Typewriter of the moment: Steve Allen

June 17, 2009

I miss Steve AllenI missMeeting of Minds.”  I miss finding out what Allen would be up to next.

Steve Allen at his typewriter, well before 1999

Steve Allen at his typewriter, well before 1999

An Olivetti electric?  Anyone know for sure?

Steve Allen invented “The Tonight Show” on NBC, and was its first host.  It would have been great to have heard his opinion of Jay Leno’s leaving, and Conan O’Brien’s taking over.

46 states agree to work for common education standards — Texas left out

June 17, 2009

(This issue has moved a bit since I first drafted this post — watch for updates.)

Ain’t it the way?

46 of the 50 states agreed to work for common education standards through a project of the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers.  Texas is one of four states not agreeing.  News comes from a report in the venerable Education Week (and to me directly via e-mail from Steve Schafersman at Texas Citizens for Science).

National standards for education are prohibited in the U.S. by law and tradition.  Education standards traditionally have been set by each of the more than 15,000 local school districts.  After the 1957 Sputnik education cleanup, and after the 1983 report of the Excellence in Education Commission, the nation has seen a drive to get at least state-wide standards, though a jealous regard for federalism still prevents national standards.

Almost all other industrialized nations have a set of national standards set by the national government, against which progress may be measured.  All the industrialized nations who score higher than U.S. students in international education comparisons, have standards mandated by a national group.

So if it’s an internationally recognized way of improving education, as part of their continuing war on education, and their war on science and evolution theory, the Texas State Board of Education takes the Neanderthal stance, avoiding cooperation with the 92% of the states working to improve American education.

You couldn’t make up villains like this.

Article below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Gambling to make government work, in Cave Creek, Arizona

June 17, 2009

It helps that it happened in a small Arizona town, in the desert, with a colorful name.  You cannot imagine such a thing happening in Yonkers, New York, nor in West Bend, Wisconsin.

A deadlocked election for the Cave Creek city council came down to a draw from a deck of cards, a poker deck carefully shuffled by a robed judge.

Cave Creek, Arizona, Judge George Preston, shuffles cards to breal a deadlock between Thomas McGuire, left, and Adam Trenk.  New York Times photo by Joshua Trent

Cave Creek, Arizona, Judge George Preston, shuffles cards to breal a deadlock between Thomas McGuire, left, and Adam Trenk. New York Times photo by Joshua Trent

We get the story from The New York Times:

Adam Trenk and Thomas McGuire, both in blue jeans and open-collar shirts, strode nervously into Town Hall with their posses. There stood the town judge. He selected a deck of cards from a Stetson hat and shuffled it — having removed the jokers — six times.

Mr. McGuire, 64, a retired science teacher and two-term incumbent on the Town Council, selected a card, the six of hearts, drawing approving oos and aws from his supporters.

Mr. Trenk, 25, a law student and newcomer to town, stepped forward. He lifted a card — a king of hearts — and the crowd roared. Cave Creek had finally selected its newest Council member.

“It’s a hell of a way to win — or lose — an election,” Mr. McGuire said. Still, it was only fitting, Mr. McGuire and others here said, that a town of 5,000 that prides itself on, and sometimes fights over, preserving its horse trails, ranches and other emblems of the Old West would cut cards to decide things. A transplant of 10 years from Yorktown Heights, N.Y., north of New York City, Mr. McGuire said he knew things were different here when not long after arriving he walked into a bar and found a horse inside.

Marshall Trimble, a cowboy singer, folklorist and community college professor who serves as Arizona’s official historian, said, “We are pretty tied to our roots here, at least we like to think so.”

Hans Zinnser, in the venerable Rats, Lice and History,  relates the story of an eastern European town where such ties are broken by lice — the two candidates put their beards on a table, and a louse is placed between the men.  The man whose beard the louse chooses is the winner.

Of course, this makes it difficult for women to participate in government fully.

Cave Creek is a typical cowboy, American town.  Deadlocks in government can be resolved by a game of chance.

Government teachers, history teachers, go get this story and clip it — it’s a good bell ringer, if not a full lesson in democratic republican government.

So, as the state’s Constitution allows, a game of chance was called to break the deadlock. The two candidates agreed on a card game (alternatives from the past have included rolling dice and, on rare occasions, gunfights).

Mr. Trimble said a cutting of the cards or roll of the dice had decided ties a handful of times in Arizona local elections. Tie-breakers have also been tried in other states, including in recent years in Alaska and Minnesota, said Paul Fidalgo, a spokesman for FairVote, a Washington group that monitors and advocates for fair elections.

Mr. Fidalgo said the group objected to random chance as the decider of election outcomes.

“Definitely not a democratic ideal, to say the least,” he said, suggesting, among other ideas, that the tied candidates engage in one more runoff.

That was ruled out here as too expensive, and besides, this was much more fun, as Mayor Vincent Francia made clear, clutching a microphone and serving as M.C.

“Originally we thought of settling this with a paintball fight but that involves skill, and skill is not allowed in this,” Mr. Francia said to laughter.

Did you ever think that the ability to shuffle a deck of cards would be a job skill for a judge?  There’s a reason law students play poker in the coffee lounge, and all weekend!

There’s more.  Go read the Times. This is also why the New York Times is a great paper, and why we cannot function without “mainstream media.”  Who else could have brought us the story?

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