Friday, August 11, 2006

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

It was time to get real yesterday. The breaking news was the foiled terrorist plot to carry an assortment of mix-n-match household goods aboard a number of trans-Atlantic flights then stir up a massive amount of mayhem. The plot got derailed through some aggressive work by the Brits and some cooperation from undisclosed international sources. The outcome is that a flock of bad guys are taken off the streets, a couple of thousand lives have been saved and another nail has been driven into the confidence mind-set of modern travelers. Security delays at airports are going to be longer and the scary part is that we really aren’t going to be sure that all of the inconvenience is doing anything concrete to lessen the threat. Just as I always knew that nail clippers wouldn’t kill me, so also I have a deep-seated confidence that my wife’s lip gloss isn’t toxic.

What really should impress, however, is the overwhelming evidence that we aren’t secure in this world. The whining and whimpering of the Cindy Sheehan’s and Harry Reid’s and John Kerry’s that we aren’t improving our security by attempting to build democracy in the Middle East should be re-examined. The wailing and gnashing from the United Nations collection of one-worlders regarding the “proportionality” of response by the Israeli military after first giving up significant territory in an attempt to assuage Palestinian sensibilities only to be incessantly rocketed and targeted by suicide bombers should be taken for what it is—foolishness. The very concept of proportionality in terms of defense of your right to exist is ludicrous. Playing tit-for-tat in combat is a recipe for failure. First kill those who offend and when the survivors plead for mercy, then be benevolent. Don’t respond to one Katushya launch with two artillery shells. It won’t get results. Go back and review the basics of deterrence—the essential element is if you hurt me I will respond by destroying you…totally.

This Wall Street Journal editorial piece is worth reading slowly:

Reality Check

The thwarting of the British-based plot is a perfect counter to the escalating rhetoric of the US election season. The candidates who are seeking immediate disclosure of withdrawal from Iraq on a date certain need to consider the result of such a retrenchment. The candidates who preach restraint in response to Hezbollah need to be questioned about the outcome of such appeasement. The candidates who want media circus trials for the Gitmo detainees should read the pronouncements of the Syrian and Iranian presidents. The candidates who think that being strong against the threat will only breed more terrorists should examine the math associated with removing this scum from the global gene pool.

It may be that tomorrow morning the main stream media will be accusing Karl Rove of masterminding this liquid bomb plot to prop up the administration’s foreign policy and war on terror. That may be hard to believe, but with the apparent willingness of the unwashed masses to swallow some other conspiracy theories it isn’t beyond the realm of possibilities.

Oh and by the way, Mike Wallace, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not your friend. Nor, is he the friend of any Jew. You are just one of his tools. It’s time to retire, Mike.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Is There Hope?

Suddenly I’m revitalized about the fall elections. Just when the world looked darkest, I’ve got new optimism about the ability of the apathetic, uninterested, apparently ignorant electorate to make decisions and learn about the process. This might be an indication that we can move the final date marking The Decline and Fall of the American Empire out another ten years or so. One can only hope.

The pundits are falling all over themselves trying to “explain” (that’s a euphemism for spin to their own purposes) the loss of Joe Lieberman in Connecticut’s Democratic Senate primary. You’d have to be living in dark cave to have missed the issue here. We’ve got the “I’m Not Them” party desperately trying to distance themselves from the votes which they cast to authorize our involvement in Iraq actively repudiating an incumbent senator and committee chairman who was their Vice-Presidential nominee six short years ago. He was reliable and acceptable enough then to be just a heart-beat away from the Presidency, but now he has been declared pariah.

This is going to be a great lesson for those who haven’t figured it out regarding the process of elections in the US. It isn’t just what happens in November. There are those primaries and caucuses and assemblies that lead up to getting a name on a ballot with an identifying (R) or (D) behind it. The problem that escapes most voters who proudly declare their independence from party politics is that mainstream voters don’t really have much say about what finally shows up on the November menu. It’s the party extremists that do the anointing in the primaries. And, that’s the cabal with which Lieberman has run afoul.

Once, it was right and proper and dutiful representation of his constituents to vote for use of military force to depose a totalitarian despot and counter a terrorist threat. Then, Joe voted his conscience—as did Hillary and Biden and Kerry (before he voted against it…) but, now the party of the left wants to rewrite that history. In the process, they are willing to throw a very influential Senator out with the trash and put a somewhat inexperienced millionaire in the seat because his strongest (and maybe only) coherent policy position is that he is against the war.

This behavior highlights the superficiality of “Senatorial collegiality” which is supposed to overcome mere policy disagreements for the greater good of the nation. It shows how very willing the incumbents are to stand on the shoulders of those who might be drowning to get a seat in the lifeboat for themselves. When Lieberman started to look shaky in his primary bid, there was almost a race among his Senatorial associates to abandon him for his out-of-step position—that’s the one of being consistent in his belief that the nation was and is threatened.

So, now we see Joe defeated in his party primary by Ned Lamont. Let’s ignore the anti-Semitic issues that were raised. And, don’t look at the dirty tricks like highjacking of the Lieberman Web site on election eve. Let’s just look at the outcome of the election and see if we can determine what to watch for in the coming weeks.

First, Lamont doesn’t have any experience to speak of in government. He’s not a heavy hitter on major policy discussions. His major credential is the anti-war appeal to the extreme left of his party. Wait for a candidate’s debate for Lieberman to take young Ned to the woodshed.

Second, let’s acknowledge that there is no conceivable possibility of the Republican nominee being elected in Connecticut. Dunno why, as the state is much more white-collar and educated than the mainstream demographic of the liberal party, but that is the way it is. Republican candidate need not apply. That leaves a lot of Republicans and conservative independents with no home in this storm.

Third, Lieberman is a household name. He’s got lots of recognition and a load of experience as well as Senatorial seniority which should play well in the general election. He’s got the signatures to get on the November ballot as an independent candidate. He’s got an experienced organization. And, there’s no doubt that he’s got fund-raising connections.

So, let’s predict the election. Like most states, the electorate is divided in approximate thirds: Reps, Dems and Unaffiliated (AKA independents.) Lieberman still has a lot of appeal among the Democrats. He drew a lot of votes in the primary loss. The Republicans, if they are smart enough to recognize the fact that their candidate won’t stand a chance, might go with the devil they know—who is very moderate—for the devil they don’t—who is unflinchingly liberal. Then, the mainstream and generally moderate unaffiliated voters will swing between the incumbent and the challenger. I’m betting that there are more of those independent voters who will choose experience and name recognition over extremism and arguably misguided pacifism. So, I’m willing to bet that the Republican Party will give a perfunctory nod to their nominee and then shift a lot of resources to support of Lieberman. The Democrat hard-core that voted for Lieberman in the primary will stick with him, and the larger portion of the unaffiliated voters will vote for Lieberman. Look for Joe to prevail in the fall.

And, in Atlanta, in yet another bright spot on the election horizon, we see Democrat voters repudiating Cynthia McKinney, proving that at some point even they can recognize sheer lunacy. Just in case anyone thought she might have been poorly portrayed in some of the coverage of her Washington antics, her “concession” speech proved she is undeniably affiliated with the tinfoil cap crowd.

Ya gotta love it!!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Sez Who?

It isn’t rocket science. We all know it…or at least we SHOULD know it. There is bias in the media. Reread that sentence. It isn’t an example of the rampant paranoia of the partisan right and left. It doesn’t say that there is some sort of leftist cabal that distorts the world to the detriment of the right wing reactionaries who would remake it in the image of their own biblical interpretations. It doesn’t say there is a vast right wing conspiracy devoted to making it hard for Bill Clinton’s wife to be unaware of his philandering in the hallway off the Oval Office. It simply says there is bias, not that the media is biased. The bias might simply be shading and coloring of the message based on the perspective of the observer. Or not.

Regardless, it is important to keep in mind the source of one’s information. If you know, or can intuit, the perspective of the reporter or the publication you can glean the fact from the fiction and maybe have a better knowledge of what goes on in the world. At least that would be the goal.

What’s the home page on your browser? C’mon now, if you’re reading blogs you can’t tell me you still have the default page that your ISP gave you when you subscribed. When you launch each morning, what page displays to greet your day? Please tell me it isn’t or or the ad-filled and inane home of fly-by-night-internet-R-us. And, no not AOL either. Is it? Whatever.

I’ve defaulted to a news source. It keeps me up to date on what is happening in the world and doesn’t overload me with a lot of useless People Magazine sort of trash. I really don’t care whether Brangelina is birthing another celebrity in Namibia or Madonna is or isn’t being really crucified in Rome. I want to know what’s shaking around the globe. Then, I can get on to email, Usenet and business for the day. Lately my home page has been But, I’m about to change.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love Google. I, like most of the civilized world, have become dependent upon the incredible capability of Google to quickly get me the answer to almost any question I can think of asking. I google regularly and incessantly. It’s great. I like Gmail as well. I don’t use it often, but when I’m on the road and frustrated by the ability to receive my email through the ubiquitous hotel Internet connection but unable to respond because their server doesn’t recognize me, Gmail fills the void. I’m fascinated by Google’s Froogle shopping service, but I usually know what I want and where to find it without much help. And, although Google Earth was neat at first glance, the slow update to the data and the lack of detail resolution makes it still pretty much of a novelty to me. My dissatisfaction is with Google’s news.

The page looks a lot like my previous home page, It’s got sections for national, international, business, tech, sports, etc. Big stories are prominent with links to original sources as well as a “freshness” indicator of how long ago the story appeared. There are usually a number of alternate sources to check how different media covered the event. Seems reasonable, but recently I’ve begun to note a bit of a problem, a bias, if you will.

I see items of interest and click to find out more. Then I began to notice that interpretations of US national politics are coming to me from New-Bloody-Zealand or Indonesia. I see explanations of minimum wage debates and immigration proposals in Congress interpreted by some small town Canadian daily. I’m directed to get impressions of international events from, heaven forbid, some unknown blogger’s page.

While the views are interesting and even insightful, I’ve got to believe that putting a down-under spin on what’s going on in an Atlanta, Georgia congressional race isn’t going to be much help in determining facts. It might be nice to know what the folks in Hamilton, Ontario Canada think about our minimum wage but frankly, Scarlett…you know the rest. And, if it comes to defense policy for the US, I’m not sure that the French are the place to get data to form my opinions. Most of all, while I think blogs have a spot on the media spectrum; I’ve got to carefully examine the source and the credentials before I buy in to the opinions.

How can you tell which end of the spectrum a voice is coming from? Your criteria might be different than mine, but recently the best indicator to me has been a sort of disjointed comment somewhere around paragraph four in the article which, with total irrelevance to the subject at hand, brings up Abu Ghraib, Gitmo or lack of WMD in Iraq. Find a gratuitous comment about failed policy of this administration, and you’ll know to slow down your reading and start questioning the premise of the entire item in the news.

Long ago, the first lesson in Journalism 101 was the basics of how to write a “lead” for a story. The essential theory was that the first sentence should include all of the “W”s—the who, what, when and where. It might include the why, but that would likely be more appropriate later in the story or even on the editorial page. A good lead could be something like, “Joe Bagadonutz was beaten and robbed last night just before midnight in front of his house on Elm Street by a gang of four thugs who escaped in a red pickup truck.” The rest of the column, if the reader continued, would include embellishment of those basic facts. We might find out who Joe was, where he was coming from, what was stolen, who saw the red truck and maybe get a quote or two from players in the scenario.

We don’t seem to get that any more. It’s more likely that the story will read like some sort of Bulwer-Litton package of over-the-top fiction. “It was a dark and stormy night when Joe came home from the factory where he worked for minimum wage trying to make a life for his four children and their sick mother. He’d put in a long day and was tired. When he arrived at his front door in a lower-middle class neighborhood, he heard the TVs of his neighbors, still up watching the Letterman Show….continued on page B-14”

You won’t know that Joe got robbed until after “the jump.” What’s “above the fold” in your paper today? Probably something heart-wrenching about an unwed mother on welfare or a high school football player who might or might not sign with a big college for next year. You’ll have to look hard to find out what’s going on in Iraq or Lebanon and when you do, it’s liable to be filled with innuendo and partisan commentary rather than the facts.

What’s it all mean? To me, it means a bit more work to separate facts from fiction and a bit more reluctance to assume that I know what I think I know. For most of America, it means that they probably are sucking up the Kool-Aid and getting their perspectives shaped by those with ulterior motives. Maybe I’ll switch my home page to

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Modern Education

In Colorado we had CSAP—the Colorado Student Assessment Program. In Texas they call it TAKS—Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. You probably have something similar where you live. It is a recognition that public schools seem to be failing to produce graduates who are capable of performing the tasks expected of literate adults, i.e. reading, writing and basic mathematics. So, we need to measure performance of our students, teachers and schools. The concept is pretty simple and one that I learned more than thirty years ago when I was involved in training pilots for the USAF.

Start by defining your objectives. Then establish a standard for measuring achievement of those objectives. It must be measurable and reasonable. Let’s say, for example, if dealing with addition for elementary school, that the student will be able to add columns of up to five numbers of four digit complexity with 95% accuracy. No room for quibbling about that. You either can or you can’t. Then develop teaching methodologies to enable students to reach that standard. Finally administer a test of the skill.

Taken to the essentials, that is what is being demanded in schools today. But, we have gripes about the process. There’s “too much pressure” on the little babies. Teachers “must teach the test.” And, what about meeting the little darlings’ needs for self esteem? Teachers don’t want to do the basic job of teaching to meet a standard of performance. Parents don’t want the responsibilities of over-seeing their children’s education. Students simply would rather goof off than study. There is no responsibility and no accountability.

Want an example of this? Read this heart-warming tale from a respected (sic) educator in Texas published in this morning’s Dallas Fishwrap:

But Do You Feel Good About Yourself?

Students were supposed to be learning Texas history. That would have some relationship to facts such as dates, names, places and at a slightly higher educational level, to causes and effects. Seems like a reasonable educational goal. Objective testing is possible. And, wow—get this, a teacher and a student could be held accountable.

But what does this “educator” do? Why she says, “just write down whatever you’ve learned.” Does it have to be fact? Well, she doesn’t mention that. Could it be fiction, fallacy, fairy-tale or the John Wayne interpretation of events at the Alamo? Well, probably yes!

Then she gives everyone an “A” along with some advice. If a male teacher were to write on a history assignment, "Suzie, I like how you are softening your makeup ... Have you ever tried ... ?" it wouldn’t be more than 24 hours before the sexual harassment charges would be filed and the male teacher suspended. And, what does Suzie’s makeup and David’s foul mouth have to do with Jim Bowie and Sam Houston and William Travis?

When the test came, the students were apparently poorly prepared, but never fear. The grades for everyone would be the “A” given for the feel-good session. It only makes one wonder how this “professional educator” was dealing with math and English classes and their somewhat less flexible standards of performance in the real world.

How about these finishing remarks for insight into modern education:

“This led to a discussion about how testing ruined a good class unless you were as smart as the kids who liked to study. The students talked about how testing could make someone feel stupid and about the fear of failure. They only quieted when I told them they had all made A's on the more personal test the week before.”

Sorry, Honey, but life is subject to failure. The concept that class was ruined unless you were “as smart as the kids who liked to study” is the core of your philosophy of failure. Did you ever consider teaching kids that success takes hard work? Or that you aren’t smart because you like to study, but you study because you would like to get smart? Or that class is more fun and not “ruined” if you prepare and do the work? Learning can and should be fun—but it takes an effort and isn’t free.

“I am appalled at President George Bush's plans for No Child Left Behind, the enormous emphasis on testing in our public schools and the pressure placed on teachers to prepare students for standardized testing. And the teachers must make sure they do not help a student, or there will be charges of cheating against the teacher.”

Pressure to prepare students is exactly what education is about! Helping the students is providing them meaningful lessons, exercising their skills, demanding their performance, and instilling classroom discipline. She certainly knows that “helping” students is one thing and it isn’t cheating. She also should have a darn good idea what cheating means. But, maybe not.

“Teach them life and how they might use that class in years to come. I also believe that all students should pass to the next grade. That is leaving no child behind.”

Can you possibly not feel the slightest gag reflex when reading that? Students should most assuredly not pass to the next grade if they cannot do the required work at the current grade. When these pass-through students eventually complete their time in schools and are not left behind by her standards they will enter the work force unable to compete and ill-prepared to face the challenges of life. So, they will breed, and gripe, and become the next generation of welfare-sucking dependents upon the body politic. But, at least they feel good about themselves…and don’t you just love Suzie’s new look?