Wednesday, December 13, 2017

From the Archives: 'School Training for Civil Defense' (1981)

Some background may shed light on this 1981 article, retrieved from my paper archives.  Fortunately the story behind it has already been told, in a remembrance of celebrated debate coach James J. Unger, which I posted in April 2008:

The high school debate topic the previous year (1981-82) was "Resolved: That the federal government should establish minimum educational standards for elementary and secondary schools in the United States." I came up with the idea, based upon research I was doing in the real world -- if the world of Washington think tanks can be described as "real" -- that we should write a case about civil defense education in elementary and secondary schools.

The problem with this idea was that there was little, if any, information available about civil defense education. (There was some material from the 1960s, but nothing recent and little that was usable by debaters.) But I was convinced this could be a winning case.

So I asked Professor Unger, "What do you do when something is topical but so obscure that there is nothing written about it that you can use as evidence for inherency?" He replied that there was not much to do in that situation, other than to intensify your research and find the evidence you need.

My solution: since I had already had one article published on the topic of civil defense -- appearing in the Washington Star on October 10, 1980, months after I submitted it and based on research I did during the summer 1980 forensics institute -- and had subsequently become an officer in the American Civil Defense Association, I could just write another one, with a focus on education, that could be used as evidence to support our case.

And that's what I did. I submitted the article to several newspapers, and it was published in the New York Tribune (a sister newspaper to The Washington Times), just days before the institute tournament. We inserted the appropriate quotations into the case (not citing me by name), held others in reserve for second affirmative and rebuttals, and moved forward.

The case was relatively successful, with two of my teams making it into the elimination rounds. After the last round that one of the teams lost, they told me that my qualifications as a source had become an issue in the debate. The judge from that round added: "Your boys defended you valiantly, but they lost on other issues."

This is a long tale meant to be background of something that happened a couple of years later. As it was told to me, late one night while preparing for a tournament, members of the Georgetown debate team had hit a brick wall, unable to find the evidence they needed to complete a brief they were working on. Professor Unger popped up and said, "Well, why don't we just pull a Rick Sincere?" -- meaning, why not write an article and get it published in a reputable newspaper or journal? I don't think they ever followed through on that suggestion, but just the idea that my name became associated with a new debate tactic was enough to warm my ego.

This article was published in The News World, a New York City daily newspaper (later called the New York City Tribune), on July 28, 1981:

Richard Sincere
School Training for Civil Defense

Perhaps no aspect of the strategic competition between the United States and the Soviet Union is ignored more than civil defense and emergency preparedness. Americans waste too much effort in debates which obfuscate strategic issues by statistical manipulation of throw-weights, megatonnages, and MIRV capabilities. Public and policymakers alike are blind to the reality of the strategic balance: Deterrence of nuclear war depends as much on the willingness and ability to survive such a conflict as it does on the technical capacity to fight the battle.

News World School Training for Civil Defense 1981
Soviet political and military policies do not reflect a frightened belief in the universal destruction of nuclear war. Instead, they maintain that nuclear weapons are instruments for war-fighting. In many ways, Soviet leaders view nuclear weapons as extensions of conventional war-fighting techniques; Soviet military literature categorizes war by who does the fighting, not by the weapons which they use. Most importantly, Soviet military strategy is fundamentally a survival-oriented strategy.

One result of this thinking has been the establishment of a nationwide civil defense network. The chief of Soviet civil defense is an army general, filling an office equivalent to our own secretary of the Army. The Soviets treat civil defense as a co-equal branch of the military. On the other hand, in the United States responsibility for civil defense lies buried in an obscure bureau of the Department of Commerce called the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Which country takes its self-protection more seriously?

In accord with the principle of protecting their people from the ravages of nuclear war, the Soviets have launched an extensive training program in all public schools from elementary to university levels, and as continuing education industrial plants and communities. Towns and villages celebrate “civil defense days” as holidays, with sports competitions and games geared toward teaching the citizens survival techniques. And if some Soviet citizens scoff at these methods, they will at least have some skills to draw on in an emergency.

Soviet Civil Defense
A widely-circulated Soviet civil defense manual state: “Civil defense training in the public schools occupies an important place in preparing the people of our country for protection against weapons of mass destruction.” In contrast, the editor of the Journal of Civil Defense told me recently that “civil defense education has been badly neglected in the United States in the past few years. With no initiative from the higher levels, it apparently has fallen off to almost zero.”

This attitude seems unlikely to change. The shame of this neglect is that civil defense survival methods are so easy to teach. Generally, Soviet schools spend no more than 15-20 minutes each week on it, mostly in conjunction with sportsmanlike competition. One civil defense game involves nearly 20 million children each summer. The final match of this game, called “Summer Lightning,” is played in Leningrad as an object of intense national interest.

In the United States, inaccessibility to civil defense literature is the greatest obstacle to survival training. A good beginning for civil defense instruction in America’s public schools would be for the Department of Education to sponsor distribution of survival handbooks (such as Dr. Cresson Kearny’s “Nuclear War Survival Skills,” published in 1979) to all school libraries. Such a minimum requirement would allow individual school districts to expand civil defense education as much as they like, especially if assistance from the Department of Defense and FEMA were available.

Civil defense education will immeasurably increase the maintenance of a peaceful deterrent to nuclear war. As long as no civil defense training is available to United States citizens, our country remains a willing hostage to Soviet weapons with little hope of survival or recovery. Survival plays a major role in Soviet strategy and plays almost no role in our own. To neglect such a vital aspect of the strategic nuclear balance is to assure our own destruction.

Richard Sincere is research assistant for church and society at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. A member of the American Civil Defense Association, he also holds a degree in international affairs from Georgetown University.

Subsequent to this and other newspaper articles on civil defense, I testified on the topic before a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, discussed it on many television and radio shows, and published a journal article that was reprinted in pamphlet form by the Ethics and Public Policy Center, which included a foreword by actor Lorne Greene. It was a central focus of my professional life in the 1980s but faded into the background after I finished my master's degree at the LSE and the Cold War came to an end. Civil defense and nuclear weapons policy took a back seat to Africa policy.

As an added bonus, here is a 1950s-era government training (propaganda?) video about school-based civil defense education.

Despite the jokes about it, civil defense in the schools was much more than "duck and cover."

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Guest Post: Hanukkah's true meaning is about Jewish survival

Alan Avery-Peck, College of the Holy Cross

Beginning on the evening of Dec. 12, Jews will celebrate the eight-day festival of Hanukkah, perhaps the best-known and certainly the most visible Jewish holiday.

While critics sometimes identify Christmas as promoting the prevalence in America today of what one might refer to as Hanukkah kitsch, this assessment misses the social and theological significance of Hanukkah within Judaism itself.

Let’s consider the origin and development of Hanukkah over the past more than 2,000 years.

Early history

Though it is 2,200 years old, Hanukkah is one of Judaism’s newest holidays, an annual Jewish celebration that does not even appear in the Hebrew Bible.

The historical event that is the basis for Hanukkah is told, rather, in the post-biblical Books of the Maccabees, which appear in the Catholic biblical canon but are not even considered part of the Bible by Jews and most Protestant denominations.

Maccabees Hanukkah Chanukah Jewish history

The Maccabees receive their father’s blessing.
The Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation via Wikimedia Commons.

Based on the Greco-Roman model of celebrating a military triumph, Hanukkah was instituted in 164 B.C. to celebrate the victory of the Maccabees, a ragtag army of Jews, against the much more powerful army of King Antiochus IV of Syria.

In 168 B.C., Antiochus outlawed Jewish practice and forced Jews to adopt pagan rituals and assimilate into Greek culture.

The Maccabees revolted against this persecution. They captured Jerusalem from Antiochus’s control, removed from the Jerusalem Temple symbols of pagan worship that Antiochus had introduced and restarted the sacrificial worship, ordained by God in the Hebrew Bible, that Antiochus had violated.

Hanukkah, meaning “dedication,” marked this military victory
with a celebration that lasted eight days and was modeled on the festival of Tabernacles (Sukkot) that had been banned by Antiochus.

How Hanukkah evolved

The military triumph, however, was short-lived. The Maccabees’ descendants – the Hasmonean dynasty – routinely violated their own Jewish law and tradition.

Even more significantly, the following centuries witnessed the devastation that would be caused when Jews tried again to accomplish what the Maccabees had done. By now, Rome controlled the land of Israel. In A.D. 68-70 and again in A.D. 133-135, the Jews mounted passionate revolts to rid their land of this foreign and oppressing power.

Second Temple Jerusalem Jewish history Hanukkah

The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem.
Francesco Hayez, via Wikimedia Commons

The first of these revolts ended in the destruction of the Second Jerusalem Temple, the preeminent center of Jewish worship, which had stood for 600 years. As a result of the second revolt, the Jewish homeland was devastated and countless Jews were put to death.

War no longer seemed an effective solution to the Jews’ tribulations on the stage of history.

In response, a new ideology deemphasized the idea that Jews should or could change their destiny through military action. What was required, rabbis asserted, was not battle but perfect observance of God’s moral and ritual law. This would lead to God’s intervention in history to restore the Jewish people’s control over their own land and destiny.

In this context, rabbis rethought Hanukkah’s origins as the celebration of a military victory. Instead, they said, Hanukkah should be seen as commemorating a miracle that occurred during the Maccabees’ rededication of the temple: The story now told was how a jar of temple oil sufficient for only one day had sustained the temple’s eternal lamp for a full eight days, until additional ritually appropriate oil could be produced.

The earliest version of this story appears in the Talmud, in a document completed in the sixth century A.D. From that period on, rather than directly commemorating the Maccabees’ victory, Hanukkah celebrated God’s miracle.

This is symbolized by the kindling of an eight-branched candelabra (“Menorah” or “Hanukkiah”), with one candle lit on the holiday’s first night and an additional candle added each night until, on the final night of the festival, all eight branches are lit. The ninth candle in the Hanukkiah is used to light the others.

Throughout the medieval period, however, Hanukkah remained a minor Jewish festival.

What Hanukkah means today

How then to understand what happened to Hanukkah in the past hundred years, during which it has achieved prominence in Jewish life, both in America and around the world?

Hanukkah menorah candles holidays Christmas Chanukah

Hanukkah today responds to Jews’ desire to see their history as consequential., CC BY

The point is that even as the holiday’s prior iterations reflected the distinctive needs of successive ages, so Jews today have reinterpreted Hanukkah in light of contemporary circumstances – a point that is detailed in religion scholar Dianne Ashton’s book, “Hanukkah in America.”

Ashton demonstrates while Hanukkah has evolved in tandem with the extravagance of the American Christmas season, there is much more to this story.

Hanukkah today responds to Jews’ desire to see their history as consequential, as reflecting the value of religious freedom that Jews share with all other Americans. Hanukkah, with its bright decorations, songs, and family- and community-focused celebrations, also fulfills American Jews’ need to reengage disaffected Jews and to keep Jewish children excited about Judaism.

Poignantly, telling a story of persecution and then redemption, Hanukkah today provides a historical paradigm that can help modern Jews think about the Holocaust and the emergence of Zionism.

In short, Hanukkah is as powerful a commemoration as it is today because it responds to a host of factors pertinent to contemporary Jewish history and life.

The ConversationOver two millennia, Hanukkah has evolved to narrate the story of the Maccabees in ways that meet the distinctive needs of successive generations of Jews. Each generation tells the story as it needs to hear it, in response to the eternal values of Judaism but also as is appropriate to each period’s distinctive cultural forces, ideologies and experiences.

Alan Avery-Peck, Kraft-Hiatt Professor in Judaic Studies, College of the Holy Cross

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Monday, December 11, 2017

From the Archives - Dick Armey on the U.S. Congress: 'the most dangerous gang of economic illiterates I've ever seen'

Dick Armey on the U.S. Congress: 'the most dangerous gang of economic illiterates I've ever seen'
September 15, 2010 2:52 AM MST

Dick ArmeyAccording to its co-author, former Texas Congressman and House Majority Leader Dick Armey, the new book, Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto, came about in response to mean-spirited attacks on Tea Party participants.

“We were sitting around looking at these horrible, mean ways in which these good folks were being characterized,” Armey related, “and we said, ‘Somebody needs to tell the whole story, the true story.’”

Tea Party’s ‘true story’
That “true story,” Armey explained to the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner, was that, even before the movement had a name, Tea Party activists from around the country sought advice from FreedomWorks, the advocacy group that Armey chairs.

“Almost without exception,” he said, “wherever you look in the country -- California, Florida, wherever -- where somebody wanted to put a group together and start getting the ball rolling, they called us.”

Armey answered questions about his book, the Tea Party, and the 2010 and 2012 elections in an interview on the eve of the second 9/12 Taxpayer March on Washington, which this year attracted a crowd of 100,000 or more protesters who gathered on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol to hear a range of speakers from Colombian immigrant Tito Munoz to former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson to Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

Understanding Economics

Dick Armey Congress economics
The average Tea Party member, Armey agreed, has a better grasp of economics than the average Member of Congress.

“No doubt about it,” he said. “That’s one of the things that really distresses me.”

The country is in trouble, he added, if Congress Members' “understanding of economics, how the economy works, the world of commerce, where the money comes from, is less than” that of the typical citizen.

“This is a serious problem and I have no doubt about it,” Armey said with emphasis.

“You take a look at the leadership in the House and the Senate and the Executive Branch of government, starting with the President, it is the most dangerous gang of economic illiterates I’ve ever seen in my life.”

No ‘honest curiosity’
Having served in Congress for nearly two decades, Armey had observed the capacity of its Members to understand basic economic concepts.

“It is frightening,” he said. “They don’t have an honest curiosity about economics. I just don’t believe any one of them ever looked at this and asked the question, where’s this money coming from?”

Armey described legislators as “a bunch of kids that found the money tree” who say, “’We can just spend all we want.’”

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on September 15, 2010. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Guest Post: Blocks are still the best present you can buy children for Christmas

Kym Simoncini, University of Canberra and Kevin Larkin, Griffith University

With Christmas looming, many people will be considering what present to buy for their children, nieces and nephews, grandchildren and friends. Soon, if not already, we will be reading lists of the top trending presents for 2017. These lists will no doubt include, and may even be totally dominated by, all the latest gadgets and devices.

The purpose of these lists is to attempt to persuade parents of young children if they want to give their child the best start in life, and all the advantages for doing well later at school, they need to purchase the latest technology.

Read more: ‘Digital play’ is here to stay … but don’t let go of real Lego yet

Missing from these Christmas lists, but what should actually be at the very top in terms of learning, are blocks. Blocks have been part of children’s play for a long time. But there’s still no other toy that compares in promoting all areas of children’s development. Any early childhood teacher can easily identify all the areas block play develops including fine motor, social, language and cognitive skills.

Blocks develop spatial reasoning skills

As children experiment by stacking, balancing, or building with blocks, they need to share, respect other children’s constructions, ask for desired blocks and describe what they are creating. Perhaps more importantly, children develop problem solving skills, creativity and imagination in creating their masterpieces. Finally, let’s not forget persistence where children try again and again to build the tallest tower or most elaborate castle.

Kids learn to play and work together when using blocks.

Kids learn to play and work together when using blocks.

Less well known is that blocks also foster spatial reasoning. Spatial reasoning is the ability to mentally manipulate objects or to think in a way that relates to space and the position, area, and size of things within it. We use spatial reasoning skills in everyday life when we read maps, pack the car for holidays, assemble flat pack furniture or cut cake into equal slices.

Spatial reasoning skills are linked to mathematics skills. Children who have good spatial skills tend to have better maths skills. Many people are unaware of the research, but early mathematics skills are a better predictor of later school success than either early reading or social-emotional skills. Block play helps children understand many mathematical concepts in number, measurement and geometry. During block play children count, measure, estimate, pattern, transform, and learn about symmetry.

Perhaps most surprising to readers will be the research that shows spatial reasoning skills are the best predictor of whether children will end up in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) related career. Spatial skills are especially important in STEM related jobs where people are required, for example, to create or read X-ray and ultrasound imaging, engineering and architectural designs, or cross sections of heating and plumbing systems.

blocks are still the best toy you can buy your child.

Christmas lists usually suggest the latest and greatest technology, but blocks are still the best toy you can buy your child.

Blocks also help develop spatial language

Block play also fosters spatial language. When children play with blocks they hear and produce more words related to spatial reasoning including things such as beneath, above, next to, behind, and so on.

One study showed block play elicited more spatial language than any other type of play. The other types of play included playing with puppets, playing house, shops, school, zoos, chefs and throwing a ball.

Other research that looked at spatial language showed the more spatial words children heard, the more spatial words they produced and the better they performed on spatial tasks. In this study, researchers looked at language relating to the spatial features and properties of objects such as the dimensions of objects (such as how big small, wide, tall), the forms of shapes (for example rectangle, circle, square) and other spatial properties (like bent, pointy, curved).

Different blocks for different ages and stages

kids playing with blocks

The best way to get your kids playing with blocks is to play along with them.

There are a wide variety of choices for blocks for children including MegaBloks for really young children, Duplo, wooden blocks or waffle blocks for preschoolers, and Eco bricks and Lego for older children.

These age guidelines are suggestions only. My ten and fourteen year old daughters will still play with the wooden blocks. Much of the reason blocks are such enduring toys is due to the fact they’re “loose parts”. That is, they can be moved, arranged, combined, taken apart, and put together in any number of ways. Frobel, the father of kindergarten, created ten gifts for children of which six were blocks.

The best way to engage children in block play is to play alongside them and show your interest and enthusiasm in block building. My friend has a ritual of playing half an hour every afternoon with Duplo with her three young boys aged five, three and one. She says it’s her favourite time of day.

Read more: Can toys really be ‘educational’? Well that depends on the parents

The ConversationSo, when those lists appear in your inbox or on social media, just remember the best toy of all is likely to be missing.

Kym Simoncini, Assistant Professor in Early Childhood and Primary Education, University of Canberra and Kevin Larkin, Senior Lecturer in Mathematics Education, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

From the Archives - Trans vs. bi: Michael Ostrolenk explains the difference between 'transpartisan' and 'bipartisan'

Trans vs. bi: Michael Ostrolenk explains the difference between 'transpartisan' and 'bipartisan'
July 15, 2010 12:16 AM MST

For the past several weeks, the Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute has been hosting a summer speakers series featuring experts on a wide range of policy issues, mostly but not entirely related to the organization’s core mission of protecting basic civil liberties.

Michael Ostrolenk Transpartisan Center bipartisan politicsLast Friday, July 9, Rutherford's afternoon speaker was Michael Ostrolenk, chief executive officer of the Transpartisan Center. A psychotherapist with extensive experience in political organizing and policy analysis, Ostrolenk is also affiliated with the Medical Privacy Coalition, the Liberty Coalition, and the American Conservative Defense Alliance, among other organizations.

In his talk, and later in an interview with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner, Ostrolenk explained the meaning of “transpartisan.”

“The transpartisan imperative in American life and the necessity of it,” he said, must be seen from “four different perspectives: that we need transpartisan policies; transpartisan activities based on principles; transpartisan processes (in order to take decisions on our behalf); [and] a transpartisan analysis of the social and economic system” in which “we’re now living.”

‘Trans’ vs. ‘Bi’
He offered a distinction between “transpartisan” and the more familiar term, “bipartisan.”

“Trans,” he said, “means to transcend through and beyond the partisan.”

What differentiates that from bipartisan, he went on, is that with bipartisan, “you think of a pie and you split it half/half.”

With bipartisan, “you have the so-called left, the so-called right, the Republicans and Democrats, and then they split the difference. In that, you only have two voices; that’s why you have the ‘bi.’”

Explaining further, Ostrolenk said that “the transpartisan is a recognition that there are multiple different voices, perspectives, and worldviews operating in the world that we live in, especially here in the United States.”

That means that, “if you really want to be transpartisan, you have to listen to and integrate into your discussion all the different voices to have a bigger picture and understanding of what’s actually happening in the world, in people’s lives and community lives in the United States and the world in general.”

In contrast with bipartisan, with transpartisan, Ostrolenk continued, “you’re not splitting the difference, you’re just listening to all of the other voices and you’re trying to figure out how to integrate the different voices together, to both create a larger map of social and political reality and a way of operating inside of that map to effect positive and sustainable change in the political system.”

That sounds like a mouthful, but it really comes down to bringing people together who disagree on some issues in order to find how they might have common ground on other issues.

Practical Initiatives
Ostrolenk gave two examples of practical initiatives that the Transpartisan Center has pursued.

One, he said, “is Audit the Fed, as a project of the Campaign for Liberty. I’ve helped create a coalition, left and right, conservatives, libertarians, progressives, and liberals in support of an audit” of the Federal Reserve, with 331 cosponsors of legislation in the House of Representatives.

Another example he gave is the Campaign for a New American Policy on Iran, "which was a left-right effort that emerged about three years ago, [which] had liberals, conservatives, libertarians, and progressives coming together, recognizing that war with Iran would be majorly problematic for the United States.”

When people ask about that, “Have you guys been successful?” Ostrolenk wryly replies, “Well, we haven’t attacked Iran yet.”

The Rutherford Institute has five more speakers scheduled between now and July 26. More information can be found on the Institute’s web site.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on July 15, 2010. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.