Saturday, November 17, 2018

Mustard Seed - Book Review


I never expected an author with the last name Ibrahim to write about something so American so white and so historical about America.

I am really glad I picked up this book to read. It was very nicely written with authenticity to historical facts. The story is about these two families, one white one black connected through a slavery past and connected again 20 years later through freedom.

The story is written from the perspective of two young women, one black and one white, both with very different vision of their future from their older generation. I don’t want to write the whole story but I do want to make some observations:
·        The next generation can choose to be different, if they want to. But it takes a lot of courage to break tradition. I am not saying the cowards choose to stay in the older culture, I think they find security in it. They like carrying out traditions and their family history, no matter how awful it was. But again, to them it is not awful because it is their “family” history.
·        One should learn history. Without history there is no future. Our present is based on our past and if we don’t know what that is, then how do we grow?  We will keep repeating the mistakes of our past.
·        Some things are inherently bad, no matter which century or culture one lives in. For e.g. stealing – always wrong to take something that does not belong to you. Slavery, in context of this book, will always be bad. If you need people to work for you, then you pay them for the work. they will be your employees. And if you treat them properly they will always work for you. But greediness is one of the causes of slavery.  The other is denigrating another person.
·        There is nothing that love will not conquer. Some people are definitely born evil, but there are a number of people who’s lives would change if they got love and compassion from family and friends. This is one reason I despise bullies. They create an environment to create evil just like what they themselves are.

I did not know much about slavery before coming to USA. But then I saw Mississippi Burning, the movie, and it showed me a side of America I had not imagined. And now with Trump in the White House, I see America burning everywhere. I have never felt so brown in my life!

I don’t like watching or reading anything about slavery, but reading about it me gives me more perspective on who these Americans are that I now call my fellow citizens. (It took me more than two years to get myself to watch 12 Years s Slave and it really bothered me that people can be so evil.) All the Americans I had met were hospitable and friendly in Toledo, Buffalo, Missouri.  I could not even imagine they had a racist bone in them. My PhD boss, a British guy, was racist, but it did not affect me so much personally and our research group was quite diverse so a number of things got absorbed or ignored.

In Virginia I could feel the racism from my students, and I had a hard time accepting that any white American could be this way. I left Virginia very soon. But since then I have read some books and watched movies on the slavery issue, mostly fiction. All of the stories are drawn from nonfiction, of course. The atmosphere in America has also changed a lot since Obama became the first black president.  All the racists started coming out and now with Trump in office they are all out. I now find it incredibly hypocritical of Americans talking about not letting immigrants come into their country, when essentially that is what they all are.

I don’t think I even want to venture into reading about the Native’s history or it will make me even more mad. I have seen a couple movies and I some books and that also make me super mad! Some of the whites think that the world belongs to them and they can treat people however they want. The sad thing is they have been getting away with it too!

Back to the book, it was really well written with all the pain and helplessness one feels in certain situations. The best part of the book was the positives in the book despite all the miserable happenings. The two young women were strong in character and ultimately came through for each other.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Book Review - The Taster

I just finished reading "The Taster" by VS Alexander. I have read a number of books and seen movies related to WWII and Nazi Germany. I'm still fascinated by how good level headed people can allow such a thing like Hitler happen in their country. Just like I wonder why India allowed other people to rule over them for so long!

In any case, back to the book. The story is about a German girl who gets a job in the service of Hitler as his food taster. He has 15 tasters who taste his food before he eats. She gets trained and becomes a pro within a few months. Most the books I have read have the Jew perspective - about the holocaust. This book is from the perspective of a German. It was a great story of love, family and adjusting to different environments for this young woman.  She goes through a number of experiences that show her what Hitler is all about.

What was also new to me was how many times different types of people tried to kill Hitler - obviously all unsuccessful. Ultimately it is known that he committed suicide instead of being captured. What a coward! But really - he lived a life of power and glory for 4 years. He caused so much destruction during that time, not only in Germany but so much of Europe and Russia. In Indian terminology, he was a rakshas. And now almost 75 years later, I see his incarnation in Trump. If Trump was allowed he would not only separate the immigrant children from their mothers, he would gas all of them too!

The author does not glorify Hitler, nor does he go into the holocaust. It is a good story about how Germans view Hitler - the cook, the army, the regular citizens of Germany. And it was a little bit about what all was going on during the two years before Hitler fell. It kept me intrigued and engaged. It was an easy read with a good story.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Women in the Trump Time

The one thing that Trump has certainly done in his two years so far has been to bring out all the suppressed women out. More women are running for office, more women are coming out of the dark place to talk about their sexual abuse history. There has been so much in the #MeToo movement that I have also been thinking about my own history. (more on that later)

The one thing that I am observing is that men will be men, no matter which country or what age or what race. They will always think less of women, disrespect them and want power over them. It has been going on forever and I feel it will take a lot more time before we women will be considered the same as men.

I cannot wrap my head around the fact that 99.99% of the rapes or sexual harassment is committed by men.  Why? What is in their DNA that allows them to commit such a horrible act? The male can be a teenager or educated or in places that require some ethics yet they can behave in a lowly manner. Women on the other hand just don't have that kind of gene in them. Not that we always behave properly....but we don't rape men or women.

I also don't understand the women who keep supporting these kind of men. Why is sexual harassment not seen as criminal? It is not just bad, it robs the other person of their humanity and dignity. These women who still stand by these men are equally guilty in these men's behaviour. In the last two years so many older men have been outed by so many brave women, yet the women in their personal life stand by them. How? I would be so embarrassed to be by such a man. But still in this day and age, the women are victimized over and over again about something that happened to them, not anything they ever wanted or caused. Yet, most men don't have to suffer much consequences for their actions.

Now to my story - I cannot write in detail about my experience because it involves family members and some colleagues.  Thank goodness it did not happen too much or for too long. But it did open my eyes to who would support me and who would not. I have a lot of trust issues because of my experiences.

I just cannot imagine why women cannot support each other, create a safe environment for their daughters and girls in general. We would all benefit greatly from a healthy and loved society.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Freedom

We take freedom for granted. Only when it is gone do we realize it's value. This 4th of July I am not feeling that free. The Trump administration has made me feel powerless and miserable. I feel my rights as a human being are being chipped away day by day by this cruel president. How can anyone allow this man to even exist in such a position? It is horrendous.

Anyway, this blog is about freedom. I would urge everyone to appreciate the freedoms they have in life, to speak their mind, to make an independent decision, to eat what they want, to live where they want, and try to live in a safe society - free from the worry of where the next bullet is coming from. This fear for our life has grown exponentially during the past 3-4 years. People are becoming more isolated and therefore less tolerant of each other. We don't want to be with people who don't think like us. We need our "space". What the heck is that???

Human being is a social animal and requires social interactions to feel part of this world. Anytime that does not happen, there is depression and psychological disorders. Why are we doing this to ourselves? The super rich have their nose high up in the air and would not like to socialize with us middle class because they think we are too poor and all we want is their money. But what about us in the middle class? Why are we turning away from each other? Why can't we talk even among families and friends? When did we let our politics become our religion? When did we let our differences become our weakness?

For someone who has lived in different countries and traveled to many countries, it is hard to fathom that people cannot associate with a person of different opinion. I appreciate differences. It makes us unique, interesting and fun to be around. I may not agree with other people's way of life, but I can respect their decision to live like that. I cannot imagine a world where everyone behaves the same way, everyone thinks the same way...how boring that would be!!

Only when one is suppressed after being free, then one realizes the value of being free. Only when the suppressed sees how the free live, do they appreciate what it means to be free. The diversity of life, culture and human beings should be cherished and protected.

I urge everyone to fight for the freedoms we have in USA - the best country in the world to live in! Go out and vote, exercise your right to have your voice heard! Make a difference for someone in this world - other than your own children. Protect our freedom, protect the earth, the environment and protect yourselves from feeling powerless in this big world. Do your part. Don't be an observer, be an active participant in your community.

Happy Independence Day and many more to come!!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Time

"Time is money". This is what Americans say. And I think I am more American in this than Indian. 

I think I have always been punctual, don't know how. I remember rarely being late for meeting with friends or any other appointments. And I have always appreciated my friends who have been punctual. All the interviews I went to were on time and moved like clockwork. Somehow I find that very satisfying. I feel like life is moving fine. 

As I am getting older, time is becoming an important commodity. And this punctuality thing has become a habit now. We go about in our lives without realizing how important time is. People don't take it seriously. 

As a professor, I am never late to my classes. I do what I expect my students to do, be on time to class. If I am going to be late, I let them know in advance. In the same token, I don't like students walking in late to my classes. That is one thing that bothers me a lot. Once or twice is fine, but some students just don't come on time. It is disruptive and disrespectful. 

All my American friends have been really great. Whenever I have met them, they are early or there within 5 mins of when we are to meet. It's possible I learned from them on never to be late. I hate to have my friends waiting for me. It has happened a couple times because I could not see where they were sitting inside a restaurant - well....they could have waited for me in the waiting area, that is what I would have done. I would rather be the one waiting for them....

For all the American get togethers, events start on time. For all the Indian get togethers it's one hour later. It really bugs me that I will get there on time. The poor host is ready on time, but the guests don't seem to care.  It just goes to show again, disrespect.

And then there are the doctors who will always make you wait. I understand 15-20 mins, but beyond that is irritating.  If I made an appointment, then why make me wait more than 20 mins?? 

Not being on time just means you don't respect your own time and especially do not respect the other person or their time. You don't value them enough to save their precious commodity of time. Time that they spent waiting for you, they will never get back.

And last thing I want to say is "timing is everything". If you don't respect time, then you probably don't have good timing in life for other things and it's possible you might miss some golden opportunities in life. On the other hand, some people are just lucky - nothing can cause them to be more accountable.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The End of the Semester


As the semester ends there are a variety of emotions from the students …. And me also.  The one part of the semester I don’t like is assigning grades. I feel that students should assess themselves based on how much they think they learned. But of course, no one can honestly assess themselves with objectivity (even instructors sometimes don’t assign grades with objectivity).

I don’t know what happens to the students by the 3rd exam. Its only then that they realize how they are doing in class, and then I have students writing to me, asking me personally what they can do to improve their grades. But after the 3rd exam its really tough for anyone to improve drastically to change the letter grade to one higher. I get reasons like: I spent one hour solving this one problem, and I wonder – WHY? Why would anyone spend so much time on just one problem? I have learned to move on to other problems and then come back to that one problem I could not do before. I even tell them to do this – why don’t they learn to move on? 

Then there is the classic, “I am getting As in all my classes except yours”, well….I don’t know. I cannot comment on that one until I see their transcripts.

Another one, which is probably a little more honest, I did not give this class enough time.

I just don’t know how to guide these students anymore. There is so much going on in their lives: classes, work, family and of course the ever present, phone. I just cannot believe them when they say that they study 2 hours for my class and still get only a C. It means they are just not studying the right way or they think that opening the book is considered studying. And one has to think themselves and realize, what am I doing wrong if I am studying this long and not getting the grade? They should think about getting help early on. But there is a general feeling of self confidence (or lack of it) that does not let them get help.

The other culprit I think, is work. They work to pay for the course (maybe?). But the problem arises when the work takes precedence over education. Some students can manage it all, but most cannot.  One of the things I really like about our Indian culture is that studies are done in the first 25 years of the life. And I can see the benefits of it. One has to get education out of the way before you start a family or work. How can you give education the time it needs when you have kids or if you are reporting to a boss? And I see that conflict all the time in this college. And there is nothing I can do about it.

But one other problem I have with about 70% of the students is their lack of study skills. Study skills include taking notes, practicing problems, copying notes from one notebook to another, scheduling the right amount of time to the right subject. I will confess that I was never a high IQ student, but I did put in my time to learn the material. And I never shied away from getting help. I hardly get anyone during the semester for help.

The end of the semester brings in the typical question, “is there any extra credit”? And I never understood that question. I never had that when I was going to school. You are supposed to do everything for the given credit. If you cannot do that, then how can you do extra credit? Extra credit is supposed to be intellectually difficult – so I don’t want to give something even more difficult to do if someone cannot do the normal stuff.  And then it suddenly becomes my problem that I am not giving them extra credit.  Last year I broke down and I did give extra credit – out of 36 students, only 2 took advantage of it. So there goes that idea!

I am at a loss as to how to motivate my students to do better and show them that education is the only solution to all problems. It gives one a better life and a chance to succeed. If they are going to college, they must realize that aspect. Chemistry is a hard subject, no one takes it for fun, so one must be ready for the time they have to spend on it too. And I think that if you cannot handle the heat, get out of the fire. It’s possible that chemistry is not for everyone. But how do you say that to a student?

Every semester I go through the same emotions.Every semester I feel that the students should have the responsibility to take care of their education and the acceptance of whatever they get as a result of their work.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Back at Work

I have been back from India for over 6 months now. I spent my summer in Columbus, teaching at Capital University again. It was quite a busy summer. Mom did not do so well, healthwise, so I was doing a lot of up and down to Windsor. I got only 2 or 3 weekends to myself. And then I spent my remaining 3 weeks of the 4 week vacation in Windsor also. So all my summer was gone like that...no big issues, except of course my Mom. She is recovering....slowly.

It was interesting teaching at Capital. It was so nice to be teaching back in USA again. After the 10 weeks of teaching at Subharti, I was happy to be in a place where students attend classes, do the work, are not talking over me and I have technology in the classroom! It felt normal again. Students were really good and I really enjoyed it. Teaching at Capital gives me the relief that I need even from Palm Beach sometimes.

Then of course, I had to come back to Florida. I did not go to my office until the faculty meeting. Why bother? The cluster meeting was utterly useless. I don't talk to anyone, no one bothers to talk to me. It is the most dysfunctional department ever! Even more than Park and Shenandoah. Those departments were too small, but this one is big enough that people can talk to each other, but they don't. 

I had to try out my new teaching idea this semester with all the power point studies I had made for gen chem 1 and organic 1. Ugh!! That was a mess. Two things I did not account for: one - students don't print out stuff on time and two - so much grading for me!! It was too much. After 2-3 weeks of not getting work from them, I started getting copies for them, but then, so many would not come to class, so would not pick up the copy and so would not submit....so some frustration or another. On the other hand there were a high number of students who submitted all the work.

Organic 1 was a major disappointment this semester. Half the class is failing. First of all, not many students take my class because "someone" has told them not to. And the ones who take should know that they would have to work hard. Organic chemistry is not entry level class! I could not inspire them. Half the class will pass with good grades, while the other half will fail. It reflects poorly on me. But what to do? Go to teach at Capital in summer!! :-)

The college work life is the same. Nothing has changed. My colleagues are as sour as they come. We have not spoken for over two years. But who cares? Not the boss....he is equally bad. He has no communication skills and does not promote any kind of collaboration in the department or division. He is afraid to talk to anyone and I don't like talking to him at all. He has appreciated my input when I was the chair, but he still does not respect me or understand the difference between "someone" and me. He thinks we are all the same. Any person who cannot recognize the value of people who work for him, is not worth working for. Sadly, no one - HR, Dean, VPAA or the President - no can do anything about him. He is one of those people who will never get promoted, but he will also not go anywhere. So we are just stuck with a leader with no vision, no people value, no proactiveness or any quality that a leader should have. Maybe that is what the college wants! 

So essentially, I feel like a robot who goes in to teach with hardly any incentive to do anything creative. The students have their own lives and issues that they are not able to give time to college. The faculty have their own families that they don't want to socialize with colleagues. Our leaders are mere pencil pushers. The president is too far removed from faculty to have any influence. The only good thing that happened was that we got a little raise, because the college got "Gold" status. I think we all had a little bit to do with it. Ramos wanted 70% passing rate - he got it. I had to pass students I normally would not. 

So .... life just goes on at work. I have to inspire myself to keep myself motivated.