Archive for the 'The Occasional Post on National Politics' category

The Power of One Vote - Ratifying the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

What day do you celebrate the 90th anniversary of the 19th amendment in the U.S.?  One day, I think, is hardly enough. Ratification of the 19th amendment was a long and arduous process that was accomplished through dogged organizing of the suffragists, who became the League of Women Voters.  On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, making it part of the U.S. constitution.  On August 26, 1920, the Secretary of State signed the proclamation enacting the amendment.  (This is why August 26 is known as Women's Equality Day.  Wear white that day to honor the suffragists!)  Women could now vote in every state in the union.  (As Boing Boing hilariously noted, the 90th anniversary of ratifying the 19th amendment in Mississippi will be in 2074.  Mississippians may or may not choose to wear white on the 26th, as they see fit.)

A National Archives page tells the story of the ratification vote in Tennessee - a decision that almost went the other way, a decision that hinged on one vote, one vote swayed by a mother's plea.

Tennessee's Senate had already approved it, but after several votes in the House, the issue was deadlocked, 48 to 48. As the debate continued, [Representative] Burn opened a letter from his mother.

“Don't forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification,” mother Burn wrote. Harry had been counted among the opponents, but when the next vote was taken, Harry voted in favor of the amendment, and ratification was approved.

To help me keep perspective, I often like to remind myself that women have had the right to vote in the U.S. just a few years longer than my mother has been alive. The battle to win the right to vote began long before she was born, however.  Continue Reading »

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Seed's "Rightful Place" Project

Perhaps you have noticed our newly redesigned front page, and on that page, a link to the Rightful Place Project. In his inaugural address, President Obama promised to restore science to its "rightful place". Seed Media Group is starting a dialog in response, asking the question "What is science's rightful place?", through Seed Magazine and ScienceBlogs. Our benevolent overlordz have asked us to offer our thoughts in response to this question.
You'll see at the Rightful Place page that you can submit your own thoughts on this question, and there is a link to the Rightful Place blog to read what other people have said. I am particularly fond of Isis's contribution.
In thinking about my own answer, I decided to ask a few non-scientist acquaintances what they thought about the question.

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Watching the Inauguration

I'm watching the inauguration on tv...all the bigwigs are walking in...and here comes Malia and Sasha. Could those girls possibly be any cuter?
Every time they show a shot of the sea of humanity on the Mall I am just overwhelmed.
I've never had a sense of living through anything so momentous before.*
Yay for us! The Bush years are over!
*except the election, of course. Well, and 9/11. But that was a very different sense of momentous.
UPDATE: Feinstein just gave her speech and tears are rolling down my cheeks. That line about the dream begun at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial finally reaching the walls of the White House...(I'm paraphrasing from memory, but it was very powerful.)
UPDATE: I really wish now I had gone to downtown Philly to watch the inauguration with the crowd on Constitution Mall or at the Kimmel Center. I really would like to be with a big ol' mess of my fellow citizens.
The musical piece by John Williams was beautiful.
Is it just me, or did it seem like Chief Justice Roberts really didn't enjoy his swearing in duty? I won't go so far as to say he tried on purpose to make Obama trip up on the words...okay, probably he just messed up. It happens.
Forgot to mention that I absolutely loved Aretha's rendition of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" (which is already up on YouTube, if you can believe it.) When she started singing it really hit me that this inauguration was not like any other before it. Her interpretation of that song was so poignant and ebullient at the same time. I don't know quite how to describe this, but hearing her sing that made me hear, if you will, how much the voices of African Americans have been missing from the central public discourse all my life, and anticipate how wonderful it might be to have a much broader and more inclusive conversation going on over the next four years.
Over the past few days and today, listening to various people who were involved in the civil rights struggles talk about what this day means to them - it just feels like a privilege to have them share their thoughts and feelings with us all in this way. My heart is very full.
UPDATE: Soooooooo totally not sad to see GW fly away. Take off, already, helicopter!
UPDATE: The parsing of the inaugural speech has begun. Did you catch the Daily Show last night, with Aasif Mandvi reporting on expectations for the speech? It will make the Gettysburg address seem like a collection of simian grunts; it will make the "I have a dream" speech sound like the "I have a really bad speech" speech, etc. "Tomorrow's speech, with it's sweeping themes and majestic rhetoric, will make sweet, sweet love to the English language, and in so doing, will humiliate Homer, and expose Shakespeare as an untalented hack." It was a hilarious segment, and right on target about the wildly overhyped expectations for what Obama could possibly do with his inaugural speech. By the way, Aasif Mandvi is totally hot. Just sayin'.

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The Cookies Don't Lie

Nov 03 2008 Published by under The Occasional Post on National Politics

Who needs sophisticated tracking polls when you've got...cookies!
A local bakery not far from where I live makes presidential candidate cookies for every presidential election. This year they added vice-presidential cookies. You can buy an Obama, McCain, Biden, or Palin cookie - and help predict the winner of the election in the process!

Since the 1984 election, Weinrich's in Willow Grove has been icing its round red, white and blue cookies with the names and, this year, the faces of the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates.
And in every election but one, the sale of cookies has predicted the presidency...
...Barack Obama is walloping McCain at Weinrich's - on Thursday his lead was 58 to 42 percent, or 4,772 cookies to 3,462.

But even if you've snagged yourself one of those tasty cookies, you still need to go out and vote tomorrow! Happy Election Day, everyone!

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James Brown and 1968

I'm watching "The Night James Brown Saved Boston" on VH1. It is an excellent program.
I was 5 years old on April 4, 1968, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assasinated. I don't have personal memories of what he did for America, but I grew up revering him. JFK, RFK, and MLK were equal in sainthood in my house growing up. I think I gained most of this sensibility from my mother.
One of the commenters on this program - I think it was the Rev. Al Sharpton but I'm not sure - remarked that James Brown was not a crossover artist to white America, but the artist who brought white America over to African American culture. It's just stunning to watch how he defused the potential erruption of violence in the city. He didn't need the police to protect him. He took control of the situation in the concert hall - and the city - that night. It is/was a breathtaking documentary. Should be required viewing in all our schools. If you can watch this and not be moved to battle racial injustice, you have no nerve endings left in your body.
I have a friend who recently told me that she was concerned that African Americans would vote for Obama "merely" because of his race. That he would not be able to fulfill all their dreams, and rioting would be the result. IMHO, if we didn't have a "second Watts" in response to GWB, we needn't worry about one in consequence to Barack Obama becoming president.
Say it loud. Be black and be proud.
And if you can't be black, be anti-racist.

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SD '08 - The Candidates Have Been Invited!

Here's the word, from Sheril at The Intersection - and the word is exciting!

For months everyone has been asking us, when will there be an invitation sent to candidates...a date... a venue...
Well it's finally happened! It's official. Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, and Barack Obama have been invited to ScienceDebate2008.
The location? Philadelphia's Franklin Institute, named after one of our nation's greatest scientists (and greatest patriots). The date? April 18, days before the Pennsylvania Primary.
We're so close to seeing this through and now more than ever, we need you're help! This is our biggest news yet and the first tangible Call to Action for the blogger coalition beyond the announcement. The time has come to mobilize your readers.
We are asking that you not only announce the invitation, but also to engage readers to take action. How people can get involved is listed within our post here:
1. Contact the campaigns, and tell them to attend ScienceDebate2008! A list of contact information for the campaigns can be found here. (see right margin)
2. Write letters to the editor of your local newspapers, raising further awareness about this initiative. Some handy letter writing tips can be found here.
3. Tell a friend about ScienceDebate2008 (handy link here). We need to spread the word as much as possible at this critical time. We're at 13,000 supporters right now; we want to get to 15,000 supporters by the end of the week and 20,000 supporters by the end of the month. We need your help to make that happen.
This is our collective call and if there was ever a time that we need your help, it's now. We need to make a ton of noise about this. We need to make the campaigns say they'll come to Philly debate.
Together we can make this happen!
Thank you,
S & C
For other links:
Press release
Official candidate invite text
Franklin Institute
Campaign Contact Info

Philly and the Franklin Institute - awesome choice of venue.
(Not that I'm biased about Philly or anything...) Geez, it would be great to be able to attend...but I doubt I'll be on the ticket list.
Make noise! Share the info! Contact the campaigns!
Who do you think will be first to accept the invite????

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We Need A Presidential Debate On Science!

Dec 11 2007 Published by under The Occasional Post on National Politics

Sheril Kirshenbaum and Chris Mooney, over at the Intersection, have organized a call for a presidential debate on science and technology issues.

Given the many urgent scientific and technological challenges facing America and the rest of the world, the increasing need for accurate scientific information in political decision making, and the vital role scientific innovation plays in spurring economic growth and competitiveness, we, the undersigned, call for a public debate in which the U.S. presidential candidates share their views on the issues of The Environment, Medicine and Health, and Science and Technology Policy.

They've got a bunch of Big Names signed on to the effort, which is wonderful. Lots of bloggers are supporting the call as well, including a huge portion of my Sciblings. sciencedebate2008.jpg
Dr. Free-Ride has a post up with an excellent list of questions she'd like the candidates to answer. Here's what I'd add:

  • Given that much scientific research is supported with public monies, what do you think should be done to ensure equal access to scientific education and employment for women and minorities?
  • The GAO has issued a report calling for the heads of the NSF, NASA, and the DOE to ensure Title IX compliance among grant recipients. What role do you see for federal agencies in ensuring Title IX compliance in science and engineering education and research?

As I looked over the list of Big Names who've signed on for the call for a presidential debate on science and technology, I was a bit dismayed to see how overwhelmingly male the list was. I had to wonder: are women scientists and engineers less interested in what our politicians think about science and engineering policy? Or were fewer women scientists and engineers approached and asked to be a part of the Big Name contingent? What about Shirley Jackson and Nancy Hopkins? What about the president of WEPAN, and/or WEPAN board members? What about presidents of SWE and AWIS?
I think I'll send the WEPAN folks an email and encourage them to join in. Women's voices need to be heard. Science and engineering policy is a women's issue, too.

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Bush Administration Decides Birth Control Not a Health Care Issue

Washington Post reports on the appointment of Susan Orr:

The Bush administration again has appointed a chief of
family planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services
who has been critical of contraception.

Continue Reading »

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Constitution Day Is Coming Up!

Sep 06 2007 Published by under The Occasional Post on National Politics

It's almost September 17th, and you know what that means - Constitution Day! Do you have your festivities all planned out yet? No? Don't you remember there's a federal law mandating that all schools which receive federal funds have got to put on a program about the constitution for their students on September 17 every year? And federal employees in the executive branch have to receive some training on the constitution on Constitution Day? I suppose Dick Cheney would naturally be exempt, not being part of the executive branch of government and all.
Which brings me to this handy article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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The Permafrost Is Releasing Methane Now?

I read this article in the LA Times about Russians racing to claim the seabed under the Arctic ice as their territory, other nations fussing that it's really theirs, and everybody ignoring that the only way they can even have this argument is because the damn ice is melting away. Only it's even worse than I realized. Because it isn't just the ice melting away.

Now the permafrost is thawing on land and along the seabeds. If it occurs in the presence of oxygen on land, the decomposing of organic matter leads to the production of CO2. If the permafrost thaws along lake shelves, in the absence of oxygen, the decomposing matter releases methane. Methane is the most potent of the greenhouse gases, with a greenhouse effect 23 times that of CO2.
Katey Walter of the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks wrote in the journal Nature last year, and in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in May, that the melting of the permafrost and subsequent release of methane is a "ticking time bomb."
Walter and her researchers warned of a tipping point sometime within this century, when the release of methane could create an uncontrollable feedback effect, dramatically warming the atmosphere, which would in turn warm the land, lakes and seabed, further melting the permafrost and releasing more methane. Once that threshold is reached, there will be nothing humans can do. Scientists suspect that similar events have occurred in the ancient past, between glacial periods...A global tragedy of monumental proportions is unfolding at the top of the world, and the human race is all but oblivious to what's happening.

Well, I'm not oblivious anymore, but I am whimpering and wanting to curl up in the fetal position under my blanket. I know I'm supposed to react to news about climate change and global warming with a positive, can-do attitude and go out there and reduce my carbon footprint and lobby for better energy policy and long for the day when Dubya is just a bad memory and we can get down to some serious work on saving the earth, but every freaking day I read some horrifying thing like this on the internet or in my local paper, and frankly, I'm feeling a little bit hopeless.
Cheerful thoughts, anyone?

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