Anti-Vaccine? Death Wish?

I have some experience with anti-vaxxers (had a bit of trouble getting the frustrated kid vaccinated), so I am very happy to see The Bad Astronomer taking these idiots to task. Go Phil!!
I’m not shedding too many tears over the tsunami of bad press the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) is receiving right now.

I’ve written about them before, oh yes. They are the ones headed by Meryl Dorey, the woman who says vaccinations are dangerous, who says no one dies of pertussis, who says that it’s better not to vaccinate, who insinuates (at the 11:50 mark of that video) that doctors only vaccinate children because it’s profitable for them. She says that, even though on that live TV program she sat a few feet away from Toni and David McCaffery, parents who had just lost their four week old daughter to pertussis because she was too young to be vaccinated yet and the herd immunity in Sydney was too low to suppress the pertussis bacterium. This year alone, three babies in Australia, including young Dana McCaffery, have died from pertussis.

Not enough parents are vaccinating their children. And groups like the AVN spread misinformation about vaccines, spread it like a foul odor on the wind.

As I wrote a few days ago, the AVN will be investigated for their propaganda about vaccines. And now Dick Smith, an Australian businessman and founding skeptic there, has sponsored a devastating ad created by the Australian Skeptics. The ad ran in The Australian, a national newspaper, on Thursday:

The ad has picked up some press of its own; it was covered by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation website. The AVN claims they are not antivax, but instead are pro choice. Dick Smith disagrees:
They are actually anti-vaccination and they should put on every bit of their material that they are anti-vaccination in great big words.
The evidence is on his side.

There’s an article on the ad on ITWire, too. Word is spreading. You can help: blog about this. Tell people about this. Put it on Facebook, on Twitter.

By spreading misinformation about vaccinations the AVN is scaring parents. The herd immunity is low in part because parents are scared to vaccinate their children. The low herd immunity is killing babies. It really is just that simple.

My daughter recently found my cache of old home movies from when she was a baby. We’ve been laughing, watching her eat and play and be silly when she was just a few months old. Then I think of Toni and David McCaffery and a piece of my heart dies. Then I think of the AVN, and it screams.

Vaccines are one of the greatest triumphs of humanity; the ability to save hundreds of millions of lives through a simple inoculation. But because some people cannot accept reality, innocent human lives will be lost.

I applaud Dick Smith and the Australian skeptics, including my friends Rachael Dunlop and Richard Saunders, for undertaking this heroic effort of shining a bright light on the AVN.

Antivaxxers must be stopped.
h/t Phil Plait

Saturday Bonus Cartoon Fun: Gall Street Edition

How To Talk To The Uninformed

The Me-First, Forget-Everyone-Else Crowd


I know I should be mortified by the lobbyist-organized mobs of angry Brooks Brothers mannequins who are now making headlines by shutting down congressional town hall meetings. I know I should be despondent during this, the Khaki Pants Offensive in the Great American Health Care and Tax War. And yet, I'm euphorically repeating one word over and over again with a big grin on my face.


Finally, there's no pretense. Finally, the Me-First, Forget-Everyone-Else Crowd's ugliest traits are there for all to behold.

The group's core gripe is summarized in a letter I received that denounces a proposed surtax on the wealthy and corporations to pay for universal health care:

“Until recently, my family was in the top 3 percent of wage earners,” the affluent businessperson fumed in response to my July column on taxes. “We are in the group that pays close to 60 percent of this nation's taxes ... Think for a second how you would feel if you built a business and contributed more than your share to this country only to be treated like a pariah.”

This sob story about the persecuted rich fuels today's “Tea Parties” — and I'm sure you've heard some version of it in your community.

I'm also fairly certain that when many of you run into the Me-First, Forget-Everyone-Else Crowd, you don't feel like confronting the faux outrage. But on the off chance you do muster the masochistic impulse to engage, here's a guide to navigating the conversation:

What They Will Scream: We can't raise business taxes, because American businesses already pay excessively high taxes!

What You Should Say: Here's the smallest violin in the world playing for the businesses. The Government Accountability Office reports that most U.S. corporations pay zero federal income tax. Additionally, as even the Bush Treasury Department admitted, America's effective corporate tax rate is the third lowest in the industrialized world.

What They Will Scream: But the rich still “pay close to 60 percent of this nation's taxes!”

What You Should Say: Such statistics refer only to the federal income tax. When considering all of “this nation's taxes” including payroll, state and local levies, the top 5 percent pay just 38.5 percent of the taxes.

What They Will Scream: But 38.5 percent is disproportionately high! See? You've proved that the rich “contribute more than their share” of taxes!

What You Should Say: Actually, they are paying almost exactly “their share.” According to the data, the wealthiest 5 percent of America pays 38.5 percent of the total taxes precisely because they make just about that share — a whopping 36.5 percent! — of total national income. Asking these folks to pay slightly more in taxes — and still less than they did during the go-go 1990s — is hardly extreme.

Stripped of facts, your conversation partner will soon turn to unscientific terrain, claiming it is immoral to “steal” and “redistribute” income via taxes. Of course, he will be specifically railing on “stealing” for stuff like health care, which he insists gets “redistributed” only to the undeserving and the “lazy” (a classic codeword for “minorities"). But he will also say it's OK that government sent trillions of dollars to Wall Streeters.

And that's when you should stop wasting your breath.

What you've discovered is that the Me-First, Forget-Everyone-Else Crowd isn't interested in fairness, empiricism or morality.

With 22,000 of their fellow countrymen dying annually for lack of health insurance and with Warren Buffett paying a lower effective tax rate than his secretary, the Me-First, Forget-Everyone-Else Crowd is merely using the argot of fairness, empiricism and morality to hide its real motive: selfish greed.

No argument, however rational, is going to cure these narcissists of that grotesque disease.

Saturday Cartoon Fun: Various Issues Edition


Facism: Jonah?

From futurist Sara Robinson comes this essay.
All through the dark years of the Bush Administration, progressives watched in horror as Constitutional protections vanished, nativist rhetoric ratcheted up, hate speech turned into intimidation and violence, and the president of the United States seized for himself powers only demanded by history's worst dictators. With each new outrage, the small handful of us who'd made ourselves experts on right-wing culture and politics would hear once again from worried readers: Is this it? Have we finally become a fascist state? Are we there yet?

And every time this question got asked, people like Chip Berlet and Dave Neiwert and Fred Clarkson and yours truly would look up from our maps like a parent on a long drive, and smile a wan smile of reassurance. "Wellll...we're on a bad road, and if we don't change course, we could end up there soon enough. But there's also still plenty of time and opportunity to turn back. Watch, but don't worry. As bad as this looks: no -- we are not there yet."

In tracking the mileage on this trip to perdition, many of us relied on the work of historian Robert Paxton, who is probably the world's pre-eminent scholar on the subject of how countries turn fascist. In a 1998 paper published in The Journal of Modern History, Paxton argued that the best way to recognize emerging fascist movements isn't by their rhetoric, their politics, or their aesthetics. Rather, he said, mature democracies turn fascist by a recognizable process, a set of five stages that may be the most important family resemblance that links all the whole motley collection of 20th Century fascisms together. According to our reading of Paxton's stages, we weren't there yet. There were certain signs -- one in particular -- we were keeping an eye out for, and we just weren't seeing it.

And now we are...
Go read the whole piece. It's rather startling!

Thursday Cartoon Fun: Kim Jong Clinton Edition


I Am Not A Racist, I Am An American!

Some guy decided to follow me from one of those blog directory things that line the side of my blog and look like this:

He claims he is not a racist, but rather, an American. His blog made me think about this picture:

When can we make it happen?

Blackwater: Murder Inc.

From The Nation:
A former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for the company have made a series of explosive allegations in sworn statements filed on August 3 in federal court in Virginia. The two men claim that the company's owner, Erik Prince, may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. The former employee also alleges that Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," and that Prince's companies "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life."[emphasis mine]
Sure sounds possible to me! Remember this post?

Clinton Gets Journalists Out!

Bill Clinton was succesful getting the release of the 2 arrested journalists being held in North Korea, Euna Lee and Laura Ling today.

Happy Birthday, Obama From Kenya!


The New Obama Birth Certificate: Debunked Already?

Bloggers do important work.
Is This the Source of the Forged ‘Kenyan Birth Certificate?’

By David Weigel 8/3/09 7:34 PM

One of my friends in the small community of Obama “birther”-debunkers passes on quite the discovery: a 1964 “certified copy of registration of birth” from Australia, easily available on Bomford.net, a genealogy site. There are striking similarities between this document and the one Orly Taitz is passing off as a “Kenyan birth certificate” for Barack Obama.

- The design is identical, down to the seal at the top and the classifications (”Christian name,” etc) used for identifying the baby.

- The “registrar” on the Bomford document is G.F. Lavender. On the Taitz document, it’s E.F. Lavender.

- The “district registrar” on the Bomford document is J.H. Miller. On the Taitz document, it’s M.H. Miller.

- The number of the book is identical on both documents: Book 44B, Page 5733.

What’s more likely — that two Kenyan bureaucrats shared last names with two Australian bureaucrats, and that the numbers on both certificates were identical? Or that someone used this document, available online for anyone who wanted to look, to forge the Obama “certificate?”

Larry Cuban: Smarter Than You!

Larry Cuban from Stanford debunks the technology that the edupreneurs would like you to believe will fix public education. Again, it's poverty that is the problem, not a lack of computers.
Virtual Schools

Michael Chabon On Childhood (What's Left Of It!)

Michael Chabon writes real good. I think this piece hits on some rather important issues regarding our over-protective, site-limiting, dream-crushing, blinder-fixing treatment of children. Here is a snippet:
There are reasons for all of this. The helmeting and monitoring, the corralling of children into certified zones of safety, is in part the product of the Consumer Reports mentality, the generally increased consciousness, in America, of safety and danger. To this one might add the growing demands of insurance actuarials and the national pastime of torts. But the primary reason for this curtailing of adventure, this closing off of Wilderness, is the increased anxiety we all feel over the abduction of children by strangers; we fear the wolves in the Wilderness. This is not a rational fear; in 1999, for example, according to the Justice Department, the number of abductions by strangers in the United States was 115. Such crimes have always occurred at about the same rate; being a child is exactly no more and no less dangerous than it ever was. What has changed is that the horror is so much better known. At times it seems as if parents are being deliberately encouraged to fear for their children's lives, though only a cynic would suggest there was money to be made in doing so.

The endangerment of children—that persistent theme of our lives, arts, and literature over the past twenty years—resonates so strongly because, as parents, as members of preceding generations, we look at the poisoned legacy of modern industrial society and its ills, at the world of strife and radioactivity, climatological disaster, overpopulation, and commodification, and feel guilty. As the national feeling of guilt over the extermination of the Indians led to the creation of a kind of cult of the Indian, so our children have become cult objects to us, too precious to be risked. At the same time they have become fetishes, the objects of an unhealthy and diseased fixation. And once something is fetishized, capitalism steps in and finds a way to sell it.

What is the impact of the closing down of the Wilderness on the development of children's imaginations? This is what I worry about the most. I grew up with a freedom, a liberty that now seems breathtaking and almost impossible. Recently, my younger daughter, after the usual struggle and exhilaration, learned to ride her bicycle. Her joy at her achievement was rapidly followed by a creeping sense of puzzlement and disappointment as it became clear to both of us that there was nowhere for her to ride it—nowhere that I was willing to let her go. Should I send my children out to play?

Common Sense: Does It Still Exist?

I know this is an old piece, but it needs repeating. There is a lot of research out there that shows what we already know, but seem to ignore; kids need background knowledge and depth early in their lives in order to be successful in school. Poverty keeps them from that end. We all know this is true. Why then NCLB? Your guess is as good as mine ($$$$$!!)
‘All Children Can Learn’
Facts and Fallacies

("All Children Can Learn: Facts and Fallacies" By M. Donald Thomas and William L. Bainbridge. Phi Delta Kappan. May 2001.)

By M. Donald Thomas and William L. Bainbridge

The thinking behind a simplistic interpretation of "all children can learn" suggests that there is no need for adequate resources and child-friendly public policy, the authors point out.

A few decades ago, leaders in the field of school reform introduced the concept of "effective schools" as a way to identify what works best in educating children and to provide models for struggling schools to use for improvement. The effective schools movement is frequently attributed to the work of the late Ronald Edmonds. In a speech delivered to the National Conference of the Teacher Corps in 1978, Edmonds defined the five characteristics consistently evident in effective schools: strong leadership, clear emphasis on learning, positive school climate, regular and appropriate monitoring of student progress, and high expectation for students and staff. From these straightforward principles, an entire belief system has evolved that offers a variety of solutions that are designed to improve schools.

However, the effective schools movement, like most other reform efforts, has developed philosophical and political schisms along its major fault line: the central tenet that children’s learning can be improved if schools adopt effective practices. At its heart, this belief is positive, useful, and practical—but it does engender strong opinions and political reactions.

The initial understanding that school practices and policies can make a difference, even for children from homes in which parents have few educational or financial resources, has now been translated into the popular mantra "all children can learn." This phrase sometimes confuses the public and deters the possibility of substantially helping disadvantaged children obtain a high-quality, resource-rich education. In our view, because of the simplistic acceptance of this phrase at face value, the effective schools movement as currently promoted is contaminated with a series of fallacies and a number of unintended consequences. We offer the following ideas as a starting point for further, in-depth discussions that can lead to more thoughtful school policies.

The Fallacies

When we look at many of the potentially harmful policies and practices being implemented in schools today, we can only assume that they have been inspired by the following fallacies, which do not bear careful scrutiny:

* the fallacy that all children can learn: at the same level and in the same amount of time;
* the fallacy of the principal as sole instructional leader;
* the fallacy of setting standards on the basis of exceptions; and
* the fallacy of uniform standards for all children.

The fallacy that all children can learn: at the same level and in the same amount of time. All children can learn, at some level, and most children, as Ronald Edmonds stated, can learn the basic curriculum if sufficient resources are provided. The fallacy, however, is the belief that all children can learn the same curriculum, in the same amount of time, and at the same level. The problem with such an unexamined belief is that it may be used to deny differential financial support for those who come to school with environmental disadvantages. Not all children have high-quality nutrition, stimulating homes, and extensive learning opportunities prior to entering school.

Research in cognitive brain development shows that formation of synaptic contacts in the human cerebral cortex occurs between birth and age 10, and most of the brain gets built within a few years after birth. Environment matters greatly in brain development. The period of early childhood is critical in brain development, and those who have high-protein diets and lots of sensory stimulation tend to have more synaptic connections. Brains that do not get enough protein and stimulation in their environments lose connections, and some potential neural pathways are shut down. These facts help to explain what educators have long observed: children from impoverished environments, in which they do not receive good nutrition and stimulating experiences, generally achieve at lower levels than children from more enriching environments.

This concrete evidence should be enough to convince us that we should concentrate on improving the lives of children before they come to school and not simply proclaim that "all children can learn" without enacting proper public policy to provide economic opportunity for families, healthcare for all children, and parenting education for young mothers.

If we as a society can summon the courage and will to do these things, then maybe all children can learn at higher levels and the gap between low-income and more privileged children can really be narrowed.

The fallacy of uniform standards for all children. Of all the fallacies being promoted, this is probably the most bizarre. Decades of history and mountains of research indicate that childhood development is unique for each individual. The idea that children and schools should be evaluated by a uniform criterion—usually a test score—has the potential to do untold damage.

Uniformity of measurement leaves out human judgment, the most critical element in decision making. Those who promote uniform standards (often state legislatures) promote a false system of evaluation that will probably disappear as rapidly as it has been established.

Although it is difficult to accept and even more difficult to admit, children in the United States do not have equal opportunities to succeed. In time, with enough effort and money and solid social policies, the achievement gaps between the advantaged and disadvantaged can narrow. Until then, however, it is unfair to treat all children and all schools "equally" by setting standards that are not equitable. The assumption that all can meet these standards—without our providing educationally disadvantaged children with the extra support they need to achieve at high levels—perpetuates injustice.

As Edmund Burke stated, "The equal treatment of unequals is the greatest injustice of all." This statement has been inscribed on our national documents and should be chiseled into the hearts of all school personnel and those who enact education policy.

Unintended Consequences

Next, let us discuss the unintended consequences of the simplistic "all children can learn" approach. These include:

* establishing accountability based on state-developed tests;
* downplaying the need for early intervention for children who live under conditions of poverty; and
* using punishment as a motivator to improve schools.

Establishing accountability based on state-developed tests. The belief that "all children can learn" has spawned a movement of testing as the basis for student promotion, student graduation, evaluation of school personnel, and state and federal funding. Our experience with state-developed criterion-referenced tests leads us to the conclusion that most of these tests are either too simple or too difficult. In either case, they are inappropriate measures of school effectiveness. Not one study in the school literature can correlate a test score with either student success or teacher effectiveness. Tests created at the state level and imposed on schools may appear to be "politically correct," but their educational value is highly questionable.

As Linda McNeil points out, forcing arbitrary punitive standards on schools undermines both teaching and learning and results in "growing inequality between the content and quality of education provided to white middle-class children and that provided to children in poor and minority schools." In Texas, for example, McNeil found that, even though scores on the state-mandated Texas Assessment of Academic Skills were going up in many disadvantaged schools, teachers reported that students’ ability to use the skills that had been drilled into them for the test was actually declining. In fact, she claims, "this system of testing is restratifying education by race and class."

Downplaying the need for early intervention for children who live under conditions of poverty. The "all children can learn" mentality is dangerous because it may lead us to assume that all children can meet the same standards no matter how well or ill prepared they are to start school. This assumption in turn excuses us from addressing the need for better early childhood programs. To claim that "all children can learn" without recognizing that some children start school on a very unequal footing burdens our schools and teachers with daunting and perhaps insurmountable barriers.

An enormous amount of time, effort, and money must be spent to "reclaim" and "remediate" children whose skills lag behind those of their more advantaged peers. Yet there is a widespread attitude that, if students and teachers cannot overcome the obstacles created by poverty and poor nutrition in the short amount of time available in the average school year, they have "failed". This pressure is especially strong when children and their teachers are expected to achieve some arbitrary standard established by a state-mandated proficiency test.

The result of this attitude is that students rarely catch up, and teachers become demoralized. Sadly, this is the current situation in many of our nation’s public schools. Even more alarming is the tendency of the news media to leave an impression that gaps in performance among student groups are related to skin color or ethnicity.

Public policy in the U.S. is not as child-friendly as it is in many other countries, such as Sweden, Canada, Japan, or Israel. What is needed most to help children is for politicians to make good on their promise that "all children will be ready to learn" by the time they start school. Enacting public policy that establishes educational programs for very young children should be the major strategy for helping children achieve at higher levels and reducing the achievement gap between children of high and low socioeconomic status. Early intervention stimulates cognitive development, improves sensory development, and increases motivation to learn. It offers the best chance for all children to be ready to learn when they begin kindergarten. Providing good early childhood education is a big and costly responsibility, but this strategy is just, extremely cost-effective in the long run, and a measure of the character of a nation.

Using punishment as a motivator to improve our schools. Frederick Herzberg is dead, and with him the sensible notion that punishment never motivates nor serves as an effective way to improve our schools. The punishment mentality spawns take-over laws, zero-tolerance policies, threats to administrators of losing their jobs, and decreased funding for those schools whose students most need additional support. Whatever happened to "due process of law" and "positive reinforcement"?

Herzberg, Maslow, wherever you are, we need you now more than ever!

Time for Change

If Edmonds were still with us, we believe he would be appalled at what has happened to the effective schools movement. Unfortunately, what began as a noble process to help low-income children achieve at higher levels has become an educational albatross that punishes both teachers and students and declares that schools are ineffective when all children do not learn at arbitrary levels predetermined by individuals external to the schools.

The thinking behind a simplistic interpretation of "all children can learn" suggests that there is no need for adequate resources and child-friendly public policy. Assuming that all children can reach the same high standards through the heroic efforts of educators, without major changes in education and social policy, is similar to assuming that doctors can make all children healthy even though many do not receive adequate home care and appropriate nutrition.

We fervently hope that all children will be treated as individuals, achieving at various levels appropriate to their development, and that they will not be treated as learning at the same level at the same time-—all marching to the arbitrary beat of a state proficiency test. It would be much better for all of us to accept differences and provide sufficient resources so that each boy and girl has an opportunity to achieve at the maximum level congruent to whatever gifts or limitations each may have.

The time has come for educators to reexamine the slogan that "all children can learn." Let’s return to the basic research and stress the facts instead of the fallacies that have hurt so many of our teachers, schools, and children.


Arne Duncan Gets An "F"

As long as those in charge keep taking on what they cannot (like ending poverty, which is the ONLY way to FIX public education), schools, students, parents and teachers will continue to be forced to act as guinea pigs for educapitalists in service of their desire to make lots of money off of the impoverished.
As Chicago's Urban Children Are Shot and Killed, Duncan Gives Himself and F and Calls for More School Hours

In a video clip from the Chicago Sun-Times, Arne Duncan shows why the "F" he gives himself for not protecting schoolchildren must stand for "Fool." As reporters probe for what ED might do stem the child murder epidemic in impoversished inner cities, Duncan cannot, does not, even mention the conditions of life with which these urban poverty victims must contend as they dodge bullets (or take them) on their way to school, where they are expected by Mr. Duncan and Obama (No Excuses!) to function like children in the leafy suburbs who have routes to school that don't include special markers where children have been shot down coming and going to their crumbling classrooms.

As you watch the video clip, please note the sad idiot calling for schools to remain open more days and hours, as if more trips to school would somehow reduce, instead of increase, the likelihood of being shot down in the rotting neighborhoods that these children must traverse in order to attend school. Here is the link to the Sun-Times story.

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