In the revolt of the Arab peoples the U.S. should lay low…

January 29, 2011

It seems to me the best thing for the United States to do in relation to the situation in Egypt is to lay low and let things play out, and the same for Tunisia where the current revolt of the Arab people began and in other parts of the Arab world where the unrest over the old order seems to be spreading.

At last report I read it looks like what could be an all-out revolt of the oppressed masses (ADD 1: which seem to include young and old and middle class and lower class) in Egypt against a long-time dictator supported by the U.S. It seems a little late to be urging Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to be nicer and more attentive to the needs and rights of his people. Where were we on that all this time as we helped him militarily and economically?

Unfortunately, the United States has a long history of supporting brutal dictators. At one time the thought was it is better to have a non-communist dictator as our ally in power than a communist in power. Now we seem to look for anyone who might hold back the Islamic fundamentalists/terrorists.

I recall that back in the late 50s many people contended that we should have supported Fidel Castro whose forces eventually ousted our anti-communist dictator Fulgencio Batista. The story goes that Castro was not yet a communist but our opposition to him threw him into that camp. Actually, from what I have read about his sidekick Che Guevara, that revolution was going the communist way anyway. But we sure had egg on our face when our bully was kicked out.

It is not our business what the Arab world does with its governments. It is only our business what they might eventually do to us — but we are not going to be able to engineer things the way we want them to work out, nor should we.

Many probably don’t recall or ever paid attention to the fact that Saddam Hussein was at one time our boy on the block, simply because he was against Iran. And the Iranians had pushed out our other boy, the Shah of Iran.

This time around, let’s just keep out of it.

And good luck to the oppressed masses in Egypt or Tunisia, or wherever.

I don’t care how many tanks, or to be more accurate, armored vehicles (I used to be a tanker), or riot troops the Egyptian government has, if enough people are unhappy, the current regime or president will not stand. Also, there are even indications, from the story I read from the New York Times, that as in Tunisia, the military is or might ally itself with the protestors (to a certain extent anyway). And, some Egyptian protestors actually applauded the military troops when they were dispatched to guard certain public places, it was reported. And in one case riot police in Egypt gave up and threw off their badges, it was reported.

Add 2:

I don’t know if I have this quote exact, but I thought I heard a protestor in Egypt say for the benefit of the camera: “we don’t want this bunch anymore. We want them to go out of Egypt.”

Meanwhile, sometime after midnight after a long day of violent protest, Egyptian president Mubarak said he had asked (told) the government ministers to step down and he promised to continue to work on reforms but refused to step down himself and warned against outright insurrection or anything but peaceful protest (and this is my interpretation based on the reports I read). It seems to me that he has had enough time to do something since he has been in office for 30 years. If I were an Egyptian I’d say don’t let the door hit you in the rear end on the way out!



In the original version of this post I erroneously referred to the former U.S.-backed Cuban dictator as Juan Batista, but it should have read Fulgencio Batista.

Obama has the right ideas, so what is stopping him? So far it’s Republicans and Democrats and the national debt…

January 26, 2011

President Obama has the right ideas, as presented in his State of the Union message, so what is stopping him or what has stopped him? Answer: bickering in his own party. That is not how political parties are supposed to work. Parties are supposed to be where varying ideas coalesce into action — well we did get health care reform (maybe, to some extent, not sure).

Now it appears that the Republicans are acting like Democrats with a deep schism in their own party — the old guard vs. the Tea Party.

And it now strikes me the day after that the president was certainly right to push for drastic reforms in education with a renewed emphasis on math and science. But I think a lot of the push for that has to come from the people at the local level, the citizens themselves. Do we want excellent public schools or not and do we want to pay for them? Local taxpayers who resist paying the bill for their local schools do not show the commitment that will be needed.

The president is certainly meeting the Republicans half way by offering to make changes in his health care law but not gut it and by offering to cut out the red tape and excessive regulations for businesses without sacrificing public safety and other legitimate public concerns and protections.

I actually think the current division in government with neither solid majorities for the two major parties and the Tea Party (their crazies notwithstanding) nipping at both of their heels, is a good thing. It should force the necessary compromise that might ensure what we get is neither regressive policies or far too so-called progressive policies that would lead to an overbearing socialist state.

But here’s a thought: let’s just stop the constant offense in our defense. We are not fighting international communism anymore. China, our biggest competitor (but also our banker), poses a far bigger challenge than Nikita Khrushchev and his 1950s/60s Soviet Union ever did. Mr. k vowed to bury us (he meant economically, I am told) but old-style communism just has never been up to the challenge (just ask Senor Castro, or maybe he is still in denial). China has combined domestic socialism with a robust form of capitalism, proving that it may not be an either or situation (and no I don’t want to live in China).

Islamic terrorists have replaced the communist threat, but like the communists if they get control over various dominions they will have a hard time keeping their people happy when they see how the other half, the free half, lives. Instead of meddling in the affairs of other nations we ought to let them stew in their own juices.

We of course do have to draw the line when they come on to our own soil.

I feel so fortunate, though, at 61 to have a steady job. But unemployment is above 9 percent and in my state, California, it is I believe 12 percent. That remains the number-one concern of the American people. If Obama, with the help of his own party and the other, cannot deal effectively with that situation, people just won’t be listening anymore.


What follows is what I originally wrote offline while having computer problems:

So maybe not having my computer working the way I want to helps me sort out what I just heard, rather than going to a lot of hurried work to post what I think or thought I just heard from President Barack Obama in his State of the Union speech.

I listened to the speech on radio so I did not see the body language of the speaker or the audience and I did not get to witness the coziness of Democrats sitting next to Republicans, unlike in past years when they sat on their respective separate sections. But I liked the speech as I heard it, enough to move him from a C to an A.

And then some of the commentary afterward jolted me awake, so to speak, and I wondered if I had not been in a dream and gone back to his presidential campaign. They seem to be reminding me that he was in his campaign mode — he’s a great speaker, but is he a great doer? — the last two years seem to leave that question a bit open. And of course the main thing is that he cannot do it alone. Up until recently, the health care thing notwithstanding, or maybe withstanding, he was having a hard time getting his own party to go along with him. Now he is dealing with a Republican majority in the House.

Obama I think in one way is in that time of the JFK thing where the question is do we cling to the ways of the past and stay mired in stagnation or do we move forward. Kennedy’s answer, as I recall, was that we “move forward with vigor “. At the time we had been recently embarrassed by the Russians seeming to have surpassed us in space by launching the first man-made satellite they called Sputnik. Kennedy instituted our moon program, the rest is history.

With that in mind Barack Obama said we (the United States) are in a Sputnik moment where we can fall behind the rest of the world in technology (and he said we are indeed beginning to lag in some areas, particularly education in math and science) or we can maintain or retain our world leadership.

But I sense a new mood among the populace. At one time a lot of people assumed government had endless resources, but now even people who think government ought to be there to help them and see a major role of government in society now see the nation’s gigantic deficit a major limiting force.

So even though Obama talked about a government partnership with the private sector in which the government would give financial support for new innovations — he said sometimes businesses cannot afford to fund research and development on their own — people now wonder where all that money is going to come from in the continuing stagnant world economy (not to be confused with corporate or bank profits which are reportedly soaring — I know it makes little sense, except when you remember that people make a lot of money producing nothing, just trading paper, I call it. A minority at the top feed like parasites off the working class, just as a minority at the bottom of society feed off the working class).

But if we get past all that there are two major competing views in politics: one is that there is a major role of government in society and the economy and the other is that government should have but a limited role, except that I have yet to see evidence that those who talk limited role are all that sincere (with the exception of pure libertarians, maybe,) My view is that those who talk limited role really mean government should be there for them, but not for you.

Somehow I don’t think the United States became the leading economic and military power in the world with minimal government.

It was a government and private enterprise partnership that created the railroads that expanded our nation west to meet its manifest destiny. It was the government that ran the space program which in turn had major implications on technology and commerce that it spawned. And don’t let me forget Ike’s interstate highway system — that’s how I and so many others make their living, that’s how you get everything you get at the stores.

Just as in the time of Sputnik when there was a major push for improved math and science education, Obama wants to start that all over again. And that is a good idea.

We need to move forward with vigor, we just have not figured out how to pay for it.

One way, though, is to simplify the tax code cutting out all the loopholes that help some but overtax others, as Obama called for, and by doing so widen the tax base — yes in effect increasing taxes but also making the system more equitable.


Great speech or same old same old…

January 26, 2011

Before the State of the Union speech I was giving the president a C in his performance, but after hearing it I would now give him an A if words could be future deeds. I think it was inspirational and hopeful and he reached out to the Republican House majority without humbling himself.

But I’m hearing from his detractors that it was just same old same old.

I’m still having computer problems so I’ll have to hold it at that for now, and that is hard for me. See previous post. Thanks.

Obama so far and what is to like…

January 26, 2011

I’m having computer problems, so I will try to sneak this by my gremlins in advance of the president’s State of the Union speech. Wish me luck. I may not be able to blog again until the morning after, but I’ll try after the speech anyway.


So wouldn’t you know it? Blogging and current events and political enthusiast that I am, I have the time to listen to the president’s State of the Union address but my mobile computer connection is not working where I am and I have no other access, so I will have to work offline. Maybe that’s better, maybe I’ll pay more attention to the speech.

I think it could be pivotal in that he needs momentum going into the year before he goes up for re-election and he needs to take advantage of his recent increase in approval ratings

(Actually, he just probably has to hope the economy improves and he makes no major blunders and he should win handily, despite the Tea Party.)

So what do I think of his performance as president so far? Well I’d give him a strong C at least.

I don’t care for the way he handled the banking and mortgage crisis. He seems to have caved into the Wall Street bankers who used taxpayer money to get solvent again and are lavishing themselves with bonuses — really on the public dime.

He definitely has not resolved the problem of the continuing war in the Middle East. He has served notice on the enemy that we eventually plan to quit (something any of them who have read the history of Vietnam could have figured out). Meantime he lets American soldiers die for a cause that is hard to put into words or to justify.

I know some Americans think we are in a standard conventional war against a force who attacked us on 9/11. That is not exactly what is happening, but do we have to go through all that again? Well, okay, just a little. We are heavily into nation building under the theory that if we can create nice nations we can all live in peace — would that it were.

From my limited perspective, I personally think he and the Democratic Party botched the health care thing overall, even though some limited good might come out of it.

For one thing, it is just too darn complicated. For another I sincerely wonder if mandating citizens do business with private companies is really constitutional. I did suggest in a blog that it might be just as justifiable as mandating you buy car insurance. But really, you have a choice on whether to operate an automobile and pay all the expenses that go with it. Are we suggesting you have a choice to live and do business with XYZ Health Insurance Co. or die?

Really, how do you control medical costs in a private enterprise system? If you controlled costs it would not be free enterprise.

Obama had his Katrina in the Gulf Oil spill and handled it no better than George W. did Katrina. While there may have not been much he could have done — it’s perception.

So what do I like about Obama? Well for one thing he is not John McCain, an old man who seems to have little mind of his own or little pride in his principles, witness his panicked run to the far right in his recent senatorial election, when previously he had been more moderate, and when he does have a bright idea, he does things like choose Sarah Palin for a running mate — in essence he created the monster.

Joe Biden is not that hot either, but he is relatively harmless if he can be kept quiet and out of the way, as good vice presidents are supposed to be.

I think a lot of us were hoping for a Franklin Roosevelt to put people back to work or a Give ’em Hell Harry Truman to give Wall Street what for, when instead what we got was a cerebral, but admittedly cool and reasonable, and maybe even a little crafty, Barack Obama.

Give ’em hell Barack!!!


Extreme situations can call for extreme measures, but you still have to be careful not to shoot the innocent…

January 25, 2011

Terrorism in terribly frustrating, as well as dangerous. Anytime there is a lack of law and order it is frustrating and dangerous.

I bring this up in relation to the latest airport bombing in Moscow where 35 people were killed and 185 injured, and then of course in relation as well to all terrorist acts and all break downs of law and order.

The frustrating thing is that terrorists are hard to catch, especially when they kill themselves in the process of committing their terror. Of course someone usually sets them up, but they usually work in secret. Except sometimes they don’t work in total secrecy. What about the imams or whatever they call themselves who fairly openly preach hatred from their mosques? And I am not picking solely on Muslims or factions of Muslims. There are Christian terrorists and terrorists of all kind of creeds.

But anyway, the quite understandable immediate reaction is that we have to go after someone. If you’re George W. Bush you just wildly flail out at any convenient target, Afghanistan/Iraq, and you send whole armies to look for one man, Osama Bin Laden, and when that doesn’t work, he remains elusive, you just say you weren’t really looking for him anyway and change your rationale every few months as to why you have sent in the armies. You end up killing and wounding thousands upon thousands of more people — most of whom who are totally innocent– than were killed in the original terrorist act.

And let’s don’t pick on George W., because if you are Barack Obama you just keep the whole thing going because, well, you don’t want anyone to think you are a coward and truth be known, unpopular war(s) or not, if you pull out the American public would turn against you because now you made all of them feel like cowards.

But I am getting off the subject I wanted to address here in the beginning, that is dealing with terrorist acts and mass breakdowns of law and order, such as in Oakland, Ca. (and other urban areas).

I was listening to Dr. Bill Wattenburg on KGO Radio last night and he was saying that he would not be surprised if the Russians got tough now and went directly after terrorist leaders (and the news says this morning that is what they are vowing to do). Now Wattenburg usually talks about scientific matters and math puzzles and helpful hints around the home and ranch and logging camp and cowboy camp and claims to be an expert on or have taken part in everything from designing freeway interchanges and rapid transit systems to missiles and nuclear weapons — he’ll also tell you how to get a caterpillar tractor unstuck from the mud. But when he ventures into politics he sometimes is a little reactionary, although to his credit he can also often be fairly moderate in his views and seems to try to come down on the side of the sensible.

But he seemed to be rooting for something like the secret police (and I don’t mean he said it directly) going after the bad people, something police states have always done in the name of law and order but also for the purpose of retaining their own political power. And I read up on him and saw that he had in the past called for sending in the military and going house to house in Oakland in reaction to the ghetto crimes and drive-by shootings and so forth. And I’m just using Oakland as an example. All the big cities and even small cities have gang and violence problems.

But anyway, why should law-abiding citizens have to live in fear?

In extreme circumstances, at some point, extreme tactics are called for.

Now in the case of airport bombings, Wattenberg says that experts have looked at it and agree that one of the big problems is baggage. Apparently there is no fool-proof way of checking baggage without opening it all (and then ka-boom?). He said ultimately the only practical way of forestalling a bomber, such as the one in Moscow who apparently brought a bomb in with him to the International Arrivals section of the airport (I imagine from the outside, not from an airplane), would be to ban individuals from taking baggage directly in with them when they go to the airports (and he claims people don’t need nearly the amount of baggage they think they do).

Now we have not had a spate of airport bombings here in the United States as of yet, but if we did extreme measures would have to be taken — the public would eventually demand it. It’s already getting tougher to board an airplane, what with body scans and in some cases mandatory feelups — but the call for all of that actually came from the government, not the people, at least not directly, but the government feels it must show the people it is doing something.

(I don’t fly much, hardly ever. Most of my flying was done in the late 1960s and early 70s when all you had to do is buy a ticket at the counter and get on the plane as simple as if you were getting on the Greyhound bus.)

Although I do not consider myself as politically reactionary as Wattenburg, I have often thought myself, ever since the urban ghetto riots of the 60s and into the gang violence of today, that in some cases martial law should be declared and the wrongdoers rooted out. Easier said than done I realize. But sometimes you feel enough is enough.

(I recall reading something a few years ago about how the police in one town in, Arkansas I believe, tried to cordon off a bad neighborhood and do random searches, but I think that was eventually prohibited by court order.)

And do we really want things to get as out of hand as they are in Mexico?

In the case of terrorism there is always the problem of doing more harm in the name of good than was inflicted in the first place (ala Bush). The Russians have a recent history of storming into hostage situations and killing everyone, good and bad.

I recall that during the Iranian Hostage Crisis of the late 1970s when Americans were held captive by terrorists backed by the Iranian government that many folks here at home were actually suggesting that we bomb the embassy where they were being held.

Somewhere in all of this there has to be a middle ground between impotence, doing basically nothing but maybe feeling up innocent airplane passengers, and ham-handed foolishness, starting major wars or storming into schools Russian style and killing schoolchildren and their parents in the process.

And I do think that in the case of lawlessness in the urban areas, governors should declare martial law and root out the gangs. It would have to be done selectively and carefully and unfortunately probably would require sophistication we do not have at this time. But to surrender whole communities to lawlessness in unacceptable, or should be.

Signs that civilization might be breaking down: (1) A man hits but does not run like the others but is beaten and robbed by a mob, even so (2) Second graders in a public school reportedly engage in sex acts in class and the teacher didn’t see a thing…

January 23, 2011

Weird and bad stuff can happen anywhere, in the big city, in small towns, and in the countryside. But today I address to incidents from the big city urban environment:

(My residence is in a relatively, I stress relatively, peaceful medium-sized town in the relatively rural north of California, but I spend most of my time driving to and through the big cities.)

Two seemingly unrelated recent incidents come to my attention as indications, only indications mind you, that civilization as we might have thought we knew it is breaking down.

No. 1:

In Los Angeles — technically Hawthorne, Ca., but it’s all LA to me — a man crosses the street, gets hit by two different cars whose drivers flee the scene (he later dies) and a woman who stops to help him is hit, and a man who accidentally hit that woman does the right thing and stops but is attacked by a mob and robbed. Local police say they’ve never seen anything like it.


The story:


This story caught my attention in particular because by eerie coincidence I was at or near the scene, I think, not when all this happened, but maybe on the same day (I’d have to check the story again). It was described as being on Crenshaw Boulevard near I-105. I was at that very intersection the other day in my job delivering freight. And like I always do in the threatening urban jungle environment, I worried about what would happen if I accidentally hit something or someone — of course I should worry, it is not cool to hit something or someone anywhere, but it could be fatal (to me) in that environment. I mean I don’t want to be Reginald Denny.

I think the explanation for the bizarre behavior here might have been that low lifes prowl the streets looking for any excuse and opportunity to engage in their nefarious acts. The stories I read did not describe the racial makeup of the actors involved, but knowing the area I suspect race could have been a factor.

No. 2:

Now we get into, did this really happen? or is it all bogus? It’s kind of a journalistic conundrum or maybe paradox is the better word. I mean as a former working journalist I always felt strongly that my job was to report news, good or bad, not engage in covering it up. People have a right and need and a desire to know what is going on around them, well maybe except for this second grade teacher in an Oakland, Ca. public school. Its seems, if you can believe reports originating from some pupils, that some of his charges were engaging in sex acts in the classroom and parading around at least partially undressed without him knowing it. How exactly could this be? Not how could the kids have done this, really, but how could the teacher not know? I think he might get marked down on classroom control in his next evaluation.


The story:


Children have played doctor (the kind of euphemism for I’ll show you mine if you show me yours) since time immemorial (or at least since their were doctors, and probably before).

There were reports that some of the children engaged in oral sex — second graders mind you. I suspect that such behavior might not actually be all that unusual, if you really think about it, but in a classroom at a public school? Local parents were disturbed, reports said. They said they came to the realization that they did not know what was going on in the place where they send their children to each school day.

Back to the journalistic question. We have all heard several reports of child molestations described in detail by children and later found out that they were apparently not true (although, unfortunately they are all too often true), that the children were prompted by adults who had ulterior motives.

In the current Oakland case, it could be just a false rumor solely from the children or it could even be something concocted by someone out to tarnish the school or the teacher or the administration there, who knows?

One might say these stories should not be reported on until facts have been investigated thoroughly. But people have a right to know if such things are going on with their children. In news you can’t wait both because if you do your competition won’t, and if you waited every time until all the facts were thoroughly researched there would be no news to report or it would be so stale as to be useless.

But it would be a shame if this second-grader sex scandal turned out to be purely bogus after the local school and the local school districts and schools everywhere get such bad publicity over it.

UPDATE: And now before I even post this blog, I have to update it. I listened to a talk show on Bay Area radio station KGO last night and it seems to be that now it is believed by authorities that the reports of sex among the second graders is true (of course we do not know for sure, nonetheless). But worse, more than one Bay Area teacher called in to say that other such incidents have happened. One teacher said that she told a reporter about one such incident and later was reprimanded by her principal for talking. The principal reportedly tried to cover the whole thing up, telling everyone that nothing had happened. And that is why in journalism you report things as you get the info, verifying facts and information the best you can, of course. If you hold on to it, those who would be embarrassed or held liable will do their best to cover up and see that the story never sees the light of day, or that if it ever does it will be so long after the fact that no one will be interested and witnesses will forget.

In the discussion on that radio program it was noted that children are constantly bombarded these days with sexually explicit material in the media (primarily television and movies and music), even in offerings aimed particularly at younger people. You know that has to have some effect — wouldn’t you think?

But the real culprits here:

The parents.


If you set the example at home, your children should be able to handle the world. Wickedness and debauchery have always been with us and always will be. The Bible tells us of these things, such as in the accounts of Sodom and Gomorrah. The more things change, the more things stay the same — but the foregoing seems disturbing to me even so.

Tiger Mom controversy: Be pushed to excel and excel, that was a secret?

January 22, 2011

It should really be no secret and no scandal that those who put more effort into something and those who are driven, pushed by someone else, often get ahead — although it may not always work out that way.

But as we wonder why Asian students seem to do so well in school, we really should have known the answer all along: they work harder and their parents make them do that.

I write this to add my two cents into the current “Tiger Mom” controversy, and I haven’t even read the book or article that started it. And I’ll stop right here and note that of course the whole thing is kind of manufactured, something they used to call a publicity stunt (Frank Sinatra Jr. kidnapped) and nowadays call marketing.

But anyway, a first-generation American-Chinese woman, and Yale law professor, by the name of Amy Chua wrote a book called “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”. In it she describes the tough love approach Chinese mothers (well both parents) take with their kids — basically all work and no play. But they do it with love. It’s a cruel world out there — you have to be prepared (I could have used that, but then I would have never survived childhood). One commentator I heard said it was something like the old Johnny Cash song “A boy Named Sue”. In that ballad the boy’s father who knew he would not be around named his son Sue so he would either have to get tough or die.

(In an interview Chua pointed out that the Asian immigrants she descried are of a certain class of people, ones who came over here with skills already. I just put that in here in case you might have wondered why all Asian immigrants do not do better.)

Chua is quick to explain that she found this approach was not totally successful with her younger daughter so she had to pull back. And she said she was not writing a “how to” book but instead mostly a memoir.

While she has received much hate mail from people suggesting what a horrible person she is and even some death threats, reportedly, one thing she has proven is that she or her marketers know how to sell a book; it was number five on the New York Times book list, at last report I saw.  And Chua is attractive and dresses nice, that helps with the promotion.

But when you get past the hype, it’s the same old story. It’s all about extremes and what you really want out of life and what you are willing to sacrifice to get it.

The best of both worlds would be the drive of the Asians and the ability to lay back and enjoy life, like Americans or like some Americans, or like the French, oh, heck I don’t know.

But it’s like healthy eating. If you ate as healthy as you possibly could you might starve yourself to death. You have to enjoy yourself some time.

American society has grown kind of weak because not much is expected of the individual. A lot of jobs have been dumbed down both because it’s hard to find people who can think or who are skilled and in turn it’s cheaper to pay unskilled and dumb workers.

And then there is our welfare system, although not as bad as it may often be portrayed to be, it does seem to have the effect of perpetuating generational idleness.

I think the closest some Americans come to the Asian push-your-kids hard approach is sports. I’ve seen some parents pushing their kids (well actually heard about it more than I‘ve personally witnessed it), and it is ugly. But then again, in cases where the kid is really into sports — hey, winning IS everything. Losers don’t get multi-million-dollar contracts.

But of course outright abuse is indefensible.

Some groups who think they do not fare as well in society — and out of politeness today I won’t name names — as others might look toward those who do and emulate at least some aspects of the more successful behaviors, while retaining the best parts of their own culture.

So you might look back on your growing up and say: “it was hell but it was worth it”.

Or you might say: “We was por but we was happy”.

Somehow I don’t think either one of those work. It’s the extremes that get in the way.


Sometimes people who are driven to perform are dull. I think Chua said or implied that she suffers from that to some extent. Well at least until she wrote her book.

P.s. P.s.

The following article was the source of the idea for this blog:

This is a test … if this were the real thing, you would be on your own, with no test to help you…

January 21, 2011

Testing has a bad name among some progressive educators, and although I may be mixing apples and oranges here, I just read an article that claims researchers came up with study results that showed college students learned better through testing than traditional study.

(see link at end of blog)

Of course I think the tests that get criticized are the standardized ones that are used to measure and in compare educational achievement both within schools and between schools and in figuring out whether teachers and staffs should be fired (as in Obama‘s education policy).

But anyway, this article was talking about a study in which students read short passages on subjects such as math and science and then were immediately tested. A week later they demonstrated they had learned more than other students who used time-honored traditional methods, otherwise known as studying.‘

Gee, maybe if this really works we could cut out a lot of the homework and replace it with short quizzes at the end of the chapter or the page (most books have them, or at least they used to when I was in school — many teachers did not make use of them, many did).

Then there is the criticism of “teaching to the test”. The idea is that if students are simply just supposed to learn everything by rote memory or just supposed to spit back answers they might not really even understand, they have learned little to nothing. I think that might depend upon the structure of the test. I mean if you can pass a test and not really know what you are doing, then something is wrong with the test.

Multiple choice is probably the most bogus form of testing there is. I think there is probably some statistical advantage for the test taker if he or she can start out right. Depending upon what the subject matter is, you might be able to follow a pattern. I once took a multiple choice test in a high school English class on a novel I had not read. I passed the test with an A or B, I don’t recall. I guessed on the first few (well I guessed on them all), but I saw the pattern of the story. Well, worse than multiple choice is true or false, I mean you have a 50/50 chance at least, I would think.

In math multiple choice tests I have tried to round things off in my head when I was stumped as to the mathematical mechanics of working out the problem. Sometimes that seems to work, sometimes not.

Essay tests are what I do best at, except that when I wrote them in longhand in one of those blue exam books instructors often had a hard time reading them — I have a hard time reading my own writing in longhand (a forgotten art anyway, I understand). But essay tests, I think, are highly subjective, often dealing in opinion, at least somewhat. While some instructors are fair and only require you at least support your case, others will mark you down if you do not agree with them.

But back to the idea of testing, again, I think if the test is designed properly it ought to be able to measure something. One should not be able to get a high percentage of correct answers without demonstrating some knowledge of the subject.

The problem in real life comes when you have to use what you supposedly learned and demonstrated in the test on your own without the structure of the test. You have to design the problem and then solve it — and there you are, there is a realistic test. Present a list of facts and let the student solve the problem, showing the work done. This, of course would most likely be in math and science. They say students should be allowed to be creative. Well if you can find a different way from the norm to solve a problem and you show your work, that would seem good enough.

There is a lot of worry over whether students are analytical enough or if they are taught to be. I’m thinking that for the most part, some people are more or less naturally analytical and some are not. The ones who are may wind up in endeavors that require analysis, the others go into things where what is required is straight forward and analysis might get in the way or get you into trouble.

As far as studying, in the few math classes I took in college, I just worked out problems like crazy right up till the test. In my political science classes I knew what subject matter was going to be on my exams and I just wrote practice essays like crazy right up until the exam.

I think maybe reading things over and over again is not as helpful as actively doing something with the information.

I probably totally misconstrued that article I read — I got lost when they used the term “concept mapping“. I thought it was somewhat unclear or left some things out, but it got me to thinking anyway.

You can read it, if you haven’t already, and see what you think:

Finally I find a Republican who talks sense, too bad he’s dead; Ike warned of the dangers of the war industry 50 years ago this week…

January 18, 2011

Republicans and conservatives in general always talk about making cuts in government spending, except when in comes to military spending, and then it seems as if the sky is the limit — if that (okay some give lip service to economies in that regard).

Oddly, the man who led the U.S. and the Allies to victory in World War II, Five-Star General and then President Dwight David Eisenhower, would not likely even win a Republican primary if alive today — he’d be considered too soft on defense and the lobby for the military-industrial complex would put its money wherever it could see that he could be defeated — and he was a Republican.

Back in the late 1950s it was the Democrats who made political hay about the Republican administration of Eisenhower’s being too cheap on defense, so much so that a “missile gap” (a term credited to then Sen. John Kennedy, a Democrat) had been created between the arch Cold War rivals, the U.S. and the now defunct Soviet Union (these days under the name Russia again), with the U.S. on the losing end.

(Eisenhower also faced pressure from the communist conspiracy-charging crowd of his own party, who wittingly or unwittingly helped support  the interests of the military industrial complex — anything to sell guns and missiles.)

Then when the Russians launched their Sputnik satellite into space, seeming to beat the U.S. for the time in the space race, politicians aided and abetted by the military-industrial complex were out for blood against the stodgy old penny pinchers of the Eisenhower administration, claiming that while the Russians were building their military might, Eisenhower, the doddering old fool, was out playing golf.

I recall that when I was around ten I heard Bob Hope joking about Ike spending so much time out on the golf course. And I recall seeing cartoons on the opinion pages poking fun at him for his golf and with illustrations of Russian missiles in the background.

And Sputnik, what a deal that was. We all went outside at night to watch it pass over, glowing like a star.

From what I have read since, all it really did was orbit the earth and send out meaningless beeping signals, as a kind of psychological weapon.

U.S. intelligence indicated that overall the Russians were really were not ahead of us in defense or the space program, but Eisenhower was reluctant to admit we knew some of this thanks to the reconnaissance of our secret U-2 spy planes that routinely flew over the Soviet Union. He finally had to admit we were flying those missions when one of them was shot down.

But historical research indicates that we were ahead of the Russians in our military and space programs. And of course we were the first and only nation, so far, to put men on the moon.

Stung by all the bad publicity he got, Eisenhower warned of the danger of the influence the military-industrial complex could pose on a free society. He noted that prior to World War II there was no separate defense industry. Back then, the same companies that, for instance, might produce plowshares, could turn their production to military armament and equipment when called upon to do so. But in the modern fast-paced technological world that system had become obsolete. A whole new category of industry dedicated solely to producing products and services for the defense (and space) industry had been created, thus the military-industrial complex. Now so much money and so many jobs were tied up in this new economic behemoth that its influence on public policy and spending could get out of hand and divert funds and energy that might go into other much-needed programs and services by the government.

He made that warning 50 years ago on Jan. 17, 1960 in his farewell address to the nation, after serving two full terms as president.

Eisenhower was certainly correct. In my lifetime (61 years so far) much of my nation’s foreign and defense policy has been guided by the lobbyists of the military-industrial complex with their campaign contributions and think tanks and propaganda and by the millions of Americans who know their paychecks come directly or indirectly from the defense industry.

The problem in all of this is that in an unfriendly world a nation practically has to have its own defense program or depend upon another friendly nation to back it up directly or indirectly. And like I always say, the best defense is a good offense (but unlike in sports, I don’t think you always have to actually be using that offense).

The United States came out of World War II as the most powerful nation in the world, having been protected at the time by its geography (not so any longer). It was able to mount a defense and then an offense, protected by that geography.

The rest of the free world was in a shambles by the end of the war. Western Europe built itself back up under the protective umbrella of the U.S. So while the Europeans saved big bucks on defense, the U.S. kept spending ever more and more.

And then of course the geniuses who make foreign policy decided we, the U.S., would both militarily protect our World War II enemy Japan and rebuild that nation, the idea being I guess that it would be a counterweight to the Soviet Union and the emerging Communist China.

And of course there was the Marshall Plan (for Europe) and various other programs to rebuild the world with U.S. tax-payer money, much of it well spent, no doubt.

Personally, I think you have to keep up with or ahead of the current bad guys, otherwise you eventually get taken over.

I do not understand, however, why the U.S. has to be the policeman for the whole world.

We want the rest of the world to live like us in democracy so that they will be on our side and not be a threat; I realize this. But you know? What really seems to work more than military spending and selling tanks and missiles and such to dictators, who we call our friends because they are at least supposedly against another or bigger enemy, is the free flow of information, aided today by the internet (even though all information is not good or reliable information, but that is another story).

Once people find out that the other half of the world is living better, they demand change and get it virtually without our help. Witness Eastern Europe. Witness, possibly Tunisia today.

Eisenhower knew what he was talking about. He’s a Republican I could vote for. Too bad he is dead.

I like Ike!

ADD 1:

Eisenhower was also alarmed about the national debt. A link to a blog referring to that follows:

A white guy once again looks back on the time of Martin Luther King Jr.

January 17, 2011

As many observe the birthday of the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., I recall that 43 years ago today I was one month shy of joining the U.S. Army.

And then on April 4 of that year, 1968, I was in basic training and out on what you might call a camping trip where we were all in two-man pup tents. The army called it bivouac. My tent partner was a big white boy, and I a not-so-big white boy. He took up enough room for the both of us. In fact, he rolled over and broke the tent pole.

We were not supposed to have personal radios, but someone did. The news came over the air that evening that King had been assassinated. I don’t recall seeing what the immediate reaction was of the black soldiers, of whom we had many in our basic training platoon and company. But it set off new waves of riots in black neighborhoods across the United States, there having been ones well before and after the King assassination.

The black guys in our basic platoon seemed to self-segregate themselves for the most part. And those black guys seemed to take right to the military training, except for one of them. That guy intentionally did things wrong or would not cooperate. All he did was sing a line from a popular soul tune of the time: “sunshine and blue skies go away; I wish it would rain…”  Well, he got his wish. I think it rained every day I was at Ft. Lewis.

Eventually he was dropped from the platoon. We saw him later, as we marched by, in another platoon where he reportedly had to start training all over, and sure enough, he was still singing that song — and it was still raining.

You’re probably asking yourself about now: “what does all this have to do with Martin Luther King Jr. really?”

Nothing, maybe. It’s just a remembrance of a white guy who had not been around black people a lot before he joined the army and of the times themselves.

I don’t know if this was before or after the assassination, but one night in basic I served boiler room duty with a black guy. He was not terribly friendly, kind of surly, and he kept making remarks about white people all being prejudiced.

Although no doubt a lot of white racists were in the army at that time, there were also a lot of white guys like me who had not been brought up around many blacks and who had been taught, though, that discrimination and looking down on someone because of the color of one’s skin was wrong (that does not mean no one ever heard or told a racist joke; people of all races do this).

But I think my experience with that guy in the boiler room set the tone for my experience with black people the rest of my one hitch in the army. And that tone was not good.

It seems that all whites were considered guilty for the terrible injustices and even terror and murder inflicted on the black race.

To my way of thinking, they had in pretty good in the army, especially if like me they were in Germany, and faced equal opportunities, except probably in the officer corps at the time. And, to be sure, a lot of them did realize just that and took advantage of it and became career soldiers.

But not everyone, me included, wants to be relegated to being a soldier all of his life, keeping in mind your next tour may well be dodging bullets.

(And this has to be noted: black soldiers represented 12.6 percent of the troops in Vietnam, while representing 11 percent of the U.S. population as a whole, and 12 percent of the troops killed in Vietnam were black, at least according to the statistics I just got off the web. )

And I think what may have been working on some of those black guys I came into contact with or observed in Germany was that once this gig was over they had to go back home to the mean streets. They saw some of the older black career soldiers as Uncle Toms, bending to the ways of the white man. They may have seen some of their own parents as too subservient to whites. And many came from broken homes with little prospects, outside of crime and drugs, once they went back to civilian life.

We had a mini race riot of our own where I was stationed in Germany. A gang of black soldiers beat up a white NCO. No one was punished. Somehow, I think if a white guy had beat up an NCO, black or white, he would have been punished. But with the racial strife of the times, the army was particularly sensitive to charges of racism, so in response sometimes looked the other way — not all the time.

There was another incident in which a bunch of black soldiers stole some weapons. They were allowed to get off scot-free by simply returning them anonymously (but it was known who many or all of the perpetrators were).

These experiences are carried through life by old white guys like me. Some get bitter, some just shake their heads, but it may explain why even today race relations are not always what they should be.

All this was not much about Martin Luther King Jr. So I will say that at least thanks to him a non-violent but ultimately quite successful tactic, non-violence, was injected into the civil rights movement and that is why his birthday is celebrated.

May all races live in harmony.


Another thing I have to appreciate King for was that he was a fairly early opponent of the Vietnam War, considering it both unjust and a waste of money that could be better spent on social programs here at home. (As always, I qualify my criticism of that war, by saying I do not condemn those who served as part of what was felt at the time to be duty to their country or in the case of draftees a legal obligation, as well as a duty.)

P.s. P.s.

My description of black soldiers of the time was of course a generalization (but not an exaggeration) and did not include all of whom I came into contact with or observed.