Evolution teacher expelled from creationist movie

March 20, 2008

First the producers lied when they interviewed him for the film, claiming to be doing a different movie, a documentary. Then they refused to let him see anything that might reveal what of his own words they were using in the movie.

And now, the producers of Ben Stein’s great turkey of a movie, “Expelled!,” have booted the evolution teacher out of a viewing of the movie of which he is a star they promoted.

[Spew alert! Put the coffee/coke/beer down, and swallow before clicking on the link and reading the story linked to below.]

But having expelled the evolution teacher P. Z. Myers from the movie “Expelled!” and ironically making the point that the pretense of the movie only a pretense, the producer missed Dr. Myers much more famous guest.

Go, see, and laugh.

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Chairman McLeroy to Texas Hispanics: “Drop dead!”

March 20, 2008

With evidence mounting that the politically-motivated rewrite of English standards in Texas schools would harm the education of Spanish-speaking students, the Chairman of the Texas Education Agency told state legislators, English language experts and educators that he will not allow time to analyze the proposed changes to see if they are appropriate, let alone time for changes to the standards.

In short, McLeroy told Texas Hispanics to “drop dead.”

Board chairman Don McLeroy insisted that major changes to the proposed updates are no longer possible. Advocates say the standards need opinions from experts who have researched Hispanic children and understand their learning styles.

“There is no way that ignoring such a sizable chunk of this population from consideration of education policy will do anything but harm the opportunity of a generation,” Herrero said.

McLeroy said there had been plenty of time for experts to weigh in earlier on new curriculum standards. He said he was shocked by accusations that he and others board members are trying to shortchange Hispanic students.

“There’s no malice at all, none, zip, nada. There’s just no time to get another expert in,” McLeroy said. “None of us would do anything to hurt any group of children or any (individual) child. What we want is for them to be successful in the English language because it’s so important.”

In the latest of a string of politically charged bulldozings, McLeroy is pushing standards substituted at the last minute for standards Texas educators had worked on for three years. McLeroy hired a political consulting group to rewrite the standards and substituted the rewrite in a meeting earlier this year (you’ll see my bias when you read the story in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram). Educators, parents, legislators and community leaders criticized the action for disregarding the educational needs of Texas students.

“It’s just ignorance on their part,” said Mary Helen Berlanga, a 26-year board member from Corpus Christi.

The board is set to take a preliminary vote March 27 on the new English language arts and readings standards, which will influence new textbooks for the 2009-10 school year.

A four-member board subcommittee signaled its intent Wednesday to stick with that schedule after state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, pleaded to let Latino experts review the standards first.

McLeroy is flexing never-tried-before political muscles in a series of changes at TEA. Last year he led the SBOE to arbitrarily reject a math book by a major publisher, daring legal action, hoping he could finally win a case establishing that the board can reject books on political grounds. Biology books are due for a review in the near future, and science and biology standards will be rewritten before that process.

Moving against Hispanic students on the English standards, if successful, would tend to demonstrate that Texas educato needs to dance to the red book writings of Chairman McLeroy. While 47% of Texas public school students are Hispanic, Hispanic voters have generally packed less clout.

McLeroy appears to be counting on Obama and Clinton Democrats to demonstrate apathy again near the general election. If election numbers from the March primary hold up, McLeroy will remain chairman of the SBOE, but the legislature will be likely to shift against many of the actions he’s pushed since assuming the chair, and may turn antagonistically Democratic.

The stakes are higher for Texas students.

Critics of the process asked the subcommittee to allow an expert in Hispanic culture and language to assess the proposed new standards before a preliminary vote next week by the full education board.

The four-member subcommittee that worked on the curriculum did not include anyone of Hispanic descent, or anyone from South or West Texas, and critics said the committee did not seek advice from anyone with expertise in Hispanic language or culture.

Statewide, 47 percent of the more than 4.6 million public school students are Hispanic. Eighty-nine percent of El Paso County’s 173,000 students are Hispanic.

According to the Texas Education Agency, about 16 percent of students statewide and about 28 percent of students in El Paso County in 2006 had limited English proficiency.

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Icebergs in Florida: History anecdotes, or data?

March 20, 2008

Bergs and British Climate: That Old Yarn of the Effect of Greenland’s Floating Mountains,” reads a headline from the New York Times, April 26, 1908.

The story wanders about reports of icebergs floating far south of where people might expect them in 1908, what their drift tells us about various currents, and conjectures about hypotheses of climatic effects of the ice and the currents. Some of the icebergs would indeed be monsters, poking more than 400 feet above the waterline; some of the bergs might provoke discussion drifting as far south as Florida.

I mention this article because the archives of the New York Times is open and free for searchers, and many of the articles prior to 1922 are available in .pdf form for free. It took me five or six minutes to get a search that produced fewer than 10,000 stories to pick this one from.

And if I may, it tends to show the difficulties of climate change skeptics who yank a few old articles out of journals of 100 years ago to suggest that, since scientists and navigators wondered about the weather then, climate change is not occurring now. I can imagine there are a lot of stories available in various newspaper archives; if we make a methodological search of them, we may find data that can be turned into real information about climate.

I mention this because Anthony Watts at Watts Up With That? features a couple of articles relying on old weather reports to suggest that concern about warming in the 1920s and 1930s demonstrates that warming isn’t happening now. See this one, too, from a 1922 article, on ice retreating.

In the concluding remarks, the is the recognition of climate change to a warmer regime:

All of these confirm the general statement that we are in the midst of a period of abnormal warmth, which has come on more less gradually for many years.

Of course we all know what happened next, 1934 became the hottest year on record, the dust bowl and great depression occurred, followed by World War II. The climate changes again, a return to a colder phase lasting all the way until about 1978 when the “new ice age” was being discussed. Then the great PDO shift occurred and warming has been the norm since then.

Watts is a former television weatherman now making the big bucks with his own forecasting company. His blog continues among the most popular on WordPress with a regular feature showing photos of U.S. weather service weather stations that are positioned in less-than-optimum places to record cool weather, such as in asphalt parking lots, or near heat exhaust vents from the HVAC systems of nearby buildings. Watts engages in occasionally heated disputes on his blog, and he often highlights the work of some of the more suspect cynics of science like Tim Blair.

Watts has a cadre of faithful followers and defenders; poking at his posts generally produces a swift onslaught of invective from them.

Watts’s blog provides a good resource for counter examples to those offered by policy makers who urge more serious action to control pollution. I’m skeptical of Watts’s skepticism.

For one thing, the charts he shows with these historic articles show a long-term warming trend, which he dismisses. As evidence against global warming, though, these articles’ highlights fall more into the anecdote side than on the data side.

Anecdotal evidence abounds in that article from the New York Times that I note above, too. It’s anecdotal in opposition to Watts’ claims, but it’s still just anecdote.

This is a potentially rich area for local and amateur historians. Meteorologists and other climate scientists are hampered in their analysis by a lack of data, and often by a lack of context of the data they do have. Newspapers now buried in libraries and other archives may offer rich sources of data, and especially context. Mining these sources will be amateur operations, mostly. There is too much ground to cover, too many places to visit, for a major project coordinated out of one institution.

In 1908, stories of massive iceberg mountains were no older than a generation. They are anecdotes, sure — but they may be data points, too. When was the last time anyone sighted an iceberg 400 feet above the water? (The article claims one berg was 700 feet from waterline to peak; when was the last one of those sighted?) When was the last time a significant chunk of ice wandered as far south as Florida? Can you find some of these stories to calculate whether such things still occur, or if not, when they stopped?

My fear is that Watts is mining a rich lode of stories written by newsmen with no institutional memory of ice or other weather phenomena. The institutional memory becomes apparent only in retrospect, only in the archives of the stories, and only compared longitudinally, that is, over time. 20-year periods would probably provide two generations of reporters at a long-established news outlet; reporters in those generations would not be aware of the changes.

The New York Times archives are open. What others?

Historians? High school teachers with students who need projects? What do you have in your town that may shed light? Teachers, pay special attention to the comments on Watts’ blog; many readers write about their historical experiences, such as with the heat waves of the 1930s, and they provide links to news stories and history writings. Even if your town is landlocked, there is weather history to find.


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