Monthly Archives: December 2010

Merry Christmas from Mr. D’s Neighborhood

Nativity Creche, Naples 18th Century, on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

“Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth…and everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child…and she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

“In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.”

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’”

“And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Gloryto God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.’” – Luke 2:1-14

A very Merry Christmas to everyone in the Neighborhood.

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UFT Teacher Bashing: A Call for Jason Kovac to Speak Up

Yeah, I know.  It was a short hiatus.  Yet the recent edition of the New York Teacher got my attention.

The New York Teacher, the publication arm of the United Federation of Teachers, used to be a fun read.  Lately, it’s been moribund with stats, election endorsements, ads for condos in Florida, and pictures of union functions featuring teachers in all sorts of ghastly knit patterns.

What made the Teacher fun was its “outing” of what were considered bad or dangerous school administrators.  Every week, the paper had a half-page expose on some dictatorial principal, a martinet superintendant, or the bewildered staff developer that lets things slide out of confusion and neglect.  Comedy, as we all know, is tragedy that happens to someone else. so I got a particualr joy out of reading these, because

(a) for the most part, these guys deserved a comeuppance, as evidenced by their smug demeanor to UFT reporters; and

(b) these hapless administrators were not mine.

This week’s Teacher has returned to its muckraking roots with a vengeance, yet I’m getting a feeling that full access to both sides should be in order.

Page 5 of the December 16, 2010 issue features a particularly venomous screed against PS 14X principal Jason Kovac.  According to the article, Kovac–a Leadership Academy graduate (a program created to make principals from outside the education world) who took over PS 14 in June 2008–is rude, arrogant, and intimidating to his teaching staff.  He chastises and bullies teachers in front of students, ignores grievances and along with his co-principal Mildred Jones, has created an atmosphere so poisonous that this once thriving school dropped from an A to a C on its recent Progress Report.

He has made enemies of the school staff, parents, community board and the union.  Yet his voice is noticeably silent from this article.  I really hope the New York Teacher managed to contact his office to at least offer comment.  Otherwise, its a severe breach of journalistic protocol.

Whatever the case, as much as I would like to see principals like this hung out to dry, my belief in honest journalism impels me to ask Mr. Kovac to offer his side of the story.  Therefore, I am offering this space in Mr. D’s Neighborhood to Jason Kovac to present his side, with the following guidelines:

(1) no ad hominem attacks.

(2) share the improvements you have made since you took over in 2008; and

(3) address why your leadership style has generated so much alleged venom from staff, parents and the community, at least according to the article.

Anyone who’s familiar with the Neighborhood knows that it generally keeps to a pro-teacher stance.  However, it bothers me that I hear nothing from the other side–it just against my good sense of journalistic integrity.

If Mr. Kovac can keep to the guidelines, he is more than willing to send me his side of the story so it can be printed here for the readers at the Neighborhood.

Anyone who works at PS 14, or knows anyone at PS 14, please send this link to Mr. Kovac, with my compliments.  I hope to hear from him soon.

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Holiday Hiatus until probably 12/28

I’m feeling burnt out.  Exhausted.  Spent.  Don’t worry, its not your fault.

As a result, I’ll be taking a break from the Neighborhood until after Christmas.  12/28 sounds good, as I have a hockey game to attend on the 27th.  In the meantime, I’ll be recharging my batteries with friends and family.

A very Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a Joyous Kwanzaa to everyone at the Neighborhood!

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This Day in History 12/13: Woodrow Wilson arrives in Paris for the 1919 Peace Conference

On this day, December 13, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson arrived in Paris to participate in the final peace talks that will end the War to End All Wars, or World War I.

Unlike his counterparts in Britain and France–who wanted sweet revenge over 4 years of trench warfare–Wilson wanted to re-organize the international order to develop a new society based on peace, cooperation and democracy.  His “Fourteen Points” outlined Wilson’s philosophy of international rights, individual self-determination and a worldwide peacekeeping body that would resolve international conflicts without bloodshed.

The ultimate treaty fell well short of Wilson’s wishes, and would ultimately lead to an even worse conflict two decades later.

Attached is an old documentary about the Paris Peace Conference.  It’s pretty straightforward and it gives a good synopsis of the sides, arguments and politics of postwar Europe.

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The Historic Effect—and Potential Danger—of Julian Assange

Show me a completely honest, transparent nation, and I will show you a nation that will cease to exist.

The Persian Wars. The Peloponnesian Wars. Roman Slave Revolts. The First and Second Jewish Revolts. The Crusades. The Hundred Years’ War. The French and Indian War. The American Revolution. The Napoleonic Wars. The American Civil War. World War I. World War II. The Cold War. The Cuban Missile Crisis. Vietnam. Korea.

All of these events would have ended differently had Julian Assange’s Wikileaks existed then and disclosed classified information to the public. Some of these events would’ve ended for the better. Yet most would’ve ended for the worst.

This is the problem. This is the potential impact of Julian Assange’s manic quest.

To be honest, as I perused the volumes—and I mean volumes—of documents released by Assange’s site over the year, there is no one real opinion on their immediate danger. On the one hand, military releases of troop movements, theater tactics, and potential terror targets do pose a current threat; American lives are put in immediate risk.

Yet if you look at the diplomatic dispatches and e-mails, they rarely reveal anything Earth-shattering, at least to those familiar with foreign affairs. To many in the know, it comes as no surprise that China is ready to wash their hands of Kim Jong Il and the failed North Korean state. Silvio Berlusconi’s admiration of Vladimir Putin—and signaling of closer ties between Russia and Italy—was a long time in development. And it should shock no one that the Saudis so loudly exhorted the United States to bomb Iran in order to protect their petro-fueled theocratic fiefdom.

The information itself (barring the military documents) is not really at issue. The real crisis lies in the concept of full disclosure. Assange, at least outwardly, declares that his aim is to combat the lies, deception and dishonesty of government and big business.

Either Assange is a naïve fool—or, more probable, Assange is a canny opportunist ready to cash in on privileged information.

Can a nation-state function effectively if all their cards are on display to everyone at the table? History is not on Assange’s side.

If Wikileaks existed in 480 BCE, the Persians would have known of the other passage around Thermopylae well in advance, thereby avoiding the 300 Spartans lying in wait and heading straight for Athens and Sparta itself.

If Wikileaks existed in 71 BCE, the slave army led by Spartacus would have known of the Apennine passes that could’ve caused Roman armies to outflank him, drawing out the rebellion and depleting Roman power.

If Wikileaks existed in 1776 through 1781, it would’ve released the names and identities of the members of the Culper Spy Ring, a ring of patriot spies on Long Island that were absolutely necessary to George Washington in helping to defeat the British in the American Revolution. Those identities were so secret that the public didn’t learn of them until the late 1930s.

If Wikileaks existed in 1914, it would’ve released the secret dispatches between Germany and Mexico well before the infamous Zimmermann Note, urging the Mexican government to wage war on the United States. Our entry into World War I may have been accelerated, and who knows what would’ve happened.

If Wikileaks existed in 1941, it would’ve released the notes and research from British intelligence at Bletchley Park, especially their work on breaking the Enigma code, a secret German code used to communicate U-Boat movements at sea.

If Wikileaks existed in 1943, it would’ve released the Navajo code used by the US Marines in sending coded messages to our Marines in the Pacific theater—much to the delight of our Japanese opponents.

If Wikileaks existed in 1949, it would’ve released the flight status and schedules of cargo planes dropping supplies on a besieged Berlin during the Berlin Airlift. Don’t be surprised if squadrons of Soviet MiGs were just itching for those schedules.

If Wikileaks existed in 1962, during 13 terrible days in November, God knows what would’ve happened.

It may be unpleasant. It may be distasteful. It may even be undemocratic. Yet the brutal reality is that most of our effective policymaking happens behind closed doors outside of the public eye. If everything were held public, if everything were up for public scrutiny and debate, nothing would be accomplished.

If Assange’s motives are altruistic, then his end result would be a hyper-sized version of the New England town meeting, where every policy decision is debated, re-debated, amended, and voted on by all constituents. Even in New England, this model of direct democracy doesn’t work, especially for larger municipalities.

What then would lead a rational person to believe that this method would work for a planet of 6-7 billion people—especially since a large chunk of them don’t have access to decent electricity, let alone a computer with Internet access?

Yet Assange’s handiwork has an even more dangerous potential. His goal of undermining secrecy and subterfuge is a threat against our individuality, both our own and our respective nations.

As individuals, our identity is based on the fact that there is something about us that is unique from our neighbors. Part of that unique character is our information. Few of us, Assange included, would be willing to let our personal lives be an open book for the world to see.

Yet once our secrets are revealed, a part of our identity is lost. If Assange can create such havoc for governments and companies, what is to stop him from releasing massive lists of IRS tax returns, Social Security numbers, report cards—even e-mail addresses and passwords?

Mind you, this isn’t Facebook, a site where one voluntarily gives up some of their privacy—and can even regulate what is shown to the public. Wikileaks seems hellbent on making every person on the planet a public figure against their will. It’s tantamount to specicide, a murderous attack on all human beings.

Nations and governments, like individuals, also rely on privileged information to set them apart from their counterparts. If Julian Assange thinks that he can create a one-world government just by baring the secrets of the world at everyone’s feet, then he is in for a rude awakening.

Wikileaks will not stop secrets. Wikileaks will not stop espionage. Wikileaks will not stop closed-door meetings. It did-and will continue to-affect the security of national information. Even more ironically, Wikileaks has adversely affected the freedom of access to documents that SHOULD be accessible to all Americans.

Yet the potential dangers of Assange’s mischief are too tragic to ignore. His attacks on secrecy have already caused irreparable damage to our national security. It has embarrassed and dismantled years of diplomacy among nations.

Even more importantly, Wikileaks is an attack on national and individual identity. The nations of the world, not just the United States, must recognize this.

Julian Assange is no fool. He even has masses of followers and disciples; computer hackers, programmers and the like willing to break into any computer for the best information.

This is why his work is so dangerous: his extortion of information (potentially for monetary reasons) amounts to an act of terrorism that could pale in comparison to any missile or pipe bomb.

For the first time in this century, the nations of this planet could finally unite in a common cause: protecting their very individuality against a common threat.

That threat is Julian Assange—a man much more dangerous than Osama bin Laden or Kim Jong Il.

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