From the University of Chicago news archives: Obama’s students speak

November 20, 2014

Six years into his presidency, Barack Obama still gets me a few odd — usually very, very odd — inquiries about his real history.

Today I got another inquiry asking why anyone would believe Obama taught at the University of Chicago Law School. ‘After all, he wasn’t a real professor. Don’t you find it odd we never hear from his students? Maybe it’s because he didn’t have any.’ [Yes, I’ve edited out the snark and insults, and corrected the spelling.]

It pains me that these hoaxes continue.  I don’t condemn the gullible for having differing views, but I do resent that these discussions keep us from serious discussions of real policy.  I am troubled that so many people would condemn legislation we need based on their erroneous view that President Obama is somehow made illegitimate by history.  You’d think they’d have learned from “The Devil and Daniel Webster” that we should deal with the devil, even, to improve our nation and the heritage of good laws we build on. Or perhaps they could have learned from the history of World War II, when we allied our nation with Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union in order to defeat a more menacing evil.

Santayana’s Ghost is troubled, too, I’m sure.

We straighten the record as often as necessary.  If we don’t make corrections in these errors, the errors will be repeated, and the devastating results of peoples’ believing the hoaxes will be multiplied.

First, yes, Obama was an instructor in Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago Law School.  More accurately, he was a Lecturer, and then Senior Lecturer — but at Chicago that does not imply less-than-professorial adjuncts.  Instead, it suggests these are high-functioning, well-respected professionals who pause from careers of great power to instruct students.

The law school put up a page on their website with the answers to the most-asked questions:

Statement Regarding Barack Obama 

The Law School has received many media requests about Barack Obama, especially about his status as “Senior Lecturer.”

From 1992 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Barack Obama served as a professor in the Law School. He was a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996. He was a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004, during which time he taught three courses per year. Senior Lecturers are considered to be members of the Law School faculty and are regarded as professors, although not full-time or tenure-track. The title of Senior Lecturer is distinct from the title of Lecturer, which signifies adjunct status. Like Obama, each of the Law School’s Senior Lecturers has high-demand careers in politics or public service, which prevent full-time teaching. Several times during his 12 years as a professor in the Law School, Obama was invited to join the faculty in a full-time tenure-track position, but he declined.

That should answer serious inquiries, and even most snarky questions.  It won’t.  Dear Reader, you may wish to bookmark this site, and the University of Chicago site, for future, quick reference and rebuttal.

As with most other hoaxes involving Barack Obama’s birth, education, higher education and career, serious journalists and writers for justly-proud schools and organizations already sought out people who knew Obama before he became famous.  Claims that these interviews do not exist are hoaxes, as are the claims based on the imagined absence of these stories.

What did Obama’s students think of him, and why don’t we hear from them?  Apparently they thought he was a great instructor; we don’t hear from them because critics are Google-challenged, or just too nasty to admit the information is out there. For example, this is from The Record Online, the alumni magazine of the law school:

From the Green Lounge to the White House

Author:  Robin I. Mordfin

When Barack Obama arrived at the Law School in 1991, faculty and students alike sensed that he had a bright future ahead of him. As the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review, he was clearly an accomplished scholar with a fine mind and his choice of careers. And once he began teaching, his strong oratorical skills and his ability to communicate complex ideas made his political ambitions appear credible.

Craig Cunningham, ’93, one of the President’s first students and a supporter of his teacher’s political ambitions, felt that Obama was brilliant, talented, and had the potential to be a great leader. But Cunningham was also concerned about Obama’s political future.

“I did expect him to run for office, because I would hang around after class and we would talk about the state senate,” Cunningham explains. “But after he lost the congressional race to Bobby Rush I thought he was moving too fast, that he should slow down and not run for a different office for a while because he was trying to do too much at one time. And Chicago politics were not going to allow him to do
that. I was worried. And I was really surprised when he told me he was going to run for U.S. Senate.”

Douglas Baird, the Harry A. Bigelow Distinguished Service Professor of Law and former Dean, shared Cunningham’s concern that winning the seat was a long shot for Obama.

“I remember having a cup of coffee with him when he said he was thinking of running for the U.S. Senate, and I looked at him straight in the eye and said, ‘Don’t do it, you’re not going to win.’”

The future President came to the attention of the Law School when Michael McConnell, ’79, a professor at the Law School at the time who is now a federal judge on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, told then-Dean Baird about an impressive editor at the Harvard Law Review who was doing an excellent job editing McConnell’s submission. Baird reached out to Obama and asked him about teaching. Having already made plans to write a book on voting rights after graduation, Obama refused the offer. So Baird took a different approach and offered him a Law and Government Fellowship, which would allow him to work on his book and would perhaps lead him to develop an interest in teaching. Obama accepted the offer and began the fellowship in the fall of 1991. At that time, he also practiced civil rights, voting rights, and employment law as well as real-estate transactions and corporate law as an attorney with Miner,
Barnhill & Galland, a position he held until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2005.

Though the intended voting rights book ultimately shifted focus and became Dreams from My Father, Baird’s plans for moving Obama into the classroom played out as expected. By 1993, Obama was teaching Current Issues in Racism and the Law—a class he designed—and added Constitutional Law III in 1996.

“In Con Law III we study equal process and due process. He was incredibly charismatic, funny, really willing to listen to student viewpoints—which I thought was very special at Chicago,” says Elysia Solomon, ’99. “There were so many diverse views in the class and people didn’t feel insecure about voicing their opinions. I thought that he did a really good job of balancing viewpoints.”

“When I walked into class the first day I remember that we—meaning the students I knew—thought we were going to get a very left-leaning perspective on the law,” explains Jesse Ruiz, ’95. “We assumed that because he was a minority professor in a class he designed. But he was very middle-of-the-road. In his class we were very cognizant that we were dealing with a difficult topic, but what we really got out of that class was that he taught us to think like lawyers about those hard topics even when we had
issues about those topics.”

Over time, Obama developed a reputation for teaching from a nonbiased point of view. He was also noted for widening the legal views of his students.

“I liked that he included both jurisprudence and real politics in the class discussions,” says Dan Johnson-Weinberger, ’00.

“Lots of classes in law school tend to be judge-centric and he had as much a focus on the legislative branch as the judicial branch. That was refreshing.”

From 1992 to 1996, Obama was classified as a lecturer. In 1996, after he was elected to the state senate, he became a Senior Lecturer, a title customarily assigned to judges and others with “day jobs” who teach at the school.

While the comments the administration heard from students about Obama were that he had a marvelous intellectual openness and an ability to explore ideas in the classroom, he was not the subject of enormous student discussion.

“Most students were not that focused on Barack during the years I was there,” says Joe Khan, ’00. “For example, every year the professors would donate their time or belongings to the law school charity auction. Professor Obama’s donation was to let two students spend the day with him in Springfield, where he’d show them around the state senate and introduce them to the other senators. People
now raise thousands of dollars to be in a room with the man, but my friend and I won the bid for a few hundred bucks.”

“I knew he was ambitious, but at that point in time at the Law School there were so many people on the faculty that you knew weren’t going to be professors for the rest of their lives,” Solomon explains. “We had [Judge] Abner Mikva and Elena Kagan and Judge Wood and Judge Posner. There is a very active intellectual life at the Law School and this melding of the spheres of academics and the real world is very cool. It’s what attracts teachers and students to the school.”

Unsurprisingly, though, he was of greater interest to the minority students on campus. “I don’t think most people know his history,” Ruiz says, “but when he became the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review it was a national story. I remembering reading the story and thinking I gotta go to law school!”

“We African American students were very aware of him because at the time there really weren’t a lot of minority professors at the Law School,” Cunningham explains, “and we really wanted him to be a strong representation for the African American students. We wanted him to live up to the pressures and reach out to other ethnic minorities. And we were also very excited about possibly having an African American tenure-track professor at the Law School.”

But a tenure-track position was not to be, although not because of a lack of interest on the part of the Law School. It was apparent that while Obama enjoyed teaching and savored the intellectual give-and-take of the classroom, his heart was in politics.

“Many of us thought he would be a terrific addition to the faculty, but we understood that he had other plans,” explains David Strauss, Gerald Ratner Distinguished Service Professor. “Although I don’t think any of us imagined that things would work out the way they did.” And while students like Cunningham wanted him to continue to a tenure-track position, others were expecting a promising
and accomplished political career.

“I was into state politics while I was at the Law School, so I am one of the few alums who knew the President as both a legislator and as a teacher,” notes Johnson-Weinberger.

“I thought he would continue as a successful politician. But I never would have guessed that he would be our President.”

During his tenure in the state senate, Obama continued to teach at the Law School, some nights traveling straight up from evening sessions at the State House to his classroom.

“But the students never thought of him as a part-timer,” Strauss adds. “They just thought of him as a really good teacher.”

In 1996, Obama ran for, and won, the Thirteenth District of Illinois state senate seat, which then spanned Chicago South Side neighborhoods from Hyde Park–Kenwood to South Shore and west to Chicago Lawn. Then in 2000 he ran for, and lost, the Democratic nomination for Bobby Rush’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“He was very demoralized at that point and would not have recommended a career in public service to anyone,” Ruiz says. “He had suffered a setback, he was facing a lot of struggles in Springfield, and it was a hard lifestyle traveling back and forth to Springfield. We sat at lunch and he talked about how if he had joined a big firm when he graduated he could have been a partner. We did a lot of what if. But
then he decided to run for U.S. Senate. And the rest is history.”

And history it is. Since he first came to the attention of Douglas Baird, Barack Obama has gone from being the first African American president of Harvard Law Review to being the first African American President of the United States.

He came to the Law School and taught hundreds of students to think like lawyers and the students helped him to sift and think through myriad complex legal issues. In other words, even as President Obama left a lasting impression on the Law School and its students, that same environment helped to shape the man who became President Obama.

 

With the possible exception of Theodore Roosevelt, never before in history have we elected a president who had published two best-selling memoirs before running for the office (I’m not certain about Teddy; most of his writing came after he left the White House, but he well may have had a memoir published before he ran on his own in 1904).  Could Obama’s critics at least bother to get a copy of either of his books, to see whether he covered their questions there?

Yes, that would indeed require that they question in good faith.  That may be too high a standard.


Peppered moths, evidence for natural selection and evolution

September 20, 2014

In 2007, as part of the continuing series explaining evolution and how it should be taught in public schools, I wrote this piece on the controversy over peppered moths as part of the basic information pages for this blog.  With modest edits, I repeat it here, both to re-emphasize the importance of the examples, and to make it easier for internet search engines to index the material.

Among creationists, in the past decade or so it has become popular to claim that much of evolution is less than sound science. In order to support that claim, specific points of evolution theory are often distorted, and specific evidence that strongly supports the theory are questioned and denied.

In a famous hoax, Jonathan Wells wrote a book, Icons of Evolution, in which he claimed ten popular stories about evolution were false.

Wells spent a chapter denying the work of H. B. Kettlewell — the famous peppered moth research, in which Kettlewell discovered a classic case of natural selection at work over a 150-year period in England. When air pollution darkened the bark of trees, peppered moths in industrialized areas with the darkened trunks, also darkened. Kettlewell ran several experiments to see whether predation by birds might be a driver of this selection event, and concluded that the lighter moths stood out on darkened tree bark, and that it was likely that predation by birds or other moth predators pushed the rise of the darker moths.

Kettlewell’s conclusions were spectacularly borne out when cleaner air lightened the trunks of the trees, and lighter moths reappeared. The selective pressure ran back toward lighter moths.

The two most common variants of the peppered moth, the one on the left showing how it got is name, and the one on the right showing the variant that became more common when air pollution darkened the bark on trees where the moth rests.  BBC image

The two most common variants of the peppered moth, the one on the left showing how it got is name, and the one on the right showing the variant that became more common when air pollution darkened the bark on trees where the moth rests. BBC image

Kettlewell’s research was groundbreaking in its pioneering of new ways to study evolution in the wild. But because he was at the cutting edge, questions arose about the exact nature of his conclusions. Kettlewell tried several different methods to count moth predation, finally settling on a system of release and recapture, and counting the moths that were not recaptured as casualties to the predator. Kettlewell released moths in the presence of English titmice, who promptly found moths colored wrongly to hide, and ate them. Tits are not the chief predators of these moths, some argue, and critics wondered whether Kettlewell could accurately conclude what the predator was. Ultimately, it has become clear that Kettlewell’s conclusions are accurate regardless the predator. Scientists like Majerus and Jerry Coyne — fierce rivals now, showing the unanimity of science support for Kettlewell’s conclusions across the spectrum of science views — urge more research to refine what we know about the moths.

Critics claimed some of the steps in some of the experiments as faulty, and extrapolated that the entire conclusions are faulty. In reality, because Kettlewell got similar results with different methods, his conclusions are more robust.

When I took Wells’ chapter on moths and tracked down the citations, I discovered that each person he cited disputed Wells’ conclusions — some quite violently.  The hoax, it turns out, is Wells’s claim that the story is false.

Over the past decade, while Wells and the Discovery Institute have continued their assault on science, some of the refutations of his work have fallen by the wayside.

In this page, I hope to preserve the arguments showing Wells’ work’s problems, and preserve some of the publications that have become difficult to find.

Creationism controversy in Pratt, Kansas

In 1999 the school board in Pratt, Kansas, considered biology curriculum and book changes. In what now appears to be practice for future fights, the Discovery Institute of Seattle, Washington, descended on Pratt with Jonathan Wells and others , urging the school board to dilute evolution in the curriculum or eliminate it, and using a variety of unusual arguments on the science to buttress their claims that the science of evolution was somehow in question.

Specifically, Wells introduced his claims on Kettlewell’s work. When they heard of the incident, some researchers scrambled to present the view of science. Bruce Grant of William and Mary College, and Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago, wrote letters to the local newspaper, The Pratt Tribune, defending Kettlewell’s work and questioning Wells’ tactics and conclusions. Evolution is solid science, they said, and should be taught undiluted to students.

These letters were available on the internet at the time, but have recently become difficult to find. I reproduce them here:

Dr. Jerry Coyne is professor of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago.

The Pratt Tribune, December 06, 2000

Original:
http://www.pratttribune.com/archives/index.inn?loc=detail&doc=/2000/December/06-663-news91.txt Accessed in 2003

Jerry A. Coyne: Criticism of moth study no challenge to evolution

I have learned that the Pratt school board, apparently responding to creationist pressure, has recently revised its tenth-grade biology curriculum to include material that encourages students to question the theory of evolution. In reading the standards, I see that one of my articles – an article constantly misrepresented by creationists – is included as a supplementary reading used to cast doubt on evolution.

Dr. Jerry Coyne's Skeptic Trump card.  He is a professor at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Jerry Coyne’s Skeptic Trump card. He is a professor at the University of Chicago.

Except for a few creationist dissenters, the community of professional biologists has long accepted evolution as an essential theory supported by innumerable pieces of evidence. To make students think otherwise is as harmful as urging them to question the value of antibiotics because there are a few people who believe in spiritual healing.

My article appended to the Pratt standards is a re-evaluation of a classic evolutionary story in which rapid changes in the proportions of color forms of peppered moths occurred in only about 100 years. This evolutionary change is thought to be a response to air pollution, changes in the colors of trees, and increased bird predation. My only problem with the peppered-moth story is that I am not certain whether scientists have identified the precise agent causing the natural selection and evolutionary change. It may well be bird predators, but the experiments leave room for doubt.

Creationists such as Jonathan Wells claim that my criticism of these experiments casts strong doubt on Darwinism. But this characterization is false. All of us in the peppered moth debate agree that the moth story is a sound example of evolution produced by natural selection. My call for additional research on the moths has been wrongly characterized by creationists as revealing some fatal flaw in the theory of evolution.

In reality, the debate over what causes natural selection on moths is absolutely normal in our field. It is not uncommon for scientists to reexamine previous work and find it incomplete, or even wrong. This is the normal self-correcting mechanism of science. Textbook examples may be altered as additional data are found. Creationists, on the other hand, neither air their disagreements in public or admit that they were wrong. This is because their goal is not to achieve scientific truth, but to expel evolution from the public schools.

It is a classic creationist tactic (as exemplified in Wells’ book, “Icons of Evolution”) to assert that healthy scientific debate is really a sign that evolutionists are either committing fraud or buttressing a crumbling theory. In reality, evolution and natural selection are alive and well, with new supporting evidence arriving daily.

I strongly object to the use of my article by the Pratt school board to cast doubt on Darwinism. And I feel sorry for the students who are being misled by creationists into doubting one of the most vigorous and well-supported theories in biology.

Jerry A. Coyne
Professor of Ecology & Evolution
The University of Chicago

Dr. Bruce Grant was professor of biology at William and Mary University, now emeritus.

The Pratt Tribune, December 13, 2000
Original:

http://www.pratttribune.com/archives/index.inn?loc=detail&doc=/2000/December/13-653-news92.txt

Accessed 2003

Bruce Grant: Charges of fraud misleading

In recent weeks your newspaper has printed letters debating revisions in high school biology curricula. Some of the correspondents have leveled charges of fraud directed at evolutionists for attributing changes in the colors of peppered moths to natural selection. As I am one of the evolutionary biologists who study peppered moths, I feel obliged to comment. Charges of fraud cannot be left unchallenged.

Some background about peppered moths is necessary. The common form of this moth species is pale gray. About 150 years ago, a black specimen was discovered near an industrial city in England. Over the years, the black (melanic) form became ever more common as the pale form became rare. By 1900 the black form exceeded 90 percent in peppered moth populations throughout the industrialized regions of England. The phenomenon was dubbed industrial melanism.

Bruce Grant, Professor of Biology, Emeritus, College of William and Mary

Bruce Grant, Professor of Biology, Emeritus, College of William and Mary

Because people knew that birds eat insects, scientists as early as 1896 suspected that birds were eating the different color forms of peppered moths selectively based on their degree of conspicuousness in habitats variously blackened by industrial soot. Extensive experimental work supports this view, although questions remain. Other scientists proposed that moths responded to the presence of pollutants by developing darker body colors. We now know from genetic analysis that the colors of adult peppered moths are determined by genes; thus, the changes in the percentages of pale to black moths over generations reflect changes in the genetic makeup of moth populations.

As industrial practices have changed in many regions, we have observed black moths plummet from 90 percent to 10 percent in the just the past few decades. Once again, we have observed significant genetic changes occur in moth populations. Evolution is defined at the operational level as genetic change over time, so this is evolution. Of the several factors known to produce evolutionary change, only natural selection is consistent with the patterns of the changes we see occurring in moth populations. Evolution examined at this level is as well established as any fact in science.

We still have work to do. We do not all agree about the relative roles of contributing factors, such as the flow of genes between moth populations in different regions, the importance of lichens on trees, where on trees moths might hide from predators, how important is differential predation, and so on. As in any branch of science, participants endlessly debate interpretations. Such wrangling is the norm, and it stimulates additional research. That is how we make progress.

Our debates have never been secret. For recent overviews of the controversies, please see http://www.wm.edu/biology/melanism.pdf [now at http://bsgran.people.wm.edu/melanism.pdf] or www.els.net/elsonline/html/A0001788.html [ now http://mrw.interscience.wiley.com/emrw/9780470015902/els/article/a0001788/current/abstract, subscription required]. Yet, unwarranted charges of fraud, fakery and cover-ups repeatedly appear in letters printed in newspapers. In your paper, Ms. Katrina Rider “asserts” the peppered moth story is a hoax. She conveys the impression that dead moths were glued to trees as part of a conspiracy of deception. She seems unaware that moths were glued to trees in an experiment to assess the effect of the density (numbers) of moths on the foraging practices of birds. Taken out of the context of the purpose of the experiment, the procedure does sound ludicrous.

But, should we blame Ms. Rider for her outrage upon learning that moths were glued to trees? No. Instead, I blame Dr. Jonathan Wells, who wrote the article she cites as her source of information. While he has done no work on industrial melanism, he has written opinion about the work. To one outside the field, he passes as a scholar, complete with Ph.D. Unfortunately, Dr. Wells is intellectually dishonest. When I first encountered his attempts at journalism, I thought he might be a woefully deficient scholar because his critiques about peppered moth research were full of errors, but soon it became clear that he was intentionally distorting the literature in my field. He lavishly dresses his essays in quotations from experts (including some from me) which are generally taken out of context, and he systematically omits relevant details to make our conclusions seem ill founded, flawed, or fraudulent. Why does he do this? Is his goal to correct science through constructive criticism, or does he a have a different agenda? He never mentions creationism in any form. To be sure, he sticks to the scientific literature, but he misrepresents it. Perhaps it might be kinder to suggest that Wells is simply incompetent, but I think his errors are by intelligent design.

Bruce Grant
Professor of Biology
College of William and Mary
Williamsburg, Virginia

_____________

Update, September 2012: Creationists appear never to learn. The hoaxed “controversy” on peppered moths continued well after these exchanges back in 2000, which I collected when creationists tried to block science in textbooks in the great Texas State Board of Education Wars of 2003. Even after losing that fight, creationists continued to carp.

Publication of Of Moths and Men, nominally a history of Kettlewell and his experiments, revived the creationist claims of error — without evidence, as the author of the book noted, but since when have creationists ever changed course because of evidence?

In the midst of the flap, Michael Majerus went back to basics. He re-ran Kettlewell’s experiments, essentially. Of course, he discovered Kettlewell was right. I blogged about it earlier, but I failed to update this post. See these other posts at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:

Also, WordPress has improved since 2007; it finds relevant links, and related stories through Zemanta. I’ve added links above, and related articles below.

More, and Further Reading:


Unintentional bogus history: Archduke Ferdinand assassinated! British lead assault on Damascus!

June 30, 2014

Santayana said it:  Those who don’t remember history, yada, yada, yada.

It almost turned Dada-esque over the weekend, when a Syrian television editor mistook a “history-as-it-happened” Twitter feed for actual events.

One reason to learn history, I tell students, is so that you cannot be jived by politicians and others who wish to persuade you falsely.  Add to that:  So you won’t be suckered by false news reports when you’re at the editor’s desk.

I wonder how many hoaxes get started this way?

Is that today's newspaper? Toronto Daily Star, June 29, 1914. Not today's edition.

Is that today’s newspaper? Toronto Daily Star, June 29, 1914. Not today’s edition.


2014: STILL, again, Earth Day/Lenin hoax trotted out: Earth Day honors Earth, our majestic home — not Lenin

April 22, 2014

This is mostly an encore post, repeated each year on April 22 — sad that it needs repeating.

You could write it off to pareidolia, once. Like faces in clouds, some people claimed to see a link. The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, coincided with Lenin’s birthday. There was no link — Earth Day was scheduled for a spring Wednesday. Now, years later, with almost-annual repeats of the claim from the braying right wing, it’s just a cruel hoax.

No, there’s no link between Earth Day and the birthday of V. I. Lenin:

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 — one might accurately note that Lenin’s mother always said he was born on April 10).

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.

About.com explains why the idea of a link between Earth Day and Lenin is silly:

Does Earth Day Promote Communism?
Earth Day 1970 was initially conceived as a teach-in, modeled on the teach-ins used successfully by Vietnam War protesters to spread their message and generate support on U.S. college campuses. It is generally believed that April 22 was chosen for Earth Day because it was a Wednesday that fell between spring break and final exams—a day when a majority of college students would be able to participate.

U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson, the guy who dreamed up the nationwide teach-in that became Earth Day, once tried to put the whole “Earth Day as communist plot” idea into perspective.

“On any given day, a lot of both good and bad people were born,” Nelson said. “A person many consider the world’s first environmentalist, Saint Francis of Assisi, was born on April 22. So was Queen Isabella. More importantly, so was my Aunt Tillie.”

April 22 is also the birthday of J. Sterling Morton, the Nebraska newspaper editor who founded Arbor Day (a national holiday devoted to planting trees) on April 22, 1872, when Lenin was still in diapers. Maybe April 22 was chosen to honor Morton and nobody knew. Maybe environmentalists were trying to send a subliminal message to the national subconscious that would transform people into tree-planting zombies. One birthday “plot” seems just about as likely as the other. What’s the chance that one person in a thousand could tell you when either of these guys were born.

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.

Gaylord Nelson, Living Green image

Inventor of Earth Day teach-ins, former Wisconsin Governor and U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson

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?”  Can you say “political smear?”

2014 Resources and Good News:

2013 Resources and Good News:

Good information for 2012:

Good information from 2011:

Good information from 2010:

2014’s Wall of Shame:

2013 Wall of Shame:

Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame from 2012:

Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame from 2011:

Wall of Lenin’s Birthday Propaganda Shame from 2010:

Spread the word.  Have you found someone spreading the hoax, claiming Earth Day honors Lenin instead?  Give us the link in comments.


Another hoax goes viral: No, Volkswagen is NOT closing Chattanooga plant

March 2, 2014

U.S. flag flies at a United Auto Workers  union hall (UAW).  Reuters photo, via The Economist

U.S. flag flies at a United Auto Workers union hall (UAW). Reuters photo, via The Economist

No, Volkswagen did not announce that it will pull out of Tennessee and close its billion-dollar automaking plant in Chattanooga. Those reports are based on a hoax.

Most people understand anything that comes from The Onion is parody at best, bad hoax at worst. It took me a while to catch on to The Daily Currant, another hoax site on the internet.

How long will it take others to catch on to the fact that “National Report” is a nasty hoax site, and nothing reported there can be taken at face value, since most of it is completely false?

National Report put up a parody post, quoting real statements from real people, but with a lead claiming Volkswagen decided to close down the Chattanooga plant.  Within a week or so, it had 63,000 shares on Facebook.

I started seeing the reports on Twitter last week, but they’ve been buzzing around for a few a while, since the union vote at the Chattanooga VW plant.  Here’s the earliest I found:

Union leaders in Europe, accustomed to good relationships with management and looking out for workers, announced they might oppose further expansion of VW in the American south without unionization — but that’s the closest real news comes to what “National Report” claims.

“Unfair labor praxis?”  What sorts of clues must a parody site drop before people start seeing through the hoax? Check out the author’s bio-line, while you’re at it.

Could we hope for a little bit of skepticism?  After the contentious, national headline-making union vote at the Chattanooga plant, wouldn’t it make sense that an announcement the plant would close, would also make headlines? But check the Chattanooga News-Free Press.  Stories there are about moving on, in Chattanooga, after the VW vote.

Nothing about closing the plant, from the newspaper that would surely be all over such a story. Or, check Volkswagen’s corporate website in the U.S. — closing their only U.S. plant would merit some mention there, don’t you think? What do we see:

Feb 21, 2014 VOLKSWAGEN GROUP SEEKS TO ACQUIRE ALL SHARES OF SCANIA

  • Volkswagen Group today resolved to make a voluntary tender offer of SEK 200 (approx. €22.26) per share to the shareholders of Scania Aktiebolag (“Scania”) for all Scania A and Scania B shares

Feb 21, 2014 ANDREAS RENSCHLER NAMED BOARD OF MANAGEMENT MEMBER FOR COMMERCIAL VEHICLES AT VOLKSWAGEN GROUP

  • At its meeting today, the Supervisory Board of Volkswagen Group appointed Andreas Renschler (55) as member of the Board of Management with responsibility for Commercial Vehicles effective February…

Feb 21, 2014 VOLKSWAGEN REPORTS SUCCESSFUL FISCAL YEAR 2013

  • With sales revenue of EUR 197.0 billion (previous year: EUR 192.7 billion), the Group’s operating profit of EUR 11.7 billion (EUR 11.5 billion) exceeded the record prior-year figure.

Feb 14, 2014 VOLKSWAGEN CHATTANOOGA EMPLOYEES VOTE AGAINST UNION REPRESENTATION

  • Volkswagen Chattanooga employees have voted in a secret ballot election against United Auto Workers (UAW) representation.

Nothing there. Google it, Bing! it, Yahoo! it, search on Twitter or Facebook, you’ll find repeats of the hoax story, but zero confirmation from any authoritative or official source, and no mentions on mainstream media who don’t deal in hoaxes. So, can we knock off the harmful hoax recirculation?

VW is in Chattanooga to stay.  VW built a $1 billion dollar, energy-efficient, state-of-the-car-making-art plant to use U.S. parts to make Volkswagens for sale in the Americas. VW is proud of it: “First and only LEED Platinum certified Auto Plant worldwide. LEED Platinum certified Volkswagen Academy.”  That’s not the sort of investment a company walks away from unless in extremis — and VW is doing okay.

VW may be troubled.  Their kanben manufacturing methods require active participation of the workers, and generally such a system works better when the workers are organized.  The Washington Post noted shortly before the vote:

If a majority of Volkswagen’s 1,570 hourly workers vote yes, it would mark the first time in nearly three decades of trying that the UAW has successfully organized a plant for a foreign brand in the United States. This time, the union has a powerful ally: Volkswagen itself, which is hoping the union will collaborate in a German-style “works council” and help manage plant operations.

Voting against a union, then, was a bit of a poke in the eye of management of Volkswagen in Chattanooga.  But it was also a poke in the eye the United Auto Workers and unions in the U.S., and conservatives are not disinclined to take a shot at friends, or work against the interests of the U.S., if they can take a shot at unions.  Tennessee conservatives like Sen. Bob Corker have sworn allegiance away from the U.S. already, promising never to increase taxes regardless how badly the nation might need it (consider how such a pledge would have crippled the U.S. in fighting either of the two world wars). So Republican elected officials let their hatred of unions overcome their love of economic development, Tennessee and the U.S. — and they interfered in the election trying to tilt it against the union, Volkswagen be damned.

But close the plant?  No.

Where does such a wild, and inflammatory story come from?

We’ve discussed “National Report” hoaxes here at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub before.

This is just one more complete falsehood, designed to get people worked up unnecessarily and snare the unwary.  National Report created the hoax almost whole cloth, duping many by offering real quotes from real people, which do not say what the headline claims.

Do false reports cause any damage?  Sometimes.  Consider this: Tennessee U.S. Sen. Bob Corker promised VW would announce plant expansion in Tennessee almost immediately, if the workers rejected the union.  Oops.  Hasn’t happened.

What else did Corker fib about? Why are so many people giving credence to National Report, an admitted fib site?

More:

Caption from Nashville Tennessean: Sen. Bob Corker speaks to reporters in Chattanooga, Tenn., Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, about the defeat of the United Auto Workers in a three-day election at the Volkswagen plant in the city. The multiyear effort to organize Volkswagen's only U.S. plant was defeated on a 712-626 vote Friday night amid heavy campaigning on both sides. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig) / AP

Master hoaxer? Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, promised VW workers the company would announce an expansion in Chattanooga “within two weeks” if the unionization vote failed. March 1 marked the end of that two-week period. Caption from Nashville Tennessean: Sen. Bob Corker speaks to reporters in Chattanooga, Tenn., Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, about the defeat of the United Auto Workers in a three-day election at the Volkswagen plant in the city. The multiyear effort to organize Volkswagen’s only U.S. plant was defeated on a 712-626 vote Friday night amid heavy campaigning on both sides. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig) / AP


Beautiful Antarctica: Photos, or painting?

January 27, 2014

This one is cropping up all over the internet.

But just try to get a commitment as to its origins.  Photographic, or artist’s image?

I wagered the latter. Note general lack of thick clouds, angle of sunlight, etc.

Beautiful Antarctica from space. Photographic image, or artist's rendering?  Who deserves credit for the image?

Beautiful Antarctica from space. Photographic image, or artist’s rendering? Who deserves credit for the image?

Then, at Twisted Sifter (shout out to Annette Breedlove; and everyone outside my family will be mystified by that reference) I found this, the full image from NASA.  Notice how some selective editing, changing the perspective, makes the image above more fascinating — while stripping out the identifying credits:

Image via Twisted Sifter; NASA image of Antarctica, available at Flickr Commons

Image via Twisted Sifter; NASA image of Antarctica, available at Flickr Commons

Well, that’s a different thing, then.

Twisted Sifter’s explanation of details, excerpt:

Seen above is a view of the Earth on September 21, 2005 with the full Antarctic region visible. The composite image shows the sea ice on September 21, 2005, the date at which the sea ice was at its minimum extent in the northern hemisphere. The colour of the sea ice is derived from the AMSR-E 89 GHz brightness temperature while the extent of the sea ice was determined by the AMSR-E sea ice concentration. Over the continents, the terrain shows the average land cover for September, 2004. The global cloud cover shown was obtained from the original Blue Marble cloud data distributed in 2002. [Source]

Due to the position of Antarctica in relation to our Sun it would not look like this to the naked eye. This is a composite that shows what Antarctica looks like if the entire continent were illuminated.

Click here for the full resolution 8400×8400 pixel TIFF version (63 mb) and click here for the 8400 x 8400 px JPG version.

NASA’s details, from the Flickr file:

NASA on The Commons

Global View of the Arctic and Antarctic on September 21, 2005

Collection: NASA Scientific Visualization Studio Collection

Title: Global View of the Arctic and Antarctic on September 21, 2005

Instrument: Terra/MODIS

Instrument: Aqua/AMSR-E

Description: This image shows a view of the Earth on September 21, 2005 with the full Antarctic region visible.

Abstract: In support of International Polar Year, this matching pair of images showing a global view of the Arctic and Antarctic were generated in poster-size resolution. Both images show the sea ice on September 21, 2005, the date at which the sea ice was at its minimum extent in the northern hemisphere. The color of the sea ice is derived from the AMSR-E 89 GHz brightness temperature while the extent of the sea ice was determined by the AMSR-E sea ice concentration. Over the continents, the terrain shows the average landcover for September, 2004. (See Blue Marble Next Generation) The global cloud cover shown was obtained from the original Blue Marble cloud data distributed in 2002. (See Blue Marble:Clouds) A matching star background is provided for each view. All images include transparency, allowing them to be composited on a background.

Completed: 2007-02-08

Credit: *Please give credit for this visualization to* NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio The Blue Marble data is courtesy of Reto Stockli (NASA/GSFC).

Studio: SVS

Animator: Cindy Starr (Lead)

Scientist: Ronald Weaver (University of Colorado)

Data Collected: AMSR-E Sea Ice: 2005-09-21; Blue Marble cloud layer 2002; Blue Marble Next Generation Seasonal Landcover 2004-09

UID: SPD-SCIVS-http://svs .gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a 000000/a003400/a0034 02/NSIDCimages__SPcl ouds.2158-IMAGE

Original url: svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a000000/a003400/a003402/index.html

SOURCE: nasaimages.org/luna/servlet/detail/NSVS~3~3~7128~107128

Visit www.nasaimages.org for the most comprehensive compilation of NASA stills, film and video, created in partnership with Internet Archive.

The image, and it’s odyssey and story, are reminders that reality is often better than the made up stuff; and it’s wise to properly attribute stuff you borrow.  Is this just a cool image, or an opportunity for teachers to enrich the classroom and an argument for boosting NASA’s budget?

More:


Is President Obama Muslim?

January 25, 2014

A friend, who happens to be a Muslim and politically active, sent me this:

Next time one of your RWNJ friends or relatives claims President Obama is a “closet Muslim” who is trying to spread Islamic law throughout the U.S., remind them of this:

In Muslim countries there are certain tendencies. Among them:

  • They are anti-abortion.
  • They are supportive of the death penalty.
  • They are anti-gun control.
  • They are anti-separation of church and state.
  • They are supportive of teaching religious indoctrination in school.
  • They believe women should have less rights than men.
  • They oppose “multiculturalism.”
  • They believe homosexuality is “evil” and do not allow same-sex marriage.

SO, if President Obama were REALLY trying to spread Islamic law in the U.S., he’d be a REPLUBLICAN!!

Most of the people who complain about Shariah law in the U.S. don’t know what it is, and also don’t know what is in the Republican platforms in the states and national party.

Then, sorta to drill it home, another friend commented:

http://i.qkme.me/3qatww.jpg

http://rollingout.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/obama_in_israel_pic_3.jpg

https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSQSOXrcAq2V_q-sRcx7zW_mRrW68bHglAOkFfc4VvxASqU0i52

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-U5ug6oq0YEI/T6A2wvROiDI/AAAAAAAAAsA/ApHANGIbdjY/s1600/Obama+Bin+Laden+killing.jpg#obama%20killed%20Osama%20Bin%20Laden%20550x440

http://assets.nydailynews.com/img/2008/07/05/amd_obama-hotdog.jpg

https://encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com/images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSNRqZ2_AkVhn-0zB8vjncxXRvvZV1Zu9klSZB1CEf2ndH5rhuPhttp://cdn2-b.examiner.com/sites/default/files/styles/article_large/hash/52/29/52290a70c1b5478b5f29057e6b5082ce.jpg?itok=p0p342pU

http://www.bartcop.com/worst-muslin.jpg

Please don’t bother me with your bizarre claims that Barack Obama is Muslim. It immediately brands you, in my admittedly jaundiced eye, as one who either cannot tell nonsense from the truth, or one who is intent on spreading mistruths for nefarious, skullduggerous reasons.

[I apologize; the missive that came to me did not bear credit for the photographs; if you know who deserves credit for any or all of them, please tell us in comments.]

Tip of the old scrub brush to Eric and Jim.  They know who they are.


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