when the status quo frustrates.

The Texas School Board Is At It Again

Friday, March 19th, 2010

All I can say is, thank God my kids aren’t being educated by the Texas public school system. Much like Sarah Palin, they lend themselves to easy mockery–but unfortunately they can’t be discounted; they did win at least part of their battle to cheat the children of Texas out of a thoroughly factual science education (State education board approves science standards: New standards remove specific references to age of the universe) Like kids today need to know how old the universe is anyway! Tchaa!

Now that science has been gutted as well as they could manage, the Texas school board is turning its gimlet eye upon our history books, with fairly predictable results. Here are a few of my favorites from the Proposed Revisions to 19 TAC Chapter 113,Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies, Subchapter C, High School Curriculum, with the Board’s deletions shown crossed out and additions in bold –hope you enjoy them as much as I did:

(4)
History. The student understands the emergence of the United States as a world power between 1898 and 1920. The student is expected to:

(A)
explain why significant events, policies, and individuals, including such as the Spanish-American War, U.S. imperialism expansionism, Henry Cabot Lodge, Alfred Thayer Mahan, and Theodore Roosevelt, Samuel Dole, and missionaries moved the United States into the position of a world power;

(8)
History. The student understands the impact of significant national and international decisions and conflicts in the Cold War on the United States. The student is expected to:

(6)(D)(A)
describe U.S. responses to Soviet expansion aggression after World War II, including the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the Berlin airlift, and John F. Kennedy’s role in the Cuban Missile Crisis;

‘Cause when we do it, it’s quite different from when those nasty Commies do it!

(B)
describe how McCarthyism, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the arms race, and the space race increased Cold War tensions and how the later release of the Venona Papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government ;

(Notes from the Board meeting: Back when McLeroy was chairman of the SBOE, he sent a list of hand-scrawled editing instructions to the board-appointed curriculum writing committee, made up mostly of educators (the exception was McLeroy’s appointee, contrarian conservative gadfly Bill Ames). It included a note on this standard…it read: “Read the latest on McCarthy — he was basically vindicated.” …McLeroy said he got his ideas from a book by M. Staton Evans, a conservative writer, entitled Blacklisted by History. A Publisher’s Weekly review says Evans is “given to conspiracy thinking—an approach that, by its nature, yields claims that can neither be confirmed nor falsified. Defense attorneys and debaters like Evans follow different rules than historians—they try to score points, not to advance knowledge.” TFN quotes what it calls the leading scholar on the subject, Harvey Khler, a professor at Emory University and author of Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America. “The new information from Russian and American archives does not vindicate McCarthy. He remains a demagogue, whose wild charges actually made the fight against Communist subversion more difficult.”)

Sixty years from now, Texas will also be teaching its children that the Patriot Act is the only reason why we’re not all now facing Mecca with turbans on our heads five times a day at gunpoint. Civil liberties are so overrated. Can’t wait!

(C)
identify the causes of World War I and reasons for U.S. entry involvement in World War I, including propaganda (information disseminated by an organization or government to promote a policy, idea, or cause) and unrestricted submarine warfare;

Can’t have the kiddies learning about the government engaging in propaganda to garner popular support for engaging in a war on foreign soil! They might apply that knowledge somewhere outside their history class, you know.

(E)
evaluate the explain the roles played by significant military contributions of leaders during World War II, including Omar Bradley, Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, Oveta Culp Hobby, Benjamin O. Davis, Chester A. Nimitz, George Marshall, and George Patton; and

Women and black people are overrated too!

(D)
identify the roles of significant leaders who supported or opposed of the civil rights movement, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, Betty Friedan, George Wallace, and others;

Well, I guess it wasn’t possible for them to delete the black people from the Civil Rights history bloc, but hey, at least they managed to get rid of the women!

(10)
History. The student understands the impact of political, economic, and social factors in the U.S. role in the world from the 1970s through 1990. The student is expected to:

(A)
describe Richard M. Nixon’s role leadership in the normalization of relations with China and the policy of détente;
(B)
describe Ronald Reagan’s leadership in domestic and international policies ,

Because kids in high school won’t understand otherwise that the President is a “leader” and think instead that the Presidents’ “roles” are what they ate for breakfast..? I’m actually kinda surprised they didn’t go ahead and amend the above to say HEROIC leadership! or possibly Chuck Norris wears Nixon-and-Reagan pajamas to bed every night! (which now that I think about Chuck Norris’s political views, he probably does)

(C)
discuss the role analyze the impact of third party parties candidates such as Ross Perot and Ralph Nader on presidential elections ;

And for a contrast to the pedestal being raised for previous presidentially-related folks, we now see who deserves to have his name cast down forever into oblivion BLEHHH! ..third parties are clearly inspired by Satan anyway.

B)
identify analyze the causes of the Great Depression, including the impact of tariffs on the decline in worldwide trade, buying stock on margin, the stock market crash speculation, and bank failures, and actions the flawed monetary policy of the Federal Reserve System;

Whatever causes the US economy to collapse have a few issues, be it farther back in the past OR IN RECENT TIMES DAMMIT, it so isn’t the fault of Free Enterprise!

And last but not least:

(B)
describe the impact of significant examples of cultural movements in art, music, and literature such as Tin Pan Alley, the Harlem Renaissance, the Beat Generation, rock and roll, the Chicano Mural Movement, and hip hop , and country and western music on American society , including;

(Notes from the Board meeting: “I’d like to delete hip-hop and add country,” said McLeroy. Some board members, particularly African-American member Lawrence Allen, D-Fresno, did not take kindly to the suggestion. “What exactly do you think hip-hop is? You might be deleting something you know nothing about,” Allen told McLeroy. An extended debate ensued, and McLeroy lost.)

We’re Those Stupid Kids

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

Hubby and I are BROKE. Very broke. We’re trying to pawn stuff to make rent broke.

How’d we get into this deplorable situation? By being a pair of those stupid kids that got sucked into debt.

Hubby and I have, about, 200,000 dollars worth of debt. About 6,000 dollars of that debt is credit card debt, the rest is student loans. See, back in the day, Hubby turned 18 and went of to school to be a pilot. The very first day, they offered him a free t-shirt and some other things just to fill-out his information. Hubby went “what the hell. They can’t possibly approve me, I have no credit”. A little while later, a credit card with a 7,000 dollar limit came in the mail for him, and a 22% interest rate. Hubby went “Holy fuck. Well, it’d be nice to have an emergency stack of money on hand; I’ll just keep it at home, just in case. And, I heard having a credit card helps build your credit score.”

A few years later, he’s trying to finish a spring course, in an attempt to keep up with his aviation classes. Finishing classes is hard- taking aviation classes literally depends on the weather. It’s harder when you’re also trying to work one or two jobs so that you don’t have to take out extra loans for living expenses. And, if you don’t finish the flight course in a certain amount of time, you have to retake it (which is more time and money). So, he signs up for a few summer classes, and applies for summer loans…which are late. He goes to the horrible green trolls* at the loan department at our alma marter and asks what he can do. The only person who has the authority to give him an extension on his tuition is out for the summer. He asks what he can do. They say “I’m sure you’re loans will be in in plenty of time, after all, you used a reliable bank”. Another week or so passes; loans are still not in (this was actually a refrain for most of my friends and I for college; no matter how early we applied, they were still ALWAYS late. By my last year, I just had the forms for tuition extension filled out at the beginning of the year- it was just another thing to do). In the meantime, he needs money to continue flying and so, he makes the decision to use the emergency credit card to pay for the flight fees, with the idea that he’d pay the credit card off the second he gets his loans.

The last day to pay tuition lapses, and he still doesn’t have his loans in, so they drop him from his classes. He goes to the HGTs to see what he can do. A HGT goes and finds his loan approval sheet, and there are the loans. Hubby goes “Great, can you sign me up for classes again and give me the loans?” HGT goes “You can’t get loans unless you’re registered for classes.” Hubby goes, “Well, put me back in the class and I’ll be registered for it”. HGT says “I can’t register you for classes until you pay your tuition”. After going over this Catch-22 exchange a few times, up three different levels of authority, Hubby leaves in a fit of frustrated passion.

5 years later, we’re still trying to pay down that credit card. Hubby has never missed a payment, but Hubby has also never been able to pay off more than the minimum amount, either. We were doing okay (if still accruing debt), until I left school and we moved down. Now, I have loans to pay off too, and 2 months of unemployment combined with a job that doesn’t pay nearly enough to make ends meet means things are getting tight. Some days, I almost wonder if going to college wasn’t a shell game- if I would have just been better off not going at all. But, too little, too late. Some days it gets bad- Hubby will go off in rages because he doesn’t know how to fix this. Occasionally, I break down and cry a little; over the money that we don’t have and need, and over my lack of ability to help anyone else because I can barely help myself and my tiny family. Most of the time the analogies of debt is a mountain that you slowly chip away at, but to me it always seemed like a looming black hole that I’m throwing money into- maybe the bottom of the hole is actually getting closer, but it’s still so deep that I can’t see the bottom to check. It doesn’t help my depression, that’s for sure; more than once I’ve looked into the law to see what would happen to my debt if I were dead.** Compounded by this is we were both raised in the “don’t every go into debt” style of money management; which may have been possible for our parents (though, since both sets have had mortgages and car payments, I rather doubt), but were not anywhere possible for us.

I’m very glad the credit card bill was passed, even over the objections of people who think we should spend the rest of our life in debt, and that usury is just the free market. People occasionally wonder why I take politics so personally, and the answer is because it is personal. When you tell me that 28% is a reasonable amount of money to charge, and that’s it’s tyranny to have the government control it, you’re telling me that because we made a mistake, we deserve to be in debt forever. That’s personal. When you tell me that women just aren’t as good as men, in all the myriad of ways that people say that, that’s personal. When you say that good health and life is a reward for the rich and not a right of a person living in a modern society, that’s personal. This isn’t some amorphous group of “other” out there, this is me, my friend, my family, my life. And I can’t think of anything else that is more personal than that.

We’ve made our mistakes early, hopefully we can live to see a debt-less existence. (Assuming, of course, that neither of us has a catastrophic health care problem). And we’ve got some things to our advantage- we’re young, we’re educated, we’ve middle class markers (accents, social norms, dress, et cetera), we’re white, and we’re considered “able-bodied”. Right now, we both have jobs (thought that can always change). We’ve got a leg up on a lot of people.

But it’s still hard to not feel a little desperate, from time to time.

*may be a slight exaggeration. They were more moss than true green.
**Based on what I can tell, nothing. The loans are my own; no one co-signed with me. Hubby and I have kept all of our finances legally separate; we don’t even have each other’s names on our bank accounts. They’d go after my “estate” but I don’t have an estate. They can have my 5 dollars in the bank, and my two coming paychecks. Again, this really isn’t great on the “It’s better to stay alive” ledger of the “kill yourself/ don’t kill yourself” scale.

Stop Bad-Mouthing Liberal Arts (Part 1: English)

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

It is not uncommon for me to run across people who are of the belief that liberal art degrees of various types are worthless, or that they are not very difficult. A common punching bag tends to be sneers about “English majors”. This confuses me on one level, because these are the very same people that can’t grasp the distinction between “well” and “good”, and that only people who are grammar authoritarians care about such things but think that if someone remembers the Pythagorean Theorem*, they must be very smart. Yet, if you are the average American English-speaker, you will use the words “well” and “good” hundreds of thousands of times more than you will use the Pythagorean Theorem (if you ever use it outside of a math class at all. In my experience, I have used the PT exactly twice outside of school; both times for moving furniture**).

Now, to be perfectly clear, people should learn the math and that includes a formula that is very basic to geometry. For some people, learning this formula may be the spark that ends up a burning passion for mathematics. If one was looking for simple, self-containing, universal elegance one would be hard-pressed to find anything as perfect as mathematics. Under these conditions, a squared plus b squared will ALWAYS be c squared. What other discipline could boast something without exception? Even physics will require some exceptions; the laws of physics are based in ideal states that don’t happen in the “real” world. But mathematics is it’s own self-contained universe; it is perfect.

Yet, language is the equal to mathematics in beauty and importance, and in some cases, I feel it surpasses math in its necessity. Without understanding mathematics, you are flat-out not going to understand engineering, and the ability for a person (or a group of people) to produce to a skyscraper is functionally impossible. But, without language, how are you going to coordinate with everyone to make the sky-scraper at all?

Language is a symbol that we have created because we cannot peer into someone else’s mind and hear, see, and know what they are thinking. And since language is a symbol, it only functions if we all agree what that symbol means. “Well” is an adverb (with the exception of when it is used to describe health); it modifies a verb or an adjective. “Good” is an adjective; it modifies a noun (with the exception of when it is a noun). Without these distinctions, language becomes more ambiguous. If you say “Bryce is doing good”, a literal reading of this draws the question “A good what?”. If you say “Bryce is doing well” you know that “well” is modifying “doing”. Even “Bryce is well” means “Bryce is healthy”.

“So what?” asks Hypothetical, Doesn’t-care-about-English-person. “EVERYONE understands that ‘Bryce is doing good’ means the same as ‘Bryce is doing well’. You are making a distinction without merit.”

Not so, my hypothetical, hopefully-not-a-strawman friend. The distinctions between different kinds of words build up. It is true that the distinction between “well” and “good” will probably be a half-a-second misunderstanding. But what about other words? Hubby is fond of using the phrase “I’ll borrow it to you”. What he means is “I’ll lend it to you”. Again, someone may say this is without distinction. Okay, fine. Now think of a contract where we are lending money. Think about how much easier it is to have the words “borrower” and “lender”. Think about how confusing it is if you had “borrower” and “borrowee” would be***.

Then, think about when words start to be sacrificed for propaganda. Think about terms that used to be fairly benign, or even had pleasant connotations, which have now been have been co-opted by specific groups, so they no longer have the same meaning. How many people seem to think that “facist” or “communist” means “Generic phrase for someone who has different political opinions from me, so I think are bad”? How many people have heard (or been guilty of) using the words “racist” or “sexist” used as “generic word meaning bad”. This is because we don’t consider it important to be rigorous with our language.

Additionally, when we start sacrificing precision in language, we start sacrificing our ability to communicate complicated thoughts. George Orwells 1984 spoke to this; why have the word “bad” when you can just have “ungood”? Why have “great” when you can just have “plusgood”?

And I am firmly convinced that sloppiness with “meaningless” distinctions makes it easier to abuse the definition of more important words. In martial arts, you don’t let someone with a sloppy stance get a pass because they land punches. In basketball, if you toss by taking swinging your hands like a pendulum you don’t get to evade criticism because, hey, the ball still gets to the person your passing it to. So, why would ignoring the foundations of language be acceptable?

Language is a dynamic, fluid thing. I don’t expect (or endorse) laws to be passed mandating English to remain static, and indeed, that would lead to greater misunderstandings. But, language cannot just be noise. It has to mean something, and it has to be something we can all agree on. Communication is hard enough with out further handicapping ourselves. An English major is not a simpleton, or a loafer, but a person who wants to be a rigorous guardian of our communication medium. This should be a position of respect, not a position to be denigrated.

*For those of you wishing to avoid the 30 seconds of googling, but can’t grope back to your last relevant math class, the Pythagorean Theorem states: in a right triangle, where the hypotenuse is c and a and b consist of the remaining sides a^2 + b^2 = c^2. (Side not: the hypotenuse is the side opposite of the right angle.)

**If you ever want to know how much space you’ll need if you want to put a couch in the corner of the room, PT is your friend.

***I should know; I’ve had to read contracts where they put those words in instead of “lender” and “borrower”.

Before feminism, men hardly ever hit women, and on the rare occasions that they did, everybody was outraged by it and blamed the man.

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Piggybacking off violet’s post.

It took a few readings, but I finally figured out that the above statement is the thesis of Kathryn Jean Lopez’s article “What Feminism Wrought.” I’m not sure if it took me so long to figure that out because of the incoherent, disjointed way the author was trying to get that central idea across or because that central idea is so impossible to seriously assign to any reasonably well-educated, literate person. However, I finally Got It.

On the off-chance that the above masterpiece of journalistic commentary is the very first article read by an alien that crash-landed on Earth five minutes earlier and is desperately trying to assimilate enough of our history and culture to “pass” as an Earthling while he scavenges parts to repair his flying saucer, I am providing the following:

(Actual, real historical and cultural information about the frequency of men hitting women in pre-feminist western European culture and how men hitting women was actually regarded by those contemporaries.)

Enjoy.

(more…)

The Poor, Abused 9th Amendment

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

I have run across arguments online that say things like the “right to privacy” and “the right to marriage” don’t exist anywhere in the Constitution. When people say this, I’m very curious if reading a short list of 10 things is too taxing for most people, so they stop at the 2nd Amendment or if they’re reading comprehension is so poor that words that have more than two syllables start to go over their heads. Possibly, it might be that since they can’t see the word “privacy” in there, it must not exist. It is possibly some combination of the two. In any occasion, I would like to take this time to go over some basics of Constitutional law, focusing particularily on the 9th Amendment, and talking about the history of some of the rights we “don’t” have because they’re not explicitly stated.

Way back in the day, we had two (major) different schools of thought about the Constitution. There were the Federalists, whom included Alexander Hamiliton, James Madison, and John Jay, and the Anti-Federalists lead by Patrick Henry. There where any number of difficulties between these two groups, but I’m going to focus on the Bill of Rights.

The Anti-federalists wanted a written Bill of Rights, and the Federalists did not. The Anti-federalists felt that without a Bill of Rights, the government would inevitably steal authority for themselves that violated human rights. Henry, in “Need for a Bill of Rights” said quite forcefully:

You ought to be watchful, jealous of your liberty; for, instead of securing your rights, you may lose them forever… I beg gentlemen to consider that a wrong step made now will plunge us into misery, and our republic will be lost, and tyranny must and will arise…

The necessity of a Bill of Rights appears to me to be greater in this government than ever it was in any government before… All rights not expressly and unequivocally reserved to the people are impliedly and incidentally relinquished to rulers, as necessarily inseparable from the delegated powers…

This is the question. If you intend to reserve your unalienable rights, you must have the most express stipulation; for, if implication be allowed, you are ousted of those rights. If the people do not think it necessary to reserve them, they will be supposed to be given up.

The Federalists, on the other hand, thought a Bill of Rights was at best redundant and at worst something to be feared. A Bill of Rights would be redundant in the sense that the Constitution already limited the power of the federal government. It would be dangerous in the sense that, if written down, the government would think that those were the only rights in which a person/ state had, and that a specific prohibition would be taken as an invitation to push their powers. Alexander Hamilton stated in the Federalist Papers No. 84:

I …. affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and in the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why for instance, should it be said, that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power.

But, the Anti-federalists had enough political capital to force an explicit Bill of Rights. However, in order to do this, they had to address the concerns of the Federalists. Thus enters the 9th Amendment.*

The 9th Amendment states: The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people**

In very plain language, this amendment states that just because the Bill of Rights doesn’t explicitly say you have any particular rights, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. For that, you have to go to the common law.

To back-track just a little bit, I need to tell you that there are two different kinds of law in the US: statute, and common law. Statute law is the laws that legislative bodies pass; the text of any particular statute. Common law is the law that results from judicial delibration; ie what the courts have determined what certain laws mean. For example, if the state of North Dakota was to ban red-headed people from driving on Sundays, the statute law would be the text that says “red-headed people may not drive on Sundays”. The court would then hear a series of cases, and from those cases we would get an idea of what the words “red-headed” “driving” and “Sunday” meant for the law. You may get a bunch of judges that decide that this is the dumbest law ever, and decide to very narrowly interpret it so that “red-headed” means “only people who are 90% or more on the red spectrum” and “driving” means “in a four-wheeled vehicle, that is started, in motion” and “Sunday” means “from the hours of 7 am to 10 pm on Sunday”. If the legislator gets really irritated by this series of actions, they can pass a new law, specifically writing what these words mean, that would constrain the judges interpretation.

In the case of the 9th Amendment, the common law has already clarified a number of rights that the people have. In Lochner v. New York the right to contract was stipulated. Skinner v. Okalahoma said we had the right to reproductive rights when it banned punitive steralization. In Meyer v. Nebraska the Supreme Court established a series of rights, including the right to academic freedom, students’ right to acquire knowledge, and parents’ right to control children’s education. In that case, the majority oppinion stated:

Liberty denotes not merely freedom from bodily restraint but (individual right) to engage in any of the common occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry, establish a home and bring up children, to worship God

.***

The Supreme Court looks to a number of things to determine if an individual has certain rights. Routinely, they will look at the preceeding eight amendments and see if this “new” right fits in the spirt of the Bill of Rights. The moral norms of society are frequently referenced, as are common law cases. Finally, they make a determination if the right being argued fits the definition of “liberty”.

In the next part, I will talk about the right to privacy, and the history of how we gained that right.****

*And also the 10th Amendment, but I’m not going into that here.
**Can I just squee out for a second and say how awesome I find the US governing document? This is a really impressive document, and one of the few things that inspires a sense of patrotism in me.
***If you look real close, you might notice that the phrase “to marry” and “bring up children” are in there, among other things.
****I am NOT a lawyer. Please do not use anything I say here as binding.

Looking Forward to More Epicycles, Space Ether and Laetrile

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

Clearly I’ve been feeling a little sensitive lately on the subject of, er, “science.” Er, “science” is defined as the stuff put forth by various ideologues and media hacks that contains science-y sounding words in an attempt by them to impress whatever hair they’ve gotten up their ass at that particular moment into other people’s brains.

So when I stumbled across this article yesterday, my interest was definitely piqued–it begins thusly:

The job of science reporters is to take complicated subjects and translate them for readers who are not scientifically sophisticated. Critics say that the news media oversimplify and aren’t skeptical enough of financing by special interests.

Somebody else has noticed this problematic trend! I am thrilled. Seriously. The main difference between the article author’s take on the situation and mine is that she seems to feel that said oversimplification and credulity are more accidental than not. I think that some of it goes beyond oversimplification into outright agenda-oriented slanting and that the credulity is, at the minimum, blindly wilful. Or maybe I just don’t want to believe that so many people could really be THAT stupid…she does have some great advice for those who are screwing up science for public consumption out of well-meaning ignorance, though.

-Look for the evidence. News organizations should give weight to scientific evidence, whether it is about global warming or what the medical establishment says about Lyme disease.

Post science reporter David Brown, who is also a physician, talked about this in a recent speech at the University of Iowa. It will be published next year. “In science, there is a natural tension between evidence and opinion, and evidence always wins. What authority figures have to say about anything in science is ultimately irrelevant.

That’s just beautiful. (sniff!)

-Look for context. Are the results preliminary? Does the research conflict with or confirm earlier work? Has it been published in a reputable science journal or been presented at a science meeting?

Put more plainly: No matter how beautifully some crackpot shit dovetails with your personal preconceptions, you don’t get to jump upon it like a starving tiger shrieking to the world that you’ve found “scientific proof of–!” unless it meets the above criteria.

-Look beyond the lead paragraph and headline. Remember that antioxidants were touted to prevent all sorts of disease; research proved that not to be true. One recent Page 1 story, by veteran Post science reporter Rob Stein, attracted comment and criticism. Stein wrote that a study produced “powerful evidence” that a blood test designed to monitor inflammation could identify “seemingly healthy people who are at increased risk for a heart attack or stroke” and that a widely used statin drug offered “potent protection against the nation’s leading killers.” The story quoted the study’s author and other prominent experts as calling the findings a “breakthrough,” a “blockbuster” and “absolutely paradigm-shifting.”

The Foundation for Integrative AIDS Research (FIAR) — which has a stake in the issue because AIDS drugs can raise “bad” cholesterol levels — said stories about the study reflected “shoddy boosterism for the pharmaceutical industry rather than a careful and balanced analysis.”

and

-”Marcia Angell, a physician and former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine who is now a senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School, said journalists can write “overly dramatic” stories for “gullible” readers. “Everyone has an interest in hyping news of medical research — the researcher, the institution, reporters. Readers should be very skeptical of new findings. Newspapers are in the business of telling you the news, which needs to be startling or counterintuitive or flies in the face of what we knew. By definition these stories are less likely to be accurate.”

Don J. Melnick, professor of conservation biology at Columbia University, said that if a story “doesn’t sound newsworthy or front page-worthy, it will be buried or not printed at all. That tends to promote people hyping the research. They have to convince their editors to put it in the paper.”

In other words: “Buyer beware.”

In related news, via PZ at Pharyngula:

CNN, the Cable News Network, announced yesterday that it will cut its entire science, technology, and environment news staff, including Miles O’Brien, its chief technology and environment correspondent, as well as six executive producers. Mediabistro’s TVNewser broke the story.

“We want to integrate environmental, science and technology reporting into the general editorial structure rather than have a stand alone unit,” said CNN spokesperson Barbara Levin. “Now that the bulk of our environmental coverage is being offered through the Planet in Peril franchise, which is produced by the Anderson Cooper 360 program, there is no need for a separate unit.”

I’m a little startled by the assertion here that environmental science news is the overwhelming bulk of all science reporting out there and once you’ve got some dude covering that, you don’t really NEED anybody else to cover any other science-y topic, b’Gad!

No, I will not immediately assume that the pooled IQ of the general editorial structure is twenty points lower than that of the previous science, technology and environmental news staff, nor make any snarky remarks of any other description. I will just regard it as yet another sign of the coming apocalypse, like when I found out that Ann Coulter was going to pointlessly destroy another crop of innocent young trees by putting out yet another book.*

*The suggested titles in the linked article are awesome and now that the super-secret book title has been revealed, surprisingly on target. Or perhaps not surprisingly.

(waving hand wildly in the air) Me, me! I have one!

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

From MyRightWingDad:

Subject: Fwd: Father/Daughter talk

A young woman was about to finish her first year of college. Like so many
others her age, she considered herself to be a very liberal Democrat, and
among other liberal ideals, was very much in favor of higher taxes to
support more government programs, in other words redistribution of wealth.
She was deeply ashamed that her father was a rather staunch Republican, a
feeling she openly expressed. Based on the lectures that she had
participated in, and the occasional chat with a professor, she felt that her
father had for years harbored an evil, selfish desire to keep what he
thought should be his.

One day she was challenging her father on his opposition to higher taxes on
the rich and the need for more government programs. The self-professed
objectivity proclaimed by her professors had to be the truth and she
indicated so to her father. He responded by asking how she was doing in
school. Taken aback, she answered rather haughtily that she had a 4.0 GPA,
and let him know that it was tough to maintain, insisting that she was
taking a very difficult course load and was constantly studying, which left
her no time to go out and party like other people she knew. She didn’t even
have time for a boyfriend, and didn’t really have many college friends
because she spent all her time studying.

Her father listened and then asked, ‘How is your friend Audrey doing?’ She
replied, ‘Audrey is barely getting by. All she takes are easy classes , she
never studies, and she barely has a 2.0 GPA. She is so popular on campus;
college for her is a blast. She’s always invited to all the parties and
lots of times she doesn’t even show up for classes because she’s too hung
over.’ Her wise father asked his daughter, ‘Why don’t you go to the
Dean’s office and ask him to deduct 1.0 off your GPA and give it to your
friend who only has a 2.0. That way you will both have a 3.0 GPA and
certainly that would be a fair and equal distribution of GPA.’

The daughter, visibly shocked by her father’s suggestion, angrily fired
back, ‘That’s a crazy idea, and how would that be fair! I’ve worked really
hard for my grades! I’ve invested a lot of time, and a lot of hard work!
Audrey has done next to nothing toward her degree. She played while I worked
my tail off!

The father slowly smiled, winked and said gently, ‘Welcome to the Republican
party.’

If anyone has a better explanation of the difference between
Republican and Democrat I’m all ears.

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How I Learned that the “P” in “PZ Myers” Stands for Paul

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

I’ve been following the Frackin’ Cracker story since its first appearance on the news, even before PZ’s first post on the subject. It’s turned into quite the bloody saga of PZ-hating (not to mention creative ways to desecrate a Holy Cracker) out there, with…oh, you guessed it…our bestest buddy Billdo carrying the lead torch and pitchfork to storm Pharyngula’s walls!

(First Kyso’s “ilk” and now PZ’s…wonder how many “ilks” I can associate myself with…I’m such a wannabe “ilker,” I’m ashamed, ashamed I tell you. I need to find my own person to offend.)

But anyway, PZ mentioned yesterday that there might be some mention of him in the Washington Times today. In case anyone was wondering what it would take for me to actually go online and deliberately try to find something written in the Washington Times, this is the first time that’s ever happened.

(A small side story: when I first moved to the DC area years and years ago, I bought a subscription to the Washington Post–even in Bumfuck Kansas where I grew up, I’d heard of the Post. My husband at the time remarked sniffily that I wasn’t going to get a complete unbiased picture of the news if all I did was read that bastion of blatant liberality and I should really also get a subscription to the Times as well–as I recall, he was motivated to suggest this from something some radio talk show host dude named G. Gordon Liddy said on his program. I pointed out to him that said dude might possibly have a personal reason to slam the Post, but I went ahead and bought a subscription to the Times anyway. I even tried to take the articles contained therein seriously, peppered with typos and grammatical errors as they were, but found myself unable to really swallow anything presented in such an incredibly unprofessional way regardless of the content that I gave up after a few issues. Maybe they’ve improved their print copy since then, though?)

Struck gold, too!

Professor solicits hosts to desecrate

With a super-cute picture of PZ even.

And I also now know that his first name is Paul. :)

An anti-religion Minnesota biology professor expects to receive dozens of consecrated Communion wafers in response to his public solicitation that people send him the hosts in order that he may publicly desecrate them.

They clearly pulled the wrong picture out of the archives. This one’s way more in the spirit of the story:

Photobucket

The University of Minnesota is coming over as pretty cool and sane, though, in spite of the obvious attempts by whomever was interviewing them to get them to say something juicy. Check it out.

“They probably have taken women’s studies courses which say that women have been oppressed and discriminated against in this society.”

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

This is the Schlaf’s take on where all those disgruntled f-e-m-i-n-i-s-t-s come from.

Apparently not, though. (Imagine: the Schlaf, wrong? No way!) Right now on Feministing, with 720 votes in, Women’s Studies as Teh Culprit for the “click” moment when an individual realizes that he or she is, indeed, a feminist is accounting for only 14% of the votes.

You will of course be shocked to discover that the comfortable leader of the pack is Dealing with Sexism.

Why I support black-focused schools

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

A few people have asked for my thoughts on the TDSB’s decision in favour of black-focused schools. Sonjaa and Troubleinchina both wrote good posts on the subject, and I recommend reading those too.

I’ll preface this by saying that this is a divisive issue in Toronto, particularly within the black community and the activist community. It’s also a rare example of my opinion reversing on a controversial issue within a very short period of time. In August 2007, I thought that black-focused schools were a terrible idea. Five months later, I support the plan, albeit critically. This about-face happened because of a) my experiences at OISE, b) my experiences in an actual Toronto high school, and c) heated debates with people that I respect.
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One step closer to a corporatist dystopian future

Monday, January 28th, 2008

…where you can get a high school diploma by working in McDonald’s

Do I need to point out everything that’s wrong with this? Corporate sponsorship of public education is a vicious cycle. First, the government cuts funding to schools. Next, a corporation approaches the desperately underfunded school to bail it out—Nike will build you a new basketball court, in exchange for some brand-name recognition. How could any inner city school refuse? Then, the government is free to shirk its responsibility for funding, because hey, someone’s already paying.

I doubt there will be much of an outcry as the education of the underclass is slowly handed over to corporations eager for a docile, under-educated workforce. In my province, this has been going on for awhile—Ontario high school students must complete 40 hours of community involvement to graduate. The lofty rationale behind the policy (“to encourage students to develop awareness and understanding of civic responsibility and of the role they can play and the contributions they can make in supporting and strengthening their communities”) sounds nice until you read the rest of it; students, most of whom already have part- or full-time jobs, can complete these hours “in a variety of settings, including businesses, not-for-profit organizations, public sector institutions (including hospitals), and informal settings.” While I’ve been in community activist groups that have taken on student volunteers, most kids end up doing free labour for businesses.

Welcome to the future: Liberal educations for the rich, indentured corporate servitude for everyone else.

A difference of degrees

Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

When someone starts railing against ‘gender neutral education’ it’s time to put your hand over your wallet and back slowly out of the room. Amanda sent me this patriarchy-blaming Livescience article at about the same time I came across this charmer on the importance of edumakating girls to be girls, just like the Bible says.

Livescience covers five myths about girls and science, and concludes that social bias works against girls achieving in science to the best of their potential, starting as early as elementary school. Also, shock of shock, programs designed to encourage young girls in science actually encourage boys as well, so there are really no losers when you reach out to everyone. Doesn’t that just make you want to hold hands in a giant circle and sing “Free to Be You and Me”?

No? Well you’re not alone, because it doesn’t take a smarty-pants scientist to see what happens when you run around giving girls the same educational opportunities as boys. They get ideas. Sometimes even ideas of their own. And that ain’t no good.

Because we believe the Scriptures have thoroughly laid out the roles of men and women, we are not left wondering how we should educate our daughters. It is clear that they are to be visionary helpers in their father’s home, in preparation to one day be their husband’s helpmeet. Therefore, in the education of our daughters, we are mindful to filter everything through the lens of who she is in Christ and what He has made her for. It is a beautiful picture of Biblical womanhood and one that is vehemently attacked by the feminists.

So what is the curriculum of a young ladies destined to be their husband’s helpmeet?
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