The opinions expressed here are well-reasoned and insightful -- needless to say they are not the opinions of my employers

13 August 2007

The Muslim view of the Grand Canyon

In Salon (the article is free to read, non-members need to sit through an advert) today, Steve Paulson interviews Turkish physicist Taner Edis, the author of "An Illusion of Harmony: Science and Religion in Islam" on the state of science in the Muslim world. What is interesting is not that the religious culture that gave modern science (among other things) algebra and the number zero has become a scientific backwater but how much the Muslim world's fundamentalists have in common with the Christianity's fundamentalists on scientific issues:

SP: Is the critique of Darwinism basically the same as what you'd find from American creationists?

TE: Much of the rhetoric is similar. There are only so many ways you can argue against evolution, only so many ways you can say the fossil record doesn't tell you what the biologists say. But there are also differences. For example, in American creationist circles, one of the stronger options is "Young Earth creationism." People who read the Book of Genesis literally believe in a creation that happened 10,000 years ago, literally done in six days. But the Quran is much vaguer about the time frame of divine action. Therefore, they are not as committed to fitting earth history into thousands of years. So Muslim creationists are almost invariably "Old Earth creationists." They tend to think of Noah's flood as a local event -- not such a big thing -- unlike the American creationists who think of the flood as the major geological event in earth history. So there are lots of differences that adapt creationism to the Islamic context.

Reading this made me flash back on one of my last trips to the Grand Canyon, when I was explaining the geologic history of the canyon to a non-scientist friend. A guy walked up to me, out of the blue, to tell me that the story I was telling was completely wrong, because the Bible tells us that the Canyon and all of the rocks were formed in the Great Flood. That guy is backed by the western world's most visible religious fundamentalists, so mainstream that even Al Gore famously waffled on Darwin during the 2000 campaign.

Yet for all the disagreements I might have with a Muslim fundamentalist about science (or about many other things) he wouldn't have had any serious problems with the standard scientific explanation for the formation of the Grand Canyon (at least until I got to the part about what fossil evidence tells us about evolution in the Paleozoic).

09 August 2007

The Internets is the Commons

Al Gore did not personally invent the internet (nor did he ever claim to have), but it was created largely through the work of publically-funded entities, primarily universities and the military.

Like the radio, TV, and wireless spectrum private enterprise now wants to plant its flag into this public square and claim ownership.

From the official website of the band Pearl Jam:
When asked about the missing performance, AT&T informed Lollapalooza that portions of the show were in fact missing from the webcast, and that their content monitor had made a mistake in cutting them.

During the performance of "Daughter" the following lyrics were sung to the tune of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" but were cut from the webcast:

- "George Bush, leave this world alone." (the second time it was sung); and

- "George Bush find yourself another home."

This, of course, troubles us as artists but also as citizens concerned with the issue of censorship and the increasingly consolidated control of the media.

AT&T's actions strike at the heart of the public's concerns over the power that corporations have when it comes to determining what the public sees and hears through communications media.

Complaints about the stifling of voices in the corporate media are commonly met with sweeping references to the expansion of our choices since the advent of cable (though the vast majority of cable channels are owned by the same media giants); satellite radio (though there are only two satellite companies, soon to be only one); and the democratic (some say anarchic) nature of the internet.

Major broadcast companies have made it clear the last few years that they feel that they have the right to reject paid television advertisements based on the most specious of reasons: CBS refused to sell time to MoveOn.org and PETA by saying “The network simply does not accept any advocacy advertising of any kind,” as if there were such a thing as non-advocacy advertising.

Well, say goodbye to the democratic internet. The FCC has essentially handed the internet over to a few giant phone and cable companies, allowing them the right to control traffic and charge a premium for fast service. The lobbying arms of these corporations are keeping legislation to prevent this bottled up in congress. Learn about Net Neutrality at savetheinternet.com and let your congressman, your senators, and the FCC know that you think that this is important.

08 August 2007

Students: ready for fall 2007?

I will have the course syllabi posted on the notes web site by the beginning of next week.

The books are all in the bookstore and available:

Geol 01 -- Earth: Portrait of a Planet by Marshak (2nd)
Geol 20 -- Earth Science by Tarbuck/Lutgens (11th)
Geol 04 -- Natural Disasters by Abbott (6th)
Astr 20 -- Horizons by Seeds (10th)
Hum 10B -- Earth in the Balance by Gore and Beyond Oil by Deffeyes

If you are in one of the lab courses, there are no lab books to purchase. All labs will be posted on the notes site.

You are free to try to save yourself some money by looking for these books on the internets. Sometimes you can get a pretty good deal. If you end up with an older edition, keep in mind that the chapters may not correlate with the syllabus, so it's up to you to figure out what you should be reading.

07 August 2007

Paying for the commons

I enrolled in community college right out of high school, because no self-respecting 4-year school would've taken me. It was the mid-70's, Vietnam was over, FM radio was still kind of subversive, and horrible fashion decisions were ubiquitous.

Through fits and starts, I worked my way through the higher education system successfully and now I find myself trying to help young people who are not so different than I was 30 years ago. There is of course one big difference -- these kids are charged through the nose for a system that was essentially free when I was a student. Until the mid 1980's California community colleges were free for students to attend. The Cal State University system cost a few hundred dollars per semester back then, and fees at the University of California were about twice as much.

Nothing in life is free of course: these low fees were heavily subsidized by the state. The higher education system in California was a gift of the previous generation to the next generation.

Until my generation came along. We boomers gladly accepted all of the stuff payed for by our parents: education, the state water system, highways, bridges, parks, the commons -- and when we became responsible adults we decided that we should only have to pay for that which benefits us directly.

In the last decade Hollywood began to market our parents to us . Our fathers were The Greatest Generation because they answered the call and fought the War, we are told. Books were written, movies and mini-series were produced, monuments were lobbied for and built.

My father passed away before all of the celebrations of his service began. He would have been embarrassed by most of the nostalgia.

We do owe a lot to his generation, because they did a lot for us. They, and the generations before them, built and paid for the world we all live in. They built the railroads and the highways. They built bridges and dams. They built canals and waterways to bring clean water to farms and cities and suburbs, and sewers and treatment plants to clean up the water afterward. They built the primary, secondary and higher education systems that would make sure their progeny had a future at least marginally better than theirs.

How can we pay them back? We can't pay them back, we can only pay forward. We can reclaim the commons, and pay collectively for the infrastructure that our progeny will inherit. Replacing and repairing old bridges and dams and water mains is more boring than building publically-financed sports stadiums, just like paying the electric bill is more boring than buying a new iPhone. But it's necessary.

If we make sure that a good, inexpensive higher education is available for everyone, then it will be available for our own kids, and tomorrow's graduates won't begin have to choose their career based on what will help them pay off their crushing debt. And schools won't need to sell Coke or Pepsi or McDonald's products to fund programs.

And I thus begin my blogging career with a polemic.

Contact Me

You can send me email at jrepka@saddleback.edu