Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Other People's Beliefs

When I was a kid, there always seemed to be the same group of kids in my science classes that sat in the back and slept. I am willing to bet that most of those people are registered Republicans now. The Republican Party's (selective or otherwise) ignorance of basic science is scary.  I am not a scientist, not even a computer scientist.  Most of my knowledge of science comes from my high school classes, a few college electives and many years of listening to and watching science programs.  But when I see Republicans resisting simple scientific concepts like climate change and evolution, I have to wonder were they paying attention in high school?  And what do their high school science teachers think?  Does Republican Senate candidate and Representative Todd Akin really believe that the bodies of rape victims "shut down" and prevent pregnancies?  Or is this something he said just to get publicity?  I don't purport to be all knowing or a genius. I am woefully ignorant of many aspects of life. I am simply amazed when I get exposed to the things that other people believe.  With the Republican Party's National Convention starting this week, I brace myself.

I don't consider myself a Democrat.  I am more of an Anti-Republican.  I have voted for Republicans in the past, but since the late 1980's, the Republican Party has taken such a turn to the right that I can't, in clear conscience, vote for any of them.  Since the Bush (43rd) Administration I decided not to vote for any Republican on any level whatsoever.  I won't vote (R) for school counsel or town auditor, not until they get a clue.  People can believe what they want and I won't care until it affects public policy.  Once it does, it very much becomes our business.  They want to teach Creationism in science class, they want to talk about global climate change like it is a myth ... then I stop being quiet about it.

It is with great dismay that I point out that the stupidest thing I have ever seen, in regards to ignorance of science, is not by a Republican but by a Democrat.  This link from Youtube is of a Democratic Congressman from Georgia, Hank Johnson, who thinks that the island of Guam is going to tip over if we put too many people on one end of it. When I say that I am amazed by what other people believe, this is a perfect example. This man, an elected official, thinks that islands float. So instead of islands just being a part of the Earth that is above sea level, he thinks they float like logs. Scary indeed.

Congressman Hank Johnson said this in the halls of Congress in March 2010.  Later that year he was reelected. I have to ask, as a Democracy, do we get the government that we deserve? If we demanded excellence of a government officials, would this man have been reelected? Or was his opposition so bad that he was just reelected as the lesser of two evils?  A third option had to exist... like a third party or a write-in candidate. Certainly, we can do better than this.  Right?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Albright and Terezin

While on vacation in Europe a few years ago, I had a very odd experience. It wasn't your typical odd European experience involving a backpack and a bong, it was more of a history geek experience. While in the Czech Republic, we had the opportunity to visit a concentration camp. My vacationing generally doesn't involve something so depressing, yet I knew I probably wouldn't ever have this opportunity again.  So we visited Terezin in the Czech countryside.

It was one of the more solemn experiences I have had.  The courtyard where they were marched and the bunks (more like shelves) where they slept helped bring the terror of the experience more to life for me.  I felt like I was on holy ground. I am usually a shutter bug on vacation, but this is the only picture I have of Terezin. It just didn't seem right to take pictures while I was touring the grounds. This picture is of the cemetery near the camp.

It was built as a fort in the 18th century and was later used as a prison in the early 20th century. Its most famous prisoner was Gavrilo Princip, the assassin that killed the Archduke Franz Ferdinand which helped kick off World War I. During World War II it was used as a transit camp in the form of a ghetto for European Jews on their way to Auschwitz or Treblinka. It was used as a tool of propaganda to prove against the existence of extermination camps.  The representatives of the Red Cross toured the camp during the war looking for proof of the extermination camps and wouldn't find any proof to the rumors of gas chambers. They'd shipped most of the occupants off to the death camps to make the place look more humane before the Red Cross came for their visits.  While there we watched a short propaganda film that the Nazis made of the Jewish kids playing soccer in the courtyard. It was very eerie.

When Madeleine Albright's name was thrown into the ring to be the US Secretary of State (under Clinton from 1997 to 2001), her background was researched more than it ever had before.  It was then that she discovered not only did her family have Jewish origins, but many members of her extended family died in the camps.  Her grandparents lived in Terezin and if her parents hadn't emigrated from Prague to England in 1939 (when she was two years old), her life would have came to a similar end.    

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Star Party

The second week in August is a week I look forward to every year.  This is when the Perseids Meteor Showers are viewable. What makes this even more interesting is that our local public radio station throws a star party.   They gather on a mountaintop in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont with an astronomer in tow and broadcast for an hour answering questions and just chatting about the night sky.  If it is a clear night, we make a fire in our yard then move our reclining deck chairs and radio out to the fire pit and listen in amazement. 

Here are some of the things I learned at this year's star party:
  • Every school kid knows the old folk song "Follow the Drinkin' Gourd."  If you don't know it, I suggest checking out Sweet Honey and the Rock's version.  It describes a route how to find your way north, two of the stars in the Big Dipper (the drinkin' gourd) point toward Polaris (the North star).  If you follow it, you will be heading north.  Apparently, it was popular with conductors of the Underground Railroad.  North meant freedom from slavery. 
  • The only real difference between asteroids and meteoroids is size.  The cut off is 33 feet.  If it is larger that 33 feet in diameter, it is an asteroid.  Most meteoroids are much smaller, merely dust that makes a big streak when it brushes across our atmosphere.  
  • We could see a lot of satellites running across the sky.  We were viewing at 9pm in the evening.  The reason they are viewable is because it is early and the sun's light is still hitting them.  They don't give off much light so it is the sun's reflection that you are seeing.  If you view the sky later in the evening, you will see a sky without the satellites.  With the exception of an occasional plane going by, it will be the same sky that the natives of the continent saw centuries earlier.

I look forward to next year's star party.