Archive for December, 2005

Lifestyles of the rich and famous president.

Interesting | Posted by admin
Dec 30 2005

Personally, if all that brush is such a problem, why did he waste his moolah on buying fifteen-hundred acres and building a ranch there? I guess I can’t relate. Mowing my yard or shoveling the snow takes up enough of my time, and I am pretty sure I don’t have even a quarter acre… or an eighth of one.

Down on the Ranch, President Wages War on the Underbrush (Washington Post):

On most of the 365 days he has enjoyed at his secluded ranch here, President Bush’s idea of paradise is to hop in his white Ford pickup truck in jeans and work boots, drive to a stand of cedars, and whack the trees to the ground.

If the soil is moist enough, he will light a match and burn the wood. If it is parched, as it is across Texas now, the wood will sit in piles scattered over the 1,600-acre spread until it is safe for a ranch hand to torch — or until the president can come home and do the honors himself.

Sometimes this activity is the only official news to come out of what aides call the Western White House. For five straight days since Monday, when Bush retreated to the ranch for his Christmas sojourn, a spokesman has announced that the president, in between intelligence briefings, calls to advisers and bicycling, has spent much of his day clearing brush.

This might strike many Washingtonians as a curious pastime. It does burn a lot of calories. But brush clearing is dusty, it is exhausting (the president goes at it in 100 degree-plus heat), and it is earsplitting, requiring earplugs to dull the chain saw’s buzz.

For Bush, who is known to spend early-morning hours hacking at unwanted mesquite, cocklebur weeds, hanging limbs and underbrush only to go back for more after lunch, it borders on obsession.

Aides are corralled to help, although Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a frequent guest, has escaped brush duty. “The tradecraft she uses to get out of it is highly confidential, and I can’t discuss it,” said national security adviser Steven J. Hadley. To date, no visiting foreign leaders have been conscripted.

The president “clears brush like he rides his bike,” said deputy press secretary Trent Duffy, who has sawed beside Bush. “He goes at it.”

Ronald Reagan chopped wood and rode horses, Bush’s father sailed off the shore of Kennebunkport, Maine, and Bill Clinton jogged. For George W. Bush, clearing brush projects the image of a cowboy president, a tough rancher fighting the elements to survive. That is, of course, the White House’s projection; the president’s critics take a dimmer view.

“Most likely he’s doing that to show the media he’s got a chain saw,” joked Larry Mattladge, who raises Black Angus cows three-quarters of a mile from the Bush ranch and built his fence rows out of cedar posts. “It’s a man’s thing. Brush clearing is not only for the young at heart, it’s for the young. It’s to show he’s a Texan.”

Presidential historian Robert Dallek said: “This is part of his macho image. Obviously this is nothing Bush has to do. He’s the son of a rich man who doesn’t have to spend his time cutting underbrush.”

But some of Bush’s neighbors in the Crawford area said they understand his pleasure — even if he doesn’t have to do it. “We do it because we have to,” said Zach Arias, who with his wife raises cows on 400 acres about 20 miles from town. “But afterwards, you kind of go, ‘Wow. I feel good about what I did today.’ ” White House counselor Dan Bartlett explained it this way: “It’s therapeutic for him, I guess. There’s very few things he gets to do hands on.”

Frankly, I don’t care how “folksy” it appears to make him, Bush is not a regular guy by a long shot.
Hey, Dubya, when you git-er-done on yer Crawford Land Yacht, how about payin’ some to that there economy? It ain’t lookin’ so hot, what with housin’ starts goin’ down and oil prices climbin’ up again. Oh yeah, there’s that war you got goin’ in Eye-rack, too. Could’ya do sumptin’ ’bout that? It’s been three years now and it don’t seem like much is really changing over there. Much obliged, pardner.

God Save the King.

Events | Posted by admin
Dec 29 2005

Well, at least the administration is aware of this problem.

Bush Team Rethinks Its Plan for Recovery (Washington Post):
New Approach Could Save Second Term

President Bush shifted his rhetoric on Iraq in recent weeks after an intense debate among advisers about how to pull out of his political free fall, with senior adviser Karl Rove urging a campaign-style attack on critics while younger aides pushed for more candor about setbacks in the war, according to Republican strategists.

The result was a hybrid of the two approaches as Bush lashed out at war opponents in Congress, then turned to a humbler assessment of events on the ground in Iraq that included admissions about how some of his expectations had been frustrated. The formula helped Bush regain his political footing as record-low poll numbers began to rebound. Now his team is rethinking its approach to his second term in hopes of salvaging it.

The Iraq push culminated the rockiest political year of this presidency, which included the demise of signature domestic priorities, the indictment of the vice president’s top aide, the collapse of a Supreme Court nomination, a fumbled response to a natural disaster and a rising death toll in an increasingly unpopular war. It was not until Bush opened a fresh campaign to reassure the public on Iraq that he regained some traction.

The lessons drawn by a variety of Bush advisers inside and outside the White House as they map a road to recovery in 2006 include these: Overarching initiatives such as restructuring Social Security are unworkable in a time of war. The public wants a balanced appraisal of what is happening on the battlefield as well as pledges of victory. And Iraq trumps all.

So much for all that political capital Bush claimed to possess after the ’04 election. Maybe after they get done fixing their problems, the administration could turn toward fixing the problems it created or exacerbated… y’know… Iraq, Afghanistan, Katrina, the tattered social safety net, the spiking federal deficits and debt, weakened civil liberties, tarnished international image. Yeah, yeah, I know… if wishes were horses… hey, wouldn’t there be a lot of road apples if they were?

Too bad I used the pig-lipstick line yesterday. However, maybe this means they’ve run out of lipstick for the presidential PR pig and stopped for a moment only to exclaim in sheer terror once they had a moment to reflect on their actions? Oops, there I go again, wishing away…

Quantitative education’s chickens come home to roost.

Interesting | Posted by admin
Dec 27 2005

As a burgeoning teacher, I have had some time to develop a thought or two on this…

Literacy of College Graduates Is on Decline (Washington Post)
Survey’s Finding of a Drop in Reading Proficiency Is Inexplicable, Experts Say:

Literacy experts and educators say they are stunned by the results of a recent adult literacy assessment, which shows that the reading proficiency of college graduates has declined in the past decade, with no obvious explanation.

“It’s appalling — it’s really astounding,” said Michael Gorman, president of the American Library Association and a librarian at California State University at Fresno. “Only 31 percent of college graduates can read a complex book and extrapolate from it. That’s not saying much for the remainder.”

While more Americans are graduating from college, and more than ever are applying for admission, far fewer are leaving higher education with the skills needed to comprehend routine data, such as reading a table about the relationship between blood pressure and physical activity, according to the federal study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Experts could not definitively explain the drop.

“The declining impact of education on our adult population was the biggest surprise for us, and we just don’t have a good explanation,” said Mark S. Schneider, commissioner of education statistics. “It may be that institutions have not yet figured out how to teach a whole generation of students who learned to read on the computer and who watch more TV. It’s a different kind of literacy.”

“What’s disturbing is that the assessment is not designed to test your understanding of Proust, but to test your ability to read labels,” he added.

Seeking definitive, quantifiable and simple answers might be the first of many problems. From the general public to presidents, governors, federal and state legislatures, school boards, and even the students, too many people are interested in learning only “What Do I Need to Know” in order to pass an assignment, test, or course. Compounding this first problem is, as I have observed from fifth graders to even graduate-level college students, a sense that students develop a very narrow focus that prevents them from taking a comprehensive view of their academic or non-academic world. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to hear in my physical geography classes last year that students learned about weather in their biology classes. I would reply that, as a social studies class, we are a mixture of the sciences and humanities and that our work on such a topic as weather would lead us into future discussions of human cultures. For example, I would ask, what decisions would individual people and groups make regarding something apparently simple as excessive or deficient rainfall? How might they adapt to just that one factor among the many that people must address in order to survive and prosper in their environment?

This leads me into another problem our children face. I have noticed a general impatience with revisiting topics previously covered. I would hear students, both as a teacher and as a student in a classroom, complain about how they have “already learned” the material we might be covering in a class on a particular day. Maybe I have spent too much time in education, but I have come to think that I have no problem with revisiting topics I think I “know” because I realize that I can forget bits and pieces that need refreshing or that a new perspective from a new teacher, or fellow student, is actually valuable. As I teach, I find this kind of impatience is one of my greatest obstacles because we live in a society that places an emphasis on “getting something done” and moving on to the next thing.

Reflection, meditation, studying, revisiting, mastering; these things do not carry much weight in our production- and performance-oriented society. We are reducing education to two questions: “Can our kids read?” “Can our kids do math?” In these two simplistically posed questions, we develop quantifiable tests and set quantifiable goals. If we were to shift away from this and, instead, ask if our kids can think, we might find that quantifiable tests and production-performance theories of education are inadequate and move toward a more qualitative, thoughtful and humane style of education. That takes more money, teachers, schools, community support, and — dare I say — faith than I think too many of us are currently willing to spend. If we cannot make this shift, however, then we might as well toss Proust off to the wayside.

If it were here.

Events, Just Thoughts | Posted by admin
Dec 26 2005

In the news, we walk a few feet in the shoes of the average Iraqi living in or around Baghdad today…

Gunmen kill Minnesota forces, bombs shake St. Paul

Guerrillas killed 10 Minnesota policemen and soldiers in attacks north of St. Paul on Monday, while the capital itself was rocked by five major explosions that left at least eight dead.

It was one of the bloodiest days in Minnesota since the largely peaceful election on December 15, when rival ethnic and sectarian groups took part in a vote for a new legislature. By nightfall, at least 20 were killed and over 40 injured.

In the capital, five people were killed and 15 wounded when four car bombs exploded in quick succession as civilians traveled to work in the morning, the U.S. military said.

Later a parked motorbike loaded with explosives blew up in a market in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul, killing at least three and wounding 23 others, police said.

Minnesota police and soldiers bore the brunt of other attacks.

In the second major assault on Minnesota security forces in four days, guerrillas stormed a police checkpoint north of St. Paul, killing five policemen and wounding four.

Al Qaeda’s wing in Minnesota claimed responsibility. It said it killed or injured all 20 policemen present — differing from police accounts.

The attack seemed to have been carefully planned and staged.

Gunmen jumped out of an SUV and started firing mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades at the checkpoint in Delano, a small town about 60 km (40 miles) from the capital, police said.

As they got closer, they also began hurling hand grenades.

At least six guerrillas were killed in several hours of ensuing clashes, police said.

A main road leading to the checkpoint was also laid with roadside bombs, delaying backup police forces sent in to help.

“They attacked us from all sides,” said one police officer at the scene. He said he saw at least 10 guerrillas killed.

Now for the actual story…

Gunmen kill Iraqi forces, bombs shake Baghdad (AP – Yahoo! News)

Guerrillas killed 10 Iraqi policemen and soldiers in attacks north of Baghdad on Monday, while the capital itself was rocked by five major explosions that left at least eight dead.

It was one of the bloodiest days in Iraq since the largely peaceful election on December 15, when rival ethnic and sectarian groups took part in a vote for a new parliament. By nightfall, at least 20 were killed and over 40 injured.

In the capital, five people were killed and 15 wounded when four car bombs exploded in quick succession as civilians traveled to work in the morning, the U.S. military said.

Later a parked motorbike loaded with explosives blew up in a market in a Shi’ite neighborhood of Baghdad, killing at least three and wounding 23 others, police said.

Iraqi police and soldiers bore the brunt of other attacks.

In the second major assault on Iraqi security forces in four days, guerrillas stormed a police checkpoint north of Baghdad, killing five policemen and wounding four.

Al Qaeda’s wing in Iraq claimed responsibility. It said it killed or injured all 20 policemen present — differing from police accounts.

The attack seemed to have been carefully planned and staged.

Gunmen jumped out of a minibus and started firing mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades at the checkpoint in Buhriz, a small town about 60 km (40 miles) from the capital, police said.

As they got closer, they also began hurling hand grenades.

At least six guerrillas were killed in several hours of ensuing clashes, police said.

A main road leading to the checkpoint was also laid with roadside bombs, delaying backup police forces sent in to help.

“They attacked us from all sides,” said one police officer at the scene. He said he saw at least 10 guerrillas killed.

If this did happen here, would we say that things are improving in Minnesota? How might we view our political leaders who might try to tell us about the improvements to our infrastructure as charred vehicles line our streets? Would Vice President Dick Cheney or Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld be able to make a surprise visit and tell everyone that there is light at the end of the tunnel? How might we react to the idea that the US government, responsible for starting the war, expects Minnesotans to train themselves to fight the terrorists after US forces leave? Would we recall with any nostalgia that we had elections a month earlier when we hear bullets flying, mortars launching, and grenades exploding while factions in the Minnesota legislature lock horns to figure out who is in charge and it looks as if the whole political process will lead us toward civil war?

Just wondering.

Oh, and by the way, have we found those WMD yet? They were the reason we went to war in Iraq, after all. Anyone in the administration have an answer?

A decent message in the true spirit of the holidays.

Just Thoughts | Posted by admin
Dec 25 2005

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan has passed almost a month ago. The Winter Solstice is only days behind us, a holiday in its own right for many people. Today Christians will celebrate Christmas. Tomorrow marks the Jewish holiday of Chanukah. Many African-Americans will soon gather together in the homes of friends and families to share in the spirit of Kwanzaa. Many New Year celebrations will take place for many cultures, particularly but not limited to people from southern and eastern Asia, in the upcoming weeks.

“So what?” you may ask.

I’ll tell you “so what.”

Lately, the American Kulturkampfer’s who have waged a pitched struggle in their self-proclaimed “war on Christmas” have sickened me by their salvos directed against the use of “Happy Holidays” as some kind of generic, neutered, watered-down, and politically-correct term lacking any substantive meaning. Some, declaring that they want to put the “Christ” back in Christmas, take the Christian message of hope, peace, and love toward all and dump it by the wayside as they proclaim their allegiance to a kind of warrior Jesus who will slay our real or perceived enemies.

How many middle-aged, wealthy, nominally- or intensively-Christian, white men do we have to hear on the radio, read in the newspapers, see on television, or read on the internet before we begin to wonder if their version of how this holiday season should be observed contains subtle or not-so-subtle messages of racism, cultural dominance, classism, and sexism? Isn’t this time of year a season that is less about a single day and more about a truly remarkable series of holidays that so many people of differing religions, ethnicities, and cultures celebrate this time of year?

There is no good reason to wage a culture war to establish Christmas as some kind of One True American holiday when there are so many holidays people in our country celebrate. To say “Happy Holidays,” as I do, is to wish each and every person well as we all work to bring light into a time of darkness and renew our commitment to work toward establishing peace and prosperity for all in a world where war and poverty still exist.

Happy Holidays, everyone.

Another round of Victory Gin, on the house.

Interesting | Posted by admin
Dec 12 2005

Stand by for an important update from the US DoD (aka MiniPeace)…

Iraqis Want Coalition Vocabulary Change (American Forces Press Service)

Changing perceptions and perspectives here mean changes in vocabulary: “Sunni insurgents” is out, “Saddamists” is in.

American officials here said Iraqi officials have asked by them to stop calling groups opposed to the coalition “Sunni insurgents.” The idea is that a great many Sunni Arabs are moderate and want democracy for Iraq, officials explained.

Coalition officials have hit on the term “Iraqi rejectionists” to refer to those people who want to participate in the election process, but still launch attacks on coalition forces.

Coalition officials also said many Iraqis want to change the perception that all Baath Party members are evil people. Saddam Hussein, of course, ruled through the Baath Party. Iraqi officials maintain that millions of their countrymen and women joined the party simply to get or keep a job.

Coalition officials now are using the term “Saddamists” to refer to die-hard Baathists who want a return to the bad old days of Saddam’s rule, officials said.

Isn’t it nice that the Iraqi officials asked the American officials to change their vocabulary? Now, why wouldn’t the DoD comply? After all, we don’t “torture” people in our custody anymore, but we may “render” them to places that may have a penchant for “aggressively interrogating” people who we have labeled “enemy combatants” because they might have enjoyed too many rights as “prisoners of war.”

Next up: We have never been at war with Oceana. We have always been at war with Eastasia.