Wednesday, March 28, 2007

After, In The Dark

Of interest to the editor:

Curse all who play a practical joke in April. Not because those jokes are inappropriate -although they can be-, not because they are vulgar -although they can be that too-, or because they are cliched -although...well you get the idea. It's because April is really a month for sweating, stressing, and hoping. High school seniors hug their mailboxes praying for that which is most coveted during those four years: the acceptance letter. You'd think that hellish final April of high school would be the end of anticipatory stress in April. Alas, no.
Not-totally-to-my-surprise, my fellow collegians are stressing about summer internships, and where they will be in three months. Regrettably, I'm among them. I do know what I'm doing this summer but I'm still running to the mailbox and checking my messages like my high school or college friends. 12 months from now I could be in Paris or at home for all my divining powers can predict. To top it off, the end is in sight for the academic year, this means final tests and papers.
Sometime in history did a bunch of students come together and, to spite future generations of scholars and youth, beg the higher powers to choose a month and schedule all the pressure makers in those 30 days? These are the days that decide location and happiness for a larger amount of time. It's no surprise that we're all grinding our teeth, squeezing whatever is in our hands, and whispering prayers to the higher powers to get our wish.
The only good part about this is that everyone is praying for a certain residence hall, school, summer job or internship, or college. You aren't alone! Lets all cross our fingers and pray for the best. Goodluck to you all, I hope we don't need luck but a little of it always helps.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Where Is My Mind?

Last week Daniele Mastrogiacomo, an Italian reporter for one of his nation’s newspapers, La Republica, was traded for five Taliban prisoners Italy recently admitted, according to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Despite the exchange’s success, this should not count as a win for Italy or its allies. The Times reported that this seems to be the first open hostage swap in a war involving the United States.
If there’s one thing that the Bush Administration has done well -and this may be that one thing-, it is adhere to the “never negotiate with terrorists rule.” In the Times article, Sean McCormack of the State Department, said the United States does not “negotiate with terrorists, and we don’t advise others to do so either.” Well there really wasn’t much the United States could do; the five Taliban prisoners were held by the Afghani government, not NATO forces, but it’s likely that this time the Bush Administration is telling the truth, for once.
Admittedly, in the past few years, Italy has taken a few hits from its involvement in W’s War Against Terror (or as he puts it, “War on Tehrrr”). Most recognizably, there was Italy’s involvement in the Middle East conflicts –2,000 Italian soldiers were sent to Afghanistan. There have also been numerous attacks by terrorist organizations, like ETA, on Italian soil. Clearly a bold stance must be made. But Italy’s surrender to terrorist demands comes as a surprise. By openly giving in to demands aren’t they encouraging more fighting, more hostage taking, more terror? It would seem so.
Not only does this damage Italy’s political clout, it also discourages worldwide news organizations from sending reporters to the Middle East. Besides the newswires, there are only three U.S. publications in Iraq: The New York Times, USA Today (sometimes), and The Los Angeles Times (which may change due to internal reasons). To any news group toying with the idea of reporting what’s really going on over there rather than what Bush’s Administration says, the decision seems a little bit clearer: send no one. Now, if you want Italy or a member in the Coalition of the Willing (although these days they seem more Unwilling) to do something, grab yourself a journalist!
The Italian government has repeatedly stated that any means necessary to save a life is justified in this war. Yes, one life was saved through this dealing but now how many more will die in an attempt to repeat this outcome?
Washington and London have been saying this but this is no time to point fingers. After all, who was it who started the war in Afghanistan? And who was the biggest supporter of those upstarts?
When President Bush marched onto an aircraft carrier, flight suit and all, declaring the “mission accomplished,” it was pretty doubtful that all major military operations in Iraq had ended but that major conflicts in Afghanistan had stopped seemed plausible. Unfortunately the tumult continues in Iraq and Afghanistan -which America has left to the clean-up crew. This is just another example of how that disaster needs more attention before the problems are gone and the mission is anywhere near accomplished.
Thankfully, Mastrogiacomo returned home safely but besides that nothing about this deserves an aircraft carrier stunt.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Bossa Nova

In grading quizzes from her Honors Introduction to Philosophy class, Professor Sarah Chant, at the University of Missouri at Columbia, realized a pattern: many of the students hadn't approached the essay questions. Instead they had scribbled down everything they knew about a topic, like Descartes, for instance, instead of actually answering the question. This wasn't Chant's fault, nor was it fully the students'. Overtime they had learned that in some classes, a substantial number of points were lost by simply responding to a test question, those points are gained only by regurgitating everything the teacher mentioned in class. Professor Mashoon Bahrain's Concepts in Cosmology (also at Missouri) class works exactly like that. The students gain more points and higher grades if they read the word "Black Hole" and then write down everything they learned about Black Holes even if the question is "what kind of star becomes a Black Hole"?
The fact that Chant's Intro class is almost exclusively second semester students suggests that this information vomit spewed by students isn't the University of Missouri's fault. They must have learned it in high school or at lower educational levels. How does this exactly happen? Tests are meant to judge whether a student is accurately understanding a subject. Writing down everything the teacher professed does imply that a student placed some value on the knowledge but not necessarily that the student understands it. There's a good chance that Missouri isn't alone in breeding this type of learning. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania described teachers who reward these answers as ubiquitous. What it suggests is that the student repeats what the teacher says without actually utilizing the lessons. Students may be learning the teaching but a far more basic one is in jeopardy if teachers (at the collegiate level and under) award this simple recitation. Sometimes new ideas and innovations are born from the foundations of older ones. These revelations don't exist if students are just working for the grade but not the information.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Love and Happiness

From The New York Times:

McCain and Obama in Deal on Public Financing

By David D. Kirkpatrick

Published: March 2, 2007

WASHINGTON, March 1 — Senator John McCain joined Senator Barack Obama on Thursday in promising to accept a novel fund-raising truce if each man wins his party’s presidential nomination.
The promises by Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Mr. Obama, Democrat of Illinois, are an effort to resuscitate part of the ailing public financing system for presidential campaigns.
In every election since Watergate, candidates have received limited sums of taxpayer money on the condition that they abstain from raising or spending any more. But this year, the leading candidates are all sidestepping the system in a competition to raise far more in private donations, more than $500 million each, according to most projections, compared with $150 million in potential public financing.
But there is a chance that the obituaries for the public system may be premature. On Thursday, a spokesman for Mr. McCain said that he would take up Mr. Obama on a proposal for an accord between the two major party nominees to rely just on public financing for the general election.
Such a pact would eliminate any financial edge one candidate might have and limit each campaign to $85 million for the general election. The two candidates would have to return any private donations that they had raised for that period.
Mr. Obama laid out his proposal last month to the Federal Election Commission, seeking an opinion on its legality. The commissioners formally approved it on Thursday.
The manager of Mr. McCain’s campaign, Terry Nelson, said he welcomed the decision.
“Should John McCain win the Republican nomination, we will agree to accept public financing in the general election, if the Democratic nominee agrees to do the same,” Mr. Nelson said.
A spokesman for Mr. Obama, Bill Burton, said, “We hope that each of the Republican candidates pledges to do the same.”
Mr. Burton added that if nominated Mr. Obama would “aggressively pursue an agreement” with whoever was his opponent.
Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama have backed changing campaign finances.

Did Kirkpatrick get that right? Perhaps he didn't check his facts but he seems to have reported that two "major party nominees" are not only acting civilly, but working to make the 2008 election actually about the issues rather than money or whatever dirty, scandalous fact one candidate can uncover about another! As recent elections have demonstrated, U.S. politicians are so desperate to gain nomination that government issues aren't as important to a campaign as slander and rumor is. The Tennessee U.S. Senate race between Harold Ford Jr. and Bob Corker where Corker ran a racist commercial against Ford comes to mind. Most politicians are delighted to engineer gossip so deliciously malicious and effective in crippling an opponent.
Obama has demonstrated his association as a member of a small group of politicians who don't engage in such seventh-grade rhetoric. Illinoisans may recall the Jack Ryan scandal during the 2004 senatorial race where it was revealed that Ryan had taken his wife, Jeri Ryan, to a number of sex clubs around the world hoping that lady Ryan would perform sexual favors in these bizarre establishments. Obama's response: "no comment." Many a politician would have jumped on this as fast as Mrs. Ryan jumped on divorce proceedings but Obama, the political oddball that he is, instead chose a clean campaign. He would rather win for the best platform than for the darkest, most embarrassing facts about his republican-counterpart's personal life. Most politicians would scoff at this; what a freak!
McCain seems to be of the same insane disposition. "It seems likely that Obama will win; if he does, lets have a nice, clean, bipartisan election, not one based on opulence," say McCain's actions. In a perfect (and possible) world where McCain and Obama are presidential nominees the next president will win on political issues rather than "financial edge." Of course their sensible example doesn't mean that all politicians will follow suit. Quite the contrary. Most campaigns will probably go the opposite direction with maniacal, deceitful, politically irrelevant efforts to destroy an opponent through slander and personal fault. Still though, it's good to see that two of the most promising politicians of the era like the ludicrous idea of bipartisanship and election based on issues instead of a sort of tabloidal "who has the most shameful personal history that can be exploited?" strategy.
Some time ago a few Americans thought it might be a good idea if politicians were chosen based on their ideas and platforms and not gossip or rumor. Sounds crazy doesn't it? Well that was a long time ago and apparently America has changed a lot since then.