Thursday, November 16, 2006

And Still More Ideas! - part three: Security, Readiness, Sustainability... and all that...

In a nonstop post-election rush (hoping to get all this off my chest before ideas completely calcify in Washington), I have been posting a series of proposals and concepts that may be worth implementing because they -

(1) are good for the nation,
(2) are good for the people who chose a new majority party,
(3) keep faith with the spirit of a better 21st Century.

Alas, with Democrats in the Senate well-short of a 60-vote moderate cloture-majority -- and presidential vetoes almost certain -- it seemed prudent to divide my suggestions into three groups.

Actions that Congress can accomplish, even without passing a law.

Simple bills that the GOP and Bush might have to let pass, or else suffer mortal political wounds

Ambitious legislation that the new majorities should try-for... even knowing that passage must await the next president and Congress, in 2009.



All right then. Time for category three.


* THE SECURITY FOR AMERICA ACT will ensure that top priority goes to America's military and security readiness, especially our nation's ability to respond to a wide range of unexpected threats, including natural disasters, surprise attacks or other emergencies.

Reversing a trend that has demolished readiness down to Pearl Harbor levels, our military and other reserves will be augmented and modernized, with emphasis on both agile preparediness and opportunities for enhanced citizen involvement.

When ordering a discretionary foreign intervention, the President must report probable effects on readiness, as well as the purposes and likely duration of the intervention. If those purposes change, the President must state the reasons in clear writing.

Without impeding in the President’s powers as Commander-in-Chief of active-duty military units, this law requires that no reserve unit shall be sent overseas without submitting to Congress for a certified state of urgency. This certification must be renewed at six month intervals. If at any point this state of emergency expires, reserve units shall return to their states within a month, to resume training and preparation for future emergencies.

Furthermore, members of the active duty Officer Corps and non-commissioned officers shall be regularly consulted by an ombudsman’s office, reporting confidentially to Congress on the morale of troops and their level of confidence in their political leaders, as well as contemplating suggestions that are offered, confidentially and respectfully, by skilled professionals.

Keeping with longstanding American tradition, in which past generations of the wealthy always willingly helped pay for urgent wars that must be fought by other peoples sons and daughters, an automatic surtax shall set in, one year after any foreign intervention is ordered by the President, without declaration of war. This surtax will apply to the top 10% of tax brackets, and remain in effect until the previous year’s intervention costs are paid for.

The Commander-in-Chief may not suspend any American law, or the rights of American citizens, without submitting the temporary suspension to Congress for approval in closed session, and setting a clear time limit.

(Comment: Difficult to get past presidential veto? Sure. But, parts of this bill might prove possible, even now. The rest can at least get put on the record. At least it would highlight the fact that reserves are supposed to be mostly held in... reserve! In case of the unexpected. Also we be seen reaching out to the long-suffering men and women in our active-duty and reserve forces...)


* THE SUSTAINABILITY ACT will make it America's priority to pioneer technological paths toward energy independence, emphasizing economic health that also conserves both national and world resources.

Ambitious efficiency and conservation standards may be accompanied by compromise free market solutions, with the goal of achieving more with less, while safeguarding the planet for our children.

Yes, this topic is already on the table... and obvious to any sane and/or patriotic American. Alas, nowadays, when the real rulers want high oil prices and a nation of feulish addicts, it will take more electoral revolutions in order to see much progress made in this area.


* THE TAX REFORM ACT will simplify the tax code, while ensuring that everybody pays their fair share. Floors for the Inheritance Tax and Alternative Tax will be raised to ensure they only affect the most wealthy. And the wealthy will be asked to pay to help defend a civilization that defends their privileges.

Again, much of this is already on the table... and only snippets stand a chance of passage or surviving veto. The neo-feudalists hope that they can retake Congress in 2008 in order to make their ripoff cuts permanent. We need to look long term. As they clearly do.


*THE AMERICAN EXCELLENCE ACT will provide incentives for American students to excel at a range of important fields. This nation must especially maintain its leadership, by training more experts and innovators in science and technology. Education must be a tool to help millions of students and adults adapt, to achieve and keep high-paying 21st Century jobs.

Here is an area where standard politics does not make any sense at all. Obviously some increased standards and testing were needed, in order to increase accountability. The “right” was right to demand more accountability and the “left” was wrong to resist it. At the same time, “teaching to the test” is poisoning one of the things that American education always did well, encouraging vivid creativity at the level of individual students, teachers and classrooms.

We need more experiments and less dogma.


*THE MEDIA FAIRNESS ACT will restore the Fairness Doctrine - or antitrust rules that forbid a given media organization from controlling more than 30% or so of its market. Other measures will help correct a drift toward dogmatism in “news.”

They will fight this, tooth and nail, of course. It goes to the very roots of their power. Don’t bet on even a smidgen surviving vetoes.


A HEALTHY CHILDREN ACT. The blatant blunder of the early Clinton Administration was attempting to create a vast bureaucracy in order to solve health insurance all at once. This paved the way for Newt Gingrich’s first wave of neocons to take over Congress in 1994, which opened the door for worse monsters, later on.

In contrast, if they had simply done it incrementally, by saying “let’s insure all children, first,” who would have dared to say no? Not a majority of Americans! Citizens who have time and again proved much more willing to think “socialistically” (e.g. public schools) when it comes to kids than regarding adults. (In the frontier tradition, grownups should fend for themselves, and never whine about it.)

Yes, this too is at last “on the table.” Howard Dean spoke of seeking insurance for “all Americans under age 25.” Even if it’s 18 years at cutoff, the effects would be remarkable ... and probably insanely popular. Even though actual passage would have to wait till 2009.

----------

And at last I am done...

... well, almost. Obviously, there are lots of areas where I haven’t opined. Like raising the minimum wage (obvious) or trade policy (unbelievably complex) or immigration policy (too emotional for anyone to even begin to be rational.) Hey, there are limits, even for me.

Was it arrogant of me to offer this shopping list -- my own set of wishes for a new and better era?

Sure! But that’s citizenship, for you. And the more of it, the better! As one of those who can claim to have “foreseen” the Web and the blogosphere and all the new media, all I can say is “you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Most of my suggestions are aimed at enhancing this trend toward vibrant participatory democracy and unleashed citizen sovereignty. That one common theme may be one that I beat too hard, like a tired drum. But I think a case can be made that it is our only realistic hope. And, maybe, it will get me forgiven for “arrogance”, after all.

Next time I will follow up with some proposals and warnings that come under the category of general political advice. Notions having more to do with Big Mistakes that we have made that have less to do with law and policy, and more to do with bad 20th Century habits.

Bad habits we should shrug off and leave behind..

==Return to Part 1 of this series

53 comments:

Blake Stacey said...

The evidence comes thick and fast:

An incident late Tuesday night in which a UCLA student was stunned at least four times with a Taser has left the UCLA community questioning whether the university police officers' use of force was an appropriate response to the situation.

Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a UCLA student, was repeatedly stunned with a Taser and then taken into custody when he did not exit the CLICC Lab in Powell Library in a timely manner. Community Service Officers had asked Tabatabainejad to leave after he failed to produce his BruinCard during a random check at around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday.[...]

A six-minute video showed Tabatabainejad audibly screaming in pain as he was stunned several times with a Taser, each time for three to five seconds. He was told repeatedly to stand up and stop fighting, and was told that if he did not do so he would "get Tased again." [...]

The video, of course, was captured by camera phone.

(Via Pharyngula and Rob Helpy-Chalk.)

Nate said...

In case you were worried about the Republicans have a sudden attack of Reasonable, don't.

Trent Lott elected minority whip.

And yet, every couple of years, there's anguished cries of "Why do black people always vote for Democrats!?" from Republicans. Gosh.

CJ-in-Weld said...

Didn't the Fairness Act that went down in the 80s have some provision purporting to require networks to "balance" the views on air? I think there was talk of reenacting it again in the mid-90s, but I don't think it happened. Maybe someone here has a better memory of this than I. My point: anti-trust is one thing, and probably a good thing. But do we want the federal government meddling in content?

Doug S. said...

On "teaching to the test" - if teaching to the test is bad, we need better tests, ones that actually measure what we want them to measure. For example, test writing ability by having students write multi-page research papers over the course of a month or so instead of through timed, five-paragraph essays.

Doug S. said...

Hmmm... McCain talks the talk, but does he walk the walk?

Steve said...

The laws and actions you propose, Dr Brin, are ones that I can easily endorse. Hopefully the electorate is thinking similar thoughts.

On a different topic, I stumbled into the following lecture given by Dr. Robert Bussard at Google http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1996321846673788606&q=bussard&hl=en

If the link doesn't work, try searching for Bussard in Google video.

Perhaps those of you with some physics can see if this is the real thing.

Pretty exciting if there is any truth to it. Would certainly have a profound effect on sustainability.

Anonymous said...

An intelligent and talented teacher can "teach to the test" (or more specifically create a curriculum that teaches the content of the test, knowledge that these children should be learning in any event). Most don't want to be forced, however, because they know that if students don't learn the material, they are the ones who will be blamed. Not students who don't try, or parents who don't help their kids. Teaching doesn't just take place in schools. It takes place in homes as well. If you want accountability... hold parents equally accountable for when kids don't learn.

The problem is, states can easily lower their standards to bring about full compliance. Thus you need a 30% to pass the exam and graduate. I honestly don't think this is what is intended.

But then again, I think the entire thing has been bulloxed. They should have grandfathered the current kids and focused on the new generation coming in. Start testing in 1995 with 1st graders... and then in 1996 2nd graders are tested (the same ones who were tested in 1995). And have the tests incrimentally increaes along with the kids.

This way you don't spring tests on kids who never had to worry about it before. Instead, you work with children already used to the concept and ready for it. Sure, there will then be a "generation" of children who do not meet those standards... but when standards are dropped so those kids can pass, can we honestly say those standards are being met in any event?

Rob H., Tangents Reviews

Rob Perkins said...

But then again, I think the entire thing has been bulloxed. They should have grandfathered the current kids and focused on the new generation coming in.

That's actually what the Washington State system did. Problem is, they also do what you claim; the numbers are jockeyed each year so that the State Board of Education can show improvement, even when there isn't any.

Alive and well! And my secondary school-age kids *still* can't do math in their heads!

David Brin said...

No standardized test can properly measurte an experimental science lab, or an inventive engineering course, or reward the argumentative skills that are the pride and joy of most of our brightest students.

So US students rank poorly in memorized factoids that fit on multiple choice tests. Surprised? The whole CULTURE disdains rote memorization as cruel and inhuman, therefore there's a limit to what schools can do in teaching to the test.

ANyway, what do the brightest kids do with the textbook? They read and then prepare for the inevitable class discussion.

Gather 20 kids from around the world and have them ARGUE (or negotiate) and the American kid will win trivially... and based on zero knowledge! That's a scary skill and I do not call this a perfect story. Kind of weirdly pathetic, in some ways. Like in the movie Clueless.

But the point is that those tests don't and can't measure ANY of that.

Moreover, when a bright kid who is skilled with mental agility THEN goes to university and decides to actually learn stuff, you can get some of the most creative people the world has seen.

There's a cost. That system leaves the bottom half in a cloud of dust and neglect. "Standards" has helped end that betrayal by ensuring a ground level of fundamentals for everybody.

Both extremes are wrong. But I am concerned about throwing out the good with the bad. After all, the education ministries in Asian countries are begging their teachers to instruct "in a more American manner" instead of brutalizing the poor kids with relentless memory drills. We need a willingness to grasp complexity.

Stefan Jones said...

"do we want the federal government meddling in content?"

They already do, mostly by telling people what they can't say.

The FCC used to have a deal with broadcasters: "You get to use the public airwaves to make money, but you're going to do the following for the public . . ."

The Fairness Doctrine was a good thing, but tepidly implemented.

The most visible manifestation, at least when it came to citizen feedback: Short (5 minutes, tops) commentaries run at odd hours. TV stations had to provide the time for replies, but could set the "when" as it suited them.

Reagan-era deregulation not only killed the Fairness Doctrine, it is responsible for more commercials per hour, media conglomerates that sucked the life out of local media, and INFOMERCIALS, which filled up every marginal hour with vile hucksterism. Sunday mornings and afternoons, at least in the NYC market, once featured a variety quirky and informative programming: Kid's educational programs, art programming, local political coverage, and the like. Early Saturday mornings had non-network kid shows -- some educational, some just for fun.

Don Quijote said...

THE SECURITY FOR AMERICA ACT

How about the "LETS BUTT THE F**K OUT OF OTHER COUNTRIES BUSINESS ACT", and the "LET'S NOT SELL WEAPONS TO ANYONE ACT", both of which would do far more for American Security than dumping a few more billions in the Industrial-military complex.

So US students rank poorly in memorized factoids that fit on multiple choice tests. Surprised? The whole CULTURE disdains rote memorization as cruel and inhuman, therefore there's a limit to what schools can do in teaching to the test.

And that is why people like Shrub can get elected to the Presidency.

gmknobl said...

Yes, we need the items you posted. In media, perhaps the second most important of all the reforms behind education since this is where the minds of most, I hate to admit, are won, we desperately need the old media rules back. Fairness was one thing when you had to provide equal time to political opponents, even if one side was pure fascism. This never applied to editorials, of course, but you could never have entire broadcasting networks wholly supported by one side of the political spectrum. When this part of the media rules were reformed away, in comes Fox and others of the like that are unfair and unbalanced in every reasonable measure. But more importantly than the fairness doctrine, media conglomeration opened the door for entire regions to be run by one company and combined with the fairness doctrine, only able to hear one side of an argument, such as the case is with Clear Channel Communications and the radio waves near me. But the consolidation of media also allows the spread of media from one type of broadcasting medium to another such as with Disney owning ABC, ESPN, and radio stations as well, not to mention their foothold in the computer arena with Steve Jobs in there. Do you know how easy it is for some kid to get into an entire Disney world where every waking moment is spent buying and doing Disney things, including dressing just as the Disney girls do and fantasizing about doing the things the Disney children do? But more insidiously, this invites censorship in the news where ABC will not criticize anything Disney on the air. It's too easy for that to happen. It's just another way for corporate shills to silence criticism of the corporation, whatever that may be - i.e. see smoking and CBS.

We need to have local, independent media outlets, be that radio or tv or newspapers. So that the cacophony of democracy is not silenced.

Lastly, we need true competition in the companies that bring us the media. We need more than one company to run newspapers in any small metropolitan area. We need more than one company selling us cable television or internet access or phone service if we are to have any hope at having the rewards of capitalistic competitiveness. But this isn't the case far too often. Cable companies own the entire access to tv for far too many people. This is the reason they didn't like Murdock's DirecTV since it essentially ruined their local monopoly. But we need to declare all television cable open to all cable companies so that I can choose which company provides me service in addition to the competition of Dish and DirecTV. Even so, this must be done carefully else we end up with another telephone mess. We were truly better off with Ma Bell run by the government.

The only other alternative is to nationalize all mass communication infrastructure. The government will then own the cable and phone infrastructure so that any company can then gain access to it but we will all pay to keep that infrastructure up to the latest technical standards. It will be in our best interest, and therefore the governments to keep that technology up to the highest standards but allow any company to broadcast over it.

The companies will hate this but it better than what we have now. We should be the communications industry technology leader but the USA is not even close to that because of "market forces" run amok. In short, the only good monopoly is one where it is in the nation's best interest to run the monopoly itself. Communications is the most important national asset militarily and educationally so that should be nationalized if the companies can't be brought to heel that own it now.

Paul P said...

I am disappointed to see someone with your breadth of knowledge say that raising the minimum wage is "obvious". It's far from obvious. This is one of those unusual areas that has broad agreement among economists: minimum wages hurt the people they're supposed to help. The minimum wage is a fine example of "warm and fuzzy" policy, well-intentioned laws written without a real understanding of their impact.

I won't point you to any specific sources because I don't know who you find impartial, but I encourage you to read about it.

Anonymous said...

Actually, minimum wage is one of those things that is essential to ensure that people are not abused by industry. Back before there were minimum wage laws and child labor laws, businesses would hire people for pennies (though those pennies paid for far more than they do today) and hire children for even less. People were used as chattel and their health and wellbeing ignored except where it harmed output of products.

People were on the verge of starving, barely able to scratch out a substenance income with husband, wife, and several children working. Minimum wage ensured that these people would be allowed to earn enough so they could actually survive something like a parent getting ill or an injury in the family.

Industry then chose to respond to this by upping their prices so their profits wouldn't be cut into. Thus minimum wage had to be increased again and again. But it is not minimum wage that is truly to blame. It is the mixture of taxation, minimum wage, greed, and the decreased purchasing value of the dollar that has allowed the situation to go out of control... and leaving minimum wage alone (or abolishing it) won't fix things.

I'm not sure what will, to be honest.

Rob H.

Doug S. said...

No standardized test can properly measure an experimental science lab, or an inventive engineering course, or reward the argumentative skills that are the pride and joy of most of our brightest students.

Why can't they? You just have to "think outside the box" for what counts as a standardized test and move beyond multiple choice, computer-graded exams. For example, you could ask students to video tape themselves performing a lab experiment and then send the video and lab report off to the centralized grading center. Again, the solution is tests that actually measure what we want to measure!

OdinsEye2k said...

I am disappointed to see someone with your breadth of knowledge say that raising the minimum wage is "obvious". It's far from obvious. This is one of those unusual areas that has broad agreement among economists: minimum wages hurt the people they're supposed to help. The minimum wage is a fine example of "warm and fuzzy" policy, well-intentioned laws written without a real understanding of their impact.

Wrong. Minimum wage is a weird thing to muck around with, same as the "Laffer Curve." Typical economic analysis is an extrapolation from two reasonable extremes. Namely, very low wages would have full employment (but people would die of starvation working these jobs) while high employment would have very few people working. However, we are pretty ignorant of what goes on in the middle.

The elasticity of jobs with respect to wage is back to being a contraversial subject, especially with the recent experiences of states like Oregon that showed no major employment problems even after a decent wage hike. Further, there are a large number (558, with 4 Noble prize winners) of ecnomists that called for a wage hike back in 2004. I have even heard of an economist or two revising their textbooks on the subject due to the results of new empirical studies.

Cato, Heritage, et al. continue to say the case is closed on minimum wage and unionism in order to enable their corporate clients to absorb an unfair share of the profits they generate. Of course, this is a long-term no-go, because these companies are now taking their profits from the capital of the lower and middle classes (evidenced by a negative savings rate), rather than the profitable exchange and fair sharing that built the middle in the first place. They are cornering themselves into unsustainability (no worries of course, because the Street only sees one quarter ahead) with these practices. Building the middle was sustainable, as in the wisdom of Henry Ford allowing his workers to purchase the fruits of their own labors.

Of course, one may object to EPI, since it is liberal in its thinking (meaning to the left of Mellon-Scaife), but here is their summary of the state-of-the-art of research:

http://www.epi.org/content.cfm/bp178

Of course, note that they cite the research of real academics (meaning they still participate in the peer-review world), rather than think tank hacks.

OdinsEye2k said...

PS - Dr. Brin, I like that Media Fairness Act ;)

The more eyes, the better.

Rob Perkins said...

The U.S. system has what Asian systems lack, and Asian systems have what U.S. systems lack. And we both look at one another in envy.

Is it any wonder that kids from Asian subcultures (or any culture where education and knowing things is paramount) do as well as they do in schools here? They're driven by their parents to do the rote memorization which forms a fundamental substrate of facts and figures, and then they're taught to run creatively with them by our schools.

It's probably why many of them believe China will rule the world one day.

There *are* standard tests which could measure a science lab, or an engineering course, but they'd be very expensive to proctor and grade, because they'd be oral/practical defenses in the one case, and a portfolio submission in the other. The cost issue has always been a problem.

Washington State is attempting to address some of this by requiring Senior projects and community service for graduation. People are free almost anywhere to insist on high rigor for their kids by enrolling them in AVID prep courses and Advanced Placement courses to get both the rigor and the creative thinking. And many colleges, such as BYU, offer distance learning high school courses for nominally small amounts of money.

Those curricula "teach to the test", namely the SAT, but they also provide creative outlets: the AP Art tests are portfolio submissions, for example. An extension of that into experimental science or engineering would be easy, with the College Board *already providing most of the infrastructure for it.*

The key is going to be *home support*. Our poorer people don't have circumstances which permit that, so it becomes the definitive American social problem to compensate for two-job parents or single parent houses, to provide the same rigor a watchful parent in the middle classes could provide.

Some of that can never be solved, I think, without parents who have the time and the interest to watch their children carefully and insist that they don't misbehave. And this in a culture where every popular voice calls on them to misbehave, with a drumbeat which calls on them to conform in their misbehavior! Such irony!

Rather than imposing standards and flogging teachers, it might be nice to cut money loose for the disadvantaged so that they can lay hold on those distance courses, and provide funding for something I'd call "remedial AP", and others call AVID, along with the equipment to be successful in them.

Of course, we'd also have to get rid of the iron stranglehold some teachers' unions have on that funding. This is the sort of problem which really needs *both* left-handed and right-handed approaches applied.

David Brin said...

Paul P... OdinsEye is right to ask you to look with great skepticism upon “everybody knows that...” reports from Heritage and Cato, two of the worst centers of intellectual whoredom in America. In fact, I will post very soon a long piece -- very short on facts but rich in fresh perspectives -- about how those outfits started out aiming toward libertarian principles, only to become vest-pocket apologists for would-be feudal lords.

OdisEye is right that there is more than enough experimental evience provided by the states themselves, through the miracle of federalism, showing that minimum wage laws do not cause massive unemployment and do lift many thousands out of poverty.

Please do not assume I am a socialist. I despise the cushy welfare states that - in Europe - have made it impossible for employers ever to fire anybody... and thus discouraged them from ever HIRING anybody. I actually think that there’s s silver lining to the way that Oregon and California etc had to lead the way in minimum wage matters. I like federal experiments...

... in fact, I have dozens I’d love to see. My dream? Have the nation’s sages come up with fifty “experiments” they’d like to try, and have the states either take their pick or draw them from a hat! Think how many hoary myths could be settled, at low risk to the nation as a whole!

Anybody have a crackpot state law they’d love to see tried somewhere? Some time?

Rob raises a great point. The kids who thrive in America are those who are enriched and propeled at home, where they can absorb a lot of the material that is never taught in school. The “american” way to do this is with fun outside activities. (Karate, scouting, band, religion, swimming science camp fencing... no wonder my kids are nuts.) Or Asian-style memorization classes. Less yummy, but for sure it combines well with the competitive argument festival that we find in US schools.

HawkerHurricane said...

David

The image "swimming science camp fencing" calls to mind was most bizarre. Since I lettered in swimming, have a strong interest in science, took fencing in college, and go camping many times a year, I wonder if it truly is possible to combine the four activities...

David Brin said...

A new pentathalon? Ah but we need a fifth categary that only becomes legal after 16...

..."loving"....

yum

David Brin said...

Today in Hanoi, President Bush acknowledged that America's unsuccessful war in Vietnam three decades ago offered lessons for the US war in Iraq.

Among those lessons: "We'll succeed unless we quit."

Seriously. That is the lesson Bush takes away from the Vietnam war.

That comment reflects the standard right-wing narrative of the Vietnam war. We would have "won" if anti-war types in the US (i.e., the majority of the American population) hadn't forced us out prematurely.

Let's see. We spent "only" 10 years in Vietnam. Our peak force levels were "only" 520,000. The war resulted in "only" 58,000 US dead and three million Vietnamese dead. In other words, we never really gave the thing a fair shot at "success".

Notice how the right wing has dropped one part of their standard litany about failure in Vietnam. "quitting early" is still part of it. But do you ever hear any mention of "outrageous meddling in military decisions by clueless politicians who never served in combat themselves" - hm?

Not a word.

The ghost at the banquet is a deep, implicit racism and xenophobia. The last thing that Vietnam War apologists will even include, as a factor, was the incredible courage and determination and ingenuity and fighting spirit of our foe, who, though misguided in their simplistic economic theories, nevertheless sincerely saw us as invaders who had no right to storm into their country, telling them how to live.

No, that could never have been a factor.

This is the same world-hatred that made the neocons spit on all our allies, spurn diplomacy, ignore world opinion, and then blink in surprised dismay when they woke up to find America is despised. The one event that will ultimately guarantee the end of Pax Americana.

A pax that had been based, above all, upon our overwhelming popularity and position as culturel role model. Great going, guys! Great utopian nation building and spreading of values.

Again and again from the right we hear “screw world opinion!”

Wisdom? Allow me to refer you to the very first sentence... the first sentence... of the document that created the United States of America:

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”


Can I repeat that phrase? “...a decent respect to the opinions of mankind...”

Nothing distills the neocon neuroticism more than this notion that we can engage with the world, vigorously, while ignoring its opinions about that engagement.

At least the old conservatism of Vandenburg and Taft called for isolationism. Hands off in both directions. But these hypocrites want to meddle overseas, and not hear a word from the people we are “fixing.”

HawkerHurricane said...

David...

In the early 20th century, there was a "Military Pentatholon" including events such as fencing, horsemanship, shooting, obstacle course, and running with a pack. General Patton recieved a Olympic medal for it in 1912, for fencing.

David Brin said...

Today's Olympic Pentathlon... riding, shooting, running fencing, swimming... replicates the skills of an ideal Napoleonic scout.

As for my posting about Vietnam Syndrome (above), Russ Daggatt replied:

"How do you think Bush's Vietnamese hosts regarded his assertion that we would have "won" if we didn't "quit" after a mere three million Vietnamese dead. I guess no one would claim diplomacy is Bush's strong suit.

With regard to the "lessons" of the Vietnam war, I thought the military consensus was summarized in the "Powell Doctrine". Funny, Bush didn't mention that either (not surprising, since Bush violated every tenet). As summarized at Wikipedia:

"The questions posed by the Powell Doctrine, which should be answered affirmatively before military action, are:

Is a vital national security interest threatened?
Do we have a clear attainable objective?
Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
Is the action supported by the American people?
Do we have genuine broad international support?

The fifth point of the Doctrine is normally interpreted to mean that the U.S. should not get involved in peacekeeping or nation-building exercises.

Powell expanded upon the Doctrine, asserting that when a nation is engaging in war, every resource and tool should be used to achieve overwhelming force against the enemy, minimizing US casualties and ending the conflict quickly by forcing the weaker force to capitulate.

So, I invite everyone to score our Iraqi involvement. How did we do at following Powell's advice? What? A PERFECT zero?

Doesn't that smell just a little bit of something beyond incompetence? After all, blithering incompetents who find themselves in charge of an incredibly COMPETENT Officer Corps ought to plausibly stumble into one right decision, simply through laziness, allowing smart professionals (once in a while) to do their jobs

Face it. It took uphill effort and tenaciousness and determination to achieve all this, over strenuous opposition by scores of our best men. This perfect score is saying something, boys and girls.

The guise of lazy, dogmatic, incompetent dopes may fool you. It may fool most of those who are "wising up." But it doesn't fool me. Not anymore.

(I sometimes wonder about poor Powell. Is he silent because they keep blandishing him with hints of a VP nomination? Is that how they keep McCain and Gingrich suborned? By saying "next round it will be the turn of your wing of the Party."

(Can they actually believe that crap? That the Masters would allow decent men near power out of the GOP, without enough levers in-hand to maintain control? Blackmail. That's the real ticket.)

Stefan Jones said...

"A decent respect for the opinions of mankind . . ."

I love that line. Words only a grown up could write, embodying a worldview that only a mature, responsible, considerate, cosmopolitan, and competent person could concieve.

Listening to Bush's earnest babbling about Vietnam and Iraq today I could only think: jeeze, how our standards have fallen!

A few weeks back, Bush was asked at a news conference what he made of the fact that a solid majority of Americans disapproved of his handling of the war. "They want us to win!" he replied.

A bumbling, brash non-sequitor, uttered to show his base that he still had resolve.

And you know, Bush probably believes it, and a sizeable number of resentful soreheads and provincial boobs are still eating it up. But for the solid majority of Americans who think he is incompetent, and the Iraq war a fool's errand, it displays nothing but contempt.

An arrogant, ignorant, blinkered leader advised by crooks and ideologues.

How we have fallen.

Rob Perkins said...

A new pentathalon? Ah but we need a fifth categary that only becomes legal after 16...

Can't believe you missed it: Driving. Or, if you want it to be fun, drifting.

Nate said...

Eventually I'll post some thoughts of my own again instead of links, but for now, hilzoy has a good post about minimum wage over at Obsidian Wings. And now I'm going to bed.

Tony Fisk said...

Al-Qaeda tricked US into Iraq, eh?

Not that the White House needed much tricking: Rumsfeld was busting to attack Iraq just hours after the September 11 attacks! (I wonder why Aghanistan wouldn't do? And, who briefed sheik Libi?)

Paul P said...

Hi David --

Don't worry, I don't think you're a socialist, and I'm in violent agreement with your support of federalism. Many laws would be much, much more palatable if they were enacted on a state-by-state basis without federal mandate. Unfortunately I think the grand experiment is essentially over and has been for a long time, now that the feds can and do (for instance) withhold federal highway funds from states that won't play ball.

But I still think you're wrong about the minimum wage. You don't need to rely on cato and the heritage foundation for cases against it. Here is a good first-person example of the impact it has in some cases. You might say that such cases are the minority, but that's a very difficult thing to know with certainty, and even if you do, so what? A wrong is no less wrong if inflicted on a small number of people.

Anytime the federal government mandates that two people cannot enter into a mututally beneficial relationship - whether it be drug sales, prostitution, or paying retirees a certain amount to help run a campground - it has many, many unintended negative effects, some of which are hard to measure but no less real for that.

The intended effect of raising the minimum wage is a transfer of wealth from certain parties to other parties. If you agree that this transfer is warranted, the federal government is already in a perfect position to enforce that transfer through manipulation of the tax code (e.g. the EITC) without adding more laws and more rules and creating new criminals out of people who want nothing more than to pay people what they're worth to them.

Genius said...

* THE TAX REFORM ACT.
"Floors for the Inheritance Tax and Alternative Tax will be raised to ensure they only affect the most wealthy."

My impression is that in the US there is already, effectively, a very heavy tax on "not having a good accountant" and that this may just increase that tax.
with most taxes you should have a 'flat rule' (eg somthing like 'tax is 70% on capital gains on houses')
Then you fix the isue of redistribution by a single tax (or the smallest number possible) eg "income tax is 0% for first 20k, 20% for next 20k, 50% for rest)
taht way the flaws in your system are more obvious and manageable and harder to 'game'

--------
> the education ministries in Asian countries are begging their teachers to instruct "in a more American manner"

I think this depends on what you want. if you want to be a leading economy then the method used in Asia seems to be a winner. I guess many in the education area instead want 'expressions of individuality' (which is quite rewarding because you can say 'I created that').

I also think that we tend to route learn a lot of wasteful information, for example the colors of precipitates. The simple way around that is to actually teach the why and ask people to route learn THAT.

I followed a principle of never paying attention in chemistry lab or trying to memorize colors because I felt it was trivial (and I was lazy). So low marks through the year – best marks at the end. Which, to me, shows how a single test is actually a better ranking mechanism than a whole year assessment.

Anonymous said...

I've a an opposing perspective on that. Back when I first started college, I took Calculus 1. Unfortunately, due to my teacher's thick accent and my not utilizing the resources available for me, I was not doing that well. The professor informed the class that the final exam, if higher than your regular grade, would be your final grade. We would be allowed one notecard with notes on it for the exam.

I used my ability to write tiny text and my good eyesight to cram everything I could onto that card. I managed to pull off a B- for the class grade. Next semester I went on to Calculus 2, which I flunked. I took it a second time and pulled off a D-. I finally took it a third time (Continuing Ed) and the professor, when he learned this was the third time I'd taken the course, stated: anyone who takes a course three times deserves to pass. I got a C-. Or in other words, I flunked, but he passed me.

Looking back, I see what my problem was. I did not have the basics of the class down. Without the basics of Calculus 1, I was unable to pass Calculus 2. If I'd gotten a D for Calculus 1 as I probably would have (or at best a C-) then I'd not have gone on to Calc 2 and flunked it multiple times. I did not learn what I needed in Calculus 1. It affected me in future classes.

One test does not show what students know. Cheating, luck, guesses, bullshitting... these can help pump up a grade. Only by looking at the entirety of a student's work can you truly get a view of what they know.

Rob H.

Elyandarin said...

Then you fix the issue of redistribution by a single tax (or the smallest number possible) eg "income tax is 0% for first 20k, 20% for next 20k, 50% for rest)
that way the flaws in your system are more obvious and manageable and harder to 'game'


I agree with having a minimal number of tax laws, but I think calculating tax rate by mathematical formula - instead of set limits - gives a more continuous range of values, and thus even less for min/maxing accountants to exploit.
A smoothly progressive tax curve seems preferable to me compared to one with "cricks" in it, and it's not like we haven't got the processing power to spare, nowadays.

David Brin said...

California has one of the highest minimum wages. Huge immigrant communities. And the lowest unemployment (as of today) in 30 years.

Federalism rules. (Thank God for blue California during the red (gray) AMerica putsch.) And the simplest of large scale experiments tells all.

Anonymous said...

Here's a question that needs a little thought: how much in the way of "rights" should children in school have? For instance, research has suggested that the school uninform policy in Japan may be partly responsible for their lower rate of crime among adolescents. The children who would indulge in criminal behavior would often change out of their uniforms if they were going to do something where their uniform would identify them.

In addition, school uniforms create a sense of community within the school. People are forced to dress similarly (and if the uniforms are from one manufacturer, an actual uniform instead of a "dress code", then children are less likely to find ways of standing apart from their peers) end up creating a sense of community. (Indeed, this can be found in peer groups that aren't required to wear uniforms - some "groups" will have everyone in their "grouping" to wear similar outfits, the latest fashions, or what have you. Similarly, gang culture often uses a "uniform" of sorts, "gang colors" to create a sense of community and unity.)

This suggests then that if we wish to discourage criminal behavior and encourage a sense of community within our schools, we should force children to wear uniforms in school.

Rights Activists claim that this is in violation of a child's "freedom of expression" and the like. Some children also try to buck the system and resist (in court and in school) to wear uniforms, creating an atmosphere of conflict within the school when the uniforms are in fact an effort to create unity.

So then the question is this: what rights do children have? When should their rights be upheld, and when should they be put aside for the greater good of the school community?

And of course, the question goes further than that. Are we, as parents and educators and politicians, creating a culture of authoritative acceptance and denial of civil rights by forcing children to wear school uniforms against their will or denying them the right to publish what they want in a school newspaper? Do children actually have all the rights of our adult population? Is denying our children these rights ultimately harming us as a society?

Just a little something to chew upon...

Rob H.

Genius said...

Elyandarin,
You’re right - I did think of that as I wrote it...

Still we might want to move slowly into that, since although we have the technology to do it, and it would be more fair and efficient, the average person might get lost and thus not like it.

Stefan Jones said...

'Rights Activists claim that this is in violation of a child's "freedom of expression" and the like.'

Uh, what "Rights Activists" are these? I ask because this sounds a bit like a straw man.

I've heard of very little organized opposition to school uniforms. It is a fairly uncontroversial measure. I'm not saying there's no opposition out there, but most of the controversies I hear about vis-a-vis the rights of students are over zero tolerance policies (for drugs, knives, etc.).

tacitus said...

Although it pains me as a Republican, and a firm believer in our system of government, certain Presidential acts cannot go unpunished.
A President who involves us in a bloody war through military adventurism, when diplomacy had good prospects of working, must be held accountable. He and his incompetent advisors, who projected a brief conflict requiring minimal forces, must answer for their folly. We must admit the difficulty of the times he served in, and the elements of nobility to the war he undertook. Our sympathies are always with the oppressed. But when the conventional war ended and the very people we went to liberate live among the destruction of war, oppressed and killed by militia associated with the old regime clearly things have gone tragically off course.
Some would say it is late in the day for this President to answer for his actions. But justice knows no season. So let us rejoice in the fact that his attempts to limit our Constitutional rights were only partial, and use our united voices to cry out for the Impeachment of President Abraham Lincoln.

Removing tongue from cheek, I do enjoy the lively discussion here. We moderate Republicans, who were the swing votes of late, regard this as our hour.

Blake Stacey said...

I was in high school when Columbine rocked the airwaves, and I lived through the foolishness which teachers and administrators yammered in their frenzy of worry. Should we require all students to wear clear backpacks? Should we mandate uniforms? On and on without reprieve. Every student I knew, almost without exception, regarded all of these ideas as supremely silly. They shellacked over the real problems, thereby hiding them from prying eyes and preserving them from decay.

But hey, this is what you get when you attend the highest-achieving school in the city, where the principal's cadre decides that the biggest problem facing the school is the undisciplined students wandering the halls during class time. They tried a "lock-down" policy, whereby the principal would come on the PA, all the teachers would lock their doors and the CPs would roam the halls snapping up everybody without a hall pass.

It really was as stupid as it sounds.

We organized a "Student Liberation Front", whose members would run for the door as soon as the announcement came on the PA and then sprint through the halls waving the snack foods they carried for the occasion and screaming "Lockdown party!" Before we got the chance to flood the disciplinarian's office with cookie-munching students, the guys in charge decided the lock-down plan wouldn't do any good after all, so they gave it up.

I wonder if the truly significant difference between American schools and their Japanese counterparts is not the uniforms, but the amount of work the Japanese students are required to do (much more) and the content of their classes (nary a creationist in sight, for one thing). Applying the Japanese solution to "the problem of youth" in American schools only makes sense if both countries face the same problem, and nobody has demonstrated that quite yet.

Kids are smart, plenty smart enough to look exactly how they want no matter what uniforms you swaddle around them. The girls who'd like to catch a footballer's eye can still cast themselves as tramps, even in khaki pants and button-down shirts. Sure, the schoolgirl fetishists will appreciate the millions of new specimens your policy grants to their roving eyes, but other than that, what's the point?

Nate said...

If this is the hour of the moderate Republicans, why were almost all of the Republican losses in Congress the "moderates", while the extremists generally easily got re-elected?

And on a less snarky note, Dr. Brin, I had a thought. Perhaps we should form a think tank with a pretentious name, to have something nice and official sounding to put on business cards. That way when we go visit the Congresscritters while carrying briefcases and dressed in suits, they think we have money, like all of their other important clients.

Nate said...

Man, blogger won't let me edit my comments without signing up. I might have to finally. Bah.

But I was gonna put in a comment about two non-moderate Republicans who were thankfully defeated, George Allen and Rick Santorum, both of whom were stains upon states I've lived in.

Nate said...

Somehow, I bet the irony of this escapes most of the Republicans in Congress. Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader elect said:
"Forty-nine is not a bad number of Senators to have, in a chamber that requires sixty to control. And I can assure you that our Democratic friends will give President Bush's judicial nominees a floor vote - if they want to get anything done, in a chamber that requires 60 to control."

And to think, only a few months ago, the Republicans were screaming about "obstructionist" Democrats and threatening to get rid of the ability to filibuster. And I bet you not one person in the "liberal media" will call them on this, either.

Nate said...

Okay, this is seriously the last post I'm gonna make today, honest.

Ron Suskind suggests a bunch of potential investigations for the Democrats, to steal Kevin Drum's list: (a) the energy industry, (b) lying to Congress about domestic issues like global warming and Medicare, (c) lying to the public about Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman, (d) nonterrorists who have been subjects of warrantless wiretaps, and (e) continued incompetence in the intelligence community.

Those are all good things to investigate, but I think Mark Kleinman has an important point too. Namely, "The fundamental fact the country is going to have to confront over the next decade is our catastrophic defeat in Iraq. The fundemental political challenge for the Democrats is to fend off the "stab-in-the-back" narrative that worked so well for the Republicans after Vietnam..."
"A truthful narrative about Iraq would be "We were arrogant, and overestimated our capacity to shape the world to our visions." But that's not a story the country wants to hear. An alternative narrative, equally truthful, is "We took on a tough but potentially manageable challenge and blew it due to the incompetence and corruption of the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress.""

His list of suggested investigations is:
1. Corruption and patronage in the CPA.
2. Corruption and crony capitalism in contracting in Iraq, especially for support of the troops but also for reconstruction.
3. Corruption and earmarking in the award of defense contracts.
4. Corruption and earmarking in the award of intelligence contracts.
5. Corruption and patronage in DHS and its White House predecessor office under Tom Ridge.


My ideal choice would be to investigate them all. There's plenty of Republican fuckups to go around, but the most important thing is to establish early, and repeat loudly and often, the truth that many of the biggest problems we have now are BECAUSE of the Republicans, doing exactly what they wanted to do. The Republican Party should have no reputation left on National Securit, as bad as they've made things. The Democrats have to quit being afraid of the Republicans and their lapdog media and start taking them on, on their "strengths" which aren't.

Woozle said...

(Wow, Our Esteemed Host has really outdone himself this time in the Spawning Of Interesting Threads department this time... ^_^)

Two thoughts:

1. Robert Bussard needs a bodyguard... or maybe a food-taster. Or a witness protection program. Seriously. If he's as close to being able to make a production fusion plant as he sounds ("the physics now works; all that's left is engineering" is the basic message I got from the video), he stands to upset a great many apple-carts if he is allowed to complete his work. Not just the oil cartels, not just the US-based energy industry. What's more, he may well be the only one who both understands the work well enough and has the plausibility to bring in the necessary grant(s) to finish the work. Take him out, and we'd be back to business as usual for a good many decades. Tell me I'm being pessimistic, please.

2. The school uniform idea certainly sounds good, and I'd be adding my voice in favor if it weren't for the fact that I know I would have hated it as a student, for any number of reasons; I'd have been one of those petitioning against it.

BUT... how about this: Students who make good grades, don't get in fights, have good attendance records, and basically behave themselves, can be rewarded by being allowed to dress to a code instead of wearing a uniform. Maybe even have multiple tiers: students who do really well can dress even more sloppily than the usual "dress code" standards. I think I would have found that a major inducement to perform. "The better you do, the more freedom we give you."

But really, I think the real solution to school violence lies more in the direction of providing wiki-like forums for students to openly (anonymously or otherwise) make suggestions, give tips, complain about stupidity, present ideas, self-organize to solve problems, etc. Yes, I know this sounds like I have an overly optimistic view of student intelligence; give me a specific problem which will provent this from working, however, and I suspect I can come up with a half-dozen things to try towards preventing it. Online communities can be productive, even if the initial membership is mostly juvenile idiots. And this idea would give students a much more accurate taste of true self-governance than any amount of experience on the "student council".

Ok, quasi-rant over...

David Brin said...

RobH, you have only dipped a toe into the field of “uneven rights” that is current;y manifest primarily in children... and a few special cases, e.g. for conservatorship of the demented elderly. But clearly there are more dimensions, which I explore in my stories about “uplift.”

Indeed, what if we were NOT the only sapient species on the planet, but there were others, capable of speech and complex action, but inarguably less capable of complex judgement? This was the claim of those who, in 1850, defended slavery. And yet, refused Ben Franklin’s challenge that the assumption be tested, by giving slaves as much education as they could absorb. That hypocrisy was, indeed, the most perfect moral crime of the South and the utter demolition of their entire stance. (I wish the abolitionists had pushed it harder.)

This is why I offer a very different answer to those “Bell Curve” guys who try to put forward evidence for small differences in average innate ability in various areas, among various races. In abstract, this matter may be of some small intellectual interest. But it has no conceivable beneficial use and potentially devastating effects upon a PROCESS OF REPROGRAMMING that our civilization has underway.

That process involves the long, slow replacement of extremely vile habits... like the habit of assuming that a person who is a member of a classification group in one aspect, automatically should be judged according to the average of that aspect that is associated with that group. Or, worse, that such a person should have opportunities limited because of false-causal association with OTHER traits that are purely stereotypes of that group.

There are clear reasons why our co magnon brains developed such habits. But, in a complex and fair civilization, there is no way that such a filthy ways of thinking can do anything but create injustice, resentment and vast waste of human potential, denying us access to an immense portion of out talent pool.

Here’s the key point. In order to break such habits, it is necessary to romanticize and exaggerate, by insisting that all groups are inherently equal... an exaggeration that will almost certainly be refuted someday, in some way. But I am in no hurry for that day to come! Because, until we are mature, there will be millions among us who will leap upon an opportunity to return to the old ways.

Hence, while it is (at one level) romantically insane, “tolerance fetishism of the left IS THE RIGHT PRESCRIPTION for the time being.

This does not mean that - like all prescribed drugs - tolerance fetishism cannot tip into outrageous overdose territory. Kurt Vonnegut illustrated extreme “tolerance overkill” in his famous story “Harrison Bergeron” (READ IT!) in which the US Constitution is amended so that all differences in ability are outlawed! The Handicapper General of the United States sends armed enforcers who add weights and splints to the agile and thick glasses to those with 20:20 vision...

Tolerance fetishism that denies the proper place of competition BETWEEN individuals is as much a sickness of the left as the will of the right to restore unfair competition-avoidance based upon inherited privilege. They become different versions of the same thing. Both reduce the fluid way we can rise or fall, based on the merits of the things we do. The merits of the things we are.

You will recognize an argument similar to one I made before... that we must treat freedom of speech and freedom to know as if they are “inalienable” and “self-evident” and inherently sacred... even though the vast sweep of human history and human nature say otherwise.

We must romanticize them IN ORDER to defend them with sufficient zeal, so that their pragmatic benefits will then be ours (the benefits of transparency and accountability, that make our “arenas” work and let us rise above the trap of feudalism.) Mere pragmatism is not enough to make us willing to fight to the death for these things. But romantic dedication to the Bill of Rights can!

And so, as a romantic who inveighs against romanticism, I tell you we must pick a few romantic (platonic) essences to give total fealty to, and be willing to die defending them! Weird but true!

Hence (full circle) suppose the group pushing “human rights for the Great Apes” get their way? Suddenly there will be a class of humans WHO ARE DEFINITELY INFERIOR AS A PERMANENT CLASS. Down that road we get the deltas and epsilons of BRAVE NEW WORLD.

In fact, I suspect we will get there someday. If no other way, then when our robots climb toward our level. And SciFi warns us to be careful.

When these interesting times come, I hope we will have matured enough to be ready.

=====

Tacitus, I applaud you for saying that “We moderate Republicans, who were the swing votes of late, regard this as our hour.” I agree... cautiously.

What is needed is for you to become militant. Like the Heroes of 1947, who wrested the Democratic party from its flirtation with socialism, you must join with others and create a two pronged endeavor:

“Many of us voted democrat this time, especially in districts where the Dems offered us moderate and reasonable people, atune with our districts: especially moderate veterans who understand our desire for prudence and defense.

“TO THE DEMOCRATS we say - send us more of those! We are not so partisan that we’ll fail to notice!

“TO THE GOP we say - purge yourself of monsters. Do this vigorously and thoroughly. Don’t settle for half measures. We are fighting for the soul of conservatism, against a cancer that has made it a tool for a few hundred fanatics and thieves. Decide, soon, whether you will serve those thieves, or genuine conservative values. We are watching.”

===

Blake, funny lockdown story.

Nate: I’d be happy to work with some existing moderate/dem lobby and try to promote these things. Sigh.

Nate: pointing out Kleptocrat hypocrisy is a futile proposition. That is why I categorized my suggestions, putting up top those that the gopper leaders cannot black, at all.

Anonymous said...

Well, I am a little disappointed that my call to impeach Dishonest Abe is falling on deaf ears. You can also make some interesting comparisons to the foreign affairs adventurism, ill conceived use of sanctions and insufficient military preparations of FDR in the period roughly 1938 to 7 Dec. 41. But things more or less turned out well after that.
With due respect to my many DFL friends, Republicans believe in the democratic process deeply. You hear no griping about rigged voting machines. We/They lost. If the democrats can sell their ideas to the voters on election day, and on an ongoing basis, they should be calling the shots (within the bounds of the Constitution of course).
Tacitus

OdinsEye2k said...

Paul P - I don't get the Coyote blog "case studies" on minimum wage. Most of them seem to be not only anecdotal evidence (bad enough), but also of the form of "well, raising minimum wage breaks our business model, so we have to quit and our jobs go away. QED - Minimum wage causes job cause." Or maybe the biz model just is weak and can't handle a change in biological niche (that Darwin is a bastard, isn't he?)

Tacitus - I'm glad to hear that there are those on the GOP side that still believe in the rule of law. As a liberal-to-moderate Democrat, I dispute that this time belongs to the GOP, but I'll be glad to arm-wrestle honestly about that any day. For now, I really hope the moderates (or merely the sane) regain control of the party.

Meanwhile, Dr. Brin, I'm totally in agreement about your assessment of Bush's remarks in Vietnam. I bet the guy would have called for genociding the entire population back when it was actually happening - while he had fun playing pilot in the safety of the United States no less.

Stefan Jones said...

DB notes:

. . . we must treat freedom of speech and freedom to know as if they are “inalienable” and “self-evident” and inherently sacred... even though the vast sweep of human history and human nature say otherwise.

Amen!

Debates about human inequality and whether "those people" should breed are horrifically common in SFan circles. Two things I try to point out:

i) Like it or not, we are a tribal species. We have an instinctual, irrational fear/distrust reaction to outsiders. It is a virtual universal that "The Other" gets tarred as untrustworthy, clueless, inscrutable, disloyal, unhygenic and/or ______________ (fill in the blank with your favorite slur). We also have a nasty habit of, given the chance, of economically exploiting The Other; it's damn handy to be able to rationalize exploitation with those percieved attributes.

Given these unpleasant facts . . . can we really trust ourselves to judge?

ii) If science does come up with totally reliable tests for the genetic basis for intelligence, it is almost certain that we would, in very short order, be able to remedy the situation . . . not through draconian eugenic schemes or caste systems, but something on the order of a vaccination. Why tear apart society for a situation that will be temporary?

Anonymous said...

Woozle: The problem with your idea of "tiered rights" is that it will reintroduce incentives to create an "us vs. them" mentality. If only the smart, educated, and behaved get to have rights, then school truly becomes a prison, the uniforms are marks of shame, and children will grow to hate the school, the uniforms, and those who have "special privileges" they can't achieve.

Okay. What benefits are there for uniforms? For one, it creates an environment where outsiders stand out (unless they disguise themselves with uniforms but that's going onto a whole new area of paranoia). Second, it creates a sense of identity for all of those students. They all are the "us" in this case. Third, it helps bring people into a mindset of learning. How many people have "lucky socks" or the like, an article of clothing, a pen, a book they need in order to "be lucky" (or more properly, get into the mindset to succeed)? Uniforms can act like that. But only if they aren't a punishment for a select few.

As for your idea for a "wiki"... at an early age we're discouraged from "tattling" on others. It's a mindset that continues to this day, with whistleblowers punished for their good deeds and looked upon with derision. Further, how do we distinguish between people trying to anonymously cause trouble for peers they despise or want to 'get back at' and actual issues?

I like the idea. I'm just not sure if it would work. Then again, I'll admit I don't know the particulars of how a "wiki" could be used for this or how it would be implimented.

Rob H.

Anonymous said...

Um... looking back at that post, it sounds like I'm talking down to you. Whoops! I didn't mean to do that, my apologies!

Rob H., who has to learn how to write so he doesn't sound like an arrogant idiot...

Blake Stacey said...

Rob H. wrote as follows:

How many people have "lucky socks" or the like, an article of clothing, a pen, a book they need in order to "be lucky" (or more properly, get into the mindset to succeed)? Uniforms can act like that. But only if they aren't a punishment for a select few.

With all due respect, I seriously question this rationale. Lucky charms are personal, idiosyncratic things. Mine have included an Inca Cross my mother brought back from Peru, a keychain my friend Scott found in Fiji and a few other tokens of similar nature. All of them do little except to remind me of the wonderful people I know and the amazing places they and I have traveled. By keeping in my mind how neat a place this planet is, they do me a good service without having to depend upon any superstitious mechanism — luck for the rationalist!

(The most materially useful of my "charms" have been my tweed jackets with suede elbow patches, the "eigenjackets" which when properly chalk-dusted make me feel professorial indeed. I slept under one such garment, one night in Berlin — but that's neither here nor there.)

The luck of the sock is a property granted to it by its owner, not mandated by the State. If such a trivial change of environment was enough to "get students in the mood to learn", why doesn't walking into the school building get them "in the mood" already? Why should the clothes in which they learn exert a greater influence than the place in which they study? If one hypothesizes that this happens because students can "acclimate" to their environment — school is just a place to go every weekday — then the same must hold true for uniforms — just the clothes to wear every weekday. Must we wage a war of escalation against a nation of schoolchildren, each year finding new ways to remind the whippersnappers that school is for learning?

Perhaps it would be simpler if we just believed that whatever cockamamie plan we concoct will really work: that whatever scheme we follow will in fact make our schools a safer, higher-achieving place. Truth by incantation! It's worked so well before.

— Blake (whose self-righteousness is only equaled by the Harvard Objectivist Club :-/ )

Tyler August said...

On the school issue,
I feel I am uniquely qualified to argue this, as I am years of age 18 and I just got out of High School; I am currently in my first year at the University of Waterloo. Ah, yes, I'm Canadian. (feel free to dismiss all I say for that, if you disagree)
Now, from that perspective, let me offer a brief critique on school uniforms.
1) a 'reward system,' giving the good kids freedom of choice, will not work. I was a good student; I would have qualified for dress-code status. I would have riled against it. It would make the nerds stand even further out, and result in the caste system prevalent in most high schools to stratify even further. In recent years, we nerds have made great strides in gaining wide-scale acceptance in schools. (at least in my area) This would take that away, turning the good students into reviled teachers pets, tools and symbols of the establishment. NO. Most emphatically no.
2) Uniforms do not encourage a more studious environment. This can be proven quite easily, looking at the Canadian model; there were a few small, catholic schools in my area which required uniforms. Academically, my 'public' (Note that in Ontario, the “catholic” board is publicly funded, and only marginally religious, hence I don't capitalize the c) school, sans uniforms, outperformed every one in nearly every subject. Artistically, ditto. In areas of discipline, I could detect little difference-- except one case, where the lack of tolerance for Others uniforms seem to engender caused a slightly nerdy, very eccentric friend of mine to be hospitalized in a gang-beating by her classmates (this did not occur in any of the non-uniformed schools, in the time that I was there)
Canadian and American youth culture are close enough in scope that I think those points apply, as well as the following ones. We know our rights (we know what our rights would be in America) or there enough of those who do to cause trouble, when push comes to shove. Every change in the dress code at my old high school would result in protests and walkouts; someone knew well enough that we were within our rights to do this, despite warnings of dire consequences form the administration (there were no consequences; we were within our rights, after all.) Any initiative to impose uniforms on that student body would have seen mass desertions and/or organized civil disobedience, until the initiative was culled. Once kids reach high school, they resent being called kids; they chafe at being treated as such. Lawmakers and educators seems slow to understand this. A good deal of the impetuous for our rebellious youth culture would be taken out if schools were conducted in a more professional manner, which treated students as adults and with respect, rather than as troublemakers and with suspicion. We're punks because you made us thus. A fix? I actually believe that many of the school reforms (minus the uniforms!) depicted by Michael Flynn's Firestar would do a world of good, in either Canukistan or the USA.
In rebuttal to "kids can't do math in their heads," I will only say this: kids have calculators. Kids don't NEED to do math in their heads. Most of the scientists and engineers I know (raised during the good ol'e days, before those electronic travesties became affordable) can barely use those old skills, either; they have calculators, too. Our spelling is atrocious because of the word processor; our handwriting suffers for the same reasons. Assignments must be handed double-spaced and typed, because our writing is illegible; our writing is illegible because assignments must be handed in double-spaced and typed. (Yes, I'm fully aware that this is a circular argument, but I rather liked the rhetorical effect.) The solutions for these problems, if problems they are, would be to simply ban calculators in primary schools, and banish the personal computer from the study desk.

Oh, and in response to the above, Dr. Bussard has a long history of having breakthroughs in fusion power, with applications 'just around the corner;' not to malign a brilliant man, but he has always erred on the side of optimism in such projections. I am afraid until I see something more, I will have to assume that this is again the case (but would be more than willing to vote him public funds, anyway—there's no such thing as bad research!)

Oh, I almost forgot... "first time caller, long time listener; big fan of the show, Dr. Brin!"

Blake Stacey said...

Welcome to the CITOKATE Callers' Club, Tyler August! :-)

OK, jerking the thread in a different direction, here is a blog entry about political blogging. Significant quotations:

On the Left, it's much easier for new voices to join our discourse and introduce ideas that will be noticed throughout our side of the 'sphere. The Right Blogosphere, however, is far more hierarchical, with a relatively small pool of über-bloggers dominating rightie web conversation. [...] Bloggers become effective at pushing a story or addressing an issue when blogs, media, and the political establishment form a power triangle and work together to promote that story or address that issue. And, until recently, the Right was a whole lot better at that than we were. Even before the political blogosphere took off, the establishment Right was incorporating the web into the triangle; think Drudge and the blue dress.

While Michael Bérubé writes of the recent elections,

I couldn't help noticing that every GOP shill had been programmed by the Central Committee to say that the President's party always loses seats in a sixth-year midterm. Which is true as a general rule, of course, and was especially true in 1974 (49-seat swing, cough Watergate cough), 1966 (47-seat swing, taking this as LBJ's second term), and 1958 (48-seat swing). (The 1938 midterm was especially intense, a 72-seat swing, but since the Dems were working with a 334-88 lead, they retained the House by a large margin anyway. Ah, the days when gerrymandering hadn't yet become a science.) Strangely, though, the party in control of the White House in 1998 actually gained five seats. Nobody pointed that out. I wonder why.

(Link added for emphasis.)

Woozle said...

Rob H.: While I'm not sure I agree with you on a factual basis, I definitely agree with you emotionally. I was given to understand that the available data support school uniforms, so I was trying to find a way to make them more tolerable. Yes, any system of incentives can become corrupted by favoritism (rather than rewarding true merit), and I can't think of any likely way of preventing that from happening with this idea.

I personally don't like the idea of uniforms because (to oversimplify a bit) it seems to me that they discourage the qualities of individualism and personal initiative – which, although they can be damaging in some ways, are still (I think) vital to a vibrant culture and civilization. A uniform insidiously suggests that your only value is as a member of the group, not as an individual. If the student body works well together already, that can be great; but if there are in-groups who are oppressive and exclusive, having the underlings lumped in with them isn't going to make them inclusive and egalitarian. If the school's style is authoritarian, uniforms will only serve to underscore that style of thinking – only teachers/grownups may decide what you wear (and what you think), and those who wear the uniform can only obey. The only way to adulthood and freedom is to wear the clothing of the ruling caste, and to oppress others in turn. Is this the kind of mental training we want for future citizens of an enlightened democracy? (I'm more than willing to look at evidence to the contrary, however.)

(Perhaps what the data support is that uniforms improve academic performance in the short run – while saying nothing about the long term or about the state of students' personal initiative. Is anyone measuring the latter?)

As for the wiki idea... I haven't developed it in detail, but (it seems to me) the idea of "tattling" as a social crime is part of the problem.

I'll go out on a bit of a limb and suggest the following: Tattling is only a problem when trivial crimes are subject to disproportionate punishment. Trivial crimes are only punished when reporting is sparse, so that the punishment must take into account the large number of likely-unreported crimes. If reporting is reliable, trivial crimes can receive correspondingly trivial punishment, and "tattling" is no longer rewarded by seeing the tattlee dealt with harshly.

Some careful social engineering, in the form of a well-designed school e-community, could go a long way towards killing both "tattling" and true crimes. (Some experimentation needed; batteries not included. Online Ken and Chat Room Stacey sold separately.)

At least, that's the conclusion I've come to so far. Disclaimer: I've never worked in the field of primary education.

- Woozle (who has never had a lucky charm)