Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Public Education; Superwoman Resigns

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Mark Twain

(This is a short version of an essay which appeared in American Thinker and elsewhere on 5 Oct 10. This op/ed appeared in the 10 Oct edition of the DC Current newspapers.)

Education, like the economy and terrorism, has been elevated to a national security problem. Unfortunately, alarmist rhetoric is seldom matched by decisive action at the personal, municipal, or national level.

In the nation’s capital, the President sends his kids to private schools. The average taxpayer, who exercises choice, pays twice; once for public schools and again for a private school where achievement is more likely. The District of Columbia has the worst public schools in the country. If educators were sued for malpractice; the school house might improve over night.

The nexus of urban decay is often single party rule – a political sinecure where the incentives for reform are few. The recent Mayoral primary in the District of Columbia provides a cautionary tale.

Unlike most urban Democrats, Adrian Fenty was a genuine reformer. He hired an Education Chancellor, Michelle Rhee; and gave her the power to fire teachers, relieve principals, and close failing schools - at the risk of putting her boss out of work. Indeed, Mayor Fenty lost the recent Democrat primary to Councilman Vincent Gray and now Ms. Rhee has resigned too. None of this is good news for kids. Predictably, the local union has already filed a suit to reinstate those 241 teachers fired for “poor performance.”

When Fenty and Rhee touched the third rail of reform, the academic left mobilized. Randi Weingarten, of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and law professor Mary Cheh made common cause. Weingarten is the anti-hero of Waiting for Superman, a documentary about public education in which Variety claims she is cast as “a foaming satanic beast.”
Satanic may be a bit of a stretch, but Weingarten might be the worst thing to happen to public education since head lice.

Council members Cheh and Gray may be best remembered for taxes on plastic bags and soda pop – and removing chocolate milk from school lunches.

Icons of the past often foretell the future. Other Gray supporters included Marion Barry and Eleanor Holmes Norton. Barry is best known as a drug addled former mayor. Delegate Norton and her Democrat colleagues in Congress killed the popular DC Voucher program which allowed over 3,300 lower-income children to escape the “ghetto” schools.

The dim prospects for genuine schoolhouse reform in cities like the District of Columbia is not just a local phenomenon. The national outlook is grim too.

When the academic Left brought the AFT into the DC mayoral race, the President and the Secretary of Education went to ground. As Fenty and Rhee were getting mugged by teacher union money, the national party leadership refused to campaign for education reform in their own front yard, the nation’s capital.

Democracy is a bit of an odd duck; sometimes we get what we want and, just as often, we get what we deserve. A pathetic schoolhouse is only possible where no one has the courage or integrity to put children first. In self-segregating cities, the likely victims of inverted models are minorities, black kids in particular. Indeed, the most notorious example of “black on black” crime might be our public school system.

Take the Dexter Manley case. Manley was an athlete who went through the entire Texas public school system and then played football for the Washington Redskins. After football, Manley landed in the Washington Lab School where he tested as a functional illiterate.

Manley was victimized by a system that gave him a permanent hall pass for his race or his jockstrap, or both. If Manley’s teachers applied the same rigor for academics as his coaches did for athletic achievement, Dexter might be a different man today.

For two generations, public school systems have been bottom fishing. Most grade and high school teachers come from the dregs of baccalaureates. And many of these underachievers are credentialed with “education” degrees with little or no substantive knowledge. And many of those weak teachers are now principals or administrators. In short, K through 12 has become an affirmative action program for unionized nitwits. Such swamps are not easily drained; and the muck is now generational.

Yet black parents continue to vote for the urban plantation. Marion Barry ran and won four terms as mayor in DC. If he ran today, he would probably win again. Fenty, sober and progressive in the best sense of the word, was tossed after a term. One of the great ciphers in the wake of Martin Luther King’s death is black urban voters who continue to vote against their own best interests.

On Sunday, 26 September, Education Secretary Arne Duncan appeared on Meet the Press and preached that “we must have the moral courage” to change. We have no evidence that Messrs. Gray, Duncan, or Obama have the courage or integrity to adopt any education policy any more enlightened than ‘business as usual.’ And who waits for superman if superwoman has been run out of town?

The author is a graduate of Cardinal Hayes HS in the Bronx. He also writes at G. Murphy Donovan and Agnotology in Journalism.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Islamophobia or Masochism?

"I think it will be found that experience, the true source and foundation of all knowledge, invariably confirms truth." - Thomas Malthus

The myth of the Islamic victim is one of the most jarring and dangerous false narratives of the early 21st Century. The whining began in 1978 with Edward Said’s Orientalism, a revisionist survey of Europe’s colonial treatment of Arab and Muslim countries and post-colonial attitudes in the West.

In 1963, Said had landed an academic sinecure as an English professor at Columbia University in New York. He was at the time, a Palestinian refugee from Jerusalem and a self-described victim. Said’s augments provided the academic gravitas for a worldview with the following tenants: imperial Europe never understood or appreciated the “Orient” or its cultures, subsequent American policies in the Middle East reflect this ignorance, and anti-Zionism (nee anti-Semitism) is a legacy of colonialism – i.e. the Israeli plantation. In short, if some or many Muslim “victims” behave badly today; Europeans, Americans, and Jews have no one to blame but themselves.

Or in barnyard logic; pigs might be peacocks if horses behaved better. These are predictable consequences when angry English majors attempt to write history books. Said’s Orientalism still sells well today on campus.

Never mind that military, political, and religious conquest was the dominant external idiom for Islam from the 7th through the 15th Centuries. Indeed, one in four worldwide today claim to be Muslims. And never mind that many Greek, Roman, Renaissance, and Enlightenment notions of reason and democracy never took permanent root in the barren soil of dar al Islam. And never mind that most historians agree that the Ottoman Empire collapsed like a rotten pomegranate because the Islamic caliphate was corrupt, autocratic, and semi-literate. Never mind that the Sunni and Shiite varieties of anti-Semitism, irredentism, and xenophobia have roots that predate European colonialism and the state of Israel by millennia. And never mind that much of the contemporary, global Wahhabi, Deobandi, and Taliban sectarian intolerance, proselytizing, megalomania, misogyny, and violence (nee jihad) are flaws, internal to contemporary Islam. Never mind any of this and remember that Islam is a “religion” of peace – the philosophical and moral equivalent of any other religion.

Never mind also that Bernard Lewis, a true scholar of Islam and the Near East, has discredited Edward Said’s self–serving assertions about imperialism, racism, and victimization while at the same time identifying “the theology of Jidad” as a “licence to kill.” Lewis also anticipated the “clash of civilizations.” Never mind that other historians like Paul Johnson have underscored Lewis’s analysis of Islamism in terms that makes Professor Lewis look too generous. And never mind that progressive philosophers of the left like Paul Berman and Christopher Hitchens have condemned Islamism as both an irredentist shield and totalitarian sword. Berman argues that Islamism is just another toxic variety of fascism – forever joining “terror and liberalism.” The Hitchens arguments speak for themselves:

“…the general apathy and surrender of the West in the face of a determined assault from a religious ideology, or an ideological religion, afflicted by no sickly doubt about what it wants or by any scruples about how to get it…demography and cultural masochism, especially in combination, are handing a bloodless victory to the forces of Islamization… liberalism has found even more convoluted means of blaming itself… in the stupid neologism “Islamophobia,” which aims to promote criticism of Islam to the gallery of special offenses associated with racism.”

Never mind that serious scholarship of the right and left, historians and philosophers, have designated militant Islam a threat to Muslims and infidels alike. Never mind that Bill Clinton, President Obama, Hilary Clinton, the ground zero imam, and religion “scholars” like Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post have internalized Edward Said’s agnotology in spite of overwhelming contrary evidence and analysis.

Never mind all those young Muslim men who think “martyr” is just another career choice; and never mind those burka bimbos who wear explosives like Allah’s bustier. Never mind Luxor, Lockerbie, 9/11, Beslan, and Mumbai. Never mind. Infidel and apostate chickens are just coming home to roost.

Never mind any of these things and reject your Islamophobia. Reject Islamophobia and embrace Islamophilia; a progressive masochism which caters to your worst religious, political, cultural, and survival instincts. Embrace Islamophilia and end your days like Daniel Pearl; headless and butchered like Ramadan lamb. And in the end remember that Pearl died for three reasons; he was a Jew, he was an American, and he was a journalist.


The author also writes at Agnotology in Journalism and G. Murphy Donovan.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Soccer; the dubious thrill of nil-nil

“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that.” - Billy Shankly

Americans call it soccer. Europe and the developing world call it football. Semantics is just the start of the confusion. Although the foot is only one of two appendages that might be used to strike the ball in soccer; hands can only be used for clearing nasal passages, package adjustments, and obscene gestures. The head plays a pivotal and often decisive role in “futbol”. This is not the same as using your head, as in playing intelligently; this is using your head like a bat, to strike the ball. And the “header” is just one of the uses of the frontal lobes.

Head butting an opponent is not legal in soccer, yet often decisive nonetheless. The last World Cup was decided by a head butt, not a header – again, keeping in mind that neither involves use of the hands. Unlike hockey, punching an opponent is considered bad form in soccer – unless you’re in the stands, where fist fights are ubiquitous. Nonetheless, a head butt on the soccer pitch can be like a “grand slam” in baseball.

The 2006 Cup match between France and Italy in Germany was illustrative. Regulation play ended in a tie (1-1). Suddenly, the scoreless tedium of an “extra time” was relieved when Zinedine Zidane (sic) of France leveled Marco Materazzi (sic) of Italy with a head butt to the solar plexus. (European soccer moms are addicted to alliteration). The world’s most watched sport was then reduced to striker practice after Zee Zee was tossed from the game - and French cafĂ© society. Italy exacted sweet revenge by winning the match in the shoot-out.

The French may be infamous for their bad manners, but their aversion to actual combat is legendary. Reducing the World Cup finale to a “shoot out” in 2006 may have been one irony too many for the sensitive French.

Many national teams play football, but few play well. Soccer is also the definitive imperial support. Just seven countries, four in Europe and three former Latin colonies, dominate the sport; although as many as 200 national teams qualify every four years. In eighty years, the same seven teams have monopolized the Cup, a group that includes England, the game’s inventor.

Almost everywhere English footballers appear they contribute a riot or two in the stands. English fans have rescued the hooligan from the dustbin of 19th century history. “Houlie” is Gaelic for a kind of wild Irish party where alcohol is certain and bloodshed is likely. The Irish never care much about the merits of an argument, as long as it ends in a fight. The modern hooligan is a Brit fan who uses soccer as an excuse for a fight. Who would have thought that the English would ever make the Irish look good?

Much ink has been spilt on the subject of soccer violence in the cheap seats. Yet, sports mayhem is not restricted to the British. Italian rival spectators must often be separated by razor wire and automatic weapons. And soccer fans are hiring personal body guards in South Africa this year.

The link between the ballet-like game of soccer and fan violence is puzzling. Rationalizations abound. Boredom is the most obvious explanation for spectator hostility. Twenty two men with oversized thighs, underdeveloped torsos, and thick skulls chase a volley ball up and down a pitch for 90 minutes and the score is often zip-zip. In contrast, a basketball game will often see over 100 goals - and a game of hoops never concludes with a tie.

In soccer, nil-nil is good because nobody loses. In such cases, futbol is a lot like no-contact dodge ball. Then there’s the tie game where no one loses either, yet the fellas seem to savor the joy of scoring - without actually winning. In tournament play, tied teams are awarded a point apiece anyway. Go figure.

Soccer appears to be the perfect politically correct diversion for the European Union (EU) and the non-aligned. And American leftists have taken the game to a new level with “scoreless soccer,” a game where winners and losers are banished lest some kid come to see real competition as a good thing. Sadly, parents and politicians might be clueless or non-aligned, but football fanatics are not.

Indeed, nil and tied scores might explain why fans often feel compelled to take matters into their own hands. Any large gathering of seething partisans will often reach a critical mass when their expectations are unrealized on the playing field. A soccer eruption is often ignited by the sight of heavy breathing, the scent of testosterone, the taste of alcohol, and the angst of ancient tribal animosity.

The homoerotic voltage generated by twenty two men running, sweating, and posturing – but not scoring - is second only to a bull fight, where several gents dressed for the Nutcracker torture and kill livestock to amuse voyeurs. Soccer players often reinforce stereotypes after the rare victory by removing jerseys and collapsing in a wet pile of man hugs and writhing bodies.

Female players often stage similar rites, but no one seems to notice. For lady footballers that lack of upper body development might be more of a handicap. In contrast, it’s hard to imagine Tiger Woods peeling off anything on the 18th green or Peyton Manning dropping his knickerbockers at the Super Bowl.

And surely there’s a price to be paid when there’s more action in the stands than on the field. The chariot riots of ancient Constantinople provide a cautionary tale. Then as now, opposing teams were identified by special colors. The emperor Justinian was rash enough to let his bias be known by throwing some “green” riders in jail.

Imprudence was just one of Justinian’s flaws; he married a harpy, raised taxes, passed unpopular laws, and pandered to the hated Persians across the Bosporus. Any similarity to any living politician is strictly coincidental.

On 13 January 532 AD, green fans rioted in the Hippodrome and the melee quickly consumed the city. Most of the town, including the great cathedral, was torched. When the greens again convened, to crown Justinian’s rival, Byzantine legions under Belisarius stormed the Hippodrome and slaughtered 30,000 sport’s fans. Today, Justinian is known as “the great” not just because he was a poor loser, but also because he was an early inspiration for sporting mayhem and incendiary urban renewal.

Those who celebrate international sports seldom recall that the original Greek Olympic Games tested military skills. And most modern sports are direct decedents of later Roman blood sports. The vestiges of guts and gore still thrive in the EU and among the non-aligned. Bull fights, dog fights, chicken fights, public executions, stoning, flogging, snake charming, and fox hunting are still popular with the masses and the elites. As with many public amusements, the prospect of decisive, if not terminal, violence is the spice that fires all sport. And so it is with futbol; the average fan gets no satisfaction or ambiguous thrill from a soccer score that reads nil-nil.

This essay appeared in the 18 June 10 edition of American Thinker.


The author played high school sports at the Lt. Joseph Kennedy Jr. School in the Bronx, but he did not play soccer. He also writes at G. Murphy Donovan and Agnotology in Jouralism