8/31/2004

How Bush gets the “WOT” wrong

Filed under: — Joe @ 9:38 pm

An excellent analysis from the Legal Fiction blog of just how (and how badly) the Bush administration has bungled the “War on Terror.” Truly sensible reasoning, pointing out the exact flaws in the strategy. They’re fatal flaws (I hope not literally fatal), and they’re flaws to which the administration is one hundred per cent wedded. They’re repeating them to this very day.

the fundamental error was the belief that nation-states are the most relevant actors in the war on terror. In reality, modern terrorism is “transnational,” meaning that it is funded and supported by networks of individuals who are actually hostile to most of the governments in the Middle East. The 9/11 Commission notes this over and over and over – and “transnational” was the word it used. It’s very similar to organized crime. And what I learned is that the Clinton administration realized the dimensions of the new terrorism too, well before the Bush administration took office.

But the Bush administration did not adapt to this new world. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz wanted to invade Iraq rather than Afghanistan. These men are not dumb. In fact, they’re brilliant. And their theory wasn’t crazy – it just had outdated assumptions. They were working from the premise that terrorism cannot exist without state support. It was a lesson they learned from their Cold War training, and the exchanges with Libya in 1986 and Iraq in 1993 (Bush’s assassination attempt). The lesson was that if you strike the root (the nation-state sponsor), the terrorism will wither on the vine. That explains perfectly the rationale for invading Iraq (to the extent it was related to terrorism) – it was to scare nation-states in the hopes they would stop supporting terrorism.

That also explains why they pushed so hard for missile defense prior to 9/11. They saw the most urgent threats as coming from rogue nation-states, rather than transnational terrorists. The fact that they continue to propose spending loads of money on missile defense makes me question whether they’ve learned anything from the past four years.

But however brilliant Bush’s advisors may be, they were wrong. Terrorism evolved, and they failed to realize that it had. What’s so especially tragic is that their misconceptions led to them to adopt a strategy (i.e., invading Iraq) that was actually counterproductive to battling the new terrorism. Again, you must remember always that we’re in a battle for the soul of the Middle East – we are not fighting a finite group of existential enemies that can be eliminated through force. The more the Arab world hates us, the stronger the fundamentalists will become, and vice-versa. When the anger rises, so does the level of financial support, volunteering, and public sympathy.

That’s why things like Abu Ghraib, General Boykin, and the fighting in Najaf’s holy cemetery are so absolutely devastating to our effort – more so than perhaps our national press realizes. It’s not just that they inflame public opinion, it’s that these actions fulfill the stereotype of the West as imperial Arab-oppressors and Islam-haters. And this of course meshes perfectly with bin Laden’s propaganda, and it makes it more palatable to young, angry, alienated Arabs. If you sat down and tried to think of the worst possible ways to combat Islamic terror (and political Islam more generally), invading Iraq would be near the very top of the list. It’s strange that men as brilliant as Wolfowitz, Perle, and Feith could be so colossally wrong about Iraq (assuming they’re being sincere as to the motives for invading). But they were. And our troops (and their families) are paying the price. (emphasis in the original)

There’s much more, and that’s just a small slected part of Part One of his analysis (Part Two deals with the domestic failures–less comprehensive an analysis, but just as accurate). A great read.

Theocracy…

Filed under: — Joe @ 8:39 pm

Slate reports that at least one speaker at the Republican convention has gone off-script to flash a sign of what’s really behind their facade of “we’re just moderates, not scary at all, we want to be friends, but we’re misunderstood.” We know what far too many of them really think, even if they’ve been instructed not to say it…

Mississippi congressional candidate Clinton LeSueur strays from President Bush’s carefully inclusive religious rhetoric. Instead of making the nonsectarian statement in his prepared text–“The very foundation of this country is faith”–LeSueur says, “The very foundation of this country is Christianity and faith in Jesus Christ.”

And in the New York Times, we see that they really want to turn us (NYC) into some kind of Stepford-shadow of them (“God’s Country”):

“I left God’s country,” said Leon Mosley of Waterloo, Iowa, co-chairman of his state party. “They could use a bunch of people from Iowa to come here to show New Yorkers what life is all about, what being patriotic is all about, and what country is all about. I’m as confident about Bush being re-elected as I am that eggs are going to be in New York tomorrow morning.”

Well, tomorrow (or a day or so later), there are going to be eggs in New York (scrambled on a roll with bacon), and Leon Mosley can go right back to Iowa where he belongs, to await the destruction of all his confidence come November.

8/30/2004

First day of class

Filed under: — Joe @ 7:31 pm

Three classes in a row–all meeting for the first time–makes for a very long day. But it also reminds me of why I like this job. Walking into a room of recalcitrant, reluctant, uncertain, edgy, vulnerable people, and breaking that ice, kickstarting that engine, beginning the work of building a class–it’s invigorating. I get out all charged up, jumping and running, and it’s a rolling momentum that carries me through the day.

It was a bit weird this time, teaching more than I expected to, and a course that I’d rather avoid (our ENG 095). I also had the three classes, not in the computer labs, and I had to give them some kind of introduction (warning?) about the tech work we’re doing in each one. And in two of them, it’s projects I’ve never even attempted before. They’ll see it in more detail later–but at this point they just have to trust me. And the really fun thing is that…they do! 🙂

8/26/2004

Windows XP SP2

Filed under: — Joe @ 8:34 pm

I took the leap today, against all advice, and installed Windows XP Service Pack 2 on my laptop. It was a little slow to install, but completely painless, and seems to have caused absolutely no problems (so far). I’ll subject it to some heavy testing before putting it on the other machines, though.

No major improvements, except for a very slight (very slight) advantage in blocking more pop-ups (which I know courtesy of a great site for testing that–thanks, Gregg!) than the Google Toolbar alone was getting (I do love the Google Toolbar! :-)). Of course I know that the best way to block them is to just stick to Firefox, but there are some sites (mostly with java and javascript, or other plugins), where the Fox doesn’t quite work right. Contrariwise, however, there are some purposes (like disabling that nasty WYSIWYG toolbar in Blackboard, as well as avoiding popups and security flaws) for which Firefox is absolutely the best solution.

8/24/2004

Library Hotspot

Filed under: — Joe @ 8:57 pm

Brooklyn Public LibraryI took my daughter to the Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library today. It’s always been one of my favorite libraries. I used to spend many hours there, and I’ve always loved it for many reasons–the shape (when viewed from above, it’s an open book), the soaring wood-panelled central gallery, the tuna sandwiches in the upstairs cafeteria (sadly closed to the public now), the little squirrels on the entrance gates to the children’s reading room, the way the light streams in through the windows on the park side in the afternoon. I’ve even memorized the motto engraved on the facade (to the right of the doors):

Here are enshrined the longings of great hearts, and noble things that rise above the tide; the magic word that wingéd wonder starts; the garnered wisdom that has never died.

I always thought that was pretty cool–but what’s that word “things” doing in there? I’ve no idea who wrote it, and a google search comes up empty.

So today I found that not only is it the same wonderful library I spent so many hours enjoying while in graduate school, but they now offer free wireless broadband! Of course, when I was in graduate school, I had no laptop, and there was no internet (wireless, broadband, or anything at all) until just at the very end, but still–what a pleasant place to spend an afternoon.

8/23/2004

Blackboard vs. ???

Filed under: — Joe @ 7:27 pm

A post I read on the CUNY Senate-Forum listserv (from which I seem, suddenly, to be banned–maybe not inexplicably–but that’s another story) made me think about how Blackboard is good for some things…and how there are some other things that for which it’s definitely not good. Or not as good as the alternatives.

In that post, my colleague George Otte gave a very cogent and accurate defense against the uninformed charges that Blackboard hurts academic freedom (the administrative access to courses could allow “spying” on what instructors are doing) and promotes undesirable conformity (because of the uniform interface). I was glad he was so clear on that.

But he also mentioned, briefly, that he thought that Bboard could handle any of the tasks and purposes of electronic portfolios. The only problem with that is that Bboard (especially now that we’re on this centrally-controlled CUNY server) is distinctly a closed system. Students can do portfolios within Bboard, but they’re not accessible to anyone outside the course. So using them for a permanent resource, or for assessment by anyone other than the professor for that course, becomes impossible.

I had this discussion last year, on the subject of blogs, with a different colleague. I was of the opinion that Bboard could really do anything that a blog could do, accomplishing all the same goals, but she pointed out–and easily persuaded me–that the public nature of blogs was an essential feature, and one that Bboard can never offer.

This is why I’m using the CourseForum for portfolios (rather than Bboard) and why I’m using Xanga (rather than Bboard) for blogs.

Of course, Bboard still does Discussion Boards reasonably well–so I’ll certainly use it for that, and for the standard course management and course information tasks, it does offer an exceptionally user-friendly and simple interface.

8/21/2004

More on CourseForum

Filed under: — Joe @ 9:10 pm

After more investigation–there’s no way to get the school to get me set up on a server for this semester. It’s too late.

And I can’t serve it from my home machine–technically (or not even technically), running a server from home would violate my ISP’s Terms of Service. I don’t feel like risking my home DSL account for this.

And my kind webhost folks politely and kindly told me that it would be impossible–their firewall would block the built-in webserver which CourseForum needs to run.

So I think I’m going to be paying CourseForum, at least for this semester, to have them host it and let me give it a real-world try. It’s only $15/month, so the semester will cost $60, and I think I will collect $2 from each student. That will pay the bill, and I always find that students (not just students) tend to value things more if they’ve had to pay for it (I’ll even give them a printed receipt), then if they get it for free. They know the corollaries of TANSTAAFL very well.

But for me, what this really exemplifies, is a long-standing tendency in my teaching. Just about every year, in the last week or two before classes begin, I get an innovative idea, some new thing that I just have to implement. The logical thing would be to get these ideas several months in advance, or to wait a semester and think them through and test them out before implementing them immediately.

But that’s not what I do!

I have to plunge in right away, and try it before I’ve even figured it out completely myself.

It gets a bit chaotic, and it keeps me very nervous and only half-a-step ahead all semester, and I never implement it quite as well as I should the first time around, but it actually seems to work out OK. I’ve done it with the Digital Poetry Project, the Internet Lore unit, the NY Newsday activity (over a decade ago!), the writing/walking tour, MaGiCS, the Dub Poetry lesson, the custom textbook, and many more. Some of my best tricks and techniques are the things I’ve come up with suddenly, planned insufficiently, and implemented prematurely. The really good ones get improved and developed further each time I try them–but I don’t think any of them would have benefitted a whole lot from waiting until the initial excitement subsides.

This semester, because I’m teaching four completely different classes all at the same time, I’m actually trying two different completely new things (the e-portfolios and the blogs, or more if I think of them) at the same time. And that’s been making me a little nervous and resistant to really plunging in. But it’s not worth it. I know I’m going to go for it. I might as well give in to the inevitable!

8/20/2004

CourseForum

Filed under: — Joe @ 4:29 pm

CourseForumI think I found the solution to my eportfolio quandary. CourseForum, in the free version, seems to be perfectly suited. I just have to figure out a server solution, since (as usual) I’ve waited much too long to get this done on the school server in time for this semester. (Actually, it would probably mean setting up a new server–which will certainly take more than the one week I have left). So I’m going to play with it a little–maybe find a way of running it on my own home machine (or throwing a linux distro on an old machine from my museum of ancient technology) and somehow finding a way to serve it through the firewall/router–and deal with the dynamic IP problem. Or, I can see if my ever-so-nice and understanding webhost folks will be willing to let me run it on the server this blog runs on. Or, I can pay a minimal amount (could even collect a dollar or two from each student) and have CourseForum host it for me.

8/19/2004

Out of the fishery

Filed under: — Joe @ 4:30 pm

I finally lost my last living fish a few weeks ago, and today I sold off the last functioning aquarium. Of course, I still have many empties, and a lot of equipment, in the basement, but for the first time in many years I have no living fish in the house–nothing to feed (except for the cats, dog, crabs) before bed.

I had many iterations of African Cichlids–a period of a beautiful reef tank–and finished with one sad and practically unkillable Tiger Barb–I sort of went out of fishkeeping not with a bang, but a whimper! 🙁

8/18/2004

A beautiful bug

Filed under: — Joe @ 1:30 pm

LeafhopperI found this little guy in my kitchen yesterday. He (she?) was even more beautiful than in this photo (or any of the photos in the gallery), and I admired him for a while before releasing him. He flew away, not gracefully or quickly, but achieving a pretty good altitude right away.

I’m trying to identify him–my first guess is that he’s some kind of leafhopper–but that’s just my uninformed suspicion. Awfully pretty, though.

8/12/2004

E-folios and Blogging

Filed under: — Joe @ 8:15 pm

I’m thinking about using blogging for the first time in at least one (maybe two) of my classes. I want to have all the students in the Intensive Writing class use blogs–but not as journals in the diary sense, strictly–more of an emphasis on critical reviews–something they’ve read or seen, with a weekly (or more frequent?) required post.

I looked at the free blogging services, and Xanga looks like the most user-friendly and bell-and-whistle-ridden. Ideally, we should be hosting the blogs at the college, but that’s a step for the future.

Then I started thinking about my Comp. I class–and the portfolio experiment I wanted to pilot (as a substitute for the much abominated departmental final exam). I was trying to figure out how I was going to design a template, and get a hosting server (maybe using Blackboard?) setup to make these e-folios, instead of the cumbersome paper folders I’ve used in the past. Then at the MERLOT conference I heard that McGraw Hill (I was going to use their textbook, anyhow) has a system called FolioLive! which seems to make all of this much easier. My McGraw Hill contact doesn’t really know anything about it…but she is going to refer me to someone who does.

We’ll see how it all turns out!

8/11/2004

Job Qualifications

Filed under: — Joe @ 8:07 pm

Well, it’s good to know that Bush is selecting (as usual) the best person for the job. Here’s what his choice (Porter Goss) for CIA director had to say on March 3 about his own suitability for the job:

I couldn’t get a job with CIA today. I am not qualified. I don’t have the language skills. I, you know, my language skills were romance languages and stuff. We’re looking for Arabists today. I don’t have the cultural background probably. And I certainly don’t have the technical skills, uh, as my children remind me every day: ‘Dad you got to get better on your computer.’ Uh, so, the things that you need to have, I don’t have.

Now, granted, he was talking to Michael Moore’s people when he said it–but he didn’t know that, did he? 🙂

But what I find even more interesting is the way Bush (who praised Tenet as “superb,” and never admitted that there was anything wrong with the CIA under Tenet’s leadership) is now praising Goss as a “reformer”–which would seem to imply that the thinks the CIA does need some reform after all.

Over 15 years of service, Porter Goss has built a reputation as a reformer. He’ll be a reformer at the Central Intelligence Agency. I look forward to his counsel and his judgments as to how best to implement broader intel reform, including the recommendations of the 9/11 commission.

Flip? or flop?

8/4/2004

Periodicals in Scholarship of Teaching and Learing

Filed under: — Joe @ 3:14 pm

Mark McCallon of Abilene Christian University has a great list of Periodicals in Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Some excellent resources as opportunities for publishing, and it’s sorted by discipline, too.

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