Musings on Everything

I muse, therefore I write.

Posts Tagged ‘rant

On Strata

Well, yeah, this is an image of strata.

Social stratification. Class system. These are both archaic concepts, long overthrown in Europe and never seriously present in the United States. This is what we’ve been taught, this is clearly what happens in reality. The US prides itself in being a welcoming place for all people, no matter where they came from.

Yeah, right.

Let’s face it. The United States of America is more bigoted and racist as a culture than perhaps any other nation since, well, the United States. Has it ever occurred to anybody that you never see reports of British neo-nazis, of white hate crimes towards any other race other than here? Has it ever occurred to you that of all the other First-World nations, the United States has the most colorful record of slavery, racism, prejudice, and segregation of any ethnically heterogeneous population. (I need to put heterogeneous in because without it, you get nations like Ireland, which are not fair comparisons to what I’m trying to put across here.)

Here, a bullet-list of all the various prejudices and social issues that the United States so proudly counts as part of its heritage:

  • Catholics. Present in the American population since before 1776, this took until the election of JFK in 1960 to really work its way out of the collective American psyche.
  • Blacks. Present since the widespread adoption of slavery in the colonies in 1680. Slavery, while formally abolished in 1863, did nothing to stem the racism towards blacks, formally and legally abolished in 1964, but still present in many areas of American life even today, whether you consciously aware of it or not.
  • Women. Present in the American population since the beginning of ever, women were denied the right to vote and other social necessities until the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Nowadays, women are, nominally, more or less equal, though there are lingering effects, such as women being paid 75% as much as men for doing the same exact job.
  • Native Americans. Very strong prejudices against Native Americans existed in the United States ever since the white people realized that the land that they wanted had other people living on it. This, in turn, led to such things such as the Trail of Tears, reservations, etc. This particular social ill died out after America reached California and Manifest Destiny petered out. As it is, though, the Native American population is vastly reduced from what it used to be not 300 years ago, and they are still mostly out of sight on reservations, living their lives, unfortunately, in destitution and squalor.

And this is just a small list. I hear stories every day that prove racism is still alive and well.

Nowadays, it seems that America has latched on to anti-Islamism. You hear reports of terrorists in Afghanistan existing. Fair enough, these reports might be true. But then, take a look at the Google news search for “terrorist threat.” Sure, one or two of these reports might actually be about terrorists. The rest have headlines like, “Are American Muslims a Threat?” and “The emerging homegrown terrorist threat.” I mean, there is a point where fear crosses over into ludicrousness. We are way past that point. We proved we were way past that point when people started getting shot at because they had beards. When a little old lady got up and brazenly told John McCain, “Obama’s an Arab.” And while it may not be getting any worse, it sure isn’t getting any better. There is a stereotype now, that Islam is an inherently violent and white-people-hating religion. Which is simply not true. In fact, it startles me that on the one hand, people can say that anybody who accepts Jesus will be saved, and then turn right around and attack fellow acceptors of Jesus. It boggles the mind and startles the spirit, really.

But guess what? I’m guessing it’s going to take another century for that stereotype to exit the collective American psyche. Just like Jim Crow. Just like the stigma against Japanese people during WWII. Just like the prejudice against Catholics.

Not cool, America. Not cool.

    Written by Sri

    November 16, 2009 at 9:37 PM

    Posted in Musings

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    On Space

    So, yesterday, exactly 40 years ago, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed an asymmetrical lump of sheet-thin metal and rocket fuel on the Moon. Their first steps in that gray dust were watched by 450 million people worldwide. Let’s put that into perspective. The global population at the time was 3.63 billion. That means 12.4% of the world tuned in to watch this broadcast. That’s something amazing. Almost as amazing as the fact that there were two guys in spacesuits bouncing around on the Moon. The Moon! It’s really something, huh? This site has the astronauts’ experiences in their own words, if you care to read.

    But, when you think about it, that was the end. Since those fateful days in the 60s and 70s, not one agency of any kind has sent more than satellites to the Moon, and a scant few at that. No, instead the space program got sidetracked by other things; the “Cold War,” the “Computer Revolution,” and so on. But I think it’s time to go back there. To space. To the Moon. Beyond that, even. The time is ripe for a new revolution in technology and the world needs something else to focus on besides the constant threat of terrorism and celebrities. And besides, we’re in a recession. There is literally no better time for this to happen than right now.

    Now, I understand that some of you may scoff at this, asking how anything could happen when the world is in the midst of an “economic downturn,” as the politically correct saying goes. But hear me out. Basic high school economics teaches you that in order for the GDP of a country to become bigger, you can do several things. You could spur consumer spending and business investment, increase your exports, or increase government spending. You could somehow manage to increase the amount of entrepreneurial ability, or increase the amount of labor, land, or capital. You could increase productivity. All viable methods, from a  purely economic standpoint. But economics is a simulation. Let’s go into the viability of each of these factors in the real world, shall we?

    Spurring consumer spending: Our government, from what I can tell, is trying very hard to encourage people to go out and spend more money wantonly like they were doing before this whole “crisis.” Unfortunately for them, it seems the greater American public has learned its lesson. There’s an old Tamil saying that, translated, comes out as, “The only foolproof way to be taught something is to experience it for yourself.” And so it has happened. Gleeful and reckless credit spending has pretty much drawn to a close. Sure, while credit cards may not be going out of style, they certainly are now beginning to be seen as necessary evils rather than as free money. And, for an economy used to that type of spending, it’ll no doubt be a shock to recover from. Anyway, there’s little chance that consumer spending is going to return to the pre-recession levels, so let’s leave that aside.

    Business investment: For the time being, at least, it’s much the same story for businesses as it is for consumers. With their counterparts failing left and right, many most firms will be laying off people and cutting costs, attempting to weather the storm. Nothing’s going to change that. They’re not going to save our GDP either.

    Exports: Excuse me while I laugh. Increase exports? Yeah, RIGHT. Like that’s going to happen. For the past twenty years, the US has been the world’s largest IMPORTER. Think something like a giant vaccuum sucking in all the goods produced elsewhere. Yeah. Moving on…

    Increasing entrepreneurial ability: Already happening. What with the internet, and inspiration by our President’s hope-and-change rhetoric, and just the general trend of entrepreneurs generally coming out of the woodwork during hard times like these (it feels almost wrong to call this “hard times,” when you look at the Great Depression), that step of the process has already begun.

    Increasing land, labor, or capital: Again, mostly beyond anybody’s control. Land is land (very much finite, and not quite in demand right now), capital (keep dreaming), or labor (try again in a few years) aren’t going to be viable for a while. This option isn’t happening, either.

    Productivity is fine (what? Computers aren’t good enough for you now?), so that really leaves us with one option: Government spending.

    We need a massive influx of government money stimulating research and development into multiple areas in order to even STAND A CHANCE of getting out of this recession in anything approaching good shape. Look at the Great Depression. That took WWII to counteract it. While our situation may not be quite as dire, it is still shown that the twin factors of having to rapidly and effectively deploy advanced technology to counter the Axis powers (think tanks and nuclear bombs) was quite the economic stimulator.

    We can’t have a war this time around, because we’re already fighting a war, so making it bigger probably isn’t going to help a lot. The problem this time around derives from having to fight with a new strategy instead of bigger guns. Strategies cannot and will not come about from any new technology, so, bugger.

    So that leaves scientific advancement. There are, as I see it, two major areas of interest in the science field: computers and space. As the trend of microtransistors becomes the world of quantum computing and nanotechnology, there is plenty of incentive from the consumer market for cheaper, faster, more awesome computers. Which effectively makes it a consumer good, rather than a capital good. Which means that it is all but useless in increasing GDP and spurring the economy. So, once again, circumstances force us to look to space technology. Think about it. The Saturn V rocket cost between $2-3 billion. NASA’s current best hope, Project Constellation, is estimated to cost roughly double that. I can see you now. “That’s a lot of money!” you think. “We can’t afford anything like that!” Au contraire. It would be foolhardy not to spend this money. The US needs every bit of stimulus it can get at this point. $7 billion of government money will quickly cascade through the economy, creating billions more in jobs and resources. I mean, seriously, if the bailout (worth roughly $700 billion) has, as of yet, failed to do much (The New Deal didn’t do much either, remember?), then it looks like alternative means of government spending is our only option.

    And besides, it’d be the coolest thing ever. We have all the elements needed; all we need to do is get rolling. So please, Mr. President, increase the budget for NASA. $17.6 billion (0.75% of total budget) isn’t going to be enough. Hell, it took $25.4 billion in 1969 dollars (appoximately $136 billion in today’s money), which was a whopping 5.5% of the total US budget at the time, to even get us to the moon. Put some money where your mouth is, Mr. President. I dare you.

    Written by Sri

    July 21, 2009 at 12:21 PM

    Posted in Musings

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    On AP Exams

    Yay. It’s mid-March. You know what that means? If you’re a conscientious student, that means that you would have just gotten started studying for your AP exams. I know that most of you lot are a) not at all conscientious and b) don’t really give a shit about the AP exams, knowing that you’ll do fine regardless of whether or not you study, but I, being the newly good student that I am, and also faced with a crippling fear that I may get a 2 on the AP Chem exam and thus be forced to ostracize myself in shame, have gotten a head start on it. And by “head start”, I mean “made a schedule and intend to get right down to it… tomorrow.”

    But then, I’m taking six AP exams. Which may surprise some of you. I know it surprised me. I wasn’t even going to bother with the AP Chem exam, knowing I’d get a solid 2 and be forced to cancel my grade in shame, but my father, operating under the delusion that I am halfway good at chemistry (I’m not), decided that I would be taking the full six exams available to me anyway. Well, that’s his money he’s giving to the AP, not mine. I’d never be able to afford it. Which brings me to another point. Why, exactly, are the tests so costly? I mean, it’s not like they need the money that much, right?

    According to their tax form 990 (available to the public due to the College Board’s tax-exempt status), last year the College Board took in a whopping $468.5 million on “program service revenue” (test/service fees), and they collected an additional $16.4 million in grants and membership dues. As far as expenditures, about $5.7 million is spent on various services (legal, accounting), and about $398.8 million is spent on actual programs and services. The remaining surplus is spent on employees ($68.8 million) and directors and executives ($6.7 million). The College Board made a net profit of $23 million over the last year, which is equal to 5% of the money spent on tests. Similar profits were made over the last few years.

    That mind-bogglingly huge number up there representing the revenue of the College Board includes not only AP tests, but also the SAT and SAT IIs. Even so, an SAT costs $45, while an AP test costs $86. Really? Twice as much for about the same amount of paper and ink? WTF, College Board?

    Somebody needs to pull those guys into line. They’re getting alarmingly swollen heads due to their monopoly on the American mass-testing market. Where’s the Sherman Anti-Trust Act when you need it? Oh right, useless because technically the College Board is a “non-profit”. Non-profit my ass. You probably call that $23 million “net donations” or something to avoid paying taxes, don’t you College Board? I bet you do. You make me sick, College Board. Sick. And your president Gaston Caperton exemplifies that. He looks like a dick. A dick with too much money. Learn to smile properly, you dick president, and stop extorting America’s youth!

    P.S. That answer sheet up there looks exactly like what they gave me at the SAT prep place I went to, down to the style of the X. Interesting, no? No? Well, it is for me. So there. Ha.

    Note: This impotent protest brought to you by the Association for Standardized Boredom. Remember, if you’re bored, post on your blog about your puny rage and it will all become better.

    Written by Sri

    March 13, 2009 at 7:02 PM

    Posted in Musings

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    On Melting Pots

    So hey! I found something out this morning. Pennsylvania’s part of the United States! I mean, like, WHOA! Where did that come from? Shouldn’t somebody have, like, told us, the people, that Pennsylvania’s a frigging state? Like, WTF, man! That’s so not cool. It’s like… keeping people out of the loop. How can they be tubular when they are, like, totally out of the loop, dude?

    Anyway, so that means that Pennsylvania is part of the great American melting pot. You know, that thing where everybody gets together, has kids, and eventually nobody knows whether your grandmother was 1/16 Pacific Islander or 1/8, and now you’re just “American” like everybody else? Yeah. So I was thinking about it, and guess what? I don’t like the word “melting pot” anymore. I think of it as a “lumping pot” now. Because everybody’s in really big, catch-all ethnic groups now instead of really fine-grained ones. In fact, I wouldn’t even call them ethnic groups. Let’s call them “races.”

    OK, OK, look. If you are Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Singapore…-ese, or Burmese or whatever else them slanty-eyed people decided to call themselves over the ages, then you are, upon entry to the United States, and for the duration of your stay, “Asian.” Yes, that’s right. Not Chinese or Japanese or Korean, simply “Asian.” So say goodbye to your cultural hangups and rivalries, because nobody here gives a shit. Say goodbye to your cultural heritage, language, customs, and all that, because nobody here gives a shit.

    Even more galling, these same thoughtless Americans try to group me (ME!) in with these people. I don’t even look anything like them. I have brown skin. I’m Indian, dammit, not “Asian.” I am from a completely different ethnic group. I am from South India, which puts me in a position of significantly differing genetic heritage from the Oriental population. I share, according to Wikipedia and this article here,15-30% genetic similarity with European populations (the “white” bit of the American melting pot), ~10% similarity with Han Chinese, and assorted other populations mixed in for good luck. This means that I am the result of tens of thousands of years of genetic mixing. This, in turn, means that a population of white people interbred into my population, a population of North Indians interbred in, and some Oriental peoples too (is that term still in vogue?). Of course, this is all on top of the original Dravidian population that all those guys interbred into. In fact, my children have a 25% chance of inheriting green eyes from me. In related news, green eyes are recessive to brown. Suck on that, American “melting pot.” I just single-handedly DESTROYED you. Not with the eyes thing. With the percentage of genetic overlap. The American population is just getting started on that whole business. Maybe in another 500 years the world will have a true “American” ethnic group, but until then it’s just a political classification.

    So now, if we re-examine the whole “American melting pot” thing, we will see that it is, for the most part, fundamentally flawed. There is no such thing as “White.” There is Irish, English, Slavic, Russian, Italian, Greek, Gaelic, Germanic, etc. There is no such thing as “Asian.” There is Han Chinese, Yamato, Indian, etc. There is no such thing as “Hispanic.” There is Colombian, Mexican, Argentinean, Brazilian, etc. The terms “Latino” and “Latina” also are subject to same invalidity. The only term in the entire “melting pot” vocabulary could be said to be “Black.” This term is only valid because there has been a significant amount of ethnic mixing, both initially between the different African tribes and later with all sorts of other races present in the US, perhaps enough to differentiate the African American population from the American population. The rest of you, though, have no excuse. If you need an umbrella term, fine. But do NOT be an ass and try to brand everybody as Hispanic just because they have a Spanish accent. Do NOT try to brand everybody from the continent of Asia as Asian. Do not brand everybody who is melanin-challenged as white and assume they are European, because while the chances are high that they are European, skin color ranges for ALL ethnic groups start with white and end with black. No matter which one you’re from.

    To conclude: stop trying to call me Asian. kthxbye.

    Written by Sri

    March 9, 2009 at 4:28 PM

    Posted in Musings

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