Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Reading

Bosnia or Iraq? — Daniel Serwer makes the case that the strikes in Libya are humanitarian rather than offensive.

Srebrenica, not Iraq, is the right historical precedent for what is happening in Libya. In 1995 the West failed its declared intention to protect civilians in a Muslim-populated enclave in eastern Bosnia, declared a “safe area” by the UN. There weren’t enough Dutch peacekeepers in the area to defend the Muslims and, as a result, thousands of men and boys were massacred in cold blood.

Only a few weeks later NATO responded to Serb attack on another “safe area,” Sarajevo. NATO launched a bombing campaign that broke apart the Bosnian Serb Army and allowed Croat and Muslim Federation forces to advance on the Serb army. As the Serbs reeled from the air attack, they took hostages and used them as human shields. They also parked armored vehicles near mosques and schools. We should expect Qaddafi to do likewise.

When NATO stopped the war, the Muslim Federation had taken about 66 percent of Bosnian territory and might well have gotten to 80 percent within 10 days. At the Dayton Peace Accords, we rolled the federation forces back to 51 percent of the territory, because of a previous agreement between parties on how to bring peace to Bosnia. This decision to curb the federation made implementing peace the difficult task that it remains today, more than 15 years after the end of the conflict.

If history is a guide, then, the next big decision on Libya will be when to draw down the international military campaign. Does it stop when Qaddafi backs down, even if his forces still control a good part of Libya? That would be a hard peace to implement. Or do we wait a bit until his regime collapses and he flees or dies? This may be as important as the decision to launch the military strikes, as it will determine whether Libya remains a single state or suffers the kind of semi-dismemberment that still makes Bosnia, and Iraq, difficult places to govern.

Call it what you like; it’s still bombing, destruction, and death.

More below the fold.

Where’s The Merit? — Fred Grimm observes that Florida’s new teacher merit pay law is an illusion.

It’s a novel concept: moneyless merit pay.

The momentous education bill passed this week by the Legislature strips tenure protection from Florida public-school teachers. In return, if their students score well on standardized tests, if they wow their principals, teachers will be lavished with merit raises.

Except the legislators didn’t bother with the nettlesome matter of funding their great reform.

No money to pay for the tests. (The Obama administration will provide $700 million to get the program rolling, but school superintendents aren’t sure that’s enough to pay for the standardized tests they’ll need to cover every subject in every district, much less the staffs to administer them.)

No money to pay for the raises. “It shows us that their intentions aren’t good,” said Jennifer Smith, who teaches French at Hialeah High School. “If they had good intentions, they’d be funding the pay. This is all punishment and no reward.”

All newly hired teachers, beginning in July, can be signed only to one-year contracts. If their students ace their standardized tests, and the teachers receive favorable evaluations from their principals, they’ll be eligible for those illusionary merit raises. If they don’t do well on either count, of course, they’ll be zapped.

Current teachers, now muddling along with $5,000 a year less pay than the national average, will face a Hobson’s Choice in 2014. They can retain their tenure protection, but doing so means no raises. (Most districts haven’t given teachers a raise in two or three years as it is.)

Or they can forgo tenure, suck up to their principals and hope their students grasp just how much rides on the outcome of those despised tests, which will be expanded from core subjects to all curriculum.

If teaching-to-the-test has been rampant in the FCAT era, when teachers were pressured to drill students in test prep on behalf of their particular schools, imagine the scenario when individual teacher salaries depend on those test scores.

The disinterested kid in the back row, once a mere impediment to his school’s performance, becomes a threat to the teacher’s paycheck.

But wait. Silly me. What am I worried about? Teachers are hardly going to be teaching-to-the-test to scarf up non-existent merit pay.

Politics and Theatre — After the firing of Julie Taymor from Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Patrick Healy notices the similarities between the Broadway stage and the campaign trail.

It was November 2003 and Senator John Kerry was nervous. Howard Dean, an opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination, had a lead in fund-raising, new endorsements from two major unions, and apparent momentum in Iowa and New Hampshire, where voting was two months away. So Mr. Kerry took one of the few quick actions within his control: He fired his campaign manager, Jim Jordan. The day after, in a five-minute exchange with reporters, Mr. Kerry repeated 10 times that he wanted to “change the dynamics” of the race by overhauling his political strategy.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, then a United States senator, had less to say in February 2008 when she replaced her campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle. The ever-circumspect Mrs. Clinton let stand the anonymous quotes coming from her aides: that the candidate wanted to send a signal to donors and voters that she was shaking up her political operation after a series of primary victories by Barack Obama.

The sacking of Mr. Jordan and Ms. Solis Doyle, which I covered as a political reporter, came to mind on Tuesday when Julie Taymor all but officially ended her run as director of Broadway’s “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.” In a rare move for a show already in preview performances, the “Spider-Man” producers replaced her with a director who they hope can improve the critically derided musical.

Like Ms. Solis Doyle, who had worked for Mrs. Clinton for 17 years, Ms. Taymor once seemed synonymous with “Spider-Man,” which she began creating nine years ago. And like Mr. Jordan, Ms. Taymor had a way of exuding confidence that, for a time, convinced her producers and fellow creators that the musical would turn out fine as long as they stuck with her game plan.

But in the ego-driven world of Broadway, as in politics, you’re simply irreplaceable, dahling — until you’re not.

I’ve noticed many similarities between the politics of theater and the theater of politics, but the spectacular fall of Ms. Taymor was a moment that crystallized several of them: the carefully parsed press releases, the off-the-record finger-pointing, the gleeful reactions to a rival’s comeuppance, and the high price put on juicy gossip. Both Broadway and politics are deeply insular: The same directors, designers, press agents and campaign operatives are hired over and over again; far fewer people really know what’s going on with a show or a campaign than pretend to (a handful of talent agents and producers, a candidate’s consigliere). And both worlds rely on a fickle public, positive word of mouth, the fortitude of investors and donors, and a lot of alcohol.

Doonesbury — Whither the Red Rascal?