I wrote this editorial piece on a bus from New York City to Washington, DC, during Concordia’s first communications travel course. Visiting Boston and New York on the trip brought to mind handfuls of historical events – most involving the church, the state, or some sort of conflict between the two of them. As a member of the church and the state, I wondered on paper how I should view the relationship between the two – and more specifically, how I should vote, since voting is the most direct way I can be involved in the governing of our society.

To begin, I believe most of us would agree that the separation of church and state is a good idea, given that we live in a nation that promotes the ideological freedom of its citizens. However, separation of church and state raises many questions—including “how should Christians vote?”

The question, relevant on our campus, is very important to me – a voting Christian in a democratic society. Voting involves personal opinions rooted in individual worldviews. If your individual worldview is based on and shaped around a religion, then shouldn’t your vote come straight out of your worldview?

If this is true for everyone—for Methodists, Mennonites, Muslims, and Mormons—than the views of society’s majority religious (or anti-religious) group would win if everyone within a democratic society voted. Those who are part of these religions or denominations would essentially attempt to vote their religion-based beliefs into law by way of voting. This, I think, is where the great problem of religious voting occurs. Is it right for someone to enforce their religious views on others in a society who don’t practice the same religion? Is it right for Muslim citizens, for example, to abide by a law based on Christian thought or majority? Is it right for Christian citizens to abide by a law based on Muslim thought or majority?

There is a separation here, of course, between what most would call natural rights and wrongs and rights and wrongs that are more subject to opinion. Most societies and religions would agree that lying, cheating, stealing, and killing are natural wrongs—and that “do unto others as you would have done to yourself” is a natural right. Natural rights and wrongs are essential to keeping a society functional, and preserve the well-being of citizens. Different, though, are rights and wrongs that are based on lifestyle choices. These might involve the role of women in society, economic policies, or a universal definition of marriage. Disagreements influenced by religious views are quite common here. It’s often difficult for governments without an official state religion to legislate things like the role of women or the definition of marriage since such views vary from religion to religion, lifestyle to lifestyle. The only legitimate grounds the government of a free country would have to put things like these into law would be if the well-being and/or the freedom of its citizens was being damaged or prohibited. Increasing women’s rights, for example, could be considered legitimate. Preventing women from marrying other women, however, is not so legitimate in this context.

So, to return to our original question: how should a Christian vote, with the rest of society in mind? Should their interest be to make their Christian lifestyle law, or to promote the well-being and freedom of all citizens within their society? The Bible says Christians are called to spread the Gospel—the news of Jesus—to the world, thus spreading Christianity and therefore salvation. At no time does the Bible say anything about inflicting Christian ideas on non-Christians by the force of law. It seems that voting based on Christian ideals and not collective well-being not only promotes ideological bigotry by deeming one lifestyle superior over another, but creates an unhealthy rift between Christians and non-Christians in society. A negative perception of Christians, a distraction from non-political evangelism, and a divided society result are all consequences of religious—or in this case, Christian—voting. Religious ideals backed by government legislation go against the very idea of a free nation.

I am by no means demonizing a Christian’s desire to evangelize—for the Bible calls Christians to spread the news of Christ to the world. However, I must criticize Christians who believe spreading the Gospel through stances on political matters is useful to bringing non-Christians into the faith. Voting to exclude non-Christian ideas from our society is simply not a productive means of evangelism. Voting with consideration of how a lifestyle issue will help or hurt the freedom, well-being, and harmony of a society as a whole is not only more productive for the society as a collective body, but avoids ideological bigotry altogether…thus taking religion and evangelism out of politics and placing it where it can bear more fruit: in the churches and communities of America.

Perhaps this explains why it is possible for a Christian to be against homosexual marriage and abortion based on their religious beliefs and worldview, but pro-gay marriage and pro-choice with the freedom, well-being, and harmony of their society in mind. The separation of church and state—in this case, a separation of religious ideas and voting—is healthy for society, for evangelism, and for the religions themselves.

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[sixth blog, travel course, Concordia University-Texas]

State Department Historian Mark Howe brought up something quite interesting in his session with us on Thursday. He discussed how the federal government’s archiving system will have to figure out how to archive new forms of media—specifically email and social media. I’d never considered this before.

People are known to demonize new technologies. They may be rightfully skeptical of how a new technology will take the place of what they have now—if it will improve current technology or fail, and how. Howe said, for example, that historians demonized the telegram when it replaced hand-written letters; they didn’t know if and how to archive messages sent via telegram. Howe also noted that historians later demonized radio, television, and the internet for the same reasons.

Some people in business—as well as historians and society at large—are demonizing email and social media because we haven’t developed a sound, definite, consistent methodology explaining how to communicate/document/archive information. However, the massive shift from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 is something we can no longer speculate about. It’s definite. The shift has already occurred. It’s therefore imperative for businesses of all types to embrace email and social media—after all, this type of shift in communication has happened time after time in history. From the Pony Express to telegrams, from radio to YouTube, it’s clear we’re capable of adjusting the way our businesses and agencies communicate to reflect the latest technology.

For historians, this may include a new software program or email plug-in that automatically archives valuable email threads. Email or comment threads may become valuable archived materials in 50, 30, or even 10 years. Those doing research on Barack Obama’s presidency in 2050 may be reading instant messaging records at the National Archives. We must not consider this “ridiculous” or “inefficient;” it’s a completely logical possibility. Perhaps the technology is too new for us to imagine this—especially since there’s not a traditional system for archiving text messages, chat sessions, emails, and Facebook comments.

It would be foolish for us to, at any point in our lives, become resistant to change and adjustment.

You can view some of my favorite photos from the trip on my photoblog.

[fifth blog, travel course, Concordia University-Texas]

Does the Newseum accomplish its goal to enable visitors to learn the role of media and understand the rights and responsibilities that come with the freedom of expression?

I believe the Newseum accomplishes its goal with ease. The mere subject matter of the Newseum communicated this point.

The gallery of Pulitzer Prize-winning photos reminded me how valuable images and stories from the “ground zero” of a story are to someone learning the truth of what actually happened. For example, one photo showed American soldiers guarding a Vietnamese highway as thick smoke billowed over the road. A naked Vietnamese child ran toward the camera; the photographer recalled her screaming, in Vietnamese, “it’s so hot!” Her clothes were burned off by napalm gas.

While some may deem the photo inappropriate for public media in America, it’s quite obvious that the photo was a valuable educational tool. I stood in front of it imagining myself, standing on that highway, seeing a girl who’d had her clothes burned off by napalm and thought, “God, this is what war is like.”

This is why freedom of the press is important. It (ideally) communicates truth and contributes positively to the collective intelligence of a society. We have the right to know the truth, and the responsibility to communicate it accurately, without bias. This is the message I got from the Newseum in the first ten minutes of my visit.

What Newseum exhibit takes you offguard/doesn’t seem to fit in with communication at first glance?

Actually, the giant piece of the Berlin Wall didn’t seem to fit in at first glance. I soon realized, though, that I was viewing it through a historical lens instead of thinking of how it related to communication. As soon as I began to read the Newseum’s detailed description of communication during the division of Berlin, I understood why it was in the Newseum instead of the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

Freedom of the press is, I think, a completely positive concept for a society. In fact, I have a hard time understanding how anyone could argue against it without glorifying the potential perversion of truth. The truth is what mass media—in the journalistic sector, not in entertainment—is devoted to presenting. Who wishes World News Tonight’s Charles Gibson would let the government review and edit his material before reporting it to the public?

You can view some of my favorite photos from the trip on my photoblog.

[fourth blog, travel course, Concordia University]

The Statue of Liberty was given to the United States by France in 1886. The statue was originally known as Liberty Enlightening the World; the title “Statue of Liberty” became a more common name for the massive copper statue. Lady Liberty, as the statue is sometimes called, commemorates the centennial of the United States (1876), and was a gesture of friendship between France and the US.

The meaning to immigrants, however, was different. To those entering New York Harbor en route to Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty was one of the first sights to gaze upon– their first glimpse of America. Not knowing Liberty’s intended symbolism and meaning, they were free to think whatever they pleased. We can logically suppose that immigrants let the statue become the symbol of their hope for a new life in America. To some, Lady Liberty may have meant freedom from misfortunes back home. To others, the statue may have meant a clean slate from their past, or promised success at a career they hoped to begin in the United States.

This begs the classic question of meaning: is meaning determined solely by the receiver of a message, or is meaning agreed upon by a majority or organization of people? Is the meaning of the statue limited to its original intent, or have the meanings people have given it added to the statue’s ultimate meaning? Can a person or organization control how their meaning is perceived by the public or intended audience? Surely they can do things to ensure a higher likelihood that their message will be received accurately, but ultimately, they can’t ensure their meaning will be perceived in the way they want.

Take Calvin Klein’s Times Square advertisement for example. The ad features a man and woman– sweaty, in underwear, the woman preparing to mount the man for sex. We can suppose what the message of the ad may be…a sexual appeal that intends to make people believe Calvin Klein is a sexy, attractive brand. Still, some will receive it as lame, offensive, or in my case, amusing.

So, what can one do to help to ensure their meaning will be received accurately? Being completely explicit seems to ensure accuracy. However, an explicit message may neglect a particular demographic. Ideally, an advertisement will appeal to people at multiple levels of income and intelligence. Letting the meaning belong to the receiver is in some cases advantageous to the advertiser since it doesn’t exclude anyone.

So, what for the Statue of Liberty? In the early 1900s, Lady Liberty couldn’t broadcast her meaning to boats traversing New York Harbor. It was also difficult to get a message out to mass numbers of people: knowledge spread via word of mouth (a less than reliable medium), through books (reaching only those who are willing to seek out and purchase a copy), through schooling (which in most cases wasn’t required), and through advertisements (usually limited to urban areas).

I suppose the meaning of the Statue of Liberty exists in two areas: the original intent and the meanings those who have looked upon it have given the statue. I choose to accept the statue’s original intent as its meaning, but believe each is acceptable so long as the original intent is understood and used to guide personal meaning. After all, believing anything we want about the statue with neglect to its purpose devalues the original meaning entirely and trivializes the statue.

You can view some of my favorite photos from the trip on my photoblog.


[third post, travel course, Concordia University]

What did you think upon your arrival to Harvard’s campus?
I first noticed the brick wall surrounding Harvard’s primary campus, limiting access to specific gates. I’d only seen this in photos of Oxford University in the UK. Entering the campus through a gate made me think of entering differently. I felt like a true visitor. In contrast, when I enter the University of Texas at Austin’s open campus, I maintain complete anonymity. In Harvard’s small Cambridge campus, I didn’t feel that way.

I just felt cold. The weather? 14 degrees outside, with a stiff wind that created a -4 degree wind chill. It was hard to pay attention to the history of John Harvard while my feet and face were freezing over.

Are there any physical characteristics about Harvard’s campus that encourage knowledge?
What a strange question. I suppose I’ll use relevant 21st century language to describe Harvard’s general architectural appearance and say that Harvard looks very “Hogwarts-esque.” Old, red-brick buildings surround two quads.

Yale University, Southwestern University, Grinnell College, and Anderson University all look similar to Harvard in a physical sense. I don’t know if it’s architecture that encourages knowledge. If it is, and if Harvard does a particularly good job, we imply that Harvard’s style of architecture is superior to different architectural styles in that it better promotes education and intellectualism. I don’t think anyone’s interested in making that claim.

You can view some of my favorite photos from the trip on my photoblog.


[second post, travel course, Concordia University]

Monumental places are funny. One day, two men have a conversation on a street corner that changes the future for their country. The next day, it’s still a street corner…but the place itself marks the geographical point in which history was essentially altered. Is the site special? Well, no. It’s just a street corner. But it actually is special, or significant, because of what happened there.

For example, consider Boston’s Freedom Trail. 16 nationally significant historic sites are included in the trail– roughly a 2.5-mile walk through Boston’s North End and Charlestown. The sites include Old North Church (the location from which the famous “One if by land, and two if by sea” signal is said to have been sent), Boston Common (the nation’s first public park), Old State House (Boston’s oldest public building), Copp’s Hill Burial Ground, and Bunker Hill Monument (site of first battle of the Revolutionary War).

Today, some of the sites are surrounded by modern environments. The Old State House sits across from a four-story Borders. High-rise condos, corporate chain stores, and a handful of Dunkin Donuts line the streets bordering Boston Common. My first reaction visiting these sites was not one of awe or intrigue. Instead, I had to stretch my mind to imagine what the site was like 200 years ago.

Perhaps this places a special importance on communication at monuments. How can a historical society or national park service use communication to enhance visitors’ cognitive recognition of historical events? Signage, maps, and photos come to mind immediately. I think signage may be the most effective and reasonable means of communication in this context.

I was pleased with the signage along Boston’s Freedom Trail. Each location had at least one sign explaining why it was significant in American history. While the descriptions were brief and could obviously not provide a thorough recount of the site’s history, they were able to help visitors grasp the context of the historical event without requiring them to have any previous knowledge or experience in history.

This, I think, is a great challenge: writing briefly and writing to people with widely varying levels of education in American history. Perhaps this is why most historical locations switch out their signs every few years…it’s hard to truly believe you’ve done it right.

The Old State House’s signs helped me recognize its significance by enabling me to imagine what happened there. They were brief, but thorough enough to give me a decent grasp of what happened there. Standing in front of a sign mounted to its side, I imagined 7,000 colonial Americans standing outside the meeting house, anxiously awaiting news from the meeting inside (should Boston refuse the tea sent to the colonies by King George of England?). I imagined people becoming frustrated the meeting was taking so long, and that Boston Governor Hutchinson kept refusing to engage in such a protest. I imagined them slowly moving toward the Charles River to dump tea off the boat.

I’ll continue my theme from my last post by concluding “communication is the framework that supports our economy, society, and progress.”

You can view some of my favorite photos from the trip on my photoblog.


[first post, travel course, Concordia University]

Over 4.5 million people live in the greater Boston, Massachusetts metropolitan area. The metro stretches from Providence, Rhode Island in the south to Portsmouth, New Hampshire in the north. Over a third of the metro’s residents use commute via public transit; Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) operates the fourth-busiest rapid transit system in the country.

MBTA’s subway system was the first underground transit network in the US, built in 1897. The rail system was then confined to downtown Boston; today, the rail system expands to the north, south, and west of the central city.

Ideally, a mass transit system should cater to the greatest number of city residents and keep cars off the roads. A citizen should never be beyond reasonable walking distance from a train station or bus connection. Boston seems to have achieved this. This explains why nearly 31 percent of Bostonians commute to work via public transit.

The flow of people is essential to the flow of communication– in fact, it practically is the flow of communication. Transportation is a basic need in our society; we use transportation networks to travel anywhere. Ideas, innovations, and progress move along roads, telephone networks, subways, planes, elevated rails, etc. Their efficiency is dependent upon this transportation network.

While it’s likely no one on the MTBA Red Line is thinking about this, Boston’s train system is supporting the efficiency of its economy and society. I look forward to comparing it to similar rail systems in New York, Washington, and Chicago.

You can view some of my favorite photos from the trip on my photoblog.

A test purpose– at least in academic context– is to measure a student’s knowledge on subject matter. A student passes a test by answering the test’s questions correctly. A test, therefore, expects a student to know the answer to what it’s asking.

Why, then, should a test bother with providing answers to the student? If a student is expected to know what’s covered on a test, shouldn’t a test simply ask the student to answer? Why should a test deprive the student a chance to answer a question with their own words, and instead make them decide between four of someone else’s responses? The idea seems silly.

As you can guess from my tone, I’ve historically not fared well on multiple choice tests.

A multiple choice test makes me think too much about things I shouldn’t be thinking about:

  • answers 2 and 3 to question 17 get at a similar point– which happens to be the answer to the question. but which answer should I choose?
  • option E reads “all of the above.” Did the test writer put that in there to accomodate the answer (which would make the answer obvious) or to confuse the test taker?
  • answers 1 and 2 are both true in different contexts. But I can only choose one.
  • question 20 reads “which of these is NOT an opposite of meiosis?” Why the hell is the question phrased like that?

I always finish multiple choice tests last because I get wrapped up in analyzing both the questions and answers, and their relationship with one another. If you provide answers to your own question, your answers naturally have an initimate relationship with your question. One of them is correct, and the rest are likely similar ideas you feel the person you’re asking will consider when answering the question. Each incorrect choice should cause the answerer to question and compare their options. When the real answer is clear, this process doesn’t take long. When it’s not, the process could take a long time.

And the real answer should never be too clear– if it was, tests would be easy. This brings me to my point– is a test that causes students to spend time comparing and pondering a set of answers more productive than a test that simply gets to the point of the matter: do you know the answer or not?

No, multiple choice testing is not productive. It’s only real productive quality benefits not the student, but the professor, who will spend less time grading a multiple choice test than a test filled with short answer questions. For a professor teaching more classes than he’d like, the multiple choice solution makes sense. But is it helpful to students, and will a student remember what he answered on a multiple choice test more than what he wrote in a short-answer test?

For me, I’m afraid not.

I read this evening in CS Lewis’ autobiography Surprised by Joy that Lewis spent most of his childhood in his imagination. I’ve always felt ashamed that most of my childhood was spent in the same place. Certain social consequences can become of this. It was pleasant to hear Lewis’ admission—it made me feel just a bit more relaxed about a childhood spent (mostly) by myself.

My childhood, like Lewis’, was spent in many places.

Place number one was the back patio of my Central Austin home. The back patio was not a patio. It was a gas station and pool hall. Anyone could take their tricycle in and fill it with hose water (the water spilled straight onto the concrete since the trike had no gas container, but I recall dismissing this). Next to the fill-up station was a pool table. I beat many a trike-rider at that table, though no one actually came to my station.

Place number two was my upstairs bedroom. Its carpet was the scene of many disasters—all of which destroyed small communities of wooden blocks and Matchbox cars. The communities would slowly grow from a fire hall or rural home into a medium-sized town. The community would then be blind-sided by hurricanes (a hair dryer), meteors (flying pennies), massive auto accidents (a series of irresponsible Matchbox drivers), and bombs (usually accomplished manually). These put a strain on the community’s emergency response system—a fleet of specially-bought Matchbox rescue vehicles.

Place number three was my front yard and, just across the street, a cul-de-sac called Kingwood Cove. The yard was the site of many bizarre occurrences: Green Bay’s triumph over Minnesota on a frozen tundra (me, a Brett Favre jersey, a football, and air temperatures in the 40s); glacial runoff (hose water running down a tarp-covered pop-up camper, re-shaping the tarp as the invisible glacier “melted”); the battle of the Alamo (wooden blocks, plastic pedestrians, marble cannons); a “Quaffle” tournament (me, a tennis racket, a tennis ball, playing a fictional game governed by well thought out rules, running up and down Kingwood Cove hitting a tennis ball into thin air and dodging imaginary opponents).

It is difficult to conceive I’m even remotely sociable after so many years spent inside myself. I’ve exhausted myself articulating these things, and I haven’t even mentioned the hundreds of fictional communities I’ve developed on paper—my maps. My childhood has nurtured in me a profound imagination. At this point in my life, I must strive to make sure I keep nurturing it. I would hate to lose it.

Microsoft SharePoint the world’s leading business collaboration software with over a million users. However, its Web 2.0 capabilities– that is, its integration with social media and blog/wiki tools– are scrutinized.

The quality of its 2.0 tools are most commonly critiqued. That’s not what I’m writing about today. I’d like to instead discuss the difference in how people interact with Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 interfaces; I argue that SharePoint 2007’s 1.0-esque interface may be a stumbling block to 2.0-literate users.

For starters, brief definitions of “Web 1.0” and “Web 2.0.” You should know these terms are not exactly official, but they’re widely used and accepted to describe the “old and new internetz.” The web is currently transitioning from a 1.0 to a 2.0 environment.

  • Web 1.0: When the web was used as a monologue. A business gets a site and communicates TO their customers– but the online communication is one-way, from site to reader. Commenting and other types of reader-to-site or reader-to-reader communication (social networking) didn’t exist– unless you were playing Yahoo! Games. Interfaces lacked a lot of conveniences. For example, there were very few mouse-over windows or drop-down menus, and clicking on anything usually meant the page had to reload.
  • Web 2.0: It’s all about the dialogue. Collaboration and social networking (user-generated content) drive Web 2.0. A business gets a site and communicates WITH their customers via two-way communication using multiple networks. Customers use Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, and company sites to interact and comment to the business and to other customers about problems or praises. Interfaces are widely functional, and usually include drop-down menus, click-and-drag functions, etc. Clicking on things usually doesn’t require the entire page to reload.

Now that you have a general picture of the two kinds of interfaces, I’ll elaborate on my concern with SharePoint. The software operates in a Web 1.0-esque interface. Clicking on anything within SharePoint requires a page reload. Lists of business tasks cannot be checked off with a simple click, but rather a series of reloads. Likewise, documents cannot be dragged to different folders, but also require a series of reloads. Microsoft Outlook, the email system integrated with SharePoint, still lists each email reply as a separate message (RE: Polka-Dot Umbrellas) instead of conglomerating them into a single thread.

To a person used to 2.0 interaction, using a 1.0-type SharePoint can be frustrating. The same can be said of recording a TV show with a VCR– most of us are no longer familiar with operating a VCR, and doing so can be frustrating. While SharePoint is still arguably the best in its enterprise collaboration class, I believe it has a growing disadvantage due to its interface. I’d love to hear feedback on this claim. As I’ve stated, different individuals have different levels of experience with 1.0 and 2.0 technology. Since I’m mainly literate in 2.0, I realize my concern is partially backed by personal frustration.

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