Friday, February 28, 2003
AMERICA: THREAT TO WORLD PEACE?
I recently wrote about the Oxford Union and its upcoming debate on the resolution: "This House believes the USA is the greatest barrier to world peace." (Oxford Union, is of course, famous for its 1933 debate on the resolution: "Resolved, that this house will in no circumstances fight for King and country"--a resolution which passed, 275 to 153, and contributed to the intellectual climate which allowed the continued growth of Naziism.
The debate on the "barrier to world peace" resolution occurred yesterday, and the results were different this time--slightly different. The resolution failed, with a 195-151 vote in America's favor. You can read more about the debate here.
It's good that the resolution failed, but it's still pretty disturbing that 40% of "Britain's youthful elite" (as The New York Times referred to them and as they no doubt consider themselves) consider America to be "the greatest barrier to world peace."
Thursday, February 27, 2003
MAKIN' MOCK OF UNIFORMS II
CNN finally just ran a segment on the events in the Maine schools, a story which was surfaced on the blogosphere several days ago (after being initially uncovered by WABI-TV). Members of the Maine National Guard, called up for potential combat in Iraq, complain that their children are being "harassed" by teachers who oppose the war. Children have been coming home "upset, depressed, crying," according to a spokesman for the Maine National Guard. We're talking about kids who are in many cases 7 to 9 years old here. There have been over 30 complaints that name schools and individual principles, teachers, and guidance counselors. According to Alan Grover of WABI-TV: "What the kids are facing is hearing that [from Principals, Teachers and/or Guidance Counsellors] their mother or father is a bad person for taking part in the confrontation with Iraq; comments that are coming from teachers." (emphasis added.) Of course, educational officials are downplaying this: according to the state commissioner of education, only one complaint "involved classroom activity." This seems improbable, however, given the number of complaints and the likelihood that there have been additional unreported incidents. It also seems that certain teachers and administrators have established a climate in which children feel free to "tease" other children because of their parents' military affiliation.
This kind of thing has happened before. Emily the Hawkgirl tells of her own past experiences: "My fourth grade teacher, a judgmental sixties throwback, was very cruel to me once he found out that my father was an officer in the Air Force and had served in Cambodia. He taunted and picked on me, even humiliated me on more than one occassion in the front of the entire class."
There are so many things wrong with what happened to Emily, and what apparently now happening in Maine, that one hardly knows where to start. But just to hit the low points--for a teacher to harass a student because of his mother's or father's military service constitutes:
1) BULLYING of an individual who has less power and is moreover too young to defend himself effectively. It is also bullying of an individual who is at a particularly vulnerable point in his life because of the absence of one (or both) of his parents.
2) ABUSE OF POSITION--while a teacher has the same right as any citizen to his opinions, he does not have a right to use his position to propagate one-sided views to a captive audience without the possibility of meaningful opposition. To do so constitutes use of resources that properly belong to others (the taxpayers) for a personal purpose, and is analogous to a corporate officer or employee who takes company property for his own use.
3) ABUSE OF TRUST--the Maine Guard has informed the schools of the identities of students whose parents are being activiated so that they can receive additional support. If this information is being used instead so that these students can be picked out and harassed, that would represent something beyond contemptible.
Almost certainly, those engaging in this behavior consider themselves "liberals," "leftists," or "progressives"--and, almost certainly, they speak frequently about their concern for "the children." It's evidently a concern that applies only to those children whose parents have followed the prescribed paths in life.
I've said if before: This is the golden age of hypocrisy. The Victorians were amateurs by comparison.
(The CNN report did contain one encouraging item: the head of the Maine Education Association said that it would be appropriate to "discipline" teachers found to have engaged in such behavior--a welcome chance from the usual circle-the-wagons approach of the educational establishment.)
UPDATE: However, the web site of the Maine Education Association contains this comment: "Please understand that there are over 17,000 educators in Maine and if there are only 12 complaints that means 99.9% of our educators and schools are handling the situation well."
No, it doesn't mean any such thing. In any situation, the number of people who actually get to the level of registering a complaint is very much smaller than total number affected. How many times have you been irritated at a business or a government agency but have not actually entered a formal complaint?
If anyone at Maine Education Association actually believes this "99.9%" comment represents valid logic, then they are too stupid to have anything to do with education. If they don't actually believe it, but said it anyhow, then they are too morally corrupt to have anything to do with education.
MAKIN' MOCK O' UNIFORMS
...that guard you while you sleep
John Bugay is rightly proud of his wife. Although she was then 40 years old and a mother of five, she responded to the attacks of 9/11 by enlisting in the Army Reserve (she had, many years earlier, served in the Army.) Now she has been activated, and will be gone for a full year--and, since then, Bugay reports that: "My wife has been roundly criticized by our family and neighbors for 'going off to war,' while she has a husband and children at home who very much need her care." (Washington Times.)
Mrs Bugay's absence will, of course, be very painful to her husband and especially to her children. But here's what I wonder: Suppose that she were a not a soldier, but a lawyer. And suppose that, instead of enlisting, she had accepted a case that would require her to be away from home (in another city) for a year. Would the same people criticize her?
Somehow, I doubt it. I expect that many, if not most of them, would probably applaud her for her dedication to her career. In certain circles, leaving your children to earn money or fame is praiseworthy--leaving your children to defend your country is not.
Wednesday, February 26, 2003
GIVING TERRORISTS A FIGHTING CHANCE
I've previously written about the opposition to arming airline pilots. Now, it appears that we finally have some action on this front. An initial cadre of armed pilots will be trained, and should be in the air by this spring.
How many pilots? Forty-eight. Compared with the total number of pilots on US commercial airlines, that's an utterly trivial number. Indeed, the current program is advertised as a "test program," although it's not clear exactly what is being tested or why a test is needed.
In our increasingly lawyer-driven society, we tend to be much more cautious and slow-moving than we were a few decades ago. This tendency is amplified in an industry like aviation, which tends (very properly) to be conservative in the way it does things.
However, there are times when the careful, conservative approach is the most dangerous one, and this is one of them. The initial cadre of pilots should be in the hundreds, not in the tens. If another terrorist incident occurs that could have been thwarted by an armed pilot, this will be all too clear in retrospect.
Wednesday, February 19, 2003
MOLLY AND THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA
Mainstream media types often claim that information on the web, and the blogosphere in particular, cannot be relied upon because of the absence of the rigorous editing, fact-checking, etc. to be found in their own publications and broadcast outlets. It's true that a lot of nonsense and false statements can be found on the web. But how reliable, really, are the "facts" to be read in the mainstream media?
In today's Molly Ivins column, she attacks (correctly, in my opinion) the view that the French are a nation of cowards. She points out that France lost 1.2 million killed in WWI, and 100,000 killed in WWII. Both of these numbers are correct, and deserve attention and respect. But she then goes on to claim that a major reason for France's failure in 1940 was the the French had very few tanks. This is just plain wrong. The French had a large number of tanks, comparable to the number possessed by Germans, and many of these tanks were of high quality. What the French lacked was an effective doctrine for using these tanks. They were split up into "penny packets" and assigned to support traditional infantry units, rather than being welded together into armored divisions in the manner done by the Germans.
The difference matters. Too often, it is assumed that salvation lies in raw technology...but more often, as in this case, what really matters is the manner in which this technology is applied. Ivins misstatement tends to reinforce the wrong lessons.
The above facts about the French tanks forces are well-known among those who have studied the events of 1940, and are well-documented (see, for example, Alastair Horne's To Lose a Battle). So where was all the vaunted editing and fact-checking? And note that it is unlikely, given the nature of the mainstream media, that Ivans "facts" will be meaningfully corrected. There may be a letter to the editor somewhere or other, but very few of those who read the original article will ever see the letter with the true information.
Compare this media environment with the blogosphere. If this claim had been made by a blogger with a large following, there would have been almost instant correction, either in comments or in other blogs, or both. Bloggers and their correspondents represent a wide variety of expertise..there are economists, engineers, and people who are widely read in history or almost any other field. Those in the media..both those who originate the stories and those who edit them..are more likely to have journalism or "communications" degrees and to lack substantive expertise in any field. Some media organizations do employ "researchers," but obviously there are many stories published, like the one in question here, where meaningful research has not been done.
Individual sources of information--on the web or elsewhere--should be considered with caution. But what matters for accuracy is the total set of information available and the manner in which it interacts and is updated..
Thursday, February 13, 2003
A THUG IN OFFICE
Joschka Fischer is the Foreign Minister of Germany. But in 1973, according to historian Paul Berman, he was "a young bully in a street battle in Frankfurt." Photographs published in the German magazine Stern show Fischer inflicting a "gruesome beating" on a young policeman. According to Berman, the photos showed: "Fischer and other people on the attack, the white-helmeted cop going into a crouch; Fischer's black-gloved fist raised as if to punch the crouching cop on the back; Fischer's comrades crowding around; the cop huddled on the ground, Fischer and his comrades appearing to kick him . . ." You can read more about Fischer in Michael Kelly's article.
One of the attributes of the Hitler regime was the prevalence of former street brawlers in positions of high government authority. It's disturbing that, more than 50 years later, an individual such as Fischer could be selected for a position such as Foreign Minister.
Next time you read about Europe's "civilized" leaders as contrasted with the American "cowboys," keep Joschka Fischer in mind.
Monday, February 03, 2003
KEEP TRYING UNTIL YOU GET IT WRONG AGAIN
When I was in high school, a friend's dad worked in a textile mill. He had a story about a co-worker who got his left arm caught in one of the machines and horribly mangled. After months in the hospital, he returned to work. As he stood at his machine, co-workers crowded around and wanted to know "How did it happen?"
"Like this," he said, demonstrating with his right arm.
I was never sure whether this really happened or it was just a good story; nevertheless, I was reminded of the story when I saw a note concerning the Oxford Union--which considers itself "the world's foremost debating society." Among other things, the Oxford Union is famous for its debate of 1933, on the resolution: "Resolved, that this house will in no circumstances fight for King and country." The resolution passsed, 275 to 153, and contributed to the intellectual climate which allowed Germany to rearm and pursue its expansionistic policies...indeed, it has been said (although not documented) that Hitler was greatly encouraged by this resolution and its passage...which he took to mean that the Britain would not interfere with his plans.
So what is Oxford Union up to currently? On February 27, the Union will debate the following resolution: "This House believes the USA is the greatest barrier to world peace."
It is the nature of debate, of course, to present both sides of controversial issues. I was a college debater, and had no problem debating both sides of an issue, including issues where I felt strongly about one side. But the very fact of selecting a debate topic implies that someone thinks there are strong arguments to be found on each side; otherwise, it wouldn't be much of a debate. The fact that the USA as the greatest barrier to world peace would be considered as a good topic says much about the worldview at contemporary Oxford--as the "King and country" resolution said much about the worldview at Oxford in the early 1930s.