In the News…. September 26, 2011

One step forward…

From The Hindu:

Saudi Arabia: Yesterday King Abdullah announced that women will have the right to vote and run for public office in the 2015 elections. Very exciting news! Women’s groups in the country had been using the momentum of the Arab Spring to stage protests, especially around the ban against women driving. The government has gone easy on these rebellious women, not wanting to inspire a similar uprising like their neighboring countries. Power to the people.

And another backwards…


United States: Georgian Troy Davis was executed last week for allegedly killing an off-duty police officer, even though hundreds of thousands of people petitioned against the execution.  Apparently seven out of the nine jurors changed their verdict after the trial, saying that police had pressured them for a conviction.

In related news, Republican Presidential candidate Rick Perry is a big advocate for the death penalty. Under his leadership Texas put 234 people to death.


In the News… August 8, 2011

NY: From Virginia Heffernan, an Education update for the digital age. Why do students write better researched and more thoughtful web content than schoolwork for their teachers?

We need curriculum that is full of collaborative work rather than requiring isolating and uninspiring essays.  Amen to that, and I’m an English major. Reading this op-ed made me really excited, as it means that education reform is slowly creeping into social consciousness. Let’s get out of the 19th century for goodness’ sake.

Not the jobs we want

Russia: Putin called the US out, saying that we are living beyond our means. You think?  I was however somewhat shocked to read this kind of blatant bashing. Then I realized that yes, this is our new normal.  Many people in the world think this. You can bet that you definitely won’t hear about this speech on CNN.

“They are living beyond their means and shifting…their problems to the world economy,” Putin told the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi…”They are living like parasites off the global economy and their monopoly of the dollar.” 

For a good time: watch Vladimir sing “Blueberry Hill” to rich celebrities.

Unsettling Survival

“The infinite wonders of the universe are revealed to us in the exact measure that we are capable of receiving them.” –Helen Keller

I had a check-in meeting with Vijaybai yesterday, and I have been given a very exciting new project. But I will start at the beginning.

An hour earlier I had been meeting with Shivakumar, and he was answering my many questions on spirituality. We were talking about how each culture has a unique capacity in the physical, emotional, and mental bodies. For example, the culture of England and France were very developed in technology, the physical capacities of force. When they came to North America, the Native Americans were more developed spiritually, something that the foreign invaders would not have even noticed, let alone valued.

Shivakumar told me I had to read a letter from Chief Seattle in a book called Whispers of Nature, edited by Vijaybai.

So then an hour later, I had my meeting with Vijaybai. I told him that I wanted to go again to the organic garden to experience and learn more of what it has to offer.  We started talking about the importance of holistic farming, and he said, “let me give you something to read.” What book did he pull out but the Whispers of Nature! Within an hour, I had received two copies of this book from two of the wisest people I know. Weird, huh? I think this book must have been intensely trying to find me.

In 1854, the US federal government wanted to buy a large area of land in exchange for a promised ‘reservation’ for the people to live on. Chief Seattle has some beautiful advice and words of warning for the white man to remember our relation to the land. Chief Seattle asks, “How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?…All things share the same breath.”

I don’t necessarily think that owning land is inherently bad, but if it must be so then we should take a serious look at how we treat our land that we “own.” Is it necessary to cut down every tree on the lot to build our house? Where will our water and electricity come from? Do we really need to build a pool, or to clear the brush for manicured lawns? Could we even build living communities that share spaces, such as the bathroom and kitchen, so that we don’t all have to build new houses?

Chief Seattle also comments on the limited understanding of the white man in spiritual and religious matters. Europeans had the uncanny ability to ignore the intent behind the spiritual views, focusing only on the material manifestations of religion.  Any belief system that didn’t have monumental structures or texts was automatically considered barbaric. Didn’t anyone understand that religion is a cultural construct? That man is so desperate to label and categorize right and wrong, bad and good, that he will build walls of morality around him to pretend he understands how to live? But I digress…

Chief Settle issues a warning to the white man:

“We may be brothers after all. We shall see. One thing we know, which the white man may one day discover-our God is the same God. You may think now that you own Him as you wish to own the land, but you cannot. He is the God of man, and His compassion is equal to the red man and the white. The earth is precious to Him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its Creator. The white too shall pass…but in your perishing you will shine brightly, fired by the strength of the God who brought you to this land and for some special purpose gave you dominion over this land and over the red man. That destiny is a mystery to us…The buffalo are all slaughtered…the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires. Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone. The end of living and the beginning of survival.”

We are now in the age of survival. But God is nothing if not full of grace. So too is the earth. We can fix the damage if we start fixing ourselves.

The Rise of Women in India

Women are taking over India, in both business and politics. Here is a quick overview of the Indian political leaders in power. All women. Thanks to UO Professor Surendra Subramani for the email & photos.

We have Tamil Nadu’s own J Jayalilithaa in the South.

The fiery Mamata Banerjee in the East, the first female Chief Minister of West Bengal 

Mayawati in the North, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh

 In Central India, New Delhi, the Indian capital itself is ruled by Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.

Ms Sonia Gandhi is the leader of UPA, the party which is running the Government of India for a second consecutive term. She is the leader of the biggest Indian Political party, Indian National Congress. 

Ms. Pratiba Patil from the state of Maharashtra is on top as the President of India.

Parliament is in the process of passing the “Women’s Reservation Bill”, which reserves 33% of its seats for women. What a great idea! For reference, the 112th US Congress is made up of 16% women. We need to get some more women in there, who want to get to work instead of fostering healthy egos.

The other day I read an article about the increase of women enrolled in business schools. I liked this article not just for the good news of more women entering fields of leadership and management, but that The Hindu would find it newsworthy enough to write about. The Indian Institute of Management in Kozhikode has seen an increase from 10% women over the past fifty years, now the percentage of women enrolled is at 35%.

The article also talked about more women leaders in the United States, naming Drew Faust, the first woman president of Harvard, and Ren Khator, Chancellor of University of Houston, who is the first American-Indian woman ever to become head of a major American university.  Originally from Uttar Pradesh, “her story illustrated the rise of a first generation Indian immigrant from an obscure town in northern India to hard-earned glory in North America.” I thought the editorializing about glory was amusing.

A recent report in Reuters International put India as one of the top five most dangerous countries to be born a woman, alongside Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Equal opportunity is the greatest barrier for girls and women, as parents often give their sons more coaching and leadership development, along with an early marriage age of about 13 to 18 in most villages.

Women are expected to get married after school, which makes it more difficult to study and do well on the necessary examinations, even if that is an accepted option for them. One of the Sri Aurobindo Society’s large-scale projects is infrastructure development and education in the nearby village of Sarvam

The village school only offered up to grade 8. The school that offered grades 9 and 10 was 5 km away. If a student gets through grade 10 they take the big examination that will determine their future access to post-secondary education. But parents in Sarvam do not want to send their daughters that far away to go to school, as it is not safe for them to walk on their own. Daughters need to also provide daily household support to their families, so a daughter in school can seem burdensome. So with the help of the Society, the local school began offering classes through grade 10. This is one example of the straightforward but very impactful initiatives that the Society does in their village development work.

Education of women is the single best thing we can do to boost economies and better the quality of life for everyone. One of my favorite books I have recently read is called Half the Sky, a heartbreaking but inspiring  book about the impacts that education plays in empowering women. Another one I just finished is called Infidel, about a Somalian refugee who escapes from an arranged marriage and eventually becomes a member of Dutch Parliament. She is a strong advocate for women who are societally oppressed by Muslim culture. A captivating read.

Secretary of State

Guess who came to Chennai a few days ago? No one but our own Secretary of State! Hillary met with the newly elected Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. After congratulating her on her impressive victory, Clinton talked about her desire to build economic ties in Tamil Nadu for road infrastructure, automobile manufacturing, and Tamil Nadu’s goal of building ten solar energy parks.

Jayalalithaa wants more American visas to be granted to Indians from Tamil Nadu. The US’s original quota of 195,000 H1B visas has been lowered to 65,000, meaning a very high rejection rate. Sounds fair to me. The US can build their factories if Indians can get into the US to benefit from its prosperity? I don’t believe in international outsourcing, but if I did that sounds fair to me…

Clinton also gave a speech about the US pulling out of Afghanistan by 2014, as Indians have concerns.