Watch Darwin Evolve

One of the things biologists are interested in is change over time, and we compare genomes to see where changes have occurred between two or more species; one of the reasons we're interested in the chimpanzee genome, for instance, is that it is close to ours, and what scientists are doing is comparing the two, looking for the key differences.

There are other things that change over time that lend themselves to these sorts of analyses. Darwin's On the Origin of Species went through six editions during his lifetime, and it wasn't a static document at all — he revised, sometimes extensively, and he added new material, sometimes in response to new data, sometimes in reaction to public and private concerns.

What Ben Fry has done is taken the text of all six editions, compared them, and color-coded the words by when they were added. Then he rendered them in teeny-tiny print and splashed them up on the screen so you can see when and where changes occurred in Darwin's text. It takes a while to load, since it is loading the full text of six editions of the Origin, plus annotations, but then you can just move your cursor around over the blocks to read and see what he was thinking. For instance, one thing that jumps out at you is the huge block of red in the middle of the document (not in screengrab), a whole large section that was added in the sixth edition.

h/t PZ

Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie died August 27, 1990, nearly 20 years ago. I saw him twice. He was incredible.

Bill Moyers: No More Mr. Nice Guy


Neil deGrasse Tyson: It's The Grownups I'm Worried About

I think Neil deGrasse Tyson is awesome. This short clip is worth watching for his pithiness and his clearheadedness on the bogus fears of all those who worry our children are dumber than the Chinese.

Flowers Are Red

I had never heard this song before. I wonder which came first, this song or this poem?


Friday Cartoon Fun: I Know It's Still Thursday Edition

Friday Cartoon Fun: Another Edition

The Military Is So Gay

So, we have homoerotic craziness in Kabul, and now this:
A Youth Radio investigation has found that between 2004 and 2006, sailors in the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain Military Working Dogs Division, or "The Kennel," were subjected to an atmosphere of sexual harassment, psychological humiliation, and physical assaults.

It was inside that Bahrain kennel in July 2005 that Petty Officer Joseph Christopher Rocha, then 19 years old, says he was being terrorized by other members of his own division. "I was hog-tied to a chair, rolled around the base, left in a dog kennel that had feces spread in it."

Rocha says that beginning six weeks into his deployment, he was singled out for abuse by his chief master-at-arms, Michael Toussaint, and others on the base, once Rocha made it clear he was not interested in prostitutes. "I was in a very small testosterone-driven unit of men," Rocha says. "I think that's what began the questioning-you know-‘Why don't you want to have sex with her? Are you a faggot?’"
I am starting to get the sense that DADT was instituted in the first place because there is a lot of latent (and not so latent) homosexuality in the military, and the homophobes, who drink vodka from each others' butts, don't want to be exposed as gay, because they are not gay; they just like to put their faces in each others butts and drink deeply. That is so not gay! Not gay like "Clinton did not have sex with that woman". Not gay like, "I'm not gay, butt I wouldn't kick Mick Jagger out of bed".

Like I said before, gay is fine with me. No problem. Gay marriage? Awesome. Gays in the military? They're there, secretly, but there (not enough of them, obviously)! Gays in my house or my family? Again, good! Or even better, who fucking cares? Clearly, our macho military is actually pretty gay, and they kill people very, very well! Let the gays kill too!

What I find problematic is denying gays the right to kick the shit out of these wimps who use sexual intimidation on subordinates. I know some gays who would not take kindly to that kind of behavior in their military, and they are big, hairy, beary, ass-whooping gays. The military clearly needs some gay grownups around.

Feinstein Is Not Useful

Well, I wrote my senator, and received a response. Yes, it was a form letter. Here is my letter first:
Dear Senator Feinstein,

I am writing to tell you that I expect you to vote for health care reform, INCLUDING a public option, just like our Democratic President promised during his campaign.

I came to your website to send you this note and was amazed that I did not see a giant section on your homepage about health care reform. Is that because you have taken nearly half a million dollars ($369,490 to be exact) from the industry?

Look, I am an Independent who left the Democratic party because of a lack of principle shown me by my Democratic representatives; you included. Your refusal to fight for a public option, with every fiber of your elected being, means you don't deserve to be my Senator anymore.

Get on board with the public option, fight hard to get it passed, neuter any filibuster, and maybe, just maybe, you can help insure a few million people. Oh, and get re-elected, because clearly that is your reason for being.

And lastly, why make folks opt-out of your newsletter by UN-checking the box directly under this form? Why not allow them to opt-in? Signing us up for your newsletter, surreptitiously, as the default is slippery, slimy, and rather illustrative of your desire to remain in power and not help your constituents, all the while trying to operate under our radar.

Public option. Support the party that elected you, and our President!
Here is her response:
Thank you for contacting me to express your support for the inclusion of a public health care option in health care reform legislation. I am committed to enacting meaningful reform to expand access to the health care system.

I am delighted that you support healthcare reform, as do I. The key is to find a healthcare plan that provides coverage, as well as limits costs. My colleagues in the Senate and I have been working on this, but it is a difficult issue and must be carefully thought out. I hope that the Senate Finance Committee will propose a bill which will lay out a way in which we can accomplish these goals and can be effectively merged with the bill passed by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Other health reforms are also necessary. I strongly believe that any healthcare reform legislation should prohibit coverage denial based on preexisting conditions. Reducing healthcare costs is absolutely essential. Between 2000 and 2007, combined profits for 10 of the country's largest publically traded insurance companies rose 428 percent. I believe that a way to control those costs is by instituting a public option, a nonprofit cooperative model, or a regulatory authority to achieve this. I am also concerned about the astronomical growth of entitlement spending, which makes up 56 percent of all federal dollars spent in 2009. Health reform must bend the healthcare cost curve, slowing the growth of entitlements in order to reduce our nation's debt and budget deficit.

Any Senate health reform bill must improve California's complex health care system, and please know that I am working hard with my colleagues to make health care affordable for all Americans, without adding to the federal deficit.

Again, thank you for writing. If you have any further questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact my Washington, D.C. office at (202) 224-3841. Best regards.

Sincerely yours,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator
And my response to her response:
Oh well. I give up.

The co-op idea is useless. And the tone of your form letter is rather presumptuous; the delight you take in our shared desire to reform healthcare is not really shared, as our visions of reform are pretty much opposed. Taking delight in opposition--that you think is cooperation!--to a constituent makes you seem rather, I don't know, condescending, presumptuous, unsympathetic, and out of touch.

Why am I even responding to your form letter, a response to a letter of mine you never read? Because, it is all you have given me, and it is not enough. Just like your stance on healthcare. Right up your alley!

Democrats elected Obama and the congressional Democratic majority (which includes you, Senator) to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to prosecute torturers, and to give America Universal healthcare.

Any other healthcare option is useless.

You have proven your ineffectiveness.

I will not vote for you again.

And I am not sorry!

Thanks for nothing,


Trying To Kill Me With Your Free Medicine!

h/t Swimming Freestyle

Obama Will Preach Socialism To The Country's Children: Updated

I have been trying to find a way to smack down the loony right on Obama's Sept. 8 education speech to students while also smacking down the overly pompous attitude of the eduformers. As usual, Jim Horn finds the words:
I guess it was inevitable that the Far Right eventually would be pushed over the edge of their own flat Earth, when the Oligarchs' latest acquisition, the Democratic Party, moved into the territory that Reagan and Bush had previously made safe for Big Business and Wall Street. With Obama now promoting the education causes championed by the Wall Street Journal's editorial board, there is nowhere for poor anal retentive nutjobs to stand except somewhere over the cliff. And thus the new theory now being advanced by the wingers is that the socialist, Obama, is using the noon September 8 speech to indoctrinate children into the camp of the Reds.

The screaming irony, of course, is that Obama will not use this speech for socialist subterfuge, but, rather, to advance the reform schoolers' "No Excuses" message that he tested out during his speech at the 100th anniversary dinner of the NAACP. That was another huge irony that went unappreciated by those who obviously believe, now 55 years after Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, that the new reality of educational apartheid is no excuse, either, for poor families living in abject poverty without decent housing, jobs, or any health care. No excuses, indeed.

So while the Hoper-in-Chief will no doubt give a good speech with many uplifting riffs aimed at instilling personal responsibility in students, there will be no mention of school counselors let go, librarians eliminated, psychologists gone missing, roofs unfixed, windows still broken, buses that don't run or that have been sold off, teachers furloughed or fired, schools displaced by corporate welfare charter outfits, benefits cut, retirements diminished, salaries held hostage to test scores, schools shuttered because of an insane federal testing policy, children who must dodge bullets to get the schoolhouse door--hungry, without glasses, dental care, or even a grocery store where a decent apple may be bought.

The hoper-in-chief will inspire, not socialism on September 8, but a false belief in a fix-it-yourself-or-die system based on unrestrained corporate control that has replaced civic responsibility and caring within a democratic republic dedicated to improving the lives of all citizens. Obama will be as inspiring as Reagan, for at last it will be Reagan's message delivered by a man we had, for awhile, hoped would be something different. Who knew the Democrats would destroy the Republicans by becoming them?
But when it comes to making students and parents take more responsibility for their own educational futures, Obama and Duncan have little more than their bully pulpits—and now a $1,000 cash prize.
So maybe the title of this post should be: Obama Will Preach Socialism Bribery To The Country's Children

Should Schools Create Employees Or Citizens?

What Are The Best Methods For School Improvement?

The Obama administration has an ambitious goal of turning around the nation's 5,000 lowest-performing schools over the next five years. To achieve this, the strategies adopted must be ones that can be applied on a large scale. What are the best methods of school improvement that will work across the country? What are some examples of successful school turnaround models? Can they be replicated elsewhere in the country?

-- Eliza Krigman, NationalJournal.com

Deborah Meier's response:

Turning around 5,000 schools—with stimulus money as the bribe? It's a question that is [b]ound to lead us into a deadend. If the only goal is creating “employees” (vs citizens) of the future I may also be both short-sighted--just plain wrongheaded. If we see them as counter-objectives we may be forgetting that it is “the people” who create the future. It will take more than “school reform” to “turn around” the working lives of tomorrow’s adults. It may depend also on the kind of citizens they become—passively awaiting decisions made elsewhere or actively involved in decision-making. Yes, schools can and must be important players—but it begins with knowing what the game is we want to be players in. The ends we wish for limit the means we need to follow. The local nature of schooling is part of our Constitution for a reason—and I’m not at all convinced it doesn’t remain legitimate and critical to our future as a democratic nation.

Schools are composed of people—constituents. It’s their hearts and souls that need to be engaged in building new kind of interactions on the local level. Part of that task will require a new language for connecting the federal government and the states and the locals and finally the actual constituents of schools. As long as keep thinking that the COE can “do it” to “them” s long as they have the right recipe we have immediately undermined the relationships needed to do the job. It would be as foolhardy as imagining that the Feds can, through bribery, prescribe for all families the best way to raise their children—what message to impart to them, what rewards and punishments, and then how best to monitor their compliance. Because that’s what schooling is all about—raising kids. It takes adults and “villages” to do the task—above all if the goals is to produce children who can nourish democracy—our one and only secular “faith. It takes faith in ordinary people—parents, professional educators, other lay citizens and the children they share—to produce a generation of democrats. How to do that? It might mean bribing them to join together in a democratic dialogue—in every community—over their aspirations for schooling, not just schooling for their own individual child but for all their children. It takes making accessible the best ideas around, and the funds to initiate serious conversation, and then serious funding to launch new ideas. It takes remembering that democracy is always about both conserving and experimenting! Just “restoring” the early 20th century model—be it the factory or the “academy”—can’t work. Nor can the perfect curriculum. Nor more tests. Nor more “holding their feet to the fire”. Those kind of reforms lead to burnt and bloodied feet, not transformed hearts and minds.

For those who want the details about such an approach, I wrote up some of the ideas we came to in NYC 15 yeas ago about school change, based on our work at Julia Richman H.S. in NYC (see also Linda-Darling-Hammond, Jackie Ancess et al,” Reinventing High School, “NCRES, 2002). . It was a plan for “scaling up”—changing the odds—that began with what we knew close to the ground and “let it spread” by removing mandates, not adding to them. It included schools with more than one approach—progressive and conservative. I’ve written about it in “In Schools We Trust” (Beacon).. (It was alas abandoned when a new chancellor and state superintendent arrived). It was taken up again in Boston—known as Pilot Schools—and spread in pockets here and there. But it’s the kind of work that accepts the quirks that make us all different, and builds on them. It turns schools and thei[r] communities into think-tanks for change—with the same kind of funding now spent on the think-tanks funded by private-interest players.

Fzar[sic] too much to be said on this subject! [emphasis mine]


Wednesday Cartoon Fun: Mickey Marvel Edition

Yummy, Ass Vodka! Updated

From Mother Jones:
Drunken brawls, prostitutes, hazing and humiliation, taking vodka shots out of buttcracks— no, the perpetrators of these Animal House-like antics aren't some depraved frat brothers. They are the private security contractors guarding the US embassy compound in Kabul.

These allegations, and many more, are contained in a letter sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday by the Project on Government Oversight, which has been investigating the embassy security contract held by ArmorGroup North America (a subsidiary of Wackenhut, which is in turn owned by the security behemoth G4S). The contractor was the subject of a congressional probe earlier this summer that found serious lapses in the company's handling of the embassy security contract, which internal State Department documents said left the embassy compound "in jeopardy." Nevertheless, the government opted to extend the company's 5-year, $189 million contract for another year.

Private security guards at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul were pressured to participate in naked pool parties and perform sex acts to gain promotions or assignment to preferable shifts, according to one of 12 guards who have gone public with their complaints.
Just so we're clear: I have nothing against gay people, or being gay, or knowing gay people, or loving them, or letting them get married and have kids. Gay is good, at least as good as hetero (maybe slightly worse than bi?), but I kid.

This is not an anti-gay post. Indeed, the crap described in the pictures above, and now with the interview, seems to obviate the need to get rid of DADT. I have a feeling that gay soldiers, if they could be assured of remaining in the military regardless their sexual orientation, would be among the first to see to it that this kind of sexual harassment, or of any kind for that matter, doesn't happen.

And technically, I have no problem with ass vodka, for others.


What China Wants Is What America Is Eager To Throw Away

Zhao’s book, due out in late September and published by ASCD, is called “Catching Up or Leading the Way: The Future of American Education.” He acknowledges his thesis is “diametrically opposed to the more popular view of what American education should be like in the 21st century.”

“Right now we seem to be stuck with the idea of standards as the panacea to fix all of America’s education problems,” said Zhao, University Distinguished Professor of education. “I don’t deny that the U.S. education system has problems, but I don’t feel the problems can be solved by standards and high-stakes testing. Rather, standards and high-stakes testing run the risk of ruining the advantages and great tradition of the system.”

Ironically, Zhao set out to write a book about the “repeated failures” of testing and standardization in his native China. But while Chinese officials are trying to “undo the damages” of that system, the Obama administration seems inclined to continue the limited standards-focused policy established by George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, Zhao said.

“I realized that what China wants is what America is eager to throw away,” Zhao writes in the book’s preface.
h/t Schools Matter

Dems Have Ideas (Not Much Else)

Bob Reich nails it. Democrats can't even seem to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory! Here is a fine example:
I suppose I'm as guilty as anyone. A few weeks ago I casually mentioned in a web conversation on Politico's web page that if supporters of universal health care and a "public option" felt their voices were not being heard in our nation's capital they should march on Washington. A few moments later, when someone wrote in asking when, I glanced at a calendar and in a burst of unreflective enthusiasm offered September 13. I didn't check with anyone, didn't strategize with progressive groups that have been working on health care for years, barely checked in with myself.

I was deluged with emails. Many people said they were planning to march. Someone put up a web page, another a Facebook page, a member of Congress announced his support. But most people said they couldn't manage September 13. It was too soon. It conflicted with other events. It followed too closely behind a right-wing march against health care reform already scheduled for September 12. It was a day AFL leaders were out of town, so couldn't lend their support. Many who emailed me wanted another day -- September 20, or the 27th, or early October. Others said they'd rather march on their state capital, in order that local media cover it. When I finally checked in with the heads of several progressive groups and unions in Washington -- all with big mailing lists and the resources to organize a big march -- they said they were already planning a march, for October. But they still haven't given me a date. (I will pass it on as soon as I hear.)

Monday Cartoon Fun: Spineless Edition


The New York Times Works For Arne Duncan Now

Of course, those systems need to be sensible and fair. But the country will never get where it needs to be if we take the approach — as union leaders have sometimes done — that student test scores should be out of bounds when it comes to judging teacher effectiveness. That is an indefensible position. The unions can either help to create this system, or get left behind. [emphasis mine]

In the past, the federal government talked a good game about requiring reform in exchange for federal dollars, then it caved when it came time to enforce the bargain. This time, Mr. Duncan has proposed using a closely calibrated evaluation process under which states get points for reforms they have made and points for changes they promise to make — as well as conditional financing that can be pulled back if the states fail to perform. Mr. Duncan should hold fast to that plan.
Hey New York Times, shilling for Duncan is an indefensible position. Who made you the arbiter of teacher effectiveness? You can't even hire editorial writers who tell the truth! Or even KNOW the truth!

I think every teacher should make a commitment to never again buy the New York Times (we don't anyway; can't afford it).

Sunday Cartoon Fun: Redacted Edition

Dianne Feinstein: Torture Works!

If you live in California, Dianne Feinstein is one of your senators. If you live in California, Dianne Feinstein DOES NOT HAVE TO BE one of your senators! This is her this morning talking about the CIA/torture investigation started, however timidly, by Eric Holder:

“However, I think the timing of this is not very good,” Feinstein said.

She said the intelligence committee was already well along in conducting a bipartisan “total look” at the interrogation and detention techniques used on so-called high value detainees.

“And candidly, I wish that the attorney general had waited,” she said.

“Every day something kind of dribbles out into the public arena. Very often it has mistakes. Very often it’s half a story. I think we need to get the whole story together and tell it in an appropriate way,” she said.

“A lot of things are being said — ‘Well, you know, torturing people is something that we did, but on the other hand, it produced all kinds of incredible information,’” she said.

It did produce some information, but there is a great discrepancy, and I think a good deal of error out there in what people are saying it did produce,” she added.

The CIA inspector general’s report, parts of which were released last week, detailed the use of simulated drowning, mock executions, and threats of rapes of detainee family members in the course of the interrogations at secret CIA sites overseas.

[emphasis mine]
So, she thinks torture works. How else to parse her bolded statements? And then she says she wants to "get the whole story together and tell it in an appropriate way." Really? Please, Di, how you would appropriately tell me that my government tortured prisoners in my name?

Write your representatives, senators, friends and acquaintances and tell them enough lies. Enough obfuscation. Enough "[G]et[ting] the whole story together" and just give us the god-damned information!

Total Pageviews