A vision of students, today (thanks, Bug Girl!)

April 30, 2009

Bug Girl put this up, and you can watch it there and comment on it there in a lively and informative discussion, but it’s just too good not to show here:

Teachers, show it to your colleagues, and especially to your librarians and your administrators.

Students, show it to your teachers.

And, go thou and do likewise.




Oh, and note that Bug Girl’s post was a year ago.

Other stuff to see:

Maryland Eagle Scout earns all 121 merit badges

April 30, 2009

Cody Evans confessed that Bugling was the toughest merit badge he had to earn, but unlike others in the recent past, he didn’t put it off to be the last one.  Congratulations to another member of the 121 Merit Badge Club.

From the Frederick, Maryland, Gazette:

Frederick resident and Eagle Scout Cody Evans has spent the last seven years learning skills most people won’t acquire in their lifetimes.

The 17-year-old Gov. Thomas Johnson High School junior recently was awarded the last of the 121 obtainable merit badges in Boy Scouts of America in March, an accomplishment that the organization deems almost unattainable.

Evans, who belongs to the Troop 1998 based out of the Elks Lodge in Frederick, said that though he had been involved in scouting for seven years, it was only in the last two that he realized that he was close to doing what very few scouts do in their Boy Scout careers. Realizing how close he was to getting the last badge, he became more motivated.

“I never thought I had much time to earn them all until I got just over halfway there,” Evans said. “I thought, ‘I have a chance, why not just go for it.’ So, I started working hard to earn them all.”

Evans has spent the last seven years learning to do everything from practicing veterinary medicine to driving a motorboat, even bugling, a skill he never anticipated having under his belt.

“That was the hardest because I didn’t know how to play at all before,” Evans said.

On March 14, Evans earned his last badge in energy. To complete the badge requirements, he had to build two projects that represented different forms of energy, which he demonstrated by building a slingshot and a sailboat.

Evans had little words when asked how it felt to have such a big accomplishment.

“I was overwhelmed,” he said. “Just happy that I was able to reach my goal.”

But, he said that the badge requirements have made him a more well-rounded person and student, provided him valuable leadership skills, and he hopes it will reflect well on his resume when he applies for college. Evans is a National Honor Society member and vice president of the Student Government Association at TJ High.

Despite achieving the highest of Boy Scout honors, Evans said he still has more goals in the organization. He said that he will apply to become an assistant scout master for his troop and help other scouts achieve their goals in the program.

When asked what advice he would give to other scouts in Frederick, Evans said: “Set short goals, and start trying to knock a little off at a time when you can.”

Other notes

Never hike alone

April 30, 2009

Not even if you’re an Eagle Scout.

Scott Mason of Halifax, Massachusetts, survived three nights on snowy Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.  He nursed his sprained ankle, and kept warm with fires he started using hand sanitizer.

(Boston Globe) Mason later told his mother that he had tweaked his leg during the hike and that it was bothering him. As a precaution, he was taken to the Androscoggin Valley Regional Hospital, where he was evaluated and released.

Back in Halifax, his troop issued a statement, “Boy Scouts of America Troop 39 Halifax, Massachusetts, is extremely pleased with the positive outcome of this incident. Scott is a bright young man and our most experienced hiker. We have no doubt that he put all of his training and skills to use in order to come through this ordeal.”

Mason received an award two years ago for collecting more than 3,200 pounds of food for the Greater Boston Food Bank and the Pine Street Inn. For his Eagle Scout project, he collected the food by leaving boxes at Halifax area businesses. He has been a Boy Scout since he was 11.

Not only is Scouting an adventure, it prepares you to get out of even your own mistakes.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Randy Possehl on the Scouts-L list.

Missed anniversary: Naming of Americas

April 29, 2009

Waldseemuellers 1507 map that named the Americas.  Library of Congress image.  Click on the map for access to a very high resolution image.

Waldseemueller's 1507 map that named the America's. Library of Congress image. Click on the map for access to a very high resolution image.

According to the Associated Press, Marin Waldseemueller is the cartographer who decided to name the New World continents after Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian navigator who had made a voyage to the Americas and then wrote a book about what he saw.  The book sold well in Europe, but became a runaway when an unscrupulous printer spiced up Vespucci’s story with tales of sex.

Martin Waldseemueller, German cartographer who named the New World after Amerigo Vespucci on his 1507 map -- from a painting by Gaston Save, circa 1900

Martin Waldseemueller, German cartographer who named the New World after Amerigo Vespucci on his 1507 map -- from a painting by Gaston Save, circa 1900

Waldseemueller’s map was published in 1507, on April 25.

The one surviving copy of the map was purchased by the Library of Congress for $10 million, in 2001.

Vespucci’s account described land and peoples that clearly were not from East Asia, to canny and alert readers.  Waldseemueller was widely read, and on the basis of Vespucci’s account and other accounts from China, concluded the lands Columbus discovered were separate from Asia.

Waldseemueller accurately protrayed the width of South America to within 70 miles in some places, and appears to have been the first to predict the presence of a wide ocean between the Americas and Asia — the Pacific not being “discovered” by Europeans until 1513, six years after this map.


Big thanks to Jessica Palmer at Bioephemera for those last two resources; her report on the display of the map at the Library of Congress is really, really useful.

Congratulations, Judge Davidian

April 28, 2009

Ben Davidian, Jr., will be sworn in as a judge for the Superior Court for Sacramento County this afternoon.  Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him to the post about a month ago.

Texas is testing, so I won’t be traveling.

We wish Ben well in his new post.  We are also redoubling our efforts to archive the Ben Davidian stories we have collected over these last 30+ years, for the retirement ceremony.  Alan Ingersoll, Evelyn Earl Jeffries, Patty Hulce and I will hold the Davidian archives open for contributions.  We’ve already got the files from Bae Gardner and J. D. Williams, from the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, both of whom will be at the ceremony in Sacramento this afternoon.

Congratulations, Ben!

Great discoveries at Four Stone Hearth 65

April 27, 2009

Okay, now Four Stone Hearth can apply for Social Security.  It has come of age.

Seriously, FSH 65, hosted by Primate of Modern Aspect, continues the tradition of that particular carnival with great links to great research, in anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics.

Hobbits?  Chimps?  Linguistics? Brains?   It’s all there.  Go see.

World Malaria Day brings out the DDT-poisoned claims – Beware the ill-informed cynics.

April 26, 2009

World Malaria Day is April 25, every year.  It’s not a big deal in the U.S. (but there were several activities this year).  One thing you can count on, however, is the unthinking, often irrational reaction of dozens of columnists and bloggers* who like to think all scientists and health care professionals are idiots, and that government policy makers never consider the lives of their constituents when environmental issues arise.

Here’s a good example:  At a blog named Penraker, in a post cynically titled “Beware the ‘compassionate’ people,” the author suggests that churches around the world are foolish for sending bednets to Africa to combat malaria, since, the blogger claims, DDT would be quicker, more effective, cheaper, and perfectly safe.

So  much error, so little time, and even less patience with people who don’t bother to get informed about an issue before popping off on it.

Penraker wrote:

Today the loopy “On Faith” pages of the Washington Post reminds us to be compassionate about malaria in Africa.

It urges the churches of the world to come together and join a campaign that would spread the use of mosquito nets in Africa so that the incidence of malaria can be gradually reduced.

Nets are a great idea.  They work to reduce malaria by 50% to 85%.  Nets are a simple solution, part of a series of actions that could help eliminate malaria as a major scourge of the world.  The Nothing But Nets Campaign has the endorsement of several major religious sects and the National Basketball Association.  It offers hope.

Churches uniting to save lives — what could be more spiritual?

Currently 750 children die EVERY DAY in Nigeria. So the great hearts on the left want to organize another conference. The conference will demonstrate their compassion for this needless death, and it will urge that mosquito nets be distributed more widely in Africa.

There is only one problem. Nowhere in the article do they mention DDT. DDT is far and away the most effective way to get rid of malaria.

Why should the article “mention” DDT?  DDT is a deadly poison, an environmental wildcard that once upon a time was thought to offer hope of severely reducing malaria, if it could be applied in enough places quickly enough, before mosquitoes developed resistance to it.  The campaign, coordinated by the World Health Organization, failed.  Agricultural and business interests also latched onto DDT, but they over-used it in sometimes trivial applications.  Mosquitoes quickly developed new genes that made them resistant and immune to DDT.

DDT can once again play a limited role in fighting malaria.  It can be used in extremely limited amounts, to spray the inside walls of homes, to kill mosquitoes that still land on the walls of a hut after feeding on a human.  But DDT is not appropriate for all such applications, and it is nearly useless in some applications, especially where the species involved is completely immune to DDT.

DDT was discovered to be deadly.  First European nations banned its use, and then the U.S. banned it.  Continued use after those bans increased the difficulties — manufacturing continued in the U.S. resulted in many nasty Superfund clean-up sites costing American taxpayers billions of dollars when manufacturers declared bankruptcy rather than clean up their plant sites.  The National Academy of Sciences studied DDT, and in 1980 pronounced it one of the most beneficial chemicals ever discovered — but also one of the most dangerous.  NAS said DDT had to be phased out, because the dangers more than offset its benefits.

The cessation of use of DDT, to protect wildlife and entire ecosystems, proved wise.  In 2007 the bald eagle was removed from the list of endangered species, a recovery made possible only with a ban on DDT.  DDT weakens chicks, especially of top predators, and damages eggs to make them unviable.  Decreasing amounts of DDT in the tissues of birds meant recovery of the eagle, the brown pelican, the peregrine falcon, and osprey.

Though it was not banned for ill effects on human health, research since 1972 strengthened the case that DDT is a human carcinogen (every cancer-fighting agency on Earth lists it as a “probable human carcinogen”).  DDT and its daughter products have since been discovered to act as endocrine disruptors, doing serious damage to the sexual organs of birds, fish, lizards and mammals.  Oddly, it’s also been discovered to be poisonous to some plants.

After DDT use against malarial mosquitoes was reduced, malaria stayed low for a while.  Unfortunately, the malaria parasites developed resistance to the pharmaceuticals used to treat humans.  Malaria came roaring back — DDT, an insecticide, was of no use to fight the blood parasite.  Newer, arteminisin-based pharmaceuticals offer hope of reducing the human toll

Still, with some improvements in delivery of pharmaceuticals, improvements in diagnosis, and improvements in education of affected populations about how they can reduce exposure and prevent mosquito breeding, world wide malaria deaths have been kept below 3 million annually.  Recent programs, helped by munificent organizing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and from other charities, have reduced malaria considerably.  With no magic drug on the horizon, with no magic vector control, efforts have been redoubled to use the time-tested methods for beating the disease — reducing exposure to mosquitoes, improving health care, stopping mosquito breeding.  These methods, which ridded the U.S. of the disease very much prior to the discovery of DDT’s insecticidal properties, appear the best bets to beat malaria.

Once South Africa started using it, the death rate went way down.

South Africa used DDT constantly from 1946 through about 1996.  Other efforts to control mosquitoes worked until changing climate and political turmoil in nations adjoining South Africa produced malaria and mosquitoes that crossed borders.  South Africa turned to DDT as an emergency  measure; but the other, non-pesticide spraying methods, are credited with helping South Africa reduce malaria.

It turns out that DDT is much less harmful than we had been led to believe by scare reports early on. People at the Monsanto plant in California worked around the stuff for years with no discernible effects.

That’s not quite accurate.  Whether DDT seriously crippled workers is still in litigation, a quarter of a century after DDT stopped being manufactured in the U.S. Residual and permanent health damage keep showing up in studies done on workers in DDT production facilities, and on their children.  The Montrose plant in California is a Superfund site, as is the entire bay it contaminated.  In fact, three different bays in California are listed as cleanup sites (was there a Monsanto DDT plant in California?  Which one?).

To say there were “no discernible effects” simply is unsupportable from research or litigation on the matters.  Such a claim is completely misleading and inaccurate.

No matter. The compassionate ones don’t dare to mention it. They are ready to let 750 kids die every day, in Nigeria alone. That’s 273,000 a year.

273,000 kids a year are dying in Nigeria alone. Think about it.

Rachel Carson warned us that would happen if we didn’t control DDT use to keep it viable to fight malaria.  I’ve been thinking about it for more than 40 years.  The “compassionate” ones you try to ridicule have been fighting malaria in Africa for that entire time.  You just woke up — when are you going to do something to stop a kid from dying?  By the way, slamming environmentalists doesn’t save any kid.

The CDC says:

The World Health Organization estimates that each year 300-500 million cases of malaria occur and more than 1 million people die of malaria, especially in developing countries. Most deaths occur in young children. For example, in Africa, a child dies from malaria every 30 seconds. Because malaria causes so much illness and death, the disease is a great drain on many national economies. Since many countries with malaria are already among the poorer nations, the disease maintains a vicious cycle of disease and poverty.

Still the compassionate ones call for the use of bed netting to keep the kids from getting bit. There is only one obvious problem – kids aren’t in bed all day. Mosquitoes can bite them all day long, and the nets have no effect. So, they are proposing a massively stupid remedy.

First point on that section:  Did you bother to read the CDC document?  Nowhere do they call for DDT to be used.  Quite the contrary, they note that it doesn’t work anymore:

Wasn’t malaria eradicated years ago?

No, not in all parts of the world. Malaria has been eradicated from many developed countries with temperate climates. However, the disease remains a major health problem in many developing countries, in tropical and subtropical parts of the world.

An eradication campaign was started in the 1950s, but it failed globally because of problems including the resistance of mosquitoes to insecticides used to kill them, the resistance of malaria parasites to drugs used to treat them, and administrative issues. In addition, the eradication campaign never involved most of Africa, where malaria is the most common.

So, where do you get the gall to claim CDC support for your inaccurate diatribe?  CDC’s documents do not support your outrageous and inaccurate claims for DDT at all.

Second point, mosquitoes don’t bite all day long, and bednets have proven remarkably effective at stopping malaria.  Mosquitoes — at least the vectors that carry malaria — bite in the evening and night, mostly.  Protecting kids while they sleep is among the best ways to prevent malaria.

It appears to me that this blogger has not bothered to learn much about malaria before deciding he knows better than the experts, how to fight it.

Their outrageous and horribly unscientific “religious beliefs” are a firm block to their humanity. No, they just don’t care. No DDT can be used.

Every “ban” on DDT included a clause allowing use against malaria.  In the U.S. we allowed manufacture of DDT for export after the ban on use in the U.S. (and the ban on use in the U.S. had exceptions).  DDT was never banned for use in any African nation I can find.  DDT is manufactured, today, in India and China.  DDT can be used, even under the POPs treaty.  This blogger, Penraker,  just doesn’t have the facts.

You get the impression that their compassion is not about solving the problem. Their compassion seems to be about themselves – about proving they are good people by having compassion, rather than eradicating the problem. In fact, it looks like they have a desire to have the malaria epidemic continue, so they can organize little conferences and wring their hands, put together action plans, and call on somebody else to do something about the problem.

Actually, I get the idea that this blogger wants to whine and pose, and isn’t really concerned about kids with malaria.  He’s getting way too many facts dead wrong.

Nick Kristof of the New York Times, God bless him, is one of the few liberals to react reasonably to reality:

Mosquitoes kill 20 times more people each year than the tsunami did, and in the long war between humans and mosquitoes it looks as if mosquitoes are winning.

One reason is that the U.S. and other rich countries are siding with the mosquitoes against the world’s poor – by opposing the use of DDT.

“It’s a colossal tragedy,” says Donald Roberts, a professor of tropical public health at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. “And it’s embroiled in environmental politics and incompetent bureaucracies.”

In the 1950’s, 60’s and early 70’s, DDT was used to reduce malaria around the world, even eliminating it in places like Taiwan. But then the growing recognition of the harm DDT can cause in the environment – threatening the extinction of the bald eagle, for example – led DDT to be banned in the West and stigmatized worldwide. Ever since, malaria has been on the rise.

…But most Western aid agencies will not pay for anti-malarial programs that use DDT, and that pretty much ensures that DDT won’t be used. Instead, the U.N. and Western donors encourage use of insecticide-treated bed nets and medicine to cure malaria

Yeah, go read that Kristof article.  He’s a bit off about DDT — but notice especially the date.  It’s the Bush administration he’s complaining about. I thought Penraker was complaining about environmentalists and silly “compassionate” types — but he’s complaining about Bush?  What else isn’t he telling us, or doesn’t he know?

But isn’t it dangerous?

But overall, one of the best ways to protect people is to spray the inside of a hut, about once a year, with DDT. This uses tiny amounts of DDT – 450,000 people can be protected with the same amount that was applied in the 1960’s to a single 1,000-acre American cotton farm.

Is it safe? DDT was sprayed in America in the 1950’s as children played in the spray, and up to 80,000 tons a year were sprayed on American crops. There is some research suggesting that it could lead to premature births, but humans are far better off exposed to DDT than exposed to malaria.

Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) is endorsed even by Environmental Defense, the group that first sued to stop broadcast DDT spraying in the U.S.  It’s not environmentalists who oppose the practice, but businessmen, tobacco farmers and cotton farmers in Africa.  Who is Penraker to substitute his judgment for the judgment of Africans, the people on the ground, the people who suffer from malaria?

Alas, IRS, done right, is expensive.  A treatment with DDT is required twice a year, at about $12 an application when costs of the analysis of the mosquitoes and other circumstances are figured in.  That’s $24/year.  DDT spraying is more than 50% effective in preventing the disease.

Bednets cost $10, last five years at least, and are about 85% effective at preventing the disease.

Maybe Africans just want the cheaper, more effective methods used.  Doesn’t that make sense?

The piece in the Washington Post’s On Faith section is called “Religion from the Heart”

How ironic.

All the Washington Post and the New York Times would have to do is highlight that the use of DDT could save a million lives – most of them children, and they would be saved within a year.

That’s all they would have to do. Keep the spotlight on it, and save a million lives. Instead, they expunge the very idea from their pages, (witness this from the heart stuff)

I will never understand people who are willing to let millions of people die for the sake of their ideology.

And I will never understand people who get in a dudgeon, blaming people who are blameless, or worse, blaming people who are actually trying to fix a problem, all while being blissfully misinformed about the problem they complain about.

Yes, millions of lives could be saved — but not with DDT.  DDT won’t work as a magic potion, and it’s a nasty poison.  Why would anyone urge Africans to waste money, and lives, instead of actually fighting malaria?  Penraker fell victim to the hoaxers who want you to believe Rachel Carson was not accurate (her book was found accurate by specially-appointed panels of scientists), that DDT is a panacea against malaria (it’s not), that environmentalists are stupid  and mean (while they’ve been fighting against malaria for more than 40 years), and that everything you’ve heard from science is wrong.

Malaria gets a lot of deserved attention from people serious about beating the disease, for millions of good reasons.  Those who are serious about beating malaria don’t whine about DDT.

And then he brags about his intolerance for the facts.  Whom God destroys, He first makes mad.


Update: Blue Marble isn’t as offensive and obstreperous as others, but equally in error.  How can people be so easily misled from the facts of the matter?

Great cartoons: The Economist

April 26, 2009

Best, wisest and most cynical cartoon of the week, on the cover of the current North American edition of The Economist:

Cover, The Economist, North American edition, April 25-May 1, 2009

Cover, The Economist, North American edition, April 25-May 1, 2009; illustration by Jon Berkeley

For a week at least, you can get the story behind the cover for free, here.

THE rays are diffuse, but the specks of light are unmistakable. Share prices are up sharply. Even after slipping early this week, two-thirds of the 42 stockmarkets that The Economist tracks have risen in the past six weeks by more than 20%. Different economic indicators from different parts of the world have brightened. China’s economy is picking up. The slump in global manufacturing seems to be easing. Property markets in America and Britain are showing signs of life, as mortgage rates fall and homes become more affordable. Confidence is growing. A widely tracked index of investor sentiment in Germany has turned positive for the first time in almost two years.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

But, welcome as it is, optimism contains two traps, one obvious, the other more subtle. The obvious trap is that confidence proves misplaced—that the glimmers of hope are misinterpreted as the beginnings of a strong recovery when all they really show is that the rate of decline is slowing. The subtler trap, particularly for politicians, is that confidence and better news create ruinous complacency. Optimism is one thing, but hubris that the world economy is returning to normal could hinder recovery and block policies to protect against a further plunge into the depths.

The cover almost says it all, doesn’t it?  Week in and week out, The Economist has great covers, a phase of newsstand-oriented journalism that I hope never goes away, regardless the medium.

Complaint against the blogger

April 25, 2009

Oregon Live!.com has a .pdf of the complaint against the blogger who carried his paranoia about Obama’s eligibility too far.

The complaint details some of the tragedy the blogger’s life has become but, no surprise, offers nothing to suggest that Obama is ineligible, nor that bloggers who claim Obama isn’t eligible for the presidency have any better evidence than the guy arrested for threatening federal agents.

Here’s the indictment.

Moral to the story?  Dial down your rage, and stick to the facts.  This guy isn’t exactly engaged in mainstream politics, nor anything mainstream. (Looks to me as if he’s claiming some connection to Vietnam, though he would have been about 9 when the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam.  Weird.)

Other stuff:

Texas Forest Expo!

April 25, 2009

Are you out near Conroe on Sunday? April 26 is the third (and last) day of Texas Forest Expo 2009 at the Conroe Convention Center.

It’s free.  It’s kid friendly ( a great place to take Cub Scouts or a group of Boy Scouts working on the Forestry merit badge).  I’d be there if I could.

Get your name on the mailing list for notice for next year’s expo.

Putting the Tea Parties into the history books

April 24, 2009

Ghost in the Machine has the story, really, “U.S. History for Dummies.”  Well worth clicking over to read it in full.

But I also want to call attention to this brilliant graphic — a sort of photographic political cartoon, and it’s quietly, subtly, savage:

We dont like taxes!  Dont need em!

What things in this photograph were paid for by taxes?

Oh, there are a couple of inaccuracies — the phone lines were probably paid for by the telephone company, but eminent domain was used to get the easements in many cases.  (Who did the photo and the captioning?  Anyone know?)

Ben Sargent was a little less subtle, in the Austin American-Statesman, using that Oliver Wendell Holmes quote we looked at some time ago.

Ben Sargent, Austin American-Statesman, copyright 2009

Ben Sargent, Austin American-Statesman, copyright 2009

I dunno. Is this story humorous? True?

April 24, 2009

Collected April 2009:

A United States Marine was attending some college courses between assignments. He had completed missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. One day on campus a local radio station did a live broadcast from the quad of the college, with their right-wing, flag-waving, self-proclaimed patriot “on a mission for God and Country” loud-mouthed cigar-smoking host.

The Marine watched, stunned, as the radio host goaded the college crowd by saying, “Is God real?  Of course He is.  And He favors our glorious war in Iraq, and He favors waterboarding every ‘towel-head’ we can catch — the more the better.  Do I think that’s unChristian?  No — and here’s my offer:  God, if you disagree and think we shouldn’t be waterboarding everyone who might bear ill-will to the U.S. of A., you can come down here, knock me off this platform and shut off my microphone in the next ten minutes.”

The crowd fell silent. You could hear the pigeons on the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest cooing, but even they got quieter.

Five minutes went by, the station cut to a series of ads, and then the radio host proclaimed, ‘”Here I am God. I’m still waiting.  Do you think we should take it easy on our enemies, or torture them because they deserve it?” It got down to the last couple of minutes when the Marine strode out of the crowd, walked up to the radio host, and cold-cocked him, knocking him off the platform.  Then the marine found the switch on the microphone and turned it off.  Even the radio station’s engineer was too stunned to do anything.  The radio guy was out cold.

The Marine went back into the crowd and sat down on the grass, silently. The other students were shocked, stunned, and sat there looking on in silence. No one even called campus police.  Eventually the radio station called the engineer on his cell phone and everyone heard the engineer describe what had just happened.  “No, he’s out cold.”  But the radio announcer was stirring.

The talk jock eventually came to, noticeably shaken, looked at the Marine and asked, “What the h— is the wrong with you, you f——up m———-ing dope smoker? Why did you do that?”

The Marine calmly replied, “God was too busy today protecting American soldiers who are protecting your right to say stupid stuff and act like an idiot.   So, God sent me.  If we waterboard their guys, our soldiers will have worse stuff done to them.  That punch was from every Marine and soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan who wants to come home to his wife and children.”

Is this a true story?  Is it funny?  Is it tragic?  What is it?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Pharyngula.  P.Z. made me do it.

McLeroy’s appointment in trouble in the Texas lege?

April 23, 2009

Another casualty of my real life crises, trying to keep readers informed about education policy in Texas has suffered here in the Bathtub.  My apologies.

The good news is that Don McLeroy’s attempts to eviscerate public school curricula have gotten some attention in the Texas Lege (as Molly Ivins called it). Gov. Rick Perry appointed McLeroy to a full term as chair of the State Board of Education (SBOE), but that appointment needs approval by the Texas Senate.  The hearing (if you can call it that) was scheduled for yesterday, and when it actually occurred it became obvious that the senators noticed McLeroy is a one-man wrecking crew, apparently drunk, and loose in the state’s china cabinet.

Will there be more good news, that the Senate can rein in McLeroy?

Steve Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science, has a very complete story on the events at his blog at the Houston Chronicle site, Evosphere.  Steve’s piece includes links to several other writings that fully describe the troubled waters that have become the SBOE.

Schafersman points to an article in the Austin American-Statesman by Kate Alexander, which suggests there’s a chance that McLeroy’s nomination might actually be rejected.  The Lege leans so far to the right that the right shoulders of their suit coats are scraped by the pavement, but even the legislators understand that snubbing the economists of Texas A&M and every Spanish-speaking Texan is something your mother would not approve of, and shouldn’t be the normal business of an official state agency like the SBOE.  (Austin American-Statesman — another of the great daily newspapers in America, still doing outstanding reporting despite staff cutbacks).

Legislators are rightly concerned about the simple incompetence SBOE demonstrates on every subject, not just science, and the general atmosphere of unnecessary bickering McLeroy has fostered.  In the latest, but mostly unreported move, SBOE stopped the review of social studies standards by experts and expert teachers in Texas.  Among the chief complaints is that the economics team recommended calling capitalism “capitalism.”  McLeroy is unhappy with using the appropriate term to describe America’s economic system.

Is it possible to get much more divorced from reality than that, and still keep one’s driving and hunting licenses?

Schafersman has one paragraph that sums up the situation rather well:

Alexander writes: “Shapleigh said there is a perception that McLeroy is using the chairmanship of the State Board of Education as a bully pulpit for promoting his religious point-of-view and pushing it into the public arena.” McLeroy disingenuously denies this, claiming the fight is over different “educational philosophies,” and “that is the source of the controversy, not his religious views.” While that may be true of some actions, such as forcing a traditional English Language Arts curriculum unwanted by ELA professionals on the state and illegally throwing out a mathematics textbook, in most cases the Fundamentalist Protestant Christian religious beliefs of McLeroy and his six cronies on the State Board were definitely behind their actions. These include the adoption of flawed, damaged science standards, the explicit attacks on evolution, the fossil record, and ancient geological ages of the Earth and universe, adoption of a flawed and inadequate Bible curriculum that will permit unscholarly and unscientific Bible instruction, and the frequent threats to publishers–which is a form of extortion that publishers come to expect–to reject their textbooks if they don’t contain sufficient anti-scientific information against evolution and in favor of Intelligent Design Creationism. McLeroy tried to censor textbooks previously in 2003 by threatening publishers, but failed.

What happens if the Senate rejects Perry’s nomination of McLeroy?  McLeroy would remain a member of SBOE.  Who, or whether, Perry would appoint to replace McLeroy has not been discussed.  Do any of the current members have the respect of a majority of the board, enough to do the job?  Is anyone on the board capable of administering the group when religious fanatics appear so hell bent on shattering foundations of public education?

Don’t get hopes up.  Rejecting McLeroy’s nomination might be the rational thing to do, but it might push Perry to even deeper acts of irrationality in appointing a new chair, difficult though it may be to imagine that.

Stay tuned.


Creationist hypocrisy. Film at 11:00

April 22, 2009

Under the ironic headline, “Why is critical evaluation of Darwinism not allowed in the public square?” Wintery Knight‘s blog has a bold, typically inaccurate defense of the bullying tactics of ID advocates.

But critical evaluation?  Just try to post a comment critical of intelligent design.

Why are ID advocates almost to a person such supreme hypocrites, and unintentional clowns?  Is there a law that says one must be a noob to be an ID advocate?


Update, May 3: Here’s my challenge to you, dear reader:  See if you can post a comment at all at Wintery Knight’s rant. Post a copy of your comments here, too, and let’s count to see whether this fellow is just one more supreme, Pharisaical hypocrite, or just an incompetent blogger.

Exotic trouble: Zebra mussel invades Texas

April 22, 2009

Zebra mussels have been found live in Lake Texoma, on the Texas-Oklahoma border, a lake made by damming the Red River.  Video from WFAA, Channel 8 in DallasPress release from Texas Parks and Wildlife.

All of a sudden Texans have a powerful reason to worry about evolution (the mussels are evolving to live in warmer waters?), climate change, ecosystem destruction by exotic species, and water pollution.

Zebra mussels are a bigger problem than any other undocumented immigrant.

Happy Earth Day! 

Help out:

If you find a suspected zebra mussel, here are the numbers to call:

  • In Texas-(800) 792-4263
  • In Oklahoma-(405) 521-3721


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