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Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Perils of “Leading From Behind”

December 29th, 2011 - 7:04 pm

“It’s always America’s fault”, Egypt says. When you don’t know whether to agree with this accusatory trope or not, then you really have a problem. The Associated Press notes how the Arab Spring is turning out in Egypt.

Egyptian security forces stormed the offices of 10 human rights and pro-democracy groups on Thursday, including several based in the U.S., accused by the country’s military rulers of destabilizing security by fomenting protests with the help of foreign funding.

The raids on 17 offices throughout Egypt are part of the ruling generals’ attempt to blame “foreign hands” for the unrest that continues to roil Egypt since the 18-day revolt that ousted longtime leader Hosni Mubarak in February, but that activists say failed to topple his regime.


Look Back In Nostalgia

December 29th, 2011 - 11:38 am

Question: When do the ruins of the Korean war start to look like the Good Old Days? Answer: when you are a mourner at Kim Jong-Il’s funeral.

Public Radio International thinks propaganda efforts to link the Great Successor — Kim Jong-Un to his grandfather Kim Il-sung rather than Papa Kim Jong-il are an attempt to ground him in the nostalgia for the past rather than the grim reality of the present. Escaped North Koreans living in the South believe “many North Koreans still have great respect for Kim Il-sung. Kim Jong-il is a different story.”

“People blame Kim Jong-il for why North Korea is in such bad shape, and the government knows it,.” Hyun said. “That’s why during this mourning period they’ve given out more food and staples, and kept markets open. They’re treating the people a lot better than normal.” …

Hyun and other refugees say the trick now is for Pyongyang to make new leader Kim Jong-un seem less like his father and more like his grandfather.

Lee said based on the images she’s seen from the funeral, that’s exactly what the North is trying to do.

“I’ve seen pictures of Kim Jong-un from a few years ago. He was slim then. I think he put on a lot of weight to look more like his grandfather. He even wears the same type of suit and has the same haircut,” Lee said.


The Diploma In Your Pocket

December 27th, 2011 - 3:39 pm

Stephen Gordon asks the question: what if an employer were faced with a choice of applicants between a person with a regular diploma from a nondescript school and someone who had successfully completed an online course at MIT? Who should he hire?

Imagine a personnel manager at a mid-sized industrial corporation in Kansas who’s looking for a candidate with a particular set of knowledge. There are two candidates: one from the local state school with an appropriate college degree, a second with relevant MITx certificates of completion.

Let’s say all other things between the candidates are equal. Which should be chosen? It’s true that an online education is not the same as the college experience. The candidate who went to college probably enjoyed his experience more, but how much is that experience worth to a potential employer? Unless he’s a member of the same fraternity, probably not as much as the college candidate would hope.

His formulation of the problem is good, but perhaps it is not general enough. What Gordon is asking is: ‘which is the better proxy for competence, the online degree or the brick and mortar one?’ But it may go beyond that.  Consider these other other scenarios:


If Tomorrow Comes

December 27th, 2011 - 2:08 am

Der Spiegel tells the story of a man who sells of pews and furniture from dying churches.  And he is doing a land-office business. “Some 4,400 church buildings remain in the Netherlands. But each week, around two close their doors forever. This mainly affects the Catholics, who will be forced to offload half of their churches in the coming years. ‘And that’s just the beginning,’ says de Beyer.”

For years the number of faithful has been declining. The trend has swept across all of Western Europe, with churches forced to close in France and Belgium too. But in the Netherlands, Christianity’s retreat from society has been particularly drastic. The Protestant Church alone loses some 60,000 members each year. At this rate, it will cease to exist there by 2050, church officials say.


Self-Confidence Vs Self-Esteem

December 26th, 2011 - 3:37 pm

The Chronicle of Higher Education argues that a diploma does not always equal an education. The author, Thomas H. Benton, says what everybody knows but that no one will official admit.  Education has in part been devalued by the notion that everyone should have a diploma even if he’s never learned anything. The result, the authors argue, are a whole cohort of people with diplomas who expect to progress through real life the way they had all their lives: by guarantee.

Lack of student preparation. Increasingly, undergraduates are not prepared adequately in any academic area but often arrive with strong convictions about their abilities. So college professors routinely encounter students who have never written anything more than short answers on exams, who do not read much at all, who lack foundational skills in math and science, yet are completely convinced of their abilities and resist any criticism of their work, to the point of tears and tantrums: “But I earned nothing but A’s in high school,” and “Your demands are unreasonable.” Such a combination makes some students nearly unteachable.


The old medicine show

December 26th, 2011 - 1:08 pm

Despite presiding over a rapidly rocketing “misery index”, President Obama is sanguine about his chances for re-election. The reason is that being so far down automatically gives rise to both the need to blame someone for the debacle and to rely increasingly in the hope for a Hail Mary pass. And he aims to provide both. Gerald Seib at the Wall Street Journal describes the blame part:

By most normal standards for gauging a president’s chances of re-election, Mr. Obama would appear sunk.

But “this isn’t an ordinary year,” argues David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s chief political adviser. And it’s just possible that the normal political metrics don’t hold in a time of unusual economic and political ferment. Indeed, Mr. Obama holds some advantages that are obscured by the overall economic gloom.

For starters, after more than three years in office, he still isn’t shouldering most of the blame for the economic slump. When the Journal/NBC News poll last month asked Americans who they think is most to blame for current economic problems, both former President Bush and Wall Street bankers were fingered more often than was President Obama.

The “it’s all Bush’s fault” mantra can be pretty convincing if you can sell it. Then there is the second argument: that all of the Republican contenders are pygmies compared to the dear leader and therefore if you want a miracle recovery, elect the Miracle Man. Seib continues:


The 2012 Economic Choices

December 26th, 2011 - 9:15 am

President Obama has decided to make income inequality the major focus of his re-election campaign. Using the Occupy Wall Street events to highlight his message, he has called boosting middle-class opportunity the “defining issue of our times”. The weakening economy has driven both parties to find an approach which best taps into it. For the Republicans it will be the lack of jobs. For Obama it will be the gap between the rich and the poor. The LA Times summarizes both approaches succinctly:

Republicans would like to make the November election a referendum on Obama’s economic record. For much of his presidency, they have pounded away at monthly statistics showing high unemployment and anemic growth.

“We’re seeing continuing high levels of unemployment. We see home values declining; foreclosures remain at record levels,” former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney points out often. Obama, he says, “has failed in the job he was elected to do.”…

So increasingly, Obama and his aides have switched to a longer view, trying to focus attention on what they portray as the president’s defense of the middle class. That positioning, they hope, will set up a helpful contrast with his November opponent.

“This isn’t just about recovering from this recession,” said a senior advisor to Obama, one of several who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about internal White House discussions. “This is about saving the middle class from a decline that’s been going on for three decades.”


No Worse Friend, No Better Enemy

December 25th, 2011 - 1:10 pm

The day before a number of bombs were detonated in Nigerian churches on Christmas day, Mark Steyn wrote that the West seemed studiously oblivious to one of the great ethnic cleansings of the instant: the destruction of Christians across the world by Islamists.

On this Christmas Eve, one of the great unreported stories throughout what we used to call Christendom is the persecution of Christians around the world. In Egypt, the “Arab Spring” is going so swimmingly that Copts are already fleeing Egypt and, for those Christians that remain, Midnight Mass has to be held in the daylight for security reasons. In Iraq, midnight services have been canceled entirely for fear of bloodshed, part of the remorseless de-Christianizing that has been going on, quite shamefully, under an American imperium.

Not merely the media but Christian leaders in the west seem to be embarrassed by behavior that doesn’t conform to their dimwitted sappiness about “Facebook Revolutions”. It took a Jew to deliver this line:

When Lord Sacks, chief rabbi in England, rose in the House of Lords to speak about the persecution of Christians, he quoted Martin Luther King. “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Lord Sacks is mostly right. But it is the “friend” part he has gotten wrong. It is not Christianity’s “friends” who are silent because they are not friends. The Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda are, whatever their faults, entirely candid about what they are. It is the “caring West” that is treacherous. Save for the convenience of being able to misrepresent itself as “Christian” and thereby apologize on behalf of the victims to the perpetrators, the cultural leadership of the West has long stopped being anything but the Marxists to which they converted decades ago.


The Perils of Childhood

December 23rd, 2011 - 2:50 pm

Megan McArdle argues that today’s “spanking-free” childrearing systems have been purchased at the cost of regimenting childhood.  In place of “management by exception” where transgressions were punished by blow to the seat of the pants, children are now watched, rewarded or subtly discouraged until “they are quite old”. But whether this is an improvement is open to debate. As we are now learning today’s “organization kids” have problems of their own.

My grandmother literally never worked outside the home a day in her life. But she would have been bewildered by the intensive parenting of today’s “stay at home Moms”. When my mother got home from school, my grandmother gave her a cookie and told her to go outside and play. She was not supposed to come back until dinner–rain or shine, sleet or snow…


December Treasure Hunt

December 22nd, 2011 - 4:33 pm

At that time of year when people wonder: ‘what gifts can I give others or myself that are cheap but of reasonable quality?’ it often helps to create a scenario. For the kind of things you outfit yourself with for depends on your self image. Starting from the assumption that the readers of this site go off each morning to slay the Dragon, what kinds of things might they find useful? Of course by “dragon” is not meant one like Smaug, but the more metaphorical kind. Here are some suggestions, though of course they may not be appropriate for everybody.