Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Face of the Anti-War Movement

Cindy Sheenan has called it quits. She is tired of being the much maligned face of the anti-war movement.

The face of the anti-war movement is a baby-boomer.

That made sense in 1968.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Definitive Stands

1. Affirmative Action should be changed from race-based to class based. Eliminates most of the controversy, changes it from a corrective action for sins of the past to an active policy correcting the injustice of today. Given the dynamics of race and class in this country, and the huge overlap of injustice along these lines, the effect would be similar to what it is at present, but done more equitably and justly.

2. Agricultural Subsidies in the US should be changed - either abolished, provided only to goods sold within the united states, or listed as what they really are - defense budget items. Native food production, bolstered by tax dollars, only makes sense for the event in which the US is under siege. Having domestic production is a good idea, but it does us little when allows farmers to sell overseas at a large profit, and doesn't lessen the cost of native production.

More will come later. For now, its time to play in the yard with the dog. May is a wonderful month.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Social Norms of Intellectual Dissidents

My US history teacher from last year, an incredible individual who covers his classroom with lots and lots and lots of propaganda, is a stickler for people being on time and absences being atoned for. He has never belonged to a political party (that I know of), and teaches the history of the United States (making sure never to refer to it as America, as that would disenfranchise the people of the other nations on the American continents) with a mind towards the flaws, the gray areas, and the serious moral crises of the nations history. This is not a glorifying or degrading look at the nation, but one that endeavors to include the perspectives of the disenfranchised, and the merit of the sides that lost significant national conflicts. But, he is a stickler for rules, and stays in line with the policies of the administration.

A peer of mine is a Linux user who dislikes Ubuntu because it is too limiting relative to the system he has put in place. He is a socialist in his ideology, and is uncompromisingly a socialist. His ideal political party is the British Labour Party opposition under Margret Thatcher. This peer of mine has all the makings of a radical, and philosophically at least, he is. However, he spends hours looking for a program that doesn't violate a copyright, even after passing by many almost identical programs that do. He refuses to download things illegally, even things that might, in some world, be considered public goods, available for all to use. He is a radical socialist who refuses to break the law, even in ways that reinforce his socialistic philosophy.

Add to this pair myself, the creator of an underground newspaper and certainly not a person who tends to agree with arbitrary government and unjust laws. When my principal inquired as to my being responsible for said paper, I owned up, and agreed to act within the schools constraints (which, fortunately, seemed to be few, and common-sense). A minor example, I think that school assemblies are a terrible waste of time for foolish purposes. However, since ditching assemblies is not allowed, I follow along and try and discourage my peers from ditching them as well. I support decriminalization of marijuana, but I don't and cannot allow myself to smoke it (at all, ever) as while the law is unjust, the illegality of the act is something I feel should be officially overturned, rather than quietly disregarded.

Here in lies what I think is a key piece of "The Social Norms of Intellectual Dissidents". The people I have described, while admittedly a small and self-selected sample, have a common thread in their behavior. These people (myself included) believe in change brought about by intellectual consensus, and then legal action. Change must be official, or must be brought about within approved structures. Agitating for change is possible and valid, but isn't done by deliberately and repeatedly breaking the law.

This position comes from status as generally financially well off (at the very least content) and in a position where law-breaking and law-abiding behavior are always choices, and action is rarely forced. Action is instead constrained by societal norms and by by legal limits, until the norms and limits can be challenged and changed. This position is likely to be written off as intellectually bankrupt and morally invalid, and to a degree it is, as this is a position of luxury. This is a position that asks for and seeks legitimacy, rather than forcing legitimacy upon itself. It is the process of gradual change, and moves too slowly for the moniker "radical" to really seem appropriate.

This is the stand of the moderate intelligentsia, and it's saving grace is that their ideas are easier to legitimize than what happens at the fringe. It helps to defy stereotypes and bring people around, and it slowly changes attitudes, usually only slightly (at most a generation or two) ahead of the common perception.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mother's Day

Normally a holiday as innocent as this wouldn't find its way into my musings on war.

Normally, holidays don't exist just for the purpose of hallmark, and mother's day has a long history about being something else. Inevitably, this poem will be read in Unitarian churches and other places this morning, and inevitably, people will complain about the commercialization of this noble aim.

The divergent topics from this point are many and valid. Will more people take complaints about Mother's day more seriously than they took complaints about "Drinko" de Mayo? What good does it do to just remember the original purpose? Is the meaning there still valid? What's the significance of mother's day having its origins in 1870, with the Franco-Prussian war as a backdrop?

Really, what's valid and meaningful is said today by this. (If you're reading this on 5-20-2007 or later, the site will not be mother's-day-themed. This is probably too topical to work well anyways).

And then, as a last note, this and this. Both ends of the standard American political spectrum, tackling the problem of a new phenom in this day and age - single women mothers who are deployed in Iraq.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Revised Public Education Entry, Part 2

A meaningful education should, as its very goal, have everyone leaving high school with a knowledge set that would be valuable to the individual. Knowing, however the very basics of an intended field of college study would do a great amount of good to a college-bound student. Having the vocational skills necessary for entering the job market at a pay level where a small family could be sustained (until further education or promotion) would be an immensely valuable situation for the many people who leave high school with no intention of going on to higher education (a segment of the population seemingly ignored by most education officials). A system that forces the job-bound student to take college prep classes instead of vocational ones robs that student of the promise of public school, and forcing a college-bound student to take nothing but vocational skills would be a handicap in future educational endeavors. Both students have distinct needs with little overlap, and if they are going to be in the same system, they will both need a way to make that system work for their own benefit. The foundation of a system that encompasses these two needs (and the other diverse needs public school systems aim to satisfy) is valid, meaningful choice.

Schools are limited by funds, and public schools especially are limited on the amount of funding they get per student. Classes in subject areas that can sustain large class sizes are guaranteed to exist, and classes that cannot attract forty students (out of a student body of between one and three thousand) consistently, year after year, are not going to be offered. Every spring, students are handed course catalogues with many, many interesting options, only to find out that their chosen class didn’t make it, and so they will, instead, have to settle for an overflow option.

Language classes are a good example of this. Having German, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, French, Italian, and Latin offered at public school make sense, but not every school can offer every language, and so by some students everywhere are disenfranchised by this. APS has already seen the potential problem this could pose, and so some language classes (Chinese and Japanese) are available to all of APS high schoolers at CEC. This is a good use of resources, and helps to ensure that the classes are sizable, and the students can take the languages they want. It's a step in the right direction.
Now, the right direction, the huge, sweeping change, is fun. With something close to 90,000 students, surely a class can be drawn for almost every conceivable subject. With eleven high-school campuses, there is enough room to house all the classes that could be formed. And really, with the tax base of a sizable city, the resources of a university, and the experience with dual-credit programs at the local community college, it should be entirely possible to change the way High School works in Albuquerque.
My vision is this - a vast, multi-campus school, where upperclassmen especially (and maybe lower classmen) are allowed to either pursue the standard educational path, a more specialized course that will let them graduate with some college credit, to the point even of maybe a minor degree, or to get job training and job experience that will make dropping out foolish, because the kids would be paid and improving while attending school.
This system, this education-by-choice, would allow students with drive to specialize, students without it to go through high school as before, and students as a whole to be allowed access to the education they want. Giving people what they want, in ways that allow for a more productive society, can hardly be something wrong.

Revised Public Education Entry, Part 1

Here's my thinking, more fleshed out.

Like anyone who has spent any significant time in High School, I’ve had my fair share of dealing with inefficiency and the slow, unproductive toiling of bureaucratic organs. Certainly, the capstone of most peoples public education should be a good, valid system, and in this entity exists the potential for a better, more meaningful system – choice. Any system that is not custom-tailored to a specific person needs to have a degree of choice inherent to be useful, and this is built on a very simple premise - there is no ideal solution for everyone. Totalitarianism works really well for the dictator, and gets progressively worse as you go down. Since not everyone can be the dictator, the only path that makes sense is one that empowers all people to make choices equally (sure, being emperor would be fun, but it makes much more sense to manage one's own affairs, and let others manage theirs).
Currently, high schools offer electives, a limited variety dependent on the resources available at a given school. In theory, every class taken by a high school student is taken by choice. In reality, this is less true, as the credits from all classes are to be matched with required credits, classes in topics that have been deemed necessary (generally by the school board) for people to know to function in the world. While this certainly makes sense, it's both a nanny-state and a totalitarian model. It offers choice, and then co-opts most of that choice and replaces it with state-chosen options, so that we don’t go around willy-nilly taking classes in computers and art without having spent any time doing the respectable schoolwork of factoring polynomials. What is deemed required skills for proficiency in society at large is often a poor match to what actually is required for proficiency in society at large.

It’s easy enough to see how requirements can veer from reality. I, me, myself, am of the opinion that everyone should know who the identity of Gavrilo Princip before graduating from high school. This information affects only those who would go on to be history majors, which, of the general population, is not going to be a large number. This requirement would be deemed absurd, and no one would benefit from it being in place.

The problem becomes more muddled when topics like math are brought up. Math is a vital skill, and this is not really a point of contention. What math should be taught, the little detail of “Should everyone take Algebra 2 or statistics?” is a valid issue. Fortunately, schools have a way around this, by simply having a requirement for years of math, with a starting point for what years of math will count. In theory, everyone who wanted to take statistics instead of Algebra 2 (quite possibly reasoning that understanding the numbers presented to us on a daily basis is more likely to be useful in most careers than the knowledge need to go on into higher math) would be able to, so long as the class was provided.

Algebra 2 teachers are required at high school. Statistics teachers are a budgetary luxury, available only to the few, if any. Choice, being in theory presented, is not offered in substance itself. Choice, the very essence of both democracy and capitalism, should be present in a public education system in a democratic and capitalist land. Any attempt at reforming education systems should be made with choice at the very forefront of everyone’s mind, radical changes should be necessary to allow for more productive use of resources, so that allowing people to study what they themselves deem worthwhile (who, of all people, should know what they need/want to study) is not only possible, but is commonplace.