Tell ’em up front it’s a hoax – they still buy it

January 31, 2009

Orson Welles was on to something with his “War of the Worlds” broadcast.  In fact, after that first night of panic, the same script was used on other occasions, and people still got suckered in.  (Listen to the RadioLab feature on this phenomenon — it’s wonderful.)

It’s almost as if people were going around with signs on their backs that say “Lie to me, baby!”  Only, the people put the signs on their shirts and blouses themselves.

For whatever ill-thought, malicious reason, somebody invented an absolutely unbelievable hoax that President Obama asked the Pentagon to have military people swear allegiance to him, instead of the nation. Jumping in Pools posted it.

Jumping in Pools also listed it as satire, in tags.

But the hoax sucked in the gullible all over the web.

Let me repeat:  It’s a hoax.

It’s a nasty hoax.  It’s a stupid hoax.  It’s a malicious hoax.  But it’s still a hoax.

The author(s) added this at the top of the article:

NOTE: This article is, in fact, a satire piece. While you’re here, read other articles, like Obama going on the quarter, how he’s genetically superior, and how he took down Blago. And you can also check out Joe’s Babe of the Week, which comes out every Friday. And become a fan and return and tell your friends. Word up.

Still the gullible fall.

A Google search produces references to the hoax claims all across the internet — most failing to appreciate that the claim is a hoax. has it right — but who bothers to check the facts?

Americans can be sore losers, and Americans can be awfully stupid.  If you wonder why it is that good sense prevails in public affairs so seldom, it is because Americans too often fight against good sense, sometimes even when they know better.

Creationists make wild and clearly erroneous claims?  No problem!  Some hundreds of preachers will still use the falsehoods in sermons and church newsletter editorials.  Worse, some people with More Power Than They Ought To Have will decide to mess up science curricula on the issue.  Badly informed parents read the research backwards, and claim that vaccines hurt children, and thousands flock to their websites, stop vaccinating their kids, even when the kids get sick and die.  People will make bad financial decisions.

Generally we hope to educate people out of these problems, over time.

How much hope can we hold that education will work when people are hoaxed by things that are clearly labeled as “not fact?”

Another Wall of Shame, bloggers and others who got suckered by the Obama-taking-over-the-military hoax; some of the suckers are:

Doesn’t this make you question anything you read on the blogs on this list?

Wall of Honor:  Blogs that yelled “HOAX!”:

Suicide attempt with DDT

January 31, 2009

DDT advocates argue that DDT is harmless to humans.  Generally they base the claim on DDT’s low carcinogenicity in humans — it’s suspected of being a weak human carcinogen.

Frequently DDT advocates will point to the late Dr. Gordon Edwards’ grandstand sipping of a teaspoon of prepared DDT before lectures on the stuff.

Hard reality:  It’s a poison.  Comes this report from the Times of India:  A despondent woman tried suicide by DDT.  DDT is indeed a poison for humans.

The woman is in serious condition in a hospital.

AMRELI: The spate of suicides in the diamond industry continued as the wife of a diamond worker attempted suicide on Wednesday in Mini Kasbavad area of the city. Ruksana Pathan, 33, is battling for life at the government hospital here.

According to officials of Amreli police, Ruksana tried to end her life by consuming DDT powder when her husband and four children were away. She was rushed to the hospital here, where her condition is slated to be serious.

“Ruksana was depressed ever since her husband Taufiq Pathan, a diamond worker, was rendered unemployed after closure of diamond units,” said a police official. “As the family’s financial situation worsened, Ruksana attempted to kill herself,” the official said.

Kids, don’t try the Gordon Edwards stunt.  DDT is poisonous, as the skull and crossbones on the old label would indicate.

New pledge hoax slams Obama, teachers and public schools

January 29, 2009

With this blog’s occasional focus on flag etiquette and my concern for faux patriotism, I’ve been getting barbs all day on a story out of Clark County, Nevada (home of Las Vegas).

It’s a threefer of hatred, slamming President Obama, teachers, and public schools, all at once.  Plus it is rather disrespectful of the U.S. flag.

The Clark County School District calls the story “bogus!!” with the exclamation points clear.  Spokesmen for the district complain they’ve been fielding calls all day, none with details.  Their check of the district’s schools turns up nothing.

The claim is that an elementary school student wants to drop out of school after being “forced” to say the Pledge of Allegiance to a picture of President Barack Obama backed by several U.S. flags.

Bloggers fume.  “The gall!”

Press spokesmen for the district say they encourage parents to call any principal of any school in the district with any complaint.  A survey of principals finds none who knew of such a complaint.

None of the bloggers bothered to check the facts, it appears.  The story so far checks out to be a hoax.  No one can name the school, no one can name the kid, no one can corroborate the story.  

U.S.. Nevada and Clark County flags fly at Moapa Valley High School in the Clark County School District, Nevada. Wikipedia image

U.S.. Nevada and Clark County flags fly at Moapa Valley High School in the Clark County School District, Nevada. Wikipedia image

Students in Clark County schools say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning as a usual practice.  School officials were unsure whether this is done by state law, district ordinance, or tradition.  Through much of the 20th century, it was common for schools to have a picture of the sitting president in every classroom.   That tradition fell to budget cuts years ago.

What motivates people to invent such stories?  What motivates bloggers to spread stories without bothering to make the simplest check to see whether the story is accurate?  One of the things that screams “Hoax!” in this story is the complete inaction of the student and parent.  Were they worked up about it, why didn’t they bother to complain?

Here’s the wall of shame, bloggers who got suckered and repeated the story without bothering to check it out (isn’t it odd that they all seem to know exactly what photo of Obama was used, and they show it on their blogs, but they don’t know where it was used?  Isn’t it odd that they use a color photo while saying it was projected on an overhead projector, which would turn that photo into gray and white mush?):

I’ll wager that’s just the tip of a very mean-spirited iceberg of calumny.

Update, January 30 – More hate-filled spreading of the story:

Still the gullible fall, on February 1:

Nearly responsible skepticism:

I spoke again with David Roddy at the Clark County School District offices.  He confirmed that as of late this afternoon (January 30) no one had stepped forward to identify the school where the event is alleged to have occurred, nor the name of anyone involved, nor any other fact that could be corroborated to vouch for the accuracy of the story.

See “7 Signs of Bogus History.”  Notice any of these characteristics in this story’s allegations?

Update, September 5, 2009: No evidence of this event has ever been produced outside of the original two anonymous blog posts.  My investigation found no such incident in any school in or around Las Vegas, nor anywhere else.  Pure hoax.

Don’t let others be misled; spread the word:

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Box of surprises

January 29, 2009

Check it out — there be good stuff.

For example, abundant sources of information and especially images on the history of New York City can be found here.  It’s in directory form, so you may need to click once more to get what you need — but so far, everything I’ve clicked works, and it always seems to go to a good site.

New York state resources, here.

The U.S. history portion is not working yet.

Let there be light: January 27, anniversary of bright idea

January 29, 2009

Oops, missed this anniversary date!

First page of patent granted to Thomas Edison on January 27, 1880 -- for light bulb

First page of patent granted to Thomas Edison on January 27, 1880 -- for light bulb

Thomas Alva Edison got a patent for “electric-lamp” on January 27, 1880.

According to the Our Documents site:

In 1878 the creation of a practical long-burning electric light had eluded scientists for decades. With dreams of lighting up entire cites, Edison lined up financial backing, assembled a group of brilliant scientists and technicians, and applied his genius to the challenge of creating an effective and affordable electric lamp. With unflagging determination, Edison and his team tried out thousands of theories, convinced that every failure brought them one step closer to success. On January 27, 1880, Edison received the historic patent embodying the principles of his incandescent lamp that paved the way for the universal domestic use of electric light.

(Information excerpted from American Originals by Stacey Bredhoff; [Seattle and London; The University of Washington Press, 2001] p. 62–63.

Our Documents grew out of the National Archives list of 100 milestone documents important to American history — Edison’s patent application was voted one of the top 100.  Our Documents is now a joint exercise combining the efforts of the National Archives, National History Day, and USA Freedom Corps.

Page from Edisons application for patent for an electric lamp - National Archives

Page from Edison's application for patent for an "electric lamp" - National Archives

President Grant’s papers moving – to Mississippi

January 28, 2009

It’s either a sign of how old wounds have healed, or it’s another step in the cryptic and slow, cold war in which the South works to overcome the victory of the Union in the Civil War.

Ulysses S Grant as a Lt. General, Library of Congress image

Ulysses S Grant as a Lt. General; photo by Alexander Gardner, Library of Congress image

Associated Press reports (via Federal News Radio) the papers of President Ulysses S Grant will move from the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale,  to Mississippi State University, in Starkville, Mississippi.

The fact that a collection about a Union hero who helped topple the Confederacy has wound up in Dixie is not lost on [John Marszalek, a Civil War scholar and Mississippi State history professor emeritus who’s now shepherding the collection].

“There’s an irony in it,” he said with a laugh. “People recognize this for its scholarly worth, and I think what has happened over time is that people have come to realize that the Civil War is over and we’re a united nation again.”

Still, Grant’s return to the South doesn’t thrill Cecil Fayard Jr., the Mississippi-based leader of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

“U.S. Grant is not beloved in the state of Mississippi. Southern folks remember well his brutal and bloody tactics of war, and the South will never forget the siege of Vicksburg,” he said.

The Ulysses S. Grant Association, which owns the papers, decided to move them at the request of Marzsalek, who was named conservator after the death of John Y. Simon, the historian who had curated the collection during the publication of more than 30 volumes of Grants papers, beginning in 1962.  Simon lost his professorship at SIU last year, and died in July 2008.

The modern concept of a presidential library did not exist until 1939.  The first such library was the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Par, New York, established with papers donated in 1939.  There are now official libraries, parts of the U.S. National Archives system, for Herbert Hoover (who preceded FDR) in West Branch, Iowa, Harry Truman, in Independence, Missouri, Dwight Eisenhower, in Abilene, Kansas, John Kennedy, at Harvard University near Boston, Lyndon Johnson at the University of Texas, Austin, Richard Nixon at Yorba Linda, California, Gerald Ford library at Ann Arbor and museum (still under construction) in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Jimmy Carter in Atlanta, Ronald Reagan at Simi Valley, California, George H. W. Bush at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, and Bill Clinton in Little Rock.  George W. Bush is working to establish a library and institute at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, the library an extension of the National Archives, and the institute modeled roughly after the Herbert Hoover Institution affiliated with Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are honored with institutions, too.  Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, Virginia, is held by the Ladies of Mount Vernon Association, which originally saved the mansion; the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is in Springfield, Illinois.  Neither of those institutions has much formal tie to the federal library system.

Because of their places in history, even at the risk of enlarging the institutionalness and management problems of these libraries, I would like to see libraries established for Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps in South Dakota; for Woodrow Wilson; For Andrew Jackson, probably near his home in Tennessee; and for John Adams and/or John Quincy Adams, outside of Boston.  These institutions could bolster the spread of knowledge and preservation of history of our freedoms and liberties; if we were rich, it would be useful and productive to put libraries in Ohio — for William Howard Taft, or for Taft and Garfield and Buchanan — and far upstate New York for Millard Fillmore, perhaps at the University of Buffalo.  Libraries honoring James Madison and James Monroe could be useful, too, but would put a great concentration of such institutions close to Charlottesville, Virginia.


Under the fold:  Quotations from U. S. Grant, from the Grant papers collection.

Read the rest of this entry »

Flash media, animation and movies for your classroom

January 28, 2009

I’m struggling.  I’m looking for software that will allow me to make animations and movies for classroom use.  I know very little about it, though, and I’m not sure where to look.

I stumbled on this site, from the University of Houston, Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling.

Do me a favor:  Social studies teachers, especially hop over there and look at the video/animation/presentations they offer — on the Dustbowl, on human rights and Nobel winner Aung San Suu Kyi, on Hiroshima, the race to the Moon, and other stuff.  Look at the presentations:  Can you use them?  Do you have better stuff to use?

Other examples include mathematics, art (some of which might also be good for history), English as a Second Language (ESL), language arts, and other subjects.

Do you make movies or animations for your classroom?  What do you use?

What does a teacher need to get started in digital story telling?

The UH site offers a free download of Microsoft Photo Story 3 — have you used it?  Good stuff?  What’s your experience?

Economics: Tracking layoffs

January 28, 2009

Economics students doing reports or projects on employment or unemployment rates?

Need something depressing?

Check out Layoff Daily.

Let’s hope they run out of news, very, very soon.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Californian in Texas.

Reading for government classes: Obama’s shift in governing philosophy

January 28, 2009

No, Obama didn’t change his mind.  He’s changing the way government does business — putting government on a more solidly-based, business-like model for performance, according to at least one observer.  That’s the shift discussed.

And it’s about time, I say.

Max Stier’s commentary on the Fed Page of the Washington Post quickly lays out the case that Obama’s making big changes.  Copy it for students in your government classes (or history classes, if you’re studying the presidency in any depth).  Stier wrote:

There are some fundamental reasons why our federal government’s operational health has been allowed to steadily deteriorate. It’s hard to change what you don’t measure, and our government operates in an environment with very few meaningful and useful measurements for performance. Perhaps more significantly, it is run by short-term political leadership that has little incentive to focus on long-term issues.

A typical presidential appointee stays in government for roughly two years and is rewarded for crisis management and scoring policy wins. These individuals are highly unlikely to spend significant energy on management issues, when the benefits of such an investment won’t be seen until after they are long gone.

(According to the Post, “Max Stier is president and CEO of Partnership for Public Service, a group that seeks to revitalize the federal government.”  I don’t know of him otherwise.)

Political appointees can be good, but too many have not been over the past 25 years.  A bad enough political appointee can frustrate even the most adept, dedicated-to-the-people’s-business career federal service employees, and frustrate the law and good management of agencies.

Let’s wish them all good luck.

Potential questions to follow-up this article in discussions:

  • Constitution: Under the Constitution, who specifically is charged with managing the federal agencies, the “federal bureaucracy?  What is that charge, in the Constitution?
  • Constitution, politics: What is the role of Congress in managing the federal bureaucracy?
  • Evaluating information sources: Do some research on the internet.  Is Max Stier a credible source of information on managing federal agencies?  Why, or why not?  Who provides an opposing view to Stier’s?  Are they credible?  Why or why not?
  • Evaluating information sources: Is the Fed Page of the Washington Post a good source of information about the federal bureaucracy?  (Students may want to investigate columnists and features at this site; the Fed Page was started as a one-page feature of the newspaper in the early 1980s, covering for the public issues that tended to slip through the cracks of other news coverage, but which were very important to the vast army of federal employees and federal policy wonks in Washington.)  What other sources might be expected?  What other sources are there?  (Federal News Radio is another site that focuses on the functions of the federal agencies — Mike Causey started out writing the column on the bureaucracy in the Washington Post; this is an AM radio station dedicated to covering federal functions in the federal city.  Other sources should include National Journal, and Congressional Quarterly, especially if you have those publications in your school library).
  • History, maybe a compare and contrast question: How has the federal bureaucracy changed over time?  Compare the size, scope and people employed by the federal government under the administrations of George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses Grant, James Garfield, William McKinley, Dwight Eisenhower, and Bill Clinton.  What trends become clear?  What major changes have occurred (civil service protection, for example)?
  • Analysis: How does the transition process from one president to the next affect federal employees and the operation of government?
  • Analysis: How does the transition of President Barack Obama compare with past transitions — especially that of President Franklin Roosevelt, who also faced a tough economic crisis, or Ronald Reagan, whose transition signalled a major shift in government emphasis and operation?

What other questions did your students find in this article?  Comments are open.

Bill of Rights Institute teacher training in Austin, Texas, February 6 & 7

January 27, 2009

For you Austinites, or someone close enough to make this training:

Bill of Rights Institute logo

The Bill of Rights Institute at the
Texas Law-Related Education Conference
February 6-7, 2009

Event Website

Date: February 6-7

Hilton Austin Airport 9515 Hotel Drive Austin, TX 78719

The Bill of Rights Institute is pleased and honored to be exhibiting and presenting at the 2009 Texas Law-Related Education conference on Friday and Saturday, February 6 & 7. We hope while you are attending the conference, you will stop by our booth in the exhibits area and see our wide range of materials and programs that can enrich as well as bring new excitement to your lessons. Also, on Friday at 10:00 AM, we will be presenting a session at the conference on Lincoln’s Leadership: Secession and Emancipation (with free lesson plans distributed at the end of the session!).

Have a terrific time at the conference and we hope to see you at our booth or our session!

Bill of Rights Institute
200 North Glebe RD
Suite 200
Arlington, Virginia 22203

Bush’s presidency in photographs – stunning

January 26, 2009

Blogging for the New York Times, filmmaker Errol Morris interviewed the top photographers from some of the world’s top photographic journalism agencies about their picks of photos that capture George Bush through his presidency. Yeah, some are goofy; most are not.

It’s interesting to read the photographers’ takes on their photos, sometimes different views on different photos taken at the same time and place.  Morris asks good questions, the photographers give great answers.

And the photographs are, in total, stunning.

You could capture these photos for a bell-ringer of some sort, if you don’t take them beyond your classroom.  If you don’t capture these photos, especially for history classes, you’ll regret that you didn’t.

Go see, and marvel, and learn.

Tears run from the eyes of President George W. Bush during a ceremony in honor of Medal of Honor winner Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham in the East room of the White House in Washington, January 11, 2007. Cpl. Dunham was killed when he jumped on a grenade to save fellow members of his Marine patrol while serving in Iraq. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Here's one photo you probably didn't see in the U.S.: "Tears run from the eyes of President George W. Bush during a ceremony in honor of Medal of Honor winner Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham in the East room of the White House in Washington, January 11, 2007. Cpl. Dunham was killed when he jumped on a grenade to save fellow members of his Marine patrol while serving in Iraq. REUTERS/Jim Bourg"

Tip of the old scrub brush to Earthaid3.

Forgotten anniversaries: Microwave oven patent

January 26, 2009

Some history really does need to be rewarmed.

January 24 marks the anniversary of the granting of the patent for the microwave oven, “Method of treating foodstuffs.” Do your texts even refer to this by-product of World War II?  What benefits of microwave ovens can your students come up with?  Will they offer the apocryphal question about how Native Americans could possibly have invented popcorn with their wood-fired microwave ovens?

Dr. Percy L. Spencer noted that a chocolate bar in his shirt pocket had melted when he was working around an operating radar tube, at Raytheon Corp., during World War II (the patent application for microwave cooking was filed on October 8, 1945).  With a little experimentation, he determined the microwaves from the radar tube were rapidly cooking things — think exploding egg, think popping corn.

Drawing from the patent of the microwave oven, granted to Percy L. Spencer on January 24, 1950; courtesy the Southwest Museum of Engineering, Communications and Computation

Drawing from the patent of the microwave oven, granted to Percy L. Spencer on January 24, 1950; courtesy the Southwest Museum of Engineering, Communications and Computation

One of the problems Spencer had to overcome was that radar tubes cooked foods way too fast.  He had to tune the magnetron tubes to produce wavelengths with less energy, to heat food more slowly so the cooking could be controlled.  Spencer explained this process of invention in the first page of text on the patent itself.

Perhaps one could create an interesting DBQ with only patents, tracing radio and radar through the microwave oven.

This is one device you probably can demonstrate  safely  in any history classroom.


Tip of the old scrub brush to Rhapsody in Book’s Weblog.

Irony meter alert: Powerline slings mud at science

January 24, 2009

You may have to read this one a couple of times to see what’s going on.  It’s subtle.

Our farrightwingordie buddies at Powerline headlined the post, “Science dragged through the mud.”

Of course, the Powerline post itself slings mud at science and scientists, doing all the mud dragging itself. The post accuses climate scientists of dishonesty, conspiracy, incompetence, political bias and general un-apple-pie-ness.

Happer said he is dismayed by the politicization of the issue and believes the community of climate change scientists has become a veritable “religious cult,” noting that nobody understands or questions any of the science.

He noted in an interview that in the past decade, despite what he called “alarmist” claims, there has not only not been warming, there has in fact been global cooling. He added that climate change scientists are unable to use models to either predict the future or accurately model past events.

Do rightwingers even know how to operate an irony meter?

Joe Lapp’s “flat earth” testimony to the Texas SBOE

January 23, 2009

[Another in a series of posts highlighting testimony supporting evolution offered to the Texas State Board of Education this week.]

Joe Lapp, Testimony to the Texas SBOE, January 21, 2009 - click picture for link to original image at Teach Them

Joe Lapp, Testimony to the Texas SBOE, January 21, 2009 - click picture for link to original image at Teach Them

Dick Neavel’s Testimony on evolution, to Texas Education Board

January 22, 2009

Testimony of Richard Neavel, PhD, to the Texas State Board of Education January 21, 2009

I oppose the inclusion of strengths and weaknesses in the TEKS and I’m going to do a show and tell about why.

At the last public hearing, Board member Gail Lowe asked me whether I was familiar with “polystrate fossils.” I had to admit that I wasn’t.

I Googled the term, and found creationist Paul Ackerman writing: “Polystrate fossils in numerous places around the world are one dramatic piece of evidence that the [young earth] creationists may be right [about earth’s history].” (Footnote [1])

Now I know why I wasn’t familiar with them. Geologists don’t refer to polystrate fossils – creationists do.

Ms. Lowe questioned me about the Lompoc whale fossil that was supposed to be “standing up” within many strata, that is layers of rock. How could this happen, she asked if the strata accumulated over millions of years. (See Figure 1 – next page and Footnote [2].)

That’s the kind of question a student might  ask to demonstrate weaknesses of  geologic theories.

I didn’t have an answer, so I researched it and here’s what I found.

The fossil is found in Miocene-age rocks about 10 million years old near Lompoc, California.

Creationists have cited it as an anomaly ever since it was uncovered.

Creationists explain it by saying a catastrophe, such as Noah’s flood, buried the whale very quickly.

Here’s what really happened.

Lompy, the whale, is eating plankton in a lagoon off the California coast 10 million years ago.

The ones he doesn’t eat die and their shells drift down to make a silica-rich, oozy sediment.

OH!. OH!    Heart attack. Lompy dies, rolls over and sinks to the bottom of the lagoon. (Figure 2)

He rots away, and his skeleton gets covered with more sediment.  (Figure 3)

The sediments harden to rock. Along comes a mountain-building force and the rocks are tilted up.

A company mines the rock, called diatomaceous earth, and uncovers Lompy’s skeleton.   (Figure 4)

Creationists go wild – it’s a miracle – a whale on its tail.

I’m a PhD geologist and I didn’t have a ready answer to Ms. Lowe’s questions about polystrate fossils.

Do you think a high school science teacher would be able to answer a student’s questions about Lompy?

Members of the Board: Do you really want students to waste time discussing this kind of creationist nonsense in science class? Not weaknesses – just nonsense.

Every other creationist so-called “scientific weakness” can be explained just like this by real scientists — but not necessarily by high school teachers.




[Pictures coming when I can get them to stick in the file!  — E.D.]

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