Tuesday, June 28, 2005

War of the Words

Those pesky professional journalists always beat me to the punch. In Sunday's Chicago Tribune, journalist Naftali Bendavid wrote an article about the new trend in politics, which is to create a sound byte of a political foe saying something onerous and then demand an apology from that person. In Chicago, the most familiar example of this is Senator Durbin's comparison of the Guantanamo Bay prison camps to such things as the concentration camps in Nazi Germany or the Soviet gulags. He later apologized after a number of policiticans from both sides of the aisle criticized his statement, but the fact still remains that prisoner treatment at Gitmo is a very contentious issue. But whether or not Durbin was correct in his assessment, the big story was his comment, not the subject of his comment.
These days, it seems like everyone is throwing around zings, criticizing the other party for their policies, their associations, their actions. But as Bendavid's article points out, the big policy issues that people should be discussing are being overshadowed by contentious statements people are making about those who support the policy. Few are talking about the real issues, instead turning them into insults that aim to discredit the other side and turn the public against them in time for the next election. Yes, some people are examining prisoner rights in Gitmo. Jon Stewart questioned the validity of Howard Dean's statement that the Republican party is made up of white Christian men (you know that show segment was funny!). But Dick Cheney, on Hannity and Colmes said of Dean's statement, "Maybe his mother loved him, but I've never met anybody who does. He's never won anything, as best as I can tell." Yeah, except for that little race for Governor. Five times. Dean's statement was worth looking into for statistics of the makeup of the Republican party, and Cheney zinged back by saying only his mother loves him. Way to be a Dick. These days, it's all about political capital. Avoid the real issues--the important thing is to make your political foes look bad. That way, in the next election, even more people will vote for you just because they like you and hate the other guy, not because they agree with, or even know about, where you stand on the issues.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Do the Boy Scouts know that the Japanese internment camps were not just ethnic summer camps?

Here's an interesting article: Interned Boy Scouts Look Back
I don't know why, but it really struck me. Just because a group of people are locked up together and forced to live in tents and shacks doesn't mean they stop living their lives. In fact, many Japanese boys in the camp joined the Boy Scouts because their parents thought it would help them assimilate. Why they wanted to assimilate into a culture that locked them up in the first place is beyond me, but I guess it was the only choice they had. It's uplifting to see that some good came out of it, and it's cool that they all got together after all these years. They obviously gained a lot from their experiences with the Boy Scouts and turned a terrible human rights disgrace into something valuable and meaningful.

Speaking of Scouting and camps, since it's now summer, I've been reminiscing about summer camp. I went to Girl Scout overnight camp, and while I didn't care about earning badges (most girls in the girl scouts preferred to make candles and lanyards, not canoe and hike) I was one of the outdoorsy willing participants who got my first taste of sleeping in a tent in the woods, building a fire, getting dirty and mosquito-bitten, and waking up early to go swimming or canoeing in the cold-ass lake. It made me appreciate the outdoors in a way I never would have by riding bikes and playing in the swimming pool with my friends. The first time I felt a sense of spirituality connected with nature was during some sort of ceremony in the Green Cathedral in the woods on the land near camp. I went to camp there for two weeks every summer between 2nd and 8th grade, and come August 1st every year, I still feel like I should be trekking off to Wild Rose, Wisconsin.
That was just my experience, but other people have gained a lot from summer camp as well. In fact, Michael Eisner, Disney guru, said that he grew more as a person from his experience at summer camp than from college or business school. He just wrote a book about it called Camp (read the amazon.com review here). Camp is all about teamwork, learning how to live in close quarters with people you don't know in an environment that forces people to learn some basic survival skills. Sometimes putting on a wet swimsuit at 6:30 am to wash the campfire smell out of your hair with dirty lake water or sharing the best remedies for mosquito bites makes you realize that some things are just more important in life. The WWII internment camps were no romp in the woods, but they too taught people how to work together as a community, make the best of what they had, and learn something new. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating internment camps, but I am advocating the whole summer camp experience. On a purely volunteer basis.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

More about women and science

Regarding my previous post about women in science, about which I did not expect to receive such ire from people, I say only this: I'm glad the topic is being discussed in the media and among people in the community, no matter what the opinion. It's my blog, and I'll cry if I want to.
Here's something uplifting: Women aimed for the stars, hit glass ceiling
It's great that these women are being recognized for their accomplishments after all these years. Mad props to them for trekking through those challenges, both physically (vertigo? swallowing 3 feet of rubber hose?!) and emotionally (balancing families and the stress of training, dealing with gender role issues) and not giving up on what they were passionate about. More inspiration to everyone to follow your dreams, no matter what stands in your way.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Borders, beware

Just a quick plug to support your local music stores. Every six to eight weeks, I trek down to the south suburbs to get my hair cut (no way will I trust just anyone with my curls). Today I was early so I stopped into my favorite south suburban music store, Threshold Music, where I bought a compilation cd of music that is produced by an independent record company in the UK. I never would have found something so cool as this cd, or the other independent artist cds sharing the same listening station, at Borders, Best Buy, or even Virgin Megastore. Threshold also has a huge variety of random used cds from all genres and really reasonable prices for all cds.
Oh yeah, and they're in the same little shopping center as a fishing store that carries live minnows. Doesn't get any better than that. Anyhoo, seek out your local music stores, and local bookstores, for that matter, and support them. Don't let the corporations take over and inflate cd prices. Eighteen dollars for a cd I can download from iTunes for $10 is simply ridiculous, especially since they usually have only one or two good songs anyway.

If you know of any great local music or bookstores in your town, feel free to post them in a comment here, and the next time anyone visits your city, they'll know where to go for quality.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

But the goggles totally mess up my hair!

There has been some discussion in the media lately about girls and science. Last week, the Tribune ran an article about a physics professor at the U of C Lab School who is known for treating girls and boys equally in the classroom, challenging every student to learn and grow. I see no reason to restate the discussion in the article (check out the last page or two--it has some really interesting statistics about the numbers of men and women in scientific fields), but I will discuss my personal experience with science education.
I heart science. I read science-related magazines and books. I love the science and natural history museums, I visit the zoo when I can, and I spew random facts about soil or tsunamis or octopuses (yes, that's the correct plural form of octopus. Ask me why. I dare ya.)
Okay, so I'm secretly (or not so secretly) a science nerd. Why am I not working in a science-related occupation? When I was in high school, I wanted to be first a marine biologist, then a zoologist. I wrote to Jack Hanna, zoo guru, about how to get into an occupation like his. He wrote me back. So junior year, I was debating which classes to take to prepare me for college. "I could take AP Bio (taught by the teacher I had for regular bio, and it was a tough class) or journalism. Hmm, writing is easy. I'll take journalism and maybe I can write about science stuff." My 8th grade English teacher told me I should be on the student newspaper, and my freshman bio teacher was a bitch. And that decided everything.
Support and encouragement from teachers often decide the fate of easily-molded students. Science teachers often simply answer questions from girls while challenging the boys with more in-depth questions. Instead of requiring equal collaboration during lab work, they allow the boys to take over the physical lab and let the girls take notes and write the reports. Girls are encouraged to succeed in "emotional" subjects like English, art, and foreign languages while boys are challenged and nurtured in science and sports. Fewer women enter advanced degree programs in science because they are intimidated or frustrated or bullied or just never empowered, which means fewer women are qualified to teach science. Girls don't have many role models in scientific fields, so they don't realize that it doesn't matter if they look funny in chem lab goggles if they're making a difference in the world of science.
My parents never told me I couldn't do things, in fact they let me follow my every whim. My teachers never treated me like I was incapable of succeeding in any of my classes (maybe because I was in honors classes and was obviously a good student). I almost never felt like I was treated differently from the boys, but maybe I wasn't paying much attention to that. But none of my science teachers, except maybe my chemistry teacher, ever prodded and challenged me in a good way. I was intimidated by science, even though I have always been passionate about it, and no one taught me not to be intimidated. Unlike the teacher from the Trib article, no one found a different way to teach something. Regret is a nasty little thing.
Maybe this generation of students and teachers will be better. As each generation moves away from the 1920s, the gender roles blur more and more. There's hope for our kids.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Just call me Ace

Dogs have been in the news a lot lately. Yesterday, three dumb ass kids in Chicago's south suburbs were attacked by a dog (not usually ferocious at all) while trying to climb into the neighbor's swimming pool. The pool is surrounded by a chain-link fence, a Beware of Dog sign was posted on the fence, and the kids hadn't asked permission to use the pool. A woman gardening on the South Side was mauled by two pit bulls, whose owner hadn't restrained or trained them since the last time the dogs had attacked someone. Those dogs were euthanized. A few weeks ago, a dog saved a little boy who was being attacked by another dog. Now, the mayor of San Francisco wants to impose limits on pit bull ownership after a boy was mauled to death by a pit bull.

'Dogs sure are vicious,' you're thinking. 'They're so dangerous and they maul innocent people.' But the problem isn't with the dogs, it's with the people who own them. Because dogs are such loyal companions, because they understand words like 'car ride' and 'dinner time', because they have human-like temperaments, people think that dogs are like humans, except they can't speak our language. Dogs are indeed very smart animals, but they aren't human-smart, they're animal-smart. They rely on instinct, not reason. When dogs attack someone they don't know who is in their territory, they're protecting their homes and their companions. When they randomly attack someone on the street, it's probably because that person smells like something that makes the dog feel threatened, whether it's another animal or a scent that reminds them of a previous experience, or they were startled by a sound or a suddent movement. It's not because they're evil, they're just relying on their instincts.

Animals, like people, have a variety temperaments. Some breeds are known for being easy-going, sweet, and low-maintenance. Other breeds, like pit bulls and other dogs that people train as fighters, are naturally more difficult to properly train (hence why they make such good fighting dogs). Some pit bulls don't want to fight though, and so they get beaten up by the trainers and other dogs. People think that all dogs are naturally sweet and cuddly and they don't want to have to do a lot of work to make them behave. When the dog does misbehave, instead of teaching it how to act properly, they yell at the dog, yank at its leash, and scare it into compliance. But dogs are like children. No matter how nasty they can be, if they're properly taught how to behave, they'll behave. It may take a lot of patience, some alternative teaching methods, and a lot of love, but that's how it is with both animals and people. That's why I cringe every time I hear of a dog attack or of a dog being euthanized for bad behavior. People are lazy and mean, and they'd rather put a dog down for doing what a dog does, instead of giving back to the dog the love that the dog gives to them unconditionally.
Chicago Canine Rescue helps rescue dogs from bad homes, teaches the dogs discipline with positive reinforcement, and helps find new, loving homes for the dogs. Sounds like they really have their work cut out for them these days.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Koran, the Torah, the Bible (in no particular order)

They are all just books. They tell us stories about our ancestors, they teach us moral lessons, they discuss the relationship between a higher being and believers of that faith. We place a lot of importance on our respective Books, believing that through them we can achieve a greater sense of being and perhaps even salvation. The Koran, the Torah, the Bible, all may be just books, but because of our very personal faith, we expect others to treat our Books with respect.

It deeply saddens me that anyone would even think of defiling a religious object, a symbol of faith. The saddest part is that people in other countries have so little confidence in the US that they have no problem believing that someone in our army would do such a thing. It's like the bad rumor you hear about someone. If you respect that person, you say, "No way, that would never happen." But if you hate the person, then of course they did that bad thing. And so we punish our media for reporting information, but we don't punish the people who made the world hate us to begin with.