Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Way Down upon the Afghanadab River

Canadian forces in Afghanistan were involved in pitched battles with taliban insurgents over the past week. "Operation Medusa" was designed to root out the same taliban that Canadian forces have been trying to 'root' out of the Panjwai region since July.

There are claims that 'hundreds' of Taliban have been killed in this offensive, which also involves troops from the 'coalition' forces. If this has been going on since July, given the preponderance, if not in manpower, then certainly in armour, heavy resources and airpower, how come "thousands" of Taliban are still showing up for the current fight?

It could be that the routes to the south, into Pakistan, are wide open for the movement of men and supplies, or it could be that virtually everybody in the Panjwai is a taliban.

This week Pakistan announced a peace settlement with the Taliban in Waziristan - one of the tribal areas abutting Afghanistan. The Pakistani army had been engaged in a four-year, unsuccessful 'war' with the Taliban. This is now over. General Mussharif has said that the Taliban promise to be 'good' and that he will not countenance any 'foreign power' interference in Waziristan. There is no way this can be taken as an advance in the cause of 'peace and democracy'.

This week another friendly-fire incident took the life of one young Canadian and injured a further 30 when an A-10 ground attack fighter strafed a Canadian position. The A-10 'Thunderbolt' was designed as a tank-buster; its main weapon is a 30 mm gatling-type cannon firing depleted uranium ammunition at a phenomenal rate per minute. This ammunition is reputed to have caused wide-spread contamination in parts of Iraq after its use there. Designed to knock out concentrations of warsaw pact armour, the low and slow beast is now employed in trashing taliban. The Canadian reactions to the strafing give some impression of what the Taliban undergo on a regular basis - if their experience is similar, they should have given-up long ago. Either the A-10 isn't the killer it's cracked-up to be, or the Taliban are a hell of a lot tougher than their opposition.

Which brings us back to the point. Why are Canadian troops in Afghanistan killing Taliban and posing in the cross hairs for American jet jockeys? Because they believe in 'the mission' say the supporters of the army. Because we need to fight world terrorism there, says the Prime Minister. Because we can. Because we have to. There are a host of reasons but all lack a certain elementary premise. Who, or what turned the mission of Canadians in support of the Afghan government's rebuilding program around Kabul, into a shooting war down the other end of the country? If anybody can get through to the Taliban it's got to be the Afghans - not us, the Americans or any other foreign power - it none of our business. It will, ultimately, be the Afghans who decide - and I'll bet my bippy, when they do decide, inviting us to leave will be part of it. The Afghans will have the kind of country they choose, even if it's one we don't like.

"They didn't die in vain" will ring hollow if they re-elect a taliban government. It will ring really hollow if Afghanistan reverts to a tribal narco-state. It will echo in Canadian history as Mr. Harper's blunder if it continues as it is.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Back to Basics

It's back into the classrooms next week for our younger folk and the Ontario (Toronto) papers, any way, are running 'screamers' about the underfunding of education. Things are ,according to the Star, going to heck in the proverbial handcart, at least as far as moolah at the Toronto Bd. of Ed. is concerned. Eliminate programs, shut up those swimming pools. And of course the "Why do we have two school systems in Ontario?" doofi have forgotten what they were told last time.

The restructuring of education in the province, by Mike Harris and his gang, changed the way things happen in regard to taxes for education. 'Big Bro in TO' gets all the locally-raised tax revenue for education, and redistributes it - supposedly, equitably, to the provinces' school boards.

The big loser in this shift is the Toronto 'Boreds' of Education which, at one time, received all the taxes they levied on private property and commercial enterprise in the City of Toronto (with, the exception of what Catholics could get out of Catholic homeowners and a restricted number of businesses), a heap of dough. They were powers unto themselves - the best-funded school boards in Ontario.

Uncle Mike changed all that, he put Toronto education back where it should be, in line with the 'poor' boards. He set the education tax rate and made sure those 'commies' on the school boards lived within their means - because he set the 'means'. He set two means, really - an instructional and an administrative 'envelope' of funds. Neither was transferrable. He expected, I would imagine, that there would be some fat-trimming at the Board offices - there were lots of buy-outs and golden-parachuted personnel. But he also knew that his number one supporters in the reform camp - the Board trustees and administrators, expected their 'worth' to be recognized - and the head honchos and honchas were rewarded. Partly to get back at the 'commies', Mike punished the trustees - he neutered them and reduced their stipends. Now they are needed to head off any 'parent groups' who get power-hungry, as some are inclined to do. The teachers were given regular, if not notable, increases. That left them to worry about their pensions and kept them quiet.

Other stuff - the 'accountabilty' movement - continues. The 'new' curriculum is in place. And just like Tim made little donuts - wonder of wonders - the testing organization has deterermined that the gains in ability among the scholastic are notably improved! For 10 or 15 (or is it 40?) million bucks a year they had ought to find some improvement. But what kind of improvement? I recieved an old Grade 8 graduation 'test' from 1920 in the email. It tested every area of the Grade 8 curriculum in place at that time - rigorously. Now there are educators to-day who would criticize the test for its failure to consider multiple-intelligences or non-linear thinking. I have two problems with that - are those things considered valid in to-day's tests? Are there alternate responses that would receive full marks? I don't think so. Is musical ability, or artistry graded? No. But then kids to-day aren't expected to solve multidimensional problems requiring a substantial base of 'tool' knowledge. I'm thinking of the computation of interest on a loan questions, or those that involved using volume computations and formulae in avoirdupois to determine a weight, or even a selling-price, for agricultural goods. I think I might have had enough knowledge from my old 'rote' days to take a poke at it but it would baffle the brightest grade 8 I know to-day. To-days 'test' questions don't even come close to being that challenging.

Drop-out rates have become a real problem as the rigorous 'new' curriculum is beyond many high school aged children. In secondary schools, the maths and sciences have burgeoned. For those with ability, the opportunities are outstanding to pick up some of the latest knowledge (compared to what I was taught) and to hone some high level computational and cognitive skills. These, however, are lost on the mediocre, whose time might better be spent understanding how a fridge, microwave or washer/dryer works. Some kids should be taught the basics of opening a can or cooking a meal, the basics of sanitation - a host of life-skills for the 21st century. They're not, and they quit school altogether, many to become welfare and disability cases. There is a significant chunk of the last two generations who are non-productive members of society - mainly, I believe, because of their educational failure-to-thrive.

Education is better funded now, than it ever was. At the same time, however, there are problems. In our local board every trustee is deemed to 'need' a laptop computer. Ditto every administrative type and a growing number of other personnel. That 'administrative packet' can be, and is, used to fund a number of deluxe 'perks' for the upper echelons of 'management'. Remember the money has to be spent on administration, or it's lost.

Boards continue to spend inordinate sums maintaining school computer networks which, at the elementary grades, provide little educational value for the buck.

Special education remains an area where, in practicality, a 'one-size-fits-all' approach remains basal in philosophy. The paper trail, the Individualized Education Plan and the IPP remains overly important as documentation but are not primarily a learning or evaluative tool. Highly trained staff function more as secretaries, than in applying their training to assist students.

At the same time 'perks' for the classroom are diminishing. Every year demonstrates a growing number of 'fund-raisers' to provide out-of-class experiences to kids who can't or don't want to walk anywhere. Stifling copyright laws circumscribe what can be shown or used as resources. 'Health' issues preclude a number of experiences other generations took for granted and a hyper-sensitivity about personal 'safety' and possible law suits has engendered a growing paranoia in our schools. At the same time values education is watered down to a minimalist humanitarianism in an effort to pay lipservice to multiethnicity and multiculturalism.

The variety of challenges facing schools to-day are greater than ever and kids, whether we like to think so or not, aren't much 'smarter' than those who preceded them but they, and their educators, certainly do have a far greater number of distractions.

Time to Rally the Troops

Not so good news, and good news, about to America's on-going Iraq involvement.

Last week's announced good news about the pacification efforts of an an American 'stryker' division and whole whack of Iraqi police and military, in Baghdad, went for a loop this week-end with a massive 'katyusha' attack on that city, as well as continued bombings and sectarian executions.

If you don't know, katyushas are Russian-derived artillery rockets fired from the back of a truck or a launching rack. The Israelis suffered under a barrage of them during the recent nastiness. They aren't particularly accurate, but if you can shoot them into a city - they provide an impressive bang for the buck. Modern anti-artillery radars and fire-supression artillery makes launching katyushas a risky proposition. The Israelis were able to get artillery onto launch sites in under three minutes, and probably even faster. The Americans had no preparations for this eventuality, even though they were aware that the insurgents had the capability.

George W. Bush is taking to the air, and other, waves to bolster the flagging spirits of those who might be starting to think that 'cut and run' isn't so inconsiderable after all. This week he addressed a group of American Legionnaires and recalled to the battles they fought, successfully, against Naziism and Communism. They were men who knew that, if they hadn't done what they did, we might all to-day be clicking heels and combing our funny little moustaches, or singing the 'Internationale' as we headed down to the tractor factory for another 14-hour shift. They were certainly the right guys to tell that,if America fails in Iraq, you might as well get Mabel into a garbage bag and get yerself a Shriner's hat, because the world, as we know it, will come to an end. The boys with the field service caps, with all the gold piping and 'I saw the Alamo' buttons, are just the guys who'll vote you four more years to kill off as many 'illegals' and welfare dependents as you can. You got to hand it to George, though, he can really make people think he believes this stuff.

Meanwhile the 'war blogs' have blossomed this past week with 'Star Spangled War Stories' the kind that used to show up in those lurid, little-boy comic books. Stories about heroes going toe-to-toe with a merciless enemy, snipers who can pick AlQaeda out of a crowd and knock him off with a well-placed shot from impressive distances - this done daily in Ramadi. Other stories tell tales of daring-do in setting up all that infrastructure for Iraqis - schools, hospitals, clinics, and a biggy - 'WOMEN'S CENTRES' all brought courtesy of the 'thunderin' 135th' or the 'hell on wheels' brigade of the Nth armored. Hospitals that other posters report Iraqis won't visit because of the regular death-squad activities inside them. It seems to me the only infrastructure that works is inside some fortified coalition compound. And in Ramadi, nothing works. I guess it's all part of the effort to put a more positive light on the war, the story the "media" refuses to tell. I call it Republican election-time spin.

I don't envy the Americans - that old C&W song, "I Got a Tiger By the Tail", tells it all. Hope Harper keeps us out.

On the Banks.... of the River....

It takes so long to sort things out in Canada that, sometimes, boring stuff can become quite interesting. One of the underpinnings of ‘good government’ - a wonderful British concept- is that the government is expected to act with glacial rapidity. This sometimes pisses people, who are, at least now-a-days, into instant gratification, off, royally! And so it remains in the hamlet of Caledonia (see previous posts).

The government took their own judge to court and ‘whupped his azz’ - as our soth’ron neighbours so graphically put it. That won them the right to continue to negotiate with non-law abiding native folk, who were emboldened to extend their land claim some 40 linear miles, and some considerable square mileage, to the north of where most people thought it was. They have not yet considered that capillary action might indeed draw the waters of Georgian Bay into the drainage basin of the Grand River, and ergo, they might have to consider including everything north to the old Hudson Bay claim, which, sadly, predates theirs. Not bad for some expatriot ‘American’ indians.

This weeks’ developments include the announcement that the Gov’t is sweetening the deal for the developer (apparently the deal hadn’t closed) to add another 3.5 million tax dollars to cover “fair market value”. This is probably the same ‘value’ that the assessment board is not allowed to assess for the next year, until they review the computer model that raises everybody’s taxes, every year. But, hey, buddy put in sewers, water mains and street lights, so that field is worth more than he paid for it. I’m glad those houses didn’t have pools and jacuzzis!

The developments also include the ‘Preem’ putting is foot down. Apparently our red brethren have developed the habit of making lots of noises late at night - the sound of the tom-toms, the roars of the ATV, and aggravating the locals. And they’ve apparently bolstered that with squirtings of fire hoses (remember the water mains buddy put in?). We pay for water in Canada now, so who’s getting the Indians' bill? Anyway ‘Daltie’ was miffed that they would do these things that don’t help negotiations, and, well, he was mad! The Indians probably told him to put his foot down ... in the dogshit. Ho, ho! Negotiations (read paid lunches) continue under the masterfulnessitude of Davey Peterson - new man - double deelux!

The Iroquois are probably thinking ‘fair market value’ as well.

Maybe the government could get a couple of bus loads of Hurons from Quebec to come reconquer their homeland - starting with Caledonia.