Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Hurray for Canada!!! I knew you people could elect reasonable representatives to your government. Maybe Canada should hold a class for us southern folk.

And, no, I'm not in Africa yet, but I'm getting closer.


Friday, June 25, 2004

Here's another great idea from Schwarzenegger for saving money:
Schwarzenegger Wants Strays Killed Faster

- makigirl

PS Are you in Africa yet?

Nothing really to post on, I just felt like having a post for today. I finished the Tim Slater/Jeff Adams astronomy teaching book last night, and I'm still mulling it over. I'll try to write a review of my thoughts over the weekend and post it on Monday. Otherwise, I'm feeling a bit cooped up here in my little town now that I'm done with everything. I'm about ready to move on. Who knows, maybe my next post will be from Zimbabwe.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Well it's probably of little comfort, hoagieboy, but I am on your side of course. Imagine if we stopped warehousing people in prison for petty offences, and instead used all that money for new schools, financial aid, etc.? How come no one ever "gets tough on education"? Shouldn't we be as worried about education as we are about terrorists? Somehow people need to start taking a holistic view of the nation/world. But is that possible when politicians have to worry about re-election every 4 years? Americans seem to have an ingrained "me me me" mentality that I am doubtful will ever change. Try suggesting non "me me me" policies and see how quickly people call you a communist.

Michael Moore was sort of talking about this today (while encouraging Canadians to vote for the Liberal party in the upcoming federal election): Here's the story.

I found this oped about higher ed in California today from Google News. Not that I've ever liked Arnold as a politictian, or will ever pay to watch another one of his movies, the problem isn't him in this case. Any Democrat would probably be making the same budget cuts to the higher ed system. As per usual, there's any number of conclusions that you can draw from this very sad situation:

1) Here's your Bush Tax cut at work. Instead of investing in the future, the Bush tax cuts placed a higher financial burden on the states to continue to provide the services that people expect. The "non-essential" items in the state budget, like higher-ed gets the axe. People either have to pay more to go to college or simply don't get the chance now. This is what's hidden in the tax cut. Sure people got their $300 check (I know you didn't Makigirl), but on the other hand, the child of a working class family who may have the grades to go to college doesn't, because it costs too much. This child now earns hundreds of thousands to millions less over the course of his/her lifetime because they don't have a BA or higher degree. Econcomic stimulus this tax cut ain't.

2) K-12 school systems don't do an adequate job at all in preparing students of color or from lower economic backgrounds to go to college. Whether funding is cut or not from the higher ed budget in California, the statistic that's amazing to me is that only 11% of the students in the UC system are Latino. Where do all the other Latino children end up? I'm well aware of the fact that these children come from more disadvantaged and difficult backgrounds. But there are so many bright and articulate children out there who deserve the same chance as the rest of us, and sadly, they're just slipping away. What this tells me is that too many school systems and teachers are acting at best as graders and at worst as warehouses. If only we actually taught somebody something.

3) Higher ed is still a bastion of white male culture. No matter how many gender, african, south american, or whatever studies programs you make, what matters is getting deserving kids from diverse backgrounds in the door. Most colleges and universities do a dismal job of that. Yeah, my college had good volunteer programs and had HS students of color on campus to show them around, but if we really cared, the whole college community would be involved, not just one tiny overworked office. If a college really cared, my curriculum as a physics major would have required me to work in schools and mentor kids. It's that simple. You spend your time on what you care about.

4) I'm an optimist, so sometimes when I hear good news, I think that maybe we're really getting close to getting things right in this country. But then articles like this remind me of how far we have to go.


I guess I'm worse than you thought, Makigirl. Here's my answers to your little survey:

1) Well, we've never won a game, so I think that's a big check for me.
2) I actually have used "postmodern" once or twice recently, so little check.
3) You got this one, half check.
4) Real bad, elimidate, hootie, Christina, Hillary Duff. I can't help myself. Big Check.
5) No
6) Swamp, yes, but atleast I'm not there with other hipsters. check.
7) I have cooked a vegan meal for 30. Half check.
8) Double edged sword here, I have too many Republican friends to refer to any one of them by party. No check.
9) I do complain about gentrification, but I've never lived in a fix-up neighborhood. Half check.
10) Negatory
11) No, can't say I know who those people are. But, maybe I'll look them up now, and be real hip.

Well, that puts me at 5 1/2 + checks. I'm halfway there. Good thing I don't wear glasses.


Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Are you a hipster?

And now for something a little light-hearted. I know, this has nothing to do with science, education or politics ... but we all need a break from seriousness sometime.

So I came across this strange little blue book at the library yesterday called "The Hipster Handbook" by Robert Lanham. Intrigued, I read the "11 Clues you are a Hipster":

1. You graduated from a liberal arts school whose football team hasn't won a game since the Reagan administration
(me, check. hoagieboy, check.)

2. You frequently use the term "postmodern" (or its commonly used variation "PoMo") as an adjective, noun and verb.
(no, but I will try sprinkling "PoMo" in my daily conversation ...)

3. You carry a shoulder-strap messenger bag and have at one time or another worn a pair of horn-rimmed or Elvis Costello-stye glasses.
(me, check. hoagieboy, halfcheck.)

4. You have refined taste and consider yourself exceptionally cultured, but have one pop vice (ElimiDATE, Quiet Riot, and Entertainment Weekly are popular ones) that helps to define you as well-rounded.
(Ok, I admit to being unable to turn off any VHI "Top 100" show. hoagie boy: hootie.)

5. You have kissed somehow of the same gender and often bring this up in casual conversation.
(me, no. hoagieboy, I have no idea, but if he has he doesn't talk about it.)

6. You spend much of your leisure time in bars and restaurants with monosyllabic names like Plant, Bound, and Shine.
(me, no. hoagieboy, swamp.)

7. You bought your dishes and a checkered tablecloth at a thrift shop to be kitschy, and often throw vegetarian dinner parties.
(me, half. hoagieboy, perhaps, with his new tofu fondness.)

8. You have one Republican friend who you always describe as being your "one Republican friend."
(me, Steve. hoagieboy, ?)

9. You enjoy complaining about gentrification even though you are responsible for it yourself.
(I had to look up that word, but I don't think so.)

10. Your hair looks best unwashed and you position your head on your pillow at night in a way that will really maximize your cowlicks.

11. You own records put out by Matador, DFA, Definitive Jux, Dischord, Warp, Thrill Jockey, Smells like Records, and Drag City.
(me, no. hoagieboy, I don't think so?)

Who knew? We are on our way to becoming hipsters. Finally, something to shoot for ...

- makigirl

Ok, very true. I suspect if we were somehow able to get a hold of how the federal government REALLY spent all its/our money last year, we would be even more horrified. Dairy subsidies, defense spending, whatever the lobbyists want ...

Monday, June 21, 2004

Ok, a real post now. I came across this article when I was flying out to see Makigirl last week. Here's Wayne Biddle from the May 2004 issue of Harpers (not online) talking about the FY 2005 defense spending authorization legislation:

"It might be of interest that the 2005 defense bill contains $341 million for work on the B-2 Stealth bmber, which was developed twenty years ago to drop H-bombs on Moscow; $4.7 billion for the next generation F-22 "Raptor" jet fighter which will enhance the superiority of American warplanes in the skies where they have not been challenged in the least bit by any existing or potential rival for a generation; $1.75 billion for the V-22 "Osprey" tilt-rotor aircraft that has slaughtered its test crews for decades; $2.6 billion for the new Virginia-class attack submarine that has no foe whatsoever; and $10.2 billion for "Star Wars" anti-missile defense that, well, requires no reason at all by now. These programs alone total nearly $20 billion, about the level of Havrard Univerisity's endowment and greater than the GNP of most nations. There will be little or nothing said about these programs as the budget wends its way through Congress for enactment next fall."

This type of poor governance is what pushes us into the false dichotomy of "Hubble or Mars". The fact that defense spending is not openly criticized, but hastily and quietly approved under the cover of "strong on terrorism", is what keeps us from rising to our true potential as a country. We're allowed and encouraged to question the necessity of public education and anti-poverty programs, but question this military spending, and you're suddenly soft on terroism or communism, or whatever. When people get around to learning some math and truely questioning where their money goes in their own government, then maybe we'll get somewhere.


Still no comments? I can't understand why.


Thursday, June 03, 2004

Not that it's ALL bad: the Liberal party in Canada just announced their election platform. It includes a national child-care system (oooohhhhhhh ... is that socialist?), a plan to quadruple the capacity for wind energy (is that wise? maybe we should go drill in the Arctic first ...) and a new military brigade specializing in peace support.
(Here are more details ...)

It seems like there's a lot of "public outreach" these days from professional astronomers, doesn't it? Every NASA mission has a snazzy education website, where you, too, can build a galaxy mobile or ask an astronomy a question. Sadly, half (75%? 100%?) the reason that all this "public outreach" is going on, is that astronomers have picked up on the fact that they cannot get grant money if there is no EPO (education and public outreach) component to their research. They've astutely managed to pick up on this because grant applications now specifically point out this requirement. I think it's great that funding agencies are stressing the importance in communicating science to the community, "giving back" after you've had this wonderful opportunity and money to, for example, build the Hubble Space Telescope. But it is disheartening that this would not be done unless people were forced. Oh, there are some people who would do it anyways, just like some kids don't need to be forced to eat their lima beans. But because most of them don't have their hearts behind it, we end up with mildly useful websites. Great. Except kids still can't read. There are no books in their libraries. They have never met a scientist.

To twist hoagieboy's post around, though, he is lamenting having to choose between Hubble and Mars. I am no fan of Bush's "moon base" or Mars plan. I think it's a collosal waste of money. I would even venture to say that the money used for Hubble could have been spent more wisely. Yes, we have learned so much from Hubble. It has changed the way we view ourselves and the Universe. It has made us feel tiny and big at the same time. It's beautiful. But how to reconcile that with the ugliness still on Earth -- polluting our land, water and air; watching children starve. If a small portion (less than 10%) of the world's yearly expenditures on war/military were shifted to humanitarian causes, we could change the lives of millions of people. We could start right here in America, with prenatal health care, three meals a day in every child's stomach, a home for every child. In fact, such actions would probably do more to close the "education gap" and increase test scores than this NCLB legistlation.

But of course that will never happen. That idea is too "out there," right? Nobody ever reads about ideas like this. Unless you're reading something like Mother Earth News. Ok, you'll also read about how yes, you too could live in a geodesic dome and raise wild guinea fowl and produce all your power from the wind. It's all crazy talk, right? Not really. There are people all over this country, and all over the world, making deliberate choices about how to live and what they will use their money for. Why can't we have as responsible a government? Want to hear more? There was an interesting article in Mother Earth this winter called Blueprint for a Better Planet.

- makigirl

I've come up for air from a long week of thesis edits. And after a week of changing this paragraph and that sentence and the thickness of that line in my plot to please collaborator X, Y, or Z, it kind of makes me wonder what the purpose of all of this is. What I mean is, why do we go to school? What is it that we are here to learn? Are we here to grow and learn, or are we here to learn how to follow orders? I get things done more quickly and with less hassle if I don't challenge what people are telling me to do, even if I think they're wrong. But is that really what I was supposed to be learning?

Which ties back to the Edweek article hoagieboy mentioned (Sunday, May 30th). It discusses standardized testing in the UK, and touches on the different visions of the purpose/priorities of schooling. Some, those in favour of the standardized testing, say that 75% of students must read at level 4 by the time they are 11 years old, for example. Others worry more about students' self-esteem, growth as a person and so on.

I think that education can and should be a mix of both ideas -- learning certain skills that are necessary (reading, writing, math, science/science literacy), but also learning to learn, learning about what fascinates you, art, music, physical activity, growing as a person. Testing does have some part in that, but it seems ridiculous to have a cookie cutter model where we are going to judge the small rural school in Oklahoma with the same standards as the inner city school in Los Angeles or the schools in Utah where students spend FOUR hours every day on the school bus. (If you're curious, here's the story in the NY Times.)

- makigirl

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Apparently, people are again talking about saving the Hubble Space Telescope again. It looks like it might actually happen as well. The NASA administrator, sean O'Keefe is making a call for proposals today at the summer AAS.

Even though this may be marginally good news, I have the feeling that future of science in general is pretty sucky. Yeah, there will continue to be cool discoveries made with this telescope or that particle collider. People will continue to make new medical advances, possibly even eliminating some of the most serious diseases. Yet, what to me is the heart of science, people asking questions about the world around them, is moving away from our public conception of science.

I'm much more ambivalent about Hubble than I used to be. I used to be wholly impressed with Hubble. Never have we been able to witness so many new phenomena with one instrument. The range of humanity's understanding of the universe has increased by several orders of magnitude since the launch of Hubble. (Go back and read an astronomy text book from the mid-eighties and compare it to one from now. It's not just that the pictures are prettier today. We had stuff wrong, and we never imagined many of the things that are out there, and it hasn't even been 20 years.)

Unfortunately, now I see a slightly different world. Why does Hubble exist? Well, one, it exists because we are able to build it and the people building it knew that we would get back great results. But, two, it was built because it's cool, and the people in charge of the project knew that in order for science (astronomy in this case) to continue to receive funding we need to be able to bring back a constant stream of cool pictures and new results that have less and less bearing on daily life.

It happens everywhere now in astronomy. We build big telescopes and big instruments, but not small ones. We're addicted to the the big score, but we don't worry about filling in the knowledge around it. We don't worry about really communicating science to people who aren't professional scientists. We just keep building the next Hubble.

I've never liked GW Bush, but my feelings turned to complete disgust on the day that he announced his little Mars adventure. I've always wanted to go to Mars. I think it's an absolute shame that humans haven't been out of Earth orbit for some 30 years now. I used to think that it would be someone my age that would be the first person to walk on Mars. I've been reduced to telling the elementary school kids I teach that someone from their generation would be the first person to walk on Mars. With Bush's announcement, I was no longer lying. The dream was becoming reality.

Yeah, but the money for Mars was coming straight from Hubble.

So now I have to choose between the old Hubble and the new Hubble, while I have to completely disregard anything less than the old Hubble. I'm sick of it. We prioritize tax cuts. We prioritize war. But we have to choose between Hubble and Mars, neither of which cost anywhere near the other big ticket items.

Why is this the case? Well, I could blame it on the system, but generally I blame it on the astronomers. I'll cotninue my post on this tomorrow.