January 18, 2013
Tim Miller touches Winthrop lives

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Tim Miller, internationally known solo performer, came to Winthrop for a week long residency and worked with Winthrop theatre students in the collaborative piece “Body Maps,” which Tim described as capturing that “beautifully complex link between our personal lives, our politics, and our identities.”

The residency began with Tim’s solo performance of “Glory Box,” a personal narrative of his experiences as a gay man living in America. Dr. Karen Kedrowski, Director of the John C. West Forum on Politics and Policy, said that Tim’s performance “touched on a lot of important political topics today, not just censorship and free speech, but issue like gay marriage, immigration, free association, bullying, violence, hate crime, and hate speech.”

Kedrowski collaborated with Dr. Laura Dougherty, Assistant Professor of Theatre, to bring Tim to Winthrop with the renewal of Winthrop’s “Liberty-Tree” grant, which only a handful of universities around the country received. The 1st Amendment Center of Vanderbilt University funds the Liberty-Tree grant and Winthrop’s renewal was focused on 1st amendment issues within the Arts.

Kedrowski and Dougherty wanted to bring someone to Winthrop that would embrace this idea but also appeal to multiple audiences. Kedrowski said, “we asked for something else that was kind of edgy, controversial, something that would get people upset as a way of communicating the importance of not having any censorship, having free speech, and having freedom of expression.”

There are a lot of connections between arts and politics and Kedrowski and Dougherty noted the power of Tim’s personal narrative as an effective way of communicating the depth of social issues like gay marriage.

“Body Maps” was a collaborative work with Tim and 20 theatre students was a deeply personal piece in which students based their performances on events that have significantly impacted their lives.

One of the students in the performance, Cecily Bigham said, “he had us do stream of consciousness writing, which ended up being about 90% of the pieces.”

Phillip Calabro, also in Body Maps, commented on the seating of the audience, which was on stage and on the floor allowing actors to perform around and within the audience, “[He] came to us with the idea of the audience. What was left to us was how we wanted the audience to be shaped during our performance. It was this kind of added level of freedom. We molded our piece and molded our space.”

Many of the actors commented that they felt a sense of community with Tim and with the other students during the residency.

Jonathon Long, performer in Body Maps said, “the first thing we did is open up to each other we become this tight knit group of people like within a day.”

Miller said that when working with the students to create Body Maps, “they took this opportunity to talk about stuff that we’re not suppose to talk about and to bring it forward with this huge crowd.” He said that some of his most memorable moments were of the sheer honesty and power of the performances. He said, “as the piece got more intense, they released humor into it.”

Kedrowski commented on the bravery of the students to share such personal accounts of internal strife and explained that “Body Maps was about our scars and that’s what’s mapped on our bodies but sometimes our scars are invisible scars and it’s the invisable scars on our spirit that shape us most profoundly and all the students were very willing to speak about that in a moving way about how their souls and spirits have been scarred and how they have been shaped by that.”

Miller stressed that theatre often plays an important role in politics in that artists can effectively get work done on social issues and communicate to more audiences in ways that politicians are not able to. If the audience made up the House of Representatives after witnessing the pieces from Body Maps, “you can only imagine the legislation that would have come out from that,” Miller said.

Personal narratives from Miller and from the students of Body Maps left many audience members wondering why the United States is still the only western country to not allow the equality of marriage for all citizens.

Calabro’s piece ended the performance and included imagery using the entire cast of Body Maps and created a literal tug-a-war that illustrated a young man struggling with religion and his true self.

“To see that performed with all 20 bodies and that powerful red light was just so moving. And you know he was not the only person in that room that felt the kind of feeling of being between a rock and a hard place by his faith tradition and sense of who they are. That doesn’t only affect gay people,” Miller said.

January 17, 2013
Does anyone talk about science anymore?

Reflect on a few of the following: Which is larger, an electron or an atom? Name one scientist alive today (that is not “Bill Nye the Science Guy”).

            While these questions seems elementary to (hopefully) a lot of readers, a significant portion of Americans cannot answer these questions.

This is unfortunate because science is such an essential element to the way we define life and is a crucial component of the diversity needed to acquire the knowledge that unifies us as human beings. Regretfully, there is a pattern that shows a growing disconnect in America between science and the public.

I’m writing to bridge the gap between the tensions of science and the public here at Winthrop. My inspiration comes from a book titled, “Unscientific America,” by Chris Mooney. Mooney writes about how science is being dwarfed or is disappearing from various spheres of society, like in the media, public policy, religion, and pop culture. One example of this is the false dichotomies formed by arguments between the “New Atheists” and Christian Fundamentalists.

According to Mooney the major players in this New Atheist movement are abrasive in their message, which “…believes religious faith should not be benignly tolerated but, rather, should be countered, exposed, and intellectually devastated.”

Attacks like these on Christian Fundamentalists may make them averse to participate in finding common ground with the scientific community, for giving in would be to undermine their religious culture and upbringing, their identity.

Much of the divide can be put on our national leaders as well. Politicians like to use data at their convenience and denounce it when it does not suit them. Perhaps a side effect of this is that many Americans do not know how to form an opinion on controversial issues that directly impact their lives, like climate change or flu shots. However, religious leaders and politicians shouldn’t have to do all the work. A problem identified by Mooney is that scientists can become so specialized in their fields that communication even between scientific fields can become impossible. There is too little attention being placed on advancing communication skills among scientists.

The solution posed by Mooney comes through good leadership. The problem is not that America lacks intelligent scientists or that citizens lack the basic knowledge, it is that there are too many disconnects between leaders and thinkers like religious leaders, screen writers, politicians, journalists, and scientists. Winthrop is a little bit different because I’ve noticed that we have a bit more initiative to prepare our students to communicate their findings, such as the option at Winthrop to select a “Science Communication” focus.

I interviewed Emily Amenson, senior Chemistry major at Winthrop, to find out about her student scientific research and if it is of any importance. It turns out that it is! Emily is doing research with Dr. Robin Lammi about “Amyloid Beta Dimer (ABD) structures.” The plague that is commonly referred to in news stories is where AMDs can be found. Amenson says that it was commonly believed that the plague was to blame for Alzheimer’s, but now scientists are thinking that small oligomers, like dimers, may have more to do with it.

Amenson and Dr. Lammi use a “forster,” to measure the number of structures that are “most preferred” by these ABDs. Amenson said they are not trying to find out what the structure is, but rather how many there are and whether they are changing over time.  This structure is important because the closer the peptides are, the more efficient the transfer. “For each number of structures in dimers, there will be a particular efficiency. If there is a preferred efficiency, we can identify the preferred number of structures.”

The identification of the preferred number of structures of the ABDs is obviously something that is important to Alzheimer’s researchers, since new debate has spurred lately over what role, if any, dimers play in Alzheimer’s disease. Amenson said that the research they are doing is not so much focused on Alzheimer’s disease specifically, but they are “contributing to the wealth of information” that serves as an important foundation for the research of the disease.

When I asked Emily to explain the basis of the research she coincidentally commented that it was “hard to explain without it being to complicated.” She was right; the process was definitely over my head. Emily told me that it took her two years to understand this process. “It’s definitely not something that you learn in a day,” Amenson remarked (much less through a short article, sound bite or headline).

When I asked Amenson what she thinks science’s role is in society today and how people understand it, she said that scientists try to make sense of things that do not make sense. Moreover, “It’s not a matter of people not being able to get information about science, I think it’s a matter of making it easier to understand.”

On media coverage, Amenson said, the media “focuses on what’s interesting and sensational sometimes. I don’t know that it’s a fair coverage of what science actually says, it’s just what the public wants to hear about and what’s going to cause a stir.”

Finally, I asked Emily about her perception of other Winthrop students and their view of the sciences at Winthrop. Emily commented, “I think that science majors are intimidating to most students – but that’s a rumor! Professors here will help you with anything. If you are struggling, they will show you that you can do it. I think students here are just too intimidated to try.”

            From my experience with Emily in her laboratory, I realized that she put a lot of effort into understanding the ins-and-outs of her research. And I understood the difficulty of reaching that level. However, I was encouraged that she was able to explain to me the purpose of her research, the basic concepts behind it, and why the research is relevant. If this is possible during an hour-long interview, then there must be hope for mending this disconnect between science and the public. 

January 14, 2013
This is sitting on the counter at the Rock Hill post office on Wilson st. Haha

This is sitting on the counter at the Rock Hill post office on Wilson st. Haha

November 20, 2012
Winthrop University students, in the class PLSC 362, Collegiate Model United Nations, represented the countries Cuba and the Ukraine at the Southern Regional Model United Nations XXXIIIV Conference in Atlanta, Georgia November 15-17.
At the collegiate level students are divided into different UN bodies or organizations, like the Security Council, and collaborate with students from other schools, or “delegates” as they are known at SRMUN, and create documents that eventually become resolutions similar to the work done in the real United Nations. 
Recently, the real United Nations Secretary-General, Ban-Ki Moon, has been in talks with Egypt’s leaders about the recent crisis in the Middle East to push for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. This crisis was also the major topic debated by students in this year’s Security Council at SRMUN.
The Winthrop students represented Cuba and the Ukraine in the General Assembly 3rd Plenary, the Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Peace Building Commission (UNPBC), Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO).
Winthrop delegates collaborated with other delegates from all over the Southern region to write working papers, that eventually were debated and voted on to become resolutions, about issues like climate change, food price volatility, children’s issues during crisis, the conflict between Hamas and Israel, and nuclear energy. 
Students that are interested in Model UN are invited to register on Wingspan for the entry-level Model UN class, PLSC 260, which is designed to introduce students to the United Nations and a unique style of debate. The PLSC 260 conference is held at Winthrop at the end of March each year. Students can also contact the Winthrop Model UN office for any question by emailing modelun@winthrop.edu.

Winthrop University students, in the class PLSC 362, Collegiate Model United Nations, represented the countries Cuba and the Ukraine at the Southern Regional Model United Nations XXXIIIV Conference in Atlanta, Georgia November 15-17.

At the collegiate level students are divided into different UN bodies or organizations, like the Security Council, and collaborate with students from other schools, or “delegates” as they are known at SRMUN, and create documents that eventually become resolutions similar to the work done in the real United Nations. 

Recently, the real United Nations Secretary-General, Ban-Ki Moon, has been in talks with Egypt’s leaders about the recent crisis in the Middle East to push for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. This crisis was also the major topic debated by students in this year’s Security Council at SRMUN.

The Winthrop students represented Cuba and the Ukraine in the General Assembly 3rd Plenary, the Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Peace Building Commission (UNPBC), Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO).

Winthrop delegates collaborated with other delegates from all over the Southern region to write working papers, that eventually were debated and voted on to become resolutions, about issues like climate change, food price volatility, children’s issues during crisis, the conflict between Hamas and Israel, and nuclear energy. 

Students that are interested in Model UN are invited to register on Wingspan for the entry-level Model UN class, PLSC 260, which is designed to introduce students to the United Nations and a unique style of debate. The PLSC 260 conference is held at Winthrop at the end of March each year. Students can also contact the Winthrop Model UN office for any question by emailing modelun@winthrop.edu.

November 19, 2012

November 12, 2012
My most informative news source.

October 26, 2012

Here are two graphs that I created to illustrate the representativeness of the Electoral College against the popular vote using data from the election of 1856 to 2008. 

The first graph offers a visual of how the electoral college voted over time and how the popular vote voted over time. This visual shows an obvious incongruence. Much, if not most, of this is due to the “winner-take-all” method still used by 48 states and the District of Columbia, which is a method in which the candidate receiving the majority of electors in a state, receives ALL the electors in the state. There are many pros and cons here, but that is a discussion for another time. 

As for the second graph, it was achieved by subtracting the popular vote margin percentage (number that equals the difference if subtract Obama vote from Bush vote for example) from the electoral vote margin percentage, thus displaying the difference (in line graph form) between the two entities’ voting patterns over time. 

Essentially, if there was very little to no difference between the electoral vote and the popular vote overtime, in other words, if the Electoral College was completely representative of the popular vote, then the line in the second graph would be flat, indicating no difference in marginal percentages.

If the line in  was the second graph were somewhat flat and a few bumps or hills it would still indicate some form of representativeness of the popular vote.

As shown in the second graph, however, the line contains a lot of variation as it is not flat, but zigzagging up and down, which indicates a significant difference in the margin percentages between electoral votes over time and the popular vote over time.

 Obviously, the United States does not employ direct democracy, according to the Constitution, but doesn’t the difference in voting between these two entities hold some serious implications for the health of U.S. democracy? 

October 25, 2012
HAHAH?

HAHAH?

October 25, 2012
What I knew my cat would do if I left this banana out while I went to work.

What I knew my cat would do if I left this banana out while I went to work.

October 17, 2012
I've been making these hats for months, buy them.