Monday, April 30, 2007

Read between the lines........

As the Presidential nomination races heat up, the "we support our troops" gang is starting to show their true colors and mission. You may find it easier to discover by reading between the lines of their promises or by taking a look at two recent posts I spotted...... here and here.

Fashion emergency

What could have caused all the police activity in downtown McMinnville OR last week? It began with a gentleman observing a man wearing nothing except a pair of women's shoes, seated on a bench at a nearly vacant medical building. Instead of using a cellphone, he walked across the street to the county court house and reported his sighting, which led to the officers there to call 911.
It seems that this was quite an event for a town of approximately 30,000, 30 miles from Portland in the northwest corner of the state. Not only did two McMinnville police units respond but they had assitance from the Oregon State Police and County Sheriffs deputies. The building was surrounded, locked down and searched thoroughly by two teams of officers. Officers were however, unable to find the man,

"He was last seen fleeing the scene wearing black women's high heels, running down the hallway of the building," according to Capt Rob Edgel of the McMinnville Police Department.

McMinnville may sound vaguely familiar to some people, quite possibly from the publicity it garnered in the 1950's or it's continued place in a decades old debate. In June 1950, the city newspaper published photographs by nearby residents Mr. and Mrs. Trent of a "flying saucer", which were quickly published nationally in Life magazine. As well as the continued debate of whether the pictures are a great hoax or are they real, McMinnville annually hosts the second largest UFO festival, smaller only to the one held in Roswell NM.
All this led me to wonder.............. what was such an emergency to have required not only a call to 911 but all those officers attempting to capture this man? The city hosts a UFO festival and must have plenty of "odd looking people" wandering it's streets in the off festival times. The man seated there wasn't observed with a weapon, either openly or hidden on his person. Lastly, from what I remember, black goes with almost all fashion choices and since it is not past Memorial Day, his not wearing white high heels shouldn't be that much of an issue. I will make a note though, if I plan on visiting that fine city to check which shoes I plan on wearing there while I'm packing.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Tolerance is controversial.........

" There isn't anything controversial about tolerance"
Amy Sorrell

The Jan 19th appearance of a student's editorial in the Woodlan Junior-Senior High School newspaper, The Tomahawk has led to the newspaper's advisor and high school instructor's suspension and a fight for her job. It also has school officials in that small community facing serious concerns from others in regards to censorship and First Admendment violations. School officials in the small, conservative town of Woodburn IN, a town of approximently 1,600 residents and located 10 miles east of Fort Wayne contend that Amy Sorrell failed to alert Principal Ed Yoder to the sensitive material contained within the article published and suspended her with pay as of March 19th.
The source of this debate is centered on an opinion column that many have stated is a very thoughtful advocacy of tolerance of homosexuality. Megan Chase, a sophomore at Woodlan, was prompted to write her column after a friend of hers told her that he was gay.

" I can only imagine how hard it would be to come out as homosexual in today's society," she wrote. "I think it is so wrong to look down on those people, or to make fun of them, just because they have a different sexuality than you. There is nothing wrong with them or their brain; they're just different than you."

Sorrell, an English and journalism instructor at Woodlan and the advisor for The Tomahawk, stated that she had shown the principal four stories about teen pregnancy, including an opinion piece intended for that same Jan 19 printing that advocated teaching safe sex practices over abstinance education because she felt they might cause a stir. She acknowledges that she never mentioned Chase's column because of the belief that tolerance isn't controversial.
The school's reaction and handling of this matter has led many to state that there are much deeper ramifications to their decision.

"This is a real threat to quality student journalism if an advisor can be removed for not having censored a perfectly legitimate story that there was no legal reason why it shouldn't have been published."
Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, Arlington VA

Several have argued that the spirit of the article was tolerance and that students have access to more mature material in the school library and on the internet including, Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Commitee for Freedom of the Press and Stan Plfuegar, Woodlan graduate and President of the Fort Wayne chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. There are those as well within the community that defend the school officials belief that Sorrell didn't follow the rules by her own choice.
A public meeting had been schedualed for April 28th and a vote by the school board was expected to be held on May 1. The statement from her attorney, Patrick Proctor, that "The school administration has said in no uncertain terms that she's not going to be given a journalism position" has led Ms Sorrell to sign an agreement acknowledging she neglected her duties as a teacher and was insubordinate in refusing to obey school official's orders.
Amy Sorrell it would seem was forced to trade her belief that tolerance was not a controversial topic and a thoughtful opinion column from a student with this view was something that 7-12th graders should be allowed to read, for the opportunity to teach English at a different high school.
Schools I have always believed, are a place to learn.... when did learning tolerance for others become a subject to spark controversy and be branded as something that should not be read by students? When did it become acceptable for a student's opinion about tolerance to become intolerable and worth violating First Admendment rights?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Those fun vacation stories.......

I think most people can look back and chuckle at a few of those times on a "dream vacation" when things didn't go as planned and I am sure some of those moments included unintended detours. I can remember pretending to sleep through those times, times when my parents argued over who had read the map wrong and how it could imply the road went straight through a military base when the fact was, a large fence blocked their path. That would be followed by the repeated attempts to back the car and camp trailer back down the road to where they could turn around safely.
We live in an age now where we are not forced to rely on a folded paper map or notes scratched onto a piece of paper. Instead, we have GPS units and computer programs such as Mapquest to rely on and prevent such vacation stories from entering the family history. It seems that they still will occur, especially if you are someone who wishes to use Mapquest to navigate your way to the Ozark Mountain Resort in Kimberling City, MO. For the past two years, people have driven their motorhomes and towed boats up a one way/dead end street in search of the resort that Mapquest mistakenly places next door to the Ashley family home, several miles from the actual location.
Travis Tucker, Kimberling City's public works director has solved the problem somewhat by placing a "dead end" sign at the end of the street after placing numerous unsuccessful calls to Mapquest. This is the same solution Six Flags over Mid America used in Eureka, MO for it's incorrect Mapquest directions that lead visitors to a dead end neighborhood road. Spokeswoman Melissa Gordon stated " Less than one tenth of 1% of Mapquest users contact monthly for any reason and only a fraction of those inqueries relate to requests or complaints about map and routing accuracy". When exactly would a Mapquest user contact them with a complaint? Before, during or after they have had to back a 36' motorhome and tag along trailer successfully all the way back to the original turnoff?
Fear not happy roadtrip vacationers......... new technology such as Mapquest, operated by America Online, may still allow your family to enjoy those funny family vacation moments unless you choose to add a bit of "old world" travel help such as calling the destination and scratching notes on paper.

who could have imagined?

" Professor Hawking reached for the sky and touched the heavens today"

P. Diamandis, Chairman and CEO of Zero Gravity.

Professor Stephen Hawking, a mathematics professor at the University of Cambridge and considered one of the best known theoretical physicists in recent times has been paralyzed and speechless for many years from ALS , also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. His statement today that "I think the human race has no future if it doesn't go into space. I therefore want to encourage the public interest in space. " came after he experienced weightlessness for 25 seconds at a time aboard a specially modified Zero Gravity Corp. jet.
For the first time in 40 years, Prof. Hawking floated free without his wheelchair and electronic communication gear, floated unencumbered by gravity briefly for himself and future space adventurers.
Everyone should have the chance to experience a moment like that in their lives..... a time when they reached for the stars and found the heavens.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Was it that difficult to see?

After years of legal battles, US soldiers who are members of the Wicca religion are finally allowed to have that symbol on their headstone. I have failed to see why the legal arguments were carried on for so long since my untrained eye saw this decision easily. Wicca has been a recognised religion within the US for many years and as such, any military member had the right to be buried with the symbol reflecting that membership on their grave. The only reason I could see for the fight was an objection to the symbol itself, which is a pentacle. This is hardly a legal reason but is instead, based on the connotations some make from the meaning of it. It is nice to see that clearer heads have prevailed finally and a simple matter settled finally.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Let's not just flap our arms.......

The recent tragic shooting at Virginia Tech seems to have brought about in its wake, the almost predictable response of demands of resignation, threats of lawsuits, demands for stricter gun control laws and cries of a lax handling the situation. In hindsight, many things are plainly visible but maybe we shouldn't rush to judge on hindsight, rather use what can be learned from this horrific tragedy to improve our foresight.
We now live in an age of instant information, chained it seems at times to a cell phone or a computer and because of this, notification of the students on campus after the first shooting has been criticized. It was not until almost two hours after the first shots were fired that students were notified silently by e mail. Although it has not been shown yet that the authorities had any reason to believe the initial shooting was anything more than an isolated event at the time and an immediate lockdown of the campus was not needed. However, today there are more advanced methods of notification available to universities that if used may have limited or prevented much of the devastating loss of life.
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte is one of 10 schools that is using Digital Acoustic's high-tech intercom system that can instantly broadcast a message within a single classroom or an entire campus. It is one of ten schools out of an estimated 4,140 universities and colleges in the US using this alert system. The remaining 4,130 or so schools, including Virginia Tech, still rely on e mails and less efficiant methods to contact the students and faculty in case of emergency.
In hindsight, it is evident that many would hold Virginia Tech to a higher standard, a conclusion that is easy but hardly fair. The fact is, Virginia Tech had procedures in place that are similar to just about every other college - the same technology that is "protecting" thousands of college students today and will be doing so tomorrow as well, unless changed.
Security technology and highly trained officers all come at a price, not only the money that is needed within a budget to afford them but the increased feeling of "creating a fortress" for our college students at a time in their lives when they should be experiencing freedom of thought, choice, speech and individual independence.
Technology alone can't be relied upon to have found one student within an estimated 26,000 students enrolled there. In hindsight, many things have emerged in the history of the shooter..... his writings, his behavior over a long period of time, his temporary commitment for mental health issues and his contact with the police in regards to stalking women. The question remains though, how did all of this not alert those in power and lead them to at least suspend or expell him for violations of student conduct and behavior rules?
It seems that there were less than 5 people who actually stepped forward and lodged serious complaints about this man, from a professor who was disturbed enough from his writings and behavior towards other students to remove him from her class, the women who lodged complaints with the police about him, to the student who called to report his possibly being suicidal, prompting his brush with mental health. Many more stories have emerged since this tragedy about his behavior or the fears others felt about him... beliefs from his roommates that he was strange, shunned human contact, was a stalker and engaged in strange prank calls. Only 7 of a class of 70 remained in attendance because of fears of his behavior and numerous women state that he photographed them without permission. Yet, only a few made an official complaint against him that would alert the system to his behavior.
I am sure that there will be those who will cry out for tighter gun control laws as well because of this......... this young man passed all of the background checks, both state and federal, waited the appropriate time limits and according to the store owner where he purchased one of his handguns, did not give them any reason to believe that he was planning anything other than legal uses for it. Tightening the existing background checks to prevent another person such as this man from purchasing a gun legally while affecting hundreds of other legal purchasers, will do little for prevention in my opinion. If you think differently, see : a good link showing gun control does not reduce gun violence.
What seems to needs fixing is the atmosphere that allowed so many to ignore his behavior and not take steps to officially report about it. We must also find out why the few complaints that were made, seem to have fallen through the cracks. What we do not need though is the backlash brought on by hindsight and the pain this horrendous tragedy has brought out to be used as justification for restricting our civil liberties. Just this Monday, a student was arrested following a class discussion of the shooting - his offense was making "comments about understanding how someone could kill 32 people". In justifying the arrest, other students said that the young man was angry about all kinds of things and they were afraid to come to class with him. It is ironic that a student is arrested for expressing an opinion at a university where diversity of opinion and free speech is supposedly encouraged and valued.
The cries to force the Dean of Virginia Tech to resign also do little to prevent this, it has not been shown yet, that he did in fact do nothing to suspend or expell this particular student. He is also the one who may be able to answer best how this student was not discovered sooner as the danger he has proven he was. He will have to live with results of his recent choices and actions in regards to this student....... forcing his resignation before answers are found as to why the danger this student posed, wasn't more accurately seen and handled with more effectively may do little for prevention in the future and only satisfy those who want retribution.
I think something that should not be overlooked is the atmosphere that allowed so many who now voice their concerns of the shooter to keep their mouths closed when it certainly would have made a difference to speak up. Only about 5 from a student body of 26,000 made official complaints about him and it is hardly fair to expect the few in charge of those decisions to read the minds of others who had serious concerns about him...... or would we rather have our universities become a police state and have methods installed to track each and every student, records kept of their freely made comments or their behaviors and actions taken against them based on those "secret" files. To me, that sounds too un American.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Finally In The Big Pond

I have finally made it to the big pond thanks to the Lamplighter! Look forward to wrecking havoc on the information super highway. Thanks Al!!