Sunday, September 28, 2008

Religious Recommendations?

building a churchImage by ratterrell via FlickrPerhaps many of us have forgotten or were not aware of this, but the election has stirred up controversy about a rule enforcing the separation between "church and state". A 1954 tax code provision (law), called the "Johnson Amendment" prohibits religious leaders from explicitly endorsing a political candidate from the pulpit.

They can talk about political issues, but they can't tell their flock to vote for either McCain or Obama. If they do break the law, it's possible that the entire religious organization (church, mosque, temple, etc.) could lose its tax-exempt status under the law. This is important since these organizations are not-for-profit and therefore might not be viable if taxed.

Today, a group called the Alliance Defense Fund is sponsoring "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" in order to challenge the above law that they consider unjust.
  • Is this truly a case of civil disobedience?
  • Are preachers' 1st amendment rights (speech, etc.) being violated by the government?
  • Assuming you are religious, what would you think if your religious leader endorsed one of the presidential candidates during a service?
Listen to both sides of the issue in this 13-minute excerpt from the radio show, On The Media:

Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fact Check THIS.

As the election heats up, so do the negative attack ads. Plus, the increasing number of forwarded emails we receive from family and friends ramps up emotions and starts rifts. How many of us have received an email that claims Barack Obama is a Muslim or that Sarah Palin has a list of banned books?
A new free service from the St. Petersburg Times critically examines many of these wild claims, on a website that is both fun and informative for students and adults. uses a "Truth-O-Meter" to rate the accuracy of the most recent attack ads, and a "Flip-O-Meter" to assess how consistent a candidate has been over time. They even have a version for the iPhone so you can flout your knowledge at parties!

Here's a small sampling from the actual website:

PolitiFact via kwout

UPDATE: Another website,, from the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, has just analyzed the 1st Obama-McCain debate regarding the various claims of the candidates.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Digital Storytelling Presentations

Starting Tuesday, we will be going to the LIBRARY to begin a Digital Storytelling project. And because you are all so tech-savvy, we're using a new web-based technology called "VoiceThread", which allows you to work from any internet-enabled computer either at home or at school.

If you have personal pictures you would like to use for this project, please upload them to a site that is NOT blocked by the school's filter; i.e., don't use Facebook unless you are uploading images from home. A good alternative would be Picasa, which is already associated with your Blogger account, or Flickr, which has a direct connection to VoiceThread. You can also have a little fun editing the photos online with Picnik (thanks to my daughter for recommending this site).

Watch the tutorial below before we go to the lab so you can spend less time learning the tech and more time creating!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Can We Trust Them?

I remember that during the 2004 presidential election, I became an obsessive poll watcher: there were CNN projections, Zogby predictions, and Fox pronouncements. And for some reason, the polls I paid attention to were all claiming a John Kerry victory! Well, we all know how that turned out...

Now, when the media report that this election contest between John McCain and Barack Obama is going to be very close, I tend to be somewhat dismissive. My own feeling is that the media, which largely functions as a for-profit enterprise, has a vested interest in making us believe, up to the last minute, that we will see a razor-thin victory for one of the candidates. I have my own prediction, which has no basis in any scientific methodology, but as this short report below explains, my prediction might be just as good or better than all of the vaunted polls combined!

David Moore, a former Gallup Poll senior editor, argues in his book, The Opinion Makers, that professional polling data is deeply flawed. For example,
  1. Polls don't reveal opinion differences between those who hold strong opinions and those who are answering off the top of their heads at the moment.
  2. Polls don't include the opinions of people who only use cell phones, rather than a traditional land-line.
What do you think of the criticisms of polls in above radio piece? What are your predictions for the 2008 election? It might be fun for the class to come back to this post in November to see which of our peers predicted correctly!

Friday, September 12, 2008


Book cover of Book cover via Amazon Yesterday in class, a student asked why more wasn't done to stop the plot of 9/11. When I responded that the plot might not have been executed had the CIA shared information with the FBI, Mr. Bolos said he'd "quibble" with that idea and said there was a long history of rivalry between the departments.

While it is true that there has been a long-standing mistrust between these government agencies, relations became outright hostile in the years leading up to the World Trade Center attacks.

According to Lawrence Wright, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, "the CIA eagerly institutionalized the barrier that separated it from the Bureau" (343). The CIA "blocked the Bureau's investigation into the USS Cole attack [which] allowed the attack to proceed" (342). Further, Wright argues that John O'Neill, the FBI's point man on al-Qaeda could have "taken the morsels of evidence that the CIA was withholdingand marshaled a nationwide dragnet that would have stopped 9/11" (350).

The bi-partisan 9/11 Commission supports Wright's contentions by concluding that the CIA "didn't alert the State Department's 'TIPOFF' list"...nor did the CIA share this explosive informaiton with the FBI, which had primary domestic responsibility for protecting the United States from terrorism, and a team of agents specifically devoted to going after Al Qaeda" (Jane Mayer, The Dark Side, 15).

Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, September 11, 2008


Today is the 7th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Since the members of our class were relatively young at the time of the event, we are curious about your questions regarding 9/11.

To some, it might seem like a waste of time just to ask questions, but I am reminded of this quote by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner from Teaching as a Subversive Activity:

Once you have learned how to ask questions — relevant and appropriate and substantial questions — you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know.

What are YOUR questions about September 11th? Click on the comments link to contribute to the discussion.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Did He Get What He Deserved?

While watching Werner Herzog's documentary, Grizzly Man, we noted the words of one man interviewed who claimed that Timothy Treadwell, someone who studied and lived with grizzly bears, "got what he deserved".

What do you think of this statement?

In Roger Ebert's review of the film, he quotes the director, Herzog, as saying, "I believe the common character of the universe is not harmony, but hostility, chaos and murder."

Ebert goes on to reveal his own opinion of Timothy Treadwell:
I have a certain admiration for his courage, recklessness, idealism, whatever you want to call it, but here is a man who managed to get himself and his girlfriend eaten, and you know what? He deserves Werner Herzog.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Presidential Resume

Book cover of Book cover via Amazon Of all the talk from the recent political conventions, two themes really struck me: the battle over who is the biggest "outsider" and the question of presidential qualifications.

Candidates seem to take it for granted that being a political outsider is a good thing. Since the public has an incredibly low opinion of Congress, the idea is to boast that you have nothing to do with Washington. (Neither ticket can honestly make this claim, by the way. McCain and Biden have each been in the Senate for decades). But why is a lack of association with Washington a bad thing?

I just finished reading a book called The Dark Side by New Yorker writer Jane Mayer. It chronicles a record of shocking Constitutional abuses by people who did not know the law. President Bush bragged that he, too, was a Washington-outsider. He called Washington a "culture of lawyers." He mistrusted lawyers -- even about legal issues so much so that in his administration, Mayer writes, "neither the President, the Vice president, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, not the National Security Adviser was a lawyer" (54).

Since no one knew the law, the author argues, no one felt restrained from ordering torture or expanding presidential powers. On nearly every important matter the President deferred to his Vice-President, Dick Cheney, (a real Washington INSIDER, who was President Ford's chief of staff) who knew how the system worked and how to enforce his ideology. Nothing -- good or bad -- can get done in Washington without a knowledge of how Washington works.

Whether or not you favor an insider or an outsider, what exactly are the minimum qualifications of being President of the United States? Here's what the US Constitution says. Is it enough? After all, plumbers, teachers, doctors, secretaries must all meet minimum standards in order to be hired. What do you think a president's resume should look like?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Into the Wild (short essay prompt)

In the book we read over summer, Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer admits that Chris McCandless was rash, but he insists he "wasn't a nutcase, he wasn't a sociopath, he wasn't an outcast. McCandless was something else -- although precisely what is hard to say. A pilgrim, perhaps" (85).

Your question:

What precisely was McCandless? Use one of Krakauer's terms or invent your own term. Choose your term carefully, and note passages as you read. Your answer to the question is your central claim. Support this claim with evidence from the text and explain how the language of the quote -- the connotations of individual words in the quotes you cite -- prove your claim to be valid.