Monday, February 28, 2011

Thank you, my fellow Americans

You have restored my confidence in you.

As the New York Times reports:
As labor battles erupt in state capitals around the nation, a majority of Americans say they oppose efforts to weaken the collective bargaining rights of public employee unions and are also against cutting the pay or benefits of public workers to reduce state budget deficits, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll....


Americans oppose weakening the bargaining rights of public employee unions by a margin of nearly two to one: 60 percent to 33 percent. While a slim majority of Republicans favored taking away some bargaining rights, they were outnumbered by large majorities of Democrats and independents who said they opposed weakening them. Those surveyed said they opposed, 56 percent to 37 percent, cutting the pay or benefits of public employees to reduce deficits, breaking down along similar party lines. A majority of respondents who have no union members living in their households opposed both cuts in pay or benefits and taking away the collective bargaining rights of public employees.
Let's hope America's pretentious, self-important, officious leaders are listening. And not to themselves for a change.

Your feeble attempt at humor

A sure sign the world is coming to an end -- Lady Gaga marries Charlie Sheen. 
Madonna is the maid of honor. 
Tiger Woods is the best man. 
King George off...off...offici...officiates at...at...the cer...cer...ceremony. 
The bride then gives birth to Lindsay Lohan. 
No one is quite sure whether she represents absolute good, absolute bad or Absolut vodka.

2012 spells ZION?

If you're confused, you're not alone.

The International Olympic Committee received word today from Iran that it might boycott the 2012 London Olympics because it claims the organizers have used the numbers 2-0-1-2 to resemble Zion.

As the Associated Press reports,
The secretary general of Iran's National Olympic Committee said Iran sent a letter to International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge. The letter claims the 2012 logo spells out "Zion," a biblical term widely recognized to refer to the city of Jerusalem....


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel's destruction and questioned historical accounts of the Holocaust. Iranian athletes have refused to compete against Israelis.
The London logo shows the numbers "2012" in four jagged figures and until now has been criticized only for its design. The IOC said it received the letter and joined London organizers in rejecting Iran's complaint.
"Our response is as follows: The London 2012 logo represents the figure 2012, nothing else," the IOC said.

Here's the homepage for the London Olympic Games, and the logo is to the left. I looked at that logo for perhaps a minute, and I can't find how those numbers in any way can be read as Zion. Sure, the logo is a bit eclectic for my taste, but Zion?

Why pick on educators?

Let's set aside what is taking place in Wisconsin, where, in the opinion of this blogger, the governor is attempting to bust unions. If I'm wrong, fine; if I'm right, let's not fathom that.

Instead let's turn our attention to what is taking place in Louisiana, where the University of Louisiana's Board of Supervisors is moving ahead with plans that would lead to potential quick termination of tenured and tenure-track faculty. As the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, the fallout could be felt quickly and deeply.
The University of Louisiana system's Board of Supervisors on Friday voted to approve new rules that will allow its institutions to more quickly dismiss faculty members, even those with tenure, whose programs have been closed.
At a time when the state's financial climate makes it difficult for campuses to determine their budgets from year to year, that kind of flexibility is key, system officials said. But professors at the board meeting, including representatives of each of the system's eight campuses, told the supervisors that such a move would erode the protection tenure provides and could ultimately make the system's institutions unattractive to job seekers and lead current faculty members to leave.
Donna Rhorer, an associate professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and chair of the system's faculty-council committee, said she could understand the board's frustration with the state's financial situation. But the new rules do not provide tenured faculty members with "adequate protection," she said. "We do not approve of these policies as they are stated."
Kevin L. Cope, a professor of English at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, which is not part of the University of Louisiana system, said he had come to the meeting to support his colleagues in the state."If I were a young faculty member, I would immediately turn around and walk out the door," he said. "This damages all the other higher-education systems in Louisiana."
Inside Higher Ed adds:
The system released a series of statements by board members in which they said that they regretted having to change tenure protections, but believed they had no choice. Edward Crawford, a board member, was quoted as saying, "We do not have the money to do everything we want to do. We have to have the tools that we hope we don't have to use. These are the fiscal realities." E. Gerald Hebert said, "We feel for the faculty, but we have to do what we have to do."
And Jimmy Faircloth Jr., another board member, said that it was unfair for faculty members to say they were ignored (even if the board didn't accept their suggestions). "Regarding comments that your voice hasn’t been heard, I strongly disagree. I spent yesterday reading a huge binder that included comments and proposed changes and revisions and came here today prepared to listen."
Let's look at this logically. Yes, there are some men and women -- from elementary education all the way up to and including higher education -- who have been in a classroom for too long and who will not adjust to the changes in technology, new information or in any way alter what and how they teach. They are an embarrassment to the profession.

However, tenure is akin to a marriage -- it is a representation that a college or university has judged you worthy of a long-term stay at that institution. Of course, the faculty member should never stop expanding his or her professional and academic opportunities, and we know that the good ones do that.

So, why are state legislatures and governors going after teachers? Why are we seeing the attempt to bust a union in Wisconsin and destroy tenure in Louisiana? The concern mentioned above by the LSU instructor is legitimate -- why would I want to move to a state in which my emotional investment will be "rewarded"  by an easier method of dumping me?

Look at it another way: Imagine if the marriage rules in this country were re-written and allowed for a man or woman to leave his or her spouse and owe that person nothing. Thanks for your love. Thanks for your time. Now go off and enjoy your life.

I can hear the opponents already. "Anthony," you are saying. "Working for some university isn't the same as being married. Look at you, you've worked for two schools but you've still got the same wife."

True, if you see being a member of the faculty as some kind of independent contractor status in which "I'll be here for as long as I'm needed or wanted and then I'll move on." On the other hand, if you see working for a university has something you pour effort, time and passion into, then dumping me because it's convenient takes on a new meaning.  

I accept that state budgets are a mess. I accept that reasonable cuts need to be made in order to bring some sense of financial stability to those situations. I fail to see how dumping teachers; compelling them to pay even more, knowing that the service they provide is monumentally more important than the money they make; or making it easy to erase a personal and professional commitment is good government.

You're welcomed to disagree with me.

He keeps holding on

Let's "admire" Mohammar Qaddafi -- the man certainly does (not) know how to listen.

Qaddafi continues to insist that he and his family need to maintain their lead over the nation or else some monumental calamity will befall Libya.

People inside and outside the country are not listening.

The latest evidence -- another large city, and this one is located very close to the capital of Tripoli, has fallen into opposition hands. Moreover, multiple Western nations are slapping strong economic sanctions on Libya; the intent is to compel Qaddafi to step aside. Canada has become the latest country to lay down sanctions.

There is certainly a political vacuum in the country. But let's not forget that the humanitarian situation in Libya and its neighboring countries is growing. Tunisia is proving to be a less than welcoming host to the Libyans and people of other nations fleeing Libya. As the Globe and Mail reports,
“We don’t have any more space to accept the Egyptians – we are blocking the border until the Egyptian authorities find a solution for their transportation,” said Lutfi Tabeth, a member of the Ben Gardane revolutionary committee.
It became a frightening and dangerous scene on Sunday afternoon as several thousand Egyptians charged the border, pushing through the Tunisian protesters and attempting to charge into the camps, only to be stopped by Tunisian soldiers who raised their rifles and forced them to sit on the street, closing the border again.
“It’s an awful lot of people, 10,000 to 12,00 a day now, so the security services are not able to control a flow of that size – that’s their concern,” said Sophie Galand, a Quebecker working with the International Committee of the Red Cross/Crescent who was co-ordinating medical aid.
She reported that the border chaos was the main cause of hospitalization, with several hundred people treated for exhaustion, heat exposure and crush injuries. There were no reports of anyone injured in the conflict at the border Saturday, and very few reported having witnessed any violent incidents since last Monday.
A larger concern lies with the refugees who are unable to find transport home. This includes many of the Egyptians. It also includes large numbers of Bangladeshis who were employed by large Chinese construction companies taking part in Libya’s oil-funded building boom.
One should never lose sight of the bigger picture -- and in this case it is how North Africa and the Middle East could be reshaped by the political unrest taking place in multiple nations. The New York Times notes that if democracy might be the winner (and there is no guarantee of that), then al-Qaeda might be a loser.
In fact, the motley opposition movements that have appeared so suddenly and proved so powerful have shunned the two central tenets of the Qaeda credo: murderous violence and religious fanaticism. The demonstrators have used force defensively, treated Islam as an afterthought and embraced democracy, which is anathema to Osama bin Laden and his followers.
So for Al Qaeda — and perhaps no less for the American policies that have been built around the threat it poses — the democratic revolutions that have gripped the world’s attention present a crossroads. Will the terrorist network shrivel slowly to irrelevance? Or will it find a way to exploit the chaos produced by political upheaval and the disappointment that will inevitably follow hopes now raised so high?
Meanwhile, Qaddafi and his son continue to bluster and bombast their way through another day. How many more will there be?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

This has been a weekend filled with reading wonderful books. That alone makes it a successful couple days. If you've not picked up Mohsin Hamed's "The Reluctant Fundamentalist", you should.

The book -- crisply written and under 200 pages -- covers a one-way conversation involving a Pakistani man (named Changez) and an American who is never identified. This person, whomever he is, is in Lahore, Pakistan and frightened about everything he sees and senses.

He fears that everyone around him might not like him or might seek to harm him. (Certainly no one from a foreign land would ever have that feeling in this country!)

Changez is a 22-year-old with the brightest possible future in the United States. But within a few months of the Sept. 11 attacks he returns to his native country disillusioned, angry and despondent.

I'm sure someone is reading this blog post and thinking that Changez (we never learn his last name) has become a rabid, angry, anti-American determined to martyr himself as a final act of hatred against the country that gave him so much. Nonsense. Quit paying attention to FOX News.

Mr. Hamed's work is fiction; Changez doesn't exist. But "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" offers multiple and potent conversation pieces about America, its people and its perceived role in the world because of what took place on Sept. 11, 2001 and in the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Changez comes to the U.S. has an 18-year-old to enter hallowed Princeton. A few years later he befriends and then falls in love with Erica (you do of course see the play on words with these names, don't you?), an apparently energetic and brilliant young woman who cannot overcome the death of her former love, Chris.

She will eventually fall into such despair over Chris that no one close to her is quite sure what has happened to her. Perhaps she has escaped from the institution that was helping her recover and run off to somewhere. Perhaps she has opted to kill herself. Perhaps she still has a chance to recover from her painful loss. Perhaps she doesn't want to.

One can see parallels to how America and Americans choose to deal with the events of the past decade. We can think about how we react to Muslims. We can think about being that American in Pakistan and then a Pakistani in America. We can think about the innocence that consumed our past and what it will be replaced by in the future.

Or we can simply toss the book in the trash and accuse Mr. Hamed of fostering the dislike of America around the world. He is after all "one of them," someone is sure to think.

Spare me.

"The Reluctant Fundamentalist" is the second of several books being considered by my university for its incoming-freshmen summer/common reading. Between it and the one I completed earlier today, my colleagues and I already assured of some fascinating conversations in the next couple weeks.

Being a foreign correspondent in China...

...is certainly not easy, knowing that the government has little tolerance for freedom of the press.

But when a journalist also has to keep an eye out for plainclothes people, then the situation becomes more complicated. The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China is accusing the government of sanctioning an attack on a Western journalist by such people. The journalism organization suggests:
The Foreign Correspondent’s Club of China is appalled by the attack on one of our members by men who appeared to be plain clothes security officers in Beijing. This video journalist was trying to do his job Sunday when he was set upon and repeatedly punched and kicked in the face by officers as part of a general crackdown in Wangfujing following calls on the internet for a protest in this area.
Despite his best efforts to protect his camera it was confiscated. More than a dozen other journalists who went to this part of Beijing to report had problems, including being manhandled, pushed, detained and delayed by uniformed police and others.
The Guardian reports that police were on full display as they sought to contain the so-called "Jasmine Revolution":
Few expected Chinese citizens to answer the "jasmine revolution" appeal, which urged them to express their desire for reform by "strolling" past a McDonald's on Wangfujing shopping street and spots in 22 other mainland cities.
In addition to the heavy police presence, street cleaning vehicles and men with brooms swept back and forth along the designated streets in Beijing and Shanghai, preventing pedestrians from slowing down. A construction site appeared on Wangfujing earlier this week, blocking off a stretch outside the hamburger bar.
Associated Press reported that Shanghai police used whistles to disperse a crowd of around 200, although it was unclear if the people were anything more than onlookers. It said officers detained at least four Chinese citizens in the city and two others in Beijing. It was not clear, however, if those detained had tried to protest.
The Chinese government in recent days also has turned its attention toward America's soon-to-be former ambassador to that country. Jon Huntsman's name has been blocked from Internet searches in China:
Searches for Ambassador Jon Huntsman's name in Chinese on a popular microblogging site called Sina Weibo were met with a message Friday that said results were unavailable due to unspecified "laws, regulations and policies."
Huntsman, a Republican, is leaving his post and is seen as a potential White House contender in 2012.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a Twitter posting Saturday that "it is remarkable" that even before Huntsman leaves Beijing, "China has made him disappear from the Internet."
Looks like typical freedom with Chinese characteristics to me. 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I experienced something in the past 24 hours that I haven't in a long time -- a book (technically an e-book) that I couldn't put down.

I opened on my Kindle, Jonathan Safran Foer's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" and read it cover to cover in less than 24 hours. The book is under consideration by my university as its "common reading" for the incoming freshmen class.

I'll confess that I don't care much for fiction. My wife often tells me that makes me a book snob. I see it a different way -- a work of fiction includes characters, plots, conversations and other elements that are entirely of the imagination of the author.

Non-fiction, on the other hand, involves real people, historical events, evidence of real actions or words and an otherwise reasonable reconstruction of something important.

But Foer's work deserves your attention. His protagonist, Oskar Schell, is the somewhat classical representation of an American boy -- curious, a bit hard-headed, inquisitive and otherwise likable -- desperate to learn more about how a key he found among his father's remains can tell him more about the man he was starting to know. And loved desperately.

Schell's dad was one of the victims of the collapsed World Trade Centers towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

Mind you, this is a work of fiction. But it nevertheless challenges us to understand family relationships, grief, love, forgiveness and compassion.

For what it's worth, there are reports that Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock are starring in the movie version of the book. The supplied link doesn't indicate their roles, but I presume they will be Oskar's parents.

In the meantime, if you want a book that will be impossible to put down but also challenge you on a variety of levels, pick up "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close".

I'm handing it off to my favorite fiction reader -- my better half -- tonight. She appreciates fiction, so I expect she'll have much to say about it.

And if you do care...

...about public broadcasting in the United States, then become one of 170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting.

You'll be glad you did!!

It's only public media...who cares?

No, the federal government doesn't fully fund NPR or PBS, but it would be a mistake to suggest that those public-media entities do not need every penny they receive from Washington. Nevertheless, in their zeal to cut everything, the Republican-led 112th Congress has decided it wise to slash the subsidy Congress provides America's public broadcasting system.

Brilliant. Another brilliant move by Republicans who are determined to cut muscle as they cut to (and through) the bone.
 
Of course on some level what is taking place is blatant politics -- too many within the GOP see NPR (and to a lesser extent PBS) as out-of-touch with mainstream America and therefore in need of a good slap down. (And if it's true that NPR and PBS are divorced from reality, then what exactly does that make Glenn Beck?)

If Congress wants to make its decision political, then you can't blame NPR and PBS stations across the country from also playing politics. What is taking place in Orlando is just one example. And NPR itself is showing it will get its hands dirty to protect and promote what it does:
Public broadcasting has been targeted for spending cuts several times in the past decade, but in the face of record deficits — and pledges from both political parties to cut spending wherever possible — many in Washington think the proposed cuts have a strong chance of passing Congress as part of a continuing budget resolution.
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) tells NPR's Neal Conan that public broadcasting provides a valuable service but continuing to support it with federal funds when the nation is grappling with record budget deficits is unrealistic.
"I'm a fan of public broadcasting," he says. "But we have to share in this as Americans to get our fiscal house in order.
"No one's talking about eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting or NPR. We're just saying let's not have the taxpayer subsidy. ... The taxpayers just can't keep paying for everything."
Taxpayers would be better served, says Lamborn, if CPB was forced to function entirely with private funds. "I do think the future is bright for public broadcasting should it become private broadcasting," he says. "It'll mean scrambling and finding new sources of revenue ... but there will be a way forward."
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who introduced a resolution to block the proposed cuts, disagrees. "There's a reason there isn't a commercial entity that provides local programs the way that NPR does," he tells Conan. "It's not commercially viable." Rural areas and small towns would be particularly hard hit, says Blumenauer, as the cost of providing broadcasting services in those areas is prohibitive. "There simply won't be enough money to have that expensive, expensive service."
Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence In Journalism, agrees that the cuts will disproportionately fall on smaller stations. "You probably have stations, particularly [in] more rural and smaller markets, that would cease to exist. ... There will be a lot of collateral damage at the local level." Backers of the cuts "doing this on a national level are going to find that there are repercussions locally that they might not fully expect."
Blumenauer also argues that quality educational and children's programming will suffer without federal support. "In the commercial market ... the stuff for kids is targeted to sell things to kids, not to educate them," he says. "It simply isn't going to happen if it's going to be thrown to the tender mercies of the free market."
And you can add The Guardian to the list of organizations or people who see public media as important. Consider this op-ed, which states:
Public media of the future must look very different from the past. The overheads and methods of next-generation public media will be very different, but to abandon the idea of public media as a central strand of media policy looks rash in the extreme.
Yes, stand with NPR and PBS, if you so desire, or ignore what it does. The choice is yours. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Academically Adrift, chapter 5

Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa's "Academically Adrift" ended with less of a lecture than I expected on how bad America's higher education system is.

Granted, the authors did say -- and with some justification -- that U.S. higher-education institutions cannot rest on their laurels if they intend to remain at the top of the world's pecking order. Nevertheless, they did not bash the system as I had expected.

Their contention that administrators, faculty, the government, parents and students are not "primarily interested in undergraduate student academic growth, although many are interested in student retention and persistence" is the closest thing toward bashing the system.

Instead, they offer their proposals for improving higher education. Unfortunately for those whose careers are in America's colleges and universities, there is little in the final chapter that will be considered groundbreaking.

Everyone agrees (or at least everyone should agree; those who don't ought to rethink why they are in higher education) that developing a culture of learning, ensuring that students see every aspect of their undergraduate years as learning opportunities, fostering the sense that the classroom will be a place of challenge and growth, using doctoral programs to teach future teachers how to teach and keeping the federal government out of higher education are critical as discussions about the 21st-century college continues.

Those are the principal suggestions Mr. Arum and Mr. Roksa make. For an external audience, these ideas might resonate; those inside the academy are sure to read them and think 'same old thing.' Sadly, that attitude was one I had.

I expected something out of the final chapter that would lead me to think or to offer an opportunity to share the idea with a colleague. That didn't happen.

I did find disagreement with the authors' argument that the laser-like focus that is taking place across the academy about assessment of student learning is "widely supported and largely uncontroversial." I would say that among some people I know the attitude is one of "barely tolerating."

I've been involved in assessment at Point Park University for three-and-one-half years and I confess there are times I find myself lost in the jargon. But I don't question its value or its purpose. Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an important op-ed that examined how teaching and assessment can be better linked. In another editorial, an educator explains why he likes assessment. I agreed with many of the ideas expressed in these pieces.

Overall, "Academically Adrift" is a good but not impressive effort at examining what is right -- and wrong -- with America's higher-education system. As I mentioned in earlier posts about chapters one, two, three and four, there is controversy about this book. After reading it, I can understand why.

Nevertheless, Mr. Arum and Mr. Roksa deserve credit for shining a necessary and overdue spotlight on how well America's colleges and universities are (and are not) doing. Despite its shortcomings, I believe you would be wise to purchase a copy and read it.

Academically Adrift, chapter 4

I continue to be baffled as I read Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa's book "Academically Adrift" by the authors' seeming need to criticize college students for wanting to enjoy their undergraduate experience.

Yes, I would be the first to agree that students must see academics as their first priority, but the authors appear overeager to condemn students for wanting to have fun.

For example, at one point in chapter 4, which I completed this morning, the authors bemoan that students report spending only 16 percent of their time in class/lab or studying. Furthermore, Mr. Arum and Mr. Roksa suggest that figure is "very small." No, it is not. They might not like the information that the students reported, but they have no right to mislabel what the students told them.

The authors' frustration is compounded as they report students admitting they spend 51 percent of their time on leisure activities.

This lashing out at students' personal choices is connected with their belief that too many colleges and universities are more interested in encouraging their students to enjoy themselves rather than to apply themselves to some form of learning. But at no point in this chapter do the authors offer research or an opinion on just how much time America's college students should set aside for academic work.

Would 30 percent of their time be sufficient? Forty? Fifty? Or is any figure that doesn't equal 100 percent "very small"?

The authors also continue to beat the drum that a faculty member's expectations of the amount and quality of student work matter in determining how much a student learns. I don't mean to sound flippant here, but I don't need research data to validate that point. Of course the attitude that an instructor has about learning is going to be important. Students who are serious about learning will react positively to a clear message that they will need to work hard in order to find success in that particular course.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this chapter is the section that examines why studying alone is better than studying in groups in terms of showing improved critical thinking, reasoning and writing skills. Nevertheless, the authors' previous discussions about "better" students (meaning those who enter college better prepared to succeed) should have been addressed in this context. Better students have had experiences and environments in which their studying was rewarded and encouraged, and they therefore have confidence to study on their own and to maintain the information they need to complete an assignment or exam.

The book's final chapter -- and its intriguing title "A Mandate for Reform" -- is next. I have a sneaking suspicion I'm going to be lectured to in those pages.

Karl Rove is right...

...and we should be excited because of what is not taking place right now in the Republican Party.

Favorite songs 3

For the United Nations when dealing with Libya, it's Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing"

For Kim Jong Il, it's Billy Joel's "You May Be Right" ("I May Be Crazy")

When winter turns to spring, the remaining snow and ice with little enthusiasm might sing Modern English's "I Melt With You"

For anyone who takes part in a marathon, it's got to be Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run"

Fans of great barbeque can be found singing The Beatles' rendition of "Kansas City"

For people who defect, they've got to like Madonna's "Borderline"

Political moderates are sure to like the Black Eyed Peas' "Meet Me Halfway"

If you have the bully pulpit like President Obama, then you've got to take Kiss' advice and "Shout It Out Loud"

If you've ever lost a love in San Francisco, then only one Tony Bennett song can work for you...

...and after losing that love by the Bay then moving south, you certainly are singing Randy Newman's "I Love LA"

Friday, February 25, 2011

Academically Adrift, chapter 3

In my review of chapter one and two of Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa's book "Academically Adrift", I suggested, among other things, the authors were building a reasonable argument that a variety of forces were contributing to the perception (or reality) that too many of today's college students were ill-prepared for professional work and responsible citizenship.

The proverbial wheels came off the proverbial wagon in the book's third chapter. This section devotes too much attention to the sociological and financial factors that influence how college students live and work during their time as undergraduates. Compounding the problem is the absence of how these choices relate to the supposedly academically-adrift student.

The notion that college students want to spread their wings, have some fun and otherwise make mistakes that assist in their development are akin to demonstrations or decadence and waste, in the minds of the authors.

It is in this chapter the argument -- and with no critical academic research to corroborate the point -- is made that faculty who fail to require a minimum 20-page research paper or 40 pages of weekly reading are somehow cheating their students.

Mind you, I am not suggesting that a substantial research paper and weekly readings are not valuable to learning; instead, I am noting how baffled I am that those assignments were selected as reliable measures of a demanding learning environment.

The "says who?" question is never fully answered. And that's a problem.

The authors also offer a rather crude assessment of faculty. They assert that "college faculty too often face institutional incentives to ignore students of low ability and to focus their efforts, when they are not engaged in their own research endeavors, on the most gifted and talented students they encounter." The authors base this ridiculous idea on a book published in...get ready...1903.

The authors do not offer any research from the past 107 years to validate this notion. (Perhaps because they cannot?) Moreover, they don't interview current college faculty or students to determine if this onerous concept exists on any of the 24 college campuses that were used to generate data for this chapter.

At no point are the "institutional incentives" identified, in case you were wondering.

In short, chapter 3 is a methodological and results nightmare. Actually, an embarrassment might be a better description. Institutional incentives to ignore students of low ability? Seriously?

Favorite songs 2

Vladimir Putin's favorite song is Lorrie Morgan's "What Part of No Don't You Understand"

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker's is Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way"

Wisconsin's public employees' like Aretha Franklin's "RESPECT"

New Yorkers are rumored to like Alicia Keys' aptly-titled "New York"

For liberals who watch FOX News and for conservatives who watch MSNBC, there's Rihanna's "I Love the Way You Lie"

For Major League Baseball players, it's got to be Dire Straits' "Sultans of Swing"

For the Egyptian people, it's Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street"

Tiger Woods couldn't be blamed if he kept singing The Beatles' "Yesterday"

NASCAR drivers would endorse Celine Dion's "I Drove All Night"

And for those who are optimists, Journey's "Don't Stop Believing"

Liberal toe-headed professors are ruining higher education!!

Sure they are.

And if you believe that, then you'll also believe that Mohammar Qaddafi is a great humanitarian, Barack Obama is a Muslim socialist hell bent on destroying America and all Republicans are evil.

So how does the myth of liberal educators dominating higher education continue? Here are a few answers.

Favorite songs

A little humor for your Friday --

Qaddafi's favorite song this morning -- Elton John's "I'm Still Standing"

Mubarak's is -- Heart's "Don't Leave Me Like This" ("Stranded")

Ahmadenijad's is A Flock of Seagulls' "I Ran"

For the mainstream media, it's Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing"

And for me, recognizing my four-day trip to Los Angeles next month, it's Bon Jovi's "Who Says You Can't Go Home"

Oh, come on, smile!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Academically Adrift, chapter 2

Continuing with my analysis of the new (and controversial) book "Academically Adrift", I find that while the authors make potent arguments, they also are not yet saying anything I cannot logically infer from my own experiences as an educator or otherwise am aware of based on other data I have seen.

In chapter 2, authors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa note that a fundamental change has taken place in America, as young men and women now see college as essential to their future. This notion of "I must go to college" is true of high school students regardless of their economic or social background.

However, neither they nor the colleges they attend seem prepared to fully develop two of the critical purposes of college attendance -- critical thinking and effective communication. In fact, the authors suggest that "[w]ith a large sample of more than 2,300 students, we observe no statistically significant gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills for at least 45 percent of the students in our study."

Their study involves students from about two-dozen institutions and charts their progress in those aforementioned areas over their first two years in college.

The authors at one point note that a "persistent class inequality" exists in the academic performance of black and white students. I have no doubt this is true. Furthermore, I accept that in general white students have more and better academic opportunities in elementary and secondary schools. However, I have a concern with the idea that in only two years of academic work that differences between these two types of students can be narrowed.

In other words, if Student White enters college better prepared to handle it than Student Black, then why should anyone be surprised that the former is likely to outperform the latter in their initial years of college?

Arum and Roksa do elaborate on the various issues that explain why Student White in general has an advantage over Student Black (and these are my terms, not the authors), but their conversation about these topics appears almost sanitized. It is as if by mentioning them that the reader will come away either sympathetic to Student Black or perhaps a bit miffed at Student White. No reasonable person would argue with the authors when they suggest that all students from less-educated or poorer families "need better academic experiences in high school than they are currently receiving."

I do agree with their argument that colleges and universities must do more to ensure that all students are indeed developing the aforementioned essential skills of critical thinking and effective communication. Failure to do so is, in my mind, akin to making an empty promise -- if you give us four years of your life and thousands of your (and the goverment's) money, then we will make you qualified to enter the workforce.

If a college cannot deliver on that, then it ought to be called on the proverbial carpet and explain why. Of course, if you read my review of the book's initial chapter, then the reasons that colleges often come up short in this area are already known to you -- students that expect too much but want to give too little; parents who foster a "you're special" attitude in their children; faculty who are more interested in academic research and grant attainment and less interested in teaching; universities that reward faculty for that attitude while seeking to be run as a corporation; and a federal government seeking more precise validation that universities are indeed succeeding.

Next up, chapter 3.

Here's a great idea -- let's treat U.S. senators as the enemy

The initial paragraphs of this Rolling Stone article say all you need to know:
The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in "psychological operations" to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned – and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.

The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops – the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war. Over a four-month period last year, a military cell devoted to what is known as "information operations" at Camp Eggers in Kabul was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell. When the unit resisted the order, arguing that it violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, it was subjected to a campaign of retaliation.
"My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave," says Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, who received an official reprimand after bucking orders. "I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line."
Indeed, you are. The morons responsible for this (presuming of course that it is true) should be ashamed. They also should be booted from the military.

It's Osama bin Laden's fault

I see.

You've got to hand it to Mohammar Qaddafi. When he decides to fight, he wants everyone to take him on.

Not content with attacking his own people, damaging his nation's short- and long-term future or bringing about U.N. sanctions, Col. Qaddafi is blaming everyone -- but himself or his cronies -- for the political unrest in his country. Among those who are at fault -- Osama bin Laden.

Yes, THAT Osama bin Laden. As CNN notes,
Speaking by phone on state TV as reports came in of pro-Gadhafi forces killing unarmed civilians in the town of Zawiya, Gadhafi said, "Our children have been manipulated by al Qaeda."
"Those exploiting the youth have to be arrested," he added.
I see.

Remember, Qaddafi came to power in 1969 through a bloodless coup. There seems no way he will be replaced in the same way.

As you continue to go into a lather...

...about what is taking place in Wisconsin, you might want to take the time to read this.

Assange is not assuaged

And, as the Los Angeles Times reports, that means
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be extradited to Sweden for questioning and possible trial on charges of sexual assault, a British judge ruled Thursday.

Speaking to a packed London courtroom, Judge Howard Riddle said Swedish prosecutors' request that Assange be handed over was valid and reasonable for their investigation into allegations that he sexually abused two women last August.


Assange, 39, denies the accusations. He has seven days to lodge an appeal, and his lawyers said they would do so, which would probably drag out the high-profile case at least another month.

They say you want a revolution!

Yes, The Beatles might be proud of what is taking place throughout North Africa and the Middle East, where an earthquake of political change is underway.

While no one can predict with certainty which regimes will remain in power and which will be swept into the ash can of history, there are definite signs that whatever changes take place will happen quickly.

Libya remains the most likely country for political change; and as the CBC notes, what that means for the Libyan people is still a mystery:
"He will fall; it's not if; it's when," said Jens Hanssen, an assistant professor of Middle East history at the University of Toronto. "I give him days rather than weeks."
Hanssen is quick to point out, however, that the complexities of Libya's political system will make the establishment of a new government after Gadhafi less than straightforward.
"Constitutionally, … [Libya is] a bit of an oddball," he said. "Gadhafi is not a president, and there isn't even a constitution. The idea is that the masses administer themselves, and he's merely a leader, using his Green Book as a policy guide. This system, therefore, allows for arbitrary rule, in the name of the masses. In that sense, it's unique."
Compounding the uncertainty of what comes next for Libya and other countries in either North Africa or the Middle East is that absence of the history of "people power." As Fareed Zakaria writes in today's Washington Post:
We are all looking at each crisis individually as it breaks out. But if we step back we can see that this is really a seismic shift and that it will in time reverberate throughout the region. For the first time in perhaps a millennium, the Arab people are taking charge of their own affairs.
Of course the United States is an interested observer. But so, too, is Israel, and one of its leading political figures says her nation is looking for signs that political change will mean a more tolerant attitude toward her nation. 
In the best-case scenario, the wave sweeping across the region will enable democracy to take root in the Arab world - not merely as a government system but as a values system that embraces nonviolence, coexistence, freedom, opportunity and equality. It offers the unprecedented possibility in the Middle East for a peace between peoples.
But the negative scenario is that this opening will be abused by those for whom democratic values are foreign and who seek to use the democratic process to advance an anti-democratic agenda. Another possibility is the emergence of weak regimes - of which this region already has too many - that feel compelled to appease extremists at the expense of their own people.
Israel is not a mere observer of these developments. The direction they take directly affects whether Israel can live in this region in peace. Like many Israelis, I am committed to ending the conflict between us and the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two peoples in order to best secure Israel's future as a Jewish and democratic state. After leading intense negotiations with the Palestinian side, I believe that reaching this peace, though difficult and heart-wrenching, is possible.
Don't forget that Israel is not in a comfortable spot, no matter what happens in the coming months.

Another important item cannot be neglected in this politically sensitive time throughout North Africa and the Middle East -- oil prices. Yes, they are on the way up, and they could stall any economic recovery taking place in the U.S. or the West. Adding another layer of worry is the expectation that any new government in the region is likely to view Iran more favorably than its predecessor did.

Indeed, a complicated political and diplomatic story is only beginning to be written in one of the most complex and interesting parts of the world.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Many people and groups have contributed to the problem

And there should be no surprise there.

As I promised in a post from earlier today, I am going to offer my opinions to the new (and somewhat controversial) book "Academically Adrift", which examines whether college graduates are learning what they need to in order to be prepared to be full-fledged professionals and citizens.

Obviously, the authors believe America's colleges and universities are not turning out such students -- there would be no need to call a positive assessment of higher education "controversial."

In the initial chapter, the authors could very well have been listening in on various conversations my colleagues and I have had in recent years. It is our contention that too many young men and women enter college believing that they are somehow entitled to be where they are and therefore don't demonstrate the commitment we'd like to see in getting the most out of their college experience. 

It's too sarcastic to call them "slackers," but it is not a stretch to say that too many of them don't appear interested in stretching their boundaries, doing more than is expected of them or otherwise showing that they want to wring every last ounce of learning out of their college years.

However, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa suggest that to blame only the students is an error. They take aim at parents, who too often encourage the you're-special-and-should-be-treated-so mentality in their children. By being "advocates" for their children instead of seeing educators as "in loco parentis," these adults are encouraging their sons and daughters to demonstrate less respect for the education system from top to bottom.

The authors also suggest that the changing priorities of the professorship accounts for the "adrift" nature of colleges and universities. They question whether faculty recognize that by devoting a sizable amount of their time toward academic research, external grants and serving their academic organizations, they are de-valuing the importance of teaching. (Here, too, the authors could have taken notes from various conversations I've had with faculty colleagues from across the country; many of us worry that teaching is becoming lost in the desire to "publish or perish.")

But Arum and Roksa take it a step further. Don't blame the faculty alone for these non-teaching pursuits, but also criticize a "corporate" university mentality that rewards these non-teaching endeavors in which faculty engage. If young faculty "learn" that being a great teacher will not secure them tenure, then they are not going to challenge themselves to be one. If, instead, the path to success is by being a noted researcher or grant recipient, then energies will be devoted to those areas. Those rewards are in fact evident at many universities, which desire the funds from such grants in order to enhance their bottom lines.

One reason I enjoy being at Point Park University is that teaching is the top priority. Sure, almost all of my colleagues in the School of Communication and in the university's three other schools engage in some kind of research, we know that our continuing abilities to teach will be our ticket to long-term success.

I will confess that I've never been and will never be considered a "great" researcher. It's fair to say that my success at large institutions would not be guaranteed; academic research at such places is expected and is required for tenure. But you should not take these comments to suggest that I am critical of academic research because I'm not good at it; just the opposite is true -- I admire those people who generate important knowledge about their disciplines.

But I question when it comes at the expense of teaching.

Finally, the authors note that the federal government's increasing interest in demanding that universities validate that learning is taking place provides the newest layer of stress on higher education. But the effects of this federal interest still cannot be determined.

And with that, we move on to chapter 2.

If you think you are paying a lot at the pump now...

...get ready.

This from the Financial Times:
At least half of Libya’s oil production has been shut down in the wake of the violence wracking the country, industry executives estimate.  
The continuing disruption in the country, the world’s 12th largest exporter of crude, drove oil prices to a fresh 2½-year peak on Wednesday. Brent oil futures jumped 3.7 per cent to hit $110 a barrel on Wednesday for the first time since before the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
Dayton, Ohio, is just one area that already has seen a surge in prices because of the political demonstrations and unrest in North Africa and the Middle East. And with the lingering uncertainty about the short-term stability of many governments in that region, the expectation is for prices to continue to increase.

As Bloomberg notes,
Concern that surging fuel prices will derail the global economic recovery grew as governments evacuated thousands of expatriates from Libya and opponents to Muammar Qaddafi took control of eastern port cities in Africa’s third-biggest crude supplier. An extended $10 rise in oil cuts 0.5 percentage point off U.S. growth over two years, according to Deutsche Bank AG.
“It’s economic momentum versus geopolitical events,” said Tommy Huie, who oversees about $33 billion as president and chief investment officer of M&I Investment Management in Milwaukee. “The U.S. equity market wants to look beyond the current events in the Middle East. That’s part of the dynamic of a better economy and corporate profits. Obviously, it will all depend on the price of oil and Libya and whether we get more stability sooner rather than later.”
We can expect -- and sooner rather than later -- that there will be a domestic political discussion about hire gas prices. You can expect that the GOP will blame a disinterested, weak or somehow inadequate President Obama for not doing enough to solve America's dependence on foreign oil. There also are sure to be calls to open domestic reserves or to allow for expanding drilling in the U.S.

For now, if you are planning to fly and can purchase your ticket, then you'll want to do that. Airline fares are going to go up. And keep your driving habits in mind; if you can find reasonable ways to cut down on the amount of driving you do, then you're wise to do that.



And let the culture wars be renewed!!

This from Politico --
In a major concession to gay rights advocates, President Barack Obama has ordered the Justice Department to drop its defense of a central part of the 1996 law that bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions, the Defense of Marriage Act. Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder say they’ve concluded the law is unconstitutional.

Hey, it's only a college education!

Another day brings another couple reminders of the importance of higher education and the seemingly cavalier way it is being treated by governors and state legislators.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know I grew up in southern California. Therefore, I know the top-notch quality education that was available to students who attended any of the University of California system institutions.

It's a fair statement to say they were the envy of other public university systems in this country.

Now, there is real potential for the UC system to be undermined because of budget cuts. One UCLA professor has written a thought-provoking editorial in the Los Angeles Times. He asks:
In California, our universities are a point of pride. But perhaps we do not recognize just how remarkable they actually are. California's private institutions are doubtless praiseworthy too. But without the extraordinary accomplishments of the UC system, they would not be part of what is an unprecedented achievement. Today we face the prospect of cutting into the muscle and bone of this venerable institution and hobbling a remarkable creature that has taken half a century of care, investment and tending to bring to magnificence. It is worth taking a moment to ask ourselves how much the imperatives of the current budget shortfall justify cutting back one of the true splendors of Californian civilization.
He is absolutely correct.

Of course, public and private institutions are under financial pressure, and that has led to the development of the so-called "corporate university", one that thinks, acts and responds much like a for-profit corporation would. Two professors at the University of Western Ontario argue that philosophy has negative connotations for higher education. They suggest:
As the marketplace takes over, learning for its own sake is replaced with a means-end market mentality, including the caveat emptor motto of the modern market where products (degrees supposedly leading to well-paying jobs) come with few or no guarantees. At one end of this Edubis spectrum are publicly funded schools that continue to recruit like crazy but spew out many empty degrees from pseudo-vocational programs for jobs that are either in short supply or nonexistent, and at the other end are private online schools that do the same but recruit more aggressively and spew out non-accredited degrees. ...
They add:
The corporate model treats students like customers, and as customers they expect services and products for their tuition fees. The services include high grades in return for little effort. The products include guaranteed credentials with a guaranteed value. With this sense of entitlement, most will not prepare for classes, and expect all material to be told to them in simple terms in entertaining classes. What is lost here is the implicit bilateral contract of higher education for students to meet their teachers "halfway." When students put out the effort to partner with professors in the teaching/learning process, classes assume their proper place as the “tip of the iceberg” of learning rather than the "iceberg."
This idea of a fundamental philosophical shift is discussed in the new (and somewhat controversial) book Academically Adrift.

I bought the book and last night began working my way through it. On this blog, I'll be providing a detailed discussion of it. I urge you to buy the book (I don't know either author, so I'm not asking you to do that in hopes of lining their pockets) especially if you care about higher education as much as I do.  

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What to do? What to do!

The statistics don't lie -- state governments all across the country are facing massive budget deficits. And slicing funding for higher education is one way of tackling that problem.

In Texas, for example, an editorial in the San Antonio Express-News notes
The Legislature faces a dilemma that will impact every Texan — balancing the biennial budget in the face of a deficit estimated at $15 billion to $27 billion.
And, continuing with the same editorial, that poses an intriguing problem when it comes to higher education.
Last year, when the state required a 5 percent reduction to balance the current biennial budget, 41 percent came at the expense of higher education. Preliminary Senate and House budgets for 2012-13 revealed that higher education has again been targeted to absorb some of the deepest cuts.
Not surprisingly, both last year's cuts and this session's proposed cuts to the higher education budget have caused many students, educators and state leaders to wonder if higher education remains a priority in Texas.
In 2000, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board formulated a plan called “Closing the Gaps,” which was designed to increase student participation, success, excellence and research by 2015. Although Texas has made considerable strides toward many of these benchmarks, large educational achievement gaps remain.
Additional cuts to higher education will force our universities to raise tuition, significantly limit course offerings, and substantially decrease enrollment. These changes will halt our future development and compromise the progress we have already made.
Cuts in Michigan could mean a 15 percent slice to higher education in that state, and officials at Michigan State University and local politicians are not happy.
Needless to say, these cuts to the eight schools in the East Lansing district and Michigan State University could have dyer consequences for the residents of the city. State Rep. Mark Meadows (D-East Lansing) said students from kindergarten to college will eventually be the ones hurt if the bill is passed.
“I think what the governor has done here by cutting $470 (per student) out of the K-12 budget is put, not just East Lansing, but virtually every school at risk,” said Meadows. “I think Okemos was already looking at closing a couple of schools and I believe this might pretty much double the deficit.”
East Lansing City Manager Ted Staton said the bill is a dual-threat to Michiganders, not only affecting education, but employment as well.
In Tennessee, students worry about their future. And in Washington State, the potential for another year of budget cuts has alumni at Washington State University calling for answers.

The above examples illustrate that higher education in general and education programs specifically are not convenient targets for budget cuts, but they are seen as nothing special. That's a mistake. Without a strong educational base, our current and future generations will not be able to sustain America's strong (though not excellent) standing.

But who cares? It's only in the name of trying to balance a budget.


Murderous thugs

You bet that headline caught my attention. It was used by the Globe and Mail to describe the perception that Libyans have of their military.

Lest you think that the Globe and Mail was leaving any doubt that the Libyan people can't stand their defense forces, consider how its story develops:
Libya’s motley military, a collection of ill-trained conscripts and hired-to-kill mercenaries mostly armed with obsolete Soviet equipment, has an unenviable reputation of combat ineptitude, ill-discipline, miserable morale and thuggish corruption.
At least some Libyan units have disgraced themselves, firing indiscriminately into unarmed crowds of civilian protesters. Some messages out of Libya suggest the massacres were conducted by non-Libyan mercenaries. Unconfirmed reports claim the use of heavy weapons – including rapid-firing, anti-aircraft guns – against civilians.
Can there be any doubt that as Libya lurches toward civil war that the performance of its military will be essential in how any such war turns out. At the moment, Libya's president -- Muhamar Qaddafi -- appears determined to hold onto power, no matter the circumstances. As the Financial Times reports,
Clashes were reported in Tripoli, the capital, for a second day on Monday, with dozens of people reportedly killed. Exiled opposition figures and activists said they feared another violent crackdown as the regime sought to maintain control of the capital.
Col Gaddafi must hold Tripoli if he is to avoid becoming the third Arab leader in two months to be toppled by popular uprisings, which have already forced the presidents of neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt from office.
“I’m really worried that he wants to subdue the population by mass killings,” said Ahmed el-Gasir, a Libyan human rights activist based in Switzerland.
Mr Gasir and others said telephone networks in Tripoli appeared to have been cut off since midday on Monday. The internet has been blocked since Saturday, making it difficult to confirm reports from inside the country.
Qaddafi went on state-run Libyan TV today and delivered a rambling speech in which he maintained that he will fight to the death for his country. He also, as CNN notes, challenged his people to take to the streets to defend him and the nation:
He said a "small, sick group" of outsiders infiltrated the country and provoked protests.
Gadhafi called on Libyans who "love and support" him to go out on the streets and demonstrate for him.
"Do you want to be slaves of the Americans?" he said.
He gave protesters until Wednesday to remove all placards and barricades. After that, the police and army will move forcefully against them, he said.
Opposition activists will be executed without mercy, he said.
"The [sic] will beg for pardon, but they will not be pardoned," he said.
There can be little question that Qaddafi today lost whatever credibility he thought he had with his country and with the international community. It is only a matter of time before he becomes another strongman in North Africa who loses power.

The difference -- and it is a frightening one -- is that unlike the former leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, Qaddafi appears ready to fight to his death (and the deaths of many people).

As Libya inches closer to being the third North African nation this year to see regime change, the potential for the political unrest to spread deeper and into the Middle East grows. The Financial Times notes that such unrest will be met with international economic turmoil.
In the short run, regional developments will be stagflationary for the global economy due to three main factors: First, higher oil prices will increase production costs and act as a tax on consumers. Second, greater precautionary stockpiling around the world will intensify pressures on commodities as a whole, aggravating the impact of demand-supply imbalances and large injections of liquidity. Third, the region will be a smaller market for other countries’ exports.
This economic reality is far from encouraging for western countries that have few options in reacting to what is an increasingly fluid situation.
On the regional stage, they are essentially bystanders to developments in countries where protests are in their early phases. At best, they can only marginally offset tendencies towards violence.
 Quite a time to be a leader of a democracy. But it's far better to be one of those than to be a leader (in your own mind) of an unhappy North African nation.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Has Qaddafi left Libya? (UPDATED)

1st UPDATE: 11:41 a.m. EST: Qaddafi's son has denied any talk that his father has fled the country. In addition, a member of Hugo Chavez's government has said Qaddafi is not there and is not heading there.

Of course, if Mr. Qaddafi were a real leader, he'd speak to his people. We'll leave it at that.

ORIGINAL POST: I have no link yet, but I am watching Al Jazeera's live coverage of the unrest in Libya. It is reporting that the British foreign minister believes Mohammar Qaddafi has left Libya and is en route to Venezuela.

I repeat, I have yet to find a link to illustrate this story.

Tunisia...Egypt...now, Libya?

The potential for Libya becoming the third North African nation to see political protests leading to regime change is growing.

The protests against Mohammar Qaddafi that had largely been limited to Benghazi, the nation's second-largest city, today spread to Tripoli. As Al Jazeera reports
While Gaddafi attempted to put down protests centred in the eastern city of Benghazi against his four-decade rule, Al Jazeera began receiving eyewitness reports of "disturbances" in the capital Tripoli early on Monday.
There were reports of clashes between anti-government protesters and Gaddafi supporters around the Green Square.
"We are in Tripoli, there are chants [directed at Gaddafi]: 'Where are you? Where are you? Come out if you're a man," a protester told Al Jazeera on the phone.
A resident told the Reuters news agency that he could hear gunshots in the streets and crowds of people.
"We're inside the house and the lights are out. There are gunshots in the street," the resident said by phone. "That's what I hear, gunshots and people. I can't go outside."
In response to his government's decision to unleash security forces on the Libyan people, Libya's ambassador to India today announced his resignation. In addition, Al Jazeera (no link yet available) is reporting that Libya's justice minister has stepped down. At the same time, the Obama administration is one of several nations determining an appropriate diplomatic response.

As the unrest spreads, European governments are preparing to send their people home.You'll recall they made the same decision in Egypt once the unrest there appeared ready to turn violent.

The demonstrations grew in intensity this morning (Libya time) after Mr. Qaddafi's son went on state television and promised that the government would fight in order to maintain power. As TIME magazine notes,
After the bloodiest few days in Libya's modern history — in which over 200 people are estimated to have been killed in clashes with security forces — the son of the country's leader Muammar Gaddafi told Libyans on state-run television that "rivers of blood" would flow with "thousands" of deaths if the uprising does not stop. At the same time, he promised a dialogue on new political freedoms and even a new constitution — the most drastic reforms Libya would undertake since Gaddafi seized power 41 years ago. "There is a plot against Libya," said the maverick leader's second son, Saif al-Islam, long regarded as Gaddafi's heir apparent, speaking after midnight, against a white backdrop showing an abstract map of the region. "The story is very dangerous," he said, wearing a suit and tie — a conscious break from his father's iconic tribal robes. "It is bigger than the Libyans and the young people in the streets, who are trying to imitate Tunisia and Egypt."
Saif al-Islam, a son of Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi, appeared on Libyan state television late last night with a simple mission: Restore the fear.
He failed.
Indeed, he did. Libyans no longer fear the government (and I'll leave it to regional experts to tell us if they did prior to the unrest began), and while the security forces can unleash their fury on the people, it cannot assist the government in maintaining its power.   

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Watching Al Jazeera covering...

...Libya is in stark contrast to its coverage of what took place in Egypt earlier this month.

In Libya, as the New York Times reported earlier today,
The Libyan government has attempted to impose a near total blackout on the country. Foreign journalists cannot enter. Internet access has been almost totally cut off, with only occasional access, though some protesters appear to be using satellite connections or phoning information to services outside the country. The pan-Arab cable channel Al Jazeera, viewed by many as a cheerleader for the democracy movements stirring up the region, has been taken off the air. Several people and intermediaries said Libyans were afraid to talk to the foreign news media over the phone for fear of reprisals from the security forces. 
That absence of reporting from the scene is in stark contrast to what happened in Egypt, where despite the intrusion of the regime led by Hosni Mubarak, Al Jazeera was able to report non-stop and for 24 hours a day.

Now, as Libya convulses with anti-Qaddafi protests, Al Jazeera is forced to summarize events from elsewhere. As an example, note its review from earlier this evening following the (bizarre) speech made by Mohammar Qaddafi's son, who warned of real danger if the protests continue in his country. Al Jazeera reported
Protests have also reportedly broken out in other cities, including Bayda, Derna, Tobruk and Misrata - and anti-Gaddafi graffiti adorns the walls of several cities.
Anti-government protesters in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi have reportedly seized army vehicles and weapons amid worsening turmoil in the African nation.
Note the use of the word "reportedly," which indicates that the news network cannot (at least not yet) independently verify the information it is reporting.

Late this evening, I watched more than an hour of Al Jazeera's coverage (through its live link on its English-language service), and it was not able to deliver any reports from inside the country. Instead it used two distinct coverage options -- the interview with the "expert" and with people who purport to be protesters in Tripoli or Benghazi, Libya's two largest cities.

In essence, the experts suggested that the Qaddafi regime is living on borrowed time; the push for political change will grow, and the rhetoric emanating from the government will not stall it. Meanwhile, the protesters offered a mix of "we're not giving up" and "we're scared that the security forces could unload on us." In each case, the commentary was predictable; Al Jazeera couldn't distinguish itself from its international competitors as it did with its reporting from Egypt.

Mind you, I am not criticizing what Al Jazeera is doing; rather, I am pointing out the difficulties that news organizations deal with as they attempt to cover a fast-moving international event. Being "there" allows for better coverage, but sometimes a network cannot be.

Plain and simple, this goes too far

No person -- regardless of the job he or she is seeking -- should be required to surrender to a potential employer their Facebook password.

That should make where I stand in this case rather apparent.

AJM's BLOG: Give those tyrants credit...

AJM's BLOG: Give those tyrants credit...: "...they are determined to hold onto their power to the bitter end. Apparently unwilling to do what the leaders of Tunisia (quit immediately..."

Give those tyrants credit... (2 x UPDATED)

2nd UPDATE: 7:42 p.m. EST: Additional details from the New York Times on the state-run television interview involving the son of Libyan leader Mohammar Gaddafi. The newspaper also notes the Libyan government has used its power to control the media:
The Libyan government has attempted to impose a near total news blackout on the country. Foreign journalists are not permitted to enter the country. Internet access has been almost totally cut off, although some protesters appear to be using satellite connections or telephoning information to news services outside the country. Al-Jazeera, viewed by many as a cheerleader for the democracy movements stirring up the region, has been taken off the air in Libya. Several people said Libyans were afraid to talk to the international news media over the telephone for fear of reprisals from the security forces.
Got to love those Gaddafis. 

1st UPDATE: 6:40 p.m. EST: The son of Mohammar Gadaffi has been interviewed by Libyan TV, and his remarks are setting the Twitterverse into overload.

The BBC summarizes a sizable portion of that interview. It notes:
Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's son, Sayf al-Islam, has admitted the country's military over-reacted when dealing with protesters.
But, speaking on Libyan TV, he accused the opposition and Islamist groups of trying to break up the country.
He said troops had opened fire on protesters because they were not trained to handle civil unrest.
His address was broadcast as the first anti-government rallies broke out in the Libyan capital Tripoli.
According to several tweets, the younger Gadaffi has blamed the BBC and two other news organizations for fomenting the unrest in his country.


ORIGINAL POST: ...they are determined to hold onto their power to the bitter end.

Apparently unwilling to do what the leaders of Tunisia (quit immediately) or Egypt (be gently pushed by the military) did, the men in charge of Iran and Libya appear destined to go down (or remain in power) with a fight.

CNN notes that the Iranian security forces today were again doing the dirty work of the government.
Thousands of security officers cracked down on landmark sites in Iran's capital and other major cities Sunday, at times striking at throngs of protesters with batons and rushing others on motorcycles, witnesses said.

A few plainclothes security agents stood in the middle of Tehran's Revolution Square, countering anti-government protesters with signs of their own in support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and chanting "I will give my life for the leader," an eyewitness told CNN. Hundreds of other security personnel cheered the group.
The situation appears to be even more ominous in Libya, where perhaps 200 people have died as a result of nationwide protests. The BBC reports that:
Details have emerged of huge casualty figures in the Libyan city of Benghazi, where troops have launched a brutal crackdown on protesters.
More than 200 people are known to have died, doctors say, with 900 injured.
The most bloody attacks were reported over the weekend, as funeral marches were said to have come under machine-gun and heavy weapons fire.
One doctor, speaking amid the sound of fresh gunfire on Sunday, told the BBC that "a real massacre" had happened.
Human Rights Watch says at least 173 people have been killed in Libya since demonstrations began on Wednesday.
Benghazi, the country's second city, has been a leading focus of protests against four decades of rule by Col Muammar Gadaffi.
Yes, it takes real leadership to fire on people as they gather to protest or attend a funeral.

As the protests spread -- and they show no signs of abating despite the stupid acts of scared men who believe that the bullet can stop democratic impulses -- there is concern among the leaders in Saudi Arabia that their nation could be next in line. The New York Times reports:
Saudi Arabia is far less vulnerable to democracy movements than other countries in the region, thanks to its vast oil wealth, its powerful religious establishment and the popularity of its king.
But the country’s rulers were shaken by the forced departure of the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, a close and valued ally. They are anxiously monitoring the continuing protests in neighboring Bahrain and in Yemen, with which Saudi Arabia shares a porous 1,100-mile border. Those concerns come on top of long-festering worries about the situation in Iraq, where the toppling of Saddam Hussein has empowered Iran, Saudi Arabia’s great rival and nemesis.

The recent illness of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, 87, who is expected to return to the kingdom this week after an absence of more than three months for treatment in the United States and Morocco, has reinforced the sense of insecurity.
That sense of insecurity is being felt throughout the region as people continue to say enough to the absence of basic freedoms. Governments can respond in various ways. But in the end suppressing these spasms of freedom as the Soviets did in Prague in 1968 won't work in 2011.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A bookstore with a checkout line 100 deep

It looked like Mass on Easter Sunday or Christmas at a local bookstore today.

The parking lot was jammed and the checkout line was perhaps 100 deep when my older son and I spent a few minutes at the bookstore this afternoon. And as we looked around and then headed out, I was left wondering where all these people were on a typical Saturday.

I have that same thought as I attend Mass on Easter Sunday or Christmas -- where are all these people every week? (If you are Catholic, you know what I am talking about.)

Mind you, the 20-40% "everything must go" sale wasn't that great; if it had been 60-80% off, then I might have spent a few hours in line. Seriously.

And so I was left to wonder what was it that brought all those people on a beautiful Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon to a local bookstore?

Perhaps they were savvy shoppers, who knew they could be the hardcover or paperback version of a book for less than the e-book price.

Perhaps they were gift shoppers, loading up on books they would give as presents throughout the year.

Perhaps they were people who figured they were getting a deal that was too good to pass up.

Regardless, I figured it was a good thing that they were buying books; our society certainly should spend more time with books and less time with television. (Spare me the argument.) But I also was a bit flabbergasted as I realized that minus the "everything must go" designation the store would have been three-quarters less busy.

Can your company tell you what you can and can't do on social media?

The answer is "yes", within reason a company can dictate what you do on social media sites, which, of course, are designed to be your public voice of your private and public life.

Let's imagine the following and hypothetical scenario: "Joe Smith" is part of a meeting in which his company's president announces -- confidentially -- that he is stepping down. The company's administration and communication offices are planning a press conference and professional presentation to make the president's decision official and to allow for the media to ask any questions they want. That announcement is coming in two days.

Joe heads home and later that evening post on his Twitter and Facebook accounts the following message: "Thank God, the "genius" who runs the place is outta here!"

At least one local journalist reads that post and contacts Joe, who quickly relays to her what he had overheard in that meeting.

Under that scenario, I would support some kind of penalty against Mr. Smith. And I wouldn't see any sanction as being a violation of Mr. Smith's free speech. In my opinion, he willingly violated -- and in a very public way -- the request to keep secret what he had been told. More importantly and more germane to the topic, he violated a company's policy that, oversimplified, can be described as "don't embarrass us."

To further illustrate this point, I accessed through this website the social media policies of various U.S. companies. The following examples include what you can do while writing on the official sites of these organizations and on those that are personal sites.

FedEx, for example, indicates that employees:
All comments must be business-related and must comply with the Discussion Guidelines and Rules of Engagement. You agree not to post or transmit anything unlawful, threatening, libelous, defamatory, obscene, inflammatory or pornographic, or anything that infringes upon the copyright, trademark, publicity rights or other rights of a third party. You agree to defend, indemnify and release FedEx Corporation and any entity a majority or all of whose corporate stock is owned directly or indirectly FedEx Corporation (“FedEx”).from any and all liabilities, claims, or damages resulting from any content you contribute or link to.
Harvard Law School reminds its potential bloggers that:
Those of us who are coordinating this research project believe deeply in free speech. Given our role in offering this service and our presence together as part of the extended university community, however, we must reserve the right to remove certain content that you may post. As a general matter, you may post content freely to your blog and to those of others, so long as the content is not illegal, obscene, defamatory, threatening, infringing of intellectual property rights, invasive of privacy or otherwise injurious or objectionable.
You may not use the Harvard name to endorse or promote any product, opinion, cause or political candidate. Representation of your personal opinions as institutionally endorsed by Harvard University or any of its Schools or organizations is strictly prohibited.
By posting content to any blog, you warrant and represent that you either own or otherwise control all of the rights to that content, including, without limitation, all the rights necessary for you to provide, post, upload, input or submit the content, or that your use of the content is a protected fair use. You agree that you will not knowingly and with intent to defraud provide material and misleading false information. You represent and warrant also that the content you supply does not violate these Terms, and that you will indemnify and hold Harvard harmless for any and all claims resulting from content you supply.
Yahoo! takes it a step further, telling its employees:
Any confidential, proprietary, or trade secret information is obviously off-limits for your blog per the Proprietary Information Agreement you have signed with Yahoo!. To obtain a copy of your agreement, please contact your HR manager. The Yahoo! logo and trademarks are also off-limits per our brand guidelines. Anything related to Yahoo! policy, inventions, strategy, financials, products, etc. that has not been made public cannot appear in your blog under any circumstances. see Yahoo! Guides 2. Disclosing confidential or proprietary information can negatively impact our business and may result in regulatory violations for the company.
My colleagues and I regularly tell our students that pictures that might seem "funny" -- whether they be of them or someone else -- shouldn't be posted on Facebook or similar sites. Those pictures reflect on the character of the person in them and who posted them. A company will not explicitly tell you that you were not hired because of your "funny" pictures, but you can assume that it was a factor in turning you down.

It is social media, yes; and it is designed for you to be as public with your life as you wish to be. But as I am fond of saying: Free speech is free, but it also comes with a responsibility. If you ignore that responsibility and therefore act in a way that embarrasses your employer, then you should not be surprised if you are punished.