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I enjoy having my hidden biases unveiled and demolished, so last month was stupendous. Browsing CNN.com, I came across a TED talk by American model Cameron Russell, which is going viral as we speak. Looks are superficial and vacuous - this is one of the central themes of Russell’s talk, by the end of which you realize that she has unintentionally exemplified this adage by being a glamorous fashion model full of wisdom and depth.
Yesterday President Obama became the first U.S leader to visit Burma, as part of a trip to South Asia that is laden with optimism for a better future in the region. Burma was renamed Myanmar in 1989 by the military government - which is why opposition groups, prodemocracy groups and some countries (including the U.S) that do not recognize the legitimacy of the military authority have continued to call it Burma. Yet the name change seems benign when compared to the litany of injustices that have plagued the nation thanks to decades of military rule. With Burma’s percieved move towards a more democratic, reformed nation, there is simmering hope for a better tomorrow – though the path seems arduous.
Minnesota has embarrassingly enforced a seemingly regressive stance on free online education. The Office of Higher Education has asked educational startup Coursera to back off from offering its online courses to Minnesota residents, else pay a registration and hefty annual renewal fee. Why would it do so? To align with an antiquated law requiring that colleges and universities get the state government’s permission to offer instruction within its borders.
This seems to me like this a perfect example of a law with good intentions going awry. Of course we want regulations around the quality of education being offered in the state, to ensure that educational institutions are credible and not duping the public by disseminating nonsense as knowledge and awarding degrees based on impoverished curriculums (see Liberty University). But applying such a law to an institution that does not offer degrees, but simply free courses on the internet, is lunacy. In fact, it seems to border on an infringement on speech.
Imagine you are walking to work one morning passing by a nearby lake when you hear the sound of water splashing and cries for help. Looking around, you see a small child drowning in the lake. You have the ability to wade in and pull the child to safety, but you would surely ruin your expensive pair of clothes. What would you do – save the child, or ignore the situation to avoid losing money on new clothes?
We all know the answer to the above thought experiment. It is morally unacceptable to let a child in front of us suffer to death when we have the means to do something about it.
Now let us change the situation a little bit. The child is no longer in front of us, but 8000 miles away in a village in India. The child is not drowning to death, but succumbing to diarrhoeal disease, the second leading cause of child mortality in the world. The child can be saved by providing a regiment of ORS solutions, zinc supplements and nutrient rich foods, which could be covered with your pocket change.