Monthly Archives: September 2006

Vote Republican! I Am!

You don’t believe it. I wouldn’t have either until I learned that by voting Republican we Democrats can get everything we want. Of course, I needed a college professor to educate me.

We need to elect Republican snake oil salesmen. The slicker the better. No more Bill Frist’s. No more Dennis Hastert’s. We need guys who can sell the farm and offer to throw in the bat shit for free.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is making friends with Democrats in the California Assembly. The Dems there like him so much, they are apparently ignoring Schwarzenegger’s opponent, Phil Angelides, who is trying to gain traction. Here’s why.

…[I]t is convenient for the Democratic-dominated legislature to have a governor with Schwarzenegger’s star power. If anyone can sell something to voters, they reason, Schwarzenegger can. “The legislators understand they can get more out of Arnold than Angelides because Arnold has to bargain,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst at the University of Southern California.

So it’s best to have someone whose political interests are the opposite of yours because you can bargain with him, whereas I suppose if a Democrat was governor, he’d give the Dems in the Assembly everything they want.

Now where’s the fun in that!

Angry — and Proud of It

Just this weekend, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell characterized the Democratic Party Chairman’s comments as coming from “the angry face of Howard Dean.” Republicans love to say that the Democrats are “angry,” as if to suggest they don’t have a grip on their own passions and would likely act precipitously if in charge. You hear that characterization time and again.

I’ve always wondered why the Dems just didn’t say, “You bet I’m angry — about the war that’s killed 2600 Americans and maimed nearly 20,000, about the economy that leaves the middle class behind, about the Katrina debacle, about government interference in end of life decisions. I could go on. There is a lot to be angry about.”

So it comes with some satisfaction that I learn that three of every four Americans say they are angry.

Most Americans are angry about “something” when it comes to how the country is run, and they are more likely than in previous years to vote for a challenger this November, a new poll suggests.

A majority of Americans surveyed — and a higher percentage than recorded during the same time last year — said things in the United States are going “badly.” Among this year’s respondents, 29 percent said “pretty badly” and 25 percent — up from 15 percent a month ago — answered “very badly.” By comparison, 37 percent described the way things are going as “fairly well,” and 9 percent answered “very well.”

Of these people, 76 percent said there was “something” to be angry about in the country today. By comparison, 59 percent felt that way when polled in February.

But folks say (mostly Republican folks) that anger is a wasted emotion. I’ll try to be happier. But it would help if I could drink or smoke whatever it is that those 9% are having. My guess is it’s either Dom Perignon or that stuff with no seeds that costs $400 an ounce.

Old Fashion Learning

Educators brought this on themselves. Over the last decade, we’ve become paralyzed by education standards. We need to pass tests to get out of school and to get into school. If we can’t prove it by choosing (a) over (b), (c) and (d), then we must not be educated.

So it’s not surprising that the culture of objectivity has now put educators on the defensive in a lawsuit brought by parents in Louisville and Seattle who charge discrimination against their white kids who’ve been denied admission into K-12 schools in those cities. In Louisville, the parents want their kids in certain magnet schools where the city is trying to maintain between a 15% and 50% minority population, reflecting the city’s racial make-up. In Seattle, school officials want a multi-ethnic environment in schools because they believe “students learn best in a diverse environment.” Students can go to any school unless it’s “oversubscribed” with that student’s race or ethnicity.

White parents are crying foul and reverse discrimination. But it begs the question, if race isn’t a fair criteria to establish school standards, what is?

Scores, tests, numbers, of course. That’s what an education has become. A gifted writer will be denied a high school diploma is she can’t pass the math SOL. K-12 schools have succumbed to this thinking, whereas colleges have thought that way for decades. If a kid has a higher SAT, then he gets in over a child with creativity but lower scores. Having had three kids apply to college in the last four years, I think it is still solely a numbers game for most schools.

Opponents of plans to diversify schools claim they are being denied admission unfairly because they’re white, despite their higher scores. In both these cases, it may be that kids can’t go to their neighborhood school, although I suspect that affects both whites and minority students.

Whatever the specifics of these cases, having a diverse population can be a critical component of a complete education. We’re not just trying to teach these kids how to add and subject and know dates of the American Revolution. We’re trying to prepare them for today’s complex world. If all you really need to know you learn in kindergarten, you better have some faces that don’t like yours in it. And if you want to understand the subtleties of world affairs, you need some experience with folks you don’t share your views or prejudices. Race and ethnicity are playing a greater, not lesser, role in American life. Kids need some experience in that environment.

Just because a kid scores a few points higher on a test doesn’t mean he can contribute as much to the learning environment as someone else. The same is true in the workplace. Those who charge “reverse discrimination” believe that judging who is the best fit for a job can be coolly calculated by years of experience, courses taken and raises granted. The irony is that jobs have been filled for generations based on who you know, not what you know. But the myth of an objective grading system for employees is the smoke screen for those who can’t understand why a company might want to hire a minority for either the unique perspective he might bring the company’s business or because mere diversity might be beneficial to the company in some intangible way.

Once that kid, whatever race or ethnicity, gets into the real world, he learns what we all know: Life isn’t fair. We make decisions based on intangibles and are judged by the same. So isn’t it best we give all kids the greatest chance possible to explore those inequities and intangibles while they’re young, impressionable and, we hope, less corrupted by established prejudices?

There is no objective way to judge understanding, initiative or dedication. And there is little proof that a kid educated in one school will always have the advantage in terms of intellectual skills over another educated elsewhere. You get out of it what you put into it. But understanding diversity can only be accomplished the old fashioned way — experiencing it. We do great harm to children if we deny them that opportunity.

Pentagon Pessimism

Sometimes you wonder if Bush & Rumsfeld talk to the people who work for them.

Sectarian violence is spreading in Iraq and the security problems have become more complex than at any time since the U.S. invasion in 2003, the Pentagon said Friday.

In a notably gloomy report to Congress, the Pentagon said illegal militias have become more entrenched, especially in Baghdad neighborhoods where they are seen as providers of security as well as basic social services.

The report described a rising tide of sectarian violence, fed in part by interference from neighboring Iran and Syria and driven by a “vocal minority” of religious extremists who oppose the idea of a democratic Iraq.

Death squads targeting mainly Iraqi civilians are a growing problem, heightening the risk of civil war, it said.

“Death squads and terrorists are locked in mutually reinforcing cycles of sectarian strife,” the report said, adding that the Sunni-led insurgency “remains potent and viable” even as it is overshadowed by the sect-on-sect killing.

“Conditions that could lead to civil war exist in Iraq, specifically in and around Baghdad, and concern about civil war within the Iraqi civilian population has increased in recent months,” the report said. It is the latest in a series of quarterly reports required by Congress to assess economic, political and security progress.

…Peter Rodman, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, in a separate session with reporters, said that although there has been progress this summer in reviving the Iraqi economy and raising electricity production, the security conditions have deteriorated even as the number of trained Iraqi troops has increased.

The report covered the period since the Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki was seated May 20.

“The last quarter, as you know has been rough,” Rodman said. “The levels of violence are up and the sectarian quality of the violence is particularly acute and disturbing.”

That assessment, which has been expressed publicly by U.S. military commanders and others in recent weeks, was tempered by a degree of optimism that the Iraqi government — with support from U.S. troops — will succeed in quelling the sectarian strife.

Optimism among ordinary Iraqis, however, has declined, the 63-page report said.

When asked whether they believe “things will be better” in the future, the percentage of Iraqis responding positively has dropped fairly consistently over the past year — whether they were asked to look ahead six months, one year or five years — according to polling data cited in the report.