Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Armageddon Science Post

I found the section on antimatter weapons to be particularly illustrative of some of the ‘weirdness’ associated with this whole discussion.  The speculative nature of antimatter technology represents a Zeitgeist of postmodern American consciousness.  I think it’s actually cute that anyone is even concerned about the technology being a threat.  During our discussion I and others mentioned the fictitious nature of the technology – how can one devise a weapon that would itself be destroyed on contact at the subatomic level (and unleash a cascade of unintended consequences, like destroying the user) when it comes into contact with the most basic fundamental subatomic constructs of the universe?  The mass media is partly responsible for these weird fears, true, with the popularity of sci-fi shows and movies that showcase fictional technologies such as this as if we're right around the corner from develping them (along with the ever-popular and equally untenable ‘singularity drive’), but every generation of Americans has had their bogeymen.  I think the fear of weapons such as these and talk of the ‘direction’ we’re heading in (as if humankind suddenly started inventing scary things in the twentieth century) reflects a mistrust of science that is characteristic of postmodernist academic and popular thought.  If everything is relative and all perspectives are valid because truth does not exist or is undiscoverable, then scientific endeavors become, at best, something to be laughed at during hipster wine party gatherings, and at worst, the end of all things to come.  This mistrust of science is hypocritical, of course; after all, without science, postmodernism (and all the postmodern comforts of society that exist as a result of science and therefore allow hipsters to complain about everything) would not exist.

I think this discussion is completely relevant to what we discuss in the social studies classroom.  Obviously a competent individual might discuss some of the more interesting technical jargon if he or she was knowledgeable, but one could also skim the surface of the issue and discuss it from a policy perspective with equal skill.  Plus, it’s kind of important to discuss things like ‘where society is heading’ – that’s our job as social studies teachers!

I wanted to respond to the question about nuclear weapons and whether or not their usage constitutes genocide, since I only managed to type out a haphazard reply in the chat window.  Nuclear weapons are tools of genocide only if they are used for genocide, just as a gun may be a murder weapon or a defensive weapon or a hunting tool depending on how it is used.  Genocide involves the massive extermination of an entire group of people because of their membership in the group identity under siege, and is perpetuated by a centralized power structure, such as a fascist state-ethnic apparatus.  Nuclear weapons, by contrast, have no agenda.  They may be used against military forces, population centers, production centers, etc, with no regard whatsoever to the ethnic, religious, or cultural ‘make-up’ of the inhabitants/targets, just as a gun could be used to kill an innocent bystander, a would-be rapist, or a deer.

The target of the nuclear strike also matters.  A nuclear weapon used against a civilian population center with little strategic value is a misuse of assets and a war crime.  However, are there ever civilians in war, particularly if the civilian populace is directly supporting the war machine economically and politically?  Soldiers cannot fight without resources from the home front – who in fact supplies those resources?

Finally, nuclear weapons are a successful deterrent from aggression by a major foreign power.  The wars we have been involved in since World War II have been bloody and unpleasant, but unremarkable compared to the scale of the conflicts of the Second World War.  Nuclear weapons ensure that such a war will not happen again, although they carry risks themselves and must be vigilantly protected.  Rogue agents could, in fact, come across an unsecure warhead (there are hundreds in the former satellite nations of the Soviet Union under poor guard) and use it to make a political or religious statement.  Every decision, then, must be made as if our fingers were hovering over the 'launch' button - with care and reverence for the awesome destructive force of the weapons and the horrors they unleash.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Starstruck Blog Post

The segment of the reading I found interesting this week concerned the distinction between fame and celebrity.  I had never really thought to distinguish between someone who is famous, such as Bill Gates, and a celebrity, like Madonna.  Being famous just means people know who you are, usually because of some contribution you’ve made to society or some talent you have.  Being a celebrity is independent of talent or societal contributions.  Some of the most worthless people on the planet are celebrities; their comings and goings are tracked by the tabloid press and mainstream media like astronauts track dangerous asteroids.  You don’t really see the press reporting on Bill Gates’s preference for wheat grass enemas (this is just me speculating here.)

The distinction between celebrity and fame is critical in a social studies classroom for a multitude of reasons.  First, it has real-life applications to the kids’ school and later work interactions.  There are always school ‘celebrities,’ i.e. the popular kids, and kids who are ‘famous’ around the school for being talented, athletic, super-intelligent, etc.  Unlike in real life, however, in high school, those kids are often the same people (well, maybe not the smart kids.)  Second, the study of celebrity is a phenomenon that gets at the core of who we are as people.  A society’s values can be determined by the types of people who we worship (in our case, we’re doomed.)

I’m responding to Question 5 on the Prezi, which asks whether or not celebrity events are fabricated stories based on the centralized geographical locations in which celebrities are typically found.  I think, overall, the answer is yes.  Hollywood and L.A. are typically where you find most celebrities for a reason – that’s where the entertainment hub of the United States is located.  However, because that is the entertainment hub, you’re bound to find celebrities.  It’s sort of a truism.  And let’s not forget that papparazii (sp?) follow celebrities around the globe!  So clearly celebrity extends beyond the bounds of these informal geographical barriers, even if celebrities are ‘born’ in Hollywood and L.A.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

You Are Not a Gadget reflection post

The author’s presentation of the material is somewhat gloomy in nature, moreso I think than is warranted.  Technology and technological developments are a strong component of who we are as a species, and the computer and the internet is, after all, just another invention, though a monumentally important one.  However, the author is correct in his assertion that the internet (social networking in particular) is changing the way in which we interact with one another, and not necessarily for the better.  The internet is a dangerous place, especially for youngsters and the technologically illiterate; trolls are just the surface of the real threat.

As social studies educators, discussing the implications of the changes brought on by internet and social networking on our daily lives has intense relevance in the lives of our students.  Kids today have grown up with social networking, essentially hard-wired into it, where in my high school days it was merely a new toy to fool around with, and for older generations, a strange new thing without much utility at all.  Kids need to be asking themselves how their lives would change without it, just as we all should be thinking about what life would be like without the things we consider ‘essential.’

Beth, Alanna, and Becky raised the question of whether or not technology has a negative effect on students’ creativity, critical thinking skills, etc.  I submit that, overall, it does not.  Technology actually allows students to be more expressive and creative by giving them tools (iMovie, HTML, and what have you) that they would not have had before.  It also gives the less ‘traditionally’ artistic kids a way to create great works of art (people like me, who can’t draw, paint, sculpt, or sing.)  However, technology can also make kids lazy – why do original research, for example, when someone else has already done it for you and posted it on a university website or Wikipedia or something?  I think that’s the greatest danger aside from exposing them to actual physical or emotional harm.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Peculiar Institution

Probably the most interesting section from the reading this week to me came from the notion that capital punishment serves as a ritual for Americans to express their own outrage at heinous crimes.  Obviously part of this observation seems common sense, especially when you consider the sensationalism surrounding death penalty cases and the media’s obsession with them, but really the roots of the observation require more detailed explanation.  For example, the fact that the death penalty is carried out in a highly clinical environment, far from the watchful eye of the media and public (some of whom have been tracking the case for years), in the most humane way possible, undermines the supposed outcome of the death penalty.  If the death penalty is supposed to serve as a sort of societal catharsis and we remove its most visible features, can it ever satisfy those retributive aims?  I don’t think so.

I think this question gets at the heart of our educational objectives as civics and history teachers.  For those of us who want the death penalty, we have to ask ourselves how bringing back the death penalty as a ‘spectacle’ to satisfy families and the public’s desire for retribution would conflict with the 8th Amendment, if such a conflict exists.  This is a civics issue – the rights of the convicted criminal (a minority in this instance) and the rights of the public (the majority.)  And as history teachers, we could ask ourselves if it is truly desirable to ‘regress’ back to the public execution system as a warning to those who would break our laws – a slippery slope, perhaps, to political executions.

To respond to one of our own questions, how does geography (cultural as well as physical) play a role in the ‘shaping’ of the death penalty?  I submit that, in Southern states, as a result of the clannish ‘blood feud’ style of justice/vengeance that characterized rural and mountain cultures (can you tell I just watched the Hatfields and McCoys miniseries?) the death penalty has survived and flourished.  In Northern states, where urbanization is far more pervasive and cities have had to deal with the very real problems of crowding and violence, people have become more desensitized to the idea of seeing violence in the community and may be less likely to want to see violence returned upon the criminals (a “when does it end” kind of mentality).  This is probably a gross oversimplification of the topic, but it may explain at least some small part of the disparities we see between the North and South on the issue of the death penalty.