Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lakota Blues

The operating levy for the Lakota school district was voted down last November. The Lakota school district covers West Chester and Liberty Township, Ohio, in the suburbs of Cincinnati. The population in these two townships is mid to upper middle class and not exactly hurting for finances. For those who do not know, schools are financed via property taxes collected by the county on behalf of the school district, and limited funding comes from the State of Ohio, with next to nothing coming from the Federal Government.

For the last several years, there has been a concerted effort to defund the local school district. Why? Not sure, but it could be linked to a fringe Tea Party group. That faction insists that schools should not be supported by the public and that only parents should be paying for the privilege of educating their children. They've managed to sell the idea that the residents are Taxed Enough Already and shouldn't be taxed.

What has cost so much in the district? Lakota has won Most Excellent District with Distinction from the State of Ohio for the past several years. The schools have produced many young scholars, musicians and other artists. New elementary schools and new high schools were built to relieve the crowding from the growth of population in the area. I guess some are upset that administrating such a large district requires more and more funds.

With the reduction of operating dollars, budgets have been cut. Staff has been reduced and busing has been cut back. Academic programs are threatened and school athletics have been eliminated at the Junior High level. So with all those concerns, what are the local parents upset about? According to a first hand report I got from Junior High PTO meeting, a large portion of the parents were upset about Middle School football being cut and not the reduction of remedial Mathematics.

Unbelievable. These preppy, yuppy, over-achieving dreamers of parents are willing to sacrifice academics for athletics. What values do these parents hold? They are interested in family sports and activities, yes, but they hold these values over academics? My concern for our future has just been elevated further. I guess my new found interest in the Blues is fitting.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

French Connection

Just finished a long week with French colleagues in a good workshop. Two of our colleagues had traveled all the way from The Continent to work with us on technical details.  The details aren't important for this venue, but it was extremely important for me to maintain a continuous presence in the workshop. I had, however, just a few weeks earlier arranged to take a half day off on Thursdays to be part of the honors lab for organic chemistry.

Last Wednesday had come and gone with me taking the time to attend my philosophy class. Arriving that Wednesday evening was a snow storm. The impending "white death" had closed the local public schools on Thursday morning, and I went into the office as usual, expecting to work until 1200 before heading to the University. I decided to wait to head to lab until 1300, so that I could squeeze in some additional work with the French at lunch.

Just before I went to lunch I had checked with the University and classes were still on schedule, even though the snow as starting to be excessive and the accumulations were slowly choking off freeway traffic. I spent most of lunch checking my watch and watching the snow. I finished off my lunch and bade my farewells to my colleagues. As I put on my coat and grabbed my laptop, I checked with the traffic conditions and with the University. And what did I find? University was closing!

What luck! How fortuitous! Here I was, desperate to continue work, yet committed to be at lab and class. Torn between conflicting commitments. And now, 'miracle of miracles', one commitment was canceled due to weather leaving me free to continue my close work with the French. Did some deity throw a favor my way, and inconvenienced hundreds of thousands on my behalf? I doubt it. The Universe does not work that way.

This is the Midwest in January. Several snowstorms had already hit the region. When the French had arrived earlier in the week, it was clear that a snow storm was going to hit at some point later in the week. Coincidences do happen and I was just fortunate that the University officials decided to play it safe with road conditions Thursday afternoon.

In the end, our colleagues postponed their departure by one day and we managed to complete our work. Expectations met, conflicting commitments resolved. This French Connection fell into place because of planning and work.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Politically Orthogonal

I'm really tired of the left / right political distinction that obsesses the simple minded American media. Therefore, in my usual contrarian way, I am staking the ground for Orthogonality.  There are many dimensions to the political spectrum and I assert that I am at right angles to any and all of them.

Many in society today are crying out for an end to the politically charged atmosphere which some blame for the violent act perpetrated by a nut job gunman in Arizona.  Yeah right. 

Don't get me wrong.  The shooting was a mindless and brutal act and done for political purposes.  But what were those purposes?  The perpetrator has not revealed his motives.  The internet trail he left indicates many possible motives.  But was it really due to the politically charged atmosphere?  I don't think there is evidence to support that claim.  I don't think it can be demonstrated that a causal link exists between the political atmosphere and that trigger finger.  Does that mean we must stifle the language behind the politically charged atmosphere? 

The problem with restricting that type of speech rests with the definition of what constitutes a dangerous, politically charged atmosphere.  Given the definition by some on the Left the past few days, that would result in censoring Patrick Henry, John Adams and even Saul Alinsky.  All of those were claimed to be dangerous and vitriolic.  The Right doesn't get off easy.  They point at the language of Jihad in the Qur'an and claim that the atmosphere created by some Imans led to the Fort Hood shootings, the 9/11 attack and even the existence of al Queda.  Following their definition would lead to censoring Islamic services and, and to be consistent, Christian and Judaic services and speakers. (and nut jobs like Pat Robertson and Fred Phelps)

Freedom of Expression is absolute but charged with responsibilities.  However, the right to not be offended does not exist and there is no responsibility on the part of a speaker to respect any claim to such a right.  There is a responsibility to not causally incite violence. (Charlie Manson causally incited violence by ordering that violence; screaming fire in a crowded theater causally creates a hazard)  Civil penalties exist for demonstrated libel and slander.  Political speech has contained blatant lies and misdirections since before the days of the Roman Republic and early Greek democracies.  In that context it must always be taken with a grain a salt. 

Freedom of Expression is central to my objection to any Blasphemy law.  Blasphemy is a victimless, thought crime.  If you think you are a victim of blasphemy, think again.  You may be offended by what I may have said about your religion and that's just too bad.  You can't demonstrate with statistically significant data that my denial of the existence of all of this planet's historical gods is wrong.  Also, the demand to respect another person's religion is a violation of my Freedom of Association.   You don't need to respect the claims of the Aztec that required tearing out a human heart each day.  How is that different, in principle, from respecting any of today's religions?

So I'm orthogonal and off a 2D chart.  To some, I appear to be right wing to others I appear liberal or socialist.  I own firearms, including 2 pistols, but I think I should be licensed to own and carry and should be required to submit myself to physical and mental evaluation for possession and use of such dangerous machines in the same manner that I must be re-licensed to drive and must undergo physicals and biennials to fly.  I am not red or blue; I am purple with a tinge of green, gray and white.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Honors Lab

Soooooooo, I mentioned that I was now in the Organic Chemistry Honor's lab to my colleagues at work because I needed to explain why I would be adjusting my hours.  One of my co-workers then says, "What does that get you?  What will being in the Honor's lab do for your transcript?" 
Now, are you kidding me?  What is that supposed to mean?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Short Vacation

Back to classes.  Two Organic Chemistry lectures, one Organic Chemistry lab and one Philosophy lecture.  The philosophy class is Contemporary Moral Issues, so that should provide more material for me to write about here.

Now to finish the protocol write-up for the Organic Chem lab.  Tonight we are synthesizing LUMINOL.  Yes, that substance that is used on the TV shows to visualize trace amounts of blood.  The lab's name is Chemiluminescence.  Cool stuff

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year. Welcome to 1140 AD

We just watched the TV adaptation of Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth, a romp through the period of The Anarchy in 12th Century England.  I do love historical fiction and this one is set in the war of succession after King Henry I died.  The rival heirs to the Crown and their armies fought each other and dealt with intrigue of their supporters and the church.

While watching the interplay between the rivals for the Crown and the aggressive representatives of the Church, it brought to mind a line I read from the book's sequel, World Without End.  I had thought the following quote was completely and totally asinine:

"Mankind is fallible, so we should not rely on our own reasoning. We cannot hope to understand the world - all we can do is stand amazed at God's creation. True knowledge comes only from revelation. We should not question received wisdom."
- Father Prior Godwyn

Father Godwyn was correct in one sense.  We should not rely solely on our own reasoning; we must trust empirical data, physical evidence.  If the choice is between a beautiful, well thought out theory, and overwhelming physical data that contradicts that theory, then the data wins.  True knowledge does not come from revelation, it comes from a complete, thorough and exhaustive investigation of the physical universe.