Monthly Archives: October 2006

Goodbye Productivity

This always happens when I am supposed to be focused on a project. This little application called BallDroppings coded by Josh Nimoy is eating my precious time. BallDroppings is best described as an open ended game/musical physics experiment. The object is to construct panels for your balls to bounce off of. The angle, length, and placement of these panels create a certain sound when a ball bounces off of them. If you have nothing to do check it out. If you are working on something important… stay far away. You will be addicted.

Barrett Visits Oshkosh… and Lives!

Tonight I had the opportunity to see one of the most engaging and controversial speakers here at UW-Oshkosh in recent times. I am speaking of UW-Madison’s Kevin Barrett. Kevin Barrett has come under national media scrutiny for his views on the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I do not agree with Barrett point for point, nor do I agree with some of his assertions, but his discourse makes you think. I am not going to proselytize for either side of the 9/11 debates. I am going to tell you what Barrett did right.

Barrett agreed to disagree with his critics. In reading his critics’ publications and letters it appeared to me that Barrett was some tin-foil hat wearing, internet forum posting junkie, conspiracy nut that just happened to have a doctorate. This preconceived notion proved to be false. Barrett was well versed and acutely aware of his critics. He stated that despite their harsh criticism, he was willing to debate them. In one instance Barrett recalled that he was to be set up in a debate against fellow UW-Madison professors. Unfortunately, no one took the offer despite the strenuous efforts of his critics to find someone.  He also addressed questions challenging his position, to which he made arguments with supporting evidence. It is not required, nor advocated, by Barrett that you agree with him. He wants you to make an informed decision with valid evidence on either side of the issue.

When it came to providing evidence, Barrett was able to relay his findings in layman’s terms. This is absolutely crucial when trying to assuage someone’s position on a topic. Perhaps the most impressive use of evidence was when he demonstrated how the government uses polarizing incidents to shift majority opinion to the mobilization for war. Skipping thousands of years of history, Barrett used the staged military attack which led to the annexation of much of Mexico, the sinking of the Maine, the sinking of the Lusitania, the inaction against the attacks on Pearl Harbor, and more modern examples to demonstrate how government shifts opinion. When it came to discrepancies regarding the miniscule 16-foot hole in the Pentagon caused by huge 757, the complete vaporization of planes, or the “controlled demolition” way the Trade Center fell Barrett had logical answer for the all. He also points out idiosyncrasies in the chain of command, unusually high stock put options placed on American Airlines on the days before the attacks, and the Trade Tower owner’s unusually high insurance policy protecting against terrorism a short time before the attacks. He also bolstered his argument with statistical nuggets. Did you know that approximately 60,000 people have died from car crashes since 9/11. Only 3000 died in the 9/11 attacks. Which event is more dangerous to human life? Car crashes or terrorism? His arguments covered the broad spectrum of possibility and rationality. Perhaps most interesting in his evidence were the omissions in the government’s 9/11 report. Why is tower 7 never explicitly addressed?

Perhaps the most important issue at hand was not his views on 9/11, but academic freedom. People have been brandishing torches demanding that Barrett leave his post at UW-Madison. George Bush stated that 9/11 was the defining moment for this generation. Are places of higher education not the place to talk about this defining moment? Are we to believe everything that has been told to us by the government when they have lied to us in the past? Is not the purpose of higher education to promote the deep exploration of these defining moments? College is the perfect place to define this defining moment for what it is. To let the 9/11 commission and other government bodies define what these attacks meant takes the power of voice away from the people.

It has been said that Barrett is an embarrassment to the UW system. The problem with this is that Barrett does not represent the UW system. The administration and not the faculty officially represent the UW system. Professors are free to express their own ideas, beliefs, and ideologies. If a university were to hire professors based on an approved ideological rubric, higher education would cease to be. It is impossible to regulate free thought. After stringent review by UW-Madison, it was found that the introductory Islamic History course he teaches not only meets excellent standards and in some cases exceeds them. The intense pressure from the media has forced Barrett to keep his ducks in a row. His course, according to UW administrators, is beneficial to academic development students. This course does not require you to spend a great deal of time on 9/11. The small component of the course that does deal with it does not require a stand on either side of the issue. His course is not exclusive to the 9/11 conspiracy, as many believe.

Before entering Reeve to attend the speech I ran into several people protesting Barrett’s presence on campus. This was well within their right and I applaud their voice. However, three protesters made a stand during Barrett’s speech. I knew it was going to be an intense night when I was asked three times if I had a ticket by staff working the event. There were also three police officers and several media cameras on hand. When Barrett began speaking three protesters stood up, turned around, and were a distraction to the speech. The police promptly escorted out, these people without incident. I knew one was going to do something beforehand because I spotted the tinfoil under his hat. The action, however, did not phase Barrett one bit. He kept on speaking without interruption. I gather he’s had experience with this before. It is my impression that most people who protest Barrett do so based on what others have said about him. They jump on the bandwagon because it is easier than critically analyzing the claims. These people missed a fantastic opportunity to actually get the facts straight from the horse’s mouth.

Before leaving I had the opportunity to ask a question. I stated the observation that there were people who dismissed him out of hand and did not attend. I asked what he thought these people had to gain by not entertaining the government conspiracy side of the 9/11 debates. His answer was very poignant. In many ways, Barrett said, the events of 9/11 have become sacred mythology. It is heretical to question the finite details of such mythologies. Doing so constitutes a violation of the memories of the people who were killed and undermines the justifications for everything that has since happened. Without 9/11 there would be no Patriot Act, NSA wiretapping, Department of Homeland Security, justification for war in Iraq, sanctioned torture, the suspension of habeas corpus, and whatever else lies ahead. This puts the current administration at an almost inconceivable disadvantage when trying to gain public support if proven to be true.

One note before I wrap up my opinions. Critics of Barrett state that he compares George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler. As a student of German I listened very carefully when Barrett mentioned the Nazis. For clarification, Barrett compares the events of the Reichstag Fire in 1933 to the events of 9/11. The Reichstag was set ablaze a month after Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany. The Nazis by themselves were not a majority party in 1933. To win the support of the populace and control of the government the Nazis torched the government building. The public was outraged and the Nazis used the fire as an excuse to round up undesireables, communists, and other anti-Nazi supporters. Remember, the Nazis were an extremely conservative party. The connection here is that the government of the people and political right used conspiracy to win support for their deplorable actions. Not once did Barrett state: “George W. Bush is Adolf Hitler.”

I attended this speech because, admittedly, I did not know very much about the conspiracy. In many ways, I was disappointed by Barrett. In my head I imagined a vociferous conspiracy loon preaching fire and brimstone at a pulpit. Instead, I listened to the substantiated claims of a casual and worldly professor who promoted critical thinking. After five years of listening to the government and media’s position, I decided to balance out the equation. When making an informed decision it is best to know both sides of the issue. It is common sense to study the opposite side, to question their assertions, in order to formulate a valid counterargument. To put it into dogmatic terms “know thine enemy.” So what is my take on the events of 9/11? There is so much information out there to decipher. Some of it is true and some of it is, unfortunately, false. It isn’t important for me to justify them to you. I’m content with my own pursuit of truth. I hope you find personal truth. Ask questions.

The Winning Streak Continues

I just received an e-mail from system76.com about their Ubuntu Linux Sticker Contest. According to the results I took sixth place. Not bad for a contest that sends you free stickers to enter, mess up people’s Windows machines by placing said stickers on the computer, and a free beer stein for placing sixth. Below is my entry.

It runs Ubuntu.

Yes, this GE economy toaster runs one of the finest free Linux distributions. Now if only I could install it on my girlfriend…

Loyola Recap

Good news folks. UW-Oshkosh did very well at the Loyola Academic Debate this weekend. In the Open Division Matt and Tim took first place. In the novice division my partner Christopher and I took second place. This is a considerable improvement over the last debate tournament at Northern Illinois University where we did not win a single round. Not bad of an improvement for only two weeks time. Second place wasn’t the only thing I won on the trip though. I won $50 on a lottery ticket on the way home.
You can find some of the pictures taken on the trip at my flickr.com set.

Loyola Here We Come

If you are reading this I’m on my way to Loyola University in Chicago for three days. I am part of the UW – Oshkosh Debate Team for a class. The last debate at NIU in Dekalb did not go so well. My partner Christopher and I only won one debate out of six. We only won because the other team did not show up. Hopefully, this time around, our results will be better. Debate though is something that I, admittedly, am not yet good at. You have very little time to craft a logical argument against the other side. My brand of rhetoric is more calculated, slow, and exacting. If only this was a competition of sarcastic wit.

Expect fun Flickr photos when I get back because we are headed into Chicago after the rounds.

Blogging the Right Way

Confession time. I do not read many people’s personal blogs. This seems to be an oxymoron as I am part of the blogosphere. One I do read, however, is Jim Droste’s Fox Valley Pirate. I do tend to hold a certain reservation of snobbery against people who use content systems such as Blogger, which are controlled by a corporation instead of running off of an individual server. However, Jim’s does a number of things right. He has almost daily content, recurring themes, and a focused area interest. They are skills that even I should take a cue from. Before the great server crash of last week statistics showed that his blog pointed a couple of thousand referrals my way. So I’m returning the favor.

Holloween Rocks

My Darth Vader helmet came in today after 16 days of waiting. That is what $10 in shipping for 3-Day UPS Ground will get you. The only reason the company finally shipped it was because I asked them where my helmet was. The Lord of the Sith is most displeased with their apparent lack of vision.

Despite this minor setback, Holloween remains my favorite holiday. More than Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is the one day a year where people can be an extension of their persona. It is my belief that deep within people’s psyche lies a desire to be these characters most days of the week. Jobs, family, religion, society, et al dictate the need for structural and behavioral order. It makes it easier to interact when you know the rules of the game. Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain around your pastor/priest/minister. Don’t dress like a slob to a professional interview. Don’t greet your family the same way you would greet your college buddies at the bar. If these walls were nonexistant, how would you treat Darth Vader when he came in to renew his license? When he was displeased with how you cooked his eggs? When he was trying to return a sweater, which obviously did not come from this store? These costumes are extensions of our ego. The meek become strong, the insecure become sex symbols, and a transformation occurs. The people are no longer their former selves, but someone they internally desire to be for one day. Why can people not extend these traits from Holloween into their daily lives is a mystery.

What is Darth Vader an extension of? What inner desire is expressed by becoming the most powerful Jedi/Sith who ever lived? Despite pledging himself to darkness, destroying democracy, and liquidating entire races from the galaxy there was still good within him. Love would eventually become his undoing and reclaim him prior to death. His is an unnaturally dark tale of good conquering evil.

As I ask most people nowadays so too I implore unto you. Who will you be for Holloween?

Master Becomes the Apprentice

Today I had a rather unique experience as a professor whom I respect very much asked me how to download videos from youtube.com. He knew that there was ‘some trick’ to doing it. He wanted to know because he can find content there that relates to course content. Streaming this content has a distinct disadvantage in that once the youtube.com user deletes the video from his collection, it is no longer available for reference. I basically drew up a simple two step rundown on how to download and convert the video to a format more palatable. Despite the legal grey area youtube.com wallows in regards to copyrighted content, I figure it is okay to offer this advice. Under the Fair Use doctrine in copyright law using copyrighted material in an academic setting is 100% legal. I hope I have contributed to someone else’s classroom learning experience.

Censorship and German Pedagogy

Censorship harms more people than it helps. Citizens in China grow up without any knowledge of the events that unfolded in Tiananmen Square. North Korean citizens continue to live without knowledge of the world around them. Between 1949-1989 Eastern Germany lived in government mandated indoctrination under the communist Soviet regime. These three historical examples are the extreme limits of censorship in action. They illustrate the necessary fuction of the free exchange of ideas. Government control of the flow of information results in negative consequence. Censhorship prevents the development of a society’s people.

Pick up a book, magazine, or newspaper. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Do you know why you, John Q. Middleclass, are able to read that text, in what I’ll assume for the sake of argument, in English? That benign concept actually goes back to the 1500′s. The timely development of Gutenberg’s printing press and Luther’s translation of the bible empowered an entire demographic of previously illiterate people. Before that time there were two groups of people who could read and write. They were either aristocracy or clergy. Along comes a monk, condemned as a heretic by the Pope, who bides his time hiding in Wittenburg translating the bible from Latin to what would become the basis for Modern German. His work destroys the need to understand Latin, a language primarly reserved for scholars of the day. The censorship employed by the church through intellectual hurdles was disolved. Today a majority Catholics would not even give a second thought to picking up a bible in English. They can thank a heretic for that one.

The internet is this generation’s printing press. Gutenberg could have never imagined being able to publish a document and have it seen on the opposite side of the globe in mere seconds. The internet contains the sum of published human knowledge at the push of a button. In many public schools, however, access is stunted by software that censors search results.

German has a history which, unfortunately, includes the systematic elimination of a people, horrific scientific experiments, xenophobia on an unimaginable scale, and the mobilization of an entire nation to destruction. During the war the Nazi Party would hold “Degenerate Art” exhibits. Art created by liberals, subversives, and those of inferior blood were displayed to reinforce the superior aesthetic qualities of Nazi approved themes. These superior themes included Blood and Soil, the Übermensch, and the perfect Aryan. Records from the degenerate art exhibits show a dramatic increase in attendance over exhibits with Nazi approved pieces. Their efforts at artistic censorship backfired. People were genuinely more interested in degenerate art because it was new, controversial, and explored the taboo. It gave them something to talk about.

Censorship of the internet in public schools prevents the discovery and exploration of these themes. Granted certain search results, such as adult content, should be monitored. Decisions for what is to be censored are often made arbitrarily. These decisions may affect the following critical subject themes.

Is it wrong to tell high school German students about the very end of World War II where Hitler Youth were pressed into military service? Is it wrong to tell them about highly organized youth opposition gangs that succesfully terrorized senior Nazi officials?  Is it wrong to tell them of their grim fate? What happened to the poor and starving children of Europe during and after the war? I’ll give you a hint, when your body is the only thing you own…

Denying their role in history through censorhip not only betrays our youth today, but the memories of those who lived it. These themes invite cognitive dissonance, which can be resolved through conversation and lead to a better understanding. With censorship in place these themes will never be addressed and lessons go unlearned.

This post fulfills the requirement for the second blog entry for Educational Technology 325. If it is good enough to hand in on paper, it is good enough for the blog.

Gambling on the Force

This weekend Kaela and I hooked up with Jamie and Jeff to go to Terror on the Fox. The last time I went to a haunted house was about six years ago and it was Terror on the Fox. It has gotten much better since I last went. We froze for about two hours before we made it to the house. I’d have to say we had more fun though at Oneida Bingo & Casino. Within the first 15 minutes of being their I was down $10 until I stumbled across a Star Wars themed slot machine. However I ended up coming out $0.09 ahead with my next few bucks wagered. Kaela on the other hand won about 15 bonus spins and took home $85 in a single sitting. The Force is strong with this one. I think I’ll keep her.