01 September 2014

As you all turn in your Module 01 reports ...

I prefer to have all the reports in prior to beginning to grade any of them. I like to do them all at once so that I am in the same state of mind and same context when I read them. That way, I feel everyone gets the same level of attention and focus.

I hope to get your grades back to you by next weekend.

In Iraq, Western Clocks, but Middle Eastern Time

In the session on information science, I asked the question if a common sense of time is important. Recently, I remembered an article in the New York Times that sort of illustrated what the question meant. The color highlights are mine.

Published: August 14, 2010

PERIOD PIECE The excavation of Samarra in Iraq, with the Askariya Mosque, a Shiite holy site, in the distance early in the 20th century.
BAGHDAD — There was an exchange some months ago about the notion of time that said a little bit about Iran, something about Iraq, but probably most about the United States.
At the sidelines of a United Nations meeting, Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s foreign minister, chatted with Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The American military had left Iraqi cities — thankfully, in the eyes of many here. By Aug. 31, it was supposed to bring its numbers down to 50,000. The dates had less to do with the prowess of the Iraqi police in Sadr City and more with priorities elsewhere: shifting resources to Afghanistan, weariness with a costly war never quite understood at home, and the unpredictability of midterm elections in, say, southwestern Pennsylvania.
The Americans planted a tree in Iraq, Mr. Zebari recalled Mr. Ahmadinejad telling him, with the stilted sympathy of sarcasm. They watered that tree, pruned it and cared for it. “Ask your American friends,” he said, shaking his head, “why they’re leaving now before the tree bears fruit.”
The story in Iraq is unfinished, whatever the Obama administration, and the generals and diplomats who do its bidding, may say. The country is neither occupied nor independent, but rather in a limbo whose descriptions are as pliable as the pretexts for the invasion that began America’s seven-year involvement here. Through those years, the experience was colored by promises that sometimes sounded like propaganda to Iraqis: democracy, good governance and better lives. But its one constant was perhaps time.
Iraq today is replete with American-ordered deadlines, timetables and benchmarks that sought to create realities where realities never existed. The administration is leaving now on its own terms. Perhaps staying would make an already traumatized Iraq worse; much of its dysfunction dates to the American occupation and its earliest days. But the very nature of America’s departure — with no government formed, an unpredictable Iraqi military, and deep popular disenchantment with a hapless political elite — underscores one of the most enduring traits of American strategy in the Middle East.
Powerful but fickle, the United States has never seemed to understand time, at least not in the way it is acknowledged by Islamic activists willing to serve decades in jail, Syrian presidents assured that American policies will eventually change, and Iraq’s neighbors, who bide their turn to fill the vacuum left by an American departure.
Its policies — support for Israel and authoritarian Arab governments, the invasion of Iraq and war in Afghanistan — may shape sentiments toward it. But time, an American measure of it, often shapes the way it acts.
“It certainly is American politics and it is American culture, the sense that we are an impatient people,” said Ryan C. Crocker, a former ambassador to Iraq and veteran diplomat in the Arab world. “ ‘Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, at the latest, and if that’s not going to happen, we’re going to move on.’ ”
The Middle East has long suffered under a peculiarly American notion that if the world’s greatest power wants something, it will somehow come to pass, on its schedule. In Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Syria, the messy realities never quite fit. Since 2003, they rarely have in Iraq, either.
The occupation ended, at least formally, in summer 2004, before Iraq’s midterm elections. Elections proceeded whether Iraq was ready or not, sometimes helping exacerbate divisions rather than bridge them. The American withdrawal may reflect a new reality, but its timing has proceeded regardless of political progress.
“Patience is always in short supply in Washington,” said Mr. Zebari, wondering what that meant for Iran, Turkey and Iraq’s other neighbors.
“The dates have been set for U.S. disengagement. This has encouraged our neighbors to position themselves in the vacuum. This is what is happening. I have heard it from them,” he said. “They’re waiting, they’re not in a hurry, they’re not in a rush. They are our eternal neighbors.”
American officials’ perspective on the withdrawal usually dictates how they see this notion of time, in particular whether deadlines reflect the ambiguous reality here these days. The military calls the timing right, as do many diplomats, even if they acknowledge the impact of American domestic politics.
“Look, when you spend several trillion dollars in a country, some of your political issues are going to spill into that country, that’s just the reality,” said Christopher R. Hill, the outgoing ambassador, whose mandate was to reshape the American role in Iraq by a specific deadline.
But, Mr. Hill added, “The notion that this country has been mortgaged to our political interests is simply not accurate.”
His predecessor, Mr. Crocker, called it more of a burden. “It was a constant fight,” he said. “ ‘We’re tired of this, too much in blood and treasure, it isn’t working, we have to move on.’ It was a constant battle. ‘If we don’t get X number of benchmarks, by Y date, that equals Z, which is failure.’ Our whole notion that we can somehow develop a mathematical model that includes concrete achievements, factor in a time frame and voilĂ . Iraq doesn’t work that way and Afghanistan doesn’t work that way.”
It is perhaps a cliché, the way the past intersects with the present in the Middle East, though not necessarily untrue.
In the serpentine alleys around the shrine of Kadhimiya in Baghdad, beside the tumult of Al Hussein in Cairo’s venerable old city and along the majesty of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, what has been here is often more palpable than what is here now. For Arabs, the Crusades resonate in the creation of Israel. Wars in Iraq are cast in millennium-old narratives of suffering and martyrdom.
Perspective becomes politics. So does patience.
In a tumultuous time in 2005, Syria was beset by a crisis some deemed existential. There were rumors that an international tribunal investigating the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister would indict some of its leaders. Sprawling protests had helped force it to leave Lebanon, where many reviled its 29-year presence. The United States had withdrawn its ambassador in a bid to isolate it.
The most knowing officials, though, seemed confident that their horizons were broader, longer and more historical than the Americans.
President Bashar al-Assad had learned from his father, Hafez, the air force commander who ruled Syria as strongman for three decades and knew perhaps better than anyone that time was a tool. “There was the master manipulator of time, and someone who understood everybody’s clock — Middle Eastern clocks, Western clocks, the American clock,” Mr. Crocker said.
“That legacy has passed on to his son, against all odds,” he added. “They’ve done pretty darn well. I think history is going to catch up with them ultimately, but ultimately can be a very long time.”
In 2010, a new American ambassador has been nominated, and Syria, in some fashion, has returned to Lebanon. In the Lebanese capital, where protests by tens of thousands once crudely insulted the Syrian president, another banner hung during his first visit to Beirut since the assassination.
“Welcome among your family,” it read.
Amid the timelines and deadlines, half-starts and false starts of American diplomacy in the Middle East, between the grand gestures and follies, there is a counternarrative. It belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood, the forefather of Islamic politics in the Arab world that was born in Egypt in 1928. Maamoun al-Hodeibi, a longtime leader who died in 2004, preached a quietism to his supporters in Egypt that some saw as defeatist, but he saw as enduring.
Another round of arrests had depleted the movement’s ranks in the late 1990s. American officials refused to talk to the Brotherhood, deeming engagement recognition, and the Egyptian government was no closer to lifting a ban on the group. Its leadership was under surveillance so suffocating that the license plates of any visitor were recorded.
“In the prisons, there will be a period of training and study,” said Mr. Hodeibi, avuncular, even light-hearted. “In the long run, it will be useful.”
A wry smile followed, as did a proverb.
“God is with the patient,” he said.

30 August 2014

A Picture Of Language: The Fading Art Of Diagramming Sentences

by JUANA SUMMERS on NPR, August 22, 2014 7:18 AM ET

The design firm Pop Chart Lab has taken the first lines of famous novels and diagrammed those sentences. This one shows the opening of Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis.
When you think about a sentence, you usually think about words — not lines. But sentence diagramming brings geometry into grammar.

If you weren't taught to diagram a sentence, this might sound a little zany. But the practice has a long — and controversial — history in U.S. schools.

And while it was once commonplace, many people today don't even know what it is.

So let's start with the basics.

"It's a fairly simple idea," says Kitty Burns Florey, the author of Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences. "I like to call it a picture of language. It really does draw a picture of what language looks like."

I asked her to show me, and for an example she used the first sentence she recalls diagramming: "The dog barked."

"By drawing a line and writing 'dog' on the left side of the line and 'barked' on the right side of the line and separating them with a little vertical line, we could see that 'dog' was the subject of the sentence and 'barked' was the predicate or the verb," she explains. "When you diagram a sentence, those things are always in that relation to each other. It always makes the same kind of picture. And supposedly, it makes it easier for kids who are learning to write, learning to use correct English."

An Education 'Phenomenon'

Burns Florey and other experts trace the origin of diagramming sentences back to 1877 and two professors at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. In their book, Higher Lessons in English, Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellogg made the case that students would learn better how to structure sentences if they could see them drawn as graphic structures.

After Reed and Kellogg published their book, the practice of diagramming sentences had something of a Golden Age in American schools.

"It was a purely American phenomenon," Burns Florey says. "It was invented in Brooklyn, it swept across this country like crazy and became really popular for 50 or 60 years and then began to die away."

By the 1960s, new research dumped criticism on the practice.

"Diagramming sentences ... teaches nothing beyond the ability to diagram," declared the 1960 Encyclopedia of Educational Research.

In 1985, the National Council of Teachers of English declared that "repetitive grammar drills and exercises" — like diagramming sentences — are "a deterrent to the improvement of students' speaking and writing."

Nevertheless, diagramming sentences is still taught — you can find it in textbooks and see it in lesson plans. My question is, why?

Burns Florey says it might still be a good tool for some students. "When you're learning to write well, it helps to understand what the sentence is doing and why it's doing it and how you can improve it."

But does it deserve a place in English class today? (The Common Core doesn't mention it.)

"There are two kinds of people in this world — the ones who loved diagramming, and the ones who hated it," Burns Florey says.

She's in the first camp. But she understands why, for some students, it never clicks.

"It's like a middle man. You've got a sentence that you're trying to write, so you have to learn to structure that, but also you have to learn to put it on these lines and angles and master that, on top of everything else."

So many students ended up frustrated, viewing the technique "as an intrusion or as an absolutely confusing, crazy thing that they couldn't understand."

I grew up having to do this in English class and I think it helped me be a better writer. Did any of you have to do this? Does anyone have an opinion if this would be a good thing to have had to learn?

Twitter's map of Mid-East conflict

from the BBC. Note how it talks about the self-organization of information, this time in terms of Twitter commentary

28 August 2014 Last updated at 02:22 BST
Data visualisation enables us to map connections across social media like Twitter and see how different groups of people relate to each other.
Israeli data scientist Gilad Lotan has been mapping interactions across Twitter during the Israeli-Gaza conflict. The aim of social media is to bring people together - so what is it doing for Palestinians and Israelis in the long running conflict in the Middle East?
Spencer Kelly reports.

21 August 2014

I misspoke in class today

When I discussed LTG Fred Franks and the US VII Corps in Desert Storm, I said an incorrect number when I described the number of troops under his command. The real numbers are:
Franks' command numbered more than 142,000 soldiers ... To keep his troops moving and fighting, Franks used more than 48,500 vehicles and aircraft, including 1,587 tanks, 1,502 Bradleys and armored personnel carriers, 669 artillery pieces, and 223 attack helicopters. For every day of offensive operations, the corps needed 5.6 million gallons of fuel, 3.3 million gallons of water, and 6,075 tons of ammunition.
And again, in another description:
In the Gulf War, VII Corps was probably the most powerful formation of its type ever to take to the battlefield. Normally, a corps commands three divisions when at full strength, along with other units such as artillery of various types, corps-level engineers and support units. However, VII Corps had far more firepower under its command.
Any way one looks at it, it was a complicated command responsibility, one that called for a lot of information, but even more it called for wisdom.