Learning Tracker

I love learning. Every single day, I am on a cutthroat hunt for new opportunities to learn.   I read a ton of articles; I consciously seek out stimulating conversations and I religiously feed my podcast addiction. I’m always taking a Coursera class, and I’m always reading a book.

I’ve done really well with consuming knowledge, but I’m doing poorly with actually absorbing it and making it stick.

With this new series of #weeklylearning posts, I’m going back to the very reason why I started this blog- to hold myself accountable to my goals. I want to ensure that I can retain and recall the knowledge I acquire.  I also want to record some of the intellectual conversations I am having with (myself) people.

This time around, I’m going to use a very convenient (lazy?) method to capture my learning.  I created a Trello board ‘My learning’ with three broad categories of information:

1. media facts: what I learn from newspapers, magazines and podcasts
2. culture facts: what I learn from people in my life; and
3. random: personal dilemmas, debates and staggering realizations

Every week, I’ll record most of my learning in very brief notes on the board.  The idea is just to be able to recall the information (this should only take a few seconds per fact). At the end of the week, I will review the list to solidify the information in my brain, take a screenshot and post three coolest facts to the blog.

Here’s my learning for 2/1/16 – 2/8/16

Trello 2.1-2.8 (1)

Coolest Facts for 2/1-2/8/2016

  • Media: World’s richest 62 people own as much wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorer half of the global population (Times magazine)
  • Culture: My soul sister, 21 year old woman Zenith Irfan, redefines stereotypes by taking a motorcycle trip around Pakistan (PRI podcast episode I learned about from my friend Michelle– http://www.pri.org/stories/2016-02-04/young-pakistani-woman-hopes-her-soul-searching-motorcycle-trip-will-inspire)
  • Staggering realizations: Some women in this country will work for free until April 8th this year, because they only get paid 77 cents to man’s $1.


Risky Business Report

Earlier this week, Bloomberg has published a non-partisan, comprehensive report on the economic risks of the climate change. The study assesses and quantifies potential consequences of the climate change for each region in the United States. In particular, the report focuses on the damage to coastal property from rising sea levels, climate change effects in agriculture and energy demand, and impact of average temperature rise on labor productivity and public health.

The report states that within the next 15 years, the annual cost of coastal storms and hurricanes along the Eastern part of the country and the Golf of Mexico will increase by $2-3.5 billion (+ $7 billion on losses associated with potential hurricane activity). The report predicts that if we continue with our current approach to climate change, by 2050 up to $106 billion worth of coastal property will be below sea level (with the highest losses  on the Atlantic coast).

Greenhouse gas-driven changes will rise the temperatures which will require production of additional 95 gigawatts of new power in the next 2 to 25 years, costing U.S. residents up to $12 billion per year.  This temperature spike will also reduce productivity of outdoor workers. Additionally, agricultural yield will likely decline by up to 50-70% in some states in the Southeast due to extreme heat (though some losses might be recovered by increases in agricultural productivity of traditionally cold states).

Although The Risky Business Analysis focuses mostly on assessing climate change related risks, it also offers some broad solutions to this dark economic reality.  The report urges businesses and investors to include the risks of climate change in their financial analysis.  Lastly, it encourages strong public sector response to this crisis– the most instrumental tool in prevention of future climate-driven disasters.

Click to access RiskyBusiness_PrintedReport_FINAL_WEB_OPTIMIZED.pdf

Rape, the Syrian weapon of destruction

The Syrian Civil War has removed more than 2.5 million people from their country to immediate neighbors of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq (UNHCR, image below lists approximate numbers of refugees in each country).  Women and children make up 2/3 of the refugees (this is a conservative estimate; up to 75% quoted by some sources).


Rape and sexual slavery among these vulnerable groups are a disturbing systemic reality. Women escape Syria where rape is used as a military strategy, only to experience the same risks in the refugee camps abroad.  To make the problem worse, survivors rarely report the crimes fearing rejection or even death from the hands of their own family members (honor killings).

Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Angelina Jolie has called a Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. The summit has brought together influential policymakers, NGOs and survivors.  The result of the meeting was an International Protocol outlining standards for investigation of sexual violence in conflict areas. While the recognition of this problem is a significant step forward, it is not enough.  To have a meaningful impact, the international community has to issue a coordinated action plan for combating this weapon of silent destruction.


Understanding Hijab

The hijab – veil covering head and neck- is regarded as the most distinctive feature of Muslim women.  The term is mandated by the Islamic dress code.  Interestingly enough, the veil is not mentioned anywhere in the Quran, except for the wives of Muhammad.  At the time, they were the most important women in the society and the veil served as a protection from the eyes of lower class men.  Today, eastern women sometimes regard the veil as a symbol of connection with Mohammed’s wives and a sign of obedience to God.   In western eyes, the hijab is a symbol of seclusion and oppression.

I actually looked this up: the Qur’an does not explicitly address the hijab, but rather it states that women should cover themselves, in general terms:

“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty…And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and adornments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers…(a list of exceptions)”

In my ignorant eyes, hijab was adopted as the interpretation of Qur’an evolved. I neither condemn nor praise the moral values behind the custom, but I do believe that women should be given a choice. And, it seems that a new London-based social media movement ‘Stealthy Freedoms of Iranian Women’ is re-defining the law by encouraging women to take off the hijab in public places.  The idea is simple: If you want to, take off the hijab and post a picture on Facebook.  So far, the site shows 500+ pictures of women with banana smiles on their faces in the most unexpected areas (I even saw one driving a car!).

Perhaps the most compelling quote that I have found about the movement: “It is painful that I shall not be free so that you will not sin,” writes one woman. “That I have to be covered so that your weak faith does not break!”

Go ladies! 🙂


Expected Plot Twist? Update to Prejudice on the Rise post

This is just a brief update to my blog entry from last week RE: European nationalism.

The European Parliament elections held at the end of last month yielded staggering 30% victory of the anti-European parties (shockingly, in Greece 40% of the votes were won by Eurosceptic/Racist parties—I guess the billions of EU bailout moneys weren’t enough?). Process this for a second: 30% of the EU Parliament wants the EU to end. What!

Anyway, thanks to the multi-party political system this is an unlikely end to the pro-European policies, but it is a worrisome trend in the long run.  Britain has expressed the desire to leave the Union for long enough, and they might actually do it this time.  What’s worse…. Others might follow.

Prejudice on the rise

The notion of a globally connected, intercultural world has been so wildly accepted that we tend to overlook the daily reality of racial prejudice. While our policymakers are satisfied with equality laws and regulations adopted by their governments, the cultural effect of those policies is lagging.  In fact, the United Kingdom, one of the world leaders, is experiencing a rise in racism, not an expected fall.

According to the 2013 British Social Attitudes Survey, 1 in 3 Britons admitted to being racist on some level. 9 out of 10 of those said they wanted to reduce the number of immigrants in their country. What is worse, the study relies on ‘self-reported levels of racism’ – testimonies collected during in-person interviews- which one would suspect, are grossly understated.

To me, this trend is at once shocking and predictable.  On the one hand, Europe is a mixed bag of cultures, languages, ethnicities and histories.  For centuries, we were separate but certainly not equal, especially in economic terms.  Mixing of these multiple tiers of diversity only adds complexity to the currently crippled economics of the euro zone.   Naturally, prejudice becomes an easy scapegoat for unemployment and shrinking public service budgets. On the other hand, the EU has been around for 21 years- long enough to at least begin its citizens’ change of heart…

Inspired by randomly stumbled into: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/may/27/-sp-racism-on-rise-in-britain

Modern Mining Boom

Mid 1800’s made a few lucky American West gold-seekers very rich.  Western mining cities were the center of the gold rush and have created the image of the Wild West.

Today, the Australian West is wild and very rich.

The mining boom in Australia has created hundreds of thousands of jobs and wealth.  In Western Australia where mining industry has been booming– the average gross household income is $98,000 (Australian Dollar; an increase of 50% in a decade).  The industry will continue to grow as the energy hungry China drives the demand.

A brief search for jobs reveals thousands of seasonal, high income jobs with no experience necessary.

This reminds me of an Australian I met while traveling who worked 4 months of the year and travelled the rest.  I guess it’s a nice plan B.


A real modern Robin Hood? Try Mojica

Prisoner to politician is not an unusual path for opposition leaders in times of political struggle. Recent examples include Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine and former President Walesa in Poland. Uruguayan President Jose Mujica (‘Pepe’ to his people) has a similar story with an uncommon (in politics) twist of… integrity. Known as the poorest president of the world, his story of patriotism and compassion for the poor moves anyone in the public service.

Inspired by Marxist views, Mujica grew up in poverty and became inspired by the Cuban Revolution. He led a guerrilla movement (Tupamaros) that was best known for their practice of stealing food and money from the wealthy and distributing it to the poor. Captured by the military regime of the 1970s, he was shot six times, tortured and jailed for 14 years. He was released under the ‘Ley de Amnestia’ of 1985.

Today, he drives a 1987 Volkswagen, lives on a farm and gives 90% of his income to charity. His humble behavior resembles that of a small town mayor, while his national policy reforms surpass the most progressive leaders in the world (i.e. legalization of marijuana).

Inspiration: http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/05/12/311846447/meet-uruguays-pot-legalizing-vw-driving-sandal-wearing-president