Independence Doesn’t Spring From Ignorance

It’s no secret that many young Americans graduate from school with little more than the knowledge of where to find the cheat codes for the  Call of Duty electronic game. Only a small number know how to use a globe or know you have to pay interest on credit card debt. They expect to start jobs with $100,000 salaries…at McDonalds. And enough math skills to balance a checkbook? Fugetaboutit!

Every holiday a plethora of polls expose the latest statistics for American Dumbassness. This year it’s a July 4th Marist poll pointing out that only 26% percent of Americans (4o% of 18-29 year olds) don’t know which country we fought in the American revolution.

Clearly, we’ve done a bad job of educating our children and parenting them in such a way that they’re ready to learn basic skills. But then, it’s hard for a parent or teacher raised in a dysfunctional  href="">educational system to teach subjects for which they’re only moderately better prepared than their students. Think of a copy machine. As you make copies of copies of copies, each new copy progressively degrades more.

Of course, there are many reasons for the collapse and just as many ideas of how to put the wheels back on the school bus. The Every Child Left Behind Act, school voucher programs, the abandonment of tried and true teaching methods and curricula, and cataclysmic budget cuts all do their part. Members of the ignorati, like Rick Santorum, simply believe only liberals are responsible.

It’s appalling that kids don’t know who we bested (geography lesson: not England – they aren’t the same thing) at Yorktown (crib note: it’s in Virginia along the York River). It’s even more appalling that parents, teachers, and politicians trying to win seats in the very heart of American democracy know just as little as the kids they’ve helped intellectually cripple.

American education policy is in a shambles. It seems all we can do about it is spew dogma at each other. Since dogma is a “big word”, here’s a little vocabulary help. One definition of dogma is, “a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds“. Do you know how I know that definition? I learned how to use a dictionary.

Study up kids. You should know what your soon-to-be adult screeds mean before you end up being incapable of delivering them.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

When the Cool Kid Came to Visit: a British perspective of Obama’s tour

Get the best cutlery out and hide the mangy dog. Tidy the living room, hoover the hallway, and put the baby pictures away. The cool kid from school is coming round today and we need to make a good impression.

These universal sentiments—unless you are the ‘cool kid’—reverberate their way through all young, impressionable, children. Recently these thoughts of gross immaturity were adopted by a nation state: Britain.  

During President Obama’s visit to Britain, the British media’s coverage was just as embarrassing, moist, and uncritical of President Obama as Prince William’s wedding.

The British public were shown video clips of Prime Minister David Cameron showing his cool, African American, friend off. Even after the transatlantic couple won a point during, that so English of games, table tennis, Prime Minister Cameron awkwardly gave President Obama a high-five. I’m sure if the microphones were near, Prime Minister Cameron would have felt obliged to say something ridiculous along the lines of “nice one dude” or “awesome brother”. In short, the public relations machine at ten Downing Street failed to manufacture the ‘cool factor’. This was mainly because Prime Minister Cameron tried to emulate President Obama’s natural ease, rather than pursue a more English persona a la Christopher Hitchens, Martin Amis, or Cary Grant. Subsequently, Prime Minister Cameron tried too hard to impress and seek approval from the cool kid in class. So, I must grade Prime Minister Cameron ‘A’ for effort, but ‘F’ for execution.

Public relations failures acknowledged.  There wasn’t much public discussion of policy either. For instance, President Obama appeared on Andrew Marr’s political talk show. Mr Marr’s show is similar to C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, a weekend wrap up of the political events of the past week, but with some banal bohemian/folk music and a segment where either authors try to unscrupulously plug their books or a minister tries to unscrupulously defend some miserable measures his ministry is introducing. 

Mr Marr is the softest interview anyone in politics can experience, unlike Mr Marr’s infamous, sometimes petulant, colleague Jeremy Paxman. President Obama’s interview was classic Marr: boring, monotonous, dry, and tiresome to watch. In fact, what’s most surprising is the BBC’s reluctance to sack Mr Marr considering what a terrible interviewer he is and what a loathsome and hypocritical character he has become. This good fortune is represented throughout the interview by Mr Marr’s eternal and disturbing smile; “I can’t believe I have a job, I can’t believe I’m interviewing Obama” Mr Marr surely pondered.

Returning to the interview, Mr Marr’s most searching question was as follows: “And that means talking to the Taliban at some level?”.  This friendly, thus uncritical, question is in contrast to the searching questions most politically minded Britons would have asked President Obama. Mr Marr could have gained some respect asking any of these questions, but he went into default mode.  Despite President Obama’s previous reservations that he wasn’t sure whether he could endure a Prime Minister’s question time, he must have felt being in the British political spotlight is a doddle after his interview with Britain’s ‘top political journalist’.

After we were shown President Obama’s interview with Mr Marr, President Obama delivered a speech. In his speech to the British public, President Obama exclaimed “we are one civilisation”. My first impression: cliché. My second: who’s he trying to kid? “We are one civilisation” is a riff that supports a communitarianism philosophy that, at its base, scoffs at the idea of state sovereignty and patriotism. I’m in no doubt the great majority of proud Britons, who are not versed in contemporary political philosophy, didn’t understand the seriousness of President Obama’s radical speech. Of course, the media played along and didn’t present any criticism of President Obama on this front, either.

In summary, then, President Obama’s visit to Britain proved one thing: we can all still be easily mystified and wooed by a great orator. President Obama’s visit could have been a great opportunity to present a friendly yet stern, sceptical, and inquisitive Britain. Instead the media and politicians alike--armed with their rose tinted spectacles and autograph book to boot—yearned for President Obama’s praise and affection. This fan boy parade was one of our most sickening hours.


Ian Silvera



Summary of the Labour Party Deputy Leadership Debate

On June 27 Tony Blair will step down as leader of the Labour Party. His successor will be Gordon Brown, as he was the only candidate to receive the necessary nominations from 44 MPs. Brown has been viewed as the heir apparent since 1994 and his victory was all but assured, so no other candidate from the mainstream of the parliamentary party elected to challenge him, although the ultra-Blairite faction toyed with the idea. His only opponents were Michael Meacher and John McDonnell, both from the left of the party. The former withdrew from contention to make it easier for the latter to get on the ballot, but there was little enthusiasm for a contest amongst MPs and few of them seem to have wanted to mark themselves out as members of the awkward squad by voting against Brown, so more than 300 out of 354 MPs nominated the Chancellor, sufficient to prevent McDonnell getting on the ballot.

Disappointing as this was to those like me who favoured a public debate on Labour's future path, there is a silver lining. In the Deputy Leadership Election, six candidates made it on to the ballot, covering more or less all of the ideological range of current MPs, from ultra-Blairites to Brownites to the soft left. Last night the candidates had a televised debate on BBC's Newsnight, hosted by Jeremy Paxman.

The video's here and discussion of the various candidates and their performances can be found in the extended entry.

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Analysis of the recent elections in Britain

On May 3 local elections were held in most parts of England outside London, as were elections to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. In the run-up to the elections it had been clear that Labour would do poorly across the board, yet Labour's acceptance of this appears to have changed the expectations game, placing the burden on the Conservatives, the Scottish Nationalist Party and Plaid Cymru.

The situation now is not absolutely settled, as there have been problems with weirdly high numbers of spoiled ballots in some Scottish constituencies (possibly due to the complicated ballot paper's needed for Holyrood's mixture of proportional representation and first-past-the-post voting). Nevertheless, at present, we can make these deductions:

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The Ministry Of War

In a "major speech" yesterday (transcript), Prime Minister Tony Blair defended his "controversial" foreign policy, insisting that Britain must continue to follow his doctrine of interventionism. A major theme of the address, repeated many times, is that the situation we face today is somehow radically different from anything we've ever faced before. Thus, Blair speaks of a security threat that is "qualitatively new and different", of a "new security context"and a "new strategic reality". The terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, apparently, "changed everything".

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