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Five Ideas: Presidential debate not only about winning

Saturday, October 18, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:13 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The debating dichotomy

The final presidential debate between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama was held Thursday night, and the clear winner was ...

Actually, that depends on who you ask. From the political pundits and independent reporters on television to the well-read partisans on Internet blogs, interested voters could find just about any opinion they wanted on who won the debate. Although there are always some exceptions, those opinions were generally given strictly along party lines.

Along with the "experts," Americans today get the added bonus of being able to see immediate reactions in the form of polls from nearly every television network and many Internet sites. Shortly after the 90-minute-long debate ends, selected viewers are asked to pick a winner. Presumably, the definition of "winner" is left completely to the discretion of the voters.

The political talking heads certainly spend plenty of time discussing specifics of the debate, but some of their strongest talking points always seem to be the general question of who won and the public's view of who won, without delving deeply into how they won. The obsession with polls and winning or losing is a strong part of American culture, and often it seems to dominate over the specific issues of the campaign.

Should the media change its approach to how it analyzes presidential debates?

Good news at the pump

In spite of increasing troubles with the economy, the price of unleaded gasoline is staging a steady decline.

As of Thursday, AAA said the average price of gas in Missouri was $2.72, down almost an entire dollar from a month ago, but still 16 cents higher than it was at this time last year. The national average has plummeted to $3.08, compared to $3.85 last month.

The Energy Department reported a record decrease of more than 33 cents in the week that ended Monday, Oct.13. Just three months ago, the highest ever recorded average price in Missouri was $3.94, which came on July 16.

Most energy analysts agree that the drop is being caused by several factors influencing a general increase in supply and decrease in demand. For the rest of the year, prices aren't expected to rise and indeed may continue falling.

Now that Americans have been forced to economize more with their gas, perhaps they'll keep some of those environmentally-friendly habits they've developed even if they're no longer financially necessary. If the economy does recover, it should be interesting to see if the energy crisis can keep its new position near the front of the country's consciousness.

Is America ready to finally take serious steps and even a leading role in solving the global energy crisis?

Nuclear scientists converge on Columbia

Missouri's research reactor is getting set to become a huge player on a global stage.

More than 20 nations sent representatives to the nation's largest campus research reactor in Columbia to discuss an increase in production of molybdenum-99, a radioactive substance used to treat serious diseases. The reactor's director, Ralph Butler, said it's possible the department could serve half the U.S. market for the incredibly important isotope.

A global shortage of the isotope caused by a month-long shutdown of an important Canadian facility last year and the recent shutdown of a facility in The Netherlands necessitated the call to action. Now the Missouri reactor needs the necessary Food and Drug Administration approval and a corporate partner to help with large production costs.

If these things can be taken care of, the team of nuclear scientists at Missouri could start garnering global attention in the medical community. With nuclear medicine on the rise and the need for nuclear engineers increasing as baby boomers reach retirement, the nuclear department in Columbia could become one of the most profitable in the UM system for students and professors alike.

How important is it for people and corporations to support the nuclear program at the University of Missouri?

The fight for KCOU

KCOU, Missouri's student-run radio station, took a hard hit from the Missouri Students Association on Wednesday night.

The MSA Senate rejected a bill that would have given KCOU funds for a new tower and transmitter needed to keep the station alive. The bill would have had KCOU pay back more than half of the $30,000 cost of the transmitter, but MSA decided to look for a better solution.

There are some questions about the value of KCOU for students, but there's certainly been a decent showing of support from MU students. Savekcou.org was a website started to try to save the station, and a Facebook fan page has gotten the support of more than 1,100 users.

KCOU was founded in 1963 and is the only station where students can be in control of their own hands-on experience and voice their opinions. If the money isn't found in time for a new transmitter to be installed before construction begins on Hudson Hall in January, the station would likely lose its FCC license for good.

Is the benefit of KCOU worth the cost for students and other listeners?

Applying new math

The Columbia School Board is doing its part to address nationwide math deficiencies.

The board voted Wednesday night to approve new math documents dictating additional influence on procedural fluency and more specific goals for what students are expected to learn from year to year. Board members also mentioned the idea that parents should be encouraged to teach their children at home, similar to a comment made by Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama in Wednesday's debate.

The return to a more traditional approach went against the wishes of some parents who were hoping for a more modern math curriculum that might have more real world implications. MU psychology professor Ines Segert, the lone dissenter on the Board, said mathematicians and engineers, which America is severely lacking in compared to the rest of the world, prefer a more authentic approach.

Criticism from parents concerning the reformed curriculum in place for the past few years necessitated the change, and only time will tell if it's a good one for the schools or if another makeover is required. Unfortunately, the children only get one chance.

What approach for teaching math should the Columbia school board use to best serve its students?


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