Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why Think, Explore, or Ask Questions When You Can Echo?

There was a storm on the right-hand side of the internet echo-chamber this week about a "residence life" program at the University of Delaware. A group called "Foundation for Individual Rights in Education" (FIRE) posted an article claiming "University of Delaware Requires Students to Undergo Ideological Reeducation." They appear to have taken bits and pieces of a program in place at UD, combined it with some examples of the program poorly implemented, and arrived at the conclusion that the University is a new part of the "axis of evil."

The story was picked up by a large number of blogs. They seemed to compete to see who could write the most extreme headline. Here are just a few examples.
  • Indoctrination At Delaware
  • U of Delaware student indoctrination teaches that all white people are racist
  • University of Delaware Requires Students to Undergo Ideological Reeducation
  • The U. Of Delaware: Made In North Korea
  • University of Delaware's Orwellian system
  • University of Delaware: No Free Thoughts Allowed
  • Welcome to the University of Delaware. Check Your Brain at the Door.
  • University of Delaware indoctrinates dorm residents in mandatory anti white dogma
  • University of Delaware Operating Student Thought-Reform Program
  • Intellectual Cancer: Political Indoctrination At The University Of Delaware
  • Is the University of Delaware Violating the Federal Law on Human Subject Research?
  • Ideological Reeducation Camps at University of Delaware
  • "Mandatory" "Treatment" of University of Delaware Students
Our own Southern Delaware talk-radio outlet featured a version on its blog. Morning host Dan Gaffney posted his take as All White People Are Racists. He wrote:
The University of Delaware is one of the worst brainwashing institutions in America.
Totalitarian socialist liberals have taken completely over. Time to withdrawal [sic] the children and your tuition payment, and end any Government funding the school receives. I’m serious.
I know my approach to blogging is usually meant to be one of moderation and calm reflection, but what a load of crap.

Did no one think to check with the University about this? Doesn't this sound so extreme as to be highly unlikely? Is it really a good idea to simply and uncritically accept the judgment of some web-based outfit?

I was most disappointed in the News Journal, which posted an AP version of the story which only quoted from the FIRE account and made no attempt to check with the University or to verify whether of not the FIRE report was accurate.

What is worse is the headline the News Journal used: Civil rights group rips UD dorm policy.

Civil rights group? Please.

I took some time to check out the UD web site this evening. The University has responded to FIRE (rather politely, I thought) and addressed the issue in a posting linked from their front page.

The University explains that the program is not, in fact, mandatory.
The program is designed to encourage students to think about and to consider a number of issues, but all make their own decisions about the outcome of this reflection. FIRE’s assertion that students are told what to think is inaccurate. In common with FIRE, our institution values free speech, active voice, and open dialogue. We believe that students learn and grow in part by engaging in significant discussions on both sides of the classroom door.
The University does note some problems with the program. They express a desire to make improvements and thank FIRE for their interest and input. But they take exception with the idea that UD students can be "indoctrinated."
You have examined many internal and public documents in your search for concerns. I invite you to explore our web site more fully to get a better picture of the capacity of a University of Delaware student. You will find that they are highly intelligent and capable to assert their viewpoints and to face challenges from a variety of areas. Our students are fully able to encounter multiple values and perspectives and remain true to their own identity.
An interesting notion, this idea of encountering "multiple values and perspectives." Maybe when we report on these sorts of issues we should open ourselves up to other viewpoints instead of just echoing back what someone else wrote.

I'm not just speaking to the right-leaning among the bloggers, by the way. Some of the left-handed writers are just as guilty of this sort of thing too.

Surely we can all do better than simply repeating whatever line our particular party has put out?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fall Down, Go Boom

I found this fallen gas pump canopy in Rehoboth Beach this morning. We've had high winds and rain the last few days. I assume the wind did this, but I've seen nothing about it on the news.

We were in town for the Sea Witch Festival. This annual Halloween-themed festival features a parade, costume contests (for people and pets) and Sunday morning performances at the Bandstand by the many Dance schools in the area.

Our girls were dancing at 11, so we got into town in time to see a few other groups. Whenever I do, I am grateful that their teacher, Kate Walker, concentrates so much on classic ballet, lyrical and modern dance. Other groups I've seen feature what I can only describe as "hootchie-cootchie" dancing.

The sight of a troupe of 9- and 10-year old girls in tight spangle-y outfits, spastically shaking their hips in a weird imitation of a go-go dancer in a seedy 1960's nightclub is, well, disconcerting.

This photo is an echo, by the way, of one I took in January of 2006 when a wind-storm brought down a Hooter's billboard outside of Rehoboth. That shot is my most-viewed photo on flickr. I think it has something to do with the word "hooters" and the phrase "top heavy" appearing in the description. That must rank high in a few google searches.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Finally, A Place to Put My Stuff

This is the Mahaffie Warehouse (PDF), on Mahaffie Circle, in Olathe Kansas. It showed up in one of my ego-search feeds in a space-for-rent listing from bizspacekansascity. (Photo Credit: The Tutera Group [I think])

It looks like there's about 12,000 square feet of space available right now. Other tenants are Pump It Up ("The Inflatable Party Zone") and Center Point Community Church. I need to think of some business to place there; something related to history or to mapping?

As I have mentioned here before (endlessly), two of my great-great Grandparents, JB and Lucinda Mahaffie, were among the first settlers at Olathe. They established a prosperous farm that included a hostel, of sorts, as a way-station on the Oregon Trail. Several of their children stayed in Olathe and had businesses. The family name has stuck there, adhering to streets and buildings.

Of course, at the center of my family history in Olathe is the old Mahaffie House, now an historic site and park.

Aside from the Mahaffie Warehouse, you'll find the Mahaffie Retail Center on Mahaffie Circle. It has a Quizno's and everything. Elsewhere in town, there is Mahaffie Elementary School (home of the Knights) and the Woods of Mahaffie subdivision (the web site seems to be down).

I found an interesting (to me) coincidence as I researched this post. The headquarters of Garmin International is in Olathe. It's mailing address is on 151st Street, but I note that both Mahaffie Circle and Mahaffie Place run through the Garmin Campus.

Here's the coincidence: Garmin makes GPS tools and is a part of the geospatial industry. A major part of my professional life is coordinating the use and sharing of GIS tools and geospatial data. It's not a major, earth-shaking sort of coincidence, but it does suggest to me that I should seek out the Garmin booth at the next GIS conference and say "howdy."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Fun With Flag Graphics

The web site We Are Multicolored has a nifty little flash tool up that lets you choose three nations and mash-up the elements of their flags. I chose the flags of the United State, the United Kingdom, and Trinidad and Tobago. The site includes information about the symbolism of each element. It's educational, but I was just having fun with art.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

As The Phrase Turns

On a conference call at work today, a colleague coined a phrase that stuck in my ear. I had to write it down, bring it home, and share it here:
You don't know what it is really going to be until it really is.
This is grammatically suspect, and sounds redundant. But I like it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Welcome Back, Jack

Jack Renault is returning to WGMD, an FM radio station outside of Lewes and Rehoboth Beach here in coastal Sussex County Delaware. Jack was a sales guy at WGMD when I worked there back in the mid-80s. He's apparently about to take on the job of General Manager of the station.

Jack always seemed a classic radio "voice" to me, and a salesman of the old school. He and Bob Smith, who unfortunately passed away three years back, taught me a great deal about that business.

Over the years, I've seen Jack around here and there. He was sometimes selling for WGMD and sometimes focused on his Jack Renault Advertising Specialties business.

I'm not a WGMD listener, but I wish Jack well in his tenure running the place. I always enjoyed spending time with him.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

''Oh, my god, the fan fiction.''

StumpJumper, over at Denied Intervention, points us to a story in the New York Times about the sexual orientation of a major character in the Harry Potter books: J.K. Rowling Outs Hogwarts Character.

At a reading and Q&A session, author Rowling was asked by a young fan whether Albus Dumbledore, the powerful and positive grandfather figure who leads the Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Magic, ever finds "true love."
"Dumbledore is gay," the author responded to gasps and applause.
I don't think Ms. Rowling intended to imply that being gay precludes finding true love. She went on to explain that the great wizard had had a tragic love affair earlier in life. I think that puts him into the "only one great love" category of fictional folk.

My take on elderly deus-ex-old-guy characters like Dumbledore is that they exist beyond the age of any romantic entanglement. And for the span of time covered by the Potter that seems to be the case.

Of course, any good writer will know the back-story of all of her characters. And given that a percentage of any group of humans is gay, it makes sense that there should be some gay folks in Harry Potter's world.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Tell It To The Judge(s)

The US Supreme Court today ordered (PDF) that lawyers for Delaware and New Jersey appear before the Court in November to present oral arguments in their long-standing dispute over who controls a portion of the Delaware River.

I've written about this case before. There is a proposal to build a Liquid Natural Gas terminal in New Jersey. It would include a pier into the Delaware River in a portion of the river that, by century-old treaty and by early 20th-century Supreme Court decree, is part of Delaware. Such a pier would require a permit under Delaware's Coastal Zone Act.

Delaware said "no" back in 2005. New Jersey was not pleased. They threatened a boycott. They blustered a bit. And they took us to court; they asked for this case to go right up to the Supreme Court.

The Supremes assigned a "Special Master" to hear arguments from both sides. He ruled (PDF) in April of this year that Delaware can indeed deny permission for the pier. New Jersey was not pleased. They took exception (which turns out to be a legal term) and so the two states will send lawyers to Washington DC on November 27 to argue the case.

That should be fascinating. My interest is mostly in questions about the state boundary itself. I take a professional interest in that boundary as an elemental geospatial data Framework item. There's also the rich and goofy history of those lines, the politics behind them, and the colonial surveyors who drew them. Richly goofy, political, and historical stories always interest me.

The oral arguments are more likely to focus on things like the differences between Riparian Rights and Riparian Jurisdiction. But when you get in front of the whole group of Supreme Court justices there's no telling what might get discussed. The Delaware/New Jersey boundary is unusual; it might spark some Supreme interest.

I'd love to be there.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


I'm in Washington, DC, for few days for a conference of the Census State Data Center Network. We're meeting at the Census Bureau's new headquarters in Suitland, but staying at a hotel in northern Virginia, just across Key Bridge (left) from the District.

We took buses from the hotel to Suitland this morning. We were dropped at the main entrance where we all had to make our slow way through security. That took a while and the conference started late. Ultimately, we managed to make up the time and by lunch we were back on schedule.

In the afternoon we had break-out sessions. I was in a conference room trying to understand the higher (for me) math needed to make sense of the Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) when the fire alarm went off and we had to join hundreds of Census workers in an orderly evacuation and a less orderly milling-around outside for about half an hour.

I don't think it was a drill, but I never heard what caused the alarm. I wouldn't be surprised if it was my brain short-circuiting when I tried to understand PUMS data.

We got back to the hotel around six this evening. I had time to wander across Key Bridge and take a short photo-walk along the Canal.

Tomorrow, we'll be back out in Suitland. I'll try to keep my brains from shorting-out again.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Memories From a Lighthouse-Keeper

The News Journal has located one of the men who once served on Fourteen Foot Bank Lighthouse in the Delaware Bay. Matthew Lomot was part of a Coast Guard crew that kept that light in working order in the late 1960s. He seems saddened to learn that the Lighthouse has been sold, but willing to offer advice to the new owner.

I can't help my continuing fascination with this story. The idea of a house perched out in the middle of the Bay is just so cool.

According to this latest story, Lighthouse-collector Michael Gabriel is thinking about buying a third east-coast lighthouse. I suppose his being a wealthy lawyer means the things he collects can be large and rusting and fascinatingly concrete. My more modest collector's urge is towards images of odd things.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Hot. Humid. October?

This is what Dover looked like at the start of this week. Blue, clear skies with a selection of fluffy clouds. This is what we expect from Fall; low humidity and comfortable temperatures.

So, what has gone wrong? The rest of the week has been too warm and too humid. Sure it led to a few fog-delays to delight my school-age kids. But I've been running the AC in the Prius again, just to cut the mugginess.

Of course, a cool-inside car cutting through a fog-bound landscape is going to gather condensation, obscuring the view of a dank, gray, misty commute. So I run the wipers. Which just makes it worse.

This isn't the October we ordered.

Hartly's Happy Hippie has a post up this week lauding the arrival of fall. She's a young fashion-plate and looks forward to being able to "layer" this season. I think she's being a bit optimistic. I'm still trying to find some sort of justification for wearing shorts and sandals to work at the Office of Management and Budget.

Meanwhile, the forecast for tomorrow is for temps in the mid-80s. There's talk among my girls of going to the beach tomorrow. The beach?!? This is October, we should be haunting the Punkin' Patch, looking for carvable and chunkable gourds.

Oh well. This too will pass. The temps will fall and the humidity will lift. Maybe this day-long sinus-ache will leave me as well.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Here's (Hopefully) Good (State) News

Delaware.Net President John McKown has a post up on his Building Better Web Sites blog announcing that his company has won a contract to re-do the web site of the Delaware State News.

It's about time. I'm not a huge fan of the News Journal's site (too busy, too blinky, and with too flashy-move-y thingies, though it is getting better). But the Journal's site is head and shoulders above the current State News site. At least the News Journal posts its stories by day and by section and provides archives and some sense of order.

The current State News "News" section for Central Delaware, for example, includes a headline and teaser that suggests that Milford has a CompPlan meeting "tonight."
City looks at comp plan
MILFORD — City planners will meet in special session at 7 tonight to begin revising Milford’s comprehensive plan.
It's only when you click through that you realize that that headline has been up there since September 12. That meeting is already over.

That's just one of several gripes. But what's important to note is that the State News is not a terrible newspaper. They have some decent reporters and do a respectable job covering Downstate Delaware.

I'm hoping that Mr. McKown and his team can bring some on-line order to the News.