Saturday, April 5, 2008

This has been bothering me since I came to America. People driving their cars, that weigh like I don't know how many tons, and talking on the cell phone! According to a study done by researchers of the University of Utah, drivers who talk on the phone while driving are just as impaired as drunk drivers. This shouldn't be a surprise to any of us since we all know that it is not the safest thing to do to begin with, but are we really aware about what exactly that means?
If you talk on the phone while you are driving you are not only putting yourself into a very dangerous situation, but also everybody around you. Most people think "I'm not really talking so much on the phone, I just answer text messages here and there. That's not a big deal". Well guess what? Yes it is!!! If you write or read text messages you are not paying attention to traffic and this could cause an accident within seconds. You have to take your eyes of the road in order to read or write the message. Some studies even show that the driver who just wrote/read a text message or who answered the phone is not paying attention to the traffic a hundred percent even after they are done with reading/writing/talking since their mind is still occupied with the information they just got or the conversation they had. For this reason it is just as dangerous to use the blue tooth headsets than talking on the phone while holding it in your hand. Your mind is occupied with anything else but the traffic.
For me the worst of the "talk and drive" people are the ones who make a turn and can't use their turn signal because they don't have a free hand to turn it on. One hand is holding the phone, the other is holding the steering wheel (if not a cup of coffee, sandwhich, lipstick or whatever), so there is no hand left to turn on the turn signal. And this can become a big problem if you are going 70mph on the high way and are switching lanes. Not very safe, is it? Is it really necessary to have the government put high fines on "talking on the phone while driving"?
Guess what my voice mail says! "Sorry I can't answer right now. I'm probably driving, so just leave me a message and I'll get back to you as soon as I get out of the car." That solves the problem. It is that easy! Just don't answer the phone while you are driving. And trust me, the world will accept that they couldn't get hold of you for 5 minutes.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The speech everyone is talking about

"We the people, in order to form a more perfect union"
Barack Obama starts his speech in Philadelphia with this meaningful phrase, which was written by the Founding Fathers of this country.These words describe also why Barack Obama is running for president. Because he believes in America to come to a point where this is possible. Moving on from the problems we have been dealing with for the past decades and starting to work together in order to make a better America for the next generations.
The major reason for Obamas speech on such a controversial issue as race is clearly the videos of his pastor Jeremiah Wright, which were viewed on over and over again. In these videos, the pastor uses very concerning language. We can see him blaming the happenings of 9/11 on the American Government, saying "Not God blees America. God damn America." These controversial statements have thrown a shadow on Obama's campaign since he is seen as having a strong relationship to the pastor of his church, he has been visiting for more than 20 years. In his speech, Obama tries to clear these accusations up with claiming that, although he had heard the pastor speek about controversial issues he had never agreed with him and had let the pastor know about his disagreement.
He goes on with the statement that race is an issue this country can no longer afford. "The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through -- a part of our union that we have yet to perfect." Obama explains, there is an anger towards whites from the side of members of the black community, but the same thing exists on the side of whites who are dealing with an anger towards blacks.
"This is were we are right now" Obama states in his speech. He describes our society to have staled on this issue and we are far away from moving on. Strongly believing in being able to change this he says "We can move beyond some of our old racial wounds", if we work together.
When Obama says "It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper." it reminds me about what was said to be one of the major strenghts of the Athens back in ancient times. To educate for the public good and make the public good the most important thing for every citizen. And I agree on what Obama says here, I think this is what America needs to move on: not worrying about how I am deprived of something that someone else got, no matter which race. If we keep on doing this, always blaming other races for our lack of something, whether it is jobs,security, social security benefits or even just an opportunity, we will never be able to change as a society.
Obama concludes his speech with saying "I would not be running for president if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Zimbabwe gets to vote again

On March 29th Zimbabwe will hold its presidential elections. For the first time in years it seems like the current president Robert Mugabe, who has been holding his position since the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980, has very strong competitors. The last time Mugabe had to face a major political challenge was in the 2002 elections the opposition party Movement to Democratic Change. With a very low voter turnout, Mugabe won with a 56% lead. The following elections in 2005 caused major concerns in the US and Europe since the elections where flawed and many voter had been turned away and didn't get to vote because their names weren't on the electoral vote anymore. Instead there were almost 5.8 million "ghost voters" (people who had died already but still remained on the electoral roll), which caused confusion and accusations of western countries and the UN of a flawed and unfair election. Mugabe denied this.

Now in the upcoming elections, it seems like the citizens of Zimbabwe have finally had it (after a 100,500% inflation under the current administration) and the opposition is leading strong in the pre-election polls. Now they just have to get the chance to vote.

The article Economist: Only new Leadership can revive Zimbabwe's collapsed economy suggests that under a next term of Mugabe, Zimbabwe is only going to deteriorate more and more. If also says that it is essential that Zimbabwe gets treated as a disaster zone that needs foreign help. Although the US and Europe reacted to the last elections in 2005 and another one in 1990, Zimbabwe's flawed elections never got the same attention like Kenya's election got it this year, for example. Although many people, mainly white farmers, have been killed in Zimbabwe it seem like it hasn't been enough to get the worlds attention. Zimbabwe and Mugabe's administration stays isolated.

Zimbabwe has suffered long enough under Mugabe and Zimbabweans deserve a fair election and withit somebody who can clean up the mess after 28 years of Mugabe.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Wicked Rhetoric

To my surprise, I made it to the symposium today where Stuart Blythe was going to speak as a guest speaker. The last days have been very very stressful for me (House shopping is no fun!) and I was looking forward to listen to this speech and just have some time for myself, without mortgage broker, cellphone and tons of paperwork.

Stuart Blythe is an Associate Professor of the Department of English and Linguistics at Indiana University and he has been working on a research project for about the last 5 years. His research has to do with "Wicked Problems". Now, I didn't know what wicked problems are so I'm just figuring that you don't know either. I'll try to explain the way I understood it. Wicked problems are complex problems that involve many variables and to understand these problems we need an easy explanation. The attempt to solve the problems raises very often new problems and with all those variables it's hard to know where to begin. That's why they are so wicked!
Wicked rhetoric occurs when somebody attempts to solve wicked problems. And this is where Stuart Blythe's research project comes in.
In this little town Harbour City (this is not the real name but he couldn't tell us the name for confidentiality reasons), somewhere in the US there is a polluted canal. Here comes the part where my mind must have drifted away a little bit (which is fine if you are about to sign the contract to buy your first place an hour later!) because I don't really remember anymore how it got polluted. I'm assuming it had to do with some factory which dumped their waste into the canal. This obviously causes problems. So they decided to create a landfill where the waste could be dumped, instead of dumping it into the water. The site that they had in their mind when they started planning this, was going to be close to a middle school, an elementary school and a public park. Not exactly where waste should be dumped. The citizens of Harbour city were not happy at all about this. Even when the government of the city came up with scientific studies about how much or little it would effect them, they didn't trust the science since it was researched by the government. And they wanted the waste site there. The citizens mistrusted the government.
In cases like these, a third party gets involved to conduct research without getting any kind of advantages out of it. With other words, they won't cherry pick which studies they will release and which not. The third party here is the Technical Outreach Services of Communities, or short TOSC.
They decided to ask Blythe and his friend Jeffrey Grabill to join them and act as a mediator between the citizens and the TOSC. The two spend 3 years of interviewing the citizens of Harbour city. They also attended public meetings to see what citizens think about the issues and how they are trying to make sense of these very complicated technical problems.
Blythe and Grabill slowly established trust between the citizens and TOSC. Their job was it basically to analyze the audience (the citizens) so that TOSC knew how to write their proposals.
The research project hasn't been published yet, it will be a little later this year. The problem of Harbour City is still not fixed, but they are on their way to come to an agreement between the citizens and the agencies.
Blythe used rhetoric as an attempt to solve a wicked problem. Therefore it is "Wicked Rhetoric".

I really enjoyed this speech and I am happy that my English teacher told us about it.

Sorry for the bad picture, but my new camera is driving my crazy! Stupid thing. Anyways, if you weren't there I hope my blog gave you an idea what it was about.

Friday, February 29, 2008

"Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit"

What happened during the summer of 2006 was not expected from anybody. Whenever Germany's soccer national team had played in previous World Cups, the German fans were always very shy about showing their patriotism. Too long had the pride for Germany been associated with the Nazis and showing the flag or singing the national anthem was seen as admitting that one was a Nazi. Even the national team would not sing the anthem on the field while it was playing. Knowing the lyrics was seen as so shameful that nobody would even think about it singing the anthem in public.

The beginning of 2006, my husband took me to a movie theatre on the army post he was stationed at in Germany. I hadn't been around too many Americans and knew little about their culture at that point. Before the movie started playing, the American national anthem was played (they do that on military bases) and everybody got up and hold their right hand to their hearts and sang with pride their anthem. I was like paralyzed and couldn't really understand what was going on. I was raised in post WWII Germany with no sense at all for patriotism and even the thought of somebody saying they were proud of being German made me sick to my stomach. Somebody singing so proud the anthem and even standing up, where everybody could see you, was unthinkable to me. My husband could not understand my reaction, neither could I understand his patriotism.

When the summer of 2006 came and with it the Wold Cup, which was hosted in Germany, everything changed. There was such an exictement about our country hosting such a big event. We wanted to represent our country in the best way. There was also some kind of movement in the younger generations, where out of nowhere it became fashionable to wear the colors of the German flag. Everything and everybody was is red, black and gold for months and the exitement grew the longer the national team stayed in the World Cup. Suddenly you could hear people singing the anthem on the streets, with big German flags in their hands. Something that had been unthinkable just a few years ago. I would have been to scared too get arrested (which has literally happened before, people getting arrested for singing the anthem). Their was a relief in the air that everybody could sense. We could finally show our colors again and sing the lyrics of our anthem on the top of our lungs.

I remember when the German national team made it to the semi- finals and Germany was almost bursting of patriotism. We were watching the game on a big screen on a market place in the middle of my town. There must have been at least 10.000 people. And before the game started everybody was cheering when our team entered the stadium and ligned up on the field. When the anthem started playing, and not only the national team but the 10.000 voices around me started singing the German national anthem, I had tears in my eyes.
The video shows the national soccer team singing the anthem with thousands of proud Germans in the audience.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

How the Golden Ratio is rhetorical

Now how can the golden ratio be rhetorical? First of all, it is literally EVERYWHERE. From the Mona Lisa to the Great Pyramid of Giza. We can even find it in music! The french composer Debussy used the golden ratio (which is roughly 1.618) to compose accords for his music.
But the most fascinating thing about the golden ratio is, that we can also find it in nature. The seeds of a sunflower are arranged based on the golden ratio. The nautilus shell looks almost exactly like the golden spirale, which again is based on the golden ratio. The golden ratio even appears in the proportions of the human body. Try it out yourself! Meassure the length of your leg and divide it by the length of your arm. You will see, it commes very very close to 1.618 !
So the golden ratio is one of the best number mankind has found so far to describe nature. Many artists used the golden ratio for the proportions of the face they were painting, to make it as close to reality as possible. Many things that we find aesthetic or beautiful relate to the golden ratio!
By making it possible for us to describe reality (the nature) with the golden ratio, it also creats knowledge. We can understand how things are constructed, why they appear beautiful to us.
Math can be more interesting than you would think, and I will show in my research paper that it is also rhetorical.

Friday, February 15, 2008


Driving home from work today, I was listening to "All Things Considered" on NPR. One of their topics in today's edition was the question whether America is in a recession or not. Recently I have heard and read a lot about America's economy crashing, due to the housing market and the mortage crisis, gasoline prices shyrocketing over the $100 per barrel mark and cost of food rising and rising.
Most of the people who were asked by NPR if they belive America is in a recession, answered yes or that they weren't sure how to answer this question because they are not sure how exaclty a recession is defined. It turns out that a recession is very hard to define and that most of the time a recession is declared after it is already over. For example, in 2001 we had the last recession. It took 7 months until economists from Harvard declared it as a recession. By this time the economy was already doing much better.
But are we really in a recession? Or is all the talk about it causing the recession? Could it be that the fear of a recession is stoping us from buying ends up driving us really into a recession? With the housing market still being a mess, the first loss in jobs in years and gasoline prices continuing to rise it is evident that if we're not in a recession already we are going into one without short cuts.
We will have to see if the lower interst rates and the stimulus plan can save our economy- and how fast...