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October 2001

Too much candy
Usually I buy Halloween candy that I don't like, so I won't eat it myself, but this year I bought chocolate coins and ghosts and Reese's peanut butter cups, with Milky Ways for back-up. I had quite a few -- especially the Reese's -- but it didn't matter. Trick-or-treat traffic was about one third of normal. In particular, there was a dramatic drop in trick-or-treating by Hispanic and black families from the low-income neighborhood close by. In pre-anthrax days, they considered my neighborhood safer than their own. Now, I assume, they don't trust strangers, however affluent, not to poison their kids.

When I was a kid, we went trick-or-treating without our parents, scared only of big kids who might tease us. We walked to school without a parent, from kindergarten on. We literally played in the street: I invented a game called "Blockade Runner" that involved placing one's self in the path of a speeding bicycle so as to stuff a football (bomb) in the basket. Was the world really that much safer?

I'll have to take the extra chocolate to "my" charter school, before I finish it off. -- 10/31

New ideas rise in the West
Andrew Sullivan points out a provocative article in the leftish New Statesman. In "Lost in the swamp of modernity," Peter Watson argues that all the new ideas of the 20th century came from the West. The rest of the world -- not just the Muslim world but Africa, Japan and China -- is intellectually stagnent, argues Watson. Last year, he interviewed 150 scholars -- from all parts of the globe -- for a book, "The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century.''

What shocked me were my interviews with scholars of non-western cultures. Here, I am referring not only to western specialists in the great non-western traditions, but scholars who were themselves born into those traditions - Arab archaeologists or writers, economists and historians from India and China, poets and dramatists from Japan and Africa. All of them - there were no exceptions - said the same thing. In the 20th century, in the modern world, there were no non-western ideas of note.

There is no Asian equivalent of, say, Darwin, no African Max Planck, no Arab Freud, no Japanese Picasso or Matisse. When it comes to ideas, the modern world is a western world, a secular world of democracies, free markets, science and self-governing universities.

There are important Chinese writers and painters of the 20th century; and we can all think of significant Japanese film directors, Indian novelists and African dramatists. There is a thriving school of Indian post-colonial historiography, led by Gayatri Spivak. Distinguished non-western scholars and writers are household names, at least in smart households: one thinks of Edward Said himself, Chinua Achebe, Amartya Sen, Anita Desai, Chandra Wickramasinghe. But, it was repeatedly put to me, there is no 20th-century Chinese equivalent of surrealism, say, no Indian philosophy to match logical positivism, no African equivalent of the French Annales school of history. Whatever list you care to make of 20th-century innovations, be it plastic, antibiotics and the atom, or stream-of-consciousness novels, it is overwhelmingly western.

Result: resentment of dynamic Western culture, a desire to destroy what one's own culture can't create. -- 10/31

Why we fight
In a strong speech to the Welsh Assembly on Oct. 30, British Prime Minister Tony Blair asked Britons to remember why it's necessary to stand up to terrorists.

. . . they intend to commit more atrocities unless we yield to their demands which include the eradication of Israel, the killing of all Jews and the setting up of fundamentalist states in all parts of the Arab and Moslem world.

So: we have a group of people in Afghanistan who are the sworn enemies of everything the civilised world stands for, who have killed once on a vast scale and will kill again unless stopped. They can't be negotiated with. They refuse to yield to justice.

And they have one hope: that we are decadent, that we lack the moral fibre or will or courage to take them on; that we might begin but we won't finish; that we will start, then falter; that when the first setbacks occur, we will lose our nerve.

They are wrong. We won't falter.

We will not stop until our mission is complete. We will not flinch from doing what is necessary to complete it. We will not fail and we will do it all because we believe in our values of justice, tolerance and respect for all regardless of race, religion or creed just as passionately as they believe in fanatical hatred of Jews, Christians and any Moslems who don't share their perverse view of Islam.

They mistake our desire for a comfortable life, living in peace, benign towards different races and cultures, for decadence. It is not decadence. It is progress and we will fight to maintain it.

Blair closes by saying that bin Laden has hijacked Afghanistan (actually, he bought it from the Taliban) and is trying to hijack Islam and the Palestinian cause too.

It reminds me of an Instapundit reader's analogy: We now accept that U.S. fighter planes will shoot down a hijacked U.S. airliner filled with passengers -- "innocent civilians'' -- if necessary to prevent greater loss of life. Afghanistan has been hijacked. -- 10/31

I, pundit
I am among "the most prominent bloggers'' in cyberland, according to "Sounding Off,'' an article in the Oct. 29 E-Commerce supplement to the Wall Street Journal. That's blogger as in weblogger, as in a person who maintains a regularly updated site for opinions and links to recommended articles. As far as I can tell, Mickey Kaus is the ur-blogger.

The 9-11 attacks, which have made many people into news-and-comment junkies, have turned many sites into "warblogs'' as Matt Welch would say. Glenn Reynolds directed me to Welch, who quotes warblogger Bjoern Staerk on the effect of the Internet: "Something has changed, fundamentally and permanently, when Americans surf to a Norwegian website to read Saudi editorials about a war in Afghanistan. " Also check out Patrick Ruffini. He's 23. -- 10/30

An Apple for the student
Palo Alto's an affluent, tech-savvy, education-worshipping town, but even here people are complaining about a letter from Jordan Middle School -- my daughter's old school -- urging parents to buy their sixth graders a $2,000 Apple iBook. Buying the laptop is optional: The school has 48 iBooks for students to share. Still, parents resent feeling guilty -- or poor -- if they say "no" to a $2,000 hit in the family budget. The program is now "on pause'' to sort out the equity questions.

The larger issue is whether laptops provide $2,000 in educational benefits. Jordan piloted the laptop program last year, giving free iBooks to 51 sixth graders in two classes. Students and teachers thought the laptops were useful. But how useful? At $2,000 per student, a class of 30 could fund a second teacher, turning a lecture-and-recitation class into a seminar.

Oddly enough, Jordan parents were rebuffed earlier this year when they offered to raise $120,000 to cut class sizes for sixth graders. Equity problems again: Parents at the other middle school in town didn't know if they could match Jordan's fund-raising.

There's little or no evidence that adding computers to a classroom improves student learning. By contrast, investing in teacher training, mentoring and collaboration time does pay off. But it's not as sexy as putting an iBook in every lap. -- 10/30

Life with father
Welfare reform advocate Mickey Kaus debunks the pessimism of Charles Murray, who argues in the Washington Post that Dad's still missing from low-income American families.

Let's see -- the proportion of young black children living with married (not just cohabiting) parents was 58 percent in 1976. It fell to 52 percent in 1980 and 42 percent in 1985. By 1995 it had plummeted to 33 percent. In a mere five years after welfare reform, it's back up to 41 percent, making up for almost ten years of decline. Sorry -- the change may not last, it may not be due to welfare reform, but it's not a "minor change."

Murray can't bring himself to admit the black family's decline has been reversed, charges Kaus. Having adopted "the lone-voice-of-truth pose, it requires a perverse submersion of ego to admit they've come around -- to admit you're not alone anymore, to admit that you've been proven right." -- 10/30

Open minds at Yale
Last year's "Organization Kids" -- high-achieving, brown-nosing, apolitical college students -- were blown out of their apathy on Sept. 11, writes David Brooks in the Daily Standard.

I spent a day at Yale this week and found the campus alive with debate. Students were generally more supportive of George W. Bush and the war effort than their professors, and there was a wide range of views. What's more, some of the middle-aged academics seemed to be rethinking things. From what people told me and from what I saw, professors were genuinely listening to students, not only to figure out what the next generation thinks, but as a part of a reappraisal of their own thinking. I got the impression of minds being opened, of new facts and new ideas being considered.

Brooks' Atlantic Monthly article on "The Organization Kid" pictured elite students as busy little academic climbers indifferent to ideas. At Yale, he found students trying to talk about evil, and frustrated by relativism. "These students were trying to form judgments, yet were blocked by the accumulated habits of non-judgmentalism."

Conservatives remain out of fashion, writes Brooks. But now '60s radicalism seems irrelevant too. This isn't Vietnam. It requires new thinking.

A few weeks ago, my daughter told me about an argument with a friend who goes to ultra-liberal UC-Santa Cruz. He was astounded by her support for U.S. military action. He'd never met anyone who thought that way. She thought she'd lost a friend. But the next day, he told her she'd made some good points. "I'll do some more thinking,'' he said. -- 10/29

Good news: Saudis say we can keep our democracy
Why did New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani reject $10 million and a "root causes'' lecture, from a visiting Saudi prince? Here's the answer, as translated by the Middle East Media and Research Institute:

Mahmoud bin Abd Al-Ghani Sabbagh, columnist for the Saudi paper Al-Riyadh, wrote . . . "Because the governor [sic] of the Big Apple is a Jew, he refused [to accept the donation] and caused a storm."'Giuliani said: 'The Prince's declarations are grievous and irresponsible; these Arabs have lost the right to dictate [to us what to do]. What we (America) must do is kill 6,000 innocent people.'" By Allah, I am amazed at your act, you Jew; everything Prince Al-Walid said was true… If democracy means a governor who is a homosexual in a city in which dance clubs, prostitution, homosexuality, and stripping proliferate – the U.S. can keep its democracy."

The editor of Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, a Palestinian Authority newspaper, Hafez Al-Barghouthi explained, "New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani . . . hides his first name, chosen for him by his Italian father, so as not to remind the Jewish voters of the infamous Rudolph Hitler. This is why he prefers to shorten it to Rudy."

You remember Rudolph Hitler. He was the governor of Italy. -- 10/28

Why do they hate Professor Dove?
The "orthodoxy of dissent'' on college campuses has stifled conservative voices for years, writes Stanley Kurtz in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Now professors are under attack for anti-war-on-terror statements. And they're finding that their disdain for the free speech of others is coming back to haunt them.

If the professoriate was diverse enough to allow for an authentic debate over the causes of the war; if our tradition of free speech had not for years been under challenge as a mere cover for the oppressive power of the social elites; if we had not been so recently subjected to codes, written and unwritten, in which sensitivity trumped free speech; then we would now have far less to fear from the pent-up anger of students, administrators, or the public over controversial comments about the war.

Kurt cites a Christian Science Monitor article on the conflict between "'my country love it or leave it' fervor" and "free speech and broad intellectual inquiry into the root causes of September 11."

The implication is that an inquiry into the root causes of the terror will end up saddling the United States with responsibility for the attacks. But that reflects only one intellectual position.

Scholars like the Princeton historian Bernard Lewis and the Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington -- old lions of a passing generation of scholars -- argue that the root causes of the terror have more to do with the difficulties of harmonizing Islamic culture with modernity than with any alleged transgressions of U.S. foreign policy. But Lewis's and Huntington's work on Islamic fundamentalism, although considered prophetic by many commentators in light of the attacks and their aftermath, has generally been dismissed within the academy as essentializing and neo-imperialist.

The quest for "diversity'' has left campuses "more intellectually and politically uniform than ever," Kurtz writes.

If the country decides that our colleges and universities have nothing to offer in this time of crisis beyond one-sided analyses supporting a distinctly minority viewpoint, then not only will our ethos of free speech be threatened, but the academy itself may be caught up in a crisis of legitimacy. If the radical professoriate wants its rights of free speech respected, it will need to relearn the meaning of the freedom it is asking for, and readmit to the academy thoughtful representatives of the very ideas it has heretofore excluded.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, known as FIRE, has a long list of attempts to squelch freedom of expression on campus. Most involve professors taking hawkish stands in class or on their web sites, and students and staffers accused of insensitivity for sporting American emblems. One of the most outrageous is this:

At San Diego State University, an international student, Zewdalem Kebede, overheard several other students, speaking loudly in Arabic, express delight about the terrorist attacks. Kebede engaged the students and, in Arabic, challenged their positions. Kebede was accused by San Diego State University of abusive behavior toward the four students. A University judicial officer formally admonished Kebede and warned him that "future incidents [will result in] serious disciplinary sanctions.'' -- 10/26

Which test?
The SAT II achievement tests, coupled with high school grades, are the best predictor of freshman success at the University of California, according to a new UC study. That will advance the UC president's campaign to drop the SAT I -- the verbal and math aptitude test -- which the study found inferior to the SAT IIs. Of course, using both tests, as the UC system does now, is an even better predictor of freshman grades, but the difference is very slight.

Although the study found SAT II scores don't correlate as closely with socioeconomic differences as the SAT I, it concluded that using the SAT II alone wouldn't significantly change the racial or ethnic mix at UC campuses.

UC requires applicants to take SAT IIs in English and math and a third subject chosen by the student. Some complain that Hispanic and Asian students gain an unfair advantage by taking their third SAT II in their native language, jacking up their scores without demonstrating learning ability.

If any foreign language score is valid, then how the student learned that language is irrelevant. But perhaps UC should require the third SAT II be in history or science. -- 10/26

Alliance for stasis
"We are all alone'' -- except for Britain -- writes Tom Friedman in the New York Times. I like his lead:

So let me see if I've got this all straight now: Pakistan will allow us to use its bases Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — provided we bomb only Taliban whose names begin with Omar and who don't have cousins in the Pakistani secret service. India is with us on Tuesdays and Fridays, provided it can shell Pakistani forces around Kashmir all other days. Egypt is with us on Sundays, provided we don't tell anyone and provided we never mention that we give the Egyptians $2 billion a year in aid. Yasir Arafat is with us only after 10 p.m. on weekdays, when Palestinians who have been dancing in the streets over the World Trade Center attack have gone to bed. The Northern Alliance is with us, provided we buy all its troops new sandals and give U.S. passports to the first 1,000 to reach Kabul.

Every time I watch the evening news there's a report on an anti-American demonstration in Pakisan. Thursday night, the daily demo was played as a top story on both CNN and MSNBC. Surely it's no longer news that some Pakistanis -- and many others in the Muslim world -- side with the Taliban and admire Osama bin Laden. I guess it's the surplus of TV crews stuck in Peshawar with nothing to do but churn out footage of burning flags.

Let's get real. This is a war, not a popularity contest. It's our war because our country was attacked. We will do what we need to do to defend ourselves, and if some foreigners don't like it, tough luck.-- 10/26

Non-citizens in arms
Some foreigners do like the U.S. Who's volunteering to serve in the U.S. military? In New York City, legal immigrants make up nearly 40 percent of Navy recruits, 36 percent of new Marines and 27 percent of Army enlistees, reports the New York Times. Legal immigrants make up about 13 percent of the city's young adult population. -- 10/26

Rolling on
"Don't trust anyone over 30'' went out of style a few years before the baby-boomers turned 30. Still, I found it sobering to read that former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman is now 65, eligible for his Old Age Pension. -- 10/25

Home-schooling for Christians only?
Margaret Talbot calls home-schooling a "surprisingly vigorous counter-culture" in her review of Mitchell Stevens' "Kingdom of Children" in the November Atlantic. Home-schooling gives full-time mothers respect, intellectual challenge and networking opportunities, as well as some freedom from housework. In exchange, Christian parents have turned the "unschooling'' fad of hippie parents into a well-organized, heavily networked and rapidly growing social movement.

Talbot concedes that home-schooled kids do well academically and socially. Their families have higher-than-average involvement in community activities. But she worries that "home schooling will attract new recruits motivated mainly by disenchantment with the quality of their public schools,'' rather than religious motives. Why is this a problem?

For ideologically or religiously motivated home schoolers, keeping their kids out of school is not a consumer's whim; it's the exercise of a constitutionally sanctioned right to guide their children's education in accordance with their most deeply held beliefs. And in a democratic society only considerations as profound as those are significant enough to outweigh the potential harm of sectarianism. The decision to home school also represents a complicated but reasonable compromise with the rest of us. Rather than agitate to get Darwinism out of the public schools, for example, conservative Christian home schoolers may opt to withdraw from them while continuing (for the most part) to pay taxes that support those schools and to participate in civic and political life. Moreover, as Stevens shows, home schooling offers some conservative Christian women, whose values prevent them from working outside the home, a measure of fulfillment and autonomy that they might not otherwise enjoy—a social good in itself. If the rest of us (people nursing vague beefs with the public schools, people without a powerful religious or ideological justification) started pulling our kids out of the schools, I doubt it would serve any social good at all.
Secular liberals may not much care for the particular forms of social capital that evangelicals and fundamentalists build, but build them they do. ..

Besides, Christian home schoolers embody a coherent, living critique of mainstream education and child-rearing that can be bracing, a model of carefully negotiated, mildly irritating separateness, of being in but not of modern consumer society. For the rest of us, the tensions that creates may be the most useful thing about them.

It's nice that Talbot is sympathetic to Christian parents, but I don't see why she's so dismissive of non-religious parents who distrust the quality of their children's public schools. Surely secularists can serve the social good and build social capital by giving their kids a better education, networking with other secular home-schoolers and embodying a critique of mainstream education. If they also turn out well-educated, emotionally healthy, civically engaged young Americans, where's the beef, vague or specific, with their decision to pull their kids out of the schools? -- 10/25

Pride, not panic
Americans are feeling good about their country and each other, according to survey done from Sept. 13-27, reports the Washington Post:

Last month's terrorist attacks triggered a broad surge in national feelings of pride, confidence and faith in America and many of the country's key institutions, according to a national survey released yesterday.

Cynicism and suspicion are down while measures of patriotism and personal trust are up, according to the survey by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago. Two out of three Americans -- 67 percent -- agreed that most people are helpful, an increase of 21 percentage points from last year and the highest reading since the question was first asked in the early 1970s. Nearly everyone -- 97 percent -- now said they would rather be citizens of the United States "than of any other country," also up from 2000.

Compared to Americans elsewhere, New York City residents reported more signs of tension, such as insomnia, headaches and the desire to get drunk. New Yorkers shared the rise in national pride and confidence.

Americans aren't panicking, Public Agenda reports, looking at a variety of surveys:

Sixty percent of Americans expect more biological or chemical attacks. "Yet even as more anthrax exposures are reported daily, the number of people who admit that they are hoarding antibiotics or buying gas masks remains in the single digits, and isn't growing."

No polling data suggests widespread or growing panic, Public Agenda says. "As the news broke about an anthrax exposure at NBC News, Newsweek researchers on Oct. 11-12 asked if people had personally taken any steps to protect themselves 'such as trying to buy a gas mask or obtain antibiotics.' Six percent said yes. When Newsweek asked the same question a week later (Oct. 18-19), the result was still 6 percent. Other surveys fielded last week found even smaller numbers: the ABC News/Washington Post poll found 5 percent had spoken to a doctor about anthrax and 2 percent said they had actually bought antibiotics. Gallup found only 3 percent who had tried to get a prescription."

In a Fox News survey, 56 percent of respondents said news coverage of anthrax is "overhyped."

Attitudes about anthrax risks are still in flux, says Public Agenda. Public support for U.S. military action in Afghanistan remains steady at 90 percent. "Surveys over the past month, both before and after the air strikes, have shown that none of the potential drawbacks deters the public, with two-thirds or more of people in favor of military action even in the event of a lengthy conflict, a recession, or further terror attacks. In the overnight surveys after the bombing began, 77 percent told Gallup they would still favor attacks if ground forces were involved, and 65 percent in favor if Afghan civilians were killed."

Meredith Dixon, one of Glenn Reynolds' readers, puts it well in a response to Jonathan Yardley's belief in a nationwide "gnawing, enervating sense of dread." Dixon, who lives in West Virginia says what she feels is "a keenly focused sense of cold fury.'' This is war, she writes. "Dread's what you feel when you're helpless to oppose what's coming. We're not helpless, so we're not afraid. We're angry."

Reynolds also passes on this chain e-mail, which is making the rounds of Belligerent Women with a sense of humor:

Take all American women who are within five years of menopause - train us for a few weeks, outfit us with automatic weapons, grenades, gas masks, moisturizer with SPF15, Prozac, hormones, chocolate, and canned tuna - drop us (parachuted, preferably) across the landscape of Afghanistan, and let us do what comes naturally.

Think about it. Our anger quotient alone, even when doing standard stuff like grocery shopping and paying bills, is formidable enough to make even armed men in turbans tremble.

We've had our children, we would gladly suffer or die to protect them and their future. We'd like to get away from our husbands, if they haven't left already. And for those of us who are single, the prospect
of finding a good man with whom to share life is about as likely as being struck by lightning. We have nothing to lose.

We've survived the water diet, the protein diet, the carbohydrate diet,and the grapefruit diet in gyms and saunas across America and never lost a pound. We can easily survive months in the hostile terrain of
Afghanistan with no food at all!

We've spent years tracking down our husbands or lovers in bars, hardware stores, or sporting events...finding bin Laden in some cave will be no problem.

Uniting all the warring tribes of Afghanistan in a new government? Oh, please ... we've planned the seating arrangements for in-laws and extended families at Thanksgiving dinners for years ... we understand tribal warfare.
Between us, we've divorced enough husbands to know every trick there is for how they hide, launder, or cover up bank accounts and money sources. We know how to find that money and we know how to seize it ... with or without the government's help!

Let us go and fight. The Taliban hates women. Imagine their terror as we crawl like ants with hot-flashes over their godforsaken terrain.

I'm going to write my Congresswoman. You should, too! -- 10/25

Must Muslims be medieval?
Robert Wright makes some good points about Muslims and modernity in his Slate column. Like the Christian and Jewish Bible, the Koran can be interpreted to justify either tolerance or belligerence to non-believers, Wright observes. Why did European Christians give up slaughtering infidels and move to accepting religious diversity, while Islam seems stuck in old-fashioned intolerance?

To me, the answer seems simple: The predominately Christian nations have become more economically advanced, more globalized, which naturally leads to a more cosmopolitan outlook. It's impossible to do business with people while slaughtering them, and it's pretty hard to do business with them while telling them that they'll burn in hell forever. Modern global capitalism has its faults, but religious intolerance isn't one of them.

In this view, the intolerance of Islamic fundamentalists is a reflection not of scripture laid down 1,400 years ago, but of their sociological circumstances in recent decades.

Wright argues that Europe's political fragmentation during the late Middle Ages and early modern era allowed experimentation with various political and economic alternatives. The winning formula turned out to be political and economic liberty.

The magic formula of political and economic liberty has since spread across much of the world. Eventually, I'm sure, it will prevail even in currently repressive Islamic states.

Unfortunately, the transition could be wrenching. Though globalization is the long-run hope for Islamic society, it is the short-run threat. Yes, market economies are the only lasting cure for poverty. But the first step in the cure often strains the bonds of tradition by moving people from rural, kin-based communities into cities or shantytowns. And even decades after this initial dislocation, when families have been pulled safely out of poverty, modernization can still threaten the values of the deeply religious. Hence the paradox of the two types of 9/11 hijackers: the poor, uneducated ones, and the middle-class but alienated ones.

There is obviously a sense in which the blame-Islam-first crowd is right, and Islam is part of the problem. The attitude of Islamic fundamentalists—an abhorrence of the non-Islamic world—conflicts with the logic of globalization, and, sooner or later, something has to give. But if history is any guide, what will give in the end is reactionary religion, not technological progress. And the result will be, as it has been in the past, the evolution of a more humane, tolerant faith.

Andrew Sullivan disagrees with Wright, arguing that the Koran is a lot keener on killing or forcibly converting unbelievers than the Old or (especially) New Testament, making Muslims more resistant to assimilation. -- 10/25

Without trial
Dissidents in Iraq have more to worry about than public disapproval, according to a U.N. report on human rights in Iraq, the equivalent of a study of snowballs in hell. One phrase in the Associated Press story keeps coming back to me: "without trial.''

UNITED NATIONS -- Iraq's citizens face arbitrary execution, religious persecution, torture and forced relocation, a U.N. human rights investigator said Monday.

Andreas Mavrommatis of Cyprus said in a report that he has also "received information suggesting that persons who had allegedly insulted the president of Iraq have had their tongues amputated without trial."

You see what I mean.

The death toll allegedly caused by sanctions against Iraq was quoted as 500,000 until recently, but has suddenly, inexplicably tripled to 1.5 million. I believe the exact number is zero. On the other hand, the death toll caused by Saddam Hussein's brutality, warmongering and venality -- he's reselling the oil-for-food imports to outfit his palaces and army -- is staggering. Well over a million Iraqis, I should think. That doesn't count the dead Kuwaitis, and possibly some U.S. postal workers and a photo editor, as well. -- 10/23

Tip jar
Yes, I've put an Amazon link on the site to see how many people are willing to put their money where their eyeballs are. So far, the money is rolling in. I've hit double figures: $10! -- 10/23

Spite the devil
Leonard Pitts has another excellent column. He quotes reader Brenda Knapp as saying she'll go up in high-rises if only out of spite. `I will continue to fly. I may be hijacked by terrorists, but I will not be hijacked by fear.'' Pitts writes:

Amen. Because sometimes, it's necessary to plant your feet, to draw a line, to say this far and no further. Necessary to stand in defiance. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is such a time. In a sense, it has been for years. We just didn't notice before.

In other words, our anxiety stems not so much from the fact that we're suddenly at war, but from the fact that we suddenly realized we've been at war for years. . . . What else did it mean when they bombed our embassies in Africa, blew a hole in our ship in Yemen, destroyed an apartment building full of Americans in Saudi Arabia?

We are at war, have long been at war, with people who hate everything we stand for. And it is, notwithstanding the horrific sight of airplanes plowing into skyscrapers, a war fought less in physical dimensions than emotional ones. Our enemy can't win unless fear makes us falter. We can't win unless it makes us defiant.

The point being that fear itself isn't the issue. Rather, the defining question is: What will we do in the face of that fear?

I'm doing my bit. I just made my first post-September plane reservations. It's an optional trip, too. I can't say that I feel all that nervous about it. If postal workers can do their jobs without succumbing to anthrax panic, I can get on a plane without getting the vapors.

Psychologists -- the kind quoted in newspapers -- predict a wave of post-traumatic stress cases caused by fear, uncertainty and grief. My problem is unexpressed rage. - 10/23

I want my Internet!
I don't know when you'll read the Oct. 22 postings. My Internet service has been out all day. PacBell's recorded message says only that they're working on the problem. Yes, I had plenty of offline things I could have done today. I actually did some filing and balanced my checkbook. (To the nearest $10.) I called Information for a phone number instead of looking it up online. I'd almost forgotten about Information. But I WANT MY INTERNET ACCESS! NOW! -- 10/22

Who buys candy in October?
The FBI is investigating why someone bought large quantities of candy at discount stores in New Jersey. I know these are troubling times, but if buying candy in bulk in mid-October is suspicious, a lot of us are in trouble.

Update: The candy buyer was a wholesaler buying from Costco for resale. That's fairly common. But he had dark skin and an accent. -- 10/22

Testing teachers
The feds are kicking in $5 million for a new system for credentialing new and experienced teachers. It will use standardized tests to measure knowledge of the subject they're teaching and classroom skills. (I'm not sure how you do the latter with a written test.) Veteran teachers "also will be judged on the basis of their students' achievement, documented over a period of time," reports Education Week. That's revolutionary.

If catches on, the tests could be used to license prospective teachers who aren't coming out of education schools and could be a portable credential for teachers move from one state to another

The American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence is a project of the National Council on Teacher Quality, which is a project of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. Fordhamites believe that subject-matter knowledge and verbal ability are key factors in teacher quality, while ed-school courses are basically a waste of time. (That's also the view of a new report by the Abell Foundation in Baltimore.) Basic skills tests for teachers are way too basic, they say. They like merit pay, and differential pay for teachers with hard-to-find skills. (Paying a physics teacher more than a phys ed teacher with the same seniority is another revolutionary idea in education.)

Fordhamites also dislike the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards for granting master teacher status based on how teachers teach (using videotapes and teaching portfolios) rather than on how well their students are learning. The American Board is an anti-establishment challenge to the National Board, and apparently one with friends in Bush's Education Department. -- 10/22

Fight for the right
I just watched parts of the "Concert for New York City.'' Odd to see old rockers leading cheers for cops and firefighters. Richard Gere said he hoped the desire for revenge would be replaced by a feeling of compassion for others. The audience booed, and he quickly dropped the subject. Paul McCartney, whose father was a fireman during the Blitz, closed with "Let It Be,'' and then with an encore of the song he wrote on Sept. 12. Mostly it's a repetition of the line: "I will fight for the right to live in freedom.'' The audience loved it.

The FBI has found an anthrax letter at the New York Post postmarked Sept. 18. The handwriting and enclosed threat are just like the ones mailed to NBC (postmarked Sept. 18) and Sen. Tom Daschle (postmarked Oct. 8). The letter was never opened; it was placed in a bag of suspicious mail after the Oct. 12 infection of Tom Brokaw's assistant. So, did it take three weeks to get from New Jersey to New York? Or does the Post not open its mail, even when there's no anthrax scare? An editorial assistant there was infected, which suggests the terrorists got frustrated and sent a second letter. -- 10/21

Brother in arms
In a Washington Post story on young people planning to enlist in the military, there's a familiar name: The family of Amadou Diallo, mistakenly shot and killed by New York police officers in 1999, came from Africa for the trial and stayed. Diallo's 17-year-old brother plans to join the Army Reserves, train as an information analyst, and then attend New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Abdoul Diallo, a high school senior, was horrified by the Sept. 11 attack, he told the Post. "I'm Muslim. I don't like bin Laden. He's crazy, and I don't like the way he portrays Muslims. His main mission is to kill as many Americans as possible, and that's completely wrong.'' -- 10/19

Duty and honor
Sen. John McCain gave an eloquent speech Oct. 9 at the U.S. Naval Academy. (Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the link.)

First, McCain said the U.S. must "keep our nerve" in the face of new attacks and more casualties.

We should use no more force than necessary, but no less than necessary. Fighting this war in half measures will only give our enemies time and opportunity to strike us again. We must change and change permanently the mindset of terrorists, those who give them sanctuary and support, and those parts of Islamic populations who believe the terrorist conceit that they will ultimately prevail in a conflict with the West, that America has not the stomach to wage a relentless, long term, and, at times, ruthless war to destroy them. 

McCain goes on to talk about national greatness, and the honor of service to a nobler cause than one's own self-interest.

In America, our rights come before our duties, as well they should. We are a free people, and among those freedoms is the liberty to sacrifice or not for our birthright. We no longer have military conscription. Nor do we need it because we can rely on the patriotism of more than sufficient numbers of Americans to defend willingly the liberty of us all. Yet early in life, you have grasped a great truth: that those who claim their liberty but not their duty to the civilization that ensures it live a half-life, having indulged their vanity and self-interest at the cost of their self-respect. The richest man or woman, the most successful and celebrated of our citizens possesses nothing important if their lives have no greater object than themselves. . . .

Our enemies have never had the strength to take our freedom from us. They have taken innocent life. That is the limit of their power. And awakened to their threat, we will destroy that power too. 

. . . And as their last hour approaches they can ask an all-loving God for mercy. But don't ask us. We bring justice, not mercy. 

Grief and honor
The New York Times' daily "Portraits of Grief'' -- brief obits for each of the 9-11 victims -- truly are remarkable, as Jennifer Foote Sweeney writes in Salon. I can't imagine what it's like for reporters to write these day after day, trying to sum up life in a few paragraphs, trying to do honor to each of the victims.

Joseph Stalin said, "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic." The New York Times is fighting that cynical logic, day by day, life by life. -- 10/17

Hairy mole
Charles Paul Freund, a Reason magazine editor, explains the psychwar potential of the rumor (see "Psych 'em out," below), that Osama bin Laden is an Israeli agent. Already, many Muslims believe that the Mossad, Israel's intelligence service, must have planned the 9-11 attack to turn the U.S. against Islam.

In brief, a useful antidote to the "Mossad did it" story is a counter-version, circulated surreptitiously, that agrees that the Mossad did it to make Islam look bad and to foment conflict against Muslims, adding only that Osama bin Laden is the Mossad's knowing agent. Sound absurd? It is absurd. But millions of people already believe the absurd. If you can't beat absurdity, you counter it with a more useful version.

Would bin Laden fit the role? In fact, he's set himself up for it. The act he has committed is considered heinous and unacceptable by millions of Muslims, which is why they want to blame it on Israel; if they thought the murders praiseworthy, they wouldn't seek to transfer the guilt. Furthermore, bin Laden and his spokesmen have repeatedly praised the murders in their videotaped statements, promising more in Islam's name.

If you want to win twisted hearts and minds, use twisted means, Freund concludes. -- 10/17

Smart and socially adept
Home-schooled kids outscore school-taught students on standardized tests and college-entrance exams. Home-schoolers dominate national spelling and geography bees. But how are they in the "works well with others'' category? Just fine, says a report released by the Fraser Institute in Vancouver. Home-schoolers are happier, better adjusted and more sociable; virtually all participate in two or more outside-the-home activities each week such as field trips and music lessons.

Parents who teach their children at home are better educated than average, and less likely to be single parents. And, pretty much by definition, they pay a lot of attention to their children. It shouldn't be surprising that their children do well, though the oddball stereotype persists.

A recent Time cover story admitted that home-schoolers aren't isolated weirdos but worried whether they'll grow up to be good citizens.

Thomas Jefferson and the other early American crusaders for public education believed the schools would help sustain democracy by bringing everyone together to share values and learn a common history. In the little red brick schoolhouse, we would pursue both "democracy in education and education in democracy," as Stanford historian David Tyack gracefully puts it. Home schooling forsakes all that by defining education not as the pursuit of an entire community but as the work of one family and its chosen circle. Which can be great. Despite some drawbacks, there are signs that home-schooling parents are doing a better job than public schools at teaching their kids. But as the number of kids learning at home grows, we should pause to wonder: Better at teaching them what? Home schooling may turn out better students, but does it create better citizens?

Yet public schools seem so tentative about teaching shared values or a common history -- Madison, Wisconsin can't handle the Pledge of Allegiance -- that it's hard to see how red brick is the essential building block of democracy.

Time also worries that home-schooled kids are missing out on childhood because they're not as bratty as other kids. And -- horrors! -- they set up their own play dates.

In 1992 psychotherapist Larry Shyers did a study while at the University of Florida in which he closely examined the behavior of 35 home schoolers and 35 public schoolers. He found that home schoolers were generally more patient and less competitive. They tended to introduce themselves to one another more; they didn't fight as much. And the home schoolers were much more prone to exchange addresses and phone numbers. In short, they behaved like miniature adults.

Which is great, unless you believe that kids should be kids before they are adults.

Home-schoolers don't learn to cope with peer pressure, getting into trouble or the "terrifying and liberating'' experience of riding a school bus, Time warns. It doesn't even mention the character-building lessons taught by bad cafeteria food: How can kids who've never eaten mystery meat loaf understand democracy? -- 10/16

Psych 'em out
If we have to worry about white powder, let's make the terror boys a little nervous too. My favorite ideas from Glenn Reynolds' psychological warfare page were posted on Oct. 14:

OSAMA BIN LADEN is actually Jewish and works for the Mossad. His mission is to get many Muslims killed. He has done this everywhere he has been: Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan. The Mossad, with his help, keeps close dossiers on all his followers and supporters and will assassinate them all at a moment of his choosing. . .

NEW U.S. BIOLOGICAL WEAPON: The United States will retaliate for any biological or chemical attack with a new virus that attacks the protein coats on sperm cells bearing the "y" chromosome, which differ biochemically from those bearing the "x" chromosome. All Americans have already been secretly vaccinated against this. Unvaccinated males, once infected, can only father daughters. 30% of those infected become incurably impotent.
-- 10/16


Anthrax vs. flu
Michael Fumento, always sensible on health threats, explains why you should forget about stocking up on Cipro and get your flu shots.

I find myself going with bizarre speed from fear -- It's biochemical warfare! -- to boredom -- Oh yeah. That anthrax thing again. In the modern era, it took only a few days for anthrax-by-mail to seem normal.

Of course, I no longer work for the editorial pages of a major metropolitan daily newspaper. I don't have a boss whose title is "editor." Cranks, kooks and genuinely crazy people like to write letters to editors and editorial pages. The woman who opened all the mail -- she could diagnose schizophrenia from the handwriting on the envelope -- sometimes got nervous about bulky letters, especially in times of political tension. On occasion, she called the FBI about letters with credible death threats. Or the Secret Service, if the president was the target. She retired a few months ago, and I doubt she's regretting it. -- 10/15

Playing with fire
I used to think I was a nice person, but not any more. Here's a photo of a Pakistani who set himself on fire trying to burn an American flag.

A small group of people stand at a corner across from Stanford University and Palo Alto High School holding signs that say "Stop the War'' and similarly simplistic slogans. They are longtime peaceniks for whom nothing changed on Sept. 11.

This war is not ours to stop -- except by defeating the terrorists so thoroughly they can't attack us again. By "defeating thoroughly" I mean killing them. Sure, it means giving them what they claim they want. But we're a big-hearted people, we Americans. Let's oblige them on this suicide thing.

San Jose Mercury News editors cruelly assigned Patrick May to fly around the country for three days assessing the mood of airline passengers. May writes that passengers consider themselves "amateur sky marshals. For these citizen soldiers, returning their seat to its upright position has become a patriotic act."

There's plenty of support for Glenn Reynolds' theory about bellicose soccer moms. May meets a businesswoman who practiced karate kicks before the flight, and a "soft-spoken mother of three'' who dreams about attacking skyjackers. "I twisted their heads and broke their necks.'' A stewardess says everyone is running through drills in their heads. ``I think most people feel there's no way we're going to sit there and let someone crash our plane.'' A woman flying to San Jose does a spot-check for the "most wanted'' terrorists but says she's at peace. ``A life lived in fear,'' she says, ``is a life half-lived.''

Reynolds' InstaPundit includes a message from Janis Gore, who tells men of all religious beliefs and nationalities:

If you threaten to interfere with the life, liberty or health of my mother, my sister or her daughter, my brothers' wives, their mothers, sisters and daughters, my mother-in-law, or her daughters or granddaughters, or Mr. Reynolds wife or daughters, or Ms. Virginia Postrel or Ms. Joanne Jacobs, or an inspiring schoolteacher escorting a promising student on a National Geographic trip, I reserve the right to blow your balls off.

To the soldiers in the field: AIM LOW!

I appreciate the thought. Indeed, I've been having similar thoughts myself. -- 10/14

Terror's Hallmark
I've never been good with Halloween costumes and crafts but this year I know how to terrify: All it takes is a sprinkle of sugar, salt, sand, baking soda, talcum powder -- or confetti from a greeting card.

Anthrax hysteria broke out on a United flight from Chicago to San Jose Saturday when a passenger told a crew member that a man had "dispersed a powdery substance in the ventilation system,'' AP reported. Passengers and crew were held aboard the plane for three hours after it landed; the suspect was taken off the plane, stripped of his clothing, washed down with detergent and dressed in a vapor-trapping hazardous materials suit. It turned out he'd accidentally spilled some confetti from a greeting card.

Yes, these anthrax-by-mail attacks are spooky. And it's hard to believe a homegrown nut just coincidentally happened to be brewing up a bunch of spores at the same time foreign nuts were planning the 9-11 attack. (Anthrax -- especially the inhaled kind found in Florida -- is not the sort of thing that grows in the back of your refrigerator.) I think it's a good bet this is another scheme of Bert's new best friend, possibly with Iraqi help.

So what are we going to do? Shut down air travel again till we can build confetti scanners? Hand search for talcum powder as well as nail clippers? Tell Customs officers to stop searching for weapons and go back to looking for white powder? Give Osama a big laugh?

The anthrax attacks have killed only one poor man, who didn't know what hit him till it was too late to be treated effectively. Now that we're on the look-out for anthrax, that won't happen.

This is supposed to be the home of the brave. So let's act like it. -- 10/14

Patriotism under fire
Teaching patriotism is controversial reports the Los Angeles Times:

A small but staunch minority of parents, teachers and students is standing up to denounce the new boosterism. The pledge of allegiance is alienating, they say. "The Star-Spangled Banner," too hawkish. And the lessons on America, land of freedom and justice? Jingoism. Propaganda. "I don't think the schools should have any role in teaching patriotism, because everyone defines it differently," said Phoebe Rosebear, a Wisconsin mother of two. . . .

By emphasizing unity, they say, it makes dissenters look like dangerous kooks. The pride-in-America rhetoric tends to close out criticism. And no matter how much individual teachers may praise the value of diversity, said black Democratic Nebraska state Sen. Ernie Chambers, "Patriotism always converts into racism and discrimination against people who are not 'Brand A' white Americans."

Or, as Wisconsin educator Gabriel Chavez put it: "Nationalism tends to create that us-vs.-them mentality, no matter how you teach it."

The school board in Madison, Wisconsin banned the pledge, objecting to "under God,'' and insisted that "The Star Spangled Banner" be played only in an instrumental version -- no militaristic lyrics. Under heavy fire, the board retreated.

In Britain, the National Union of Teachers thinks the traditional "Land of Hope and Glory'' is too "triumphalist'' for students to sing in wartime. New lyrics call for music to bring the world closer together; the old lyrics called for a "mightier" British empire. -- 10/12

In defense of courage
William Ian Miller, author of "The Mystery of Courage," defends revenge in a Salon interview: "Letting someone know that you are not to be messed with is a very good thing to do for rational reasons. And that's what revenge is."

Miller, a University of Michigan professor, also takes a hit at " a certain kind of cowardice that masquerades as high moral principle. I don't want to say sympathy and fellow feeling is not a good thing. It is -- I'm loaded with it myself. But sometimes, it's the veneer we put on cowardice." -- 10/11

Something works in LA schools
Good news and Los Angeles schools don't normally go together. But reading scores for the city's first graders have shot up to the 56th percentile. For LA Unified, above average is great.

Superintendent Roy Romer credits the structured, phonics-based Open Court reading program, adopted one year ago, reports Richard Lee Colvin in the Los Angeles Times.

More than 60% of the district's first-graders are still learning to speak
English, but even their rank in reading rose from the 33rd percentile nationally to the 48th percentile in one year. Those students have been taught mostly in English because of Proposition 227, the 1998 measure that ended bilingual education. Romer declined to speculate on the impact of that change on students' scores. The reading scores for African American students also rose sharply, from the 45th percentile to the 55th percentile.

Most of the district's elementary schools adopted the Open Court reading
program for kindergarten and grades 1 and 2 a year ago. The district invested in an intensive teacher-training program and also hired 300 coaches to help teachers monitor their lessons and their students'
progress. -- 10/11

America's history first
"How vigorously should American teachers wave the flag?'' asks Jay Mathews in the Washington Post. And how much stress should they put on teaching about other cultures?

I have watched a lot of high school history classes over the last 20 years. Perhaps there was a time when teachers insisted that America was always right, but in most places such jingoistic tendencies are long gone. The kind of educators who gravitate toward social studies are the least likely to paint the blackboard red, white and blue.

They try hard, in many cases with remarkable success, to explain the complexities of world politics and economics, and how our imperfect country has affected global change. But in their conscientious effort to put this nation in context, many of them risk obscuring the importance and rightness of American values abroad.

Mathews is right about the waning of traditional patriotic lessons. All those books debunking the "lies'' your teacher told you must be unintelligible to anyone under 40. They think the Boston Tea Party was about pollution in Boston Harbor and insensitivity to Native Americans. If they've ever heard of the Boston Tea Party.

However, he's nicer than I'd be about the "remarkable success.'' The fact is that few high school teachers know much about the complexities of world politics and economics, much less about the history of Islam, Arabia or Afghanistan. And if we ask them to be instant experts, we're going to get a lot of misinformation cribbed off the Internet.

Mathews goes on: "Having seen anti-Americanism abroad first-hand, I know its roots are often not in poverty and ignorance, but in the power-lust and fanaticism of political organizations for which the word 'evil' is accurate and appropriate. I don’t hear anyone trying to explain the anti-Americanism of Hitler and Stalin anymore, and the bunch who flew into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are just like them."

Good point. But count on teachers to push the poverty angle, and softpedal evil.

In a Dallas speech, Lynne Cheney, former chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, said teachers should focus on "the ideas and ideals on which our nation has been built," and avoid implying "that the events of Sept. 11 were our fault, that it was our failure to understand Islam that led to so many deaths and so much destruction."

Cheney was responding to the deputy chancellor for instruction in New York City schools, Judith Rizzo, who told The Washington Post: "Those people who said we don't need multiculturalism, that it's too touchy-feely, a pox on them. I think they've learned their lesson.”

That pox isn't anthrax, I hope. -- 10/10

No more skyjackings
The good news is that passengers and crew members subdued a crazed man who stormed the cockpit of a plane heading from Los Angeles to Chicago. From Sept. 11 on, the security team on every flight includes every (non-terrorist) passenger.

The bad news is that Edward Coburn was able to get into the cockpit -- even though his father had alerted the crew to his son's mental breakdown. The Chicago Tribune reports:

About three hours into the 312-hour flight, the father warned flight attendants his son had told him he was going to make a run for the cockpit. Soon after that, Coburn bolted toward the front of the airplane and crashed through the cockpit door, falling forward and flailing and yelling that its pilots "are going to kill us all," the complaint stated.

The plane’s captain pushed Coburn away, according to the complaint. It added that the first officer struggled with the man, the off-duty pilot grabbed him from behind and other passengers rushed forward to help get Coburn out of the cockpit."

He got close enough to the captain to be pushed away? How about a rush job on those stronger cockpit doors and locks. -- 10/9

Islam's jihad for the soul of Islam
Read an eloquent article from The Observer by Iraqi exile Kanan Makiya, "Fighting Islam's Ku Klux Klan." (Thanks to InstaPundit for finding this.)

He writes about the price Muslims and Arabs will pay for "continuing to wallow in the sense of one's own victimhood to the point of losing the essentially universal idea of human dignity and worth that is the only true measure of civility."

In the five-page letter left in a suitcase in the car-park of Boston's airport, this passage, giving guidance to the hijackers in case they should meet resistance from a passenger, appears: "If God grants any one of you a slaughter, you should perform it as an offering on behalf of your father and mother, for they are owed by you. Do not disagree among yourselves, but listen and obey. If you slaughter, you should plunder those you slaughter, for that is a sanctioned custom of the Prophet's, on the condition that you do not get occupied with the plunder so that you would leave what is more important, such as paying attention to the enemy, his treachery and attacks. That is because such action is very harmful [to the mission]."

This is not Islam any more than the Ku Klux Klan is Christianity. No concessions can be made to either mindset which have more in common with one another than they do with the religions they claim to represent. . . .

But it is now up to Arabs and Muslims to draw the line that separates them from the Osama bin Ladens of this world just as it was up to Americans to excoriate, isolate, outlaw, imprison and eventually root out the members of the Klan from their midst. . . .

Muslims and Arabs have to be on the front lines of a new kind of war, one that is worth waging for their own salvation and in their own souls. And that, as good out-of-fashion Muslim scholars will tell you, is the true meaning of jihad, a meaning that has been hijacked by terrorists and suicide bombers and all those who applaud or find excuses for them. To exorcise what they have done in our name is the civilisational challenge of the twenty-first century for every Arab and Muslim in the world today. -- 10/9

Hard times
Among the economic victims of the 9-11 attack are thousands of single parents who'd left welfare for work at hotels and restaurants. It's better to lose a job than to never have held one in the first place. But some states may need to ease the qualifications for unemployment insurance to cover low earners and keep the laid-off from bouncing right back on to welfare.

"Critics of the new welfare system have often warned that it would fail in a faltering economy,'' writes Jason DeParle in the New York Times. Certainly, welfare reform faces its first major challenge. The boom years -- employers would give just about anybody a chance -- are over. However, there's reason for hope, DeParle writes. "Others argue the safety net is stronger than the one it replaced. Many more job-seekers have recent résumés. They also have expanded access to child care and transportation. State bureaucracies have gotten better at helping the poor find work."

The Wall Street Journal also ran an Oct. 8 story on the impact of lay-offs on people at the low end of the economic ladder. But I can't figure out their registration system, so I won't link to it.

In the non-welfare category, things aren't too rosy either. My brother was laid-off last week, giving him time to make improvements to my web site. (While he job-hunts, he plans to hire out his services as a home technology consultant, setting up computer systems, advising on what to buy and designing web sites. Hire my brother!) My sister, a contract tech writer, is out of work. Her husband's company is about to announce lay-offs. And I'm not exactly raking in the big bucks. Or the small bucks, for that matter. The only member of the family who's securely employed is my daughter, who has two part-time jobs. -- 10/9

The majority may know something
Just because 94 percent of Americans disagree with you doesn't mean you're right, observes Jonah Goldberg.

Writers in The Nation, the Village Voice, Salon and elsewhere love to refer to themselves as "dissidents" as if the majority opinion were somehow corrupt or totalitarian. It is difficult for them to comprehend that maybe, just maybe, their dissent isn't morally or intellectually superior, it's just wrong. After all, "dissident" is a morally neutral term. Osama Bin Laden was a dissident in Saudi Arabia. David Duke has the same claim to the adjective as Ralph Nader or Leonard Peltier. If you steadfastly insist that 2+2 is a banana you may be a dissident, but you shouldn't wait by the mailbox for your Profiles in Courage award. . .

Isn't it possible — just possible — that the majority of Americans are right and the dissidents are wrong? -- 10/9

Inflated honors
A record-breaking 91 percent of Harvard's class of 2001 was graduated with honors. Patrick Healy explains in the Boston Globe how Harvard's standards have slipped. Professor Harvey Mansfield fought back by giving students an official grade -- an A or B -- and the grade they'd really deserved, including the now obsolete Cs and Ds. -- 10/8

America's jihad against terror
It's started. We're dropping food on the Afghan people, bombs on Taliban military targets. Will the terrorists strike back? They may have struck even before the bombs fell, trying to spread anthrax. Yet there's been no panic. Americans aren't "filled with fear'' as Osama bin Laden claims. President Bush asked us to be "calm and resolute," and we are.

An amazing 94 percent of Americans supported the U.S. military action in an Oct. 7 poll. Jonathan Alter of Newsweek dispatches the appeasers in the remaining 6 percent: "Talk about ironic: the same people always urging us to not blame the victim in rape cases are now saying Uncle Sam wore a short skirt and asked for it."

Alter argues the "shallow left'' has crossed the line between "explaining terrorism and rationalizing it."

After World War II our leaders saw that the punitive Versailles peace treaty following World War I had helped pave the way for Hitler. So we tried the generous Marshall Plan instead and it worked. But that came later. Only a fool would have given credence to Hitler’s grievances, however legitimate a few of them were, while we were fighting him.

And none but a fool would say, as the novelist Alice Walker did in The Village Voice, that “the only punishment that works is love.” We’ve tried turning the other cheek. After the 1993 World Trade Center bombing we held our fire and treated the attack as a law-enforcement matter. The terrorists struck again anyway. This time the Munich analogy is right: appeasement is doomed.

America Firsters grasped this point after Pearl Harbor and the isolationists ran off to enlist. So why can’t Blame America Firsters grasp it now? Al Qaeda was planning its attack at exactly the time the United States was offering a Mideast peace deal favorable to the Palestinians. Nothing from us would have satisfied the fanatics, and nothing ever will. Peace won’t be with you, brother. It’s kill or be killed.

In his videotape, bin Laden complained about what happened "80 years ago'' (the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, the British mandate in Palestine) and in Andalusia 500 years ago (Catholic Spaniards took the province from the Muslims). Virginia Postrel explains the significance of the latter.

Andalusia was Muslim Spain, which in its Golden Age nurtured learning, trade, and (by the standards of the day) religious tolerance. But according to at least some Muslim interpretations of history what looks like greatness to the West was really a form of weakness. Prosperity and pluralism led to lax practice and division among Muslims. Lax practice and division led to brutal reconquest by militant Christianity. Bin Laden and his followers have a 500-year-old grudge, and what they've learned from history impels their actions today.

Remember the Brezhnev Doctrine—that no communist country should ever go non-communist? That doctrine motivated the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to prop up the Soviet-backed regime there. Now we have the Bin Laden doctrine, that no Muslim territory should ever become non-Muslim. To become pluralist is to take the first step toward becoming non-Muslim. And to permit such a change would be to repeat the "tragedy of Andalusia." In this context, the world must inevitably be split into "the camp of belief and the disbelief." There is no middle ground, and no room for tolerance. -- 10/8

Slow learners
"Federal studies debunk bilingual education,'' reported the U.S. Education Department -- in 1981. Education Week's retrospective of 20-year-old stories included reporting on a series of federal studies: "The federal government should stop focusing on bilingual-education programs to help non-English-speaking students because there is little evidence that those programs work.''

A review of more than 300 studies found only 25 that met "minimum methodological standards" in examining transitional bilingual education (TBE) programs for effectiveness. "Of those 25 studies, only 11 reported any positive effects of TBE in comparison with other approaches, according to the research paper. But the few studies of 'structured immersion' (in English) uniformly showed positive program effects, the paper found." -- 10/7

'Breed' breeds
Thanks to Stuart Buck for featuring Mark Steyn's very funny -- and on the money -- column on the ever-breeding use of "breeds.'' An excerpt:

. . . every abstract noun is carrying on like Anthony Quinn on Viagra. Instability breeds resentment, resentment breeds inertia, inertia breeds generalities, generalities breed clichés, clichés breed lame metaphors, until we reach the pitiful state of the peacenik opinion columns where, to modify the old Eyewitness News formula, if it breeds it leads.

If I were to say "Mr. Scroggins breeds racing pigeons," it would be reasonable to assume that I'd been round to the Scroggins house or at least made a phone call. But the "injustice breeds anger" routine requires no such mooring to humdrum reality, though it's generally offered as a uniquely shrewd insight, reflecting a vastly superior understanding of the complexities of the situation than we nuke-crazy warmongers have.

"What you have to look at is the underlying reasons," an Ivy League student said to me the other day. "Poverty breeds resentment and resentment breeds anger."

"Really?" I said. "And what's the capital of Saudi Arabia?"

Steyn points out the "culturalist'' bias: "the non-Western world is apparently just one big petri dish full of mutating cells, eternally passive, acted upon but never acting.'' The U.S. is responsible for everything that happens around the world (if bad). Non-Westerners are responsible for nothing, not even their own actions. Poor little things, they can't help themselves. -- 10/5

Welfare reform benefit
The birth rate for welfare mothers is down by 30 percent in Washington state, reports the Seattle Times. It's now well below the statewide birth rate. (Thanks to Kausfiles for spotting this.)

"Without ever dictating family-planning choices, case managers push contraception and the benefits of smaller families to the state's poorest residents,'' reports the Times. "In 1994, 60 women out of 1,000 had a child while on public assistance. Last year, the rate was 42 out of 1,000 for women on welfare."

Washington doesn't cap welfare payments; recipients who have another baby while on welfare get more money. But case workers provide information on contraception, starting with the application process, and try to get women thinking about the consequences of adding another child. A woman who's already home full-time, and with no prospect of a job, may not see a downside in having another baby. A mom who's juggling child care so she can get to job training or a low-wage job is a lot more interested in birth control. -- 10/5

Not Bartlet's finest hour
It took guts for "West Wing" to turn out a special terrorism episode, but the result was awfully preachy, and didn't get at the central issue facing our real president: How do you respond to an attack on our country by a run-and-hide enemy? I didn't hate the episode as much as Josh Marshall, who called it "mawkish, preachy, trite, boneheaded, ridiculous on logical principles." Or Joan Walsh, who called the episode, self-important, nauseating, narcissistic and icky. -- 10/4

Time to learn
Only a third of California freshmen passed both the English and math sections of the new graduation exam last spring. Why there's so much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth is a mystery to me: They have three more years of education, and nine more chances at the test, to earn a passing grade. Some 64 percent passed the English portion, which means don't have to take it again; 44 percent passed in math.

Asian-Americans (overwhelmingly from immigrant families) and whites did best; among Hispanics and blacks, about half passed in English, one fourth in math.

The exam is required for the class of '04, but there's a move afoot to delay. The state should hang tough. Students will meet the standards if they know it matters.

In the language-arts portion, students must write two essays and answer multiple- choice questions; they're judged by 10th grade standards. The math questions -- all multiple choice -- include basic algebra, which is supposed to be taught in 8th grade but often is not. -- 10/4

Total war on pacifists
Michael Kelly's "Phony pacifists'' column takes no prisoners. (Ann Coulter wishes she could write this well.) He starts out with a dire threat from a pacifist reader: If Kelly doesn't recant, he will face "the dread Series of Letters." Then Kelly gets nasty.

Two propositions: The first is that much of what is passing for pacifism in this instance is not pacifism at all but only the latest tedious manifestation of a well-known pre-existing condition: the largely reactionary, largely incoherent, largely silly muddle of anti-American, anti-corporatist, anti-globalist sentiments that passes for the politics of the left these days. The second is that, again in this instance, the antiwar sentiment (to employ a term that encompasses both genuine pacifism and an opposition to war rooted in America-hatred) is intellectually dishonest, elitist and hypocritical.

That the antiwar sentiment is in general only a manifestation of the larger anomie of the reactionary left is clear. The first large antiwar demonstration was held last weekend in Washington, and the most obvious fact about it was that this protest against war was planned before there was ever any thought of war. It had been intended as just another in the series of protests against globalism that have been serving as a sort of kvetch basin for all sorts of unhappy people who like to yell about the awfulness of "Amerika" or international corporations or rich people or people who drive large cars or drug companies that test their products on bunny rabbits or life its own unfair self. . . .

Kelly goes on to point out that "Osama bin Laden has told us by word and action" that he's at war with the U.S. and its way of life, and will keep on attacking us. Pacifists don't really want to live in a country whose laws and policies are dictated by the Taliban. But they know they won't have to: Someone else will fight "so that they may enjoy the luxury of preaching against fighting." -- 10/3

Rushdie gets it right
Read the wonderful piece by Salman Rushdie in the Washington Post.

Terrorism is the murder of the innocent; this time, it was mass murder. To excuse such an atrocity by blaming U.S. government policies is to deny the basic idea of all morality: that individuals are responsible for their actions.

Furthermore, terrorism is not the pursuit of legitimate complaints by illegitimate means. The terrorist wraps himself in the world's grievances to cloak his true motives. Whatever the killers were trying to achieve, it seems improbable that building a better world was part of it.

The fundamentalist seeks to bring down a great deal more than buildings. Such people are against, to offer just a brief list, freedom of speech, a multi-party political system, universal adult suffrage, accountable government, Jews, homosexuals, women's rights, pluralism, secularism, short skirts, dancing, beardlessness, evolution theory, sex. These are tyrants, not Muslims. (Islam is tough on suicides, who are doomed to repeat their deaths through all eternity. However, there needs to be a thorough examination, by Muslims everywhere, of why it is that the faith they love breeds so many violent mutant strains. If the West needs to understand its Unabombers and McVeighs, Islam needs to face up to its bin Ladens.)

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has said that we should now define ourselves not only by what we are for but by what we are against. I would reverse that proposition, because in the present instance what we are against is a no-brainer. Suicidist assassins ram wide-bodied aircraft into the World Trade Center and Pentagon and kill thousands of people: um, I'm against that. But what are we for? What will we risk our lives to defend? Can we unanimously concur that all the items in the above list -- yes, even the short skirts and dancing -- are worth dying for?

The fundamentalist believes that we believe in nothing. In his world-view, he has his absolute certainties, while we are sunk in sybaritic indulgences. To prove him wrong, we must first know that he is wrong. We must agree on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, disagreement, cutting-edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world's resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love. These will be our weapons. Not by making war but by the unafraid way we choose to live shall we defeat them. -- 10/2

 

Free to reject free speech
Ann Coulter is too bellicose for The National Review, reports Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post. The conservative journal, not known for pacifist tendencies, decided to drop Coulter as contributing editor after she followed one fire-breathing column -- "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity" -- with another calling for airport passport checks for "swarthy males'' but not for blondes from Connecticut.

Coulter's syndicated column is carried by several Web sites and 50 newspapers. On Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect'' show, Coulter accused National Review Online of having "censored" her by refusing to run the "swarthy males'' column, Kurtz reports. She called National Review editor Rich Lowry and his staff "girly-boys."

It's not censorship, says Jonah Goldberg, editor of NR Online. It's "editorial judgment." I don't think he responded to the girly-boy charge.

Goldberg's right. Coulter can write whatever she pleases. Editors don't have to run it, if they think it's stupid, crazy, racist or whatever. That's why they make the big bucks.

Academics are also complaining about censorship, notes NR Online's John J. Miller and Ramesh Ponnuru in "Code Red Herring." Citing a Chronicle of Higher Education story, they mention a University of Texas journalism professor, Robert Jensen, who wrote in the Sept. 12 Houston Chronicle that the U.S. had "engineered attacks on civilians every bit as tragic" as the Sept. 11attack that killed nearly 6,000 people. "The university administration has done nothing to Jensen — he hasn't been fired, placed on administrative leave, or told to clean out dormitory bathrooms on Saturday mornings. Instead, something far worse has occurred: He's been criticized."

In other words, professors want the right to say "anybody who blows up the Pentagon gets my vote.'' That's free speech. But if someone calls the prof unAmerican, that's censorship. Gee, if America is that evil, why isn't "unAmerican" a compliment?-- 10/2

America the Beautiful
Evelynne's Diaryland journal explains why she loves America. Here's an excerpt:

I love this country. I do. I love it the way I love my family. I didn't have any choice in the matter, and they drive me crazy sometimes, and there are things I could do without, but it's made up of a lot of good people who have accomplished some amazing things, and who come together and support each other in times of difficulty.

I love this country because for every inevitable jerk who hasn't learned the difference between a Muslim and a terrorist, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who try to live the dream of judging people not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I love this country because it works to correct its mistakes, from abolishing slavery to giving women the vote, using grassroots efforts from the Underground Railroad to the lunch counter sit-ins.

I love this country because I can't move to France and become a Frenchwoman, but people can come here from every country in the world and become an American. Because there are so many people, despite the hyphenations and the racist jerks who get far too much press, who really do believe that we ARE all AMERICANS.

I love this country for its ideals. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion and expression, freedom to be and do whatever you want.

And for every flaw this country has, there are people working to fix it. They're squabbling over how to do it, of course, but the thing they have in common is that they want to make it better.

Thanks to InstaPundit for spotting this. -- 10/1

Talking isn't healing
Grief counseling can hurt disaster survivors, warns Ronald Bailey in Reason Online. He quotes Richard McNally, a Harvard psychology professor, who says most studies show no benefit from "critical incident stress debriefings,'' an increasingly popular therapy. Two recent studies show survivors do worse if they're urged to talk about the traumatic details, usually in group sessions right after the disaster. "The counseling seems to be impeding recovery," McNally says.

The federal government spent $4 million on this therapy, known as "critical incident stress management" after the Oklahoma City bombing, Bailey reports. It's supposed to open up the wound for cleansing. Instead, it seems to just open the wound and keep it open.

A Cochrane Library review of research on pyschological debriefing of trauma victims found no short-term relief. One year later, the debriefed victims faced a significantly higher risk of post-traumatic stress disorder. "There is no current evidence that psychological debriefing is a useful treatment for the prevention of post traumatic stress disorder after traumatic incidents,'' reviewers concluded. "Compulsory debriefing of victims of trauma should cease." -- 10/1