An American service member died Friday when his vehicle struck a bomb in eastern Afghanistan, making August the deadliest month for U.S. forces in the nearly eight-year war.
The grim milestone comes as the top U.S. commander prepares to submit his assessment of the conflict — a report expected to trigger intense debate on the Obama administration's strategy in an increasingly unpopular war. ...
That brought to 45 the number of U.S. service members killed this month in the Afghan war — one more than the previous monthly record, set in July.
American casualties have been rising steadily following President Barack Obama's decision to send 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to combat a resurgent Taliban and train Afghan security forces to assume a greater role in battling the insurgents.
Obama's decision was part of a strategic shift in the U.S. war against international Islamic extremism — moving resources from Iraq, which had been center stage since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion but where violence has declined sharply from levels of two years ago.
A record 62,000 U.S. troops are now in the country, with 4,000 more due before year's end. That compares with about 130,000 in Iraq, most due to leave next year.
Since the fresh troops began arriving in Afghanistan last spring, U.S. deaths have climbed steadily — from 12 in May to more than 40 for the past two months as American forces have taken the fight to the Taliban in areas of the country which have long been under insurgent control.At least 732 U.S. service members have died in the Afghan war since the U.S.-led invasion of late 2001. Nearly 60 percent of those deaths occurred since the Taliban insurgency began to rebound in 2007.
August 29, 2009
Our elected officials and punditocracy are engaging in an orgy of nostalgia over the late Ted Kennedy, in part because he embodied their ideal: the Public-Figure-for-Life.
Teddy was elected to the U.S. Senate to replace his brother when he was 29 and then spent almost 47 years in the Senate. You know the old joke about how the only thing that could cost Senator So-and-so reelection is being found with a dead girl or a live boy? Well, Senator Ted wound up with the blood of a dead girl on his hands ... and still got over 40 more years in the U.S. Senate. And to a lot of important people, that makes him an inspiration.
August 28, 2009
KennedyCare automatically turns into KopechneCare
Oklahoma State has had some good moments in football, such as when they had Barry Sanders, but the U. of Oklahoma has had more success. That rankles State alumnus T. Boone Pickens, the billionaire energy tycoon and financier, so he has given $265 million to State's athletic program. Pickens is an octogenarian, so he wants to win now. Oklahoma State is ranked 9th and 11th in the preseason polls.
I have to wonder how many opinion journalists somebody could buy for $265 million. (Answer: oodles.) Who cares about football, when for $265 million (assuming it was spent judiciously), you could more or less rent the U.S. military for your own personal war.
Personally, I think it's wonderful that across a broad swathe of America, incredibly competitive guys like T. Boone Pickens put their money into a non-lethal brand of pretend war.
Once again, I must point out that a major structural problem with American foreign policy is the lack of major college football programs in New York City and Washington D.C. to harmlessly absorb the competitive energies of the local personality equivalents of Pickens.
The problem with pro sports is that, other than taking the extreme step of buying a team, you can't give much money to an NFL team. You can buy season tickets, you can buy souvenirs, but you can't buy them a quarterback the way you can in college football.
This bottle-throwing brouhaha took place at the corner of Sheridan and Leland, two blocks inland from the lakefront at 4700 North, on August 13, 2009 at just after 9 pm. (The audio portion of the video is Not Safe For Work.)
Nobody brought a gun, so this gang fight has a certain old-fashioned West Side Story / Beat It sense of innocence, but commenters say they heard three shots fired the next night.
I used to live six blocks north and one block east. My rule was that no matter how desperately I was searching for a parking place late at night ... never park south of Lawrence (4800 North).
This part of Uptown, south of Lawrence and a little north of Wrigley Field, is in the 46th Ward, overseen since 1987 by Alderwoman Helen Shiller, who had once founded a white auxiliary wing of the Black Panthers. Aldermen have a lot of power over what kind of development happens in their wards. Shiller chose to pack as many poor and dysfunctional people as she could into her otherwise attractive lakefront ward to drive away yuppie voters. The late Mike Royko once said "Shiller's main motive was that she was building a political power base which included as many winos as she could drag to the voting booth."
All through the 1990s, we hoped Mayor Daley's candidates would oust her so we could someday park south of Lawrence (it seemed a humble enough ambition), but Shiller narrowly survived multiple challenges. Finally, after we left Chicago, she and Daley struck a deal and now they are allies. (Here's Shiller's weaselly statement on the riot.)
August 26, 2009
Apparently, Tarantino is one of the very few people in the world who rather identifies with the repulsive Goebbels.
Read it there and comment upon it below.
August 25, 2009
Toni Sailer, RIP.
August 24, 2009
Mid-20th Century American writers competed on their dust flaps to list the most jobs held. The more proletarian occupations an author enumerated, such as short order cook, hod carrier, or lobsterman, the more legitimate was his assault on the Great American Novel.
Today, however, a generation of the well-educated has grown up assuming “there are jobs Americans just won’t do.” “Adventureland,” a witty, nostalgic love story is set in the summer of 1987, about the time when tuition started being inflated so high by competitive elitism and unskilled wages pounded so low by illegal immigration that “summer job” was increasingly replaced in the upper middle class vocabulary by “unpaid internship.” (By now, a few parents are paying fashionable employers to let their kids make photocopies and fetch coffee.)
A new Oberlin graduate, James Brennan, has his costly Eurail Pass backpack tour canceled by his parents because his alcoholic father’s executive career is wobbling. Suddenly needing a summer job to pay for tuition in the fall at the Columbia Journalism School, he finds that a resume featuring his SAT scores and his Renaissance Studies major doesn’t compensate for his lack of any work experience. Nobody in Greater Pittsburgh, it turns out, needs a fresco restored. He winds up at the employer of last resort, the Adventureland amusement park.
Writer-director Greg Mottola, who helmed 2007’s comedy hit “Superbad,” explains the origin of his quasi-autobiographical film with an ingenuous snobbishness that would have annoyed and amused John Steinbeck. “I was talking with a bunch of writer friends, and I was telling them these embarrassing stories about a summer in the ‘80s that I spent as a carnie working at an amusement park … It was the worst job I’ve ever had… I should have had a good job—I should have been a tutor or gone to Manhattan and been an intern at a magazine or something respectable—but no, I was working for minimum wage, handing out stuffed animals to drunk people.”
Please note that Mottola isn’t, personally, a jerk. Judging from “Adventureland,” he’s an insightful yet gentle observer. That’s just the way people think nowadays.
For Mottola’s alter ego, this dreaded “worst job in the world” laboring in a workplace where many employees lack four-digit SAT scores turns out to be the best summer of James’s life. Played by Jesse Eisenberg as a continuation of his role in 2005’s “The Squid and the Whale” as a romantic but overly verbal intellectual who can’t help blurting out his innermost feelings at awkward moments, James is the first young male in recent movies who isn’t in a particular rush to lose his virginity. He seems to share Freud’s pride in the discreet passion of the bourgeoisie: “Why don’t we fall in love with someone new every month? Because every breakup tears away a piece of our heart.”
James’s goofy charm catches the eye of two beauties working at the park. Em (Kristen Stewart of “Twilight”) is a Jewish NYU student who is avenging herself on her lawyer father for remarrying after her mother’s death by sleeping with the amusement park’s handsome but married electrician (Ryan Reynolds). And Lisa P. (Margarita Levieva) is a Catholic working class girl whose religion-dictated virginity enables her to date her many admirers without losing her heart to any.
Mottola, now 44, directed episodes of comedy godfather Judd Apatow’s failed 2001 TV series “Undeclared.” Until Apatow’s 2005 breakthrough with “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” Mottola’s career was idling. (His press kit biography concludes, “He hopes someday to have a better bio.”)
Like so many other underlings of Apatow, such as Seth Rogen and Jason Segel, he’s done well when finally given a chance. The sudden success of Apatow’s boys is reminiscent of the famous cohort of writers who graduated from Eton in 1920-22: George Orwell, Anthony Powell, Henry Green, Cyril Connolly, Harold Acton, and Ian Fleming. Were they that individually talented? Or did it help to know each other?
Without Apatow’s oversight this time, Mottola’s “Adventureland” is notably less vulgar than “Superbad” (which Rogen and Evan Goldberg wrote): Mottola’s new movie takes very seriously the dictum that love stories are most romantic before consummation. Granted, it’s also less funny than “Superbad,” but better overall. One caveat: like most indie films today, it’s directed by a writer, so it’s not the visual experience it could have been if it had been entrusted to a 1980s-style music video idiot savant.
Rated R for language, nonstop marijuana use, and sexual references.
August 23, 2009
My version of this conspiracy theory is one that's neither terribly implausible nor hugely significant. But, when you are talking about the President of the United States, it's certainly interesting.
If you think of CIA less as the puppet-master of world history and more as merely one well-funded player in an international version of the municipal Favor Bank familiar from Bonfire of the Vanities and The Wire, then the idea that Obama got help from CIA-connected individuals along the way seems less shocking and more plausible. He's not the Manchurian Candidate, he's just a kid whose parents exploited Cold War tensions to get him a favor or two.
The key thing to recognize is that the President's parents were exactly the type of non-Communist leftists whom CIA constantly cultivated.
Barack Obama Sr. was a protege of the dynamic Tom Mboya, who was America's man in Kenya in the three way power struggle with Britain's man Jomo Kenyatta and Russia's man, Oginga Odinga. Mboya was publicly on the payroll of the AFL-CIO's anti-Communist outreach program and may have been on the CIA's payroll as well, according to David Horowitz's Ramparts magazine. Obama Sr. got to Hawaii on the American-funded Tom Mboya Airlift that brought young Kenyan elites to America for college. He later got his master's degree at Harvard, which was probably second only to Yale as a CIA recruiting ground during the New Frontier.
Although Obama Sr. criticized Mboya's non-radical and non-racist economics in his first published paper, he later worked for Mboya, as well as for an American oil company. Indeed, if Obama Sr.'s claims were true, he may have been the last man to speak to Mboya alive, and saw him gunned down in 1969 by a Kikuyu hitman likely affiliated with Kenyatta's cronies. Obama Sr. claimed to have been the only witness to have been able to identify the triggerman and that the Kikuyus tried to kill him for it. (Obama Jr. left all this out of Dreams from My Father, whether because the story was dangerous for his surviving Kenyan relatives 25 years later, because he didn't believe it, or because it violated his No Interesting Anecdotes policy in writing his book is unknown.)
Obama's mother worked at the American embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia in the mid to late 1960s, when it was CIA Central. Obama writes in Dreams from My Father:
She found herself a job right away teaching English to Indonesian businessmen at the American embassy, part of the U.S. foreign aid package to developing countries. ... The Americans were mostly older men, careerists in the State Department, the occasional economist or journalist who would mysteriously disappear for months at a time, their affiliation or function in the embassy never quite clear. [In other words, these International Men of Mystery were CIA] ...
These men knew the country, though, or parts of it anyway, the closets where the skeletons were buried. Over lunch or casual conversation they would share with her things she couldn’t learn in the published news reports. They explained how Sukarno had frayed badly the nerves of a U.S. government already obsessed with the march of communism through Indochina, what with his nationalist rhetoric and his politics of nonalignment-he was as bad as Lumumba or Nasser, only worse, given Indonesia’s strategic importance. Word was that the CIA had played a part in the coup, although nobody knew for sure.
Later, she worked for the Ford Foundation in Asia, which had a long history of ties with the CIA.
My theory is that at some point, the President's father and/or mother got in touch with old CIA contacts and asked them for help with their Hawaiian slacker son's advancement, such as getting him into the International Relations program at Columbia or getting him a decent-paying job at Business International. Obama would have been exactly the kind of second generation, suave, charismatic globalized individual with lots of foreign friends (including sons of Pakistan's political elite -- and this was in the early 1980s when Pakistan was the frontline in CIA's struggle against the Soviets in Afghanistan) whom CIA guys would have wanted to do favors for in return for favors down the road.
When I first started thinking about this, I said, "Boy, my parents sure didn't have any two-degrees of separation contacts to CIA!" But, then, I realized, actually they did, being old friends from Lockheed back to the 1940s with legendary engineer Henry Combs and his wife Jimmy. Combs was the "irascible genius" (according to Ben Rich's Skunk Works) who was the chief structural designer of the incredible SR-71 spy plane that went 2500 mph, and, before that, he played a major role in the U2 spy plane. These CIA projects were of world-historical importance in averting WWIII by reducing tensions by letting the U.S. know the Soviets weren't on the verge of attack.
Unfortunately, the teacher training establishment works assiduously to drive intelligent would-be teachers away screaming at the mind-destroying stupidity of Ed School courses. Here's part of a 1998 City Journal article by Heather Mac Donald, "Why Johnny's Teacher Can't Teach:"
Americans’ nearly last place finish in the Third International Mathematics and Sciences Study of student achievement caused widespread consternation this February, except in the one place it should have mattered most: the nation’s teacher education schools. Those schools have far more important things to do than worrying about test scores—things like stamping out racism in aspiring teachers. "Let’s be honest," darkly commanded Professor Valerie Henning-Piedmont to a lecture hall of education students at Columbia University’s Teachers College last February. "What labels do you place on young people based on your biases?" It would be difficult to imagine a less likely group of bigots than these idealistic young people, happily toting around their Handbooks of Multicultural Education and their exposés of sexism in the classroom. But Teachers College knows better. It knows that most of its students, by virtue of being white, are complicitous in an unjust power structure.
The crusade against racism is just the latest irrelevancy to seize the nation’s teacher education schools. For over 80 years, teacher education in America has been in the grip of an immutable dogma, responsible for endless educational nonsense. That dogma may be summed up in the phrase: Anything But Knowledge. Schools are about many things, teacher educators say (depending on the decade)—self-actualization, following one’s joy, social adjustment, or multicultural sensitivity—but the one thing they are not about is knowledge. Oh sure, educators will occasionally allow the word to pass their lips, but it is always in a compromised position, as in "constructing one’s own knowledge," or "contextualized knowledge." Plain old knowledge, the kind passed down in books, the kind for which Faust sold his soul, that is out....The course in "Curriculum and Teaching in Elementary Education" that Professor Anne Nelson (a pseudonym) teaches at the City College of New York is a good place to start. Dressed in a tailored brown suit with close-cropped hair, Nelson is a charismatic teacher, with a commanding repertoire of voices and personae. And yet, for all her obvious experience and common sense, her course is a remarkable exercise in vacuousness.
As with most education classes, the title of Professor Nelson’s course doesn’t give a clear sense of what it is about. Unfortunately, Professor Nelson doesn’t either. The semester began, she said in a pre-class interview, by "building a community, rich of talk, in which students look at what they themselves are doing by in-class writing." On this, the third meeting of the semester, Professor Nelson said that she would be "getting the students to develop the subtext of what they’re doing." I would soon discover why Professor Nelson was so vague.
"Developing the subtext" turns out to involve a chain reaction of solipsistic moments. ... Professor Nelson begins the main work of the day: generating feather-light "texts," both written and oral, for immediate group analysis. She asks the students to write for seven minutes on each of three questions: "What excites me about teaching?" "What concerns me about teaching?" and then, the moment that brands this class as hopelessly steeped in the Anything But Knowledge credo: "What was it like to do this writing?"
This last question triggers a quickening volley of self-reflexive turns. After the students read aloud their predictable reflections on teaching, Professor Nelson asks: "What are you hearing?" A young man states the obvious: "Everyone seems to be reflecting on what their anxieties are." This is too straightforward an answer. Professor Nelson translates into ed-speak: "So writing gave you permission to think on paper about what’s there." Ed-speak dresses up the most mundane processes in dramatic terminology—one doesn’t just write, one is "given permission to think on the paper"; one doesn’t converse, one "negotiates meaning." Then, like a champion tennis player finishing off a set, Nelson reaches for the ultimate level of self-reflexivity and drives it home: "What was it like to listen to each other’s responses?"
The self-reflection isn’t over yet, however. The class next moves into small groups—along with in-class writing, the most pervasive gimmick in progressive classrooms today—to discuss a set of student-teaching guidelines. After ten minutes, Nelson interrupts the by-now lively and largely off-topic conversations, and asks: "Let’s talk about how you felt in these small groups." The students are picking up ed-speak. "It shifted the comfort zone," reveals one. "It was just acceptance; I felt the vibe going through the group." Another adds: "I felt really comfortable; I had trust there." Nelson senses a "teachable moment." "Let’s talk about that," she interjects. "We are building trust in this class; we are learning how to work with each other."
Now, let us note what this class was not: it was not about how to keep the attention of eight-year-olds or plan a lesson or make the Pilgrims real to first-graders. It did not, in other words, contain any material (with the exception of the student-teacher guidelines) from the outside world. Instead, it continuously spun its own subject matter out of itself. Like a relationship that consists of obsessively analyzing the relationship, the only content of the course was the course itself.
How did such navel-gazing come to be central to teacher education? It is the almost inevitable consequence of the Anything But Knowledge doctrine, born in a burst of quintessentially American anti-intellectual fervor in the wake of World War I. Educators within the federal government and at Columbia’s Teachers College issued a clarion call to schools: cast off the traditional academic curriculum and start preparing young people for the demands of modern life. America is a forward-looking country, they boasted; what need have we for such impractical disciplines as Greek, Latin, and higher math? Instead, let the students then flooding the schools take such useful courses as family membership, hygiene, and the worthy use of leisure time. "Life adjustment," not wisdom or learning, was to be the goal of education.
The early decades of this century forged the central educational fallacy of our time: that one can think without having anything to think about. Knowledge is changing too fast to be transmitted usefully to students, argued William Heard Kilpatrick of Teachers College, the most influential American educator of the century; instead of teaching children dead facts and figures, schools should teach them "critical thinking," he wrote in 1925. What matters is not what you know, but whether you know how to look it up, so that you can be a "lifelong learner."
Heather's exactly right that progressive education wasn't an invention of the 1960s. This pre-Sputnik style of Life Adjustment education fashionable in fashionable high schools was satirized in a couple of novels published in America in 1958: Nabokov's Lolita and Heinlein's Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. I'll leave as an exercise for the reader working out which author wrote which of the following excerpts:
I felt shocked. "Why, Dad, Center is a swell school." I remembered things they had told us in P.T.A. Auxiliary. "It's run along the latest, most scientific lines, approved by psychologists and --"
"-- and paying excellent salaries," he interrupted, "for a staff highly trained in modern pedagogy. Study projects emphasize practical human problems to orient the child in democratic social living, to fit him for the vital meaningful tests of adult life in our complex modern culture. Excuse me, son; I've talked with Mr. Hanley. Mr. Hanley is sincere -- and to achieve these noble purposes we are spending more per student than is any other state save California and New Yor."
"Well ... what's wrong with that?"
"What's a dangling participle?"
I didn't answer. He went on, "Why did Van Buren fail of re-election? How do you extract the cube root of eighty-seven?"
Van Buren had been a president; that was all I remembered. But I could answer the other one. "If you want a cube root, you look in a table in the back of the book."
At my first interview with headmistress Pratt, ... she wrinkled her brow in a kind of recuillement and said:
"We are not so much concerned, Mr. Humbird, with having our students become bookworms or be able to reel off all the capitals off Europe which nobody knows anyway, or learn by heart the dates of forgotten battles. What we are concerned with is the adjustment of the child to group life. That is why we stress the four D's: Dramatics, Dance, Debating, and Dating. ... We are still groping perhaps, but we grope intelligently, like a gynecologist feeling a tumor. We think, Dr. Humburg, in organismal and organizational terms. We have done away with the mass of irrelevant topics that have traditionally been presented to young girls, leaving no place, in former days, for the knowledges and the skills, and the attitudes they will need in managing their lives and -- as the cynic might add -- the lives of their husbands."
And here's a recent blog post by Jay Matthews of the Washington Post about how the Stanford Education school relentlessly persecuted one of their few students who really is good at "critical thinking" (especially thinking about test data), Michele Kerr, known around the Internet as "Cal Lanier." (An old boyfriend who was a fan of 1960s utility infielder Hal Lanier gave her that pseudonym.)
Dozens of quangos and taxpayer-funded organisations have ordered a purge of common words and phrases so as not to cause offence.
Among the everyday sayings that have been quietly dropped in a bid to stamp out racism and sexism are “whiter than white”, “gentleman’s agreement”, “black mark” and “right-hand man”.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has advised staff to replace the phrase “black day” with “miserable day”, according to documents released under freedom of information rules.
It points out that certain words carry with them a “hierarchical valuation of skin colour”. The commission even urges employees to be mindful of the term “ethnic minority” because it can imply “something smaller and less important”.
The National Gallery in London believes that the phrase “gentleman’s agreement” is potentially offensive to women and suggests that staff should replace it with “unwritten agreement” or “an agreement based on trust” instead. The term “right-hand man” is also considered taboo by the gallery, with “second in command” being deemed more suitable.
Many institutions have urged their workforce to be mindful of “gender bias” in language. The Learning and Skills Council wants staff to “perfect” their brief rather than “master” it, while the Newcastle University has singled out the phrase “master bedroom” as being problematic.
Advice issued by the South West Regional Development Agency states: “Terms such as ‘black sheep of the family’, ‘black looks’ and ‘black mark’ have no direct link to skin colour but potentially serve to reinforce a negative view of all things black. Equally, certain terms imply a negative image of ‘black’ by reinforcing the positive aspects of white.
“For example, in the context of being above suspicion, the phrase ‘whiter than white’ is often used. Purer than pure or cleaner than clean are alternatives which do not infer that anything other than white should be regarded with suspicion.”
The clampdown in the public sector has angered some of the country’s most popular writers.
Anthony Horowitz, author of the Alex Rider children’s spy books, said: “A great deal of our modern language is based on traditions which have now gone but it would be silly — and extremely inconvenient — to replace them all."