December 20, 2011
This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.
‘His regime maintained a network of concentration camps that exceeded the hellholes of Auschwitz and Dachau while his nation starved and extinguished the spirit of tens of millions’
December 20, 2011
Media has been reporting on the death of Kim Jung Il as if he were the leader of another foreign, far away country. To be sure, there are news reports of food shortages, nuclear weapons programs and sophisticated guided missile tests but overall, coverage has studiously avoided calling Kim Jung Il out for what he was: A callous, cold, cruel and evil tyrant.
His regime maintained a network of concentration camps that exceeded the hellholes of Auschwitz and Dachau, fed an army while his nation starved and extinguished the spirit of tens of millions, and the poor lost and forgotten souls who will perished and will never be remembered by anyone. The late North Korean leader sold nuclear technology to unstable and dysfunctional regimes who openly express their genocidal intent. Kim Jung Il routinely threatened his neighbors to the south with ‘Hellfire’ and when he thought it would serve his purposes he authorized the shoot down of a civilian airliner.
All the while the Great Leader enjoyed the support of China, a nation with which we do much business. Maybe that is why the media are pretending Kim Jung Il was just another world leader.
Our much vaunted free media ought to be ashamed of themselves.
THE tyrant has perished, leaving a failing, nuclear-armed nation in the uncertain young hands of his “Great Successor”. His father, since 1994 the “Dear Leader” of one of the world’s most secretive and repressive states (iconic, to the right in the photo above), died on a train at 8.30am on Saturday morning, of a heart attack. North Korea’s 69-year-old supremo had been in poor health: he had heart disease and diabetes, and suffered a stroke in 2008. Nonetheless his demise places sudden and extraordinary pressure on his third son, his designated but untested successor, Kim Jong Un (to the left, in the photo above).
Kim junior—recently dubbed the “Young General”—is now officially in charge of North Korea. His dynastic succession, which had been in preparation since 2009, was reaffirmed swiftly by the state media (as swiftly as the 51 hours it took to announce the elder Kim’s death). The machinery of party and propaganda are organised to support a smooth succession. That does not mean its success is assured. At just 27 or perhaps 28 years of age, the young Un, educated in Switzerland and a great fan of basketball, wants for both experience and proof of loyalty from the armed forces. He was installed as the country’s leader-in-waiting little more than a year ago. By contrast his father had been groomed for leadership for nearly 20 years, with careful attention paid to establishing for him a cult of personality in the image of his own father, the dynasty’s founding dictator, Kim Il Sung.
That Kim Jong Un has no such background may be cause more for anxiety than for relief. His only qualification to lead the country is to be the son of a man who all but destroyed it, and a grandson of the man who built its disastrous brand of totalitarianism. In the 17 years Kim Jong Il ruled since the death of Kim Il Sung, North Korea teetered on the brink of collapse. A devastating famine in the mid-1990s killed as many as a million of his countrymen, while Kim Jong Il indulged his own appetites to excess and diverted massive resources to his dream, now realised, of building a nuclear weapon.
A third Kim may be a step too far. This succession’s viability may well depend on the work of a “regent”: Kim Jong Il’s brother-in-law, Chang Sung Taek. He and his wife, Kim Kyong Hui, appear to have accompanied the Young General’s elevation in lockstep, as those who might stand in his (and their) way have been pushed aside. The ruling elite around the family trinity might appear cohesive from a distance, but they are potentially vulnerable to intrigue. North Korea’s is a government of obscure and competing factions—the army, the Korean Workers’ Party and the cabinet being the greatest—and any uncertainty or crisis in the months ahead could upset the delicate balance behind the dictatorship.
In the very short term though, it seems unlikely that anyone will make a move. Bruce Cumings, a professor of history at the University of Chicago, argues that the cohort of officials who rose during Kim Jong Il’s reign “are now in power and have much privilege to protect”. Even those who privately oppose Kim Jong Un will proclaim loyalty for now. China, fearing instability, will support the succession in so far as it promises to maintain order and prevent a flood of refugees from spilling over its border.
Ma Zhaoxu, a spokesman for China’s ministry of foreign affairs, called Kim Jong Il “a great leader of North Korean people and a close and intimate friend of Chinese people”. Zhang Liangui of the Central Party School in Beijing however told Caijing magazine that China’s policy has been developed with regard for “North Korea the country, not Kim Jong Il the man”. For many years Chinese leaders tried in vain to convince Kim Jong Il to embrace Chinese-style economic reforms; they might yet choose to push those reforms with renewed vigour.
The optimists’ argument would be that the time is ripe for such an overture, and that the West should join with its own. The year 2012, the hundredth anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth, is supposed to be the year that North Korea becomes a “strong and prosperous nation” (kangsong taeguk). The domestic justification for reform could go like so: Kim Jong Il built the nuclear weapons that made his nation “strong”, regardless of whether North Korea might choose to give them up; now it is the time make the country “prosperous”. “Diplomatically, that’s where you want to engage with them,” says John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul who watches China and North Korea. “Okay, you got strength, you’re secure. Now let’s work on prosperity together.”
Sceptics, a group who were proved right under the late Leader time and again, argue that the regime’s elite circles will be loth to abandon the systems of patronage and rent-seeking that have so enriched them. Moreover, any meaningful effort to open up the economy risks exposing the state’s ruling mythology. It has long been shielded from contamination by such inconveniences as facts.
Given a choice, the people might prefer facts to mythology, and real economic well-being over juche (loosely, self-reliance, or autarky). Local television reports are filled with the requisite footage of wailing on the streets of Pyongyang, where the more privileged and well-fed reside, but these images do not offer much insight into the reaction of the impoverished countryside. One NGO worker with extensive contacts around the country states that though they “lived under undeniable fear with Kim Jong Il as the leader of the nation, they are surely even more fearful with him gone.” Without even the barest infrastructure of civil society, lacking most of the tools of modern technology, the rural population of North Korea cannot be fruitfully compared to the victims of repression in the Middle East who are trying to make good on the Arab Spring…
December 20, 2011
Is the latest EU agreement the latest version of the Treaty of Versailles? It would appear as if many Germans think so and it is just as clear a majority of Brits want no part of what they see history repeating itself.
The latest deal may have been co authored by Merkel and Sarkozy but neither leader is bulletproof. Sarkozy wants to extract whatever commitments he can from Germany and Merkel doesn’t want to be responsible for breaking the impossible dream that is the EU.
Perhaps the biggest problem is the enormous and burgeoning EU bureaucracy. As the saying goes, ‘If you want to make enemies, propose change’.
British Prime Minister David Cameron had only been in office for seven weeks when he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to watch a football match together to get to know each other better.
It was on June 27, 2010, and it was the World Cup quarter final in South Africa. It was also a match between two classic rivals: Germany and England. Thomas Müller scored a goal in the 67th minute, bringing the score to 3:1 — to the consternation of British fans and the delight of the Germans.
In Toronto, where the two leaders were attending the G-20 summit, a beaming Merkel leaned over to Cameron and said, with typical German anti-triumphalism but a lack of linguistic finesse: “I really am terribly sorry.”
When the Germans scored another goal three minutes later, Merkel said she was “sorry” again. As Cameron later said, half-jokingly, the shared experience was “a form of punishment I wouldn’t wish on anyone.” Nevertheless, he added, Mrs. Merkel “is one of the politest people I have ever met.”
After that, Merkel and Cameron made a concerted effort to get along with each other. A little more than a year ago, Cameron reached into his bag of tricks once again. He invited the chancellor to Chequers, the magnificent country residence of Britain’s prime ministers, where he and Merkel watched her favorite crime series, “Midsomer Murders,” which led to another, urgently needed upturn in German-British relations. Merkel had, in fact, never really forgiven Cameron for having led his Conservatives out of the European People’s Party, a conservative group in the European Parliament.
For a while, the charming Cameron was far up on Merkel’s list of favorite European colleagues — until, with his lone veto against EU-wide treaties to resolve the debt crisis, he catapulted himself back to the bottom.
The English Channel has suddenly become wider, deeper and foggier once again. The London-based Daily Telegraph newspaper has warned its readers against what it calls Berlin’s blatant effort to dominate Europe and already sees “a new era of Anglo-German antagonism” on the horizon — again characterized by two leaders who are bound together in their sincere dislike for each other, like past leaders of the two countries: Helmut Kohl and Margaret Thatcher, or Gerhard Schröder and Tony Blair. Reverend Peter Mullen, the Anglican chaplain to the London Stock Exchange, where he is not popular for his crude views, goes even further. According to Mullen, Germans tried to achieve hegemony in Europe by military force in 1870, 1914 and 1939, and now Merkel is trying to do the same with the weapons of the financial system.
‘Welcome to the Fourth Reich’
Distrust of the European Union goes hand-in-hand with distrust of Germany, especially among “euroskeptics,” the current euphemism for the many haters of the EU in Britain. The headline “Welcome to the Fourth Reich” in the high-circulation Daily Mail summarized the German-French plans to rescue the monetary union. In another story, the paper wrote: “What we are witnessing is the economic colonisation of Europe by stealth by the Germans.”
Of course, many Britons — and even some Englishmen, among whom the resentment is the most widespread — know that such talk is nonsense. But surprisingly many do not. Whenever someone on in Britain utters the word “Germany,” it doesn’t take long, a matter of milliseconds, in fact — even in many well-informed circles in politics, journalism or the world of comedy — before someone says: “Hitler.”
It’s been this way for decades. Nazis are practically an obsession in Britain, and associating Germans with them is such a strong reflex that it stifles almost all interest in the real Germany of today. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, a British education authority, found that the teaching of history suffers from excessive “Hitlerization.” For British schoolchildren, Germany came into the world as a freak in 1933 and, thanks to then Prime Minister Winston Churchill, died a well-deserved death in 1945.
The anti-German rhetoric was particularly strong after German reunification, which then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, nicknamed “the Iron Lady,” sought to prevent. Even the levelheaded Economist warned against what it believed to be the threat of a German nuclear bomb. In 1990, Thatcher invited leading British historians to a conference at Chequers to analyze the dangerous German national character. According to the minutes of the meeting, some of the supposed German character traits discussed there included “aggressiveness, egotism, an inferiority complex and sentimentality.”…
December 20, 2011
Making money, promoting an agenda and political correctness fuel media driven scientific ignorance.
Science teachers need to address these issues in the classroom- and in the newsroom.
The idea that the brains of girls and boys are so different that they should be parented and educated in different ways and steered towards very different careers is one of the most successfully promoted media narratives of the decade.
A small group of advocates have pushed this notion so hard that it’s become the conventional wisdom. They write best-selling books, speak to large groups of teachers, parents and school administrators, and are quoted – endlessly and usually uncritically―by the news media. They claim that due to vast differences between boys and girls, the single sex classroom will improve children’s academic achievement.
But it’s not true.
In September, the journal Science ran an article by eight prominent scientists titled “The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling.” They argue that “There is no well-designed research showing that single-sex (SS) education improves students’ academic performance, but there is evidence that sex segregation increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism.” The lead author on the piece was professor Diane Halpern of Claremont McKenna College, past president of the American Psychological Association.
The Science authors, prominent psychologists or neuroscientists, find the performance of the news media sorely lacking. “Novelty-based enthusiasm, sample bias, and anecdotes account for much of the glowing characterization of SS education in the media,” they write.
“Factoids” promoted by advocates keep appearing in news stories around the world, even though good science has disproved or critiqued them. In the past few years, the news media have promoted a series of myths that, as it turns out, have little evidence behind them. As more misinformation is reported, the false narrative of great differences grows stronger. Here are a few of the myths that power this narrative:
•Myth: Research shows great differences in the brains of boys and girls; children should be taught in single sex classrooms. The campaign for segregating public schools by gender is led by Leonard Sax, founder and executive director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, and by best-selling author Michael Gurian (“The Wonder of Boys”) who heads the Gurian Institute. They keep aggressively promoting the “science” that supposedly calls for separating boys and girls. They are media darlings, endlessly quoted in news stories, with little or no skepticism. Sax has been on NBC’s “Today,” CNN’s “American Morning” and numerous other national shows, and a LexisNexis search of major newspapers turned up nearly a thousand references. Michael Gurian’s Web site says he has been featured in major media, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Educational Leadership, Time “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” CNN, PBS and NPR.
•Fact: Even though Gurian, Sax and others tout great gender differences as scientific truth, most scientists disagree. Lise Eliot, associate professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School, did an exhaustive review of the scientific literature on human brains from childhood to adolescence and concluded there is “surprisingly little evidence of sex differences in children’s brains.” Eliot was one of the authors of the Science article and the author of “Pink Brain, Blue Brain.” Cordelia Fine, a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience and research fellow at the University of Melbourne, finds dressed up as science in the news media propagating a dangerous new conventional wisdom. She refers to much of the gender-difference theories in the popular media as “neurosexism.”
•Myth: Boys are biologically programmed to focus on objects, predisposing them to math and understanding systems, while girls are programmed to focus on people and feelings. British psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen claims that the male brain is the “systematizing brain” while the female brain is the “empathizing” brain. He has been quoted in the New York Times, in a Newsweek cover story, in a PBS documentary and in countless other major media outlets. Parents magazine decreed as fact, “Girls prefer dolls (to blocks and balls)…because girls pay more attention to people while boys are more enthralled with mechanical objects.”
This idea was based on a study of day-old babies, which found that the boys looked at mobiles longer and the girls looked at faces longer. Male brains, Baron-Cohen says, are ideally suited for leadership and power. They are hardwired for mastery of hunting and tracking, trading, achieving and maintaining power, gaining expertise, tolerating solitude, using aggression and taking on leadership roles.
And what of the female brain? It is specialized for making friends, mothering, gossip, and “reading” a partner. Girls and women are so focused on others that they have little interest in figuring out how the world works.
•Fact: Baron-Cohen’s study had major problems. It was an “outlier” study. No one else has replicated these findings, including Baron-Cohen himself. It is so flawed as to be almost meaningless. Why?
The experiment lacked crucial controls against experimenter bias and was badly designed. Female and male infants were propped up in a parent’s lap and shown, side by side, an active person or an inanimate object. Since newborns can’t hold their heads up independently, their visual preferences could well have been determined by the way their parents held them.
Cordelia Fine says there’s little evidence for the idea of a male brain hardwired to be good at understanding the world and a female brain hardwired to understand people. There is a much literature flat-out contradicting Baron-Cohen’s study, providing evidence that male and female infants tend to respond equally to people and objects, notes Elizabeth Spelke, codirector of Harvard’s Mind/Brain/Behavior Inter-faculty Initiative. But media stories continue to promote the idea of very different brains.
•Myth: Boys have inherently weaker verbal skills than girls. They should be given “informational texts” to read instead of the classics or any material containing emotion, which they aren’t good at either. The media swallow this idea uncritically:
The New Republic: a “verbally drenched curriculum” is “leaving boys in the dust.”
National Review: Without “action-packed narratives..boys will be bored, disaffected and disruptive.”
The Hartford Courant:“Because boys don’t want to read books from beginning to end, informational texts are ideal.”
•Fact: Overall, there are virtually no differences in verbal abilities between girls and boys. In 2005, University of Wisconsin psychologist Janet Hyde synthesized data from 165 studies on verbal ability and gender. They revealed a female superiority so slight as to be meaningless.
Boys have a just-about-equal aptitude for reading and writing, but their actual performance can suffer if they are not encouraged to read or are given unchallenging material. The more the news media run stories about boys not being “hardwired” for reading, the more parents and teachers will believe it.
•Myth: Females are the talkative sex while males are naturally strong and silent. This idea plays into the whole theory that men and boys are not naturally good or comfortable with words, at which girls and women excel. In her bestseller “The Female Brain,” author Louann Brizendene claimed that a woman uses 20,000 words per day, while a man uses only 7,000. Brizendine’s book got incredible media play, including on ABC’s “20/20″ and “Good Morning America.” a Q and A in the New York Times Magazine Ideas Issue, Newsweek, O, The Oprah Magazine, a front page article in the San Francisco Chronicle and pieces in the Los Angeles Times, Toronto Star, Baltimore Sun, St Louis Post-Dispatch, Columbus Dispatch, Oakland Tribune and more. Hardly any news stories mentioned the fact that the authoritative British journal Nature savaged the book, saying it “fails to meet even the most basic standards of scientific accuracy and balance,” is “riddled with scientific errors” and “is misleading about the processes of brain development, the neuroendocrine system, and the nature of sex differences in general.”
•Fact:James Pennebaker, chairman of the psychology department at the University of Texas at Austin, coauthored a seven-year study of men’s and women’s speech. Of the male-female gap, he says, “It’s been a common belief, but it just didn’t fit.” In fact, both men and women use approximately 16,000 words a day…