Thankful for My Travels in India

Thanksgiving will be here in a couple of days. At this time of year I like to reflect on what I am thankful for. When it comes to my international experiences, I am grateful for the various opportunities that I have had over the years to visit India for academic conferences and travel. Of all of the places I have been, India is one of the few places that still affects all of my senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch. Why? Because India is an amazing land of adventure, architecture, and artistry.


When experiencing adventure, probably one of the greatest adventures that my husband and I embarked upon was our camel safari in the Great Thar Desert in northwestern India. For 5 days we traveled through the parts of the desert in the Indian state of Rajasthan. We visited the ancient cities of Bikaner, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, and Jodhpur. We camped out in the desert as well. My camel and I became fast friends. I nicknamed him “Pokey” because he plodded along slowly while my husband’s camel thought he was running a race to the finish line every day. Riding a camel is not for the faint of heart. It takes some skill to get in the saddle and stay on it as your camel gets up on four legs. They also do not have a uniform gate like a horse. And…they like to spit at you when they are upset.

color negative: KODAK GOLD 200 Gen 4. SBA settings neutral SBA on, color SBA on

India has amazing architecture as well. The most iconic building is, of course, the Taj Mahal. This white marble mausoleum was built in Agra from 1632-1648 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. It is decorated with flowers and leaves made of inlaid precious and semiprecious stones. When viewed in just the right sunlight, they look almost like live plants. There is also an outer courtyard with gardens and reflection pools. (You’ve probably seen the famous photo of Princess
Diana sitting on a bench in this area.) The Taj Mahal is a UNESCO Heritage Site as it is considered the best architectural achievement in Indo-Islamic culture.

color negative: KODAK GOLD 200 Gen 4. SBA settings neutral SBA on, color SBA on

And then there is the artistry of the people of India. Their artistic works have stood the test of time. Amazing paintings and carvings are everywhere you look. Exquisite fabrics and beautiful pottery can all be found. Of course there are traditional dance schools and music venues as well. One of my favorite things to do is go to recitals at these schools when the students graduate. India has a long history in the arts that stretches back to the third millennium BC. It is a multicultural mélange of the various groups that have inhabited the country for thousands of years.

In conclusion, I challenge you my dear readers, to reflect on your own experiences this Thanksgiving. Which ones are you the most grateful to have had?

The Infamous Harvard vs. New York Prisoners Debate

debate graphicI know you have heard about it on the television networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC). You may have even heard about it on NPR of all places!

Yes, I am talking about the debate between a group of Harvard students and a group of prisoners from the Eastern New York Correctional Facility in Napanoch, New York.

This event was tailor-made for a great news story in the mainstream media as it sensationalizes one of our democracy’s most esteemed institutions: public debate. This is not surprising in the run up to a presidential election where words like “loser”, “stupid”, and “big boy pants” are thrown out into the public sphere by the current candidates.

I must confess up front that I have been a policy debater, coach, judge, and teacher at the high school, university, and graduate school levels. I have written about these experiences in previous posts: A. Craig Baird Debate Forum: Going Home For The NDT and In “Debate Mode” . I have also coached parliamentary debate in Singapore and help coach the HBU mock trial team. I teach a class in Argumentation and Advocacy here at HBU as well.

Because I have been hearing about this debate event nonstop, I really just want to set the record straight. Continue reading

Politics and Religion in Ridley Scott’s The Martian


The Martian is good science fiction. It has a hard-edged realism combined with a compelling plot. In the near future, NASA is sending manned missions to Mars, but the Ares III mission runs into trouble. The crew leaves behind astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, because they think he’s dead, but Mark, who isn’t dead, decides that he doesn’t want to die on Mars. He begins working on a plan to get off the planet.

Director Ridley Scott manages to strike just the right balance of humor and tension, and Matt Damon does an excellent job giving us a hero we can root for. Damon’s got most of the screen time, and for most of his scenes he’s acting alone. Pulling off solo scenes successfully proves one’s acting mettle. The rest of the cast does a great job too (though I think an Oscar nod should go to Mackenzie Davis for imbuing a minor role with awesomeness). And let’s not forget to mention the topnotch special effects that are so good that you almost don’t notice they’re there. What a novel concept—effects that serve the story.

And it really is a good story.

Continue reading

Houston’s HERO Ordinance: Wishing To Make Things So

Gender Identity means an individual’s innate identification, appearance, expression or behavior as either male or female, although the same may not correspond to the individual’s body or gender as assigned at birth.”Houston Equal Rights Ordinance

Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (“HERO”) will be on the local ballot this November. As I have noted elsewhere, the ordinance is a real mess of a measure. Of particular concern is the way the ordinance defines gender identity, one of the categories protected from “discrimination.” The origin of the ordinance’s definition of gender identity remains obscure. An internet search yields no clues. I emailed my city council member, Ellen Cohen, but she has not replied. We can only examine the definition on its face to expose its apparent meaning. Continue reading


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