Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Science in US

BBC News reported that China 'to overtake US on science' in two years, concluded a major new study by the Royal Society, the UK's national science academy.

An analysis of published research - one of the key measures of scientific effort - reveals an "especially striking" rise by Chinese science.
The study, Knowledge, Networks and Nations, charts the challenge to the traditional dominance of the United States, Europe and Japan.
The figures are based on the papers published in recognised international journals listed by the Scopus service of the publishers Elsevier.

In 1996, the first year of the analysis, the US published 292,513 papers - more than 10 times China's 25,474.

By 2008, the US total had increased very slightly to 316,317 while China's had surged more than seven-fold to 184,080.

Previous estimates for the rate of expansion of Chinese science had suggested that China might overtake the US sometime after 2020.

But this study shows that China, after displacing the UK as the world's second leading producer of research, could go on to overtake America in as little as two years' time.

"Projections vary, but a simple linear interpretation of Elsevier's publishing data suggests that this could take place as early as 2013," it says.

In the U.S., bashing of teachers is the favorite subject for politicians these days. Full sale assault on science permeated every corner of our daily life.  When if evolution should be taught in school is a hot debating topic, you know this country is setting itself up for failure.

Also, this country is doing well in consoling losers in competitions, but is not good at encouraging more competitions.

Considering this headline story in California - CSU to turn away 10,000 students stating that California State University system, facing a crushing funding issue, threatens to "turn away" qualified or eligible 10,000 students.

Eligible students?  What makes a high school graduate eligible for college education?  It might sound strange to many Americans but it is a very present issue in more competitive countries such as Japan or China.  There, eligibility means one could beat other applicants and be accepted into hard to gain seats.  Here, it means one sat through, actively or passively, his or her high school years, with or without the readiness to take college level courses, with or without intention and ambition to work in any field requiring college educations.  There, higher education is the reward for hard work one puts in; here, it is god-given rights we can trample and discard at our will.

Our country is setting itself for failure; our educational system is setting our children up for failure.

But, as long as we can own next generation of iXXXXXXXX, we'll do fine.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Which End of the Boat Sinks First? - Dueling Between Democrats and Republicans

The fiscal situation in California is dire and to call the once golden state a sinking boat is not exaggeration at all.  Look at some top stories on today's San Francisco Chronicle and you'll understand:
Governor Jerry Brown proposed deep services cuts for the poor and middle class, hoping to get support from Republicans to put a temporary tax extension on a special election ballot.  But deadline came and went and he got no support.  The huge imbalance of public workers pensions and benefits are not addressed by the Democrats either.  One would hope these two ruling parties would barter some of these.  No.  If anything same can be done, we are not in California.

The Republicans and Democrats, sitting in two ends of this leaking boat, instead of working together to scoop out water and fix the leakage, are fighting tooth and nail to ensure that the other end of the boat sinks first.

This is not confined to California alone.  It is being played out from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

It is being played out from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

It is being played out from the curvaceous slopes of California!

It is being played out from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

It is being played out Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

It is being played out every hill and molehill of Mississippi.  From every mountainside, it is being played out.

A dream or a nightmare?

Domesticity / 家居 / Häuslichkeit
Oil on Canvas
© Matthew Felix Sun

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Representative Barbara Lee's Anger

San Francisco Chronicle reported that some lawmakers are very uncomfortable, or even angry at America's involvement in enforcing non-fly zone in Libya, to protect civilian being slaughtered by Libyan's army and mercenaries, such as the reaction from Barbara Lee, who did her lone duty to oppose Bush's disastrous invasion of Iraq:
Rep. Barbara Lee, an anti-war Oakland Democrat, echoed Lugar's concerns. "What is our responsibility and commitment there?" Lee said, and asked, "Where do we draw the line for military intervention considering unrest and violence" in nations such as Congo, Ivory Coast and Yemen?
It is right for congress to be involved and even authorize such intervention, which came way too late.  But technically speaking, we are not at war with Libya, therefore, it is debatable if US's involvement needs congressional approval.  As for Lee's concern regarding responsibility and commitment, which she could help to define it.

Our involvement is not without caution.  Decision was not made recklessly and spontaneously.  Our target was well chosen, acknowledging the real politics and our limitation.  When the Russian army was pounding Chechnya, and if it were Chinese army bombing its people, we would not try to enforce a non-fly zone.  Libya is weaker and can be brought down to its knees.  With the Arab countries' consent, we also have moral high ground.

One thing we cannot forget is that US is still the strongest country in the world and should bear appropriate responsibility, both in keeping the world peaceful and combating global warming and drug traffic.  We have failed in many fronts but that should not deter us to fulfill some of our moral obligations.

This kind of commitment and responsibility would not live forever.  As a declining empire, the days of US's hegemony are numbered.

One of the days, Americans would say this with nostalgia:  Whenever there was a crisis, we were always called upon to play the police and firefighters.  How we wish we can do it again.

Representative Lee, please do remember that the world's wealth helped to make US strong and great and the strong and great US should not always shirk its duties.

Siege / 圍攻 / Belagerung

It was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who had the right insight:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, who was briefly hospitalized for fatigue Monday in Italy after returning from Afghanistan, added nothing to her statement Friday commending Obama "for his leadership and prudence on how our nation will proceed in regards to Libya and work in concert with European and Arab allies to address the crisis.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Solution to Unemployment - Domestics

The persistent high unemployment rate in the US can be solved easily if we pay close attend to the trend that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer, with a fast diminishing middle class in this country.

Let us cast our eyes towards our mother country - The United Kingdom of Great Britain and the Northern Ireland - for solutions, say in Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë time.  That country in that time can serve a good model for us.

First, let's get women back to dependency, and that can get rid of roughly half the population in the work force, with the side benefit of pleasing our Bible touting fundamentalists.

Second, let's revive the careers of domestics or servitude.  There are so much wealth going to the already fabulously rich, it is conceivable that they will find the well-trained domestics quite nice to keep.  They will have butlers, maids, pages, valets, footmen, gardeners, cooks, chauffeurs, doctors, nurses, laundresses, pool boys, dwarfs, etc.

Shade / 陰涼處 / Schatten
The list will go on forever.  For example, according to The Domestic Servant Class in Eighteenth-Century England, "the Earl of Northumberland in 1521 kept 166 servants and Bishop of Ely before his death in 1533 kept 100.

According to Giles Jacob, the average large country family would include twenty servants; and in his estimate of the cost of keeping that number he provides for eight or ten liveries, thus indicating that half or almost half of them would be men. Peter Legh's household must have been about this size in 1760. His menservants included a butler, an under-butler, a cook, a coach-man, a groom, a groom's helper, a postillion, two footmen and a park-keeper--ten in all."

To make things better for the employers, all the domestics should be classified as part of their households to reduce their unfairly large tax burdens.  Maybe our federal and state governments should give these employers tax credit for each domestic they gallantly, selflessly employ. 

In order to make sure that a large amount of the unemployed get absorbed into the domestic servants market, we must increase the wealth percentage of the rich, the ensure that they will not hesitate to spend $100 or $200 per month to hire a footman or two.

Surely, we can reduced our unemployment rate to the nadir and our country will once again, be the envy of the whole world. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How Many Disasters Would It Take To Wake Up Americans?

BP oil spills.  Japan nuclear plant melt-down.  Mideast oil producing countries' unrest.  There have been plenty reasons for any sane person to recognize that our high-energy consumption life-style must change and we must reduce our over-reliance on coal, oil or nuclear powers.  The best effort to combat the increasingly unsustainable situation is to conserve and to be more energy efficient.

However, America is not a country overloaded with sane people.  We have too many reckless ideologues.  Let's looked at a San Francisco Chronicle article House GOP targets state's tough emission standards:
Taking advantage of a spike in gasoline prices, House Republicans are moving rapidly to gut California's landmark controls on greenhouse-gas emissions from cars as a way to prevent the tougher state standards from spreading nationwide.

The legislation, HR910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act, would revoke the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to grant California the federal waivers it needs to impose tougher fuel-efficiency requirements based on carbon emissions.

The federal government has granted California waivers under the Clean Air Act for four decades, allowing tougher state standards in recognition of the state's unique air pollution problems.

Revoking the waiver would eviscerate the state's implementation of AB32, the 2006 climate-change law signed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Young [Stanley Young, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board] said, because tailpipe emissions are a key source of carbon dioxide emissions.

Ranking committee Democrat Henry Waxman of Los Angeles issued a detailed analysis of the legislation that determined it would "repeal California's ability to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from motor vehicles."

California regulations in the past have forced automakers to boost fuel efficiency in vehicles sold nationwide, because the state represents roughly one-tenth of the market for new vehicles.

"We believe California's standards have helped accelerate the penetration of cleaner, more efficient cars into the marketplace," Young said.
When would people learn any lesson?  History, unfortunately, repeats itself too often.  Perhaps, we are really heading towards the 2012 Mayan Doomsday?  If it happens, I am sure that we have only our human race to blame.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Easy Classes in the USA

Two articles on today's newspapers caught my attention.  One article was on New York Times - More Foreign-Born Scholars Lead U.S. Universities:

Molly Easo Smith, president of
Manhattanville College,
grew up in India

As colleges in the United States race to expand study-abroad programs and even to create campuses overseas, they are also putting an international stamp on the president’s office.

The Association of American Universities, which represents most of the large research campuses in the United States and Canada, said that 11 of its 61 American member institutions have foreign-born chiefs, up from 6 in 2005. In the past two months, three colleges in the New York region have appointed presidents born abroad: Cooper Union tapped a scholar originally from India; Seton Hall University, a candidate from the Philippines; and Stevens Institute of Technology, a native of Iran.

The globalization of the college presidency, higher-education experts say, is a natural outgrowth of the steady increase of international students and professors on American campuses over the past four decades. And it will most likely lead to more relationships and exchanges abroad, they say, while giving students a stronger sense that they are world citizens — a widely advertised goal in academia.

This demonstrated the strength of the US - the ability to attract the best talents in the world.  Yet, that only tells the half of the story.  One has to ask where are the home-grown talents?  The answer might lie in the other article published by San Francisco Chronicle: Stanford drops list of 'easy' classes for athletes.
A drama class in Beginning Improvising and another in Social Dances of North America III were among dozens of classes on a closely guarded quarterly list distributed only to Stanford athletes to help them choose classes.

The list, which has existed since at least 2001, was widely regarded by athletes as an easy class list. More than a quarter of the courses on the list did not fulfill university general education requirements.

The classes on the list were "always chock-full of athletes and very easy A's," said Kira Maker, a soccer player who used the list her freshman year.

Stanford officials say the list was designed to accommodate athletes' demanding schedules and have disputed that it was made up of easy courses. But officials discontinued it last week after reporters began asking about it.

Titled "Courses of Interest," the list was distributed by the Athletic Academic Resource Center. Advisers in other university departments said they were unaware such a list existed.
Stanford has long mandated equal scholastic footing among all undergraduates, including athletes. Many of its student athletes, in fact, have distinguished themselves in the classroom, notably football stars Andrew Luck, who has a 3.5 GPA, and Owen Marecic, who plans to graduate this year with a degree in human biology.

The university's hard-line approach has rankled some coaches over the years who have watched talented recruits go elsewhere because they didn't measure up to Stanford's academic standards.

But some faculty and students say the list may have offered an academic advantage for the athletes who requested it - especially since the general population was unaware it was available.

Austin Lee, director of academic services at the Athletic Academic Resource Center, disagreed that the classes were easier than others at Stanford.

For too long, easy classes are offered not only in elite universities for elite athletes in the US.  Comparing our middle school and high school text books to those used in other countries which place more importance on education, it is not exaggerating that our classes are almost all easy classes, particularly those in Mathematics and Sciences.  The wink wink leniency like that in Stanford exists in China too - one of my six roommates was an athlete and he often get a pass in courses he should have failed.  The difference is that athletes in universities there are not big deal and they were never much admired and treated as role models as here.

With the machetes being wielded towards educations of all levels in all corner of the US, is it really a stretch to say that in several years time, the products of hour schools and universities would lag far behind our many competitors?  We can still produce food servers, physical therapists, and bureaucrats.  But scholars and scientists?  No worry, there are enough people from other countries to fill the voids.  Our economy will continue to grow, as long as we continue to shop.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

What Good Does A Protest Do?

Last Thursday, March 3, 2011, a small group of students managed to sit on the ledge of Wheeler Hall at University of California, Berkeley to protest the rising tuition and other related issues.

According to San Francisco Chronicle,
Eight protesters who spent more than seven hours on a fourth-floor ledge at UC Berkeley's Wheeler Hall returned to terra firm at 9:20 p.m., greeted by the enthusiastic cheers of a band of fervent supporters on the academic building's steps.

As part of the agreement for the activists to depart peacefully, university officials apparently have agreed to drop charges against several protesters for this and other demonstrations in the past year.

The resolution follows an often tense stand-off, with police in riot gear at one point clearing demonstrators away from a portion of Wheeler Hall's steps.
Wheeler Hall was closed for the rest of the day after the sit-in and there were at least three helicopters circling over Berkeley.

Helicopter in Berkeley 3 March 2011_0019

Next day, after the peaceful resolve, things seemed went back to normal, or usual.  Someone I know wondered philosophically: "What good does this protest do?"

This question has been repeated posed to activists of any convictions.  Last month, after the departure of Mubarak from Egyptian presidency, Berkeley resident and writer Steve Masover wrote an excellent blog, which can be a perfect answer to this musing:

Lessons from Egypt: demonstrations work -- What good comes of all that protesting?

As a longtime activist I have often gotten this question from all sides: what good comes of all that protesting?

On the one hand there are people who don't participate in grassroots politics and think those who do are wasting their time (despite all the obvious counter-evidence; if you don't know what I mean by that, keep reading).

On the other, pickets, boycotts, marches, and demonstrations through all the months and years when nothing much comes of them leaves attendees and organizers alike discouraged by the seemingly-poor return on investment ("ROI" as the business folk would have it): the microscopic changes (if any) effected by effort that is actually pretty taxing, on a personal level.

Yes, it's true. It takes a lot to organize even an 'unsuccessful' movement. This isn't contradicted by the welcome social aspect to grassroots politics: hanging out with people you like (or at least a mix of people that includes some you like!), and the camaraderie of roughly aligned beliefs about what's good and important. Countering these pluses, though, is the time, attention, and energy that get debited from other stuff you might like to do. Raising kids, lying on a beach, finishing school, writing a book, learning to cook, climbing a career ladder, sailing a boat, bowling.

Is it worth the effort, the sacrifice, the time? Or is demonstrating an exercise in futility?

The answer seems obvious this week.

Every so often we get unmistakable evidence that, whatever else demonstrations might be, they're not futile. Evidence of just this truth unfolded in North Africa -- Tunisia and Egypt especially (so far) -- in the early weeks of this year. And here comes Algeria.

So if the answer is obvious, why all this typing? For me it's worth typing about because people forget. I've heard the "what good comes of all that protesting?" question come from people who may have been in grade school in 1991, but can't possibly have missed reading about mostly-unarmed masses defending a Soviet government against what amounted to a KGB coup, so it could dissolve itself later the same month. Perhaps they're taking the long view of history, knowing now that the KGB would rise again in the person of Vladamir Putin.

But for all the compromise and backsliding inherent in human affairs, how can anyone think that no good came of the Civil Rights protests in the U.S., or the worldwide protests that helped the A.N.C. and their allies bring down P.W. Botha and South African apartheid? Let alone the Velvet Revolution of 1989? Or resistance to British colonizers in Ghandi's India?
Therefore, speaking out, we must.  Act now, before California degenerate into something like Wisconsin, and before we, Americans, have to act like Egyptians and Libyans.  It's both our civil right and our civic duty.