“Louisiana’s exorcist governor”

June 30, 2008

I love the headline: “Anti-science law signed by Louisiana’s exorcist governor.”

Tony Whitson’s quick analysis is good, too.

One might begin to think Louisiana really is cursed. Katrina, Rita, other political troubles — and then they elect the bright, young reformer as governor, and he turns out to be a voodoo history and voodoo science practitioner — heck, maybe he practices just plain old voodoo.

All this comes at a time when it may have saved John McCain from making a mistake that would make George McGovern’s selection of Tom Eagleton look like wisdom of the ages (when news came out that Eagleton had undergone convulsive shock therapy for depression, he was replaced on the ticket by Sargent Shriver, but not after much damage had been done to the credibility and viability of the McGovern campaign — why Nixon thought it necessary to sponsor burglary to defeat this ticket is one of the mysteries of the ages of Shakespearian tragedy come to life in in American politics).

Mind you, I like and respect McGovern, and I found working with Tom Eagleton on the Senate Labor Committee a great joy.


How to start a hoax against a presidential candidate

June 29, 2008

Hoax complaints against presidential candidates are old ideas. In 1796, Alexander Hamilton paid newspaper editors to print stories saying Thomas Jefferson was atheist. It was a minor theme in that campaign, but after John Adams’ political fortunes foundered on the Alien and Sedition Acts, among other missteps, Hamilton stepped up the attacks in the election of 1800.

Jefferson’s great biographer, Dumas Malone, estimates that by election day, fully half the American electorate believed Jefferson was atheist. Jefferson made a perfect target for such a charge — staunch advocate of religious freedom, he thought it beneath the dignity of a politician to answer such charges at all, so he did not bother to deny them publicly. Ministers in New England told their congregations they would have to hide their Bibles because, as president, Jefferson would send troops to confiscate them.

In a warning to hoaxers, we might hope, Americans elected Jefferson anyway.

Such nefariousness plagues campaigns today, still. Boone Pickens, who helped fund the Swiftboat Veterans’ calumny against war hero John Kerry, has an offer to pay $1 million to anyone who can show the charges false. In a replay of Holocaust denial cases, Pickens refuses to accept any evidence to pay the award, last week turning away the affidavits of the men who were present at the events.

At the Bathtub, we’ve already sampled a crude and steady attempt to brand Hillary Clinton a Marxist with creative editing of a few of her speeches.

The assaults on Barack Obama are already the stuff of legend. The comic strip, “Doonesbury,” is running a story line with a volunteer for the internet rumor stopping part of the campaign, FighttheSmears.com. The smears are real.

Doonesbury strip 6-28-2008

Matthew Most of the Washington Post wrote a lengthy piece in yesterday’s paper, “An attack that came out of the ether,” on the research done by a woman at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, on the origins of the internet hoax that Barack Obama is a Muslim — a rumor so potent that Georgetown University Prof. Edward Luttwak repeated it in a New York Times op-ed article, without the fact checkers catching it (the Times consulted five scholars of Islam who all agreed the foundation for the claim is incorrect).

Danielle Allen has tracked the rumor back to its sources, in a failed campaign against Obama in Illinois and a candidate who admittedly was looking for mud, and one constant sniper at FreeRepublic.com. It’s impressive sleuthing, and the article would be a good departure for study of how media affect campaigns in a government or civics class.

The “how to” list is really very short:

  • Pick an area of a candidate’s life that is not well known. As the Hamilton campaign against Jefferson demonstrates, it’s useful if the candidate does not feature the issue in official biographies, and more useful if the candidate doesn’t respond. Michael Dukakis let several issues slide in his campaign for the presidency, saying that he didn’t think the public would be misled. The public was waiting for a rebuttal.
  • It helps if there is a factoid that is accurate in the rumor. Obama’s father was Muslim. Most Americans were receptive to the false claim that in Islam, a child is considered Muslim unless there is a conversion. A part of the rumor claims Obama was never baptized Christian. Of course, no one has asked to see John McCain’s baptismal papers. One wonders whether a rumor about McCain’s not being born inside the U.S. could get similar traction among voters (McCain was born in Panama while his father was serving in the Panama Canal Zone in the Navy; children of U.S. citizens are automatically U.S. citizens regardless where they are born. The issue was litigated during Barry Goldwater’s candidacy in 1964, since Goldwater was born in Arizona before Arizona was a state.)

According to the Post story: [A] search showed that the first mention of the e-mail on the Internet had come more than a year earlier. A participant on the conservative Web site FreeRepublic.com posted a copy of the e-mail on Jan. 8, 2007, and added this line at the end: “Don’t know who the original author is, but this email should be sent out to family and friends.”

Allen discovered that theories about Obama’s religious background had circulated for many years on the Internet. And that the man who takes credit for posting the first article to assert that the Illinois senator was a Muslim is Andy Martin.

Martin, a former political opponent of Obama’s, is the publisher of an Internet newspaper who sends e-mails to his mailing list almost daily. He said in an interview that he first began questioning Obama’s religious background after hearing his famous keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

  • Repeat the claim, as often as possible, to audiences that are inflamed by it. No one would dare make such a claim before an audience of Democratic delegates from the Texas 23rd Senatorial District Democratic Convention, almost 80% of whom were black — at least not at the convention. However, flyers making the charge might show up on windows of cars parked during church services at Christian churches where delegates attend. A speaker at the Republican convention for the same district might not be hooted down. This rumor of Obama’s faith went to right-wing forums known for rumor hospitality, notably Free Republic. In forums at that site, rumors frequently appear to be judged on just how damaging they might be if true, not on their veracity.
  • Repeat the claim, even after denials.

The story is well worth reading. It can help educate us to how to avoid being victims of such rumors in the future.

Tip of the old scrub brush to e-mail correspondent MicahBrown.


Pat Hardy turns back creationist challenge in Texas

March 5, 2008

Attention focused on one usually-obscure race for a seat on the Texas State Board of Education helped Republican Pat Hardy turn back a malicious challenge. Hardy won her primary against secretive Barney Maddox, a urologist who spent a lot of money on specifically-targeted mailings, but who also refused to speak with reporters or anyone else asking questions.

Showing just how odd and treacherous is the situation in Texas, Hardy got assists from science bloggers across the nation, though her position on science is far from what science advocates would like. Hardy’s genial “don’t gut the textbooks” stand was preferred to Maddox’s mad-dog, teach-creationism-in-science position.

Maddox refused to comment on the election, of course.

Hardy’s district includes parts of Ft. Worth and surrounding counties. According to the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:

State Board of Education

Social conservatives failed in their attempt to take control of the State Board of Education on Tuesday when incumbent Pat Hardy of Fort Worth retained her seat against a challenge from Cleburne’s Barney Maddox.

Hardy, a career educator, has been a moderate voice on the board. The 15-member body still shows a close ideological split, but Hardy has helped keep it on a straight path.

The board’s powers come from its ability to influence the public school curriculum and the selection of textbooks. District 11covers about three-fourths of Tarrant County, plus all of Ellis, Johnson and Parker counties. There is no Democratic nominee for this seat in the November election.

Maddox’s entry in the race had set the stage for debate over the scientific theory of evolution, which he has described as “fairy tales.” Hardy took a better course: Teach kids about all theories, she said, from creation to evolution, and give them enough information to make up their own minds about what to believe.

Spoken like a teacher — and a person who should hold a seat on the State Board of Education

Tip of the old scrub brush to reader Ediacaran. Thanks, Bret.

Update:  News specific to this race from the Fort Worth paper.


Long night in Texas?

March 4, 2008

Our precinct caucus is almost always a sedate affair.  While our precinct votes heavily Democratic, few of the voters are interested in working much more for the party machinery, especially if it involves giving up a couple of weekends to attend conventions.

So in the past decade we’ve been in this precinct, caucuses have been tiny.  Five people was the high water mark.  A couple of times we’ve had one other person.  In years I was not the precinct chair, the precinct chair didn’t bother to show.  More often I’ve been the only person there, and had to work hard to recruit 23 delegates and 23 alternates to our senatorial district convention.  We don’t have that many relatives in Texas, let alone in this precinct.

Two presidential campaigns work hard:  This year should be different, we’re told.

The New Republic’s website features an article that plumbs some of the problems that may develop. Oy!

Will Texas be a disaster?  I doubt it — the disaster would occur at the senatorial district convention, I think.

I need the time tonight to work on lesson plans, though.  Against my small-d democratic better sense, I almost hope everyone else votes and goes home, leaving me to try to recruit 23 delegates and 23 alternates . . .

Wish me luck!


Missed Obama

February 27, 2008

Barack Obama came to Duncanville today. Bill Clinton was two miles away, at Mountain View Community College, yesterday. Texas hasn’t seen this level of attention from presidential candidates since we’ve been in the state (since 1987).

I had tickets to see Obama, but we had a called faculty meeting that ran long; they gave away my seat!

We’ll have to await reports from younger son James, who will be voting for his first time in the primary.

Older son Kenny, and Kathryn, caught Obama downtown, last week.

I think I’m the only one in the family who hasn’t committed to Obama. It’s a phenomenal campaign. More observations later tonight, I hope — off to symphony rehearsal.


Moyers on King, Johnson, Clinton and Obama, and civil rights

January 19, 2008

Moyers keeps the hammer solely on the head of the nail — again.

This video segment from Bill Moyers’ program should be suitable for classroom use — short, covering a lot of civil rights history, with great images.

From the video:

LYNDON JOHNSON: It’s all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.

BILL MOYERS: As he finished, Congress stood and thunderous applause shook the chamber. Johnson would soon sign into law the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and black people were no longer second class citizens.  Martin Luther King had marched and preached and witnessed for this day.   Countless ordinary people had put their bodies on the line for it, been berated, bullied and beaten, only to rise, organize and struggle on, against the dogs and guns, the bias and burning crosses.  Take nothing from them; their courage is their legacy. But take nothing from the president who once had seen the light but dimly, as through a dark glass — and now did the right thing. Lyndon Johnson threw the full weight of his office on the side of justice. Of course the movement had come first, watered by the blood of so many, championed bravely now by the preacher turned prophet who would himself soon be martyred. But there is no inevitability to history, someone has to seize and turn it.  With these words at the right moment —  “we shall overcome”  — Lyndon Johnson transcended race and color, and history, too — reminding us that a president matters, and so do we.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Just in case you missed Bill Moyers’ Journal on PBS this week.


Leadership: Why not Bartlett, or Vinick, for president?

January 7, 2008

Often I ponder that there are few, if any, worthy models of bosses in popular media, especially in television. This realization struck me several years ago when a friend and I were working on a book on leadership (never published). Models of action are very powerful things. When people see other people doing things, people copy the behaviors, even unconsciously — ask any parent whose kid suddenly informed the in-laws or PTA of the parent’s ability to cuss in a fashion that would embarrass most sailors.

So, the models of what we see as bosses probably affect what we actually get in the workplace. This should trouble you: There are not a lot of good models of good bosses in any medium.

West Wing, 6th season DVD

In the comic strips, for example, we have Dagwood Bumstead and his boss Mr. Dithers, who wars with his wife, who seems to be an authoritarian despot who physically abuses his workers. Or in more modern strips, we have Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss, who is an incompetent at all human functions, and most management functions as well. Don’t get me going on Beetle Bailey with incompetents all the way up the line from Sgt. Snorkle.

On television we’ve had incompetents and yellers for years. Phil Silvers played Sgt. Bilko. In every incarnation of Lucille Ball’s programs, a boob boss was required — from Ricky Ricardo’s Cuban temper flareups through Gale McGee’s bosses whose manifold, manifest foibles made them great comic foils. Homer Simpson’s ultimate boss, Mr. Burns, anyone?

Generally, even where someone plays a pretty good boss — Crockett’s and Tubbs’ boss on the old Miami Vice, or the lab heads in any of the current CSI series — there is another boss above them who has some massive failing, or a vendetta against the good team.

Exceptions are rare. Some of the Star Treks did better than others. Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: Next Generation, was ideal as boss in many ways. It was particularly interesting to watch him give his “No. 1,” Riker, first choice in missions on foreign planets. The character Picard had a particular way of showing confidence in subordinates, in subtly demanding the best from them. He’d ask for opinions or ideas on what to do next; when someone came up with a workable idea, or even only the best idea of an apparently unworkable lot, Picard would look them in the eye and delegate to the team the authority to make it happen: “Make it so,” he’d say.

If only we could make it so.

Then there was The West Wing. I think it premiered when I was teaching at night. For whatever reason, I didn’t see a single episode until reruns shortly before the second season. I caught new episodes almost never. Read the rest of this entry »


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