Blog Credo

I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis.The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.
- Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ezra Klein On Israel

The problem with couching any criticism of Israel in terms of antisemitism is that it cuts off dialogue.  All that's left is for Jews to carry on a conversation with themselves, since criticism from non-Jews is made taboo.

That makes Klein's piece, and the Chait piece he links to, very important.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Finally A Good Article About Teaching

So much of the debate over teaching and learning falls into the usual labor patterns of labor vs management.  I will concede that teacher's unions are very much a part of that problem.  But living in a town where the budget process is a continual assault on teaching and teachers, that seems inevitable.

The op-ed above steps back from the arguments over charter schools and teacher tenure and standardized testing.  It makes the valid point that most Education programs at the university level are completely irrelevant to the teaching of teaching.

My rule of thumb is that the most important quality a teacher can have is authenticity.  Kids can spot a faker, just ask Holden Caulfield.  If you're quiet, then you will be best at creating quiet spaces for students to venture into.  If you're an incessant talker, then perhaps a Socratic method will work (as it does for me).  If you're stern, then you should be stern (but fair).  If you are kind, then you should be kind (but demanding).

You obviously can't "teach" authenticity.  But you can inculcate it.  And what's more you can teach things like lesson planning, different pedagogical approaches, curriculum design and cognitive development.

Where I would disagree with Nocera is that programs that do this are rare.  Maybe I'm too cloistered, but we run a program that teaches teachers - many of them are coming for their required Continuing Education Units - and we do exactly that.

Even good teacher training can't ameliorate the jitters and insecurities of a young, new teacher.  But they can help.  They can give them the tools to manage a classroom better and to understand kids better.

Changing undergraduate education departments at universities should be a movement everyone can support.

Monday, July 28, 2014

All Politics Is Local

Interesting analysis of how Netanyahu is increasingly cozying up to the GOP as a form of proxy figure in his dispute with the Obama Administration.  Obama - to his credit - in unwilling to rubber stamp Israel's more egregious actions, but if Netanyahu thinks he can manage an end run around Obama through idiots like Lindsay Graham, he'll be rudely surprised.

An Important Point

Medicare - the "most endangered" entitlement - is not going to run out of money.

For years, we've been hearing that Social Security and Medicare are going to go bankrupt, and invariably this never comes to pass.

Presumably both the Left and Right have a reason to point to the coming insolvency of entitlements.  On the Left, looming fiscal restraints would be a call for more revenue, especially by eliminating the cap on Social Security taxes.  On the Right, the discussion would be on the basic impossibility of the government doing anything right.

Most interesting is the Center Right, Sensible, Serious Person take on entitlement crises.  These are the voices for austerity - which ought to be in the running for Worst Economic Idea of All Time.  There argument is for "belt tightening" and is some ways indistinguishable from the Right's complaints about entitlements in general.

But it's important to note that they rig the numbers to make it look like a crisis is looming.  This seems to benefit everyone but those who want to feel secure in their future retirement.

Sunday, July 27, 2014


America's Stupidest Foreign Policy Voice, Huckleberry Closetcase, has opened his mewling, drawling pie-hole again to say stupid things about foreign policy.  In this case, he is accusing the UN of Antisemitism.  Similarly, my Facebook feed is full of friends whose defense of Israel is often couched in terms of Antisemitism being at the root of anger over Israeli actions in Gaza.  Or that any outrage over Israel's actions is the same as support for Hamas.

Any statement that begins "I'm not X, but..." usually means you're "X".  So I'll try and avoid the "I'm not antisemitic, but..." formulation. outrage over what Israel is doing in Gaza is not motivated by hatred of the Jews or the state of Israel.  It does not call into question Israel's right to exist or defend itself.

But it is rooted in the same place that had me condemning American force used to level Fallujah.  When we used incredibly destructive weapons - including white phosphorus - on a civilian population, I thought that was criminal.  It was at the root of my desire to leave Iraq and even my concern and outrage over the way we went into Iraq.  As a student of mine once said, "Shock and awe was shockingly awful."

There may be a tactical reason for Israel is kill over a thousand Palestinians.  Although they have not seemed able to stop the short term rocket attacks that is their stated tactical goal.  Strategically, they have zero chance of destroying Hamas through the use of force and in fact they likely strengthen Hamas with every Palestinian killed.

But it is not antisemitic to say that Israel has lost its moral voice in its dealings with Gaza.  This is a statement about Netanyahu's policies and the need for the Right wing in Israel to "be tough and send a message" which is a factor it has in common with the American Right.  But bombing schools and hospitals and residential neighborhoods - even if they hide Hamas' rockets - calls into question the moral claims of self-defense.  Especially since the Hamas attacks have been so ineffectual.

Israel has dealt with a mosquito infestation by carpet bombing the neighborhood.

If the true goal was to get Hamas to stop lobbing rockets into Israel, a negotiated settlement would be the likeliest way to accomplish that.  Launching wholesale attacks into one of the most densely populated places on earth won't accomplish anything more that creating more recruits for Hamas.

And to point this out is not antisemitism.  And what's more, throwing about that term to defend Israel's actions only weakens the term.  Yes, the Arab protesters who attack synagogues are antisemitic.  But those that protest outside the Israeli embassy are not necessarily.

If criticism of Israel is the same as criticism of Judaism, then Israel must behave in a way that does honor to Judaism.  This is the logic of Jefferson's efforts to separate church from state.  If the church and state are linked then the crimes of the state will stick to the church, or the synagogue in this case.

Israel was created as a homeland for one of the world's most bullied people.  But the state of Israel has now adopted the logic of the bully.  That's not good for Israel.  And if criticism of Israel is attacked on the basis of religion, then that is not good for Judaism.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Live Slow, Die Old

I was reading this excellent piece on Ryan Adams, and it occurred to me that if a trouble artist can survive the tumults of youth he will likely produce some excellent work as he gets older.

However, Oh My Sweet Carolina is good, no matter how old you are.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Serious Question

Why the hell are people in Louisiana so happy?  I've been there.  It's inexplicable.

Off To The Appalachian Trail

Thing One is going on his first true backpacking trip.  Two nights, not many miles.

No blogging Friday, because that would be sad.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Dog Daze

Very busy day.  Thing Two came home from a sleepover sick, which required the Most Beauteous Spouse Who Rises At Dawn...Like The Dawn to drive up to the sticks at 5:30 AM.  I only had to take him to the doctor's at 8:45.  Then it was time to repair the deck, which required two trips to the hardware stores.  All in crushing heat.  Then it was off to pick up Thing One who decided to skip Radiant Mom's own doctor's tests.  After lunch we needed to pack for a camping trip (no blogging Friday, folks).  That was another trip to the store.  It takes a lot of work to get away from it all.  Then it was time to work out, which felt redundant.

Summer vacation is HARD.

Anyway, I leave you with what passes for good news these days:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Two Health Stories

For a relative pittance, the Carter Center has come close to eradicating guinea worm.  By improving education, digging wells and providing treatment, they have managed to dramatically reduce a truly horrific parasitic infection.

Meanwhile, there is a new drug to combat HIV.  It is incredibly expensive - up to $14,000 a year - and has to be taken every day.  It can help at-risk people avoid infection, but again it has to be taken every day.  It has already started to create resistant strains, despite being on the market for only two years.  The people who probably need it most - sex workers and the population of sub-Saharan Africa - can't afford it.

Roughly speaking, you're looking at two ways of treating illness.  One is focused on public health and prevention.  The other is "there's a pill for that (if you have insurance)."

Obviously, drugs have made tremendous improvements in people's lives.  But the way in which we treat illnesses could be made more comprehensive.  It will be interesting - for instance - to see a longitudinal study of preventable deaths from cigarette smoking and see if high taxes have an effect.  It's only been about 15 years since the tobacco industry finally cried uncle about their product.  Has there been an effect?

Or is there now a pill for that, too?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Huckleberry Closetcase Needs To STFU

Inevitably, Republican foreign policy can be reduced to "sending them a message."  Them can be whomever needs that message sent.

When Fluffy asked him how Kerry failed in the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight 17, Graham actually said we should have been arming the Ukrainians.  To "send a message" to Putin, I guess.  Because Kerry didn't call Putin a "thug" which would have TOTALLY worked, because Putin may look like a Bond villain, but he's really as frail and vulnerable to name calling as a 13 year girl who just had braces put on.

Because what Ukraine needs right now is MORE weapons.  Maybe this time the government can shoot down a passenger jet with an American weapon.

Graham is a moron and should just shut the hell up.

Single Servings

When I was in college - an age when you are supposed to listen to "college" music - my college radio station was the FM station for central New Hampshire.  So we got - I shit you not - a bunch of Madonna, Duran Duran and Billy Ocean.  There was an AM station but its format was so bonkers you never knew what to expect.

Meanwhile, my peers were being immersed in the Smiths, Husker Du and REM.  The local DJ actually pronounced REM as rem.

So it took me awhile to cultivate musical taste beyond Jimmy Buffet.  I spent most of my college years listening to old R&B from the Atlantic Records vaults.  At one point I was into Gordon Lightfoot.

It was sad.

About ten years ago, all of that changed.  While I had been gaining access to a greater variety of music, it was the advent of the iPod and iTunes plus satellite radio that changed everything.  Suddenly you didn't need to have the cool dude at the record store recommend Grizzly Bear to you, because the iTunes Genius would suggest it after you listened to The Decemberists, which you heard on Sirius Radio.  Plus, the advent of MySpace and other sites allowed for small bands to produce and promote their own stuff.

As a result, you can tailor make what you want to listen to.

When I'm in a car without satellite radio, I feel force fed crap.  The annoying DJ chatter; the stupid ads, the mass produced pablum.

But recently, I've soured on satellite radio.  Having access to an iPod means you never have to listen to what you don't want to listen to.  And even the minimal DJ chatter from Sirius is gone.

We live in a world where you have access to more and more varied content.  Hundreds of channels, thousands of bands.  And increasingly you can only expose yourself to what you want.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying we live in age of unprecedented choice, but that choice often winds up narrowing our choices.  I'll listen to Leonard Cohen's atonal "singing" but not Neil Young's.  I'll listen to Snow Patrol but not Coldplay.

When sociologists look at this time period, they will see the moment when technology led us further and further away from each other and from communal experiences, into our own private world of personal preferences.

I don't think the trend is permanent, but it could be.  And that's a little worrisome.

We cannot afford to fail further apart on every little thing.