the Times

Photo Credit: Hanna Bernbaum | Daily Texan Staff

Flashy headbands, excessive alcohol and the live stream of the Times Square ball drop kicked off 2015, but roughly 20 percent of the world’s population is getting ready to welcome the new year again.

Chinese New Year, also referred to as the Spring Festival or Lunar New Year, is one of the most celebrated holidays in China and Chinese-populated countries. Based off the Chinese lunar calendar, Chinese New Year falls between Jan. 21 and Feb. 19. 

The date of the Lunar New Year varies based on the moon cycle. The first new moon of the year begins the celebration. When a full moon appears 15 days later, the celebration comes to a close.

Each year features a different animal sign from the Chinese zodiac’s 12 different animals. The animal sign of a person’s year of birth — which cycles around every 12 years — is often said to determine personality types, love matches, fortunes, strengths and weaknesses. This new  year will be the Year of the Sheep, and celebrations begin Thursday. People begin cleaning the house, wearing bright red — a color that symbolizes good fortune — and greeting family and friends with “Gong Xi Fa Cai.” 

For many people, such as aerospace engineering sophomore Kaixi Wang, Chinese New Year means spending time with extended family.

“All my relatives get together,” Wang said. “The moms cook a lot of food, and we just have a good time.”

Dumplings and many traditional foods consumed throughout the 15 days of celebration are symbolic. The names of popular festival dishes often have double meanings or prosperous connotations. Dumplings resemble gold coins, a symbol of wealth. Noodles are served long and uncut, predicting a lengthy life. 

Business freshman Johnny Shiao said, for his family, Chinese New Year means celebrating a number of family traditions. 

“We make dumplings,” Shiao said. “And we go outside to look at the giant moon.”

Every year, China Central Television broadcasts the New Year’s Gala — an annual performance event featuring songs, dances, skits and acrobatics. Business freshman Kelly Wu said watching the gala is one of her family’s traditions.

“It’s kind of like watching the ball drop,” Wu said. “It’s really similar to an American New Year’s celebration.” 

The Texas Dragon/Lion Dance Team, a traditional lion dance group, of which Wu is a member, has a number of performances scheduled for Chinese New Year. 

“We get really busy during this time because we get a lot of requests [for performances],” Wu said. “This year, since we have a performance on New Year’s Day at a restaurant. It’s going to be really fun.”

Wu said she will miss celebrating Chinese New Year with her relatives but is spending the holiday with her other family.

“Since I’m not going home, I’m celebrating [Chinese New Year] through my dance team,” Wu said. “I feel as if each time we’re invited to [perform at] festivals and celebrations and parties, it’s kind of like a mini celebration itself.”

Students shouldn't look at "best" college rankings

The start of the school year brings another wave of highly-esteemed magazines, newspapers and higher-education-focused organizations releasing their rankings of the "best" colleges in the U.S. These rankings vary greatly among different publications — U.S. News & World Report gave the University a ranking of "53rd national university" on Sept. 9, Washington Monthly ranked UT 20th in the world on Aug. 25, Forbes assigned UT the rank of 76th overall in July and the Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings placed UT in the 33rd spot. Most rankings include a brief description of the methodology behind the number, which is great, but doesn't negate the fact that these rankings are attempts to encompass each of the "best" schools in a single number, an impossible feat.

Placing a number on a school seems like a simple, consolidated way to determine its worth, but looking at college rankings can give someone a false sense of knowledge of how valuable the school is, causing the prospective student to form insignificant preconceived notions before considering other aspects of the school.

Some of these ranking systems, such as that of Washington Monthly, include a whole host of data alongside a singular number for each university, which begs the question of why the publication even includes an overall ranking. The people who ranked the school might place much more weight on a particular data point of the school, such as average debt or prevalence of research opportunities, than a particular student would, which renders the numbers under the catch-all category of "top schools" or "best colleges" essentially meaningless.

The Princeton Review almost, but not quite, refrains from ranking the "best" schools. It does publish a list of the top 379 schools, but doesn't number them from 1 to 379, and the rest of its rankings are based on student surveys about specific criteria, such as how religious students are, how often students study and how accessible professors are. Ranking systems should move toward the model of assigning numbers only to each aspect of a school and encourage students to compare numbers based on these students’ individual priorities rather than on an arbitrary judgment of the "overall best" school.

UT has fallen out of the top 25 world universities, according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings released Wednesday.

The University dropped to 27th in the 2013-14 rankings. In the 2012-13 rankings, UT tied for 25th with the Georgia Institute of Technology. 

The University’s overall score also dropped by 6.6 points to 72.2 out of 100 possible points. Times Higher Education rankings score universities by looking at 13 different categories including teaching, research, citations in academic research, international outlook and industry income.

UT spokesman Gary Susswein said the University’s ranking did not change significantly.

“It was a minimal drop,” Susswein said. “The bottom line is we continue to rank in the top tier of universities around the world.”

Susswein said UT ranked fifth among American public universities as it did last year. The University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Los Angeles, University of Michigan–Ann Arbor and the University of Washington ranked higher than UT in that category.

The California Institute of Technology placed first in this year’s rankings.

In September, UT dropped six places from 46th to 52nd in U.S. News and World Report’s 2014 national universities rankings.

NEW YORK — Wal-Mart Stores Inc. hushed up a vast bribery campaign that top executives of its Mexican subsidiary carried out to build stores across that country, according to a published report.

The New York Times reported Saturday that Wal-Mart failed to notify law enforcement officials even after its own investigators found evidence of millions of dollars in bribes. The newspaper said the company shut down its internal probe despite a report by its lead investigator that Mexican and U.S. laws likely were violated.

The bribery campaign was reported to have first come to the attention of senior executives at Wal-Mart in 2005, when a former executive of its largest foreign subsidiary, Wal-Mart de Mexico, provided extensive details of a bribery campaign it had orchestrated to win market dominance.

The Mexican executive, previously the lawyer in charge of obtaining construction permits, said in emails and follow-up conversations that Wal-Mart de Mexico paid bribes to obtain permits throughout the country in its rush to build stores nationwide, the Times reported.

Wal-Mart’s growth in Mexico has been so rapid that one of every five Wal-Mart stores now is in that country. It is Mexico’s largest private employer, with 209,000 employees there.

The newspaper said that only after learning of its investigation did Wal-Mart inform the U.S. Justice Department in December 2011 that it had begun an internal investigation into possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Under that law, it is illegal for U.S. corporations and their subsidiaries to bribe foreign officials.

Wal-Mart said Saturday that it takes compliance with that law very seriously. It also noted that many of the “alleged activities” in the Times article occurred more than six years ago.

“If these allegations are true, it is not a reflection of who we are or what we stand for,” spokesman David Tovar said. “We are deeply concerned by these allegations and are working aggressively to determine what happened.”

Wal-Mart said its latest, ongoing investigation is being handled by outside lawyers and accountants who are experts with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The company also said it has tightened procedures and expanded training in Mexico to ensure compliance with the law.

The Times said its investigation uncovered a lengthy struggle at the highest levels of Wal-Mart, pitting the company’s commitment to high moral and ethical standards against its relentless pursuit of growth.

Wal-Mart had sent investigators to Mexico City, where the newspaper report said they quickly discovered evidence that included a paper trail of hundreds of suspect payments totaling more than $24 million.

But according to the Times, top Wal-Mart executives kept quiet about the campaign and were more focused on damage control than on exposing the corruption. Then-CEO H. Lee Scott Jr. reportedly rebuked internal investigators at one meeting for being overly aggressive. Shortly thereafter, the newspaper said, the investigation was turned over to the general counsel for Wal-Mart de Mexico, who himself was alleged to have authorized bribes. He swiftly exonerated his fellow executives.

Printed on Monday, April 23, 2012 as: Wal-Mart paid extensive bribes to secure monopoly in Mexico

After falling in the Times Higher Education World University Ranking survey for the past six years, the University chose not to participate in last year’s survey. At Monday’s faculty council meeting, classics professor Tom Palaima submitted a multi-part question to University President William Powers Jr. asking why UT opted out of the survey when other public research universities considered peer institutions participated and excelled. UT ranked 15th in the world in 2004, but fell each year to 76th in 2009 and did not participate in 2010. University of California Berkeley ranked 2nd in 2004, fell each year to 39th in 2009 and ranked 8th in 2010. The University of Wisconsin ranked between 55th and 79th from 2004 to 2009 and ranked 43rd in 2010. While addressing the question at the council meeting, Powers said concerns about the survey’s methodology came up after discussions with officials from other universities. He said UT and some schools who eventually participated in the survey initially decided not to do so. “Any survey that takes data and divides it by the number of students, as the U.S. News and World Report does with some financial data, we don’t do well on,” Powers said. “We’re okay if we are going to do poorly on academic rankings, we’ll let the chips fall where they may, but if the methodology is designed against a big state research university we often won’t participate.” He said the Times Higher Education reworked their survey methods and worked with other institutions who eventually decided to participate. He said the Times did not work with UT after it had made its initial decision. “I think with the new methodology it is likely we will participate in this survey next year,” Powers said. Palaima said he submitted the question to address claims by Powers about UT’s status as a world class institution and one of the top in the nation despite struggles with budget cuts and falling rankings. “The reason is to get something on record,” Palaima said. “When there is any kind of critical problem, you do best to sort of enunciate and address the problem.” During Monday’s meeting, the council also unanimously passed a resolution in support of UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa’s letter to Gov. Rick Perry, which outlined disadvantages to allowing concealed carry on campus. The council also passed a resolution affirming the current ban on concealed carry on campus in January and plans to announce that it passed these resolutions at a state Senate hearing today on its bill that would lift the ban. Associate sociology professors Ben Carrington and Mary Rose announced the resolution to the council. Carrington said the resolution is meant as a symbolic step to communicate the sentiment most of the faculty hold. “The chancellor took a risk in writing this letter,” Carrington said. “[The resolution] is us in a sense standing behind him.”

Austin Kleon, a writer, cartoonist and web designer for the UT School of Law, is best known for his poetry collection “Newspaper Blackout,” which was released in April to much critical acclaim.To create the poems in “Newspaper Blackout,” Kleon took articles from The New York Times and crossed out the words he did not need with a black Sharpie marker. The result looks like a redacted top-secret government document, but the words left unmarked form poems that are poignant, funny and, at times, even disturbing.

Kleon started creating blackout poetry when he was faced with a serious case of writer’s block. Devoid of inspiration, he turned to his recycling bin full of discarded copies of the Times, grabbed a Sharpie and began to experiment.

“At first I thought it was just a writing exercise,” Kleon said. “Then I came up with these things and showed them to my wife, and she said, ‘Well, I think you’re writing poetry.’”

Kleon started to post his blackout poems on his blog, and they received an overwhelmingly positive response from readers. Eventually an editor at HarperCollins Publishers approached him about compiling his poetry into a book.

“I want to say it’s kind of a Cinderella story, but it’s actually happening more than you think now. Publishers are looking for authors that already have an audience or platform online,” he said.

Kleon has read the Times for many years and uses it as a medium for his poetry for a variety of reasons, including its reputation as a leading source of news.

“I always like to say, if you’re going to steal, steal big — and the Times is this kind of lumbering presence,” Kleon said. “But besides that, the typography is really good.”

He says the art and metro sections of the Times are great for creating blackout poetry, but that much to his surprise, he frequently finds himself drawn to the sports section.

“It’s funny because I’m not a huge sports freak, but I love the sports section. It’s because the coaches and the players use this vernacular language. There are a lot of places’ names, and it’s about actions,” Kleon said. “The business section is difficult, but it can be done. Those poems are more abstract.”

Although Kleon picks articles to work with at random, he employs a strict methodology to turn each article into poetry.

“I’m kind of looking for an anchor phrase or an anchor word. Something that jumps out at me,” he said. “And I usually make a box around that, and that’s where I move out from. It’s a meticulous process of finding stuff. Some poems can take me 10 minutes, some poems can take me an hour or a couple days.”

Kleon admits that what he is doing is nothing new; he said other artists and writers who used similar techniques include the Dadaists and William Burroughs. He also said the current disc-jockey culture uses similar techniques to create remixes.

Writing is not Kleon’s only form of artistic expression. As a cartoonist, he has been invited to provide illustrations for concerts and live events, including Austin City Limits Music Festival and South By Southwest.

Today, Kleon will be teaching fans how to create their own blackout poetry at the Austin Museum of Art.


WHAT: Make your own newspaper blackout poetry with Austin Kleon
WHERE: Austin Museum of Art, 823 Congress Ave.
WHEN: Tonight from 6:30 to 8
Tickets: Free