A Facebook dialog after the Newtown shooting

After the recent shooting at an Elementary school in Newtown, CT, I posted this question on Facebook:

 “Leaving aside the politics of gun control, 2nd Amendment rights, etc, why cannot a country which is in the forefront of all kinds of innovation in every field, swiftly find a way to permanently end, once and for all, the random killing of innocent people (most recently some 20 elementary school children in CT) by crazed individuals?”

This eventually resulted in an extended Facebook dialog between me and Boyd Hawkins (which I am posting in its entirety here).  Just as an introduction, Boyd and I serve on the Board of the Coppell Republican Club.  However, we have radically different backgrounds.  Boyd is white, Christian, gun owner who has been around guns since he was a kid and an ardent defender of the 2nd amendment and gun owner’s rights.  I am brown, Hindu, never handled a real gun in my life and a pragmatist (that is, a problem solver not bothered too much about any ideology).

Hope you find this dialog illuminating – and worth commenting about – your views (especially controversial ones) are welcome!

7 hours ago · 

 

  • This coincidentally happened also last Friday but in China – same scenario – evil, crazy nut attacks children in school – except nobody appears to have died because the weapon of choice was not an assault rifle. There are and always will be some crazy, lunatics in all countries and cultures – challenge is for the “sane” majority to finds ways to minimize the damage that the loons could potentially do.http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/14/world/asia/china-knife-attack/index.html

    Knife attack at Chinese school wounds 22 children

    www.cnn.com

    Twenty-two primary school children were wounded in a knife attack Friday in central China, authorities said.
     
     
     
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      Boyd Hawkins “The attack marks the latest in a series of violent assaults at elementary schools in China. In 2010, a total of 18 children were killed in four separate attacks. On March 23 of that year, Zheng Minsheng attacked children at an elementary school in Fujian Province, killing eight.

      One month later, just a few hours after Zheng Minsheng was executed for his crime, another man, Chen Kanbing wounded 16 students and a teacher in a knife attack at another primary school in Fujian. The following month, on May 12, a man named Wu Huangming killed seven children and two adults with a meat cleaver at a kindergarten in Shaanxi Province. That attack was followed by an August 4 assault by Fang Jiantang, who killed three children and one teacher with a knife at a kindergarten in Shandong Province.

      In 2011, a young girl and three adults were killed with an axe at an elementary school in Henan Province by a 30-year-old man named Wang Hongbin, and eight children were hurt in Shanghai after an employee at a child care center attacked them with a box cutter.”
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      Venky Venkatraman Imagine if the assailants had assault rifles in each of the above scenarios – the damage would have been ten-fold. Conversely, if this pip squeak Adam Lanza had showed up in the school with a knife, he might have been easily over powered by the Principal, possibly aided by a strapping gym teacher, before he could even get close to the children.
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      Boyd Hawkins If we eliminated Gun Free Zones and placed armed police in schools, or allow teachers / administrators to be armed as they do in Israel, maybe Lanza’s initial confrontation with the principal would of ended differently….or maybe the coward would of never entered the school.
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      Venky Venkatraman Boyd – I had been a couple of times to Israel in 1996-97 and stayed for about a month each time – there were soldiers with guns all over the place (buses, hotels, airports, etc). Although I felt pretty safe there all the time (despite or because of there being visible guns everywhere), I was glad to be back in the US where things were “normal”. And I really don’t think Principals Pam Mitchell, Laura Springer or any of their staff could actually confront and kill a crazy, armed, 20 year old “kid”, whatever training they are provided. So we might end up having a Govt agency like the TSA maintaining security in all schools. Do we really want to have that?!
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      Boyd Hawkins When I was a kid, I was around guns all the time … it was “normal”. There were always guns in the gun rack in the back window of the truck or behind / under the seat. There was never a sense of concern because of people had a respect for the power of guns…. Safety, respect and an understanding of proper gun use was always present around guns. When you traveled to Israel, you felt safe because you knew that the soldiers were there for your protection and not to harm you. If you had been traveling through Afghanistan and came across a group of armed soldiers, would you of had the same sense of safety? Its the culture that is the difference. You are probably right about the school administrators you reference, but I would be willing to bet that there are teachers / administrators who would be willing to take on the responsibility and get properly trained / certified. I do not like the idea of needing armed guards at schools either, but we have allowed our culture to deteriorate and are confronted with that reality. Any gun restrictions are only going to effect law abiding citizens….someone who is willing to shoot up a school will not be deterred by gun laws … they are more likely to be emboldened by them.
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      Boyd Hawkins Have you seen this clip of Eric Holder from 1995? The same Eric Holder behind Fast and Furious. I think I will heed Thomas Jefferson’s advice here … “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain…See More

      www.youtube.com

      Breitbart.com has uncovered video from 1995 of then-U.S. Attorney Eric Holder an

      nouncing a public campaign to “really brainwash people into thinking about gu…
    •  
      Venky Venkatraman Looks like only the two of us are shooting it out on this topic at OK Corral, Boyd (while our other Republican buddies appear to be cowering in some corner). Thanks for educating me regarding how common guns were when you were growing up – that fits with the image of the rugged American individualism that we imagined existed in America while growing up in India. What I would be curious about would be to learn what prevented you or your brother or father from grabbing a gun off the truck and killing one another when one of you were upset about something. My brothers and I used to fight a lot and sometimes were “killing” each other with toy guns when growing up and if there was a real gun around, one of us probably would not have made it past childhood. I assume that no one was going around shooting up children in schools when you were growing up. As you have correctly pointed out, the culture clearly has changed since when you were young and things unimaginable then are now happening. All I am saying is that if we make it our highest priority that never again will we allow a deranged, gun toting person from ever massacring innocent children, then we should leave no option off the table – one of them being making it impossible for disturbed individuals to own guns – even if in doing so, we may it somewhat more onerous for law abiding individuals from getting guns suitable for protecting themselves.
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      Boyd Hawkins What kept us from killing each other?… that is easy…the underlying value system that was within the fabric of society. Our Christian upbringing taught us to value and respect life. This was supported / reinforced by society and even schools at the time. We certainly fought and misbehaved, but there were clear lines and consequences when those lines were crossed. … Venky, where you are going wrong is even having the notion that it is possible to “never again will we allow a deranged, gun toting person from ever massacring innocent children…” Human nature is not possible to control. How did the Soviet’s “New Man” and the Nazis perfection of the “Aryan Race” work out? All we can do is set up agents of deterrent (responsible armed citizens) and severe consequences for such behaviors. Restricting law abiding individuals will only put those same law abiding citizens at more risk.
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      Venky Venkatraman Boyd – this is turning out to be a really illuminating exchange – I hope others of various political persuasions and views read this – with respect to your statement “Venky, where you are going wrong is even having the notion that it is possible to “never again will we allow a deranged, gun toting person from ever massacring innocent children…” Human nature is not possible to control.”…………. What I am saying is that we need to set that as an aspirational goal. For example “We will never allow a commercial airline to crash again” – see how close we have come to perfection that nowadays we we do not even consider the possibility of a plane crashing when we take a flight. Or after 9/11 – “we will never again allow anyone to hijack a plane in the US” – and we have been completely successful in that endeavor that we do not even worry about a hijacking while boarding a flight. So why can we not agree to have an aspirational goal “never again will we allow a deranged, gun toting person from ever massacring innocent children…” and then see what need to do get there?
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      Boyd Hawkins That is a goal that we should strive to achieve, but we also have to be realistic. Just as Adam Lanza tried to purchase a gun and was denied (the laws worked in that respect), he was still able to find a way to get his hands on guns.
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      Venky Venkatraman OK Boyd – now that we (and hopefully a majority of Americans of all stripes) are in agreement on the goal, it is only a question of putting our collective heads together and figuring out a way that the Adam Lanza’s of the world never again are able to get their hands on any type of weapon of “mass destruction”. BTW – I was not aware that Adam Lanza tried to purchase a gun and was denied. Where did you learn that?
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      Boyd Hawkins I have seen it a few places, but here is one of them…http://video.today.msnbc.msn.com/today/50208495

      video.today.msnbc.msn.com

      Video on TODAY.com: NBC’s Pete Williams reports that Connecticut school shooter 

      Adam Lanza attempted to purchase a rifle earlier this week at a sporting goods store in Danbury, Conn.
    •  
      Venky Venkatraman Thanks for sharing – that’s very interesting to know. So if his mother did not have any guns, then I guess Adam Lanza would not have had the ability to perpetrate this horror. Then the next question would be, how can guns (purchased legitimately it appears in this case) by parents be prevented from falling into the hands of crazy children (of which I am guessing there must be a lot out there, given the number of broken homes and single mothers who may have out of control sons)?
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      Boyd Hawkins You just slipped on the slippery slope and are falling into a totalitarian state. The only way to mitigate this threat (and mitigate is all we can hope to do) is to restore the traditional American (Judeo-Christian values) culture which recognizes that there is actually good and bad / right and wrong. Only responsible self-governing people can be free.
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      Boyd Hawkins I believe my generation and my parents generation are guilty of standing by and letting it happen, but here is a talk (audio and video download) that Evan Sayet gave back in 2007 where he explains what is a significant contribution in the culture shift that has occurred in this country …http://www.heritage.org/events/2007/03/heritage-event-regurgitating-the-apple-how-modern-liberals-think There is a transcript of the speech here: http://www.heritage.org/research/lecture/regurgitating-the-apple-how-modern-liberals-think

      www.heritage.org

      Regurgitating the Apple: How Modern Liberals “Think”
    •  
      Venky Venkatraman Sorry to say but now you are slipping into becoming an ideologue, Boyd. Not that other religions (including Hinduism) don’t distinguish between right and wrong but how do you propose to restore “traditional Judeo-Christian values” when white (Christians) are going to be a minority in the US within a couple of decades (and probably sooner in Texas)? Are you saying that you want be so ideologically pure that you do not mind sacrificing a bunch of school children every few months? What exactly does “responsible self-governing people” mean? Does it mean that it is everyone for himself/herself – buy a gun and take care of yourself and your children and be free??
    •  
      Venky Venkatraman The article was a little too long to read in its entirety – but I got the gist. My point is that to solve pressing matters like preventing any further gun violence in schools perpetrated by deranged nuts, we need to toss our liberal/conservative hats and put on our problem-solving caps – otherwise, nothing is ever going to get resolved.
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      Boyd Hawkins I am not saying that other religions do not have values. What I am saying is that this countries heritage is Judeo-Christian. Also, the Christian faith is not limited to the white race. This culture is not something that can be impose on people. The only way to restore that culture is for Christians to start living like Christians again and churches to start being churches again. That culture is a byproduct of Christians living out their lives / faith … not an imposition of moral laws on a people. Human nature is independent of ideology as well as religion….you can’t tie them together like you are implying and you can’t conclude that the a certain ideology / belief is going to result in the sacrifice of school children. Man thinking he is going to change human nature has had devastating results throughout history. However, a societies collective culture can have an influence on behavior, but it will not change human nature and it does not guarantee outcomes … there is always the risk of evil acts. … No, it does not mean anarchy. It means a society agreeing to live by certain standards, individuals doing their part in honoring those standards and having a government that applies equal treatment of the law when people act outside of those standards.
    •  
      Boyd Hawkins It is about an hour long speech, so it is more than a lengthy article. I am not saying that we should sit idly by and let stuff happen, but the current administration believes in a managed society and is eager to take away individual liberty … I have no interest in handing it over.
    •  
      Venky Venkatraman Don’t disagree with anything you have said there with respect to the big picture – I am just putting on my Consultant’s hat and sharing my thoughts as if I had been given the SPECIFIC assignment of solving gun violence perpetrated by nuts, and willing to bulldoze through whatever stands in my way to accomplish that goal (which is what I am hoping political leaders who have the power will do ASAP). I believe individual liberty can be safeguarded while also ensuring collective safety of the citizenry, protecting them against both foreign and domestic terrorists (which I believe you will agree is any Government’s responsibility).
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      Boyd Hawkins Yes those responsibilities do fall to the gov, but our constitution also starts out We The People and I do not believe our gov has been acting as a government by and for the people for some time now. … in short, I do not trust them with my liberty currently.
    •  
      Venky Venkatraman I get where you are coming from on this matter, Boyd. Thanks for engaging with me on this. I believe this is the kind of frank talk that is needed between reasonable people of all view points if we have to solve any serious problem that is facing this country. Would you mind if I publish this entire thread on my blog for the benefit of my readers?
      3 hours ago · Like · 1
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      Boyd Hawkins Sure, that is fine
    •  

 

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Juror #11 wonders about the efficacy of the Jury system

Like most US citizens, I get the occasional Summons to attend Jury Duty and that usually involves going down to Court house and then being sent home with a “Thanks for being willing to serve” and a promise of a $6 check being mailed to you for showing up. 

However, a few weeks ago, it was different.  I sat in the main jury room (along with around 500 people) where the numbers were called out and this time there was a lot of cases and my number was picked.  I was instructed to go to the 191st Civil District Court (presided over by Judge Gena Slaughter, a relatively young lady who told us later that she had 4 and 5 year old children) on the 7th floor of the same building.

                                                                                    Judge Gena Slaughter

About 75 or so of us lined up outside the 191st Court and we were shepherded into the Court room in batches by the bailiff.  I got assigned to the seat at the left most back corner of the court.  “Good” – I thought to myself, since it appeared I would be the least likely to get noticed and picked – and began to plan the rest of my day.  Others in the jury pool, from their expressions, seemed be hoping for the same outcome (given that was a Monday and Judge Slaughter had just told us the trial could go on till the following Monday!).

Turned out there were 3 lawyers and a Pro Se (that is, a self representing individual) in the court room.  Each of them then conducted a voir dire, that is, a process to find out more about the potential jurors.  The lawyers / pro se eventually got to me and I recalled being addressed as Mr. V.  “Another good sign”, I thought.  “They can’t even pronounce my name, I should be out of here shortly”.   However, some other questions seemed to suggest that they might be getting interested in me.  They asked about my Electrical Engineering qualification, my IT experience, international travel and most interestingly my knowledge of water borne diseases such as cholera.

Afterwards we all trooped out into the lobby and waited for what seemed like an eternity.  I did some reading and took a short nap.  We were then called back into the Court room where Judge Gena Slaughter started announcing the names of the 12 jurors who were going to be picked.  I was half listening since I was pretty confident of not being on the list when she called out for Juror #11 and it sounded like my name.  I stood up, Judge Slaughter apologized for mangling my name.  I told her she was close enough – and I was officially Juror #11 and I had to take my place on one of the jury chairs.  The feeling was like the opposite of winning the lottery! 

The judge gave us the jury instructions regarding dos and don’ts and the hearing then commenced immediately. 

The case involved a company called Global Water Group (the plaintiff, a Water Purification company) who was suing another one called Force (the Pro Se, a one man Sewage treatment company) and another company (EMS, a pipeline services company) and its former CEO.

The details are of the case are not what I am looking to focus on in this blog entry – so I will explain it, with apologies to those involved for whom this was serious business, in the manner I did to my daughters Sakshi and Smrithi (13 and 11 respectively) after the trial was over.  Here goes:

“There was this guy who knew how to really purify dirty water (like what might be found next to corpses in Iraq) and convert it into pure water (better than Avian!), who we will from hereon refer to as the Pure Water guy.  Then there was this guy who knew how to take sewage and convert it into liquid that could be disposed off without messing the environment BUT could not be drunk by humans, who we will from hereon refer to as the Shit Water guy.  Pure Water guy then hired Shit Water guy and made him part of his company.  Both of them then went together and tried very hard to get some business in a place called Mejedia in Rumania, to take over and run their Municipal Sewage and Water systems and this (and other similar) business MIGHT have earned them profits of around $54 million.  Pure Water guy spent a lot of money trying to get this business but Rumania being a very corrupt country, it was difficult to get business without bribing people and so after sometime, Pure Water guy gave up.  Then Shit Water guy secretly started to try to get this business on his own without telling Pure Water guy, using Pure Water guy’s PowerPoints, contacts, etc.  Shit Water guy managed to reach an agreement in Rumania but needed $1.5 million Bond money to get the contract.  Shit Water guy’s finance partner went and asked his friend from Verline (from hereon referred to as Old guy) for a loan of $1.5 million.  Old guy did not have the money but managed to find a few Board members at EMS (from hereon referred to as Rich guys) who agreed to give the loan.  For this, Old guy and Shit Water guy signed a Promissory note.  Shit Water guy then sent this Bond money to his partner in Rumania (hereon referred to as the Foreign Crook guy) who put this money in a bank account, where it was meant to stay for 3 months after which time it was supposed to be returned to Rich guys along with an interest of 15%.  The money stayed in the bank account for 2 months after which the Foreign Crook guy made it disappear!  When Old Guy found this out, he panicked – he told Rich Guys that their money was gone – EMS CEO (on behalf of Rich Guys) put pressure on Old Guy to compensate for the loss.  Old Guy went to Shit Water guy to get the money from him. But Shit Water guy was broke and had no money.  So he gave all his patents to Old Guy who in turn gave it to EMS along with his patents.  And then EMS tried to get into the Water business to try and make money and recover the lost $1.5 million.  And then Pure Water guy found out all this was going on behind his back and the shit then really hit the ceiling (so to speak)!  Pure Water guy wrote Shit Water guy a nasty Email scaring the day lights out of him and gave him a lot of conditions to meet – and if he did not, Pure Water guy would “send him to jail”.   Shit Water guy complied with all the conditions for fear of being sued.  He stopped making any further attempts to do business in Rumania and transferred whatever agreement he had reached to Pure Water guy and made written apologies to all and sundry, confessing to everything and asking all his contacts in Rumania to do business with the Pure Water guy instead of him.  However, given the corruption in Rumania, Pure Water guy still could not get any business there.  EMS tried to use the patents that they got from Shit Water guy and tried to start a new Water business (in other countries like Mexico but not in Rumania) but failed to close one single deal and so did not make a single dollar in this new business. 

To cut a long story short, Old Guy died of natural causes and so Pure Water Guy sued Shit Water guy and EMS claiming that he was owed damages of around $50 million due to the actions of the Shit Water guy and EMS (who Pure Water guy alleged were involved in a “conspiracy”) but Judge Slaughter dismissed the suit without any jury deliberation since she determined that Pure Water guy did not establish that he suffered any loss/damage and no one had made any money from the Rumanian adventure (basically agreeing with EMS’s attorney that the whole thing was just a “cow pile” for everyone involved)”. 

Now here comes my impression of the whole process, especially vis-à-vis the jury system.

 First of all, the parties had been going at it in front of this same judge since 2008 while the jurors were those who got “accidentally” (and mostly unwillingly) pulled into this matter for a relatively brief period.  Although I, with my Engineering/IT/International background, could easily understand this whole matter (and in fact made 64 pages of notes during the trial which I later sent to the judge), I could tell that many of the jurors were quite disinterested and not comprehending any of the detailed technical issues that all parties were bringing up (with some of the jurors just doodling in their note pads).  Although we were not allowed to discuss the case till we called upon to do so (which never happened), stray remarks (like “I like that lawyer, he reminds me of Matlock”, “I am waiting for the Pro Se to cross examine himself – that will be fun!”, etc) gave me the impression that if we had actually deliberated on this case, it would have been a sham with just a few of us having really paid attention to any of the testimony (and more importantly, understood what was presented).  I would like to think that I could have swayed most of the jurors (with whom I established a good rapport during lunch time and while walking out to the train) and help arrive at the “right” decision – but then I might have ended becoming a de-facto judge!  

Bottom line – after this experience, I strongly believe that parties in a dispute looking for a jury to decide their fate, are essentially rolling the dice – they might get lucky and win the lottery even they were completely wrong – on the other hand, they might lose big, even though they might be completely on the right side of the law!  

I for one would any day prefer to have my fate determined by a learned, UNBIASED judge – and hope and pray that my fate will never be in the hands of a bunch of random, unqualified strangers!! 

What about you?  Feel free to comment here – I would really like to hear your thoughts – especially if you vehemently disagree with my opinions!

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And again on radio last week ….

Last week I had a chance to comment on the 3rd debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama which was posted by Ross Kecseg (one of the program hosts) as below:

Ross Kecseg Check out this week’s show, we interviewed three great guests including Al Lee, Adrian Murray and Venky Venkatraman. We want your feedback!
http://www.blogtalkradio.com/lonestarteaparty/2012/10/26/the-partiot-voice-9

NOTE: I am on in the last 20 minutes (start playing from the 99th minute by clicking on the bar) – this time the radio station had some technical difficulties (the volume of my voice is much lower than the others) but I was still able to make some points.

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Second time on political talk show radio …

After receiving generally positive feedback from my first foray into the political talk show world (about which I blogged earlier), I was invited today to participate in a discussion about the second debate that took place between President Obama and Mitt Romney earlier this week. 

In addition, this time I had the opportunity to express my views about the political involvement of Indians inAmerica as well.

As before, if you have the time and the inclination, you could listen (link below) and share your comments (NOTE: My participation begins around the 75th minute – so once the audio starts playing, you can click on the bar at around the half way point and move it forward till it displays 75 to skip the first 75 minutes): 

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/lonestarteaparty/2012/10/19/the-patriot-voice-episode-8

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My first foray into political talk show radio …

I had an opportunity to comment on the first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney.

If you have the time and inclination, you could listen and share your thoughts:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/lonestarteaparty/2012/10/05/patriot-voice-episode-5

 

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What’s in a name?

 Dale Carnegie

When I a young kid in India listening to the cricket commentary on radio, we had some commentators who would totally butcher some English names. For example, a famous cricketer from England was referred to by some commentators as “Iron Bottom” (instead of Ian Botham!). I used to consider these commentators plain lazy for not making the minimum effort to learn to pronounce the names of all the cricketers correctly.

Fast forward to several decades later and I am sitting in an audience where my daughter Sakshi (along with a bunch of kids of Indian origin) was receiving an award for being on the Junior Honor Roll and the kid making the announcement managed to mangle almost every single non-English sounding name.

It took some amount of persuasion on my part before the Principal of CMSE, Laura Springer, would take this issue of mispronunciation of names, seriously enough to agree to try and educate the children as to the importance, especially in today’s globalized work place, of taking the trouble to learn the correct pronunciation of “foreign” names.

Given that it was an American, Dale Carnegie, who wrote in his book “How to win friends and influence people” that among the “Six ways to make people like you” one was to “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”, it is indeed surprising as to why 76 years later American kids would not make the minimum effort to at least get the names of their classmates right.

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An Indian perspective after watching “Waiting for Superman”

The following post was published by the Coppell Gifted Association at:

http://coppellgifted.org/2011/05/01/members-corner-an-indian-perspective-after-watching-waiting-for-superman/

What led me to see this movie was the catchy title – Superman comics were highly popular in India when I was growing up and my brothers and I used to have endless debates as to who was stronger, Superman, the Phantom or Tarzan and which one we needed on our side to win any battle!  So I could definitely relate to an African-American school administrator who grew up in the projects talking about, as a child, “Waiting for Superman” to come and save the broken school system in his neighborhood and then being heart broken when he was told by his mother that Superman was not real!  The gist of the movie is that it is you and I who need to do our bit to fix the US school system – Superman is not going to show up to do this job!!

The sentence that resonates for me is a statement made in the movie that “till the 70s, the USA had the best public school system in the world” and on the screen flashed pictures of all the luminaries in all walks of life that had graduated from the public school system and all the great strides made in the US in the fields of science, math and engineering during that period.

The next thing that struck me, which is something that I mentioned in my review of “2 million minutes” (scenes from which were used in this movie), is the fact that in those days, only around the top 20% of the students graduating from High School went on to college (to become CEOs, doctors, engineers, etc), the next 40% went on to vocational schools (to get jobs as computer operators, etc) and the bottom 40% just went to good jobs in manufacturing, services, etc.  (This is exactly what we in India thought was a great thing – that kids who had no interest in higher learning were not being forced to go to college just to collect a piece of paper to improve their job prospects).

The problem is that the US economy (which is now tied way more tightly into the global economy) is no longer the same.  High unemployment on the one hand exists side by side with lack of qualified employees to fill hundreds of thousands of jobs available in areas like high tech (a point made in this movie).

The film also makes the point that when Nixon opened the door to China in the 70s, American businesses were salivating over the prospect of being able to sell every Chinese a toothbrush (for example), which meant American businesses could sell a billion additional toothbrushes, not realizing that, in due course, it would be the Chinese who would be selling toothbrushes to the US putting US manufacturers out of business!

The film focuses on the worst performing public schools in the US and the (lack of) prospects for children graduating (or dropping) out of such schools.  Also, the whole idea of the lottery system to assign children to better schools (with the children, sitting at the lottery drawing, watching with devastated faces as if their world had come to an end at such an early age, when they did not get picked) seemed like a travesty to me.  Why not just have some kind of entrance test where the children at least get a sense (which might influence their entire outlook on life) that they can get somewhere due to their own efforts and abilities rather than pure luck?

Looking at this topic from the perspective of someone who grew up in India, when I look at these (so-called) worst schools, almost every one of them looks better than some of the (what we considered) “better” schools in India.  For example, the school I went to from KG to 6th grade was located on top of a busy railway station with heavy and noisy traffic just outside of the school gates.  And yet, this was a “better” school for which my father stood in line overnight to get me admission there because it was run by Christian missionaries who had a reputation for imparting a solid education (meaning it had great teachers) and strict discipline (including corporal punishment, administered even by the Principal or the Head Master, in special circumstances!).

And there were schools on top of movie theaters, schools with broken windows and hardly any facilities for learning, etc and yet students from these schools have made it big both in India and, in fact, many have come to the US and done well here as well.

So how come US students (with access to comparably much better facilities even in their “worst” schools compared to their Indian counterparts) not fare better than Indian students coming from schools with practically no facilities?

In my opinion, the answer is just two factors – “Great Teachers” and “Strong Families”. 

Motivated students (with parents) who believed that only education could pull them out from their poor and lower middle class life style (example: I grew up in an apartment with just one single room and a kitchen with parents and 4 siblings sharing this space resulting in all the kids having a burning desire to learn, succeed and reach a better standard of living, which we all accomplished).  So when I see the so-called “poor” people in the US (depicted in this movie), probably living on Government dole, having relatively nice apartments, driving decent cars and with no shortage of basics like food, it makes me wonder what would motivate kids from such families to stay in school and get a decent education, especially if the family is broken, with no tradition of higher learning.

 When it comes to the topic of having great teachers, what strikes me in this movie is the implication (which could be an overgeneralization) that in the US, Teacher’s Unions have such a stranglehold over the system that even an innovative administrator like Michelle Rhee (trying to reform the DC school system) is not able to push through a reasonable scheme that will reward better performing teachers (while not even threatening the jobs of poor performing teachers).

 In India, teachers (whatever they are teaching) are supposed to be treated with utmost reverence (because of the Indian tradition which teaches, in the order of respect, it is “Mata, Pita, Guru, Daivam” – meaning “Mother, Father, Teacher, God”), that is, teachers are supposed to be respected more than even God!  And correspondingly, it is expected that for teachers (for whom earning money should be their lowest priority), nothing should be more important than sending out learned kids into the world.

 From what I saw in this movie, the implication that many (but this again could be an overgeneralization) teachers in the US are just like any other vested interest protecting their rights and jobs with scant regard for the quality of education they are providing to their students and having least interest in the future prospects of their students.

Themovie’s main thrust appears to be that till the matter of eliminating poor teachers and rewarding the good ones is addressed, however much money is poured into school education by the US Government (where a lot more money is available to expend compared to relatively impoverished places like India), nothing substantial is going to change. 

However, to conclude on an optimistic note, the movie depicts several people who are cognizant of the problems facing the school system in the US and who are coming up with innovative solutions (like the Kipp schools) and, in my opinion, in due course, sufficient course corrections will take place making most US schools once more the citadels of learning (accessible to children, from all strata of society, who are motivated to learn) that would again become be the envy of the world.

 

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“2 Million Minutes” – Movie Review

The following post was published by the Coppell Gifted Association at:

http://coppellgifted.org/2011/03/14/2-million-minutes-review/

After watching all 3 videos – the first being the final movie – the other two, detailed versions of the scene in India and China which serve as input to the final movie, a couple of things came to mind right away. 

First of all, growing up in India and going to school there (where everyone was expected to go to college, whether one had any interest in higher education or not, making most colleges just degree mills), my impression of US schools were that they provided enough vocational oriented education that only the cream of the crop actually needed to go to college – all others would get reasonably high paying jobs with just a high school education. 

Fast forward to 1984 when I first set foot on US soil and visited relatives in Akron, Ohio (long time settled in the US at that time) during the Thanksgiving holiday.  Over the weekend, the lady of the house told me that “Indians were way smarter than Americans”.  My immediate response was “Aren’t you now an American?”  The problem I saw with her reasoning was that she was comparing Indians in America (who were mostly those who had come here to pursue higher education and were essentially the cream of the crop) with the local gas station attendant types (who had only graduated high school) – obviously not an apples to apples comparison! 

Between 1984 and now, to my knowledge, I do not believe American schools have deteriorated that rapidly but they may have stayed pretty much unchanged, that is, providing students an “all round education” (as the American kids in this movie say) which meant that academics were only one of the many things in which the students were expected to expend their time during their tenure in school. 

The difference now is that times have changed.  Manufacturing jobs of the past, for which a high school education would suffice to make a good living, are fast disappearing in the US.  Service jobs that have replaced them do not result in equivalent compensation and these too get outsourced every day.  And someone with just a high school education might end up with little prospects. 

But despite all this, the average American High School is definitely vastly superior to an Indian (and possibly Chinese) school in terms of facilities, funding, etc.  What the movie has done is to compare a public school in Indiana (and schools of that standard would be available to most US residents, except those living in impoverished areas like inner-cities) with an elite school in India (and possibly China), the type of school which is available to a very small sliver of the Indian (and possibly Chinese) population.

 If you look at it in terms of numbers, in my estimation, less than 10% of the population of India (which would be around 110 million people) would have an opportunity to go to schools of the caliber represented in the movie while the remaining 1.1 billion people only have mediocre to substandard schooling available to them.  But then there are plenty of manufacturing and menial type jobs now available in India and China (which do not require higher education) to cater to this segment of the population .

In contrast, I would say that 90% of the US population (which would be around 270 million) would have the opportunity to schools which are not too different from the Indiana school depicted in this movie. These students would always have an opportunity to go on to a reasonable college education (since these school have all the facilities like excellent libraries, labs, etc), if academics were sufficiently emphasized during their school years.

To conclude, I would state that the average American student still has way better schooling facilities and opportunities to get a quality education compared to Indian or Chinese students – it is just that the curriculum has to be retooled to adapt to changing times (which I believe is already taking place).  In due course, America with its dynamic and diverse population will eventually out-compete both China and India. 

So, in my opinion, the dire predictions of this movie regarding the competitiveness of American students compared to their Indian and Chinese counterparts are way off the mark.

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What I learnt from coaching a Destination Imagination team ….

 

Mockingbird Elementary takes third place in Regional Destination ImagiNation® Tournament

Mockingbird Elementary takes third place in Regional Destination

Bottom row, l-r, Shreya Vurimi, Ellie Manning Middle row, l-r, Meara Isenberg, Rhianna McFarlen, Sakshi Venkatraman Back row, l-r, Principal, Pam Mitchell, Mrudul Tummala, Coach, Venky Venkatraman

Earlier this year, I coached my 5th grade daughter’s school’s Destination ImagiNation team.

In a nutshell, Destination ImagiNation (http://www.destinationimagination.org/) is a non-profit organization that provides educational programs for students to learn and experience creativity, teamwork and problem solving and then compete against one another.

There were 6 kids in my team, 3 or Indian origin (including my daughter) and 3 whites.  Of these 5 were girls and one was a boy.

All the kids were from the Gifted program – so all of them were pretty bright.

Right from the outset, I saw some interesting dynamics in the team that I could easily correlate to the adult world.  Following are my observations:

  1. It is always to tough to get a group of bright individuals (all of whom think they have the “right” answer to work together)
  2. Indians born in India (and especially if South Indian) are quite submissive and will not speak up easily even when they know the subject
  3. Indians born in the US (like my daughter) have no problem being assertive!
  4. Whites are typically more assertive, even when they are unprepared and do not know the subject
  5. Indians tend to work well together but will not produce any original ideas
  6. Whites come up with real imaginative ideas but many times will not follow through
  7. All of them are equally likely to go to management and try to get their colleagues fired!

I could probably add a whole bunch of other such observations to this list but then I am might end up wandering further and further into politically incorrect areas!

However, my point is that to effectively manage a group of individuals, “profiling” each individual according to their ethnic and national background might be unavoidable.  (Growing up in Bombay, India, I know that Punjabis have different charteristics from Tamils, Bengalis from Telugus, Marwaris from Biharis, etc – so I can make this assetion from personal experience).

And, in this case, I can make this claim with some confidence because my team which was formed pretty late, just practicing for a couple of hours every week, one day a week, for 8 weeks, was able to finish 3rd in the Regional Competition, competing against veteran teams who had practiced for months and competed for years.  And I have to give myself some credit for getting this team from forming, storming and norming to performing!

In conclusion, I can say with some conviction that the more perceptive a “profiler” you are, the better manager you likely to be!

Agree or vehemently disagree, I would like to know!!

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Guest Blogger on India’s New Visa Requirements

Rupa Bose is a fellow alumnus from the Indian Institute of Management.  She maintains a very informative blog (www.rupabose.com) which is mostly business related with a primary focus on India, Asia, economy, products and companies.  Rupa has also authored a fact filled book about doing business in India titled “India Business Checklists”.

We have decided to occasionally guest-blog, that is, my posts will show up on her blog as well, and vice-versa.

I found that her posting on India’s New Visa Requirements complemented my blog entry comparing and contrasting 9/11 and 26/11.

Following is her article from Jan 14, 2010:

Terrorists and India’s New Visa Requirements

If you have an American visa passport (or a European one), you can visit most countries free of visa requirements.

India’s not one of them. Almost all foreigners need visas for India. (Citizens of five countries qualify for 30-day visas-on-arrival.) In fact, India has a whole bunch of visa categories: Tourist,  Business, Journalist, Conference,  Transit visa, Entry Visa,  Employment, Student, Missionary, Research, Sports.  Recently, thanks largely to a single terrorist, the rules were tightened further.

India had always given long-term multiple entry tourist visas to foreigners who wished to visit the country regularly. Thousands of visitors took advantage of it, including people who used it essentially as a business visit visa.

David Coleman Headley allegedly used it for a more nefarious purpose – to research potential targets in Mumbai ahead of the horrendous terror attacks on the Taj Hotel, the Oberoi Hotel, and a major train station among others.

The Indian government will now prohibit a visitor – even one with a multi-year, multiple re-entry visa – from returning in under two months. Exceptions may be permitted with an advance itinerary – if for instance your travels take you into other countries and back through India for two or more short stays.  However, if the total period exceeds 90 days (or 180 days, depending on the visa), then the two month gap becomes a requirement.

The government is also becoming stricter about the de facto use of tourist visas for other purposes – like business.

People with Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) or Person of Indian Origin (PIO) status do not need to get Indian visas, no matter what nationality they have.

———–

We’ll all get used the the new visa rules eventually. But meanwhile, the first, very public, evidence of the visa inconvenience showed up in the Indian press.

Several guests who’d planned to speak at an important Literary Festival in Jaipur didn’t get there for visa reasons. The Indian Express reported the following:

  • Eminent Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates – the gentleman who shot into the headlines after being arrested on his own front porch by mistake – didn’t get a visa in time. The rules had been tightened after his application went in, and the consulate went by the new rules. Apparently they wanted a copy of his birth certificate and his college diploma…
  • Andrew Lycett, from the UK, had visited in November, and had a tourist visa valid for six months. But since he needed to re-enter within 60 days, it wasn’t. It wasn’t the right type of emergency…
  • Palestinian-American poet Suheir Hammad tried to get a visa from London, though she is from New York. The passport was sent to New York for verification, and hadn’t returned by the time the festival started.

(Of course, Delhi is in the grip of fog season, which adds its own complications to travel. Today’s news is that visibility is down to 100 meters, and over 100 flights are affected. Not to mention the trains.)

———–

If terrorists measure their success in terms of inconvenience caused to the public at large, this is another point for them. Along with shoe-removal when visiting the US and several other countries, no liquids permitted on board, a wide range of items prohibited in carry-on luggage, finger-printing at Immigration in some countries, and coming soon to an airport near you, full-body scanners.

Then again, I suppose all these measures are generating jobs and economic activity…

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