• North Korea’s Nuclear Threat: What Steps Should the US Take?

    Guest Author: Richard Friedman

    Richard Friedman was chair of the National Strategy Forum/Chicago. He has served as a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Counselor to the American Bar Association Committee on National Security.

    [Editor’s note: ZipDialog is delighted to include this post. The opinions are those of the guest author. For the visuals, blame Charles Lipson.  

    Readers are invited to respond. At ZipDialog, we take dialog seriously.]

    ◆ North Korea’s Nuclear Threat

    There are six components to the potential US/North Korea nuclear confrontation:

    1. North Korea rational
    2. North Korea irrational
    3. US rational
    4. US irrational
    5. China, and
    6. South Korea

    China is the best bet for the US because they have urged US and North Korea restraint and calm.

    South Korea is undergoing a government leadership crisis. They also urge calm because they would be the battleground in the event that North Korea would be provoked by the US or would be self-provoked.

    China is proactive. In addition to urging calm, they have restricted their coal exports to North Korea and they have canceled their air carrier flights to Pyongyang. China’s most important leverage is its substantial food exports to North Korea.

    A future North Korean Nuclear Test is Likely

    It is likely that North Korea will conduct its sixth nuclear test in the near future. The appropriate US response is to do nothing, certainly no retaliation. The US should keep the Vinson First Strike Carrier Group on station within striking distance of North Korea as a show of force, with weapons muzzled for a few more weeks awaiting mutual calm, and then depart for Australia as planned. The US has proved in Syria its tactical military capability to obliterate North Korea’s nuclear weapon sites and degrade its delivery system. There is no US need to engage in media military posturing.

    An indicia for calm is North Korea’s recent intermediate missile launch that failed. Speculation is that the US used its cyber Stuxnet capability to scramble the North Korea missile test code, resulting in failure.

    The US frame for its North Korea objective should be: no preemptive, kinetic first strike; and reliance on its counter-incoming missile capability that can intercept and destroy 60-80 percent of North Korea’s incoming missiles to the US west coast (solace is somewhat lacking for Hawaii, California, Oregon, and Washington).

    Etymology is part of the military force consideration array. The word “provoke” is hugely imprecise because it has different meanings for both sides. For the US, it would be North Korea’s active launch preparation of its nuclear-tipped ICBM. For North Korea, “US provocation” would be any discernible military force attack on North Korea’s targets, or their perception that a US strike is imminent.

    Notwithstanding the recent perceived crisis, North Korea remains relatively stable. This could change because of the variables that are involved: removal of Kim, either by a targeted US strike followed by a North Korean military attack on South Korea.

    Contemporary US history suggests that broad US domestic support for major US military action is essential – political unity and public and media support. The US administration must make a clear and persuasive argument that justifies a US military attack on North Korea. Failure to do so would portray the US as trigger-happy.

    The Trump administration primary objective was to focus on domestic issues such as health care, middle class employment, tax reform, and enhancing and protecting the US critical infrastructure. Surprise! The global issues are the US priority: North Korea, Russia, Iran, Syria, and ISIS.

    The potential US strategy:

    America First, with the condition that addressing and partially resolving international matters is the predicate for focusing on domestic issues.

    The US has recaptured global perception of its international leadership role and responsibility: fear the US, respect us, and love us, maybe.
    Recent international developments suggest that the US is in the process of developing a comprehensive domestic and international strategy to be followed by tactical implementation.

    The US can enhance the efficacy of its strategy by adopting a “complementary strategy” approach, wherein the US consults with other states to determine their strategic objectives, if any, and incorporate item, if possible, into overall US strategy. An example of US transformative strategy is the US/China burgeoning favorable relationship.

    Overall, the current North Korea crisis is not a crisis, rather it is part of a prolonged, oscillating adversarial relationship. In this context, the North Korean threat is not its nuclear capability, rather, it is how the US manages the current North Korea non-crisis.

    The opinions in this post are those of Richard Friedman. He and ZipDialog welcome your response, either here or on Facebook, where it is also posted.

  • Deep Troubles in America’s Deep Coal Mines

    Guest Author: Terry Jackson

    [Editor’s note: Terry Jackson has worked in the coal industry for years and knows it well. ZipDialog is delighted to include his personal views. Readers are invited to respond. We take the “Dialog” in ZipDialog seriously.]

    All of the damage done to the Coal Industry in the Obama Administration cannot be undone, and I am not a Climate Change Denier.

    As a matter of fact, through intelligent dialogue on Charles Lipson’s ZipDialog blog and its related postings on Facebook, I am now FB friends with two Climate Scientists as a result.

    Deregulating Utilities and Regulating Coal

    coal-labeled-300px-no-marginThe problem began with the deregulation of electric utilities and the lack of a moral compass in the executives of those publicly-owned and traded utilities. It was made worse by Bill Clinton’s repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, eliminating the “Chinese Wall” between banking and investment banking.

    Instead of replacing coal-fired units all over the East Coast with new and clean coal plants, the utilities sold their coal plants, which had already been full depreciated, to Independent Power Producers (IPPs), who brushed them off to merely comply with minimal EPA regulations in force and then ran them into the ground, fully depreciating them again.

    The utility executives got bonuses, their shareholders got dividends, the banking and investment banking pigs got fat. I should add that the trend started earlier than 1999 with the repeal of the Glass-Steagall legislation, and IPP’s have been around since Jimmy Carter. They just got bolder and less moral over the years.

    The coup de grace was Obama’s EPA director coming up with even more and more “pollutants” to lay on the remaining coal-fired generating stations and his willingness to empower the oil and gas companies with expanded fracking.

    Most oil and gas companies owned coal companies, as did chemical companies like DuPont, and they divested. They got out knowing that they could dump their coal assets with the help of the same banks and investment bankers who helped them buy coal assets for their huge cash flows in the first place.

    Even the Sierra Club, which was all for more gas instead of coal, came to find out that the 6% losses of gas at the well head and through the pipelines was more damaging to the environment than the coal it replaced.  Friends at DOI [Department of the Interior] have known that for years, for what it is worth.

    climate-change-labeled-300pxReducing Pollution is a Global Problem

    The globe is now producing and consuming 200 million tons per year more than they were in 2000, and American production, and hence revenue and taxes from exporting coal as well as domestic markets is down 100 million tons. During Obama’s administration 95,000 American coal miners have been put out of work.

    I didn’t make any of that up. Those are facts, and while America has been punished, we seem to be fighting the war against Global Warming and Climate Change without the cooperation or the rest of the planet. Germany, Japan and Scandinavia are installing new clean coal capacity mostly because they don’t trust the Russians or nuclear power.

    The Politics of Betrayal

    Meanwhile, we’ve been misled and lied to including by the President and the Left Wing and Progressives who do not understand and have never really wanted to understand because coal miners are just trash with few teeth to most Americans on both coasts. Meanwhile, China and India are going to bury the West coast in their pollution.

    ♦ Do I believe in Climate Change? Absolutely.

    ♦ Do I believe in Clean Coal Technology and Technology in general? Absolutely.

    ♦ Do I believe most Americans are the useful idiots that Saul Alinsky talks about? Absolutely, because it is Lenin and Saul who really looked and looks down on the intellectual short comings of most people.

    People aren’t stupid–stupid cannot be fixed–but most are ignorant when it comes to peeling the onion and getting behind the political motives of each party.

    So I pray. I hope you can read that without feeling I am condescending in any way but trying to use my experience, education etc. to make you more aware of how deep our problems run, including having a terrible person as our new POTUS.

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    The opinions in this post are those of Terry Jackson. He and ZipDialog welcome your response

  • Continuing our Guest Author Forum on Teaching Reading in High School: What Should Students Read? Are the Readings Getting Easier? Does It Matter?

    Guest Author: Robyn G.

    ZipDialog is pleased to continue its forum on how reading is taught in high school, featuring Guest Authors with diverse experiences and perspectives. It gives us a window not only on reading but on the world of today’s high school students.

    Today’s forum features Robyn G., an experienced Middle School teacher. She often works individually with students in a prosperous Chicago suburb with strong public schools. She keeps in touch with her students as they continue through high school so she has a good sense of how their middle school experiences affect those in high school.

    After Robyn’s comments, I include links to the two previous posts and brief quotes from them. Again, many thanks for making this such an interesting back-and-forth.

    Challenging Middle School Students in a Prosperous Chicago Suburb . . by Robyn G.

    Since Robyn refers to her school and suburb several times, we’ll call them “Evergreen Middle School” in “Lakewood.”
    ________________________________________

    I could go on and on about the topic of reading lists, especially as I have grappled with these issues with my colleagues for 18 years at Evergreen Middle School. Here are just a few thoughts on the comparative reading lists 1922/today.

    house-on-mango-streetOur students read The House on Mango Street in 7th grade. It is quite easy, straightforward reading, with the added element for our students that it takes place in Chicago. Even factoring in that students in Lakewood are most likely at higher reading levels overall than the average San Antonian, I was surprised to see it on a high school list. To Kill a Mockingbird, on the other hand is (filching from The Wizard of Oz) a horse of a different color. Although I see that it is listed at a 5.6 reading level, it is far richer in syntax than The House…., and many times more sophisticated. In fact, my concern in teaching it to 8th graders is that they may never go back to it when they are at an age to truly appreciate Harper Lee’s wicked sense of humor. Thus, I think it is more appropriate on a high school reading list.

    By the same token, I am saddened that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has disappeared from so many reading lists around the country (for obvious….so disheartening….reasons).huck-finn-book-cover

    A curious omission on either of the required reading lists is Shakespeare. We alternate between Macbeth and A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream towards the end of 8th grade each year. The students initially are invariably intimidated by the seemingly convoluted language. So (with the help of Folger’s modern ‘translations’ in the margins), we approach it scene by scene. As we begin to read aloud and assign roles, the students become more and more engaged. They work on their assigned scenes for a couple of weeks and then perform them in class, by this time with glee and a much greater sense of comprehension. Of course, again this being Lakewood, the unit culminates with a field trip to Chicago Shakespeare and their performances with culled dialogue geared to students. Even without these field trips, I am a big believer in offering this kind of challenging reading early on. The kids end up feeling a sense of accomplishment. They are introduced to universal themes and the poetic magic of the bard. When they return to visit from Lakewood High School or whatever high school they are attending, they tell us how ‘easy’ it was reading Romeo & Juliet or Julius Caesar. In my one-dog study (me), I believe that challenging students early on improves both their verbal and writing abilities, launching them more successfully into the high school and college years ahead.midsummer_nights_dream

    One final thought. Comparing a reading list from 1922 to one almost 100 years later is a bit like mixing apples with oranges. The English language is fluid and constantly evolving (as Vernon Shelton pointed out); thus, the writing style of James Fenimore Cooper’s classic The Last of the Mohicans may have been a tad more accessible to early twentieth century readers than it is to millennials. That said, the issues of race are as relevant today as when Cooper wrote in the early 19th century, so the book remains a classic. One of our social studies teachers effectively has his 7th grade students read excerpts from the novel, along with clips from the 1992 Daniel Day-Lewis movie remake, to illustrate the time of the French & Indian War in the mid-eighteenth century. The key is to always provide context and relevancy, allowing the students to relate and engage.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Previous Posts

    ⇒ Post #1 featured an article by Annie Holmqueist comparing reading lists in the 1920s and today    .texas-reading-levels

    Discussing that article, ZipDialog stressed four points:

    1. Today’s reading lists are more culturally- and ethnically-diverse.
    2. The 1922 readings were substantially more difficult.
    3. Reading and writing comprehension in later grades are lower today than previously
    4. It is unclear what causal relation, if any, connects these easier readings and poorer results in writing and comprehension.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    ⇒ Post #2 featured three guest authors, a high school English teacher (Vernon Shelton), a speechwriter (Bob Lehrman), and an education researcher who works closely with schools in poor neighborhoods (Dorene Ross). Here’s a flavor of their perspectives.

    Vernon Shelton, high school English teacher:

    Putting classic literature in terms that contemporary students understand may add to the burden that a teacher must carry, but I think that the benefits are worth the trouble.  –Vernon Shelton

    Bob Lehrman, speechwriter:

    Michele Obama’s Democratic convention speech. . . . clocks in at a 7.3 grade level. Do I think her speechwriter, Sarah Horowitz, deprives listeners by not writing denser prose? No. What she did was allow millions of Americans — who average a 7th grade reading level — to understand what the First Lady said.  –Bob Lehrman

    Dorene Ross, teaching educator and researcher:

    In 1922 the national high school graduation rate was around 17%; in 2014 the national graduation rate was 81%…. Of all the factors that correlate with achievement, poverty (not culture or race or language) is the strongest correlate…. We have a lot of knowledge about what would impact achievement in schools (e.g. Smaller classes, high quality teachers in every classroom, psychological services for children and families, quality summer programs for poverty youth, high quality early childhood education, treatment for vision and asthma problems) and very little national will to do it.  –Dorene Ross

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-150px-w-margin♥ Hat’s Off to Robyn G., Vernon Shelton, Bob Lehrman, and Dorene Ross for their contributions and to Annie Holmquist for the article that prompted this forum.

    Your comments are welcome here or on Facebook, where this Forum will also be posted.

  • Guest Author Forum: Are High School Reading Lists Getting Easier? Does It Matter?

    Guest Authors: Vernon Shelton, Bob Lehrman, Dorene Ross

    ZipDialog recently featured an article by Annie Holmquist, “9th Grade Reading Lists: 1922 versus Today”.

    Now, after many comments on that piece, we’re bringing together three experts with very different experiences to add their comments in a Guest Author Forum. Our guest authors are Vernon Shelton, Bob Lehrman, and Dorene Ross. More on them in a minute, but first the background to this forum.

    THE BACKGROUND

    The earlier ZipDialog post made four points:texas-reading-levels

    1. Today’s reading lists are more culturally- and ethnically-diverse.
    2. The 1922 readings were substantially more difficult.
    3. Reading and writing comprehension in later grades are lower today than previously
    4. It is unclear what causal relation, if any, connects these easier readings and poorer results in writing and comprehension.

    OUR THREE GUEST AUTHORS:

    ♦ Vernon Shelton taught English at Delta Academy in Marks, Mississippi, for six years and, before that, worked for twenty-years at a state correctional facility, where he taught Adult Basic Education.

    ♦ Bob Lehrman is one of the country’s most respected speechwriters. He has written for the White House and Congressional leaders and authored the standard text used by political speechwriters. He teaches speechwriting and is also an author of Young Adult novels.

    ♦ Dorene Ross is a Professor Emeritus from the University of Florida where she was a teacher educator and researcher. In the last 15 years her research and teaching focused primarily on schools serving populations with high concentrations of poverty. She now works part-time helping K-12 educators improve their instructional impact on children’s learning.

    These are wonderful commentators, who approach the issue of reading comprehension with very different experiences and expertise.

    The Challenge of Teaching English in high school today
    Vernon Shelton (high-school English teacher)

    huck-finnThe largest challenge I found in teaching literature to high school students was their aversion to the sometimes impenetrable (to modern ears) language used by authors of what I considered to be classic works of fiction. Because I was teaching at a private school, I was free to use any material I chose in class.

    conrad-heart-of-darknessBooks like Huckleberry Finn or Heart of Darkness  are banned in many schools because they contain what today are deemed to be offensive stereotypes and language. The characterizations used by Twain and Conrad are integral to the point of those stories, which is that humanity transcends race.

    The Scarlet Letter presented another problem. To a generation accustomed to watching TV shows where car chases and fiery explosions are the norm, a book in which most of the action takes place in the minds of the characters doesn’t seem very exciting. One student told me that his father had actually quit school when he was pinned to the mat by Hawthorne’s syntax.

    hawthorn-scarlett-letterBefore we started to read Hawthorne’s classic, I asked for a show of hands of those who watched “Grey’s Anatomy”. A large number of hands were raised. I then told them we were going to read a story about a single mom who had to raise a child in a community that was hostile to her, a “baby daddy” who was too cowardly to come forward and provide any child support, and a jealous old man who was possessed by the Devil. I said if that isn’t a perfect story line for a prime time soap opera like “Grey’s Anatomy”, I didn’t  know what was.

    Putting classic literature in terms that contemporary students understand may add to the burden that a teacher must carry, but I think that the benefits are worth the trouble. I do think that any reading is good, but to exclude the traditional classics because they seem outdated is, to me, a terrible mistake.

    Dumbing Down? Don’t Buy It
    Bob Lehrman (speech writer and author)

    I’m someone who has written both Young Adult novels and political speeches — including speeches for the Senate, House and White House. I use the Flesch-Kincaid readability stats all the time. Now that I teach speechwriting, I ask my students to use them, too.

    That’s easy to do. If you use Word they are on your computer. They tell us a lot.

    michelle_obama_at_the_dnc_july_2016_croppedThis morning, for example, I downloaded Michele Obama’s Democratic convention speech.  Obama’s speech clocks in at a 7.3 grade level. Do I think her speechwriter, Sarah Horowitz deprives listeners by not writing denser prose? No. What she did was allow millions of Americans — who average a 7th grade reading level — to understand what the First Lady said.

    English is a rich language. When one examines early speeches — I’ll get to novels in a little bit — no one should be disturbed. You don’t have to say “currently,” or “additionally.” You can say “now” or “also.” You don’t want to write 30-word sentences, which are hard to say and hard to understand. You can write two or three sentences, convey the same ideas, and for reasons too hard to to cover here, reach more people.

    What about novels?  I wrote four for young adults. They were serious, controversial, and difficult for many teenagers.  The Flesch-Kincaid levels were under a fourth grade level.

    How could that be? First, once film became popular, they influence novels in two ways. Writers used to write pages of description to set the scene. They couldn’t compete with film which could accomplish that in  a moment.  Compare Silas Marner or The Deerslayer with the best modern novels and you will see the difference right away.deerslayer

    Second, dialogue became more natural. Take this typical  bit of dialogue from The Deerslayer. “I know the spot and am not sorry to see so useful a friend as the sun.My name is not Hurry Harry if this is not the very spot where landholders camped the summer past.”

    These days, YA novelists might say it this way.

    ” I know this place. Last summer the landholders camped here. Hey. I’m glad the sun’s shining.”

    The first one is 13th grade. The second is 3d grade.  Would we prefer the original? I don’t think so.

    Yes, there’s been a hundred-year trend to more colloquial language in imaginative writing (which includes oratory.). I’m a lot happier to see kids reading  Harper Lee (5.6) than Cooper (11.2). Or listening to Barack Obama (7.3) than Herbert Hoover (whose readability stats I would have to look up.)

    Happy to reply to anyone who wants.  Incidentally — what I wrote here? 5.9 grade level

    Can We Compare Student Reading Assignments in the 1920s and Today?
    Dorene Ross (education researcher, consultant to high-poverty schools)

    The study is interesting but so many factors go into the reasons for today’s 12th grade scores that it is challenging to interpret what it really means.  Here are a few of the many questions the study raises for me:

    girl-readingIn 1922 the national high school graduation rate was around 17%; in 2014 the national graduation rate was 81%. So one would assume that the students doing the reading in 1920 were the cream of the crop—the kids who are taking AP courses today.  A better comparison therefore would be to compare reading levels of books read in AP courses versus those in 1920.  I’m guessing the reading levels would be more comparable.  In general in international comparisons, when US overall is compared to other nations we are more toward the middle of the pack but if you use SES as a control our students come out near the top. I say near not at the top but we have NEVER been at the top because US schools traditionally put more emphasis on creativity and problem solving and less on test taking and so our scores have tended to be lower than nations that put more emphasis on tests. That certainly has changed and I’d argue that’s not a good thing but that is a separate issue. So my question related to this study is what the reading level of books read in 1920 versus today really tells us.  If they examine the books read in AP courses the issue would be much more compelling (but I can attest to the fact that the books assigned in AP courses while more culturally diverse have many of the same kinds of readings I had in school and many that are quite challenging).

    A simple fire drill can mean the difference between life and death for children in schools. Knowing what to do, where to go and having complete accountability is vital to ensuring no student is left behind in a potentially burning building. Camp Lejeune Fire Protection Division conducted their 7th Annual Dependent Schools, School District-wide fire drill, Oct. 6 aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune and Marine Corps Air Station New River. Simultaneously the Camp Lejeune school district conducted the drill at 1:00 p.m. The drill not only served as the required fire drill for the month, but helped to keep students and faculty mindful of the importance of fire drills and exiting the building quickly and safely in case a heated situation were to ever arise.Of all the factors that correlate with achievement, poverty (not culture or race or language) is the strongest correlate. And the poverty level of the school is a much stronger correlate than the poverty level of the family because poverty schools have teachers who are less likely to be fully credentialed, less money for technology and libraries, etc. etc.  So I have to question whether raising the reading level of the books read is likely to have much impact on overall achievement.

    Our national emphasis on testing has had the most “positive” impact on 4th grade scores because those scores are the most impacted by the push to master the basics of reading.  Tests in 8th and 12th grade put much more emphasis on reasoning, background knowledge, and inferential thinking (that requires background knowledge). As we have narrowed our school curriculum to what is tested we have absolutely lowered the conceptual level of what is learned in schools. This impacts lower achievers more than higher achievers. So I question whether tinkering with reading levels is what we need to do. Instead I’d argue we need to really examine the impact of high stakes testing, and specifically the amount of time that is spent taking and preparing for these tests (i.e. doing practice tests, and practice exercises) and the amount of money that is going to testing companies (who also, coincidentally, make all the practice materials and make TONS more money on the practice materials than the actual tests).

    So I guess what I’m saying is that it is interesting to look at and compare reading levels but as you note correlation is not causation and we have a lot of knowledge about what would impact achievement in schools (e.g. Smaller classes, high quality teachers in every classroom, psychological services for children and families, quality summer programs for poverty youth, high quality early childhood education, treatment for vision and asthma problems) and very little national will to do it. Instead we focus on “market based” solutions like charter schools and vouchers where some folks can make a lot of money but there is minimal evidence of overall positive impact. There are isolated incidences of positive impact but when you control for SES and disability and second language status the evidence is that public schools overall perform as well as charters overall.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-150px-w-margin♥ Hat’s Off to Vernon Shelton, Bob Lehrman, and Dorene Ross for their contributions and to Annie Holmquist for the article that prompted this forum.

    Your comments are welcome here or on Facebook, where this Forum will also be posted.