Friday, December 19, 2014


The world has been shocked by the discovery of the dead bodies of about 50 Mexican university students.  The students were killed because they were protesting some government policies.  A mayor and his wife, as well as numerous police officials, have been implicated in the slaughter.  Alleged initial government inaction in response to the murders has prompted outrage and protest throughout Mexico.

In solidarity with the Mexican protests, and in outrage over the government’s inadequate response, the United Auto Workers Local 2865, the union representing the University of California’s graduate student instructors (or, as they were called in prior times, teaching assistants or TA’s) voted in favor of participating in a Boycott, Discrimination, and Sanctions (BDS)  campaign against Mexico. 

With 2,168 union members voting, 1,411 of them, or 65%, voted in favor of the resolution.  (The local has a total membership of about 12,000.)  In addition to the vote, 1,136 of the graduate student instructors pledged to personally adhere to a discriminatory boycott of Mexican universities and scholars. 

Regardless of the revulsion one feels for the Mexican government’s apparent complicity in the alleged actions, the vote raises serious questions regarding the fitness for their positions and their ability to fulfill the requirements of the job of those who voted in favor of the resolution, particularly of those who signed a personal pledge to boycott Mexican universities and scholars. 

For example, one assumes that pledging to boycott Mexican universities means that if a supervising faculty member directs a student instructor to work with a colleague from a Mexican university on a research question, the student instructor will refuse.  One also assumes that if a Mexican student is in the classroom listening to the student instructor’s explanation of a subject of the class, the student instructor will either stop lecturing or will direct the Mexican student to leave the classroom. 

One would further assume from the vote and particularly from those who took the personal pledge that they will not grade papers of students who are Mexican nationals, and will not meet with them to discuss subjects under study.  One also assumes that they will not consult with Mexican scholars or reference academic papers produced by any Mexican university or scholar, thus potentially omitting important information in their own work. 

One assumes that conduct such as that described above, directed at students holding Mexican citizenship, will contribute to the creation of a hostile academic environment for students holding Mexican citizenship, and arguably will do the same for American students of Mexican descent.  Similarly, such conduct will contribute to the creation of a hostile work environment for fellow employees holding Mexican citizen, and arguably will do the same for American workers of Mexican descent. 

Monday, December 15, 2014


My wife and I returned about a week ago from a terrific month-long trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.  I was very proud of myself for planning the entire trip.  We were on our own, hooking up with a couple of mini-cruises on the Mekong River and personal guides along the way.

My nominations for the three greatest inventions of our times:  1) Penicillin. 2)  Airplane mileage.  3) Trip Advisor.  Penicillin is an easy one, of course.  We all--that is we all that were born in the 1950's--learned that it saved millions of lives a year.

The other two because it is just hard to imagine planning and executing a great trip on a reasonable budget without those two items.  OK, so I had to knock the atom out of the top three in order to fit airline mileage on the list.  I will admit it's close.

Overall impressions and reactions from the trip:  Beautiful part of the world.  Wonderful, welcoming people.  Grand, tragic histories.  Particularly tragic for Cambodia.  Unfortunately corrupt governments.

After 30 days in Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hoi An, Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon, and the Mekong Delta, in Phnom Phen and Ankgor Wat, in Pakse and the Four Thousand Islands, in remote villages of the Laotian north, and in the beautiful city of Luang Prabang, the question that kept going through my head:  why exactly did we Americans see these people as a tremendous threat and feel the need to bomb the living daylights out of them?

They, particularly the Vietnamese, seem to be the most industrious, capitalistic people one can imagine. They appear to have the same deal with their government as the Chinese have:  We'll let you one-party Communists have the power and generally run things, and you'll leave us alone and let us make money and try to improve our lives.

They certainly did not seem intent on knocking dominoes down and spreading Communism throughout the world.  Which does make you wonder:  how do you know when the threat is real enough and requires standing up to it?  We thought the dominoes would fall.  The Red Scare or Red Menace was real.  The Communists wanted to take over the world.  Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Khrushchev, Ho Chi Minh.  They were the bad guys.  We had to stand up to them.