All Now Mysterious...

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Today's Awesome Mix(es)

When we do labs in my classes, I put on some music in the background. I have what I call the Big Classic Rock Lab Mix on my hard drive.  It’s got 175 songs or so.  I fire up WinAmp (yes, I still use it) and hit random play.

Here are the songs from today’s classes.

1st period:
Carry On Wayward Son (Kansas)
Dirty Laundry (Don Henley)
Don’t Look Back (Boston)
Fantasy (Aldo Nova)
Gimme All Your Lovin’ (ZZ Top)
Heartbreak Hotel (Elvis)
Hotel California (The Eagles)
Invisible Touch (Genesis)
Just What I Needed (The Cars)
Make Me Smile (Chicago)
More Than A Feeling (Boston)
Mrs. Robinson (Simon & Garfunkel)
Only Time Will Tell (Asia)
Ooby Dooby (Roy Orbison)

3rd Period:
Subdivisions (Rush)
Sultans of Swing (Dire Straits)
Sweet Caroline (Neil Diamond)
The Heart of Rock and Roll (Huey Lewis & the News)
Tom Sawyer (Rush)
Unchained Melody (Righteous Brothers)
We Will Rock You (Queen)
What About Love (Heart)
When The Heart Rules The Mind (GTR)
Who Can It Be Now (Men at Work)
You Got It (Roy Orbison)
25 or 6 to 4 (Chicago)
Africa (Toto)
All I Need Is A Miracle (Mike + the Mechanics)

I’d say that’s a pretty decent playlist, wouldn’t you?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Meditations upon Blasphemy and Idolatry

I can understand not wanting to represent Mohammed or any other living being as a way to avoid worshipping idols.  I think it’s a bit of an overreaction, personally, but I can understand the reasoning behind it.

I can also understand having a feeling of reverence and respect for someone who is important to you and your belief system.  Furthermore, I can understand feeling upset or even angry when you feel that others are not showing that person—be it Mohammed, the Buddha, Saint Paul, Pope Francis, Joseph Smith, or whoever—the proper degree of respect and tolerance.

But when you declare that any word spoken against a person is blasphemy, have you not, in your mind, at least, raised that person’s importance to something like that of a god?

When you declare that any slight, real or imagined, against your designated object of veneration must be punished swiftly and by violence, has your reverence not crossed the line into worship?

Isn’t that a form of idolatry too?

That’s the horrific irony of the atrocities perpetrated against the French people this week.  A small group of religious terrorists—let’s identify them for what they are—killed nearly twenty people for the commission a sin of which they themselves were guilty:


Playoffs? You're talking about playoffs?

At the end of the regular season, there were two obvious choices for the BCS Championship game: defending champion Florida State, who was riding a two year, 29-game winning streak, and top-ranked Alabama, who had just blown out Missouri in the SEC title game. Sure, Oregon, TCU, and Baylor all had great seasons, and I guess you could mention Ohio State (although that loss to VaTech was ugly), but Alabama and Florida State were locks for the title game.

Under last year's system, that is.

This year there's a playoff. And when faced with the task of playing their way into the national championship game against top-level competition, neither Alabama nor Florida State could pull it off.

This is why a playoff is better. There are no "could'a, would'a, should'as". Either Ohio State or Oregon will be the undisputed national champion because they won the title on the field, not in the polls in November.

Now let's get that playoff expanded to 8, 12, or 16 teams so that ALL the great teams have a chance to play for the title.

Friday, January 02, 2015

And That's How We Start 2015

Okay, so I've officially had my first weird dream of the new year.

I was driving around town in our newly-registered minivan (we literally got it registered the day before yesterday) when I got pulled over. The officer asked for my license, registration, and proof of insurance, all of which he took back to his police cruiser. Several minutes later, he returned with a very expensive ticket for "Operating an Unsafe Vehicle".

I read over the ticket (which was four pages long) and couldn't make sense of it, so I decided to ask the officer for an explanation.

"Can you tell me why I'm getting this ticket?"

"Your vehicle has an unsafe driving control system," he told me.

"I don't understand what that means," I countered.

"Your vehicle has a CRX-{something unintelligible} driving control system. It's outdated, and it makes your vehicle a hazard to all the other vehicles on the road."

"So," I said, trying to understand, "is it because it's an older car? Do a lot of cars have this system?"

"Not many," he said. "It's mainly just yours."

"So what do I do about this? How do I fix it?"

"You can have your vehicle retrofitted with an updated driving control system. But it'd probably be more economical just to buy a new vehicle."

"So just to be clear," I inquired, "this ticket has nothing to do with my driving. It's just about the car. If I were driving any other car, I wouldn't be getting a ticket right now."

"That's correct."

"That's crap."

The officer suddenly got rather red in the face and clenched his teeth. "What did you say?"

"I said I disagree with your assessment of my vehicle and your interpretation of the law, and that I intend to challenge this citation in court."

He glared at me. "That's better," he grunted, and stomped back to his patrol car.

And that's when I woke up. Seriously, what the heck was that?

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

When Teachers Dream

So I had an interesting dream last night. I was in the morning review for my summer class, and one on my students came in all excited and said, "I just got a job. I'm going to be working in a chemistry lab!"

The rest of the students started cheering and offering their congratulations. After a minute, I had a question.

Me: So, where are you going to be working?

Student: It's a start-up company. The guy's opening his own laboratory. We're going to start off in his garage until he can find better lab space.

Me: And you're going to be working in this lab?

Student: Part-time. He's also going to have me buy the chemicals for him and meet with the customers.

Me: I see.  {beat}  You do realize you'll be working in a meth lab, right?

Student: No, I asked him about that. He said he couldn't tell me very much about our manufacturing process because it's still proprietary, but he promised me we wouldn't be doing anything illegal or dangerous.

Okay then, as long as he promised....

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

On the Bright Side, She's No Longer My Problem in Six Weeks

Last week Miss B, the other chemistry teacher in my school, did a lab for her classes, and I didn't.  Her lab apparently involved ice cream.  Naturally, there's been no end of moaning and complaining on the part of my students who have friends in her class.

Yesterday, one of them (who's a little whiny under the best of circumstances) was in full-on complaint mode.  As I was beginning class, she called out, "When are we going to do another lab?" I answered something nonspecific, as I was trying to concentrate on attendance and other start-of-class logistical stuff. She wasn't impressed. "Miss B's classes do labs every day. We never do labs in here."

(For the record, I don't do as many labs as I'd like, due mainly to the fact that I'm teaching this class as a new prep this year. I've been pretty much making it up as I go. Next year will be better. But we do some labs, and Miss B does not, in fact, do labs with her classes every day. I checked.)

Class proceeded as usual from there, and I was giving the day's lesson. As is part of my method, I asked the class a question to get them thinking about what we had just talked about. And, as usual for this class, I had very little response. So I decided to take advantage of the moment.

I pointed directly at the whiner and said, "We will do a lab next time in class if you can answer that question right now."

Her answer was priceless:

"Uh, what was the question?"

Yeah, we're not doing a lab tomorrow.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Toxic Dreams

Okay, I had a pretty strange dream last night. I was attending a conference where I was going to present an invention I was working on. It would analyze a blood sample from a person who had been poisoned, identify the toxin, and synthesize an appropriate antidote.

I was talking to a group, including a few current and former students, at the opening mixer. Another guy overheard our conversation and bragged that he had been working on a new toxin that would kill a person slowly, but with absolutely no physical discomfort. And then, to demonstrate it, he pulled a syringe out of his jacket, grabbed a random woman in the crowd, and injected her.

The police subdued the guy immediately, of course, and I was sent to a lab with several other scientists to see if I could get my prototype working. It took us about two hours, but we finally got it to work. We rushed back to the mixer, but by the time we got there, the paramedics had just stopped administering CPR, saying there was nothing more they could do.

So we gave it a shot. One of my students gave the woman a shot of adrenaline, and her heart started beating again. I took a blood sample and fed it into the machine. After a moment, the machine gave us a printout of the poison and produced a small vial of a proposed antidote. We gave it to her and waited to see what happened. After an hour or so, her condition stabilized and she was talking to everyone about what she had experienced. The invention worked, although in light of what had happened, the organizers cancelled the rest of the conference.

The epilogue was kind of weird, too. The man was brought to trial, of course, and I was asked to attend as a witness. The prosecutor argued that since the man had clearly intended to kill the woman--he had bragged about it, after all--and had succeeded in stopping her heart for several minutes, that he had in fact committed murder, and that subsequent actions taken to revive the victim didn't change that fact. The defense argued that that was ridiculous--the guy clearly couldn't be guilty of murder if the victim were still alive. But the judge allowed it, and the jury eventually found him guilty of first degree homicide.

And since murder by poison was a capital offense in that jurisdiction, the guy was sentenced to death by lethal injection.

Maybe I shouldn't eat pot pies right before going to bed....

Friday, December 27, 2013

Meditiations upon Kitchen v. Herbert

Last Friday afternoon, Federal court judge Robert J. Shelby ruled that Utah Constitutional Amendment 3, which was passed by Utah voters in 2004 and which defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman, was unconstitutional. The decision effectively legalized same-sex marriage in Utah.

Reaction has been fairly predictable. Gays, civil libertarians, and those of a liberal political bent are celebrating the decision. Extreme right-wingers are decrying Shelby as an Obama-appointed activist judge who has overturned the will of Utah voters and have started gathering petitions to have the law reinstated and/or have Shelby removed from the bench.  The State of Utah has appealed and continues to appeal the ruling and has asked for multiple stays, all of which have been denied.  Most counties are now issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couple, although a few of the more politically conservative counties have dragged their feet on procedural grounds. State and local agencies are trying to figure out just how to implement the change in policy. And of course everybody's talking about it.

So here are my thoughts.

Meditation 1

First and foremost: Judge Shelby made the right call under the law.

The text of Utah Constitutional Amendment 3 reads as follows:

  1. Marriage consists only of the legal union between a man and a woman.
  2. No other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect. (emphasis mine)

As written, this amendment is (was) constitutionally indefensible.  It does not allow for civil unions or domestic partnerships.  It does not allow cities or counties to make their own decisions or policies concerning residents and/or employees (although Salt Lake City did so anyway under Mayor Rocky). It does not even allow for common law marriage between heterosexual couples.  It essentially divides people into two distinct classes: married heterosexuals, and everyone else.

Why is this a problem? It ultimately comes down to money. (Doesn't it always?) Under this Amendment, married people have rights that others don't have: insurance enrollment, state and federal income taxes, estate taxes, even visitation and custody rights. And whether or not you agree with the nature of a relationship, denial of such rights based on that relationship is in violation of the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

So no, Judge Shelby didn't overturn the will of Utah voters. The Constitution did.

The problem was the Amendment itself. It was too poorly written to survive judicial review. The way the framers of the Amendment chose to phrase it guaranteed its eventual demise.  It was dead the moment it went on the books.  Judge Shelby had no legal or ethical choice other than to overturn the Amendment. 

Incidentally, I remember the outcry in '04 when the Amendment was adopted, how gays and their supporters railed against the Amendment and how it only proved just how intolerant Utah and its residents were. And I remember thinking, "What are you complaining about? This is the best thing that could have happened for you. In five years, the courts will decide that this Amendment is unconstitutional, they'll strike it down, and gay marriage will be legalized in Utah. You should be celebrating."

I was only wrong with regard to the time scale.

Meditation 2

I've wondered in recent days about the whole process of amending the state Constitution. I've always been a little wary of 'amendment by referendum'. To me, trying to get the state Constitution amended in an election is an admission that you can't get it done through established, legitimate legal and legislative channels. It strikes me as an and run around the checks and balances that are supposed to be there. But that's a separate issue, I suppose.

So, back to the topic at hand: California voters passed an amendment to its state Constitution (Proposition 8) defining marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman.  A subsequent state administration declined to enforce that law, and the Supreme Court of the United States said, in essence, that it had no problem with that.

Utah voters passed Amendment 3, and the state has actually enforced it. A federal judge said that doesn't work either.

So I have to wonder: If the federal government ultimately gets to decide what is legal and what isn't, why even have State Constitutions at all?

Amendment X to the United States Constitution reads as follows:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

But it's starting to feel like the federal government is 'delegating' to itself more and more of the powers that have traditionally belonged to the States.

The definition of marriage isn't the only issue here, of course. Every public school teacher knows about the Tenth Amendment because it's the basis of how public education is administered in the United States. Each state has its own core curriculum and standards tailored to the needs of its students and the resources available to its schools.  But the Federal government has been getting more and more involved in public education of late. (No Child Left Behind, anyone?) A 'power' and responsibility understood for generations to be the province of the States is slowly being assimilated by the Federal government.

Of course, when you live in a society where the citizens expect their government to solve all their problems for them (and re-elect leaders based on their promises to do just that), this sort of thing is bound to happen sometimes.

Meditation 3

Same-sex marriage is now legal in Utah, arguably the reddest of the Red states. And since this is Utah, I think we have to ask this question: How long until plural marriage follows?

Plural marriage, or polygamy, has obviously played a prominent role in Utah's history. The Latter-day Saints emigrated out of the United States and settled in the Salt Lake valley (part of Mexico at the time) in part because Federal and state governments would not protect their right to practice plural marriage as part of their religious culture. (Of course, the Federal government and various state governments also failed to protect the Latter-day Saints' rights to life, liberty, and property in the face of armed mobs, but again, that's a different issue). Polygamy and slavery were regarded as one of the the "twin relics of barbarism" and formed part of the Republican Party's platform in the 1856 presidential election.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially discontinued the practice of plural marriage in 1890 (almost 125 years ago, for those keeping track) after the Supreme Court upheld the Edmunds-Tucker Act that prohibited the practice. Discontinuation of plural marriage was a necessary condition for Utah statehood, and the Utah State Constitution specifically states that plural marriages are "forever prohibited".

But in the light of recent events, "forever" may not be as long as previously thought.

Same-sex marriage and plural marriage have traditionally been opposed on the same grounds, that they represented "immoral behavior".  But clearly that standard no longer applies. If marriage can be a legal union between two men or two women, why can't it between a man and two women, or three, or six, or between a woman and two men, or three, or six? If same-sex marriage is legal, why not plural marriage?

The main difference I see, at least for now, is public support. Polygamists don't have a powerful political lobby or a never-ending source of funding and free advertising from Hollywood. There just aren't enough polygamists out there to base a political movement on them. They don't have the same clout, and therefore the same legitimacy in the eyes of society.

But what if plural marriage became trendy? What if it wasn't just portrayed on cable TV, but on the major broadcast networks? What if polygamist entertainers, legislators, and activists made polygamy as glamorous as gay marriage is now?  Could we see polygamists practicing openly in the future?

(Personally, I'm setting the over/under at 20 years until this happens--and I'm taking the under.)

Perhaps more to the point, now that same-sex marriage has been instituted in Utah, what keeps polygamous factions here and in other locations in the West for arguing for the same legal rights under the same Constitutional provisions?

I expect Warren Jeffs and his crew are pondering that very question somewhere right now.