Assorted Links

  1. We the Aggrieved– An essay on Inside Higher Ed about the partisan nature of this election and how “tribal” anything political has become. The author focuses on how both sides have been playing up the victim card.
  2. Like: Facebook and Shadenfreude– An article in the Paris Review that discusses one of the many issues with Facebook, namely that it does not distinguish between types of sharing, but rather categorizes all sharing as a positive experience. The author examines some of her own experiences on Facebook and discusses the triviality of the sharing and witnessing frustrating and heartbreak in others, more or less concluding that Facebook did not make her happier. I agree with most of her article, though it is also shallow on a few levels, including that she (evidently) has no plans to change her behavior vis a vis Facebook, and deals with some of the larger social implications of the online life in a tangential way.
  3. Two words: working wifi– A portrait of modern life–people huddled around a closed Starbucks, likely in order to use the free wi-fi.
  4. Chris Christie, Your Future President, Sandy Edition– Charlie Pierce at Esquire’s Politics Blog suggests that (by merely doing the right thing in terms of hurricane relief, ironically) Chris Christie is reaffirming his credentials as the early favorite to win the 2016 election. All he has done is praise the president’s leadership, take responsibility for disaster relief in his state, and tell people to get lost when they ask about politics.
  5. A Trip Through Hell: Daily Life in Islamist Controlled North Mali– A story in Spiegel by a German reporter who got permission to visit Northern Mali and see what hte condions were like under Ansar Dine rule. He suggests that there is growing popular unrest against the Islamic group which one of the people he interviews characterizes as a group of adolescents. Interestingly, one of the activists interviewed is female.
  6. Sandy zeigt, wie marode Amerikas Infrastruktur ist – From Joe, an article in German about the ailing nature of infrastructure in the United States. The article claims that nearly all infrastructure systems (power grid, roads, bridges, dams, ports, airports) are a problem, both susceptible to storms like Sandy, but also to more typical weather conditions. Of course, not modernizing the infrastructure will merely cost more money and hinder the economy in the long run (not unlike healthcare). The article does not cover every infrastructure issue I have with the US, but it also called attention to a few I had not considered, including that many ports may be too small to accommodate new generations of container ships.

Assorted Links

  1. Why the GOP Should Fear a Romney Presidency– A story on the Atlantic that speculates about the next four years should Romney win. The argument is based on the work of Stephen Skowronek, particularly in regard to political legitimacy and cycles in presidential legitimacy. The author speculates that should Romney be elected, he would, through no fault of his own, be the next Jimmy Carter by causing the dissolution of the Reagan coalition. By and large, I agree with his argument, though he does not really speculate on the deep partisan divides between Democrats and Republicans. Perhaps it is time for a third party.
  2. The Liberal Arts, Economic Value, and Leisure: Don’t make an economic case for liberal arts– An article on Inside Higher Ed that tries to make a case that the value of liberal arts is to produce good citizens and tries to refute the notion that the liberal arts should, or could, be designed to create entrepreneurs. He notes “if our only god is money, we live in a sad society,” and tries to prove that a narrow focus on marginal economic products is not the purpose of a collegiate education. While I agree with the sentiment presented, Timothy Burke does is also quite right that the article is self serving and, in the current economic climate comits”rhetorical self-immolation.” I think the arts are important and cannot be done away with, but in large part because I question the value of skill specific education for the current workforce. It is better to learn transferable skills–critical thinking, writing, argumentation, etc. There is also a misnomer here that somehow the liberal arts is something that exists in college, rather than something that college can encourage, but that really exists in wider society.
  3. -Mali: no rhythm or reason as militants declare war on music– In Mali there is a crackdown on traditional tribal music by the Islamic militants there.
  4. New York strip club loses bid to have lap dances legally defined as art– The New York court of appeals decided a case over back taxes owed by a strip club in Albany. The club tried to claim tax exemption based on the dances being art. The court disagreed, saying that not everything that could be called as a dance should be defined as art.
  5. The Narrowing of the American Mind– An article on the Chronicle that suggests that job preparation programs are inherently limiting, since the job candidates claim to make all decisions based on money and serve as well-trained parrots, rather than rounded and adaptable thinkers. This is a somewhat better reason to make it possible for students to study things that interest them–and preferably study as widely as possible–while in college than the defense of liberal arts given in Inside Higher Ed above.
  6. As always, comments encouraged. What else is out there?

A few thoughts on the third debate

*Warning: what follows are a few thoughts with some semblance of structure about the foreign policy debate from last night. I don’t like the foreign policy of either candidate and find the American political coverage both of the debate and of foreign issues to be utterly disheartening. I have done little to no new research on any of the topics, do not offer solutions (yet), and at several points make opinionated statements that I have not necessarily adequately defended with examples pulled from my recollection of the debate or by briefly skimming through the debate transcript. Words are wind.

-“There is no reason that Americans should die [when we have Afghans for that].”

-Dear Mitt Romney, Barbados, Burundi, Palau, and the Vatican City are all four years closer to the bomb, too. That is how time works.

I sent out two tweets during last night’s foreign policy debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama (though I have since modified the wording of the first to make it pithier). I had one tweet for each presidential candidate, neither positive. For most of the day today I have monitored the coverage–everything from that this debate didn’t matter to which candidate appeared more presidential. Most of the coverage was inane, repetitive, and (if possible) more vapid than the actual talking points during the debate. Just one article truly went too far for me. I will get to this one in a moment, but I will say now that it was not the comments that Ann Coulter made. I’ve long since decided that, at least when I want to be serious, nothing she says is coherent or dignified enough to warrant a response. I prefer to deal with rational people and, as far as I can tell, she is not one.

To be honest, what Romney said scared me more than what Obama did. On one hand, I have significant qualms with how the administration is handling Iran, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Israel, and most of the rest of the world, not to mention drone attacks. On the other, I was never at any point surprised by what Obama said and I could see a mixture of pandering and basic precedent set in his first term in the answers. Romney never really provided answers of his own, but it was nonetheless interesting that he was the one who brought up the various militant Islamist groups that the President has not publicly addressed, particularly Mali and the student protests in Tehran.

Romney’s answers were often nonsensical, culturally imperialistic, and (borderline) offensive. To give one example, Romney repeatedly mentioned that Israel is the closest ally the United States has in the Middle East (Obama made the same claim at least once). This may be true, though I could easily see a case to be made for Turkey–a NATO member–officially and substantively being closer to the United States than Israel. On the Arab Spring, he said:

“I wish that, looking back at the beginning of the president’s term and even further back than that, that we’d have recognized that there was a growing energy and passion for freedom in that part of the world, and that we would have worked more aggressively with our friend and with other friends in the region to have them make the transition towards a more representative form of government, such that it didn’t explode in the way that it did.”

In short: perhaps this whole supporting dictators and rigging elections thing doesn’t work so well in this age of instant technology–and while we support free elections, did you really have to vote for those guys?

Romney also pointed out the opportunities for US business in “Latin America,” claiming that there were “language opportunities” (whatever that means), brazenly claimed that Europe would support whatever sanctions the US wants on Iran, and that his relationship with Netanyahu will help determine Israeli policy on Iran. Romney said that we need to “indict” Ahmadinejad, though for what, it isn’t entirely clear (something about his words inciting genocide?). And, somehow, the teacher’s union is a foreign policy imperative. Presidential though he may have seemed, my biggest sense was that the President’s primary critique of Romney–that his foreign policy is rash and all over the map–seemed to ring true. And, yes, the United States does dictate to other countries.

As has been noted in a few places, this debate was notable for what was left out. Europe was hardly mentioned, Central and South America came up rarely, and climate change was never mentioned. It was also remarkable in that the candidates often agreed. Neither wanted to be involved in the regime change in Syria and both support increased defense spending, and on a number of occasions Obama was forced to counter Romney’s statements with statements that the administration already does what Romney proposed. More egregiously, though, both candidates lived in a world of blissful ignorance about history of even relatively recent events. For instance, there was a lot of talk about the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, but none that the United States supported Hosni Mubarak for decades–not to mention at least one gloss made between Tahrir Square and Tienanmen Square. And, of course, there was the role of America in the world:

“I absolutely believe that America has a — a responsibility, and the privilege of helping defend freedom and promote the principles that — that make the world more peaceful. And those principles include human rights, human dignity, free enterprise, freedom of expression, elections. Because when there are elections, people tend to vote for peace. They don’t vote for war.”

“America remains the one indispensable nation. And the world needs a strong America, and it is stronger now than when I came into office.”

The perpetual myth that is the American responsibility to civilize and defend the world–and the perpetual myth that democracies don’t go to war. Leaving aside that democracies don’t actually exist, the Melians probably have something to say about this and Kipling would love these guys. Sort of. They talk the talk, but really don’t want to get their hands dirty.

So, the article. I looked through the debate transcript and tried to recall some of my reactions from watching the debate last night. The accusation against Romney that comes up in the article posted above, but not here is that Mitt Romney made a geographical gaffe about Iran’s access to the sea. What we watched last night was an hour and a half of political bickering in front of a national audience and, for all we know, Romney might have been thinking about the Mediterranean as “the sea.” I would be more concerned if Romney was looking at a map and couldn’t figure out where Iran was, but I am fairly certain that he can pick Iran out on a map and would notice the other bodies of water. It is a misstep, but I dislike using this type of misspeaking to discredit his candidacy only slightly less than I dislike making fun of his name. It is something he said, but it is also something of even less significance than everything else he said during the debate.

If political language is meant “to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind,” then it seems that now, more than ever, the media tries to do the same.

Assorted Links

  1. The Opiate of Exceptionalism– An op-ed in the New York times about how presidential candidates and other politicians are all but incapable of talking about the ways in which the United States has been slipping in world rankings–education, child poverty, etc. Instead, the article describes this notion of exceptionalism as an opiate that politicians push on the American public.
  2. Lebanon and Syria: The Strife Spreads– I noted last time the trouble brewing between Syria and Turkey. Now there was a car bomb that targetted an anti-Syria leader in Lebanon that could serve to escalate tensions between Syria and Lebanon–or, perhaps more likely, simply reignite the Lebanese Civil War. See also the foreign editor of the economist arguing that the time has come (a year and a half in) for intervention in Syria.
  3. Syria strife tests Turkish Alawites– An article in Al Jazeera about the Alawites in Turkey and their tested loyalties (and potential threats to the Shia-offshoot from the Sunni opposition in Syria). The article is favorable to the Alawites, who, it says, support the secular ideology that is the legacy of Ataturk, but feel betrayed by the Turkish government supplying to anti-Alawite fighters.
  4. Geographic History Enjoys a Renaissance– An article in the New Yorker that examines the intersection of geography and history (something promoted by the Annales School) and some of the recent incarnations of the intersection. The author concludes by claiming that the discontinuities of geography are more striking than the continuities and that conversation (“good ideas”) shapes human history more so than geography. He is right that people often assume a fatalistic approach to the geography, but he cherry picks his examples of discontinuity and focuses on large issues (tyranny, e.g.). There is a subtler way examine the contours of geography intersecting with those ideas that the author is so keen on promoting.
  5. German Landscape Architect Helps Green the Saudi Landscape– A profile of a German landscape architect who has helped transform Saudi estates and cities into gardens.
  6. A Foreign Policy Debate Which Won’t Mean That Much– An analysis of the debate tonight that suggests that the debate tonight will be on a narrow range of topics and might matter for campaign, but not at all for foreign policy.
  7. As always, comments encouraged. What else is out there?

Orwell and Nature

In a fit of inability to do aught else, I have been thinking about Orwell and idly reading some of his essays. He is most known for his position in industrialized society, not least because of the dystopia he conjures in 1984 (particularly since Animal Farm is a poignant allegory rather than a true account of a farm). His other works typically focus on urban and industrial England. For example, Coming Up For Air is a dark comedy about the comforts of urban life and the nostalgia for lost nature. Sure, nature comes up a fair amount, but the theme is that that nature is a thing of the past. This side of Orwell stands in particular contrast to Hemingway, who is known for his hunting excursions and wilderness adventures–despite some of his most famous works being largely set in Paris.

Nonetheless, it seems that Orwell was more aware nature (as it were) than he seems at first glance. At the very least, his preoccupation with industrialized society seems to have made him keenly aware of the nature world besieged by industry. Curiously, he also indicates in his essay “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad” that his readers did not appreciate any discussion of nature. In fact, he states: “I know by experience that a favourable reference to “Nature” in one of my articles is liable to bring me abusive letters, and though the key-word in these letters is usually “sentimental”, two ideas seem to be mixed up in them.” He answers his critics by pointing out that his interest in nature is not due to sentimentality or his mere lack of familiarity with the soil (there is something to his argument, though he is clearly interested in discrediting his critics and may overplay his hand).

I have no real conclusion here. In Coming Up For Air there is a sense that there are two worlds, neither of which is fully real even though one of those two worlds no longer exists. In “Some Thoughts on the Common Toad” Orwell reminds the reader that that the nature world does continue to exist and resist. Though some people may attempt to keep people from enjoying that natural world, they are not allowed to.

“I mention the spawning of the toads because it is one of the phenomena of spring which most deeply appeal to me, and because the toad, unlike the skylark and the primrose, has never had much of a boost from poets. But I am aware that many people do not like reptiles or amphibians, and I am not suggesting that in order to enjoy the spring you have to take an interest in toads. There are also the crocus, the missel-thrush, the cuckoo, the blackthorn, etc. The point is that the pleasures of spring are available to everybody, and cost nothing. Even in the most sordid street the coming of spring will register itself by some sign or other, if it is only a brighter blue between the chimney pots or the vivid green of an elder sprouting on a blitzed site…life is frequently more worth living because of a blackbird’s song, a yellow elm tree in October, or some other natural phenomenon which does not cost money and does not have what the editors of left-wing newspapers call a class angle…I think that by retaining one’s childhood love of such things as trees, fishes, butterflies and–to return to my first instance–toads, one makes a peaceful and decent future a little more probable, and that by preaching the doctrine that nothing is to be admired except steel and concrete, one merely makes it a little surer that human beings will have no outlet for their surplus energy except in hatred and leader worship.

At any rate, spring is here, even in London N.1, and they can’t stop you enjoying it. This is a satisfying reflection. How many a time have I stood watching the toads mating, or a pair of hares having a boxing match in the young corn, and thought of all the important persons who would stop me enjoying this if they could. But luckily they can’t. So long as you are not actually ill, hungry, frightened or immured in a prison or a holiday camp, spring is still spring. The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.”

Assorted Links

  1. Tension Between Turkey and Syria at NATO Border Escalates– An article in Spiegel about the issues at the border between Syria and Turkey (which has the largest army in the Middle East). There have been several incidents spanning several months, including the shelling of a Turkish town and downing of a Turkish aircraft by Assad’s military forces and Turkish army providing weapons to the rebels. What this article points out, though, is that there are several additional issues going on at the border as Turkey is increasing the number of troops stationed there. The first is that Turkey still has a relatively large Kurdish population that may be seeing the Syrian rebellion as another opportunity to attempt independence along with the Syrian Kurds. If this is the case, the Turkish military build up could be directed against them. The second is that if there is another shelling of a Turkish town, the Turkish army may invade Syria. Unmentioned by Spiegel (but appearing in a NPR story) is that there is also an Alawite minority in Turkey that opposes the Turkish government and its ties to the United States and supports Assad. At the same time, stories about videos from al Qaeda fighters promising to come kill all Alawites after they eliminate Assad have surfaced. For anyone keeping score at home, this makes at minimum four distinct groups spanning the Syrian-Turkish border all of whom mistrust and dislike each other.
  2. China’s Liu Yandong carries the hopes – and fears – of modern feminism– An article in the Guardian about Liu Yandong who is poised to be the first woman on China’s standing committee of the politburo. The author notes that this is a bit a coup for women in China since they have historically been excluded from power (though she points out Mao’s ironic decree that women hold up half the sky), but also that her pronouncements have been conservative and there is no sense that she will push for reforms–either generally or for women specifically–thus limiting the short-term optimism of the move. It is possible, though, that this first step will result in more drastic changes in the future.
  3. EU Foreign Ministers Agree on Military Deployment in Mali– According to Spiegel, EU leaders have a greed to send military instructors and planners to Mali to help train security forces and thereby stabilize Mali. Much of the country is still held by militant Islamists and nomadic tribesmen. Evidently, the mission is modeled after a similar one in Somalia that began in 2010.
  4. Gawker, Reddit, Free Speech and Such– Some commentary by John Scalzi about the idea of anonymity on the internet, journalism, and the apparent scandal when a controversial, but anonymous, Reddit user was outed by a reporter at Gawker. He brings up good points about the internet and when and where free speech is applicable. Perhaps the most valuable points he makes are that on websites owned by private companies, users have as much free speech as the company allows, and that true anonymity does not exist–and is not an inherent right–online is delusional. I agree with him, but I should also note that I cannot really speak to Reddit since I can count the number of times I have been to the site on one hand.
  5. As always, comments encouraged. What else is out there?

Assorted Links

  1. For the Love of Learning– A blog discussion of schools and the mechanization of teaching such that students are passive and learning is something done to them.

    His quote: “Because school defines learning as passive, learners come to see education as something done to them. When students are stuck in the middle of a problem, they don’t try and figure out what makes sense to do next; instead, they try to remember what they are suppose to do. If this is the premise for learning, is it any surprise that learners become less autonomous, more dependent and ultimately mindless?”

    I agree entirely and find that the part of school my students are least prepared for is analysis and developing arguments. As a general rule, they can find the answer to a specific, factual question, but when asked to draw from multiple sources to analyze a topic vis a vis a specific question, they become panicked and want to know what the “right” answer is. The uncertainty is frightening to them and they are hesitant to take a stand for fear of being wrong. But education is a process. Admitting your ignorance and then seeking to rectify it is the key to education, which is an issue that reminds me of a now several year old essay about the importance of stupidity in scientific research. Certainty is absurd and ignorance should not be an excuse for inaction, but an opportunity for finding answers.

  2. Most Citizens of the Star Wars Galaxy are Probably Totally Illiterate– An thought-provoking piece on where the author discusses the the inner workings of fantasy universes, but particularly examining Star Wars. He posits “functional” illiteracy for most inhabitants of that universe, pointing out audio, video, and pictoral records, with most of the literate people having only a working knowledge of the language, enough for their jobs. The comments particularly tear the author apart on the lack of reading in most fantasy (fairly well, I think), and some make counter-examples from the Star Wars universe, including the argument that it is a huge universe. Most, though, concede that this is at least a provocative discussion. The author and at least one blogger make allusions to the modern world in this analogy. I wonder if this is at all paired with a discussion that I saw over the weekend (using the 50 Shades main character as an example) that characters in stories people are drawn to often are more well read than the audience itself.
  3. Why Handwriting Matters– Another story in the Guardian about handwriting, specifically focusing on the personalization and intimacy that digital writing eliminates.
  4. Brewmaster Makes Beer from His Beard Yeast– A curious story about the brewmaster from Rogue Brewery finding a new yeast with which to brew. I am not sure I’d want to try it, though the process of brewing should eliminate anything harmful.
  5. Dark Social– A discussion at the Atlantic about the nature of social media and how people interact with the internet. The author seeks to debunk the pervasive notion that social media sites created a social web. Instead, the author posits that the majority of social interaction on the web takes place through mass emails, chat programs, and message boards. Social media has lent structure and a public appearance to some of the same communications, but has not replaced them.
  6. Inequality and the world economy: True Progressivism– An article in the Economist that calls for a new progressive era in radically moderate way (promoting competition and capitalism while mitigating inequality). I don’t wholly agree with the article, but the intention is laudable.
  7. As always, comments encouraged. What else is out there?

White Collar

Not long ago I finished watching the first season of the USA show White Collar. The premise is that a con-artist and art thief who spent years in jail is let out to house arrest under the supervision of the agent who caught him provided that he consult with the FBI on white collar crimes (art forgeries, thefts, scams, etc). Neil Caffrey (Matt Bomer) is a charming, smart, erudite character at ease discussing intellectual topics in high society and wearing nice clothes, while Peter Burke (Tim Dekay) is just an average-Joe agent who would prefer to watch a basketball game. Despite their differences, some of which provide an underlying tension that is one of the recurring plot devices, they develop a rapport and respect each other. Elizabeth Burke (Tiffani-Amber Thiessen) mediates their differences and helps bridge the (expected) underlying distrust that comes with a criminal working with the man who caught him.

The acting in White Collar is engaging and solid, if not spectacular. The premise itself provides most of the drama and the writing (and thereby execution of the premise) sometimes is deft and subtle, allowing Bomer’s charisma to shine and playing on Dekay’s ability as a straight-man; at other times the writing is ham-handed and the episodes revolve on nothing more than that the intellectually inclined Caffrey doesn’t like sports, while the everyman Burke doesn’t care about art. Likewise, there are points at the story when the writers slip into this mode that the plot becomes somewhat predictable. On the other hand, when the writers at their best, the story is witty, engaging, and there is enough suspense that the twists are not immediately obvious–or, perhaps at its best, the characters are able to engage the audience in such a way that it doesn’t matter what the twists are.

I have a lot of problems with television as a medium for storytelling, and White Collar commits many typical sins and suffers from all of the limitations, but often overcomes them by providing strong characters and a strong premise.

Despite enjoying the series, I have hesitated to watch the second season. I probably will get around to it at some point, but the reason I hesitate is that I am not optimistic about the future of the show. Some of the underlying tension will remain, but the major plot issue that kept Caffrey going was resolved (at least in its immediate incarnation) at the end of the first season and as has happened with other shows so reliant on a character and a premise, once that initial motivation for the character goes away (or gets dragged out), the show struggles to adjust, becoming repetitive. Shows like this one (also such as Burn Notice) that rely on just a few characters expire more quickly than ensemble cast shows (e.g. How I Met Your Mother). In the former type, I have become tired of shows as early as the second or third season, while ensemble casts can usually make it for five or six.

Above I mentioned the limitations of the television medium, and I suspect that this is the primary reason that these shows become stale. Television, like movies, are limited by what a person can be filmed doing and saying, with thoughts limited to voice-overs. Moreover, despite the length of an entire season, each story has to be short (usually either 20 or 40 minutes). This means that in comparison to a book, the stories presented in a show have to be the backbone of the story, then filled out by the body language and interaction of the actors. With these limitations, there is only so much that the writers can do and still remain within the premise and narrative of the show. In contrast, a book does not require the budget (and cast), or have to stick to an extreme serialization for the narrative and can thus range over a far wider area. Serial books can run into some of the same problems as a TV show, but usually does so after more time.

This is not to condemn White Collar for these inherent weaknesses. It should be criticized for the ham-handed treatment of some issues–as much as it could be praised for promoting a well-dressed intellectual as a main character–but not for the limitations of the medium. More to the point, I found watching the show an interesting study in the medium of character driven television since it possessed remarkably evident strengths and weaknesses.

It does leave me wondering, however, if the medium of television (and often movies) is not somewhat complicit in producing a culture milieu that de-emphasizes reading, struggles with attention, and seems to be increasingly less capable of producing complex thoughts and extended narrative or argument–even as some of these shows claim (either explicitly or implicitly) to glorify scientists, authors, and intellectuals. I question if the shows actually support the place of such people in society or if they merely provide a substitute for substance. It is also possible, though, that these shows are not so much causes of this culture as products of it. In either situation, I have read some discussion of the mechanization of American schools such that learning is a passive action done to students. TV, more so than books, seems to function the same way. Shows beamed into our living rooms and bedrooms along with commercials and with the possibly exception of shows that ask viewers to vote on candidates (which amounts to little more than a national popularity contest that I have little interest in), ask nothing of the viewer. Books require an active investment.

Assorted Links

  1. Polar Bears and Grizzlies Producing Hybrid Offspring as Arctic Melts– in Spiegel, and article about the creation of a hybrid bear (called Pizzley in the article). As the ice melts, the two habitats are coming closer together and they are closely enough related that the two bears are breeding together, including a mixture of habits and features. Evidently, the hybrids are rare and the few that exist are not covered by existing endangered species legislation because they are not considered polar bears, but are prized by hunters.
  2. Grammar: is “whom” history? From the Mouths of Babes– an interesting discussion about early childhood development and grammar; in a particular example given, children are evidently able at a relatively young age to note that sometimes people seem to use “whom” rather than “who.” The author discusses whether or not “whom” will continue to use or if it will fall out of favor for “who,” but concludes that “whom” will continue to exist as a prized sign of intelligence. I think that the logic is rather pedantic (other words that come to mind include elitist and superficial). “Whom” should continue to exist as a formal distinction between subject and the direct and indirect object…which, of course, also means that we should return to teaching formal parts of speech.
  3. Who Needs a Navy?-A fascinating discussion of the true military and strategic value of a modern navy. The author suggests that no modern navy is cost-efficient.
  4. NATO Urges Calm Following Syrian Shelling of Turkish Town– Among multiple articles, Spiegel primarily focuses on the NATO impact to this new development. It is no surprise to note that NATO leaders are urging restraint–particularly because of treaty obligations that could necessitate NATO involvement in Syria, something that it has been trying to avoid for the last eighteen months. According to the New York Times, NATO has condemned the attacks, but has not yet invoked the clause in its charter that would require collective action. Frankly, this is a shame. The civil war in Syria is destroying a number of amazing historical sites and, frankly, has been raging for eighteen months without getting nearly the press or outrage that Libya or Egypt did. Between the lack of coverage, the Olympics, and the NATO response, it is almost as though world leaders are trying to pretend that nothing is going on. In fact, other than Turkey, it might be that the first foreign power to get involved is Israel on the grounds that they need to secure chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria in order to prevent their proliferation. Human rights only come into play when it is expedient. I understand the reasoning behind not interfering in civil wars, but, often, it ends up being a convenient excuse to not do anything.
  5. Private Army Formed to Fight Somali Pirates Leaves Troubled Legacy– An article in the New York Times about private military forces in Somali, including fatal trainings and that a number of these mercenaries have, in effect, been stranded in Somalia. This mercenary group is currently unpaid, but is well armed and (in theory) well trained. The article focuses on this Puntland group (trained initially by a former head of the Blackwater), but expands the discussion to the premise and effects of outsources military operations. I am reminded both of Steven Pressfield’s book, The Profession, which is set in the not-so-distant future and expands the use of private military forces to a logical conclusion, and of Deadly Prey (yes, that is the whole movie on Youtube), a cult-classic from 1987 involving the training of such a private military force.
  6. As always, comments encouraged. What else is out there?

Assorted Links

  1. Romney’s America Doesn’t Need Public Colleges– A discussion in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the place of colleges in the Romney economic model, which encourages elite, privately funded universities and the import of other highly educated people such that other countries pay for the education, while Americans fall further and further behind. The essayist seems to take an extreme stance on this, but the point is not without merit.
  2. Pop Culture Has Turned Against the Liberal Arts – An article in the Atlantic about the fact that thirty years ago an archeology professor was an action hero. It focuses on the new Josh Radnor tv show Liberal Arts, which it suggests that it denigrates people who go in to the Liberal Arts and instead focuses on all the stereotypes. At the same time it was suggested to me that perhaps it is the talking heads that play down the Liberal Arts.
  3. Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama– An essay in the Atlantic about not voting for Obama because he has crossed several lines and the author cannot morally justify continuing his support, even if he likes Obama better than he likes Romney. I am very sympathetic to this argument and have thought much the same way recently, though I am worried enough about the alternative that I might vote for Obama anyway.
  4. Great Writing Comes out of Great Ideas– An article in the Atlantic about the pedagogical debate surrounding how to teach writing. The author suggests (rightly, I think) that in addition to teaching the basics and fundamentals of writing, educators need to allow students freedom to pursue novel projects, think for themselves, and use (and develop) their own voice. Nonetheless, writing needs to be approached from a much younger age, but once–and in tandem with–learning the fundamentals, they need to be able to make their own way. Regimented writing assignments just teach regimented prose.
  5. As always, comments encouraged. What else is out there?