Sunday, March 26, 2006

What “is our children learning?”

You only need to watch a couple of the cartoons produced by Neil Bush’s educational software company, Ignite! to get a clear idea of how utterly dumbed-down the curriculum has become. (Ignite! is the company that Barbara Bush earmarked her Katrina relief donations be spent on, thus receiving a charitable contribution tax deduction for supporting her son’s company.)

Illustrating this post are two stills taken from “Heredity,” intended for the junior high school level (according to a teacher who viewed a sales demo presented by Neil Bush, and also as shown by the company’s testimonials).

Above is a cartoon of DNA that is so grossly over-simplified and stylized that it shows nothing at all about what DNA is, its function, how it works, or even what it looks like, while below is a purported “cell” that unfortunately contains more errors than truth. (In vertebrates, condensed and duplicated chromosomes do not exist within a nuclear membrane, so this diagram does nothing but instill confusion that will later have to be remedied.)

What could possibly be the pedagogical point of producing and selling such nonsense? The cartoons speak to the viewers as if they’re idiots, and this dedicated-use video projection system apparently will not even play anything other than the cartoons it comes packaged with, at a reported cost of $13,000, money that would go far toward purchasing some decent textbooks or computers or microscopes or extra library hours or a myriad of other things of genuine educational value.

The interesting thing about education funding is the readiness to spend tens of thousands of dollars on things seen as “quick fixes” but never on something so mundane as teacher salaries. Teachers are the lowest-paid professionals and many have even experienced pay cuts in recent years, but somehow the funds are always found for purchasing such ridiculous junk as this Purple Cow system that will, inevitably, find itself sitting in a back closet somewhere in the miracle technology graveyard, unused, once teachers realize how utterly superficial, inaccurate, and basically useless it is. But then will come the next new thing, as overpriced and useless as the previous one, while teachers continue to be underpaid and overworked. Is it any wonder our students are so unprepared for college work?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

O juicy orbs, my mouth waters

Photo credit: Ana C. Golpe

Oh, the horror! The elitism!! The “dark secrets of the organic-food movement”!!! And such diatribes that pass for objective journalism . . .

In Field Maloney’s recent Slate screed, those choosing to sell or purchase organic foods are damned, again and again, as elitists, who care more about their own health and “status-conscious lifestyle choices” than anything else, and whose “high-end lifestyle” food preferences condemn local farms to reincarnations as fields of condos.

My, my, my, and all because I started buying organic food because I cared about farmworker exposures to pesticides, herbicides and other farm chemicals....

That was a long time ago, and in that time my reasons for purchasing organics whenever possible have grown apace: flavor, supporting small producers, avoiding chemical-laden foods, supporting my cooperatively-run grocery and local farmer’s markets, and rejecting high-fructose corn syrup and all trans-fats without having to read all those tiny labels. Apparently, this just makes me an elitist in the eyes of Field Maloney, simply because I am willing to pay a small price premium in order to buy the food of my choosing. Quelle horreur!

In fact, one can very easily purchase economical organic food, by simply avoiding processed foods and out-of-season produce, so Maloney’s “elitist” charge cannot stand up to scrutiny. Since food today is quite cheap (when considered as a proportion of total income), the addition of a small premium to switch to organics is not a major expense, and comes nowhere close to the premium people choose to pay for designer clothing or any cars and SUVs costing more than $20,000. Branding those preferring organic foods as “elitist” seems to be Maloney’s primary arguing point in this attack piece, and it simply does not stand.

As far as having to choose between local, conventionally-produced food and fields of condos goes, this is a false choice. The local farmer is not prevented from recognizing market forces and converting to organic farming, which can, according to California Agriculture, lead to higher net farm income. Maloney’s argument that most organic food is not produced by small farmers and therefore, organic food purchases aren’t supporting small farmers is disingenuous. The way by which organic food purchases support small farmers is that the economics of organic farming are more favorable to small farmers than are the economics of conventional farming—in some cases this is all that allows them to stay in business.

The funniest part of the piece is where Maloney accuses Whole Foods of fashioning “fawning produce porn,” and ridicules the placement of the produce section in “geographic center of the shopping floor and the spiritual heart of a Whole Foods outlet”—what an awful thing! To center the entire store around the healthiest, most non-commercial, and (yes!) cheapest way to nourish oneself! I should note that I don’t usually shop at Whole Foods. I prefer my local, independent, cooperatively-run grocery with all-organic produce, because it makes my choices that much simpler. But as an alternative to Safeway or Albertson’s, what is so awful about Whole Foods emphasizing its beautiful, eye-catching, and healthy produce? Americans need all the encouragement they can get to eat more produce, and what better way to do it than by making it attractive?

In a nation that bows down before the (so-called) free market as being the ultimate arbiter of all values, it’s more than a little strange that whenever a significant segment doesn’t choose to go along with the corporate program, they’re attacked for all manner of presumed sins, elitism usually first and foremost among them. But these same attack dogs never have much to say about the chemical-laden processed crap that masquerades as food for the general populace. They see nothing wrong with pouring soda pop down the throats of growing children, and they do not object to the use of special packaging that will keep meat looking fresh even when it’s long gone rancid.

It seems to me that the more people who switch to the Whole Foods model of eating, especially if they fall for the produce promotions, the better off we’d be as a nation, health-wise. Ah, but then what would happen to the food-corps’ bottom lines, the real measure of “health” to some?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Disassembled dissembly

Why Bush prefers his events to be scripted:


Watch as Bush trots out all of his timeworn talking points, in a random jumble, to avoid answering the simple and direct question that he’s been asked: “Do you believe…that the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism are signs of the Apocalypse?”

(Thanks go to “Crooks and Liars” blog.)

Sunday, March 19, 2006

All that’s missing is “impeach” . . .

from The Pew Research Center: “Honesty had been the single trait most closely associated with Bush, but in the current survey [the] single word most frequently associated with George W. Bush today is ‘incompetent,’ and close behind are two other increasingly mentioned descriptors: ‘idiot’ and ‘liar.’ ”

What defines a “civil war”?

Iraq’s former interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, noting the loss of “50-60” people per day, defines the current conflict in Iraq as “civil war,” while Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld disagree.

To put the casualty numbers in perspective, consider that Iraq’s population is something over 26 million, roughly one-tenth of the US population, so their “50-60” deaths per day would be proportionately equivalent to a loss of 500-600 people per day in this country. Would that qualify as “civil war”?

I didn’t see the Face the Nation program where Cheney appeared, but why was he apparently not asked the obvious question: How would you define a “civil war”? How many have to die? How great do “sectarian tensions” need to become?

Maybe it’s time for us to start listening to the people who are living (and dying) through our Iraqi adventure, because they have a far clearer understanding of what it is that they are living through:

“In many ways, this year is like 2003 prior to the war when we were stocking up on fuel, water, food and first aid supplies and medications. We’re doing it again this year but now we don’t discuss what we’re stocking up for. Bombs and B-52’s are so much easier to face than other possibilities,” and

“discrimination based on sect has become so commonplace,” and

“I’m sitting here trying to think what makes this year, 2006, so much worse than 2005 or 2004. It’s not the outward differences — things such as electricity, water, dilapidated buildings, broken streets and ugly concrete security walls. Those things are disturbing, but they are fixable. Iraqis have proved again and again that countries can be rebuilt. No — it’s not the obvious that fills us with foreboding. The real fear is the mentality of so many people lately — the rift that seems to have worked it’s way through the very heart of the country, dividing people.”

To read such a description of life in Baghdad, I can only conclude, as does Allawi, that “if this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is.” It would be helpful to know just how Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Bush will know that Iraq is in the throes of a civil war, but it would also be nice if they would take some responsibility for that descent.
Instead, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that “Iraq is ‘a place that is having some real difficulties right now’ and that ‘everything is in place if they want to have a civil war.’ ”

It never ceases to amaze me that the architects of the Iraq disaster blame both the process and the outcome on the Iraqis. Can’t we at least acknowedge that we are the reason that Iraq is in the chaos it’s in, the chaos that’s now being exploited by those who would tear Iraq apart? “Having some real difficulties right now,” indeed. And where, General Pace, did those “difficulties” come from? Manna from heaven?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Impeachment - the time has come

Day by day, the voices get louder, even if the traditional press seemingly has little interest in covering them. Even conservatives are voicing their alarm, and it’s high time that Republicans in Congress take notice and do their jobs. Will they honor their oath and their charge to serve the people, or will they cower in their partisan cabal as the country goes down the drain? They are, after all, the only ones who presently have the power to bring us back from the brink. To stand by idly in a time of crisis will only bring dishonor upon them, and disaster upon us all.

“[President Bush] presents a clear and present danger to the rule of law, [and if he] maintains this disregard or contempt for the coordinate branches of government, it’s that conception of an omnipotent presidency that makes the occupant a dangerous person.”
- Bruce Fein, former associate deputy attorney general under Reagan writing in The Washington Times, quoted by Lewis Lapham in Harper’s Magazine, March 2006.

“I think that if we’re going to be intellectually honest here, this really is the kind of thing that Alexander Hamilton was referring to when impeachment was discussed.”
- Norman Ornstein, scholar at the (conservative) American Enterprise Institute, quoted by Lewis Lapham in Harper’s Magazine, March 2006.

“The work of protecting the country’s freedoms [..]. should be placed [...] with the Republican members of Congress [...] It is the business of Congress [...] to cauterize the wound and stem the flows of money, stupidity, and blood.” - Lewis Lapham in Harper’s Magazine, March 2006.

Bob Fertik’s blog has assembled the numbers:

The Zogby International poll interviewed 1,216 U.S. adults from January 9-12, 2006, and found that when presented with: “If President Bush wiretapped American citizens without the approval of a judge, do you agree or disagree that Congress should consider holding him accountable through impeachment?”

• 52% overall agreed.

• “66% of Democrats favored impeachment, as did 59% of Independents, and even 23% of Republicans. Impeachment was supported by Progressives (90%), Libertarians (71%), Liberals (65%), and Moderates (58%), but not by Conservatives (33%) or Very Conservatives (28%).”

• “Majorities favored impeachment in every region: the East (54%), South (53%) and West (52%), and Central states (50%). In large cities, 56% support impeachment; in small cities, 58%; in suburbs, 46%; in rural areas, 46%.”

“In August and September of 1998, 16 major polls asked about impeaching President Clinton. 36% supported hearings to consider Clinton’s impeachment, and only 26% supported actual impeachment and removal.”

To put this in perspective, also consider Bush’s current numbers (from a CBS poll done Feb. 27, 2006):

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Like so many farm animals

The underlying and unifying theme of the entire Republican agenda can be summarized as: what this country needs is more cheap labor. But seldom is the point made so brazenly as when Georgia State Senator Nancy Schaefer was quoted in the Hartwell Sun: “[Senator] Schaefer said 50 million abortions have been performed in this country, causing a shortage of cheap American labor. ‘We could have used those people,’ she said.”

Oh, yes, we could have “used” those people—as sacrificial coal miners, or as infantry in our wars without end, or as wage slaves kept in perpetual poverty by the new plantations like Wal-Mart, or as underpaid household help. Yes, the rest of us deserve to have the services of “those people,” don’t we? How dare those selfish hussies deprive us of our servant class!


(Thanks go to Jesus' General blog.)

Followup, April 7, 2006: The news article in Hartwell Sun’s website has been scrubbed. Be assured that the quote in this post was a straight-up cut-and-paste from the original article....

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The time is NOW

“A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people...”

“There is a prima facie case that these actions by ... the Bush Administration violated a number of federal laws, including:
(1) Committing a Fraud against the United States;
(2) Making False Statements to Congress;
(3) The War Powers Resolution;
(4) Misuse of Government Funds;
(5) federal laws and international treaties prohibiting torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment;
(6) federal laws concerning retaliating against witnesses and other individuals; and
(7) federal laws and regulations concerning leaking and other misuse of intelligence.”

- The Constitution in Crisis (pdf)

“No person, not even the president of the United States, is above the law.” - Chief Justice Burger (U.S. v. Nixon, 1974)

The Presidency of GW Bush is exactly the situation for which the Impeachment process was designed. Mr. Bush willfully violates whichever laws do not suit his purposes, and considers torture (even unto death) a valid enterprise for those doing his bidding. He considers the armed forces of the United States his to do with as he wishes, and he believes the citizenry to have no right to privacy. He has endeavored to enrich the wealthiest few among us, at the expense of future generations and those now struggling to make ends meet. He has abdicated the responsibilities attending to his office to remediate the effects of disasters, natural and otherwise.

“He has refused his Assent to Laws...

“For depriving us of many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury...

“For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences...

“For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments...

“He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation...”

Sound familiar?

And yet, the Congress continues to sit on its hands, with few exceptions.

Yes, it is true that the Republicans are in the majority and are loath to impeach one of their own. But with which principles are they aligning themselves? Does Congress really believe that the President has the right to order that the citizenry be spied upon, their mail opened and their telephone and email be monitored, with no due process being honored, with no cause whatsoever leading to the spying? That the President is allowed to lie us into needless war? That the President can violate our laws with impunity?

Does Congress actually condone the torture that they are allowing to proceeed? Does Congress take no issue with the abuse of habeus corpus, the “rendition” of prisoners to known torture centers in other countries, the endless confinement of prisoners with no due process, no legal representation, no trial at all?

It is time for impeachment. The wrongs that have been done to our great country are an abomination, and there’s no end in sight as long as Bush remains unchecked. There is a wealth of grounds, with corresponding evidence, upon which President Bush should be tried, and this is Congress’s job. Those who find the impeachment prospect distasteful should resign now, and allow us to proceed with the business of healing our country and repairing the grave damage that has been done, to our citizens, to our reputation, and to the world.