Justin E.H Smith at the New York Times Opinionator blog.
"He who dislikes the cat, was in his former life, a rat."
Justin E.H Smith at the New York Times Opinionator blog.
This would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago but Penn State University saw no way out other than to clean house, a house that had been made into a citadel of national repute and a cash cow by some of the same people who have been given the axe. Penn's head football coach Joe Paterno, one of the two people let go this evening by the university is a decent and likable man by all accounts. But focused stubbornly on the tree of football, he failed to see the unruly forest in the real world outside the athletic arena. He had knowledge of a crime committed by a grotesquely opportunist predator who was a valuable associate whereas his helpless victims were inconsequential to the business of college football. Coach Paterno decided to look the other way. I feel no great joy in seeing an eighty four year old man's hard work and successful career come to an inglorious end full of shame. But this is the fitting outcome when in the mistaken judgment of a powerful football fraternity and an administration in its awe, the bottom line, booster clubs and NCAA rules trumped the law of the land.
Since my arrival in the US I have always lived in "football country." So I know a little about football as religion. But as they say, when you live by the sword, you are most likely to die by one. The recent scandal surrounding Penn State's fabled football program is being treated in the media as a shocking development. I wonder why. When athletic programs in colleges and universities are treated with more reverence than academics (purportedly the primary reason why universities exist), it leads to hubris, closely guarded cliques, misplaced priorities and occasionally, criminal negligence. Many like me, are not surprised.
(I am linking to Maureen Dowd after ages. I believe a woman's voice here is apt and she doesn't mince her words.)
.... So I’ve got to wonder how the 84-year-old coach feels when he thinks about all the children who look up to him; innocent, football-crazy boys like the one he was told about in March 2002, a child then Anthony’s age who was sexually assaulted in a shower in the football building by Jerry Sandusky, Paterno’s former defensive guru, according to charges leveled by the Pennsylvania attorney general.
Paterno was told about it the day after it happened by Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant coach who testified that he went into the locker room one Friday night and heard rhythmic slapping noises. He looked into the showers and saw a naked boy about 10 years old “with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky,” according to the grand jury report.
It would appear to be the rare case of a pedophile caught in the act, and you’d think a graduate student would know enough to stop the rape and call the police. But McQueary, who was 28 years old at the time, was a serf in the powerfully paternal Paternoland. According to the report, he called his dad, went home and then the next day went to the coach’s house to tell him.
“I don’t even have words to talk about the betrayal that I feel,” the mother of one of Sandusky’s alleged victims told The Harrisburg Patriot-News, adding about McQueary: “He ran and called his daddy?”
Paterno, who has cast himself for 46 years as a moral compass teaching his “kids” values, testified that he did not call the police at the time either. The family man who had faced difficult moments at Brown University as a poor Italian with a Brooklyn accent must have decided that his reputation was more important than justice.
Anatomy Of A Psychopath : The Neurobiological Basis Of Evil
WRITTEN BY JONATHAN PARARAJASINGHAM SEPTEMBER 30, 2011,
Editor’s Note: This is the first part of “Mind’s Matter”, a new series of articles by Dr. Jonathan Pararajasingham, exploring the Neurobiological basis of behaviour.
“We serial killers are your sons, we are your husbands, we are everywhere.” – Ted Bundy
One of the most controversial areas of research in neuroscience involves the search for biophysical causes of sadistic thought and behaviour. But there now seems to be enough complementary evidence to at least begin piecing together a coherent materialistic description of the psychopathic mind. A number of potential genetic and pathophysiological causes of violence and aggression have been investigated over recent years. These include things like the monoamine oxidase A gene, head trauma, serotonin deficiency, epilepsy, stress, and neuropeptides. But since the recent surge in quality of neuroimaging techniques, we are now finding exceptionally detailed anatomical correlates to certain types of behaviour, including antisocialism and criminality. Research now points to the discovery that impulsive aggression and violence arise as a consequence of faulty emotion regulation circuitry in the brain. In this paper I aim to outline the evidence and implications of this finding.
Read more HERE:
The sentencing of Sri Lankan born hedge fund billionaire, Raj Rajaratnam to a lengthy jail term on charges of insider trading is big news in the financial world. The news has also proved to be of special interest to South Asian Americans who are used to seeing the conspicuous success of members of their community but not so much their downfall. I for one, cringed when I read the widely cited interview of Rajaratnam by Suketu Mehta in Newsweek and its sister web site The Daily Beast. The reason for my discomfort was not so much that I belong to the same community as most of the culprits of this gang. I once pointed out here that I rarely ever personalize the success or failure of people who share my ethnicity. What I found jarring in Mehta's otherwise very readable interview was the emphasis on the desi angle to Rajaratnam's crimes and subsequent arrest and conviction.
Rajaratnam is an immigrant, not American-born. He had grown up, as he tells it, in fear: of the Sinhalese majority in his homeland; of the skinheads in Britain where he’d studied; and of the established elites of Wall Street where he did business. At just about every stage of his life, there were people out to get him. “I saw myself as an underdog.”...
...Part of Rajaratnam’s narrative is that of a man from a smaller South Asian country seduced and betrayed by people from the Big Brother country. Kumar had introduced him to Rajat Gupta. The two of them wanted to start an Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. “I gave them [the school] a million dollars. I later found out they never contributed any of their money, and are listed as the school’s founders. And I’m not even a fucking Indian.”
The betrayal by the Indian associates hurts the most—he barely mentions the white government witnesses. He regrets doing a joint venture with the Indians.
The South Asian connection makes less sinister some of the allegations in the trial. For example, the prosecution noted that Rajaratnam would visit Goel’s house in Silicon Valley, presumably to talk about Intel. But the real explanation is more human. “His wife makes really good chaat[a savory snack]!” Rajaratnam and Goel were very good friends, so his betrayal hurts him personally.
“There are two types of plea bargains. One is, you cooperate with the government. You finger 10 other people. The other is a plea bargain without cooperation.” The white defendants all pleaded without cooperating; they did not wear a wire. “The South Asians all did the plea bargain with fingering,” he notes sourly. “The Americans stood their ground. Every bloody Indian cooperated—Goel, Khan, Kumar.” He puts it down to “the insecurity of being an immigrant, lawyers bullying them into that position.”
Rajaratnam has very deep pockets, lived in a Penthouse in Manhattan and stole like many other high rollers of Wall Street. That his network consisted mostly of Indians is not terribly germaine to the legal troubles he is in. After all, the prosecutor who went after him is also of Indian origin and one of the two FBI agents who arrested him is Asian. Do people feel more comfortable in committing crimes when they are among "friends" or cohorts who "understand" them? (Think of the Italian/Jewish/Irish Mafias of the mid 20th century) Perhaps. But it still makes them criminals. The fact that Rajaratnam and his partners are relatively new immigrants is relevant only if they were operating under the misguided notion that a) they would not be caught and b) that if caught, they could buy their way out as they may well have in the countries of their birth. Both Preet Bharara, the prosecutor and Rajaratnam himself hint that indeed the underlying mentality may have been a bit like that, even when it was clear that things don't quite work that way in the US for the most part and the American law can not accommodate a culprit's cultural background.
The whole story speaks to the South Asian–American community: its pursuit of success and money at any cost; the differences between immigrants and the first generation; and the immigrants’ incomplete understanding of the rigor of the law in the U.S.
“There are rules and there are laws, and they apply to everyone, no matter who you are or how much money you have,” says [Preet] Bharara. This is what was not easily understood by the South Asians named in the conspiracy. There are laws and rules in India and Sri Lanka, too, but they can be tested, ignored by those who have money or friends"...
As late as two weeks before the sentencing, Rajaratnam was still being asked by the government to turn on Gupta. But he wouldn’t wear a wire, he says, so he could sleep at night. “Anil Kumar’s son worked at Galleon one summer. I used to vacation with Rajiv Goel’s family. Their families knew my family. You don’t think this is going to haunt these guys? They wanted me to plea-bargain. They want to get Rajat. I am not going to do what people did to me. Rajat has four daughters.”
The Rajaratnam case can be seen as a metaphor of the difference between immigrants from South Asia, who have a more elastic view of rules and a more keenly developed art of networking, and their children, the first generation, schooled to play by American rules. Preet Bharara came to the U.S. when he was an infant. Yet for all his complaints about unfairness, Rajaratnam, surprisingly, still believes in American justice. “In Sri Lanka I would have given the judge 50,000 rupees and he’d be sitting having dinner at my house. Here, I got my shot. The American justice system is by and large fair.”
In your case too?” I ask. “I said by and large.”
Who is your shepherd? (select only one)
1. Adam Smith
2. The Lord
3. I am.
Where is fairness manifested? (select as many as apply)
1. The free market
2. In higher primates
3. The clan
The Lord Is My Shepherd (Norman Costa)
by STUART KAUFFMAN
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. --Psalm 23
"The exquisite 23rd Psalm is one expression of what philosopher Karl Jasper called "The Axial Age." This period from about 800 BCE to 200 BCE is when, in China, India, Persia, Greece and among the Jews in Exile in Babylonia, civilizations seem to have gathered themselves up and found new expression through Lao Tzu, Buddha, Zarathustra, Plato, Socrates and the writing down of the Old Testament. It was a period of revision some 5,000 years after agriculture led to the beginnings of property rights and the creation of greater accumulated wealth. Civilizations arose in China, the Indus valley, the confluence of the Tigres and Euphrates, the Nile Valley and Abraham gave birth to three great monothestic religions.
"The Axial Age is said to have focused attention on the individual, witnessed in David's Psalm above, a paeon to the relation between the Lord and an individual. Emphasis on the individual is a cornerstone of our United States Constitution and Adam Smith in the Scottish Enlightenment, setting the foundations of modern economics with his famous "invisible hand," where each acting for his or her own purely selfish interests unwittingly, through the invisible hand of the market, achieves the benefit of all.
"Now, 2,500 years after the Axial Age, we have learned much that may be of use as we face what historian Thomas Cahill called a "hinge of history." Our many civilizations around the globe are being woven together as never before in history. We will partially shape what we become.
"I write to raise a large question: Do we need to examine our Axial Age anew? I think we do."
Read more HERE:
Stuart Kauffman is an experimental and theoretical biologist.
Kauffman has written about three hundred articles and four books: The Origins of Order (1993), At Home in the Universe (1995) and Investigations (2000), published by Oxford University Press. Most recently he published Reinventing the Sacred (2008), Basic Books.
Kauffman is well known for arguing, in Origins of Order and At Home in the Universe, that self organization, as well as Darwin's natural selection, are twin sources of order in biology. Thus we must rethink the becoming of the biosphere.
Read more about Stuart Kauffman:
The World's First Temple! Or ... Not? (Norman Costa)
October 13, 2011
by BARBARA J KING *
"In Turkey over 11,000 years ago, people created a massive structure at a hilltop site called Gobekli Tepe. After carving limestone pillars with all sorts of animal images, they hauled the 16-ton stones into multiple huge rings — without the help of wheeled vehicles or domesticated animals.
"I have been fascinated by this site for years. For one thing, Gobekli Tepe (the accepted story goes) was constructed by hunter-gatherers. When announced, this was major news. Ancient hunter-gatherers, who neither farmed nor lived in settled villages, had long been thought to be too simply organized to pull off anything on the scale of Gobekli Tepe.
"For another thing, the site is billed by German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt as the world's first temple. This provocative claim led to a National Geographic cover story last June. To pinpoint the dawn of religious ritual would, of course, be a fantastic accomplishment for anthropology."
Read more HERE:
The Better Angels of Steven Pinker's Nature (Norman Costa)
Relative angels and absolute demons
By Razib Khan
My post below defending Steve Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature elicited some responses on twitter. Robert Lee Hotz finds it odd that I defend a book I haven’t read. My logic here is simple: the outline of the argument in The Better Angels of Our Nature has been presented in shorter form. John Gray’s piece doesn’t even address this digest, so I am skeptical that it could address the data which is no doubt strewn across hundreds of pages. It is obviously theoretically possible that The Better Angels of Our Nature is thinner in results than the shorter essays and presentations I’ve seen over the years on the same topic from Pinker, but highly unlikely. If Gray does a disservice to the short form argument, I doubt he is being any fairer to a longer exposition.
Second, I already admitted that in many ways I’m more pessimistic than Steven Pinker when it comes to this issue. And from what I’ve seen I’m moderately skeptical of many of the rationales he presents for why violence has declined over time (though obviously I won’t be doing him justice if I come to any conclusion without reading the book with all its extended argumentation). But my issue with John Gray ultimately is not with his final assessment of Pinker’s argument on the net, but how he came by it. Steven Pinker is a serious thinker, who makes a good faith effort to arrive at the truth as he understands it. I don’t think he always succeeds, and I don’t always agree with his conclusions. But even if you disagree with him engaging someone like Steven Pinker can sharpen your own perspective, and refine your own models. Steven Pinker is not a fashionable intellectual whose aim in life is to receive adulation by the right people at the right time. He may be wrong, whether due to lack of background or faulty reasoning, but he’s a sincere person. I have friends and acquaintances who take great objection to his evolutionary psychology and representation of cognitive science, but even his false steps can serve as an opening to raise public awareness of your opposite perspective. Pinker’s stature, and the questions he shines the light upon, are opportunities to have a public discussion on the Big Ideas. If you’re going to criticize him, face his ideas full on, don’t just prance around preening so those with whom you already agree can see what a good and right person you are. That’s what John Gray did, and it disgusted me.
Read more HERE.
Today's NY Times has a discussion of 'Pathological Altruism', but is it truly 'altruism' to give till it hurts the giver?
Altruism, on the face of it, is the opposite of selfishness. The dictionary definition (Merriam Webster)
U.S. condemns Iranian pastor's conviction and possible execution (Norman Costa)
This is another reason why the U.S. should abolish capital punishment. We have little moral force when we protest the possible execution of a citizen of another country.
"By Dan Merica, CNN
"Washington (CNN) – The White House Thursday condemned the conviction of an Iranian pastor, who may be executed in Tehran for refusing to recant his religious beliefs and convert from Christianity to Islam."
Read more HERE:
No Evidence Linked Them To The Murders (Norman Costa)
There is no scarcity of stories like these.
"The three men spent 18 years behind bars for a brutal crime they said they did not commit. Locked away for life -- with one of them sentenced to death -- the men thought they would never experience freedom again.
"They had been imprisoned for the brutal 1993 murders of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Evidence against the men was circumstantial, however, and doubts grew over the years about their guilt.
"Finally, nearly two decades after the crime, the men were allowed to walk free last month, the result of a complicated plea agreement requiring them to plead guilty even while declaring their innocence."
Read more HERE.
Troy Davis and Constitutional Virtues (Norman Costa)
By Mark Osler, Special to CNN
"Editor's note: Mark Osler, a professor of law at the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minnesota, is a former federal prosecutor and the author of "Jesus on Death Row," a book about capital punishment.
"(CNN) -- When I was a federal prosecutor, I had some sleepless nights. On a few occasions, it was after I had lost at trial; I would lie in bed and think of what I did wrong.
"Other times, though, my sleepless hours came after I had won a trial or gotten what I wanted at sentencing. The haunting question was always the same: What if I was wrong?"
Read more HERE.
--By Norman Costa
A friend of mine was summoned for jury duty. It was a capital case. During the voir dire, the prosecuting attorney asked Bill if he could vote to convict a guilty man who would be sentenced to death. Bill answered, “No!” He was opposed to the death penalty on personal and religious reasons. Bill was excused from the jury panel.
Philosophically, I am not opposed to the death penalty. However, I believe it should be abolished for a number of practical reasons.
1. It is impossible to administer a judicial process leading to an execution that is consistently fair, unbiased, and without error.
2. A death sentence starts a process that is very costly to the tax payers of the State. The appeals process is prescribed and made mandatory by law. The appeals process, and the many variants of appeals of appeals, costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. In many cases, the burden on the State treasury runs into the millions. The long term incarceration of capital criminals, who would otherwise be executed, is less costly than a legal system that carries out a death sentence.
3. The administration of capital justice is a heavy burden that affects the morale and mental well being of the people who staff the death row corridors of our prisons.
4. Abolishing the death penalty would put the United States on a par with most of the countries of the world. We lose any moral advantage when, as a country, we oppose an execution in another country because we feel it is unfair or unjust.
5. Eliminating the death penalty provides time for successful appeals or retrials. Posthumous exoneration is small comfort for friends and family, and none for the innocent prisoner.
6. A lifetime in jail, rather than death at the gallows, offers the convicted a chance to reflect on his or her crime and to come to terms with the consequences of their actions. This will be lost on the sociopath, but others may benefit in a personal or spiritual way.
Let's turn to the matter of Troy Davis. As I started writing this essay, a yellow banner appeared on the CNN home page on my browser. Troy Davis was just executed in Georgia. I will not discuss the merits of the opposing sides on this case. Rather, I would like to discuss some broader issues that are not understood very well, if at all, about our justice system and the appeals process in criminal matters.
Our system of justice is not focused on getting it right. The emphasis is on fairness. The familiar adage, “Innocent until proven guilty,” means that you are entitled to a FAIR trial, not to a perfect outcome. An instructive experience is sitting in on a moot court trial in law school. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the difference between making it a fair fight versus finding the truth. Make sure you read a copy of the case before you watch the trial.
The case file has solid evidence of the guilt of the accused. It also has evidence that contradicts the charge of committing a crime. There is evidence that is less than clear on both sides. The job of the prosecuting and defending student attorneys is to mount their case, present the evidence, and use all the procedural tricks of the trade against the opposing side and it's evidence. The published case does not lead to a clear verdict on either side. A successful conviction or successful defense will depend solely upon the preparation and trial skills of the jousting knights.
The appeals process is not what most people think it is. The average citizen believes that the appeals process determines if the jury got it right and rendered the correct verdict. There are exceptions, but the appeals process is less concerned with the jury getting it right, than with making sure the procedures of law, criminal trial, and rules of evidence were fairly administered.
The concept of the fair trial is sacrosanct in our system of justice. It is such a important foundation of our government and our society that we do not let a jury, or any other faction in our legal system, impeach the process. A juror announces after trial that she would not have rendered a guilty vote if she knew that the death penalty would be imposed. Another juror announces that he made a mistake in voting for a guilty verdict. He did not understand a very important aspect of the evidence presented at trial. In spite of this, it is rare that the verdict will be overturned. The jury cannot, and is not allowed to, impeach its own process.
The same can be said about witnesses who, later, recant their testimony. Barring the finding of clear, unopposed, and overwhelming evidence, and the conversion of the prosecutors office, the appeals process is unlikely to overturn the verdict that was the outcome of a fairly administered process. All things being equal, recanting witnesses do not a reversal make. Recanting witnesses cannot impeach a fair process – one in which they were contributing players.
How do we take a justice system that focuses on fairness of process, and get it closer to a focus on the truth? The most radical idea for the United States is to transform the jury system of criminal justice into one that is presided over by panels of professional judges. You see this in Europe and in many quarters of the world. The judges do the questioning and investigating. The judges vote to render a verdict. A court room is not a jousting tournament for lawyers. Their role is very different.
This is very unlikely to be implemented in the U.S. for criminal trials. That leaves us with only a few avenues of reform. One is better training, higher education requirements, and improved managerial supervision of police. Effective citizen review of their law enforcement employees (police work for the citizens) has been talked about for years, but is largely a joke. Police do not want to be reviewed by the citizens who hire them and pay their salaries. What would have been the outcome of the Troy Davis trial if Georgia had had a system of effective civilian review boards?
Finally, State and local legislatures and political leaders have to establish law, policy, and funding to give the accused (and the convicted) access to modern forensic science.
The remembrance would have been uncomplicated and even calming if we could just recall and mourn the horrific events of the tragic Tuesday exactly ten years ago. But as we well know, the aftermath of the terror that struck at the heart of our collective psyche did not stop at righteous anger, sorrow, reflection, or a thoughtful response to the mindless violence that was wreaked upon thousands of innocent citizens, their families and the entire nation.
September 11, 2001 began as a quiet normal day for me in faraway Texas. My husband left for work earlier than usual, around 7:45 that morning. I sat with a cup of tea at the breakfast table reading the newspaper. Around 8am, my husband called from his car asking me to turn the TV on. He did not say why. I switched on the TV to CNN and saw a tall tower burning and smoking. Within a couple of minutes, I saw a second explosion "behind" the same tower but did not realize that it was a new explosion in a "different" tower which was obscured from view by the first structure. I don't recall whether I even saw the plane flying into the second tower when I was watching the scene in real time. Later of course, during numerous replays, I noticed the plane... again and again.
Soon afterwards, friends began calling. My aunt called from Florida and my sister from New Delhi. Everyone was shaken and stunned. Around mid-morning, I got an agitated call from my daughter in Connecticut. She asked me not to go out of the house and if I did, not to wear Indian clothing. She also suggested that her father should shave off his beard. Later in the afternoon a friend who worked at the local high school phoned me and said that all Muslim students had been taken out of the school early that day by their parents. Even in my confusion, anger and befuddlement I realized that we had the option to respond to the horror of that day with responsible and controlled measures or with misguided fury and/or manipulative power play. We know now which path our elected leaders chose and we are still paying the price.
P.S. I did go out to run some errands on September 11, 2001. Despite my daughter's warning I went out in Salwar-Kameez although trousers and t-shirts are usually my garments of choice on such occasions. And, my husband never considered shaving his professorial beard. I don't think we were being particularly brave or making a defiant point. It just felt so silly to succumb to fear and paranoia about something that is a natural part of how we look and behave.
From the Wall Street Journal
July 21, 2011
Animated Debate Is Curtain-Raiser
By SUMATHI REDDY
""Sita Sings the Blues," an animated modern take on the Hindu religious epic, "The Ramayana," has won awards and been shown at hundreds of locations across the world since its release two years ago.
"Never has creator Nina Paley faced a problem until now, oddly enough, in Queens, one of the most diverse communities in the country.
"A planned screening of the film has had to be moved at least twice—the most recent this week—because some Hindus said they found the film's interpretation offensive."
Read more HERE.
What else should they take back to claim ownership of the faith? This recent story (via a friend's Facebook posting) in CNN's Belief section caught my eye due to its proximity to my home. The opinions expressed in the article by young American Hindus of Houston appear mildly paranoid and parochial to me. But then I am not a practitioner and religious identity never meant much to me. Many Hindus like other religious conservatives, are steeped in beliefs and rituals that define and delineate them from followers of other theological and philosophical dogma; that in itself is not remarkable. What struck me as more interesting is that the attitude of the young Hindus quoted here is being characterized as "Americanization." Perhaps there is some truth to it. Or would "Texanization" be more accurate?
Driving to lunch recently at a strip mall Indian buffet, he spoke of trying to forge a distinctly American Hindu identity that’s more tightly woven into the national fabric.
“The immigrant generation is focused on India, on the home country,” he said, noting that the TV in his parents’ house is often turned to a Hindi-language channel beamed in from the subcontinent. “I’m focused on the United States, which is my home country.”
That helps explain why a national group he’s involved with, the Hindu American Foundation, recently launched a Take Back Yoga campaign, aimed at raising awareness about the practice’s Hindu roots and values among non-Hindus.
And it's why Bhutada testified at the Capitol in Austin last year against a statewide school curriculum that calls Hinduism a polytheistic religion, a characterization many Hindus reject.
And it's why one area temple has begun placing copies of the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture, in thousands of Texas hotel rooms, right next to the Gideon Bible.
The developments speak to a new, publicly assertive stance that’s shared by many first-generation American Hindus across Houston, home to one of the country’s largest and fastest growing Indian enclaves, and by many young Hindus across the nation.
The article notes correctly that Hinduism is not a proselytizing faith. Why then the Gita next to the Gideon's Bible in hotel rooms and who are the competitors for the "Americanization" efforts?
Some young Hindus are envious of the attention that American Muslims and Mormons have received in recent years – even if not all of the attention has been positive – and are trying to raise Hinduism’s national profile.
The goal seems to be for Hindus to become more vocal, assertive and un-selfconscious about their beliefs in public. The approach appears to have somewhat of an evangelical flavor. Sujatha wondered, as did I, whether the demonstrative devoutness of other religious communities in Texas including evangelical Christians, has rubbed off on the local Hindus who find themselves surrounded by public religiosity. The Christian right of the Lone Star State after all, works tirelessly to put a stamp of its faith on matters of the state including public school curricula.
The BAPS Swaminarayan Temple featured on this page and in the CNN report, is on a good day, almost walking distance from my house. It is a beautiful structure and I have taken many visitors there to have a look around. I also go there occasionally to buy the excellent and freshly prepared Indian desserts sold on the premises. I don't participate in the religious activities but did note with interest that the main evening prayer session at the temple is segregated by gender. Women sit in the back cordoned off from the men. A sign near the cut off area reads, "No Ladies Allowed Beyond This Point." No one seems to mind.
"In Southern India a story that sounds like the plot line of a Hollywood adventure is unfolding. Over the past week, on orders from the country's Supreme Court, a panel has found a treasure estimated to be worth $22 billion in the underground vaults of a Hindu temple in Trivandrum, India."
"The vaults had not been opened in about 150 years and the treasure spans some 500 years. India's Supreme Court ordered that the vaults of the temple be inventoried after a man filed a suit that worried about how the trust was caring for the riches."
Mind, I've never been a fan of the silly memes (Indians eat monkey brains?!!?) so egregiously used in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. But when a real treasure trove shows up in nowhere other than the quiet temple that I used to visit in my hometown, making it perhaps the 'Richest Temple on Earth' as all the headlines have been blaring in the last 24-hour cycle, one cannot resist indulging in a laugh at the chagrin of all Indiana Jones wannabes and the unspectacular way in which this treasure was found.
No National Geographic special will be needed to capture the excitement of discovery, for there is none. The fact of the treasure's existence was well-recorded enough in temple documents. It was only the extent that had not been truly gauged till now, when a court-ordered listing of the contents of the cellars yielded up an astounding inventory.
From the AP account:
Inside the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple, investigators were counting the staggering hoard of gold coins and statues of gods and goddesses studded with diamonds and other precious stones. Outside, small groups of armed policemen patrolled the temple grounds in the heart of the Kerala state capital, Trivandrum.
Metal detectors were hurriedly installed at temple entrances after six days of searches revealed a treasure trove of artifacts, statues and temple ornaments made of gold and embellished with jewels.
The valuables were donated to the temple by devotees over hundreds of years, and India's erstwhile royal family has been the custodian of the treasures.
News anchors struggle at the sight of the name, and wisely, don't attempt to pronounce either 'Thiruvananthapuram' (mangled by the British as Trivandrum, still used in popular parlance, but restored to its original unpronouncability by the Kerala government several years ago.). Nor do they try to utter "Anantha Padmanabhaswamy temple". Whew, it was much easier when the 'Tirupati' temple was declared the richest years ago.
A battle will ensue in court over who is entitled to all these riches. There is a claim from the erstwhile royal family of Travancore, who have acted as hereditary guardians of the temple, having made generous endowments to in the past for upkeep and ceremonies. They have also filed a petition to keep all the details of the discoveries out of the media limelight. The Kerala state government opines that the treasure belongs to the temple, not the royal family. So, there will likely be counter-claims on the treasure from the state Devaswom Board, a bureaucratic department that was formed by the government to administer these temples in post-Independence India.
What does one do with $22 billion worth of gold and diamonds (and that is the estimated worth without taking into account the antique value)? It came from the blood, sweat and tears of so many people over so many centuries. Maybe they ought to put it in a museum for the public to enjoy and see, but wouldn't that be a magnet for thieves, harder to secure now that all is brought to light.
Or, perhaps, they should be parcelled out to premier institutions all over the world, keeping some for the local museum. The money obtained by selling them off could be put to good use in establishing universal education and healthcare all over India. The Travancore royals had always been in the forefront of such moves when they were rulers. One wonders if they might adopt such a strategy, if they were granted possession of this treasure by the courts.
Would a democratic government do the same, should they win this case, or will India's famously corrupt politicians gobble up the lion's share of any such profits? Only time will tell.
"Pakistan has abolished its Federal Ministry for Religious Minorities as part of a larger plan of government decentralization approved by the Parliament of Pakistan in February. The move against this specific ministry had been delayed at the urging of the Minister for Minority Affairs Shabhaz Bhatti before his assassination on March 2.
"A source in the Pakistan government said the decision to proceed with the ministry’s closing was like killing Bhatti “a second time.” According to the plan, the responsibilities of the ministry will be devolved from the federal level to the provincial level. But this source worried that in practical terms that may mean "removing from the agenda of the central government issues related to minority rights.""
Read more HERE.
Razib at Brown Pundits.
A few people have asked me about the Geert Wilders’ affair. If you don’t know Geert Wilders’ is a right-wing Dutch politician prone to making inflammatory remarks about Islam. He’s been brought to court on the grounds of whether his comments violated the speech laws in much of Europe, which sanction inciting or hateful speech.
The main issue as an American that one always has about these sort of things is that because of the First Amendment and the way it has been interpreted our social norms are such that in regards to speech we are exceedingly liberal. Prosecuting Wilders would not be an issue in the United States. Rather, it is much more likely that he’d be marginalized and ignored as a kook.
From my perspective the main problem with prosecutions for hate speech in relation to Islam and immigrants in Europe is that these attempts seem like banning lying; it’s a nominal and symbolic salve on the underlying diseases. Additionally, one must note that the attacks are focused on Muslim immigrants in particular, who from what I can tell have shown (in part) the greatest concerted collective resistance to becoming absorbed into the “European consensus,” as it has evolved.
Some of Wilders’ statements are so extreme and strange that I can’t but help believe that he’s working the Overton window. And from what I’ve read his strategy has worked, the whole center of gravity of public discourse has shifted in the Netherlands and much of Europe. The very fact that Wilders was acquitted is probably a reflection of this, as the enforcement of these laws often is a signal of public mood.
Overall I think there are several issues in Europe which must be addressed in the near future which are relevant to the rise of the right-wing sentiment:
- The likely unworkability of the European “super-state” because of cultural incompabilities
- The nature of employment regulation in Europe which discourages labor market mobility and fluidity
- The welfare state predicated on a common set of values affinity across lines of class and age not always compatible with a multicultural order
- The cultural insularity of many minority ethnic groups in Europe, especially Muslims, vis-a-vis the mainstream
And that’s the tip of the iceberg. The main problem is that because of the nature of politics many of these issues are neatly reduced into catchphrases. Muslim populations in Europe complaining of racism neatly neglect that black Africans who are not Muslim probably experience as much racism, but are not the locus of social unrest or panic, in part because they don’t pose a coherent challenge to Europe as it is. Anti-immigrant voices neglect the fact that even if all immigrants left tomorrow Europe would still be facing massive structural problems because of the reality of their demographics, as fewer and fewer young people are supporting large populations of economically inactive older pensioners.
(Since I was one of the people who asked Razib to comment on the ruling by the Dutch court, I have his permission to copy the post here.)
India is hardly the land of non-violence that the legacy of Gandhi seems to suggest. Murder and mayhem, intentional or inadvertent, are commonplace. But this trend in the criminal justice system is heartening.
Answer: Black women are unattractive. Question: WHAT!!!
A research psychologist, myself, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about over the Satoshi Kanazawa article:
"Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women? Why black women, but not black men?" Published on May 15, 2011 by Satoshi Kanazawa in The Scientific Fundamentalist
I have come to the defense of scientists, in the past, who were castigated for their research because the results and interpretations flew in the face of political and religious correctness. The biologist Eric Pianka at UT Austin was one. So I wanted to see if Kanazawa did his homework. Please note, that I did not start with "How could he state such an hypothesis that is offensive?" This is not where scientific criticism starts.
I read the review, "The Data Are In Regarding Satoshi Kanazawa" by Khadijah Britton, May 23, 2011 10:10 AM. HERE. I looked at the original blog post by SK. HERE. I was ready to see if he should have said that such-and-such a group thought black women were less attractive than other women. Perhaps black women were quite attractive to everyone, but the edge went to the other groups. In other words, I wanted to keep an open mind and see what he was up to.
Here is my conclusion:
Nor do subordinates come with the office.
Once again, the news cycle is dominated by stories of powerful men embroiled in sexual behavior which is at best unsavory in one instance and probably criminal in another. Boys will be boys, right? And it is none of our business, most of the time. But older men in positions of power are not adolescent boys and predatory behavior resembling a rutting chimpanzee or treating women like prosciutto, if shrugged off will lead sooner or later, to unlawful actions. The French, often haughtily condescending towards the puritanical Americans are beginning to see the difference between elaborate seduction and aggressive sexual harrassment. At least French women are beginning to do some soul searching to evaluate what they may be putting up with in a culture that prides itself in being free of sexual hang-ups. But France's male intellectuals still don't seem to get it. David Rieff in The New Republic.
Early in the summer of 1995, a colleague and I went into South Sudan to report from the side of the South Sudanese guerrilla army, the SPLA. At dinner on the day we arrived, completely out of the blue, one of our minders turned to me and said, “I am so sorry about this Gennifer Flowers.” I had expected to talk about many things in South Sudan, but the woman with whom Bill Clinton had had an affair in the 1980s was certainly not one of them. Not quite sure of how I should answer, I took refuge in sanctimonious platitudes. We take sexual exploitation of women by powerful men very seriously in the United States, I said. Hearing this, the minder only smiled. “With us,” he said, “the fault is always with the woman.”
I have not thought of this incident for years, but the reaction of so many leading French public figures—and not just his allies within the French Socialist Party—to the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn brought it all back to me. The International Monetary Fund’s managing director who, until this week, was widely believed to have a good chance of being elected president of France in next year’s elections is facing seven charges, including attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment of a maid at the New York hotel in which he was staying. From Bernard-Henri Lévy to Jean Daniel, the longtime editor of the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, to the distinguished human rights lawyer turned politician Robert Badinter, who, as Francois Mitterand’s justice minister secured the abolition of the death penalty, the French elite consensus seems to be that it is Strauss-Kahn himself and not the 32-year-old maid who is the true victim of this drama.
To be sure, Strauss-Kahn might not be guilty. But French intellectuals’ vociferous defense of him, without all the facts of the situation, goes too far. In his weekly column in Le Point, Lévy asked “how a chambermaid could have walked in alone, contrary to the habitual practice of most New York hotels of sending a ‘cleaning brigade’ of two people, into the room of one of the most closely watched figures on the planet.” For his part, Daniel wrote in an editorial for his magazine that the fate meted out to DSK, as Strauss-Kahn is generally referred to in the French press, has made him think that, “We [French] and the Americans do not belong to the same civilization,” and demanded to know—shades of my guerrilla friend in South Sudan—why “the supposed victim was treated as worthy and beyond any suspicion?”
Dominique Strauss-Kahn will have his day in court. Thank goodness it will be an American court. After all, in France it is believed that Roman Polanski is too talented to be tried for anything as trite as child rape.
As for Arnold, who as far as we know, has not committed a crime in responding recklessly to his libido, his fortunes on or off the movie screen, will be determined by the court of public opinion (and the Kennedy clan's vast influence).
"Cambridge, MA.... Dr. Kiran Martin spoke recently at the Center for the Study of World Religions. Dr. Martin is founder of Asha, an organization dedicated to the health, education, and well-being of some of the poorest citizens of the poorest neigbhorhoods of New Delhi, India."
Question: Is there scientific proof of God's existence?
Question: Is belief in God necessary to be good?
Question: Must a person have religious faith to be inspired to work for social justice?
Question: What should a non-believer do when finding a person whose religious faith and belief in God inspire them to work for social justice for the poor?
Here is a video of her address from April 13, 2011.
Justice is an interesting word. It serves as the front man for a number of different and sometimes incompatible concepts: revenge, retribution, restoration, fate, fairness, equality. In everyday use it often boils down to a sense of cosmic righteousness, a position that takes the universe (or a god) to be a fair and neutral arbiter, an automatic karma balancer, or, at a minimum, a provider of fate.
Since justice has so many meanings, it's not always clear what someone is trying to express when they use the word. Making matters worse, even when parties agree on the definition, they often disagree on the act necessary to make it so. It's almost universally agreed, at least in the U.S., that justice in the case of murder has a heavy shade of retribution about it, yet capital punishment remains contentious.
Other basic questions abound. Does justice necessarily demand only moral actions in its name? Some of the conceptualizations seem to explicitly disregard the morality of the action that brings about a course of justice. Revenge has a long history with the entire spectrum moral behavior, while restoration seems to have a specifically moral nature about it. Let us not even dive into the disagreements of what is or is not moral behavior. And it might be argued the other way around, that what is moral is, by its nature, just. Of course, that doesn't rule out those acts which are amoral or immoral.
It turns out that justice is a tricky word, its use often leading us to believe we are dishing out universal truths while instead merely expressing the particular dynamic of justice that fits our feelings best in the moment. Therefore, I don't put too much emphasis on the cries that justice has been done in the killing of Osama bin Laden. We are still in the early hours and days after his death, and the immediate reaction is understandable, particular from those personally affected by 9/11. His death has all the feelings of personal revenge: we, the U.S., have been furiously pursuing (haven't we?) bin Laden for a decade, using every means at our disposal to find, capture or kill, and to close the book on the man who planned the largest terrorist attack in recent American history.