Thursday, November 18, 2004


This story popped up yesterday in the Canadian news:

Muslim parents urged to keep kids in anti-homophobia classes

In discussing that students in Ontario cover same-sex marriages as part of the curriculum, the education minister said:

"[...] our public schools are there to engender respect, respect for people of different faiths and different sexual orientations."

Parents were not allowed to remove their children from such classes. A refreshing change. A disturbing contrast to what happens here in the U.S.

Some Minor Alterations

I'll be doing some updates on the site later today. I've found a bunch more cool links, particularly of people like us, that I'll add. Also, I fixed the link down below regarding Bono and the Nov. 3rd theses.

A Very Good Concept for a Class

Definitely, Construction of Nuclear Weapons 101 is a great addition to the physics pantheon. I'm sure it would quickly become the standard intro physics class offered everywhere.

To tell you the truth, though, you could design a very comprehensive class based around nuclear weapons. You really do need to know all of physics including modelling and computational work, to really understand them. Maybe it is worth a shot.

Possible Context for New Physics Class

This should appeal to everyone:

New Physics Class Context

New Physics

I like your ideas about teaching physics from big to small -- I think that makes much more sense than breaking physics up into all these historically separate areas. I have had some other ideas like teaching physics as a "how things work" class. Picking 10 or 20 things that we want to understand how they work and through that learning all the physics we would have anyways, but in a (hopefully) more meaningful and engaging way. Like, how does an airplane fly? How do CD's store music? All kinds of questions would work. Or Physics I could all be taught in a certain context like baseball, or hockey. But I worry about just picking one context since it won't really work for those non-athletic type students (I think?)

First I think I, or my department, has to come to a consensus first about the purpose of the physics classes. Is physics a tool (a hammer) to be used in other science classes? Is it learning how to solve set sorts of problems? Or is it beginning to understand the world around us? How to investigate it? How to figure things out? Maybe we can do this at our retreat! After the ropes course and before the hot chocolate.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Physics From Big to Small

So I've been thinking about the outline of a physics class that is based on a fundemental concept in physics, distance scale. (The other fundemental concept that I would consider basing a class on would be energy scale, but I think that might be a bit harder.) Current physics classes are based around separate historical topics (e.g. mechanics, thermodynamics, electricity, magnatism, waves, optics), but there is often very little linkage drawn between the topics, nor are the historical topics presented contextually. An aside from a personal experience:

I was working on a website in the past with a number of different people. One of my co-workers was an education major who had recently had a class in educational technology. Since our website was a semi-educational site, we had a lot of discussions about the use of technology in education. This co-worker brought up that his professor in the educational technology class had said that teaching a class on computers in education was somewhat fruitless. He believed that a computer is a tool, just like a hammer is. We don't have "hammer" classes, when we teach people how to build a house. We present the problem of building a house, and then bring in the hammer later to make our work easier. The computer is the same way in education.

Mechanics, thermo, E&M, et al. are like hammers. In my estimation they are tools that can be used to understand the universe (building a house), but they are not the universe themselves. By teaching only the tools, we run the risk of losing students who could be very good at building a house, but not understanding the details of how a hammer is made or works. The intent behind a class based on a fundemental concept of physics (like distance or energy) is that it forces us to engage the universe itself, and then learn to use the tools in a manner that helps the students learn the universe.

When a class spends its time talking about mechanics at the intro level (in a traditional manner), it does not engage the current research in the field. Newtonian Mechanics as a subject, is a dead matter. It was all covered in the 1700's. But if I use the language of mechanics to drive a discussion about star formation in the arms of spiral galaxies, then I'm in the 21st century. Students who are interested in the house of galaxies can work on building that knowledge of that house, without spending too much time gazing at their hammers.

One other side note: Look through an undergraduate class catalog, focusing on the history department at a very good college. Taking for the granted the fact that physicists consider themselves above historians, do you notice any classes in this list that are devoted solely to "learning how to read English", "learning how to read a primary source", or "learning what we knew way back when, but not telling you that we know it's somewhat wrong now"? No, history classes are based looking at the world as it is (or at least as the professor views it), and then you are expected to pick up the "tools" to learning history as you go. Every class can easily be related to current thought and research on the class topic, without the professor worrying about losing time that should be spent on other topics. Maybe we could take a lesson from these social scientists.

Here's a rough outline for a class. The driving (house) topic is listed first, followed by some of the secondary (hammer) topics that would have to be learned in order to have a good discussion.:

Topic 1 -- Large Scale Structure of the Universe/Gravity/Energy/General Relativity (r~10^9 ly)
Topic 2 -- Galaxies/Light/Motion/Circular Motion/Special Relativity (r~10^5 ly)
Topic 3 -- Clouds of Gas/Stars/Thermodynamcis/Turbulence (r~1 ly)
Topic 4 -- Formation & Structure of Planets/Seizmology/Thermodynamics/Waves (r~10^6 km)
Topic 5 -- Human Structures/Engineering/Statics (r~1 km)
Topic 6 -- Human Body/Motion/Energy (r~1 m)
Topic 7 -- Molecules/Electricity/Magnetism (r~ 10^-6 m)
Topic 8 -- Atoms/Light/Electricity/Magnetism/Quantum (r~10^-9 m)
Topic 9 -- Nuclei/Strong/Weak/QED (r~10^-12m)
Topic 10 -- Stuff that's smaller

Let me know what you think. Obviously, the length of the class (1 vs. 2 semesters) would affect how much you put into the class, as well as the number of class meetings. But I think there's room for alot of fiddling. I have some ideas of how to fill out each of the topics, and that's what I'll be posting on in the next few weeks.

A Defining Message for the Democratic Party

Here are the November 3rd Theses that were posted up on the door of the DNC this morning, in a very Martin Lutherish manner. I think my favorites are #'s 2,6,7, and 13. Other people around the internet have been discussing firing the losers at the DNC this morning. Here's Josh Marshall's take on the issue.

I say run the bums out of town, in a very polite way.

-edited Nov. 18th for proper link

A Real Deep Thinker in the Last Post

Has he ever listened to U2? Here's an article about Bono and debt relief. Yeah, they're a Christian band, but somehow, I don't see spiritualist Irish Catholics falling in line with the oppressive morality of the radical Cristist Right. Nor do I see them (or the pope for that matter) falling for the capilitist competition morality of the fiscal right. Although I think the issue of national debt in the developing world is much more nuanced than Bono appears to present, the guy is a progressive, and that's all there is too it.

Oprah likes him for Chrissakes.

If one were to suggest that willful ignorance and the ability to carry on with significant cognative dissonance is a defining feature of the modern Republican Party, then yeah, this guy is what we're up against.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Are these the type of people we're up against?

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Step Right Up!

Great! I am all with you, hoagie boy. And we have the perfect opportunity to try this out -- my physics/astronomy class for teachers! (Just in case you feel you have nothing to do on your sabbatical!) I have been wanting to structure at least part of it around "science in society" or whatever we want to call it. In fact, I even managed to find a book that is geared towards those sort of themes. Not that it's a GREAT book, but at least it's not the standard physics book. I really want the students to discover not just what role physics plays in our every day lives in terms of how "things" work or why "things" happen ... but how does science/doing science affect politics? the government? your diet? national stability? I want to make physics relevant, but also make it THEIRS. Not some dead white guy's "hypothesis" but "this is the way I found it to work."

Getting back to what MLK said -- it's really the same thing with scientists or the media or whatever. If we don't speak up about what really matters -- that the majority of the population thinks the apocalypse is coming, or that a man sleeping with another man is simply the end of humanity or that ensuring every child (no matter what color, religion, family income) has enough to eat is just too socialist/communist an idea ... we've got to speak up about these things! Somehow. Or else we are just as bad as they are. Except we have uglier kitchens.

Right On

I read a Langston Hughes poetry anthology a few months ago and jotted this down as one of my favourite verses -- it's from "American Heartbreak"

I am the American heartbreak
Rock on which Freedom
Stumps its toe --
The great mistake
That Jamestown
Made long ago.

He has a great way of expressing his thoughts/feelings. As to why we don't read him in high school English class? Are we allowed to admit, in high school, that the United States has problems?

And while I'm at it, Martin Luther King Jr. said:

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."****

I am really tired of very few people thinking about what matters and wanting to do anything about what matters. Well I guess kitchen remodeling IS what matters to them. But is that a way to live? Or is that going through life in a mass-media/consumerism induced coma?

**** Sorry, I know you hate quotes. Just deal with it :)

What Are We Missing in Science Ed?

I'll link to two maps I came across today, just because I think they're cool, and then I'll get to the rest of the post. The first one is a map of some polling done on the Electoral College of the World . Nice resounding win there. The second one is of the exit polls done for people 18-29. Another resounding win for the forces of good. (I'm going to do some analysis on the second map for a post later.)

I've been noticing a couple streams in our postings recently. We've been sending some venom in the way of the Radical Christists. We've been looking into what it means to teach a standard physics/astronomy class, and what limitations are present. And I, at least, have been angry at some radical post-modern physics teachers, for opting out of any rational thought (see the posts about "S and S" from late October).

I came across a post from the Daily Howler today that hit upon these themes in an interesting way, even though it has nothing to do with physics and education. The Howler's main thesis is that the SCLM (so-called-liberal-media) doesn't avoid talk about Radical Christist religion because it views that strain of religion with contempt. No, the SCLM doesn't report on Radical Christist religion because it is deferential to those believers. I think the Howler has a point here. Even if a New York Times reporter happens to be contemptuous of gay hating, racist, pseudo-religious wackos , that reporter can't really say it, because if they did write that there were gay hating, racist, pseudo-religious wackos walking amoung us, a great many of the so-called defenders of said gay hating, racist, pseudo-religious wackos (who remarkably live in major Eastern, Democratic, urban areas) would accuse the NYT of attacking "America's Heartland" and make a big stink about giving aid and comfort to terrorists. So, to solve the problem the reporter just doesn't talk about the Radical Christist phenomenon, and moves onto other important stories like Lacy Peterson. The reporter may or may not be contemptuous of religion in America, but more importantly, they are certainly afraid of the mighty Right-Wing Noise Machine.

Because no one reports on what goes on in the "heartland", gems like this (mentioned in the Howler story) from Time Magazine, go unnoticed:

GIBBS (7/1/02): A TIME/CNN poll finds that more than one-third of Americans say they are paying more attention now to how the news might relate to the end of the world, and have talked about what the Bible has to say on the subject. Fully 59% say they believe the events in Revelation are going to come true, and nearly one-quarter think the Bible predicted the Sept. 11 attack.

A majority of Americans believe that the end times are upon us? A majority of Americans believe that there will be four horsemen? That there will be a battle in Armageddon? That there will be a one-world government led by the anti-christ? Apparently, alot of people didn't learn much from the "fate of the universe" section in their astronomy courses. (You were wondering how I was going to get to physics/astronomy, weren't you?)

I think that physicists and astronomers suffer the same problem as the NYT reporter does. Maybe we aren't so afraid of the Right-Wing Noise Machine, but we also don't tend to like conflict or messyness in our classes. We talk about things that are simple, like mechanics, opposed to things that are complex, like how the process of science informs our worldview. Reformed physics education deals alot with misconceptions. We worry about the misconceptions that students carry into a class about forces and the seasons. Why aren't we talking and worried about the situations when students walk into a class with a completely anti-scientific worldview (even if it's not metacognative)? That's a big misconception to overcome, and it's very important to the future of science as a societal pursuit.

I find the conclusions of the post-modernist physics educators to be horribly wrong, but thier basic kernal that all physics teaching is political is right on. When we abdicate the chance to change the world for the positive through our teaching, we allow the continuation of the negative. When we allow space in our class for strange ideas to exist, we perpetuate them. Obviously, it doesn't help to be offensive to people's worldviews in class (as opposed to what I'm doing here), but there must be ways to show people that our scientific paradigms work. That we don't talk about it as a professional society simply allows the wrong worldviews to perpetuate.

If I were running a physics or astronomy conference, I'd have a session where I'd put the quote from above on a sign, in like 3000 pt font, and the topic of the session be, "What the hell are you all doing wrong?" Many millions of students are passing through our physics and astronomy courses, and apparently millions of them are not getting anything. It doesn't really matter that we reach the "best" of those classes. It doesn't matter that a few students from those classes go on to get Ph.D.'s and do great research. If we don't reach all the students, we fail. Sadly, its not even a matter of not reaching a small minority of students, we don't even reach the majority of students. That's horrible. We need to spend alot more time worrying about science education as a community than we do galaxy clusters, young stars, and dare I say, even galaxy structure. Cause if we don't, and more elections like this one happen, there's not going to be a community.

Let America Be America Again

I found the text of the poem, and it is right here . I find it incredibly beautiful and inspiring. Why didn't I ever encounter this in an English class?

-P.S. Lot's of posting today. I guess that's what "sabatical" is good for.

Who Do the Rich Vote For?

People have been talking alot about the "values" (read: homophobic) voters in last week's elections. This posting from TAPPED (and links therein) discusses how the Radical Fundementalists didn't really make up any more of W's coalition this time than they did last time. His big improvement, though, was among the wealthy.

I think there's two interpretations of this. First, when you start giving enormous tax breaks to people who don't (appear to) need the government services that the tax cuts have gutted, they'll start coming back to vote for you, regardless of the rest of your record. Remember, here that the income brackets mentioned in the post are not among the super wealthy. 100k per year for a family of 4 is comfortable, but not set for life (depending on where you live). My impression is that many members of this demographic are peaceful residents of middle American exurbia, hold down middle management jobs, watch the local news at 6, don't understand the importance of long-term structural deficits, don't understand the impending crisis in our educational system, don't understand that there will be a draft if this president is left unchecked, and are happy that through tax breaks and low interest rates, they've been able to remodel the kitchen. These are the people that make me sick, because I grew up with them. How we reach them, without the entire economy going in the tank, I don't know. I don't think we can, actually. These are fairly uneducated people, who by happenstance have decent jobs, so that they've become very secure and unwilling to see various writings on the wall.

The other side of the interpretation, is that even though W's win wasn't entirely built on the backs of the simultaneously poor and religious, these people were able to get him close enough so that the wealthy could carry him over the line. I actually think that these people are alot easier to reach. Yeah, there are wacko fundementalists, that we'll never touch. However, I'll bet that a large fraction of Bush's fundy vote were people that are open to Democratic messages, but only heard one message -- Kerry wants to kill babies and have sex with other men --. If they heard more messages, such as ones about economic realities, freedom, and responsible experience in the White House, I bet they'd come over. It's why we have to work the south in '06 and '08.

Face to face contact is what will bring the Democratic message back in this country. We can make all the slick TV ads we want, but when people wake up to their morning email prayer or Sunday preacher telling them that Kerry=gays=Satan, they're not going to come out for us, and they might be scared enough to vote for the other side. I'll say it from here till '08, the Democrats and like minded progressives need to reinvent the precinct and the community group. People need to see people who believe in Democratic/American (sorry, U.S.) values. We need to either get into like minded churches, or build our churches out in the street. I'm open for ideas.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Fire and Brimstone

Wow! That is some fire and brimstone, and excellent food for thought. Canada, too, takes quite a lot of tax dollars from the "rich" provinces (Quebec, Ontario, BC) and redistributes them to the "poor" provinces (mostly the Maritimes.) Most people seem to think this is OK (including me) because we are caring for our fellow citizens etc etc and "sharing the wealth." I suppose the difference here is that the "poor" provinces know that these "transfer payments" happen and they are not foisting an idiot prime minister upon us.

Anyways, back to your words of wisdom, hoagie boy. I was disappointed in the Democrats for trying to please everyone. If you think something is right or think something is wrong, just say so. Either people will agree with your or disagree with you. If you try to qualify everything and try to pander to this group and that group, no one is going to think you're credible. (That's not to say that everything is black and white like W thinks.) I really think Howard Dean is right that people are ready for someone who is going to stand up for what they believe in -- freedom, dignity, democracy, responsibility -- and not be afraid to say things like, "Yes, I believe women have a choice when it comes to their bodies."' "Yes, I think it's ok to provide birth control." "I don't think any idiot should be allowed to have a gun." "Government control of social security is a good thing." Do you think Hillary Clinton can do all this four years from now?

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Back to Politics

I happened to flip onto C-SPAN radio last night, and they were replaying part of "Washington Journal" from earlier that morning (find the Nov. 8th clip). On the show were Harold Ickies and Seth Rosenburg who are both being considered for the chair of the DNC. (Of course, Howard Dean is my choice.)

A woman, who I think was from Pennsylvania, called into the show as a Bush supporter. She unitelligibly discussed for a bit why she really wanted to vote for Kerry because of the war, but couldn't because the war was a "cause", or something. I didn't quite get it. Her lack of coherence makes me wonder if she ever considered Kerry at all.

Regardless, she got to the meat of her argument by saying something to the effect of, "The problem with you Democrats is morality. You believe in gay marriage. You believe in partial birth abortion. Blah, Blah, Blah." Both of these potential DNC chairs completely missed the answer. They gave some platitudes on Iraq. They wish-washed on gay marriage, saying something to the effect of believing in civil unions but not marriage (although they did sort-of link the idea to slavery and civil rights). They completely avoided talking about partial birth abortion. WTF? These are the people who are supposed to lead my party. I want a leader, not a panderer. I don't want the DNC chair making nice with stupid ladies that call into C-SPAN. I want someone who calls ignorance ignorance, and hate hate. I certainly think that Howard Dean is the best person for that right now.

In the spirit of imagination, here's the answer that I was considering while sitting in my truck,

Thank you mam, for calling in with your opinion. It's suprising to me that you raise the question of morality when you discuss how you voted for George Bush as opposed to John Kerry, particularly given the issues you cite. I don't quite understand how morality is exhibited by the leadership of the Republican Party. George Bush lied to the American people about the presence of WMD in Iraq. Dick Cheney lied to the American people about a connection between Saddam and Osama. Over 1000 American soldiers have now died as a result of these lies. Is that moral. Further, although you may consider it moral to oppose the gay marriage, many Democrats consider freedom to be the highest moral. Why do you stand in the way of people's freedom to visit loved ones in the hospital, or care for their families through sickness? I don't care whether people are straight, gay or whatever, it just seems to me that these should be fundemental rights for all people in stable, committed, loving relationships. It was not long ago that it was "immoral" for white people to marry black people, or for black people to sit in the front of the bus. Because of Democrats, millions of people in this country possess the freedoms promised to them in the Consititution and Delaration of Independance. Finally, on abortion, I would like to know if the caller has an explanation as to why the party that believes in protecting the reproductive freedoms of women and families saw a decline in the number of abortions, while George Bush who has taken freedoms away from families, has seen the number of abortions increase in the past four years. Bill Clinton and Al Gore talked about making abortion safe, legal, and rare, and they came through on that promise. As it has always been in this country, extending freedoms to more people makes our country stronger. George Bush, unfortunately, is learning that by taking freedom away from Americans, the world becomes a much more dangerous place.

If you'd like some more Democratic fire and brimstone, here is an excellent posting about washing our hands of the red states.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

My hands feel tied

I agree with you 100%, and yet my hands feel tied. If my students don't learn certain equations or how to solve certain problems, what will they do in Organic Chemistry when they're expected to find the rotational inertia of a molecule? It's all fine and dandy if they can explain in words all about rotational inertia and what affects it, but if they can't calculate it ... then I, in a sense, have not fulfilled my role in the department. It's not as bad as if I'm preparing physics majors, but I still feel a certain amount of responsibility to teach them how physics is traditionally done. And I have tried to combine that with actually UNDERSTANDING what is going on. This seems to work for some students, but it totally doesn't work for others who know how to play the game, and get frustrated with me when I won't just give them an equation to plug numbers into. I expect them to *gasp* think about the situation and think about how to solve a certain problem. Others who understand all the ideas feel stymied as well. They don't know how to play the equation picking game and get stuck. While I have seen other students this semester be overjoyed when they finally figured out the equation picking game.

What would be ideal (maybe?) is if the students could learn and understand the ideas in physics in such a way that solving problems isn't a "game." I think solving problems is an important tool because depending on what career you are heading into, there are some things you have to figure out. But the way they are learning to solve problems now is very far removed from real-life situations.


Friday, November 05, 2004

Something Non-Political

I think I was deeply affected by our conversation on the phone last night (and not only by our discussion of certain astronomers and their *ahem* "girlfriends"). What exactly are we teaching in physics? Are we trying teaching people something about the way the universe works, or are we trying to teach them a way to solve word problems found in textbooks. The two aren't necessarily related, but given a limited amount class time, and an eye for what students might need in future classes, a teacher (aka you, makigirl) is hard pressed to do both.

I feel like I've walked through the looking glass a bit, and I don't really like the other side. Yeah, I "succeeded" in physics class because of hard work and some natural intelligence, but I also know how to play the game. I know how to pick the right equation to solve a problem in a textbook when I'm given certain values, regardless of my understanding of that equation itself or its applications. I'm wondering now if that has more to do with my "success" than anything else. Students who are like me are viewed as "smart" in intro classes, and their "smartness" is reinforced thereafter by exposure to research and other new situations. Suddenly the get PhD's without really being sure that they would pass an intro class.

The students who are not good at playing the game get frustrated and go home. A teacher or professor is rarely able to connect with these students and explicitly teach them the game because no one ever taught them the game explicitly, and the game is so intuitive to the teacher that it doesn't make sense how someone might not get it. The teacher and student do not exist in the same paradigm, and communication ceases.

Woe be unto the student who doesn't know how to play the game, but does not give up. A lifetime of rejection, dismissiveness, condescention, and long hours pouring over useless questions is their lot.

Here's my big question: Can a "traditional" physics class be changed enough so that everyone in the class learns both something about physics and how to play the textbook problem game, but the class still resembles something like a "traditional" physics class? (Furthering my line of questioning . . . ) Analagously, is it possible for a male human to run one mile in under 3min 30sec? If you needed to travel a mile in 1 minute, would you run or would you get in the car? Is there a phyical limit to how much you can improve a physics class? Do we need to invent a car of physics classes, which operates completely different from the current human body model of physics classes? What if you're running on a limited access, narrow path that cars can't travel on? Is your speed then fundamentally limited? What if the students in your car based physics classes need to take classes later that require knowledge learned more obviously from a human body based class? Are you fundamentally limited in how much you can change your physics classes based on our societal expectation of pre-requisites?

Should the whole concept of "physics class" be thrown out the goddamn window?

I think that's where I'm going with things, but I don't know yet how it fits into an overall sceme of learning.

It just gets scarier

I was just reading an op-ed piece by Maureen Dowd in The New York Times (carried in my local paper.) The whole piece is terrifying, but here are some highlights:

A Bush insider predicts about Bush after the election: "He'll be a lot more aggressive in Iraq now. He'll raze Fallujah if he has to." Didn't I just hear on the radio this morning that the U.S. now has an all-out assault on Fallujah? He sure didn't waste time.

Some tidbits about some of the newly elected Republicans are also frightening. For example, Tom Coburn who is a new senator from Oklahoma, advocates the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions. He also characterized his race for the senate as a choice between "good and evil." He finished up by nothing that he had heard that there was "rampant lesbianism" in Oklahoma schools.

Not to be outdone, James DeMint, a new senator from South Carolina, thinks we should ban gays from teaching in public schools. (Oh yeah, because we have such a surplus of teachers!) He also would like to ban unmarried women who live with their boyfriends from teaching.

Sigh. I also read an article by Richard Ostling from The Associated Press (again, in my local paper) about how the "Election reinforced religious divide." He concludes with a quote from Michael Cromartie who is said to be an expert on evangelicalism at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center: "All future political consultants are going to have to understand religious sensibilities as part of the resume."

How did the U.S. get to this state? No other countries seem so driven by religion, except of course for say Afghanistan. So religious fundamentalism guiding a country is BAD when it's not the Christian religion. But it's GOOD when it is the Christian religion. And it's REALLY BAD if you have no state religion and follow a version of communism like Cuba. These rules are very confusing. It almost seems like they were just made up willy-nilly to justify whatever people wanted to do in the first place. But people wouldn't be that dishonest, would they?

The American/Canadian Divide

It just keeps getting wider -- the social/moral distance between the U.S. and Canada. Two days after learning that more U.S. states have voted to take rights away from gays and lesbians, Saskatchewan had this announcement:

Sask. Court Approves Same Sex Marriage

Seven provinces or territories in Canada now legally allow same sex marriage. The provincial and federal governments are not contesting the ruling. The Supreme Court has upheld rulings permitting same sex marriage. Federal legislation has been drafted and referred to the Supreme Court that would allow same sex marriage nationwide.

Sure, there are some people and groups in Canada who are against this. But the government and courts are able to separate the church from the state and make decisions based on civil rights and not what the Bible says. And all this from a nation that does not have separation of church and state.

I was also very upset when hearing that ALL the ballot measures against same sex marriage in the U.S. passed. ALL of them? What are people so afraid of? They talk about protecting the sanctity of marriage. So a man and a woman getting married and divorced 60 days later, that's ok? Getting married multiple times, that's ok? But a man marrying a man, perhaps staying together for 50 years -- that's just wrong? I don't understand either and it's very disturbing. I do have quite a few gay, lesbian or bisexual friends and life is hard enough, with the meanness and cruelness of people in their every day lives, and now to be told they don't deserve to be able to get married?

Is this really where the country should be heading?

Why is it more important to stop gay people from getting married than ensuring all our children get to eat every day? That we're not bombing innocent civilians? That everyone who works full-time actually gets paid enough so they can have a place to live and three meals a day?

Are They Softening Us Up?

I guess that because of Bush's supposed "man-date", the news is getting us ready for all the fun things he's planning to do in the next four years.

One of which was this shocking Iranian wargames senario on NPR this morning. In my still-half awake slumber, I was stunned to hear Tommy Franks discussing the various tactical challenges to invading Iran and eliminating their supposed nukular weapons. Excuse me? Is this really something that we need to be discussing right now?

It seemed that the overall conclusion of the participants was that it would be real hard to attack Iran right now (no shit?). I understand that the military needs to be prepared for all possible occurances, but the fact that a major (and supposedly left leaning) news program is discussing it shows you where W and his media lapdogs are going to be leading us in the next few years.

One, Two, Three, what are we fighting for . . .
Don't ask me, I don't give a damn . . .
Next stop is I--ran.

P.S. On an aesthetic note, did you notice the horrible lay out shown in the power point slide from the wargames? I guess they have astronomers making talks in the military too.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Hating Gay Haters

During the course of the campaign, I got to spend some very serious quality time (we were standing out at the Metro stop together a couple weekends in a row) with a fellow Democrat who is gay. I honestly can't say that I have had a lot of gay friends in my life. I think I knew a couple people in college, but I wasn't particularly close to them (or they came out after college). Most of my life has been fairly sheltered, but I've tried to be as good to people as possible. I know that I've said some bad things during the course of my life, or laughed at some inappropriate jokes, but I think I've tried to deal with people in a caring and sensitive manner.

In any event, as I think back to Tuesday/Wednesday's election results, the thing that I'm most upset about isn't the fact that John Kerry lost. I'm disappointed and sad, but it doesn't really get to the core of me. If there are people out there who honestly believe that tax cuts for rich people during a war are a good thing, or that George Bush (who allowed the worst terrorist assult on America to occur on his watch) will defend us better in Iraq and against Al Qaeda, then great. I think those people are wrong, but it's just a difference of opinion. Potentially, those decisions may lead to either soldiers or poor people dying, but at least the promise of the American ideal isn't being stripped from these people.

What really has me upset over the past day or so is that in 11 states on Tuesday, millions of Americans, like my friend from the campaign, had their rights stripped by ballot measures and constitutional amendments outlawing gay marriage and civil unions. The ugly head of hatred and bigotry reared up on Tuesday evening. My friend and I were both born Americans, but because of some genetic quirk, I'm suddenly allowed to be married, share a bank account, have children with no questions asked, or visit my future wife in the hospital.

I think I would have been bothered by these amendments and such before this year, but not in the same way. I actually know someone who is the victim of this bigotry now. My campaign friend is an amazing, accomplished individual. He has an advanced degree. He has a job and pays taxes (more than me). He is in a committed relationship. I know that when he and his partner decide to have children, he will be an outstanding father. Yet, while we were standing together at the victory party on Tuesday night, millions of his fellow countrymen were telling him that he wasn't good enough.

Well, I say that he is good enough. I've seen many people on message boards say that Democrats lost this election because of the gay rights movement, and that we need to drop it for now. I believe that would be the worst option. Democrats should demand that all Americans aforded the same rights and freedoms. I would walk 200 yards for my friends' freedom. I would ask that others do the same.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Still and Always an American

It's taken me all day to think about what I'd actually want to post today. I've spent several weeks working hard over in Virginia for John Kerry. I've put alot of miles on my truck, bought alot of expensive gasoline, carried many tanks of helium, stuffed thousands of envelopes, moved tens of thousands of pieces of literature, stood at Metro stops all day, got sunburned in November, stayed up too late, and got up too early. I don't know if I'd do all those things for any of my friends, but for John Kerry, with whom I've only had the pleasure of shaking hands once for about 5 seconds, I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.

John Kerry and his campaign this year has embodied something good about America. And it is this goodness that I've been reflecting upon all day. This morning, when I was most distraught with the election results, I, like many other true Democrats, considered what a move to Canada would be like. How could I continue to live in a country where 11 states passed ballot measures that stripped rights from thier citizens? How could I continue to live in a country where the dominant reason for choosing a Presidential candidate was "values"? Where everyone knows that "values" means "gay hatred" but no one in the media is willing to speak the truth? Where the deaths of 1000's of our young people in Iraq makes no difference to a majority of voters? Where the presence of 40 million citizens without healthcare is ignored by a majority of voters? How could I live with myself?

By the afternoon, I was drawn not to Canada, but to an area of hilly farm country in Northern Maryland. On that smallish 5 square mile patch of land, otherwise known as Antietam National Battlefield, 23,000 Americans laid down their lives for some higher purpose. September 17th, 1862 was the bloodiest day in American history. For several hours in the morning of that day, one soldier died every second.

Niether the old black and white pictures, nor even my imagination seemed to do justice to the surroundings. I felt my heart sink into my stomach as a movie about the battle showed Union re-enactors charge across a bridge into Confederate snipers. What were they thinking before they died? What were the snipers thinking before they killed? Why did these men participate in such a horrible day?

The movie also showed how Lincoln visited the Antietam battlefield about two weeks after the the battle. Largely he was there to convince his top General, George McClellan, to pursue the Confederate forces and defeat them (McClellan refused, setting the stage for three more years of war). However, Lincoln also visited with the wounded of both sides. His writings show that he was humbled by the experience. The fact that he was responsible for the tragic situation that many of these young men were now in, weighed heavily upon him. Perhaps our American mythology allows us to see Lincoln in too kind a light, but I truly believe that he would have traded places with one of those wounded men in a second had it meant that the war would have ended with the republic preserved. The fact that Lincoln could expose himself to so much self (and public) doubt and order other men into actions that were highly contrary to his inner being shows how much he believed in the American Republic and the ideals that it was founded on.

I will stand up for the American Republic. I will not run, even though yesterday's election shows that the forces of hate outnumber the forces of compassion, even though the forces of ignorance outnumber the forces of enlightenment, and even though the forces of fear outnumber the forces of hope. The America that can elect a brand new Senator who can utter these words:

A belief that we are connected as one people. If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother. If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It's that fundamental belief--I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters' keeper--that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. "E pluribus unum." Out of many, one.

Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America--there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.

is an America that is worth fighting for. The fact that this new Senator does not have the same color skin as I do, makes America even more worth fighting for.

In military terms, the battle of Antietam was a tie. The Union army advanced about 200 yards during the course of the day. Nearly 15,000 men were traded for that tiny strip of land. On the other hand, those 200 yards enabled Lincoln to end slavery with the Emancipation Proclimation. 200 yards can be a long way on the march to freedom.

Today, I am proud to be an American. I plan to continue to make America better 200 yards at a time. Yesterday's loss is a only a minor setback. The ideal of an America for all Americans is far too important to run away from. The road is long, and we will reach a better place. Those 23,000 men gave the ultimate sacrifice to the American ideal of that better place. I will do my best to walk behind them.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Democracy Walk

We (students, faculty, staff, administrators) are all walking from the college to town tomorrow at noon to vote. I know you'll be really busy tomorrow but I will do my part, too, as limited as it is (not being able to vote really puts a crimp in this ...)