heaped upon this courageous and well-intentioned young lady. Mr. Limbaugh, with his highly personal attacks on Miss Fluke, overstepped any reasonable bounds of decency. Even though Mr. Limbaugh has now issued an apology, we have nonetheless decided to withdraw our advertising from his show," Carbonite CEO David Friend said in a statement. "We hope that our action, along with the other advertisers who have already withdrawn their ads, will ultimately contribute to a more civilized public discourse."

President Obama called Ms. Fluke personally and said Fluke’s parents should be proud of her.

Stinky Limbaugh-ger!!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Billboard House

Mendoza at the Hostetler home
A Buena Park (Calfornia) home has donned a neon green and orange painted exterior as an advertisement for the marketing firm Brainiacs from Mars. In return, the firm pays the mortgage for the house as long as the Hostetlers, the owners, are willing to sport the advertisement.  

Full front view
Romeo Mendoza, CEO of Brainiacs from Mars, has had to remove the 9 foot long company sign from the top of the garage along with the Facebook and YouTube signs immediately after the photo shoots because they violated city zoning regulations.  Mendoza thinks the colors alone will serve the purpose. He hopes to paint a 1000 more, if the idea gains popularity. Right now he is advertising his own company.  Brainiac From Mars  screened 40,000 applications to choose this particular house.
Brainiacs from Mars Facebook page is filled with pictures of houses posted by hopeful homeowners. Says Debra Carter, "I'm going to dream of yellow, green, and orange. Visualizing my home in these colors every day since I put in my application and keeping my fingers and toes crossed. I am open to any shade of any color any time!"

Companies will now speak to us in colors.   Remember, orange and green is for Brainiacs from Mars. Each company will represent a color and in time will test our memory. Who'd have ever thought that advertising would keep Alzheimer's away...The idea may catch on.  I like how it helps people keep their homes but I certainly wouldn't want to live on a street that looks like Munchkin land,

Munchkin Land


Las Vegas

or Las Vegas at night time all the twenty-four hours long.


"The World is too much with us", complained the poet Wordsworth in the 19th century.  We can feel its intrusion now more than ever into our private lives. The situation may be unavoidable but what's next?  Advertising in our textbooks? Or is that already here?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Go JC Penney!! Go to JC Penney

Ellen DeGeneres
I've always shopped at JC Penney: I like their merchandise and I like their prices.  Now, after they firmly supported Ellen DeGeneres as their spokeswoman, I am proud to be shopping there.  A conservative group called "One Million Moms" objected to Ellen DeGeneres because she is gay. They claimed that hiring her would promote "immoral" values.  If you look on their site, they are objecting to Macy's "two groom" advertisement as well.  I hope they can find other places to shop. OMM  is confusing "traditional values" with bigotry and prejudice.  They would learn a lot more from the organization called Million Moms Challenge which raises awareness to promote healthy mothers and children all over the world.  Unfortunately, the worthy Million Moms Challenge organization got a lot of hate mail from confused Ellen fans.
On "CBS This Morning," Thursday (Feb 2, 2012), JCPenney chief executive officer, Ron Johnson, said the company "shares the same values" as DeGeneres and that the decision to have her as a spokesperson was a "no-brainer."
 And what does Ellen say about this? "They[OMM] wanted to get me fired, and I’m proud and happy to say that JCPenney stuck by their decision to make me their spokesperson. Which is great news for me because I also need some new crew socks. I’m really going to clean up with this discount.”