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Current Topic: Society

What America Must Do
Topic: Society 9:25 am EST, Jan  4, 2008

The impression of America as a land of freedom, rights, and law is something that I think Muslims all over the world believed. They especially considered America the only country in the world where they could have unfettered rights to worship as they see fit. That impression has been immensely damaged.

This, fundamentally, is the most important failure of the Bush administration. He obviously needed to let the war mongering fascists at it in the wake of 9/11, the gloves did need to come off, but he went too far. He should never have hired authoritarian lawyers. He could have pursued the GWOT within the framework that existed, with maybe only minor tweaks. By shrugging the checks and balances at the heart of our system and creating legal no-mans-lands his approach became unamerican and he has therefore changed what people think we are. That has done us serious harm. Hopefully, the next president can repair some of the damage.

What America Must Do

Howard Rheingold, on schooling
Topic: Society 9:08 am EDT, Oct 16, 2007

Talking to my daughter about search engines and the necessity for a 10-year-old to question texts online led me to think that computer literacy programs that left out critical thinking were missing an important point. But I discovered when I talked to teachers in my local schools that "critical thinking" is regarded by some as a plot to incite children to question authority. At that point, I saw education - the means by which young people learn the skills necessary to succeed in their place and time - as diverging from schooling.

See also these posts from the archive:

If indeed the Web and microprocessors have brought us to the doorstep of a Marshall McLuhan-meets-Milton Friedman world of individual choice as a personal ideology, then record companies, newspapers and old TV networks aren't the only empires at risk. Public-school systems run by static teachers unions may find themselves abandoned by young parents, "accessing" K-8 education in unforeseen ways.

Don't use the word "fun" to describe what will go on in the Game School, a proposed New York City public school that will use "game design and game-inspired methods" to educate sixth through 12th graders.

The school day should be split in two. The first half is what you might call a required, common curriculum, taught by schools. The second half is an individual curriculum in which many outside organizations take part -- work organizations, community organizations. These activities may be organized by the school, but they may or may not take place in school. The school becomes a kind of broker for learning.

"We must allow our students to ask why, not just keep on telling them how."

Homeland security efforts through magnet safe haven programs are a significant part of our Nation's effort to achieve victory in the war on terror and help to ensure equal martyrdom opportunities for all terrorists.

The 75 students in the Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness magnet program will study cybersecurity and geospatial intelligence, respond to mock terror attacks, and receive limited security clearances at the nearby Army chemical warfare lab. Students will choose one of three specialized tracks: information and communication technology, criminal justice and law enforcement, or "homeland security science." David Volrath, executive director of secondary education for Harford County Public Schools, says the school also hopes to offer "Arabic or some other nontraditional, Third World-type language." "The school's built around the marketplace that surrounds the defense industry, but the program's not involved in war or peace. Still, there are some realities about good guys and bad guys that will surely be discussed."

Howard Rheingold, on schooling

Things I wish I’d known when I was younger
Topic: Society 11:17 am EDT, Jul 29, 2007

A sampling:

Most of it doesn’t matter.

Waiting to do something until you can be sure of doing it exactly right means waiting for ever.

Trying to please other people is largely a futile activity.

Everything takes twice as long as you plan for and produces results about half as good as you hoped.

See also Augustine's Laws.

Things I wish I’d known when I was younger

The Return of Authoritarian Great Powers | Foreign Affairs
Topic: Society 12:33 am EDT, Jun 29, 2007

This is a really great article. Maybe the history and conclusions are already familiar to people who read MemeStreams but it wraps them up very clearly.

Today's global liberal democratic order faces two challenges. The first is radical Islam -- and it is the lesser of the two challenges. Although the proponents of radical Islam find liberal democracy repugnant, and the movement is often described as the new fascist threat, the societies from which it arises are generally poor and stagnant. They represent no viable alternative to modernity and pose no significant military threat to the developed world. It is mainly the potential use of weapons of mass destruction -- particularly by nonstate actors -- that makes militant Islam a menace.

The second, and more significant, challenge emanates from the rise of nondemocratic great powers: the West's old Cold War rivals China and Russia, now operating under authoritarian capitalist, rather than communist, regimes. Authoritarian capitalist great powers played a leading role in the international system up until 1945. They have been absent since then. But today, they seem poised for a comeback.

Noteworthy says: "I am skeptical of the idea that Russia is poised for a comeback. Putin and his government may be poised, but the people are not. Russia will have a political role, due to its Security Council seat, but economically, what does it have to offer?"

I don't agree. I think the article's analysis is right on. Admitedly, Russia and China have a long way to go before they rival the United States economically. There may be certain energy constraints that make a rivalry difficult to acheive. The core question is at what point does their economy enable them to challenge the US militarily. I don't think military challenge requires economic parity.

I would go one further than this article. I think that China and Russia are already challenging the US, and that Islamic militancy is in some respects part of that challenge. Who backs Hezbollah? Syria? Well, who backs Iran? Who is responsible for Darfur? China and Russia enable Iran to create instability in Iraq and Israel. China is the problem, and the solution can only come through China. I think its quite possible that we're not really at war with militant Islam. We're in a proxy war with China. Things are actually not that different than they were decades ago.

I also think this article underscores why what happens here is so important... Why battles over government surveillance, habeas corpus, checks and balances and the like really matter. They matter because the United States is the great liberal democratic power. There are a large number of people in this country who don't like the liberal part of liberal democracy. People who hate the constraints that the Constitution places on the exercise of majoritarian power and are eager to tear those constraints apart ... [ Read More (0.2k in body) ]

The Return of Authoritarian Great Powers | Foreign Affairs

21 Solutions to Save the World
Topic: Society 9:30 am EDT, Jun 10, 2007

We live in an age of anxiety.

People everywhere fear the next terrorist attack. Meanwhile, we slowly grow numb to Iraq’s endless string of kidnappings and suicide bombings. Between bird flu, tsunamis, and loose nukes, our list of fears is getting longer.

So, we asked 21 leading thinkers: What is one solution that would make the world a better place?

Here are their answers.

These articles are short and to the point. A few are naive but several of them are quite good. In particular I like the Internet Security idea. Unfortunately, many require a subscription to read in full.

21 Solutions to Save the World

Success | Richard St. John at TED
Topic: Society 10:35 pm EST, Feb 25, 2007

Why do people succeed? Richard St. John compacts seven years of research into an unmissable 3-minute slideshow on the real secrets of success (Hint: Passion, persistence, and pushy mothers help)

Success | Richard St. John at TED

The Toxic and the Trivial
Topic: Society 9:53 pm EST, Feb 25, 2007

We want our ideas to spread like wildfire, or to have impact that lasts, but we often forget that different ideas spread differently. A quick look at Digg demonstrates that the easiest way to get Dugg is to have a trivial idea.

This is an excellent general principal. Easy ideas spread faster.

The Toxic and the Trivial

Identity and Migration
Topic: Society 2:07 pm EST, Jan 25, 2007

Francis Fukuyama has the cover story in the current issue of Prospect.

National identity continues to be understood and experienced in ways that sometimes make it a barrier for newcomers who do not share the ethnicity and religious background of the native-born. National identity has always been socially constructed; it revolves around history, symbols, heroes and the stories that a community tells about itself. This sense of attachment to a place and a history should not be rubbed out, but it should be made as open as possible to new citizens.

There are some good observations in here. I want to make an observation about his observations about North America though.

He looks to America as the best example of the culture that is rooted in civics rather than heritage. I agree. However, I think thats one of the primary fault lines in American politics today... Whether America is about principals or people, Constitutional rights, or Judeo Christian heritage. Fukuyama argues that liberal positions in American politics represent a kind of multi-culturalism. In some cases I think he is right, but I don't agree with all of his examples. The right of gay people to get married seems an individual right to me, and not a social or collective right. I do, however, see the anti-immigration and cultural conservativism movements as a kind of pseudo-ethnic nationalism that would create a more closed culture here (which would be, by Fukuyama's argument, more vulnerable to domestic terrorism).

Canada may be the source of modern multiculturalism, but I think its simultaneously a model for the sort of national transformations required in Europe. Canada's english majority transformed their country's identity from one that was primarily tied to the British Empire to one which all of it's citizens can connect with. I think there is something to learn from that.

Identity and Migration

Covered Faces, Open Rebellion
Topic: Society 12:49 pm EDT, Oct 21, 2006

Having spent time getting to know young British Muslims, I believe that comments like Mr. Straw’s will be counterproductive. That is because the niqab is a symptom and not a cause of rising tensions.

"The young women who choose to wear the niqab, Mr. Rehman told me, are "rebelling against what their parents tell them to do, they’re trying to differentiate themselves.”

Following up on the "let it go" thread. This article offers some perspective...

Covered Faces, Open Rebellion

A Student’s Video Résumé Gets Attention (Some of It Unwanted)
Topic: Society 10:40 am EDT, Oct 21, 2006

The tone of the video -- a seven-minute clip, entitled “Impossible is nothing” -- seems too serious to be parody, yet too over-the-top to be credible.

Mr. Vayner’s experience shows the not-so-friendly side of the social-networking phenomenon.

He said he may have lost his chance to work on Wall Street, and added that he may not succeed in securing a financial job at all.

A Student’s Video Résumé Gets Attention (Some of It Unwanted)

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