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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Chickens, Roost – You Know the Drill

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Apparently it’s finally dawning on Republicans that redistricting to win seats has its limitations. There comes a point when even your supporters have had enough destruction and death.

Their problems are threefold and intertwined. First, the GOP has become effectively agenda-less, advocating policies that lack popular support, and that they quite possibly couldn’t execute even if they controlled the government entirely.

Second, as Politico honchos Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen explain, “The party is hurting itself even more with the very voters they need to start winning back: Hispanics, blacks, gays, women and swing voters of all stripes.” That’s partially a consequence of theiragenda-less-ness, and partially a consequence of its members’ propensity to say things and advocate ideas that further alienate women and minorities.

Third, a combination of chance and poor decisions will turn the coming midterm into a referendum on issues custom tailored to energize Democratic demographics that tend to sit out midterms.

Actually there are four problems, not three. Number 4 is that it isn’t just that their policies “lack popular support”. It’s that their policies are batshit crazy and as destructive as a plague. Read the rest of this entry »

Teachers? We Don’t Need No Steenking Teachers

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Joel Pett, Lexington, KY Herald-Leader

Written by Mick

March 13, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Plato and Movement Conservatives: A Match Made in Form

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republicI just read Plato’s Republic for the first time and it just zipped by – 400 pgs in 2 days. Maybe because it was a good translation or maybe because most of the ideas supporting Plato’s “ideal state” turned out to be so childish that I didn’t have to spend much time thinking about them. I covered most of them in junior high, at which time I located and identified the serious flaws in concepts like domination by the state, forced unity, a single definition of Good, and a concept of Truth that didn’t actually include any.

The Republic suffers from all of these and a good deal more, and I suppose his critics (starting with Aristotle) have probably done a much better job than I could delineating and then deconstructing them. The truth is that I found the book mildly amusing (except for Book 7, Chap 2, which introduces a couple of concepts that were to be the basis of philosophical thinking for the next 2500 yrs) in the same way one might chuckle at a memory of the paper he wrote in 9th grade Social Studies supporting Barry Goldwater for President because “maybe an atomic war is just what we need to clean the slate and start fresh.” That’s how you think when you’re 14.

Life, of course, not to mention politics, are a little more complicated than that and even Plato recognized it when he insisted at the end of the book that he never expected to see his Republic in the real world. Still, that he thought a state run by a complicated procedure that married uncomfortable opposites – the “ideal” Republic is part autocratic/militarist dictatorship, part democratic free-for-all, and part elitist aristocracy run by “philosopher kings” who turn out to be characterized by dispositions and beliefs exactly similar to, well, Plato’s – would actually work if someone would just give it a chance is so adorably clueless that I had a pleasant few hours imagining the horrible results of philosopher-rule.

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Written by Mick

May 21, 2009 at 7:30 pm

The Bush Library: Control of History to Save a Sorry Image

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George W Bush, as I have argued many times, has been a spectacularly successful president – if your definition of “successful” includes turning the govt into a sort of combination National Chamber of Commerce and corporate wish-list enforcer. He has virtually gotten everything he’s asked for, usually on his own terms. He had a rubber-stamp Republican Congress for 6 of his 8 years and even when the Democrats won it back in ’06 largely due to the way his ultraconservative, pro-corporate policies devastated the country, they continued to give him pretty much everything he wanted, including FISA, telecom immunity, more troops in Iraq (anybody remember “the surge”?) and worker- and environment-unfriendly trade deals.

But once he’s gone, history is not going to look kindly on him. He hasn’t left yet and already they aren’t. The reasons are simple: his success has been a disaster for the nation in every important area one can think of. Surprisingly, that’s not how he sees it. For example, he’s currently running around insisting that the odious, destructive NCLB has been a major success and even had the gall to warn Obama not to mess with it.

Bush argued that No Child Left Behind has “forever changed America’s school systems” for the better, forcing accountability on failing public schools and leading to measurable improvements among poor and minority students. [There's no evidence whatever it has done any such thing, but since when would a lack of proof stop Bush?]

“I firmly believe that, thanks to this law, students are learning, an achievement gap is closing,” Bush told the audience at General Philip Kearny School.

He also suggested that Obama, who has vowed to overhaul the program, should tread carefully before following through on promises of reform. “There is a growing consensus across the country that now is not the time to water down standards or to roll back accountability,” Bush said.

No, there isn’t. There’s a growing consensus that NCLB has been an utter failure and needs to be re-vamped. Personally, I think it’s so bad there’s no saving it. We ought to throw it out and start over.

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The Mind of a Biologist: Big Meanings in Tiny Animals

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It’s hard to know where to begin with a book like Lewis Thomas’ The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher. As slim as a mystery novella (the chapters are very short, the longest a bare 9 pgs), Lives of a Cell is packed with low-key language that disguises world-changing ideas. It took me a week to read a book that would ordinarily have taken a day simply because each short chapter generated so much I needed to think about that I couldn’t digest more than one at a time. It was like eating a meal so brilliantly prepared, balanced, and spiced that even though there wasn’t much bulk to each course one didn’t want to disturb the pleasure of the last by moving onto the next until one’s mouth and taste buds had been thoroughly cleansed and were ready for the richness to follow.

For instance, the two macro-notions that more or less underpin the book each could – and most likely have – engendered many deep philosophical works that discussed the ins and outs, pros and cons from the many different directions each of them suggests. I can’t possibly do justice to them here. I barely have the space to explain them let alone the many and various lines of thought they open up.

For example, one of the book’s two major themes is the idea that it is possible that mankind is a sort of superorganism, that, like certain kinds of social insects, when organized into a social marcrocosm we become, like ants and termites, capable of far more than we could ever hope to accomplish on our own – when we are operating on what he calls “our conjoined intelligence”. In the chapter titled “On Societies as Organisms” he writes:

Ants are so much like human beings as to be an embarrassment. They farm fungi, raise aphids as livestock, launch armies into wars, use chemical sprays to alarm and confuse enemies, capture slaves. The familes of weaver ants engage in child labor, holding their larvae like shuttles to spin out the thread that sews the leaves together for their fungus garden. They exchange information ceaselessly. They do everything but watch television.

***

A solitary ant, afield, cannot be considered to have much of anything on his mind; indeed, with only a few neurons strung together by fibers, he can’t be imagined to have a mind at all, much less a thought. He is more like a ganglion on legs. Four ants together, or ten, encircling a dead moth on a path, begin to look more like an idea. They fumble and shove, gradually moving the food toward the Hill, but as though by blind chance. It is only when you watch the dense mass of thousands of ants, crowded together around the Hill, blackening the ground, that you begin to see the whole beast, and now you observe it thinking, planning, calculating. It is an intelligence, a kind of live computer, with crawling bits for its wits.

The concept of mankind as a single organism unaccountably split into its component parts with each individual retaining its species cohesion while at the same time celebrating itself as the owner of a unique piece of the puzzle is not new. The entomologist William Morton Wheeler coined the term “superorganism” in 1911 to explain the phenomenon of insect intelligence when grouped together and science fiction writers have been playing with the idea ever since. The most recent well-known example is probably the Borg. But for a biologist to be toying with such an unorthodox interpretation of scientific data is unusual in 2008 and was near unheard of in the 70’s when this book was written.

Nor is that the only heretical idea Mr Thomas had up his sleeve. Read the rest of this entry »

The Bush Library Unpacked

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This came in via email from Thomas Nephew and is apparently being passed around. It may or may not be an actual rundown of Bush Library features, but if it isn’t it ought to be.

Please Support the Bush Library

The George W Bush Presidential Library is now in the planning stages.  Please consider a contribution to our President’s new library, which will be located in Crawford, Texas, and also in a satellite facility in the Green Zone in Baghdad.  The Library will include:

The Hurricane Katrina Room, which is still under construction.

The Alberto Gonzales Room, where you won’t be able to remember anything.

The Texas Air National Guard Room, where you won’t even have to show up.

The Walter Reed Hospital Room, where they don’t let you in.

The Guantanamo Bay Room, where they don’t let you out.

The Weapons of Mass Destruction Room, which no one will be able to find.

The National Debt room which is huge and has no ceiling.

The ‘Tax Cut’ Room with entry only to the wealthy.

The ‘Economy Room’, which is in the toilet.

The Iraq War Room. After you complete your first tour, you will get to go back for a second, third, fourth, and sometimes fifth tour.

The Dick Cheney Room, in the famous undisclosed location, complete with shotgun gallery.

The Environmental Conservation Room, still empty.

The Alaska Wildlife Room, which is currently closed for oil exploration.

The No Child Left Behind Room, where you and your children are pre-tested, then tested, and afterward post-tested in an endless cycle.

Adjacent to that the Mission to Mars Room, where — as you would expect — no child is left behind.

The Compassionate Conservatism Room, which charges a separate admission fee and is actually a chute leading down to the Guantanamo Bay room.

The Water Boarding Demonstration Room, which doesn’t meet the definition of torture.

The Supreme Court Gift Shop, where you can buy an election.

The Decider Room complete with dart board, magic 8-ball, Ouija board, dice, coins, and straws.

The museum will have an electron microscope to help you locate the President’s accomplishments.

Admission: Republicans – free; Democrats — $1000 or 3 Euros

PS: Your User ID is now listed with Homeland Security. Feel better?

Written by Mick

August 14, 2008 at 3:49 pm

Bush Lobbyist Caught Selling Access to VP Cheney in Return for Donations to Bush Library/Propaganda Center (Updated)

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Well, I’m not surprised.

The Sunday London Times is reporting that big-time Bush lobbyist Stephen Payne is busy these days selling access to Dick Cheney in return for (sizable) donations to the Bush Library and Propaganda Center.

The images on the tiny screen of Stephen Payne’s personal organiser told a clear story: this was a man with connections at the highest level.

One showed Payne uprooting dead trees side by side with George W Bush on the US president’s Texas ranch. Another depicted him skeet shooting next to Dick Cheney, the vice-president, and a third grinning for the camera alongside Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state.

The man on the other side of the table from Payne at the Lanesborough hotel in central London last week appeared impressed by the contents of the BlackBerry. He was a familiar figure, a Kazakh politician Payne knew as Eric Dos.

 Dos, whose full name is Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov, told Payne that he was representing another foreign political figure who was looking to meet the top people in the US government.

 Dos had good reason for believing that Payne could make it happen. Payne has accompanied Bush and Cheney on foreign trips to the Middle East and Asia, and he sits on the influential advisory council to the Department of Homeland Security. Payne is also president of a lobbying company, Worldwide Strategic Partners (WSP), which specialises in connecting business and political interests with the US government.

Dos told Payne that the politician needing help was Askar Akayev, the former president of the central Asian state of Kyrgyzstan.

Akayev, who is in exile in Moscow after being ousted from power three years ago in a people’s revolt, was seeking an endorsement from senior US figures in order to help rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the world, Dos told Payne.

“Who does he want to meet with in Washington?” asked the American. Dos replied: “Well of course, maybe the president of the United States, vice-president Cheney, to speak maybe directly to explain the situation in central Asia . . . To give his side of the story. These kind of things.”

“I think that some things could be done,” said Payne, adding that seeing Bush himself might be more difficult. With barely a pause, he continued:

“I think that the family, children, whatever [of Akayev], should probably look at making a contribution to the Bush library.

“It would be like, maybe a couple of hundred thousand dollars, or something like that, not a huge amount but enough to show that they’re serious.”

(emphasis added) 

Whew! That’s a relief. For a minute there I thought we were talking about real money. $200K for a visit with L’il Dick so a deposed dictator could have a sympathetic audience listen to “his side of the story”? Cheap at twice the price. And who knows? L’il Dick can understand the pain of autocrats slung out of their country for torture, theft (isn’t Akayev the one who boiled his political opponents in oil?). He might be looking at something similar himself one of these days. Maybe he’ll invade Kyrgyzstan and give the guy back his country if he promises to join the worldwide WOT and turn Kyrgyzstan’s oil fields over to Halliburton and Chevron for management/sale.

Hey, it’s doable. Disgusting but doable.

I wish I could say this means the Bushies have struck rock bottom but selling access for $$$ is what they do. what they’ve been doing for years. 

The scandal isn’t that a BushBaby is breaking the law. This is minor for these guys. The scandal is that I have to read about it in the foreign press. The reporter was undercover – a concept the US press abandoned after the Food Lion fiasco because it wasn’t fair to corporate pirates and their willingness to poison us for a buck or two – and he recorded the conversation (legal, despite conservative howling to the contrary). Who these days in the US could imagine such a thing happening? Not me.

Dos said that in the autumn of 2005 he had been asked by the Kazakh government, via Kulibayev, to arrange a visit by Cheney. The intention was to improve the country’s international standing.

Dos had spent several days negotiating with Payne. A deal was eventually agreed, he said, and he understood that a payment of $2m was passed, via a Kazakh oil and gas company, to Payne’s firm.

The following May, Cheney made a brief trip to Kazakhstan. His visit was remarked upon in the media at the time, both for the lavish praise which he publicly heaped on Nazarbayev and for the stark contrast between this and a speech he had made just a day earlier at a conference in Lithuania in which he had lambasted Russia for being insufficiently democratic. Now he was lauding Nazarbayev, who has effectively made himself president for life and in whose country it is an offence to criticise him.

“Why did Cheney castigate Russia’s imperfect democracy while saying not a word about Kazakhstan’s shameless travesty of the democratic system?” said one newspaper following the visit. “Cheney’s flattery of the Kazakh regime was sickening,” said another.

Hey! Cheney is an honorable man. If he takes money to fluff a country, bigod, he fluffs that country! No matter what kind of hellish conditions he has to ignore. He lives up to his contracts.

Some of them…

I don’t imagine this is serious enough to get much attention as a scandal. It’s pretty small potatoes for the Bushies. So maybe SMU doesn’t really have to worry very much about the soiling of its reputation that bribery on behalf of the school will inevitably bring about. Maybe they don’t think it’s any big deal considering they’re willing to look past torture. Maybe they think John Wesley would take a laissez-faire approach to White House corruption, spying, theft, and contempt for the law. Maybe that’s all OK with Methodists now.

Apparently it must be, because the Bishops have been perfectly willing to bow to Bush pressure and overlook all of it. What’s one more crime more or less? Bribery? Fagh. Who cares?

Clearly the Methodist bishops don’t.

UPDATE: (7/15/08) Lindsay Beyerstein has dug up a lot more at Majikthese.

Written by Mick

July 14, 2008 at 6:35 pm

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