Franklin Pierce? Wrong hoax, Scholastic

September 14, 2007

Maybe Fillmore fans should be offended. has a section, “Fun Facts to Know about the White House and its Residents, which contains this chesnut:

Franklin Pierce ordered the first bathtub for the White House. Many people were upset. They thought taking baths was not healthy and would make you sick!

Good heavens! They’ve got all the points of the Millard Fillmore/bathtub in the White House hoax — but they’ve attributed it to the wrong president!

It’s a hoax hoax!

Constitution Day! Monday, September 17, 2007

September 14, 2007

Are you ready for it, teachers?

Howard Chandler Christy's painting of the Scene at the Signing of the Constitution

Bring back the OTA!

September 14, 2007

Imagine the United States government had an agency that was staffed with experts who were respected by scientists and policy makers of all political stripes.

Imagine this agency did studies on serious issues that would affect the nation in the future, and recommend policies that would allow our nation to take advantage of technology to promote human welfare and our economy, and that would allow our nation to resolve issues that threaten our health, domestic welfare and national security.

Imagine that, because the agency had such strong support and credibility, policy makers would enact recommendations the agency made.

Imagine!?! No, all you need to do is remember the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), an arm of Congress that provided powerful information, insight and recommendations on technology policies for about two decades, from about 1974 to 1995.

OTA assessment steps Click on thumbnail for chart of the assessment process used by the Office of Technology Assessment to advise Congress on important technology issues.

Now, think about how useful it would be to have such an agency back, to advise our nation on climate change, emergency preparedness, weapons of mass destruction in the post-Soviet era, malaria eradication policies, internet safety and security, and other key issues.

It’s time to bring back the OTA.

Mark Hoofnagle at the Denialism Blog started sounding the conch:

The fact of the matter is that our government is currently operating without any real scientific analysis of policy. Any member can introduce whatever set of facts they want, by employing some crank think tank to cherry-pick the scientific literature to suit any ideological agenda. This is truly should be a non-partisan issue. Everybody should want the government to be operating from one set of facts, ideally facts investigated by an independent body within the congress that is fiercely non-partisan, to set the bounds of legitimate debate. Everybody should want policy and policy debates to be based upon sound scientific ground. Everybody should want evidence-based government.

Go read what he said. Check in with P. Z. Myers’ view. See what John Wilkins says. Hoofnagle lists actions you can take, today, to get the ball rolling.

In the meantime, wander over to the Princeton University site where the OTA’s reports are now archived (I understand the government was going to take it offline, sort of a latter-day burning of the library at Alexandria). Noodle around and look at the report titles. Notice that, though the agency was killed dead by 1995, the agency had reports on climate change. Notice that the agency was a decade or two ahead in urging policies to encourage the internet. Look at the other issues the agency dealt with, look at the legislation that resulted — and you’ll lament with me that we don’t have the agency around today, when the issues are tougher, the technology more difficult to understand, and politics more driven by rumor than fact.

Killing the OTA was the Pearl Harbor of the present war on science. It’s time we started to fight back, to take back the scientific Pacific — our nation’s future is no less in peril now from the war on science, than it was then from hostile nations.


Misrepresenting Christians in history

September 14, 2007

Oh! The scandal and shame!

No, not really. The Disciples of Christ, generally, have a pretty good sense of humor about stuff, which may be one reason why their rather small national sect has produced three presidents: James Garfield, the only preacher and first college president to be elected, Lyndon B. Johnson, whose family ranch hosts a chapel, and Ronald Reagan, who also attended one of the sect’s colleges (Eureka College) but fell a way a bit near the end.*

The fact that Reagan and Johnson could both be Disciples is a tribute to the wide door the church has for membership.

A hardy band of Disciples still participate in a list-serv discussion of church matters, DOCDISC (a list-serv is an ancient e-mail group discussion software set, used to avoid the public nature of discussions, substituting mass e-mails for bulletin board posts; read about it in your paleontology texts, kids).

A recent post pointed to a comic book biography of Ronald Reagan at (okay, “graphic biography”) and lamented the inaccurate way the sect was portrayed (see section 1, page 12):

Panel from bio of Reagan, showing his baptism at Disciples of Christ Church

Did you spot the problems?

The original post at DOCDISC complained first about the baptism. Horrors! It shows baptism by sprinkling! Well, not even sprinkling — more like a smearing on the forehead of young Ronald. Everybody knows Disiples dip! It should show baptism by immersion.

Once the tongue-in-cheek nature of the complaint became clear, other complaints surfaced. See the table of prayer votive candles over the left shoulder of the preacher? Some Disciples congregations have a rather high service, but no one knew of any so close to Catholicism as to host such a thing. One preacher whose father had been the pastor in the church in question suggested the sanctuary was a little fancy for the way the original was. And several suggested that the stole the pastor wears in the drawing is fancier by far than those used by most Disciples preachers (many Disciples preachers avoid such clerical garb altogether).

These are serious theological issues for Christians. The Disciples and what are now known as the Churches of Christ split in the early 20th century over the issue of musical instruments in worship, the Disciples being cool with all sorts of music, the Churches of Christ opting for a capella only, as they interpret one verse in scripture. In American colonial times, Anabaptists were reviled for their advocacy of immersion baptism and adult baptism — in Europe such advocates were disembowelled, but in American colonies only a few were hanged, and a few others sentenced to death by wolves (though some with this penalty, like Roger Williams, couldn’t find the wolves once put out into the wilderness, and had to found Rhode Island instead).

Even serious issues deserve a humorous look from time to time. Laughter eases the brain, makes it open to learning and creating. There are only about a million people in the U.S. who claim to be Disciples of Christ; we could probably use a lot more Christians with a good sense of humor.

We could use a lot more presidents with a good sense of humor, too.   (The “graphic biography” from is a pretty good shtick, for Reagan’s life — anybody know how it works in the classroom?)


* I don’t think Reagan ever attended a service at National City Christian Church in Washington, D.C., the closest Disciples church to the White House. If anyone knows differently, please let me know.

%d bloggers like this: