Quote of the moment: Jonathan Weiner’s Pulitzer-winning explanation of mosquitoes developing immunity to DDT

April 30, 2010

When evolutionists study these worldwide resistance movements, they see four classes of adaptations arising, because an insect under attack has four possible routes to survival.

Jonathan Weiner, author of The Beak of the Finch

Jonathan Weiner, author of The Beak of the Finch, a story of evolution in our time

First, it can simply dodge. Strains of malarial mosquitoes in Africa used to fly into a hut, sting someone, and then land on the hut wall to digest their meals. In the 1950s and 1960s health workers began spraying hut walls with DDT. Unfortunately in every village there were always a few mosquitoes that would fly in through the window, bite, and fly right back out. Millions of mosquitoes died, but these few survived and multiplied. Within a short time almost all of the mosquitoes in the villages were hit-and-run mosquitoes.

Second, if an insect cannot dodge, it can evolve a way to keep the poison from getting under its cuticle. Some diamondback moths, if they land on a leaf that is tainted with pyrethroids, will fly off and leave their poisoned legs behind, an adaptive trick known as “legdrop.”

Third, if the insect can’t keep the poison out, it may evolve an antidote. A mosquito species called Culex pipiens can now survive massive doses of organophosphate insecticides. The mosquitoes actually digest the poison, using a suite of enzymes known as esterases. The genes that make these esterases are known as alleles B1 and B2. Many strains of Culex pipiens now carry as many as 250 copies of the B1 allele and 60 copies of the B2.

Because these genes are virtually identical, letter by letter, from continent to continent, it seems likely that they came from a single lucky mosquito. The mutant, the founder of this particular resistance movement, is thought to have lived in the 1960s, somewhere in Africa or Asia. The genes first appeared in Californian mosquitoes in 1984, in Italian mosquitoes in 1985, and in French mosquitoes in 1986.

Cover of Jonathan Weiner's book, The Beak of the Finch, a story of evolution in our time

Finally, if the insect can’t evolve an antidote,it can sometimes find an internal dodge. The poison has a target somewhere inside the insect’s body. The insect can shrink this target, or move it, or lose it. Of the four types of adaptations, the four survival strategies, this is the hardest for evolution to bring off — but [entomologist Martin] Taylor thinks this is how Heliothis [virescens, a cotton boll-eating moth] is evolving now.

“It always seems amazing to me that evolutionists pay so little attention to this kind of thing,” says Taylor. “And that cotton growers are having to deal with these pests in the very states whose legislatures are so hostile to the theory of evolution. Because it is evolution itself they are struggling against in their fields each season. These people are trying to ban the teaching of evolution while their own cotton crops are failing because of evolution. How can you be a creationist farmer any more?”

Jonathan Weiner, The Beak of the Finch, a story of evolution in our time, Alfred A. Knopf 1994, pp. 254-255. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction in 1995.


I get political e-mail, from Bill White on Texas social studies standards

April 29, 2010

Good information, oddly enough for a political note:

Dear Ed,

Click here to watch video
Watch my brief comments
and join the conversation.

We need your help to keep divisive politics out of Texas’ classrooms.

From now until May 14th, the State Board of Education is accepting public comments on its proposed curriculum changes.

The SBOE has proposed removing Thomas Jefferson from a part of the curriculum. They are also planning to exclude references to Hispanics who fought Santa Anna and died at the Alamo.

Watch the YouTube video with my brief comments by clicking here.

During the primaries, Texans voted against the most extreme and hyper-political SBOE candidates, sending a clear message about their approach of injecting politics into our classrooms.

Last month, I called on Rick Perry to ask his appointed chair of the SBOE to either send changes back to expert review teams or delay the vote until new board members are seated.

Perry’s response has been to say that he’s not going to “try to outsmart” the SBOE. He declined to show leadership, refusing to ask his appointed chair of SBOE to rein in the hyper-political curriculum amendment process.

Join the conversation and spread the word about this opportunity to be heard.

Our next governor should be a leader who ensures our schools prepare young Texans for college and their careers. I am committed to improving education and working for our future.

Thank you for taking the time to weigh in.

Sincerely,

Bill White

P.S. If you would like to send your comments directly to the SBOE, click here.


Teaching Now, new blog

April 29, 2010

It’s from the folks at Education Week and Teacher magazine:  Teaching Now.

You may want to see the entry a couple of days ago about a school who issued cell phones to fifth grade students, and why.

Or note this story that Broward County, Florida, is hacking away at salaries for librarians and teachers of art, music and physical education.


Diane Ravitch in Dallas: NCLB isn’t working

April 28, 2010

Dr. Diane Ravitch, one of the principal education theorists behind the No Child Left Behind Act, will speak twice in Dallas over the next two days — telling how NCLB is not working

Both public events, tonight at 7:00 p.m., and Thursday at the Dallas Institute of Culture and Humanities, are sponsored by the Dallas Institute.

Note that registration is required for tonight’s session:

To All Staff RE: The Dallas Institute of Culture and Humanities presents: Education Forum: What Makes a Good Education?

Two Public Events: Wednesday, April 28, at 7 p.m., and Thursday, April 29, at 7 p.m.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010, 7 p.m. Evening Forum and Book Signing at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts Montgomery Arts Theater, 2501 Flora Street, Dallas, 75201

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Diane Ravitch, Education Historian

In this age of productivity models and minimum standards, the topic of a good education often
gets lost, but it evokes the century-long quarrel between the practical and the academic
curricula in our public discourse. Today, if we want to build a school system that will serve our
youth not only in their schooling but throughout life, we need to place what makes a good education
at the center of our discussion.

Beginning this conversation during our inaugural Education Forum are two noted authorities in the teaching profession: Dr. Diane Ravitch and Dr. Louise Cowan

Dr. Diane Ravitch, one of the nations leading education historians and author of the
#1 bestselling book on education, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.

In it, Dr. Ravitch explains why she is recanting many of the views she held as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education. Based on the data, she claimed in a recent interview on The Diane Rehm show, the remedies are not working and will not give us the educated citizens that we all want. Dr. Ravitch will explore what makes a good education and how to fulfill our commitment to a democratic future.

Dr. Louise Cowan, a Founding Fellow of the Dallas Institute and former dean at the University of Dallas, created the Institutes nationally recognized Teachers Academy programs from her vision of what makes a good education. For 27 years, these programs have challenged area school teachers to assume their full authority and responsibility as teaching professionals.

SEATING FOR THE EVENING FORUM IS LIMITED – ADMISSION BY RESERVATION ONLY

Teachers Admission – $15 / General Admission – $25

Deadline to register is noon, Wednesday, April 28.

For more information or to register, call 214-871-2440, or go to http://www.dallasinstitute.org/programs_events_eduforum.html

Thursday, April 29, 2010, 7 p.m. Evening Book Discussion at the Dallas Institute of Culture and Humanities, 2719 Routh Street, Dallas, Texas 75201

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education.

Discussion of Dr. Ravitchs new book will be led by Institute Fellows and Teachers Academy alumni.

General Admission – $10

For more information or to register, call 214-871-2440, or go to http://www.dallasinstitute.org/programs_events_eduforum.html

The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture
2719 Routh Street
Dallas, Texas 75201
www.dallasinstitute.org


Decline and fall of the Wall Street Journal — DDT poisoning to blame?

April 27, 2010

Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of the Wall Street Journal provoked groans in 2007, but especially among those of us who had dealt with the news teams of the paper over the previous couple of decades.

For good reason, we now know.  An opposite-editorial page article in the European edition shows why.

Wall Street Journal images - Gothamite New York image

Richard Tren and Donald Roberts, two anti-environmentalist, anti-science lobbyists, wrote a slam at scientists, environmentalists, malaria fighters and the UN, making false claims that these people somehow botched the handling of DDT and allowed a lot of children to die.  Tren, Roberts and the Wall Street Journal should be happy to know that their targeting essentially public figures, probably protects them from libel suits.

Most seriously, the article just gets the facts wrong.  Facts of science and history — easily checked — are simply stated erroneously.  Sometimes the statements are so greatly at odds with the facts, one might wonder if there was malignant intent to skew history and science.

This is journalistic and newspaper malpractice.  Any national journal, like the WSJ, should have fact checkers to check out at least the basic claims of op-ed writers.  Did Murdock fire them all?  How can anyone trust any opinion expressed at the Journal when these guys get away with a yahoo-worthy, fact-challenged piece like this one?

Tren and Roberts make astounding errors of time and place, attributing to DDT magical powers to cross space and time.  What are they thinking?  Here are some of the errors the Journals fact checkers should have caught — did Murdoch fire all the fact checkers?

  1. Beating malaria is not a question of having scientific know howCuring a disease in humans requires medical delivery systems that can diagnose and treat the disease.  DDT does nothing on those scores.  Beating malaria is a question of will and consistency, political will to create the human institutions to do the job.  DDT can’t help there.
  2. DDT wasn’t the tool used to eradicate malaria from the U.S.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control — an agency set up specifically to fight diseases like malaria — says malaria was effectively eradicated from the U.S. in 1939.  DDT’s pesticide capabilities were discovered in mid-1939, but DDT was not available to fight malaria, for civilians, for another seven years.  DDT does not time travel.
  3. DDT doesn’t have a great track record beating malaria, anywhere. Among nations that have beaten malaria, including the U.S., the chief tools used were other than pesticides.  Among nations where DDT is still used, malaria is endemic.  DDT helped, but there is no place on Earth that beat malaria solely by spraying to kill mosquitoes.  Any malaria fighter will tell you that more must be done, especially in improving medical care, and in creating barriers to keep mosquitoes from biting.
  4. Beating malaria in the U.S. involved draining breeding areas, screening windows to stop mosquitoes from entering homes, and boosting medical care and public health efforts. These methods are the only methods that have worked, over time, to defeat malaria.  Pesticides can help in a well-managed malaria eradication campaign, but no campaign based on spraying pesticides has ever done more than provide a temporary respite against malaria.
  5. DDT is not a magic bullet against malaria. Nations that have used DDT continuously and constantly since 1946, like Mexico, and almost like South Africa, have the same malaria problems other nations have.  Nations that have banned DDT have no malaria.
  6. DDT has never been banned across most of the planet.  Even under the pesticide treaty that specifically targets DDT-classes of pesticides for phase out, there is a special exception for DDT.  DDT was manufactured in the U.S. long after it was banned for agricultural use, and it is manufactured today in India and China.  It is freely available to any government who wishes to use it.
  7. People in malaria-prone areas are not stupid. Tren and Roberts expect you to believe that people in malaria-prone nations are too stupid to buy cheap DDT and use it to save their children, but instead require people like Tren and Roberts to tell them what to do.  That’s a pretty foul argument on its face.
  8. DDT is a dangerous poison, uncontrollable in the wild. Tren and Roberts suggest that DDT is relatively harmless, and that people were foolish to be concerned about it.  They ignore the two federal trials that established DDT was harmful, and the court orders under which EPA (dragging its feet) compiled a record of DDT’s destructive potential thousands of pages long.  They ignore the massive fishkills in Texas and Oklahoma, they ignore the astounding damage to reproduction of birds, and the bioaccumulation quality of the stuff, which means that all living things accumulate larger doses as DDT rises through the trophic levels of the food chain.  Predatory birds in American estuaries got doses of DDT multiplied millions of times over what was applied to be toxic to the smallest organisms.
    DDT was banned in the U.S. because it destroys entire ecosystems.  The U.S. ban prohibited its use on agriculture crops, but allowed use to fight malaria or other diseases, or for other emergencies.  Under these emergency rules, DDT was used to fight the tussock moth infestation in western U.S. forests in the 1970s.
  9. Again, DDT’s ban in the U.S. was not based on a threat to human health. DDT was banned because it destroys natural ecosystems. So any claim that human health effects are not large, misses the point.  However, we should not forget that DDT is a known carcinogen to mammals (humans are mammals).  DDT is listed as a “probable human carcinogen” by the American Cancer Society and every other cancer-fighting agency on Earth.  Why didn’t the Journal’s fact checkers bother to call their local cancer society?  DDT is implicated as a threat to human health, as a poison, as a carcinogen, and as an endocrine disruptor.  Continued research since 1972 has only confirmed that DDT poses unknown, but most likely significant threats to human health.  No study has ever been done that found DDT to be safe to humans.
  10. Use of DDT — or rather, overuse of DDT — frequently has led to more malaria. DDT forces rapid evolution of mosquitoes.  They evolve defenses to the stuff, so that future generations are resistant or even totally immune to DDT.  Increasing DDT use often leads to an increase in malaria.
  11. Slandering the World Health Organization (WHO), Rachel Carson, the thousands of physicians in Africa and Asia who fight malaria, or environmentalists who have exposed the dangers of DDT, does nothing to help save anyone from malaria.

Tren and Roberts have a new book out, a history of DDT.  I suspect that much of the good they have to say about DDT is true and accurate.  Their distortions of history, and their refusal to look at the mountain of science evidence that warns of DDT’s dangers is all the more puzzling.

No world class journal should allow such an ill-researched piece to appear, even as an opinion.  Somebody should have done some fact checking, and made those corrections before the piece hit publication.

Full text of the WSJ piece below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »


Colleague’s Fulbright-Hays trip to Senegal

April 26, 2010

One of my colleagues — an art teacher; you know, the adventurous type — heads off to Senegal this summer on a Fulbright-Hays program.

I’m sorta jealous, of course.  I need time to push our history course to championship level, though — I didn’t apply for anything this summer.

You can track Mr. Adkins’ trip and progress at a blog he’s set up, appropriately called Mr. Adkins’ Great Adventure in Senegal.

If you’re teaching world history, or art, or government, or environmental science, or geography, this might be a great blog to track.

Senegal is a very interesting place.  Note on the map how it completely surrounds its neighbor nation of The Gambia.

FAA map of Senegal

Senegal, map courtesy of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

France held the nation as a colony once upon a time, from 1850 to independence of the Mali Federation in 1960 — one of the national languages is French, but regional languages are numerous, Wolof, Soninke, Seereer-Siin, Fula, Maninka, and Diola.  The Mali Federation was short-lived, and Senegal broke off in August of 1960.

If you listen to NPR, you’ve probably heard their reporter signing off in that distinct way she does, “Tthis is Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, for NPR, in Dah-KAHHH!”  (Not to be confused with Dacca, Pakistan).

According to the CIA Factbook (online version):

The French colonies of Senegal and the French Sudan were merged in 1959 and granted their independence as the Mali Federation in 1960. The union broke up after only a few months. Senegal joined with The Gambia to form the nominal confederation of Senegambia in 1982, but the envisaged integration of the two countries was never carried out, and the union was dissolved in 1989. The Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance (MFDC) has led a low-level separatist insurgency in southern Senegal since the 1980s, and several peace deals have failed to resolve the conflict. Nevertheless, Senegal remains one of the most stable democracies in Africa. Senegal was ruled by a Socialist Party for 40 years until current President Abdoulaye WADE was elected in 2000. He was reelected in February 2007, but has amended Senegal’s constitution over a dozen times to increase executive power and weaken the opposition, part of the President’s increasingly autocratic governing style. Senegal has a long history of participating in international peacekeeping and regional mediation.

The country is tropical, hot and humid.  Geographically, it is low, rolling plains.

Dakar is about as far west as one can go on the African continent.   (See the map inset — Senegal is in dark green).

Senegal has iron ores, and phosphorus (ancient bird droppings?).  It’s not a rich nation, but it’s better off than many developing countries.

Adkins is in for a great adventure, no?

Africa, showing Senegal - CIA Factbook

Africa, showing Senegal - CIA Factbook


Strike a blow against malaria, for World Malaria Day, April 25, 2010

April 25, 2010

Today is World Malaria Day.

Not a day to celebrate malaria, but to encourage the fight against it.

What can you do?  One good thing would be to give $10 to Nothing But Nets, the campaign to get bednets for every kid in an African area affected by malaria.

Bednets save lives of kids like this 4-year old - Photo by Paul Bettings/World Vision

Bednets save lives of kids like this 4-year old - Photo by Paul Bettings/World Vision

Another thing to do would be to remember that fighting malaria does not require DDT, and in fact fighting malaria might be hampered by DDT.

Go donate.  We’ll worry about the charlatans later.


Utah report: More false “founders’ quotes” plague American discourse

April 25, 2010

Utah has a movement out to slander education and the Constitution, with a pointless claim that the Constitution cannot be called a “democracy,” damn Lincoln, Hamilton, Madison, Washington, both Roosevelts, and Reagan.

Sadly, it started in my old school district, the one where I got the last nine years of public school education, Alpine District, in the north end of Utah County.

They even have a website, Utah’s Republic. (No, Utah was never an independent republic before it was a state — it’s not like the Texas Republic wackoes, except in their wacko interpretations of law and history, where they are indistinguishable.)

At the blog from that site, there is a silly discussion on how a republic is a much superior form of government to a democracy.  Never mind that sheer numbers in our nation have always made democracy impossible (can’t get 150 million voters in one hall), or that distance makes it impossible to work (vote tomorrow in Washington, D.C.?  Everybody call the airlines, see if you can make it.)

So, I pointed out how a republic can also suggest tyranny.  And the response?  A flurry of “quotes from the founders.”

Can you vouch for any of these “quotes?”  Is any one of them accurate?

The Jefferson “mob rule” quote isn’t in any Jefferson data base that I can find. I find it also attributed to George Washington — but almost always without any citation, so you can’t check.

That maneuver is one of the key indicators of Bogus Quotes, the lack of any citation to make it difficult to track down.  All of these quotes come without citation:

As for a moral people, Washington said there could be no morality without religion and called it the “indispensable support,” not education. Obviously Jefferson and the Founders wanted education of the constitution to take place but we are very far removed from it in our education system.

Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either aristocracy or monarchy. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide. – John Adams

A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine. – Thomas Jefferson

The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not. – Thomas Jefferson

Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote. – Benjamin Franklin

Democracy is the most vile form of government… democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention: have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property: and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths. – James Madison

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy. – Abraham Lincoln

The last one is probably accurate, but irrelevant to this discussion (nice red herring, there, Oak).  Can you offer links to verify any of them?

Is this what I suspect?  The “Utah Republic” drive is not only a tempest in a teapot (though perhaps caused by other more serious maladies), but also a tempest based on false readings of history?

The website for “Utah Republic” is maintained by a guy named Oak Norton, who is obviously in thrall to the voodoo histories of David Barton and Cleon Skousen (I think Barton stole a lot of his voodoo history from Skousen, but that’s another topic for another day).

Funny:  Nowhere do these guys discuss one of the greatest drivers of the republic, over more egalitarian and more democratic forms of government.  Remember, Hamilton preferred to have an aristocracy, an elite-by-birth group, who would rule over the peasants.  He didn’t trust the peasants, the people who he saw as largely uneducated, to make critical decisions like, who should be president.  Norton doesn’t trust the peasants to get it right, and so he wants to dictate to them what they are supposed to know, in Nortonland.

Just because Oak Norton slept through high school history and government is no reason to shut down Utah’s Alpine School District or any other school; he’s not offered much evidence that everyone else missed that day in class, nor evidence that it has any significant effect.


I get e-mail: PFAW on Texas social studies follies (“please help!”)

April 23, 2010

People for the American Way have joined the fight for good education in Texas, pushing better social studies education standards.  The Texas State Board of Education will conduct final votes on social studies standards in May.

Grotesque slashes damaged social studies standards in the last round of amendments.  Conservatives will probably try to keep secret their proposed changes, offering a flurry of last-minute amendments carefully designed to gut serious education and make the standards work as indoctrination for young conservatives instead.

PFAW has good reason to fear.  Here’s their letter. from PFAW President Michael Keegan:

Dear People For Supporter,

Thomas Jefferson banned in Texas schools? Maybe… if the Right has its way. The fight is still on to keep absurd changes out of the Texas social studies textbook standards, with the final standards set to be adopted by the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) on May 21.

Right-wing members of the SBOE are using the textbook standards in Texas to rewrite history in a way that could impact students across the U.S., tossing out facts in favor of propaganda like:

  • America is a Christian country, founded on “Biblical principles.”
  • Conservative icons from Ronald Reagan to Newt Gingrich, Phyllis Schlafly, the Moral Majority and even Sen. Joseph McCarthy are history’s “good guys,” but progressives and progressive values are at odds with what it means to be “American.”
  • Words like “democracy” (sounds like “Democrat!”) have nothing to do with America — we’re a Republic — In fact, “capitalism” has sort of a negative connotation to some, so they want that word to be universally replaced with “free market.”
  • Some of the major contributions of Thomas Jefferson — arguably America’s greatest thinker — are on the chopping block, as are the contributions of other important figures not favored by the zealots on the Texas State Board of Education, like Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall. (Who’s next? Martin Luther King? FDR?)

Texas is just ground zero for what is clearly a national effort. We need to make sure that whatever standards are adopted in Texas, they do not affect the social studies textbooks used by students in other states.

Please sign our petition to the major textbook publishers urging them to keep Texas standards in Texas and not to publish national textbooks based on Texas’ standards.

The Texas State Board of Education traditionally has tremendous power in determining the content of textbooks not only for Texas students but for students across the U.S. Texas reviews and adapts textbook standards for the major subjects every six years, and because of the size of the state’s market, textbook publishers often print books consistent with the Texas standards. Last year, they attracted national ridicule for trying to inject creationism into science textbooks. This year, they’re voting on social studies standards.

The right-wing majority on the State Board wants indoctrinate Texas students into this new perverse revisionist history. PFAW is supporting our allies on the ground in Texas who are working to make sure students have the chance to learn history as it occurred, not how the Far Right wish it had happened. But we need to do all we can to make sure this is not exported to other states and school districts as well. Help us take extremism out of textbook decision making and let our children learn the truth in the classroom.

Sign our petition to major textbook publishers urging them to keep Texas standards from spreading and not to offer Texas-style textbooks nationally by default.

Thank you for your activism and for your continued support of PFAW.

– Michael B. Keegan, President

Pass the word, will you?

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Social studies insanity spreads through South

April 23, 2010

Texas isn’t the only state afflicted with people trying to gut social studies.

A Georgia legislator introduced a resolution to instruct the Georgia Supreme Court that our government is not a democracy, but is instead a republic.

See what the Texas State Board of Education wants to have happen?

Georgia House of Representatives H.R. 1770 (2010):

A RESOLUTION

Informing Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol W. Hunstein that Georgia is a republic, not a democracy; recognizing the great differences between these two forms of government; and for other purposes.

WHEREAS, on March 16, 2010, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol W. Hunstein appeared before the Georgia General Assembly for the State of the Judiciary address, and in her speech Chief Justice Hunstein mistakenly called the State of Georgia a democracy; and

WHEREAS, the State of Georgia is, in fact, a republic and it is important that all Georgians know the difference between a republic and a democracy -– especially the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court; and

WHEREAS, the word “republic” comes from the Latin res publica, which means “the public thing” or “the law,” while the word “democracy” comes from the Greek words demos and kratein, which translates to “the people to rule”; and

WHEREAS, most synonymous with majority rule, democracy was condemned by the Founding Fathers of the United States, who closely studied the history of both democracies and republics before drafting the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution; and

WHEREAS, the Founding Fathers recognized that the rights given to man by God should not be violated by an unrestrained majority any more than they should be restrained by a king or monarch; and

WHEREAS, it is common knowledge that the Pledge of Allegiance contains the phrase “and to the Republic”; and

WHEREAS, as he exited the deliberations of the so-called Constitutional Convention of 1787, Founding Father Benjamin Franklin told the awaiting crowd they have “A republic, if you can keep it”; and

WHEREAS, a republic is a government of law, not of man, which is why the United States Constitution does not contain the word democracy and mandates that “the United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government”; and

WHEREAS, in 1928, the War Department of the United States defined democracy in Training Manual No. 2000–25 as a “government of the masses” which “[r]esults in mobocracy,” communistic attitudes to property rights, “demagogism, … agitation, discontent, [and] anarchy”; …

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES that the members of this body recognize the difference between a democracy and a republic and inform Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol W. Hunstein that the State of Georgia is a republic and not a democracy….

Tip of the scrub brush to the Volokh Conspiracy, where you’ll find erudite and entertaining comment, and where Eugene Volokh wrote:

Now maybe this is just a deep inside joke, but if it’s meant to be serious then it strikes me as the worst sort of pedantry. (I distinguish this from my pedantry, which is the best sort of pedantry.)

Whatever government Georgia has, and whatever government the English language has, it is not government by ancient Romans, ancient Greeks, the War Department Training Manual, or even the Pledge of Allegiance. “Democracy” today includes, among other meanings, “Government by the people; that form of government in which the sovereign power resides in the people as a whole, and is exercised either directly by them (as in the small republics of antiquity) or by officers elected by them. In mod. use often more vaguely denoting a social state in which all have equal rights, without hereditary or arbitrary differences of rank or privilege.” That’s from the Oxford English Dictionary, but if you prefer the American Heritage Dictionary, try “Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.” Government by the people’s representatives is included within democracy, as is government by the people directly.

“Joke” is an accurate description, but one that escapes the sponsors and irritates the impedants on the Texas SBOE.

Gavel to Gavel offers the insight that this is the legislative response to an address to the legislature by Georgia’s Chief Justice.

When legislatures have too much time on their hands, and engage in such hystrionics, one wonders whether the legislature wouldn’t be better off left in the dark by not inviting the views of the Chief Justice in the future.  Perhaps the Chief Justice should decline any invitation offered.

What we now know is that some Georgia legislators are all het up about the difference between a republic and a democracy, though I’ll wager none of them could pass an AP world history or European history quiz on Rome and Greece.  And what is really revealed is that some Georgia legislators don’t know their burros from a burrow.

You can also be sure of this:  Such action is exactly what the so-called conservatives on the Texas SBOE wish to have happen from their diddling of social studies standards.


What if the old curmudgeon teaching economics married that cute, brainy geography teacher?

April 23, 2010

Or, was it the cute curmudgeon teaching econ and the old cartographer in geography?

I think I’ll add this to my TAKS review.  What other classroom uses can you find for it?

I found it at Cool InfoGraphics.

Seriously, geography and economics teachers, this is big stuff:

Follow the Money” is a video summarizing the results from the project by Northwestern University grad students Daniel Grady and Christian Thiemann.  Using data from the website Where’s George?, they have been able to track the movement of U.S. paper currency.  What can you learn from this?  That there are natural borders within the U.S. that don’t necessarily follow state borders, and it can also be used to predict the spread of disease because it maps movement of people within the U.S.

From Maria Popova on BrainPickings.org: This may sound like dry statistical uninterestingness, but the video visualization of the results is rather eye-opening, revealing how money — not state borders, not political maps, not ethnic clusters — is the real cartographer drawing our cultural geography.  The project was a winner at the 2009 Visualization Challenge sponsored by the National Science Foundation and AAA.

Tip of the old scrub brush to VizWorld and Maitri’s VatulBlog


Earth Day/Lenin’s Birthday hoax

April 22, 2010

One surefire way to tell an Earth Day post is done by an Earth Day denialist:  They’ll note that the first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, was an anniversary of the birth of Lenin.

Coincidentally, yes, Lenin was born on April 22 (new style calendar; it was April 10 on the calendar when he was born — but that’s a digression for another day).

It’s a hoax.  There is no meaning to the first Earth Day’s falling on Lenin’s birthday — Lenin was not prescient enough to plan his birthday to fall in the middle of Earth Week, a hundred years before Earth Week was even planned.

My guess is that only a few really wacko conservatives know that April 22 is Lenin’s birthday (was it ever celebrated in the Soviet Union?).  No one else bothers to think about it, or say anything about it, nor especially, to celebrate it.

Wisconsin’s U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, usually recognized as the founder and father of Earth Day, told how and why the organizers came to pick April 22:

Senator Nelson chose the date in order to maximize participation on college campuses for what he conceived as an “environmental teach-in.” He determined the week of April 19–25 was the best bet; it did not fall during exams or spring breaks, did not conflict with religious holidays such as Easter or Passover, and was late enough in spring to have decent weather. More students were likely to be in class, and there would be less competition with other mid-week events—so he chose Wednesday, April 22.

In his own words, Nelson spoke of what he was trying to do:

After President Kennedy’s [conservation] tour, I still hoped for some idea that would thrust the environment into the political mainstream. Six years would pass before the idea that became Earth Day occurred to me while on a conservation speaking tour out West in the summer of 1969. At the time, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, called “teach-ins,” had spread to college campuses all across the nation. Suddenly, the idea occurred to me – why not organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment?

I was satisfied that if we could tap into the environmental concerns of the general public and infuse the student anti-war energy into the environmental cause, we could generate a demonstration that would force this issue onto the political agenda. It was a big gamble, but worth a try.

At a conference in Seattle in September 1969, I announced that in the spring of 1970 there would be a nationwide grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment and invited everyone to participate. The wire services carried the story from coast to coast. The response was electric. It took off like gangbusters. Telegrams, letters, and telephone inquiries poured in from all across the country. The American people finally had a forum to express its concern about what was happening to the land, rivers, lakes, and air – and they did so with spectacular exuberance. For the next four months, two members of my Senate staff, Linda Billings and John Heritage, managed Earth Day affairs out of my Senate office.

Five months before Earth Day, on Sunday, November 30, 1969, The New York Times carried a lengthy article by Gladwin Hill reporting on the astonishing proliferation of environmental events:

“Rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation’s campuses with an intensity that may be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam…a national day of observance of environmental problems…is being planned for next spring…when a nationwide environmental ‘teach-in’…coordinated from the office of Senator Gaylord Nelson is planned….”

Nelson, a veteran of the U.S. armed services (Okinawa campaign), flag-waving ex-governor of Wisconsin (Sen. Joe McCarthy’s home state, but also the home of Aldo Leopold and birthplace of John Muir), was working to raise America’s consciousness and conscience about environmental issues.

Lenin on the environment?  Think of the Aral Sea disaster, the horrible pollution from Soviet mines and mills, and the dreadful record of the Soviet Union on protecting any resource.  Lenin believed in exploiting resources, not conservation.

So, why are all these conservative denialists claiming, against history and politics, that Lenin’s birthday has anything to do with Earth Day?

Can you say “propaganda?”

Good information:

Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame:

Warn people not to be sucked in by the hoax:

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Nature vs. Industrial Light and Magic

April 20, 2010

Nature wins.  You can’t dream up effects like this.

From Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD), a photo of Iceland’s latest fuming, smoking European nightmare.  Wow.  Just wow.

Ash and Lightning Above an Icelandic Volcano Credit & Copyright: Marco Fulle (Stromboli Online)

Ash and Lightning Above Eyjafjallajökull, an Icelandic Volcano - Credit & Copyright: Marco Fulle (Stromboli Online)

How did Marco Fulle of the Stromboli team of volcano observers get that photograph?  More of his great photos, here.

More:

Tip of the old scrub brush to Gormogons.


Teaching poetry badly, denying the captains of our souls

April 20, 2010

At the Poetry Foundation’s blog, Harriet, Wanda Coleman wrote about running into a student who hated to write poems, because she’d been conditioned to think poetry is difficult and dense:

I am forever grateful for that nameless White female, who, in her clunky shoes and calf-length tweed skirts, passed out poems on mimeograph paper to her first-grade students. When talking to students myself, I often tell the story of the very prim and ebony Mrs. Covington who challenged her junior high school English class to memorize “Invictus” before telling us who had authored the poem.

Words to teach by.  “Invictus?”  You know it, even if you don’t think you do.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

A poem written in 1875 by William Ernest Henley.  Wikipedia describes it well enough:

At the age of 12, Henley became a victim of tuberculosis of the bone. A few years later, the disease progressed to his foot, and physicians announced that the only way to save his life was to amputate directly below the knee. It was amputated at the age of 25. In 1867, he successfully passed the Oxford local examination as a senior student. In 1875, he wrote the “Invictus” poem from a hospital bed. Despite his disability, he survived with one foot intact and led an active life until his death at the age of 53.

How is your National Poetry Month going?  Go read Harriet.


Annals of global warming: March 2010, warmest March ever

April 20, 2010

NOAA's tracking of temperature change from 1971-2000 base, for March 2010

From NOAA, released April 15, 2010

Global warming slowed or stopped?  Let’s look at the facts:

NOAA: Global Temps Push Last Month to Hottest March on Record

April 15, 2010

The world’s combined global land and ocean surface temperature made last month the warmest March on record, according to NOAA. Taken separately, average ocean temperatures were the warmest for any March and the global land surface was the fourth warmest for any March on record. Additionally, the planet has seen the fourth warmest January – March period on record.

NOAA’s (National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) report points out — again — that local weather is not world climate:

  • The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for March 2010 was the warmest on record at 56.3°F (13.5°C), which is 1.39°F (0.77°C) above the 20th century average of 54.9°F (12.7°C).
  • The worldwide ocean surface temperature was the highest for any March on record –1.01°F (0.56°C) above the 20th century average of 60.7°F (15.9°C).
  • Separately, the global land surface temperature was 2.45°F (1.36°C) above the 20th century average of 40.8 °F (5.0°C) — the fourth warmest on record. Warmer-than-normal conditions dominated the globe, especially in northern Africa, South Asia and Canada. Cooler-than-normal regions included Mongolia and eastern Russia, northern and western Europe, Mexico, northern Australia, western Alaska and the southeastern United State

News continues to roll in about the investigations of the stealing of e-mails from England’s Hadley Climate Research Unit (CRU), and the news is that the scientists who documented global warming were accurate and honest.  Alas, such reports do not slow the anti-science denialist mob provocateurs.

So, we have assurance that the scientists are honest and hardworking.  Their hard work shows the planet warming, and the most likely proximate cause of the warming is human-caused effluents.

Did your newspaper cover the story?  How will denialists react?  Will anyone really notice?


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