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. 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?

Assorted Links

  1. Food shortages could force world into vegetarianism-A piece run in the Guardian about how food and water shortages as the human population grows and environment becomes more volatile, people will have to drastically reduce the amount of animal products they consume (20% down to 5%, according the article).
  2. “We’re Not Going to Let Our Campaign Be Dictated by Fact-Checkers”-A story in the Atlantic that builds on a quote given by one of Romney’s political aids about facts, the media and politics. The articles concludes that the press (who he seems to think should be able “to stand above the fray”) is becoming bogged down in politics and the truth is reduced to something debatable. The gist of the argument I agree with, but the particulars I do not. Sometimes the truth is based on our own point of view, and the press is not a neutral arbiter.
  3. Bomb from World War II Detonated in MunichFrom Spiegel, a bomb from World War Two that authorities were unable to disarm was detonated in Munich.
  4. Self-published authors react with anger to ‘laziness’ charge-Sue Grafton described self-published authors as “too lazy to do the hard work” in an interview with her local newspaper. Independent publishers are less than pleased, and have responded to her charges that most of their work is amateurish.
  5. How Fighting Fantasy beat traditional games-A story in the Guardian that talks about Fighting Fantasy, role-playing games, and how the book market is increasingly responding to a cultural desire for competition and games.
  6. Mitt Romney, Business Thinking, and the Failure of Civilization– An excellent blog post about humanities and business, and why the liberal arts matter for a civilization. Hint: the author claims that it is because civilization can’t exist without the liberal arts, which constitute the defining elements of the culture and how it perceives itself.
  7. The Destruction of Krak des Chevaliers-Some embedded videos of the damage to Krak des Chevaliers, the crusader fortress in Syria. The fortress has been damaged in the fighting. For what it is worth, the blurb for the Wikipedia page calls it “one of the most important preserved medieval castles in the world.”
  8. As always, comments encouraged. What else is out there?

Assorted Links

  1. Mitt Romney Confirms he would end US wind power subsidies -The idea being that he would “allow the wind credit to expire, end the stimulus boondoggles, and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits.” Merits like OPEC, smoke, and depleting resources, I guess.
  2. Drone warfare: a new generation of deadly unmanned weapons– A story on the Guardian about some of the new bases and training facilities for the unmanned missile operators. According to the article, the operators do not appreciate being told that they are not courageous for their actions.
  3. Neither the Will nor the Cash: Why India Wins So Few Olympic Medals– A look in the Atlantic about why India wins so few Olympic medals (22 total all time). The most prevalent theory that it is about financial clout, combined with the lack of a safety net for the families and thus no emphasis on relatively frivolous athletics (as differentiated between competitive athletics and personal health). One of the most telling statistics is that between 1928 and 1968, India won all but two of the gold medals in field hockey, the other two going to Pakistan. In 1972, India was third, Pakistan took second, and East Germany won. In 1976 the Olympics switched to the more expensive synthetic turf fields and since, India has won one medal (a gold in 1980). The upper echelons of hockey stadiums in India are also synthetic, but I think that the idea is that many field hockey players grow up playing on grass and are therefore at a competitive disadvantage. The drop-off is a bit too extreme to call it coincidence. I suppose it should also be noted that in 1932 only three teams participated in Olympic hockey.1
  4. Endocannabinoids motivated exercise evolution– A study that was featured on NPR today wherein biologists suggest that the development of the reward receptors in the brain of animals that need sustained aerobic activity are linked to the eventual development of the aerobic capacity. Thus, human beings are hard-wired to be runners on an evolutionary level.
  5. Stunning Restaurant built inside a cave on the Italian coast-A very cool new restaurant that, as the person who linked me this article pointed out, is reminiscent of Tiberius’ villa at Sperlonga.
  6. The Olympics as Reality TV– An article at the New Yorker about the way in which NBC has seized upon reality TV as a model for women’s gymnastics.
  7. As always, comments encouraged. What else is out there?


1 As a fun fact, the first time field hockey was an Olympic sport, six teams competed–including four from Great Britain, one each for Ireland, Scotland, Britain, and Wales.

Assorted Links

  1. Paul Ryan’s Influence on the G.O.P– A political feature about Paul Ryan, his upbringing, and his ability to bring about an ideological shift in the Republican party.
  2. German Mud Olympics Turns Attention from Lack of Real Medals– Apparently Germans are disappointed with their showing at the Olympics, but running at the same time are the Mud Olympics, a charity event held at the mouth of the Elbe River that includes Mud football, handball, and volleyball. Honestly, this looks like a ton of fun.
  3. German Media Slams Mitt Romney’s Tour Abroad-German media from across the political spectrum has been critical of Mitt Romney’s trip.
  4. Romney Comments at Fundraiser Outrage Palestinians-Sometimes I think news headlines deliberately try to obscure the meaning of the article, prompting people to read the article because they are confused rather than interested. In this case, though Romney spoke in Israel, claiming that the gap in per capita GDP between Israelis and Palestinians was (in part) because of “the hand of providence.” This is a standing theme for Romney, since he attributes the same cause to income gaps between The United States and Mexico, and Chile and Ecuador.
  5. Is Algebra Necessary?-An Op-ed by Andrew Hacker that is a pretty good case study of how not to write an essay. I was led to this article by a blog post by Timothy Burke that outlines the problems with Hacker’s argumentation. He does a really good job of outlining what this essay should look like and what it needs, and by pointing out the multiple ways that Hacker mostly just fumbles about without actually adding anything to the debate about Algebra in high schools. The comments also make pertinent additions about algebra and the piece.
  6. Israel Prepares Plans to Neutralize Syrian Chemical Weapons-A story in der Spiegel about Syrian chemical weapons, emphasizing that Israel is keeping a close watch on the developments, but also giving a rundown of the Syrian chemical weapons program and other preparations made by foreign countries (including the United States) to attempt to secure any such weapons.
  7. As always, comments encouraged. What else is out there?

Assorted Links

1. In Praise of Downtime -Yet another Op-Ed in the Atlantic that responds to and builds upon Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece. Ellen Ruppel Shell instead focuses on the “system that increasingly relies on overwork–and underemployment–to pad the bottom line.”

2. In Praise of Idleness – One of the articles that Shell references is this one by Bertrand Russell from 1932.

3. Do The Eyes Have It? – A hypothesis that the domestication of dogs and particularly communicative eyes may have given early humans an advantage over Neanderthals. Evidently the large amount of white in human eyes could have made it particularly easy for humans to silently communicate with their canine companions.

4. Subway Work Unearths Ancient Road in Greece – Work on a subway in Thessaloniki (which should make that city significantly easier to traverse!) has unearthed a Roman road that used marble paving stones. The current plan is to raise the road to the surface level to put it on display. There was also an older Greek road that was found underneath the Roman one. Work on the subway has allowed for some of the best archeological work in the center of Greece’s second largest city and workers have been excited to discover that the earlier roads lie roughly in the same spot as the modern ones (although in a city that has been continuously occupied for something over two thousand years and with some other indications that the center of the city has not changed layout in pretty much the entire time, I am not sure why this is a surprise).

5. The Missing Constitution – Some more thoughts about the ACA ruling, this time by Mark Graber, a law professor at the University of Maryland.1

6. Romney: Students should Get “As Much Education As They Can Afford” – I actually think that some people (such as the ones at Think Progress who wrote this article) are taking the quote a bit out of context, though it is true that there is a symptomatic problem with his statement that the presidential candidate is not acknowledging. People have been honing in on the byte about affording the education when he is trying to say that they should get as much education as they can. I am also a bit more concerned when he says “if they have a willingness to work hard and the right values, they ought to…have a shot at realizing their dreams” (emphasis mine). Of course he mentioned money and this is not the first time that Romney has been out of touch with how (most) students pay for college and hasn’t actually offered a viable solution to fix the cost and paying for college. Sadly, this is just yet another of the election year sound clips that are more about rhetoric than about solutions–as are the knee-jerk reactions to pieces like this. In fairness, the Think Progress article is not nearly as bad about this as were some other places I saw report on this.

7. Professors condemn New York’s ‘overreliance’ on standardized tests – Earlier this week more than 1,100 professors in New York signed a petition aimed at ending the reliance on standardized tests to evaluate teachers.

8. The Liberal Arts and the Great Recession – an op-ed in the Huffington Post that suggests that reformed liberal arts are needed to end the adversarial relationship between liberal arts and career-oriented degrees. He tries to find a middle ground between people who believe that kids should go to college to prepare for a career and those people in the liberal arts who claim some sort of intrinsic superiority. I agree that some direction is necessary, but I often feel that the reforms to the liberal arts are mere appeasement.

9. The Incredible Resilience of Publishing Fantasy – A blog post from the Huffington post that argues that traditional publishers have lost their two main monopolies, marketing and distribution. He is, in particular, responding to an overly cheery op-ed put out by a publishing executive.

1 Thanks to Naomi Graber for forwarding me this link.