28 March 2007

After-School Indoctrination

Words really do matter. Even the seemingly smallest, most insignificant words matter. They can sway an argument, alter perception, and muddle clarity.

At the end of February, a story came out about a social engineering experiment conducted at an after-school program in Seattle where the teachers, in their own words, wanted to expose their students to “the inequities of private ownership.” Again, in their own words, “Our intention was to promote a contrasting set of values: collectivity, collaboration, resource-sharing, and full democratic participation.” The article (linked above) then goes on to explore the seemingly obvious socialist indoctrination here. The full account from the teachers, while it’s still up, can be read here. It’s an interesting read.

What I find interesting is the separation in the two comments between private ownership and full democratic participation. In my mind, these two concepts are linked, not only historically but also ideologically. Democratic participation and full citizenship was once limited to landed males only, but has since in many societies grown to include a broad spectrum of people within a nation. In fact, democratic participation is a well-guarded tenet of most capitalistic (and indeed socialistic) states today. Expansion of capitalism and democratic participation for the masses seem to go hand-in-hand. So why then is full democratic participation linked to ideas like collectivity, collaboration and resource-sharing for these teachers?

I believe it is a cover for the fact that, in addition to these teachers forcing their students accept their communist beliefs, they needed to tag a socially acceptable term onto their list so that their program is more likely to be accepted. Notice that the democratic comment occurs last in the list. This is done so that it covers all of the previous aspects. Now, granted, collaboration and resource-sharing are not necessarily bad things to teach. But the backdrop of collectivism belies the intention here.

I would argue that it is important to teach kids about equality, sharing and fair play. However, by creating an artificially egalitarian experience for the kids, the teachers are doing them a disservice just to push their social agenda. It is equally important to teach kids about power, where it comes from, how to use it, and how it can be both constructive and destructive.

Additionally, their social agenda, which amounts to idealistic communism (“All structures are public structures.”) runs contrary to the basic premise of America. Oddly enough, I found the best way of verbalizing this when I moved to Australia. The Aussies call it having a fair go. That’s what all Americans, indeed all people, deserve – a fair chance at making themselves, and thus their community, better. I would argue that this does not come about from being part of the hive, part of the collective, but rather through understanding that things are unequal in the world and that, as an individual, I must work to make myself a better person (and in doing so, am inspired by those doing the same as well as inspiring others). In this way, the whole of society rises. Collectivity, being part of the hive, necessarily lowers norms to the lowest common denominator, or lower.

And finally, I’d like to note that the after school program where this experiment was conducted was a place where children would come for about two hours a night. I wonder if the parents had full knowledge about the indoctrination of their children.

27 March 2007

What's in a Name?

Yesterday at Guantanamo, a person pled guilty to knowingly giving aid to al-Qaeda. That person’s name is Abu Muslim al-Austraili, or Mohammed Dawood.

But never mind what al-Austraili-Mohammad-Dawwod has done. Some would have us believe that this man, forever David Hicks in their eyes, is the victim of this tragic tale. And he will remain David Hicks forever and ever. Nothing he could have done, or might do, or might want to do will ever cause some to believe that he should loose any of his freedoms, any of his endless, breathlessly defended “rights” or his Australian citizenship. That he will get to serve his sentence in an Australian jail is (from an American point of view) a bit of a blessing, as the calls for his release will soon be voiced only at the Australian government – though this is a very small consolation, as Australia has been the staunchest of allies. That he is still considered by many as an Australian citizen is a bit surprising given the charge he plead guilty to.

It’s odd, that last part, from an American point of view. Australians, comparatively, are a little stingy with giving citizenship. Folks actually have to work for it, it seems, and illegals are detained and deported. In America, citizenship or pseudo-citizenship is granted, seemingly without question, to just about anyone who occupies space in America. The idea of actually deporting people is portrayed as barbaric (those people came here for a reason, after all, so they should be allowed to stay).

At some point, though, citizenship will have to be shown to mean something which can be granted, experienced, touched, and if circumstances necessitate, revoked. At some point, folks like the man formerly known as David Hicks will have to be recognized as they choose to be, like Mohammad Dawood – he changed his name for a reason, after all – and they should also be thought of as the criminals they are, not as victims.

Correction (made 29 March 07) - I heard on the news tonight (in Australia) that Mr. Dawood/Hicks is no longer a Muslim. No reason was given for his un-conversion, but apparently that's why he wants to be referred to by his given name, Hicks.

25 March 2007

One Amazing Earmark

The Politico website reports that the "U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Health, and Iraq Accountability Act” in the house has a good portion of pork in it. For the $96 billion of troop funding there's an additional $28 billion for earmarked spending - pork. So 22.58% of the total $124 billion in the bill goes to projects which have little or (more often) nothing to do with the war.

What is most offensive is that, according to the article, "$165,200 to the widow of Rep. Charles Norwood (R-Ga.), a promoter of patients’ rights legislation who died of cancer and lung disease in February, three months after he was reelected." One person, $165,200. There's lots of other, more expensive pork in this bill (the article gives their top 10), but I find this single payment the most offensive.

I'm not trying to belittle any one's death or the grief felt by the family. But does it make any sense for US taxpayers to give what looks like a life insurance payment to this one person? How does this qualify as even remotely thoughtful spending by the federal government? How many worker's income taxes for 2006 will go to pay this one person? And, if taxpayers are meant to pay this, what is the criteria for equal treatment when one of their loved ones dies?

24 March 2007

Don't Buy What They're Selling

Why make a documentary? To get a story out to every day people, one which they probably wouldn’t have seen another way, or from a different point of view. Or to get down to the roots of something. Or, perhaps, to simply persuade people to take a point of view, to believe something. Documentaries (using the term very loosely) which have recently received much press (and adulation) have mainly had this motivation.

Michael Moore had a lot of attention pointed his way from his movies. Al Gore has created a whole industry, not to mention his messianic celebrity, from his flick about “global warming”.

Now comes news that Mark Cuban is planning on bankrolling a movie version of the web-based conspiracy theory “Loose Change” (which I commented on previously here). Charlie Sheen is rumored to play the role of narrator. I still won’t, and never will, watch this trash. It would be a pointless waste of my mental energy.

What worries me is that, given the response to Gore’s movie, the Cuban adventure may find an audience of true believers. And I don’t want to minimize the effect of the Gore movie. Governments will quite probably shift policy based in part of the frenzy created by his movie. While there can be a real debate and movement on methods to save energy, and it’s easily arguable that humans could smartly use less energy, Gore’s assertion that humans are killing the planet has little to do with either. It is grandstanding to create a movement. The facts do not have to stand up to serious scrutiny, the man doesn’t have to live as he preaches; nothing matters except the celebrity, the mass and the movement…towards?

So what great conspiracy would Cuban show the public? How many more true believers could be create through his movie? I heard a clip from Bill O’Reily’s radio show today (not sure on the recording date) where Cuban said something like he was making this movie so that people could examine a dissenting point of view. That’s trash. This movie project is rank propaganda. To clothe it in the language of free speech and intellectual debate is to put a paper-towel core on an ass and call it a unicorn. To put someone like Sheen out as the spokesman is an attempt to lend gilded legitimacy to the snake-oil being sold.

Don’t buy it. There is a simple truth here: 19 men flew four jets into various targets with the goal of splintering our nation. In some corners of the US, I’d say they’d done a decent job, but there’s a long way to go. We’d best not beat ourselves…our enemies are counting on it.

18 March 2007

Disseminating Atrocities

While reading The Lesser Evil by Michael Ignatieff this morning, I came across an interesting passage.

“Since a state will always be too strong for a cell of individuals to defeat in open battle, it must [be provoked into] defeat[ing] itself. If terrorists can provoke the state into atrocity, this will begin to erode the willingness of a democratic public to continue the fight. Democracies may have the stomach for the occasional atrocity, but over the long term a policy of atrocity is unsustainable.”
I found this passage interesting not because of its obvious truth but for how atrocities, and the perception thereof, are created, expanded and perpetuated by political activists and the media.

A short list of atrocities reported by political activists and the media might include (but certainly not be limited to):
- the Bush administration’s use of WMDs as a pretext to invade Iraq,
- all subsequent “lies” told by the same,
- prisoner mistreatment at Abu Ghriab,
- prisoner mistreatment at Guantanamo,
- civilian death estimates since the invasion of Iraq, and
- friendly-fire incidents during and after the ground offensive in Iraq,

These examples represent a continuous effort to sensationalize news reports and politicize anything that happens on the battlefield and behind it. With little regard to the tactics, politics and training of those the US is fighting against, those who would work against the Bush administration take any opportunity to lay blame at the door of the US. They do so, in my opinion, for personal, popular or political gain and not for the purported reason of “speaking truth to power.”

What these continuous attacks against the US from within may eventually do, though, is persuade the public at large to give up the fight against terrorists. If it is a given that terrorists will always be unable to overthrow a strong, democratic state without aid of circumstance, I have to wonder if, in the long term, domestic propaganda supporting – or at least apologetic of – terrorists and their acts and motives and hyper-critical of most (if not all) US policies which fight terrorists may not prove to be the fulcrum which tips the fight.

Here’s an interesting “what if” scenario: what if, instead of concentrating almost solely on the flaws and imperfections of US policy, the media focused more on deconstructing terrorist propaganda, motivations, strategy and goals? What would they lose by focusing attention on enemies outside of the state instead of those within – real or perceived?

Without opening the can of “media bias” worms, which can be argued endlessly, I would submit that to some extent, the media would give up safety. As has already been seen on several occasions, terrorists have no compunction about killing any Westerner (or Easterner, or Middle Easterner for that matter). Therefore, being severely critical of terrorists on a continual basis may be harmful to one’s health. However, hyper-criticality of a Western government carries almost no personal danger. On the contrary, it is celebrated – and therefore the easier road.

Now, I don’t want to be accused of roundly calling the media cowards. I write this from the safety of my dinner table overlooking a nice park…I have no place to accuse cowardice here. However, I do think that there are correct and incorrect ways to focus dissent and media attention. It would do the US, the West, and all who live within it – politicians, media, academics…everyone – to refocus and re-evaluate. Instead of endlessly dissecting the motives and machinations of our political adversaries, we ought to evaluate those of our external adversaries. And, just as import, we should scrutinize ourselves lest we aid the very forces who cannot bring us down without our help.

15 March 2007

Sen. Cornyn on NCLB

As No Child Left Behind comes up for renewal, it was good to read a column by Texas Senator Cornyn calling for reforms within the bill. Surprisingly for someone in Washington, Cornyn’s drive to change NCLB would give more discretion to states as far as how federal funding is spent and remove layers of bureaucratic red tape at the federal level.

It is, in my opinion, a move in the right direction. States are at least one level closer to the issues affecting local classroom and can therefore recognize and understand local circumstances better than federal agencies. Educational challenges in Texas are not the same as those in, say, North Dakota. Allowing state legislatures and school boards deal with state and local problems only makes sense.

If the federal government wants to tie some sort of condition to federal funding (which to my understanding, NCLB already does), that’s perfectly understandable. However, dictating to states how they spend federal funding is a misguided effort in micromanagement. It would be more appropriate for feds to limit their intrusiveness to ensuring that funds spent to meet some clearly states goal.

If Cornyn’s initiative passes then it will move more control of education closer to where it belongs – at the local level. I only wish that he would not have attached a cheesy acronym to the bill, which is called Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (A-PLUS).

13 March 2007

A Longer School Day?

Originally posted on American Thinker - 13 March 2007.

A Longer School Day?
By Bob Myer

In some places in the US, as well as in the UK, schools are either considering or experimenting with extending school hours. In Massachusetts, the extended school day is suggested as a possible remedy for schools who fail to meet No Child Left Behind benchmarks. In the UK, extended school hours may remedy a lack of quality childcare, thus allowing parents to work longer hours without worrying where their children are.

But one has to look to the other side of the scale to see what is potentially being replaced by longer school hours. What purpose is being served by extending school hours to eight or ten hours a day? What roles are shifted between teachers and parents, between homes and schools?

There is a potential to use extended school days as a holding pen for kids in which teachers become baby sitters instead of educators. Creating meaningful, expanded and extended learning opportunities takes a lot of time, effort and care. Without the time and energy to prepare these lessons for students, teachers will likely take the route of least effort. The result might well be an extended recess period at the end of the day with little learning, lots of free time...and lots of opportunity for mischief. Free time in a place of learning is a recipe for disaster.

However, legislatively mandating how extended days are utilized would create just as many problems. By attempting to use extended days to improve test scores, governments may very well practice test students out of learning all together. Students already spend an inordinate amount of time practicing, taking and reviewing federally, state, and locally mandated standardized tests. Any person who asks his or her local high school just how many class periods this takes will probably be shocked. Imagine tossing an extra two or three hours of test preparation a day on top of that. Learning how to test is mind-numbingly boring for students and teachers. It tends to stifle creativity and focuses on number-based outcomes - usually measured in school and district passing percentage.

Perhaps to create a structure of useful learning activities for an extended school day it would be better to look at what is being replaced and what roles are shifted from the home to the school during an extended day. One could argue that open time to talk about the day's events around the dinner table (or the television or the computer, as the case may be) is missing. For that matter, a school day which ends at, say, 6pm may need a dinner around a table! Would teachers be required to play the role of mediator and thought-provoker around the extended school "dinner table"? Would it be reasonable to expect teachers to help students get a grasp of the world around them beyond what already takes place in the current school day?

Would parents, consequently, want to vet their teacher's views and methods more in an extended school environment, given that teachers may very well spend more time with their kids than they do? How would this be accomplished in the current public school system?

And, finally, who's to say that teachers would be willing to spend up to ten hours a day at school, caring for a surrogate family of students? Despite some mythical belief that teachers actually live underneath the stairwells of their schools, teachers actually do have families, friends and activities outside of the school hallways. How would they maintain their own life-work balance?

What the extended school day suggests is that there is not a "one size fits all" answer to publicly funded primary and secondary education. This, in turn, creates an issue which is, to say the least, very problematic. Parents who opt into, or depending on state legislation are forced into, this system would demand school choice, and rightly so. If a parent is going to put an ever increasing amount of trust and responsibility into an educational facility, it is only right that they would be able to choose that facility. This might be accomplished through open enrollment within a school district, school vouchers or through an interconnected system of charter schools. In an open market where educational dollars traveled with students, the ability to choose schools would allow parents to find options which fit their family's lives, beliefs and schedules. The challenge would then be for schools to evolve into what their communities needed them to be.

And that's the trick here. The system must become more open, more responsive to the local community. While schools can be mandated to extend their days and teachers can be paid more money, until there is either a general consensus on curricular particulars throughout public education or open choice of and competition between schools, more hours will not equate to better educated children.

05 March 2007

Easy Being Green?

It’s easy being “green” as long as everyone ignores it. In response to the recent revelation of Al Gore’s energy consumption (link), a story has resurfaced reviewing just how environmentally friendly G.W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford was (and is - link). Crazy thing is that G.W. looks good in comparison. How did that happen?

Just a guess, but it probably has something to do with Bush’s attitude toward doing the right thing, even if it costs more. Now, I’m not defending everything that Bush has done during the course of his presidency by saying this, but there is a lot to be said for doing what makes sense on many levels, not just what is economically sound. I would bet that Bush could have saved a ton of money by not thinking environmentally with regards to his ranch house, and that’s the point.

And unlike Gore, who will dodge living his message as long as he can afford to buy carbon offset credits (or whatever he chooses to sell them as…yep, sell them, not just buy them), it appears that Bush took this “green” route without public prodding, at least as far as I’ve seen. Also unlike Gore, who can seemingly do no wrong when pushing the dogma of global warming, I’ll bet that Bush doesn’t get a lot of positive press about this revelation. Seeing as the story has been out there since 2002 and is only now being recycled, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet.

03 March 2007

The Secular Religion of Global Warming and Indulgences

On the American Thinker website, there’s an interesting argument made that the upper-class can avoid the effects of action taken to curb global warming because of their wealth. Mr. Lifson is of the opinion that comparing carbon offset fees is more on par with commutation fees during the Civil War. I would argue, however, that indulgences sold by the Papacy are a better analogy, given the religious overtone of global warming fanatics.

Global warming (or climate change) as a secular religion is problematic because it places man in multiple positions simultaneously. As it is a secular religion, man (or a man) must assume the place of god; man must be the highest authority. As man is flawed, this clearly creates problems. The three roles which must be assumed (in my not-so-lovely terms) are man-as-man, man-as-god-forgiver, and man-as-god-restorer.

The simplest sense of the three is man-as-man. In this capacity, man is capable of both destroying and saving the planet, which is the free will equivalent of man saving his own soul by choosing a righteous life. Man is not the redeemer in this role, nor can he forgive himself for his failings. This is the proper role for man – to do the best that he can, given his limited knowledge.

Where it gets tricky is where secularism replaces god with the idea of man-as-god. In the role of forgiver, man may only to look to himself for redemption. However, since (in the real world) man is flawed, he can only provide a flawed redemption. That money is involved is no surprise, whether it comes in the guise of indulgences or carbon-offsets. Greed is one of the more motivating factors in society, which is not always a bad thing. But when man attempts to absolve himself through capital, his absolution is a fa├žade at best.

Greed also plays into man when he attempts to, in this context, become the “fixer” or “restorer” of such immense problems. Truly finding a solution to a problem such as global warming would result in the clergy losing jobs, income and authority. To postpone this result for an indeterminable amount of time, the clergy insists that they are the sole source for avoiding the apocalypse – through carbon offsets. It is an attempt to cage common folks into a never-ending cycle of pollute-pay-pollute. It is a fake solution, as those with money will simply go through the cycle with considerably more ease than the commoner.

In this way, carbon offsetting fulfills the required functions of man-as-god, both forgiver and fixer, without actually addressing the problem. We may still all, figuratively speaking, go to hell still, but while living, those who can appease the church of global warming will feel good about the ride. Folks who can’t will be made to fear their own damnation…it’s all their fault, after all.

01 March 2007

March Morning

It's the morning of the second of March. Just a few random thoughts to start the month off.

Here in Australia on Sunday, a program called "Cool Aid" will ask folks to test their carbon footprint and, hopefully, give some good pointers on how to consume less energy. I can't wait for it to come on only because then I won't have to watch the promo spots, which are wildly alarmist. "We're killing the planet," one of them claims. I'm all for less energy consumption, if for no other reason than to lower dependence on other no-so-friendly governments. The Chicken Little attitude of the global warming church is starting to tire me. And, no, I don't think that the Aussies get the "Cool Aid" reference. As an American, it makes me laugh inside every time I see it.

John McCain announced that he's running for president. Surprise. He made the announcement on Letterman. Whoopie. I really hope he doesn't win the Republican nomination.

Gore may run as well. Yeah. He could use another house to heat and cool. $20k a year on his home(s) isn't enough. Green?

It's been raining all week here in Newcastle, and it looks like more rain next week. Here's to the drought ending and more prosperity coming to those who work the land here.

The NHL trade deadline has come and gone, and my beloved Blackhawks didn't make a big move. They didn't even make a move I was hoping for. When it's the 'Hawks, though, there's always next year. And next year.

So here's to March. Start of a wet season in Australia? Beginning of the end of a long season in Chicago? Middle of a mad season in politics? Certainly no Kool-Aid for me, thanks.