Saturday, November 30, 2002
If the subject is terrorism--Israeli kids being blown to pieces on their way to school, Americans being killed because they went to work--then the "progressives" lecture us on the importance of seeing shades of gray, avoiding black-and-white thinking and most especially avoiding anger.
If the subject is energy--a topic that inherently involves complex matters of technology and economics--then many of these same "progressives" insist on seeing things in black-and-white terms, accusing their opponents of conscious evil, and refusing to admit that replacing the energy infrastructure of a nation may be a non-trivial and non-instantaneous affair.
Can anyone explain this interesting disconnect?
Thursday, November 28, 2002
In an article of extraordinary obtuseness, NYT writer Lisa Gurnsey takes on the blogosphere from a gender (what else?) perspective. After deciding to start a weblog, and looking around for other blogs, she asked "Where were the women?" She suggests that the answer may lie in "knotty issues like the power of celebrity, the male tilt of the sexual sereotypes (women keeping diaries, men droning on about politics) and the preciousness of time..." After discovering that there are indeed many female bloggers, she raises her consciousness one-half level. Now, she says that female bloggers exist but have been relatively invisible because mainstream media has focused on the "predominantly male group of bloggers who write about terrorism and Iraq.." Women, she says, want to talk about their personal lives, men are focused on issues.
Well, let's see. We have Kimberly and Joanne, and their excellent weblogs focused on education; also the female owner of Tightly Wound. We have Megan, who is interested primarily (though not exclusively) in economics. There's Rachel, who writes often about terrorism, Iraq, and even history, as well as about her own experiences as a student. Michelle and Meryl write passionately about terrorism and about Israel: yes, they do talk about personal matters as well. Susanna covers media and terrorism. And let's not forget Professor Erin O'Connor, with her wonderful blogs focused on education and cultural issues. I could go on and on. Probably 60% of the blogs I read are female-written, and I'm reading them because of issue-oriented content.
Gurnsey does seem to eventually catch a glimpse of what is really happening, quoting a blogger who says "we're meeting in the middle," with men putting more of their hearts into their weblogs and women talking more about the issues. But overall, the thrust of her article is both stereotype-driven and gender-centric. "..whenever I find a woman's blog, I would find links to another handful, which led to another dozen, and so on." Who follows blog links this way? I click on things that look like they might be interesting; I don't worry about the gender of who wrote them. I think the same is true of most people
And what's this about the keeping of diaries being a female thing? Hasn't she ever heard of Samuel Pepys?
"Knotty and complex"...everything is knotty and complex if you go out of your way to make it so.
Tuesday, November 26, 2002
THE DESCENT INTO MADNESS
ITEM ONE: Open anti-Semitism is apparently becoming common in Holland. Teachers are afraid to give lessons on the Holocaust and the hatred of Jews, because half the class will walk out, according to Jan van Kooten (head of education at the Anne Frank foundation.) "Another example: pupils from Monnickendam were (not) allowed by their parents to visit the Jewish Historical Museum, because they did not want their children to learn about Jewish culture, 'because Jews are bad.'" (From the Dutch daily Parool via Dilacerator and Instapundit.)
This is not just traditional European anti-Semitism. It is hard to imagine such things occurring in Holland, or indeed anywhere in Europe, during, say, the early 1960s. Rather, this is a new anti-Semitism instigated by the intemperate denunciations of Israel and of "Zionism," originating with the educated elites and largely within the academy. This new anti-Semitism is fanning the embers of what remains of the traditional prejudice, as well as setting new fires throughout the political landscape. The U.S. is not immune: hysterical denunciations of Israel and of "Zionism" have become common on American campuses...although they have not spread throughout the population to the degree that they apparently have in Holland.
ITEM TWO: Erin O'Connor quotes at length a communication she received from a student. A few excerpts: "..I'm not learning anything about history and philsophy..Sure I go to the appropriately-titled classes: History, Philosophy...I'm a straight-A student. Honor roll material...But in spite of all this, I'm not learning. I haven't actually been assigned Plato's Republic. Or Herodotus. Or the Gulag Archipelago. On, no. But I can tell you this: Islam is more inclusive than Christianity, and a lot easier on women to boot. I know it sounds crazy. But my Religion teacher says so, and he has some really snazzy theories to back that assertion up."
There's much more. "The bottom line is that no matter what class I take, the lesson is nearly always the same: all of my asumptions are untrue and doubly so because I'm infected with the sickness of lousy social conditioning...Instead of being given an actual body of useful knowledge, reinforced by a demanding curriculum of scholarly training and research, all I'm being offered is an attitude, a stance, a sociopolitical posture...We strip-mine the texts for every pertinent word or symbol or turn of phrase, we plug it into the Academic Theory of the Week Machine, and voila! We have our minds blown. Then, we regurgitate the conclusion on the test, all the while making pretend that these were our ideas all along, and that we are engaging in some kind of critical thinking exercise...This is a travesty. There is not another student in that entire class with the inclination or the information to challenge the lecture content and see it for what it is. The other students I talk to know there's something missing, something simply wrong, but they can't quite put their fingers on it..." Read the whole thing.
I couple these two items together because I believe that there is a strong relationship between them. As the student so cogently observed, much of humanities education has degenerated into cant, jargon, and proof by assertion rather than by logic. For those who are subjected to this process during their formative years, it becomes difficult to reason clearly. At least in the U.S., it is not farmers and factory workers who are falling prey to the madness of today's "progressives"--including the new anti-Semitism--it is college graduates, and often those with graduate degrees. In Europe, with the greater dominance of elites, the situation is more acute, with results such as those now being seen in Holland.
In one of Erich Maria Remarque's books, a character says (and I am quoting from memory): "It was their education. It had made them stupid."
Monday, November 25, 2002
"The essays that the graduating BAs would submit with their applications were often brilliant. After five or six years of PhD work, the same people would write incomprehensible crap. Where did they learn it? They learned it from us." This is how Frederick Crews, Emeritus professor of English at Berkeley, describes the state of graduate programs in his field.
In other educational news, a recent survey by the National Geographic Society showed an alarming level of geographical ignorance in Americans of ages 18-24. Only 30% of those surveyed could find New Jersey on a map, and only 13% and 17% could find Iraq and Afghanistan, respectively. Indeed, 29% could not find the Pacific Ocean on a map! Some indication of the reason for these results appears at Joanne Jacobs' site. According to a caller to a talk show, "Whether or not someone can find a country on a map or not has nothing to do with whether or not he is good in geography." The caller identified himself as a geography teacher.
Thursday, November 21, 2002
The Rise of Political Violence and Intimidation in America
"This may have been advertised as an anti-war rally,” said Suzanne Davidson, “but I could hear in the distance, as I looked at the hate-filled faces, military boots marching on broken glass."
Davidson is a leader of a small group in LA that had been meeting regularly to show public support of Israel. Prior to the group’s usual rally on October 6, she learned that an “anti-war” group was planning a major demonstration in the same area. Should she cancel the pro-Israel demonstration? No, she decided…after all, what could be feared from a “peace” rally?
But from the very beginning, Davidson says, members of the “anti-war” demonstration behaved in a hostile and intimidating manner toward the smaller pro-Israel group, beginning with curses and a demand to "F___ off." This escalated to the cry "You are Zionist Nazi pigs." 1500 "anti-war" demonstrators marched past the 25 members of the pro-Israel group, some of them shouting "shame on you," along with assorted name-calling. "I shudder to think what would have happened had the police not been there," wrote Davidson.
As shameful as this event was, similar behavior--and much worse--has become increasingly common. At Concordia College (Toronto), Benhamin Netanyahu was prevented from speaking by a riot of Palestinian students and their supporters. Thomas Hecht, a Holocaust survivor, was pushed against a wall, spat on, and reportedly kicked in the groin. A woman said that during the same incident, attackers "aimed their punches at my breasts." Two weeks later, at the same college, a Jewish student was beaten bloody by an Arab student.
At Berkeley, someone thre a cinder block through the glass door at the Hillel (Jewish) center, and wrote "F___ Jews" on the wall. At San Francisco State University, a rally of Jewish students and other was disrupted by pro-Palestinian students screaming "Go back to Russia," and "We will kill you." Some students were reportedly shoved against the wall, and the Jewish group had to be escorted out by police. Laurie Zoloth, a campus Jewish leader, summed up the campus situation in these words: "This is the Weimar republic with Brownshirts it cannot control."
Just a few days ago, blogger Stefan Sharkansky attended Ehud Barak’s speech at UC Berkeley. He brought a camera with him. Demonstrators were there, some of whom attempted to disrupt Barak’s speech. One of them seized Sharkansky’s camera and destroyed it. (Happily, the assailant was arrested.)
But the increase in political violence is not limited to the campuses, and is not limited to issues involving Jews. In Colorado, a car belonging to Rita Moreno (a leader of the initiative to scrap bilingual education) was torched. There is no proof that the fire-bombing was political…but Moreno says that there have been other forms of harassment against supporters of this initiative, including dumping of garbage in their yards and 3 AM phone calls.
Suzanne Davidson's words about "hate-filled faces" and "military boots marching on broken glass" are very apt, as are Laurie Zoloth's words about Brownshirts and the Weimar Republic. Most Americans think of Naziism in its final state, in control of the machinery of the German government along with its police and military forces. But Naziism did not start this way. It started as a group of street rowdies, committing illegal violence to intimidate political opponents. Without such intimidation, it is unlikely that the Nazis would ever have been able to obtain control of the German government.
The rise of political violence is a serious threat to American democracy. Although not limited to the college campuses, the current wave of violence and intimidation has largely originated there. University presidents have often allowed leftist and "progressive" groups to take clearly illegal actions, such as stealing and destroying opposition newspapers, and to get away with it...indeed, they have sometimes acted as if their campuses were extraterritorial jurisdictions, in which the laws of the United States did not apply. And for years, campus "postmodern" philosphers have been arguing that speech is merely another form of action, and that free speech needs to be restricted in the service of "higher" goals. Once this philosophical position is accepted, then the use of actual violence to suppress differing viewpoints is arguably not very far away.
Wednesday, November 20, 2002
SELF-ESTEEM -- KEY TO WORLD PEACE?
Idiotarianism is evidently not a new invention; it has been around for a long time. In the 1930s, the British statesman Lord Lothian expresssed the opinion that Germany could not be expected to accept armament limitations without first being permitted to re-arm. His thought process is summarized in the book The Appeasers: ""If Germany were allowed to rearm, this would give her an "equality" that would enable her to sit without any sense of weakness or inferiority at the Disarmament Conference." (Book is by Martin Gilbert and Richard Gott.) Clearly Lord Lothian, were he around today, would be eligible for a stellar career in education, as well as in politics. (It should be noted in fairness that such opinions were not his alone, but were fairly common among the upper classes and the leading newspaperes.)
For more on 1930s appeasement and its relationship to today's issues, read Baghdad on the Rhine on this weblog.
Tuesday, November 19, 2002
SUPERHEATED 'STEEM SWEEPSTAKES
I know you've got 'em...send 'em in. PhotonCourier is looking for the silliest, most ridiculous self-esteem programs in existence. Everyone is eligible...education, social work, government, corporations, even the military (isn't the "Obstacle Course" now the "Confidence Course?") All countries are eligible, too. Read Superheated 'Steem and Superheated 'Steem II, and see if you can top these. Extra points if the program is not just useless, but positively harmful.
Send your entries to email@example.com.
Monday, November 18, 2002
SUPERHEATED 'STEEM II
Is The U.S. Falling Behind?
Yes, I'm afraid it's true. In the quest for the most ridiculous self-esteem program, the U.S. is falling behind our British cousins. A British "education specialist" offers a set of techniques to diagnose whether children as young as three years are suffering from a self-esteem shortage. Some of the questions to be asked are: "Does this child have a group they go around with? Does this child like to look nice? or does this child take care to select the latest trends?" When low self-esteem is diagnosed, techniques for raising it are suggested..for example, have the other children chant "You are Polly and you are pretty." Joanne Jacobs, who evidently has actual experience with real children, has suggested how this might work out in real life. (Lots of possibilities: "You are Polly and you are piggy," "You are Polly and you are pathetic" are two that come to mind in addition to the one Joanne suggests.)
I think this program clearly puts Britain in the lead in the Superheated 'Steem Sweepstakes...for now. But I'm confident that American educators, social workers, and psychologists are busily working on something that will help us regain our lead. Send in your suggestions.
Sunday, November 17, 2002
A few days ago, I reported that historical ignorance is so bad that 15% of American high school students thought that Germany and the U.S. were allies during WWII. Dean Esmay has done some sleuthing, and has found that the situation is even worse than I thought...much worse. Bruce Hunter, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, reports that fifty-two percent of high school seniors thought that at least one of the Axis powers--Germany, Japan, Italy--was a U.S. ally during that war. (Check out Dean's web site here.)
Statistics like this indicate that the educational establishment has been guilty of gross negligence on a colossal scale. And if you look at any other academic field (in addition to history), I feel confident that the results would be equally grim.
Friday, November 15, 2002
AIRLINE SECURITY AND INDUSTRIAL MOBILIZATION
NBC News just reported that the deadline for screening of all checked baggage will not be met, probably for another *year*. The reason given was that "not enough scanners are available," or words to that effect.
This matter seems to always be discussed as if scanners were redwood trees, which grow at a fixed rate and cannot be hurried. As I wrote earlier, there seems to be no coordinated program to bring the full weight of America's industrial base to bear on this problem. During WWII, automobile plants were rapidly converted to tank plants and aircraft plants. People who had never been in a factory in their lives were put to work making high-precision bombsights. Why can't we do the same with scanner production?
President Bush should appoint a coordinator of industrial mobilization. He should personally call a retired executive of the stature of Jack Welch and ask him to take the job. This executive, in turn, should call the CEO's of the companies with relevant expertise and get them going flat-out on this issue--and the many others which are certain to arise.
Tuesday, November 12, 2002
POLITICAL CORRECTNESS AND PEARL HARBOR
December 7 is Pearl Harbor day and in San Pedro, California, a commemorative showing of the film "Tora, Tora, Tora" was planned. Pearl Harbor survivors were invited, ushers were to wear WWII uniforms, and a recently-restored searchlight was to be placed outside the theater. The group organizing the event intended to hold it at the historic Warner Grand, which is operated by the city.
But the event won't be happening, at least in that venue. “I wanted to be very sensitive to the Japanese-American community,” said LA city councilwoman Janice Hahn. “Dec. 7 is a tough day, especially for the second and third generations of Japanese-Americans. Why do we want to do something that makes it more difficult?” (As quoted in the local newspaper Daily Breeze.) The individual who manages the theater says there was another event booked for that data; however, volunteers who were organizing the film say that the date was shown as "open" on the web site used for scheduling. The city agency says that the facility was originally going to show the movie "Boy's Town" on that date, but that it will now be used for the mayor's community party.
Regardless of the scheduling situation, I don't think there's much justification for Janice Hahn's position. If it's sensitivity she's concerned about, then what about the "sensitivities" of Pearl Harbor survivors and other Pacific War vets? And why should any American of Japanese descent be offended by the showing of this film (which is by all accounts a remarkably "balanced" presentation of Pearl Harbor)? Should Americans of German descent be offended by D-day commemorations? A human being is more than his or her ethnic background. To suggest that a person will have a particular view on historical issues because of their ethnic background is offensive to my sensibilities.
(Thanks to Right Wing News for surfacing this story.)
HOW TO LOSE CUSTOMERS
(Rant mode ON:) Idiotic behavior is not limited to politics and academia--it can also be found in the heart of corporate America. For a change of pace, here's a little story.
Earlier today, I tried to sign up for on-line access to one of my credit card accounts. Everything went swimmingly at first, but I knew it was too good to be true. There were about three pages of various questions...and then, a "sorry--server not available" message. Of course, everything I had entered was lost. I then clicked on the "contact us" address for the company, and got the following message: Sorry. Could not include the documentum page. Application Error.
I suspect that the company was running two processes, or maybe two physical servers, one to collect data and one to update the database. Process #1 was running happily along, asking questions and getting answers, without any clue that Process #2 was dead in the water. Now, maybe I'm wrong about this. Maybe there's just one combined process, and it just happened to roll over and play dead at the very moment I had answered the last question and clicked the button. But I doubt it. And if my theory is correct, then the "designer" of this system committed a major error in not shutting down the data collection process when the back-end process was dead. And he committed a much worse sin in ever allowing an error message like the one above to be exposed to an end user.
Credit cards are basically a commodity business. One of the few ways of differentiating oneself is by superior customer service--and that includes your customer-service web site. Executives should take these matters seriously, and use their web sites themselves..in many cases, they're going to be horrified. Technical managers should pay a lot more attention to useability considerations and failure modes, and so should university computer science departments.
(Rant mode OFF)
Sunday, November 10, 2002
VETERANS' DAY MUSINGS
On Veterans’ Day, we are meant to reflect on the accomplishments and sacrifices of those who have fought for our country. A significant number of Americans, however, will not be thinking, even for a moment, about those Americans who fought at Gettysberg, Normandy, Anzio, or the Philippines. Still less will they be thinking about the contributions of those who served in the forces of allied nations—the RAF fighter pilots who saved the world in its darkest hours, or the men and women of the French Resistance. They won’t be reflecting on these things because they don’t know anything about them.
The state of historical education in this country is a national disgrace, as indicated many times by survey research. One recent survey even showed that a significant number of high school students thought that Germany and the U.S. were allied in WWII. (15%, if I remember correctly). Anecdotal evidence confirms the same dismal picture. Dr. Thomas Reeves recently wrote of his experiences teaching at University of Wisconsin—Parkside. To quote Dr. Reeves: “One quickly learns that the young people signed up for 101 and 102 (the chronological break between the courses at Parkside is 1877) know virtually nothing about the history of their own nation. They have no grasp of colonial America...or the nation's constitutional machinery. Even after instruction, they often confuse World War I and World War II..” (emphasis added) (Quote is from Kimberly Swygert's site.)
To be fair UW-Parkside is not a selective school. But all of these students are presumably high school graduates. Aren’t the subjects mentioned all things that a tenth grader should have some familiarity with? And don't delude yourself that those who missed it in high school will pick it up in college. Those following a professional curriculum may take little or no history; those pursuing the humanities will likely study history only as imaged through the lens of postmodernism and other highly theoretical constructs.
These things matter. How can a person who confuses WWI and WWII, or who thinks the U.S. and Germany were allies in the latter, possibly follow a debate about the relevance of the Munich crisis to today’s Iraqi crisis? Extreme absence of historical knowledge makes effective citizenship impossible.
And there is a more subtle factor at work here, also. To understand the sacrifices and accomplishments of those who came before tends to give a person a bit of humility. The absence of such understanding encourages a certain kind of arrogance--”self-esteem” of the worst kind.
C. S. Lewis wrote that if you want to destroy an infantry unit, you cut it off from its adjoining units—and if you want to destroy a generation, you cut it off from knowledge about previous generations. Were this the objective of our educational establishment, they would be doing a pretty good job of it.
Thursday, November 07, 2002
MORE ON MULTILATERALISM
Jeane Kirkpatrick, who headed the U.S. mission to the United Nations (1981-85), recently reminisced about her experiences there. One of her strongest impressions was of the extreme level of anti-Israeli sentiment...and more: "I was very deeply shocked by the simple anti-Semitism that pervaded the place."
Kirkpatrick went so far as to say that, as a result of her U.N. experiences, she was able for the first time in her life to understand how the Holocaust happened. (full article). These tendencies in the U.N. have certainly not gotten any better since Kirkpatrick's time, and indeed appear to have become worse.
Why do so many people persist, in the face of all evidence, in regarding the U.N. as the world's primary fount of moral authority? At some point, idealistic naivite shades over into willful disregard of the truth.
Tuesday, November 05, 2002
Over at Joanne Jacobs' site, a new teacher has been writing about his experiences. He was assigned to teach a shop class, but was concerned since he had no experience in that area...would he be able to teach the students how to operate the machines safely? No problem, as it turns out...there weren't any machines, and no money to buy any. His suggestion of abolishing the class and teaching something else were turned down..for reasons, he said, that were said to have to do with "funding." (It was suggested that he turn it into a class on "measurement," but he turned it into a drama class instead.)
For a school to represent a class as a shop class and then fail to provide proper equipment would seem disrespectful to (a) the students who enroll, (b) their parents, (c) the funding agency, and (d) the entire set of people whose career plans involve something other than a traditional academic path.
Monday, November 04, 2002
Israel is rightly concerned about attack by chemical weapons, particularly in the event of a U.S. war with Iraq. But when the Israeli government attempted to purchase two Chempro 100 gas detectors, made by a Finnish company, the Finnish government denied an export license for the equipment. According to the Finnish foreign ministry "...according to EU guidelines, restraint must be practiced in exporting defence material to areas of conflict." Finland's foreign minister has separately made comments highly critical of Israel.
In Canada, there is a Jewish organization called Canadian Magen David Adom. It collects donations for Israel's emergency medical service, Magen David Adom, which is similar to the Red Cross. The government of Canada, acting through its customs and revenue agency (CCRA), is attempting to remove the charitable tax status of Canadian Magen David Adom. CCRA stated that by operating donated ambulances in the Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Magen David was contravening Canadian public policy. The court did not upheld this claim, but did uphold other elements of CCRA's position, and right now Canadian Magen David Adom is still on track to lose its charitable status. You can sign the petition against this action here.
President Bush has come under heavy fire for not taking a more "multilateralist" approach. But "multilateralism," at the level desired by these critics, means giving veto power over U.S. foreign policy to government like those mentioned above. No, thanks.
Friday, November 01, 2002
STARVATION BY POLITCAL CORRECTNESS
In Zambia, 3 million people are facing death by starvation. Yet on 10/29, the government of that country issued its final order against the distribution of U.S.- supplied grain which is already sitting in the warehouses. Why? The grain was produced using modern biotechnology (genetic modification), and Zambia's government is concerned that it might violate the "precautionary principle" by not being proven 100% safe. Zambia is also concerned (probably correctly) that distribution of this food could compromise any future exports to the European Union, which currently has a moratorium on the import of GM crops.
Here we see the ultimate terminus of the program to remove all risks from life...in order to avoid a small and purely theoretical risk at some point in the future, we must let people starve to death right now. We also see the effects of increasingly anti-scientific attitudes among significant elements of the elite. Of those who are opposed to GM crops, how many have educated themselves in the relevant science to the point at which they could have a meaningful opinion about GM risks or lack of same? Darned few, I would bet. Yet they are willing to condemn others to starvation on the basis of their prejudices, without putting forth the effort to determine whether these prejudices have any grounding in reality. Keep this in mind the next time you hear about the "compassion" of the Left and of the European Union.