Monday, July 31, 2006

Is Your Vote Going to Count?

Everybody is suspicious of the new electronic voting machines. Actually, if you haven't been following the story closely, it's much worse than you think. Several ways have been found that would let a motivated person change votes in one of those machines.

Now Raw Story is reporting that the worst flaw of all has been found:
The Open Voting Foundation, a California-based nonprofit organization that works to promote the adoption of "open source" technology to the nation's voting machines, has announced it has found what it calls the "worst ever security flow found in Diebold RS voting machines."

The Foundation claims to have discovered a switch inside of the machine which, when flipped, can have the machine operate in "a completely different manner compared to the tested and certified version."

"Diebold has made the testing and certification process practically irrelevant," said the Foundation's President Alan Descert, in a statement obtained by RAW STORY. "If you have access to these machines and you want to rig an election, anything is possible with the Diebold TS -- and it could be done without leaving a trace. All you need is a screwdriver," he continued. GROUP: 'Vote counts can be changed with the flip of a a switch'

This isn't a partisan issue. Both sides would suspect the other of trying to cheat, if something didn't come out the way they wanted. And who could blame them? The people immersed in electioneering and campaigning are thinking about nothing but winning -- it's wrong, but you just know they'd pull something if they knew they could get away with it. Let's just say, it wouldn't be the first time somebody manipulated the vote, but this technology would allow it to happen on a grander scale, and easier, than ever before.
Technical specifications of the report may be read in the statement, an excerpt from which follows:


The most serious issue is the ability to choose between "EPROM" and "FLASH" boot configurations. Both of these memory sources are present. All of the switches in question (JP2, JP3, JP8, SW2 and SW4) are physically present on the board. It is clear that this system can ship with live boot profiles in two locations, and switching back and forth could change literally everything regarding how the machine works and counts votes. This could be done before or after the so-called "Logic And Accuracy Tests".

A third possible profile could be field-added in minutes and selected in the "external flash" memory location, the interface for which is present on the motherboard.

This is not a minor variation from the previously documented attack point on the newer Diebold TSx. To its credit, the TSx can only contain one boot profile at a time. Diebold has ensured that it is extremely difficult to confirm what code is in a TSx (or TS) at any one time but it is at least theoretically possible to do so. But in the TS, a completely legal and certified set of files can be instantly overridden and illegal uncertified code be made dominant in the system, and then this situation can be reversed leaving the legal code dominant again in a matter of minutes.

"These findings underscore the need for open testing and certification. There is no way such a security vulnerability should be allowed. These systems should be recalled."

There is about a fifty-fifty chance that Stalin once said, "Those who cast the votes decide nothing; those who count the votes decide everything." Whether he said it or not, it is appearing that some form of that statement will be true in the near future, as those who count the votes will appoint whatever winner they prefer, if the rest of us don't pay attention.

Voters Don't Like South Dakota's Abortion Law

Earlier this year the governor of South Dakota signed a new law into effect that made abortion flat-out illegal. When it goes into effect, you just won't be able to get one there. Well, there weren't very many abortions in South Dakota anyway, but ... I guess it made a point.

This week the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported the results of a survey of South Dakotans' opinions after a few months under this law.
Amid the often hostile rhetoric that pierces South Dakota’s closely watched abortion debate, a new survey shows that more residents of the largely conservative state oppose a ban on the pregnancy-ending procedure than support it, though that would change if exceptions for cases involving rape and incest were allowed.

According to the statewide poll, conducted for the Argus Leader and KELO-TV in Sioux Falls, 47 percent of voters polled would vote to reject the ban, compared with 39 percent who would vote to keep it. Another 14 percent were undecided.

Support for the current form of the abortion ban came equally from men and women and matched the statewide 39 percent. The political breakdown showed only 23 percent of Democrats support the proposed law, while 51 percent of Republicans and 43 percent of independents back it. Statewide poll: Without key exceptions, more South Dakotans oppose abortion ban

Interesting to watch the numbers shift. I think it might be this: it's easy to oppose abortion in the abstract, hard to oppose it when you or your wife or your daughter needs one. People have had a few months to notice what would have happened if this law were in effect.
Gov. Mike Rounds earlier this year signed the ban that the 2006 Legislature passed. It would outlaw all abortions except to save the life of a pregnant woman. Opponents circulated a petition and got enough signatures to prevent the law from taking effect until after a November vote.

Washington, D.C.-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Research conducted the survey of 800 registered South Dakota voters between July 24 and July 26. The voters, all of whom said they were likely to vote in the November election, were interviewed by telephone. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The poll indicated the ban would have broader overall support if it included an exception for cases involving rape or incest. Those undecided or against the current form of the abortion ban were asked if they would favor the proposed law if it included those exceptions. Statewide, 59 percent said they would support that form of an abortion restriction.

What do you think? Sounds to me like people don't want abortion to be used as a form of birth control, but if you need one, you should be able to get it. Great Swarmy predicts there might be some disagreement on what "need" is, especially depending on if it's your own family or somebody across town.
But a rape and incest exception wouldn’t change the minds of some, including Lori Holmberg of Mitchell, who opposes the ban.

“I still wouldn’t vote yes on it,” said Holmberg, 45. “I think those are certainly mitigating factors, but the ultimate question in my mind is that I don’t want someone else making that decision for me.”

I'm afraid that's what I'd say, too. It's like watching that Terry Schiavo mess. Sometimes you have to make extremely hard decisions, life and death decisions, and it's hard enough already without the government telling you what you should do.
Gordon Geick of Sioux Falls, who is voting for the ban, said he’s had his mind made up on the issue for some time.

“Primarily, I think it’s murder,” said Geick, 75. “To start with, I don’t think there’s anything in the U.S. Constitution that gives anybody the right to kill another human being.”

But of course, there are all sorts of places where the Constitution gives people the right to kill other people. War and capital punishment spring right to mind.

Porn-Star Schoolteacher Wants Her Job Back

I saw this mentioned on a blog somewhere, and ended up getting sucked into this vortex of preconception and misdirection. Some of the story is from earlier in the year, but a new development was reported on the conservative Christian web site AgapePress this week. First, I must mention, I've had some first-hand experience with this "writer," Jim Brown. He is basically a stenographer for the right who passes on, as fact, whatever any extremist group hands him, whether there is any basis to it or not.

Here's his sad story of a lady who has repented her evil ways.
AgapePress) - A high school science teacher who was fired by a Kentucky school board for appearing in a pornographic film over a decade ago is fighting to get her job back.

Tericka Dye was fired last spring by the McCracken County School Board after school officials learned she appeared in a porn film in 1995. She was 23 at the time. Dye, who was a science teacher and volleyball coach at Reidland High School in Paducah, says taking part in the movie -- at a time when she was struggling financially -- was a moral lapse of only a few hours, and that she has since become a Christian and deserves a second chance. Lawsuit Seeks Reinstatement of KY Teacher Dismissed for Appearing in Adult Film

Personally, I am ambivalent about the idea of having porn actresses teaching high school. I don't have a preconception about how this one should come out. On one hand, teachers are expected to maintain a kind of standard of personal behavior. Like, I remember my father, who was a teacher, telling us once about another teacher at his school who had gone to a party and had a few drinks, got into a fender-bender on the way home, and was fired the next day. Is that right, I don't know, it's just how it is.

On the other hand, c'mon, this was -- what's it say? -- eleven years ago. Well, eleven years ago my life was just as boring as it is now, but still, there were some things I did in my twenties that maybe I wouldn't want the whole world to know about ... no, I was never in a porn movie.

Anyway, first of all, it seems weird to see the religious right defending a porn actress. Their line is, it was just a youthful mistake, she needed the money, she was abused by an alcoholic father, it wasn't her fault, and now she's found Jesus and it's all behind her. Contrast that with the treatment they're giving the PBS kids' show host who once appeared in a spoof of abstinence-only education called "Technical Virgins." (Those with a sense of humor may enjoy seeing the ad HERE -- it's pretty funny.) Or, hey, how forgiving are they, even now, of Bill Clinton's indiscretion? I'll bet they forgive Mel Gibson before they forgive Pee Wee Herman.

OK, I'm cool with the found-Jesus-different-now story. Put her back in the classroom, fine.

But when you lift the corner of the curtain -- aw, c'mon, this always happens.

First, from Wikipedia we learn that her stage name was Rikki Anderson, and they give her "partial filmography" as:
  • Valentino's Sexual Reality 4: Inside L.A. (1999)
  • Major Slut (1999)
  • Rug Munchers (1997)
  • Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun (1997)

Hmmm, that's not "one movie, eleven years ago." That partial list has four movies, as recently as seven years ago. Surfing around the web, you see plenty of others, too.

Wikipedia also mentions another film she appeared in, whose name I will not pass on here, and tells us that she was "a psychological operations specialist in the 4th PSYOP Group in the United States Army," working in a military prison. Wow, that's a movie in itself (I'm not going to go there).

Some Googling shows a lot of stories repeating the same non-facts about her one mistake eleven years ago. Like, here's a local radio station's news site, which I found via the rightwing portal Free Republic:
Reidland, KY - When do we forgive people for mistakes they've made in the past? One Heartland community is battling the issue.

"I'm girl from the wrong side of the tracks who's made a lot of bad decisions in life," suspended teacher Tericka Dye.

Through the tears, a confession of what Tericka Dye calls the worst choice she's ever made. "I don't think I should pay eleven years later by losing the one career I found that I love and that I'm good at." Teacher Confesses to Role in Adult Film

So it goes. There's a pretty informative AP story HERE. An interview with Rita Cosby HERE, for what it's worth.

There is a kind of interesting promotional interview with "Rikki Anderson" HERE. Unfortunately, it's just unformatted text and very hard to read online. A couple of snippets, to give you the idea:
... But Anderson decided that she missed the military and re-enlisted. "You had access to so many things," she says. "Then I decided I wanted to try porn again. I guess it's a double-addiction: porn/military."
"My nickname is Cape Canaveral, so what does that tell you?"
There was this thing that I learned in the military, the fact that I could look feminine had its advantages with the women and the men. It was like, 'My God, look at this lipstick....[lesbian]. So, if I wanted to swing that way, hey...if I wanted to swing the other way it was, "Oh look at this chick that you can't totally believe she's in the army when she's out of uniform."

Most of this interview would be inappropriate for this blog. Let's just say she seems ... enthusiastic about her work in the porn business.

Do you remember when Laura Schlesinger's nude photos appeared on the Internet a few year back? Some boyfriend had taken them when she was young, OK, everybody understood that and felt a little sorry that it all had to come out in public.

That's one thing.

But here, it is clear we have a woman who was a professional porn actress. I see one reviewer says she was in eleven movies, but it looks like maybe more than that. And now she wants to teach science. Well, I still don't really have anything against that, myself.

For me, there are two questions here. First, why is the religious right so eager to take up her cause? Yeah, I see the repentance angle to it, I suppose there's a theme of sin and redemption that makes a good story with a moral. This one seems a little iffy, though. I'd say the possibility of this backfiring on them is pretty high -- just imagine what happens the first time some student tells a reporter a juicy story.

The second question is, why is the AgapePress audience so satisfied with lies? You can find dozens of web sites that are perfectly willing to pass on the "fact" that this nice schoolteacher, down on her luck, behaved indiscreetly for ten minutes -- yes, they actually say that, ten minutes, eleven years ago. And of course that means thousands of readers are perfectly happy to believe it.

OK, I'm being a little disingenuous, I understand this a little bit. It takes effort to check facts, that's part of it. Well, not much effort, Google does all the work for you in this case.

But more than that, here's what happens. People see the world in terms of good and evil, and they judge themselves on the good side. That's just human nature, Christians do it, Jews do it, Muslims do it, atheists do it ... Then they look for beliefs that support that judgment. Everybody thinks that what they believe is true, of course, but that's not necessarily the reason they believe it. Facts will be accepted if they fit the story, the theory, the pattern that confirms the beliefs they already hold.

In this case, you have a young woman with ... a wild side. She was a small-time porn star and "dancer," a few years ago. Well, sorry, but the demands for novelty and youth work against you, very few people have careers in that industry that last any length of time. So now she wants to be a schoolteacher. Maybe she's totally given up her wild ways, I don't know, it hardly matters. All that matters is that her story can be twisted into something that the religious nuts can use to "prove" that the world is against them, and that they are really forgiving, nonjudgmental souls. See, we even accept this poor girl who made a mistake one day long ago.

I don't care if she teaches or not, the school board decides that (and in this case, they decided to let her go). But, I admit, I am fascinated by the process of story construction and the acceptance of fiction as fact.

Saturday, July 29, 2006


Everybody knows that there are some places where women go topless as a matter of custom, and that it's No Big Deal. Guys who've spent time in topless bars and nude beaches report that after a while you don't even notice it. You have to admit that at least some of the titillation, so to speak, comes from the fact of the taboo itself, the social norm of keeping the breasts covered. Maybe that's the whole thrill, I couldn't say. The art of lingerie supports the hypothesis.

On the other hand, all species of mammals are characterized by the presence of mammary glands, the means of nurturance of the offspring by the mother. You've got to agree, this is one of the most beautiful devices that nature has invented. It seems that more than milk is involved, there is also closeness and warmth and love.

This month, the magazine BabyTalk had this picture on the cover:

and seven hundred people wrote in to complain.
"I was SHOCKED to see a giant breast on the cover of your magazine," one person wrote. "I immediately turned the magazine face down," wrote another. "Gross," said a third.

These readers weren't complaining about a sexually explicit cover, but rather one of a baby nursing, on a wholesome parenting magazine -- yet another sign that Americans are squeamish over the sight of a nursing breast, even as breast-feeding itself gains more support from the government and medical community.

Babytalk is a free magazine whose readership is overwhelmingly mothers of babies. Yet in a poll of more than 4,000 readers, a quarter of responses to the cover were negative, calling the photo -- a baby and part of a woman's breast, in profile -- inappropriate. Lactivists: Where is it OK to breastfeed?

I can see, y'know, if it was Pamela Anderson on a bearskin rug or something, It's dumb but I understand that's how people are, we form norms and we treat those norms as if they were realities. In our society, women use the revealing of the breasts as a way to attenuate sexuality; décolletage makes a statement that all members of our society understand.

That is speaking of the breast as secondary sex organ, which is also its secondary function. The primary function is to provide nourishment to offspring.

Some people don't seem to make the distinction.
One mother who didn't like the cover explains she was concerned about her 13-year-old son seeing it.

"I shredded it," said Gayle Ash, of Belton, Texas, in a telephone interview. "A breast is a breast -- it's a sexual thing. He didn't need to see that."

It's the same reason that Ash, 41, who nursed all three of her children, is cautious about breast-feeding in public -- a subject of enormous debate among women, which has even spawned a new term: "lactivists," meaning those who advocate for a woman's right to nurse wherever she needs to.

"I'm totally supportive of it -- I just don't like the flashing," she said. "I don't want my son or husband to accidentally see a breast they didn't want to see."

Listen, speaking strictly as a guy here, breast-feeding has very little to do with flashing. A lady may get a second glance out of surprise or even curiosity, but ... it's no thrill, OK?

Oh. I was just at the grocery store, and there was a picture of Britney Spears naked on the cover of a women's magazine, I forget which one. Cosmo and all of that genre typically have cover photos of women with more than the usual amount of skin showing -- women seem to find it at least as irresistible as men do. There's some strange chemistry going on there -- I guess it sells magazines, whether I understand it or not.
Another mother, Kelly Wheatley, wrote Babytalk to applaud the cover, precisely because, she said, it helps educate people that breasts are more than sex objects. And yet Wheatley, 40, who's still nursing her 3-year-old daughter, rarely breast-feeds in public, partly because it's more comfortable in the car, and partly because her husband is uncomfortable with other men seeing her breast.

"Men are very visual," said Wheatley, of Amarillo, Texas. "When they see a woman's breast, they see a breast -- regardless of what it's being used for."

No, I don't think that's right. I have never heard any guy talking about how sexy breastfeeding is. Yes, the subject of breasts has come up, more than once, you might say. But not breastfeeding.
Babytalk editor Susan Kane says the mixed response to the cover clearly echoes the larger debate over breast-feeding in public. "There's a huge Puritanical streak in Americans," she said, "and there's a squeamishness about seeing a body part -- even part of a body part."

"It's not like women are whipping them out with tassels on them," she added. "Mostly, they are trying to be discreet."

Kane said that since the August issue came out last week, the magazine has received more than 700 letters -- more than for any article in years.

Is this amazing to anybody else, or just me? This, of all the problems in the world, is what motivates people to write letters to the editor?
The evidence of public discomfort isn't just anecdotal. In a survey published in 2004 by the American Dietetic Association, less than half -- 43 percent -- of 3,719 respondents said women should have the right to breast-feed in public places.

Hmm, it would be fun to do a survey to find out just how much of their breasts women should be allowed to reveal. Like, what would people say if you asked them to agree or disagree with the statement: "Women should have the right to display their cleavage in public places"? Really -- what would you say?

I think I agree with this lady:
Ultimately, it seems to be a highly personal matter. Caly Wood said she's "all for breast-feeding in public." She recalls with a shudder the time she sat nursing in a restaurant booth, and another woman walked by, glanced over and said, "Ugh, gross."

"My kid needed to eat," said the 29-year-old from South Abingdon, Massachusetts. And she wasn't going to go hide in a not-so-clean restroom: "I don't send people to the bathroom when they want to eat," she said.

Friday, July 28, 2006

They Don't Want You to See It

One trademark of today's loudmouth religious radicals is their preoccupation with other people's sins. For instance, here in Montgomery County, any parent can keep their kid out of the sex-ed classes simply by not signing the permission slip. Don't want them to take it? No problem, just don't sign the form. People who don't approve of the class can keep their child out of it by doing absolutely nothing. But, it turns out, that's not really what they're after. The thing is, they don't want other people's children learning about sexuality.

You might remember the Parents Television Council. They're the ones -- usually the only ones -- who complain when somebody uses a bad word on a TV show, or like when Janet Jackson's brass pasty was exposed for several milliseconds.

You will also remember that every television set in America has a "V-chip," a thing you can program so that your kids won't be exposed to sex and violence on TV. This was something President Clinton pushed and implemented. Through the V-chip, parents have control over the content on their TV.

Of course, as you may have noticed, nobody really cares enough to use the thing. Have you ever seen anybody program their V-chip? Even once? Naw, of course not, because when you get right down to it, this is the purest hypocrisy -- nobody's really offended by the lame stuff on TV, they just want to accuse other people of ugliness.

Anyway, the TV industry is launching a big drive to remind people that the V-chip exists, and, I guess, to tell them about how to use it. In case they forgot.

You'd think the Parents Blah Blah group would love the V-chip, wouldn't you? It gives parents, not networks, control over what will be shown in their homes. You can show nothing but good, decent programming in your house, and your kids will grow up to be perfect ladies and gentlemen.

C'mon, you didn't really think they'd be satisfied with that, did you?
Family-programming advocacy group Parents Television Council on Thursday blasted a newly launched broadcast-industry campaign touting use of the V-Chip, the device designed to allow parents to block sexually explicit and violent television programming.

Calling the cable- and satellite-industry rating system on which V-Chip blocking is based "inaccurate," the PTC offered its support instead for legislation that would require cable and satellite providers to apply broadcast indecency standards or offer a la carte or new "family tier" programming. Parents group derides V-Chip ads

Man, you can think of so many ways to deal with this; nobody has to have gross, indecent, foul stuff on their TV. Like ... throw the thing out. Unplug it (throw the circuit-breaker if you think the kids will plug it back in. They'll never figure that one out). I don't know, it just seems so easy. Don't turn the TV on if you don't like what it's showing you -- nobody's forcing you to watch it.
At the press conference announcing the new bill, PTC President L. Brent Bozell described the campaign as a "shameful publicity stunt" that is "designed to absolve (the entertainment industry) of all responsibility for the raw sewage it pumps into America's living rooms night after night."

"The truth of the V-chip, aside from all the rhetoric, is that for the V-Chip to work, first and foremost it must rely on the ratings system. If the ratings system doesn't work, then the V-Chip doesn't work," Bozell told CNET The inaccuracy of the ratings system is all the more reason for parents to decide which specific channels they want to order, he said.

Yeah, that's what they want, they want you to be able to pick and choose what channels you'll get, not take some package the cable company puts together. Well, I suppose a lot of us would like that. I don't know why they have to be so ugly about it.

Hahaha, this thing cuts both ways. Did you see the news a month or so ago, when these nuts realized that if people could pick and choose the channels they got, nobody would watch the Christian channels? Yeah, you might not want to get a bunch of scantily-dress chicks gyrating on MTV, and you might also not want Pat Robertson stinkin' up your living room.

Tough call.

For some people.

Sharks Fear Charges

I have to comment quickly on something I saw on the front page of The Post this morning.
An obscure law approved by a Republican-controlled Congress a decade ago has made the Bush administration nervous that officials and troops involved in handling detainee matters might be accused of committing war crimes, and prosecuted at some point in U.S. courts.

Senior officials have responded by drafting legislation that would grant U.S. personnel involved in the terrorism fight new protections against prosecution for past violations of the War Crimes Act of 1996. That law criminalizes violations of the Geneva Conventions governing conduct in war and threatens the death penalty if U.S.-held detainees die in custody from abusive treatment. Detainee Abuse Charges Feared: Shield Sought From '96 War Crimes Act

Recently you hear some writers refer to the corporate media as propaganda outlets for the administration. Here's why. Look at this headline: Detainee Abuse Charges Feared.

Imagine if some gang owned the newspapers, I'll say the Sharks just to keep it neutral. One day the headline would be Armed Robbery Charges Feared. The story might read like ...
An obscure law approved by Congress two hundred years ago has made Shark leaders nervous that members involved in knocking off Chee Kim's Liquors last year might be accused of committing armed robbery, and prosecuted at some point in U.S. courts.

Senior Sharks have responded by drafting new rules that would grant Sharks involved in rapid financial acquisitions (RFA) new protections against prosecution for past robberies. The law criminalizes the use of firearms to rob citizens and threatens the death penalty if citizens die after being shot or stabbed during a robbery.

I mean, c'mon, the reason the these guys are afraid of being charged with war crimes is ... everybody say it with me ... because they committed war crimes.

And the story is that "charges are feared?"

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Sex-Ed Changes in Carroll County?

The Examiner has this, about Carroll County:
The Carroll County School Health Council has asked the school board to review its sex education curriculum to determine if middle-schoolers should learn about condoms and other contraceptive methods, rather than only the abstinence option currently taught.

“The board contends that it’s not an issue in the eighth grade, but students need the information sooner,” said Linda Kephart, supervisor of health and elementary physical education. “What they hear at the back of the school bus is not accurate. We’re not promoting the behavior; we just want them to have accurate information.”

The health council, comprised of a parent and school, health and government officials, sent a letter to the school board at the end of June asking the board to make sure schools provide “appropriate education for the many students who do choose to be sexually active” as part of the schools’ abstinence-based education.

The letter cited a recent countywide study in which 78 percent of respondents said they would support comprehensive sexuality education for all teens ages 11 to 17.

School board President Thomas Hiltz said he expects the board to respond formally today with a letter to the county health council.

“Our curriculum meets Maryland standards and we follow them closely,” he said, adding that county health council members can join the Family Life and Human Sexuality Committee, a group of teachers, parents and students that offer recommendations about curriculum to the school board.

The board voted down a recommendation made by the Family Life committee in March that called for barrier and chemical contraception instruction for eighth-graders, Kephart said.

“A board member said it is the parents’ responsibility, but parents aren’t talking about it as much as
they should,” she said. School Board asked to review sex education curriculum

That "accurate information" bug seems to be going around. We'll keep an eye on this one as it develops in the near future.

Your Kid and the Internet

Wired has a little article that is nothing special, but it talks about a problem that most of us high-tech parents have had to think about, at least for a second.

Both my teenagers scrounge around in the front of the computer for hours on end, IM-ing and putting stuff on their MySpaces, downloading stuff, playing games. You can't watch them every second, and besides ... who'd want to?

Once, a couple of years ago, I got suspicious about what one of my kids was doing on instant messaging at three and four in the morning, so I installed a program that logged his conversations. I can talk about this now, because he actually caught me. But, listen, I can tell you, those conversations are nearly content-free. When you say, "What are you guys talking about?" and your kid says, "Ah, nothing" -- that just might be a very accurate description.

But you never know. You hear about online predators, and porn and scams and viruses and stuff, and you want to protect them. Here's an advice column in Wired:
I’m worried about what my teenager is doing online. Should I monitor his surfing?

Mr. Know-It-All remembers when all his parents had to worry about was his pen-and-paper diary. It would have been tough to read in any case – it was hidden under a stack of Green Lantern comics and written in secret code. But that was a gentler time.

Now things are more complicated. Odds are you’re worried about the public implications of your kid’s behavior online – such as whether your tween is passing herself off as a sultry 19-year-old on MySpace, or he’s nursing an outta-control Internet poker and porn habit. Or maybe you’re concerned that Google’s cache will cough up their explicit blog to a prospective employer in 2016. “In a teenage brain, impulse control is still under construction,” psychologist David Walsh says. “The job of the parent is to act as the surrogate prefrontal cortex.” Son, Call Me Big Brother

Hmm, that's one way to put it. Or, the job of the parent is to program the prefrontal cortex.
So by all means, yes – monitor their online behavior. It’s your duty. But there are degrees of onitoring, and you should go only as far as you need to. The first step is over-the-shoulder surfing. Put Johnny’s Mac out in the open so you can see what’s onscreen. While you’re at it, you old Luddite, educate yourself. Get MySpace, Flickr, and IM accounts. If your kid has a Web page, read it. The more genuinely informed pow-wows you have with them, the more they’ll grok your values.

In my experience, the best thing is to set the computer up in a "public" room, like the living room or family room, and place it so that 1.the screen faces the door, and 2.anybody can walk up at any time without being seen or heard.

And as for playing on the web yourself, I say, yeah, do that. I have these, I have a MySpace, a Flickr account, AIM, I had a Xanga and a Photobucket account. I've got wikis and blogs and RSS lists and ... well, OK, I'm a geek.

But, see, you get a feel for what happens. Most of it is quite harmless, and even fun, but, like, I remember the first time I tried AOL chat, and a "porn-bot" popped up in the middle of the discussion. The teenager I was talking to was unfazed, it's just background noise to them, but it can be an eye-opener for the uninitiated adult.

Oh, and this advice to read your kid's web site. My daughter has a blog. The last page of it is titled "What my mother doesn't know." Unfortunately, there's nothing on the page; she hasn't updated it in weeks. I'm dying to see what she'll say there.

But of course, it makes sense, if they are announcing their nefarious behaviors to the whole world, you as a parent shouldn't feel like you're snooping if you read it.

(Remember those kids in Rockville a couple of months ago who were setting fire to cars, and then bragging about it on their MySpace?)
But let’s say that despite your best Orwellian efforts, your kid seems seriously troubled, spends every minute online, and won’t or can’t talk about it. If you believe you have no option but to snoop, you can go high tech. Keylogging software such as the spooktastic Spector Pro can track their activity and automatically email you reports. Before you rush off to play Spy vs. Spy, though, here are a few caveats: First, don’t be clandestine. To preserve what trust you still have, you absolutely must tell your kids that you’re watching (and if they know you’re watching, they may begin to self-regulate). What’s more, even if you don’t like what they’re doing, don’t threaten to take away the Net permanently. One recent study showed this threat actually made teenage girls less candid about their online lives.

Yeah, I'd take that with a grain of salt. Anyway, you can't take "the Net" away from them. It's at the library, at school, at their friends' houses, at your house when you're not there ... C'mon, how dumb do you think your kids are, anyway?

And, finally:
By the way, don’t bother with software that blocks illicit sites. Any half-competent teenager can easily subvert it.

I could go on and on about this one. Those stupid "site blocked" windows that pop up -- half the time it's blocking something that is perfectly innocuous, and the other half of the time it lets horrible perverted sick stuff pop up on your monitor uninvited.

Once my kid had a friend over when I wasn't there, and later I clicked on the location window of the browser, just to look at the history of recent sites that had been visited. Oh, my! Next time that kid called the house, I let him have it. I told him I didn't want him using my computer for looking at porn.

This scared the pants off the kid, who didn't know if I would tell his parents, and it also made an impression on my own kid, who didn't know how I had figured out what the kid had been up to. --It's not a bad idea to stay a step ahead of them while you can, or at least make them think you are.

And this last comment, that any half-competent teenager can subvert your blocking software, c'mon, you know it -- your kid knows more about the computer than you do.

In the long run, it will come down to trust, and training. The Internet is full of amazing facts and fun things to do, but a teenager's curiosity might get the best of them, and their judgment is not always, how you say? ... reliable. But really, it's like jumping off roofs, lighting firecrackers, climbing trees, crossing the street, it's just another thing you have to get them through. There's a lot of scary stuff in the media about the Internet, and there are real threats, but if you work with your kid, it seems to me they can get lot out of it, with minimal risk.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Lance Bass Comes Out

If you've got teenagers, you probably had to endure the sound of 'N Sync a couple of years ago. Well, those kids who listened to them then are probably big enough now to handle the news that Lance is gay.
NEW YORK - Lance Bass, band member of 'N Sync, says he's gay and in a "very stable" relationship with a reality show star. Bass, who formed 'N Sync with Justin Timberlake, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone and Chris Kirkpatrick, tells People magazine that he didn't earlier disclose his sexuality because he didn't want to affect the group's popularity.


Bass says he wondered if his coming out could prompt "the end of 'N Sync." He explains, "So I had that weight on me of like, `Wow, if I ever let anyone know, it's bad.' So I just never did."

The singer says he's in a "very stable" relationship with 32-year-old actor Reichen Lehmkuhl, winner of season four of CBS' "Amazing Race."

Bass and Fatone, 29, are developing a sitcom pilot inspired by the screwball comedy "The Odd Couple," in which his character will be gay.

"The thing is, I'm not ashamed — that's the one thing I went to say," Bass says. "I don't think it's wrong, I'm not devastated going through this. I'm more liberated and happy than I've been my whole life. I'm just happy." Lance Bass of `N Sync reveals he's gay

Normally not interested in the sex lives of pop stars, but this seemed worth mentioning.

What Do People Think, Really?

We get a certain skewed view of the world if we just talk to our friends, or if we just get the news from TV, or ... if we read the comments section at the Teach the Facts blog. So it's good to check on a legitimate public opinion survey every once in a while, just as a gauge of how people are feeling, really.

Being nonpartisan here, we're going to skip over the political results of the latest AP-Ipsos Public Affairs Poll. OK, I'll tell you: people don't like the President or his Congress. No more details on that. There is some other interesting stuff in this survey -- sometimes it's just good to know what people really think out there.

They asked people if they believed "things in this country are heading in the right direction, or are they off on the wrong track?"

67 percent said wrong track, 30 percent said right direction. This was actually a nonsignificant shift in the optimistic direction since last month. Can you imagine that? Two-thirds of people disapprove of the direction the country is going. So, in a democracy, you might wonder ... why is it going that direction?

I'm not going to try to answer that question.

A kind of interesting result turned up when they asked people what they thought was "the most important problem facing the USA today." Clearly, war is on people's minds: 22 percent said "war" was our worst problem; of those, 14 percent specifically said "war with Iraq," and another 8 percent of them said "wars, unrest throughout the world." Immigration (9 percent) was seen as a more important problem than terrorism (7 percent). Overall, 42 percent of people thought foreign affairs issues such as these were our most important problems.

22 percent listed domestic issues. The biggest was "political leaders," which 9 percent reported as our most important problem, followed by "energy crisis" at 8 percent, morality at 4 percent, and education at 3 percent. I think I understand the "political leaders" thing; "energy crisis" probably has to do with paying fifty dollars to fill your tank; we'll come back to morality.

Finally, 14 percent of people thought the economy was our most important problem, in particular 9 percent listed "economy (unspecified)," whatever that really means. It might mean, "I personally have a job, I am able to pay my bills, but I don't understand how the country is paying for these wars and things, or when this is all going to come back and bite us."

OK, here's where my eye goes. Four percent of people think that "morality" is our biggest problem. It doesn't look like anybody reported "the gay agenda," or "condoms," or even "premarital sex" as a particularly important problem, and this is less than half the number of people who thought our political leaders are our worst problem.

I wonder who responded with "morality," and what they meant. If you caught me in a certain mood, I might say that morality is our country's most important problem. The idea that research that could save thousands of lives should be blocked on a theological technicality is immoral, torture and sexual humiliation of prisoners of war is immoral, attack and occupation of nonthreatening third-world countries is immoral, corporate greed and lying is immoral, destroying the environment is immoral, spying on citizens' private conversations without a search warrant is immoral ... you see what I'm saying? Immorality really is the central theme in this day and age. To me, it's our biggest problem, really.

I wonder how many of the "morality" responses were people like me, and how many were your garden-variety CRC-type knee-jerk moralizers.

Even if you figure that none of them were answering like I would have ... four percent. How can four percent of the population cause so much trouble?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Children Left Behind

I guess this isn't really surprising, though maybe you would've expected school administrators to figure out creative CYA techniques to make their system look good. From today's New York Times:
Most states failed to meet federal requirements that all teachers be “highly qualified” in core teaching fields and that state programs for testing students be up to standards by the end of the past school year, according to the federal government.

The deadline was set by the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush’s effort to make all American students proficient in reading and math by 2014. But the Education Department found that no state had met the deadline for qualified teachers, and it gave only 10 states full approval of their testing systems.

Faced with such findings, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who took office promising flexible enforcement of the law, has toughened her stance, leaving several states in danger of losing parts of their federal aid.


Mr. Bush signed the act into law in January 2002. Under his first education secretary, Rod Paige, legislators, educators and teachers unions criticized the law’s many rules and what they said was its overemphasis on standardized testing.

After Ms. Spellings took office in January 2005, she allowed some states to renegotiate the ways they enforced the law, and on major issues she offered ways to comply that prevented thousands of schools from being designated as failing.

Her efforts softened the outcry from states. But they brought criticism from corporate executives who hoped the law would shake up schools to protect American competitiveness. Criticism also came from civil rights groups that wanted the law to eliminate educational disparities between whites and minorities, and from groups angry that although the law required districts to help students in failing schools transfer out, only 1 percent of eligible students had done so. Most States Fail Demands in Education Law

It seems evident that, one, America has developed a culture that is antithetical to education, and two, the idea of layering tests upon tests in order to "measure progress" is ineffective pedagogy. A Post article a year and a half ago reported that the US students ranked 24th out of 29 of the world's most developed countries in math skills, and that the gap was widening. That article noted that Finland's schools ranked in first place in math after forty years of reform:
"Every child goes to the same school, and there is no school choice," [former Finnish education ministry official Pasi] Sahlberg said. "Teachers focus 100 percent on educating and teaching children rather than preparing them for tests." In a Global Test of Math Skills, U.S. Students Behind the Curve

Finland's successful approach is exactly the opposite of the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind approach, which emphasizes testing and switching schools.

Preparing for Armageddon?

Last week I was staying in a hotel in Vancouver, BC, on the West Coast. And one thing on the left side of the continent is that things are on TV earlier than they are here. So for the first time I actually saw Paula Zahn on CNN. Can somebody tell me, what do they call that quarter-nod-with-one-droopy-eye-and-knowing-smile that she and Lou Dobbs do? Is there a name for that? Do they teach that in CNN Anchor School or something? It's probably just me, but it creeped me out. They do it just the same.

I missed this hard-nosed reporting, though.
ZAHN: And we're back. One of the most disturbing and mysterious books of the Bible is Revelation. For centuries, Christians have read its visions of wars, plagues, and the end of the world and asked themselves if they were living in the so-called end times. Well tonight a lot of Christians are convinced that the apocalypse may be coming soon. Take a look at the Rapture Index on the World Wide Web. It assigns numerical values to wars, earthquakes and disasters. And tonight, it's at 156, which is in the "fasten your seat belt" category. So are we really at the end of the world? We asked faith and values correspondent Delia Gallagher to do some checking.


DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN FAITH AND VALUES CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They say the end of the world is coming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as I can tell, we are at the very end and we need to prepare ourselves for that according to the world of God.

GALLAGHER: The Israeli Hezbollah conflict they say is a sign that the Bible's final chapter, the Book of Revelation is unfolding before our eyes.

One of the Bible's most widely debated books, Revelation is filled with vivid and frightening imagery: Satan, the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the mark of the beast. It all depicts a great world apocalyptic battle for Israel, Armageddon, that ushers in the return of Jesus Christ and the beginning of a thousand-year period of peace.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The sixth angel sounded and I heard a voice from the four...

GALLAGHER: At this pentecoastal church in Dallas, Pastor Craig Treadwell (ph) tells his congregation that their salvation is tied to events happening 6,000 miles away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are we in World War III right now? It certainly looks like we are.

GALLAGHER: Events he says that were predicted 2,000 years ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Bible prophetized that two billion people will die. There is a massive nuclear holocaust just ahead.

GALLAGHER: Scary stuff coming from a popular local posture, but he's not alone. Well known reverend Jerry Falwell updated his Fallwell Confidential column last week to say "it is apparent, in light of the rebirth of the state of Israel, that the present day events in the holy land may very well serve as a prelude of forerunner to the future battle of Armageddon and the glorious return of Jesus Christ."

In recent times some Christians have looked for signs that the apocalypse is near. Some have even tried to carry out its prophecies, and over 62 million have bought these fictional books, the "Left Behind" series, describing the inevitability of the end.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today we will read straight from the bible. GALLAGHER: And pastor Treadwill's radio show that he co-hosts with Pastor Ervin Baxter, the talk is of end time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got one-third of mankind killed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got two billion dead, Israel will survive but will suffer a lot, and then finally relations between Israel and the international community will go south, the world community invades, Armageddon.

GALLAGHER: Treadwell and Baxter say we're in or near the final seven years leading up to Armageddon. They say just look to Revelation chapter 9 if you have doubts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This war will emanate from the River Euphrates. Did you know most of the Euphrates river is in the nation of Iraq?

GALLAGHER: The pastor says there's a correlation between almost every image in the bible and current events.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bible talks about tsunamis, it talks about the waves in the sea roaring. It talks about a dramatic increase in earthquakes.

THE REV. KEVIN BEAN, ST. BARTHOLOMEW'S CHURCH: There's a fiction being created here, like a Steven King horror movie.

GALLAGHER: Reverend Kevin Bean of St. Bartholomew's Church of New York City says Revelation is not meant to be read so literally and he says, it's irresponsible and dangerous to misinterpret the text.

BEAN: It's a part of our church, it's a part of our tradition, but we don't read it the way a lot of people do, which is to make that false correlation with present day events. That is a crock.

GALLAGHER: According to a Harris Interactive Poll of 1,000 people 59 percent say they believe the events described in Revelation will occur at some point in the future and 17 percent say that it will happen during their lifetime. So the question remains, how was Revelation meant to be read?

BEAN: Apocalyptic is about encouraging and consoling a people that are facing calamitous and catastrophic times. To say that, in spite of all of this, there is a God at work in this terrible world and a God that will vindicate.

GALLAGHER: And back at North City's Church in Dallas plans are being made.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look to the book of Revelations as indicators for what's going to happen.

GALLAGHER: For what they believe may be the end of the world as we know it.


GALLAGHER: And the question of what just is going to happen is hotly debated amongst Christians who have very different interpretations of this cryptic book of their scripture.

ZAHN: Delia, stand by. Because when we come back, we're going to bring in a panel of religious experts to debate just that, whether we covering the start of an even bigger story than we thought, is Armageddon really coming or is the literal interpretation a crock, as we just heard a priest in Delia's piece say? We're going to take a short break.


I had the strangest experience once, talking to a biker in North Carolina who was explaining all this stuff to me. The weird thing was, he had the Book of Revelation totally confused with the Prophecies of Nostradamus. He was very serious about it, talking about Napoleon and all this stuff, and explaining what the different dragons and monsters stood for.

This old time religion has always been around, and I don't have anything against it (for other people). You can do your snake-handling and your speaking in tongues as much as you want, I think it's kind of cool, actually (for other people). But there is a problem when people who think like this are running the country. One way to understand what's going on, from insanely failed wars and occupations to corporate greed to global warming, is to assume that certain people actually want the world to come to an end. I know, I saw John McCain on the Daily Show last night saying he "didn't think" this is how the President thinks, but ... well, there was a reason the question came up.

If these guys' cars are unmanned one day, then good for them, I'm sure they'll be happy where they're going. But I am pretty much opposed to basing public policy on a desire for the destruction of the world. See, some of us like it here.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Hey, Look Over There!

From the Independent:
The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, meets Tony Blair in London today as violence in Iraq reaches a new crescendo and senior Iraqi officials say the break up of the country is inevitable.

A car bomb in a market in the Shia stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad yesterday killed 34 people and wounded a further 60 and was followed by a second bomb in the same area two hours later that left a further eight dead. Another car bomb outside a court house in Kirkuk killed a further 20 and injured 70 people.

"Iraq as a political project is finished," a senior government official was quoted as saying, adding: "The parties have moved to plan B." He said that the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish parties were now looking at ways to divide Iraq between them and to decide the future of Baghdad, where there is a mixed population. "There is serious talk of Baghdad being divided into [Shia] east and [Sunni] west," he said.


In the past two weeks, at a time when Lebanon has dominated the international news, the sectarian civil war in central Iraq has taken a decisive turn for the worse. There have been regular tit-for-tat massacres and the death toll for July is likely to far exceed the 3,149 civilians killed in June.


"The government is all in the Green Zone like the previous one and they have left the streets to the terrorists," said Mahmoud Othman, a veteran Iraqi politician. He said the situation would be made worse by the war in Lebanon because it would intensify the struggle between Iran and the US being staged in Iraq. The Iraqi crisis would now receive much reduced international attention.

The switch of American and British media attention to Lebanon and away from the rapidly deteriorating situation in Baghdad is much to the political benefit of Mr Blair and Mr Bush.

"Maliki's trip to Washington is all part of the US domestic agenda to put a good face on things for November," a European diplomat in Baghdad was quoted as saying. Sectarian break-up of Iraq is now inevitable, admit officials

This past week I was staying in a hotel, watching CNN in the evenings, and it was unbelievable how the administration's media outlets have moved the focus from Iraq to Lebanon. Iraq is our war, we Americans are responsible for what has happened there, we should be paying attention to it.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The War on Terra: NASA's Mission Modified

You just know there were dozens of high-level meetings that went into this decision. From
This just in -- NASA is no longer in the business of protecting our planet. For the first time since 2002, NASA's mission statement makes no mention of the planet Earth.

The New York Times reports that for the past four years, NASA's mission statement read, "To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers... as only NASA can."

Since early February, however, NASA's mission statement -- placed on all its budget and planning documents -- now reads "to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research."

No mention is made of exploring... or protecting... terra firma. Has NASA Given Up On Planet Earth?

You know what this is about. It's about NASA scientists talking out loud about global warming.

Now, I gotta say, I usually can follow the nutty logic that infects our national discourse these days. The abortion thing, OK, you define it such-and-such and you can call it "murder" and that justifies gritting your teeth and squinting in a menacing manner whenever the topic comes up; the war, yeah, if all Arabs are the same then it makes sense to torture, rape, and murder innocent Iraqis in response to something that was done by a group of Saudis. The gay issue, since anyone who hears about homosexuality is going to rush right out and try it and catch AIDS and die, you'd better keep any mention of it out of the schools. And so on, usually I can see what the "reasoning" is.

But global warming. Why would anyone want to take a chance on sending our plantary environment into a chaotic state? OK, you might not like Al Gore because he's a liberal or whatever, it's not about Al Gore. OK, so business is going to have to spend some money and change the way they do things, whatever, that means that whoever provides the new clean technology will make money, what goes around comes around, it's an opening for the next generation of entrepeneurs. Yes, the oil industry feels threatened -- well, what have they done for us lately? Why would we care?

This is almost like a test case, like the Rovians want to see how far they can push it. Can they take some arbitrary piece of science, turn it around, and get the public to accept the opposite? If they can twist the media into publicizing "the controversy," if they can get their opinion on the TV screen, then some number of people are going to believe it. Just to see if it works.

The only other thing I can think of is the Apocalypse scenario, if we can hurry up the destruction of the world then it means Jesus will come back sooner. Sorry to say, that is still a plausible hypothesis for understanding these kinds of decisions, even at the highest levels of government.
NASA spokesman David E. Steitz told the Times the change was made to bring NASA's stated goals in line with President Bush's aim for manned spaceflight to the moon and Mars -- but that explanation isn't sitting well with many NASA scientists, who fear the omission means NASA is no longer concerned with projects dealing with such global issues as climate change, and greenhouse emissions.

David E. Steitz sounds like a guy who doesn't really want to "spend more time with his family" soon. He likes that nice paycheck.
“We refer to the mission statement in all our research proposals that go out for peer review, whenever we have strategy meetings,” said 25-year NASA veteran Philip B. Russell, an atmospheric chemist at the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, CA. “As civil servants, we’re paid to carry out NASA’s mission. When there was that very easy-to-understand statement that our job is to protect the planet, that made it much easier to justify this kind of work.”

Furthermore, NASA researchers say the change was made without consulting the agency's 19,000 employees -- an issue Stietz attributed to NASA administrator Michael Griffin's "headquarters-down" style of management.

“I don’t think there was any mal-intent or idea of exclusion,” Steitz added.

Funny, this guy's name is like Veirs Mill Road, they spell it Steitz sometimes, and Stietz other times.
That doesn't wash, however, with James E. Hansen -- the NASA climatologist who in February claimed political appointee George Deutsch threatened him for speaking out about the potential dangers from greenhouse gases.

“They’re making it clear that they have the authority to make this change, that the president sets the objectives for NASA, and that they prefer that NASA work on something that’s not causing them a problem,” said Hansen, who directs the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, on the new mission statement.

America, you elected these clowns, you deserve whatever you get. It's the voters' version of the Pottery Barn principle at work: you broke it, you bought it.

To understand and protect our home planet ... really, who cares about that junk?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Re-Defining and Re-Writing History in the Classroom

Our little skirmish over sex-ed might just be a practice scrimmage in the culture wars, if a recent development in Florida is any indication. Without attracting much attention in the press, that sunny state last month passed a law that outlawed "historical interpretation" in the public schools.

Common Dreams calls them on it this week:
Although U.S. students are typically taught a sanitized version of history in which the inherent superiority and benevolence of the United States is rarely challenged, the social and political changes unleashed in the 1960s have opened up some space for a more honest accounting of our past. But even these few small steps taken by some teachers toward collective critical self-reflection are too much for many Americans to bear.

So, as part of an education bill signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida has declared that “American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed.” That factual history, the law states, shall be viewed as “knowable, teachable, and testable.”

Stop. Think about that. A law says that history shall be viewed as factual. You understand why they needed that?
Florida’s lawmakers are not only prescribing a specific view of US history that must be taught (my favorite among the specific commands in the law is the one about instructing students on “the nature and importance of free enterprise to the United States economy”), but are trying to legislate out of existence any ideas to the contrary. They are not just saying that their history is the best history, but that it is beyond interpretation. In fact, the law attempts to suppress discussion of the very idea that history is interpretation. Florida's Fear of History: New Law Undermines Critical Thinking

Compare this to the debate over the press. Conservatives have repeated the phrase "liberal media" so many times that not only have they started to believe it, but the media have bent over backwards to prove that they're fair and balanced, often reporting lies as equivalant to truth in order to avoid the appearance of bias. At the same time, liberals looking at the mainstream media see little beyond a government propaganda outlet, talking heads reading administration press releases as if they were real reporting. Biased left? Biased right? You'll find people who say each of those things.

And that's when you're talking about things that happened yesterday, things that living people saw and can verify or criticize. Imagine the same complaints, only now you're talking about events that happened a hundred or two hundred years ago. You can't verify it, you can't deny it. If the textbook says he cut down the cherry tree, he cut down the cherry tree, and that's all there is to it.
The fundamental fallacy of the law is in the underlying assumption that “factual” and “constructed” are mutually exclusive in the study of history. There certainly are many facts about history that are widely, and sometimes even unanimously, agreed upon. But how we arrange those facts into a narrative to describe and explain history is clearly a construction, an interpretation. That’s the task of historians -- to assess factual assertions about the past, weave them together in a coherent narrative, and construct an explanation of how and why things happened.

For example, it’s a fact that Europeans began coming in significant numbers to North America in the 17th century. Were they peaceful settlers or aggressive invaders? That’s interpretation, a construction of the facts into a narrative with an argument for one particular way to understand those facts.

It’s also a fact that once those Europeans came, the indigenous people died in large numbers. Was that an act of genocide? Whatever one’s answer, it will be an interpretation, a construction of the facts to support or reject that conclusion.

In contemporary history, has U.S. intervention in the Middle East been aimed at supporting democracy or controlling the region’s crucial energy resources? Would anyone in a free society want students to be taught that there is only one way to construct an answer to that question?

And you can't meaningfully talk about history without some interpretation. You will call a group of people "fierce," or "peace-loving," you will emphasize their wild pagan rituals or their patient agricultural practices. Neither is wrong, neither is fiction or untruth, but your choice of words certainly affects the conclusions that students will draw.

The Los Angeles Times had an opinion piece by a historian that might clear up a little bit of it.
... [I]n an unprecedented move, the president's brother approved a law barring revisionist history in Florida public schools. "The history of the United States shall be taught as genuine history and shall not follow the revisionist or postmodernist viewpoints of relative truth," declares Florida's Education Omnibus Bill, signed by Gov. Jeb Bush. "American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed." [Note: the words "revisionist" and "postmodernist" were removed from the final wording of the bill, after this piece was written]

Ironically, the Florida law is itself revisionist history. Once upon a time, it theorizes, history — especially about the founding of the country — was based on facts. But sometime during the 1960s, all that changed. American historians supposedly started embracing newfangled theories of moral relativism and French postmodernism, abandoning their traditional quest for facts, truth and certainty.

The result was a flurry of new interpretations, casting doubt on the entire past as we had previously understood it. Because one theory was as good as another, then nothing could be true or false. God, nation, family and school: It was all up for grabs.

There's just one problem with this history-of-our-history: It's wrong. All history is 'revisionist'

The author of this piece, Dr. Jonathan Zimmerman, is director of the History of Education Program in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences in the Professions of the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University. His research focuses on cultural conflict in American public education.
Hardly a brainchild of the flower-power '60s, the concept of historical interpretation has been at the heart of our profession from the 1920s onward. Before that time, to be sure, some historians believed that they could render a purely factual and objective account of the past. But most of them had given up on what historian Charles Beard called the "noble dream" by the interwar period, when scholars came to realize that the very selection of facts was an act of interpretation.

That's why Cornell's Carl Becker chose the title "Everyman His Own Historian" for his 1931 address to the American Historical Assn., probably the most famous short piece of writing in our profession. In it, Becker explained why "Everyman" — that is, the average layperson — inevitably interpreted the facts of his or her own life, remembering certain elements and forgetting (or distorting) others.

For instance, try to recount everything you did yesterday. Not just a few things, like going to work or eating dinner or reading the newspaper, but everything. You can't. Even if you kept a diary and recorded what you did each minute, you would inevitably omit some detail: a sound in your ear, a twitch in your nose, a passing glance of your eyes. A 24-hour video camera might pick up these physical actions, but it could never record your thoughts.

So when somebody asks what you did yesterday, you select a certain few facts about your day and spin a story around them.

As do professional historians. They may draw on a wider array of facts and theories but, just like "Everyman," they choose certain data points and omit others, as well they must.

(Interesting -- "Everyman" the protagonist, eight years before Joyce's HCE.)

History as a list of everything that happened would ... not be very interesting, let's say. Clearly, the goal is to extract knowledge, a narrative, a way of understanding the past -- the idea that history is simply a collection of facts is naive. And the idea that some politicians would legislate that error as fact should scare you.
Becker was an optimist. Although historians could never determine the capital-T "Truth," he wrote, they could get progressively closer to it by asking new questions, collecting new facts and constructing new interpretations.

Nevertheless, he concluded his 1931 address on a pessimistic note: Unless the profession engaged lay readers — unless, that is, we taught the public about what we actually do — Americans would reject history itself, taking comfort in banal pieties and sugarcoated myths.

And surely one of the biggest myths of all is that history is simply about "facts." This year marks the 75th anniversary of Becker's famous speech, yet Americans appear no nearer to understanding that all pasts are "constructed," that all facts require interpretation and that all history is "revisionist" history.

Demagogic politicians are certainly at fault for this situation, but historians bear a good deal of blame too. Unlike Becker's generation of scholars, who worked hard to cultivate a lay readership, most of us write only for each other. Is it any wonder that the public has no idea about how we go about choosing topics, identifying sources and arriving at conclusions?

"It should be a relief to us to renounce omniscience," Becker wrote 75 years ago, "to recognize that every generation, our own included, will, must inevitably, understand the past and anticipate the future in the light of its own restricted experience."

This essay is really about the separation of popular and academic thought, which, in my opinion, is at the bottom of a lot of our current troubles. It seems to me there has been a deliberate derogation of educated people in our society, with the (intended) consequence of keeping the larger part of the population uncritical, unknowledgeable, and easy to manipulate. Academics have one kind of knowledge (which, trust me, is used by those in power), ordinary people are spoon-fed another.

To my mind, the re-defining and re-writing of history are more dangerous than the re-defining and re-writing of science that we have seen in recent years. Whereas science constantly improves our knowledge of nature and our place in it, history gives us a sense of identity, it tells us who we are in a personal way, where we fit into the story of the human race on the planet earth. If we give politicians the responsibility of picking which "facts" will be acceptable in the classroom, what is the probability that they will not select perspectives that serve their own ideological ends?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Frat-Boy Theory

I have a friend who has a theory about what's going on, and he may be right.

I'm of the generation, like our President, who went to college in the sixties. Yes, we're the boomers. And kids, let me tell you there were strange things happening if you went to college in the late sixties. There was a crazy war going on, and the draft, and LSD and turning-on-tuning-in-dropping-out, there were the Beatles and the Stones and Woodstock and Kent State and Charles Manson and birth-control pills and the sexual revolution.

Perhaps the most important outcome of it all was that frat boys weren't cool any more.

Imagine being a whitebread society kid, brought up with geek-intimidating, girl-impressing money, in control of the rules in the schoolyard, and finding out that somebody like John Lennon or -- gasp -- Jimi Hendrix was cooler than you, imagine having some long-haired guitar-player with black lights in his crashpad stealing your girlfriend. Worse, stealing her for one night that she'll never forget, and then giving her back.

My friend believes that we are currently paying for that reversal of the obviously correct social hierarchy. The frat-boys are back in control now, and they're gonna make sure nothing like that ever happens again. And that's what this is all about.

Recently an article appeared on the web that, well, at first it's merely disturbing, but with my friend's theory in mind it starts to make sense.

If this article is not a hoax, then it turns out that Ann Coulter used to be a Deadhead. And she is trying to claim the Grateful Dead as a part of the rightwingers' heritage.

A couple of quotes from Ann:
... I really like Deadheads and the whole Dead concert scene: the tailgating, the tie-dye uniforms, the camaraderie – it was like NASCAR for potheads. You always felt like you were with family at a Dead show – a rather odd, psychedelic family that sometimes lived in a VW bus and sold frightening looking “veggie burritos.” But whatever their myriad interests, clothing choices, and interest in illicit drugs, true Deadheads are what liberals claim to be but aren't: unique, free-thinking, open, kind, and interested in different ideas ...

... Somewhat contrary to the image of Deadheads as hippies, the Dead were huge in my hometown of New Canaan, CT, which is a pretty preppie town. We toyed with the idea of making "Truckin'" our prom song with a "Long Strange Trip" theme, but we ended up with some dorky rainbow theme instead. I tend to associate the Dead with lacrosse players and my favorite fraternities, Fiji and Theta Delt ...

Do you see what I'm getting at here? Through this interview she mentions being a Christian, and not smoking marijuana, but ...

Somebody tell me, is this for real? This web site seems to have actual interviews and follows the "jam bands." Would they have made this up?

Ooh, it's too rich:
I fondly remember seeing the Dead when I was at Cornell. It was the day of the fabulous Fiji Island party on the driveway “island” of the Phi Gamma Delta House. We'd cover ourselves in purple Crisco and drink purple Kool-Aid mixed with grain alcohol and dance on the front yard. Wait – I think got the order reversed there: We'd drink purple Kool-Aid mixed with grain alcohol and then cover ourselves in purple Crisco – then the dancing. You probably had to be there to grasp how utterly fantastic this was.

I'm not going to describe how utterly wrong this is, I think it is self-evident. Or not. Maybe frat-boys were really cool all along, but nobody knew it.

And maybe not.

Congress Turns to Most Important Topic

With the world in such a peaceful state these days, corrupt politicians imprisoned, corporate greed brought under control, now that the religious (self)right(eous) have rediscovered the Beatitudes and are loving their enemies and working together for world peace and the elimination of the last few pockets of poverty, Congress can take this comfortable occasion to smooth out the few remaining rough edges of our society.

Yesterday the House came to the most important issue of all: whether the Pledge of Allegiance should include the phrase "one nation, under God." Because really, if you look around, it's the only problem they haven't solved.
WASHINGTON - Legislation to bar federal courts from ruling on constitutional issues arising from the Pledge of Allegiance, including the "one nation, under God" reference, passed the House after lawmakers argued that the pledge is linked to the nation's spiritual history.

Opponents countered that such a law, a priority of social conservatives, would undercut judicial independence and deny access to federal courts to religious minorities seeking to defend their rights.

The measure faced an uncertain future in the Senate after the House voted 260-167 on Wednesday.

"We should not and cannot rewrite history to ignore our spiritual heritage," said Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn. "It surrounds us. It cries out for our country to honor God."

The pledge bill would deny jurisdiction to federal courts, and appellate jurisdiction to the Supreme Court, to decide questions pertaining to the interpretation or constitutionality of the pledge. State courts could still decide whether the pledge is valid within the state. House OKs bill guarding Pledge from courts

Let me comment on this very briefly, this idea of "activist judges" re-writing the law. What these judges are doing is interpreting the Constitution. Seems modern-day "conservatives" are not satisfied with that musty old document, and don't want some pointy-headed, book-reading judges going back and making every law conform to it.

In sum: disrepect for the Constitution that these congressmen are sworn to uphold.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said that while he supported the pledge, the bill would "intrude on the principle of separation of powers, degrade our independent federal judiciary and set a dangerous precedent."

Yes. Thanks, homeboy.
The legislation grew out of a 2002 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the pledge is unconstitutional when recited in public schools. The Supreme Court in 2004 reversed that decision on a technicality, but the case has been revived.

Supporters in the House argued that the "under God" phrase, added to the pledge in 1954, must be protected from unelected judges.

Just like newspapers should not be written by unelected journalists.

Listen, there's a reason judges are "unelected." It's so they can be objective, so they don't have to cave in to every idiotic whim that excites the population. I'm not saying every judge is perfectly objective, or that appointing them makes them apolitical, but the fact that they don't have to run for election does remove them from popular control in a way that is ... perfectly sensible. It's like lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court. Those guys don't have to brown-nose the public, they got nothing to lose.
Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., who sponsored the measure, said that denying a child the right to recite the pledge was a form of censorship. "We believe that there is a God who gives basic rights to all people and it is the job of the government to protect those rights," he said.

It's weird, isn't it, that God didn't give those rights until some guys got together and appended them to the Constitution in 1791. I mean, God has been managing humanity since -- what was it? -- 4,000 BC, when He created the earth. Or was that 4,000 years ago, well, I forget the exact date. I wonder why He waited all those years to tell people what he wanted. And ... why did He write it into a secular document, authored by mortals?

Tell me, is this really on anybody's list of Things That Are Wrong in America Today?

I mean ... really.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Lesbians' Risk of AIDS the Lowest

This is not surprising at all, but ... you don't hear it said out loud very often.
Women who have sex with women face the lowest risk of contracting HIV than any other group of the sexually active population, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

“We are not aware of any confirmed cases,” said Dr. Patrick Sullivan, acting deputy director for science with the CDC’s Division of AIDS Prevention.

But that fact comes with a few caveats: Women who have sex with HIV-positive men or share intravenous drug needles with a person with AIDS are engaging in high-risk activities. Blood transfusions and artificial insemination also can raise the stakes.

“But over the last couple of decades there has been a sustained systematic effort to understand the transmission risk of women having sex with other women,” Sullivan said. “If the CDC becomes aware of HIV-infected women who have sex with other women, the health department will try to understand how the transmission occurred.”

It’s still theoretically possible for women to contract the disease from each other, according to unpublished statistical data included in the CDC’s updated fact sheet “HIV/AIDS among women who have sex with women.” CDC data show no risk of HIV in lesbian sex

I don't know, I just thought you'd like to contemplate that for a moment.

Ralph Reed Tagged Out Stealing Home

Great. I was having a little trouble reporting about the former Christian Coalition leader and white-collar criminal Ralph Reed, because, well, he was running for office, and we try to stay out of partisan election politics here.

But ...
Former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, unable to overcome his ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, conceded defeat Tuesday in Georgia’s Republican race for lieutenant governor.

In Alabama, George Wallace Jr. — son of the legendary Alabama governor and presidential candidate — lost his bid for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor to Luther Strange, a first-time candidate.

Reed was making his first bid for elective office after working for years as a behind-the-scenes campaign strategist and leading the Christian Coalition and the state Republican Party. Ralph Reed concedes defeat in Ga. primary: Ex-Christian Coalition leader ends GOP bid for lieutenant governor

Wow, and just a few months ago this guy was sitting on top of the world, palling with Abramoff, making money hand over fist off those girls who were being forced into sex-slavery and forced abortions, uh, I mean, who were being exposed to Biblical teachings, and his lucrative deals with the Indian casinos, uh, I mean, his crusade to stamp out sinful gambling.

Now I can link you to this beautiful piece by Garrison Keillor from a couple of weeks ago. Yes, the Prairie Home Companion guy.
If a preacher secretly accepts a bucket of money from a saloonkeeper to organize a temperance rally at a rival saloon and maybe send in a gang of church ladies to chop up the bar with their little hatchets, this would strike you and me as sleazy, but others are willing to make allowances, and so Ralph Reed's political career is still alive and breathing in Georgia. He has bathed himself in tomato juice and hopes to smile his way through the storm. My opinion Garrison Keillor : Reed bagged big payoffs by opposing gambling

Go read the rest, it's pure literature. Turns out that tomato juice doesn't get rid of the smell forever.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice

I'm forgetting now. In Afghanistan, are we in control of the country, or did we help them establish a democracy? Which is it?
The Afghan government has alarmed human rights groups by approving a plan to reintroduce a Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the body which the Taliban used to enforce its extreme religious doctrine.

The proposal, which came from the country's Ulema council of clerics, has been passed by the cabinet of President Hamid Karzai and will now go before the Afghan parliament. Fury as Karzai plans return of Taliban's religious police

I'm eager to see who wants to post a comment saying they don't think this sounds like a good idea.
Under the Taliban the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice became notorious for its brutal imposition of the Taliban's codes of behaviour.

Religious police patrolled the streets, beating those without long enough beards and those failing to attend prayers five times a day. Widows suffered particular hardship because of the diktat that women be accompanied by a male relative when out of their homes, an impossibility for thousands of women widowed during decades of war.

We can be so proud that our victory in Afghanistan has brought democratic reform as well as the return of prosperity to their ... agriculture ... business.

More of the Same

The "culture of life" supports torture and sexual humiliation, allows genocides to continue uninterrupted, forces women to undergo abortions in the Mariana Islands, and actively promotes killing brown-skinned foreigners by the tens of thousands, never mind the thousands of American lives lost -- but you try to help sick people by growing some embryonic cells, and you got a fight on your hands.

President Bush, you know, has never vetoed any bill in his two terms in office. The one-party federal regime has very well coordinated their draining of the public trust, so there has been no conflict between legislative and executive branches. But this is where he's going to put his foot down:
The Senate moved Tuesday toward sending a bill expanding federal funding of embryonic stem cell research to President Bush, who has promised a swift veto his first.

Neither the Senate nor the House is expected have the two-thirds majorities necessary to override the president's opposition. Stem Cell Bill expected to Force Bush Veto

Most Americans see how backwards this is. Most of us would rather have cures for terrible diseases and risk violating some technical theological ruling regarding the instant that life begins.

Our comments have been interesting lately, as one Anonymouse embarrasses the other and trolls and nuts struggle to outdo each other. We've got people in the comments quoting Ann Coulter as a scientific authority. We've got people arguing that global warming is creating a new Garden of Eden, as Greenland becomes a jungle. We've got a guy stating as a fact that Noah's ark has been found. It's quite interesting watching them assert and justify and rationalize and, oh yes, call people names. For those readers who think this fight is pulling up to an end, and that the obvious is becoming obvious to everyone, just go through our comments.

Some people will accept any evidence that what they already believe is correct.

Back to our story:
"This is a vote that millions of Americans are watching," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. "They can't understand why America for the last five years has shut down medical research that promises hope."

Bush stood fast, with midterm elections just ahead and the Republicans' congressional majority at stake.

"He would veto the bill," the White House said in a written statement, underlining the words for emphasis. It would be the first veto Bush has cast during his 5 1/2 years in office.

The White House statement quieted speculation by supporters that Bush, perhaps persuaded by new science and strong public support for embryonic stem cell research, would reverse course and sign the legislation.

... "persuaded by new science?" ...

I don't think so.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Controversy Evolves

We keep a close eye on the evoluation-versus-intelligent-design debate that is playing out in a number of school districts around the nation. Why? Because it's the same debate as our sex-ed controversy. In both cases you have a minority of people whose beliefs conflict with science, and they strongly believe their beliefs should be included in the public school curriculum. For the most part these arguments are religion-based, and it often turns out that the groups who try to effect these changes are well-funded and well-organized.

That means that the rest of us, who blithely walk around thinking that the world can be understood using facts and reason, need to organize as well, and fight back.

The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch has an editorial this morning:
Once again, the State Board of Education is provoking a debate on whether evolution is a controversial scientific theory that should be taught with warnings and disclaimers.

This fight should have been dead and buried in February, when the board voted 11-4 to drop a science standard and lesson plan that called for "critical analysis" of evolution. But a few dogged members still insist on "teaching the controversy" about evolution, even though the controversy has been manufactured by disingenuous people who wish to introduce the supernatural into science classrooms.

At a Monday meeting in Columbus of the board’s Achievement Committee, member Colleen D. Grady proposed that the science standards be changed to guide teachers on how to present controversial topics such as global warming, stem-cell research and, of course, evolution, in science classrooms.

Grady borrowed words and phrases from different parts of the current science standards to create a Frankenstein monster of a standard. It would read:

"Describe that scientists may disagree about explanations of phenomena, about interpretation of data or about the value of rival theories, but they do agree that questioning response to criticism and open communications are integral to the process of science.

"Discuss and be able to apply this in the following areas: global warming; evolutionary theory; emerging technologies and how they may impact society, e.g. cloning or stem-cell research."

Context is important, and the public should see through this ploy. Evolving strategy: State board members failed to sneak in creationism, so they try a new tactic

Yes, this editorial hits on an important feature of the debate. "Teaching the controversy" would be an interesting approach if there were a controversy. But inside the fields mentioned -- global warming, evolutionary theory, etc. -- the controversies are small and inconsequential to the regular high school kid. In evolution, for instance, there may be a controversy about whether punctuated equilibrium better describes evolutionary prgoress, or is change more-or-less even over time? Doesn't matter, unless you're working in the field. The basics of evolution are not a matter of controversy.
The "rival theory," in the case of evolution, is no theory at all, but the untestable religious idea that an intelligent designer must have created every living thing.

Intelligent design is code for the Christian version of creationism.

The Education Department staff will be drawing up a draft for the board’s consideration in September. Why now?

What has changed in Ohio’s schools over the past five months that requires the board to revisit the standards? They are fine.

A good guess might be that, if this issue ends up in court, no one could claim that evolution has been singled out if global warming, cloning and stem-cell research also are listed.

Great, now they think they can win because they're fighting over the entire curriculum, and not just evolution. Classic case of lose the battle, win the war.
There is no debate within the scientific community that evolution occurs; the theory is bolstered constantly, as newly discovered fossils fill in the record.

The scientific community also has concluded that the globe is warming. Only the particulars, such as the conclusions to be drawn from the numbers and what to do about it, are up for debate.

Columbus is an ironic place to be challenging global warming: Ohio State University’s Lonnie Thompson and Ellen Mosely-Thompson have spent decades documenting the effects on glaciers and the snowcap on Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro.

As for stem-cell research and cloning, there is no debate about the science involved in these issues. The only debate would be over the morality of these practices, a worthy discussion, but not one appropriate for a class devoted to teaching the scientific method.

These few wily board members are the best possible evidence that evolution exists; their tactics mutate every time the public catches on to what’s happening.

Amen, brothers and sisters.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

High-School Gay Club Wins Suit

The school can't bar the Gay-Straight Alliance from meeting on campus.
GAINESVILLE, Ga. - A federal judge ruled Friday White County High School cannot deny a student gay rights club equal access or a fair opportunity to conduct meetings on school premises during noninstructional time.

"I think this is a triple victory," said Beth Littrell, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who filed the suit on behalf of Kerry Pacer, a graduate who was present of P.R.I.D.E. (Peers Rising in Diversity Education).

"I think it is obviously a victory for our courageous young plaintiff, it's a win for all students and a win for the principle of equality," Littrell added. "It sends a clear message that school officials can't discriminate against students." Judge rules gay group can use school

Speaking of red meat ... this story has everything.

And don't you love it that this was White County, Georgia?
U.S. District Court Judge William C. O'Kelley also ruled that White County cannot discriminate against student groups on the basis of the religious, political, philosophical or other content of their speech.

"The law was with us and the judge agreed, and interpreted the law as it had been interpreted," Littrell said. "The school did a good job of attempting to circumvent the federal law by dressing clubs up as organizations or faculty-led, basically slapped some lipstick on a pig."

We need to contemplate that language for a few seconds before moving on. Slapping lipstick on a pig. Perfect.
O'Kelley ruled that school officials violated the Federal Equal Access Act during the 2005-2006 school year by barring P.R.I.D.E. from meeting on campus, while allowing other non-curricular clubs to do so.

"I don't have any comment since I haven't had time to read it," said Brian Dorsey, the principal of White County High School.

Yes, very wise. Old Chinese saying: En boca cerrada, no entran moscas.

Reading other stories about this, we learn that P.R.I.D.E. is a gay-straight alliance chapter, and that this fight has been going on for a year and a half. Fred Phelps had brought his "God Hates Fags" church-group down to White County to voice their opposition to the club, and local preachers had told the school board they opposed allowing the club. The principal of the high school made a rule banning all non-academic clubs, leading to lipstick on pig etcetera.