Blog buzz for ‘Threats in the Age of Obama’

I am amazed at how popular Threats in the Age of Obama has been in the blogosphere.

Currently, 30 of the top 30 google results for Threats in the Age of Obama brings up mentions of the book that Mike Tanji edited (and for which I wrote a chapter, “An Outbreak of Democracy.”). Just as cool, searching for in the age of obama brings up three references to our edited volume, and two to Gwen Ifil’s The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama. (And she has the publicity of PBS behind her — we just have a legion fo co-authors and fans, such as Radio Patriot, Devost.net, and others!)

threats_in_the_age_of_obama_cropped_cover

Zenpundit now links to a review by Pundita (cross-posted at The Real Barack Obama) of the book. Here’s what Pundita had to say:

The opinion of academics whose conclusions most closely serve the administration’s partisan leanings and defense goals come to dominate foreign policy. And because the academics are specialists, who are rarely given to investigating outside their discipline, galactic-sized chunks of reality completely escape their attention.

That explains the utter weirdness that has characterized U.S. foreign policy for decades and the escalating number of purported Black Swan events to beset these shores. (’Well it just happened like a bolt out of the blue, Mr President.’)

Tanji, a former supervisory intelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency, is well-aware of the limitations of the Virtual Think Tank (see his essay on the topic, which I’ve linked to above). But clearly he hopes its unfettered scope will prevent the worst oversights to arise from the blinkered research

Very cool! Threats in the Age of Obama can be purchased from Amazon.com.

Academic inferiority, its recognition and treatment

One of the reasons that No Child Left Behind is such a wonderful program is that it forces schools to recognize the poor performance of their black and hispanic students.

Before George Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” Act, schools sweep their failure to teach black and hispanic students under the rug. The mandatory testing and requirement for continuous improvements forces schools to come to grip with the particularly awful education that this country provides for too many black and hispanic children, and deal with it.

The compassioniate way to fix the problem is to fix education, to do the hard work to make sure that black and hispanic children are prepared to learn.

The way popular among many school bureaucrats is to deny the problem.

To wit:

Unless you believe that African-American and Latino kids are somehow, as a group, academically inferior to white kids,” Welner said, “then you have to believe there are a lot of kids in those lower-track classes who have the potential for tremendous academic success.”

The way that African-American and Latino kids are somehow, as a group, ‘academically inferior is that schoold don’t educate them. What person believes that blacks and hispanics earn graduate degrees, earn undergradate degrees, or graduate high school at the same rate of whites? Who thinks that blacks and hispanics enter the 12th, 11th, 10th, 9th, 8th, 7th, 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, or 1st grades, or kindergarten for that matter, with the same academic advantages as white children?

The context for the above quote is a story, courtesy of Half-Sigma titled “Higher learning: More middle-schoolers leapfrog into advanced classes — but are minorities being left behind?:”

For decades, high-school students have taken community-college courses to dress up their resumes and prepare for college.

Now, competitive middle-schoolers in Florida are flocking to sign up for high-school classes.

For parents and students, it’s a great chance to get ahead. And school districts have something else to brag about: seventh- and eighth-graders completing courses such as Algebra II Honors and biology that had been reserved primarily for ninth- and 10th-graders.

But the nation’s foremost scholars in middle-school education are worried the fast-growing trend is leaving minority children behind. They also question whether the practice is legal because, nationwide, it has tended to result in students being segregated by race.

In Florida, high-school-level classes at middle schools are filled mostly with white kids. That’s the case even at some schools where most of the kids are black or Hispanic, according to an Orlando Sentinel analysis of public records from the Florida Department of Education and school districts.

The trend has sparked a lively debate nationwide between those who say middle-school students aren’t ready to be treated like high-school students and those arguing that the brightest children shouldn’t be held back because minorities aren’t signing up for certain courses.

Some disparities in Central Florida this school year include:

*At Lee Middle School in Orlando, 93 percent of the kids who take high-school geometry and 77 percent who take Earth-Space science are white. Meanwhile, 29 percent of all Lee students are white.

Predictably, the leftists want to criminalize education, both to hold down high-performing kids and hide exposing the fact taht schools leave blacks and hispanics as the low performing kids:

Though officials at the federal Office of Civil Rights wouldn’t speculate about whether local schools have broken any rules, some of the country’s leading scholars say it could be just a matter of time before such disparities trigger an investigation.

George Bush was the greatest President for civil rights that America ever had. While other Presidents either ignored the issue or took the easy way out by puffing their chests and staging worthless shows of force, Bush recognized the crucial role that education plays. George Bush revolutionaized America’s educational system, creating the “No Child Left Behind” framework that forces schools to objective assess students and show continuous improvements.

While leftists, both in this article and elsewhere, want to make American education equally useless to everyone, those who care about our nation’s future want every student to be rigorously educated. Even if the first step in that process is recognizing that we fall short of that goal now.

Only fools bought houses they could afford

the_housing_bailout_w480
(Based on the Detroit Bailout, using a photo from Wikimedia Commons)

A nice follow out to only fools pay their mortgages

By David Leonhardt (corutesy Calculated Risk):

Now, not all economists buy this argument. They say that the psychology of the current bust is different from what it was in Boston in the early 1990s. In a handful of metropolitan areas, including Phoenix, prices have fallen almost 50 percent from their 2006 peak.

Homeowners in such places may wonder if their houses will ever be worth more than their mortgages. So fairly small changes in their lives — like a reduction in work hours or the breakdown of a car — may lead them to walk away from their homes.

“I would not minimize that risk at all,” said Frederic Mishkin, a member of the Fed’s board of governors until last year.

If even 10 percent of the underwater homeowners walked away, Mishkin notes, foreclosures would soar, exacerbating the economy’s many problems.

Other economists who share his view are calling for across-the-board programs that would reduce interest rates or otherwise juice the housing market. They are worried that without bolder government actions, the housing market will continue to spiral downward.

In the end, the choice between the two approaches becomes a matter of cost-benefit analysis. The more aggressive approach would almost certainly do more to reduce foreclosures. But it would also be enormously more expensive.

If the economists from the Boston Fed are right — or even close to right — then the aggressive approach may cost something like $500 billion to prevent 500,000 foreclosures.

That’s $1 million per prevented foreclosure. Is that really worth it? Or could the money be better spent in other ways? (There is also the small matter of whether Congress would be willing to spend another $500 billion anytime soon.)

An example of the sort of house that you may soon be paying for are these McMansiosn in California, which have lost a million dollars worth of value.

Iraq’s 2009 Provincial Elections: Consequences

Catholicgauze has his latest report from Iraq.

In the Sunni provinces, the Iraqi Islamic Party has gained ground at the expense of the Kurdish parties (the small Kurdish minority outvoted the Arab Sunnis in 2005). The only exception was in Anbar were the ruling IIP lost to an urban/tribal coalition.

The election results in Anbar have many wondering “what next?” Those in power with the IIP may have to face corruption charges for the graft that made them infamous. Hamas-al-Iraq and 1920s Revolutionary Brigades, two insurgent groups who hate al Qaeda more than the Coalition Forces but not by much, have long been allied with IIP to give them cover. The new ruling coalition is much more American-friendly. These nationalist insurgents must weigh their loyalty to the IIP against their loyalty to Anbar and its government which wants a peaceful withdrawal of American forces.

Read the whole thing.

Vista is a horrible piece of software

gmgDesign has an unusually weak post that criticizes technology users for disliking Microsoft Vista. Garrott mentions two valid complaints as valid — Vista’s poor performance and user-hostile interface — before dismissing them, and then says the real reason “geeks hate Vista” is

Because they’re supposed to. Because other Slashdot users loathe it. Because it’s Microsoft, and Microsoft is eeevil.

While “If everyone is doing something else, do the other” is valid in many parts of life, when applied to Vsita apologetics, it’s just embarrasing.

Here’s just five of the problems I’ve had with Vista:

1. The intergration of IE with Vista makes it impossible to downgrade the included Microsoft browser when it breaks
2. Many commonly-used elements, such as Add / Remove Programs and “Display Properties,” require the users to navigate different paths than in previous versions of Vista. This is worse than just throwing away years of experience: familiarity with Windows leads to negative transfer in Vista.
3. Vista’s display model breaks all previous VNC servers. If you don’t know what this is, or how it effectively forces the user to use a properitar, security-risky alternative like Mesh, you have no business defending Vista.
4. Vista’s multilanguage support is incoherently bad.
5. On a laptop, which came with Vista pre-installed, loading Control Panel is a task so processor intensive that it crashes before it renders.

It’s too clever by half to say that people dislike Vista because they dislike Microsoft. People dislike Vista because Vista is awful.

Further, I’ve been impressed after a watching a friend effortlessly install Windows 7 on a netbook, and the general excitement around Windows 7 shows a desire for a new, modern, and functional Operating System from Microsoft. Indeed, Windows XP and Windows 95 were welcomed by the community for just this reason.

But the ability to maek a good operating system (95, XP, etc) does not predict Microsoft from occasionally making clunkers (Me, Vista, etc.) Defending Vista shows not just an ignorance of operating system and user experience fundementals: it tricks both fellow users and even Microsoft employees into spending time and resources in wasteful and potentionally harmful ways, intsead of concentrating on how to use and build the Windows features that we all need.

Two-bite movies, Part III: “The Parallax View” and “Lakeview Terrace”

Few people have been lucky enough to avoid the ads for The International, directed by Tom Tykwer (of Run Lola Run fame). The International is about a bank that tries to kill people. I can’t think of something that I would be less afraid of. Considering their brilliant performing in creating a financial catastrophe, I assume an actual plan by a large bank to kill me would look something like this:

  • The bank announces plans to place a ten-thousand-dollar bounty on my head, which covers the logistical, equipment, and prison risk costs of anyone who wants to knock off a blogger.
  • The bank sells millions in tdaxp assassination futures, which pay off whether when I am assassinated.
  • As such policies are risky, paying off only with a succssful assassination, investment banks then sells billions in tdaxp assassination derivatives, which chang ein value along with the change in tdaxp assassination futures.
  • Hedge funds then get into the action, issuing trillions in in second- and third- order derivatives, which pay off depending on changes in values in the first- and second- order derivatives.
  • Noticing that they’re stodgy ‘just put a bounty on his head’ has merely made them millions, instead of trillions, the banks then buy up many of these derivatives, game the financial risk anaysis market to bundle whatever third-order derivatives the banks are able to buy from the hedge funds as AAA-rated securities, and resell them to insurance companies, sovereign wealth funds, and investors all over the world.
  • Along the way, Congress will pass the Community Rearmorment Act, establish Freddie Assassin and Assassin Mac, allow individuals to deduct the interest from their handgun and shotgun purchases, and prohibit banks from not loaning to would-be assassins based on race, geography, or other sensitive variables.
  • The entire house of cards collapses, entire countries are wiped out, and I’m still here.

Thus,, instead of watching The International, my wife and I watched The Parallax View and Lakeview Terrace. The first of these, 1974’s The Parallax View with Warren Beaty, involves a company that’s actually good at assassinations.

the_parallax_view_bar

The film is close to being a true horror. The beginning and entry scenes are mirror-images of each other, but the plot generally increases the weirdness by turns, leading to a conclusion that is hopeless, fatalistic, and deeply closed that is visually very similar to a beginning that promises mystery, excitement, and intrigue. Parallax is very much a product of the 1970s, where the yearning of naive youth for a “change” candidate meets an iron wall of death.

Sadly , The Parallax View is ruined by two irrelevant subplots that try to turn the film into an action movie. Sequences that are out-of-plot, out-of-character, and simply out-of-sense have Warren Beaty (a recovering alcoholic reporter) going mano-a-mano with corrupt cops, and later to stop a plane bombing that he knows about through the magic of genre plot devices. A film with the uses deep focus to present both visual and cognitive parallaxx effects if ruined, in the same way the Godfather series is ruined by Godfather, Part III.

If The Parallax View is a movie of the 1970s, Lakeview Terrace is housing bubble drama of the 2000s. “A house is the best investment there is,” one character says. “The value only goes up,” responds another.

lakeview_terrace_bar

Lakeview Terrace is the story about two families, both of which live in the exurbs of Los Angeles. The first, with Samuel L. Jackson as a single father, bought their land decades ago. Jackson’s character is “real America” version of Matt Drayton (Spencer Tracy from Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, a patrol cop whose cultural conservatism, emphasis on law-and-order, and authoritarian parenting are matched only by his disposal of miscegenation. Jackson’s gregariousness, The Wire-style pragmatism, and protectivenss of his kids are returned by the liberal views of his new, Utne Reader -reading, neighbors. But the viewer’s sympathy toward Jackson is turned on its head when Jackson’s anti-race-mixing bigotry gradually accelerate into increasingly heinous violence against property.

But as The Parallax View is ruinied by two irrelevent subplots, Lakeview Terrace is ruined by its tacked-on ending. I suspect another ending was originally written, if not even filmed, as a much more logical conclusion is foreshadowed through the film. Jackson becomes a Hollywood villain, his neighbor comes a Hollywood hero, and the foreshadowed ending never actually happens. The social background of Lakeview Terrace — which has a surprisingly well-developed theme of black anti-white racism (if not anti-woman sexism) — helps build a thought-provoking better than Babel, if not Crash. But this only stays true if you close your eyes and hum “Lalala! This is not happening!” for the last ten minutes, all while reconstructing the intended ending from the foreshadowing clues you noticed throughout the film.

If the common theme of Godfellas and My Blue Heaven was the story of Henry Hill, and the common theme of Throne of Blood and Ran was Akira Kurosawa’s adaptation of Shakespeare, the common theme of The Parallax View and Lakeview Terrace are actually films ruined by Hollywoodization.

Want to buy a Koran at UNL?

Good luck.

Daily Nebraskan – Muslim students buy out Qurans in protest
Religious sensitivity made its way into the classroom early this semester for University of Nebraska-Lincoln students in an Introduction to Islam class.
When Michael Huston went to the bookstore to buy a copy of the Quran for the class last month, he learned it was sold out. However, it wasn’t bought out by students from the class.
Huston. a senior art major, learned that a few students from the Pakistan Students Association had bought all the books because they didn’t want non-muslim students to accidently deface the Quran.
“It seems more like a protest in general to get people aware of their stance,” Huston said about PSA students’ sensitivity to the Quran’s usage. “It’s kind of bizarre that they would go to that extent.”
Summayia Khan, president of the Pakistan Students Association, declined to comment.
Misuse or defacement of the Quran, which is highly respected within the Muslim faith, can be considered blasphemy.
“The concern from the Pakistan Students Association over whether it was appropriate for non-muslims to use the Quran was resolved in a pleasant, collegial conversation between the instructor of the class, the president of the Pakistan Student Association and myself,” said Sidnie Crawford, chairwoman of the classics and religious studies department at UNL.

Of course, the Pakistan Students Association has a right to protest against non-Muslims handling the Quaran, and they did so peacefully and in a way that brought some coin to the university bookstore. Still, this hardly demonstrates a respect (or even tolerance) for liberty, as their actions were specifically aimed at limiting the ability of those not in their religion from reading their religious texts.

Of all the trials that students in the Pakistan Students Association have gone through, joining the Scientologists in hiding their beliefs from others is perhaps the dumbest.

Props to Obama on Security

Barack Obama is doing a fine job securing our country, and our world.

He successfully ignored calls from right-wing hawks for a “defense stimulus.” Some thinkers associated wanted us to spend billions building weapons systems that are only of much use in attacking the People’s Liberation Army. Why we would want to start (or even accelerate) an arms race with our partner in economic recovery is strange, especially considering how the sole point of contention between the United States and the People’s Republic, the issue of Taiwan, is going away.

In America, striking signs of this are talk of a formal ‘truce’ between the KMT and the Communist Party, as well as the resumption of direct flights between Taiwan and the mainland, and even cooperation between the National Palace Museum (台北) and the Palace Museum (北京).

For me, the most striking example was this last summer, when the Chairman of the KMT visitied the Chairman of the Communist Party in Beijing. My grandfather-in-law, a former officer in KMT who followed his general in defecting to the Communist Party during the Civil War, express his surprise at the shocking meeting

“Impossible! How can the heads of the KMT and the Communists meet together?”

(The last such meeting between the KMT and the Communists was not as friendly.)

The best the rightwing netroots can come up with is spinning Secretary of State Clinton’s visit to China as a ‘diss’.

Obama also deserves props to recognizing the Middle East is changing, as well. Again standing up to the right netroots, Obama is waiving some sanctions against Syria in an attempt to build relations between our countries.

Obama has made serious misteps, form the new Buy American law to inexplicably stabbing General Zinni in the back. But so far, from appointing Clinton as SecState, Gates as SecDef, ignoring calls for a defense stimulus, and trying to warm relations with Syria, he’s getting the major decisiosn right.