Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Council Winners

[posted by Callimachus]

Here are the Watchers Council winners from last week.

First place within the council went to Irony so Thick You Can Bathe In It by Right Wing Nut House, who may have thrown his defense of Bush to the wind but who has not given up his reserved right to kick the legacy media in the butt when it wallows in its own hypocrisy:

The New York Times, a news organ that has on many occasions revealed the existence of some of the most classified intelligence programs the government uses to protect American citizens, in violation of the law, of common sense, and (my own opinion) of their patriotic duty during a time of war, now implicitly criticizes the Bush Administration for (wait for it) ... releasing classified information!

Also getting votes in a fairly split week of balloting were Why Not Turkey? by American Future, which looks at Turkey as a potential model for the coexistence of democracy and Islam, and Damned Fools from this site.

The Education Wonks called attention to a story out of San Francisco that I don't think penetrated above the level of the California state newswire, with Just Saying "No" To Junior R.O.T.C. If it wasn't for the blog, I certainly would have missed it. Not that there's anything I can do about it but shake my head in frustration. According to the quoted article:

A majority of the seven-member San Francisco Board of Education is poised to end the district's 90-year relationship with the U.S. military and its widely popular Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps, with a vote expected next week.

The proposal before the board on Nov. 14 would phase out the 1,600-student program after two years, with no new cadets added after this semester.

Four board members -- Dan Kelly, Mark Sanchez, Eric Mar and Sarah Lipson -- oppose the program on two grounds: the military's stance on gays and the desire to keep the armed forces out of public schools.

And yet, far down at the end of the story, in the final graphs, we learn this:

Most critics acknowledge that the JROTC helps reduce dropouts. Students learn leadership and problem-solving skills, first aid, money management, geography, civics and how to be a team player, among other topics -- some of which they learn in other required classes. Opponents say all that can be done without the military.

Still, there is no guarantee the district would create an alternative.

Sanchez and other board members want to create a task force to develop ideas. Yet a district budget analysis found that without military funding, the district could replace the 15 instructors with nine teachers -- enough to staff the extra physical education and elective courses the students would need, but not enough to also create another leadership program during or after school.

Votes also went to Sob Stories and Voter IDs by The Sundries Shack, which fisks a Washington Post story on supposed voter disenfranchisement that turns out to be nothing more than requiring proper ID, Ahmadinejad's Game by Soccer Dad, and A Stale Question: What Will It Take for the French to Rebel? by Gates of Vienna.

Outside the Council, the winner was The Demand for Perfection by Stephen Browne at Rants and Raves. This is a luminous little essay that I highly recommend. It's woven like silk and it represents the best that blogs can be, as pure prose writing. It opens with an anecdote from World War II:

The story goes that at some point in Joe Louis' army career, a journalist asked him how he felt about serving in a segregated army, fighting for a country that treated him as second class. He replied, "America ain't got no problems Hitler can solve."

So why is it that a pug with a high school education at best could see what a whole lot of highly educated and sophisticated intellectuals can't?

In its short run, the essay leapfrogs from the Bomber to Paul Robeson, to Eric Hoffer, to Daniel Patrick Moynihan. And you meet the author, too:

What I find disturbing is that a lot of intellectual types in our country and Europe seem to be taking the position that since what we have is not perfect, it's not worth defending against that which would destroy it and replace it with something immeasurably worse. Or even that it deserves to be destroyed, no matter what replaces it - that nihilism that Hoffer spoke of.

Now I have a confession. I used to hold views very much like these, back when I was a young intellectual.

What changed my mind? I don't exactly know. Perhaps it had something to do with the experience of working a total of six years as a garbageman, and another half-dozen as a sewage treatment plant worker. That's close enough to the bottom of society (prestige-wise at least), and it's not so bad. Perhaps it was living in Eastern Europe for thirteen years and seeing how our last rival ideology made once-fourishing countries into something like Third-World slums.

And ultimately, having children drove home to me the importance of protecting and preserving (or conserving, as in "Conservative") what this civilization of ours did right, and leaving something our kids can build on and improve. This presumes that we can educate and prepare them for that task, and that job seems to be in the hands of those "intellectuals."

Votes also went to Discussing the Developing Role of the Media During Times of War at The QandO Blog, which could have deserved a win on another week when there was nothing like the above post to compete against.

The post dissects a James Q. Wilson article on "The Press at War." Unlike so many blog posts, it doesn't merely recapitulate the article and applaud or hiss, it expands on its points, opens and unfolds them, and turns a pre-existing work into a garden for fresh growth.

Among the quotes from the original article is this, which makes a point that ought to be obvious but still tends to be overlooked for all its importance:

One veteran reporter, S.L.A. Marshall, put the real difference this way: once upon a time, "the American correspondent ... was an American first, a correspondent second." But in Vietnam, that attitude shifted. An older journalist in Vietnam, who had covered the Second World War, lamented the bitter divisions among the reporters in Saigon, where there were "two camps": "those who wanted to win the war and those who wanted to lose it." The new reporters filed exciting, irreverent copy, which made it to the front pages; the veteran reporters' copy ended up buried way in back.

Also getting votes were Hamas in the New York Times by Counterterrorism blog, which notes an op-ed in the Gray Lady by an Ahmed Yousef, identified by the paper only as "a senior adviser to the Palestinian prime minister.” The post looks at his background in a bit more detail than that short phrase, and it is enlightening.

Finally, there was The Battle for the Middle East by Iraq the Model. It's a shame this kind oc clarion call for American commitment and self-interested hard thinking has to come from Iraq, not Washington, D.C., but here it is:

Let's call the battle for middle east, and I think politicians do not need anyone to explain to them what this part of the world means … the outcome of war in Iraq does not affect Iraq alone, a victory means disrupting the ring of terror and extremism the enemies are trying to establish while failure would be equal to allowing them to establish that huge ring, or should I say that gigantic octopus of terrorists and terror-supporting regimes that would extend from Afghanistan in the east to Libya in the west and from Iraq in the north to Sudan and Somalia in the south.

And instead of creating islands of democracy and liberty, connecting them and extend from there to change the world to the better, the enemies would engulf those islands and add them to their multi-jointed entity of terror.

We need the decision-makers to rise above the rhetoric of who's right and who's wrong and focus on protecting the world from falling prey to the vicious enemies of civilization.

That was my nominee.