Friday, March 26, 2010

A Mere Auditor or the Great Führer?

The Nazi political theorist Carl Schmitt defined the sovereign as one who decides what is and what is not law.

The Führer was, according to him, the source of law. He was not, for that ‘reason’, subject to any law, but existed in supreme abandon outside it all.

The most loud-mouthed of all self-proclaimed pure Aryans, Hitler, might have been dead for over half a century, yet his shade continues to reappear time and again in lesser führers.

Punjabi University, Patiala is currently saddled with an auditor, designated as Deputy Controller Local Audit (DCLA), who gleefully dismisses all lawful authority. And he does it with absolute impunity. One can empathise with him, because he sits in the University campus, for treating the University Syndicate as just another next-door institution; but even the University Grants Commission, the Government of Punjab (especially its Departments of Finance and Higher Education), the Parliament, the Punjab and Haryana High Court and the Supreme Court of India evoke little if any respect and awe in this official.

More than 20 University teachers have, through personal meetings between their delegates and the Examiner Local Fund Accounts (Punjab), twice complained against his refusal to apply the same yardstick while auditing the cases of teachers promoted under Career Advancement Scheme on the basis of past service. Each time the Examiner has heard them, offered tea and biscuits, assured prompt action, but done nothing.

One of the University teachers, Dr. D. P. Singh, of the Department of Botany, sought information from the Examiner under RTI. Nearly four months later and after several reminders, he received only vague, incomplete and evasive replies. And these too, not from the Examiner’s office, but from the Regional Deputy Director Local Audit.

The Department of Finance, Punjab Government, has twice conveyed to various government and University officials that the past service of employees should be counted for time-bound promotions under career progression schemes. (As I write this piece, The Supreme Court has said that promotion is an employee’s fundamental right). The Department of Higher Education also sent a memo (No. 8/8/0/-461/1811-14) in this connection on 16-01-2008, along with copies of the aforementioned circulars of the Department of Finance, to the Registrars of various universities. This was done on the basis of the law laid down by the Punjab and Haryana High Court and by the Supreme Court of India in 1998. The circulars carried, perhaps for the skeptical in the officialdom, extracts and a gist of the court judgments especially mentioned in the circulars.

The circulars and the memo, as predictably destined, disappeared into the abyss that the office record rooms famously are.

When the DCLA as well as the Registrar of Punjabi University expressed ignorance of any such communication from the Government, a delegation of affected teachers handed over copies of these to both of them a year ago. Neither the DCLA nor the Registrar, for some unknown reason, is however even ready to mention the letters, although in reply to an RTI application the Registrar tersely and enigmatically stated that the memo had been forwarded to the concerned departments for compliance.

The DCLA, who has no memories of the memo nor of the two circulars, is somehow possessed by the ghostly photocopy of an unauthenticated letter which, he once told a group of teachers, appeared one sleepy afternoon on his table after he had been away to eat his well-earned afternoon meal. The letter is ostensibly ‘signed’ with impressive economy of self-expression by some unidentifiable office superintendent of the Department of Higher Education and addressed in 2006 to the Registrar of Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar.

So high is his opinion of the authority of the unauthenticated ‘letter’ that he wants the justice-hunting teachers to meet no less than the Principal Secretary Higher Education himself to get this letter superceded. The memo of the same Department sent in 2008 on the basis of the court verdict has no meaning, he says, until that ghostly letter is laid to rest. The all-knowing DCLA has obviously not heard that new orders are supposed to supersede the old ones.

At the same time he continues to regularly audit, without any objection, the identical cases of 24 teachers of the University. They include Dr N. S. Attri (Botany), Dr. R. S. Ghuman (Economics), Dr Shakuntala (Economics), Dr. Balwinder Singh (Economics), Dr. Gurmel Singh (Physics), Dr. H. S. Bhatti (Physics), and others. The latest in the list is Dr. Lakhwinder Singh (Economics), whose case was audited as recently as in 2008.

The Regional Deputy Director and the Examiner both admit, when confronted by the agitating teachers, that there are no grounds for discrimination, yet both are non-committal when it comes to removing the discrimination. The teachers cannot but conclude that a racket is operating in the Department of Local Audit, as in so many other Departments, with the seniors shielding the juniors even as the latter cock a snook at the law.

The DCLA says the decisions of the Syndicate, in order to pass muster with him, have to be in accord with the Punjab Government policies. Yet he disregards the orders of the same Government, communicated through sarkari circulars and memos, while clinging to a dubious, unrelated and old-and-dead letter allegedly received once upon a time by another University in response to some now forgotten query.

And the same DCLA has never objected to the auditing of cases of re-employment of retired teachers by the University. In these cases, the decision of the University Syndicate is final and sufficient for him, although the Chief Minister of Punjab has himself clearly expressed (as the media widely reported last year) his disapproval of the practice of granting any extension to retiring employees. In these cases, the DCLA happily grants audit clearance without any orders from the Department of Higher Education.

That is to say, he chooses to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to particular cases on the sheer strength of his sovereign power. He is the legislator, the executive authority, and the judge.

I would lick the flames of Hell for eternity for the sake of one mortal day in his seat!

The University, with its entire moral and intellectual authority and with its battery of legal luminaries and, above all, with its current Registrar who is himself a Professor of Law, stands helpless before the DCLA, the latter-day Great Führer.


Friday, March 19, 2010

The New Atlantis » Science and the Decline of the Liberal Arts

The scandalous state of the modern university can be attributed to various corruptions that have taken root in the disciplines of the humanities. The university was once the locus of humanistic education in the great books; today, one is more likely to find there indoctrination in multiculturalism, disability studies, queer studies, postcolonial studies, a host of other victimization studies, and the usual insistence on the centrality of the categories of race, gender, and class. The humanities today seem to be waning in presence and power in the modern university in large part because of their solipsistic irrelevance, which has predictably increased students’ uninterest in them.

Although critics of the hijacking of the humanities might be inclined to see their new irrelevance as a cause for celebration, it should be a deep source of concern and the impetus for renewed efforts to insist upon their central place in the liberal arts, rightly understood. However, to reclaim the rightful place of the humanities, it is necessary first to diagnose the origins of their descent. Those origins must be seen on a wide canvas, not merely starting in the liberationist climate of the 1960s, but having a pedigree that goes back centuries rather than decades. The crisis of the humanities in fact began in the early modern period with the argument that a new science was needed to replace the “old science” of the liberal arts, a new science that no longer sought merely to understand the world and its creatures, but to transform them. This impulse gave rise first to a scientific revolution in theory, and eventually a scientific, industrial, and technological revolution in fact. Importantly, it afforded theories of rationalization and standardization in method, while rejecting older claims of tradition and culture, of cult and creed, of myth and story. It has given rise to unprecedented prosperity, opportunity, openness, discovery, and technology — contributing greatly to what Francis Bacon called “the relief of man’s estate.” But at the same time, in displacing the humanities, it has made modern humanity increasingly subject to a kind of ungovernable hubris. Ultimately, modern science aspires to reach beyond the mastery of nature to the mastery of human nature, the last frontier for its dominion. The displacement of the humanities has led inevitably to a Gnostic disdain for the human.

A different conception of knowledge formerly lay at the heart of liberal education. It was pre-modern in origins, mostly religious and cultural, deriving its authority from the faith traditions and cultural practices that one generation sought to pass on to the next. It still exists on many campuses as a palimpsest that a discerning eye can yet read — the Gothic buildings; the titles “professor,” “dean,” and “provost”; the flowing robes donned once or twice a year for ceremonial occasions — these and other holdover presences and practices are fragments of an older tradition all but dead on most college campuses, but reminders, nonetheless, of what had once been the animating spirit of these institutions.

The New Atlantis » Science and the Decline of the Liberal Arts

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Noam Chomsky on Obama's Foreign Policy, His Own History of Activism, and the Importance of Speaking Out

(From Democracy Now!)

We spend the hour with world-renowned linguist and dissident, Noam Chomsky. In a wide-ranging public conversation at the Harvard Memorial Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Chomsky talks about President Obama’s foreign and national security policies, the lessons of Vietnam, and his own activism. “You just can’t become involved part-time in these things,” Chomsky says. “It’s either serious and you’re seriously involved, or you go to a demonstration and go home and forget about it and go back to work, and nothing happens. Things only happen by really dedicated, diligent work.”

Noam Chomsky on Obama's Foreign Policy, His Own History of Activism, and the Importance of Speaking Out

Monday, March 15, 2010

ZCommunications | Howard Zinn (1922-2010) by Amy Goodman | ZMagazine Article

We were reporting from the Sundance Film Festival when news came of Howard Zinn's death on Wednesday, January 29 of a heart attack at the age of 87. Howard Zinn's classic work A Peoples History of the United States changed the way we look at history in America. It has sold over a million copies and was recently made into a television special called "The People Speak."

After he served as a bombardier in World War II back home, he gathered his medals and papers, put them in a folder and wrote on top: "Never again." Zinn went on to become a lifelong dissident and peace activist. In a 2005 interview, he talked about his time in the Air Force .


ZCommunications | Howard Zinn (1922-2010) by Amy Goodman | ZMagazine Article

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Our Pedagogic Culture

In Search of a Gramscian Critique

By Rajesh Kumar Sharma

I am making these noises a quarter century too late (I began teaching in 1985). Perhaps the ghosts have begun to refuse, finally and definitively, to yet again return to their beds.

When I say ‘our pedagogic culture’, I mean a specific, limited and yet changing collectivity. It refers to the pedagogic culture of several (which is not ‘all’) departments of English, and particularly of the department of which I am a part. As well as a ‘parcel’ (having been ‘posted’ with a doctorate here, in Punjabi University, Patiala, only).

From one pair of eyes to another, over a space of scarcely a few feet, I have often traversed vast spaces between passion and indifference and, maybe, unavowed refusal.

Are those at the receiving end of our pedagogic deliveries refusing to play the game? Or are they just plain stupid, too uncouth to appreciate the precious wares we are hawking? An impassioned response, an engagement –once in a while– comes like a hint of nirvana.

We do not ask ‘them’ (our students, our subjects): What do you need? What do you want? We do not even ask ourselves: What do they deserve? Indeed, we have majestically failed to devise a channel to enable the formulation of these questions or, for that matter, any basic questions.

Our liberal capitalist model of parliamentary democracy surely leaks quite liberally into our pedagogic models. And after neo-liberal re-engineering, the leakage has only become a flooding.

... ... ... ... ... ...

If we can inscribe a strategic reading on the pedagogic scene as it obtains at this uncertain hour, we would not be paralysed by any confusion. We only have to listen to their desires, attend to their needs and help them be worthy of more and deserve better. Historical situations change: an active realization of this simple and fundamental truth (that drove Gramsci’s thought) could be enough to recall us to the battle that is gathering around us.

On the other hand, the refusal to see and actively realize this truth would be sufficient for us to flee the battlefield and seek comfort in the graveyard of our hearts. But then the pedagogic scene would be not a scene of invention and birth, of rebirth and resuscitation. It would be, as it now probably is, a scene of sacrifice. Of a holocaust, with all the tearing ambivalence of the word intact and resounding.

Complete article here:

Friday, March 12, 2010

Britain: The Disgrace of the Universities

By Anthony Grafton

(from New York Review of Books)

British universities face a crisis of the mind and spirit. For thirty years, Tory and Labour politicians, bureaucrats, and “managers” have hacked at the traditional foundations of academic life. Unless policies and practices change soon, the damage will be impossible to remedy.

As an “Occasional Student” at University College London in the early 1970s and a regular visitor to the Warburg Institute, Oxford, and Cambridge after that, I—like many American humanists—envied colleagues who taught at British universities. We had offices with linoleum; they had rooms with carpets. We worked at desks; they sat with their students on comfy chairs and gave them glasses of sherry. Above all, we felt under constant pressure to do the newest new thing, and show the world that we were doing it: to be endlessly innovative and interdisciplinary and industrious.

British humanists innovated too. Edward Thompson and Eric Hobsbawm, Frances Yates and Peter Burke, and many others formulated new ways of looking at history for my generation. But British academics always admitted, as we sometimes did not, that it is vital to preserve and update our traditional disciplines and forms of knowledge: languages, precise interpretation of texts and images and objects, rigorous philosophical analysis and argument. Otherwise all the sexy interdisciplinary work will yield only a trickle of trendy blather.

There was a Slow Food feel to British university life, based on a consensus that people should take the time to make an article or a book as dense and rich as it could be. Good American universities were never exactly Fast Food Nation, but we certainly felt the pressure to produce, regularly and rapidly. By contrast, Michael Baxandall spent three years at the Warburg Institute, working in the photographic collection and not completing a dissertation, and several more as a lecturer, later on, writing only a few articles. Then, in 1971 and 1972, he produced two brilliant interdisciplinary books, which transformed the study of Renaissance humanism and art, remain standard works to this day, and were only the beginning of a great career. Gertrud Bing, E.H. Gombrich, J.B. Trapp, and A.M. Meyer, who administered the Warburg in those days, knew how to be patient. Their results speak for themselves.

From the accession of Margaret Thatcher onward, the pressure has risen. Universities have had to prove that they matter. Administrators and chairs have pushed faculty to win grants and publish and rewarded those who do so most successfully with periods of leave and other privileges that American professors can only dream of. The pace of production is high, but the social compact among teachers is frayed. In the last couple of years, the squeeze has become tighter than ever. Budgets have shrunk, and universities have tightened their belts to fit. Now they are facing huge further cuts for three years to come—unless, as is likely, the Conservatives take over the government, in which case the knife may go even deeper.

Administrators have responded not by resisting, for the most part, but by trying to show that they can “do more with less.” To explain how they can square this circle, they issue statements in the Orwellian language of “strategic planning.” A typical planning document, from King’s College London, explains that the institution must “create financially viable academic activity by disinvesting from areas that are at sub-critical level with no realistic prospect of extra investment.”

Link to complete text:

NYRblog - Britain: The Disgrace of the Universities - The New York Review of Books

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Knowing the mind of God: Seven theories of everything - physics-math - 04 March 2010 - New Scientist

The "theory of everything" is one of the most cherished dreams of science. If it is ever discovered, it will describe the workings of the universe at the most fundamental level and thus encompass our entire understanding of nature. It would also answer such enduring puzzles as what dark matter is, the reason time flows in only one direction and how gravity works. Small wonder that Stephen Hawking famously said that such a theory would be "the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God".

But theologians needn't lose too much sleep just yet. Despite decades of effort, progress has been slow. Rather than one or two rival theories whose merits can be judged against the evidence, there is a profusion of candidates and precious few clues as to which (if any) might turn out to be correct.

Here's a brief guide to some of the front runners.

Knowing the mind of God: Seven theories of everything - physics-math - 04 March 2010 - New Scientist

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Robert Fisk’s Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East

Robert Fisk’s <i>Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East</i>

reviewed by Matthew Abraham

The name “Robert Fisk” has become synonymous with dangerous truth-telling in his reporting about the Middle East—truth-telling of a kind so rare in journalistic circles that those seeking to suppress the facts about what the Western powers have done to the region and its people usually resort to the usual defamation about how Fisk is anti-American and anti-Semitic. Fisk’s truth-telling is of a sort that must be shunned and avoided by the cowardly corporate media and its host of watchdogs who seek to make the likes of Fisk ancient history. If telling the truth is considered a revolutionary act in deceitful times Fisk has consistently violated the central taboos on Middle East reporting, repeatedly putting U.S. journalists to shame for their participation in a large-scale cover-up. His example needs to be learned from and emulated. What does it mean that truth-telling has become such an anomaly, such a dangerous act, that Fisk is part of a small handful of alternatives to the U.S. media’s perversion of reality? Fisk’s persistent and dogged example forces us to ask that question.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My Sister’s Language | ShahidulNews

My Sister’s Language | ShahidulNews

His eyes flitted forward and back, and having surveyed the scene for possible danger, it stopped. The head stooped, and that was how he stayed. Crouched on the floor of a bus full of Bangalis, the Pahari (hill person) amongst us, was living in occupied land. Keeping out of trouble was his best chance for survival.

It was only when the uniformed men with guns boarded the bus and prodded him that he raised his eyes. Scared, tired, hurt, angry eyes. But he knew enough to not express his anger. Meekly he obeyed the commands. His humiliation was also ours, but we did not complain. We were tourists in our own land, but the constitutional guarantees enshrined in our laws, while not fully respected anywhere, was particularly absent here. As well-connected Bangalis, we were far more safe than he was. But the rules of occupation are never generous, and they had guns. They left. We breathed more easily. He continued his journey with his head bowed. I took no photographs.

Walking through Rangamati as Bangali tourists was a disconcerting feeling. Many of the Bangalis here were also poor. Displaced from their homes in far away places, they had been dumped here with promises of a happy life. Left to fend for themselves, they joined the power chain well above the Paharis, but very low down all the same.

At the top of the chain was the military. Then the wealthy Bangalis, the ones who made the deals, then came the Paharis who had sided with the government. The Bangali settlers (the poor ones anyway), were quite a bit further down. The Paharis never dared to reach for the rungs of that ladder.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Punjab Finance Minister Wants a Punjabi Ku Klux Klan

March 1, 2010. Punjabi University, Patiala.

The second day of the Conference on Transnational Punjabi Literature and Culture: Challenges and Opportunities organised by the well-meaning World Punjabi Centre and Sahitya Akademi.

The young Finance Minister of Punjab, Manpreet Singh Badal walks in without the spectacular paraphernalia of gun-wielding security men.

The calls made by all and sundry for nurturing Punjabi language move him deeply. And therefore, as he rises to speak, he is at his oratorical best. And most irrational. He unspools anecdote after anecdote to lace his very sincere speech. The climax comes with a call to the Punjabis to take a leaf from Ku Klux Klan, the American far right hate group which, in the Hon'ble Minister's judgement, showed enviable commitment to the threatened white supremacy. The Punjabis could form a society like the KKK, he innocently opines, to secure the supremacy of Punjabi.

But he could just be using a metaphor, you may say. I agree. I agree because I honestly feel that he is an honourable man and that he probably did not know the implications of his statement.

However, can a man in his position use metaphors so indiscreetly and indiscriminately?

Did he ignorantly invoke the KKK? Should he not have been more careful at a time when Punjab is almost daily faced with eruptions of violence and disorder seriously endangering the law and order situation? Should a law graduate from London (as the conference was informed) be so poor in his reading of history and yet wear his dangerous ignorance on his sleeve?

Or was he really testing the knowledge, the historical sense and the liberal political values of "the most eminent of all audiences"?

I do not know.

I just know that I who studied in Government schools knew as a child that Ku Klux Klan was an organization committed to savage violence and that it preached hatred of humanity.

I thought the Finance Minister knew better. After all, he had better schooling.

Or is he trying to import the right-wing ethnic politics of 'Maharashtra for Only Marathis'?

Either he is extremely naive, or extremely "intelligent". Or maybe just too unsuspecting, unwary and good to be in politics.

I really do not know.

The following is an extract from the Wikipedia entry on Ku Klux Klan:

Ku Klux Klan, often abbreviated KKK and informally known as The Klan, is the name of several past and present far right hate groups[2] in the United States whose avowed purpose is to protect the rights and further the interests of white Americans by violence and intimidation. The first such organizations originated in the Southern states and eventually grew to national scope. They developed iconic white costumes consisting of robes, masks, and conical hats. The KKK has a record of using terrorism,[3][4] violence, and lynching to murder and oppress African Americans, Jews and other minorities and to intimidate and oppose Roman Catholics and labor unions.

Today, a large majority of sources consider the Klan to be a "subversive or terrorist organization".[5][6][7][8] In 1999, the city council of Charleston, South Carolina passed a resolution declaring the Klan to be a terrorist organization.[9] A similar effort was made in 2004 when a professor at the University of Louisville began a campaign to have the Klan declared a terrorist organization so it could be banned from campus.[10] In April 1997, FBI agents arrested four members of the True Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Dallas for conspiracy to commit robbery and to blow up a natural gas processing plant.[11]

The first Klan was founded in 1865 by Tennessee veterans of the Confederate Army. Klan groups spread throughout the South. The Klan's purpose was to restore white supremacy in the aftermath of the American Civil War. The Klan resisted Reconstruction by assaulting, murdering and intimidating freedmen and white progressives within the Republican Party. In 1870 and 1871 the federal government passed the Force Acts, which were used to prosecute Klan crimes. Prosecution of Klan crimes and enforcement of the Force Acts suppressed Klan activity. In 1874 and later, however, newly organized and openly active paramilitary organizations such as the White League and the Red Shirts started a fresh round of violence aimed at suppressing Republican voting and running Republicans out of office. These contributed to white conservative Democrats regaining political power in the Southern states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In 1915, the second Klan was founded. It grew rapidly in a period of postwar social tensions, where industrialization in the North attracted numerous waves of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe and the Great Migration of Southern blacks and whites. The second KKK preached racism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Communism, nativism, and anti-Semitism. Some local groups took part in lynchings, attacks on private houses, and carried out other violent activities. The Klan committed most of its murders and acts of violence in the South, which had a tradition of lawlessness.[12]

The second Klan was a formal fraternal organization, with a national and state structure. At its peak in the mid-1920s, the organization included about 15% of the nation's eligible population, approximately 4–5 million men.[13] Internal divisions and external opposition brought about a sharp decline in membership, which had dropped to about 30,000 by 1930. The Klan's popularity fell further during the Great Depression and World War II.[14]

The name Ku Klux Klan has since been used by many independent groups opposing the Civil Rights Movement and desegregation, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. During this period, they often forged alliances with Southern police departments, as in Birmingham, Alabama; or with governor's offices, as with George Wallace of Alabama.[15] Several members of KKK groups were convicted of murder in the deaths of civil rights workers and children in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham[16], the assassination of NAACP organizer Medgar Evers[17], and the murder of three civil rights workers.[18] Today, researchers estimate that there may be approximately 150 Klan chapters[19] with 5,000[7]–8,000 members nationwide.