Thursday, November 27, 2008


I’m first of all thankful that I woke up this morning, alive, reasonably healthy, and all of my unnumbered days still awaiting me. I’m thankful, as I am nearly every day, that I woke up an American, the most imperfectly perfect community humans have thus far devised. I’m thankful that the poverty level here is so high (and I’ll be lucky to just scratch past that line this year) that it means I have to buy my headphones at Family Dollar instead of Staples, that I can only buy NY strip when it’s on sale, that I can only buy one or two songs a month online instead of a whole album and must content myself with hundreds of free pod casts, that because I can’t afford to fix my car (or, more properly, I can’t afford to insure it) I have to walk to my job, my college, my grocery store, my movie theater, my convenience stores, and my friends’ houses. I’m thankful that being poor in the United States only rarely means hunger, homelessness, and early death. Poor in the US almost never means lack of opportunity.
I’m thankful that I have friends who are more than willing to let me put my foot in my mouth. Friends who offer me rides when it’s cold, raining, even snowing. Friends who put up with me are pretty impressive people.
I’m thankful my parents are still alive. I’m thankful my sister and I only grow closer every year. I’m thankful I have a nephew, who’s just as strange as the rest of us.
I’m thankful there are more people alive than there have ever existed (despite all the problems that entails.)
I’m thankful that no matter what horrible things are happening at this very moment, there are far, far more kind, generous, selfless, and wonderful things happening as well.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Random Post in November

While finals still loom, the big crunch of my first semester is over. Multiple papers and tests coagulating on the academic calendar nearly gave me an aneurysm. I believe that one’s living space reflects a great deal about one’s personality, and even more so on a short term basis. Of late, my room has looked like a transfer station for municipal garbage collection. This would be greatly mitigated if I lessened my consumption of beer. I think that’s such a selfish positive, though. Despite the physical and mental costs of the functional-alcoholism I live with, bereft of beer bottles I’d have nearly nothing to recycle. Indeed, the more I drink, the more I’m doing my part to save the environment.
While I’ve lately entertained the embittering thought that, at 35 I’ve slept alone vastly more nights than I haven’t, I console my self with the thought (beer in hand) that I certainly don’t let the space on my bed go to waste. While the partner side of the bed (interesting that I still sleep on the same side of the bed as I did in my last relationship five years ago) is always home to some papers, notes, and a few books, of late it has swelled to include nearly every text I’m studying, covered like a smothered steak with the precious few clean clothes I’ve enjoyed the last two weeks. While still sleeping alone technically, a pile of knowledge that can’t dress itself at least feels like I’m sleeping with a clone of myself.
I have four internet classes this coming semester, which frees me up tremendously for more hours at work. What a delightful tragedy that I live in a summer resort area. I shudder to think how much my recycling will suffer.
Ah well, there’s hope on the financial horizon for fall semester next year. All my paperwork will be in order for application to every single possible scholarship, grant and award that I even remotely qualify for. One of note is an essay contest for Ayn Rand’s works. I had originally thought I’d be reading anthem, her mercifully brief novelette set in a far, dystopian future. Nay, nay, foo foo. The only one I qualify for is the $10,000 award, which is no small change, to write an essay on Atlas Shrugged. 1069 pages. Make no mistake, I’m a voracious reader, and a large tome is not even a consideration when I read (nor a series, much thanks to Stephen King.) I read Atlas Shrugged 15 years or so ago, so at least I’m familiar with it. Ayn Rand is an extremely interesting philosopher. She’s also an extremely pedantic writer. Arguments via fiction are rarely well-written. Sorry, Ayn, but you’re no exception. I do hope I win. $10,000 will just about cover the tedium of not only reading that overblown tome, but actually researching and analyzing it.
Interesting: since starting this blog and school, I’ve added nearly 200 words to the spell check on this computer. It’s a 2005 Sony. Very interesting how technology has inflated the English language in such a short time. Well, away to school, where today I will continue assembling my first Power Point presentation. Oh, but college and education is so way cooler than it used to be. For example, my biology teacher posts her lecture notes online in several formats, including those I can download onto my iPod. How f-ing sweet is that?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Education Ideas

A tiny bit of Utopia
The Department of Education’s Budget for 2008 is 62.6 billion dollars. For those who don’t know me, what I’m about to propose will seem simplistic, if not ignorant. Rest assured, it’s nothing of the sort. It is presented in a simplistic manner, to be sure. But only for the sake of brevity do I risk such generalization here. I’m proposing the following based on an extremely complex infrastructure that includes not just our various and sundry systems of education, but our position in a tangled web of global economics, analysis of long term trends in business and international relations, with a generous smattering of historical perspective.
Let me just get right to the proposal.
1) This is a long-term, perhaps as much as 20 years, proposal. It could take that long to reap the full benefits, but this is investment money. This is an investment in the long-term health and stability of the U.S., and on a year-by-year basis, it’s a pittance of our Federal budget.
2) The short and sweet version:
A) Freeze spending at current level for Ed Dept.
B) Shrink Dept to 12.6 billion in allocations directly to schools and school programs. Require a 5% maximum overhead for operations, though I know it can be done for less.
C) The remaining 50 billion to be divided up into grants for scholarships. I’d do this in two ways:
I) 37.5 billion in direct 4-year package grants. The grants are scheduled at $100,000. This is how I arrived at that figure:
This is a 4 year grant for 375,000 people per year. This is not to say you must attend a four-year program. I would be willing to be flexible in distribution. More on that later.
II) The remaining 12.5 billion to be distributed to existing scholarship and endowments. This is roughly equivalent to current spending on Pell Grants. Yes, there would be no more Pell Grants, but this way more than offsets the loss, at least in the long term it will. I propose here to endow 1250 private endowments, memorials and foundations, devoted exclusively to scholarship and financial aid for education awards, $1,000,000 per year for 10 years. No endowment would be eligible for the award twice (though I’d consider reviewing this if a good argument could be made.) This would endow 12,500 programs across the country with $1,000,000 over 10 years.
I have to run to class. I have a biology paper and an English paper to finish as well as math to get to, but I’ll try to expand on at least the rationale and benefit analysis for this tack tonight: no promises.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Science: The Atheist Agenda

Another point…
There’s a perspective among Creationists I’ve noticed, and it’s one they believe in and implicitly and explicitly promote. While evolution is their poster child for the explicit, the implicit is that science=atheism. The radicals in both camps have presented us with a false dichotomy; that it’s either science or religion, and not only never the twain shall meet, but they can’t even coexist.
Firstly, let me dispose of the myth of the “Atheist Agenda.” I’ve reviewed all the manuals I’ve been sent, reread all the literature and the handbook, and while the plans for aborting all unborn children and Federal funding for pornography are pretty detailed, I couldn’t find any encompassing agenda. Being only 2% of the world’s population, we all fit nicely into the Fortress of Godless Science for our monthly meetings. I brought up the lack of a published manifesto of our agenda. While we all agreed that the destruction of religion would best be brought about by voting Democrat, we still can’t agree whether to outfit the White House in Pottery Barn or Akia, nor whether when marriage is destroyed forever, should we force people to have one same sex partner or multiple ones. Oh, wait, I’m confusing that with the Homosexual Agenda. Either way, it’s the same every month: grand plans, but bicker, bicker, bicker and nothing gets done.

I couldn’t resist the satire. All the same, the point is that there is no Atheist Agenda.
Science is irreligious, sure. It doesn’t favor one religion over another by not dealing with the supernatural. Instead of revelation, science’s aim is to explain things by examination. You’re welcome to look at science through any lens you want, but no matter if you’re Buddhist, Muslim, Christian or atheist, the results will be the same for everyone. No matter who created the world, this is the world we ended up in, and that’s the world science deals with, not the next one. Naturalistic? Yes. Materialistic? In the strictest sense, yes. Science reveals we live in a world of atoms. Fine, now go to the church of your choice. Because of this non-religious bent, science indeed allows atheism. Bacteria and galaxies aren’t much interested in your religious, or lack of religious views. Facts are facts, and they’re pretty impartial I’ve found. But one thing science does not do is “promote” atheism.

Yes, there are out spoken atheists who are scientists. Remember, it’s just their day job. Decrying science because of them is akin to decrying Burger King because of an atheist fry cook. There are atheist bankers, bakers, race car drivers and (horrors!) schoolteachers. I highly doubt there’d be much call to abandon finance, bread, NASCAR and education because of them.
Yes, I realize that evolution doesn’t jive with the strictly literal interpretation of Genesis. This doesn’t mean science says there is no God and/or that the Bible is junk. What I’d like to point out to Creationists is that the overwhelming majority of scientists in the U.S. are not only religious, but the majority of them are Christian, and the overwhelming majority of them have looked at the evidence for evolution (it’s massive and corroborative across dozens of disciplines,) and not only agree with the interpretation of the evidence, but also haven’t batted an eye spiritually.

You aren’t by any chance implying that they’re somehow LESS Christian than you are, are you? Or that despite being endowed with the same spiritual protection, any Christian with higher education is somehow more susceptible to the sneaky wiles of Satan, are you?

Are you?

The study of science doesn’t make you hate God or become an atheist, any more than the study of other cultures makes you hate America, or the study of other religions converts you to those religions. Does this happen sometimes? Sure, but rarely. Do you want to stop vaccinating children because a miniscule number of children have reactions to the antigens and die? If this seems a harsh and unfair metaphor, my point is that vaccination saves millions of children’s lives (shame, shame, shame on those who advocate non-immunization of children. Not only is there not a shred of support for any of the chemicals in vaccines triggering the onset of a genetic disease after over a decade of research, but you seem to have forgotten that the diseases we vaccinate for MAIM and KILL children.) Science does an incredible amount of good (actually, people to good things with science: science is a method, not a system of morals and ethics and codes of conduct in any way comparable to religion,) so why worry about the rare spiritual crisis? People lose their way for a whole host of reasons, but not because they look at bacteria under a microscope. Incidentally, most people find their way back, so the issue approaches moot.

If you believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, you’re likely already comfortable with contradiction, so it surprises me that you’d hold back trust in other Christians supporting evolutionary theory, or astrophysics, or geology, or any other science. A reminder, if you fill a room with American scientists and throw a dart, you’re going to nail a Christian in the eye nearly 90% of the time. I would think at the very least you’d give them a hearing about what they say God’s doing with His universe.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

One of my papers...

For those who don't know, 1) Though I think I have 2 people who actually read this, I write as if the entire world is on the other end of this blog, and 2) I'm finishing my first semester back in school as a freshman (surprised that's not freshperson yet.) The following is an essay from my English Composition class.

Every second millions of people communicate with each other across the globe, using an ever-growing array of technologies that constantly evolve. Differences that have divided peoples for millennia could erode as the promise of global communications allows us to see each other for who we really are. But are we living up to that promise? Becky Roth, a student at Kansas State University, sows the seeds of doubt in, "Authenticity on YouTube", part of that school’s digital ethnography project. Weaving commentary and source footage from YouTube, a website of user-generated video content, she calls into question our assumptions about how we use technology.
The reality of global communications is that platforms, such as YouTube, provide us with the ability to shape who we wish to present to the world at large. We become producers of our own image, and carefully manipulate our own identity. We live entire lives online, separate from who we really are, blurring the distinction between entertainment and reality. Far from bringing the world together, YouTube creates a world of self-engineered celebrity and questionable authenticity, raising new barriers between people by casting doubt on identity.
LonelyGirl15, a home-schooled teenager with strict parents, was a phenomenon. Her story is the narrative thread in "Authenticity on YouTube", presented in a montage of video clips of her video log, other YouTube subscribers’ reactions to her, and news clips from mainstream media. At the height of her fame, she had over two million subscribers who followed her video log, until someone called into question her authenticity. Controversy erupted when it was discovered that she indeed was an actress, presenting a storyline crafted by three would-be screenwriters from New Zealand. Anger ensued and debate raged, portrayed in the latter "half" of the video as millions of YouTube viewers and posters struggled to define their expectations of honesty within a virtual community, wherein identity is infinitely malleable. Amidst this storyline, Becky Roth, via ghostly white text, suggests provocative questions on the nature of reality in a virtual world: Your "identity" and your real identity; which is the real you?
In the latter half of the video, respondents to the revelation of LonelyyGirl15 as a fabricated identity faction among "purists", who claim YouTube as a forum for "real" people, and the "creators", people who use YouTube as a vehicle for self-expression. It is in this portion of the video that masks become a prevalent motif. Some of the clips use literal masks, yet some simply shroud faces in black. One poignant example is that of an old man who takes on the persona of an old, opinionated man, with hat and glasses and a stereotypical speech pattern seen throughout Hollywood of the grumpy, opinionated old geezer. Moments later we see the creator of this character, a clean-cut, well groomed and articulate older American, who claims his character is "…just as much a part of me as I am." While asking mainly questions of us, Becky Roth at this point did venture an opinion: Creativity does not always replace reality. Indeed.
As many questions as are asked in the video, it suggested to me so many questions that were not asked, regarding how we perceive and present ourselves. Becky Roth’s questioning account of identity within the world of YouTube stunned me into looking hard at technology; how we use it, and how we interact with each other.
YouTube is a global video communications platform that invites us to create and share self-produced videos, and provides a comment forum for those who view them. YouTube is the logical result of a long evolution of technological innovation in how we, as people, connect with each other. Cell phones, many with cameras, text messaging, and internet access, allow us to carry on a two-way dialogue with the rest of the world no matter where we are. The internet provides email, chat rooms, discussion boards, and instant messaging with an unlimited number of people, allowing anyone on the planet with a computer and ever-growing internet access to communicate. Social networking used to be a matter of meeting people face-to-face. Now Facebook and MySpace are the paradigms for connecting with other people, who peruse our posted profiles like we flip through magazines at the dentist’s office. We keep innovating ways to communicate with each other and new ways to identify ourselves. It’s a natural, if not inevitable, progression to globalize face-to-face communication via the fusion of Internet and video.
What struck me is how we use YouTube to present our identity to the world. For nearly a century, we have used cinema and television to hold a mirror up to ourselves, portraying ourselves as we think we are, and as we think we should be: heroic, smart, beautiful, savvy, cool. We consume what we wish to be recreationally, and I think this has distorted what we assume to be reality. Have we turned every aspect of our lives into entertainment; scripting, rehearsing and editing "reality" in take after take? It’s said that art imitates life, but what happens when life imitates art? What happens in a culture obsessed with celebrity when the consumer becomes the producer? Enter, YouTube, a virtual community of people and ideas self-produced, polished, packaged and posted.
It’s said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. On YouTube, that’s not true anymore. YouTube, a product of ever-cheapening and available video production and editing technology, allows anyone with software and a camera to rehearse themselves, and edit the lives they wish others to see countless times until who you wish to be becomes who you are. YouTube doesn’t just allow you to hide your warts but become someone who doesn’t even have them. In this environment, I believe the people who stake out YouTube for "real" people and not "fakers" are being unrealistic, if not naïve. Is there any difference between a scriptwriter penning your lines and you rehearsing your first YouTube video a hundred times before posting? Is trying to be as "real" as possible itself a form of production? Becky doesn’t answer these questions, but leaves us to think on them.
Beck Roth’s ethnography video on authenticity in the world of YouTube presents both thought provoking questions and implications. Using the narrative of an engaging girl’s story that proved to be manufactured, she calls upon us to call into question our own assumptions about ourselves and each other when communicating through electronic media, but most specifically, YouTube. What you perceive as reality is up to you, but assuming that sincerity is the rule in a virtual world of endless second chances, is naïve to say the least. YouTube shows that the technologies we embrace as mediums for honest cultural exchange are in fact a barrier to intimacy and the consequences an undiscovered country of more questions than answers.