Campus Protests and Free Speech


You might have followed media coverage of campus protests against conservative speakers in prestigeous U.S. universities like University of California Berkeley. This is an important development in the annals of free speeach and freedom of expression in university campuses and society in general.

Key questions to be asked in this context:

  • Is there real freedom of expression in society and specifically, in university campuses today?
  • What is free speech and what are the limits of free speech?
  • Why do students generally and largely consider themselves “liberal”? Why do students not respect the need for universities and societies to listen to “alternative” facts, theories, hypotheses, though propounded by conservatives who have equal rights for expressing their views?
  • Why do we militate against people with different views on social matters as compared to ours? Why can’t we treat all people normally?
  • Why do universities, generally considered the bastion of free speech, free thoughts and freedom of expression, tend to invite controversial speakers and then buckle to student protesters? Do they not have a responsibility to execute their plans to defend the above key tenets of academic life?
  • Why do Republicans (in this context, I am referring to legislators belonging to the Republican Party of U.S.) wish to legislate this aspect of campus life, allowing fiery speakers belonging to either liberals or conservatives into campus without any cancellations (like what has been happening a few times already in the recent past), but without due regard to university administration?
  • Why has almost everything polarized in U.S. society? Why can’t things be simpler? Where is the need to create several camps of thoughts in a university, except for mock debates?
  • And, so on and so forth

I believe it is critical to hear what opponents to your belief say in a public forum. If not for anything, it allows one to strategize for evolving a counter approach to the ideas propagated by powerful believers of opposing philosophy. It is the right thing to do. Impeding free speech by anyone is not the right way to operate in a true democracy. If this is not possible in the U.S., then one can assume that the U.S. is not a true democracy. Unfortunately, what happens in the U.S. is frequently copied in other countries. Or else, excuses will be used based on what has happened in the U.S. Such practices, while unhealthy, are inevitable due to the influence of the U.S. on world affairs.

Don’t we disagree with other people all the time? We must disagree respectfully, however. Sometimes, we do not say anything, or respond to provocations. Sometimes, we reserve the right to speak or respond in a civil manner. Sometimes, we congregate and evolve a uniform approach towards countering people who vocally drive a wedge in society for their own benefit.

However, violence is not an option at all. Attacking professors and guest speaker? A strict NO, NO. Our students should know better, they are not kids in primary school. The changed political landscape in the U.S. does not give permission to students to physically assault folks who have an opinion different from theirs. If such be the case, what is the difference between illiterates settling disputes by show of force, and educated elite doing the same in an open forum. Walking out of a convocation being addressed by Vice President of the U.S. is fine, but disrupting the convocation is not.

Students have to learn reality of life. In real life, one learns to respect others. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. When a co-passenger on a recent flight out of the U.S. asked me about what Asians think of President Trump, I told her what I think of him. I said I cannot talk for others, almost everyone seems to be enjoying the fun of a rather brash President. I uttered what I did on U.S. soil without any fear, because I believed in what I believe. She was a Democrat and might not have liked what I said about Trump and Hillary Clinton, but she did not shout at me or hit me! Civility and respect are the cornerstones of intellectual debates, and these cannot disappear from U.S. university campuses due to the outsized influence of extreme Left. Sometimes, the political Right may also be right.

Let us listen to all views before analysing and concluding. Academics should know this better than anyone else.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th May 2017

Movies on board


The Emirates Airlines onboard entertainment is vastly better than that offered in any other world class airline – they specifically beat out Singapore Airlines, which reputedly offers one of the best inflight entertainment systems in the world. Emirates also offers free WiFi for the first two hours, and then just charges USD 1 for usage of up to 500MB of data, which should be more than enough for the entire duration of a long haul flight. I signed up for that, and stayed connected with folks on the ground throughout my flight!

I saw a variety of new movies recently on board the Emirates flights to the U.S. and back. Some of these are listed below, in the order I liked them:

  1. THE WHOLE TRUTH
  2. HIDDEN FIGURES
  3. LION
  4. KAHAANI 2
  5. SNOWDEN
  6. MISS SLOANE
  7. PASSENGERS
  8. WHY HIM
  9. COME AND FIND ME

Except for the last two, the others were excellent choices. I would have written out individual movie reviews, but for the lack of time. I was very impressed with the first three movies, all of them deserve awards. I think HIDDEN FIGURES won some awards.

Some of these movies make the audience think, and that is the true mark of great movies. We enjoy them and simultaneously get impacted in some manner. We think through, and realize that such movies carry very important messages for the audience – they are not just movies, but powerful messages.

THE WHOLE TRUTH is a legal crime thriller which makes you sit up towards the end with its very unexpected and skewed conclusion. HIDDEN FIGURES is about a black woman who excelled in advanced planetary mathematics at NASA. LION is about a boy who gets separated from his family and eventually discovers his mother after almost a quarter century. KAHAANI 2 is about child sexual abuse and the fight of one individual woman to save a very young abused girl. SNOWDEN is about the fugitive ex-NSA operative, Edward Snowden. MISS SLOANE is a fast-moving film about a very effective Washington political lobbyist. PASSENGERS is about a man who wakes up rather early on an inter-planetary mission and tries to figure out what to do to make his time worthwhile for the rest of the flight which would last another 90 years!

In a nutshell, it was good fun to watch these movies. All of the above ones (movie #1 to #7) are great movies, do not miss out on them. Really worth it.

Have a lovely weekend,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th May 2017

Dallas Food


On the first day of our visit to Dallas, we wanted to try out Indian food (this is the default choice when there is a group of Indians trying to explore the local culinary scene, I am sure you can believe this!). We asked the concierge at our hotel, and he said that there is only one in the downtown area within walking distance and so we set out to discover how Indian food is faring in the heart of downtown Dallas.

We went to “Spice in The City Dallas” on Commerce Street. The restaurant looked stylish and different from the regular run-of-the-mill Indian restaurants. It looked like a fine dining restaurant from the outside surrounded by office blocks.

We were hungry and did not waste time exploring the whole menu. We ordered Papad Basket, Saag Paneer, Vegetable Korma, Yellow Lentil Dhal, and Garlic Naans. We were surprised and disappointed when the dishes arrived at our table.

The Papads were extremely oily (dripping with old oil). None of the dishes were tasty and each one of them lacked even little amount of salt or spice or chilli. The dhal was a huge disappointment with the lentils individually sticking out of the bowl with no creamy hold on the dhal surface providing an even taste. The korma was messy. The naans were actually thick flatbreads. Overall, it was a bad lunch. I don’t understand how Trip Advisor and Yelp could have given such positive ratings. We later told our colleagues to give this restaurant a miss.

On the other hand, our experience at Cafe Herrera and Meso Maya, both serving Mexican food in downtown Dallas, was very good – the food was excellent, the service was great, and the menus were comprehensive. Mexican food is a good alternative to folks seeking spicy food, and we were not disappointed. The only challenge is that the wrong choice of sauces could send you scattering looking for an exit, so be very careful when you insist on spicy sauce for the Mexican main course. It could simply stun you out of your senses. There is nothing like that in Indian or Chinese food.

We thought the hotel food (at the hotel where we were staying in downtown) may not be great, but we were surprised to see a fantastic breakfast spread for USD 15 (cold) and USD 22 (hot). There were some unhealthy offerings at the breakfast, but then most of the choices were good – like the amazing variety of expensive fruits for example, hot potatoes with red skin, hot medley of vegetables with lots of onions, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, scrambled eggs, omelettes made to order, a variety of breads, nuts, yoghurt, etc.,

Dallas is a great place for Mexican food – of course, I have not tried much of the other foods that Dallas offers, but my guess is that Dallas specializes in Mexican.

One of our colleagues had brought MTR fast food from Singapore, and so we tried that food in our hotel room late into night along with some drinks, and that was an outstanding experience as well.

It was good to be back in Dallas after a gap of two years.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th May 2017

The Emirates Experience


Recently I flew to Dallas on Emirates Airlines (SIN – DUBAI – DALLAS).

The Singapore – Dubai flight was on Airbus 380, which provided a comfortable inflight experience. Emirates generally provides ontime performance, and it was no different this time – landed on time in Dubai and the transit wait was just 2 hours for the next flight. The only disconnect was the non-availability of Indian Vegetarian food for my colleague who is strictly vegetarian and prefers Indian food.

However, the flight to Dallas took longer than the planned time of 14 hours and 45 minutes. It took nearly 16 hours, making it one of the longest flights that I have flown. There could be any number of reasons, one being a 30 minutes delay while taking off from the busy and congested Dubai Airport. It was tiring, though onboard service was good (unlike the U.S. carriers who generally provide shoddy service).

Apart from this long overall duration of over 25 hours from Singapore to Dallas (which could have been around 22 hours had I taken the Singapore – Tokyo – Dallas route including the transit wait), the surprising issue was the experience in Dubai Airport itself while transiting. It was well past midnight when we landed, and the next flight was just 2 hours away taking off from another terminal. Unlike Singapore Changi Airport which has clear guidance to transit passengers, Dubai Airport does not provide guidance and leaves the transit passengers in the lurch. We had to figure out by ourselves how to get to the other distant terminal, and discovered that there is a crowded bus service which brought arriving passengers with no segregation from departing passengers. We had to wait some 20 minutes or so before a bus to pick up departing passengers arrived, which was a large van with a cart to load baggages trucking behind it! This was a curious experience, but we finally made it to the other terminal. I seriously think that Dubai Airport should give this aspect of its experience a rigorous examination.

Well, I have not mentioned the laptop ban issue till now. Emirates Singapore Office gave contradictory information over two phone calls regarding the laptop ban. In the first call, they said that I could carry the laptop as usual till Dubai Airport gate, and then they would take it over till Dallas, and eventually hand it to me upon arrival. During the second call, the lady who handled my call was very confused, and after checking with her supervisor couple of times, asked me to check in my laptop at Singapore itself. After few deliberations, that is what I did, but then found out at the gate in Dubai Airport that Emirates had a neat arrangement for collecting the laptops, packing the same securely, and take them into the cargo hold. And upon arrival at Dallas, Emirates made several announcements at the baggage belt area reminding passengers to collect their respective laptops.

On the way back from Dallas to Singapore, there was no laptop issue (it is a problem only when you arrive in any U.S. airport from any one of the Middle Eastern airports). However, there was a 9-hour transit wait for the flight to Singapore from Dubai, and so I decided to go into town for some shopping with my colleague and a relative of mine who was kind enough to shepherd us. We enjoyed the amazing experience of visiting the Ibn Battuta Mall (see IBN BATTUTA MALL).

Dubai Airport immigration service is fast and efficient. The security check was thorough. One had to walk a long distance of almost 800 metres from the car drop-off point at the airport terminal all the way to security check (it is a very large terminal), and then to the immigration counters.

Well, next time I am flying to the U.S., it is going to be back to the old routine of travelling via Tokyo Narita or Hong Kong. The challenge is that the code share flights are usually operated by American Airlines or United Airlines.

Just got over the jet lag, and now ready for my usual week beginning tomorrow.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th May 2017