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Sunday, March 21

Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

One of the most controversial topics has been the move to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy regarding the military service of gays and bisexual persons. Adoption of the DADT followed a long history of banning gays from the military. For a good part of the 20th century gays were discharged as “undesirables” once their orientation became known. However if they had committed homosexual acts while in service the discharge usually became “dishonorable.”

Then we had the brutal murder of the gay U.S. Navy petty officer Allen R. Schindler, Jr. Schindler had often reported anti-gay harassment to his chain of command citing comments from shipmates such as "There's a faggot on this ship and he should die". While en route to Japan, Schindler made a personal prank announcement "2-Q-T-2-B-S-T-R-8” (too cute to be straight) on secured lines and was put on restrictive leave. Once in Nagasaki, Terry M. Helvey, a member of the ship's weather department, stomped Schindler to death in a toilet, crushing his head, breaking his ribs and cutting off his penis. The brutality of the murder prompted President Clinton to adopt “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” under which a gay person may serve as long as he does not reveal his sexual orientation. What happens however if others find out? You were still discharged. The bottom line was that gays were undesirable in the US military. Since 1994, 13,500 service members have been fired under the DADT policy.

Fast-forward to 2009, in the midst of the war on terror. Stephen Benjamin wrote a column in the NYT reporting on the lack of qualified translators (from Arabic to English) in the Armed Forces. He stated that cables went untranslated on Sept. 10, 2001, a crucial date in our history. And in 2007, the American Embassy in Baghdad had nearly 1,000 personnel, but only a handful of fluent Arabic speakers. In March of that year, Benjamin, who had graduated in the top 10% of the Defense Language Institute, was let go after his sexual orientation was revealed. He was not the first. In 2006, a decorated sergeant and Arabic language specialist was also dismissed from the U.S. Army under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Although the number of those competent gay translators who were fired is not fully disclosed, one thing remains indisputable. The military is spending millions in training new translators, hoping that they will all turn out to be heterosexual.

Recently the DADT policy has come under attack. The arguments from both sides are interesting. Those supporting the DADT policy say that the situation is not that black or white. They point to certain elements of significant risk. When you are called to defend your country while living and rooming in close quarters with others, overall effectiveness depends on mutual trust and uncomplicated camaraderie that should not be disturbed. Moreover, allowing gays in the military, -the pro DADT side asserts- may encourage enlistment of gays that hope to find partners easier, something that might provoke even higher levels of homophobia among heterosexuals. Furthermore, when people are sent into combat, we make sure that men and women do not fight next to each other in order to avoid complicating emotional situations. When we allow gays to serve, we endanger the overall effectiveness, if indeed there is a sexual/emotional bond between the soldiers.

Those who support the repeal of DADT counter-assert that many emergency occupations require their members to live in close proximity (emergency services, oil rig workers) and gays are not barred from those. They also add that opposition to gays in the military is based on the problems caused by homophobia, which is perpetuated by the ban. Once gays are allowed to serve and demonstrate their effectiveness, the homophobia will diminish. Finally, they claim, emotional bonds (both heterosexual and homosexual) may strengthen moral and not weaken it.

Both sides continue to exchange heated arguments as we speak. Needless to say no argument from either side can be upheld or dismissed by scientific research on the matter. The Congress is called to make a decision to repeal DADT or maintain it. The verdict is still out.

How would you advise them on the matter?

Sunday, March 14

Price-tag partnerships

Last summer an ad in the personal section of Craiglist was posted by a young Neworker, “spectacularly beautiful” according to her own assessment, who was looking for a husband in the half a million yearly salary range. She confessed that she was through with potential husbands making a quarter of million as they could not help her move to Central Park West. An investor banker answered that he thought about the offer but decided to pass it since her beauty would be fading with time, unlike his wealth, making her a "depreciating asset" as he succinctly put it.

If you think that the lady on the Craiglist is an exception, I am afraid you are wrong. A survey by Prince & Associates revealed that two-thirds of women and half of the men were "very" or "extremely" willing to marry for money. On average men and women said they would marry for $1.5 million. The going rate was $1.1 million for women in their 30s, and $2.2 million for women in their 40s, while men set the bar lower. Men in their 20s wanted $1 million and men in their 40s $1.4 million. Furthermore, among the women in their 20s who said they would marry for money, 71% also added that they expected to get divorced. Among men in their 40s, the rate was 27%.

Do you think we are moving towards price-tag partnerships? What aspects in the other person might convince you to proceed with a long-term commitment?

Sunday, March 7

Internet-based exams

Schooling and exams have come a long way. When I was a high school student in Greece, memorization was the key to success. It did not matter if you did not understand it. As long as you could recite, you could pass with flying colors. I suffered my first serious cultural shock when I came to the US for my university studies and the grade was not just based on the old classical closed book exams but also on research papers. Room to breathe I had thought. And as I found out, lots to learn as well when you are involved in your own research.

Fast-forward in the 21st century and we have new learning assessment debates. My Balkan country of origin is still hooked on memorization. In the US high schools teachers have started open book exams and internet based exams if the course matter is appropriate. Last spring, Danish high school students were allowed for the first time to use internet during finals (watch this short video). According the Danish officials, if the internet is such a great part of daily life, it should be incorporated in the classroom and in examinations. Sanne Yde Schmidt, project director at Greve, said: “If we're going to be a modern school and teach them things that are relevant for them in modern life, we have to teach them how to use the internet.” The Minister for education Bertel Haarder, added: “Our exams have to reflect daily life in the classroom and daily life in the classroom has to reflect life in society. The internet is indispensible, including in the exam situation. I’m sure that is would be a matter of very few years when most European countries will be on the same line.”

How about cheating? Emailing the questions to other students is not possible because messaging and emailing have been disabled. Other forms of cheating are not considered serious threats as the students are under the pressure of time and they are also trusted to demonstrate integrity and dignity.

Some teachers do not appear willing to shift away from the old closed-book exam. This is the only way that tests studying they say. Some have shifted to open-notes exams, believing that students who are forced to write, also learn. Allowing internet use, other add, tests your ability to analyze and synthesize information. And they emphasize that testing should be a learning experience as well.

Think back into your high school experience and your college days. What types of assessments (exams, research papers, blogging, presentations, debates) enabled you to retain the knowledge the longest and assist you in developing critical thinking? Which combination of assessments would you suggest if you were a professor? Please take the poll on the right so we can have an aggregate picture!