Weekly Letter to President Obama
Copyright © 2010
ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
March 27, 2015
Mr. President: A new report by the Education Testing Service on the preparation of
millennials, aged 16-34 at the time of the report, shows the (by now) expected result
whenever education competence is assessed. Among the 20 developed countries
evaluated for literacy, numeracy and technological proficiency, the U.S. was dead last
for numeracy and just above Italy and Spain in literacy.
But here is the shocker: The average college graduate in the U.S. failed to better
High School graduates from Finland, Japan and the Netherlands.
What emerges from all this are two clear conclusions: Educational standards need
tightening, and, the repeated testing, retesting regime, introduced in schools during
the Bush years has demonstrated little improvement.
Finland has among the best school systems in Europe although it was not that long
ago when it was, like us, near the bottom. They tackled the problem differently. They
addressed strenuously the socio-economic problems faced by students in failing
schools, and they made teaching one of the most respected and desirable
professions in the country.
An ancillary note: The Guardian newspaper in Britain has conducted an educational
level assessment of State of the Union addresses from the beginning. The highest
score (25.3) goes to James Madison on December 5, 1815; the lowest (8.2) to Barack
Obama on January 25, 2011. Their graph shows a continuous decline through the
centuries, and it reflects the audience being addressed. We seem to have dumbed
down by a factor of three.
On the other usual subject of war -- we are getting involved more seriously in another
of these three-cornered wars, this time in Yemen. The drone strategy has failed; the
pliant President has escaped to Riyadh and our proxy the Saudis are bombing the
What happened? While we were droning the al-Qaeda affiliated extremist Sunnis who
were fighting our man's Sunni government, the Houthis attacked and took over. Who
are the Houthis? They are Zaidi (a part of Shia Islam), constitute 45 percent of the
Yemeni population, and are supported by Iran.
In Syria, the Alawite (a Shia branch) government of President Bashar al-Asad is under
assault by an enfeebled and inept moderate opposition and more potently by IS, a
rebranded al-Qaeda. Both are Sunni. There is strong evidence of support for IS
from the Gulf states and wealthy donors from Saudi Arabia. We are fighting IS, as is
Hezbollah, Iran, and the Shia dominated Iraq government.
Our former Sunni-extremist allies in Libya have spread their ways across North Africa,
into central and west Africa. Once Libya boasted the highest Human Development
Index in Africa. No more. With our help, the country's leader was deposed and
killed. How was he killed? He was sodomized by a bayonet. The last time such an
atrocity on a leader occurred was to an English Plantagenet king in Berkeley Castle.
In his case, the instrument used was a heated poker and there was a reason: he was
One other thing: the new Russian Armata tank, capable of being robotized, should
make anyone wary of attacking Russia or even China where it will likely end up.
How about a world of peaceful economic competition? And what of the problem
threatening our very existence? I mean, of course, climate change.