Tag Archives: Stanford

Fool Me One Election, Shame On You…

Before Election Day

Anooshka Kumar’s grandparents voted for the first time in the US, this past week, at the age of 76 and 81. Anooshka sat them down and went through each proposition on California’s Santa Clara County 2020 Ballot – not an easy feat. 

Her civic duty extended beyond just her own participation. She started an intergenerational dialogue and the outcome was pleasantly surprising. “They were excited to vote! They now understand how important this particular election is and want to bring in a new leader that actually cares for communities that have been marginalized and discriminated against,” Kumar pridefully said. 

Anooshka’s hopes for a better country rely on the democratic process of voting. In order for the future that she envisions to be a reality, she educates herself and the people around her on candidates, their policies, and the propositions on the ballot. “I’m nervous and excited,” expressed Kumar, looking optimistically at the potential future, “We filled in our ballots at home then dropped them off at a ballot dropbox. We want to make sure our votes are counted in time!” 

NPR had a segment of airtime addressing people’s anxieties about the election…which inevitably led to more anxiety about the election. Anooshka and her grandparents want their votes to be meaningful, but will they?

Not everyone feels as optimistic…

Diego Osorio, a Mountain View resident pressed, “I wanted to go vote in person because I personally believe that Trump will try to steal the election anyway he can. Recent reports are claiming that he may attempt to throw away mail-in ballots. I want to set an example. If you can vote in person…go!” As a person of color, Osorio is concerned about voter suppression.

At the Ethnic Media Services briefing on October 27th, Dr. Nathaniel Persily, Professor of Law at Stanford and a leading expert on the electoral process, placates anxiety with information.

A quick survey of the India Currents’ readership reflects that our readers were less likely to use the Vote By Mail option. Of the 150 -160 million expected to vote this year, 70- 80 million of them will Vote By Mail. Vote By Mail will be twice what it was four years ago, with 82 million absentee ballot requests. 

“We know the number of [mail in ballots] will be in the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands but that would not be unique to this election. The pace of mail balloting and the actual time it will take once [a vote] mails their ballot will be the same as it was in 2016,” assures Dr. Persily and continues, “You can take that as good news or bad news…No one was reporting on the hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots that were late in the last election.” Local postal officials feel like they have it under control.

So close to the election, discouraged voters should not be afraid to vote in person. This year there are larger voter centers but long lines are to be expected. The length of the line at a polling place is not directly linked to the length of wait time, since social distanced practices will be observed for safety.

How to View the Election Day

When disseminating information, check to see if the problem is isolated or systemic to a locality. For example, there may be absent poll workers with COVID-related illness, inadequately trained poll workers, or voter intimidation at a specific center but the problem is not systemic unless you see statistically significant rises of such events in a particular locality. 

“Get rid of the notion of precinct reporting,” advocated Dr. Persily. Absentee ballot collection precincts may or may not be part of the number of precincts reporting and can skew results. The biggest faux pas would be to declare a winner or use predictive results as the final result on the day of the election. 

Patience is key. 

“What makes a count official is the certification but the Chief Election Officer in a state,” emphasized Dr. Persily. Most states will not have an official ballot count on election day but check states like Florida that should have nearly all votes counted on election day. 

Interested in data and research and want to share that with your network? Always explain the share of vote counted over the expected vote, explain geographically where votes are coming from, and report results in fully reported jurisdictions as a comparison to the 2016 results in the same jurisdiction. Such modeling has already been done by Citizen Data and can be used for accurate insight into the election results.

After Polls Close

Prepare for unwarranted claims of victory by candidates and an onslaught of disinformation relating to voter fraud, destroyed votes, and malpractice.

However, to use our President’s words, “Stand back and stand by…” 

Instead, inform your network on the security of the vote-counting process.

Even though we are all anxious, Dr. Persily has confidence in the system. Anooshka, her grandparents, and Diego will all have their votes counted in the 2020 Election.


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

Featured Image by League of Women Voters of California LWVC from USA and license here.

Adopting Impermanence as a COVID Response

“All conditioned things are impermanent – when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.”

-Gautama Buddha

In times of chaos and tribulation, it seems wise to refer to the teachings of those who sought to understand suffering. Impermanence is the word that comes to mind, yet humanity finds comfort in permanence. 

At the August 14th Ethnic Media Services briefing on the science behind COVID-19, doctors on the frontlines reaffirmed the motif I had been seeing – a contradictory society seeks change, yet is resistant to it.

This moment of truth in American history requires quick and consistent change. I wonder, can we rise up to the challenge?

Dr. Ashish Jha, Professor of Global Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute remarked “America may have the worst response of any country in the world, to this pandemic” and added that we were in the same position, if not worse condition than Brazil, Russia, and Turkey. Further, he stresses that success with outbreak control has nothing to do with imposing government structures, the culture of the country, or the wealth of a nation. 

Government: Russia’s authoritarian government is struggling with containment.

Culture: East Asian and European countries are dissimilar in their cultural practices but both have managed to lower their COVID rates. 

Wealth: Vietnam, a developing nation, until recently, had avoided COVID-related deaths.

“It’s tempting to look for explanations for why other countries are doing better”, cautions Dr. Jha. He logically builds to the conclusion that where we have failed is in deploying ONE action effectively across all states. That is all that is required. With one-third of the U.S. population on the brink of succumbing to the pandemic, one third already fully at risk, and one-third managing to keep the pandemic at bay, mismatched messaging is wreaking havoc. Without a coordinated response from strong federal leadership, the COVID death numbers will not plateau. 

The onus of information dissemination and access to resources lies heavily on those in positions of power but behavioral change can come from the top-down and the bottom-up. 

Impermanence. The ability to adopt thought that lasts for an undetermined period of time. 

No one wants to be in lockdown. No one wants to wear a mask outside. No one wants to continuously get tested.

Just one of these, fully implemented and enforced, could be the key to end suffering. 

Dr. Nirav Shah, Senior Scholar at Stanford University’s Clinical Excellence Research Center and an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, informs his research from the positive COVID control he has seen in Asian countries where schools remain open. He notes, “Right now there is a false choice between lives and livelihood.” That choice drives contention and spreads misinformation.

What is needed to re-open safely?

Early warning systems, broad & efficient testing, effective quarantine/isolation, adequate treatment capacity, actionable data collection, and vaccines. 

He brings forth antigen testing as the cheaper, faster method to detect COVID. Cost-effective and almost instantaneous results, I am feeling more optimistic as he continues to speak.

Source: U-T reporter Jonathan Wosen

Early warning systems and actionable data collection rely on the immediate transfer of information to an online database to make it accessible. Temperature monitoring using a thermometer linked to the internet would increase the efficiency of detecting COVID hotspots and roll out timely mandates required to limit spread. Dr. Shah’s blend of technology and the pandemic is the obvious way to move forward. Daily reporting is the necessary next step.

Source: Covid Act Now

So why haven’t we already been using this technology?

“We really need to start to think about a fundamentally different approach that protects privacy and lets public health [professionals] do their job”, Dr. Shah frustratedly shakes his head.

He is moving fast and hits a wall with effective quarantine/isolation and vaccines. The U.S. has expended no energy to strategize or provided resources for isolation and most vaccines are a year out still. 

“We are not anywhere close to doing well”, ends Dr. Shah. 

It seems Dr. Shah and Dr. Jha come to similar conclusions – the United States has the resources and the intelligence to rewrite the course we have taken with regards to the pandemic.

A grim message but I leave with positive outcomes. Testing is changing and so is data collection. Mitigation and prevention of COVID is plausible.

Can we adapt? Can we change? Can we make space for impermanence in our lives to end suffering?


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

A Faster, Cheaper Way to Send Money to India

Stanford Federal Credit Union, located in Northern California, offers a faster, cheaper way to send money abroad. Through a new partnership with TransferWise, customers can send money directly through Stanford FCU’s online or mobile banking. This simple process means the funds can arrive as soon as the same day. 

Stanford FCU’s international funds transfer process is also cheaper—there is a low transparent fee, and the real exchange rate is used with no mark up. All of this means more money gets to your loved ones.

You must be a member of Stanford FCU in order to use this international funds transfer, and new members can get up to $500 in bonuses just by opening a checking account with direct deposit and additional accounts. Stanford FCU is a $3 billion financial institution serving 73,000 members. 

There is no cost to become a member, and you can join online. You must have a U.S. address and picture ID.

Stanford FCU is a full-service financial institution serving employees of Stanford University, Google, Facebook, Visa, Amazon, SAP, Tesla, and 100 other innovative companies. Members enjoy low fees, low-rate auto and home loans, high-rate deposit accounts, and low-fee rewards credit cards. Deposits are federally insured by NCUA, Equal Housing Lender, NMLS #729643.

Learn more and join online at sfcu.org/love or call 888.723.7328.

 

Heart to Heart: A Symphony of Music and Advocacy 

Have you considered that music can be a means to spread awareness on important public health issues? Three musicians hailing from three distinct cultures are crossing borders to transform hearts.They are using spiritual consciousness and healing energy, while drawing attention to  an alarming—but woefully under-reported—rise of congenital heart defects killing hundreds of thousands of children annually around the world. 

This trio of acclaimed multi-talented musicians are pioneering an adventurous blend of western jazz and Carnatic-style Indian music. The musicians in this diverse super group include India-born U. Rajesh, hailed by many as the world’s foremost Carnatic-style mandolin player; Greece-born Dimitris Lambrianos, a keyboard prodigy who is now a world-class composer and performer proficient on dozens of instruments; and American composer, recording artist, and music educator George Brooks, on the saxophone.

The concert sponsor, the U.S.-based Heart to Heart Foundation, supports low-cost pediatric heart surgeries that have saved the lives of thousands of children in numerous low-income countries. The concert will include a brief video presentation about the Foundation’s work.  

Saturday July 20, 7:30pm. Cemex Auditorium, Stanford University. For free tickets to this event, please register at:  https://tinyurl.com/H2H-Music . For additional information, please visit:  www.h2h.foundation

 

Kabir meets Miles Davis at Stanford Jazz 2019

The weather in Central Maharashtra, said Jim Nadel, Artistic Director and Founder of Stanford Jazz Workshop, was about the same as outside, in Palo Alto, California. This seemed a fitting setting for the Indian Jazz Journey on June 23rd, and attendees were welcomed with a cooling mango beverage and a hand-held fan.

Several fans were to be found in the human form as well. Deepa Nagpal of Los Altos said she had come to hear Mahesh Kale. (Hear the conversation below:)

A festive vibe at Dinkelspiel Auditorium

I glanced at some of the handouts to find out more about the musicians. It was, as promised, “a special moment to witness the creation of incredible new music as jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan and Indian classical music superstar Mahesh Kale collaborated in this special event with saxophonist George Brooks and tabla master Subhankar Banerjee.

Vocalist Mahesh Kale’s career accelerated exponentially in 2015 when he won the best playback singer award at the 63rd National Film Awards for his work in the epic musical Katyar Kaljat Ghusli. The film scored an unlikely honor for a regional art form far outside Bollywood’s mainstream Hindi-language fare, helping spark a revival. “Youngsters have taken a liking,” Kale says. “They have these songs on their play list next to Adele, and when youngsters connect to an art it gives a lifeline for 50 to 60 years.”

George Brooks has long served as a bridge between the American jazz scene and India’s greatest classical musicians, a role the Berkeley saxophonist has embraced in organizing a series of unprecedented East/West encounters for the Stanford Jazz Festival.

Kale and Brooks have been collaborating for several years, but making his first trip with this cross-cultural collaboration was storied jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan, whose two-handed tapping technique radically expanded the instrument’s possibilities. He burst on the scene in 1985 with his debut for the Blue Note label, Magic Touch, which spent a year on top of the jazz charts.

Tabla maestro Subhankar Banerjee rounded out the ensemble, adding another virtuosic voice to the proceedings. Banerjee has toured with many of India’s greatest musicians, including Ravi Shankar, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, and Shiv Kumar Sharma. He’s also collaborated with guitarist John McLaughlin, a founding father of the Indo-jazz movement as a co-founder of the 1970’s ensemble Shakti.”

On Sunday, Dinkelspiel Auditorium was full to capacity. The audience applauded the musicians in turn. Several jugal-bandi improvisations added to the playfulness of the concert, with Stanley Jordan climbing aloft a stool at one point to strike a pose with George Brooks. All hands were on deck for this riff on So What by Miles Davis.

 

Mixing East and West. So what?

But the audience was clearly the most enchanted when Mahesh Kale displayed the vocal range that is the legacy of his classical training. Hear Mahesh Kale’s beautiful voice as he sings Chadaria by Kabir at Stanford Jazz 2019:

 

As part of the workshop, and in keeping with the oral tradition of music, the audience was encouraged to repeat musical notes, but the result, Kale stated with radical candor, was “quite terrible.”

After meeting with the long queue of admirers and well-wishers, Mahesh Kale spoke to me about how diverse music forms might not be part of the repertoire, but somewhere reverberate with the inner self. Music is a great equalizer, he says, and while high tech brings wonderful things, music serves as a balancing force for Silicon Valley stress. (He is an engineer by training,)

 

George Brooks characterized the concert as a cross-pollination and wanted to distance himself from the notion of fusion music and said he considered this more of a conversation between artists and a way to develop relationships between artists.

The audience protested when the musicians announced that it was time to wind down. And as the concert ended, the third such collaboration, and the audience filed out, several members of the audience were humming the tunes they had heard.

Perhaps Mahesh Kale was on to something. Despite living in Silicon Valley, no one looked particularly stressed.

Cover image: Mahesh Kale, voice; Stanley Jordan, guitar; George Brooks, saxophone; Subhankar Banerjee, tabla.

Geetika Pathania Jain is Culture and Media Editor at India Currents magazine. She feels fortunate to be able to attend ICMA (Indian Classical Music and Arts) and other classical music concerts close to home.

Attending ICMA concerts — one of the perks of living in the Valley

Indian Jazz Journey Comes to Stanford

Indian Jazz Journey featuring Mahesh Kale, Stanley Jordan, George Brooks, and Subhankar Banerjee
Dinkelspiel Auditorium, June 23, 4:00 p.m.
Co-resented by the Indian Classical Music and Art Foundation, and the Stanford Jazz Festival.
More information and tickets:

Be in on the creation of incredible new music as jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan and Indian classical music superstar Mahesh Kale collaborate in this special event with saxophonist George Brooks and tabla master Subhankar Banerjee.

George Brooks has long served as a bridge between the American jazz scene and India’s greatest classical musicians, a role the Berkeley saxophonist has embraced in organizing a series of unprecedented East/West encounters for the Stanford Jazz Festival. Vocalist Mahesh Kale’s career accelerated exponentially in 2015 when he won the best playback singer award at the 63rd National Film Awards for his work in the epic musical Katyar Kaljat Ghusli. The film scored an unlikely honor for a regional art form far outside Bollywood’s mainstream Hindi-language fare, helping spark a revival. “Youngsters have taken a liking,” Kale says. “They have these songs on their play list next to Adele, and when youngsters connect to an art it gives a lifeline for 50 to 60 years.”

Kale and Brooks have been collaborating for several years, but making his first trip with this cross-cultural collaboration is storied jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan, whose two-handed tapping technique radically expanded the instrument’s possibilities. He burst on the scene in 1985 with his debut for the Blue Note label, Magic Touch, spent a year on top of the jazz charts.

Tabla maestro Subhankar Banerjee rounds out the ensemble, adding another virtuosic voice to the proceedings. Banerjee has toured with many of India’s greatest musicians, including Ravi Shankar, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, and Shiv Kumar Sharma. He’s also collaborated with guitarist John McLaughlin, a founding father of the Indo-jazz movement as a co-founder of the 1970’s ensemble Shakti.

For tickets, call 650-725-2787, or visit https://stanfordjazz.org/more-info/indian-jazz-journey-2019/

 

Educating India’s Children: Conversation with Dr. Rukmini Banerji, Pratham CEO

Dr. Rukmini Banerji, CEO of Pratham, is in the San Francisco Bay Area for a conference at Stanford on global poverty. I met Dr. Banerji in San Jose during her visit.

First, a few facts about Pratham: Pratham started off in the slums of Mumbai, 1995. The educational NGO, one of the world’s largest, focuses on “high-quality, low-cost, and replicable interventions to address gaps in the education system.” It has helped about 50 million children to date, with 15 chapters across the United States, all run by volunteers. Charity Navigator, an independent evaluator of charities based in the United States, rates Pratham with its highest possible rating of four stars.

Asked about her vision for Pratham, Dr. Banerji says that they complete a strategy review once every five to ten years. Based on this review, they’ve decided on implementing three or four major programs. While school enrollment levels in India are high, functional literacy is not. Their focus is on raising the foundational educational levels for children quickly, on a large scale and in a cost effective manner.

I ask her what differentiates Pratham from other educational NGOs, considering that the Bay Area alone has over 160 registered institutions working in this arena. Dr. Banerji says Pratham’s mandate is not to buy school buildings. They don’t want to come in as outsiders, tell communities how to educate themselves, then leave. They see themselves as facilitators who facilitate community building through education. This emphasis on structuring learning is not just for the kids, but for whole communities.

According to Dr. Banerji, as these kids enter the workforce, they will need to learn to work in teams, they will need to learn to collaborate. This, she feels, is best done outside of the school curriculum.Towards this end, they bring together children in groups. Funding from companies like Google and Facebook, allows Pratham to provide each group with a tablet computer preloaded with projects, in their regional language of instruction. These tablets have a choice of mini courses. The content is grouped into videos or games; it is up to the kids to decide what they use. As a group, the kids choose a course or a plan, it could be a football game, if that’s what they want. The kids are required to find their own coach, present their plan, then ask for mentorship. This coach is someone within their own community – it could be an older sibling, it could be someone’s grandmother. But it has to be someone who can hold the children accountable. For maintenance of the hardware, Pratham assigns a mentor, one for every villages.

Dr. Banerji recalls a group of kids who came up with project on skeletons. For this, they sought out the local bone setter as their coach. Dr. Banerji feels that schools are so focused on academics that they sometimes leave behind kids who do well in collaborations. In sharing a tablet, and a project, these children learn to work together, learn how to use content that is made available for their use, and how to apply what they know. In this ‘hybrid’ learning model, the children are responsible for their own learning.

The previous year the kids were given a choice of themes – water, mango etc. The kids could choose to go with the theme, or pick something on their own. So many videos were created that village level juries – picked the kids themselves, voted on the best ones, and then uploaded them to Pratham volunteers. Currently, this program covers about a thousand villages. Pratham tests out various such projects in focus labs. Once they begin to show results, they are moved to the mainstream.

Another area that Pratham focuses on is the development of vocational skills. They have tie ups with companies like the Larsen and Toubro and others. Pratham helps train young people for entry level jobs. These youngsters are then absorbed by the organization with which they have an existing tie-up. Dr. Banerji estimates that people have been able to take advantage of this program.

On a smaller scale, Pratham runs a program for women who had to drop out of school, called “Second Chance.” Since 10th class certification is necessary for so many government programs, including government jobs at the village level, Pratham provides help to finish high school studies if the women choose to do so. Dr. Banerji estimates that young women have taken advantage of this program.

Dr. Banerji is very optimistic about the future – “India has changed quite a lot,” she says. There are major shifts even within the government to explore new technologies. When asked how people in the United States can help Pratham, she points out that most of the work of the NGO happens on the ground in India. The best way for people based here to get involved, is through fund-raising believing in the organization’s laudable vision and mission.

 

Rasana Atreya is a novelist and technical content writer.