Sunday, September 28, 2008

Division by zero

I just ran across a very interesting explanation of a mathematical concept that I had, up until now, just taken for granted: division by zero.  Math teachers always explain it by saying "you can't do it, so don't."  Although that is quite practical, it doesn't fulfil the human need for explanation and knowledge.  I won't go in to it, I'll let you look at the website, but essentially, we can't divide things by zero because, if we did, it would create contradictions within our number system and said system would fall apart under the crushing weight of all these contradictions ("all integers are equal").
This is cool because it is fundamental to our number system and such a simple thing has such huge implications.  So go ahead, make yourself feel important and part of something bigger and go type in x/0 into a calculator (where x= anything).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Standing Up for Judas

So I said I'd write this, and here I am, writing it.  This is my post about the financial "difficulties" the country is going through right now (oh, and if it seems a to you, it's because I'm dead tired, but thought it rather important to write this).  Anyhoo....the post!

I am not an economist.  I have never studied economics.  I have about as much grasp of this subject as Stephen Colbert, and, it seems, most other people in the world.  (Well, now my appeal to ethos is shot to hell..., let's try logos...)  That said, I believe that the government bailout of banks is wrong for the following reasons:

1. These banks are for-profit entities, not owned by the government, and with an obligation to their shareholders only.  We should not bail out private companies with public funds, unless we are actually going to take over that company and make all of its profits government income which can be turned into useful things such as roads and healthcare, which everyone can use, rather than cars and laptops, which benefit individuals.

2. It's these companies' own bloody faults that they lent to people the knew couldn't make their payments if the housing market took even a slight down turn.  Let them deal with the consequences of their actions.  I know it sounds juvenile, but I am a legal juvenile so suck it up.  It also makes the most sense, if you ask me.  You break something, you deal with it.

3. (Not technically a reason for not bailing out banks, just a gripe I have with the whole thing) Executives of these companies should not get bonuses for being fired for sending the country into an economic nose dive.

4. It has been proposed that there will be no oversight on this matter.  Every single government agency that has ever done anything like this has had oversight.  It is crazy and counter to the ideals of the Constitution not to have oversight.

5. (Lastly, and most importantly) We are bailing out the wrong people!  The people who will suffer from this are not the CEOs of AIG and Lehman Brothers, they are the tax-paying citizens of the United States who took on a mortgage that they couldn't handle, and now find themselves over the flames because these banks that lent to them didn't tell them "Uhhh, sir, we're going to make less money off you, but we'd like to inform you that you actually can't afford this loan.  Perhaps I can suggest another, more suitable one?"

Oh, and this also gives us a nice push in the direction labeled "fascism".  As if we didn't need it.

"173 despots would surely be as oppressive as one." - Thomas Jefferson

Monday, September 22, 2008

This Box of Bailout-O's Comes with a Prize!

Congress is now considering a so-called "bailout package" proposed by Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson, George Bush, and the Executive Branch.  This package would bail out floundering banks and companies (correct me if I'm wrong, here) and would give the Treasury control over the whole process.  Maybe it's just my natural fear of consolidation of power, but vesting all this power in the hands of an administrative department within the Executive just rubs me the wrong way.  It also doesn't help that Section 8 of this proposed plan reads:

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

Now that's just downright scary.  No oversight?  What are they thinking?  If there is no oversight, then Congress could pass as much regulatory legislation as it wanted, and Paulson and Bush would always be able to trump them.  This is just another battle in the ongoing war that has been waged for the last 8 years - the war between the Executive and Legislative Branches.  This is a blatant attempt to corrode the system of checks and balances that this nation is based on.

I'll write more about this tomorrow on a day where I don't have tons of homework and fencing, because right now I need some sleep.  Here's a fun picture I came across to tide you over until then (I'm sure you'll be waiting with baited breath).

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


So, I developed my photos that I took with my custom Pringles-can lens extender (now sporting an awesome black interior and exterior - completely lightproof!), and I think they turned out pretty well, considering it all cost me less than 10 bucks. And now, for your viewing pleasure, my photos, developed using "nice and toxic" chemicals and then scanned into JPEGs at low compression. Feel free to make suggestions or (creatively) criticize. If I didn't want people to see them, I wouldn't put them on theh Intertubes.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A quick aside

Just quickly, I read the headline "Gates's Iraq visit marked by bombings." This, to me, is in very stark contrast to the news we've been hearing lately out of Iraq, which amounts basically to "We're winning! Go USA!" This reminds me of a discussion we had in US History the other day, when my teacher, Mrs. Daby, told us about the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War. I wasn't around then, so I can only go on what I've learned, but what I've learned is that before the Tet Offensive, Americans were being fed the same kind of self-deluding BS that is coming out of Iraq right now. After the Tet Offensive, though, all that changed. Americans woke up to the fact that they had been lied to - the USA wasn't winning this war, the Vietnamese didn't want us there, and we were going to be there for 100 years if we didn't pull out.


Thomas Paine returns from the dead, film at 11

This year I am taking US History, and it really is amazing to me just how many parallels there are between the 18th century and the 20th and 21st centuries. The adage 'those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it' seems to be the overarching theme this year in history.

What specifically caught my eye today was this passage in my book, The American Pageant:

Because political power no longer rested with the central, all-powerful king, individuals in a republic needed to sacrifice their personal self-interest to the public good. The collective goals of 'the people' mattered more than the private rights and interests of individuals.

This passage is from a section that talks about the main ideas of Thomas Paine's Common Sense, a pamphlet published in 1776. Strangely, or perhaps not-so-strangely, Common Sense seems to apply almost as well, if not better, to the political situation today than it did to the political situation in 1776, 200-some-odd years ago.

In Common Sense, Paine was advocating for a new idea called 'republicanism.' This idea was very radical, because before this time, the political system in America could easily be described as 'do whatever Parliament and the King tell you what to do.' Britain was approaching a constitutional monarchy at this time, but they really hadn't got over the idea of an all-powerful monarch telling everyone what to do.

Common Sense, if we put it in a more modern context, seems to be saying 'provide for everyone, because the government gets it power from the people, so you better take care of those people...people.' Irregular plurals aside, this seems to me to be advocating that most feared of political ideologies, the black sheep of democratic systems: socialism.

Oh, crap guys! Call the Civil Defense corps! Socialism's afoot!

Now, I must confess, in the interest of full disclosure and fairness (hahahaha, hohohohoho, full disclosure, fairness, blogosphere, ahahahaha....), I am a socialist (not a communist; that's a completely different animal). Yes, that's right, I believe that the government has a duty to take care of all of its people, not just those who happen to strike it rich. But that's another story.

The story here is that, 200 years before the Cold War, Thomas Paine was arguing that the United States should have, as at least a part of its underlying ideology, socialism. Doesn't that just blow your mind? That the good of the people as a whole outweighs the good of the self or the good of the individual is an idea that has been immortalized in stories since the beginning of history. Self-sacrifice and all that rot. In Common Sense this ideal took shape in the unifying idea of an American 'republic.' In more modern times, this ideal was fundamental to the political system called socialism.

What I'm trying to get at here is that from the beginning of this country, the government has been designed to serve 'the people.' In the singular sense. The government was not designed to serve individuals, it was designed for a singular and revolutionary new body - the American People. Lately, however, whether through innocent misinterpretation or malign meddling, this concept has become warped to mean that the country now serves the 'people' (plural, now).

This may seem quite nitpicky and not at all relevant to any kind of modern, constructive political discussion, but Supreme Court cases have been decided on as little as the placement of a comma (another bad idea which I'll write on later). I think that, whether we consciously acknowledge it or not, the mindset in this country has definitely changed in the past 230 years from brotherhood and society to greed and exclusivity. And that's just not common sense.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

"Look, Mommy! I Can See the Higgs Boson From Here!"

Today I decided to build a Pringles-can extender tube for my Canon AV-1 SLR. I dremeled holes in a rear lens cap and a Canon body cap and glued the body cap to an already cleaned and dremeled Pringles can. I then wrapped a lens with dark cloth and stuffed it backwards into the Pringles can and attached the whole thing to my camera. The result can be seen below.

Why, you ask? Well, reversing the lens and using an extension tube allows me to take pictures of some pretty amazing stuff. Really, really (really) tiny stuff (probably not the Higgs Boson, but one can only hope). It's called macro photography, or technically, photomacrography, but let's stick with the former. I'll post some pictures that I take with it when I develop them (I know, it's retro to actually develop photos, but I just love the smell of chemicals...).

Oh, and by the way, happy last-day-of-the-world! G'night!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Election Game

Maybe it's a bit sick and cruel of me, but I really like the Wikipedia article on dating game shows. I am amused by the ease with which television and the willful self-humiliation entailed in appearing on such a show as the Dating Game or the Newlywed Game destroys "sacred" relationships between "soulmates." Perhaps there's some science behind this schadenfreude, and obviously, it's marketable. I think that at least part of the formula of these shows (one in particular, actually) could be adapted for use in elections.

Now for a nice anecdote: Last week, I was staffing the Democratic Party of New Mexico booth at the New Mexico State Fair, along with my parents and a few other members of the Jason Marks PRC campaign. We were registering voters and handing out buttons and stickers and pamphlets and things, and it was all great. Then, up comes this woman and she asks us if we have any Barack Obama signs or anything. We say "no, everyone in the entire state is out, including their headquarters." (Which is true, by the way.) The woman says that she really wants to go get something advertising Obama because she just overheard someone at the Republican Party booth say "I want to register to vote because I don't want a black man as President."

Well, at least he's got a reason, right? Anyway, this got me thinking, why should what someone looks like, or even what they sound like, or how old they are, determine if you vote for them or not? Unfortunately, that is a reality of American politics today, that is why Kennedy won the 1960 presidential debate, that is why the nomination of Sarah Palin (or even the thought of nominating Hillary Clinton) was so dramatic.

Can we design a better system? Is it possible to disassociate the person from the politics? I say we give it a shot. Tell both parties (or all of them, actually!) to come up with summarized platforms and then disseminate these platforms, through the press, through the schools, through any possible outlet, to the voting public. Then, come election day, each voter simply votes for the party, not the candidate, whose platform they most agree with.

I think this addresses several problems with the current voting process:

1. It eliminates (mostly) votes based upon physical appearance, race, gender, and other, non-policy-related criteria.

2. It has the potential to lower the amount of voter confusion on candidates' stances on issues.

3. It frees up the really charismatic people to go where we need them: dealing with other countries to patch up relations.

4. No more arguments over flip-flopping!

Conversely, it could also create a few problems:

1. Voters may not be able to rally passionately around a candidate (but doesn't passion blind judgment?)

2. It requires voters to educate themselves (I've already written about this. Basically, if voter's aren't informed in the first place, any decisions they make will be uninformed, also, and, in my eyes, invalid).

Personally, I think that having charismatic leaders is great, but a person should not be elected because they are charismatic. A party should be elected because of its stances on the issues, then charismatic officials should be appointed because they are charismatic and it's a job requirement for many positions. Voters should not base their opinions on appearance.

P.S. Maybe politicians should write anonymous blogs on their positions. They could hold Q and A sessions virtually. Ahhhhh, the possibilities unlocked with the internet....

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Civil Disobediance = Terrorism

The news out of St. Paul continues to shock and horrify me. And not only the news coming from the Xcel Energy Center. Today, DemocracyNow! reported that eight members of the group "the RNC Welcoming Committee" have been jailed on charges of conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism.

Excerpt from a transcript of the 4 September 2008 edition of DemocracyNow!:

AMY GOODMAN: According to the National Lawyers Guild, the criminal complaints filed by the Ramsey County Attorney do not allege that any of the defendants personally engaged in any act of violence or damage to property. Instead, authorities are seeking to hold the eight defendants responsible for acts committed by other individuals during the opening days of the Republican National Convention.

Most of the activists were arrested over the weekend in preemptive house raids. None of the defendants have any prior criminal history involving acts of violence. Authorities are basing their case on paid informants who infiltrated the group. The eight activists charged are Monica Bicking, Eryn Trimmer, Luce Gullen-Givens, Erik Oseland, Nathanael Secor, Robert Czernik, Garrett Fitzgerald and Max Specktor.

BRUCE NESTOR (President of the MN chapter of the National Lawyers' Guild): These charges are very significant for any political activist or anybody that cares about the right to organize politically or for freedom of speech. By equating plans or stated plans to blockade traffic and to try to disrupt the convention with acts of terrorism, the conspiracy nature of the charge, where you punish people for what they say or advocate, but not for what they do, really creates a possibility that anybody organizing a large-scale demonstration, at which civil disobedience may be a part of it or where other individuals may then engage in some type of property damage, creates the potential that all those organizers can be charged with these conspiracy charges and face significant penalties.

AMY GOODMAN: What does it mean, “in furtherance of terrorism”?

BRUCE NESTOR: In Minnesota, that was a law passed after the attacks in New York on September 11th. It kind of tracks the definition in the federal PATRIOT Act, which is any criminal act, in this case at least a felony, that’s designed to influence or coerce public opinion or to disrupt a public assembly. And so, my guess is that the charge is based upon the idea that there was an attempt to disrupt the RNC, which would be treated as a public assembly, even though they didn’t apply for a permit under St. Paul public assembly laws to do so.

This is outrageous. The St. Paul Police Department, Minneapolis Police Department, Minnesota State Police Department, and FBI, among others, are actively participating in an abridgment of the rights, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, to freedom of speech, of the press, and to peaceably assemble.

What is also very disturbing to me is the (unchallenged) use of so-called "preemptive arrests" by the various police departments operating in St. Paul. This policy allows for arrest and detainment for up to 36 hours (a judge has actually lengthened it to 48 for many of those arrested) without the accused having actually committed a crime.

In addition, many raids have been carried out by the St. Paul Police, complete with assault rifle-toting SWAT teams yelling "everyone on the floor!"

I don't understand why this egregious and blatant violation of civil rights isn't front page news in every paper in the nation and leading the top-of-the-hour newscast on every radio and television station. NPR and Pacifica Radio are the only two media outlets I have yet heard any coverage of this from (aside from a small, back page story in the Albuquerque Journal where the phrase "illegal arrests" was not used until the fifth paragraph).

One of my classmates in AP US History today pointed out that this is almost exactly like the way China deals with the press and protesters. Now that's a scary thought.

P.S. - Tonight, as I was watching John McCain's acceptance speech at the RNC, I saw two protesters run out into the crowd and on the steps of the convention center, flashing the peace symbol with both hands. John McCain stopped his (admittedly lukewarm) speech as the protestors were forceably dragged out by security officers in suits and the crowd chanted "USA! USA! USA!" I felt ashamed at that moment. Not for the protesters, no, for them I felt nothing but empathy, but for this country. How far have we fallen in 200 years that to protest is now considered unpatriotic and is drowned out by pseudo-fascist cheers of "USA! USA!"? How can a party that purports to be the party of the average person be so callous to the obvious concerns of so many? Perhaps it is because the GOP only considers "average people" to be people registered as Republicans (just like they consider everyone who makes under $5,000,000 a year to be middle-class). However, the most appaling thing, to me at least, about this whole episode was John McCain's response to the protesters: "Please don't be diverted by the crowd noise and the static." That's what John McCain believes protest is - just crowd noise and static.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Azizi in Shadows

This is a photo I shot for Photography Class. It's the first photo I've ever developed (that I'm happy with). The dog in the picture is my 2 year old basenji, Azizi (which means "precious one" in Swahili). This is probably her favorite spot in the whole house. She likes to sunbathe in front of the window all day long, and I thought the pattern of shadows from the curtains and the bars of the door made for a really interesting photo.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Free Will

Does free will, free choice, exist? This is a question that people have argued about for centuries, even millenia. It has implications everywhere in our life, but, at the same time...nowhere. You see, if free will exists, then we can continue to feel as if we rule our own lives, and very little, possibly nothing, would change. On the other hand, if free will does not exist, then nothing happens. Then we must consign ourselves to an eternity of knowing that whatever we do, it is not our choice, that it is not even our choice to wonder if it is our choice. Confusing stuff.

Religions would be hugely impacted by the discovery of either true free will or the absence of it. Most major religions are based on the simple idea that what you do determines your place in the afterlife, that you have an effect, and that the particular deity you pray to will actually give a damn be able to do anything about it. If it were discovered, or logically proven that there is no free will, well then, most of the religions in the world would be invalidated (Puritanism and the concept of predestination excepted). However, I seriously doubt that anyone belonging to a religion affected by this "discovery" would believe a word of it. They would simply continue on their current path, and perhaps prove the non-free-will camp right in doing so. Such are the quandaries and paradoxes of this concept.

In fact, it is because of these many paradoxes that I believe we will never find out. I also think that that is just as well. We as humans are mentally incapable of resolving the issue of free will, and so I believe it will never be solved. I don't think that's bad, though, I just think that it's the truth. That's not to say we can't speculate on it, though, which is what I will proceed to do.

First, though, I have to explain Einstein's special theory of relativity, in very simple terms. Basically, what Einstein postulated was that

a. The laws of physics are the same for all observers in uniform motion relative to one another, and
b. The speed of light in a vacuum is the same for all observers, regardless of their relative motion or of the motion of the source of the light.

One of the consequences of this theory is that time moves slower the faster one moves. This is kind of mind-boggling at first, so let me explain. Say two friends, Joe and Bill, synchronise their watches, which tick at the exact same rate, and then Joe jumps in a rocket and goes flying off around the universe for a year. When Joe returns, he and Bill compare their watches and, lo and behold, Joe's watch is "behind" Bill's. One might be led to conclude that therefore, Joe's time was moving slower than Bill's, but in reality, Joe was only moving slower in relation to or relative to Bill. Time was still moving "correctly" for both of them. (I encourage anyone who wants to find out more about this to check out the episode of WNYC's Radiolab called "Beyond Time.")

Now this creates a paradox. How can Joe and Bill exist in the same place, at the same time, when Joe has lost time relative to Bill? To me, this is the only true form of time travel, and it is explored in one of my favorite books (and indeed throughout the whole series), Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. To Einstein, this meant that "time is an illusion. We who know know there is no distinction between the past, the present, and the future." This sounds like Einstein was saying that everything exists at once, that all moments that have happened, are happening, or will happen exist in a common "time" and that it is just our perception of the sequence of these events that causes the illusion of time.

OK, that's interesting, but what does it mean for free will? Well, a lot, as it turns out. If all things that have happened, are happening, or will happen are preset and it's just us and our perception of them that creates "time," then that means that there is no free will. All things already exist.

Another way to look at this is in the context of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics. It's very technical and I don't really understand it all, but the gist is this: according to the many-worlds interpretation, every time that there is a possibility in a given timeline (we are in a timeline, our linear view of the set of occurrences we call "time"), that timeline branches and creates new timelines, each one containing one of the possible outcomes of that possibility. This creates an infinite number of timelines, each contained in its own universe, collectively called "the multiverse". This interpretation arises from the inherent uncertainty of quantum physics, a branch of physics in which nothing can be taken as a sure thing and everything is measured in probabilities. It is to deal with these different probabilities and possibilities that the many-worlds interpretation (and many others) exist.

Anyway, if we take Einstein's view of time in the context of the many-worlds interpretation, then perhaps all timelines and all possiblities exist somewhere in the multiverse. If we found a way to jump between these timelines, then we would truly have free will; being able to pick and chose realities. I don't think that will happen. I think that that is about as likely as travelling to the past.

Maybe we don't have free will, but we can have the illusion.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Electioneering: Teen Preggers, Double Standards, and Unlawful Arrests

First of all, let me just tell you that I burst out laughing when I heard that Bristol Palin, the 17-year-old daughter of the evangelical, pro-life beauty pageant contestant and former mayor of a town of 9,000 GOP VP-candidate Sarah Palin, is pregnant (check out the AHS Foliage post on that subject). I find this funny for many reasons, not the least of which is my mental image of soon-to-be-grandma (and lifetime NRA member) Sarah Palin marching Bristol's boyfriend down the wedding chapel aisle at shotgun point.


To me, this kind of thing is representative of the double standard endemic of the"Grand Old Party." I find it amusing that a candidate lauded for her appeal to evangelical voters should become mired in a scandal such as this so quickly. If Palin can't keep her own daughter from going and getter herself pregnant, I shudder to think of her national plans. The Republican Party is such a disgrace (thanks due in no small part to the President) that many people are saying it would actually be a good thing if John McCain cut the convention to a stripped-down ritual of acceptance speechs for, at most, himself and Palin (the governor, not the pregnant one).

However, this whole "Trooper-gate" and "Pregnant-gate" stuff is really pretty meaningless when you actually consider where Palin stands on the issues. She wasn't chosen just because she was a woman, and no matter how long you listen to the "news" that will never be true. It helps, sure, it makes the Republicans look like they're "in-touch" with America, but really, Sarah Palin is the GOP VP candidate because she's more conservative than John McCain on almost every single issue. She scares me. She scares me like Dick Cheney scares me. That's bad. If John McCain dies in office, we will have her as the president of the United States. I cannot abide the thought of an ultra-conservative evangelical with enough power under her thumb to make the rest of the world "go away." No. So no matter how much of this trivial stuff comes up, we must remember who she is underneath all the makeup and fluff; who she is on the issues. That person, the Sarah Palin of the Issues, is scary.

(I also think this brings up a question that needs answering: now that we are apparently comfortable with nominating women for the highest posts in the land, what if one of them gets pregnant and is off on maternity leave when the phone rings at 3 AM? I know it might seem a bit sexist, but I'm being realistic here. What if?)

Anyway, I also wanted to mention the plight of journalists and activists in St. Paul, MN. Apparently the police presence there is so large and heavy-handed that on this, the first day of the Republican National Convention (and not even a real day, at that), we have had at least 6 shows of force and unlawful arrests of journalists and activists, including DemocracyNow! host Amy Goodman. This is ridiculous. It is a disgrace to this country that we cannot allow peaceful dissent and fair reporting of the news and of police shows of force. The American people and the press are meant to act as a balancing system against the government, and we cannot simply lie down for them to do as they wish, when they wish.

I wonder why there were no reported "Anarchist groups" protesting or reporting at the Democratic Convention?

The full text of DemocracyNow!'s press release is below, as is the YouTube video of Amy Goodman's arrest.

Amy Goodman and Two Democracy Now! Producers Unlawfully Arrested At the RNC


September 1, 2008

Denis Moynihan 917-549-5000
Mike Burke 646-552-5107,

ST. PAUL, MN—Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman was unlawfully arrested in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota at approximately 5 p.m. local time. Police violently manhandled Goodman, yanking her arm, as they arrested her. Video of her arrest can be seen here:

Goodman was arrested while attempting to free two Democracy Now! producers who were being unlawfully detained. They are Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar. Kouddous and Salazar were arrested while they carried out their journalistic duties in covering street demonstrations at the Republican National Convention. Goodman's crime appears to have been defending her colleagues and the freedom of the press.

Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher told Democracy Now! that Kouddous and Salazar were being arrested on suspicion of rioting. They are currently being held at the Ramsey County jail in St. Paul.

Democracy Now! is calling on all journalists and concerned citizens to call the office of Mayor Chris Coleman and the Ramsey County Jail and demand the immediate release of Goodman, Kouddous and Salazar. These calls can be directed to: Chris Rider from Mayor Coleman's office at 651-266-8535 and the Ramsey County Jail at 651-266-9350 (press extension 0).

Democracy Now! stands by Goodman, Kouddous and Salazar and condemns this action by Twin Cities law enforcement as a clear violation of the freedom of the press and the First Amendment rights of these journalists.

During the demonstration in which they were arrested law enforcement officers used pepper spray, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and excessive force. Several dozen others were also arrested during this action.

Amy Goodman is one of the most well-known and well-respected journalists in the United States. She has received journalism's top honors for her reporting and has a distinguished reputation of bravery and courage. The arrest of Goodman, Kouddous and Salazar is a transparent attempt to intimidate journalists from the nation's leading independent news outlet.

Democracy Now! is a nationally syndicated public TV and radio program that airs on over 700 radio and TV stations across the US and the globe.

Video of Amy Goodman's Arrest:

This is outrageous.

Provincialism in America

Beginning in the mid 19th century and extending to the modern day, I think there has been a trend of provincialism, that is, regionalism and divisions between different geographical areas, in the United States. It is becoming such a factor in America that one can be readily identified by their region of the country, and often fiercely identifies with that area.

Increasingly, Easterners are not knowledgeable with or unable to identify with the American West, and, if anecdotal evidence is to be believed, vice-versa. Our country is now divided into "red" and "blue," mostly along geographical lines. If you have ever been to both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the US, you will find them to be very different places. The same is true if one were to compare either coast to the interior of the country. Regional stereotypes and differences are nothing new for any country (take France, for example), but in a country the size of the United States, is it really correct, sane even, to think that Americans are so homogeneous as to be lumped into a single category?

I believe that this trend of regionalism began, as have many things American, with the railroad. I find the railroad fascinating. It was the railroad that standardized time and eventually led to synchronising time, it was the railroad that sparked, quite literally, the forest fires of the early 1900s and the subsequent policy of fire-suppression in the American West, and it was the railroad (actually, a train) that gave Einstein the idea of relativity and has shaped so much of modern physics. The railroad connected America, so one might expect that it would have the opposite effect of provincialism, that America would become more of a coherent entity. However, the railroad allowed greater and faster expansion of the US's borders. It formed the American West as we know it today.

The East and the West are certainly the most well-known and most talked about regions of the United States, but regions that are also significant include the South (let us not forget that the feeling of provincialism and independence in the South led to a war over whether or not the South could govern itself), the North/North East, Absaroka, and last but not least, the 800-pound gorilla of Alaska, nestled up with Yukon, Canada and geographically closer to Russia than it is to the contiguous 48 (it also has a "major" political party called Alaskan Independence, whose gubernatorial candidate was actually top snow dog from 1990-1994).

Certainly, then, there are many ways that this country can be divided, but does that mean that we should treat them as anything else than geographic or cultural areas that together make up one, single country, indivisible and under God? No.

Now just bear with me for a moment. I've been talking this whole post about how America is nothing but divisions, so wouldn't it make sense to divide it into separate, smaller countries with their own, admittedly regional interests at heart? Well, yes and no.

I agree that the idea of a single government that manages everything all over the country is ridiculous. That's why we have state governments. That system works well enough until you start running into the grey areas in juristiction between the different levels of government. States rights issues come into play and it all devolves into an overly complicated legal mess that you would need a crew of lawyers larger than the crew of most ships to navigate.

I believe that a much better system would be to divide the states into regions - say Alaska; the West Coast, including most of the Rocky Mountains; the Plains; the North East; and the South East. Then, make each of these regions into their own country. Then, set up an umbrella organization, much like the European Union, an American Union, if you like, to handle international affairs. One advantage to this system is that, while they are still mostly connected and joined by this American Union, the regions retain a degree of autonomy impossible to guarantee with the system of states under a single federal government. They are free to make their own decisions and decide what is best for their people, because that is what a government should be most concerned with: providing for its citizens. The American Union can present a united front, but regions are free to dissent or to disagree with the policies of the other members. Think of it as representative democracy on a continental scale.

Obviously, this model has its downsides. America would not be as strong militarily (which could be percieved as a good thing - no more policing, just defense of itself), and some Americans would feel that their country has been irrevocable destroyed. It is true that America has at its roots a very strong tradition of unity, and that the concept of an American People was originally one of the driving forces behind the formation of the country. However, I do not believe that an American People, as it was in the 1700s and 1800s, exists today. Perhaps it is time to chalk up the Great Expirement as mostly a success, and move on to something potentially greater.