High Stakes in Syria: Recent History and a Russian Threat Loom Heavily Over Obama’s Head

Jan. 22, 2016

With the wounds still healing from what came to be regarded as a dragged out presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is no wonder that President Obama exercised extreme hesitation in entering the Syrian catastrophe that has seen around 250,000 deaths since it began in 2011. After four years of teetering, the humanitarian nightmare became too calamitous and the threat of ISIS elevated marginally on the worldwide stage. Obama could not avoid what seemed to be inevitable—US intervention. This intervention is far from haphazard, however. In his deployment of troops, Obama has been extremely judicious in each of his moves, as one misstep could lead to a complete deterioration of both the situation in the Middle East, as well as US-Russian relations. The latter of which poses a less immediate threat, yet could ultimately be more costly.

It is no secret that the United States and Russia, who refused to join the fifteen-nation coalition aimed at destroying ISIS and restoring peace, possess less than trusting relations, but the iciness between the nations is now being exhibited internationally, with Syria as the stage. Russian president Vladimir Putin has supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the onset of the crisis, despite his use of chemical weapons on his own citizens. In addition to the commercial interest Putin has in preserving Assad’s power, Putin views him as perhaps the last strong dictator of the Middle East, one free of Western influence. It is for this reason that 70% of all Russian air strikes in the area target anti-Assad rebels, a group that the US has spent vast amounts of resources on to support. Though the Kremlin maintains that its number one priority is the restoration of peace in Syria and the annihilation of ISIS, one anonymous US official has said, “We are not convinced of what the Russian intentions are.”

Indeed, with each move that Putin orders, the mystery that is Russia’s ultimate end game becomes increasingly unclear. On one hand, Russia has established an expanded air defense system in the northern region of the country, halting essentially all American air strikes on Assad’s army; yet on the other hand, Russia has joined the US in their support for Kurdish fighters, likely because the Kurds agreed to a nonaggression pact with Assad’s army, so there are no conflicts of interest on the Russian front. An anonymous senior Defense Department official criticized the Russians for, “trying to play both sides of the fence.” Their support for both President Assad, whose regime openly discriminates against the Kurds, and Kurdistan, whose efforts toward independence have routinely been squashed by Assad in the past, is a clear contradiction.

The only possible explanation for this equivocal Russian strategy is actually far simpler than Putin’s surreptitious regime would have you believe—no matter the outcome, Russia wants to emerge as the hero in Syria. Russia views this crisis as an opportunity to surpass the United States as the top dog in the international community. While ISIS poses as an immediate threat to the US and the rest of the world alike, if Russia is successful in becoming the dominant external force in the Middle East, it could lead to far more significant consequences in the long run. This would find Russia to be in a position to form the shape of the region for the next generation, which, if its present attitude is any indication of what it will be inclined to support down the line, would include more tyranny and government oppression of its peoples. In the past, Middle Eastern dictators have been relatively constrained in their global impact. Yet with a powerful nation such as Russia propping them up, future dictators would prove to be a more serious threat to the rest of the world.

It is for this reason that President Obama and his coalition cannot afford to fail in Syria. The president must act carefully yet forcefully, with both assertion and foresight. Very few people in the global landscape deny that ISIS and other executors of chaos in the Middle East ought to be stopped immediately. But the prospects of another elongated American intervention and Russia emerging from the situation as the primary influencer in the region both provide ample justification for a more balanced approach. It is up to Obama to lay out the framework for that balanced approach before it is too late.

 

Sources:

-http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/22/world/middleeast/russia-and-us-while-pushing-for-peace-talks-jockey-for-position-in-syria.html?_r=0

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2016/1/9/only-a-third-of-russian-air-strikes-in-syria-target-isil-us-official-says.html

-http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-12-17/new-russian-air-defenses-in-syria-keep-u-s-grounded

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/us-troops-special-operations-forces-obama-syria-isis/

 

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The Floozies Deliver an Indefinable Dance Party

Listening to a Floozies song for the first time is simultaneously flummoxing and alluring. Snippets of seemingly mismatched robotic noises join together to form an unexpectedly fluid electro-funk experience that will leave you either appalled or dancing. Every member of the stuffed Georgia Theatre crowd last Friday night was left with the latter. And they did not stop until the show did.

The tone was set by a dreamy Chet Porter opening performance. Porter succeeded in delivering the crowd to the headliners in an imaginative state with stoked curiosity. Once The Floozies graced the stage that curiosity served the audience well. Throughout the show, the Matt and Mark Hill, brothers from Lawrence, Kan., traveled down every musical avenue imaginable but relied mostly on electronic funk. Delving into classic rock, hip-hop, jazz, and indie, the brothers consistently surprised the audience with where their songs were heading. The crowd’s tremendous joy was surpassed only by front man Matt’s, as he watched the flooded venue groove together with a smile on his face that lasted the duration of the show. He even burst out into laughter occasionally as he observed the crowd react with delight to an unexpected hook or a beat unlike anything heard before.

Too often at electronic music shows, the performer, who is typically stuck behind a MacBook on a table, does not match the energy of the music itself. The genre that lends itself to the most vibrant songs is usually presented by the least engaged performers. The Floozies overcame this inhibitor by wielding real instruments in conjunction with their DJ booth setup—Matt on the guitar and vocals, Mark on the drums. Though neither Hill spoke directly to the crowd much, the duo was engaged with the audience and garnered more respect for their undeniable musical prowess.

The Floozies fed off of the crowd’s energy and interacted with it. For example, when the band walked off the stage after its hour and a half long set and the audience roared for an encore and, for some unknown reason, spontaneously commenced an Atlanta Braves “tomahawk chop.” When the brothers finally submitted to the crowd’s demand and returned to the stage, they matched the chop with their own funky rendition of it, sending the place into elation.

The visual effects created another sensory element to the show. The colorful light beams were projected from behind the performers, illuminating the crowd. These lasers were supplemented by the aura of the glowsticks wielded by the attendees most observant of the EDM (electronic dance music) faith. Indeed, for these ravers EDM is a religion, and lights are their form of worship. The less devout within the audience, which included many people old enough to be their parents, were not deterred from partaking in the practice as well.

While each song was distinct in its influences and, in some cases, genre, many blended together. In fact, it was sometimes difficult to tell when one song ended another began. Despite this ambiguity, the group’s most well known song “Sunroof Cadillac” stood out from the rest. An attempt at describing its rhythm may be rendered less effectual than me trying to read a Chinese novel. Yet I can undoubtedly say that its hyper-upbeat and unpredictable sound brought the Theatre’s energy to a peak, prompting each attendee to dance.

Perhaps what was so unique about The Floozies’ performance was its departure from the known. With no clear category into which their music fits, no detectable direction each song will go, and no identifiable source for each noise emitted, the listener is left with much to imagine. And at this show, this imagination manifested itself in the form of the weekend’s best dance party in Athens.

After School Fun (and Learning)

By Alex Estroff

After school programs provide an important service to students and parents alike. They are particularly vital in the Athens-Clarke area due to the high volume of students of low income families.

The Thomas Lay After School Program is sponsored by the UGA Honors Program and allows UGA students to mentor local children through reading and playing. The program is provided for free to the nearly forty children who participate–nearly all of whom are economically disadvantaged.

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Gary and his mentor for the day, Sarah, play a game of one-on-one. Lucky for Gary, Sarah is admittedly “terrible” at basketball. 

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Eddie and Jockiv’ise (everyone just calls him “Jock”), like most of the boys, always head straight to the court for a game of pickup basketball.

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On nice days, all the children who don’t play basketball enjoy spending time on the playground outside. After waiting for quite some time, Curiyah and Roderick finally get their turns on the swingset.

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Legracion (“LG” to his friends) and Za’riyah discuss the latest 2nd grade gossip on the playground.

Athens-Clarke County, in partnership with the local Boys and Girls Clubs, provides free 21st Century Community Learning Centers for children of low income families. Programs are offered to children in Kindergarten through high school and focuses on both academics and enrichment. The center at the H.T. Edwards Boys and Girls Club has about fifty children participate each day.

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If the children have homework they must complete it before doing any of the other activities. Jada, Uriah, and Zaniyah like to work together on their work.

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Heaven practices her spelling.

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Now that all their homework is done, the boys play a game of kickball in the gym. The program leaders try to keep the game somewhat organized.

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William and Jordan, two of the older boys in the program, prefer the quietness of the game room over the chaos that occurs in the gym. 

Trends in Education

1. The Summer Time Slide

For my profile story, I interviewed the director of Books for Keeps, Leslie Hale. Her organization collects books to donate to children whose families cannot afford their own. The primary motive for Books for Keeps is to slow the decline in learning that occurs each summer when children are not in school that sets poor children back disproportionately compared to their more affluent classmates. For children coming from low-income families, the summer time slide is drastically larger because without the schools providing reading materials, these students go about two and a half months without practicing their reading skills. This occurs every summer and leaves these children at a tremendous disadvantage and ultimately lowers their chance of graduating high school.

2. Arts programs being dropped from curricula

Earlier this semester, I spoke with Amy Broocke, a former head of school and current franchisee for Challenge Island, a national STEAM extracurricular program. She stressed the importance of keeping arts programs in curricula because they emphasize 21st Century skills that other courses cannot teach. Furthermore, when arts programs are dropped, the “fun” part of school usually goes with it, thus creating an environment in which students are not as excited to learn.

3. Technology in the classroom

In an effort to keep up with 21st Century teaching techniques, Clarke County vamping up its efforts to establish modern technology in the classroom. By providing access to such devices as iPads to each student, Clarke County hopes to better engage the children and help encourage modern learning styles. This phenomenon is by no means exclusive to Clarke County–many counties across the nation are doing this as well. While there are definite benefits, some view this idea as a waste of funds because in only a few years this technology will be outdated and eventually obsolete. This is an interesting debate in the field of education right now and one that will certainly be influential in the way students learn in the future.

 

Tricky Interviewing: Sea of Crises

In this long form piece, Brian Phillips wanders through two uniquely Japanese stories: first, one about the greatest sumo wrestler of all time, then one that recounts a failed coup that ends in seppuku–Japanese ritual suicide that is reserved only for the most honorable warriors. Phillips connects these two stories by suggesting that they, in their own respective rites, capture the essence of Japan.

Phillips’ Sources:

-Asashoryu- Former sumo wrestling world champion

-Various photographers at the sumo matches

-Though not quoted, it is clear that Phillips met with many Japanese historians and experts before writing this story. This piece is very research heavy

-Japanese reporter who claimed to have a “ghost story”

-His friend Alex, a professor of Japanese history

-Sumo videos and records

-Many historical documents

In many ways, this is not the typical long form piece. It relies more on firsthand experience than outside sources. It is dependent on research done in textbooks and databases, not necessarily done in the field. The one source that appears to be crucial to the completion of this story–Koga, the main character–is never interviewed (or at least we do not know if he is interviewed, for dramatic effect). Though it takes the form of a journalistic work, this story is likely better characterized as a literary work. It’s lack of direct quotes was not the product of lazy journalism, but rather an artistic decision that lent the story a more first hand experience. More quotes could have offered the story more clarification and made it more concrete, but Phillips was not concerned with that. He sought to achieve mystery in this story, which involves leaving some questions unanswered on purpose and leaving room for ambiguity.

I know this is not the model work of journalism I should base my work as a student off of, but this is one of my favorite long form pieces because it is so carefully crafted, so thoroughly researched, and so elegantly told that it compensates for its lack of direct quotes for interviews. Phillips told the story his way. I hope to do the same with my stories in the future.

Infographics

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(Infographic made by GOOD and University of Phoenix)

Principle One: Invisibility

This infographic has a seamless design, that is that it appears smooth. The less effort a graphic appears to have taken to be created, the better it often looks (unless you actually spent no time on it).

Principle Two: Show the Near and Far

This graphic has a mix of large designs that will catch your eye right away, as well as more refined print that you will only make note of upon closer focus. One is meant to draw you in, the other is meant to keep your attention.

Principle Three: Alignment

All the components of this graphic are carefully organized and make something of a grid. It is evident that the creator of it did not just spontaneously place the items where he or she wanted, but the placement came about from careful planning.

Principle Four: Repetition

Colors and styles are repeated here and establish a sense of consistency. This makes the graphic easier to perceive and stay focused on.

Principle Five: Contrast

There is some contrast here, but not a lot. The creator used the contrast between black and white effectively, but other than that the color choice is not very bold.

Principle Six: Proximity

This graphic does a nice job of keeping relevant information compact. Data that relates to other data are not spread out all over, but rather are appropriately placed right next to each other.

Principle Seven: Intuitiveness

No reader should struggle navigating through this graphic. It is easy to comprehend and does not strain the eyes or mind. Anyone who can read can understand what this graphic is attempting to demonstrate.

Principle Eight: Simplicity

This principle is comprised of many of the others that preceded it. The underlying feature of a graphic that makes it effective (other than the accuracy of its data) is its simplicity. Simple graphics will be understood and appreciated by readers; convoluted and messy graphics will be overlooked.

Interviewing

From Life Hacker:

One interview miscue mentioned in this article that I am certainly guilty of is the rambling question. Sometimes I will ask a long question and give my subject multiple “options” to answer. It is quite clear that a brief, open-ended question will illicit a far better response from the subject.

From Rob Boffard:

Something that I have encountered myself that Boffard points out is people wanting to retract their statements because it may “make them look bad.” It is an awkward experience when this happens because, as a journalist, you have a right and obligation to use the words that your subject has spoken, but at the same time, you do not want to betray the trust of your source. So best case scenario, the subject has read this article and is fully aware of interview protocol.

From Poynter:

This article was particularly interesting because it discusses non-traditional methods of getting quotes for a story. All of these methods generate different types of responses from different types of people. I found the online quote crowdsourcing to be especially intriguing. While it may not be ideal for a very serious piece, this can be useful different types of stories and is a way to engage with both those you wish to hear from and your readers. This uses technology to gather thoughtful responses and helps in gaining a better picture of the situation.

From Blaine:

One thing that Blaine points out that to be a necessity (yet is often too overlooked in modern journalism) is proper grammar. In the era of breaking news and Twitter journalism, reporters can sometimes favor immediacy over accuracy–concerning facts and grammar. It has become far too commonplace in the field of journalism to come across spelling and grammar mistakes in breaking news stories. Blaine asserts that even one spelling mistake in a story can cost you your audience’s trust.

Andrew Fisher, In His Natural Habitat

These photos offer a glimpse into who my roommate, Andrew Fisher, is. We have known each other since the start of college and know each other very well. For that reason, it was difficult to decide which photos would paint an objective image of him that would allow someone else to learn about his character and interests. Nonetheless, I have tried to do so with these photos:

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Andrew leaves our downtown apartment on a chilly morning for an early class.

 

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Andrew takes his studies very seriously and makes his schoolwork his priority. 

 

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When he is not studying, Andrew likes to take easy and hang out in our apartment.

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Sports have always been a part of his life and he enjoys watching them whenever he can. Surprisingly, even bowling.

 

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One of Andrew’s favorite perks of living downtown is all the great food. He particularly loves the new Zaxby’s on Clayton St.

 

 

Notes From My Interview With Amy Broocke

Amy Broocke: Former head of school and current Challenge Island franchisee. Challenge Island is an extracurricular program that develops 21st Century skills in a fun team-oriented environment.

 

STEAM:

-Once you add the art, it adds the fun. You need to be creative and it the arts teach that.

-Teaches kids to express themselves

Challenge Islands—make cheers, draw, etc.

-The art makes learning interesting, which makes the kids remember it better.

High Stakes Testing:

There are many Tests-driven schools. They say we want our kids to compete globally. This leads to High Stakes Testing, which doesn’t leave time for art.

High stakes testing makes everyone nervous, and teachers start teaching to the tests. This makes the material boring.

These tests are high stakes because they can determine accreditation and funding. A school can stop being a school if the test results are bad.

Testing can be important when finding what a kid’s strengths are. But bad when they become high stakes.

Merit Based Pay:

-In public school there are a lot of kids, so lots of different types of learners and skills. Some kids may have special needs or lower IQ’s. When pay is based off of test scores, teachers wouldn’t want to have special needs kids in their class—would lower test scores. This can lead to teachers changing test scores and cheating scandals.

Merit based pay can be good if it’s truly based on merit, but it’s usually not.

In Virginia they have SOL instead of Common Core, but pretty much the same thing. This makes it so teachers don’t make curriculums creative and fun and they begin teaching the tests instead of actually fun material.

Common core can be good because no matter where you go the curriculum will be the same. But it eliminates teachers’ flexibility.

Challenge Island replaces dropped arts programs (which is happening a lot).

It teaches kids how to be creative, how to work together. Teaches them things they need to be successful. Also getting along with different types of people is important.

Teaches them how to learn to use new technologies. Whatever it is, they have to figure it out, how to jump in and solve it.

Teaches confidence. The confidence to fail sometimes and to learn that it’s okay to fail. Also the confidence to fix it, which is an important skill.

Inspires kids to be creative, be part of a team and work as an individual.

21st Century skills:

Perseverance, adapting, collaboration/communication

 

Beat Report

The first thing that needs to be done with any beat is familiarizing yourself with both the hefty details and small nuances of the subject.

Because my mom is an educator, I have been exposed to many of the issues concerning education at both a local and national level. Common Core, for example, is something that I already have a decent understanding of. I have heard the opinions of my mom and her fellow educators on the issue (most of whom despise the program), but I would like to do more research to see if its results actually do substantiate the program, as well as hear the perspective of lawmakers.

My experience may be a little different from the other members of the education beat because I went to private school. This may have an influence on how I view major issues such as teacher pay or school districting. This perspective may also allow me view these issues as more of a third party (except the ones that my mom weighs in on frequently).

It is important for me to acquaint myself with both the politics of education as well as the real human effects of it. The former can be accomplished through extensive research, while the latter can be done only by going out and witnessing it firsthand.

Specifically, I would like to learn what efforts are being done by the Clarke County School Board to address the disparity in quality educations between the rich and the poor (of which there are too many) in Athens. I can likely discover these policies and plans by contacting members of the board or teachers at local schools. I would also like to learn what factors create a classroom that is conducive to a successful education (i.e. what works and what does not in the classroom setting). For this, the best people to reach out to would be teachers, parents, and even students.