May 25, 2007

A Few Practical Things to do on Memorial Day (and in the future)

Editor's note: I wrote the following essay one year ago, but it’s still current, so I’m re-posting it again this year with a few minor changes.

Taking a Moment to Reflect and Appreciate

Be a sunflower today, turn your head towards the sun. Close your eyes and take a moment to reflect on your life. Let a sense of well-being come from within. Feel alive. Appreciate you being. And, make the world a little better by doing something nice for those around you, even if some of them are far away. Isn't appreciation part of having a national holiday? Let's not forget that we're standing on the shoulders of others, who stood on the shoulders of others, and so forth. Many of those who came before (some in our own families) us and many who came after us have made lots of sacrifice, including the ultimate one.

The extended Memorial Day weekend is here along with the unofficial start of the summer in the US. This holiday is about remembering those Americans [many of them immigrants and non-citizens, like our very first casualty in this war in Iraq] who gave their lives to keep us safe and free. But, this holiday should also be about life. Sacrifices should have an altruistic purpose, a greater meaning other than the recorded casualty number—a way to make life better for those left behind. That's why we, as a nation, must be very careful when we commit our blood, sweat and tears to a cause. And, we better make sure that our leaders understand this. It’s the least we can do to honor lives lost.

I don't like big & empty proclamations, overused superlatives and fake patriotism. Actually I'm offended by persons who show little respect and appreciation for the great sacrifices ordinary people made in order to build this beautiful country of ours. The presence and/or the size of one's flag doesn't necessarily reveal a person's commitment to this country. As a matter of fact, we all know scoundrels who wear the American flag on their lapels and fly huge flags to camouflage objectives. They may want to sell us ..used cars, or schemes whereas all the sacrifices are made by us, not them! Kind like a business arrangement to set a breakfast joint between the hen and the pig, whereas one provides the eggs and the other one the ham!

Any national holiday should serve as an opportunity for us to reflect on the things that unite us and why we choose to stick together in this commonwealth. What means to be an American and what responsibilities it carries is something we ought to ask ourselves; and we ought to ask our leaders the same question more often. We have plenty of examples in our own history when the leaders failed the people. We have the power to change things for the better, but only if we're informed and engaged in the affairs of our nation. I think this is the greatest honor and a respectful memorial to those who gave their lives for us. This is the patriotic way; to protect this United States of America and enhance the lives of its people.

And speaking of life, don't forget to create nice memories every day! Don't underestimate the little good but plentiful memories; they make life interesting and provide us with happiness. Give it a try, you'll see life becoming more exciting almost immediately! Have a great summer (and more) ahead!

May 21, 2007

Two Republican Governors Say EPA's Policy "borders on malfeasance." [ed. note: EPA implements Bush's (anti) environmental policy]

"It's bad enough that the federal government has yet to take the threat of global warming seriously, but it borders on malfeasance for it to block the efforts of states such as California and Connecticut that are trying to protect the public's health and welfare."

Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger (CA) and Jodi Rell (CT)

This article is worth reading, because it shows the current administration's views on global warming and EPA's bad policies that adversely affect our health and that of our children. It's time we elect leaders who examine the scientific evidence and act in the interest of the commonwealth, not big business or with religious fanaticism. Stem cell research, for example, holds great promise for unlocking secrets to a better life for millions of people, but it's been blocked by the ignorant and the fanatics.

Property rights should not be a greater priority than human rights. It's time we have a national debate whether education, health care, clean & safe environment are rights or privileges. It's a matter of priorities, isn't it? We've already spend more some $450 billion--with a projected total cost of over a trillion--and have lost more lives than on 9/11 in order to invade & occupy Iraq. And, we did this while our government gave tax cuts--most of them going to the wealthy.

Enough with this stupidity already. We citizens must pay closer attention to what the politicians are saying and, yes, how smart they are! Especially, when it comes to matters of science, we cannot afford to elect the ignorant and anyone with views fit for the Dark Ages. Their decisions matter because they affect our lives and change the direction of our country--and the world, since the US is a global leader.

Those who hold an anti-science & pro-ignorance mind should never hold public office. It's dangerous!

May 13, 2007

Some Lessons are Learned very Early in a Person's Life. Yet, Education Should be an Ongoing Experience.

Luck favors the prepared mind.

As another semester draws to a close, some 50% of American students, who began their studies four to six years ago, are participating in commencement ceremonies. Far too many students aren't graduating, and far too many never enter a higher education institution. The cost of tuition and student loans have become more expensive. As a country we have to re-evaluate whether access to health care and education should be a privilege or a right.

Conversely, I've seen many students squander their opportunities to attend and graduate college. There are many reasons for this--from not being able to afford the financial burden, to balancing work & school, to improper attitude. What pains me is that the latter is something within the control of the student and, thus, it's a self-imposed limitation. I've seen far too many bright kids who fail, because they are not serious enough about undertaking a long project and see it to its completion. They are often resistant to accepting direction and help from faculty. Obviously, these are young people and are entitled to making mistakes, and deserve second chances, but any young adult has to be able to be a quick learner, to adopt to the circumstances, and prevail. The so-called real world often is much harsher and doesn't offer repeated chances to success.

I attended a college of the City University of New York (CUNY) and I was very grateful that I was able to attend, learn, and earn a couple degrees. It was also a commuter college where most of the students had jobs and many did take more than four years to complete their degrees. But, the attitude was different than the attitude I've observed at two colleges [one for profit and one non profit] for several years; I've seen too many students having a rather casual attitude today that I had never seen when I was a student. High school contributes to shaping the character of many students; yet, it prepares them poorly to tackle academic subjects.

There's something else we should pay attention to besides what someone learns by reading and absorbing in the classroom. Proper habits and proper attitude are equally important. Unfortunately, too many young people who enter college lack those skills, and are not quick to revise bad habits. Every time I walk into a classroom, I know that half of my students will not graduate! I tell them so--hoping that they would do whatever they can not to fall into this category. I see it as my mission as well. I spend class time talking about the need for proper attitude: meeting deadlines, being serious, doing more than the bare minimum, being creative, demonstrating that they can work well within a group, elevate the quality of their group by being good contributors, taking a long project and complete it, being able to accept instruction, and see this experience as a good & fun event in their lives. Skills a person develops in college are great skills to take to the professional world out there.

Unfortunately, bad habits sometimes prevail, setting the tone from day one. Why a student can have an adversarial attitude toward the teacher is beyond me--and I know it is not a winning strategy. We faculty are not there to make students miserable or to make them fail. On the contrary. In places I've taught, the vast majority of faculty do take an active interest in the progress of their students. There are other higher education institutions--mostly research universities--where undergrad students rarely see their professors, and many courses are taught by TAs, grad students, or adjuncts. I think this is not right. I have certain views on what being a teacher is about that run contrary to practices in several learning institutions. I believe that contributing to knowledge and expanding the horizons of a particular field is not uni-directional. Both research and transmission of knowledge (including the excitement of learning new things) to students are necessary, and there should be a distinction between a scholar and a teacher. The problem is that many colleges confuse the two.

But, learning how to swim also requires attention, following the instructions, and practicing. I'm happy to see that many students do grab this opportunity to learn, develop the necessary skills, and to elevate themselves into the leaders of tomorrow. We need more of them. We need to re-think our strategy and the mission of what a higher education should be. Harvard University, among many, is now trying to change the way it educates its students, because a great school should not be primarily judged by the number of bright minds on its faculty (who do research but are otherwise inaccessible to the students); nor should it be judged for its ability to find jobs for the students.

It's good for America to produce smarter, truly educated people; it's good for our economy, for our politics, and for the whole world, since the US is a global leader. The earlier we begin to educate our children the better. It begins at home, with the development of proper attitude towards learning, with good study habits, and with parents being true mentors not just disciplinarians! Education--which is more than reading books--should not be an adversarial exercise but a good and desirable objective for every person.

May 4, 2007

The Republican Presidential Candidates Reaffirm their Intolerance, Ignorance, and Bad Plans for America

Updated, 5/7 (below)

I watched the Republican "debate" and I thought that Ronald Reagan won it quite handily! Everybody wants to be like Ronnie, but all ten candidates sounded very dangerous. But, what are you going to do when the crowd you're appealing to is in the Dark Ages? When 66% of GOP voters believe that victory in Iraq is still possible!

Seriously. It's not only the fault of the leaders, but the people too. How can you argue for exploring beyond the horizon when the people believe the Earth is flat? Of course, it doesn't excuse the ignorance and the failure to enlighten the people, but if you want to survive and be a leader in the Conservative circles today, then you have to reflect the public sentiment of that political base.

Would you expect that in the 21st century America (an advanced country) we'd be debating evolution v. creation or ID?! Thus, these stars of conservatism are against evolution--against the validity of one of the strongest scientific theories we've got. They're for teaching ID/creationism [yes, only a particular theistic myth] as science in our public schools; they're against stem-cell research, and anything that has to do with science and rational thinking. Well, they're not all that crazy when it comes to their own well-being, as they do go to the best doctors and get the best medical treatment science has made possible. The rest of Americans, you may ask... Not so fast. Shrink the government and the services most Americans need, and let the marketplace solve all problems, they tell us.

Even though it's sickening to see American politicians peddling to the lowest common denominator, it's important to hear what these people are saying... and get some extra motivation to work a little harder to make sure that none of them is elected.

Update 5/5. In the comments section, I have a link to Keith Olberman's editorial on Rudy Giuliani. Keith's points should be in the playbook of the Democratic nominee in case Giuliani wins the Republican nomination. One more thing; we have to remind ourselves that the conservative base does not think or behave like the progressives, and a large segment of the Democratic base. The conservatives need authoritarian figures to lead them--Giuliani's strength. So, don't assume that because Rudy's prior views (when he was mayor of NYC) on certain issues will prevent him from capturing the nomination. If he scares the conservative primary voters enough, and if he projects himself as a very strong, experienced leader, he may very well win it.

Update 5/7: Follow the money. Mr. Tenet is not talking about the millions of dollars he's made for being a consultant to companies that are profiting from the war in Iraq. He also has a fat salary from Georgetown University. And, he got a $4 million advance from his publisher. Not bad, heh?

May 1, 2007

"Mission Accomplished" has Turned into Mission Impossible.

Yeah, he accomplished something... To divide our friends, unite our enemies, and bleed our country!

Longer than our engagement in WW 2, this war of (bad) choice still lingers. Our imperial president still says we'll win, and if we don't fight them over there.....

Of course, if we had more troops, had spend more money, had more time, stay there for ever, victory will be achieved! Forever is a long time, anything is possible (though not probable).

Actually, I'm glad George Tenet is out shooting off his mouth and shooting his own foot, while reminding us of the criminally negligent administration he so loyally served.

Three months before the war, Bush was briefed by Tenet and his CIA deputy. At some point, even Bush wondered whether the evidence they're putting out was convincing enough. In this marketing & selling strategy meeting, Tenet said that he could "boost" the (fabricated) evidence to make it a "slam dunk" case! So, they did, and the ("liberal") media never challenged the assertions nor it examined the evidence presented.

Thus, this democracy allowed this Bush & Co to accomplish a feat a dictator would be very envious of: to convince 75% of the people to buy the pack of lies and support Caesar's war!

“Victory means exit strategy, and it’s important for the president to explain to us what the exit strategy is.”
George W. Bush, 4/9/99, Houston Chronicle (criticizing President Clinton's policy in Kossovo)

PS>I forgot to point out that loyalty for Tenet didn't include defending one of CIA's own, Valerie Plame, whose career was destroyed and her (and her contacts') safety jeopardised by the revelation of her secret identity. Some patriots, heh?