Saturday, December 18, 2004

Education 2005 :Retool or Replace

Earlier this year, I began blogging, partly as a way to educate people about the numbers and messages from this year's election. I was appalled in 2000 by the sheer ignorance of basic political and civic truths by many voters, especially in urban areas. This, many Republican strategists believe, is not only the reason why Democrats remain in power in urban regions, but also why reason and evidence have no effect in changing those minds. Democrats, naturally, claim the opposite; that it is Republican myths and distortions which have tricked rural and suburban voters. The lesson is twofold - that education and logic should be able to clear up the confusion, even if planned, but also that the people affected by the political games are unwilling to be educated.

Thinking this through, I recalled how many of my high school and college acquaintances held no interest in retaining their education. They wanted to know enough to pass the class, get the degree, get the job, but they held no desire to expand on that knowledge, to develop a first-class mind or exercise a healthy curiosity. A startlingly high number of people simply have no desire to learn. I have a strong suspicion that the majority of directors in charge of the Old Media networks fall into this category. That class of people, however, has found their nemesis; an unnamed class of thinkers, now resolved to action and empowered by the coalescence of their numbers into discrete groups and identities. Bloggers are just a spin-off of that new demographic, the deliberate thinker.

Education also comes into question when I think about careers. In an earlier post, I noted that companies are beginning to rethink the intellectual requirements of their positions, especially supervisory posts. After all, it should occur to any competent businessman, that an experienced and accomplished employee with years of solid work and the respect of his peers, even without a college degree, may a better choice for a responsible position than someone straight out of school, no matter the degree or grades. Of course, should companies continue to insist on that piece of paper, the rise of online education plans and business-centered universities is making it possible for the degree to be had later, if not sooner. This also opens the possibility that when someone discovers their original education is not going to advance their career, they can keep working and claim the credentials they need.

This brings us around to the need for defining the strategy for this century's educational system. There are reasonable debates about how to teach kids to read and write, but there can be no serious doubt that the system in place is inadequate to direct young citizens towards excellence. Maybe we can demand a disclaimer be posted on the walls of schools, especially high schools:

Warning - The education presented by this school and district may not be sufficient to prepare the individual for the Real World, and is unlikely to prepare the individual for satisfactory employment, advancement, or successive endeavors.

Now, I'm not trashing the whole system. But I sure want to find a way to encourage that sense of curiosity so common in children, yet so dead among many adults. I want teachers to share a sense of responsibility to police their own ranks, to screen out political correctness and theoretical speculation that misleads students to count revisionism as superior to established success. In other words, teachers need to be conscious of their students' futures when they leave school, a factor too long ignored in many districts.

In my title, I suggested that the educational system needs to be retooled or replaced. That dire-sounding recommendation is actually in progress right now. The fight over school vouchers may become a minor front in the war. That's because of the increasing enrollments in private schools, the families who move to school districts with higher standards ... and home schooling. Home schooling is a real phenomenon. While it's true that computers and online associations make the task easier and more of a group effort, it's amazing to see the explosion in home schooling programs, with impressive results overall. I'd say the NEA is on notice. I can't help wondering if they have bothered to read it.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Gangs Are All Here

They say all good things must come to an end, and in my case that includes my initial enthusiasm for author Kyle Mills. I really enjoyed Smoke Screen, and was looking forward to see if his other work was as good. In short, no it is not. I’m plugging my way through Sphere of Influence, but the thick and clumsy stereotypes he throws out, show me that he simply did not do his homework, and the results are disappointing at best.

Mills made three glaring errors early in the book, and they are serious enough that the sense of verisimilitude is lost, frankly blown to pieces. On the one hand, Mils immediately begins by making the CIA bad guys, soulless mercenaries out for money and personal power at all cost. They are also cast as stupid thugs who enjoy violence and do not think through the implications of their actions, morally or pragmatically. Also, Mills casts his hero as a man with a degree in History, yet has done no apparent work to endow his character with even a rudimentary understanding of the major historical events and cultural imperatives of the nations involved in his story. And finally, Mills relies on a decades-obsolete image of Organized Crime dominated by the Sicilian/Italian Mafia, displaying an incredible (literally unbelievable) series of actions and events which would never occur in a real-world 21st-Century environment. All in all, the book is the work which reminds me of a high school ‘D’ student, hoping no one will pay attention to his lack of scholarship and slipshod characterization. I almost feel like re-writing his book myself, so I can read the plot without cringing at so many amateurish errors.

The book prompted me, however, to consider the real nature of crime we know today. Things are both better and worse, as we all know from experience. Violent crime in America is diminishing, and a better feeling of security is present in most people’s lives, for a number of reasons. But looking deeper, I still see a grave threat to our nation, and in many First-World countries, driven by a local menace: Organized Crime, specifically gangs.

In Mill’s laughably simplistic book, the Mafia remains the biggest threat to the citizens of the United States, so far as crime is concerned. And to Mills, ‘Mafia’ means a fat Italian in a silk suit, “The Godfather” without any depth of character. The Sicilian/Italian “Cosa Nostra” remains alive, true, but hardly what it used to be, for three main reasons. First, the FBI has made it a major goal to slice and dice LCN whenever and wherever they can, and all the prosecutions are taking their toll. Second, many LCN bosses began to drive their money into “legitimate” businesses when they could, so that a generation later, the crime going on is less blue-collar (such as hijacking trucks, robbery, drugs, etc.) and more white-collar, especially graft in connection with political officials. And third, rivals have turned on LCN to seize turf and plum opportunities for themselves, and these rivals have grabbed my attention.

Essentially, Organized Crime (OC) in the US has evolved into 4 variant types:

1. “Classic” OC, involving drugs, prostitution, gambling, the usual vices
2. “New Age” OC, including copyright and patent theft, technology robbery and Internet fraud
3. Tiered OC operations, with particular crimes contracted to other OC gangs to hinder investigation and prosecution, leading to highly specialized groups not easily connected to their patrons
4. Youth recruiting movements in 1st-World nations

Major OC gangs and organizations have learned from FBI prosecutions to hide their character and details even from their own memberships, and are made up of major organizations of a variety of sub-groups, including Italian Organized Crime, Eurasian Organized Crime , Asian/African Organized Crime, Central American Gangs, the Russian 'Mafiya', Japanese Yakuza, Jamaican 'Kingfish', Chinese Triads (also here) , Motorcycle Gangs, and American “Street” Gangs.

The good news is, we are winning the war on drugs, prostitution, gambling, and illegal alien smuggling, albeit slowly. The bad news is, the enemy is growing smarter and more diversified, and has targeted new prey.

The US government has not been idle, however. A number of community initiatives are underway (here, here, here, and here, for example), and a number of agencies work hard to provide resources to cross-reference international criminal activity (for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), keyed to the types of activity known to be performed by OC or of likely interest to OC. The threat, however, is real and enduring.

Some focus only an Al Qaeda and similar groups, but the war against Terrorism includes the War on Organized Crime.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004


Specialist David Mahlenbrock was killed December 3rd by an IED in Kirkuk, Iraq. The milblog Black Five was first with the information,and a simple but important last request from Specialist Mahlenbrock.

Mahlenbrock was a fan of Country musician Toby Keith, and wanted Keith’s song, "American Soldier" played at his funeral. A nationwide effort is underway to have that song played simultaneously at 1 PM EST today by every station willing to participate. Soldier’s Angels, a non-profit group which works to support U.S. military personnel, asked Toby Keith to personally sing the song when Mahlenbrock is laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

Toby Keith fumbled the ball, to put it bluntly. His manager released a terse statement, saying that Keith "has set aside this time to spend with his family." Black Five confirms that Keith has no intention of showing up at the funeral. Seems that he doesn’t feel obliged to meet Mahlenbrock’s 19-year-old widow or 11-month-old daughter. Apparently, there’s no royalties to be had, by showing up to honor a fallen warrior.

Smash and Blackfive say Keith has "offered to cut a new CD of his song, dedicated to Specialist Mahlenbrock’s memory."

We’ll see. Toby Keith has not bothered to mention this promise on his website, and in my opinion, Toby has shown his true color: GREEN. Toby had no trouble playing up his love for the troops, when he could get a good song, a nice video, and sell out concerts, but when it comes down to meeting a debt of honor, ol’ Toby is just not cut out to meet the same standards as the men he pretends to support.

I’d say Toby has dropped to the level of the Dixie Chicks, but at least they were honest about their loyalties. Toby Keith is a mercenary loser, putting his personal comfort over a soldier’s family. For Christmas, somebody ought to get Keith a dictionary, and highlight the page with the word "honor".

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Presidential Election Contest Winner - GOLD MEDAL

Hundreds entered the contest,

and twenty-three predictors landed within one percent of the actual results,

but only one walked away with the [mythical] trophy; Robear, or in real life, Robert Kornegay.

Robert has his own blog, called Mission Mind , which Robert sub-titles "The Conservative Nexus of Faith and Reason". I have linked to it from Stolen Thunder, and recommend it for at least a courtesy visit, and more if you like reading up on religion and politics.

Robert tells me an ancestor of his was the youngest singer of the Declaration of Independence (once again affirming the link between bloggers and revolutionary change), and further, Robert tells us “I am as old as Israel (the current version, that is)”.

Robert describes himself as a “political junkie whose first vote was for Nixon in 1968”. Robert is married, a father, and a grandfather, who has also served as a Christian missionary to Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Robert was a General Contractor “who built his last home first (and we still own it)”, and is presently working on his Masters in Christian Apologetics at Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC. In what remaining spare time he has, Robert loves sailing, and also restores sailboats.

Robert credits his political acumen to excellent political analysis, and for some reason believes our site and articles help in that education. I strongly recommend a visit, soon, to Robert's site.

Congratulations, Robear, and to all the winners of this year’s contest!

Monday, December 13, 2004

Channeling Scrooge

'Tis the season, as they say, so 'Incoming!" says I.

I notice my color turning a Grinch-like green as I react to the incessant demands for money, money, money. This is the season where the hard-sell for all things impractical, whether obscenely pricey jewelry, designer clothing which serves no effective purpose but to highlight the inadequacies of any normal person, while deepening the pockets of french designers, or over-priced toys my little one will delight in for a few days, while I take months to pay the bills.

I have begun to hate the television, as well. Try explaining to a 4-year-old about the Victoria's Secret harlot, er, slut, er, "model" on the TV, wearing a santa hat and a thong and not much more. Try explaining why the kids who scream "gimme!" in a commercial are not good children, even though the commercial clearly shows them getting everything they demand. Try explaining why, with all the peppermint and chocolate candies flying around, you still expect them to eat their vegetables. Arrgh.

I also notice this is when the volume on charity demands gets cranked up. Groups I've never heard from except at Yuletide (if ever before), strongly imply that anyone who wants to consider themselves human, must fork over moolah in exelcious.

And then there's tipping, the peculiar art of paying additional fees and bonuses for something you have already paid for once. Newsweek put out a guide for this extortion, er, remuneration, suggesting anywhere from $10 to "one or two weeks' pay" for all those things we already pay for. I did a quick summary in my head, and if I followed their advice, I'd blow a month's pay on these bonuses, before I spent even a penny on my own family and friends.

The word flows unbidden to my lips, and escapes without restraint: "Humbug!"

Not that I am unfeeling to my fellow man. Far from that, actually. But the notion that I am somehow obliged to spend money I do not have, solely to please people I barely know, by which action I should deprive my family, strikes me as unacceptable in the extreme. With year-end deadlines, harassed shoppers making driving home a combat exercise, and no bonus (as usual), I could skip the season and find myself greatly relieved.

And there it is; the bonus. Some years back, it seems almost everyone got a Christmas/Holiday/Year-End Bonus, and the extra money made it possible to do some nice things for the family and friends. But enter the auditors. That is, I think I know what happened.

If a company gives out a Year-End bonus, they will necessarily do so before the 4th-Quarter and Annual numbers for a company are known, which adds a known but controllable cost to an unknown balance entering into the period. Someone began to sell companies on the notion of presenting the annual bonus at the end of the succeeding period, the 1st Quarter of the next year. This allowed a company to know how much of a bonus they could afford, but it added an additional advantage. As more and more companies deferred the bonus for 3 or 4 months, they gained the interest from holding the money that much longer. Also, any financial difficulty became a reason to reduce or deny bonuses, especially since the bonus was separated from the moral expectation that the company do the right thing. Legally, the company had never been required to give bonuses, and as more and more companies joined the deferment of bonuses, it became easier and easier to delay, reduce, or deny bonuses at all. In my own personal experience, in 24 years of working, I have only once received a Christmas Bonus, and only four times received any kind of bonus. This, in spite of regular promotions and recognitions for excellence. Companies simply do not reward excellence. The Ghosts of Christmases Past and Present have been sacked, to be replaced by the Spirit of the Bottom Line.

This year, like the last, has been a hard one for my family financially. So while we will buy a few gifts for my daughter and a few close friends, my wife and I have again agreed not to buy anything for each other, planning to save what we can. I find myself grateful for my family, my job, and for the ability to thumb my nose at Madison Avenue.

If you find yourself able to buy the gifts you know your family and friends will delight in, go for it. And if you are able to help others in need, may you receive just as much joy in return. But if you are like me, and find yourself just a mite tired of all of this mercenary exuberance, while working for a company that thinks a form-letter greeting counts as recognition, don't worry too much. You're not channeling Scrooge, it's the people who have forgotten why the old traditions mattered, who are in his sway.

Merry Christmas, no purchase necessary!

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Presidential Election Prediction Winner - ‘Silver Medal’

Josh Bauer, or "JB" as he tagged his prediction, claimed second place in the Election Prediction Contest .

Josh will be a junior at Arizona State University next fall, having transferred from the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh. Josh is working on his first book, entitled Last of the Dreadnoughts: The Story of Battleship Texas. Josh is 32 years old.
Josh describes himself as a "recovering liberal. It’s been 12 years and 1 1/2 months since I voted for a democrat. Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell showed me the light."
Josh goes on to note "You and the other influential blogs need to work to draft Jeb in ‘08. I volunteered for Dubya, and although I would vote for Rudy over any Democrat, I could never put in the hours for him that I did for GW."

Next up, the profile for "Robear", our champ.

Congratulations Josh, and thanks for your hard work this election!