Monthly Archives: January 2004

CoxNews: Pols Weigh In

Georgia Democrats, led by former president Jimmy Carter, spoke out yesterday on Superintendent Kathy Cox’s proposal to eliminate all mention of evolution from biology courses. Carter minced no words:

“As a Christian, a trained engineer and scientist, and a professor at Emory University, I am embarrassed by Superintendent Kathy Cox’s attempt to censor and distort the education of Georgia’s students,” the former president declared. “Nationwide ridicule of Georgia’s public education system will be inevitable if this proposal is adopted.”

No kidding. But Carter was not the only Georgia Democrat to offer an opinion.

At the state Capitol, some lawmakers denounced the proposal Friday.”You’re talking about a major change in public education in Georgia,” said Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, a Democrat. “It appears Superintendent Cox finds the word ‘evolution’ too controversial to be discussed. She prefers a more nebulous term.”

State Rep. Bob Holmes (D-Atlanta), chairman of the House Education Committee, said the proposal will make Georgia look foolish on a national scale. “We have one black eye from the flag. This will give us another black eye,” he said.

Holmes said he couldn’t understand why the argument over evolution is continuing. “It seems to me this thing had been resolved 70 years ago during the Scopes monkey trial,” he said. In that landmark trial, in Tennessee in 1925, Clarence Darrow defended high school teacher John Scopes in the first court case to pit the theory of evolution against the biblical story of creation.

Although legislators may get no vote on whether Cox’s decision stands, Holmes noted that the House and Senate “provide funds for everything they do.”

Is that a threat, Bob?

Republican legislators, however, have been strangely silent. All Gov Sonny Perdue would say is that it’s not his place to get involved but that he “trust[s] the Superintendent…[who] is perfectly capable of making those kinds of curriculum decisions.” Not from where the 21st century is sitting, Sonny. From there it looks like she don’t know the difference between the Inquisition and an electron microscope. But then, you don’t either, probably.

Not satisfied with scrapping biology, Cox is also in the process of trying to “skip” the history of the Civil War as taught in Georgia’s high schools.

A proposal to all but skip the Civil War in high school history classes has state Superintendent Kathy Cox defending her views again.

The excuse they’re using–and there may be some validity to it–is that there just isn’t time to teach everything. Cox’s proposal suggests cutting the study into two parts:

Georgia teachers have complained for years that the state’s standards are a mile wide and an inch deep. Cox’s proposal — which includes changes such as placing the bulk of Civil War instruction in the fifth and eighth grades — is designed to free up time to cover topics in more depth, while meeting national standards that encourage hands-on activities in place of rote learning.But to free up more time, topics get introduced in earlier grades, a move Cox defends.

“We don’t need to dumb down expectations for our younger students and leave challenging material for the high school years alone,” Cox said in a statement released last week.

There are, of course, drawbacks to this arrangement.

[Andy] Preston, who teaches U.S. history at Ware County Magnet School and is president of the Georgia Council for the Social Studies, does not dispute the intention of the new standards. He sometimes has “trouble getting beyond World War II, you get bogged down.”But he worries whether fifth- or even eighth-graders have the maturity to deal with a topic as complex as the Civil War. So does Darrell Huckaby, a 29-year teaching veteran who teaches advanced-placement U.S. history at Heritage High School in Rockdale County.

“It just doesn’t make sense to learn half of history,” said Huckaby…


Under the proposed standards, Georgia’s high-schoolers would pretty much start at Reconstruction and move onward.

“It’s kind of sad we need to teach less to do better,” said Nathan Kumar, a junior at Marietta High School in Cobb County. “We live in America, not just the South, and the Civil War is a huge deal.”

Several legislators also have criticized the idea that the Civil War would not be a mandatory topic for high schoolers.

Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor said he is concerned about the proposed changes.

“I would urge you . . . to insist that educators in your districts, who you trust, review this,” Taylor said from the rostrum late last week. “These are very, very important changes.”

Sen. Steve Thompson (D-Powder Springs) also spoke out from the floor.

“How can we talk about today and the future if we don’t know about the past?” Thompson said. “We need to learn something about world history.”

Maybe it’s a matter of making choices, and sure, you can’t include everything, but sneaking the study of the Civil War–often called “The War of Northern Aggression” in the South and still a controversial topic after 150 years–into the lower, less demanding grades is a move that seems designed to allow (or even force) Georgian educators to soft-peddle the intricate and complex battles between Southern slave-owners and Northern Abolitionists, leaving a hole you could run a train through that is perfect for channeling the simple-minded “state’s rights” explanation that conservatives like Cox prefer, and down-playing the slavery aspect to the point of invisibility.

I wouldn’t assume that that is the intent if it weren’t for Cox’s attempt to eliminate evolution from the curriculum. Finding a way to turn the Civil War from a war over slavery into a war over state’s rights has been on the radcon agenda for years, just like dumping evolution, and it appears that Cox thinks she’s found a way to slip it into the curriculum under the radar with the excuse “we don’t have time to teach it.”

What this suggests, along with the evolution change, is that the radcons are using Cox to move their education agenda forward another step. Look for Cox to start showing up on wingnut radio and tv shows where she will be fawned over like a war hero, after which similar “proposals” will raise their ugly heads in other Southern states.

Cox represents the tip of the radcon iceberg, and it’s sailing mighty close to home.

“Yes/No/Maybe So” Voting

Reader Peter K Harrell, writing in Comments on the “A Republican dirty trick” post, makes reference to something called “Yes/No/Maybe so” Voting. Mr Harrell is known to me–at least online–and an expert on Y/N/M. Without his permission–though with a reasonable certainty that he won’t mind–I’m going to be posting, over the next week or so (depending on time) some of his material explaining exactly what Y/N/M voting is and how it works.Why am I doing this? Because the Y/N/M voting system is the only truly democratic voting system I’ve ever seen or heard of for reasons you will read for yourself, and if we survive Junior and the Radcon takeover-attempt it’s going to be bloody important to put into place a system of voting that will prevent any group of ideologues from ever again thinking that our democracy can be hijacked or that America could be a one-party nation if they play enough tricks on us.

But before we get into the system itself, I want to post Mr Harrell’s lucid explanation of the weaknesses of majority rule, what he calls The Majority Rule Voting Paradox.

Part 1 of 2 What is the Majority Rule Voting Paradox?

A Majority Rule Voting Paradox exists whenever there is a candidate on the ballot who is preferred to another candidate by a majority of the electorate despite the fact that this preferred candidate is also simultaneously disapproved of by a majority of that same electorate while the other candidate is approved of by a majority of that same electorate.

This paradox, known as the Majority Rule Voting Paradox, is important because it demonstrates that voting techniques such as Plurality Voting and Instant Runoff Voting that focus solely on preference cannot even determine the Consent of the Governed much less return election results consistent with that consent.

Plurality Voting is the voting technique used most often in elections in the United States. The Consent of the Governed is the basis of a fundamental democratic principle that provides legitimacy to democratic government.

The Majority Rule Voting Paradox can most easily been demonstrated using an electorate that consists of three people, whose opinions can be described as follows.

Person 1:
Prefers Candidate A to Candidate B. Approves of Candidate A and Approves of Candidate B.

Person 2:
Prefers Candidate A to Candidate B. Disapproves of Candidate A and Disapproves of Candidate B.

Person 3:
Prefers Candidate B to Candidate A. Disapproves of Candidate A and Approves of Candidate B.

Please note that the description of the opinion of Person 2 is in fact the description of a voter confronted with the well-known “Lesser of Two Evils” voting dilemma.

A careful examination of this three-person electorate will reveal that Candidate A is preferred to Candidate B by a 2 to 1 majority consisting of Person 1 and Person 2. But Candidate A is also at the same time disapproved of by a 2 to 1 majority of this same electorate consisting of Person 2 and Person 3. Furthermore Candidate B is approved of by a 2 to 1 majority of this same electorate consisting of Person 1 and Person 3.

There are 3 different majorities existing simultaneously within this electorate. Two of these three majorities support the election of Candidate B, while one of these majorities, the preferential majority, supports the election of Candidate A hence the paradox.

Given this approach to modeling the opinions of the electorate there are six different types of voter opinion. There are an additional three more types of voter opinion that are a “mirror image” of those presented here. If all six of these opinion types are assumed to be equally probable, then a Majority Rule Voting Paradox situation should arise over 10% of the time. This is a large percentage for the occurrence of a voting paradox.

The Majority Rule Voting Paradox calls into question the likelihood that voting will result in the election of the candidate that best reflects the will of the people and can provide legitimacy to democratic government according to the principle of the Consent of the Governed.

IOW, folks, no wonder we all feel disenfranchised–the winner-take-all system itself denies our choice and our voice. As long as we are electing leaders on the basis of majority rule, those leaders will not be the ones we wanted but the ones most of us didn’t want but were willing to suffer. When you understand this, you begin to understand what’s really behind the phenomenon of plummeting voter registration: Why bother when your choice is between two people you dislike equally? or like equally? Why bother when the leader you prefer, the leader who is closest to your own positions, isn’t even in the race?

The political fall-out from the voting system we use is so immense that it’s hard to measure, and I’ll be talking about that, too, as we go along. For now, I’ll only comment on the most obvious effect: majority rule pushes both parties into least-common-denominator, dead-center campaigning, virtually assuring that no one will be represented by them. What they do represent is some amorphous, unreal “average citizen”, an unholy concoction of clashing attitudes and irreconcilable beliefs who, if s/he actually existed, would be a schizophrenic, paranoid/delusional basket case.

We MUST have a better, more representational system.

Jeff Alworth at american street has written an interesting post about the political changes in the last three weeks. At the end, he asks an important question. Here’s the last section:

The Vacuum of Opportunity
Joe Trippi recognized a year ago that this election would be about change. He understood that George W. Bush had taken the country in a direction almost no one wanted to go, and that any other direction would be seen as an improvement. As this emerges as the election’s central theme, everyone is focused on November 2. But what about November 3?There are rare moments in history when political change is possible. For change to happen, though, more than timing is necessary. A movement needs an ideological nucleus, it needs a leader willing to champion the cause, and it needs to be informed by and inspiring to a majority of Americans. Whether a viable movment will emerge from this election is debatable. But something will fill the void created by this desire for change. Trippi was correct: any other direction is better than the one we’re on. Things are happening too quickly for folks to consider more than the electability issue. But will liberals be able to seize the moment and build a movement after November 3? Time will tell.

What Jeff is talking about is an all-out effort to counter the right-wing’s success in defining themselves with a plan of our own to do likewise. My response to Jeff is that I agree, and that adopting Y/N/M voting must be a vital part of that plan. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to democracy to put a voting system in place that allows real people to be represented without the cumbersome difficulties of proportional representation. If we don’t, the rest of our efforts may not count for much.

First, of course, we have to eject Junior Bush and His Ragged Radcon Band before they decide to declare Martial Law and dispense with little annoyances like “elections”.

Update: Non-Evolution

Not much time today, but I wanted to acknowledge a mistake. In the “Comments” section of the Inherit the Wind post, Phaedrus of No Fear of Freedom called my attention to the fact that I had slightly misread the article–the new curriculum is a proposal, not a done deal. The NYT picked up the story today when Superindent Cox decided to respond to the AJC article, noting that the proposal had caused a “furor”, and that opponents of the change have 90 days in which to respond. Let’s begin with the “furor”:

ATLANTA, Jan. 29 — A proposed set of guidelines for middle and high school science classes in Georgia has caused a furor after state education officials removed the word “evolution” and scaled back ideas about the age of Earth and the natural selection of species.Educators across the state said that the document, which was released on the Internet this month, was a veiled effort to bolster creationism and that it would leave the state’s public school graduates at a disadvantage.

“They’ve taken away a major component of biology and acted as if it doesn’t exist,” said David Bechler, who heads the biology department at Valdosta State University. “By doing this, we’re leaving the public shortchanged of the knowledge they should have.

And, as the AJC article said yesterday, biology is what is known in academic circles as a “gateway” course, meaning that a student has to show mastery of it before she can move on to more advanced science courses like physics and chemistry.

In her press conference today, Cox seems to be less concerned with the hole she’s willing to put Georgia’s students into than with pushing her religious agenda. The NYT report on the press conference ends, fittingly enough, with a breath-taking Orwellianism in which she equates her determination to see creationism taught in schools with Galileo’s fight to force the Catholic Church to acknowledge scientific reality:

Georgia’s schools superintendent, Kathy Cox, held a news conference near the Capitol on Thursday, a day after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an article about the proposed changes.A handful of states already omit the word “evolution” from their teaching guidelines, and Ms. Cox called it “a buzz word that causes a lot of negative reaction.” She added that people often associate it with “that monkeys-to-man sort of thing.”

Still, Ms. Cox, who was elected to the post in 2002, said the concept would be taught, as well as “emerging models of change” that challenge Darwin’s theories. “Galileo was not considered reputable when he came out with his theory,” she said

Sorry, Kathy, but just saying that a faith-based theory is the same as a science-based theory just because neither was readily accepted doesn’t make it true. But try to explain to a radcon that assertion isn’t fact and “everybody does it” isn’t a defense.

Unfortunately some of the changes go beyond presenting a competing “theory” and slam-bang into the realm of altering well-documented fact.

Much of the state’s 800-page curriculum was adopted verbatim from the “Standards for Excellence in Education,” an academic framework produced by the Council for Basic Education, a nonprofit group. But when it came to science, the Georgia Education Department omitted large chunks of material, including references to Earth’s age and the concept that all organisms on Earth are related through common ancestry. “Evolution” was replaced with “changes over time,” and in another phrase that referred to the “long history of the Earth,” the authors removed the word “long.” Many proponents of creationism say Earth is at most several thousand years old, based on a literal reading of the Bible.Sarah L. Pallas, an associate professor of biology at Georgia State University, said, “The point of these benchmarks is to prepare the American work force to be scientifically competitive.” She said, “By removing the benchmarks that deal with evolutionary life, we don’t have a chance of catching up to the rest of the world.”

As Darrow said in Dayton, TN almost 80 years ago, in order to insist that the earth is only a few thousand years old (4,000 according to Bishop Usher, who counted the ages of Biblical prophets backwards to reach his number), the sciences of astronomy, paleontology, geology, botany, and archeology, among others, would have to be thrown out; so would physics and chemistry since they provide the proofs for the findings of the others. “Long” is a short word, but removing it is a very big deal and proves that the creationists have a lot more on their minds than discrediting Darwin: they ultimately want to discredit all science that conflicts with a literal interpretation of the Bible.

What the changes proposed by Cox and the Scopes Trial do NOT have in common is intent: John Scopes was put on trial as a publicity stunt, but these people are serious. Ironically, the most chilling statement and the most hopeful statement of the press conference were the same statement:

The guidelines, which were adopted by a panel of 25 educators, will be officially adopted in 90 days, and Ms. Cox said the public could still influence the final document. “If the teachers and parents across the state say this isn’t what we want,” she said, “then we’ll change it.

“Chilling” because it appears that the radcons are fostering an era when “good science” is going to be defined by polling the electorate; “hopeful” because the backlash is significant and will have to be taken account of before the curriculum can be officially sanctioned and enforced. But even though it may work–this time–in favor of scientific learning, leaving scientific decisions up to a public that is largely science-illiterate is a really bad, not to say dangerous, idea and a truly lousy way to advance our knowledge of the world around us.

Pubs Invent Green Party Candidate to Siphon Votes from Dems

A new Republican dirty trick–these guys never rest–has been outed by Jeanne at Body and Soul. It seems that California Republicans manufactured a supposed Green Party candidate to siphon votes from a Democrat.

We have a very tight contest for State Senate going on around here. The district is enormous. It covers five counties, stretching from Santa Maria to San Jose, which not only covers a lot of land, it includes a wide range of political opinions. Nobody can call this one.The Democratic candidate is Peg Pinard, who was a little late getting into the race, and is definitely underfunded. The Republican is Abel Maldonado, a young assemblyman who is being groomed as a future party superstar. They already gave him a national forum (although it didn’t go over to well with some Republicans). He was also co-chair of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campain. He’s raised more than $600 thousand in the race (compared to Pinard’s $88 thousand).

Not satisfied with their money advantage, the Republicans decided to try peeling a few votes away from Peg Pinard in a rather dirty way: They dug up a guy, Brook Madsen — who says he doesn’t even think of himself as a Green — talked him into running, and paid his filing fees to run as the Green Party candidate. Peg Pinard has a strong environmental record, and the Green Party had no intention of running anyone against her. But many voters may not get the message, and a fake Green candidate might siphon off crucial votes.

This is low even for Pubs, and in the Days of Bush, that’s saying something. Jeanne says the Greens are fighting back with a campaign to let their members know what’s going on and ask them to vote for Pinard, but as she points out, the message may not get to everyone, especially those who are sympathetic to the Greens but not actual members–like me.

I know I have some readers in CA. If you live in that district, please tell everyone you know about this Publican deception. Even if you don’t vote in that district, tell them anyway. If we don’t nip this in the bud, Karl–who may very well have set this up as a test run–will be doing it everywhere.

Get this through your heads: There is no limit to the depths Republicans will sink in order to win. None.

Inherit the Wind

I remember thinking a few years ago while watching the movie starring Spencer Tracy and Fredric March that the age when science could be thrown out the window and replaced by religious dogma was forever behind us, a relic of past bigotry and superstition that we had passed through never to see again, like the Inquisition or the persecution of witches.

I was wrong. It isn’t over after all, it seems. Junior’s fundamentalist religious convictions allow him to claim, inaccurately and inappropriately, in the SOTU that abstinence is he “only” protection from AIDs, ignoring condoms as if they didn’t exist, and now the State of Georgia has wiped the word “evolution” from its science curriculum, according to the AJC.

Georgia students could graduate from high school without learning much about evolution, and may never even hear the word uttered in class.New middle and high school science standards proposed by state Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox strike references to “evolution” and replace them with the term “biological changes over time,” a revision critics say will further weaken learning in a critical subject.

The curriculum revision which had begun as “an attempt to strengthen the performance of students by requiring greater depth”, was simply hijacked by Republican State Schools Superintendent Kathy Cox and State Dept of Education’s Stephen Pruitt, who ordered the “committee of science teachers, college professors and curriculum experts…involved in reviewing the proposal” to delete both the word “evolution” and most of the curriculum recommended by the American Association for the Advancement of Science that covers “the origin of living things”.

Cox, in what has come to be the standard Republican “say one thing in the election, do another in office” bait-and-switch tactic, was asked about the teaching of evolution in a public debate during her campaign.

Cox, a Republican elected to the state’s top public school position in 2002, addressed the issue briefly in a public debate during the campaign. The candidates were asked about a school dispute in Cobb County over evolution and Bible-based teachings on creation.Cox responded: “It was a good thing for parents and the community to stand up and say we want our children exposed to this [creationism] idea as well. . . . I’d leave the state out of it and I would make sure teachers were well prepared to deal with competing theories.

Once elected, however, she instantly injected the state into the controversy. Of course. Voters who were paying attention would have known she was going to do that from her radcon equation of the scientific theory of evolution with the the religious dogma of creationism. That was a dead give-away. They are not “competing theories”. Labeling creationism a “theory” is like calling the Holy Ghost a “distinct personality type”.

Fortunately, Georgian educators do not, as a rule, live in the Middle Ages, and church control of science is still frowned upon. More than 600 of them have signed an online petition “challeging the curriculum as misguided.” Whether or not that will stop this latest radcon attempt to force science to obey religion remains to be seen.

Where is our Clarence Darrow?

CIA Innocent of Misleading Bush Admin

David Kay’s “No-WMD-after-all” findings made a lot of news, as they should have. But his rap on the intelligence services–claiming that they provided bad information to the WH–is more Republican spin control. In fact, the evidence is overwhelming, as readers of this blog may remember, that the CIA, DIA, and even the State Dept repeatedly warned the Bush Admin that there was NO evidence of the WMD charges they were making. The Center for American Progress lays it out:

Intel Warnings IgnoredFormer weapons inspector David Kay will testify before the Senate today, facing questions about his admission that most likely there were never WMD in Iraq before the Iraq invasion. Kay has spent the last three days pummeling the intelligence community, instead of the Bush Administration, saying the intelligence agencies “owe President Bush an apology.” But Kay’s comments and the White House’s efforts to pass the buck face a challenge from President Bush himself, who “refused to blame faulty intelligence for overstating the threat.” Instead, Bush “evaded questions” and joined Secretary of State Colin Powell and Vice President Cheney as the three top Administration officials to publicly back away from their previous WMD claims. Here are the highlights of the intelligence community’s warnings to the White House (for more, see the complete list):

CIA WARNINGS IGNORED: On February 6, 2002, the CIA told the White House there was “no evidence that Iraq has engaged in terrorist operations against the United States in nearly a decade, and the agency is also convinced that President Saddam Hussein has not provided chemical or biological weapons to Al Qaeda or related terrorist groups.” In October of 2002, the CIA also “sent two memos to the White House voicing strong doubts about a claim President Bush made three months later in the State of the Union address that Iraq was trying to buy nuclear materials in Africa.” And in February of 2003, the CIA again warned the White House, “We do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since Desert Fox to reconstitute its Weapons of Mass Destruction programs.”

DIA WARNINGS IGNORED: In September, 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency told the White House that there is “no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons.” The report also said, “A substantial amount of Iraq’s chemical warfare agents, precursors, munitions, and production equipment were destroyed between 1991 and 1998 as a result of Operation Desert Storm and UN actions.”

DOE WARNINGS IGNORED: In September, 2002, the Energy Department’s technical experts warned the White House that the aluminum tubes Iraq was seeking –the central basis for the conclusion that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program – were ill-suited to build centrifuges for enriching uranium. In fact, Secretary Powell even admitted before the U.N. that there was controversy over the tubes.

STATE DEPT. INTELLIGENCE WARNINGS IGNORED: In October, 2002, the State Department’s Intelligence and Research Department (INR) told the White House that its WMD conclusions were inaccurate. Its report said, “the activities we have detected do not … add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing what INR would consider to be an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquiring nuclear weapons.” The Financial Times on 7/30/03 noted that this warning was specifically reiterated to Secretary Powell during the preparations of his U.N. speech, but again was ignored.

AIR FORCE INTELLIGENCE WARNINGS IGNORED: While President Bush said Iraq had Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) that could spray biological weapons on American soil, the WP reported on 9/26/03 that “the government organization most knowledgeable about UAV programs – the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center – had sharply disputed that notion” to the White House, but was ignored.

U.N./IAEA WARNINGS IGNORED: CNN reported on 2/14/03 that weapons inspectors told the White House “they had not found any weapons of mass destruction.” On 2/15/03, the WP reported that the International Atomic Energy Agency warned the White House, “We have to date found no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear or nuclear-related activities in Iraq.”


Nope. Seems clear enough to me.

(From Tom Tomorrow)

Worry About Kerry Dept: An Analysis

An analysis by Yvonne Abraham in the Boston Globe suggests the reason for the importance of Kerry’s NH victory:

That is where momentum comes in. Kerry was nowhere in Arizona until he won the Iowa caucuses. But an Arizona Republic poll Sunday showed him leading the field. Because the primary calendar is so short this year (a compression championed by Democratic National Committee chief Terry McAuliffe, in the hopes of quickly uniting the party behind the nominee), bounce will count for a great deal more than in previous years. Although states with earlier primaries, eager for the courting enjoyed by the first two primary states, were all too happy to oblige McAuliffe, the compressed calendar has left precious little time for the wooing, and effectively increased the clout of New Hampshire and Iowa.

Slammed tight together with no time for breath, let alone reflection, voters will tend to go with the flow–and the winner-on-paper. Abraham quotes a voter who is, unfortunately, thinking exactly as I feared voters might be thinking–wait for the winner to emerge and then vote for him:

In Missouri, barber Lee Moss certainly wasn’t committing to anyone before he knew last night’s results. “If you go to a racetrack and see all the horses lined up, the one that [looks like he will be] first isn’t the one that is necessarily going to win,” Moss said in his Webster Groves shop late last week. “I’m still waiting to see what happens in New Hampshire.”

Told ya. Are we doomed yet?