Monday, October 30, 2006

October 29, 2006

October 26, 2006

Of Jack and Jill

A few years back author June Stephenson wrote an interesting, though sadly overlooked, book entitled,
Men Are Not Cost-Effective: Male Crime in America. In her book Ms. Stephenson compared the rates of incarceration for men and women over the entire scope of white collar, street crime, violence, child molestation. And guess what, men won. Whoa, men didn't just win, it was a blow out. The hard statistics she listed in the book supported the title of her book.

I only bring this up because last night I was watching the news about the growing trend in some schools of separate classes for boys and girls for certain subjects.

Some experts argued that separate classes are a good thing because they remove social pressures that tend to be intimidated girls, especially in science and math classes. On the other hand, feminist groups worry that segregating boys and girls would return girls to the bad old days when teachers short-changed girls and favored boys in education.

First let me say I was boy myself for my entire childhood. And my wife Sue and I raised two of the little critters. So I know all about boys. Been there. Done that.

Girls, I'm bit fuzzy about. Except that my observations over the years tells me that, at any give stage of childhood development, girls are more mature and a more fertile ground for the seeds of education than boys.

I'm not dissing boys. I'm just saying we need to stop pretending that boys and girls are wired the same during their developmental years. They are not the same. They are different, and not just in the obvious ways. And, therefore, accommodating those differences should help both. And that does not mean a return to the bad old, pre-feminist days either. We've come a long way since then. Women CEOs, women in Congress and the Senate, women astronauts and women warriors.

So I agree.. it's time to reconsider same-sex classes. Why?

First because boys are disruptive. It's not their fault, we're born that way. Put a bunch of 10-year old boys in room together, close the door and force them to sit quietly in a small chair and pay attention for an hour. Go ahead – I double dare you. Just try it. Unless you're ready to sedate the little buggers you're going to have a squirming, snickering, spit-wad throwing, note-passing, kicking the desk in front of them, staring out the window day-dreaming, fest on your hands.

Now add ten girls to that same classroom and close the door. What? Are you out of your mind? Now you have all the above behavior plus a frenzy of showoff, oneupmanship as boys compete for the coveted Moe, Larry and Curly trophy.

It didn't used to be that way. There was a time, and not all that long ago, when boys behaved in school. Not because they wanted to, but because they feared the consequences of misbehavior.

I attended an all-boys Catholic high school. There was a dress code and a code of behavior and, for the most part, we behaved. Why? Because they hit us when we didn't. Oh, they didn't beat us or waterboard us or anything cruel. It was more along the lines of a dope-slap to the back of the head or getting slammed up against a locker when caught horsing around in the halls. I remember one football game during which the bleachers emptied onto the field when a fight broke out. One kid on our side came running down towards the field and was grabbed by the dean..

“And just where do you think you're going lad?” he asked.

“I'm going to join the fight, Father,” the kid replied.

“Oh you are, are you?' Father replied, after which he dispensed a fatherly whack.

“There, now you've been in the fight,” Father said, “Now get your butt back in the stands before I call you parents and tell them you've been expelled.”

Ah, those were the days. Today that kid would have had a team of ACLU lawyers and the Pope would be hocking St. Peter's to pay the judgment.

My point: To thrive in school boys need a different kind of classroom environment than girls, and a firmer hand -- preferably around the nap of the neck.

And, contrary to what some feminist groups fear, I don't believe girl-only and boy-only math and science classes would result in girls getting the short end of the stick. Just the opposite. The days when teachers used to believe girls were being prepared only to be either housewives or nurses are long gone. I believe girl-only classes have the potential of vaulting girls and young women past men. In fact, I believe this idea has the potential to create just the opposite problem – boys getting short-changed.

Of course I am speaking here in the broadest generalities. I fully understand that there are boys who are scholars and gentlemen right from the get go. And I know some girls are born hopeless little tarts who, no matter how much knowledge we pour into their empty little head, will still end up in prison or living in a trailer with some loser in wife-beater tee-shirt who can't hold a job.

But as a rule, girls do their homework, turn it in on time, have nicer penmanship and -- unless otherwise annoyed and distracted by some little Dennis dude -- pay attention in class. Which says to me that if girls had their own classes in subjects traditionally skewed towards boys, like math, science, physics and engineering, girls would not only do as well, but “get it” faster, than boys of the same age.

Already the number of girls attending and finishing college has soared ahead of boys.

College Enrollment Indicators
In the fall of 2000 there were 5,578,000 men and 7,377,000 women enrolled in college as undergraduates. In 1969 there were 4,008,000 men and 2,876,000 women undergraduate students enrolled in college. Between 1969 and 2000 the number of men undergraduates increased by 1,570,000 or by 39 percent. During this period the number of women undergraduates increased by 4,501,000 or by 157 percent. The number of women undergraduates surpassed the number of men in 1978. The share of college undergraduates that are men has declined from 58 percent in 1969 to 44 percent in 2000. (National Center
for Education Statistics) (More)

So, I'm all for separating the sexes for some classes when it makes sense to do so, at least in grammar school, to a lesser degree high school as well. But if we do that then we also need to turn our attention to the growing “boy problem.” Because if we don't ten or twenty years down the road we are going have a new glass ceiling, this one limiting the upward potential of young men.

If Ms. Stephenson were to update her book today I would encourage her to compare how much trouble those one-time little boys have caused as adults when elected to public office. I mean do you doubt for a second we've got Moe, Larry and Curly running things today – and with predictable results?

I don't know, maybe a constitutional amendment requiring the representatives in the House be female and Senators be male would at least put the brakes on some of the boyish mischief that got us where what we're stuck with today.

But I'd watch your back during those joint-secessions of the House and Senate, like the annual State of the Union. Spitballs will fly.

October 25, 2006
Bush Announces
A New (Wrong) Course

I was among the morons who bought the administration's claims that Iraq had WMD. So, initially, I supported the war. (Admitting that is part of an act of penance and contrition I imposed upon myself. I'm so sorry.)

But it' didn't last long. Not finding the WMD flicked my brain back on. That happened a long, long time – and about 2000 dead GI's -- ago. Almost immediately I could see clearly again. I saw the error of the Bush strategy and where it was heading. What I envisioned years ago was precisely what we've got in Iraq today – an artificially created nation, freed of the iron hand that forced its waring tribes to behave, flying apart.

I'm not claiming I am some smarter than average fellow. Hell, I flunked out of college in my freshman year -- junior college. No, my point is that anyone should have seen this coming. Anyone that is, but the folks in Washington.

Then when President Bush promised elections in Iraq would put the country on the path to democracy and stability, I saw a completely different outcome. I saw those three waring tribes, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, strapping on their guns to defend ancient territorial and tribal claims against this unfamiliar kumbaya form of western governance. Under this new form of governance the three tribes would “share” the nation, “share” the infrastructure and “share” the oil.

Excuse me, “share?” All the Sunnis ever wanted to share with the Shiites is misery, and visa versa. And the Kurds have never been interested in sharing anything with either of the other two tribes. Anyway, now they already have what they want, and it's called Kurdistan. The only message they want to share with the other two tribes is “NO TRESPASSING: Violators will be Persecuted.”

The elections we forced on the Iraqis simply threw these dogs, cats and chickens into a sack together. And the fur and feathers have been flying ever since. Lambs and lions lay down together only in fables.

Two years of bloodshed have now made that clear to anyone that reads the morning paper or watches the evening news . Which is why, ten days from a election Republicans are fixing to lose, the administration pivoted away from “stay the course,” to “change course.” Karl Rove hopes that hinting at a change in strategy will lull a few percentage of disgusted GOP voters back.

There's only one problem with that -- and it's the same problem. These guys are about to make another predictable mistake. This time their mistake is believing that increasing troop levels in Baghdad will turn the tide. Not. Not, NOT.

Pin this to your refrigerator so you can hold me accountable if they're right this time and I'm wrong.

If they send more troops to secure Baghdad, and succeed, all they will get for all the additional deaths, money and trouble will be a second Afghanistan.we also transplanted a western-style government in Afghanistan. The bad news is that Afghan government can't even begin to actually govern their unruly nation. Instead the US-supported Afghan government governs only Kabul, and even that just barely.

Securing Baghdad with additional US troops will simply free up Sunni and Shiites to get about the business of ethnically cleansing villages and cities throughout the rest of the country. This process has been underway already within Baghdad and, once the insurgents are forced out they will simply move their execution squads to other towns, as they already did last week when they struck in Amara.

If Bush's “change of course” plan, should it succeed, it would leave the region with two strategically isolated US-protectorates smack in the center of a hostile Arab world. Baghdad and Kabul would be rendered islands surrounded by a roiling sea of primitive, passionate, bloodthristy Islamic hordes. There they would be -- Kabul and Baghdad -- secure yet infinitely insecure, defended yet indefensible. Two foreign bodies, transplants being rejected by the very bodies they were intended to save.

It's abundantly clear to any one with a measurable IQ that we can't “win” anything in Iraq. Particularly if “winning” means Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds living peacefully together under a single coalition government. That's no more in the cards than it was that Yugoslavia would survive the end of General Tito's dictatorship. Both Yugoslavia and Iraq have more in common with Humpty Dumpty than civil war-era America. All the king's horses and all the kings men could not put Yugoslavia back together again, and they won't be able hold Iraq together either. Period. End of report.

If George W. Bush really wants to “change course,” he should call Rep. John Murtha and ask if he could expropriate Murtha's plan for a phased redeployment of US troops out of Iraq, leaving a significant contingent in Kuwait and other friendlier nearby countries. If al Qaida builds bases in Sunni territories of Iraq we can bomb them into rubble and/or send Special Forces in to clean them out and then leave again.

That's a plan for Iraq that the west can live with.

Afghanistan calls for the same kind of change of course. Afghanistan will remain a mess so long as Pakistan refuses to take full control of its now autonomous border areas where Taliban and al Qaida cells operate with impunity. Let NATO troops do what they can on the ground inside Afghanistan. But withdraw most US troops to nearby nations and, as in Murtha's Iraq plan, use them to launch surgical strikes against known al Qaida and Taliban bases along both sides of the Afghan and Pakistan borders. And when the Pakistanis complain that we are violating their national sovereignty, tell them that as soon as they stand up and secure their own side of the border, we will stand down.

The goal of a unified, self-governing Iraq, is already lost. Afghanistan hangs by a silk thread, ruled by a flashy dresser installed and kept in power by the US.

The administration likes to describe Pakistan as stable and “an ally in the War on Terror.” That would be funny if it weren't such a pernicious lie. In reality Pakistan is a potential Afghanistan, times 1000. The second President Musharraf is gone – Islamic militants have tried to kill him three times already -- Muslim terrorists aligned with bot al Qaida and the Taliban will take control of Pakistan. At that moment terrorist groups will be armed with nuclear tipped intercontinental missiles -- precisely the worst case scenario Bush claimed he was going to short circuit by invading Iraq.

When that day arrives -- thanks largely to this administration's fatally flawed policies -- it'll be too late to “change course.”

Heck of a job, Georgie.