Posted on 17-01-2010
Filed Under (Religion) by Rashtrakut

I linked this slide show in my twitter feed on Friday, but thought I would make a quick mention of this here.  It describes the approximately 1,000 year old Jain temples on Shatrunjay Hill in Gujarat, which I had not heard of before.  With historical antecedents dating shortly before the emergence of Buddhism (though its mythology argues for considerably older antecedents), Jainism was one of the faiths that arose in the intellectual tumult in India around 700-600 B.C and during the so called Axial Age.  As the article notes, the prosperity of the practitioners of the austere faith has contributed to the beautiful and elaborate temples pictured in the slide show.  The date of the temples noted in the slide show also roughly corresponds to the date of the Jain component of the majestic Ellora Caves (which I have been fortunate enough to visit).

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Posted on 17-01-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

I saw the latest Bollywood blockbuster 3 Idiots (Warning! Link contains plot spoilers) yesterday night.  The movie lived up to expectations.  People who grew up in India (or for that matter Asia) can relate to the underlying theme of the movie that education should be a means for the propagation of knowledge and the ability to think and use such knowledge, rather than rote learning.   The other theme of the movie, encouraging the pursuit of career dreams is also familiar.

Ever since the British created a western style education system in India, education has been a means to financial security rather than the pursuit of knowledge.  Whole generations of Indians actively sought out the then prevailing career option of the day (law, engineering, computers, etc.) and put their extra-curricular interests on hold.  While this was extremely logical in a country where job opportunities were few and far between, one cannot help but imagine the deep cultural loss caused the mindless automation of millions of young Indians.

One of the benefits of economic liberalization in India, is that alternative career options (based on the non-scientific observations of this blogger) seem far more common.  This is a welcome development.

However, this is a delicate balance to strike.  While the Indian education system sometimes focuses too much on careers and sucks the creativity out of its students, the United States sometimes seems all the way on the other side of the spectrum.  Excessive school choice in course curriculum often results high school graduates with poor grounding in science and math.  College academia in the United States can sometimes veer too far into encouraging students to discover themselves (a luxury many cannot afford) while leaving them woefully unprepared for careers.

Legal academia is a fine example of this.  Law professors haughtily proclaim that they teach at a “law school” and not “lawyer school.”   The result of 3 years of education (now costing about $150,000) are newly minted attorneys who cannot draft a contract or a brief without extensive hand-holding.

The latest recession has forced some colleges to evaluate whether they should modify their curriculum to add courses that they would have deemed more worthy of a trade school.  With college no longer the preserve of the idle rich and the costs rising obscenely, it is hard to see how the transition can be staved off much longer.

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Posted on 17-01-2010
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

How did it come to this?  Health care reform hands by a slender thread based on the results of the Senate special election in Massachusetts to replace the Senator most associated with health care reform.  The election is a toss up with much of the energy in favor of Republican Scott Brown who could take down gaffe prone State Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Martha Coakley actively sought the Senate nomination after Ted Kennedy died, but having taken the nomination ran a curiously passive campaign.  This gave the opening to Scott Brown to define himself in positive terms and harness the resentment building up towards a self-entitled establishment politician.  Republicans winning statewide is not unknown in Massachusetts.  Deval Patrick’s election as governor in 2006, ended 16 years of Republican control of the office.  But since then, elected Republicans in Massachusetts have been fairly non-existent.

Health Care reform is the other 800 lb gorilla in the room.  Even though broad majorities of public opinion and a majority of the House and Senate support the public option (See link), the procedural rules of the Senate have ensured that it will not pass.  The resulting compromise pleases neither the left nor the right.  The question is whether the left will hold their noses and support this bill hoping to fix it down the road, just like the racial disparities in the original Social Security Act were corrected later.  Unhappiness at the existing bill likely drives some of the support for Brown.

Brown is an odd candidate for teabagger support. As a New England Republican he is a liberal by the standards of the national Republican rump.  The right wing which spurned a similar Republican in NY-23 (See link for previous posts) has embraced the opportunity to hand Barack Obama (as Senator DeMint of South Carolina put it) his Waterloo.  Given that he seems to back the universal health care plan in Massachusetts signed into law by Mitt Romney in 2006, his opposition to the national bill is somewhat puzzling and seems based on electoral calculations.

As Andrew Sullivan notes,  Democrats have to essentially hold their noses and vote for the rather unimpressive Coakley if they do not want the best chance for health care reform in a generation to slip through their fingers.  See Jonathan Chait’s review of the Democrats options in such an eventuality.  Another option the Democrats have is to force an up down vote on some of the more popular parts of the bill like prohibiting the use of pre-existing conditions to avoid issuing insurance policies, regulating the percentage of premiums that must be used for health care, etc.  Given the Republican strategy of filibustering everything, even items that later pass unanimously, it could give the Democrats talking points to carry into the fall against the party of No.

The biggest impact of a Brown win would be psychological.  Even though the number of Republican Congressmen retiring is still much higher than the number of retiring Democrats, the main stream media has already embraced the theme of Democrats abandoning a sinking ship.  A Brown win will raise that meme to a crescendo and by further depressing  Democratic turnout in November 2010 could make it a self fulfilling prophecy.

However, I am still not sold on Republican embrace of the tea baggers as a long term viable strategy.  Even though Brown has had some of these tendencies in in the past (like questioning the legitimacy of Obama’s birth) he has generally projected a moderate image in his campaign.  This was the strategy embraced by the successful Republican gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey.  The fire and brimstone true believers who pejoratively refer to Republican moderates as RINOs (Republicans in name  only) have had a hard time winning outside the deep south.  Add to that the continuing Republican problem attracting minority voters.

Ultimately the Democratic Party brought this on themselves.  The foot dragging on the bill, corrupt bargains with grasping  Senators that had incredibly bad optics combined with the incredible incompetence of the Massachusetts Democrats have brought about the previously unthinkable possibility of Ted Kennedy’s successor being a Republican.  It further confirms this blogger’s belief in the ability of Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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