Monday, October 15, 2007

Dangerous Resolution

The Democrats are intent on getting us out of Iraq no matter the cost, and their latest tactic could wind up having calamitous consequences. It consists of a non-binding resolution, approved by the House Foreign Affairs committee, to censure Turkey for its massacre of Armenians over 90 years ago. Turkey is extremely offended by this resolution, which Speaker Pelosi promises to bring to a vote by the full House in November, and threatens to retaliate by shutting down access to our air base in Incirlik from which we supply troops in Iraq.

Turkey is also threatening to invade the north of Iraq to deal with the Kurds who are fighting a low grade insurrection against Turkey to carve out a Kurdish state in the eastern part of the country adjacent to Iraq. Our State department has been trying hard to talk Turkey out of such a move, but the Democrats' insult may have hardened Turkish hearts to our entreaties.

It may be that this resolution is not an attempt to make it harder for us to succeed in Iraq, but if it's not, what other purpose could it possibly serve? President Reagan already condemned the Armenian massacre back in 1981 and there are plenty of other massacres going on today (Burma, Darfur) that Congress could devote its energies to condemning. Why pick one that's almost a century old, and what purpose is served by it other than deliberately antagonizing an ally?

Jed Babbin's column on this at the link is an excellent overview of the situation and the Democrats' rationale for their resolution.


Good News on Cancer

Here's more good news on the battle against cancer: Death rates are dropping faster than ever, thanks to new progress against colorectal cancer.

A turning point came in 2002, scientists conclude Monday in the annual "Report to the Nation" on cancer. Between 2002 and 2004, death rates dropped by an average of 2.1 percent a year. That might not sound like much, but between 1993 and 2001, deaths rates dropped on average 1.1 percent a year. The big change was a two-pronged gain against colorectal cancer.

While it remains the nation's No. 2 cancer killer, deaths are dropping faster for colorectal cancer than for any other malignancy - by almost 5 percent a year among men and 4.5 percent among women.

One reason is that colorectal cancer is striking fewer people, the report found. New diagnoses are down roughly 2.5 percent a year for both men and women, thanks to screening tests that can spot precancerous polyps in time to remove them and thus prevent cancer from forming.

Still, only about half the people who need screening - everyone over age 50 - gets checked.

If you're over 50 and have never had a colonoscopy done call your doctor to get an appointment for one. The procedure is painless (although preparation for it is a bit tedious) and very effective. If you've never had one it's probably one of the most important things you can do this week.


Assassination Target

News agencies are reporting a terrorist plot to kill Russian president Vladimir Putin during his visit this week to Tehran. DEBKAfile has some details about the plot that I haven't seen elsewhere:

Vladimir Putin has decided not to accept his security services' advice to call off his trip Tuesday, Oct. 16 to attend the Caspian Sea summit and meet President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Its cancellation would damage Russian-Iranian relations.

Iran's foreign ministry dismissed the reports as "completely baseless and part of a psychological war to disrupt Russian-Iranian ties."

DEBKAfile's intelligence sources report that the assassination plot, hatched by three gangs which joined hands ad hoc, was betrayed to the Russians by a Chechen who was detained before he managed to slip into Iran and join the conspirators.

The three groups are: Chechen separatists, whose revolt is almost completely crushed in Russia; an al Qaeda-Taliban group bidding to settle scores with Putin for his denial of Muslim rights in Kosovo; and an ultra-extremist wing of the clerical regime, which accuses Russia of selling out Iranian interests as an American vassal.

Putin aroused their ire by his "treacherous" offer to transfer Iran's uranium enrichment program to Russia, his calculated foot-dragging on the delivery of fuel for the Bushehr reactor and delays in completing its construction. Moscow moreover is held accountable for voting twice with the United States on UN Security Council sanctions against Iran.

The cancellation of his trip would "damage Russian/Iranian relations," according to the above report. Does this imply that his murder would be less damaging to relations than cancelling the trip?


The Education Gap

The local Sunday paper yesterday ran another in the series of op-ed pieces I've been invited to write for them. The column (below)was based on a couple of posts I'd done for Viewpoint:

Recent test scores in the California reveal a glaring disparity in student performance between blacks and Latinos and their white and Asian counterparts - regardless of family income. According to state Superintendent of Instruction Jack O'Connell, "These are not economic achievement gaps. They are racial achievement gaps and we cannot afford to excuse them."

Statewide, only 30 percent of black students and 29 percent of Latino students scored proficient or better in English/language arts. In contrast, 62 percent of white students and 66 percent of Asian students scored proficient or better. In math, only 26 percent of black students and 31 percent of Latino students scored proficient or better, compared to 54 percent of white students and 68 percent of Asians.

O'Connell said the new state test scores clearly show that lower achievement by black and Latino students cannot be "explained away" as the result of poverty. "The results show this explanation simply is not true."

So what is the explanation?

Randolph Ward, San Diego County superintendent of schools claims that the achievement gap persists for several reasons. One is that the most experienced and talented teachers often work at more affluent schools, while younger and less experienced teachers fill slots at poorer schools, which typically enroll minority students. Less experienced teachers, Ward believes, have lower expectations of their students and that students unfortunately live down to what is expected of them.

I doubt, however, that this is the real reason for poor minority performance. Whether these students had highly experienced teachers or not their difficulties would likely persist. In fact, it's younger educators who often have the highest expectations from their students and are most enthusiastic about making a real difference in their students' lives. It's only through years of bitter experience that teachers come to realize that disproportionate numbers of minority students simply don't achieve at the level other students do.

Teachers usually love their students. They want them to do well. They long for them to succeed, but teachers also know their students' capabilities better than anyone, and they know that too many of them simply don't have the tools to compete.

The problem is not confined to California, of course. It afflicts almost every community and school across the nation.

So, why do relatively fewer minority students possess the tools necessary for academic success? If the reason isn't their teachers, nor racism, nor economics, we're left with two obvious possibilities. One is that Charles Murray was correct when he wrote in The Bell Curve in 1994 that some groups are, on average, inherently less capable than others. The second possibility is that the problem is cultural. Before we resign ourselves to Murray's very controversial thesis we really should make a concerted effort to take the second seriously.

Many minority students come from communities where, for whatever reason, neither traditional family nor educational excellence is valued. Many youngsters are allowed to dress, speak, and act as if they are mentally handicapped and proud to be so, and the culture in which they are immersed not only permits this perversity but often encourages it.

Moreover, students who grow up with only a single parent invariably find school more of a struggle than do those who grow up with both biological parents. The job of keeping after children to do their homework, or taking them to libraries, historical sites, and cultural events, is daunting to many moms who exhaust themselves just putting food on the table. When children, especially sons, grow to be about twelve or thirteen they're often very difficult for a single mother to control, and mom's pleas that the boy focus on academic work frequently go unheeded. Instead, young men, flush in their incipient manhood, often prefer to gravitate to the streets to affirm their masculinity by identifying with thugs, siring another generation of fatherless children, and dressing and talking as if their IQ were somewhere around the freezing point of water.

The problem certainly exists in every racial group in the country, but it's most severe in minority communities where almost 70 percent of children are born to unwed mothers (It's close to 90 percent in some urban neighborhoods). Until we begin to take the plight of fatherless children seriously all our talk about improving minority academic performance is just going to be so much wasted time and breath, and all our efforts to help minorities close the achievement gap will be like bailing floodwater out of New Orleans with a spoon.

The fundamental solution to the problems of our inner cities, whether the problem is educational achievement, poverty, or crime, requires reinvigorating and restoring the biological family and discouraging behaviors which send the message that it's cool to be stupid. Nothing else will make any real difference unless we do.