Monday, March 31, 2008

Aser Report

Pratham has put out a report on the state of early education in India.

Here
is a link to the report.

• The percentage of out-of-school children has further reduced to 4.1%. 98 % of
the rural population now has access to a primary school within a mile.
• Reading fluency has improved across grade levels although it remains low (See
graph). Math ability shows no improvement.
• English reading and comprehension were tested for the first time. 60.9% of
children in Grade 1 cannot read letters in English. 72.1 % of children in Grade 5
cannot read easy sentences
• Pre-school attendance has increased substantially among 3-4 year olds
Visited schools show clear improvements in pupil-teacher ratios. The availability
of functioning toilets, drinking water facilities, and midday meals has improved.


Here is a review of the report by Yamini Aiyar.

The good news from ASER 2007 is that enrolment is up ( 98.5 per cent across the country) and learning levels have improved (the proportion of children in classes 1 and 2 who can recognise letters and read words has gone up from 73.3 per cent in 2006 to 78.3 per cent in 2007). But nearly 40 per cent of children in Class 5 cannot read a Class 2 textbook. Andhra Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh have improved while, somewhat surprisingly, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are amongst the worst performers. Still more surprising: Bihar is doing consistently well. In 2007, it significantly improved its enrolment levels.

Before ASER, information of this nature was simply not available. Three years on, we can now measure progress and draw comparisons. We now have tools to analyse what works, what doesn’t and what gaps need to plugged — all of which are critical if we want to improve the quality of public education in India.

How do we measure outcomes and impact on a national scale? This is where lessons from ASER become extremely important.

In 2005, the Centre launched the ‘Outcomes Budget’ — an important step towards shifting focus from outlays to outcomes. The aim was to make the government more performance-oriented by making explicit the objectives and outcomes expected from public expenditures and allocating funds to each of these objectives. Like most government efforts, this has been poorly implemented.

There are two critical elements to a successful Outcomes Budget. First, it requires the identification of clear and quantifiable outcome indicators. But as of now, these indicators are vague and that makes measurement impossible and irrelevant.

Second, for an Outcomes Budget to achieve results, it must be accompanied by increased information on performance against these indicators. On this count, too, the Outcomes Budget has fallen far short of expectations. The budget itself was launched with much media fanfare, but over the years, it has simply disappeared from the public radar. There is no evidence of any proactive effort by government agencies to generate and disseminate information on progress.

The ASER experience offers important lessons that can go a long way in addressing these weaknesses. First, it has successfully identified simple indicators of learning competence — word and number recognition, basic comprehension and basic arithmetic. These are tangible and quantifiable and are applicable all over the country. Most importantly, these indicators are realistic and relevant. After all, it is reasonable to expect that a child in Class 5 can recognise words, do basic math and read a Class 2 textbook.

Second, ASER has developed an inbuilt strategy for information dissemination across the country. This includes the preparation of annual regional reports and simple district level report cards.

Making Globalization Work

New York review of books analyzes Stiglitz's new book, Making Globalization Work. I agree with Robert Skidelsky who argues that it is strange to write a book that deals with the concerns of people in rich countries, when globalization impacts poor people in poor countries much more. There are a lot of other issues that the author argues cogently and clearly.


Making Globalization Work is the third of Joseph Stiglitz's popular, and populist, books.[1] Like Jeffrey Sachs, Stiglitz is an economist turned preacher, one of a new breed of secular evangelists produced by the fall of communism. Stiglitz wants to stop rich countries from exploiting poor countries without damaging the springs of wealth-creation. In that sense he is a classic social democrat. His missionary fervor, though, is very American. "Saving the Planet," one of this new book's chapter headings, could have been its title.

Stiglitz is in favor of globalization—which he defines as "the closer economic integration of the countries of the world." He criticizes the ways it has been done. The "rules of the game," he writes, have been largely set by US corporate interests. Trade agreements have made the poorest worse off and condemned thousands to death through AIDS. Multinational corporations have stripped poor countries of their natural resources and left environmental devastation. Western banks have burdened poor countries with unsustainable debt.

Much of this is well said. Although it is not new, it bears repeating. But the main problem at present is not how to make globalization fairer for poor countries. It is how to make it less volatile; and to remove the threat it poses for poor and middle-income people in rich countries—those voters who have the power to derail it. Anti-globalization sentiment is a rich-country phenomenon. It is rather bizarre, therefore, to write a book about making globalization work that pays so little attention to the concerns of people in rich countries.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


thanks to 3QD for the link.

"Punjabi's are never afraid"

Wonderful story of three Sikh women taxi drivers rushing to the aid of another Sikh woman taxi driver who was being choked by a passenger.

Three women taxi drivers raced to aid another female cabbie who was being attacked - and helped capture the would-be mugger Tuesday.
The lady cabbies were talking to one another in a group cell-phone chat when they heard rookie driver Neeru Singh in a violent struggle, gasping as she was being choked by a passenger in Chelsea
.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Firestone, Julian and Gluckel





I found the writings of Rabbi Tirza Firestone inspiring and aesthetically appealing. I liked her idea of the wholeness which is created both by the masculine and the feminine, as well as being connected to one’s fire and sensual wisdom. Her idea of bringing women’s life into balance by uniting opposites the practical/spiritual; and purpose/action) to achieve wholeness is definitely a blend of her psychotherapy and religious backgrounds. More about her here.

The image I had read about in Kabalistic texts of a tree with roots in heaven now made sense to me.
Each of us is such a tree. If we could but remember our divine origins we could live both sensually and fruitful on earth while manifesting our holy essence.
I liked this idea as well; it reminded me of the concept of the tree of life, which is important in religions of the East as well. Here is more on the tree of life from all mystical traditions.
See
here and here.

The earliest Indian scriptures, the Vedas and Upanishads refer to it. The Katha Upanishad describes: This eternal asvattha whose roots rise on high and whose branches grow low is the pure, the Brahman, what is called Non-Death. All the worlds rest on it. In Christianity the Tree of Life is first described in Genesis, appears in the Garden of Eden together with the Tree of Knowledge and then in the last Book of the Bible known as "Revelations". In the Muslim world, the Tree of Life motif is found in the prayer rugs of Turkey, Iran and other countries. The carved 14th Century marble screen windows of the Sidi Sayyid Mosque in Ahmedabad, Gujarat are probably the most exquisite examples of the Tree of Life motif in Indian art. In Buddhism, the Tree of Life represents the `Tree at the Centre, the still point of the turning world' beneath which the Buddha attained Enlightenment.

Julian’s devotion to god was intense, she wanted to understand god, through reliving his suffering. The practices she worked on are extremely intense and it conveys a depth and focus that is hard to imagine in the contemporary world.

Secondly, she desired a physical sickness at the age of thirty - to experience the fullness of dying to the point of death, that she and those around her would believe her to be dead, without actually dying. Thus, she could receive all the rites of the Church and be fully cleansed by the mercy of God and go on to lead a more consecrated life to His Glory.

Gluckel of Hameln, was a worldly woman, who ran a family and a business quite efficiently it seems. Her practical advice on love flowing downwards is a universal concept. I have often heard my grandmother remark that love flows stronger downwards then upwards. So she loves her children more than her children love her, but her children will love their children more than their children will love them.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Brother I'm dying


This book is the best, I have read this year. It was well written, and unusual that a woman wrote about her father and uncle. She portrayed them sensitively and shaped their characters well. It dealt with harsh realities, like living in between Haiti and Brooklyn while struggling with immigration, poverty, disease, pain, suffering, death and birth with a light touch. It was quite different from Junot Diaz's book, even though both were about life between the Caribbean and America. Junot's book was raw and brutal, her book was sophisticated and filled with wisdom, while dealing with similar horrors.

See the review
here.
Edwidge Danticat, in each of her books of fiction about Haiti, writes of stark realities—torture, civil unrest, dictatorship's burdens—from an ethereal distance. Her latest is a memoir, Brother, I'm Dying, in which her graceful writing is grounded in the most intimate of places: family. Raised by both her father and uncle, it is as much their story as it is hers. "I wrote this," she writes, "because they can't."

The book opens with impending death—her elderly father learning he has a terminal illness—and it carries that thread through the unfurling of life. "Death," she writes, "is a journey we embark on from the moment we are born." Still the story is one of lives lived courageously, if not easily. Balancing between history and present, Danticat unravels the men's hardscrabble history from her father's toiling as a tailor, a shoe salesman, and eventually a cabbie in New York City to her uncle Joseph's work as a voiceless pastor whose dedication to Haiti's salvation never waivers.

The harrowing crescendo comes, the reader thinks, when in 2004 a gang threatens to behead her uncle after U.N. peacekeepers use his church after the coup of President Aristide. Joseph survives, only to end up days later in an American detention center where he ironically meets a death perhaps worse, and certainly more shameful, than a ruthless beheading.

For the telling, Danticat pores through FOIAed documents, uses details found in notepads left by her uncle, and lets us into her own raw memories. Through her recollections we are privy to the sometimes stark, sometimes harrowing realities of what are most often anonymous lives. Yet—as in each of her books—it's as if Danticat offers as a gift the joys that lie beneath what we so easily take as utter turmoil; the sweets her uncle brought her as a child that she savored only after handing them right back for him to savor, the typewriter her distant but astute father gave her at 14, her own child who is born while she's in mourning.

While sorrow and death and the deep roots of pain and injustice sew up your heart through its pages, Brother, I'm Dying is, in the end, a story of lives hard fought, and ones certainly never taken for granted. "Maybe we are all dying," she writes, "one breath at a time."


Elizabeth Gettelman is Managing Editor of Mother Jones.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Barack Obama: 'A More Perfect Union' (Full Speech)

Weekend in New Delhi


Somini Sengupta writes about a weekend in Delhi. The slide show is pretty good. She does miss important places like the Shop (theshopindia.com) and the attic (theatticdelhi.org)!

A SEAT of power for more than a thousand years, the city-state of Delhi is a survivor of conquest and change. The Lodi and Mughal dynasties ruled this area, as did the British, until it was again transformed by the refugees of partition. Today, new money has conquered the region, which includes New Delhi, the capital of a rapidly changing India. Spiraling rents have put a Swarovski shop where a small independent bookshop once stood, and in the same market, a shop called It’s All About Bling sells spangly earrings. Thankfully, much of the remarkable history has survived, allowing the visitor to travel easily through the accordion pleats of time.

4 p.m.
1) SUNSET TOMB

This is a city of ruins and none is more elegantly preserved than Humayun’s Tomb, a precursor to the Taj Mahal and an early example of Mughal architecture. Built in the 1560s for Humayun, the second Mughal emperor, the domed mausoleum has an elaborate garden, potted with red sandstone tombs, gates and a mosque (admission is 250 rupees for foreigners, about $6 at 41 rupees to the dollar). Savor it at the golden end of the day.

6 p.m.
2) ART NOW

The new prosperity has spawned a thriving contemporary art scene. Several galleries are within a 15-minute ride into South Delhi, and new exhibitions usually open on Fridays. The Neeti Bagh neighborhood has Nature Morte (A-1 Neeti Bagh; 91-11-4174-0215; www.naturemorte.com) and Talwar Gallery (C-84 Neeti Bagh; 91-11-4605-0307; www.talwargallery.com). Nearby, Defence Colony offers Aryan Art Gallery (D-25 Defence Colony; 91-11-4155-1277; www.aryanartgallery.com) and Vadehra Art Gallery (D-40 Defence Colony; 91-11-2461-5368; www.vadehraart.com). Palette is on the top floor of a house in Golf Links (14 Golf Links; 91-11-4174-3034; www.paletteartgallery.com). Consult TimeOut Delhi and other local magazines for listings.

8 p.m.
3) ART OF THE PALATE

To continue the sensory overload, head to Basant Lok Market, a buzzing middle-class shopping center in Vasant Vihar, in the southwest sector, whose star attraction is the restaurant Punjabi by Nature (11 Basant Lok Market; 91-11-5151-6665; www.punjabibynature.in). Everything about this place is loud and large, including the food. Try the vodka gol gappa aperitif: crispy shells filled with a spiced vodka shot and popped into the mouth whole for a hot, boozy explosion. Carnivores: Try the tandoor-roasted lamb or the fish tikka. Vegetarians must make do with overspiced, tandoor roasted broccoli. For mellower non-Punjabi fare, head to the Defence Colony market and prepare to stand in line with Delhi chowhounds at Swagath (14 Defence Colony market; 91-11-2433-7538; www.swagath.in), for southern seafood dishes. Not to be missed: squid in butter garlic sauce and Chettinad-style prawns. Dinner for two runs about 2,000 rupees, at either restaurant (not counting the vodka gol gappas).

10 p.m.
4) ICE CREAM RUN

For dessert, go to one of dozens of ice cream vendors in front of India Gate, where balloons, cotton candy and the cool night air provide an evening picnic.

Saturday

8 a.m.
5) OLD GLORY

Take a taxi to the 17th-century Red Fort and Jama Masjid mosque early, when they are most glorious. Then give yourself the rest of the morning to take in the uninterrupted life of the walled city of Emperor Shah Jahan, also known as Old Delhi. Every street is a world unto its own, devoted to auto parts or wedding cards or freshly roasted spices. One of the liveliest is Kinari Bazaar, a crafters’ paradise bursting with haberdasheries, bead shops and vendors of bright red wedding turbans, alongside crumbling mansions. This is also a portrait of the head-load economy of old India, with porters ferrying everything from saris to bananas on their heads.

1 p.m.
6) TRANS-DELHI EXPRESS

The chaos of the old city dissolves in the spick-and-span Chandni Chowk station of the Delhi Metro. Eight minutes and 8 rupees later, you are at Rajiv Chowk station, in the city’s modern heart, Connaught Place. Retail chains are fast taking over the early 20th-century colonnades, though several independent bookshops, jewelers and gun dealers — and several lunch options — remain. Few beat the buffet at the 1911 Restaurant in the Imperial Hotel (Janpath; 91-11-2334-1234; www.theimperialindia.com). For 3,000 rupees for two, you can choose from warm calamari, crisp rucola and tiramisù. For unusual regional dishes, try the Mosaic (M 45/1 Connaught Place; 91-11-2341-6842). Dishes include Bengal shrimp steamed in coconut and tart South Indian spinach with rice. Lunch for two, 800 rupees.

3 p.m.
7) SITAR SHOPPING

To walk off your feast, try shopping. For table linens, quilts or kurtis, there’s Fabindia (B-28 Connaught Place, Inner Circle; 91-11-4151-3371; www.fabindia.com) and Soma (K-44 Connaught Place; 91-11-2341-6003; www.somashop.com) opposite the PVR Cinema. Boho chic is the specialty of People Tree (8 Regal Building, Parliament Street; 91-11-2334-0699; www.peopletreeonline.com), and a few steps away, the legendary A. Godin & Company (1 Regal Building, Parliament Street; 91-11-2336-2809) sells sitars and tablas. Keep walking down Parliament Street, past a sprawling observatory called Jantar Mantar, to the city’s public soapbox. When Parliament is in session, groups line up to protest along this street, whether college students opposed to affirmative action or farmers aggrieved by loan sharks.

5 p.m.
8) FASHION ROW

If you want to go upmarket, head to the Lodi Colony main market to check out two of India’s most innovative designers: the understated Rajesh Pratap Singh and the overstated Manish Arora. Singh (9 Lodi Colony Main Market; www.pratap.ws) offers a muted palette, and his cuts are lean and clean — maybe too lean if you happen to have hips. Men’s shirts and women’s blouses start around 6,000 rupees. Manish Arora (3 Lodi Colony Main Market; 91-11-2464-8898; www.manisharora.ws) is cheeky and loud; a black velvet tunic appliquéd with tiny clock parts goes for just under 10,000 rupees. If you would rather explore Indian crafts, skip the designer row in favor of Dilli Haat (C-126 Naraina Industrial Area; www.dillihaat.com), an outdoor bazaar where artisans peddle everything from hand-knitted socks to Madhubani-style paintings.

8 p.m.
9) UPMARKET TASTES

The young, rich and restless have many more watering holes than ever before. Smoke House Grill (Vipps Center, Masjid Moth; 91-11-4143-5530) occupies two floors in the Greater Kailash II neighborhood, and its gimmick is smoked food. For vegetarians, the offerings include smoked artichoke ravioli; for others, smoked chicken and fennel soup, or prawn and calamari ajilo with a warm, subtle red pepper bite. If you want a proper dinner, book a table upstairs. Dinner for two is around 5,000 rupees. The bar menu downstairs is limited, unless you intend to gorge on apple mojitos (350 rupees) and admire D.J. Cheenu.

11 p.m.
10) POOLSIDE COCKTAILS

For a nightcap, you could head across the dark courtyard to Kuki (E-7 Masjid Moth Complex; 91-11-2922-5241), a tony disco where the cover charge ranges from zero to 2,000 rupees a couple, and on Fridays and Saturdays, “gents” without arm candy are turned away. Better value is the shimmering poolside bar Aqua, at the Park Hotel (15 Parliament Street; 91-11-2374-3000; newdelhi.theparkhotels.com). A disco ball hovers by the pool and admission is free.

Sunday

9 a.m.
11) YOGI RETREAT

The city’s pièce de résistance, also its green lung, is Lodhi Gardens, a free, quiet sanctuary for parakeets and lovers. Early mornings are for yogis saluting the sun, influential bureaucrats on power walks and chipmunks and doves drinking from the same puddle. There are also 100-plus species of trees and tombs dating back to the 1400s. For breakfast and a morning paper, walk over to ChokoLa (36 Khan Market; 91-11-4175-7570), a lovely cafe at the Khan Market with still-lousy service. For one last kebab fix, it’s worth dawdling until Khan Chacha, a stall inside the market, opens its shutters (75 Khan Market, Middle Lane; 91-98106-71103). The specialty is the kathi roll, stuffed with chicken, mutton or paneer and is arguably the tastiest memento of this new old city.

THE BASICS

Continental (www.continental.com) and Air India (www.airindia.com) fly direct from the New York City area to New Delhi, with fares in mid-April starting about $1,000. The Indira Gandhi International Airport (www.newdelhiairport.in) is undergoing a major overhaul, so be prepared for more chaos than usual.

Hotel rates have lately shot through the roof. If you’re ready to splurge, stay at the ultra-modern Park Hotel in Connaught Place (15 Parliament Street; 91-11-2374-3000; newdelhi.theparkhotels.com). It has a poolside bar and modern rooms normally from 16,000 rupees, about $390 at 41 rupees to the dollar, but with discounts online.

Thikana (A-7 Gulmohar Park; 91-11-4604-1569; www.thikanadelhi.com) is a new, elegant bed-and-breakfast with modern fittings and home-cooked meals on demand. Doubles start at 4,500 rupees. The one drawback is the location: it sits along a traffic-choked artery.

The 18-room 27 Jor Bagh (27 Jor Bagh; 91-11-2469-8475; www.jorbagh27.com) is basic to the point of sterile, but it is across the street from Lodhi Gardens and the Book Shop (13/7 Jor Bagh Market; 91-11-2469-7102), perhaps the coziest book store in the country. Doubles start at 3,500 rupees.

Through all the changes, New Delhi remains a city of contrasts, so gird yourself for wrenching scenes of destitution. Charities that work with children include: Childline (www.childlineindia.org.in), Butterflies (www.butterflieschildrights.org) and Child Rights and You (www.cry.org).

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter

Easter Poem from 3QD.
...
Please Call Me by My True Names
Thich Nhat Hanh

Don't say that I will depart tomorrow --
even today I am still arriving.
Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his "debt of blood" to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.

Friday, March 21, 2008

garage

 
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pic of a pic

 
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Asleep among inserts and boxes!

 
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EXhausted

 
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goat to goat

 
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Nana at the petting zoo

 
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Which one is MS

 
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?

 
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Guess What

 
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Cock

 
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Capricorn Goat

 
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Hello

 
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Giving Birth

 
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Ba Ba sheep

 
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Billy Goat

 
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Petting zoo

 
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Brown Bear Brown Bear

 
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Show business

 
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Winnie the Pooh

 
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2nd closeup

 
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Closeup

 
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Hey whats up

 
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The plight of the Bakherwals