Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Teaching Treasure

As I was driving to work yesterday, I caught part of a talk radio interview with Foothill College astronomy instructor Andrew Fraknoi. I've been listening to this guy for decades, and every time I hear him, I am bowled over by his unflagging enthusiasm for astronomy and his supreme ability to convey complex scientific concepts in strikingly clear and simple terms. He's a science teaching treasure, and I wish he had wider media exposure, the way Carl Sagan did, and that there were more teachers like him not only in the sciences, but also in other disciplines such as philosophy and integral spirituality.

I also wish there were more people like him in all walks of life, gushing with enthusiasm not only for their work but for life in general, and radiant with benevolence and a love for learning.

I think we all benefit from having role models, and Andrew Fraknoi is one of mine.

A PBS interview with Andrew Fraknoi

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Quote of the Day

I have no sympathy for Madoff. But the fact is, his alleged Ponzi scheme was only slightly more outrageous than the “legal” scheme that Wall Street was running, fueled by cheap credit, low standards and high greed. What do you call giving a worker who makes only $14,000 a year a nothing-down and nothing-to-pay-for-two-years mortgage to buy a $750,000 home, and then bundling that mortgage with 100 others into bonds — which Moody’s or Standard & Poors rate AAA — and then selling them to banks and pension funds the world over? That is what our financial industry was doing. If that isn’t a pyramid scheme, what is?
--Thomas Friedman

Searching For a Way Through It All

These are scary times economically. I want to believe that things won't get too bad, but it's a struggle when knowledgeable people such as Paul Krugman, Thomas Friedman, and Robert Reich keep telling us how apprehensive they are.

Then there are the real prophets of doom such as Gerald Celente. He ominously predicts the imminent end of the world as we know it or, at least, of the United States as economic chaos inexorably engulfs us in the worst depression any living person has ever seen and produces catastrophic unemployment, poverty, hunger, and mob violence.

When I first heard Celente speak on Coast to Coast AM, I thought he was some kind of crackpot, albeit an articulate one, gearing his message to a listening audience filled with crackpots. But then I found out that respectable people take his economic and social forecasts seriously.

Then I read articles like this in Robert Reich's blog about how the leaders of the financial institutions and the "Big Three" auto manufacturers believe that our economic woes are less the result of bad business policies than they are of inevitable economic cycles and that as soon as the current situation improves, they will return to business as usual if we let them. Reich writes:
Right now, Wall Street and Detroit are willing to say whatever they need to say to keep the taxpayer money coming. But when the economy begins turning up, my betting is that their Washington lobbyists will push back hard against any major restructurings the government wants to impose on them. New regulations of Wall Street will be watered down and circumvented; new requirements on the Big Three for green technologies will be resisted.

Yet the bailouts have been sold to the public as means toward fundamental change in finance and autos. If the bailouts are to do what they're supposed to – stop Wall Street from wild risk-taking with piles of borrowed money, and push the auto industry into making fundamentally new products that conserve energy -- Washington will not only have to set strict standards now and in the months ahead when the bailout money flows, but also hang tough when the economy begins to revive.

I read things like this, and my hopefulness suffers further decline. For even if we manage to climb out of this economic mess before too long, it sounds to me as though the policies that got us here will resume, and we'll find ourselves in another and possibly worse mess before terribly long. Either that or these economic upheavals really are cyclical and there's nothing we can do to prevent them. Neither prospect instills optimism.

Yet I try to remain optimistic that, individually and collectively, we can find our way through these trying times and learn enough to prevent or, at least, delay and soften future ones. I'm looking to find my way.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Quote of the Day

Let Michael Moore point out, entirely correctly, the close ties between the Saudis and the Bush family, and he’s blasted as a crazy conspiracy theorist. On the other hand, let Donald Luskin suggest, in 2004, that George Soros is planning to engineer a financial crisis to defeat Bush, and he gets to publish front-page articles in the Washington Post Outlook section declaring that there isn’t a recession.
--Paul Krugman

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Quote of the Day

If TARP is a slush fund, everything's arbitrary. We're no longer a nation of laws; we're a nation of Treasury and White House officials with hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money to dispense as they see fit.
--Robert Reich

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Quote of the Day

Seriously, we are in very deep trouble. Getting out of this will require a lot of creativity, and maybe some luck too.
--Paul Krugman

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rambo House

In the late 1980's, an exciting stickfighting scene between John Rambo and his opponent in a ring in Thailand was featured in the movie Rambo III. This scene has special significance for my wife and her family because it was filmed at her house in Bangkok where she grew up. Her family still owns the property, although most of them no longer live there. However, they continue to call it the "Rambo House."

The scene took several days to set up and film, requiring modifications to be made to the building, where my wife's family business built boats, in which the fight took place. After the fight, Rambo gets on a boat and heads up the river from the same spot from which my wife used to travel almost every day to school or work.

Of course, my wife's family was paid for the use of their property, and they certainly enjoyed having the biggest movie star in the world at that time filming a major motion picture in their yard. Below is almost the complete scene, courtesy of the miraculous resource YouTube.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Muslim Silence

Why have Muslim organizations, very quick to protest insulting cartoons, been mostly silent about the atrocities in Mumbai?
--Camille Paglia

Why, indeed.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Like Father, Like Son

L. Subramaniam is one of the finest violinists on the planet, and it looks like his son is following in his footsteps.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Economic Double-Think

There's kind of a weird double-think involved in arguments that the slump should be allowed to follow its natural course. It's true that classical economics says that we should let market forces do their work; but classical economics also says that severe recessions can't happen. This idea that we must not intervene is based on a worldview that is refuted by the very fact that the economy is in the mess it's in.
--Paul Krugman

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Overcoming Poverty of the Spirit

And I marveled to find that at last I loved you and not some phantom instead of you; and I did not hesitate to enjoy my God, but was ravished to you by your beauty.
– Saint Augustine

To deepen our love, to unify our desires, the Lord – the Self within – on occasion gives us a fleeting taste of the joy of union. Once we taste this joy, all we want is to be permanently aware of him in everyone, everywhere, every minute. This intense longing is the mark of genuine spiritual experience.

At the same time we experience the joy of union, we see clearly the great mass of self-will that weighs us down and keeps us from our most cherished goal.

Yet none of us need feel disheartened. Remember how even great figures like Saint Augustine almost despaired when they saw how powerful was the pull of selfish satisfaction. That is our human conditioning, and it is no reason to give up. All of us can learn to reduce our excess baggage.
Eknath Easwaran

If I'd ever had Easwaran's "fleeting taste of the joy of union" with the Lord, perhaps I would hunger and strive with all my heart to know it permanently. But I have not, and so I do not.

How can I, and how do I? By meditating and contemplating enough? How much is enough? And how does one do enough without the inspiration of which Easwaran writes? Just as one needs money or other resources in order to earn more money, doesn't one also need to feel inspired in order to make an enduring effort to make big spiritual gains? I often feel like a man who is too poor to become rich.

I don't say this because I am depressed or demoralized; I say it because I don't know what to do, yet, I continue to look for it.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Quote of the Day

I’ve been ruminating over economic prospects for next year, and I’m getting scared.
--Paul Krugman

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Witty Reply

I just returned from the supermarket. While waiting in line to pay for my groceries, I overheard this exchange between a customer and the checker.

Customer: How was your Thanksgiving?

Checker: We had to work.

Customer: That's too bad. But at least I guess you got paid well.

Checker: We got paid closer to what we're worth.

I thought this was a good, witty answer. This is one reason why I don't use the checkout machines to pay for my groceries even if I could do it faster that way. I like the human touch, and I like to hear conversations like the one above.